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February 19, 2014 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Rolling Stone's 500 Worst Reviews of All Time
posted by gorbweaver (216 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shit sandwich.
posted by billiebee at 9:50 AM on February 19 [20 favorites]


Awesome. Really great overview of why your favorite music reviewing forum probably sucks.

Someone do early Pitchfork now.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:54 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


That review of the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is great, and Mr schmidtt clearly hasn't even listened to the album. Which is sad. It is an awesome album, and there are giant kissable flies.

Also, Phil Ochs is generally insufferable and completely lacking in humor to my ear, so I agree with them panning Tapes From California.
posted by koeselitz at 9:55 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


There is some awesome stuff here, though. His research in the early years of RS is really interesting.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


And it gets more interesting as I go on. Holy crap, they panned Curtis Mayfield's solo debut? That's insane!
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Why do people talk about individual reviews, written by individual reviewers, as if they represent the official position of the publication in which they appear? As if a publication—which is produced by scores, if not hundreds, of writers and editors—can be expected to have a clear consensus on any given question, and to maintain that consensus over years and decades (with continuous turnover in said writers and editors)?

It's weird.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:00 AM on February 19 [6 favorites]


To clarify for those about to click the link - the billing of "worst reviews" refers to the quality of the review itself, not to the album being reviewed. So this is not a list of "the 500 albums Rolling Stone hated most", but more "the 500 reviews which were worst-written, even if they were favorable reviews".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on February 19 [9 favorites]


I will say I really enjoy the weird colloquialisms (e.g. "bringing it all back home," "in their own bag") that seem to crop up in all of these early reviews. Did people actually talk this way back in the 60s?

I noticed the same thing, but I am old enough to remember that they did (and in the early seventies too) and it makes me kind of nostalgic.
posted by TedW at 10:09 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I gave up with RS reviews years ago as they all seemed to be of the form - This album by Band is unlike their previous albums, why can't they stick with what they know how to do OR this album by Band is just like their previous albums, why can't they grow and change?
posted by njohnson23 at 10:11 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


So this is not a list of "the 500 albums Rolling Stone hated most", but more "the 500 reviews which were worst-written, even if they were favorable reviews".

Well, yes and no. Because there's also this ...

(2) Reappraisals: Reviews that diverge drastically from today's conventional wisdom about an album. Usually I have chosen records RS originally panned, and now considers great - in many cases, the greatest in the history of recorded music. Occasionally I had a hard time choosing between the original review and the reappraisal, and found both to be equally hyperbolic and ridiculous.

So what it is really is a very catholic exploration of "worst". Confusing, yes. But not unfun.
posted by philip-random at 10:12 AM on February 19


I hope this is in there somewhere. Because five stars for a Mick Jagger solo album? In 2001? lololol
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:14 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Jann Wenner's pan of Alice's Restaurant is kind of an interesting example of zeitgest at play, I think.

The title song is a product of its time, to be sure, but it's also a storytelling sing-along song. It's got to be enjoyed at a concert, or listened to with friends, or on a fading car radio while traveling through the hills, or or or...

Whatever I think of Jann Wenner -- and I'd rather attend another Arlo Guthrie concert than hang out with Wenner -- his put-down only seems out of place when I ignore the hindsight of the time I spent as a child and teenager enjoying that album, or how the cultural impact of the Vietnam War mushroomed from 1968 onward, the year after Wenner's review.

So... I dunno. Maybe the song only became good through the process of millions of people taking it to heart. Sitting alone in a room without certain social touchstones, it's just yet another rambly sing-songy folky track that goes on for quite a long time. There were, I dunno, hundreds, maybe thousands, of those being recorded in the late 60s, and this was one of them. Maybe he's not wrong. Even though I still love that song.
posted by ardgedee at 10:14 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I think Jann Wenner's review of Alice's Restaurant was supposed to be favorable? It's just vague and badly written.
posted by my favorite orange at 10:17 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I will say I really enjoy the weird colloquialisms (e.g. "bringing it all back home," "in their own bag")

Does the author really not get the reference in "bringing it all back home"? That struck me as a weird moment.
posted by yoink at 10:17 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


ardgedee: “Jann Wenner's pan of Alice's Restaurant is kind of an interesting example of zeitgest at play, I think.”

Jann Wenner did not pan Alice's Restaurant. Jann Wenner was apparently saying that Alice's Restaurant was incredible, was the work of Woody Guthrie reborn. The author of this list seems to think it's crazy to think that Alice's Restaurant is an obvious zeitgeist.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, I want the takeaway here to be the notion that maybe some music only really shows its true face after years of being out in the wild, and maybe we should wait that long to take a full accounting of just what there is to it.

...on the other hand, they call Curtis "lacking in character" and Maggot Brain "merely garbage," which is just fucking wrong whether you're listening to them ten days after release or ten years.
posted by invitapriore at 10:18 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Dave Marsh has really made some massive mistakes in these reviews. Calling the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle a "mediocre comeback effort" is indeed infuriating and indefensible.
posted by koeselitz at 10:20 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


(Also inexplicable.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:20 AM on February 19


There is a lot of toxicity in the review world. I remember a visit to London, hanging out at a Camden pub and a friend, who was in the music scene, pointing out a woman at the bar who was a reviewer for NME or Melody Maker (I can't remember which). Apparently, she'd recently panned a popular band's live set but had never actually left the back room of the club (where she was drinking) for the front room (where the band was playing). Someone even had it on video tape.

But she still had her job.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Why do people talk about individual reviews, written by individual reviewers, as if they represent the official position of the publication in which they appear? As if a publication—which is produced by scores, if not hundreds, of writers and editors—can be expected to have a clear consensus on any given question, and to maintain that consensus over years and decades (with continuous turnover in said writers and editors)?

Have you looked at the link? It's really, really carefully written, and comes together as a thoughtful appraisal of the culture and practice of reviewing popular music.

What a massive project.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:22 AM on February 19 [12 favorites]


The author of this list seems to think it's crazy to think that Alice's Restaurant is an obvious zeitgeist.

I think he's just singling this review out as badly written, not inherently wrong. If he's quoting the early reviews accurately there was some amazingly first-draft-is-best-draft writing there.
posted by yoink at 10:22 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Shit sandwich.

Where'd they print that? Where did that appear? That's not real-- is it?
posted by cell divide at 10:23 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


The author of this list seems to think it's crazy to think that Alice's Restaurant is an obvious zeitgeist.

The author of the list doesn't disagree with every single review on the list. Their objection to the Alice's Restaurant review, for example, is that it's nearly incomprehensible. It has like 7 dependent clauses in one sentence.
posted by muddgirl at 10:23 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Abbey Road: "probably the worst thing the Beatles have done since they changed drummers".
posted by Flunkie at 10:24 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


> Jann Wenner was apparently saying that Alice's Restaurant was incredible

Really? I read it as, "He's Woody Guthrie's son and this is all we get?"
posted by ardgedee at 10:25 AM on February 19


Why do people talk about individual reviews, written by individual reviewers, as if they represent the official position of the publication in which they appear?

It's worth noting that the first entry is a review written by Jann Wenner, the founder of RS.

While, yes, a magazine isn't just one person, Rolling Stone as a specific publication does absolutely have an editorial intent. It was founded by an individual and, at least early on, written by most likely a relatively small core group of people who would have shared a certain outlook on music.

Obviously they wouldn't be in lockstep, but it's unlikely that you'd found a magazine with like five guys, one of whom is Jann Wenner, one of whom exclusively likes classical music, one of whom thinks the Monkees are the grooviest ever, one of whom is only into whalesong, etc. Most likely there is going to be some sort of editorial "voice" happening, if only because that's how people tend to come together for a collective purpose.

It wouldn't surprise me if Rolling Stone nowadays (or especially in the 80s and 90s before print media was dead) just contracts out to a bunch of freelancers who may or may not correspond to any particular editorial "voice". Even so, it's pretty unlikely that they are going to attract critics who just fucking love The Wiggles and are reviewing music from a completely different standpoint to other mainstream pop/rock critics. There's still probably a carefully curated and disseminated Official Rolling Stone Voice in play on some level.
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


billiebee: “Shit sandwich.”

cell divide: “Where'd they print that? Where did that appear? That's not real-- is it?”

It is totally real. I saw it in a documentary once.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Neither of these were published in RS, nevertheless:

GTR, GTR: "SHT" -- JD Considine, (Musician P&L, Apr(?) 1986 )
WP: "Considine later said it was the most famous thing he'd ever written in his three decades as a critic, while Hackett claimed the review actually helped sales of the album."
"Anatomy of a Love Festival", Esquire, Jan 1968, Robert Christgau
[Jimi Hendrix] came to Monterey recommended by the likes of Paul McCartney. He was terrible. Hendrix is a psychedelic Uncle Tom. Don't believe me, believe Sam Silver of The East Village Other: "Jimi did a beautiful Spade routine." . . . Grunting and groaning on the brink of sham orgasm, he made his way through five or six almost indistinguishable songs . . . He had tailored a caricature to their mythic standards and apparently didn't even overdo it a shade. . . . I suppose Hendrix's act can be seen as a consistently vulgar parody of rock theatrics, but I don't feel I have to like it. Anyhow, he can't sing.
posted by Herodios at 10:27 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Have you looked at the link? It's really, really carefully written, and comes together as a thoughtful appraisal of the culture and practice of reviewing popular music.

But the criticism stands, nonetheless. There's a repeated motif of complaint that today's Rolling Stone pushes a mythic version of the inherent vitality and creativity of 60s/70s music that the contemporary RS didn't actually buy into. But that is attributing both sets of positions to the magazine rather than to the writers employed by the magazine.

In the end, I'm not really sure what this project's point is. Rolling Stone used to publish some shitty writing? So? Rolling Stone had critics in the early days whose opinions aren't congruent with the majority opinion among the critics who write for it now? So? Are any of those things remotely surprising? Does anyone actually care what Rolling Stone thinks about anything? Has anyone cared since, oh, the 80s?
posted by yoink at 10:27 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


AHHH YES YOU'RE QUOTING THE GUH
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Well, whatever Wenner was trying to say, it was obvious.
posted by muddgirl at 10:28 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Someone do early Pitchfork now.

Okay. They were surprisingly neutral (ha!) about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea at first...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:28 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


And Ryan Schreiber has done some terrible reviews. He hated Discovery, and once reviewed the reissue of Pet Sounds by saying it was "dated" and that it just didn't do much for him since it was really old people's music.
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Really? I read it as, "He's Woody Guthrie's son and this is all we get?"
I'm not really sure that whatever she meant can be known, but I read it as "Woody's musical ability has obviously been reincarnated in Arlo".
posted by Flunkie at 10:30 AM on February 19


AHHH YES YOU'RE QUOTING THE GUH

You're just as God made you, sir.
posted by phaedon at 10:30 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


It seems to me the author of the list is pretty diligent about pointing out specific reviewers and taking them to task. If you read all of them (I have only read the first 50 so far), there is a meta narrative that runs through them discussing quirks of different reviewers and internal politics at play early in RS history.

Overall this is a very entertaining trove of meta-criticism and historical reflection. Like any other criticism though it should be tempered by the understanding that personal preference and bias does come into play.

When I get some time, I'm going to make a list of the top 10 best and worst RS review reviews. Because I'm all about the meta meta.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:30 AM on February 19 [7 favorites]


I used to think that I didn't like Pet Sounds and something was wrong with me until someone pointed out that a common mistake people make is to instantly think about "Sloop John B" when they think of the album and therefore think they hate it. It's true, I actually quite like Pet Sounds but I hate "Sloop John B."

Oh no, now it's stuck in my head.
posted by sweetkid at 10:32 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


"It is another one of those coincidences - inexplicably except by belief in them - that Woodie Guthrie's son, whom Arlo is, should be born into his musical career via this, his first album, on the eve of his father's death. There is something happening here and it is obvious." (Jann Wenner, 11/9/67 Review)

My interpretation of this was that Wenner was implying some sort of nepotism was at play. But I could be misreading it completely. I have no idea.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:32 AM on February 19


Marsh can be a temperamental reviewer and he hates a lot of stuff people like and vice versa, but when he's right, he's right and he's right often.
posted by jonmc at 10:32 AM on February 19


Interesting bit from the intro:
I include many of these reappraisals (particularly of albums released between 1969-1975) not to demonstrate the critic was "wrong" or "stupid" for criticizing a band that later became popular, or that RS is worthy of ridicule simply because its opinions evolved over time. Intelligent people can and do disagree about any number of albums on this list. I do think it is fascinating, however, that the "classic" rock of the late 60s and early 70s, which RS now claims to be so much "greater" than everything else, was hardly perceived that way at the time. On the other hand, many of RS's reappraisals of more recent albums seem blatantly cynical.
But I could be misreading it completely. I have no idea.

There is something happening here and it is obvious.
posted by muddgirl at 10:33 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Well, if nothing else, I learned today that Rolling Stone shit on the Jayhawks' best album. No surprise, but still new to me.
posted by COBRA! at 10:33 AM on February 19


I used to think that I didn't like Pet Sounds and something was wrong with me until someone pointed out that a common mistake people make is to instantly think about "Sloop John B" when they think of the album and therefore think they hate it. It's true, I actually quite like Pet Sounds but I hate "Sloop John B."

I actually don't dislike "Sloop John B.," but it's weird that that's the song people think of (and I agree that they do) when basically every single song on that album is better than "Sloop John B."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:34 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Also, reading through these really drives home how much self-editing I'm doing on my memory when it comes to Stones releases in the 90s. I'd forgotten that 75% of those hunks of shit existed.
posted by COBRA! at 10:36 AM on February 19


I love "Sloop John B."

Like, as a song. The Beach Boys' take on it is whatever, and arguably not the greatest thing about Pet Sounds. But as a song, it's a great, great song.

I think I just like the idea of a vaunted traditional ballad full of ennui at being on a trip with one's grandfather and including the line "I wanna go home."

Maybe it just speaks to my life or something.
posted by Sara C. at 10:40 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Also, reading through these really drives home how much self-editing I'm doing on my memory when it comes to Stones releases in the 90s. I'd forgotten that 75% of those hunks of shit existed.

There was a period there through the 80s where each new Stones album would be hailed as "at last, a return to form!" and, like an idiot, I'd go and buy it and try to persuade myself that, yeah, it really had something. You know, if I just listen to it a few more times I'll really get on board....

But I really don't listen to anything after Some Girls.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on February 19 [10 favorites]


jonmc: “Marsh can be a temperamental reviewer and he hates a lot of stuff people like and vice versa, but when he's right, he's right and he's right often.”

Really? I mean, I used to think so. Reading through this list, I am not sure. How can someone be so wrong about so many things?

Dictators, Go Girl Crazy!: "A new low - rock songs about wrestling and contempt, not just for the music and the audience, but even for themselves. Witlessly performed."

The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle: "In the late Sixties, after a long hiatus, the group came up with 'Time of the Season,' the keynote of this mediocre comeback effort."

Pere Ubu, Dub Housing: "Art Rock with a New Wave face is no less pompous, pretentious or irrelevant because of its claim to association with Johnny Rotten."

Lee Perry's Upsetters, Super Ape: "If reggae were plagued with boring disco records, this is probably what they'd sound like. Fortunately, most reggae is exciting dance music, which is all the less reason to listen to this assemblage of unfocused riffs."

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation: "In the first place, Jack Kerouac said everything here first, and far better. In the second place, Hell is about as whining as Verlaine is pretentious."

Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers Live: "On these two albums, Richman loses his vision and becomes once more a teenage twerp, warbling about Veg-a-Matics and other garbage, replacing the lovers' flat punk rock with even flatter folkie music. Now you know why everybody picked on that kid in high school."

Television, Marquee Moon: "Somewhat mysteriously, Television was the most widely touted band to emerge from the New York New Wave. But Marquee Moon showed the group as the exclusive project of guitarist Tom Verlaine, an interesting Jerry Garcia-influenced guitarist who lacked melodic ideas or any emotional sensibility."

Grateful Dead, American Beauty: "...this is one assertedly major oeuvre that's virtually worthless except for documentary purposes...[t]he band's attempts at pop, rock and country are rendered effortlessly irritating and stodgy by the band's lack of a crisp rhythm section and/or a single competent vocalist."

I mean, good lord, he even pans Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy. Seems like he's just a self-important dweeb who has had a ridiculously disproportionate influence on music history considering his hideously bad musical taste.
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 AM on February 19 [12 favorites]


One thing I always found interesting about listening to older music is the difference between how people felt when it came out, and listening to it 30 or 40 years later without all the cultural context and baggage.

The obvious example is "Dylan goes electric," which was this huge controversy then and seems like a complete non-issue now (ironically exactly because Dylan made it no big deal to play both styles, and for "loud" rock music to have intellectual, complex lyrics).

But I'm sure there were Beatles albums that came out and at the time people were like, "What is this crap?? This is no Sgt. Pepper! The Beatles have lost it!" Whereas today we here it in a vacuum and are just like, "It's the Beatles- it's amazing."
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:42 AM on February 19


I like Sloop John B, but I love the isolated vocals of Sloop John B.
posted by Flunkie at 10:42 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Really? I read it as, "He's Woody Guthrie's son and this is all we get?"

My reading of the review is the record was not good and would not have been made if Woody wasn't his father.
posted by bukvich at 10:43 AM on February 19


My reading of the review is the record was not good

I don't see how the negative reading can be reconciled with the stuff about this being one of those coincidences you only see if you really, like, believe man. Nobody needs to be convinced to have faith in nepotism.
posted by yoink at 10:45 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I think it's probably a good idea to move on from Arlo Guthrie and read the rest of the list, as it's fantastic. The section on Dave Marsh's "most contemptuous - and utterly myopic" review of Devo's Duty Now For The Future! – which is number 154 here – is itself a masterful and well-written introduction and contextualization of the music of Devo.

I'll be reading this list for a long time, I think, and I'll get a lot of new music out of it too.
posted by koeselitz at 10:51 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Mad Libs for every single RS review of a new release by faded/fading big name legacy artist published between the late 80s to late 90s:
[Their last piece of shit] and [the piece of shit before that one] were letdowns, but with [newest piece of shit], [flabby, past-their-prime rock artist] has rekindled the fire of what made them great, putting out their best collection of songs since [last record of theirs most people agree was good].
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:54 AM on February 19 [18 favorites]


Also, Phil Ochs is generally insufferable and completely lacking in humor to my ear

Huh? Some of Ochs's best-known songs (e.g. "Draft Dodger Rag," "Love Me, I'm a Liberal") are explicitly comic, and many others rely centrally on black humor or irony ("Here's to the State of Mississippi," "Cops of the World"). Insufferable is in the ear of the beholder, but the guy definitely had a sense of humor. On the thread's topic, even: according to a surprisingly decent Wikipedia article Ochs self-mockingly quoted a slam from a Christgau review — "his guitar playing would not suffer much if his right hand were webbed" — as a mock-promotional blurb, under the heading "The Critics Raved."
posted by RogerB at 10:55 AM on February 19 [7 favorites]


Just to settle the question of what Wenner did or didn't mean about Arlo Guthrie, here's a link to where you can find the complete review. Amongst other things he calls the album "an unqualified and complete success."
posted by yoink at 10:55 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I knew that three star review of Nevermind was gonna make the list because, as the author notes, "RS was running away from this limp review of Nevermind almost before the ink had dried."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:55 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Terrible albums, generally by established artists (and/or personal friends of Jann Wenner), that were reviewed favorably by RS.

I didn't pick up on this as a little music nerd reading Rolling Stone in the pre-Spin days of the mid-80s. I just assumed that if Rolling Stone gave this Ginger Baker or Jackson Browne album four stars then it must be a good album. I'll just pick up the tape next time I'm at Sam Goody! At 13 I had the music collection of a 39-year-old uncle.

Now that I'm getting close to the age that the Boomers were in the mid-80s, these grade inflation reviews have really stayed with me and help remind me to take the long view: "This third solo album by the lead singer of a beloved 90s indie rock band has been getting good reviews. But is it really good, or is it just '4 star Rolling Stone review of a Robbie Robertson album from 1987' good?"
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:59 AM on February 19 [12 favorites]


I cannot condemn someone for condemning Leonard Cohen. I recognize he's well loved but I can at best tolerate some of his work.
posted by phearlez at 10:59 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


This is great. I smiled, chuckled, and winced as I read down the list, but I didn't literally LOL until I got to:
Big Brother & The Holding Company
Cheap Thrills (1968)

Rating: Unfavorable
"Well, it's a real disappointment."
> In the end, I'm not really sure what this project's point is. Rolling Stone used to publish some shitty writing? So? Rolling Stone had critics in the early days whose opinions aren't congruent with the majority opinion among the critics who write for it now? So? Are any of those things remotely surprising?

Is anyone forcing you to read it? Isn't it apparent that lots of people enjoy it?
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I think the discussion of the Alice's Restaurant review in this thread proves that it definitely belongs on this list.
posted by mellow seas at 11:00 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating example of culture construction at work, how the pachinko machine of criticism elevates some stuff to "all time great" that was viewed quite differently by its contemporaries....Nobody knows, you know, when something comes out, what's gonna be crowned GOAT by history; all you have is your own reaction to it. It's honest, it's fresher, but of course it's blinkered too; watching all those fresh faced strummers in matching sweaters every week on Ed Sullivan, and maybe the Beach Boys do just fade into the background will all the other surf bands, and you come to Pet Sounds thinking of Brian Wilson as a washed up former gimmick songwriter, and can't hear anything else in it. Especially interesting to see this process through the medium of Rolling Stone reviews themselves, when it feel like half the stuff in there is just rubbing another layer of brass polish on the alter of the '60s...
posted by Diablevert at 11:01 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Why do people talk about individual reviews, written by individual reviewers, as if they represent the official position of the publication in which they appear? As if a publication—which is produced by scores, if not hundreds, of writers and editors—can be expected to have a clear consensus on any given question, and to maintain that consensus over years and decades (with continuous turnover in said writers and editors)?

As he points out, regardless of the individual interviewer, RS has been unaccountably and unreasonably positive about Bruce Springsteen's new releases for the last twenty years (viz., three straight five-star reviews for Magic, Working on a Dream and Wrecking Ball, when even a Springsteen partisan like me could maybe pull together a four-and-a-half-star album out of the three of them combined). It's much easier to believe that there was a (possibly subtle) tendency to give Springsteen a pass than to believe that every reviewer RS assigned was independently wrong that consistently.
posted by Etrigan at 11:01 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Is anyone forcing you to read it? Isn't it apparent that lots of people enjoy it?

Am I saying people shouldn't read it or shouldn't enjoy doing so? Clearly I am reading it and finding things in it that interest and amuse me. I'm saying I'm unclear what the author's purpose is. He's putting a huge amount of effort into this, but it's not clear that it adds up to any coherent critique or any coherent argument about Rolling Stone. That is, I'd find an anthology of random Rolling Stone reviews through the ages interesting in precisely the same way that this list is--and it would no doubt be a lot less work to produce.
posted by yoink at 11:05 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


White people, y'all can't hear Jimi.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:05 AM on February 19


Now that I'm getting close to the age that the Boomers were in the mid-80s, these grade inflation reviews have really stayed with me and help remind me to take the long view: "This third solo album by the lead singer of a beloved 90s indie rock band has been getting good reviews. But is it really good, or is it just '4 star Rolling Stone review of a Robbie Robertson album from 1987' good?"

Yes, this exactly. I remember the day I was cheerfully extolling the virtues of another sloppy, meandering Paul Westerberg solo record and I could see the words I was saying all lined up in column text in an old Rolling Stone, underneath a four star rating. And I realized both that I was being an old man with too much forgiveness and affection for my longtime favorites and that suddenly I had a bit more empathy for the middle-aged coots who'd tried to push Robbie Robertson records on me while I gave them the stinky side eye, all those years ago reading Rolling Stone in the school library.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:07 AM on February 19 [6 favorites]


On the one hand, I want the takeaway here to be the notion that maybe some music only really shows its true face after years of being out in the wild, and maybe we should wait that long to take a full accounting of just what there is to it.

This is probably true of all music, but once you admit that the value in any particular piece of music is created by its social context, the associations it's acquired, and any lasting effects it may have, then there's not really any point in reviewing individual records or even artists. The value's not something inherent in the music that was there all along, it's something we brought to it.
posted by echo target at 11:08 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Diablevert: "This is a fascinating example of culture construction at work, how the pachinko machine of criticism elevates some stuff to "all time great" that was viewed quite differently by its contemporaries....Nobody knows, you know, when something comes out, what's gonna be crowned GOAT by history; all you have is your own reaction to it."

Yes, I used to naively believe that the goal of this form of criticism was simply to help you decide whether an individual piece of media was worth your specific attention, instead of trying to objectively predict its eventual place in history. It turned out I was wrong, so for the most part I now just try out music from neighbours' charts on last.fm. It has a better hit/miss ratio for new music than any critic ever did. Maybe I'll miss out on some Most Important Album of the Century, but that's an acceptable risk.
posted by vanar sena at 11:11 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Well, it's no secret that Rolling Stone has been flanderised over the years and you don't really need this project to point this out, but it is at least a great attempt at cataloging this phenomenom.

Before RS became RS and the sixties became, well, the Sixties, there was still room for individual tastes to disagree about the great milestone albums, but that's almost fifty years in the past by now. It's actually interesting to see people pan or misunderstand albums which everybody now considers classics beyond reproach; it's not necessarily us that are right.

Nor is it by any means certain that, as the author acknowledges, that changed reviews means either of them is bad or wrong. Context matters and what works in one context, doesn't necessarily in another.

The real problem with RS and rock criticism in general is that we all sorta kinda pretend that it's all still relevant and modern when there are kids out there on youtube comments moaning that they missed the golden age of nineties gabber because they were born too late.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:12 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I recognize he's well loved but I can at best tolerate some of his work.

The problem with Leonard Cohen is that he only ever wanted to be a poet. The actual songs/lyrics are great, and occasionally the instrumentation and production line up with whatever your personal taste is (I love his earlier 60's tinged sound, but I love everyone's 60's tinged sound), but there's no real consistency of what his music sounds like. Because it's music that isn't about what it sounds like. Which is... complicated.

Once he gets away from your particular snowflakey taste, musically, you really have to hold your nose and listen. Which is difficult to ask from anyone who isn't a diehard Cohen fan.

The weird thing is that the "flaming shits" record discussed here is arguably his best in terms of what the actual music actually sounds like. (In my 60's folkie opinion, anyway -- it's clear from these reviews that RS took a hard editorial stance against anything remotely folk, in the late 60s.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:12 AM on February 19


Some of these are fun to look at, with the caveat that looking at a piece of cultural criticism -- which, at its best, often takes art in the context of its moment and environment to the utmost degree possible -- and mocking it for failing to take into account what would change and what would be learned over the next 50 years is an inherently silly exercise. That doesn't mean it isn't fun, and it doesn't mean there aren't lessons about the way cultural opinions are formed and memories of those opinions become warped, because I couldn't agree more.

But the fact that you cannot, right now, understand what was meant by the references to "something happening," for instance, does not conclusively prove that at the time, it would have been quite so opaque.

They're fun and intriguing and even insight-producing to read, but they're not inherently bad, I don't think, depending on the basis on which they were chosen. The word "worst" is not the right word here; it is simply the most attention-getting word.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:15 AM on February 19


yoink: “In the end, I'm not really sure what this project's point is. Rolling Stone used to publish some shitty writing? So? Rolling Stone had critics in the early days whose opinions aren't congruent with the majority opinion among the critics who write for it now? So? Are any of those things remotely surprising? Does anyone actually care what Rolling Stone thinks about anything? Has anyone cared since, oh, the 80s?”

This is exactly what I would have told you in 1993. I would have told you this despite the fact that I secretly hid out in the back of the library trolling through old copies of Rolling Stone to find music to listen to.

Yes, I care what Rolling Stone thinks. I care even more what they thought. They are the most influential music magazine in American history. They have been responsible for elevating and (in many more sad cases) destroying the careers of thousands of bands over the decades. It would be ridiculous not to care. I mean, really – it is simply interesting to think about what people thought of music in the past, and to consider what people said about it when it was released, and to think about what impact these reviews had.

And that's what this list does – more thoroughly and completely than anything I've ever seen, at least in the case of Rolling Stone. Click through a few pages and scroll down for some of the mulit-paragraph entries; there's a huge amount of research here, a lot of knowledge and soul-searching.

And the author of this list has some of his own strong and interesting opinions. He says that Frank Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti and NWA's Elif4zaggin are execrable trash, for instance. I can't say I disagree with him on that count, honestly.
posted by koeselitz at 11:17 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


"Some of [my songs] actually make me nauseous."

-Billy Joel
Huh! Billy Joel and I have more similar musical tastes than I ever imagined!
posted by Flunkie at 11:19 AM on February 19 [9 favorites]


They're super right about Cream, though.
posted by Sara C. at 11:19 AM on February 19


philip-random: There is a lot of toxicity in the review world.

Reviewing music is interesting, especially when compared to tech and game reviews of modern eras. Game and tech reviewers have a bit harder time being truthful and/or negative, as negative reviews mean you could lose access to the precious pre-release material, so your publication is behind the competition, even if you're more honest about your reviews.

Back to music, where there is a glut of material to review, from the bands everyone knows and is eagerly waiting to hear their Next Big Thing, to upstarts of all sorts. Because there's always something else to review, you can be brutal in reviews, even out-right dishonest, and no one will really bat an eye. Some of the scathing reviews can be taken for granted, as being constantly positive makes a reviewer and the publication look like it's just shilling for bands. So by being brutal(ly honest), you're showing you retain your critical integrity, and if that band doesn't like your treatment, there are a dozen others who still want coverage, any coverage, so more people will notice them. And anyway, there are some truly awful things that get way too much praise and promotion, so the grumpy critic will be right some times.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:19 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


.Nobody knows, you know, when something comes out, what's gonna be crowned GOAT by history; all you have is your own reaction to it. It's honest, it's fresher, but of course it's blinkered too;

I think every record faces two tests. The first is when it's new. Does it speak to the now? Does it somehow cut through all the surrounding noise and offer something fresh to the ongoing cultural argument? If so, it's relevant, it's justified, it makes the cut -- who cares what anybody thinks about it twenty-thirty-forty-fifty years down the line?

Then there's what a DJ-friend once referred to as the "15 Year Test" -- the notion that it takes fifteen years before we know whether a recording is strong enough, deep enough, resilient enough to stand the test of time.

Which makes the late 90s the current crop of contenders. Everything since then -- we just don't know. Yet.
posted by philip-random at 11:21 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Raise your hand if in the 1980s you had the Rolling Stone red book.

(Raise both hands if you read the whole fucking thing.)
\m/       \m/


So yeah, even if my own tastes have taken a wildly divergent road from Rolling Stone's notional canon, it's been an influence on me all the same. I am gonna be reading through this list. And savor it.
posted by ardgedee at 11:23 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I'm really digging the overall level of WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK response to the late 60's hippie-tinged writing style. I don't know if that is interesting in terms of music criticism, but it is really interesting for someone who is interested in language, zeitgeist, pop culture, and history.

It's, like, the Delia's Catalog of hippies.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I worked at a famed American indie label in the late '90s. We had one act who had an exponentially larger following in Europe, and all the major British music mags were fighting over who got the rights to "break" their latest album first. When one magazine somehow gained the upper hand and published their five-star review, the other magazine gave it a scathing write-up in retaliation for the (perceived) snub.

I quit the music industry not long thereafter.
posted by mykescipark at 11:25 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Ah, and some of this is really, really interesting – for example, this bit on entry #319 here, GZA's insanely good Liquid Swords:
In a 2002 interview, Nathan Brackett, a senior editor at Rolling Stone since 1997, commented on the star ratings in the record review section of the magazine: "I will say that I do have respect for a writer's tastes and I have reviews of countless records in the section that I've totally disagreed with. I've even raised the star rating for some reviews of records that I didn't like if, say, the review read like a four star review but the writer only gave it three-and-a-half stars. By the same token, I'll lower a star rating if it feels that the writer didn't make the case."

Sounds innocuous enough, right? But this admission seems more problematic in the context of S.H. Fernando Jr.'s review of Liquid Swords. I would say that Mr. Fernando certainly "makes the case" for this album: he seems very knowledgeable about hip-hop, does a good job of articulating why this record is important to the evolution of the genre, and seems genuinely enthusiastic about it. In other words, this reads like a four star review, and the three star rating seems to have obviously been imposed by the magazine.

Similarly, in the 10/29/98 issue, Kevin Powell wrote that Black Star's 1998 eponymous debut was "not only an eagerly awaited rap album but also a desperately needed one," but rated it only three stars.

And in the 3/18/99 issue, Natasha Stovall described Prince Paul as "the fantastical-fables mastermind" and A Prince Among Thieves as "Paul's answer to those who have dismissed or ignored him; it's revenge served up bold." Yet this LP, too, was only rated three stars.

If Mr. Brackett is comfortable fiddling with a critic's star ratings, I wonder if it is possible that he, or anyone else at Rolling Stone, has ever lowered a rating for reasons other than the reviewers' failure to "make the case"? A four star review to relatively obscure artists like GZA, Black Star or Prince Paul are obviously going to dilute the impact of an equally positive review of a more established artist, and I suspect each of these albums were downgraded for this reason.
A very good point. Rolling Stone does seem to indulge in this attempt to end up on the right side of history by giving short shrift to emerging artists.
posted by koeselitz at 11:30 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


"Why do people talk about individual reviews, written by individual reviewers, as if they represent the official position of the publication in which they appear?"

With Rolling Stone, it's worth noting that Jann Wenner has a reputation for rewriting reviews that he disagrees with, and hiring editors who explicitly support his views.

It's also a collection of pretty much all the pre-eminent rock critics of the last 50 years — Christgau, Bangs, Eddy, Marsh, these guys are all still big names when looking through the history of rock criticism, and Rolling Stone is still a behemoth in rock criticism history.

So, yeah, they are representative, they are a corpus, it's fair to talk about them that way.
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Someone do early Pitchfork now.

Pitchfork has messed with their early reviewing history in various ways, and it isn't always easy to track down early reviews (especially pre-1999). For example, you won't find this super negative review of a pretty influential album anywhere on the site. Early reviews were also extremely positive sometimes -- they used to give 10s, and this doesn't really happen much any more.

There's some documentation of this here. I'm not sure that it is exactly as targeted as wikipedia implies; it seems like everything pre-1999 is cut off. However, I do wonder if this was a cutoff point that was chosen as a convenient filter hiding an older style of reviewing, covering many cases that weren't quite consistent with pitchfork's current view of its own image. It's hard to imagine any technical reason to hide reviews before this point.
posted by advil at 11:31 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


hen one magazine somehow gained the upper hand and published their five-star review, the other magazine gave it a scathing write-up in retaliation for the (perceived) snub.

there was also the practice*, which I've heard about from more than one player in the London scene, that the front cover of Melody Maker and NME was always for sale. $50,000 (or was it pounds?) got you the cover and a feature article guaranteed to be at least sympathetic.

I don't think a good review was part of the deal though.


* I heard this back in the 90s. Things may be different now.
posted by philip-random at 11:32 AM on February 19


I think every record faces two tests. The first is when it's new. Does it speak to the now? Does it somehow cut through all the surrounding noise and offer something fresh to the ongoing cultural argument? If so, it's relevant, it's justified, it makes the cut -- who cares what anybody thinks about it twenty-thirty-forty-fifty years down the line?

Then there's what a DJ-friend once referred to as the "15 Year Test" -- the notion that it takes fifteen years before we know whether a recording is strong enough, deep enough, resilient enough to stand the test of time.


Yeah, but how does it get there? That's what's interesting to me about this site; I think there's a frequently held belief that Inherent Awesomeness is what gets stuff to that 15 year marker intact and influential. You read some of these reviews, though, and wonder --- how much chance is there in it, really, that Album X becomes an influential classic instead of Album Y? Because once it gets there --- once it attains that status and gets blessed and becomes a thing you have to listen to if you want to "get" this or that era of music --- well, then a lot of the time when you come to the music as a newbie you just figure that you're the one that's wrong, or that your taste just diverges from the judgement of history in this case.

I dunno. Sometimes I think you have to just accept it, that there's something in, say, The College Dropout that other people hear and you don't. But I'm also reminded of a remark of Nabokov's about a different art form ---
For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiousity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann.
Rolling Stone is definitely in the Plastercaster business. I once ran a now-basically-defunct blog about re-reading Pulitzer winning novels; you'd be astonished how terrible how many of them were. We started from the beginning and got through about 20 books, IIRC; maybe a half-dozen would I recommend, and a lot of those with reservations. It's remarkable, to hold up some of the ones that to me clearly deserved classic status --- the Age of Innocence, The Bridge of San Luis Rey --- against some of the others and think, how could anyone have ever thought them rough equivalents?
posted by Diablevert at 11:40 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Aside from the reviews, for the first five years or so, the writing in the rest of RS wasn't always too good either.
posted by freakazoid at 11:44 AM on February 19


"The problem with Leonard Cohen is that he only ever wanted to be a poet. The actual songs/lyrics are great, and occasionally the instrumentation and production line up with whatever your personal taste is (I love his earlier 60's tinged sound, but I love everyone's 60's tinged sound), but there's no real consistency of what his music sounds like. Because it's music that isn't about what it sounds like. Which is... complicated. "

I read an interview with him once, and I wish I could put my hands on it, because he basically says — with regard to the production — that he writes what he likes and doesn't care much about the production because, hey, he gets to go home and fuck Rebecca DeMornay.

But yeah, there's a reason why I'm Your Fan is better than almost all Leonard Cohen albums — Leonard Cohen wasn't in charge of the production or instrumentation.
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


This was quite entertaining. I disagree with his musical choices on some points, but generally agree with his call-outs of hypocrisy, opportunism, bad taste, or bad writing.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:48 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Diablevert: “This is a fascinating example of culture construction at work, how the pachinko machine of criticism elevates some stuff to "all time great" that was viewed quite differently by its contemporaries....Nobody knows, you know, when something comes out, what's gonna be crowned GOAT by history; all you have is your own reaction to it. It's honest, it's fresher, but of course it's blinkered too; watching all those fresh faced strummers in matching sweaters every week on Ed Sullivan, and maybe the Beach Boys do just fade into the background will all the other surf bands, and you come to Pet Sounds thinking of Brian Wilson as a washed up former gimmick songwriter, and can't hear anything else in it. Especially interesting to see this process through the medium of Rolling Stone reviews themselves, when it feel like half the stuff in there is just rubbing another layer of brass polish on the alter of the '60s...”

philip-random: “I think every record faces two tests. The first is when it's new. Does it speak to the now? Does it somehow cut through all the surrounding noise and offer something fresh to the ongoing cultural argument? If so, it's relevant, it's justified, it makes the cut -- who cares what anybody thinks about it twenty-thirty-forty-fifty years down the line? Then there's what a DJ-friend once referred to as the '15 Year Test' -- the notion that it takes fifteen years before we know whether a recording is strong enough, deep enough, resilient enough to stand the test of time. Which makes the late 90s the current crop of contenders. Everything since then -- we just don't know. Yet.”

What I really like about this list is that he's considering both, really – and with Rolling Stone, you can. Some of Dave Marsh's reviews from more than a decade after the album came out were terrible reviews. He was calling the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle a "mediocre comeback effort" in the RS Record Guide in 1979, twelve full years after the album was recorded and released.

Incidentally, the 1979 and 1983 RS Record Guides sound like the most awful, terrifyingly bad tripe ever produced, just judging from what's here. Yeesh.
posted by koeselitz at 11:49 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


> Or do all critics, deep down, simply wish that they were playing music instead of writing
> about it, and therefore resent anyone that successfully makes the transition?

Yes.

What an unbelieveable amount of wonderful music there has been in the decades covered by RS. You pretty much couldn't tell it, though, from either the RS reviews over that time or from this list. Guess you just have to, y'know, listen to it.
posted by jfuller at 11:57 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I thought that bit was fantastic, too, jfuller. (He was talking about Lenny Kaye moving from RS to Patti Smith's band there, I think, and Dave Marsh's horribly crude review of Radio Ethiopia, I think.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:03 PM on February 19


For those interested in Pitchfork's career-destroying dilettantsia, n+1 ran a good article.
posted by gorbweaver at 12:05 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]


Now that I've skimmed the whole thing, all I can say is that based on the fact that I agreed with schmidtt sometimes and RS sometimes, De gustibus non est disputandum.

I read Rolling Stone in the 70's pretty regularly and was always pretty bemused by the way they trashed Zeppelin (one of my favorite bands, of course) on a regular basis. I was a little disappointed that the Allman Brother's Band didn't make an appearance here. I don't specifically remember how their albums were reviewed, good or bad, but for a while there was a bit of a feud between the band and Jann Wenner. At one point there was an article on the web from one of the band members (probably Butch Trucks but I'm not certain) going into great detail why Wenner was an asshole for publishing a profile of the band that made them out to be ignorant hillbillies. Supposedly this is why they weren't inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame until 1995 (although they were in some pretty good company that year). Apparently that has all faded into the past, though; I can't find anything about it on the internet now, and I don't remember reading much, if anything, about it in Gregg's autobiography last year.
posted by TedW at 12:13 PM on February 19



But yeah, there's a reason why I'm Your Fan is better than almost all Leonard Cohen albums — Leonard Cohen wasn't in charge of the production or instrumentation.

Yah, the cover of "First We Take Manhattan" was a near-miss. I think if they'd kept the general idea and re-arrangement and replaced the drums, bass, guitars, and both singers, they'd've had something.


Shiny shiny people holding stan -duh.
posted by Herodios at 12:14 PM on February 19


Man, some people are really pissed off Nico had the nerve to not continually be 22.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:27 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Aaaand done. Wow, what an interesting piece of work. So many, what the...? moments. It's great to get to see someone's labour of love, thanks for the post.

Why I don't read music reviews anymore, preferring to use my ears, and don't like "star" systems:

John Mayer - 4 stars
Paris Hilton - 3 stars
Gillian Welch - 2 stars
Aphex Twin - 1 star


cell divide: “Where'd they print that? Where did that appear? That's not real-- is it?”
koeselitz: It is totally real. I saw it in a documentary once.

An - if you will - "rockumentary".

posted by billiebee at 12:30 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Jann Wenner hyping up the participation of Rob Thomas and Lenny Kravitz on a Jagger LP. What a shill.

Mick Jagger - Goddess in the Doorway (2001) - Rating: 5 Stars

"Making the most of this opportunity to stretch himself, Jagger has recruited some outstanding guests, many of them younger artists whom he directly influenced. Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty collaborates on the pop-y, melodic opening track, "Visions of Paradise," which boasts a soaring chorus. Lenny Kravitz produces and co-writes "God Gave Me Everything," a driving, riff-propelled rocker that evokes the punkish stomp of the early Stones. On "Hide Away," one of my favorite tracks, Wyclef Jean helps burnish a subtle reggae- and hip-hop-inflected groove." (Jann S. Wenner, 12/6/01 Review)
posted by porn in the woods at 12:31 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


There's some great political reporting in Rolling Stone, but I gave up reading their (or any) music criticism 40 years ago - largely due to some of the crap noted in this post. I like what I like. I do not care what (for instance) my homeboy Jon Landau thinks of music, and reading some of his early reviews made it clear that there's no reason I should. I did actually make some attempts to use music reviews to find music I liked, but the results were really uneven.

The linked site explicitly disavows any use of the concepts right and wrong WRT the reviews, and we should, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:31 PM on February 19


As far as Leonard Cohen goes, I can't listen to anything of his but I'm Your Man – but I can listen to I'm Your Man all day because it is awesome. He needs schlocky 80s pop in the background undercutting the seriousness of his tone.
posted by koeselitz at 12:31 PM on February 19


Wait, did Rolling Stone really review a Barney album? (No. 288)
posted by dhens at 12:33 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


"Yah, the cover of "First We Take Manhattan" was a near-miss. I think if they'd kept the general idea and re-arrangement and replaced the drums, bass, guitars, and both singers, they'd've had something. "

Ugh. That was miles beyond the production of the original — that fucked up Jazz Police synth bullshit.
posted by klangklangston at 12:35 PM on February 19


Imagine growing up in the 60s and 70s before there was an Internet or a Youtube and having no way to hear music they didn't play on the local AM radio station short of buying it. Rolling Stone reviews were one of the few things we had for discovering new music until FM took off.

Unfortunately so, given their quality.
posted by tommasz at 12:38 PM on February 19


I got a free subscription to RS (which I am thankful expires next month... bi-weekly is WAAAAAAAAY too often for that magazine -- it'd be much better as a monthly... or bi-monthly.), and while I like the political reporting, I thought the entertainment coverage was hideously bad.

...I... kinda thought that was a new thing. Huh.

One of my "favorites" is when they gave Punch the Clock by Elvis Costello a terrible review -- which is a fair cop; I really like that one a lot, but I know not everyone does, but hey, taste is taste -- but in so doing said it was ruined by "anonymous studio hacks".

Those anonymous studio hacks were Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Where... if you're reviewing records and don't know who they are, you should stop. Particularly as it was a more contemporary review from one of the recent rounds of re-issues.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:39 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


More Dave Marsh wrongness, this time on X's Wild Gift: "Critics may be required to contort themselves into positions in which this kind of rubbish represents a major statement, but there's no reason for anyone whose hip credentials don't depend upon it to do likewise."

Dave Marsh: Less right than a stopped clock.
posted by whuppy at 12:40 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


The n+1 article linked upthread is brilliant. Especially where it talks about the changing nature of the album review in the post-Napster world.
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I cannot condemn someone for condemning Leonard Cohen. I recognize he's well loved but I can at best tolerate some of his work.

In his review of Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Stanley Kauffmann, longtime film critic for The New Republic, referred to Leonard Cohen as "Marvin Hamlisch for the hip set".
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:43 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Imagine growing up in the 60s and 70s before there was an Internet or a Youtube and having no way to hear music they didn't play on the local AM radio station short of buying it.

Yeah, that was the way it was. I heard about The Doors from a friend who was in the Marines in San Diego. Not sure where I learned about Jimi, but it was something similar. Like I said, music reviews weren't much use, considering how much of my scarce money a record album cost.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:44 PM on February 19


I love love love this, by the way. Thanks, gorbweaver!

And fuck you, Rolling Stone, for the crime of steering me away from all the good music in the late 70s and early 80s.
posted by whuppy at 12:49 PM on February 19


that fucked up Jazz Police synth bullshit

This is my all-time least favorite non-misogynist* Leonard Cohen song. That song can go fucking burn as far as I'm concerned.

JAZZ POLICE? Really? An actual song called JAZZ POLICE? And that's, like, the words of the song? JAZZ POLICE? Are you joking, old man?

*I cannot abide about half of Death Of A Ladies Man. Especially that one about hearing a woman having sex in the next room in a hotel. Ugh ugh ugh. Almost puts me on the other side of that "can you separate the art and the artist" argument where Cohen is concerned.
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


It's interesting in the early reviews- I'm up to the mid-70's now- there is what feels to me like a constant attempt to impose some kind of limits, and implied ideology even, on 'rock and roll'. I'm sure some of that was Wenner, some of it must have been the fact that 'rock criticism' started then.

So there's what seems to me like a serious amount of anxiety on the writers' part, either worrying that their favorites were changing too much, or not changing enough... this sort of repeated line about 'there's an over-reliance on boring rock chord changes here' because, what, they're mad at McCartney for not suddenly being Stravinsky?

And there's what seems like a lot of nervousness, too, about having their nerdy-white-boy realm invaded by... negros! Seriously, Christgau's been wrong about stuff fairly often , but that bit about Hendrix at Monterey is way the fuck off base.

Anyways, very interesting stuff, for someone raised on the RS Red Book, and it helps that the writer here can really write, too-
Although he is still alive, Cohen seems an imposing, almost mythical figure on these albums. Even on his debut he sounded like he was about 100 years old, but by Songs of Love and Hate he was God in the Old Testament - a depraved, isolated beast.
for example.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:52 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


There is a lot of toxicity in the review world. I remember a visit to London, hanging out at a Camden pub and a friend, who was in the music scene, pointing out a woman at the bar who was a reviewer for NME or Melody Maker (I can't remember which). Apparently, she'd recently panned a popular band's live set but had never actually left the back room of the club (where she was drinking) for the front room (where the band was playing). Someone even had it on video tape.

When I was living in London in the late 90s my girlfriend got given tickets to a Radiohead show by a Guardian reviewer on condition we tell him what the order of the songs was so he could slot them into his (already written) review.

Spoiler: he liked the show!
posted by Sebmojo at 12:57 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


The section on Dave Marsh's "most contemptuous - and utterly myopic" review of Devo's Duty Now For The Future! – which is number 154 here – is itself a masterful and well-written introduction and contextualization of the music of Devo.

It's indeed great, and made all the better by the juxtaposition of item #155.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:59 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Those anonymous studio hacks were Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Where... if you're reviewing records and don't know who they are, you should stop.

Schmidtt does the same thing when talking about Steely Dan:
What's more, they hated touring, and after 1974, quit playing live altogether. One by one, everyone left the group but the core duo, who increasingly relied on studio hacks to do most of the playing on their albums.

But I'm not in the music industry, perhaps "studio hack" is a term of endearment that I'm not aware of.
posted by TedW at 12:59 PM on February 19


It's also a collection of pretty much all the pre-eminent rock critics of the last 50 years — Christgau, Bangs, Eddy, Marsh, these guys

Yeah, guys, all those baby boomer guys trying to keep music shackled to the ghosts of the sxities.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:59 PM on February 19


klang: “that fucked up Jazz Police synth bullshit”

Sara C.: “This is my all-time least favorite non-misogynist* Leonard Cohen song. That song can go fucking burn as far as I'm concerned. JAZZ POLICE? Really? An actual song called JAZZ POLICE? And that's, like, the words of the song? JAZZ POLICE? Are you joking, old man?”

Does it matter? It's freaking hilarious. I still love that terrible song in all its idiotic glory. People listen to Leonard Cohen wrong. They expect him to be a serious and intense poet, because he recorded serious and intense folky guitar music in the serious and intense sixties. He's a hilarious old man babbling in an interestingly incoherent way. Honestly, I don't even like most non-jazz "jazz" songs, as they are almost always terrible. Like this, for example. They think they're being atmospheric or something, but generally they're just being ignorant and dumb. But "Jazz Police" takes this to a whole new level: it doesn't even make any sense, and it doesn't really seem to sound like anything. It's trying to sound arty, but it's just cheesy and ridiculous. And I love that about it.

I'm Your Man was the first Leonard Cohen album I ever heard, and I loved it. It was impossible to tell whether the crazy old man whispering rants through these songs was conscious of the ridiculous irony of reciting these lyrics over the worst kind of knock-off derivative 80s pop stuff – I mean, he was eating a banana on the cover, right? I excitedly dug through Leonard Cohen's back-catalog looking for anything like it, but everything in his back-catalog, it turned out, was pretty much just tendentious and dour. Ah well.
posted by koeselitz at 1:11 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, guys, all those baby boomer guys trying to keep music shackled to the ghosts of the sxities."

Ha. Yeah, if you think that Chuck Eddy and Robert Christgau are trying to keep music shackled to the ghosts of the '60s, you're deranged. Chuck Eddy's Village Voice stuff is pretty much the only place you'll find full-throated endorsements of hair metal and commercial country, and he keeps up pretty well with what's going on. Christgau's always been an idiosyncratic crank, but he writes for Blender now, fer chrissakes.

I totally disagree with both of them on a lot of music, but if there's anyone trying to keep music shackled, it's Jann Wenner, not those writers who have largely moved on from Rolling Stone (and blaming Bangs for trying to keep music shackled to the '60s is fucking bizarro-world. He was one of the few people to praise Metal Machine Music!)

Dave Marsh is the only one that I find kind of reflexively reactionary, but he's still at least a good writer most of the time.
posted by klangklangston at 1:13 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know, I can get behind the wackiness of a lot of Leonard Cohen stuff, but "Jazz Police" is where I draw the line.
posted by Sara C. at 1:21 PM on February 19


It is pretty dumb. And the production makes no sense. I imagine that if I'd followed his discography chronologically, I would have checked out long before 1986 and just decided I didn't care anymore.
posted by koeselitz at 1:24 PM on February 19


Marsh has very occasionally done some good writing - this is pretty great - but most of the time he's a fucking idiot.

All the evidence you need is in the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. So, so many WTFs there.
posted by JeffL at 1:24 PM on February 19


"Ken Tucker initially gave Paranoid two stars in the first edition of the record guide, but downgraded it to one star in the second edition - along with every other Black Sabbath album."

This is the wrongest thing ever done in the history of music criticism wrongness.

The first four Black Sabbath albums formed the foundation for all Heavy Metal music that followed.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:29 PM on February 19


I was just getting ready to post excerpts from some of my favorite wrong-headed reviews by Dave Marsh, but I see that someone beat me to it.
posted by JeffL at 1:30 PM on February 19


As someone who came of age in the mid-'90s, I skipped to page 301-350 and marveled at how heavily the author's assessments and my nostalgia diverge. He's right that the RS reviews are just bizarrely all over the place, though, and the research he did for #320--Jann Wenner fired someone over a negative Hootie & the Blowfish review(!!!)--made this all worthwhile.
posted by psoas at 1:34 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


re: Flaming Shits, Cohen had publish Beautiful Losers the year before. The first pages consist of the narrator talking about (among other things) constipation.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:45 PM on February 19


So far, nearly every great album of the 60s and early 70s is panned. Let it Be? Check. Bridge Over Troubled Water? Check. First two Zeppelin albums? Check. Deja Vu? Check. Abbey Road? Check. Hendrix Are you Experienced (mixed)and Axis Bold as Love? Check. CCR? Check.

Clearly RS was just trolling, even during its heyday.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:45 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Flaming Shits, Cohen had publish Beautiful Losers the year before. The first pages consist of the narrator talking about (among other things) constipation

The back cover of the album in question is also a painting of virginal women engulfed in flames. I sometimes think of it as "the flamejob record", personally.
posted by Sara C. at 1:48 PM on February 19


My favorite worst review from the '90s (it was so hard to pick):
The Flaming Lips
The Soft Bulletin (1999)

Rating: 3 Stars
"Their music isn't, how you say, universally accessible, and the weirdness gets same-y, but no one else has posited a parallel universe in which the Sixties and the Nineties exist simultaneously, allowing for a peculiarly convincing brand of monolithic robotic swirl." (Arion Burger, 5/27/99 Review)
I had to go look up when Pitchfork launched because this review reads as classic Pitchfork word salad to me. The answer is 1995-1996 depending on when you start counting.
posted by muddgirl at 1:53 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


But I'm sure there were Beatles albums that came out and at the time people were like, "What is this crap?? This is no Sgt. Pepper! The Beatles have lost it!" Whereas today we here it in a vacuum and are just like, "It's the Beatles- it's amazing."

In the Peter Criss' autobiography (shhh! Shutup! What.), he talks about being at a club in (Brooklyn?) when the music stopped and the owner proudly displayed an advance copy (acetate, mmkay) of the white album. They locked the doors (!) and played all four sides one after the other in complete silence, sure that they were hearing the future. At the end everyone shook their heads in amazement.

That sounds about right actually. But to be fair, they were way high.
posted by petebest at 1:59 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Still working through this, up to #179 now... and the main thing I've learned is that Dave Marsh is the living embodiment of whatever the opposite of rock and roll might be. It's nice I guess to have an incredibly reliable contrary indicator... if I could only find out, on an ongoing basis, what he dislikes, I'd apparently have a good idea of what's worth listening to.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:00 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


I'm partway through reviews 151-200 and man, Rolling Stone really did not like any punk, post-punk, or new wave records!

Which may explain why I spent the 80s thinking Rolling Stone was a magazine for boring old folks, and doing my utmost to find copies of NME and Melody Maker to read (a real challenge in 1980s Arizona.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:05 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


"What is this crap?? This is no Sgt. Pepper! The Beatles have lost it!"

I remember a lot of this sort of thing in the 90s and early 2000s. Specifically with Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, which a lot of my friends labeled "sellout-ish", and Radiohead's Kid-A, which I remember feeling disappointed in after OK Computer.

I also remember a lot of backlash earlier this year about the latest Arcade Fire album, which nevertheless was in everyone's Top 10 albums list for 2013 and will probably be remembered as a classic.
posted by Sara C. at 2:06 PM on February 19


A footnote to that excellent entry on Dave Marsh's reaction to Devo: when schmidtt wonders if Marsh may be "the first truly fascist rock critic?" he is making a reference to Marsh's 1979 review of Queen's Jazz, wherein Marsh remarks that "Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band." The difference, of course, is that since Dave Marsh is talking about how he physically wants to destroy Devo's records to prevent them from being heard, schmidtt actually has sort of a case there.
posted by koeselitz at 2:09 PM on February 19


Sara C.: “I also remember a lot of backlash earlier this year about the latest Arcade Fire album, which nevertheless was in everyone's Top 10 albums list for 2013 and will probably be remembered as a classic.”

Well, lots of other terrible things are remembered as classics, so it's possible. That Vampire Weekend record was in pretty much everybody's top 10, too. But who remembers what was in the top ten lists for 2012? Or 2011? I go back over those things every once in a while and am always surprised at how many records there are there that I can't even remember listening to.
posted by koeselitz at 2:12 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


The first four Black Sabbath albums formed the foundation for all Heavy Metal music that followed.

Yeah, well, that's just it, really. The phrase "heavy metal" was a rock criticism term of art in those days, and often not a compliment. In fact, one of the earliest uses is from Rolling Stone:
In the November 12, 1970, issue of Rolling Stone, [Mike Saunders] commented on an album put out the previous year by the British band Humble Pie: "Safe as Yesterday Is, their first American release, proved that Humble Pie could be boring in lots of different ways. Here they were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-leaden shit-rock band with the loud and noisy parts beyond doubt. There were a couple of nice songs...and one monumental pile of refuse." He described the band's latest, self-titled release as "more of the same 27th-rate heavy metal crap."
posted by Sys Rq at 2:13 PM on February 19


Worth reading just to get keyed into the inimitable Jim DeRogatis' 1996 review of Fairweather Johnson by Hootie and the Blowfish, mentioned above, reproduced in full here, and apparently originally titled "American Blandstand." In part:
To these ears, Hootie are the blandest extreme of a wave of bands for whom blame can be placed squarely on the Grateful Dead. The Spin Doctors, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and most of the other "baby Dead" or "jam" bands try to uphold the Dead's ideals of exploring diverse musical genres such as jazz, bluegrass, and worldbeat from a rock perspective, as well as transcending the everyday through a combination of hallucinogens, music, and community. Hootie doesn't even attempt the first (though they do stretch things out a bit live), and they only succeed at the second if you consider Bud Lite a psychedelic drug.

[...]

Hootie music never rocks, and you certainly can't dance to it; at best, you just sort of do the awkward white-person wiggle so prominent at Dead and baby Dead shows alike.

Come hear Uncle Hootie's band, playing to the crowds. More than 8 million buyers can't be wrong. Or can they?
Sick burn. I always hated feeling so insulted by the crushing mediocrity of a given record that I would be moved to biliously emit a review like that, and I got called out on the carpet for it more than once, but damn, the results can be a real pleasure to read.

And I'm either delighted or horrified that Rob Sheffield deemed Literally The Worst Person In The World Jesse Camp's Jesse & The 8th Street Kidz and The Delgados' phenomenal The Great Eastern equally worthy of a three-star rating. Music journalism is wild.
posted by divined by radio at 2:15 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Boy, Rolling Stone really spent the 80s with its nose firmly up Mick Jagger's ass.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:16 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


A mixed review to Exile on Main St. but favorable ones to Goat's Head Soup and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll? I've never known anyone who managed to listen to Soup twice.
posted by octothorpe at 2:17 PM on February 19


Did Rolling Stone get anything right?
posted by mazola at 2:34 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I've never known anyone who managed to listen to Soup twice.

Well back in the old days when you had to shell out actual money for stuff, you'd damned well find something worthwhile on a record. In this case, Silver Train and A Hundred Years Ago are, eh, pretty decent songs.

Anyways. From the entry on the Violent Femmes' first album:
By this point there was probably even more rock music about sexual frustration than about sex, but Gordon Gano's wild, passionate vocals on the Violent Femmes' indelible debut certainly make his familiar travails compelling. His "unpleasantly nasal" delivery is fundamental to the band's appeal - a sonorous lead singer bellowing "Why can't I get just one fuck?" wouldn't have worked at all.
I never realized before how much I'd like to hear Tom Jones cover Add it Up, because I'm sure that it would be great.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:35 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


But who remembers what was in the top ten lists for 2012? Or 2011?

Looking over Pitchfork's top 10 for 2012, both Beach House and Grimes are in there -- which I remember personally liking a lot last year -- as well as the super-anticipated Fiona Apple album. Kendrick Lamar comes in at #1, which seems realistic since he's the rapper everybody is talking about these days.

2011 is full of all kinds of bullshit, though. I remember hearing about some of those albums, and I happen to enjoy tUneYaRds a lot so am happy to see w h o k i l l on there, but none of the rest is anything I remember actually listening to in 2011. #1 is the Bon Iver album that everybody had a hard-on for that year, though, but which I happen to dislike.

2010 includes Vampire Weekend's Contra, Beach House's Teen Dream, LCD Soundsystem, and Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, all of which seem perfectly apt 4 years later.

Going back far enough that we can really judge what stood the test of time:

2004: Joanna Newsom Milk Eyed Mender, Devendra Banheart (who I sort of miss), The Fiery Furnaces, The Go! Team, The Streets A Grand Don't Come For Free, early Animal Collective, and #1 is Arcade Fire's Funeral. I would say this is pretty much EXACTLY how I remember 2004. I had most of these albums. I still listen to some of them.

2005: LCD Soundsystem, more Animal Collective, Antony and the Johnsons, MIA Arular, Kanye, Sufjan Stephens Illinois. Another "yeah that was basically 2005" top 10.

2006 was pretty shitty, in terms of what actually made the top 10. The only albums I remember are Joanna Newsom's Ys (which I remember being not as good ad Milk Eyed Mender) and TV On The Radio's Return To Cookie Mountain. A lot of the stuff I was actually listening to that year is back in the 20s-40s per their reckoning. (Lily Allen, Belle & Sebastian's The Life Pursuit, The Decemberists' The Crane Wife, etc)
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I've never known anyone who managed to listen to Soup twice.

I have. I can understand how Angie might cause allergies but ...

Dancing With Mr. D
Starfucker
100 Years Ago
Can You Hear the Music
Silver Train
doo doo doo [Heartbreaker]

No moss on any of those. As I see it, the only real problem with Goats Head is that followed Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St. Something had to give eventually, and in the case of Goats Head Soup, it didn't give that much.
posted by philip-random at 2:39 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Embarrassing on the level of some of these Rolling Stones reviews: Bon Iver's classic and possibly best album of the aughts "For Emma Forever Ago" is rated #29 for 2007. Which doesn't suck, I guess? But that was easily better than any album in their top 10 for that year.

Same year, they gave Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" -- another definitive aughts record -- #27.

Hahalol Pitchfork
posted by Sara C. at 2:40 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Eww, I remember that 5 star review of The Who's It's Hard. It was one of my first WTF experiences with a Rolling Stone review. I was a huge Who fan and bought that album before I read the review and holy crap is that a bad album.
posted by octothorpe at 2:51 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


From #47 - Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love + Hate, which is a great album by the way. I don't care what any of you young'uns think.

Cohen addressed his critics in an interview with Paul Williams published in the March 1975 issue of Crawdaddy!:

"...a lot of people in the rock establishment, in their articles I notice that they always suggest that I don't know anything about music, that my tunes are very limited, as if I couldn't work in an augmented chord if I really thought it was needed. And that my voice is very thin, as if we are still in the days of Caruso or something. They apply standards to me that they've never applied to other singers in the field. ... I'm very, very interested also in the mind of the reviewers, how they change over the decades, and how a man approaches new work. Whether he approaches it in a spirit of curiosity, charity, interest, or as a vehicle for his own self-aggrandizement, his own career. Whether he uses it as an opportunity to display humanism, or cruelty. I mean to me, the critic is on trial at this point."

posted by philip-random at 2:51 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


I knew that three star review of Nevermind was gonna make the list because

.. it's a three star album of overproduced pop rock from a band that was successful only in creating an album marginally interesting in how generic it is considering how massively influential and successful it was? That's what I thought.

Bleach? Awesome. In Utero? Masterpiece. Nevermind? Nevermind.
posted by mediocre at 3:16 PM on February 19


Oh, mediocre, you're living up to your name with your taste!
posted by klangklangston at 3:21 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


.. it's a three star album of overproduced pop rock from a band that was successful only in creating an album marginally interesting in how generic it is considering how massively influential and successful it was?

...and because of that success it transformed from a 3-star album to a 5-star album, like an overproduced caterpillar turning into a beautiful, multi-million dollar butterfly. One big thesis of this whole list is that, to Rolling Stone music reviewers, more money equals better than.
posted by muddgirl at 3:26 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Then there's what a DJ-friend once referred to as the "15 Year Test" -- the notion that it takes fifteen years before we know whether a recording is strong enough, deep enough, resilient enough to stand the test of time.

Things can be universally acknowledged masterpieces for over a century and then suddenly fade away. Who reads Walter Scott these days outside of college? And yet whose reputation could have seemed more assured for most of the nineteenth century? Who reads James Thompson's The Seasons, probably the most famous English poem of the eighteenth century in its day. Who, outside of art historians and aficionados has even heard of Guido Reni, who for a long time was bracketed with figures like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo as one of the immortals of art. Time is unlikely to be kind to any of our judgments on matters of taste. The critics of the future will read threads like this with exactly the same "can you believe they really felt that way?" incredulity that we feel in relationship to the old reviews.
posted by yoink at 3:46 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


What's obvious to me — having been a teenager in the 1960s — is that "There is something happening here and it is obvious" is an allusion to "For What It's Worth," the Buffalo Springfield song that begins with the line "There's something happening here/What it is ain't exactly clear." "Something happening here" would have been understood at the time to refer to what's going on in the political sphere, with protests about the war and so on. Arlo was singing about that. And to change from "not exactly clear" to "obvious," given Arlo's clarity, is funny and apt.
posted by Alizaria at 3:55 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


there was a period there through the 80s where each new Stones album would be hailed as "at last, a return to form!"

Reading through these, that seems to be a theme with a lot of old established bands here: The Stones, U2, McCartney, Springsteen, Neil Young.

Also, who the fuck would listen to a Rolling Stones live album from the last forty years? I can sort of understand wanting to see them live now since you can't actually go back in time to see them in 1971 but why would you want to hear a recording of them in concert after that point?
posted by octothorpe at 3:56 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


As a 70s teenager and then college student, I always thought RS reviews in that decade were best taken when viewed inversely. If they thought it sucked, it likely was something we were going to love. Wenner, Marsh, and their cohorts had very specific tastes and had extreme difficulty viewing favorably anything beyond those margins. I still think Wenner's enthusiasm for all things Stones was due in part to just feelings he couldn't then articulate (not that there's anything wrong with that). They obviously favored acts with ties to the 60s with strong lyrical content that they could examine unto infinity. They were journalists and English majors, no training at all in music or theory. So they floundered like dying guppies when an artist's strong point was music. Thus an undying hatred for prog/art rock, any band conceived after 1970, anything longer than four minutes long (exception, Springsteen's Jungleland) and of course anything that remotely smacked of hard rock, glam (except Bowie), or nascent metal. That taste still pervades their selections for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame - the list of acts excluded or inducted far past the date they should have been is almost as noteworthy as the inductees.
posted by Ber at 4:03 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Came in for the shit sandwich. It was delicious.
posted by usonian at 4:37 PM on February 19


Eww, I remember that 5 star review of The Who's It's Hard. It was one of my first WTF experiences with a Rolling Stone review. I was a huge Who fan and bought that album before I read the review and holy crap is that a bad album.

octothorpe, I had the exact same WTF reaction to that RS review and was wondering if it made it in here. That's about when I stopped reading RS.
posted by stargell at 4:57 PM on February 19


That taste still pervades their selections for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame - the list of acts excluded or inducted far past the date they should have been is almost as noteworthy as the inductees.

Which had me searching for and finding this quasi-definitive list of deserving bands NIHOF.
posted by stargell at 5:04 PM on February 19


GTR, GTR: "SHT" -- JD Considine, (Musician P&L, Apr(?) 1986 )

My favorite non-RS review along these lines was a couple years before in the Berkeley Rasputin's, to my knowledge the originator of the bin-card review. Above the section for The Tubes' Fee Waybill's then-new first solo album was written, "Way Feeble."
posted by rhizome at 5:10 PM on February 19


every time I see that R+R Hall of Fame list, I'm reminded of why they built the Hall of Fame in the first place -- to remind future generations that there will always be a crowd of established and powerful SQUARES who have decided they know what's what and everybody else should just shut up and pay them they respect they deserve. Which, of course, is why rock and roll was invented in the first place -- to knock such SQUARES into the ditches of history, leave them in the dust (or the mud -- whatever the ditches are full of).
posted by philip-random at 5:11 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


In defense of JD Considine, those three letters are about all GTR deserved ... and I say that as a great fan of the two Steves' previous bands (the 70s versions).
posted by philip-random at 5:13 PM on February 19


I've reviewed more than my fair share of albums (for allmusic.com), and aside from feeling the same confusion others above feel about RS dissing classics like Wild Honey and CCR, mostly I get this sickeningly familiar feeling I've felt before: "Oh no! Band that always made music like this, is now making music like that -- and I can't get my head around it for a Friday deadline."

The Phil Ochs is a good example -- lots of folkies loved his early stuff, but Tape from California must've been a tough album to love on first (or second) listen. Time heals all wounds.
posted by saintjoe at 5:13 PM on February 19


> Imagine growing up in the 60s and 70s before there was an Internet or a Youtube and having no way to hear music
> they didn't play on the local AM radio station short of buying it

It wasn't really twenty miles through the snow uphill both ways like that, even in the south. You had to have your antennae out for good music, but music lovers do. Atlanta's single classical station, for instance, managed to get in a one (1) hour folk music show on Friday night but those who listened religiously, even high-schoolies, heard maybe their first Dylan. Then there were parties, where if your friends were at all countercultural you could encounter the Holy Modal Rounders and the--um, kof kof, blush--the Fugs. (For those who don't know, the Fugs were both political and dirty. Very, very dirty. dirtydirtydirty.) Vinyl, of course, but on perfectly good stereos at my-ears-are-bleeding volume. After midnight, of course, anything and everything went down because no matter what benighted corner of the US or Canada (or the USSR, for that matter) you were in you could hear all the stations that paid no attention to FCC power limits. Wolfman Jack AHOOOOOOOoooooo! on XERF from Ciudad Acuña. XERB, the 250000 watt Mighty 1090, the Border Blaster, from Rosarito Beach. The sources weren't as omnipresent as now but they weren't in particularly short supply either.
posted by jfuller at 5:16 PM on February 19


Re Phil Ochs, that seems to fall in line with the general hatred for anything that reeked of folk. They also hate Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez (no stars for Diamonds And Rust!), and a lot of Dylan albums.
posted by Sara C. at 5:29 PM on February 19


"I've reviewed more than my fair share of albums (for allmusic.com), and aside from feeling the same confusion others above feel about RS dissing classics like Wild Honey and CCR, mostly I get this sickeningly familiar feeling I've felt before: "Oh no! Band that always made music like this, is now making music like that -- and I can't get my head around it for a Friday deadline.""

Don't worry — Steve Thomas Erlewine can always turn in some over-estimation of Britney Spears. (The funniest part of AMG is always the reviews for albums that have been out of print forever that make you dubious that they've even heard it…)
posted by klangklangston at 5:32 PM on February 19


I've read so many of these today and I'd still buy a book of this.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:46 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


When I sent this to a reviewer friend of mine he said "What is a bad review exactly?" And I said "it's a review that doesn't do what a review should do in a few different ways. And in reviewing these reviews this reviewer reveals what a review should be." Then I emerged from my chrysalis.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:48 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


Interesting thing I just noticed skimming through more of these:

They basically hate all women except for Grace Slick and Carly Simon.

The Shangri-Las? Vapid.

Janis Joplin? Sucks.

Joni Mitchell? Blah.

Nico? Vacuous.

Joan Baez? Seriously actually so bad they awarded her album zero fucking stars.

Donna Summer? Limp, "self parody", not even really disco.

Yoko Ono? Do we even need to go into it?

Patti Smith? Redundant (in 1977, the year punk was born!)

Blondie? Cribbing from Patti Smith.

The B-52's? Cutesy.

Tom-Tom Club? Too arty.

X-Ray Spex? Soulless.

Lydia Lunch? Complains too much.

Siouxsie and the Banshees? "Her musical ability... is minimal."

The Slits? No singing ability.

I know these are all bad reviews, and maybe Rolling Stone really liked some other female musicians over the years (or gave better reviews to some other albums?), but cripes.
posted by Sara C. at 5:55 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]


"The funniest part of AMG is always the reviews for albums that have been
out of print forever that make you dubious that they've even heard it…"


Well, we've had some hoary old graybeards writing for us (in a good way), although that does remind me of the one writer who constructed fanciful narrative biographies for artists simply by checking out their credits on AMG (which is okay when the credits apply to only one person, but gets problematic with incredibly common names like a Joe Thompson, who seemingly ends up going from Kansas City jazz in the '40s to Nashville country in the '50s to British rock in the '60s to L.A. metal in the '80s, like some musician's version of "Losing My Edge").
posted by saintjoe at 5:59 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


"I know these are all bad reviews, and maybe Rolling Stone really liked some other female musicians over the years (or gave better reviews to some other albums?), but cripes."

One of poptimism's most trenchant criticisms of rockism — which RS is pretty much the Bible for — is that it was (and is) pretty misogynistic on the whole.

"Well, we've had some hoary old graybeards writing for us (in a good way), although that does remind me of the one writer who constructed fanciful narrative biographies for artists simply by checking out their credits on AMG (which is okay when the credits apply to only one person, but gets problematic with incredibly common names like a Joe Thompson, who seemingly ends up going from Kansas City jazz in the '40s to Nashville country in the '50s to British rock in the '60s to L.A. metal in the '80s, like some musician's version of "Losing My Edge")."

Yeah, I used to write for Current and knew a bunch of the AMG guys. And you have Ned Raggett, who's probably the best review-critic working. I'm trying to remember who it was that sent in the sputtering, venomous letter over my review of, uh, not the Blind Boys of Alabama but somebody similar (had been around forever, put out really boring album of blues standards that sounded like John Mayer produced it). He'd gone deep into how it was "authentic," and so because I didn't like it I was racist.

I'm pretty glad that most of my early reviews have been scrubbed from the web — I was guilty of a lot of shit that the Rolling Stone writers were, where I was either trying too hard or was kinda incoherent if you hadn't already heard the album. I actually liked writing for Pop Culture Press more, and a couple other places that ran really short reviews, because trying to sum up, say, Kala in 25 words was harder and more fun. (Paid the same, too.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:12 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Imagine growing up in the 60s and 70s before there was an Internet or a Youtube and having no way to hear music they didn't play on the local AM radio station short of buying it.

don't have to - i was there and you are wrong on many levels

first of all, am radio was much more diverse and interesting back then

second, there were record players at school and kids would bring their records, where i was first exposed to king crimson, pre dark side pink floyd, black sabbath, jethro tull

third, FM radio took off in 1970 and played a wide variety of stuff - wlav in grand rapids liked to play camel, genesis' "supper's ready", gentle giant, etc etc and there was a college station at wmu that had a show on saturdays called crankcase that pretty much played anything in the rock field - velvet underground, frank zappa, john mayall, savoy brown, grateful dead, the groundhogs, weather report, mahavishnu orchestra, miles davis ...

fourth, a lot of people had record collections and a lot of people, including myself, would turn people on to their favorite weird unknown artists

fifth, cutout racks and used bins - yeah, you might not want to spend full price on something you'd never heard before - but a heavily discounted record that looked weird or interesting
might be worth taking a chance with a buck

sixth, hippie type record stores played new albums all the time in store - some of them well-known, some of them not - and if they had a copy open, they'd play you something on request - if you were a regular, they might even open up a copy to play for you

by the mid-70s a lot of people had good cassette recorders and radio stations would actually play whole albums at certain times and people would record them - or they would make tapes of their record collection - or mix tapes

also, and this is the biggest difference of all, that was a time when the amount of releases was much smaller than it is now - these days, it's impossible to hear it all because there's so much of it - you could actually keep track fairly well of what was out there
posted by pyramid termite at 6:43 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


They basically hate all women except for Grace Slick and Carly Simon.

Hey now, let's not be hasty. After all, they gave 3 stars to albums recorded by Paris Hilton and Kelly Osborn!
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:57 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


and for the record(s) - country joe and the fish's first album is fairly good, if sloppy, but their second album is fairly dire - if you want the feel like i'm fixing to die song, get the woodstock album

the first it's a beautiful day album is very good - white bird, which was all over fm radio back then

and just because i can, i'm going to give you catfish hodge's boogie man's going to get you, and long john baldry's don't try to lay no boogie woogie on the king of rock n roll, both songs i heard on the radio way back when ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:11 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


first of all, am radio was much more diverse and interesting back then

True. There was a DJ in LA named Jimmy Rabbit, who had a Sunday night show on KRLA (I think). He worked his way through the first Leonard Cohen album, within the span of several weeks. It made a lasting impression on me.

(Later, when I had purchased this album and played it out in the yard, my mom would be aghast at me playing such morbid music for passers-by.)
posted by Danf at 7:15 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


by the mid-70s a lot of people had good cassette recorders and radio stations would actually play whole albums at certain times and people would record them -

... except, in my town at least, the mid-70s saw the confluence of two factors that pretty much destroyed quality commercial radio forever.

1. the corporatization of the FM dial which took the form of consulted formatting of playlists (ie: the cool/hip DJs were suddenly no longer programming their shows, but adhering to what the consultants were demanding)

2. disco took off and (related to the corporatization) suddenly radio stations were dumping their entire playlists in favor of this new, extremely limited flavor

Of course, the disco mania wouldn't last much past 1977, but the damage was done. By the time the DISCO SUCKS movement erupted, the previous wonderland of cool, wild, diverse radio was gone, never to return ... except via campus/community options (which is a whole other story).

So, yeah, it's entirely arguable that access to quality sounds has never been more compromised than it was from about 1975/76 ... until Napster. Which isn't to say that there weren't always a few cool bands/artists breaking through, getting noticed, and a vast, complex of underground/alternative/independent networks getting established for all the other worthy stuff. But in terms of wide, easy access to "the good stuff", that was a pretty grim quarter-century.
posted by philip-random at 7:57 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I just sampled Nico's The Marble Index and am currently grooving to SF Sorrow by The Pretty Things, "the first rock opera," on Spotify. I have a feeling I'm going to spend the next few weeks discovering some great music thanks to this list. (And thanks to Spotify, which is pretty awesome.)
posted by stargell at 9:00 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite's comment has awoken a long-lost mourning for KJET 1600 AM, Seattle, c. early 1980s.
posted by maxwelton at 10:29 PM on February 19


"also, and this is the biggest difference of all, that was a time when the amount of releases was much smaller than it is now - these days, it's impossible to hear it all because there's so much of it - you could actually keep track fairly well of what was out there"

I had a copy of Trouser Press I found in the basement — they told me which Hoodoo Gurus albums to buy.
posted by klangklangston at 10:33 PM on February 19


Yeah, it was RS editorial policy to slag Led Zeppelin at every opportunity, even after they called it quits and up through the early 1980s. For example, the reviewer of the "Concert for Kampuchea" live album (ca. 1981) was openly contemptuous of Robert Plant's one-off performance with Rockpile (I personally thought their version of "Little Sister" was charming and the best thing on that album).

A few years later, in his feature article on the Ronnie Lane benefit concerts, Ken Tucker (I think?) damned Jimmy Page's performances with very faint praise - you could almost hear the sneer in his voice. He topped it off with a cheap shot at his rumoured substance-abuse problems of that period.

Interestingly, when RS issued a "collector's edition" feature on Led Zeppelin about five years ago, they quoted John Mendelsohn, who panned their first two albums in RS years before. Surprise, he still hated them - so at least he's consistent.
posted by e-man at 11:13 PM on February 19


"Mick Jagger - Goddess in the Doorway (2001) - Rating: 5 Stars"

Keith Richards' review: Dogshit in the Doorway.
posted by Chitownfats at 2:06 AM on February 20


i was there and you are wrong on many levels

It's apparent that you were NOT "there." The AM stations where you were may have been "more diverse," but more than what? FM today? The Internet? AM radio where I was, in a different major market from yours, was not very diverse at all.

I grew up in the 60s (part of the period named in the comment you're calling "wrong"), and none of the conditions you name existed. At least where I was, nobody brought their records to school. There were no "hippie record stores." Remainder bins had nothing but crap in them.

There may have been less new music issued, but if it wasn't being played on the radio, it cost a lot of money to hear it. That's where word-of -mouth came in, and somebody still had to spend the money.

I advise you to think twice before telling someone that an account of their personal experience is "wrong."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:35 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I could care less that they slagged off Led Zepp. Led Zepp got by fine. What pisses me off about Rolling Stone's reviews is the number of times they clearly were the loudest (often the only) voice responsible for totally destroying a record's chances of making it and being listened to by the record-buying public. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels should not have been ignored! – it was an amalgam of everything Dave Marsh & co claimed to love, a beautiful statement of purpose, and if it had gotten airplay in the US, one can only imagine how music over here could have changed for the better. But it was utterly ignored, largely on the basis of the review in this list, and I find that infinitely sad. How many other records are there that that happened to? And how many others we don't even know about because Rolling Stone successfully removed them from history? "The first fascist rock critic," indeed.
posted by koeselitz at 6:01 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


(And Sara C. is right. A huge proportion of those great musicians whose ability to make money doing what they loved was destroyed at Rolling Stone's whim were women.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:02 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


What pisses me off about Rolling Stone's reviews is the number of times they clearly were the loudest (often the only) voice responsible for totally destroying a record's chances of making it

That would be a difficult claim to substantiate. Given the number of albums in this list that they slagged off and which are now widely beloved classics it is pretty self-evident that a bad review in RS has never been, in itself, a death-warrant for a record's chances. It would be interesting to do some statistical analysis to try to figure out exactly how much impact a review in any given media outlet has on the commercial fate of the thing being reviewed. My guess is that it is generally less than people think.
posted by yoink at 7:34 AM on February 20


A huge proportion of those great musicians whose ability to make money doing what they loved was destroyed at Rolling Stone's whim were women.

To be fair, most of the people on my list upthread would have been crying all the way to the bank. A lot of the ones who are still alive are still making music and touring, decades later.
posted by Sara C. at 8:38 AM on February 20


Yeah, but a ton of other women got jobbed by RS and similar rock-bro critics and didn't get the breaks to make it huge, and you can also make the argument that a lot of the women you listed succeeded despite RS and it's ilk, and may have been bigger if they'd gotten more contemporary support.
posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on February 20


The really terrible thing is that, for their 30th anniversary, RS did a huge Women In Rock special issue and completely girl-washed their dudely dudebro rockist stance. In fact I found out about groups like The Shangri-Las and Siouxsie And The Banshees from that special issue, which I dissected and plastered my bedroom walls with.

What I've always hated about this sort of rock criticism isn't that they come out and say they won't review female artists, or even that they are like EW EW GIRLS NO, but that it's so sneering. They always find a way to criticize them as if they're being gender neutral, when they're obviously not.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


My brother was fond of the review of forgotten prog-rock supergroup GTR's album. The full review? "SHT"
posted by thelonius at 9:58 AM on February 20


I didn't know that these idiots hated Sabbath too - the whole fraternity of "rock critics" also sneered at Led Zeppelin. Who turned out to be a pack of thieves, true, but that wasn't clear yet.
posted by thelonius at 10:04 AM on February 20


re: the Zeppelin slagging (and Sabbath too) ...

there's a generational thing going on there, which is not often grasped by those who weren't around to experience it. Call it the Baby Boom split. Track the traditional stats and you'll see the Baby Boom peaking in the late fifties sometime (ie: more children born in those years than any other), but in terms of all the Beatlemania stuff, the hippie revolutions etc, those were kids born earlier in the cycle. I mean, if you were sixteen when the Beatles played Ed Sullivan, nineteen for the Summer Of Love, twenty-one for Woodstock, you were born in 1948.

Whereas, if you were born in 1958, you were eleven or twelve when the Beatles broke up, thirteen when Stairway to Heaven hit, sixteen or seventeen when Physical Graffiti landed ...

Which gets us back to those earlier boomers. By the time, the first Zep album was released, they would've been twenty or twenty-one and already been moving past the wildest years of their youth. They would've been settling into easier, more mature sounds. Hence all the sensitive-singer-songwriter types moving up the charts. To them, Zeppelin was (as Alice Cooper once put it talking about his early 70s success) "little brother's music" ... and it annoyed the hell out them, particularly as it coincided with the music biz getting way more sophisticated in terms of how it was marketing these "youthful" sounds.

I can only imagine that to the likes Jan Wenner and his original crowd of hippie-nerd sophisticates, the post-hippie* riff rock and bombast of the Zeppelins and the Sabbaths was goddam sacrilegious, a betrayal of the revolution.

* there was, of course, a hippie element to Zeppelin (Robert Plant's lyrics etc), but that was the lamest part of them
posted by philip-random at 10:14 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


> What I've always hated about this sort of rock criticism isn't that they come out and say they
> won't review female artists, or even that they are like EW EW GIRLS NO, but that it's so
> sneering.

Critics are seldom willing to risk being taken for swooning fans. If I had been a critic they would have jerked my rock-crit license for melting all over the floor over Chrissie Hinde the way I did, whether she had actually been a first rank songwriter and performer or not. (For the record she was both.)
posted by jfuller at 10:17 AM on February 20


There was a tale of a RS journalist and photographer set out upon the streets of NYC with a mission: find what party Mick, Bianca, David, and Angela were at. The RS staff was somewhat shaken to find the four hippest kids in town at the same party with George Harrison, Keith Moon, and a few others....backstage at a Zeppelin show at the Garden. Note, the two chums who hang around to jam at Jeff Beck's garage (gods, for a tape recording) are Jimmy Page and Keith Richards. RS really hated finding peanut butter in their chocolate, the Brit rock gods could care less (although I doubt if that upper tier ever bothered letting Deep Purple in the tent).
posted by Ber at 10:31 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Here are some peace and love hippie 'baby boomers' (and 'war babies') you may have heard of (with their birth years):

1942
Lou Reed
John Cale
Sterling Morrison
Robert Quine
1943
Michael Davis
1944
Mo Tucker
1945
Rob Tyner
Knox
1946
Patti Smith
Lenny Kaye
Lux Interior
1947
Iggy Pop
Dave Alexander
1948
Wayne Kramer
Dennis Thompson
Ron Asheton
Ivan Kral
Johnny Ramone
1949
Fred Sonic Smith
Scott Asheton
Klaus Flouride
Stiv Bators
Richard Hell
Tom Verlaine
Wendy O Williams
1950
David Johansen
Lee Ving
1951
Sylvain Sylvain
Kid Strange
Joey Ramone
Dee Dee Ramone
Richard Lloyd
Derf Scratch
1952
Johnny Thunders
Jay Dee Daugherty
Jim Shaw
Tommy Ramone
Joe Strummer
Peter Laughner
John Ellis
1953
Richard Sohl
David Thomas
Poison Ivy
1954
Handsome Dick Manitoba
Ross Friedman
Scott Kempner
Mike Kelley
Greg Ginn
John Doe
Captain Sensible
1955
Andy Shernoff
Steve Jones
Mick Jones
Cheetah Chrome
Pete Shelley
Steve Diggle
Steven Severin
Brian James
Rat Scabies
Glenn Danzig
Keith Morris
Palmolive
Viv Albertine
Jak Airport
Jon King
Dave Allen
Gibby Haynes
1956
Niagara
Johnny Rotten
Glen Matlock
Paul Cook
Exene Cervenka
Dave Vanian
Ricky Williams
Andy Gill
Hugo Burnham
1957
Sid Vicious
Keith Levene
Siouxsie Sioux
Polly Styrene
Paul Leary
1958
Jah Wobble
Jello Biafra
East Bay Ray
Darby Crash
Alice Bag
1959
Jerry Only
Pat Smear
Tessa Pollitt
1961
Henry Rollins
Greg Hetson
1962
Pat Bag
Ari Up


'Boomers' to punk fans: "You're welcome."
 
posted by Herodios at 10:58 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


"What I've always hated about this sort of rock criticism isn't that they come out and say they won't review female artists, or even that they are like EW EW GIRLS NO, but that it's so sneering. They always find a way to criticize them as if they're being gender neutral, when they're obviously not."

Well, and a big part of that is that the way the "gender neutral" criteria are constructed tends to lionize male bands and performers by default — it's a very macho construction, based on what looks in hindsight like a lot of projected misogyny, where hippies got called girls and fags because of their long hair, and instead of coming back with, "What's wrong with being a girl or a fag?" it was, "No, we get just as much pussy!" Combine that with the general fact that rock critics tend to be weirdo obsessive geeks, and it ends up reinforcing gender norms even as attempts at anti-authoritarianism or iconoclasm are lauded. Even down to shit like how girls are supposed to like pop because they're silly and inconsequential, whereas dudes like rock, which is original, authentic and means something (and how that discourse gets reproduced even when the music is pop — The Beatles were straight soft as baby thighs, n'amsayin?, but got justified as somehow more transgressive and the male fans were ostensibly responding to the ART whereas the girls were just hot for Paul or some shit).

"(although I doubt if that upper tier ever bothered letting Deep Purple in the tent)."

Deep Purple were too busy hanging at Montrose with Zappa.
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]



* there was, of course, a hippie element to Zeppelin (Robert Plant's lyrics etc), but that was the lamest part of them


Sounds like somebody doesn't remember LAUGHTER... Anyways...

Finally finished reading the whole thing, and I almost wished I hadn't, because it gets so much worse than the way it started out, and may I just say ROB SHEFFIELD MARKED FOR DEATH here? Main reason I kept reading, I think, was the hope that there would be an anecdote involving him and a broken bottle of Ripple in there. But alas.

So it seemed like when RS started out, there were a couple of different directions 'rock criticism' could go (and I guess there still are.) Wenner's aim has apparently always been to be pals with whoever were the coolest dudes in the world in 1965. (That'd be Dylan, Lennon and Jagger, apparently.) So he, and the dudes who ended up editing stuff, basically hitched their wagons to those stars, and made it their job to glorify, and exegesize, and apologize for them, which included swatting down all the later pretenders to the Cool Dude throne. Which would include anybody younger, anybody female, anybody black. So basically just a bunch of losers - I mean, fuck, they were Rock Critics! - trying to weasel into an ingroup, and then being bigger dicks about keeping people out than the actual rock stars ever were (as Ber notes above.)

Sort of the pinnacle of that was maybe Jon Landau. Who went from being the let-me-explain-you-to-the-masses guy, to weaseling his way into Springsteens inner circle and eventually producing and managing him. Sort of the dream I guess- it's one thing to write a review explaining how you think an album should have been, but to have the artist listen to you, wow! So Wenner, Marsh, Landau, that's the ugly side of it.

The other side? Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Nick Tosches, Greil Marcus, I'm sure a few others I'm forgetting. Guys who understood that they were mutants, freaks, outsiders for a reason, and that's what made them good at writing about this bastard art form to begin with. Imagine Bangs managing... anything? Imagine Tosches producing Springsteen... probably he would've arranged to sell Springsteen's soul to the actual devil, for the sake of the music, and it would have worked.

But at least in the early days RS were trying to form a canon, however misguided and ill-thought-out it might have been. At whatever point they started just kissing the ass of whoever sold enough records? Well, I guess that's why we got Spin, and Blender, and Pitchfork, etc etc, which are, I guess... no worse?
posted by hap_hazard at 11:11 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Greil Marcus is a mixed bag — he edited RS for a long time when a lot of that nonsense was going down, and has some pretty odd ideas about who is worthy outside of the Inkspots. I like him for what he is — I stole the copy of Lipstick Traces I gave my dad back from him — but Marcus isn't necessarily the anti-establishment guy you'd hope.

Meltzer is awesome though.
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 PM on February 20


there's a generational thing going on there, which is not often grasped by those who weren't around to experience it. Call it the Baby Boom split.

For those of us born just after that split, the big Formative Album was probably something like Radio Ethiopia, or London Calling, or More Songs About Buildings and Food. In the late seventies, it looked to us like the world was turning a backflip again, and the 'hippies' were on the wrong side. The 'rock gods' of the sixties and early seventies were as relevant to us as Jenny Lind or Caruso. And the line "phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust" was taken literally.
posted by gimonca at 12:24 PM on February 20


Marcus isn't necessarily the anti-establishment guy you'd hope

I know, but he is definitely as cranky as fuck. Still can't figure out why he hates Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle as much as he does. But I think that stuff like being a long-term champion of the Mekons, and writing stuff like Lipstick Traces- as well as having been fired from RS at least once- lifts him out of the bad-asskissing-downkicking critic category that I invented up there. But ymmv, natch!
posted by hap_hazard at 12:27 PM on February 20


Everybody knows Ellen Willis was the best rock critic of all time.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on February 20


Honestly, I've never read any music criticism from her outside of the VU stuff. Oh, and I think she did the takedown on Bangs over "nigger," right? Ironically, I think her reputation as a music critic — at least with me — suffers because I think of her as much broader than that, writing about a bunch of feminist culture stuff in a smart way. "She's not a rock critic! She's actually a good writer!"
posted by klangklangston at 12:54 PM on February 20


I have a great book of specifically her music criticism, which is like mind-blowingly brilliant. Obviously she transcends the label of "rock critic", though.
posted by Sara C. at 1:00 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Huh. I wonder if the LA library has that.

I kinda wish I had time to get back to writing more music criticism, but it's a lot of work, hard to pitch, and my connections all have real jobs by now. Maybe I'll try to rope my friend April into doing something — I'm usually her photog for Vice gigs, and she's really smart. I don't know if you've met her — I think you'd get along.
posted by klangklangston at 1:20 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


first of all, am radio was much more diverse and interesting back then

Truth. AM radio in the early 70's could be fun at times. Bland predictable stuff was randomly mixed with odd unpredictable stuff. And FM radio in the early 70's was really fascinating. All fun to listen to, until:

1. the corporatization of the FM dial which took the form of consulted formatting of playlists (ie: the cool/hip DJs were suddenly no longer programming their shows, but adhering to what the consultants were demanding)


Yeah, sigh. The sudden rise of the Burkhart/Abrams tightly-formatted AOR playlist killed all of the joy in radio virtually overnight. The days the music died, between 1977 and 1982 were really sad, if you liked listening to radio back then. Well, College Radio could be cool/wonky, but you had be close enough to their underpowered transmitter.
posted by ovvl at 2:29 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Greil Marcus introduced me to Kleenex/LiLiPUT, and has spilled more insightful and reverential work on female-fronted punk than anyone of his cohort, so he gets a big wet kiss from me.
posted by mykescipark at 2:35 PM on February 20


So who-all here is hoping to grow up to be a rock-critic critic? Is it a gig you can make a living at, or do you just have to do it for love?
posted by jfuller at 2:47 PM on February 20


Lipstick Traces is essential so I'm always willing to cut Marcus a lot of slack, even if the same sort of obsessive extremism that it took to write and research that book doesn't really make for the best album-to-album music criticism. It's like the entire course of human history is always in the balance with that guy ...

Which it is, of course; such is the nature of culture and its ebbs and flows, always a butterfly in Madagascar setting off a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico (or wherever). I just doubt Marcus's ability to know which butterfly is igniting which hurricane.
posted by philip-random at 2:47 PM on February 20


I'd hate to obviously just add to the pile-on so late, but really, Rolling Stone Magazine has always had just god-awful music criticism as long as I can remember. It just sucked. Rolling Stone is like the Microsoft Windows of Music Journalism, the standard default operating system which dominated the industry, but for some reason just continued to provide a consistently crappy product, to the amazement of all involved.

I'll admit, I'm kinda biased because my older brother had a subscription to the Jaan Uhelszki-era CREEM Magazine in the mid-70's. Good times.
posted by ovvl at 2:55 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


"...but really, Rolling Stone Magazine has always had just god-awful music criticism as long as I can remember."

That's what I am bemused about in this discussion. Rolling Stone was never, ever relevant to me or anyone I knew with regard to musical taste or influence. That includes my late-70s/early-80s hard rock days, the 80s punk and new wave days, the 90s alternative days. Ever. It was never relevant outside of the mainstream. I don't understand why anyone would have ever looked to it for guidance, with all due respect to koeselitz.

And I say this as someone whose experience during youth was more like the "barren wasteland" version than the "AM/record store cornucopia" of the earlier debate. Even given the difficulty of being exposed to interesting stuff, what people did was somehow to find it as best they could, anyway. No one looked to Rolling Stone for it. They looked to people they knew.

You know, I can think of maybe two or three albums/artists that I was turned on to by a major magazine in the 80s, and it wasn't Rolling Stone. It was Playboy. That is probably a fluke, but I have suspicions that Playboy's critics probably had better taste than Rolling Stone's.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:38 PM on February 20


I'll admit, I'm kinda biased because my older brother had a subscription to the Jaan Uhelszki-era CREEM Magazine in the mid-70's.

CREEM? Boy Howdy!

Don't forget Circus!
posted by TedW at 4:03 PM on February 20


I think some people are born knowing which cultural outlets are boring and lame and which ones are cool.

Well either that or those people have older siblings who already laid the groundwork of "CREEM is better than Rolling Stone and don't buy this lame album and here are the bands you should really be listening to".
posted by Sara C. at 4:49 PM on February 20


Not necessarily older siblings, but isn't that usually how it works when you're a teen and young adult? Music taste in that age-range is extremely oriented toward social identity and so finding other people who like that music (or people who are people you want to be like and then discovering music from them) is all wrapped-up in finding new music and forming taste.

I can imagine being drawn to something so outside the mainstream that you can't find anyone local as role models and so you look to magazines and such for guidance. But then you'd not be using Rolling Stone as a guide. You'd be finding underground magazines and such.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:06 PM on February 20


I used to spend like eleventy billion dollars in high school for NME and Mojo and other imported British magazines because I was Britpop obsessed. I only read Rolling Stone if a Britpop person was in it.
posted by sweetkid at 5:28 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Well, there goes my only reason for reading RS these days.
posted by octothorpe at 5:33 PM on February 20


But then you'd not be using Rolling Stone as a guide. You'd be finding underground magazines and such.

Bless you and RIP Option, Puncture, Reflex, B-Side, Sprogg, The Bob, etc...
posted by mykescipark at 5:39 PM on February 20


isn't that usually how it works when you're a teen and young adult?

Maybe in a huge city or something?

It seems completely bizarre to me to just assume that everyone is born knowing which rock publications are cool and which are lame. Maybe if you grew up in the East Village or something, I guess?
posted by Sara C. at 6:46 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


It seems completely bizarre to me to just assume that everyone is born knowing which rock publications are cool and which are lame. Maybe if you grew up in the East Village or something, I guess?

I grew up in Podunk, Nowhere in the 1980s, but we had one amazing indie record store that shepherded me through my childhood and adolescence with a steady diet of awesome records. I realize this is not a universal experience, but they were certainly out there.
posted by mykescipark at 6:51 PM on February 20


Yes, but you had an indie record store.

FWIW it's not like I never heard anything good or never got into more underground type music, but that, yeah, if you grow up in a place where WalMart is the only local shopping venue, you don't really have any kind of built-in filter to inform you of what the Official Cool Stuff is. In a world like that, it's very easy to just assume that Rolling Stone is probably OK in terms of rock criticism.
posted by Sara C. at 7:38 PM on February 20


Rolling Stone was never, ever relevant to me or anyone I knew with regard to musical taste or influence. That includes my late-70s/early-80s hard rock days, the 80s punk and new wave days, the 90s alternative days. Ever. It was never relevant outside of the mainstream. I don't understand why anyone would have ever looked to it for guidance, with all due respect to koeselitz.

Well, it was for me and the kids I grew up with in suburban Connecticut, who were admittedly not cool enough for Creem or Trouser Press. We would read Rolling Stone in the school library in 10th grade. That's where we learned about Elvis Costello, the Clash, Devo, Gang of Four, etc. God knows Stoneman wasn't playing that stuff on WPLR New Haven, a.k.a. Foghat Radio.
posted by stargell at 8:58 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


I read Rolling Stone a little in the maybe very early 80's, not because I necessarily thought it was hip but because I also liked a lot of stuff that was within its purview. So the sorta-surprising stuff for me here is how often the selected reviews just completely miss the boat on fairly mainstream stuff. Never mind somehow thinking that X-Ray Spex are no fun- what the hell else could they ever be- it's stuff like saying that Eno made Talking Heads too complex, or that Marquee Moon lacks melody, or Here Come the Warm Jets is too eclectic, or Jeff Buckley's voice isn't so good...

OK, The Shaggs record gets zero stars, but it's 'stilted'? Paranoid gets one star because it's 'quaint and boring'? On the Beach is unlistenable because of...Neil Young's voice? The Unforgettable Fire is ruined by... Eno's production? Rain Dogs is undisciplined, Young Loud and Snotty is borderline-incompetent heavy metal, and Bowie's Berlin albums are too ironic and experimental.

I mean, thank god I never read most of those reviews, because as I recall I either liked or straight-up loved every single one of those records on first hearing them, either exactly for the reasons the reviews complained about, or their exact opposite, as appropriate.

It's just sheer fucking incompetence is what it is, and putting it together was a valuable service that involved work (reading all that junk) that I wouldn't wish on a dog. Dude should definitely write the book on rock critics.
posted by hap_hazard at 10:17 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Well and never mind that every single record the Stones have put out since '78, or Dylan since '74, has been a 'brilliant return to form after the disappointing last few albums,' that part is pretty hilarious but you sort of come to expect it. It's the other stuff- if you think the Meat Puppets suck because the Kirkwoods can't sing, ZZ Top is a 'poor man's Lynyrd Skynyrd,' and Van Morrison mumbles too much on Veedon Fleece, you just plain don't like music.
posted by hap_hazard at 10:26 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


I should start a band and call it "Brilliant Return to Form."
posted by klangklangston at 11:40 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


Despite my misread and subsequent miserable derail upthread, I had intended to read the whole fucking article -- all five fucking hundred-plus reviews -- and I'm working on it. Which might say more about my state of mind these days but I'd rather not dwell on that.

But anyway. Of the albums I know, I usually agree with schmidtt's opinions. Disagree with some of them in favor of RS's side for a couple. Feeling like everybody's wrong, once in a while. A lot of the albums I haven't heard, though, and am years past feeling like I have to have an opinion about things I don't know.

The following comment about Dave Marsh (appended to #153, Pink Floyd Relics) stuck out, though, and it seems to be both a motivator for schmidtt's project and an apt summary of Rolling Stone's problematic role as a tastemaker: "It is hard for me to believe that the frenetic 21-year-old kid writing for Creem in 1971 and the grim troll that authored the bulk of the 1983 RS Record Guide are really the same person. [...] Perhaps endeavoring to rate every record in existence has the perverse effect of smothering the very thing that made you want to write about music in the first place?"
posted by ardgedee at 11:04 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


I just noticed that he lists Paul McCartney's Press to Play twice, at numbers 200 and 201. Heh
posted by ardgedee at 5:52 PM on February 21


Why do people talk about individual reviews, written by individual reviewers, as if they represent the official position of the publication in which they appear?

Because the promotional material never used to say "'*****' - Frankie McSpacklepants", it said "'*****' - Rolling Stone".
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:19 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


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