33 1/3 BooksPosted: September 24, 2011
I really like the 33 1/3 book series. Each one is a small pocket sized book about a “classic” album written in whatever style the author sees fit. They’re short and they’re about music. I’m bound to love them. With this in mind I thought I’d give a (very) short review of each 33 1/3 book I’ve read. Please note, with some of these books it’s been many years since I read them so the review may be grossly unfair.
Funnily enough, this was once found by 33 1/3 publisher who said it had “some very strange opinions” or something like that.
Full list of available books here.
The first in the series and a goody. Tells the story of this gorgeous album througha mixture of personal anecdote, interviews with it’s creators and a grand overarching theory of the “Imagined American South”. Does what it does really well, but, as with other books in the series, suffers from repitition. I would also have enjoyed a bit more analysis of the songs. Lovely stuff, though.
2. Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans – 4/5
An interesting book that focuses mainly on Arthur Lee and LA at the time of Forever Changes. Some interesting theories and a good read that grounds you in the time place and psyche it came from. I can’t help escape the feeling that Mr Hultkrans picked his favourite theorists and shoehorned them into book. On the plus side some awesome stuff about gnosticism.
Interesting account. I was fearing that this book would be an irritating “isn’t this amazing” type-of-thing about a classic album that is really ok when compared to the artist’s other work. Not at all. Inglis examines the dichotomy between Harvest being Neil Young’s best selling album and one of his least appreciated “good” albums well. Enjoyable in that sense but, much like the album itself, has some massive highlights and passages of dullness. A good book but not one of the greatest in the 33 1/3 series – much like Harvest in Neil Young’s oeuvre.
Pretty good account; gives a good song by song overview of the album and it’s importance but isn’t really that dynamically written.
Wonderful coming of age story using Meat Is Murder as it’s backbone. I bought this in New Zealand and read it in a capsule hotel in Osaka. Fact.
An enjoyable enough read but a bit disappointing, really. Good on the recording of the album and the times that produced it but there’ a big Syd Barret/rest of Pink Floyd shaped hole in it. Cavanagh decides against a Sydsplotation tome but makes comments along the lines of “the other 3 didn’t take lsd”. So how did they feel about the Syd’s psychedelia and hangers on? hmmmmm. Also there’s far too many exclamation marks!
Solid rather than great book which gives a good contextualisation about the album without really drawing you into it.
Written by my namesake and former Only Ones guitarist, John Perry, this is a standard background + track by track offering. Enjoyable enough but slight.
Focusses primarily on Ian Curtis and tells a story familiar to anyone who’s ever read Mojo. Found the writing a bit prickly at points.
10. Sign ‘o’ The Times by Michaelangelo Matos 4/5
Starts off brilliantly with a picture of the author’s young life in Minnesota and the cultural landscape of the 80s. Matos moves on to write really well about SOTT’s tracks individually but in just not a gripping a manner as his initial overview. Highly recommended.
A fat volume that exhaustively tells the story of this album. Interesting enough.
Not the Beatles’ best album but one with a lot of stories surrounding it. I enjoyed this enough to watch the film. icy.
13. Live At The Apollo by Douglas Wolk 4.5/5
Wow. Brilliantly juxtaposes the recording of this live album with the Cuban Missile Crises that was raging when it was recorded. Only drawback being the lack of insight into how one affected the other.
14. Aqualung by Allan Moore – 2.5/5
Unfortunately not the same Alan Moore that wrote Watchmen. This is a mainly straight musical recount of the album which comes alive when incidental details are included. Moore is an engaging and generous writer who makes me wish I liked Jethro Tull mo(o)re. But not that much.
15. Ok Computer by Dai Griffiths 1.5/5
Let me count the ways in which this book fails… firstly it’s prickly, I’ve complained about some of the other books constantly referring to the “genius” of their albums but sometimes I wonder whether this guy even likes OK Computer. He brings up interesting concepts, such as OKC being the first “cd album” but fails to bring any real enlightenment upon the subject – spending a long time failing to do this. He says all we need to appreciate the book is the album itself, whilst constantly quoting esoteric figures. He disses books that focus on interviews whilst using interviews with the band. He quantifies things ab adsurdum (understandable for a music academian I suppose) bringing precisely no insight with it. This gets one and a half when humour or the book it could have been shine through.
A great book if you want to find out what Colin Meloy’s childhood was like, and he’s a very good writer. Not so great if you want to know loads about the Replacements. Not a flaw, it’s the diversity that I like about the series.
17 . Led Zep iv by Erik Davis 2.5/5
Been a while since i read this. Ummm it was ok? I learnt how to play Black Dog and liked Led Zeppelin as much as before.
18 . Exile On Main Street by Bill janovitz 2.5/5
I lost this on a plane and had to rebuy it. Ah, much like the album, it’s ok but I still think the Rolling Stones are an overrated bunch of knobs.
19 . Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli 2/5
This book was boring. Too much music theory, too much “Brian was an underappreciated genius”, “brain’s dad was a dick”, “This album is very good.” etc.
21. Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno 2/5
I’ll have to start by saying I’m a fan of Bruno’s work as a musician, he’s a great songwriter. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me. It’s put together alphabetically (I think?) making it difficult to follow a thread of the album and focusses far too much on the music structurally for me to find it interesting (even as a semi musician myself). Works best when Bruno talks about Costello in social context which gets the books it’s 2 stars.
22. Murmur by J. Niimi 3.5/5
This book was fun. Gave a real sense of time and place given. if I remember correctly they refer to Stipe/Buck as European when they mean “artsy”.
A tough one this. Suffers from innumerable writing crimes;the purplest of prose; the constant reference to it’s subject as a genius; too much of an agenda (to place Jeff Buckley with in a female/black context <which is understable, I suppose>). But, but, but… It did make me appreciate an album I hated for years (blame open mike nights circa 2003) and I enjoyed reading it. Although it never mentions the words “ok for AOR” or “kinda bland”.
25 Kick Out the Jams – MC5 1969 Don McLeese 3/5
Another enjoyable book that makes you wish you were there maaaaaaannn. Got me into The MC5 (didn’t think it would) but is a bit too assured of it’s subjects greatness. Also I felt there was to much authorial projection in there about what was important or not in the late 60s/early 70s.
Really brings alive Bowie during his Berlin period, mainly ignoring the rest of Bowie’s earlier and later work which works really well. Loads of great stories with a focus on the phenomenal music. Not quite convinced by his argument that the whole album’s about schizophrenia.
27. Born In The USA Geoffrey Himes 2.5/5
and it was alrighhht, I guess. interesting how much effort Brucey put into his lyrics and that. Funny that the writer considers the album a failure (a Diamond album! Sold over 10 million etc etc) as Springsteeb could have released 4 “just as good”
Coming as clumsy fan fiction at points, this novella is nevertheless a compelling read. Some of the references seem shoehorned in (The Graduate! Martin Luther King shot!) and the writing about the album itself sometimes felt shoehorned in a “this is the bit that makes it about BIg Pink” way (something that Meat Is Murder an Master Of Reality don’t suffer from). All this being said very enjoyable and evocative, would probably have been better as a standalone book.
The best selling album in the series and you can see why. Although not the best it is about an album with mystery at it’s core – she delves deep and gets the story behind the album well. Has a big Jeff Mangum sized hole in the middle though.
Great fun this book. Tells a story about the Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers I’d never known and sheds a lot of light on the album.
Great. an album I thought I knew from start to finish blown completely open by thoughtful analysis with a good history of the band too.
Got me through a very boring job when I used to hide in the toilet and read it. Good without really being extraordinary.
I remember this book being pedantic and not that illuminating. I still read it all though. Memories, aye?
36. Loveless by Mike McGonigal 4.5/5
Loved this book. Good access to the band and how they made this beast of a record. Made me want to form a MBV rip off band. Then I remembered I can’t play guitar.
A well written account that places this The Who album in it’s cultural context, leaving their earlier and later careers to the side. I enjoyed Dougan’s enthusiasm for his subject and it was interesting to get an American’s well informed take on a very British album.
Full of lovely anecdotes about the albums creation. I love the tale of Robert Pollard taking some acid seeing his face turn into his sons and then writing “The Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory.” It all makes sense now! N.B. It doesn’t all make sense now.
I actually gave up ont his one. Restarted t about a year later to discover it was alright. It’s just a bit breathlessly convinced of the albums genius. I like Daydream Nation but it’s not my favourite Sonic Youth album so this grated. A lot.
41. Use your Illusion 1 and 2 by Eric Weisbard 4/5
This book was great. Really took the piss out of the bloat and pomposity of these terrible albums. Refers to Axl’s different vocal stylings as “scary deep voiced man”.
44. Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica by Kevin Courrier 1.5/5
God, this book irritated me. The writer cna write but mainly did this as a “hey remember the 60s?” thing. I know more about this album than he does and blah blah blah. But seriously, he quoted LYRICS THAT DON’T EXIST in the book. It’s just goddamn lazy.
Enthusiastic without being breathless, the writer really draws you into the album and sheds a lot of new light on it. I read this whilst suffering from a heavy cold in New Zealand, hiding on a bunk bed in a dorm full of 6 other people.
Didn’t really engage me. I love this album but the book was just, well, boring. Why was it boring? I don’t know. Pseudo academic maybe? A bit snotty? i can’t remember.
Urrrg. Absolutely nails the albums appeal at the start of the book and then…. fills the rest of the book up with precisely nothing and then writes a lot about a commercial the song Pink Moon was used in.
The best 33 1/3 book about the worst album (IMHO). Asks the question”what is taste” in a heartfelt, personal manner. Dude cries at a Celine Dion concert. What could be more beautiful than that?
I remember remarkably little baout this book save for the writer makes a big point about how Swordfishtrombones should be written swordf/isht/rombo/nes on the front. no anecdotes. nothing.
Enjoyable but not great. Good insight into the album ‘n all. I’m not sure I’d like to hang out with Throbbing Gristle. umm… oh yeah some nice personal anecdotes too.
Awesome novella about a boy put in a mental hospital. Gave the world the phrase “Why does everything great not only have to stop being great but turn to utter shit?”
I liked this book enough to email the author to tell him so. Now my favourite thrash metal album. In your face Metallica.
An interesting book about an interesting album. They wrote songs on the train, ya know.
63. XO by Matthew Le May 2/5
Boring, much like his fellow P4ker’s Pink Moon. Focusses on the media phenomenon of Smith (which is ok) and his “artistic process”. Seeing Smith changed a few words when writing a song wasn’t interesting to me.
In depth but I had the same problem with this book as Daydream Nation. Continually reiterates how much of a genius Nas is and how fantastic Illmatic is when I’m only beginning to “get” the album and a lot of it leaves me cold…
67. Another Green World by Geeta Dayal 4/5
A great in depth look about the album and all it’s tricks and turns. Made me appreciate it more and realise why it’s not a vocal album but sounds like one.
68. Zaireeka by Mark Richardson 4/5
I really like Mark Richardson’s writing in general. He’s an open and generous writer about the things he loves. Gets nicely to the heart of the enigma of the… wait where was I…. oh yeah of this album(x4).
Originally I thought this was crap. Just being a glossary followed by a track by track followed by an interview followed by a crossword. BUT it’s REALLY insightful (written by a band member) and entertaining. only worth owning if you love the album otherwise you’ll be left cold.
70. Facing Future by Dan Kois 4/5
A great book about a song in a patchy album. Relaly greta for it’s take on a slightly tragic life, Hawaiian culture and how one song (which I’ve played at a wedding) took over the world.
Very much a fan’s effort and doesn’t really transcend that. nice enough but inconsequential.
Yeah, turns out I knew bugger all about slint till I read this book. Made me realise how seriously awesomely brilliantly flabbergastingly something something this album is. But seriously, good book, rich with great anecdotes.
Radiohead win by being the first band to have two 33 1/3’s about them. This one focusses on time and the album’s relationship to it. Fascinating and very academic. Probably better than a “Thom wanted to do an electronic album/Amnesiac was b-sides” book.
Oh dear. What happened? The funny thing is Rob Trucks can write but seriously. 1/5 of the book going on about himself for no reason! Complete focus on Lyndsey Buckingham – yes it was a labour of love for him but there were 4 other band members 2 of whom wrote 2/3 of the album! Banging on about not being able to interview Lynsdey Buckingham! Whining so much whining! But I did finish it, just bewildered the whole time I was reading.
This book is fantastic. Shteamer gets close interviews with the band and associates and has an obvious passion for his subject. Made me love this album in a way I thought I never would. Indeed it’s what Deaner is talking about.
A strange book, but a goodie (much like the album itself).
Attfield has close access to the band and a deep knowledge of his subject matter, writing in acompelling manner – my favourite line “J.Mascis had a surprise bypass at the age of 12.” Interesting, for me as a DJ afficianado, is the stuff left out, but as the book does quote extensively from Our Band Could Be Your Life I think there’s an assumption that people might know some of the story. I smiled at the end.
83 Marquee Moon Television 1977 Bryan Waterman 3.5/5
An enjoyable book about a great album, which predicably doubles up of as a history of CBGBs. Not entirely groundbreaking but a good insight into the album.
86 Fear of Music Talking Heads 1979 Jonathan Lethem 2.5/5
Wasn’t too sure about this one at first, the style annoyed me but I got into it in the end. Not my favourite Talking Heads Album by a long shot mind. Have since read a book of his. It’s really good.
88. They Might Be Giants’ Flood by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer 3.5/5
Great book about artistic process and the (New England) Americaness of TMBG. reminds me that I really should get more into them.
89. Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet by Phillip Crandall 4.5/5
loved this book. hilarious story which is as fun a read as the album is a listen (well for 5 minutes). Really goes into the process of making an album and the fact that WK played everything (and lied about millions of contributors) and didn’t make himself up.
90. Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II
by Marc Weidenbaum 3/5
I love this album. One of my top 5 of all time. interesting about the facts and the creation and the art but lacked a little sould for my liking. Ah i dunno could never be as mysterious as the source material.
93. J Dilla’s Donuts by Jordan Ferguson 4/5
A great book explaining the culture Dilla came from, his life story and his genius and rule breaking. Learnt a lot.
94. The Beach Boys’ Smile by Luis Sanchez 2/5
Another missed Beach Boys opportunity. The most storied album of all time and this managed to be a bit dull and through the motions. Surf’s Up’s a cool song, isn’t it?
95. Oasis’ Definitely Maybe by Alex Niven 3.5/5
Another great “time and place” book. Some really interesting assertions (Oasis treating rock as hiphop and sampling all the hits) and some dodgy (relaly not hearing MBV’s influence). Love how he pretends that Digsy’s Dinner never happened and he makes me wonder what the world would have been like if John Smith hadn’t died 😦
96. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville by Gina Arnold 4.5/5
This album is amazing and I hadn’t heard it before reading this. Maybe that’s biased me but I can’t believe the amount of shit Liz Phair got. Way better than Main Street.
97. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kirk Walker Graves 4/5
Another one that made me realise an album was FUCKING BRILLIANT. Thanks. Would read again.
98. Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album by Charles Fairchild 3.5/5
This recontextualised the album very well. I’d always thought of this album as radical but the book points out it was really the crest of a wave and sadly, a dead end…
100. Michael Jackson’s Dangerous by Susan Fast 3/5
This album’s singles really were the sound of my childhood. Not as good as the writer says (there’s some real shit on here) but now I know MJ made a basketball and loony tunes video.
101. Can’s Tago Mago by Alan Warner 4/5
I feel like I know exactly what it was like to be a teenager in rural Scotland in the 70s. so different to now. Good book. thumbs up.
102 . Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe by Tara Murtha 3/5
Good at dissecting the “mystery” of Bobbie Gentry and how different she was from the image presented in the OTBJ song. BG comes across as steely, really determined, ready to make money… i sighed when I found out she was a big Ayn Rand fan.
104. Devo’s Freedom of Choice by Evie Nagy 3.5/5
A great overview of Devo’s career. Now know it’s pronounced boogie boy. Love the fact Devo’s favourite part of the records was the merch pull out.
105. Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Michael Stewart Foley 3/5
The Dead Kennedys are one of those Clash style self mythologisers that annoy me but this book gives a great look into the politics of San Francisco that created them.
106. Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. by Andrew Schartmann 2.5/5
An interesting concept for some wonderful music. I now know how game music was made. Was hoping for more from this but I couldn’t tell you what.
107. Beat Happening’s Beat Happening by Bryan C. Parker 3/5
Really just made me want to be in a band that could do anything they wanted and it’d be great, Sat in a room with Calvin Johnson once. for a bit.
So by my reckoning, as of 10th April 2017, I’ve read 76 of the 120 available books. Go me.
John Perry, September 2011 (updated every so often)