Books About Music History: Popular Picks


Just Press Play To Hear The Piece.

Music connects us across time and space. It speaks to universal emotions. Books about music history underscore this connection. They remind us of music’s enduring legacy. 

Each title has been chosen for its ability to enlighten, entertain, and educate, offering insights into the forces that have driven the evolution of music.

Whether you’re a seasoned musician, a passionate music lover, or simply curious about the soundtrack of human history, these books promise to enrich your understanding and appreciation of music.

Essential Reads on the Evolution of Pop Music

Alpha Book Writers has conducted thorough research and put together a comprehensive list

1- The Rap Yearbook by Shea Serrano, 2015

It’s one of the best types of music books—a fun conversation starter written by a smart, funny person that you can’t put down, even if you want to throw it across the room. The idea is simple: Serrano picks the most important rap song from each year since 1979 and then reads it carefully, including history, comments, “style mapping,” and other musical measures.

2- The Music of Black Americans by A History Eileen Southern, 1971

Southern was the first black woman to be given a full-tenured professorship at Harvard. Her book is a towering work of scholarship that uses memoirs, ledgers, newspaper ads for slaves, and other sources to piece together the history of African-American music from 1619 to the present day. 

As a musicologist, Southern knows a lot about the music history behind it. She tells a story of exile, oppression, and defiance very well.

3- The Recording Angel: Music, Records, and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa by Evan Eisenberg, 1987

Music has existed for thousands of years, but Thomas Edison wasn’t the first to record sound until the late 1800s. What changed about music when records came out? Eisenberg’s book is still the best way to answer this big, tricky question. He looks at his topic from both a philosophical and a psychological point of view. 

For example, he asks the difference between listening in public and alone, how records work as goods, and how people’s listening habits shape who they are.

4- The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel by Teddy Wayne, 2014

Writing an insulting spoof about a modern teen hero would be a cheap stunt. Ted Wayne hasn’t done anything like that with his book about an eleven-year-old who resembles Justin Bieber. 

Wayne tells the story through Valentine, the young girl, so we can understand what music history tells and how to deal with stresses that many grown-up pop stars never learn to handle. While showing sympathy, the painting also shows knowledge, looking at the tricks of being a pop star and the flawed people in it.

5- Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America by Tricia Rose, 1994

Rose’s book on hip-hop was one of the first and is still one of the best. It tells the story of rap as a technologically advanced folk music that grew out of the ashes of New York after the Industrial Revolution. It may sound old-fashioned to talk about rap’s relationship to pop in 2016, but Rose’s research and insistence that the genre was America’s best art form in the late 20th century still hold up.

6- One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture by Gerald Early, 1995

Berry Gordy, the smart founder of Motown, used the movement for desegregation in the 1960s to reach the huge white market. He walked along tricky lines to get there: The crossover style of soul that Gordy created was “neither bleached nor blackened,” according to Early. 

Motown had a lot of hits, but Gordy ran his music factory like Henry Ford. He kept Motown’s musicians and writers anonymous, set up schools to teach his acts how to play in middle-class white venues, and shut down ideas he didn’t like. But, as the author shows, the music history lived on forever.

7- Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr, 2016

“God, what a mess on the business ladder!” “Bastards of Young” by The Replacements has Paul Westerberg singing. Mehr’s in-depth history of Minneapolis’s most famous fuck-ups shows how they lived up to those words over and over again. 

When Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson play together, the record Trouble Boys goes from snotty comedy to touching moments of self-reflection, just like the band’s best albums. It’s a fitting tribute to one of rock’s most stubborn bands.

8- Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige, 1979

There are a lot of liberal arts universities that offer pop-culture courses like “Beyonce Studies” these days. So it’s hard to remember that these things didn’t exist before the book was published by Hebdige, a cultural thinker from the UK. 

Through the lens of Karl Marx’s critical sociology and Roland Barthes’ lyrical semiotics, it looked at British youth culture groups like the Mods, teddy boys, punks, and skinheads. 

Hebdige says that their habits and styles weren’t just a show of defiance; they also pointed out societal problems at the time. Although we take this way of thinking for granted these days, “Subculture” makes you feel like you were there when it was first born.

9- Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, 1999

The authors of this volume contend that the DJ serves as “dance music’s most important figure.” To prove that, they feature profiles of people who have enthralled audiences with the music they perform, ranging from Reginald Fessenden’s Christmas 

Eve 1906 radio broadcast of Handel’s “Largo” to the leading electronic innovators of the twenty-first century. The book focuses on the colorful people of the clubs, from those who oversaw parties in Jamaica to the women who barged into the boys’ club in the booth, even though it does touch on the DJ’s radio presence.

10- The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music by Nick Kent, 1994

At the beginning of the 1970s, Kent was a young man who had dropped out of Oxford University. He worked for a few months as an apprentice at Creem magazine in Detroit for the late great Lester Bangs. 

Kent says that Bangs always said, “In rock ‘n’ roll, it wasn’t the winners who made for the most interesting stories; it was the losers.” This book’s nineteen pictures are of some of rock’s biggest stars, from Keith Richards to Morrissey. 

However, Kent writes about them in a way that is refreshingly devoid of sentimentality, as if they were, if not losers, then at least outsiders.

The Bottom Line:

Each book serves as a portal into music’s profound impact on society, culture, and individual lives. From the origins of ancient tunes to modern-day trends, music history is a complicated artwork woven with tales of creativity, hardship, and success.


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