Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

As a rock-'n'-roll fan, I like simple little sets with a good beat, but I also like surprises. So when I give the gift of music, I try to surprise my friends. These simple little songs with a good beat aren't rock 'n' roll, strictly speaking--they're jazz, pre-R&B, country, all by undeniable, irresistible masters. But cultural history plus a good time equals serious fun. And that is rock 'n' roll.

Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines 1928 (Smithsonian): As with so many virtuosos, part of Armstrong's genius was to make it sound easy; so while the simplicity here is an illusion, that spark of spontaneity is exactly what he wanted.

Memphis Jug Band (Yazoo): Here the simplicity is a reality--Will Shade's Beale Streeters were as drolly commercial a novelty group as the Coasters. Jacket by R. Crumb.

The Best of Fats Waller (Book-of-the-Month): Night-clubbers of the Thirties thought this pioneering pop recontextualizer was the bee's knees, and he was so grateful that he laughed with them instead of at them.

The Bob Wills Anthology (Columbia): A benignly manipulative bandleader wields reels and breakdowns and blues and rancheras and, of course, swing and, of course, pop so shamelessly that he shows up most rock "eclecticism" for the dabbling it is.

Charlie Parker/Bird/The Savoy Recordings (Master Takes) (Savoy Jazz); The Very Best of Bird (Warner): Jazz's greatest improvisor was also a brash young rebel (he was 25, and Miles Davis only 19, when Savoy's amazing "Ko-Ko" was cut) and one of America's wiliest tunesmiths (especially on Warner's even more highly recommended Dial recordings).

The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk (Mosaic): Speaking of wiley tunesmiths, this one was considered impossibly far out well into the Fifties. Now Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren cover him.

The Best of Louis Jordan (MCA): While the beboppers turned to the left, this prime R&B influence sold millions of records. Find out what Chuck Berry didn't invent.

Hank Williams/40 Greatest Hits (Polydor): The essence of honky-tonk--when he wasn't making it up, he was buying it cheap.

Playboy, Jan. 1986

Dec. 1985 Feb. 1986