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album reviews

Carole King

Thoroughbred

As straightforward a singer as she is a lyricist and composer, Carole King projects one of the most integrated personalities in pop. Her musical and intellectual scope is narrow, but her seven albums, with the exception of Fantasy (an overly self-conscious concept work), stand as one of the most consistently listenable collections of the rock era. King's melodies are seldom sophisticated but they're almost always catchy, and her lyrics embrace the pop cliché with economy, hon... | More »

Lou Reed

Coney Island Baby

Are the mid-Seventies the late Sixties in weird disguise? Can Gatorade really be the fountain of youth? Or is there something in the air these days that transforms the tired blood of certain seemingly played out, erstwhile All-Pantheon quarterbacks into something so fresh and vital that new notice must be taken? First Bob Dylan and then Neil Young bounce from the Big Sleep of years of self-imposed benchwarming to launch the Big Comeback, suddenly connecting on a series of breathtaking touchdo... | More »

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Gimme Back My Bullets MCA Records

There was a time when Lynyrd Skynyrd's music was tough. It had drive and force; it was impossible to ignore. But last year's Al Kooper-produced Nuthin' Fancy revealed the band's soft underbelly and Gimme Back My Bullets, produced by Tom Dowd, is an extension of its predecessor. It starts strong but fails to deliver. The title track is powerful — relentless, a little dangerous — with lead guitar wailing urgently behind one of the angriest Ronnie Van Zant vocals... | More »

Parliament-Funkadelic

Mothership Connection

With the "Parliafunkadelicment thang," leader George Clinton has succeeded in creating two distinct identities for one band—the mystical voodoo of the Funkadelics and the stabbing, humorous funk of Parliament. While Funkadelic has no discernible influence, Parliament is more closely attuned to the post-Sly wave. But unlike the Ohio Players or Commodores, the group refuses to play it straight. Instead, Clinton spews his jive, conceived from some cosmic funk vision, under titles like "Sup... | More »

March 11, 1976

Bob Dylan

Desire Columbia

Desire is a very special album, although Bob Dylan's adamantly antimusical approach keeps it from greatness. Somehow, though, Dylan's antimusic winds up being very seductive. The real problems with this record lie in other areas. What's most striking about the record is that it is such a collaborative effort. Dylan works as closely with these musicians and singers — among them, violinist Scarlet Rivera, bassist Rob Stoner and drummer Howard Wyeth of the Rolling Thunder c... | More »

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Head On

Head On focuses on no less than three apologies by leader Randy Bachman for his group's very existence. Even more oddly, Bachman's defense rests on moralistic rather than artistic grounds. According to "Average Man," "Stay Alive" and "Lookin' Out for #1," it's the work ethic that has propelled BTO to the top of the heap. "Average Man" delineates Bachman's somewhat paranoid outlook: They stop and stare at our houses and carsThey settle for less, we reach for the star... | More »

The Kinks

Schoolboys In Disgrace

If one were to simplify the old guard of British rock & roll by drawing a straight line, left to right, between the angelic Beatles and the demonic Rolling Stones, one would probably place the Who slightly to the left of the Stones and the Kinks a couple of notches to the right of the Beatles but well to the left of Townshend and Company. Ray Davies may display a full share of Dionysian darkness and disorder at times, but his craziness is usually admirable and engaging, and the Kinks, if ... | More »

February 26, 1976

Cat Stevens

Numbers

Things aren't going well for Cat Stevens on the planet, ah, polyethylene. Critics keep asking: would you buy a used I Ching from this man? Since Tea for the Tillerman, affirmation has been doubtful. Never a deep thinker and rarely a master of words, Stevens has now turned to the "majik" of numerology, only to have the melodies disappear down the decimal point. In fact, "Call Me Zero" would have been a perfect title for Numbers, an album so breathtakingly stupid that even the most loyal f... | More »

February 12, 1976

Deep Purple

Come Taste The Band

Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple's central force since their creation, left the group after Stormbringer to form his own group; this is Deep Purple's first record with new guitarist Tommy Bolin.   The album takes off in the chunky funk-rock style of Purple's last two albums. Distinctions don't develop until the material becomes familiar. Like Blackmore, Bolin establishes tension between Purple's solid rhythm foundation and his own sustained clarity and agitated u... | More »

Kraftwerk

Radio-Aktivitat

Instead of maintaining an icy detachment from its popularity, which might have been the best attitude to assume, Kraftwerk has attempted to duplicate Autobahn's success with a concept album. Like most concept albums, it's loaded with dead spots. Cuts like "Geiger Counter," "Intermission" and "News" are plain stupid, and no cut on the album comes near the melodic/harmonic sense that pervaded Autobahn or the creative use of electronics on the much earlier album Ralf and Florian, which... | 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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