Stereo Review In Review: December 1979

It’s another issue that brings back some memories, in this case the reviews of the Eagles and Talking Heads albums. A few years later, Fear of Music would play a vital role in shaping my musical tastes; I’m planning an in-depth look at it in the coming year. In the meantime, though, I’m here to learn some about what I didn’t catch the first time through.

Noel Coppage Interviews Ry Cooder
Cooder talks about his career-to-date, recognizing that each album has been a little different (“I’m just trying to find a good band sound, a good format for me“) and musicianship (“Technique is something that people are aware of now and weren’t before…speed guitar has got to be the one hook that has lasted and paid off…but having technique doesn’t mean you can play something good”), among any number of other things.

This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Edward Buxbaum, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–Ensemble for Early Music, Christesmas in Anglia: Early English Music for Christmastide (PK) “…a program of largely unfamiliar but totally captivating airs drawn from the Coventry mystery plays, from Scottish and Irish as well as English sources, the whole sung partly in old English, partly in Latin.”
–Gary Burton/Chick Corea, Duet (CA) “…it is in the longer pieces that the two players get the opportunity to demonstrate a really wonderful compatibility, building up breathtaking patterns and interacting in a way Corea and Herbie Hancock never could.”
Bread & Roses (NC) A two-disk live set from a fundraising concert held in the fall of 1977. Performers include Dave Van Ronk, Hoyt Axton, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Buffy Saint-Marie, Joan Baez, and Jackson Browne/David Lindley. “…it is one of the best recordings of the subtleties of acoustic music in a festival setting you could hope to hear.”

Featured Reviews
–Chuck Berry, Rockit (JV) “…epitomizes (his) past glories, demonstrates the healthy current state of his talent, and points out his possible future direction.”
–John Denver & the Muppets, A Christmas Together (William Anderson) “Overall, the touch is refreshingly light (Miss Piggy’s Carmen Miranda reading of ‘Christmas Is Coming’ would guarantee that all by itself, but ‘Little St. Nick,’ by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, further ensures that any long faces in the crowd get shorter fast).”
–Aretha Franklin, La Diva (PG) “But one mark of a true diva is the ability to bounce back from a slack period with a stunning performance that confirms her high status, and that’s just what Franklin has done…”
Giants of Jazz: Bix Beiderbecke (James Goodfriend) A three-disc overview courtesy of Time-Life. “Listeners coming to Beiderbecke’s music for the first time should be aware that, in general, they will be listening for snatches and fragments. Frankly, none of the bands Bix played with were all that good; the records are classics because of him.”
–Nancy Harrow, Anything Goes (PR) “…I actually get angry when I think of all those people who could appreciate (this album) but will never even get to see a copy in their local stores because the racks are too crowded with the latest instantly salable junk.”
–Van Morrison, Into the Music (NC) “This new album, being more even and listenable than most, is a good example of how, ideally, songwriting and singing merge in Morrison’s world. When he’s successful, his lyrics—once he’s sung them—convey, at most, that what he’s trying to express is beyond words.”
The Muppet Movie (PR) “The score that Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher have devised has the same charmingly goofy inventiveness and sunny disposition as the Muppet odd squad itself.’
–Anne Murray, I’ll Always Love You (William Anderson) “What has changed is pop music itself, which (disco aside) now seems to be ricocheting within a triangle bounded by folk, country, and rock. And who is the canny young woman occupying the catbird seat right in the middle of that triangle?”
Pennies from Heaven (PK) Several LPs full of classics from the Depression years. Most of the songs had been featured in a BBC series (which was not a re-do of the Bing Crosby film). “The beautifully cleaned-up mono sound on all these discs makes the exercise in nostalgia they encourage all but painless.”
–The Who, Quadrophenia (SS) “I’d rate the original album, divorced from the film, as more impressive because it’s more cohesive, but this soundtrack works as an album and as a vindication of Townshend’s faith in the universality of his story and the music he concocted for it.”

Recordings of Special Merit
–Cameo, Secret Omen (PG) “Certainly, there is nothing convoluted or intellectual about it, but if the music makes you feel good, that can be enough.”
–Johnny Cash, Silver (NC) “It comes off as an expression of Johnny Cash as he is today, responsible, Christian, an American institution, even—but it also reminds you of the old wildness.”
–Rosanne Cash, Right or Wrong (NC) “But I’m not yet prepared to say that she’s a great singer; what I’m prepared to say is that she and her husband, Rodney Crowell, who produced this and wrote most of it, sure know how to make albums.”
–Marshall Chapman, Marshall (NC) “…seems pretty close to the kind of album (she) has been trying to make; it is a hard rocker and at times it is hilarious and always it reflects an unsinkable spirit.”
–Chic, Risqué (EB) “It’s slow, first of all, and it tends to have unexpected rhythms that get in the way on the dance floor. Worse, the typical Chic song is weak on melody, putting romantically lush arrangements and hypnotic repetition where the song should be.”
–Ellen Foley, Nightout (JV) “One often seems to be hearing—all at once—a Phil Spector ‘wall of sound’ from the Fifties, some of the more charming studio gimcrackery of the Sixties, and the obsessively clinical engineering of the Seventies. Foley shines throughout, and I heartily recommend that you hear and cheer her.”
–Mighty Pope, Sway (EB) “This is hypnotically trancy music that seems to grow rather than build. It’s sexy and great for both heavy dancing and just listening.”
–Genya Ravan, And I Mean It! (CA) “…it tops everything (she) has done previously, and that includes her work with Ten Wheel Drive, which originally established her on the American pop map.”
–Steve Ross, S/T (William Livingstone) “…an excellent example of the kind of work that keeps Ross’ devoted following of theater-goers and performers coming back for more…American theater songs which he has chosen with taste and performs with skill, reinterpreting them in cabaret style.”
–Talking Heads, Fear of Music (SS) “…it’s now quite obvious that Sixties funk of the Memphis variety, rather than SoHo minimalism, is the real root of what they’re doing…a sound album in the best sense, full of textural surprises, rhythmic quirks, and striking instrumental work…”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Blondie, Eat to the Beat (Lester Bangs) “The band…is growing with (Debbie Harry), though there’s still nothing really outstanding about their playing, and the songs are mostly pretty serious stuff…but, for my taste, pop groups were never supposed to be this heavy and grim.”
–Carlene Carter, Two Sides to Every Woman (NC) “She’s a major talent…her voice is full of warm tones; if the writing and production could simply follow the way she sings decent stuff…the album would seem more unified and, for me at least, more alive.”
–Eagles, The Long Run (SS) “Yes, against all expectations (for this they labored three years?), here is still more monied Angst, lame social comment, and overproduction from the Eagles, who apparently believe that what the world needs now is a tuneless, turtle-tempo essay on the human condition as seen from the perspective of five very rich, very bored Angelenos.”
–Garland Jeffreys, American Boy & Girl (PG) “I do not like his music, and his singing style leaves me unmoved. But he’s a talented lyricist, a brilliant urban troubadour, and I do like what he’s saying.”
–Steve Martin, Comedy Is Not Pretty (JV) “Martin can be quite funny, though, in a haphazard way. He appears to be incapable of a sustained routine, but he has some lovely flashes—giddy plots with a series of punch lines that jab like a Golden Gloves boxing champ.”
–Carolyne Mas, S/T (NC) “In some ways this is a crackerjack of a bubblegum album, but it leaves you feeling (she) has the intelligence—and knowing she has the voice—to aim higher.”
–Giorgio Moroder, E=MC2 (EB) “The unbroken medley on side one…is a dancer’s delight. Too few disco producers provide this kind of instant party, obvious though the idea seems. Yes, there is a sameness of tone and tempo in the three perky songs…and yes, they don’t hold up for mere listening, but they do build beautifully for dancing.”
–The Alan Parsons Project, Eve (EB) “It’s not the most profound concept, the conflict of the animal urgings of sex and the human need for love, and it’s not carried through and developed in a literary or operatic way, like Evita or Tommy.”
–Pink Lady, S/T (PR) “…a disco album that sounds so much like every other disco album you’ve ever heard that you’ll have to keep checking the label to make sure you have slipped some older record onto the turntable by mistake.”
–Kenny Rogers, Kenny (NC) “But this album, like most of his recent ones, has a predigested, market-researched air about it and an amorphous non-style…That would be all right…except that the songs and instrumentation are so formula-struck.”
–Rachel Sweet, Fool Around (JV) “In musical and historical terms she can be compared with Brenda Lee and Lesley Gore, but with one important difference…Today a rapid loss of innocence is assumed, and a teenager can handle material that is womanly rather than girlish…what I guess we will have to call nymphet-rock.”
–Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage, Act I (Eric Salzman) “…a slightly surrealistic sound drama about garage bands, groupie sex, and all-American sleaze…(Zappa’s) zestful, zany adolescent Singspiel and muddled madcap music may be amusing, but it hardly has the urgency his work used to have.”

4 thoughts on “Stereo Review In Review: December 1979”

  1. FWIW, the lyrics “drawn from . . . mystery plays” would have been in Middle English, not Old English. The plays date from the mid- to late 15th C., whereas Old English had died out essentially by 1150-1200. And these days, we tend not to call them the Coventry plays. We’re much more likely to call them the “N.-town plays”, where N stands for “Nomen” (basically “insert name of town here”, which suggests that these plays may have been put on in various places.)

    And I think JOE’S GARAGE really needs to be heard with in its entirety to get the urgency.

    Btw, here’s the song from that Marshall Chapman LP I played at TLX:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m only reporting Mr. Kresh’s words at the time. 🙂 I do appreciate the info, though.

      I have a sliver of memory of hearing “Don’t Make Me Pregnant” before, no doubt courtesy of you. I’d completely forgotten that record had been in the TLX library. I’ll have to give it a complete spin now–I got a big chuckle at the bass line from “Miss You” surfacing in “Rock and Roll Clothes.”


  2. Pink Lady sighting! And calling The Long Run “the most pointless vinyl extrusion of 1979” seems just downright mean. Sure, it doesn’t hold up well as an album, but the 3 singles sure are good.

    Off to give that Burton/Corea album a spin


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