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album reviews

The Ramones

Rocket to Russia Sire/London/Rhino

Rocket to Russia is the best American rock & roll of the year and possibly the funniest rock album ever made. Not that the Ramones are a joke — they're more worthwhile than almost anything that's more self-conscious because they exist in a pure and totally active state. Rocket shows substantial progress in the group's sound — it has opened up so that hints of Beach Boys harmonies float among the power chords, kind of like moving with the Who from My Generation ... | More »

Billy Joel

The Stranger Sony Music Distribution

This is the first Billy Joel album in some time that has significantly expanded his repertoire. While Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles had occasional moments, the bulk of Joel's most memorable material was on Cold Spring Harbor — despite its severe technical flaws — and Piano Man, which gave him his only major single success. This time, while such songs as "Movin' Out" and "Just the Way You Are" are forced and overly simplistic, the imagery and melodies of The Stranger... | More »

December 1, 1977

Elvis Costello

My Aim Is True

Herewith, two rock & roll singers distinguished by their almost total disregard for the music and marketing strategies of their contemporaries. One is as established as such a performer can be and, it seems, is settling into an acceptance of the refusal of the great audience to accept him; the other is new on the scene and, just possibly, a star for these times. God knows what other times he might be a star for. Little Criminals offers all the minor charms of Randy Newman's music an... | More »

Steely Dan

Aja

Aja Is The Third Steely Dan album since songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen discarded a fixed-band format in late 1974. Since then they have declined to venture beyond the insular comfort of L.A. studios, recording their compositions with a loose network of session musicians. As a result, the conceptual framework of their music has shifted from the pretext of rock & roll toward a smoother, awesomely clean and calculated mutation of various rock, pop and jazz idioms. Their lyrics re... | More »

Graham Parker

Stick To Me

Graham Parker is unquestionably the most exciting new rock performer since Bruce Springsteen. He is a ferocious singer and an obsessively lyrical writer with a sense of rock bounded by (sort of) Presley and Dylan plus a deft touch for R&B and reggae. His band, the Rumour, is as tough and inspired as he is. Parker has pounded out two previous LPs and an EP since he emerged a year and a half ago, and there is a feeling of utter necessity to every minute of that music. "Pourin' It All O... | More »

November 23, 1977

Chuck Berry

Bio

At his best Chuck Berry was a hip short-story teller, with insightful, affecting and entertaining pictures to show, set to a strong jumping boogie beat. But he never had much of a way with albums, and the problem with being chief chronicler and day-to-day historian of the ways of an era is that it fades away — and people grow older. Times and audiences change — but Berry hasn't much. One of the best things about this current LP is the package with photos of Berry over the ye... | More »

November 17, 1977

Tom Waits

Foreign Affairs Asylum

The admiring audience that Tom Waits built up with his early work now worries about him in a way that does his derelict's persona proud: when is that old boy gonna straighten up? Closing Time was a quiet classic in 1973, but with The Heart of Saturday Night, Small Change and Nighthawks at the Diner, the singer songwriter's beaten raps, overflowing with pathos and Americana, had turned self-indulgent. Foreign Affairs, fortunately, shows a resuscitation of Waits' voice and abili... | More »

November 9, 1977

B.B. King

To Know You Is to Love You

The title tune alone is worth the price of admission. Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright composed it. Stevie plays electric piano, B.B. turns in a powerful vocal performance that is ably supported by his crackling guitar, and the incomparable Sigma Sound rhythm section—the musicians who back Billy Paul, the O'Jays, the Intruders, and the Stylistics—contributes a hefty punch. The tempo and the minor mode have a superficial resemblance to "The Thrill Is Gone," but structurally "T... | More »

November 3, 1977

Talking Heads

Talking Heads '77 Warner Music France

Talking Heads are the last of CBGB's original Big Four to record (following Patti Smith, the Ramones and Television), and their debut is an absolute triumph. Dressing like a quartet of Young Republicans, playing courteously toned-down music and singing lyrics lauding civil servants, parents and college, Talking Heads are not even remotely punks. Rather, they are the great Ivy League hope of pop music. I can't recall when I last heard such a vital, imaginatively tuneful album. David... | More »

Styx

The Grand Illusion

Styx blends the progressive, keyboard-oriented intellectualism of primitive Yes with the gritty CroMagnon sense of guitar mania that used to be equated with such third-generation bands as Grand Funk and Bloodrock. Styx also possesses a strong sense of musical dramatics: on one album, the group actually equaled the foreboding drama of the Doors' "Horse Latitudes" with an ode to lava and fire entitled "Krakatoa."   Grand Illusion sallies forth with cuts that encompass the rage of he... | More »

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Song Stories

“Road to Nowhere”

Talking Heads | 1985

A cappella harmonies give way to an a fuller arrangement blending pop and electro-disco on "Road to Nowhere," but the theme remains constant: We're on an eternal journey to an undefined destination. The song vaulted back into the news a quarter century after it was a hit when Gov. Charlie Crist used it in his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. "It's this little ditty about how there's no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn't mean anything, but it's all right," Byrne said with a chuckle.

More Song Stories entries »
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