There have been any number of books that dissected a band’s time spent in the studio and how they went about the recording process; most with takes from the artists, the producers, the engineers and even the managers, friends and hangers on.
Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones by Bill Janovitz may be the first to ever take things down to the granular level by examining a band’s career through the prism of songs that define them. The Stones may be unique in that they have not only the depth of catalog, but also the span of time, 50 years, to lend perspective.
Janovitz, a musician in his own right as singer and guitarist for the alternative band Buffalo Tom, treads the fine line between insightful scholarship in these stories and drooling fan boy of Mick and the boys. When you take a moment to ponder the sheer volume of what has been written about the Stones, the pile grows with each passing decade, to develop an original thought or approach amounts to genius.
Janovitz doesn’t claim to list the Stones 50 best songs, but merely utilizes 50 songs as guideposts through the Rollings Stones career. He delivers not only studio insights, but delivers the feel for the time, the setting and the state of the band. He walks you through a time portal that transports you back to places like Chess Records Studio and Muscle Shoals Studio and offers up the historical perspective of not only the band, but the time in our collective history and how it impacted the music.
The approach to writing style is compartmentalized and allows you to jump around and thumb through the 50 tracks without feeling like you need to read them in chronological order. I gravitated to my personal favorite Stones song Gimme Shelter and the depth of insight about how the era impacted that song, really set the hook to draw me in for the rest of the book. Janovitz has achieved the nearly impossible; to deliver an interesting and entertaining Rolling Stones book, that doesn’t have a been there, done that feel.