Book Review: “101 Essential Rock Records” by Jeff Gold

 101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols

by Brian Arsenault

Thank you, Jeff Gold.

The vinyl LP needed someone to wax poetic about it and do a big book about it and you did. You notice I didn’t say coffee table book because that phrase has been used mostly pejoratively for a long time. So I’ll just say go get a copy of this big beautifully illustrated book and put it on a table where you can pick it up frequently and know what an art form once looked like.

There also are some neat essays done mostly by people you know — like Graham Nash, Iggy Pop, Suzanne Vega and some you may not.

David Bowie’s is one of the most intriguing wherein he observes that The Velvet Underground and Nico “. . . was so savagely indifferent to my feelings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It could give a fuck.” Exactly so and that’s what was scraping at my mind at a less articulated level for all these years since I first heard Warhol’s evil little band of demons.

Not all the writing is as good a Bowie’s and there’s a lot of “the first record I bought” stuff here but I think that’s what they all were asked to write about so no complaint. And the memories are just as dear to famous boomers as the rest.

So are the album covers.  One of the things I think Gold and Jac Holzman, both record executives, understate in their introductions is the importance of the jacket — its size, its pictures, its often wildly artistic presentation.  Compare that to something as small as a CD with its tiny lettering and postage stamp photos. With LPs, you could look at the band and read about them and there were the song titles and who produced it and all that good stuff.

Have you noticed that after shrinking to elf size, cell phones have suddenly grown larger to give you a screen on which you can actually see something. LP jackets gave you a lot to see.

What I think Gold and Holzman may overstate is the resurgence of vinyl. Thanks, Jac, for validating my long standing feeling that LP sound is “warmer and more sensual” but I’m not sure the vinyl record (what a quaint word, record) “is alive and doing well.”

Thanks again, Jeff, for the book but I’m not sure what it means that in 2011 vinyl sales were up more than 37 percent over the prior year.

I checked with the young, anyone under 40, and they aren’t abandoning iTunes and downloads. I think your optimism may just be based on boomers having enough disposable income to indulge their taste for vinyl.  It may not be all that different from collectors of first editions, old locks and keys or even model trains, God forbid.

The reissue, or even loving preservation or restoration of the classic Thunderbird, won’t stop the coming and ultimate dominance of the Prius and other such modernities.

Still, whatever its ultimate fate, those of us who love vinyl cannot help but dig (old vinyl word) its seeming current comeback and appreciate the presentation of so many of the great albums of that era. An era stretching from the coming of the Beatles in the mid 1960s to 1979 when cassettes — now there was a truly despicable technology — had their brief run as king of the music buying public.

Jeff — you invited readers to point out oversights in your listing of 101, so I will.

I understand the reasoning behind your presentation of the version of a record from its country of origin.  But really, Jeff, only the USA and the islands off the coast of Europe, England and Ireland, really matter.

To omit Meet the Beatles in favor of its British counterpart Please Please Me is to ignore the greatest musical force that ever hit America. Nothing was the same after its arrival, as you well know.

Another odd omission is Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Happy Trails, almost certainly rock’s first true concept album and a simply fantastic rock LP. “Who Do You Love?” and “Mona” taken to guitar operatic levels.

And how about the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, an album of exceptional grace and beauty on which the band actually sings on key (most of the time) and creates a true piece of Americana music.

Yet much credit is earned for including the Butterfield Blues Band’s East-West, which gave many Beatles fans their first look into the complexity possible in rock and the blues base from which it came. I mean Bloomfield and Bishop were the other two B’s in that remarkable band.

Equal praise for the often overlooked Forever Changes by Love, an album of heartbreaking beauty and poetry within a psychedelic enigma.

Well, I could go on and on. This is a book as much about the music of a generation (or two or three) as it is about the vinyl form and there’s much pleasure to be gained.

If  Kramer(of Seinfeld) ’s concept of a coffee table book that’s an actual coffee table were to be realized, this would be my choice for enshrinement.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

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