01.03.12

The 10 Best Modern Music Books

Writing about music, every music journalist must be told almost weekly when introducing themselves, is like dancing about architecture. It’s not true, evidently, and the below list of books goes some way to proving. Today is World Book Day, and here are the 10 most significant music books of the last 12 months or so, each coming heartily recommended.

  1. Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own – Simon Reynolds
    There’s no doubting technology’s ability to reproduce and discover art and artists of the past has had an impact on the retrogressive eye of contemporary culture and music. Whether you agree with his polemical tact, Simon Reynolds’s era-defining book is as essential as it gets.
  2. Dirty South: Outkast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop
    For many years, the South was written out of most hip hop history books (the best one was written by Nick Cohn), though the last few years have seen something of a niche market in books on the thick rap below the Mason-Dixon. Ben Westhoff’s Dirty South is the absolute best, and essential reading for anyone curious about where today’s best, weirdest rap comes from.
  3. Electric Eden – Rob Young
    Wire editor-at-large Rob Young taps into the fountain of 20th century folk music that artists like PJ Harvey and Led Zeppelin can thank for their ache for an Arcadian paradise.
  4. Twisting My Melon – Shaun Ryder
    The rock autobiography is a pretty stock institution, but for those who don’t fancy Tommy Lee’s tome, Shaun Ryder’s memoir of his time in The Happy Mondays and Black Grape has a cartoonish vividity and an obscenely drugged vision of a fascinating moment in British culture. Plus, crucially, his music’s way better than Motley Crue’s.
  5. Alex Ross – Listen To This
    The follow-up to the hugely successful run-down of 20th century compositional music The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross’s Listen To This concentrates on everything left out of the first volume, including mediations on Schubert and interviews with Bjork.
  6. Nile Rodgers’s Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny
    Disco might be enjoying its biggest resurgence since Saturday Night Fever but there are people who actually lived it and Nile Rogers offers his intimate insight into one of the most exciting periods of recent history.
  7. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear – Steve Goodman
    Written by Steve Goodman, who as well as running Hyperdub records and releasing music as Kode9, teaches at the University Of East London. In this (terrifying) book, he explains the impact of military sonic technology on urban life and music.
  8. Goodbye to London: Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies – Jon Savage (ed)
    A great companion piece to both Jon Savage’s superb life and times of the Sex Pistols England’s Dreaming and Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, this book is a great collection of essays and stories about the radical environment that spawned punk from one of youth’s greatest writers.
  9. 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs – Dorian Lynskey
    For anyone who looks little further than the 60s and Bob Dylan for politics in performance, Dorian Lynskey presents protest songs from James Brown’s Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud to the Clash’s White Riot and beyond.
  10. Love Goes To Buildings On Fire – Will Hermes
    We all know about the golden age of the 60s and Simon Reynolds revealed the significant impact of post-punk on our lives in Rip it Up and Start Again but Will Hermes takes the death-knell of punk rock and raises you hip hop, disco, salsa, minimalism and free-jazz, between New Year’s Day 1973 to New Year’s Eve 1977.