The 30 must-read music books of Fall 2017

From memoirs to rankings, here are the best titles on rock, rap and country hitting the market this season


Annie Zaleski
September 23, 2017 8:00PM (UTC)

There's a very good reason why Taylor Swift is releasing her new album, "Reputation," on November 10. The fourth quarter of the year is typically when blockbuster records hit stores, as retailers and labels are counting on holiday sales to boost profits.

More and more, however, the last three months of the year aren't just a bonanza for major albums: Every year, publishers release a steady stream of high-profile memoirs, biographies and music-related books, with the expectation they'll also make great stocking stuffers.

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Although this year's crop of new and notable tomes doesn't have a high-profile anchor such as Bruce Springsteen's memoir, the breadth and depth of the options is significant. Whether classic rock, hip-hop, new wave or post-punk is your style, there's bound to be an engaging book that suits your tastes. If anything, 2017's fall books deserve praise for mixing academic-caliber research, life-altering insights and highly entertaining prose.

 

Out Now:

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"Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives," edited by Holly Gleason
There's no shortage of books about men sharing what music means to them. However, this thoughtful and moving essay collection is different: It features noted women – writers and musicians alike — sharing how country music's women artists changed their lives. The deeply personal pieces often feel like the authors are cracking open a secret chest, sharing treasured glimpses into their true selves.

Roseanne Cash writes eloquently about her mother, June Carter Cash ("She was like a spiritual detective: she saw into all of your dark corners and deep recesses, saw your potential and your possible future, and the gifts you didn't even know you possessed . . ."), while Entertainment Weekly writer Madison Vain connects the ongoing resonance of Loretta Lynn's "The Pill" to her own life experiences.

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Above all, the idea that writers found solace via these musicians — emotional, spiritual and otherwise — permeates "Woman Walk the Line." The idea of connection having such a profound, lingering impact speaks to the book's appeal and importance. For example, Salon contributor Caryn Rose tells of asking librarians to help her learn more about the great Maybelle Carter. "It wouldn't be the last time that I learned that other women will help you if you need to find something out," Rose writes, "but it was one of the first conscious moments of solidarity for me." Buy it here.

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"Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out of Squeeze," by Chris Difford
This conversational memoir from Chris Difford — one of the principal songwriters of beloved U.K. pop act Squeeze — covers a lot of ground: his south London childhood; the band's career ups and downs; and his non-Squeeze detours, including managing Bryan Ferry.

"Some Fantastic Place" is distinguished by its admirable candor: Unlike many artists, Difford is reflective about the obstacles he's had to overcome (e.g., flying anxiety, substance abuse, relationship breakdowns), and he is direct and forthcoming about how these things inform his life and music, even in the present. However, Difford's dry sense of humor also shines through — for instance, speaking of the band's first, ill-fated U.S. gig, at The Lighthouse in Bethlehem, New Jersey, he writes, "We literally played to one man and a dog. We were forced to play a second set by the owner. The dog left." Lovely and enriching, "Some Fantastic Place" is very much worth a read. Buy it here.

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devotion-gateway"Devotion (Why I Write)," by Patti Smith
Teaching writing can be challenging. Although it's relatively straightforward to show aspiring writers the basics (e.g., structure, grammar), helping these authors tap into their creativity is far more difficult. Thankfully, Patti Smith exists to function as a beacon of inspiration. Although a compact 112 pages, the musician/writer's latest book speaks volumes about her creative motivations and details how she finds inspiration in the world around her.

Written in a stream-of-consciousness narrative manner — sample: "The phone rings, breaking the spell, my flight canceled. I have to make an earlier one. I swiftly get in gear, call a taxi, slide my computer in its case, camera in a sack, and cram the rest into the suitcase" — with some storytelling anchors thrown in for good measure, "Devotion" is spare, elegant and aspirational. Consider it a compressed collection of tips and valuable insights into how Smith approaches crafting her astounding, ornate body of work. Buy it here.

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"I Am The Wolf: Lyrics and Writing," by Mark Lanegan
Post-Screaming Trees, Mark Lanegan has carved out a versatile musical career marked by intriguing collaborations and solo work. This book, which features chapters of lyrics introduced by a page or two of fragmented but enthralling "autobiographical commentary," is a resonant peek behind the dark curtain.

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To preface lyrics to the 2012 album "Blues Funeral," Lanegan tells of working as a scenic painter for television show sets such as "Biggest Loser," "Judge Judy" and "Big Brother" — he was fired from the latter for painting a bedroom the incorrect color — and writes, "In the aftermath of a near-death experience, music no longer had any effect on me." Such a striking statement only lends more mystery and gravitas to Lanegan's lyrics, which are (rightfully) arranged in "I Am The Wolf" as they would be in a book of poetry. It's the ideal presentation for artistic work that's haunting and cryptic, but tends to reveal great gifts over time. Buy it here.

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"Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait," by Steve Parke
The title of this book is no hyperbole: The author was Prince's art director at Paisley Park for fourteen years. Naturally, this collection of photos and recollections gives singular (and often mind-blowing) insights into a side of the Purple One we rarely saw. Buy it here.
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"Dead Boys 1977: The Lost Photographs of Dave Treat," edited and designed by Ron Kretsch
Forty years after the Dead Boys came screaming out of New York with the debut album "Young Loud and Snotty," a new photo book is arriving to celebrate the group's early years in Cleveland. Expect rare posed and live snapshots (including of the late Stiv Bators), as well as new commentary from band members Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz, who resurrected the Dead Boys this year for shows. Buy it here.

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"A Sick Life: TLC ’n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage," by Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins with Emily Zemler
Rapper Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of the beloved '90s hip-hop trio TLC gets introspective in this engaging memoir about her time with the group and how living with sickle-cell disease has shaped her worldview and outlook on life. Buy it here.
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"Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green," by Jimmy McDonough
"Soul Survivor" aims to dig into the soul legend's amazing life — which, up front, the author states, is a daunting task. Still, the biography does an admirable job reconciling Green's complicated nature with his untouchable, influential catalog. Buy it here.

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"Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop's Early Years," by Joseph C. Ewoodzie
As the title implies, this meticulously researched book uncovers and delves into aspects of hip-hop history that aren't as well-known, with a particular focus on the mid- to late-'70s. Buy it here.
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"What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time," by Dar Williams
Structured with chapters tied to recollections about different U.S. cities — and the people and places comprising their cultural fabric — this book is as warm and thoughtful as Williams' folk-rock catalog. Buy it here.

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"Live at the Safari Club: A History of Hardcore Punk in the Nation's Capital 1988-1998," by Shawna Kenney and Rich Dolinger
This entertaining oral history throws the spotlight on Washington, D.C. punk venue the Safari Club — considered the city's version of CBGB — and why it became such an influential underground mecca. Buy it here.
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"Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things," by Loudon Wainwright III
Expect whimsy, wit and bittersweet prose — all elegantly wrought, of course — from the storied folk-rock musician who's the father of musicians Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Buy it here.

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"Goodnight L.A.: The Rise and Fall of Classic Rock — The Untold Story from inside the Legendary Recording Studios," by Kent Hartman
If recording studio walls could talk, they'd tell the best, juiciest stories. That's the premise of this book, which reveals tantalizing secrets behind blockbusters from Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, to name a few. Buy it here.

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"The Autobiography of Gucci Mane," by Gucci Mane with Neil Martinez-Belkin
It's not every day that artists in the prime of their careers release an autobiography. Then again, they're not rapper Gucci Mane, the trap house pioneer who started writing the book while incarcerated and has a vivid and inspiring story to tell about his rise, fall and redemption. Buy it here.

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"Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music," by Ann Powers
With a title inspired by Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," this book traces American music's rich and, at times, complex history with music and movement, and how it relates to race, gender and sexuality. "Body and soul are inseparable," Powers told NPR. "And I think music is that connective tissue that reminds us that all of our experiences, even transcendent experiences, are generated in our bodies." Buy it here.

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"Prefab Sprout: The Early Years," by John Birch
The first book of this ambitious project — a trilogy of titles about the cult U.K. indie-pop heroes fronted by Paddy McAloon — covers the band's 1977 formation on through the release of 1984's "Swoon." Buy it here.

Coming Soon:

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Art Garfunkel, "What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man" (September 26)
Expect plenty of Simon & Garfunkel chatter, of course, but also insights into Garfunkel's solo and acting career, and how the Columbia University mathematics graduate student became one of rock 'n' roll's most significant figures. Pre-order a copy here.
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"Mike Belkin: Socks, Sports, Rock and Art," by Carlo Wolff with Mike Belkin
Everyone knows the legendary San Francisco promoter Bill Graham — but for Midwesterners, Jules and Mike Belkin loomed larger-than-life, between their influential concert-booking,  promotions company and management clients. Belkin looks back at overseeing the careers of artists such as the James Gang, Donnie Iris and Michael Stanley Band, and wrangling massive stadium concerts with the biggest bands of the '70s. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time," by Ray Padgett (October 3)
Everyone loves a great cover song, right? But do you know how some of these covers actually came about? That's the premise of this book, which promises the backstories of Aretha Franklin making Otis Redding's "Respect" her own and Devo putting a new wave spin on the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." Pre-order a copy here.

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"Lou Reed: A Life," by Anthony DeCurtis (October 10)
Writer Anthony DeCurtis had "unparalleled access to dozens of Reed's friends, family and collaborators" for this biography of the late Velvet Underground vocalist and New York City evangelist, which should give the book far more nuance than others on the musician. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Lighters in the Sky: The All-Time Greatest Concerts, 1960-2016," by Corbin Reiff (October 10)
Music fans love a good debate — and this year-by-year chronicle of notable concerts, from Oasis at Knebworth Park to Beatles at Shea Stadium, will no doubt spawn plenty of (playful) heated conversations. Pre-order a copy here.

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"The Authorized Roy Orbison," by Roy Jr., Wesley and Alex Orbison with Jeff Slate (October 17)
This gorgeous, photo-heavy book — which is spearheaded and supported by the country icon's estate, specifically his three sons — is a meticulous and insightful look at Orbison's legacy. As a bonus, there's also a new music collection ("A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison & the Royal Philharmonic," due November 3) arriving in stores. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine," by Joe Hagan (October 24)
With news of Rolling Stone being put up for sale, it's bittersweet that the first biography of the magazine's founder, Jann Wenner is due this fall. An early Kirkus review promises no shortage of debauchery, controversy and inside-baseball journalism stories. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB's and Five Decades of Rock and Roll: The Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist," by Richard Lloyd (October 24)
You can never have too many books about New York City's music scene in the '70s. However, the detail-rich memoir from Television founder and influential post-punk guitarist Richard Lloyd promises to be one of the better looks at this freewheeling time. Pre-order a copy here.
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"Never Look at the Empty Seats: A Memoir," by Charlie Daniels (October 24)
At age 80, country music legend Charlie Daniels is still a road warrior with an impressive slate of tour dates — although he did slow down long enough to take stock of his life and career in this memoir. Pre-order a copy here.

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"What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography," by Bruce Dickinson (October 31)
Even if you're not a die-hard fan of heavy metal gods Iron Maiden, this memoir by its colorful and erstwhile leader Bruce Dickinson is sure to be wildly, effortlessly entertaining. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Hit So Hard: A Memoir," by Patty Schemel (October 31)
This memoir by Hole's former drummer (who's now in the excellent, grungy group Upset) is a no-holds-barred look at her musical career and harrowing, decades-long path she took to achieve sobriety. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Bowie: The Illustrated Story," by Pat Gilbert (November 1)
David Bowie's visual side was just as important as his music, which makes this photo-rich history of his life and career that much more of a treat. Every era is lovingly represented — from Ziggy Stardust's glammy flash to his tanned, '80s MTV-star days and even his rarer '00s appearances. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Every Night Is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame," by Wanda Jackson with Scott Bomar (November 14)
The "Queen of Rockabilly" is one of the most influential voices in country and rock 'n' roll, a woman who relished flouting expectations in her life and music. Appropriately, this is an autobiography (with a foreword by Elvis Costello, no less) covering all aspects of her groundbreaking career. Pre-order a copy here.

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"Reveal: Robbie Williams," by Chris Heath
The cheeky U.K. pop superstar has (sadly) never found a huge audience in the U.S. However, this look into his massive fame — both solo and with the group Take That — and irrepressible personality will no doubt be entertaining even for the unfamiliar. Pre-order a copy here.


Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

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