SOMETIMES, it can feel like we’re living in an eternal 1980s. Turn the TV on and there’s Maggie and Princess Di in The Crown. Turn the radio on or walk around a supermarket and you get a blast of Madonna or Prince or Kim Wilde (or at this time of year it’s probably Wham!’s Last Christmas).

It’s the same in bookshops. Go in (if you can) and you’ll find the music shelves covered in books about the decade we don’t seem able to give up. This year alone you could read books by Soft Cell’s Dave Ball (Electronic Boy, Omnibus Press, £20), a wonderfully louche and honest memoir), Chris Frantz of Talking Heads (Remain in Love, White Rabbit, £20; possible alternative title “The Trouble with David Byrne”), Shirlie and Martin Kemp (Shirlie and Martin Kemp: It’s a Love Story, Mirror Books, £20; a Spandau Ballet/Wham! two-for-one) and even Judas Priest’s Rob Halford (Confess, Headline, £20).

Read More: Dave Ball on life in Soft Cell

Read More: Chris Frantz on David Byrne

Were the 1980s really that special, though? Dylan Jones, editor-in-chief at GQ, spends more than 600 pages in his new book Sweet Dreams (Faber, £20) arguing that indeed they were.

It’s possible that you might consider that rather excessive given that, as the subtitle explains, Jones is telling “the story of the New Romantics”. But in truth the book uses the denizens of the Blitz Club as a foundation to build up a cultural history of the time, one that takes in Bowie and Roxy Music, punk, the rise of synthpop, postmodernism, politics, sexuality and fashion.

Jones’s theory is that the bands who emerged from the London scene at the start of the 1980s forged the template for pop (and pop culture) that framed the rest of the decade and beyond. At times, it does feel like the book is pushing its ideas beyond what the evidence might sustain and there’s certainly only the ghost of the notion that the other cities in the UK – whether Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester or Sheffield – were just as important as London in that decade’s musical history.

Still, the book’s mix of first-person testimony from many of the pop stars and those around them involved (from Boy George and Adam Ant to magazine editors, stylists and DJs), interspersed with Jones’s own enjoyably opinionated contextualisation, makes for an engaging, page-turning delight. Altogether, it is a powerful argument for the importance of pop music. For that it deserves the space it takes up in the world.

Bananarama turn up in Jones’ book from time to time but founding members Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward offer their own take on their own story in Really Saying Something (Hutchinson, £20). It works best as an account of a lifelong friendship. Woodward is open about her depression and both speak (sparingly) about the sexism they encountered in their early days. But they have clearly decided to keep most of their secrets to themselves. As a result, this is a frothy account of parties and friendships and taking a hand out of George Michael.

Gary Numan also makes an appearance in Sweet Dreams, but he’s very much one of the book’s outsider figures. It’s an idea his own memoir (R)Evolution (Constable, £20) rather endorses. He has Asperger’s and this is a nakedly honest account of his life. Numan was a key figure in popularising electronic music at the end of the 1970s, but the years of ridicule that followed (thanks to hair transplants and his sometimes-ill-fated flying exploits) did much to undermine his reputation and, it seems, his self-belief.

As a result, much of this book is as much about one man’s insecurities and battles with depression as it is about his music. He talks candidly about his financial troubles during the 1980s and 1990s (regularly buying planes and boats probably didn’t help), and the IVF treatments his wife Gemma took on in the hope of becoming pregnant (ultimately successfully, thankfully). That he can find the humour in their attempts to conceive and even in the screaming terror of his 1981 round-the-world flight is what makes this book worth your time.

For Numan, it was planes and boats. For New Order drummer Stephen Morris, it was tanks. According to Fast Forward, Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist Volume II (Constable, £20), the tanks were the thing he turned to when he gave up drugs. It quickly became the most interesting thing about him, he suggests. “I went from being a boring nerd to a boring nerd with a tank.”

Morris is indeed nerdy (there is an awful lot of words and pictures about synths here), but he’s funny with it. Fast Forward is a mordantly amusing account of excessive behaviour by the band and those around them.

There was music after the 1980s of course, as While We Were Getting High: Britpop and the 90's by Kevin Cummins, (Cassell Illustrated, £30), a new compilation of photographs by NME photographer Kevin Cummins proves. Concentrating on the Britpop era, this is the visual record of that moment in the mid-1990s when Blur and Oasis (and Suede and Pulp and Elastica and Sleeper) ruled the roost. Cummins was on hand to catch the hedonistic moment. As Noel Gallagher notes, “Let’s put it this way, youth was not wasted on us.”

The lyricist Don Black was still active in the 1980s. He’s still active now. But he was at his height writing lyrics for John Barry and even Michael Jackson in the 1960s and 1970s. Black’s memoir The Sanest Guy in the Room (Constable, £20) is an anecdote-laden take on a charmed life that is only darkened by the loss of his beloved wife Shirley who died in 2018.

Black makes for entertaining company. Talking of Maybe That’s Your Problem, his ill-fated musical about premature ejaculation, he notes, “I always think it was ironic that the show didn’t last long, either.”

There’s less fun to be had in Graeme Thomson’s biography of John Martyn. Small Hours (Omnibus Press, £20) is a sober (and sobering) take on the life of a man who rarely was. Simply put, Martyn was a brilliant musician but a terrible human being. He carved a trail of damage through his life, hurting friends, partners, family and himself. In Small Hours, Thomson, sometime of this parish, does a deft job at recognising the smeary, growling beauty of Martyn’s music while never shying away from the man’s failings. And there were many. His first wife Beverley Martyn effectively ended her own musical career when she married him and was the victim of abuse in their years together. Martyn’s children also suffered huge neglect. What emerges is a portrait of a man who was a sometimes charming monster. It is a measure of Thomson’s skill in telling his story that we come away still wanting to hear the music even though we are not that keen on the man who made it.

The most exhaustive biography of the year is Paul Gorman’s The Life & Times of Malcolm McLaren (Little,Brown, £30) which offers a deep-dive into the sometimes problematic career of the erstwhile manager of the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow. Gorman dots all the Is and every T in what is likely to be the last word on his subject.

Read More: Paul Gorman on Malcolm McLaren

Is there anything new to say about the Beatles? Perhaps not, but in One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time (4th Estate, £20), Craig Brown at least finds a new way to tell a familiar story. By digging into contemporary biographies, diaries, letters and reportage, Brown reframes the Beatles narrative into a series of connected mini essays that also work as post-war social history.

Now and again Brown’s prejudices are rather too obvious (he clearly doesn’t like Yoko Ono), but this is a hugely enjoyable take on one of pop’s most overfamiliar narratives.

It’s particularly fascinating for the way it zooms in on the people whose lives came into the orbit of John, Paul, George and Ringo. There’s a chapter on Jimmie Nicol, who took over from Ringo on an Australian tour when the Beatles drummer had tonsilitis, which beautifully follows his subsequent failed attempts to turn his moment in the sun into a musical career. It’s just over 12 pages long but it’s worth the price of admission on its own.

The best music book of the year, though, takes us back to the1970s and 1980s. Broken Greek (Quercus, £20) is a joyous, happy-sad memoir by music journalist Peter Paphides that has all the immediacy of your favourite seven inch. Paphides was a shy, anxious boy growing up in Birmingham, worried about his Cypriot parent’s marriage and his own second-generation immigrant status. Listening to Radio 1 and watching Top of the Pops was his escape. He looked to pop stars to be substitute parent figures and music to help him understand his place in the world.

This is a glorious, funny, evocative snapshot of his childhood, shot through with regret and nostalgia. It will resonate with anyone old enough to remember Dial-a-Disc, Wimpy and Grange Hill.

Yet, best of all, it’s a book deeply in love with pop music. Aren’t we all? Alexa, play me the greatest hits of 1983 please.