It's hard to believe that more than 30 years has passed since the performances of some of rock and roll's pioneers were filmed at Wembley Stadium. The 1972 London Rock and Roll Show was the Rock n Roll Revival equivalent of Woodstock.
The film gets off to a bit of a shaky start, with more a focus on the audience than the performers, which is probably just as well as the opening acts were performers such as Heinz -- a name I didn't recognize and I'm a rockabilly fan. The infamous Screaming Lord Sutch threatens to drive the whole event into parody, if he doesn't get it shut down with his Marilyn Manson-like antics, bikini-clad dancers and even a cameo appearance by a stripper who proceeds to live up to her profession.
But once Bo Diddley takes the stage, all is right with the film. Diddley brings everything back on track, and from here on it's solid big name rockers.
After a simple tribute to Buddy Holly (someone just puts on a record of Peggy Sue and everyone listens), Jerry Lee Lewis takes the stage and makes it his own. We then get an amusing war of words between Lewis and Little Richard -- possibly two of the biggest egos in rock and roll history -- over who holds the more important place in the music. As a humorous counterpoint, Rock and Roll founder Bill Haley then comes on to speak of the musical brotherhood that exists between the 50s acts.
Haley and his Comets put on a great, if too-short performance, and in fact perform the last verse of Rock Around the Clock twice before they can leave the stage! He may have been past his prime, but the audience still loved him, and with good reason. There is very little live concert footage of Haley and the Comets available, which makes this snippet almost worth the price of admission alone.
The last half hour of the film is devoted to the two main headliners of the show -- Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Show the footage of Little Richard to a 16 year old and it shouldn't surprise you if they think they're watching Prince (or the Artist formerly known as...). I've never been a big Little Richard fan, but he nearly steals the show... ... That is until Chuck Berry comes on to conclude the concert and the film with an epic set of performances that, inexplicably, does not include Johnny B. Goode! That omission aside, Berry is having a blast and this is one of the better live performances recorded by the poet of rock and roll.
I'm not quite sure why the film is occasionally interrupted by interview snippets with Mick Jagger. If the Rolling Stones had performed, it would have made sense, but as it is, it feels like his interviews were simply inserted to allow the producers to add a contemporary name to the credits.
London Rock and Roll Show is not a perfect film, but if you want to see some great rock and roll, and maybe learn a little bit about what got your parents or even grandparents excited back in the 50s, 60s and early 70s -- check it out.
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