Ozzy Osbourne being excessive.

Ozzy Osbourne being excessive.

On the University of Rochester’s History of Rock MOOC  ‘rude’ words are blanked out and presenter John Covach is careful to paraphrase any of the raunchier lyrics. The notorious Rock’n’Roll lifestyle of wild sex and hard drugs is coyly referred to as if the educational institution is fearful of being seen to condone such lewd behaviour.

The producers of the  Channel 4 rockumentary ’50 Years of Excess’  clearly had no intention of presenting such a sanitized version of events. They revel in exploring what they gleefully refer to as the “depths of debauchery”. The tacky subtitle “Amps, Whips & Rebel Riffs” gives fair warning that a very selective and heavily sensationalized  retelling of the story of rock is in store.

The problem with such a journey into the dark side is that it is so primed towards unearthing salacious details of the ‘rock gods’ that any coherent musical context becomes peripheral. For example, Jimi Hendrix is completely ignored while ample space is found to cover the crude shenanigans of the talentless Motley Crue. Influential genres like punk and grunge are dismissed as passing fads as the juggernaut of classic rock drives on.

Although the main title suggests that the period under scrutiny will be from 1963 –  2013, there is no significant footage from before the late 1960s and most of focus is on the post-hippy birth of hard rock and heavy metal in Britain during the 1970s and 80s. Anecdotal accounts of the “supernova mayhem” of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Black Sabbath take precedence.

Motley Crue

Groupies, hangers-on and pompous journalists supply most of the tabloid-esque details. One of the contributors is Mick Wall, a veritable master of no trade who has made a career out of writing rock biographies on dinosaur acts like Bono, Status Quo, Guns N’Roses, Black Sabbath and …..er……. Marillion!

His cash-in book about Led Zeppelin is entitled ‘When Giants Walked The Earth’ and if his description of Jimmy Page’s riffs as sounding like they were “dredged out of a river like a dead body” is an example of his prose I won’t be rushing to order a copy. Irritatingly, he speaks as if he witnessed all the band’s outlandish antics first hand which he most certainly did not.

Charles Shaar Murray is another who makes a dick of himself and confirms that his relevance as a rock critic ended with the arrival of punk.

Alice Cooper being un-excessive.

Alice Cooper being un-excessive.

The producers were probably thrilled by the fact that Alice Cooper agreed to take part but his genial and articulate manner shows that his wild man image is distinctly at odds with his off stage persona.

Alice, together with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward and Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme are the only interviewees to come out of the whole sorry saga with any measure of integrity intact.

The premise may be sound but this is one lame-ass documentary.