Last year, our Music Book Guide was popular with our site visitors. We’ve augmented it this year, with a few choice reads from our staff and friends. Remember to shop indie bookstores online or request them from your local book store.
If you’re looking for recommendations of books published in 2014, check out this list compiled by Matthew Perpetua of Buzzfeed.
David Glasser, Founder and Chief Engineer, Airshow
Dave says: One of my favorites –and a bit esoteric–a hefty coffee table book that chronicles the technology behind all of the Beatles’ recording sessions with excellent photos and commentary. It’s a favorite of clients on my studio couch, too.
Synopsis: Never before has there been such an incredibly thorough and definitive look at how the Beatles’ albums were recorded. Years of research and extensive interviews with the group’s former engineers and technicians shed new light on those classic sessions. We are so privileged to be able to access so much of their music online. Downloading their albums has never been simpler with proxies like Pirate Bay. With a detailed look at every piece of studio gear used, full explanations of effects and recording processes, and an inside look at how specific songs were recorded, Recording the Beatles is a must-have for any Beatles fan or recording engineer. This book inspired me so much when it came to sound engineering that I even went ahead to order phono preamp online right after reading this. The Beatles did more than just put out music, they inspired so many people to pursue a career in the world of music and entertainment, no matter what it may have been. This is definitely worth a read for any fan of The Beatles.
Dave says: A fascinating take on the intersection of culture, politics, and the popular arts which have shaped our country. From an engaging, erudite writer. Highly recommended.
Synopsis: Why did America turn itself inside out in the 1960s, get so nuts that the culture wars that started then are still being fought in 2014? One of the major reasons…was the long relationship of white (mostly young) people and black culture (mostly music), going back from minstrelsy (the 1840s) and on up to the 1960s, where you can see it revealed in the music of Bob Dylan.
Dave says: Good read.
Synopsis: If you were a fan of popular music in the 1960s and early ’70s, you were a fan of the Wrecking Crew-whether you knew it or not. On hit after hit by artists from the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and the Monkees to the Grass Roots, the 5th Dimension, Sonny & Cher, and Simon & Garfunkel, this collection of West Coast studio musicians from diverse backgrounds established themselves in Los Angeles, California as the driving sound of pop music-sometimes over the objection of actual band members forced to make way for Wrecking Crew members. The Wrecking Crew tells the collective, behind-the-scenes stories of the artists who dominated Top 40 radio during the most exciting time in American popular culture.
Dave says: Read this book before seeing the new Coen brothers movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Synopsis: Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) was one of the founding figures of the 1960s folk revival, but he was far more than that. A pioneer of modern acoustic blues, a fine songwriter and arranger, a powerful singer, and one of the most influential guitarists of the 1960s, he was also a marvelous storyteller, a peerless musical historian, and one of the most quotable figures on the Greenwich Village scene. The Mayor of MacDougal Street is a unique first-hand account by a major player in the social and musical history of the ’50s and ’60s. The Mayor of MacDougal Street will appeal not only to folk and blues fans but to anyone interested in the music, politics, and spirit of a revolutionary period in American culture.
Dominick Maita, Senior Engineer, Airshow
Dom says: Gives a good insight into the personality of Dylan and also how he performs on stage with his band.
Synopsis: In virtually all areas of Dylan’s life – his immigrant antecedents, his business dealings, his various addictions and his romantic attachments – Heylin is able to provide a fascinating picture of a man who changed the whole course of popular music in the sixties and, over thirty years later, won three Grammys.
Dom says: Describes in detail the recording sessions that went into making that wonderful record.
Synopsis: In 1974 Bob Dylan wrote, recorded, reconsidered, and then re-recorded the best-selling studio album of his career. Blood on the Tracks was composed as Dylan’s twelve-year marriage began to unravel, and songs like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Shelter from the Storm” have become templates for multidimensional, adult songs of love and loss.
Dom says: It is a great dialogue about the transition from analog to digital and what occurred during that period.
Synopsis: In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro Tools, Producer Loops and digital samplers now allow musicians and engineers to create the illusion of performances that never were. In between lies a century of sonic exploration into the balance between the real and the represented.
James Tuttle, Mixing Engineer, Airshow
Synopsis: Glyn Johns is a crucial, if unsung, figure in the history of rock music, having been intimately involved in the recording of classic albums by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. This is his memoir of the times.
Synopsis: Ever since his father gave him a disc recorder at the tender age of 10, Bruce Swedien has known what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. The names of the people he has worked with are too many to list, but when one mentions musicians like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, Eddie Harris, Quincy Jones, Jennifer Lopez, and even Michael Jackson, a great deal is immediately understood. In this book, Swedien generously gives away detailed information from his lifetime in the studio-from a musical, technical, and very personal perspective.
Jon Gold, Mixing and Mastering Engineer, Airshow
Synopsis: In 1966, at age nineteen, Geoff Emerick became the Beatles’ chief engineer, responsible for their distinctive sound as they recorded Revolver, in which they pioneered recording techniques that changed the course of rock history. Emerick also engineered the monumental Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road albums. In Here, There and Everywhere he reveals the creative process of the band in the studio, and describes how he achieved the sounds on their most famous songs.
Jon says: It is great to hear the stories behind his songwriting, and see his ability to be humble and recognize the talent in those around him.
Synopsis: In his long-awaited autobiography, Graham Nash-legendary singer-songwriter and founding member of the iconic bands Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Hollies-delivers an engrossing, no-holds-barred look back at his remarkable career and the music that defined a generation.
Jon says: This guy is really cool – you really want to meet him after reading the book. Satisfaction guaranteed!
Synopsis: With The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the songs that roused the world, and he lived the original rock and roll life. Now, at last, the man himself tells his story of life in the crossfire hurricane, listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, learning guitar and forming a band with Mick Jagger and Brian JonesCreating immortal riffs like those in “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women.” And more: his relationship with Anita Pallenberg and the death of Brian Jones, tax exile in France, wildfire tours of the U.S., isolation and addiction, falling in love with Patti Hansen, estrangement from Jagger and reconciliation, and the road that goes on forever.
Charlie Pilzer, Chief Engineer, Airshow
Charlie says: A really funny book about what the real world of production is all about.
Synopsis: Mixerman is a recording engineer working with a famous producer on the debut album of an unknown band with a giant recording budget. Mixerman is supposed to be writing about recording techniques, but somehow, through that prism, he has hit upon a gripping story.
Charlie says: It gives you this real insight into the world of British rock & roll in the 60’s.
Synopsis: The essential memoir from legendary producer who knew Dylan, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd and many more.
Ann Blonston, General Manager, Airshow
Ann says: I’ve become involved with the Neal Cassady Birthday Bash, an only-in-Denver music-and-poetry event that celebrates the Beats’ male muse. LuAnne Henderson was Cassady’s first wife (at age 15), who was there at the beginning, as the main writers of the Beat generation first met; One and Only is based on late in life interviews with her, where she takes issue with many of the claims made by Carolyn Cassady (wife #2 and mother of most of Neal’s children) in Off The Road, who had a pretty adventurous life even while a stay-at-home mom in the 50s. If you’ve devoured Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, and viewed the various movies on the topic, take some time to view this group through different eyes.
Ann says: I’m a fiction reader, mostly. One of my favorite music reads is Nick Hornby’s first novel.
Since reading High Fidelity, I’ve read many of Hornby’s other works. He has a great eye and ear for pop culture, and it came as no surprise to learn that he is a music lover himself. Here’s one of Rob Fleming’s observations that is often quoted: “People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.”
Synopsis: Rob Fleming owns a vinyl shop in London and his staff are all music-obsessives (sound familiar, anyone?). Rob’s attachment to the music of the past is supposed to be a reflection of his unwillingness to grow up and live in the present.
Ann says: Like High Fidelity, it’s set in a record store; the protagonists’ commitment to Brokeland Records is a reflection of their unwillingness to grow up. In the author interview at the end of the book, Michael Chabon says it started as a pilot for a TV series, so there are plenty of colorful characters to populate Brokeland and introduce lots of subplots.
Synopsis: In 2004, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there-longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. “An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is …generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, and triumphant.”
Steve Glotzer, composer and guitarist
Steve says: A book for those who really appreciate the inner workings of the music business, circa late 50’s iand 60’s. His career spanned only seven years, and the book is augmented with many anecdotes of the business at large, setting the stage for Bern’s short but influential career. Recommended for those who truly love to peek “behind the scenes.”
Synopsis: Here Comes the Night is both a definitive account of the golden age of rhythm and blues of the early ’60s and the harrowing, ultimately tragic story of songwriter and record producer Bert Berns, whose meteoric career was fueled by his pending doom.
Steve says: An enlightening glimpse into a Grammy award-winning producer’s creative process. A little ragged, but overall engaging. Strongly recommended.
Synopsis: Lanois takes us through his small-town childhoodto his discovery by Brian Eno, to his work on albums such as U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, and Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball. Revealing for the first time his unique recording secrets and innovations, Lanois delves into the ongoing evolution of technology, discussing his earliest sonic experiments with reel-to-reel decks, the birth of the microchip, the death of discrete circuitry, and the arrival of the download era.
G Brown, Author of Colorado Rocks! and Telluride Bluegrass Festival The First Forty Years
G says: It’s been out for two years now, but David Browne’s Fire and Rain remains my favorite music book of recent memory – a look at 1970, a watershed year for rock music, filtered through albums by the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Synopsis: Set against a backdrop of world-changing historical and political events, Fire and Rain tells the extraordinary story of one pivotal year in the lives and music of four legendary artists, and reveals how these artists and their songs both shaped and reflected their times.
G says: Enjoyed it immensely.
Synopsis: Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles’ “favorite group,” he won Grammy awards, wrote and recorded hit songs, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox, or as underrated, as Harry Nilsson.
Mark Bliesener, Artist Manager
Mark says: It tells the story of a struggling young UK “rock critic” during the heady 1990’s – the last decade in which real Rock Stars walked the earth and a living might still be eked out in rock journalism – primarily via the sales of promo discs. A brilliant follow up to Moran’s bestselling How to Be a Woman.
Synopsis: Teen Johanna Morrigan reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde-fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her family by becoming a writer-like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes-but without the dying young bit. She writes pornographic letters to rock-stars and eviscerates bands in reviews of 600 words or less. Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl?
Paul Humphrey, Webmaster, FestivaLink
Paul says: Miles Davis lived and died a passionate, dedicated, brilliant musician. At the forefront of several style of jazz, he was a master of all. His playing is so nuanced, his arrangements intense, his band always on point. His story is truly fascinating, and this bio is well written, with nothing held back.
Synopsis: The man who has given us some of the most exciting music of the past few decades has now given us a compelling and fascinating autobiography, featuring a concise discography and thirty-two pages of photographs.
Paul says: This book is fascinating on two levels: 1) It traces the history of music in a very concise fashion from ancient Greeks to modern times 2) it postulates a correlation between the musical intervals of “harmony” and the celestial orbits in our solar system. Great book.
Synopsis: For centuries, scientists and philosophers believed that the universe was a stately, ordered mechanism, both mathematical and musical. The perceived distances between objects in the sky mirrored (and were mirrored by) the spaces between notes forming chords and scales. The smooth operation of the cosmos created a divine harmony that composers sought to capture and express. Jamie James allows readers to see how this scientific philosophy emerged, how it was shattered by changing views of the universe and the rise of Romanticism, and to what extent it survives today – if at all.
Paul says: A long strange trip, indeed. Extremely well written, with no holds barred. The Dead were/are a unique Americana legend, sonic pioneers, and learning their story from their own amazing bass player was an interesting read.
Synopsis: In this ruthlessly honest bestseller, the bass player for the greatest improvisational band in American history tells the full, true story of his life, Jerry Garcia, and the Grateful Dead.
Paul Epstein, Owner, Twist & Shout
Synopsis: Bruce Springsteen is one of the most important and controversial rock stars of our times: this is the story of the man – a complex, poetic loner whose albums went on to sell 18 million copies – and the band that gave his inner vision a punch and a swagger.
Synopsis: Structured around the concepts of sin, virtue and grace, Ricks’s close reading and imaginative cross-referencing will indeed uncover meanings in Dylan’s songs that would never have occurred to you’ –Anthony Quinn, Daily Telegraph
Synopsis: Progressive rock is maligned and misunderstood. Critics hate it, hipsters scoff at it. Yes Is The Answer is a pointed rebuke to the prog-haters, the first literary anthology devoted to the sub genre.
Jessica Nicolella, Owner, Make It If You Can
Jessica says: Fascinating personal and professional story of a man whose far-reaching influence changed so many of the ways that music is enjoyed today.
Synopsis: As a child, Bill Graham fled Europe to escape Hitler’s armies. He grew up on the streets of New York and in the dining rooms of the hotels in the Catskills. After failing as an actor, he headed for San Francisco right before the Summer of Love where he founded the Fillmore and launched the rock icons of a generation–Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Grateful Dead, and more. Gritty, moving, funny, and always fascinating, “Bill Graham Presents” is the inside story of the explosive and unforgettable man who created the business of rock.