Artists And Records Of The Year

David Bowie — Artist of the Year

It at first seemed like a difficult task to choose just one artist out of the scores of successful ones currently recording. But thinking back over the last year, it soon became apparent that one performer stood head, shoulders, faded jeans and eye shadow over all the rest. It is of course, David Bowie, the man who brought showbiz and glamour back to rock and roll.

Bowie’s major release this year was the brilliant The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. No other album has received such critical acclaim or enabled an artist to be rocketed with such speed to the pinnacle of his profession. Even Alice Cooper’s Mrs Mary Whitehouse upsetter School’s Out pales in comparison.

Ziggy Stardust is made up of a series of songs, and even if it isn’t a concept album as such, all the tracks are inter-related. Amongst the basic futuristic themes are apocalyptic visions of the world of tomorrow. These are told in part by Bowie as a narrator, and also by the mythical superstar ‘Ziggy Stardust’, who is Bowie himself. One of Bowie’s main attributes is his insight into what he is and what he is expected to be. And accordingly he plays the part of a superstar placed on a pedestal to the limit. Through this kind of awareness of image and of the medium he is working in, the lyrics, although extravagant, never sink to the level of just being pretentious or embarrassingly self-conscious.

Recently Bowie has had two of his previous albums re-released. They are Space Oddity (1968) and The Man Who Sold The World (1970). Both are important records, which were way ahead of their time when first issued. A new single by Bowie, The Jean Genie, has come out during the last couple of weeks. The title is, of course, a word play on Jean Genet, the French author, who is perhaps best known in this country for his novel Our Lady Of The Flowers. The lyrics are stranger than ever and their meaning is best left up to the individual listener to fathom out.

Apart from success in the recording field, Bowie has also been responsible for bringing entertainment back to rock concerts. For too long groups and solo artists have had trite, lack-lustre stage acts. But after a David Bowie concert, audiences will be reluctant to accept the mediocre, slipshod stage presentations of the past.

Bowie’s theatrical, uninhibited professionalism when giving a ‘live’ performance, has broken through many social barriers and taboos. And everywhere audiences have reacted enthusiastically to his assaults on accepted convention and narrow-minded morality. Mind you, he has brought out the worst forms of imbedded Puritanism from many rock journalists. But make no mistakes, if Bowie is limp-wristed then Muhammed Ali is queen of the fairies.

The terms Glam Rock and Gay Rock have been invented to try and categorise Bowie and the few other rock artists who have progressed beyond the rigid conformity that has governed the stage presentation of rock/pop groups in this country for quite some time. Even the puppet prancings of Mick Jagger look mechanical when compared to the high energy performances that Bowie gives.

Incidentally, Bowie is giving a concert at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park, on 24th December. I couldn’t recommend a better, more spectacular start to the Christmas holidays. I also expect David Bowie’s recordings and performances in 1973 to be a significantly influential to the modern music scene as they have been during the last year.

The World of David BowieDecca SPA 58
Space OddityRCA LSP 48133
The Man Who Sold The WorldRCA LSP 4816
Hunky DoryRCA SF 8244
Ziggy StardustRCA SF 8287
The Jean GenieRCA 2302

Roxy Music — Group of the Year

No other group has amassed such a strong following over the last year as Roxy Music. They have also caused a fair amount of controversy amongst rock purists, who have found it difficult to come to terms with the wild mixture of music and electronics the group deliver. But a hit single removed most of the sceptical criticism they initially received.

Their album, Roxy Music, is certainly one of the strangest to be released in 1972. The record defies all attempts at categorisation and its acceptance depends on the limitations of taste the listener may or may not have. Even if you find the album difficult to relate to at first, it is worth the effort of hearing it a number of times. If one analyses the Roxy’s sound, apart from the electronics and use of modern phasing techniques, the underlying inspiration seems to come from fifties

On stage, Roxy Music have seemingly been following the footsteps of David Bowie. Their stage presentation, physical appearance and clothes are extreme almost to excess but, like Bowie, they are into entertainment as much as they are into producing good and exciting music.

Despite the limited number of ‘live’ appearances by the group and the sparse air-play their album has received on the radio, the last few months have been extremely eventful for them. In 1973 I expect Roxy Music to reach both a far wider audience and receive even greater acceptance of their most original style.

Roxy MusicIsland ILPS 9200

Bill Withers — Soul Artist of the Year

Soul music isn’t just screams and wild dancing, as Bill Withers undeniably proves. Soul is the amount of depth and feeling an artist puts into a song, and Withers certainly doesn’t hold anything back.

His Still Bill album contains some of the most memorable and moving adult songs, about love and relationships, that I have heard this year, and is frequently to be found on my turntable.

Withers recent concert appearance in London showed that his talents aren’t just limited to a recording studio. As a member of the audience at that gig, I was impressed by the warm, responsive two-way relationship he created between the stage and the crowded auditorium, as he sang his sensitive rhythmic songs about matters which touch us all at some time or other.

Purists may prefer to stick to the wilder aspects of soul music, but Withers, with his Still Bill album especially, will make soul music many new friends and admirers. His previous release, Just As I Am, also contains some very good material, including the song which looks like becoming a soul classic, Ain’t No Sunshine. Through these two albums and his hit single Lean On Me, Bill Withers has firmly established himself as an outstanding new talent, who one can expect even greater things from, next year.

Just As I AmA&M AMLS 65002
Still BillA&M AMLS 68107

Seals & Crofts — Folk Artists of the Year

Whilst not working in the traditional areas of folk music, the American duo, Seals & Crofts are certainly the most pleasing contemporary folk artists performing and recording today.

At present their current release, Summer Breeze is highly placed in the American album charts, and this comes as no surprise. The record is filled with happy and sincere songs, that tell of love, life, a passing season and the things that all too quickly pass us by. There is also mention of the duo’s religious convictions, but without any undue pressure being placed on the listener to be converted to their particular beliefs.

James Seals and Dash Crofts with Summer Breeze deliver a series of often beautiful, relaxing and rewarding experiences for those who care to listen. This is an album I shall play for some time to come, besides eagerly awaiting their subsequent releases in 1973.

Summer BreezeWarner Bros, K46173.

Tamla Motown Album of the Year

There is no looking back for Diana Ross. After an extremely rewarding career with The Supremes, she has continued her success as a solo artist. And her Greatest Hits album shows why. Most of the songs are of the high standard one expects from Tamla Motown, whilst a few are bound to remain firm favourites for some time to come.

This compilation record of Diana’s contains all her hit singles, plus some of the best tracks from her past albums. The twelve cuts selected make for very good value, and the inclusion of the full six minute version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is an added bonus.

As I said earlier, one expects a high quality performance from Motown artists, and this album is a perfect example of how good records from them can be. You can rest assured that many fine sounds will be coming from the company and its stable of artists next year.

Diana Ross Greatest HitsTamla Motown STMA 8006

Taj Mahal — Blues Artist of the Year

One of the most important exponents of the blues alive today is Taj Mahal. Although still only a young man, his performances to date, whether in concert or on record, have been some of the most significant developments in this particular area of music.

Traditional country blues have always been the basis of Taj’s sound, but over the last few years he has impressively experimented with all aspects of his music. No two of his albums are alike, and the originality of his latest release. Recycling The Blues and Other Related Stuff, surpasses even the best of what he has issued before and makes me wonder what he is going to do next. The other album he has released this year, Happy Just To Be Like I Am, is a necessary addition to any serious collection of modern blues.

One thing I always love about Taj Mahal is his wonderful sense of humour, which he successfully instils into all his music.

Taj is a great blues artist, and hasn’t had to wait for recognition till he was either in his old age or dead, before people have become aware of his potential and significance.

Happy Just To Be Like I AmCBS 64447
Recycling the Blues & Other Related StuffCBS 65090

Reggae Record Of The Year

Reggae has had a long hard fight to gain mass acceptance in this country, but the soundtrack album from the Jamaican film The Harder They Come, may well prove to be the record that gains this music the wider audience it deserves.

The album is made up of tracks from various artists. Particularly of note is Jimmy Cliff, who sings four numbers, including the title track and a very beautiful song called Many Rivers To Cross. Other excellent contributions are made by lesser known reggae artists, such as Desmond Dekker and the Maytals.

If you have always thought of reggae as a rather limited musical form, give this album a listen. It’s a cert to change your mind, and will become an essential ingredient of any party you are holding or attending.

The Harder They ComeIsland ILPS 9202

Rock Album of the Year

To pick one rock record out of the hundreds issued during the last twelve months was nearly as difficult as picking out the most important and influential artist of the year.

But an album by a little known American guitarist is my choice. It is the first recorded outing of Roy Buchanan, who plays some of the cleanest, captivating guitar I’ve heard in a long time.

Whilst the backings are adequate and the singing bearable, it is the guitar playing that is always to the front. As it should be, for one doesn’t often have the chance of hearing such excellent rock musicianship. Roy Buchanan makes it all sound so simple too, but as any guitarist or passionate follower of rock music will tell you. some of the things he lets loose coma solely from years of playing and practising, and are only likely to be heard from the most proficient of artists. Of the incluences in Buchanan’s playing, apart from rock and roll, the most noticeable are country and blues.

As an introduction to this man’s work, I suggest you listen to Sweet Dreams which opens side one, and the mind-boggling The Messiah Will Come Again on side two. If these two tracks don’t immediately convert you, nothing will. So if you want to hear something a little different to the usual heavy rock sound being produced by the majority of bands, then make the effort to hear this album, you won’t be disappointed.

Roy BuchananPolydor 2391042

Laid Back Album of the Year

The term ‘laid back’ has come into use frequently during the last year. Basically it refers to a relaxed, unhurried musical style, but in no way means that the quality of the sounds is impaired.

A perfect example of this style is an album called Naturally by J. J. Cale. His music is a combination of blues, country and rock influences, whilst he delivers the vocals in a gravelly relaxed manner.

No single track stands out from the rest, but this does not mean that there are any duff tracks included. All make for worthwhile listening and the album comes into its own if heard late at night, when one is relaxed and doesn’t want anything too overpowering to cope with. Cale’s guitar playing is nothing less than stunning and one hangs onto every note of the never overlong breaks he allows himself. The After Midnight track on side two when released as a single in the States sold extremely well, and I recommend you to hear this cut as an introduction to the album.

Naturally is one hell of an album, by a musician/composer of the highest calibre. There will be more recorded delight? coming from him next year, when it is also planned for him to come over to this country for concert performances.

NaturallyA&M AMLS 68105

Colin Blunstone — Rising Talent of the Year.

In the early sixties Colin Blunstone was part of the now legendary group known as the Zombies. After a break from the music industry, Colin returned last year with an album called One Year which was favourably received by the pop press, but in no way shot him up the ladder to stardom, despite the success of a track that was taken from the album and released as a single.

Now his second album has been issued. It’s called Ennismore, and it is bound to take him a lot further than his previous solo effort. And with him starting to give ‘live’ performances around the country, it is just a matter of time before this very gifted singer/songwriter gets the recognition he deserves.

The songs on Ennismore are all concerned with relationships — the ones that worked and those that proved disastrous. There is a compelling directness in the lyrics that makes them easy to identify with. This results in shared experiences rather than just listening to those of someone else’s. The opening track, I Don’t Believe In Miracles, says far more about Blunstone’s work than I can, and as it is currently headed for the top of the singles charts, you can see and hear why I am so enthusiastic about this artist’s work for yourselves.

Ennismore will open up new horizons for Colin Blunstone, and the coming new year should establish him as one of this country’s leading singers and lyricists.

One YearEpic EPC 64557
EnnismoreEpic EPC 65278

Twelve Inches Of Pleasure

STIR DON’T SHAKESouthern Comfort – Harvest SHSP 4021

For me one of the best albums to come out recently is Stir Don’t Shake by Southern Comfort. This group has released a number of albums since departing from Ian Matthews, for whom they were back-up band. These albums haven’t sold too well, but the group has gained a strong following through ‘live’ performances, and recently had a minor hit with a single.

Basically they are a country music band, but they have a healthy affection for rock ‘n’ roll and for recent trends in modern American country/rock. The appearance on the record of Jesse Winchester’s Yankee Lady is a sign of this. And they deliver a fine version of this song, written by a truly underrated ‘underground’ artist.

The first side is all their own material except for the Winchester number. Other stand out tracks on side one are the countrified I Need Help and the rather magical, string embraced Something Said. Side two is a varied assortment of past hits from various sources. The Beatles of yester-year in the form of If I Fell are remembered. This is one of the most pleasing tracks on the album, for it captures all that was so good about the ‘fab four’ at that time. There is also a light rock version of Fats Domino’s I’m Walkin’, as well as the inclusion of Neil Young’s Harvest.

But it is the closing track that completely converts you to Southern Comfort. Remember Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny, vintage…? That really shows an old rock ‘n’ roller’s age. Their treatment of it is beautiful and is an ideal choice to finish the album. EMI ought to release it as a single, could be a monster hit for them, just like Albatross was for Fleetwood Mac.

Really try and hear this album. It’s not too heavy, is generously nostalgic, and it makes you feel real good. Good rock ‘n’ roll forever.

SUMMER BREEZESeals & CroftsWarner Bros K46173

In the last issue of GN I reviewed an album by England Dan & John Ford Coley. I found them a very relaxing, gentle duo. much the same as I find Seals & Crofts’ Summer Breeze. If anything it’s a superior album to Dan and Johns, partly because of their more apparent professionality and seemingly greater experience. The back-up players are also a much finer selection of musicians. Incidentally, John Ford Coley plays some piano on the record.

The sympathetic arrangements and general togetherness of everyone makes for a headily beautiful series of performances. The lyrics are concerned with love, life and the things that too quickly pass by. Summer Breeze, the title track, is a hymn praising the simple joys of nature and a season, forgetting for a while the more materialistic games of life.

The first cut on side one is Hummingbird, which apart from encouraging my parakeet to sing along, is a good opener, and sets the mood for the rest of the album. And the remaining songs also all have something to more than just recommend them.

The words occasionally touch on the religious beliefs of the duo, but this doesn’t come over in a heavy handed way They sound sincere and happy when they mention their personal influences and do not come across as super-salesmen Jesus freaks. It’s all very acceptable, with no pressures on the listener to be converted to their brand of religion. As it should be. A Dion song. Attraction Works Better Than Promotion, comes to mind when trying to describe how the spiritual side of Seals and Crofts strikes me.

This American duo have a minor reputation in this country. This new album should enhance it. James Seals and Dash Crofts Summer Breeze is a highly suitable recording to have around this winter. They make a good addition to an electric fire or central heating. Have a listen.

WAR HEROESJimi HendrixTrack Deluxe 2302020

This record is the latest posthumous release by Jimi Hendrix to be brought out in this country, and of those so far released. War Heroes is the third to be issued by Polydor. In comparison to the last album of his put out by this company, Hendrix In The West, the material included is not quite as strong.

But that doesn’t mean to say that it is not another valuable collection of unheard Hendrix. Of the numbers included, Highway Chile is the only one that has appeared before. This alternative take is different enough from the original to make it worth hearing. The rest of the songs and instrumentals range from remarkable through to just interesting. A version of Duane Eddy’s Peter Gunn is begun but abandoned, and makes you wish that they hadn’t given up. The second side contains the best tracks. Midnight and Beginning feature some beautiful, mind-blowing guitar work, with the rest of the group providing the powerful, all out backing so much associated with the best of Hendrix’s recorded work and the excitement it still generates.

Whilst I dislike the cashing in on unused material and old takes by some record companies, I think that if the records are of this standard then it is important that they are made available. Jimi Hendrix is an irreplaceable artist, but at least we can still be amazed at the genius and magic of his talents on record.


The O’Jays are a new soul outfit who are at present riding high in the singles charts with their cut, Back Stabbers. It’s also the title track of their first album.

Their music is uptown soul, with a fair smattering of dynamics, which occasionally is a little reminiscent of Sly & The Family Stone. The opening number, When The World’s At Peace, is particularly close to the Sly sound. At times there are also similarities to the Chi-Lites. These are influences though, rather than rip-offs and for a first album they are surprisingly good. The originality portrayed makes me think they have even better things to offer on future releases.

Soul music has been for too long relegated to just singles. The O’Jays are yet another group to bring out an album that is a complete entity and not just two hit singles and a load of fillers.

A SONG FOR YOUThe CarpentersA&M AMLS 63511

There are quite a few ‘middle of the road’ groups around, many of whom have met with considerable success (The New Seekers), but The Carpenters are most certainly on top of the pile.

The opening track, and possibly the most impressive on the album, is A Song For You. It is also used as a reprise at the end of the record. The Carpenter’s version of Leon Russell’s Superstar, on their last album, was one of the finest recordings of the song, if not the best, and the choice of using another Russell number was a wise one. Unfortunately for Russell, his voice doesn’t give the songs the depth and sincerity they need. Mind you, his rockers cannot be beaten. Bob Messenger’s sax solo on A Song For You complements the song well. Four of the other songs included are by Richard Carpenter, whose writing techniques consistently improve. His Goodbye To Love has given the group yet another hit single, for it is currently highly placed in the charts.

The production and arrangements are as usual faultless and of the three albums they have released, this is undoubtedly the most enjoyable. Karen Carpenter’s vocals are strong and passionate, but at no time become too syrupy or over-emotional..

The Carpenters have produced an extremely enjoyable album that is never clumsy or over-done. On the levels they work on, they always achieve what they set out to do.

EARTH MOTHERLesley DuncanCBS 64807

Earth Mother is the second album of Lesley Duncan. The first, whilst much raved over in music circles, failed to impress the record buying public. This one has much more chance of being a success.

An obvious remark to make would be to say she is Britain’s Carole King or Joni Mitchell. But she could very easily be so. Her songs are about people and the complicated, often sad, lives they live. Nothing is forced though, you can take your time to absorb the stories and messages that Lesley Duncan sings about.

This lady is no ‘pie in the sky’ dreamer either. She knows about realities as her lyrics show, and throughout the record she displays a down-to-earth awareness of what’s going on around her. You just have to listen to Earth Mother to understand that – it’s dedicated to the ecology organisation Friends of the Earth.

The simple honesty of a line like “You caged the songbird but you can’t make it sing” from Fortieth Floor shows a darker side to a personal love affair and also makes a lot of sense in other contexts. One of my favourite tracks is By and Bye, which finishes the second side. It is a send-up of an old-time harmony group, but is ever such a friendly one.

The musicians that accompany Lesley are the cream of London session men. Chris Spedding is on guitar, Barry de Souza takes the credits for drums and percussion, and Andy Bown helps out on bass. The album is produced by Jimmy Horowitz, who is very aware of the right sound for an artist such as this.

Lesley Duncan deserves to be heard and recognised as an exceptional singer and a very gifted songwriter.

THE BEST OF BREADBreadElektra K42115

If you are into dreamy, romantic, soft rock music then this is an excellent collection of Bread’s best bakings

Included are their two biggest hits in this country, Make It With You and Baby I’m A Want You. Both songs still sound as good as they did when first released, and promise to become continued favourites for the end of parties and near to closing time at discotheques. These two numbers are both delicate and gentle love songs which would become painfully ‘gooey’ if handled in the wrong way, but Bread’s treatment turns them into moody, drifting, un-possessive reflections on love and desire.

A very pretty album that has a wide appeal to dreamers and romantics of all ages. And we’ve all got a soft, receptive side, haven’t we?

CATCH BULL AT FOURCat StevensIsland ILPS 9206

After bringing out three of the best singer/song-writer albums around, I find this new release a great disappointment.

The production and the arrangements are still inventive, their playing a
inventive, the playing and singing are as good as before, but somehow this time out the songs as a whole evade being anything more than mere background music. The obvious failure is the songs, or rather the words they are comprised of. They are either trite and pretentious, and are often very boring and uninspired.

I know that Catch Bull At Four is high in the record charts on both sides of the Atlantic, but Steven’s reputation is enough at present to understand why. If he is to maintain his position of popularity he must make better offerings than this.

Father and Son and Where Do The Children Play? are still as good as ever though, so I’ll play the earlier albums till Cat brings out something as excellent as those.

BRUCE RUFFINRhino Records SRNO 8001

After recently beginning to acquire a liking for reggae music, I find Bruce Ruffin’s first album a rather mixed collection of failures and successes.

Mad About You, which reached the lower parts of the singles charts, is the opening cut, and is one of the best songs, even if it rather corny. Other tracks worth listening to are Save The People on side one, whilst Rain, We Can Make It and Colourless World on the reverse side are good. The rest are rather ordinary but quite painless.

This record is the first album to appear on EMI’s new reggae label. It is not an unpleasant attempt, but could have done with a little more thought and versatility.

WHO CAME FIRSTPeter TownshendTrack Deluxe 2408201

Peter Townshend, leader of the Who, claims that this is not his first solo offering. It is, in Townshend’s opinion, a mixture of unissued Who tracks and songs previously only available on a limited edition album dedicated to his late guru, Meher Baba.

Apparently the group and its leader are having a difficult time working out what they should do next. They are still one of the most exciting rock groups to see ‘live’, but on the recording front they still haven’t produced anything significant since Tommy, which is, if you remember, the rock opera.

Many of the tracks on this labum are reminiscent of earlier work, whilst the others seem a little more than fillers. I also find Townshend’s slightly ‘holier than thou’ attitudes a little pretentious, no matter what his good intensions are. Let’s See Action, also available as The Who’s latest single, is the most rewarding track.

Who fans will no doubt have heard this and already passed their own judgements by now, but there is very little to interest anyone else on this sadly disappointing record. Townshend is capable of better things.


Home is CBS’s latest entry for the rock and roll bigtime. What immediately strikes you about them is the interplay between the two lead guitars, which they use to great effect throughout the album.

Basically they are still in with the minor league of English bands, of which there are plenty at present, but they show the promise of progressing, much as Wishbone Ash over the last two years, have worked hard at getting the acclaim they are beginning to achieve.

Back to the album. The opening track, Dreamer, is a good start. But they don’t keep to this high standard throughout the rest of the record. Often the bass is inaudible, although it is to the fore on Rise Up. The vocals tend to become monotonous and make most of the songs sound rather the same.

Fancy Lady, Hollywood Child is an exception to this though, in fact the words and singing far outshine the playing on this track.

Although at times intriguing, side two doesn’t work as well as the previous side. The songs are too weak to hold up to the extended treatments they receive. Things pick up on the last cut, Lady Of The Birds.

Home have faults but they still have a lot going for them. If in a year’s time, they haven’t vanished off the scene, they should be a band to be reckoned with.

By the way, there’s a nice friendly hand on the front cover photograph

SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITYJohn Lennon & Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant’s MemoryApple PCSP 716

I’ve left reviewing John Lennon’s (plus) new double album (priced at £2.90) till last as it is, for me, incredibly difficult to write about. His last two solo albums were a lot easier to come to terms with. This double set is quite definitely something you accept as a further extension of Lennon or you dismiss it (demand that it be removed from the turntable immediately). So please accept the sketchiness of this review as being my dilemma rather than failings of the records.

Personally I enjoy it and think it a valid contribution, but at times I must admit that I find it difficult to take. You see, it’s pretty ‘alternative’ to the previous albums. The first record is studio recorded. The structures of the songs are a lot simpler, the lyrics being very direct. Also very political. Included is Woman is The Nigger Of The World, which caused such a stir in the States when it was released as a single. Other tracks are Sunday Bloody Sunday and The Luck Of The Irish. The cliche ridden sentiments expressed in these two cuts are extremely militant, and I can imagine a lot of people being unable to take such a radical stand about the depressing situation in Northern Ireland.

The second record consists of tapes of two ‘live’ performances. One is from the Filmore East in 1971. and also features Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention. The other was recorded at London’s Lyceum in 1969. This record is called Live Jam LP and that’s exactly what it is.

On both records Yoko Ono is very much in evidence. Yoko’s performing talents are a very debatable point which is best not gone into here. If you’ve found the solo Lennon outings rewarding in the past, give this a listen, otherwise…