The other day the mail brought me a rare copy of the long out-of-print Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records, the first edition (1983) of the smartest record guide ever written. The book focuses on punk, its mentors, and its protegees, generally a crystalization of the remarkable musical period from 1977-1982. There are short reviews of amazing-sounding bands that I’d never heard of–Crooks, Dark, DMZ, Dogs, Pearl Harbour, Nitecaps–and a section on anthologies, deleted from later editions, that makes me drool. The writing is top-notch, too, succinct and evocative but seldom glib.*

The awesome Trouser Press web site faithfully reprints every entry from all five Trouser Press record guides, so if you want to know a little bit about Craig Bevan & the Tourists, you’re in luck. But I like having the original books, too, because I like reading the Trouser writers’ early assessments of the teeny-tiny groups that would later become huge, bands like R.E.M., Husker Du, the Replacements, INXS. Unlike Dave Marsh’s snotty early 1980s Rolling Stone guides (which obnoxiously and foolishly write off a lot of seminal bands, including Television, Pere Ubu, the Saints, and X), these pieces almost always prove prescient.

Along with “punk,” “indie,” and “alternative,” “New Wave” has become a meaningless, co-opted term (as editor Ira Robbins noted even in the now 23-year-old introduction), but these open-minded writers really were in touch with what was then new–and is still now vital.

* (Ira Robbins on the Damned: “Getting a cogent critical perspective on their recorded oeuvre is like attempting to read the label on a spinning 45–possible, but elusive”; Jim Green on Colin Newman’s A-Z: “The overall effect at times suggests being drugged and locked in a room with an inquisitor shouting questions that don’t quite make sense.”)