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All You Need Is Love Series: Introduction

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben Fong-Torres

Posted to Artist Spotlight on April 24, 2014

There are histories of rock and roll, and there are histories of rock and roll, know what I’m sayin’?

I’ve certainly seen my share of them. And I can tell you that I’ve never seen one like All You Need Is Love, the voluminous series of films now sitting on the virtual shelves of Qello.

Watching them is like getting plunged into music history. Not rock history, but a lot, if not all of the music that led, directly or indirectly, to today’s popular sounds. We’re talking ragtime and gospel, vaudeville and music hall (the director, Tony Palmer, is British), bebop and blues, and much, much more.

There are 14 episodes of Palmer’s series here in the Q, and, fortunately, the first is an introduction, to let you know what you’re in for, if you choose to run the course. Although I haven’t gone beyond the introduction, I recommend rolling through all of them, at your leisure—especially if you’re looking as much for a little education as for a lot of entertainment.

At first, you’re going to think, “This is my grandparents’ entertainment,” and you’ll be right. Palmer tests us right from the start. Encouraged by John Lennon to make a history of popular music, Palmer, who directed the 1968 film, All My Loving, went around the world (he name-drops Africa, Liverpool, Paris, New Orleans, Nashville and San Francisco) and shot over 1,000 hours of film while doing several hundreds of interviews.

And that’s not counting the vintage footage he acquired, including rare film of Woody Guthrie performing.

Having done all that, he’s clearly intent on squeezing as much of it as he can into his series. The result: All You Need Is Love doesn’t begin in the early Fifties, as so many pop histories do, with the middle-of-the-road pop music that teenagers dismissed, in favor of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll.

Here, we get to see Hoagy Carmichael (he wrote “Stardust”) rhapsodizing about discovering a blues lick in 1918, saying, “It blew my head! It blew my cup!” We hear Bing Crosby, clueless about contemporary music, calling the Stones “The Rolling Rocks.” We see and hear more than we need of Liberace and Judy Garland, but they’re balanced out by a ferocious Jerry Lee Lewis (who Palmer oddly calls “the king of rock and roll.” I think the only other person to bestow that title on him was…Jerry Lee Lewis), a bombastic Buddy Rich on drums, and a scatting Dizzy Gillespie, representing bebop. Joan Baez sings “Kumbaya,” Dr. John lays out the truth about New Orleans music, and how the real roots reside in Africa, and R&B is previewed by Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett and Aretha, as well as by Little Richard and by visits to Harlem and Memphis, where we see the original Beale Street, not the touristy one of today.

With All You Need Is Love, which was released in 2008, you are not just a tourist, a visitor. You are immersed in the music and the history. Keep your mind and ears open, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

Even if you weren’t reading Rolling Stone magazine in the late '60s /early '70s, you might still know who Ben Fong-Torres is from the movie “Almost Famous.” Ben Fong-Torres is the legendary Rolling Stone Senior Editor who was characterized in the Cameron Crowe movie and now,… More