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The Classic Rock and Roll Reader: Rock Music from It's Beginnings to the Mid-1970's. - book review

William E. Studwell and D. F. Lonergan. The Classic Rock and Roll Reader: Rock Music from It's Beginnings to the Mid-1970's. New York: Haworth Press, 1999. 278 pp. Hardback $49.95. Paperback $19.95.

Northern Illinois University librarians William Studwell and D. F. Lonergan wander aimlessly through the Top 40 song fields of 1953 to 1975 searching for classic blooms. As audio botanists, they both lack horticultural sensitivity. The selections they make are mostly weeds, spent buds, and lawn debris. Rather than revealing a musical "Garden of Eden" (Joe Valino), Studwell and Lonergran merely "Tip-toe Thru' the Tulips" (Tiny Tim), unable to differentiate between "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" (George Hamilton IV). Ultimately, these amateur pop petal pundits assemble bouquets that resemble post-frost begonias, water-deprived gladiolas, and bug-infested petunias. Any experienced rock fan's response to this exercise would be a shriek of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (Barbra Streisand).

Why is The Classic Rock and Roll Reader so bad? It's far too personalized. Studwell and Lonergan maintain in the preface that they are simply being "playful" and "irreverent." But they also maintain that they are trained cultural historians and anthropologists. These overblown claims are little comfort in light of an unbalanced text that sputters rather than sparkles. A few songs identified as "classics" are right on target--"Rock Around the Clock" (Bill Haley and The Comets), "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" (Joe Turner), "Blue Suede Shoes" (Carl Perkins), "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (Rolling Stones), "Ain't That A Shame" (Fats Domino), "Be-Bop-A-Lula" (Gene Vincent), and "Tutti Frutti" (Little Richard). But these dubious DeKalb discographers inexplicably omit "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Hound Dog" (Elvis Presley), "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Breathless" (Jerry Lee Lewis), and "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody" (Eddie Cochran). Seeking to identify rock's pre-1953 roots, the authors suggest paying attention to seven sappy songs--"In the Mood," "Of Thee I Sing," "Night and Day," "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "Oklahoma!," "Show Business," and "The Cry of the Wild Goose." What baffling selections! Where are "Good Rockin' Tonight" (Wynonie Harris), "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (Muddy Waters), "I'm Movin' On" (Hank Snow), "Rocket 88" (Jackie Brenston), "Rock the Joint" (Bill Haley), and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" (Lloyd Price)?

Omissions of classic rock and roll tunes are so egregious that the volume's title becomes ironic rather than descriptive. Studwell and Lonergan, providing no music bibliography of record chart references to illustrate their "research" sources, are apparently oblivious to prior studies by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes (What Was the First Rock 'n' Roll Record?), Richard Aquila (That Old-time Rock and Roll), and Dave Marsh (The Heart of Rock and Soul). While the two librarians do stumble across several great tunes, they exclude both seminal rock 'n' roll recordings like "What'd I Say" (Ray Charles) and many off-the-wall early rock novelty classics such as "Flying Saucer" (Buchanan and Goodman) and "I Put a Spell On You" (Screamin' Jay Hawkins).

The advisory board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum should purchase all copies of this book and shred them. Then authors should be transferred from their Northern Illinois University sound proof booth to Bowling Green State University's musical museum for an opportunity to explore the Sound Recordings Archive (45 r.p.m. discs from Specialty, Ace, Atlantic, and Gee) and the popular culture library (texts by Simon Frith, Peter Guralnick, and Nick Tosches). Further distribution of this text should be prohibited under truth-in-advertising statutes.

B. Lee Cooper
Reinhardt College

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