Book Review: ‘The Rolling Stone Record Guide’ Rates Five Stars Despite Missteps

The Rolling Stone Record Guide

In the mammoth Rolling Stone Record Guide, which Dave Marsh edited with assistance from John Swenson, you’ll find reviews of nearly 10,000 currently available albums (mostly rock, but also rock-related country, pop, blues, soul, jazz, and gospel); and each record is assigned a rating, from five stars (“indispensable”) down to one (“worthless”). I’d rate the book itself five stars, because it is well written, comprehensive, and a great way to pinpoint some classics and weed out some bombs.

It is not, however, to be taken as gospel. Most of the ratings make a whole lot of sense, but some seem to badly miss the mark. Only four stars for the Beatles’ arguably imperfect but clearly essential Sgt. Pepper’s? And why only three stars, meaning “a record of average worth,” for such landmarks as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Tim Buckley’s Goodbye and Hello? And how could any listener justify just two stars (“mediocre”) for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s wonderful Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy?

At any rate, the book variously delighted, annoyed, surprised, and informed me, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who loves rock and records.

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