Welcome to American Century, the loosest, fastest, most rock’n’roll record label in 1973 New York – a place that is already pretty fast, loose and rock’n’roll. Starring Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra and Juno Temple and Olivia Wilde as, respectively, his ambitious employee and glamorous, super-cool wife, Vinyl is a tale of ambition, excess, music, sex and drugs. Here’s why we love it.
New York in 1973 was the nexus-point of three musical revolutions: CBGB’s had just opened, disco was about to take over the mainstream, and hip-hop was being born on the streets of the Bronx.
The look of Vinyl is almost as important as the sound, and the show is a visual feast of the best, worst and most outrageous aspects of 70s fashion. Given the genres outlined above, we’re looking at ripped jeans and leather jackets, flares and ridiculously wide collared shirts and gold jewellery and tracksuits. There’s got to be something there that takes your fancy.
It’s not big or clever, but it would be remiss to pretend there wasn’t a blizzard of cocaine blowing through the 70s music biz. Richie Finestra’s struggle with the drug is one of the show’s most compelling plot lines.
Behind every cliche is a reason why it became one, and ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ is no exception. It’s not just confined to the musicians, either: Vinyl is almost certainly the only place where you’ll see the loveable Ray Romano from the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond – here playing wily promo-man Zak Yankovich – indulging in a boozy, coke-fuelled threesome.
Martin Scorsese is responsible for some of cinema’s most iconic musical moments – think the swooning , elegiac ‘Layla’ by Derek and the Dominoes soundtracking the nightmarish reveal of a dead body in a freezer in Goodfellas – while Mick Jagger has only spent the last half-century or so fronting the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. So, you know, he probably knows a thing or two about it.
The attention to detail
Vinyl is all about the small moments of rock history we drop in on – like the New York Dolls playing the Mercer Arts Centre, Gram Parsons preparing for his final, fateful trip to Joshua Tree – and the show’s painstakingly-realised recreation of 70s New York. Given the pedigree of having Jagger and Scorsese onboard, two masters who’ve spent their illustrious careers capturing either the grit and glamour of the city or the sheer giddy thrill of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, it’s hardly surprising that the show is so immersive.
In the words of Richie Finestra, Vinyl is a story “clouded by lost braincells, self-aggrandisement and maybe a little bit of bullshit.” A classic rock ‘n’ roll tale, populated by larger-than-life characters. We live in more self-aware, post-modern times now, so it’s a real rush – and quite a relief – to just cut loose and enjoy the ridiculousness of the indulgent lifestyle these characters are living.
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The back-room machinations of the music industry are often every bit as captivating as what happens on the stage. Vinyl excels at taking the viewer into the shadier parts of a cutthroat world. Think this show is just about music and good times? Think again – there’s a murder sub-plot that will have gripped.
The hidden gems
Pay particular attention to The Nasty Bits, the next-big-thing discovered by A&R assistant Jamie Vine – the band are fictional, but the songs are by little-known proto-punk pioneers Jack Ruby, who disbanded in 1977 without a single release to their name. They’re the kind of band the real music lover in your life would turn you on to. And that’s what Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger are here – your super-smart, clued-up mates who love rock’n’roll and can’t wait tell your their war stories from this chapter in its history. Listen up, because it’s a killer tale.