10 Best Music Books of 2014

From the stage to the page: The year's best biographies, rock crit, photo essays and more

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'The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs,' by Greil Marcus
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1. 'The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs,' by Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus carved his stern visage into rock criticism's Mount Rushmore decades ago, but he won't rest on his laurels — and he won't let rock & roll either. And so he kicks off this ferociously cerebral and warmly empathetic super-listicle with a monster sentence that reels off lots of critically acclaimed musicians — it takes, like, five pages — and by the time you've gotten from the beginning (Chuck Berry) to the end (Jay Z), his intent is clear: Forget all of this. Rest assured the 10 songs he picks from there will surprise, and/or amuse, and/or enrage and undoubtedly challenge you: They span from Joy Division (as filtered through that goofy Ian Curtis biopic) to Phil Spector (as filtered through Amy Winehouse) to Etta James (as insufficiently filtered through Beyoncé) and beyond. Whether he's talking Buddy Holly or Cyndi Lauper, Robert Johnson or the Flamin' Groovies, Marcus writes with a philosopher's zeal and a superfan's joy, drawing connections between artists and eras and solar systems you'd never even imagined. It's revisionist history of the best and most necessary kind. By Rob Harvilla

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