"Rock and Roll: The Early Days" kicks off with a symbolic battle in Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's house made all the more acute when you remember that Ozzie was once a big-band leader and Harriet his vocalist. David Nelson is downstairs, trying to hear a symphony; young Ricky, who would find his own fame before long, is locked away in his bedroom, listening to Big Mama Thornton's lean, driving "Hound Dog." At opposite musical poles, the brothers try to drown each other out by turning the sound up until finally Ricky's radio literally explodes. So did rock 'n' roll.
"Rock and Roll" (RCA/Columbia Home Video, $29.95) is a 60-minute compilation patterned loosely after NBC's "Heroes of Rock 'N' Roll" and containing '50s clips of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers, Frankie Lymon, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and other Gibraltars of rock. Some of the footage is familiar, but there are rare shots of such primary sources as the Treniers and Big Joe Turner, blues singers and doo-wop groups, '50s kids exulting in the new music they knew was theirs alone, and ornery adults attacking it.
But rather than opting for glossy remembrance of things past, the video's producers have enriched this compilation with a well-researched, no-nonsense text that traces rock's origins, observes its evolution, gives overdue credit to black contributors and points to racial and sociological contexts usually absent from rockumentaries.
One striking segue contrasts Little Richard's exuberantly mad original "Tutti Frutti" with Pat Boone's oafish whitewash. Boone admits he didn't want to record the song because "it didn't make sense," doing it only because his producer convinced him he'd make a lot of money. That and the Crew Cuts' cover of the Chords' "Sh-Boom" marked the beginning of a wave of white co-optation of black music.
The video's only major historical mistake is the intimation that Carl Perkins would have been as big as Elvis had he not been injured in a car crash and knocked off the scene just as Presley was breaking. Comparing raw clips, you can easily observe the distance between talent and charisma.
Irony abounds as well, as rock's rebellious spirit is drained by such wholesome white pop intruders as Boone and Gale Storm, and pretenders like teen idol Fabian. "Their music pretended to be rock 'n' roll but was . . . just a parody of it," the film points out.
Then the fates intervened, with Elvis going into the Army, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens dying in a plane crash, Jerry Lee Lewis becoming discredited for marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Chuck Berry the same for violating the Mann Act, and Little Richard getting religion. By the end of the '50s, Mount Rockmore was crumbling, but this video is a moving reminder of how it was sculpted.
* The Rolling Stones, "Video Rewind" (Vestron, 60 minutes, $29.95). Directed by Julien Temple, this is a fairly clever compilation of Stones artifacts from the '70s and '80s, with Bill Wyman playing a guard at the Museum of Mankind, which has its own Stones Room. Taking Mick Jagger out of a display case, Wyman unspools video proof of the Stones' outlaw image. There are brief cuts from Robert Frank's unreleased "C.S. Blues," pithy interview segments and superimposed segues, and several "Undercover" videos, including the unabridged version of "Too Much Blood." For Stones' die-hards, "Let's Spend the Night Together," Hal Ashby's flawed chronicle of the Stones' 1981 tour, is available from Vestron at $29.95.
* The Doors, "Dance on Fire" (MCA Home Video, 65 minutes, $39.95). This is pretty good stuff drawn from grainy television performances (Jim Morrison looking alternately bewildered, aroused and angry), stark concert footage and the Doors' private archives (Morrison and Ray Manzarek were film students at UCLA). Also included are two intriguing proto-promo clips, "Break on Through" and "The Unknown Soldier," which was banned in 1968. But Manzarek's new conceptual video for "L.A. Woman" simply reminds us of Morrison's absence -- he's been dead almost 14 years. At least this "Dance" is all music, not anguished, self-serving overview, and the digital remastering makes everything sound better.
* The Police, "The Synchronicity Concert" (IRS/A&M Home Video, 75 minutes, $29.95). Directors Kevin Godley and Lol Creme do as nice a job for the Police as they did for Herbie Hancock. The concert footage is visceral, closer to the band's conceptual shorts than standard arena shots because of the subtle use of such effects as animation, strobe lighting and selective slow motion. The playing and the quality of the sound recording are outstanding and -- home tapers take note -- this version includes five more songs than the Showtime special.
* "The Arms Concert, Part 1 and 2" (Media, $29.95 each). With no record coming out, this is the only way to catch up with the Ronnie Lane benefit concert held in London last year. That's the one that brought together the British guitar heavies -- Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck -- and various other superstars in a fundraiser for multiple-sclerosis research. It's great to see Beck in action again and Page sounds far better than he does with the Firm, but this is another case of ineptly shot concert footage serving as tranquilizer.
* Bryan Adams, "Reckless" (A&M Video, 30 minutes, $19.95). The first commercial video EP to be released simultaneously with the album that inspired it, this Steve Barron-directed work features five songs strung together over a boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl motif that works despite its reduction to cliche's. Like John Cougar Mellencamp, Adams plays straightforward rock with few frills, but he does so in a thoroughly winning manner. "Red Hot Rock" (Vestron, $59.95) consists of 11 videos deemed too salacious in their uncensored versions for MTV, HBO or Friday Night Videos. Now they can appear on your VCR. What you get is some nudity, a heavy dose of sexist ranting from the likes of Helix and O'Bryan, and a high quotient of cinematic kinkiness (Duran Duran's "The Chauffeur," Peter Godwin's "Images of Heaven").