Aurora Metro 2022
Subtitled “London’s Swingin’ 60s & 70s” and reflecting cultural changes through the prism of music, here’s a volume which goes to 11 and is all the better for it.
People approaching this tome may be tempted to call it a coffee-table book because its dimensions fit the bill – but looks are too often deceptive and, as old bluesmen used to suggest, judging publications by their covers, isn’t right. Not that “Pop Rock Icons” doesn’t deliver what it says on the proverbial front side – it does, to an extent where even casual perusing of its glossy pages will result in the reader’s coffee getting cold. It’s that absorbing – even to those well-attuned to the culture of popular sound – for none other reason than photographs, the tome’s principal focal point, which Philippe Margotin selected for the book, not feeling familiar, for the most part, and, thus, come across as delectable. No wonder, granted the author’s experience as musical adviser for French encyclopedia “Le Petit Larousse” and editor-in-chief for Universal Group, with a series of rock paperbacks under his belt.
There are genuinely iconic, legendary images – THE WHO, with Pete Townshend in a Union Jack jacket, blending into the British flag backdrop; THE BEATLES in their “Sgt. Pepper” resplendence – yet the vast majority of the hundreds of pictures on display is bound to mesmerize not only fans of particular artists but also everyone picking up this volume to pore over many a portrait, such as the spread in which Jimmy Page is captured playing dulcimer accompanied by John Bonham on flute, making time stop and wind back to the two decades that shaped pop and rock as we know them. One-page overview prefacing each of the chapters briefly, without redundant details, albeit exhaustively, concentrates on its subjects and helps provide context and occasionally shift the reader’s perspective, as the segments per se appear peppered with quotes from the musicians to drive the temporal background home.
So if, initially, a connoisseur would gasp, unjustly irritated and assuming the opening chapter pitches THE ROLLING STONES against THE BEATLES and rehashes the long-dismissed mythology of rivalry between these primary English ensembles, the juxtaposition of the bands’ often similar photographs – the lads on a golf course, John Lennon and Keith Richards sporting fedoras, George Harrison with Pattie Boyd and Brian Jones with Anita Pallenberg – stresses the idea of visual imagery being an inherently important aspect of artists’ acceptance by public – by the masses who don’t always listen the music those picturesque figures created. It’s no coincidence that the first still in the book is one of THE STONES posing with a friendly journalist who’s hugging a stoned Brian Jones: here’s a key to the doors of social perception.
Some choices seem illogical, however – QUEEN and KING CRIMSON in their early ’80s look are beyond the scope of monsieur Philippe’s book, while all the images of GENESIS immortalize the band’s least theatrical era, with a second drummer in the line-up – and some surprising, like a shot of HAWKWIND prefacing the “Heavy Metal” section, although Margotin logically defends it in the pertinent text. Just as logically none of the photos finds performers in their true element, in concert, simply because this is where fads didn’t matter in those years – what mattered was music, which is why even PINK FLOYD’s spectacular shows are ignored here in favor of portraits that preserved the quartet for posterity in various poses. KISS aside, stage heroics didn’t really exist then as part of the act. Instead, the writer rights the wrongs in aficionados’ view of music history by presenting BEE GEES as quintet as opposed to trio, reinstating Alvin Lee as one of guitar heroes, singling out Joe Strummer as a prominent participant in more than one group and giving pub rock its proper place on the scene.
There are minor mistakes in the volume, probably caused by incorrect translation from French – ensembles’ members misnamed, in terms of order in the picture, or musicians’ names missing from captions – but it’s inessential for the book which seizes Zeitgeist of the ’60 and ’70s almost perfectly. Coffee books rarely are so engrossing.