The best rock and roll books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about rock and roll and why they recommend each book.

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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.


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.

Silk

By Caitlin R. Kiernan,

Book cover of Silk

Set in the 1990s alt/goth scene of Birmingham, Alabama – yes, it did have one – Silk was Kiernan’s first published novel, and it immediately attracted a loyal readership. Daria is trying to hold together a relationship and a band (the wonderfully named Stiff Kitten), while her junkie boyfriend Keith shoots up with his father’s antique rig. Meanwhile, weirdness is going on with local curio shop owner Spyder Baxter, whose pet black widow spiders aren’t her only arachnoid allies. This is a hard novel to describe, but for the right sort of reader, it will become a cherished one.

Silk

By Caitlin R. Kiernan,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

An author who also runs an online shop, PZBaubles New Orleans, specializing in quirky vintage jewelry, occult curios, holy objects, rare Tarot decks, metaphysical parlor games, and more. Music has always been a huge inspiration to me, and bands often turn up in my fiction, the best-known probably being Lost Souls from the novel of the same name. I published and lived for twenty-odd years under the name Poppy Z. Brite, but now go by Billy Martin.


I wrote...

Courtney Love: The Real Story

By Poppy Z. Brite,

Book cover of Courtney Love: The Real Story

What is my book about?

Published in 1997, it’s an unauthorized but very inside biography of Courtney Love. One of the most vilified women in rock, I think she’s also one of the most interesting, and it was easy to tell her story as I would have written a novel. I examined her early life bouncing between reform schools and foster homes, her youthful travels as a stripper, actress, and musician, her marriage to Kurt Cobain, and her career with the band Hole.

Book cover of The Restless Generation

We need a documentary made from this exquisite history of how rock and roll came to Great Britain by the redoubtable Pete Frame, best known for his intricately calligraphed and intensely researched Rock Family Trees. He walks readers through the rise of Tommy Steele and the 2I’s club in Soho, where Cliff Richards, England’s Elvis, and other nascent stars of the new sound were discovered. He skillfully entwines the strains of skiffle, trad jazz, and early British r&b into his narrative and brings to life early British rock and rollers such as Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Vince Taylor, and others who never made their way across the Atlantic, setting the stage for the emergence of the Beatles and nothing less than an explosion of British culture on a global scale after the many long, dark years following World War II. This brilliant book is stuffed full of original research and…

The Restless Generation

By Pete Frame,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

As pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly forty years and author of more than twenty books on pop music, books on these subjects have always held a special fascination for me. To me, musicians are heroes like athletes or warriors and their paths make for extraordinary drama—usually set to some fabulous soundtrack. There is a big, wonderful world beyond Ray and Bohemian Rhapsody and I can’t wait to see what Hollywood comes up with. 


I wrote...

Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues

By Joel Selvin,

Book cover of Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues

What is my book about?

While the cinematic aspects of the life of Bert Berns didn’t entirely escape my attention, my overarching agenda was to fashion a definitive biography of an important and forgotten songwriter and record man. With his doomed heart hanging over him, his fate tangled up in songs of his like “Piece of My Heart,” and his desperate drive to leave his mark in the short time he had, Berns blazed a trail through Brill Building era pop, jumping to England after the Beatles made a worldwide hit of his “Twist and Shout.” After making a string of soul classics that helped define the era, he turned his attention to his own label, Bang Records, building to a cataclysmic crescendo involving gangsters, scary threats, and cash payoffs.

Shock Mount

By Kelly Kay,

Book cover of Shock Mount

Rock star romances have been my jam since back when my teen bedroom walls were filled with Tiger Beat pinups. The beautifully-orchestrated banter that keeps the beat of a rock and roll love affair fraught with hit and miss encounters helps build the tension towards a satisfying crescendo. (Full disclosure: I begged author Kelly Kay to disclose her real-life inspiration, and it was exactly who I’d pictured!) The hotel pool scene where Meg and rockstar Ian do nothing more than talk (fully clothed) lives rent free in my head as one of the steamiest scenes I’ve ever read. 

Shock Mount

By Kelly Kay,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

Is there any better foreplay than great wordplay? Not in my book! After years of studying the romcom repartee gospel according to Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, I know this much is true: what’s said on the lips is first sparked in the hips! As a rom-com writer recently crowned “the Queen of Banter” by a reader (blush), I bow to the greats who taught me that witty banter is a symptom of unrealized or unsatisfied attraction. And as a lover of skillfully-written sparring, I squirm with delight whenever a sly remark, slick comeback, or sexy euphemism makes potential paramours pop. Want to enchant her? Use banter!


I wrote...

Morning Man

By Barbara Kellyn,

Book cover of Morning Man

What is my book about?

After draining her savings, moving 300 miles, and being dumped on arrival by her boyfriend, Dayna Cook vows to stop falling for the radio jocks she works with. But when she’s reassigned to co-host the morning show with irresistible Tack Collins, Dayna’s hormones start backpedaling. Wake Up with Tack and Dayna kicks into high gear and so does the duo’s mutual lust—until the boss warns that sleeping together will kill the sexual tension that drives listeners to tune in to their show. Sizzling attraction deviates in unexpected directions fraught with jealous radio groupies, a remorseful ex-boyfriend, and a resentful partner as Tack and Dayna discover that genuine feelings create more static than casual sex ever could.

Who I Am

By Pete Townshend,

Book cover of Who I Am: A Memoir

I found this to be one fo the best of the never-evening parade of rockstar autobiographies. Townshend is very honest about his complex personality and his shortcomings, and reading this, you can easily trace how this informed so much of The Who’s amazing music — and the stories of all the craziness of the early days of The Who are a blast, to boot.

Who I Am

By Pete Townshend,

Why should I read it?

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


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.

Annie Leibovitz

By Annie Leibovitz,

Book cover of Annie Leibovitz: Photographs

As a teenager and aspiring Rock and Roll Photographer, I poured through this book over and over again. Annie Leibowitz's work is always stunning, but this period in particular is my favorite. Her use of color and the clean, crisp, powerful images were exactly what I wanted to do with my own work. And it didn’t hurt that most of this work was for Rolling Stone Magazine!

Annie Leibovitz

By Annie Leibovitz,

Why should I read it?

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


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.

Chuck Berry

By Chuck Berry,

Book cover of Chuck Berry: The Autobiography

Chuck Berry: The Autobiography is a primary clue to the Inner Chuck, if not the Facts of Chuck, an indisputable masterpiece, witty, elegant, and revealing, and (or perhaps but) ultimately elusive. Unlike so many music (and other) autobiographies, every word of this one was written by its author in a web of elegant, intricate connections that are both coded and transparent. Very much like the songs.

Chuck Berry

By Chuck Berry,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

Peter Guralnick has been called "a national resource" by critic Nat Hentoff for work that has argued passionately and persuasively for the vitality of this country’s intertwined black and white musical traditions. His books include the prize-winning two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love; Searching for Robert Johnson; Sweet Soul Music; and Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. His 2015 biography, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, was a finalist for the Plutarch Award for Best Biography of the Year, awarded by the Biographers International Organization. His most recent book is Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing.


I wrote...

Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing

By Peter Guralnick,

Book cover of Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing

What is my book about?

This new book of profiles is not so much a summation as a culmination of Peter Guralnick’s remarkable work, which from the start has encompassed the full sweep of blues, gospel, country, and rock ‘ n roll. It covers old ground from new perspectives, offering deeply felt, masterful, and strikingly personal portraits of creative artists, both musicians, and writers, at the height of their powers.

“You put the book down feeling that its sweep is vast, that you have read of giants who walked among us,” rock critic Lester Bangs wrote of Guralnick’s earlier work in words that could just as easily be applied to this new one. And yet, for all of the encomiums that Guralnick’s books have earned for their remarkable insights and depth of feeling, Looking to Get Lost stands as perhaps his most personal.

No One Here Gets Out Alive

By Jerry Hopkins, Danny Sugerman,

Book cover of No One Here Gets Out Alive

This was the book that inspired me to start writing. It’s a page-turning bio of the short life and very fast times of Jim Morrison from The Doors, and it made me realise you could write about music without resembling some giddy fanboy — Morrison comes off as a rock and roll poet and a drunken bozo. It rates with the best biographies I’ve read, regardless of topic or genre.

No One Here Gets Out Alive

By Jerry Hopkins, Danny Sugerman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No One Here Gets Out Alive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A portrait of Jim Morrison is based on seven years of research and tells the story behind his musical genius, worship of darkness, rejection of all forms of authority, and tragic death when his life spun out of control. Reissue.

Who am I?

I’m an Australian author, staring down the barrel of middle age. I’ve been writing about music for the past 30 years. I’ve written 25 books; my subjects have included Keith Urban, the Bee Gees, Angus and Malcolm Young, Daniel Johns of Silverchair, among others. During my career, I’ve also had interesting encounters with such legends as Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and Helen Reddy. I live (currently in lockdown, yet again) with my very tolerant wife, my two children, and a house full of animals. (Real animals, that is, not the kids.)


I wrote...

Bad Boy Boogie: The true story of AC / DC legend Bon Scott

By Jeff Apter,

Book cover of Bad Boy Boogie: The true story of AC / DC legend Bon Scott

What is my book about?

You’re not a fully-fledged music writer in Australia until you’ve had a crack at the Bon Scott story. Bon was the swaggering, hairy-chested frontman of rock legends AC/DC, and he died in 1980, just as the band was about to explode internationally. It may sound like a tragedy, and ultimately it is, but Bon squeezed more living into his 33 years than most of us will manage in our allotted three score and ten. When once asked if he was AC or DC, Bon smiled and replied: ‘Neither. I’m the lightning flash in the middle.’

You can buy this book only in Australia currently

Book cover of On the Road with Bob Dylan

For me, it’s the ultimate snapshot of what it’s really like to be a writer on the road with a band (in this instance Bob Dylan’s remarkable Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975). Sloman documents it all: the editorial pressures, the hassles of trying to gain access to Dylan, the egos, the enablers, the claustrophobic hotel rooms, wacky ole’ Alan Ginsberg — and the exhilaration of seeing a legend, on a creative high, from close range, night after night. Not a bad gig, all things considered.

On the Road with Bob Dylan

By Larry Sloman,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I’m an Australian author, staring down the barrel of middle age. I’ve been writing about music for the past 30 years. I’ve written 25 books; my subjects have included Keith Urban, the Bee Gees, Angus and Malcolm Young, Daniel Johns of Silverchair, among others. During my career, I’ve also had interesting encounters with such legends as Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and Helen Reddy. I live (currently in lockdown, yet again) with my very tolerant wife, my two children, and a house full of animals. (Real animals, that is, not the kids.)


I wrote...

Bad Boy Boogie: The true story of AC / DC legend Bon Scott

By Jeff Apter,

Book cover of Bad Boy Boogie: The true story of AC / DC legend Bon Scott

What is my book about?

You’re not a fully-fledged music writer in Australia until you’ve had a crack at the Bon Scott story. Bon was the swaggering, hairy-chested frontman of rock legends AC/DC, and he died in 1980, just as the band was about to explode internationally. It may sound like a tragedy, and ultimately it is, but Bon squeezed more living into his 33 years than most of us will manage in our allotted three score and ten. When once asked if he was AC or DC, Bon smiled and replied: ‘Neither. I’m the lightning flash in the middle.’

You can buy this book only in Australia currently

Book cover of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'n'roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'n'roll

Lester Bangs ranks as one of the great music writers and as a high priest of gonzo, the new-journalism approach that posited the writer as the dominant character in rambling, straight-from-the-typewriter pop-cultural manifestos published in Rolling Stone and Creem and their ilk. I think Lester rivals Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion as the most potent and enduring voice of that era. He’s one of my favorite writers. I don’t think he wrote anything but record reviews.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung

By Lester Bangs,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Until his death aged thirty-three in 1982, Lester Bangs wrote wired, rock 'n' roll pieces on Iggy Pop, The Clash, John Lennon, Kraftwerk, Lou Reed. As a rock critic, he had an eagle-eye for distinguishing the pre-packaged imitation from the real thing; written in a conversational, wisecracking, erotically charged style, his hallucinatory hagiographies and excoriating take-downs reveal an iconoclast unafraid to tell it like it is. To his journalism he brought the talent of a great a renegade Beat poet, and his essays, reviews and scattered notes convey the electric thrill of a music junky indulging the habit of a…

Who am I?

Music has obsessed me since I got my first record player, around age five, and learned how to play the stack of used Beatles records that seeded my collection. I could probably pick a favorite music book from every decade of my life, and this list isn’t far off.


I wrote...

King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King

By Daniel de Visé,

Book cover of King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King

What is my book about?

King of the Blues is the definitive, cradle-to-grave biography of B.B. King, the Mississippi giant who rose from sharecropping poverty to global fame as the only superstar of the blues. The book chronicles how King developed a unique, lyrical style of solo guitar that became the defining sound of pop music until the end of the century: without B.B. King, there would be no Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, or Susan Tedeschi. Assembled from interviews with almost every survivor of Mr. King's inner circle, King of the Blues was longlisted for the PEN America award in biography.

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