Not the comprehensive reference the title promises, but a long-winded volume of music criticism by journalist Jones (When Ziggy Played Guitar: David Bowie and Four Minutes that Shook the World, 2012, etc.), editor of the U.K. version of GQ.
The author has written a number of books about music and musicians, mostly of the rock variety. Coming-of-age just about when punk and new wave livened up the music scene in Britain and around the world, Jones shows off his intricate familiarity, particularly with London scenesters from ABC to X-Ray Spex. His tastes, though, seem to have grown more conservative and a bit broader to encompass some jazz, hip-hop and schmaltzy pop. “Like many critics, I tend to have an aversion to any hysterical celebration of the new and the fashionable,” writes Jones in the opening of his entry on Gary Numan, “often choosing to be contrary just for the hell of it.” This self-conscious awareness of how his words will be taken continues throughout the book, which is not so much a biographical dictionary of popular music as an autobiographical dictionary about pop music’s relationship to Jones. The hapless buyer who takes the title seriously and expects a reference book will learn this, and only this, about Crosby, Stills & Nash: “A varnished log cabin.” The next entry, for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, reads in its entirety, “A varnished log cabin with an unvarnished door.” On Genesis: “ ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ and ‘Los Endos’ are officially the two Genesis songs you’re allowed to like.” Jones is witty and enjoyable enough in small doses, but the book is filled with odd choices. One of the longest entries is on actress Shirley MacLaine, who gets 13 pages, while Aretha Franklin receives no mention (other than brief appearances in the entries on Michael Hutchence and Dave Stewart).
Some choice nuggets hidden among an uneven “reference” book.