album reviews

Stevie Wonder

Songs In The Key Of Life Motown

Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, like some big Hollywood studio blockbuster, comes to us already weighted down with words, stabbed with exclamation points and wrapped — or is it shrouded? — in great expectations. Two years in the making, the album's imminent release was announced several times, and each time it was withdrawn to be haggled over, reworked, expanded and gossiped about until its release at the end of September. It is nothing if not ambitious: two re... | More »

Earth, Wind & Fire


The songs of Earth, Wind and Fire combine pure urban fantasy with the type of facile brotherhood messages that also crop up in the music of Stevie Wonder and the O'Jays. But Earth, Wind and Fire wraps its sermons on universal love in fashionable mysticism. One has only to look as far as the cover of their current album to see the trappings: cleancut and dressed in white, the group stands, eyes closed, in positions of cosmic significance, while three white pyramids loom in the background.... | More »


Tales of Kidd Funkadelic

What you see on Funkadelic album covers is what the band is about: "The saber-tooth, slippery tongued & most nastic mau-mau bootybusters of noxious neegrow humpanotical, moldy metal, marching noise music." These guys are no spring chickens — they've been playing psychedelic-tinged black music for almost eight years and were an early source of inspiration for Alice Cooper's stage antics. While the group is on the teetering verge of becoming the Next Big Thing, they aren... | More »

December 8, 1976



The Street's the same in New York or Frisco. It leads to heaven or hell, maybe both, and what comes down around you depends on how you travel just as much as where you're coming from. In that sense, Miles Davis from St. Louis by way of jazz and Carlos Santana from San Francisco by way of rock have a great deal more in common than either may realize. These are philosophical albums, if one may be permitted to apply that adjective to musical composition and performance. Both albums ex... | More »

Bee Gees

To Whom It May Concern

"The sweetest music this side of heaven," the epithet misapplied to Guy Lombardo, is the aptest description I can think of to describe the Bee Gees at their best. Beginning with Odessa, a minor masterpiece of jewel-encrusted, late-Sixties psychedelia, they have concentrated chiefly on developing a single musical idea, technologizing the standard Top 40 ballad to achieve unprecedented lushness and sonic depth. The result is headphone mood music that makes no demands beyond a superficial emotio... | More »

December 2, 1976

Bob Dylan

Hard Rain Columbia

Like all public figures, Bob Dylan is as much prisoner as master of his own persona. What distinguishes Dylan is that he has recognized that paradox with more probity than anybody else in rock. It's been central to his work since the day he arrived in Greenwich Village imitating Woody Guthrie and emulating Elvis Presley. As Ellen Willis pointed out nine years ago, celebrity is what Dylan's art is about. As pop's demigod, Dylan is not just the processor but the product of our f... | More »

November 18, 1976

Eric Clapton

No Reason To Cry

With No Reason to Cry, Eric Clapton has left the Miami studio where he recently fashioned, from blues, gospel and reggae, one of the most personal and convincingly haunting sounds around. The new album was made in Los Angeles with predictable results: the carefully sculpted, spiritual style of Clapton and his band has been replaced by a series of musical formulas. Southern California cannot be indicted for Clapton's failure, and there's no reason to write off all the music that eme... | More »

November 4, 1976

Bee Gees

Children of the World

From mushy pop ballads through late-Sixties psychedelia and low-key rock, the Bee Gees have demonstrated a chameleonlike ability to adapt to disparate pop trends. These days, as they said on the Tonight Show in their best Cockney accents, "Rhythm & blues is what's happening." Audacious, right? Well, not exactly. Some of their stuff is really good, better than poseurs like Wild Cherry, AWB and Kokomo. The Bee Gees have taken production into their own hands with Children of the World,... | More »

Lynyrd Skynyrd

One More From The Road MCA Records

"Crossroads," the Robert Johnson-cum-Cream metallic raver included on this live album, deftly encapsulates Lynyrd Skynyrd's influences: Southern blues-rock diced with the sharp blade of British hard rock. Cream was based conceptually upon the idea of the guitar as the primary rock manipulator; Skynyrd has secured its large audience by maintaining that notion. But Skynyrd has always relied more on a solid repertoire of rock material than on instrumental expertise. Their three guitarists ... | More »

October 21, 1976

Fleetwood Mac

Vintage Years Sire

Thanks to the near-permanent success of the current Fleetwood Mac LP, virtually all the band's pre-Warner Bros. material – featuring guitarists Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer – is back on the market. The best stuff is to be found on Fleetwood Mac in Chicago (Sire), a double album cut in '69 at the Chess studios, with real-life black bluesmen sitting in. A year ago, when this album was out of print, it was selling for 20 bucks, and it's worth it. The Fl... | More »

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »