The best books about rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s

Who am I?

I grew up with the music of the 1960s. Going to packed, pheromone-heavy dances featuring The Lincolns—Nova Scotia’s most popular and most soulful band—were a huge part of my teenage years. Those experiences implanted a deep love of R&B, and somehow or other pointed me in the direction of becoming a writer. It’s a bit of a mystery how it all works. In any case, of all my books, none was as much fun to work on as Kings of Friday Night. It has received lots of love, including from readers who grew up far from the time and place I write about. Long live local bands! And live music everywhere!

I wrote...

Kings of Friday Night: The Lincolns

By A.J.B. Johnston,

Book cover of Kings of Friday Night: The Lincolns

What is my book about?

At its core, this is a book about a quest. The story begins in the late 1950s in Truro, Nova Scotia, where a group of young, aspiring musicians want to play the new rock ‘n’ roll. At the time, their town was divided by race, religion, and class. One thing only brought people together: the new music. Over a span of ten years, The Lincolns, the local "kings of Friday night," played trademark rock 'n' roll, R&B, and soul at dances and campuses across Nova Scotia and into New Brunswick. Along the way, The Lincolns changed the lives of small-town kids clamoring for music to move their feet, their hips—and ultimately their hearts. It’s a touching, true-life, universal tale filled with personal recollections and nostalgic delight. The book features a foreword by former Lincoln John MacLachlan Gray and an afterword by the band’s singer, Frank MacKay.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

There Was a Time: James Brown, the Chitlin' Circuit, and Me

By Alan Leeds,

Book cover of There Was a Time: James Brown, the Chitlin' Circuit, and Me

Why this book?

Alan Leeds does a wonderful job presenting his eyewitness experiences as part of the James Brown entourage in the 1960s and beyond. The reader can’t wait to find out what happens next in the riveting story he presents of Soul Brother No. 1, the “hardest working man in show business.” It’s a fascinating tale, which presents Brown as an innovative musical force, determined artist, forceful businessman, and unpredictable personality. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Chitlin’ Circuit when soul music was taking off as a dynamic new genre—as recalled by a young, Jewish kid from Queens who joined James Brown’s team and learned the music business at the hand of the performer who mastered it.

Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul

By Mark Ribowsky,

Book cover of Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul

Why this book?

This is an in-depth look at the life and career of the magnetic Otis Redding Jr., soul singer extraordinaire. We learn tons about Redding’s family background and his hometown of Macon, Georgia (also the hometown of Little Richard). Redding died at 26 in a 1967 plane crash just as he was starting to climb to the heights of the music industry. Even so, he left behind a much-admired body of work though his time was cut so tragically short. The author did an enormous amount of research for the book, then crafted an energetic and easy-reading story that captures the remarkable journey that was Otis Redding’s—from preacher’s son to charismatic soul singer who touched millions.

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

By David Yaffe,

Book cover of Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

Why this book?

Joni Mitchell’s career extended long after the 1960s, but that was the decade when she burst on the scene with her distinctive voice and incredible song-writing and musical abilities. This book provides in-depth details of how she went from being an unknown blonde girl from Saskatchewan to an undisputed folk music superstar with songs like no one else. As Leonard Cohen put it: “She was like a storm.” To present Joni’s story, the author conducted interviews with Mitchell and her childhood friends, and with the many others who played important roles in her life—including Cohen, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and David Crosby. Along the way, David Yaffe reveals the backstory behind all of Joni’s songs. It’s a fascinating book.

How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter's Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse

By Lamont Dozier, Scott B. Bomar,

Book cover of How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter's Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse

Why this book?

If you know the music of the 1960s, you know that Lamont Dozier was at the heart of the hit-producing machine that was Motown Records. He was one-third of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team that came up with hit after hit for an amazing number of celebrated artists. Later, after leaving Motown, Dozier continued to be a creative musical force (and still is today). He contributed his song-writing talents to over 100 Top 10 singles and was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This book is a window into Dozier’s musical world—in the 1960s and beyond. Dozier recalls what it was like to grow up in Detroit when he did and then reveals his experiences collaborating with some of the greatest musical talents of the era.

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

By Greil Marcus,

Book cover of The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

Why this book?

The title of this book might suggest that it will be a book of lists. It is not, not even close. Instead, Greil Marcus offers something closer to a philosophical meditation on what rock ‘n’ roll is. Or aspires to be when played and sung as a heartfelt, life-altering, reckless abandon musical genre. It’s largely about attitude and feeling. The book is a fascinating read as one travels along with the author while he ruminates on different artists and their work and how some songs have resonated deeply with (and influenced) later musicians across the span of time. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in rock music, Canada, and popular music?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about rock music, Canada, and popular music.

Rock Music Explore 116 books about rock music
Canada Explore 196 books about Canada
Popular Music Explore 25 books about popular music

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like It Came from Memphis, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story, and The Voice of Egypt, 1997: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century if you like this list.