Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Charlie Rich

  • The Fabulous Charlie Rich [Epic, 1970] A-
  • Boss Man [Epic, 1970] B+
  • The Best of Charlie Rich [Epic, 1972] A-
  • Behind Closed Doors [Epic, 1973] B-
  • Very Special Love Songs [Epic, 1974] D+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Fabulous Charlie Rich [Epic, 1970]
I never took Charlie's could-been-Elvis rep very seriously until I heard the passionately confident Jimmy Reed medley that opens side two of this Nashville album. What's missing is Elvis's insolent verve--Rich is sometimes soulful to a fault, veering dangerously toward mere sincerity, a clue to his Nashville success. But there's a payback in maturity and attention to musical detail. No more blues, except for a redefinitive "Since I Met You Baby," and no rock or rockabilly. But he manages to render a piece of countrypolitan mawk like "A Picture of You" at least interesting by sheer belief, and the way he sings his wife Margaret's "Life's Little Ups and Downs" makes you know what they mean by "'til death do us part." A-

Boss Man [Epic, 1970]
"I Do My Swingin' at Home," Billy Sherrill has him say, but what makes Charlie special is that he also swings in the studio. That's one reason this doesn't sound like a formula country album. Another is that after "Nice 'n' Easy" he and his wife take over the songwriting on side one. Best: "Memphis and Arkansas Bridge," about getting lost in the big city. B+

The Best of Charlie Rich [Epic, 1972]
Rich's jazzy chops and heartfelt polish transform Nashville's best chicken fat into high-quality mainstream pop--Arkansas's answer to Nat Cole. Cole was better at it, but I prefer Rich's homely subject matter and rock and roll roots. Complaint: this includes four cuts from Fabulous but neither of the blues. A-

Behind Closed Doors [Epic, 1973]
I welcome the title hit not just because it's richly deserved but because it makes love and marriage seem exciting enough to break out of Nashville. But the album is a typical Music Row mediocrity. Love and marriage is Rich's natural subject at this stage of his career (life, I mean), but to limit him to it is counterproductive--part of the excitement of the bond is what happens outside its circle, and I don't mean cheating. B-

Very Special Love Songs [Epic, 1974]
If Behind Closed Doors compromised what Rich knew, this glop betrays it, which Charlie obviously can feel. The man sounds depressed and confused, as if he wishes Billy Sherrill's syrupy strings and sappy songs would go away but can't quite figure out why, since it was Sherrill who made him a star. Reportedly, the producer has socked a lot of Rich's blues and rock sides into the vault. Wait for them, and meanwhile thank him for these reissues: Fully Realized on Mercury (astringent strings), and Tomorrow Night on RCA ("Big Boss Man," not B.S.) D+