A while ago we uncovered a bunch of classic Lester Bangs reviews from the archives of Rolling Stone. It seems that the Stone is gradually adding more old reviews to their website, since helpful reader Diane recently found one we missed: Alice Cooper’s Killer. In addition to that fantastic piece of prose, we’ve dug up several more that we didn’t see the first time.
One of the great things about reading these reviews, especially when compared to some of Bangs’ more epic material that was compiled in Psychotic Reactions and Main Lines, is the chance to see his idea of a standard, straightforward review. Another great thing is to hear about bands he’s raving about who apparently have been lost in the mists of FM radio. Crabby Appleton? Zephyr? Um, who?
Tony Williams – Emergency (RS 46)
“These men are true musicians of the rarest type; they compromise neither to the hysterical charlatanism of the avant-garde nor to moribund traditionalists. They are jazz musicians who have seen through the smog of pop artifice and picked up on the very best that rock has to offer, making their music a totally unique entity, the kind of dedicated super-inspired workmanship that promises to set styles for years to come.”
The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow (RS 51)
“One looked forward to this one because they are a thrillingly ragged blues band with none of the usual snobbery. What a surprise, then, to find an ultra-pretentious concept album, complete with strained ‘story’ (A Man’s Life from rural birth to Prodigal’s Oliver Twist freakout), like some grossly puerile cross between the Bee Gees, Tommy, and the Moody Blues, who should be shot for what they’ve done to English rock lyrics: ‘On a dark and windswept street/The faces I see of the people I meet/With their eyes they build a shrine/That takes me back to the forest of my mind.'”
Charlie Haden – Liberation Music Orchestra (RS 52)
“Whatever one may think of the vaguely-defined politics and somewhat labored New-Leftist atmosphere of the undertaking, the music all speaks for itself as a raw multi-voiced cry for the ever-distant prize of true freedom.”
Frank Zappa – Hot Rats (RS 53)
“The new Zappa has dumped both his Frankensteinian classicism and his pachuko-rock. He’s into the new jazz heavily; same as Beefheart, and applying all his technical savvy until the music sounds a far and purposely ragged cry from the self-indulgence of the current crop of young white John Coltranes.”
Crabby Appleton – Crabby Appleton (RS 69)
“[T]he main spirit communicated by this record seems to be a kind of open innocence (without being puerile) that we have all but forgotten lately…. I like that, and everything else on this first album, which is nearly faultless and communicates the vitality of American youth and American music better than the last and the next ten hypes showering in.”
John Mayall – USA Union (RS 73)
“If the Stones are speed, and Van Morrison is fine red wine, Mayall in 1970 is pure Librium — safe, soothing, non-toxic, non-habituating and very specific.”
Frank Zappa – Chunga’s Revenge (RS 73)
“The original Mothers of Invention were a significant force in the music of our time. But these diddlings are not only insignificant, not only do they suggest that one genius is not at present working towards anything in particular, but they also smack of a rather cynical condescending attitude towards a public that may be getting ready to pass Zappa by.”
Zephyr – Going Back To Colorado (RS 79)
“The main thing about Zephyr is that they write interesting songs and know how to record them with polish and professionalism and those little extra touches that make arrangements intriguing. As a result their second album is unusually substantial. That’s saying something these days.”
Wayne Shorter – Odyssey of Iska (RS 98)
“I have been listening to this record over and over again for the past month, and I still can’t begin to convey the complexity, the depths and shadings and shifting fabrics of its flow anymore than I can begin to see an end to the discoveries that I make in different streams and valleys of it with each new playing.”
Alice Cooper – Killer (RS 99)
“It gets harder to be avant-outrageous all the time, what with everybody so jaded and I even hear the next catch-phrase to drop from the Max’s dens of iniquity into the Newsweeks is ‘gay chauvinism,’ so what the fuck are you gonna do short of copping a riff not even new when Gilles de Rais laid it down four or five centuries ago and taking to actually disemboweling virgins and infants on stage?”
Don McLean – American Pie (RS 100)
“For the last couple of years critics and audience alike have been talking about the Death of Rock, or at least the fragmentation of all our 1967 dreams of anthemic unity. And, inevitably, somebody has written a song about it. About Dylan, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Janis and others. About where we’ve been, the rush of exhilaration we felt at the pinnacle, and the present sense of despair.”
Papa John Creach – Papa John Creach (RS 103)
“Papa John has a way with the fiddle distinct in this day, a facility for playing straight gospel blues and making it sound somehow classical but never strained or mawkish, and a rare and subtle sense of humor…”
Deep Purple – Machine Head (RS 109)
“The basic problem seemed to be that the group hadn’t really learned to write yet, so the covers were the best way to grow without losing the audience. Except that no self-respecting late-Sixties rock band wants to put out an album with nothing but covers on it, so we were left with a bunch of boring originals, half of them instrumental.”
Lou Reed – The Bells (RS 293)
“Lou Reed is a prick and a jerkoff who regularly commits the ultimate sin of treating his audience with contempt. He’s also a person with deep compassion for a great many other people about whom almost nobody else gives a shit. I won’t say who they are, because I don’t want to get too schmaltzy, except to emphasize that there’s always been more to this than drugs and fashionable kinks, and to point out that suffering, loneliness and psychic/spiritual exile are great levelers.”
MP3: Lester Bangs – 1980 Interview, Part 1 and Part 2 (courtesy of Interviews Archive)
Previously: Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone (dot com).
6 thoughts on “Even more Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone”
The thing about Bangs is…and this is what I learned after reading Psychotic Reactions for the first time…is how right he is. I had no interest in The Guess Who at all, and after reading his review of their Live At The Paramount album was a hoot. It stayed in my mind a while, until a friend of mine actually grew enough balls to buy it (it was used and he worked at the record store, so his balls weren’t that big) and immediately called to say that Bangs was right: the album rocked.
So I’ve since started to pay attention to his reviews of also-rans and stuff that I might have been too cool to purchase before. I never would have considered a Marshall Fucking Tucker Band record before, but take a look at my Amazon wish list (tis the season) and you’ll see their debut based entirely on his review and an unspoken love of “Can’t You See” whenever I hear it.
And I wouldn’t have come across Bangs’ review of it if it weren’t for these GloNo links.
The downfall is that I will often peruse through them while at work and on occasion blurt out a laugh at the most inappropriate times; I was still laughing about Lou Reed’s The Bells review when a customer called, forcing me to take off my rock thoughts and remember that I’m still “on the clock” so to speak.
He might be right a lot, but you’ve got to keep in mind that he also admitted to occasionally reviewing an album without even breaking the seal — based entirely on the album art, tracklisting, and notes — because he could get more money for them from the used record shops if they were unopened…
So, you know, grain of salt.
Plus, “American Pie”? Come on. What’s fascinating about that Don Maclean review is that it really lets you in on how disillusioned rock fans were feeling by January 1972.
The fucking “Woodstock generation” had made it through the 60s but the Vietnam War was still raging, Nixon had been re-elected, Martin Luther King was dead, Altamont was just a couple weeks before… What had they accomplished after all?
But you know what’s funny? 1973 and 1974 were awesome years for music. Back when I was still buying used vinyl, I would dig through the cheapo bins and pretty much buy anything in the dollar rack that was released in 73 or 74. Soul, jazz, country, southern rock, etc. And most of it — especially the stuff by bands I’d never even heard of — was pretty good. Then again, I was probably super high.
Wow. I had no idea. I’m going to have to pick up Let It Blurt. And I didn’t get to that Don Mclean review yet, so I’ll be sure to take notice of my sodium intake.
To that point: I’ve made several purchases in my day based entirely on cover art, track listings, etc. They usually sucked shit, but goddamn, it felt good to take a chance every now and then.
It wasn’t Lester who reviewed albums without breaking the shrink wrap; that was Richard Meltzer who bragged about that trick (and, to some extent, Nick Tosches). Bangs listened to everything he wrote about, especially when writing for Stone — they paid more than anyone else, and he needed the money, so he took it seriously. Now, how much Romilar he’d imbibed before listening, that’s a different story…
One thing about Bangs, that made for many dead-on early appraisals is that he didn’t suck on hype like most critics (especially these days). He was suspicious of any “next big thing”, relying instead on his own well-lubed bullshit detector.
RE: “Altamont was just a couple weeks before… ” (above in the comment by Jake) Altamont was in 1969. (A simple web search would have confirmed that and the Meltzer snafu.) When tracking timelines, Rolling Stones + 1972 = Exile. Remember that, it will come in handy (said the old fart).
Is that right? Wow. Betcha popped a vein with that one… dincha?