Literary Liner Notes: Part 1

The resolutely minor genre of liner notes recently received a considerable boost in cultural stature when Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar decided to feature Nat Hentoff’s commentary on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan as the first chapter in their Library of America anthology Shake It Up: Great Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z. Hentoff was the most prolific producer of these simultaneously ephemeral and essential paratexts and it’s fitting that his introduction to the young Bob Dylan also introduces this collection of popular music criticism’s bid for literary respectability.

Growing up with the Beatles

Image of the Beatles

Like many if not most of us my musical memories begin with The Beatles. The four floating faces, half in bluish shadow, on the cover of Meet the Beatles! is the first album cover I remember. It’s a memory that comes back to me in a fragmentary spectrum of sounds, images, and words. Not surprisingly the first songs on side one echo most clearly and completely. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” are more than memories; they are memorized. They persist as strips of sound in my neural networks corresponding note by note and word by word to the ridges and grooves along which the needle moved.

Vs. versus Vitalogy

Vs. album cover

If you’re with me here, there’s a good chance you’ve been with Pearl Jam since the beginning—and you may have already asked yourself, “If this guy was interested in a tough period for the band, did he forget about Vitalogy?” It’s a fair question. The general consensus is that PJ’s third record represents equal parts soaring creative victory and spectacular implosion. The band members themselves tend to agree when they reflect on Vitalogy, as does producer Brendan O’Brien. In 2001, he said, the album was “a little strained.” Then he elaborated: “I’m being polite—there was some imploding going on.”

My Midnight Vs. Purchase in the Rearview Mirror

Tower Records logo

If you’re of a certain age and musical bent, the midnight record release party likely holds a special, nostalgic place in your heart. Because they’re where you scored some of the albums that shaped your youth and young adulthood. Because high school and college were decades ago, and the good stuff from that long and challenging era now shines brighter than the mistakes and regrets. Because, perhaps, you’re not sure if you’ve attended a release party since the turn of the millennium.

When Frankie Shot Johnny

Image of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Santi Elijah Holley on the story of Allen Britt and Frankie Baker While most murder ballads traditionally center on the murder of a woman by a man, a few notable ballads flip the script. The most immediate one that comes to mind is, of course, the classic ballad of the spurned woman, “Henry Lee” (or “Love Henry,” as it’s also known), which Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds included on their album Murder Ballads. Though not referenced on Murder Ballads, one of the most popular and widely adapted ballads in…

Virtual ‘Realities’ in The Velvet Rope

Janet Jackson records image

Ayanna Dozier on Janet Jackson, cyber culture, and more. Technophilia and Technophobia were the rage in the late 1990s. As the approaching new millennia loomed on the horizon, society was facing a technological expansion hitherto experienced before. The internet transformed not only our communicative habits but our awareness of space and time itself, producing what scholar John B. Thompson writes as a space-time distanciation (Thompson 1995). This concept refers to how time, regardless of geographic location, now feels as if it operates on a global simultaneity; we feel like we…