Archive Fever? Ready Reference Setpoint?
For more than a decade, I intermittently created, and more frequently revised, a list of albums and, to a lesser extent, songs that embody, perhaps epitomize, Rock and related music genres. The items listed were those that I either considered to be favorites or decided that I wanted to listen to, based on what I read or others' direct recommendations. As the list grew, the number of albums that I had not listened to grew larger (one could say at that point that I hoped to get around to them) no matter how much listening I did. More exactly, we all have difficulty finding the time to listen closely, that is, without any distractions; and extensively, that is, repeated listens. I thus pointed the list in certain directions, making connections between artists that were “new to me” and artists that I already knew, striving to learn about musics that were foreign to me and which few of my peers appreciate. This approach is especially important for me since I have a contrary tendency to delve deeply into the work of a smaller number of artists. I knew the list would continue to grow, both as my knowledge of past music expanded and as new music was created, but I hoped to shorten the list when possible, for example removing albums and adding singles in their place. The albums and tracks listed for each artist are supposed to convey that artist's contribution to music of the Rock era and the broader culture shaped and reflected by that music, precisely so if possible, not being afraid to set aside a significant portion of the artist's work.
Given that I could never seriously study, and certainly could never write about, all of the published recorded music (let alone informal recordings) that any respectable (and respectful) critic would need to listen to in order to make reasoned judgments about the quality of entire genres, eras, or cultures of music, the list that resulted, as documented here, pointedly does not claim to offer the best, or canonical, albums of any year or artist or of Rock and related genres. As a critic, I certainly do not argue that I am capable—or anyone is capable—of determining which songs and albums will come to possess lasting value. I do claim, however, that the Rock Annual attempts a catalog of sound recordings with which a novice listener could begin to understand the history and cultural heritage of popular music during the years of Rock's artistic and commercial dominance. The Rock era, I would set in half-decade increments as such: 1955-1994, the peak being 1965-1984. This era has become my primary interest, intellectually. Besides Jazz music, the popular music of this era has also come to be what I listen to regularly. Varied classical musics, much experimental/ avant-garde music, and most folk musics do not comparably command my attention, though at times in the past they have.
That said, any other person so inclined to make lists, reference guides, and databases and with similar listening habits could craft their own “canon” considerably different from mine. Indeed, in the end this list is little more than a means of organizing my own listening. I want to continue finding new music to listen to throughout my life. This project helps ensure that happens, since it will continue to be edited and expanded; and, even when I do cease to work on it, it is extensive enough to suggest to any given reader that more listening needs to be done.
Each year lists albums followed, first, by singles and deep cuts and, second, archival and compilation albums. The section of singles and deep cuts for each year does not include tracks included on the albums listed for that year or any other year. In other words, all of the tracks found on a listed album are already included. However, the single-deep cut and album sections do overlap with the archival-compilation section (though rarely will one notice this within a year; you have to go to the index to see all of an artist's entries in one place). More accurately, we would say it should overlap, because for the most part, while making these lists, if a good compilation for a certain artist had been selected, I did not bother to pick a noteworthy track to include. Eventually (ideally!) these two sections will come to overlap to a greater extent than they currently do. Indeed, each compilation should be accompanied by a list of noteworthy singles and deep cuts included on the compilation, especially as some of the compilations are boxed sets and thus very extensive. (On that note, any given compilation can contain the entirety of an album, making the albums section potentially overlap with the compilations section. An obvious recent example the expanded edition of The Beatles, or “The White Album,” which includes the original album plus a wealth of additional archival material.)
A few notes about perusing the lists follow. First of all, if the artist name is included in an album title, the artist name is not provided separately in the annual lists if the artist name comes first in the title: for example, The James Gang Rides Again, as compared to Otis Redding - Complete and Unabridged: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul. Second, getting into commercial sound-recording formats, a 12-inch record (or a 10-inch record, indicated as such: “10-LP”), played at 33-and-1/3 R.P.M, is a Long Play (L.P), or album, even if it is called an Extended Play (E.P) by the artist or label. An E.P of course is not “extended” relative to an album; it is a extended single. It is 12-inch-45 R.P.M, as compared to a 7-inch-45 R.P.M (the best simpler term for which is “45”) but can also be 7-inch-33-and-1/3 R.P.M. Many singles that are, formally speaking, E.Ps are merely called “12-inch singles” because, from the 1970s onward, one extended mix of a track was featured on each side, mostly in Disco and later House-Techno, whereas the term, “E.P,” remained associated with a selection of tracks shorter than an album. Third, in some cases, a single is released the year prior to the album on which it is featured, often when the album is released early in a year. You may look for a certain song, knowing the year in which the album on which it is included was released, and initially not find it for that reason.
Fourth: if both the A-side and B-side track of a single are included, they are listed separately, except in the cases of singles which feature a recording of a song split into two: these are listed as if the recordings were a single entity, as indeed they tend to be when featured on L.Ps. Numerous singles by James Brown fit into this category. An apparent exception, Excepter's ‘Vacation’ b/w ‘“Forget Me”’, being a 12-inch 45, can be considered an E.P, which like other E.P's is included in its entirety. So far, there are twelve cases of both the A side and B side of 7-inch 45s, when the two tracks are separate compositions, being included: Johnnie Ray's ‘Cry’ b/w ‘The Little White Cloud That Cried’; Junior Parker's ‘Feelin' Good’ b/w ‘Mystery Train’; Elvis Presley's ‘That's All Right’ b/w ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’, ‘I Forgot to Remember to Forget’ b/w ‘Mystery Train’, and ‘Hound Dog’ b/w ‘Don't Be Cruel’, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' ‘Teardrops on Your Letter’ b/w ‘The Twist’; the Beach Boys' ‘Surfin' Safari’ b/w ‘409’; Prince Buster's ‘Al Capone’ b/w ‘One Step Beyond’; the Beatles' ‘Paperback Writer’ b/w ‘Rain’, ‘Penny Lane’ b/w ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘Hey Jude’ b/w ‘Revolution’, and ‘Get Back’ b/w ‘Don't Let Me Down’; and Patti Smith's ‘Hey Joe (Version)’ b/w ‘Piss Factory’. [The number of 78-R.P.M releases of which both the A and B sides are included here will be clarified by the end of 2021 and noted here.]
Indirectly, numerous other A sides with their accompanying B sides are included on the compilations listed here. Compilations listed, however, are not recommended listening the same way that the listed albums and tracks are. Over time, we hope to distinguish between compilations included as complete, integral items (say, Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady or the Who's Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy); larger collections that include most or many of the artist's listed singles and deep cuts, plus additional material that listeners may find of similar value; and what we could consider samplers, those that include an extensive—perhaps exhaustive, depending on how much material there is to work with—selection of obscure works that are unlikely to be listed individually but are worth noting collectively. A good example comes with the large number of live recordings found in the Henry Cow Redux box set.
Fifth: an album is provided for a single if that album came out within, roughly, four years of the single. Before non-Jazz popular music can be said to have entered its album era (1965 is a good-enough starting point) albums compiling an artists' singles could come out five or more years after the singles in question had originally been released. These singles compilations, still important in later decades in rarer cases (such as the Smiths' Louder Than Bombs), occupy a place more significant (or, if one quibbles with that judgment, at least more primary or fundamental) in an artist's discography relative to compilations released years later, especially “greatest hits”-style albums that tend to be persistently repressed and reformatted. Naming the earlier compilations, elevated in status as they are, “single compilations” is not ideal, because that term could apply to many “greatest hits” collections. For now, we prefer the term “almost-album.” This reflects the use of a simple guideline to determine if such compilations rank as “almost-albums”: if half or more of the tracks that comprise an album had previously been released, it is relegated to the compilation category and, in the index, not numbered. This guideline makes for some tough decisions in the years when singles dominated non-Jazz popular music; certain albums come very close to leaving the “compilation” designation behind. Moreover, they were released close to the original singles' release dates and promoted as a major release. Examples of these tough decisions are found in the detailed version of the 1965 page: The Temptin' Temptations, comprised of 12 tracks, seven of which had been previously released; therefore it is an almost-album, not an album. In the future, a clearer term for non-compilation albums could be introduced: say, “major album” as compared to compilations and “minor albums,” a catch-all category that could include collections of radio recordings, concert albums released well after the fact, or selections of rarities like alternate takes, remixes, and demos. In this set-up, almost-albums would be minor albums, though the argument definitely could be made that they warrant status as major albums.
Sixth: regardless if a compilation is an almost-album, since it remains in the compilation category, the significant tracks from it should be listed separately. They should be, but they may not, for the reason noted above: in the early stages of building this database, I would move on to another artist when a good compilation was found. An example of an artist with its significant singles and the almost-album on which those singles were collected all being listed here at the Rock Annual, as they should be, is Dion and the Belmonts. The group's singles included here were all featured on the 1959 album, Presenting Dion and the Belmonts.
Seventh: the version of the track included on the album may not be exactly the same as that included on the single. This is especially in the case of longer tracks spread across two sides of a 45 but edited together to form a different form on the album, as in the James Brown examples noted above. Alternate single versions became very common with Funk and Disco music of the late Seventies and early Eighties; D.Js and critics often consider a particular mix to be the superior version. Also, 45 versions of tracks, even if they are ostensibly the same as the album version, were often mastered slightly different, given a “hot” mix to make the track sound better on the radio, especially in the days of popular music being prevalent on monophonic A.M radio. This mix might only be different in minor ways, but different enough to entice collectors, fans, and recording engineers. The Rock Annual rarely distinguishes among all of these alternate single versions, though so far we have tried to note the rare instances when an artist entirely re-records a song; notably, the Dells did this twice.
Finally, for the time being, few deep cuts are included, except of course insofar as albums are included and most album tracks are deep cuts. I mean, deep cuts distinct from the album on which they are included. As with the “details” version of the 1965 list, the prospect—the ideal—of a thorough list of exemplary deep cuts being included for each year, in addition to exemplary singles and exemplary albums (included in their entirety, no exceptions, more definitively than they currently are) remains a distant one. One may argue that a single should only be listed if both the A side and B side are included, with individual tracks in contrast given the “deep cuts” designation. I considered this option, but it seems to me to stray too far from the common practice of referring to a single (as a particular release, regardless of format) as the A-side track (or, if D.Js chose to play the B side instead and made it a hit, the B-side track). That is, “The new single by the Byrds is ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’”‐the track, not an complete release entitled Mr. Tambourine Man. An important distinction between singles and E.P's, at least before the rise of 12-inch 45s in the Seventies noted above, was the distinct title given to an E.P. Many bands in the Punk-Indie era, especially in the U K and New Zealand, used this approach, keeping the older E.P approach alive even as most 12-inch 45s by then included only a track, or two, per side. However, Punk-Indie E.Ps tended to consist entirely of otherwise-unreleased material, unlike the discount album samplers that had been common in the Sixties.