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

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
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-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?