Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (9)

I received the following letter the other day:

"Again no 'Rock & Roll &.' Your fans out here in Oklahoma City are mighty distraught. At least two miles to the out-of-town newstand just to pick up The Village Voice to find out what records to buy down at Griffin's Music Box and here it is the fourth or fifth week with no guidance. Well, we just throw away the rest of the paper in disgust. We look for your writing everywhere but as you can guess there aren't too many groovy magazines around here; every once in a while we find Fab Teen at Aedelman's Drugs but I guess you don't write for them since we've never seen anything by you in there. Anyway, if you've stopped writing for the Voice, please write us so we won't have to walk out there every Tuesday (it comes pretty late). Also, won't you please write about the new single by Emma Bovary, `Drown in My Own Tears' that I think was originally made by Joe Cocker. Thanks."

And it was signed--typed, actually--Emily Sue Bowman and Elizabeth Stark.

Well, ESB and ES, never fear. I just can't quit. It's just that my amplifier was out of commission for three weeks (see below). Very disorienting. I got it back about a week ago and immersed myself in an orgy of shit, stacking records on the changer 10 at a time and transferring them to the sell pile with more than my usual alacrity. Even so, there was a lot of good stuff in there. I hope all of the A records listed below don't put a strain on your pocketbook--I'd rather keep you in dope than Old Man Griffin in booze. If the music is running down, as all my hip friends insist, they've kept it a secret from you, me, and Griffin. True enough, a lot of the best comes from standbys who've been around years ago. But their inventiveness seems almost undiminished. In addition, we're getting more inventive ourselves. If you feel adventurous--and if Griffin is stocking them--you ought to give Terry Riley and Tony Williams a try. Not to mention Cleanhead.

The usual strictures apply here. Theoretically, my rating go all the way down to E, but anything below B probably isn't worth your trouble. The key to my system is the B plus rating, which means something like: "Not unequivocally recommended, but damned interesting for those in the mood." Below that are various levels of competence, incompetence, and insult; above that, excellence.

ERIC ANDERSEN (Warner Brothers) New York post-folk trivia. B MINUS

CHICAGO (Columbia) Duke Ellington never got away with an extended work for horns and meaningfulness. What, then, makes James William Guercio and the self-designated revolutionaries who are his cohorts think they can? Sterile and stupid. D PLUS

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: Willy and the Poorboys (Fantasy) Somehow I have never bothered to state my almost unqualified admiration for John Fogerty. Creedence's ecumenical achievement is almost unbelievable: this is the only group since the Beatles and the Stones to turn out hit after hit without losing any but the most perverse hip music snobs. With this in mind, Fogerty's subtlety as a political songwriter (have you ever really dug the words of "Fortunate Son"?) comes as no surprise. This is everything a good rock album should be--the best they've done yet, I think. A PLUS

JOHN FRED AND HIS PLAYBOY BAND: Love My Soul (Uni) I miss the fine hand of Andrew Bernard. B [Later: B-]

ALLEN GINSBERG: William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (Verve/Forecast). People have always been tempted to put Blake to music--the Fugs used to do it, for example. This is the definitive antidote to that temptation. Ginsberg's singing is just like Blake's poetry: crude, human, touching, and superb. Tricky melodies and virtuoso singing would ruin the material. Instead, Ginsberg and his friends have accomplished a seeming impossibility: they have elevated it. A collaboration of genius. A [Later: A-]

GREAT SPECKLED BIRD (Ampex) Exactly the skillful and vapid product you would expect from a country-rock band led by Ian and Sylvia. C PLUS

THE GUESS WHO: American Woman (RCA Victor) Despite the unfortunate (na´ve but despicable) male chauvinism of the title cut (a convention in rock which deserves far more attention than anyone, myself included, has given it) this is a strong hard-rock record. Its rhythms are a little wooden, and one song, "Talisman," employs the fatuous poetasting that characterizes the Guess Who at its worst, but the physical drive of the record is completely uncompromising. AM fans rejoice. B PLUS [Later: B]

GUN (Epic) This was released last summer and will probably reach the 89-cent racks soon. Well, one cut, "Race with the Devil," is worth 89 cents all by itself, and the general level is far above that of your normal forgotten hard-rock lp. B

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND: Changing Horses (Elektra) The usual magic bullshit, often tedious but full of wondrous surprises. B PLUS

VAN MORRISON: Moondance (Warner Brothers) Morrison has finally fulfilled himself. Forget "Astral Weeks"--this is a brilliant, catchy, poetic, and completely successful lp. A [Later: A+]

RANDY NEWMAN: 12 Songs (Reprise) In every respect--composition, arrangement, production, performance--this is the finest record of the year, much more accessible than the great-but-weird album that preceded it. Buy this record. Buy it. A PLUS

NILSSON: Nilsson Sings Newman (RCA Victor) For those benighted who still believe the original can't sing, here is a sweeter version. Not as dynamic musically, though--mostly, just Nilsson singing and Newman accompanying him on piano. It runs quite short: 25.17. B PLUS

WILSON PICKETT: Right On (Atlantic) Pickett seems to be tempering that pricky masculinity with a rather attractive (and honestly rooted) gospel compassion. Unfortunately, this softens the disintinctive quality that makes him, well, almost great. I feel a more essential Pickett can be found on his two previous albums. This is solid, though. B PLUS [Later: B]

TERRY RILEY: A Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia) I'm not supposed to do "classical" releases, but I think it's worth mentioning the title side of this has to be a fair approximation of the music of the spheres. A MINUS

JOHN B. SEBASTIAN (Reprise) Sebastian is a master, of course, a superb singer and composer, and this record is beautifully played and produced, but the second side tends to drag. Maybe I was just over-anticipating, but I feel vaguely, just vaguely, let down. A MINUS [Later: B]

JOE SIMON (Buddah) This sweet soul album, recorded years ago, has been buried in the plethora of Buddah's Vee-Jay re-releases, and since Simon hasn't achieved the following he deserves even among soul fans, that's too bad. Recommended to the curious. Note: it only runs 27.59. B MINUS

JAMES TAYLOR: Sweet Baby James (Warner Brothers) I have solved the Taylor perplex, which seems to revolve around whether James was better when he was hanging around MacDougal Street, or when he was recording for Apple, or now. My answer: equally mediocre all three times. Taylor's vehement following bewilders me; as near as I can discern, he is just another poetizing simp. Even the production is conventional. For true believers only. C PLUS [Later: B-]

LEON THOMAS: Spirits Known and Unknown (Flying Dutchman) The subtitle, "New Vocal Frontiers," is accurate. Thomas is the only really interesting jazz singer to have appeared in a very long time. He even yodels. B PLUS

EDDIE "CLEANHEAD" VINSON: The Original Cleanhead (BluesTime) An excellent Bob Thiele blues resurrection. I've never heard Vinson before, though I've certainly heard of him, but this is an impressive introduction: one of the cleanest and nastiest blues voices you'll ever hear. His alto sax work is less exciting, but passable. B PLUS [Later: A-]

THE TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME: Emergency! (Polydor) Williams is probably the best drummer in the world. He worked with Miles Davis for many years, and then split off to form a group of his own. This music is basically jazz, but heavily influenced by the electronic distortions of rock. I hope to write about Williams some more sometime. Meanwhile, this double-lp is a stunner. A

Additional Consumer News

Does anyone out there really believe the Beatles have broken up? Does it matter? Well, maybe. WMCA has been playing advance selections from the forthcoming solo lp by Paulie. They are very, very fey. Meanwhile, Lennon-Spector's "Instant Karma" is an exciting extension for both talents. So even though Paul has been the exciting creator for the past few years, things seem to be switching again. Which in turn indicates that Paul will rerereredeem himself some day, too. Maybe the Orientalists are right after all about everything having its cycle. Christ. Speaking of whom and which, Mother Mary, I want to say that (Paul's "Let It Be") is one of the most skillful and evil songs ever to reach the airways. There will be an answer only if we all make one.

My amplifier, a Kenwood TK-140X, purchased at Peerless, shorted out after less than four months of use. Repair took 23 days. I rented a substitute for a week, but at $25 per figured that was an over-indulgence of my addiction. I don't know much about amplifiers, really--never had much luck with my Scott, either--but I did want to record my indignation.

Kent Records in Los Angeles has been doing a lot of blues reissuing. Volume Two of Kent's Archive Series, Memphis Blues, is first-rate (includes some early Howling Wolf that sounds good to me) and the others in that series are at worst interesting. Watch out for Kent's B. B. King stuff, however. They have a lot of cuts in the can which they will release at will, so that even though King did all of his great work for Kent, new records will be unreliable. (Example: The Incredible Soul of B. B. King.)

Village Voice, Apr. 23, 1970

Feb. 26, 1970 May 28, 1970