The best popular music books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about popular music and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Book cover of Appalachian Patterns: Stories

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.

Appalachian Patterns

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

By Franz Douskey,

Book cover of Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

What is my book about?

Tony Consiglio started the famous Sally’s Apizza Restaurant in 1938, made famous by Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis, Lyle Lovett, Andre Agassi.  In 1940, Tony and Frank Sinatra hit the road together, very close friends until Frank passed away. Tony was right there.  The stories come directly from Tony, who was Constantly by Frank’s side, on the road, in night clubs, all night gatherings that included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Gene Kelly, Joe DiMaggio, Pierre Salinger, Buddy Rich, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and these parties usually lasted beyond sunrise.  Tony poured the drinks. He never touched alcohol, but Tony said that he used to get stoned on the fumes.  

Outside the Jukebox

By Scott Bradlee,

Book cover of Outside the Jukebox: How I Turned My Vintage Music Obsession Into My Dream Gig

Nobody really knows what makes a video go viral on social media. Scott Bradlee is a jazz pianist who turned his love of 20s music into a YouTube phenomenon with over 4Bn hits: Postmodern Jukebox. He explains how you can turn this (often unexpected) instant attraction into a series of robust business models.

Outside the Jukebox

By Scott Bradlee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the creator of the sensation Postmodern Jukebox--with millions of fans globally--comes an inspirational memoir about discovering what you love and turning it into a creative movement.

With student loan debt piling up and no lucrative gigs around the corner, Scott Bradlee found himself in a situation all too familiar to struggling musicians and creative professionals, unsure whether he should use the little income he had to pay the rent on his basement apartment on the fringes of New York City or to avoid defaulting on his loans.

It was in these desperate circumstances that Bradlee began experimenting, applying his…


Who am I?

I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 40 years and now pass on that knowledge to mentees and university students. The key to success in business is being able to attract and then learn from mentors, who, in my opinion, always should provide their knowledge, wisdom, and connections free of charge. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to go down ‘The Dark Side’, especially if the pursuit of money and power becomes overwhelming. Many famous billionaires are not especially nice people. But there are many nice businesspeople out there and I aspire to be one of those, hence my pursuit of a daily advancement in esoteric, hermetic, and other knowledge.


I wrote...

The Beermat Entrepreneur: Turn Your good idea into a great business

By Mike Southon, Chris West,

Book cover of The Beermat Entrepreneur: Turn Your good idea into a great business

What is my book about?

The Beermat Entrepreneur helps you convert your jotted notes about your business idea into a big and successful business. With wit and humour, this quick-to-read and simple-to-use book could turn your beermat inspiration into reality.

You’ve got a bright idea. An idea that you think maybe, just maybe, could become a brilliant business. But what next? The Beermat Entrepreneur is the answer. It takes you through all the crucial stages between those first notes on a beermat and a business that is sound, lasting, and profitable. It tells you what the other books don’t – the lessons that most people have to learn by bitter experience; the tricks that all entrepreneurs wish somebody had told them before they set out. From testing your idea and finding a mentor, through selecting and motivating the right people and securing your first customer, to deciding when to ‘go for growth’ – this is the guide to turning good ideas into real businesses.

Book cover of Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars

With Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry, Kristin Lieb provides an enlightening but often troubling account of the contemporary pop music industry. By focusing on women artists in the post-MTV era, Lieb demonstrates that female pop singers are judged more than ever on their sex appeal—despite the advances of the women’s movement over the past several decades. Lieb draws from both theorists and music industry insiders, giving her conclusions weight and credibility. Yet despite its frequently disturbing findings, the book is not overly cynical. Lieb, an energetic writer, has managed to maintain her enthusiasm for pop music.

Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry

By Kristin J. Lieb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Gender, Branding, and The Modern Music Industry combines interview data with music industry professionals with theoretical frameworks from sociology, mass communication, and marketing to explain and explore the gender differences female artists experience.

This book provides a rare lens on the rigid packaging process that transforms female artists of various genres into female pop stars. Stars -- and the industry power brokers who make their fortunes -- have learned to prioritize sexual attractiveness over talent as they fight a crowded field for movie deals, magazine covers, and fashion lines, let alone record deals. This focus on the female pop star's…


Who am I?

Over the years, as a Professor of English at St. John's University, NY, I have shifted my research from American literature to popular culture, specifically rock music, a passion first ignited when I watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and re-ignited time and time again over the years. I have written articles, reviews, interviews, and a few books and I edit Popular Music and Society and Rock Music Studies.


I wrote...

Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else

By Thomas Kitts,

Book cover of Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else

What is my book about?

My book on Ray Davies focuses on his life, his times, and, most significantly, his music. Not Like Everybody Else charts the evolution of one of the great artists of the rock era. I begin by considering how Davies’s working-class background shaped his character and infused his work. The book then studies Davies’s artistic growth from his early singles with the Kinks, through seminal Kinks albums like Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur, the daring rock operas and concept albums, his films, his innovative autobiography, his one-man show, and more.

Drawing on interviews, reviews, other writings, and a close study of Davies’s rich and complex work, Not Like Everybody Else creates a thorough picture of Davies the man and his artistic output.

The Voice of Egypt, 1997

By Virginia Danielson,

Book cover of The Voice of Egypt, 1997: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century

The essential biography of Umm Kulthum for the English reader. Danielson tells the story of the Arab world’s most famous singer, one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. This book charts her life from the small village in the Nile Delta where she grew up to the heights of global superstardom. It also paints a picture of the world that she moved through, which intersected with the world depicted in Midnight in Cairo. This is a necessary read for anyone interested in Arabic music.

The Voice of Egypt, 1997

By Virginia Danielson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Voice of Egypt, 1997 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Umm Kuthum was a celebrated musical performer in the Arab world, and her songs still permeate the international airwaves. This, the first English-language biography, chronicles her life and career. In particular, it examines her popularity in a society which discouraged women from public performance. The text examines the careful construction of Kulthum's popularity; from childhood her mentors honed her abilities to accord with Arab and Muslim practice, but ultimately, she created her own idiom from local precedents and traditions, and developed original song styles from both populist and neo-classical traditions. Danielson seeks to show how Umm Kulthum's music and public…


Who am I?

I am a writer and an Arabic to English translator, with a PhD in Arabic Theatre from the University of Edinburgh. In recent years, I have gravitated towards the history of popular culture and the demi-monde in the Middle East. The stories of singers and dancers say much more to me than the conventional subjects of histories of the Arab world – politicians, soldiers, etc. Through them, we can see the Middle East in a way that we seldom see in the West means much more to a lot of the people who live there.


I wrote...

Book cover of Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s

What is my book about?

Following the lives of the most powerful, charismatic, and independent female stars of Cairo’s early-twentieth-century nightlife, this book delves into stories that many historians ignore. Away from high parliamentary politics and elite circles, a group of women were defining what it meant to be Egyptian in the modern world. In smoke-filled nightclubs, a new world was being born and the singers, dancers, and cabaret owners of Egypt were its central protagonists.

Gumbo Ya-Ya

By Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer, Robert Tallant

Book cover of Gumbo Ya-Ya

My interest in music takes its roots deep into Louisiana because the first music was vocal.

Not only music but all literature had its beginnings in the words of history and folk songs. This book brought light into my young life. It was the beginning to understand American culture through its clearly defined early music. I carried various printings of Gumbo Ya-Ya with me through my early travels through Memphis, Louisiana, Como, Mississippi, etc. The book opened my mind to the history, and because of the book, the traveling opened my mind to the music.

Gumbo Ya-Ya

By Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer, Robert Tallant

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

By Franz Douskey,

Book cover of Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

What is my book about?

Tony Consiglio started the famous Sally’s Apizza Restaurant in 1938, made famous by Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis, Lyle Lovett, Andre Agassi.  In 1940, Tony and Frank Sinatra hit the road together, very close friends until Frank passed away. Tony was right there.  The stories come directly from Tony, who was Constantly by Frank’s side, on the road, in night clubs, all night gatherings that included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Gene Kelly, Joe DiMaggio, Pierre Salinger, Buddy Rich, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and these parties usually lasted beyond sunrise.  Tony poured the drinks. He never touched alcohol, but Tony said that he used to get stoned on the fumes.  

Book cover of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire looks at the New York music scene from 1973 to 1977. What makes this period (and this place) so fascinating is that so many different styles of music emerged from and evolved through it: punk, hip-hop, jazz, and the more traditional rock ‘n’ roll of Bruce Springsteen. What makes the book so fascinating is that Hermes examines how the different movements informed and energized each other. If you really want to understand the roots of contemporary music, this is the book you need to read. 

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire

By Will Hermes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love Goes to Buildings on Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Punk rock and hip-hop. Disco and salsa. The loft jazz scene and the downtown composers known as Minimalists. In the mid-1970s, New York City was a laboratory where all the major styles of modern music were reinvented—all at once, from one block to the next, by musicians who knew, admired, and borrowed from one another. Crime was everywhere, the government was broke, and the city’s infrastructure was collapsing. But rent was cheap, and the possibilities for musical exploration were limitless.

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire is the first book to tell the full story of the era’s music scenes…


Who am I?

Music is a major passion of mine. I’m highly involved in making and promoting independent music both locally and internationally via social media. The primary focus of all my endeavors is promoting a do-it-yourself ethos. Whenever I work with musicians, I’m always fascinated by how their creativity allows them to do a lot with a little. Hence, I suppose, the story of Frankie Lumlit. It’s a story about falling in love with music and finding a way to make it even when the world says no.


I wrote...

Frankie Lumlit's Janky Drumkit

By Marc Schuster,

Book cover of Frankie Lumlit's Janky Drumkit

What is my book about?

When his parents tell him that he can’t have a drumkit, Frankie Lumlit builds one out of odds and ends he finds in the family recycling bin. Frankie’s excitement, however, is dimmed when his friend Alfonse laughs at his creation. But then Frankie’s favorite band overhears his drumming and asks if they can borrow his drums. As a token of appreciation, they invite him to that night’s concert where Frankie Lumlit’s janky drumkit takes center stage. 

Live Music in America

By Steve Waksman,

Book cover of Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Beyoncé

Few books on popular music history include analysis of the evolving conditions of live concerts. Most inventory the top shows and offer quirky anecdotes, but Steve Waksman’s Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Beyoncé refuses to separate the actual performance from the numerous behind-the-scene individuals that shaped the shows. Readers will come to appreciate diverse influences over a turbulent 170-year history that have led to today’s modern music festival.

Live Music in America

By Steve Waksman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When the Swedish concert singer Jenny Lind toured the U.S. in 1850, she became the prototype for the modern pop star. Meanwhile, her manager, P.T. Barnum, became the prototype for another figure of enduring significance: the pop culture impresario. Starting with Lind's fabled U.S. tour and winding all the way into the twenty-first century, Live Music in America surveys the ongoing impact and changing conditions of live music performance in the U.S. It covers
a range of historic performances, from the Fisk Jubilee Singers expanding the sphere of African American music in the 1870s, to Benny Goodman bringing swing to…


Who am I?

While it is tempting to insist that the reason we wrote a five-volume set on the history of local rock ‘n’ roll was as context for rescuing the famed 1976 “Backdoor Mural,” it’s not entirely true. Jaime and I love live music, mark major life events with important musical milestones, and delight in bizarre musical tangents. Music moves us, history matters, and the intersection of song and society is profound, elucidating, and eternally relevant.


I wrote...

Let it Rock! Live From San Diego State

By Seth Mallios, Jaime Lennox,

Book cover of Let it Rock! Live From San Diego State

What is my book about?

From Aerosmith to Zappa, San Diego State has hosted a mind-boggling array of live rock ‘n’ roll shows, more than virtually any other college campus in the nation. State’s unrivaled legacy of pre-eminent live popular music is not limited to rock ‘n’ roll; Montezuma Mesa has hosted seminal folk acts, as well as top stars in jazz, R&B, country, reggae, rap, and many other genres. With over 3,400 bands playing more than 3,100 billed concerts from 1931 to 2015, the San Diego State campus has witnessed an unprecedented number of cutting-edge performances by some of the most influential and popular musicians of all time. This five-volume set chronicles them all and includes a bevy of concert posters, ticket stubs, setlists, anecdotes, and the occasional arrest warrant.

On the Road

By David W. Hewitt,

Book cover of On the Road: Recording the Stars in a Golden Era of Live Music

David Hewitt’s On the Road: Recording the Stars in a Golden Era of Live Music is an important contribution to the extensive annals of popular music history in that it focuses on the business of live recording that was an integral component to the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll from the 1960s through the 1980s. Hewitt was a top live recording engineer and his expertise permeates the pages of the richly detailed book.

On the Road

By David W. Hewitt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book tells the story of a life spent on the road recording the rich diversity of music in America when it was a major part of our lives, not just digital background noise. For music fans, there was a golden era of live music, stretching from the 1960s through the 1980s, and even evolving into the 1990s, if you want to be generous.

In the pre-digital era, music fans spent a large part of their free time (and money) listening to their favorite artist’s recordings. It was an analog world so if they wanted to hear the music, they…


Who am I?

While it is tempting to insist that the reason we wrote a five-volume set on the history of local rock ‘n’ roll was as context for rescuing the famed 1976 “Backdoor Mural,” it’s not entirely true. Jaime and I love live music, mark major life events with important musical milestones, and delight in bizarre musical tangents. Music moves us, history matters, and the intersection of song and society is profound, elucidating, and eternally relevant.


I wrote...

Let it Rock! Live From San Diego State

By Seth Mallios, Jaime Lennox,

Book cover of Let it Rock! Live From San Diego State

What is my book about?

From Aerosmith to Zappa, San Diego State has hosted a mind-boggling array of live rock ‘n’ roll shows, more than virtually any other college campus in the nation. State’s unrivaled legacy of pre-eminent live popular music is not limited to rock ‘n’ roll; Montezuma Mesa has hosted seminal folk acts, as well as top stars in jazz, R&B, country, reggae, rap, and many other genres. With over 3,400 bands playing more than 3,100 billed concerts from 1931 to 2015, the San Diego State campus has witnessed an unprecedented number of cutting-edge performances by some of the most influential and popular musicians of all time. This five-volume set chronicles them all and includes a bevy of concert posters, ticket stubs, setlists, anecdotes, and the occasional arrest warrant.

The Rolling Stone Album Guide

By Rolling Stone Magazine,

Book cover of The Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely New Reviews: Every Essential Album, Every Essential Artist

The Bible as far as I am concerned. As I was becoming a rock and roll fantastic in the early 80s, this was my go to source whenever encountering a new act that I hadn’t heard of. I would look up the new act, get an overview of their career and then dive in. It was always fun to see how they reviewed each album, using a scale of 1 to 5 stars. I bought every edition of this book (and will continue to do so, if they keep publishing them) and it was also interesting, and great feature of these books, that in each subsequent edition they would revisit their reviews and often change them, along with their star ratings.

The Rolling Stone Album Guide

By Rolling Stone Magazine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rolling Stone Album Guide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A completely revised edition of the bestselling guide to popular recordings--featuring 2,500 entries and more than 12,500 album reviews. The definitive guide for the `90s.


Who am I?

Julian David Stone is an author, screenwriter, photographer, and filmmaker. He shot dozens of the 1980s greatest acts by sneaking his photography equipment into concerts such as Prince, U2, the Police, David Bowie, R.E.M., the Ramones, Elvis Costello, the Talking Heads, the Grateful Dead, Joan Jett, and many, many more. Other work include screenplays for Disney, Paramount, Sony, and MGM. He is also the writer and director of the hit cult comedy feature film, Follow the Bitch, which has played to packed houses all around the country and received numerous awards.


I wrote...

No Cameras Allowed: My Career as an Outlaw Rock and Roll Photographer

By Julian David Stone,

Book cover of No Cameras Allowed: My Career as an Outlaw Rock and Roll Photographer

What is my book about?

No Cameras Allowed tells the story of how Julian David Stone entirely by sneaking his equipment into concerts, amassed an incredible archive of over ten thousand rock and roll photos. Starting by simply stashing a camera in his socks, then taping equipment all over his body, to finally customizing a jacket to hide equipment from security guards, he shot dozens of the 1980s greatest acts: Prince, U2, the Police, David Bowie, R.E.M., the Ramones, Elvis Costello, the Talking Heads, the Grateful Dead, Joan Jett, and many, many more. Culled from this incredible, never-before-seen archive, this book contains over 250 of his best photos, along with some of the craziest adventures he had as he evaded oversized roadies, aggressive security, and more than a few drunken fans.

How Sweet It Is

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

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.

How Sweet It Is

By Lamont Dozier, Scott B. Bomar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Sweet It Is as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As part of Motown’s legendary songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Lamont Dozier is responsible for such classics as “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Heat Wave,” “Baby Love,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Nowhere to Run,” “You Keep Me Hanging On,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” and many more. After leaving Motown, he continued to make his mark as an influential songwriter, artist, and producer with hits such as “Give Me Just a…


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.

Or, view all 35 books about popular music

New book lists related to popular music

All book lists related to popular music

Bookshelves related to popular music