There are probably fewer pundits more qualified to opine upon popular music’s past than Lenny Kaye. A keen observer of, and participant within, rock music’s continued manifestations since its birth pangs in the early 1950s, Kaye’s deep knowledge, erudite analysis and infectious enthusiasm for the many tributaries whence and to where this behemoth of popular culture has flowed is something any aficionado should pay attention to.
There is no better place to start than “Lightning Striking”, Kaye’s new book that is part history, part memoir and one hundred percent engaging from start to finish. It is not the generalist flip through rock’s back pages, but instead surfs the flashpoints of inception and development that have lightning-struck Lenny the most. Each section devours the history and excitement of specific moments in rock’n’roll evolution, and with chapter headers such as “Memphis 1954”, “Detroit 1969” or “Seattle 1991”, the thrust of “Lightning Striking” is unequivocally, unapologetically concerned with rock’n’roll in its most basic and thrilling incarnations.
In collaboration with Ace’s Alec Palao, Lenny has also assembled an Original Soundtrack to “Lightning Striking”; the perfect playlist to spin whilst one peruses the pages. Like the book, it is a mixture of the familiar but essential and the fascinatingly unpredictable: in other words, not dissimilar to Kayes’s curatorial triumph of yore “Nuggets”, the compilation that established the garage rock genre. The earliest entry is the Boswell Sisters’ 1934 prophetic ‘Rock And Roll’, the most recent ‘Gimme Chocolate!” by hard rock/J Pop hybrid Babymetal. In-between we hear a nuanced selection of the finest vintage R&B, pop, psychedelia, punk rock and heavy metal, from an intriguingly diverse selection of bedfellows.
The sound quality is second to none, with plenty of ear-wrenching rarities – for instance, the unissued stereo take of the MC5’s blitzkrieg ‘Looking At You’ peels paint faster than even the original mono A-Square single. Not to mention curios like ‘Crazy Like A Fox’, the author’s very own 1966 “nugget if you dug it”. Yes, “Lightning Striking” is the perfect companion to the tale Lenny tells, but it is also an energizing, inspiring listen in of itself, and a reminder once again of the life-affirming power of the music we all know and love. Hail, hail rock’n’roll!