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album reviews

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 »

James Taylor

In The Pocket Warner Bros.

In the Pocket is a cool, impersonal, slick piece of work. For the man who almost single-handedly popularized the role of the "sensitive" singer/songwriter — the performer who bared his soul for all to see — this record represents a curious retreat behind the barriers of pop convention. If Taylor intended In the Pocket to be a collection of pop edibles to be consumed quickly and enjoyed for their momentary pleasure, the album could be justified on a variety of grounds. But he ha... | More »

Aretha Franklin

Sparkle

The instrumental tracks Curtis Mayfield produces at his Curtom Studio in Chicago always sound a little contrived. There's a swirling harp every time you turn around, the syncopated horn figures lie just so against the bass and drums, and there is often a surfeit of trebly percussion instruments like bells, chimes and cymbals. But Mayfield understands the gospel roots of the most powerful black pop vocalists as well as, if not better than, any producer alive, and he's carried this un... | More »

July 29, 1976

The Ramones

Ramones WEA

If today's Rolling Stone were the Cahiers du Cinema of the late Fifties, a band of outsiders as deliberately crude and basic as the Ramones would be granted instant auteur status as fast as one could say "Edgar G. Ulmer." Their musique maudite — 14 rock & roll songs exploding like time bombs in the space of 29 breathless minutes and produced on a Republic-Monogram budget of $6400 — would be compared with the mise en scene of, say, Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly or, ... | More »

Aerosmith

Rocks Columbia

Whether or not Rocks is hot depends on your vantage point. If your hard-rock tastes were honed in the Sixties, as this band's obviously were, Aerosmith is a polished echo of Yardbirds' guitar rock liberally spiced with the Stones' sexual swagger. If you're a teen of the Seventies, they are likely to be the flashiest hard-rock band you've ever seen. While the band has achieved phenomenal commercial success, their fourth album fails to prove that they can grow and innov... | More »

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »
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