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album reviews

Captain Beefheart

Unconditionally Guaranteed

Leave it to Beefheart to take selling out literally. Only he would think to do it at a time when adventurous music like John McLaughlin's really has become commercial. Following on the heels of some of the most complex and fascinating rock records ever made — Trout Mask Replica, The Spotlight Kid and Safe As Milk — Beef-heart has begun to cannibalize his own innovations.   From the beginning, Beef-heart's source has been pure blues. Safe As Milk was directly roote... | More »

David Bowie

Diamond Dogs RCA

Clearly, David Bowie is not the "homo superior" he once claimed and many believed him to be. That claim and belief were based on Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, two records of startling genius which will be among the great albums of the Seventies. But since then Bowie has disappointed even his most rabid devotees. Aladdin Sane was frustratingly uneven, Pinups was trivial, and now comes Diamond Dogs, perhaps Bowie's worst album in six years. It would be presumptuous to pretend to explain ... | More »

July 18, 1974

Jefferson Airplane

Early Flight Grunt/RCA

Not surprisingly, what could well be the best Airplane album since the four-year-old Volunteers consists mainly of tracks from the mid-Sixties. To be sure, there is a boring blues jam, and the rejects from Takes Off, while competent, are not on a par with the original LP. But the two outtakes from Surrealistic Pillow are hardly throwaways. Skip Spence's "J.P.P. McStep B. Blues" is a welcome reprise of the softer, acoustic Airplane, and Marty Balin's pile-driving "Go To Her" is both ... | More »

Bee Gees

Mr. Natural RSO

It's been difficult to understand how the Bee Gees can consistently come off so unflaggingly moronic on television and still make good music. But, although their last three LP's (with scattered exceptions) seemed determined to prove they'd lost the knack, Mr. Natural is a different story. There's a vigor which has been missing from recent records: The group seems altogether more interested in writing good songs and making strong records. The title track, a natural hit that... | More »

July 4, 1974

Jimi Hendrix

Are You Experienced?

Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest rock instrumentalist of the Sixties. His blunt attack contrasted sharply with the meticulous virtuosity of an Eric Clapton; Hendrix preferred and angry metal whine, molten steel to Clapton's polished chrome. His rough edges conveyed far more than his awesome dexterity. In a genre where computerized pyrotechnics seem the rule, Hendrix played with a rawness transcending idiomatic formalities. | More »

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Second Helping MCA Records

This group is frequently compared to the Allman Brothers but it lacks that band's sophistication and professionalism. If a song doesn't feel right to the Brothers, they work on it until it does; if it isn't right to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they are more likely to crank up their amps and blast their way through the bottleneck. They do, however, play a solid brand of Allman-influenced blues rock, drawing on gospel and other components of southern music as well. Second Helping is distingu... | More »

June 24, 1974

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 »

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »
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