AllMusic Review: At the height of outlaw country, Willie Nelson pulled off perhaps the riskiest move of the entire bunch. He set aside originals, country, and folk and recorded Stardust, a collection of pop standards produced by Booker T. Jones. Well, it’s not entirely accurate to say that he put away country and folk, since these are highly idiosyncratic interpretations of “Georgia on My Mind,” “All of Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” blending pop, country, jazz, and folk in equal measures. It’s not that Willie makes these songs his own, it’s that he reimagines these songs in a way that nobody else could, and with his trusty touring band, he makes these versions indelible. It may be strange to think that this album, containing no originals from one of America’s greatest songwriters, is what made him a star, and it continues to be one of his most beloved records, but it’s appropriate, actually. Stardust showcases Nelson’s skills as a musician and his entire aesthetic — where there is nothing separating classic American musical forms, it can all be played together — perhaps better than any other album, which is why it was a sensation upon its release and grows stronger with each passing year. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AllMusic Review: The high point of Willie Colón’s ongoing collaboration with Rubén Blades (and close to a career peak for both artists), Siembra exploded on the salsa scene in 1978 and has never been forgotten by fans. Beginning with a minute of playfully deceptive quasi-disco arrangements, Colón and his band slip into a devastating salsa groove for the opener, “Plástico,” on which Blades first criticizes America’s throwaway society and then brings all of Latin America together with a call to unity. Blades wrote all but one of the songs on Siembra, and shines on all of them; his extended high-tenor salsa scatting lifts “Buscando Guayaba,” his tender side comes across on the love song “Dime,” and he outlines a devastating life-in-el-Barrio exposé with “Pedro Navaja” (Peter the Knife). For the latter, Colón and Luis Ortiz’s tight arrangement adds immeasurably to the song, using street noise and sirens, breaking into an ironic “I like to live in America!,” and punching the statement home with a four-trombone line. Reflecting the tough times but optimistic attitude of el Barrio during the late ’70s, Siembra joined Cosa Nuestra as one of Willie Colón’s career landmarks. — John Bush
AllMusic Review: Among revolutionary rock albums, Van Halen’s debut often gets short shrift. Although it altered perceptions of what the guitar could do, it is not spoken of in the same reverential tones as Are You Experienced? and although it set the template for how rock & roll sounded for the next decade or more, it isn’t seen as an epochal generational shift, like Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, or Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols, which was released just the year before. But make no mistake, Van Halen is as monumental, as seismic as those records, but part of the reason it’s never given the same due is that there’s no pretension, nothing self-conscious about it. In the best sense, it is an artless record, in the sense that it doesn’t seem contrived, but it’s also a great work of art because it’s an effortless, guileless expression of what the band is all about, and what it would continue to be over the years. The band did get better, tighter, over the years — peaking with their sleek masterpiece 1984, where there was no fat, nothing untidy — but everything was in place here, from the robotic pulse of Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen, to the gonzo shtick of David Lee Roth to the astonishing guitar of Eddie Van Halen. There may have been antecedents to this sound — perhaps you could trace Diamond Dave’s shuck-n-jive to Black Oak Arkansas’ Jim Dandy, the slippery blues-less riffs hearken back to Aerosmith — but Van Halen, to this day, sounds utterly unprecedented, as if it was a dispatch from a distant star. Some of the history behind the record has become rock lore: Eddie may have slowed down Cream records to a crawl to learn how Clapton played “Crossroads” — the very stuff legends are made of — but it’s hard to hear Clapton here. It’s hard to hear anybody else really, even with the traces of their influences, or the cover of “You Really Got Me,” which doesn’t seem as if it were chosen because of any great love of the Kinks, but rather because that riff got the crowd going. And that’s true of all 11 songs here: they’re songs designed to get a rise out of the audience, designed to get them to have a good time, and the album still crackles with energy because of it. Sheer visceral force is one thing, but originality is another, and the still-amazing thing about Van Halen is how it sounds like it has no fathers. Plenty other bands followed this template in the ’80s, but like all great originals Van Halen doesn’t seem to belong to the past and it still sounds like little else, despite generations of copycats. Listen to how “Runnin’ with the Devil” opens the record with its mammoth, confident riff and realize that there was no other band that sounded this way — maybe Montrose or Kiss were this far removed from the blues, but they didn’t have the down-and-dirty hedonistic vibe that Van Halen did; Aerosmith certainly had that, but they were fueled by blooze and boogie, concepts that seem alien here. Everything about Van Halen is oversized: the rhythms are primal, often simple, but that gives Dave and Eddie room to run wild, and they do. They are larger than life, whether it’s Dave strutting, slyly spinning dirty jokes and come-ons, or Eddie throwing out mind-melting guitar riffs with a smile. And of course, this record belongs to Eddie, just like the band’s very name does. There was nothing, nothing like his furious flurry of notes on his solos, showcased on “Eruption,” a startling fanfare for his gifts. He makes sounds that were unimagined before this album, and they still sound nearly inconceivable. But, at least at this point, these songs were never vehicles for Van Halen’s playing; they were true blue, bone-crunching rockers, not just great riffs but full-fledged anthems, like “Jamie’s Cryin’,” “Atomic Punk,” and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” songs that changed rock & roll and still are monolithic slabs of rock to this day. They still sound vital, surprising, and ultimately fun — and really revolutionary, because no other band rocked like this before Van Halen, and it’s still a giddy thrill to hear them discover a new way to rock on this stellar, seminal debut. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
All tracks are written by Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony, except where noted.
AllMusic Review: Released in 1978, just as the hot streak starting with 1975’s Fighting and running through 1977’s Bad Reputation came to an end, Live and Dangerous was a glorious way to celebrate Thin Lizzy’s glory days and one of the best double live LPs of the 70s. Of course, this, like a lot of double-lives of that decade — Kiss’ Alive! immediately springs to mind — isn’t strictly live; it was overdubbed and colored in the studio (the very presence of studio whiz Tony Visconti as producer should have been an indication that some corrective steering may have been afoot). But even if there was some tweaking in the studio, Live and Dangerous feels live, containing more energy and power than the original LPs, which were already dynamic in their own right. It’s this energy, combined with the expert song selection, that makes Live and Dangerous a true live classic. —Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Brian Downey, Scott Gorham, Lynott, Brian Robertson
“Rosalie / Cowgirl’s Song”
Bob Seger / Downey, Lynott
“Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight)”
AllMusic Review: While the into-the-wind blare of the title cut was what people remembered best, the Saints’ first album, (I’m) Stranded, had a lot more musical variety than it was generally given credit for in 1977, and the band stayed much farther from the standard punk template (which had solidified with remarkable speed in the wake of the Sex Pistols) on their second LP, Eternally Yours. For their sophomore outing, the Saints threw actual tempo changes, horn charts, keyboards, and R&B accents into the mix, which didn’t endear them to punk purists, who predictably didn’t recognize that these changes had only strengthened the band’s sound. Anyone looking for blazing 4/4 punk will find it in “Lost and Found” and “Private Affair,” but the horn-fueled “Know Your Product” and “Orstralia” proved that punk could also sound soulful (Rocket from the Crypt owe their entire career to these cuts); the moody “A Minor Aversion,” “Untitled,” and “Memories Are Made of This” proved the Saints could slow it down and still sound tough and impassioned; and “This Perfect Day” is quite possibly the greatest song this band would ever record — Chris Bailey’s sneer of “It’s so funny I can’t laugh” is alone worth the price of admission. While Eternally Yours is a bit less consistent than (I’m) Stranded, the material is first-rate, the band sounds better than ever, and the approach suggests the pop-smart eclecticism of the band’s mid-’80s period fused with the muscle and ferocity of their debut. Maybe Eternally Yours didn’t sound like a standard-issue punk album in 1978, but it’s stood the test of time much better than most of the work of punk’s first graduating class. — Mark Deming
All tracks composed by Ed Kuepper and Chris Bailey; except where indicated.
AllMusic Review: Sandwiched in between Third Reich and Roll, Eskimo, and The Commercial Album, Duck Stab/Buster & Glen hasn’t always received the fanfare of other late-’70s Residents material. It’s one of the few that isn’t a concept album and probably the least experimental of the bunch. Still, it’s quintessential Residents’ rock — which is to say, it’s like nothing else on the planet. Few of the songs last longer than a couple of minutes, and only a few instruments can be heard at any given time. Rather than relying on guitars, the Residents stick to the relatively primitive synthesizers and electronic gadgets of their time. Chorus chants on “Bach Is Dead” meet with a melody that sounds like a cross between a sixth grader playing recorder and someone scratching on a balloon. Snakefinger’s nasally vocals fit in all too well with their high-pitched electronica, which then somehow merges with funereal marching percussion. It seems annoying and stupid at first, but over time you feel compelled to listen again and again. Such is the glory of the Residents! — Kieran McCarthy
AllMusic Review: The Only Ones were a band that became identified with the British punk scene largely because leader Peter Perrett had a funny voice and could write a great straightforward rock & roll song at a time when such virtues were possessed almost exclusively by the faster-and-louder brigade. This helps explain why the Only Ones’ self-titled debut album is regarded as a classic of the first wave of U.K. punk despite the presence of the midtempo jazz-accented “Breaking Down”; the ’50s pop moves of the opening cut, “The Whole of the Law”; “The Beast,” which sounds like some sort of lethargic neo-boogie; and the graceful semi-acoustic semi-samba “No Peace for the Wicked.” Of course, when the Only Ones felt like rocking out, they did it brilliantly, and along with the instant classic “Another Girl, Another Planet,” this album includes the sinister but rollicking “City of Fun” and the feedback-drenched crunch of “The Immoral Story,” which points to another factor that made the Only Ones heroes in their day — their eclecticism was rooted in a genuine talent for embracing different sounds rather than the inability to pick a style and master it. Perrett and his bandmates — John Perry on guitar, Alan Mair on bass, and Mike Kellie on drums — sound like a tight and imaginative combo even when they’re surrounded by keyboard and horn overdubs, and Perrett’s tales of one guy’s search for love and coherence in a fractured world are intelligent, witty, and deeply cutting at all times. If the creative ambition of the Only Ones sometimes comes at the price of a tight stylistic focus that would make these songs cohere better, every track is memorable in its own way, and these ten songs always have heart, soul, and honesty to spare — and if that isn’t always the benchmark of punk rock, it’s at least in the neighborhood. — Mark Deming
AllMusic Review: The Jam regrouped and refocused for All Mod Cons, an album that marked a great leap in songwriting maturity and sense of purpose. For the first time, Paul Weller built, rather than fell back, upon his influences, carving a distinct voice all his own; he employed a story-style narrative with invented characters and vivid British imagery à la Ray Davies to make incisive social commentary — all in a musically irresistible package. The youthful perspective and impassioned delivery on All Mod Cons first earned Weller the “voice of a generation” tag, and it certainly captures a moment in time, but really, the feelings and sentiments expressed on the album just as easily speak to any future generation of young people. Terms like “classic” are often bandied about, but in the case of All Mod Cons, it is certainly deserved. — Chris Woodstra
All songs written by Paul Weller except as noted.
“All Mod Cons” – 1:20
“To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time)” – 2:32
“Mr. Clean”* – 3:29
“David Watts” (Ray Davies) – 2:56
“English Rose”** – 2:51
“In the Crowd” – 5:40
“Billy Hunt” – 3:01 (UK and 1st US pressings)/”The Butterfly Collector” – 3:11 (US reissues)
AllMusic Review: The Cars’ 1978 self-titled debut, issued on the Elektra label, is a genuine rock masterpiece. The band jokingly referred to the album as their “true greatest-hits album,” but it’s no exaggeration — all nine tracks are new wave/rock classics, still in rotation on rock radio. Whereas most bands of the late ’70s embraced either punk/new wave or hard rock, the Cars were one of the first bands to do the unthinkable — merge the two styles together. Add to it bandleader/songwriter Ric Ocasek’s supreme pop sensibilities, and you had an album that appealed to new wavers, rockers, and Top 40 fans. One of the most popular new wave songs ever, “Just What I Needed,” is an obvious highlight, as are such familiar hits as “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.” But like most consummate rock albums, the lesser-known compositions are just as exhilarating: “Don’t Cha Stop,” “Bye Bye Love,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Moving in Stereo,” the latter featured as an instrumental during a steamy scene in the popular movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. With flawless performances, songwriting, and production (courtesy of Queen alumni Roy Thomas Baker), the Cars’ debut remains one of rock’s all-time classics. — Greg Prato
AllMusic Review: A devastating debut, one of the finest albums not only of the punk era, but of the 1970s as a whole, Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts was the summation of a year’s worth of gigging, honing a repertoire that — jagged, jarring, and frequently underplayed though it was — nevertheless bristled with hits, both commercial and cultural. “No Time to Be 21,” “One Chord Wonders,” and “Bored Teenagers” were already established among the most potent rallying cries of the entire new wave, catch phrases for a generation that had no time for anthems; “Bombsite Boy,” “Safety in Numbers,” and “Great British Mistake” offered salvation to the movement’s disaffected hordes; and the whole thing was cut with such numbingly widescreen energy that, even with the volume down, it still shakes the foundations. The band’s original vision saw a rerecording of “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes,” a Top 20 hit during summer 1977, included on the album — it was dropped (for space considerations) at the last minute. Several early ’80s reissues of the album attempted to rectify the omission by appending the single version to side two of the LP, but it was 1983 before the rerecording itself made it out, as a minor U.K. hit single, and 1998 before Smith himself was finally able to restore Red Sea to its original glory, with “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” slotted in immediately before “Bombsite Boy,” and another absentee, “New Day Dawning,” following “Safety in Numbers.” — Dave Thompson