Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone (dot com)

His moustache is way cooler than your stupid indie haircut will ever be.Reviving a tradition that we started back in the very early days of Glorious Noise after we got a hold of a collection of old Rolling Stones, here are a bunch of classic record reviews by Lester Bangs. For whatever reason, editor Greil Marcus didn’t include anything from Rolling Stone in his Bangs anthology, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. There are, however, several included in the more recent collection, Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste.

One great thing about the internet is that there’s no longer any real reason that anything should ever go out of print. I have no idea why a magazine like Rolling Stone, with Jann Wenner’s vast resources, wouldn’t have its entire historical archive available on its web site. But they don’t. In fact, several reviews that were available a few years ago have been removed in a recent re-design. But what can you do? Anyway, what follows is a grossly incomplete—yet hysterically representative—assortment of Bangs reviews that the Stone has been gracious enough to host on its site.


Update (11/15/2007): We found some more! Even more Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone.

MC5 – Kick Out The Jams (RS 30)

“Musically the group is intentionally crude and aggressively raw. Which can make for powerful music except when it is used to conceal a paucity of ideas, as it is here. Most of the songs are barely distinguishable from each other in their primitive two-chord structures.”

The Youngbloods – Elephant Mountain (RS 37)

“Perhaps I should mention that several of the songs are instrumentals, a tactic that a great many other groups should seriously consider, since so many potentially fine songs are marred by fatuous or pretentious lyrics.”

Chuck Berry – Concerto in B Goode (RS 39)

“For all the thematic and improvisatory repetition, you can’t help but dig it, because it’s so happy, driving, and exuberant, everflowing with the spirit of life joyously lived—the essential spirit of our music.”

Bread – Bread (RS 41)

“It never descends to the grating noise and unspeakable vulgarities so many groups find necessary to get attention today. These boys are real professionals. Guaranteed never to hit a bad note. Of course, there will be some cynical critics who’ll say that Bread’s music is bland, one-dimensional, repetitious and even bubble-gummy.”

The Byrds – Preflyte (RS 44)

“…the subtlety and aversion to gimmick that is found in their music and in themselves doomed them as a sleeper group, always popular and musically influential, but denied the superstardom conferred on more pretentious, melodramatic personalities by an industry geared to the Image.”

Miles Davis – In A Silent Way (RS 46)

“Miles’ lines are like shots of distilled passion, the kind of evocative, liberating riffs that decades of strivers build their styles on. Aside from Charles Mingus, there is no other musician alive today who communicates such a yearning, controlled intensity, the transformation of life’s inchoate passions and tensions into aural adventures that find a permanent place in your consciousness and influence your basic definitions of music.”

Johnny Winter – Second Winter (RS 49)

“The performance is a masterful processing of the blues tradition that bodes new idioms by simultaneously sounding like everything that the blues emotionally is while sounding like no blues we’ve ever heard before.”

Gladys Knight – Feelin’ Bluesy, Nitty Gritty, Silk & Soul (RS 49)

“Many more albums like these, and Motown just might reclaim its lost throne as supreme force in the soul music industry.”

Yes – Yes (RS 51)

“Their sound seems to be a mix of several of the most currently popular approaches, notably Crosby, Stills and Nash (vocally) and Vanilla Fudge (instrumentally). Unlike the Fudge, they have a sense of style, taste and subtlety, and the record is a pleasurable one, if a bit familiar-sounding.”

The Doors – Morrison Hotel (RS 57)

“The music bogs down in the kind of love mush and mechanical, stereotyped rock arrangements that have marred so much of the Doors’ past music.”

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (RS 66)

“The whole album is a shuck—despite the murky songtitles and some inane lyrics that sound like Vanilla Fudge paying doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley, the album has nothing to do with spiritualism, the occult, or anything much except stiff recitations of Cream cliches that sound like the musicians learned them out of a book, grinding on and on with dogged persistence.”

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (RS 70)

“It proves once and for all that this band does not merely play the audience, it plays music whose essential crudeness is so highly refined that it becomes a kind of absolute distillation of raunch, that element which seems to be seeping out of Seventies rock at a disturbing rate. Where most live efforts seem almost embarrassing in their posturings and excesses, and even The Who Live At Leeds held tinges of the Art Statement, Ya-Ya’s at its best just rocks and socks you right out of your chair.”

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (RS 71)

“You could play it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka before the flaming sacrificial altar in Fire Maidens of Outer Space with the TV sound turned off. And believe me, the Zep made my blood throb to those jungle rhythms even more frenziedly.”

Yoko Ono – Yoko Ono and Plastic Ono Band (RS 77)

“This one will grow on you. They haven’t ironed out all the awkwardness yet, but this is the first J&Y album that doesn’t insult the intelligence—in fact, in its dark confounding way, it’s nearly as beautiful as John’s album.”

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (RS 80)

“The playing is sloppy as hell, very modal-funky and guitar centered, somewhat reminiscent of Alexander Spence’s great Oar except without the genius, the outrageously eccentric vocal style (Crosby’s singing here is even blander and more monotonously one-dimensional that Stills’ on his solo album) or the originality of composition.”

Bread – Manna (RS 82)

“They sound a little bit like the latter Beatles at their most saccharine, a bit like the insipid heart of CSN&Y, and a lot like a perfect radio distillation of the last year’s most sentimentally pseudo-personal balladic trends, Love Story making headway in the wake of used-up styles once called folk-rock and hooking a thoroughly ambivalent audience. And in that crassly calculating process they manage to be thoroughly appealing.”

Grand Funk Railroad – Survival (RS 84)

“Grand Funk are one of the very few groups rising recently that do reflect the aspirations and attitudes of their audience in the most basic way. And they’ve achieved that vast consensus not only through hype but because they are that audience, are the rallying point for any sense of mass identity and community in Teenage America circa 1971 (and Black Sabbath that community’s freaked out flip side).”

Earth, Wind & Fire – Earth, Wind & Fire (RS 85)

“What they lack, though, is Sly’s sense of derision and irony. The lyrics, unwisely printed inside, are as preachy and lovepeace cloying as anything Motown has done recently.”

Atomic Rooster – Death Walks Behind You (RS 85)

“What it all adds up to, unfortunately, is a lot of hyperthyroid noise. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with noise, but the best rock noise is usually built on simple riffs and a big, booming sound. Atomic Rooster are predicated on a kind of techniqueflaying that’s seldom modest enough in its aims to be eloquent and ends up just generally shrill.”

Joe Zawinul – Weather Report (RS 88)

“It reveals breathtakingly the stature of the Zawinul compositional talent, and suggests that he may have had more to do with the root gestation of the New Miles Sound than anyone would have thought.”

Herbie Hancock – The Best of Herbie Hancock (RS 90)

“And while neither of these albums is an extremely experimental nor as “commercial” (as in the current predilection for lame, preachy vocals) as much other current jazz, they’re both intensely musical, solid and uplifting from stem to stern.”

Jefferson Airplane – Bark (RS 95)

“If you ask me, Bark is the ‘Plane’s most magnuminious opus since After Bathing at Baxter’s, and even if its woof and whissshh ain’t quite as supersonic as some of their other platters, it’ll getcha there on time just like an amyl nitrate TV Dinner garnished this time with a little Valium.”

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (RS 96)

“The thick, plodding, almost arrhythmic steel wool curtains of sound the group is celebrated and reviled for only appear in their classical state of excruciating slowness on two tracks, “Sweet Leaf” and “Lord of This World,” and both break into driving jams that are well worth the wait. Which itself is no problem once you stop thinking about how bored you are and just let it filter down your innards like a good bottle of Romilar. Rock & roll has always been noise, and Black Sabbath have boiled that noise to its resinous essence.”

The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (RS 102)

“They are the most creative and self-sustaining rock & roll band in history, and, despite what some observers say, not tired at all yet. “Gimme Shelter,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Brown Sugar” point the way, and if Jagger & Co. are perhaps the most decadent or even, in the words of some, evil of our heroes, they also have the surest grasp of who we are and where we are going.”

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition (RS 103)

“Emerson, Lake & Palmer are bombastic and tasteless and they probably know it, but tastelessness has never been far from the sense of fun at the core of rock & roll, or bombast either, these days.”

King Crimson – Islands (RS 103)

“King Crimson would like you to think that they’re strange, but they’re not. What they are is a semi-eclectic British band with a penchant for fantasy and self-indulgence whose banally imagistic lyrics are only matched by the programmatic imagery of their music.”

Blue Oyster Cult – Blue Oyster Cult (RS 105)

“While I can’t honestly say that they have yet attained the degree of maniacal control held by either Alice or Black Sabbath, they do have the formula down better than most bands in recent memory, and not only that, but at times they sound a lot like the Music Machine, of “Talk Talk” and one-black-glove-on – each – member’s – pick – hand fame, not to mention the whole 1965-6-7 acid-fuzztone-feedback-freakout genre. Which means in front that they have achieved a highly delicate synthesis, uniting the noise which some of us old farts of 23 grew up on and loved with the Zeepelin-Sabbath-Grand Funk juggernaut-rock which many of us have had so much trouble with and which “the kids,” of course, thrive on.”

Janis Joplin – In Concert (RS 110)

“On the record, we hear her as she gradually passes from the tailend of the initial exuberant phase with Big Brother, through the jarring difference between that on-stage persona and what emerges immediately in the Full-Tilt Boogie Band tapes, on which we hear a disoriented and thoroughly pathetic individual and a music whose raggedness is made even less palatable by the breakdown and sense of strain behind it. ”

Hawkwind – In Search Of Space (RS 111)

“…this album, friends, is Psychedelic from the cover to the fadeout of the last groove. The music itself mostly sounds pretty much the same: monotone jammings with hypnotic rhythms and solos unravelling off into … well, space. The synthesizers warble, woof and scream and gurgle like barfing computers, the drums pound, and the singers chant Unknown Tongue rebops…”

Grand Funk Railroad – Phoenix (RS 121)

“And the material is for the most part just about as plodding as we’ve come to expect. Most rock is plodding now, and the real question is whether you can forget all about the adrenaline whoop of Chuck Berry and Little Richard and let yourself get into it on its own terms.”

Elvis Presley – Burning Love (RS 125)

“Since the Big EP had just cut his most gutsy single in a skunk’s age, causing some fools to drool on spec ’bout how he just might be about to make that big authentic album—well, if you were Elvis, what would you do? Cater to these cretins who’ve missed your point for over a decade? No! You wouldn’t make that album now even if you’d had some hankerin’ to, because they don’t deserve it besides which you just feel like being ornery.”

Neil Diamond – Hot August Night (RS 129)

“Here on the very front cover is Neil in full flight, working it on out, and what is he doing? Pretending to jerk off, that’s what. He’s pantomiming whanging his clanger, and from the look on his face I’d say he’s about to shoot off, and the only bogus part is that he’d like everybody out there to think it’s 13 inches long.”

Bread – Best Of Bread (RS 135)

“Bread has turned being lukewarm into an art form.”

The Marshall Tucker Band – The Marshall Tucker Band (RS 137)

“It’s refreshing to hear such honest, cooking, no-frills American music for a change, and if they’re anywhere near as good live as on this record, they could become very big indeed.”

Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ (RS 138)

“Because what makes Bruce totally unique and cosmically surfeiting is his words. Hot damn, what a passel o’ verbiage! He’s got more of them crammed into this album than any other record released this year, but it’s all right because they all fit snug, it ain’t like Harry Chapin tearing rightangle malapropisms out of his larynx. What’s more, each and every one of ’em has at least one other one here that it rhymes with.”

Styx – Pieces Of Eight (RS 281)

“Every gesture’s writ huge to the point of flatulence, their pomp is highly circumstantial (it’s the only way to get the last row’s attention) and around every chorus lurks a whirring synthesizer, if not a pipe organ hauled in from a genuine cathedral.”

Bob Marley – Kaya (RS 266)

“This is quite possibly the blandest set of reggae music I have ever heard, including all the Engelbertisms of would-be crossover crooners like John Holt.”

Van Morrison – Wavelength (RS 278)

“It probably would also be really groovy for somebody’s idea of a wine-and-joints, Renaissance-fair garden party. It makes a lovely sound, breaks no rules and keeps its grimy snout (or, rather, that of its maker) out of the dark places that mainstreams step correctly over. Rigid.”

Eric Dolphy – Berlin Concerts (RS 280)

“What really irked reactionaries from boppers on down was probably not so much the liberties that Dolphy, Coleman & Company took with harmony and rhythm, but their insistence that American music should get back to the speechlike yawp-squawks that spawned it.”

ZZ Top – Deguello (RS 312)

“What makes ZZ Top a kitchen-slinger, party-time band from here to the Brazos is that, like Austin’s Fabulous Thunderbirds, it’s saved white blues from being yesterday’s conceit. Or vice versa.”

The Slits – Cut (RS 319)

“The result is an almost ticktock sound, overlaid with occasional flurries of keyboards, a recorder, and Albertine and Tessa singing in and out of unison with Arri Up, who makes the most of her middle register while indulging a penchant for the occasional birdlike falsetto trill.”

If you can find any other Bangs reviews online, add them in the comments, and we’ll try to keep this page updated…

One more thing: if you haven’t yet read Jim DeRogatis’ biography of Lester Bangs, Let It Blurt, you really oughtta. It’s good.

And just for fun: here’s an MP3 of Bangs reading “What I’m Listening To Now, by Lester Bangs” (excerpted from a 90-minute 1980 interview that you can purchase on CDR for $15).

5 thoughts on “Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone (dot com)”

  1. I undoubtedly read some of these when they were new, not realizing that Lester would someday become the patron saint of rock reviewers. Nice to see this stuff again.

  2. No one could ever do ‘flagrant’ as well as Lester. Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste was a good collection of some of his best reviews. From one page to the next I’d go from cheering him on to wanting to shake the crap out of him.

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