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CREEM Picks Its Favorite VMP Records

On June 6, 2023

In 1969, CREEM was launched in Detroit as a raw, unfiltered, unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll magazine, and ushered in a new era of raucous, participatory journalism. For two decades, the mag broke barriers, rattled cages, and connected people to music in a way that has never been replicated.

After a cool 33-year hiatus, CREEM is risen.

To celebrate the return of the magazine, the CREEM editors compiled a mix of VMP titles that speak to the legendary mag’s notorious past as well as its optimistic future. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well, and it deserves better coverage.

Every CREEM subscription comes with access to the CREEM archive, home to hundreds of back issues featuring the best and most controversial rock journalism from the magazine’s original print run. That’s over 69,000 articles and reviews from legends like Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe, Patti Smith, Greil Marcus, Jaan Uhelzski, and more.

Learn more about the return of America’s only rock ‘n’ roll magazine and subscribe at 


Aretha Franklin - Spirit In The Dark

A fellow native of Detroit, Aretha Franklin loomed large in the pages of CREEM, with reviews of her albums and performances often cloaked in a feeling of awe from even the most curmudgeonous of writers. “This is going to sound like a fan letter. But I can’t help it. When Aretha Franklin is at her best, I cannot imagine that anyone could be better. She purrs, shouts, croons, moans . . . every single emotion known to woman is contained within the several octaves that she has at her command,” CREEM writer Lisa Robinson wrote in her December 1970 review of one of Franklin’s shows after the release of Spirit In The Dark earlier that year. A quintessential CREEM album then, and now.

Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

Chuck Eddy’s May 1987 feature on the Beastie Boys was the trio’s very first nationally published interview. The piece opens with Eddy being pranked by the band in the middle of the night in his hotel room. Eddy later sued the band after footage of the prank wound up in a Beastie Boys video. Fight for your right to party, indeed! They grew up a bit between then and the release of Check Your Head, a classic ‘90s album that both set trends and predicted them.

Bob Dylan - Blonde On Blonde

Blonde On Blonde, besides being an absolutely essential record, is the first Bob Dylan album to feature members of The Band. Originally known as The Hawks, The Band started out as Dylan’s backing band on the road, famously “going electric” with him before making a name as their own outfit. In the studio or live on stage, the particular alchemy of Dylan and The Band together, is nothing short of magic.

Veteran rock writer Greil Marcus speaks to this phenomenon in his May 1974 recounting of their live show, featuring several tracks from Blonde On Blonde: “The music, then, was not neat, it was not orderly, it was not elegant. It was fierce: riding that beat, full of hard-won arrogance, love, and anger. Dylan wailed out his songs, attacking melody as if it were an obstacle, not a means, to feeling…this was rock ’n’ roll at its limits.”

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska

Like many other publications, CREEM heavily featured Bruce Springsteen in its pages after his meteoric rise to international fame post-Born To Run. Springsteen was known for his sweeping, and wordy songwriting and his hip-shakin’, earth-quakin’ E Street Band, but it’s this album that feels like his most personal. 

A noticeable gray casts a shadow over the record, just Springsteen, his guitar, and an occasional harmonica–expressing his inner demons through a cast of bread basket Americana characters. It’s a lonesome record lined with just enough hope, or as Richard C. Walls puts it in CREEM’s original review of the album, “a reminder of human resiliency presented in a simple, unpretentious way.”

Ray Charles - A Message From The People

Boy Howdy! may be CREEM’s official mascot, but Lester Bangs remains the heart and sin-stained soul. Bangs honed his signature, fast-and-loose style with longform pieces like this affectionate, sprawling piece on Ray Charles. Bangs writes, “I can’t think of any rock or jazz musician working anywhere, who has so effectively translated his personal tribulations into a carefully controlled yet shiveringly impassioned statement bespeaking not mere travail but self-transcendence.”

For anyone interested in the foundations of rock, any Ray Charles album is a must. As Bangs puts it, “From Robert Plant’s psychedelic simulated orangutan orgasms in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ freakout, to Lou Reeds’ series of modal croons and barked imprecations in the Velvet Underground’s trailblazing ‘Sister Ray’...Ray Charles was there first.”

The Runaways - The Runaways

There are few things more quintessentially rock ‘n’ roll than five teenagers picking up instruments, and making an unholy racket. From the beginning, The Runaways captured the attention of CREEM, with their Queens of Noise rallying cry and ahead-of-their-years charisma. 

Why do we love The Runaways? We can’t put it much better than Robot A. Hull did in his 1976 original review of the record:

“Those off-key, out-of-tune, primitive screams and hyena gyrations still remain the purest form for expressing teenage desire and arrogance (from the Shadows of Knight to the MC5). The Runaways exist still in that tradition, but with a difference: they're younger, snottier, wilder, and more depraved, PLUS they're GIRLS."

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak

Jailbreak broke Thin Lizzy in America, and in CREEM–hit track after hit track, and the undeniable hip of frontman Phil Lynott making them familiar faces in the pages of the magazine over the next few years. It’s a classic album of the era for a reason, with mid-70s anthems like “The Boys Are Back In Town” and the title track still maintaining their cool factor after all these years. 

Current favs

Bartees Strange - Farm To Table

With an R&B-influenced vocal delivery over dramatic and lush indie-leaning instrumentation, Farm to Table isn’t just the most interesting record of last year, it’s one of the best. Both familiar and wholly original, Bartees Strange’s genre-bending ride not only takes big chances but sticks the landing over and over again.

Fucked Up - One Day

We know this seems totally incorrect, but we double-dare you to fact-check us on this: One Day is technically only the sixth LP from long-running Canadian punk dieties Fucked Up. Yeah, we know that for every single LP there are five or six seven-inches and reissues and boxed sets, but if you follow their discography, its easy to see that Fucked Up is not only taking big swings, but succeeding. Their latest follows that same pattern by delivering indie rock, powerpop, hardcore punk and all stops in between in a seamlessly integrated package of toe-tappers that can be hummed or screamed at the top of your lungs at the same time.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Cool It Down

Kicking off their fifth album and more than two decades of existence is “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” a collaborative track with Perfume Genius that fits comfortably alongside some of the greatest songs they’ve ever written. Despite fierce competition, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have maintained their status as great songwriters of their generation and Cool it Down is as vital as any entry they’ve had before. And we have a pretty good feeling that there is still a lot left in the tank.


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