Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Helen Reddy

  • I Don't Know How to Love Him [Capitol, 1971] B
  • Helen Reddy [Capitol, 1971] A-
  • I Am Woman [Capitol, 1972] B
  • Long Hard Climb [Capitol, 1973] C
  • Love Song for Jeffrey [Capitol, 1974] B-
  • Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits [Capitol, 1975] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

I Don't Know How to Love Him [Capitol, 1971]
Reddy applies a lean pop voice almost devoid of grit or melisma to what are basically rock songs--that is, songs conceived grittily and melismatically. At her best, as in the unadorned interpretations of "Crazy Love" and "A Song for You," she sounds refreshingly clear-eyed. At her worst, on Mac Davis's "I Believe in Music," she sounds like a Sunday School teacher pretending to be one of the girls. And the rest of the time she's holding gentility to a draw, or vice versa, as when the cellos that set up "How Can I Be Sure" turn into the violins that schmaltz it around. B

Helen Reddy [Capitol, 1971]
Reddy just sings words and melody instead of dramatizing them. She prefers songs to musical doggerel (a special weakness of Judy's) and hints at jazz intonation and timing rather than trying to sound pristine (like Joanie). Although she still sounds a little awkward rocking out, the forceful, uncluttered arrangements here recapitulate the virtues of her vocal attack, and the lyrics are intelligent and outspoken. Including: a scathing death-of-a-cocksman song that Carole King somehow left off Music, a John Lennon autotherapy that sounds inquisitive instead of foolish, and a frolicsome sisterhood ditty that she wrote herself. A-

I Am Woman [Capitol, 1972]
The hit added many instruments and one conciliatory stanza to the debut-LP version, which may be the way the Grammy bounces but is also how Reddy's feeling these days. She is wife, with baby son and marital crisis behind her, and she's enjoying her success. Tom Catalano's discreet schlock is right for a celebration of connubial privacy like Kenny Rankin's "Peaceful" because it implies the affluence underlying her domestic contentment. This time, at least, the production doesn't drown out Reddy's essential intelligence, compassion, and confidence. But avoiding complacency may prove a problem. B

Long Hard Climb [Capitol, 1973]
Item: "Don't Mess With a Woman," which wins this-cut-only producer Jay Senter and arranger Jim Horn a special in-record award for vacuity through bombast, is also distinguished by its unlikely inclusion of the word "sisterhood." Item: Reddy's most effective dramatic quality used to be her unaffectedness. Now it sounds as though she learned to sound natural as though she learned to sound natural on the stage. Which of course she did. Item: California disc jockeys are playing Bette's version of "Delta Dawn" on top of Helen's and chortling. Item: For almost two years I've had a picture of Helen Reddy on my wall. It's coming down. And I'm sorry. C

Love Song for Jeffrey [Capitol, 1974]
Side two is a partial recoup--however uncool devoting songs to loved ones may appear to the Autonomous Assholes of America, it makes sense when in fact your family (mother, father, namesake aunt) is dying all around you, and what's more it sounds like it makes sense. But that's no excuse for promulgating the peculiar idea that "Songs" make better friends than people, which misses the point of why people sing in the first place. B-

Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits [Capitol, 1975]
I've pretty much given up on Reddy. Never again will she risk arrangements that accentuate what's most idiosyncratic about her voice, probably because the pop audience would be even more threatened by such a sharp instrument (and the sharp mind that goes with it) than the rock audience. Nevertheless, hearing all her pop favorites in one place isn't as dispiriting as I'd feared. Didn't realize she'd had three hits about women who'd probably be diagnosed as clinically insane, and am pleased to report that the intro featuring Reddy's daughter has been restored to "You and Me Against the World"--we're more in need of songs about single parents than of songs about nuclear couples. B-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]