The best books about music for World Book Day

7 March 2019, 14:32

Alex James, Anthony Kiedis and Keith Richards
Alex James, Anthony Kiedis and Keith Richards. Picture: Gareth Cattermole/Harold Cook/FilmMagic/Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Here are the volumes about rock'n'roll, musicians, stars and scandals that you need in your library: from The Dirt to Scar Tissue and beyond.

  1. Johnny Marr - Set The Boy Free (2016)

    Johnny Marr - Set The Boy Free (2016)
    Johnny Marr - Set The Boy Free (2016). Picture: Press

    Inevitably, this is more palatable than Morrissey's autobiography, as young John Maher plots an entertaining course through his years in Manchester funk bands, indie superstardom with The Smiths, “the split” and his rewarding solo years. Best bit: Marr and Bernard Sumner drink their way through an Electronic promo trip with hilarious consequences.

  2. Anthony Kiedis - Scar Tissue (2004)

    Anthony Kiedis  - Scar Tissue (2004)
    Anthony Kiedis - Scar Tissue (2004). Picture: Press

    The Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman offers a very stark depiction of his struggles with heroin addiction. It's like Under The Bridge in book form. It starts with Kiedis's dad giving him coke and a night with his girlfriend... and degenerates from there.

  3. Michael Azerrad - Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana (1994)

    Michael Azerrad -  Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana (1994)
    Michael Azerrad - Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana (1994). Picture: Press

    The nearest thing we'll get to an "official" Nirvana biography, Azerrad was in the thick of it during the heady years of 1992/93, gaining access to all the major players in the story. While he inevitably misses out on any perspective gained following the death of Kurt Cobain, Azerrad's book is very much of the moment and untouched by rose-tinted hindsight.

  4. Peter Hook - Unknown Pleasures: The Inside Story Of Joy Division (2012)

    Peter Hook - Unknown Pleasures: The Inside Story Of Joy Division (2012)
    Peter Hook - Unknown Pleasures: The Inside Story Of Joy Division (2012). Picture: Press

    The bassist with not one, but two, legendary Manchester bands spills the beans on what it was like behind the scenes. Hook reveals not only his never-ending guilt about the suicide of singer Ian Curtis and his ambivalent feelings about his other bandmates, but also the time he was questioned about the Yorkshire Ripper murders. True story!

  5. Bernard Sumner - Chapter And Verse: New Order, Joy Division And Me (2014)

    Bernard Sumner - Chapter And Verse: New Order, Joy Division And Me (2014)
    Bernard Sumner - Chapter And Verse: New Order, Joy Division And Me (2014). Picture: Press

    After Peter Hook's version, here's the other side. For the first time, the Joy Div/New Order guitarist details the horrible childhood that spawned much of the gloomy music he created, before blossoming into a hedonistic recounting of the Madchester days. Sumner is very frank about the Hook/New Order split, but there are some laughs to be had, most notably when he and Johnny Marr attempt to do interviews for their Electronic project while chronically hungover.

  6. Ian MacDonald - Revoution In The Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties (1994)

    Ian MacDonald - Revoution In The Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties (1994)
    Ian MacDonald - Revoution In The Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties (1994). Picture: Press

    MacDonald dissects every song by The Beatles, putting them into their cultural and artistic context, with a liberal sprinkling of musicology. Sounds like a snoozefest? Certainly not. Some of the entries can get very verbose, but for a lot of Fabs fans, this is a valuable insight into the group's music and will send you scurrying back to your records for another listen.

  7. Motley Crue - The Dirt: Confessions Of The World's Most Notorious Rock Band (2001)

    Motley Crue - The Dirt: Confessions Of The World's Most Notorious Rock Band (2001)
    Motley Crue - The Dirt: Confessions Of The World's Most Notorious Rock Band (2001). Picture: Press

    The filthiest, sleaziest rock biography ever written is a masterclass in hedonistic excess, coupled with downright misogyny and a few genuinely tragic moments. About to become a major movie!

  8. John Harris - The Last Party: Britpop, Blair And The Demise Of British Rock (2003)

    John Harris - The Last Party: Britpop, Blair And The Demise Of British Rock (2003)
    John Harris - The Last Party: Britpop, Blair And The Demise Of British Rock (2003). Picture: Press

    Harris was editor of Select magazine at the height of Britpop, so had a ringside seat as the genre reached its bloated apex at the Oasis show at Knebworth in 1996. He cites the Britpop endorsement of the Blair government as the dying gasp of rock and roll and it's a persuasive argument.

  9. Keith Richards - Life (2010)

    Keith Richards - Life (2010)
    Keith Richards - Life (2010). Picture: Press

    One of the most eagerly-awaited autobiographies of all time, Keef's book did not disappoint. The opening chapters are a but unremarkable, depicting post-war life in Kent, but once Keef and Anita are in the back of a Bentley driving to Morocco, leaving the drug addled Brian Jones behind, the psycho-drama of the Stones ramps up. Soon, our hero is living the outlaw life of a drug addict and things take a darker turn. But - incredibly - Keef lives to tell the tale. Full of quotable homilies and advice for any would-be hell-raisers out there.

  10. Johnny Rogan - Morrissey And Marr: The Severed Alliance (1992)

    Johnny Rogan - Morrissey And Marr: The Severed Alliance  (1992)
    Johnny Rogan - Morrissey And Marr: The Severed Alliance (1992). Picture: Press

    Morrissey wasn't happy with this detailed look at his work with Johnny Marr and The Smiths, hoping that author Rogan would "end his days very soon in an M3 pile-up". But this is a fine account of the childhoods of the two main Smiths, their long struggle to success and their ignominious split in 1987.

  11. Alex James - Bit Of Blur (2007)

    Alex James - Bit Of Blur (2007)
    Alex James - Bit Of Blur (2007). Picture: Press

    The "second drunkest member of Britain's drunkest band" tells his story from middle class suburbia to hanging out with Damien Hirst and Tony Blair. In the process, he spends about £1 million on cocaine and alcohol and notches up many an anecdote. Things find an even keel when he sobers up and gets into producing cheese, but it's an enjoyable ride.

  12. David Buckley - Strange Fascination: David Bowie - The Definitive Story (1999)

    David Buckley - Strange Fascination: David Bowie - The Definitive Story (1999)
    David Buckley - Strange Fascination: David Bowie - The Definitive Story (1999). Picture: Press

    The best book on Bowie's life, career and art, with analysis and insight.

  13. Simon Price - Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) (1999)

    Simon Price - Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) (1999)
    Simon Price - Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) (1999). Picture: Press

    Price is a HUGE Manics fan and this tribute to the lives and work of the Welsh band demonstrates that.

  14. Louise Wener - Different For Girls: My True Life Adventures In Pop (2010)

    Louise Wener - Different For Girls: My True Life Adventures In Pop  (2010)
    Louise Wener - Different For Girls: My True Life Adventures In Pop (2010). Picture: Press

    You had the Alex James version, now here's the female perspective on the Britpop years. Wener, who was the lead singer in Sleeper, forged a separate career as a novelist, so this is an expertly written account of her time as a pop star.

  15. David Cavanagh - My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize: The Creation Records Story (2000)

    David Cavanagh - My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize: The Creation Records Story (2000)
    David Cavanagh - My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize: The Creation Records Story (2000). Picture: Press

    This is essentially the tale of Alan McGee and his label Creation, from the Primal Scream days, via the glory years of The House Of Love, Ride, My Bloody Valentine and finally the world-conquering Oasis. But it's more than that - Cavanagh plots the heyday of British indie, back when it truly was independent and its rise and fall during the Britpop years. Some amazing tales and a reminder of some great, underrated bands.

  16. Anthony H. Wilson - 24 Hour Party People: What The Sleeve Notes Never Tell You (2002)

    Anthony H. Wilson - 24 Hour Party People
    Anthony H. Wilson - 24 Hour Party People. Picture: Press

    Not that Factory Records ever published any sleeve notes, of course. Ostensibly the book of Michael Winterbottom's 2000 film about the rise and fall of Manchester's most famous label, this spirals into a colourful, idiosyncratic and eloquent autobiography of Wilson, adding many more layers to the tale. Find out more about Tony's years in crap local TV, his aborted attempt to become a "serious" journalist, his tribulations with bands like A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column, and the financial car crash that was The Hacienda. Wilson is sorely missed, but this is his definitive statement. "This is not a book about me. I'm a minor character in my own story. This is about the music and the people who made the music."

  17. Stanley Booth - The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones (1984)

    Stanley Booth - The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones (1984)
    Stanley Booth - The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones (1984). Picture: Press

    Young journalist Booth weaselled his way onto the crew of the Stones' big comeback tour of the States in 1969 and inadvertently found himself present at one of the most terrifying rock shows of all time: Altamont. The road to the infamous open air show in December 1969 (in which a fan was stabbed to death by Hell's Angels) is paved with the Stones getting used to playing live again after a two year hiatus. As reportage goes, it's one of the best.

  18. Mark Lewisohn - The Beatles: All These Years Volume One - Tune In (2013)

    Mark Lewisohn - The Beatles: All These Years Volume One
    Mark Lewisohn - The Beatles: All These Years Volume One. Picture: Press

    Lewisohn is the undisputed king of Beatles research and his latest project is set to supersede all his previous books on the band. This first instalment looks at the Fab Four's formative years in Liverpool and Hamburg and includes a whole stack of new information. This is set to be the definitive word on the subject. The extended version is hundreds of thousands of words longer and still only gets up to their first single! Now THAT'S detailed.

  19. Lol Tolhurst - Cured: The Story Of Two Imaginary Boys (2016)

    Lol Tolhurst - Cured
    Lol Tolhurst - Cured. Picture: Press

    Tolhurst was the original drummer, then keyboard player with The Cure, having gone to school with frontman Robert Smith. His autobiography tells the story of the band’s move from suburban punks from Sussex into the biggest cult band in the world - and Lol’s subsequent battles with alcohol which sees him dropped from the line-up just as Disintegration comes out. Brutally honest, this is a moving story of rock redemption.

  20. Nile Rodgers - Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny (2011)

    Nile Rodgers - Le Freak
    Nile Rodgers - Le Freak. Picture: Press

    The bassmeister tells his story of working with disco legends Chic, plus all the Studio 54 hedonism that brought along (although it didn't stop him getting turned away from the super club one time). With a CV that includes Madonna, Prince and David Bowie, this is a glittering memoir.

  21. Jon Savage - England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols And Punk Rock (1991)

    Jon Savage - England's Dreaming
    Jon Savage - England's Dreaming. Picture: Press

    The definitive book on the whole punk phenomenon, Savage plots the history of the movement via the central protagonist Malcolm McLaren, from his time as an art student in the late-1960s, briefly managing the New York Dolls in the early 1970s to mashing together fetish clothing with 50s-styled garage rock in the shape of the Sex Pistols. The book dips into all the offshoots and spin offs, and winds up as the 1980s dawn with Sid Vicious dead, the crappy movie The Great Rock And Roll Swindle in the cinemas and McLaren trying to manage Boy George. Some of the chapters are artfully obtuse, but the central story is gripping.

  22. Noel Monk - Twelve Days On The Road: The Sex Pistols and America (1992)

    Noel Monk - Twelve Days On The Road
    Noel Monk - Twelve Days On The Road. Picture: Press

    Monk was fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) to be part of the crew that took the Sex Pistols on their one and only tour of the US in January 1978. Teenage punks from London and Southern cowboys inevitably don't mix peacefully and the resulting aggravation is a major part of this grimly hilarious account.

  23. Travis Barker - Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums (2015)

    Travis Barker - Can I Say
    Travis Barker - Can I Say. Picture: Press

    The Blink-182 drummer’s memoir is a soul-baring dip into the harrowing plane crash that nearly killed him and his long road to recovery.

  24. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way (1988)

    Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - The Manual
    Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - The Manual. Picture: Press

    Arch pranksters The KLF wrote this book after scoring a No 1 hit with the daft Doctorin' The TARDIS. It's a slightly cynical, yet humorous look at how to sell out in the most calculated way possible and actually worked for one band: Swiss Europopsters Edelweiss.

  25. Michael Azerrad - Our Band Could Be Your Life (2001)

    Michael Azerrad - Our Band Could Be Your Life (2001)
    Michael Azerrad - Our Band Could Be Your Life (2001). Picture: Press

    Azerrad powers through 13 brief but informative biographies of some of the key bands in US indie following the explosive arrival of the Sex Pistols on American shores in 1978. Kicking off with the punk uberlords Black Flag, he takes in cult heroes (Mission Of Burma, Big Black), the pioneers who moved to major labels (Husker Du, The Replacements) and some of the "lifers" who are still working at it to this day (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr). Inspirational and full of great anecdotes, dysfunctional behaviour and genuine punk rock, it will make you want to form your own band.

  26. Simon Reynolds - Rip It Up And Start Again

    Simon Reynolds - Rip It Up And Start Again
    Simon Reynolds - Rip It Up And Start Again. Picture: Press

    The ideal follow-up to England's Dreaming, Reynolds follows John Lydon's progress after the Sex Pistols implode, with the foundation of Public Image Ltd and all the other bands that followed in their wake. The story looks at the work of bands like Joy Division, Echo And The Bunnymen and U2, plus electronica (The Human League), industrial (Throbbing Gristle) and stadium rock (Simple Minds) before winding up in 1984 with the advent of cheesy synthetic pop in the shape of Duran Duran and Boy George. An excellent reader.