33 1/3 Greatest Hits
Edited by David Barker
Full disclosure: I am reviewing this book but I did not read the whole thing. And I don’t want to. Forget it. See, this is a greatest hits collection, and I only liked that record, that record and that record. Not that record. 33 1/3 is a series of books written about influential or legendary music albums, and while this anthology does contain many extraordinary pieces about great old albums (e.g. Stones, Kinks, Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Neil Young and others), I won’t read an essay, however well-written, about albums that I don’t care about.
Okay, maybe I will. But I am a musical snob. Don’t you remember me from college? I was the guy with the rock & roll posters all over the walls, the one with the great stereo, who waited reverently for the next issue of Rolling Stone like it was a letter from home. To quote Homer Simpson, “Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”
That little Homerian nugget was in the article about Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997). See, I’m not mired entirely in the distant past.
Who should read this book? Certainly not my wife. Or my brother-in-law. They weren’t or aren’t obsessed. This isn’t for my kids, either. My kids are of the wildly fragmented mp3 generation, and they don’t buy albums. They buy songs. Nobody knows actual song titles anymore, just track numbers. “Play number 5!” The idea of the complete statement, the album, and the old 33 1/3 RPM vinyl record is a baby boomer anachronism. Like the Concept Album, you know, a record with a unifying theme or idea or even a narrative. Gone. Loved and revered by some graying elders like me, but a relic of a bygone era.
Here’s what I don’t like about this book: it’s got a lousy, dumb cover. I’m the target market and I’d flip right by it based on the cover alone. It’s like Tony Orlando and Dawn for crying out loud. So if you read it, try to get past that. Another thing. Who are these authors? There’s no quick little “who’s who” in the book, so there’s no way to determine slants and angles, biases and, of course, age and credentials. This is important stuff when dealing with dusty old records such as these. Despite that, I’m impressed. I suppose if I really cared, I could Google them.
What this book is, at its core, is a loving, obsessive inquiry into music that is terribly important to certain people. The essays are like New Yorker in-depth profiles – inventive, quirky, well-researched and fun. Hell yes, I’ll read a long cozy article about Exile on Main Street on a cold autumn night. And I learned a thing or two. And not just inane who-played-what-guitar sorts of things. These writers have thought long and hard about old records and, as we age, if the music produced by these masters is truly art and remains valuable, we can continually be nourished by the depth and heart of that cosmic American music that is rock & roll.