The most recommended music books

Who picked these books? Meet our 348 experts.

348 authors created a book list connected to music, and here are their favorite music books.
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Book cover of Down Under

Clinton Walker Author Of Stranded

From my list on music from Australia.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an art school dropout and recovering rock critic who, since 1981, has published a dozen books on Australian music and popular culture, plus worked extensively in television and as a freelance journalist. I'm too old to be called an enfant terrible, but with the way I still seem to be able to court controversy, I must remain some sort of loose cannon! Sydney’s Sun-Herald has called me "our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture," and that’s a tag I’m flattered by but which does get at what I’ve always been interested in. I consider myself a historian who finds resonances where most don’t even bother to look, in our own backyard, yesterday, and the fact that so much of my backlist including Inner City Sound, Highway to Hell, Buried Country, Golden Miles, History is Made at Night, and Stranded are still in print, I take as vindication I’m on the right track…

Clinton's book list on music from Australia

Clinton Walker Why did Clinton love this book?

Sometimes a book comes completely out of nowhere. Such was the case with Trevor Conomy’s Down Under. Conomy was not an author with a pedigree in music journalism or anything like that, but when Down Under came out, in 2015, it spoke for itself. The life story of a song – Melbourne pub band Men At Work’s “Down Under” – what makes the book compelling is not so much the story of its fluky success, when in 1982 it become a huge hit all round the world, but rather the aftermath: How more than a quarter-century later the song went to court against a copyright infringement claim. That it lost the case was a travesty and a human tragedy, and Conomy’s short, punchy little book reveals why in all its gory detail.

By Trevor Conomy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down Under as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the biography not of a person but of one of the most loved and controversial songs in the history of Australian music.

Originally released as a B-side in 1980, 'Down Under' made Men at Work the biggest band on the planet. The song became an alternative Australian anthem and its video (recorded on the sand dunes of Cronulla) became an image of Australia recognised the world over.

Even when Men at Work suddenly disappeared, 'Down Under' remained in the national psyche. Nearly three decades later, Spicks and Specks innocently revealed a link between the song and the tune…


Book cover of Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones

Uli Hesse Author Of The Three Lives of the Kaiser

From my list on life in a dysfunctional family (i.e. The Ramones).

Why am I passionate about this?

I've written about a dozen books, all about football (or soccer, depending on your denomination), but that was never the plan. The plan was always to write about music. The first piece I ever published in a proper magazine was a profile of Wayne Kramer, formerly of the MC5. It ran in the German edition of Rolling Stone. The honeymoon didn't last long, though, as I gradually ran out of ideas what to pitch to the magazine, until one day I asked: "Would you be interested in a non-music piece about how football has grown out of the Dark Eighties and become hip?" They said yes, and that was that.

Uli's book list on life in a dysfunctional family (i.e. The Ramones)

Uli Hesse Why did Uli love this book?

The first proper book about the Ramones came out in 1993 and was written by Jim Bessman.

It's not without merit, but as an authorized biography, produced in collaboration with the band, it fails to cut really deep. Ten years later, when the respected English journalist Everett True (not his real name, which lends a nice touch to this tale of four fake brothers) put pen to paper, things were very different.

The band had broken up and two founder members were dead. Maybe that's why it's such a harrowing read in parts – the details of Joey's death are particularly poignant, not least because True is clearly in his camp, not Johnny's. I think definitive is the unavoidable term here.

By Everett True,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hey Ho Let's Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The death of Joey Ramone in the summer of 2001 and Dee Dee Ramone in June 2002 provided ample evidence of the high regard that his band was held by fans and critics. Once regarded as a joke, their music little more than an adrenaline rush of one minute five second noise, The Ramones have come to be regarded as having influenced almost every star struck guitarist who knew just three chords and wanted to write a song.


Book cover of Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed

Caryn Yacowitz Author Of Shoshi's Shabbat

From my list on Jewish children’s picture stories to read aloud.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was young, my father made up stories to tell me, my brother, and my sister each night. One of my favorites was an ongoing series entitled The Lady with the Big Toe. The Lady and her Toe enjoyed daring adventures but the best part was hearing my dad’s voice, being near him and my siblings. I’m not great at making up stories on the spot but because of my study of Jewish texts, languages, and traditions, I knew I wanted to share story-telling and Jewish culture with my own children and grandchildren. Picture books, which are meant to be read aloud, are a magical vehicle for culture/values. 

Caryn's book list on Jewish children’s picture stories to read aloud

Caryn Yacowitz Why did Caryn love this book?

This book has everything I love: An adorable kitten (named Ketzel, “cat” in Yiddish); a gentle, loving human, Moshe Cotel; and tender, pitch-perfect illustrations. And, it’s based on a true story. It will capture your heart as it did mine.

A young composer living in a noisy city hears a forlorn kitten on the busy street. He scoops her up and takes her home so they can “make beautiful music together.” When the composer labors over creating a one-minute composition for a prestigious contest, he finally gives up in despair until he hears little Ketzel strolling on the keyboard. He jots down the notes, enters it in the contest; Ketzel Cotel receives a certificate of special mention for “Piece for Piano: Four Paws”!

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed is a sweet tale of friendship crafted to perfection.

By Lesléa Newman, Amy June Bates (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

A 2016 Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award Winner

A kitten’s stroll down a keyboard leads to a celebrated one-minute composition in this charming portrait of a remarkable true friendship.

Moshe Cotel was a composer who lived in a noisy building on a noisy street in a noisy city. But Moshe didn’t mind. Everything he heard was music to his ears. One day, while out for a walk, he heard a small, sad sound that he’d never heard before. It was a tiny kitten! “Come on, little Ketzel,” Moshe said, “I will take you home and we will make…


Book cover of I Am Drums

Jennifer Gennari Author Of Muffled

From my list on middle-grade about kids making music.

Why am I passionate about this?

In fifth grade, I chose to play the clarinet. After a lot of cracked reeds and squeaky notes, I switched to choir. I still love to sing! I love books that explore young people’s first experiences with music, whether it’s as a star or as a way to express one’s true self. Music takes many forms, and for me, that includes the arrangement of sounds in a sentence. When I write for young people, I look for the musicality of words, how they flow, and how variety can make a story pop. Try reading aloud your own work or a favorite book and listen to the rhythm of language.

Jennifer's book list on middle-grade about kids making music

Jennifer Gennari Why did Jennifer love this book?

If you’ve ever heard drumrolls and rhythms in your head, this story is for you.

Set during a recession, Sam and her family are experiencing hard times. But sixth grader Sam has a dream to play drums, and she’s gutsy enough to lie and mow lawns to pay for lessons and save for her own drum set someday.

Her worries about friends, cuts to the school’s music program, and her parents fighting over money mean that drumming is the only thing that’s saving Sam.

Through sheer determination and lots of practice, this girl who everyone said would never be good finally plays like the star drummer she is.

By Mike Grosso,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am Drums as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

“This book is the song of my middle-school heart.” —Michelle Schusterman, author of the I Heart Band! series   Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people. 
But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?…


Book cover of Music and the Mind

Yiannis Gabriel Author Of Music and Story: A Two-Part Invention

From my list on falling in love with classical music.

Why am I passionate about this?

Classical music has been one of the great passions of my life, ever since at the age of 6 my father introduced me to the magic of Chopin’s Polonaise héroïque, by improvising the story that the music was telling, creating a magical mosaic of notes and words. I then realized that music tells stories and that musical stories do not only offer pleasure, excitement, and consolation, but also act as sources of insight into the world we inhabit, in all its complexity and drama. I have since made classical music a regular part of my life, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven being intimate friends and acquaintances, not distant historical figures. 

Yiannis' book list on falling in love with classical music

Yiannis Gabriel Why did Yiannis love this book?

If you want to delve into how music functions in the human mind and how it helps support communities and groups, then Anthony Storr’s is the book for you. Eminent psychiatrist, Oxford professor, and proficient pianist and violist, Storr (author of Churchill's Black Dog) uses his deep knowledge of philosophy, psychology, and religion to address questions like “Where does music come from?”, “Is music a common language for all humanity?” “How does music trigger emotions?” “Are our encounters with music in any way comparable with encountering persons?” Drawing on the work of Jung, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, Storr argues that music, like religion, is a feature of all human cultures. Like religion, it offers solace and comfort from the hardships of life.

However, music is not universal—different cultures develop their own musical traditions and conventions, just as they develop different political systems and different languages. What is universal, and this…

By Anthony Storr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Music and the Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Examines the psychological, emotional, historical and philosophical roles of the musical experience in a person's life. This text looks at music as both a social and a solitary experience and supports the contention that music is the most significant experience in life.


Book cover of The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince

Matt Thorne Author Of Prince: The Man and His Music

From my list on by Prince associates.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having spent seven years researching and writing about Prince (and another year updating the book), I spoke to as many people who worked and lived with him as I could. While my book is rich with information gleaned from interviews, alongside my own analysis, there were a few people who didn’t talk to me. Of the above, I did talk to Dez Dickerson, but the others were holding off (presumably because their own books were in the works). All the books below work as perfect compliments to mine and are all must-haves for any Prince fan’s purple library.

Matt's book list on by Prince associates

Matt Thorne Why did Matt love this book?

Prince was different things to different people and one of the things you’ll discover through these books is that they work as a mosaic showing different sides of him. Only two people will ever know what it was like to be married to Prince, and Mayte is one of them.

By Mayte Garcia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Most Beautiful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Most Beautiful, a title inspired by the hit song Prince wrote about their legendary love story, Mayte Garcia for the first time shares the deeply personal story of their relationship and offers a singular perspective on the music icon and their world together: from their unconventional meeting backstage at a concert (and the long-distance romance that followed), to their fairy-tale wedding (and their groundbreaking artistic partnership), to the devastating losses that ultimately dissolved their romantic relationship for good. Throughout it all, they shared a bond more intimate than any other in Prince's life. No one else can tell…


Book cover of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Shannan Martin Author Of Start with Hello: (And Other Simple Ways to Live as Neighbors)

From my list on cultivating empathy and connection in a divided world.

Why am I passionate about this?

A dozen years ago, my family moved from a homogeneous community where everyone looked, lived, and believed as we did to a vibrant neighborhood filled with difference and complexity. This shifted something deep inside me and ultimately changed the way I see the world and myself within it. It set me on a path toward understanding how authentic, ordinary community holds the power to transform our world. To live as neighbors is to draw near to each other. I have written three books on this central theme and plan to spend the rest of my life reaching for empathy as our best tool in reclaiming the goodness of humanity.  

Shannan's book list on cultivating empathy and connection in a divided world

Shannan Martin Why did Shannan love this book?

The unexpected cover art was just the beginning of the odyssey that is this book. Abdurraquib masterfully explores the intersection of civics and pop culture, weaving personal history with modern-day ethics, all to a soundtrack that is both memorable and urgent.

This is the sort of book that unlocks a hidden door to our collective compassion. One of the best things I’ve ever read. 

By Hanif Abdurraqib,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* 2018 "12 best books to give this holiday season" —TODAY (Elizabeth Acevedo)
* A "Best Book of 2017" —Rolling Stone (2018), NPR, Buzzfeed, Paste Magazine, Esquire, Chicago Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, CBC, Stereogum, National Post, Entropy, Heavy, Book Riot, Chicago Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, Michigan Daily
* American Booksellers Association (ABA) 'December 2017 Indie Next List Great Reads'
* Midwest Indie Bestseller

In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Abdurraqib's is a voice that matters. Whether he's attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown's grave, or discussing public displays of…


Book cover of Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926-1966

Spencer Leigh Author Of Little Richard: Send Me Some Lovin'

From my list on the Beatles.

Why am I passionate about this?

We all know Little Richard’s great hits like "Long Tall, Sally", "Tutti Frutti" and "Good Golly Miss Molly" and Little Richard’s life was as wild as his records. It’s excess all areas as Spencer Leigh tells the story of Little Richard in Send Me Some Lovin. It is a biography of someone who transformed popular music. Spencer Leigh was born in 1945 and hearing Little Richard for the first time in 1956 changed his life. He is a world expert on the Beatles and he has written a series of music-based biographies – Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel – all of which are full of facts and opinions.

Spencer's book list on the Beatles

Spencer Leigh Why did Spencer love this book?

A two-volume biography of George Martin’s work as a record producer, full of colourful detail.

You get a full account of George’s work with the Beatles. The sound effects which George had to create for The Goons’ records helped him deal with the Beatles. I also loved reading about George’s spat with his fellow EMI producer, Norrie Paramor.

By Kenneth Womack,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maximum Volume as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Martin - the man, the mind, the music. This is the story of the legendary Beatles producer.

The first of two volumes, MAXIMUM VOLUME traces Martin's early life, from an impoverished childhood, through WWII, to becoming head of EMI's Parlophone Records.

There, he made waves in British comedy and saved Parlophone from ruin with records from the likes of Spike Milligan. Then one day he discovered a scruffy beat band from Liverpool...

As this dramatic story unfolds, the book transports you into the studio with Martin and the Beatles, exploring how his musical genius shaped their incredible body of…


Book cover of Country: The Twisted Roots Of Rock 'n' Roll

Hal Taylor Author Of For a Song: The Most Enduring Tunes Ever Written

From my list on music’s most famous back stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

Writing about history came to me rather late in life and I suppose it’s because the past now looks more inviting than the future. But there’s more to it than that. Everything has a history; it’s a bottomless topic. I became fascinated with the history of my own geographic environment and began exploring areas that were basically in my own backyard, which led to the inception of my first book. And, after years working as a graphic artist, I decided to help the narrative along by adding illustrations. A second book soon followed, then a third, a fourth, and now I’ve just finished my fifth book.

Hal's book list on music’s most famous back stories

Hal Taylor Why did Hal love this book?

No one can say exactly when Rock ’n’ Roll was born, including biographer, novelist, poet, and recently deceased journalist Nick Tosches, but he provides enough background musings to take us on a wild ride through American musical history.

His book reveals twisted roots indeed, some that provided me with reference material regarding a connection between minstrelsy and one of the most popular Christmas tunes of all time. And a country song breaks loose from the genre corral and into the world of pop music when it is made into one of the best-known ballads ever by a singing politician.

By Nick Tosches,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating the dark origins of our most American music, Country reveals a wild shadowland of history that encompasses blackface minstrels and yodeling cowboys honky-tonk hell and rockabilly heaven medieval myth and musical miscegenation sex, drugs, murder and rays of fierce illumination on Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others, famous and forgotten, whose demonology is America's own. Profusely and superbly illustrated, Country stands as one of the most brilliant explorations of American musical culture ever written.


Book cover of The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night

Catherine Ann Cullen Author Of The Song of Brigid’s Cloak

From my list on children’s stories with a song connection.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a poet, children’s writer, and songwriter from Drogheda, Ireland. Ballads were always part of my family life. My favourite uncle, Gerry Cullen, is a song collector and singer who was central to the revival of folk singing in Drogheda. It was only when I embarked on a Creative Writing PhD in 2015 that I fully recognised the influence of ballads on my work. This has brought me deeper into ballad studies and I have just begun a postdoctoral fellowship at University College Dublin to reclaim lost street poets and tenement balladeers of 19th-century Ireland. For me, the ballad is a peerless narrative form: compact, rhyming, rhythmic, and memorable.  

Catherine's book list on children’s stories with a song connection

Catherine Ann Cullen Why did Catherine love this book?

In 1961, American illustrator Peter Spier won a Caldecott Honor for his version of this ancient song, and in 2014 he revisited his book, turning the black and white illustrations into glorious colour. As a scholar of ballads, I’m thrilled by their persistent popularity. The first evidence of “The Fox” is in a manuscript in the British Library from the second half of the fifteenth century, with its chorus—“Pax vobis, quoth the fox, for I am going to the town.” It’s clearly the same song, just missing the ‘o’ after town. What’s the attraction? Besides Spier’s shimmering double spreads of Americana, there’s tight storytelling with great visual details, a tune, a chorus, and a hero’s journey with a happy ending—for Fox and his family, at least! 

By Peter Spier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

This Caldecott Honor book from beloved illustrator Peter Spier is a spirited take on a classic American folk song.

"[Spier's] finely detailed, action-packed New England autumn vistas are almost startlingly beautiful."—The New York Times 
 
Over fifty years after he won a Caldecott Honor for The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, legendary illustrator Peter Spier went back to this time-honored favorite in 2014 to paint the half of the book that was originally printed in black and white. In this glowing, restored vision of Spier’s beloved classic, follow the wily fox as he roams a sleepy New England town…