This holiday season, treat the rock and roll fan in your life to Bill Bentley’s terrific new coffee table book Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen. Published, as the title makes apparent, by Smithsonian Books, this is a hefty volume packed with priceless rock, pop, punk, and soul history. Printed on heavy-gauge paper and boasting a unique padded cover, Live and Unseen is the rare popular music book that holds as much for casual music fans as it does for hardcore rock and roll junkies. Make this the centerpiece of your living room or man cave and just watch all but the most tin-eared souls gravitate toward it.
The concept is simple: a couple years ago, the Smithsonian put out an APB to all music aficionados the world over for privately-owned photographs of iconic artists. The overwhelming response resulted in the compilation of more than 140 acts presented in the final book. Each entry features previously unseen photos—some snapped by amateurs, others by pros—accompanied by Bentley’s imminently readable mini-bios. And make no mistake, Bentley knows his stuff. His decades in the music industry have seen him running the entire gamut: playing music, producing music, working as an A&R man, deejaying, promoting concerts, penning liner notes, and more. His passion for his subjects is apparent on every page.
Each of seven sections covers a different different era in music, with titles that speak volumes. “The Big Bang: Blues & Country Collide While the World Trembles” begins the book with a focus on rock’s formative years. “Beats Bravado & Beauty: Rock and Roll to the Rescue” concludes. From Elvis Presley to Elvis Costello, Prince to The Pogues, Bentley covers it all. The book’s title may in fact be Smithsonian Rock and Roll, but it’s not strictly limited by genre: Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Randy Newman, Otis Redding, Amy Winehouse, Leonard Cohen—they all moved people with their artistry and they’re all here, never mind whether they fit everyone’s definition of “rock” music. The photos are true time capsule stuff, each one managing to convey the sweaty thrills of live music at its most vital.
For more information about Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen, visit the official Smithsonian Books site.