Encyclopedia of Classic Rock. By David Luhrssen with Michael Larson. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2017. 430 p. Acid-free $89 (ISBN 978-1-4408-3513-1). E-book available (978-1-4408-3514-8), call for pricing.

David Luhrssen (arts and entertainment editor of Shepherd Express, Milwaukee, WI) and Michael Larson (instructor, songwriter, recording artist, and attorney) have compiled a reference guide to the artists of what they call “classic rock.” Admitting that the meaning of the term “classic rock” is disputed, they explain that one of their aims is to rescue it from “careless usage” (xxi). Rock and roll, they assert, “reached a new level of ambition by 1965 and entered a period of remarkable innovation and expressiveness that lasted through 1975” (xxi). And although rock and roll was regarded as simple entertainment and usually took the form of the single, the newer form—rock—“aspired to become art” and tackled “the wider canvas of the long-playing album” (xxi). While the authors concentrate on the period 1965–1975, they discuss the later careers of those who have continued to write and perform. As appropriate, they include artists who began recording before 1965, but not those whose first albums appeared after 1975. They also devote entries to a handful of others, such as Leonard Cohen, whose music was important to the popular culture of the period.

Encyclopedia of Classic Rock opens with a “Contents” page listing all entries, a “Preface,” an “Introduction,” and a year-by-year “Chronology” of pertinent events in rock and the wider world. It continues with some three hundred alphabetically arranged entries devoted to groups and individual artists, along with a handful describing forms (Blues, Punk Rock), geographical groupings (Eastern Bloc Rock), and so on. The entries are written in an engaging style and conclude with short lists of “Suggested Albums” and, when appropriate, “See also” references. Thus, the two-page entry on the Velvet Underground closes with a list of the band’s most important studio and live recordings and directs readers to entries on John Cale and Lou Reed, both of whom continued to produce important work after the Velvets’ dissolution. A short bibliography is followed by a sixteen-page index covering groups, individuals, and concepts, with the page numbers for main entries boldfaced.

As the authors point out, there have been several reference works devoted to rock, each of which, in their opinion, has certain drawbacks. They fault the most recent, the third edition of the All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (All Media Guide, 2002), for its overly expansive coverage and its inconsistent viewpoint. But while that work compares favorably with the Encyclopedia in terms of entry length, its perspective is now dated and its coverage of later careers limited.

Given its focus, its coherent and consistent approach, and its currency, the Encyclopedia of Classic Rock is a good choice for high school, public, and undergraduate libraries.—Grove Koger, retired reference librarian, independent scholar, Boise, Idaho


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