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The History of Rock and Roll

4.0 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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(May 23, 2006)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

History of Rock 'N' Roll (DVD)

Ten titanic hours of the greatest rock extravaganza ever! This definitive 10-part documentary covers rock 'n' roll history from its humble beginnings in the '50s to Lollapalooza in the '90s. Fans can experience their favorite rock 'n' roll moments all over again through hundreds of exclusive interviews, classic footage, and unforgettable in-concert performances from rock 'n' roll's biggest stars. A must-own for any rock 'n' roll fan!


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

Special Features

  • The complete 10-part Time-Life series plus a bonus 80 minutes, all remastered in 5.1 Dolby

Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 5
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Time-Life Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0002234XQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,550 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The History of Rock and Roll" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Gilkey on June 15, 2004
Format: DVD
If you want this because you think you enjoyed it on PBS, it's important to know that PBS has broadcast at least two similarly-named 10-hour series on the topic of rock music history. One, titled "Rock and Roll" by "The Experience Project", as I recall, is a little "deeper" and I gained some appreciation of even topics in which I had little interest (e.g. punk rock). The other series, "The History Of Rock And Roll", by Time-Life (now Time-Warner), which is what you see here, is enjoyable but mostly shallow, and I was annoyed that the live performance clips are short (don't expect to see a complete song).

Both series were produced several years ago, and this series has no coverage of recent music.

If you could only afford one series, I would normally recommend "Rock And Roll", not this one. However, PBS seems to have a monopoly on "Rock And Roll", and last time I checked they would sell it only to educators, not the general public.

At $100 for 10 hours, this is not a great value. The price per hour is nearly 3 times the price of, for example, a year's worth of M*A*S*H episodes (24 episodes, each with 22 non-commercial minutes, for about $35).

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the series, and if you are
fortunate enough to be able to fit this into your budget, as I was, then I do recommend it.
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Format: DVD
Incredibly entertaining; especially for anyone who has lived through the times talked about. Many, many of the songs ARE full-length versions, albeit with commentary provided over the top. But, after all, it is a documentary and not a CD set. I watched it about three times already and have included here what I would have liked to have known, mainly what songs and artists are covered, in essentially the order they're presented in. I may have missed a few, but what follows is 99% correct:

Episode One: Rock `n' Roll Explodes

* With or Without You - U2

* Wild Think - Jimi Hendrix

* Money Honey - Elvis Presley

* Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen

* Billie Jean - Michael Jackson

* Shut `Em Down - Public Enemy

* I Just Want to Make Love to You - the Rolling Stones

* Got My Mojo Working - Muddy Waters

* Hey, Good Looking - Hank Williams Sr.
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Format: DVD
In 1995, two -- count 'em -- TWO ten-part TV series on the history of rock and roll were broadcast: the superb "Rock & Roll" on PBS, and this one in syndication. Unfortunately, this is the one that seems to persist; VH1 ran it a few years back, and now it's on DVD. There's really no comparison -- think "I Love The 80's" (minus the humor) vs. "Ken Burns' Jazz".
The whole feeling of the thing is cheap and exploitative. I didn't care for the way ALL the same musicians were quoted about ALL periods and ALL types of music. So you get Tom Petty and Elvis Costello (both of whom I love, don't get me wrong) talking about the Beatles AND Elvis AND punk, etc., as opposed to in "Rock & Roll", where as much as possible the people on camera are the people who were there -- Chuck Berry, Sam Phillips, the earliest rock and roll DJs. Also, other than trying to pander to lowest common denominator segment of the audience, what's the point of singling out rap and disco for the "fair and balanced" treatment -- i.e., giving equal time to musicians who hate that kind of music? Skunk Baxter and Gregg Allman, weighing in on rap ("...short for CRAP!") come off as smug hillbilly bigots.
Pandering is evident in the structure of the show as well. Although the idea of starting in the middle (Bob Dylan goes electric) and then proceeding from the beginning is interesting, I can't be too impressed with later chapters like "The 70's" -- again, I'm biased toward the thematic episodes of "Rock and Roll" rather than the grab-bag approach. The last chapter is almost embarassing in the way it rushes through the final 15-odd years post-1980 to get to Green Day (very hot in 1995, but can you imagine they'd make the cut if this series were made today?).
Long story short, wait for the next PBS pledge drive and watch "Rock and Roll" instead.
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Format: DVD
I am a 17 year old rock music fan but I love absolutely everything about rock and roll music. My love has led me to the purchase of many, many CDs and the constant studying of everything from the '50s through the '90s. I know a great deal about music but I wanted to learn even more, so I did a project on music for my AP American History class. To help me study, I watched this documentary. I was only partially satisfied and I'd like to review the set by episode:

Episode 1: Rock 'n' Roll Explodes

This episode was basically without form or structure. It set out the explore the roots of rock and roll music but ended up being a 45 minute introduction to the rest of the set. First off, I take offense to the fact that U2 of all bands is the first artist shown performing in the set. I don't understand WHAT they have to do with the early origins of music, and if they are supposed to represent modern music (at the time of the set) why weren't more artists featured? Certainly there are many better than U2. The rest of the hour is spent talking about the very early musicians, such as Bo Diddley and Hank Williams, Sr. who influenced future generations. However, the lack of film from this period necessitates more talking than actual music clips.


Episode 2: Good Rockin' Tonight

This episode is a definite step up from the first one, but not by much. The reasons for the improvements are because there is more footage of actual artists performing, so we don't have to listen to an endless stream of artists hemming and hawing about Elvis. And the comments that are made are much more successful, largely because they are made by the artists who actually lived it such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
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