Books of the Year 2012: Music

From art to sport, poetry to nature, travel to food, history to music: our writers select the best of the year’s books in a comprehensive guide to the highlights in every shade of the literary spectrum – except grey

For rock fans, 2012 has been a vintage year. Mick Jagger, who once returned a £1m advance because he couldn't remember anything, is the subject of a biography by the reliably readable Philip Norman (Mick Jagger; HarperCollins, £20). His Stone is a study in paradox, a tale of talent "almost stubbornly unfulfilled". Except for that todger – "long and plump" according to Pete Townsend in his candid and angst-ridden memoir, Who I Am (HarperCollins, £20), which reveals a man as angry as his stage antics suggest. Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace (Viking, £25) is like an over-long guitar solo, shot through with genius.

Another Canadian, Leonard Cohen, opened up to Sylvie Simmons. I'm Your Man (Cape, £20) is a brilliant study – contextualised, critical, annotated. Peter Ames Carlin enjoyed rare co-operation from his subject but doesn't reach Simmons's heights, yet Bruce (Simon & Schuster, £20) is an important addition to the canon. His dogged digging reveals Springsteen in 3D, foibles and all. For those with longer memories, Harry Belafonte's My Song (Canongate, £14.99) is a moving story of race and music in 20th-century America.

Anyone seeking something lavish and illustrated is spoiled for choice. The Rolling Stones 50 (Thames & Hudson, £29.95), curated and narrated by Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie, recalls the whole rock 'n' roll circus. No personal touch in The Beatles: It Was 50 Years Ago Today (Carlton, £50), but here are facsimile memorabilia plus a DVD of interviews, all boxed and beautiful. And of course there's The John Lennon Letters (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25), edited by Hunter Davies and arranged chronologically to form an idiosyncratic narrative.

Dylan Jones celebrates 40 years since Ziggy Stardust's debut on Top of the Pops "caused a tectonic shift in pop culture" in When Ziggy Played Guitar (Preface, £20). Paolo Hewitt's Bowie: Album by Album (Carlton, £25) chronicles the way in which the Starman combined art and pop, the avant-garde and the mainstream – and how he inspired the punk explosion of 1977. In The Art of Punk (Omnibus, £19.95), Russ Bestley and Alex Ogg show the development of a movement that has influenced all forms of art and media.

Books about classical music are increasingly thin on the ground. Faber concludes its magisterial Prokofiev project with Prodigal Son: 1924-1933 (£30), which finds Prokofiev in Paris cementing his reputation as an opera composer. For the generalist, Barry Millington's Richard Wagner: Sorcerer of Bayreuth (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) is an elegantly illustrated life-and-times account, and John Suchet, a self-confessed obsessive, brings the Old Revolutionary vividly to life in Beethoven: The Man Revealed (Elliott & Thompson, £25).

Strings Attached (Robson, £20), William Starling's authorised life of guitarist John Williams, needs a tighter narrative, but a book on this modest virtuoso is a welcome first. Fiddler Viktoria Mullova's From Russia to Love (Robson, £20) recalls her daring defection in 1982, leaving her Strad abandoned in a Finnish hotel.

Stuart Isacoff, pianist, critic and academic, leads readers on a journey of discovery in A Natural History of the Piano (Souvenir, £20), the music, the musicians and "the wondrous box" itself: a volume to inspire and delight. Dictator, teacher, magician: in Music as Alchemy (Faber & Faber, £18.99), Tom Service sneaks into rehearsals to fathom the role of the conductor, interviewing the likes of Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle.

Scholarly yet accessible, A History of Opera: The Last 400 Years by professors Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker (Allen Lane, £30) charts the development of a form whose new lifeblood is now a trickle in a volume that is, nevertheless, a celebration of the art.

Further reading

Books of the year 2012: Fiction

Books of the year 2012: Crime and thrillers

Books of the year 2012: Celebrity

Books of the year 2012: Natural history

Books of the year 2012: Food

Books of the year 2012: Travel and place

Books of the year 2012: Sport

Books of the year 2012: Art

Books of the year 2012: Children's books

Books of the year 2012: Memoirs

Books of the year 2012: History

Books of the year 2012: Poetry

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Voices
The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash