Friday, September 5, 2008

Guiding Light

My comment on the shifting nature of the critical evaluations in the Rolling Stone Record Guide elicited not just a comment here from Scraps but a post on his own blog, which I heartily recommend that you all read. Scraps points out that it's mostly just Dave Marsh who's out of touch.

Marsh's book The Heart of Rock and Soul is pretty interesting, a compendium of what Dave thinks are the 1001 greatest singles of all time. But it comes across pretty clearly that Marsh loves roots-oriented, blues-based, straight-ahead rock & roll (he's written biographies of the Who and Bruce Springsteen) as well as classic R&B (he had "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" rated as the best song of all time). One thing he clearly doesn't like is any sort of intellectual or progressive form of rock. Forget Television: Marsh can't find room for any singles from Neil Young or David Bowie on his list of 1001. He's got two Crowded House singles on there, but no "Young Americans." (He also inexplicably lists Peter Gabriel's limp "Don't Give Up," on which he teams with Kate Bush to see who can be more pretentious. The winner: anyone who never heard this song.)

As for Marsh's work on the RS Guide, I mostly agree with Scraps, although I should point out that in the 1983 edition, they list the records chronologically, rather than alphabetically, as they did in 1979. My biggest complaint, though, is the number of artists for whom not a single song title is offered, making the book somewhat useless as a reader's guide. The Con-Funk-Shun [sic] entry, for example, reads simply "Boogie by the pound," which is utterly meaningless. By far the most important information to impart about Con Funk Shun (the band's actual name) is that they cut the big hit "Ffun" in 1978. If you didn't already know that, what is to be gained by knowing they made "boogie by the pound"? If you don't know that, what is to be gained by knowing they made "boogie by the pound"?

If a record guide is going to be good for anything, it ought to remind people what songs they might know by which artists. But Marsh can't be bothered to tell you that Larry Graham did "One in a Million You," or that Styx did "Lady" (or anything else), or that Al Wilson did "Show and Tell." As much as I have always enjoyed reading the RS Guide, that just drives me batty.

I've never met Dave Marsh, although we did sort of work together once: About 15 years ago I proofread his book Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n' Roll Song. It's customary to include the little people who perform such tasks as proofreading in a book's acknowledgments, but you won't find my name anywhere in that book. That's OK, though; they paid me. Given the choice, I'd much rather have the money than the recognition.


Volly said...

All this means is that somebody needs to create a new compilation. However, I fear book format might prove inadequate, due to the sheer volume of recordings produced since 1983, the diversity of the listening audience, and the evolution of the Internet and mp3.

Scraps said...

The 2004 edition of the Guide is very good.

Allmusic, for all its many flaws, is doing the job best online these days. Unless someone else is, in which case I'd sure like to know about it. (RateYourMusic is an interesting wiki-type approach to the job, superior in some ways to Allmusic -- particularly in discographies -- but is not the first place to turn for an introduction to a musician.)

Scraps said...

Regarding Larry Graham: Does Marsh at least mention that Graham pioneered the slap-bass technique that gave funk an essential part of its sound?

T. Nawrocki said...

Sort of: He says Graham "literally invented modern funk bass playing." That's important information to have, and would be instrumental in the RS History of Rock & Roll, but an album guide needs to do more than that.

I contributed to the 2004 edition, albeit minimally, so I'm not really permitted to comment on its quality.