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Because the music journalism world has evolved so drastically over the years, people are much less dependant on printed music magazines these days, all thanks to the internet. But books are timeless: They color the walls of your living room, they don’t rely on the strength of your wifi connection to function, and you’re never interrupted by ads for makeup.
As purveyors of high quality music education here on Soundfly, we’re obviously huge fans of musicians expanding their libraries to include as many resources on music making and music history as they can fit. So we try to write about music books as often as we can, to help you stay informed about what’s out there.
We’ve already had a solid year so far for music books (fall 2019 looks promising too). So today, we’re going to introduce you to nine of the best music books that have come out this year so far. These books are a mix of music stories, music history, and good old-fashioned inspiration for musicians. Enjoy!
Randall Sullivan – Dead Wrong (2019)
If you like murder mysteries or Biggie, Dead Wrong is probably going to be a great read for you. The subtitle is: The Continuing Story of City of Lies, Corruption, and Cover-Up in the Notorious B.I.G. Murder Investigation, which alone is enough to make me want to pick it up and read it.
It takes us through the last 16 years of investigations and seeks to show us around the “conspiracy of silence,” as the book’s description says. Russell Poole, a decorated LAPD detective and the person who discovered some crucial cracks in the case, ran into some walls. He would be directed away from the two main suspects, and would soon find that there was “selective investigation, hidden evidence, and possible witness tampering” happening. This book seems to have it all: conspiracy, mystery, police corruption, and one of the best rappers of our time.
Hanif Abdurraqib – Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest (2019)
Not only is Hanif Abdurraqib is a compelling poet, but he’s also an avid music fan. Proof: this book. He analyzes A Tribe Called Quest and the music they made, pulling from his own personal experiences as a listener and poet and writing open letters to them. He tells the story of how this group was so important to him, and why they should be important to others forever.
“[W]arm, immediate, and intensely personal,” said The New York Times. “This lush and generous book is a call to pay proper respects not just to a sound but to a feeling.” This book seems to be simultaneously about a group, an art form, and a man who writes poetry.
Geoff Edgers – Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song that Changed American Music Forever (2019)
“Walk This Way” was a smash hit for Aerosmith, but it became an even bigger hit when hip-hop duo Run-DMC covered it, featuring the rockers. And in Walk This Way, Washington Post national arts reporter Geoff Edgers takes a deep dive into this story.
The cover was the first major rock/hip-hop collaboration and the first rap song to air on mainstream rock radio stations (it still does). It was the first successful genre-mashup too, as other artists had tried to combine their genre with this iconic rock song. Run-DMC’s version skyrocketed rap into the mainstream music world. And Edgers tells this story of when the kings of rock and the kings of hip-hop shared a studio to make history, and one heck of a song.
Darryl W. Bullock – David Bowie Made Me Gay (2019)
It’s an inescapable truth that folks in the LGBTQ community have changed the face of music and continue to do so for the benefit of all listeners and cultural participants everywhere. This may not have always been the case (at least publicly) but artists like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Sia, and (of course) David Bowie have all contributed to leading the way. The big question in David Bowie Made Me Gay is, “How did the queer artists throughout history blaze a trail for those who would follow?”
It’s actually the first book to tell the comprehensive history of the LGBTQ community in the music world. Darryl Bullock tells the stories of these musicians, how they had to persevere through discrimination, and how it all led to some of the most influential music of our time. It’s compelling.
Richard Zoglin – Elvis In Vegas (2019)
This is the story of how the King saved Sin City, and how Sin City saved the King. Many people think Las Vegas in 1969 was the destruction of Elvis Presley, the catalyst that pushed him overboard into an ocean of drugs, crazy behavior, and eventually overdose.
But Richard Zoglin argues in Elvis In Vegas that Vegas is actually where Elvis found his true self, putting on the best shows of his career. After eight years of no performances, poor acting choices, and meh pop songs, he returned to Vegas in 1969 to play a record-breaking show. More people came to his four-week residency than any show in Las Vegas history.
People were entertained. Critics loved it. He got his first number-one hit in several years, “Suspicious Minds.” And over the following several years, he played more than 600 shows at that venue, selling out every single one. So if you’re wondering how this era changed Elvis and how he changed Vegas, this is the book to read.
Mick Wall – When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin – 10th Anniversary Edition (2019)
If you read the original Led Zeppelin biography and enjoyed it, here’s why you’ll probably love the 10th Anniversary Edition. It has 35,000 extra words of new stuff about the band and plenty of new interviews. It was already THE autobiography of Led Zeppelin, but now it seems to have topped itself. Mick Wall, a respected rock music author, tells the story of the band’s ups and downs, the successes and disasters over the years, including the death that continues to overshadow the band’s name, and the ways this group has etched itself into the pantheon of greats.
Austin Kleon – Keep Going (2019)
Any chance I get, I tell fellow musicians about Austin Kleon’s books, and we’ve spoken about him before here on Flypaper too. I’ve just found them super encouraging, so I’m betting others will too. He’s a writer who draws, so he’s familiar with creative work. One question every creative person asks at some point is, “How do I keep going?” And that’s the question Kleon sets out to answer.
“In Keep Going, I show you 10 ways to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself,” he writes on his website. It’s full of his sketches, photos, practical tips, and inspirational writing. And regardless of where you are in your music career, this book has something for you. “Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, Keep Going will help you stay on the path to more creative work.”
Ben Folds – A Dream About Lightning Bugs (2019)
The amazingly talented Ben Folds seeks to conquer the literary landscape with his memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs. In this book, he looks behind him, telling stories of his life, his climb to fame, and sharing childhood anecdotes. He also talks about things he’s learned along the way, like how he realized he can’t skip steps in his creative process.
The book seems to encompass a message he’s been singing about for a while now: Life hurts, it goes quick, so smile. Fellow singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles seems to have enjoyed it too, calling it “intelligent, curious, unapologetically punk, and funny as hell.”
Carolyn Thomas – Elton John: This One’s for You (2019)
When “Your Song” dropped in 1970, it was the start of Elton John crushing pop music — in a good way. Melding pop and rock in a very singer-songwriter-y way, John continued to connect with his fans. However, success led to excess for him, as it often does for celebrities, and he started struggling with alcohol, drugs, food, and scrutiny about his sexuality. We learn about all this and more in this book. The release of Elton John: This One’s For You is also perfect timing, as John’s own highly-anticipated memoir comes out later this year. He has already announced his retirement from performing in 2021, so the next couple of years will probably be full of celebration of him and his work.
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