Great writing, like great music, is all about rhythm, pacing, texture and nuance. Read aloud, it can sound terrific through a set of speakers or headphones, and that’s especially true for the 10 music-related audiobooks highlighted below. In addition to featuring lively and engaging prose, these selections are loaded with fascinating info on some of the most compelling musical figures of our time. They’re essential listening— just like the records they make you want to reach for.
Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews
By Dennis McNally (Release Date: November 24, 2015)
This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead
By Blair Jackson, David Gans (Release Date: November 10, 2015)
This was a big year for the Grateful Dead, who said goodbye (sort of) with a run of Fare Thee Well shows in San Francisco and Chicago. While the pioneering jam band may be gone, its memory lives on with these audiobooks, both of which are filled with tales from folks who took the long, strange trip. Jerry on Jerry focuses on ringleader and iconic guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose voice is heard in a series of previously unreleased interviews curated by Dead biographer Dennis McNally. In contrast, it’s all voice actors reading This Is All a Dream — which pulls together quotes from band members, fans, and other assorted players — but that hardly matters. According to the San Francisco Gate, editors Jackson and Gans “have pulled off the pretty neat hat trick of filling in plenty of cracks for the hard core while providing a basic education for novices.”
Girl In a Band
By Kim Gordon (Release Date: February 24, 2015)
When Sonic Youth founders and indie-rock power couple Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore split up in 2011, heartbroken fans everywhere wondered what went wrong. In Girl In a Band, Gordon wastes no time tiptoeing or sugarcoating. Handling the narration herself in her wonderfully gruff voice, Gordon opens this acclaimed memoir with a description of the group’s final show, which came after Moore had cheated and they’d announced their separation. That first chapter grabbed headlines, but it’s not the only one worth hearing. Gordon also talks about her childhood, NYC in the ‘80s, motherhood, Kurt Cobain, her various art and fashion projects, and of course, music.
Turn It Up! My Years With Lynyrd Skynard: Love, Life, and Death, Southern Style
By Ron Eckerman (Release Date: May 21, 2015)
If anyone was qualified to tell the story of Southern Rock greats Lynyrd Skynyrd, it was Ron Eckerman. He served as tour manager for two years in the late ’70s as the band rose to fame, and he was also there in a 1977 when a plane crash claimed the life of three members, among them leader Ronnie Van Zant. Originally released in 2011 and narrated by the author (who died in 2014), Turn It Up offers more than shocking stories of rowdy rock ‘n’ roll behavior. There are also tender moments, like when Eckerman recalls joining Van Zant on fishing trips. It’s a thoughtful portrait of an innovative band by the man whose job it was to keep things rolling.
Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain
By Alan Light (Release Date: June 9, 2015)
Veteran rock writer and Prince super fan Alan Light dives deep into both the film and soundtrack album that dominated pop culture in the summer of 1984 and made the Purple One a living legend. Handling narration himself, Light hits on all the iconic songs and scenes, drawing on interviews with movie director Albert Magnoli and members of Prince’s band, the Revolution. It all adds up to a “meticulously researched, carefully argued and well written book,” according to All About Jazz critic Nenad Georgievski.
Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored
By John Lydon (Release Date: August 11, 2015)
While actor Derek Perkins actually handles the narration duties in this audiobook, the conviction of the voice is unmistakably John Lydon’s. As frontman for the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd., Lydon has built a career on brutal honesty and a willingness (or perhaps compulsion) to upset any and all apple carts. In this, his second memoir, Lydon explains the circumstances that led him to this peculiar line of work. Born in London to working-class Irish immigrants, the man who would become Johnny Rotten overcame a childhood bout with meningitis to emerge as a punk icon, perennial rabble-rouser, sometime butter pitchman and celebrity pundit, and now devoted family man. Smart, tenacious, and never complacent, Lydon’s blessed with a vitriol that’s endlessly captivating.
Reckless: My Life As a Pretender
By Chrissie Hynde (Release Date: September 8, 2015)
Hynde earned mixed reviews for this long-awaited memoir, as some critics found the text confrontational and uneven. What were they expecting? Hynde is one of the toughest, cleverest, most distinctive rock ‘n’ roll singers of her generation, and as she tells her unique life story — one that involves witnessing the Kent State massacre, nearly marrying two Sex Pistols, and becoming a superstar as leader of The Pretenders — she never holds back. As an added bonus, the audiobook features narration by actress Rosanna Arquette, who “plays Hynde’s words in a cool deadpan,” as Alan Light wrote for the New York Times.
Dancing With Myself
By Billy Idol (Release Date: September 29, 2015)
Few musicians embody the essence of rock ‘n’ roll better than Billy Idol. With Dancing With Myself, Idol tells the story is his own words, narrating his crazy adventures (drugs, sex, punk rock, motorcycles, leather pants, etc.) with that effortlessly cool British growl. Idol’s life hasn’t always been charmed — he speaks candidly about his drug use and near-crippling motorcycle accident — but the portrait that emerges is that of a deceptively talented and thoughtful guy who loves life and music and keeps consuming both by the caseload.
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll…
By Peter Guralnick (Release Date: November 10, 2015)
Peter Guralnick specializes in thoughtfully written, tirelessly researched portraits of American musical giants. Having already covered the King with his essential two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Guralnick turns here to the kingmaker, Sam Phillips, founder of the legendary Memphis label Sun Records. Phillips didn’t just launch Presley’s career; the Alabama native also helped Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison rise to fame at a time when the mixing of black and white music was seen as revolutionary. But did he invent rock ‘n’ roll? Guralnick knew Philips for 25 years, and drawing on interviews and research, he makes the case that, if nothing else, this producer and label boss created an environment where magical things could happen.
By Patti Smith (Release Date: November 3, 2015)
In the follow-up to Just Kids, the 2010 memoir that earned her the National Book Award, poet, rocker, philosopher, and Polaroid photographer Patti Smith once again melds raw honesty and gorgeous writing. She presents a nonlinear account of a remarkable life that’s taken her around the world — everywhere from Mexico, where she recalls visiting Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, to Iceland, where she has a chance meeting with chess legend Bobby Fischer, a fellow lover of vintage rock ’n’ roll. The book “weaves poetry, art, dreams, art, literature, and conversational fragments into a phantasmagoric, atmospheric, and transportive whole,” writes Eugenia Williamson for The Boston Globe, and given that Smith herself does the narration, reading these tales of love, loss, and creation with that inimitable voice of hers, the audiobook is must-hear — even if you’ve read the print version.