It has been a terrible year for musicians, the worst in memory. As we prepare to begin 2017, we will do so without a number of the greatest artists of our lifetime. I don’t have to run down the sad list for you, but one thing is for sure — it’s going to be strange living in a world without their talents.

Fortunately 2016 has been another good year for books about musicians. This year I’ve chosen ten books for you to consider when you’re shopping for the music lover in your life. They include autobiographies and biographies that chronicle the lives and careers of musical giants, stories of legendary record companies and the people behind them, a study of a small town that had a big impact on the music world, an investigation into the darkest day in rock history, a study of the intersection of rock and roll and race, and the story of a year that changed everything.

The books are presented here in no particular order.

I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir – by Brian Wilson with Ben Greenman
The pop maestro tells his story again, this time without the assistance of Dr. Landy. This time he reflects on his triumphant resurrection in recent years.

Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock – by Barney Hoskyn
The story of a small town in the Catskill Mountains of New York that became the epicenter of the music world at a time when musicians decided to “get it together” out in the country. Dylan and the Band were just the beginning.

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements – by Bob Mehr
The long-awaited definitive biography of one of America’s greatest rock and roll bands.

1966: The Year the Decade Exploded – by Jon Savage
1966 was the year that changed everything in the music world. The Beatles, James Brown, the Supremes, Love, and the Velvet Underground and many more were working at the peak of their powers, while Ronald Reagan, Stokely Carmichael, and Andy Warhol were astride the world stage.

Paul McCartney: The Life – by Philip Norman
Norman has written acclaimed biographies of the Beatles, and John Lennon. Now he’s back an authorized biography of McCartney, and the unprecedented access that Norman enjoyed makes this one a must-read.

Notable Books of 2016

Godfather of the Music Business: Morris Levy – by Richard Carlin
The story of the man who co-founded the legendary New York City jazz club Birdland, and ran Roulette Records along with some help some from “friends of his.” A seedy, sordid, and fascinating tale.

Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon – by Peter Ames Carlin
One of America’s greatest songwriters finally gets the definitive biographical treatment from a writer who has previously done the same for Brian Wilson and Bruce Springsteen.

Becoming Elektra: The True Story Of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label (Revised And Expanded Edition) – by Mick Houghton, with a forward by John Densmore
The story of the pioneering Elektra record label in a revised and expanded edition. The Doors, Tim Buckley, Love, the Stooges, the MC5, and Queen were among the artists on Jac Holzman’s label.

Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination  – by Jack Hamilton
An interesting academic study of the role that race has played in the development of rock and roll from its roots in rhythm-and-blues to the largely white rock explosion of the ’60s and beyond. A timely and engrossing read.

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day – by Joel Selvin
One of our finest writers (see his recent biography of songwriter/producer Bert Berns) has written a well-researched history and analysis of a tragic event that continues to haunt us decades after it occurred.

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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