Music Industry

Music Books Top 10: What Are The Best Books About Music?

Photograph of the blog post author, Cristian Poow

Cristian Poow

2.6.2021

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You might think in the digital era people from the music industry would prefer eBooks and PDF files. But, let us let you in on a little secret: they certainly would not. Special editions, re-editions, new stories to be told, or just a combination of both physical and digital material are being sold more than ever before. Music books have always been popular since they cover such a grand array of material.

music headphones on books

In this article, we’re going to count down our top 10 music books. They range from autobiographies to non fiction books about music.

If you’re a bookworm or just love music, be sure to stay until the very end. You don’t want to miss out!

The Best 10 Music Books

Without further ado, here are our favourite books about music that you ought to be reading this year.

Let’s kick it off with Rip It Up And Start Again!

10. Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984 (2005)

rip it up and start again simon reynolds

First released in 2005, the trip begins in the last days of the punk era. Young people gather at clubs almost every single night. They went on to analyze the future of society. As well as this, they discussed the music that joined the cultural changes that took place in the UK in the mid-70s.

Simon Reynolds walks through the story of the likes of Boy George, Johnny Rotten, David Byrne and the guys from Bauhaus, among others. 

9. The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century (2007)

the rest is noise alex ross cover

The Rest Is Noise was a finalist of the Pulitzer prize, national best-seller and winner of the National Book Critics Circle award. Additionally, it won the Guardian First Book award. Author and classical music critic Alex Ross takes over the stories of the music behind the curtains. 

People who read this book for the first time ran straight to the closest music store. Either to find some of the quoted oeuvres or to chat with strangers. Or, to perhaps discuss some of Alex’s quotations about Victorian-era or post WWI new genres and styles of composition

There is no escape when it comes to music theory studies and profound analysis on what made musicians take over and change the rules. For example, the creation of jazz or blues music, concrete music, and its influence on rock bands.

Additionally, the turn towards social protests of the 60s and 70s, with artists such as Bob Dylan, with the coverage that culture made of it. 

8. How Music Works (2012)

how music works david byrne

Something that could easily be taught in schools is the physics and real history of music. The connection with the environment and consequences in nature. David Byrne, the founder of Talking Heads, was already a geek in his first years with the band and probably even before they started to gain popularity outside the US in the late 70s. 

He has studied anthropology, acousmatics, ethics, music styles and business, nightclubs, geometry and shapes, construction of oeuvres, quality of art to state a few. This has given him the authorization to deploy one of the most informative books for music lovers. 

It’s full of self-telling lines with references to the old-school that made him decide to dedicate most of his life to rock and pop music. He gives some more than complete reasoning as to what is going on with the industry, where this is going to, and, so far so good, where it all came from in the first place.

7. Me: Elton John Official Autobiography (2019)

elton john with me music books

The industry has its kings and queens and their music autobiography books. But one artist that does not need any introduction at all is Elton John. He has outdone himself many times during the fifty-something years of his career.

Many young artists remember him or even listened to him for the first time during the iconic Lady Diana’s funeral performance rather than from his old-time career in progressive rock and pop music. 

Most of the highest ranked acts of all time including Freddie Mercury, George Michael and John Lennon were or are close friends with him. You are probably going to find astonishing, deep, sad and hilarious stories that had your idols involved. 

Note that this is the one and only autobiography available in the world; revealing truths of an is-there-even-a-bigger-word-for-funny guy who also became a father while finding a healing path with his current partner David. 

Elton himself stands for music story as a whole. This is certainly one of the best music biography books out there; no wonder social media went crazy for it!

6. All You Need Is Ears (1979)

all you need is ears cover art george martin

If there is someone who knows well what The Beatles did and can tell us without any kind of self-censorship, it is undoubtedly George Martin. He did not hesitate to suggest and demand changes in the most masterful songs of the band. It’s probably the main reason for being called the fifth Beatle, rumoured or joked, who knows. 

The book earned a spot as fairly easy-going, without going into outlandish details that would scare away young audiences. And perhaps those not so youthful that also couldn’t live The Beatles’ career as it happened. Many of us have grown up with the legend just maturing.

A book like this is exemplary when it comes to reviewing moments, techniques, comes and goes of the band; it is a great journey through moments of great success.

5. Ocean Of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound And Imaginary Worlds (1995)

david toop ocean of sound

The history of contemporary music, if we are still to catalogue it that way, is immense. But at times it is messy since any Netflix documentary or TV show can angle us towards anything focusing on a particular artist or genre. 

David Toop manages to connect all the corresponding dots with the causes and effects of the last 130 years in music history. The good thing about this book is to be one of the least expected by any reader. 

It does not matter if he compares Brian Eno to the Parisian music of the 1920s. Or perhaps the achievements of concrete music to post-punk. David Toop knows that we are to be unconsciously interested in absolutely everything because he drives us through a compelling narrative.

Linking different times with appropriate signifiers that act as a liaison so that we understand where he wants to come across.

4. Musicophilia: Tales Of Music And The Brain (2007)

oliver sacks musicophilia

The human condition is highly affected by music. Not the way you might possibly think, so it is of big interest to read the completely absorbing Oliver Sacks essays on stories that would bring you to tears. 

Extreme medical conditions like birth syndromes or amusia turned into music discoveries, treatments carried out thanks to music as a concept. All kinds of life events previously and unconsciously not known or taken into account by music experts and scientists in general turn this into one of the must-read music therapy books. 

It does not lack scientific stuff at all. It is a well-civilized and clear book that will make you enter a revival of your behavior with regards to what music is.

For instance, why and when to choose certain types of sounds over others plus the association of notes to certain seasons. All of this is covered in a book that is totally worth a read.

3. Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco, And Destiny (2011)

nile rodgers le freak book cover

The author does not need much introduction. It is practically impossible not to have heard one or two of the most treasured hits composed by him, not only in his bands but also for others such as Madonna of Daft Punk. 

Nile Rodgers is largely responsible for what has happened in the music industry during the last four decades. He is held responsible in this book, recounting stories of sex, drugs and rock n roll as it could possibly be.

But the fun thing here is to understand that someone who knew how to lead a career after the death of his colleague Jimi Hendrix fed an industry that can change from one day to the next. This is what happened with the night of the disco inferno (when disco music died out of nowhere in a baseball stadium).

After this he sought to reinvent himself in a synthesized glam, funk and pop era in the 80s. This is so he can continue working with any artist willing to create a blockbuster. 

It is inevitable for any current musician to acknowledge Rodgers’ legacy, which legitimizes all the stories revealed in this book.

2. Appetite For Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash Of The Record Industry In The Digital Age (2009)

Appetite For Self-Destruction steve knopper

We could have chosen another of the many music industry books that deals with the same topics. Some of the best music books 2020 explore this particular issue and go into incredibly deep knowledge on the modern music business, music publishing, and music marketing.

However, it was better to go back a decade and highlight the vision that Steve Knopper had one of the top music business books. 

This book portrayed how the music industry went from being a catalyst of success to having its own condemnation. He is the first person who manages to detail, in first person and through many people from the most successful companies, this decline as a benefit to consumers. 

Consumers have been great beneficiaries both with the bootleg industry and the invention of MP3. Something that, if we take into account its quality, does not differ much with some streaming platforms. This is since they compress songs and squash them like they were simple tomatoes. 

Knopper was able to see, after the success of the invention of the CD, how the big corporations were going to have to adapt to consume-alike and technological changes; many of which are seen precisely nowadays.

1. Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap (1995)

rock she wrote music book cover

To finish this selection, another oldie. this book was released way before the current wave of feminism managed to take place into the music industry periphery and show the world that women are now going on their own. 

Many women used to write music and have no recognition unless they screamed like groupies. But still, perseverance would make a change. Stories being told by Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, and Patricia Kennealy Morrison show that there is a lot to be publicly known and revisited in order to re-write the story of rock and pop with inclusion and equity. 

They were also subversive, reluctant, punks, addicts, survivors, successful, unsuccessful, and somewhat depressed. Yet everything is important at the same time. A well summarized list of memories from the old diva days.

Our Final Thoughts

girl reading a book lying down

So, there we have our top 10 music books! It is demonstrated once again that the pleasure of building our own library of the best music books is only equal to building a collection of vinyl records. This list of books about music was intended as a collectible since all books are worth highlighting and discussing with other readers. 

This is so that they reach greater conclusions about the meaning of music as an object; why our emotions are intimately related to it, as well as the effort required to be part of an industry that was never easy to step in. Not even now with all the possibilities offered by technology. 

Undoubtedly, these ten books will test you in music theory and also test your social and cultural history knowledge.

We hope you enjoyed the article! Why not check out another one on our blog? Here are our Best Selling Albums Of All Time, Best Duets Of All Time and Music Therapist Career Path articles to get you started!

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