Customer Reviews: Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music
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Trade size soft cover edition-6 page Forward, 6 page Introduction (by her daughter), 223 pages of Willis' work, 8 page Afterword. Also included are 8 pages of b&w photos.

As a music listener I came of age roughly during the same period as most of these essays were published. Ellen Willis' (who died in 2006) views on music were somehow different than the usual critics writing of the day. Under the surface (usually) there lurked an intelligent observer of both music and the era.

She wrote several dozen pieces (under the heading "Rock, Etc.") for The New Yorker magazine-a place where I usually didn't think of, offhand, for an insightful look into current music-for several years, beginning in 1968. This was still the era (which ended in the 70's) when Rolling Stone Magazine was the "go to" periodical for insightful music reviews. Her writing would also turn up occasionally as liner notes for artists she thought had merit. This was in the era when "rock" writing was almost predominantly male dominated. Willis' writing seemed to flow almost without much effort on her part, but in them could be found some intelligent writing from someone who obviously loved the music. Her pieces in that era reached a much larger readership than any other magazine-475,000 as opposed to Rolling Stone's 75,000.

She seemed to actually like (most) of the music she reviewed, and didn't gloss over an artists latest release if it merited chastising. Willis wrote a number of pieces on Dylan, THE ROLLING STONES, THE BEATLES, THE WHO, and several other then major bands (even THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), all with good, honest insight. She also attended concerts, and could sometimes be found dancing, with the music as her only partner, in front of a full length mirror. This was how she "tested" the music, and there's a photo of Willis in the book of her dancing. Being concerned with feminism, Willis has several pieces under the heading of "The Feminist", which looks at rock music, the artist, and the feminist movement of the era.

Willis' style is intelligent, insightful (especially for the times), and it was cloaked under a sheet of a subtle, an almost self-effacing writing style. She was able to hear the music for what it was, and her honest look at the music gave her pieces added depth. Willis also was able to blend the music with the times, and her observations are still fairly pertinent today. These pieces are valuable for Willis' ability to paint a large part of the picture, as things unfolded around her, of the times as they were happening in the moment. If you think otherwise, they're still worthwhile reading as a look into those years when rock music (as opposed to "rock'n'roll") was still vibrant and exciting, just before music seemed to take on a blatant corporate sheen of money. Of interest is Willis' "Top 10" albums for 1974-Dylan/"Planet Waves", Clapton/"461 Ocean Boulevard", Bachman-Turner Overdrive/"Not Fragile", Gram Parsons/"Grievous Angel", etc.

Among other insightful essays are one on the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival-and how Willis sees the connection between money and r'n'r, and on MOBY GRAPE-who released an excellent first album only to fall apart due to negative publicity, and the over zealousness of their record company. In some of these pieces Willis begins reconciling rock music with feminism-a topic she went on the explore more fully in later times. Her insights from the era (when she complains about ticket prices being "to high" at $3-4/person) really capture a time now long since past, no matter if she's writing about Lou Reed, THE NEW YORK DOLLS, or the feminist movement.

If you're a fan (like me) of this era's music and the era itself, you'll like this book. Willis' style is sometimes pithy, yet intelligent, not fawning but rightfully critical. It's written by a fan of the music, and having these pieces together in one book makes this something worthwhile purchasing.
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on June 9, 2011
This book gives a good "you are there" perspective on the phenomenon of Dylan, the Beatles, Stones, the folk scene, the Velvets, Creedence, Woodstock, regional scenes, and the nascent women's music/women in rock scene.
A few random thoughts (and to be honest, I'm a few chapters short of being done with this book):

Willis doesn't offhandedly mention dancing to music - she actually did it, and used it as a critical benchmark. She also has very little use for technical prowess. Too much of it gets in the way of good rock music.

Pre-"classic" rock acts like Elvis and the Everly Bros. aren't square in Willis's eyes.

As far as I can tell, Willis omits mention of the Beach Boys (what, no Pet Sounds!) and Led Zeppelin, which is interesting from my more "Generation X" experience. The former may simply not have interested her, what with her political bent as a writer, and as for the latter she would not have been the only contemporary critic who couldn't stand the Zep.

Willis's dissection of the "acceptable" roles of women in music is fascinating. She also describes the gradual adoption of rock by educated bohemians and political types as well as anyone.
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on February 10, 2014
Forty or more years after Willis wrote the best of the pieces, time exposes what was adolescent, of the moment, overly hyped. She avoids those traps and transcends them 80 percent of the time, which why I give this collection of often startingly perceptive analysis of Dylan, his contemporaries and his followers 80 percent of perfect. Even when you roll your eyes at some misplaced enthusiasm -- as I imagine Willis would have too in later years -- you're reminded how much passion the music of that era could evoke.
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on May 20, 2012
This book is very valuable for everyone interested in music writing and in learning about the broader cultural context of pop and rock music. I'm really thankful to Willis' daughter for putting out this great book and letting the world know about a great writer and thinker, Ellen Willis. In the field of writing about music, she is definitely a role model.
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on February 9, 2012
This is a compelling look at music reviews ca. the late 1960s and early 1970s when rock and roll was in bloom. Willis was a candid reviewer who knew her subject, and often knew the rock stars that mattered during that era. She listened intently to the music and words, the nuances evident in the lyrics and the singing. It's a shame she's gone, but she left a very vibrant legacy that is seen only rarely in today's pop market. She was outspoken in her tastes.
She believed in the service she was bringing to the front.
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on February 18, 2015
College text book
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on January 28, 2015
Great stories about the music I love.
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on June 25, 2011
As a highly skewed time capsule, I suppose you could do worse with this book, but you definitely could do better. If you like Dylan, Lou Reed and the Velvets and Janis Joplin, you'll like this book better because she writes about them a lot. And let's face it, the early 70's weren't that great of a time for Dylan. Some articles are okay, but maybe it's because they are so old, I was expecting something a little deeper and insightful about the artists that are now classic rock idols. I mean, in a semi concert review of The Who and a semi review of Who's Next, she doesn't go much deeper than saying that she liked this song and didn't like that one. Um, really? A lot of the writing is trite and there is a lot of lyric quoting, a tactic I despise in rock crit. In fact, a whole article of hers was devoted to the best lyrics of the 70's.

Maybe I was just expecting more, but there wasn't a lot here that thrilled me. And really, is the New Yorker a good place to go for any kind of authentic rock criticism? Not really.

2 stars.
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on July 21, 2015
There are bits here that really do provide a fresh perspective and Willis does have that greatest and rarest quality, a free mind.

Still, like most rock crit it can sag and bore quite a bit. In a way a welcome contrast from the wearing and unconvincing intensity of Lester Bangs or the pomposity of Marcus and the other guy; and of course, the female angle is interesting- historically as much as anything.

Yes, good, but less fun than I'd have hoped. A free mind and - therefore - a good mind, but not a brilliant one.
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on March 7, 2013
Why not 5 stars- because nothing is perfect. This insiders look at a true musical insiders reviews is a fun read. I do not agree with much that is said about some of the recordings, in fact, that is part of the fun of this book. Ellen was so sure that her opinions were the only valid ones that it can sometimes make your blood boil, but it is done with such background, experience and validity that you are many times sent back in time and to your collection to find her point of view and damnit--- she's right more often than not. This was almost an interactive reading experience for me--- perhaps you will have the same experience!
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