Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
Books
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
NAJP Blog
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

Swamp Dogg

  • Rat On! [Elektra, 1971] B-
  • Gag a Maggott [Stone Dogg, 1973] A-
  • Have You Heard This Story? [Island, 1975] B+
  • I'm Not Selling Out/I'm Buying In [Takoma, 1981] B-
  • The Best of Swamp Dogg [War Bride, 1982] A-
  • I Called for a Rope and They Threw Me a Rock [S.D.E.G., 1989] B+
  • Surfin' in Harlem [Volt, 1991] ***
  • Best of 25 Years: F*** the Bomb, Stop the Drugs [Pointblank, 1995] A-
  • The Re-Invention of Swamp Dogg [S.D.E.G., 2000] Dud
  • If I Ever Kiss It . . . He Can Kiss It Goodbye! [S.D.E.G., 2002] Choice Cuts
  • Resurrection [S.D.E.G., 2007] **
  • Give 'Em as Little as You Can . . . as Often as You Have to . . . or . . . A Tribute to Rock 'n' Roll [S-Curve, 2009] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rat On! [Elektra, 1971]
Soul-seekers like myself are moderately mad for the obscure Total Destruction to Your Mind, which Mr. Dogg, formerly Atlantic producer Jerry Williams, put out on the obscure Canyon label a couple of years ago--strange, powerful, creaky voice, stranger sensibility, demented music. But the dementia on this moderately mad sequel seems laid on for appearance's sake. I'll be seeking on. B-

Gag a Maggott [Stone Dogg, 1973]
Thematically, this seems to be a fairly conventional soul LP--great cover of "In the Midnight Hour" and lots of love and money in the lyrics. Granted, "Wife Sitter" is as nasty as Jody songs get, mostly because Dogg plays the cuckold-making Jody with such relish. And to call your sweetest love song "I Couldn't Pay for What I Got Last Night" is to combine the two themes more intimately than most soul men consider necessary. Nor do most soul men drive so hard--Ivan Olander's drums, Little Beaver's guitar, even the horns of the Swamp Dogg Band maintain a fierce momentum that's not conventional at all. A-

Have You Heard This Story? [Island, 1975]
More or less totally destructive. The one-sided concept is hypochondria--what's the last soul album to use the word "hyperventilation"? Side two leads off with the singer catching his wife in bed with another woman. By the way, I've finally figured out what his voice sounds like--an Afro-American air raid siren. B+

I'm Not Selling Out/I'm Buying In [Takoma, 1981]
One problem with pinning your hopes on eccentrics is that they're hard to tell from cranks. He's right about El Salvador and baby formula, wrong about abortion and loud dance music, boring about natural foods, the media, etc. And only when Esther Phillips pitches in does his beloved soul music get over. B-

The Best of Swamp Dogg [War Bride, 1982]
This is oldish stuff, I think--nothing from 1975's Island swandive or 1981's Takoma sunklikeastone, six of the nine originals from 1969's legendary Total Destruction to Your Mind, a couple from 1973's deep-fried Gag a Maggott, and there my research must end (except to note that "Please Let Me Kiss You Goodbye"'s velvet bell-bottoms are definitive early-'70s), because the only person I'm sure (pretty sure) owns every Swamp Dogg album is Jerry Williams himself. But oldish doesn't mean dated. These days, the man claims he composes twenty or thirty songs a day while driving his cab, and you can bet they're very much like these--more political, not as prime. You know he's still detailing the marriage wars with embarrassing pungency, still hearing a Stax-Volt-cum-Malaco four-four with blues obbligatos, still dreaming of the glory he deserves. Always will, I bet--dream about it, deserve it. A-

I Called for a Rope and They Threw Me a Rock [S.D.E.G., 1989]
Worth finding for his liner notes alone ("Why does jury duty pay more than my job and why is it the only Joy I know is a dishwashing detergent?"), an unvanquished professional and hopeless eccentric goes sane. His voice won't fend off nuclear attack anymore, but from Shirley & Lee to the Bellamy Brothers, from black history to rap, his vision of soul remains unique, and also remains a vision of soul. Sure "We Need a Revolution" is wordslinging--but not the wordslinging of a simp or a phony. B+

Surfin' in Harlem [Volt, 1991]
Afrocentricity with a middle-aged spread ("I've Never Been to Africa [And It's Your Fault]," "Appelle-Moi Noir") ***

Best of 25 Years: F*** the Bomb, Stop the Drugs [Pointblank, 1995]
The title cut is brand-new, and so is the vintage 1955 theme song for his wife Yolanda, "Pledging My Love." The rest aren't. But like most Jerry Williams fans, I go way back with the guy, and damned if I can find half these songs in my shelves. Just as a for instance, where the hell is "I've Never Been to Africa (And It's Your Fault)," which sums up his worldview if anything does? So I guess the point is that nothing does--he's not only sui generis but completely contradictory, like most people, few of whom would think of writing 400 songs about it. By now his daring soul-rock hybrid is a studio convention, his big piercing voice arguably monochromatic. But between his wild takes on the ins and outs of the monogamy he lives for and his classic and cockamamy mix of political radicalism and cultural conservatism, this Afrocentric integrationist has written more interesting songs cruising in his cab than most tunesmiths manage in their luxury suites. Consistent? Never. In print? For the moment. Scarf it up now. A-

The Re-Invention of Swamp Dogg [S.D.E.G., 2000] Dud

If I Ever Kiss It . . . He Can Kiss It Goodbye! [S.D.E.G., 2002]
"Pass the Sugar" Choice Cuts

Resurrection [S.D.E.G., 2007]
Old soul tragically widowed, triumphantly remarried, and madder than ever ("In Time of War Who Wins," "They Crowned an Idiot King"). **

Give 'Em as Little as You Can . . . as Often as You Have to . . . or . . . A Tribute to Rock 'n' Roll [S-Curve, 2009]
Total destruction to your golden oldies ("Ain't That a Shame," "Heartbreak Hotel"). **

See Also