Close to the Edge by Yes

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Close to the Edge by YesThe group Yes reached their progressive pinnacle with the 1972 album Close to the Edge. Containing just three extended tracks, the album became Yes’s greatest commercial success to date, reaching the Top 5 on both the US and UK album charts. However, this success did not come without cost as the complex arrangements and stressful studio situation ultimately led to the departure of drummer Bill Bruford.

Following the success of the group’s fourth LP, Fragile, Yes went on an extensive tour. In early 1972, they recorded a cover of Paul Simon’s “America” for an Atlantic Records compilation album and by the Spring of that year, they were back at Advision Studios in London with audio engineer and co-producer Eddy Offord.

None of the tracks on this album were fully written prior to entering the studio and there were several instances where the arrangements had gotten so complex that the band members forgot where they left off the previous day. Offord had worked with Yes on tour and tried to replicate their live energy by building a large stage in the studio. However the arduous process took its toll, especially on Bruford and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who felt like “innocent bystanders” to the thematic vision of the record.


Close to the Edge by Yes
Released: September 13, 1972 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Eddy Offord & Yes
Recorded: Advision Studio, London, February–July 1972
Side One Side Two
Close to the Edge And You and I
Siberian Khatru
Group Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Keyboardss
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion

Close to the Edge opens with the ambient noise of nature and a world at ease before this vibe is quickly demolished by a piercing, psychedelic guitar lead by Steve Howe, which is impressive technically and interesting in its style. In contrast are Bruford’s rhythms and a punchy baseline by Chris Squire, which make for a tension-filled listen at first, until the song breaks around the three minute mark with a more melodic and atmospheric guitar lead that shepherds the listener into the catchy heart of this 18-minute title track. Composed by Howe and lead vocalist Jon Anderson, the vastly differing textures and moods are taped together in an atmospheric dream-like presentation, with funk based guitar riffs giving way to a hymn-like section and church organ solo before the main theme is reprised (albeit with differing instrumental arrangement) to close out the track.

The album’s original second side, features extended tracks clocking in at ten and nine minutes respectively. “And You and I” is a brilliant suite which offers listeners a completely different feel than that of the side-long title track. It opens with a beautiful, chime-filled acoustic guitar piece by Howe, somber in tone, but quickly picked up by a strong backing rhythm. Through its four distinct sections, the song transitions from folk to rock to a spacey, atmospheric piece with Wakeman’s synths, Squire’s pointed bass, and Howe’s guitars playing hand-in-hand. Eventually the song wraps brilliantly by returning to its folksy roots but with a differing rhythm to give the whole experience a forward motion.

Yes, 1972

The closing “Siberian Khatru” is the most straight-forward and, perhaps, the the easiest listen on the album. It features Yes’s unique combination of funk bass with more beautifully prominent guitar work, which really drives the song through from beginning to end. To achieve the unique sound of Howe’s guitar, Offord used two microphones, one stationary and a second swinging around to replicate a “Doppler effect”.

Bruford left to join King Crimson following the album’s completion and was replaced by Alan White, formerly of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, for the the subsequent tour and albums in the immediate future. Impressed with the commercial and critical success of Close to the Edge, Atlantic Records owner Ahmet Ertegun signed the band to a new five-year contract, which carried Yes through the rest of the decade of the 1970s.

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

 

Rubber Soul by The Beatles

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Rubber Soul by The BeatlesAs the years have gone by, Rubber Soul has distinguished itself more and more from the “typical” early album by The Beatles. While the 14 selections remain pretty much bright and poppy, the underlying lyrical content starts to touch on more mature themes, as its center of gravity migrates from teenage love to young adult sex. More importantly are the compositions, the music and the sound production which feature a stream of creative innovativeness by the group and producer George Martin.

Following the band’s international success in 1964, the year 1965 saw many new achievements and discoveries for the group, ranging from their reception of Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in June to their first experiences with LSD and other drugs later in the year. During the summer of 1965, the motion picture and accompanying soundtrack album Help! were released and continued their phenomenal chart success. The group’s third US tour followed, opening with a then world-record crowd of over 55,000 at Shea Stadium in New York on August 15th, with many more sold out cities to follow. That Fall even saw the premier of an American Saturday-morning cartoon series of the band, the first ever television series to feature animated versions of real, living people.

After the tour, the group had little time to record their sixth album in order for it to hit the markets in time for Christmas. However, due to their second straight year of top-level success, there was little pressure to focus on hit singles, which made this their most cohesive album effort to date. They returned to London in October 1965 and nearly all of the songs were composed and recorded within a four week period into November. The Beatles grew up quite a bit on this album. The harmonies are simple but artfully arranged while the production begins to get a bit “edgy” (without being too revolutionary) but adding more piano and keyboards as well as excess percussion and some non-traditional instrumentation.

Stylistically, the group incorporates contemporary R&B, soul, folk rock, and just a tad of psychedelic music styles. In fact, the album’s title is a play on the slang term “plastic soul”, which some musicians coined to describe Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones when he attempted to replicate the “soul” singing style.


Rubber Soul by The Beatles
Released: December 3, 1965 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Studios, London, October-November, 1965
Side One Side Two
Drive My Car
Norweigen Wood
You Won’t See Me
Nowhere Man
Think For Yourself
The Word
Michelle
What Goes On
Girl
I’m Looking Through You
In My Life
Wait
If I Needed Someone
Run For Your Life
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards. Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Bass, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Organ, Vocals

The album opener, “Drive My Car”, reaches back to The Beatles’ roots as a pure rocker with little deviation, save for the overdubbed piano during chorus sections and Ringo Starr‘s cow bell throughout. Lyrically, the comical phrases are augmented by the title, which is an old blues euphemism for sex. Rubber Soul‘s next two tracks feature incredible production value. John Lennon‘s, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, is where the group takes its first real leap into the unknown as an acoustic folk song with a complementing sitar riff played by George Harrison. This works to gives a mystical feel to this story of what seems to be about a love affair that has lost its spark and the fire that was once warm and welcoming becomes vengeful in the end. Some have credited this song as the conception of the “world music” genre. “You Won’t See Me”, is a somewhat forgotten gem by Paul McCarftney. It is piano driven with fine chord progressions and melodies throughout. The bridge section shows off McCartney’s complex compositional skills, while the three part-harmonies throughout are another highlight to the song.

The Beatles in 1965

“Nowhere Man”, features clever lyrics and philosophical commentary by Lennon, all while remaining melodic and pop-oriented. Harrison provides a slight guitar lead after first verse, while McCartney and Starr thumb out good rhythms throughout on this track which reach number 3 on the pop charts in America. “Think for Yourself”, is the first of two compositions by Harrison this album and features an intriguing “fuzz” bass line by McCartney, complemented by a Vox Continental organ played by Lennon, giving it a total mid sixties vibe. While still entertaining, “The Word”, is the first song in the sequence which is not absolutely excellent, as the harmonies seem a bit too forced. However, this track does contain a cool piano backdrop and outstanding drums by Starr. The first side wraps with another unique track, the European folk-influenced, “Michelle”, complete with lyrics partially in French. This melodramatic love song is beautifully produced with rich background harmonies and Chet Atkins-style finger-picked electric guitar by McCartney for great sonic effect. “Michelle”, which was originally written as a spoof on French Bohemians during the Beatles’ early days, was re-written with proper lyrics for Rubber Soul and eventually won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967.

Side two of the album is not quite as excellent as the first side, but still contains solid songs throughout. “What Goes On”, is Starr’s country and western influenced contribution, in which he sings lead vocals and receives partial compositional credit for the only time on the album. Lennon’s, “Girl”, features great folk rhythms and melodies and previews some of his finer solo works years later. With more fine harmonies, the songs lyrics paint a vivid picture of a character who drives the protagonist crazy but is mesmerizing nonetheless;

Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure? Did she understand it when they said… That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure? Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Following McCartney’s bright and sparse acoustic pop track, “I’m Looking Through You”, comes Lennon’s masterpiece of this album, “In My Life”. Everything about this two and a half minute ballad showcases the Beatles at their best in 1965, The opening guitar notes, which were written by McCartney but played by Harrison, instantly tug at heartstrings. The poetic lyrics drip with sentimentality and lead to the climatic, Baroque–style piano lead played by Martin, which got a unique effect when the producer recorded it at half speed and found an authentic-sounding harpsichord result when played back at the normal rate. The first of its kind, Lennon wrote the song as a long poem reminiscing on his childhood years, themes which would be further explored by Beatles’ members on future band albums.

“Wait”, features great choruses and a decent bridge by McCartney along with a creative percussive ensemble and pedal-effected guitars, but is otherwise a weak song for this album. This is followed by Harrison’s smooth classic, “If I Needed Someone”, which features deliberate vocals, a sweet guitar and upbeat rhythms. This song was nearly simultaneously recorded and released as a cover by the Hollies and became a minor hit for that group. While Rubber Soul is a bright album overall, it concludes with the dark and violent, “Run for Your Life”, an ode to domestic violence or perhaps the “outlaw country” of 1965, as presented by Lennon. A very far cry from the “Give Peace a Chance” theme of the near future, it is hard to discern if this is serious or dark comedy lyrically, but musically it contains a plethora of guitar textures – from the strummed acoustic, to the slide electric and rockabilly lead – which make it undeniably catchy overall.

Like all albums to that point, Rubber Soul was released with differing British and American versions, with the British version eventually becoming canon (and hence, the one we review here). The album was another commercial success, originally staying on the charts for nearly a year, with several chart comebacks throughout the decades. Within the following year of 1966, The Beatles would continue to accelerate their recording innovations with the follow-up, Revolver ,and give up on touring completely to strictly become a studio-oriented band.

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1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.

 

Weezer (Blue Album)

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Weezer 1994 debut albumTwenty years ago this weekend, Weezer stormed into rock and roll consciousness with their potent, popular, and critically acclaimed self-titled debut, which has come to be known as simply the “Blue Album”. Over these past two decades, critics and fans have been contorting to place the group’s sound within a specific genre, with many coming up with blends that include 80s hair metal, 90s grunge, and punk with a “geek” element. No doubt, Weezer draws from these influences, but to my ears I hear more late sixties influence like the Velvet Underground and, especially, The Kinks in their structure combined with an early nineties inhibition which leaves it raw, unreserved and honest.

Formed in in Los Angeles in 1992, Weezer is led by principle songwriter and vocalist Rivers Cuomo, who had already composed some of the material on this album prior to the band’s formation. ue their lack of a definitive genre, they were not initially well received by an L.A. club scene which was in the thrawls of a love affair with grunge rock. Undeterred, the band self-produced a demo known as “The Kitchen Tapes” to try to create some buzz, which they eventually received and were signed to a Geffen Records subsidery in mid 1993.

While the band pushed for self-producing their official debut, the label wanted an established producer. Former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was eventually enlisted and helped guide band to find a “brighter” sound. For their part, the quartet prepared for the studio sessions by practicing vocal interplay and barbershop-styled songs, as is evidenced in the non-album track “My Evaline”. Bassist Matt Sharp developed a falsetto-style backing vocal, which ultimately enhanced the material’s sonic depth and mood. Once the group arrived at Electric Lady studios in New York, some of their inital tracks were cut for the better quality ones which came later. These include the songs “Lullaby for Wayne”, “I Swear It’s True”, “Getting Up and Leaving”, and “Mykel and Carli”, which are all included in the deluxe edition of Weezer, released ten years after the original.


Weezer by Weezer
Released: May 10, 1994 (DGC)
Produced by: Ric Ocasek
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York, August–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
My Name Is Jonas
No One Else
The World Has Turned and Left Me Here
Buddy Holly
Undone – The Sweater Song
Surf Wax America
Say It Ain’t So
In the Garage
Holiday
Only in Dreams
Rivers Cuomo – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Brian Bell – Guitars, Vocals
Matt Sharp – Bass, Vocals
Patrick Wilson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Weezer 1994 debut

 

The album got it’s nickname from the simplistic album cover featuring the band members lined up in front of a plain, blue background. This cover is actually an example of early Photoshop, as guitarist Brian Bell‘s head was added to a pose by original guitarist Jason Cropper, who left the band during recoding of the album. Cropper’s only songwriting credit is on the opening track, “My Name Is Jonas”, which quickly alternates between the folk-influenced picked acoustic notes and the thumping electric chords all while drilling in certain riffs and themes such as; “the workers are going home”. There is a slight harmonica lead late in the song before it comes full circle to the acoustic in the dissolve. The next two tracks are thematically linked with “No One Else” being about an obsessive relationship and “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” about the aftermath when it’s over. The latter song contains a blend of electric and acoustic riff during the intro and remains steady throughout, methodically and precisely delivering the message of isolation and delusion in the wake of heartbreak.

The most popular song on Weezer is Cuomo’s “Buddy Holly”, a short and sweet song with a plethera of pop culture references lyrically and plenty of sonic riffs on guitars and keyboards. Cuomo was originally against the song’s inclusion on the album, saying it was “too cheesy”, but Ocasek saw its potential and lobbied hard for it’s inclusion. The result was a melody-driven tune which reached #2 on the mainstream rock chart after it was released on the 58th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s birth.

At first “Undone – The Sweater Song” seems a bit frivilous with spoken word interludes between first verses, but ultimately the song is one of the most original and rewarding on the album. Despite the party ambience, this is a song about detachment with the vivid lyrical imagery of a sweater unraveling. Musically, it contains good guitar lead and an excellent and original outro, which employs feedback, keyboards, and piano in bringing the song to an end. Co-written by drummer Patrick Wilson, “Surf Wax America” is a good-time party song with a punk rhythm and Beach Boys-like imagery, until the mood turns dark and tragic;

…All along the undertow is strengthening its hold, I never though it would come to this, now I can never go home…”

“Say It Ain’t So” is another top-notch song with funk and soul verses before the slow, grungy rock riff dominates for the chorus hook. The tune later seems to advance to a new level through the middle section with deeply personal lyrics and dualing lead guitars. Very popular among fans, “Say It Ain’t So” is a signature Weezer tune.

After a short acoustic and harmonica intro, “In the Garage” is quickly interuppted by a thick, droning electric riff. The lyrics seem to celebrate a nerd’s man cave, which he uses as an asylum away from the real world. “Holiday” has a steady, driving rock rhythm throughout with thick layered guitar and vocal harmonies, which all flourish on this track despite it being one of the weaker on the album. The nearly eight-minute closer
“Only in Dreams” is held down by Sharp’s bass riff with some light and surreal guitar textures throughout. This song has the least amount movement of any but does finish the album aptly with a clear and indelible message.

Peaking at number sixteen on the album charts, Weezer has gone multi-platinum since its release. They followed up with another fine effort, Pinkerton in 1996, and have gone on the release several more successful albums through the past two decades.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.

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