The 10 Best 33⅓ Books
Worth reading even if you don’t care about the music.
Amazing Grace (Aretha Franklin) by Aaron Cohen
Aja (Steely Dan) by Don Breithaupt
Another Green World (Brian Eno) by Geeta Dayal*
Dummy (Portishead) by R. J. Wheaton
Fear of Music (Talking Heads) by Jonathan Lethem
Let’s Talk About Love (Celine Dion) by Carl Wilson
James Brown Live at the Apollo by Douglas Wolk
Pink Moon (Nick Drake) by Amanda Petrusich
Shoot Out the Lights (Richard and Linda Thompson) by Hayden Childs
Tusk (Fleetwood Mac) by Rob Trucks
10 More Very Good Ones
Required reading if you do, in fact, care about the music.
20 Jazz Funk Greats (Throbbing Gristle) by Drew Daniel
Abba Gold by Elisabeth Vincentelli
Armed Forces (Elvis Costello) by Franklin Bruno
Bee Thousand (Guided by Voices) by Marc Woodworth
Court and Spark (Joni Mitchell) by Sean Nelson
Donuts (J. Dilla) by Jordan Ferguson
Electric Ladyland (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) by John Perry
Flood (They Might Be Giants) by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer
Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan) by Mark Polizzotti
Sign O’ The Times (Prince) by Michelangelo Matos
10 More That Show What This Unusual Series Can Do
With a brief description of what each of these books does.
69 Love Songs (Magnetic Fields) by LD Beghtol
The best example of a nonlinear approach, this book is an alphabetical “lexicon” of paragraphlong entries, then a song-by-song collection of snippets from interviews, plus a crossword puzzle.
Entertainment! (Gang of 4) by Kevin Dettmar
The best use of pop music criticism as an explanation of Marxist theory.
Facing Future (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) by Dan Kois
The best guide to an entire region and culture (Hawai’i). (Full disclosure: Dan Kois is the culture editor for Slate.)*
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel) by Kim Cooper
The best proof that no one makes rock music alone.
Let It Be (the Replacements) by Colin Meloy
The best example of memoir as criticism. (Meloy is also the songwriter and lead singer for the Decemberists.)
Meat Is Murder (the Smiths) by Joe Pernice
The best work of fiction as criticism. (Pernice is also a songwriter and singer for the Pernice Brothers.)
One Step Beyond… (Madness) by Terry Edwards
The best use of English slang.
People’s Instinctive Travels in the Paths of Rhythm (A Tribe Called Quest) by Shawn Taylor
The best reuse of a critic’s past listening experience (including Taylor’s teenage diaries).
Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder) by Zeth Lundy
The best explanation of a whole career.
Spiderland (Slint) by Scott Tennent
The best use of original interviews with a not exactly world-famous band.
Correction, Sept. 10, 2014: This post originally misspelled Geeta Dayal’s last name. It also misstated the title of Dan Kois’ book about Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. It is Facing Future, not Facing Forward.