The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn (out of print). A new book on the Beatles seems to be published every fortnight — but this 1988 work is still the best. Lewisohn deals with facts, chronicling every take of every song the Fab Four cut during that incredible arc from "Love Me Do" to Sgt. Pepper and beyond.
Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes (Grove, $17). Sounes, who has also written about Paul McCartney, delivers one of the most readable biographies of this enigmatic and talented man. He tracks down Dylan's relatives, roadies, and fellow musicians to help round out a thorough portrait.
Van Morrison: No Surrender by Johnny Rogan (Random House UK, $14). As enigmatic as Bob Dylan but rather less lovable, Van Morrison has produced some of the most sublime songs in the history of rock music. His career is scrupulously chronicled by Rogan, whose affection for the music is never dimmed by the man he describes as "a craggy rock 'n' roll parody" of ultra-Protestant Northern Irish politician Ian Paisley.
The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth (Chicago Review Press, $17). Having survived hanging out with the Stones—and the tumult of their performance at Altamont in 1969—Booth was well equipped to write an insider's chronicle of this most decadent of bands. A vivid account of life on the edge.
The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (Titan, $25). Bowie has reinvented himself many times throughout his career, but Pegg's tome manages to detail every gig, album, song, and film while providing a wealth of absorbing trivia—including the song from Mary Poppins that Bowie performed for his 1965 BBC audition.
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick (Back Bay, $18). Elvis Presley lived the American dream, going from shack to mansion in only a few short years. It's a familiar story, but Guralnick astonishes us with his comprehensive account of the polite young truck driver who would become the king of rock 'n' roll.
—Music journalist and biographer Patrick Humphries recently co-edited a new edition of Robert Shelton's landmark Bob Dylan biography, No Direction Home