Sunday, April 20, 2008

For obsessive compulsives

If liner notes and record reviews are not enough for you, turn to the 33 1/3 series of books from Continuum publishing. 33 1/3 is a series of pocket sized books, around 150 pages, that focus in detail on great albums old and new. Written by scholars, critics, and musicians the series has attracted a fanatical following. They have been around for a few years, and up until now I have resisted, thinking I'd rather spend 10 bucks on a CD. But the music geek in me has recently prevailed. I also have a weakness for collecting small things of identical size (there's a psychological condition for this, but I don't know the name). I love reading about music, and chances are if you're reading this blog, you do too. In some ways the books I've read are like graduate thesis papers; intriguing, but not always the best writing. Detailed footnotes and bibliographies are provided for further obsessing. Here are brief reviews of the first two I've read, to help you decide if you're ready to take the plunge:

#17 - Led Zeppelin IV - Author Erik Davis tackles one of the greatest albums of all time. Davis is an expert in mysticism and the occult, and delves into the hidden symbolism pretty heavily, maybe more than most readers care to read about. He does make a compelling argument for the overall meaning of the album, though, and balances the occult theory with a good knowledge of all things Zeppelin. He also offers a really insightful review of all the things we loved about the 12-inch record and the concept of creating an 'album' of songs, notions that have fallen by the wayside in the digital era. I was hoping for more detail on the recording sessions at Headley Grange, but there are other sources for that.

Conclusion: A must-read for Zeppelin fanatics. Casual music fans may be overwhelmed.

Buy It

#37 - The Who Sell Out - Written by John Dougan, a Who fan with a PhD in American Studies, the book is really more of a history of the Pop Art and pirate radio era in mid 1960's Britain than an intense analysis of the album. Sell Out is an overlooked masterpiece, and I found the discussion of cultural climate that led to the music very worthwhile reading. I didn't know much about the pirate radio movement and this book provides a complete history, which of course is instrumental in the concept of Sell Out. If you're looking for 120 pages on the Who though, you will be disappointed.

Conclusion: Anyone with an interest in 60's rock music should read it. If you're a Who fan that has forgotten about Sell Out in favor of the Who's more well-known albums then you should definitely read it.

Buy It

More to come as I continue to read. There's 56 in the series and counting....

The 33 1/3 Blog

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