20 Best Music Books of 2013 – Rolling Stone
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20 Best Music Books of 2013

Morrissey’s Wildean memoir, an exhaustive Beatles tome, Questlove’s meta-level writing and more of the year’s top reads

If you're a fan of both rock and reading, 2013 had much to offer. Some of the year's best music books centered around big-name artists, like Mark Lewisohn's insanely detailed Beatles bio Tune In, as well as cantankerous autobiographies from both Morrissey and Steely Dan's grump-in-chief Donald Fagen. But great reads came from all corners — from Joe Mansfield's coffee table book on classic drum machines (essential gawking for music-gear fetishists), to Rob Sheffield's brilliant memoir-cum-karaoke-treatise Turn Around Bright Eyes, to the terrific heavy metal history Louder Than Hell, a classic tale of sex, drugs and Satan that'll thrill even non-headbangers. Read on for our top 20.

By Jon Dolan, Colin Fleming, Will Hermes, and Christian Hoard

‘You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me’ by Nathan Rabin

Think you have a music obsession? Rabin hit the road with the Phish army, and, just to go to the opposite end of the spectrum, the Insane Clown Posse's "Juggalos." Comedy, inevitably, ensues but, what do you know, so does commonality. And that very human need to belong to something outside of one's self. Weird, definitely. But touching, even more so.

‘Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion’ by Robert Gordon

A virtual soul music origin story unto itself, Memphis's Stax label made the pop charts of the Sixties and Seventies feel like a down-home fish fry. We get a glimpse of Otis Redding standing in the wings, scared to follow Sam and Dave onstage, and then transforming, in the space of a second, into one mother of a performer. Props go to the Stax house band, which as a unit stirred foundations and inspired awe on most of the label's hits.

‘Eminent Hipsters’ by Donald Fagen

In this memoir, Steely Dan singer and first-class grump Donald Fagen disses everything from the Sixties' counterculture to Steely Dan fans, providing brilliant insights along the way. The result is a slim, satisfying and hilariously cranky book.

‘Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove’ by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman

Questlove loves writing about music – just check out his liner notes for the Roots' albums. Equal parts cultural critic and memoirist, he can't resist riffing on every milestone he achieves, and thumbing through these pages is like hanging out with the chattiest music nerd you know. Rich Nichols, the Roots' sarcastic manager, gets in a few nice lines, but the joy of this book is getting to live in Questlove's jam-packed, restless brain for a while.

Morrissey Autobiography

‘Autobiography’ by Morrissey

He dishes out some wit, he gripes; some bon mots, some bitching. Something worthy of Wilde, some whinging. That's the pattern of Morrissey's long-awaited autobiography. You'll cackle, you'll get pissed, you'll say, "screw this, I can skip this section," only to jump into another that makes your evening. Moz may be a nutter, but he's a smart nutter.

‘Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal’ by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman

Come home and roost, metalheads: to the tune of 250 plus interviews with the likes of Anthrax, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Judas Priest, Pantera, White Zombie, and Slipnot. And if Louder Than Hell's celebration of all things maximum volume were not enough, it also offers whole journey into what's tantamount to a way of life. And that devil's horn thing? You've probably been doing it wrong. Who knew.

‘Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years Vol. 1’ by Mark Lewisohn

Never mind that epic, multivolume studies are generally reserved for stuff like the rise and fall of Rome: the Beatles were bound to get this sort of treatment at some point, so here's a chance to rock out at max length. Tune In runs 932 pages and ends before Please Please Me is in the can. We see, in glorious detail, how the Beatles lived in each other's pockets, fucked in front of each other, and forged an "us against the world" union.

‘Turn Around Bright Eyes’ by Rob Sheffield

Turn Around Bright Eyes is a memoir about "the rituals of love and karaoke" – a tale of how belting out shaky versions of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Say My Name" and countless other songs helped a widowed pop-culture addict find true love again. Sheffield, a Rolling Stone contributing editor, brilliantly balances personal history and first-rate rock criticism; the Beatles chapter – about how picking a favorite Beatles song is a matter of supreme importance, and how John Lennon and Paul McCartney's shared sorrow helped shape some of the greatest music ever – manages, no small feat, to say something fresh about that band. Oh, and the book is hilarious, too.