Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Time for a reminder that the Consumer Guide makes no pretense of being objective, whatever that could mean. It's just an objectification of my prejudices, an attempt to predict how often the records that come my way will actually be played for pleasure, with the B plusses and up standing a good chance of reaching my turntable fairly often, and the C plusses and below standing a fairly good chance of oblivion. I try to keep these prejudices clear. Call them adult counter-culture with reservations. I really do kinda like white funk boogie music, and even though I think the worst of it is almost as awful as the worst of anything else, I feel more confident judging grades of bad in music I listen to a lot than in music I find mostly intolerable. So beware a little.

Ashton, Gardner, Dyke & Co.: What a Bloody Long Day It's Been (Capitol). Not your average record, since some of it is bloody awful, but at its best--the title tune and a lament for this group's long lost pre-BeatIe Liverpool days, "Ballad of the Remo Four," which sounds like the best of Doug Sahm and Boz Scaggs in one cut--it's bloody terrific. B [Later: B-]

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Trucker's Favorites (Paramount). Cody's first LP was a dud, but this one is a perfect example of how the group takes off from the best of rockabilly. It rocks and wails with almost all the feeling and tightness of the real thing without obscuring the limitations of country and rock-and-roll nostalgia. Definitive cut: "Old Kentucky Hills of Tennessee." A MINUS [Later: B+]

Alice Cooper: School's Out (Warner Bros.). I've been trying to figure this one out for months. As usual, it's got some of the rawest and cleverest hard rock ever recorded--the title hit is a masterpiece. It's also got a lot of soundtrack, and this part of it is lifted--with attribution, yet--from West Side Story. This bothered me until I admitted that as a middle-class adolescent I liked West Side Story quite a bit, and anyway, who better to steal a show tune than a showman like Alice? Still, even the best soundtrack--this is a lot more engaging than A Clockwork Orange--gets boring pretty fast. I wonder if an album of straight Cooper-rock would drive us out of our skulls. B PLUS [Later: B-]

John Fahey: Of Rivers and Religion (Reprise). Fahey is immersed in country blues, from which he derives his own unique guitar music--eerie, funny, stately and incredibly calm. The best tranquilizing music I know, because instead of palming off a fantasy of sodden deliverance it seems to speak of real reserves of self-control inside the American psyche. Not for everyone, but I think this is his best. A

Al Green (Bell). If Al decides to turn into Otis Redding after all, we may look back at this repackaging of his earliest recordings as the beginning of a great stylist. If he decides to turn into Diana Ross, as seems at least possible, we will forget it quickly enough. B MINUS

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play the Blues (Atco). Most attempts to broaden the blues audience fail miserably, as Wells' rhythm-and-blues albums attest, but this one is a triumph, better even than The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions. Sharp, tastefully hyped-up production by Tom Dowd, Ahmet Ertegun and Eric Clapton, who also plays rhythm and bottleneck behind Guy. Dr. John plays piano here and there, and the J. Geils Band backs up two cuts produced by Michael Cuscuna, including "This Old Fool," which is going to be the single, and ought to be. Hurray. A [Later: A-]

Ronnie Hawkins: Rock and Roll Resurrection (Monument). If all he had had were memories, Ronnie would rather drive a truck, too, but he also has a little extra cachet as an ex-Bandleader, not to mention a lot of money. The third in a series of recorded throwbacks is imbued with just enough fun to appeal to nostalgiacs. Me, I'll stick with the originals, as usual. C PLUS

The Hollies: Distant Light (Epic). Professional old rock and rollers are doing somersaults over the hit, "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," which is one of the catchier items on the AM these days, but no more. The same goes for the album. The Hollies have always been slick cats, and this is the best of their recent work, but the endemic insubstantiality isn't becoming any more attractive as they push 30. B [Later: C+]

Ike & Tina: Feel Good (United Artists). In which, Tina finds her more-than-match in all-night bikers, gentle pimps and other wonders of nature--what, no laid back bandleaders?--then demonstrates that equality is more than Writing Your Own Songs. B MINUS

Millie Jackson (Spring). The single ("Ask Me What You Want") sounded great on the radio, but it doesn't make it in the living room. As for the album... C PLUS [Later: B+]

Melton, Levy and the Dey Brothers (Columbia). Barry Melton, once the energetic young comer behind Country Joe, has done a classic Marin County cool-out. He always loved soul music, so now he makes laid-back soul music. I prefer Gamble and Huff. A sly, plaintive road song, "Highway 1," wasn't written by anyone in the band, and the rest varies between pleasant and unremarkable. Melton's previous solo album was tasteless, but at least it had some passion. C

Professor Longhair: New Orleans Piano (Atlantic). Thirteen boogie blues (from sessions in 1949 and 1953) by one of Dr. John's earliest mentors, a local legend named Roy Byrd. The kind of record that's nice to have around because you're not likely to own anything remotely like it, but the liner notes make you wonder why Atlantic didn't trouble to obtain rights to all the stuff on other labels. B PLUS

Martin Mull (Capricorn). Firesign Theater/Cheech & Chong equals Randy Newman/Martin Mull. B MINUS

The O'Jays: Back Stabbers (Philadelphia International). The fabulous single is on the wrong side of the uneven-as-usual Gamble-Huff LP, and one arranger, Thom Bell, is responsible for most of the best cuts. If the next single is "992 Arguments"--and I bet it will be--invest in the two 45s and put your savings towards a big-hole changer. B MINUS [Later: B+]

Ramatam (Atlantic). Like Birtha, this is a heavy group with female lead guitarist. Lester Bangs, world's leading connoisseur of schlock-rock, thinks this is great and Birtha is horrible. I think this is less horrible, that's all. Still, the same strained, stupid lyrics you never want to listen to anyway, and programmed high energy. Plus some very extraneous woodwind breaks and heavy licks hot off the lathe. Good old (or new) rock and roll it ain't. C

Valerie Simpson (Tamla). Look what Valerie has done--discovered that Motown is only plastic. I was so happy believing it was human, or something for people to dream on. The previous two sentences paraphrase one of Simpson's songs, called "Genius." Genius, isn't she? No. C MINUS

John David Souther (Asylum). In a club, this person whines like any other acoustic singer-songwriter, but backed by Los Angeles' finest he whines like a real country-rock singer. That is, he sounds insipid until you listen close, when you discover that he isn't even that nice. C PLUS

Ike Turner: Blues Roots (United Artists). Ike has always been capable of some flashy guitar, and his affectless baritone is good for one moderately interesting LP. B [Later: B-]

Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan: The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie (Reprise). They've learned their lesson well, ripping off riffs from everybody--what can you say when two ex-Mothers steal a melody from a Graham Nash protest song?--and filtering it down into the finest pasteurized mush. For some reason, it sounds a lot like the Turtles. A charming exercise in the deliberate throwback category, a true artyfact. Recommended: the Hawaiian novelty, "Nikki Hoi." B PLUS

Wolfman Jack (Wooden Nickel). An out-and-out rip-off, which is fine--the Wolfman has always been more extreme than human dee-jays--but still costs you money. Remember, the radio is free. E

Creem, December 1972

November 1972 March 1973