The Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music
With the publication of this four-volume, boxed opus - hot on the heels of the Guinness Top 40 Charts and after several editions of the Hit Singles and Hit Albums series - Guinness Publishing have firmly established themselves as this country's premier suppliers of reference material for anyone interested in popular music. The style and sheer scale of the undertaking puts most rivals in the shade, and even the hitherto indispensable Penguin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music suddenly seems a slim volume by comparison. Every major artist of the 20th Century (and an inspiring host of minor ones, to boot) is given a crisp and concise entry, including key names and dates and a mercifully brief (and therefore collectable) album discography. But producers, labels, broadcasters and even hit musicals get their due, and there's a spirited stab at covering most of the world - albeit as viewed through the prism of Western success and influence.
Unlike the Penguin tome, styles of music are not included, so there's no entry for 'Jazz' or 'Cajun'. Nor is there yet an index of genres, as suggested by the introduction. But most styles are well catered for in terms of important artists, and it has to be said that the contemporary scene (ie. post-Elvis rock-derived pop) is given special weight. This is the book's real strength, in fact: to give equal creedence to Joy Division and Louis Jordan without batting a proprietorial eyelid. It also attempts the hardest thing of all: selecting entries representing the last couple of years, like Lush and The Orb - not tempting fate so much as posterity. To that extent it also serves as an excellent guide to what is, at any time, the most obscure period - the current one.
The style is less opinionated than Penguin's, which may be a good thing or not according to taste, but I like the consistency and the lack of antagonism between schools of contributors. Of course, there are omissions (no S-Express or Stereo MCs, for example), but as Colin Larkin wisely says in his introduction: "It is human nature to immediately inspect an encyclopedia for what is absent, rather than for what is actually there." Personally, as soon as I saw that there was an entry for Delta 5, I knew I was in safe hands.
It's not cheap, by any means, so it's unlikely to figure on Auntie Edith's list of stocking fillers. But then, you care about popular music, don't you? Go on, buy yourself a present that will last for ten Christmases hence.
Price: £195.00 (before December 31st; £225.00 thereafter)
More from: Guinness Publishing. (Contact Details)
Review by Phil Ward
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