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the riley rock report

Author: Tim Riley

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the riley rock report: listen smarter—a 2x monthly brief that ties today's pop culture up to rock history in music’s first audio newsletter… watch for future issues celebrating Nick Lowe, classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein, an exuberant new rock history from Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye, and much more… visit:, podcast:, bombastic tweets: @timrileyauthor
26 Episodes
In “We Were Famous, You Don’t Remember,” directors Daniel Fetherston and Danny Szlauderbach approach this great left-of-center Kansas punk band. 
Throughout his sixty-year-plus career, Bob Dylan has combined an “incredible skill with a wildness of spirit,” as magician Penn Jillette recently put it. He towers above others—Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell—through volume, range, and brash unpredictability. In the past decade he has retooled Frank Sinatra crooning (Triplicate) and wrung suspicious reverie from Covid crazy (Rough and Rowdy Ways). In this latest book, he submits essays on sixty-six recordings, having his say about cherished records in a voice that favors wildness over skill...
The latest rockcritics podcast features Tim Riley, author of one of my favourite Beatle books, Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After. A couple weeks prior to our chatting, I asked Tim — currently completing a large-scale John Lennon biography — to submit a list of some of his favourite Beatle books, and it’s that list which forms the basis of our conversation. We delve into more than a dozen titles here, including a few obscurities, a few ancillary titles (Aesthetics of Rock, Peter Doggett’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On) plus, of course, Tell Me Why, which, among other things, is notable for its annotated (in-need-of-an-update!) Beatles bibliography.Big thanks to Tim for taking time out to do this (and for putting up with my usual nonsense and semi-competence).Titles discussed:Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the HeadMark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions **+ **The Complete Beatles ChronicleDevin McKinney, Magic CirclesJohn Lennon, In His Own Write and Spaniard in the WorksBob Dylan, TarantulaAllan Kozinn, The BeatlesWilfid Mellers, Twilight of the GodsPeter Doggett, Art and Music of John Lennon + There’s a Riot Goin’ OnRingo Starr, Postcards From the BoysChris Salewicz, McCartneyJim O’Donnell, Day John Met PaulBeatles, AnthologyMichael Braun, Love Me DoRichard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of RockMusical interludes (in order of appearance) by: Al Green, David Hillyard & the Rocksteady Seven, DJ Dangermouse, Bongwater, Peter Sellers, Irvin’s 89 Key Marenghi Fairground Organ, unknown house artist (“Revolution”), Rainer, Sunshine Company, First Moog Quartet, Los Fernandos, Cristina, Candy Flip, Bryan Ferry, P.M. Dawn, Sunshine Company (redux).
Ten years ago NPR had me on to rant about pagan rituals, from the vault. 
Jason Gross has edited PSF since 1993, overseeing an important venue for critics and passionate listeners. Like all the good editorial conversations, one topic begat another, so the links can help you figure out some of the sounds we reference. 
Igor Levit – Tristan (Sony, 2022)Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, Yo-Yo Ma – Beethoven for Three, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 (Sony, 2022) Why listen to symphonic music stripped of strings, winds, brass, and percussion...? 
A few weeks after Get Back aired last year, I spoke with Magic Circles author Devin McKinney about the film and its many quirks. As we take stock of the Revolver box set, the timeline sharpens: January of 1969 happens only three years after they record that 1966 breakthrough.  Visit for more Beatles. 
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon. Apple, 1970.THE 1970s DAWNED with a blistering hangover. On September 13, 1969, just before Abbey Road began dominating end-of-’60s radio, John Lennon sang at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, an early 1950s festival. He called his pickup group the Plastic Ono Band: Eric Clapton (lead guitar), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drums). They launched with standards, “Blue Suede Shoes, “Money,” and then “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” before turning to Lennon’s “Yer Blues,” an unreleased “Cold Turkey,” and “Give Peace a Chance,” his anti-war chant. Then he turned the stage over to his Japanese-American wife, Yoko Ono, who screamed against Lennon’s guitar feedback for almost half an hour. It stupefied the audience. One week later, at an Apple business meeting in London, Lennon told the other Beatles he wanted a “divorce.” However, Lennon agreed to keep a lid on his departure—they were in the middle of contract negotiations, and if word got out, they could lose leverage. From that point on, the chronology went extremely fuzzy for most fans, as Beatles group releases overlapped with the members’ early solo records. Plans progressed for a Let It Be album and film early in 1970 (shot in January 1969) as the breakup remained a secret...
Brett Morgen extends Bowie's dislocation byspinning out his lack of contextMoonage Daydream, Brett Morgan, director (Universal)IN A GLUT of music documentaries where overlong counts as serious and talking heads sling clichés, we should be glad about Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream. It lets David Bowie do all the narrating, delivers riveting concert footage, and boasts a detailed audio design by Bowie’s longtime collaborator Tony Visconti...
To die in the midst of a thriving career at 51 exacerbates the loss of this quietly gripping pianist. This piece ran last fall when I fell in love with his Janacek recording, music I hadn't known before; Vogt drew me in and made me listen closely. I'll also miss his chamber music collaborations with violinist Christian Tetzlaff. 
Buddy Holly looms over the Beatles catalog, and his influence gets harder to overstate the more history recedes. A celebration of the songwriter and record-writer pegged to his birthday...
Unlike a Tramp

Unlike a Tramp


Unlike a TrampIntro to Madonna: Illustrated by Tim Riley. Hyperion, 1992. When I wrote this book, Madonna's command of pop's cosmos felt unprecedented. Now in her fifth decade, triumphs like "Papa Don't Preach" and "Justify My Love" have lost their bang sooner than expected, and her Dick Tracy Oscar nomination now looks misplaced... 
Childlike Wisdom

Childlike Wisdom


Soviet Pianist Maria Yudina Converses With Greatness“Cats Are Indescribably Wonderful,Shostakovich’s Fugues Less So”Playing with Fire: The Story of Maria Yudina, Pianist in Stalin’s Russia, by Elizabeth Wilson, Yale University Press, 352ppLos Angeles Review of Books, August 4, 2022
Among other things, Elvis Presley invented the rock ’n’ roll comeback. Up until 1968, ”coming back” from a career break barely existed in the new style since most fell short, or failed...
To mark Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, this issue reprints a Radio Silence (RIP) essay pegged to the second volume of Mermaid Avenue and several other releases. Guthrie's words keep on inspiring, and as his shadow lengthens, most of Wilco's and Bragg's catalog now takes place inside this new context.  
During another summer of congressional hearings, fights over national memory and history itself, Watergate can feel further than five decades in the past. In retrospect, Richard Nixon’s story feels both sealed off from our modern squabbles and a little pathetic; the petty cover-up President may actually gain stature next to the riverboat gambler insurrectionist cult tyrant. The Republican congress that impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about his tryst with Monica Lewinsky feels closer, and not just for the way Special Prosector Ken Starr blanched as Clinton parsed the legal definition of sex...
Prince' Graffiti Bridge, a double album originally billed as a film soundtrack, ran on some very fine fumes (Sign O The Times, Batman). And the guest-stars made the party hop. 
This Dylan release, famously issued on September 11, 2001, has aged better than expected. But it still makes you wonder what kind of weirdness Dylan swims in if he can knock off this sequence of deadpan humor in the middle of such epic indifference. 
Born-Again Brahms

Born-Again Brahms


Andras Schiff performs the two Brahms piano concertos on an 1859 Blüthner for a new transparency. 
Sarah Hill has edited a new collection of essays about One-Hit Wonders that covers wayward hits for intriguing angles on rock history. 
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