Book Reviews

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POP, ROCK AND SOULBy Irwin Stambler; St. Martin's; $35

PENGUIN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC edited by Donald Clarke; Viking; $40

JOEL WHITBURN'S TOP COUNTRY SINGLES, 1944-1988; Record Research, Inc.; $60 ($50 soft cover)

By Steve Eng

Fortunately perhaps the two new encyclopedias of popular music on the market complement each other and don't really compete. But alas for one's budget, a dedicated listener and (especially) record collector needs both.

Stambler's volume is in some ways the more engaging book, with longer entries which review the artists' careers in rich detail. The piece on Elvis is an especially strong cornerstone essay. Stambler fastens upon the telling, lively detail (e.g., Carl Perkins writing "Blue Suede Shoes" on a potato sack in a Memphis housing project) and the pithy quote (David Bowie: "If there was a chance it would lead me to success, I'd retreat"). He's especially strong on all the rock groups who happen (then usually unhappen) with such suddenness.

Collateral data, such as movie music and other flings with film, is helpfully included. A good bibliography is appended (too many quotes from L.A. Times though) and so valuable a year-by-year gold record listing, plus Grammy and Oscar songs.

But lesser artists are largely ignored, as are many major ones of yore (no Doris Day!); and we get Johnny Cash (lifted from Stambler's country and folk volume) but not Dolly Parton despite her long-running pop phase. A certain uncritical protectiveness shields the artists, too (Jerry Lee Lewis, who has shot a songwriter and two of whose wives died mysteriously, has mere "problems"). Still a bulky, invaluable treasure of information.

The entries in Clarke's wider compilation are expectedly terser, since there're so many (almost 3,000), covering such neglected artists as Stella Parton and big band leader Jan Garber. Country (and western) is included and producers (Nashville's Owen Bradley) and disc Jockeys (Dick Clark). Precise record titles, dates, are jammed into the pithy entries. There are good thematic articles, too (e.g., "Music Hall Genre").

Neither book has any pictures, thank goodness nor has perhaps the most entertaining book on Country music ever published. The Whitburn reference work is harder to put down than a tabloid expose of a Country singer's latest moral mishap. Besides looking up your favorite artist and learning the names of all their hits (Billboard top 100) the dates they entered the charts, their highest position and number of weeks on the charts you can look up all the people you probably underrate and notice (usually) they had more hits than you think they deserve! Many instrumentalists had hits (Chet Atkins had 8): and some from pop (Bing Crosby!). Also, Country action on pop charts is indexed (notably, Dolly's). Nashville's Otto Kitsinger supplied annotations, such as on songs from movies and cover versions by pop acts. In the appendices, there are cumulative lists (top three artists, overall: Eddy Arnold, George Jones, Johnny Cash); "most duo partners" (Willie, of course twenty!); and more.

For music and record fanatics at least, reference books are not to be shelved but savored again and again like a favorite long-play album. These three merit their hefty price tags.