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Music for the neck downwards: History of Rock

Music for the neck downwards: History of Rock

Sometimes you meet people who can recite the entire family tree of rock: which bands spawned which other bands, which members left and formed their own bands, where they came from, who produced them, the names of all their albums in chronological order, what was on the B side of all of their hits, and what their pets were called.

These people are rock anoraks, music geeks who are driven to understand and catalog the vast panoply of rock and roll and related popular music, in much the same way as compulsive geographers love to know the distances between every town in their state or country. The ‘lie of the land’ of rock history is a matter of pride to these people, and they will devote a lot of time to it, like London cab drivers learning ‘The Knowledge’ of the city’s huge maze of streets.

These people are beyond help. They have rock history and trivia oozing out of the ends of their hair, and God help you if you get cornered in a pub by one, especially after committing some unforgivable faux pas like mis-pronouncing a band’s name or reciting an album track listing in incorrect order. They will pounce on you and administer a lengthy, closely-reasoned reprimand that has you edging slowly for the door.

The ideal course on rock history would involve keeping one of these people in a box and letting him out to rant on lecture days before eventually tempting him back into his box with a rare pressing of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s album Volume One or an early Ramones bootleg tape.

Sadly that’s illegal – something about unlawful detention or false imprisonment or something. Anyway, the next best thing is probably Berklee College of Music’s History of Rock Music, which takes you through much of the same territory, but with a more open mind and less substance abuse.

It covers how the kings and queens of rock got where they did, why they were trendsetters, who influenced them (if anyone) and whom they influenced (everyone).

The course features exclusive video interviews with Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Hugo Burnham of Gang of Four, Amanda Palmer, Duke Levine of the J. Geils Band, British session drummer Dave Mattacks who also toured with Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson, rock promoter Don Law, George Clinton, mastermind of Parliament and Funkadelic, and producer Jack Douglas, who has worked with John Lennon, Aerosmith, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and many others.

These folks all had one thing in common: an anti-cerebral desire to create music for the body to move to as walls shatter in the mind. In Keith Richards’ words, ‘music for the neck downwards’.