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Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll Paperback – May 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 422 pages
  • Publisher: Backbeat Books (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879305347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879305345
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

One man's unjustly neglected genius is the next man's appropriately unheeded fraud. Differentiating between the prodigies and the posers is one of the great joys of fans of any art form, including pop music. And this task is made easier with this book, a paean to some of rock & roll's quirkiest artists. All Music Guide coeditor Richie Unterberger ranks among the most prolific rock critics of recent times, and he exhibits a depth of knowledge and a clear commitment to his subjects throughout this 400-page-plus study. He tracked down former members of such long-forgotten groups as Rising Storm, Savage Rose, and the Deviants for interviews. All seem to respond with unmistakable enthusiasm as they recall creating idiosyncratic music decades back. Heaven knows, a guy like Joe Docko doesn't get many opportunities to discuss his mid-'60s Mystic Tides 45s. This brings up the book's greatest strength: the light Unterberger shines on some truly secluded artists. Yes, you may have heard of Syd Barrett and Nick Drake, but even serious rock & roll aficionados may be at a loss when it comes to Duffy Power and the Misunderstood. --Steven Stolder

From Booklist

Connoisseurs of obscure rock should like this sprawling book, which is organized both chronologically (roughly) and thematically (haphazardly). A section entitled "Overlooked Originals" leads off, being followed by "Out of the Garage," "Psychedelic Unknowns," "Punk Pioneers," and so forth. Within each section, the array of specific acts is engagingly eccentric. In "From the Continent," for instance, Unterberger includes the inscrutable German band Can, the Frank Zappa^-inspired Plastic People of the Universe, and French folkie-punk-chanteuse-rocker Francoise Hardy--performers who are utterly unrelated except that they all hail from Europe. Unterberger doesn't claim comprehensiveness, as how could he when his subjects are supposed to be "unknown" ? To his credit, most of these acts really are unknown in America, though some are legends. As a historian, Unterberger is a bit on the light side; for example, he calls Moby Grape's first album "a critical favorite" when it is more famous as an overhyped commercial flop. A fun, moderately informative volume of rock miscellanea. Mike Tribby

More About the Author

Richie Unterberger has been writing about little-known and well-known rock and popular music of all kinds for more than 25 years. Of his eleven books, the most recent "Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia,"" published by Jawbone Press in March 2011. It details the Who's amazing and peculiar journey in the years during the early 1970s in which they struggled to follow up "Tommy" with a yet bigger and better rock opera. Drawing on material from several dozen interviews and mountains of rare archival coverage and recordings, it's the definitive account of this fascinating period in the Who's career.

Also recently published is "White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day." Issued by Jawbone Press in 2009, this is the most comprehensive book ever written about this legendary and innovative group. The 368-page volume details the group's recording sessions, record releases, concerts, press reviews, and other major events shaping their career with both thorough detail and critical insight. Drawing on about 100 interviews and exhaustive research through documents and recordings rarely or never accessed, it unearths stories that have seldom been told, and eyewitness accounts that have seldom seen print, from figures ranging from band members to managers, producers, record executives, journalists, concert promoters, and fans. The July 2009 issue of MOJO magazine hails it as "an impressive menas to reflect on the conundrum of what could be the ultimate cult band...detailed and anecdote-packed." Uncut magazine chose it as #4 in its list of the ten best music books of 2009.

In 2006, Backbeat Books published his seventh book, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film," a mammoth 400-page, 300,000-word guide to the incredible wealth of music the Beatles recorded that they did not release, as well as musical footage of the group that hasn't been made commercially available. The book won a 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research in the "Best Discography" division of the "Best Research in Recorded Rock Music" category.

His sixth book, "Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock" (Backbeat, 2003) , is the second book in a two-volume history of the 1960s folk-rock movement. "Eight Miles High" covers folk-rock from mid-1966 to the end of the 1960s, drawing on more than 100 first-hand interviews, as did its predecessor, "Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk-Rock Revolution," which covers the history of folk-rock through mid-1966.

His book "Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll," published by Backbeat in 1998, profiled 60 underappreciated cult rock artists of all styles and eras. Its sequel, "Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock," was published by Backbeat in the fall of 2000. Both of these books draw extensively upon first-hand interviews with the musicians profiled, as well as interviews with many of their close associates. These volumes cover important artists that have rarely been covered in depth in print, and have often rarely had the opportunity to tell their stories and put forth their perspectives.

He is also author of "The Rough Guide to Music USA," a guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout America in the twentieth century; "The Rough Guide to Jimi Hendrix"; and the first two editions of the travel guidebook "The Rough Guide to Seattle." Since 1993, he has been a prolific contributor to the All Music Guide, the largest on-line database of music biographies and album reviews, for which he has written thousands of entries. He is the co-author of "The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience," published by the Rough Guides in early 2007.

He regularly presents events featuring rare rock films in the San Francisco Bay area and elsewhere, at public libraries and other venues. These include the main public libraries of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland Oregon, and San Jose, as well as the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Organizations interested in having him present such events can contact him through his website, In summer 2011, he taught a course on the Beatles for the College of Marin's community education program, and will be teaching it again for the September 6-October 11 fall session.

He has also contributed travel and music pieces to various publications, including MOJO, Record Collector, Pulse,, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Rough Guide to Rock, The Rough Guide Book of Playlists, the East Bay Express, 100 Albums That Changed Music, the Oxford American, the Daily Telegraph, No Depression, Ugly Things, American Songwriter, and Perfect Sound Forever. He has written liner notes to several hundred CD reissues for the Collectors' Choice Music, Sundazed, Rhino, Shout Factory, Water, 4 Men With Beards, Sunbeam, Raven, Stax, Beatball, and Top Sail labels. He is among the journalists interviewed for recent film documentaries on the Byrds, Tim Buckley, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, the Doors, Neil Young, and the genesis of New York underground rock in the 1960s and 1970s. He has traveled to more than thirty countries, and is a passionate advocate of independent travel and alternative culture in general. He lives in San Francisco.

There is more information about Richie Unterberger and his books on his website,

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 22 customer reviews
This is the book for the rock fan that has reached a temporary dead end in his/her quest for great music.
Jason NeSmith
As a result many hopeless hacks posing as dissidents gathered some limited popularity as "ambassadors of underground music".
Golovanov Alexey
A friend gave me this book as he knew I was interested in this sort of thing, and I thank him every so often for doing so.
Roscoe C. Pernwickle

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Moore on August 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
I bought this book yesterday and haven't been able to put it down since. My jury is not all the way in on this (I have to give it four stars to make room for Greil Marcus' MYSTERY TRAIN and, perhaps, Lester Bangs' PSYCHOTIC REACTIONS AND CARBURETOR DUNG), but I'm clearly hooked on it for the short haul. I'm not sure I've read a book like this before. There is plenty of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll here (especially the latter two), interesting tales of quirky, sometimes insane, behavior, as well as some strong arguments for why these people deserve more attention. It's easy to praise the merits of, say, the Beatles or the Clash, but Unterberger successfully engages me in (what is for most of us) musical terra incognito. I've only heard of about 1/3 of the artists Unterberger covers (I wouldn't say that Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, and Sandy Denny are exactly "unknowns"), but he makes me want to try and track down the records of some of these people (e.g., Skip Spence, Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects, etc.). This book reminds me--a little--of Nash's BLOOD LETTERS AND BAD MEN (for some reason--I guess I'm thinking of the Joe Meek piece) as well as Kenneth Anger's HOLLYWOOD BABYLON (b/c so many of the artists discussed come to bad ends via alcohol, drugs, insanity, etc.). The CD (45 minutes long) is interesting, but my jury is nowhere near decided on IT. At around $20, this book is a very good deal. It's not for everyone, but if you think you MIGHT be interested in it, you probably will. Here in a few days I might kick myself for not giving it five stars.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Roscoe C. Pernwickle on August 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
A friend gave me this book as he knew I was interested in this sort of thing, and I thank him every so often for doing so. As a musician and a music fanatic, I must say Rithchie Unterberger's book really opened my eyes to some incredible stuff I had never dreamed existed.
I must give my profound gratitude to Mr. Unterberger again (I emailed him a couple years back) for introducing me to some criminally underrated music groups that are now among my favorites. To name a few: The Music Machine, John's Children, United States of America and Savage Republic. I remember diligently tracking these groups down after reading this book and buying their albums even though I had only heard one or no songs of theirs at all. Mr. Unterberger's writing style seemed to speak to me exclusivley, and precisley communicated to me EXACTLY what the music sounded like in his words. When I bought the albums, I wasnt very surprised by how good they were on the first listen, as I already "heard" the music based soley on his descriptions alone. That proves how good this book really is. I am a rock fan in general, from new-wave to psych to mainstream alt-rock to aggro-japanese-noise-core, and this book gave me a profound new respect for the sixties. Being a child of the eighties, I did not have the luxury of hanging out at the Factory and/or Haight Ashbury in their '60s beatle-boot heydays. So ostensibly, the only way I could have found out about these wonderful groups is through a book such as this (god knows even NPR would not play most of this stuff during their interludes). Hats off to Ritchie Unterberger for his scholarly knowldege of the TRULY great groups of the sixties.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Unterberger is a critic who really does have a deep knowledge of rock history, especially in terms of little-known artists who have had an unexpected influence on others. Don't be too concerned with who exactly is in this book, because in a world where there's ten thousand unknown bands for every successful rock star, it would be impossible to cover any representative number of "unknowns" in one book. So Unterberger has written about artists that he's familiar with, and he's especially keen on those that were noticed by other open-minded musicians, and have actually influenced the course of rock history in unexpected ways. A few surprise twists are bands that famous people were in during their developmental days, most notably Marc Bolan (T. Rex) in the unheralded psychedelic band John's Children. Also featured in the book is much needed information on artists that most astute rock fans probably have heard of, but for which there is precious little information available, such as Love and Nick Drake. So while it's clearly impossible to cover everybody, Unterberger has done a real service to the artists he includes here. This book has turned me into a real fan of both Love (a tremendous band that all serious fans of rock history should be aware of), plus the intriguing Middle Eastern troupe Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects. I have also found myself very interested in Savage Rose, the Music Machine, and the Deviants, but I wish I could track down some of their stuff. For that reason (among others) the CD that comes with this book is a great bonus.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Rose on November 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Having finished Irwin Chusid's "Songs in the Key of Z" it made sense to keep going with "Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll". This book deals with more "accessible" people and groups, meaning that out of the 70 artists discussed, the average rock music person may have heard of at least one quarter to maybe half of them. Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd, and singer Sandy Denny are two readily familiar names. Joe Meek, the British creator of "Telstar", is also among the artists profiled.

British, American, German, Dutch and Iron Curtain artists from the 1950's through the 1990's are featured in this book. The psychedelic garage bands, British acts that didn't make the invasion of the 1960's and solo acts that possessed as much talent as writers and/or performers; that for lack of the "Big Break" or the machinations of the managers and/or record companies prevented the world at large from knowing of their existence.

Each performer is examined chapter by chapter; some with stories more heartbreaking than others. Unterberger made the effort to speak with as many of the performers as possible, getting them to reflect back on their struggles, accomplishments, and where it went wrong. If the performer was deceased or unavailable, he spoke with someone closely associated with the act. His prose is a first person account with extensive quotes from the artists and there are plenty of black and white photos that add to the telling. This book is very readable and informative. At the end of each chapter is "Recommended Recordings" where Unterberger lists available records and CDs for that artist.

Which leads to the BIG plus already with this book: it comes with a compact disc so you are able to hear what you are reading about!
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