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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
So by my reckoning, as of 25th May 2012, I’ve read 46 of the 83 available books. Go me.
John Perry, September 2011 (updated every so often)
So, i can hear precisely no one asking, did you call your albums So Claw and Sour Crow? Well let me tell you something.
Well, first of all, we decided we wanted to make a slow core album inspired by the bands slapped with that tag. Like Galaxie 500…
Read a lovely interview/review with us over at Culture Vulture about So Claw/Sour Crow
So Claw and Sour Crow are released today!
To celebrate the imminent release of So Claw/Sour Crow (Monday September 19th face fans), here is a giant ‘Club logo, painted on cardboard, hiding away somewhere in Bingley, W. Yorks.
The final release by Cath’n'Dad records before we unleash the double monster that is “So Claw/Sour Crow” on the world. This badboy is a collaboration between one John Perry and Wednesday Club collaborator Oliver Robinson.
I first knew of Oliver Robinson way back in 1998 when we went to big school and he had bleached blonde hair and I played rugby and had a skinhead. We first talked in 2000, arguing the relative merits of The Smashing Pumpkins (him) and The Smiths (me) – as I recall we both got very angry. Then in 2002 we started talking music, Oli was one of the few people who liked my outre keyboard-played–wth-feet recordings. For the next 3 years Oli became my musical director and I, well, I listened to his songs. Then we formed a band with some other people. Then that band broke up and then… In the summer of 2008 Nir (vana) were born!
Ah those gilded days, as we strummed away on our respective guitars, talking of a future we knew would never come but we yearned for any way. Nuzzling into each others bellies and drinking sweet tea by the lake. Memories.
But I digress, this was to be a straight musical collaboration between me and he. Firstly we recorded an album of twenty minutes length one balmy summer day in 08 after hearing our friend Geoff Peff’s album “Suggestions Excerpt”. Then we tried to do it again the year after but only got half way because I was too miserable and had to go home. Then we tried to do it again later that year but Oli was too tired and had to have a nap.
Then I started to send Oli “raps” I did and he made beats for them. Folk was so over. Then it was tacitly agreed I couldn’t rap and we never spoke of it again.
Enjoy – Horsey by Nir (vana)
John Perry, September 11