Friday, December 21, 2007


Donald Fagen, the Devil and Ike Turner

by Wayne Robins

Donald Fagen of Steely Dan wrote a savvy tribute to the late Ike Turner for
Slate Dec. 17. Fagen's appreciation draws parallels between Turner's music and life and the legend of Robert Johnson's deal with the devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 at Clarksdale, Miss., which happens to be the native territory of Turner (as well as that of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke). It is good to see that Fagen continues to make use of the literary education he received at Bard College: It's not every musician who can conclude a Faustian tale with a long quote from Goethe.

Ike Turner figured in my brief Bard education as well. (Had I paid more attention to Goethe than Ike Turner, or to Proust rather than Kerouac, perhaps I would have lingered longer at Bard). My friends and I made good use of the thrift shops and department store record sales in Kingston across the river from Annandale-on-Hudson. I probably paid a nickel apiece for a spindlefull of Ike and Tina Turner singles on Sue, the label for which they made their most immortal recordings, affectionately and astutely described by Fagen: "I love all those early records Ike worked up for Tina and the Ikettes: "A Fool in Love," "I Idolize You," "I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine," and so on. Ike's concept (really a more raw and countrified version of Ray Charles' act) was simple: The band plays tight; Tina goes berserk."

In addition to the singles, I recall a sale at a department store which was divesting its record department; I brought back to Potter Hall treasured, already out-of-print Sue albums on which these hits (most from 1960-1962) were featured. Because Ike was producer/arranger/composer/bandleader/guitarist and general all-around genius control freak, these Sue albums—unlike every R&B album of the era, except for those made in New Orleans—were noteworthy for their absence of filler.

Of course, those records were a highly condensed, remarkably dynamic approximations of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which I can remember seeing twice. The first time was October 1969, when they opened the Rolling Stones show at Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum, along with B.B. King and Terry Reid. That concert was the subject of my first paid gig as a rock critic: My gonzo review of the event was published in the Berkeley Barb, for which I was paid 50 cents a column inch. At 28 inches, I made $14, on which I could eat for a week in the Mission District of San Francisco, where I was laying low on my academically enforced sabbatical from Bard. The next time I saw them was at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, where that $14 may have purchased an appetizer. I reviewed the show early in my Newsday career (circa 1977), and experienced a modicum of writer's block trying to phone in a review by midnight for a show that ended after 11 PM. Near panic, I felt as lost as if I'd been looking for the Waldorf in Astoria, Queens...which is what I wrote, which broke down the wall, which led to a serviceable, if hardly memorable, review phoned in hardly an hour past deadline.

A Brief History of Rock, Off the Record
Google News

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My ten best albums of the year along with pithy commentary is now posted at

Google News

Monday, December 17, 2007


Metacritic Surprise

Some controversy over at Metacritic as "Untrue," by Burial, tops the list of the 30 Best Reviewed Albums of the Year. The album, by what Metacritic describes as a "London-based anonymous dubstep artist," is No. 1 with its average score of 91 (out of 100). Readers note that the statistical sample (13 reviews) may have been a little too small for a reliable measure. Also tilting the result: scores of 100 given by The Guardian, Tiny Mix Tapes and, with the next highest scores rating "only" 90, as bestowed by five critics, including the Observer Music Monthly, Drowned in Sound and PopMatters. My take is that scores of 100 are suspect: My highest numerical grade for any album, book or movie would peak at around 98; a score of 100, to me, should be a place holder for unattainable perfection.
Metacritic users rank the album as only a 7.8 out of other words, they give it a 78, based on 110 user votes. Over at eMusic, the listener comments are completely polarized, with one member writing, "This is by far the worst thing I've ever bought on emusic that was also receiving rave reviews from its advocates," while another declared it "just fantastic...album of the year." I'm intrigued enough to use some of my December emusic credits to buy a few tracks; if I do, I will report back.

Google News

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?