The road to fame is rarely smooth, and neither is life in the spotlight. Perhaps it’s because of this that memoirs written by musicians are so absorbing. While Prince recently became one of the latest big stars to land a book deal, he’s far from the first. Artists from seemingly every era and genre have taken their turn, from jazz’s Louis Armstrong to country’s Dolly Parton to hip hop’s Jay Z. With so many iconic musicians spilling their secrets on the pages of books over the years, we’ve been gifted with a whole lot of excellent reading material.
Autobiographies written by music’s biggest names are especially great for giving music junkies their fix, whether the tales are full of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll or they recount an inspirational journey to the top. They provide looks at lifestyles that most of us will never experience and serve as windows into the minds of people we’ll likely never meet. It’s hard to resist their appeal; these stories are usually larger than life and often stranger than fiction.
Whether you’re a diehard music-lover or just a sucker for a salacious tale, here are 15 memorable memoirs written by some of the world’s best-known musicians:
Secrets of a Sparrow by Diana Ross
The superstar who broke out of the Supremes, Diana Ross reveals the struggles and successes of her iconic career in Secrets of a Sparrow. Her memoir is honest about the realities of being on top, offering the lessons she learned from its rollercoaster highs and lows. The singer manages to inspire and entertain, which really should come as no surprise.
My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman
Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll definitely come into play in Gregg Allman’s My Cross to Bear. The Allman Brothers Band member is unabashedly honest as he discusses his party days (and nights), experimentation with drugs, and womanizing, not to mention brushes with the law. While he shares stories with humor, his tales certainly aren’t all lighthearted; Allman is also candid about the loss of his brother, his struggle with addiction, and his battle with hepatitis C.
Decoded by Jay Z
Decoded lets readers see beyond Jay Z to the man behind the persona: Shawn Carter. The book takes his lyrics and reveals their meanings, shining a light on cultural observations, the complexity of his messages, and his past. If you’re not already a fan, this book may just make you one.
Dolly by Dolly Parton
Country superstar Dolly Parton opens up in Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. With her trademark humor and bubbliness, Parton is candid about failed friendships, gossip and rumors about her marriage, and religion. You’ll even learn what it’s like to grow up with 11 (!!!) siblings.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Although perhaps not always given the credit for her music she deserves, Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein has an indelible place in the history of the feminist punk-rock movement. In Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, she gives readers a fascinating window into the '90s indie rock scene and the challenges of being a woman in the music industry. Like Portlandia, the series in which she now stars, her memoir is smart, funny, and easy to get caught up in.
Life by Keith Richards
One of the best guitarists of all time, Keith Richards tried his hand at writing when he penned Life. The autobiography delves into Richards’ past, from his days admiring Chuck Berry to coping with the death of fellow Rolling Stone Brian Jones to his complicated relationship with bandmate Mick Jagger. The rocker’s eventful life provided ample material book material, that’s for sure.
Chronicles by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is known for being able to beautifully convey his messages through song, and he’s able to do the same in Chronicles: Volume One. In his memoir, the legendary songwriter reflects on the people and places that influenced him, both as a musician and a man. Along the way, we get the wonderful treat of being able to look at everything from Woodstock to fellow artists like Johnny Cash through his keen eyes.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Punk rocker Patti Smith opens up about her complicated and moving relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethrope in Just Kids. It’s not a scandalous tell-all; instead, Smith shows how their romance and friendship shaped her and her art. Just as enticing is New York City’s '60s and '70s art scene, which serves as the story’s backdrop.
Yes I Can by Sammy Davis, Jr.
Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. is powerful and personal. Davis takes readers from his childhood beginnings in vaudeville to his days as a member of the famous Rat Pack. It’s an incredible journey, especially considering the overt and rampant racism of the time. The autobiography is full of memorable moments, not least of all the cringe-worthy loss of his eye. Ouch!
Loretta Lynn by Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn dives into her unique life story in Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter and shares her unlikely path to success. In spite of growing up in utter poverty and getting married at 13, she managed to rise to fame as a country singer. It’s an intriguing journey, and the cherry on top is her sense of humor.
Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler
Steven Tyler is known for spinning a creative sentence, and he doesn’t disappoint in Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? (He uses words like “fooligized” and has no problem with turning people’s names into verbs.) The rock star recounts his ascent to fame with Aerosmith, along with the ups and downs that have followed in the decades since. As you’d expect, there’s plenty to keep you interested, from non-storybook romances to his relationship with his kids, including actress Liv Tyler.
Satchmo by Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong’s Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans is as vibrant as the city and man it centers on. Not only do we get to learn more about the jazz pioneer himself, we get to meet a whole cast of intriguing characters that shared the stage with Armstrong at one point or another. His storytelling is nearly as irresistible as his music.
Slash by Slash
Slash is another memoir full of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. As Saul Hudson (aka Slash) goes from growing up in England to striking it big with Guns N’ Roses in Los Angeles, there’s no shortage of drama. The band may be reuniting a Coachella this year, but let’s just say it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows.
Be My Baby by Ronnie Spector
Known as the original “bad girl of rock and roll,” Ronnie Spector details her rise to fame and nightmare of a marriage in Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette. As the wife of famous producer Phil Spector, she found herself in need of escape for the sake of her well-being. Spector’s story is eventful, to say the least.
The Long Hard Road Out of Hell by Marilyn Manson
It’s all but required for a Marilyn Manson memoir to be controversial. Naturally, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell fits the bill. Whether you want to call it edgy or disturbing, the singer’s autobiography is gripping, showing readers Manson’s transformation from Christian schoolboy to notorious rock star.