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Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock Paperback – May 1, 2003
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About the Author
Richie Unterberger is one of today's most prolific and respected writers on 20th century American popular music. Author of Turn! Turn! Turn, Urban Spacemen, and Unknown Legends, he is a senior editor for allmusic.com, the Internet's largest database of artist bios and album reviews.
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Unterberger writes with an opinionated but reader- friendly style. His writing lacks the bombast, snobbery, and smug attitude that we often find with some of the old guard of music critics. Unterberger tends to see things in a more open- minded,inclusive way than many of the famous writers like Christgau and Dave Marsh, and Jann Wenner and the other rolling stone writers, who seem to have picked the obvious choices of the era and a few pets like Springsteen and Jackson Browne when considering who is worthy of respect and worth hearing for the era. Nothing against those talented guys, but let's face it: they are where they are in large part because of their annointing by scribes with friends in high places. Everyone else is either dismissed as irrelevant or trash to those writers. Unlike Christgau,Unterberger doesn't waste time with poisonous diatribes. Unlike Marsh he doesn't stick to boring, predictable lists generally comprised of overplayed hits. it's all subjective, true, but anyone with the audacity to list the best Beatles single of all time at a lowly #29 simply should not be read, period! Unterberger lets you know where he stands on a musician or group but doesn't try to force his opinion on you. One can picture getting into a friendly argument with Unterberger , the way guys in bars debate who is worthy of enshrinement in a sports hall of fame, and that's something I have trouble imagining with some of these other writers. I don't always agree with Unterberger, for example, he calls the Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow the best of the San Francisco sound, while i would say that while its a great disc, and it might be the most important, i would opt for Moby Grape's stunning debut, even though it is perhaps not exactly indicative of the S.F. sound per se( the most obvious parrallel album is probably Buffalo Springfield's first)- but that is what makes the book so compelling and thought provoking. I also wonder why he mentions the first , much more psychedelic and jazz influenced album by Mad River, who were probably, in my estimation, the best San Francisco area band that never made much of a dent nationally. While their second album is derivative of the likes of The Band, Creedence, the Youngbloods, and others, ( the first one was a lot like Quicksilver or Country Joe) I actually think it is the better of the two, and more of a folk rock/ country rock album.
unterberger's book is sure to please the entire range of music afficionados; both the person who just wants to know the story of folk-rock and the sixties enthusiast who is hoping to unearth some interesting tidbits about obscure figures from the remote past are sure to be pleased with the work. most people think of folk rock as the dylan newport incident, the byrds, eve of destruction and a few other big events and hits, but this book shows there was so much more going on during this era. musical mutations (and regressions) were occurring at an astonishing rate. simultaneous movements were happening both here and in the british isles and elsewhere. unterberger skillfully demonstrates the changes , differences, and similarities that were passing back and forth, leading to distinctive styles as well as overlapping features. if i have one complaint about this work it is that it's too brief. it will definitely make you want to more about the figures it desrcibes, and will probably send you to the internet to discover more facts about some group or artist.
before reading this book , i knew that folk rock was more than a few major hits and a handful of well known performers. but it did make me think just how pervasive the influence of folk and folk rock was on pop and rock in the sixties and early seventies. the innovations and strengths of the music of that era, for me, have not even come close to be being matched since. this book made me think that even much of the far out music of the era had connections with folk. in fact , it is much harder to think of music that isn't, in some way, folk-rock. for instance, the silver apples and the United States of America, pioneering electonic music innovators,would not make anyone's list of folk rockers, but on the Silver Apples 2nd record, contact, we hear a song called Ruby that features some banjo and even bluegrass vocals, and on the USA album the songs are sometimes interspersed with magnificent Civil War era sounding tubas and the like. In another bizarre example, both 1970 DEBUTalbums by the hard rock/early metal bands UFO and Uriah Heep, renditions of the standard 'Come Away Melinda " are featured. The much maligned Heep actually do a very impressive version of this tune, perhaps best remembered for the Tim Rose version, although Judy Collins and even Harry Belafonte did this great anti -war song. Even one of my favorite all time bands, The Move, got into the act with songs like Mist on A Monday Morning, their magnificent cover of the baroque rock/ sometimes folk band Ars Nova's Fields of People, and the Bee Gees meets British Isles Folk number called "No Time." These facts show that Unterberger's book is likely to make the reader create connections of his or her own. I highly recommend this book, and look forward to the next Unterberger tome.
The book captures some of the feeling of the time (much of which, if you remember, was pretty bloody judgmental in certain respects), and I submit that makes it worth reading. Definitive? Show me the agreed-to definitions for any of this stuff, and I'll be happy to apply them. But whoever has them hasn't showed up yet.
Grab a chord, and come along for the ride.
I am also supposing that he arrived at a good number of these original opinions by reading certain critics whom he favors, as he himself was barely out of the toddler stage when the music was happening that he writes about. At least that's how much of 'Eight Miles High' seems to read, like he's quoting a series of sound bites he picked up various places, and are still simmering in the back-burner of his brain.
This is not to say that 'Eight Miles High' isn't a valuable resource, encyclopedic in its scope - but it can be difficult to look past the hurried and/or glib judgements that threaten at many points to stink up what otherwise seems like a valiant and meritorious effort.
I imagine hopefully that there won't be this sort of a problem with his new book on Beatles music.