Best music books 2015
This year’s best books were full of heartfelt romances, weary travels, and through-provoking questions about our society. As 2015 comes to a close, EW will roll out gift guides for the very specific bookworms in your life. (Check out our lists for history lovers, teens, pop culture obsessives, armchair travelers, and those who love big fat novels.) Next up: here’s what to get the music lover.
Peter Guralnick, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll
Why? The author of the critically acclaimed, two-volume Elvis Presley biography, Careless Love and Last Train to Memphis, dives into the life of Sam Phillips—the Sun Records founder who actually discovered Presley. This book is essential reading, and not just because Guralnick is a respected music historian, but because he essentially worked on the book for 25 years, spending time with the Phillips family and gaining their trust. Guralnick spoke to EW about the project—and Phillips—back in June.
Ben Yagoda, The B-Side
Why? With humor, colorful anecdotes, and thorough research, Yagoda explores the way popular music shifted from the piano-heavy standards of the Great American Songbook and Tin Pan Alley to the grooves of Motown and the Beatles. Expect appearances from familiar faces like Carole King, the Gershwin brothers, and Irving Berlin — and readers can enjoy a jukebox’s worth of tunes to jingle through their minds.
Where to buy it: The Strand.
John Seabrook, The Song Machine
Why? Anyone with a remote interest in current pop music (read: Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift) will be riveted by Seabrook’s chronicle of the wizards — Swedes Max Martin and Denniz Pop, and Americans Clive Davis and Ester Dean — behind some of the biggest earworms of the past 20 years. His chapters on the Backstreet Boys’ ugly break from manager Lou Pearlman, and a teen Rihanna’s unmistakable star quality are especially fascinating. Read our review here.
Where to buy it: Barnes and Noble.
Elvis Costello, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink
Why? The British Elvis recounts his raucous career with dry wit and wild details, especially those from the band’s “young and drunk” period, as Costello calls it. Not every musician is the appropriate author of his or her own story, but in his review, EW’s Clark Collis calls Costello “a winningly droll and good-natured guide to his life and his many works throughout.”
Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl
Why? In a year full of disappointing music memoirs (Costello’s notwithstanding), the Sleater-Kinney frontwoman and Portlandia co-creator’s honest and undeniably smart read made EW’s Best of the Year list. Her recollection of growing up in the Pacific Northwest in a house full of secrets and finding solace in music is interesting and inspiring, and just might make her even cooler — if that’s even possible. Read our review here.
Where to buy it: Powell’s.
James Kaplan, Sinatra: The Chairman
Why? The sequel to Kaplan’s 2010 biography Frank: The Voice continues the story of Ol’ Blue Eyes, plopping readers into the action the day after Sinatra won his 1954 Oscar, which rejuvenated his career and flooded his schedule. Kaplan painstakingly separates fact from myth — without sacrificing the countless juicy bits.