Sometimes the lives of musicians we love can be just as interesting and meaningful as the lyrics they write. From genre bending artists like Prince and David Bowie who transformed pop culture to rock gods like Mötley Crüe who regularly transformed their hotel rooms (into trashed hotel rooms), there is no shortage of unforgettable stories from artists who made it to the top. Today we look at the best of the best music bios—books that allow us to live vicariously through some of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century.
David Buckley's unique approach to unravelling the Bowie enigma, via interviews with many of the singer's closest associates, biography and academic analysis, makes this unrivalled biography a classic for Bowie fans old and new.
Matt Thorne's Prince, through years of research and interviews with ex-Revolution members such as Wendy and Lisa, is an account of a pop maverick whose experiments with rock, funk, techno and jazz revolutionised pop. With reference to every song, released and unreleased, over 35 years of recording, Prince may be the go-to book on a legend who left us too soon.
Before Elvis Costello was one of Rolling Stone’s greatest artists of all time, before he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was Declan P. McManus, an office drone with a dull suburban life and a side gig in a pub rock band. In 1976, under the guidance of legendary label Stiff Records, he transformed himself into the snarling, spectacled artist who defied the musical status quo to blaze the trail for a new kind of rock star with his debut album, My Aim Is True. In Elvis Is King, Richard Crouse examines how the man, the myth, and the music of this arrestingly original album smashed the trends of the era to bridge the gap between punk and rock ’n’ roll.
It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation. Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography.
Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years. Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.
Told as clear as a Texas sky, this is the unvarnished story of Willie Nelson’s incredible life. It’s a story of restlessness, and creativity, and living right. Of the crooner’s childhood in Abbott, Texas, to the Pacific Northwest, from Nashville to Hawaii and all the way back again. Of selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias while hosting radio shows and writing song after song, hoping to strike gold. It's a story of true love, wild times, best friends, and barrooms, with a musical soundtrack ripping right through it. If you love music, Willie Nelson, or the south, it’s a story you cannot miss.
If you get passed the drugs, debauchery, and trashed hotel rooms, you just might find that there’s more to Motley Cru than you think. Not that you’d want to ignore all the debauchery. Yes, nobody lived harder or faster in the ‘80s than LA’s hair metal kings, and The Dirt—penned with rock chronicler extraordinaire Neil Strauss—sets a new bar for rock 'n' roll memoirs. A genuine cultural phenomenon, this turbocharged blockbuster, with more than half a million copies in print, has now been reissued to celebrate thirty wild years with rock's most infamous band.
From the moment that he first shook up the world in the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley has been one of the most vivid and enduring myths of American culture. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley is the first biography to go past that myth and present an Elvis beyond the legend. Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, it traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed, creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis and his world. Don’t miss it!
Which music bio rocked your world? Let us know in the comment section below!