Book Reviews - Review 401
The Rock and Roll A Level
Category: Music | Published: 2019 | Review Added: 25-07-2020
In the mid-1980s, the BBC rock show The Old Grey Whistle Test was presented by two music journalists: the affable, engaging Mark Ellen, always ready with a smile and a witty quip; and his friend David Hepworth, whose deadpan, nerdy delivery could reliably send the viewer to sleep in the two-minute intervals between acts.
A natural television star he wasn't, but Hepworth's musical knowledge is beyond doubt, and he showcases it in this lightweight but stimulating compendium of rock facts, organised as sets of ten questions on different "subjects" (Art, Economics, Hospitality Management, etc.).
If this were a real "A" Level, passing it would get you into a good university, since to get full marks you'd need to recognise Titian's painting Bacchus and Ariadne, know the name of the world's most precious metal (not platinum), and have some idea of D H Lawrence's reading matter. This in addition to being familiar with the back catalogues of Rick Wakeman, Eddie Grant and Toots and the Maytals. Hepworth writes in his Introduction, "The book that you hold in your hand is dedicated to the proposition that the things pop music touches upon are every bit as interesting as the music itself," and you can't argue with that - at least if you're of a similar cast of mind to him, that is, "the kind of person who is always keen to know more rather than the kind of person who feels that they know quite enough already."
Hepworth is simultaneously po-faced and drily humorous. He is a man with an obsessive streak, and readers will find his fascination with detail either endearing or annoying depending on their own predilection for trivia. As for me, I agree with his assertion that "in an ideal world the answer to a question in a trivia quiz should be slightly more interesting than the question." For obvious reasons, it's the answers that the reader learns from. At least, I gave up on treating it as a serious test after not knowing a single answer in the first two chapters.
This is a successful quirky book, but owing to its organisation, it discourages a second perusal: all the facts that you found so interesting when "taking the exam" are split in two. However, it does its job in piquing the reader's curiosity about the inconsequential but powerful domain of pop music, as well as more esoteric subjects.