I was wrapping up my first year of college as this issue came out; one assumes I leafed through it soon after moving home for the summer, even if there’s nothing here that feels familiar. As ever, I welcome the opportunity to dig in to learn about some artists and tunes.
Articles Even though compact disks are looming on the horizon, there are pieces on Choosing a Turntable (Alan Lofft), Turntables: How to Evaluate the Specs (Julian D. Hirsch), and How to Judge a Record Without Playing It (David Ranada).
This month’s reviewers are Phyl Garland, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Love Over and Over (AN) “…a startling pastiche of styles, from folk to classical, from spiritual to secular, from Old World to New, from Tin Pan Alley to the Brill Building. They even come close sometimes to getting all of that into one song through their choices in lyrics, vocal line, and instrumentation…” –John McLaughlin, Music Spoken Here (MP) “McLaughlin’s work with his present group is developing long a path strikingly similar to Weather Report’s in its electronic tonal landscapes, in its powerful rhythmic drive and structural complexity, and in its concept of musical space and how to fill it.”
Featured Reviews –Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, Poncho & Lefty (AN) “This may be the most laid-back album I’ve ever heard…The arrangements are light but not airy, the old veteran pickers know exactly when to play—and more importantly, when not to play, and the instrumentation is lean, clean, and tasteful.” –Philip Lynott, The Philip Lynott Album (MP) “…a mad collision of styles—romantic ballads, high-stepping barrelhouse rockers, New Wave, dub, Eurodisco, parody, you name it. And it works.”
Recordings of Special Merit –ABBA, The Singles—The First Ten Years (SS) “The most representative kitsch of our recent past? A revealing slice of life from the belly of the Welfare State?…No matter. I love every note here, and I’m not embarrassed to say so in print.” –Garland Jeffreys, Guts for Love (MP) “…Jeffreys is in complete control. He seems finally to have learned how to channel his anger into serious music making.” –Todd Rundgren, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (JV) “Fortunately, Rundgren’s wit, which runs from the subtle to the berserk, dominates this new solo album, on which he plays all the instruments and sings all the vocals.” –Rosalie Sorrels, Miscellaneous Abstract Record No. 1 (AN) “But Sorrels has omitted the work of one of my favorite songwriters and poets, Rosalie herself, and a Rosalie Sorrels album with her own material is almost not a Rosalie Sorrels album at all!” –Donna Washington, Just for You (PG) “Her uptempo numbers here are sharp and sassy, and on the more intimate items she drives the lyrics home with intensity and finesse.”
Other Disks Reviewed –Dr. Demento, Demento’s Mementos (JV) “Some of them are genuinely funny, nearly all of them are splendidly vulgar, and only a few of them are merely juvenile.” –Sammy Hagar, Three Lock Box (MP) “Like a lot of other hard rockers, Hagar feels he has to write clever words to entertain us. He needn’t bother…There are also songs about sex and forgotten war veterans, but at this volume, who can think about sex?” –The Members, Uprhythm, Downbeat (MP) “…rock/reggae stripped of any optimism or idealism by a tough, cynical, pragmatic intelligence.” –Missing Persons, Spring Session M (MP) “It all goes to show that while great art (which this definitely isn’t) doesn’t spring from the law of supply and demand, good L.A. rock sometimes does.” –Ric Ocasek, Beatitude (MP) “His smart, economical lyrics and catchy melodies are everywhere in evidence, so Cars fans will surely not be disappointed by this album. They may just wonder where the rest of the band fits in.” –Yoko Ono, It’s Alright (SS) “All right, all right, I feel sorry for the poor woman—but I feel sorry for Jackie Onassis too, and if she made records I wouldn’t take them seriously either.” –Thompson Twins, Side Kicks (MP) “…it may be that the Thompson Twins can’t decide whether they want to be serious or silly. In the end, this is music at war with itself.” –Grover Washington, Jr., The Best Is Yet to Come (PG) “Easy listening, yes, but enormously appealing.” –Margaret Whiting, Come a Little Closer (PR) “(She)’s been around since the late Forties, but you’d never know it from the astonishing fresh sound of her voice. She still displays the same wonderful intonation and diction that always made her singing—of anything—somewhat special.” –Neil Young, Trans (SS) “…it’s Young’s latest alienate-your audience effort, which is okay by me. Better to burn out than to fade away, I suppose.”
In the summer of 1987 I converted to Rolling Stone for album reviews—I was living out of state, Dad probably stopped his Stereo Review subscription around then as a result, etc. Soon after he and I had become roommates, John suggested we go in on a subscription to RS, which I probably kept for most of the rest of the time I was in Illinois. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to look at a Stereo Review issue from the period when I was all about RS and note that SR was highlighting some of the same records (both Best of the Month selections and two others given featured treatment below have long been in my collection).
Article The New Jazz by Chris Albertson Albertson takes us on a whirlwind history of the twists and turns jazz had undergone over the previous thirty years, from free jazz through fusion to new age (failing to write approvingly of much of it). He sees hope, though in a new wave (so to speak) of practitioners, including Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, and Donald Harrison.
This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Ron Givens, Roy Hemming, Alanna Nash, Parke Puterbaugh, and Steve Simels. Mark Peel, a stalwart for much of the decade, had departed the scene; Puterbaugh had come over recently from, wouldn’t you know, Rolling Stone.
Best of the Month –Michelle Shocked, Short Sharp Shocked (AN) “…a writer and performer of sizzling personality and power…(t)he instrumental framework shimmers with ingenuity and intrigue, mirroring the lyrics, and Shocked’s somewhat subversive view of life, in superb little unexpected turns and trills…” It’s indeed a fabulous and fascinating record—I’m just sorry there aren’t any clips available on YouTube to share. –Lucinda Williams, S/T (SS) “She has the kind of voice that suggests the rise and fall of empires as witnessed through the bottom of a shot glass. It’s an instrument worthy of the Bonnie Raitt comparisons it most often draws, but there’s an edge to Williams’s singing, a raw, wounded, and utterly soulful quality, that also suggests a male honky-tonker like Gram Parsons.”
Featured Reviews –Anita Baker, Giving You the Best That I Got (PG) “Anita Baker’s much anticipated new album…has everything—superbly lustrous and passionate singing, polished arrangements that include occasional flashes of fine jazz piano, and a high-quality production—everything, that is, except songs that immediately knock you off your feet.” –Gary Burton, Times Like These (RG) “Gary Burton is a smart man, and he’s made a smart record, but he can burn a little, too, when he wants to.” –Fairground Attraction, The First of a Million Kisses (RG) “An utterly contemporary throwback, the quartet plays a glorious fusion of swing jazz and heartthrob pop. Their new album sounds as fresh today as it would have thirty years ago.” I adore this record and it’s now become next in the queue for the Forgotten Albums series. –They Might Be Giants, Lincoln (SS) “…repeated listening…reveals a clever, quirky, often brilliantly arranged and produced piece of postmodern art (yes, art) that just might be the Pet Sounds of the Eighties.”
Other Disks Reviewed –Steve Earle, Copperhead Road (AN) “But as ambitious as this project is, the album comes off more like a country singer’s Led Zeppelin fantasy than a legitimate rock effort.” –Sheena Easton, The Lover in Me (RG) “The treatment may have achieved the desired result, dance hits, but (this album) has all the individuality and flavor of processed cheese.” –Nanci Griffith, One Fair Summer Evening (AN) “While Griffith here presents much of her best-loved material, she diminishes its beauty and impact by rushing through most of the performances in a manner surprisingly devoid of feeling.” –The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Radio One (SS) “These are performances (they) did for British radio in 1967, fairly early in the band’s career, when they were still young and hungry and relatively unscathed by drug abuse…(w)onderful stuff, and not just for Hendrix completists, either.” –Etta James, Seven Year Itch (PG) “(This album) offers anyone too young to have been around…when Etta James was one of the ruling queens of rhythm-and-blues, a new opportunity to savor the gritty reality, strutting spirit, and downright infectiousness of her music.” –James P. Johnson, Carolina Shout (CA) “…Johnson was the first black artist to cut piano rolls of his own compositions. Starting in 1916, before the first jazz phonograph recording was made (he) cut one or two rolls a month…some of which have been assembled by the Biograph label for (this disc)…” –Cleo Laine, Cleo Sings Sondheim (RH) “And if there’s anything that will destroy a Sondheim song, it’s not sticking to his lyrics and his music as written. But this time Laine sings all sixteen songs as straight as she’s ever sung anything, but with passion, bite, compelling dramatic insights, and (where appropriate) a wonderful sense of fun.” –Pet Shop Boys, Introspective (PP) “(They) make danceable pop that is not without charm, but between the lines their real gift is for intimating the void in the life of the modern urban ‘party animal.’” –Pink Floyd, Delicate Sound of Thunder (PP) “Why would anyone who has the superior studio versions need this?” –Pretty Poison, Catch Me I’m Falling (RG) “Dancers may like what they hear, but more stationary folks needn’t bother.” –Lee Ritenour, Festival (PG) “He hasn’t done a Brazilian album in ten years, so perhaps that’s why he sounds so fresh here…(t)his is a musical travelogue bound to lift late-winter spirits.” –Luther Vandross, Any Love (PG) “The songs seem catchier and more imaginatively shaped than earlier efforts…(s)weet, soulful singing doesn’t get any better than this.”
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.
Article 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.”
Featured Reviews –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.”
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.
Article 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.”
Between what feels like a busier-than-normal start to the school year and recently coming down with a cold (pretty sure it wasn’t COVID, thankfully), I haven’t been able to carve out much time for musings here as of late. I’m hoping I can change that going forward; here’s something I’ve been trying to work through all month.
I’m guessing this issue of SR arrived at my parents’ house in late August, and that I leafed through it not long before I took off for my senior year of college. There are some reviews (Dire Straits, Petty, plus one other that you can already guess) I distinctly remember seeing then.
Articles A few pieces about speakers: how to go about purchasing them, what you should listen to when testing them, and a look at new technologies being developed in service of the reproduction of sound.
Basic Handel, by Stoddard Lincoln In recognition of the tricentennial of George Frideric’s birth, SR presents an annotated list of recommended recordings for one’s collection.
This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Louis Meredith, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, and Steve Simels.
Best of the Month –Bob Dylan, Empire Burlesque (SS) “Overall, however, the music suggests a kind of barely checked rage that is marvelously bracing. And it’s nice to have Dylan waxing apoplectic rather than apocalyptic for a change.” –Sting, The Dream of the Blue Turtles (MP) “Now that Sting no longer has to invent an image for himself, this is the most relaxed music he has ever made…a less driven, quasi-jazz style that is clean, uncluttered, and gracefully low-key without being wimpy.”
Featured Reviews –Sam Cooke, One Night Stand—Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (PG) “For the first time on records, everyone can hear the gutsier Cooke who was known to those who followed his career from the beginning.” –Suzanne Vega, S/T (SS) “…as haunting and powerful a (mostly) acoustic album as anybody has made in years. It’s a dark, obsessive cycle of songs about relationships and feelings in a poetic style that might be called Zen Jesuit.” It took more than a year, but this review eventually led me to purchase Suzanne Vega, a key moment in my turn toward women singer-songwriters. It’s one of the SR pieces that’s had the most influence on my musical tastes (perhaps behind only that for Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, also penned by Simels three years earlier). –Cris Williamson, Prairie Fire (AN) “Making unpredictable, breathtaking dips and turns, her urgent but sophisticated soprano is a ready guide on a joyous journey of the spirit, a journey that anyone who cares about personal identity, universal quest, or literate music will surely want to take.”
Other Disks Reviewed –The Boomtown Rats, In the Long Grass (MP) “This is an album of mature mayhem that stops just short of head-knocking and glass-shattering.” —The Breakfast Club soundtrack (SS) “Masterminded by Keith Forsey, this record collects a bunch of extremely forgettable neo-New Wave time-wasters.” –Eric Clapton, Behind the Sun (SS) “Well, the Eric Clapton (here) sure doesn’t sound like a bluesman. He sounds more like a cross between Toto and Air Supply.” –Miles Davis, You’re Under Arrest (CA) “Fans may find some profundity in these grooves, but I hear not a trace.” –Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms (MP) “It’s not the step forward Love Over Gold and Local Hero were. But even when Knopfler stands pat, he provides stimulating, thought-provoking, and entertaining listening.” –Eurythmics, 1984 (MP) “The problem, of course, is that because 1984 succeeds so well in conveying the gloomy landscape of Orwell’s cautionary novel, there are virtually no ‘home applications’ for this record, unless you’ve got youngsters whose minds you want programmed for Big Brother.” –Dan Fogelberg, High Country Snows (AN) “But—and this is a very important but—if you forget about pre-conceived notions and just enjoy what’s here, you’ll probably have a fine time.” –The Kendalls, Two Heart Harmony (AN) “But to their credit…the Kendalls still manage to remain stalwartly themselves on this outing—they just sound a lot less old-fashioned, and a lot less like hicks.” –Kathy Mattea, From My Heart (AN) “I’m not bowled over by the songs, but Mattea is a real find, and worth checking out.” –Men at Work, Two Hearts (MP) “Hay’s songs here are awful—singsong, nursery-rhyme melodies and nonsensical, non-sequitur lyrics that grow more wearisome and annoying with each hearing…it’s growing increasingly clear that the tremendous success of Men at Work’s first album was a fluke.” –Graham Parker and the Shot, Steady Nerves (SS) “His last album, The Real Macaw, found him both angry and tuneful, but this new one, disappointingly, finds him simply peevish.” –Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Southern Accents (SS) “…a nearly unlistenable mess, easily the worst record of Petty’s career.” –Rick Springfield, Tao (SS) “Somebody give this boy a massage and a couple of Valium, or at least take away his drum machines.” –Dionne Warwick, Finder of Lost Loves (PR) “…while it’s now way past the days of ‘San Jose,’ there are still a few flickers of excitement when Warwick and Bacharach work together.” –Willie and the Poor Boys, S/T (SS) “Still, everyone concerned seems to be having a good time, and as oldies tributes go, this one catches the sound of the music far more accurately than, say, Robert Plant’s recent Honeydrippers project.” –Bill Withers, Watching You Watching Me (PG) “Although it has been five years since Bill Withers released an album, his singular sound, with its folksy, homespun quality and uninhibited sentimentality, is instantly recognizable on this new one.” –Paul Young, The Secret of Association (MP) “Young is ostensibly a soul singer, but this is soul robbed of its humanity by production that can’t distinguish between tinkering and arranging.”
Video Reviews –David Bowie, Serious Moonlight (LM) “The crack band Bowie assembled sounds awfully good except on some of the lusher, older material…(h)e also plays to the camera like the pro he is, though whether you find his emoting intense or merely hammy is purely a matter of taste.” –Queen, The Works (LM) “Sure, the band’s music is utterly meaningless, big-budget arena-rock at its most contrived, but it’s so massively overproduced that you just know it’s being purveyed with a wink. Not so coincidentally, it’s also ideal video fodder…” –Michael Stanley Band (LM) “…derives mostly from a concert in front of a hometown (Cleveland) crowd, and chances are that you’ll find it fairly tedious if you’re not a fan. Fortunately, though, the tape opens with three made-for-MTV videos, and they’re another story altogether.” –Tears for Fears (LM) Three videos from The Hurting. “The common theme here is the quest for order and meaning in today’s complex world, and the emotions and anxieties that accompany it make for some pretty provocative music as well as some fairly seductive concept videos.” –38 Special, Wild-Eyed and Live (AN) “Overall, this is a thoroughly professional job and one of the best concert videos on the market.”
Let’s stick with the same time period mined in last week’s Songs Casey Never Played; in fact, the intersection of acts addressed below with that post is very much nonempty. Lots of good stuff in this one.
I think these late 70s/early 80s issues of SR are the ones nearest to my heart. The number of reviews in each issue declined starting around 1984, so I look back now and appreciate all the more the density of their efforts during this period. Additionally, as I was moving into my mid- and late teens, I perhaps recognized a higher percentage of the artists being written up.
Article Zita Allen interviews Stevie Wonder Allen gives a brief overview of Wonder’s career to date and then talks with him about his most recent release, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The process Wonder undergoes to create the soundtrack for a movie, with the music keyed to the visual, is involved and interesting.
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Edward Buxbaum, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –Gene Parsons, Melodies (NC) “Parsons, a former Byrd, has a serviceable plain voice, but he sings with feeling, and in this case he sings only songs he obviously cares about.” –Ray, Goodman, & Brown, S/T (JV) “The prominent bass and the tenor/falsetto have not been in fashion for over a decade, but RG & B restore them to their original roles.” –The Searchers, S/T (SS) “…the result—their first album in almost a decade—is something of a small miracle: a thoroughly modern, utterly captivating record that rocks like mad, retains the essence of the original sound, and in general is as fully (if not more) satisfying as anything churned out recently by the group’s younger heirs.”
Recordings of Special Merit –Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, S/T (EB) “Do yourself a favor: before you dance your way through these songs, sit down and listen.” –Blossom Dearie, Needlepoint Magic Volume V (PR) “To listen…is to be given a painless lesson in how very fine popular singing can be when it is practiced by a real artist. When you add to it Dearie’s wit, style, musicianship, and shrewd whimsey you have a one-of-a-kind listening experience.” –Robert Gordon, Bad Boy (SS) “…probably the best album Gordon’s done, a near flawless mix of period re-creation…and rockabilly/New Wave fusion…” –J. Geils Band, Love Stinks (JV) “J. Geils is probably the ultimate in blues-derived rock bands. Few other groups manage to embellish the two simple and limited forms without overloading them.” –Cheryl Lynn, In Love (PG) “Her splendid new album, the second of her short career, is enough to propel even the stodgiest soul to his feet; it explodes with volcanic force, generating enough energy to fuel a cross-country bus.” –The Specials, S/T (SS) “The Specials do (ska) very well; they know that, as with reggae, the sound is as important as the notes, which means some raggedness around the edges is necessary or the stuff degenerates into Sergio Mendes/Martin Denney island exotica.” –Tavares, Supercharged (PG) “…the ear-catching arrangements and instrumentals are deftly interwoven with the voices, which are employed with polished flexibility.”
Featured Reviews –Three albums by or featuring Chico Freeman (CA) “Freeman’s music gives me hope because it is original without being absurd, because it gets its tonal character from the inherent qualities of the instruments and its direction from his own distinct personality.” –Peggy Lee, Close Enough for Love (PR) “There is a vague disco tinge to the arrangements, but that interferes only about as much as an up-to-date setting for a really important diamond would…” –Mireille Matheiu, Mireille Mathieu Sings Paul Anka (PR) “Like Piaf, like Garland, like Streisand, her combination of torrential emotion and fierce conviction can singe the ears of anyone willing to give her a listen.” –Bonnie Pointer, S/T (PG) “…she compensates for her vocal limitations with musical imagination and a keen sense of what works.” –Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love (NC) “In lesser hands such a venture would have gone belly-up on the New Wave, but this—to the degree anyone can take it on its own terms—is a well-intended, spirited, almost plucky little album.” –Grace Slick, Dreams (Mark Peel, before he was brought on staff) “What I do not hear is the Grace Slick who contributed to such Airplane successes as ‘Greasy Heart’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ and who, most important, contributed something that was, for better or for worse, recognizably and memorably hers.” –Warren Zevon, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (SS) “In any case, slickness is not the problem with (this album). Chalk it up instead to a creative dry spell, celebrate the not inconsiderable virtues of the best things in it, and then hope that Zevon does what he promised he’d do after Excitable Boy—move to New York City.”
Other Disks Reviewed –The Babys, Union Jacks (JV) “The mid-youth malaise they are currently dispensing isn’t interesting to anyone who has passed through it unless it’s expressed in an unusual or startling way.” –The Buggles, The Age of Plastic (SS) “They can’t sing worth a lick, their technological obsessios are already clichés, and for all their studio tinkering, they finally come off about as moderinist as, say, the Electric Prunes.” –D. L. Byron, This Day and Age (NC) “Byron’s songs are mostly the expected nonsense about scrounging around in the streets—him and his version of Wendy, they were born to run, you can bet your tee-shirt on that—and his singing is projected from the same physical spot as Springsteen’s, the voice gathered up in the top of the throat and squeezed out at ya.” –Heart, Bebe Le Strange (JV) “Parts of the album are interesting, parts are dull, and parts are silly; some skill and talent do show through now and then.” –The Jam, Setting Sons (Mark Peel) “They work in two time-honored British traditions: writing sardonically witty lyrics that strike right at the soft white underbelly of the bourgeoisie and affixing to these clever lyrics a barrage of noise from which the conventional musical elements of melody, harmony, dynamic variation, and rhythm seem to be absent.” Clearly, Peel was trying to impress the editors! –The Knack, …but the little girls understand (SS) “Great composers steal, said Stravinsky, while mediocre ones borrow. Well, the Knack borrows like crazy here…and the recorded results prove that Igor was right on the money. There isn’t a note her that suggests an original idea.” –Lipps Inc., Mouth to Mouth (EB) “Somebody’s got to get in there and pull the vocal tracks and the strings forward from time to time, to refocus our attention from the thumping monotony of the beat.” –Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (JV) “Nobody so far has figured out how to use the synthesizer as an instrument instead of a machine, and Numan certainly isn’t a contender for the solution.” –Rush, Permanent Waves (JV) “Loud groups that play overblown material at great length irritate me, but I’m inclined to be charitable with Rush. I suppose what I like about them is that they are personally modest, work hard for a living, and entertain rather than manipulate their audiences.” –Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Against the Wind (Mark Peel) “I am more sympathetic to Seger’s reminiscences. At their most affecting—Seger is often a very affecting songwriter—they deal with the choices made, the friends left behind, the incidents of experience that must certainly weigh heavily on someone like Seger, now looking back down a long hard road.”
Articles It’s a Special Tape Issue. Ralph Hodges discusses Tape Futures (what may be coming soon in backings, binders, and magnetic materials); Craig Stark tests a raft of Bargain Tapes (conclusion: stick with name-brands); and Gary Stock reviews the current state of Taping and the Law (is home video recording of television shows a violation of copyright law?)
Forty years later, it all sounds so quaint (not to mention antiquated).
We have what I consider more or less the classic lineup of reviewers: Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –George Jones, Same Ole Me (NC) “Through it all, (Jones) keeps the back of your mind from forgetting the basic premise of the honkytonk: it is the place you go to when something’s wron. Whatever that might be, when Jones sings it sure ain’t the music.” –Mark Murphy, Bop for Kerouac (CA) “I have not always cared for the music Murphy sings, but I have never been deaf to this talent, and I am overwhelmed by the way it all seems to work its way to the surface here.” –Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Reactor (SS) “Nonetheless, this new album sounds like (Young)’s basically goofing around. But as a textbook on how to make music out of the sounds of a scrap yard, it will do very nicely.”
Recordings of Special Merit —American Musicals: Jule Styne (PR) “…Kenneth Tynan wrote that Jule Styne was ‘the most persistently underrated of all popular composers.’ After listening to this rerelease package of three of Styne’s most memorable Broadway shows, I think I agree with Tynan.” —At Home Abroad (PK) The Smithsonian releases an archival reconstruction of a 1935 Broadway show. –Duke Ellington, Symphony in Black (CA) “…the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble does reasonably and splendidly re-create the essence of early and middle Duke.” –Barry Manilow, If I Should Love Again (PR) “Unlike many of his contemporaries, Manilow never plays down to his audiences, nor does he attempt to flatter or cajole them (as Neil Sedaka sometimes does). –Penguin Café Orchestra, S/T (MP) “…suggests what might happen if a string group like David Grisman’s were plopped down in a rural English pub and plied with two or three rounds before they’d played a note.” –Vangelis, Chariots of Fire (Irv Cohn) “The themes are simple, almost hymn-like, but sumptuously augmented by rich electronic effects, including what sounds like swelling strings and thrumming percussion.”
Featured Reviews –Martin Briley, Fear of the Unknown (JV) “He is a generously gifted songwriter but almost frighteningly misanthropic. The album is a marvel, but you may not want to hear it very often if you’re the kind of person who pays close attention to the lyrics.” –John Entwhistle, Too Late the Hero (NC) “Better still, the record offers some relief from the blandness being committed all around us in the name of pop music these days.” –Tim Hardin, Memorial Album (NC) “His work was not idealistic in narrow political terms but aesthetically, in the manner of Byron and Van Gogh…(a)nd in the manner of Byron and Van Gogh and countless other romantics before him, he sought and edge. But, as we all know now, edges can cut.” –Frank Sinatra, She Shot Me Down (Henry Pleasants) “…the album is memorable not for what he does with melodies but for what he does with words.” –Ringo Starr, Stop and Smell the Roses (JV) “…the best album that Ringo Starr has ever made, mostly because he’s allow to be himself…It is madcap, funny, rowdy, spiteful, nostalgic, and convincing.”
Other Disks Reviewed –Bee Gees, Living Eyes (NC) “This finds the Bee Gees wending their way back from the disco grave site, at times hip deep in the weeds that are already growing there. Back to where, though?” –The Cars, Shake It Up (MP) “…it rocks along a deliberate, precarious path, avoiding both outright pop and electronic minimalism.” –Elvis Costello, Almost Blue (NC) “Costello made the apparently commonplace assumption…that anybody can come in cold and perform country music—and it blew up, I’m happy to report, right in his face.” –Karla DeVito, Is This a Cool World or What? (SS) “Karla DeVito is a terrific singer and performer, cute as a bug’s ear, and one heck of a swell human being, but she has what sounds like a terminal case of Steinman’s Disease.” –Earth, Wind & Fire, Raise! (CA) “…reflects not so much poor artistic judgment as it does a general feeling of having reached a dead end.” –Kiss, (Music from) The Elder (MP) “Never mind that this is bad music. It isn’t even a passable stab at a fantasy comic book.” –The Knack, Round Trip (SS) “…a tedious failure, something like hearing a second-rate bar band trying to play late Beethoven quartets.” –The Steve Miller Band, Circle of Love (NC) “…even at his best…either Miller presumes his listeners can block out his lyrics from their heads or else he presumes his listeners are double-digit-IQ mouth breathers.” –Rush, Exit…Stage Left (JV) “Rush really needs a bigger sound to match their imagination. As it is, the earnestness and energy begin to pall, especially on a two-disc live album like this one.” –Rod Stewart, Tonight I’m Yours (JV) “…I don’t agonize much over Rod Stewart’s alleged artistic decline. He is still a highly professional and occasionally very exciting singer, as this latest album…abundantly demonstrates.” –Luther Vandross, Never Too Much (PG) “Admittedly, Vandross has a very appealing, resonantly full, and flexible singing voice, but his material…and interpretation are hardly anything to shout about.”
It wasn’t done on purpose, but I think this is the fifth time this year I picked an issue with a review of a George Benson album; the best has been saved for last. And I suppose it’s only fair that since Garfunkel has gotten two Best of the Month nods recently that Simon receives some positive recognition. Onward–let’s see what else is in this issue from forty-one years ago.
Article Music for Christmas, by Richard Thompson and James Goodfriend It’s a little late for this year, I realize, but the titles recommended include recordings by the Boston Camerata, the Boston Pops, the Carpenters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, John Denver & the Muppets, Percy Faith, Johnny Mathis, and Andy Williams. One wonders what they might have selected forty years later…
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Irv Cohn, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –George Benson, Give Me the Night (PG) “Instead of succumbing to the strident and repetitious excesses of pop funk (in the manner of, say, Herbie Hancock), he has applied his own standard of excellence to popular music, bringing it up to his artistic level.” —Cornelia Street: The Songwriters Exchange (NC) “But (folkie singer-songwriters) are still out there, those troubadours with their simple acoustic backing, and Stash Records has made a beautiful little album with some of them…” Coppage cites Rod MacDonald as the best of this bunch. The name was new to me, but he went to become one of the founders of the long-running Greenwich Village Folk Festival. The one artist appearing on the disk that I’ve heard of is Lucy Kaplansky. –Paul Simon, One-Trick Pony (PR) “One song after another demonstrates Simon’s gift for seizing and holding up to the light those almost reflexive emotional conclusions about a person, a time, a place, or a relationship that any poetry, even on the pop level, must offer if it is going to communicate anything at all.”
Recordings of Special Merit –Herb Alpert, Beyond (PR) “This is not an album for purists or musical weight-watchers, but it’s a lot of fun for us self-indulgent types.” –Dexter Gordon, Landslide (CA) “…most intriguing because they are demonstrations of the influence the immediate musical environment can have on a seasoned player.” –David Grisman, Quintet ’80 (NC) “A small, extremely agile combo using bluegrass instruments…plays little tunes that take the dangdest turns and jumps you ever heard.” —Honeysuckle Rose Soundtrack (NC) “…Nelson does dominate it, and he doesn’t just throw his reputation out there—he performs.” –Ben E. King, Music Trance (PG) “Ben E. King is like a shot of aged bourbon; mellow in bouquet but still packing a mighty punch.” –Donald Lambert, Harlem Stride Classics (CA) “The program is straight out of the repertoires of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, two masters Lambert greatly admired…” –Junie Morrison, Bread Alone (PG) “Morrison’s musical style is tastefully eclectic, with a cupful of funk, a jigger of pop, and just a dash of rhythmic and harmonic experimentation. At his best, he vaguely reminds me of the early Sly Stone…” –John Otway, Deep Thought (SS) “It’s not for all tastes, to be sure, but if you’re the kind of weirdo who thought the Bonzo Dog Band was just too commercial, Otway may be your man.” –Teddy Pendergrass, TP (PG) “Not since the days of the late Otis Redding has a male singer been capable of dredging up such delightfully uncontrollable gut responses.” –Minnie Riperton, Love Lives Forever (PG) “…a bittersweet reminder of the treasure we lost with Riperton’s death.” –Sam Rivers, Contrasts (CA) “This set will not disappoint the venturesome, but you don’t have to be that to enjoy it. It is a stunning rainbow of musical inclinations.”
Featured Reviews –The B-52’s, Wild Planet (SS) “No, the punk theoreticians are right: America’s glory, her true Culture, is what we throw away, and so, to look for Significance in Wild Planet, to try to make either more or less than what it is, is completely to miss the point—which is, of course, simply ‘Which way to the drive-in?’” –Chevy Chase, S/T (SS) “…this disc is unlikely to catch on with the Cheech and Chong crowd. But if there’s any justice, it will at least wind up as a cult favorite.” –The Charlie Daniels Band, Full Moon (NC). “Since chauvinism seems to be as inevitable as death and politics, I guess we’re lucky to have a fellow as nice as Charlie working it into songs.” –Cecil McBee, Compassion (CA) “The music is adventurous enough to satisfy any aural daredevil who has not completely lost his or her sense of beauty, yet all the basic jazz values have been preserved with due reverence.” –Mabel Mercer, Echoes of My Life (William Livingstone) “The twenty-five songs included here are so well matched to her very special interpretative gifts that they sound as though she had written them herself, recollecting in tranquility some of the events from a rich and varied past.” –Split Enz, True Colours (JV) “Their songs will etch themselves in your memory with or without laser technology.” (The vinyl contained laser-etched patterns.) –Al Stewart, 24 Carrots (NC) “But all the songs here bear repeated listening, and, like Brueghel paintings, keep showing you little things you didn’t notice before.” —Times Square Soundtrack (SS) “Even if the soundtrack sells, it’s unlikely to be influential for the simple reason that it’s not a particularly exciting package; mainstream rock seems quite interesting by comparison.”
Other Discs Reviewed –Pat Benatar, Crimes of Passion (NC) “Pat Benatar is more than just one kind of singer, however, even if this album repeatedly suggests she has more as a vocalist than she shows.” –Rick James, Garden of Love (IC) “There’s a lot in these high-stepping cuts to please his established fans and plenty of very accessible music to appeal to new ones.” –Ramsey Lewis, Routes (PR) “If Ramsey Lewis weren’t as gifted an instrumentalist as he is…he’d be hard put to survive the flashy chaos of this album.” –Bob Marley and the Wailers, Uprising (PG) “…though everything on this new album sounds rather familiar, it is no less a pleasure to hear.” –Martha and the Muffins, Metro Music (SS) “…what results when you take a bunch of bright, likable kids and lock them in a room with Roxy Music records for the duration of their adolescence.” –The Statler Brothers, 10th Anniversary (NC) “It has a sort of retrospective quality despite its all-new material, for it puts together various examples of what the Statlers do.” –Barbra Streisand, Guilty (PR) “Her Majesty is feeling playful this month and has decided it would be nice for subjects to hear her in a lighter mood than is her usual wont.”
Over the last two years I’ve examined in varying degrees twenty-four of the 143 issues of SR between November 1976 and September 1988. Strolling through my past in this fashion is immensely enjoyable—I’ve even bought a couple of issues off eBay for old times’ sake. There are plans to keep thumbing through the archives over at worldradiohistory.com, but my guess right now is that SRIR will become more of an occasional, rather than monthly, feature here going forward.
Later this week: we jump forward twelve months in time to begin a tour of three year-end charts from forty years ago.
Perhaps my earliest clear memory associated with SR comes from this issue (the cover does ring a bell, but that’s not it). It’s likely the main reason I scooped a copy off of eBay back in the spring.
Articles Neil Sedaka Comes Back, by Robert Windeler Essentially a career-to-date overview in the span of two pages. Alas, Sedaka’s resurgence was practically over by the time the article went to press.
Linda Ronstadt Linda Ronstadt, by Noel Coppage Coppage caught up with Ronstadt in Asheville, NC, prior to a show, and she talks at length about the benefits of getting older (“I’m more assertive, people don’t take advantage as much as they used to…and I have a much better sense of what I’m worth now. I mean as a person, not musically or successwise…), her take on other music (reggae is great, disco is not), and one pitfall of success (“…you’ve sort of priced yourself out of range for a relationship with most anybody, except for other people who as famous as you are and are equally neurotic, and you don’t want to have anything to do with them.”) Coppage is impressed: “She is one of the least guarded, least defensive persons, celebrated or not, I’ve talked with lately.”
He also reviews her latest, Hasten Down the Wind. “If one aspect of the recording does stand out, it’s the growth (she) is showing as a vocalist. Her phrasing is slowly but surely becoming exquisite, and the ornamentation she uses is less and less likely to be overdone…”
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, and Joel Vance. Steve Simels wouldn’t appear as a reviewer until the March 1977 issue, but he’d been penning a monthly column for a few years by this time. The Pop Beat discusses at length Live at CBGB’s, a 2-LP showcase for hopeful up-and-comers that had played shows at the influential club over one weekend in June. In particular, Simels lifts up Mink DeVille, the Shirts, the Miamis, and the Laughing Dogs as acts to watch.
Best of the Month –Carly Simon, Another Passenger (PR) I’m guessing I started rifling through Dad’s collection of SRs sometime in the second half of 1977. Fortunately, he hadn’t tossed older issues (immediately, anyway), so I got to examine issues that went back at least to this one. A paragraph from the review of Another Passenger made a deep impression, even if I didn’t fully understand it.
“This ability to deal honestly and directly with emotional life has always been one of Carly’s major strengths, and it permeates all her songs here.” —Vaudeville: Songs of the Great Ladies of the Musical Stage (PK) “Miss (Joan) Morris’ singing is, as I have suggested, perfection itself, and Mr. (William) Bolcom’s accompaniments flutter flatteringly around her like moths around a flame.” –Doc Watson, Doc and the Boys (NC) “There’s not a lot of flashy flat-picking here, nor is the full-band sound cluttered. Watson has a good feel for balance…a good feel, in fact, for just about everything related to music.”
Recordings of Special Merit Rock/Pop/Country/Soul: –Tony Bennett, Ten Rodgers and Hart Songs (PR) “Tony Bennett’s expertly nonchalant recital here, beautifully produced and recorded, full of the ease and the assurance and the audible pleasure of an Old Pro reveling in his kind of material, is a fine tribute to the authentic immortals of the American theater.” –Country Gazette, Live (NC) “These are not the hottest soloists you can find in old-time music…but they were playing off one another when these tapes were made, and the song selection is just goofy enough to work.” –Flamin’ Groovies, Shake Some Action (JV) “The reconstituted group dresses a la mode 1964, in sedate suits, and their music reflects the same period…A lot of bands have attempted this approach, but few have done it so unselfconsciously and entertainingly.” –Hickory Wind, Fresh Produce (NC) “…an impressive regional band now apparently attempting to go national, is from West (by God) Virginia…It’s all right with me if they go national, and it won’t hurt the nation, although I think this album could’ve been even better than it is.” –Bobby Short, My Personal Property (PR) “He sings everything here with his customary perfect diction, his usual chic-beyond-chic phrasing, and his own obvious rapture at doing what he does so very, very well.” –The Stills-Young Band, S/T (NC) “…all promises to be well if Stills and Young really can get along in the ego-testing job of co-fronting a band. They’ve aged and wised up some, of course, and they project such different personalities that you wonder if they won’t turn out to be complementary.”
Jazz: –Anthony Braxton, Creative Orchestra Music 1976 (CA) “…confirms my belief that Anthony Braxton is one of the most important creators on the American music scene today.” –James Dapogny, Piano Music of Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton (CA) “There is, of course, nothing like the real thing, but this comes closer than any previous attempt.” –Earl Hines, Live at Buffalo (JV) “Like all Hines recordings, this album is an Event.” –Sam Rivers/Dave Holland, S/T (CA) “This album, being on a small label, probably will not get as wide a distribution as Rivers’ previous releases, but it his best work to date: two masterly pieces of impressionistic playing by two uncompromising musicians.”
Featured Reviews –Arista Re-releases of Jazz on the Savoy Label (CA) Eight double-LPs, from (among others) Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Erroll Garner, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane/Wilbur Harrison. “All in all, this is a good set of releases containing some exceptionally fine performances. The mastering of the Forties material could have been better, and more thought could have gone into the planning…As it is, they are all certainly worth your attention.” –John Denver, Spirit (William Anderson) “The Rule of Cool is very simple—Thou shalt not be moved, delighted, shocked, surprised, or, above all, enthusiastic, and if thou art thou shalt not show it—but John Denver behaves (far out!) as if he had never even heard of it.” –Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, S/T (Paulette Weiss) “My feet and I agree: (this) is by far the most satisfying disco album we’ve heard yet. It may even acquire Best-Ever status if the world does indeed end shortly…At least I won’t go out with a whimper, but with a boom-chicka-boom.” –Jane Olivor, First Night (James Goodfriend) “There are some gorgeous performances on this record, and no real duds, and what the performances reveal is that she isn’t limited to one kind of song or one kind of singing.” —Put the Hammer Down! (NC) A compilation of CB- and trucker-related tunes. “…I have no intention of buying a CB radio—in fact, I’d be happier if my local Radio Shack store had sold at least one fewer of those, the one that keeps broadcasting through my stereo equipment—but…I’ve been having a good time listening to this and imagining speed limits being broken and Smokey Bears worn to a frazzle all over the place…”
Other Disks Reviewed –Aerosmith, Rocks (JV) “My friends, hear what I say. This album is/No more substantial than the hiss of fizz/Atop a gin and tonic. Listen to it;/You’ll agree that Aerosmith have blew it.” –Alice Cooper, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (PR) “There’s nothing much here for you unless you dig one-note showmanship and a threadbare idea.” –Jon Anderson, Olias of Sunhillow (NC) “I don’t know whether to blame Herman Hesse or Stanley Kubrick for influencing these young men—most of whom seem to be associated with the rock group Yes—to do things like this, but there are two groups you can’t blame: musicians and English teachers.” –George Benson, Breezin’ (JV) “(Benson) has a light touch and an airy, delicate way of playing that would be considerably more impressive, I suspect, if it weren’t compromised by the ‘pop-jazz’ settings of this album.” –David Bowie, Changesonebowie (PR) “The world of cinema seems to have discovered in him the male equivalent of Hedy Lamarr, a glamorous sleepwalker, but Bowie on records is too often only a figment of some producer-promotor’s overwrought imagination.” –Chicago, Chicago X (PR) “Just how long the public intends to keep on buying the same mild-mannered Muzak rock, release after release, is even more a puzzle than why Chicago keeps on recording it.” –Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left (NC) “I can’t seem to find the atmosphere—time of day, proportion of shade to light, whatever—in which to drift with it. And I don’t know what else you’d do with it.” –Jack Elliott, The Essential Jack Elliott (PK) “With a strong, true baritone, overflowing energy, and good humor in the face of even the grimmest material, Elliott carries on a worthy tradition…projecting everything he does with a zest and forthrightness that are enormously appealing.” –Grateful Dead, Steal Your Face (NC) “Here, ironically, the live audience apparently influences the musicians to play the music rather than meander about refining it and generally being esoteric.” –The Kinks, The Kinks’ Greatest Celluloid Heroes (PR) “Somehow the Seventies have made a lot of pop irreverence seem more like sour brattiness than healthy fun.” –Steve Miller Band, Fly Like an Eagle (NC) “The thing about Steve Miller is, his hits drive me up the wall…’Take the Money and Run’ has me tearing hair I can’t afford to lose and ‘Rock’n Me’ sent me on a run to the Yellow Pages to look for a product to decontaminate one’s entire auditory system.” –The Monkees, Greatest Hits (NC) “Anyway, you can use this record to make your hi-fi set sound like a little transistor radio. Or you can use it to strike matches as I’m doing.” –Orleans, Waking and Dreaming (NC) “The songs here…are pretty good as pop songs go these days, and there are no serious technical flaws in the vocals or instrumentals, but juices are missing somewhere.” –Graham Parker, Howlin’ Wind (JV) “Parker is so busy being a bluesman (even down to the dark glasses) that the fine musicians behind him almost have to sneak in their licks where they can—whenever he leaves room.” –Cliff Richard, I’m Nearly Famous (PR) “…an album that finds him sounding pretty much the same as he always did—like a careful, well-rehearsed performer working ‘in the rock style’.” –Esther Satterfield, The Need to Be (PR) “Problem is, like most young performers she pushes too hard and too long at the dramatically effective.” –Peter Tosh, Legalize It (JV) “Music that is subservient to such narrow socio-political purposes is no more ‘music’ than are advertising ditties for margarine, automobiles, or toothpaste.” –Jerry Jeff Walker, It’s a Good Night for Singing (NC) “Walker’s spontaneity is a blessing, but a lot more discipline could be activated without jeopardizing that.”
I don’t intentionally pick issues that feature the same artists over and again, but nonetheless there are several repeat appearances here from just the last few installments in this series, including Gary U.S. Bonds, Fleetwood Mac, Susannah McCorkle, and August Darnell (he’ll be back next month, too). C’est la vie.
This is one of the first SRs to come out after I went off to college. I have no specific memories of leafing through it, though I likely would have done so by the time of my first Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty heavy on reviews, so perhaps we should just dig in.
Article A Guide to Hi-Fi Furniture, by Carl W. Spencer An overview of the latest/greatest in consoles and cabinets of various sizes, shapes, and materials, from full-wall to modular to standalone, from solid oak to acrylic. The article starts on page 71; the pictures are definitely fun.
Our reviewers this month are a typical bunch: Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly , Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –Sippie Wallace, Sippie (JV) “It is rare today for a major label to release good—no, make that great—old-fashioned jazz lovingly performed in high style and recorded with excellent sound.” Wallace, eighty-three at the time of this recording, began singing professionally before World War I. Bonnie Raitt, who appears on Sippie, had been hanging with Wallace for about a decade at this point. –Original Broadway Cast, Merrily We Roll Along (PR) “…Sondheim’s music and lyrics again demonstrate his cool detachment from his characters, his generally dark and sorrowful view of the unsatisfying messes people can make of their lives.”
Recordings of Special Merit Pop/Rock/R&B/Country: –Gary U.S. Bonds, On the Line (JV) “The success of the Bonds/Springsteen association is based on their common experience as entertainers with years of boondocks one-nighters behind them.” –The Gap Band, IV (PG) “The Gap Band promises to become the best vocal-instrumental group in Souldom since the Commodores were at their peak.” –Genesis, Three Sides Live (MP) “Most of the songs are even more convincing here than in their original versions.” –Juice Newton, Quiet Lies (NC) “She’s presented here roughly the same way that (Emmylou) Harris is, with vaguely country songs set to vaguely L.A.-rock arrangements, with evidence of good taste in both areas.”
Jazz: –Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond, S/T (CA) “…no serious lover of modern jazz should be without these historic sides.” –Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams, Third Plane (PG) “…a brilliant distillation of the music that these men, now recognized as among the main transmitters of the jazz tradition, once played as young Turks of the Sixties.” –Al Cohn/Scott Hamilton/Buddy Tate, Tour de Force (JV) “The Tokyo crowd is enthusiastic, and understandably so. I hope this album sells as well as Toyotas do.” –Earl Hines, Paris Session (JV) “…the greatest pianist in the history of jazz, bar none.” –Thelonious Monk, The Thelonious Monk Memorial Album (CA) “…it is as much a parade of brilliant sidemen as it is a distillation of Monk’s own creativity during an important period in this career.” –The New York-Montreux Connection, S/T (CA) “…offers lots of big names playing fine, even exciting jazz at the 1981 Montreux and Kool New York jazz festivals.” –Muggsy Spanier, At Club Hangover, Volume 2 (JV) “Spanier was no genius, but he was surely special, gifted, and true to his own muse.” –Phil Woods, Birds of a Feather (CA) “I have learned to expect fine things from the horn and imagination of Phil Woods, and…fine things are just what this album offers.”
Featured Reviews –Rosemary Clooney, Sings the Music of Cole Porter (PR) “Rosemary Clooney, who has been demonstrating just how good a pop-jazz singer she is…now proves herself to be an elegant, easy stylist as well.” –Randy Crawford, Windsong (PG) “For those who have been fortunate to follow her progress through the years, it should bring the warm glow of a promise fulfilled.” –Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Wise Guy (CA) “This is urbanized island music full of sophisticated, thoroughly musical subtleties.” –Epic’s Lost Soul, Volumes 1-3 (PG) “While this set does not satisfy the need for a comprehensive reissue of historic r-&-b recordings, it does serve to demonstrate how very much is lost each time a promising record is ignored.” –Susannah McCorkle, The Music of Harry Warren (CA) “…McCorkle delivers the Warren material with tender loving care and respect.”
Other Disks Reviewed –Air Supply, Now and Forever (PK) “…the music conveys a certain Outback innocence, even in its more urbane moments, that is rather appealing.” –Blondie, The Hunter (NC) “It’s not always good, but at least it isn’t conservative.” –Rosanne Cash, Somewhere in the Stars (NC) “There aren’t many veterans of three albums who have committed to vinyl as few clunkers as Rosanne Cash.” –The Dukes of Hazzard (NC) “My kids—who have, thank God, just about outgrown the show—think the album is a bad joke. Much of it is.” –Roberta Flack, I’m the One (CA) “This is Flack at her heavy-hearted best.” –Fleetwood Mac, Mirage (SS) “I hasten to add, however, that this album’s lapses are not cases of the usual superstar indulgence. Fleetwood Mac remains of the few ensembles currently selling records in large quantities that doesn’t insult your intelligence…” –Heart, Private Audition (JV) “The principal defect of the new album is their vocal stridency on the hard rockers; they sound like they’re having a tantrum.” –Kansas, Vinyl Confessions (NC) “Most of this album is tuneless, inarticulate, repetitive, and boring. Apart from that…” –Chuck Mangione, Love Notes (PK) “The sturdy, good-humored playing, full of repetition, is sometimes more numbing than entertaining.” –Men At Work, Business As Usual (MP) “Men at Work would do well to take a vacation from the burden of ‘art’ and relax a bit.” –The Steve Miller Band, Abracadabra (JV) “There’s no substance to it, but it is cleverly crafted pop…” –The Alan Parsons Project, Eye in the Sky (NC) “…seems more than ever a poor man’s Pink Floyd. The style is grandiose, but the more you listen, the less you hear…” –Queen, Hot Space (MP) “…apparently supposed to be Queen’s ‘funk’ album, but I don’t think that’s an adequate excuse for this whack over the head.” –Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around (NC) “Since Rogers already had the middle of the performing road covered…I don’t see what’s to be gained by his taking up with middle-of-the-road material.” –Patrice Rushen, Straight from the Heart (PG) “…makes it clear that Patrice Rushen’s real range is much greater than she has yet displayed.” –Richard Simmons, Reach (PR) “I know that I’d have to become as huge as Orson Welles before I would even vaguely consider listening to Simmons’s hysteria-flecked whimsey again.” –Donna Summer, S/T (Irv Cohn) “Three of the songs rank just behind her classics—a small percentage, perhaps, compared with her hit-packed albums of the past, but nothing to sneeze at.” –Survivor, Eye of the Tiger (JV) “There’s nothing wrong with Survivor except that you’ve heard all their stuff before…” –Thompson Twins, In the Name of Love (SS) “Nowhere on this album is there a detectable trace of emotion, sweat, or any human quality whatsoever.” –X, Under the Big Black Sun (SS) “This band enjoys being miserable far too much for their own good, which makes them spiritually closer to the Eagles than to the Jefferson Airplane, and at least in my house that’s not a compliment.”