Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia, published in the late '60s, has outlived its usefulness as a rock reference book, surpassed by numerous others that cover even the pre-1970 period of rock &r oll with far greater detail. In its day, however, it had a pioneering influence. There were few rock books of any kind, let alone encyclopedias, when Roxon's book came out in 1969. As well as providing a basic starting point from which rock reference could expand, it gave the whole notion of documenting rock history, in a serious and well-written fashion, credibility in an era in which the whole notion of rock history was scorned by much of the mainstream media.
Roxon was Australian, but moved to New York in the '60s, in time to get in on rock just as it was taking off from pop into an art form. Unlike historians covering the era in latter decades, she had the advantage of having actually seen many of the acts she wrote about intheir prime, and having interviewed or known some of them. One of her close friends in the late '60s was Linda Eastman, then a photographer specializing in pictures of rock musicians. Roxon helped facilitate Eastman's relationship with Paul McCartney by, according to the Beatles breakup study Apple to the Core, advising Linda to invent a photography assignment to give her a pretext to visit London in late 1968. According to Apple to the Core authors Peter McCabe and Robert D. Schonfeld, "Linda's turnabout on her friends, once she'd installed herself with McCartney, included a total rejection of Lillian. Her former ally was very depressed and plunged into writing a rock encyclopedia." As a reference book, the encyclopedia had severe limitations. The discographical information was often incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate (as were, sometimes, the biographical entries). As a critic, Roxon could sometimes be acute and prescient; at other times her assessments sound dated or way off the mark, as when she declared that "with Cream, rock finally grew up," or claimed that when Freddie & the Dreamers first started making records, they were among hundreds of English bands playing better music than the Beatles. Some notable artists did not receive entries, particularly some soul musicians and pre-1960 rock pioneers. The prime value of the book, read several decades later, is in its fresh and contemporary look at performers still in the process of making their best recordings and defining themselves. Roxon had an incisive wit that was not afraid of blunt criticism, or of passionate zeal when it came to her favorites. Roxon continued to write about music after the encyclopedia was published, but unfortunately died, still young, in the early '70s. An updated edition of the book was published in the late '70s with new material grafted on by Ed Naha, whose style didn't mesh well with Roxon's. It's the original edition that should be sought.