BOOK: Kill Your Idols

I’m only adding this banner because I hate to read about Mark Evanier crying.

Anyway, some guy, pretty much out of the blue, sent me a copy of the book Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics, edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmel Carillo. (Thank you.) I ended up reading it over two or three days on the road to Charlotte aand back.

I don’t think I’ll be reviewing the book per se, except to say that the essays by some three dozen writers are wildly different. A few discuss how they became critics; I don’t care. But some are pretty much on point.

Here’s a list of the chapters.

Forward: Canon? We Don’t Need No Steekin’ Canon by Jim DeRogatis. The premise is lovely: “each writer addresses an allegedly ‘great’ album that he or she despises.” He manages to dis baby boomers as being “prone to safeguarding works whose values they adopted as articles of faith in their youth, even though said youth is now several decades behind them. The writer challenges the inconsistency of the “best album: lists, notoriously generated by Rolling Stone magazine. It’s a good start.

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Capitol, 1967, by Jim DeRogatis.
The writer’s point: that the album is an archive of the ’60, a “bloated and baroque failed concept albums that takes a generation…back to the best shindig of their lives,” old-fashioned. He eviscerates most of the songs individually, with the notable exception of “A Day In the Life.”
My take: I think the writer is too harsh about With a Little Help, Lucy, and especially Getting Better, but largely agree with his disdain for Within You Without You and especially She’s Leaving Home, which IS “saccharine, strings-drenched melodrama.” DeRogatis’ point that some of these songs are lesser efforts than the songs on songs from earlier albums, especially Revolver, is arguably true.
Sidebar: Gordon asked, a while ago: Here’s a tough question:
Which Beatle album, in your opinion, is stronger and has held up over the course of time: Revolver or Sgt. Pepper?
Easy question, actually: Revolver, by quite a bit. Taxman rocks more than anything on Pepper, Love You To is less annoying (and much shorter) than Within You, For No One is gorgeous, Got To Get You Into My Life IS rubber soul, and the Tomorrow Never Knows is so strong that the backing track works to make the interminable Within You more palatable on the new LOVE album. (A group called the Fab Four, a Beatles cover band, used the Tomorrow Never Knows music to great effect as backing for Jingle Bells. Really. And I like it.)

The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds. Capitol, 1966 by Jeff Nordstedt.
The writer’s point: Aside from the “unassailable” hits, Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows, there is an “emotional gap between the [happy] music…and the [depressing] lyrics”. Overproduced, and your parents won’t hate it. And that overproduction “was partially responsible for the invention of the synthesizers”, which lead to the “evil development” of disco.
My take: Maybe it’s not a “rock ‘n’ roll” album, but so what? It’s one of my favorites. The disco argument is just silly; if there was no Pet Sounds, some other album would have inspired synthesizers. And not all “disco sucks”.

The Beach Boys: Smile. Unreleased, 1967, by Dawn Eden.
The writer’s point: It’s mostly inaccessible, and will never be as good as the hype, Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains notwithstanding.
My take: Nothing can ever match the hype. The Brian Wilson album SMiLE, released after the essay, is an intriguing piece of music, but may or may not have changed the course of music 37 years earlier.

The Who: Tommy. MCA, 1969. By Steve Knopper.
The writer’s point: It suffers from “glaring conceptual weaknesses, tin-can production, and timeless inability to rock.” Bland, repetitive; the filler songs are terrible. Only Pinball Wizard, I’m Free, Cousin Kevin, and Fiddle About are any good, and the latter is tainted by Pete Townsend’s arrest, even though the charges were dropped. But the greatest sin is that they (especially Townsend) couldn’t leave it alone but had it done again and again.
My take: The filler songs and repeated musical themes never bothered me – Townsend’s working in a largely unfamiliar medium of “rock opera”. Not only did I like the songs cited by Knopper, but also Christmas and Underture. But those other versions with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the movie soundtrack, are NOT improvements.

The MC5: Kick Out the Jams. Elektra, 1969. By Andy Wang
The writer’s point: full of john Sinclair’s nonsensical White Panther Party rubbish, and not very good.
My take: Don’t own; haven’t heard in too long to comment.

The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Columbia, 1968. By Steven Stolder.
The writer’s point: It was no more the pioneer country-rock album than the Beau Brummel’s Bradley’s Barn. The “notion of country rock as defined by the Byrds…seems unnecessary.
My take: Doing a comparison with an album I’ve never heard of, let alone heard, makes it difficult to comment. On the other hand, country rock always seemed like an artifice to me.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica. Straight, 1969. By Jason Gross.
The writer’s point: Gives him a throbbing headache.
My take: Never heard.

Led Zeppelin: (Untitled, IV, Runes, or Zoso), Atlantic, 1971. By Adrian Brijbassi.
The writer’s point: Seems to be largely about his sex life, though he does also talk about Zeppelin musical theft on this and other albums.
My take: I like it well enough, though I’ve ODed on Stairway to Heaven decades ago.

Neil Young: Harvest, Reprise, 1972. By Fred Mills.
The writer’s point: “The music world is overrun by simpering singer-songwriters obsessed with the D chord and first-person pronouns”, thanks to its success.
My take: Well, maybe so. Actually, while I like the songs – though Alabama IS a lesser version of Southern Man from the previous album – I never fully bought it as musically coherent statement. I’ll be curious to hear the next Neil album, which the late producer David Briggs tried to convince Neil should have been the logical successor to After the Goldrush.

Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street, Rolling Stones, 1972. By Keith Moerer.
The writer’s point: Lots of great songs, with an “awful lot of genre filler (and worse)…” Not a fan of Sweet Black Angel.
My point: I agree.

The Eagles: Desperado, Asylum, 1973. By Bobby Reed.
The writer’s point: Not the cohesive story it feigns to be. (Spends too much time telling about himself.)
My take: Though I probably own this album, somewhere, I must have got it so late in the vinyl game that I don’t really know what it sounds like well enough to judge.
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Len-nerd Skin-nerd, MCA, 1973. By Leanne Potts.
The writer’s point: Southern-fried hokum.
My point: Don’t have, though I’ve never been a particular fan of Freebird or Sweet Home Alabama.

Graham Parsons: GP/Grievous Angel, Warner Brothers, 1990. (Original releases 1973, 1974). By Chrissie Dickinson.
The writer’s point: a “critically-correct cult god” who couldn’t sing.
My point: Don’t have. Makes me want to check it out.

The Doors: Best of the Doors, Elektra, 1985. By Lorraine Ali (with Jim DeRogatis).
The writer’s point: Lyrically pretentious, musically lame.
My point: I have another greatest hits, but I have to agree that “Light My Fire” is pretty lame; the single’s much more tolerable than the album cut, because it doesn’t have that cheesy organ solo. But I always live for the “stronger than dirt” part of the creepy “Touch Me”.

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon, Capitol/EMI, 1973. By Burl Gilyard.
The writer’s point: It’s “moody, ponderous, torpid and humorless.”
My point: Well, maybe it is, but I like it atmospherically anyway.

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks, Columbia, 1975. By Chris Martiniano.
The writer’s point: It’s a “cliched, dull, and at times, a tragically sloppy album.”
My point: Given that this is one of my favorite Dylan albums, I’m not feeling this complaint.

Well, THAT was fun. But time consuming. I’ll do it again for the rest of the book. Later, probably next month, when I’m stuck for a topic. I can’t wait, because I used to know one of the upcoming reviewers.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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