Written by Emma Hug
As there are more and more books on music being produced each year, we’ve been compiling an annual best music book list, which is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on reading, especially with a record playing in the background.
In keeping with past years, below is 2021’s best music books on Amazon, according to critics and readers.
1. Begin by Telling
Written by: Meg Remy
Meg Remy, the creator of U.S. Girls, begins her short memoir with a glimpse of her youthful innocence. “What I assumed was squishable reveals to be flat and static,” says Remy after a TV falls on his head. Throughout her childhood, she is bombarded with smacks of disenchantment. Begin by Telling serves as a frightening complement to her occasionally nasty music, which receives little explicit emphasis but is reflected in the book’s darkly comedic overtones because of her fixation with bleeding spectacles both inside and outside the home.
Rejecting the literary and other kinds of authority as well as American heritage and bloodlust, the 36-year-old ex-pat who now resides in Canada portrays several teenage ruptures in a style that is both intoxicating and brutal. It’s humorous enough to draw you in close for the sucker blow, and she has a voice to match. Her mischievous, righteous language sprawls like a dive-bar soliloquy. Before returning to the holy subject of women’s intuition, she explores sociological marginalia and feminist theory. She offers a kind of feminist mysticism as a safe haven. However, she is unsure how and why she should share her own experiences. Those hefty questions can be answered with the assistance of her recollections of news reports, brutal maltreatment, and cultural trips.
Purchase Begin By Telling on Amazon here.
Broken Horses A Memoir
Written by: Brandi Carlile
a memoir by Brandi Carlile entitled “Broken Horses” — Throughout Carlile’s memoir, she shows herself to be a noble (or Highwoman-minded) spirit, dedicating her time and energy to charitable causes such as helping refugees and advocating for human rights, as well as supporting other female musicians, both those who are new to the scene and those who have been around the block a few times. She also serves as an example for those in the public who are still figuring out what gay marriage and parenting look like. While her role-model traits may be admirable, overemphasizing them might detract from the frank, entertaining, and occasionally irreverent nature of “Broken Horses.” Throughout her writing, Carlile maintains the same sense of wonder and wonderment that she had as a youngster. That sense of surprise and joy is never far from Carlile’s mind even whether she’s dealing with homophobia or the vagaries of the entertainment industry.
Purchase Broken Horses A Memoir on Amazon here.
Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding my Voice
Written by: Richard Thompson
He and his first band Fairport Convention were at the heart of the London music scene in the late ’60s, and this autography illustrates just how much Thompson and his group pioneered a mix of rock and English folk music and were at the forefront of that wonderful time period. Thompson’s calm, very British tone actually underplays his remarkable narrative, despite the abundance of victory (the band’s many famous albums and gigs) and tragedy (the 1969 tour-bus catastrophe that killed founding drummer Martin Lamble and permanently traumatized the band).
Purchase Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding my Voice on Amazon here.
Music Stories From the Cosmic Barrio
Written by: Betto Arcos
Interviewing artists in far-flung locations, journalist and radio producer Betto Arcos has crisscrossed the globe several times in his quest to learn what motivates musicians to create music. More than 150 stories he’s written throughout the years, mainly focused on Latin America, are collected and organized in Music Stories from the Cosmic Barrio. As a consequence of his in-depth examinations of performers like Cuban composer Leo Brouwer and his constant exploration of musical traditions, this book leaves the reader wanting more with each new chapter.
Purchase Music Stories From the Cosmic Barrio on Amazon here.
5. Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour
By Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones’ autobiography rambles and repeats itself like a good folk song, yet it tells a tale and sticks in your brain long after you finish reading it. It’s hard to believe that the 67-year-old musician has been writing music for more than half his life. It takes a long time for life to go by if you’re only looking at it from afar, she says. Focusing on Jones’ early career, Last Chance Texaco comes alive when she stops time and reveals her creative process, line-by-line. The Troubadour in the late ’70s was a formative experience for her, as were the contacts she forged there with West Hollywood composers like Tom Waits and Lowell George of Little Feat. The myth of the male genius and the female muse, and the repositioning of her influence among a generation of artists, is what she questions, “Do women have an effect on men, or is it solely the other way around?” Last Chance Texaco corrects the record with engrossing writing and vividly depicted sights that stay with you.
Purchase Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour on Amazon here.
6. Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound
Written by: Daphne Brooks
Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe are among the many Black female artists that Yale professor Daphne Brooks is studying. There’s a segment on an early interview between Lorraine Hansberry and Ellen Willis, a dramatist who collaborated with rock critic Zora Neale Hurston. Greil Marcus-inspired liner notes weave the stories of Black female mythmakers and truth-tellers into a hidden history. Brooks’ mother recalls record buying as a spiritual retreat in the Jim Crow South of the 1940s as one of the most moving times.
Purchase Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound on Amazon here.
7. A Memoir of Things Lost and Found
Written by: Warren Ellis
Dr. Nina Simone’s A.B.C. gum was taken off a piano and wrapped in a stage towel by Warren Ellis, Nick Cave’s red-hand man, and violinist for the Dirty Three. He kept it in his Tower Records bag. Using images of Simone and her gum, his debut book describes how the singer’s trash became a memento for him. Nina Simone was the last to contact the gum, he noted in his journal. Her mouth, teeth, and tongue. Gum and a towel were all that was between her and the heavens. The venue for that concert was the gum. Those ethereal qualities.” The lovably quirky, easy-to-read book tells how Simone’s transcendence became Ellis’ lighthouse alongside digressions on Alice Coltrane and Beethoven.
Purchase A Memoir of Things Lost and Found on Amazon here.
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music
Written by: Dave Grohl
Grohl started posting Instagram stories about his life and profession during the Covid lockdown, which eventually led to the creation of this biography. As a teenager, Grohl left high school to join Washington, D.C., hardcore band Scream, and he hasn’t looked back. Grohl delves deeply into Nirvana’s growth and fall, as well as the death of frontman Kurt Cobain. At the age of 25, he questioned if his career was gone. While the Foo Fighters helped him get his feet wet, he then embarked on a self-created road of punk-rock conviviality, meeting everyone from Little Richard to Madeleine Albright along the way, all the while maintaining an infectiously optimistic attitude.
Purchase Tales of Life and Music on Amazon here.
Saved by a song: the art and healing power of songwriting
Written by: Mary Gauthier
For the first time in her life, Americana singer Mary Gauthier reveals all in her first memoir. In the opening chapter, she admits to being a recovered alcoholic and drug user who was arrested for a DUI. I Drink and Mercy Now is two examples of her plain-spoken songwriting, and this album is no exception. It is utterly personal and heartfelt. Throughout the book, she provides a manual for self-compassion and self-care, describing how she came out as a lesbian, how she sought out her biological mother, and how she learned to love herself. However, Saved by a Song also reveals the mystery of songwriting. It’s like listening in on a master teacher’s lecture as she breaks down “I Drink,” removing lines that didn’t make sense and simplifying the final result.
Purchase Saved by a song: the art and healing power of songwriting on Amazon here.
The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop
Written by: Clover Hope
Hip-female hop participants are often left out of the narrative or treated as afterthoughts in many of the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. For decades, women have been held at arm’s length in the genre, only comparing themselves to one another and being talked about as if they couldn’t possibly measure up. Don’t be misled, hip-hop is what it is now because of them. In a way that doesn’t feel like a textbook, the Motherlode is a crucial document of that. Pitchfork contributing editor Clover Hope’s debut book honors many of the women who have had a significant impact on rap through incisive articles, snappy headlines, breakthrough interviews, and illustrations by Rachelle Baker. Roxanne Shanté’s historic contribution to the diss record with “Roxanne’s Revenge,” Salt-N-war Pepa’s for creative control, to Da Brat and Lil Kim’s conflicts with image and sex, are all included in the collection. Hope also pays tribute to the likes of Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, noting the contemporary climate in which women’s domination is undeniable.
Purchase The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop Amazon here.
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