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Simon Frith

Simon Frith

My first published pieces of journalism were reviews of Gene Vincent and Small Faces packages for the newly launched Rolling Stone, and for most of the 1970s and 1980s I had a column commenting on British music for US readers – it began in Creem (with Lester Bangs as my somewhat eccentric editor), moved to New York Rocker (for the wonderful Andy Schwartz), and ended up in the Village Voice (for the demanding and inspiring Robert Christgau). In Britain I began writing for Cream and then became part of the editorial collective team that put out Let it Rock. When Richard Williams was its editor I wrote the "Consuming Passions" column for Melody Maker.

I was rock commentator for New Society and the New Statesman before moving to the Sunday Times as its first dedicated rock critic. When the ST went to Wapping I went to the Observer. At the end of the 1980s I moved to Scotland and freelanced for Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald before getting a column in the Scotsman. At the end of the 1990s I was sacked for being too old. Over my writing career I’ve freelanced for more magazines that went bust before paying me than I care to remember and spent untold days extracting promised fees from everyone else, but I most enjoyed writing for fanzines (Nick Kimberley’s Pressure Drop; Steve Beresford, David Toop and Sue Steward’s Collusion) that didn’t pay anyway.

But then I’ve always been able to avoid the worst forms of hackery because I had a parallel life as an academic and alternative outlets for anything I had to say–I was a founding member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and a member of the founding editorial board of the Cambridge University Press journal, Popular Music. I published The Sociology of Rock way back in 1978 and Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music in 1996. These days when I meet musicians they’re more likely to know my name from a media studies course than from a magazine. I don’t doubt that my academic position undermined my credibility as a rock critic and that my journalism undermined my status as an academic but I’ve mostly been able to do what I want so I’ve got no complaints.

Recent publications:
The Cambridge Companion to Rock and Pop, edited with Will Straw and John Street, Cambridge University Press, 2001 (includes my essays on ‘The Music Industry’ and ‘Pop Music’)

‘An Essay on Criticism’ in Tom Carson et al eds., Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough, Nortex Press, Austin TX, 2002 (a festschrift for Robert Christgau)

‘Music and Illegality’ in Michael Talbot ed.: The Business of Music, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002.

‘Fragments of a Sociology of Rock Criticism’ in Steve Jones ed.: Pop Music and the Press, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.

‘Look! Hear! The Uneasy Relationship of Music and Television’, Popular Music 21(3) 2002.

‘Music and Everyday Life’ in Martin Clayton, Richard Middleton and Trevor Herbert eds: The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Mapping the Music Industry in Scotland (with Martin Cloonan and John Williamson), Glasgow: Scottish Enterprise, 2003.

rockcritics.com interview with Simon Frith

List of articles in the library by artist

10cc: How Dare You?

Review by Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, March 1976

The quintessential 10cc moment comes at the end of How Dare You?: an ethereal voice pleads, "Don't hang up!" The riff is pretty and relaxing. ...

ABBA: Money Money Money: How Abba Won Their Waterloo

Profile by Simon Frith, Creem, March 1977

IN ALL THE WORLD except America (which was too busy celebrating centennials and electing presidents) 1976 was the Year of Abba. ...

The Animals: Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted (United Artists)

Review by Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, October 1977

LONG-DEAD GROUPS usually come back for commercial reasons – individual careers are slipping, the musicians are no longer recognized in the streets – and the ...

Manhattan Transfer, Paul Anka: Paul Anka: Feelings/Manhattan Transfer: Manhattan Transfer

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, September 1975

FIRST OF ALL there was that punky Canadian kid with the big voice and the tremor that even got to me ("Put your head on ...

Elton John, Pete Atkin, Randy Newman: Elton John: Greatest Hits; Randy Newman: Good Old Boys; Pete Atkin: Secret Drinker

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, January 1975

Randy Newman’s album starts:‘Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV showwith some smartass New York Jewand the Jew laughed at Lester MaddoxAnd the ...

Kevin Ayers: Bananamour

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, August 1973

IN ART THE avant-garde is the outrageous. It’s what breaks traditional rules, both artistic and social; John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, or whoever, outraged their audiences. ...

Kevin Ayers, Soft Machine: Kevin Ayers: Keeping the ’67 faith

Profile by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, February 1974

It begins with a blessing (but ends with a curse)Making life easy (but making it worse)... ...

The Bee Gees: Spirits Having Flown

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, February 1979

MOST OF the tracks on Spirits Having Flown would fit snugly enough onto Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees have stuck to their disco formula: ...

The Bee Gees: Confessions of A Bee Gees Fan

Essay by Simon Frith, Creem, June 1978

THE OTHER day I read this shocking story in the Sun: it seems that when Andy Gibb set off from Australia to find fame, fortune ...

Big Brother & The Holding Company, Janis Joplin: Big Brother And The Holding Company: Cheap Thrills (CBS KCS 9700)

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, April 1975

JANIS JOPLIN was an awkward Texan girl with a rough voice who became one of the major idols of the sixties 'counter culture'. Why? ...

Blue Ridge Rangers, Grin: Blue Ridge Rangers: Blue Ridge Rangers; Grin: Gone Crazy

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, September 1973

JOHN FOGERTY became a hero by living in the Bay Area for 20 years and never becoming a hippie. He didn’t desert his rock ‘n’ ...

David Bowie: Zowie Bowie

Essay by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, June 1973

ARGUING ABOUT pop stars is mostly a loony thing to do. So many of the judgements involved are subjective that the inarticulacy of a Juke ...

David Bowie, Roxy Music, T. Rex: T. Rex/David Bowie/Roxy Music Albums

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, July 1973

T. Rex: TanxDavid Bowie: Aladdin SaneRoxy Music: For Your Pleasure ...

Billy Bragg, Prefab Sprout: The ICA Season: Rock Bands Find The Human Touch

Live Review by Simon Frith, Observer, The, 1984

Billy Bragg/Prefab Sprout: The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London ...

James Brown: Hot (Polydor)

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, May 1976

IN WHICH the Godfather of Soul issues a firm but gentle reminder of who's boss and why... ...

Domenic Troiano, Tim Buckley: Tim Buckley: Greetings from LA/ Domenic Troiano: Dom

Review by Simon Frith, Cream, November 1972

DOMENIC TROIANO has just been signed up as lead guitarist for the James Gang (transfer fees?) but I don't know where he came from nor ...

Budgie: Squawk

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, November 1972

RULE 47 OF THE record reviewers' charter reads: it's not nice to go bonkers for Budgie. My conversations with editors are always the same. They ...

The Buzzcocks: Love Bites

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, September 1978

UMMMMM, ON THE cover of their new album the Buzzcocks look yummy enough to wrap up and take home. Love Bites, it's called, but no ...

David Cassidy: Limpalong Cassidy

Live Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, May 1973

HE CAME out sheathed in white, like a tape worm. For someone whose primary appeal is physical he’s surprisingly clumsy, graceless. Constipated bumps and grinds. ...

Chicago: Chicago V

Review by Simon Frith, Cream, November 1972

WHY BOTHER? Chicago are rightly contemptuous of critics. They've never had a good review and their records sell by the million. Chicago V has been ...

The Chi-Lites: (For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People/Greatest Hits/A Lonely Man/A Letter To Myself/Toby

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, April 1975

I'D BETTER DECLARE myself: I like Philly Sound, the Stylistics, Barry White even (or, rather, sometimes); I don't think Norman Whitfield mangled Motown: I do ...

The Clash Rule The New Wave

Comment by Simon Frith, Creem, July 1978

ANYBODY WHO knows anything knows that the Clash is the best band in Britain; what is difficult to decide is if, in 1978, this means ...

Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, May 1973

Alice Cooper is uglyAlice Cooper's a starWhen he shows his tummy on tellyAll the girls go aaaaaahghh. ...

Billie Davis: Woman In Pop

Profile and Interview by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, September 1973

WHEN I WAS a teenager I even had problems in my sexual fantasies. I veered from Brigitte Bardot (too dirty) to Hayley Mills (too clean) ...

Bob Dylan: Desire (CBS)

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, January 1976

DESIRE begins with ‘Hurricane’, Dylan’s account of how black boxer Reuben Carter was falsely charged and jailed for murder. I don’t know how many cut ...

Bob Dylan: Planet Waves

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, March 1974

WHEN IT COMES to the critical crunch it ain't necessarily the Dylanologists who as the right questions. Sure they knew about Dylan when they were ...

Joe Ely: Down On The Drag (MCA)

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, April 1979

THIS TIME last year Joe Ely played the Wembley Country Festival and toured Britain as Merle Haggard's bemused support. I saw him in the Brighton ...

Faust, Frank Zappa, The Mothers Of Invention: Ugly, vulgar, insulting — Zappa scores!

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, November 1973

The Mothers: Overnite Sensation (Discreet)Faust: Faust IV (Virgin) ...

Marvin Gaye, The Temptations: Soul Albums Reviewed

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, May 1976

Temptations: Wings of LoveMarvin Gaye: I Want YouLee Garrett: Heat For The Feets EVEN SOUL musicians grow old and, though black music has never ...

Grateful Dead: Vintage Dead; Historic Dead

Review by Simon Frith, Cream, June 1972

I THINK I liked it better when rock didn’t have a history. These days record companies seem to be the victims of some Tutankhamen-like curse, ...

Isaac Hayes: Golden Hour Presents Isaac Hayes and Groove-a-thon

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, March 1976

FOR A FEW YEARS Isaac Hayes' reputation veered alarmingly: genius? fraud? joke? God? The settled consensus was that he had founded a new sort of ...

Ian Hunter: You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic (Chrysalis)

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, April 1979

I GROANED when I saw what this record was called. Modish madness and the wrong joke anyway – shouldn't it be "You're Never Alone If ...

The Jam Is Packed Off To America

Profile and Interview by Simon Frith, Creem, April 1980

THEY STARTED talking about clothes even before I left. They were discussing shirt makers. "Jermyn Street," was the consensus. "They will make silk up for ...

Jefferson Airplane, Pamela Polland: Jefferson Airplane: Long John Silver/Pamela Polland: Pamela Polland

Review by Simon Frith, Cream, November 1972

Jefferson Airplane: Long John Silver (Grunt)Pamela Polland: Pamela Polland (CBS) ...

Jethro Tull: Ian Anderson: A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Squire

Profile and Interview by Simon Frith, Creem, June 1978

IAN ANDERSON rules OK. For an hour I've been waiting in the foyer, talking to his manager, his wife, watching his employees bustle about. It's ...

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Gladys Knight and the Pips (DJM)

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, March 1976

SHE'S JUST GONNA have to get used to it. When you're the greatest pop singer in the world (and she is) and have been together ...

John Lennon: My Brilliant Career

Obituary by Simon Frith, New York Rocker, March 1981

'Death Of A Hero' it said in big black letters across the front of the Daily Mirror, and if I hadn't known already I'd have ...

Bob Marley & the Wailers: A Lost Leader? Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Babylon By Bus

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, November 1978

THE BEST RECORD Bob Marley ever made was the live single version of ‘No Woman, No Cry’. The reasons for its success were complex, but ...

Bob Marley & the Wailers: Bob Marley and the Wailers: Rastaman Vibration

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, May 1976

I DON'T KNOW how this music will be rated but my word would be mellow. This is a very uncluttered album – the rhythms are ...

The Miracles: Love Machine

Review by Simon Frith, Street Life, May 1976

'LOVE MACHINE' was the Miracles' biggest hit for years (if not ever) and a fine single too. Why? What are the Miracles doing right again? ...

The Moody Blues: Moody Blues: Seventh Sojourn

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, March 1973

IT'S THE BIG, BALD MOODY who scares me. There's a picture of his disembodied head floating across the inside of the sleeve, a look of ...

Mott The Hoople: Mott

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, October 1973

MOTT IS THE ALBUM All The Young Dudes should have been; arrogant, defensive. The Hoople are the first people to go on the Bowie ego-trip ...

Mike Oldfield, The Stooges: Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells; Iggy And The Stooges: Raw Power

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, August 1973

SOME RECORDS GET so much critical attention that I can’t listen to them blind, can’t ignore other opinions. So, according to John Peel Tubular Bells ...

Graham Parker and the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury)

Review by Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, December 1976

HEAT TREATMENT, Graham Parker’s second Mercury album, confirms the promise of his debut, Howlin’ Wind, which appeared earlier this year. The rapidity of the followup ...

Graham Parker and the Rumour: Squeezing Out Sparks

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, March 1979

AS FAR AS I'M concerned, Graham Parker is one of the great rock singers. I'd pay happily for a tape of him singing in the ...

Elvis Presley: Wise Men Say: Elvis Presley

Book Excerpt by Simon Frith, Aspects of Elvis, 1994

"I DON'T THINK EL WILL EVER RATE WITH the more serious students of popular song – his syrupy crooning with vibrato went out with Rudy ...

Public Image Ltd: Public Image

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, December 1978

"I don't agree with bands who make records to please audiences." (Johnny Rotten.) ...

Suzi Quatro in England

Profile by Simon Frith, Phonograph Record, August 1974

"Just ’cause I’ve got a couple of buns in front don’t mean I can’t play rock’n’roll." ...

Tom Robinson Band: Tom Robinson: Staying True

Profile and Interview by Simon Frith, Observer, The, June 1986

THEY MET AGAIN, after all these years, in a hotel corridor in Manchester, John Lydon and Tom Robinson, the yin and yang of punk politics. ...

Tom Robinson Band: Tom Robinson: The Song Not The Singer

Profile by Simon Frith, Creem, August 1979

THANKS TO SOME promotional moves, the Buzzcocks and the Tom Robinson Band played Coventry on the same night one week in late March. ...

The Rolling Stones: Live at Leicester

Live Review by Simon Frith, Creem, September 1976

ACCORDING TO PATTI SMITH, Mick Jagger is the best dancer since Nijinsky. Well I ain't ever seen Nijinsky dance (though I did see him win ...

Roxy Music: Siren

Review by Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, January 1976

THERE USED TO be this ad (in the Fifties, I suppose) for a cigarette: YOU'RE NEVER ALONE WITH A STRAND! A guy alone in the ...

Roxy Music’s Picture Palace

Profile and Interview by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, May 1974

ROXY MUSIC ARE Paul Thompson, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Bryan Ferry and Eddie Jobson, but the first thing you’ve got to understand is that Roxy ...

Neil Sedaka: The Tra-La Days Are Over

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, October 1973

NEIL SEDAKA'S album is a more explicit farewell to his past – the tra-la days are over. Except on this album, where Sedaka's sharp voice ...

Slade: Slade In Flame (Polydor)

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, February 1975

Some things I'm sure of: Noddy Holder is a great rock singer, up there with the best of British, with John Lennon, even. And Slade ...

The Small Faces: Small Faces: The Autumn Stone

Review by Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, March 1970

BEHIND THE KINGS of rock and roll stand the workers who make up the boredom and blarney, the fervour and humbug of pop. They are ...

Patti Smith: Wave (Arista)

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, May 1979

WAVE IS a much better record than I expected, but to explain why I'll have to go back a bit. ...

The Specials: Specials: Rude Boys Spread Manure In Yank Bed Of Roses

Profile by Simon Frith, Creem, April 1980

THE SPECIALS are the first group I've followed from first gig to international stardom. Nobody else realizes this, but their first ever press mention was, ...

Bruce Springsteen: Casing The Promised Land: Bruce Springsteen at Hammersmith Odeon

Live Review by Simon Frith, Creem, 1975

So you’re scared and you’re thinkingThat maybe we aren’t that young anymore.Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night.You ain’t a beauty, but hey ...

Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen: Scruff As Superstar

Profile by Simon Frith, Observer, The, 1985

IF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN didn’t exist rock critics would have had to invent him – which, in a sense, they did. His manager, ex-journalist Jon Landau, ...

Stealers Wheel: Stealers Wheel

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, February 1973

Gerry Rafferty is a lunk. He put together a fine group, cut a lovely album and then split. It's the most lunatic thing since Dave ...

Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones: Consuming Passion: The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers

Profile by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, June 1979

IT seemed like they were the last gigs of the year. Summer’s coming. Exam requests for DLT, college partings for Anne Nightingale, End of the ...

Sutherland Brothers and Quiver: The Sutherland Brothers: The Beat Of The Street

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, January 1975

I HAVE ALWAYS thought that the Sutherland Bros and Quiver were a worthy group. Making the right noises, going to gigs regularly, kindly, but no ...

Sweet: Sweet Notes

Profile and Interview by Simon Frith, Creem, November 1973

Stuck in the middle with the Chartbusting Champions of Un-hip ...

Sylvester: No Business Like Show Business

Essay by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, July 1979

ON HIS RECORD sleeves, Sylvester is definitely svelte. A pink shirt and a red rose. Spectacles and a cool look, like Arthur Ashe. My favourite ...

Tavares: Madame Butterfly (Capitol)

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, April 1979

MADAME Butterfly opens with the familiar dance floor sounds – brass riff, flowing strings punched out guitars, tightly strung percussion – but this isn't really ...

B.J. Thomas: Songs

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, October 1973

REMEMBER ALL THE excitement when people discovered that the Beatles wrote their own songs? There have been a lot of bridges over a lot of ...

Peter Tosh: Mystic Man

Review by Simon Frith, Melody Maker, June 1979

I ALMOST didn't make it through the title-track. Two female trios do the I Threes jobs for Tosh, and here their effect is extra-irritating. They ...

Traffic: Shoot Out At The Fantasy (Island)

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, March 1973

FOR A BRIEF but heady period Traffic were my favourite rock band. I still get a spark from the thought of a new Traffic album ...

Gene Vincent: Gene Vincent’s Greatest (Capitol); I’m Back And I’m Proud (Dandelion) and more

Review by Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, March 1970

GENE VINCENT was the most tortured of the Fifties rock stars. I only saw him in concert once and that was weird. He was in ...

The Who: The Who By Numbers

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, December 1975

THE SUNDAY TIMES' recent 'Rock Report' has been useful just for gathering together in one place all the clichés of the supercilious school of rock ...

Wishbone Ash: Top of the Polls with Twin Guitars

Interview by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, May 1973

ROCK WRITERS have a thing about genealogy. I don’t know who’s fault it is but I’m always reading about second generation bands and third generation ...

Bobby Womack: Hammersmith Odeon, London

Live Review by Simon Frith, Observer, The, 1984

FOR THE last couple of weeks, London theatres have been filled (or should have been) with British pop musicians taking tips from their American masters. ...

List of genre pieces

1967: The Year It All Came Together

Retrospective by Simon Frith, History of Rock, The, 1981

Rock is Jimi Hendrix’s guitar introduction to ‘Hey Joe’; it is Mick Jagger strutting onstage; it is Bob Dylan singing ‘John Wesley Harding’; it is ...

Fix It in the Mix

Book Review by Simon Frith, Village Voice, The, September 1998

Simon Reynolds: Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (Little, Brown) ...

Jon Landau: It’s Too Late To Stop Now

Review by Simon Frith, Let It Rock, May 1973

I FEEL UNEASY, confronting Landau. If a rock critic is a parasite, what is the critic of a rock critic? Landau is a rock critic ...

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