Friday, March 4, 2011

AC/DC High Voltage Rock 'N' Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History by Phil Sutcliffe, The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones: Sound opinions on the Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Rivalry by Jim Derogatis & Greg Kot

( With the bankruptcy of Borders and perhaps the ultimate decline of the big box bookstore I fear there may soon be no home for the odd, outta nowhere, seemingly only available at these stores, rock n roll themed coffeetable books that line those stores' low shelves and eventually litter the bargain bins. Which wouldn't be a true tragedy when one considers how many mediocre Elvis photo books or half-baked collections of lists or dates in rock history are out there. But this AC/DC tome is something special. Not only is the design ridiculous (the cover is a wheel that allows you to spin Angus as he does his Curly floor spin --a cultural reference the author never makes...don't you have Three Stooges flicks across the pond?), but the narrative is also rock solid. Sutcliffe might not be the best writer, but he's interviewed the boys over the decades, knows the story well, and had plenty to say, resulting in a not-embarrassing amount of text in this photo book. What really makes the book great is that the images collected are geared towards the record collector geek mentality, with page after page of photos of import/alternate/rare records. There's also images of laminates, print ads, sheet music, Angus' hand-written lyrics, pins, tour shirts, backstage passes, pages from Tod Loren's comic book biography (largely proven false by Sutcliffe's research) and enough photos of Bon's leer to make you buy your daughter a chastity belt even though he's decades dead. If it were just a photo book, or had no text, this may have fallen into the sad, lonely big box bookstore rock book ghetto, but as it is this is a truly special publication.
The Beatles/Stones book is a different creature, as there's no such thing as rare or unfamiliar Beatles visuals, and despite great design (including a [Satanic Majesty's saluting] lenticular "wiggle picture" cover that shifts from Fab to Stoney) the writing has to carry this. Now I consider myself a fan of the Sound Opinions radio show. I had mixed feelings about the TV version (it was the odd case where "face for radio" meant "not ugly enough," as I'd want televised rock critics to be grotesque and freakish, not regular looking), and overall I think that the Siskel/Ebert model they are working from is betrayed by the rarity of disagreement between the critics. That practice is repeated in this book, less a showdown between the bands and more a collection of facts, theory and trivia. And that's where I do dig these dudes. It's fun to hear guys rattle on about music and have a broad base of knowledge, encyclopedic memory of important stuff, and the ability to dredge up esoterica. But, again, the rub here is that there is really no esoterica about bands this big. There are some highlights (I like the brief passage where Dero gets technical with drumstick grip comparisons) and I like the way they seem to have digested every song the bands ever recorded and every book ever written about both acts, but ultimately this is a good coffeetable book and a moderately interesting read, but not way fab nor the greatest rock n roll book in the world.

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