It’s been a milestone year for many musicians, and with that comes the marking of the occasion with a book. There have been numerous biographies, including long-awaited ones from Britney Spears, whose rage-filled The Woman in Me sets the record straight, so to speak, on her much gossiped-about life. In other cases, previous successful memoirs mean a continuation with a second volume, or one with a different focus, such as Lol Tolhurst’s GOTH: A History or Dolly Parton’s Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones. Elsewhere, longtime music photographers like Kevin Cummins and Piper Ferguson have found years’ worth of priceless shots that needed to be seen by fans and have put them together in coffee table-worthy collections.
Compiled here are 20 of the top choices released in 2023—from collectible photo books to memoirs, graphic novel biographies to music scene dissections.
COFFEE TABLE BOOKS
David Bowie: Mixing Memory & Desire by Kevin Cummins
Renowned photographer Kevin Cummins had the enviable opportunity to capture David Bowie for 40 years. Beginning when Cummins was in his teens and Bowie his Ziggy Stardust phase, his new book features over 200 photos, most of them never-before seen. In the collection, Cummins traces Bowie’s career across its many eras, through public-facing as well as intimate, personal times to which he has singular access. The dynamic between the two has resulted in images that share an insight to Bowie that not many people have had.
Marr’s Guitars by Johnny Marr
Johnny Marr’s latest book puts the focus on what he’s known for: guitars. Marr’s Guitars is a stunning book that features a huge number of Marr’s instruments. Meticulously photographed by Pat Graham, Marr has written descriptions for select guitars, discussing the songs and albums on which they were used, his inspiration, and his songwriting process. You don’t have to love guitars or The Smiths to appreciate the detailed images of these gorgeous pieces.
Read our interview with Marr in which he discusses the book here.
Indie/Seen: The Indie Rock Photography of Piper Ferguson by Piper Ferguson
Music photographer Piper Ferguson marks 25 years behind the lens this year. Her first photo book, the large-format Indie/Seen, celebrates that milestone with a comprehensive collection. A beautiful addition to indie-music lovers’ collectibles, Ferguson’s one-of-a-kind eye captures key moments from the last quarter century. Included are portraits, candid snaps, party pics, magazine shoots, and live shots, highlighted by an entire section devoted to Coachella. Found inside are all manner of indie artists from The Strokes to Richard Ashcroft to The Shins. As a bonus, Johnny Marr even penned the foreword.
Preview some of Ferguson’s work here with these exclusive early-era shots of The Strokes she shared with us earlier this year.
Fleetwood Mac: Everywhere by Mike Evans
In Everywhere, musician and author Mike Evans delves deep into the history and trajectory of one of the most successful rock groups of all time to unpack each song. Everywhere is fleshed out with input from Fleetwood Mac’s various members over 50 years, including those who left the group before its sustained success solidified by Rumours in 1977. Dissection of the songs is sourced from reviews written at the time of their release. Not to be discounted are the 150 photographs of the group and the graphic layout making Everywhere a definitive work on Fleetwood Mac.
Calling All Nations: A Fan History of INXS edited by Neil Cossar
INXS fans are an unshakeable entity. The group knows this, which is why this collectible book is sourced from fans—both words and artifacts, which include photos, ticket stubs, posters, set lists, and much more (as the tagline states, Calling All Nations “tells the story of the bands in the words of their fans”). INXS put the word out to their fans to share their stories and their memorabilia and put it together in this scrapbook-like volume which, for all its disparate elements, flows with cohesion.
Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones by Dolly Parton
It’s life-affirming to see a fresh spotlight being shone on Dolly Parton over the last few years, acknowledging her accomplishments as well as her talent. Parton took advantage of this attention with the release of her third thematic memoir, Behind the Seams, which focuses on her fire fashion (her previous books covered the topics of songwriting and emotional wellness). A fabulous peek into her closet through 450 eye-popping photos, Behind the Seams showcases the maximalist style that is Parton’s visual signature—plus credits to the designers, makeup artists, and stylists who helped shape her lewk.
Verse, Chorus, Monster! by Graham Coxon
If you’re looking for the ultimate Blur tell-all page-turner, Graham Coxon’s memoir is not it. Instead, the enduring group’s guitarist, whose mental illness and alcohol and substance abuse problems have never been a secret, plays it safe in Verse, Chorus, Monster!. He doesn’t reveal anything about his personal relationships and also avoids painting too graphic of a picture about his struggles. What he does offer is in-depth dissection of his place in Blur, his journey as a musician, and his songwriting process.
GOTH: A History by Lol Tolhurst
Who better to school you on goth culture than one of its godfathers: The Cure co-founder Lol Tolhurst? GOTH is Tolhurst’s second memoir, the first being 2016’s well-received Cured. Where that prior book looked inward, GOTH looks outward at the genesis of the genre, its inspirations, and its impact on music, fashion, and culture overall. He draws on his own experiences and memories, sharing anecdotes and insights that can only come from a key figure like Tolhurst.
Sonic Life: A Memoir by Thurston Moore
It took Thurston Moore over five years to write this 77-chapter, almost 500-page volume, which ends with the liner notes of Sonic Youth’s last album, 2009’s The Eternal. Don’t look for the airing of Sonic Youth’s ancient-history dirty laundry in Sonic Life. More than anything, the memoir is Moore’s love letter to music—as a fan and as a musician—through the pioneering lens of Sonic Youth. It’s rounded out by anecdotes about his interactions with his peers in rock music, including Kurt Cobain and Iggy Pop.
Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You by Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams’ concise but comprehensive memoir has the storytelling quality of her timeless songs and the sense of humor and irony that’s threaded through her far-reaching music. Williams has already revealed a lot through her albums, and Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You delivers the rest. From her mother’s mental illness to her father’s tendency for itinerancy and Williams’ own issues with obsessive compulsive disorder (not to mention being born with spina bifida and undergoing a tracheotomy during infancy), this memoir unveils a lot of what has informed Williams’ music. She reads the audiobook version in her signature rasp and warm Southern lilt.
Karma by Boy George
This is the third memoir from Boy George and, in a way, it’s a repackage and rerelease of his two previous ones (1995’s Take It Like a Man and 2005’s Straight) with bonus material that covers the last two decades. Much like Boy George IRL, Karma is witty and deliciously vicious, if at times scattered. His place in music and pop culture is undeniable—as are his missteps, which he acknowledges in Karma, making no excuses for them. Karma benefits from decades of hindsight, and with this kind of perspective, and reaching an accepting time in his life, it’s good timing for another memoir. The audiobook is read by the author, which amps up the sizzle and fizz.
Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion by Steve Turner
With Mud Ride, Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner unpacks the grunge scene of his native Seattle from the vantage viewpoint of being one of its creators. From its nascence to its rise, its influence on music and culture, Turner takes the reader through the peaks and valleys of the sound and the experiences of the musicians and the setting behind it. The foreword is written by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, and Turner packs the volume with never-before-seen images and memorabilia.
The Woman in Me by Britney Spears
Britney Spears’ revealing memoir sold over a million copies in the first week of its release, and continues to occupy Amazon’s top spot in a number of categories as well as cracking the top 20 books overall. This is no surprise, as The Woman in Me, a horror story of Spears’ much-publicized and misunderstood life, finally allows her to speak for herself, telling the whole ugly truth—and clearly nothing but the truth. Spears illuminates every incident in her life, uncovering never-publicized-before events, not the least of which is her at-home abortion at the bequest of then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake. With The Woman in Me, Spears is vindicated.
Nick Drake: The Life by Richard Morton Jack
If you wish you could have met the enigmatic and dreamy Nick Drake, Richard Morton Jack has provided the next best thing with his detailed biography. Jack was given carte blanche by Drake’s sister to access personal letters and diaries from their friends and family, in addition to speaking to Drake’s inner circle. Plus, Jack dissects interviews, articles, and reviews written about Drake. The result is a 600-page day-by-day account of Drake’s life that makes you feel like you were alongside him since birth.
Miles Davis and the Search for the Sound by Dave Chisholm
Graphic novel biographies convey so much more than just words. Artist and musician Dave Chisholm, who shares the trumpet as his instrument with his subject, approached Miles Davis and the Search for the Sound with singular insight. He uses Davis’ autobiography, essays, and interviews to present a first-person graphic novel that uses color as much as it does words to tell Davis’ story from an intimate perspective. Chisholm’s double-page spreads are frame-worthy, and the book leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of Davis and his controversial personal and professional reputation.
Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush by Tom Doyle
The only person not taking advantage of her reinvigorated career thanks to some choice song placements is Kate Bush. With renewed interest in the elusive “Running Up That Hill” songwriter, music journalist Tom Doyle dug up his exclusive and diligent four-hour interview with her from 2005 and got to work. In 50 chapters, Doyle does his due diligence to dissect every piece of her work from every aspect. There are few secondary voices, among them, David Gilmour, John Lydon, and Youth, as well as her brother, photographer John Carder Bush. For the most part, Running Up That Hill is a well-researched biography of Bush’s creative process, intentionally overlooking her personal life.
The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Record Store: A Global History edited by Gina Arnold, John Dougan, Christine Feldman-Barrett, and Matthew Worley
More so than a place to purchase physical music products, record stores have historically been the hub, and the incubator, of music scenes. They’re where like-minded individuals find each other, connections are forged, and communities are built. The anthology The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Record Store explores three distinct aspects of these spaces: community, cultural geography, and sites for fandom. From listening booths in British shops, to imports and their impact on popular music in Japan, to women-run and independent record stores, to popular music acquisition in pre- and post-revolution Iran (written by yours truly)—this comprehensive volume covers it all.
Listening to the Music the Machines Make: Inventing Electronic Pop 1978-1983 by Richard Evans
A reference tome on electronic pop, the focus of this exhaustively researched book is primarily the UK’s trajectory in the genre in its early years, with due credit to its influences. Richard Evans spent months at the British Library combing through the music press archives from the time, pulling together a narrative that’s as factual as it is fascinating. Included is a foreword by Depeche Mode alum and Erasure music mastermind Vince Clarke, who, as an employer of Evans, gives this book his co-sign.
The Williamsburg Avant-Garde: Experimental Music and Sound on the Brooklyn Waterfront by Cisco Bradley
History professor Cisco Bradley has put his research chops to good use with this deep dive into this contained Brooklyn neighborhood whose underground music and art scenes over 30 years—from the late ’80s through to the early 2010s—had wide-reaching impact before it met its demise. With the benefit of having participated in these movements firsthand, Bradley showcases the multiple genre musicians that created the Williamsburg avant-garde scene as well as the venues, creative spaces, and the network developed within—as well as the downfall of, in large part due to gentrification—all of the above.
Anthems We Love: 29 Iconic Artists on the Hit Songs That Shaped Our Lives by Steve Baltin
Longtime music journalist Steve Baltin speaks to a wide range of artists about their signature anthems in this collection, which also features a foreword by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Cameron Crowe. Covering The Beach Boys, Shania Twain, Toto, Aerosmith, TLC, The Temptations, Carly Simon, U2, and more, Baltin extracts the story behind the song from the artists themselves. The most recent of these is My Chemical Romance’s 2006 anthem “Welcome to the Black Parade,” with the majority of the other 28 landing several decades prior.