Derek Shelmerdine: Rock ‘n’ Roll Unravelled

DCA Rock ‘n’ Roll 2016

Derek Shelmerdine: Rock 'n' Roll Unravelled

Rock ‘n’ Roll Unravelled

Wood for the trees: conceptualization of trivia and contextualization of rich but motley tapestry of popular music.

Although omnipresent culture-related quizzes on the web may look like an edge case when it comes to testing an average person’s knowledge of potentially well-known facts, they conceal a much-wider ignorance of those who seem to be in the know: their inability to grasp the gist of circumstances that helped birth a certain opus or to understand its original environment to fully appreciate a piece of art. That’s the issue this book addresses in a variety of ways which are rather confusing yet, when assessed together, make a lot of sense and create a well-rounded picture of the broad – from the late ’20s, when Jimmie Rodgers made a notch, to the late ’70s, when punk turned a pop trend development on its head, and beyond, albeit with no new players introduced – history of rock ‘n’ roll. The tome is split in three cross-referenced parts, with “Timeline” chronologically listing musical events alongside sociopolitical ones, “What Happened Today?” reordering it all by date and placing years into a day, and “Pocket Histories” returning to chronological format bent to entries for a particular artist or band, encyclopedia-style. The three different angles allow the reader to flesh out any given event with context, yet each of them is brilliantly flawed.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of significance even within a music stratum, as the start of the Cold War and the suicide of Phil Spector’s father couldn’t have influenced mass culture in the same, equal way; other times, the problem is a needless detailing of things because, for all their glory and story, checking in Jack Bruce and Lowell George’s birthdays for a Zappa chapter, and the fact that Frank cut a version of “Whipping Post” in 1984 – attributed to 1971 when the Allmans’ delivered the piece – feels like extra decoration. Beginning a performer’s feature with a line about a date of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame might also be vain regalia, yet the mention of such ensembles as THE CROWS or THE CHORDS should pique one’s interest, and it’s in there that the fragmented narrative starts to click, because uncommon knowledge is prompting investigation and will result in discovery of their significance. So though in some places it seems the book is a treasure trove of trivia which doesn’t contain a lot of substance in concept terms, it’s actually rather intriguing to try and imagine Zappa arranging songs for THE ANIMALS or Ozzy Osbourne working up an audience before Jon Hiseman but this happened when EARTH, soon to be christened BLACK SABBATH, opened for COLOSSEUM back in 1969.

Elsewhere, the tome exposes a connection between Jimmy Page and THE BEATLES while erroneously stating that THE STONES covered The Fabs’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” and throwing in a smattering of other inaccuracies, but meticulously outlining the events of Vietnam war, so there’s no balance whatsoever here, yet that’s not the point. The point is in its very title: “unravelled” meaning baring threads of a fabric of rock ‘n’ roll, the threads that make it whole, and albeit those break from time to time, the right reader will find pleasure in restoring the entire tapestry from the see-through canvas. If you’re ready for the work, the puzzle is ready for you.


November 6, 2016

Category(s): Books

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