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

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I get to write one of these books?

Every 18 months or so, we put out an open call for proposals - announcements are made on this blog. We don't accept proposals at any other time.

2. When did the 33 1/3 series start?

The first six books were published in September 2003 - on Dusty in Memphis, Forever Changes, Harvest, The Village Green Preservation Society, Meat is Murder, and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

3. When will it finish?

That could be construed as impolite. We genuinely don't know. Maybe after 100 volumes, maybe a little after that...

4. What's the best-selling book in the series?

As of today, it's still Meat is Murder by Joe Pernice, which has been the best-selling book since the series started. The Kinks and Neutral Milk Hotel books are not far behind.

5. Why doesn't my local bookstore stock these books?

There's not a great deal we can do about that. Several of the bigger branches of Barnes & Noble carry the series, and many more Borders stores will be stocking the series very soon. Plenty of awesome independent record stores carry the series, so they're always worth checking. And Virgin Megastores, too. In the UK, it seems like FOPP is a good bet, and some branches of Waterstones. Amazon.com and .co.uk carry all of the books, and you can always buy them direct from us through the Continuum website.

6. Why on earth are you publishing a book about Celine Dion, if this is a series of books about the best albums ever made?

The (modest) remit of the series is simply to publish interesting books about interesting albums, and Carl Wilson's book promises to be very interesting indeed.

7. I've never read a book in the series - what would be a good one to start with?

Gosh, that's a tough one. These books are really quite different. You could try the R.E.M. book, maybe, or the Beatles one. A lot of people like the Kinks book, too.

8. How do I write one of these books?

See answer no.1, above.

9. Why are these books so inconsistent and unpredictable?

Well, we've always encouraged the writers to try different approaches; not everyone will like all of these. We try to make it clear, on the back cover of each book, what the contents are like. If you're looking for straightforward music journalism, you might want to avoid the books on the Smiths, the Replacements, and the Band, to name a few.

10. What the hell happened to the My Bloody Valentine book?

It's out, now.

11. What the hell happened to the London Calling book?

The original author has, for various reasons, been unable to finish the book in time. We'll be announcing a new author for this book very shortly. We are very sorry about this. The book will absolutely be worth the wait.

12. What does "33 1/3" mean?

It's a bit like MP3, but different. 33 1/3 is the number of revolutions per minute at which a vinyl album should be played.

13. Which books are coming out next?

Coming up very soon are the books on Steely Dan, PJ Harvey, and A Tribe Called Quest. After that we'll have a little summer break before unleashing a few more books in September - U2, Belle & Sebastian, and a couple of others.

14. Why is there only one Radiohead/Beatles/Dylan book in the series so far?

From the start, we've had a "one book per artist" rule, on the assumption that the series would probably disintegrate after about 25 books. We are starting to realise that this rule may not be entirely practical, from a sales point of view. Next time we look for some more proposals, we'll probably ditch this rule, unceremoniously.

15. Is it really worth paying $55 to see the Jesus and Mary Chain play at Webster Hall?

No, but let's go anyway!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Trout Mask Replica

Another of our new 33 1/3 books for Spring is Kevin Courrier's expert telling of the many stories behind Trout Mask Replica. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 4 of the book, "A Little Paranoia is a Good Propeller"...


As for the "strange music," which would ultimately comprise Trout Mask Replica, the inspiration for it was partly due to the jazz records that Gary Marker had been playing Beefheart over the past couple of years. Among the stacks of Archie Shepp, John Coltrane and Charles Lloyd albums, there was one record that particularly stood out. It was a rare disc by author Lawrence Lipton called Jazz Canto. Lipton was a writer with a varied career, who early in the '40s wrote mysteries, novels and poetry. In the late '50s, when he was in his sixties, he became linked to the Beat writers such as Jack Keroauc and Allen Ginsberg, in the poetry renaissance in San Francisco. Later that year, Lipton began experimenting with the latent musical rhythms within verse by combining poetry with jazz music. While working with Shelly Manne, Jimmie Giuffre and Buddy Colette, he perfected an integration of the two forms. When Benny Carter and Jack Hampton heard Lipton discussing his fusion of poetry and jazz on CBS Radio, they called on him to produce a whole series of poetry-and-jazz concerts. This not only led to the First West Coast Poetry and Jazz Festival in December 1957, it resulted the following year in a concept record for World Pacific Records called Jazz Canto. The album drew upon the musical talents of Shorty Rogers, Paul Horn and Barney Kessel to shape their music around the recitations of poets like Kenneth Rexroth, Stuart Z. Perkoff and many other West Coast bohemians. The record provided a portal by which Beefheart could combine poetic timbre with the musical arrangements from his group.

Gary Marker had also partly provided the idea for the musical structure of Trout Mask. One day, while learning how to edit, Marker was told to take out a number of reference tapes and put together a series of 4-bar and 8-bar segments in a random order, then match them up so that the metre would be accurate. While Marker was playing back his seemlessly edited opus of disjointed parts, Beefheart happened to enter the studio and immediately wanted to know what he was doing. Once Marker explained the process to him, Don decided that he wanted to create a music that was, as Marker recalled, "like punching buttons on a radio and getting random stuff that hangs together." To achieve this conceptual strategy for Trout Mask Replica, Beefheart turned to the one person he could: John French. "Alex [Snouffer] directed the original band, until Don kept asserting himself to the point where Alex became disgusted and gave up," French explained to Bryon Coley of Spin. "It took somebody to arrange what Don was doing; not creating music necessarily -- although I created a lot of my own drum parts -- but just making sure that everybody knows what everything is, so that the tunes don't go on for 20 minutes."

The popular myth, devised by Beefheart, then embellished by the rock press, was that he composed all the songs on Trout Mask Replica at a piano in a remarkable eight-day span. Not only is the claim patently false, it helped propagate a cult of personality around Beefheart. It was reminiscent of the declarations made by many auteur film critics that Orson Welles was the sole genius behind Citizen Kane, as if Herman J. Mankiewicz's screenplay were merely an adjunct to the picture. Yet the Trout Mask myth served another purpose. It enabled Beefheart to claim an artistic control thus far denied him and it pitted him as the resident genius next to his friend/rival Frank Zappa. Since most rock critics despised Zappa, especially for his snide put-downs of the counter-culture scene, it proved easier to exalt the more romantic view of Beefheart as the misunderstood master. It's a spurious perspective still held today - although the Magic Band has finally been recognized for the importance of their contributions.

One significant truth of Beefheart's assertion, though, was that he began composing the music for Trout Mask on the piano. One day, he brought one into the house, even though (in the spirit of Victor Hayden) he couldn't play it. As Mike Barnes pointed out in his Beefheart biography, Vliet approached the piano in an intuitive manner, "unencumbered by technique as he possessed none." Barnes described the process, quoting future Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas, by suggesting that Beefheart was "throwing a pack of cards in the air, photographing them as they fell and then getting the...musicians to reproduce the frozen moment." John French agreed with the intuitive approach Beefheart applied. "Don could neither read nor write music notation as he had no formal music education," he explained. "Yet with this handicap, he still managed to communicate several albums worth of material through whistling, singing, and playing parts on guitars, drums, harmonicas, pianos, and any other instrument within reach. Had he been able to write music in the conventional manner, there is no telling what this man might have accomplished musically."

Even so, Beefheart accomplished more than anyone could have bargained for - and French knew it. This is one reason why he used a tape recorder to get Beefheart's spontaneous musical lines down for notation. "I had been tape recording Don's piano parts," French remembered. "He would go on for hours, just hours, to get one little thing on there and we finally ran out of tape. He was like, 'John, record this! Get this, man! Get this! Come on!' He'd be sitting at the piano, trapped in his own creativity, because he couldn't get up. If he moved his hands he'd forget what he was doing."


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Inside the Music of Brian Wilson

Sorry it's been so quiet around here. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

In the meantime, a few of you might be interested in our recently published book Inside the Music of Brian Wilson, by Philip Lambert. It's already been reviewed in the LA Times, the London Times, Mojo, Popmatters, and the New York Post - with most of the reviews saying the same thing: while it's not exactly a beach read (cheers!), it does contain an extraordinary amount of information and musicological insight. If you're looking for a bright and breezy biography, look elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for tackling an in-depth study of one man's musical odyssey, you might love this book. Here's an extract from Quentin Rowan's review in Sunday's New York Post:


Using charts, graphs, listings of chord patterns and radio hits from 1952 to 1961, the author leaves nothing to the imagination in his attempt to document exactly what was passing through young Wilson's ears and how he capitalized on what he heard.

Lambert himself is a professor of music theory, and at times, although enlightening, his prose borders on being for music scholars alone. Even explaining how Wilson changed from the pudgy kid who stayed up late listening to R&B on Mike Love's transistor radio to the guy who recorded albums called "Party!" and "Summer Days (and Summer Nights)" in a striped shirt with a surfboard under his arm proved difficult.

This is, of course, the perennial problem of many biographies. No matter how close we get, we just can't see inside the artist's head. This seems even more pronounced in Brian Wilson's case because he's so often spoken about in an odd reverence. The G-word is frequently used, which is odd in relation to songs so commercial in style and content.

Then, of course, came "Pet Sounds." Wilson's masterpiece is its own compound of pop, classical, jazz, folk, and film score. It's often hard to tell what instruments are being played at any one time - the vocal might be accompanied by a French horn, an accordion, a clarinet, flute or oboe; percussion might take the form of chimes, kettle drums, finger cymbals, a bicycle bell, or a plastic Coke bottle.

But as Lambert makes brilliantly clear, despite the high level of experimentation, there isn't anything on "Pet Sounds" that sounds like it's been left to chance - each cluster of music seems designed to convey a distinct emotional nuance. It's hard to think of another record that has that anatomized feeling with such intricacy and precision. And it's hard to think of another book about Brian Wilson that's anatomized his music to such relentless depths.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Double Nickels on the Dime

Another of the new books in the series for Spring (although good god it's cold here today! and we're heading down south tomorrow for a week's holiday - doesn't look much warmer even there...) is Michael T. Fournier's ode to Double Nickels on the Dime.

Here's an extract from the book's second chapter, "History Lesson (Part II)".


It's interesting to note that the songwriting throughout Double Nickels is cohesive despite the time that passed between the first and second recording sessions. The players have no memory of which songs come from which session - the work was simply done. (There are a few songs that I was able to pin down as being products of either the first or second session due to contextual clues. When such hints come up, I've made notes in the entries for the tunes in question.)

So, the challenge the Minutemen faced was to create a concept from a seemingly disparate bunch of songs, recorded months apart in two separate sessions.

They rose to the occasion and came up with interlocking concepts. The first was a reaction to the popular music of the time: a pre-Van Halen Sammy Hagar had scored a big pop hit with "I Can't Drive 55." The Minutemen thought it would be funny to comment on the nature of Hagar's little ditty by letting listeners know that driving fast wasn't terribly defiant. "So to wear red leather and say that you can't drive 55 like that's the big rebellion thing...to us, the big rebellion thing was writing your own fuckin' songs and trying to come up with your own story, your own picture, your own book, whatever. So he can't drive 55, because that was the national speed limit? Okay, we'll drive 55, but we'll make crazy music," says Watt.

The cover of Double Nickels on the Dime spells it all out: Watt driving his VW Beetle at exactly 55 miles per hour - double nickels, in truckerspeak - on California's Interstate 10, affectionately known as the Dime. Minutemen buddy/contributor Dirk Vandenberg snapped photos from the backseat as Watt piloted the Dub under a sign for San Pedro, the Minutemen's hometown. It took three circuits around Los Angeles to get the photo right, but they got it.

"We had to drive all over Los Angeles and whenever we found a San Pedro freeway sign we took a shot," says Vandenberg. "There were three elements that Mike wanted in the photo: a natural kind of glint in his eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, the speedometer pinned exactly on 55mph, and, of course, the San Pedro sign guiding us home. There were two separate days of shooting with me smashed up in the backseat of his VW. I had to push myself back in the seat as far as possible to get every element needed in the shot. We finally got lucky and nailed it. The big story to me is how we worked pretty hard to get it right and when the shot was finally presented to SST someone botched the cropping and cut off the end of the word Pedro on the album jacket."

For their second concept, the Minutemen decided all three dudes in their band would have a solo song on their album sides. Their inspiration was Ummagumma, a double album released by Pink Floyd in 1969. Ummagumma featured solo performances by each band member. In keeping with the automotive/driving 55 theme, each side of Double Nickels would be announced by the particular band member's car starting (and, at the end of the record, the song "Three Car Jam" - all three engines revving at once - would send things off).

The good songs, Watt realized, should be at the beginning of each side, and the ones that weren't quite up to par should be "hugging label," on the inside of the record. The solution, then, was to have a kind of fantasy draft, to draw straws and let each member of the band pick songs in turn, and put the leftovers, the "chaff," on the final side of the album. That way, says Watt, the songs that weren't on the band's top shelf wouldn't "glob up" and each member's individuality would show through all the more in the songs that they chose as their favorites. "[Y]ou separate the wheat from the chaff," Watt explains, "'cuz that was the side that had the songs that nobody picked."


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Who do I have to talk to around here to get a sneaker deal?

Nike has done Guns N’ Roses.

So have we.

Puma did A Tribe Called Quest.

Ours is on the way.

And New Balance is going for Joy Division (which, by the way, would really complete Mr. Sumner’s tennis ensemble in the video below).

We also covered Joy Division.

MC Hammer?
Uh, not yet…

We do have some 33 1/3 swag in the planning stages (more on that later), but I wonder if we shouldn’t approach Super Team 33 about adding a fraction to the end of their latest model.

--John Mark

On Another Planet (Butlins at Minehead)

There's a piece in today's Guardian about the upcoming Only Ones reunion shows, featuring the wonderful John Perry on guitar, author of our Jimi Hendrix 33 1/3 book.

Much more about this over at John's myspace page, which is in the links to your left. Any chance of a few shows in the US, Mr. Perry?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Past, Present & Future

In case anyone's interested in some tentative dates for future books, I've put together this season-by-season overview of the whole series. (Here, Spring runs from March to August, and Autumn runs from September to February. It's a crazy publishing thing.)

Autumn 2003

Meat is Murder - Joe Pernice
The Village Green Preservation Society - Andy Miller
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - John Cavanagh
Forever Changes - Andrew Hultkrans
Harvest - Sam Inglis
Dusty in Memphis - Warren Zanes

Spring 2004

Unknown Pleasures - Chris Ott
The Velvet Underground and Nico - Joe Harvard
Electric Ladyland - John Perry
Sign 'O' the Times - Michaelangelo Matos
Abba Gold - Elisabeth Vincentelli

Autumn 2004

OK Computer - Dai Griffiths
Let It Be - Steve Matteo
Let It Be - Colin Meloy
Live at the Apollo - Douglas Wolk
Aqualung - Allan Moore

Spring 2005

Exile on Main St. - Bill Janovitz
Pet Sounds - Jim Fusilli
Led Zeppelin IV - Erik Davis
Grace - Daphne Brooks
Ramones - Nicholas Rombes
Murmur - J. Niimi
Armed Forces - Franklin Bruno

Autumn 2005

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Kim Cooper
Endtroducing... - Eliot Wilder
Low - Hugo Wilcken
Music From Big Pink - John Niven
Born in the USA - Geoffrey Himes
Kick Out the Jams - Don McLeese

Spring 2006

Paul's Boutique - Dan LeRoy
Doolittle - Ben Sisario
There's a Riot Goin' On - Miles Marshall Lewis
Stone Roses - Alex Green

Autumn 2006

Highway 61 Revisited - Mark Polizzotti
Loveless - Mike McGonigal
The Notorious Byrd Brothers - Ric Menck
In Utero - Gillian G. Gaar
The Who Sell Out - John Dougan
Bee Thousand - Marc Woodworth
69 Love Songs - LD Beghtol
Songs in the Key of Life - Zeth Lundy
Use Your Illusion Vols I and II - Eric Weisbard
Court and Spark - Sean Nelson

Spring 2007

Trout Mask Replica - Kevin Courrier
Double Nickels on the Dime - Michael T. Fournier
Daydream Nation - Matthew Stearns
Aja - Donald Breithaupt
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm - Shawn Taylor
Rid of Me - Kate Schatz

Autumn 2007

If You're Feeling Sinister - Scott Plagenhoef
Another Green World - Geeta Dayal
Let's Talk About Love - Carl Wilson
Pretty Hate Machine - Daphne Carr
Twenty Jazz Funk Greats - Drew Daniel
Achtung Baby - Stephen Catanzarite
Lucinda Williams - Anders Smith Lindall

Spring 2008

Master of Reality - John Darnielle
The Dreaming - Ann Powers
Pink Moon - Amanda Petrusich
Horses - Philip Shaw
Shoot Out the Lights - Hayden Childs
Reign in Blood - D.X. Ferris
Marquee Moon - Peter Blauner
Swordfishtrombones - David Smay

Autumn 2008

The Gilded Palace of Sin - Bob Proehl
Facing Future - Dan Kois
Illmatic - Matthew Gasteier
Radio City - Bruce Eaton
Aquemini - Nick Weidenfeld and Michael Schmelling
Gentlemen - Bob Gendron
Rum, Sodomy and the Lash - Jeffery T. Roesgen
Boys for Pele - Elizabeth Merrick
Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers) - S.H. Fernando, Jr.

Spring 2009

XO - Matthew LeMay
Maggot Brain - Matt Rogers
One Step Beyond - Terry Edwards
Zaireeka - Mark Richardson
Song Cycle - Richard Henderson
Pinkerton - Jessica Suarez
Pink Flag - Wilson Neate

Autumn 2009

Tusk - Rob Trucks
Wowee Zowee - Bryan Charles
It Takes a Nation of Millions... - Christopher R. Weingarten

By my math, that's 82 books. It's very, very likely that several of the 07/08/09 books will shift around within these seasons, but we'll obviously do our best to keep everyone up-to-date with that stuff.

And you may have noticed the lack of a "London Calling" book. More news on that very shortly.