12 Of The Best Music Memoirs

Alan McGee – Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label
In an alternative universe there’s a book called The Man Who Discovered Oasis – and that title alone would be enough to ensure you handed over your money. In this reality, however, it’s Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label – which goes some way in explaining the extraordinary life Alan McGee has lived aside from his crowning discovery. Long before that fateful night at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, McGee was a recording artist, record label owner, club promoter, band manager, A&R man, and even enjoyed a brief stint as an entrepreneurial paperboy. Written at a pace befitting the drug-fuelled chaos that surrounds the events therein, McGee checks off virtually every touchstone of British guitar music from the 80s onwards. From punk to The Jesus and Mary Chain, C86 to Madchester, Britpop to The Libertines, he somehow recalls being at the epicentre of it all; in so doing he not only tells his life story, but also manages to record something of the social history of ‘Indie’ music in all its permutations. Chris Hardy

Anthony Kiedis – Scar Tissue
I defy anyone to read Anthony Kiedis’s searingly honest and sharply-written memoir and not come out of it with an ounce or two of respect for the man. Kiedis doesn’t shirk away from the responsibility of his actions or mistakes, nor conveniently forget certain ugly details in favour of other, softer truths – he simply recounts. The media have consistently written about Scar Tissue as a drug memoir. However laudably they’ve done so, they’ve also missed the point. This book isn’t about drugs; it’s about life. It shows, beyond doubt, that The Red Hot Chilli Peppers are as devoted musicians as can be, because if these reckless young funk-heads didn’t make it in music, they would (quite literally) have lived out the rest of their days shooting heroin in squats where the ceiling leaked on their faces at night, and tarpaulin was the only duvet you could hope for. For Kiedis and his ilk, music is simply everything there is – you don’t have to be a Chilli Peppers fan to find a heartening truth in that. Pete Cary

Johnny Cash – Cash: The Autobiography 
Ever wondered what it would be like to go for a beer with Johnny Cash? Read Cash: The Autobiography , a book written so beautifully conversationally you find yourself thinking in Cash’s melodic Southern drawl for hours after. His matter-of-fact style of story telling is comforting and gripping; on putting it down you have the same feeling as you do when you need to pee during an awesome pub convo – you know you’ll definitely miss something. His journey is a both a spiritual and positive one, even in his darkest days. And his relationship with his family is far less tempestuous than Walk The Line would have you think. As wonderful as the movie is, if you want to meet the real Man in Black, a man beautifully obsessed with music, his wife and good times, then you read this. Kate Tittley

Miles Davis – Miles: The Autobiography
“Listen. The greatest feeling I ever had in my life – with my clothes on – was when I first heard Diz and Bird together in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 1944.” Hands down, Miles Davis wins the prize for best opening line of all time. Considering the impact he’s had on the entirety of western music over the last sixty-something years (plus), even the first word has a resonance that’s hard to beat. Mesmerising and dizzying at once, passages on any given page might run through near-biblical lists of names of the musicians and hustlers who made up the milieu of this explosive figure’s extraordinary life. Davis was as jealous and controlling as they come, as he recounts in his refusal to let girlfriend (later wife) Frances Taylor pursue her dancing career. But he was also loving and charismatic, and probably uses the word ‘mutherfucker’ in as many different combinations as you could possibly think of without ever being vulgar or gratuitous. A music biography masterpiece. Pete Cary

Morrissey – Autobiography
If you think that Morrissey is a bitter old queen, then this may not be the book for you. He takes a sweep at everyone he meets, and a sadistic (but hilarious) delight in making those brave enough to interview him feel extremely uncomfortable. Love him or hate him, this is an intimate and personal account of how Stephen Patrick Morrissey became Morrissey, and it’s bound to be unlike any other musical memoir you’ve ever read; hardly any of it is dedicated to the actual writing and recording of the songs that we instantly associate with the man himself, but in their absence, we learn of his troubled childhood in Manchester, the struggles of growing up, and the recurring battles with his old friends Rough Trade Records – not to mention a ranty middle section on his legal battle with former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. A modern classic indeed. Abbi Parcell

Mötley Crüe – The Dirt
Defending your favourite book at university is always a heated and passionate debate. But while everyone had Keats, Yeats and Wilde on their side, I passionately argued for the work of Neal, Mars, Lee and Sixx. The Dirt, Crüe’s warts-and-all exposé of their three decades in music is a fucking emotional roller coaster. There’s the tough childhoods, poverty, depression, depraved depths of addiction and death. But along with these crippling lows, the highs – oh, god the highs  are amazing. Featuring cameos from Ozzy in Sharon’s dress, Eddie Van Halen’s nipple, Bruce Dickinson’s girlfriend, and a curious incident with a telephone, whatever your thoughts are on the band I defy you not to find this entertaining and compellingly written. Paired with Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries you have the ultimate guide to 80’s decadence and despair. Unafraid to admit their own dick-ery, I love the Crüe. Kate Tittley

Patti Smith – Just Kids
Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe after moving to New York, in 1966; both aged 20, penniless and with high artistic ambitions, they became inseparable: friends, lovers and soulmates. They supported each other practically, emotionally and creatively, and it was Robert who first nudged Patti to turn her poems into songs. Even as Robert realised he was gay, their relationship shifted but their unconditional connection remained. Before Robert died of AIDS aged 42, Patti promised to tell their story. More than a classic lurid rock memoir, the beautiful Just Kids is a poignant love story and a study in becoming an artist. Still, our heroes came of age in New York’s bohemian heyday, so there’s no shortage of Hendrixes, Ginsbergs, Joplins and the like snaking their colourful trail through the pages. Smith writes with grace and humour, not only of Mapplethorpe but of life and the many players in it as the pair found their feet and forged their paths to stardom. Rosie James

Peter Hook – Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
“On the one hand, it was absolutely magnificent. On the other hand, I ended up an alcoholic”, states former Joy Division and New Order bassist, Peter Hook, in Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. Lifting the romanticised lid on Joy Division’s desperate clutch at fame, Hooky manages to capture the fierce tale of devastating woe and juxtaposed excitement surrounding the late Ian Curtis – “Ha, you wankers, I’m pissing in your room”. Although the book is littered with laugh-out-loud anecdotes,including one scene where Hook is branded the Yorkshire Ripper, Unknown Pleasures is primarily riddled with overwhelming guilt. Hook accuses himself and fellow band members of “selfishness, stupidity, wilful ignorance”. Layered with regret and bitter confusion – “It [Curtis’ suicide] just makes no fucking sense at all” – Peter Hooks’ Unknown Pleasures captures this iconic band in a brutally truthful yet brilliant light. A must-read for Joy Division fans. Ella Scott

Shane MacGowan – A Drink with Shane MacGowan
Written in the form of a conversation with his long-term partner – and co-author – Victoria Mary Clarke, this memoir of sorts is the closest most of us will get to sharing an intimate chat down the pub with the Pogues frontman. The Irish singer is an engaging and honest raconteur, whether reminiscing about his childhood in Tipperary (where he developed a taste for stout at the tender age of five before progressing to whiskey a few years later) or recalling his years as a teenage punk and die-hard Sex Pistols fan. Throughout the book, Shane’s candour and willingness to discuss anything and everything thrown at him allow the reader a rare insight into the mind of one of the most original and articulate minds in music. When discussing what makes a great bloke, MacGowan’s reply speaks volumes about his own character: “My criteria for somebody being a great bloke is pretty simple. A great bloke is entertaining, generous, can hold his drink, is unafraid to admit to being a homosexual or a junkie or a criminal or  wanker.”  Paul Sng

Slash – Slash: The Autobiography
Despite finding success with Velvet Revolver and Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators since leaving Guns N’ Roses, Slash will never escape the shadow of his former band. The iconic guitarist charts his early years playing in various LA bands, before joining forces with Axl Rose et al and going on to become The Most Dangerous Band in the World™. As Slash narrates the perils of rock ‘n’ roll decadence in gory detail, it soon becomes obvious why doctors had to install a defibrillator to keep his heart beating in 2001. Clean and sober since 2005, he nevertheless recognises that the mayhem and chaos that resulted from the band’s hell-raising was a vital ingredient: “Guns was a band that might break apart at any second; that was half the excitement”. On the break-up of the classic Guns line-up, Slash cites his deteriorating relationship with Axl as a major reason for his departure: “”I’ve always had to do things my way; I play guitar my way; I’ve taken myself to the edges of life my way; I’ve gotten clean my way; And I’m still here.” Bazza Mills

Tim Burgess – Telling Stories
“Come see me in the morning, can’t you see I’m telling stories”. Lyrics from ‘Tellin’ Stories’, one of my favourite Charlatans songs taken from the album of the same name. It’s also the title of the brilliant memoir by frontman Tim Burgess. The Charlatans lead singer takes the reader through his own music as well as reminiscing over many of the artists who have inspired him down the years: “Without Paul Weller in my life it would have been significantly less rich.” I think there are a few of us Weller fans that can relate to that… At times, the author’s honesty is has the capacity to shock more sensitive readers: “I remember a phase when the band got into a novel way of taking coke. To be precise, we discovered the process of blowing cocaine up each other’s arses”. Bazza Mills

Tracey Thorn – Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star
The self-deprecating title gives a clue to the wit, wisdom and lack of ego within this book, almost as if the woman behind ’90s mega-hit ‘Missing’ doesn’t quite feel comfortable admitting her success out loud. Tracey Thorn’s elegant lack of hyperbole continues whether she is depicting the moment of first meeting her partner (in life and in music) Ben Watt, fleeing from screaming Italian teenagers, huddling in a Hull phone box to take calls from Paul Weller, or happily sidelining it all to be a mum. Impressively, without skimping on the entertainment value of her life in music – from lo-fi cult heroines Marine Girls to the yoyo-like career of Everything But The Girl – Thorn still manages to articulate in plain, human terms why it can be such a discombobulating, identity-skewing experience. In prose as in song, she tells it with a natural, minimalistic magnetism. Rosie James

Paul Sng

Paul Sng

Editor-at-large, Brighton. Likes: Lee Hazlewood, Lee Hazlewood songs and Lee Hazlewood's moustache Dislikes: Celery, crap nostalgia and people who raise their voice when speaking as if they're asking a question?