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Rolling Stone Record Guide Paperback – November 12, 1979
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First edition (1979) The Rolling Stone Record Guide was the first edition of what would later become The Rolling Stone Album Guide. It was edited by Dave Marsh (who wrote a large majority of the reviews) and John Swenson, and included contributions from 34 other music critics. It is divided into sections by musical genre and then lists artists alphabetically within their respective genres. Albums are also listed alphabetically by artist although some of the artists have their careers divided into chronological periods. Dave Marsh, in his Introduction, cites as precedents Leonard Maltin's book TV Movies and Robert Christgau's review column in the Village Voice. He gives Phonolog and Schwann's Records & Tape Guide as raw sources of information. The first edition included black and white photographs of many of the covers of albums which received five star reviews. These titles are listed together in the Five-Star Records section, which is coincidentally five pages in length. The edition also included reviews for many comedy artists including Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Bill Cosby, The Firesign Theatre, Spike Jones, and Richard Pryor. The book was notable for the time in the provocative, "in your face" style of many of its reviews. For example, writing about Neil Young's opus, "Down by the River", John Swenson described it both as an "FM radio classic" (p. 425), and as a "wimp anthem" (p. 244). His colleague, Dave Marsh, in reviewing the three albums of the jazz fusion group Chase, gave a one-word review: "Flee." (p. 70). Table Of Contents
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You have to overlook some of Dave Marsh's sometimes questionable reviews. He didn't think much of the Eagles' Hotel California. And you should read what he opined about AC/DC, 32 years ago (it's funny). A great reference nonetheless for vinyl nuts like myself.
Their favorite artists included The Doors, The Band, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Aretha, Elvis, and Motown. They liked mellow singer-songwriters: James Taylor, Paul Simon, Elton John, Carole King and Joni Mitchell. For some reason, they really liked Jackson Browne. They loved Elvis who has 13 five star records. Springsteen and Bob Seeger were their favorite American rockers of the 1970s.
Many of my favorite albums received poor or mediocre ratings. "Low" was given three stars yet Pitchfork voted it the best album of the 1970s. Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" similarly got three stars as did King Crimson's "Red" and Talking Heads' second album. It gets worse. "Marquee Moon" and Rush's "2112" get two stars. Sabbath's Paranoid, Goats Head Soup, and Dub Housing get one star.
RS generally disliked hard rock, punk, heavy metal, and progressive rock. Basically, the music that most teenagers listened to in the 1970s. They were not keen on music with guitar solos. The reviewers tended to be xenophobic and dismissed many non-American artists. This included AC/DC, Queen, ELP, Genesis, Judas Priest, Dr. Feelgood, Robin Trower, Nazareth, Amon Düül, Thin Lizzy, Kate Bush, Yes, Motorhead, Hawkwind, Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Rush. To be fair, they did not like Van Halen, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Grand Funk, Iggy Pop, Journey, ZZ Top or the Grateful Dead either.
RS did not like many of the new wave bands that came along in the 1970s like Television, Joy Division, Talking Heads or Pere Ubu. However, they liked Graham Parker, he gets two five-star records and was one of the few late 1970s artists to be so honored. On the whole, time has not been kind to their opinions. Luckily what they thought did not matter too much. Many of the bands they hated achieved success despite the hostility. Most people are more interested in the opinions of writers whose views they agree with. If you think The Byrds were more important than Zeppelin or David Bowie this could be the guide for you.
I listened to a lot of jazz in the 1970s but I also disagreed with many of their jazz ratings. The authors loved John Coltrane, 22 of his albums achieve a 5-star rating! I like Coltrane and own half a dozen of his albums, but this was excessive. I found it hard to believe that reviewers with such conservative tastes in rock (e.g., Jackson Browne) could also like free jazz. Many of my favorite jazz records from the 1970s did not impress RS. European jazz was virtually ignored.
I'm probably not an objective reviewer, back in 1979, the authors seemed cruel, cocky and clueless. In my opinion, there have been much better guides over the years.
Why does it get 5 stars. Well, it is a historical document for record collectors. Does it get everything right? Not even close. But, you aren't going to find a record guide earlier than this. While accuracy isn't perfect, it is still very good. You get a snap shot of what is now called classic rock. So if you are looking for used records during this modern revitalization of purchasing "vinyls", [BTW I hate that term, these are records] this book you need to build a great record collection. Why? Well, this is the era where all the best deals will be found. Each RS Album guide dropped albums because they went Out of Print (OOP). Well, by now most record in the used bins are OOP. So this guide now now has new relevance. You will find record listed here that others do not mention.
If you are looking to build a collection, star with the 5-Star recommenations list before you go reading all the artist write-ups. Mind you, this isn't a Rock album review guide, like later editions would be. This is all genres are included. Comedy albums are included. This is a great modern source for building a complete record collection. I mean seriously, if your record collection doesn't include a few Richard Pryor album, in my mind, your collection is seriously lacking. This book will tell you that a specific Politically Incorrectly titled album is the one to get. By the way, the title track for that album is still shockingly brutal, yet timeless. In about 1 minute, you 200 years of exploitation hits you hard. This might be the greatest moment in recorded satire. You won't find this recommendation in any other guide.