In 1968, the New Yorker hired Ellen Willis as its first popular music critic. Her column, Rock, Etc., ran for seven years and established Willis as a leader in cultural commentary and a pioneer in the nascent and otherwise male-dominated field of rock criticism. As a writer for a magazine with a circulation of nearly half a million, Willis was also the country’s most widely read rock critic. With a voice at once sharp, thoughtful, and ecstatic, she covered a wide range of artists—Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Velvet Underground,—assessing their albums and performances not only on their originality, musicianship, and cultural impact but also in terms of how they made her feel.
Because Willis stopped writing about music in the early 1980s—when, she felt, rock ’n’ roll had lost its political edge—her significant contribution to the history and reception of rock music has been overshadowed by critics like Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, and Greil Marcus. Out of the Vinyl Deeps collects for the first time Willis’s Rock, Etc. columns and her other writings about popular music from this period (including liner notes for works by Lou Reed and Janis Joplin) and reasserts her rightful place in rock music criticism.