The 10 Best Music Books of 2023

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Every year there are countless books released about music—2023 alone included dishy memoirs from Britney Spears, Barbra Streisand, and Sly Stone, plus a big-deal, authorized bio on Tupac. In our estimation, the best works tend to give the reader new ears with which to listen. What follows is a list of personal favorites from this year, as picked by Pitchfork staffers and contributors. Happy reading!
60 Songs That Explain the ’90s
By Rob Harvilla
In 2020, as the pandemic forced everyone who didn’t live on a megayacht to upend their entire lives, retreating into the nostalgia of one’s youth became an all-but-necessary coping mechanism. Veteran music writer Rob Harvilla felt that same urge. But instead of merely staring into the middle distance while washing dishes to Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy,” he put his musical memories to work and made an essayistic podcast called 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s. And now that very funny and startlingly insightful show—which has grown to cover more than 100 songs—has its own very funny and startlingly insightful book. (Full disclosure: I once lost money to Harvilla in a basement poker game in 2010, and recently guested on the 60 Songs podcast.)
The entire endeavor succeeds because Harvilla is so good at conveying his teenage excitement (he’s unafraid to use the descriptor “rad,” repeatedly) while also offering the wisdom of a fortysomething dad who’s been writing about music for much of his adult life. For every loving one-liner (listening to Celine Dion sing is “like drinking rosé from a fire hose”) or list of the 20 Worst Red Hot Chili Peppers Song Titles (don’t worry, “Party on Your Pussy” makes the Top 10), there are sober reflections on Courtney Love reading Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, or how white rap fans (like him, like me) would be smart to understand that they’re eavesdropping when they listen to a song like Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” Earnest, empathetic, and admirably goofy, Harvilla is an ideal guide to the most random decade in pop history. –Ryan Dombal
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Black Punk Now
By James Spooner and Chris L. Terry
When James Spooner first logged on in 2001, he immediately Googled “Black punk.” A blank screen stared back at him: There were zero links. Spooner knew this was inaccurate—he had countless Black punk friends and collaborators—but the experience underscored that if no one else was going to document his culture, then it was up to him. This is what motivated Spooner to create the Afropunk documentary and festival, as well as compile this new anthology of writing alongside Black Card author Chris L. Terry.
Black Punk Now uses a multi-genre approach, from fiction to graphics to screenplays, to showcase the ways Black punks move through the world. In “The Princess and the Pit,” Mariah Stovall explores the racialized beauty standards of punk shows via a feminist fairytale. The script for comedian Kash Abdulmalik’s short film, Let Me Be Understood, meditates on one musician’s desire to have an honest relationship with his father.

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