Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (5)

It's been so long--almost three months--that I'm not even sure I've got the right number up there. This is Consumer Guide 5, right? Right.

I have lost my sense of continuity. I wonder who's reading. I fantasize about all the college freshmen who will pick up The Voice and wonder about this schmuck who's got the audacity to rate art. Art, for Christ's sake. So let me go into the whole thing once again. If you're already with me, skim or skip the next paragraph.

This is business, folks, not criticism. You have a limited amount of money to spend on records and a limited quantity of data on which to base your allotments. The Consumer Guide is more data. In it I rate 20 records of my own choosing alphabetically by artist on a scale of A to E. (Those of you who want to make non-binding but deeply appreciated suggestions as to what I should rate--or for that matter, how I should rate it--are still welcome). I admit my prejudices--I dislike most rock improvisation, especially white blues, and am suspicious of even the most innocent pretensions, while I am perhaps unnaturally disposed in favor of soul music and anything that reveals a trace of wit--and also admit the inevitable shortcomings of any vertical rating system. Nevertheless, I'm the only Consumer Guide you got, so love me or leave me. In general, I really dig records down to B plus and heartily recommend the rare records to which I grant an A. There are records as low as C minus that may be worth owning if your tastes are very different from mine. But if you like many Ds and Es you might as well stop reading Rock & Roll & altogether--we have nothing in common, intelligence included.


THEO BIKEL: A New Day (Reprise) Sometimes I believe Warner Brothers can do no worng. Well, this is wrong. Producer Richard Perry has done great things for Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Domino, but Bikel is beyond salvation. If he's a second-rate musical comedy star and a fourth-rate folkie, he's a sixth-rate contemporary singer. And I still call him Theodore. D

THE BLUE VELVET BAND: Sweet Moments With the Blue Velvet Band (Warner Bros.) Nevertheless, Warner Brothers rarely disappoints. This is an excellent bluegrass/country-western/folk record by some commercial folkies (ex-Kweskin, ex-Tarriers). Produced by Erik Jacobsen. Too safe and slick, but beautifully done. B PLUS

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND: Trout Mask Replica (Straight) I find it impossible to give this record an A because it is just too weird. But I'd like to. Very great played at high volume when you're feeling shitty, because you'll never feel as shitty as this record. B PLUS

THE CHECKMATES, LTD.: Love All We Have to Give (A&M) We never quite knew the word for Phil Spector, but now we do: he was vulgar. Magnificently, unashamedly vulgar. So I ask myself: what could be more vulgar than the 20-minute "Hair Anthology Suite" that occupies one side of this lp? The answer is nothing, but somehow the old verve is lacking. Spector always excelled at singles, not albums, and that's part of the problem. But it's more than that. Except for the great "Black Pearl," this is too ornate rhythmically, and in this age of super-production the instrumentation doesn't communicate the old outrageousness. Too bad about Phil. I'm gonna miss him a lot. C PLUS

JERRY CORBITT: Corbitt (Polydor) The Youngbloods have been sounding awfully effete lately, and now we know why. Corbitt took most of their balls when he left. This is fine, tough, and funny, and only occasionally pretentious or precious. It runs slightly short (29:17) but since the production values are exceptionally tight I won't dock it a notch. B PLUS

THE FIRESIGN THEATRE: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (Columbia) This is the only comedy record (except for Tuli Kupferberg's Pop Poems) that I can imagine myself buying. Unlike Firesign's puerile first album, this is close to a work of genius, great high or straight but especially high. Listen to the Nick Danger side first; the title side is so far out it lacks credibility alone. A PLUS

FLAMIN GROOVIES: Supersnazz (Epic) This is some kind of cross between good-bad rock and roll and "The Sheik of Araby," with just the kind of tongue-in-cheek aesthetic distance for which I have an unnatural weakness. The first three cuts on the first side give a representative taste. B PLUS

CAROLYN FRANKLIN: Baby Dynamite! (RCA Victor) Not bad, really, with some good original songs, including one, "The Boxer," that might have been a hit if RCA knew anything about pushing soul. In fact, considering that it's on RCA, which hasn't had a hit soul performer since Sam Cooke, almost a successful record, especially when compared with . . . C PLUS

ERMA FRANKLIN: Soul Sister (Brunswick) This one, on a reputable soul label, with a singer who has already proved herself with the original--some would even say definitive--version of "Piece of My Heart," is a depressing failure, with a safe and sane selection of tunes ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "For Once in My Life") and totally unremarkable production. Great title, though. C MINUS

HEDGE & DONNA: All in the Friendly Colours (Capitol) An engaging folk duo record. Includes a beautiful Jackson Browne, "There Came a Question." B MINUS

JUDY HENSKE & JERRY YESTER: Farewell Aldebaran (Straight) Lyrics by Henske, music by Yester, production by Yester and Zal Yanovsky. Too ambitious, but Henske has some voice and it almost works anyway. Listen to "Snowblind." B PLUS

KING CRIMSON: In the Court of the Crimson King (Atlantic) The plus is because Peter Townshend likes it. This can also be said of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Beware the forthcoming hype--this is ersatz shit. D PLUS

THE MARX BROS.: The Original Voice Tracks From Their Greatest Movies (Decca) This is the sort of record you buy out of duty and then never play, not because it's a comedy record but because it isn't funny out of context. Salted with annoying music and little comments like "their target was the establishment" or "he socks it to the head of a university." For Marx Bros. freaks only. C PLUS

THE MASTERS OF DECEIT: Hensley's Electric Jazz Band & Synthetic Symphonette (Vanguard) I started out liking this a whole lot, but it's playing now and I can't understand why. It's Unipak to boot. The hell with it--C for memories. C MINUS

PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC (Columbia) The best white blues group--because the singer is black, naturally. The first side rocks like hell and despite some nonsense with drums and '30s jazz arrangements, even the second can be played over and over. A pleasant surprise. A MINUS

SANTANA (Columbia) Just want to register my unreconstructed opposition to the methedrine school of American music. A lot of noise. C MINUS

BOZ SCAGGS (Atlantic) Duane Allman's guitar offsets the fact that Jann Wenner was associated with the production, and Scaggs himself comes through as a solid, pleasant, soulful white boy. A nice tribute to American music. B PLUS

SHA NA NA: Rock & Roll Is Hear to Stay! (Kama Sutra) I am not an ecstatic fan of Sha Na Na's famous live act--I think it is a mistake to parody Elvis Presley, because he's too good, and that mistake throws the whole put-on into question--but at least it is spirited and funny. The record is dull. It is as if Enoch Light had recorded 14 of your favorite all-time rock and roll hits. Sometimes these songs were stupid, but they always had life. What can I say? Not only was Sonny James's version of "Young Love" better than Sha Na Na's--so was Tab Hunter's. E

SMITH: A Group Called Smith (Dunhill) Three Dog Night with a girl. Vocals and arrangements not bad, selection unimaginative. Their version of the Zombies' "Tell Her No" is the only thing on the album I might want to hear in a month. (Three months later: was I ever right.) C PLUS

TEN YEARS AFTER: Sssh (Deram) I should like this record, by a group I have always admired, more than I do. It has a lot of nice original fake blues songs and Alvin Lee's usual distinction on vocals and guitar. But in fact I never listen to it. B

Village Voice, Dec. 11, 1969


Sept. 18, 1969 Jan. 15, 1970