The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs
by Greil Marcus
Once again, I am reviewing a Rock and Roll book. I get sucked in by these books because I love to listen to good old rock ‘n’ roll. Every time I do read one of these books, I have to spend more time listening to the songs and watching the videos that are discussed in the book, than I do reading the book. This time I even spent an afternoon watching the movie Cadillac Records. I still have to find the time to watch the 2007 film about Joy Division, Control. It’s on my to do list. Both of these films are featured in the book, and even though I could find some clips on YouTube, I still felt like I needed to spend the time watching the whole movie, so that I could really understand what Mr. Marcus was trying to say. By the way, I really enjoyed Cadillac Records.
Mr. Marcus calls this book The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, but really he just uses each of the songs as a springboard. In each chapter he talks about ten, twenty, or even more songs, and many of them are recorded by two or more artists. He goes into great detail about many of the songs. He describes parts of the songs, such as the way certain passages are performed by the guitarist or keyboard player, and how they manipulate the sound to create a feeling in the listener. He also goes into a lot of detail explaining the way the singer uses his voice to express emotions or just portray a feeling.
Somehow, much of the time, when I listen to the song that he is analyzing in such great detail, I don’t hear it. He makes you feel like you will be hearing something really special, but when I listen, I just hear a Rock and Roll song. Some are better than others, but my ear just can’t hear the subtleties that he is talking about. I’m not a trained musician, but I don’t feel like he is trying to target musicians with this book. He isn’t talking about the technical aspects of the performances, such as notes and chords and techniques of playing the passages, that would interest a musician. So I really think that I am his target audience.
All in all, I had fun with this book. I listened to some great music that I hadn’t heard in quite a few years, and maybe a few songs that I had never heard. I watched a lot of clips on YouTube. That was fun, too. I got to watch a great movie. But I thought that Mr. Marcus tried a little too hard. He was a bit over-the-top with his analysis of many of the songs. Sometimes his writing seemed to be nearly like stream-of-conscientiousness prose. It was a little difficult at times.
I give this book 3 1/2 Stars out of 5. If you want to spend some time reading, and then even more time listening to Rock music and watching videos and movies, then this is the book for you. You will enjoy the guided tour.
I received this book for free from NetGalley and the publisher, Yale University Press, in return for an honest review.
Unlike all previous versions of rock ’n’ roll history, this book omits almost every iconic performer and ignores the storied events and turning points that everyone knows. Instead, in a daring stroke, Greil Marcus selects ten songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, then proceeds to dramatize how each embodies rock ’n’ roll as a thing in itself, in the story it tells, inhabits, and acts out—a new language, something new under the sun.
“Transmission” by Joy Division. “All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James and then Beyoncé. “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” first by the Teddy Bears and almost half a century later by Amy Winehouse. In Marcus’s hands these and other songs tell the story of the music, which is, at bottom, the story of the desire for freedom in all its unruly and liberating glory. Slipping the constraints of chronology, Marcus braids together past and present, holding up to the light the ways that these striking songs fall through time and circumstance, gaining momentum and meaning, astonishing us by upending our presumptions and prejudices. This book, by a founder of contemporary rock criticism—and its most gifted and incisive practitioner—is destined to become an enduring classic.
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (September 2, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
About the Author
Greil Marcus lives in Oakland, CA. His books include “Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music” and “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century.” With Werner Sollors he is co-editor of “A New Literary History of America.”
Book Description and Details are from Amazon. The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs