Knowing where to start with books about rock & roll music can be difficult because the literary market is bursting with options. Even though the genre only originated 60 years ago, rock has become a popular theme for best-selling books. From punk and alternative to heavy metal and new wave, rock & roll has spawned numerous sub-genres that forever changed American culture. Music fans have become obsessed with reading about their favorite musicians like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Tyler, and Mick Jagger for the inside story behind chart-topping tunes.
Books about rock & roll satisfy our collective obsession with rockers and their extravagant, hedonistic lifestyles. Their pages both analyze the sounds flowing into our headphones and the artist’s motivations. Many books about rock & roll showcase how success in the public eye sparks depression and destruction behind closed doors. Their stories offer a “raw,” humanistic view of the real men and women pouring their souls into song. The following 50 books about rock & roll provide thrilling rides into stardom with big doses of sex, drugs, and revolutionary music.
#1 – Classic Rock Stories: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs of All Time
Tim Norse’s 224-page novel gives readers an insider’s look into the rock & roll songwriting process. Leading rockers like Elton John, Keith Richards, and Stevie Nicks share anecdotes about the real-life events that inspired their chart-topping hits. From first kisses to heartbreak and legal trouble, your favorite musicians bare the truth behind their revered lyrics.
#2 – Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
In Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, Mott the Hoople’s lead singer penned this journal during their five-week U.S. tour in 1972. Each page offers firsthand accounts from a rising British group hitting the road during the genre’s “Golden Age.” Ian Hunter chronicles the band’s endless traveling, sound checks, performances, and setbacks to strip the sparkly facade of rock stars.
#3 – Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer
Released in 2007, Redemption Song was written by music journalist Chris Salewicz after intensive interviews with Joe Strummer’s friends and family. Readers delve into the fascinating stories of how the rock & roll hero shaped the Clash into one of the best ’70s political punk bands. From his childhood in Ankara, Turkey, to his untimely death at age 50, the Hall of Famer’s life is depicted with brutal honesty.
#4 – It’s So Easy: and other lies
In 1984, a 20-year-old Duff McKagan moved to Los Angeles to pursue punk music. While living in his car, Duff fatefully responded to a want ad for a bass player. Suddenly the world’s most dangerous rock band was born. Guns ‘N Roses rose to the pinnacle of fame with over 100 million albums sold. But here’s a personal look at how fast rock stardom can crash and burn.
#5 – The Heart of Rock and Soul
As one of the biggest books about rock & roll music, The Heart of Rock and Soul was written by critic Dave Marsh to rank the 1001 best singles ever recorded. Readers peruse provocative stories about timeless songs from Aretha Franklin, Van Halen, Madonna, the Sex Pistols, and more. Nearly half of the selected singles became famous in the ’60s, thus painting a picture of rock’s formation.
#6 – FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio
Richard Neer’s memoir centers primarily on his experience working for New York City’s WNEW-FM station in the early ’70s. The famed disc jockey chronicles the birth, maturity, and eventual death of free-form rock & roll radio. Insights from fellow DJs like Vin Scelsa and Jonathan Schwartz show how FM radio was absorbed into American culture to influence our favorite rock records.
#7 – Billion Dollar Baby
Billion Dollar Baby tells journalist Bob Greene’s experience traveling with Alice Cooper at the height of their fame for the 1973 Christmas Tour. Each show, Greene gets dressed up as Santa Claus and gets pummeled by band members. But behind the scenes, he conducts in-depth interviews with Vince Furnier, Mike Bruce, Neal Smith, and Glen Buxton. Greene’s writing reveals the addiction, dysfunction, and emotional baggage of the “School’s Out” singers.
#8 – The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music
Rolling Stone Magazine
Rock & roll trivia lovers will adore this ultimate, 720-page guide published by America’s premier magazine for musical coverage. Journalists joined heads to provide an authoritative resource on the most legendary sounds from the 1960s to the ’80s. Readers will discover secrets about the Beatles, Billy Joel, Motley Crue, Metallica, and many more.
#9 – The Mansion On The Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen and Springsteen and the Head-On Collision Of Rock and Commerce
On the brink of the 1960s British Invasion, the music business treated rock & roll as an outcast. Rock press and artist management were virtually nonexistent. Today, the rock industry grosses over $20 billion each year. What caused the dramatic change in just 40 years? Pick up Fred Goodman’s novel to explore rock’s rising music market hype.
#10 – The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia
The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia features Michael Gray’s articles and reviews on the 11-time Grammy Award winners’ life with an accompanying DVD. The nonfiction book highlights Dylan’s musical forebears, influences, and associates to depict his enigmatic career. Emphasis is placed on how Bob Dylan merged rock & roll with country blues for a burgeoning folk rock genre. Entries also delve into Dylan’s connection to Joni Mitchell, Memphis Minnie, and T.S. Eliot.
#11 – Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes
Another of the books about rock & roll music focused on Bob Dylan is Invisible Republic, a Greil Marcus piece published in 1997. Marcus details the creation and effect of the over 100 tracks recorded by Dylan and The Band in basements across Woodstock, New York. These legendary recordings are linked to the First Great Awakening, Civil Rights Movement, and other significant events.
#12 – The History of Rock: A Definitive Guide to Rock, Punk, Metal, and Beyond
The History of Rock is a must-have addition to any music reference library for a factual timeline of rock & roll history. It begins in the 1950s with the renowned works of Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, and Elvis. Chapters then illuminate the most iconic rockers over the next 60 years. Each trend-setting rock style from Motown to Disco Fever is archived.
#13 – Bob Dylan, Performing Artist
Paul Williams’ widely acclaimed series spans the 40-year career of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan for groundbreaking insight on his stage life. The Early Years, the first volume, recounts Dylan’s childhood through the 1973 release of “Planet Waves” with The Band. Next, The Middle Years covers the mid-70s to the mid-80s with reviews of “Knocked Out Loaded.” Mind Out of Time culminates the trilogy by showing the musical genius’ late career.
#14 – Van Halen Rising
Based on over 230 interviews, Greg Renoff crafted Van Halen Rising into a best-selling biography about the Southern California backyard band that saved heavy metal. Led by front man David Lee Roth and guitarist Edward Van Halen, the band skyrocketed from dive bars to sold-out stadiums. Renoff details how the quartet’s 1978 debut sold over 1 million copies and stole the limelight from headliners like Black Sabbath.
#15 – The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll
Known for winning the 2009 IPPY Silver Award, Eric Segalstad’s rock & roll narrative centers on the lives of 34 star musicians who died at 27. With original, never-before-seen portraits, the nonfiction book weaves the stories of Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and more. Each chapter adds to the mysterious pattern of premature death that began with Robert Johnson’s poisoning in 1938.
#16 – Neon Angel
Cherie Currie and Neal Shusterman
Neon Angel candidly recounts Cherie Currie’s teenage years as the lead singer of the Runaways. At 15, she soared to success with Joan Jett, Lita, Ford, and Sandy West by recording hits like “Cherry Bomb.” Unprepared for the pressure, Cherie’s marijuana and cocaine use spiraled into addiction. Amid family conflicts and her mother’s death, Cherie hit rock bottom. Readers witness a turbulent tale that vehemently warns against drug use.
#17 – I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie
Pamela Des Barres
Right after high school graduation, Pamela Des Barres headed to Los Angeles with the dream of knocking on rock stars’ doors. She quickly became immersed in the drugs, ecstasy, and thrills of the backstage rock & roll lifestyle. Pamela had high-profile affairs with MIck Jagger, Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, and more. Now America’s most renowned groupie is spilling her secrets in this kiss-and-tell memoir.
#18 – On the Road with the Ramones
Monte A. Melnick and Frank Myer
Monte A. Melnick spent 22 years as the tour manager for the Ramones, a Grammy-winning band bred in Queens during the 1970s punk rock movement. From 1974 to 1996, he coordinated 2,263 live shows to witness the band’s spectrum of highs and lows. This book shares Melnick’s insider perspective on the heart of rock & roll. Over 250 photographs of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy are included.
#19 – The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star
Motley Crue’s lead bassist Nikki Sixx provides one of the most eye-opening books about rock & roll music and drug addiction. Diary entries between the Christmases of 1986 and 1987 are compiled into a riveting story about Nikki’s downward spiral. The scatter-brained rock star takes readers from heroin-fueled euphoria to terrifying paranoid delusions during his courageous trek to recovery.
#20 – Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Released five years after Lester Bangs’ death in 1982, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung combines several essays written by the prolific rock critic. In his signature wisecracking style, Bangs explores how the pursuit of artistic success makes or destroys rock performers. The freewheeling rock & roll pieces immerse audiences in the lives of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, The Clash, John Coltrane, and more.
#21 – Papa John: An Autobiography
John Phillips and Jim Jerome
Fifty years ago, a colorful co-ed quartet called the Mamas and the Papas entered the folk rock scene in full flower. The hippie group recorded six top 10 hits and sold nearly 40 million records worldwide from 1965 to 1968. But in this book, lead singer John Phillips talks about the clashes, affairs, and addictions happening behind the “California Dreamin” stage.
#22 – The Beatles: The Biography
Veteran journalist Bob Spitz composed this massive biography to chronicle how four Liverpool boys sparked a global cultural revolution. The Beatles follows John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison from their working-class childhoods through their agonizing breakup. Spitz’s unflinching synopsis includes hotel mobs, venereal diseases, unplanned pregnancies, and cocaine-fueled parties. Readers receive an unsettling look into the ironic sadness that accompanied the Beatles’ runaway success.
#23 – Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
Last Train to Memphis is a riveting biography that presents an Elvis beyond the myths and legends. Peter Guralnick crafts a fresh portrait of the first 24 years of Elvis’ life from his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, to early RCA hits like “Heartbreak Hotel.” Particular attention is given to Elvis’ loneliness after being drafted to the Army and losing his mother.
#24 – Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley
Careless Love concludes Peter Guralnick’s two books about rock & roll by covering Elvis Presley’s last decades. Beginning in Germany in 1958 and ending with his untimely death in Memphis in 1977, the biography portrays how Elvis’ dreams unraveled. Light is shone on his relationship with a Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu. Guralnick offers the unfiltered truth on one of rock’s most misunderstood stars.
#25 – Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards
Published by Billboard Books in 1998, Al Kooper’s hilariously honest memoir chronicles his rock & roll career driving multi-platinum records. From would-be teen rocker to creator of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Kooper takes readers on a ride through the 21st century. Along the way, we witness his interactions with Bob Dylan, collaboration with Mike Bloomfield on the Super Session album, and discovery of legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd.
#26 – Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life
Robert Hilburn’s storied career as a music critic and untold adventures in rock & roll are unearthed in Corn Flakes with John Lennon. Audiences receive behind-the-scenes looks into the lives of iconic rock legends. From visiting Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison to watching cartoons with Michael Jackson, Hilburn explores the symbiotic relationship between critics and musical talent.
#27 – Flowers in the Dustbin
James Miller, a historian and academic at The New School, wrote Flowers in the Dustin to cover three decades of the rock & roll music scene. Miller argues that music underwent an entire creative evolution in under 25 years. He shows rock’s maturity from Chuck Berry and Elvis to the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Miller also candidly recounts how trend-setting bands like the Doors and Sex Pistols turned rock crude.
#28 – The Book of Rock Lists
Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein
As two experienced critics for Rolling Stone magazine, Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein collaborated to create this trivia gem. Complete, in-depth chapters on Elvis Presley and the Beatles are accompanied by definitive lists on the good and bad of rock & roll music. The guide covers the Golden Age from 1957 to 1983 with lists like “Best Live Albums,” “Greatest Band Names,” and “Worst #1 Hits.”
#29 – Hellfire
Hellfire captures one of the most dramatic stories in rock & roll history – Jerry Lee Lewis’ life. From his Louisiana childhood, Jerry Lee was torn between a Pentecostal God and the Devil of drugs and rock music. At 22, he was propelled to fame with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going’ On.” But scandal followed with Jerry Lee’s marriage to his 13-year-old cousin and arrest for shooting his bass player, Butch Owens.
#30 – Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World
Robbie Roberston, a member of The Band, crafted Legends, Icons & Rebels into a memorial tribute to 27 celebrated legends who forever altered American music. Organized like a great playlist, the book features rock risk-takers like Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Joni Mitchell, and Chuck Berry with two CDs. Roberston respectfully channels each one’s creativity, passion, and flaws that sometimes sparked tragedy.
#31 – To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles
The Eagles brought a distinctive new sound to rock & roll music by blending Detroit-style roots rock with country and folk. Under David Geffen’s management, the Eagles skyrocketed to fame with five #1 singles like “Hotel California.” To the Limit shares the uncensored camaraderie between Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner. The chapters follow the Eagles from their breakout to breakup and reunion.
#32 – Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead
Bassist Phil Lesh wrote Searching for the Sound, an energetic memoir centered on his 30+ years with the Grateful Dead. The story begins in 1965 when Lesh joined Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. Together the band morphed rock with improvisational jazz and psychedelia for their devoted “Deadheads.” Lesh shares how the band’s triumphs were eclipsed by debt, addiction, and death.
#33 – To Live is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton
Metallica, America’s seventh-largest recording act ever, was pushed to evolutionary heights by bass player Cliff Burton. His phenomenal instrumental skills were revered across three albums, including Master of Puppets. But Burton’s influential career was cut short at just 24 when Metallica’s tour bus overturned in Sweden. Here Joel McIver profoundly references the life and death of the Burton era.
#34 – A Twist of Lennon
Published in 1980, A Twist of Lennon provides one of the few books about rock & roll from a band wife’s perspective. Cynthia Lennon met and fell in love with John Lennon at the Liverpool College of Art. After becoming pregnant, she and John were married in 1962 before the British Invasion. From German clubs to the Ed Sullivan Show, Lennon takes readers through the Beatles’ rise firsthand.
#35 – Rock’n’Roll’s Strangest Moments: Extraordinary But True Tales from 45 Years of Rock & Roll History
From early ’50s pop to today’s touring bands, Mike Evans’ reader-friendly chronicle shares the untold stories of countless rock heroes. The broadcaster details bizarre tales of on-the-road mayhem, including Keith Moon’s drive into a hotel swimming pool. Evans reveals obscure secrets that may shock you, such as Debbie Harry’s Playboy past and the Gallagher brothers’ thieving ways.
#36 – Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry
Hall of Famer Chuck Berry is often deemed the inventor of rock & roll music with big-time hits like “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode.” Yet little has been written about the songwriting pioneer. Bruce Pegg rectified this by publishing Brown Eyed Handsome Man in 2002. From his childhood in segregated St. Louis to his failures with Chess Records, the icon’s troubled life is exposed.
#37 – Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City
Steve Miller’s nonfiction novel utilizes oral history to portray how the Michigan city carved a large slice of the Rock Pie. Uncut interviews with Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Jack White, Iggy Pop, and more detail Detroit’s famed music scene since 1967. From the Eastown Theater to the Gold Dollar, this book provides a map to America’s top rock venues.
#38 – What You Want Is in the Limo
What You Want Is in the Limo takes audiences on a joyride through three epic rock & roll tours during 1973. Acclaimed journalist Michael Walker accounts his mind-boggling experiences traveling with prolific rock juggernauts: The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper. He goes backstage, onto private jets, and into limos to vividly depict 12 rule-breaking months of modern rock history.
#39 – White Line Fever: The Autobiography
Motorhead’s founder and front man Lemmy Kilmister wrote White Line Fever at 57 to recount his death-defying, hedonistic journey through rock & roll. Chapters progress from Lemmy’s quiet childhood in Wales to playing with Opal Butterfly and forming the world’s dirtiest heavy metal band. He frankly details his self-indulgent lifestyle of alcohol, drugs, and women while recording monumental hits like “Ace of Spades.”
#40 – Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Listed among the Daily News “Top 10 Books of the Year,” Legs McNeil’s nonfiction piece provides the first oral history of rock’s most nihilist movement. Direct quotes from Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jim Carroll, Sid Vicious, Debbie Harry, and other punk icons are compiled into one legendary book. Punk music is criticized and eulogized from its start in Andy Warhol’s New York reign.
#41 – Japrocksampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock ‘n’ Roll
Julian Cope, The Teardrop Explodes’ lead singer, offers one of the rare books about rock & roll in the Eastern world. As the Beatles and Who crossed the Atlantic to America, rock slowly passed the Pacific to Japan. Cope insightfully explores how the wild renegades of ’60s rock clashed with customary Japanese values to revolutionize the entire country’s culture.
#42 – The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs
Many books about rock & roll focus on the iconic performers and events we all know. But Greil Marcus makes a daring move by weaving an original story that upends past presumptions. The rock critic selected 10 songs recorded between 1956 and 2008 to explain how each embodies the genre’s spirit. Titles range from Joy Division’s “Transmission” to The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment.”
#43 – Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties
Deemed the “Bible of the Beatles,” Ian MacDonald’s mini-essay collection captures the magical, yet mysterious journey of the Fab Four. Each of the legendary band’s 241 tracks are analyzed in chronological order from 1957 to their reunion in 1995. MacDonald celebrates the Beatles’ triumphs while scathing their shortcomings in hits like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hey Jude.”
#44 – Dream On: Livin’ on the Edge with Steven Tyler and Aerosmith
Dream On is a page-turning rock star biography told by Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler, the ex-wife of Aerosmith’s front man. Born Kathleen Victoria Hetzekian, Foxe-Tyler was raised as a military brat with an abusive mother. Her teenage years led to New York City where drugs, sex, and rock & roll ruled. After becoming the “It” girl of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Cyrinda reveals her meeting and marriage with Steven Tyler.
#45 – Mystery Train
Originally published in 1975, Mystery Train has reached its sixth edition to continue changing how music fans view rock & roll music. Famed critic Greil Marcus analyzes the recordings of six key musicians: Robert Johnson, Randy Newman, Elvis Presley, Sly Stone, The Band, and Harmonica Frank. With a detailed discography, Marcus offers complex reviews on the relationship between rock and American society.
#46 – I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution
Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks
Crowned one of 2011’s “Best Books” by NPR, I Want My MTV takes audiences back to the first decade of the radical music channel. Through the realty TV craze, Tannenbaum and Marks highlight MTV’s golden era as a mammoth, career-making business. The impact of watching videos like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Axl Rose’s “Welcome to the Jungle” on popular culture is explored.
#47 – Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
Spanning a decade, Michael Azerrad’s nonfiction book chronicles the careers of 13 underground rock bands who greatly impacted the indie rock movement despite lacking mainstream success. The selected bands include Black Flag, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, and Mission of Burma. Through their independent record labels, these bands spread populist sentiments to redefine punk.
#48 – Music: What Happened?
With Game Theory and The Loud Family, singer Scott Miller recorded over a dozen albums in the ’80s and ’90s. In 2010, Miller applied his music industry expertise to publish Music: What Happened? This remarkable volume draws together 50 blog entries to explore rock & roll history from 1957 to 2006. Miller presents song countdowns, thoughtful criticisms, and memorable stories from the perspective of a serious musician.
#49 – Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana
Nirvana came out of Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987 to take over the Seattle grunge scene. With the release of Nevermind in 1991, Nirvana had sold nearly five million records with unexpected hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Michael Azerrad offers the only book with close-up interviews from Kurt Cobain, Krist Noveselic, and Dave Grohl. New editions also include a final chapter detailing Cobain’s last year before suicide.
#50 – Moonage Daydream: The Life & Times of Ziggy Stardust
Moonage Daydream was the late David Bowie’s debut novel giving fans glimpses into his fascinating stage persona Ziggy Stardust. Starting with the 1972 release of Ziggy’s iconic LP, the book chronicles his outstanding two-year stardom. Over 650 glossy photographs from Mick Rock are included to depict his pivotal U.S. tour through the final blockbuster concert in London.
Party like a rock star by picking up or downloading these 50 great books about rock & roll music that brilliantly capture secrets of the excessive backstage lifestyle.