album reviews

Marvin Gaye

That's the Way Love Is

I start out with a prejudice against any Motown album containing songs like "Yesterday," "Groovin'," and "Abraham, Martin and John" but Marvin Gaye's superlative vocal stylings almost bring this one off. Though any song gains distinction when sung by Marvin Gaye, and any album of his is a pleasure to listen to, his latest would be better if its more memorable songs were livelier and its livelier songs more memorable. Produced by Norman Whitfield who has given us "Grapevine" and gui... | More »

Miles Davis

Bitches Brew Columbia/Legacy

Miles' music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches' Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, ... | More »

May 14, 1970

Paul McCartney

McCartney Apple, EMI

McCartney is an album that wants desperately to convince. Its explicit and uniform message is that Paul McCartney, his wife Linda and family have found peace and happiness in a quiet home away from the city and away from the hassle of the music business. This is a beautiful vision and, like most listeners, I wanted very much to believe it was true. On the basis of the music alone I was entirely persuaded. The 14 cuts on McCartney are masterful examples of happiness, relaxation and contentment... | More »


Back In The U.S.A.

Wop-bop-a-lu-bop-a-lop-bam-boom. Thud. "Tutti Frutti," which opens the partly excellent MC5 album, is easily the worst cut on it, and in a way a clue to the rest of the record, which ends, stiffly enough, with "Back in the USA." The MC5 have roots; or their producer Jon Landau does, or somebody does. Over four minutes of totally pointless music is expended in "proving" that fact — and regardless of the possible coy significance of this one-time "Killer Band" singing "Back in the USA" as... | More »

April 30, 1970

James Taylor

Sweet Baby James Warner Bros

Last August James Taylor was quoted in Rolling Stone thusly: "I hope my next album will be simpler. It has to be, because the music is simple and a big production job just buries all my intentions." Well, this first post-Apple album dovetails nicely with that anticipation, even down to the inclusion of Stephen Foster's "Oh, Susannah," buck-wheat cakes in her mouth and all. Peter Asher (formerly at Apple with Taylor) produced this album, as well as Taylor's first, and, one can hear,... | More »

The Doors

Morrison Hotel

Morrison Hotel opens with a powerful blast of raw funk called "Roadhouse Blues." It features jagged barrelhouse piano, fierce guitar, and one of the most convincing raunchy vocals Jim Morrison has ever recorded. This angry hard rock is that at which the Doors have always excelled, and given us so seldom, and this track is one of their very best ever, with brooding lyrics that ring chillingly, true: "I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer/The future's uncertain and the end is alwa... | More »

April 16, 1970

Randy Newman

12 Songs

Back in 1968, Paul McCartney phoned Randy Newman to tell him how much he liked his new album. Though the record received praise from fellow songwriters, musicians, and critics, it proved less than popular among the public. Promo tags like "Once you get used to it, his voice is really something" didn't help. Eventually Reprise redesigned the cover and gave the album away to those willing to write for it; sales have still not passed 4500 copies. Today, with the release of Twelve Songs, Ne... | More »

Alice Cooper

Easy Action

On stage they may flay dead chickens, but there's nothing nearly that interesting here. The freaky music is sort of freaky, but the pretty stuff sounds like something Walt Disney had the good sense to leave in the can. | More »

March 19, 1970

Van Morrison

Moondance Warner Bros

Long ago, Van Morrison reached that point where the influences on his music no longer mattered. It is as pointless to attempt to detect those influences as it would be for any musician to try to imitate him. Van Morrison's music cannot really be imitated, because, as with Dylan's music, what one hears is not style, but personality. With each record — Them Again, Astral Weeks, or Moondance — one gets a sense that Van has achieved some ancient familiarity with his band an... | More »

March 7, 1970

Frank Zappa

Hot Rats Reprise

This recording brings together a set of mostly little-known talents that whale the tar out of every other informal "jam" album released in rock and roll for the past two years. If Hot Rats is any indication of where Zappa is headed on his own, we are in for some fiendish rides indeed. In the past both Zappa's high-flown "serious music" and his greasy Fifties routines grew heavy-handed, but this album suggests he may be off on a new and much more individual direction, inspired by Captain... | More »

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Song Stories

“Wake Up Everybody”

John Legend and the Roots | 2010

A Number One record by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1976 (a McFadden- and Whitehead-penned classic sung by Teddy Pendergrass) inspired the title and lead single from Wake Up!, John Legend's tribute album to message music. The more familiar strains of "Wake Up Everybody" also fit his agenda. "It basically sums up, in a very concise way, all the things we were thinking about when we were putting this record together in that it's about justice, doing the right thing and coming together to make the world a better place," he said. Vocalists Common and Melanie Fiona assist Legend on this mission to connect.

More Song Stories entries »