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Feature: Rock 'n' roll 'gold'

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   June 18, 2004 at 8:10 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, June 18 (UPI) -- Golden oldies have been a part of rock 'n' roll since shortly after the first hit record, and now the form has truly gone gold -- as its celebrates its 50th anniversary, with help from a new special issue of Rolling Stone.

The magazine put out a special issue earlier this year called "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time." Now it's out with one called "50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock & Roll."

Like all such lists, it is bound to stimulate discussion, debate, disagreement and argument over particular items that should have made the cut but didn't, as well as items that are on the list that may not have the strongest claim to be there.

The great moments are listed in chronological order, rather than in order of their magnitude of greatness, Assistant Managing Editor Jason Fine told United Press International. That was done to avoid debate over which one moment was greater than another in the evolution of rock 'n' roll.

However, the list begins with a moment that the magazine staff voted as the birth of rock 'n' roll -- the July 5, 1954, recording session at Sun Studio in Memphis when a 19-year-old Elvis Presley recorded "That's All Right."

That declaration overlooks the historical data. Bill Haley and the Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock" several months earlier, in April 1954.

Still, the subjectivity that makes lists like these so arguable in so many respects also contributes to one of the more fascinating components of the special issue -- firsthand accounts from many of those who were not only present at, but who were significantly responsible for, the creation of some of classic rock 'n' roll.

Bruce Springsteen recalls the E Street Band's breakout five-night stand at the Bottom Line in New York, just prior to the release of Springsteen's third album, "Born to Run," in 1975.

"It was our coming out party," Springsteen said. "And some sort of transformation occurred over those five nights. We walked out of that place in a different place."

Yoko Ono writes about her last days with John Lennon, before he was killed in New York in 1980.

"I'd like you to listen to his words, again, if you have chance," she wrote. "It will give you power."

Phil Spector describes the recording sessions at Gold Star in early '60s Los Angeles, sessions that produced such hits as "Be My Baby."

Fine said when the magazine contacted artists about the issue, they were for the most part happy to contribute.

"Artists tend to talk about the things that interest them," he said. "Almost everyone we asked came through."

Spector -- currently facing a murder charge in the shooting death of an actress at his Los Angeles home in 2003 -- rarely does interviews. He spoke to the magazine via e-mail.

Springsteen, as he has generally been throughout his career, was more than cooperative.

"Bruce sort of called our writer," said Fine, "picked up his phone and dialed the number and talked to him about the time he played the Bottom Line."

The list pays tribute to the Brill Building -- the famous New York songwriting factory that turned out The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" -- and to Motown, Berry Gordy's Detroit-based company that introduced music fans to such legendary artists as Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.

James Brown's live show and album from the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Kingsmen's rollicking "Louie, Louie" and Bob Dylan's embrace of electric guitars also made the list.

The Grateful Dead, the Doors and the Beach Boys are all represented -- as are, naturally, the Beatles, for their groundbreaking 1967 album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Fine endorsed the suggestion that many contemporary bands are more or less picking up where the Beatles left off.

"Who isn't?" he said. "There's never been a better band. They laid the groundwork for so many things -- great songs and great records, re-setting the limit for what was teen pop music. And they made it into art, and every band since then has been using some of those things."

Of course, the Beatles' roots are evident as well -- in '50s and '60s artists such as Presley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

Berry made the list, with Rolling Stone recalling the words of Eric Clapton, who said Berry "laid down the law" for playing rock 'n' roll. But Holly did not make the list, even though he is widely acknowledged as one of the form's great pioneers, and even though his death in a plane crash in 1959 is still called "the day the music died."

Rock 'n' roll will never die, or so they say in some of the songs. If that's the case, it's likely the debate about rock's greatest moments is also destined to go on forever.

--

(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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