Friday, June 7, 2019

Review: 'Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present'

While solo artists and swinging groups ruled fifties rock radio, bands took over in the sixties. All across America and elsewhere, quartets of pimply kids gathered in basements and garages to bash out two or three chords. This new home grown-rock movement was underway well before The Beatles arrived.

Seth Bovey traces the origin of the garage band phenomenon so crucial to the development of Rock & Roll in his new book Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present. His approach is original, eschewing usual suspects such as Chuck Berry and Elvis to argue that the grungy guitars of Link Wray and Duanne Eddy—and factors such as the exposure TV gave such artists, a new wave of cheap guitars imported from Japan, and the general DIY spirit of mid-century America—set the stage for garage bands.

Bovey then traces the genre’s evolution starting with The Fabulous Wailers before touching on everyone from The Kingsmen to Paul Revere and the Raiders to The Sonics to Dick Dale to The Knickerbockers to The Chocolate Watchband to The 13th Floor Elevators, while also looking beyond the usual American boys to discuss all-female groups such as The Pleasure Seekers and The What Four and international combos such as Los Bravos, Q65, and The Spiders.

As his book’s subtitle indicates, Bovey also strides beyond the garage band golden era of the sixties to see how the movement subsequently remained active with the rise of garage-focused ’zines such as Who Put the Bomp, the Nuggets and Pebbles comps, punk, the much publicized garage revival of the early ’00s that gave us The White Stripes and Strokes, and most importantly, the fact that contemporary bands such as The Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, and The Incredible Staggers are keeping the garage lights on—though with very little influence in America, where Rock & Roll is dead as Dillinger.

The only trouble with Bovey’s format is that garage rock is a cornerstone of six decades of Rock & Roll, but his book is only 170-pages long. So his storytelling is a bit too fleet footed, and the fact that he skims over several of the quintessential garage bands—particularly Question Mark and the Mysterians, The Seeds, and The Standells (who grace this book’s cover but aren’t even mentioned in its pages!) means that Five Years Ahead of My Time can’t really be called “definitive.” Yet because Bovey is more concerned with following the origins and evolution of garage rock than name-checking important bands, his book remains a satisfying pocket history of a crucial strain of Rock & Roll.

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