album reviews


A Different Kind of Tension

The Buzzcocks are likely the consummate New Wave singles band. Last year's Singles Going Steady, a compilation of sixteen sweet-and-sour pop vignettes that made up this English group's official American debut, boasted as many pithy hooks and punchy backbeats as Elton John managed in a decade — and the Buzzcocks whipped theirs out in a little over eighteen months.   These guys have a problem, though. The Buzzcocks have yet to cut an album that hits with as much musical w... | More »

May 15, 1980

The Beach Boys

Keepin' The Summer Alive

Had it been released five years ago, when gasoline was cheaper, nuclear energy "safe" and punk rock only a rumor, Keepin' the Summer Alive might have given the Beach Boys one last platinum-perfect wave to ride out on before hanging up their surfboards and retiring to Las Vegas as an oldies act. Handsomely produced by Bruce Johnston, the new album blends the pantheism of Holland, the tunefulness of Pet Sounds and the sweetness of Surf's Up into a polished, hook-filled retrospective t... | More »

May 1, 1980

Billy Joel

Glass Houses CBS Records

Glass Houses, Billy Joel's all-out attempt at a rock & roll album, is just about as convincing and exciting as Linda Ronstadt's recent Mad Love, though the latter sounds a lot more game and likable than the former ever will. Ronstadt may never understand what songwriters like Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon are talking about, but at least she knows who they are and that they represent something both honorable and artistic. She's not a complete de adbeat. Joel, on the other ... | More »


Permanent Waves Universial Special Products

It's easy to criticize what you don't understand, which at least partly explains why Canadian power trio Rush have suffered so much at the hands of rock journalists since the band's debut album in 1974. Critics find bassist-lead singer Geddy Lee's stratospheric wails and drummer Neil Peart's lyrical excursions into philosophy. science fiction and fantasy easy targets, and usually dismiss Rush as a head-banger's Genesis. True, earlier LPs like Fly by Night and Ca... | More »

April 17, 1980

Elvis Costello

Get Happy!!

A monstrously intricate set of miniature epics about political violence and commitment, fascism and fashion, dialectics and ambiguity, Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (1979) was still a gorgeously seductive piece of high-style pop. Now Costello has made a record about that most accessible of pop subjects. Love with a capital L, and in many ways it's his most involuted and elusive LP yet. With twenty – count em, twenty – tunes on a single disc, Get Happy!! is as claustropho... | More »

April 9, 1980

Bob Marley

Live! Island

Island is moving back into reggae, and intelligently, not with John Holt/Ken Boothe pop stuff but with roots music like Winston Rodney's Burning Spear, whose primitive, chant-based, two-chord songs deal with the essence of Rastafarian experience. The only question is, who in America knows enough to really appreciate it? Whom does Island expect to buy records like this? The title tune is a microcosm of the problem. The rhythm is compelling but the brass is out of tune, countryman style. ... | More »

April 3, 1980



Not only does Prince possess the most thrilling R&B falsetto since Smokey Robinson, but this nineteen-year-old. Minneapolis-bred Wunderkind is his own writer-producer and one-man band, playing synthesizer, guitar, drums and percussion. Whereas Prince's debut album (last year's For You) stressed his instrumental virtuosity, Prince teems with hooks that echo everyone from the Temptations to Jimi Hendrix to Todd Rundgren. But Smokey Robinson's classic Motown hits, in which the... | More »

The Clash

London Calling CBS Records

By now, our expectations of the Clash might seem to have become inflated beyond any possibility of fulfillment. It's not simply that they're the greatest rock & roll band in the world — indeed, after years of watching too many superstars compromise, blow chances and sell out, being the greatest is just about synonymous with being the music's last hope. While the group itself resists such labels, they do tell you exactly how high the stakes are, and how urgent the need... | More »

Linda Ronstadt

Mad Love

With its strikingly lurid pink-and-black punk graphics showing the star glowering like a hopped-up minx, Mad Love is a splashy tribute by Linda Ronstadt and producer Peter Asher to the current rock & roll revival. At the creative helm is a fresh Los Angeles whiz kid, writer-guitarist-arranger Mark Goldenberg of the Cretones, who composed three of the tunes here. Another California rocker, Billy Steinberg, contributed the Buddy Holly-like "How Do I Make You," in which Ronstadt frankly imit... | More »

March 20, 1980

Frank Zappa

Joe's Garage Acts I, II & III

Frank Zappa's satirical rock opera, Joe's Garage, is ambitious and mad, brilliant, peculiar and incoherent — epithets that have also been applied to German expressionist Georg Buchner's unfinished play, Woyzeck. This may seem like a ludicrously lofty cross-cultural reference to attach to an album most notorious for a song about Catholic girls' aptitude for fellatio, but there you have it. As a music maker and recording artist, Zappa has always cultivated two warring ... | More »

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Song Stories


The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »