Here are six:
1) Out of the Vinyl Deeps by Ellen Willis. For figuring out how to analyze and integrate your own reactions with broader socio-political context into criticism that is personal to the writer and accessible to the reader while being packed with ideas and insight.
2) The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made by Dave Marsh. Broadly speaking, I’ve never been a fan of Dave Marsh. But if you are going to write about music, you’re going to find yourself writing lists and blurbs from time to time (if you are lucky, it’s only from time to time). And I think this is a fantastic primer for the art of blurb writing. Every approach to the blurb is represented here somewhere and done well.
3) Energy Flash: A Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture by Simon Reynolds. The best book I know for figuring out how to explore and articulate emotional meaning of sound. Most music criticism is heavily weighted toward lyrics, and this shows you another way.
4) Mystery Train by Greil Marcus. Shows you how to burrow deeper into a song or artist to turn up something new. Obviously a cornerstone of U.S. pop criticism also.
5) The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa by Evan Eisenberg. The best book I’ve ever read about music and technology and how the interface between the two has changed our hearing. Probably had the strongest reaction to this of any book on music I’ve read, really rewired my brain.
6) Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties by Ian MacDonald. If you write about music for any length of time, you’ll eventually have to grapple with the shifting meaning and quality of a band’s catalogue over time, and this is the best single example I know of to show how it’s done.
I’m basically a blurb-only writer, which is certainly a problem of my own doing, but this list is really inspiring and I can’t wait to check out some of these books, especially Energy Flash.
In the music industry, it’s pretty easy to make an album just because you want to keep going, like, ‘This is the formula.’ But the formula is your life. You have to live your life and you have to live it well—that’s the formula.