One of the ways I've gathered information is from my reference books. It's taken me years to collect all these and I highly recommend that you look out for some of them from second-hand book dealers.
Lets start with
Compiled by Edward Greenfield, Ivan March and Dennis Stevens, the first volume came out in 1960. The introduction calls it "a simple and immediate guide to choice from records available in this country " (the UK). About two thirds of the volume is devoted to composers, with a page or two about each one, then comparative reviews of the LPs that were available. They used the star system, with the recordings they considered best getting 3 stars. In the first few pages I'm glad to see ASD 287, Beecham conducting Beethoven's 2nd, getting 3 stars, as does SAX 2260, Klemperer conducting Beethoven's Pastoral. The reviews make fascinating reading, and sometimes spur me on to listen to recordings I hadn't thought of. Equally well, sometimes I disagree with their opinions.
As well as the listings under "Composers" these are sections called Concerts, Band Concerts, Stereo Demonstration records, Instrumental Recitals, Operatic and Song Recitals, and Light Music, and a fascinating section "A basis for a stereo collection", with 50 suggested records.
The next three volumes came out in 1961, 1963, and 1966. By 1968 they needed two volumes to cover all the records issued since the previous volume, A-Mc and Me-Z. The last issue was in 1972, again in 2 volumes. By volume 5 they added Robert Layton to the reviewers.
If you manage to find some, you'll see that the complicating factor is that later volumes refer to the page number in earlier volumes, for LPs that have already been reviewed. Volume 1 goes up to page 316. Volume 2 starts at page 317, and goes up to page 660. Volume 3 takes you up to page 1102. For example, on page 717 of Volume 3 there's an article about Bizet's Arlesienne Suites. There's one newly issued recording. All the rest of the recordings have been previously reviewed, so you're referred to page 50 and page 353. Hmm. So those reviews are in volume 1 and volume 2. Volume 5 starts again at page 1, and you're on page 1611 by the end of volume 8. "Volumes V & VI between them offer a current reassessment including records that were originally reviewed in (previous) volumes ."
There were companion volumes issued by the Long Playing Record Library, A guide to the Bargain Classics, issued in three volumes.
In 1974 The Stereo Record Guide Treasury was published, reviewing "Concerts" of Orchestral Music, Instrumental Recitals, Vocal Recitals, and Humorous Records. Volume 5 onwards of the Stereo Record Guide did not have space for these.
The successor to The Stereo Record Guides was
Again written by Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Ivan March. These are much easier to find than the Stereo Record Guide volumes. First published in 1975, the Second Edition in 1977, followed by The New Penguin Stereo Record and Cassette Guide in 1982, The Complete Penguin Stereo Record and Cassette Guide in 1984, and the 1986 Penguin Guide to Compact Discs, Cassettes and LPs. Oh dear, CDs. But there's still reviews of LPs, as we draw towards the end of the LP era. Again they make fascinating reading, and my 1975 & 1977 volumes are very well worn. They can be very useful when you're trying to decide whether to buy a particular recording or not, though again I don't always agree with the reviews.
Another set I have always loved is
Published in 1962 to 1963 my original set was 5 very fragile paperbacks. I was delighted to eventually obtain a hardback ex-library set that came in 4 volumes.
In the hardback, Volume 1 is Orchestral Music A-L. Volume 2 is Orchestral Music M-Z. Volume 3 is Chamber & Instrumental Music, Volume 4 is Opera & Vocal Music (in the paperback this is 2 volumes)
Music on Record discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each performer and recording of a composer's works. For example in his article on Beethoven Piano Concertos, he certainly isn't only looking at stereo recordings. He starts with Schnabel, and moves on to Kempff, Backhaus, Arrau, Rubinstein, Edwin Fischer, Solomon, Curzon, Gould, Badura-Skoda, Annie Fischer, Katchen, Horowitz & Richter-Haaser. He then lists all the recordings he'd referred to. This of course covers 1950s mono recordings as well as LP transfers of 78s.
I've always found Gammond fascinating reading and have learnt a great deal from these books.
So what if you want to know more about mono recordings?
was published in 1955. A massive hardback of nearly 1,000 pages, it covers both LPs and 78s that were available at the time. It follows a similar layout to The Stereo Record Guides, which were it's successor. I find The Record Guide has very idiosyncratic reviews, but it is still useful to check up on their opinion of early mono issues. Recently a customer asked me for my opinion on Schlussnus, and I found a review of LXT 2539 that said "the LP recording is very poor and liable to frequent distortion" while the 78rpm issues of some of the recordings were fine.
There were two previous volumes, The Record Year published 1952 "A guide to the year's gramophone records, including a complete guide to long playing records". And The Record Year 2 published 1953. In 1956 "The Record Guide Supplement" was issued.
What else have I got on my reference shelves?
Three Volumes, issued between 1979 and 1984, consisting of an article on each Opera, written by highly respected reviewers, comparing different recordings, and including arias recorded separately. A wonderful resource for opera-loving LP collectors, and again very readable simply to browse through.
As I'm very interested in Choral Music my copy has been very frequently referred to. I'm fortunate that it's a hardback and has stood up to heavy use! Published in 1991 this follows the same layout as Opera on Record, with an article on each work by well-known reviewers, ranging from Monteverdi Vespers to Janacek Glagolitic Mass.
Alan Blyth also edited Song on Record in two volumes.
Last but not least is an almost complete run of
Mine start in 1954 and go all the way to 1990. They were issued quarterly, so I have kept one issue for each year. I find them invaluable for checking when an LP was first available, and how long they remained for sale. And for seeing what recordings of a particular work were available in, say 1966. One of my customers compiled the following list of what is in them:
Up to March 66 All available LPs
June 66 to Sep 68 Supplements to March 66 (i.e do not include records issued before April 66)
Dec 68 to Dec 85 All available records
March 86 to June 90 Supplements to Dec 85 (i.e. do not include records before Jan 85)
No Sep 90
Dec 90 onwards LPs included in CD catalogues, so no separate LP catalogues
I've made a quick online survey of the above. I'm delighted to see that Peter Gammond's Music on Record is freely available, as are the Penguin Stereo Record Guides. Alan Blyth's books are also easily obtained. The Stereo Record Guide volumes are much harder to find and sadly go for what I might call "silly prices". They may still occasionally be found on the music shelves of second-hand bookshops if you're very lucky. The Sackville-West Record Guides look freely available. Various of the Gramophone Catalogues may be found on the web.