Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I bought a couple of books from Continuum's 33 1/3 series on my last trip to Victoria. Number 3 in the series is about Neil Young's Harvest, and number 6 is everything you wanted to know about Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I thought they were both pretty useful. Sam Inglis's examination of Harvest not only lays out Young's early career succinctly (I've never had a good grasp of its chronology and the circumstances surrounding his involvement with CSNY), it includes an interesting discussion of the clash between popular success (represented by Harvest) and critical success (Tonight's the Night, for example). Plus it has lots of information about the recording sessions themselves—about non-guitarist Jack Nitzsche playing slide on "Are You Ready For the Country?" and forcing drummer Kenny Buttrey to play the title track with one hand, for example.

John Cavanagh's Pink Floyd book is more of a time capsule, concentrating on the extraordinary era that birthed the band. The historical material (a fair bit of it taken from a 1966/67 CBC Radio piece that I had a tape of for a while) is woven into a track-by-track dissection of Piper...—as with the Neil Young book, all the fine points of recording and songwriting are given plenty of attention. The discussion of The Floyd as musicians is quite funny and reassuring. Producer Norman Smith: "Nick Mason would be the first to admit that he was no kind of technical drummer. I remember recording a number—I can't now recall which one—and there had to be a drum roll, and he didn't have a clue what to do. So, I had to do that." Peter Jenner: "Nick, when all is said and done, was not a very good drummer, but he was a very good Pink Floyd drummer." Of course, a lot of words concern the short-lived genius of their guitarist and main songwriter, but the book avoids pandering to the cult of Barrett. If you want to know how to play "Astronomy Domine" and what the strange noises at the end of "Bike" are, put on your scarlet tunic and curl up with this.

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