album reviews

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 »

The Ramones

End of the Century Sire/London/Rhino

When the Ramones released their first album in 1976, corporate American radio reacted as if someone had belched at a board meeting. In a way, this response was entirely appropriate: after all, it was the Ramones' utter contempt for mid-Seventies superstar-saturated radio that had compelled these self-styled oddballs from Queens to pick up their instruments in the first place. Armed with simple sentiments ("I Don't Wanna Walk Around with You"), modest technical goals (faster! louder!... | More »

February 21, 1980

Leonard Cohen

Recent Songs CBS Records

Like many people, I came to Leonard Cohen's work by way of cover versions — in my case, Judy Collins' rendition of "Dress Rehearsal Rag." The lyric is one of Cohen's most searing — razor in hand, a man faces down "the horror" in his bathroom mirror — but the studied melodrama of Collins' treatment made the song sound too complete, almost comfortable. I didn't understand why until I heard Cohen's own version. Collins' recording, in retrospec... | More »

February 7, 1980

Jefferson Starship

Freedom At Point Zero

Without Grace Slick or Marty Balin, the Jefferson Starship is a hulk of a band, desperately in need of worthwhile material and marching inexorably toward oblivion. Literally marching: the one song that de facto leader (and sole original Jefferson Airplane member) Paul Kantner has been rewriting since Blows against the Empire is a dance-proof march that generally carries laughable, grade-C science-fiction lyrics. On Freedom at Point Zero, this song appears in the guise of the title track, "Gir... | More »


Night in the Ruts Columbia

The first song on Aerosmith's seventh album is called "No Surprize," and that about sums up Night in the Ruts. After some tentative attempts to expand its basic jock-rock sound with mandolins, banjos and an occasional female backup vocal on its last studio record, Draw the Line, Aerosmith returns to what it does best: playing America's crass, punkier version of the Rolling Stones, with singer Steven Tyler an arrogantly combative Mick Jagger to guitarist Joe Perry's coolly aloof... | More »

Johnny Cash


Good news from the Cash-Carter camp: Johnny Cash, after years of phonographic complacency, has shaken the dust off his career and given us a splendid LP, Silver, which marks his twenty-fifth year as a recording artist. Surprisingly, he's turned from Nashville to Los Angeles for help — to Emmylou Harris' producer, Brian Ahern, and to such young studio hot rods as Rodney Crowell, late of Harris' Hot Band. Meanwhile, Cash's daughter, Rosanne, a firebrand who up and wed ... | More »

Iggy Pop


On the front of his second studio album, A.B. (After Bowie, who managed quite a rescue), Iggy Pop ironically looks less like a soldier than a used-up suicide commando. In "Take Care of Me," he admits he's paid "a heavy price for a heavy pose," and the photo of an Ig hanging corpselike on Soldier's cover suggests that ten years of trying to out-gross, outrage and outrock the competition have exacted every physical and emotional penny that Pop ever had. But the eleven tirades on the ... | More »

Pink Floyd

The Wall Capitol Records

Though it in no way endangers the meisterwerk musical status of Dark Side of the Moon (still on the charts nearly seven years after its release), Pink Floyd's twelfth album, The Wall, is the most startling rhetorical achievement in the group's singular, thirteen-year career. Stretching his talents over four sides, Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who wrote all the words and a majority of the music here, projects a dark, multilayered vision of post-World War II Western (and especially Bri... | More »

January 24, 1980

Sly & the Family Stone

Back on the Right Track

It goes almost without saying that Sly Stone's early songs (from "Dance to the Music" through "Hot Fun in the Summertime") were inspired and prophetic, a mixture of rock and soul that united white and black audiences as effectively as anything since Elvis Presley's first recordings. What happened later might be tragedy, or it might be farce. Though some of it (1971's There's a Riot Goin' On, a more chilling and perceptive parable of stardom than anything that punk id... | More »

Stevie Wonder

Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants (Soundtrack) Motown

Begin at the end. Stevie Wonder's Journey through the Secret Life of Plants is so uneven, so full of tiny pleasures and bloated tedium, that for some assurance that Wonder hasn't lost his touch, you ought to start by listening to the LP's last cut. "Finale" commences with a quick, slapstick keyboard fill and then expands into an undulating instrumental whose billowing bass and synthesizers evoke a quivering field of flowers in bloom. Not only that, but the song works on an addi... | More »

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

More Song Stories entries »