Followers of the KEXP Blog have all been enjoying the great book reviews by Spike of the 33 1/3 series (easily found at Seattle record stores by the magazines) — cute colorful little volumes designed to either explain the recording history of a classic album, and/or an extrapolative critical assessment of it, and/or the listener’s relationship to it, and/or even a couple that have more to do with the listener than the record itself. (Step up Joe Pernice and Colin Meloy, on The Smiths and The Replacements, respectively.) I just bought the volume on Patti Smith’s mad-inspired first album by nineteenth century literature expert Philip Shaw released on Tuesday (with all the new records, natch) and am diving into it now.
With the EMP Pop Conference coming up (which I‘ll be daily blogging about on the KEXP Blog myself), I asked a few local luminaries what album they would write a 33 1/3 book about — just for some creative synergy with what Carl Wilson calls the “three days of warp factor nerd talk” (thanks for that quote, Spike!).
Here are some from very TIG-friendly local luminaries:
Litsa Dremousis, author, writer for The Believer (Long Winters interview), Esquire, and Filter magazine:
I would write a 33 1/3 about REM's Reckoning. I know a number of old-schoolers prefer Murmur, but I think Reckoning coats your soul like honey on skin. The ending of "So. Central Rain" still slays and the whole disc reminds me of the summer between junior and senior years, lying by the rhododendron bushes in my parents' yard, contemplating future loves and faraway worlds.
Eric Reynolds, publicist for Fantagraphics Books (which shares space with Georgetown Records in, um, Georgetown):
Odyssey & Oracle by the Zombies or a classic soundtrack by Ennio
Morricone. Either one of his spaghetti western classics like The
Good, The Bad & the Ugly or a '60s pop classic like La Donna
Invisible or i Malamondo.
Hannah Levin, Rocket Queen columnist at Seattle Weekly and KEXP DJ:
I definitely would pick Sleater-Kinney's 1997 release Dig Me Out. Myself and two other female writers pitched it to 33 1/3 last year and were all rejected. They also foolishly rejected David Schmader's brilliant, queer-fanboy perspectiveof Eminem's Marshall Mathers. LP. Go figure.
As far as S-K, they certainly went out on a high note with classic rock swan song The Woods in 2005, but DMO was undeniably a breakthrough record for them as artists, as well as the so-called riot grrl genre attached to them. That record represented S-K not only transcending an incomplete label, but elevating it by showing their bones and stamina as a high quality, sharp-thinking rock band who were thriving on pushing themselves to the brink creatively. Plus, John Goodmanson's production is just sick and the cover art is a tribute to The Kinks' 1965 album, The Kink Kontroversy. I still remember pulling up outside the Wallingford studio where they were recording (it was conveniently located one block from my neighborhood grocery store) and just hearing Corin Tucker's more deeply textured wail bleeding out through the walls told me they were about to hit a new high.
Shane Tutmarc, of bands The Traveling Mercies and Dolour:
Bud Tutmarc – Rainbows Over Paradise: This is my favorite album of Grandpa Bud. He was a master of the Hawaiian steel guitar. I recently started consigning this album at Easy Street Records in Queen Anne. And it ended up #12 on the top 25 staff picks for 2007! Right in between Common and Jesse Sykes. Recorded in Honolulu in 1966 and features the exotic backing of Pua Almeid'a Moana Serenaders, with their vibraphone, upright bass, ukelele and lots of percussion. I would love to dig into the back stories of this album and I'm sure it'd make a fascinating read. For more on Bud and his music go to his website.
Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis: Many people don't realize that Elvis actually made albums too. In additional to a million big singles, he made at least four or five front-to-back killer albums. This one is my personal favorite. Recording in Memphis for the first time since the groundbreaking Sun sessions, this 1969 "comeback" album features the same musicians at American studios who had just cut Dusty in Memphis with Ms. Springfield. This album (and the singles that are included on the CD reissue) finds Elvis tackling more mature material with “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road,” and “Long Black Limousine” (a song about a young star who dies a tragic death – mirroring his own demise only seven years later). The album has a great soul-country feel to it, and Elvis' raspy voice (apparently laryngitis forced him to cancel a few of these sessions) just bleeds with passion. Not enough ink has been spilled on this incredible album, and it's place in musical history.
Bob Dylan – New Morning: This somewhat overlooked Dylan album might be my favorite one. First of all, the whole album features Bob on the piano, and beyond that it's one of his most diverse albums. Love songs ("If Not For You"), spoken word ("If Dogs Run Free"), waltzes ("Winterlude"), blues ("One More Weekend"), pseudo-spirituals ("Father of Night"). I could go on. The album is packed with little gems that weren't meant to be the next “Blowin' In the Wind” or “Like a Rolling Stone.” This album reminds me that rock and roll music is supposed to be an expression of joy as well as a force for liberation. With it's playful mood and loose playing New Morning brings out Bob's cracked smile – and mine too.
Barbara Mitchell, writer for Harp, Magnet, No Depression, Portland Tribune, The Stranger, Barsuk in Australia, I could go on and on, etc.:
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire: Such a beautiful record and one I couldn't listen to for years because it literally saved me my senior year in high school. I used to come home every day and put the headphones on and somehow everything was OK. plus, it was the album before they became huge AND they worked with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, which had to be amazing in its own right.
U2 – The Joshua Tree: It's a pivotal album and it would be interesting to see how the experience of "the unforgettable fire" and their time in America shaped the making of that album. the local rock station in Fresno played it pretty much in its entirety right before it came out – I knew at that point that I was going to have to share my favorite band with millions of other people…
The Cure – Disintegration: That was going to be their last album, and that was almost 20 years ago! I think it's easily their most cohesive work (as do the kids on "South Park!!).
Nabil Ayers, of band The Long Winters, record label The Control Group, and co-owner of Sonic Boom:
Bow Wow Wow — I Want Candy: Perhaps the most under-rated album ever to be relegated to one-hit-wonder status. I got into them watching early MTV — not from their cover of "I Want Candy" but from the song "Baby Oh No." Malcolm McLaren stole three guys from Adam Ant's band and recruited a 14-year-old girl to get crazy ove
r some surf guitar & Burundi rhythms. Seemed like a good formula for success.
Paul Austin, of band Transmissionary Six:
Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden: For people who only know "It's My Life" and the bubble-synth hits, point 'em towards this one. A masterpiece, gorgeous fragments overlapping to inexplicably make a heartbreaking whole. Total fucking fearless use of negative sonic space. Remember when records weren't compressed into shiny impenetrable globes, and had — dynamics?
American Music Club – Mercury: Brilliant chamber rock from Mark Eitzel – the greatest lyricist I've ever heard. The way the band worked with Mitchell Froom, to transform these songs from their basic early live incarnations into the compelling soundscapes that host these narratives, is stunning.
Billy Bullock, of band Shorthand for Epic (RIP):
The Cure – Wish: Many, many people would disagree, but I think this album sums up The Cure even better than Disintegration. It is some of Smith's best song writing and taken as a whole it perfectly captures the joy and horror and damage of a dysfunctional relationship while at the same time covering the full gamut of The Cure's oeuvre. It contains, in my opinion, one of, if not THE finest pop love song ever written ("Friday I'm In Love") as well as some of the most devastating, heart-obliterating songs in the bands catalog ("From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea," "To Wish Impossible Things" and "End") I don't know anyone in my general age bracket who is a Cure fan and doesn't deeply associate this album with a highly specific person or time.
David Bowie – Scary Monsters: This is really his last truly great, consistent album and it definitely feels like the last time he had a burning need to make an artistic statement. It ties up so many of the loose threads of his multiple incarnations from Ziggy onward in an incredibly succinct, frightening, emotionally heartfelt, self-effacing, thematically powerful way.
Elvis Costello – This Years Model / Armed Forces / Get Happy vs. King Of America: Armed Forces has already been done, but I'd love to do a compare and contrast between the "Guilt and Revenge" years of his master trilogy and the world-weary compassion of "King Of America"
Dresden Dolls – s/t: The first Dresden Dolls album has its few flaws, but they are vastly overshadowed by the lyrical and musical tight rope act of Amanda Palmer's songwriting and Brian Viglione's jaw dropping drums.
Libertines – Up The Bracket: Embodies and lives the true stink and madness and danger of every myth that bands like The Strokes build around themselves for credibility. This is the sound of a band that is not afraid to utterly destroy themselves physically and spiritually in the pursuit of an insane artistic ideal. The only truly great pure rock'n'roll album of this decade.
Rancid – Life Won't Wait: Another swan song album; Highly ambitious and embodying both the better angels and the deep flaws of a band that was too caught in its own image to ever be taken as seriously as they maybe should have been, the release of this album proved that the vast majority of Rancid fans were way too dumb to get an album this ambitious. It was all self-aware hardcore and haircuts after this. At 18 this sounded like a revelation, now, not so much, but damned if I couldn't write my ass off about it.
When discussing these books with friends like the above, I find I could easily write a book about the same records myself!
And so — what are YOUR potential 33 1/3 books?