Browsing the Rock Encyclopedias

I have three tomes on the history, music and bands of rock and roll.  Sometimes as a diversion I’ll sit down and just thumb through them.  Yes, for fun…  Just because they’re all out of date doesn’t bother me too much, being a little dated myself.

The first one, and the best of the three, is MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, second edition, 1999, and weighing in at five pounds.  It even comes with a CD that I’ve never listened  to, which I will after I finish writing this.

Let’s see…  Opening randomly we get to the B-52’s, described as the second most popular band to come out of Athens, Georgia.  (The first must be R.E.M.).  Who can forget “The Love Shack” and “Good Stuff.” This is a band with warped comedic attitude and danceability going for it, and I have a later album of theirs I quite enjoy.  But the Guide recommends The B-52’s from 1979 as the “indispensable new wave party record,” and the first to buy if you must.

There’s also a lot of bands I’ve never heard of, ever.  For instance there’s The Elvis Brothers, formed 1981 in Illinois.  The Guide says: “A merry blend of Nick Lowe, the Beatles, and the Three Stooges, the Elvis Brothers were a rockin’ novelty during the lean days of synth-pop.”  (Oh, god, can you remember Orchestral Maneuvres in the Dark?)

The band was even invited to star in an attempted revival of the Monkees television series.  You see what you can learn by just poking around in these references.  I didn’t even know there was an ill-fated New Monkees series. 

The Guide recommends their first of two albums of power-pop, Movin’ Up, from 1983.

Quicksilver Messenger Service: I keep meaning to hunt up one of their albums.  (And that’s such a wonderful name for a band.) This was one of the great San Francisco bands from the sixties, formed in 1965, whose sound might be categorized, sometimes, as folk rock.  As the Guide notes, they are little remembered these days.  The Guide claims that on any given night they could surpass their compatriots such as The Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. 

The Guide recommends either of the first two albums, because after that the band went into decline until they disbanded in 1975.  The two albums are Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968) and Happy Trails (1969).  This second album had a side-long version of “Who Do You Love” that was edited down to 25 minutes…

A couple of the band members – Dino Valente and John Cipollina – went on to modest solo careers.

My second reference volume is All-Time Top 1000 Albums published by Virgin Records, second edition, 1998.  No. 1 is the Beatles’ Revolver, and No. 1000 is Got My Mojo Workin’ by Jimmy Smith, who is apparently the undisputed king of jazz organ.

Here are the top 10 as polled from 100,000 fans, experts and critics in 1998:

1. Revolver (up from No. 5 in the previous edition in 1995)

2. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (slipping from No. 1)

3. The Beatles’ The Beatles (White Album) (rising from No. 15)

4. Nirvana’s Nevermind (making a leap from No. 57)

5. The Beatles’ Abbey Road (also coming up a ways from No. 58)

6. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (originally at No. 3)

7. R.E.M’s Automatic For The People (up from No. 27).  I should really get this or some other R.E.M. album because I do like some of their work, but I was never grabbed enough to buy anything.

8. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (down slightly from No. 5).  Everybody must have had this album at some point, and I think it has the record for how many years it was on the charts.

9. Oasis’s (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (out in 1995 so it couldn’t be in the previous edition).

10.  Radiohead’s The Bends (also first time in the list).  One band that I have been unable to find the appeal.

This is a British publication so the list for North America would have been quite different.  I wonder how these albums would rate today.

Let’s see how one of my favorite records fares: The Beat’s (also known as The English Beat) I Just Can’t Stop It, in at No. 788.  The book says: “Along with Madness and the Specials, the Beat were the best of the late 70s two-tone movement.”

If you can sit still through “Mirror in The Bathroom” and “Twist and Crawl” then you don’t have a dancing bone in your body.

And finally we’ve got The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, published 2001.  Hey we’re in the same century together!  This is the third edition.

It’s interesting to note who they cut from the previous edition: April Wine, Brewer and Shipley, the Chipmunks (really ?!), Floyd Cramer (good choice there), a band called The Good Rats, Katrina and the Waves (how could they do that to “Walking On Sunshine”?), Gilbert O’Sullivan (who can forget “Alone Again (Naturally)”), Ugly Kid Joe, and quite a few others.

But they have included bands like Color Me Badd, formed 1987 in Oklahoma City, who were “part of an early ’90s revival of R&B vocal groups that also included Boyz II Men and En Vogue.”  They were responsible for the “racy hip-hop doo-wop hit” called “I Wanna Sex You Up,” which rose to No. 2 on the charts.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression: actually, this publication is quite thorough and well written, just not as comprehensive as the MusicHound Guide.

There’s lots of interesting tidbits.  For instance, the short entry on The Electric Prunes notes that they were actually two separate bands.  The first was one of the original psychedelic bands from L.A.  They signed to a label in 1966 and had a national hit with “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”, which I don’t remember but might if I heard it.  They disbanded in 1967 and a totally new band with the same name appeared and essentially went nowhere.  A disappointment because I really like that name.

There’s a good entry on Glen Campbell.  I learned he was one of 12 children, and left home as a teenager to tour with his uncle, a musician with the unfortunate name Dick Bill.  He was a session player in L.A., working for the likes of Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and The Mamas and The Papas.  He joined the Beach Boys for a year or so to replace Brian Wilson.  Of course, there are all the later hits, especially with Jimmy Webb compositions like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.”  He moved to country and to Christian music.

The detail I like is at the end of the entry: He really enjoys getting out on the golf course with his friend Alice Cooper

Alice, you will remember, is the fellow who in his concert act liked to chop up baby dolls and drape a boa constrictor around his neck.  What it takes to get attention in the music world…   Born Vincent Furnier, he took on the Alice Cooper name, a 17th Century witch, because a Ouija board told him to.  His major breakthrough album, Love It to Death, had hits like “Eighteen” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” which I admit are kind of catchy.

But that unlikely pairing of Glen and Alice on the links got me to thinking: what other odd duos can we come up with, along with an appropriate activity.  David Bowie and Tiny Tim playing table tennis…  Adam Ant and Enya shopping for clothes…  How about Neil Young and Madonna doing a commercial together…

I’ll leave it with you.

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6 Comments on “Browsing the Rock Encyclopedias”

  1. emalyse Says:

    You’re stirring up the memories for me now. especially with The Beat as I still find Mirror in the bathroom a catchy tune.There have been plenty of unlikely pairings for real let alone in my imagination. Bowie and Bing Crosby I never quite got over. You’ll be pleased to know that almost any top however many albums listings that has been done here (UK) after 1998 more often than not place Radiohead’s OK Computer at the top of the list (go on you love them really). They cheer me up no end.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi emalyse,

    Thanks for coming by…

    I saw some photo about that: Bowie and Bing Crosby. That is an odd combo, thnking of Ziggy Stardust.

    I bought that album by The Beat in a little town in the interior of British Columbia without any knowledge of the band or how good it was. When I listened to it the first time, I remember being so blown away. I scored!

    Regards

  3. emalyse Says:

    Hi – When the Bowie and Bing team up happened Bowie was still a hip, almost a cult artist and it seemed such an odd and mainstream thing to do. The scripted banter in that Xmas special still makes me laugh to this day though sadly it wasn’t long after this that Bing passed away. I’m not sure what the modern equivalent would be but it would be akin to Slipknot doing a duet with Tony Bennett (or that’s how it seemed when I was very very (honest) young anyway).

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi Emalyse

    Yes, but Bowie was more… ethereal… than Slipknot so it could work…

    Slipknot and Dylan though, there might be something there!

    Regards

  5. qazse Says:

    Fencer,

    Thanks. The Glen Campbell/Alice Cooper pairing is a scream. Again, truth wins over fiction.

    How about Meat Loaf and Karen Carpenter. (sorry, I could not help myself)
    Or Lenard Cohen and the Go-Go’s.
    Or John Prine and Parliament

    Best

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    I edited away what seemed to be a couple of precursor comments from you… Also, I’m finding comments (even my own) in the spam keeper, and I had to retrieve your comment above from there. Don’t know what’s happening about that…

    Meat Loaf and Karen Carpenter does create a pretty picture, doesn’t it? The others are good too…

    Regards


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