Aladdin Sane by David Bowie

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Aladdin Sane by David BowieThe sixth studio album by David Bowie, 1973’s Aladdin Sane furthers the narrative, begun on the previous year’s hit album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, of the fictional Ziggy Stardust character in what Bowie deemed “Ziggy goes to America”. In fact, the majority of the album was written and recorded during the previous album’s tour and it’s music reflects the pros of performing in new found superstardom and the cons of the wear and tear of constant touring.

Many have compared the approach of this album with that of Bowie’s 1970 third album, The Man Who Sold the World, which had a heavier-than-typical rock sound, marking a departure from Bowie’s previous predominant folk rock style. Another similarity is in lyrical content, with The Man Who Sold the World referencing schizophrenia, paranoia and delusion while In contrast, Aladdin Sane is a pun on “A Lad Insane”, believed to have been inspired by the recent diagnosis of David’s brother Terry Jones with schizophrenia.

Co-produced by Ken Scott, most of Aladdin Sane was recorded at Trident Studios in London in early 1973, the album is the fourth to feature a solid rock backing band, led by guitarist Mick Ronson, along with several guest musicians to provide a rich diversity of musical sub-genres.


Aladdin Sane by David Bowie
Released: April 13, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ken Scott & David Bowie
Recorded: Trident Studios, London & RCA Studios, New York, October 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Watch That Man
Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)
Drive-In Saturday
Panic in Detroit
Cracked Actor
Time
The Prettiest Star
Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Jean Genie
Lady Grinning Soul
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Synths, Saxophone, Harmonica
Mick Ronson – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Mike Garson – Piano, Keyboards
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Woody Woodmansey – Drums

The sloshy opener, “Watch That Man”, features heavily distorted guitars over a steady rock beat. The thick arrangement includes a backing chorus harmony during the hook sections and the overall vibe represents a slight change of musical direction. The title track, fashioned “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)”, alternates between the ethereal, avant- garde piano verses, musically led by Mike Garson, and the more rocking choruses which combine for a psychedelic feel throughout. Adding a further dimension, the song’s coda includes a short quote from the popular song “On Broadway”.

“Drive-In Saturday” has a doo-wop-like bass line and beat but with a Bowie-esque vocal melody before the tune works towards a more standard pop/rock tune musically. Lyrically, the song describes a post-apocalyptic, futuristic world where inhabitants watch old porn films in a drive in theater to learn how sex is performed. “Panic in Detroit” comes back to the topical present as it is lyrically based  on Iggy Pop’s descriptions to Bowie about experiencing the 1967 Detroit riots. The song employs a Bo Diddley-like “hand-jive” beat by Woody Woodmansey before a more complex bass line by Trevor Bolder takes over in the verses. Closing out the original first side, “Cracked Actor” features straight forward rock music with some raunchy, risque sexual lyrics.

David Bowie in 1973

The burlesque verses of “Time” feature music hall piano by Garson before the track explodes into a full rock arrangement led by Ronson’s strategically clear riffs. The track reaches a nice climax in the long coda section as Bowie provides scat vocals over the guitar lead. “The Prettiest Star” is another old-timey structured song with doo-wop backing vocals and topped with modern sonic rock elements, while the album’s only cover song, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, has a short, spaced out intro before breaking into a jazzed-up, pre-punk version of the Rolling Stones classic. This is slightly interesting upon first listen but ultimately a forgettable version of song.

A refreshing rebound of two fine tracks close album , starting with the sloshy, riff-driven, bluesy rock jam of “The Jean Genie”. Recorded in New York, this is one track with a nice amount of sonic space to let the listener enjoy this simple but entertaining song, which became Bowie’s biggest pop hit to date when it peaked at #2 in the UK. “Lady Grinning Soul” starts with a final long piano intro by Garson before the song proper kicks in with gently strummed acoustic, rapid, staccato piano and high-pitched but soft lead vocals, Compared in style to a James Bond theme, there is a slight flamenco guitar lead before another verse and a climatic coda to complete the album.

With over 100,000 advance orders, Aladdin Sane debuted on top of the UK charts, reaching the Top 20 in the US. Over time, it would go on to sell over 4 million copies worldwide. A few months after the album’s release, Bowie dramatically announced the “death” of the Ziggy Stardust character towards the end of a live concert.

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1973 Images

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

 

Walking Into Clarksdale by Page & Plant

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Walking Into Clarksdale by Page and PlantNearly two decades after they recorded the final Led Zeppelin studio album with 1979’s In Through the Out Door, guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant  collaborated on an album of new original music with Walking Into Clarksdale. With a blend of world music and alternative rock elements along with modern production techniques, this is not a Zeppelin album in any sense nor was it designed to be so. Instead this stands as a unique work within the long solo catalogs of either artist.

Page and Plant re-united in 1993 after casual discussions between the two about performing on the popular MTV Unplugged television series, which had been a rousing success for artists ranging from Eric Clapton to Tesla to Nirvana. Producer Bill Curbishley, who had been managing Plant since the 1980s and began managing Page in 1994, was able to close the deal and, in August 1994, they recorded performances in London, Wales, and Morocco of several re-arranged Led Zeppelin tunes along with four new tracks. These performances were aired on MTV in October, with the album No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded released in November 1994. Following the successful release of this album, Page and Plant launched a world tour backed by bassist Charlie Jones, drummer Michael Lee, and a small orchestra of musicians and background singers.

Walking Into Clarksdale was recorded and produced by Page and Plant along with engineer Steve Albini over the course of five months at Abbey Road Studios in London. Albini, an indie rock producer known for his harsh and brutal recordings, took some dynamic chances in mixing the guitar phrases, Mideastern drones, sawing strings, and repetitive drum patterns which proliferate this album’s sound.


Walking Into Clarksdale by Page & Plant
Released: April 21, 1998 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, 1997-1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Shining in the Light
When the World Was Young
Upon a Golden Horse
Blue Train
Please Read the Letter
Most High
Heart in Your Hand
Walking into Clarksdale
Burning Up
When I Was a Child
House of Love
Sons of Freedom
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals,
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
Charlie Jones – Bass, Percussion
Michael Lee – Drums, Percussion

Walking Into Clarksdale by Page and Plant

 

 

The album begins with “Shining in the Light”, featuring an interesting acoustic progression along with the rhythmic feel of a rotating riff. The string sections in between verses help build the musical momentum of this track. “When the World Was Young” follows, built with a gently thumping bass by Jones and methodical guitar motifs by Page, Quiet tension is built for about two and a half minutes before the song explodes into a Zeppelin-like heavy section where drummer Michael Lee finally gets to perform a full rock beat, The song’s lyrics, while slightly obscure seem to focus on a mystical afterlife. “Upon a Golden Horse” starts with a full-fledged electric intro which gives way to calmer, waltz-like verses as Plant attempts to hit the vocal stratosphere (but doesn’t quite reach it) while Page provides the record’s first heavy blues guitar lead before being overtaken by the rich string arrangements of Lynton Naiff. “Blue Train” is a sad ballad led by Page’s uniquely structured guitar lead and Plant’s melancholy lyric;

Lost in my darkness now, the rain keeps falling down
Light of my life, where have you gone?
Love’s true flame dies without the warmth of your sun…”

On “Please Read the Letter”, Plant provides harmonies with himself through most of the track, previewing the prevalent arrangements on the later album Raising Sand, where he will team up with Alison Krauss, re-record this track and win a Grammy in 2009. On this original version, while Page provides his signature heavy rock riffing in the verse, while the overall feel has a more country/folk vibe. The indelible “Most High” features an electronic percussion loop accompanied by droning guitar as a song that finally realizes the Eastern rock fusion that Page and Plant had been loosely experimenting with for a quarter century. Further, the guest musicians Ed Shearmur and Tim Whelan give the track a bit of crisp sonic candy, much needed on this album of subtle arrangements.

Page and Plant, 1998

A calm, Western guitar sound by Page, accompanied by Plant’s soft but soulful vocals make “Heart in Your Hand” an atmospheric tune with very calm rhythms. This is vastly contrasted by the heavy rocking title song, “Walking into Clarksdale”, which celebrates the duos history and love of the blues. While musically a throwback with little spurts of Zeppelin-esque blues-rock flourishes, the song may be the most potent lyrically with references to being born with blues in the soul as well as the infamous “Devil at the crossroads” legend which is tied to the physical location;

And I see twelve white horses walking in line
Moving east across the metal bridge on highway forty-nine
And standing in the shadows of a burnt out motel
The King of Commerce Mississippia waited with his hound from hell…”

After the final highlight of the title track, the album winds down with some slightly interesting, albeit weaker material. “Burning Up”, while decent musically, seems to be one of the more under-cooked or disjointed tracks on the album, followed by “When I Was a Child” with a heavy use of tremolo/volume effects on the atmospheric guitars and soaring, soulful vocals by Plant throughout. “House of Love” returns to the electronic percussion but with less effect than “Most High” as the guitar and bass parts don’t quite jive with the percussion and give it more of a demo feel. The closer “Sons of Freedom” is a spastic, proto-punk track with differing sonic qualities through its duration.

While Walking Into Clarksdale reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and achieved Gold record status, it was an overall commercial disappointment in comparison to its predecessor. Page planned on continuing with a follow-up album and reportedly began writing over a dozen tunes. However, Plant grew tired of the larger arena and decided he wanted to get back to playing clubs, there by disbanding the partnership. To date (20 years later), Walking Into Clarksdale is the last studio recording by Jimmy Page.

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1998 Page

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

 

Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull

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Heavy Horses by Jethro TullDuring a the late 1970s, Jethro Tull released a trio of albums with heavy folk influence. The second of this trio and the eleventh overall studio album by the band is 1978’s Heavy Horses. This album features strong and consistent tunes which take a journey into a rural landscape of folklore and the underlying simple theme of an honest day’s work. Further, in spite of going against the day’s prevailing musical trends of punk and new wave, Heavy Horses was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic as the album reached the Top 20 on both the UK and US album charts following its release.

Following several successful forays into progressive rock through the early and mid seventies and accompanying large arena tours, Jethro Tull and their primary composer Ian Anderson decided to scale back and develop more simple folk rock songs. The critically acclaimed 1977 album, Songs from the Wood, reflected on English culture and history and was the first to include new member David Palmer, who brought many classical elements into the fold.

Produced by Anderson, Heavy Horses was recorded in London during a time when he was settling into a domestic life with his new wife and son. Just prior to this album’s recording in 1977, Pink Floyd released their classic album Animals, which explored differing human personality types. Heavy Horses may more exactly fit that literal title as it lyrically sees things from the perspective and environment of several rural creatures.


Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull
Released: April 10, 1978 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, Fulham, England, May 1977-January 1978
Side One Side Two
…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps
Acres Wild
No Lullaby
Moths
Journeyman
Rover
One Brown Mouse
Heavy Horses
Weathercock
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Flute, Mandolin
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Organ
David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral Arrangements
John Glascock – Bass, Vocals
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

 

A tense rhythmic timing drives the acoustic-driven opener “…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps”, a song which is probably more prog rock than folk, complete with strategic stops and dueling flute and organ solos. The track lyrically describes the movement of a barn cat with creative adjectives, describing the process of the night guard and hunt. “Acres Wild” follows as a mandolin driven, pop-oriented rocker with heavy Celtic influence musically and lyrics which paint a picture of playing long while on a journey.

“No Lullaby” is the first of two extended songs and it starts with a heavy rock guitar intro by Martin Barre, followed by the showcasing of drummer/percussionist Barriemore Barlow as it eases into a slow, methodical rhythm, About two minutes in, this mini-suite takes a radical turn to a more upbeat, tense-filled shuffle before again returning to the methodical verse section and lead flourishes. The bright and pleasant folk tune “Moths” features harpsichord by John Evan along with other ethnic string instrumentation as it expertly alternates keys throughout its short duration. A philosophical creed on living for today, “Moths” displays the scene from different perspectives and with sincere emotion. “Journeyman” starts with a funky bass riff by John Glascock as the rest of the group builds around musically, each finding their own small space within the song.

Jethro Tull in 1978

The album’s original second side starts with “Rover”, a tribute to Anderson’s pet dog which features a more traditional Jethro Tull soundscape. With lyrics telling of story time with a young child, “One Brown Mouse” starts and ends as straight folk/rocker but nicely diverges into a mid-section of folk orchestration. The epic, nine-minute title track plays on differing intensities of the same musical theme, as the song is a literal tribute to the work-horse. It all wraps with “Weathercock”, a theme on the rotational nature of life as album ends at the break of dawn and a simple musical arrangement, built with acoustic, mandolin, organ and other simple elements.

Jethro Tull recorded performances during the European leg of the Heavy Horses tour, and later in 1978 released a live double album called Bursting Out. In March 2018, the group released a five-disc, 40th anniversary version of Heavy Horses, which features several alternate and outtakes, 22 previously unreleased live tracks, and a 96-page booklet with track-by-track annotation by Anderson of the album and its associated recordings.

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

1978 Images

 

Boggy Depot by Jerry Cantrell

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Boggy Depot by Jerry CantrellAfter over a decade in Alice in Chains, guitarist Jerry Cantrell set out to forge his debut solo record in 1998 with Boggy Depot. This was done more out of necessity than by choice, as Alice in Chains was in a period of musical hiatus due to the substance and health issues of lead vocalist Layne Stanley, making a group album impossible. The Cantrell album features a collection of tracks fused with simple riffs treated with methodical sonic textures and some expert lead guitar sections.

Cantrell and Staley founded Alice in Chains in 1987 and the group reached international recognition in the nineties with the albums Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), Jar of Flies (1994), and Alice in Chains (1995). Through these successful albums, Cantrell began to share a minor lead vocal role in addition to his composing and guitar work. However, the group rarely played live during the mid 1990s especially after Staley was hospitalized from an overdose in July 1996.

Around the same time, Cantrell reluctantly began work on his first solo record in 1996, enlisting the help of producer Toby Wright. Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney both contributed to its recording. Together, they worked on the album through 1997 with release dates delayed a few times before Boggy Depot finally dropped in April 1998 and got its title from a ghost town in Oklahoma


Boggy Depot by Jerry Cantrell
Released: April 7, 1998 (Columbia)
Produced by: Toby Wright & Jerry Cantrell
Recorded: Studio D, Sausalito, CA and Studio X, Index, WA, April–November 1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dickeye
Cut You In
My Song
Settling Down
Breaks My Back
Jesus Hands
Devil by His Side
Keep the Light On
Satisfy
Hurt a Long Time
Between
Cold Piece
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rex Brown – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums

Boggy Depot by Jerry Cantrell

 

 

Boggy Depot‘s opening track, “Dickeye”, starts with some intense mechanical effects before breaking into a bright and steady, hard rock groove with melodic vocals throughout. This is followed by the hit song “Cut You In”, which is built on a choppy, unplugged riff that repeats throughout the entirety of the song, varying only in its level of intensity and with some cool sonic elements thrown in here and there. The song’s lyrics are directed at a subject who rides along during the good times but quickly bails when the situation sours.

“My Song” is the closest thus far to an Alice in Chains tune with philosophical lyrics sung to a cool, moody and grungy vibe that eventually elevates to a sonic crescendo. This was the second single from the album and it reached the Top 10 of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Settling Down” takes a different turn from previous songs, built on Cntrell’s piano and fretless bass by John Norwood Fisher, while still having an overall haunting feel and featuring a fine extended bluesy guitar lead in the song’s heart. “Breaks My Back” was another mellow and methodical tune with some dark beauty but also unfortunately treated vocals that do get burdensome after a while.

Jerry Cantrell in 1998

The remainder of the album features some lesser known songs that vary in degrees of quality. “Jesus Hands” is slow, sloshy, hypnotic grunge, with “Devil by His Side” and “Keep the Light On” more upbeat and melodic. “Satisfy”. Originally introduced during the recording sessions for the 1995 Alice in Chains album, “Hurt a Long Time” was written about the suicide of Cantrell’s cousin. “Between” incorporates piano, organ, and country elements with sparkling electric leads, while the closer “Cold Piece” uses of horns and saxophone by Angelo Moore and features a guest appearance by Primus bassist Les Claypool.

Boggy Depot reached the Top 40 in the US and Canada and, after selling over 40,000 copies in its first week, stayed on the album charts for 14 weeks. More importantly, the album filled a void left by Alice in Chains during the group’s extended hiatus which stretched into the new century.

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1998 Page

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

 

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon

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You Can Tune a Piano but You Cant Tuna Fish by REO SpeedwagoOften derided for its ludicrous title and album cover, You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish was nonetheless the most important benchmark for REO Speedwagon. Released in 1978, this was the seventh studio album by the Illinois-based rock band who had worked relentlessly throughout the decade but, prior to this record, failed to make the Top 40. You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish peaked at number 29 and went on to achieve double platinum status in the US.

Named after a classic flat bed truck, REO Speedwagon was formed in 1967 at the University of Illinois in Champaign by keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer as a cover band playing in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. After several lineup shifts, guitarist Gary Richrath joined in late 1970 and the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously, leading to a deal with Epic Records and the band’s self-titled debut album in 1971. The group twice replaced lead singers before Kevin Cronin permanently joined the group in January 1976. The following year, the group released a live album and relocated to Los Angeles.

Recording of You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish took place in Illinois and California in late 1977 and early 1978. This album was the first to feature bassist Bruce Hall and it was co-produced by Cronin and Richrath along with Paul Grupp and John Boylan.


You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon
Released: March 16, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath, Paul Grupp, & John Boylan
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles & Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977-1978
Side One Side Two
Roll with the Changes
Time for Me to Fly
Runnin’ Blind
Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again
Sing to Me
Lucky for You
Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

 

The album launches with “Roll with the Changes”, a piano-based rocker by Cronin which would soon go on to become a classic rock staple. Richrath’s heavy, whining guitar is accented throughout with Dougherty taking his turn with a Hammond organ lead and a rich backing chorus belting out the catchy counter hook. The album’s other anchor comes next with “Time for Me to Fly”, a classic breakup song that is built like an early prototype for some of the better eighties power ballads which would come later. Built on the pleasant musical combo of Cronin’s 12-string acoustic and Dougherty’s Moog synthesizer along with fine melodic, vocals and a harmonized double bridge, which bookmarks the slight guitar lead. While both of these tracks would go on to be classics, they did not receive initial pop notoriety as both failed to chart in the Top 40.

Richrath’s first composition, “Runnin’ Blind”, was co-written by Debbie Mackron and is highlighted by a pure, thick guitar sound. “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again” is another acoustic ballad with some heavier elements added on top for a harder rock effect and high pop accessibility. The original first side concludes with Richrath’s short but heavy “Sing to Me”.

REO Speedwagon in 1978

Side two is filled with hard rock material and is anchored by a couple of tracks with extended jams. Although lyrically weak, “Lucky for You” is musically supreme with some excellent bass by Hall as well as later harmonized lead guitars which sheppard in the extended jams of the second half of track. After the Southern rock tinged “Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?” and the filler instrumental “The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot”, comes the closer “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” a strong, pure rocker highlighted by Dougherty’s piano lead and guest Lon Price‘s intermittent saxophone licks.

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish set the stage for super-stardom during the 1980s. REO Speedwagon also started to morph from hard rock to more pop-oriented and ballad-centric material as the new decade unfolded.

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

1978 Images

 

Pilgrim by Eric Clapton

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Pilgrim by Eric ClaptonThe thirteenth overall studio album of his then-decades long solo career, Pilgrim was the first record by Eric Clapton in nearly a decade to feature all new studio material. The songs on this album trend towards refined and stylish adult-oriented rock with heavy pop sensibilities and nods towards R&B, soul and the blues. This lengthy album features 14 tracks, totaling over 75 minutes of mostly original music which was composed and compiled by Clapton over several years through the mid 1990s.

The previous studio album by Clapton with all new material was Journeyman in 1989. The early 1990s brought much tragedy, first when fellow blues guitarist and then current tour member Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in August 1990, then in March 1991 Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor died after falling from the 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment at 117 East 57th Street. Clapton expressed the grief of losing his son in the 1991 Grammy-winning song “Tears in Heaven”, which also anchored his successful 1992 live Unplugged album. In 1994, Clapton released Cradle, an album of reinterpreted versions of blues standards, followed by highly successful singles in 1995 (“Love Can Build a Bridge”) and 1996 (“Change the World”).

Co-produced by Simon Climie, Pilgrim was recorded throughout 1996 and 1997 for release in early 1998, with the title track being the initial composition. Clapton’s goal was reportedly to make “the saddest record of all time” with more personal songs about his son and others close to him.


Pilgrim by Eric Clapton
Released: March 10, 1998 (Reprise)
Produced by: Simon Climie & Eric Clapton
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Ocean Studios, Los Angeles,1996-1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
My Father’s Eyes
River of Tears
Pilgrim
Broken Hearted
One Chance
Circus
Going Down Slow
Fall Like Rain
Born in Time
Sick and Tired
Needs His Woman
She’s Gone
You Were There
Inside of Me
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Dave Bronze – Bass
Steve Gadd – DrumsPilgrim by Eric Clapton

 

 

The album begins with the subdued reggae rhythms of “My Father’s Eyes”, a song which advances methodically with some blues slide guitar throughout and more overt blues lead later. The song, which reached the Top 40 as the album’s lead single, features lyrics inspired by the fact that Clapton never met his father, who died in 1985. “River of Tears” is a pure, slow blues song with an electronic synth base, a fretless bass, and some machine-generated drumming, with an extended intro which contributes to its seven minute running time.

“Pilgrim” has a more distinct R&B feel due to Clapton’s breathy, higher-register vocals and a heavy Curtis Mayfield inspiration, while “Broken Hearted” was co-written by keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and has the feel of a traditional Clapton pop song with very melodic vocals throughout. “One Chance” begins with a scratchy-record effect to set the intended context for this funky R&B track with distinctly blues vocals. “Circus” is a haunting and beautiful acoustic shuffle with slightly weepy vocals by Clapton. He wrote the song about the last night he spent with his son Conor (when the two attended a circus) and it was originally written and recorded for the 1992’s Unplugged, but that version was ultimately left off that album.

Eric Clapton in 1998

Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” is one of two covers on the album and features great heavy blues guitar. Bob Dylan’s “Born in Time” is the other cover and returns to the predominant sound arrangement, which works well here behind Clapton’s vocal interpretation. “Fall Like Rain” has an upbeat shuffle with pleasant sonic elements, such as layered acoustic and electric guitars, which provide a more organic feel in contrast to the electronic instrumentation.

Coming down the stretch of the album are songs which mainly cover familiar ground. “Sick and Tired” has a live feel with a traditional blues arrangement with some surprising strings added towards the end of the song. “Needs His Woman” starts off as a pure, quiet acoustic ballad before full, slick arrangement, which actually distracts from the underlying beauty, while the closing track “Inside of Me” returns to the electronic R&B sound. The best track of the latter part of the album is “You Were There”, a pleasant, methodical ballad with consistent rhythms augmented by moody chords and melody. As this song progresses it has a strong uplifting effect, complemented by Clapton’s fine closing guitar lead.

Although Pilgrim received mixed critical reviews, it sold over 4 million copies worldwide, reached the Top 10 in nearly two dozen countries and was nominated for several music awards, making it one of Clapton’s most commercially successful albums.

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1998 Page

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

 

Fleetwood Mac 1968 Albums

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Buy Mr. Wonderful

Fleetwood Mac 1968 albumsThe long and multi-faceted recording career of Fleetwood Mac got started in 1968 when the group was producing pure blues music and led by guitarist and vocalist Peter Green. During the year, the group released its initial two studio albums, (Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Wonderful. These are a pair of similarly laid out, 12-song records which each had a nice mix of originals and interpretive covers, and helped propel the group to the forefront of Britain’s burgeoning heavy blues scene in the late 1960s.

Fleetwood Mac was formed in April 1967 by three members of the the British blues band John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Here, Green recorded five songs with bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, including an instrumental which Green named after the rhythm section “Fleetwood Mac”. Soon after, Green enticed the pair to form a new band by naming it after the rhythm section and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was added by the end of the “summer of love”.

The group was signed to the Blue Horizon label and recorded additional tracks with producer Mike Vernon to make up Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled debut album (often distinguished by the title Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac because of later 1975 self-titled album). Despite the fact that no singles were released, this debut album was successful, reaching the Top 5 in the UK and bringing Fleetwood Mac instant notoriety. The band soon released two singles “Black Magic Woman” (later a big hit for Santana) and “Need Your Love So Bad”. Following the February album release, the group recorded a couple of singles for release, starting with “Black Magic Woman” in March 1968, which later became a huge hit for Santana.

The band’s second album, Mr. Wonderful, was recorded with Vernon in April and released in August 1968. While the song styles remained consistently pure blues, the arrangement expanded to include a horn section as well as a dedicated keyboard player, Christine Perfect of Chicken Shack, who later became the wife of McVie and a permanent member of Fleetwood Mac.


(Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac
Released: February 24, 1968 (Blue Horizon)
Produced by: Mike Vernon
Recorded: CBS Studios and Decca Studios, London, April–December 1967
Side One Side Two
My Heart Beat Like a Hammer
Merry Go Round
Long Grey Mare
Hellhound on My Trail
Shake Your Moneymaker
Looking for Somebody
No Place to Go
My Baby’s Good to Me
I Loved Another Woman
Cold Black Night
The World Keep On Turning
Got to Move
Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac
Released: August 23, 1968 (Blue Horizon)
Produced by: Mike Vernon
Recorded: CBS Studios, London, April 1968
Side One Side Two
Stop Messin’ Round
I’ve Lost My Baby
Rollin’ Man
Dust My Broom
Love That Burns
Doctor Brown
Need Your Love Tonight
If You Be My Baby
Evenin’ Boogie
Lazy Poker Blues
Coming Home
Trying So Hard to Forget
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Peter Green – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeremy Spencer – Guitars, Vocals
John McVie – Bass
Mick Fleetwood – Drums, Percussion

 

On the debut album, Green and Spencer alternate originals as well as lead vocal duties. Spencer’s “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” leads off with an explosion of his signature heavy slide blues guitar and a legit sounding blues right from jump with just enough originality and driving intensity. Green’s “Merry Go Round” is a slower blues by contrast, highlighted by the authentic singing of Green and excited, open hat drumming of Fleetwood. “Long Grey Mare” is the only track to feature bassist Bob Brunning and leans more towards pop/rock while still maintaining a blues core and adding a pretty impressive harmonica by Green.

Fleetwood Mac debut albumThe first classic cover is Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”. This features a unique, stripped down arrangement with Spencer providing impressive piano accompanied only by Green’s soulful vocals. Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker” picks up the mood picks again with a full band arrangement and a return to Spencer’s heavy slide guitar as the song builds in frenzied intensity towards a final climax. Bookmarking the end of Side 1 and beginning of Side 2 are two of the original recordings by Green, McVie and Fleetwood while still members of the Bluesbreakers. “Looking for Somebody” feature’s McVie’s heavy thumping bass locked in under Green’s harmonica intro, while Howlin Wolf’s “No Place to Go” is a constant, rotating drone riff and harmonica licks that never relent.

The remainder of Fleetwood Mac covers familiar ground, with Spencer penning “My Baby’s Good to Me” and “Cold Black Night” and Green contributing “I Loved Another Woman” and “The World Keep On Turning”. The latter of which is a low key solo acoustic and vocal performance by Green and a true highlight of the latter part of the album because of its shear authenticity. The closes with the upbeat, full arrangement of James’ “Got to Move”, which has a real live feel throughout.

Fleetwood Mac in 1968

Mr. Wonderful is essentially a live studio album which was written and recorded much quicker than its predecessor. As a result, it has not stood up as well critically or commercially, although there are some real gems on the album. The album also features several songs co-written by Green and band Manager C.G. Adams, starting with the fine opener, “Stop Messin’ Round”, which would go on to be often covered. “I’ve Lost My Baby” is the first track by Spencer, as a blues ballad with plenty of slide in between each vocal line. “Rollin’ Man” is upbeat, almost rock with inclusion of Perfect’s piano and the call and response between the lead guitar and saxophone lead along with great rhythms by Mcvie and Fleetwood throughout.

Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac“Dust My Broom” was recorded and contributed to by both Robert Johnson and Elmore James and Fleetwood Mac does great heavy rendition of this classic here. “Love That Burns” is a long blues ballad with bleeding emotion throughout, highlighted by Christine Perfect’s nice piano lead during the fade-out.

But then there’s the less than stellar tracks. “Doctor Brown” and “Need Your Love Tonight” sound like essentially the same song while “If You Be My Baby” follows the pattern of the previous Green/Adams compositions, being a bit edgy and a bit upbeat and excitable. The upbeat instrumental “Evenin’ Boogie” and fun “Coming Home” add some life to the album’s second side before the sparse but fine closer “Trying So Hard to Forget” features harmonica-laden slow porch blues with a laid back arrangement that gives room for Green’s vocals.

Shortly after the release of Mr. Wonderful, Fleetwood Mac added guitarist Danny Kirwan, the first of many lineup shifts which would mark the multiple phases as this bands long and successful career.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Yield by Pearl Jam

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Yield by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s fifth studio album, Yield, has been viewed as a commercial rebound for the band after a slight drop in popularity during the mid 1990s. The album saw a return to the more straightforward grunge/rock of the group’s early work with structured compositions and a deliberative recording process. The album’s title and theme was influenced by Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael which proposes the idea of yielding to the gods and nature to “save the world”.

Pearl Jam found instant acclaim with their 1991 debut album Ten and continued this success with further hit albums Vs. (1993) and Vitalogy (1994). Through this period, the band members were never quite comfortable with their success and tried to temper their exposure by refusing to make videos for their single releases. When Ticketmaster refused to waive the service charges on concerts at major venues, Pearl Jam created from scratch outdoor venues in rural areas for several mid nineties tours.

Yied was recorded throughout the year 1997 at multiple studios in Atlanta, Georgia and their home city of Seattle, Washington. Producer Brendan O’Brien, who had worked with the band on their previous three records through 1996’s No Code. This album also continued the band’s revolving drummer situation as it was Pearl Jam’s last release with their third drummer Jack Irons.


Yield by Pearl Jam
Released: February 3, 1998 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Studio Litho & Studio X, Seattle, Southern Tracks Recording & Doppler Studios, Atlanta, February–September 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Brain of J.
Faithfull
No Way
Given to Fly
Wishlist
Pilate
Do the Evolution
Untitled
MFC
Low Light
In Hiding
Push Me, Pull Me
All Those Yesterdays
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Bass Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Yield by Pearl Jam

 

 

Kicking things off, “Brain of J.” features a cool classic hard rock vibe led by the riffing of guitarist Mike McCready. “Faithfull” is another crisp rocker with a bit of a mid-seventies era Aerosmith feel through most of the track, although after a false ending comes a jazzy final verse coda with strummed guitar and bouncy bass by Jeff Ament. “No Way” follows, driven by a  steady drum beat and rotating guitar riff.

The song’s most indelible track, “Given to Fly” is fueled by a simple but sweet flange-effected guitar riff with marching drums by Irons and somber, alternative style vocal delivery by Eddie Vedder. This instant classic gains some nice intensity as it heads for the climatic hard rock hook and then nicely marches away after just two verses. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts as well as peaked in the Top 30 of the U.S. pop charts. Vedder’s “Wishlist” was another minor hit as a simple and somber alternative pop song featuring an atmospheric, pedal drenched guitar lead. This is followed by “Pilate” with droning verses giving way to a Kinks-like rock chant in the chorus. The song is notable as founding member Ament’s first lyrical contribution to a Pearl Jam track to date.

Pearl Jam in 1998

The punk-like barking over two power chords of “Do the Evolution” breaks only for the chorus with Stone Gossard providing both guitar and bass on the track. Next comes a couple of short filler tracks before the fine “Low Light”, a song driven mainly by acoustic guitar with slight guitar effects and atmosphere, philosophical lyrics and a cool, odd waltz rhythm and timing. Gossard also provides music for “In Hiding”, featuring another unique arrangement and change of timing along with a good melody throughout, and the closing quasi-ballad “All Those Yesterdays”, which comes complete with an interesting arrangement and a showy guitar lead.

Yield reached the Top 10 on charts throughout the Western world, peaking at number two in the USA. Former Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog drummer Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam for the 1998 Yield tour and remains with the group 20 years on.

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1998 Page

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

 

Skyscraper by David Lee Roth

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Skyscraper by David Lee RothDavid Lee Roth‘s second full-length solo album, the commercially successful Skyscraper, has had mixed critical response since it was released in 1988. This album, while continuing much of the same good-time-hard-rock direction that Roth had personified throughout his career as a front man, also saw some subtle movement towards other sub-genres. Most of the compositions on Skyscraper were co-written by Roth and virtuoso lead guitarist Steve Vai.

Following the phenomenal success of Van Halen’s 1984, Roth decided he would give a solo project a go. In early 1985 he released Crazy from the Heat, a four-song EP of cover tunes, which was popular due mainly to innovative music videos and creative character roles. From this latter pool, Roth planned to create of feature-length film and, although the project fell through, the move played a part in Roth officially parting ways from Van Halen in on April 1985. Later that year Roth assembled a backing group consisting of Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. This group along with long-time Van Halen producer Ted Templeman recorded and released the LP Eat ‘Em and Smile in 1986 to widespread commercial and critical success.

For the production Skyscraper, Roth and Vai took the producer reigns. Recorded at various studios in Southern California in late 1987, this new arrangement gave the duo much creative freedom to try differing approaches. The original 1988 LP contained ten tracks while subsequent CD reissues incorporated the 1985 hits “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Crazy from the Heat.


Skyscraper by David Lee Roth
Released: January 26, 1988 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Vai & David Lee Roth
Recorded: Capitol Records Studio, Smoketree, SNS, Stucco Blue & Sunset S, Los Angeles, Spring–Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Knucklebones
Just Like Paradise
The Bottom Line
Skyscraper
Damn Good
Hot Dog and a Shake
Stand Up
Hina
Perfect Timing
Two Fools a Minute
Primary Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Steve Vai – Guitars
Brett Tuggle – Keyboards
Billy Sheehan – Bass, Vocals
Gregg Bissonette – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by Bissonette, the opener “Knucklebones” features a crisp, flanged guitar riff by Vai along with his later harmonized lead. Overall, the song is pretty catchy but standard hard rock with the apt hook for an opener “get the show on the road”. The album’s biggest hit song, “Just Like Paradise”, follows. The composition, which was co-written by keyboardist Brett Tuggle, is accented by piano chords and features just enough catchy melodies and hook to propel it to the Top 10 on the US pop charts.

The rhythm-driven track “The Bottom Line” features a rapid double-kick drum and a rolling bass line by Sheehan, making it musically rewarding albeit a bit tacky lyrically. The title track “Skyscraper” features plenty of synth and vocal effects, rhythmic rudiments to add atmosphere and finely dissolves into a jazzy acoustic coda towards the end. The original first side finishes with the climatic ballad
“Damn Good”, perhaps the highlight of the album. Led by the harmonized acoustic of Vai performed with a slightly Eastern bend, the song overall features just the right mix of melody and synth effects with a nostalgic lyrical nod by Roth back to the Van Halen years.

David Lee Roth and Steve Vai

With “Hot Dog and a Shake”, the album returns to straight-up, good-time hard rock along with some obvious sexual innuendo. “Stand Up” goes in another direction as a pure eighties electronic pop with plenty of synth bass and brass motifs by Tuggle, the kind of sound that, ironically, Roth had criticized former band mate Eddie Van Halen for just a few years earlier. Industrial guitar tones dominate the intro to “Hina”, a unique track which results in one of the more interesting listens on this album. The album concludes with two more attempts at pop music, “Perfect Timing” and “Two Fools a Minute”, the latter featuring a more interesting musical arrangement complete with fret-less bass and bluesy guitars.

Although Skyscraper sold over two million copies and reached Billboard’s Top 10, the David Lee Roth band soon began to disintegrate with the departure of Sheehan soon after its release and Vai after its supporting tour. Roth’s solo career never again gained much traction and he eventually reunited with Van Halen.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

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John Wesley Harding by Bob DylanAfter a relatively long hiatus from recording due to a serious motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan returned to simple form and constructs with his eighth studio album, John Wesley Harding, at the end of 1967. This simple, folk and country album with a slight hint of spirituality was a notable departure from the Dylan’s previous three albums in 1965 and 1966 (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the double-length Blonde On Blonde).

It had been over a year since the release of Blonde On Blonde when Dylan began work on John Wesley Harding in the Autumn of 1967. The July 1966 motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, NY, gave him the opportunity to break from nearly five straight years of non-stop touring, recording and promoting. After his recovery, Dylan spent a substantial amount of time recording informal demos with members of The Band, later dubbed “the basement tapes” and released on a 1975 album of the same title. Oddly, although Dylan submitted nearly all of the basement tape tunes for copyright, he decided not to include any of this material for his next studio release.

Instead, Dylan went to Nashville with producer Bob Johnston and a simple rhythm section made up of bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenneth Buttrey. In total, the twelve album tracks took under twelve hours of studio time to record and the release of John Wesley Harding was just as expedited, arriving in stores less than four weeks after the final recordings were made. A unique attribute of this album is the inclusion of liner notes written by Dylan, which incorporate song details through the telling of fictional stories.


John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Released: December 27, 1967 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville, October–November, 1967
Side One Side Two
John Wesley Harding
As I Went Out One Morning
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
All Along the Watchtower
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
Drifter’s Escape
Dear Landlord
I Am a Lonesome Hobo
I Pity the Poor Immigrant
The Wicked Messenger
Down Along the Cove
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Charlie McCoy – Bass
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

 

Most of the tracks on this album were first constructed lyrically with musical arrangements worked out later. The opening title track features a bright acoustic with bouncy bass and rhythms and tells the tale of real-life Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin (the song and album title spelled his name incorrectly). “As I Went Out One Morning” is almost too short as its fine rhythmic pace seems to be abruptly ended just as the track is heating up. In contrast, “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is more like traditional, Dylan-flavored folk with a slight nod towards Country or Gospel in its delivery.

The most indelible two and a half minutes on the album, “All Along the Watchtower” has a strong rotating rhythm to accompany Dylan’s memorable lyrical passages which echo passages from the Biblical Book of Isaiah. This song would be brought to full realization with the much more famous Jimi Hendrix Experience version on the 1968 double album Electric Ladyland. “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” features a bright storytelling atmosphere that is almost farcical in its light delivery while at once attempting to portray a moral message. Closing out the original first side is “Drifter’s Escape”, where Dylan’s desperate, weepy vocals and soulful harmonica are in nice contrast to consistent, monotone rhythms.

Bob Dylan in 1967

The waltzy, piano based tune “Dear Landlord” starts side two with interesting chord progressions, followed by the wicked harmonica intro which sets the scene for “I Am a Lonesome Hobo”. These are followed by the rather forgettable folk songs “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” and “The Wicked Messenger” before a refreshing change of pace late to complete the album. Both “Down Along the Cove” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” were recorded during the final album sessions and each feature Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar (an inclusion which Johnston wanted to use more on the album, but was overruled by Dylan). Both of these tracks are warm, cheerful love songs, with the closer having a distinct Country arrangement which seems to preview Dylan’s next studio release, Nashville Skyline in 1969.

Even though Bob Dylan intentionally had this album released without publicity or accompanying singles, it still charted very highly in both the US and UK. Following its release, Dylan made his first live appearance in nearly two years, Backed by The Band at a Woody Guthrie memorial concert in January 1968, but returned to seclusion for much of the rest of that year.
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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.