A Music Podcast Not like Any Different

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We stay in a second of so many various mediums—Op-Docs, TikToks, Discord chats—and, in consequence, we often expertise a pleasure approaching bliss when somebody traces up a type of kinds with materials that matches it completely. This congruence is rarer than you may think; although I’ve by no means made a podcast of my very own, as an illustration, I’ve all the time been within the medium (and way back helped conceive of what grew to become the great Website Transom, the place novice podcasters be taught their stuff). However generally that fascination is about how badly message and medium can line up: Joe Rogan speaking for a lot of hours about his explicit views of the world strikes me as a mismatch; absolutely the best medium right here can be “barstool.” Even the true-crime fixation that always appears poised to take over podcasting strikes me as ill-fitting: the problem in making one thing sonically interesting that nearly by definition went unrecorded means counting on a collection of tropes (the reporter leaving a message on an answering machine, the reporter listening to the G.P.S. in her automobile as she drives towards the suspect’s home) that have been tiresome midway by the primary season of “Serial.”

However speaking about music? That works. The truth is, it’s charmed—it takes music from the place it usually resides (within the background) and isolates it, highlights it, pins it down the place it may be examined. For many years, I’ve listened with pleasure to one of many pioneers on this subgenre, “Sound Opinions,” which mixes music historical past with contemporary-record evaluations, and over time I’ve gone on to get pleasure from “Track Exploder,” “Damaged Document” (interviews with musicians now dealt with by Rick Rubin and, full disclosure, edited by my daughter), the BBC’s nostalgic “Soul Music,” and “Warmth Rocks”; NPR’s ever-expanding “All Songs Thought-about” universe might by itself fill your listening hours. However my semi-obsession for the final 12 months could also be the very best instance of all: a considerably obscure challenge referred to as, fairly precisely, “A Historical past of Rock Music in 500 Songs.” It comes from an Englishman named Andrew Hickey, about whom I can say little or no—after I wrote to ask him a couple of questions, he wrote again to say, “I’m an *terribly* personal individual and don’t need *any* of my personal life within the public area.” It’s potential that this stance could also be shifting only a bit—he e-mailed these of us who assist him on Patreon just lately to say that he’d recorded an interview with Rubin for future broadcast on one in all Rubin’s podcasts—however I assist him fully in his resolve: his challenge is so huge that it may possibly solely be in comparison with, say, the development of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The one background essential to know a little bit of Hickey is his bibliography: he has accomplished a information to the primary fifty years of “Physician Who”; a e-book about “The Unusual World of Gurney Slade” (a surreal comedy collection that ran for six episodes on ITV in 1960); histories of the Monkees, the Kinks, and Los Angeles pop music of the nineteen-sixties; an “unauthorised information” to a comic-book collection referred to as “Seven Troopers of Victory”; and a three-volume catalogue of each observe the Seashore Boys have recorded. He’s, in different phrases, a fan—however not the gushy form. He’s the sterner form, a even handed completist who tries to learn and pigeonhole all the pieces a couple of phenomenon. And, because it occurs, he has the form of thoughts—uncommon, I feel, for a fan—that may make all types of connections throughout time and place. It appears fully potential that he was born to tackle this explicit challenge, and it additionally appears fully potential that it’s going to kill him, as a result of in its scope it summons up Gibbon or Pepys. Put merely, Hickey has chosen 5 hundred songs that he thinks delineate the historical past of what got here to be referred to as rock and roll, and he’s devoting an episode to every.

He begins manner again on the very starting—Episode 164, on the Velvet Underground, as an illustration, opens with John Cage going door to door in Santa Monica providing to promote housewives classes in music and artwork appreciation. Hickey performs no interviews—it’s simply his analysis, painstakingly organized to make a degree. At first, these essays have been of manageable size—half an hour for Episode 4, discussing “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” by Louis Jordan. (“Within the nineteen-forties and early fifties, the practice nonetheless meant freedom, nonetheless meant escape, and even as soon as that had vanished from individuals’s minds it was nonetheless enshrined within the chug of the backbeat, within the choo choo ch’boogie.”) However the transcript of even that episode is 4 thousand phrases lengthy, which, multiplied by 5 hundred, would offer you two million phrases of content material, and would finest Gibbon by half 1,000,000. (Winston Churchill’s six-volume historical past of the Second World Struggle clocks in at round 1.25 million phrases; the Bible barely hits three quarters of 1,000,000.) And, in any occasion, Hickey’s capacity to regulate his materials has begun to gloriously unravel as he has proceeded. A current episode—No. 165—is dedicated to “Darkish Star,” by the Grateful Useless, and it clocks in at effectively over 4 hours and 38,458 phrases. At this tempo, Hickey will eclipse each literary challenge in historical past; the present plan is to achieve the 5 hundredth track someday late on this decade, however that presupposes he can preserve writing what quantities to a e-book each fortnight or so. We will see.

Oh, and that summation doesn’t embody the bonus episodes of the podcast that he’s doing for his Patreon subscribers—an additional track roughly each two weeks, the minor songs that don’t make his checklist of 5 hundred immortals however which he can’t bear (a completist, bear in mind) to disregard. As an illustration, just lately Hickey lined “I’m the City Spaceman,” by the Bonzo Canine Band, in a bonus episode that weighs in at forty-three hundred phrases and explores, amongst different issues, the group’s necessary influences on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” If all of this feels like an excessive amount of, it will be—besides that it seems the historical past of rock and roll is a remarkably helpful manner of telling the story of the (English-speaking, for probably the most half) world in our time. There is probably not a greater—and positively no extra listenable—method to dissecting race in America, the rise of youth tradition, the triumph and tribulation of consumerism. And Hickey does this admirably, in between explaining who was enjoying bass on what minimize.

The query of the place rock and roll begins is, in fact, as imponderable because the supply of the Amazon, and Hickey has reverent enjoyable flattening all of the potential contenders (“Rocket 88”? “Rock Across the Clock”? Huge Mama Thornton’s “Hound Canine”?). However his exploration of the tributaries is endlessly illuminating—he begins with Benny Goodman’s “Flying House” and his live performance at Carnegie Corridor in 1938, which additionally featured Depend Basie, Lester Younger, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa. He’s , above all, within the electrically amplified guitar solo that Charlie Christian performs in a recorded model of the track a 12 months later. Hickey says:

[This solo] is in contrast to just about something ever performed on guitar within the studio earlier than. Christian’s quick bursts of single-note guitar line are, to all intents and functions, rockabilly—it’s the identical form of guitar enjoying we’ll hear from [Elvis’s guitarist] Scotty Moore sixteen years later. It doesn’t sound like something revolutionary now, however, bear in mind, up so far the guitar had basically solely been a rhythm instrument in jazz, with a really small handful of exceptions, like Django Reinhardt. You merely couldn’t play single-note lead traces on the guitar and have it heard over saxes or trumpets till the arrival of electrification.

The electrical guitar is the by line right here, if there could be a motif for a symphony this absurdly large. By means of the 40’s and fifties, Hickey follows this fuse because it sputters and flares, till lastly, in October, 1962, it explodes with a bang that we nonetheless can hear—that was the month the Beatles launched “Love Me Do,” James Brown carried out “Dwell on the Apollo,” and Booker T. & the M.G.’s launched “Inexperienced Onions.” (And Peter, Paul and Mary’s eponymous début album hit No. 1, and the Contours had one in all Motown’s first R. & B. smashes, “Do You Love Me.”) It’s at this level that Hickey’s episodes begin getting longer and longer; we’re at 1968 now, dwelling with all of the gods: Marvin, John and Paul, Stevie, Aretha. Finally, if Hickey’s well being holds up (he has described his dyspraxia, a congenital situation that causes difficulties with motor expertise and coördination, and he usually writes his subscribers to say that an episode has been delayed by sickness or fatigue), we’ll transfer previous, say, 1972, and into the lengthy period of aftershocks; he admits that declaring the top of the rock-and-roll years is as arbitrary as naming its place to begin, however his (as but unannounced) 5 hundredth track might be from 1999. After that time, he says, “numerous flavours of hip-hop, digital dance music, manufactured pop, and half a dozen genres {that a} middle-aged man like myself couldn’t even identify are having the cultural and industrial impression that in earlier a long time was largely made by guitar bands.”