There are certain albums that music lovers hold up to be their personal gold standards of greatness, often split among two categories: the classic and the guilty pleasure. (Of course, everyone's guilty pleasures are rife with flashes of sheer, soon-to-be-discovered greatness that will one day be deified by someone in a position to deify. But that's not what this is about.) It's the personal classic that the often delightful and mercifully brief books in the Thirty Three and a Third series are about. The brainchildren of editor David Barker, all are under 160 pages and feature a musician and/or music critic expounding the virtues of a single vaunted album. And with the exception of Joe Pernice's wry, thinly veiled autobiography about his suicide-riddled hometown, a semi-related first crush, and a life-changing acquisition of the Smiths' 1985 cassette Meat Is Murder, most of the authors stick to the facts, interjecting personal anecdotes along the way that make what could be pure wankery a little less so.

And when I say "a little less so," I'm not referring to John Perry's trying--okay, interminable--exploration of Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland (I freely admit that I'm no fanatic when it comes to Jimi Hendrix) that includes a chapter fixated on each track. When I reached a subsection entitled "Detuning," I simultaneously slammed my forehead on the table and pitched the book to the bar's grimy floor, as if I had suddenly died.

Including Andy Miller's look at the Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society, six of the six-by-five-inch, modestly priced little books came out last year, in October, but it was only Pernice's Meat Is Murder contribution that caught my eye. (The other seminal albums written about and released last year? Neil Young's Harvest, Love's Forever Changes, Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis.)

This June sees the release of five more titles, including ABBA Gold (the only one written about a greatest-hits record, but author Elisabeth Vincentelli makes a perfectly logical argument for why it should be, despite her contribution's not-so-perfect, irritating ending, to be discussed in a moment.) The one on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, written by Chris Ott, a former editor and member of a band called the Grace Period, is compelling and so despairing that at one point I had to stop reading for a bit because the recent discovery (through watching videos of performances) that Ian Curtis' jerky dancing was actually, upon study, a classic hallmark of onstage seizures drove me to tears. Books about Prince's Sign O' the Times, written by Michaelangelo Matos, and the Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground and Nico, by Joe Harvard, in addition to the one about Electric Ladyland, round out the latest batch.

What's good from the latest titles, aside from Ott's already mentioned Unknown Pleasures? Matos' Sign O' the Times--except for when he's pulling the "guy who's afraid of talking to girls" shtick, which Pernice did in his earlier experience with Meat Is Murder, and so, so much less ickily--is one of the more joyful given his enthusiasm for the music (and the family members) that led to his appreciation of Prince. Somehow his facts, history, and commentary are not a pain in the ass, possibly because of his penchant for jumping around to other artists and other albums. The same thing can't be said of Perry's Electric Ladyland or Harvard's snoozy, over-informative Velvet Underground geek fest. (What can be said that hasn't already been written and read a million times before? Oh yeah, loads on the boring technical stuff.) Vincentelli's love of ABBA Gold (the only of the band's albums that's great start to finish, without a single clunker) is convincing, but she writes defensively--an odd blend of knowledge and self-consciousness with which I myself am quite well acquainted. My issue with it is that in her final paragraph, she laboriously cites the film Muriel's Wedding as the moment when the uncool band achieved its recent popularity and respect. Not only did that nearly ruin Vincentelli's entire book for me, but I highly disagree. It's our subconscious memory of the songs, triggered by radio stations, the albums of our parents, the albums of our siblings, or random thoughts, that remind you how fucking beautiful and daring those songs were--and still are. Not goddamn Muriel's Wedding.

Future titles include books on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, Jeff Buckley's Grace, James Brown's Live at the Apollo, Radiohead's OK Computer, Jethro Tull's cringe-inducing (personal opinion!) Aqualung, as well as a pair on two Let It Be albums--the one by the Beatles of course, and the other by the Replacements, which should be as funny ("Gary's Got a Boner") as it is inconsolably woeful ("Unsatisfied").