In the last few years, books about musicians and bands have become tremendously popular. We’ve seen biographies of Keith Richards, Steven Tyler, Patti Smith, and Eric Clapton on the bestseller shelves, and even Justin Bieber has several books published about his career in music. Still, there are plenty more music biographies out there about lesser known artists and bands that haven’t received much media attention, but are nonetheless notable. Here’s our list of the top music biographies that you may have missed, complete with video clips of course!
01. Cat Power
Cat Power: A Good Woman by Elizabeth Goodman
Published in 2009, this biography of artist Chan Marshall offers a very comprehensive and raw account of Marshall’s background and career as a musician. Cat Power is notorious for behaving unpredictably (and often erratically) on stage and is otherwise known as somewhat of a recluse, but this book sheds some light on these mysterious tendencies. Goodman’s extremely well-researched (and well-written) biography is a must read for Cat Power fans.
02. Guided by Voices
Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll by James Greer
How does a 4th grade teacher in his mid-thirties living in Dayton, Ohio wind up forming one of the most prolific and influential bands in indie rock history? Here, former band member and former editor at Spin James Greer examines the wonderfully wild world of front man Robert Pollard, complete with song analysis, written pieces from Pollard’s son, and a forward by Traffic director Steven Soderbergh.
03. Joanna Newsom
Visions of Joanna Newsom by Brad Buchanan
While this publication isn’t exactly a biography of Joanna Newsom, it is a fascinating collection of essays by other musicians and artists who have been inspired by her distinct and unparalleled style. Most people either love her or hate her, but if you love her, you’re probably just as obsessed with this tiny but potent musical genius as we are. Unfortunately, this book is currently only available in Kindle format, unless you have the luck of stumbling across an out-of-print paperback.
04. Bob Mould
See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould
Bob Mould is widely regarded as the grandfather of the alternative rock movement. Here he recounts tales from his early days in the pioneering speed punk band Husker Du, all the way through his rebirth as a solo artist, his second attempt at band life as the leader of Sugar, and beyond. Reading as Mould describes growing up as a confused gay teen with no sexual compass to guide him during the start of the AIDS epidemic is absorbing. Reading about his up (and mostly) down relationship with Husker Du drummer Grant Hart and the real story behind the band’s final days is amusing. Reading about his family history is plain shocking.
05. PJ Harvey
Siren Rising by James R. Blandford
PJ Harvey has captivated audiences since her 1992 debut album, Dry. With haunting, unpolished vocals and beats that range from undulating to poppy, Polly Jean is an incredibly versatile artist. Blandford’s biography of Harvey follows her progress as a musician from childhood through the book’s publication date in 2004. Harvey is known to be very private and esoteric, and this book is her only biography thus far, so it may shed some light on her more cryptic and perplexing lyrics.
06. Richey Edwards (Manic Street Preachers)
A Version of Reason: In Search of Richey Edwards by Rob Jovanovic
Formed in 1986 and named “Best Act in the World” by Q magazine in 2001, the Manic Street Preachers are one of the most successful bands in rock and roll today, but if you live in the United States they’re a phenomenon that you may have missed. In February of 1995, on the eve of what could have been their breakthrough promotional trip to the US, guitarist and songwriter Richey Edwards was pronounced missing and was never heard from again. Here Jovanovic tries to piece together and make sense of one of the most troubled souls in rock history’s final days.
Perfect Sound Forever by Rob Jovanovic
First of all, we cannot tell you how much we adore Pavement. Credited as one of the first widely popular lo-fi bands of the 90s, Pavement and front man Stephen Malkmus have heavily influenced artists like Weezer, Rilo Kiley, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Released in 2004, this biography covers the origins, career, and legacy of one of the most celebrated indie bands of the 90s.
James – Folklore: The Official History by Stuart Maconie
Perhaps regarded as a one-hit wonder in the US (c’mon, who doesn’t know the song Laid – video below) James have had a roller coaster ride of music career in the UK since arriving on the Manchester music scene in 1982. Published in 2000, this volume doesn’t cover the band’s latest reformation and subsequent recordings, but it does give fans an all-access back stage pass to delve into the lives of front man Tim Booth and the creative geniuses that helped craft some of rock’s most memorable tunes.
09. Tori Amos
Piece by Piece by Tori Amos and Ann Powers
Ok we’ll admit it…we are absolutely and utterly obsessed with Tori Amos. From her debut album, Little Earthquakes to her most recent release, Gold Dust, Tori Amos is absolutely bewitching. This memoir offers a deeply insightful look into the artist’s history and personal philosophy of music, religion, family, and sexuality. If you’re a fan of Tori Amos, this book is definitely essential reading!
10. Jen Trynin
Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale by Jen Trynin
The Boston music scene is a tight-knit community that supports one another, but when it comes to our local bands and artists breaking into the big time, tragedy always seems to strike. If I were to put together a list of the most painful misses, Jen Trynin would be right near the top. In Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be, she takes the reader inside the messed up world of the music business as she retells the experience of living through a major label bidding war, and being supplanted by that other rocker chick, with hilarious honesty.
Enough with the reading already, let’s ROCK!
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That’s our list! What are some of your favorite books about music?