Various Artists

History of Rock & Roll: Guitar Heroes/The 70's: Have a Nice Decade [Video/DVD]

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This two-hour DVD from Time-Life, parallelling Disc Four of Warner Home Video's multi-disc History of Rock & Roll, combines a pair of documentary subjects. The first, Guitar Heroes, is a salute to the instrument that's a little bit too flashy and splashy to do too much delving inside the history of its subject. Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Brian May, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Paul Stanley, and Mark Knopfler represent rock, while B.B. King speaks for the blues: most are supported by relevant performance clips of varying lengths -- Knopfler and Dire Straits are especially well-covered in the latter regard (there's also a great clip from This Is Spinal Tap). The historical side of the film is very thin, jumping from the 1930s to Les Paul without any mention of Charlie Christian or any other black pioneers in the field of electric guitar. It eventually gets to the 1950s and the birth of rockabilly and the entrance of Elvis Presley, and jumps to James Burton paying tribute to Scotty Moore with Burton's solo spotlighted (it's a pity that Moore isn't seen, but we do get a great clip of Ricky Nelson's "Hello Marylou,") Chuck Berry is represented by a killer early clip of "Johnny B. Goode," which gives Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts their intro, along with comments from Johnny Rivers, followed by Jimmy Page and Carl Perkins. Stevie Ray Vaughan is used as an introduction to the blues section, along with B.B. King -- who expresses gratitude to the rock & rollers who followed in his wake for giving bluesmen like him a place to go -- Ron Wood and the Rolling Stones, and Mick Fleetwood. The Yardbirds section includes Jeff Beck's humorous acceptance speech for his induction into the Rock and roll Hall of Fame, and from there we make the leap to Led Zeppelin, then laterally to Cream and Eric Clapton, with Peter Frampton recalling the prevailing admiration for the guitar god during the 1960s, which leads to Clapton's explanation of his approach to blues. All of that leads to Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. From there we move into the modern era with observations by Bono and clips of U2, culminating with the 1994 House of Blues performance honoring Les Paul. Gary Busey is the narrator and is, understandably, a lot less focused, particularly as some of the individuals interviewed express the view that the music in question stank -- Elton John, Kiss, Steely Dan, Van Halen, Jethro Tull, the Doobie Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Electric Light Orchestra, and Earth, Wind & Fire are all represented. The performance clips are the key here: a 1969 television appearance by Led Zeppelin in which the band is obligated to introduce its members ahead of a performance of "How Many More Times"; Bob Marley in concert, and a live clip of the original Steely Dan lineup doing "Reelin' in the Years": these three alone are worth the price of admission. The interviews are sometimes fascinating, as when Robert Plant is counterbalanced by Pete Townshend as nay sayer, expressing his distaste for Zeppelin. There are lots -- too many -- bases covered, since the decade saw every kind of phenomenon from the growth of arena rock to the disco boom, with explosions of interest in art-rock, reggae, and seemingly everything else under the sun. The changes are fascinating to recall, as it necessarily got bigger, both in the studio (where 64 tracks became the norm) and on-stage, as an extension -- the funniest moments come from Ozzy Osbourne's comments, not only about his own work but the contribution, such as it was, of Kiss. Alice Cooper isn't too far behind, describing himself and his group as "the band that drove a stake through the heart of the love generation," and compared their impact on Midwestern kids as the equivalent of a truck hitting them. David Bowie's wry recollections of the Ziggy Stardust tour close out what amounts to the general artist section -- the recollections of the excesses lead to a nod to singer/songwriters by way of Jackson Browne, and to the final rock section on Fleetwood Mac, whose success with Rumours heralded the explosion of sales on albums such as Frampton Comes Alive!, and led to a pull-back from all but mega-platinum artists. The section devoted to disco music is laced with the almost universal contempt that rock musicians (and many soul artists, as well) held for it -- news footage of an anti-disco rally in Chicago in 1979, along with home movies of a drum machine being wrecked by Stan Lynch, a member of Tom Petty's band, captures the tone. And that leads us to the final section, a full ten minutes on Bruce Springsteen, who, if the narrative is to be believed, rescued the world from disco music. Each performance clip and section gets a chapter marker, for a total of more than 35 for each documentary; the easy-to-use menu also offers uncut interviews with Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, and Eddie Van Halen.