Continuumís 33 1/3 Series
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, Pipers at the Edge 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.
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.
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.