“The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” by Greil Marcus (2014)

Marcus

“The only thing that rock ‘n’ roll did not get from country and blues was a sense of consequences … In country and blues, if you raised hell on Saturday night, you were gonna feel real bad on Sunday morning when your dragged yourself to church.  Or when you didn’t drag yourself to church.”
-Bill Flanagan … from an interview with Neil Young (1986)

Greil Marcus’s “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” is one of the finest, most beautifully written books about music, art, and culture of all-time.  When Marcus wrote this book, he decided to avoid songs that most people would insist would be on a list of ten songs that would explain rock ‘n’ roll.  The songs Marcus selected are:

“Shake Some Action” – The Flamin’ Groovies
“Transmission” – Joy Division
“In the Still of the Nite” – The Five Satins
“All I Could Do Was Cry” – Beyonce
“Crying, Waiting, Hoping” – Buddy Holly / The Beatles
“Money (That’s What I Want)” – Barrett Strong / The Beatles
“Money Changes Everything” – The Brains / Cyndi Lauper
“This Magic Moment” – The Drifters
“Guitar Drag” – Christian Marclay
“To Know Him is to Love Him” – The Teddy Bears / Amy Winehouse

The songs he selects are all great in their own way, but may not be obvious choices in many peoples’ definitions of songs that define rock ‘n’ roll.  Yet, these songs, in the way Marcus describes them, tell an incredibly rich story of not only rock music, but American culture / history… with a few sidelines into British culture.  Marcus has been one of our finest cultural critics for over 40 years and this book equals his classic 1975 book “Mystery Train,” (which has since gone through 7 editions with additional notes by Marcus).

I will let Marcus explain why he included “Shake Some Action,” from an interview he did with Henry Rollins, who narrated the audio version of the book:

“When I came up with the idea for the book, I knew that ‘Shake Some Action’ by the Flamin’ Groovies would be the first thing I would write about,” he said. “It had to be there, and that’s because from the first time I heard it, and every time since, I’ve just been so shocked by it. It’s like, ‘This is it. This is what rock & roll is. This is everything rock & roll wanted to be. This is a performance that isn’t jazz, that isn’t blues, that isn’t country, that isn’t pop, that isn’t anything but rock & roll. Nothing like what you hear on ‘Shake Some Action’ was in the world before there was rock & roll.”

“The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” is a terrific achievement and even if you don’t agree with Marcus’s selections, I guarantee he’ll make you a true believer.  If you need further convincing, you absolutely need to check out the audio version narrated by Henry Rollins.  Rollins is an extraordinary orator and the way he conveys Marcus’s words shows a profound respect for Marcus and his thoughts. Easily one of the five best audio versions of a non-fiction book … and that includes Robert Evans reciting “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”

At the link below is a lengthy interview Rollins did with Marcus about the book that’s worth hearing:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/hear-henry-rollins-fascinating-chat-with-greil-marcus-about-ten-songs-20150126

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“Whiskey Woman” – Flamin’ Groovies

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From their nearly forgotten and severely underrated classic 1971 album “Teenage Head,” this the the Flamin’ Groovies arguably at their best. I hate saying that, considering the classic work they did with producer Dave Edmunds in 1976 with “Shake Some Action,” but “Teenage Head” and especially this track (“Whiskey Woman”) has been on constant rotation recently on my iPod.

No less than Mick Jagger at the time (who noticed similarities between what the Groovies were doing on this album and what the Stones were doing on “Sticky Fingers”) admitted the Groovies had the better take on the same theme.  Miriam Linna, co-head of the stellar Norton Records label, opined that this era of the Groovies sounded like the Stones, had the Stones sworn their allegiance to Sun Records instead of Chess Records.

“Tallahassee Lassie” – Rolling Stones

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An outtake from the Stones’ 1978 masterpiece “Some Girls” that should have definitely been included in the original mix of songs, but now has thanks to the Deluxe Edition double CD that was recently released. While this cover of the Freddy Cannon classic is a damn nice discovery, the version by the Flamin’ Groovies from the early 1970s is even better:

https://davesstrangeworld.com/2012/08/07/tallahassee-lassie-the-flaimin-groovies/

“Shake Some Action” (alt. version) – Flamin’ Groovies

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Wow! Just discovered this on an awesome Norton Records Flamin’ Groovies compilation called “Slow Death.” All of the songs on “Slow Death” were recorded between 1971-1973 and this is an earlier, slower, janglier, and spectacularly cool alternate take on the Groovies signature song.  Don’t know if I like it more than the best-known version recorded with Dave Edmunds in 1976, but it’s still pretty f–king cool.

“Tallahassee Lassie” – The Flaimin’ Groovies

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One of my favorite covers of all time and my favorite Flamin’ Groovies song (which I realize is a bold statement, considering their oeuvre contains “Shake Some Action,” “Teenage Head,” and “Slow Death.”) I especially love the fact that the “video” made for this uses this terrific old animation from either the 1920s or 1930s.