Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (19)

I've discovered a new prejudice--I don't like live albums. That's why I've never gotten into bootlegs, and it's certainly why I allow groups as vital as the Stones or the Who pass from my mind for months or even years. For one thing, live lps rarely contain much new material, and although I thrive on live music--the Who at Forest Hills literally set me up for the album--I believe that life must be painstakingly translated onto vinyl. The visual excitement and concrete community of the club or concert situation cannot be duplicated on a phonograph, the vibrant sound can be reproduced better in a studio , and the spontaneity of performance is ineffective without those other elements and can be approximated at the session anyway. Hence, I will consciously refrain from judging live albums in the CG. The ones I love--Live/Dead and Cheap Thrills--are as much mementoes as great records, with dull or uneven stretches blotted out by a few brilliant moments.

Since most of the records here have been around for a while, I've gained new insights into my cherished ratings, especially as regards the B plus versus the B. B plus records make me play them, even if they contain stuff that is offensive. B records may seem flawless but often languish in my "play again" section for months. In general, I'm feeling deluged with competence and more weary than usual of my ever-expanding record collection, but those A records have been getting me off.

LONG JOHN BALDRY: It Ain't Easy (Warner Bros.) He's tall, and that's all. C [Later]

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: B, S, & T; 4 (Columbia) Aww-shuck! heck. C MINUS

RANDY BURNS AND THE SKY DOG BAND (Mercury) My friend from New Haven says, "Except for '17 Years on Your River,' I don't think I'd like this record if I weren't from New Haven." Exactly. This is the kind of testament every loyal local group ought to leave, with a few excellent songs (I also like "Living in the Country") and lots of memories for all the folks it's entertained. Unfortunately, few local groups ever reach this level of competence, but in any case the economics of the music industry discourage such moderate success--if your appeal isn't big-time, you're lucky to record at all, and if it is, chances are even or better that you're working a dumb variation on somebody else's gimmick. Which is not to suggest that I'd give up one great industry group like Crazy Horse for a dozen Sky Dog Bands, but merely to lament a paradox. B MINUS

CROWBAR: Bad Manors (Paramount) A little something special in the way of what can only be called critical intellect, which must be why the critics have gone overboard for them. After all, "House of Blue Lights" is a fairly bizarro revival, and some of the originals are first-rate rock and roll imitations. But there are experiments that fail, especially "Prince of Peace," a silly bummer. B PLUS [Later: B]

SWAMP DOGG: Rat On! (Elektra) Seekers after soul may have heard about Total Destruction to Your Mind, which Mr. Dogg, who used to be an Atlantic producer named Jerry Williams, put out on the obscure Canyon label a year or two ago--strange creaky voice, stranger sensibility, moving music. Well, seek on, only after really digging that will you be justified in wasting your money on this. C PLUS [Later: B-]

THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS (A&M) Without Gram Parsons, the Burritos are a solid, plaintive country band with rock influences. If you're into niceness . . . C PLUS [Later]

LOTTI GOLDEN (GRT) With proper promotion from a big label, this might take off; her previous lp was promoted by Atlantic and went nowhere, but then, it was terrible. This time, Golden's egregious overstatement registers as a strength--her passion, even if affected, is intense enough to embarrass you. B

JOHN LEE HOOKER: Endless Boogie (ABC) I like this double-lp more than either of two recent Bob Hite efforts. Hooker 'n' Heat (Liberty) features too much unaccompanied Hooker and tends to play on his status of a minor blues relic with hot-off-the-tape studio rapping, although the last side really boogies, as the saying goes. Coast to Coast Blues Band (United Artists) collects 14 20-year-old masters, mostly previously unreleased solo takes. The white audience hasn't much changed Hooker's sound, so the timeliness of Endless Boogie is an unmitigated plus, and producers Bill Szymczyk and Ed Michel get a relaxed groove out of a cast of supporting musicians (Brown, Miller, Davis, Radic, Naftalin) who can boogie Canned Heat right out of the studio. B PLUS

MC5: High Time (Atlantic) At its best ("Sister Anne," "Future Now") this combines the energy of the Elektra album with the control of the Atlantic album and is unequivocally recommended to those who have gotten off on either. Marred by one atrocious fuck-me-babe ballad ("Miss X") and an ill-considered but not altogether unsuccessful jazz climax. A personal favorite. B PLUS [Later]

JIMMY MCGRIFF AND JUNIOR PARKER: The Dudes Doin' Business (Capitol) Parker, a smooth, underrated blues pro, and McGriff, who has a name as a soloist but is better off accompanying, should produce a good record almost automatically. But not when they're burdened with strings, insipid soprano choruses, and hopelessly inappropraite material. Is Junior Parker singing "The Inner Light" supposed to make money in St. Albans? I blame it on producer Sonny Lester. A waste. C PLUS [Later]

JONI MITCHELL: Blue (Reprise) As Joni grooves with the easy-swinging elite-rock sound of California's pop aristocrats, her relation to their (and her own) easy-swinging sexual ethic becomes more complex and problematic. A pioneering exploration of the fitful joys of buy-now, pay-later love. Her best. A MINUS [Later: A]

REDWING (Fantasy) The hoopla on this group is another of those return-of-good-old-numbers, so I must report that I don't think Redwing does a hell of a lot more for Sacramento than Randy Burns does for New Haven. A little, granted, but not a lot. B [Later: B-]

BRINSLEY SCHWARZ: Despite It All (Capitol) This has been panned or ignored, which is too bad--bittersweet country-rock, its strangeness well-concealed, reminiscent of the Byrds of Sweetheart or of the Band. Highlights; "Country Girl," "Love Song." B PLUS [Later]

CARLY SIMON (Elektra) Since affluence is an American condition, I suppose it makes sense not only for the privileged to inflict their sensibilities on us, but for many of use to dig it. Too bad, though. It's ok for "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" to voice a cliché, but not with that calculated preciosity and false air of discovery. If Carly's college friends are already old enough to have alienated their children, her self-discovery program is a little postmature anyway. C MINUS

SIREN: Strange Locomotion (Dandelion/Elektra) A nice English punk chauvinist group, somewhat reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. B [Later: B+]

ROD STEWART: Every Picture Tells a Story (Mercury) Finally, the album that does him justice. Sometimes his band plays out of tune, though, almost as bad as the old Rolling Stones. Tsk tsk. A [Later: A+]

STONEGROUND (Warner Bros.) People exercise themselves calling this a hype, but I've heard a lot worse and am happy to wish them humility and dues. Certainly the aptest use of Sal Valentino since the Beau Brummels were on Autumn--fake-dirty vocals and a couple of very good songs ("Stroke Stand" and Deirdre LaPorte's "Added Attraction"). I wish them humility, dues, and another album. B [Later: B-]

ALICE STUART: Full Time Woman (Fantasy) Clean and well-executed post-folk arrangements and beautiful melodies transform these lyrics into memorable statements of feeling and principle, and Stuart's salutory combination of small voice and independent spirit proves that a woman doesn't have to be macho to be tough. Now who'll provie it for men? B PLUS [Later]

THE WHO: Who's Next (Decca) The best hard rock record in years, all the more surprising because much of it is no more hard rock than Tommy. Townshend has managed to solve some of the problems that perplex John Fogerty, who should listen to Townshend on synthesizer before attempting any more organ noodling. The thinness of the Who's recorded sound has always been a problem, but now the group achieves the same resonant immediacy in the studio that it does live. Even Townshend's out-front political disengagement ("I don't need to fight") seems positive. there is much truth to that line, after all, when it is formulated by someone with demonstrable compassion. A joy. A PLUS [Later: A]

BILL WITHERS: Just As I Am (Sussex) With almost faultless production from Booker T., singer-songwriter Withers has come up with an unusually listenable and likable middlebrow soul record, but he's so obviously headed for the better nightclubs that I can't get my heart into it. B [Later: A-]

Additional Consumer News

Roulette Records, which has had a corner on Brill Building '50s r&b reissues with the Golden Goodies series, is withdrawing it in favor of a new sequence of double lps entitled Echoes of a Rock Era (All Top 10). These collections take nothing from Sun, King, or Specialty and very little from Atlantic, and the first entry, The Early Years, includes three Chuck Berry songs which you ought to have acquired long ago. The Early Years is also missing "In the Still of the Night," but it includes "Earth Angel," "A Thousand Miles Away," "Speedo," "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," and on and on. At 20 songs for $5.98 it is probably as good a value as any of the Atlantic History of Rhythm & Blues series, and even if it isn't as good a value as Columbia's double lp from the King vault, you'll doubtless play it more. The Middle Years is equally fine, and though The Later Years is relatively weak, it does feature the first penis on a record cover since Two Virgins. . . .

Speaking of record covers, if you can find the well-forgotten lp by a group called Freedom, on ABC, in your local well-forgotten bin, it might be good for a laugh. . . .

An AM disc jockey in Connecticut was recently heard lamenting the deplorable surge of popularity for "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" by Mac and Katie Kissoon. What would they think of us overseas, he wondered. "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" is two in Germany and one in England, and you haven't heard anything so delightful since "Sugar Sugar."

Village Voice, Aug. 19, 1971

June 10, 1971 Oct. 14, 1971