Top 10 Music Books of 2020

Image Credit: Brett Jordan

Now that the finish line of 2020 is in sight, we’re looking back over this endless year and pulling together some of the highlights from the music world. Here are some of the best music books published this year.

From novels inspired by music to tell-all life stories, books by and about musicians are not only for diehard fans but also for curious new ones. At their best they’re a fascinating peek into the minds of our favourite artists. Across all genres 2020 has seen the release of some inspiring music books, despite publishing dates being pushed around by the pandemic. Let’s flick through and see if there are any stocking fillers amongst 10 of the best from 2020.

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz (Little, Brown)

Whether recording, performing, or writing a book, my art is about listening to the inspiration inside and then sharing it with people. Art must bring the world closer together.

Lenny Kravitz

In the first of two volumes of his memoirs, Kravitz recounts his life up until the release of his debut album and the birth of his daughter Zoë in 1989. Exploring the effect of his father’s infidelity, revealing the inspirations behind his style of soul and classic rock and the hippy ideals he lives his life by.

Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics by Dylan Jones (Faber & Faber)

Sweet Dreams follows the British cultural explosion that took place from 1975-1985: the rise of the New Romantics. Jones explores how Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet and others went from cult movement to pop phenomenon, and describes how the era foreshadowed some of 2020’s hot topics. It’s also accompanied by a Spotify playlist:

How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy (Faber & Faber)

Want to write your first song? A bit stuck? Let Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy help you out! Also useful for songwriters stuck in a rut, this accessible guide explores the creative process whilst also sharing anecdotes about Tweedy’s own work.

The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America by Marcus J. Moore (Hodder & Stoughton)

The first Kendrick Lamar biography, written by veteran journalist and music critic Marcus J. Moore. Preferring to celebrate 33-year-old Lamar’s work rather than take a classic biographical look at his early life, Moore interviews friends of the rapper and explores how he has been linked to the cultural landscape of America over the last 10 years. One for the Kendrick fans.

Goin’ Home with the Rolling Stones by Gered Mankowitz (Rizzoli)

A stylish new collection of unseen photographs of the Rolling Stones in their various residences in 1966 – the year that each member purchased their first home. Brief introductions give context whilst the relaxed photos, taken by their official photographer and friend Mankowitz, show a mixture of surreal domesticity, flamboyance and wit.

Hey Hi Hello: Five Decades of Pop Culture from Britain’s First Female DJ by Annie Nightingale (Orion)

National treasure Nightingale is the longest-serving DJ at BBC Radio 1. Here she looks back over her career and the music trends that have come and gone, discussing the sexism she faced as Radio 1’s first female DJ and what it’s like to be broadcasting on a youth-orientated radio station at the age of 80. Dipping in and out of decades, she recounts meeting the Beatles, and how she relishes the freedom of broadcasting after-hours free from playlists.

Little People, Big Dreams series – Maria Isabel Sanchez (Frances Lincoln)

Educate the curious young minds in your life about music history. These board books for babies and toddlers introduce inspirational historical icons to young readers, and this year saw Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Elton John, Bob Dylan and John Lennon added to the series. Each book features simple sentences, with quirky illustrations and at the end a detailed profile of the musician’s life and a biographical timeline.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (Sceptre)

David Mitchell (not the comedian) has created his very own band. Set in the psychedelic 1960s in the same universe as his other novel Cloud Atlas, the novel is presented as a series of albums composed of songs devoted to each character. It’s peppered with pop culture and historical references from the swinging sixties, writing that’s full of energy and every bandmate drama you can imagine. Groovy, baby.

(Honorary mention for Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – out in paperback this year, the novel follows another fictional band with much in common with Fleetwood Mac.)

Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass by Lana Del Rey (Simon & Schuster)

The poems are eclectic and honest and not trying to be anything other than what they are and for that reason I’m proud of them, especially because the spirit in which they were written was very authentic.

Lana Del Rey

It’s always interesting to see the difference between artists’ lyrics and their poetry. This collection features 30 of Del Rey’s poems and… if you like Lana Del Rey, you’ll like this. In the past she’s referred to herself as a ‘24/7 Sylvia Plath’, so the release was perhaps inevitable. There’s also an audiobook available, in which Del Rey reads her poems accompanied by Grammy Award-winning musician Jack Antonoff. The book has a nice cover.

Honorary mention for Halsey, who also has a poetry book out this winter.

Rock & Roll A Level Quiz Book by David Hepworth (Transworld)

Yes, I know, we’ve all had enough of quizzes this year. But writer David Hepworth, who was involved in the launch of magazines such as Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, says this is ‘more than a quiz book’, offering a ‘proper education’ of the context of the questions and answers. Most importantly, it’s finally an A Level you’ll ace.

All the books featured are available to buy from your favourite independent bookshop.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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