Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Johnnie Taylor

  • Rare Stamps [Stax, 1969] B
  • Johnnie Taylor's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 [Stax, 1970] A-
  • One Step Beyond [Stax, 1971] B-
  • Taylored in Silk [Stax, 1973] B-
  • Super Taylor [Stax, 1974] B
  • Eargasm [Columbia, 1976] C+
  • Chronicle--The Twenty Greatest Hits [Stax, 1977] A-
  • Live at the Summit Club [Stax, 2007] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rare Stamps [Stax, 1969]
I'm not normally a big Taylor fan, but this is a semi-greatest hits record that eliminates a lot of dross. B

Johnnie Taylor's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 [Stax, 1970]
Heir to Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers and Otis Redding at Stax, Taylor is everything you could ask for a soul singer except great. Gritty, rhythmic, and felt just aren't enough--thee has to be something absolutely distinctive in the phrasing and timbre, and he's always been a little vague in both departments. But on this compilation there's plenty of definition from Don Davis, who has production and writing credit on five of the six cuts on side two, an examination of monogamy and its vicissitudes that will shortly be covered whole by none other than Charley Pride. (Just kidding.) A-

One Step Beyond [Stax, 1971]
In which Taylor delivers a love sermon and works his two themes for two hits. "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone" is a memorable addition to the mythology of infidelity, but "I Am Somebody" is at best a competent black pride riff in biracial drag--like the rest, nothing to be ashamed of rather than something to be proud of. B-

Taylored in Silk [Stax, 1973]
With the aid of Wade Marcus's gloopy strings, this is where Taylor goes pop, and though he's trying for silk it sounds like the same old polyester--eight songs stretched over thirty-three minutes, including one soul-wringer hit, one blues-talking hit, and filler, much of which does have a certain reflective charm. B-

Super Taylor [Stax, 1974]
Last time the best cuts took a while despite their hit history, which means you never got to the others without working at it. Here "It's September" (a you're-due-home lyric finished off with a sharp question mark of a guitar riff) and "I've Been Born Again" (testifying so ebulliently for fidelity that it sounds like both fun and the truth) have seduced me into listening to both sides again and again. And you know, they're pretty good. B

Eargasm [Columbia, 1976]
Taylor's commitment to the traditional soul style remains unimpeachable even when he accedes to material as modish as the likable but lightweight "Disco Lady." But to call him traditional is not entirely a compliment--he still lacks the kind of aggressive originality that can take a mediocre hook-and-lyric by the ear and drag it out of oblivion. Which is where too much of this album remains. C+

Chronicle--The Twenty Greatest Hits [Stax, 1977]
Despite the somewhat self-serving title--the man did record for Stax pre-Don Davis, and the final track has never been a single before and will never be called a hit again--this testifies. Only on the breakthrough "Who's Makin' Love" did he ever cut a track to equal any of dozens by Otis or Aretha, but for a journeyman he's a minor genius--who knows more about fucking around than Alfred Kinsey. A-

Live at the Summit Club [Stax, 2007]
Stuck in L.A. with a raggedy band, Jody's prophet still makes infidelity signify ("Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone," "Little Bluebird"). *

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]