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5 Great Books About Canadian Artists From the 33 1/3 Series

Bloomsbury's celebrated series of full-length books about albums is turning 20 and still expanding. From k.d. lang to Celine Dion, it's spotlighted some major Canadian artists.

Two of 33 1/3's most recent entries, including one on k.d. Lang's Ingénue

Two of 33 1/3's most recent entries, including one on k.d. Lang's Ingénue

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The popular book series 33 ⅓ took its first deep dive into music history twenty years ago, in the fall of 2003. Since then, the series — an initiative of Bloomsbury Publishing — has released over 200 books, each one providing a thorough examination of a significant record.

In a musical landscape increasingly geared toward singles and playlists, the 33 ⅓ series emphasizes the album as an artistic form. Each writer in the series brings their own particular approach to thinking about music history and the music industry, as they explore how their chosen album was made and why it matters.


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As the series has evolved, it has maintained its original vision at the same time as its frame of reference expands. “Our goal over the past several years has been to stay true to the original concept of 33 1/3 and its concise, personal takes on a range of albums,” says Bloomsbury, “while branching out into new genres and bringing in a greater range of authors and artists to the series.”

This year’s releases from the series include books on Madvillain’s Madvillainy, Madonna’s Erotica and Ingénue by Canada’s queer country hero k.d. lang. The series has also launched its own podcast and six different spin-offs, including 33 ⅓ Brazil, 33 ⅓ Japan, and, coming in 2024, 33 ⅓ South Asia. “Our hope is to continue to cover new ground,” the publisher adds.

No word yet on 33 ⅓ Canada, but that hasn’t stopped writers from diving into records by the country’s biggest artists. Here are five books from the series’ first twenty years that highlight influential records by Canadian artists:

Neil Young’s Harvest by Sam Inglis, 2003

With his fourth album, Harvest, Neil Young went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100, with “Heart of Gold” landing the top spot in March 1972.

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Harvest is highly regarded, but, Sam Inglis’ book points out that some critics and die-hard fans have never fully embraced the album, with even Young himself referring to it as middle of the road. Inglis looks at how Harvest fits in with the rest of Young’s lengthy discography and considers how its critical reputation bumps up against its commercial success.

The Band’s Music From Big Pink by John Niven, 2005

The debut album from The Band announced the Canadian-American group as more than Bob Dylan’s backing band. On Music From Big Pink, they wove blues, folk and rock together into the genre known as Americana, hitting No. 63 on the Hot 100 with future classic “The Weight.”

John Niven’s Music From Big Pink takes a semi-fictionalized approach to the album’s history. The novella features real people, like The Band’s Richard Danko and Richard Manuel, as told from the perspective of a 23-year-old aspiring artist. Niven explores not just the record itself, but the sensibility of the late ‘60s period that produced it.

Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark by Sean Nelson, 2006

Joni Mitchell — who just turned 80 — is better known for her influence than her chart presence, but in 1974 she went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with Court And Spark. The record also featured three Hot 100 hits and marked a turning point from Mitchell’s early folk-forward days toward her upcoming jazz experiments.

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Sean Nelson — of the bands Harvey Danger and the Long Winters — provides a critical interpretation of Mitchell’s most successful album, working “from the lyrics outward” while also inspired by a memory of his mother singing along to Mitchell on the radio.

Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson, 2007

Billboard named this one of the 100 greatest music books of all time, and for good reason. One of the most famous books in the 33/3 series, in Let’s Talk About Love, music critic Carl Wilson approaches Quebec’s queen of pop from the perspective of someone who has never understood her appeal. In the process, he became a major influence on a whole new subgenre of music criticism known as Poptimism.

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Wilson examines Dion’s career and her 1998 album through the lens of taste, interviewing fans and even traveling all the way to Las Vegas in an effort to gain insight into her massive success. Ultimately, Wilson never becomes a superfan, but he takes the reader on a thoughtful journey through the ways we define ourselves by what we like and, maybe more importantly, what we don’t.

k.d. lang’s Ingénue by Joanna McNaney Stein, 2023

Writer Joanna McNaney Stein remembers being near tears the first time she heard k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving,” as a closeted 16-year-old in her parents’ old station wagon. (The song peaked at No. 38, ahead of lang's only other Hot 100, a 2010 cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah.")

Thirty years later, McNaney Stein’s book about lang’s groundbreaking Ingénue features interviews with lang collaborators like bassist David Piltch, singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and Ben Mink, co-writer/producer of Ingénue. The book traces lang’s trajectory from her ‘80s country-punk band The Reclines to her status as a ‘90s lesbian icon, weaving in personal narratives from McNaney Stein’s own coming of age.

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