Encyclopedia of Popular Music

The Encyclopedia of Popular Music - 4th Edition (10 volumes)
The Encyclopedia of Popular Music - 4th Edition by Colin Larkin.jpg
AuthorColin Larkin
CountryUnited Kingdom, United States
SubjectMusic, Reference work
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
Media typePrint Hardback
The Encyclopedia of Popular Music - 5th Concise Edition
AuthorColin Larkin
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectMusic, Reference work
PublisherOmnibus Press
Publication date
Media typePrint Hardback

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] Described by The Times as "the standard against which all others must be judged".[2]

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] He financed and founded a new company, Square One Books, to publish the encyclopedia. The first ion of the encyclopedia "pushed Larkin to the brink of bankruptcy".[3] It was a four-volume set and went into print in 1992.

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

In 1995, Microsoft licensed the text for their CD-ROM, Microsoft Music Central, which sold 497,000 copies.[4]

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 or-in-chief on the project, running a "surprisingly small scale cottage industry", stating "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..."[4]


The Encyclopedia of Popular Music covers popular music from the early 1900s to the present day, including folk, blues, country, 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 ion much more frequently than more static subjects."[5]

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 ion of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music is now in its 5th ion.[6]

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

In May 2011 Omnibus Press released the Amazon Kindle ion of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.[7] The text for this ion has not been updated and the Kindle ion has the same content as the 2007 ion.


Concise Editions[]

Spin offs[]


  1. ^ a b c The Times, The Knowledge, Christmas ion, 22 December 2007- 4 January 2008.
  2. ^ This information was obtained from Hi-Arts.co.uk Archived 15 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ '"Who'd put the Everly Brothers above Elvis", Evening Standard, 20 December 2006.
  4. ^ a b The Collector, No. 20 COLIN LARKIN, Record Collector, Issue 314, September 2005.
  5. ^ OUP online
  6. ^ The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, concise 5th ion, pub. Omnibus Press July 2007.
  7. ^ "The Encyclopedia of Popular Music eBook: Colin Larkin: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 28 December 2019.