The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

by Greil Marcus


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One of our finest critics gives us an altogether original history of rock ’n’ roll

Unlike all previous versions of rock ’n’ roll history, this book omits almost every iconic performer and ignores the storied events and turning points that everyone knows. Instead, in a daring stroke, Greil Marcus selects ten songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, then proceeds to dramatize how each embodies rock ’n’ roll as a thing in itself, in the story it tells, inhabits, and acts out—a new language, something new under the sun.
“Transmission” by Joy Division. “All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James and then Beyoncé. “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” first by the Teddy Bears and almost half a century later by Amy Winehouse. In Marcus’s hands these and other songs tell the story of the music, which is, at bottom, the story of the desire for freedom in all its unruly and liberating glory. Slipping the constraints of chronology, Marcus braids together past and present, holding up to the light the ways that these striking songs fall through time and circumstance, gaining momentum and meaning, astonishing us by upending our presumptions and prejudices. This book, by a founder of contemporary rock criticism—and its most gifted and incisive practitioner—is destined to become an enduring classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300216929
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 689,982
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Greil Marcus lives in Oakland, CA. His books include Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music and Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century.

Table of Contents

A New Language 1

Shake Some Action: 1976 21

Transmission: 2007/1979/2010 29

In the Still of the Nite: 1956/1959/2010 55

All I Could Do Was Cry: 2013/1960/2008 75

Crying, Waiting, Hoping: 1959/1969 95

Instrumental Break: Another History of Rock 'n' Roll 141

Money (That's What I Want): 1959/1963 and Money Changes Everything: 1978/1983/2008/2005 165

This Magic Moment: 2007/1959 195

Guitar Drag: 2006/2000 215

To Know Him Is to Love Him: 1958/2006 237

Notes 253

Acknowledgements 289

Index 293


“Another allusive, entertaining inquiry by veteran musicologist Marcus. . . . [He] does what he does best: make us feel smarter about what we’re putting into our ears.”—Kirkus, starred review

Q: How did the idea for the book come about?
A: My editor Steve Wasserman wondered if I’d write a history of rock ’n’ roll. I thought it was a terrible idea, that it had been done to death, well and poorly, that there was a finished and accepted narrative that rendered any retelling of the story redundant and pointless. But, then I thought: What if the book was nonchronological, discontinuous, and left out almost everyone who couldn’t be left out (Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, the Sex Pistols, Michael Jackson)? What if it neglected the well-known, iconic moments (the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Bob Dylan going electric), and centered instead on a small number of songs, each of which in its own unique way embodied rock ’n’ roll? That interested me—and the idea became this book.

Q: Isn’t this a ridiculous conceit?
A: Sure. The premise of the book—trying to ascribe the entire history of a form containing hundreds of thousands of exemplars into ten—is fundamentally absurd. That’s what makes it fun. Maybe we could hold a contest to see what ten songs readers would choose to sum up this history. The prize would be a copy of this book for the winner to tear up.

Praise for Lipstick Traces:
"Lipstick Traces has the energy of its obsessions, and it snares you in the manner of those intense, questing and often stoned sessions of intellectual debate you may have experienced in your college years. It was destined, in other words, to achieve cult status."—Ben Brantley, New York Times

Praise for Mystery Train:
"A classic. . . . Full of passion and intellectual fervor."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

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