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album reviews

Rod Stewart

The Rod Stewart Album Mercury

Rod Stewart, lead singer with the off-again on-again Jeff Beck group, has come up with a superb album of his own. Imagination pervades the music, in the choice of material, in the frequent use of beautiful bottleneck guitar work to draw out the subtler aspects of many cuts (Ron Wood is responsible here), and in the range Stewart himself displays on virtually every vocal. British albums are often over-done, with good ideas transformed into gimmicks; on this record the music sustains itself th... | More »

The Grateful Dead

Live/Dead

Live Dead explains why the Dead are one of the best performing bands in America, why their music touches on ground that most other groups don't even know exists. A list of song titles would mean very little in terms of what actually goes on inside the album. Like the early Cream, the Dead in concert tend to use their regular material as a jumping-off point, as little frameworks that exist only for what can be built on top of them. In "Dark Star," for example, they give a token reading o... | More »

January 21, 1970

Albert King

Door To Door (With Albert King)

Chess Records has been an erratic, convoluted giant in the blues world: fantastic product till the Sixties, then a period of decline and even bad taste during the middle and late Sixties, then suddenly, in the last year, new hope. The causes for this recent rejoicing are, on the one hand, Muddy Waters' great new double-record set, Fathers and Sons, and on the other, the very promising Vintage Series of blues long salted away in the Chess family tape vaults. According to the company'... | More »

December 27, 1969

The Byrds

Ballad Of Easy Rider Sony Music Distribution

Somehow it doesn't matter that these two bands have gone through enough internal and external hassles to cover the New York Metropolitan Opera for the next ten years. They just keep producing wave after wave of fine music. The Byrds, of course — under the aegis of McGuinn the Survivor — are renowned for a rich, thickly-textured instrumental sound and equally distinctive vocal harmony. Every new Byrds album seems a continuation of the last; few surprises occur — instead... | More »

The Rolling Stones

Let It Bleed Decca

Let It Bleed is the last album by the Stones we'll see before the Sixties, already gone really, become the Seventies; it has the crummiest cover art since Flowers, with a credit sheet that looks like it was designed by the United States Government Printing Office (all courtesy of the inflated Robert Brownjohn), and the best production since, well, "Honky Tonk Women." The music has tones that are at once dark and perfectly clear, while the words are slurred and often buried for a stronger... | More »

December 13, 1969

Fleetwood Mac

Then Play On Reprise

Nowadays Fleetwood Mac is stepping out on its own. Tired of being another British blues band, the group has said goodbye to Elmore James and is moving into the pop-rock field. On this album, they fall flat on their faces. Most of the music on the album is slow and wandering – instruments in search of an idea. Of the songs in this category, "My Dream," with its pleasant melody, is the only one that works. The eclecticism is excessive here, most of the songs sounding like warmed-over ear... | More »

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin II Atlantic

Hey, man, I take it all back! This is one fucking heavyweight of the album! OK — I'll concede that until you've listened to the album eight hundred times, as I have, it seems as if it's just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides. But, hey! you've got to admit that the Zeppelin has their distinctive and enchanting formula down stone-cold, man. Like you get the impression they could do it in their sleep. And who can deny that Jimmy Page ... | More »

Jethro Tull

Stand Up

No, Jethro Tull is not just another English blues band. This Was, their first album, made some gestures in that direction, obligatory, in a way, for the time (summer of '68); in its differences it was intriguing even as it disappointed. Its inadequacies were unconventional; the essential problem seemed to be a style in search of a subject. Bob Dylan once said that the English know how to pronounce "marvelous" better than Americans, but that they have a little trouble with "raunchy." Sta... | More »

Fleetwood Mac

Then Play On Reprise

Nowadays Fleetwood Mac is stepping out on its own. Tired of being another British blues band, the group has said goodbye to Elmore James and is moving into the pop-rock field. On this album, they fall flat on their faces. Most of the music on the album is slow and wandering — instruments in search of an idea. Of the songs in this category, "My Dream," with its pleasant melody, is the only one that works. The eclecticism is excessive here, most of the songs sounding like warmed-over ear... | More »

November 15, 1969

The Beatles

Abbey Road Apple

Simply, side two does more for me than the whole of Sgt. Pepper, and I'll trade you The Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour and a Keith Moon drumstick for side one. So much for the prelims. "Come Together" is John Lennon very nearly at the peak of his form; twisted, freely-associative, punful lyrically, pinched and somehow a little smug vocally. Breathtakingly recorded (as is the whole album), with a perfect little high-hat-tom-tom run by Ringo providing a clever semi-colon to those eerie ... | 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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