Saturday, September 22, 2012

#590: The Rock Yearbook

Hey, I remember the '80s ROCK YEARBOOK series -- 8 annual volumes created in England that looked back over & passed judgement on the previous year's music -- usually hilariously.
I remember where I was when I 1st heard about the 1st volume -- I was in the den of my record store's manager, kicking back with him & the assistant mgr while the boss read vast sections of the 1981 volume to us & we laffed R asses off. (The YEARBOOK's view of Polydor Records/US circa 1980: "Oh, are we in the music business?") In the background, some REALLY strange music was playing -- Captain Beefheart's CLEAR SPOT and THE SPOTLIGHT KID, British keyboardist Steve Miller & his sax-playing buddy Lol Coxhill, & possibly even other, odder stuff. Were there illicit substances involved? Hmmm, can't remember....
Anyway, I went out & bought the '81 YEARBOOK next payday. Don't remember laffing my ass off over it, but I had a good time with the less-than-serious British approach 2 the hot acts of the day -- Police, Blondie, Pretenders, Petty, Dylan, Billy Joel, etc. Loved the massive review section -- in which the editors piled-up the best parts from reviews of 100s of albums -- & printed the differing reviews one after another, so the critics could contradict each other. & so the music fan could see how different sounds could get widely varying responses.
I also loved the way the books went after anything music-related -- not just albums & singles, but music-related books, movies, videos, album-cover designs.... & I was amazed by the writers' snarky attitudes -- their willingness 2 go 4 the throat & not hold back, no matter how big or famous the target.
I started looking 4 the YEARBOOK each year, & it seemed 2 get better as it went along, even tho as the '80s progressed there was less & less music that I was following. (Seems like The Good Olde Days compared to now....)
4 me, their last few years seemed 2 B their best. The '84 YEARBOOK included Allen Jones's hilarious write-up on the rise of neo-progressive rock (Marillion, etc) under the title "Tales from Soporific Oceans." I was still a big prog fan then, & the 1st 2-1/2 pgs of the 4-pg feature was basically a non-stop slam of the worst idiocies of summa my olde prog faves. This made me furious at the time. But now I think it's pretty freakin funny....
VOLUME 8 (1987) was crammed fulla great stuff -- Tony Parsons on Boy George's drug problems, Julie Burchill on British pop's harmless "girls next door," & lots more snarky, acidy reviews of the year's best & worst. I thot the YEARBOOK's writers had hit their peak, even if mosta the stuff they were writing about was a mystery 2 me. (Some of it still is.)
Oddly, VOLUME 8 was apparently the end of the series. The books apparently didn't sell well enuf in America 2 keep doing them. (Perhaps it was the writers' slight anti-American bias that did them in? Almost everything from the States was seen by the critics as too big, too ugly, too commercial, too watered down, too successful, too damn obvious -- as smelly as last week's soiled underpants. This stuff can B pretty amusing if you take it with a big-enuf grain of salt....)
I dunno -- I loved 'em. At least some1 was trying 2 keep up with the scene -- & "pop" wasn't 1/2 as huge & confusing then as it is now.
I still re-read these books 4 fun. & most of the artists that R mentioned I've even HEARD OF by now....

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