Seven ages of rock will have you arguing for ages
Forget Hank Williams singing Move It On Over in 1947. And that ground- breaking 1939 boogie tune, Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama by Buddy Jones doesn’t get a look in. We can also forget Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed who is credited with first talking about rock and roll music in 1951.
A controversial take on just when rock music was born is the basis of an equally controversial BBC program being shown on ABC television, The Seven Ages of Rock.
The series producer William Naylor reckons the program has finally nailed the previously unspoken truth that rock was born when Jimi Hendrix first performed in London on September 24, 1966.
That’s how the first of the seven programs, My Generation, kicks off. And to prove the point, Naylor and his colleagues make no mention of Elvis Presley and ignore the high school music revolution of the 1950s, despite the legacy left from this for everyone from the Beatles through the Rolling Stones to Nirvana and Wilco.
That first show grabs your attention because of the use of brilliant archival footage of not just Hendrix but also Cream, the Yardbirds and the Who as well as well edited interviews with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Pete Townsend and Keith Richards.
The two memorable highlights are when Baker jokes about how he would torment Mick Jagger who he dismisses as an effeminate little bloke (“He’s probably still scared of me,” says Baker) and when Richards who does a delta blues version of Satisfaction, demonstrating his guitar skills and his deep musical roots.
Throughout the series there are precise and insightful commentary from music critics who lived the era.
But the real joy comes with later programs, particularly the portrayal of punk in Blank Generation and the hugely influential American college rock of the 1980s seen in Left of the Dial.
Blank Generation – named after the Richard Hell and Voidoids song - will thrill anyone who experienced the adrenalin-soaked surge of the Sex Pistols, the brilliant Iggy and the Stooges and the New York Dolls that preceded them and everyone who followed.
As Pistol’s frontman Johnny “Rotten” Lydon tells the show, “The New York punks were bohemians or aspired to be, and the London punks were yobs or aspired to be. We suffer and you can fuck off for it.”
There is some essential historical footage, including the Pistols playing, with dripping irony, the Stooges’ No Fun, at their last concert in San Francisco.
Left of the Dial (which is on ABC1 next Thursday, February 11 at 8.30pm) takes its name from that great Replacements’ song (heard on the sensational album, Tim) and chronicles American alternative, or college, rock.
It picks the start as being that game changing band from Athens, Georgia, R.E.M. who stunned music fans in April, 1980 when they kicked off a never-ending tour (which lasted almost 10 years)that introduced Peter Buck and Michael Stipe to the world but, more importantly, inspired a new generation of musicians.
Many of these kids happened to live in and around Seattle, Washington, including the future members of Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana. Another band picked up the trick on the other side of the USA, the Pixies from Boston.
By the early 90s this produced the sound of the times, brilliant, nervous, anxious and gut-wrenching, grinding together in a scream that hit its highest point with Nirvana’s soul-baring Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Some critics have slammed the show as being pretentious (it defiantly picks its own heroes and ignores plenty of others), sexist (apart from Patti Smith and a few other punk bands women are few and far between) and elitist (there is an assumed royal family of rock).
But any realistic assessment will put this down as the best documentary series on modern music of all time. It has plenty to make you sit in awe and just watch. But there’s also a bucketful of contentious material which should have fans arguing and kicking out the jams all over the place.
It’s made by fans for fans and if you love rock and roll, you’ll want to not just watch it on TV but get the DVDs and keep it in the top drawer.
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