Book review: “Rock Concert”

You barely made a sound until the lights were up.

And then you roared. Your favorite band was about to come onstage and you, plus 14,999 of your best friends, were makin’ some noise, ready to sing along and dance, ready to feel the bass. Read “Rock Concert” by Marc Myers, and you’ll remember the days…

In the beginning, there was R&B in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

Back then, the city, says Myers, was “filled” with artists, independent record labels, and radio stations playing R&B for Black listeners. “By 1951,” listenership had extended to white and Latino teens who got a taste for the genre and loved it; when a radio station or DJ sponsored an R&B concert, teens came “in droves.”

They also bought records – lots of them, but visiting a record store in the 1950s wasn’t the same as now. Then, buyers could choose a record, take it to a booth, and listen to it before buying it. Leo Mintz, owner of Record Rendezvous in Cleveland, noticed that certain records were more popular than others, and he began helping radio DJ Alan Freed to find the music teens wanted to hear. 

“The next natural step for Freed after radio and records,” said Grammy Award-winner Tommy LiPuma, “was a concert.”

When it became obvious that money could be made with live performances, that was the next natural step for everyone with access to performers and venues. Sure, there were things to learn – ticketing was mandatory, crowd-control even more so – but people truly wanted to see live performances by the musicians they knew from records. Later, it became apparent that they wanted recordings of the concerts, too.

As America changed, so did the rock concert industry. Cozy sing-alongs were popular, until Dylan went electric. Outdoor concerts grew outsized and outrageous, then sports arenas became the venue of choice. Today, though, rock music isn’t the “force” it was before. Says Myers, if the industry hopes to survive, rock artists will need to “connect meaningfully with” young people’s “concerns and agenda,” just like they did fifty years ago…

Five notes are about all you need to remember where you were when you heard a certain song, how old you were, and who you were with. Five pages, and you’ll be just as hooked on “Rock Concert.”

Told in a multitude of voices from people who did the work, sang the songs, catered to the stars, played the records, or knew somebody who did, this book brings back so many memories that you may be tempted to stand on your chair and hold your lighter aloft. Stories that tell a tale of evolution – both in music and in culture – are here, but author Marc Myers packs those tales with and between little-known anecdotes and trivial occurrences that concert-goers, DJs, fans, and music-lovers will relish. 

Your inner rebellious-teen will thank you for reading this book, and your real-life teenage music fan will like it, too. For both of you, “Rock Concert” will light up your eyes.

“Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by The Artists, Backstage Insiders, and Fans Who Were There” by Marc Myers

c.2021, Grove Press $30.00 / higher in Canada 400 pages

Author Marc Myers. Photo credit to Alyse Myers.