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album reviews

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 »

Bob Dylan

Before The Flood Asylum

Throughout Bob Dylan's performances on this in-concert album there is evident an effort to match the material — nearly all from much earlier in his career — with a suitable style of delivery, a vocal stance which can express in a later year the brilliant and sometimes malevolent energy contained by these pieces when they were first created. Dylan's principal solution is to sing in aggressive, uptempo fashion, borrowing voltage from the Band's rock backing to substit... | More »

August 15, 1974

Etta James

Come A Little Closer

Etta James possesses one of the R&B voices, and she has been pushing it past its limits since her classic sides for Modern—"Roll With Me Henry," "Crazy Feeling" — and her teenage years as an opening act for Little Richard. Her masterful Sixties recordings for Chess, preserved on the essential Peaches, became more and more infrequent as drugs took their toll. Last year she bounced back with Etta James, singing as superbly and soulfully as ever, and gave several of Randy Newman&... | More »

Jerry Garcia

Garcia

If Garcia is any indication of what to expect from Round Records, the Grateful Dead's new spin-off label ought to be rechristened Flat. The production (pinned on John Kahn) seems determined to deprive the music of all edge, contrast and excitement (if there was any to begin with). Garcia boasts a lot of talent (Richard Greene, Maria Muldaur, Michael O'Martian, Amos Garrett and many others), but it all comes out jejune easy listening. "Let's Spend the Night Together," for instan... | More »

Elton John

Caribou MCA

In June Elton John signed what was reported to be the most lucrative contract ever negotiated by a recording artist. MCA, the record company involved, commemorated the event with full page ads in both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The latter paper followed up with a story headlining Elton as "The $8 Million Man," eight million being the sum thought to be guaranteed John as royalties on his next half-dozen albums. The magnitude of the deal was obviously inspired by the great s... | More »

James Taylor

Walking Man Warner Bros.

James Taylor's mosaic art embodies two primary contradictions: the public figure versus the private person, and more importantly, the schizoid quality of reflective intelligence. It is an art of balance, dependent on the juxtaposition of conflicting elements. The public Taylor is an aesthete, a musician's musician, who formalizes personal testament in rigorously crossbred traditional modes. These master-crafted harmonic structures provide the armor for his poetry, which is often sta... | More »

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

More Song Stories entries »
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