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album reviews

Labelle

Chameleon

Almost two years have passed since "Lady Marmalade," Labelle's voulez-vous coucher Creole hooker disco funk single, and it should be apparent that they're not going to record anything like a followup. Like Stevie Wonder, Labelle is more inclined to comment on the disco phenomenon than to capitalize on it; their ambition is to shuffle minds, not feet. Besides, they have their own party ethic — one that comes across much better onstage than on record. That ethic has something t... | More »

September 23, 1976

Linda Ronstadt

Hasten Down The Wind

When I say welcome back, don't think of John Sebastian's awful song, or the equally awful television show it introduces. Think instead of a gifted singer — perhaps our most gifted — who has given us (arguably, I admit) some 40 memorable songs but failed, and miserably so, to connect with much passion on her last album, Prisoner in Disguise. This is Linda Ronstadt's tenth album (including the three made with her first group, the Stone Poneys). While it is certainly ... | More »

August 26, 1976

Jefferson Starship

Spitfire

The only American rock bands that have enjoyed more than a decade of commercial success while evolving their own artistic visions are the Beach Boys and the Jefferson Airplane/Starship. As the Beach Boys defined pleasure in the Sixties, the Airplane defined the counterculture's political and spiritual ideals and lived out the tribal myth. Though the Airplane/Starship's history has proven far from idyllic, it is resilient; the creative nucleus of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and Marty B... | More »

Rod Stewart

A Night on the Town Rhino/Warner Bros.

Any critic worth his salt comes to an almost mystical rapport with certain artists. When the melodies and lyrics of such performers float across the mind late at night, they are resented by the cynical journalist as much as they're treasured by the sentimental fan (no good critic is less than half of either), but there's no way out. For me, Rod Stewart is such an artist. Because he is, it's becoming increasingly difficult to separate what I bring to his albums, in the way of h... | More »

Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper Goes To Hell

The raw-edged sound and transparently vicious image of the original Cooper band required that Alice's voice be defiantly non-musical. At the onset of his solo career, however, "Only Women Bleed" convinced many that he could carry a tune. Not surprisingly, when Alice Cooper Goes to Hell reaches for dramatic impact, he displays a tasteful, if not terribly original, vocal sense. This is particularly true of "I Never Cry," the album's obvious single. As usual, it won't strain the ... | More »

The Grateful Dead

Steal Your Face!

Steal Your Face isn't so much a collection of music as a further confirmation of the Dead's existence. These four live sides aren't really very good, but few will notice. Nine years after the Summer of Love, the acid mystique lives on. The Dead are too loose here, and frequently sloppy as well, particularly on the opening verses of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around." On another Berry song, "The Promised Land," Jerry Garcia's guitar playing is downright careless. But e... | More »

Jethro Tull

Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll: Too Young To Die!

Ian Anderson should stick to music, because he most definitely is not a storyteller. This is the muddled story of one Ray Lomas, "the last of the old rockers," whose long hair and tight jeans mark him as a person whom time has passed by. After a series of events remarkable only for their lack of humor and originality, we leave the "hero" as he is about to become a pop star in his own right. So what? We can take comfort, though, in knowing that Anderson's technical prowess as a composer... | More »

August 12, 1976

The Beach Boys

15 Big Ones

We're still singing that same song," the Beach Boys chime on 15 Big Ones, their long awaited new album, and a check proves that the personnel hasn't changed since 1962. But the same song as "Surfin'"? Hardly. Today, the reference point is Gregorian chant, and the rock is for the ages. Even the familiar faces are misleading. Brian Wilson, the group's absentee genius, hasn't toured with them since 1964; the last Top Ten hit he wrote and produced for them came in 1966. ... | More »

Carly Simon

Another Passenger

"Cowtown," a song Carly Simon has written for Another Passenger, tells the story of a cagey French woman named Simone Swann who marries a Texas millionaire for his money, and because she's lonely. In the second verse, Swann prepares to accompany the Texan to his native land, and Simon notes: She packed up all her perfumeFor the gusty pioneerOn a carefree note he said "forget your coatThere's a chill about every ten years." The use of the word "gusty" here is a small revelation, an... | More »

Curtis Mayfield

Give, Get, Take And Have

With Give, Get, Take and Have, Curtis Mayfield has fashioned the apotheosis of a musical genre he has just invented. That genre consists, skeletally, of the interaction between disco and the Sixties soul-music sensibility. It also places far more importance on wordplay than most current disco. It is, bluntly, unique, and this album is Curtis Mayfield's masterpiece. From its initial song, "In Your Arms Again (Shake It)," we are thoroughly insinuated into Mayfield's environment: erot... | More »

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Song Stories

“Vicious”

Lou Reed | 1972

Opening Lou Reed's 1972 solo album, the hard-riffing "Vicious" actually traces its origin back to Reed's days with the Velvet Underground. Picking up bits and pieces of songs from the people and places around him, and filing his notes for later use, Reed said it was Andy Warhol who provided fuel for the song. "He said, 'Why don't you write a song called 'Vicious,'" Reed told Rolling Stone in 1989. "And I said, 'What kind of vicious?' 'Oh, you know, vicious like I hit you with a flower.' And I wrote it down literally."

More Song Stories entries »
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