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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Announcing Vol. 64: Nas' Illmatic, by Matthew Gasteier

OK, so this one has pretty much shipped out from our lovely warehouse in Harrisburg, PA by now. It's a smart, passionate study of Nas' debut album - released 15 years ago last week. Here's an excerpt from the book's third chapter:


Nas would eventually name his record label after Ill Will, and he has never stopped talking about him. For the cynical outside viewer, this is no different than name-checking his Queensbridge upbringing, a street-cred ploy, the badge he carries with him to get a free pass when younger, hungry emcees come after Nas (a self-confessed homebody) and his commitment to the rugged lifestyle. But listening to him talk about his experience outside of the jaded mindset would quiet even the most antagonistic critic. Nas, an infinitely talented emcee with little need for a mythology, gained very little in May 1992. But he did, just before his career broke wide open, lose a friend.

The universe does have a way of balancing out. A few months later, for however short a period of time, Nas would gain a vital friend in MC Serch. "I didn't actually track him down," Serch recalls. "I was in the studio working on my solo album [Return of the Product], and Stretch Armstrong and Reef, who were A&R at Atlantic at the time, brought a bunch of emcees. I was with Red Hot Lover Tone and Chubb Rock in the studio, and Reef and Stretch brought Nas, Akinyele, and Percee P to spit on 'Back to the Grill Again.'" The end result was a posse cut similar to Nas' wax-debut "Live at the BBQ." His presence is noticeably different though. Unlike the earlier cut, where Nas had seemed anxious but confident, this less-remembered Nas persona is gruff and forceful. Though his voice is still instantly recognizable, the 17-year-old is playing with it, trying to stand on his toes to measure up to the adults in the room. The result is a deeper, gravelly snarl of a delivery, uncomfortably matched with Nas' usual flow. It's a rare opportunity to see a future great experimenting with approaches, but it would be more satisfying if he hadn't already nailed his persona in his first and only previous attempt.


Not the best video quality on this clip, but absolutely worth watching. Nas comes in shortly before the two-minute mark, waving automatic guns at nuns:

Friday, April 24, 2009

A bargain at any price

Copies of Matthew Gasteier's brand new volume in the series, on Nas' Illmatic album, are currently shipping out of our warehouse in Pennsylvania. Much more on this book next week, but if you're serious about reading it before anyone else, you ought to know that Amazon is selling one used copy (in very good condition!) for just $999.99 (plus $3.99 shipping, which could be a dealbreaker).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

League Table, version deux

And this is what I think the chart would look like, had all the books been available for the same amount of time. (Definite guesswork involved here, clearly.)


1. Neutral Milk Hotel
2. The Rolling Stones
3. My Bloody Valentine
4. Bob Dylan
5. David Bowie
6. Celine Dion
7. Radiohead
8. The Kinks
9. The Smiths
10. Velvet Underground
11. Joy Division
12. Beastie Boys
13. Led Zeppelin
14. Pixies
15. The Beatles
16. Black Sabbath
17. Pink Floyd
18. The Beach Boys
19. Slayer
20. Steely Dan
21. DJ Shadow
22. Sonic Youth
23. Captain Beefheart
24. Magnetic Fields
25. Guided By Voices
26. The Replacements
27. Minutemen
28. Tom Waits
29. Belle & Sebastian
30. Jimi Hendrix
31. Jeff Buckley
32. The Band
33. R.E.M.
34. Afghan Whigs
35. The Byrds
36. Bruce Springsteen
37. The Ramones
38. Patti Smith
39. The Who
40. Flying Burrito Bros
41. Nirvana
42. Elvis Costello
43. Love
44. Stone Roses
45. Sly Stone
46. Joni Mitchell
47. Nick Drake
48. Stevie Wonder
49. Throbbing Gristle
50. Neil Young
51. The Pogues
52. U2
53. Richard and Linda Thompson
54. Dusty Springfield
55. Prince
56. James Brown
57. Jethro Tull
58. Abba
59. The MC5
60. A Tribe Called Quest
61. Guns N Roses
62. PJ Harvey


Meanwhile, Quietus has posted an engaging conversation about Wire, between Jon Savage and Wilson Neate, author of our very recent book on Pink Flag. You can read the whole discussion here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The League Table, April 2009

Here's a chart showing how the published books in the series compare so far, in terms of lifetime sales around the world.

Bear in mind that some of these books have had almost 6 years on sale, others have had only a few months. If I have the time in the next few days/nights, I'll post another chart, making allowances for that factor. (And I've left out the very new books on Wire and Elliott Smith, as those haven't yet been fully distributed, globally.)

8 of the top 10 artists are British. I'll say no more!


1. Neutral Milk Hotel
2. The Kinks
3. The Rolling Stones
4. Radiohead
5. The Smiths
6. Velvet Underground
7. Joy Division
8. The Beatles
9. Pink Floyd
10. Led Zeppelin
11. My Bloody Valentine
12. The Beach Boys
13. David Bowie
14. Bob Dylan
15. Beastie Boys
16. Love
17. DJ Shadow
18. Celine Dion
19. Pixies
20. Neil Young
20. Jimi Hendrix
21. The Replacements
22. Jeff Buckley
23. Dusty Springfield
24. Prince
25. The Band
26. R.E.M.
27. Sonic Youth
28. Bruce Springsteen
29. The Ramones
30. Captain Beefheart
31. Magnetic Fields
32. Steely Dan
33. Nirvana
34. Elvis Costello
35. Guided By Voices
36. Black Sabbath
37. James Brown
38. Slayer
39. Minutemen
40. The Who
41. Jethro Tull
42. The Byrds
43. Tom Waits
44. Belle & Sebastian
45. Stone Roses
46. Abba
47. Sly Stone
48. The MC5
49. Joni Mitchell
50. Nick Drake
51. Stevie Wonder
52. U2
53. Throbbing Gristle
54. A Tribe Called Quest
55. Afghan Whigs
56. Guns N Roses
57. PJ Harvey
58. Patti Smith
59. Flying Burrito Bros
60. The Pogues
61. Richard and Linda Thompson


Rum, EMP, and the Paste Contest (FREE BOOKS!)

Here is a roundup of nice reviews of Jeff Roesgen's book on The Pogues' Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash...

  • “In this book by the same sordid name, Jeffrey T. Roesgen tells the story behind the album, interwoven with a tale of his own creation, a seafaring narrative starring the band and several of their lyrics’ characters. Roesgen … delivers a spirited novella along with vivid snippets of rowdy, romantic rock ’n’ roll history.”- Keith Goetzman, Utne Reader
  • “Within the book’s sense of impending disaster is some sharp analysis of the characters, squalor and juxtaposing optimism inherent in the recordings.”- Ian Abrahams, Record Collector
  • “Roesgen's work casts the album's individual songs in a different light, fleshing them out with his imaginative prose, prompting the reader to look at the life behind the words and music and interpret each song through their own prism. It's an approach that wouldn't have worked on most of the albums covered by the 33 1/3 series, but it works like a charm for Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. By the end of the book, you find yourself caring about the characters brought to life by Roesgen and wondering what will happen next. Kind of like a Pogues album....” - Keith A. Gordon, Blurt-Online
  • “Roesgen’s overall thesis about the band in the non-fictional parts—that the Pogues were concerned here mostly with showing how the struggles and pains and joys of the downtrodden life are universal, not constrained by time or culture or language—is a convincing one, and he writes well on the sodden joie de vivre Shane McGowan and company bring to these songs.” Ian Mathers, Pop Matters
  • “This pocket sized, take-on-holiday, historical and musical mix of fact, fiction and nautical friction is well recommended. You can smell The Pogues through the writing…” – Stephen Kingston, Salford Star

* * * * * * * * * *

Reading through the always excellent Soul Sides this morning (one of my favorites), there were a number of familiar names in the EMP Pop Conference postmortem, including Daphne Brooks (wrote the 33.3 on Jeff Buckley, here interviewing Nona Hendryx), Michaelangelo Matos (Prince, here talking about "dance music's national anthem"), and Carl Wilson (Celine Dion, here discussing the use of Auto-Tune).

I just realized that Soul Sides is celebrating 5 years of existence this year. So is the 33 1/3 series, which brings me to the next item...

* * * * * * * * * *

We have teamed up with Paste Magazine for a contest to win the 10 most recent 33 1/3 titles. The luckly winner will get the following...
[Plus an extra doodad or two that I find hanging out around my cubicle.]

If you want in on that, CLICK HERE and follow the directions.

* * * * * * * * * *

One more for the road:
I just remembered this interview with Carl Wilson on Ed Champion's Bat Segundo podcast. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Announcing Vol 63: Elliott Smith's XO

I'm very pleased to let people know that Matthew LeMay's intricate and fascinating study of Elliott Smith's XO album has now been published in North America.

From the back cover copy:

The name "Elliott Smith" conjures images of a sad, powerless, and drug-addled coffeehouse troubadour. But Smith's 1998 major-label debut XO is a musically intricate and lyrically bold rejection of this archetype. How and why did Smith come to be considered the consummate "sad sack," even as his music explicitly countered this construct? Tracing numerous early demo and live recordings of the songs that became XO, Matt LeMay deconstructs the remarkable creative process behind a fully realized masterpiece and examines the tension between Elliott Smith's work and his popular image.

And here's Smith on Jools Holland's BBC show in 1999, performing "Waltz #2" from the album:

Friday, April 03, 2009

Some weekend reading... and a small contest.

  • We just got office copies of Matthew LeMay's book on Elliott Smith's XO, so keep an eye out for that one. Pre-ordered copies should be shipping from Amazon very soon, and your friendly neighborhood bookshop will have copies on shelves, too.
  • We also unearthed this recent review of John Darnielle's Black Sabbath 33 1/3 from Enough Cowbell. We are trying to figure out what that thing is that's on his lap in the press photo. So far we only know it's male and probably from the southern hemisphere. First one to correctly ID it for us in the comments field will get a rare galley copy of the Sabbath book.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sadly, not an April Fool's prank...

It’s with a heavy heart that I announce that Claire will be leaving Continuum at the end of this week. She has handled publicity for the 33 1/3 series for the last two years, and I can tell you from experience that managing 60+ authors on top of the rest of the workload is no simple task.

Chances are if you have read about a 33 1/3 book somewhere other than on this blog in the last couple years, or, for example, saw an author on the Colbert Report, Claire was the one who laid the groundwork that made it possible. She has done an amazing job behind the scenes, organizing the monthly 33 1/3 multimedia reading series at Barbes in Brooklyn and pulling together the soon-to-launch 33 1/3 newsletter…and we are really going to miss seeing her face around here.

Please join me in wishing her farewell and good luck!