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Rock ’n’ Roll Reading: 12 Books that Evoke ‘Daisy Jones and The Six’

Rock’s golden years have captivated writers for decades, so relive the 70s with our list of evocative classics. / BY Nathalie Atkinson / March 14th, 2023

The dazzling Daisy Jones and the Six adaptation (now streaming on Prime Video) is everyone’s obsession right now. The series, based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2019 bestseller, explores the meteoric rise and abrupt 1977 demise of a fictional band similar to Fleetwood Mac. It authentically captures the period’s seedy bohemian glamour through costumes and its sound with the catchy original album, Aurora – not to mention the chemistry between leads Riley Keough and Sam Claflin. It’s not the first time rock’s golden years have captivated writers, so relive the era with our list of evocative classics.

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1Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

Set in the summer of 1969, the star-crossed characters may be named Jane and Jesse, but this 2021 sleeper is loosely based on the love affair between Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. The historical novel by a former book editor vividly conjures the folk-festival scene and how much music was a man’s world, with little room for female creativity and ambition. It’s a story about the combustive chemistry, friction and intimacy in the couple’s complicated relationship, on the eve of Jane’s breakout success with a Blue-like album.

2Leon Russell by Bill Janovitz

As Leon Russell’s long out-of-print album Signature Songs gets a re-release this month, this deeply researched rock bio of the chart-topping songwriter, producer and legendary stage presence is a timely reminder why he was musical hero to many, including Elton John. Janovitz, a writer and founder of the group, Buffalo Tom, interviews John and more than 130 musicians (Eric Clapton, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Rita Coolidge and Steve Winwood) to trace Russell’s influence in rock history, first as an A-list session musician and then as the consummate showman. In 1973, a year when Led Zeppelin was touring, Billboard called Russell the “top concert attraction in the world.”

3Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker

As we see in Daisy Jones, this leafy Los Angeles neighbourhood was home to bands that often lived and worked together in charming sun-dappled cottages. In the early days of the California rock scene, it was a short hitchhike from the noise of the Sunset Strip, and became a creative refuge for some of the best talents of their generation. It’s worth seeking out secondhand (or library) copies of this 2007 inside story of the fabled music mecca where Frank Zappa, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt wrote, composed and played.


4Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

There must have been something in the air: a year after Jenkins Reid’s oral history-style bestseller, the Booker Prize-nominated Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks) published a similar hit. It chronicles the rise and fall of the “most extraordinary British band you’ve never heard of,” set in London’s psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s, with side trips to Laurel Canyon, San Francisco and the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York. Think of it as Daisy Jones with a British accent.

5The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

Like Daisy Jones, this is a fictional oral history, only it’s about a scrappy 1970s rock Afro-punk duo that includes Opal, an ambitious Black singer from Detroit, and Neville, a white singer-songwriter from England, who have some success until Opal joins a political protest and her career takes a hit. Walton — a Philadelphia-based journalist and former editor at Essencehas said her buzzy 2021 novel exploring racial justice in the music business was inspired, in part, by 20 Feet from Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about Black backup singers like Darlene Love and Merry Clayton. The novel made Barack Obama’s favourite-books-of-the-year list.


6Rock Me on the Water by Ronald Brownstein

According to the author, a newspaper journalist turned CNN analyst, 1974 was “a historic constellation of inspiration, collaboration, and achievement.” It was the year American popular culture converged on Hollywood, which became a cultural mecca for notable figures such as entertainment executives Michael Ovitz and Michael Eisner, All in the Family creator Norman Lear, the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, as well as Jackson Browne, who collaborated on the original music that brings the fictional Aurora album to life in Daisy Jones.


7There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson

This is a backstage confidential from that rare thing: a female rock journalist with unprecedented access. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Robinson wrote in-depth profiles for music magazines like Creem and New Musical Express, getting up close and personal for profiles and interviews by going on the road with her subjects, which included the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, as well as spending hours talking to John Lennon at his Dakota apartment in the weeks before his murder.

8The Castle on Sunset by Shawn Levy

The Chateau Marmont, a luxury hotel that opened on Sunset Boulevard in 1929, is a monument to Hollywood and music history: over the decades, it has been a discreet haven and home away from home for celebrities (including the fictional Daisy Jones). Oh, the mischief the suites, cottages and bungalows have seen! This bestselling history reveals the scandalous secret (and not-so-secret) shenanigans of stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and Jim Morrison who lived, loved and sometimes died at the chateau.

9Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth

This book by the esteemed British music journalist (presenter of BBC’s landmark Whistle Test rock program) also forms the basis of the hit AppleTV+ documentary 1971: The Year that Music Changed Everything. Stories are told through a kaleidoscopic month-by-month calendar of people and places and music: Led Zeppelin, the Who, Carole King, Rod Stewart and David Bowie, Don McLean, Sly Stone and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Hepworth makes a convincing argument that they ushered in a new era of musical creativity and innovation that was never to be repeated.

10The Farewell Tour by Stephanie Clifford

Daisy Jones, but make it country: A new novel from the author of the acclaimed Everybody Rise explores the life of Lillian Waters, a fictional washed-up female country singer. Mainly set in 1980, “Water Lil,” 56, toys with ending her run on her own terms after a 40-year career of ups and downs. The entertaining story also goes deep into the female country trailblazers of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that Lil’s career was built on, encompassing the struggles they faced, such as sexism, the industry’s conservatism and narrow expectations.

11Goodnight, L.A. by Kent Hartman

Hartman, the music industry insider who wrote The Wrecking Crew (a terrific book about the legendary session musicians), takes readers into recording sessions of acts like the Eagles, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar and Fleetwood Mac in this fly-on-the-wall account of the 1970s and 1980s studio scene. From late-1960s Beach Boys to the rise of MTV music videos, it includes in-depth interviews with classic rock artists about what went into the making of some of rock’s fabled albums, take after take.

12Groupie by Jenny Fabien and Johnny Byrne

A cult classic since it was published in 1969 by Fabian, a real-life groupie, this controversial novel is technically fiction, but offers a detailed firsthand depiction of London’s underground rock culture. It’s basically a candid catalogue of 19-year-old protagonist Katie’s sexual encounters and recreational drug use with musicians (think: The Soft Machine, Andy Summers, Pink Floyd). Names (and not much else) were changed to half-heartedly protect the famous in this ultimate rock ’n’ roll roman à clef.


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