The story of 1960s and ’70s rock ’n’ roll has been told over and over in books and documentaries, to the extent that it has become, as a non-rock ’n’ roll song puts it, a tale as old as time. In this hardly epochal but largely pleasant documentary directed by Leslie Ann Coles, the tale is told through the eye of Melody Maker, the British music weekly that printed its first issue in 1926.
Originally a trade paper for gigging musicians, stuffed with players-wanted classified ads, Melody Maker’s embrace of rock in the mid-60s inspired staff members to walk out. Their replacements created timely features and interviews that were scooped up by the larger public.
One staffer, Barrie Wentzell, took portraits and concert photos of Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and dozens of others — images that dot the movie. Wentzell and other former employees of the paper are eager interviewees, as are a few musicians, including Eric Burdon and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.
Wentzell eventually stopped photographing musicians because he took exception to the excesses of what he calls “the silly ’70s.” Indeed, once we get to punk rock, the movie picks up steam as interviewees pile on Melody Maker’s rival New Musical Express, its bones built by being ahead of the curve on the Ramones and Sex Pistols. According to Anderson, NME’s Nick Kent “was a junkie and a wannabe Keith Richards” and “a real pain in the ass.”
“I gather that he’s not yet dead,” Anderson concludes. Please Aqualung, don’t hurt ’em!
Melody Makers: The Bible of Rock ’n’ Roll
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes.