A few weeks ago I was over at my friend Cliff’s place, and he threw the book at me. It was a small paperback book from a series called 33 1/3, in which each volume is devoted exclusively to an album. This particular volume covered Sly and the Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”.
I had never heard of the 33 1/3 series, but was immediately thrilled to know it existed. I was even more excited when I read the list of albums covered on the inner sleeve. Going down the list was like a tour through my record collection, but even more than that, it was a roadmap to innumerable conversations enjoyed over the years with friends about music we love and listened to together. It was impossible not to read the list and start matching names with books they might enjoy.
I handed a few out over the holidays as gifts, and at 100 pages or so each, they make a quick enough read that by the time I handed most of the books out they were “pre-read” books. The interesting thing about the series is that each book is written by a different author, and each one brings their own approach. Some are straight-up critic pieces; others go into technical musical detail that can range from enlightening to trivial. Some are works of historical perspective and context about the era that produced the artist and record. Some are biopic in nature, more stories about the author’s life and what the record meant to them. I have read five of the books, and highlights include:
#4 The Kinks-The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society-Perhaps my favorite record of all time, certainly in the top five, it’s an interesting examination of how a singular work of art can emerge from chaos and difficult, talented people.
#8 Jimi Hendrix-Electric Ladyland- Hendrix is one of my favorite artists to read about, and this book doesn’t disappoint at all. The story has been told in numerous places, but the retelling of the panic Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton felt when they first saw Hendrix in London, meeting together in a movie theatre during the day to compare notes on this interloper, is priceless.
#16 The Replacements-Let It Be– Written by Colin Meloy, leader of the Decemberists, it was unlike any of the other books in the series that I had read. Meloy grew up somewhat isolated in Montana, and Let It Be was a sort of lifeline for him. As I was going through the book I kept thinking it wasn’t what I was wanting to read at all, as there is really very little about the Replacements in it at all. But by the end the drunken Minneapolis foursome does indeed make an appearance, and suddenly the book makes total sense. This is the one that has stayed with me the longest after reading it.
#30 Beastie Boys-Paul’s Boutique– An outstanding read that works on many levels. History of the band, the making of a groundbreaking record that can never be duplicated, and just damn fun read. There are few things in life that could match what it was like to be a Beastie Boy in 1989.
#33 The Stone Roses-Reads like a letter to a lost lover, full of regrets and thoughts of what could have been. When a band starts with one great record and falls off the face of the Earth, do you give thanks for the one record, or lament that more never came?
Each book costs $10. Some are probably better than others, but if you love any of the records on the list, go grab the book on Amazon. Grab two. Then sit down and listen to that record you know so well you never even listen to it anymore, and hear the whole thing again for the first time.