Audiobooks are perfect for anyone who prefers listening to reading, especially when it comes to the likes of Keith Richards and Debbie Harry talking about their heroin use, or Henry Rollins explaining the link between Nirvana and the Flamin’ Groovies. Our guide to the best audiobooks about music isn’t extensive, but it’s a jumping-off point, covering a range of genres from rock ’n’ roll to gangster rap.
Audible is the go-to for audiobooks, and new customers can nab a free 30-day trial. Most entries in our guide to the best audiobooks about music average around eight to nine hours in length, so you’ll get through a fair few during your free trial. Audible isn’t the only audiobook provider by any means, so you’ll also find music audiobooks on sites like Simply Audiobooks, Nook Audiobooks, and Audio Bookstore.
Some of the choices below also feature in our roundup of the best books about music ever written, but hopefully you’ll come across something new too. And if you like to mix up how you devour books, check out our guide to the best eReaders too. For now, let’s get you started with some great audiobooks about music, beginning with one that has Bob Dylan’s seal of approval…
The best audiobooks about music: Louder’s choice
The King has been immortalised in many books, but Bob Dylan reckons none captures the Mississippi-born rock’n’roll trailblazer quite like Peter Guralnick’s biography. “Elvis steps from the pages. You can feel him breathe,” Dylan gushed.
Last Train To Memphis is based on hundreds of interviews and over 10 years of research. It rockets along from Elvis’s birth, and noses around his fledgling Sun Records recordings and early hits such as That’s All Right and Heartbreak Hotel. Grammy-winner Guralnick draws on words from the man himself, as well as those closest to Elvis during his first 24 years.
Regardless of whether you dig Elvis Presley’s music or not, if you want to see how a star is born, bred and bottled, and what an unshakeable, almost mystical self-faith can conjure, this is the best audiobook to download now.
Listen to a clip from Last Train To Memphis: The Rise Of Elvis Presley
Why do we rate this as the best audiobook for music fans? Because to many, The Beatles are music. More a collection of spoken essays than a straight music audiobook, Revolution In The Head drops you smack-bang into the experimental 60s, and nerds out on all things ‘Beatles songs’. Ian MacDonald bled ink as Assistant Editor of the NME from 1972-75, and has left no stone unturned in his research here.
This audiobook is an almost claustrophobically close look at the biggest Beatles juggernauts and early noodlings, and has been updated to include material from the Anthology series, plus The Beatles Live at the BBC. MacDonald often lets rip with the songwriting terminology, but the wealth of knowledge packed into this book is impressive.
Revolution In The Head begins with The Beatles’ amateur recordings in 1957, and lowers the curtain on 1995’s Real Love. If you think you know everything about every Beatles song, this audiobook might just have a surprise or two in store for you.
Listen to a clip from Revolution In The Head
Michael Azerrad has committed to paper some of the finest words ever written about the American indie underground, so no surprises that Our Band Could Be Your Life is the best audiobook about the movement. Corey Taylor (Slipknot / Stone Sour), Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and others narrate, unbolting the garage doors on a transformative moment in music history.
While the touch paper was lit in America, the impact of this movement hit far and wide, with Black Flag, Minor Threat, Fugazi and others challenging the status quo. Our Band Could Be Your Life chronicles the period of 1981-1991, and looks at the politics, drugs, bands and labels that shaped the American indie underground at that time.
Spanning over 21-hours in length, this is a meaty music audiobook for sure, but one that will immerse you, face first, into the sweat-drenched mosh pits of the 80s to very early 90s, and the musical fire that erupted from within them.
Listen to a clip from Our Band Could Be Your Life
Like a certain other audiobook in this list, Life by Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards often reads like a window into a different time, one where women were referred to as “chicks”, and where you were the odd one out if Jack Daniel’s and cocaine weren’t one of your major food groups. Keef’s audiobook swaggers confidently into drug memoir territory, but there’s more to it than tongue-numbing excess. And thank god, because we’ve heard so many of these stories before.
As one of rock’n’roll’s true guitar legends, Richards has lived an enormous part of his life caught in the flash and glare of stage lights and paparazzi alike. But in Life he takes us back to a childhood spent in post-war Kent, where he later wore the wax thin on Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records. We’re with him when he forms a band with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, when he steals Anita Pallenberg from Jones, and when he writes the Satisfaction riff (and plenty other Stones belters).
Tax exile, the death of Jones, feuds with Jagger, guitar porn, hero worship, heroin, a chaotic personal life… it’s all here, and now you get to hear granddad Richards tell you about it in that slow, deep rasp that’s almost as famous as his favourite (butterscotch) blonde, Micawber the Telecaster.
Listen to a clip from Life
Reckon you’ve been caught in some embarrassing situations by your parents? Try having your mother tweeze crabs out of your pubic hair. Yeah. That was Viv Albertine’s lot, and we thank every rock god that it didn’t happen to us. Albertine, of course, played guitar in all-girl punk band The Slits, was pals with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious before they were anyone of note, and blazed a fiery trail for others to follow.
“‘Punk’ was the only time I fitted in.” She wrote. “Just one tiny sliver of time where it was acceptable to say what you thought.” Amen to that. The book delivers on its title in spades, so we see into every corner of Albertine’s life, including her struggle to be taken seriously as a musician, rightly savaging hecklers at her solo gigs, and surviving an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Albertine’s no-shit formula works just as well in audiobook form as it does on stage. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys grabs you by the hand and walks you through major moments in her life. This is no self-aggrandising, conventional rock memoir – it’s a crabs-and-all look at a woman carving out her own space, dealing with her shit (and there is some terrible shit at times), and serving up a big middle finger to anyone who tells her “No”.
Listen to a clip from Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys
Comedy and heavy metal collide in Andrew O’Neill’s look at the birth of the genre, many of the bands that forged it into shape, and the fractions that plunged it into darkness. A History of Heavy Metal began as a stand-up show, appearing at Download and Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, before it was expanded and transfigured into book form.
Legends of Lemmy, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden and Metallica get an airing in this eight-hour+ audiobook, with O’Neill also surfing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), and looking at the arson and murder-pocked Norwegian black metal scene. This isn’t a definitive guide to the entire-history-of-heavy-metal-that-ever-was, but it’s amusing and might inspire you to dust off your old Anthrax records.
Read our A History of Heavy Metal review
Listen to a clip from A History Of Heavy Metal
Even ‘back then’, there was so much wrong with The Dirt. We all knew it, yet dog-eared copies passed from rocker to rocker like shared sips from the bottle of bourbon pictured on its cover. The Dirt was of its time; a peak behind the grubby curtain of rock’s most infamous, no holds barred band.
The Dirt is one of the most infamous rock books ever written. It’s endless sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, as cliched as that sounds, but it also doesn’t flinch when it comes to addiction, overdose, and loss. It also gets under the hood of some of Motley Crue’s biggest hits, but liking the band’s music is not a prerequisite to downloading the audiobook.
In this day and age, it’s really hard to write about The Dirt and not be hyper-aware of how much has changed since it was first released 20 years ago. Much of what happened back then would not fly today, and thank god. So we’ll just say this: if you want to know what it was really like being in Motley Crue at the height of their fame, and you’re prepared to snort whatever comes your way, then listen. But, you know, maybe stick some headphones on.
Listen to a clip from The Dirt
It seemed like we were waiting forever for Face It, but getting Debbie Harry to run a stocktake on her life was apparently no easy task. But here we are, with a memoir that hooks into some major moments in the Blondie singer and co-founder’s career and personal life.
Harry drops some serious names in Face It, with the Ramones, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and Joan Jett, among a metric ton of others, getting a mention. She has seemingly met everyone of note in music, and has a story for every occasion. Harry talks about her creativity, the formation of Blondie, her once-in-a-lifetime relationship with guitarist Chris Stein, and her image; what it has given her as well as cost her. There’s darkness too, with Harry recalling her heroin use, being raped during a robbery, and a near-abduction by a man she thinks could have been Ted Bundy.
There’s a lot to unpack in Face It, and unless you’re a Debbie Harry superfan, a lot of it will be news to you. Mainstay Blondie band members, plus original bass player Gary Valentine, are on hand to help out with the narration, along with Harry herself. While Face It is most definitely a memoir, it doesn’t plot a direct course, so expect a few interludes and sidebars along the way.
Listen to a clip from Face It
The History of Gangster Rap has one of the highest customer ratings of any book in our guide to the best audiobooks about music, and should be your first port of call if you’re craving a deep dive into the genesis and evolution of gangster rap.
Over the course of 11 hours, author and narrator Soren Baker picks his way through the genre, focusing on the main players (N.W.A, Schoolly D, etc), the defining moments, and the juiciest conspiracy theories. Snoop Dogg and Ice-T, among others, go on the record for The History of Gangster Rap, with Baker talking us through its social and political history, as well as dissecting key lyrics.
Whether you watched Straight Outta Compton and were left with a desire to learn more about the genre, or you’re a diehard fan looking for the minutiae of gangster rap, you’re in safe hands with this in-depth audiobook.
Listen to a clip from The History Of Gangster Rap
In some respects, The History of Rock N Roll In Ten Songs could come across as trying to be far too cool for its own good. Even pretentious, perhaps. But if you enjoy heading off the beaten track, and are keen to hear a well-respected music critic boil the entire history of rock’n’roll down to just 10 songs – and likely some you’ve never heard of – then this could be the best audiobook for you.
Author Greil Marcus doesn’t present information in true chronological order, and instead takes a more liberating approach when studying each song and linking it to various other genres, bands and events. The Flamin Groovies’ Shake Some Action is up first, followed by the utterly electrifying Transmission by Joy Division. From there the audiobook journeys through a host of standards, classics and obscurities spanning 1956 to 2010.
The History of Rock N Roll In Ten Songs takes an unusual approach to a much-covered subject, and will appeal to anyone who has an interest in how rock ’n’ roll as we know it (or not) came to be and what it gave to the world.
Listen to a clip from The History Of Rock N Roll In Ten Songs