There are many, many of these types of ‘list’ books of the ‘best’ albums. Dozens in fact. A quick search on-line using your preferred search engine or sales portal will give a big list to choose from. They are simple to write, fun to browse and everyone loves lists. They make a great gift and look good on your coffee table. What make ROCK (a surprisingly dull title) stand out from all the other types of books of this style? Largely it can come down to the author. How many times have I seen a picture of the album cover of, for example, Kiss-Destroyer or Rush-2112 in these types of books? Hundreds? The album covers are not the attraction here. It comes down to the script and fortunately Elliott is one of the better ones.
Paul Elliott is a veteran journalist from the UK who has written any number of books (AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Guns n’ Roses) and still contributes to the big rock magazines. His writing is fun and effective. He hits all the necessary highlights and sprinkles in some quotes as well.
The book itself is a decent sized coffee-table book, soft cover with good quality paper and in full colour. There is a quick introduction by Elliott, a Table of Contents and that’s it. The book is, as advertised by the sub-title, a write-up on 101 iconic albums. They are listed chronologically by release date. There is really not too much more. I’m glad he avoided the pitfall of trying to rank them. It would be fun and generate conversation but it would an exercise in futility to be sure.
The albums picked are pretty pedestrian, not in a bad way but if you sat down and made your own and made a list of 1001 iconic Hard Rock etc, albums I’ll bet 90 to 95 of them would be in this list. There were no real surprises here, the records spanning 1969-2006 oddly enough. Why not 1969-2009? 37 years seems like a weird number. I have no objection to any of the albums except Muse could have been dropped and he should have included W.A.S.P.’s self-titled debut. It makes sense to not have too many more recent records because perhaps they have not stood the test of time yet.
Because these picks are perhaps the expected picks I’m going to do a bit of an extended analysis. For me that is part of the fun of reading a book like this, the construction, the patterns, the reasoning behind the lists. Do I really care to read why Master Of Puppets is a great record for the 100th time? Not especially but it has to be included.
Reading ROCK 101 helped to reinforce how much of a Metal guy I am. I own less than half of the 101 albums listed. All the post 2000 grunge, nu-Metal, rap-rock selections passed me by but I recognize that his choices of those genres are the big names and big albums that objectively need to be included.
Here is a rough break down by nation:
UK-30% of albums were from the UK.
America-60% of albums were from the US.
The rest of the world 10%.
Here is a break down by decade.
1980’s- 38 (9 picks from 1980 alone!)
Twenty-five of the albums are from that window of 1976-1980. This leads to me think that Elliot shows his age and bias a little bit. For example, he includes no less than four (!) live albums from 1978-79 (Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Judas Priest, UFO) . First of all Live albums should not be included. They don’t count. Secondly, I can almost guarantee that Elliott, a child of the 70’s grew up with these live albums blasting and they are permanently fused to his cerebral cortex.
ROCK is the kind of book well-intentioned parents or grandparents might get their kids for a present or the kind of simple reference guide a library might purchase. This is not a slight, just the reality that originality is low on the scale. Do I detect the hint that commerce might be involved? On the positive side, it is well-presented, large, bright and beautiful, tons of great photos with insightful write-up’s. It has loads of nostalgia for guys my age who grew up with this stuff and great context and info for younger generations. Despite a very competitive market for this style of book, there is no discernible reason why this one should not be in your library.