Shelf Life

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The Independent Culture
The blessed St Bob at the keyboard (below) is one of a wealth of illustrations in Robert Palmer's Dancing in the Street: A Rock and Roll History (BBC Books pounds 17.99), a glossy multi-pounder to accompany the BBC2 series that began last Saturday. For those who are glued to every repeat of the Rock 'n' Roll Years, and even for those who are bored witless by the mere idea of another rock 'n' roll history, it might be worth taking a look at this one. Ten chapters shadow the route of the TV series, more or less, and to these New York Times music critic Palmer adds three thoughtful essays with such sensible, sober titles as "Delinquents of Heaven, Hoodlums from Hell" and "The Church of the Sonic Guitar".

The book claims for itself, and for the series, "years of patiently tracking down elusive musicians, many of them major artists who rarely, if ever, give interviews". If somehow the words "years" "patiently" and "elusive" do not seem to chime with the spirit of rock (and if we've heard it all before about those people who "never" give interviews), Palmer certainly manages to convey some of the tough, socio-racial prejudice that surrounded the genre in its infancy. "Smash the records you possess which present a pagan culture and a pagan way of life" thundered the newsletter of the Minneapolis Catholic Youth Centre in 1958. More upfront still was a circular from the Citizens' Council of New Orleans: "Help Save the Youth of America: Stop Buying Negro Records!"

The body of the book, however, is a pretty clear indication that the "pagan way of life" has triumphed - just in case we were in any doubt. The exuberance of pictures, layout and quotes is matched to a text that is more than a Beginners' Guide, but cleverly pitched so that the reasonably well- informed and the haven't-a-clue will both be happy. Nobody can remember all the good old days, after all.

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