Ask the Author

To ask questions of Rock Omnibus author Rusty Southwick, click here. If your question is considered to be a worthy addition to this page, we'll include it here. Names will not be shown. Some — but not all — questions will receive e-mail replies.

What are the advantages of Rock Omnibus in book form and what are the advantages of the online version?
The book and the online version are the same information — 423 pages (plus the opening pages), though the book has the advantage of your being able to highlight, mark, and make notations in it. Also, having a hard copy gives you instant and portable access at any time. On the other hand, a nice feature of the online version is to be able to search for song titles or album titles that you don't know the artists for, as well as to see all the instances in the book of a particular title, artist or album. Additionally, using the built-in pdf bookmark feature, you can quickly jump from one section of the book to another.

How is Rock Omnibus different from the pop charts?
Like night and day. Songs are not rated here by chart success, or gold or platinum sales status, or any other popular method. It's strictly by the deemed value of the song in content and in a historical perspective. It doesn't matter necessarily that a song was #1 for ten weeks on the Billboard charts. If it's not considered a high quality song, it won't be ranked highly here. In fact, about 70% of the songs on the Billboard charts are not listed here because they are not considered significant enough. Just being popular doesn't make a good song.

Of the approximately 30,000 songs that have appeared on the charts since the 1950s, roughly 9000 of them are listed in Rock Omnibus (and ranked in quite a different format). What you've been missing up to this point are another 9000 other significant non-charting songs, and now they're getting their due. Consider the grave injustice of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven never appearing on the Billboard charts. Unconscionable! Also consider that the charts only recognized a paltry 10 songs from Zeppelin's career. This alone should be a strong indictment against the veracity of the charts. But it gets even worse...

There's a plethora of examples of very worthy tracks left off the charts (enough to fill a book!): The Doors — missing are The End, L.A. Woman, Strange Days, Waiting For the Sun; Traffic — missing are Freedom Rider, Dear Mr. Fantasy, Heaven is in Your Mind, John Barleycorn (Must Die); Van Morrison — how do only 11 of Morrison's tunes show up in the Billboard 100 charts?; Rush — most of its vast catalog is criminally absent from the charts; Dream Theater — do the charts even know who they are?; Porcupine Tree — ditto; Pink Floyd — missing are Time, Brain Damage/Eclipse, Comfortably Numb, Wish You Were Here, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and a few dozen other worthy tracks of theirs; Blue Oyster Cult — basically ignored by the charts, with only four of its songs appearing; Talking Heads — just eight songs? So you get the idea. And it goes on and on and on. These aren't just incidental omissions, but glaring injustices. Even entire artist's catalogs are missing from the charts. It shows the ineptitude of the chart system. But you'll find these missing catalogs in Rock Omnibus. This is the primary impetus of Rock Omnibus, to fill in the mammoth gaps the charts have created — not just to complement these charts, but to replace them entirely.

What are your song and artist rankings based on?
Essentially it's my own critical review, taking into account a song's melody, songwriting, vocals, lyrics, and overall musical quality. It's about the validity of the music itself, not the ancillary concerns of artist popularity, cultural implications, or accompanying video. Also taken into account is the historical value of a song. It's about what music will stand the test of time and be enduring. Rock Omnibus focuses on the rock aspect of music, so rock tracks are typically considered the ideal type of song for this project, and then it plays off of that. You'll find that while I admire the classic rock sound, I also recognize many other types of music as holding up to the rock standard. After ranking the individual songs, I quantified a basic point value of songs and albums within an artist's catalog, and then used that as a guide in ranking the artists. I'm not going to rank an artist high just based on reputation — ultimately they have to have the songs and albums to be considered that worthy.

What are some of the unique aspects of Rock Omnibus?
Rock Omnibus has many special features. The first 300 pages of the book consists of 4,156 artist discographies, showing details of those tracks I've ranked in the top 5000, including ranking, year, album, track time, and song style. An artist's best songs according to my reckoning are listed in order, along with any honorable mentions past the top 5000, for a total of 17,800 songs in the book. The last 100 pages of the book consist of the top 5000 songs in order, top songs by year and decade, top 1000 artists in order, top artists by decade, by country, and by genre. The top 1000 artist list shows the beginning and ending years of that artist's recording career, their country of origin, key band members, musical style, and the number of songs by that artist listed in the book and their number of albums ranked in the top 1000. There's also an album section, outlining the top 1000 albums in order. Plus various other interesting features.

Did you personally listen to every song listed in the book?
I estimate that I have listened to about 95% of them. I even tried keeping track of that stat early into the project, but it became unwieldy to track. I certainly listened to all of the first ranked 5000 (otherwise I wouldn't have ranked them high), and then didn't listen to a lot of the semi-hits from artists in the '50s and early '60s. Before albums were common, it was more about hits then, so that was where a lot of the focus is for that time period. And then there are going to be scattered tracks throughout the list that I threw in on critical recommendation but either didn't have access to the song or didn't spend much time sampling that particular artist.

Otherwise, my method was to listen to as many songs as possible from every artist I came across. I would listen to more from them the more promising they sounded. I often started with critical reviews and worked my way out from there. It wasn't uncommon for me to listen to entire albums of artists I'd never come across before. I've really enjoyed the use of streaming tracks through online services like Napster/Rhapsody, Spotify and Grooveshark.

For every song that made it in the book, there were probably close to 10 that I rejected. So on average, one per full album listened to, but there were many albums I listened to that I used nothing from simply because the albums were flat. Some artists, they might have had 4 or 5 albums, and out of that they might have gotten 1 or 2 songs listed.

Why don't you have rap/hip-hop songs on your list?
The Rock Omnibus list is first and foremost about rock music, while including genres within pop styles, also including R&B, folk, country, jazz, blues, and new age. Rap and hip-hop are thought by many rock aficionados to be something other than an extension of rock and pop genres. Rap/hip-hop is an island unto itself, and it's felt here that it's better considered separately. Indeed, what used to be the pop charts has now been taken over by the rap/hip-hop genre. Rock Omnibus is also in part a measured response to that process.

How should Rock Omnibus be used?
Rock Omnibus can be used for many purposes. As a guide to the history of popular and rock music, as a resource for finding more music that you'll like, finding hidden gems lost within unheralded albums or from obscure artists, and as a reference to help you start your own top 17,800 list. Rock Omnibus is very useful in many respects. It fills a niche that's been sorely needed for a long time.

Did you intentionally rank the group Sweet and Matthew Sweet next to each other in the artist rankings at 364 and 365?
No, it was actually pure coincidence. In the grand scheme of things when large amounts of data are used, some of the data has apparent correlations when it wasn't intentional, and such coincidences are bound to occur. Another place I noticed after the fact where there was a pattern were albums 177-180, the self-titled albums of Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Toto, Van Halen, respectively. It just happened that way. I rate those four albums roughly the same, and they just got bunched for no particular reason.

How did you ever put such an expansive list together?
As cliche as it sounds, it truly was a labor of love. Music is a big part of who I am, I'm a detail-oriented person, I pay attention to musical trends, I remember songs (if not by name or lyric, I can track them down), I look past what the media offers and am willing to dig much deeper.

This project took 11 years to compile. Being very familiar with the vast capabilities of Excel spreadsheets, I was able to develop an interactive database for myself which gave a clear outline of where I should place various points of emphasis. After rating the songs themselves, I used a statistical method as a guide to translate that into artist and album prowess. Basically, to be able to put this list together, I just kept plugging away for a long time. I researched hundreds of websites, read thousands of reviews, and then ultimately listened to the songs and albums for myself to arrive at my own judgments. Basically persevering and not taking shortcuts. To get a list this thorough, one has to keep digging and digging until you feel yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel. That's the only way to know when to stop digging. It was both surprising and enlightening to me to realize how much quality music is out there, a good portion of it hidden in dark corners. Until now.

What method do you recommend for finding new music and for accessing a wide variety of new, old, and various styles?
A Napster membership was my method of choice. Rhapsody and MOG have similar services. Spotify is a great service that may end up outdoing them all. With these, you get unlimited streaming albums with a great selection, a nice media player to access the music from without the need of a log-in (also mobile compatible). And you're not bombarded by advertisements or auto-loading players that try to take over your session. Just the right balance of material and isolation.

A nice companion to these is Grooveshark, which provides a friendly interface and with a free membership you can acceess a large collection of songs. And the online player is very versatile, and it's a snap to create multiple playlists, add to them, and to share them.

(no companies compensated me for making these comments)

What do you think of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and the rest?
Never played them. As a concept, I think they're a decent game form, although they're just simulations and no match for the real music itself. Any attempt to use them as a substitute for the real listening experience can't go much beyond a karaoke excercise. I hope people, especially younger generations, don't rely on those forms alone for their classic rock listening. Unfortunately, that's where a lot of people get most of their exposure to classic rock, so essentially they're getting it in its impure form.

Also, playing the same songs over and over might become a little tedious and in a sense "wear the songs out," so hopefully that doesn't happen.

To ask questions of Rock Omnibus author Rusty Southwick, click here. If your question is considered to be a worthy addition to this page, we'll include it here. Names will not be shown. Some — but not all — questions will receive e-mail replies.