Sunday, August 24, 2014

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

By Greil Marcus


Genre: Rock


Greil Marcus may be the best living music writer on the planet. He has a scholarly edge but that doesn't hide his emotional enthusiasm for the music he writes about. He writes in an almost free associational way that fills you with facts and emotions but always managed to come back to his point and his passion.

That is what makes his new book, The History of Rock N' Roll in Ten Songs so utterly fascinating. The author takes a different approach to the history of rock. Gone are the linear citing of performers and dates. Instead he takes ten songs that he sees as representing the essence of the music and describes their hold on us. In the chapters for each song, he tells about the first recording of the song but will also mention later version showing how they become timeless in our psyche.

A couple of the songs he mentions are puzzling. "Shake That Action" by the Flamin' Groovies is in my opinion, one of the great trash heap songs with little redeeming value. But the author, and many other rockers, obviously disagree with me. Most importantly, Marcus makes his points about the immortality of the song quite well even if he doesn't convince me. Other songs like the Buddy Holly's "Crying , Waiting, Hoping" and the standard oldie "In The Still of The Night" are much better choices and their greatest is easily understood. Marcus does not fail to forget the later masterpieces either paying special attention to "Transmission" by Joy Division. The author in his unique style brings importance to these songs and is saying...Yes, the performances is awesome but the meaning and emotion of the actual songs is also part of the magic of rock 'n' roll.

It is nice we still have veteran writers like Greil Marcus around. It seems like most have either retired (Robert Hilburn) or died too early (Lester Bangs). The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs can be read as either an unconventional history of rock or a fine example of literary prose. Either way, it is an enjoyable and informative read. The one thing I would recommend is to listen to the song before reading its chapter. Most of these songs and recordings can be found on YouTube.

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