Thirty-three and a Third


It’s open-call submission time over at 33 1/3 again. Although my last proposal (for Throwing Muses’ debut) wasn’t picked up, I’d like to try again. I’m still kicking around a number of ideas and have yet to settle on a single album. At any rate, it’s gotten me to thinking about my favorite volumes in the series —namely, which approaches seemed to click with me, which definitely didn’t.

I’ve by no means read every book in the series. Of the fifteen or so that I’ve tackled, it’s surprising that some of the treatments I was most looking forward to —The Velvet Underground and Nico,Unknown Pleasures, Loveless— were the flattest and least involving. Was this a case of there being nothing left for me to discover about these records? Did I simply know them too well? Perhaps. After all, some of the most enjoyable books were for albums about which I had only the barest of knowledge (The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Low). But it wasn’t necessarily the case.

Simply put, the most successful books didn’t pull any punches. They tempered research and analysis with authorial connection and an overarching narrative pull, resulting in a critical reaction as visceral and immediate as the album that inspired it. Given that baseline, the book was free to be as straightforward or as experimental as it pleased —from Drew Daniel’s fascinating exegesis of Throbbing Gristle to Kate Schatz’s dark novella-length interpretation of Rid of Me.

I’m not sure where my first proposal went awry. Hopefully it was visceral and connective enough. I like to imagine that it fell down on the sheer basis of commerciality. But who knows? I suspect that any album I’d deem worthy of book-length treatment would hardly be salable. (Prolapse’s Pointless Walks to Dismal Places, anyone?) Is that going to stop me from trying again? Hell, no.

Proposal thoughts? Past favorites?

33 1/3 blog | 33 1/3 at Powell’s

MP3Throwing Muses, “Vicky’s Box”

MP3David Bowie, “Heroes/Helden” (Hugo Wilcken’s Low)

MP3The Velvet Underground, “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore” (live at the Gymnasium)(Joe Harvard’s The Velvet Underground & Nico)

MP3PJ Harvey, “Man-Size” (Kate SchatzRid of Me)

MP3Throbbing Gristle, “Hot on the Heels of Love” (Drew Daniel’s Twenty Jazz Funk Greats)


Tattoos & Parades & Yesterdays


Best Of 2008


  1. James

    My favorite of the 33 1/3 series is J. Niimi’s book on Murmur. I mean, I have been listening to that record for years, and I never noticed the piano (courtesy of Mitch Easter) doubling some of Mike Mills’ bass notes until I read the book – it’s the sort of sonic detail you can’t miss, once you know to listen for it. Plenty of books have been written about R.E.M., but usually from the perspective of Stipe’s lyrics and/or the band’s influences and history.

    Niimi, on the other hand, did his research with Easter and Don Dixon and recounted the recording process for the album and how it resulted in what you heard when you listen to it (that Niimi is a recording engineer himself has much to do with the knowledge he imparts, I have to figure). I know there are plenty of ways to write a book about a record album, but Niimi’s approach and result is just about perfect, and it provided me with a new way to listen to a record I’d listened to many times before.

    Other books I liked:

    In Utero (if Gillian Gaar ever writes a history of Nirvana, it will probably be the best one ever published)


    Swordfishtrombones (has plenty of information regarding Tom Waits that I didn’t know)

    In The Aeroplane, Over The Sea

    20 Jazz Funk Greats

    Let It Be (Replacements version)

    Live At The Apollo

    Sign O’ the Times

    Armed Forces

    Songs from Big Pink (it’s a completely fictional novella about a fringe dweller orbiting the Band in Woodstock circa ’69, and it’s as good as anything non-fictional Greil Marcus has written about them)

    Pink Moon (if you want to know how Nick Drake’s music appeared in a car commercial, the details are here, and they’re not always pretty)

    The biggest disappointments for me was the Pet Sounds and Daydream Nation books.

  2. jon

    I would totally read that Prolapse book.

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