The only artifact I have from all the years my father subscribed to Stereo Review is Peter Reilly’s full-page look at Billy Joel’s The Stranger in the January 1978 issue. As best as I recall, my sister and I didn’t get the album until close to the time that 52nd Street was released, but fortunately, Dad held on to his older issues for quite a while. I know now that Joel didn’t just appear out of the ether at the end of 1977; at the time I was probably impressed that someone seemingly relatively new rated such real estate in SR. He owns perhaps an outsized space in my personal musical landscape, for various reasons (you’ll learn more about that in my next post). This review could be a partial key to understanding why.
Rick Mitz Talks with James Taylor
Easily the longest feature piece I’ve come across over the three years of this series. Mitz’s fandom comes across loud and clear as the conversation bounces from the mill that is the music business, to songwriting (“There is a songwriter’s place. There is a place you are at when you write a song, and I’m not there all the time”), to performing (“…I just sort of get into a frame of mind where I’m fated to do it. It’s sort of like Zen archery—there’s the target and I’m the arrow, and there’s the space to be covered between the two of us”), to critical reception of his work (“I listen to my critics and absolutely read my record reviews…when I read something, I take it seriously, even though I know better”), to married life (“Carly is an extraordinary person to know because she is probably as positive as anybody you will ever meet”). It’s a long and winding chat.
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month
–Ron Carter Quartet, Piccolo (CA) “The sophistication, swing, and high-caliber musicianship offered by the late, lamented Modern Jazz Quartet are to be found in the Ron Carter group, and a commensurate popularity will surely follow.”
–Merle Haggard, A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today (NC) “Anyway, there’s personality and style in what he does, when he’s up to snuff as he is in this album.”
–Pete Townshend/Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix (SS) “…in its best moments it is so alive, so friendly, so inventive, that the lapses hardly matter…you should grab it immediately, no matter which side of the New Wave you’re on.”
Recordings of Special Merit
–The Nighthawks, Side Pocket Shot (JV) “Their songs are lean and spare, designed to allow as much room as possible for instrumental fills and passages…(t)he combo is crisp and driving as always, with the rowdy sense of fun that distinguishes them.”
–Diana Ross, Baby It’s Me (PK) “This new, tamer, warmer Diana is a welcome visitor, and the whole program is distinguished, despite the lush arrangements, by a spirit at once exhilarating and pleasantly civilized.”
–Sanford-Townsend Band, Smoke from a Distant Fire (JV) “Townsend’s lead vocals are forceful and exciting; he is able to sing at the top of his range without exhausting himself or the listener, and when he hits a high note there is a joie de vivre to it that brings a grin.”
–Adam Wade, S/T (PG) “Obviously, this is a disco album, but of an exceptionally high quality. That all too familiar danceable beat is subtly underplayed, permitting Wade to explore the full range of his voice and style.”
–Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blues (SS) “The sound of it is as California-lush as anything the Boys have come up with in the Seventies, with ethereal vocal choirs, relentlessly layered instrumentation, and snippets of melodies that suggest strange, primitive chants.”
–Karla Bonoff, S/T (NC) “But nostalgia has practically nothing to do with the appeal of her music. The dramatic buildup she likes to create (she definitely prefers the chorus to the bridge, structurally, and is smart enough to avoid repeating the chorus so much that it gets blunted) is a characteristic, all right, but the way she does it seems to come from no particular time or place.”
–Hodges, James, and Smith, What’s on Your Mind? (PG) “In short, this is not just another girl trio…(they) show all the signs in this first outing of real staying power.”
–Billy Joel, The Stranger (PR) “…it gives the listener a unique opportunity to get into the head and feelings of a now grown-up ex-greaser though a group of songs that are at once a love letter and a farewell to youth, by turns touching, mordant, funny, gross (new sense), melodramatic, and naïve.”
–Randy Newman, Little Criminals (William Anderson) “Most of his melodies are habit-forming on first hearing, and his arrangements have a lapidary quality—perfect setting, perfect fit—that permanently pre-empt the listener’s affections…(t)here are no songs here that once could call less than beautifully crafted…”
–Elvis Presley, Elvis in Concert (John Morthland) Also includes reviews of Merle Haggard’s My Farewell to Elvis and Elvis’ Favorite Gospel Songs by J. D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. “Had Elvis not died between the time it was recorded and the time it was released, it would attract no more special attention than any of his many other dubious albums.”
–Lily Tomlin, On Stage (Lester Bangs) “Just where many comedians turn self-indulgent, Tomlin creates authentic American folklore out of her most intimate material, giving us an oral history that goes beyond comedy to touch the heart…”
–Lester Young, The Lester Young Story, Volumes 1-3 (CA) The first installment of “Columbia’s long-awaited five-part chronological reissue of everything this extraordinary pacemaker recorded for that label.”
Other Albums Reviewed
–The Babys, Broken Heart (JV) “…the producer and the engineer knew their business when it came to miking the instruments and getting good separation. Unfortunately, their efforts were wasted.”
–Harry Chapin, Dance Band on the Titanic (PR) “Harry Chapin is in his usual form here…which is to say that the only thing more pompous and portentous than his songs is his performance of them.”
–Chicago, Chicago XI (PR) “Anything of any real interest that this group was doing surely faded at about III or IV, but their public, easily the most loyal since Edgar Cayce’s, continues to buy their albums in astonishing quantities. Listening to XI was—surprise, surprise—very much like listening to X and IX and VIII and so on. And on.”
–Country Joe and the Fish, Reunion (NC) “Though the album works best as nostalgia despite itself, it does suggest the band could stay together if they want to and give the present and the future, as well as the past, a going-over.”
–Doobie Brothers, Livin’ on the Fault Line (NC) “The group still seems to ride mainly on crossing watered-down soul with that amorphous Southern California non-style of rock, and if their lyrics are emptier than usual here, blame it on the times.”
–Firefall, Luna Sea (SS) “If you’d enjoy an album that has nothing to recommend it except that it supports critical theorizing, this should be just your cup of tea.”
–Jermaine Jackson, Feel the Fire (PG) “His decision to leave the Jackson family group was on target. Jermaine had outgrown the group musically…he comes across as a high-energy performer who infuses his songs with an infectious, boyish fervor that never supplants his emphasis on solid singing.”
–Carole King, Simple Things (PR) “There was a time, and that quite recently, when introspection and soul searching were appropriate. But this kind of precious, totally self-involved tender loving care of one’s own teeny-tiny emotional world has gotten to be a bore.”
–Richard Pryor, Greatest Hits (JV) “But on these tracks, apparently all recorded live, Pryor seems brutal and abrasive, so it is difficult to tell whether he is using his substantial comedic gifts to soothe his rage or using his rage to feed his gifts.”
–Rush, A Farewell to Kings (JV) “I would have enjoyed this album more if Rush had been a little more specific about what they intended to say; as it is, their point remains, if not a closely guarded secret, certainly one that is well chaperoned.”
–The Staples, Family Tree (PR) “The Staples…have delivered another very good session here, particularly the title song, which has an extra measure of that warm gutsiness that is so identifiable in all of their work.”
–Steely Dan, Aja (JV) “The seven selections in Aja are not so much pop songs as they are mood pieces taking a more or less jazz direction…(t)he project is musically successfully, then, but I still miss Steely Dan’s songs.”
–Dwight Twilley Band, Twilley Don’t Mind (JV) “But to anyone who was around when the Liverpudlians held happy sway, Twilley’s music will sound like an old story twice told.”
3 thoughts on “Stereo Review In Review: January 1978”
Steve Simels is a friend of mine; what fun to see your thoughts on “Stereo Review,” and his name mentioned.
Thanks so much for your comment. A number of Mr. Simels’s reviews had a sizeable influence on the direction of my musical tastes, particularly those for albums by Marshall Crenshaw and Suzanne Vega.
Funny how time has been far kinder to Rush’ A Farewell to Kings, Carole King and Steely Dan’s Aja than SR was initially.