Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Great Move!: The Best of the Move

A strange time, 1971--although rock's balkanization into genres was well underway, it was often hard to tell one catch-phrase from the next. "Art-rock" could mean anything from the Velvets to the Moody Blues, and although Led Zeppelin was launched and Black Sabbath celebrated, "heavy metal" remained an amorphous concept. For most Americans, Birmingham's Move straddled both categories, as incomprehensible as Brinsley Schwarz or Pink Floyd. And except for a dream project Move latecomer Jeff Lynne got going with soon-estranged mastermind Roy Wood long before the Move broke up, no one has ever sounded remotely like them. True, that project was the Electric Light Orchestra--conceived by Wood, eventually taken over by Lynne. But bear with me. Admit that Lynne's ELO hit machine was hookier than Yes or King Crimson if not Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. And then believe that Wood's ELO sound lab clomped more than Lynne's if not the elephant march from Aida. Because as odd as it may seem to naifs who've never heard the Move's treated vocals, gallumphing bass, and phantasmal cello?/oboe?/keyb?, a hooky clomp is the special magic of their white noise. This selection eschews their pre-Lynne Brit-hits and the club-footed excursions of the slightly earlier Looking On to resuscitate Message From the Country, their only decent, only great album, which it jumbles together with five magnificent single sides. One of these, "Do Ya," was every critic's pick to click in 1972 but didn't impact commercially until it was smoothed over for ELO by author Lynne, whose input is essential here. But it's Wood's lumbering rhythms and half-digested classical ingredients that define the band's grand, comic eccentricity. Great stroke: "Ben Crawley Steel Company," in which Johnny Cash dynamites the capitalist who's tupping his little woman. Definitive title: "It Wasn't My Idea To Dance."

Details, 1995