Friday, May 16, 2014

Richie Unterberger Vs. The Rolling Stone Record Guide

Posted by on Fri, May 16, 2014 at 7:02 AM

On his personal blog, music writer Mr. Richie Unterberger, takes his personal record collection to task based on an old The Rolling Stone Record Guide.

It might seem relatively puny today when there are so many other sources for album reviews in print and on the Internet, but when it came out in late 1979, The Rolling Stone Record Guide was a godsend to those of us just building our music collections. Crucially, it didn’t just list and describe almost 10,000 records, but also gave them critical analysis (if often briefly in the case of most of the more minor artists) and ratings. Like many another publication rating albums, movies, books...the scale went from one star (“poor”) to five stars (“indispensable”). Well, that wasn’t quite the whole range. There was also a no-star rating, represented not by a star but by a solitary square, reserved for the worst of the worst.

I bet not all of y'all Slog Out readers own a copy of a 1979 The Rolling Stone Record Guide, right? Well, if not go check out this blog sampling 493 (?!?) of the 10K albums reviewed in the The Rolling Stone Record Guide; it's a good, tho' jazz-heavy, sampling of five-star-rated LPs and a few that didn't rate. It's funny to see some of this stuff rated poorly as I reckon it was filtered through punk AND disco's then contemporary, tho' collapsing, relevance. The late '70s was an interesting time as pop had fractured, become somewhat formalized while also diversifying. Many of the RS reviews and ratings seem silly now, like, handfuls of Best Of albums get five-star rated?!? Seriously, two volumes of the Best Of Bobby Bland rates five stars, but not his Here's The Man!!! LP?! Oh, and an RS writer BLAMES Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes for disco!!

Anyway, please dig these no-star albums which proudly reside in my collection—Muddy Waters': Electric Mud, most of the Uriah Heep catalog, The Tubes: The Tubes, Rush: A Farewell to Kings, Pearls Before Swine: Balaklava, The Osmonds: Crazy Horses, The Dictators: Go Girl Crazy! AND Manifest Destiny, Rolling Stones: nauseam! Honestly, except for John Denver, prolly all the rest of the NO STAR rated albums I own!!! GAH! In my defense, I DO own complete LP catalogs of A LOT of '60s/'70s bands, so I might have a ton of no rated albums just 'cause I rarely meet an album I don't wanna take home!!


Comments (5) RSS

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I have the 1979 Record Guide. At the time, I'd never heard of Pearls Before Swine, and, by the time I "discovered" them, I'd long since forgotten the no-star review. I guess that was the most shocking thing for me to discover in Unterberger's piece. How could their writers miss how awesome it is?
Although I'm still mad about the Guide's remark about Kate Bush sounding like Yma Sumac mating with a vacuum cleaner.
Posted by ratzkywatzky on May 16, 2014 at 7:53 AM · Report this

Many of us in college during that time had the RS Record Guide sitting out at all times, like a family Bible. It was the go to book for reading in between any other activities. Like when you wake up too early for class, but the cafeteria has closed for breakfast. Even though the term "classic rock" was not invented until 1980, they were the gatekeepers of High Art.

For myself, as a dee-jay at the campus radio station (which was also a 50,000 watt commercial one) I had a foot in both camps. I did a contemporary (punk/new wave) show during the day and a 60s Rock show at night. But my specialty was doing time-bending links between the two genres. I'll never forgot when someone took the trouble to phone me and praise my seguing X-Ray Specs Germ Free Adolescence into Lulu's To Sir With Love.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on May 16, 2014 at 7:55 AM · Report this
lark 3
Good Morning Mike,
Your post about "no-star" records reminded me of my baker's dozen favorite albums, no-star or starred:

The Stooges – Funhouse
Dupree Bolton-Katanga
The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
Otis Redding-Tell the Truth
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Carole King - Tapestry
T. Rex – Electric Warrior
Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole
Beth Orton – Trailer Park
Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything
Curtis Mayfield-Superfly (Sountrack)

There's no accounting for taste but these are genuine gems among others in my collection.
Posted by lark on May 16, 2014 at 8:13 AM · Report this
No stars for the Dictators? Fuckers.
Posted by J.R. on May 16, 2014 at 12:54 PM · Report this
pg13 5
I can't remember when they updated the guide, but I do remember they did a mea culpa on the relative merit of Linda Ronstadt--where the previous edition had given her albums high marks, the updated guide basically called her out as a luke warm covers act.

It reminded me that opinions can/do/will change...and that was an important lesson to learn--as important, if not more, than to consider the opinions someone bothered to put into a book.
Posted by pg13 on May 17, 2014 at 3:18 PM · Report this

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