Rock & Roll Books

Any Old Way You Choose It

Rock & Roll Books

The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard

by Roni Sarig

Billboard Books, 288 pp., $18.95 (paper)

There are two great fallacies in rock: commercial disc jockeys play the music they want; and all rock musicians ride in chauffeured limousines. In reality, commercial deejays are data entry drones, told what to play by the corporate office. And only a very small fraction of rock musicians sell enough records to pay back loan shark labels and make money. Fewer still get rich while leaving their artistic stamp. Trailblazers are generally dismissed as a novelty, reviled as too confrontational or simply ignored, only to have their work be discovered years later, sometimes only after their death.

Yet rock wouldn't be where it is today without creative innovators who invent, blur, and destroy genres. Roni Sarig's goal in The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard is to showcase these visionaries. To quote Sarig, music editor of Atlanta's cultural weekly Creative Loafing: "There is a significant segment of rock history made up of groups that were little known in their time (and perhaps even less known now), but nevertheless have helped define in some measure the music we listen to today." Not a biography of rock to date, Secret History is instead a survey of aesthetic prime movers organized into 16 categorical chapters, such as "Frayed Roots" (Nick Drake and the Cramps), "Original Rappers" (U-Roy and Gil Scott-Heron), "The Post-Industrial Wasteland" (Throbbing Gristle and Chrome), and "Riot Moms and Other Angry Women" (Lydia Lunch and the Slits).

Sarig's readable but far-from-bland descriptive text is punctuated with quotes from 85 popular and influential musicians. This format lets those-in-the-know help spin the tale, like Guided by Voices frontman Bob Pollard: "They talk about us being the pioneers of low-fi but I think of bands like Silver Apples, they were way before us." Sarig's aim is to sing for the unsung in modern rock but not the entire rock idiom, so you won't find bellwether blues artists. Rather, you'll read about those who worked with the blues form, like Gun Club, and how they in turn influenced today's creative crop, such as Morphine's late, great frontman Mark Sandman. "[Gun Club] had a fresh way of playing the songs and getting the feel, but skipping 25 years of blues clichés."

Since Secret History's raison d'être is to showcase the unheard, a companion recording would have been extremely useful. And given the immense talent described within, it'd probably sell well too. In lieu of such an accompanying CD, each artist's section ends with an up-to-date discography. Informative and entertaining, Secret History is a crucial reference for players and fans alike.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle