Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies

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One of the earliest professional rock critics, Robert Christgau is known for his terse reviews, published from 1969 to 2013 in his Consumer Guide columns. He also spent 37 years as music editor for The Village Voice, during which time he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll.

His book, “Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies” was published in 1981 and contains a multitude of his brief and often sarcastic reviews of 70’s era albums.

From back cover (original edition):

Robert Christgau has adapted his notorious Village Voice column to produce the essential guide to recent rock and roll. It is the first book devoted to the years that brought us disco, punk, and new wave; that established Linda Ronstadt, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Marley, and Deborah Harry as superstars; and that confirmed the brilliance of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones.

The man who has listened to more rock and roll than anyone else in the country offers a unique reference book, as energetic and rebellious as the music he has the nerve to grade–funny and personal, but always searching for musical, literary, and political standards in an amorphous and hype-ridden business.

A few reviews from the book:

Jethro Tull: Aqualung (Reprise, 1971) Ian Anderson is like the town free thinker. As long as you’re stuck in the same town yourself, his inchoate cultural interests and skeptical views on religion and human behavior are refreshing, but meet up with him in the city and he can turn out to be a real bore. Of course, he can also turn out to be Bob Dylan–it all depends on whether he rejected provincial values out of a thirst for more or out of a reflexive (maybe even somatic) negativism. And on whether he was pretentious only because he didn’t know any better. C+

Blondie: Parallel Lines (Chrysalis, 1978) As unlikely as it seemed three years ago, they’ve actually achieved their synthesis of the Dixie Cups and the Electric Prunes–their third is as close to God as pop-rock albums ever get, or got. Closer, actually–even on side two every song generates its own unique, scintillating glitz. What seems at first like a big bright box of hard candy turns out to have guts, feeling, a chewy center, and Deborah Harry’s vocal gloss reveals nooks of compassion and sheer physical give that makes the protagonists of these too-too modern fragments seem as tragic (or untragic) as those of any other epoch. Plus the band really New Yawks it up–try the chorus of “Just Go Away.” A

Crosby, Stills & Nash: CSN (Atlantic, 1977) Wait a second–wasn’t this a quartet? D+

Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra, 1977) I know why people complain about Tom Verlaine’s angst-ridden voice, but fuck that, I haven’t had such intense pleasure from a new release since I got into Layla three months after it came out, and this took about fifteen seconds. The lyrics, which are in a demotic-philosophical mode (“I was listening/listening to the rain/I was hearing/hearing something else”), would carry this record alone; so would the guitar playing, as lyrical and piercing as Clapton or Garcia but totally unlike either. Yes, you bet it rocks. And no, I didn’t believe they’d be able to do it on record because I thought this band’s excitement was all in the live raveups. Turns out that’s about a third of it. A+

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