Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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To Do: Consumer Guide

We have started a couple of pages for background information on Consumer Guides, but these haven't progressed very far:

Completeness

The Consumer Guide database currently has all CG entries and reviews that correspond to the three published decade books plus any additional entries/reviews from posted Consumer Guide columns (almost complete from late-1983, plus some early columns from 1969-1970 and the retrospective Consumer Guide to 1967). This represents a drop from 5274 missing reviews on Nov. 11, 2001, to 0 on Mar. 2, 2002 (so yes, we're working on this).

There are a relatively small number of CG reviews in missing columns between 1969-83 that still need to be added.

Data Problems

The Consumer Guide database was assembled rapidly from several sources, and has not been proofread for accuracy, consistency, and conformance to conventions. Each source brings its own set of problems:

  • The first pass at the CG database was to import similar data (some 4500 albums) from Tom Hull's Music DB, which followed slighly different conventions for artist name, dates, and labels. Many (probably most) of these have been corrected (i.e., changed to reflect the CG books) in subsequent reviews.
  • The second major source was WP files for CG columns starting in April 1988. The main issue here is that some of these reviews were subsequently rewritten for the CG books.
  • The CG books were then combed for all missing albums. These have been typed in.
  • Some additional records were added from Neither, Duds, and HM files.
  • Some additional reviews have been added from the '90s CG book WP files.
  • We've started to look through old (1969-88) CG columns to add in albums that were reviewed but not collected in the CG books.

Everything needs to be proofread. Some problem areas by field:

  • Artist names: CG standard is to use artist names as they appear on albums. TH tended to consolidate these (e.g., Dwight Twilley Band would be filed under Dwight Twilley). The main reason for the consolidating names is to simplify searching. How important this is depends on how good the cross-referencing system is (see below). These will probably remain a mishmash until cross-referencing is sorted out.

  • Album names: These are sometimes unclear, and the inclusion or exclusion of subtitles is often a matter of taste.

  • Sort fields: There are some inconsistencies here. The most common problem is that the convention for handling artist names was changed from "lastfirst" to "last,first", but not all instances were converted. This may result in a sort error.

  • Release dates: TH kept two dates (a recording date, and a release/reissue date), either of which could be used, and either of which could be out of sync with the CG date (usually first U.S. release, rarely a specific reissue release).

  • Labels: TH tended to use current labels; CG uses original (preferably U.S.) labels. (These are probably the most common TH-derived errors, possibly affecting 1000 albums or more.) There are also questions about multiple label affiliations (e.g., Earthworks is also listed as Earthworks/Caroline, Earthworks/Virgin, Stern's/Earthworks, and not infrequently as Virgin). There are also variations (Editions EG vs. EG; First Priority vs. First Priority Music), confusion (50 Kazillion Watts vs. 50 Skadillion Watts vs. 50 Skidillion Watts; EastWest vs. East West), and things that must be typos (Fat Possum vs. Fat Posssum, FFFR vs. FFRR). What about RCA vs. RCA Victor? (Pre-1990 is now RCA Victor.)

    Another issue: CG has always flagged "import" albums, but this information has not been maintained. My thinking is that common names (e.g., Columbia) should be listed as separate labels for each country: Columbia, Columbia (U.K.), Columbia (France), etc. Alternatively, we could add a nation field to the label field.

  • Grades: Grades have been pretty thoroughly checked, with most recent applied. Occasionally you may find a "HM" grade, which is an honorable mention that has not yet been graded using the { *, **, *** } notation. (Currently there are 0 of them.)

  • Reviews: Reviews from CG columns are subject to revision, e.g. in subsequent books, and these have not been systematically checked. Older reviews are retyped -- ergo, there are typos.

    In retyping entries from the CG '70s-'80s books, time information was dropped. (It was not noted in the CG '90s book.) Should time info be restored? (Probably yes, since it affects grading.) Also omitted are "[later on . . .]" notes.

The following are revision discrepancies between CG columns and the CG '90s book that have not yet been resolved (i.e., the current status is per the columns, even though the book is more recent):

  • The Beloved: Happiness. Was B, now N.
  • Lloyd Cole: Lloyd Cole. Was B, now CC.
  • Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Rhythm People (The Resurrection of Creative Black Civilization. Was A-, now SFFR.
  • Digital Underground: Sex Packets. Was B, now CC.
  • Dust Devils: Geek Dip. Was B+, now N.
  • Elastica: Stutter. Was A-, now CC.
  • Fugazi: Repeater. Was A-, now SFFR.
  • Johnny Gill: Johnny Gill. Was B+, now N.
  • Goldie: Saturnz Return. Was C+, now X.
  • Huun-Huur-Tu: 60 Horses in My Heard. Was A-, now SFFR.
  • Billy Idol: Charmed Life. Was C-, now X.
  • King Missile: Mystical Shit. Was B, now CC.
  • Kronos Quartet: Voices of Africa. Was A-, now N.
  • MC Hammer: Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. Was C+, now CC.
  • Carlos Paredes: Guitarra Portugesa. Was A-, now ?
  • Pavement: (Slay Tracks: 1933-1969). Was A-, now ?
  • Peter and the Test Tube Babies: The Shit Factory. Was B+, now ?
  • Rebel MC: Rebel Music. Was B+, now CC.
  • The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Plays the Music of Oasis. Was C, now ?
  • Tarika Sammy: Fanafody. Was A-, now SFFR.
  • Uz Jzme Doma: Hollywood. Was A-, now SFFR.

Choice Cuts

Note: Choice Cuts albums have been implemented, as well as the song table, but not query of the song table to pull out artist cuts in compilations/soundtracks.

Since 1990 some album tracks have been designated as Choice Cuts. These are sorted by artist (even in compilations), and listed first by song, then by album.

A possible implementation would require a new table song. This would contain one row for each Choice Cut song.

Field Description
artist_id int unsigned: reference to artist table row by id.
album_id int unsigned: reference to album table row by id.
title varchar(120): song title.

This is a subset of possible song-related information, which could be expanded to include: author, publisher, publish date, recording date, some sort of grade, a review, an external identifier (such as the MusicBrainz ID).

To implement Choice Cuts, we will need to:

  1. Provide a Choice Cuts icon. The CG '90s book uses a chunk of ham, which I think is unobvious. The best alternative I've thought of is a pair of scissors.

  2. For each Choice Cut album, add the album to the album table (album grade = "S"), and add each Choice Cut song to the song table.

  3. Modify the Grade() function to map "S" to the icon, and the short album list should be fine.

  4. Modify the CG scripts (get_artist.php, get_album.php) to access the Choice Cuts data. One way to do this would be to do a query early (before the main album query) which is roughly:

    select [...] from artist a, album b, label c, song s where s.artist_id = id and s.album_id = b.id and b.artist_id = a.id and b.label_id = l.id order by b.rel_date;
    Then merge this information into the album listing (probably just the Consumer Guides section), according to date.

Cross-References

Artist cross-references are handed with the alias table, which is a simple pairing of two artist ID fields. This is used by get_artist.php to generate a "See Also" listing. The alias table has been updated as of 11/15/2001, and there are primitive tools for rebuilding it, but they are not employed automatically or systemmatically, so it is likely that errors (mostly of omission) will seep in.

There is a trade-off between consolidating artist names and expanding cross-references. The current scheme requires users to go to each cross-reference to find albums filed under that artist name.

There is currently no method for cross-references between artists and albums, such as the CG '80s book reference for Out of His Idiot to Elvis Costello.

Database

The album table name field was originally set to be too small (60 characters), which caused truncation of several names. This field been expanded to 100 characters, but there are still truncated names (2, I think). Haven't noticed any overflow problems elsewhere, but they are always a risk.

The artist and label name fields and the album title field do not currently allow embedded HTML, which makes it impossible to specify superscripts, subscripts, or other special characters (although we have been slipping Latin-1 accents in with no evident problem).

The artist table has a field qual, which is intended to hold a secondary qualifier for distinguishing between distinct artists which have the same name. This is not currently used. The only known case(s) where there is currently such a problem is: Air.

The album table has a field reissue which can be used to flag reissues (1) and EP's (2). This has been filled in very haphazardly, and is not currently used. This could be used by get_artist.php to split up the listings between new albums, reissues, and EP's -- as is done in AMG.

Other Issues

The icons for Neither and Dud are ugly. We also need a Choice Cuts icon. I don't think we need a Turkey icon. We might want to provide images for the Star/Honorable Mention grades, although the use of asterisks works reasonably well.

The artist table has an entry field, which can be used to provide some general introductory text. This isn't really used, but get_artist.php has code to print it first (above the short album list) if it exists.

The artist table also has a sffr field, which stands for Subjects for Further Research. Entries from the CG '90s book have been added (except for Calypso and Rock en Espaņol, which aren't artist-keyed). Entries can also be added for the CG '70s and CG '80s book, but these should probably be marked with dates, since they are 10-20 years old. (Presumably there has been some further research.)

Since get_alist.php only lists artists who have one or more linked albums, there are SFFR entries that are not accessible through the artist listings. (I've written some SQL that works here, but it is very slow, which seems like an excessive price to pay for very little additional benefit.) So we need some navigation approach: either a better get_alist.php or a separate SFFR listing.

Would it be worthwhile to take the CG '70s/'80s books "Distinctions Not Cost-Effective" text and insert it as album table entry or sffr?

The label table also has an entry field, which can be used to provide some general introductory text. This isn't used at present, and would require a change to get_label.php to make use of it.