'Tis the season to make money, fa la la la laaa and all that. And your friends the record companies, in the spirit of generosity, good will towards their fellow men, and increasing the profit margin, have once again raised the price of albums. CBS and Warner Brothers, the two huge record company conglomerates, have upped the prices on a few new LPs to $8.98. The higher prices are only on the latest sure-fire releases, the ones you'll but for even $12 (maybe) and the record companies are seeing if they can slip by the price increase without consumer protest. If they can, look for the increase to spread to lesser artists and to the LPs of the other companies. Maybe it's time for the Justice Department to look into price fixing and restraint of trade in the record industry, and for consumers to stop taking this corporate abuse quietly.
One other nice way record companies make a few more bucks at Christmas is with rehashes of their artists' music in the form of greatest hits and live concert albums. Go into a record store and you'll note that everyone from the Commodores to the Steve Miller Bank to Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand have greatest hits albums out. That way record companies can make a lot of money off the same old music without having to offer up anything new form their performers. And at Christmas greatest hits albums are an especially good sales item. I mean, why choose between all those Steely Dan albums when you can get much of their good music on one record.
With prices out of control, greatest hits albums are not a bad way to save money, but there are several drawbacks. First, a good album is not merely a collection of songs but has a thematic unity and a coherent wholeness that is lost when you pick a couple of tunes from several LPs and throw them together into a mishmosh. Second, a record company executive's idea of a band's best songs may not bear much resemblance to the ones you yourself would consider a group's top efforts. Third, it's just not considered cool to have a record collection top heavy with greatest hits albums: your friends will know you are a newcomer to record buying trying to catch up fast, and it shows you don't have much class or much money.
Besides, why help record companies rip us off by buying their reruns. They age not out to help you get the music you want without having to buy a lot of old records, they are out for money. Period. Greatest hits albums only further narrow the limited opportunities for rock musicians who are not mass - marketable commodities, and further lessen the choice of music available.
In any case, groups with greatest hits albums out include the Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire, Steely Dan, The Steve Miller Band, Wings, the Crosby-Nash band, Abba, Dave Mason, Joe Walsh, Steeler's Wheel (now that Gerry Rafferty is big time), Stephen Stills, and Marshall Tucker. Kansashas a two record live album, as doAerosmith, Lou Reed and David Bowie. Live albums are fine when they work--what you lose in technical excellence and musical quality you make up in the excitement and energy of a live performance-but when the record isn't done well (Lou Reed, Aerosmith), it grows boring very and cannot compete for interest with the process of watching metal rust.
To avoid aiding and abetting the elves of Hollywood and New York in their nefarious plot to squeeze more of our hardearned money out of us, let me just say that if you like one of these groups or performers you'll probably like his greatest hits, and if you don't, you won't. After all, you already know what the whole record is gonna sound like-you've heard it all before. Save your money for better things.
Life is not totally bereft of cheer, however. Some people have taken the time and trouble to create music and there are some new releases sitting there on the shelves waiting for you to come in and buy them. They cry softly, Buy Me, Buy Me, their thin high voices carrying over the silent white streets and floating in the clear, cold air, as they pine away until you come in to shower them with love and affection. Be nice.
For instance, there's the Grateful Dead's Shakedown Street, which has a few new tunes, a few classic tunes not on any of their other albums, and a few redone numbers. It's a Dead album, and it's good. Nuff said. Eric Clapton has a little number called Backless out, and it sounds somewhat like his last album. Not that the songs are't (comfortably) rocking, well--crafted and often very satisfying, but Clapton used to be one of the finest guitarists around and he just seems unwilling to break out of his safe, self--imposed semi--mediocrity to make that guitar sizzle.
Alice Cooper's From the Inside marks a return to life of the madman-alcoholic-spaceman who came out of the hospital with his shit together and is once again playing creative, crazy, classic Cooper. Much more of the material is personal and some of it, like the title cut and the album--ending "Inmates," which finishes off with a crashing chorus of (yell 14 times) "We're All Crazy," is excellent. This is one Christmas Story with a Happy Ending.
Twang, twang, crash, bam, heavy metal-Ted Nugent is still Ted Nugent on Weekend Warriors, still not capable of much range of formats, but alway driving, exciting, fiery, electrical storms in the stratosphere, Lord-help-us, bam, zing.
Comedy also sells big, and you can choose from the new Steve Martin album--if you haven't bought it yet, what are you waiting for, it is even better (if that is possible) than his first album-the latest Richard "I-am-one-funny-nigger-God-damn-I-curse-and-joke-about-cocaine-and-shit" Pryor, and the soundtrack of Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke, a movie which should indeed have been put up in smoke before they got it into theaters and people started wasting their money.
Also out are new Eric Carmen, J. Geils Band, Santana, Queen, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Waits, Ronnie Laws and Jesse Colin Young albums, but hell, I can't review everything, I have my own Christmas cheer to ingest. And, no, Donna Summer does not have a disco version of Jingle Bells--Jingle, gasp, oh, oh, a, eee, bells, Jingle, screech bells--out, so rest easy. Put in a good word with the Santa on the comer for me, but make sure he isn't from one of those cults first