I’d like to put in a major plug here for Bloomsbury Academic’s 331/3, a book series with a brilliantly simple premise. Get the best music writers on the planet to write single volumes dedicated to single albums. Each book, there are currently 86 and counting, the most recent of which is Jonathan Lethem’s book on The Talking Head’s “Fear of Music,” explores (loosely) the inner workings of an album’s creation. From what I have read and can tell, each book is unique and adopts a slightly different point of view on its subject matter. For instance, Carl Wilson’s book about Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk About Love” is much more a scholarly volume about the nature of “big” music and seeks to answer the question: why do so many people love or hate Celine Dion? And might the haters (Wilson included) be wrong, or at least be missing something? Dan Leroy’s book about the Beastie Boy’s “Paul’s Boutique” is more about the inner workings of the band and its contract disputes with Def Jam and the unique personal moment that led to the creation of the Beastie’s most unusual and sample heavy album. John Niven’s book about The Band’s “Music From Big Pink” is not a scholarly volume at all, but instead a novella in which Niven writes the history of the album from the POV of a druggie who was friends with The Band and kicking around while they worked on “Big Pink.”
I’m not an authority on these books. I’ve only read five of them, and while the overall consistent quality cannot here be attested to due to both the fluctuating approach and sheer volume of books produced, I’m still pretty comfortable praising the series as a whole and urging you to go out and get reading (Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion book is the best of them I’ve read). We live in a world of niche markets and 331/3 is a great example of the benefits. Plus they’re short and don’t overreach. The few I’ve read I pounded through in a day or two and helped me to better understand and appreciate an album that I already loved or an album or artist I was curious about.