Colin Larkin

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Colin Larkin
Colin Larkin 3 JR.JPG
Born1949 (age 7273)
Dagenham, Essex, England
  • Writer
  • entrepreneur
  • publisher
  • musician

Colin Larkin (born 1949) is a British writer and entrepreneur. He founded, and was the editor-in-chief of, the Encyclopedia of Popular Music , [1] described by The Times as "the standard against which all others must be judged". [2]


Along with the ten-volume encyclopedia, Larkin also wrote the book All Time Top 1000 Albums , [3] and edited the Guinness Who's Who of Jazz , [4] the Guinness Who's Who of Blues , [5] and the Virgin Encyclopedia Of Heavy Rock . [6] He has over 650,000 copies in print to date. [7]

Background and education

Larkin was born in Dagenham, Essex. [8]

Larkin spent much of his early childhood attending the travelling fair where his father, who worked by day as a plumber for the council, moonlighted on the waltzers to make ends meet. It was in the fairground, against a background of Little Richard on the wind-up 78 rpm turntables, that Larkin acquired his passion for the world of popular music. [9]

He studied at the South East Essex County Technical High School and at the London College of Printing, where he took typography and graphic design. [8]

Art and publishing

His company Scorpion Publishing published John Gorman's trilogy of Labour history, Banner Bright, [10] To Build Jerusalem and Images of Labour. [11] Music books at this time included Johnny Rogan's Timeless Flight: The Definitive Story of The Byrds [12] and Bob Dylan, His Unreleased Recordings. [13] [8]

In 1989 Larkin formed Square One Books to create a multi-volume Encyclopedia of Popular Music , and to publish music-related books. He published additional music biographies including those on Graham Bond, R.E.M., Eric Clapton, The Byrds and Frank Zappa. [14]

In a pre-internet age, the work required to create an encyclopedia of popular music was considerable. Aided by a team of contributors, a fast-growing library of music magazines, books and the music itself, an eventual 3000 vinyl singles, 3500 vinyl albums, 4500 music biographies and 38,000 CDs, [15] Larkin began compiling the Encyclopedia.

In 1992 the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music went into print. [16] It was quickly recognised as monumental: Rolling Stone described the work as "musical history in the making", and in The Times they called it "a work of almost frightening completeness". Musician Jools Holland called it "without question the most useful reference work on popular music".

Later activities

Square One developed their own in-house software using 4th Dimension. [17]

Over 50 separate titles followed the creation of the Encyclopedia's database, and in 1997 Larkin sold Square One Books to American data company Muze. [17] Larkin became full-time editor-in-chief and ran the encyclopedia as a cottage industry, with a team of fewer than ten contributors, who in terms of wordcount were "producing an Agatha Christie novel a month". [15]

From September 2008, Larkin ceased all involvement with Muze Inc. or any of its related companies following the closure of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music as a stand-alone product and his subsequent redundancy.[ citation needed ] On 15 April 2009, it was announced that most of the assets of Muze Inc. were purchased by Macrovision. [18]

In 2008, Larkin launched a new website whose original inspiration had come from the All Time Top 1000 Albums , initially called This would later change its name to become the multi-media rating site and iPhone app, (Best Things On Earth).[ citation needed ] Larkin closed down this website in August 2018 and re-directed the content to He is CEO and editor-in-chief of Musopedia Ltd.

He wrote the liner notes for the Rolling Stones' curated project Confessin' the Blues. [19]

In November 2020, Larkin released his latest tome, Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965. His first non-music book, it was a celebration of the classic Pan Books paperbacks, incorporating full-colour reproductions of over 300 of the original cover artworks. [20] The book was nominated for the H. R. F. Keating Award in 2021 and reached the shortlist final eight. [21] A paperback edition was published in May 2022. [22]


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  1. Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th Edition 10 vols) Oxford University Press (UK/US) 2006
  2. This information was obtained from Archived 15 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Larkin, Colin, All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2000.
  4. Larkin, Colin (ed.), the Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995
  5. Larkin, Colin (ed.), the Guinness Who's Who of Blues (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995
  6. Larkin, Colin (ed.), Virgin Encyclopedia of Heavy Rock, The, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.
  7. "OUP Online". Archived from the original on 9 July 2007.
  8. 1 2 3 All about the guru of groove, Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music
  9. "Who'd Put The Everly Brothers Above Elvis", Evening Standard 20 December 2006.
  10. Gorman, J. (5 November 1986). Banner Bright. Scorpion Cavendish Ltd. ISBN   978-0905906485.
  11. Images of Labour : selected memorabilia from the National Museum of Labour History Gorman, J. (1985) , London. London: Scorpion.
  12. Timeless Flight: The Definitive Story of The Byrds by renowned author Johnny Rogan, Rogan, J., Scorpion Publications / Dark Star, London, 1981 Abe Books
  13. Bob Dylan, His Unreleased Recordings: Cable, Paul: 9780028703602: Books. ASIN   002870360X.
  14. Slaven, Neil (1996). Electric Don Quixote: The Definitive Story of Frank Zappa. Omnibus Press.
  15. 1 2 The Collector No. 20: Colin Larkin, Record Collector , Issue 314, Sept 2005.
  16. With a head full of hits, The Knowledge, The Times, 22 December – 4 January 2008.
  17. 1 2 Rodger, Jennifer (28 August 2000). "Colin Larkin: How I stay on top of pop". The Independent on Sunday .
  18. "Macrovision Agrees to Acquire Assets of Muze, Inc". Reuters. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  19. "UK: The Rolling Stones curate Confessin' The Blues in collaboration with BMG and Universal, with donations going to Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation". 31 July 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  20. Larkin, Colin (November 2020). Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965. Telos Publishing. ISBN   978-1-84583-988-8.
  21. "Archive: 2021 Awards". Retrieved 7 January 2022.
  22. Larkin, Colin (May 2022). Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965. Telos Publishing. ISBN   978-1-84583-203-2.