The most recommended popular music books

Who picked these books? Meet our 38 experts.

38 authors created a book list connected to popular music, and here are their favorite popular music books.
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What type of popular music book?


Book cover of Any Old Way You Choose It

Ljubinko Zivkovic

From my list on music in the late sixties and seventies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Popular music in all its shapes and forms has permeated my life since my pre-teen years and has remained both an intimate and professional preoccupation of mine throughout my life, even when I was doing other things professionally. Books dealing with all aspects of music, from artist biographies to its cultural and social examinations have been and remain that essential element that both fuel and satisfy that interest and give it that expanded feature it needs. As somebody who has a degree in journalism and had careers as a journalist, diplomat, and a translator, and now as a freelance writer, music and books on music remain that thread that connects them all.

Ljubinko's book list on music in the late sixties and seventies

Ljubinko Zivkovic Why did Ljubinko love this book?

In many ways, this book by one of the rock critic veterans covers almost exactly the period in modern music history that relates to my perspective book. It is a collection of his early writings, partly at the time when he was the music editor at Village Voice. Personally, Christgau is one rock critic that perfected the art of album/single reviews.

By Robert Christgau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Any Old Way You Choose It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An invaluable compendium showcasing a new sub-genre of writing not yet contained by the established boundaries of journalism or criticism.

Book cover of Appalachian Patterns: Stories

Franz Douskey Author Of Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

From my list on the roots of social change through popular music.

Why am I passionate about this?

More has been accomplished by music to wake us up that any marches, speeches, injustice, and/or wealth. In the beginning, music and its many forms I followed were an accident. Now I see that music is vital for social expression, intimacy, solitude. The walls in my writing room are covered with photos, CDs, 78s, and most certainly live recordings and books. I feel sorry for the soul(s) who will have to pick through this history when I’ve gone to that Upper Room.

Franz's book list on the roots of social change through popular music

Franz Douskey Why did Franz love this book?

Tight, vivid writing about the poorest people in America in the richest country in the world. There is dignity and warmth of two sons caring for their blind father, and there is God in also every life, for better or worse. I have to read this book at least once a year to remember what hard times and resolutions are. Every word seems to matter.

By Bo Ball,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This collection of short stories is set in Appalachia and include two Pushcart Prize winners.

Book cover of Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones

Richard J. Alley Author Of Five Night Stand

From my list on culture of mid-20th century music and musicians.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in 1970. From my earliest memory there was music. But it’s never been just about the music, I have a natural curiosity for the people who make that music. The artist on the album cover, but also the side musicians, the producers, engineers, and promoters. I’m also fascinated by the roadmap from blues to rock to Laurel Canyon to disco to punk and on and on. Real music infuses and informs the fiction I write — by reading real-life accounts and listening to the songs, I’m put in the world from which it was all born.

Richard's book list on culture of mid-20th century music and musicians

Richard J. Alley Why did Richard love this book?

Quincy Jones knows everybody. He’s worked with everybody. To study the life of Quincy Jones is to study popular music as we know it today. From jazz to soul to R&B to pop, Q has had a hand and a tapping toe in all genres and the lives of those who produced it. His love and passion for music of any genre are infectious. I’ve always been interested in not just the music itself, but in how it’s made, why it’s made, and who makes it, and this autobiography pulls back the curtain on it all. 

By Quincy Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Musician, composer, producer, arranger, and pioneering entrepreneur Quincy Jones has lived large and worked for five decades alongside the superstars of music and entertainment -- including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Ray Charles, Will Smith, and dozens of others. Q is his glittering and moving life story, told with the style, passion, and no-holds-barred honesty that are his trademarks.

Quincy Jones grew up poor on the mean streets of Chicago’s South Side, brushing against the law and feeling the pain of his mother’s descent into madness. But when his father moved the family west to Seattle, he…

Book cover of Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure©

Mariah Fox Author Of SAMO©...SINCE 1978: SAMO©...Writings: 1978-2018

From my list on celebrated and controversial artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Why am I passionate about this?

I ardently began research and writing on Jean-Michel Basquiat in grad school (2004), before his paintings demolished sales records and when he was still somewhat misunderstood and marginalized by perplexed art historians. Since then, his potency and intrigue have blazed a global pop culture inferno. I’ve conducted dozens of interviews, befriended those close to him, memorized his lines, colors, words, and spaces in books and real life, and re-read countless pages. Currently I’m writing and compiling a field guide to his work. All Basquiat publications are imperfect. I hope with sensitivity and intellectual intent, fans can move through their initial impressions to better understand his meaningful motives, inclinations, and artwork.

Mariah's book list on celebrated and controversial artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Mariah Fox Why did Mariah love this book?

No single book on my list is the perfect gateway to Basquiat, but taken as a group, you have a strong primer.

This recommendation includes abundant personal memories, photos, ephemera and artworks from the private collection of Jean-Michel Basquiat, his family, and close associates. After so many publications without input, Basquiat’s sisters finally come out here and share some personal experiences.

Research-wise this book is somewhat useless as his estate was not able to catalog much detailed substance. Yet the works within, which Basquiat withheld in his personal collection—are some of his most brilliant, especially the drawings, dated or not.

The book is also list-worthy because its accompanying KING PLEASURE © exhibit is recent, making this catalog one of the newer Basquiat collectibles available now.

By Lisane Basquiat (contributor), Jeanine Heriveaux (contributor), Nora Fitzpatrick (contributor) , Ileen Gallagher (contributor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jean-Michel Basquiat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Organised by the family of Basquiat, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue feature over 200 never before and rarely seen paintings, drawings, ephemera, and artifacts. The artist s contributions to the history of art and his exploration into our multi-faceted culture incorporating music, the Black experience, pop culture, African American sports figures, literature, and other sources are showcased alongside personal reminiscences and firsthand accounts providing unique insight into Basquiat s creative life and his singular voice that propelled the social and cultural narrative that continues to this day. Structured around key periods in his life, from his childhood and formative years,…

Book cover of Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story

Maureen Mahon Author Of Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll

From my list on African American women who shaped popular music.

Why am I passionate about this?

Over many years of being an African American fan of rock music, I’ve learned that the combination of my gender, race, and musical taste can be disconcerting to people who expect Black women to adhere to a limited set of cultural interests. My frustration with these kinds of assumptions, my awareness that rock has deep roots in African American musical culture, my curiosity about the experiences of African American women who participated in rock and roll, and my desire to make sure that they are part of the stories we tell about the music’s history led me to write Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll

Maureen's book list on African American women who shaped popular music

Maureen Mahon Why did Maureen love this book?

One of my favorite memoirs, Rage to Survive is a no-holds-barred dive into the life and times of powerful singer who traversed the genres of rock and roll, blues, and R&B during her decades-long career. James tells compelling stories about her tough upbringing on the west coast and her teenage immersion into sex, drugs, and early rock and roll (check out her 1955 hit “The Wallflower”); shares her experiences touring in the segregated south during the 1950s; offers gossip about well-known musical figures; and reflects on her development as an artist navigating the recording industry in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. Throughout she offers insights about love, loss, motherhood, hard knocks, bad choices, addiction, and personal and professional triumphs. James speaks with passion, humor, and honesty. 

By Etta James, David Ritz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the great women of American music, equally at home singing blues and jazz, Etta regales us with tales of her chaotic childhood, the stars she has known, and her troubled trip to stardom in this mesmerizing autobiography.

Book cover of Why Music Matters

Nick Prior Author Of Popular Music, Digital Technology and Society

From my list on popular music, technology, and society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Professor of Cultural Sociology at Edinburgh, UK, and have written extensively on contemporary culture and particularly technological mediations of popular music. I have undertaken empirical research on cultures of popular music in places like Iceland, Japan, and the UK, and I have supervised around 25 doctoral students to successful completion. My work is widely cited in the field of cultural sociology, and I am regularly interviewed by national broadcasters and the press. I’m also an amateur musician, making homespun electronic music in my bedroom and releasing it under the monikers Sponge Monkeys and Triviax.

Nick's book list on popular music, technology, and society

Nick Prior Why did Nick love this book?

Is music as universally positive and life-affirming as we think?

This book made me think twice about that idea. Yes, music lubricates our identities and can generate fellow feeling and a sense of well-being, but it can just as easily drive us apart. Think about pop’s repertoire of overtly sexist and racist songs, the booing of national anthems at sports events, and music reserved for the status acquisition practices of the elite, like opera.

What I like about David Hesmondhalgh’s exploration of why music matters is that it takes a balanced view of these questions. I use it a lot in teaching as an antidote to the somewhat lazy idea that music is *always* a force for social good. I also admire David’s ability to move from the somewhat abstract realms of moral philosophy to dancing bodies without losing sight of basic but important questions like social inequality.

By David Hesmondhalgh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Listen to David Hesmondhalgh discuss the arguments at the core of 'Why Music Matters' with Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed here:

In what ways might music enrich the lives of people and of societies? What prevents it from doing so? Why Music Matters explores the role of music in our lives, and investigates the social and political significance of music in modern societies.

First book of its kind to explore music through a variety of theories and approaches and unite these theories using one authoritative voice Combines a broad yet theoretically sophisticated approach to music and…

Book cover of Generation Misfits

Kit Rosewater Author Of The Derby Daredevils

From my list on middle grade with radical and epic friend groups.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I had a lot of experience having a close group of friends… and a lot of experience looking into other groups from the outside. I waded from circle to circle, trying on friendships like some people try on hats. The books I’m recommending represent the best of fictional friend groups—the groups that topped any clique I saw in real life. Reading these books made me feel like an in-kid in the best possible way. Many of the characters remain the absolute coolest people I know, and serve as inspiration for the friend group dynamics I get to explore in my own stories. 

Kit's book list on middle grade with radical and epic friend groups

Kit Rosewater Why did Kit love this book?

My Spice Girl-loving heart would have died to be in an SG fan club at my school. Back in my day, we had to settle for quick half-memorized dance routines under the monkey bars during recess. But in Akemi Dawn Bowman’s sweet story of niche interests and building a community person by person, the characters’ shared love of a music group is only the tip of a huge and fulfilling friendship iceberg. 

By Akemi Dawn Bowman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Generation Misfits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Eleven-year-old Millie Nakakura is starting sixth grade at a real school for the first time in her life. Previously homeschooled, Millie dreams of finally making friends and having a little bit of freedom-though this proves tricker than she expected.

Then she spots a flyer for an after-school club for fans of Japanese pop music, which she loves more than anything else in the world. Millie makes true friends with this crew of misfits, and when of their members starts to bend under the strain of a troubled home life, the friends band together to help her get through these tough…

Book cover of I Hate You, Fuller James

H.J. Nelson Author Of The Last She

From my list on reads according to your favorite Taylor Swift song.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Sci-Fi and Fantasy author who loves all things young adult! I always listen to Taylor Swift when I write, because I love how her songs are full of nostalgia, romance, humanity, and a lust for adventure—just like my books. If you couldn’t make it to the Era’s tour, no fear, check out some of these books below! 

H.J.'s book list on reads according to your favorite Taylor Swift song

H.J. Nelson Why did H.J. love this book?

If your favorite song is “You Belong With Me” try I Hate You, Fuller James, by Kelley Anne Blount.

It’s very much the story of a nerdy awkward girl pining after the handsome jock, and is full of sweet moments. I love the similarities between it and 10 Things I Hate About You and the nods to other 90’s rom coms.

I’m a sucker for the enemies-to-lovers trope, and it was fun to watch a young female character fall in love but also learn to stand up for herself.

Book cover of Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

Glenn Dixon Author Of Bootleg Stardust

From my list on the Beatles (from someone who loves them).

Why am I passionate about this?

The first record I ever bought was Magical Mystery Tour when I was no more than twelve or so. It’s what made me want to be a musician myself. I’ve got every Beatle record and I am the kind of guy to study carefully who played what, who wrote what, and how they put it all together. Just before Covid shut down everything, I even went to Abbey Road studios where we recorded some of the songs for my novel (we wrote and recorded all the songs of the fictitious band Downtown Exit). Working in Abbey Road was a dream come true – to record in the same rooms that the Beatles used. Imagine that. It was wonderful.

Glenn's book list on the Beatles (from someone who loves them)

Glenn Dixon Why did Glenn love this book?

Revolution in the Head should come with a warning. This one is only for the most serious of Beatle fanatics. It’s an encyclopedic tome listing every song they ever recorded, who played on it, and even what days it was recorded (Strawberry Fields was recorded over five different sessions through November 1966). There are also many longer sections dealing with the particular cultural moments surrounding the writing of the songs and a whole lot of controversial opinion-making about just which ones are good songs and which are not.

By Ian MacDonald,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This “Bible of the Beatles” captures the iconic band’s magical and mysterious journey from adorable teenagers to revered cultural emissaries. In this fully updated version, each of their 241 tracks is assessed chronologically from their first amateur recordings in 1957 to their final “reunion” recording in 1995. It also incorporates new information from the Anthology series and recent interviews with Paul McCartney. This comprehensive guide offers fascinating details about the Beatles’ lives, music, and era, never losing sight of what made the band so important, unique, and enjoyable.

Book cover of Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres

Frank Turner Author Of Try This at Home: Adventures in Songwriting

From Frank's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Musician And Music History Nerd

Frank's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Frank Turner Why did Frank love this book?

I’m deeply interested in the history of music and the industries that surround it.

This book is a magisterial and original look at the history of popular music in the late 20th century, told through a selection of different genres. I learned immense amounts about music I thought I was already quite knowledgeable on, and was introduced to swathes of new artists and ideas as well.

By Kelefa Sanneh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of Oprah Daily's 20 Favorite Books of 2021 • Selected as one of Pitchfork's Best Music Books of the Year

“One of the best books of its kind in decades.” —The Wall Street Journal

An epic achievement and a huge delight, the entire history of popular music over the past fifty years refracted through the big genres that have defined and dominated it: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music, and pop

Kelefa Sanneh, one of the essential voices of our time on music and culture, has made a deep study of how popular music unites and divides us,…