Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Coasters

  • Their Greatest Recordings: The Early Years [Atco, 1971]
  • Young Blood [Atlantic, 1982]
  • Thumbin' a Ride [Edsel, 1985] B+
  • 50 Coastin' Classics [Rhino, 1992] A+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Their Greatest Recordings: The Early Years [Atco, 1971]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]

Young Blood [Atlantic, 1982]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Thumbin' a Ride [Edsel, 1985]
Alone among the great '50s vocal groups, the Coasters didn't sing protosoul--didn't invest pop sentiment with spiritual transport. Instead, Leiber & Stoller crafted teen mini-sagas that exploited the cartoonish edge of Carl Gardner's sharp tenor and Bobby Nunn's (later Dub Jones's) broad bass. Yet performance--which for Leiber & Stoller also signified production--can carry the music when the composition isn't at its familiar peak of idiomatic brilliance. Except for the delectably prefeminist "Lady Like" and the macho-busting "Three Cool Cats," the lyrics of this arcana aren't fully worthy of the canon, but "Wait a Minute" and "Gee Golly" get by on vocal effects alone. B+

50 Coastin' Classics [Rhino, 1992]
They were great comedians, but they were also the most musically accomplished vocal group of the '50s. Their ensemble precision cuts the Moonglows, even the Clovers, obviating the need for a takeover guy like Frankie Lymon or James Brown. Credit tenor Carl Gardner, baritone Billy Guy, and bass men Dub Jones and Bobby Nunn, but grant authorship to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, control freaks among Atlantic's mere perfectionists--Stoller used to write King Curtis's sax breaks, for God's sake. Leiber takes off from Louis Jordan no less than Chuck Berry does; though his hyperrealism is more calculated, he brings the same bemused, admiring outsider's eye to the details and universals of black urban life that Berry brought to bobbysoxers. And Stoller's piano is invariably the best thing on records that get the most out of musicians as diverse as Barney Kessel, Mickey Baker, Willie Dixon, Panama Francis, and a young guitarist named Phil Spector, who would live to take what he learned here too far. A+

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