The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge

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The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge [Paperback]

David Kamp , Steven Daly
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 12, 2005

At last! An A-to-Z reference guide for readers who want to learn the cryptic language of Rock Snobs, those arcana-obsessed people who speak of "Rickenbacker guitars" and "Gram Parsons."
We've all been there--trapped in a conversation with smarty-pants music fiends who natter on about "the MC5" or "Eno" or "the Hammond B3," not wanting to let on that we haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about. Well, fret no more! The Rock Snob's Dictionary is here to define every single sacred totem of rock fandom's know-it-all fraternity, from to Zimmy. (That's what Rock Snobs call Bob Dylan, by the way.)

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

DAVID KAMP has been a writer for Vanity Fair and GQ for over a decade, and began his career at Spy, the satirical New York monthly. STEVEN DALY is a Vanity Fair contributing editor, and in a previous life was a rock musician in his native Glasgow, playing drums for the band Orange Juice. Kamp and Daly live in New York City. 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Rock Snob*s Dictionary

A * symbol indicates a Rock Snob Vanguard item, denoting a person or an entity held in particular esteem by Rock Snobs.

Acetate. A small-batch test-pressing of a recording, used for demonstration purposes in the pre-digital era--so that record-label executives could vet an upcoming release, or so that music publishers could pitch their new songs to the labels. Often used synonymously with the term WHITE LABEL, though a true, vintage acetate, recorded straight from the studio master tapes and cut on heavy, fragile lacquer that wore out after a few plays (as opposed to the more durable vinyl), is an even rarer commodity. The official Brunswick release of "My Generation" kicks ass, but it doesn't quite capture the primal mod savagery of the acetate.

Ackles, David. Hard-luck Californian singer-songwriter who released four cultishly worshipped albums from 1968 to 1974, the most celebrated of which is American Gothic (1972). Like his poor-selling contemporaries VAN DYKE PARKS and Randy Newman, Ackles, in his work, evoked the great American songbooks of Stephen Foster and George and Ira Gershwin more than he did the stoner confessionals of the LAUREL CANYON troupe, making him something of a man out of time--though he would later be praised as a genius by Elvis Costello and Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist. Ackles died of cancer in 1999, before a proposed collaboration with Taupin could be realized.

Adler, Lou. Malibu-based macher of the L.A. music scene since the late fifties, having discovered Jan & Dean, shepherded JOHN PHILLIPS and the Mamas and the Papas to stardom on his Dunhill label, organized the MONTEREY POP festival, cofounded the Sunset Strip clubs the Whisky a Go-Go and the Roxy, and produced Carole King's denimy singer-songwriter showpiece, Tapestry, in 1971, thereby bringing the LAUREL CANYON ethos to the mass market. A cool, inscrutable figure who often sits beside Jack Nicholson at Lakers games, Adler functions as the urbane antithesis to the scrappy guttersnipe Strip scenesters KIM FOWLEY and RODNEY BINGENHEIMER.

Albini, Steve. Self-consciously difficult Chicago-based record producer who chafes at being called a producer, insisting that he merely "records" bands; best known for having produced--er, recorded--Nirvana's studio swan song, In Utero, and for issuing snarky comments to the press when some of the album's uncompromisingly raw songs were later remixed by other producers. Albini, who pushes the bounds of hard-rock iconoclasm by wearing glasses and having short hair, enhanced his outsider cred by playing guitar in the not-very-good hardcore bands Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac. Man, that drum sound is a monster! No one knows mic placement like Albini.

Alt. country. Self-righteous rock-country hybrid genre whose practitioners favor warbly, studiedly imperfect vocals, nubby flannel shirts, and a conviction that their take on country is more "real" than the stuff coming out of Nashville. Heavily influenced by GRAM PARSONS. Also known as the No Depression movement, after the title of an album by the SEMINAL band Uncle Tupelo (which itself purloined the title from the CARTER FAMILY song "No Depression in Heaven"). Though such alt. country standard-bearers as the Jayhawks and Neko Case continue to embrace the genre's conventions, the former Uncle Tupelo mainmen Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar have emphatically de-twangified, the former as the leader of the crit-beloved pop eclecticists Wilco, the latter as a solo artist after disbanding his post-Tupelo band, Son Volt.

Americana. Catchall term for any indigenous American music that draws influence from the United States' earthier pre-rock idioms (country, folk, bluegrass, etc.) and bears no obvious imprimatur of slick New York and Los Angeles A&R men; used to describe everything from mail-order-only cassettes sold by West Virginia fiddlers to high-profile
ALT.COUNTRY releases by attractive, slightly wind-chapped young women such as Tift Merritt and Laura Cantrell.

Anthology of American Folk Music, The. Multivolume collection, first issued by the FOLKWAYS label in 1952, of obscure and semi-obscure folk recordings as compiled by eccentric musicologist Harry Smith (1923-1991). Significant for having allegedly triggered the late-fifties-early-sixties "folkie" movement that gave us Bob Dylan, and therefore, by extension, for making pop music subversive, turning the Beatles into druggies, and irreparably rending the fabric of our society.

Anti-folk. Hazily defined genre originally inhabited by young white tenement squatters who combined folk and punk sensibilities, but more recently embodied by the LO-FI pretend rustics Will Oldham and Bill Callahan, who, under their aliases (Palace and Bonnie "Prince" Billy for Oldham, Smog for Callahan), thrum acoustic guitars and warble ominous murder-ballad lyrics in the style of the authentic twenties hayseeds heard on Harry Smith's ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC. The anti-folk movement (which took its name from English acousti-punk Billy Bragg's description of his own sound) traces its origins to a scroungy eighties Lower East Side scene that spawned, among others, Beck, Michelle Shocked, Cindy Lee Berryhill, and Ani DiFranco.

Aphrodite's Child. Hirsute, preposterous Greek PROG outfit from the late sixties and early seventies enjoying new life as a staple of retro-funk compilations. After the group's 1972 split, walrus-sized vocalist Demis Roussos, possessor of an unlikely castrato singing voice, went on to dubious Euro-fame as a kind of Hellenic Barry White, crooning MOR love songs for the aprs-ski set, while keyboardist Vangelis Parpathanssiou jettisoned his last name and won international fame for his synth-heroic soundtrack to Chariots of Fire and Snob plaudits for his noirish Blade Runner soundtrack.

Arden, Don. Knuckle-dragging thug-titan of Britain's early rock scene; the Suge Knight of his era. Gaining a toehold in London's postwar show business scene as a boy comedian and singer, Arden (ne Harold Levy) muscled his way into promotion, organizing British tours for such kindred-spirit wildmen as Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. As manager of THE SMALL FACES, Black Sabbath, and the Electric Light Orchestra in the sixties and seventies, Arden earned a singular reputation for violence, famously dangling fellow maverick Robert Stigwood from a balcony during a business dispute. When Arden's daughter Sharon took over the management of his client Ozzy Osbourne in the early eighties, marrying the cro-mag rocker in the process, Don declared war on Sharon, and she tried to run him over with a car. But Arden has mellowed in recent years, reconciling with his daughter and shuffling through episodes of MTV's The Osbournes while singing Yiddish music-hall songs.

Association, the. Prime arbiters of the late-sixties "sunshine pop" ethos, having scored a string of featherlight CURT BOETTCHER-produced hits such as "Along Comes Mary," "Cherish," and "Windy." Though the Association was big enough to have been the opening act at the MONTEREY POP festival, and their multilayered harmonies and sophisticated arrangements were sometimes worthy of BRIAN WILSON, their credibility was hampered by their wussy image, relentless deployment of ba-pa-ba-paaah backing vocals, and the fact that their main musical force, Terry Kirkman, played the recorder and flute onstage--ultimately consigning them, perhaps unfairly, to the BUBBLEGUM ranks.

Austin City Limits. Public-television program originally conceived, in 1974, as a showcase for Austin, Texas's burgeoning music scene--the first guest was the pre-superstardom Willie Nelson--but later reconfigured as a hip, wide-ranging TV alternative to Nashville's fogyish Grand Ole Opry (with such guests as TOWNES VAN ZANDT, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, and Lyle Lovett), and, later still, as a magical melting-pot for both mainstream country acts (Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill), and ROOTS-sensitive rock and pop acts like Sheryl Crow, the Jayhawks, and Ben Kweller. Rodney Crowell turned in a smokin' set on Austin City Limits last night.

Autoharp. Small stringed instrument, also known as a chorded zither, whose gentle twang, portability, and visual appeal (it's cradled in one arm and stroked by the other, like a newborn) have made it a favorite of both old-timey musicians (such as the CARTER FAMILY) and newfangled AMERICANA artists. Catherine O'Hara strummed one in the folkie send-up A Mighty Wind.

Axe. Imbecilic term for an electric guitar, nevertheless embraced by rock critics and hobby guitarists with advanced degrees. My Sebring axe doesn't have the pedigree of a Fender, but man, it can shred like one!

Axelrod, David. Snob-exhumed purveyor of sixties orchestral funk. A West Coast producer-arranger with a CV worthy of a James Ellroy character--as a young man he dabbled in violent crime and went on to become a jazz producer in the fifties--Axelrod established himself in the mid-sixties producing artists as varied as Lou Rawls and the Electric Prunes, and under his own name recorded ambitious, layered albums that defied categorization. (He once used Blake poems as lyrics.) A commercial failure in his own era, Axelrod embarked on a cocaine-fueled downward spiral, but fortune smiled upon him in the nineties when the likes of Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and DJ Shadow sampled his work.

*Bacharach, Burt. Rehabilitated songwriter whose metrically and melodically unorthodox sixties pop-luxe hits, such as "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "I Say a Little Prayer" (written with lyricist Hal David), were dismissed for two decades as square and Muzaky until Rock Snobs decided in the nineties that...

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767918738
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767918732
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 4.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Over the last 20 years, David Kamp has carved out a dual career in "proper" journalism and humor writing: like Calvin Trillin's, only far less respected and lucrative. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine and the author of national bestseller "The United States of Arugula: The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution" (selected as one of the New York Times's Notable Books of 2006), as well as the "Snob's Dictionary" series of humorous lexicons: "The Rock Snob's Dictionary," "The Film Snob's Dictionary," "The Food Snob's Dictionary," and "The Wine Snob's Dictionary."

Kamp got his start at Spy magazine, the seminal satirical New York monthly, while still in college in 1987. He was later an editor and writer for GQ magazine, and, since 1996, has been writing full-time, with his work appearing in Vanity Fair, GQ, and the New York Times, among other publications. His interests include food (the subject of "The United States of Arugula"), pro football (he has profiled Tom Brady, Troy Polamalu, and Tony Romo for GQ, but, alas, none of his beloved New York Giants), and, especially, music (he profiled the reclusive Sly Stone for Vanity Fair and also wrote of Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash's moving late-in-life friendship for that magazine). Above all, Kamp is uncomfortable writing self-aggrandizing words about himself in the third person.

Kamp, who is currently at work on another sweeping work of nonfiction, lives in Greenwich Village and rural Connecticut with his wife, two children, and dog. His author site, which is occasionally actually updated with fun stuff, is at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
This is a fantastic, compulsively readable little book that's both funny, snide and surprisingly informative. But, then again, I'm one of those jerks this was apparently written for.

It's safe to assume a pair of rock snobs also wrote it. Only a rock snob could write, and appreciate, entries such as:

"Drake, Nick: ... Was frequently photographed standing dolefully among trees...."

"Eno, Brian: Egghead producer and electronics whiz with appropriately futuristic name and aerodynamic pate."

"Big Star: ... recorded tunes that, while catchy, were too fraught with druggy tension to be commercial -- thereby guaranteeing the group posthumous 'great overlooked band status.'"

"Albini, Steve: Self-consciously difficult Chicago-based producer who... pushes the bounds of rock iconoclasm by wearing glasses and having short hair."

"Parsons, Gram: Southern, Harvard educated, trustafarian pretty boy who invented country-rock...."

It's slim, it's amusing, and sometimes surprising. Who knew, for example, that Shuggie Otis was once offered the chance to join the Stones as a replacement for Mick Taylor? Or that the vocoder was developed in the 1930s as a telecommunications aid? Not me.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very cool book May 12, 2005
By Ray
I was surprised that no one has written this book before. Everyone knows some know-it-all who just HAS to have the last word in any conversation about music.

Like Dean, this dude who was my shift supervisor at the AutoZone. I remember putting "2112" on the tape player in the garage, and Dean lectured us for 10 minutes about how Ginger Baker and Mo Tucker were better drummers than Neal Peart from Rush (which is total b.s.), and rambled on about some "brilliant" Syd Barrett solo album that no one ever heard about. And whenever "Teenage Wasteland" came on the radio, Dean couldn't help himself from making sure we all knew that the song was really called "Baba O'Reilly". We were changing the coolant on an Impala one day and the owner had left "Metal Machine Music" and a Captain Beefheart CD on the dashboard, and old Dean just about went nuts. When the Impala owner came to pick up his car, you would have thought Dean was meeting his long-lost twin that the hospital separated at birth.

Anyway, there's definitely someone like Dean who was your annoying freshman roommate, a chick you used to date, or you, so this book is awesome. Especially if you spend a lot of time on the can, since this book is broken down into bite-sized nuggets and doesn't require more than 2 minutes of attention at any given time. Rock on.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snobbery Rocks June 13, 2005
Mark Twain said that a classic is a book that everybody praises but nobody reads, and we have that kind of literary snobbery in rock music too. Here, certified rock snobs Kamp and Daly lay out a snobbishly informative definition and history of rock snobbery, followed by an encyclopedia of artists, albums, devices, and terms that snobs love to praise but may not have really heard. So here you can learn more about obscure darlings Captain Beefheart and Richard Thompson, genres alt country and old school, and even annoying critics-only terms like "rewards repeated listens" and "plangent," all with not just definitions but also discussions on why these people and things are snobworthy. I was surprised to find that I'm a credible rock snob myself, as I was familiar with at least three-quarters of the snob terms in this book and I am a longtime fan of such snob faves as Love, Bad Brains, and P.Funk. (Kamp and Daly could stand to beef up their funk snobbery, but maybe that should be a whole 'nother book!) But even I was unaware of the snob love for people like John Philips or Dexys Midnight Runners, who are revered for everything they did before and after they were temporarily famous. And that's what true snobbery is all about! I'm one of the very select few who know that... [~doomsdayer520~]
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not essential but a lot of fun indeed September 2, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The subtitle reads "An Essential Lexicon," but it isn't. "Essential" connotes a comprehensiveness that this lacks, which indicates that this book was not meant for education so much as fun and humor, and in this it succeeds admirably.

So, what is a rock snob? Evidently, somewhat to my surprise, I am not. I'm a music fanatic, and I would have imagined that sufficient to gain rock snob status, but apparently not, since the book defines "rock snob" as: "reference term for the sort of pop connoisseur for whom the actual enjoyment of music is but a side dish to the accumulation of arcane knowledge." For me the actual enjoyment of the music has been paramount, so I am imagining that anyone who truly loves the music first is exempt, on technical grounds, from rock snobbishness.

The joy of the book comes from the way they simultaneously elevate and then deflate various figures and artifacts from the world of rock. Many of their characterizations are dead on. I've never understood the esteem in which many hold Burt Bacharach. Folks, it really is just elevator music, and I don't care how much Elvis Costello tries to pump his reputation. The authors write about such figures with wit and derisive humor. The lists that litter the book are marvelous, and usually dead on.

Plus, the book is fun to argue with. If you are a serious fan of music, you will spend a lot of time flipping through to see if your own candidates were included in the book, and a surprising number of the more arcane folks I searched for were to be found. For instance, I was amazed to see that Jim Dickinson, Dan Penn, The Fugs, and the Louvin Brothers showed up.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Guide for Middle Aged Rockers
The Dictionary is an encyclopedia of sorts, listing the artists that any aspiring rock snob should know about. Read more
Published 6 months ago by David Lindsay
3.0 out of 5 stars Just OK
When I received this book, it seemed kind of lame in its approach. But it does have a few good things to mention in it. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Paul
4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious!
A really funny and somehow still informative summary of rock snob knowledge. One of the co-authors is a veteran of "Spy" magazine, so if you are a fan of that writing style,... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Leslie
5.0 out of 5 stars Mandatory for Music Lovers
I've bought this book for any serious music lover but more importantly I've discovered some real gems in here from Dennis Wilson's, Pacific Ocean Blue to Roxy music. Read more
Published on November 9, 2010 by Pete K
4.0 out of 5 stars MaryinHB [...].
I have to say that I actually use this book as a cheat sheet. This is all stuff that I should know but there is not enough room in my brain. Read more
Published on May 31, 2010 by Mary Bookhounds
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun but inessential!
Ok this is a very funny concept and makes for great reading on a trip. HOwever it is somewhat short. Read more
Published on March 18, 2006 by Lovblad
5.0 out of 5 stars Snobs and Snarks
The Lester Bangs Cosmological Sincerity Argument for Short Attention to an Entertainment (as espoused here by "Brock Pemberton") is so dull. Read more
Published on July 19, 2005 by Antonio Gramsci
2.0 out of 5 stars The format is repetitive and the jokes plagiarized from Lester Bangs
I know that I am supposed to laugh at the reference format of this book, but after 5 pages I had to set it down because my attention drifted. Read more
Published on July 18, 2005 by Kindle Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Snob to Snob
A quick and enjoyable read with plenty of name-dropping (a pre-rrquisite for snob to snob debate). Discussion of contents with other snobs will hopefully incite riot. Read more
Published on June 14, 2005 by Michael J. Mitrukiewicz
5.0 out of 5 stars Rock Action
From its high concept title --tell me you don't know exactly what you're in for with a title like this one! Read more
Published on May 13, 2005 by Todd Wallop
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