33 1/3: Books About Records

July 26th, 2008 | Category: Reviews, Videos

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

The line above has been attributed to several voices — Elvis Costello, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and Lester Bangs, among others — but if the roof is on fire, I say we dance. Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series, helmed by the insightful and inimitable David Barker, is good books all about good records. Not just “good” records, but records that changed the face of music in one way or another — records that set the roof aflame, and the two I just read — Paul’s Boutique by Dan LeRoy and Loveless by Mike McGonigal — are just that.

I know, what can possibly be said about Paul’s Boutique and Loveless that you haven’t already heard some drunken music geek say jumping up and down waving his or her (probably his) hands? I thought the same thing, but having been that drunken, hand-waving music geek more than once in the past, I was still interested.

Coming out of the wake of the Hip-hop parody that was License to Ill (Def Jam, 1986), The Beastie Boys surprised everyone with the sample-heavy psychedelia of Paul’s Boutique (Capitol, 1989). Upon its initial release, the record’s public response could be described as “doom” for The Beastie Boys’ career, but over the years it has proven itself one of the most important records of its time, and possibly the most creative sample-based record ever made.

The Beastie Boys were seemingly riding high after their many tours supporting License to Ill. On the contrary, they were ready for a break and ready to get paid, but their bosses at Def Jam were not about to offer them either of these. The suits neuvo there were stuck in a cashless lurch with their newly minted distribution deal with Columbia and anxious for a new record from the Beasties. This would not do. So, our heroes bounced to the Left Coast, found some new friends, some new collaborators, a lawyer, and a new label. Finally paid by a sweet advance from Capitol, the boys were set to blow off some steam and start work on what would become their undisputed masterpiece.

While the Beastie Boys were sorting out their post-License to Ill lives, a loose-knit group of DJs and producers was busy creating the soundtrack to their next era. Among these were John King and Simpson (The Dust Brothers), Matt Dike (DJ, promoter, Delicious Vinyl founder), and Mario Caldato Jr. (studio engineer). Paul’s Boutique would eventually include the music of many — real (?) and sampled.

Dan LeRoy’s book gets at how this all came together, and — it’s an interesting and illuminating read about a particularly mysterious time in the Beasties’ history. LeRoy’s insightful epilogue regarding nostalgia is also not to be missed.

Say what you will about The Beastie Boys, but Paul’s Boutique is the record that synced their placement in the alphabet and their placement among music legends: right between The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds) and The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).

Not unlike Paul’s Boutique, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (Creation, 1990) is widely considered — and rightfully so — one of the most important and influential records of the 90s. Also like Paul’s Boutique, its making is shroud in rumor. Such myths (e.g., that it cost half a million dollars to record and bankrupt their label Creation only to be saved by Oasis, Kevin Shield’s notorious studio meticulousness, that there are thousands of guitar overdubs, etc.) are either clarified or dispelled herein.

Mike McGonigal does some digging for the roots of the signature My Bloody Valentine sound that was refined on Loveless and defined an era and countless imitators (also mentioning such worthy influences as Sigur Rós, Mogwai, M83, and Caribou, but spending a disproportionate number of pages on Rafael Toral), but how he went the whole book without mentioning Robert Hampson, I do not know. He does warn that writing about this record can make you “start believing it’s the most transcendent record ever,” and that “it’s too easy for this album to turn you into a pretentious twat. Be very careful!!!” Thankfully, he avoids hyperbole except where appropriate and taps into why this beautiful wall of guitar noise remains the touchstone that it is.

These two books pull back the curtain on their respective subjects, giving us a glimpse behind the mystery surrounding both. So, if you’ve been that drunken, hand-waving music geek or know someone who has, these two books (as well as the rest of Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series, including books on Reign in Blood by Slayer, Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth, …Endtroducing by DJ Shadow, Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, Led Zepplin IV, Bee Thousand by Guided by Voices, among many others) will help explain the phenomenon.

Now if I could just convince David Barker to let me do one… (Right?)

I cannot resist adding the video for My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” (runtime: 4:43) from which the cover art for Loveless was gleaned. It’s absolutely perfect.

Further Posting:

11 Comments »

  • Gabi Wan Kenobi said:

    Yo Roy!!!! Drop the beat and let me slice some meat/when we gonna do one of these books as a team?/you bring the pickles I bring the ice cream/but really though/we rapped about Company Flow/why don’t you pitch that to your editor bro/there’s a thousand choices, which way do we go?!!?

  • Race for the Prize: 90s Music Biographies | Roy Christopher said:

    […] By the way, if you like the behind the music stories no matter the genre, I also recommend The Long Hard Road Out of Hell by Marilyn Manson and Neil Strauss (ReganBooks, 1998) and for added debauchery, check out The Dirt by Motley Crue and Neil Strauss (HarperEntertainment, 2002) and Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind (Feral House, 2003). Oh, and I can never say enough good about Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series. […]

  • discontents.com » Blog Archive » Race for the Prize: 90s Music Biographies said:

    […] By the way, if you like the behind the music stories no matter the genre, I also recommend The Long Hard Road Out of Hell by Marilyn Manson and Neil Strauss (ReganBooks, 1998) and for added debauchery, check out The Dirt by Motley Crue and Neil Strauss (HarperEntertainment, 2002) and Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind (Feral House, 2003). Oh, and I can never say enough good about Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series. […]

  • Desiring Lines: The Path More Traveled | Roy Christopher said:

    […] piece of art and how it changed art and our perception of it, not unlike what Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series does for […]

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  • Pass the Mic: MCA RIP | Roy Christopher said:

    […] get into the Beastie Boys music until they made the jump to the Left Coast and released Paul’s Boutique (Capitol, 1989) And, like most people, I didn’t recognize that record’s greatness […]

  • Godflesh Streetcleaner: My 33 1/3 Book Proposal | Roy Christopher said:

    […] proposed a book for Bloomsbury Academic’s 33 1/3 Series on Streetcleaner by Godflesh. This being one of my all-time favorite records by one of my all-time […]

  • My Bloody Valentine: Here Come the Drones | Roy Christopher said:

    […] the meantime, Loveless has been lauded, applauded, imitated, reissued, copied, covered, and worshipped. In 2007, Athens, Georgia’s Japancakes did an all-instrumental cover version of the whole […]

  • Jonathan Lethem and David Byrne Explain It All | Roy Christopher said:

    […] On “Mind,” David Byrne adopts the voice of a “paternal narrator without flaw or dysfunction,” as Ian Gittins (2004, p. 53) puts it. Lethem characterizes the song as decidedly liminal, a narrator arising from the negative space between identities. Much of Fear of Music (the book) emerges similarly in interludes between Lethem’s song-by-song analysis. The interstitial chapters pose such questions as “Is Fear of Music a Talking Heads Record?,” “Is Fear of Music a David Byrne Album?,” “Is Fear of Music a Text?,” “Is Fear of Music a Science Fiction Record?,” and “Is Fear of Music a New York Album?,” Lethem looks for the heart of the record from all angles. The Bottom Line is that if you love this record, you’ll love Lethem’s book — and that’s not necessarily true of all of the books in this series. […]

  • Download, Spin, or Stream: Heavy Records, 2013 | Roy Christopher said:

    […] mbv (mbv): My Bloody Valentine finally followed up on their genre-defying and defining classic, Loveless (1992), with mbv. Like Wire’s Change Becomes Us, mbv is an amalgam of old and new recordings, […]

  • “Godflesh: Escape Philosophy” on Medium | Roy Christopher said:

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