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.

 

Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Axis Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceThe second album from the trio’s explosive and productive 1967, Axis: Bold as Love, was released in the United Kingdom by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in December 1967. The album wasn’t released in the United States until early 1968 in order to not interfere with the charting success of the group’s debut album, Are You Experienced?. In comparison to that highly successful debut, this second album has more complex  sonic compositions, although the tracks may not be as indelible.

Axis: Bold As Love was started immediately after the completion of Are You Experienced? in the Spring of 1967 as it was necessary to fulfill the Jimi Hendix led group’s two album contract with UK-based Track Records, a contract which also stated that both albums had to be produced in the year 1967.

The album was recorded at Olympic Studios with producer Chas Chandler, who had also produced the debut. During the first two days of album sessions in May 1967, the group recorded basic tracks for seven compositions (although less than half of these were ultimately included on the album). The recording sessions were sporadic over the next five months as the group became more and more in demand as a live attraction. During the latter sessions in October, Hendrix took on a larger role in producing, a role he would fully assume on the group’d next LP, Electric Ladyland.


Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: December 1, 1967 (Track)
Produced by: Chas Chandler
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May-October 1967
Side One Side Two
EXP
Up from the Skies
Spanish Castle Magic
Wait Until Tomorrow
Ain’t No Telling
Little Wing
If 6 Was 9
You Got Me Floatin’
Castles Made of Sand
She’s So Fine
One Rainy Wish
Little Miss Lover
Bold as Love
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Vocals

 

Axis: Bold as Love opens with the short experimental track “EXP”, which employs feedback and stereo panning of Hendrix’s guitar, leading to the space/rock track ,”Up from the Skies”, a song recorded on the last day of recording at Olympic Studios. The lyrics to “Spanish Castle Magic” were inspired by a club outside Seattle where Hendrix performed early in his career. It became one of the few songs on this album which was regularly performed live later in Hendrix’s career.

The pop-flavored single “Wait Until Tomorrow” drew influence from The Isley Brothers and features some fine musical interplay between Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding. The original first side completes with two of the album’s more indelible tracks. The oft-covered “Little Wing” features a unique bluesy guitar progression which evolved from a 1966 song that Hendrix recorded with the R&B duo, The Icemen, and is finely decorated through the progression with a glockenspiel. “If 6 Was 9” was one of the initial tracks developed for this album and features a plethora of studio effects adding to a very psychedelic sound.

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967

The rocker “You Got Me Floatin'” opens the second side and features some backing vocals from members of the British group The Move, who toured with Hendrix on a package tour through Britain during winter 1967, supplied backing vocals. The melancholy “Castles Made of Sand” follows, laced with philosophical lyrics, while Redding’s “She’s So Fine” offers a sixties Brit-pop break in the album. “One Rainy Wish” features Hendrix using some jazz guitar, as “Little Miss Lover” features an early use of muted wah-wah effect. The closing title song, “Bold as Love” was recorded with over twenty different takes and with four different endings before settling on a version which features drummer Mitch Mitchell with a short solo along with several more sonic effects.

While not as celebrated as the other two Jimi Hendrix Experience studio, albums Axis: Bold As Love has nonetheless received much critical acclaim as well as commercial success in its day, as it peaked in the Top Ten.

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1967 Images

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

 

Homecoming by America

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Homecoming by AmericaAmerica‘s second studio album, Homecoming, showcases the trio hitting their folk-rock stride with a slight nod to some diversified musical sub-genres. Released in late 1972, this album features group added richer instrumentation, particularly with more pronounced guitar and keyboard layers to top off the acoustic guitar-based compositions. Lyrically and thematically, the songs build on America’s penchant for yearning and wanderlust.

The group was formed in London by vocalists and composers Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Buckley and Dan Peek, who chose the name because they all had American fathers. They got some plum gigs opening for the likes of Pink Floyd, The Who and Elton John, which led to a brief contract with UK-based Kinney Records before they signed to Warner Bros. Their self-titled debut was released in 1971 and the lead single “Desert Song”, eventually re-titled “A Horse with No Name”, became a minor hit locally but a much larger hit worldwide.

With this success, the trio relocated to Los Angeles and opted to self-produce the second album, Homecoming. The recording was delayed a bit due to an arm injury by Peek, but once it got rolling the trio enlisted Joe Osborn on bass and Hal Blaine on drums to round out the group arrangement for this album.


Homecoming by America
Released: November 15, 1972 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: America
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1972
Side One Side Two
Ventura Highway
To Each His Own
Don’t Cross the River
Moon Song
Only in Your Heart
Till the Sun Comes Up Again
Cornwall Blank
Head and Heart
California Revisited
Saturn Nights
Primary Musicians
Dewey Bunnell – Guitars, Vocals
Dan Peek – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Gerry Buckley – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Joe Osborn – Bass
Hal Blaine – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with its most popular and indelible track, “Ventura Highway”. This is a unique classic with a fine, distinct and optimistic vibe and rhythm. It was written by Bunnell and features poetic lyrics inspired by a family trip through Southern California a decade earlier. Musically, Beckley and Peek provide the distinct harmonized guitars throughout, which helped elevate the song to a Top Ten hit in the US.

Beckley’s “To Each His Own” is a sweet, rotational piano ballad with some harmonized vocals in the chorus, while Peek’s Top 40 hit “Don’t Cross the River” has a very county/rock feel which seems to parallel the sound on the Eagles’ debut album, also released in 1972. The compositional roundabout returns to Bunnell with “Moon Song”, an asymmetrical tune which migrates from pure folk to an electric coda featuring a fine guitar lead by Peek. “Only In Your Heart” complete the original first side of the album as a choppy piano with smooth vocals by Beckley.

America

“Till the Sun Comes Up Again” returns to the soft folk/rock for which America is best known as an acoustic tune with a slight arrangement in verses and harmonized vocals and good rhythms during choruses. “Cornwall Blank” branches out towards a Southern / Allman Brothers Band feel with a darker feel with much reverb and layers of electric guitars while the album’s only cover song, “Head and Heart” written by John Martyn, includes a slightly funky electric piano. The aptly titled “California Revisited” acts as a late album counter-point to “Ventura Highway” featuring early seventies, moving soft folk sound with heavy harmonies. The album concludes with Peek’s “Saturn Nights”, features soft piano and deep harmonies, eventually warming up with fine rhythms and more direct melodies.

Homecoming reached the Top 10 on the Pop Albums charts and helped propel America towards ever greater success throughout the decade of the 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Nimrod by Green Day

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Nimrod by Green DayNimrod is the 1997 fifth studio release by Green Day. Here, the group expanded their style and sound by adding some subtle orchestration and by blending some diverse sub-genres with their core punk rock sound. Overall, this album packs 18 songs composed by vocalist, guitarist and lyricist Billy Joe Armstrong and the other members of the trio, into a relatively short running time of 48 minutes with each track having a distinct character.

The group’s early 1994, Dookie became a huge commercial success and eventually won the group a Grammy award. Green Day’s 1995 fourth studio album, Insomniac, was a dark and heavy reaction to the band’s new found popularity, which brought the band some critical acclaim at the expense of some commercial success. In 1996, the group launched an extensive world tour to promote Insomniac but this quickly took its toll on the band members and they ultimately decided to cancel the European leg of the tour and spend some time at home.

The group recorded Nimrod at Conway Studios in Los Angeles with producer Rob Cavallo, who had co-produced both of their previous two albums. Inspired by The Clash’s London Calling, Green Day wanted to create a more experimental album and branch out from their traditional “three chord” song structure. About 30 songs were recorded for Nimrod over the course of several months with a dozen or so left on the “cutting room floor”.


Nimrod by Green Day
Released: October 14, 1997 (Reprise)
Produced by: Rob Cavallo & Green Day
Recorded: Conway Studios, Los Angeles, March–July 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Nice Guys Finish Last
Hitchin’ a Ride
The Grouch
Redundant
Scattered
All the Time
Worry Rock
Platypus (I Hate You)
Uptight
Last Ride In
Jinx
Haushinka
Walking Alone
Reject
Take Back
King for a Day
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Prosthetic Head
Billie Joe Armstrong – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Dirnt – Bass, Vocals
Tré Cool – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Nimrod by Green Day

 

 

The opener, “Nice Guys Finish Last”, rides on a two chord punk riff before the bass-driven half verse gives way to a more traditional song structure. While offering a nod to the band’s past roots, there is something more definitively contemporary in this track’s sound. After a very slight violin intro by guest Petra Haden, “Hitchin’ a Ride” breaks into a repetitive but catchy riff led by the bass of Mike Dirnt with melodic lead vocals by Armstrong. “The Grouch” reverts back to a standard and straight forward screed about the fear of morphing from an angry young man to a “shitty old man”, while “Redundant” features an interesting, moderate but driving beat and descending riff pattern, making it the best overall song of the early album.

Like punk with rounded edges, “Scattered” bridges towards pop sensibilities with the highlight of the track being a wild, double kick drum beat in the middle section by Tré Cool. “All the Time” takes another sonic turn with crisp guitar riffing setting the upbeat pace, while “Worry Rock” seems to carry some heavy influence from Weezer, as Armstrong adds a unique rockabilly twang to the guitar lead.

“Platypus (I Hate You)” returns to a frenzied pace with fuzzy, sawed guitar notes and profanity-laced lyrics by Armstrong, giving way to Dirnt and Cool, who launch into “Uptight” with a strong bass and drum riff. It is almost to the point of being  faster, harder disco with some layered, deadened guitars added for an interesting sonic effect. The instrumental “Last Ride In” dissolves in from the  end of the previous track with a simple, persistent bass riff, interesting percussion and sixties-style xylophone, horns, strings and picked guitar for an overall surf rock feel and a really cool interlude to the album.

Green Day 1997

That mood is interrupted by the next punk screed, “Jinx”, with a melody seems to borrow heavily from The Platters’ “Great Pretender”. The chiming guitars of “Haushinka” lead a lush wall of sound, while Armstrong’s harmonica riff sub-divides the pop/rock “Walking Alone” 2:45 – harmonica riff through beginning and between verses of this pop/rock track. The album weakest two songs follow with “Reject” and “Take Back”, which really sounds like two sides of the same throwaway coin.

However, the album recovers nicely with three fine tracks to close it out. “King for a Day” features a ska, or even proto-polka sound, lead by celebratory, slightly out of tune horns and a really inventive blend of disparate genres which make for a fun party song, if nothing else. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” may be the most indelible song of Green Day’s career as a simple, acoustic break-up song with minimal arrangement. This song was written by Armstrong around 1990, but refused by the band for inclusion on several albums before they reluctantly accepted it here. Although it was not officially released as a single, it would later sell millions as as a digital download and soon became a sentimental standard. The closer, “Prosthetic Head”, features simple rock with riff similar to MTV theme and crisp and clean verses with bass up front in mix and heavier, anthemic choruses.

Nimod was a worldwide hit and it reached the Top 10 in Green Day’s native USA. Through the rest of 1997 and 1998,The band launched another world tour and took some time before returning to the studio after the new millennium.

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1997 Images

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

 

The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel

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The Nylon Curtain by Billy JoelAfter much commercial success with his previous albums, Billy Joel really branched out to new musical territory on his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain. On this album, the artist ventures out towards more electronic instrumentation, richer compositional arrangements as well as more complex lyrical content. Joel has called this album one of his most ambitious efforts and has often stated that he is most proud of this recording.

The great success of the chart-topping pop/rock albums The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses led to Joel being labeled a balladeer or even a soft rocker. For The Nylon Curtain, Joel tried his hand at topical songs and was decidedly more ambitious in his use of the recording studio.

Along with producer Phil Ramone, Joel set out to forge a sonic masterpiece during the Fall of 1981, spending much more time in the studio then on previous efforts and employing brand new digital recording techniques. Joel maintained many of his backing band members, including guitarists David Brown and Russell Javors along with his longtime rhythm section, bassist Doug Stegmeyer and drummer Liberty DeVitto. However, several session players were also employed to provide extra synthesizers, strings, horns and percussion during the rich production.

 


The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel
Released: September 23, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: A&R Recording and Media Sound Studios, New York City, Spring 1982
Side One Side Two
Allentown
Laura
Pressure
Goodnight Saigon
She’s Right on Time
A Room of Our Own
Surprises
Scandinavian Skies
Where’s the Orchestra?
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitar
David Brown – Lead Guitar
Russell Javors – Rhythm Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums & Percussion

 

The pleasant, choppy piano tune aura, complete with industrial sound effects, masks the frustrating stories embedded in the opening track “Allentown”. The song plays like a theatrical diddy, especially during the quasi-dramatic bridge section and its combo with the real themes of blue collar manufacturing towns (not just the Pennsylvania city it is named for) made it a universal theme. The brilliant track “Laura” follows with Joel delivering a John Lennon-like quality vocally during the verses and the guitarists presenting some George Harrison-like guitar motifs during the dramatic choruses. Lyrically, this song is superb in describing a totally dysfunctional relationship with all the biting energy of the day’s most vicious punk rock while utilizing incredible melody and sonic drama.

The hit song “Pressure” is a totally unique new wave rocker within Billy Joel’s collection. It is musically cutting edge with sharp synths throughout and a mechanical, biting drum beat. The lyrics speak of the dichotomy between philosophical outlook and actual real life grew out of an episode of writer’s block Joel was feeling one day in his New York apartment. The extended track “Goodnight Saigon” completes the original first side as a heart-wrenching, haunting, brilliantly descriptive ballad about the plight of those serving in Vietnam. This song is beautifully simple with a piano motif mixed between acoustic verses and it eventually builds to a chorus crescendo with marching drums. During this part live, Joel would frequently enlist local veterans to perform onstage.

“She’s Right on Time” is a pleasant pop tune that has a quasi-Christmas theme. Joel uses several melodic vocal sections and a depth of vocals to give everything a strong, live feel. “A Room of Our Own” is the most easy going track on the album, with a down-home rock and roll feel and strong drums and some creative bass by DeVitto and Stegmeyer respectively. “Surprises” feel like another quasi-tribute to Lennon, at least vocally. While the electric piano and synths are pure eighties in sound, this track has enough gentle and melancholy vibe to make it a forgotten classic.

Billy Joel, 1982

The climactic point of the second side comes with “Scandinavian Skies”, from its really pointed and dramatic intro, through the plethora of sonic treats and production throughout. Joel’s sweet melodic vocals are placed above a really cool drum shuffle with subtle piano and synths during this song’s ‘A’ sections, while the synths of guest Rob Mounsey are much more up front and dramatic during the ‘B’ sections. The lyrics speak of a journey and several opaque incidents in many Northern European locales. The closing ballad “Where’s the Orchestra?” is almost an afterthought after the climactic previous tune, but it does feature some nice little flourishes on sax and clarinet by Eddie Daniels to accompany Joel’s simple piano and vocals.

While not as commercially successful as Joel’s previous albums, The Nylon Curtain was still a smash by any measure, reaching the Top 10 on the albums charts and selling over two million copies in the U.S. alone. Joel went in the opposite direction for his next album, An Innocent Man in 1983, which had a much lighter tone as a tribute to R&B and doo wop music of the fifties and sixties.

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1982 Images

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

“Security” by Peter Gabriel

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

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

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


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

 

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

Peter Gabriel

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

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

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

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

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1982 Images

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

 

My Own Prison by Creed

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Creed, 1997

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

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

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1997 Images

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

 

My Aim is True by Elvis Costello

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Elvis Costello

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

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

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1977 Images

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

 

Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Grateful Dead in 1977

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

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

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1977 Images

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

 

Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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1982 Images

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