A sprawling yet strangely compact history of the years of rock’s golden age.
Austin-based music journalist Ward, co-host of the Let It Roll podcast, sets a daunting task: to say something new about the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, each of which fills libraries of criticism and biography. He answers by going deep here and there while painting a big picture view of the effect those groups had on the world, especially the United States. The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. By 1965, writes the author, “guitar bands were erupting everywhere,” a pack headed by the Byrds but made up of groups as various as the Lovin’ Spoonful, the McCoys, the Bobby Fuller Four, and the bizarre Nightcrawlers, of “Little Black Egg” fame. The Brits captured the most attention during that time, but things were happening on plenty of peripheries: Memphis, for instance, where Otis Redding was working hard to develop an audience and write a hit, and American towns everywhere, where one-hit wonders were doing their thing. “Who were Pidgeon? Rhinoceros? Kak? The Serpent Power? The Wildflower? Zakary Thaks? The Harbinger Complex? Crow?” Ward asks, answering, no one and everyone, sometimes capable of producing songs and artists that would go on to make history, such as guitar wizard David Lindley and Captain Beefheart. Of course, the Stones and the Beatles figure prominently in the narrative, but so do whirlwinds of bands who sometimes turn up a dozen to the page in Ward’s overstuffed narrative. As for the age-old question, Beatles or Stones? Ward delivers a nicely oblique answer: It depends on whether you like live or studio music. By the end of the book, which is full of interesting surprises—e.g., it was Frank Sinatra’s label that took a chance on Jimi Hendrix—readers will have encountered scores of bands they’ve never heard of and plenty of grist for the playlist.
Essential for deep-dyed rock fans, collectors, and fans of literate music writing.