A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


It's fun when these books turn up in the unlikeliest of places - here, in a review of a live show in Edinburgh, by the Ramonas. (From The Herald newspaper.)

The Ramonas, Studio 24, Edinburgh
May 17 2005
IN HIS excellent extended essay on The Ramones debut album, just published by Continuum as one of their 331/3 pocket books, Nicholas Rombes lucidly deconstructs many of the assumptions about both the band and the punk-rock scene in New York City in the mid 1970s. After reading it, the only thing to do is to catch the all-girl tribute band preserving their legacy. Okay, I was probably the only person at The Mission's under-18 night who had just read Rombes's clever little book, but I also didn't qualify to be let in the door. And then there's a few things wrong with the Ramonas, too. Singer Chloey moves about far too much and engages with the crowd more than is truly authentic. More obviously, this Dee Dee (usually Pee Pee in Ramonas terminology) is clearly a bloke, denim mini and black tights notwithstanding. Hell, who cares? Although leaning heavily, and rightly, on the band's earliest work – as well as the microphone stand – Chloey and her cohorts kick off with the pure pop of Rockaway Beach before proving themselves with Blitzkrieg Bop, Beat on the Brat, Judy is a Punk and the rest of the classics. Instrumen-tally it is well sound and Chloey produces a fine approximation of Joey's peculiar mannered vocals. What is just as important, though, is that this is so self-evidently not an exercise in nostalgia, given the age of the crowd. The Ramonas take the brand that is a T-shirt and belt buckle to a new generation and remind them of the really important bit – the music. The retiring collection for Cancer Research was a nice touch, too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Advance warning of an Erik Davis event

Word comes from the West Coast that Erik Davis will be reading from his inspired Led Zeppelin book, on Friday June 17th. In Erik's own words:

For those of you in the Bay Area, please consider attending the one and only local book reading I will be giving to plug my latest mini-tome: Led Zeppelin IV. Part of Continuum's 33.3 series of short books on classic rock albums, this snug, nicely priced pocket item follows some Techgnostic threads about occult media into the dark forests that surround this record, the pinnacle of heavy rock. Besides probing the occult fixations of Jimmy Page, the book goes into satanic backmasking, ringwraiths, and the mystic fetish of the 1970s gatefold LP.

It's a Friday night, but don't let that scare you! It'll be a hoot.Friday, June 17th, 7 pm

Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, FREE

Armed Forces write-up

This appeared a couple of days ago, on http://www.costellonews.com

This book is just bursting with fascinating information. Time has allowed me to only have a flick through it . However I found myself repeatedly going ' Of course , how did I miss that before'.

Bruno has really done his homework. Greil Marcus gave him the complete tapes of his 1982 interview with Elvis and so we get a lot of previously unpublished quotes . Engineer/co-producer Roger Bechirian gave him an interview in Oct.04. The notes from the various re-issues are considered - and queried - where necessary.

The book's layout is interesting. Over the 151 pages he hops from aspect to aspect. The songs , the allusions , the sleeve designer , the recording , the musicians , the microphones used in the studio ( a Beyer Soundstar ) .....and Columbus, Ohio. The events of April 15, 1979 are referred to over and over again. Quotes , old and new , from nearly all the participants help give the most complete account I've seen. However his reference to the New York press conference two weeks later , where Elvis tried to explain his comments, mentions that a transcript of same exists , citing the Uncut feature as one source. Extensive as that feature was I hope he actually heard a sound recording of same. To remind myself this evening I played back the same recording , looking at Allan Jones transcript/commentary. Repeatedly Jones edites out asides and gives emotive descriptions to tones of questioning that are just not evident to my ears. True Elvis does himself few favours but it is not the disaster Jones describes.

That aside some astonishing connections are made. From Tiny Steps to Abandoned Masquerade on Ms Krall's album for one. And many , many others.

Needless to say , it should be read with the album itself playing.

Get it, try it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Updated info on Daphne Brooks' reading next week

Here's the information, from Daphne Carr, who is very kindly setting up this reading for Daphne Brooks:

A Reading of Jeff Buckley's Grace with author Daphne Brooks. Thursday, May 26 at 7:00 p.m.

Cake Shop,152 LudlowLES, NYC(between Stanton and Rivington) www.cake-shop.com

The power and influence of Jeff Buckley's Grace increases with each passing year. Here, Daphne Brooks traces Buckley's fascinating musicaldevelopment through the earliest stages of his career, up to the release of the album. With access to rare archival material, Brooks illustrates Buckley's passion for life and hunger for musical knowledge, and shows just why he was such a crucial figure in the American music scene of the 1990s. Jeff Buckley's Grace is the latest in the 33 1/3 music series published by Continuum Books.

Daphne A. Brooks is an assistant professor of English at PrincetonUniversity where she teaches courses on African-American literature andculture, performance studies, critical gender studies, and popularmusic culture. She is the author of two books, Jeff Buckley's Grace (2005) and Bodies in Dissent: Performing Race, Gender, and Nation inthe Trans-Atlantic Imaginary (Duke University Press, 2006).

The Girl Group is a forum for women music writers to talk about thechallenges of writing, editing and general career advancement as awoman working in the arts media. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/girlgroup/

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Baseball, cribs, and cakes

There's a nice interview with Joe Pernice, here:


And if you want to take a look around Joe's house, you may do so here:


Another tidbit: there may well be a reading by Daphne Brooks, from her Jeff Buckley book, at the brand new Cake Shop on Rivington Street, NYC, on Thursday evening next week. More info when we have it.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Jim Fusilli reading in NYC, part 2

Last night's reading in B&N Greenwich Village was a great success - a packed crowd, and not enough copies of the book to go around. So thanks to Jim, and thanks to everyone who came along. I really enjoyed Jim's bare-bones versions of "Caroline No" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times", and to hear an audience in a Barnes & Noble store singing the harmonies at the end of "God Only Knows" was not something I ever thought I'd witness.

All of which makes me think, we should do more events like this for the series. We've done a few one-off readings, the multi-author event in Portland a few months ago (Matos, Meloy, McGonigal, and Wolk - now there's a firm I wouldn't trust with my money), and John Cavanagh's performance of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in Glasgow, with Teenage Fanclub. But it would be great to do more. Any suggestions/ideas gratefully received...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Jim Fusilli reading in NYC

Jim Fusilli, award-winning crime fiction writer, music critic for the Wall Street Journal, and author of the 33 1/3 series volume on Pet Sounds, will be reading at Barnes & Noble Greenwich Village on the evening of Thursday 12th this week, at 7.30 pm.

The store is located at 396 Sixth Ave, on the corner of 8th Street.

The reading is free, and we do hope you can come along to enjoy it.

Friday, May 06, 2005


I'm not overly familiar with the French magazine Soul Bag, but they published the charming review below of Douglas Wolk's book about James Brown's Live at the Apollo. Many thanks to our in-house Francophile and all-round publishing starlet Gabriella Page-Fort for providing the translation.

Here is a cool little book published, in English, in a spiffy pocket-size series. Its point is simple and efficient: each volume concerns a particular album that has marked the history, as they say, of rock, from Let It Be to Sign of the Times, for example. Here, the monograph approach fits perfectly to James Brown's first Live at the Apollo: Douglas Wolk tells you everything you need to know about the thirty-one minutes and thirty-four seconds that changed the history of black American music. You weren't there in the room that Wednesday night, October 24, 1962? The author wasn't either, but despite the cruel absence of photos in this bargain collection, he paints the scene for you, showing and describing everything. In incisive little chapters in the form of news briefs, Douglas Wolk retraces the international context, the Cuban missile crisis that broke eight days before the concert and put the world at the edge of nuclear war. But above all, in this book there is everything one hears, more or less, on the record and everything that underlies this historic recording, a long player made by JB against the advice of his label. The author delivers all the versions that inspired the songs sung that day by James Brown; he reinstates the original credits of the instruments played by the group; he questions the force with which the godfather of soul sang (response: "my friends, Live at the Apollo is the sound of James Brown holding back."); he advances, word by word, through the centerpiece of the disk, "Lost Someone"; he tracks the cries emitted from the audience by a mysterious "little old lady"; and then he speaks very well about the knees, the microphones and the capes of James Brown the tragedian. Written in clear and precise language, this book is ideal while listening to this record in, for example, the Deluxe edition brought out last year with noticeably improved sound.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Through the cracks

These are a few of the projects that - for various and sometimes complicated reasons - never made it to fruition. Some came very close to happening, others less so; but they all would have been fun.

Songs in the Key of Life, by Dave Hesmondhalgh
Parallel Lines, by Elisabeth Vincentelli
Three Feet High and Rising, by Brian Coleman
Tusk, by Stephin Merritt
Computer Love, by Michael Bracewell
Marquee Moon, by David Keenan
Master of Puppets, by Tom Bissell
The Basement Tapes, by Damon Krukowski

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The top twenty

I'm occasionally asked which are the biggest selling books in the series. Well, here's the complete list so far, in descending order of sales. (Bear in mind is that some of these books have been on sale for much longer than others.) If anybody's interested, I'll update this table every once in a while.

Meat is Murder
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Forever Changes
Velvet Underground & Nico
Unknown Pleasures
Dusty in Memphis
Let It Be (Beatles)
OK Computer
Electric Ladyland
Sign ‘O’ the Times
Abba Gold
Let It Be (Replacements)
Live at the Apollo
Pet Sounds
Exile on Main St.
Led Zep IV

Monday, May 02, 2005

Series review in All About Jazz

Here's a review I just found this morning, by C. Michael Bailey at All About Jazz.

Continuum Press, best known for spiritual and religious releases, has embarked on an ambitious series entitled 33 1/3 devoted to a reconsideration of some of the more important LP releases (generally occurring prior to the advent of the compact disc) of the past 40 years. Scanning the titles (presented without artist identification), any 30-, 40-, and 50-something will recognize what recordings are being considered. Harvest, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Dusty in Memphis, Let it Be all should stimulate a squirt of recognition juice in the old bean, reminding us of what that electric grind before “Black Dog” was all about. Written by a disparate host of journalists, musicians, and academics, the 33 1/3 Series represents the Holy Grail of millions of late Baby Boomers who spent their adolescence pouring over the album sleeves of the newest releases by their favorite bands.
As a reader and critic of music journalism, this series offers a nostalgic trip through an ill-spent adolescence. That is an undeniable decadent temptation, and one that I will readily give into. It also offers me (us) the opportunity to reconsider these recordings in a more contemporary context, to face our biases and admit them (mine are Exile on Main Street, coupled with Sticky Fingers as the greatest rock albums recorded and Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus as the finest live rock album every recorded). There are all levels of writing here, from the hyper-academic (Led Zeppelin IV) to the highly personal (Dusty in Memphis.) All are enjoyable, even if the gentle reader smells that familiar aroma on the shoes of the author.
What follows is not an exhaustive list of these published books. Rather it is a list of those books this writer deemed important to read. I do not value all of the music considered equally, therefore, I allowed my own biases to rule. Let the reader beware. However, I know there are more of you out there.

Harvest Sam Inglis ISBN: 0826414958, 121 pages
Features Editor of Sound on Sound, Sam Inglis turns in this learned essay on Neil Young’s masterpiece, Harvest. Inglis gives by far the most straight-forward historic account of this album’s origins and recording compared with the other subjects of this series. He discusses at length Young’s relationship with Nashville and Country Music at a time when “hippies” like Young were ostensibly antiestablishment. Young was of a more Southern California Temperament, like David Crosby, but unlike Crosby, Young possessed a more expansive musical horizon (not to mention more talent).
Inglis details how Young selected his band, The Stray Gators, from the best studio musicians Nashville had to offer and then had them restrict their individual virtuosity to the bare minimum. This afforded an artistic tension that resulted in a minimalist recording -- just music and voice. The recording took well over a year to make. Young chose recording circumstances intended to simulate spontaneous art, when in fact the whole recording, right down to the song writing, was just a slick bit of recording magic. At the same time, the author discusses the making of Time Fades Away and Tonight’s the Night, two recordings that were, in contrast to Harvest, were raggedly prepared (in response to the drug deaths of two staff members).
This is the easiest, least academic essay in the series. It is work-a-day-historical exposé, well-researched and orderly-assembled. I cannot say that it is wholly memorable, but it was quite informative.

Dusty in Memphis Warren Zanes ISBN: 0826414923, 121 pages
A musician (Del Fuegos) cum academic (PhD, Cultural Studies), Warren Zanes, penned Dusty in Memphis as a bit of an adolescent musical Bildungsroman. Zanes takes the iconic recording of Brit pop tart Dusty Springfield, frames it in his own musical experience, while taking a swing through the Memphis musical influence, as well as the Jerry Wexler-Arif Mardin-Tom Dowd recording axis. Zanes' ruminations are not some post-modern dismemberment of the recording but rather a solution of his personal recollection as filtered through his Southern experience, which he juxtaposes with the real South and the perceived South.
Zanes' love affair with the South is efficiently sewn together in this essay, touching on the history (the Civil War and Rights Movement), literature (Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner), and the high-low life of White Trash Culture, Kudzu, and the cross-roads of US Highways 61 and 49. Zanes' South is:
Sweating, carnal, obsessed with the past, violent, agrarian despite the times, natural, authentic, certainly unpredictable ... it sometimes seems that kudzu is simply the plant form of a mythology that has already covered the region.
Central to this discourse, as in all great Southern fiction, is a stranger, an interloper who insinuates herself into the American psyche. It is not Flem Snopes or Thomas Sutpen. It is Mary O’Brian, AKA Dusty Springfield, Britain’s foremost female pop singer, the Madonna of her era (sans the sexual and gender liberation). She was a talent that transcended appearance, period and genre. She, perhaps should be considered the white Aretha Franklin, but that may be taking the comparisons too far. She was a beautiful, insecure, neurotic mess who spent hours with Jerry Wexler listening to demo tapes of songs to include on her recording to be made in Memphis. The final choices produced “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Breakfast in Bed.” Zanes illuminates this perfectly, while never becoming overly academic.

Led Zeppelin Erik Davis ISBN: 0826416586, 177 pages
Okay, now dig this:
Zeppelin enjoyed acoustic music for its own sake, but the primary function, served on their records, was to deepen the elemental contrast of light and shade. Instead of the modern Promethean buzz of electrical djinn, acoustic guitars announce the more ancient powers of wood and bronze -- descriptions of Bron-Yr-Aur, for example, usually emphasize that it was without electricity. The musical polarity is, unsurprisingly, also generated. In contrast to electrical aggression, acoustic ballads allow the boys to cozy up and show their gentler, more intimate and sensitive sides. (Bron-Yr-Aur, it should also be mentioned, means, “golden breast.”) These softy moves complicate the cock-rock cartoon that dominated Zeppelin’s gender profile. Acoustic music did not just help Zep craft great make-out soundtracks, thereby increasing the pleasure of boys and girls everywhere; it also let the band further “feminize” themselves and their music. Such gender blur was important to Zeppelin, who enjoyed their New Orleans tranny bars and appeared in drag on the cover of Physical Graffiti three years before Some Girls. Sure Plant has his cock on display, but that’s the point: he parades around the stage like a trophy wife. With “sensitive Jimmy Page at his side, the two frontmen for what one gay Zep fan described at “a more dangerous and more androgynous ‘version’ of Mick and Keith.

Is that not the biggest pile of pseudo-intellectual bullshit you have ever read? Maybe not -- compare this to the extended quotation from Bill Janowitz’s Exile on Main Street, below. Cultural critic Erik Davis has certainly done his homework for Led Zeppelin IV, though I still cannot feel that the quartet’s intentions were near that complicated. Davis accurately traces Page and Plant’s fascination with heathen lore and pagan ritual ad nauseam. Regardless of Page and Plant’s intellectual proclivities, I suspect the musicians wanted only to make good music, get high, and steer their merry way through a load of willing groupies. That is about as complicated an analysis as is required. Sorry, college boy, “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” remain the greatest one-two punch to open a vinyl LP and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Regardless, Mr. Davis’s essay on the pinnacle of Led Zeppelin’s art is the best writing of the series. Once he gets beyond the philosophical, Mr. Davis cuts a fine argument with a sharp edge. Take for instance, Davis waxing downright poetic on the Zep’s albatross, “Stairway to Heaven”:
"Stairway to Heaven” isn’t the greatest rock song of the 1970s; it is the greatest spell of the 1970s. Think about it: we are all sick of the thing, but in some primordial way it is still number one…”Stairway to Heaven” is not just number one. It is the One, the quintessence, the closest AOR will ever get you to the absolute.
After much machinations about Satanism and the Lady of the song, Davis cleverly closes the “Stairway” section with:
Moreover, these sonic simulacra are buried in a tune that, for a spell, ruled the world. I’m not just saying that supernatural forces are afoot. I’m just saying it makes you wonder.

Exile on Main Street Bill Janovitz ISBN: 082641673X, 169 pages
Okay, now dig this (also):
If there was any doubt about the subject of Jagger’s lyrics on some of the albums earlier tracks, it is crystal clear on “Shine a Light.” At first glance, the song is ostensibly about a party girl, but upon deeper examination and within the context of the record, this seems to be the most overt of Mick’s “worried about you” Exile songs for Keith. As implied, these songs didn’t start or end with Exile on Main Street: “Worried About You,” “Waiting on a Friend,” “Sway,” “Live With Me” -- there is a litany of songs that either make explicit or passing references to Keith and his relationship with Jagger.
The urban myth states that the only person Jagger ever loved was Keith and vice versa.
Janovitz’s analysis of the gender and sexual duplicity of the Rolling Stones principals is more down to earth and better researched in the realpolitik than Davis’ for Led Zeppelin IV and its principals. However, it still may be so much a masturbatory process to some readers, but I don’t think so. The relationships between the songwriters of each band have long been considered. Jagger/Richards and Page/Plant certainly indicated cognizance of image making, and in the early 1970s a little lasciviousness went a long way and filled the image bank of both bands with loads of pixie dust.
Janovitz is about my age and encountered this album as I had, through a family member. He was shaken by the gospel influence, the blues already taken for granted. He appreciated all of the same songs the most -- “Loving Cup,” “Rocks Off,” “Shine a Light,” “Torn and Frayed.” He did everything but declare “Tumblin’ Dice” one of the greatest pop songs penned. Perhaps I am biased. Hell, of course I am. Janowitz details the whole picture at Nellcote, while the album was being recorded, under self-generated difficult conditions. It is the romance of the “Elegantly Wasted” genius, the Oscar Wildes of Rock music that pull us in, pull any thinking person in.
Janowitz introduces his essay with:
The greatest rock & roll record of all time, okay? Don’t sent me any letters, and hold your calls. I can almost see you holding up and waving your Beatles records, your Pet Sounds, dusty old LPs in faded jackets, worth contenders all, I am sure. Brilliant pop records, masterpieces even. But not the greatest, most soulful rock & roll record ever made.
Amen, Reverend Janowitz, amen. And now let us hear the origins of Sticky Fingers.