The best music books of 2017 have very little in common with one another. They range from an incredibly in-depth look at Bob Dylan’s gospel years to a wildly-entertaining oral history of the early 2000s New York rock revival to a surreal adventure through the eclectic mind of Art Garfunkel. But they’re all fascinating and destined to be cherished for years and years to come.
Veteran Rolling Stone critic Sheffield’s exploration of the Beatles’ impact across the decades is one of the most original and insightful books ever written about the Fab Four. He’s brilliant on everything from George Harrison’s disastrous 1974 solo tour to the Bee Gees’ Sgt. Pepper’s movie. “The world keeps dreaming the Beatles,” Sheffield writes, “long after the Beatles themselves figured the dream was over.”
A fast-paced oral history of the early-’00s New York rock scene that produced the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among others. Goodman hung out at the time with many of its biggest stars, so there’s an unguarded intimacy as she details events like Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s descent into drug abuse. “We were all chasing New York City,” she writes. “And for a few magical years, we caught it.”
The world’s premier Dylan expert offers a deep-dive defense of his subject’s much-maligned “gospel” period, from 1979 to 1981 (the book is timed to coincide with a new gospel-themed edition of The Bootleg Series). Heylin goes concert by concert and session by session, adding clarity to a murky era and convincingly arguing that Dylan’s late Seventies are nearly as important as his mid-Sixties. A great piece of rock revisionism.
Anyone expecting a straightforward autobiography from Art Garfunkel will be disappointed. Anyone wanting to spend an enjoyably surreal 241 pages swimming in the singer’s mind will be delighted. What emerges is a uniquely entertaining pop-music memoir, touching on every-thing from his spats with Paul Simon to his love of colonics to his 14-year walk across the continental United States.
Redding was just beginning to realize his artistic possibilities when he died in a plane crash at 26. Facts about his childhood and rise to fame remain sketchy, but Gold has managed to construct a revelatory portrait of a man he calls “soul music’s greatest apostle of devotion.”
The author of folk songs like “Dilated to Meet You” and “I Remember Sex” pens a hilariously candid memoir. Wainwright doesn’t shy away from embarrassing details, such as his many infidelities and the envy he feels for his successful kids, Rufus and Martha.
Mitchell’s story has been told in books, but she’s never cooperated with a biographer until now. The folk icon gave Yaffe complete access, opening up about her music, struggles with drugs, and even the time Miles Davis made a pass at her.
In 2014, the Wu-Tang Clan pulled off one of the weirdest stunts in music history, pressing a single copy of a new LP, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and offering it to the highest bidder, who wound up being disgraced “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli. The Elmore Leonard-esque tale is recounted here.
Rolling Stone contributing editor DeCurtis got closer to Reed than any other journalist, developing a friendship he mines for this gripping bio, which tells the story behind every one of Reed’s albums and doesn’t skimp on the details of his titanic temper and bouts of unforgivable cruelty to those closest to him.
Van Halen’s manager from 1978 to 1985 takes us on a
guided tour of the backstage debauchery he witnessed during the band’s peak –
from homemade sex films with groupies to a food fight near Journey that left
Steve Perry covered in guacamole, softly crying to himself in the bathroom.