Tuesday, January 8, 2019
The World's Worst Record Reviewer
One of my blog pals, the esteemed Mr. Yorkshire Pudding, just wrote a post about the Internet and the many ways it has changed our lives. For better or worse, it has made a wealth of information quickly and conveniently available, in ways that could only have been dreamed of 30 years ago.
Here, in roundabout fashion, is an example from my own private files. When I was in college in the '80s, I was a writer on the student newspaper. The great thing about writing for student publications is that you wind up doing everything -- writing and editing news, features, headlines, editorials and columns. In my three years on the paper, I worked on every section except sports.
One day in early 1987, a colleague suggested I write a record review. I don't remember what prompted the suggestion -- I was probably enthusiastic about a new album that arrived in the office mail. What followed was an uninspired, sporadic foray into music reviewing that lasted all of about four articles.
My first outing was with Peter, Paul and Mary's album "No Easy Walk to Freedom." I began by asserting, quite incorrectly, that social comment in music was "coming back into vogue after a lengthy hiatus." Where I got the idea that it had ever left is anyone's guess. (My editor, with whom I had frequent political disagreements, snidely headlined the article "Social Comment Returns." Somehow that succinctness made my premise seem doubly ridiculous.)
I followed that up with a thumpingly idiotic review of Suzanne Vega's album "Solitude Standing," which I blithely pronounced was "unlikely to garner her any new fans." (It went on to become the biggest success of her career.) I called "Tom's Diner," one of the better-known tracks, "too long" and "irritating." The song "Luka," which became a top-ten hit and earned Grammy nominations, I called "commercial and nondescript" and I professed to be unable to tell what it was about.
In what was probably my most accurate review, I wrote glowingly of Carly Simon's album "Coming Around Again." But here's where I could have used the Internet. I suspected that Simon, singing about believing in oneself and in love, might have been inspired by her own healing after her divorce from James Taylor. I tried and tried to find out if "Coming Around Again" was her first record following that divorce. I called the record company's publicists, and they flatly refused to tell me, saying they wouldn't discuss Ms. Simon's private life.
Finally, after enduring my multiple phone calls and repeated pleading, a publicist confided on the sly that it was not Simon's first post-divorce album. Not to be daunted by mere facts, I slipped my theory into the story anyway. Now I see -- online, of course -- that she and Taylor divorced in 1983 and she released an album called "Spoiled Girl" in 1985. She did, however, remarry in 1987, the year of "Coming Around Again," so I suspect my assessment was correct.
Finally, I reviewed Tuck & Patti's album "Tears of Joy," which I called "a jazz-vocals album that deserves accolades." I wasn't wrong about that.
I went on to do occasional entertainment writing (but not reviewing) in my professional career. Let me just say, writing this blog post was so much easier than getting background for any of those articles. Album names, dates, awards, chart positions, movie casts, an actor's previous roles -- it's all there at the touch of a button. Of course, the Internet also exploded the whole concept of a music "album," and we have to worry that what we're finding online isn't true!
(Photo: A covered walkway in Knightsbridge, near the Harvey Nichols department store.)