Marvin Gaye: The Power and the Glory

March 1983 — In the motel’s living room two women in their late 30s, wearing much too much makeup, and clothes too tight covering too much flesh, hovered over a hot plate, concerned that everything would taste right “for him.” In the bedroom, behind closed doors, dressed in a robe and stocking cap, his face covered with a facial mask, Marvin Gaye accompanied by three biceped roadies (bodyguards?) watched a fight on Wide World of Sports. Marvin and I sat next to each other in tacky motel chairs, his attention wandering from our conversation to the fight.

I anticipated an upbeat conversation full of the self-righteous I-told-you-so fervor so many performers, back from commercial death, inflict upon interviewers and the public. After all, Gaye was in the midst of one of the most thrilling comebacks in pop music history. “Sexual Healing,” some freedom from the IRS, CBS’s mammoth music machine in high gear for him, and adoration from two generations of fans, were all part of a wave of prosperity. Even his stage act, in the past marked by a palpable diffidence, had been spellbinding. The night before, at San Mateo’s Circle Star Theater, he had been brilliant, performing all the good stuff, and even reviving Mary Wells’s “Two Lovers,” one of Smokey’s best early songs, about a total schizophrenic, a man who was both lovingly faithful and totally amoral.

Gaye’s voice was soft, relaxed, and strangely monotonous (he spoke with almost no inflection). His precise elocution was reminiscent of your stereotypical English gentleman, but he spoke of a world far removed from delicacy and style. These were words of isolation, alienation, and downright confusion. His reviewed acclaim had in no way silenced the demons that made his last Motown album In Our Lifetime (despite its premature release by Motown) an explicit battle between the devil and the Lord for his heart, soul, and future.

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I said to him, “The times seem to call for the kind of social commentary you provided on ‘What’s Going On.'”

“It seems to me I have to do some soul searching to see what I want to say,” he said. “You can say something. Or you can say something profound. It calls for fasting, feeling, praying, lots of prayer, and maybe we can come up with a more spiritual social statement, to give people more food for thought.”

“I take it this process hasn’t been going on within you in quite some time.”

“I have been apathetic, because I know the end is near. Sometimes I feel like going off and taking a vacation and enjoying the last 10 or 15 years and forgetting about my message, which I feel is in a form of being a true messenger of God.”

“What about doing like Al Green and turn your back on the whole thing?”

“That’s his role. My role is not necessarily his. That doesn’t make me a devil. It’s just that my role is different, you see. If he wants to turn to God and become without sin and have his reputation become that, then that is what it should be. I am not concerned with what my role should be. I am only concerned with completing my mission here on Earth. My mission is what it is and I think I’m presenting it in a proper way. What people think about me is their business.”

“What is your mission?”

Without a moment’s hesitation he responded, “My mission is to tell the world and the people about the upcoming holocaust and to find all those of higher consciousness who can be saved. Those who can’t can be left alone.”

A year later I reflected on those words while reading the comments of Rev. Marvin Gaye, Sr., Marvin’s father, from his Los Angeles jail cell. It had all gone wrong for Marvin since our talk. The physical assaults on others, including his 70-year-old father, Marvin’s self-inflicted psychological degradation of himself with his “sniffing,” and the lack of creative energy it all suggested, meant Marvin’s unrest was real. Still, to me, the most frightening comment was Rev. Gaye’s response to whether he loved his son or not: “Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.”

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Summer 1958 — Stardom was taking its toll on the Moonglows, one of the 1950s top vocal groups. One member had been hospitalized for drug abuse. Another was tripping on the glamour and the friendly little girls. Harvey Fuqua, the Moonglows’ founder and most level-headed member, was disturbed to see how the Moonglows were not profiting from their fame. It was during this period of growing disillusionment that four Washington, D.C. teens, called the Marquees, finally talked Fuqua into listening to them in his hotel room. Well Fuqua was “freaked out” by them, particularly the lanky kid in the back named Marvin Gaye. By the winter of 1959 two editions of the Moonglows had come and gone when Fuqua accepted an offer to move to Detroit as a partner in Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis’s Anna records.

That Fuqua kept Marvin with him is testimony to his eye for talent and the growth of a friendship that, in many ways, would parallel that of future Motown coworkers Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. On the surface Marvin was this seemingly calm, tall, smooth-skinned charmer whom the ladies found most seductive. Marvin was cool. Yet there was an insecurity and a spirituality in his soul that overwhelmed his worldly desire, causing great inner turmoil. This conflict could be traced to his often strained relationship with his father, a well-known minister in Washington, D.C. Rev. Gaye was flamboyant, persuasive, and yet disquieting as well. There was a strange, repressed sexuality about him that caused whispers in the nation[‘s capital. His son, so sensitive and so clearly possessed of his father’s spiritual determination and his own special musical gifts (he sang, played piano and drums), sought to establish his own identity.

So he pursued a career singing “the devil’s music” and in Fuqua found a strong, masculine figure who respected his talent. Together they’d sit for hours at the piano, Fuqua showing Marvin chord progressions. Marvin took instruction well, but his rebel’s edge would flash when something conflicted with his views. His combination of sex and spirituality, malleability and conviction, made Fuqua feel Marvin was something special. Marvin, not crazy about returning to D.C., accepted Fuqua’s invitation.

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Marvin never recorded for Anna records. But he sure met the label’s namesake, Gwen’s sister Anna. “Right away Anna snatched him,” Fuqua told Aaron Fuchs, “just snatched him immediately.” Anna was something. She was 17 years older than Marvin, but folks in Detroit thought she was more than a match for most men. Ambitious, shrewd, and quite “fine,” she introduced Marvin to brother Berry, leading to session work as a pianist and drummer. Later, after Berry had established Motown as an independent label, Marvin cut The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, a collection of MOR standards done with a bit of jazz flavor. It was an effort, the first of several by Motown, to reach the supper club audience that supported black crooners Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and Sam Cooke. It flopped and some were doubtful he’d get another chance. Yeah, he was Berry’s brother-in-law (that’s the reason some figured he got the shot in the first place), but Berry was cold-blooded about business.

Then in July Stevenson and Berry’s brother George had an idea for a dance record. Marvin wasn’t crazy about singing hardcore r&b. But Anna was used to being pampered and Marvin’s pretty face didn’t pay bills. Neither did a drummer’s salary. With Marvin’s songwriting aid “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” was recorded late in the month. “You could hear the man screaming on that tune, you could tell he was hungry,” says Dave Hamilton who played guitar on it. “If you listen to that song you’ll say, ‘Hey, man, he was trying to make it because he was on his last leg.'” Despite “Stubborn” cracking the r&b top 10, Marvin’s future at Motown was in no way assured. He was already getting a reputation for being “moody” and “difficult.” It wasn’t until December that he cut anything else with hit potential. “Hitch Hike,” a thumping boogie turn that again called for a rougher style than Gaye enjoyed, was produced by Stevenson and his bright young assistant Clarence Paul. “Stubborn”‘s groove wears better than “Hitch Hike”‘s twenty years later, yet his second hit was probably more important to his career. Gaye proved he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He proved too that the intangible “thing” some heard in Gaye’s performance of “Stubborn” was no fluke. The man had sex appeal. “I never wanted to sing the hot stuff,” he would later tell David Ritz in Essence. “With a great deal of bucking, I did it because … well I wanted the money and the glory. So I worked with all the producers. But I wanted to be a pop singer — like Nat Cole or Sinatra or Tony Bennett. I wanted to be a pop-singer Sam Cooke, proving that our kind of music and our kind of feeling could work in the context of pop ballads. Motown never gave me the push I needed.”

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Cholly Atkins, Motown’s choreographer during the glory years, remembers things differently. “Marvin had the greatest opportunity in the world and we were grooming him for it,” Atkins says. “He almost had first choice to replace Sam Cooke when Sam passed away. He had his foot in the door. He was playing smart supper clubs and doing excellent, but it wasn’t his bag. He wanted to go on not shaving with a skull cap on and old dungarees, you know what I mean, instead of the tuxedo and stuff. That’s what he felt comfortable doing … But he has his own thoughts about where he wants to go or what he wants to do with his life. And he doesn’t like anybody influencing him otherwise.”

Beans Bowles, a road manager and Motown executive in the mid-60s, remembers Marvin as a “very disturbed young man … because of what he wanted to do and the frustrations that he had trying to do them. He wanted to play football. He tried to join the Detroit Lions.”

In 1970, at 31, Marvin tried to get Detroit’s local NFL franchise to let him attend rookie camp. This was the period after Tammi Terrell’s death when he was, against Motown’s wishes, working on What’s Going On. Yet he was willing to stop all that for the opportunity to play pro football. Why?

“My father was a minister and he wanted me in church most of the time,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I played very little sandlot football and I got me a few whippins for staying after school watching the team practice.” This parental discipline only ignited Marvin’s contrary nature and his fantasies. “I don’t want to be known as the black George Plimpton,” he said, somewhat insulted by the comparison. “I have no ulterior motive … I’m not writing a book. I just love football. I love the glory of it … there’s an ego thing involved … and the glory is with the pros.”

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The Lions, not surprisingly, turned him down flat. Marvin’s attempt didn’t surprise those who knew him then either. At Motown picnics he always played all out, trying to outshine his contemporaries at every opportunity. One time he severely strained an ankle running a pass pattern. In Los Angeles in the early 1970s he developed quite a reputation as a treacherous half-court basketball player. He even tried to buy a piece of a WFL franchise in the mid-70s.

There were two levels to Marvin’s often fanatical attachment to sports. One was a deep seated desire to prove his manhood, his strength, his macho, in a world where brute power met delicate grace in physical celebration. For all his sex appeal and interest in sexuality (“you make a person think you’re going to do something, but never do until you’re ready”), Gaye wanted to assert his physical superiority over other men.

Linked to this was a need for teamwork, a need to enjoy the fruits of collaboration. All his best work, be it some early hits with Micky Stevenson, Let’s Get It On with Ed Townsend, What’s Going On with Alfred Cleveland or Midnight Love with Harvey Fuqua were done in tandem with others. For all his self-conscious artistic arrogance, he was a team player. In the ’60s Marvin bent his voice to the wishes of Motown, but he did so his way, vocally if not musically. He claimed he had three different voices, a falsetto, a gritty gospel shout, and a smooth midrange close to his speaking voice. Depending on the tune’s key, tone and intention he was able to accommodate it, becoming a creative slave to the music’s will. On the early hits (“Ain’t That Peculiar,” “Hitch-Hike”) Gaye is rough, ready, and willing. His glide through the opening verse of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is the riff Nick Ashford, the song’s co-writer and producer, has been reaching for all these years. On Berry Gordy’s “Try It Baby” Marvin’s coolly slick delivery reminds us of the Harlem bars I visited with my father as a child. His version of “Grapevine” is so intense, so pretty, so goddamn black in spirit, it seems to catalogue that world of black male emotions Charles Fuller evokes in his insightful Soldier’s Play. Listening to Marvin’s three-record Anthology LP will confirm that no Motown artist gave as much to the music as he did. If he had never made another record after December 31, 1969 his contributions to the company would have given a lasting fame even greater than that reserved for Levi Stubbs and Martha Reeves. But, as Marvin often tried to tell them, he had even more to offer.

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In 1971, Motown released What’s Going On, a landmark that, forgive the heresy, is as important and as successfully ambitious as Sergeant Pepper. What?! I said this before Gaye’s demise and I still say it. Stanley Crouch, in a well-reasoned analysis of What’s Going On, explains it better than anyone ever has.

“His is a talent for which the studio must have been invented. Through overdubbing, Gaye imparted lyric, rhythmic, and emotional counterpoint to his material. The result was a swirling stream-of-consciousness that enabled him to protest, show allegiance, love, hate, dismiss, and desire in one proverbial fell swoop. In his way, what Gaye did was reiterate electronically the polyrhythmic African underpinnings of black American music and reassess the domestic polyphony which is its linear extension.”

Furthermore, Crouch asserted, “The upshot of his genius was the ease and power with which he could pivot from a superficially simple but virtuosic use of rests and accents to a multilinear layered density. In fact, if one were to say that James Brown could be the Fletcher Henderson and Count Basie of rhythm and blues, then Marvin Gaye is obviously its Ellington and Miles Davis.”

Though lyrically Marvin never again reached as far outside his personal experience for material, the musical ambience of What’s Going On was refined with varying degrees of effectiveness for the rest of his career.

Part of the reason for Gaye’s introspection was a series of personal dramas — a costly divorce from Anna, a tempestuous marriage to a woman 17 years his junior, constant creative hassles with Motown and antagonism with his father over religion, money, and his mother. Drugs became his escape hatch and his prison. As his In Our Lifetime so brazenly articulates, the devil was after his soul and damned if he wasn’t determined to win.

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April 1983 — Any purchaser of other Rupert Murdoch newstock publications knows the details of Marvin Gaye’s death. I expect the trial, if his father isn’t declared insane, to be an evil spectacle, full of drugs, sex, and interfamily conflicts. It won’t be fun. What was, and will always be my favorite memory of Marvin, was his performance of the National Anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. Dressed as dapperly as any nightclub star, standing before an audience of die-hard sports fans, and some of the world’s greatest athletes, Gaye turned out our nation’s most confusing melody, asserting an aesthetic and intellectual power that rocked the house. I play it over and over now. CBS was going to release it as a single. Don’t you think they should now?

1984 Village Voice article by Nelson George about Marvin Gaye

1984 Village Voice article by Nelson George about Marvin Gaye


1982 Pazz & Jop: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome

Because jazz criticism is one of the many things I know too little about, Otis Ferguson was only a name to me when The Otis Ferguson Reader came my way last fall, and I hope his admirers will accept the compliment I intended when I claim him (for symbolic purposes, at least) as the first rock critic. Remembered mostly for his movie reviews, Ferguson also wrote extensively about the music of the swing era, and there’s something about his attitude that strikes a chord. The man was a born democrat: having worked his way through college, he refused to take on airs when the job was done. Actively hostile to any hint of sham, fad, or dilettantism, he tried to describe complex aesthetic interactions so that laymen could understand them. But he refused to compromise in the other direction either. Unlike the run of fans and/or hacks who always dominate music journalism, he loved language for its own sake, written and spoken both, which means he was committed to taking colloquial risks in a honed style — he went for contemporaneity and a feisty edge without worrying about whether he’d sound dated or stilted later. He valued music’s soul and inspiration no more and no less than its shape and meaning.

Like any sensible person, Ferguson knew you couldn’t write about American music without writing about Afro-American music — he was calling blues “America’s single biggest contribution to the form of music” quite early in the life of that cliché. But he also knew that “people who talk too glibly about racial differences always get left out on a limb, sooner or later,” and added: “When it comes to the best musicians, the matter of race is a tossup as far as I’m concerned.” Ferguson was adamant if not defensive on this point — he once took John Hammond to task for “saying ‘white musician’ the way you’d use the term ‘greaseball’ ” — partly in reaction against ’20s Afrophilia, which was often not just dilettantism but elitist European. But when it came to the best musicians he got unlikely results from his tossup, devoting 13 pages (in the Reader, $10 from December Press, 3093 Dato, Highland Park, Illinois 60035) to Bix Beiderbecke against Louis Armstrong’s one, 24 pages to Benny Goodman against Duke Ellington’s six, four pages to Red Nichols against Sidney Bechet’s two bemused mentions.

People who talk glibly about racial differences might get judgmental about these statistics, but I respect Ferguson too much for that. Anyway, he did better than many of his colleagues, and even the worst of them had alibis. White musicians were more accessible, white musicians drew more readers, white musicians had (to quote Ferguson) “melodic discipline,” and “more definite organization,” white musicians “did more to spread the fame of jazz.” All of this is credible, useful, and perhaps even true; as a naif who regards jazz as an essentially black idiom, I was inspired by Ferguson to test the spritz of MCA’s delightful recent Red Nichols reissue, and I’m glad I did. But then I turned to Sidney Bechet’s RCA twofer from the same period (“his soprano saxophone can still be heard today”), and let me tell you — Bechet blew Nichols away.

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People who talk glibly about historical parallels always get left out on a limb sooner or later, so I hope I don’t push my analogy farther than it wants to go. But I kept thinking about Otis Ferguson’s Negro problem as the ballots for the ninth or 10th annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll rolled in. If Elvis Costello’s victory wasn’t exactly hot news, his margin was respectable — he got a much bigger vote than the Clash in 1981, and did better proportionally than a comparable consensus choice, Graham Parker in 1979. But no matter how big a piece the winner cut off, most voters seemed weary of how stale, flat, and unprofitable the pie had become; the dejected Britcrits at Trouser Press, for instance, declined to name a number one album this year, placing Imperial Bedroom, which topped their in-house poll, at a symbolic number two. And if I once again failed to share all this dolor, it wasn’t in the hundred-flowers bloom spirit that inspired me to list my 60 top albums a year ago; though I did find another 60 gooduns, down-the-middle sales and borderline creativity both sagged ominously enough to put a crimp in my natural rock and roll optimism. Starting in early November, however, seven of my favorite 1982 albums, every one a variation on a theme, restored a lot of my fire. And if they weren’t likely to lift the mood at Trouser Press, a journal white supremacist enough to make Rolling Stone look like a hotbed of affirmative action, George Clinton’s Computer Games, Marvin Gaye’s Midnight Love, Prince’s 1999, Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, Chic’s Tongue in Chic, Material’s One Down, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller made it a pretty damn good year after all.

Except in re poor Tongue in Chic, which got shut out, the critics shared my enthusiasm to a moderately unprecedented degree. Prince, Gaye, and Jackson finished 6, 8, and 15, while in 1980 Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Jackson finished 8, 9, and 13 — with no Sunny Adé or Ornette Coleman to siphon off tokenism votes. And Adé’s showing was very impressive in itself — unknown to American critics a year ago the African rhythm king finished fourth, higher than any black artist in the history of the poll except Wonder (who won in 1976). And while Ornette’s 13th-place finish doesn’t sound all that much more commanding than Dancing in Your Head’s 15th in 1977, 1982’s sampling of 216 respondents, 67 of them from cities other than New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco, should have been much harder to crack than 1977’s 68-critic in-group. It wasn’t, and for good reason: just as established critics were converted and new ones created by punk/new wave in the late ’70s, so now many young critics young and old are gradually learning to hear music that falls under the rubric of funk.

And the albums weren’t even the big story. Like “new wave,” the term “funk” exploits a serviceable vagueness; it’ll fit all the black records I’ve named if you stretch it around Sunny Adé a little. But funk in its purest form was the first cause of the pop event of the year, perched securely atop the singles list. Never in Pazz & Jop history has any record occasioned such blanket ecstasy as Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message.” About 75 per cent of the voters put it in their top 10s, usually at number 1 or 2; the best percentage any album has earned was This Year’s Model’s 60 in 1978, and in three previous years of singles balloting no title has made even a third of the lists. Nor was this New York chauvinism; “The Message” did even better in the boonies (as I jocularly refer to cities off the NY-LA-Boston-Frisco axis) and the ’burbs (my pet name for LA-Boston-Frisco) than in its hometown, where it was subjected to a small gay boycott (though at least three gay voters ignored the “fag” references and named it anyway) as well as NY’s all too predictable antitrendie backlash. In any other year, the 104 votes for Marvin Gaye’s polymorphous vocal-percussive tapestry “Sexual Healing” would have been a definitive pop event all by itself. In any other year, the eighth-place finish of 1982’s most influential dance record, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock,” would have tempted me to praise of Kraftwerk and other universalist indiscretions. In 1982, however, the sinuous synthesized skeleton against which Melle Mel and company pitted Duke Bootee’s street-surreal rhymes combined the best of Gaye’s body rock and of Bambaataa’s futuristic world-spirit — and it had a message, too.

Nor did the funk stop there. Last year “rock” by Laurie Anderson, the Rolling Stones, Kim Carnes, and Yoko Ono surrounded Flash’s “Wheels of Steel” in the top five; this year, except for the rejuvenated Pretenders, all of the five white artists in the top 10 — led by the Clash, who gained inner-city credibility while at the same time proving so middle American that more than half their 18th-place album support came from the boonies — scored with black dance records of one sort or another. In fact, this was a year in which good black radio proved more open to good white music than any white radio did to any black music: black supremacist Ron Wynn, who attributed 1982’s “vibrant, exciting music” to “the growing rift in black and white pop tastes” (with that vague word “pop” leaving room for agreement), deplored the way “white junk like Toni Basil” (pop tastes do differ) crowded out such worthies as Jerry Butler. White supremacists, on the other hand, will probably view the entire singles list as a huge liberal miscegenation plot.

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If in my mongrelizing depravity I seem to be prophesying interracial rockcrit hegemony, however, remember Otis Ferguson. Like rescued L.A. bluesman Ted Hawkins (heir to this year’s Longhair-Nevilles traditionalist vote) and former Blood Ulmer drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson (who finished 13 places ahead of his old boss), Adé and Coleman qualify as critics’ faves, like Aretha Franklin (in her first P&J charting ever), Prince, Gaye, and Jackson are black popsters who “cross over,” and while Gaye’s outreach is a simple little matter of genius rather than of conscious stylistic modulation, crossovers do by definition accommodate white journalists along with white everybody elses. I want, need, and love both pop and esoterica, but I’d be more encouraged if the voters shared my passion for the in-betweeners — if George Clinton (on whom word-of-mouth started late) had bested Richard Hell or even Lou Reed, also crazed old-timers recently arisen from the slough of despond; or if Grandmaster Flash’s LP (which would have made top 40 if only Tom Smucker, supposedly one of my best friends, hadn’t flued out on his franchise) had finished with Mission of Burma’s Vs. or the Dream Syndicate’s Days of Wine and Roses or the Fleshtones’ Roman Gods or even X’s Under the Big Black Sun, also groove albums of dubious verbal acuity. I’d be more encouraged if the black artists in the top 15 had finished even higher — in December I thought an Adé or Gaye victory conceivable. And I’d be most encouraged of all if I thought the flowering of funk was dispelling the gloom of white rock critics as irresistibly as it ought to be.

On one level the fact that it doesn’t makes perfect sense. Because most of the critics are white (though part of the story is how many good new ones aren’t), they find it easier to identify with white musicians, especially after five years of minor miracles from various punks and new wavers. But this isn’t as natural as it may seem: it’s a heritage of the old “progressive” sensibility and the radio it helped spawn. One reason I enjoy black music so readily is that as a child of the ’50s I grew up enjoying it — more than white music, and damn right I was aware of the distinction. Not that I came by funk spontaneously. Beguiled by progressivism myself — and therefore trained to get off on stuff that many young critics can barely hear at all (Donald Fagen, say, or Warren Zevon) — I had to retool my ears (at the urging of colleagues like Joe McEwen, Ed Ward, and especially Pablo Guzman) to understand how the new black music means; I had to learn George Clinton’s and James Brown’s language. After five or six years, I’m still working at it, and I suspect I won’t succeed to my full satisfaction without a lot more help from the likes of Barry Michael Cooper and Gregory Ironman Tate, who’ve breathed it all their conscious lives. But I can tell you that this language renders a lot of progressive standards not invalid (they still work for Zevon and Fagen) but irrelevant. If history is any guide, funk usages will eventually be taken for granted by everyone who listens to popular music; complaints about meaningless lyrics and indistinguishable rhythms will someday seem as off the mark as Otis Ferguson’s appeals to “melodic discipline” and “more definite organization.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t do anybody much good right now, because the pop future has to begin with your own pleasure in your own time. Unlike fan Tim Sommer, who berates “ethnic patronization” at least partly because funk is stealing hardcore’s thunder, or hack Blair Jackson, who signs off with cheery threats of “death to critics who think Grandmaster Flash is ‘important’ ” (somebody fly out to San Francisco and mug that biz-sucking hippie!), I think it’s healthy for young critics to force-funk themselves, as some do. Those African rhythms are famous for their je ne sais quoi, after all, and with Britishers like the Clash and Gang of Four and ABC (my conscience interjects: and the Human League and Joe Jackson?) outracing their attenuated U.S. art-funk rivals (I don’t mean you, Devo and Talking Heads) to black radio, many cool folk have decided that perhaps it’s time to look beyond the latest smart garage band. In New York this is unavoidable anyway — funk is literally in the air of one of the few American cities with a genuinely integrated street life. But the aging new wavers who are the principal funk converts still suffer from Ferguson’s Syndrome — their new pleasure doesn’t provide that essential existential satisfaction, because the language is still a foreign one.

I wonder how Ferguson, who died in World War II, would have adjusted to bebop. Would he have continued to turn out tersely emotional appreciations of the surviving swing giants, or would he have come to terms with those forbidding rhythmic changes the way Budd Johnson and Coleman Hawkins and Woody Herman did? The question matters because funk may well be changing rock and roll as fundamentally as bebop changed jazz. I’m aware that I made a similar claim for the punk forcebeat just four years ago, but one doesn’t cancel out the other. On the contrary, funk is stage two, providing the undeniable popular base that punk (and bebop) never achieved in this country — though it did in Great Britain, probably one reason the top British postpunk funkers make better pop than their American counterparts, wholehearted but never simple-minded.

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What rock and roll has always held out — more than any theme or even sound — is the pop edge, the promise that there’s a future out there for remarkable ordinary people to make. Sure it’s possible to say something new from a well-explored place — in a sense, not only Donald Fagen and Warren Zevon but George Clinton himself did just that in 1982. But because pop seizes the moment so decisively, it can be used to fixate on the past as well as ride into the future — it can serve nostalgia as well as progress. In my view, that’s just what Tom Petty (57th) and Graham Parker (50th) and Joni Mitchell (39th) and maybe even Fleetwood Mac (36th) are up to these days. And it’s my commitment to the future that makes my favorite albums of 1982 shake out more or less as follows.

1. Ornette Coleman: Of Human Feelings (Antilles) 16; 2. King Sunny Adé and His African Beats: Juju Music (Mango) 16; 3. Richard & Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal) 14; 4. George Clinton: Computer Games (Capitol) 13; 5. Flipper: Album/Generic Flipper (Subterranean) 9; 6. The English Beat: Special Beat Service (I.R.S.) 8; 7. Marvin Gaye: Midnight Love (Columbia) 7; 8. Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Wise Guy (Sire/ZE) 6; 9. Donald Fagen: The Nightfly (Warner Bros.) 6; 10. Lou Reed: The Blue Mask (RCA Victor) 5

11. Ian Dury & the Blockheads: Juke Box Dury (Stiff) 12. Marshall Crenshaw (Warner Bros.) 13. James Blood Ulmer: Black Rock (Columbia) 14. Professor Longhair: The Last Mardi Gras (Atlantic Deluxe) 15. Clint Eastwood & General Saint: Two Bad DJ (Greensleeves) 16. Warren Zevon: The Envoy (Asylum) 17. Prince: 1999 (Warner Bros.) 18. ABC: The Lexicon of Love (Mercury) 19. Ray Parker Jr.: The Other Woman (Arista) 20. Itals: Brutal Out Deh (Nighthawk)

21. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: The Message (Sugarhill) 22. Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (Columbia) 23. James Booker: New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! (Rounder) 24. Gang of Four: Songs of the Free (Warner Bros.) 25. B-52’s: Mesopotamia (Warner Bros.) 26. Chic: Tongue in Chic (Atlantic) 27. Sweet Pea Atkinson: Don’t Walk Away (Island/ZE) 28. Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo: Good Clean Fun (Slash) 29. Material: One Down (Elektra) 30. Michael Jackson: Thriller (Epic)

31. The Roches: Keep On Doing (Warner Bros.) 32. Van Morrison: Beautiful Vision (Warner Bros.) 33. Orchestra Makassy: Agwaya (Virgin import) 34. Rank and File: Sundown (Slash) 35. Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Mandance (Antilles) 36. Tom Robinson: North by Northwest (I.R.S.) 37. CH3: Fear of Life (Posh Boy) 38. David Johansen: Live It Up (Blue Sky) 39. Sound d’Afrique II (Mango) 40. Trouble Funk: Drop the Bomb (Sugarhill)

41. Devo: Oh, No! It’s Devo (Warner Bros.) 42. X: Under the Big Black Sun (Elektra) 43. Talking Heads: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (Sire) 44. Bonnie Raitt: Green Light (Warner Bros.) 45. A Flock of Seagulls (Arista) 46. Soweto (Rough Trade import) 47. Ferron: Testimony (Philo) 48. Descendents: Milo Goes to College (New Alliance) 29. Psychedelic Furs: Forever Now (Columbia) 50. Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Majestics: Mystic Miracle Star (Heartbeat)

51. Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Destiny Street (Red Star) 52. Jive Five Featuring Eugene Pitt: Here We Are! (Ambient Sound) 53. Ted Hawkins: Watch Your Step (Rounder) 54. Laurie Anderson: Big Science (Warner Bros.) 55. Speed Boys: That’s What I Like (I Like Mike) 56. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Ice Cream for Crow (Virgin/Epic) 57. Alberta Hunter: The Glory of Alberta Hunter (Columbia) 58. “D” Train (Prelude) 59. Mighty Diamonds: Indestructible (Alligator) 60. Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns: Synapse Gap (Mundo Total) (MCA)

I ought to mention that this year’s top 60 is less final than 1981’s was. Not only are Roxy Music, Mission of Burma, two Bunny Wailer imports, and other stragglers awaiting judgment, but this turns out to have been a banner year for best-ofs. I like the Ray Parker Jr. and the Billy Stewart even more than the Squeeze and the Stevie Wonder (which ran 1-3 around Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight in an informal compilation ballot we solicited), and would name John Lennon and the Bellamy Brothers and Ambient Sound’s Everything Old Is New and perhaps Shalamar and even (can it be?) Abba (behind Okeh Western Swing and the Coasters and tied with the reissued Africa Dances in the balloting). I should also announce that with an extra week to think I’d switch Pazz & Jop points and places between George Clinton and Sunny Adé; unfortunately, my ballot was due February 1 like everybody else’s. About singles I’ll say only that my firm criterion — real pleasure imported by the record heard as a single — befuddled me into omitting Flipper’s “Sex Bomb,” which I stopped playing when I got Flipper’s album. Criteria be damned, I’d now rank it number 4 anyway — a “Louie Louie” for our time:

1. Fearless Four: “Rockin’ It” (Enjoy) 2. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: “The Message” (Sugarhill) 3. Marvin Gaye: “Sexual Healing” (Columbia) 4. New Order: “Temptation” (Factory import) 5. Stacy Lattisaw: “Attack of the Name Game” (Cotillion) 6. Musical Youth: “Pass the Dutchie” (MCA) 7. Pretenders: “My City Was Gone” (Sire) 8. Weather Girls: “It’s Raining Men” (Columbia) 9. Peech Boys: “Don’t Make Me Wait” (West End) 10. Flipper: “Get Away”/”The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly!” (Subterranean)

11. P-Funk All-Stars: “Hydraulic Pump” (Hump) 12. Yazoo: “Situation” (Sire) 13. Captain Sensible: “Wot” (A&M import) 14. ABC: “The Look of Love” (Mercury) 15. Anti-Nowhere League: “So What” (WXYZ import) 16. Gang of Four: “I Love a Man in Uniform” (Warner Bros.) 17. Stripsearch: “Hey Kid”/Emily XYZ: “Who Shot Sadat?” (Vinyl Repellent) 18. Cheap Trick: “If You Want My Love” (Epic) 19. Prince: “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” (Warner Bros.) 20. Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo: “Shelley’s Boyfriend” (Slash)

21. Joe Piscopo: “I Love Rock n’ Roll (Medley)” (Columbia) 22. A Flock of Seagulls: “I Ran” (Jive) 23. Gap Band: “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” (Total Experience) 24. Treacherous Three: “Yes We Can-Can” (Sugarhill) 25. Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force: “Planet Rock” (Tommy Boy) 26. Dangerous Birds: “Smile on Your Face”/”Alpha Romeo” (Propeller) 27. Eddy Grant: “California Style” (Ice import) 28. Althia & the Donazz: “Virgin Style” (Circle import) 29. Anne Waldman: “Uh-Oh Plutonium!” (Hyacinth Girls) 30. Gary U.S. Bonds: “Out of Work” (EMI America)

I’ve had second thoughts about EPs, too. After scoffing all year I found myself smitten with loads of ’em — haven’t even mentioned my 1-2 in print till now. The EP is a confusing category, conceived by Poobah Tom Carson and me as a disc alternative to the now discontinued local band competition. And once again the winner wasn’t even a local band, but rather a marginal mainstreamer who’s already released five LPs and who with the help of his Lord Jesus Christ came up with what can only be called the most inspired California-rock of the year, wisely promoted by Warners in a budget format. And if T-Bone Burnett only converted me after I returned Trap Door to the active pile in 1983, well, the same goes for R.E.M., his drug-crazed opposite numbers from the Athens of the South:

1. Angry Samoans: Back from Samoa (Bad Trip) 2. The Waitresses: I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts (Polydor) 3. R.E.M.: Chronic Town (I.R.S.) 4. Oh OK: Wow Mini Album (DB) 5. Minor Threat: In My Eyes (Dischord) 6. T-Bone Burnett: Trap Door (Warner Bros.) 7. Pop-O-Pies: The White EP (415) 8. Replacements: The Replacements Stink! (Twin/Tone) 9. Mofungo: “El Salvador”/”Just the Way”/”Gimme a Sarsaparilla” (Rough Trade import) 10. Steve Almaas: Beat Rodeo (Coyote)

[related_posts post_id_1=”692481″ /]

Return now if you will to my album list and we’ll ponder the future some more. First, count black LPs, not such a clear-cut task in this mongrel-eat-mongrel world. Disqualifying the English Beat and Material, I get 27, only two more than I named last year, but with a striking change in racial makeup on the cutting edge: five (as opposed to two) of my top 10 are black, as are 16 (as opposed to eight) of my top 30. Then try another parameter applicable to our theme: age. Three of the artists in my top 10 are over 40, just like me, and four more (giving Richard Thompson a break) over 35. Youth chauvinists should jeer at my old fartdom now, while they still can — it may indeed be that my chronic indifference to Elvis the C reflects my advancing years and the complacent rationalism consequent thereupon. It so happens, however, that Marvin Gaye (b. 1939) also made the critics’ top 10, and as we proceed down the two lists something strange happens. Only four more over-40s, including two superannuated (not to mention dead) New Orleans pianists whom I classify as rock and rollers just to be ornery, appear in my top 40; on the critics’ list you’ll find seven more. And where I list seven over-35s in all, the critics come up with a total of nine. Old farts abound.

Fascinating figures, and I mean to have them both ways. On the one hand, they make hash of the ancient canard that rock and roll is strictly for the young — if not literal teenagers then at least untrammeled striplings. The reason outmoded “progressive” standards can rejuvenate pushing-40s like Richard Thompson and Lou Reed — who share 1982 comeback honors with Bryan Ferry (b. 1945) and George Clinton (b. 1940), and may they and others like them prosper for decades to come — as well as suiting such 35-niks as Donald Fagen and Warren Zevon is that they (artists and values both) still actually do (or anyway, can) progress. Richard and Linda’s final album really is their loudest and clearest. Lou’s most contented and apparently conventional album really is (with the aid of Robert Quine and black bassist Fernando Saunders) his supplest. And Avalon, which finished higher than any Roxy Music album since 1975’s Country Life, combines the funk feel Ferry introduced on Manifesto in 1979 with the English electrosheen of his own heirs’ synth-pop for the most unabashedly romantic music this ironic romantic has ever made.

But as much as I admire many of the other oldster albums the critics selected — Morrison’s and McCartney’s and Fleetwood Mac’s and (to be nice) Mitchell’s — they do carry a rather nostalgic collective weight; they recapitulate the past and do what they can to ignore the future. Such encumbrances don’t even touch Adé and Gaye and Coleman and Shannon Jackson, whose mean age must be 43 or 44, because these men are working a tradition — significantly, a specifically musical rather than cultural tradition — that’s just begun to flower. And if I’m doubly partial to George Clinton, it’s not because he’s been in the vanguard of that tradition for so long that he could coast for five years and still be on the one. It’s because he’s also a master of such supposedly Caucasian specialties as stance and persona and pop mind-fuck — and because the humility and vulnerability of his comeback album, an album directly inspired by New York dance radio in general and his heirs Flash and Bambaataa in particular, are sharper, deeper, funnier, warmer, and more irreverent than Lou Reed’s or Warren Zevon’s.

I’m aware that Imperial Bedroom also has its formally progressive rep, but when the best line any of my normally loquacious correspondents can feed me on the album of the year is Roy Trakin’s “tongue-twisting puns for the post-Porter generation,” things are obviously desperate. I know, it’s all about emotional fascism; I know, it’s even got a lyric sheet. Try reading the damn thing — the words are almost as hard to follow on paper as in the air. I say it’s Elvis at his fussiest and I say the hell with it. In fact, like the headline-scrounging old commie fart I am, I much prefer (and was rooting for) the album that handicapped as its chief rival: Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. A risky, eloquent, and successful pop mind-fuck, Nebraska cut Reagan to bits with a dignity that screamed no joke and broke AOR without a hook or a trap set. Only problem was, it was — and I use this term advisedly — boring. It was boring even if every one of its 800,000 owners played it obsessively for months on end, which I doubt. It was so monochromatic that even as it screamed no joke it whispered no exit — and maybe no future. It may have been a pop mind-fuck, but it wasn’t quite a pop event, because the very terms of the mind-fuck impelled Springsteen to negate the rock and roll hope he’s always traded in. Next time I hope he puts it all together.

But meanwhile we must take our quest for the future to the only place any sane rockcrit fan would expect it to end — ye olde new wave. As per tradition, numerous debut albums grace our list, and as per neo-orthodoxy, quite a few of them aren’t from England, new wave’s commercial center: New York’s Marshall Crenshaw and Fleshtones (and Laurie Anderson?), San Francisco’s Flipper, Austin’s Rank and File, L.A.’s Dream Syndicate, Boston’s Mission of Burma, and (on the EP chart) Athens’s R.E.M. I like all of these artists, some a great deal. I find Marshall Crenshaw’s pop touch surer and more graceful than that of such top-10 debut-LP predecessors as the Go-Go’s (10th in 1981), the Pretenders (fourth in 1980), the Cars (ninth in 1978), and maybe even the B-52’s (seventh in 1979), and I hope he gets another record into the poll someday, something none of the aforementioned have yet managed. I’m crazy about Flipper and on Rank and File’s side, and I hope that over the next year they gain more in musicianship than they’re certain to lose in conceptual panache. But I sense in every one of the others an insidious postgarage formalism in which hooks and a certain rough emotionality, even sloppiness, are pursued as ends and signify only themselves. That’s why I call them groove bands — they’re more interested in a sound than in what a sound can say. Granted, they do share an aesthetic project — they want to jolt the white rock and roll of the pre-arena era into self-conscious musciality. That’s why I like them. But it’s not exactly what I mean by a commitment to the future.

I can hear my more apolitical white readers snorting even now at the Dean’s latest integration tract. But this isn’t a moral plea — it’s a prediction, not just about critics but about the shape of the popworld. Sure I’ve been an advocate of black pop approximately forever; I dreaded Ferguson’s Syndrome before I ever heard of the man, and I’ve always fought it (in myself as well as others) on the general historical principle that, in the end, black music will out. But that never meant that I believed rock was essentially (as opposed to originally) a black idiom, and it never turned me off good new white rock and roll — it just prepared me to hear great new black albums (and singles, and more singles) as they arrived. In 1982 they arrived in profusion, as did an unprecedented array of successful white imitations and modulations, and while I wouldn’t expect a precise repeat in 1983 — Gaye and Michael Jackson will no doubt be silent, reggae is unlikely to be held to a novelty single — I do sense something seismic happening. In 1978 the Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll announced a “triumph of the new wave” that seemed certain to crash against an immovable, monolithically profitable record biz; in 1982 the biz was in a panic and new wave looked like one of its only hopes. In 1982 the Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll suggests (somewhat more tentatively) a reintegration of American popular music in the teeth of the most racist pop marketplace since the early ’50s, and I’m betting that by 1986 some kind of major commercial accommodation will have been achieved. If Sunny Adé can’t be king of MTV, maybe Prince can be prince.

What remains for critics black and white isn’t to praise every half-assed funk crossover black or white. I mean, Men at Work finished a very modest 66th and the Stray Cats got three mentions. But the white critics are going to have to give up a lot of their prejudices — against populism and chic and conspicuous consumption, against homiletics and sexual posturing, and perhaps (although of course this doesn’t mean you) against black people themselves. Even harder, they must learn how to hear how lead basslines and quintuple rhythms and cartoon chants and harmolodic abrasions and party rhetoric can make meaning and reshape time. And hardest of all, they must feel the ways in which funk’s pleasures really are their own — as human beings, as Americans, as rock and rollers. Meanwhile, the black critics, who will almost certainly multiply, have a lot of explaining to do. They’d better insist that the music they love really does make meaning, and get hip to how white music means as well — perhaps even get an inkling that rhythms natural and unnatural aren’t the only way to a better life. In short, rock critics are going to have to stop settling for fandom and/or hackdom and turn into critics for real. And maybe those who didn’t bargain for anything quite so heavy should get off the bus right now.

Oh lordy — it could be the end of us all.

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Selected Ballots

RAJ BAHADUR: Devo: Oh, No! It’s Devo (Warner Bros.) 19; Joe Jackson: Night and Day (A&M) 18; Paul McCartney: Tug of War (CBS) 13; Marshall Crenshaw: Marshall Crenshaw (Columbia) 12; The Jam: Dig the New Breed (Polydor) 11; The Who: It’s Hard (Warner Bros.) 7; The Jam: The Gift (Polydor) 5; The Chieftains: Cotton-Eyed Joe (Island) 5; Shoes: Boomerang (Elektra) 5; Roxy Music: Avalon (Warner Bros.) 5.

DEBRA RAE COHEN: New Order: 1981-1982 (Factory); Gang of Four: Another Day Another Dollar (Warner Bros.); Hi Sheriffs of Blue: Hi Sheriffs of Blue (Jimboco); R.E.M.: Chronic Town (I.R.S.); Konk: Konk Party (99).

CAROL COOPER: Explainer: “Lorraine” (Sunburst); Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: “The Message” (Sugarhill); Kurtis Blow: “Tough” (Mercury); Imagination: “Just an Illusion” (MCA); Marvin Gaye: “Sexual Healing” (CBS); Vanity 6: “Nasty Girls” (Warner Bros.); Kid Creole and the Coconuts: “No Fish Today” b/w “Annie I’m Not Your Daddy” (Sire/ZE); Sharon Redd: “Beat the Street” (Prelude); Isley Brothers: “The Real Deal” (T-Neck); Barry White: “Change” (Unlimited Gold).

BLAIR JACKSON: I don’t listen to singles — I think the artform sucks.

GREIL MARCUS: The English Beat: Special Beat Service (I.R.S.) 20; Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (CBS) 20; The Mekons: The Mekons Story (CNT import) 20; Bunny Wailer: Tribute (Solomonic import) 10; Jive Five Featuring Eugene Pitt: Here We Are! (Ambient Sound) 5; Au Pairs: Sense and Sensuality (Kamera import) 5; Flipper: Album: Generic Flipper (Subterranean) 5; Jeff Todd Titon/Fellowship Independent Baptist Church of Stanley, Virginia: Powerhouse for God (University of North Carolina Press Records) 5; Warren Zevon: The Envoy (Asylum) 5; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Ice Cream for Crow (Epic) 5.

DAVE MARSH: Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (CBS) 16; Michael Jackson: Thriller (Epic) 15; Richard and Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal) 15; Steve Winwood: Talking Back to the Night (Island) 12; David Lasley: Missin’ 20 Grand (EMI America) 7; Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul: Men Without Women (EMI America) 6; the English Beat: Special Beat Service (I.R.S.) 5; Bettye Lavette: Tell Me a Lie (Motown) 5; Richard “Dimples” Fields: Mr. Look So Good (Boardwalk) 5.

JOHN MORTHLAND: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message (Sugarhill) 15; Lou Reed: The Blue Mask (RCA) 14; Flipper: Album: Generic Flipper (Subterranean) 13; Trouble Funk: Straight Up Funk Go in Style (JAMTU) 13; Richard and Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal) 11; King Sunny Adé and His African Beats: Juju Music (Mango) 9; Laurie Anderson: Big Science (Warner Bros.) 8; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Ice Cream for Crow (Epic) 7; Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Mandance (Antilles) 5; “Live” Convention “81” Bee-Bop’s #1 Cut Creators (Disco-O-Wax) 5.

KIT RACHLIS: King Sunny Adé and His African Beats: Juju Music (Mango) 15; The English Beat: Special Beat Service (I.R.S.) 30; Marvin Gaye: Midnight Love (CBS) 5; Fleetwood Mac: Mirage (Warner Bros.) 5; Ted Hawkins: Watch Your Step (Rounder) 5; David Lasley: Missin’ 20 Grand (EMI America) 5; Prince: 1999 (Warner Bros.) 5; Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (CBS) 20; Richard and Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal) 5; Robert Wyatt: Nothing Can Stop Us (Rough Trade) 5.

GREGORY IRONMAN TATE: Michael Jackson: Thriller (Epic) 10; Prince: 1999 (Warner Bros.) 10; The Time: What Time Is It? (Warner Bros.) 10; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message (Sugarhill) 10; James Blood Ulmer: Blackrock (Columbia) 10; Trouble Funk: Drop the Bomb (Sugarhill) 10; Bad Brains: Bad Brains (ROIR cassette) 10; David Byrne: The Catherine Wheel (Sire cassette) 10; Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Wise Guy (Sire/ZE) 10; Aswad: New Chapter in Dub (Mango) 10.

RON WYNN: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: “The Message” (Sugarhill); The Gap Band: “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” (Total Experience); Aretha Franklin: “Jump to It” (Arista); Zapp: “Dance Floor” (Warner Bros.); Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force: “Planet Rock” (Tommy-Boy); Weather Girls: “It’s Raining Men” (Columbia); Gary U.S. Bonds: “Out of Work” (EMI America); Junior: “Mama Used To Say” (Mercury); Stevie Wonder: “Do I Do” (Tamla).

LESTER BANGS: 1. Robert Quine Orchestra: I Heard Her Call My Name Symphony (Columbia) 2. DNA Live at Madison Square Garden (Prestige) 3. Richard Hell Sings the R. Dean Taylor Songbook (Tamla) 4. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Heard Ya Missed Us, Well We’re Back (Factory) 5. The Clash: Rappin’ with Bert ’n’ Big Bird (Guest Artist: Oscar the Grouch) (Sesame) 6. Ramones: 14,000,000 Records (Epic) 7. Sue Saad and the Next with Robert Fripp: Jiggle Themes from Prime Time (Verve) 8. Lichtensteiner Polka Band: Hamtramck Oi Gassers (WEA) 9. Brian Eno: 24 New Songs with Brides & Everything (Egregious 2-album set) 10. Miles Davis: Rated X (Alternate Take) (Columbia).

Top 10 Albums of 1982

1. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Imperial Bedroom (Columbia)

2. Richard & Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal)

3. Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (Columbia)

4. King Sunny Adé and His African Beats: Juju Music (Mango)

5. Lou Reed: The Blue Mask (RCA Victor)

6. Prince: 1999 (Warner Bros.)

7. The English Beat: Special Beat Service (I.R.S.)

8. Marvin Gaye: Midnight Love (Columbia)

9. Marshall Crenshaw: Marshall Crenshaw (Warner Bros.)

10. X: Under the Big Black Sun (Elektra)

Top 10 Singles of 1982

1. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: “The Message” (Sugarhill)

2. Marvin Gaye: “Sexual Healing” (Columbia)

3. The Clash: “Rock the Casbah” (Epic)

4. Prince: “1999”/”How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” (Warner Bros.)

5. Soft Cell: “Tainted Love”/”Where Did Our Love Go?” (Sire)

6. Musical Youth: “Pass the Dutchie” (MCA)

7. Pretenders: “Back On the Chain Gang”/”My City Was Gone” (Sire)

8. Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force: “Planet Rock” (Tommy Boy)

9. (Tie) ABC: “The Look of Love” (Mercury)
Aretha Franklin: “Jump to It” (Arista)
The Human League: “Don’t You Want Me” (A&M)

— From the February 22, 1983, issue


Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.


In 1968, 16 Magazine Went on a ‘Dream Day With Jim Morrison’ Plus: Win Davy Jones’s Puppy!

Your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets.

16 Magazine

Date: May 1968
The Cover Promises: That “Davy” is enough to tip off any reasonable person that you mean Davy Jones

Representative Quotes:

  • “Your heart beats a mile a minute and you can’t help feeling absolutely super. Of all the vast multitude of Monkees fans, you are the chosen one who is about to spend untold heavenly hours in the presence of the four most wonderful guys in the world — Davy, Peter, Micky and Mike!”
  • “Just by the way Jim [Morrison] looks at things, you know he is ‘feeling’ them with his eyes.”

Dreamsville! It’s 1968, and you — lucky-ducky you! — write for 16 magazine.

That means you’ve sipped Cokes with the Cowsills and Pepsis with Peter Noone! You hated watching those Beatles grow aloof, but in a Monkee profile you were privileged to write, “You have ascended from Monkee-land to Monkee-heaven. After all, it isn’t every day that a girl has two of the world’s top teen idols quarreling over which one she will lunch with!”

You understand that second-person address allows you to make readers feel as special as you do!

But what in your experience can prepare you for this next assignment, “My Dream Day With Jim Morrison”?

After meeting you at LAX in his red Mustang, the Doors dreamboat spirits you to a “groovy little tacos stand” off the Sunset Strip and then off to the Hollywood Hills to look at furniture, where things get spiritual:

Gently, he takes your hand and, with his hand over yours, you both touch the carvings and texture of the furniture. You’re amazed at this marvelous new experience and think how thrilling it is to be able to hear and talk without the use of words.

The result?

You feel very special!

After that, it’s barbecue, poolside, in Hollywood. Morrison strips down and treats you to his “super swimming style.” What happens next transcends even Monkee-heaven.

He lifts himself upon the edge of the pool and shakes his head — looking like a great, damp young lion.

Still shaken, you watch the sunset on a blanket and discuss the compatibility of your star signs. He doesn’t talk much, and you enjoy many “comfortable silences.” He takes you to a recording session, and you know the song’s a hit, and you wonder of the world, “They’ll know his songs, but can they ever know Jim?”

Sadly, you soon must part from this poet/lion/mental-feeler-of-furniture. After your return you to the terrestrial sphere, you take what you’ve discovered, and you share of it what you can.

You write this conclusion.

There’s a couple key disquieting facts you’ve almost certainly noticed about Jim Morrison on your day together, facts that might help the world to know Jim. But even if you divulged them, would the world truly understand? You opt not to mention them, but that’s OK. Nobody will ever know.

Fortunately for the writers at 16, by 1968 unruly teen idols were the exception. Unlike Morrison, the Monkees were knowable.

And they took letters.

And the “one and only, delightfully delicious Davy Jones” wants to give you a puppy.

Mostly, 16 sticks to housebroken stars like Sonny & Cher, who for reasons of hilarity are invited to share their wisdom in an advice column. 16 splits the page into separate “Dear Sonny” and “Dear Cher” sections. Can you guess which star got this question?

I have a problem. I am very tall and my boyfriend is quite short. When we go to dances together, I think we look funny. My boy friend doesn’t seem to mind at all, but it embarrasses me to the point of tears.

Speaking of surprises, writing a letter to 16‘s Dreamsville contest could win you one of the following:

Nimoy’s habit of giving “astral surprises” inspired the invention of those sunglasses that let you see behind you.

Beatlemania still lingered, but it’s only gentle-eyed Paul McCartney who gets a pinup. Otherwise, the less hunky Beatles ’68 only turn up in party photos like this one. How many failing relationships can you spot?

Shocking Detail: Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Archie Bell, and the Supremes each scored some of the top hits of 1968, but the Supremes are the only black performers mentioned in 16 at all.

And that’s just on the letters page.

Even there, the 16 editors get distracted by honky hotties.

This indignity is hardly the worst that white people have inflicted upon the Supremes.

Highlight: Recent ’68 records recommended by gossip columnist GeeGee:

  • Axis: Bold as Love, the Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Something Else, the Kinks
  • The Best of Herman’s Hermits, Vol. III
  • Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy

Also, there’s this touching letter.

That’s the Sixties, right there. You are the chosen one. You can save Star Trek. You can stop the war. Black people were all right, just so long as they stood next to Paul McCartney. Souls like Jim Morrison’s groove untroubled on a plane of pure beauty and being.


Pazz & Jop: Miguel Is Living The Dream

The first line of the album’s first song sets the tone: “These lips can’t wait to taste your skin.” You have entered Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream, a fantastical, steamy, colorful, gritty-but-polished, polished-but-gritty, dripping-with-sex-sweat bacchanal of Marvin Gaye smoothness. The song is “Adorn,” and it hit the young Los Angeles–based Mexican/African-American singer like a flash of light, the chords coming to him on a cross-country flight, the lyrics following shortly after. He touched down, wrote the thing in a blur, and doesn’t remember much of anything about the process.

Because that’s often how great art is made—a rush of unexplained and inexplicable inspiration, divine or otherwise, knocks the singer/writer/painter/poet flat over, a happy accident, and a song/book/picture/poem emerges from the fog. Like, say, Stephenie Meyer, who went to sleep one night dreaming of shiny vampires and hunky werewolves, and woke up to find the Twilight saga spill out of her, “Adorn” flashed and pulsed in Miguel’s mind’s eye from something or somewhere other. He couldn’t write down the recipe, because there was no recipe. It just appeared, a dream while awake. A kaleidoscope dream.

“There’s got to be a better example than that,” says Miguel, laughing, fresh from our photo shoot in L.A., en route to depart for Europe. “But, yeah, I guess you could make the comparison. It’s the only song that’s ever hit me like that. It was so different, so special. I knew instantly I wanted to start the album with it and that I had a single.”

“Adorn” has a strong “Sexual Healing” vibe, but you’d be deaf or dumb to dismiss it as a mere knockoff. The song is about love, of course, but it’s also about longing, yearning, protecting: every aspect and promise of a relationship all rolled up in a tidy, sweet few minutes. It’s the perfect amuse-bouche for the album it kicks off, priming the ears, opening them.

Kaleidoscope Dream is Miguel’s sophomore effort, and you know how that goes. They’re usually stinkers, unable to live up to whatever wildly inventive, critically acclaimed debut that came before. But this isn’t that. Because Miguel’s debut, All I Want Is You, wasn’t really. His name was attached, but it didn’t say much about him. It showed he could sing—Gaye, Prince, and (his comparison) Van Morrison all linger in his voice. It showed he had chops, but it gave no sense of who he actually was. He was young in the music game. He did what was expected and, in some regards, what he was told.

Kaleidoscope is the album All I Want was supposed to be, Miguel expressing himself, laid bare, taking chances, exposing his raw nerves to air. Thing is, there would be no Kaleidoscope without All I Want. He couldn’t know what he fully believed in until he got a chance to make something he fully didn’t. “That was the purpose of this album, me saying, ‘This is the music I love to make, but I want to make it on my own terms.’ On [All I Want] I was at the brink of discovering what my terms were. I don’t know that I would say it was on someone else’s terms. I think I would just say I was learning myself.”

What he learned, what he believed in and wanted, was to express a deeper, darker side of his personality, the real Miguel. The freak. The romantic. The protector. The horndog. The man who wants you to tell him your pussy is his (“Pussy Is Mine”) and no one else’s. These raw bits of sexuality and frank freak talk were absent in much of r&b in 2012, either masked in double entendre (Usher’s “Climax”), buried in retro Sam Cooke–isms (R. Kelly’s Write Me Back), or ignored altogether (Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange). Miguel tapped into his real, sensual self by recording in New York City’s midtown Platinum Sound Studio, spending nearly two years in the city and on the East Coast to connect with the rougher edges of his persona. “In context of what’s been released, I knew that it was going to stand out,” he says.

“[New York City] helped me emphasize or highlight the grittiness in my lifestyle, the edgy side of my life. This album is a bit less polished sonically,” he says. “There’s this undertone of grit. There’s this scuzziness to the sound of it. And it’s all very deliberate. Being there, being in the midst of it all, kept me in that mind-set. I’m not the ‘go to the club and pop bottles’ kind of guy. That’s not my lifestyle. I really like to party, but it’s done in a more, like . . . I don’t know . . . just darker. I’m looking for the speakeasy on the Lower East Side that has a secret door and a password.”

Call him the anti-Drake, the unlikely and rare r&b singer who eschews bottle service and the velvet rope. Fuck a cover price. He’ll have another boilermaker. And while those aspects of Miguel aren’t readily apparent on Kaleidoscope, what is clear is that he has tapped into some new vein.

“I don’t act like this album is so innovative or that I’m doing something that’s never been done before,” says Miguel. “You never know how people are going to look at things or take things that are different.”

Turns out people took it just fine.


José James

This Brooklyn singer with the seductive and buttery baritone takes soul, funk, and jazz to a whole ‘nother level on his new No Beginning No End. To call James “nuanced” is to call water “wet.” Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye meet in songs that fan flames both upstairs (“Sword + Gun”) and down below (“It’s All Over Your Body”) with equal dispatch.

Wed., Jan. 23, 8 p.m., 2013


R. Kelly Got Jokes

Now 20-plus years, 1 million hits, 2 million double entendres, one disturbing sex tape, one not-guilty verdict, and one giant color photo textbook, Soulacoaster, about his life into his career, there are a few things we know about R. Kelly.

In song, he has had sex on other planets (“Sex Planet”), in the jungle (“The Zoo”), and in the kitchen (“Sex in the Kitchen”). By the stove (“Sex in the Kitchen”). On the counter (“Sex in the Kitchen”). By the buttered rolls (“Sex in the Kitchen”).

He wants his women in nothing but his XL white tee (“Put My T-Shirt On”) or in the buff (“Naked”), two at a time (“Double Up”) in 12 different positions (“12 Play”).

He has compared his dick to, among other things, a remote control (“Remote Control”) so powerful it can “put that ass on pause,” and a key that can start a woman’s engine (“Ignition”). He has compared the female anatomy to the marshmallows in Lucky Charms cereal (“Lucky Charm,” for the Isleys) and kush (“Sex Weed”), and in “Sweet Tooth” he coos, “I’m all up in your middle/Ooh it taste like Skittles,” because he’s a total fucking romantic.

With the release of Write Me Back this summer, he’s 16 albums in. This week, he’s releasing 20 more chapters of his outlandish, please-God-make-it-stop, please-God-don’t-ever-let-it-stop hip-hopera Trapped in the Closet, which he claims will conclude after Chapter 100.

R. Kelly is a horny, hungry, funny, prolific student of anatomy.

Of his insatiable sexual appetite there is no debate. But people, over the years, have oft wondered about Kelly’s knack for the comedic. Not whether it’s there, which is undeniable, but whether he knows it. Does R. Kelly know he’s funny?

He does.

The confusion on the subject is twofold and can be explained partly by the fact that he has never met an obvious joke he didn’t greet with open arms. He makes a Uranus joke on “Sex Planet,” and on the remix to Raheem DeVaughn’s “Customer,” he’s full of sex/food analogies, none, given what we know is on that sex tape, more unappetizingly on the nose than “Shorty, if you thirsty, I got some good, good lemonade.” (You know, just in case his song “Number One” didn’t make you feel uncomfortable enough.) He’s more Catskills hack than Louis C.K. perfection. Either way, the man knows he’s writing jokes.

But Kelly’s overearnestness on the flip side of his catalog doesn’t help folks believe in his comedy cause, either. Many of his ballads—”I Believe I Can Fly,” “I’m Your Angel”—are packed tightly with platitudes sung with a crystal clear sincerity and rocket-fuel intensity. Kelly is an entertainer and a salesman, and it’s hard to believe he can be filled with the kind of genuine empathy it takes to sing a song like “U Saved Me” or “When a Woman’s Fed Up” only to turn around and be the joke-cracking super freak he is on, say, most of Double Up or TP.3 Reloaded. It’s hard to believe he can be a mountain, a tall tree, and a sexasaurus.

But that’s what makes him great. On his last album, Love Letter, he was Sam Cooke. On his Single Ladies Tour, complete with a ladies-only VIP section, he is Marvin Gaye. On the songs in which he invokes God, he is still very much the young choir-singing boy we meet in Soulacoaster, learning to sing in service to his lord. Elsewhere, he’s an r&b thug. He’s a sinner, a saint, and a clown, a riddle wrapped in an enigma stuffed in a too-obvious metaphor about his cock.

R. Kelly is Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke and Bernie Mac and T.D. Jakes and P. Diddy.

R. Kelly performs at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, November 21 and Friday, November 23.


Mahsa Vahdat & Might Sam McClain

Forget about Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell. Persia meets the blues in the unlikely duet of Mahsa Vahdat, a Tehran-born singer steeped in the highly ornamented traditions of Iranian music, and Sam McLain, a Louisiana-raised gospel and r&b shouter. The duo simultaneously sings convincingly in English and Farsi on their convincing second album, A Deeper Tone of Longing: Love Duets Across Civilizations.

Sun., Nov. 11, 7 p.m., 2012


An Oddisee Crash Course: From PG to NYC

One of the most intriguing new voices in hip-hop, Maryland MC Oddisee has amassed one of the most loyal word-of-mouth grassroots fanbases in indie-rap today. Acclaimed for his work both behind the mic and behind the boards (he’s produced for Talib Kweli, Freeway and Homeboy Sandman), what makes Oddisee stand out is how his strong roots in rap tradition allow for him to thrive with a strong, entirely fresh sound. Oddisee rolls into Public Assembly tonight to support his new album, People Hear What They See, one of the year’s strongest sleeper hits. We decided to mark this occasion and help initiate those still sleeping on him by looking at some of our favorite Oddisee songs.


See Also:
Talib Kweli Plays Occupy Wall Street
A Killer Mike Crash Course

strong>Oddisee – “I’m From P.G.” 2010

Boosted by a 2010 NPR write-up, Oddisee’s “I’m From P.G.” introduces him as an artist by acquainting the listener with where he’s from. The way he describes his relationship with Maryland’s Prince George’s County is more than just a standard hometown anthem, but rather displays what makes the city just outside of Baltimore such a unique place. Even if listeners hadn’t heard of P.G. County before, the way Oddisee connects to his roots conveys a sentiment can’t help but resonate regardless where one’s from.

Diamond District – “I Mean Business” 2009

One year prior to “I’m From P.G.,” Oddisee’s group Diamond District broke through the over-saturated underground hip-hop market with their debut In the Ruff. Along with XO and yU, the trio (who all grew up in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area) stayed true to their regional influences while building their foundation in hip-hop tradition. This is reflected in the Oddisee produced “I Mean Business” which deliberately uses a cherished sample from Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal” and matches it with the regional flare of go-go rhythm percussion.

Marvin Gaye f/ Oddisee – “Ain’t That Peculiar” (Oddisee Remix) 2012

Oddisee had his first viral smash earlier this year with his reworking of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar.” By re-appropriating the visuals from a memorable Gaye performance to sync up with his own re-imagined additions, Oddisee showed both his reverence and understanding for classic music while tastefully utilizing his creative strengths to make something entirely fresh.
Oddisee – “American Greed” 2012

While not an overtly political rap artist, Oddisee has a tremendous knack for subtly giving his take on world events by keeping his references to them hyper-localized. This shines on People Hear What They See‘s “American Greed,” where he poignantly observes, “When George Bush took the oil from the soil / I was in front of the counter buying some milk from the Arabs in the land of honey.”

Oddisee – “Do It All” 2012

Oddisee’s perspective has often been compared to much of today’s “everyman”-type rappers. But, while many of his contemporaries frame their struggles in a “this could be anywhere” motif, it’s precisely because Oddisee maintains his geographic lineage that empathizing with him feels much more genuine. When he boasts his oft-quoted take on Rick Ross, “I’m not a star, somebody lied / I ride the subway as a car, I’m getting by,” he ensures we’re right there ridin’ with him.


Aloe Blacc+Swamp Dogg

Over the course of his career, neo-soul singer Aloe Blacc has never been one to hide his inspirations. Cut from the same musical cloth as artists like Cee-Lo and Raphael Saadiq, he draws from the wellspring of music left by artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, but with a few of his own twists, like references to Buffalo Springfield and a frankly stunning cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” Today, these influences matter most as he performs as part of the Roots of American Music Festival, which is part of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors.

Sun., Aug. 12, 6 p.m., 2012



Works by New York composers—including Don Byron’s jazzy “Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye” and Julia Wolfe’s anxious “Early That Summer”—is the secret theme behind this adventurous string quartet’s new Innova release, Heavy. If Kronos represents classical music’s new wave, then the group comprising of Cornelius Dufallo, Ralph Farris, Dorothy Lawson, and Mary Rowell still mark its postpunk phase.

Tue., April 24, 9:30 p.m., 2012