The Rolling Stone Album Guide

Last updated on 21 September 2017

The Rolling Stone Album Guide, previously known as The Rolling Stone Record Guide, is a book that contains professional music reviews written and edited by staff members from Rolling Stone magazine. Its first edition was published in 1979 and its last in 2004. The guide can be seen at Rate Your Music,[1] while a list of albums given a five star rating by the guide can be seen at[2][3]


First edition (1979)

The Rolling Stone Record Guide was the first edition of what would later become The Rolling Stone Album Guide. It was edited by Dave Marsh (who wrote a large majority of the reviews) and John Swenson, and included contributions from 34 other music critics. It is divided into sections by musical genre and then lists artists alphabetically within their respective genres. Albums are also listed alphabetically by artist although some of the artists have their careers divided into chronological periods.

Dave Marsh, in his Introduction, cites as precedents Leonard Maltin's book TV Movies and Robert Christgau's review column in the Village Voice. He gives Phonolog and Schwann's Records & Tape Guide as raw sources of information.

The first edition included black and white photographs of many of the covers of albums which received five star reviews. These titles are listed together in the Five-Star Records section, which is coincidentally five pages in length.

The edition also included reviews for many comedy artists including Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Bill Cosby, The Firesign Theatre, Spike Jones, and Richard Pryor.

Comedy artists were listed in the catch-all section "Rock, Soul, Country and Pop", which included the genres of folk (Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly), bluegrass (Bill Monroe), funk (The Meters, Parliament-Funkadelic), and reggae (Toots & the Maytals, Peter Tosh), as well as comedy. Traditional pop performers were not included (e.g. Andrews Sisters, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Rudy Vallee, Lawrence Welk), with the notable exceptions of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. (Dave Marsh justified this decision in his Introduction.)

Included too were some difficult-to-classify artists (e.g. Osibisa, Yma Sumac, Urubamba) who might now be considered as world music. (Ethnic music was the normal term in 1979.)

Big band jazz was handled selectively, with certain band leaders omitted (e.g. Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Paul Whiteman), while others were included (e.g. Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman). Many other styles of jazz did appear in the Jazz section.

The book was notable for the time in the provocative, "in your face" style of many of its reviews. For example, writing about Neil Young's song, "Down by the River", John Swenson described it both as an "FM radio classic" (p. 425), and as a "wimp anthem" (p. 244). His colleague, Dave Marsh, in reviewing the three albums of the jazz fusion group Chase, gave a one-word review: "Flee." (p. 70).

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • Rock, Soul, Country and Pop
  • Blues
  • Jazz
  • Gospel
  • Anthologies, Soundtracks and Original Casts
  • Five-Star Records
  • Glossary
  • Selected Bibliography

Rating system

The guide employs a five star rating scale with the following descriptions of those ratings:[1]

  • 5/5 stars
    • Indispensable: a record that must be included in any comprehensive collection
  • 4/5 stars
    • Excellent: a record of substantial merit, though flawed in some essential way.
  • 3/5 stars
    • Good: a record of average worth, but one that might possess considerable appeal for fans of a particular style.
  • 2/5 stars
    • Mediocre: a record that is artistically insubstantial, though not truly wretched.
  • 1/5 stars
    • Poor: a record where even technical competence is at question or it was remarkably ill-conceived.
  • 0/5 stars
    • Worthless: a record that need never (or should never) have been created. Reserved for the most bathetic bathwater.


Second edition (1983)


The New Rolling Stone Record Guide was an update of 1979's The Rolling Stone Record Guide. Like the first edition, it was edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson. It included contributions from 52 music critics and featured chronological album listings under the name of each artist. In many cases, updates from the first edition consist of short, one-sentence verdicts upon an artist's later work.

Instead of having separate sections such as Blues and Gospel, this edition compressed all of the genres it reviewed into one section except for Jazz titles which were removed for this edition and were later expanded and published in 1985 Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide (ed. Swenson).

Since the goal of this guide was to review records that were in print at the time of publication, this edition featured a list of artists who were included in the first edition but were not included in the second edition because all of their material was out of print. [2]

Table Of Contents

  • Introduction to the Second Edition
  • Introduction to the First Edition
  • Ratings
  • Reviewers
  • Record Label Abbreviations
  • Rock, Soul, Blues, Country, Gospel and Pop
  • Anthologies, Soundtracks and Original Cast
  • Index to Artists in the First Edition

Rating System

The second edition uses the same rating system as the first edition. The only difference is that in addition to a rating, the second edition employs the pilcrow mark (¶) to indicate a title that was out of print at the time the guide was published. Many records had their ratings lowered as the book now offered a revisionist slant to rock's history. [2]


  • Dave Marsh
  • John Swenson
  • Billy Altman
  • George Arthur
  • Lester Bangs
  • Bob Blumenthal
  • J.D. Considine
  • Jean-Charles Costa
  • Brian Cullman
  • Dan Doyle
  • Jim Farber
  • Laura Fissinger
  • Chet Flippo
  • David Fricke
  • Aaron Fuchs
  • Steve Futterman
  • Debbie Geller
  • Russell Gersten
  • Mikal Gilmore
  • Alan E. Goodman
  • Randall Grass
  • Malu Halasa
  • Peter Herbst
  • Stephen Holden
  • Martha Hume
  • Scott Isler
  • Gary Kenton
  • Wayne King
  • Kenn Lowy
  • Bruce Malamut
  • Greil Marcus
  • Ira Mayer
  • Joe McEwen
  • David McGee
  • John Milward
  • Teri Morris
  • John Morthland
  • Paul Nelson
  • Alan Niester
  • Rob Patterson
  • Kit Rachlis
  • Ira Robbins
  • Wayne Robbins
  • Frank Rose
  • Michael Rozek
  • Fred Schruers
  • Dave Schulpas
  • Tom Smucker
  • Ariel Swartley
  • Bart Testa
  • Ken Tucker
  • Charley Walters[2]

The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide (1985)

Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide.jpg
Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide.jpg

The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide was published in 1985 and incorporated the jazz listings omitted from The New Rolling Stone Record Guide with additional reviews edited by John Swenson. It included contributions from 16 music critics and featured alphabetical album listings under the name of each artist.

Table Of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Ratings
  • Contributors
  • Record Label Abbreviations
  • Reviews
  • Bibliography

Rating System

This jazz edition uses the same rating system as the first two editions.


  • John Swenson
  • Bob Blumenthal
  • Jean-Charles Costa
  • Steve Futterman
  • Russell Gersten
  • Mikal Gilmore
  • Alan E. Goodman
  • Fred Goodman
  • Stephen Holden
  • Ashley Kahn
  • Bruce Malamut
  • Joe McEwen
  • Michael Rozek
  • Andy Rowan
  • Bart Testa
  • Charley Walters

Third edition (1992)


The Rolling Stone Album Guide was a complete rewrite of both 1979's The Rolling Stone Record Guide and 1983's The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. The title change reflects the fact that by the time this edition was published in 1992, records were almost completely replaced by CDs. This edition employs three new editors and reduces the number of reviewers from more than 50 as seen in previous editions to a mere four. This edition also included reviews of Jazz albums, which had been removed from the previous edition for the sake of publishing a separate Jazz guide. Unlike both previous editions, this edition did not include comedy artists.

Table Of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Ratings
  • Contributors
  • The Rolling Stone Album Guide
  • Anthologies
  • Soundtracks
  • Acknowledgments

Rating System

Like the first edition, it employed a five star rating scale but this edition had new definitions of what the number of stars meant and this edition employed the use of 1/2 stars in the reviews. The descriptions of the markings used in the third edition of the guide are:[3]

  • 5/5 stars
    • Classic: Albums in this category are essential listening for anyone interested in the artist under discussion or the style of music that artist's work represents.
  • 4/5 stars
    • Excellent: Four star albums represent peak performances in an artist's career. Generally speaking, albums that are granted four or more stars constitute the best introductions to an artist's work for listeners who are curious.
  • 3/5 stars
    • Average to Good: Albums in the three-star range will primarily be of interest to established fans of the artist being discussed. This mid-range, by its very nature, requires the most discretion on the part of the consumer.
  • 2/5 stars
    • Fair to Poor: Albums in the two-star category either fall below an artist's established standard or are, in and of themselves, failures.
  • 1/5 stars
    • Disastrous: Albums in the range of one star or less are wastes of vital resources. Only masochists or completists need apply.


  • Mark Coleman
  • J.D. Considine
  • Paul Evans
  • David McGee[3]

Artists omitted from the third edition

Some of the artists included in the previous editions but omitted in this edition include:

  1. Hawkwind
  2. John Williams
  3. Magma
  4. Olivia Newton-John
  5. Scorpions
  6. Steeleye Span
  7. Van der Graaf Generator

Fourth edition (2004)

New Rolling Stone Album Guide 2004.jpg
New Rolling Stone Album Guide 2004.jpg

Approximately 70 writers contributed to this edition. Text on the back cover of the fourth edition claims that the guide had been "completely updated and revised to include the past decade's artists and sounds", and offered "biographical overviews of key artists' careers, giving readers a look at the personalities behind the music".

Artists omitted from the fourth edition

Some of the artists included in the previous guides but omitted in this edition include:

  1. Joan Armatrading
  2. Louis Armstrong
  3. Captain Beefheart
  4. Nat King Cole
  5. Crowded House
  6. Deep Purple
  7. Duke Ellington
  8. Ella Fitzgerald
  9. Incredible String Band
  10. Robert Johnson
  11. Wynton Marsalis
  12. Metallica (omitted from first printing, but added later)
  13. The Alan Parsons Project
  14. Soft Machine
  15. Tears for Fears
  16. Toto
  17. Culture
  18. Blake Babies
  19. GTR
  20. Meat Puppets
  21. Donald Fagen
  22. George Harrison


  1. ^ album guide link
  2. ^ 5-Star-Albums from the Second Edition (Published in 1983) of "The Rolling Stone Record Guide"
  3. ^ 5-Star-Albums from the Fourth Edition


  1. ^ a The Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1979. (Note 1, see p xiii) (Note 1a, see p xv-xvi)
  2. ^ a b The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Ed. Dave Marsh and John Swenson. New York: Random House, 1983. (Note 2, see p 645-648) (Note 2a, see p xv) (Note 2b, see p xvii-xix)
  3. ^ a The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Ed. Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke with Holly George-Warren. New York: Random House, 1992. (Note 3, see p vii) (Note 3a, see ix)

Further reading

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