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album reviews

New York Dolls

Too Much Too Soon

The New York Dolls' first album expanded their cult from Manhattan to the rest of hard-core, hard-rock America. As a result, Too Much Too Soon is less specifically rooted in Manhattan, though its bluster and swagger are no less urban. Rather than the specifically New York City "Subway Train" of their first LP, there's "Babylon," the town on Long Island, the Philadelphia soul of "There's Gonna Be a Showdown," and the Chinese accents of "Bad Detective." Too Much Too Soon is plain... | More »

June 20, 1974

Queen

Queen II
5

Queen is a reasonably talented band who have chosen their models unwisely. On "Side Black," they venture into a lyrically muddled fairy-tale world with none of Genesis's wit or sophistication. They've also appropriated the most irritating elements of Yes's style — histrionic vocals, abrupt and pointless compositional complexity, and a dearth of melody. "Side White" is quite an improvement, containing many of the same muddled tendencies, but with the saving grace of timely... | More »

Mott the Hoople

The Hoople

Has success spoiled Ian Hunter? Last year's Mott received and deserved much acclaim. It seemed a post-glitter breakthrough, debunking superstardom and demythologizing rock: "Rock 'n' roll's a loser's game." But since then Hunter and Mott the Hoople have themselves become stars, and unfortunately they appear to have lost the detached perspective which distinguished Mott. Instead of self-awareness, The Hoople offers self-pity; instead of insight and irony, it purveys th... | More »

Miles Davis

Big Fun Columbia

Most of Big Fun consists of outtakes from Bitches Brew and Live/Evil days, and one can only wonder why superb performances like "Great Expectations" and "Lonely Fire" were canned. The former piece gets a mesmerizing, other-worldly texture from electric sitar, tamboura, berimbau (Brazilian musical bow) and electric guitar and has one of Miles's most lyrical lines. In effect, both pieces are all-star sessions, with John McLaughlin. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Wayne Shorter, ... | More »

June 6, 1974

Frank Zappa

Apostrophe (')

Having proven his stellar musicianship on a series of instrumental-based solo albums, Frank Zappa is now returning to the musical satire on which his formidable reputation was built. Apostrophe turns out to be so brilliantly successful, though, that it seems as though he's never left this field. Songs like "Stinkfoot" and "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast" again attest to Zappa's abilities at contorting song forms to serve his distorted purposes: They're a welcome reminder ... | More »

Carly Simon

Hotcakes

Hotcakes holds up well and represents an intelligent approach to commercial record making. Her past albums were serious-sounding with playful overtones; Hotcakes is playful-sounding with some serious overtones — a balance that best suits her for the time being. But lest she is mistakenly stereotyped as a mere light artist, "Think I'm Gonna Have a Baby," "Forever My Love" and especially "Haven't Got Time for the Pain" are substantial songs and performances, superior to almost e... | More »

Aerosmith

Get Your Wings Columbia

Maintaining an agile balance between Yardbirds- and Who-styled rock and Seventies heavy metal, Aerosmith's second album surges with pent-up fury yet avoids the excesses to which many of their peers succumb. The music of the five-member group contains the vital elements of economy and control — no ill-advised solo extravaganzas. The snarling chords of guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford tautly propel each number, jibing neatly with the rawness of singer Steven Tyler, whose discip... | More »

Stevie Wonder

Innervisions Tamla

With his last three albums Stevie Wonder has replaced Sly Stone as the most significant individual black innovator in the twin fields of R&B and rock. He has also replaced him as the most popular black music personality: Wonder's appeal now crosses every boundary. His music always sounds free and, at his best, he does things no one else can. "Living for the City" has the most compelling — pounding, throbbing, unyielding — beat to be heard anywhere at all. And though that ... | More »

May 23, 1974

Cat Stevens

Buddha And The Chocolate Box

The last really good Cat Stevens song, two albums back, was appropriately titled "I Can't Keep It In." Since then he's been pouring out separate streams of interesting melody and dubious verbiage, streams that never converge. That would not necessarily be a problem — Stevens remains a gifted composer no matter what — were it not for the fact that his lyrics become so much more strident and incoherent with each progressively less promising effort. However fresh and idi... | More »

Eagles

On The Border Elektra

Most of the ten songs here are in some way related to escape, or to the failures that necessitate it. But the Eagles' point of view toward their material varies so wildly that it's hard to believe even they take it seriously. "My Man," Bernie Leadon's gentle epitaph for a "very talented guy" (who seems to be Gram Parsons), is completely at odds with the jovial necrophilia of "James Dean," a strong and (I hope) slightly facetious rocker that hands its subject a rather abrupt kis... | More »

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »
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