The History of Rock ’n’ Roll in Ten Songs

Greil Marcus. Yale Univ, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-300-18737-3
In his typically provocative and far-reaching style, music critic Marcus (Mystery Train) ingeniously retells the tale of rock and roll as the undulating movement of one song through the decades, speaking anew in different settings; it’s a “continuum of associations, a drama of direct and spectral connections between songs and performers.” Selecting 10 songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, he ranges gracefully over various performances of the same song, probing deeply into the nuances of each singer’s style as well as the ways that the recorded version of the song reflects its time. Thus, for example, Marcus follows the career of Barrett Strong’s 1963 Motown hit, “Money (That’s What I Want),” and Strong’s harsh and violent rendition to The Beatles’ 1964 version in which John Lennon is “appalled, hateful, and ravenous all at once, and so powerfully the music seems to fall away from him, letting him claim every molecule in the air.” Marcus cannily shifts to a song that deals squarely with the power of money, Tom Gray’s “Money Changes Everything,” and traces the ways the power of the song shifts and transforms in Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 version (she turns it from a “man’s lament into a woman’s manifesto”); her 2005 version (the “only language it speaks is mourning, pain, desperation, and defeat”); and Gray’s 2007 version, which dried up quickly. Marcus brilliantly illustrates what many rock music fans suspected all along but what many rock critics have failed to say: rock ’n’ roll is a universal language that transcends time and space and reveals all mysteries and truths. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/18/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-300-19030-4
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