It’s an old adage that’s typically attributed to Steve Martin: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s a fun turn of phrase; but for many people, understanding everything that goes into a three-to-four minute song becomes an obsessive puzzle. The past few years have featured some knockout music biographies and memoirs, and in light of some high-profile passings and musicians-turned-writers, this year’s slated to be no different. We’ve found ten forthcoming books that promise to entertain and inform, no matter what type of music you’re into.
Rick Hall embodies a bygone era: born to sharecroppers, he served as an honor guard in the Korean War, and rambled through the south as a songwriter and musician for hire. As founder of the first recording studio in Alabama, he opened the door for the southern soul and R&B artists who would eventually dominate the radio during the divided racial period of the ’50s and ‘60s. Also the subject of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, Hall’s story of building a creative empire in the face of a changing social and business atmosphere is a complementary piece for any fan of books at the crossroads of music and culture.
Release Date: March 15
For aspiring musicians that spend thousands of dollars and countless years in a conservatory, hoping to make a life out of an up-and-down career path, jazz drummer Stan Levey’s career will probably fascinate and infuriate you. Levey was self-taught and got his first major gig at age sixteen (backing up Dizzy Gillespie), played with just about any other jazz artist you can name, and then quit performingon his own terms. This book promises to be as fast-paced and colorful as the gilded age of jazz it depicts.
Release Date: March 15
You may not know her by name, but you know her work. She’s the songwriter behind Christina Aguilera’s smash hit “What a Girl Wants,” and has written for everyone from Demi Lovato to Joe Cocker to (this is true) Smash Mouth. After decades behind the scenes, Peiken eloquently relates her hard-learned career of songwriting and collaboration through stories of growing up and creative challenges.
Release Date: March 22
What can you say about the musical Hamilton that hasn’t already been said? The musical’s diverse, genre-breaking power owes much to the talent oozing from its writer, star, In the Heights creator, and impossible-to-hate person Lin-Manuel Miranda. The book is a monument to his, and the show’s, underdog attitude—examining its unlikely beginnings and featuring a full copy of the libretto (so you can finally follow all the words in “Guns and Ships”). It is a must-have for musical fans and may be the closest you’ll get to actually experiencing the show with Miranda in all his powers.
Release Date: April 12
As the west coast’s response to the Ramones, X was California’s flagship punk band, and John Doe, the band’s front man, remembers the scene well. Despite the wide banner and closeness in years, L.A.’s punks in the ‘70s were eclectic, from hardcore Black Flag to the new wave rock of the Go-Go’s. Reflecting this range, Under the Big Black Sun is a patchwork of oral histories, firsthand accounts, and nostalgic recollections from some of the biggest bands of the scene.
Release Date: April 26
Earth, Wind & Fire is a group of undisputed influence, touching musicians and artists far from their dynamic, horn-heavy funk music. As the founder and creative mastermind behind the band, Maurice White spent his entire life refining his vision for that music—from the group’s immersive stage shows to their use of Egyptian symbolism. His book explores this, his early-life troubles, and his late-life fight with Parkinson’s that forced him to give up touring and, sadly, contributed to his death earlier this month. Maurice White may have been honored in obituaries and think pieces around the Internet already, but he can only rightly tell the full story.
Release Date: May 3
He might not be a household name, but Lecrae is an interesting artist to consider. While his label as a ‘Christian rapper’ sometimes leads to people dismissing his work, he’s no stranger to the violence, abuse, and danger that any other artist in his field might have gone through. Lecrae’s aware that he is an anomaly because of his open religiousness, but in a time where black faith has become a major topic in hip-hop, his viewpoint could be much more relevant than anyone is ready to give him credit for.
Release Date: May 3
“Vegan,” “Christian,” and “Drug-Free” are not three adjectives you’d use to describe the New York club scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s; and yet, they are three major characteristics of one of the time’s most iconic musicians: Moby. He spent years navigating through a perilous underground culture as an outsider in an outsider’s world until the one album that was intended to be his last, Play, put him on the map. A passionate writer, Moby’s stories radiate with a rare warmth, frankness, and wisdom that make unique, sometimes harrowing, experiences feel worldly.
Release Date: May 17
A 19-year-old Jewish battle rapper by the name “Hot Karl” enters a morning zoo radio’s freestyle rap competition and is so good that he cuts a track with the DJ from Limp Bizkit. While it sounds like the punch line of many bad jokes rolled into one sentence, it’s all true for Jensen Karp, a Los Angeles-based writer who turned an unlikely passion into a near-career with Interscope Records. Karp’s stories border on un-believability – from the claim in the title to performing with his mother – but are told with a hilarious, “I’m surprised, too” attitude that endears you even if you haven’t heard his music.
Release Date: June 7
After 40 years of singing tales about love, poverty, and working-class struggles, “The Boss” is finally telling his personal story. Springsteen’s book explores, in his words, the ‘poetry, danger, and darkness’ of growing up in his native New Jersey, and his rise from local staple to iconic bandleader. Springsteen is candid and plainspoken, as he’s known for, but his soul-bearing sincerity is unprecedented. It’s assured that, however strongly you feel about him, you’ll have a deeper understanding of why after reading.
Release Date: September 27