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Encyclopedia of Popular Music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia of Popular Music was created in 1989 by Colin Larkin. It is the 'modern man's' equivalent of the Grove Dictionary of Music, which Larkin describes in less than flattering terms.[1]

History of the encyclopedia

Larkin believed that rock music and popular music, were at least as significant historically as classical music, and as such, should be given 'definitive' treatment and properly documented. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music is the result. In 1989 Larkin sold his half of the publishing company Scorpion Books to finance his ambition to publish an Encyclopedia of Popular music. Aided by a team of initially 70 contributors, he set about compiling the data in a 'pre-internet' age, "relying instead on information gleaned from music magazines, individual expertise and a hideous amount of legwork".[1] The new company he financed and founded to publish the encyclopedia, was called Square One Books. The first edition of the encyclopedia "pushed Larkin to the brink of bankruptcy".[2] It was a 'four volume set' and went into print in 1992.

There have been three further editions of the multi-volume encyclopedia and dozens of single-volume spin-offs of five concise versions of the main encyclopedia, including four editions of Jazz.[1]

In 1995 Microsoft licensed the text for their CD-ROM, Microsoft Music Central, which sold 497,000 copies.[3]

In 1997 Larkin's company, along with the Encyclopedia, was sold to the data company Muze Inc. (the UK name was changed to Muze UK), because Larkin wanted "to guarantee its future" in the fast changing world of information and communications technology. He became full-time editor-in-chief' on the project, running a surprisingly small scale "cottage industry":

"There are now fewer than 10 contributors on the team... "People don't believe it's done on such a small scale, but in terms of words we are producing an Agatha Christie novel a month"..."[3]


The Encyclopedia of Popular Music covers popular music from the early 1900s to the present day, including folk, blues, R&B, jazz, rock, heavy metal, reggae, electronic music and hip-hop.

"Each biography contains a thorough synopsis of the performer and their body of work, following their career from beginning to end. The 4th Edition is 10,000 pages long in 10 separate volumes with over 8 million words and 27,000 entries. The nature of popular music and jazz is such that it is ever changing, evolving and growing and therefore needs a new edition much more frequently than more static subjects."[4]

Guinness Publishing, Virgin Publishing and Omnibus Press have produced the spin-offs on each subject and Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums is produced as a companion volume. The large single volume of the Concise edition of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music is now in its 5th edition.[5]

The total sales of the EPM series since 1992 is over 650,000 copies.

In May 2011 Omnibus Press released the Amazon Kindle edition of The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music.[6] The text for this edition has not been updated and the Kindle edition has the same content as the 2007 edition.


  • Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (1st Edition, 4 Vols), Guinness Publishing 1992, ed. Larkin Colin.
  • Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (2nd Edition, 6 Vols), Guinness Publishing 1995 (UK), ed. Larkin, Colin.
  • The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (3rd Edition, 8 vols), Macmillan (UK/USA) 1999, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  • The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (4th Edition 10 vols), Oxford University Press (UK/USA) 2006, ed. Larkin, Colin.

Concise Editions

  • Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music Concise Edition, Guinness Publishing 1993, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise Edition, Virgin Books (UK), 1997, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 1999, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  • The Encyclopedia of Popular Music: Concise (5th Edition), Omnibus Press 2007, ed. Larkin, Colin

Spin Offs

  • Larkin, Colin (2004). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz (Rev Upd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1024. ISBN 1852271833.


  1. ^ a b c The Times, The Knowledge, Christmas edition, 22 December 2007- 4 January 2008.
  2. ^ '"Who'd put the Everly Brothers above Elvis", Evening Standard, 20 December 2006.
  3. ^ a b The Collector, No. 20 COLIN LARKIN, Record Collector, Issue 314, Sept 2005.
  4. ^ OUP online
  5. ^ The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, concise 5th edition, pub. Omnibus Press July 2007.
  6. ^ Amazon
This page was last edited on 28 January 2019, at 20:30
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