Music is being released at an extraordinary rate nowadays. Besides the onslaught of new material (lagging sales haven’t met a decline in product for labels) there is also the constant barrage of re-releases for music fans to contend with. It’s hard to keep up. With that in mind, IE raided the bookshelves and dug up a few titles that can help with those ever-growing back catalog needs.
Rolling Stone Album Guide
After sitting stagnant for more than 10 years, the Rolling Stone Album Guide was finally updated in November 2004, adding a boat load of new material to an already extensive resource guide. Organized alphabetically by artist name with separate chapters for soundtracks and anthologies, the Album Guide provides a critical overview of each artist’s career as well as a round-up of their records, complete with one-through-five star ratings. Readers will no doubt quarrel with the 944-page book (no George Harrison!!!), but it accomplishes what it sets out to: giving fans insight — no matter how brief — into a slew of artists spanning the spectrum of popular music.
For those who have grown weary of the rock mag’s decline in criticism (everything gets at least three stars) during the last decade, going with the dated-but-superb 1992 edition is a good idea. Compared with the 2004 version, which was written by 72 authors, the early-’90s book was penned entirely by just four scribes, giving all 838 pages a very cohesive voice. As with any undertaking this extensive, arguments can be made about questionable inclusions (Don Johnson? The fucking Chipmunks?) to a list of supposed “essential” artists and iffy ratings (New Kids On The Block’s Step By Step earned the same three-star rating as Townes Van Zandt’s 1978 self-titled release), but at least it remembered Harrison.
100 BEST SELLING ALBUMS
(Barnes & Noble; $6.95)
Now that he is retired, it can be easy to forget how many goddamn records Garth Brooks sold. Thank goodness for Barnes & Noble’s 100 Best Selling Records Of The ’90s, which reminds us Brooks had seven of the top 100 selling records of that decade, including three of the top 10.
There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to the series, which starts with the ’50s, instead you get just what the title implies: a rundown of the 100 top-selling albums (’80s and ’90s are based on U.S. and British sales; ’50s-’70s based solely on U.S. sales). Each entry features the album artwork as well as a complete track listing, musician lineup, production credits, whether the album had any number one singles or was nominated for Grammy Awards, what label released it, where it was recorded, and often some interesting tid bits. Did you know Bob Newhart’s 1961 release, The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart, was the first comedy record to top the Billboard charts? How about that Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell stayed in the U.K. charts for 471 weeks?
Music snobs will undoubtedly scoff at the idea of using a list of the sales performers as a resource guide. But, not everyone craves hard-to-find imports or rare singles. Sometimes we just want the most popular Lionel Richie record, you know?
The Rough Guide Book Of Playlists
(Rough Guides; $9.99)
As much as it might pain purists to admit, record collecting has more or less turned into song collecting. While some still sift through dusty bins at used music stores, many sift through the endless sea of tracks available for single download through iTunes. For those addicted to the 99-cent download, there’s The Rough Guide Book Of Playlists, stuffed full of 500 playlist ideas for your MP3 player.
Say you heard some Creedence Clearwater Revival playing at a buddy’s barbeque, and it suddenly sparked your interest in the band. Too afraid to admit you’ve just now been turned onto CCR and too clueless to know where to start in the band’s catalog, Book Of Playlists is an ideal tool because it suggests anywhere from five to 10 songs you should know (starting with “Susie Q” in this example). But beyond basic artist (everyone from ABBA to Blind Willie McTell is here) and genre lists, the folks at Rough Guides throw in a ton of themed lists like “Protest Songs,” “Detroit Rockers” — No Nuge? Blasphemous! — “Lighters In The Air,” and “Singing Drummers” — No Peter Criss? “Beth” denied! — among others. If you don’t feel you need a bunch of music writers (dicks!) telling you “Sweet Home Alabama” should top your “Southern Rock” playlist, consider the book also features personal contributions from names like Tom Waits, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, and Michael Stipe.
I Hate Myself And Want To Die
Sometimes, we just need a good cry. If you’re a music fan who needs a good cry more than sometimes, Tom Reynolds can help. I Hate Myself And Want To Die divides 52 of the “most depressing songs you’ve ever heard” into a number of different categories, for example “She Hates Me, I Hate Her,” “If I Sing About Drugs, People Will Take Me Seriously,” and “I Mope, Therefore I Am,” and dissects each tune in order to explain exactly why it’s such a bummer.
The precise reasons Reynolds classifies a song as “depressing” vary. Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight,” for example is labeled so simply because the author hates it (“. . . sounds like a prog-rock group playing an MOR song while hoping not to get caught”) while The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen” earns its spot for being a genuine downer (“Hearing about a college girl gulping down a bottle of sleeping pills from two guilt-ravaged heels who abandoned her is something I need experience only once”). Ironically, Reynolds’ number one entry isn’t a Joy Division or Cure tune (though both bands make an appearance), it’s a Christmas song for cripe’s sakes. Newsong’s “The Christmas Shoes,” which tells the story of a small, poor child standing in line at a department store to buy his dying mother a pair of slippers for Christmas, has the honor of being tagged more depressing than “Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson singing a duet of ‘Danny Boy’ while jamming syringes into each other’s eyes” by Reynolds. Talk about bah humbug.
– Trevor Fisher
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