Good day! Welcome to ONLY SOLITAIRE, what formerly used to work under the much lengthier name of "George Starostin's Classic Rock And Pop Album Reviews", but now has traded that in for a subtle Jethro Tull reference. Evidently, this page is still dedicated to the reviews of classic rock & pop albums (as well as a few videos, although it's been a long time since I did a video review). Given that my understanding of "classic rock & pop" is fairly extensive, unlike the one that's propagated on so-called "classic rock radio stations", the title is in reality not as horrible as it might seem to some on first sight. Take a look around - you'll see.

Here's a little RAQ (Rarely Asked Questions) I've constructed:

0. WHAT's been new since the site's temporary retraction [September 2004 - June 2005]?

Lots - but the touches are mostly minor. Here's the most major of the minor ones:

a) New name and tiny bits of new design (although "design" is as strong a word to describe this site as "talent" is to describe Vanessa Carlton.)

b) "Band ratings" have been renamed "classes", ranging from A to E. It's just a stylistic change, but I suddenly fell in love with letters and decided to combine them with numbers.

c) The band classification principles on the front page have been completely shifted. Earlier, I was using sort of a mixed chronological-stylistic scheme that was very muddy. Now I've straightened this out by firmly separating chronology from genre/style and sorting the reviewed bands in two different orders (well, three, if you add the simple alphabetic principle, too). There will still be questionable moments with the classifications (particularly the one by genre/style, of course), but questionable moments are still much better than a mixed, confused principle that's rotten in essence.

d) The MP3 section has been completely removed. Some of the old star-marked MP3 reviews have not been rewritten yet, but they soon will be.

e) Many of the "auxiliary" pages have been seriously rewritten or moved to a special "page obsolete" section for nostalgic/historic reasons. The changes to the Guidelines page are particularly important.

f) You can now donate to the site through PayPal (on the main page). At the present time, this will be a far better way of thanking me for the job than sending CDs or MP3s, which I'm already stuffed with until the Second Coming at least.

1. WHAT actually gets reviewed?

I only review CDs (as well as MP3-encoded albums - yes, life is too short and money is too scarce for a reviewer to achieve all his goals through purchasing CDs) that are in my possession. This means that the number of reviews, bands, albums, videos, etc., is fairly limited. However, I am occasionally trying to make the reviews themselves as informative as possible, giving not only my personal impressions (which is, of course, the main thing), but also bits of technical information, such as the date of release, track listings, interesting historical details, etc., etc. - granted, though, the primary purpose of the site is not to provide technical information, which you can find in abundance on, say, the All-Music Guide, not to mention artist-specific websites.

Above and before all else, PLEASE NOTE: my reviews are meant to represent my own, personal, and thus subjective take on the subject. I am NOT trying to establish any fully objective standards for rating music, believing in their impossibility, and am not offended by people disagreeing with my evaluations, meaning you shouldn't be offended by my disagreeing with yours. That said, whenever possible, I try to take other opinions of the album/artist in question into consideration, and if my opinion is highly different from the "consensus", I think it is my duty - no, not necessarily to "yield", but rather to provide a fair explanation of what makes it different for me.

2. HOW does the rating system work?

The ratings are given on a 1 - 10 scale, as on most record review sites. However, it is absolutely evident that, for example, a Beatles 10 can in no way be the same as, say, an Abba or a Traffic 10. For that reason at the beginning of each set of reviews I am assigning each of the reviewed band/artists to a specific class, from A (highest) to E (lowest), or, in numeric equivalent, a 1-5 scale. Of course, lots of bands would receive even lower ratings, but so far, such bands have not been represented on my site. The class depends on quite a few factors, such as the band's originality, longevity, listener-friendliness, etc. etc.

The overall rating of an album is thus represented by the formula "class [numeric equivalent] added to band rating". That is, if the Beatles are marked as Class A (5) and the LP Yellow Submarine gets a 5 (as compared to other Beatles' records), its overall rating is 10, etc. In general, the ratings follow my personal tastes. But whenever they stray far too seriously from the general public tastes, I usually make a warning.

For a more detailed explanation (so often required of me), go here.

3. WHAT is that "class" thing all about?

Many of the flames I receive act as if assigning a certain band to, say, Class C or D (i.e. giving it an overall rating of three or two) is a horrible crime; the phrase 'give band/artist so-and-so at least a five' is quite common among the received messages, despite all of its self-contradiction - it's as if somebody said 'this artist is at least the equal of Jesus Christ'. This is a misunderstanding. I must inform you that I love/like most of the bands on this site, except for those that receive a rating of one, and even these occasionally have some totally satisfying records. So here's a more detailed explanation:

Class A (formerly - 5 stars). An ideal band; sure enough, some of its output might be flawed, but it's the highest standard by which I judge everything else. It must meet such an awful lot of selective criteria that only three of the bands in existence (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who) have received this rating; Bob Dylan also passed the plank, although it was a tough choice for me - he's put out quite a solid load of stinkers. Still, the very inhumane strength of his 1965-66 records alone managed to get him through.

Class B (formerly - 4 stars). An immeasurably great band; don't worry if it hasn't made the biggest grade, because that's something up for the demi-gods to do. If you're looking for unlimited musical and stylistic innovation (the Byrds, the Kinks), awesome musicianship (Cream, Jimi Hendrix), or immaculate songwriting (CCR, John Lennon, Paul McCartney), start right here. Not a lot of people made this grade, either, though.

Class C (formerly - 3 stars). These bands are rarely as grand, impressive and cathartic as the above-mentioned, but they are still universally significant. As I see it here and now, this place is mostly reserved for extremely innovative bands that didn't always manage to complement the innovations and their, often unique and entirely original, style with fully competent songwriting (Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground, etc., etc.).

Class D (formerly - 2 stars). More or less the contrary - bands and artists with, quite often, lots of songwriting talent, but fairly limited in style and rarely innovative in anything. This section contains many names that'll make the biased person cringe - the Monkees, Rod Stewart, etc. - but I could care less; I love these artists' knack for creative, original melodies, and there they'll stay.

Class E (formerly - 1 star). Artists with occasional flashes of brilliance, but which never go far beyond 'cutesy'. For the most part, this is very high quality background music - tunes which can be easily enjoyed but which are more or less useless to listen to with a lot of attention. You can dance or groove to this stuff, but you can't really think about this stuff (Ringo Starr). Or it's vice versa: you can think a lot (Fruupp), but you sure don't enjoy the songs for their catchiness or sheer musical power.

4. HOW are the reviews structured?

The reviews are separated into three parts. The biggest one, Album reviews, is dedicated to regular studio/live releases. Hit packages deal with, naturally, greatest hits or such-like compilations. They are not given ratings, because this is simply unfair: it is obvious that most bands' (excluding, maybe, just a few from Class A or B) albums should always lose to greatest hits compilations. Finally, there is the video section, which discusses the few videos I have: they too are not given ratings. After all, they are not made (usually) by musicians themselves and even if they are I wouldn't want to rate moving pictures.

PS. That said, it's been a very long time since I reviewed a hit package or a video. I just don't like that stuff too much, preferring to concentrate on "The Real Meat".

5. HOW are solo careers of ex-band members treated?

Originally, I wasn't going to review such things at all; lately, though, I've become convinced that it is not quite right to pay all attention to a certain band and completely neglect the solo efforts of its members. After all, what's in a band name? So it is that after a certain band's set of reviews you'll happen to fall upon a line called 'Appendix: SOLO PROJECTS', where I'll be grouping solo efforts by certain band members, although in this case I never guarantee a complete discography. Also, records reviewed under this section will never get a 'record rating', just an overall one.

Note also that in some cases solo artists receive an entire page of their own. This might be due to several reasons, such as the immensity of a certain artist's catalog (Lou Reed; all of the ex-Beatles), or his vast and significant differencies from his past band (Peter Gabriel; Pete Townshend), or just to the fact that I'd written the page earlier and am too lazy to re-structure it as an appendix (Syd Barrett). In this case, the solo artist naturally gets an artist rating and record ratings of his own.

6. WHAT are your reviewing principles?

This is a question that I get asked quite often, in some form or other. This is, in brief, the model of the reviewing process:

a) I am never biased (at least, as far as my conscience tells me - I can't be held responsible for my subconscious!) towards any record or band that I am reviewing. I may be biased towards somebody before reviewing them, based on what few or not few music I've heard, but as soon as I pop the CD into the deck, I'm just worrying about the audio effect. That's the way I managed to cure myself of metalophobia and punkophobia, for instance;

b) normally, the album gets at least four listens - more if I feel it is more complex and untrivial than usual (Peter Gabriel's Security, for instance, took six listens to appreciate), and less if it is clear to me that it's trivial (Rod Stewart's Camouflage). Live albums usually get just one, maximum two listens - all you got to figure out is how these tracks relate to the studio originals;

c) based on the subjective audio impression, I'm trying to figure out why this album sounds so great or so shitty, including my comments onto the page;

d) from time to time reviews get re-written - some of my old ones, for instance, were far too short and sketchy. Also, I'm human, and may easily change my mind after, say, the tenth listen where I didn't change it after the ninth;

e) I'm not a musician or a specialist in musical theory (I'm a linguist by profession); I don't play any instruments and, while I do know how to tell an A from an E, do not expect any serious insights in the technical side of the reviewed music; for that, please look somewhere else. I only try to follow my emotions and explain what goes on inside my head during the listening process in words. If that sometimes feels dry or pedantic to you, that's not my fault, it's the fault of the English language;

f) keep in mind that I'm not a rabid fan of any band/artist (bar maybe the ones that are rated five stars, and even these are liable to getting a beating now and then). This means that my tone there is far less religious and maybe a little bit more offensive sometimes. Therefore, please pay attention to the overall ratings of the records: sometimes a review might seem to be bashing the album (due to some minor problems or some particularly stinkin' track), when in reality I love this album. And also keep in mind that any of the records that are rated from 10 and upwards are worth buying;

g) for more information see the guidelines for posting your comments.

7. WHY are the reviews so goddamn long?

Cuz I got lotsa things to say! Seriously, though, that's a frequent complaint, and in a few cases even I find myself merely dragging on trying to say something interesting when there's hardly anything interesting to say.

However, there is one "symbolic" purpose of making the reviews long - I think a long review is an adequate response to a long album (well, even a thirty-minute album is a long one). It seems kinda unfair to listen to a record that took so many efforts to write, record, and produce, and dismiss it with a mere one-liner even if it is pretty crappy. Sometimes, in fact, I found myself returning to a song that made no impression on me initially just because I need to write some more - and find some hidden charm in it that I haven't specifically noted before. Besides, writing long reviews usually provokes long user comments, and long user comments, even if they are angry and disagreeable, are definitely better than your standard "led zep rulz you suck".

8. CAN I E-mail you my comments?

YES. This site allows interactivity. You may add your comments either to the opening paragraph (which always ends with the question 'What do you think of artist so-and-so?') or to any album, hit package or video you wish. Just don't forget to mention their title somewhere so I can easily post your message. Two main restrictions, though - (a) please restrain yourselves from obscenities. I'm willing to post hatemail, but some of the most obscene letters will be mercilessly discarded; (b) please be informative. I am no longer accepting one-liners like "this album rules!". Also, I may feel free to publish some kind of answer to your messages if I'm in the mood to object you. So let's all try to be democratic within the limits of decency! For more information, please see the guidelines.

8. CAN I write reviews for this site?

NO. It's not that I doubt anybody's possibilities of writing reviews; I actually thought I had none until I tried, so I guess the process is fairly easy. It's just that this site primarily reflects my opinions, tastes, and conceptions - yours might significantly differ from mine, for better or for worse, and the poor listener/reader will be baffled at the disagreements over the ratings and everything. If I ever get tired of the process, I may pass the business on to somebody - right now, I think I'm coping. But feel free to comment on anything. Just don't mail me reviews of albums I don't have (although, wink wink, you might actually mail me albums I don't have). If you're really desperate, start a review site of your own. It's fairly easy and much more rewarding. Lots of people have done that.

9. WHAT ELSE does the site offer?

Besides the usual sections, you can also check out my general ratings page if you want to secure the best; a complete track listing for all of the songs on reviewed CDs if you're looking for a song title; be sure to check out my new additions and the links page. For some obscure musical philosophy, check out my essay page, but get ready to be bored (did I warn you I'm a really boring guy?) I've also started on a modest rock chronology, which lists all of the records reviewed on here in chronological order, so this is the place to come if you want to check out, say, which of the great psychedelic records came out before Sgt Pepper.

I'm also planning on some stuff other people have done on their sites - like choosing my favourite 'albums of the year', giving a general overview of 60's - early 70's rock, etc., but this will probably take some time, so concentrate on the reviews. So far, I've only put up a list of some of the most exceptional (revolutionary, quintessential, best, etc.) albums for each band, which can be accessed here. And, meanwhile, you can also check out my musical creed (at this point, rather obsolete, I'm afraid) and see for yourself whether this will or won't turn you off further reading.

Finally, you can address me with any further questions or ideas on the Message Board.

10. Once again - WHAT exactly, how, and how fast are you reviewing?

At the present time my CD/MP3 collection includes about four and a half thousand units, and it's growing - this stuff is addictive. However, don't expect me to review everything you could dream of. First of all, I'm not a musician; music is an important, but certainly not the only part of my life. Second, as you may have read in the creed, I originally was just a fan of classic rock which means 60's and first half of the 70's for me - before the onslaught of disco and punk. Third, I'm much more interested in assembling a thorough discography of a particular band/artist instead of diffusing myself over dozens of acts, picking just a couple of hit packages or best albums and ignoring the rest. Most of the acts that I cover are at the least decent and at the most great, so I guess you can find traces of genius even in some of their worst output. Finally, a complete overview of a band just helps one to understand its development and place in history with a lot more accuracy than just picking out the best. In all, I can certainly say that this site is band-oriented rather than album-oriented.

Do not also forget that I live in Russia where purchasing of CDs is an entirely different process from the one in the USA. Imported official releases are usually expensive beyond my purchasing abilities (one per week is an absolute peak for me, and only during 'good times'); so I'm mostly relying on their cheap copies produced in Russia (whether they're pirated or not, I'm not sure: they mostly say 'licensed' on them, but they're real cheap and I have my doubts. Nothing to do, though - either this or nothing). As you may guess, not everything is readily available for me, so gaps are inevitable. In many cases, however, the situation is such that I have already acquired a certain "gap" album, but simply have not had time to review it yet. A good way of verifying the situation, then, is checking out my constantly updated collection of CDs and MP3s.

11. Can I send you CDs and stuff to review?

Well, formally, yes, and I'd be grateful. However, at the present time I have more than two thousand albums to go through, and chances are that if you mail me CDs and MP3s that I have not been able to procure they will simply be sitting in a pile, gathering dust until Judgement Day; at best, by the time I get around to them, it may turn out that the Russian market has already churned them out and you just wasted your effort. Therefore, at the present time I would much rather appreciate you making a PayPal donation through the link on the main page if you really have this weird idea of thanking me for something.

12. WHAT should I refrain from?

PLEASE do NOT address me if you're in for trivia, lyrics, tablature, bootlegs, rarities and stuff like that. I don't know nothing about where to get Watt by Ten Years After or an unofficial video of John Lennon bed-ins in the States or, in fact, anywhere in the world (except Moscow). Requests of such kind only confuse and embarrass me. Almost every CD that I have I got in the Moscow market, and almost every lyrics that I found I found on the Web. Be creative and rely on your own forces. I only give recommendations.

13. What's up with the lame "song title + mail your ideas" puns?

Nothing, really. Just an archaism kept over from the old, old times when I was so desperately searching for new ideas to give the site extra personality. I've long since grown tired of it myself ("forced" does not even begin to describe some of these), but somehow I just can't let it go these days. Think of it as my own personal Queen of England.

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