A Road Map to Popular Music

Music plays a very large role in our lives, and that sentiment is nowhere expressed more emphatically than on the Internet. From Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to the Beatles to the classic crooners of the 1940s, online bulletin boards, music-related newsgroups and retail websites bristle with discussions about every conceivable popular music topic. Of particular relevance is a phenomenal online reference guide called the All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com).

The All Music Guide, as part of a much more extensive entertainment information database for music, videos, DVDs and video games, offers expert reviews, biographies, ratings, album covers, song titles, musician, songwriting and producer credits, and educational essays on nearly every aspect of 20th century popular music.

The All Music Guide fundamentally differs from any paper-based reference work in several key ways. First, material is constantly being added and updated as artists evolve and release new albums. Second, and most importantly, in a print-based reference work, there are definite start and end points, usually in the form of an alphabetical listing of artists or genres. On the Web, though, the start point — aside from a tightly organized home page — can be anything you want it to be, from a biography on British pop singer Cliff Richard to a provocative essay on the history of techno music with links to major players of the genre.

By its very nature, the Web is the ideal place for a musical reference guide because, as a hyperlinked medium, it has the ability to tell a story with infinite permutations limited only by the imagination of the user. With the All Music Guide, a visitor can discover new artists and follow musical trends by utilizing the millions of links and associations throughout the website. Such associations include an artist's roots and influences, landmark albums, track-by-track album listings, related artists, musical "maps" through that particular genre, song by other artists which they performed, 

For example, typing "Beatles" into the search box on the home page generates a trove of hyperlinked associations: individual links to John, Paul,George and Ringo; links to styles such as British Invasion, Psychedelia, Pop/Rock and Merseybeat; links to record labels with their albums; associations with major contributors to the group, including Billy Preston and George Martin; related artists such as The Dave Clark Five, Badfinger and Peter & Gordon; their roots and influences; and links to artists whose songs they perfomed. In addition to an extensive biography, the All Music Guide also lists a complete album discography with pictures of album covers and links to individual pages for each album or compilation.

The White Album page begins with an expert review of the album, and then lists each track — hyperlinked, of course, to other pages associated with that song. Clicking on "Helter Skelter", for example, takes you to a page which lists every known artist who has covered it. In addition to a track listing, the White Album page lists albums that are similar in style or related by genre, such as albums by The Kinks and The Who, and Billboard's Top Hits of 1968. The page rounds out with a list of credits: musicians who played on the album, such as the many classical musicians for whom George Martin scored parts; as well as the producers and engineers who worked on the album.

You can also follow the path of a particular musician. For example, Nicky Hopkins, the most in-demand session pianist in rock for nearly two decades, played piano and keyboards on countless classic rock albums, from The Who's "Tommy" and the Beatles' "White Album" to works by Carly Simon and Rick Springfield. His entry has a complete listing of all the albums on which he appeared. Since every album listed in the site is hyperlinked, clicking on, say, the "White Album" in Hopkins' discography takes you back to the Beatles' album entry.

Perhaps the most powerful feature of the website is the music maps function, which allows you to trace the roots of a particular genre through informative essays. The music maps feature is accessible from the left navigation bar on the home page. For example, if you are into Folk-Rock, then you can learn about how it evolved, following one path to the venerated 60s Los Angeles-Sunset Strip folk-rock scene of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas And The Papas, and many more groups. Did you know that country-pop singer Linda Ronstadt was in a 1960s acoustic folk-rock trio called the Stone Poneys? Take another path, and you can examine the roots of the British folk scene, decade by decade through the 20th century, touching upon Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny.

What an amazing musical journey!


Michael Tanenbaum