'Pop Chronicles' Chronicle Pop

Uncovering the history of rock and roll with John Gilliland

The Rolling Stones in a television studio- Bill Wyman, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, 1965. Credit: Michael Ward/Getty

Los Angeles—

For more than six months KRLA, this city's "intellectual" pop radio station, has been presenting hour-long weekly installments of "John Gilliland's Pop Chronicles," an in-depth history of rock and roll. For the serious aficionado of pop music and the casual listener alike, it's been a nearly unqualified success.

Each Sunday evening at six the program has begun, recounting the development of the music and the individual musicians in chronological order, starting with what the program's creator, researcher, writer and and narrator John Gilliland called "Tin Pan Alley Pop: 1950," featuring interviews with Mitch Miller, the Weavers and Stan Freberg.

Since that time, in February, the chronicles have come forward to 1964 and 1965, when the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan assumed the divergent thrones of pop. In some cases, a week's episode has assumed coverage of entire periods or categories of music, while others have been devoted to single artist or group.

A recent chapter considered the Stones. It opened with a brief interview with Mick Jagger, conducted during a Stones rehearsal in London; behind the talk you could hear the others in the group jamming. And in the background of the interview with Phil Spector, associated with the Stones along with Jack Nitzsche at the time, the music of one of Spector's groups, the Crystals, was heard. In this fashion, the music and interviews formed a blend, giving production an A-plus, giving the show a depth not heard in other rock documentaries.

Other interviews in Gilliland's coverage of what he called "the Avis of rock" (a flaw, however slight, in the script) included talks with Eric Burdon, Jerry Wexler, Ian Whitcomb, English pop writer Penny Valentine and Howlin' Wolf. All had good, and informative, things to say about the Stones.

Occasionally this episode was overproduced, as when Gilliland dealt with the reaction to the Stones' first American tour and following a statement that the corn belt had downed the Stones, he inserted an oink from a sound effects tape, then had a staff announcer shout through an echo machine: "Get a haircut!" He also recreated, using actors, the segment of John Lennon's Rolling Stone interview that considered the Stones.

Besides this, in Gilliland's delivery there occasionally seemed to be an overemphasis placed on the importance of an event in the Stones' development — as when he made the writing of "Satisfaction" (poolside at a hotel in Florida) sound as significant an event as the signing of the Magna Carta or Declaration of Independence.

No matter. The emphasis was on the music of the Stones, just as in other, earlier, episodes the emphasis was on the music of other artists.

Gilliland claims to have spent more than two years in preparing this series and it sounds that well researched. Often the listener has been left wanting more, but that's one of entertainment's precepts: Leave them wanting more! This contrasts with the totally different (but equally excellent) KHJ "rockumentary" which when first broadcast covered 72 hours of air time, non-stop, including more music—more records, statistically—but less first-person information. (The KHJ review of rock has since been repeated locally in 12-hour blocks.)

KRLA's series of 52 shows is set to run through next February, with the possibility there will be 57 in all, followed by a two-hour closing show called "The Pop Chronicles Crammer." Gilliland, a former Dallas disc jockey who came to KRLA's news department in 1965, said it was difficult to plan a definite end to the series: "We may even keep it open end."

Besides KRLA, KPRI in San Diego, KQEO in Albuquerque and a station in Australia are currently broadcasting the show, with WCBS in New York set to begin in October, Armed Forces Radio shortly thereafter. A station in Norfolk carried the first 12. Working with Gilliland in what has essentially been a one-man job are Chester Coleman, engineer and associate producer, and the members of KRLA's "Credibility Gap" news team, serving as actors on the show.