Nightly meditations on 33 1/3


Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

Back in the mid-80s, I used to have a little ritual I'd perform every year. I'd select a biography, autobiography, or session/musical history about The Beatles and I'd read it while listening to a housemates' pristine vinyl copy of the The Beatles Collection (from end-to-end) on a kick-ass stereo. I so loved and looked forward to each yearly immersion.

Fast-forward to 2005 and a posting by David here that Boing Boing pal Erik Davis had authored a book on Led Zeppelin's fourth album, part of a series of books on iconic records, called the 33 1/3 Series. I ordered Erik's book and have been collecting the series ever since. I can't tell you how much I enjoy them and how much deeper they've taken me into the music I love so much.

Each book is somewhat unique, there's no set formula, although they all focus on a single album and most tend to have a chapter or two to set up the album, a chapter for each track on the album, and then a follow-up chapter or two. The books are each about 130-140 pages, so they're a quick read — unless you want to ritualize the experience like I do. For each title, after I buy it, I download the album onto my iPod. Every night, before bed, I listen to one of the tracks, read the chapter on that track, then I listen to the track again. It's really an amazing way of penetrating deeper into the music. Usually after I'm finished with a particular book/album, I'll obsess over that artist for awhile, tracking down and listening to their entire oeuvre, wishing there was a 33 1/3 book for each record.

I just recently finished the 33 1/3 for Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and then went off and listened to any of his records I could find. I think I understand his work (both his music and his painting) now in a way I never would have without having gone on this journey, little pocket tome in-hand. My next excursion is going to be Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.


Forthcoming titles I'm jazzed about are Kate Bush's The Dreaming and Brian Eno's Another Green World (although it's been perpetually forthcoming — rarely a good sign). I got so psyched after reading Erik's book, I even proposed one of my own, for Eno's Before and After Science, but the timing ended up not being right for me (especially given the labor-of-love-sized advance).

One caveat about these books – the quality is very hit and miss. There seems to be a lot of latitude for the authors to step out (the whole enterprise is very passion-driven) and follow where their muse takes them. Some end up in a better place than others. But even when a title draws up short, I've still enjoyed the ride, and the books are so brief, it's not like I've invested a lot of time or money.

David Barker, editor of the series, maintains a blog about 33-1/3, which you can find here.