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album reviews

Lou Reed

Rock 'N' Roll Animal

This is a record to be played loud. Like a Formula One car, it doesn't really begin to perform until it's pushed close to the limit. As background music it isn't much, but powered up on a strong system loud enough to make enemies a quarter-mile away, Rock n Roll Animal — recorded live at Lou Reed's Academy of Music concert December 21st — is, well, very fine. Making enemies is all tied up with Lou Reed, anyway. I first heard Reed when he was part of the Velvet... | More »

March 14, 1974

Willie Nelson

Phases and Stages

Willie Nelson has written some of the most chilling, bluntly honest portrayals of the anguish of separation and the shock of finding oneself suddenly alone. With his second Atlantic album, Nelson attempts one of the most ambitious country projects ever: a concept album on the subject of breaking up. Ordinarily, concept albums strike me as pretentious bores (someone will call this one "the Sgt. Pepper of C&W," "the shitkicker's Tommy"), but I find Phases And Stages extraordinarily con... | More »

Rick Nelson

Windfall

Over his last three albums, Rick Nelson has attained the heights of creativity which even the excellence of his early work never prepared us for. In the year or so since Garden Party, anticipation among his audience has run high. And now, Windfall fulfills most expectations, but with a few surprises. Nelson seems to be fronting an all-new Stone Canyon Band; the sound, though, is none the worse for the changes. The big shocker is in the songs themselves. After building his stature as a songwr... | More »

Billy Joel

Piano Man Columbia

Billy Joel's music has suffered in comparison to better establisled acts. His group Hassles were a Vanilla Fudge/Rascals spinoff, his work with Attila was bettered by Lee Michaels, and his only semi-hit was a bit of pop schlock. Recent gigs at a piano bar on the seamy side of L.A. have given him a new perspective and his Piano Man reflects a new seriousness and musical flexibility. Its production is reminiscent of Elton John's, and his music has the show-tune ambience of David Ackle... | More »

February 28, 1974

Joni Mitchell

Court And Spark Asylum

On first listening, Joni Mitchell's Court And Spark, the first truly great pop album of 1974, sounds surprisingly light; by the third or fourth listening, it reveals its underlying tensions. The lyrics lead us through concentric circles that define an almost Zen-like dilemma: The freer the writer becomes, the more unhappy she finds herself; the more she surrenders her freedom, the less willing she is to accept the resulting compromise. Joni Mitchell seems destined to remain in a state of... | More »

February 14, 1974

Cher

Half Breed

Cher and producer Snuff Garrett have resurrected the LP pegged to a hit single and embellished it with a few cover versions and throwaway tracks. Like most of those decade-old affairs, it's a-loser. "Half Breed" itself has only Cher's frantic vocal and Garrett's supremely commercial production to recommend it. The lyrics assume both white and red persons are prejudiced against the other race, an assumption of the same staggering magnitude as the axiomatic portrayal of gypsies a... | More »

Al Green

Livin' for You

The black urban record buyer has inevitably turned against the rural soul style pioneered by Stax and Atlantic records of the Sixties. They've instead chosen the pop R&B preferred by some Motown producers and the entire Gamble-Huff-Bell Philadelphia cabal. And no wonder: Most such listeners are less disturbed by occasional allusions to the junkie on the corner than by the ethos of traditional R&B — an approach that reminds many of a Southern past that they would just as soo... | More »

Barry White

Stone Gon'

Even if Barry White is imitation Isaac Hayes (and who would have thought anyone could match Ike pretension for pretension?) in this case, I prefer Brand X. White's productions are too excessive to be called "songs." They are dreamy, shimmering symphonies whipped up to a light chop for the dance crowd. Perhaps because the five cuts (the shortest, 5:05) always seem on the verge of choking on their violin tracks or being talked to death, their ultimate survival is unexpectedly exhilarating.... | More »

February 13, 1974

Black Sabbath

Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath Warner Bros.

Though they are best known as the planet's premier heavy-metal band, Black Sabbath's major contribution has been to successfully capture the gist of specifically Seventies culture through their music. They relate to this impersonal, mechanical decade much as Delta bluesmen and their Chicago spin-offs related to their eras — by synthesizing collective feelings and giving their contemporaries hope by revealing the disaffection that units all of them. In that remote but real sens... | More »

January 31, 1974

John Prine

Sweet Revenge

Sweet Revenge is another side of John Prine, a departure from the nearly unrelenting somberness of his earlier work, and an engaging picture of the social being beneath the social conscience. It's a more human work, more mature, and a step forward artistically and toward a wider audience. Its folk humor ("Please Don't Bury Me") rivals any anonymous classic, while it is at the same time too distinctive to have been written by anyone but Prine. A pluggedin band provides a big-beat fe... | More »

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

More Song Stories entries »
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