The Rock Annual, an Imaginary Publication
The Rock Annual presents a model for a potential database of recorded music, albeit limited to a Rock-centric perspective. While selected titles and, in rarer cases, all of the major albums released by certain artists will be the subject of review essays, this site may attract more interest from its documentation of a sort of canon of Rock, i.e. "the list," arranged alphabetically by artist, or as split up year by year. A fair argument can be made that the kind of lists that attempt such a feat (such as are documented, for the world of literature, at my database, Greater Books) hinder the very appreciation and critical evaluation of creative works that ultimately creates a canon. However, for my own sake, when deciding what to listen to and beginning to conceptualize the history of certain artists or eras, I like lists. Indeed, trends in publishing, especially in what we could call the aliterate or subliterate realm of internet-exclusive content, suggests that a lot of us like lists.
The Rock Annual lists serve as an experiment with "top-down" methods of organizing discographical information. That is, it is crafted manually instead of by automated processes. The design is simple, easily allowing other potential users to make their own contributions. But those contributions would need to be edited and collated by a single creator. In this sense, Rock Annuals is more like a book that resides online. Only a potential reference book, though... again, it is a potential database. As explained in the ‘Setpoint’ essay, so far only the year, 1965, has been designated to be fleshed out and presented in a way closer to the ideal.
The word, annual, is not used in jest, but rather to represent an ideal form of the essays featured here. Annual publications, especially in academia, provide broad overviews of the activities of many persons and institutions across a wide expanse. The annuals gradually being built here, never to be completed, are hypothetical versions of a similar kind of publication, with popular music as its subject, that could have discerned at the time what we only see in retrospect.
Two discographical concerns are of paramount importance in the essays: first, documenting the overlapping, often very confusing, contents of multiple Compact Disc (C.D) reissues; and, second, learning how to expand our appreciation of songs as compared to albums. The first concern, I hope, is self-explanatory. Despite the decline in C D sales, reissues tend to be organized in sets comparable in length to C.Ds and are nearly always digitally remastered, even when intended only for vinyl. Moreover, in the 2010s, despite (or because of?) the overall decline in sound recordings sold as disparate objects (instead of as parts of a data feed), large muti-disc boxed sets, at times multi-format, have made the organization of the music presented on reissues more complicated than ever before. Books and documentary films about the artist are brought into play, as are the liner notes provided with a particular version of an album. In some cases, the reviews discuss how to deal with the inevitable complications and debates over the arrangement of compilations and reissues as soon as they are made available to the small, but fervid, body of listeners.
Not all of the releases discussed in the essays are included in the list of noteworthy/ representative works created by that artist, as seen already in the Frank Zappa entry.
The second concern can best be understood from the perspective of listeners of Rock music who have become accustomed to listening to albums, and conceptualizing recording artists' work by compartmentalizing it into albums. Such listeners, myself included, have difficulty giving the same attention to artists who focus on singles or did not make much music after, roughly, 1964, when much of the industry began focusing on albums, that we grant to artists who release much of their material via clearly-defined albums.
As such, at the Rock Annual we hope to reduce the number of albums, increase the number of singles and deep cuts. The essays on the Byrds, especially their debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, and their sixth album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, address the problem of "over-rated" albums in more detail but, suffice it to say, historical and critical writers on post-1964 popular music almost without exception tend to rate an entire album, as a singular work, highly if it is considered to be influential on broader developments or if it has a few significant, superior tracks. We have all been guilty of using a whole album as shorthand for a few tracks. Specifying a single track or a few tracks is relatively time-consuming. In the 1970s, the album came to be the dominant commercial product of the music industry. For consumers, the L.P was less fragile than the 45; for those on the production side, a broader selection of material could be made. Subsequent playback technologies, up to online streaming and the Blu-Ray Disc, have always encouraged more material, with the notable exception of the early years of online downloading and the significant place of the 12-inch 45 in dance music. In the long run, ideally our listening and discussion about popular music that we still tend to conceptualize in album-size pieces (this is especially the case with Rock and Jazz musics) will shift toward songs and how those songs are arranged in the form of albums (or not).
The Exemplar: 1965
Nineteen-hundred-sixty-five is the lucky year selected to serve as an example of what the imaginary Rock Annual could be in an alternate, or future, reality. The tracks that comprise each of the albums are listed; if any of those tracks were also released as singles, they are noted. Important events and basic facts about popular music of that year will be noted. Written works not noted in the bibliographies that will over time be added to the index ("the list") can also be listed at the 1965 page, for example an article specifically about an event that year. A link to this "details" version of the page is found at the top of the regular 1965 page.
Where's the Hip Hop?
Most of the artists that you may expect to find here but are missing you will find in the Hip Hop, Electronica, and "World" annex; this comprises short lists, probably of little use to avid, longtime listeners, to recognize the significant connections between Rock and these areas. Certain genres, namely Reggae, Afro Beat, and Tropicàlia, that you likely consider to be "World" are not in that annex but rather are included in the Rock Annual lists due not just to the extensive ties between those genres and the music of the United States and Britain, but more importantly those genres' flowering and reaching the full extent of their influence at roughly the same time as the peak of Rock's popularity and worldwide dissemination. The lines separating these three genres from related musics from their respective nations (Jamaica, Nigeria, and Brazil, respectively) are blurry enough. Even muddier, though, are the lines separating Electronica and Hip Hop, both developing at the same time (many of the groundbreaking artists working in New York, even at the same nightclubs), from the post-Punk music that overlapped with them, but which in contrast are being classed here as part of the larger world of Rock-and-Roll/ Rhythm and Blues. The word, Electronica, has of course become passé, in favor of Electronic Dance Music, but the latter term confusingly conflates dance music, broadly speaking, with electronic forms of dance music; given that the term, Dance Music, was preferred by many musicians, writers, and others involved in the industry in the Seventies and Eighties, even at the height of usage of the word, Disco, in my own estimation Electronic Dance Music does not account for the significance of Funk and Disco artists who did not make mostly-electronic music, while Electronica (despite its awkwardness and the sense that it was imposed as a gross simplification of what, by the 1990s, had become a multifarious, globe-spanning area of music) serves as a useful shorthand for House, Techno, and other genres that developed out of Funk and Disco. The annexes for Hip Hop, Electronica, and World were developed because I have discovered over twentysome years of listening that, having grown up listening to, and learning about music more broadly from, songs as they are composed in Rock-and-Roll/ Rhythm and Blues, I cannot immerse myself as a listener as deeply in these areas as I would like. The reasons vary among the three; in Hip Hop, the significance of the listener following the poetry (similar to Folk song) word by word; in Electronica, the relative importance of singles instead of albums and of public playback of sound recordings relative to personalized, private playback (which of course shows the influence of developments in Reggae and Disco music during the Seventies); and in "World," simply enough, the foreign nature of the compositional methods and languages used and the historical context of the music. For now, only one artist, the bawdy parodist Blowfly, is included in both the regular lists and the annex, as his later hit, 'Rapp Dirty', is classed as Hip Hop.
The other major dividing line between artists included and excluded artists is that between Jazz and Rock-and-Roll/ Rhythm and Blues. This line was especially blurry in the 1970s, with the prominence of Fusion Jazz and, to a lesser extent, Rock artists attempting to cross over into Jazz. From the late 1950s through that same period, the popularity of Soul Jazz, especially as performed by organ trios, created another fertile cross-over area. The trickier Rock/ Jazz division, though, is temporal, between what we generally call "Traditional Pop" (or, more specifically, Tin Pan Alley and music composed for musical theatre) and singers usually classed in that category but who had significant connections to Jazz, Blues, and Folk musics or proved to be particularly influential in the later development of Rhythm and Blues (perhaps precisely because of their Jazz credibility). Among these are Bessie Smith and similar Jazz-Blues singers; or vocal groups that paved the way for Doo Wop, such as the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers. The "Folk" Blues of Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and so on, as well as the pre-1940s Folk and Country and Western, are, more obviously, included. One may ask, though: is not Jazz just as influential as Folk and Blues on the popular music of the Rock era? Perhaps.... But, Jazz is not covered here. It would constitute another, larger database. The Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, as well as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet and potentially other similar artists, are placed on the Rhythm-and-Blues side, instead of Jazz, of pre-1950 popular music. Those considered to be Jazz singers are not. A list is provided here of artists barely beyond the edge of our definition of Rock-era popular music, both from the Tin Pan Alley era and the Rock era. Similar artists who are included in the lists here are noted in brackets to give an indication of where these lines are being drawn—or, rather, which lines are being drawn.
The Ames Brothers [The Crew Cuts; Bobby Darin; Patti Page; Joan Weber]
David Axelrod [The Alan Parsons Project; White Noise]
Shirley Bassey [Bette Midler; Linda Ronstadt; Dinah Washington]
Tony Bennett [Ray Charles; Johnny Mathis; Patti Page]
The Boswell Sisters [The Mills Brothers; The Ink Spots]
Nat King Cole [Ray Charles; Les Paul]
Miles Davis [Can; Santana; The Soft Machine]
The Four Freshmen [The Crew Cuts; Bobby Darin; Patti Page; Joan Weber]
Kip Hanrahan [Jack Bruce; Fred Frith; The Lounge Lizards]
Buddy Johnson [Wynonie Harris; Louis Jordan]
Frankie Laine [Patti Page; Johnny Mathis; Bette Midler]
The Lettermen [The Crew Cuts; Bobby Darin; The Fleetwoods; Bobby Vinton]
The Mahavishnu Orchestra/ John McLaughlin [Chicago; Santana; The Soft Machine]
Frank Sinatra [Johnny Mathis; Patti Page; Jimmy Scott]
Jo Stafford [Johnny Mathis; Patti Page; Joan Weber]
Barbara Streisand [Johnny Mathis; Bette Midler; The Bee Gees; Linda Ronstadt; Dinah Washington]
Weather Report [Can; Embryo; Santana; The Soft Machine]
Some artists alternated between Rhythm and Blues and music that fits a Jazz categorization better, most prominently Ray Charles, other examples being King Curtis and Lou Rawls. The Crusaders, a Fusion-Funk act in the Seventies, developed out of the Jazz Crusaders of the Sixties. Dinah Washington like Charles put out records that fit better under the Jazz category, yet much of her later music is closer to post-Swing "easy listening" singers like Streisand.
David Axelrod, noted above, brings to mind artists, especially in electronic music, who made music that appealed to broader audiences (say, Wendy Carlos, Mort Garson) but which was still not song-oriented or in any way influenced by Rhythm and Blues/ Rock-and-Roll genres of song composing and performance. Plenty of soundtrack music could be said to fit into this category. As does the Ambient music of Brian Eno, some of which is noted in the extra list of experimental acts that in varying ways cross over to popular music, found at the end of the annex. Except for the inclusion of Eno and a couple other artists who for the most part are covered by the main list (namely, Fred Frith and Frank Zappa), this annex to the annex lists artists otherwise not included. It could include much more, for example solo albums by Keiji Haino (leader of Fushitsusha, who are included in the list) and Jim O'Rourke (included as a member of Gastr del Sol, Sonic Youth, and Wilco). These two are merely the most obvious artists whose work could make that extra section very extensive.
The "Plunderphonics" of John Oswald is also noted in the experimental section, though at times it takes the form of short pieces structurally similar to popular songs precisely because Oswald uses popular music as his source material. A similar kind of "plundering" of others' recordings obviously has played a large role in Hip Hop music and, in the case of certain Electronica artists, results in music not far removed from Oswald's. A similar kind of music not included here could perhaps best be described as radiophonic, a sort of theatrical version of musical collage; Dickie Goodman (‘Mr. Jaws’, ‘The Touchables’), for example. Goodman's work is generally considered to be novelty music. Such recordings indeed are more likely to include narrative features; see, for example the Chipmunks music originally created by David Seville. In contrast to Goodman's music, the Chipmunks music takes the form of standard songs; it is included, as are other novelty artists, if only in small numbers, as their music, most famously that of "Weird Al" Yankovic, lends itself more to audio-video productions.
Nearly all “Latin” music, regardless if it is made by a North American, Latin American, or European artist, is not included, especially if it features songs in Spanish. The exceptions, José Feliciano and Gloria Estefan, prove the rule. As with the exclusion of some Soul Jazz-Rhythm and Blues cross-over, the exclusion of Spanish-language music, for example Julio Iglesias, certainly means that major aspects of Rock-era popular music are not represented here. In similar terrain, while Cajun music and other ingredients of Louisiana's unique musical culture are included, if only gingerly and in a manner that of course reeks of cultural tourism-imperialism, the inclusion of other "World"-like genres of North American or European music, such as found in Tejano culture, proves to be more difficult.
Another borderland of sorts brings us to pseudo-Classical "New Age" music, of which the most noteworthy are Mannnheim Steamroller, Kitarō, and Enigma. On an experimentalist, "World"-plundering side of this realm of music, I would place Dead Can Dance. These artists are also excluded from Rock Annuals. Similar artists who are included? Klaus Schulze, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Mike Oldfield are the most obvious. These bring us back around to artists like Axelrod, Carlos, and Garson.