Image: Penguin

Image: Penguin

Music is one of life's purest pleasures: you can play it at home or on the road, listen to it alone or with friends, and its power to move your body and mind is unparalleled.

Perhaps that’s why so much ink has been spilled about it: there are books about listening to music, books about writing music, and books about musicians themselves. Whether you’re a super fan or a casual listener,  there’s a music book for you.

This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin (2006)

In what’s now considered a mainstay in the music book canon, neuroscientist and psychologist Daniel Levitin examines what it is about music – from early music to Bach to the Beatles and beyond – that makes it so central to human evolution and civilisation. General enough to appeal to any music lover and fascinating enough to grip them from page one, This Is Your Brain on Music isn’t just about music but humanity itself. A must-read.

Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa (2017)

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Haruki Murakami’s passion for music is well-established: classical music informs his classic The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and many of his other novels are named, like Norwegian Wood, after songs – but never has he written more explicitly and expansively on the subject than in Absolutely on Music, a collection of transcribed conversations with one of the world’s leading music conductors, Seiji Ozawa. Perfect for anyone with an interest in classical music – or indeed, the nature of creativity – Absolutely finds the famous author speaking about music in the terms he understands, and Ozama is happy to translate. The result is breathtaking.

All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S Passman (2014)

Known colloquially as ‘the industry bible’, Donald Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business has been the go-to handbook to the music biz for over 20 years. That it’s in its eighth edition now not only speaks to its utility but ensures that it remains up to date with an ever-changing industry. It’s an ideal gift for anyone looking to turn their music into a business, whether it’s securing a record deal or arranging copyright for your tracks.

Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday (1956)

It’s over half a century old now, but this autobiography from one of the most legendary singers of all time remains a classic with good reason. From her first run-in with the law at 13 years old to her life of love, loss, addiction and, of course, the blues, Holiday pens a vivid portrait of life as a Black musician before the American Civil Rights Movement. It’s a must-read for any fan of the blues, pop, rock and roll – almost any 20th Century genres. Classic, indeed.

The New Penguin Dictionary of Music by Paul Griffiths (2006)

This timeless tome is for any music fan. Over a massive 900 pages, The New Penguin Dictionary of Music is a reference book for all things musical, an “essential A-Z of some 1,000 years of Western music”. Whether it’s related to theory, performers, or music history, author and award-winning music critic Paul Griffiths is across it, blending scholarship and editorial together to create a tool as useful to a music expert as it is to amateurs. 

Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany by Uwe Schütte (2020)

Ask any music critic to name the most influential artist or group of the 20th Century, and they might not say The Beatles or John Cage but Kraftwerk, a group whose influence across electronic music, pop, hip-hop and ambient is arguably broader even than that of the Fab Four. Their story, which blurs the line between musician and technician, human and robot is told wonderfully here by author Uwe Schütte, making Kraftwerk a great read not just for fans but any music lover interested in popular music’s rich history.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019)

For the music fan who loves fiction too, there’s Daisy Jones and the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s cult favourite 2019 novel that tells the tale of a 1970s band loosely based on Fleetwood Mac. Despite its fictional story, the bestselling Daisy is almost documentary-like in its construction, and its portrayal of creativity and rivalry has been hailed for its realism. Read to find out why it will soon be a 13-episode miniseries on Amazon, too.

David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones (2018)

There’s no shortage of books about David Bowie, but A Life, published a year after the icon’s death, is perhaps the best. This oral history, drawn from over 180 interviews – not just between Bowie and author Dylan Jones over three decades of Bowie’s like, but from friends, family members and artistic peers – gets more intimate than any Bowie tome to date. At almost 600 pages, and packed with never-before-printed anecdotes about his life, it’s an essential read for any fan of the musical legend.

Every Song Ever by Ben Ratliff (2017)

Subtitled Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now, Ben Ratliff’s book is a perfect guide for any music fan to open their ears all over again, as if for the first time. Touted as “a music appreciation guide for our era”, Every Song Ever explores music listening in the digital era, where we have the ability to hear almost any song at any moment, and provides a new blueprint for how best to wield that power.

Reckless by Chrissie Hynde (2016)

One of the best rock and roll memoirs of the last few years is Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless, a thorough retelling of her Ohio upbringing and the teenage awakening that led her to local rock shows, university riots and the drug scene – then to Mexico, Canada, Paris and, finally, London, where she formed her famous group The Pretenders. A tale of life and death and the thin line between them, Hynde’s memoir is a gripping story whose cast of characters includes Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and plenty more.

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