The next 16 albums to be selected for the 33 1/3 book series were announced today … which means that, at various times next year, everything from Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee to Bjork’s Homogenic will be pulled, prodded and dissected at 30,000-word length.
The 33 1/3 series, published by Bloomsbury, offers a particularly cool platform for music criticism.
Each one of the series’ 100 titles is a guide to a single long-playing album, the artist who created it and the world surrounding it, written by someone who submitted a proposal to write about that album because they care about it.
And if you read Bloomsbury’s submission guidelines, you’ll see these books are no casual matter. It takes something like 4,200 words just to send in an acceptable proposal, and in the most recent submission round, they accepted just 16 of 605 entries.
So, these books are not the dashed-off written equivalent of the party bro who won’t stop telling you why you should like Blood Sugar Sex Magik. You have to care a lot and know a lot to pull this off. (It does not surprise me that I recognize several previously published authors as veteran indie-rock musicians.)
I do not imagine I’ll ever submit a proposal to Bloomsbury. I don’t think I have passion or time enough to make a proposal shine, much less a full book.
But it’s a fun parlor game to imagine:
If I were to write a 33 1/3 book about a single album, which one would I choose?
Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music: Whoever gets to this one before I do damn well better do it justice. Or, from the same bag, John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space, 36 minutes of sax-and-drum-kit duets.
Jefferson Airplane, Bark: This putrescent jumble of an album so fascinates me that I’ve considered writing a whole bunch of individual blog posts about it, Edinburgh Exorcism-style. Not good; not close to good; a thoroughgoing period piece; oddly compelling all the same.
(I am not sure the 33 1/3 series requires that an album be good per se, simply that the writer be knowledgeable and passionate and that the book be at least somewhat marketable.)
Led Zeppelin, Coda: How do you assemble, market and generally consider a band album in the knowledge that there’s no band? I think that question raises a bunch of avenues that could be traveled down at some leisure.
Mississippi Fred McDowell, I Do Not Play No Rock N’ Roll: Hell, just the interview portions of this record deserve a short book to themselves (though the performances are spare and winning also). Another candidate from the blues file: Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers’ charmingly raw Natural Boogie.
Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Get Dancin‘: Never owned this semi-novelty disco album. In fact, I might never even have been in the same room with a copy. Still, it’s just begging for 30,000 words, and if anyone is the man to throw away some portion of his life to do it, it might as well be me. (Never will have so many have owed so nothing to so few.)