So you say that your finances are under more pressure than Rod Blagojevich and you still have gifts to buy for the holidays? Join the club. When you think about it, books make a really sensible gift. In addition to providing hours of pleasure for your loved ones, they cost very little in the scheme of things, and with online discounters like Amazon offering free shipping for orders over $25, well, it’s somewhat of a no-brainer. I completed most of my list last week by spending less than ten minutes online, and the order arrived at my door two days later. No malls. No lines. No parking nightmares.

This year there are a lot of good book options for the music lovers in your life. None of the books that appear here cost more than $30 on Amazon, and most are considerably less expensive. There are coffee table books, and interesting biographies. Know someone who is not that interested in music? I’ve provided some good choices for them as well, with a couple of excellent novels, a wise and witty look at the first colonists of this country, and a biography of one of the pre-eminent journalists of the last half-century.

The books are listed in order of genre, not preference. Without further ado, here are my gift choices.

Coffee Table Books

Quincy Jones

The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey and Passions – by Quincy Jones

It’s good to have friends, and Q has a lot of them. Before his own recollections even begin, there are introductory valedictories from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Clint Eastwood, and Maya Angelou. This beautifully put together volume provides extraordinary access to a man who has been at the forefront of the music business for decades, working with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson. There are private notebooks, correspondence, and photographs, along with reproductions of report cards, track sheets, and accounting ledgers.

The Clash

The Clash – by The Clash

It might seem ironic for a punk band to produce a coffee table book, but you’ll get over it as soon as you open this vivid history of the great band. “Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust” indeed. Stirring reminiscences blend with stunning photographs in the must-have rock book of the season, and the perfect celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first Clash album.

Rock Gods

Rock Gods: Forty Years of Rock Photography – by Robert M. Knight

Robert M. Knight is one of those guys who was there at many of the most historic moments in the history of rock, recording it for posterity. Beginning in 1968, he documented shows by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Van Halen, and countless others. The emphasis here is on guitar gods, speaking of whom, there’s a lengthy introduction by Slash, and 200 full-color images. This is the book to get for the classic rock fan in your life.

Music Biographies

Lonely Avenue

Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus – by Alex Halberstadt

One of the most affecting biographies I have ever read, “Lonely Avenue” is the story of Doc Pomus, one of the greatest songwriters of the pop era. Crippled by polio at an early age, he never let the handicap hold him back, and went on to work with the seminal figures of rock ‘n roll, from the Drifters to Lou Reed. As great as he was as a songwriter, he was even a greater character, and Halberstadt puts you right there for all the joys and heartaches.

Making Records

Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music – by Phil Ramone and Charles L. Granata

First published in late 2007, Phil Ramone takes you behind the scenes of his long and glorious career in music. From his early career as a recording engineer (John F. Kennedy asked him to improve the sound at the White House), to work with Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Elton John, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and countless others. There’s just enough nitty-gritty recording stuff here to satisfy the technically minded, but not enough to scare away the rest of us.

A Freewheelin' Time

A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties – by Suze Rotolo

A beautifully written memoir of a vanished time in the history of New York City. Rotolo, best known as an early girlfriend of Bob Dylan, and the girl of the cover of the Freewheelin’ album, provides not only an overview of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ’60s, but an intimate look at her relationship with Dylan. It’s an interesting read for any Dylan fan, but more than that, it’s a picture of an interesting American life lived in an interesting time.

The Life

John Lennon: The Life – by Philip Norman

Norman is the author of the authoritative Beatles biography “Shout.” This time out, he’s devoted over 800 pages to the life of John Lennon. It’s a tricky task to be a biographer of a historic figure that most people think they know all about, but Norman’s exhaustive research has yielded dividends. He offers new insights into the complex relationships of the very complex Lennon. He was given unprecedented access to Lennon material, and conducted hundreds of interviews with Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, and Beatles’ producers and roadies. If you’re like me, there are several Beatles fans on your shopping list, and it seems like Apple Corps manages to accommodate us every year with something for them. This is the 2008 gift.

When We Get to Surf City

When We Get to Surf City – by Bob Greene

Former Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune columnist Bob Greene writes about his 15 years on the road with surf music legends Jan and Dean. It’s about being on tour with a band that brings the summer everywhere they go, but more than that, it’s a story of love and loyalty, and the freedom of the open road It’s not all limos and Kristal though. There are gigs at state fairs, shopping malls, and corporate parties. But for someone living his dream, it’s all golden.


Outlaw Journalist

Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson – by William McKeen

A great biographer has a knack for putting you right there in the action, and that is the case here. McKeen has written an authoritative book about the fascinating journey of Hunter S. Thompson, from his childhood in Louisville, to his stint in the airforce, his rides with the Hell’s Angels, a rather odd journey to Las Vegas, his coverage of political campaigns, and finally to his suicide in Woody Creek. It was a long strange trip, and it’s captured beautifully here. Inspiring storytelling for any budding or accomplished journalist. The story of a great American life.

Great Derangement

The Great Derangement – by Matt Taibbi

To call Matt Taibbi caustic would be something of an understatement. The Rolling Stone political journalist takes on Congress, the U.S. Army in Iraq, the 9/11 Truth Movement, and a mega-church in Texas, and none of them are the better for it. Even while you’re laughing at his sardonic wit, you’re understanding the seriousness of the underlying message.

The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates – by Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell, author of “Assassination Vacation” and public radio regular, has written a wise and witty book about America’s Puritan roots. We meet legendary figures like John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Roger Williams, who created Rhode Island after being banished from Boston by Winthrop and others. Somewhere amidst your laughter at Vowell’s sarcastic take on history, you realize that you’re learning something, and you don’t even mind. The point of course is that these ancient origins continue to inform our daily lives today.


City of Refuge

City of Refuge – by Tom Piazza

Tom Piazza is angry at what happened to his city. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, he wrote “Why New Orleans Matters.” Now he has written a stunning novel of New Orleans on the brink of the storm, and dealing with the fallout afterward. It’s the story of two families, one black, one white, and their very different experiences in the face of the tragedy that changed America forever. This is my favorite novel of the year..

Book of Lies

The Book of Lies – by Brad Meltzer

Meltzer translates his expertise in comic books into a thrilling novel that takes us from Cain’s murder of Abel, to the origins of Superman. The plot revolves around the search for humankind’s seminal murder weapon, and its connection to the shooting death of Jerry Siegel’s father. Siegel reacted by creating a bulletproof superman. It’s all speculation of course, but it’s intensively researched, and all too credible.

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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