We are living in a minute of so numerous distinctive mediums—Op-Docs, TikToks, Discord chats—and, as a result, we often practical experience a pleasure approaching bliss when another person lines up just one of those forms with substance that matches it perfectly. This congruence is rarer than you may possibly imagine even though I have by no means made a podcast of my individual, for instance, I’ve always been interested in the medium (and very long ago helped conceive of what turned the fantastic Internet internet site Transom, where by amateur podcasters discover their things). But in some cases that fascination is about how poorly information and medium can line up: Joe Rogan talking for quite a few hours about his certain sights of the world strikes me as a mismatch absolutely the proper medium below would be “barstool.” Even the legitimate-criminal offense fixation that typically appears to be poised to acquire in excess of podcasting strikes me as ill-fitting: the problems in generating a little something sonically desirable that almost by definition went unrecorded implies relying on a sequence of tropes (the reporter leaving a message on an answering machine, the reporter listening to the G.P.S. in her vehicle as she drives toward the suspect’s dwelling) that were being tiresome halfway by way of the first time of “Serial.”
But speaking about music? That is effective. In fact, it is charmed—it will take tunes from where it usually resides (in the background) and isolates it, highlights it, pins it down where it can be examined. For a long time, I’ve listened with pleasure to just one of the pioneers in this subgenre, “Sound Thoughts,” which mixes songs history with contemporary-file testimonials, and more than time I’ve long gone on to appreciate “Song Exploder,” “Broken Record” (interviews with musicians now handled by Rick Rubin and, total disclosure, edited by my daughter), the BBC’s nostalgic “Soul Tunes,” and “Heat Rocks” NPR’s ever-growing “All Tunes Considered” universe could by by itself fill your listening hours. But my semi-obsession for the previous 12 months may well be the finest instance of all: a fairly obscure job termed, pretty correctly, “A Background of Rock Songs in 500 Music.” It arrives from an Englishman named Andrew Hickey, about whom I can say incredibly little—when I wrote to check with him a couple of queries, he wrote back to say, “I am an *extraordinarily* personal particular person and really do not want *any* of my private lifetime in the public area.” It is doable that this stance could be shifting just a bit—he e-mailed individuals of us who guidance him on Patreon a short while ago to say that he’d recorded an interview with Rubin for upcoming broadcast on one of Rubin’s podcasts—but I help him totally in his resolve: his task is so wide that it can only be in contrast to, say, the construction of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The only history important to grasp a little bit of Hickey is his bibliography: he has done a guide to the first fifty a long time of “Doctor Who” a ebook about “The Unusual Earth of Gurney Slade” (a surreal comedy sequence that ran for six episodes on ITV in 1960) histories of the Monkees, the Kinks, and Los Angeles pop tunes of the nineteen-sixties an “unauthorised guide” to a comic-reserve series named “Seven Troopers of Victory” and a a few-quantity catalogue of each monitor the Beach Boys have recorded. He is, in other words, a fan—but not the gushy kind. He’s the sterner variety, a considered completist who tries to go through and pigeonhole every little thing about a phenomenon. And, as it happens, he has the type of mind—rare, I imagine, for a fan—that can make all kinds of connections across time and location. It would seem entirely achievable that he was born to get on this specific venture, and it also appears to be solely possible that it will get rid of him, simply because in its scope it summons up Gibbon or Pepys. Set basically, Hickey has chosen 5 hundred tunes that he thinks delineate the historical past of what came to be known as rock and roll, and he is devoting an episode to just about every.
He commences way again at the very beginning—Episode 164, on the Velvet Underground, for occasion, opens with John Cage likely door to door in Santa Monica giving to offer housewives lessons in music and art appreciation. Hickey performs no interviews—it’s just his investigation, painstakingly organized to make a issue. At very first, these essays have been of workable length—half an hour for Episode 4, discussing “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” by Louis Jordan. (“In the nineteen-forties and early fifties, the educate nevertheless intended freedom, nonetheless intended escape, and even once that experienced vanished from people’s minds it was nevertheless enshrined in the chug of the backbeat, in the choo choo ch’boogie.”) But the transcript of even that episode is four thousand text extensive, which, multiplied by 5 hundred, would give you two million terms of articles, and would ideal Gibbon by 50 percent a million. (Winston Churchill’s six-volume heritage of the Second Planet War clocks in at all over 1.25 million text the Bible scarcely hits a few quarters of a million.) And, in any occasion, Hickey’s ability to command his product has started to gloriously unravel as he has proceeded. A modern episode—No. 165—is devoted to “Dark Star,” by the Grateful Dead, and it clocks in at nicely around 4 hrs and 38,458 words. At this pace, Hickey will eclipse just about every literary venture in heritage the latest strategy is to reach the five hundredth tune sometime late in this ten years, but that presupposes he can preserve writing what quantities to a guide each individual fortnight or so. We shall see.
Oh, and that summation doesn’t include the reward episodes of the podcast that he’s carrying out for his Patreon subscribers—an extra music around every single two weeks, the insignificant music that do not make his checklist of five hundred immortals but which he just can’t bear (a completist, remember) to overlook. For instance, a short while ago Hickey coated “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” by the Bonzo Canine Band, in a reward episode that weighs in at forty-a few hundred words and explores, among other items, the group’s vital influences on “Monty Python’s Traveling Circus.” If all of this appears like far too a lot, it would be—except that it turns out the history of rock and roll is a remarkably helpful way of telling the story of the (English-talking, for the most section) environment in our time. There may possibly not be a better—and absolutely no additional listenable—approach to dissecting race in The us, the increase of youth lifestyle, the triumph and tribulation of consumerism. And Hickey does this admirably, in amongst detailing who was participating in bass on what cut.
The dilemma of wherever rock and roll commences is, of program, as imponderable as the source of the Amazon, and Hickey has reverent exciting knocking down all the doable contenders (“Rocket 88”? “Rock All around the Clock”? Massive Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”?). But his exploration of the tributaries is endlessly illuminating—he commences with Benny Goodman’s “Flying Home” and his concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938, which also featured Count Basie, Lester Youthful, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa. He’s intrigued, higher than all, in the electrically amplified guitar solo that Charlie Christian performs in a recorded variation of the track a calendar year later. Hickey states:
The electrical guitar is the by way of line right here, if there can be a motif for a symphony this absurdly enormous. By way of the forties and fifties, Hickey follows this fuse as it sputters and flares, right up until eventually, in October, 1962, it explodes with a bang that we nevertheless can hear—that was the month the Beatles unveiled “Love Me Do,” James Brown carried out “Live at the Apollo,” and Booker T. & the M.G.’s released “Green Onions.” (And Peter, Paul and Mary’s eponymous début album strike No. 1, and the Contours had 1 of Motown’s 1st R. & B. smashes, “Do You Appreciate Me.”) It is at this level that Hickey’s episodes start off receiving longer and longer we’re at 1968 now, dwelling with all the gods: Marvin, John and Paul, Stevie, Aretha. Finally, if Hickey’s health and fitness holds up (he has described his dyspraxia, a congenital ailment that will cause troubles with motor techniques and coördination, and he normally writes his subscribers to say that an episode has been delayed by health issues or exhaustion), we will go earlier, say, 1972, and into the prolonged era of aftershocks he admits that declaring the end of the rock-and-roll years is as arbitrary as naming its starting up stage, but his (as still unannounced) five hundredth music will be from 1999. Just after that level, he says, “various flavours of hip-hop, digital dance new music, made pop, and half a dozen genres that a center-aged male like myself could not even name are obtaining the cultural and commercial impact that in preceding a long time was typically made by guitar bands.”