The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs Review

The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs

Greil Marcus

history

Rock ‘n’ roll music as its evolved has become harder and harder to define. You often hear a couple different approaches to define rock ‘n’ roll: either talking about the music itself (any type of music coming out of a combination of blues, country, New Orleans jazz, and gospel) or the spirit of the music (youthful and rebellious).

When defining the history of rock ‘n’ roll, legendary rock critic Greil Marcus argues in his new book The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs that simply looking at who is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland isn’t enough. Marcus was the first reviews editor for Rolling Stone, in certainly would belong in a museum of his own if there was one for rock journalism. After listing every inductee into the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame, Marcus states there is no better way to capture and define rock ‘n’ roll then the music itself, then defining ten songs that characterize the lifeblood of rock ‘n’ roll.

The ten songs chosen are by no means the obvious choices in terms of the most monumental (that would be more “Rock Around the Clock”, “God Save the Queen”, etc) or the most comprehensive (almost every song here was written in the late 50’s or early 60’s), but it’s certainly a fascinating choice of ten songs. Like any good critic, Marcus uses the 10 songs as a gateway into a larger theme, idea, or emotion that a large portion of rock music encompasses. Marcus uses Joy Division’s “Transmission”, the second newest song on the list, as a way to explore rock’s sense of rebellion against the absurdity of life. He uses “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” by Buddy Holly and “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong to talk about the Beatles, their covers of each song, and what it meant to the band at that point in their careers.

“Shake Some Action” by the Flaming Groovies – Just one of the ten songs Marcus chooses.

 

The book doesn’t just talk about one version of each song, but for each song, discusses several versions of the songs, and in many occasions, admits the original wasn’t the best of the bunch. “To Know Him Is to Love Him”, a doo-wop tune first done by Phil Spector’s band the Teddybears, is discussed more in terms with Amy Winehouse’s version, and how the song was actually truly meant for her, nearly 60 years after it was written. There is also far more than 10 songs discussed, as this is truly a pretty loose structure for which Marcus shares his observations and ideas on any number of things: Robert Johnson’s legacy, the horrific murder of James Byrd, Jr., the ordinary brilliance of Buddy Holly, or the troubled life of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Marcus’s writing works a lot like his brain: moving from association to association, and if you don’t pay close enough attention, you’ll be wondering why he’s talking about the Superbowl half-time show when he was talking about Etta James.

Above all else, Marcus’s gift for description is unprecedented to anything else I’ve read on music. It’s no secret music can be hard to describe, but Marcus explains the sounds, emotion, and movement of the music better than anyone else I’ve read. The incredible detail and surprising metaphors give you a much deeper appreciation of the music, and truly bring each of these songs to life, even if you couldn’t care less about the Cyndi Lauper. It makes you want to relive each and every song, which in a perfect world, is what music writing should do.

LittlebyListen_Scores_9

The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs Review

I’ll Take You There Book Review

I’ll Take You There

Greg Kot

I'll Take You There

There are few artists more beloved by the entire music community than gospel legend Mavis Staples. Mavis was celebrated a few months back in Chicago with a tribute concert for her 75th birthday at Auditorium Theatre with the likes of Arcade Fire, Greg Allman, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, and more showing up to celebrate her birthday and legacy. There is also a documentary debuting at SXSW this year titled Mavis!, celebrating the joyful singer’s legacy and spirit. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who has produced her last two albums, even went as far as calling Mavis an “angel” when I saw him last summer, saying “if an angel’s purpose in life is to make other’s feel better, that’s exactly what Mavis is.” I got around to reading Chicago Tribune critic and Sound Opinion’s host Greg Kot’s new biography I’ll Take You There about Mavis, the Staples Singers, and her family’s legacy this past month, and now understand why Mavis and her family have so much adoration from so many sides of the music community.
Continue reading “I’ll Take You There Book Review”

I’ll Take You There Book Review

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Book Review

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Jeff Chang

cant-stop

Hip hop culture is often depicted as violent, greedy, and misogynistic, but by understanding its roots and the perspective of those delivering the material; you’ll find a very different story. Jeff Chang, a writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and Vibe, paints an extensive history from the late 60’s to the start of the new millennium on what were the circumstances that birthed hip hop, and how did it evolve and flourish. Chang does well at focusing on the catalyst events that drove the attitudes, lyrics, and perspectives of hip hop’s pioneers. From street wars in Jamaica, to the crippling effects of Reaganomics of African Americansf the ‘80s, to the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, Chang gives some textured histories of  some of the most vital moments in hip hop history.
Continue reading “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Book Review”

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Book Review

The Rest is Noise Book Review

The Rest is Noise

The Rest Is Noise Book Review

Of the three major musical categories (classical, jazz, and popular music), classical is easily my biggest musical blind spot. While I know your major works like Beethoven’s 5th and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, I am pretty lacking understanding classical music history beyond a couple classes I took in college. The Rest is Noise offers what appears to be a fairly comprehensive look at 20th century classical music, in a way that binds various artists, movements, and pieces together fluently.
Continue reading “The Rest is Noise Book Review”

The Rest is Noise Book Review

Mo’ Meta Blues Review

Mo’ Meta Blues

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman

Mo' Meta Blues Book Review

One of the most admirable acts of the last 20 years has to be the Roots, a hip hop band that is really the last of its kind remaining, that sticks true to its convictions even though they now have a cushy gig on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Arguably the brains behind the operation, drummer and producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, not only has piloted the group to gradual greater and greater successes, but has taken on a variety of other notable projects over the years, from producing D’Angelo’s modern touchstones like Voodoo and Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Pt. 1 and 2 to musical director on the Chappelle Show. Questlove’s new memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, is a refreshingly creative memoir that not only gives great insight into who Questlove is but also tells numerous insider stories that are fascinating and humorous.
Continue reading “Mo’ Meta Blues Review”

Mo’ Meta Blues Review

Shakey Book Review

Shakey

Jimmy McDonough

Shakey book review, Neil Young's biography

Maybe more than any artist, over our near two year span, we have heaped piles upon piles of praise on Neil Young, landing on ten of our top ten lists, including the top spot for best fall albums (Harvest), best memorial song (“Needle and the Damage Done”), and even best solo career. We even dedicated a week to top ten Neil Young albums. So it’s probably no surprise, I spent the last four months reading the goliath biography Shakey, one of the most in-depth and thorough biographies I have ever taken on.

Jimmy McDonough, the book’s biographer, has a definite dog in the fight with Shakey: he is a long-time fan of Neil and doesn’t believe any other artist can reach the highs Neil Young can reach. But fortunately for the book, he also knows Young has created the lowest of lows, giving this book a very clear and balanced voice. Shakey was named after Young’s nickname among his closest peers, and McDonough writes as if he has been let in the inner circle, which with Neil, isn’t easy to do.

Shakey starts down the Young family tree and works its way all the way through to Young’s music in the late 90’s. McDonough points to his mother Rassy particularly as the reason for many of Young’s harsh and independent ways. The book points to this independent spirit and need to keep moving forward and changing as Young’s greatest asset and weakness: it’s the reason Young has never made a concession with his creative direction but also the reason he has left so many friends face down and bloodied in his path. Even with all the times he has turned his back on his closest friends, whether it the members of Crazy Horse, his manager Elliott Roberts, or producer David Briggs, he still works and keeps his closest friends near him on Broken Arrow Ranch in Santa Cruz.

I especially loved McDonough’s depiction of all the drama with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, from Young’s strange rivalry with Stephen Stills to his dismay with the prima donna ways of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Also, learning in depth about the weirdness of the Tonight’s the Night sessions and the real family reason behind Young’s 80’s career slump really speaks volumes about the human behind that brute façade.

What really separates Shakey is McDonough’s ongoing interview with Young that goes through the entire book, sort of like reading a book with DVD commentary from the protagonist. Young’s comments are honest, heartfelt, and often blunt, but that’s who Young is, and why we at LxL love him so much.

Shakey Book Review

Fargo Rock City Review

Fargo Rock City

Fargo Rock City book review

I saw Chuck Klosterman speak at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith & Music about a month ago, and one of the funniest things he said was he originally submitted his heavy metal history book, Fargo Rock City, as an academic book about the history of metal and the fascination of rural and surburban America with it. This is funny for a number of reasons: 1) there is far too much swearing for it to be an academic book, and 2) the book is largely opinion-based and features tons of Klosterman’s famous mind trails where he goes off into completely different subject for analogy or comparison and 3) who writes an academic book about a frivolous genre like heavy metal? Klosterman explained that for some strange reason, a woman at one of the academic presses actually read the book and sent him a pretty funny email explaining that the book is good, but it should be more memoir than academic history book. Fortunately for us, the North-Dakota born culture critic followed her advice, and wrote one of the essential modern-day books about music on a much neglected yet hugely popular genre in rock history.
Continue reading “Fargo Rock City Review”

Fargo Rock City Review