Whether you’re shopping for a burgeoning Bach or someone who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, these books will play on any music lover’s heartstrings.
What do you get for the music obsessive on your list in the age of streaming? Skip the Spotify gift subscriptions and try one of these lovingly curated coffee table books instead. Whether you’re buying for a Woodstock fan who wants to relive the good ol’ days or for someone who’s always hoping to discover their next favorite artist, these are sure to please the person at your holiday gathering who always asks, “Hey, do you mind if I change the music?”
She Can Really Lay It Down by Rachel Frankel
“The present—if long overdue—push toward a more progressive, feminist reading of our cultural history requires disabusing ourselves of known canons, and some pretty deeply entrenched ideas about the history of popular music,” writes Amanda Petrusich in the foreword to the celebratory book She Can Really Lay It Down: 50 Rebels, Rockers, and Musical Revolutionaries. Author Rachel Frankel gamely sets out to help us reconsider the history of popular music with short but thorough essays on big names like Beyoncé, Selena and Dolly Parton. However, the most exciting pages in Frankel’s book shine a light on figures like guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, folk musician Violeta Parra, South African singer-songwriter Miriam Makeba and other women who have been overlooked for too long. This incisive compilation delivers more than just surface-level girl power, and it would make an excellent gift for anyone with a deep interest in music, creativity and popular culture. I’d especially recommend putting this in the hands of a teenage girl.
Supreme Glamour by Mary Wilson
From the vantage point of 2019, it’s easy to wax poetic about the essential give-and-take between fashion and music, but that relationship certainly wasn’t a given when the Supremes began performing together and crafting their iconic looks in 1961. Mary Wilson, a founding member and anchor of the legendary musical group, takes us through the group’s sartorial evolution with Supreme Glamour, a collection of more than 400 photographs of their most influential sequined, bedazzled and brightly colored outfits. Wilson’s personal musings about the group’s journey perfectly accompany the glossy full-page spreads of dazzling gowns embellished with crystals and pearls, sequined show-stoppers seen on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and marabou-trimmed couture made for their Broadway performances. Fashion lovers will especially appreciate the attention to detail, with notes that include the material, embellishments and notable appearances of the outfits along with other interesting historical tidbits.
Country Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
As PBS devotees know, a new Ken Burns documentary is cause for celebration, and “Country Music” is already being hailed as one of his best. Although a big ol’ coffee table book that ties in with a television series can be a tough sell, Country Music: An Illustrated History is definitely a worthy companion piece. Country music afficionados are often left a little high and dry, as music journalists tend to reserve their ink for rock ’n’ roll heroes. But authors Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns dive deep into the roots and rise of this genre: the African American banjo players and Scottish American fiddlers who laid the foundations of the genre, the gospel-infused songs from groups like the Carter Family that helped radio stations get on board, the surprising rise of Hank Williams, the storied Nashville Sound of the 1960s, the outlaw swagger of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, the rise of modern pop-country and everything in between. This tome packs in hundreds of rare photographs, excellent historical asides and interviews with influential figures like singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris. I’d wager that this will be one of the more popular gifts for music lovers this year.
Woodstock Live: 50 Years by Julien Bitoun
It’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and, like it or not, this music festival on a dairy farm in upstate New York remains one of the most influential cultural events in modern history. Long before “festival fashion” was even a part of the zeitgeist, more than 500,000 Woodstock attendees jammed out in harmony with each other, in the rain and mud, while watching performances that have reached near-mythological status. Guitarist and author Julien Bitoun revisits the weekend with Woodstock Live: 50 Years, an attractive giftbook that includes a short and reverential summary of each performance, along with every performer’s setlist, their accompanying musicians, the amount of time they spent on stage and striking photographs from each gig. Bitoun begins with Richie Havens’ improvised opening set at 5:07 on Friday and ends with Jimi Hendrix’s guitar-burning closer on Monday morning, then wraps it all up in an extensive epilogue that runs through notable absentees, the most iconic guitars played at the festival and how the weekend is remembered today. This will make a great gift for anyone hoping to relive the experience, or those who dream about traveling back in time to attend.