Robert Johnson Lost and Found by Barry Lee & Bill McCulloch
Robert Johnson Lost and Found
Barry Lee Pearson & Bill McCulloch

If you dig deep enough into rock 'n' roll, you're on a freight train headed straight for the blues. -- Jack White

There's something incredibly powerful about the effect of music on our psyche. Put on your favorite album and you're bound to feel better. Regardless of genre - as everyone has their own distinct taste when it comes to music - when the perfect song is heard, it gets deep into your bones and sticks with you. Like a good book, a song can take you back to a moment in your life, remind you of a place or your favorite person.

The list of books presented here highlights the history behind some of the most popular genres but certainly doesn't capture all music categories. Although there are many different genres and subgenres of music, the relationship between the genres are usually subtle and they blend together. The blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, punk, country and hip hop are all looked at in detail with the selected books on this page and will give the reader a better understanding of how these types of music came about.

The blues genre originated in African-American communities in the American south around the end of the 19th century and influenced many other genres of music including rock 'n' roll, jazz and hip hop. Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton and Son House were all prominent and influential bluesmen who helped shaped this style of music.

To get to the roots of rock 'n' roll, Robert Palmer's book Rock & Roll: an Unruly History addresses various moments in rock and roll lore and highlights the milestones and intimate stories beneath the music. The Rolling Stones Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll is the quintessential tome for any rock 'n' roll enthusiast.

Whether your heart lies in the American south, honky tonk joints or the inner city, these books about the history of musical genres will be music to your ears and eyes.

 

Related Video

See our Review of R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country Play Video



Blues

The Blues: A Very Short Introduction by Elijah Wald
The Blues: A Very Short Introduction
by Elijah Wald

Explores the role of blues in the development of both country music and jazz; and looks at the popular rhythm and blues trends of the 1940s and 1950s.
Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta by Robert Palmer
Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta
by Robert Palmer

A musical and cultural history of the blues, from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago's south side and the world beyond.
The Devilís Music: A History of the Blues by Giles Oakley
The Devilís Music: A History of the Blues
by Giles Oakley

Describes the texture of the life that made the blues possible, and the changing attitudes toward the music.
Blues People: Negro Music in White America by Leroi Jones
Blues People: Negro Music in White America
by Leroi Jones

Classic work on the place of jazz and blues in American social, musical, economic, and cultural history.
The Land Where the Blues Began by Alan Lomax
The Land Where the Blues Began
by Alan Lomax

Follows the roots of the blues, telling what it was like recording in the Deep South in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rock 'n' Roll

The History of Rock - Edited by Parragon Books
The History of Rock
edited by Parragon Books

Chronicles over six decades of key events in rock, punk, metal, and more, featuring profiles of 100 groundbreaking artists.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll edited by Holly George-Warren
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll
edited by Holly George-Warren

Reveal the performers' musical influences, first breaks, critical and commercial hits and misses.
The Secret History of Rock n Roll by Christopher Knowles
The Secret History of Rock n Roll
by Christopher Knowles

Traces the development of rock's most popular genres.
Rock & Roll: An Unruly History by Robert Palmer
Rock & Roll: An Unruly History
by Robert Palmer

Various moments in rock and roll history, stopping to point out highlights, milestones, and intimate stories beneath the music.
The Chitliní Circuit: And the Road to Rock ní Roll by Preston Lauterbach
The Chitliní Circuit: And the Road to Rock ní Roll
by Preston Lauterbach

History of the network of black juke joints that spawned rock 'n' roll through an unholy alliance between vice and entertainment.

Jazz

The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia
The History of Jazz
by Ted Gioia

Considered a classic book of the genre, portrays the legendary jazz players, the breakthrough styles, and the world in which it evolved.
Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History by Robert Walser
Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History
by Robert Walser

Covers nearly 100 years of jazz history and is filled with insightful writing and gives voice to a wide range of perspectives.
Hear Me Talkiní to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It by Nat Shapiro
Hear Me Talkiní to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It
by Nat Shapiro

Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday trace the birth, growth, and changes in jazz over the years.
A History of Jazz in America by Barry Ulanov
A History of Jazz in America
by Barry Ulanov

Looks at how jazz started, major centers of jazz music, jazz musicians and discusses some of the styles of the music.
Visions of Jazz: The First Century by Gary Giddins
Visions of Jazz: The First Century
by Gary Giddins

Offers seventy-nine chapters illuminating the lives of virtually all the major figures in jazz history.

Hip-Hop

Yes Yes YíAll: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hopís First Decade by Jim Fricke
Yes Yes YíAll: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hopís First Decade
by Jim Fricke

Fricke weaves an electric narrative from the accounts of over 50 of hip-hop's founders and stars, old school and new.
Canít Stop Wonít Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
Canít Stop Wonít Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
by Jeff Chang

Based on hundreds of interviews, Chang offers colorful profiles of the lives and influences of "the trinity of hip-hop music".
The Vibe History of Hip Hop by Vibe Magazine
The Vibe History of Hip Hop
by Vibe Magazine

Serves both as a fact-heavy primer and a passionate critical missive aimed straight for fans' hearts.
Hip Hop America by Nelson George
Hip Hop America
by Nelson George

The history of hip hop from its roots in the late 1970s to its emergence as the cultural force that today influences everything.
The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley & Andrew DuBois
The Anthology of Rap
by Adam Bradley & Andrew DuBois

Brings together more than three hundred lyrics written over thirty years, from the 'old school' to the 'golden age' to the present day.

Country

Country Music, U.S.A. by Bill C. Malone
Country Music, U.S.A.
by Bill C. Malone

Starting with the music's folk roots in the rural South, it traces country music from the early days of radio to the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock Ďní Roll by Nick Tosches
Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock Ďní Roll
by Nick Tosches

Reveals a wild shadowland of history that encompasses blackface minstrels and yodeling cowboys; honky-tonk hell and rockabilly heaven.
In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music by Nicholas Dawidoff
In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music
by Nicholas Dawidoff

An exploration of the performers, places, and experiences which form country music--a genre which is uniquely and authentically American.
Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000 by Mary A. Bufwack
Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000
by Mary A. Bufwack

Documents the lives of the female artists who have shaped the music for over two hundred years.
The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to Music by Country Music Hall of Fame
The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to Music
by Country Music Hall of Fame

Nearly 1,300 alphabetical entries put eight decades of country music at readers' fingertips.

Punk

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
by Legs McNeil

The first oral history of the most nihilist of all pop movements.
Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock Ďní Roll by Nick Tosches
From the Velvets to the Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World
by Clinton Heylin

This book explores the origins and evolution of the fiery history of punk and New Wave.
England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond by Jon Savage
England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond
by Jon Savage

An entertaining, exhaustive chronological history of punk rock and politics through 1980.
Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon
Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
by John Lydon

Much more than just a music book, Rotten is an oral history of punk: angry, witty, honest, and crackling with energy.
A Cultural History of Punk by Nicholas Rombes
A Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1974-1982
by Nicholas Rombes

An obsessive, exhaustively researched, and sometimes deeply personal portrait of the many ways in which punk was an artistic, cultural, and political expression of defiance.

See our Review of R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country



What music books are missing from this list?


More to Discover




The Worst Children in Literature Minimalist Book Covers Haruki Murakami