The 33 1/3 thread.... (the book series)

Lee Newman

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So, I’d seen people talk about these books for a while. When @Thackeraye picked a ROTM with a companion book, I decided it was time I pick one up. (Not talking that one now, you can go here for the current discussion: Needles & Grooves AoTM /// Vol. 14 - August 2020 /// Fugazi - In on the Kill Taker ). It wasn’t a great surprise that I enjoyed it. I’ve taken to reading more books about music than not these days.

Anyhow, I’m gonna embark on reading the series. I’m gonna go back to the start and have ordered the Dusty Springfield Book. Dusty in Memphis is a top ten all time album for me, so seems like a great place to start. I already own a copy. Can’t wait.

I figured in order to keep my wife from killing me (because I’ll be purchasing the music if I don’t already have it)... I’ll be doing one of these month.

I’ll report out on what I thought of the book and the album. I’m happy to have anyone join along that wants to it can be like a book and record club...
 
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Supreme Being Diaper Baby

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I really wanted to read the Prince SOTT one from this series but reviews I saw (not professional, by people who picked it up) are that it's trash and it's unimportant as far as giving any actual insight into the album. I'll usually take negative reviews with a grain of salt; but I saw it getting overwhelmingly flamed.
 

MadLucas

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I really wanted to read the Prince SOTT one from this series but reviews I saw (not professional, by people who picked it up) are that it's trash and it's unimportant as far as giving any actual insight into the album. I'll usually take negative reviews with a grain of salt; but I saw it getting overwhelmingly flamed.

I've read similar reviews of that book, as well as Talking Heads "Fear of Music" book.

One I can say "stay away from" is the Flying Burrito Brothers entry. There's enough glaring inaccuracies that it makes you question the actual facts. Great read, but terribly wrong in places.

And, not that this is a bad thing, but the entry for PJ Harvey's "Rid Of Me" isn't historical or analytical at all, but instead a short novel using the songs and their themes as plot points. Just warning anyone who might be thinking about picking that one up.
 

Supreme Being Diaper Baby

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I've read similar reviews of that book, as well as Talking Heads "Fear of Music" book.

One I can say "stay away from" is the Flying Burrito Brothers entry. There's enough glaring inaccuracies that it makes you question the actual facts. Great read, but terribly wrong in places.

And, not that this is a bad thing, but the entry for PJ Harvey's "Rid Of Me" isn't historical or analytical at all, but instead a short novel using the songs and their themes as plot points. Just warning anyone who might be thinking about picking that one up.
Yea, for the Prince one it seemed like the common complaint was that its content was more about what the album meant for the author. I don't need that. I only care what the album means to me.

I'd like a fly-on-the-wall experience or writing about it in the greater context of an oeuvre or something more insightful and universal - not just someone's impression.
 

MadLucas

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Yea, for the Prince one it seemed like the common complaint was that its content was more about what the album meant for the author. I don't need that. I only care what the album means to me.

I'd like a fly-on-the-wall experience or writing about it in the greater context of an oeuvre or something more insightful and universal - not just someone's impression.

The Portishead, Slint, and Neutral Milk Hotel ones would be right up your alley. Worth reading twice for the information inside them.
 

Supreme Being Diaper Baby

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The Portishead, Slint, and Neutral Milk Hotel ones would be right up your alley. Worth reading twice for the information inside them.
I’ll have to check those out. 2/3 albums I really like. The one I don’t is Slint - 20 yr old me liked it but it hasn’t aged well for me. After the critical/underground mystique wore off and dozens upon dozens of listens, I eventually came to the conclusion that it’s a mediocre album w acclaim that far outpaces it (YMMV). Although maybe I’ll read the book just to see what’s up!
 

WhiteDahlias

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I've read 1.5 of these. I really liked the one about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and I tried to read the one about Unknown Pleasures but I stopped after a while because I couldn't get into the author's writing style. I would like to pick up more of them at some point but I wasn't sure of where to go next.
 

MadLucas

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I’ll have to check those out. 2/3 albums I really like. The one I don’t is Slint - 20 yr old me liked it but it hasn’t aged well for me. After the critical/underground mystique wore off and dozens upon dozens of listens, I eventually came to the conclusion that it’s a mediocre album w acclaim that far outpaces it (YMMV). Although maybe I’ll read the book just to see what’s up!

Definitely worth the read, then. Gives a very detailed history of everything leading up to the album and some of its aftermath. Possibly the definitive history of the band, it's members, and it's music.
 

Lee Newman

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Definitely worth the read, then. Gives a very detailed history of everything leading up to the album and some of its aftermath. Possibly the definitive history of the band, it's members, and it's music.
Yeah, I figure for things like Slint, it will pay off for me to wait until I have the book to give it a first ever listen. I figure three listens and a book, if I ain’t on board at that point, I ain’t ever gonna be on board.
 

Lee Newman

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Sort of a tangent, but I listened to A Love Supreme again this weekend and I’ll be damned if it still doesn’t speak to me the way it does to everyone else. So I’m pretty much gonna listen to it all week long and I’m reading Ashley Kahn’s book. I mean I like it, but everyone talks about how transformative and emotional it is.
 

MadLucas

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Sort of a tangent, but I listened to A Love Supreme again this weekend and I’ll be damned if it still doesn’t speak to me the way it does to everyone else. So I’m pretty much gonna listen to it all week long and I’m reading Ashley Kahn’s book. I mean I like it, but everyone talks about how transformative and emotional it is.

It took me 10 years to fully appreciate that album, at least for what it is meant to be as a body of work. Reading that book, three times nonetheless, really did help me appreciate it as much as some of his other works. For the record, no pun intended, my favorite Coltrane album is Live at Birdland.

If you are down for it, his Kind of Blue book and "The House That Trane Built" are also essential. I reread that last one every year or two and still find something to inspire my listening.
 

Lee Newman

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It took me 10 years to fully appreciate that album, at least for what it is meant to be as a body of work. Reading that book, three times nonetheless, really did help me appreciate it as much as some of his other works. For the record, no pun intended, my favorite Coltrane album is Live at Birdland.

If you are down for it, his Kind of Blue book and "The House That Trane Built" are also essential. I reread that last one every year or two and still find something to inspire my listening.
I was figuring there must be a KOB book out there. House That Trane Built has been on my to read list for a couple of years now.
 
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Gavaxeman

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I have loads of these books...around a 100..they are all over the place in terms of quality, and no uniform approach, but that’s part of the charm...the strangest one I’ve read is the smiths “meat is murder” which is a coming of age novel with the music being part of the background to the story ..always worth checking out reviews before buying these..and use eBay if you have completist tendencies !
 

yukbon

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I have found that, for me, mentally, these books fall into three categories:

a) "I want to tell you about this album and how great it is and how it happened"
b) "I want to tell you about what this album means to me and how much I love it"
c) "I thought this was a fiction writing exercise that required I talk about an album"

They all have their ups and downs and some are better than the rest. Some, being written by musicians that are not necessarily great writers of prose, really show it (looking at you, "Daydream Nation").

My favorites in the first category:

  • Throbbing Gristle’s “20 Jazz Funk Greats” by Drew Daniels (of Matmos). An excellent read consisting mostly of a description of the track/album followed by commentary on it by both Daniels and the band members, from snippets of interviews Daniels conducted with each, separately. There’s a lot of good insight on the tracks and themes behind the music and no overlap with the other books about TG (“Wreckers of Civilisation” or RE/search stuff etc). Daniels’ back-of-the-book blurb says his day job is as a professor and the writing shows it, but thankfully he’s also a fan of the band, it’s music and specifically this album. It really feels like he wrote the book he would have wanted to read, as a fan.
  • The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime” by Michael T. Fournier. There’s bits of fanboy on this, but the enthusiasm gets funneled into good writing and interesting insights, with appropriate interviews. I learned that my CD copy has tracks missing from the original double album. I wonder when SST will get off it’s ass and put out a deluxe version of it. If you're reading this, you really owe it to yourself to listen to Watt's appearance on Marc Maron's WTF podcast.
  • My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” by Mike McGonigal. Extensive info on and from everyone (except Colm), a great read especially if you don’t want to read the book about Rough Trade just for the MBV bits.
  • R.E.M.’s “Murmur” by J. Niimi is hands-down the best book in the series. Organized and well-written, broken into distinct sections that have a logical flow, even if you don’t like the band, this is a worthwhile read. The content about the artwork and lyric content is particularly great.
  • David Bowie’s “Low” by Hugo Wilcken. Good but focused pretty strictly on Low (although it does touch slightly on “Station To Station”), with very few mentions of thematic ties to the Berlin trilogy. The quotes from Eno and engineers on the album are quite interesting although it does show Bowie at his most paranoid assholish worst (e.g. denying Visconti producer credit on a whim, etc.)
  • The Beatles’ “Let It Be” by Steve Matteo. Covering the Let It Be and Abbey Road periods (Abbey Road was released first, but recorded after Let It Be — there’s material from each recording session on the albums), with a lot of background on the dissolution of the band and it’s effect on the bandmembers. Not a great deal of demonizing of Yoko beyond fact-stating (“yoko was at this session, beatleX was annoyed at her” etc).
  • The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.” by Bill Janovitz. A song-by-song breakdown of the Stones’ Americana-influenced album.
  • The Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” by Dan Leroy, the addition of the info on the singles and B-sides is really great.
  • Belle and Sebastian’s “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Scott Plagenhoef, short and sweet, although if you’ve read anything about the band or this album in another book, it’s unlikely that you’ll find something amazingly new or brilliant.
  • Nirvana’s “In Utero” by Gillian G. Gaar. Quotes from Albini and info on the videos from this album make this a nice little read.
  • Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” by Amanda Petrusich, good but suffers from that there is so little known about Drake, there’s quote from musicians on how the album affected them spread out through the book and they wind up feeling like padding.
  • Velvet Underground’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico” by Joe Harvard, a lot of quotes from other musicians but this doesn’t feel like padding, mostly. Excellent info and history on early days of the band and it’s Warhol period.
  • Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Kim Cooper, a close contender with the ‘Murmur’ book for best-in-series; a lot of info about a group and album that not much is known about. Everyone interviewed and lots of info about the songs and the band proper.
  • Pixies’ “Doolittle”: aside from no Kim Deal involvement, everything you could ask for in a book that focuses on just this one Pixies album. Covers the reunion, extensive Frank Black interviews.
  • Grateful Dead "Workingman's Dead" -- wonderful, wonderful book in every way. Goes into the history, song analysis, in-depth on the album (as opposed to band bios like "long strange trip" which touch on the albums here and there but don't go deep.

b) is more about self-involvement and tends to be boring for me. I really, really loathed the Talking Heads book. Like, I returned it after reading maybe a third of it. It's a lot about Lethem loving the talking heads and being a teen and not a lot about the Talking Heads' album.

c) category 3 books:
  • Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” is a dictionary of all the words used in the lyrics of the album. Seriously.
  • The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder” is a novella about suicide and how much it sucked being an emo kid in the midwest in the 80s. It’s not bad, but it isn’t about the album.
  • Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality” is another novella (by Josh Darnelle of The Mountain Goats) about misunderstood teens.
  • Radiohead’s “OK Computer” is a bone-dry analysis of the album that discusses none of the music and reads like a treatise on the history of boredom. Dude goes on and on about the beats per minute and song lengths.
  • Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” is small doses of interestingness between pages of fawning and not-very-well-thought-out prose. I hated this book so much that I registered on Amazon in order to give it a bad review.
  • PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”, another novella.
  • The Band’s “Music from Big Pink”, a novella about a fictionalized ‘friend of The Band’ who is Zelig and Forrest Gump in his ability to be around at crucial moments in the making of the album. Then there’s the bits where the story centers around him and there’s nothing about the album. Yeah.
 
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topofthedial

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I've read a bunch of these, and I largely agree with people's feedback above. There's a couple more I would flag:
  • Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson, which is about Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love," is a masterpiece of music criticism IMO. I hate Celine Dion's music but found this book absolutely fascinating. I think it's the best of the 33 1/3 books.
  • Television's "Marquee Moon" is an excellent history of the mid-70s downtown NYC punk/art rock scene. If you like this one, you should also check out Will Hermes' Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever, which provides a broader history of the NYC music scene from that era, including the loft jazz scene, early hip hop, salsa, and disco.
 
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