Brow Beat

The Viral “History of Rock” Is Horribly Whitewashed, but the Scariest Part Is No One Noticed

Since it was uploaded Tuesday morning, the video “History of Rock”—which attempts to tell the story of rock ’n’ roll through a mashup of 348 different rock stars and 64 different songs—has quickly been going viral, getting passed around by sites such as Mashable, Fast Company, and Gizmodo, and being named a “Staff Pick” by Vimeo. Both Mashable and Laughing Squid praise the video for being “comprehensive,” while the Canadian music site Exclaim! exclaims, “This Video Will Make You a Rock Music History Expert in 15 Minutes.”

Admittedly, the editing of the video is pretty nifty. And sadly, I can’t say I’m surprised its creators, the people at England’s Ithaca Audio, apparently thought that the history of rock ’n’ roll begins with Elvis. After all, this is a company of mashup artists—not music historians.

But what is surprising to me is that all of these outlets—including a music magazine!—could share this video approvingly without realizing or noting that it’s not only bad history but, frankly, offensive. We’re talking about a video that suggests that rock was pioneered exclusively by white artists. In fact, no artists of color (let alone women) are heard for the whole first minute, when they enter the history of rock with Jimi Hendrix.

No Little Richard. No Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston. No Sister Rosetta Tharpe. No Bo Diddley or Big Joe Turner. On a different note, there’s not even any Ritchie Valens. Or, if you set race and ethnicity aside, Bill Haley! Apparently it was more important to include the Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon. By my very quick count, only two out of the 44 artists whose music is featured in the video prominently feature musicians of color (the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Rage Against the Machine). Meanwhile, the video is even more male than it is white: Out of the 64 songs featured, all of them are either entirely or primarily performed by men. (There are a couple songs by the mixed-gender groups Fleetwood Mac and the White Stripes, but the songs chosen are both sung by the male band members.)

Again, none of this is exactly surprising. Rock was arguably more integrated in the ’50s than it is today, and by the ’60s, bands like the Beatles had pretty much permanently changed the image of the rocker to, by default, white and male. But if you really want a video that “Will Make You a Rock Music History Expert in 15 Minutes,” you’d do better to skip this bit of whitewashing and start with clips like the ones below.