Get ready to spin, folks! It is once again National Vinyl Record Day, the year’s most unsung holiday. While you may or may not be into vinyl itself, I’m betting your interested in music. Why not take today as an opportunity to take a look at music history’s deep cuts (and as a bonus, some music-oriented novels)?
- How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy, by Stephen Witt: Might be a bit cheeky to put this book at the top of the list, but this book is about the end of music as a physical format. Witt’s story chronicles the invention of the MP3, bouncing between a horrified music industry and an elated community of music pirates. It’s fast-paced and terrific.
- The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross: This might be the NPR version of a music history book–covers classical music, encyclopedic, and interested in the avant garde, but Ross also wants to show that classical music isn’t (and has never been) stuffy.
- The Rap Year Book, by Shea Serrano, Arturo Torres, and Ice-T: This book is part humor, part comprehensive rap history. Shea Serrano highlights the best rap song each year starting with 1979, and each entry is punctuated by hilarious footnotes and Torres’ amazing artwork.
- Miles, by Miles Davis: A mainstay of music history, Davis tells the tale of his own meteoric rise to jazz royalty in this autobiography. While it’s a fascinating study of a singular talent, it’s also a story about a complicated person shaped by an awareness of his own fame.
- Girl in a Band, by Kim Gordon: Kim Gordon rocks, and so does this memoir. She talks about her experiences in Sonic Youth and the grunge music scene, but this is also a book about Gordon trying to find her artistic voice.
- Love Is a Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield: Alert, High Fidelity fans! This is another memoir, written about the author’s emotional connection to certain songs–and his desire to create the perfectly calibrated mix tape.
- Beastie Boys Book, by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz: Wow, this book is so incredibly tough to put down. This is a messy, rambling, funny trip through the Beastie Boys’ career. Weird, great anecdotes abound, and it’s stuffed with images. If you only read one book on this list, make it this one.
- Sticky Fingers, by Joe Hagan: This is a biography of Jann Wenner, founder and editor of Rolling Stone. This is great for fans of rock ‘n roll in its heyday and includes a lot of cameos from the likes of Mick Jackson, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen.
- Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, by Jeff Chang: Chang does a brilliant job of tracing the DNA of hip-hop and placing the genre in its historical context. He highlights its origins in the 1970s Bronx while explaining how civil rights activism, globalization, and capitalism influenced its evolution.
- X, by Chuck Klosterman: This might be cheating a little, since Klosterman’s subject matter isn’t just music in these essays–although it usually is. He also sometimes wanders into critiques of TV shows and soda pop! But mostly, this is Klosterman riffing on artists from Taylor Swift to the Beatles. The essay on KISS is a standout.
- A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan: Egan’s main characters here are musicians and record executives, but their professions matter less than the things Egan talks about in this book: the ways that friendships change over time, how difficult it is to make amends, and the ability of music and art to uplift.
- Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby: I couldn’t very well put down High Fidelity, right? You guys probably know about that one already, but I also couldn’t make this list and not put a Nick Hornby book on here, either. Like High Fidelity, Juliet, Naked is about deferred adulthood, people who screw up, and–of course–obsessing about music.
Happy reading (and listening)!