Originally published in: Overdose, Apr. 1975

The Rekord Report: Second Card

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile. Taste is nothing accidental: what one digs or despises is always bound up with experiences, with social and historical and economic determinations. This is generally true -- Beatles make at least as much sense in terms of 1960s transformations in capitalism as they ever did musically, and such freak phenomena as the late 60s eclipse and 1974 renaissance of the Beach Boys are inexplicable otherwise -- but BTO demands that the point be made, for in the mostly muddled-over class stratification of music today, BTO is the great working class band. Songs like "Blue Collar" and "Taking Care of Business" are part of the story, but only a small part. Rock 'n' Roll grew out of the lives of urban working class kids, nurtured on country and rhythm & blues, flirting with schlock pop, but reduced to its bare bones elementals, a musical sense in touch with its social roots. There are millions and millions of white kids, 18 to 25 or so, not going to school, working at one bullshit job or another just as their fathers and mothers did and chances are their sons and daughters will do. And they like their music heavy -- nothing else really does it. To say this music is "stupid" is pure snobbery. Like all great music -- Schönberg and Hank Williams, for instance -- BTO is intimately in touch with reality, showing that reality must be overturned. A

Syd Barrett: The Madcap Laughs/Barrett. This is an opportune repackaging of the postpartum oeuvre of Pink Floyd dropout Syd Barrett, and if it sells at all it's due solely to that biographical incidence. A whole lost side of Pink Floyd, in fact. If this is any indication of its development, it was better missed. C

Blue Öyster Cult: Secret Treaties. Someone once said of the Black Panthers that never have people threatened more and been guilty of less. The Messerschmitt on the cover is little more than a façade for the fractured fantasies of failed pilots. But the diabolical lyrics are eminently ignorable, and the "heavy metal" melts quicker than tin. In short, sorry boys, nice record. B [1]

J.J. Cale: Okie. Cale's excellence as a studio musician is undoubted, but his "solo" efforts have been lacking something -- inspiration, I think. This collection is little more than a mish-mash, a dozen songs in at least half as many styles, tied together only by Cale's harsh vocals. A bit short (28:32). C

Harry Chapin: Verities and Balderdash. Lots of folks hate liberals because they behave like Chapin sings. Which all goes to show people aren't so dumb. D

Jimmy Cliff: Music Maker. In Britain this is called House of Exile, has a different cover and a different tenor. Which might take care of some of the problems, but the music remains the same, and it is unmistakably Jimmy Cliff, but no hero of The Harder They Come. Sure, it bounces nicely, but the formula is tighter than a NFL contract, the philosophizing more silly than not, and the strains of misogyny . . . well, sorry we asked. B minus

Bryan Ferry: "These Foolish Things". "Sympathy for the Devil" was killed at Altamont, along with a piece of our epoch: now Bryan Ferry has mummified it in a version both authentic and outrageous. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is a precious document from another point in what some of us once fancied to call the Revolution: Ferry has turned it into the funniest thing sine . . . History takes its toll and Ferry rubs your nose in it, with thirteen songs out of everybody's past. Truly a fantastic, maybe despicable, but certainly amazing record. A minus

Deke Leonard: Iceberg. This is the toughest record to write about this round, perhaps because it appeals at the least literate level. Not that it's simple or dumb -- far from it. But it's not quit eexplicable. Blues-based electronic machinations, edigng toward that inscrutable boundary of music and sound, yet somehow expanding both. Amazing. A minus

New York Dolls: In Too Much, Too Soon. Given a little thought I'm sure I could come up with half-a-dozen solid, sophisticated rationales for loving the Dolls. But that misses the point. Being cute ain't the half of it, they're just about the best really hard rock band around, and in an age of cleverness and chic that's mighty good to see. A minus

Randy Newman: Good Old Boys. Always used to think the big problem with concept albums was bad concepts, but it may just be concept at all. After all, 1973's conceptual tour de force was hands down Lou Reed's Berlin, a record Jim Cusimano described as "so gloomy it punished even tis admirers"; in 1974 it is Good Old Boys. I loved Berlin in a way that can only be described as perverse, and am attracted to Good Old Boys in much the same way. But, if anything, it's even closer, more terrifying, a mixture of romanticism and hackneyed politics, the bitter insight nurtured on self-hatred and utter hopelessness, all aggravated by a cold intellectual madness that underlies and destroys each note, each line, in favor of something still more ominous, the inability to break out of one's own machinations. Newman knows too much: he thinks too much. His brilliance is paid for dearly, and his listeners and admirers must pay as well. A minus

Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel. Posthumous records, or at least the first one, tend to rate some special consideration. Or they might force you to some reckoning you've always evaded before. Parsons split the Byrds when McGuinn and the boys packed off to South Africa, formed the Flying Burrito Bros. and put out two landmark albums with them, and then a superb solo album, GP. Countryrock just ain't my schtick, and I still can take it only in limited doses, but Parsons goes well beyond that. He's got a firm grasp of roots and articulates them brilliantly, that stiff-necked, backwoods pietism that demands respect and understanding -- and a certain sense of humbleness the Left so sorely needs today. Grievous Angel is not Parsons' best, but it satisfies, something rare in 1974. The loss is dear. A minus

Raspberries: Starting Over. It's a strange quirk of history to find oneself enjoying now records one hated a decade or so ago -- the Beach Boys being no doubt the best case in point. Nostalgia is the word evv erybody uses for this phenomenon, your past being packaged up and sold -- resold? -- to you. But it's never really the same, always strangely twisted. However much Raspberries may "epitomize" that sixties pop schlock, they do not represent it. Seventies pop schlock they are, and very good at that, but saddled with seventies listeners and in the teeth of seventies concerns. In this respect, in the dismal political and social and economic landscape of 1974, early sixties naïveté never looked better. Nonetheless the difference is there, if only in one's ears, and talented and lovely as they are, they fall bittersweet amidst everything else. A minus

Lou Reed: Sally Can't Dance. Lou Reed was my major discovery this past year -- and not merely a "musical" discovery. Through four Velvet Underground albums, so radical, so deep they seem scarcely possible today, and four solo albums culminating perfectly in Rock n Roll Animal no one has more acutely, more superlatively charted this generation's Urgeschichte (prehistory?), the contradiction at the heart of our experience, the dichotomy of the personal and the political, chinks and crevices in the order of time. Sex, drugs, love, politics, society, life. Reed didn't judge, he had no spiel, no gimmick. He articulated, testified: no one was higher than "Beginning to See the Light," nor lower than "Berlin." And this, for lack of a better word, this comradeship, came through, both in lyrics crude and unshakeable and in a vocal quality that made them true, a sincerity and virtuosity that cannot be denied. But if Reed was a major discovery, Sally Can't Dance was a major disappointment. The lyrics have degenerated to cheap shocks, and not even shocking nowadays, just sort of sickly cute: Reed's vocal is a mere ghost of anything past, even the ghastly Berlin. But the production's sharp, the musicianship excellent. It bounces in spots and is even -- how sad and funny! -- something of a bestseller. But, still, for someone of Reed's greatness, 'tis truly, truly a sin. C plus

Roxy Music: Stranded. With the standardization of the whole, details may be slotted interchangeably. Pop music is built on the manipulation of elements. As a philosophical maxim this generally hasn't mattered much: manipulation is best kept out of sight. But Roxy Music have in their three albums done something peculiar: they have taken pop seriously as form, producing a work that is two-headed, sleek and ephemeral as a Rosenquist painting, yet deep, c omplex, almost mysterious. It hangs together in the hearing, in the myriad layers of mediation it provokes. The regeneration of hearing is less a matter of encountering "seroius" music than of taking music, and listening, seriously, which is what Roxy begs. The album is uncanny, fascinating, enjoyable and profound. Bryan Ferry's voice is nothing short of incredible. A plus

Todd Rundgren's Utopia. Rock has always associated itself with the three minute pop song format. Rock's formal elements have worked best in that framework: moreover, that's where the market lies, or at least where it used to. But as the market shifted form 45s to LPs, as live music shifted from clubs and dancehalls to concerts, different dimensions came into play, including an occasion to restructure popular music along longer-format lines, more akin to jazz or classical. And a sophisticated, drug-wracked middle/upper class audience to groove on it. Todd Rundgren's Utopia is a bid at this audience, long winded music betraying no trace of the spontaneity of jamming, a snatch of worthless lyric every ten minutes or so. And if you work at it a bit you can probably make yourself think it's sophisticated, mysterious, brilliant, profound. Why bother? C plus

Sparks: Kimono My House. Probably the most godawful record of world-historical pretension this year. Literate lyrics (references to Kant, Edward Teller, Yehudi Menuhin), falsetto vocals, driving percussion and more dêjà vu than the evening news. In fact, some people, given ringleader Ron Mael's moustache style and the German thirties strolling music of songs like "Fallin in Love With Myself Again," even think it's a bit fascist. But rest assured, Goebbels would have reached for his revolver. B plus

Taj Mahal: Mo' Roots. The title is apt, for what Taj seeks is a broadening of the sources for black music. What results, however, is a collection not nearly so much impressive as interesting, fascinating, at times even remarkable. Some of this I like immensely; most I don't quite understand, which I might be persuaded to take as testimony to Taj's fidelity to roots I can't even imagine, or it might just be plain ignorance. One comment, though, from roots I got down pat, to all you Reds out there now that Jimmy Cliff has surrendered the torch: give a listen to "Slave Driver," you might just find your man. B plus

Traffic: When the Eagle Flies. Steve Winwood, aged 26, wailing over how old he's become. Traffic, like the Band, was one of the great innovators circa 1969-71. And, like the Band, they have gotten hung up in their devices. When the Eagle Flies is every bit as bad as Cahoots, and for just the same reasons, ones that make it a painful reminder of time's toll. C minus

UFO: Phenomenon. Heavy metal, done with taste and flair, selected with care from the finest stock available and fashioned into one of the nicest records this year. The band's good: maybe they'll even do something original one of these days. Nice cover, too. B

Wet Willie: Keep On Smilin'. So Lynyrd Skynyrd want to do a benefit for George Wallace? Wet Willie would be just 'bout right for Jimmy Carter. C minus


1. Blue Öyster Cult's live album, On Your Feet or On Your Knees is interesting, e.g., in terms of the spell of the album mentioned in the Reed footnote above, for it so plainly shows the "We Are Evil" lyrics, slightly palpable on their concept albums, for the horseshit they are. The Cult may well be a good metal band, but they strike me as little more than fraudulent, which is, in Secret Treaties, a point in their favor. As for the live album, Steppenwolf did it much better. C minus.

Archaeological notes, May 11, 2002

I have a manuscript called "Record Report #2," which probably predates the Overdose version. This starts with an introduction:

"You're only as good as your last record," which makes Bachman Turner Overdrive a heap better than Dylan, the Rolling Stones, any and especially George of the Beatles, Clapton, Russell, Reed and Bowie. And it may even make Roxy Music and Raspberries the best groups extant. Looking back over the past year several things stand out: Prices have gone up, averaging around 17%. Products are recycled and inflated, a profusion of live and greatest hits and documentary albums. Established talents have decayed by almost any stndards (only Mott the Hoople of four-or-more previous album groups put out anything new of much merit -- and the spate of decent singer/songwriter efforts -- Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, David Bowie -- are, save Mitchell, generally inferior to their past work). But new groups continue to pop up and occasionally come through with fresh ideas and exciting music -- they form the bulk of these notes. I tried this format once before (Student Life, 10/4/74), and this is a stab at continuing whatever was started there. As always, the grades don't mean a hell of a lot -- no more than in any other fragment of reality. Beneath it all there no doubt lurks some nascent aesthetic, a good place fo rit. So be it. Take it as you may, and good luck.

The manuscript omits the Wet Willie record, but includes a review that didn't make it to Overdose:

Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Eno, Nico and the sophorifics with Special Guests Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt: June 1, 1974. This is simply a modest business proposition from Island Records which, if it cost $2.00 would be quite a bargain. But even at $6.98 it may still be worth it. Island has a booming business in all these folks: they've just brought a couple of Kevin Ayers' records over, plus Eno's superb Here Come the Warm Jets, Nico's The End . . ., and they have a new John Cale album on tap. And, despite the rush on getting it out, the product is pretty together. Ayers' side sticks to his simpler, more bluesy material and is much more accessible than his albums. Eno's two cuts from Warm Jets are far livelier than the studio jobs; and the covers of "Hearbreak Hotel" by John Cale and "The End" by Nico are, well, ghastly. B

There is also a postscript:

Notes: Some year's end thoughts. There ain't no top ten or anything like that. Lots of interesting stuff, some very smart people out there, but nothing like Let It Bleed or Ziggy Stardust or Music From Big Pink or John Barleycorn Must Die or Loaded or . . . My sentimental favorite is Gram Parsons' Grievous Angel, but I've never been that big on sentiment. And, let's face it, it's been a year when a decent argument could be mounted for picking the 1969 Velvet Underground Live album and the Beach Boys' Endless Summer as the year's best. Some year that seeks to sneak half a decade or more off into the past. But in the really stiff competition for the worst record of the year, the winner I'm afraid is none other than Elton John, "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Sorry Harry, Dash, Billy, Olivia, better luck next time.

Previous: First Card   Next: Third Card