The year’s best music books from seminal moments to superstar memoirs
Make yourself comfortable by the fire, put on your favourite Spotify playlist and settle down with 2015’s best music books
Grace Jones attends a signing of her new autobiography “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs” at a Waterstones in London, England. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
There’s an interesting comparison to be drawn between the worlds of sport and music when it comes to books at this time of year. Walk into any bookstore in the coming weeks and you’ll face a wall of familiar sports and music personalities flogging their wares.
For the most part, though, it’s ghostwriters who do the heavy lifting when it comes to sportsmen and women. This bunch of strong, silent wordsmithery types operate in the shadows and put a shape on the subject’s words, thoughts and intentions.
It’s an open secret, yet one rarely acknowledged for fear that people will think less of Jim McGuinness, Henry Shefflin and Tomás Ó Sé if the public knew the words were penned by Keith Duggan, Vincent Hogan and Michael Moynihan respectively.
When it comes to music books, though, it’s usually the man or woman on the cover who has done the spadework by and large. Be it Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink or Patti Smith’s M Train, to name two of this season’s most compelling memoirs, musicians of a certain stature are usually comfortable enough with words and typing to be trusted with a book.
Of course, ghostwriters and co-writers operate on this pitch – one of the music books of the year, Grace Jones’s I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, is probably all the better for the involvement of Paul Morley – but the star’s artistic ego is usually up to the task in hand.
This year’s music books haul includes some significant, hefty and highly readable books on music industry trends and characters by various journalists. For an inside look at the way in which pop producers, songwriters and arrangers work, check out John Seabrook’s expansive The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory.
If you’re interested in the man who managed the fortunes of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, Phil Spector and many more, Fred Goodman’s excellent Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll is a must.
Michaelangelo Matos’s The Underground Is Massive documents the rise and rise of the US dance underground with great stories and insight. For anyone who miss the golden age of records shops, Richard King’s elegant and bittersweet Original Rockers about Bristol’s Revolver Records will hit the spot.
Meanwhile, Peter Guralnick’s heavyweight Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll tells the story of the Sun Records’ chief and his work with Elvis, BB King, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash and many more.
But the book of the year is definitely Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free. It’s a brilliantly forensic thriller which tells the tale of the growth of music piracy by joining dots between scientists, music-business moguls and a dude with a big belt buckle working in a CD packing plant.
Make yourself comfortable by the fire, put on your favourite Spotify playlist and turn the pages of any of the above.