Gift Guide: The Year’s Best Books for Music Obsessives


If music writing was endangered in 2010 — and oftentimes it felt that way — it was also on fine display on the nation’s bookshelves. This gift guide spotlights titles that made the year as good for reading about music as it was for listening to it. From Greil Marcus’s collected meditations on Bob Dylan to a feminist defense of disco to a biography that makes Keith Richards’s Life look tame, these books are sure to satisfy the music obsessives on your list.

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

The Rolling Stone columnist reminisces about ’80s pop, growing up weird and surrounded by loud, smart women in Boston, and, in the chapter that clings hardest without even trying, driving an ice-cream truck while listening to “Purple Rain.”

Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010

In light of his more complex later writing, it’s easy to forget just how scrappy, and how good at it, Marcus can be. The previously uncollected writing, particularly from the ’70s and ’80s, is often jolting; he’s entirely engaged with his subject, who still inspires him like no other musician.

The England’s Dreaming Tapes by Jon Savage

Totally Wired: Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews by Simon Reynolds

The two great books about punk and its aftermath are buttressed with expansive Q&A’s full of stuff that didn’t make it into the classic original books (Savage’s England’s Dreaming and Reynolds’s Rip It Up and Start Again) but is too good for fans to miss.

Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture by Alice Echols

A feminist academic pulls apart the most reviled pop style of all time and demonstrates the many ways it reshaped not just the way people danced to music but lived their lives. Extra points for Echols’s crucial observation that Diana Ross’s vocal example inspired as many singers as anyone with twice the pipes.

The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop by Dan Charnas

A veteran of both hip-hop journalism and of the record-label boardroom, Charnas’ epic account of the music’s rise from Bronx parks to Wall Street is gripping, stylish, impossible to put down, includes walk-on appearances by just about every rapper you have ever heard of — and features stories about many that you could never have dreamed.

Best Music Writing 2010, edited by Ann Powers

“Duh,” you might say — it’s right there in the title. But this is one of the series’s best volumes. LA Times critic Powers’s wide taste and generous outlook means a collection that feels like a map while mostly reading like stories.

Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture by Aram Sinnreich

This one is dense and academic, so beware. Nevertheless, this is the first real attempt to come to grips with what digital music means, how it makes that meaning, and what the idea of “authenticity” might (or might not) have to do with it.

Funk and Soul Covers, compiled by Joaquim Paulo and Julius Wiedemann

It’s from Taschen. What more do you need?

Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr by Robert Hofler

The most outrageous showman of the ’70s and ’80s, Allan Carr was responsible for both Grease, the most successful movie musical of the post-musical era, and Can’t Stop the Music, a legendary fiasco starring the Village People. He was the loudest, gayest, most shameless figure of his time, and this superbly written bio makes the new Keith and Frank books look positively serene.