Providing a unique opportunity to glimpse into the minds of rock’n’roll’s most legendary figures, the best music autobiographies serve as a reminder of just how much these icons have shaped popular culture. From blues-rock journeyman Eric Clapton to genre-shaping visionary David Bowie, these memoirs delve deep into their authors’ psyches, going beyond their stage-based antics to explore their upbringing and give us a behind-the-scenes insight into their experiences of fame and stardom. Here, then, are the best music autobiographies – books that provide an intimate look at the lives and careers of some of the industry’s most legendary figures.
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20: Chrissie Hynde: ‘Reckless: My Life As A Pretender’ (2015)
Reckless: My Life As A Pretender, by Chrissie Hynde, is a humorous and frank account of the new wave era songwriter’s life story. Known for her incomparable voice, style and attitude, Hynde weaves a witty and colourful narrative that follows her career journey from Akron, Ohio, to London in the 70s, where she formed Pretenders. Hynde candidly describes her harrowing experiences with grief following the deaths of bandmates James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, and reveals intimate details about her exploration of music, love and identity. Full of vivid storytelling, Reckless is a sharp-witted and eye-opening read among the best music autobiographies.
19: John Densmore: ‘Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison And The Doors’ (1990)
Taking readers on a journey through his experiences as a founding member of The Doors, drummer John Densmore’s memoir, Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison And The Doors, preceded the release of Oliver Stone’s 1991 Doors biopic, starring Val Kilmer. Given that Densmore acted as a consultant for that film, it’s hardly a surprise to discover that his memoir is just as compelling, recalling the time he spent making music with one of the best rock frontmen of all time, Jim Morrison, along with bandmates Ray Manzarek (keyboards) and Robby Krieger (guitar). The drummer guides readers through the wild ride of The Doors’ Los Angeles origins and on to their ascent as classic rock’s warrior kings. Readers will be fascinated by Densmore’s candid revelations about living in the eye of the storm that was the 60s counterculture, replete with details about all aspects of his life during that era, as well as reflecting upon how it shaped who he is today.
18: Debbie Harry: ‘Face It: A Memoir’ (2019)
Covering everything from her CBGB-era punk beginnings in the 70s, as the frontwoman for Blondie, to her various side projects as an actress and solo artist, Debbie Harry’s memoir, Face It, is a typically provocative account of her rise to frame. Unafraid to share secrets and embarrassing moments from her life – from details about her wild romantic relationships to discussing her struggles with heroin addiction, Harry’s frankness makes Face It a truly eye-opening read. Offering a window into her deep insights into how she fought bouts of depression, the book is a truly self-reflective primer on how to maintain a sense of confidence while navigating the darker aspects of fame.
17: Neil Young: ‘Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream’ (2012)
A gold rush of memories, Neil Young’s memoir Waging Heavy Peace is an idiosyncratic and non-linear retelling of the singer-songwriter’s life. One of the best music autobiographies of recent years, it details the ups and downs of Young’s career, from his days as a folk-rock pioneer to becoming one of the best songwriters of all time. Through this book, readers get to see how the Canadian rocker has infused his music with personal stories and emotions that transcend generations. Speaking candidly about his passion for recording music and writing songs that have become evergreen classics, Young reflects on both his successes and failures, offering valuable lessons on how to be creative without compromising your values or goals. His words will inspire any budding creative.
16: Rod Stewart: ‘Rod: The Autobiography’ (2012)
Rod Stewart’s memoir, Rod: The Autobiography, is an entertaining and amusing story that goes beyond handbags and gladrags to follow Stewart’s career path from London mod to world-renowned rock star. The former Faces frontman and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? hitmaker recounts his rollicking journey with impish humour, his natural charisma shining through every page as he reflects on the struggles and successes he has experienced during his long career. Throughout it all, while recounting stories about early influences such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, Stewart remains self-deprecating and witty while never forgetting to mention those who have helped him along the way.
15: Eric Clapton: ‘Clapton: The Autobiography’ (2007)
The music industry is filled with legends, but few have had as big an impact as Eric Clapton. With a career spanning almost six decades, Clapton’s influence on popular music has been profound and enduring, so it’s hardly a surprise that his autobiography is also remarkable. Already known for his virtuoso guitar talents, Clapton’s writing style is accessible and heart-rending, containing stories such as the tragic death of his four-year-old son and his personal triumph of overcoming alcoholism. By candidly detailing his difficult upbringing, his childhood struggles with abandonment and identity, and the romantic relationships that defined different stages of his life, this is a must-read among the best music autobiographies.
14: Bob Dylan: ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ (2004)
Bob Dylan, the era-defining songwriter, caused a cultural earthquake when he released Chronicles: Volume One. Often cryptic and mysterious in his lyrics, nobody expected Dylan to reflect upon his life and career as eruditely as he does here, running as he does through a series of honest and introspective stories and recollections. From his early days as an up-and-coming folk musician in New York City’s Greenwich Village to his rise to global stardom and the subsequent demands of living with the baggage of the “voice of his generation” tag, Dylan offers an intimate look at how his journey has shaped him both as an artist and a human being. An enlightening entry among the best music autobiographies, Chronicles: Volume One has a raw honesty that captures the essence of Dylan’s unique voice, providing readers with an insight into the mind of one of a truly world-changing artist.
13: Keith Richards: ‘Life’ (2010)
It goes without saying that Keith Richards is the ultimate rock’n’roll survivor. Giving us a first-hand look at the wild world of The Rolling Stones, the legendary guitarist’s biography, Life, chronicles his life from childhood to adulthood and everything in between, including his humble beginnings growing up in Dartford, England, and international fame as the spiritual figurehead of one of the British Invasion’s most notorious rock bands. An intimate portrait of Richards’ personal journey through celebrity, Life features stories about Richards’ escapades with Mick Jagger, as well as his headline-grabbing experiences with drugs. In addition to humorous anecdotes about life on the road, the guitarist talks candidly about how he was able to emerge from addiction intact and how music has been a source of solace throughout his life.
12: Phil Collins: ‘Not Dead Yet: The Autobiography’ (2016)
Phil Collins’ autobiography, Not Dead Yet, is an honest recount of his life and career. From the start, Collins speaks openly about his upbringing – he was drawn to music from an early age, taking up the drums at five years old and eventually becoming the drummer for prog-rock band Genesis. Written with great humility, the book moves between periods in Collins’ life, discussing his experiences with divorce as well as his professional successes, such as recording with Genesis and launching a successful solo career. Whether speaking about recording sessions or touring experiences, it becomes clear that Collins has lived an extraordinary life full of unique moments that have helped shape him into the star we know today.
11: Peter Hook: ‘Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division’ (2012)
As the bassist for Joy Division – one of the most influential post-punk bands of the late 70s – Peter Hook provides an intimate look at the band’s rise to prominence in Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. Through a series of personal reflections, he takes readers behind the scenes to explore how Joy Division created its foreboding sound. Revealing unknown details about life on tour and what it was like working alongside frontman Ian Curtis, who committed suicide at age 23, the book offers captivating accounts of the band’s turbulent history. Through Hook’s words, we come to understand why Joy Division was so special – they were able to take dark themes such as death and despair and turn them into something beautiful through their music. Having penned one of the best music biographies of all time, Hook then went and did it all over again with a follow-up. Substance: Inside New Order, which continues the story of his game-changing career.
10: David Bowie with Mick Rock: ‘Moonage Daydream: The Life And Times Of Ziggy Stardust’ (2002)
Moonage Daydream: The Life And Times Of Ziggy Stardust is a captivating visual biography documenting the incredible rise to fame of one of music’s most influential figures. Alongside extraordinary photographs by Mick Rock, the ever mysterious David Bowie himself recounts his creative journey from glam-rock provocateur to art-rock Renaissance man, providing an insightful look into his genius and offering a rare glimpse into the work he created in the 70s. Capturing the energy and spirit of Ziggy Stardust’s artistic inception, Moonage Daydream truly highlights how Bowie’s contributions to popular culture profoundly affected music for generations to come.
9: Johnny Marr: ‘Set The Boy Free: The Autobiography’ (2016)
Set The Boy Free, the autobiography of The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr, serves as an incredible and honest look at the indie sensation’s life. Following Marr from his childhood in Manchester, England, to becoming one of the best guitarists of all time, the book vividly recounts his experience teaming up with Morrissey to form The Smiths, and how the pair revolutionised the 80s indie-rock scene. Weaving together tales from throughout his life – growing up as a working-class kid on a council estate; falling in love with the guitar – Marr’s autobiography offers a definitive take on how he did the unthinkable and made guitar music cool again.
8: Nile Rodgers: ‘Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny’ (2011)
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny invites readers to learn more about the life of one of the world’s most influential musicians – the guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers. From his early days as a session musician to becoming a gatekeeper of funk and disco as the guitarist for Chic, Rodgers tells a rich and captivating story, drawing from his unconventional upbringing as well as his personal accounts of mental-health issues, and substance abuse. An intimate look at how the genre-defying artist found success despite life’s many roadblocks (he would go on to produce records for David Bowie, Duran Duran and Madonna, and collaborate with Daft Punk on the globe-straddling hit Get Lucky), Rodgers strings together anecdotes that are both funny and heartbreaking, and his free-spirited energy sees him faithfully recapture moments of joy and sorrow through vivid accounts of his career highs and lows.
7: Stephen Morris: ‘Record Play Pause: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist’ (2019)
Much like his bandmate Peter Hook, drummer Stephen Morris’ memoir Record Play Pause is an account of Joy Division’s early punk and post-punk days in 70s Britain. Through his personal recollections, readers gain an inside view into what it was like for Morris to be part of the musical revolution Joy Division engendered, as the drummer offers a glimpse into his childhood in Macclesfield, as well as his teenage years spent largely discovering music and exploring the sounds that would define him for years to come. From getting his first drum set at 14, through to recording with Joy Division, this memoir provides a candid look at how post-punk began. Record Play Pause also has a sequel, Fast Forward, which takes the story into the New Order era and also deserves a mention among the best music autobiographies.
6: Rob Halford: ‘Confess: The Autobiography’ (2020)
Rob Halford, the lead singer of the heavy metal band Judas Priest, gave fans a raw and honest look at his life in his autobiography, Confess. As he reflects on his career, personal struggles and relationships, it’s easy to see why Halford has become an icon for heavy metal music over the years, so diehard fans of Judas Priest will definitely want to pick up this book and read more about the man behind some of their favourite songs. Confess offers an in-depth look into Halford’s surprisingly multi-faceted life, with plenty of stories about his time in Judas Priest, touring the world, coming out as a pioneering LGBTQ+ icon and dealing with addiction issues. Halford also talks candidly about how it felt to be a rock star in a genre that wasn’t always accepted by mainstream society. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of heavy metal, this book is an insightful entry among the best music biographies.
5: Ozzy Osbourne: ‘I Am Ozzy’ (2009)
As the “Godfather Of Heavy Metal”, Ozzy Osbourne uses I Am Ozzy as a chance to run through his thrilling and tumultuous career, allowing fans to get a deeper look at his life as he recounts all his ups and downs in an honest and often humorous way. Written in a conversational style that feels as though you’re sitting with a long-lost friend, I Am Ozzy gives readers insight into what it was like growing up in post-war England, becoming the frontman for hard-rock giants Black Sabbath, dealing with drug addiction and depression, and finding success again with solo hits such as Crazy Train. Osbourne also dives into his latter years, discussing his family and how his wife, Sharon, is responsible for putting him on the path to sobriety.
4: Nick Mason: ‘Inside Out: A Personal History Of Pink Floyd’ (2004)
Inside Out: A Personal History Of Pink Floyd, by drummer Nick Mason, is a must-read for any fan of the iconic band. In this first-hand account of the group’s history, Mason recounts Pink Floyd’s incredible journey, from their early psychedelic-rock days to their massive prog-rock successes in the 70s and 80s. With vivid detail, Mason takes readers through every major moment in the group’s history, including the stories behind their first hit single, Arnold Layne, and their ambitious concept album The Wall. Throughout, Mason paints an evocative picture of life inside one of Britain’s most renowned bands, not only addressing the creative process but also shedding light on moments of joy and camaraderie, when his bandmates supported each other during some of the toughest times. It’s an engaging and fascinating read.
3: Bruce Springsteen: ‘Born To Run’ (2016)
Born To Run is a testament to Bruce Springsteen’s personal resilience and his unwavering commitment to the spirit of rock’n’roll. Chronicling The Boss’ early days growing up in New Jersey, as well as his rise to fame as the lead songwriter in The E Street Band, it’s an emotional journey from the man’s own viewpoint, filled with both joy and sorrow. As well as Springsteen’s recollections of life on tour, we also get honest accounts of his long-standing relationships with family members. From tales of personal struggles and career triumphs to reflections on the power of music in our lives, Born To Run is one of the best music autobiographies out there, regardless of whether you’re a Springsteen fan or not.
2: Elton John: ‘Me’ (2019)
Elton John’s Me is a witty and self-effacing autobiography that traces the life of one of Britain’s greatest songwriters. Covering decades of John’s emotional ups and downs, the book offers revealing accounts of his drug addiction, his troubled love life and his struggle to come to terms with his sexuality, as well as his career as a celebrated singer-songwriter. With behind-the-scenes stories about how some of his best-loved songs were written, John speaks most profoundly about the impact fame has had on him, and Me explores themes such as loneliness and depression to great effect. A companion piece to the 2019 biopic Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton, Me does wonders in capturing the essence of Elton John.
1: Anthony Kiedis: ‘Scar Tissue’ (2004)
Anthony Kiedis’ memoir, Scar Tissue, is a revealing and no-holds-barred account of the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman’s life. Following Kiedis through both tremendous career success and deep personal pain, readers will discover the highs and lows of a life lived on the edge – expect rampant substance abuse, wild sexual escapades, broken relationships and many other extreme experiences. Kiedis writes candidly about his struggles with addiction as well as his spiritual journey to sobriety while balancing his personal life with the demands of being in one of the best 90s bands. Kiedis also shares stories from his unconventional childhood growing up in Los Angeles, where fame was always nearby – he even recounts once being babysat by Sonny And Cher. In the end, Scar Tissue is a heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting read, as Kiedis eventually finds peace through self-acceptance and redemption. And that’s why it tops our list of the best rock autobiographies.