Pop Rock Icons by Philippe Margotin

Pop Rock Icons by Philippe Margotin – book reviewPop Rock Icons by Philippe Margotin

Published by Aurora Metro Books

Out now

Before punk and then later grunge celebrated the idea of jarring realism in the music industry, glamour and narcissism reigned supreme. This coincided with a particular time period, the late sixties and early seventies, and location, when London was lit up with hues of soft lights and kind angles. It was a constantly revolving film set where everyone had their faces tilted to their best side. Where everything was beautiful and ugliness was swept under the carpet. At least for another night.

In Pop Rock Icons, Philippe Margotin unashamedly celebrates the rock star as an otherworldly figure. As a music biographer of such esteemed artists as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Margotin is well equipped to dissect the cultural impact of the major players in the music industry but this isn’t a critical examination of the period as much as a celebration through image. As writer and bandleader Dave Sinclair points out in his foreword: ‘Margotin has assembled a magical parade of photographs which captures the spirit of a time when fashion, culture and the arts were driven by the British musicians of the 1960s and 1970s.

Beginning with the Beatles and the Stones, the book raises its high watermark early. The early shots of a youthful Jagger and the band relaxing on a golf course or studying gold discs together around a table have a hint of innocence about them that would soon be replaced with a much darker shade. Brian Jones in particular looks more like a naughty choirboy than the doomed narcissus he would end of becoming, whilst Keith Richards, still in his experimentation period with pharmaceuticals is clear eyed and still a few years away from the twilight world of opiates and burning cottons. The Beatles on the other hand look what they were at first, shy and inquisitive scousers accepting their MBE’s, although a later shot of the band, looking tired and detached, perhaps during their Let It Be sessions, hints at a different hangover, one ironically and unlike the Stones they would never really be able to escape from.

Luckily, Margotin hasn’t based this book around either darkness or pathos. Separated into eight chapters, each with a short text as an introduction, there is a similar playful tone running throughout. In the rhythm and blues section for instance Rod the mod dominates. The esteemed rock critic Nick Kent once remarked that no one enjoyed being a rock star more than Rod Stewart and in the resulting photographs you can tell. Whether it’s being dressed as a snooker player or looking three sheets to the wind with a gigantic wine glass in hand, he’s hardly the figure of serious musicianship. There’s a naturalism to him that’s always been his greatest strength. Of all the people featured in this book, he looks to have had the best time.

In comparison, the mods and fashionistas of swinging London, stare out from their section like frozen statues. Their faces look like the edges of Argentina on a map, both angular and committed. That was their whole point of course. A scene that celebrated itself. The photos are hugely iconic however, from The Who to Twiggy, Marianne Faithful to the Dave Clarke Five. Even the Bee Gee’s make an unexpected appearance, suited and booted and a million miles away from their hellish disco resurrection. Such was the influence of fashion on British music at the time that virtually everyone in this section of the book looks dressed up to within an inch of their lives. Almost to the point of overkill. It would take until the early eighties in fact till such an elitist style synchronised with pop music in such a suffocating way again.

In the meantime, enter the guitar hero. A strangely masculine and serious looking beast who would hardly have to shapeshift, give or take a new kaftan or pair of stonewashed denims between the genres of progressive rock and heavy metal. The pictures of Floyd and Jethro Tull, Zeppelin and Black Sabbath have a slight degree of separation about them. They have a morose feel too. Only a gurning shot of Lemmy flies the flag for the Marshall stack and a dynamite quote from Ritchie Blackmore too: ‘Learning to play with a big amplifier is like trying to control an elephant,’ he points out. Quite. Although coming from Middlesex it’s debatable how much safari experience the Deep Purple axeman actually had at the time.

In a chapter entitled ‘pub rock’, things improve greatly. The photogenic noise boys of Ian Dury, Wilko Johnson and Joe Strummer in his 101ers period are what rock photography was made for. Street hustlers all three, stare out with a mixture of amphetamine rage and stage fury. The antithesis of swinging London, they’re the working class wrong uns made good and perhaps have a claim to be the greatest gatekeepers too. Ushering in the closed fist of punk, they might have proved an ironic finale for Pop Rock Icons too, given the fact that such a lofty title would have had them snorting sulphur into their collective microphone stands.

It’s clear however that Margotin wants to end on a more grandiose note. The vainglorious pomp of glam rock sees out the book. T Rex, Queen and Elton John all looking fabulous and like total relics at the same time, whilst Roxy Musics eerie stills make them seem like they’ve been put on display part as an art installation and part as a warning to the dangers of bad tailoring. It’s left to Bowie to save the day. Ziggy of course looking fantastic and delivering a mantra that all left field musicians should repeat to themselves daily.

‘Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.’

It’s a fitting end to a hugely fascinating book. One in which all music fans can find something to lose themselves in.


Words by Craig Campbell, you can read more book reviews at his author profile.

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