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album reviews

Aretha Franklin

Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)

Aretha Franklin has been straying beyond the conventional boundaries of soul for some time (most successfully on last year's awkward but powerful Young, Gifted and Black) but the new album is her biggest stylistic departure from R&B to date. The ominous spectre of Roberta Flack hovers over the enterprise, first in the use of the soul-jazz-pop fusion and narcoleptic tempo popularized in "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Killing Me Softly"; secondly, in the use of Quincy Jones... | More »

Sly & the Family Stone

Fresh Epic

In conversation Miles Davis says the name real slow — "Sslaaa" — with the same intonation of awe and macho respect that a young kid on a street corner in North Philadelphia would use to describe Mister Bad Ass. Miles, for 25 years the leader of voodoo musical changes, makes no secret of his admiration for Sly Stone, who is half his age and half a world away in audience if not in temperament. In fact two years ago Miles grabbed Stevie Wonder's bass player and changed his entir... | More »

July 19, 1973

Curtis Mayfield

Back To The World

An engaging and paradoxic (at least in uptight Western terms), intensely masculine falsetto; a canny feeling of the confluence of handsome R&B melody with the realities and myths of black life in the Seventies; the 'fly and jivey street-wise sense of pop poesy and prophesy, plus the considerable arranging skills of Johnny Pate — all these conspired to make Curt Mayfield's soundtrack of the film Super Fly one of the major pop albums of 1972. And all of these abilities, minu... | More »

George Harrison

Living In The Material World

At last it's here, beautifully-packaged with symbolic hand-print covers and the dedication, "All Glories to Sri Krsna." Even if Living in the Material World were as trivial and regressive as McCartney's Red Rose Speedway, there would be many who would dub it a pop classic. Happily, the album is not just a commercial event, it is the most concise, universally conceived work by a former Beatle since John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Given everything George Harrison represents, it would b... | More »

David Bowie

Aladdin Sane RCA

A lightning bolt streaks across David's face; on the inside cover the lad is air-brushed into androgyny, a no less imposing figure for it. Though he has been anointed to go out among us and spread the word, we find stuffed into the sleeve, like dirty underwear, a form requesting our name, address, "favorite film and TV stars," etc., plus $3.50 for membership in the David Bowie Fan Club (materials by return mail unspecified). Such discrepancies have made David Bowie the most recently con... | More »

July 5, 1973

Bruce Springsteen

Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ Columbia

Remember P.F. Sloan? Sure you do. It was back when every folk rocker worth his harmonica holder was flushed with Dylan fever and seeing how many syllables he could cram into every involuted couplet. There was Tandyn Almer, of "Along Comes Mary" fame ("The psychodramas and the traumas hung on the scars of the stars in the bars and cars — something like that), and David Blue had his own Highway 61 too, but absolutely none of 'em could beat ol' P.F. He started out writing surf so... | More »

Paul McCartney

Red Rose Speedway Apple/EMI

When Paul McCartney's television special was aired several weeks ago, one of the ostensible aims was to provide a semi-biographical glimpse of the inner man, a kind of "getting to know him" in the words of an accompanying ABC press release. Instead, the show proved impersonal at best, with McCartney remote and distant from the camera, providing a portrait nowhere near as intimate, say, as some of the better scene-stealing he undertook in A Hard Day's Night. Ironically, the most engr... | More »

John Fogerty

Blue Ridge Rangers

Here is John Fogerty doing what comes naturally. If he seemed immodest in the Creedence Clearwater Revival, he has justified himself and proven that he can make a fine, fine record without anyone's help at all. The Blue Ridge Rangers may be the most successful one-man rock album yet, and if the general concept still doesn't make sense at least Fogerty has made it work. The entire album is devoted to reinterpretations of personal favorites; mainly country, some spirituals and early ... | More »

Al Green

Call Me

Willie Mitchell's production style continues to impress me with its consistency, restraint and understanding of Al Green's special needs. Because the singer disdains most forms of discipline, preferring to let his voice wander into every nook and cranny of the modest melodies he writes, turning phrases inside out, and wreaking havoc with vocal structure in general, he requires the leveling force of a steady band playing tight, clean arrangements. Mitchell and Co. provide the latter,... | More »

Roxy Music

For Your Pleasure

Stop doing the stroll, mouse, limbo, eighty-one and peppermint twist. Give the Strand four minutes of your time and you won't think of doing another dance for at least two weeks. In an album that is remarkably inaccessible, "Do The Strand" strikes with immediate impact. This lead-off number, written by lead singer Bryan Ferry, is the cleverest use of language and rhyme since "I Am the Walrus." "Tired of the tango? Fed up with fandango? ... Bored of the beguine? The sambo isn't your... | 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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