Who Are You by The Who

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Who Are You by The WhoThe Who‘s eighth overall and final studio album with drummer Keith Moon, 1978’s Who Are You marks a notable transition for the rock quartet. Here, the music is built on layered arrangements which heavily utilizes synthesizers while multiple styles are explored among the album’s ten tracks. Further, some of the lyrical themes draw from defunct theme albums from earlier in the 1970s such as Pete Townshend‘s Lifehouse and John Entwistle‘s 905.

Through a five year span in the mid-1970s, the band recorded and released only one studio album, The Who by Numbers in 1975. This era was marred by disagreements among the band members over musical direction and the approach to live touring. However, they did work on several peripheral projects over this span, such as the Tommy motion picture in 1974 and the documentary film The Kids Are Alright in 1977 and 1978.

Recording of Who Are You began in London in January 1978 with producers Glyn Johns & Jon Astley. During production there were several personnel clashes as well as some issues with Moon’s playing and lead singer Roger Daltrey underwent throat surgery. Ironically, this was perhaps the strongest album vocally for Daltrey while being one of the weaker outputs by Townshend, the band’s traditional composer.

Classic Rock Review
Who Are You by The Who
Released: August 18, 1978 (Polydor)
Produced by: Glyn Johns & Jon Astley
Recorded: Ramport Studios, Olympic Studios, & RAK Studios, England, October 1977 – April 1978
Side One Side Two
New Song
Had Enough
905
Sister Disco
Music Must Change
Trick of the Light
Guitar and Pen
Love Is Coming Down
Who Are You
Group Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Vocals, Percussion
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Keyboards, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

 

It is obvious from beginning that this differs from any classic Who album with heavy synth presence from the jump on the opener “New Song”. Still, the multiple theatrical parts of this Townshend song show that there are still complex rock compositions on this Who album. The next two tracks were originally intended for a defunct attempt of a rock opera by Entwistle. “Had Enough” has a synth-guided melody with steady, thumping bass and slightly animated drums by Moon. Released as a single from the album, the song features a full string orchestra arranged by Astley. A wild synth arpeggio gives way to strummed acoustic guitar and a steady rock beat on “905”. Here, Entwistle provides smooth and melodic lead vocals with a slight country/rock feel during the choruses, while employing a heavy sci-fi feel elsewhere.

“Sister Disco” is the first song to lean towards classic era Who (or at least as far back as 1973’s Quadrophenia). This is also the first track to feature Townshend’s vocals as a co-lead vocalist while the music features moderate rock riff and beat with rapid, high string synths before the song dissolves with an extended solo acoustic outro. “Music Must Change” is a theatrical piece with many interesting changes. Here, Daltrey’s vocals show fantastic range on this jazz, Broadway blues track which completed the original first side of the album. Entwistle’s third songwriting contribution, “Trick of the Light”, may be the most straightforward rocker on the album with a hypnotizing, rotating rock riff accented by Moon’s mobile drumming and more strong vocals by Daltrey.

The Who in 1978

Another highlight on the album, “Guitar and Pen”, has a straight-forward main riff in contrast to the odd-timed beats followed by much building to strong crescendos throughout. The song also features virtuoso piano playing by guest Rod Argent along with some generous but judicious use of synths throughout. “Love Is Coming Down” is a ballad with call and response vocals and some complex string orchestration. The album concludes with its climatic title song, which kicks off with a jazzy synth, slow dance beat and harmonized hook. The verses of “Who Are You” resort to pure rock with Moon exploring the rapid drum rolls and Daltry providing his most straining yet melodic vocals, while the bridge middle section explores many little musical minuets, including a slight piano lead by Argent. Released as a single, “Who Are You” reached the Top 20 in both the US and UK.

During a break from recording this album in May 1978, The Who played live on a sound stage for a sequence in the upcoming documentary The Kids Are Alright, which turned out to be the final performance by the classic quartet which was formed in 1964. Moon died on September 6, 1978, about three weeks after the release of Who Are You.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

 

An Innocent Man by Billy Joel

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An Innocent Man by Billy JoelBilly Joel took a musical detour by forging an album of interpretive styles on An Innocent Man, his ninth studio album. Here, Joel pays homage to various musical styles which were popular during his formative years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, while finely showcasing his own music diversity and vocal skills. Despite being unique in his catalog, this album continued Joel’s streak of Grammy-nominated albums and top commercial success, with An Innocent Man spaning six Top 40 hits.

The heavy material and rich production of Joel’s 1982 release, The Nylon Curtain was an overall exhausting experience for this artist. Further, Joel was recently divorced and found himself single for the first time following his rise to international fame. Joel said he felt like a teenager again and thus reverted back to the various popular music styles of those years. In early 1983, he quickly wrote several compositions, each in a distinct style and/or as a tribute to a distinct artist.

Although this album was stylistically different than anything Joel had done before, for his backing group he maintained the same personnel he had performed with since the mid 1970s and once again brought in producer Phil Ramone, who had produced Joel’s five previous albums.

 


An Innocent Man by Billy Joel
Released: August 8, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: Chelsea Sound and A&R Recording, New York, Spring 1983
Side One Side Two
Easy Money
An Innocent Man
The Longest Time
This Night
Tell Her About It
Uptown Girl
Careless Talk
Christie Lee
Leave a Tender Moment Alone
Keeping the Faith
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Russell Javors – Guitars
Mark Rivera – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums

 

An Innocent Man is bookmarked by two of its more upbeat tracks, starting with “Easy Money”, a homage to Wilson Pickett and/or James Brown. Musically this song features guest Leon Pendarvis on Hammond B3 organ and a generous amount of soulful brass, and although not released as single, this album opener was immediately featured as the theme of a major motion picture of the same name, starring Rodney Dangerfield. The title song, “An Innocent Man”, is an absolute masterpiece. In fact, this soulful and dynamic ballad may well be Joel’s best overall song of the entire decade of the 1980s. It is a masterpiece of production and arrangement as it migrates from a simple bass and percussion arrangement into a majestic ensemble as the song climaxes. Vocally, Joel hits the absolute top of his range during the choruses and admits that he was not able to hit those notes again.

Another vocal milestone, “The Longest Time” is a doo-wop track with a plethora of harmonized vocals all done by Joel himself. Aside from the vocals, the song uses a very sparse musical arrangement made of just plucked bass, brushed snare, and finger snaps. “This Night” continues the 1950s doo-wop homage with an inventive adaption of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata during the chorus, making Beethoven the only artist to receive a co-writing credit with Joel on this album. Motown-influence “Tell Her About It” completes the original first side as brass takes lead over Joel’s piano rhythms and the thumping bass of Doug Stegmeyer. The lead single from the album, this hit #1 on the American pop charts.

Billy Joel Band 1983

The consistent drum beat of Liberty DeVitto drives the Four Seasons-esque “Uptown Girl”. Here, Joel introduces yet another “voice”, straining his upper range throughout while staying melodic and catchy. This Top 10 song and its video also served as an allegory for Joel’s new relationship with model Christie Brinkley, who appeared in the video and would ultimately become Joel’s wife in 1985. “Careless Talk” features more great melodies and counter harmonies, choppy rhythms, and a bit of an unexpected diversion through the bridge, while the first wave rocker “Christie Lee” is highlighted by a couple of short sax solos by Mark Rivera. The pleasant and moderate ballad “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” lyrically explores awkward banter while featuring more exquisite melodies by Joel ethereal harmonica by Toots Thielemans. The album concludes with “Keeping the Faith” which, while lyrically anchored in the early sixties, is really modern sounding eighties pop song led by the sleek guitar riff of Russell Javors as well as a contemporary brass arrangement.

After the tremendous success of An Innocent Man, Joel worked with Columbia records to release the double-length compilation Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2, which ultimately became one of the best-selling albums to that date in American music history and marked the absolute apex of Joel’s long and successful career.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
by Lucinda Williams

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Car Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda WilliamsCar Wheels on a Gravel Road, the fifth studio album by Lucinda Williams, is a highly acclaimed, awarded and influential 1998 record. In fact, several have credited its release as a pivotal moment in the course of folk and country roots music as well as the origin of the alternative country sub-genre. Further, this album’s rural lyrics about simple but relate able situations along with the excellent, earthy musical arrangements work to make it fresh and timeless decades after its release.

A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Williams began her music career in Austin and Houston, Texas in the mid 1970s. She developed a distinct blend of country folk and rock that led to her initial record deal and the 1978 release of her debut album Ramblin’ on My Mind. In the 1980s, Williams relocated to Nashville and began receiving critical acclaim and scored a minor hit with her 1988 self-titled album. 1992’s Sweet Old World had even more modest commercial success but was widely recognized for its fine songwriting. It would be six years before Williams, a recording perfectionist, would release her much-anticipated follow-up.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, commenced recording in 1995, shortly after Williams signed with American Recordings. The original version of the album was made with producer Gurf Morlix in Austin, Texas. However, Williams shelved that version and started over in Nashville with co-producers Steve Earle and Roy Bittan and a large ensemble of Nashville session players.


Car Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams
Released: June 30, 1998 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roy Bittan, Steve Earle, Ray Kennedy & Lucinda Williams
Recorded: Room and Board Studio, Nashville, & Rumbo Studio, Canoga Park, CA, 1995-1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Right in Time
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten
Drunken Angel
Concrete and Barbed Wire
Lake Charles
Can’t Let Go
I Lost It
Metal Firecracker
Greenville
Still I Long For Your Kiss
Joy
Jackson
Lucinda Williams – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Dobro
Gurf Morlix – Guitars, Vocals
John Ciambotti – Bass
Donald Lindley – Drums, PercussionCar Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams

 

 

The album commences with “Right in Time”, a minor hit with a twangy overall sound (but not so overt as modern country) and, ultimately, a moderate and pleasant mixture of layered guitars. The title track “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” has even more refined and methodical musical elements as a patient yet energetic track which melodically has an almost new wave rock approach. “2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten” starts off with a potent drum shuffle before more subtle guitars, a bass fill in the cool rhythms and a subtle accordion by Bittan. Although the extreme laid back vocals may be a little too staged, overall this is the best song of the opening trio.

“Drunken Angel” makes a strong statement as an Americana alt country staple with pure nineties grunge pop vocals and attitude, while “Concrete and Barbed Wire” reverts to an acoustic country waltz with a building arrangement throughout while staying within the old-time country realm. The storytelling “Lake Charles” features a strong beat with steady, thumping bass by Ciambotti and some slide guitar. The Randy weeks cover “Can’t Let Go” features Mississippi Delta like acoustic blues with a nice shuffle percussion beat and twin slide electric guitars on top.

Lucinda Williams

The album’s second half features an array of quality tracks with the standard alt country pop song “I Lost It”, a post-mordem on a lost relationship on “Metal Firecracker”, and the emotional country ballad “Greenville”, which features Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals. “Still I Long For Your Kiss” was co-written by Duane Jarvis, while “Joy” is built on rotating acoustic and electric bluesy riffs during its long intro and droning song proper. The quiet acoustic closer “Jackson”completes the record in a very moody and beautiful way.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road became Williams’ first Gold album and won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The crossover success of this album led to Williams touring with top-notch legends such as Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in support of the album.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads

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More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking HeadsThe second album by Talking Heads, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food got its sarcastic title by addressing the cliche of the “sophomore jinx” where songs not used on the debut are combined with inferior and underdeveloped new compositions. However, that “jinx” was obliterated here as the quirky new wave quartet found decent commercial success and widespread critical acclaim for their fine combination of standard motifs and inventive techniques, perfect for that era of popular music.

Composer, guitarist and vocalist David Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz were all alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design and formed their first band in 1973 before migrating to New York City in 1975. Getting their name from a TV Guide article, Talking Heads were signed to Sire Records in November 1976 and added keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison early in 1977. The group’s debut album, Talking Heads 77 found decent success in part due to the single “Psycho Killer”, which hit the airwaves around the same time as New York City was embroiled in the “summer of Sam”.

More Songs About Buildings and Food was the first of a trilogy collaboration between the group and producer Brian Eno, who took their raw sound and emphasized on more danceable rhythms to fuse a unique vibe for Byrne’s art/rock compositions. On this album the group also started their long tradition of recording in the Bahamas at Compass Studios.


More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads
Released: July 14, 1978 (Sire)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Talking Heads
Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, March–April 1978
Side One Side Two
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
With Our Love
The Good Thing
Warning Sign
The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
Found a Job
Artists Only
I’m Not in Love
Stay Hungry
Take Me to the River
The Big Country
Group Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Percussion
Jerry Harrison – Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Vocals
Chris Frantz – Drums, Percussion

 

A rapid shuffle above a pointed hard rock riff defines the sound of “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel”, with extra percussion between the verses. This opening track acts as sort of a bridge between the debut album’s tension and the bigger rhythmic sound of this album. “With Our Love” follows with a rather spazzy funk feel in the verses, while “The Good Thing” is the most accessible song thus far with an upbeat yet smooth, rounded sound led by Weymouth’s bass and odd but catchy harmonized refrains. Co-written by Frantz, “Warning Sign” features a drum beat with exaggerated reverb joined by catchy bass and guitar riff in long intro before the song proper develops into choppy new wave track.

“The Girls Want to Be with the Girls” may be the first track where the group seems to try too hard to force a quirkly style and it ends up feeling disjointed, while the side one closer “Found a Job” features pure funk verses and new wave rock choruses. Side two begins with “Artists Only”, a song which explores several pleasant styles in rapid fashion, while “I’m Not in Love” moves back to funk but with driving, rapid rhythms as it makes its way through many odd sections before completing with an entertaining quasi-guitar lead jam. “Stay Hungry” is a shorter funk/jam featuring much synth influence by Eno.

Talking Heads

By far, the album’s commercial anchor is its only cover song, a distinct version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” featuring a sound that defines an eighties hit while still in the late 1970s. The deliberative rhythm method and fine production technique brought the group a worldwide Top 40 crossover hit. The album ends with the pleasant sonics of “The Big Country” with a fine mixture of acoustic and electric and a slide/country vibe topped by a steady drum beat.

More Songs About Buildings and Food peaked in the Top 30 of the Pop Albums charts and eventually reached gold record status. Eno and the Talking Heads continued this successful formula with 1979’s Fear of Music and the hit album Remain in Light in 1980.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

 

Stunt by Barenaked Ladies

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Stunt by Barenaked LadiesIn 1998, the fourth studio album by Barenaked Ladies became their commercial breakthrough and ultimately, their most successful album. Stunt features a refined set of this Canadian group’s brand of quirky and creative lyrics which give the impression that they are either geniuses or on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or both). This is set to a fine array of melodic and musical passages with the use of various styles (jangly pop, alt-country, bossa nova, blue-eyed rap, and even a bit of psychedelic rock) to keep it all interesting. The formula worked as the album sold several million copies and topped the charts in the US.

The roots of Barenaked Ladies began in the late eighties in Toronto with the duo of guitarists/vocalists Steven Page and Ed Robertson. From the start, the two performed in an improvised and nearly comical manner (the group’s name came from one improvised skit) and they often opened for a popular comedy group. By the summer of 1990, bassist Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart were part of the group and 1991’s The Yellow Tape, originally recorded as a demo tape, became their initial album release. When the band was taken off the bill for a New Year’s Eve concert in Toronto because a political staffer objected to their name, a media story about political correctness gone too far brought the group a surge in publicity, leading to the band being signed to Reprise/Sire Records in April 1992. Over the next four years the band released three studio albums, Gordon (1992), Maybe You Should Drive (1994) and Born on a Pirate Ship (1996), as well as the 1997 live record, Rock Spectacle.

Co-produced by David Leonard, Susan Rogers and the group, Stunt is the first studio album to feature keyboardist and guitarist Kevin Hearn. Fifteen songs were recorded for the album, with thirteen appearing on the original version and the tracks “Long Way Back Home” and “She’s On Time” appearing as “hidden tracks” on limited edition versions of the album.


Stunt by Barenaked Ladies
Released: July 7, 1998 (Reprise)
Produced by: David Leonard, Susan Rogers & Barenaked Ladies
Recorded: February–March 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
One Week
It’s All Been Done
Light Up My Room
I’ll Be That Girl
Leave
Alcohol
Call and Answer
In the Car
Never Is Enough
Who Needs Sleep?
Told You So
Some Fantastic
When You Dream
Steven Page – Guitars, Vocals
Ed Robertson – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Kevin Hearn – Piano, Keyboards, Banjo
Jim Creeggan – Bass, Cello, Vocals
Tyler Stewart – Drums, PercussionStunt by Barenaked Ladies

 

 

The album begins with the band’s highest charting single in both the US and the UK, and odd, quasi rap about a lover’s quarrel sandwiched between main hooks, which make it a highly original and unlikely smash hit. During the rapid raps there are alternating passages of pop culture references and personal anecdotes and, ironically, a similar live version of the song never fully materialized. Page’s “It’s All Been Done”, another hit from the album, follows as a jangly power pop anthem, complete with chanting “oohs”. a nice creeping Hammond by organ by Hearn, and some complex harmonies as the song progresses.

“Light Up My Room” is a pleasant folk/rock ballad which starts with a moderate arrangement and features a distinct drum shuffle by Stewart throughout, while “I’ll Be That Girl” has an almost country-esque feel but with a rock edge and just a bit of Barenaked Ladies oddness. Robertson’s “Leave” starts as an almost bluegrass acoustic tune but quickly incorporates rock elements, maturing into one of the more pleasant sounding songs on the album, in sharp contrast to the basic three-chord rock stomp of “Alcohol”, an odd philosophical turn of a drinking song, complete with party chanting and an electric piano lead.

Barenaked Ladies

The second half of the album features several more fine tunes, from the inventive “Call and Answer” to the old Western feel of “In the Car” to the bouncy “Never Is Enough”, featuring some electronic effects for light fun. “Who Needs Sleep?” is a melodic ode to the “pleasures of insomnia”, featuring some slight flute riffs by Page, while “Told You So” is straight-forward acoustic pop. “Some Fantastic” is the best of this bunch as a pleasant, Caribbean flavored rocker with inventive piano riffs by Hearn, a percussive blend by Stewart, and plenty of variety in both music and vocal melody with two lead vocalists trading off throughout. The spacey “When You Dream” completes the album with probably its slowest tempo and a surreal feel throughout

Shortly after Stunt‘s release of the album, Hearn was diagnosed with leukemia and had to be replaced during the subsequent tour. The group’s commercial momentum continued into the new century with several songs featured in television, movies and commercials and additional success on future albums.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get

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The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get by Joe WalshThe second of two albums featuring singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Walsh with his backup group Barnstorm, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features a fine selection of diverse rock, blues, folk and jazz. This diversity in style is parallel to the diversity of composers within Barnstorm as well as the multiple lead vocalists throughout the album. As a result, this 1973 album proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Walsh and the band, reaching the Top 10 in the United States.

After much success with James Gang, Walsh decided to leave that rock trio in late 1971. He relocated to Colorado, where he formed the band Barnstorm, with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale. Very soon after forming, the group started recording their debut album, which was originally released as the eponymous Barnstorm (later listed as a Joe Walsh solo album) in October 1972. While a critical success, the album had only moderate commercial success.

The group immediately began work on a follow-up in late 1972 with producer Bill Szymczyk. Recorded throughout the winter of 1972-1973, this second album features a fourth Barnstorm member, keyboardist Rocke Grace, although the album is fully credited to Walsh as a solo artist.


The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe walsh
Released: June 18, 1973 (ABC-Dunhill)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Rocky Mountain Way
Book Ends
Wolf
Midnight Moodies
Happy Ways
Meadows
Dreams
Days Gone By
Day Dream (Prayer)
Primary Musicians
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards. Vocals
Kenny Passarelli – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Rocke Grace – Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Drums, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals

The album begins with its most popular and indelible track, “Rocky Mountain Way”, compositionally credited to all four Barnstorm members. This entertaining, methodical rocker features a masterful coda section with an impressive talk box lead followed by Walsh’s signature slide guitar as the song fades out. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Walsh reflecting on his decision to leave the James Gang and move to Colorado and it became Walsh’s first Top 40 hit.

Vitale’s “Book Ends” is a Bowie-esque glam ballad with piano and nicely treated guitars on top, while the drummer takes on lead vocals duties, followed by the dark folk, almost pyschedelic vibe of “Wolf”, where the minimal arrangement lets the full sonic effect shine through as well as concentrate on Walsh’s vocal delivery. “Midnight Moodies” is a jazzy, piano-led instrumental composed by Grace, with some good rhythms, slight rock guitar as well as plenty of flute flourishes by Vitale. “Happy Ways” features lead vocals by bassist Passarelli along with plenty of extra percussion added by Vitale and session percussionist Joe Lala.

Joe Walsh and Barnstorm

The album’s original second side begins with “Meadows”, a rocker with multiple dynamics throughout from the hard rocking chorus to the quiet acoustic mid section. “Dreams” may be the best overall song on the second side as a very unique track which highlights Barnstorm’s musical talent and versatility. It alternates from quiet jazz ballad to upbeat Gospel sound with piano and organ playing a large musical role throughout. Vitale’s “Days Gone By” is a pleasant enough jazz/pop/rocker but an odd one as the final proper song on the album, being a sort of fusion between the sounds of Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and a Broadway show tune. “Day Dream (Prayer)” was constructed as a stand-alone coda, featuring rich backing vocals by guests Venetta Fields and Clydie King and really only one proper verse before a long fade out ending the album.

In 1974, Walsh played slide guitar on Vitale’s debut solo album, Roller Coaster Weekend, continuing a decades long musical relationship between the two despite the fact that Barnstorm would break up following The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Later that same year, Walsh released his first totally solo record, So What, which was much more introspective and much less musically diverse than this final Barnstorm album.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Living In the Material World
by George Harrison

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Living In the Material World by George HarrisonLiving in the Material World was the fourth overall studio album (and second pop/rock release) by former Beatle George Harrison. This long-anticipated 1973 album is distinct in both Harrison’s initial major role as a record producer as well as for its strongly spiritual and philosophical lyrics. The themes were driven by Harrison’s strong devotion to Hindu spirituality in general and to Krishna consciousness in particular, with some songs contrasting the need for inner peace while being a musician with worldwide popularity.

Following the tremendous critical and commercial success of his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, Harrison embarked on a humanitarian aid project to raise money for the people of Bangladesh, culminating with two Concert for Bangladesh shows and a subsequent live album. During this same time period (1971-1972), Harrison also produced a few singles for fellow Beatle Ringo Starr and helped promote Raga, the documentary on Ravi Shankar. Finally, in late 1972 he was ready to start recording his next studio album.

In contrast with its predecessor, Living In the Material World featured scaled down production by Harrison. He had originally planned on bringing in Phil Spector to co-produce but once recording sessions got under way, Harrison had gathered a core backing group and was the project’s sole producer. While Harrison performed all the guitar parts on the album, he employed pianist Nicky Hopkins, keyboardist Gary Wright, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Jim Keltner for most tracks. These recording sessions in London took a bit longer than expected, resulting in the intended release date being pushed back.


Living In the Material World by George Harrison
Released: May 30, 1973 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison
Recorded: Apple Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1972-March 1973
Side One Side Two
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
Sue Me, Sue You Blues
The Light That Has Lighted the World
Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long
Who Can See It
Living in the Material World
The Lord Loves the One
(That Loves the Lord)
Be Here Now
Try Some, Buy Some
The Day the World Gets ‘Round
That Is All
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro, Sitar
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Gary Wright – Organ, Harmonium
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the pleasant hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, which features a simple, repeated verse that is expertly accented by Harrison’s lead guitar and a gentle but potent piano by Hopkins. With lyrics he described as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it” this track became Harrison’s second #1 song in the US and also reached the Top 10 in several other countries. “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is much in contrast with the opening track, built on loose piano honky-tonk backing lyrics inspired by Paul McCartney’s lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles’ joint partnership, Apple Corps.

“The Light That Has Lighted the World” is a melancholy piano ballad with weepy lead vocals, acoustic strumming and a fine lead over top, while “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is a bright, upbeat pop love song written for Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. “Who Can See It” returns to the melodramatic devotional featuring a subtle, Leslie guitar lead. The original first side concludes with the upbeat, happy-go-lucky title track with Hopkins’ piano again holding things together along with the thumping bass/drum rhythm. “Living In the Material World” also features strategic stops for slower breaks with much instrumentation including a sitar section and an extended sax lead.

George Harrison in 1973

The second side opens with the excellent composition, “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)” with melodic vocals and musical flourishes, leading to climatic slide lead to end the track. Lyrically, Harrison sought feedback about Krishna philosophy, which encouraged him to develop such themes that are unorthodox in popular music. “Be Here Now” is a quiet and surreal acoustic ballad with some earthy and ethereal sounds, as “Try Some, Buy Some” (a leftover from 1970 co-produced by Spector) is a musical waltz built on a descending riff and it reaches for grandiose heights with horns and other “wall of sound” production techniques. Next comes the Beatlesque acoustic ballad “The Day the World Gets ‘Round”, short and sweet but with rich production. The album concludes with the aptly titled “That Is All”, a forotten classic filled with melancholy emotion and musical aptitude, where Harrison really stretches his vocal range with high-pitched sustained notes.

Living In the Material World topped the charts in the US and reached #2 in the UK while achieving Gold record certification. In a continuation of his charitable work, Harrison donated his copyright for most of the tracks to his Material World Charitable Foundation, which ultimately ensured a stream of income for the charities of his choice. Following the album’s release, Harrison became the first ex-Beatle to tour North America when he toured with a large ensemble of musicians starting in 1974.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Holy Diver by Dio

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Holy Diver by Dio Holy Diver is the 1983 debut studio album by Dio, led by veteran rock vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Drawing on the influences of multiple contemporaries in pop and rock music, this platinum selling album has been historically viewed as a hallmark moment in the evolution of heavy metal, a genre which proliferated through the decade of the 1980s. Dio’s lyrics center on the topics o good and evil and draw from subjects from classic heroic adventure elements to some of the dark realities of contemporary life.

Ronnie Jame Dio became the second lead vocalist for Black Sabbath in late 1979, as that group’s original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne embarked on his own solo career. With Dio, the group found a commercial rebound as both 1980’s Heaven and Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules became Top 40, Gold selling albums. However, during the mixing of 1982’s live album, disagreements ensued which resulted in both Dio and drummer Vinny Appice leaving the band. Both wanted to form a new band, so Dio recruited his former Rainbow band mate, bassist Jimmy Bain and (following the Ozzy Osbourne model) recruited a young, then unknown guitarist named Vivian Campbell to complete the rock quartet.

By the time Campbell joined, most of the material which would appear on Holy Diver had already been composed. Dio had long been courted by Warner Bros. records to work on a solo project, so production and recording arrangements swiftly fell into place.

 


Holy Diver by Dio
Released: May 25, 1983 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, 1983
Side One Side Two
Stand Up and Shout
Holy Diver
Gypsy
Caught in the Middle
Don’t Talk to Strangers
Straight Through the Heart
Invisible
Rainbow In the Dark
Shame on the Night
Group Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals, Synthesizers
Vivian Campbell – Guitars
Jimmy Bain – Bass, Keyboards
Vinny Apice – Drums

 

Holy Diver kicks off with the straight up, hard rocking “Stand Up and Shout”, a song of rebellion containing all the prime elements which would come define 80s metal – straight-forward message, flamboyant vocals, crunchy riffing under whining leads and plenty of animated drum fills. The title song is introduced by a long atmospheric intro before the marching riff-driven music enters. A unique anthem of the day which has grown to be one of Dio’s most popular tracks, “Holy Diver” features the first of many excellent, deliberative guitar leads by Campbell. “Gypsy” is delivered in blistering fashion, while “Caught in the Middle” is a more melodic rocker and it displays the group at its tightest with fine delivery and great production. “Don’t Talk to Strangers” features a quiet, melodramatic acoustic intro with Dio’s vocals hitting an especially high register before the band launches into full gear for this side one closer.

Ronnie James Dio in 1983

The original side two is the real heart of the album, where Dio the group really gels at their best. “Straight Through the Heart” was co-written by Bain and features some great musical rudiments with strategic stops and fills by Appice and a cool, melodic bridge. The most unique moment on album is the intro to “Invisible” with a heavily flanged guitar and dry vocals soon contrasted by the heavy jam and majestic vocals of the song proper. Later on, Campbell’s lead patiently works its way in before he unleashes some fine fingerboard effects, while Dio’s lyrical profiency is on full display;

she was a photograph just ripped in half, a smile inside a frown…”

The most accessible rock song on the album is “Rainbow in the Dark”, which features a prominent keyboard riff by Dio and a catchy hook and theme which seems to reference Dio’s late seventies rock band. A radio favorite and charting rock track, “Rainbow in the Dark” is anchored by a doomy yet uplifting guitar riff which blends especially well with the later guitar lead. “Shame on the Night” seems to have borrowed the opening howl from Deep Purple’s classic “Hush” (perhaps another veiled shot at ex-band mate Ritchie Blackmore?). This closing track has a slow and sloshy delivery which gives Dio’s vocal full frontal expression and the differing sections in bridge and extended coda also give this a definitive prog rock feel.

Building on the commercial and critical success of Holy Diver, the group delivered a similarly effective follow up with 1984’s The Last in Line and continued on as a successful group through most of the eighties decade.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Lenny Kravitz 5

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Lenny Kravitz 5The fifth studio album by Lenny Kravitz, released in 1998 is aptly titled 5 and saw the talented artist return to top commercial success as well as expand his world wide audience. This winner of two Grammy Awards, successfully found Kravitz both establishing himself as a genuine funk and R&B artist while also advancing his incredibly diverse fusion of rock and soul which he had established early on in his recording career. The result is an accessible and accomplished work that offers an array of sonic candy.

Following the success of Kravitz’s 1989 debut, Let Love Rule and the 1991 follow-up record, Mama Said, Kravitz advanced his songwriting and production projects for multiple artists. In 1993 he released Are You Gonna Go My Way, which reached number 12 on the album charts and spawned several singles. This album was also the initial to feature guitarist Craig Ross and was partially recorded in The Bahamas where Kravitz would eventually build a recording studio. Kravitz’s fourth album, Circus, was released in 1995 but was a bit of a commercial disappointment.

With 5, Kravitz both aimed to return to commercial relevance and, for the first time, he embraced digital technology and sampling. The album was recorded in both Kravitz-owned studios in New York City and The Bahamas with the assistance of engineer Terry Manning.


5 by Lenny Kravitz
Released: May 12, 1998 (Island)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: Ghetto Lounge Studios and Compass Point Studios, Bahamas, 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Live
Supersoulfighter
I Belong to You
Black Velveteen
If You Can’t Say No
Thinking of You
Take Time
Fly Away
It’s Your Life
Straight Cold Player
Little Girl’s Eyes
You’re My Flavor
Can We Find a Reason?
American Woman
Without You
Lenny Kravitz – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums
Craig Ross – Guitars, Keyboards
Jack Daley – BassLenny Kravitz 5

 

 

“Live” was co-written by Kravitz and Ross as a riff driven guitar rocker with a Rick-James–like funk approach. The rich arrangement includes a brass section, a choppy bass rhythm by Jack Daley and a long saxophone lead by Harold Todd late in the song. “Supersoulfighter” finds Kravitz fully immersing in the genre of old as he personally provides soul synths, sound effects, a cool clavichord and a steady drum beat. In contrast, “I Belong to You” starts with electronic percussion soon accompanied by some R&B bass with not too much more variation.

A heavy synth rhythm and some electronic treatment on vocals are prevalent on the track “Black Velveteen”, which later features a Bowie-like vocal delivery. “If You Can’t Say No” employs maximum modern R&B and strategically placed sonic décor (clav, piano, organ, etc.) and a fantastic bluesy guitar lead, while ultimately still being a singer’s song. The sad and emotional ballad “Thinking of You” was dedicated to Kravitz’s mother, Roxie Roker, who died of cancer in 1995, while “Take Time” features a slow, sloshy drum beat accompanied by psychedelic keys and an overall mechanical background to soulful vocals, There is obviously a heavy Prince influence on this latter one, especially during the heavy rock guitar lead.

While 5 is pretty solid throughout,  the second half of the album is where real gems lie with rock, funk and soul musical diversity. The guitar driven rocker “Fly Away” was an immediate hit with its catchy melody, interesting slap bass and a potent drum beat. Originally composed as a ballad, this revised funky track also makes great use of effects on the vocals, which helped it ascend to the Top 20 and won Kravitz a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Male Rock Performance. Though much less popular, “It’s Your Life” is equally as excellent as its predecessor as a heavy funk rocker with some synth horns and melodic verses over a pointed bass line. “Straight Cold Player” is a quasi-instrumental driven by a complex drum beat by guest Cindy Blackman, while “Little Girl’s Eyes” is a slow soul ballad with much synth atmosphere and a long outro with a guitar lead.

Lenny Kravitz, 1998

The original release of 5 wrapped up with two more excellent tunes. “You’re My Flavor” features a unique blend of rock with bass moving faster than guitars in verses and a melodic hard guitar riff in choruses. “Can We Find a Reason?” is an acoustic track with trippy lead guitar overtones, a heavy Hammond organ and a Gospel like backing vocals to augment Kravitz’s droning, alternative rock guitar lead and soulful, peacenik vocals. In 1999, the album was re-issued to include Kravitz’s smash hit cover of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” and the acoustic ballad “Without You”.

A Top 40 album, 5 spawned further commercial success for Kravitz, with the subsequent 2000 Greatest Hits album being his most successful album, selling nearly 11 million copies worldwide.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Reach the Beach by The Fixx

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Reach the Beach by The FixxThe British pop group hit their peak with the 1983 release of the album Reach the Beach, their second studio album and most successful commercially. This record contains accessible songs built on some catchy pop/rock melodies and some innovative use of synthesizers and other effects. Surprisingly, the production of this successful album came during a time of transition as the group was changing bass players with about half of the tracks not including bass at all.

The band originated with the name The Portraits in 1979 when vocalist Cy Curnin and drummer Adam Woods formed the band while in college in London. Along with keyboardist Rupert Greenall, The Portraits had some minor success, releasing a couple of singles before disbanding late in 1980 and soon reforming as The Fixx with guitarist Jamie West-Oram and bassist Charlie Barrett. The group independently released the single “Lost Planes” in February 1981, which caught the attention of MCA Records who offered a contract to the group. Their successful 1982 debut album, Shuttered Room, featured the charting hits “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies”.

Recording for Reach the Beach began later in 1982 with producer Rupert Hine. Barrett had been replaced on the previous tour by Alfie Agius, who began the recording sessions as the group’s bassist but left the group before the album was completed.

 


Reach the Beach by The Fixx
Released: May 15, 1983 (MCA)
Produced by: Rupert Hine
Recorded: Farmyard Studios, Buckinghamshire, England, 1982-1983
Side One Side Two
One Thing Leads to Another
The Sign of Fire
Running
Saved by Zero
Opinions
Reach the Beach
Changing
Liner
Privilege
Outside
Group Musicians
Cy Curnin – Lead Vocal
Jamie West-Oram – Guitars
Rupert Greenall – Keyboards
Adam Woods – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its (and the group’s) biggest hit. Starting with the funky guitar and bass riffing, “One Thing Leads to Another” has a steady beat and melodic lead vocals accented by effects throughout the verses. Accompanied by a successful MTV video, “One Thing Leads to Another” reached #4 on the US pop charts and topped the charts in Canada. “The Sign of Fire” follows as another upbeat funk/dance tune with an ascending/descending link between its two predominant chords for a pleasant hypnotizing movement effect. There are some inventive passages as we get through the mid section of the song, which is the only one to feature future band member Dan K. Brown on bass. The spastic and disjointed “Running” follows with heavy new wave elements and some more melodic passages.

While as simple and straight forward as other tracks on this album, the futuristic “Saved by Zero” feels much deeper both sonically and lyrically. This is due to strategic synth effects which blend with Curnin’s vocal embellishments along with the jittery guitar riffs of West-Oram. Lyrically, the song is about finding simplicity with the loss of material things and “the release you get when you have nothing left to lose”. “Opinions” closes the fine first side of the record, built on Curnin’s near a-capella vocals in the intro verse and a musical arrangement which slowly emerges underneath until the song finally fully materializes about halfway through.

The Fixx 1983

The album’s original second side features lesser known tracks. The title track “Reach the Beach” is a deliberative synth/pop song, led by the simple keyboard riff and synth bass of Greenall along with several sonic electronic sections. “Changing” is the first real filler but “Liner” works as an electronic representation of funk and soul with Agius adding some proficient slap bass and Greenall replicating a horn section on synth. “Privilege” is a quasi-kraut-rocker with some interesting dynamics and a nice use of disparate, simple motifs as the song progresses, while the closer “Outside” is shepherded by the steady but interesting beat by Woods. This acts as a backbone to the slow and sloshy guitar riffing of Jamie West-Oram and Curnin’s soulful lead vocals.

Reach the Beach peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts and was eventually certified multi-platinum with sales in the millions. The group continued with modest success through the late 1980s and into the 1990s but never again reached the commercial heights of this album.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.