History of Rock 'N' Roll (DVD)
Serving as an introduction for neophytes and a refresher course for experts, The History of Rock and Roll
is a mammoth and, when considered on its own terms, frequently successful undertaking. The series, which was first presented in 1995, consumes some 578 minutes, with 10 episodes (there are no bonus features) spread out over five discs. Its pedigree (executive producers include Quincy Jones, while respected writers Peter Guralnick and Greil Marcus are listed as consultants) is impressive, as is its scope, beginning in the pre-rock days of bluesman Muddy Waters and boogie woogie master Louis Jordan and continuing through the death of Kurt Cobain and the birth of the Lollapalooza festival in the mid-1990s. Along the way, dozens of big-name performers (with the notable exception of the Beatles) are on hand to lead us through the story.
On the minus side, the format--clips of musical performances cut short by a parade of talking heads--while typical of the genre, will frustrate those who come for the music alone. Nor is it likely that anyone who studies such things will find much here that hasn't already been seen. To be sure, there are some terrific moments, like the profile of Bob Dylan (in part 5, "Plugging In"), some cool clips of relatively obscure legends like James Burton and T-Bone Walker (in part 7, "Guitar Heroes"), and rarely seen live bits with Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop (goofing on the Dinah Shore Show in '77), and many others scattered throughout the set. Part 8, which chronicles the '70s, is surprisingly compelling (one forgets how many major artists--Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder--came into their own in a decade remembered largely for disco and faceless arena rock), while part 9, "Punk," is arguably the most entertaining of the lot.
In the end, it's the lack of complete musical performances that is the set's Achilles' heel. Then again, with their appetites whetted here, perhaps viewers will move on to other, more detailed looks at their heroes--beginning with, say, The Beatles Anthology. --Sam Graham