33 1/3

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.

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11 Responses to 33 1/3

  1. Katy says:

    Brad read the Stone Roses one to me while we listened to the album on the drive to Kansas City… I was a little skeptical that hearing the “behind the music” story of this arrogant band would interest me but actually I really enjoyed it and like the album more now. Not least because it gives a lot of the lyrics, and I can only understand about a quarter of what the Stone Roses say.

    btw, do you have any Decemberists albums? I’ve been meaning to check them out.

  2. pipelineblog says:

    Maybe Brad has a future career as a books on tape reader.

    The Decemberists seem not to be for me. I haven’t heard much of them, but I detect a certain lack of catchy hooks or other interesting features that my ear wants to hear. I checked out about five of their songs on iTunes, and each 30 second sample put me to sleep in 15 seconds, so it was like a lot of little power naps.

    But, that said, I really haven’t given them a chance, the album seems to be getting rave reviews, I heard the Colbert thing was funny, and the Meloy book on the Replacements was very enjoyable. So, perhaps I’ve been to rash to dismiss them, but what I’ve heard just hasn’t grabbed me much.

  3. David says:

    We are big Decemberists fans out here in Ohio. Although, to be honest, I haven’t listened to anything other than Picaresque. And unlike the Stone Roses, you can understand every lyric!

    I’m exited to read several of these books (starting with Harvest) … good thing I have a Borders gift card burning a whole in my wallet.

  4. Clint says:

    Doug, I know you “poo poo’d” this before, but check out http://jefitoblog.com/blog/ I have really, really enjoyed it. The guy is apparently a music reviewer and I think he primarily focuses on his blog now, which is really more of a music review site. It has daily comentary on artists and also more complete “idiot guides” to countless bands, which is essentially an review of an artist’s career from the beginning to the present with some knowledgable criticism and/or praise thrown in. The best part is that stories have linked songs ready for download carefully inserted where appropriate. Fridays it has a “mix tape” of songs to download akin to the Pipeline mix that you did a coupld of weeks ago. It has never disappointed me.

  5. jefito says:

    Doug “poo poo’d” me before? Well…I never!

  6. pipelineblog says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t be getting me into trouble with THE jefito. I never even went to the jefito blog until today, and was pleased with what I saw. (Though I have to admit my Fugazi consumption stopped at Repeater…)

  7. Collins says:

    This sounds fantastic. Aren’t the Decemberists the ones in Colbert’s doghouse for doing the green screen thing?

  8. Jim says:

    The two you sent me for Christmas were good and interesting, though the OK Computer book is a bit of a critic wank-o-rama at times. But it has this fascinating section about the difference it made for records when CDs replaced vinyl and then cassettes. I hadn’t really thought about the construction of a record when you had to flip it over, when there were two first songs on a side, etcetera; weirdly, I had thought about it in the context of making mixed tapes for people back in the day, but not in this context, and in the context of the seamless content of OK Computer it has particular relevance, bec ause there’s no obvious breaking point to start Side Two.

  9. pipelineblog says:

    The thing I find interesting about LPs is how the audio quality was directly impacted by the length of the recorded output on the record. I don’t understand how it works, but I guess if you cram a bunch of songs (from a time perspective, could just be one long song or several shorter songs) it really hurts the bass, because the grooves of the record get compressed together. It was a big deal, for instance, when Metallica decided to release “…And Justice For All” as a double LP. Despite significant extra cost, they felt it needed to be done to give the record the proper amount of bass. Mission accomplished, and I know that because my freshman year roommate Steve Hunt bought it on vinyl, and it had all the bass it needed.

    Jim, have you never heard Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” on CD? It has this funny interlude where Petty comes on and says, “Hello, CD listeners. This is where you would normally be flipping the record over to hear side 2”, or some such thing. It’s interesting if for no other reason than you can hear just how slow Tom Petty talks. A true Southerner.

  10. Katy says:

    I’ve read that it is still a common practice in the recording industry to make song 7 something catchy that will draw you in, like song 1, because it used to be the first song on the second side of the album. I wonder how fast that is changing now.

  11. pipelineblog says:

    That’s true. Of course, it implies there are other slots designated for the shitty songs that don’t draw you in. Gotta love the recording industry.

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