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Not what it was
on 30 December 2006
A quick gander at my music collection reveals numerous artists I found through previous versions of this book. It was rightly entitled "Great Rock Discography" thanks to exhaustive track listings, expansive comments and the author's personal scores for albums. This "Essential Rock Discography" is the eighth edition and it retains his distinctive approach whilst making improvements to the overall appearance of the book.
All this is good, but the word "Essential" belies a hatchet job. Over 400 entries have been hacked from the previous edition to create a purer "rock" category. It seems that all remaining Jazz and Blues artists and much of Rap, Dance, Folk and Country have been excised, even if the artist concerned was also a rock musician. Rock and Roll stems from Blues and Country and many artists are influenced by genres outside of rock. So, for me, a more inclusive approach would be appropriate. Pre-Beatles Rock is very poorly represented here and greater emphasis has been placed on keeping things "contemporary" which is not necessarily of great import for music collectors. I fear the only reasoning behind this is the intention to increase the frequency of new editions to generate more income.
Why remove entries for many of the architects of the music we know today? Quite apart from the great blues artists we have also lost Bo Diddley, Dick Dale, Woody Guthrie, the Last Poets, Hank Williams and Duane Eddy all of whom are likely to be more significant than the latest NME-hyped band. And more recent innovators like Aphex Twin, DJ Shadow and Talk Talk are also given the axe. The author seems to have taken a particular dislike to 90's Brits (Cast, Catatonia, Elastica, Lush, Mansun, Ride, Space), to folk rock (Robyn Hitchcock, Fred Neil, Strawbs, Loudon Wainwright III), to progressive rock (Camel, Caravan, Gong, Lindisfarne, Soft Machine) and to pub rock (Brinsley Schwarz, Dr. Feelgood, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker) despite its importance to British punk. We must also bid farewell to megasellers Asia, Chicago, Phil Collins, Tom Jones, the Dave Matthews Band, George Michael and Styx. Whether one likes them or not, they have been a big deal for many record-buyers.
But the most notable victims are the women. Dozens of significant artists have been exiled including Joan Armatrading, Enya, K.D. Lang, Kirsty MacColl, Alison Moyet, Ms. Dynamite, Stevie Nicks, Sinead O'Connor, Linda Rondstadt, Dusty Springfield and the Shangri-La's. The net effect of all this is to create something akin to the stereotypical white male 40-something CD collection with all the more obvious and British music press-approved artists. Worthy, yes, but also rather sterile.
That said, I don't know of any work in this field which does such a comprehensive job with each artist and would recommend it to those who did not buy a previous edition. If only Canongate could get a team of like-minded amateur discographers to work together and take the pressure off Mr Strong. What we have here is still in a class of its own but it's not what it was.