…hundreds of books have attempted to define or at least circumscribe the music or some part of the experience of hearing it.”
So begins the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide from 1979.
Some work was being done on our house yesterday leaving me without power for a couple of hours. While I was sitting at my desk my eye fell upon my old, battered copy of the red Rolling Stone Record Guide that was my beacon in my formative years of music infatuation. Nicked from the school library in about 1985 (no guilt – it hadn’t been checked out since 1980), I can’t overemphasise the importance of this book in my life right up until the internet era. I still have a mental barrier that runs through 1979, dividing music history into ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ eras. At the mention of a band I still instantly see the star ratings for their albums in my head.The book was illustrated with the covers of 5-star albums and seeking these out was my perpetual goal for a decade or more. I still have a natural aversion to albums it dismissed.
The book is in bad shape, its pages having that soft, furry feel of a hymn book from years of thumbing. It lived for most of my uni life in the magazine basket in the lav. Chunks and pages of the book have made a bid for freedom over the decades, and for the last 15 years or so its remnants lived in a plastic bag in a box. It was only during recent renovations that I pulled it out again and assembled the bits in order as best I could. So yesterday I lost myself in it again, fascinated by the window it provided into the 70s world of rock criticism and fandom.
Anyway, thought I’d steal an idea from the latest Word podcast, and post a few reviews as a quiz. I have made a few minor editorial changes as needed to obfuscate and remember that the cut-off date is late 1978:
1. “[Artist] is an Australian Hard Rock band whose main purpose on earth is to offend anyone within sight or earshot. They succeed on both counts” (All albums 0 stars)
2. “Punk rock’s answer to Linda Ronstadt? The band can play, in a sort of revivified British Invasion style” [Artist]
3. “[Album 1] is almost certainly the worst double set ever done by a major artist. [Album2], released a couple of years later, is an act of vengeance. [Artist] has lost his sense of humour in the 70s and this is as close to a joke as has been available from him in the last decade”
4. “Simple to an extreme, these Britons emulate but fail to match the early R&B-influenced exploits of groups like the Rolling Stones. Their LPs sound like sparse backing for a lead musician who never appears” [Artist]
5. “[Album] is a 22 minute composition that incapsulates the hypnotic redundancy of a 12-hour drive. Valuable both as a musical oddity and background music more watching tropical fish sleep”
6. “Allegedly, these guys have great lyrics, but they only send them to rock critics so you’ll never know. The lead singer makes Andy Capp sound like a BBC announcer” [Artist]
7. [Album] was a thickly detailed, somewhat stiff collection of generally less than great [Artist] tunes. It’s release was greeted with an effusion of paeans citing it as a bridge between pop and art”
8. “Limpid adult bubblegum rockers and ballads of numbingly ersatz sensitivity. The music is slick and efficient, if soulless. The vocal harmonies that were supposed to be the trio’s forte are so static when played at loud volume that they feel like needle pricks in the brain” [Artist]
9. “This is rather like the soundtrack to an LSD movie. The music has an exotic frothiness and the string settings are among the most gorgeous in rock history” [Artist and Album]
10. “The album consists of short, uncomplying melodies based on rock, classical and other themes, repeated over and over at sluggish tempos with various instruments playing the same part. It’s simplistic, monotonous and far too long”
11. “[Album] was the band’s first commercial failure, mostly because it was attempting to create the sort of pastiche the Beatles popularised with Sgt Pepper before there was a market for it. The music is strong but spotty”
12. “[Band] was probably the greatest American singles band. Led by guitarist/vocalist/writer [X], the group simply pumped out classic rock singles, one after the other.”