Friday, March 30, 2012

Lester Bangs And The Spotlight Kid: 40 Years Ago Today


In the March 20, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone, legendary music critic Lester Bangs gave the new Captain Beefheart album, The Spotlight Kid, a rave review. Bangs said Beefheart had finally found that sweet spot where great artistry and mass appeal intersected.

He has been called everything in the past from a man wasting the clear ability to be the world's greatest white blues singer, to an impossibly complex musician who may or may not be the real avant-garde, but is certainly an elitist taste. While I have always held to the opinion that there's been nothing playing on the face of the earth as far out as Beefheart for about 3 or 4 years now, I also recognize that his former style was a bit beyond the attention span or interest of the average listener. Which is certainly not to slight mass tastes, either; after all, why should things have to be as far out as possible all the time?

Bangs singled out the single "I'm Gonna Booglarize Ya, Baby" and its B-Side "Click Clack", a train song he describes as the best thing on the album. Bangs summarizes:

There comes a time in the career of every pop musician who also happens to be a serious artist when he realizes the need for a balance between the most intensely personal type of statement and music of mass appeal. If he can strike that balance without compromising his integrity, he is probably a greater artist than even his staunchest fans previously suspected, and with any exposure at all the public would pick up immediately on the truth and beauty of what he is doing. With this album, Captain Beefheart has struck that balance with total success, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were a major star a year from now. Though you may have been a great shadow hovering over our music for half a decade now, Don, it can be said that in 1972 you've really arrived.

The Spotlight Kid was indeed Captain Beefheart's highest charting album, peaking at #131 in the Billboard Top 200. The follow-up album Clear Spot was another commercial attempt, released in October of 1972. I'll be writing about that one later this year.

Alice Cooper on the cover of the March 30, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone

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