Thirty-three and a third books.
July 24, 2008 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Which are the best books in Continuum's Thirty-Three and a Third series? I just read Daydream Nation and ended up frustrated and and a bit disappointed.

I've been wanting to read into this series for a while, and finally picked up the Daydream Nation book. Daydream Nation is a favorite album of mine, although I don't feel as if it's a particularly personal album for me, but the book did not satisfy me. The book isn't horrible, but it wasn't great, and I expected it to be. The author wrote quite a bit about how "scary" and "mind-blowing" the record is, something that isn't at all true for me. He also admitted things best kept to oneself when writing a semi-critical exegesis like this. (He had, for instance, apparently never considered that "Hey Joni" might have some relationship to Joni Mitchell.)

I do like personal music writing, and I like behind the scenes stories of album creation, and I also like the kind of rank speculation that Greil Marcus engages in (although his pomposity can get a bit grating). I can certainly imagine reading the volumes written by people I'm already interested in (Joe Pernice, John Darnielle). Since the books aren't available at my local library I would appreciate suggestions for which people have enjoyed the most.
posted by OmieWise to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
They have a greatest hits volume of excerpts that may help you figure out which writing styles/authors interest you most.
posted by leesh at 6:33 AM on July 24, 2008

The volume on Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime is great. This is my favorite album of all time so my expectations were high, then surpassed. The author obviously has much affection and admiration for the band and some of the interviews are very informative and surprising.
posted by audiblevitamins at 7:19 AM on July 24, 2008

I read Carl Wilson's Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste and didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped to. Wilson does get quite personal, which you might like, but I found it to be too much and the book, in places, became more about him than the album. (However, I've not read Carl Wilson's blog, so I don't know what his writing style is like.) I really wanted him to get into the album more and dissect it song-by-song (dudes, seriously: Celine, bless her heart, sings a REGGAE song on that album; how can you NOT dig in into that?) but he barely touches on the songs besides the one from Titanic. The book is mostly Wilson trying to figure out why people like Celine Dion and what "taste" actually is.

That said, I'd like to read more of the series too and I think I'd probably just pick the artists and albums I like and hope for the best. I'm interested to see what others recommend in this thread!
posted by pised at 7:20 AM on July 24, 2008

I loved Kim Cooper's book on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but then again I'm a Neutral Milk Hotel obsessive.

However, I'm also in love with Pet Sounds, and I didn't enjoy that 33 1/3 book much at all.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2008

Would not recommend In the Aeroplane, and I'm a Neutral Milk Hotel obsessive. I think the series is better in theory than practice.
posted by armacy at 7:54 AM on July 24, 2008

I'm not a Neutral Milk Hotel obsessive, but I loved the Aeroplane book. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but I've enjoyed the one for the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs by L.D. Beigtol; it's almost meant to be read in little bits though, because it's written in the same fashion as the cd trays--it's a bunch of lists and glossaries and stuff. I've also read the Led Zeppelin one (for IV, untitled, [runes], whatever, etc.) and I greatly enjoyed that, although it's more of a review of the entire existence of Zep and their mythos rather than a discussion of just that one album (the same thing can kind of be said for the Neutral Milk Hotel book, since they really only put out two albums). I have about 10 other ones sitting on my bookshelf that I haven't read yet. At least they're short enough that even if they're a total bust, they don't take up that much of your time.
posted by LionIndex at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2008

I read the 2 about Daydream Nation and Loveless. I found them both to be boring and poorly written in the kind of OMG!!! MY FAVORITE BAND IS AWESOME AND MADE THE BEST RECORD EVER!!! style filled with the kind of hyperbole that only a total fanboy could come up with. The Daydream Nation one is almost unreadable but I forced myself to finish it.

I think the series is better in theory than practice.

posted by chillmost at 8:28 AM on July 24, 2008

I enjoyed the books on Loveless and 20 Jazz Funk Greats. You really have to be a fan of 69 Loves Songs to enjoy the book on that, but if you are then it's good fun.
posted by caek at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2008

I've read the ones on Paul's Boutique, Endtroducing..., and Village Green Preservation Society and enjoyed them all. Just started reading about Trout Mask Replica, pretty good so far. Definitely looking forward to Another Green World.
posted by Dean King at 9:30 AM on July 24, 2008

I picked up Greatest Hits Vol 1, and based on that I bought Harvest for a few reasons:

1. Greatest Hits showed me that even great writing and insightful criticism won't make a book on an album I hate interesting. Duh.

2. Greatest Hits showed me that overly personal anecdotes and wikipedia-level criticism will make a book on an album I love painful to read.

Harvest is great because it is a book about the artist and the creation of the album.

IMHO, whent the series drifts too far from this simple concept, you take your chances.
posted by Paid In Full at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2008

I've read two. The one on Doolittle is excellent and showed me new things about a record I've listened to thousands of times. The one about Murmur was fanboyish and boring and I didn't finish it.
posted by escabeche at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2008

Colin Meloy (Decemberists) wrote the one on The Replacements' "Let It Be" -- it's more a coming-of-age story of how he got into Cool Music in middle-of-nowhere Montana. It's been a while since I read it, but I would guess maybe 2/3 story about his personal relationship to the album (and others), 1/3 about the album (and band) itself. I recommend it as a good read for anyone, but a must-read for Decemberists fans (more than for 'Mats fans). Hmm, I think I'm going to read it again now...

Coincidentally, the only other 33 1/3 I've read is the Beatles' "Let It Be", and these two books are written from two entirely different points of view. This one is strictly an historical look at the making of the album and that period in Beatles history. Lots of details about the filmed sessions, personal squabbles, the rooftop concert, etc. No reason at all to read it if you don't care about the band/album. I liked it, but didn't love it; I learned a lot, but it wasn't as entertaining as you might want.
posted by bah213 at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2008

I know pised didn't, but I loved Carl Wilson's Celine Dion book; but then I do hate most music writing. It's really not about the album per se, which is fine by me: it deals with the context Celine came out of, her public persona, with what "taste" is, and it does get really personal.
posted by SoftRain at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2008

The one on Unknown Pleasures is pretty good. I found it particularly resonant and when I want someone to know why I'm so hot about Joy Division, it's a reasonable shortcut.
posted by jdfan at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2008

I liked the Celine Dion one too. It's not about the album much, but in the end, that's what I liked about it. But, I'm very interested in constructions of "taste" and things like that.
posted by synecdoche at 1:23 PM on July 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses, folks. Despite their breadth, they track my experience pretty closely: the idea is great, and the execution sometimes lives up to it, but it's a bit hit or miss. I may try the sampler books to get more of an idea of the style of specific books.
posted by OmieWise at 4:38 AM on July 25, 2008

OmieWise, you could also try sampling some of the 33-1/3 titles at Google Books.

The only one I've read is Douglas Wolk's book on James Brown's Live at the Apollo, which I read shortly after it was published. IIRC, the book is structured along two lines: the first, a very compelling song-by-song walkthrough of the record, with endless digressions on the venue, the band, the opening acts, the emcee, the record label, the recording process, the wardrobe, the tour bus, the sounds of the audience, you name it [1]; and the second, in which Wolk places that evening in the context of the Cuban missile crisis -- rather heavy-handedly, I think. So it's possible that you'll find that he overreaches at times, as with the missile crisis and occasional name-drops of "high culture" figures like Nietzsche, but the tone and style are generally appropriate -- not too ponderous and not too fanboyish. I had fun reading the book, and, when I finished it, I liked Live at the Apollo even more than I had before.

I've heard all sorts of good things about that Celine Dion book, too, though, yes, it sounds like it's not "about" the Celine Dion record so much as it's about taste and kitsch.

[1] - For example, what exactly is "STAR TIME?" That's when J.B. first enters the stage, right? No, he's been onstage and off all night; it's when he sings for the first time that night. And the audience sounds? Not quite authentic. Etc.
posted by cobra libre at 1:12 PM on July 28, 2008

Way late here, but I just picked up the one on The Magnetic Field's 69 Love Songs and it's awesome. You might have to like the album to fully appreciate it though.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:55 PM on September 11, 2008

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