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.