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By JOHN ROCKWELL Published: April 12, 1981

NY Times

From Bangladesh to No Nukes, rock has had a noble history of starstudded benefit concerts. A series that attracted relatively little attention in this country when it occurred was the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea -Kampuchea being Cambodia, whose travails in recent years could certainly use help from any source. These concerts took place on Dec. 26, 27, 28 and 29, 1979 in London's Hammersmith Odeon. They were organized by Paul McCartney and stocked entirely by British artists - well, Chrissie Hynde is an American, but she lives in Britain and her band, the Pretenders, is British. The proceedings were recorded and filmed, and now the album, ''Concerts for the People of Kampuchea,'' has been released in this country (Atlantic SD 2-7005, two disks).

Benefit concerts can sometimes be rather ragged affairs, with superstar acts hustling on and off the stage so rapidly that the sense of continuity and climax one values from a single-artist rock concert is lost. Mr. McCartney avoided that problem at the concerts by stretching them over four nights and allowing each band a full set. Queen had the entire first night. The second show consisted of Ian Dury, the Clash and Matumbi, a London reggae band that is not on this album. On Dec. 28 it was the Pretenders and the Specials, followed by a three-hour set from the Who. And on the final night, following sets by Elvis Costello, Rockpile and Mr. McCartney, there was a final event in the form of a ''Rockestra'' that included Wings, three members of Led Zeppelin (including the late John Bonham and excluding Jimmy Page), Pete Townshend and Kenny Jones from the Who, Billy Bremner and Dave Edmunds from Rockpile and miscellaneous others.

On disk, however, the problems of the eccentrically assembled potpourri recur. Queen gets only one song, as do the Specials, Mr. Costello, the Clash and Mr. Dury, while the Who gets a whole side - as does Mr. McCartney, really, since he has three numbers with Wings and three more fronting the Rockestra.

In addition, the Who material is rather flat. Much of this music, especially the hoary ''See Me, Feel Me'' from ''Tommy,'' has appeared on records in numerous previous incarnations. And for all the good will that remains for the continued life of this band, there can be no denying that it sorely misses the late Keith Moon's kinetic drumming. Other complaints might be that only the Clash specifically addresses the actual gravity of the situation facing the Cambodian people, let alone the underlying political causes of that situation. And for all the starry personnel of the Rockestra, on records it sounds merely like a rather leaden rock big band.

The one unexpected juxtaposition of personnel that does work on this disk is the combination of Robert Plant and Rockpile doing ''Little Sister,'' the song popularized by Ry Cooder. Rockpile's solo entry, ''Crawling from the Wreckage,'' is another charmer. Additional highlights include all three Pretenders numbers, which in their sexy, insinuating way make a far more convincing case for the band's English reputation than its studio album or its concert appearances in this country. Mr. Dury's and the Specials' songs are sweet enough, too, and Queen's ''Now I'm Here'' seems surprisingly energetic and effective in this context.

Indeed, Queen's success points to perhaps the most interesting aspect of this compilation, apart from its overt charitable purpose. Late 1979 was perhaps the height of the ever-trendy British scene's fascination with punk and new wave. It was a tenet of the new wave to denounce the dinosaurs of rock's past and present. Yet Mr. McCartney managed to combine Wings, the Who, the Queen and most of Led Zeppelin on a bill with Mr. Costello, the Clash and others from rock's then-Brave New World. That must have seemed almost as delicate a diplomatic task as the one facing the peace-makers in Cambodia. And to judge from the best things on this album, it was a more successfully accomplished one, as well.

Edited by Conneyfogle
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