album reviews

Billy Joel

52nd Street

On 52nd Street and The Stranger, Billy Joel is the quintessential postrock entertainer: a vaudevillian piano man and mimic who, having come of age in the late Sixties, has the grasp of rock and the technical know-how to be able to caricature both Bob Dylan and the Beatles as well as "do" an updated Anthony Newley, all in the same Las Vegas format. Joel seems to have been born knowing what many Seventies pop stars have had to find out the hard way: that rock & roll was always part of show ... | More »

November 30, 1978


Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

What's Most Impressive about Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is its authority: Devo presents their dissociated, chillingly cerebral music as a definitive restatement of rock & roll's aims and boundaries in the Seventies. The band's cover version of "Satisfaction," for instance, with its melody line almost completely erased and the lyrics delivered in a yelping, droogy chant to mechanical rhythms, at first comes across as an intentional travesty, a typical New Wave reject... | More »

David Bowie

Stage Virgin

Though Stage was obviously put together for purely commercial reasons — to regain for the Thin White Duke the audience he's lost since becoming the Thin White Computer — it's a curiously uncompromising album. With the exception of the furiously energetic "Hang On to Yourself," the Ziggy Stardust songs designed to suck in the dollars are given dispassionate, let's-get-this-over-with treatment. "Fame," another popular number, is attractive and glossy, but doesn't... | More »

November 16, 1978

The Beach Boys

M.I.U. Album

M.I.U. Album completes a kind of informal trilogy for the Beach Boys — a cycle begun by Brian Wilson's widely ballyhooed, confusing and ultimately some-what botched return to an active role inside the group with 15 Big Ones in 1976. The new record has little of the derivative, heavy-handed rock & roll revisionism that characterized 15 Big Ones and even less of the murk eccentricity of The Beach Boys Love You, the middle LP. Instead, it's a resolutely sunny retrospective: a... | More »

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Skynyrd's First… And Last

Although it was recorded primarily between 1970 and 1972, this isn't just a relic for Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. One of the best albums the band ever made, Skynyrd's First and...Last ranks either a notch above (better material) or below (slightly poorer playing) its first two records, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd and Second Helping. A triumphant but ironic final chapter, it measures the extent of the tragedy of the group's demise. Historically speaking, the LP is hardly revelatory.... | More »

Van Morrison

Wavelength Mercury

Who has not been waiting for the next great Van Morrison LP? Whether you thought his last masterpiece was Veedon Fleece or Tupelo Honey or even (what I think) Moondance, you certainly were never prepared to write him off. Nobody's going to write him off because of Wavelength either, but it's obviously not the album he is still destined to make. Something comes clear here. Ever since Moondance, Van Morrison has staked his claim to the rare title "poet," mostly on the basis of what a... | More »

November 2, 1978

Linda Ronstadt

Living In The USA

Living in the U.S.A. feels less like a record than it does a formal recital grimly intent upon establishing the versatility of its star. In nearly consummate command of her vocal powers, Linda Ronstadt sings more expertly than ever, but with a frown, knitting her brow in glum determination to hit and shade every note just right. She usually succeeds, yet because she seems to be judging rather than enjoying herself, the slightest flub sticks out like a sore thumb. If she would only relax, we ... | More »

The Ramones

Road to Ruin Sire/London/Rhino

I've been working at this magazine for two years now and every album I've endorsed has gone over like a fart in the elevator. What we have here is not (in the words of Cool Hand Luke) a failure to communicate; it is (in the words of Richard Nixon) a public-relations problem. You bastards just don't believe me. After extensive analysis, I have concluded that this is because I am smart and you are dumb. Your brains are so full of carbon monoxide, aluminum chloro hydrate and carc... | More »

October 19, 1978

Talking Heads

More Songs About Buildings & Food Warner Bros.

David Byrne's resemblance to Anthony Perkins would be remarkable even if he hadn't called attention to it by entitling a song "Psycho Killer." Onstage, his head lurching to a rhythm his rigid body doesn't recognize, Byrne is a dead ringer for Perkins' Norman Bates: clean-cut, boyish (his songs are full of boys and girls but bereft of men and women) and batty. Movie critic Robin Wood's comment on Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic, Psycho, applies equally well to t... | More »

Dolly Parton


In the year since Dolly Parton's widely publicized crossover from the country genre to the MOR mainstream, the quality of her music has gone dramatically downhill while her fame vaults toward the tinsel regions of instant media celebrity. Actually, the quality hasn't gone downhill as much as it's disappeared completely. The only thing Parton's current output is good for is to be held up as a prop on television's late-night talk shows, and the only difference between h... | More »

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

More Song Stories entries »