If you’re looking for the stories behind your favorite songs, but don’t have time to read, say, Flea’s 400-page memoir or even all the liner notes on the latest Numero Group release, podcasts can be the answer for the music fan in need. Even if you just want to hear more from Kim Gordon or Bun B while waiting for them to put out a new album or want to figure out how the hell Slipknot made “Unsainted” sound like that, podcasts are there. Or if you just want to laugh or cry or nod your head knowingly while listening to people who share your passions, podcasts can do that, too.
While there are great music discovery podcasts like KEXP’s Music That Matters and NPR’s All Songs Considered, it’s the shows that go deep on specific albums, individual songs, or particular artists that can be so valuable for music fans. We’ve sorted through them all to find what we believe are the best music podcasts of 2019.
Striped: The Story Of The White Stripes
Before Jack White was Jack White, he was an upholsterer running around Detroit’s club scene trying to make a name for himself. This podcast, made with Third Man Records, tells the story of his rise through the ranks: playing at house parties, signing up with the Go, and eventually forming the band that made him famous. While the podcast certainly tells the origin story of the White Stripes, beyond that it paints an indelible portrait of a scene and an era in Detroit where everything was gritty, ground down, and up for grabs.
In its first season, Mogul shared an audio biography of behind-the-scenes hip-hop legend Chris Lighty, who helped bring A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and more to the world. Both in life and in podcast form, Lighty was a tough act to follow, but Mogul pulls it off with their second season, which focuses on raunchy rappers 2 Live Crew. Under the guidance of new host Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins — original host Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé sadly passed away — the show follows the growth of 2 Live Crew from Miami club act to headline-grabbing First Amendment fighters. It’s a fascinating portrait of a scene and a band with plenty of music to remind you why your mom hated them so very much.
The Art Of Process
Just because you love music doesn’t mean you understand what goes into writing those heart-melting lyrics or creating those chart-topping hits, sick beats, or bedroom-pop jams. That’s where The Art Of Process comes in. Ted Leo and Aimee Mann — who have impressive musical resumes separately and together in the Both — interview other artists and musicians about how they do what they do. Visionaries like Kim Gordon, Open Mike Eagle, Jean Grae, and Dischord’s Ian MacKaye have shared their thoughts on creativity and creation, inspiring and explaining by turns.
Stay Free: The Story Of The Clash
Hip-hop legend Chuck D isn’t the most obvious choice to host a podcast on the Clash, but over the course of the eight-part series, the Public Enemy mouthpiece makes a good argument that the bands have a lot more in common than you might think. Neither was shy about sharing their beliefs or, as Joe Strummer put it, “Fighting for what really matters — and doing it loud as hell.” The podcast tells the story of the band that, as Chuck D put it, “burned so brightly, they had to burn out,” leaving behind a legacy that is still inspiring people today.
Coffee & Flowers
Fans of The National may recognize the name of this podcast, which comes from the band’s High Violet track “Conversation 16.” In this show, the depression-rockers go behind the scenes of their breakthrough album, Boxer, with journalists and filmmakers Christopher Hooton and David Rapson. Each episode focuses on a different track with frontman Matt Berninger, guitarist Aaron Dessner, and other people from the National’s universe sharing their thoughts and experiences. The most intriguing entry is from Carin Besser, Berninger’s wife and lyrical collaborator, who publicly opens up about her contributions to the album for the first time.
For the second season of Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s podcast, music journalist Jessica Hopper takes the reins, turning the spotlight on artists whose names are rarely seen in lights. There’s sonic sculptor Suzanne Ciani who was a Buchla master (if you haven’t seen a Buchla, you’ve definitely heard one), a Pakistani Brit rock disco group, and Fanny, a rock band so beloved by David Bowie that he actually wrote Rolling Stone a letter begging them to cover the group.
People’s Party With Talib Kweli
On paper, this is a music podcast, because hip-hop icon Talib Kweli and co-host Jasmin Leigh sits down with musicians like El-P, Robert Glasper, Estelle, Bun B, and Perry Farrell and talk about their craft. But it’s also a show about culture, politics, writing, comedy, self-actualization, sports, and pretty much everything in between. Kweli is an adept interviewer who gets people like Lamar Odom to talk addiction, IDK to open up about life in prison, and Too $hort to share thoughts on the #MeToo movement.
After tackling Watergate and the impeachment of President Clinton, for its third season, Slow Burn is examining one of our nation’s biggest mysteries — the murders of Biggie and Tupac. Host and journalist Joel Anderson explores the relationship between the two stars, who started as friends before they weren’t. He follows their careers, their respective labels Bad Boy and Death Row, the escalating feud between East and West Coast rap that may have lead to their deaths, and the legacies the two stars left behind.
Punch Up The Jam
If you’ve ever stopped to laugh at a line in a song (“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag…” is one that always gets me) and wondered how the songwriter came up with it, this show is for you. Each week, host Miel Bredouw (Demi Adejuyigbe left the show in September) and a guest (usually podcasters, comedians, or Bredouw’s dad) take apart a well-known song verse by verse, getting to the heart of it and then pointing and laughing at it.
Dolly Parton’s America
Dolly Parton is a bit of an enigma. The country legend is beloved by Christians, drag queens, hipsters, and people on every side of the political spectrum. In this podcast, MacArthur Genius grant recipient and Radiolab host Jad Abumrad sets out on a mission to figure out why and how Dolly has earned her titled as the so-called Great Unifier and why everyone just loves her so darn much.
Most people only know opera from what they’ve seen on Bugs Bunny cartoons, but there’s something about opera’s intensity and those soaring melodies that should appeal to music fans of all genres. Unfortunately, the world of opera can feel stuffy, expensive, and inscrutable. I mean, when do you feel like dressing up and listening to someone sing in Italian? That’s where Aria Code comes in. This show, hosted by Grammy-winning musician and MacArthur Genius Fellow Rhiannon Giddens and produced in partnership with the Metropolitan Opera, helps explain opera and arias for music lovers of all stripes. Plus, if you listen, you’ll sound really smart at dinner parties.
This Particular Album Is Very, Very Important To Me
The name of this podcast says it all. Most music fans have that one album (or maybe a few albums) that never fails to make them laugh or cry or fill them with the bitterest nostalgia for another time in life. It’s that one album that you love to death, but may hesitate to put on at a party in case you end up crying in the corner. This podcast is all about that album. Each episode, hosts Joel Spence and Deborah Tarica sit down with a guest who explains what a particular album means to them — like Al Yankovic talking about Devo’s Freedom Of Choice or Rachel Bloom on Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. If you like this concept, also check out Heat Rocks, where music supervisor Morgan Rhodes and writer/professor/DJ Oliver Wang talk about a classic album with a big fan, like Meshell Ndgeocello on Purple Rain.
This is a show by musicians and for musicians and music fans are lucky to be able to listen in on this shop talk as the artists explain how they created the songs we love. Creator Hrishikesh Hirway has entrusted the podcast to Thao Nguyen, of Thao And The Get Down Stay Down, and she brings a deep curiosity and deft interviewing style to the show. While big-name acts like Robyn, Jay Som, Raphael Saadiq, and Brittany Howard have all sat down with Nguyen over the last few months, there are plenty of surprises to be had whoever is on the show. Dare you to listen to Clairo’s episode without tearing up at your desk. Once you have listened to every episode of Song Exploder check out Dissect, which breaks down entire albums on the granular level.
Switched On Pop
Musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding see no reason to scoff at artists like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake and their contributions to the musical canon. They discuss the minute details of Rihanna’s catalogue and Camilla Cabello’s deep cuts, treating them like the high art that they are. These are true pop fans who can even find something to admire in “Baby Shark.”
While access to artists doesn’t guarantee a great podcast, listening to Tyler, The Creator, Roseanne Cash, The Black Keys, and Nile Rodgers chat with legendary producer Rick Rubin is almost always fascinating. Where else would you hear Questlove and Rubin swap stories about Barack Obama? The show, which is also hosted by author Malcolm Gladwell and journalist Bruce Headlam, features some of the best behind-the-music gossip since, well, Behind The Music.