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Out of the Vinyl Deeps: On Rock Music

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  587 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
In 1968, the New Yorker hired Ellen Willis as its first popular music critic. Her column, Rock, Etc., ran for seven years and established Willis as a leader in cultural commentary and a pioneer in the nascent and otherwise male-dominated field of rock criticism. As a writer for a magazine with a circulation of nearly half a million, Willis was also the country’s most widel ...more
Paperback, 234 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by Univ Of Minnesota Press (first published April 6th 2011)
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Distress Strauss
Nov 11, 2014 Distress Strauss rated it really liked it
Before reading this book, I was fairly certain Ellen Willis was my favorite music critic, and now, having experienced her work in the genre in concentrated form, I can say that, groundbreaking as it may be, she isn't. For one thing, she isn't a music critic at all -- she's a rock critic (which she would surely cop to). Her tastes, filtered through the folk precociousness of her adolescence, with its emphasis on MEANING, is as status quo as her politics were radical -- her Bible is Stones, Dylan, ...more
Jan 16, 2012 Bruce rated it liked it
Recommends it for: WC magazine readers
Recommended to Bruce by: NPR Music (and shame on them)
I have strong ambivalence about this book... attract/repel, really. Attract, because most of these collected essays are so short (about 2-3 pages on average) that the book was easy enough to grab whenever I had a few minutes to kill. Repel, because so many of the essays sounded full of, in Willis’ words, “the worst kind of pretentious nonsense,” a baleful reminder of my own bloviating tendencies.

Vinyl Deeps largely consists of Willis’ New Yorker articles on rock from the late ‘60s to mid-’70s. A
the review was first published in maximum rock-n-roll may 2012

Ellen Willis was a feminist and a rock critic back when rock-n-roll and feminism were generally thought to be opposed to one another. Growing up in the 70's and 80's, I remember this dichotomy well. As a teenage punk rocker I went through a heavy rock-n-roll stage in the mid-80's -- Black Flag had long hair, Red Kross and The Melvins covered Kiss, Saint Vitus were ripping off Black Sabbath and I was learning to play drums -- pretty so
blue-collar mind
Oct 06, 2013 blue-collar mind rated it really liked it
Shelves: direct-action
Having been conversely born too late and too early (1964), I sometimes seek out music or literary criticism of earlier ages to learn about unheralded artists that I missed, or to view from afar some seminal moment in the culture that has passed into legend and therefore is not reported truthfully any longer. I have been reading 1970s criticism and essays and learning a great deal, just as I did when I delved deeply into the Algonquin Circle as a teenager and learned about writers and events not ...more
Leah W
Jan 22, 2013 Leah W rated it it was amazing
This book took a little while to hook me, but once I got into it, it was SO GOOD. LET ME SAY "SO GOOD" IN CAPS ONCE MORE FOR EMPHASIS.

This is a collection of Ellen Willis's essays about rock & pop music, mostly from the New Yorker (where she was the first Rock & Pop columnist). Later in her career, she wrote less about music and more about gender studies, freedom, and radical leftist topics, but there was a nice dose of this in a lot of her music writing, as well (for example, her dissec

Bob Dylan "went electric" in July of 1965. Now, I had once heard that Dylan went electric, I'd heard neighbors and family mention this fact off-hand once or twice in my youth, and, frankly, I probably also heard it on a Behind the Music. I didn't care that Dylan went electric. Why would anyone?

Ellen Willis set me straight on the subject of Dylan's electrification, as she set me straight on several other subjects. I now care, and have an opinion. Willis, the afterword notes, had an interest in
Tim Niland
Jun 08, 2011 Tim Niland rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-reads
The career of Ellen Willis as a rock music critic was comparatively brief, spanning the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s, but during that time she wrote some of the most insightful and thought provoking essays on rock and roll to date. As a radical feminist writing about a male dominated music for male dominated media, it took strong will and opinions to get her ideas out there, and she never wavered in her convictions. Beginning with the essay about Bob Dylan which brought her to the attention o ...more
Jul 18, 2011 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Collection of brilliant essays from Willis's tenure as a rock music critic through an important era of American & British popular music -- the late 60s through the early 80s, with a lot of 70s in the middle. Notable not just because Willis's prose is so very quotable, or because she writes about the not-always-comfortable intersection between culture and ideology as anyone I've ever read -- but also because she works so much of the personal experience of concert-going & record-listening ...more
Jul 28, 2011 zan rated it it was amazing
Ellen Willis's writing is the perfect time machine antidote for our skewed and over-saturated impression of the sixties and seventies. Her honest analysis of records and artists and live shows and "The Time" made me understand that decade in a way I never had before. Her review of the Beatles' White Album had me seeing the world of rock and roll in a whole new light, pre-reverence and commercialization, as did her take on live Lou Reed/New York Dolls/Grand Funk and Woodstock, an honest fan's rea ...more
Oct 03, 2011 Korri rated it liked it
Why have I not heard of Ellen Willis before? Her lengthy essay on Bob Dylan is outstanding; it anticipates the film I'm Not There with her understanding of how Dylan used fame and publicity to cultivate mystique and to create privacy out of multiple personas. It's all the more extraordinary for her clear-sightedness without the benefit hindsight.

Most of her judgments have stood the test of time though the kind of music journalism Willis writes is out of fashion today. Her reviews are full of del
Bonnie McDaniel
I had a helluva time getting through this book. If it had been fiction, it would have been bashed against the wall before page 80. But because it's an essay collection, subdivided into sections entitled "The World-Class Critic," "The Adoring Fan," "The Sixties Child," "The Feminist," "The Navigator," and "The Sociologist," with the essays grouped around those themes, I thought, well, I'll just go on. Surely it'll get better.

Sadly, it really didn't.

Ellen Willis was a pioneering female rock journ
Bob Mcconnaughey
Jun 08, 2011 Bob Mcconnaughey rated it it was amazing
A musical flashback to reviews i read decades ago in my parents' New Yorkers. And still some of the most thoughtful set of reviews on a decade (more or less)..68-78..of pop music. Miscellaneous point...Under my Thumb by the Stones is far less sexist that Cat Stevens execrable "Wild World."
Jennifer Whiteford
Sep 07, 2011 Jennifer Whiteford rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
Couldn't quite finish it before it was due at the library, but I LOVED the writing in here. I'll need my own copy. It's been a long time since I've read a book I feel I NEED to own, but this one qualifies. I wish people still wrote about music this way in mainstream publications.
Apr 23, 2014 HBalikov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ellen Willis wrote most of these reviews/essays when the vinyl long playing record was the industry standard. This seems the right moment to go back and check out what she was saying.

It has been a delight reading Willis' reviews because she combines a real enthusiasm for her corner of the music world with some deep insight into the artists and their efforts. She came along at the right time in the right place, New York City. She created the position of pop music critic for The New Yorker (where
Mar 08, 2016 Annie rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011, non-fiction
I like music, all kinds of music, but it's more in the vein of saying, "Oh, I really like this song," when it comes on the radio, but then five minutes later I can't remember what the song is called or who sung it. I only remember what it was I liked about the song.

So, I don't read a lot about music, a topic that produces endless amounts of material for the fanatics. Willis was obviously one of those fanatics, but I think what she was more interested in were the parts of music that stick with us
Jun 03, 2011 Jonathan marked it as to-read

Ellen Willis was one of the first rock critics — at a time starting in the late 1960s — when serious writing about rock, pop and R&B was rare. She was the first pop-music critic for The New Yorker, starting in 1968. She combined a love of pop culture and an active engagement with feminist theory to create a unique body of writing, which finally gets a proper showcase in a new anthology titled Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music, edited b
Ettore Pasquini
Nov 22, 2012 Ettore Pasquini rated it liked it
Shelves: music
It was cool to read historic reviews of records of the 60s, 70s, and a little of 80s and hear what people thought of those records when they came out. Willis talks a lot about Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Creedence. Other artists discussed here include the New York Dolls, Beatles, Bowie, who all get a generous treatment, and then Clapton, the Who, the Doors (just 1 essay I think), Black Sabbath (1 article, at least it's about Vol 4), Patti Smith, Elvis and a few others. My favorite chapters were by ...more
May 01, 2013 Perrystroika rated it really liked it
Shelves: by-women
Willis is a sharp writer and this book is a lot of fun. And it's not just rock criticism as we today understand it; since this is the 60's, that magical time when music, art, drugs, culture and politics were all swirled together into one confusing, thrilling, heady mix, it's more like a devastatingly lucid, moment by moment, on-the-scene chronicle of the times. I particularly like the Bob Dylan piece that kicks things off, and it's hard to find any rock criticism better than her tough minded tak ...more
Jul 19, 2012 Rachael rated it it was ok
I read a few glowing reviews about this book so I decided to give it a go. I don't read a lot of music criticism so I was curious about the first female rock critic and I was curious about rock writing in general. It wasn't a badly written book, it just didn't interest me as much as I thought it would.

The essays are from the 1970's so they focus on 70's rock bands - Bob Dyaln, Velvet Underground, Mot the Hoople, etc. Well, I was born in the late 70's but grew up in the 80's and 90's. Willis was
Dec 12, 2012 Tom rated it liked it
This book shouldn't have taken me almost a month to read, but I've been a little busy. And maybe if I'd read it more purposefully I would've loved it. Who knows? I'll surely read it again, since it's clearly of historical import and it's definitely very good from beginning to end, but I wasn't nearly as wowed by it as I expected to be.

I think the aspect of Willis' writing that most disappointed me was her style. She was brilliant and thoughtful, and almost always very clear and readable, but the
Oct 22, 2011 fleegan rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a collection of Ms. Willis’s articles she wrote for The New Yorker in the late ’60s and ’70s while she was the pop music critic. The articles are some of the best writing I’ve come across. Every idea, comparison, and critique is so well-crafted, so thought out that her intent, meaning, whatever, is crystal clear. There is not a single bloated paragraph. What’s great is she’s a fan of the music, so there’s no condescension, none of that “these kids today and their music.” kind of thing. B ...more
Mar 12, 2013 erin rated it really liked it
I liked this so much that it just reminded me how much I usually hate reading music criticism.

From the intro: "Ellen would surely agree that we won't see a revival of revolutionary sentiment until we learn to make it fun. In that respect, Ellen, Emma Goldman, and Abbie Hoffman are part of a lost tradition - radicals of desire."

One great sentence: "Using other people's and other eras' forms, making sure we heard the innocence or the silliness or the melodrama, Midler communicated her need to love
Terry Heller
Sep 24, 2011 Terry Heller rated it really liked it
Ellen Willis was The New Yorker's first rock music critic. Along with her contemporaries Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, and Griel Marcus, Willis showed the intelligensia that rock music was worthy of the same sophisticated criticism and analysis as art and literature. After the mid-70's, Willis' writing focused more on feminism and politics, so she never became the rock writer emeritus like Marcus or Christgau, but her early columns for the New Yorker forever shaped our understanding of Bob Dyl ...more
Graham Kearney
Ellen has written an amazing book.Her feminist & sociological perspective on such artists as Bob Dylan,Lou Reed & Velvet Underground & Elvis is insightful.As a fan of that era of music & particularly Bob Dylans music it gave me new insights into their music.Ellen no doubt is much missed from the writing & music scene.She told it as it was & I recommend this book for music fans of that inspiring time in music.
Mar 27, 2012 Tuck rated it liked it
collection of willis' articles (mainly from "the new yorker" 1968-1975) but also some from that same time zone in "village voice", "cheetah", and some rolling stone writing, and some album notes. then from later in and her book "beginning the see the light: sex, hope, and rock n roll". it's safe to say all are in earnest, most are open minded, some are significant cultural analysis, and a few a just brilliant and could have been written in 2012 instead of 1969 ("don;t turn your back on ...more
Jeff Golick
Aug 02, 2011 Jeff Golick rated it really liked it
An extremely fine and overdue collection of Willis' music writing. She comes across as an incredibly smart critic and commenter, reviewing both the music itself (and often how it affects her, mind and body), and the social context in which it appeared (mind, and cultural superego, I suppose). If a very few mentions are a tad dated (which is to be expected), she had the good sense and intelligence to go deep on artists who deserved such treatment: Willis is especially good on Dylan (as good as an ...more
Travis Todd
May 22, 2014 Travis Todd rated it really liked it
I was unfortunately almost entirely ignorant of the work of Ellen Willis before I read this book, found used at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, but thanks to this stellar collection that is no longer the case. A pioneer, and a clear thinker, and a fan, and a bit of a genius, I like to imagine Ms. Willis alone, in her apartment, dancing to record after record, lost in the sound.
Oct 19, 2011 Beverly rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, music
I'm surprised that Ellen Willis could get her head out of her ass long enough to write these essays.

Actually she's not all bad; she's a fan of some of the same music I love, but her need to pretentiously wring meanings and reverberations out of everything vinyl misses the whole fun part of music. Also a lot of the content seems to be more about Ellen Willis' head than the putative subject. Also she disrespects Bob Dylan, overly respects Mick Jagger, and is unaware of Keith Richards. She does ge
Dan Pasquini
Jan 25, 2012 Dan Pasquini rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for fans of '60s-'70s music and music criticism in general. Contains THE definitive essay on early Dylan, plus deeply insightful takes on Bowie, the Stones, the White Album, the Velvets, Creedence, etc. -- and not all of them positive: Because her writing was contemporaneous with the music she covered, it's gladly free of the mythology that has built up around her subjects over time.

Unlike Bangs or Christgau, there's no obvious "style" to her writing. Her style is her substanc
Jul 15, 2013 Lawrence rated it liked it
Shelves: music
I have much ambivalence about this book. I enjoyed the second half more than the first excepting the wonderful Dylan piece that opens the book. I particularly enjoyed the author's pieces on Dylan, the Woodstock festival and two Elvis concert reviews. I would love to see more of her writing on The Stones and Grateful Dead, two acts she had clear affinities for. Sorry to be crass, but probably a great bathroom read given the length of the pieces. I read straight through and found it a slog at time ...more
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Ellen Jane Willis was an American left-wing political essayist, journalist, and pop music critic.
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