To coincide with the PBS series "Rock and Roll," Harmony Books and Rolling Stone contributing editor (and series adviser) Robert Palmer got together to prepare a companion book for the programs.
The book is divided into four overview essays - "Introduction," "I Put a Spell On You," "Delinquents of Heaven, Hoodlums from Hell" and "The Church of the Sonic Guitar" - that give a brief overview of where the narration is planning to take the reader."Introduction" treats the reader to Palmer's own experience as a honky-tonk musician. As the chapters continue ("Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Be My Baby"), the historical foundations of rock music unfold.
"I Put a Spell On You" deals mainly with the gospel/soul fusion as well as funk, blues, rap and R&B and describes the gradual but continuous labeling of styles. The chapters "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," "A Rolling Stone" and "Crossroads" touch on the rise of the Motown, folk and blues influences in rock music.
Probably the most controversial read is "Delinquents of Heaven . . . ." A good deal of this essay focuses on the shady practices and deals of early music promoters and dips into the "payola" fiasco that ruined influential disc jockey Alan Freed and made Dick Clark a hero.
Chapters such as "Eight Miles High" and "Walk On the Wild-side" deal with the darker side of the music - sex, drugs and violence.
And in "The Church of the Sonic Guitar" . . . well, you can guess where that title is heading.
Overall, "Rock & Roll: an Unruly History" is a good, brief overview of the 50-year history of this popular music. From the jittering hips of Elvis Presley, the backporch jams of John T-Bone Walker and Eddie Durham to the teen angst of Nirvana, Metallica and Slayer, the list goes on. Other topics interwoven throughout the book include the development of punk in the '70s that influenced the '90s "grunge" brigade to new wave and techno, country-western, Southern rock and pop.
The pop-rock chapters fall a little short. The art and progressive rock movement that spawned such groups as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Boston, Styx and Journey is left out entirely. While some critics might not think these bands are worth mentioning, they were a significant part of the 1970s sound.
"Rock & Roll" also features a comprehensive and capsulized time line that runs across the pages, giving readers an idea of what era they've entered.
The pages are loaded with rare photos of bands, fads, significant hangouts and promoters. There is even a column of Top 10 lists in the back. But in keeping with the music's unruliness, a major factor has been left out - the albums on these lists appear just because they are in the Top 10. There is no order - and no attribution. So they could easily be Palmer's faves.
He did, however, leave space to list your own favorite Top 10. . . .