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album reviews

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Not Fragile

Imagine Black Sabbath without instrumental dynamism and lyrical vision; imagine Led Zeppelin without pyrotechnics: What you're imagining is the Bachman-Turner Overdrive — a lowest-common-denominator rock band that's found immense commercial success in a stylistic limbo between heavy-metal and MOR rock. They rely heavily on the basics to convey their musical message, but unlike 99% of their competition, BTO give the impression that the basics are about all they have to offer. ... | More »

October 16, 1974

The Rolling Stones

It's Only Rock 'n Roll Rolling Stones Records

It's Only Rock 'n Roll is a decadent album because it invites us to dance in the face of its own despair. It's a desperate album that warns at the end of one side that "... dreams of the nighttime will vanish by dawn," and on the other that a Kafkaesque "someone is listening, good night, sleep tight." It's a rock 'n' roll album because it's so goddamn violent. At its simplest level the album deals with the psychosis of being in a rock 'n' roll ban... | More »

October 10, 1974

Joe Cocker

I Can Stand a Little Rain

Joe Cocker's comeback album is not the disaster his recent debacle in L.A. (during which he was too drunk to perform) was. Whatever his difficulties as a live performer, on record Cocker is far from a lost cause. Admittedly he is not the singer he once was: His voice is ravaged almost beyond belief. But this is what makes I Can Stand a Little Rain so moving. It is a record about pain and decline which, to make its points, cruelly exposes and exploits Cocker's damaged condition. One... | More »

Parliament-Funkadelic

Up For The Down Stroke Casablanca

Parliament affects a studiedly bizarre persona. Graham Central Station on downs, if you will, or the Temptations with a token affection for S&M. "Testify," a remake of the mid-Sixties minor classic the group cut in safer days, flaunts a mélange of several separate, stoned voices in search of a groove but is carried along by characteristically close harmony and rhythm work once the pretense can be dealt with. The professionalism of the band shows through finally on all the cuts, tho... | More »

September 26, 1974

T. Rex

Light Of Love

Unexpectedly, Marc Bolan is back. Under his egotistical leadership, T. Rex had headed straight down with two consecutive albums of trivial, leaden shush. In England he'd been overtaken in the pop idolatry sweepstakes by Sweet, Slade, Mud, Mott and even the Rubettes. His increasingly vainglorious pronouncements failed to mask the decline.   But with Light Of Love Bolan has recharged his vitality, and that raw spirit which galvanized the globe on "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" and Electr... | More »

Stevie Wonder

Fulfillingness' First Finale Tamla

The cover of Fulfillingness' First Finale depicts a staircase of keyboards rising — from the Motor Town Review and "Fingertips" through gold records, Grammies and an auto accident — to the sky. It's remarkably apt, for the careers of few performers in popular music have been such uninterrupted ascents. Nothing, not even a brush with death, has interrupted Wonder's progress toward ever higher ground, and FFF is a new plateau. As its title declares, the album is a cul... | More »

September 12, 1974

James Brown

Hell

In 1965 James Brown altered the role of the rhythm section in black popular music radically and irrevocably. White listeners, understandably enthralled by the innovations of groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, paid scant attention at first. But black fans understood immediately, perhaps because the components of Brown's new bag had long been a part of their aural environment. The chunky, broken-up bass patterns, sprung against the downbeats, had been common currency in Latin ... | More »

September 4, 1974

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Cosmo's Factory Fantasy

It should be obvious by now that Creedence Clearwater Revival is one great rock and roll band. Cosmo's Factory, the group's fifth album, is another good reason why. Four of the eleven cuts have been on previous hit singles; John Fogerty wrote three of the remaining seven, only one of which, "Ramble Tamble," is unsatisfying. Apart from prolific writing, Fogerty's ability to consistently churn out good stuff is largely due to his penchant for rehearsing the band five days a week... | More »

August 29, 1974

Eric Clapton

461 Ocean Boulevard

Between laid-back and listless, between the tastefully restrained and the downright niggardly, the line can be perilously thin. Eric Clapton's new album teeters precariously on the very edge, flirting with, but in the nick of time always just skirting, dullness. It's a tribute to Clapton's charisma and talents that 461 Ocean Boulevard doesn't succumb to the danger Clapton courts by playing unobtrusively with an unimpressive band. Still, it's a close call, too close fo... | More »

Bad Company

Bad Company

On its first album, Bad Company — led by former Free singer Paul Rodgers and original Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs — resembles Free in its structural starkness and early Mott in its stormy directness. In Bad Company, Robert Benton's overlooked 1972 western from whose title the group got its name, the chief characters, Civil War-era teenage romantics, displayed a sort of swaggering innocence that was quite affecting. The personality of this appealing new band is similar. The rh... | 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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