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10 Best Music Books of 2015

From the stage to the page: The year’s best memoirs, oral histories and more

Music Books 2015

The year's best music reads included open books on a roots-rocker, a dance icon, a punk poet and a rap pioneer; not to mention deep looks at everything from the Vietnam war to the current EDM explosion.

Here are 10 of the best. While you're at it, don't miss these great books by Rolling Stone staffers, either:

So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead, by David Browne

Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums, by Travis Barker with Gavin Edwards

MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson, by Steve Knopper 

'I'll Never Write My Memoirs' by Grace Jones
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‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ by Grace Jones

Grace Jones embodied an archetype — the imperious butch-femme shapeshifter and bitingly outspoken pop virtuoso — so revolutionary that it was destined to be pitifully simulated (sorry, Gaga). She's also notorious for her stiletto barbs at perceived lessers. But to diminish this memoir (told to English pop theorizer/provocateur Paul Morley) as a shadefest would be lazy and false. While Ms. Jones chronicles her transformation from "Beverly of Church Jamaica" to "Grace of Club America," she's lovingly earnest, cherishing Paradise Garage escapades with Keith Haring and shouting out undervalued musical legends (Nicky Siano, Frankie Crocker, the Compass Point All-Stars reggae dream team, producer Trevor Horn). At times, the tale of her fruitful yet pained partnership with photographer Jean-Paul Goude grinds on, but her passion for a career in fashion, music, visual art and film — despite racism, sexism and the AIDS plague — is bracing. Then there are the juicy bits; for instance: "Shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm." C.A.

Petty: The Biography
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‘Petty: The Biography’ by Warren Zanes

There's no shortage of Tom Petty books on the market, including Paul Zollo's stellar Conversations With Tom Petty and the singer's own authorized oral history Runnin' Down a Dream. But it wasn't until longtime friend (and Del Fuegos guitarist) Warren Zanes sat down with Petty that he decided to tell the whole story, including the childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and the late Nineties heroin addiction that nearly killed him. The resulting book is the definitive account of Tom Petty's entire life and career. Zanes even convinced original Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, who has remained almost completely silent since leaving the band in 1994, to open up about his tumultuous time in the group. The drummer holds back little, even lashing out at Petty for skipping the funeral of Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein, but he also expressed deep regret for his own failings as a bandmate. Who knows how Zanes managed to get these guys to reveal so much about painful chapters from their past, but let's hope this his first of many rock biographies. A.G.

Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink
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‘Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink’ by Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello may not write the book everyday, but when he does, it's a 688-page whopper of frequently fascinating and sometimes regretful self-regard. The emotional focus is on his troubled relationship with his late musician father, and like Dylan in his Chronicles, Costello jumps around, recalling hallmark recordings, punk-era road stories, bittersweet flings, lyric epiphanies and meetings with remarkable musical idols. He can wax loquacious about figures like Allen Toussaint yet employ brevity to devastating effect, such as pillorying the Attractions' bassist in a couple of searing throw-away lines or distilling a 16-year marriage to a single page. R.G.

The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America
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‘The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America’ by Michaelangelo Matos

A long-overdue history, as well as a meticulous WTF account, The Underground Is Massive easily fulfills its title's premise. But the skin-tingling buzz in Michaelangelo Matos' 400-page tome comes from his reporting on the Eighties and Nineties parties and raves that helped, along with the Internet, to unite tiny pockets of fanatics in towns and cities across the vastness of North America. (Full disclosure: I am quoted occasionally in the book.) Matos airlifts you into thrillingly chaotic scenes, including brutal police raids, and provides just enough context, via the recurring voices of Moby, Richie Hawtin, promoters Disco Donnie and Pasquale Rotella, DJ true believer Tommie Sunshine, and others. He also generously tracks EDM's more recent capitalist carnival, calling Daft Punk at Coachella in 2006, viewed by millions on YouTube, a "Beatles on Ed Sullivan" moment. C.A.

We Gotta Get Outta This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War
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‘We Gotta Get Outta This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War’ by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner

Doug Bradley and Craig Werner's account of music's connection to the Vietnam War is intimate and deeply informative, with a scope that encompasses both the war itself and the way that music has helped raise awareness of veterans' issues long after its end. We Gotta Get Out of This Place gives the reader a good sense of how the popularity of different songs and styles waxed and waned over the years, as the mood of the war changed. It also gives plenty of space for extended first-person narratives (dubbed "Solos") offering a diverse array of viewpoints, including many from veterans who found themselves in anti-war camps, those who felt more conflicted about the anti-war movement, and musicians like Country Joe McDonald and James Brown. Nuanced and frequently moving. T.C.