Six of the year’s best music books for your last-minute gifting 

'Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine' by Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel. Courtesy: Callaway

It was a great year for new books on music. I was able to get through a giant stack of  them in the last few months in order to choose half a dozen that would make great picks as gifts for yourself, your loved ones, or — if you’re that kind of geeky couple — to share with your partner.      

The Bookworm (3175 28th St., Boulder) is my favorite place to find tomes of all kinds, and their music section is fantastic. Boulder Book Store (1107 Pearl St.) is obviously another great option. But when it comes to the best recent literature on music, my pick is the stealthy Boulder zine Sweet Tooth. An anonymous writer and publisher is intermittently putting out this “love letter to music” at locations around Boulder. Filled with poetic, romantic and thoughtful words on how songs make you feel, consider yourself lucky if you find a copy around town.

Goth: A History by Lol Tolhurst

Original drummer for The Cure, Lol Tolhurst played on nearly all of the legendary alt-rock band’s most iconic albums. He also helped craft its vision, influenced as much by novels and poetry as classic rock. Goth finds Tolhurst brilliantly tracing the music and the fashion of its namesake all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe, not to mention “every downpour of constant rain and gloomy, grey skies” in England. He calls goth “a way to understand the world” by “reveal[ing] our dreads and desires,” diving headfirst into encyclopedic biographies of nearly every artist he considers relevant to the movement, from Sylvia Plath to Nine Inch Nails.

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Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again): A Memoir by Sly Stone with Ben Greenman

Sly Stone’s long-awaited autobiography — which traverses about 60 years of songwriting, performing, drug addiction, spousal abuse, childhood trauma (experienced and inflicted) and much more — is an illuminating and often painful read. It’s as much an unprecedented look at the life of a musical genius as it is a trip through hell. Stone’s friendships with Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix changed music forever, but reading about his treacherous lows, especially his treatment of women, makes this a terrifying thrill ride rather than a jolly trek down memory lane.

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Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Inside Story of the Album That Defined the ’70s by Alan Paul

Alan Paul listened to hundreds of hours of interviews with members of the Allman Brothers Band and extended family to create Brothers and Sisters. The book is as deep a dive into one band’s life and work as Bob Spitz’s 2021 Led Zeppelin: The Biography, even if Brothers and Sisters is about half as long. 

The early, tragic deaths (both by motorcycle accident) of bassist Berry Oakley and  guitarist and bandleader Duane Allman came to mystify the Allman Brothers — Paul goes all the way back to the siblings’ childhood and into the fucked-up glory and stadium-sized stardom of the band’s mid-’70s peak. By the time the Allman Brothers befriended presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, the group was telling the story not just of Southern rock but of America following the countercultural turn of the hippie era.

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The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

You’re damn right I read Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me, shortly after it was published. Just a few of its 275 pages are about music; the writing is pretty poor (especially considering the millions she spent on a ghostwriter); and reading about the many mistakes she made getting into a relationship with cringe-worthy ex-husband Kevin Federline (whom Jimmy Kimmel once called a “no-hit wonder”) makes you want to smack yourself in the face with this book. 

However, the real story of The Woman in Me is that no matter whether you like or even respect Spears, no one deserves the trauma she has been through at the hands of her family. Put under a conservatorship, she essentially became the tortured employee of a father who apparently cared more about alcohol than his children before his Britney got rich. This is a powerful look at one woman’s abuse by the entertainment industry and the people who should’ve been her caretakers rather than captors.

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Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine by Mark Davidson and Parker Fishel

Never, that I know of, has a coffee-table book included not just captivating images and blurbs to flip through but so many diverse essays and interviews with depth and exquisite poignance. Traversing every era and aspect of Dylan’s life, from childhood in Minnesota to unveiling his blacksmithing prowess and his longest song (2020’s “Murder Most Foul”), Mixing Up the Medicine is like a 12-hour guided tour of Tulsa’s Bob Dylan Center, right on your couch.

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Hip Hop Family Tree: The Omnibus by Ed Piskor

The beautiful illustration, razor-sharp criticism and entertaining scenes in Ed Piskor’s sprawling Hip Hop Family Tree make it a must-read for all music lovers. But this volume is especially relevant as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. It would take over 1,000 pages of a regular book to tell the history of the artform’s early days with this much detail, but Piskor glues the reader to each colorful page of this historical graphic novel with passion, class and humor. His depictions of Russell Simmons as a lisping grifter and Rick Rubin as a spoiled-rotten rich kid with good taste are laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s the devoted, loving histories of groups like The Furious Five and The Treacherous Three that make this hip-hop education truly special.