Thursday, July 12, 2007

There's a Riot Going On

The Riot on Sunset Strip (the historical event) was a spontaneous protest that erupted one night in November 1966 when Los Angeles police, prompted by local business interests, tried to enforce a curfew law in order to drive out the teenaged crowds who had dominated the area’s club scene for the previous few years.
Riot on Sunset Strip (the movie) was a quickly-produced exploitation film with production values slightly lower than an episode of “Dragnet” but with performances by some of the authentic Sunset Strip bands of the period (The Standells and The Chocolate Watchband among them). Cult starlet Mimsy Farmer falls in with a bad crowd, to the dismay of her estranged father, policeman Aldo Ray.
Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood” (Jawbone Press, 288 pp., $29.95) is probably the definitive look at the period that lead up to the above two items, but for author Domenic Priore the real riot of the period was a cultural breakthrough that produced an onslaught of significant music in those strange few years before AM top 40 gave way to unprogrammed FM.
Priore's premise is that after the immediate shock of the British invasion Los Angeles responded in kind by becoming the musical and cultural capital of all things young and new. Besides obvious heavyweight acts like The Byrds, Frank Zappa, Love and the Doors, it was an environment in which all kinds of music from surf to psychedelia, from the feel-good pop sounds of the Turtles and The Mamas and the Papas to proto-punk garage bands like The Seeds and The Knickerbockers flourished and encouraged each other.
Priore is a pop culture historian and enthusiast with an encyclopedic grasp of the period as well as, I'd guess, an extensive record collection and a complete run of "Hit Parader" back issues. He can tell you not only how many different bands recorded "Hey Joe" but how many recorded "She Sang Hymns Out of Tune". Hardly an aspect of pop culture of the era, from art to appearances on. Hanna Barbera cartoons escapes his attention. The result is an exhaustive, handsomely designed volume that not only recreates the spirit of that brief period in L.A. history but will have you scribbling lists of obscure tracks and forgotten bands worth tracking down. His grasp of the period is strong enough to defend even the most commercial projects of the time (Hey, Hey, they're the Monkees) and as well as to define the Sunset Strip period within history and distinguish it from the later excesses of the San Francisco sound and the rise of FM-radio Album-oriented rock. His is a lively, informative and always entertaining history of a microcosmic teenage culture that burned brightly and disappeared too fast.

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