'London, Reign Over Me': A rich and deserving tribute to the city that shaped classic rock music in all its glory

Prof. Stephen Tow's book is an extensively-researched, anecdote-strewn account of how the timing and circumstances were perfect for London to alter the course of music history


                            'London, Reign Over Me': A rich and deserving tribute to the city that shaped classic rock music in all its glory
(Getty Images/Prof. Stephen Tow)

Professor Stephen Tow, one of the pre-eminent music historians of this modern age, recently came out with a definitive work this month that explores how the city of London became the perfect breeding ground during the 1960s for the worldwide musical phenomenon that we now call classic rock.

Titled 'London, Reign Over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock' (published by Rowman & Littlefield in February 2020), it's an extensively-researched, historically-accurate, and uniquely British account of all the factors and circumstances that contributed to make London the ideal birthplace for classic rock during the post-war boom.

Professor Stephen Tow (courtesy of the author)

And Tow has really done his homework on this one - the book is strewn with vivid imagery, many hilarious, interesting anecdotes, and numerous artist interviews. He manages to paint a realistic picture of how London captured the cultural zeitgeist of a disaffected nation and managed to spark a paradigm shift in the musical direction of a world that was still limping back to normalcy after the Second World War. Classic rock was, almost out of necessity, a new sound from a new generation, and Tow's book passionately explores how this music helped catalyze one of the most important cultural transformations of the 20th century.

Tow knows his subject matter intimately, and is well connected too - the professor teaches a course on rock ’n’ roll history at Delaware Valley University, and regularly schedules Skype sessions for his students with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Yes’s Steve Howe, and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn.

The foreword of 'London, Reign Over Me' has been written by Bill Bruford, the famed drummer and founding member of Yes, and features interviews with over 90 musicians and movers-and-shakers from the classic era of rock, including members of The Yardbirds, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, The Moody Blues, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, The Zombies, The Kinks, The Animals, Deep Purple and many more.

British rock group The Who performing at the Rolling Stones' 'Rock And Roll Circus' event, a performance at Internel Studios in Stonebridge Park, Wembley, devised to be filmed for television. (Getty Images)

'London, Reign Over Me' doesn't get into the gossip and exposés normally associated with music celebrities, nor does it delve into petty jealousies, massive egos, or rock star excesses. Instead, it's an exuberant account of the sheer joys, daunting obstacles and wild abandon associated with making music as an act of transformation and rebellion, of creating a previously-unheard, magical sound of seismic proportions in the otherwise bland atmosphere of a rapidly expanding culture and economy. This book is intended for anyone who wants to delve deeper than the typical surface rock star narrative that we've been fed by the TV and music magazines of our era.

You'll discover many amazing things:

How classic rock as we know it actually owes its origins to men like Chris Barber, Alexis Korner, Ken Colyer, and Lonnie Donegan.

How skiffle music was born, and how it influenced a new generation of kids.

How deciding to go to art school ended up being the best decision ever for many a young British musician. 

Where all the seminal rockstars played, at venues like the Crawdaddy, Eel Pie Island, and the Marquee.

Why a bunch of postwar British kids become obsessed with black American music, and then took that inspiration to create something entirely original.

How the big bands of the '60s like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Who, The Kinks, The Zombies, Cream, Deep Purple and Yes kicked off.

20-year-old Mick Taylor, former lead guitarist of the John Mayall rhythm and blues group replaces Brian Jones as the new member of the Rolling Stones. The group pose in Hyde Park, London - (from left to right) Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Bill Wyman. (Getty Images)

The birth of pirate radio, guitar feedback, instrument destruction, Marshall amplifiers, and the first rock opera.

The rivalries between subcultures like the Mods and the Rockers.

The role that folk music played in shaping musical tastes and the evolution of progressive rock.

How Pink Floyd and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown helped crack open the doors to psychedelia.

The indelible impact that Jimi Hendrix had on the British music scene.

Why this golden age of music barely lasted a decade and the aftermath of its lasting legacy.

American guitarist, singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix (1942 - 1970) arrives at Heathrow Airport, London, 27th August 1970. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In short, if you're even a casual fan of rock music, this masterpiece by Professor Stephen Tow is guaranteed to entertain and inform, surprise and illuminate. “Since we’re half a century on now,” Stephen says in the book, “I think we have the ability to view the ’60s/early ’70s era as a truly special period in music, one not likely to be repeated.”

Hindsight truly is 20/20 in the year 2020!

“My job,” continues Professor Tow, “is to put London’s contribution to that music in its proper place.” It's fair to say that he's done a magnificent job in chronicling one of the greatest creative periods to ever exist in the musical history of the world.

'London, Reign Over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock' is a must-read - you can order it here.

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