A while back I was given a very nice gift – the May issue of Creem magazine. From 1977. There’s an almost unintelligible review of Leon Redbone by R. Meltzer. And there’s a review of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours that singles out Dreams as the only decent song, suggests that Christine McVie has really let her writing fall away and pines for the band to return to its blues/R’n’B roots.
As a fan of Fleetwood Mac I was in no way incensed by this review. I thought it was a laugh – and most likely it was right on the money. At that time. Arriving after the eponymous album (the first to feature Buckingham & Nicks) it probably did just sound like more of the same; like McVie had been reduced to a George Harrison role in the songwriting stakes. Heading down toward Ringo territory. The writer of the review, Stephen Demorest, definitely had an opinion about the album. That’s the important thing. And I could see a lot of what he was saying – even though I didn’t agree. But of course I heard Rumours as a nine year old, already used to the Tusk album and songs like Gypsy. I heard them before I ever knew who Peter Green was. So to me it made sense instantly. I also heard the album knowing it was one of the biggest-selling records of all time. It’s not like that informed my listening. But then again, that’s exactly what it did. Let’s not kid about.
In this same issue of Creem there’s an article called Rock Stars Talk Back – Dozens Listen. The magazine organised for some of the biggest names in rock to go on the record (ha!) with the names of the music writers that annoyed them the most. It’s entertaining – a snapshot of a time – and, particularly at that time, it was a chance for musicians to bitch about the critics; payback for the critics bitching about the musicians.
These days – as you all are well aware – we have blogs. Like this one. It means the writer can cop it, musicians can cop it and musicians can have a go at other musicians, or at writers. We’re all in the firing line. It’s a different time. And that’s probably both good and bad.
I like this quote: “Anybody that forms a group, writes songs and releases records and says they don’t care if people like them are complete liars”.
That’s not from the May 1977 issue of Creem magazine though. That’s far more recent. It is from James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers fame.
I am pretty sure that’s still the case now – and it was definitely the case back in 1977, back before Bradfield said it. I thought you might like to see some of the comments that some of the big names of the day were directing at the critics back in 1977; naming and shaming. But were they shaming the reviewers or themselves? You tell me what you think?
Todd Rundgren: “I don’t like Steve Lake (Melody Maker) because we make his job so easy and he makes our job so hard. He went to the trouble of doing an interview, an album review and a concert review – just to pan us”.
Lou Reed: “I think they’re all fantastic”.
(You can feel the sarcasm dripping from that line, right?)
The Eagles (specifically Glenn Fry, Don Henley and Joe Walsh): “Our least favourite critics are Lester Bangs, Kris Nicholson, Dave Marsh, Timothy White, Greil Marcus, Stephen Holden, Billy Altman, Jim Girard, etc…our time can be spent in much more valuable ways than writing about these little parasites – like watering the lawn or taking a s**t”.
Charlie Daniels: “Robert Hilburn from the L.A. Times and all the Rolling Stone record reviewers. Those Rolling Stone record reviewers should be working in a graveyard for all that those f**kers know about albums. As for Mr. Hilburn, he’s an idiot, he’s just a damn fool. The day he likes one of my records I’m gonna catch the next jumbo jet to L.A., take him out to the corner of Hollywood and Vine at high noon, yank down his pants and kiss his ass”.
Flo & Eddie: “For some reason it seems every one of the critics in question either works for Creem, have a tin ear, or just hate our guts. For some reason, and we really don’t know why, we’ve been bad-mouthed our whole career and it’s made us feel like marked men. We often wonder about it because we didn’t want to cause any trouble”.
Bruce Springsteen: “I don’t have any least favourite, I don’t want to say that. This is going to turn out to be a vendetta list, right? The day that I do I won’t give him advance warning; he’ll know when my fist meets his jaw”.
Joe Perry (of Aerosmith): “Rolling Stone sucks”.
Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull): “All of them. I find nothing funny about the press”.
Al Kooper: “Anyone who is not musically qualified for his job. People who study music for 15 years shouldn’t be reviewed by people who can’t even read a note. Someone who can’t become a writer, and becomes a rock writer instead – that’s ridiculous. Can I tell a Robert Christgau story? It was at the Monterey Pop Festival, and Ravi Shankar was going to go on, so a lot of musicians had come to hear him. Practically half the audience were musicians. Even though it was a terrible day, and was almost raining, people were jamming the aisles – you get the picture? So in the fifth row there’s this guy who’s got the ball game on his transistor radio. Robert Christgau. The people around him tried to get him to turn it down – he wouldn’t, so he was finally ejected”.
Cherie Currie, Jackie Fox, Lita Ford, Joan Jett and Sandy West (of The Runaways): All of them listed Lisa Robinson; apparently they were “still fuming” over her column about the band from six months earlier.
Janis Ian also named Robert Christgau.
Grace Slick said “no one. I like anyone who isn’t boring” and announced her favourite as being Lester Bangs.
Alice Cooper: “No one at the moment, as long as they write the truth. With most rock critics, it got to be about who could insult us the most eloquently. Lester Bangs once wrote two reviews of my albums that went something like ‘Walt Disney would have had the good sense to leave it in the can’ and ‘What a tragic waste of plastic’. I’d like to put all the rock critics together and form a band. Then they’d know what it’s like. You know nothing about rock music unless you specialise in it – unless you’re a rock musician. They’re just writers”.
And I’ll leave the final word from Creem, May, 1977 to Gene Simmons of Kiss: “We haven’t got a least favourite. Everybody is great and wonderful…we don’t care what they write about us as long as they keep writing about us”.
So for all the changes in music journalism in the nearly 40 years since this issue of Creem was released there is a lot that has stayed the same. The number of music magazines is shrinking. We will most probably never have something like Creem ever again – but there’ll always be writers offering opinions and praised by some for doing that; lambasted by others. There’ll always be musicians getting offended at writers being offended by their music. And there’ll be musicians claiming to not care at all – when actually they do. I like James Dean Bradfield’s comment that I quoted (in fact I like it more than any of the music he has been associated with).