Nine Lives by Aerosmith

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Nine Lives by AerosmithThe last in a string of albums over a decade long commercial run, Nine Lives saw Aerosmith return to their traditional record label as well as return to their core blues-rock sound. Released in Spring 1997, a year later than originally intended, this album was produced through an arduous process, which included two distinct recording processes with two different producers as well as some internal personnel issues which further delayed its release.

Aerosmith had re-signed to a $30 million contract with their early career label, Columbia Records in 1991, but first needed to fulfill their contractual obligation with Geffen Records. Hence, the 1993 blockbuster studio album Get a Grip as well as the 1994 quasi compilation, Big Ones (which included the new hits “Dueces Are Wild” and “Blind Man”) were released on Geffen. The next studio album was originally slated to be released by Columbia in 1996 and the band entered the studio with producer and composer Glen Ballard in Miami.

However, Aerosmith’s drummer Joey Kramer needed to leave these sessions due to medical reasons and these early versions of the songs were deemed unsatisfactory by the record label. During this same period, the group also fired their long time manager and they appeared to be in disarray before re-grouping in New York in September 1996 along with Kramer and new producer Kevin Shirley. Here, the band decided to scrap the previous tracks and re-record the album from scratch.


Nine Lives by Aerosmith
Released: March 18, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Shirley and Aerosmith
Recorded: Avatar Studios and The Boneyard, New York City, September–November 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Nine Lives
Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)
Hole in My Soul
Taste of India
Full Circle
Something’s Gotta Give
Ain’t That a Bitch
The Farm
Crash
Kiss Your Past Good-Bye
Pink
Attitude Adjustment
Fallen Angels
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Paino, Keyboards, Percussion
Joe Perry – Guitars, Dulcimer, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Chapman Stick
Joey Kramer – Drums
Nine Lives by Aerosmith

 

Each song on Nine Lives features a co-writer from outside the quintet. Things do not start strong with the title song’s multi-tracked cat wails nearly ruining the entire album when it is a mere 15 seconds old and, what’s even more offensive, this meow effect is not even original, as vocalist Steven Tyler had used it before on the song “Cheshire Cat” from the 1982 Rock In a Hard Place. Co-written by Ballard, “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” is an accessible bluesy rocker with a comic edge and a generous use of horn arrangements, which all worked to make it a radio hit.

The album really starts to become interesting with the Desmond Child 6:10 – an underrated power ballad, “Hole in My Soul”, with an excellent melody in the pre-chorus and chorus and a slightly unhinged slide lead by Joe Perry. Desmond Child, who also helped pen the equally excellent “Ain’t That a Bitch”. This later track features a cinematic entrance with strings and distance brass before the song proper kicks in as pure blues rock with Tyler’s vocals stealing the show above much musical atmosphere. This includes several subtle guitar licks, just enough strings to maintain the slightly surreal atmosphere and a slight but effective descending bass solo by Tom Hamilton.

Aerosmith in 1990s

“Taste of India” is a sixties-style psychedelic twist during a wild intro before finding an interesting beat and hard rock riff by rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford. This fusion of several styles and the pointed sarangi by guest Ramesh Mishra, make this a true original. Further sub-genres are explored through the album’s heart with the country-tinged Southern rocker “Full Circle”, the harmonica-laden heavy blues of “Something’s Gotta Give”, the urban atmospherics of “The Farm” and the frenzied, driving punk rocker, “Crash”.

The true climax of the album comes with the clever and entertaining “Pink”. Co-written by Richard Supa, this track is accessible, bluesy and original.  The song found both international commercial success as well as scored the band their fourth Grammy award of the decade for best song by a duo or group. The album’s remaining tracks, “Kiss Your Past Goodbye”, “Attitude Adjustment”, and “Fallen Angels” are all fine tunes on their own but suffer due to the album’s vast length as well as the juxtaposition to other fine tracks like “Pink”, which far overshadow these more standard tunes. In this sense, less may have been more for this album.

Nine Lives topped the US album charts and reached the Top 10 in nearly a dozen other countries, making it a worldwide hit by any commercial standard. The momentum carried into the next year when the non-album single, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” became Aerosmith’s first and only number one pop song, marking the ban’s final high-water mark of a long and fruitful career.

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1997 Images

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

 

Disciplined Breakdown by Collective Soul

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Disciplined Breakdown by Collective SoulAfter exploding onto the international rock scene in the middle of the 1990s with the success of their first two albums, Collective Soul released their much anticipated third studio album, Disciplined Breakdown, in 1997. While much of the music on this album replicates the alt/pop/rock formula and production techniques of 1993’s Hints, Allegations, & Things Left Unsaid and 1995’s Collective Soul, there are some experimental areas on Disciplined Breakdown which show a bit of musical maturity.

The triple platinum selling, self-titled second album by Collective Soul spent well over a year on the Billboard album charts, fueled by a handful of radio hits. In the wake of this success, however, the band had a falling out with with their manager which led to some cancelled tour dates and, ultimately, a year-long legal battle.

During this tumultuous time in 1996, the band retreated to a cabin near their home town of Stockbridge and began recording with whatever digital devices they could gather. Each of the songs on Disciplined Breakdown were composed and produced by lead vocalist and guitarist Ed Roland, who had founded Collective Soul along with his brother, guitarist Dean Roland, in 1992.


Disciplined Breakdown by Collective Soul
Released: March 11, 1997 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Ed Roland
Recorded: Stockbridge, GA, 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Precious Declaration
Listen
Maybe
Full Circle
Blame
Disciplined Breakdown
Forgiveness
Link
Giving
In Between
Crowded Head
Everything
Ed Roland – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Dean Roland – Guitars
Will Turpin – Bass, Vocals
Shane Evans – Drums

 
Disciplined Breakdown by Collective Soul

 

While Disciplined Breakdown is a pretty enjoyable listen from start to finish, there is no doubt that the album is a bit top-heavy, with the best material coming earlier in the album. The opening song “Precious Declaration” was also the album’s lead single and it ushers in the album with a catchy beat from the well-treated drums of Shane Evans along with the sharp guitar riffs by the Roland brothers and lead guitarist Ross Childress. “Listen”, the second single, features a cool rock/funk dance beat similar to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” a couple of decades earlier. This infectious groove throughout is accented by some strategically placed effects on vocals during bridge section and a short but stratospheric guitar lead by Childress.

Dedicated to a lost friend, “Maybe” begins with a bright acoustic intro before it settles into a steady and excellent song proper where Rolland’s vocals are particularly subdued in nice contrast to the whining electric guitar overtones and thumping bass by Will Turpin, which persists throughout this track. “Full Circle” is the first song to break the mold of the now-well-established Collective Soul formula, complete with a (faux?) horn section and a few more unique sonic passages. “Blame” is bookmarked by fine, finger-picked acoustic solo sections with the heart of the song featuring an electric groove constructed by a great mixture of guitars and counter-riffs, along with Ed Roland’s best vocal melody on the album.

Collective Soul

The title track, “Disciplined Breakdown”, features another strong rock riff and bass-driven verse sections presented in a funk, almost faux hip hop, fashion. Meanwhile, “Forgiveness” takes a turn towards the cool and jazzy, while Evans’s consistent beat is maintained throughout and Childress’s lead guitar contrasts with this effect a bit but song never loses effect or moodiness. “Link” is an almost eighties style soft rock track, complete with some rich vocal harmonies.

The album’s next two tracks follow suite and remain mellow and somewhat pleasant sonicly but not so potent in terms of composition or originality. “Crowded Head” is a bit harder rock with several strong electric guitars, a rougher, more straight-forward vocal and a creative moment late in the song when a counter-melody to the main hook is delivered through a treated, mid-ranged spoken voice rap. The album wraps up with “Everything”, a slightly interesting rocker with good beats and choppy riffs, which sounds like it could have been a hit right beside the material earlier on the record.

Disciplined Breakdown was not as commercially successful as Collective Soul’s earlier releases. However, it top the Mainstream Rock charts, sold over a million copies, and helped maintain the group’s momentum, which continued into the new century.

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1997 Images

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

 

Peter Gabriel 1977 debut album

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Peter GabrielAfter departing from Genesis, the group he founded and fronted for nearly a decade, Peter Gabriel slowly worked his way into launching a solo career. His 1977 debut album (the first of four self-titled releases) features nine tracks of diverse music which reflects back on his extensive work with the band and looks forward to Gabriel’s new musical approach as a distinct solo artist. Commercially, the album reached the Top Ten in Gabriel’s native U.K. and the Top 40 in the U.S.A.

Gabriel decided to leave Genesis after the band completed their 1974 double album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The group kept this revelation secret as Gabriel joined them on a massive world tour to promote the album and Gabriel finally revealed his departure in a 1975 published letter to fans entitled “Out, Angels Out”.

When Gabriel was ready to start recording solo material in 1976 he enlisted producer Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked mainly with hard rock acts such as Aerosmith, Kiss and the Alice Cooper Band. Production wise, Ezrin worked on some of the dynamic passages of the songs, using not just rock elements but also string and brass orchestration and lofty, layered synths. Meanwhile, Gabriel focused on the more “quiet” parts of the album. The two enlisted a strong assembly of backing musicians, including Robert Fripp and bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson.


Peter Gabriel by Peter Gabriel
Released: February 25, 1977 (Atco)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: The Soundstage, Toronto, Morgan Studios and Olympic Studios, London, July 1976–January 1977
Side One Side Two
Moribund the Burgermeister
Solsbury Hill
Modern Love
Excuse Me
Humdrum
Slowburn
Waiting for the Big One
Down the Dolce Vita
Here Comes the Flood
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Flute
Robert Fripp – Guitars, Banjo
Steve Hunter – Guitars
Jozef Chirowski – Keyboards
Tony Levin – Bass, Tuba
Allan Schwartzberg– Drums

 

The album begins with wild, synth-like rhythms during the intro and verse of “Moribund the Burgermeister”, which soon explodes into a full-fledged rock orchestra for the chorus section, as Gabriel uses character voices which seem to be left over from some of his character interpretations on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. “Solsbury Hill” follows as the most indelible track on the album. This bright acoustic track features exquisite vocals delivering poetic lyrics which depict a seemingly religious-like experience that led to his decision to cut ties with Genesis. Released as the lead single from the album, the song failed to chart initially but has long grown in stature as an absolute classic by Gabriel.

“Modern Love” is a pure rocker where Levin provides great bass throughout and Ezrin applies an Alice-Cooper-like theatrical approach while maintaining a hard rock edge. Cowritten by Martin Hall, “Excuse Me” is, by far, the weirdest track as it utilizes classical British dance hall pop harmonies and carnival-like rhythms, complete with a tuba to accompany the lyrical emotional creed of a loner. In contrast, “Humdrum” is a very low-fi recording of piano and vocals with minimal arrangement added later on in the song.

The album’s original second side begins “Slowburn”, another instrumentation rich rock theatrical piece, although this one seems to be more disjointed than earlier ones on the album. “Waiting for the Big One” is a fine soulful, jazz piano track where Gabriel employs a vocal style different than anything else. The song has a bit of false ending before reviving to include an instrumental section with an excellent blues/rock guitar lead by Steve Hunter and inventive drum fills by Allan Schwartzberg. “Down the Dolce Vita” starts with pure orchestration before breaking into a disco-like beat and rhythm, led by a distinct clavichord throughout, while the closing ballad “Here Comes the Flood” features plenty more sonic decor and orchestration with vivid, poetic lyrics and guest Dick Wagner providing a great guitar lead to complete the album on a high note.

Peter Gabriel

Being that Gabriel did not title his first four solo albums, they soon gained aliases based on their cover art, with this 1977 debut being nicknamed “Car”. Following this album’s release, Gabriel enlisted many of the studio musicians for a touring band which performed through much of 1977 before Gabriel returned to the studio for his 1978 follow-up album.

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1977 Images

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

 

Secret Samadhi by Live

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Secret Samadhi by LiveThe third overall album by the rock quartet Live, the 1997 release Secret Samadhi debuted on the top of the American charts immediately after its release. The album is named after a state of Hindu meditation and features a mix of mainstream rock and alternative Avant Garde. Although the album did not receive the most positive critical reviews, it is an original work which makes a unique statement and draws influence from diverse musical influences from both contemporary and historical rock artists.

Live reached mainstream success in 1994 with the release of their second album, Throwing Copper, along with the band’s inclusion in the Woodstock ’94 festival and other prominent tours. Throwing Copper had a long rise to the top of the album charts in 1995 and sold over eight million copies in the US alone.

The group returned to the studio in 1996 with producer Jay Healy, who had worked with the band years earlier on an EP entitled Divided Mind, Divided Planet. The goal of this album’s production was to achieve a less polished, more hard-edged sound. The result is a slightly darker and more introspective aesthetic than that which they had produced previously.


Secret Samadhi by Live
Released: February 18, 1997 (Radioactive)
Produced by: Jay Healy & Live
Recorded: Hit Factory, New York City, South Beach Studios, Miami & The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rattlesnake
Lakini’s Juice
Graze
Century
Ghost
Unsheathed
Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe
Turn My Head
Heropsychodreamer
Freaks
Merica
Gas Hed Goes West
Ed Kowalczyk – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Chad Taylor – Guitars, Vocals
Patrick Dahlheimer – Bass
Chad Gracey – Drums

 
Secret Samadhi by Live

 

The opening track “Rattlesnake” features many differing textures culminating in an almost a dark Western overall feel. The initial verses are calm and refrained and, although this track never reaches full frenzy, there is a wild, unhinged guitar lead by Chad Taylor. On the unique masterpiece “Lakini’s Juice”, the atmospherics of the opener give way to a drilling main guitar riff, oddly paired with orchestral string interludes, provided by arranger Doug Katsaros. Although this song was not released as a single, it received enough airplay to top the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The next several tracks, while not horrible, collectively form the album’s low point. The slow and methodical “Graze” is apparently a song about aliens who spookily state their intentions, while “Century” is an upbeat acoustic track with some unfortunately amateurish and adolescent lyrics by front man Ed Kowalczyk. “Ghost” starts with a methodical drum beat by Chad Gracey to complement a very refined guitar and bass and whispered vocals throughout, while the uneven “Unsheathed” features a strong presence by bassist Patrick Dahlheimer.

Live

The second half of the album features some of its strongest tracks. The ballad “Turn My Head” is the closest to a traditional pop song, complete with strings by Katsaros which are elegant and signature to the song. A strong REM influence is most striking here, especially with Kowalczyk’s crooning lead vocals. In striking contrast, “Heropsychodreamer” has a definitive punk/new wave feel. “Freaks” features great rhythms by Gracey and an excellent melody by Kowalczyk complete with ad-lib like extensions at the end of each verse. Meanwhile, Taylor’s atmospheric guitar notes are layered intensely to highlight the song. “Merica” features another cool, odd beat and riff with an overall feel of authentic classic rock, leading to the soulful rock closer “Gas Hed Goes West”, which is slightly repetitive but ends the album strongly.

Secret Samadhi album was certified double platinum and was a hit worldwide. Live continued to record and release albums into the 21st century, but would not again reach this top level of success.

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1997 Images

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

 

Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring

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Ixnay On the Hombre by The OffspringIn their prime, The Offspring‘s music found the sweet spot somewhere between hard rock and hardcore. Their 1997 fourth overall release and major label debut, Ixnay on the Hombre, features a diverse collection of songs which range from thrashing punk to moody and philosophical rock to the occasional bit of light comical fare. The resulting album found both critical acclaim and worldwide commercial success, as it sold over three million copies across the globe.

After the massive commercial success of their previous album, Smash in 1994, the band was the biggest act on the small Epitaph label. They eventually decided to leave the label and signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, but not before they bought out the rights to their 1989 debut album and re-released it.

The Offspring entered the studio in mid 1996 with producer Dave Jerden and recorded close to twenty songs from the sessions. This was eventually pared back to a dozen album tracks along with a couple of spoken word novelty tracks.


Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring
Released: February 4, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden
Recorded: Eldorado Recording Studios, Hollywood, California
Track Listing Group Musicians
Disclaimer
The Meaning of Life
Mota
Me and My Old Lady
Cool to Hate
Leave It Behind
Gone Away
I Choose
Intermission
All I Want
Way Down the Line
Don’t Pick It Up
Amazed
Change the World
Dexter Holland – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kevin Wasserman – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Kriesel – Bass, Vocals
Ron Welty – Drums, Vocals

 

Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring

 

The album begins with one of the spoken word tracks, “Disclaimer”, a sarcastic dissertation on warning labels recited by Jello Biafra. The music starts with “The Meaning of Life”, a rapid punk/pop track which sets the pace for much of the material on the album. After a unique percussive intro by Ron Welty, “Mota” breaks out with a hard-edged ska feel throughout with definite punk overtones and good, edgy rudiments.

Most of the material on the album was written by lead vocalist Dexter Holland, who belts his signature story-telling lyrical rants and unique wails later on the track “Me and My Old Lady”, which also features a really cool groove and is the best song of the early part of album. Unfortunately, this is followed by two of the more forgettable tracks, “Cool to Hate”, which tries to be high-school anthemic, and “Leave It Behind” a standard and forgettable song.

The Offspring

The heart of Ixnay On the Hombre starts with “Gone Away”, an interesting, grunge-inspired track with differing vibes and textures. Greg Kriesel‘s bass fueled verses tradeoff with the piercing guitar riff interludes of Kevin Wasserman on this top Mainstream Rock Track. “I Choose” was another hit from the album built on the fantastic funky riffing and rhythms with Kriesal and Welty’s bass and drums complementing the charged electric riffs by Wasserman, who later provides a traditional hard rock guitar lead.

“Intermission” provides a true point of levity to usher in the latter part of the album, which includes the fastest punk track “All I Want”, the eclectic track “Way Down the Line”, and “Don’t Pick It Up”, an entertaining mixture of ska and surf rock. “Amazed” is another quality track, almost as good as the earlier hits, while the closer “Change the World” comes just a little short of greatness due to the tense punk beat which detracts from the otherwise fine melody and bass line.

Ixnay on the Hombre reached the Top Ten of the US album charts and The Offspring toured relentlessly throughout the world to promote the record.

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1997 Images

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

 

No Code by Pearl Jam

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No Code by Pearl JamIn 1996, Pearl Jam created a stoner rock classic with their fourth studio album, No Code. Here, the alternative grunge pioneers branched out with diverse music tracks which incorporated elements of blues, country, psychedelia and world music. The resulting record is not quite as forward and accessible as previous efforts by the band but does feature subtle, droning riffs, layered percussion, and philosophical lyrics all mixed with Pearl Jam’s established signature, hard rock sound.

As Pearl jam gained fame in the early 1990s, they grew increasingly uncomfortable with their success and began to rebel against the industry by refusing make music videos, issuing CDs in non-standard jackets and boycotting the Ticketmaster agency, which resulted in limiting the venues where the band was able to play and eventually led to the cancellation of their 1994 summer tour. There was also some internal strife within the band. After Pearl Jam finished the recording their third album, Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired for “political differences” when he disagreed with the Ticketmaster boycott. Abbruzzese was replaced by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who joined the band in backing Neil Young on his 1995 album Mirror Ball, which in turn spawned two songs which landed on Pearl Jam’s 1995 EP, Merkin Ball.

On No Code, the group worked with producer Brendan O’Brien, with whom they had worked on 1993’s Vs. as well as Vitalogy. Work on the album began in Chicago during the summer of 1995 with other recording sessions taking place in New Orleans and their home studio in Seattle.


No Code by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1996 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, July 1995 – May 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Sometimes
Hail, Hail
Who You Are
In My Tree
Smile
Off He Goes
Habit
Red Mosquito
Lukin
Present Tense
Mankind
I’m Open
Around the Bend
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Sitar, Harmonica
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Chapman, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums

No Code by Pearl Jam

Written by vocalist Eddie Vedder, the opening track “Sometimes” is subtle and quiet, almost jazzy, as it feels like it is on the verge of exploding any moment but never does. In contrast, “Hail, Hail” is a strong rocker with a sound like the Pearl Jam of old in their full glory. Released as a single, this track reached the Top 10 on both the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. An odd but cool percussive intro by Irons ushers in “Who You Are” before Vedder’s vocals and a guitar riff by Stone Gossard cut through in a simple song structure, which gradually progresses and builds as it goes along. This track has a very Eastern feel in its vibe and lyrical message.

“In My Tree” works as another rhythm-driven track with more animated and soulful vocals than anything presented thus far. While most of this song feels distant and slightly under baked, near the very end it builds into a driving and droning hard rocker. Bassist Jeff Ament wrote the music for “Smile”, a Neil Young inspired driving rocker, complete with harmonica and a consistent, solid beat. “Off He Goes” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with reserved lead vocals and a fine mixture of lead guitars by Gossard and Mike McCready on top. This song unfolds in a very methodical way, making it a nice reliever of the tensions of some of the more potent, shorter tunes on the album. Speaking of tension, “Habit” is tight knit rocker where some heavy blues meets strong alternative vibes, while “Red Mosquito” was inspired by Vedder’s bought of food poisoning and features a buzzy lead guitar played by McCready using a Zippo lighter.

Pearl Jam

“Lukin” is a very short, two verse, one chorus punk rocker where Vedder strains his voice to the point of nearly being unrecognizable, followed by “Present Tense”, a slow and moody, almost dark track featuring differing guitar textures by McCready. The most unique song on the album is “Mankind”, written and sung by Gossard, with a sound approximating seventies glam rock. The artsy “I’m Open” has spoken vocal narration with wild guitar effects, synths and some piano for a New Age atmosphere, while “Around the Bend” wraps the album as an acoustic, almost country arrangement, save for the unique, tom-fused drum beat by Irons.

No Code debuted at number one in the US and topped the charts in several countries. In spite of this, much of the band’s fan base were dissatisfied with the change in musical direction and this album ultimately became the first Pearl Jam album to not reach multi-platinum status.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Station to Station by David Bowie

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Station to Station by David BowieHis tenth overall studio album, Station to Station was a transitional album for David Bowie. Musically, this 1976 album seamlessly bridges the gap between soul and glam rock of Bowie’s early 1970s work and the experimental, synth-driven “krautrock” works to come later in the decade. This was also one of the last album’s where Bowie employed a musical alter ego with “The Thin White Duke” persona.

Bowie had moved to the United States in 1974, first to New York, after he completed recording Diamond Dogs. The following year, Bowie recorded the soul-influenced Young Americans in Philadelphia. This album spawned Bowie’s first number one hit with “Fame”, co-written by John Lennon, and elevated Bowie to becoming a worldwide pop superstar. Not all was well, however, as Bowie had major financial issues with his manager and developed a significant cocaine habit.

Station to Station was recorded after Bowie migrated to Los Angeles and completed the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Recorded in late 1975, the album was co-produced by Harry Maslin and featured guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked on the previous Young Americans. Seven songs were recorded during the sessions, with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” being ultimately omitted from the six-track album.

 


Station to Station by David Bowie
Released: January 23, 1976 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Harry Maslin
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, September-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing
TVC 15
Stay
Wild Is the Wind
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 

The album opens with the extended title song, “Station to Station”, which was the longest song Bowie had recorded to date at over ten minutes long. A long and methodical intro introduces the track before any vocals arrive for the first of two distinct parts. Shortly after the song’s five minute mark, the song picks up the pace which makes it feel more like a theatrical number.  It is rhythmically built with the bouncy bass of George Murray and the good, animated, disco-influenced drums Dennis Davis throughout the song. “Golden Years” is the closest to a pure pop song on the album, built on moderate funk groove with reserved backing hook, giving the vocals space for assertion. This repetitive but entertaining track was originally released as a single in late 1975 and it peaked in the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in early 1976.

“Word on a Wing” is an exquisite, upbeat ballad, driven by the piano of Roy Bittan. Here Bowie’s lyrics and vocal delivery are delivered with a desperate passion throughout in a quasi-religious song written out of a drug-fueled spiritual despair which Bowie later described as the darkest days of his life. “TVC 15” comes from another side of the drug experience, when fellow rocker Iggy Pop hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. Musically, this interesting and entertaining track is built off Bittan’s bouncy, boogie-woogie piano, later breaking into a straight-forward disco/rock during the verses with nice vocal effects and atmosphere like a rock carnival throughout.

David Bowie in 1976

“Stay” commences with Alomar’s funky/blues guitar lead in an excellent, methodical rock lead-in. The rest of the track is a very inventive gem with funky bass and heavy rock guitars over a steady beat and multiple styles of vocals throughout. The album conclude’s with its sole cover, the pleasant ballad with layered guitars and seventies production, “Wild Is the Wind”. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, this track caught Bowie’s attention when recorded by Nina Simone, and his own vocal interpretation been praised through the years.

Station to Station reached #3 on the Billboard Album charts and would be David Bowie’s highest-charting album in the US for nearly four decades. Bowie later cited this album along with its 1977 follow-up, Low, as two of his finest works.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

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Mechanical Resonance by TeslaMechanical Resonance is the 1986 debut album by hard rock quintet Tesla. The original album sides were distinctive in approach, with the first side containing garden-variety hair-metal anthems complete with easily chant-able hooks. The second side features more mature and original compositions which, ironically, found much greater popularity at the time and persist to the modern day.

Hailing from in Sacramento, California the group originated from an early eighties band called City Kidd, formed by guitarist Frank Hannon bassist Brian Wheat. Later vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta joined the group that gained popularity through the mid 1980s, leading to a record deal with the Geffen label.

During recording of this debut with producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the band members decided to change their name in honor of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla and the title Mechanical Resonance comes from one of the scientist’s experiments. During this time, the group also began to migrate their sound in a ‘rootsier’ direction.

 


Mechanical Resonance by Tesla
Released: December 8, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York, 1986
Side One Side Two
EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin’ Atcha Live
Gettin’ Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We’re No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Changes
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes
Group Musicians
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Wheat – Bass, Vocals
Troy Luccketta – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “EZ Come EZ Go”features a staccato bass entry by Wheat accompanying a steady drum beat and a blistering guitar lead to open the album on a high musical note. It soon settles into a quasi-melodramatic setting with Keith’s voice and heart beat-like bass thumps before the song finally gets to the hook, which is almost an afterthought compared to the other sonic elements. “Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with another dramatic guitar lead-in with the overall vibe being similar to classic Van Halen with an upbeat jam.

“Gettin’ Better” is the best song on the first side and it starts with nice finger-picked soft intro where Hannon’s delicate playing and Keith’s soulful vocals shine. It then breaks into a riff-driven rocker with a thematic chant for the rest of the song. “2 Late 4 Love” starts with a drum roll by Luccketta along with some guitar effects for another dramatic entry, but becomes rather ordinary beyond this.  “Rock Me to the Top” is co-written by Skeoch and the contrast in style is evident musically with its slightly darker textures. “We’re No Good Together” is the album’s first power ballad and is slow-dance ready with a slow beat and bluesy rock guitar licks. Midway through, the song takes a pleasantly surprising sonic turn and becomes an excitable, upbeat blues rock jam for the duration.

Tesla in 1986

The heart of album is the first three songs on side two, starting with their popular anthem, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Composition wise, this is more thorough than anything else on the album with acoustic and electric textures throughout, dark imagery, and a great melody and hooks. “Changes” starts with a classical piano intro before a choppy guitar riff introduces the dramatic song proper. This emotionally charged song crafts a great sonic atmosphere and a line from this track was ultimately used for the group’s greatest hits collection a decade later. The album’s only cover is “Little Suzi”, an expert acoustic/electric adaptation of the early eighties synth song by Ph.D. It starts with a really cool acoustic folk intro, while later the song has a methodical but powerful drive of multiple textures all held together with Wheat’s bass

“Love Me” is a pure riff-driven rocker with Keth’s vocals soaring over the methodical music and beats, in a style which sounds like it could have been a really big hit a few years earlier. The bridge section adds a surprise with some talk box while the later lead has nice blend of harmonized guitars. Winding down the album, “Cover Queen” features a slightly interesting arrangement, while the closer “Before My Eyes” has a doomy and dramatic intro where the group’s talents are given space to shine a bit as the song unfolds slowly and leaves plenty of room for instrumental atmosphere.

Mechanical Resonance reached the Top 40 on the US album charts and was certified platinum by the end of the decade. Tesla would reach even greater success with their next album, Great Radio Controversy, but still hold this debut in such regard that they released Mechanical Resonance Live in August 2016.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Rainbow Rising

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Rainbow RisingRainbow returned with a revamped lineup and fresh approach for the group’s second studio album, Rising. The record is comprised of six solid compositions which are comparable to the material the band had done before with dynamic and tight performances. The quintet started as a project by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he departed from that group.

Blackmore established Rainbow when he joined with the American rock band, Elf, in 1975. Blackmore wanted to record some material that was rejected by Deep Purple members and he enlisted Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio who in turn suggested his band mates to back up on the recordings. Soon, this project turned into the album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, with the album name (and ultimately the band name) inspired by the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. However, Blackmore was unhappy about the live performances of many in the Elf line-up and he fired everybody except Dio.

Keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Cozy Powell were recruited to complete this second incarnation of Rainbow. Further, Blackmore began constructing interesting chord progressions, inspired by his new found interest in playing cello and composing material with Dio supplying mythical lyrics. Rising was recorded in less than month in Munich, Germany with producer Martin Birch in early 1976.

 


Rising by Rainbow
Released: May 17, 1976 (Polydor)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 1976
Side One Side Two
Tarot Woman
Run with the Wolf
Starstruck
Do You Close Your Eyes
Stargazer
Light In the Black
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums

 

From the jump, the sound of this album features sonic elements which are beyond its time. “Tarot Woman” starts with a long, wild synth intro by Carey, which sets a dramatic stage before Blackmore’s guitar riff gradually fades into the song proper. This opening track has a definitive Deep Purple quality especially during Blackmore’s soaring guitar lead. “Run with the Wolf” settles into a more conventional rock sound, still employing dramatic and satisfying overtones, but much more compact and succinct in its delivery.

“Starstruck” follows as the best overall rocker on the first side, based on classic heavy blues rock constructs and the rollicking rhythms by Bain and Powell and an excited melody by Dio, whose vocals soar and shout with great emotion. The most ordinary song on the album, “Do You Close Your Eyes” is a pretty standard hard rock song in the vein of mid seventies contemporaries like Kiss, and it does suffer slightly from compositional underdevelopment and sonic overproduction.

rainbow in 1976

The album’s second side features two extended tracks, each with a duration of over eight minutes. “Stargazer” is the epic track from Rising, starting with an interesting and inventive drum intro and working its way through several slow but powerful sections, with potent lead vocals by Dio and fantastic lead trade-offs by Blackmore and Carey. The song features mystical lyrics which tell the fable of a wizard who builds a tower from which to fly only for him to fall and die like any mortal man and includes a contribution by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The rudiment-filled hard rocker “A Light in the Black” completes the album and sets a template for the future sounds of groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. This closer is highlighted by an incredible instrumental section with multiple keyboard and guitar leads.

Rising did well on the UK charts but not quite as well in the US. However, the influence of this album would reverberate for decades and it is considered by most to be Rainbow’s best overall album.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Someday Maybe by The Clarks

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Someday Maybe by The ClarksAlthough this group has had a long and fruitful career which continues to this day, The Clarks only had one major label release. The 1996 record Someday Maybe is a solid and steady effort full of steady rock/pop tracks crafted in multiple sub-genres. While neglected its due amount of promotion, this album is on par with some of the highly popular albums of the same era, making it a largely unknown or forgotten gem of the mid nineties.

Based in and around the Pittsburgh area, the group derived from a college band called The Administration, featuring vocalist/guitarist Scott Blasey, guitarist Robert James Hertweck and drummer David Minarik. After several lineup changes and the addition of bassist Greg Joseph in 1986, they changed the name to “The Clarks” as a generic nod to a common name in Western Pennsylvania. Next, the group began to focus more on original material and in 1988, the Clarks began independently recording their first album, I’ll Tell You What Man…, which sold modestly well in the Pittsburgh area. Two more independent albums followed, a self-titled release in 1991 and Love Gone Sour, Suspicion, and Bad Debt in 1994.

The steadily growing popularity of The Clarks finally scored them a major label deal for two albums with MCA Records in 1996. The group immediately began working with LA-based talent, producer Tim Bomba and engineer John Siket, to record Someday Maybe.


Someday Maybe by The Clarks
Released: November 25, 1996 (MCA)
Produced by: Tim Bomba
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Stop!
Courtney
Mercury
Rain
Caroline
Never Let You Down
Fatal
The Box
One Day In My Life
No Place Called Home
Everything Has Changed
These Wishes
Last Call
Hollywood
Lost and Found
Scott Blasey – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob James – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Joseph – Bass, Vocals
Dave Minarik – Drums, Vocals
 
Someday Maybe by The Clarks

In a bit of irony, the opening track “Stop!” starts abruptly as a solid rocker throughout. This strong opener features a choppy rhythm guitar riff and bluesy lead licks, while the chorus lyrics borrow from Buffalo Springfield’s hit “For What It’s Worth”. “Courtney” follows as a catchy, pure nineties pop/rock track with a bright acoustic and electric arrangement. “Mercury” leans towards folk/rock or almost alt country with plenty of fine riffs and hooks to accent the overall vibe, while “Rain” is a slow acoustic ballad which moves like a waltz and features slight desperation in Blasey’s lead vocals as well as a short but excellent ending guitar lead by James.

The heart of the album begins with the radio single “Caroline”, which is presented as pure new wave pop with rapid lyric delivery and much energy throughout. “Never Let You Down” may be the hardest rocking song on the entire album, due to the rapid riffing and relentless rhythms by Joseph and Minarik. Next comes the most unique track on Someday Maybe, the excellent, soft jazz “Fatal”, with some very interesting changes and rewarding musical interludes and duet lead vocals by guest Kelsey Barber.

the clarks

Coming down the stretch, the album returns to simple and straight-forward form. “The Box” and “One Day In My Life” are strong and steady rockers, with the latter one highlighted by the rich backing harmonies in the choruses. “No Place Called Home” is a folk/Americana acoustic ballad with dramatic lyrics from the point of view of a reluctant outlaw, while “These Wishes” is built on Minarik’s interesting drum shuffle. The album concludes with “Last Call”, a late night barroom anthem with a catchy sing-along hook.

The Clarks’ big label reign was short-lived as MCA fell into financial disarray before Someday Maybe received any notable promotion and, ultimately, their contract was terminated. However, after a short break, the band continued to record independently and remained a strong regional draw for years to come.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.