Rock 'n' roll has been slow to enter the information age. Though scores of history books have been published, and limited attempts have been made at putting together artist histories in encyclopedia form, most have been single volumes, covering only the household names.
There just hasn't been a comprehensive work that suggests the word definitive.
Suddenly, there are two.
Michael Wadleigh, who directed the landmark concert documentary "Woodstock," has assembled "ROCKnROM," a CD-ROM encyclopedia of rock that includes information on virtually every in-print pop recording from the last 40 years.
And Colin Larkin, editor of the widely lauded "Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music," which was published in 1992, has added substantially to his work, increasing it from four to six volumes.
Neither guide is aimed at casual fans. "ROCKnROM" is priced at $1,500, the "Guinness Encyclopedia" at $495 for the set.
"ROCKnROM," which its designers say contains 500 million facts, is a computerized reference library aimed at professionals. It produces, at mouse-click speed, information on 800,000 recordings, 90,000 artists, 100,000 songwriters, 30,000 publishers, 6,000 labels and numerous other categories.
Also included are 62,000 U.S. and British album and singles sales charts, enabling the user to follow the ups and downs of a particular recording or artist.
And everything and everyone is connected.
For instance, click on "Bob Dylan" and see the names of every song he ever recorded. Then click on "Like a Rolling Stone" and see who played what instruments on the Dylan recording, as well as who else recorded the song--and who played on those versions.
And you're not through yet.
You can also learn where a particular album was recorded--and then, with another mouse click, get a list of every other album recorded in that city. Further . . . well, let's leave some surprises.
By contrast, the "Guinness Encyclopedia," which includes biographical sketches on more than 15,000 artists and other pop-related events and terms, is a more traditional reference guide--though still remarkable.
(Interestingly, Wadleigh wanted to reproduce the entire Guinness set in his CD-ROM package, but was unable to secure the rights.)
The Guinness set covers popular music from "a cappella" to "ZZ Top" in nearly 5,000 pages of material, and is remarkably up to date. The Neil Young entry, for instance, mentions "Mirror Ball," his 1995 album with Pearl Jam.
To get an idea of the exhaustiveness of the set, which includes 50% more words than its predecessor, consider that England's respected Q magazine called the original four-volume edition "the best rock reference book ever."
Why add to it?
It's a labor of love.
And Larkin, whose personal collection of music magazines and books (dating from 1961) formed the research base for the project, still isn't satisfied.
The word is that he wants to eventually deliver 20 volumes.*
"ROCKnROM" is available through direct mail for Windows 3.1 or higher (it is Windows '95 compatible). A Macintosh version is scheduled to be available in February. (800) 780-0091. The "Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music" can be purchased by calling (800) 221-2123.