Music

10 great music books that should be on your Christmas list

The holidays are your best chance to catch up on the Pile of Shame, the stack of books on your bedside table or tablet you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t got round to. The last few years have added to our shamepiles until they’ve become cloud-bothering towers of guilt because there have been so many fascinating books about music and musicians coming out. Here are 10 more of them, selected by JODY MACGREGOR, to add to your towering library.

The Rap Year Book

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Starting with ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in 1979 and running all the way through to ‘Lifestyle’ by The Rich Gang featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan in 2014, The Rap Year Book chooses the most important hip-hop track of each year and deconstructs it. It’s a great, pacey, and manageable way to run through the history of an entire genre, and Shea Serrano has a gift for finding the perfect track to illustrate each year and then going deep into its guts to show why it works. ‘Fight The Power’, ‘In Da Club’, ‘Monster’ – all of them have something to say worth listening to.


M Train

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Each of the 18 chapters of Patti Smith’s memoir is presented as a stop on a train journey, the poet laureate of punk travelling from a cafe in in New York to various important stops in her life, like the house she bought in New Orleans just before Hurricane Sandy hit, to the home in Michigan she shared with her husband, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith. She writes affectingly about his death and her loneliness, but also about her love of TV shows about detectives, and the search for the perfect coffee. Her earlier book Just Kids will tell you more about the 1960s and ’70s scene that made her famous, but M Train finds the Patti Smith of today with plenty still to say.


Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink

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Patti Smith got her memoirs down to readable chunks, but if you’re looking to sink into someone’s entire career and life rather than the highlights, Elvis Costello has over 600 pages for you. Catalogues of rockstar excess have gone out of style just as excessive rockstars have – with the perennial exception of Keith Richards – but Costello does have a few tales of debauchery to tell. The point of them isn’t to impress (mostly) but instead to explain how these episodes inspired his songs, which is what he really cares about, cramming this book with info about his music, though he’s also fond of cataloguing his TV appearances in detail.


Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl

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You’ll find nothing about her role as co-creator of Portlandia in Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, a book for fans of Carrie Brownstein’s music rather than her TV show. Anyone with an interest in Sleater-Kinney, however – which is to say, everyone with ears – will find their story told with openness and humour. Brownstein never sidelines her bandmates Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, to whom this book is dedicated, and answers basically every question you could ever have about the riot grrrl survivors.


I’ll Never Write My Memoirs

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Now if you want a real tell-all then Grace Jones (as told to Paul Morley) has got you covered. Want to know why she turned down a role in Blade Runner, why she prefers to take cocaine anally, why she burned then-boyfriend Dolph Lundgren’s clothes? I’ll Never Write My Memoirs has all the gossip. It rises above trashiness, however, with a keen eye for both her own mythic quality and an interest in the changing times, including a gloriously cranky laundry list of everybody who has ever ripped her off or jacked her style, which includes basically everyone at this point.


Hip Hop Family Tree

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Ed Piskor’s ongoing series initially published at the Boing Boing website retells vivid moments from the history of hip-hop in comics form, but rather than just being a documentary with speech balloons it uses the tropes of one genre to exaggerate the other. Piskor draws Dr. Dre as a literal doctor, prepped for surgery, and Afrika Bambaataa rhyming in deep space. Everything is dramatised with energy lines and printed on distressed paper. The other thing about Hip Hop Family Tree being a comic is it doesn’t need an endpoint, and the three volumes collected so far are only the beginning of the story.


The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic

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Over the course of reading a collection of music criticism by a single writer something about their personal style always stands out, and with Jessica Hopper it’s her fearlessness. Whether interviewing Jim DeRogatis about why no one cared about his evidence of R. Kelly’s sex crimes or writing the controversial Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t, Hopper has stood up for what she believes in. There’s no quirk of sentence structure or love of self-indulgent drug stories propping up these pieces, which are instead connected by a feminist viewpoint, an interest in the music of her Chicago home, and a desire to always ask the tough questions.


Future Days: Krautrock And The Building Of Modern Germany

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Some genres of music never escape their birthplace, and so it is with Germany’s krautrock and the bands like Kraftwerk, Can, and Neu! that exemplified it. David Stubbs explains that it wasn’t just a coincidence of geography that made krautrock explicitly German, but instead a shared set of ideas that could never have occurred anywhere else, lucidly explaining why krautrock is as much a philosophy as a set of musical signifiers. It’s a state of mind, mein herr.


City Of Exiles: Berlin From The Outside In

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For another view of Germany, Australian writer Stuart Braun’s book focuses on those who come to Berlin from elsewhere and are inspired by it, from musicians like Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard to a long list of notable artists and thinkers including Fritz Lang, Louise Woods, Albert Einstein, and Karl Marx. It’s a wonder there’s room for anybody from Berlin in Berlin at all, given how thoroughly it’s been stuffed with philosophers and actors and radicals of all stripes throughout its history.


Live Wire

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Three of Bon Scott’s closest friends – Mary Renshaw, John D’Arcy and Gabby D’Arcy – came together to write this biography of our most rocking of rock stars. Live Wire tells Scott’s story from his days in The Valentines, living in ramshackle apartments in inner Melbourne, to touring the country with AC/DC at their best (no arguments), to his tragic death from alcohol poisoning. The authors include his roadie and the woman former AC/DC bass player Mark Evans called his soulmate, so you couldn’t hope for a closer portrait of the man who defined what it meant to make it the long way to the top in Australian rock & roll.

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