Sound & Vision: A Guide To Music’s Cult Artists – From Punk, Alternative And Indie, Through To Hip Hop, Dance Music And Beyond By John Riordan. Dog ‘n’ Bone.
What do you buy a rock music fan for Christmas? In the old days you might have received a record token from some distant relative or (if you weren’t so lucky) a copy of the latest version of Now That’s What I Call Music. Personally, I like being given books. But most of today’s rock publications, seem to be rather uncritical biographies of bands. The much loved music reference books such as ‘Guinness Book of British Hit Singles and Albums’ ceased publication in 2008 and Great Rock Discography was last published in 2004. I know you can look up every possible bit of music trivia on the internet, but where do you go to learn about new artists or to discover artists from the past?
My recommendation would be to read Sound and Vision. It’s a fascinating, amusing and beautifully illustrated music book by writer and comic artist John Riordan. John has forsaken the encyclopaedic approach- A is for Abba, B for Beatles, C for Eric Clapton, etc.
Instead, he has produced a book containing introductions to 100 influential artists from the 1970s to the present day. The book is divided into five chapters, one for each decade starting with the 1970s.
The 1970s is represented by 23 artists ranging from punk: Iggy Pop, Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols; Art music: Kraftwerk, Devo, Roxy Music; singer songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits to big influences like David Bowie and Lou Reed. Each artist gets a brief biography, John’s own view
and a pop trivia slot. He carefully avoids the big guns approach and leaves out multi million sellers such as Abba, Pink Floyd, Queen and Fleetwood Mac. There is also a beautifully executed comic book style picture of each artist.
The 1980s was the decade when music began to fragment into different genres with rock banished to the side-lines. Riordan selects 21 bands including Indie stand outs The Smiths, New Order, The Cure and Pogues and a few hip hop outfits such as Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Run DMC. The big battalions of Dire Straits and Michael Jackson are left out as are (fortunately) the Whitneys, Kylies and Madonnas.
In the 1990s it looked like rock music was centre stage again with the emergence of Grunge and Britpop. Blur, Pulp, Oasis and Nirvana are all featured along with hard to categorize artists such as Bjork. Dance was also crossing boundaries with bands such as Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin. 1990’s best sellers Spice Girls and Celine Dion are justifiably forgotten, but are still available at your local charity shop.
The last two chapters take us from 2000 up to the present date. It is easy with hindsight to look back and single out bands from the past that still sound good today. It is much harder to make judgements about contemporary artists and second guess their longevity. Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, Goldfrapp, White Denim, Lucius and Tame Impala are a few of Riordan’s nominations for future halls of fame.
What really stands out in this book is the author’s genuine love of the music. He has actually listened to all the bands and writes with real enthusiasm about their music. The comic book illustrations of each artist are spot on and beautifully drawn. This is a lovely book to browse through and make lists of bands to listen out for. Any rock fan would be more than pleased to get this book as a Christmas present or at any other time of the year.