For those of you who don’t already know this man’s name, where have you been? Alan Cross has been one of the preeminent popular music historians and commentators for so long that he’s practically become part of the history of popular music himself. His breadth of knowledge and his clear, concise method of presenting what he knows on both his radio show The Ongoing History of New Music, on the Edge 102, and through books and audiobooks are essential for any music fan.
With this particular project, Cross is also ambitious and brave. He’s ambitious because undertaking a history of the last 30 years of popular music is such a daunting idea that most minds, even of those who consider themselves fans of the music, would boggle. This was definitely not a project for the lightly inclined. And he’s brave because he chose, through a carefully enumerated list of rules and important clarifications, the Top 25 most influential alternative artists of that period, an endeavour that could (and probably did) earn him a lot of flak-filled letters from fans of any of the zillions of bands that were ultimately left off that list.
In my opinion, Cross’ Volume 1 of this Guide to Alternative Music succeeds completely.
Volume 1 covers the first 8 of the Top 25 in his list, so these 4 CDs encompass the late 1960s and all of the 1970s. The band information given is complete without becoming obnoxious, group and solo discographies are discussed in the context of the complete historical picture, and each artist’s place in the music firmament is so clearly described that, after hearing Cross out, not one of the artist inclusions can really be questioned.
Throughout this several hour journey, we’re treated to biographies of (in this order) the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, David Bowie, Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Not only are we told how all of these artists were both influential at the time, but also how their careers and legends played out as we passed through the self-serving 80s, the grunge 90s and into this new century. We hear tales of great passion, hard living and untimely death. Discussed are the ideals and general ethos of each artist, again within each appropriate context.
Anyone and everyone should hear this set, and also rush out to buy the next three installments as they are released (I believe Volume 2 is available as well, at the time of this writing, so I can’t wait to get my hands on it). You’ll come away with a wealth of knowledge you may not previously have had, a desire to run out and buy all of the albums discussed, and an appreciation for the skill and musical understanding of Alan Cross.
This set kicked ass.