Rock Omnibus (book review)

Art Rock

Sr. Regulator
Staff member
Sr. Regulator
Copy/paste from my blog:

Book reviews are not a topic for this blog, but rock music is - so here we go. This is a work of love if I ever saw one. Rusty Southwick, a classic rock and music lover from Oregon (USA), has compiled a list of 17,800 important songs by 4,156 artists, covering six decades, and focusing on hits as well as album tracks - all put together in a 436 pages book. The emphasis is on classic rock, but it also includes jazz, easy listening, pop, disco, country and new age. The main genres excluded are contemporary classical music and rap/hip hop. Going through the lists, one discovers perhaps a small bias towards Americana, but also other English speaking countries and English songs from non-English speaking countries are covered to a very large extent. A useful test case for this is Status Quo: a one hit wonder in the USA, whereas they had dozens of hits in the UK and the rest of Europe. With nine songs of them included in this book, they are well represented. Southwick also covers many acts that are less well-known. I was delighted to see some of my more obscure favourites featured, including Brian Prothero, China Crisis, Earth and Fire, Fischer Z, Kayak and Martha & the Muffins, to name a few. My favourite rock genre, progressive rock, is well represented throughout, not just the top (Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, etc), but also bands like Riverside, Mostly Autumn and IQ.
Of course, the final selection being the choice by the author, one can always quibble about what songs/bands are included and excluded, but the book includes a link to make suggestions for a next edition. The main limitation I have discovered so far is that songs in other languages do not stand much of a chance. You will not find the likes of Francoise Hardy or Faye Wong, even though they sold millions of records. In the prog genre, bands such as Italy's PFM and Banco dmS, or French Canadian Harmonium are not included even though they regularly make the lists of top 20 best prog rock albums. These are minor quibbles though.
The book also includes a ranked order of the top 5000 songs and top 1000 albums, top songs and albums by decade and year, and lots of statistics. The order chosen for the top songs and albums will surely raise some eyebrows (The Hollies at #2 with The air that I breathe in songs, Dream Theater at #3 with Awake in albums for instance), but that is part of the charm.
A work of love indeed, and a delight to browse through (the author was kind enough to make a copy available for review). Well worth investing 19 USD for a PDF version or 29 USD (+shipping) for the book version. I link to the author's web site for more information.