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album reviews

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 »

Jeff Beck

Wired Epic

Jazz-rock fusion music has had no greater exponent than Jeff Beck, whose latest album, Wired, demonstrates how vital this genre can be. Even more important, Wired presents Beck in a context that finally satisfies both his uncompromising musical standards and commercial necessity. Beck's first group, the Yardbirds, was the most inventive of the early Sixties British blues bands and is now credited with producing three of the most important electric guitarists of the past ten years &mdash... | More »

Graham Parker

Howlin' Wind

On his first album, Graham Parker draws unabashedly from some of the most powerful stylistic devices of Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. While he sometimes goes too far, Parker is justified time and again by the Rumour's exciting approach. Led by veteran pub rocker Brinsley Schwarz, the group includes Bob Andrews, keyboard player in the group which bore Schwarz's name, and guitarist Martin Belmont of the late Ducks Deluxe. They support Parker with raw efficiency in a ... | More »

July 1, 1976

Steely Dan

The Royal Scam

With each successive album, Steely Dan's popular success and appeal become more obscured by sundry admirers' claims of abstruseness and complexity. To some it seems inevitable that the Dan will eventually produce the Finnegan's Wake of rock. And that's silly: Steely Dan is trying just as hard as any random country/disco/metal band to capture our attention, i.e., sell records. For all their jazzy influences, they are a florid rock band, immersed in popular concerns and styl... | More »

June 17, 1976

Gram Parsons

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights has been collected from two sources. Nine of the tracks come from early 1970 sessions in which the Flying Burrito Brothers, led by Gram Parsons, sought to record a nononsense country album, covering such standard fare as "Green, Green, Grass of Home," "Crazy Arms" and "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down." The remaining three songs are from the sessions for Grievous Angel, the final Parsons solo album, spotlighting him and Emmylou Harris in duets of the Everly Brothers' "Bran... | 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 »
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