Lest we forget that, for all our frenzied activity surrounding audio electronics, the result should be a better appreciation of music. For many of us, the very thought conjures up images of great performers belting out an aria, classic show tune or even a jazzy Dixieland piece. That said, there are many of you whose life has been defined by one single genre; rock. Whether it’s aging Mods helicoptering or reliving your youth with leather–clad hair metal bands, most of us have rocked at one time or another.
Alan Freed, now better known for introducing the concept of payola to Middle America, exhorted everyone to Rock, Rock, Rock with his series of films from 1956 to 1959. His shallowly disguised artist promotions were clad in thin plots and graced with terrible acting. On TV, American Bandstand and Top of the Pops dispensed with the fluff and simply presented the talent as is, albeit with usually lip synced performances. Later efforts, notably Ron Howard’s American Graffiti, Barry Levinson’s Diner, and Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity skillfully melded our obsessions with pop music into entertaining and enduring tales of youth and yearning.
Augmenting the long American tradition of fictionalizing popular music is a new crop of shows that take you behind the scenes, and I’m not talking Spinal Tap! Now could be the best time in rock and roll history to not only understand the forces that propelled the idiom from R&B wannabe to worldwide master of popular entertainment, but to get a glimpse into how the Big Bois and Grrls get the job done.
If you haven’t seen The Wrecking Crew on Blu–ray or streaming, you should have your head examined! Denny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco, “…the most recorded guitarist in history,” in 2008 crafted a loving portrait of the L.A. session musicians that fueled the soundtrack of my adolescence. Jumping ahead five years, there must have been something in the water back in 2013. Three amazing rockumentaries appeared, each highlighting a different aspect of pop…Muscle Shoals chronicles the life and times of Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studios, while that same year 20 Feet from Stardom focused on the gals that we all share a kinship with when we’re singing along, alone in the car. Lastly, Sound City, Dave Grohl’s homage to a room, its gear and the awesomeness that is rock and roll, will keep you grinning through the whole show.
But wait, there’s more! Woodstock and Monterey Pop join The Last Waltz, Shut Up and Play the Hits, Buena Vista Social Club, The Decline of Western Civilization, Don’t Look Back, Stop Making Sense and Wattstax as documents of a time and place that helped to build the foundations of pop music as we know it. A Band Called Death, Bad 25, Beautiful Noise, Beware of Mr. Baker, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Dig!, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Gimme Shelter, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, It Might Get Loud, Lemmy, Let It Be, Let’s Get Lost, Marley, Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, Pearl Jam Twenty, Punk: Attitude, Rock Around the Clock, Some Kind of Monster, Sonic Highways, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, The Stax Records Story, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) and 20,000 Days on Earth shine a spotlight on particular groups, individuals, genres and labels, adding new information to our musical body of knowledge. Good Ol’ Freda and Produced by George Martin reveal aspects of significant contributors in the wings. Speaking of contributors, don’t forget The Greatest Ears in Town: The Arif Mardin Story.
However you like it, hard core, folky or straight ahead, there’s a huge body of work out there ready to entertain and inform us about one of America’s most enduring contributions to world culture. So, pull up a chair and start rocking!