Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Explore Classic Albums with the 33 1/3 Series

Ever wanted to find out more about your favorite albums? Take a look at Continuum's 33 1/3 book series. Each volume offers an in-depth exploration of a single album. The coverage ranges from the classic to the cult classic; Let It Be by both the Beatles (ML421.B4 M195 2004) and the Replacements (ML421.R47 M45 2004) get the treatment. Authors include music journalists, such as Seattle-based writer Gillian G. Gaar's tackling Nirvana's In Utero (ML421 .N58 G33 2006), and musicians such as Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz taking on the Rolling Stone's Exile on Main St. (ML421.R66 J36 2005).

The topics go far beyond what you'd find in liner notes to put the albums in context, not just a track-by-track analysis but also a look at the creative inspiration and an argument for the importance of less-obvious choices. John Dougan includes a history of Britain's pirate radio stations that influenced The Who Sell Out (ML421 .W46 D68 2006). In exploring the Pixies' Doolittle (ML421.P578 S57 2006), Ben Sisario interviewed central figures such as Charles Thompson (a.k.a. Black Francis) and Joey Santiago, who reveals that he learned to play guitar by checking out records from the library, as well as Berklee faculty member Burt Price, who offered recollections from his work as a second assistant engineer on the album.

The books are slim and compact, around 150 pages and not much bigger than a CD case. So in a quick read you can get the full story on an album you know by heart or wonder why it is so esteemed.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Stevie Wonder's Harmonica

We're saluting the harmonica in our current display Harmonica Power and even giving one away. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has an impressive one in their collection, Stevie Wonder's, and it is also part of their online display Spotlight Artifacts.

If you need ideas for the harmonica contest, consider some songs that have featured Wonder's playing:
  • "Fingertips, Part 2" on Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 (Motown, 1992) (CD 1354-1357 Disc 1)
  • "Isn't She Lovely" on Songs In the Key of Life (Universal/Motown, 2000, 1976) (CD 5204-5205 Disc 2)
  • "Boogie On Reggae Woman" on Fulfillingness' First Finale (Motown, 1974) (CD 2395)
  • "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" on Too Low for Zero by Elton John (MCA, 1983) (CD 5907)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A to Z of Pirate Radio: 40 Watts from Nowhere (book review)

As 40 Watts From Nowhere begins, the author Sue Carpenter recalls how she got tired of having to listen to the same popular songs played on her local commercial radio station over and over again. This prompts her to start her own radio station in 1995, thinking, how hard can it be? With this somewhat naive and adventurous attitude she sets up the first pirate radio station to feature music in the San Francisco area, KPBJ. When she subsequently moves to Los Angeles, she sets up another pirate radio station, KPLT, again from her small apartment. One of the many challenges Carpenter faces in setting up a radio station is the manufacture of a transmitter that can reach a significant population of her neighborhood. In addition, she has to find DJs to run it. The number one threat to the station she learns is that by not paying the required radio license fee to the FCC, she risks being fined $20,000 and/or spending a year in prison. Despite these risks Carpenter continues to promote her station, and before long the station has over 100 DJs and is influential in the punk and alternative music scene in L.A.

40 Watts from Nowhere is a fascinating, quick read. The author sees the humor in her often stressful and chaotic life at the station. It is interesting to read how Carpenter and her DJ friends experience fame and popularity one hand, while understanding the importance of remaining underground about their station’s actual existence.