The Kinks – “Father Christmas” (Promo – 1977)

December 25, 2017 at 7:52 am (Music)

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Ike and Tina Turner – “Baby – Get It On” (Live – 1975)

December 16, 2017 at 10:56 am (Music)

Live on The Midnight Special from 1975…

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The B-52’s – “Private Idaho” (Video – 1980)

December 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Music)

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Lou Reed – “Metal Machine Music” (1975)

December 3, 2017 at 11:59 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

John Rockwell’s June 20, 1975 New York Times review of Lou Reed’s infamous, forebidding Metal Machine Music album…

Lou Reed has an onstage image of off-the-wall instability, and it has served him well. His rock songs have always played with notions of treading a line—the line between sanity and insanity, the line between the sexes, the line between love and hate.

But one imagines that his latest record, a double album called Metal Machine Music, will convince many of his admirers that he has finally tripped over the line between outrageousness and sheer self-destructive indulgence. This is over an hour of screaming, steady-state electronic noise. Mr. Reed makes some reference in his mostly elliptical liner notes to heavy-metal rock, of which this is presumably some sort of abstraction. But the abstraction is so absolute that it will leave most rock fans gasping for air. Next to this, Kraftwerk sounds like Chuck Berry.

Actually, though, Mr. Reed’s latest musical experimentation is hardly unprecedented in the world of the classical avant-garde. Mr. Reed makes specific reference in his notes to La Monte Young (even if he does misspell the name); John Cale and others in the original Velvet Underground were close to Mr. Young, who has been turning out vaguely similar electronic music for years.

European composers like Iannis Xenakis have also produced analogous work (cf. Xenakis’s Bohor on Nonesuch Records), all of it seemingly constant in its sonic onslaught, but actually consisting of a myriad, of tiny overlapping layers of sound. The initial impact of Mr. Reed’s piece, not unsurprisingly, is of unrelieved anger. But just beneath the surface is a wealth of listenable detail. All of this sort of music is dismissed by some as a head trip, only properly produced and appreciated by members of a drug culture. Certainly Metal Machine Music won’t hurt the image Mr. Reed projects as a drug cultist.

It will be fascinating to see how this record is received. Clearly it won’t sell wildly; it’s too forbidding even for the sort of pop fan who is starting to buy the German space-rock records. But what will it do to Mr. Reed’s sales the next time he puts out a “real” rock record? He himself is clearly full of hostility about the whole problem of balancing his rock-star career with his need to experiment; his opaque notes, whatever else they tell us, certainly convey that tension.

One would like to see rock stars take the risk to stretch their art in ways that might jeopardize the affection of their fans. But one can’t help fearing that in this instance, Mr. Reed may have gone farther than his audience will willingly follow.

John Rockwell

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