“Security” by Peter Gabriel

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Peter Gabriel 1982 albumIn 1982, Peter Gabriel released his fourth self-titled solo album, which was labeled “Security” on the shrink wrap of some early LP pressings. While this album lacked an original title, it certainly took an original approach as it heavily uses electronic instrumentation, sampling, and other innovative recording techniques and was one of the first to be a fully digital recording. The result is a wide ranging album which ranges from some very brilliant moments to experimental motifs with varying degrees of potency and musical relevance.

After departing genesis in 1975, Gabriel decided to launch a solo career, starting with the release of his initial self-titled album in 1977. A second, more experimental, solo LP followed in 1978 with his third album in 1980 reuniting Gabriel with drummer Phil Collins and being noteworthy as the first to innovate the “gated” drum sound.

After a long tour to promote that third album, Gabriel began composing and recording at his rural home with a mobile studio that included the costly Fairlight CMI sampling computer. Producer David Lord added technical support as Gabriel deleted all presets from the machine in order to start fresh with new sonic constructs. In all, work on this album took about a year and a half with several versions of each track recorded as well as a full alternate version of the album recorded with German lyrics.


Peter Gabriel by Peter Gabriel
Released: September 6, 1982 (Charisma)
Produced by: David Lord & Peter Gabriel
Side One Side Two
The Rhythm of the Heat
San Jacinto
I Have the Touch
The Family and the Fishing Net
Shock the Monkey
Lay Your Hands on Me
Wallflower
Kiss of Life
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Synths, Drums
David Rhodes – Guitars
Larry Fast – Synthesizers
Tony Levin – Bass, Chapman Stick
Jerry Marotta – Drums, Percussion

 

A dramatic representation of a native landscape and rituals shines through on the opener “The Rhythm of the Heat”. Sparse, distant rhythms are topped with melodic, descriptive vocals with lyrics which emulate surrender to ancient customs. The song’s ending percussion ensemble may be a bit over the top, but overall this track is a true keeper of the Genesis legacy. “San Jacinto” is a bit brighter and less dramatic, being slower and more deliberative (albeit less cohesive) than the opening track.

Peter Gabriel

“I Have the Touch” is structured more like a typical eighties pop track and offers a timely break from the more in-your-face electronica of the earlier tracks. Lyrically, this song about the desire for contact and closeness in the paradox of modern urban life. “The Family and the Fishing Net” seems to return to the vibe of the opening track but with more methodical effects over a consistent, slow drum beat by Jerry Marotta. Later on, guitarist David Rhodes adds some strategic riffs and rich, harmonized vocals to move the track more towards standard rock territory.

The second side starts with “Shock the Monkey”, by far the most memorable track from this album and a surprise Top 40 pop hit. Funky, beat driven, and with a nice mixture of synths and guitars above a great, smooth bass line by Tony Levin, this song features some real musical and sonic assets which all work to make it original, unique and entertaining.

Though the duration of this album, the tracks, while still inventive, seem to lose some steam. “Lay Your Hands On Me” commences as a quiet rap before the song morphs into an almost Gospel-like recital while lyrically touching on the absurdities of modern life. “Wallflower” starts with slight flute solo by Gabriel before settling into an electric piano ballad, while the closer “Kiss of Life” takes a more upbeat turn with strong synths and percussion.

“Security” reached the Top 10 in the U.K. and the Top 30 in the U.S. and would be the last of his self-titled studio albums. While it would take several years to follow-up, the momentum accelerated for Gabriel recorded with his chart-topping fifth studio album, So, released in 1986.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

My Own Prison by Creed

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My Own Prison by CreedOver the course of 100+ weeks on the album charts, Creed’s 1997 debut album, My Own Prison steadily grew from a small independent release to a multi-platinum blockbuster which remains their most critically acclaimed work. The album’s sound hearkens back to the grunge classics released earlier in the decade, which stuck a chord with the angst of youth and the musical taste of fans like those of Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.

Formed in Tallahassee, Florida in 1993, Creed was spawned by the songwriting team of guitarist Mark Tremonti and vocalist Scott Stapp, who had been classmates in both high school and college. After several writing sessions, the duo held auditions for a rhythm section to complete the band’s lineup. With several original songs already written, Creed began playing local gigs, one of which at a club run by Jeff Hanson, who was so impressed by their original material that he signed on to manage the band.

Hanson booked the group with producer John Kurzweg and self-funded their recording sessions starting in 1995. My Own Prison was released independently in 1997 and initially distributed to radio stations in Florida, resulting in about 6,000 copies sold. Later in 1997, the group was signed by Wind-Up Records and the album was remixed for further distribution.


My Own Prison by Creed
Released: August 26, 1997 (Wind Up)
Produced by: John Kurzweg
Recorded: The Kitchen Studio, Tallahassee, FL and Criteria Studios, Miami, FL, 1995
Track Listing Group Musicians
Torn
Ode
My Own Prison
Pity for a Dime
In America
Illusion
Unforgiven
Sister
What’s This Life For
One
Scott Stapp – Lead Vocals
Mark Tremonti – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Marshall – Bass
Scott Phillips – Drums
My Own Prison by Creed

 

The slow grunge of “Torn”, features gently picked electric and elongated vocal patterns before eventually building towards a strong rhythm and melody. Late in the song, the chorus melody is brought down to a very simple arrangement with clean guitar and untreated vocals, which provides the opportunity for one last dynamic blast. “Ode” has an interesting main riff and timing, with Stapp’s doubled vocals in the chorus section as well as some fine harmonies. Tremonti provides chromatic chord movements and harmonic licks. While repetitive, the title song “My Own Prison” is much clearer and easier to grasp than first two tracks. The lead single from the album, it reached the Top 10 of both the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

“Pity for a Dime” has a bright feel through its chording sequence, while “In America” is built on a cool drum roll by Scott Phillips along with socially conscious lyrics and some inventive effects through the melodic choruses. Bassist Brian Marshall commences “Illusion” with a doomy riff, soon joined by the sloshy guitars of Tremonti, while “Unforgiven” is a refreshing, upbeat, succinct jam with an effective verse and chorus.

Creed, 1997

The album wraps with its two most potent and indelible tunes. “What’s This Life For” was written about a friend who committed suicide with lyrics about the quest for meaning in the world. Musically, the track starts with delicate guitars and moves through some grunge progressions, with the highlight of song being an acoustic strummed coda which builds stronger and stronger through each iteration. The closing track “One” contains both the measured bass line of Marshall and the wild, effect driven guitar lead by Tremonti, with Stapp’s strong hook in between. This combo all resulted in “One” becoming a huge hit in 1999, two years after its release.

Once it caught on, My Own Prison became a charting hit world wide as well as being one of the top 200 selling albums of all time in the US. The group soon began developing material for their second album (Human Clay in 1999), which would bring Creed even more success.

~

1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

My Aim is True by Elvis Costello

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My Aim Is True by Elvis CostelloMy Aim Is True is the debut album by Elvis Costello and it introduced the world to a hybrid sound that drew near equal influence from 1950s old time rock n’ roll and 1970s cutting edge new wave and punk. The album and this artist also represented a (slightly controversial) changing of the guard in the rock world as this artist, with the adopted name “Elvis”, put out his debut album within weeks of the death of the original Elvis (Presley) during the summer of 1977.

Born Declan Patrick MacManus, this English singer/songwriter began his career as part of London’s pub rock scene in the early 1970s as well as performing in the Liverpool-based folk duo Rusty. Between 1974 and 1976, MacManus played in the rock band Flip City and adopted the stage name D.P. Costello, in tribute to his father who had performed under a similar stage name years earlier. During this time, Costello began to write original songs and a demo tape of this material led to a solo recording contract with Stiff Records and, at the suggestion of his manager, Elvis was added to his stage name for these new recordings.

My Aim Is True was recorded in multiple late-night, short studio sessions over the winter of 1976-1977. It was produced by Nick Lowe who would go on to produce each of Costello’s first five studio albums. Backing Costello for this album were members of the country/rock band Clover (originally identified as”The Shamrocks”), who added an energy which gave the production a “live” feel. Left off the album, but later released as a single, was the reggae-fused track “Watching the Detectives”, which would become Costello’s first charting hit.


My Aim is True by Elvis Costello
Released: July 22, 1977 (Stiff)
Produced by: Nick Lowe
Recorded: Pathway Studios, London, 1976–1977
Side One Side Two
Welcome to the Working Week
Miracle Man
No Dancing
Blame It on Cain
Alison
Sneaky Feelings
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
Less Than Zero
Mystery Dance
Pay It Back
I’m Not Angry
Waiting for the End of the World
Primary Musicians
Elvis Costello – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
John McFee – Guitars, Vocals
Sean Hopper – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Johnny Ciambotti – Bass, Vocals
Mickey Shine– Drums

 

A prolific composer, Costello wrote all the songs on My Aim is True and, although there is a wide range stylistically from song to song, they all seem to work cohesively as an album. The short but effective “Welcome to the Working Week” quickly morphs from doo-wop to new wave before it abruptly ends after about 80 seconds of running time leading to the more substantive “Miracle Man”, a jam with rich instrumentation, an array of guitar textures and a bouncy bass by Johnny Ciambotti.

Next comes the heart of side one, starting with “No Dancing”, featuring a Phil Spector-like beat and presented as almost a ballad but with thick and complex arrangement and multiple guitar styles by Costello and John McFee. “Blame It on Cain” features great pop / rock sensibilities with an upbeat blues, Jersey Shore rock shine, while the more mellow “Alison” combines slightly jazzy guitars and soulful vocals. This great melancholy pop song was written about a checkout girl at a local supermarket and features the line which gives this album its title. “Sneaky Feelings” returns to upbeat blues/pop to complete the first side.

Elvis Costello

Side two begins with “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”, featuring fine melodies complemented by lazily picked guitar and a contrasting strong drum beat by Mickey Shine. “Less Than Zero” is a steady rocker with plenty of guitar and keyboard riffs under a lyric driven screed against a British fascist, while “Mystery Dance” is a pure fifties rocker throughout with an almost-punk tempo and time. “Pay It Back” returns to the standard Costello style, well established by this point in the album. “I’m Not Angry” sees a hard rock guitar over a quirky, choppy rhythm and an amplified whisper during the choruses, making for an interesting mix of sonic effects and an overall original song. The album ends strongly with one of its finest tunes, “Waiting for the End of the World”. A nice use of dynamics between the laid back main riff and the strong chorus is combined with great percussion and a combo of rudiments throughout and a cool slide guitar in the choruses are featured in this song.

At the time of My Aim is True‘s release, Costello was still working at his “day job” and had already finished composing songs for his next album, This Year’s Model, released in 1978. Further, Costello established his permanent backing band, the Attractions. A second version of My Aim is True was recorded with the new band with the intention of replacing the original tracks contained in My Aim Is True once the initial pressings had sold out. However, this never came to pass as the original recording gained critical momentum, a momentum which continues four decades later.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead

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Terrapin Station by Grateful DeadBy the mid 1970s, the fiercely independent Grateful Dead decided to make a radical turn towards more conventional music business practices. Foremost in this new direction was the decision to abandon their own record label by signing with Clive Davis’s then-new Arista Records as well as work with an outside producer for the first time in nearly a decade. The initial studio release following this new direction was 1977’s Terrapin Station, which remains a highly regarded yet polarizing album four decades after its release.

In 1974, the Grateful Dead decided to take a hiatus from live touring and, for the next two years, the only band activity was the recording and release of the eccentric 1975 studio album Blues For Allah. In June 1976, the group resumed touring under new management and their Spring 1977 tour has been held in high regard as some of the best performances of their long career.

Terrapin Station was produced by Keith Olsen and recorded at Sound City Studios in Southern California. Olsen made a concerted effort to deliver a song cycle which could break through commercially. This included some post-production overdubs of strings, horns, saxophone and and choral vocals which caused some differing opinions among group members with the end results.


Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead
Released: July 27, 1977 (Arista)
Produced by: Keith Olsen
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, November 1976 – May 1977
Side One Side Two
Estimated Prophet
Dancin’ in the Streets
Passenger
Samson And Delilah
Sunrise
Terrapin Station (Part 1)
Group Musicians
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux – Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Percussion

 

The album begins with one of its most indelible tracks, “Estimated Prophet”, written and sung by guitarist Bob Weir with lyrics by poet John Perry Barlow. This track is filled with great melodies, overt sonic riffs, jazzy leads and lyrics which seem to scorn the faithful optimist. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann forged a beat in the 14/8 time signature while session man Tom Scott added lyricon and saxophone to jazz up the song’s arrangement.

The remainder of side one features eclectic song styles intended to be more radio-friendly material. “Dancin’ in the Streets” is a full fledged, funk/disco cover of the Martha and the Vandellas hit but almost sounds like it belongs in some corny school play rendition in comparison. “Passenger” was written by bassist Phil Lesh and features harmonized lead vocals by Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux in an upbeat pop/funk song which was released as a single. “Samson & Delilah” is a traditional song arranged by Weir and it starts with some fine, oddly timed drums before settling into a signature Dead groove with guitars and bass. The first side concludes with “Sunrise”, a folk ballad by Donna Godchaux with some added orchestrations behind.

Grateful Dead in 1977

The entirety of side two is dedicated to the sixteen and a half minute, seven part “Terrapin Station” suite. It was written by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter and is a musical breath of fresh air in contrast to the somewhat disjointed first side of the album. The first part, “Lady with a Fan”, was based on a traditional English folk song known as “The Lady of Carlisle”, and features a theme of seduction and foolish bravery with a fantastic, harmonized guitar lead in between the Garcia-led verses. The next three “Terrapin” parts are more upbeat and climatic while remaining very pleasant and melodic. During “Terrapin Transit” the jam breaks into a slight psychedelic motif with synths, bass and much percussion by Mickey Hart, while “Terrapin Flyer” features richer production over the percussion motifs. “Refrain” includes an opera-like chorus as the final act of the adventure. This suite was actually Part 1 of a two part composition, the second of which was never recorded or performed by the Grateful Dead.

Terrapin Station was far from the hoped for commercial breakthrough for the group (that would not come for another decade with In the Dark), but it did reach the Top 30 on the Pop Albums charts and was eventually certified Gold. The Grateful Dead followed this album with a similar approach on Shakedown Street in 1978 before changing direction in the 1980s.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier

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Emotions In Motion by Billy SquierBilly Squier delivered a second straight solid hard rocker with 1982’s Emotions in Motion, the third overall solo release by the Massachusettes native. While continuing much of the solid musical groundwork laid down by his 1981 breakthrough album Don’t Say Know (and with similar commercial success), this album also served to expand Squier’s sound into the sub-genres of funk, new wave as well as other dance-oriented rock.

Like it’s predecessor, Emotions in Motion was co-produced by Squier and Reinhold Mack and it reached the Top 5 of the pop albums charts while eventually gaining multi-platinum levels in sales. The sonic qualities of production tend to tilt towards the high-end of the EQ spectrum with the percussion being a little over-produced. However, the album’s real saving grace is the compositions, all written solely by Squier, and strong enough to avoid sounding dated. The cover art for the album was created by Andy Warhol.


Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier
Released: July 23, 1982 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Side One Side Two
Everybody Wants You
Emotions In Motion
Learn How to Live
In Your Eyes
Keep Me Satisfied
It Keeps You Rockin’
One Good Woman
She’s a Runner
Catch 22
Listen to the Heartbeat
Band Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jeff Golub – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards, Vocals
Doug Lubahn – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

 

The album commences with its biggest hit, “Everybody Wants You”, which centers around a catchy, mechanical riff and a perfectly accessible hook. The bridge has a more dramatic feel before the song returns to its contagious, new wave grove. “Everybody Wants You” reached the top of Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks chart, holding that spot for six consecutive weeks. The title song, “Emotions In Motion”, takes a different approach with a bass-driven groove accented by a funky hard rock guitar by Jeff Golub and some of the backing vocal motifs by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor.

After a folksy opening riff which is accented by the saxophone of Dino Solera, “Learn How to Live” breaks into a dramatic hard rock verse and is soon realized as the first song which reaches the level of the better material from In the Dark. “In Your Eyes” continues the best sequence on the album as a pristine, acoustic power ballad with fantastic mood and melody as the song builds to a crescendo with synth counter melodies by Alan St. Jon as well as fine slide guitar licks. “Keep Me Satisfied” ends side one as a pure rock shuffle with almost a Southern feel, while “It Keeps You Rockin'” launches the second side with a slow and heavy musical thump contrasted by Squier’s full-throated wails that give this track a real Zeppelin-esque feel. “One Good Woman” features a bass-driven funk with contrasting, whining guitars and a direct, driving drum beat by Bobby Chouinard. All this makes for a fine and unique rocker and one of the more undervalued gems on the album.

“She’s a Runner” is the album’s final high water mark, starting off with a deliberative electric riff solo accompanied by Squier’s melodic and soulful vocals. When it fully kicks in, this track features a plethora of modern rock sonic treats, including a short but potent piano lead during the bridge. Next comes “Catch 22”, a thumping, methodical rocker with some competing riffs and licks on the periphery, all held together by the glue of Doug Lubahn’s bass. The album closes with a final attempt at hard rock and pop on “Listen to the Heartbeat”, containing some great individual elements like a flanged guitar intro riff and decent hook. However, it seems a bit under-cooked as not everything works cohesively as a whole.

Following the release of Emotions in Motion, Squier hit the road with most of the players on this album and soon moved from a major opening act to an arena-level headliner before his career plateaued in 1984 and declined later in the decade.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Chicago V

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Chicago VContinuing an incredible run of musical output and commercial success, Chicago released their fifth overall album in a 39 month span with 1972’s Chicago V. The fourth studio album by the seven-piece ensemble, this release is notable for actually being the first that was of standard, single-LP length. Keyboardist Robert Lamm stepped to the forefront more than any single band member on this album, composing eight out of the ten songs on Chicago V.

By the time this record was recorded in the Fall of 1971, Chicago had recorded three successful double-length studio albums – Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, Chicago II in 1970, and Chicago III in January 1971. The group had also toured almost continuously during these years, which spawned their fourth release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall late in 1971.

Chicago V was recorded in New York City in just over a week with producer James William Guercio, who had produced each of Chicago’s albums to date. This one would be the most successful yet, reaching the top of the charts where it spent a total of nine weeks as well as achieving longstanding regard as one of Chicago’s finest albums ever.


Chicago V by Chicago
Released: July 10, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: 52nd Street Studios, New York, September 1971
Side One Side Two
A Hit by Varèse
All Is Well
Now That You’ve Gone
Dialogue (Part I)
Dialogue (Part II)
While the City Sleeps
Saturday In the Park
State of the Union
Goodbye
Alma Mater
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Saxophones, Flute, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

“A Hit by Varèse” starts things off as a tribute to French-American composer Edgard Varèse, who was a huge influence on Lamm and known to experiment with new musical technology early in the 20th century. This track works in that spirit with some “free form” distorted guitar by Terry Kath in the intro along with a jazzy beat accented by horns in the verses and a cool sax trade-off lead by Walter Parazaider later on. “All Is Well” follows as a more standard pop “break up” song by Lamm, while trombonist James Pankow offers his sole composition with “Now That You’ve Gone”, a track ushered in by the rolling drums of Danny Seraphine and reaching a nice blend of funk and soul along with Chicago’s already diverse sound.

Finishing off the original first side is Lamm’s two part suite “Dialogue”. In Part I, the song’s lyrics are a musical dialogue between lead singers Kath and bassist Peter Cetera, while Part II features a repeated groove along with a chorus hook sung by multiple band members. Side two begins with the tension-filled, horn-led, politically-charged “While the City Sleeps”, which later features an antagonistic guitar lead by Kath.

Chicago in 1972
Following the stark side opener comes the refreshing contrast of “Saturday in the Park”, a bright celebration of a summer day. Lamm was inspired to write the song after walking through New York City’s Central on the Fourth of July, 1971 (actually a Sunday) and he immediately documented the action of various musicians, merchants and passers-by. The indelible piano along with melodic vocal duet of Lamm and Cetera, helped propel this song to #1 for the band. The next two tracks, the funky “State of the Union” and the cool, Latin-influenced “Goodbye”, each feature Cetera taking solo lead vocals, something he would do much more regularly in later years. The album concludes with Kath’s somber “Alma Mater”, a piano and acoustic guitar driven track with rich harmonies that  give it a Gospel feel.

Through the mid 1970s, Chicago continued to release successful albums enumerated by Roman numerals (Chicago VI in 1973, Chicago VII in 1974, etc…), ultimately becoming the the top US singles charting group of the decade according to Billboard magazine.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Straight On Till Morning by Blues Traveler

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Straight On Till Morning by Blues TravelerWith a newly found international audience waiting for nearly three years for Blues Traveler to release a follow-up to their breakthrough album, the group ultimately found a mixed reception for their 1997 album Straight On Till Morning. While this album continues along the same basic sonic path as the the group’s 1994 blockbuster, Four, Straight On Till Morning differs in the sense that it contains no big radio hits and the group experiments with differing sub genres.

Four was fueled by the Grammy winning single “Run-Around” and the catchy, quasi-ballad “Hook”, which introduced a more mainstream audience to the formerly jam-band oriented group. This popularity only grew when Blues Traveler appeared at Woodstock ’94, toured with The Rolling Stones and were featured prominently on the popular television shows Roseanne and Saturday Night Live. In addition, several of the group’s tracks were included on film soundtracks as their modern interpretation of classic, Chicago-style blues had become chic in the middle 1990s. In 1996, Live from the Fall, a double live album featuring recordings from the band’s 1995 was released and achieved platinum status in sales.

Straight on Till Morning was produced by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the same team that produced Four. The objective with this album was to continue the commercial success of its predecessor while trying not to alienate the group’s core fan base which desired more of their jam band output. On that note, an over
20-minute piece, called ‘Traveler’s Suite”, was composed but ultimately left off the album.


Straight On Till Morning by Blues Traveler
Released: July 1, 1997 (A&M)
Produced by:Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Carolina Blues
Felicia
Justify the Thrill
Canadian Rose
Business As Usual
Yours
Psycho Joe
Great Big World
Battle of Someone
Most Precarious
The Gunfighter
Last Night I Dreamed
Make My Way
John Popper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar
Chan Kinchla – Guitars
Bobby Sheehan – Bass
Brendan Hill – Drums, Percussion

Straight On Till Morning by Blues Traveler

 

A moderate but infectious slide riff by guitarist Chan Kinchla introduces the opening track, “Carolina Blues”. Here, the verses have a growling, bluesy melody and the bridge section builds to a crescendo before settling into final verse section. This song was also the first single released from Straight On Till Morning. “Felicia” follows as a track built on cool, slightly funky bass riff by Bobby Sheehan and the song is performed just a bit more rapidly than it should but this works on a kind of spastic groove level. “Justify the Thrill” is another funk screed, which seems a bit underdone melodically but is worthwhile due to the extended harp solo by front man John Popper. Compared to previous albums, Popper does less of his signature harmonica playing on this album but he certainly makes due with his opportunities.

A penny-whistle intro aptly introduces the light, candy store rocker “Canadian Rose”, a song Popper wrote about a fictional character when he realized he had not spent any real time in Canada. On “Business as Usual”, the guitar, bass and harmonica form a really tight funk jam to introduce a quasi-rap song, while “Yours” is delivered as a tradition love song. This latter song starts as low-fi solo-acoustic-folk diddy before softly reaching a richer arrangement complete with a string section with a later highlight being Kinchla’s souring, feedback-laden guitar lead. “Psycho Joe” was co-written by Sheehan and is one of the more straight-out pop oriented tunes on the album, with a slightly reggae rhythm. In contrast, “Great Big World” was co-written by drummer Brendan Hill and finds the band back in the familiar territory of a heavy blues jam vibe.

Blues Traveler

Hidden away later on the album are some musical gems, which probably get lost in the album’s excess running time. “Battle of Someone” is probably the most interesting song of the latter part of the album due to its atypical, jazzy rhythm which gives all the band members plenty of room to embellish throughout its six minute duration. “Most Precarious” is a bright acoustic, pop-oriented track with a “La Bamba”-like shuffle throughout, while “The Gunfighter” returns to some well tread territory and lacks in any real originality. “Last Night I Dreamed” was composed solely by Kinchla and features a rapid mariachi, three-chord jam with Hill’s cool drum beat and some excess percussion throughout. “Make My Way” concludes the album and unfolds like a Southern R&B / Gospel track, complete with electric piano, funky organ and a chorus of female backing vocals.

By the end of the 1990s, Blues Traveler met with some personal hardship when Popper had emergency heart surgery followed by the tragic death of Sheehan due to a drug overdose. Although the band decided to carry on into the new millennium, they would not again achieve the high level of success like they did in their nineties heyday.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Days of the New

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Days of the NewDays of the New came out of the gate in 1997 and forged their own style of dark acoustic rock. This style is expertly exhibited throughout the group’s debut album which features a dozen tracks written by lead vocalist and guitarist Travis Meeks. The first of three self-titled albums, Days of the New was relevant and successful in 1997 due to its fresh acoustic approach and catchy vocal hooks.  The album has held up well over the course of the two decades since it was first released.

The group got its start in the Indiana suburbs of Louisville, KY as a rock trio called Dead Reckoning. At the time of its formation and recording of this debut album, Meeks, bassist Jesse Vest and drummer Matt Taul were all still teenagers. Soon the group turned towards an exclusively acoustic sound and added a second guitarist, Todd Whitener.

After just three live performances in 1996, the freshly named Days of the New was signed by producer Scott Litt and recorded this debut album the Fall of that year. In time, this initial release would be nicknamed the “Orange” or “Yellow” album after the color of its cover and would sell over a million and a half copies worldwide.


Days of the New by Days of the New
Released: June 3, 1997 (Geffen)
Produced by: Scott Litt
Recorded: Woodland Studios, Nashville, Tennessee, October-November 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Shelf in the Room
Touch, Peel and Stand
Face of the Earth
Solitude
The Down Town
What’s Left for Me?
Freak
Now
Whimsical
Where I Stand
How Do You Know You?
Cling
Travis Meeks – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Todd Whitener – Guitars, Vocals
Jesse Vest – Bass
Matt Taul – Drums

Days of the New

 

The opening hit track “Shelf in the Room” stays mellow and moderate throughout while maintaining enough melody and mood to propel it to sustain its pop viability. The song would reach the Top 5 of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1998 and become a radio staple for several years. Another popular song, “Touch, Peel and Stand” features a more dynamic approach and a bit more tempo than the opening track. During the verses, Meeks’ vocals mimic Vest’s bass line, while the choruses feature some fine harmonized vocals, which all helped make this the group’s biggest charting hit. “Face of the Earth” follows with a bit more complex arrangement and some lead vocal effects, while “Solitude” has an odd-timed, waltz like beat as a backdrop for the now common acoustic riffs and vocal-drone motifs.

“The Down Town” is the best overall song on the album with its unique chord progression and infectious rhythms. The second single from the album, this song topped the Mainstream Rock charts in 1998 and is one of the more upbeat tracks. “What’s Left for Me?” features a finger-picked intro with strong rhythmic rudiments later joining, while “Freak” plays on a musical arpeggio and repeated, honed in lyrical themes.

Days Of the New

Later in the album there are a few more interesting moments before it all begins to lose steam. “Now” comes close to being a sad ballad, softer and more introspective than much of other material, and it features great variations of pick and strums and an extended, multi-part acoustic lead with slightly Spanish style by Whitener. “Whimsical” has additional fine musicianship and unique arrangements, while “Where I Stand” comes in with an acoustic / Western like jam before the song proper steers it back into the grunge direction – this also features some layered vocal motifs and arrangements and some hand percussion during the later jam section.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach “How Do You Know You?”, we’ve reached the point where everything becomes repetitive and even slightly annoying. The low-fi closer “Cling” does little to remedy this, save for the chiming guitars which, while still acoustic, have an almost electric feel.

Shortly after releasing Days of the New, the group got on the touring circuit with Metallica and Jerry Cantrell starting in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 24, 1998. Meeks later criticized this billing, stating that, due to their acoustic sound, Days of the New should have toured with a group like Dave Matthews Band. However, inner discord between Meeks and the other band members caused some cancelled shows and, ultimately, this original incarnation of the band split in 1999. Meeks formed a new band under the name Days of the New and recorded a second album in late 1999.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters

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The Colour and the Shape by Foo FightersOne could argue that Foo Fighters are a better overall group than Nirvana and that their sound is an evolution of the sound that was started earlier in the decade by Dave Grohl‘s former band. As for this new band, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape was the first Foo Fighters group album, as the 1995 self-titled debut carried the band name but was mainly a solo effort by Grohl. This album also contains tunes which are a bit more introspective than the material on the debut.

After the success of that debut album, Grohl assembled a proper band which included guitarist Pat Smear formally of The Germs, bassist Nate Mendel from Sunny Day Real Estate, and drummer William Goldsmith, who let Grohl move out from behind the drums during the live performances.

After over a year of extensive touring, Foo Fighters and producer Gil Norton set out to create a full rock record in classic style. The earliest sessions were at a studio in Washington state with Goldsmith as part of the group but these recordings were unsatisfactory and mainly discarded. Soon Goldsmith left the group, which made it a necessity for Grohl to return to his traditional role as drummer in addition to his primary role as lyricist and vocalist during the initial recording phase in California.


The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters
Released: May 20, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gil Norton
Recorded: Bear Creek Studios, Woodinville, WA, WGNS Studios, Washington, DC, & Grandmaster Recorders, Hollywood, November 1996–February 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Doll
Monkey Wrench
Hey, Johnny Park!
My Poor Brain
Wind Up
Up in Arms
My Hero
See You
Enough Space
February Stars
Everlong
Walking After You
New Way Home
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Drums, Guitars
Pat Smear – Guitars
Nate Mendel – Bass

 
The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters

 

The short track “Doll” starts things off with a very low-fi, demo-style intro leading to the full-fledged pop/rocker “Monkey Wrench” with a sharp and unambiguous approach through the verses and a tad more ambient noise in the choruses. On “Hey, Johnny Park!” we get the initial dose of Grohl really exercising his vocal chops while Norton still uses some creative production techniques during the fully arranged choruses, but not to the detriment of the overall tune. This song got its title from Grohl’s childhood friend.

“My Poor Brain” features some really really creative contrast between the smooth, bouncy verses and the raging, unhinged choruses and this is especially true in the contrasting vocal styles. “Wind Up” is a heavy alternative rock track about the music press, while “Up in Arms” is textural and mellow with fine bass playing by Mendel. The anthemic “My Hero” starts with a rich, mechanical drum pattern with bass, rhythm and lead guitars layering before the first verse. The great vocal hook and chorus riff makes for one of the most indelible phrases of the late nineties while Grohl has stated that this majestic theme is really about ordinary people he has known through his life.

Foo Fighters 1997
The fun and sonically pleasant “See You” is a fun, bouncy folk-rock acoustic track and is followed by “Enough Space” with heavy distorted bass, screeching guitars and thumping drums during its potent intro. The melancholy “February Stars” is a sort of a drug out power ballad, very emo but with not much reward overall.

Perhaps the overall highlight of the album, “Everlong” features a sound which is at once smooth and hard and features a good melody and a heavy romantic lyric. Grohl stated, “That song’s about a girl that I’d fallen in love with and it was basically about being connected to someone so much, that not only do you love them physically and spiritually, but when you sing along with them you harmonize perfectly.” Overall, this song is celebratory but with just enough edge to make it a rock classic. “Walking After You” has an acoustic, calm, almost country approach with the slightest bit of laid back percussion and sonic effects. “New Way Home” closes the record as a pleasant, upbeat rocker which summarizes everything from the journey of this album.

The Colour and the Shape was a hit around the world, reaching the the Top 10 in seven countries including the USA and achieving double platinum in sales. Its arrival in 1997 came at the moment when the grunge era began to give way to the heavy pop rock of the late 1990s, which made this timely and important as well.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Little Queen by Heart

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Little Queen by HeartIt wasn’t easy for Heart to follow-up their brilliant 1976 debut Dreamboat Annie. They started and stopped an album for Mushroom Records, which was later patched together as the release Magazine, but this was hardly an apt follow-up. Finally, in the Spring of 1977, the six-piece group recorded and released the eclectic, classic folk-rock Little Queen on Portrait Records. The album was well received critically and it sold well commercially, ultimately reaching triple platinum status.

Following the success of their debut album, Heart wanted to get back to the studio quickly and soon recorded some tracks with producer Mike Flicker in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Mushroom ran a suggestive full-page advertisement featuring lead vocalist Ann Wilson and her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson. This infuriated the band members and led to their defection from that label and the subsequent legal battles over Heart’s next album. Mushroom compiled five unfinished tracks along with two live recordings and a previously released B-side to forge the Magazine album in early 1977.

Meanwhile, the band started over,  recording for Little Queen with Flicker in Seattle and delivered ten fresh tracks of differing rock and folk styles in just about three weeks. Eventually, the court allowed Heart to release the album with the caveat that they deliver a proper second album to Mushroom by re-recording and remixing Magazine for a 1978 release.


Little Queen by Heart
Released: May 14, 1977 (Portrait)
Produced by: Mike Flicker
Recorded: Kaye Smith Studios, Seattle, February–April 1977
Side One Side Two
Barracuda
Love Alive
Sylvan Song
Dream of the Archer
Kick It Out
Little Queen
Treat Me Well
Say Hello
Cry to Me
Go On Cry
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals, Flute
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Piano, Vocals
Roger Fisher – Guitars, Mandolin
Howard Leese – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Steve Fossen – Bass
Michael DeRosier – Drums, Percussion

 

The album launches with its most recognizable and indelible track, “Barracuda”. The inception of this track began with Ann Wilson’s anger towards Mushroom’s attempted publicity stunt involving her and her sister Nancy. Musically, this is an apt attempt at Zeppelin-style heavy metal with Wilson’s vocals nicely cutting into the dry deadened rock rhythms by guitarist Roger Fisher and bassist Steve Fossen for an overall masterful effect.

“Love Alive” makes a big change in sonic direction with a slow, harmonized acoustic and electric guitar medley during the long intro and an overall fine folk/rock track that breaks out slightly into standard rock later in the song. On the instrumental “Sylvan Song”, Fisher and Nancy Wilson provide acoustic guitar and mandolin respectively with plenty of forest atmosphere, acting as intro to “Dream of the Archer”, which seems to pay homage to Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”. “Kick It Out” completes the first side by rotating back to pure rock, electric riff-driven with a good, strong hook, animated bass and choppy piano by Howard Leese.

Heart in 1977

On the title track “Little Queen”, a long guitar textural intro gives way to a funk/rock song proper, making for a potent and enjoyable musical combination. “Treat Me Well” features Nancy Wilson on lead vocals for her acoustic jazz composition with plenty of melancholy moodiness throughout, accented by slight harmonica and later orchestral strings arranged by Leese. The album’s diversity expands with the Caribbean feel of “Say Hello” with Fossen and drummer Michael DeRosier providing the distinct rhythms. The album loses a bit of steam through its closing mini-suite, the acoustic ballad “Cry to Me” and the long, repetitive sequences of “Go On Cry”, which feels mainly like filler to end this otherwise fine album.

Little Queen reached the Top Ten in the US and Canada and charted well in several other countries. Heart’s momentum continued through the late 1970s and well into the 1980s.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.