Asking Nile Rodgers for his opinion on music is about as valuable as one can get. It’s like asking Picasso how to sketch or Stanley Kubrick if he’s seen anything good at the cinema lately. So, when we stumbled upon his tremendous list of recommendations for books on music, we had to share it.
One thing must be said; the list is taken from 2011 when Rodgers spoke to The Guardian about his own book. So it doesn’t include a whole host of potential new entries, including his own. However, that hasn’t stopped Rodgers from providing one of the most well-thought-out and thorough lists on music books we’ve ever seen, even if he does think the whole idea of writing about music is a little pointless.
“Frank Zappa is supposed to have said that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’,” wrote Rodgers for The Guardian in 2011. “I agree with that 100%, and if you look at my book, it’s really about my life: music just happens to be a large part of it. And the books I love are also about people’s lives – all of the titles I’ve chosen offer real insights into the personalities behind the music.
“As a musician, music is my main source of enjoyment and income but the truth is that I have many other interests and I wanted to show people that my life was this weird, multifaceted, complicated thing. And all of these books share that DNA.”
It’s an awe-inspiring reading list for any budding musician, not because the books chosen are brightened by the huge stars they cover but because Rodgers’ selection is so intelligent. He not only selects from the aforementioned heroes but also looks at producers like Phil Spector and Berry Gordy as well as books on the industry itself such as Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen.
About that particular title, Rodgers said: “This is an amazing look at the dirty underbelly of the recorded music business. It mainly examines the highly lucrative boom years in the 80s. At that point, the profits were so big that the deals became more complicated, chaotic, and crooked” The Chic composer also picked out a special mention for Beethoven, picking his collection of letters as perfect reading material: “Whenever I’ve seen the famous bust of Beethoven, he looks like the ultimate tortured soul.
“A genius who’d be cantankerous, reclusive, and cynical – but his letters are anything but. They reveal a tender, kind, and loving man, the antithesis of the glaring-eyed bust. They were never written to be read by anyone other than their addressees, and this intimacy makes them great to read.”
Rodgers did pick out some other icons that are a little closer to home, including Miles by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe and the aforementioned purveyor of such quotable rhetoric, Frank Zappa, with his book The Real Frank Zappa Book. But perhaps the most well-known book on the list, the one that every single musician should read at some point in their lives, is Chronicles: Volume 1 by Bob Dylan.
“I worked with Dylan on the film Feeling Minnesota and thought I had a good sense of who he is,” writes Rodgers. “This book revealed many things I didn’t know. Dylan was one of the main spokesmen for the 60s counterculture. He confesses he was reluctantly drafted into this position. His greatest motivation was simply to be a musician/songwriter and earn a living doing so. The Americana he wrote about so passionately were mainly events that had happened long ago – but he wrote about them as if they were ‘current events’. This is a fascinating look into a fascinating musical mind”.
The list of Nile Rodgers’ favourite books about music was always going to be heaving with credentials but even we were surprised at just how perfect his selections were. Take a look at the full list below and get those pages turning.
Nile Rodgers’ 10 favourite books on music:
- Miles by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe
- Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen
- Chronicles: Volume 1 by Bob Dylan
- Beethoven’s Letters
- The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso
- Berry, Me, and Motown by Raynoma Gordy Singleton
- Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography and Discography by Vladimir Simosko and Barry Tepperman
- He’s a Rebel by Mark Ribowsky
- Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight by John McDermott with Eddie Kramer
- The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, An Artist’s Journey, 1898–1939 by Paul Robeson