A good music biography (or autobiography) will generally follow the same plot: dreams of taking to the biggest stage, performing in empty bars, a taste of success and then, undoubtedly, the comedown before the artist finds inner peace — or becomes bankrupt! The archetypal rags-to-riches tale can be inspirational to read, but if you fancy something different then you may need to do a bit more research before buying.
So, how do you find the perfect biography to keep you enthralled? To help you decide, we’ve put together a straightforward buying guide as well as a list of the best music-related books of all time. Our picks cover a range of artists in a variety of genres, from contemporary rappers to classic rockstars, and many are conveniently available in eBook or audiobook format. As always, you can buy our recommendations right now from Amazon and eBay!
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Table of Contents
Before you dive into buying a book, it’s worth thinking about how to choose a suitable tome. In this section we’ll run through how to decide who to read about, the biography vs autobiography debate, and why photographs can enhance your reading experience.
First up, you’ll want to decide who to read about. Most people will opt for buying a book about an artist or a genre that they’re already familiar with. For example, if you’re a big fan of a band such as The Beatles, reading about their personal lives or their artistic process will be incredibly interesting. Plus, you'll have loads of cool anecdotes to share with your friends and family!
Some super fans may find that reading about the same stars and genres can become stodgy though, so we recommend taking a step outside your comfort zone. Heard a chart-topping track by a new rapper and feeling curious about their origins? Check out their latest book and you'll definitely be enlightened as well as entertained!
Next, you’ll want to consider whether to buy a biography or an autobiography. While the title of this article is music biographies, these two terms are generally used interchangeably so we want to explore both in this section.
A biography is a book about an artist’s life that's penned by someone else. This style of book offers a broader perspective of the musician's life and work, as the author can take a step back and see the bigger picture of specific events. However, you’re unlikely to find many exciting revelations, which is what many of us secretly hope for when we read books about celebs!
On the other hand, an autobiography is written by the musician themselves, so it usually covers everything — warts and all! Sometimes the story can be hampered with unnecessary details though, and you might find that you start to dislike the person once you get inside their head. Remember the old saying that we should never meet our heroes? Reading their autobiography can have the same effect!
When it comes to music biographies and autobiographies, photographs are a valuable addition that can really enhance your reading experience. These images may depict our heroes posing in their dorky school uniform or on holiday with their families. Not only do they give us a chuckle, but they provide us with an insight into their personal life.
Sometimes, a book will feature illustrations instead of photographs. These can be used to show the creation process of extravagant stage costumes or might be a musician's personal sketches from their time on tour.
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Keith Richards and James Fox
The Ultimate Autobiography From the Greatest Living Rockstar
The Tao of Wu
Engaging, Enlightening and Inspiring
The Beatles: The Only Ever Authorised Biography
The Best Book About the Fab Four
Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis
The Meaning of Mariah Carey
A Tell-All Memoir of Triumphs and Troubles
Gucci Mane and Neil Martinez-Belkin
The Autobiography of Gucci Mane
As Entertaining and Hypnotising as the Man Himself
The Chronicles of the Nicest Guy in Rock 'N' Roll
Anthony Kiedis and Larry Sloman
Nothing Short of a Roller-Coaster
Girl in a Band: A Memoir
Honest and Raw, Just Like Her Art
Original Gangstas: Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Birth of West Coast Rap
Learn About the Origins of Gangsta Rap
Sit Down One-On-One With the Rocketman
Given the lifestyle that Keith Richards has lived, it's a surprise that he can remember half of it! That said, what he does remember is an endless selection of exciting tales — music, arrests, drugs, sex, arguments, reconciliations and more.
His autobiography was written over five years, with help from journalist James Fox, and apparently the book's publisher paid an advance of around $7 million after reading just ten pages — so you know that it's going to be a riveting read! In our humble opinion, this is the ultimate success story from the greatest living rockstar.
Perhaps only in a novel would you expect a story to flow from the slums of New York City to the highest planes of spirituality. Yet here we have a memoir that does just that from the founder of the Wu-Tang Clan, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (The RZA).
The captivating aspect of this book is that it's less about the music and more about the pursuit of knowledge of the author. From martial arts, chess and religion to his experiences on the streets, The RZA has found inspiration in almost every facet of life. This makes his autobiography an engaging read that will enlighten readers as well as entertaining them.
Although they were only together for eight years, The Beatles practically single-handedly invented the pop music we know and love today. This biography from author Hunter Davies takes an in-depth look at not just the Fab Four but their friends, family and colleagues as well.
There are indeed hundreds of books out there on The Beatles, so what is it about this one that stands out? Well, Davies is the only person who has ever been authorised by the band to write their biography. Furthermore, he had access to them for 18 months at the height of their fame (1967-1968), so he draws upon first-hand experience to deliver an exceptional account of their life and work.
While Mariah Carey has been in the limelight from a young age, she's never had more than a ten-minute segment on a talk show or a few paragraphs in a magazine to talk about the complexities of her life. Until now, that is! This superb memoir follows the triumphs and troubles of her career, all in her own words.
From the very first page of this book, you'll be steered through her tumultuous upbringing and rags-to-riches journey through the music industry. Thankfully, there's a good dollop of her dry sense of humour to get you through it all!
Gucci Mane might not be a household name like the other artists on this list, but his role in modern music shouldn't be overlooked. He was a pioneer of the trap genre in the 2000s and 2010s as well as a major influence on rappers like Young Thug, Migos and 21 Savage.
Here, with collaborator Neil Martinez-Belkin, Gucci Mane recollects how he forged an unlikely path to the top after years of drug-dealing and a stint in prison. All in all, this is a book that's as entertaining and hypnotising as the man himself.
It's often said that Dave Grohl is the nicest guy in rock 'n' roll, and after reading his best-selling autobiography, it's hard to disagree! The book is entirely written by Grohl himself, chronicling his rise from fast-paced punk drummer in Nirvana to stadium sellout frontman of the Foo Fighters.
While it would be easy for Grohl to be self-indulgent when discussing his success, his narrative is earnest and seems to still come from a place of sheer disbelief — like a fan who wakes up every morning and finds himself in a rockstar's body. It's a truly compelling account that's packed with anecdotes about everyone from Iggy Pop and Joan Jett to Little Richard!
Cosmic, hardcore, funk, punk — these are all words used to describe the Red Hot Chili Peppers' music, but none can completely nail the sound of their unique style. In fact, that's a little what it's like reading frontman Anthony Kiedis' book; it's nothing short of a roller-coaster, taking you from place to place at breakneck speed!
The difference between this and other stars' stories is that instead of ending up in L.A, Kiedis starts out there. So, you can imagine the kind of raucous behaviour he got up to even before he'd picked up the mic! Since this memoir covers every gritty detail of drug addiction, it can be a tough read. Nevertheless, it's a gripping story that's certainly worth checking out.
Kim Gordon is one of the most influential people in rock 'n' roll — she was a founding member of the alternative noise band Sonic Youth, who paved the way for groups such as Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins and Hole. Here, in her own words, she'll take you back to the dingy '80s and '90s in NYC where it all started.
This is a straight-talking memoir that articulates what it's like to be a role model for a generation of women, as well as a wife and a mother. There's a fair bit of name-dropping throughout the book but despite this, Gordon's opinions are honest and raw — much like the art she's produced over the decades.
There aren't many musical genres that burst onto the scene quite like gangsta rap did in the late '80s and early '90s. In order to understand why this type of music pushed the boundaries, you'll need a primer on the chaotic backdrop of gang violence and police brutality from which the artists emerged.
In this impeccably-researched biography, Ben Westhoff recounts the stories of the top players in the game and explores how they redefined popular culture across the world. One thing worth mentioning though is that this book focuses solely on the West Coast, so there's no mention of East Coast stars like The Notorious B.I.G or Nas.
If you enjoyed the 2019 movie Rocketman, we highly recommend the autobiography that the film is based on. The book is just as extraordinary as its cinematic adaption, following Elton John's life from his tough childhood through to his hedonistic highs as a rock superstar, as well as his journey to find love and start a family.
The candour with which the author writes about himself is startling yet refreshing, as you don't have to worry about him trying to paint himself in a good light. In fact, his words can be so blunt that certain passages are a little difficult to read. Still, this is a brilliant memoir that's immensely entertaining.
Reading is a great way to unwind, especially if you've been staring at a screen all day! Check out more of our favourite books below for inspiration, from celebrity-authored non-fiction to novels that you can read in a weekend.
So there you have it, our comprehensive guide to finding the best music biography or autobiography around. We truly believe that in the pages of the books on our list, there are enough enthralling stories to keep almost anyone entertained!
Author: Lewis Clark
No. 1: Keith Richards and James Fox｜Life
No. 2: The RZA｜The Tao of Wu
No. 3: Hunter Davies｜The Beatles: The Only Ever Authorised Biography
No. 4: Mariah Carey and Michaela Angela Davis｜The Meaning of Mariah Carey
No. 5: Gucci Mane and Neil Martinez-Belkin｜The Autobiography of Gucci Mane
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