Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Steppenwolf

  • Monster [Dunhill, 1969] B+
  • Early Steppenwolf [Dunhill, 1969] C
  • Steppenwolf 7 [Dunhill, 1970] C-
  • For Ladies Only [Dunhill, 1971] C+
  • Sixteen Great Performances [ABC, 1975] C+
  • All Time Greatest Hits [MCA, 2000] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Monster [Dunhill, 1969]
An excellent comeback from two bad albums, marred only by the lyrics. John Kay's lyrics have always been awkward and preachy, in a fairly endearing way, but he had the sense to keep them fuzzed behind, so that they had to be discovered. This time he is out front with the protest, and sometimes the result is very good protest music instead of something better. B+

Early Steppenwolf [Dunhill, 1969]
Despite the presence of some good and previously unreleased songs, this is an indulgence. It includes the 19-minute version of "The Pusher," which must have been a mind-blower in 1966 but ain't no more. John Kay and the Sparrow (Columbia CS 9758) features essentially the same personnel and is better. My copy was scratchy, by the way. C

Steppenwolf 7 [Dunhill, 1970]
Laying back hasn't been good for them, and neither has getting heavy. Their way lies somewhere in between--which come to think of it is also how it is for the rest of us. C-

For Ladies Only [Dunhill, 1971]
These fellows certainly have lost their hip aura, and their bid for the feminist vote here is likely to be undercut by, let's see, titles like "Jaded Strumpet" (nor to mention "For Ladies Only"), the customized Penismobile in the gatefold, and the vagina dentata--denture atop shapely gams--from which the band recoils on the enclosed poster. Too bad, since the title tune does lay out rock and roll misogyny with the kind of dumb, well-meaning insight I've always liked in John Kay. Wish he had come up with a few more dumb, well-crafted hooks as well. C+

Sixteen Great Performances [ABC, 1975]
Comprising the same material as Sixteen Greatest Hits (1973), which added two cuts to the first side and three to the second of Steppenwolf Gold (1971), this doesn't concentrate unduly on Steppenwolf (1968) and/or Steppenwolf the Second (1968), and will probably placate the leather-clad young man whose chopper you were just so importunate as to collide with. But for yourself, stick to Steppenwolf and Steppenwolf the Second, from back when Gabriel Mekler could still force John Kay to come on like a hard-rock monster. C+

All Time Greatest Hits [MCA, 2000]
Though they named heavy metal, sort of, they were more hard rock, in both the principled '60s sense and the prole '90s sense. Rather than swamps of pomp a la Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, even Blue Cheer, their two 1968 albums were floods of sludge. They had tunes, lyrics, verve; they had a good beat and you could wheelie to them. Never as slick as his sunglasses after dark, German-born, Canadian-raised, r&b-loving, legally blind ex-folkie John Kay soon grew full of himself, in a sincere, pot-smoking way. But 30 years later his '70s FM staples pack more punch than the half of the debut this revision of 1975's Sixteen Great Performances leaves in CDNow. They also pack more punch than the lesser leavings of another hard rocker with a pop knack and a best-of out, Alice Cooper. Not only is Kay nicer--the gauche "For Ladies Only" isn't hip to the feminist jive like "Only Women Bleed," but it sure tries harder--he has a better drummer. Jerry Edmonton, died in a car wreck. He rocked. A-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]