Best rock CDs are DVDs

Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times says these are 12 must-see DVDs.

Link: MercuryNews.com | 01/18/2006 | Best rock CDs are DVDs

“Elvis ’56” (Lightyear, $20). The ideal would be seeing Elvis Presley’s raw performances at Southern clubs and ballrooms before he became a national sensation with “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956. But there is no comprehensive footage from that period, so this is the next best thing. This disc enables us to discover rock’s greatest star in the same way most fans did — via a series of television appearances. Highlights: his debut on the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show,” where he was so excited that it looked as if he was going to explode. By the time the hip-swinging star got to “The Ed Sullivan Show,” network execs were so nervous about negative parent reaction that they showed him only from the waist up.

“The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles” (SOFA Entertainment, $20). Here, too, we relive a moment of discovery. The Beatles’ renditions in 1964 and 1965 of “All My Loving” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” have been shown in documentaries, but the fascinating thing about this two-disc package is the entire “Sullivan” telecast, including commercials.

“Don’t Look Back” (Docurama, $25). This tops my list of rock movies because director D.A. Pennebaker takes us into Dylan’s world, on stage and off, during a 1965 acoustic tour of England for a glimpse of someone who is at the absolute center of pop attention. It is a penetrating, unsentimental portrait of a complex artist who was torn between reaching for fame and disdaining it.

“Woodstock” (Warner Home Video, $20). Here’s another movie, which means there’ll be lots of documentary touches, but it’s the music that you’ll remember — the ambition and boldness of artists including Jimi Hendrix and the Who, virtually strutting their stuff on stage in 1969 before the largest pop audience ever assembled at that time.

“The Concert for Bangladesh” (Apple Corps/Rhino, $30). This historic 1971 moment in rock illustrated the power of music to raise money and public awareness for idealistic purposes, in this case famine in Bangladesh. The artists included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar and Eric Clapton. Besides the original concert movie, the package includes a second disc with additional music and a documentary behind the scenes of the movie.

“The Last Waltz” (MGM, $15). This was the 1976 farewell show by the Band, one of the half-dozen most rewarding North American rock bands ever — a group that combined some of the artful aspirations of Dylan with a soulfulness drawn from country and blues roots. In the movie, the Band was joined by Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Clapton, among others, for an eloquent toast to the glories of American rock ‘n’ roll, especially those ’60s musicians who turned the raw energy of the rock pioneers into an art form.

“Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition” (Columbia, $35). “Born to Run” had been greeted in America with reviews so glowing that British critics and fans were naturally skeptical when Springsteen and the E Street Band stepped on stage in London. Springsteen responded with a show so inspiring it can still give you chills.

“Bob Marley and the Wailers Live at the Rainbow” (Island, $20). The quality of the footage isn’t the best, but it’s still absorbing seeing reggae’s most powerful and persuasive figure at his creative and charismatic peak for this 1977 concert in London.

“Public Enemy — It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion Tour 1987” (MVD, $15). The concert footage is fuzzy, yet the DVD offers an invaluable look at the moment when this politically conscious group almost single-handedly elevated rap in the public mind from novelty status to an art form. In a commentary track, Chuck D offers valuable insights into his goals and tactics at the time.

“Paul Simon — Graceland: The African Concert” (Warner Reprise Video, $25). Simon’s “Graceland,” which was inspired by music from South Africa, is one of the most lovely and warm-spirited works of the modern pop era, and there was a special magic when he and some of the musicians on the album went to Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987 to perform songs from the album before a racially mixed audience. The album did much to help expand U.S. interest in world music.

“U2 — Rattle and Hum” (Paramount, $10). “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles,” Bono declared at the start of this concert film as the band began playing “Helter Skelter.” “We’re stealing it back.” Time has shown that U2 is the post-’60s band that most exemplifies the ambition, impact and craft of the Beatles. An earlier concert, “Under a Blood Red Sky,” is equally memorable but is available only on VHS.

“America: A Tribute to Heroes” (Warner Reprise Video, $20). It’s sobering to watch this television tribute concert, just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. You can see the strain and tension in the faces of Springsteen, U2, Neil Young, Eddie Vedder and others as they tried to give comfort and support to a wounded nation. For all the emphasis in rock on rebellion and rage, the music is never more powerful than when it inspires — and this night was a testimony to that power.