Tuesday, September 9, 2008

One Final Word

Before I leave the topic of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, there were two more things I wanted to say here. First of all, when I said that omitting song titles kept people from properly using the book as an album guide, that's not just limited to little-known artists or one-hit wonders. The 1983 essay on George Harrison is fairly lengthy but doesn't include a single song title. If you pick up the book thinking you want to buy the George Harrison LP with "What Is Life" or "Crackerbox Palace" on it, you're out of luck, cuz. The only thing that can guide you toward which Harrison album you want is Marsh's own critical evaluation.

The other thing is, for all my cavils, I love this book, and have loved and re-read it for a long time. When I was younger, I used to read about the critical favorites that I had never heard before and hope that I could someday be able to hear their music. What could the Holy Modal Rounders possibly sound like? Or the Residents? Or the Bonzo Dog Band? You couldn't listen to a lot of new music with the book, obviously, but you could be exposed to it an another fashion, and get enthusiastic about hearing it, and that's really valuable.

Plus, Dave Marsh loves the Stylistics, and is put off by the Doors, and for that he deserves our respect.


Joe said...

You're bitching about the second edition of the guide, with the blue cover. That's the one where Dave Marsh did indeed step in and put the smack-down on any remotely punky or arty record. The entry on X is pretty screamingly wrongheaded. The magazine (rightly) gave "Wild Gift" five stars in 1981. Marsh settled the score a few years later. He hated punk. The first edition, with a red cover, is actually substantially different and much better.

BTW, I don't see what's wrong with the lack of song titles, or historical and recording details for that matter. It was an album guide; the assumption was you trusted the authority of the guide and would buy accordingly. Yes, I know, if you wanted “Crackerbox Palace” which album should you buy? What a conundrum! Where’s the reader service? What-fucking-ever. It was written by and for people who valued the album over the song, probably too much. But those were different days. Those first two editions were meant as guides to a world where having (and having the time to listen to) every important album was remotely possible. (Inconceivable today. But that first edition even included separate sections on jazz and blues, in an attempt to be a complete guide to American popular music. Soundtracks, too, if I remember right.) Those record guides worked to establish a canon, much to the disgust of many. But that canon included Jerry Butler’s greatest hits alongside Love’s “Forever Changes,” and in 1980 it was the only reason I heard either record. I’m grateful for that.

What in the world is obscure by “Boogie by the pound,” by the way? It means that Con-Funk-Shun made a sort of funk so undistinguished, it might as well have been sold by the pound. There was a whole tradition of one-liners in rock criticism – wasn’t it JD Considine who did a column of them in the Musician Magazine reviews section? – and that may not have been a great one, but it’s hardly opaque.

T. Nawrocki said...

I stand by my conention that more song titles are needed. If you want to tell people what Thirty-Three and a Third sounds like, the best way to do that is to say it sounds a lot like "Crackerbox Palace."

Kinky Paprika said...

I know this discussion has petered out, but I gotta ask a question:

How much do the authors of these guides listen to the records on which they bestow ratings?

Obviously they can't listen to every single record, but how many *do* they listen to?
How much of Dave Marsh's contempt for ConFunkShun is based on actually listening to the stuff?

Side Two of the fourth ConFunkShun album could be a concisely argued, intensively footnoted defense of American postwar international policy ... and I suspect the reviewer would never know it.