The 15 Best Soul Music Books

9 min read

Soul music is an iconic genre with a unique history and distinctive sound. This article explores the best soul music books available, providing reviews of each one to help readers find the perfect read for them. From Bruce W. Talamon’s Soul R&B Funk Photographs 1972-1982 to Otis Redding’s unfinished life story, these selections capture the essence of this timeless musical style while offering insight into its influence on generations past and present.

  1. The Meaning of Soul

    The Meaning of Soul
    Emily J. Lordi
    Published in 2020

    Emily J. Lordi’s The Meaning of Soul is an insightful exploration into the concept of soul and its significance in Black culture, artistry, and politics. This book covers how musical practices such as cover versions, falsetto vocals, ad-libs, and false endings have been used to signify resilience within black communities during times of peril and promise. Notable artists discussed include Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone Marvin Gaye Isaac Hayes Minnie Riperton Prince Solange Knowles Flying Lotus among others. In her book Lordi offers a new vision of soul which focuses on intricate details linked with music craft while also highlighting complex personal meanings attached to it as well as noting the dynamic movement across time by those who championed this genre.. Through vivid descriptions readers are taken through various eras showing both classic recordings from Civil Rights movements all the way up until contemporary sounds from today’s stars providing insight into why these songs remain timelessly relevant for each generation that discovers them.The Meaning Of Soul is an important read that challenges prior understandings about what soul is whilst still celebrating it for its legacy – one which will undoubtedly live on far beyond our lifespans

  2. Bruce W. Talamon. Soul. R&B. Funk. Photographs 1972–1982

    Bruce W. Talamon. Soul. R&B. Funk. Photographs 1972–1982
    Pearl Cleage, Reuel Golden, Bruce W. Talamon
    Published in 2021

    This fantastic book of photographs, Bruce W. Talamon’s Soul. R&B. Funk: Photographs 1972–1982, is the perfect collection for fans of soul music in all its glory and glamour from the 1970s and early 1980s era. Featuring close to 300 photos taken by this African American photographer across a decade, it includes icons such as Earth Wind & Fire; Marvin Gaye; Diana Ross; Parliament-Funkadelic; Al Green; Gil Scott-Heron among many others as well as several stops at legendary Soul Train studios! It captures rehearsals, sound checks, recording sessions, costume fittings and life on tour – these images truly define an unforgettable age where devotion to groove was paramount. An affordable compact version with a portfolio of four prints signed by the artist make this Art Edition limited edition book (500 copies) one not to be missed!

  3. Sweet Soul Music

    Sweet Soul Music
    Peter Guralnick
    Published in 1999

    This book is an absolute classic and a must read for any lover of R&B or soul music. Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music offers an intimate, insightful look into the lives of some legendary performers such as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin who helped merge gospel with rhythm & blues to create southern soul music. Through rare interviews from the 1950s through its peak in the 1960s, Guralnick tells this story with unique detail about how these songs changed American music forever. It also contains great source information about each artist including discographies for further exploration. This captivating narrative captures not only the sound but also the turmoil and liberating energy of a nation in transition during that time period making it one of those essential books that should be found on every serious reader’s shelf!

  4. Soul Fingers – The Music & Life of Legendary Bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn Book/Online Audio

    Soul Fingers - The Music & Life of Legendary Bassist Donald
    Nick Rosaci
    Published in 2017

    This book is an excellent tribute to Donald “Duck” Dunn, a legendary bassist who contributed his unique grooves and booty-shaking foundations to many soul, R&B, blues and rock recordings from the 1960s and ’70s. With over 60 iconic bass lines transcribed in full detail, plus rare photos, stories and audio demonstrations by Duck himself, this one-of-a-kind book celebrates not only the triumphs of his amazing career but also reveals the secrets behind some of most beloved music of all time. Featuring contributions from family members as well as friends and musical compatriots such as Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) – Soul Fingers: The Music & Life Of Legendary Bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn Book/Online Audio offers readers both historical insight into American popular music history as well as practical instruction for any aspiring bass player.

  5. Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life

    Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life
    Jonathan Gould
    Published in 2017

    Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, by Jonathan Gould is a masterful biography of one of the greatest musicians in American history. It not only chronicles the life and career of The King Of Soul but also takes us through an insightful exploration into racial tensions at a time when popular music was becoming more integrated. Through exhaustive research, access to previously unavailable sources, and cooperation from the Redding family, Gould presents readers with comprehensive details about Otis’ background and upbringing as well as his professional achievements. This book serves as both a revealing look at this brilliant artist’s life and an important commentary on how race intersected with music in America during this era – still relevant today. A must-read for any fan or student of soul music!

  6. RnB, Soul & Motown Style Basslines

    RnB, Soul & Motown Style Basslines
    Mr Dan Hawkins, Mr Joseph Alexander, Mr Tim Pettingale
    Published in 2021

    RnB, Soul & Motown Style Basslines is a comprehensive guide to mastering the essentials of soul bass guitar. It covers 16 iconic players, with 100 groove styles and techniques for in-the-pocket playing that span early R&B pioneers like Lloyd Trotman and Bernard Odum all the way up to recent greats such as Carole Kaye and Scott Edwards. This book also offers bonus audio material so readers can hear how it’s done by the masters themselves. Gear Talk explains how to recreate classic tone using modern equipment, while exercises help build vocabulary through riffs, licks and more. All this makes for an invaluable resource for any aspiring electric bassist looking to master those legendary grooves!

  7. All Music Guide to Soul

    All Music Guide to Soul
    Vladimir Bogdanov
    Published in 2003

    The All Music Guide to Soul is a must-have book for all rhythm and blues fans. With nearly 8,500 reviews of recordings by 1,500 artists, readers can find the best soul music out there with ease. It also features biographies, essays, maps and discographies that trace the roots of R&B from its beginnings in gospel and blues to its many branches today. This comprehensive guide provides details on every artist who has ever released an album or single – even those which are difficult to track down such as bootlegs or imports! An invaluable resource for anyone interested in this genre of music; it will lead you on musical journeys into your favourite style like never before!

  8. The Soul Rhythm Guitar Book

    The Soul Rhythm Guitar Book
    Mr Stuart Ryan, Mr Joseph Alexander
    Published in 2020

    This Soul Rhythm Guitar Book, by author Joseph Alexander and maestro Stuart Ryan, is an essential guide for anyone looking to master the soulful rhythms of three generations. Combining Gospel with R&B and Jazz elements, this book shows you how to effectively use chord shapes that will cut through a band mix as well as essential progressions of Funk and Motown music. Not only does it teach great feel and groove but also provides tips on chords embellishment tricks so you can spice up your rhythm parts. You’ll learn everything from drop 2 voicings to 9th 11th 13ths plus four original tracks with backing tracks included! This comprehensive guidebook ensures readers will become the ultimate “Soul Man” or Woman – perfect for intermediate guitarists who want to deepen their knowledge of this iconic genre.

  9. The Funkmasters — The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections 1960-1973

    The Funkmasters -- The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections 1960-1973
    Chuck Silverman, Alfred Music
    Published in 1997

    This unique workbook offers an insight into the iconic James Brown rhythm sections of 1960-1973. It features meticulously transcribed and recreated grooves from 23 classic songs, played by legendary musicians like Jabo Starks, Bernard Odum and Bootsy Collins. With both staff notation and tablature for guitar/bass parts, plus four tracks per lesson on two hours of audio recordings, this is a comprehensive guide to learning soulful ensembles. Perfect for any musician looking to perfect their funk chops! Each song has its own individual lessons which provide historical context as well as musical analysis – making it a fantastic teaching tool that will challenge players at all levels. The Funkmasters — The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections 1960- 1973 is sure to enlighten even the most experienced player’s groove collection with some funky new licks while also providing beginners with an unbeatable crash course in playing tight together as one unit.

  10. The Story of Motown

    The Story of Motown
    Peter Benjaminson, Greil Marcus
    Published in 2018

    This book, The Story of Motown, is a re-release with a new foreword by legendary music journalist Greil Marcus. It tells the inspiring story of how Berry Gordy borrowed $800 from his family and used it to found one of the most influential record companies in American history. In less than 10 years, he had recruited an incredible roster of talent including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye; created a distinct sound that was immediately identifiable; defied oppressive financial interests and racism; achieved immense business success; and paved the way for black artists to control their own music. At times though he exploited his performers financially leading many away from him eventually. This comprehensive account is invaluable as both an informative look at this remarkable feat and also as insight into injustices faced by African Americans throughout modern history. An entertaining read for any fan or historian alike!

  11. Aretha: From These Roots

    Aretha: From These Roots
    Aretha Franklin, David Ritz
    Published in 1999

    Aretha Franklin, one of the most iconic voices of our time, has written a captivating autobiography about her life and career. From These Roots gives readers an in-depth look at Aretha’s upbringing surrounded by gospel music legends like Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson; as well as her transition from Columbia Records to Atlantic with success through songs such “Respect” making it an anthem for African Americans. Her frankness shines throughout this book where she speaks openly on famous rivals, two marriages filled with both joy and heartache, romantic relationships, family dynamics, and more. Rich details paint a vivid picture into Detroit during its golden age while allowing us insight into some of the greatest songs ever sung. This inspiring self-portrait reveals why Aretha is known as The Queen of Soul – giving fans old and new alike something special to cherish forever.

  12. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music

    Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music
    Carla Jean Whitley
    Published in 2014

    Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music by Carla Jean Whitley is an engaging and comprehensive account of how a small recording studio in Alabama revolutionized music. Combining decades of interviews, articles, reviews and photographs with her own research and insights, she reveals the story behind ‘the Swampers’ – four renowned session musicians who worked together to create some of the most memorable tracks from artists such as Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones or Black Keys. From their humble beginnings at FAME studios to becoming inducted into National Register of Historic Places for inspiring timeless classics like “Free Bird” or “Brown Sugar”, this book provides readers with an intriguing insight into Muscle Shoals Sound’s influence on modern day music. With its insightful writing style and detailed analysis of one-of-a-kind soundscapes that still reverberate today, this captivating read takes you back through time so you can experience it first hand.

  13. Booze & Vinyl

    Booze & Vinyl
    André Darlington, Tenaya Darlington
    Published in 2018

    Booze & Vinyl by Andr and Tenaya Darlington is a one-of-a-kind book that provides an innovative way to experience music. It features 70 classic albums from the 1950s through the 2000s, each paired with two unique cocktail recipes inspired by the artist or mood of their music. The eye-catching design includes photographs throughout and detailed liner notes on each album’s musical highlights. This ultimate listening party guide encourages readers to shake up some drinks, put on their favorite record and enjoy a multi sensory evening for one, two or more! Booze & Vinyl stands out as an exciting journey into both drinks culture and popular music history.

  14. The Rap Year Book

    The Rap Year Book
    Shea Serrano, Arturo Torres, Ice-T
    Published in 2015

    The Rap Year Book, a New York Times Best Seller and one of Billboard’s 100 Greatest Music Books of All-Time, is an essential guide to the most influential rap songs from 1979 until now. Shea Serrano debunks and debates the genre in his narrative full of infographics, lyric maps, uproarious footnotes, portraits of artists and short essays by music writers. It explores important moments that affect hip hop culture – race issues, artist backgrounds & feuds between East Coast & West Coast acts. Fans can use this book to create playlists with some classic bangers or simply reminisce on their favorite tunes throughout history; it truly is a must-have for any rap aficionado!

  15. Prince: A Portrait of the Artist

    Prince: A Portrait of the Artist
    Paul Sexton
    Published in 2021

    This incredible biography of the late music icon Prince is a must-have for any fan. Featuring exclusive interviews with close associates, beautiful photographs and rare memorabilia, this book captures the essence of an artist like no other. With a foreword by Susan Rogers and captivating narrative from author Paul Sexton, this collection also includes detailed accounts of custom guitars made for Prince as well as his unique clothing designs. Not only does it provide fascinating insight into how he created music but it offers readers the chance to explore some unseen gems about one of history’s most iconic musicians. An absolute treasure trove for fans everywhere; Prince: A Portrait Of The Artist In Memories & Memorabilia unveils never before seen secrets behind this legendary performer’s life and work!

Additional resources

For those interested in learning more about soul music, here are some useful websites and blogs:

  • offers reviews of soul music albums, interviews with artists, and more.
  • Soul and Funk Music is a reference of a wide collection of soul music.
  • SoulTracks provides reviews, interviews, and news about soul music.
  • Soul Express contains a range of reviews in the world of soul music.
  • Soulful Detroit is a blog dedicated to the history and culture of Detroit soul music.

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