ABBA Gold/Electric Ladyland/Sign 'O' the Times/The Velvet Underground and Nico/Unknown Pleasures
Weiss, Steve, Notes
ABBA Gold. By Elisabeth Vincentelli. New York: Continuum, 2004. (33 1/3.) [131 p. ISBN 0826415466. $9.95.]
Electric Ladyland. By John Perry. New York: Continuum, 2004. (33 1/3.) [132 p. ISBN 0826415717. $9.95.]
Sign 'O' the Times. By Michaelangelo Matos. New York: Continuum, 2004. (33 1/3.) [121 p. ISBN 0826415474. $9.95.]
The Velvet Underground and Nico. By Joe Harvard. New York: Continuum, 2004. (33 1/3.) [152 p. ISBN 0826415504. $9.95.]
Unknown Pleasures. By Chris Ott. New York: Continuum, 2004. (33 1/3.) [xvi, 117 p. ISBN 0826415490. $9.95.]
Continuum's 33 1/3 series is a collection of short books dedicated to rock's essential albums. The canon of rock music is a slowly evolving list perpetuated by magazines like Rolling Stone and MOJO, books like Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein's The Book of Rock Lists (NewYork: Dell, 1981), classic rock radio station playlists and countdown programs on music channel VHl. Author Nick Hornby humorously captured the personal implications of this musically obsessive pastime in his novel and the movie High Fidelty.
Books in the 33 1/3 series focus on one album each and are 100 to 150 pages in length. Each author has chosen a record they love from the past forty years to write about. The books are highly personalized, but all follow the same basic structure: part 1 is dedicated to the author's personal connection to the record and why the record is significant in the artist's catalog and in the broader context of rock music history; part 2 documents the making of the record; part 3 is a song-by-song analysis of the album. Authors for the series are musicians and/or writers for notable popular music publications.
Wisely, the series avoids records that have multiple or significant books dedicated to their study, like the Beatles's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. Instead Continuum has chosen mostly under-investigated records rang-ing from mainstream pop to underground classics. Outside of magazine articles, liner notes, fanzines, and artist biographies, these records are rarely discussed at length. Several books in the series cover records from the last two decades of rock. A sampling of five books from the series were available for review: Abba Gold by Elisabeth Vincentelli, Electric Ladyland by John Perry, Sign O' the Times by Michaelangelo Matos, The Velvet Underground and Nico by Joe Harvard, and Unknown Pleasures by Chris Ott.
Elisabeth Vincentelli's meditation on Abba Gold is illuminating. The book is a unique volume in the series since it explores a greatest hits compilation rather than an album proper. Her introductory essay addresses the value of best-of records, the importance of singles vs. albums in propelling musicians' careers and how a posthumous record can reintroduce a group fallen out of favor to a new generation of listeners. Vincentelli takes us into Abba's recording sessions as Benny and Bjorn's songs take shape. In the absence of great lyrics, the author shifts our focus to the music and performances. She describes their music videos vividly and speculates on the personal angst of the two women in the group. Although Vincentelli appreciates Abba without irony, she can't help a goodnatured dig at their seventies fashion excess. …