Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Billy Swan: The Best of Billy Swan [Epic/Legacy, 1998]
He barely happened anyway, and he wouldn't have come close if fellow pros hadn't thought he was a nice guy--e.g. Elvis, e.g. Kris, e.g. Clyde McPhatter, who had a 1962 smash with a ditty Swan wrote in high school. Much later there was the disarming "I Can Help," which went to No. 1 just before "Kung Fu Fighting" in 1974. Like Carl Douglas, this mild-mannered rockabilly then dropped from pop sight, but unlike Douglas, he was prepared to pursue his muse where he always had, twixt Memphis and Nashville. Numerous minor country hits ensued, along with at least four albums whose big heart and simple tunes showed up Nashville careerists and "outlaws" for the smarm merchants they were. With his adenoidal pitch and nice guy's morality, he wouldn't stand a chance in Nashville today. With his nice guy's empathy, he wouldn't cut much of a figure in alt-country either. Celebrate his moment. A-