Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

This project was conceived when Rhino/Solid Smoke, by far the biggest US reissue operation, mailed out a very large box very late last year, bollocking my faint-hearted plans for yet another Christmas best-of roundup. A special best-of Consumer Guide was proposed instead, but as I procrastinated the records kept piling up. Good, sez I, divide 'em at 1970 and do two, thus increasing your hourly pay rate to something approaching minimum wage. But the oldies installment ran aground on impending parenthood, so here we are with this monster, one Christmas too late. I make no claims of currency or completeness--a few of these LPs date back not just to '84 but '83, and although I've reviewed some others, for manageability sake I've concentrated on domestics, which any oldies maven will claim ain't where the action is. Nevertheless, I've found 30-and-counting B-plus-or-betters by single artists, with a few multiple-artist compilations and lots of also-rans and straight reissues noted in Additional Consumer News. And this doesn't even include the Atlantic repackage, which I'll deal with briefly below and at more length in a Riff I'm fully confident of finishing before Christmas '86.


ROY ACUFF: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia) The Opry fixture and publishing mogul is well-served by a series format that combines a few very famous songs with half-forgotten hits and unreleased vaultorama of varying quality. He's granted 14 cuts instead of the series' usual 10 or 12, and because he relies on tried and true folk melodies, the new stuff gets friendly real fast. In fact, although John Morthland recommends the Time-Life box, this is all the Acuff I need. Not unlike the Kingston Trio, the Smoky Mountain Boys were folkie populizers who turned sentimental expression into sentimental entertainment. An education in mountain sensibility (and less obtrusively professional than Greatest Hits, which is less obtrusive than Acuff's label hopping post '40s remakes), the sampling is genuine Americana for sure. But Americana that's conscious of its own Americanness never hits home like the real thing. A MINUS

BROOK BENTON: It's Just a Matter of Time: His Greatest Hits (Mercury) Roughing his velvet voice with just the slightest hint of alluvial mud as Clyde Otis's strings swooped and punched, Benton was rock and roll's answer to Nat King Cole or black music's answer to Pat Boone. Either way he filled a need, and he wrote most of his own tunes, too. Though this selection from his 22 r&b hits (among them two unincluded number one Dinah Washington duets) is skimpier than there's any reason for, I'll take him over Lou Rawls anyday. B PLUS

BLIND BLAKE: Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Fingerpicker (Yazoo) Blake shows no genre loyalties on these 28 (out of 79) 1926-32 "race" sides. He's an entertainer who's always willing to please, and though his blues are sad and sometimes touching, they never twist you, words and vocals are mostly serviceable, and the instrumental virtuosity treasured by blues scholars is technical rather than expressive. Of course, one reason his rather monotonous tunes go down so pleasantly at this late date is the deft rhythms he plays against them. The other is his willingness to please; such mild gimmicks as guest vocalist, patter lyrics, and novelty expostulations may have been record business cliches at the time, but they sure sound fresh now. A MINUS

GARY U.S. BONDS: The Best of Gary "U.S." Bonds (MCA) Listen to his Miami Steve-produced '80s stuff and you hear undistinguished Bobby Womack cum Bruce Springsteen. Listen to his Jerry Williams-produced late-'60s stuff and you hear undistinguished Otis Redding cum Swamp Dogg. But listen to his Frank Guida-produced early-'60s hits and you almost can't hear him at all--Guida was so inept in the studio that Bonds comes in at about the same level as the crowd noises and Gene "Daddy G" Barges's saxophone. Thus he fell into the quintessential twist singles, party records which convinced America that a rather tame and silly dance was the gateway to orgyland. The more you listen, the more Bonds's undistinguished Lloyd Price cum Little Richard fades into the ambiance. But the ambience is a gas. A MINUS

GENE CHANDLER: Stroll on With the Duke (Solid Smoke) How bitterly you bewail Chandler's relative obscurity depends on how unconditionally you credit Curtis Mayfield's genius. Me, I consider the Chicago sound second-city and don't find Chandler especially adept at negotiating the turns of the seven Mayfield songs on this admirably consistent early-'60s collection. Only the live "Rainbow '65" stands out like Jerry Butler's "Bless Our Love" or Bernice Williams's "Festival of Love" and "The Big Lie." And lest you suspect otherwise, Chandler never came close to topping "Duke of Earl." B PLUS

THE COASTERS: Thumbin' a Ride (Edsel) 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 PLUS

BOBBY DAY: The Best of Bobby Day (Rhino) To my surprise, this Chuck Berry look-alike and birds-and-bees sound-alike qualifies as another minor LA r&b novelty auteur. His original "Little Bitty Pretty One" may not cut Thurston Harris's, but his original "Over and Over" deserves to outlast Dave Clark's and when he got desperate for a lyrical hook sometimes he came up with a "Teenage Philosopher" or a "Mr. & Mrs. Rock and Roll." As you might expect, he longed to escape his unserious pigeonhole. As you might also expect, his voice was built for fun. B PLUS

THE DIAMONDS: Best of the Diamonds (Rhino) These brush-crew Canadian cover specialists were real creeps, stealing hits and thunder from such r&b worthies as the G Clefs, the Willows, and the Clovers. But like the experienced thieves they were, they knew quality when it stared them in the face, so even their rinky-dink "Love, Love, Love" and "Church Bells May Ring" sound okay today. And while I've loved the Gladiolas' goofy original of "Little Darlin'" ever since Alan Freed refused to play the Diamonds' in 1957, I have to admit that theirs is the classic. Attacking every target with a petty criminal's nervous intensity, they went all out on pure novelties--not only "Little Darlin'," but "Daddy Cool" and "She Say (Oom Dooby Doom)"--and their frantic notion of fun says worlds about how rock and roll first hit the straightest white teenagers. B PLUS

LEE DORSEY: Holy Cow! The Best of Lee Dorsey (Arista) Except maybe for Fats Domino himself, Dorsey stands as the drollest and most durable of the New Orleans rock and roll singers. His lean, lilting, unflappably jaunty high baritone carries subtle emotional weight; exploiting flexibility rather than power, it counter-punches expertly against Allen Toussaint's elliptical comping and Ziggy Modeliste's rat-a-tat-tat (a-tat-tat). Dorsey never made a bad album (you should hear "Mexico" on his 1966 Amy hits-plus-filler entry), and Charly's UK compilation turns up many memorable obscurities. But I know damn well that this is the Dorsey record I'll be playing now. From "Ya-Ya" and "Do-Re-Mi" for Fury in 1961 to "Yes We Can" and "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley" for Polydor in 1970, with eight Amy singles in between, it picks out all the obvious stuff and makes you love it. Why resist? A

THE FALCONS: You're So Fine (Flick) I avoid Collectorland, a murky place where one-hit geniuses stab around in the dark and unidentified middlemen muffle the music. But raves on this group, which over the first nine years included Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice, and Levi Stubbs's little brother Joe, overwhelmed my prejudices, and my eight months of listening were almost worth the trouble. These 16 cuts are pre-Pickett, and chief lead Stubbs is what you'd expect--like Pickett and Levi only less so. Wild and gritty in the smoothie era, the '50s Falcons made more of shouting uptempo harmony (and polyphony) than anybody but their producer noticed at the time, and revivalists should check out side one for covers. Side two starts getting generic even if the genre is their own. B PLUS

THE FALCONS: I Found a Love (LuPine) With Pickett replacing Stubbs and soul moving on up, songwriting gives way to performance, and when Stubbs rejoins the group the fireworks can get pretty amazing, especially with Don West's horn arrangement and Lance Finnie's guitar thrown in. But stylistically a lot of this is transitional, which means that often the fireworks consist of lead voices blending in like would-be smoothies. This is fine only as far as it goes. B PLUS

BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON: King of the Country Blues (Yazoo) In part Jefferson's prestige was a function of pop process--he made relatively accessible records for a relatively powerful company. What was revelatory about his music was its formal master, its eloquent lyrics and integral structures. In the absence of Blind Willie Johnson's big voice or Charlie Patton's emotive incorrigibility, that master does date some, especially because Jefferson was so ill-recorded, which Yazoo's best efforts can minimize but not mitigate. Also, I miss "Black Snake Moan" and glumly note the melodic leap that occurs when we come across the gospel number. Nevertheless, this is a document that rewards close attention with unparalleled pleasures. Making Jefferson a not atypical songpoet. A MINUS

JERRY LEE LEWIS: Milestones (Rhino) Incredibly enough, this 24-cut double-LP is Lewis's finest US compilation, post-Sun side and all. And though Charly's 20-cut UK Essential Jerry Lee Lewis is clearly the better deal--Rhino's four extra songs, which bring the set to barely an hour and include the intrusive spoken-word novelty "Return of Jerry Lee," will cost you three bucks--I can see why this might be preferred by somebody who wanted to commune with the doomed man in all his multifarious glory. Jerry Lee is and always has been more than just a rock and roller. With a lesser artist, the boogie-woogie "Saints" and solo "Lucky Old Man" might not mesh, but Lewis makes them his own a lot more convincingly than he does the one-two-three Elvis covers on the Charly disc. A

WILLIE MABON: Blues Roots Volume 16 (Chess) "I Don't Know" was known to the Big Bopper, "Poison Ivy" was bad before bad knew its name, and "You're a Fool" is the only blues in history to employ the word "sauerkraut" in a simile. All three are recommended to the immediate attention of Mr. Buster Poindexter. Also, all three were released, unlike eight of the other cuts here. The unreleased stuff often score lyrically--Mabon's gift for hostile yet self-deprecating wit is in full display on "I'm Tired" and "He Lied"--but relies on blues readymades. The released stuff has hooks. B PLUS

MADDOX BROTHERS AND ROSE: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia) These Alabama-born Californians wore pre-Nudie suits, called their music "Okie boogie," and eventually settled in Hollywood, yet somehow little sister Rose is now a minor bluegrass icon who respects the verities for labels like Takoma and Arhoolie. I prefer her Hollywood. Admirers of the Morrells' cover of "Ugly and Slouchy" will have some idea how hot and funny "The Hiccough Song" and "I've Got Four Big Brothers" and their sendup of "I've Got a Woman" are. But when Rose puts heart and soul into "Green Grow the Lilacs" or "Bringing In the Sheaves," I keep expecting one of her bros to break into a stage cackle, and it never happens. B PLUS

THE ORIOLES: For Collectors Only (Murray Hill) The first bird group bridged jump blues and doowop, neither of which they typified--they swing mildly and were simpler and more halting than their male-harmony heirs. Lost in reverie, cool Sonny Til insures that such seminal classics as "Crying in the Chapel" and "Tell Me So" remain virtually arrhythmic while the likes of "Hold Me! Squeeze Me!" party casually if not at all. May not sound like much, but they're as substantial as (and more original than) say, Sonny Boy Williamson. This five-record box--"Their Greatest Hits plus 19 Previously Unissued Recordings!"--shows amazing steady-state listenability. There are secret classics everywhere, from "I Challenge Your Kiss," good enough to lead off the second of two separately available hit discs even though none of the standard r&b books mentions it, to record four's "I'm Beginning To Think You Care for Me," one of many brand new finds. A superb double-LP could be pieced together from all this, but the box does justify itself. And if you're cash-short skip "Crying in the Chapel" and spring for Volume 2. A MINUS

ELVIS PRESLEY: A Valentine Gift for You (RCA Victor) I know he invented rock and roll, in a manner of speaking, but I have news for you--that's not why he's worshiped as a god today. He's worshiped as a god today because in addition to inventing rock and roll he was the greatest ballad singer this side of Frank Sinatra--because the spiritual translucence and reined-in gut sexuality of his slow weeper and torchy pop blues still activate the hormones and slavish devotion of millions of female human beings worldwide. Beginning and ending with the schlock masterpieces "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "Can't Help Falling in Love" and rescuing tracks from such renowned works of phonographic art as the Viva Las Vegas EP, the Spinout soundtrack, and the Something for Everybody album, this may not be a religious experience, but it comes close. My only real complaint is Peggy Lee's (not Little Willie John's) "Fever." Because in this company I really miss "It's Now or Never." A

ELVIS PRESLEY: Reconsider Baby (RCA Victor) Peter Guralnick's contention that this blues singer is "unencumbered by myth or self-consciousness" doesn't survive the widely admired title (and lead) track. Especially by the late '60s, he's a white boy who knows he's getting fonky--and who doesn't surround himself with especially fonky musicians. So rhythms falter, and arrangements get out of hand. The great singer and hillbilly cat puts his weird stamp on almost every tune anyway. But despite the uncensored "One Night," and the salacious "Merry Christmas, Baby," only once does he outdo himself--on the unreleased Sun master "Tomorrow Night," which was already pretty ethereal in Lonnie Johnson's original. A MINUS

JAMES & BOBBY PURIFY: The Best of James & Bobby Purify: Do It Right! (Arista) They seem like nice boys and they certainly have nice voices, but whole glee clubs of cousins from Florida could claim the same. The enduring value of their pop soul is a bizzers' triumph--from Muscle Shoals backing, to Don Penn and Steve Cropper filler, to this vinyl document, selected and annotated by Mitchell Cohen to finesse whole paragraphs of invidious comparison. B PLUS

MA RAINEY: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Yazoo) Like most records of the '20s this 14-cut disc isn't exactly a pleasure to hear. Yazoo's pressing adds detail, brightness, and what may be an even-up trade--surface noise--to Milestone's five-duplication twofer. Nor is the material all one could hope for--"Prove It On Me Blues" would have provided both a jug band and a lesbian credo. But this is one artist whose history is made to be served. Too country to be semirespectably "classic" even though Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, and Don Redman show up among her sidemen, she's not so somber as gruff on the down blues she's best known for, and she also kids around. In short, she's more rock and roll than Bessie Smith. A

SAM THE SHAM & THE PHARAOHS: Pharaohization! (Rhino) Junk miners like to believe that every garage classic has an album buried underneath. With "Wooly Bully," always as primal as "Louie, Louie" by me, this turns out to be true. Domingo Samudio was no pimple-faced jerk: a 25-year-old Chicano navy vet bandleading his way through college when he had his stroke of genius, he followed up with numerous strokes of talent. His solid formula was no more repetitive than Jimmy Reed's or the Supremes', his secondhand drawl as sly as Dr. John's if not Lee Dorsey's. And his lyrics were to the point even when they didn't have one, which wasn't always--check out "Black Sheep" or "(I'm In With) The Out Crowd" or "Green'ich Grendel" (as in Vill'ge, not C'nnetic't). A MINUS

THE SHANGRI-LAS: Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las (Mercury) Though their three top 10 hits--"Remember," "Leader of the Pack," and "I Can Never Go Home Anymore"--are usually classified as "melodrama," Greil Marcus's "teen morality plays" is closer to their dark, stylized romanticism. Down below is one great rock and roll song--"Give Him a Great Big Kiss"--and lotsa melodrama, most notably the lost Debussy rip "Past Present and Future." And way below that are two nonhits that attempt to cast them as the nice girls they never wanted to be--the nice girls who could never have made great music out of this stuff. A MINUS

CARL SMITH: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia) Smith's 20 1951-55 country top 10s beat Hank Williams, Hank Thompson, Lefty Frizzell, even Webb Pierce, beat everybody but Eddy Arnold. Which suggests his problem. He's almost forgotten today because his smooth baritone was the stuff of popularity, not legend. He didn't write much, and he didn't really interpret much either--he was just a vessel for Nashville tunesmiths to pour their product into. But unlike Eddy Arnold, he had no aptitude for the pop sellout, favoring honky-tonk arrangements that inflected his unflamboyant if Nudie-clad persona toward hard-core country. This collection will ring a bell with those who enjoy homely conjugal tropes, the previously unreleased "No Second Chance" no less than the number one "Don't Just Stand There." And though the number one "Hey, Joe" would have been more welcome than either of the side-closing "sacred" nonhits, I'll bet Smith and the fans who remember him prefer it this way. A MINUS

THE SPANIELS: 16 Soulful Serenades (Solid Smoke) Doowop is best sampled on multiple-artist compilations and studied on single-artist anthologies. This is for listening; it's a doowop album, with only one medium-tempo hit disturbing the devotionally deliberate pace. Like all the great doowop tenors, Pookie Hudson infused romantic escapism with the high aspirations of gospel, and his bosses at Vee-Jay gave him some great escapes to fly with. The first side is superb, the second more tipico, and you can sample or study if you prefer. Nor is that the end of it--those who think rock and roll should always be fast will be moderately amazed by the same great group's jumping 1981 Charly import, which bears the devotionally deliberate title Great Googly Moo! A

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: Dusty Springfield's Greatest Hits (Mercury) I find it hard to be objective about the woman who in 1969 joined Jerry Wexler to make one of my favorite--hell, one of the greatest albums of all time: Dusty in Memphis, pop with strings on top, good old boys below, and the most exquisite material of a class act's career in between. Springfield's only rival was and is Dionne Warwick, but Warwick has Bacharach-David in her karass while Dust was stuck with Ivor Raymonde. This mid-60's hits compilation could be a lot better: it predates the definitive "The Look of Love" and bypasses inspired filler like "Mama Said" and "Do Re Mi" for the hideously orchestrated schlock she spent her biggest years transcending. Yet though she never belted like she crooned, she put so much heart, soul, and mind into her big ballads that most of the time you can ignore the kettle drums. I only wish I could hear what Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin--and Dusty--would have made of "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me." B PLUS

FLOYD TILLMAN: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia) In the late '40s, the warped pitch of the singer-composer-guitarist who damn near invented both honky-tonk and cheating songs evoked a fiddle the way Robert Plant's shriek would evoke an electric guitar two decades later. Unfortunately, this collection includes only three of the seven classics Willie Nelson mentions in his brief liner notes (and also skips "It Makes No Difference Now") in favor of some fairly humdrum collectors' items. Nor is his deleted 1975 best-of a whole lot more complete. And yet both are fine albums. The two songs they share--"Slipping Around" and the painful "I Love You So Much It Hurts"--are as definitively country as anything you'll ever hear, and collectors' items like "Sentenced to a Life (Without You)" and "I'm Checkin' Out on You" shoulda been contenders. So until he gets what he deserves, this will do. A MINUS

MUDDY WATERS: Rare and Unissued (Chess) Waters' greatest hits are so deeply ingrained that these obscurities serve to reawaken your awe--force you to hear his performance, which as countless white bluesmen know is what makes all his music jump out atcha. "Feel Like Going Home," a blues after the manner of Robert Johnson that augments the timing and sonic authority of Waters' guitar and vocalisms with a crucial decade of recording technology, is the sparest and most riveting. But "Mean Disposition" and "Iodine In My Coffee" would be greatest hits today if they'd come out circa 1950, and generics like "Born Lover" and "Little Anna Mae" make me wonder when he cut his ordinary stuff. A

HANK WILLIAMS: Lovesick Blues: August 1947-December 1948 (Polydor) The second installment of a worthy project that better not get stalled in corporate machinations, these 21 tracks represent Williams' entire chronological unoverdubbed studio output from the period plus four nonsession recordings, three of them "sacred." I don't believe in anybody's uninterrupted genius, but most of the 18 tracks not on Williams' 40 Greatest Hits range from impressive to stunning. "Honky Tonkin'" and "I'll Be a Bachelor 'Til I Die" and "I'm a Long Gone Daddy" and "The Blues Come Around" would be enough to establish Williams as a hot songwriter. Add such covers as "I'm Satisfied With You" and "Rootie Tootie" and "I Wish I Had a Nickel" and you have the best country album released in 1985. A MINUS

LARRY WILLIAMS: Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Ace) I wondered why I wasn't having more fun with this lesser Little Richard, a John Lennon fave who was clearly an ace novelty writer. Then I read the notes and began to suspect it was because he wasn't having much fun himself. All rock and rollers were in it for the money, but there are degrees, and somehow I think a guy who ended up shooting himself in his Laurel Canyon mansion after 25 years of pimping and pushing might have had trouble getting into the spirit of skillfully concocted sillyditties like "Bony Moronie" and "Peaches and Cream," or ignoring the subtext of "Little School Girl." B PLUS

JACKIE WILSON: Reet Petite (Ace) I know Wilson loved Al Jolson and Mario Lanza. I accept it. In a way I even applaud it--why shouldn't he have aspired to the universality of schlock? But on these 16 cuts, including only three from Epic's Jackie Wilson Story plus an earlier, altogether more subdued and thrilling "Danny Boy," you'd almost think he'd stuck with Berry Gordy, and is it a relief. The stiff choruses and big-band climaxes are still in evidence, but on these mostly uptempo album tracks they rarely intrude; occasionally you even notice some guitar. And since Wilson isn't really an interpreter---I said Jolson and Lanza, not Sinatra and Melchior--it's just as well that the songs are raveups and filler, leaving plenty of room for acrobatic workout. "Shake, Shake, Shake," "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!," "It's So Fine," "Do Lord." A

JACKIE WILSON: The Jackie Wilson Story: Volume Two (Epic) Can it be that Joe McEwen, the candidate for sainthood who almost single-handedly resurrected Wilson from the vaults, actually likes his big-ballad mode? Why else unearth his album-only "Georgia On My Mind"? Why not pretend that "Alone at Last"--which reached 8 pop and only 20 r&b--never existed? And what about the obsequious if pyrotechnic Copa medley? Not that any of this stuff is without interest, or that the album-only ballad "I've Got To Get Back" isn't a jewel. Still, I wonder. B PLUS

JACKIE WILSON: The Soul Years (Kent) What strikes you first about this post-1967 material is that new black producer Carl Davis has graced it with a groove, often a fairly mellow one. And for half the album Wilson sails along on top, relaxed and confident and supremely attractive. But as the hits get scarcer the arrangements get busier and Wilson starts emoting harder. Which does him no good. B PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Also Rocked

In roughly descending order, as usual. James Brown: James Brown's Greatest Hits (Rhino) (buy Solid Gold, Polydor UK 2679-044 now); "Little Esther" Phillips: The Complete Savoy Recordings with Johnny Otis (Savoy) (far more sexual at 14 than Annabella Lwin ever conceived of being, but Otis was no Malcolm McLaren: all he could make of her was unfledged Dinah Washington); Dee Clark: His Best Recordings (Solid Smoke) (his ingratiating way with a song earned him a decade of marginal hits, one brass ring, and no discernible personality); Jerry Butler: The Best of Jerry Butler 1958-1969 (Rhino) (not until the Gamble & Huff years, which provide six of the 14 cuts here but all 12 on Mercury's expert The Legendary Philadelphia Hits, did he get his floridity under control); The Searchers: Greatest Hits (Rhino) (neats for the neat); Rick Nelson: Greatest Hits (Rhino) (Ricky's the name, and no matter what the charts say he could rock, as his in-print UA double proves beyond doubt); The Cadillacs: For Collectors Only (Murray Hill) (a pretty fair double-LP could be pieced together from this box): Marty Robbins: Long, Long, Ago (Columbia) (speaking of smoothies); The Yardbirds: A Compleat Collection (Compleat) (a spirited young band with a good beat, but the seven prev unrel Clapton-era tracks ain't Five Live Yardbirds and the prev reiss Sonny Boy Williamson dates ain't on Chess); Gene Pitney: Anthology 1961-1968 (Rhino) (two discs is overdoing it, and overdoing it was his weakness); Thee Midniters: The Best of Thee Midniters (Rhino) (their "Whittier Blvd." is the "Louie, Louie" of the low-rider garages, and they were soulful besides); Leon McAuliffe and His Western Swing Band: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia) (another great soloist out on his own); The Kinks: A Compleat Collection--20th Anniversary Edition (Compleat) (a garage band plus leftover hits, albeit a pretty good garage band plus pretty good leftover hits and N.B.: Kinks Kronikles is still in print domestically, as are many original-format "60s" imports); Spencer Davis Group: Best of the Spencer Davis Group (Rhino) (sure young Stevie Winwood was a man, but not as decisively as was thought at the time); The Troggs: Best of the Troggs (secret wimp); The Dells: Breezy Ballads and Tender Tunes (Solid Smoke) (Johnny Funches' greatest misses); Jerry Lee Lewis: I'm on Fire (Mercury) (flipping, flopping, and flying through 22:46 of pre-country rock and roll); Bobby Womack and the Valentinos (Chess) (soul-group constrictions brace him up, songwriting freedom lets him down); The History of The Left Banke (Rhino) (major influence on Ars Nova and the Three O'Clock); The Kingsmen: The Best of The Kingsmen (Rhino) attention trivia buffs: the guy who sang lead on "Louie, Louie" was kicked out of the band before it hit, which didn't stop them.

The Uses of Nostalgia

Reissues of whole albums, rather than reprogrammed compilations, began gathering steam among Japanese jazz buffs in the late '70s, until now Fantasy, Blue Note, Verve, and Atlantic have released huge swatches of catalogue domestically. Listed below are a few examples that have caught my inexpert ear. Rock reissues are rarer, though midlining has brought lots of good stuff back into print and Motown has proven quite willing to resell itself one more once. Fans of Atlantic r&b should repair to Tokyo, and bring back plenty of home taping paraphernalia while they're at it. The Velvet Underground (Verve) (more guitars!); Cannonball Adderley: Something Else (Blue Note) (Miles repays a big debt); James Brown and His Famous Flames: Live at the Apollo Volume II: Part 2 (Rhino) (If they are going to split up a twofer, you might as well start with the climax . . . ); James Brown and His Famous Flames: Live at the Apollo Volume II: Part 1 (Rhino) (but who wants to skip foreplay); The Temptations: The Temptations Sing Smokey (Motown) (reread title); Otis Redding: The Legend of Otis Redding (Pair) (Pain in My Heart plus Dock of the Bay--as a twofer); The Velvet Underground and Nico (Verve) (undoing Warhol in the studio); Ornette Coleman: Something Else (Contemporary) (his first, and already he knew what he was about); Sonny Rollins (Blue Note) (young man with a band); Stephane Grappelli: Feeling Plus Finesse Equals Jazz (Atlantic Jazzlore) (this might as well be the one Grappelli album you ought to own); Dinah Washington: The Fats Waller Songbook (sophistication, levity, teeth); Ray Charles: The Genius After Hours (Atlantic Jazzlore) ("just" jazz); Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Going to a Go-Go (Motown) (oh those B sides); Wayne Shorter: Ju-Ju (Blue Note) (Trane lives); Etta James: Etta James Rocks the House (Chess) (and you thought Chess went for that live feel at 2120 Michigan Avenue).

Variety Show

All multiple-artist albums present built-in contradictions. How can they provide unified listening if they collect artists of any individuality? How can they provide nothing but peaks when peaks are so subjective? And isn't it inevitable that they'll induce consumers to duplicate music they already own? For all these reasons I have my doubts about Atlantic's new 14-disc Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-74, available as a box or as seven two-record sets. (For reasons of duplication and sound quality I also have doubts about all but one of Atlantic's six new soul best-ofs--the Booker T.) Still, Volume 1 1947-52 does offer an educational overview of the transition from "race music." And Volume 3 1955-58 should amaze youngsters who didn't live through the golden age--even though only two of the 28 cuts aren't by artists who deserve domestic compilations of their own. An even more highly recommend golden age intro is Volume One (and only Volume One) of Solid Smoke's You Found the Vocal Group Sound series, which concentrates on minor artists who worked for minor labels. Even New Orleans aficionados are unlikely to own much of the goofy arcana on the Chess's weird little New Orleans R&B. Those wary of the whole notion of "girl groups" may find feminist solace in Sultry Soul Sisters: Wonder Women Volume 3 (Rhino), though they'd better skip Don Waller's young-man-with-a-hardon notes. If you missed Lenny Kaye's seminal garage compilation Nuggets you can make do with the first two volumes of Rhino's Nuggets series (and cast a cool eye on the other five). Closing on a note of seasonal cheer, I'll mention that even UA's excellent Christmas compilations miss most of the good stuff on Rhino's Rocking Christmas: The 50's.

The Cutout Bins of History

The Capitols: Their Greatest Recordings (Solid Smoke); The El Dorados: Low Mileage--High Octane (Solid Smoke); Humble Pie: A Slice of Humble Pie (Compleat); Deon Jackson: His Greatest Recordings (Solid Smoke); The Moody Blues: Early Blues (Compleat); The O'Jays: From the Beginning (Chess); Music Machine: Best of the Music Machine (Rhino); Ramsey Lewis: His Greatest Sides Volume One (Chess Jazz); Roy Rogers: Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia). The superb abovementioned Otis Redding set notwithstanding, a special caveat is due Pair twofers, which usually comprise 16 indifferently selected tracks that a decent reissue label would squeeze onto one disc if it noticed them at all. Avoid them. Also avoid Johnny Rivers' Greatest Hits on MCA, a bad new recording.

Village Voice, Dec. 24, 1985


Dec. 3, 1985 Jan. 7, 1986