BRIAN SOUTHALL The A-Z Of Record Labels Second Edition (Sanctuary)

There’s a potentially fascinating book to be written with that title. The rich history of over a century’s worth of spinning logos, the maverick personalities behind them and the music that soundtracked generations could, given the right narrator, combine into an intoxicating tale. Perhaps you’re ahead of me when I reveal that Brian Southall probably isn’t that person.

This book takes that rich, potent subject matter and squeezes all the excitement and interest out of it. Southall does indeed survey record companies from A&M to ZTT, but he does it with an accountant’s ear and marketing department language. Hits are ‘delivered’, and inevitably take a label ‘to the next level’. The repetitive, prosaic text presumably dispatched any music-loving proofreaders to the land of nod, as those of us who remain gamely awake get to learn about such barely Googleable acts as Pizzicato Fire and Spook’s Beard (heck, even Google asks “Did you mean to search for Spock’s Beard?”!). Almost as irksome is the layout: all the labels covered are granted a minimum of a page even when, as is not infrequently the case, Southall can barely muster up a hundred disinteresting words about them. Consequently, precious real estate is squandered on whitespace which could have been devoted to labels that currently only merit a passing mention in the context of a parent or have been written out entirely. (I’d love to read about Linn, the offshoot imprint of the Scottish hi-fi company, which brought the world the first two Blue Nile albums, but Southall ain’t telling.)

The sub-“Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles” captions that accompany the eight pages of colour photographs of artists (why no colour photographs of record labels?!) give an accurate flavour of Southall’s unappetising prose. We learn how “U2 have had two decades of Island hits with their ever-innovative approach”, and that “The Eagles flew from Asylum to Elektra and watched the dollars pour in”. And that’s the bottom line with “The A-Z Of Record Labels”. It’s all mergers, acquisitions, profit and corporations. The fun, the excitement, the necessity of music doesn’t get a look in.