Rock 'n' Roll Books Redux

The stack of rock & roll books on my desk was barely mined in this week’s review section. Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock & Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker (Farrar Strauss Giroux, $14, 226 pages) accompanied my reading of Morgana Welch’s Hollywood Diaries. In this book, Welch is grown up and her voice is one of many that paints details in this picturesque book about the fabled Los Angeles canyon. Walker eschews personal musings and lets the inhabitants reflect on the magic that lined streets with names like Wonderland Avenue. Graham Nash, Michael Des Barres, Mark Volman, Henry Diltz, and Gail Zappa are among the glittery whose memories of it are untarnished by time.

Walker excels in making the canyon come alive at its best, with the sounds of the Byrds drifting through the trees, Crosby, Stills & Nash lifting their voices together for the first time, and a particularly warm portrait of Cass Elliott of the Mamas & Papas. It was the Doors, Steppenwolf, Joni Mitchell, the Turtles, Frank Zappa, John Mayall – the California dreamers who rode the peaceful canyon breeze, if only until the idyll was shattered by the dark shadow of the Manson Family. If you loved Positively 4th Street, about adventures of Dylan, Baez, Farina, et al in the West Village, Laurel Canyon is its bookshelf neighbor.

Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood by Domenic Priore (Jawbone Press, $29.95, 288 pages) predates the Laurel Canyon heyday by focusing on the years 1965 and 1966, the brief period when rock music supplanted film as Hollywood’s drug of choice and overdosed.

The Sunset Strip – that section of Sunset Boulevard between Doheny and Crescent Heights plus select nearby blocks – throbbed as L.A.’s main vein of new blood in rock music with clubs like Ciro’s, the Whiskey A Go-Go, and the Trip until it burst into riot in November'66. Riot dissects its explosion and subsequent implosion with a stark understanding of how the various layers of the L.A. music scene met as one on the Strip. Where Laurel Canyon’s strength lay in the witnesses’ stories, Sunset Strip delivers that plus a double-whammy of extensive band histories and audacious photographs plus a short intro by the late Arthur Lee of Love. With this book, Priore, who tackled the Beach Boys in the equally absorbing Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!, earns kudos as a master historian of L.A. rock and pop culture.

Doo Wop: The Music, the Times, the Era by “Cousin Brucie” Morrow with Rich Maloof (Sterling, $24.95, 351 pages) is a lush, gorgeously illustrated doo-whopper of a coffee table book. Its hundreds of color and black & white photos outline the vocal genre from the African slave trade through modern culture, focusing in graphic detail on the Fifties. Morrow’s reign as one of NYC’s top radio jocks since those days gives him not only the witness’s eye but gives the book an easy, readable style that occasionally veers into glib. Still, the luxurious color posters, obscure record labels, and the shimmering roll call of vocal group names go a long way to making it the book to answer that age-old question of who wrote the book of love.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Rock 'n' Roll Books, Laurel Canyon, Sunset Strip

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