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Alternative Rock : Third Ear - The Essential Listening Companion Paperback – November 1, 2000
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From Library Journal
This massive and inclusive reference work by best-selling rock music writer Thompson (Never Fade Away: The Kurt Cobain Story) fills a gap by providing a reasonably priced, useful, and informative guide to a highly popular musical subgenre alternative rock. In the historically fascinating introduction, Thompson provides a time line that traces the jelling of three factors in 1975 that led to a rock sound whose main rule is that there are no rules: the release of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, Patti Smith's Horses, and the blowup of the Sex Pistols. Noting that his goal "is not to chronicle every performer ever to be categorized as an 'alternative rock' act, but to isolate a sampling of those who have made the greatest contributions" to the form, he then launches into a fine selection of essays that define the music's complicated saga, both in the United Kingdom and America. This is followed by encyclopedic A-Z coverage of the artists whom Thompson considers the "alt" music scene's movers and shakers. Some may quibble about selection and other topics, but this writer knows his stuff and can organize and write well about it. The stories of such lesser-known groups as Black '47 and Disorder are handled with the same aplomb and deftness as the wildly popular Blondie (then) and Marilyn Manson (now). Libraries that pride themselves on well-rounded music and pop culture collections should purchase this third entry in the fine "Third Ear" series. David M. Turkalo, Suffolk Univ. Law Sch., Law Lib., Boston
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
If you're reading this, our guess is that you don't know much about British punk band Throbbing Gristle or American rockers Camper Van Beethoven and Lydia Lunch. Here is your chance to find out. Entries are arranged alphabetically, with plenty of details about personalities and individual recordings. REVWR
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
The book is already large, and if more were included it may become ponderous and overwhelming for some. It is not an encyclopedia, but it is the closest this genre is likely to see.
I spent several hours reading it before I bought it (we had it at my job) and learned many things about bands I knew about, as well as some I had never heard of. The book does a good job of putting the artists in the context of their time and regional culture, and does a great job as a piece of reference in catalogueing the recordings.
As for the complaint about not including hip-hop or Zappa. I am a big fan of both, I was once reprimanded on my college "alternative" radio show for including a couple songs by Zappa era Steve Vai, and I agree that the "alternative" genre such as it was (I consider it to now be a dead genre) was too restrictive and became nothing more than a marketing strategy. However it is a recognized and fairly well defined genre, like it or not, and I feel that the artists represented in this book are a fine cross-section of the most important players in said genre. As much influence as Zappa had both musically and attitude wise to many a "alt rocker" he resides just outside of this classification (along with most other classifications, to his credit).
So to sum up, if you are looking for a fine reference tome on Alternative Rock and the bands who made it what it was, you could do a lot worse than this. If you are looking for the end all be all volume on one particular band or are likely to get offended by someones opinion of your idols, then look elsewhere. I myself, am glad it was written.
Thompson did inspire me to go back and listen to bands fresh. Most of this book covers the 80s, especially the Brit scene, and while many of the records were impossible to find, or at least afford, back then, it does jog one's memory. As one fan's reactions, it straddles the fence between the Lester Bangs/Bob Christgau/Joe Carducci single-critic assaults and, in its catholicity, the variety of the Trouser Press or All-Music Guides.
You won't find exactly what you hoped for, but groups as bafflingly listed as Roogalator, pointless as Hanoi Rocks, and as risible as Dead or Alive share space with Gun Club, Raincoats, Buzzcocks and undoubtably your favorites too. I hope.
Added bonuses: the prefaces are windbagged attempts at giving backgrounds from the 1970s for the alternative scene. They read like they were cut-and-pasted from magazine articles. Better time spent perusing the discographies by label and producer, which appear unique to Thompson's compendium among current record guides.
And do read his reviews! Even if you've never heard of the music, they show his talent at summing up a sound and an attitude, with less snobbery than Christgau and more acumen than some in the Trouser Press volume (which doesn't overlap as much as you'd think with Thompson's picks.)
By the way, Thompson did publish in 2003 "A User's Guide to the Fall," one of three Fall books that year. I have not found it yet, but MES said on the band's website that it was the best of the lot, if because T. opted safely for a run-through of the albums rather than a run-in with the band's fearsome leader.