33 1/3’s are for students, too!

A few years ago, we posted some excerpts of undergraduate essays that discuss 33 1/3s. We love seeing our 33 1/3s in classrooms, so we decided to post some more! Below you will find the beginnings of three undergraduate student papers.

Samantha Bennett is a senior lecturer in the School of Music at the Australian National University, and author of her very own 33 1/3, Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Peepshow! These excerpts come from Professor Bennett’s “Popular Music: In Culture and in Context” class, and make for very interesting reads.

Do you teach 33 1/3’s in your class as well? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment below, or tweet us @333books.

James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, by Douglas Wolk

On October 24, 1962, at the Apollo Theatre “in the heart of friendly Harlem,”[1] R&B icon James Brown recorded Live At The Apollo. The concept for this “new kind of pop record”[2] was originally greeted with great skepticism; prior to this album and concert, Brown made singles, influenced by his own musical choices and the financial limitations of King Records, the label to which he was signed. However, living up to his name as “the hardest working man in show business”[3] and in true ‘showbiz’ fashion, Brown funded the recording and production out of his own pocket leading to Live At The Apollo’s(the album hereon referred to as LATA) irrefutable success. Author and critic Douglas Wolk aims to encapsulate the atmosphere of the Apollo that night in his book Live At The Apollo. In this critique, I will focus on Wolk’s presentation of the political context and themes of sexual and erotic abandonment in LATA and how his tone presents these themes as a narrative. Furthermore, I will analyse the issues of over contextualising and how that is influenced by the structure of the book itself, and more broadly offer my own evaluation of LATA.

The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, by Paula Mejia

In her installment in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series Paula Mejia seeks to place Scottish proto-shoegazers The Jesus and Mary’s chains seminal 1985 debut, Psychocandy, into its cultural and political context. Throughout the book she attempts to unpack their somewhat incongruous ‘pop’ success through discussions of their persona and aesthetic building, the role of gender and feminism in the album, and through discussions of class and geography. Mejia is mostly successful in this endeavour, however the book is not without its shortcomings. When discussing the band’s persona and outward aesthetic, Mejia seems unexpectedly ignorant of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s similarly motivated post-punk contemporaries. When discussing the gender politics of The Jesus and Mary Chain Mejia makes many astute observations but goes little further than lyrical analysis to support her arguments when more could be said. Finally, when discussing class, Mejia overlooks the greater intricacies and nuance of the British class system and places too much emphasis on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s supposed status as a working class band. Further, what is perhaps the greatest of the book’s failings is an almost total omission of any discussion of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s musical and sonic decision making on this now canonised album, and how the semiotics embodied in the band’s ‘wall of sound’ musical style also played a large part in their performance of marginality and subversion of hegemonic masculinity.

Hole’s Live Through This, by Anwen Crawford

Live Through This by Anwen Crawford (2015) weaves together multiple perspectives to illuminate the significance of Hole’s 1994 album. Crawford’s methodology privileges the fan- their performance of an inherently gendered role and the social meanings that they draw from popular music culture. She uses a variety of methods and analytical approaches to explore this issue. These include the established ethnographic method of interviewing participant-observers and the more radical practice of self-reflexive auto-ethnography. Crawford draws upon a wide variety of theoretical approaches including feminist theory, poststructuralist linguistics and popular culture studies to substantiate her analysis. She also interviewed the album’s sound recordists- Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie- for insights on phonography. The book’s wide ranging discussions are bound together by a chapter structure that loosely follows the album’s track listing. Lyrics and themes then provide inspiration for the various intellectual tangents that Crawford pursues.

Crawford is a brilliant writer. Her command of language allows her to adeptly negotiate complex subject matter. Her manipulation of active and passive tense, short and long sentences, irony and sincerity, is a pleasure to read. Her writing style creates a stream of consciousness, it ebbs and flows, but never digresses too far from the subject. This unconventional writing style should not be misinterpreted as a lack of discipline. Crawford remains in total control; she does not drift with the tide, she is the tide. Crawford’s fluid, circular writing style is also a political statement, a subversive rejection of the traditional phallocentrism of rock criticism. It follows the l’ecriture feminine (feminine writing) style imagined by the influential poststructuralist French feminist Helene Cixous, with its “trips, crossings, trudges, abrupt and gradual awakenings, discoveries of a zone at once timorous and soon to be forthright” (Cixous, 1976, p. 885). It is also a writing style that harmonises, metaphorically speaking, with Live Through This, an album that demonstrated mastery of dynamics and structure. Alternating between soft and loud, tension builds and recedes, relief is provided momentarily in the melodic bridges and then, – explosion. Catharsis in just the right places.

Thank you to Samantha Bennett for continuing to teach 33 1/3 in her classrooms!

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