Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (7)

Breaking my own vow, I offer a second consecutive Consumer Guide. I plead writer's block. Sometime in the future you will be privy to my carefully formulated opinions on such issues as Altamont, Yurrup, and why white folks don't like soul music. In the meantime, here are some more irresponsible gibes at the records I listen to for 10 or 12 hours a day. (Can it be that much? Well, almost.) I promised myself, and you, that I would never run two in a row, so maybe I should make it three. Stand forewarned.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this exercise--and my mail indicates that there are more than a few--let me explain once more. I listen to all these records, see, and then I rate them according to how likely it is that you will enjoy owning them. A is very enthusiastic, B plus is enthusiastic with reservations, B minus is beware, and so forth all the way down to E. I admit my prejudices--I hate long instrumentals, although I do make exceptions for inventive musicians--and I permit myself to be flippant when the mood hits me. I have also made a practice of downgrading records that are shorter than 30 minutes or packed Unipak. The latter, by the way, seems to be disappearing. The new Johnny Cash is the first Unipak I can remember receiving in a month. I feel both powerful and just--at least half the Unipak albums I own (many of which have been played only four or five times) are falling apart. As for shorty albums, they are still with us. Peter Edmiston, who manages Pearls Before Swine, tells me that the reason record companies are reluctant to include more than 12 songs on an album, and often prefer nine or 10, is not the cost of cutting and pressing but rather the cost of royalties. He made a special deal with Reprise so his group could put 14 songs on their most recent album, These Things Too, which I suppose I'll get around to rating eventually. Good work, Peter Edmiston.

I will repeat my offer to rate any reasonable suggestion. No guarantees--one guy once listed about 40 lps for my approval--but I promise to consider each letter with my usual sincerity.

A. B. SKHY (MGM) A truly competent white blues record, with driving horn arrangements and a wonderful cover. B MINUS

ARGENT (Epic) Anyone who admired the direction the Zombies took on "Time of the Season" (the Odessey and Oracle album) will dig this new group, headed by Rod Argent, the Zombies' keyboard man. Good songs, well-played and well-conceived, with a distinct sound. Unfortunately, there is a certain effete breathiness in the vocals which fits perfectly into the pattern but could become tiresome, just as the Zombies did. B PLUS [Later: B]

BAMBOO (Elektra) In which folkie Sanker Ray graduates to mediocre rock. Soft-sounding, with a couple of nice songs; trivial, and not even with a vengeance. C PLUS

JACK BRUCE: Songs for a Tailor (Atco) Anyone who dug recorded Cream--Disraeli Gears especially--will dig this latest Bruce-Pappalardi collaboration. I think it is skillful and empty. Even with all that stuff going on behind him Bruce doesn't make it as a solo vocalist. B MINUS

DELANEY & BONNIE: Home (Stax) Now that Eric and George have given their imprimatur, D&B's first release, on Elektra, is beginning to sell as it should. This one was recorded much earlier, with Duck Dunn and Jack Nix producing instead of Leon Russell, but released much later. Perhaps if I heard it first I'd like it more--or rather, even more, since I already like it--but I don't think it compares to the Elektra album (rated A plus in an earlier CG). The warmth that suffuses their music is obscured more than once by some perfunctory soul-shouting, and the arrangements are less than inventive. Nice enough, though. B PLUS

FLEETWOOD MAC: Then Play On (Reprise) I put this record on a couple of months ago, noted that the famous second-rate English blues band was mixing easy ballads and Latin rhythms with the hard stuff, and forgot about it. Much, much later I tried again. Well, it's an odd amalgam but very good. Recommended to the curious. B PLUS

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD: Grand Funk (Capitol) This group is creating a stir, apparently because they play faster than Iron Butterfly. Which I grant is a step in the right direction. I saw them live in Detroit before I knew any of this. I enjoyed them for 15 minutes, tolerated them for five, and hated them for 40. This lp, their second, isn't as good as that performance. C

R. B. GREAVES (Atco) Sam Cooke lives. B

THE JAMES GANG: Yer' Album (Bluesway) An exciting, hard-rocking white blues/soul record. It includes a terrific version of Howard Tate's "Stop" and other nice things, but it isn't quite original enough to make you play it again and again. B

AL KOOPER: You Never Know Who Your Friends Are (Columbia) Kooper is the only name performer in rock who can be counted on to release shitty records time after time. This is another one. D

ERIC MERCURY: Electric Black Man (Avco Embassy) All things considered--tasteless hype, demeaning concept, kudos from David Clayton-Thomas, violins and wah-wah percussion, oh, the schlock of it all--this isn't bad, because Mercury is really a pretty good singer. Maybe some day he'll put out a pretty good record. C

MOTHER EARTH: Make a Joyful Noise (Mercury) Another excellent album from this underrated group. The "city" side is like much of "Living with the Animals" and the "country" side is almost what it says, including two superb songs by R. P. St. John. It is even better, on the whole, than . . . A

MOTHER EARTH PRESENTS TRACY NELSON COUNTRY (Mercury) In which the Female Vocalist of the Year sings 11 more-or-less country songs--sweet, strong, direct. Real country freaks don't seem to dig this record, but dabblers like myself love it. A MINUS [Later: A]

THE NICE: Nice (Immediate) The electric organ is an instrument of such vast and vague potential that its constant misuse is almost inevitable. One offender is Keith Emerson of the Nice, who has so much technical virtuosity he can quote Beethoven or somebody in the middle of a long Dave Brubeck cop. The only better indication of his level of taste is the whip he used to brandish as part of his Act. I don't know whether he still does this, because it is my practice to walk out after he starts his set with that horrible rondo. Lots of folks are impressed with Keith Emerson--Don Heckman reviewed this very record warmly in the Times--so I would like to designate the Nice Most Overrated Group This Side of the Moody Blues. Ugh. D PLUS

QUICKSILVER: Shady Grove (Capitol) Despite the presence of Nicky Hopkins--whose taste in groups is less than extraordinary anyway; he does consort with Jeff Beck--this is yet another not-quite record for the fabled Frisco foursome, inspiring the musical question: "What's the big deal?" C PLUS

MITCH RYDER: The Detroit-Memphis Experiment (Dot) In case any of you suspect, as I did, that with Steve Cropper producing Mitch just might come up with something, forget it. Cropper's work is undistinguished, and all Mitch comes up with is his usual hernia. D

SEALS AND CROFTS (TA) In moments of self-criticism I sometimes believe I'll praise anything that's tight and tuneful. This record proves those suspicions unfounded. Maybe S&C shouldn't have printed their lyrics on the inside jacket. C MINUS

TEN WHEEL DRIVE: Construction No. 1 (Polydor) I don't much approve of jazz-rock, and Genya Ravan, this group's resident Janis Joplin, can get a little too harsh and samey at times, but this is so superior to anything (arghh) Lighthouse or (polite belch) Blood, Sweat, and Tears have done that I feel obliged to kind-of recommend it. I wish I believed their live performance shows as much taste, but I'm not making any bets. B

IKE AND TINA TURNER: River Deep--Mountain High (A&M) Since I have been known to make grumbling noises about Ike and Tina Turner albums and Phil Spector albums, I thought I ought to exempt this one, which is both. Much of it is in a class with the title cut, though not up to it. The problem insofar as there is one, is that that kind of intensity can't sustain itself for the length of an album. A MINUS

FRANK ZAPPA: Hot Rats (Bizarre) Doo-doo to you, Frank--when I want movie music I'll listen to "Wonderwall." C

Additional Consumer News

RCA Victor has signed rock's latest superstar, Michael J. Brody, and reportedly will have a single out by the time this appears. He appeared on Ed Sullivan and wasn't bad. Pretty skillful image-maker, too, although he made one crucial mistake. Question: What does he do for an encore? Answer: Buy Bellevue.

Speaking of TV, check your Thursday listings for the Tom Jones Show. Jones is a sad case--he really could be an excellent singer, you know--because he has chosen to be very rich instead of just rich. His effect on the housewives who freak for him (on television, every Thursday, screaming and giggling) is enough to turn anybody on to women's liberation, and his dancing is embarrassing. But he does feature good guests--who else on prime time lets Wilson Pickett strut around for 10 or 12 minutes?--and his own end-of-show medley is pretty good. A nice goof, once in a while.

The Grateful Dead will be at the Fillmore for three nights in mid-February. Dope up and go, preferably twice in a night.

Those of you who are not into weight-lifting may be unaware that I review records occasionally for the Sunday Times. I am always tempted to include these records in the CG, but my heart is pure: that would be cheating. On the other hand, I hate to deprive you of my wisdom. So let me offer the following subsidiary ratings. Ella Fitzgerald: Ella (Reprise). A. Highly recommended, especially if you know you like her. Lorraine Ellison: Stay With Me (Warner Brothers). A minus. An underground soul-singer almost in Aretha's class, although this is a little ballad-heavy. Norman Greenbaum: Spirit in the Sky (Reprise). B plus. Patent medicine by Dr. West.

Finally, a radio report from Vince Aletti of Rat, who and which you ought to read: "Just had to write to tell you how much I like Jam Up Jelly Tight; I mean I wouldn't compare it with Gimme Shelter but I sure like it a lot better than Venus which for a long time I thought was called Peanuts by the Schocking Blue which we heard more than any other song on the way down here. I'm visiting my family in Fort Lauderdale. Drove down with four other people in a drive-away black Lincoln and it was AM radio all the way down. So good to hear the Jackson Five at the beginning in the New Jersey wasteland, and after constant exposure to B. J. Thomas, what a relief to hear Whole Lotta Love at full volume barrelling through South Carolina where it was number five on the survey which gave me some kind of hope. WQAM in Miami doesn't play Jam Up maybe they think it means something."

Village Voice, Jan. 29, 1970

Jan. 15, 1970 Feb. 26, 1970