Behind every great album is more often than not, an even greater story waiting to be told. The pursuit for higher understanding of artists and their most influential pieces of work and how the two came to pass has long been the ultimate goal of the ardent music fan who thrives on having every recorded nuance and historical detail mapped out like a combined atlas and encyclopaedia of the human body.
One of the more indispensable series of music books published that actually does, more or less, what is expected above, has been Continuum’s 33 1/3. Commencing in 2005 with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, the series has gone on to feature such diversely canonical albums as Neil Young’s Harvest, Radiohead’s Ok Computer and Slayer’s Reign In Blood. With the recent addition of The Rolling Stones Some Girls, Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me and Television’s Marquee Moon to their honour roll, 33 1/3 show no sign of scraping the bargain bin anytime soon.
What is it about rock n’ roll that draws out the academics with their precision-like incisions into a musician’s grey matter in an attempt to make head and tail out of what makes them tick? It’s somewhat amusing to picture lecturers and professors (something all three titles have in common) with the favourite albums under their sleeve, as they begin to put more hours into understanding and placing within context a recording that the artists themselves, especially in the case of Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me, put scant real thought into. It’s rock n’ roll, not Robert Frost. But such is the mark of the 33 1/3 series. You never know what to expect — respected artists succumbing to fandom, literate fans showing appreciation, fringe acquaintances using 33 1/3 as their period memoirs, or academics loosening their tie and unbuttoning their shirt to reveal a faded Ramones tee lurking underneath. Everybody’s got their own story to tell.
1978 was still a pertinent period in The Rolling Stones career. As musicians making relevant music, Some Girls was the sound of their tumbling dice hitting a wall. In their own words, it was a reaction against, and in some ways for, the emerging styles of the time — punk and disco, in which “Miss You”, contemporises the Stones R&B funk over a 4/4 disco beat, giving them their last ever US #1. Upon release the album courted some punk rock-ish controversy due to lyrics, but musically there’s no “White Riot” or “Blitzkrieg Bop” going on. At a push, it’s found in the straight-up rock of “Lies” that runs almost headlong into the rauc’ n’ roll of New York Doll’s “Trash”, a track which itself could’ve been stolen from any number of Rolling Stones tunes. So who‘s chasing who‘s tail here? Patell’s thorough examination of Some Girls and its placing as a New York influenced album, sits in neat tandem with Television’s Marquee Moon, which staked out downtown to the Stones’ uptown.
As one of the first bands to emerge from the famed CBGB scene, Television were championed, along with Patti Smith, as most likely to succeed. Which may have come to a surprise to most when they didn’t. A band who’s mythology and influence exceeds its own recorded output, Television’s Marquee Moon is still a densely mystifying album, one with its pronounced solo-ing and musical prowess sitting uneasily with the rough and ready CBGB legacy. Waterman’s appraisal is the largest of 33 1/3’s books, delving deeply into the origin of the scene in which Television grew from its epicentre. Essentially what you’re getting is a distilled history of the Bowery scene with Marquee Moon as its soundtrack. Reliant on period interviews (perhaps to prevent further muddying of already disputed events) Waterman sticks to the facts and does well to analyse Verlaine’s lyrical vagaries. Though if you’re buying this solely to find out the meat and potatoes of how Marquee Moon was made, you might want to skip the first 120 pages.
While Television and The Rolling Stones shared a similar time and place, for Amherst, Massachusetts 3 piece Dinosaur Jr, the connective links are less easier to draw. You’re Living All Over Me was very much a watershed album for the momentum gaining alterna-culture scene, with frontman J Mascis being a considerable influence on Sonic Youth for Daydream Nation. As with other past 33 1/3 release on The Minutemen, The Replacements and The Pixies, the mid-late 80’s was a fertile, febrile period in American music culture. Dinosaur Jr were to become much like Television, courting their own controversy and dysfunctional behaviours with You’re Living All Over Me the beginning of the end for the band, the achievement of a goal that Mascis questions in the preface “Where do you go from here?”. With interviews from all three members, Attfield relates the progression from early hardcore days as Deep Wound into Dinosaur Jr, a band that by the release of their third album Bug in 1989 would be riding a trail of self-destruction atop their own freak scene.