The Best Music Books of the Year

A holiday shopping guide for the music lover in your life

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For the music lover on your “to buy for” list, publishers released a great cross-section of music-related books this past year, one of which is sure to be a match to their taste, from Billie Eilish’s photo album to the trivia-filled last word on Metallica, a Britpop tweet collection, groupie tales, glorious style and the history of the most niche of dance music styles. It’s a list as diverse as pop music itself.

Billie Eilish

There is no such thing as Billie Eilish overdose. If spying on her in the Apple TV+ documentary, The World’s a Little Blurry, wasn’t enough of a voyeuristic experience, here’s Billie Eilish, a book that the queen herself curated, taking you on a journey of her entire life through photographs. Think of the book as that moment when a loved one corners you into looking through their childhood photo albums, from chubby baby to bad hair high school days to the present day.  Eilish’s narration is also available as a stand-alone audiobook. Her childhood was part-conventional, part-unconventional, and she’s been performing professionally since her early teens. The book provides welcome glimpses of her where no one has styled her or glamed her out for magazine covers. This one is, obviously, for the Billie Eilish obsessed.

The Listening Party

MusicTim Burgess has owned Twitter over the pandemic. American audiences might only know the singer, songwriter, author and all-around UK icon as the frontperson for the Charlatans, of 1991’s “The Only One I Know” fame. In real life, many musicians love Burgess, and they were all more than happy to participate in his “Tim’s Twitter Listening Party” where everyone presses “play” on a particular album, then tweets about it.

Burgess has been hosting these parties for his own band for years, but once he opened it up to everyone else, his Twitter became an unintentional destination. He collects 100 of these affairs in The Listening Party, a coffeetable book that includes tweets from listening parties with the likes of New Order, Iron Maiden and the Bee Gees, as well as personal photographs, set lists, handwritten notes, stickers and illustrations. Royalties from the book, as well as a donation from the publisher, will go to the Music Venue Trust and its #saveourvenues campaign.

Crying in H Mart

Do you want to make your loved one bawl their eyes out this entire holiday season? Crying in H Mart has got you. The deeply moving best-selling memoir (soon to be a film) is from the freshly Grammy-nominated Michelle Zauner, the musician behind the indie alternative act, Japanese Breakfast. The book reflects on Zauner’s relationship with her mother growing up, which flips between unconditional love and unconditional pressure. Specifically, she focuses on her mother’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and eventual demise.Crying in H Mart

The freshness of Zauner’s grief is tangible in every sentence, even when she recounts relatable self-centered stories about herself during her high school, college and early post-college years. Zauner carefully chooses and crafts each beautiful individual word and phrase. You can taste the emotion. Completely stunning and absolutely wrenching at the same time. You can’t read Crying in H Mart if you’ve recently lost a parent, particularly a mother. Zauner will leave you too raw for that.

Metallica: The $24.95 Book

So you proposed to your wife in the pit at a Metallica show and you think you know everything there is to know about rock’s greatest band? We guarantee that Ben Apatoff’s bible on four decades of the fearsome foursome contains some information that even the most diehard of the enduring group’s fans doesn’t know. Extensively researched and thoroughly unpacked, Apatoff dissects every album, every band member—from inception to the present, including the excommunicated Dave Mustaine, live shows, videos, influences, fashion and so much more. Apatoff manages to find quotes from band members from a variety of sources and does so with such finesse, it’s like the group sat with him to round out the book. You can best experience Metallica: The $24.95 Book while you have the band’s discography on full blast, particularly when it comes to the album chapters.

Vanity Project

Stylist to the stars Dave Thomas has been working on this gorgeous tome of style for a number of years. In fact, the idea came when HRH The Prince of Wales suggested it to Thomas in the mid-2000s when they met at a Prince’s Trust event, of which Thomas is a recipient. Even if you only take a look at Vanity Project as you would a flipbook, it quickly becomes obvious that Thomas is the reason that John Legend, Lionel Richie and so many other men in music look so much sharper than their counterparts on the red carpet, and everywhere else.

Vanity Project has a forward by the Prince of Wales, an introduction by Lionel Richie and an afterword by John Legend. Inside is an eye-catching collection of photographs and illustrations, as well as a collection of interviews with celebrity clients, all tracing Thomas’ wide-ranging legacy to date. For each copy of Vanity Project sold, Thomas will donate $20 to the Prince’s Trust.

Permanent Damage: Memoirs of an Outrageous Girl

There can never be too many groupie memoirs. Almost 35 years since the publishing of, arguably, the most notorious groupie account of all time, Pamela Des Barres I’m With The Band: Confessions of a Groupie, fellow bandmate and groupie, of sorts, Mercy Fontenot got to release her life story, Permanent Damage: Memoirs of an Outrageous Girl, posthumously. Where Des Barres deliciously salacious story centers around sex, Fontenot’s central focus is music in the first place, drugs in the second, with sex, which she often can’t remember if she had with [insert name of famous musician here] as a distant last.

Music expert and longtime editor/writer Lyndsey Parker has turned hours of interviews with Miss Mercy into a somewhat coherent narrative that retains the subject’s erratic stream of consciousness style of communication. The topics, which range from rape to drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness, bunch together, making it a lot easier to get through. If you’re looking for a fly-on-the wall experience of being around music legends of the ‘60s and ‘70s into the early ‘80s, this is the book.

Renegade Snares

Renegade Snares: The Resistance and Resilience of Drum & Bass

Is drum & bass still a thing? Oh, very much so. Granted, the sub-genre of dance music has a much stronger presence in its UK birthplace, and almost more so in mainland Europe, but its dedicated disciples will never let it go, and that includes its North American contingent. Two of its renowned fans, who also are the former editor and current editor-in-chief of the dance music mainstay publication, DJ Mag, helm this definitive book on drum & bass.

They trace its quarter-century-plus history through extensive interviews with its key players over the years as well as their own extensive knowledge and deep research. The book explores all aspects of the sound, from pirate radio to clubs, music production and game-changing tracks and music makers. This isn’t the first book on drum & bass, and there are a number of tell-all autobiographies that have come out of this scene, most notably one by its most eye-catching member, Goldie. But if you’re looking for a well-written and deep dive into the actual music and its setting, this is it. Only for the headstrong.

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Lily Moayeri

Lily Moayeri has been a freelance journalist since 1992. She has contributed to numerous publications including Variety, Spin, GRAMMY, Billboard, NPR, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, A.V. Club, and more. Lily hosts the Pictures of Lily Podcast, a monthly podcast about her interviewing experiences. She has participated as moderator and panelist at numerous music conferences. She has also served as an educator since 2004, focusing on guiding students in navigating the intersection of technology and education in her role as a teacher librarian with LAUSD.

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