Various Artists

Singers & Songwriters: 1970-1974 [2001]

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Time-Life Music's Singers and Songwriters series of 24-track, two-disc compilations of soft rock songs from the late '60s and '70s seems to have become an open-ended one, which means it must be selling. The bad news about that is, short of subscribing to the whole series (though the individual titles are also available through the mail-order outlet Heartland Music, it's hard to keep track of releases that seem increasingly interchangeable. They do not have volume numbers, but rather overlapping date ranges, and no particular album pretends at anything like comprehensiveness. Each one is simply another bunch of reasonably literate pop songs. That said, the series is becoming more interesting as it goes along and works its way through the obvious hit singles. This one, which draws upon the first half of the '70s, is a good example. Nineteen of the 24 tracks were Top 40 pop hits during that period, but the compilers are starting to dig into less broadly popular artists and into LP tracks, which gives the overall album a spicier mix. Ry Cooder's reggae arrangement of "It's All Over Now," from his Paradise and Lunch album, is an unexpected treat, and the same can be said of Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" and the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil." The series title, a mild corruption of "singer/songwriter," signals that, for the most part, the songs were either written or co-written by the performers or by other writer-performers. The only real exception here is the New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," famously derived from a cola commercial. That focus does provide for individual statements instead of the usual generic love songs that have littered the airwaves for generations. But much of the material still leans toward the vanilla.

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