I stumbled across MusicPlasma [update 2007-03-28: now called LivePlasma] — “the music visual search engine.” Type in a band name and it draws nifty diagrams of related bands. The graphs are navigable, sort of. (My experience indicates that the company hasn’t worked out all the kinks yet.)
Physical proximity within a map indicates musical “closeness.” Also, bands are clustered by genre and epoch: a search for REO Speedwagon lists every band I heard on the radio when I was in grade school. (I once saw Supertramp in concert. And Styx! That was my favorite band in 1977.)
Next I entered “Camel,” a band I’ve been digging for 20 years. The resulting diagram contains nearly every band I listen to regularly, and several I should be. It contains every major progressive rock band I can think of.
Some of the bands are surprising — the “Beatles?” Who are they?
These charts remind me of the Family Tree diagrams drawn by Pete Frame in the 1980s. The one I remember best is from the 20th Anniversary Box Set for Jethro Tull. Here it is, in glorious grayscale mid-fidelity complete with JPEG artifacting: Pete Frame’s Family Tree for Jethro Tull, 1968-1988.
Frame’s family trees are dense with the chronology of rock history; the charts show the incestuous development of the best bands of the 1970s and 1980s. The first book, Rock Family Trees, traces Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, The Police, King Crimson, Fleetwood Mac, the Yardbirds, and many more. If you’ve ever pored over liner notes while the record was playing, you need to see this book.
The second volume, More Rock Family Trees, contains Jeff Beck, Black Sabbath, CSN&Y, The Cult, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd, Santana, Sex Pistols, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Smiths, Spirit, The Velvet Underground, and about a thousand more. Cool, cool, cool.