|Publication date 1979|
Originally published 1979
|Media type Hardcover / Paperback|
Page count 631
Publisher Random House/Rolling Stone Press
Editors Christian David Hoard, Nathan Brackett
Similar Dave Marsh books, Popular music books
The Rolling Stone Album Guide, previously known as The Rolling Stone Record Guide, is a book that contains professional music reviews written and edited by staff members from Rolling Stone magazine. Its first edition was published in 1979 and its last in 2004. The guide can be seen at Rate Your Music, while a list of albums given a five star rating by the guide can be seen at Rocklist.net.
First edition (1979)
The Rolling Stone Record Guide was the first edition of what would later become The Rolling Stone Album Guide. It was edited by Dave Marsh (who wrote a large majority of the reviews) and John Swenson, and included contributions from 34 other music critics. It is divided into sections by musical genre and then lists artists alphabetically within their respective genres. Albums are also listed alphabetically by artist although some of the artists have their careers divided into chronological periods.
Dave Marsh, in his Introduction, cites as precedents Leonard Maltin's book TV Movies and Robert Christgau's review column in the Village Voice. He gives Phonolog and Schwann's Records & Tape Guide as raw sources of information.
The first edition included black and white photographs of many of the covers of albums which received five star reviews. These titles are listed together in the Five-Star Records section, which is coincidentally five pages in length.
The edition also included reviews for many comedy artists including Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Bill Cosby, The Firesign Theatre, Spike Jones, and Richard Pryor.
Comedy artists were listed in the catch-all section "Rock, Soul, Country and Pop", which included the genres of folk (Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly), bluegrass (Bill Monroe), funk (The Meters, Parliament-Funkadelic), and reggae (Toots & the Maytals, Peter Tosh), as well as comedy. Traditional pop performers were not included (e.g. Andrews Sisters, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Rudy Vallee, Lawrence Welk), with the notable exceptions of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. (Dave Marsh justified this decision in his Introduction.)
Included too were some difficult-to-classify artists (e.g. Osibisa, Yma Sumac, Urubamba) who might now be considered as world music. (Ethnic music was the normal term in 1979.)
Big band jazz was handled selectively, with certain band leaders omitted (e.g. Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Paul Whiteman), while others were included (e.g. Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman). Many other styles of jazz did appear in the Jazz section.
The book was notable for the time in the provocative, "in your face" style of many of its reviews. For example, writing about Neil Young's song, "Down by the River", John Swenson described it both as an "FM radio classic" (p. 425), and as a "wimp anthem" (p. 244). His colleague, Dave Marsh, in reviewing the three albums of the jazz fusion group Chase, gave a one-word review: "Flee." (p. 70).
Table Of Contents
The guide employs a five star rating scale with the following descriptions of those ratings:
Second edition (1983)
The New Rolling Stone Record Guide was an update of 1979's The Rolling Stone Record Guide. Like the first edition, it was edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson. It included contributions from 52 music critics and featured chronological album listings under the name of each artist. In many cases, updates from the first edition consist of short, one-sentence verdicts upon an artist's later work.
Instead of having separate sections such as Blues and Gospel, this edition compressed all of the genres it reviewed into one section except for Jazz titles which were removed for this edition and were later expanded and published in 1985 Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide (ed. Swenson).
Since the goal of this guide was to review records that were in print at the time of publication, this edition featured a list of artists who were included in the first edition but were not included in the second edition because all of their material was out of print. 
Table Of Contents
The second edition uses the same rating system as the first edition. The only difference is that in addition to a rating, the second edition employs the pilcrow mark (¶) to indicate a title that was out of print at the time the guide was published. Many records had their ratings lowered as the book now offered a revisionist slant to rock's history.
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide (1985)
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide was published in 1985 and incorporated the jazz listings omitted from the The New Rolling Stone Record Guide with additional reviews edited by John Swenson. It included contributions from 16 music critics and featured alphabetical album listings under the name of each artist.
Table Of Contents
This jazz edition uses the same rating system as the first two editions.
Third edition (1992)
The Rolling Stone Album Guide was a complete rewrite of both 1979's The Rolling Stone Record Guide and 1983's The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. The title change reflects the fact that by the time this edition was published in 1992, records were almost completely replaced by CDs. This edition employs three new editors and reduces the number of reviewers from more than 50 as seen in previous editions to a mere four. This edition also included reviews of Jazz albums, which had been removed from the previous edition for the sake of publishing a separate Jazz guide. Unlike both previous editions, this edition did not include comedy artists.
Table Of Contents
Like the first edition, it employed a five star rating scale but this edition had new definitions of what the number of stars meant and this edition employed the use of 1/2 stars in the reviews. The descriptions of the markings used in the third edition of the guide are:
Artists omitted from the third edition
Some of the artists included in the previous editions but omitted in this edition include:
- John Williams
- Olivia Newton-John
- Steeleye Span
- Van der Graaf Generator
Fourth edition (2004)
Approximately 70 writers contributed to this edition. Text on the back cover of the fourth edition claims that the guide had been "completely updated and revised to include the past decade's artists and sounds", and offered "biographical overviews of key artists' careers, giving readers a look at the personalities behind the music".
Artists omitted from the fourth edition
Some of the artists included in the previous guides but omitted in this edition include:
- Joan Armatrading
- Louis Armstrong
- Captain Beefheart
- Nat King Cole
- Crowded House
- Deep Purple
- Duke Ellington
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Incredible String Band
- Robert Johnson
- Wynton Marsalis
- Metallica (omitted from first printing, but added later)
- The Alan Parsons Project
- Soft Machine
- Tears for Fears
- Blake Babies
- Meat Puppets
- Donald Fagen
- George Harrison
- ^ a The Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1979. (Note 1, see p xiii) (Note 1a, see p xv-xvi)
- ^ a b The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1983. (Note 2, see p 645-648) (Note 2a, see p xv) (Note 2b, see p xvii-xix)
- ^ a The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Ed. Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke with Holly George-Warren. New York: Random House, 1992. (Note 3, see p vii) (Note 3a, see ix)