Back in 2012, The A.V. Club asked if there was life left in the world of music memoirs. On one hand, it was obviously a rhetorical question—is anyone really going to say, “No, no more autobiographies from musicians, please”?—but the larger point was salient. Namely, that this young century had seen a glut of shoddily written and poorly edited books by famous artists (whether ghostwritten or not), that did the genre no favors. (Paging Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace.)
Lucky, then, to have so many counterexamples. The past 22 years have seen the release of not only tremendous memoirs and musical biographies, but among them some that belong in the highest echelons of the field—books that should be essential reading even for those who aren’t fans of the artist. The following are the ones that rose to the top when The A.V. Club looked back upon which music bios and memoirs were the most impactful, the most artful, and resonated far beyond the page. There are plenty of great books about the music industry not on this list (or about multiple artists, like Alex Ross’ must-read book on 20th century classical music, The Rest Is Noise) that just didn’t fit the biography/autobiography designation. But when it comes to the singular stories of notable musicians and their lives, careers, and music, these are the ones we’ll recommend in perpetuity.
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