Trying to fit all of the musical, literary, and cinematic influences that came together to create Janelle Monáe’s concept album The ArchAndroid into one 33 1/3 has been a fascinating, if difficult, project. The story of Cindi Mayweather—runaway android wanted for the crime of loving a human and destined for messianic greatness as the ArchAndroid—is rich in a way that defies distillation. The story can unfurl itself in a thousand configurations, coming to mean something different to every listener.
Most fans can agree on two facts about Shonen Knife: first, it’s impossible to be sad while listening to them; second, it’s equally impossible to not get hungry. Ranging from songs about savory ramen to sweet candies, Shonen Knife’s tunes work a synethesial magic on listeners’ tummies. Their forty-plus songs about food give new meaning to the phrase “musical taste.” But why does Shonen Knife have so many songs about food? I develop a couple of answers to this question in Shonen Knife’s Happy Hour: Food, Gender, Rock and Roll; one explanation is that food is a topic that all humans can relate to and take pleasure in, but that is not the only one.
The Nissin Company, founded by Ando Momofuku in the early 1950s, rose to prominence with the invention of Cup Noodles instant ramen in 1971. Since then, instant ramen has become a prominent staple around the world and poor college students have spent weeks living off the savory soup-y meal. Indeed, Ando envisioned that Cup Noodles could help alleviate world hunger and bring about world peace. It should come as no surprise that Ando’s company is based in Ikeda, right next to Shonen Knife’s hometown, Osaka and now there is even a museum honoring Cup Noodles there. In Ikeda, the Osaka spirit of kuidaore or “eat til you drop” is strong. And like Ando, in Shonen Knife’s musical vision the optimistic belief that food can bring human beings together shines through.
Live Through This is an album about girlhood and motherhood; desire and disgust; self-destruction and survival. There have been few rock albums before or since so intimately concerned with female experience. It is an album that changed lives – so why is Courtney Love’s achievement as a songwriter and musician still not taken seriously, two decades on? In this two-part episode, we explore Hole’s origin and influences, their glam 90s LA image, and the 3rd wave feminist backlash against Courtney Love as she challenged every preconceived notion of “good” womanhood.
For a decade or so, Jorja Chalmers has been performing saxophone and keyboards with Bryan Ferry. She’s a dazzling presence on stage, as befits Ferry’s carefully curated and casually sophisticated image, plus her contributions to his concerts can be outsized. During a recent, pre-Covid performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles I attended, the backup singers on the iconic song “Avalon” lost their way in the final section. Ferry looked wide-eyed at Chalmers, who swiftly crossed the stage to guide the singers back in sync. Ferry, clearly grateful for Chalmers’s cool, shrugged off the misstep.
This year, Walter Egan released an album partly about a crush he had on Pamela Des Barres, a famous rock ’n’ roll “super-groupie” with a long list of friends and lovers in the music, film, and television industries. She came of age on LA’s Sunset Strip, in Laurel Canyon, and on the beach, relishing the full landscape of Southern California sensations. Egan met her briefly in 2001 and then again over a weekend in 2013, noting in his journal at the first encounter that she “was famous for ‘hanging out’ with rock luminaries.”
At one point in the late 1990s, if there were still cause to doubt it, it became apparent just how forcefully the disco revival had hit the mainstream. When not one but three jukebox musicals where disco music was featured hit London’s West End, the proof was undeniable.
In the classic track from Once Upon a Time “Working The Midnight Shift”, Donna Summer’s Cinderella character hits rock bottom. Forced to take on demeaning (but never specified) labour, the song manages to evince a post-Fordist nightmare where the singer has lost control of agency of her body. Her breathy vocals are detached, signifying perhaps an out-of-body experience as she observes her body grinding away, the relentless music suggesting hands in busy, unceasing motion. Tucked away in the middle of the Side 2 suite, it was probably one of the last tracks that would have been considered as having single potential. However, over the years it has demonstrated a lasting cult appeal, attracting covers from Holy Ghost! and occasional Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante.
Progressive rock and disco and on the surface might look like binary opposites, natural enemies even, given the way their audiences were often characterized (one male, white, heterosexual, the other female, black, gay). However, during the second half of the 1970s, it was evident that some of disco’s more adventurous producers were attracted like moths to the same literary flames that inspired many progressive rock concept albums.
Celebrate this Pride Month with some of our favorite queer icons in music! We’ve picked out four classic 33 1/3’s for you, including a behind-the-scenes look at The Raincoats with Jenn Pelly. Browse our full Pride Month Reading List for free digital resources and more discounted books, and check out these featured episodes of the Bloomsbury Academic Podcast for more conversations on gender, sexuality, and identity.