.

album reviews

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 »

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys In Concert

This is simply everything a live album should be, and then some. Most of the performances hold their own beside the quality of the originals (even in those stubborn, hard-to-get-at places — "Marcella," "Heroes And Villains," "Funky Pretty") and yet they're never static. They remain faithful without becoming plodding or repetitive. The production is Carl Wilson's idea of pretty good with a few messy spots, which means it's unflaggingly superb but you can hear him whisperi... | More »

Bruce Springsteen

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle Columbia

Greetings From Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen's uproarious debut album, sounded like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" played at 78, a typical five-minute track bursting with more words than this review. Most of it didn't make much sense, but that was the point. Springsteen was rhyming and wailing for the sheer fun of it, and his manic exuberance more than canceled out his debts to Dylan, Van Morrison and the Band. The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle takes itself more seriou... | More »

January 22, 1974

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Willy And The Poor Boys Fantasy

It was a benefit at the Fillmore West for KPFA, the Conscience and Culture radio station of Berkeley, and the place was filled much beyond the legal capacity. The bill was mixed; several eminent bores and some bands as talented as Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, a rising group that has succeeded in capturing the essence of country music. But the crowd had come, virtually to a man, to see Creedence Clearwater. It was an overwhelmingly suburban audience, and from the remarks hoverin... | 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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