Only Solitaire: Introduction

List of Artists

List of Albums

Only Solitaire Herald

Reviews Of Classic Rock & Pop Albums

Chained Forever To A World That’s Departed: One More Introduction

Greetings and welcome to the third (and probably last) version of Only Solitaire, my personal site of music reviews which has been functioning, on-and-off, since almost the early dawn of the Internet age.

The first incarnation of Only Solitaire, which ran from 1998 to 2007, covered lots of bands and artists from the 1950s up to the 1990s in no specific order other than personal preference and random chance; suffering both from really crappy writing and from too much ambitiousness backed by too little knowledge, it was eventually retired (though you can still access the original texts if your curiosity overrides your squeamishness).

The second incarnation, which was reprised in 2009 and ran all the way into 2020, was planned more strategically and presumed to cover a variety of great and not so great artists in alphabetic order, separating them into several chronological layers so as not to lock writer and readers alike into a specific time period, and also permit myself to get better acquainted with what was happening to popular music in the 21st century. This version (I dare say) was already much better written and benefited from all the benefits of the Internet age (easy access to all sorts of music and data), although nothing is ever perfect. Eventually, however, I ran into much the same problem as Franklin Clarke from Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders and realized that it would be really weird to leave this world somewhere around the letter G. This led to various modifications of the original strategy, none of which really felt suitable to me. Then, along with a large chunk of the world around me, I somehow fell into a period of darkness and disillusionment, and pulled the plug on the project altogether. (The second incarnation of Only Solitaire is still available in its complete form on the Only Solitaire blog, and is also archived on this website).

Once the darkness had somewhat dissipated (or, rather, settled into a form of permanent grayness with which I have somehow learned to cope), I came up with the idea to revitalize Only Solitaire once again — but this time, as a straightforwardly historical project. Subtitled A Subjective History of Rock’n’Roll (And Its Neighbors), this version of the site now follows time rather than people, starting at certain milestones in the history of popular music (namely, the rise of early rock’n’roll in the United States and, several years later, in the UK) and going from there. This makes the entire project more wholesome and systematic than it ever used to be, and it guarantees a certain "intermediate completeness" in case something were to happen to me (no one lives forever, and certainly not in a world beset by Covid-19 and an alarming growth of all kinds of neo-fascism). At the very least, writing a comprehensive history of rock and pop music in the 1950s and 1960s is quite a realistic perspective — whether I will be able to move on from there, God only knows.

Sadly, this means that in the current incarnation of the site I shall not be covering any modern music (something that I quite diligently tried to do on the 2009-2020 blog, but which ultimately contributed to my depression, I think; the summary of all my dark thoughts on the subject is still available here). As far as I am concerned, music has essentially ceased to be a major cultural force in this day and age, though, of course, it still preserves its entertainment function, and can have all sorts of meaning for specific individuals on their own individual level. To me, however, this means that there is no principal difference these days between trying to dig out an obscure, mediocre, but still curious album out of 1957 or 1964, or rummaging through the 2021 charts of RateYourMusic in order to "stay up to date" with "current musical trends", which hardly even exist any more, certainly not in the sense in which "current musical trends" were understood in 1957 or 1964. I’m still listening occasionally to new stuff, but I won’t be covering it again any time soon.

Now, onward to current technical details.

1. What kind of music gets reviewed these days on Only Solitaire?

I am writing a selective history of those kinds of popular music which (mostly) have their roots in the blues, R&B and (to a lesser extent) country tradition of the United States in the first half of the 20th century — call this a "history of rock’n’roll" if you wish, but with a very, very broad understanding of "rock’n’roll", which would also include some folk, a lot of singer-songwriter stuff, some more or less "pure pop", and theoretically might even extend to electronica or hip-hop if I live long enough. To make things a little more exciting, I am dividing the reviews into two geographic sections — America (including USA and, probably, Canada) and the rest of the world (mostly the UK, but also artists from other European and, again theoretically, Asian and South American countries); the American section tellingly starts out with Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, while the UK / World section starts out with (the rather unjustly forgotten) Lonnie Donegan and his skiffle explosion, without which there would be no... actually, never mind.

For all those worried about the diversity factor, I can only say that I mean no harm to other musical traditions, from Western classical to Latin American dance music to French chanson to Indian ragas to Beijing opera, but there have to be limits set somewhere, and while I might love to share my thoughts on Françoise Hardy, Ravi Shankar, and João Gilberto, my experience with all these musical worlds has mostly been limited to the topmost artists, and I wouldn’t want to sound like a clueless tourist. Additionally, most of the local traditions are precisely what they are — local — whereas rock’n’roll, want it or not, has remained a more or less universal language (in the Western world at least) for more than half a century, probably for the same reasons which cause me to be writing this in English rather than in my native tongue. Anyway, I will be covering some non-US / non-UK bands and artists, particularly those whose musical language is more or less compatible with the most common one for me.

As to what precise artists get reviewed (obviously, I cannot review everybody), I have two main criteria here — they have to have at least some historical importance (for instance, at least minor chart success, or at least some objectively unique feature to their sound, or some transparent and acknowledged influence on future musicians) and they have to have at least something that piques my interest — this is a "subjective history", after all. Fortunately, it turns out that most of the time, these criteria overlap.

2. How often does stuff get reviewed? What’s the schedule?

Currently, the preferred schedule is to review 2 (two) American albums and 2 (two) UK and / or world albums per week (I also have to allocate some time for a completely different reviewing project – story-based video games), usually in chronological order, though sometimes I find myself obligated to break up the queue with some earlier record that I had accidentally missed in my research. On some weeks when I’m particularly busy or particularly indisposed there may be no reviews at all; on the other hand, it is not excluded that I might also return to a busier schedule some day. Unfortunately, any good review requires a modicum of inspiration, and inspiration can sometimes be hard to come by.

Completed reviews are posted both here (on my own personal website) and on my new blog set up at Substack. This is done for (a) reasons of security — doubling the info on two websites protects it from getting lost; and (b) reasons of convenience — on the Substack blog, users may add their comments. As usual, comments are very welcome, particularly those that indicate typos, spelling mistakes, and factual errors (I will try to correct all these), but also those that add alternate perspectives and opinions.

3. Why the different formats?

To save myself the hassle of working in different editors, I continue writing everything in MS Word format, from which the finished texts can be automatically converted into Web-compatible formats. The HTML variants look a bit clumsy when done this way, which is why I put them next to PDF variants, which look a bit more elegant to my eyes and which I therefore recommend as the default format — unless your computer or gadget somehow does not support PDF, in which case you can always fall back onto the HTML variant. If everything fails, there is always the Substack blog (although I only post the bare text there, without ratings, external links or extra pictures).

The individual files / pages are, like they used to be, for artists rather than albums (having a separate file for each album is very tedious, and it would be quite a hassle for you, too, if you ever wanted to download the entire site) — but they are being filled up very gradually, in chronological order.

4. Are there any changes to the old format of the reviews?

Very minor ones. As usual, I include the complete track listing, occasionally highlighting the outstanding ones if anything stands out in any particular way (red tracks are the ones that I deem unquestionably superior, even if only slightly, to everything else on the album; brown tracks are those that sound fairly odd or unusual compared to the rest; blue tracks are those that are markedly inferior) — reserving only one instance of each color per album, however. I also regularly post links to Wikipedia (so as not to have to waste space on all the historical details and trivia which can be easily looked up in more reliable sources), Discogs (where you can find lots of useful technical info on specific releases of the LP in question), and RateYourMusic (where you can find many alternative points of view, which will certainly give you a better overall perspective on the album than any «official» critical reviews from the so-called professional music journals).

If possible, I try to provide a bit more context in the new reviews than before — for instance, long-playing records by artists in the 1950s and early 1960s were commonly inferior to their single releases (the most common recording market those days), and it is often useless to discuss the LP without also discussing the singles that surround it. Sometimes they are included as bonus tracks on newer CD releases; just as often, however, they are not — all of this deserves some commentary. I also occasionally include links to YouTube, where you can find almost anything these days free of charge (I do not subscribe to any streaming services and probably never will).

5. Are there ratings for albums, and if yes, what are the principles?

Okay, yes. Given how much people love to fight about ratings, I decided to bring them back for this version of the site, almost the same way they were functioning in the earliest incarnation of the site. Each reviewed album gets its own numeric V-A-L-U-E, with each of the five aspects rated on a 1 to 5 scale, somewhat like this:











The five parameters are: (1) V = Variety (Diversity), assessing the overall variety of genres, styles, and moods captured on record; (2) A = Adequacy, assessing how well, on the whole, the artist is suited to performing these styles and genres, whether the levels of ambitiousness and pretentiousness that are brought to the table match the actual musical content, and suchlike; (3) L = Listenability, assessing the general care taken to please the listener, ranging from production (sound quality) to presence / absence of fleshed-out melodic hooks; (4) U = Uniqueness, assessing the overall amount of new musical, lyrical, emotional content of the recording; (5) E = Emotionality, assessing just how hard of a gut-punch the record delivers.

Just as it always has been, these numeric ratings are not hard science, and merely serve to summarize my current opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of the recordings, which, hopefully, will be better expressed in the review itself. Needless to say, some records are actually not meant to be "diverse" (AC/DC), "listenable" (Captain Beefheart), or "unique" (99% of music ever made), so a low number in a certain cell all by itself is not necessarily indicative of its poor quality. Probably the worst score to have is low Adequacy, which typically just represents artistic cluelessness (this is something I’d probably slap on every Kansas album ever recorded – the band, that is, not the state). But generally, if you ever want to fight me in a fair fight, I’d be obliged if you agreed to fight words rather than numbers.

6. How can I contact you and chip in with my opinions?

This is what the Substack version of the site is for — reviews posted there are raw variants, to which you may add your comments, observations, corrections, alternate perspectives; I shall try to take them all into consideration when posting the finalized texts on the main site.