7 Books About Music to Get Your Feet Tapping

Almost as fun as listening to music: getting into the minds and influences of the artists who make it
by Charles Wilkes and Chris Tonelli of So & So Books

September is always a great month for live music in Raleigh, with outdoor concerts and several festivals, including the return of Hopscotch! Take the music home with you with one of these great books.

Our Noise by John Cook

This one might be a little hard to find, but it’s a perfect book for traveling back in time and reliving the recent history of the Triangle music scene. In Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small, Cook shares the behind the scenes story of the history of Durham’s Merge Records in the words of those who lived it.

Step It Up & Go by David Menconi

For a broader history of North Carolina’s popular music, try David Menconi’s Step It Up & Go. Covering everything from the well-known to the obscure, even the most knowledgeable NC music fan will learn something new from Menconi’s book.

Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad

Want to feel like you’re on the road with a legendary underground rock band, trying to get to the next club in a barely functioning van? Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life captures just that feeling, by focusing on 1980s rock bands like The Minutemen, The Replacements, and Dinosaur Jr.

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton

If you’d rather read a novel about music than nonfiction, Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is a good place to start. Walton’ journalist protagonist creates an oral history of a group whose brief time together is marked by societal struggle and groundbreaking musical experimentation, all playing out in the shadow of great personal tragedy.

The 33 1/3 Series by various authors

Named after the number of rotations per minute of a vinyl record, each of the more than 150 books in the 33 1/3 series is focused on a specific musical album and written by a different author. At under 200 pages, they make for fun quick reads that can remind you of what made you love a record in the first place. Be it Television’s Marquee Moon, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, or Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, each author brings a unique approach to analyzing the greatest records of all time. Shameless plug: So & So Books reads one of these every month for our 33 1/3 Book Club.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

While in some ways this is a pretty straightforward coming-of-age love story between Toru, a university student in Tokyo, and Naoko, their relationship struggles in the shadow of a mutual friend’s suicide and against the backdrop of political unrest. The Beatles’ song Norwegian Wood comes up a handful of times and the forest-as-retreat idea is a major theme throughout.

M Train by Patti Smith

This is a beautifully written meditation on being an artist living in New York City and the loss one incurs over the course of a life. We travel with Smith to Kahlo’s Mexico, to Michigan, where Patti SMith lived with her late husband, Fred Sonic Smith, and to Iceland, and we take pilgrimages with her to the graves of Genet, Rimbaud, Plath, and Mishima. But ultimately, this is a book about introspective cafe life in NYC and fixing up a Far Rockaway shore house in the face of Hurricane Sandy.


Charles Wilkes and Chris Tonelli are co-owners of So & So Books. Visit them at 719 N. Person Street or at soandsobooks.com.