August 16, 2002

Read It In Books

[music book library]

My vinyl addiction is a well-documented condition, both here and on my other web site. Visitors stepping into my "record library" room are immediately struck by the shelves and shelves of record albums in a series of bookcases that line the two longest walls. (Then I say: "Wanna see the 7" singles?")

So it's understandable that the two small shelves in the very last bookcase get short shrift, even if they, in their own way, hold countless tens of thousands of albums. These two shelves of books comprise my music reference/rock criticism library -- my backup, my second brain when either my own memory or Google fails me. In a pinch, I can find at least three different writers' opinions of the same obscure 80's post-punk band, seeing how closely their assessments may or may not align with my own. (Fun on the side: dissecting the factual and typographical errors that are inevitably sprinkled throughout such books. After all, how many geeks know it's Spring Hill Fair, not Springhill Fair, or that the first edition of Band XYZ's CD compilation actually omitted the b-side from the band's first single?)

Just the other day I was prompted to visit the "library" to pull out my copies of all five editions of the Trouser Press Record Guide and engage in this favorite game of spot-the-musical-minutiae. The occasion? A re-launch of the online version of the Trouser Press Record Guide,, which is back after close to three years of hibernation. I could nit-pick about how not all (though most) of the bands from the print guides are featured, how the search feature doesn't always pick up on keywords in the review text, how the artist discographies haven't in fact been updated across the board... but I am just glad it's up there, warts and all, rather than in editorial purgatory.

Getting back to the books... If you're enough of a music geek to be able to identify some of the books from the small photo accompanying this entry, then perhaps you noticed the prize of my collection: Volume: The International Discography of the New Wave. No independently-released punk, underground or new wave record that came out through the first half of 1982 is too obscure to be counted among the pages of this incredibly comprehensive guide, which eschews artist bios, album reviews or music criticism of any kind in favor of a no-frills discographical listing of the essentials. Band, record, label, release date, catalog number, personnel, country or state of origin -- plus a handful of notes trailing at the end of some of the more significant entries that help connect the dots between each band, scene and label.

This book, edited in part by a then-future founder of The ARChive of Contemporary Music, was issued by a small publishing house and did not remain in print for too much longer beyond its initial publish date 20 years ago. To my knowledge, it has never been reprinted or reissued in any form other than the kind resulting from painstaking photocopying of each and every page to be compiled and re-bound into personal Volumes for the lucky recipients. (Yes, I know people who have in fact done this.)

Inspired by Volume, punk record collector Henry Weld started The International Discography of the American New Wave - Volume 3, a web site that aims to offer the same depth of information about punk records from that era (roughly, 1976-1983), but focusing specifically on just American bands broken down by regional scene. In addition to obvious benefits of the medium that would be realized for any kind of reference material (hypertext!), his site also has scans of many original record sleeves both from his collection and contributed by others around the world.

Ideally, I'd like to grow in the same way, adding more depth to each band entry, letting the obsessive fans help take up some of the work in ensuring that each of their favorite bands is well-represented. Part of this is my pop bias speaking, as my musical bread-and-butter isn't so much punk as, well... arty pop. Music that was embraced by the old Trouser Press magazine back in the day. Much of which isn't American and plenty of which was released post-1983. (My personal Volume would be something like... literate post-punk and indie pop from 1978 to present, with special focus on particular scenes in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, England and Boston. But then I'd be omitting your favorite band/era/scene.)

It will be interesting to see if proprietor (and onetime Trouser Press editor) Ira Robbins can grow something beyond the books in that middle ground between the All Music Guides, who spread themselves a bit thin (and fail more often than they succeed) in their attempt to cover absolutely all kinds of music, and the Volume 3s, who do what they set out to very, very well, but in a niche that's far too small to satsify all but a few.

Posted by nstop at August 16, 2002 02:00 AM


Never mind the Trouser Press stuff, I see that you have Richie Unterberger's Unknown Legends of Rock and Roll on the shelf, although,distressingly I don't see Songs in the Key of Z by Irwin Chusid there. And you call yourself a record geek. We may have to revoke your membership.

Posted by: jonmc on August 16, 2002 02:16 AM


*clutching membership card*

Posted by: nstop on August 16, 2002 02:34 AM

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