Face Dances by The Who

Face Dances by The Who

Face Dances was the ninth album from the legendary band The Who but their first without drummer Keith Moon, who died of an overdose shortly after the release of their previous album, Who Are You in 1978. Unlike their English contemporaries Led Zeppelin, who also lost their drummer during that time span and decided they could not continue without him, The Who decided to make a comeback in 1981 with a new drummer, Kenney Jones.

In spite of this fracture in personnel integrity, Face Dances is actually a very good album. Jones holds his own with the musical virtuosos in the band, guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle, and the material is strong and up-to-date while maintaining some of the signature qualities that make The Who, The Who.

Although the band was far removed from their days of rock operas and complicated theme albums, the material seems to flow along a consistent vibe that is at once deep and a bit comical, but always strong and forward. It is a credit to their ability to adapt to changing times and changing tastes in the music world.
 


Face Dances by The Who
Released: March 16, 1981 (Polydor)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Odyssey Recording Studios, London, July-December, 1980
Side One Side Two
 You Better, You Bet
 Don’t Let Go the Coat
 Cache Cache
 The Quiet One
 Did You Steal My Money?
How Can You Do It Alone
Daily Records
You
Another Tricky Day
Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Vocals
Kenney Jones – Drums

 
This comical trait is obvious right from the jump with “You Better, You Bet”, an entertaining mini-suite with complex chord structures that flow together along a silky smooth narrative. “Did You Steal My Money?” is another near-frivolous song that takes a little concentration to recognize the fantastic vocal performance that is put forth by vocalist Roger Daltrey.
 

 
As usual, Townshend’s songs are introspective and, to a lesser extent, philosophical. “Don’t Let Go the Coat” was inspired by guru Meher Baba (who was partially responsible for the title to the song “Baba O’Riley” a decade earlier), while “Cache, Cache” was a literal telling of Townshend’s ill-fated, one day retirement from the music business. Entwistle contributes a unique original with his own raspy vocals and near-heavy-metal sound with “The Quiet One”.

The second side of the album contains lesser known but strong songs throughout , highlighted by “Daily Records” and “Another Tricky Day”. Although Face Dances is not quite Who’s Next or Quadraphenia, it is a solid record and important in the band’s rebound following the tragic death of Moon. The band would put out another studio album, It’s Hard, in 1982 before ultimately disbanding for over a decade and a half.

The album cover of Face Dances features sixteen square paintings (four of each band member) that were commissioned by artist Peter Blake (of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover fame), who enlisted many British artists of differing styles (including himself) to make this unique cover.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 

Too Fast for Love by Mötley Crüe

Perhaps more than any other band, Mötley Crüe epitomized the “hair band” phenomena of the 1980s, with their updated version of 1970s glam. But they did have a brief moment of pre-glam, pre-hair when they were simply a hungry hard rock band from L.A. looking to make their breakthrough.

The band’s 1981 debut album Too Fast for Love captures this era in raw and unpolished form. There are flaws throughout, including the obvious fact that Nikki Sixx had not yet learned how to play bass (which he later admitted), the overall low budget under-production, and the fact that songs do tend to repeat themselves in near mind-numbing sequence. In spite of this, the album illustrates that there is something real and legit about these four young talents, including Sixx whose main contribution is as the band’s primary songwriter, which can attract even non-fans of the band or the genre.

The talent represented here validates Mötley Crüe as a legitimate rock band. This is especially true for the most talented member of the band, guitarist Mick Mars, who is the only member of the band that truly has his sound fully formed and cultivated on this debut.
 


Too Fast for Love byMötley Crüe
Released: December, 1981 (Elektra)
Produced by: Mötley Crüe
Recorded: Hit City West, Los Angeles, 1981
Side One Side Two
Live Wire
Come On and Dance
Public Enemy #1
Merry-Go-Round
Take Me To the Top
Piece of Your Action
Starry Eyes
Too Fast for Love
On With the Show
Musicians
Vince Neil – Lead Vocals | Mick Mars – Guitars
Nikki Sixx – Bass | Tommy Lee – Drums

 
Mars’ sound is the lynch pin that really elevates this album from semi-professional demo to consumer-ready rock product. His technique and sound textures are best displayed on the album’s only ballad, “Merry-Go-Round”, in which Mars alternates between lightly picked staccato notes and sustained, heavy chords and includes a fantastic, overdubbed lead that takes the song home.

However, a true listen to Too Fast for Love reveals that there are some other budding musicians beyond Mars. Although both fall just short of being fully matured in their craft, Tommy Lee plays some animated and entertaining drums while Vince Neil sings with a melodic, new-wave-ish voice.

Several of the songs reflect the band’s seventies influences. The opener “Live Wire”, with it’s machine-gun rift that dissolves into a calmer mid-section is reminiscent of Rush’s “Bastille Day”. Deep Purple’s influence can easily be heard in the entertaining “Piece of Your Action”, while the album’s title song sounds like any number of Kiss songs.
 

 
Too Fast for Love also includes a couple of really good rock-pop songs. “Public Enemy #1” would have been a huge hit if it were released during the band’s heyday a half decade later, while the closer “On With the Show” displays the Crüe’s versatility as up-and-coming musicians.

Even some of the album’s weaker songs, such as “Take Me to the Top” and “Starry Eyes” display a bit of authentic, early eighties charm that makes Mötley Crüe’s debut well worth the listen.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

1981 Images

Paradise Theatre by Styx

Paradise Theatre by Styx

At a time when the “concept album” had all but gone out of fashion, Styx released Paradise Theatre, an album that loosely couples a fairly interesting concept with some strategically placed (albeit unrelated) pop and rock songs.

The concept itself is one of rapid decay and lament to a past Golden Age symbolized by an actual theater on Chicago’s west side built on the eve of the Great Depression and dead by the mid 50’s. Brought forward to the turbulent economic times around 1980, this concept worked well. But concept itself is not enough, in the end it is all about the music.

Although the album is a little less than the band’s best output (The Grand Illusion four years earlier), the music did tap into a popular confluence between the band’s long-time, loyal listeners and a new crop of pop-rock fans that were suddenly starting to pay attention to durable bands from the 1970s such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, and Styx.
 


Paradise Theatre by Styx
Released: January 19, 1981 (A&M)
Produced by: Styx
Recorded: Pumpkin Studios, Oak Lawn, IL, 1980
Side One Side Two
 A.D. 1928
 Rockin’ the Paradise
 Too Much Time On My Hands
 Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
 The Best of Times
Lonely People
She Cares
Snowblind
Half-Penny, Two-Penny
A.D. 1958
State Street Sadie
Musicians
Dennis DeYoung – Keyboards, Vocals | James Young – Guitars, Vocals
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocoder, Vocals
Chuck Panozzo – Bass | John Panozzo – Drums & Percussion

 
Musically, Paradise Theatre contains a nice balance among the band’s three primary songwriters, Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, and James (JY) Young.

Shaw’s best contribution is the hit “Too Much Time On My Hands”, which is about as good as a pop single got for that era. It contains a nice mix of synth effects, a classic guitar solo, crisp and catchy lyrics, and well-delivered vocals. Besides some great axe work, Shaw also adds the top-end harmonies that distinguishes the Styx sound.
 

 
JY’s efforts were back-to-back tracks on the album’s second side. “Snowblind” is an anti-drug song with a lugubrious feel throughout. In spite of it’s noble message for society on the surface, it was targeted by Tipper Gore’s PMRC and other anti-rock groups for allegedly backwards masking Satanic messages. The band was truly offended by these charges and would mock them on their next album, Kilroy Was Here, with genuine backwards messaging.

“Half Penny, Two Penny” may be the best rock song on the album. A mini-suite in of itself, it builds to a crescendo with some excellent lead guitar and just the right touch of piano and saxophone (by guest Steve Eisen) in the coda where repeatedly JY screams;

“I wanna be free!”

The Best Of Times single

But the concept itself and all the songs that surround it, truly belongs to DeYoung. “The Best of Times” provides not only the top hit on the album, but the recurring theme with the opener “A.D. 1928” and the closer “A.D. 1958”. Many longtime fans (and apparently some band members themselves) lamented the heavy introduction of ballads by Denis DeYoung, starting with the soft-rock hit “Babe” on the previous album, Cornerstone. But this is a case where the ballad is supreme (and not so much sappy) with strong influence from each of the members of Styx and the obvious endorsement of fans at large.

However, some of the other “theme” songs really tend to straddle the line between legitimate rock opera and some high school theater production. This is especially true for “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned”, both popular songs on the album, each of which can either be interpreted as entertaining or over-the-top on any given day. For this reason, Paradise Theatre never really rises to the level of excellence of the best rock operas, such as The Who’s Quadrophenia, although it is still an interesting and enjoyable listen.

A nice touch was added to top off the album, a classy, “song after the last song” in the same fashion as “Her Majesty” off Abby Road by The Beatles. The half-minute long saloon-piano piece called “State Street Sadie”, adds just a touch of nostalgia right out of the 1920s that brings home the overall theme of Paradise Theatre.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 
 
1981 Images

 


Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

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There is something pure about Ozzy Osbourne that makes him so endearing to his fiercely loyal fans. Without pretension, this big, overbearing lug that just plugs away at his prophesying to the darker fringes of the Western psyche. Despite all his success, Ozzy is more Eagor than ego. But from this rock critic’s perspective, in his career that spanned over four decades, there was only a very brief moment in time when Ozzy Osbourne was truly great. It was during a few short years at the top of his solo career, when he shared the stage with an equally iconic partner, Randy Rhoads. Together they produced two brilliant albums, Blizzard of Ozz in 1980 and Diary of a Madman in 1981.

A classically trained, guitar virtuoso, Rhoads was a young musical genius who looked at his meteoric rise in rock n’ roll as just a minor pit stop on his road to achieving a true classical music education. He had actually planned on returning to school in the near future before his life was cut short when an idiotic pilot tried some idiotic stunts on a small plane in Florida in early 1982.
 


Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: November 7, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Max Norman, Ozzy Osbourne, & Randy Rhoads
Recorded: February 9 – April 23, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Over the Mountain
 Flying High Again
 You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll
 Believer
Little Dolls
Tonight
S.A.T.O.
Diary of a Madman
Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead & Backing Vocals
Randy Rhoads – Guitars
Bob Daisley – Bass
Lee Kerslake – Drums & Percussion

 
At first, it seems apparent that with Diary of a Madman the band wanted to carbon-copy their breakthrough Blizzard of Ozz. In fact, the first two songs, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” strongly mirror the first two songs of that album (“I Don’t Know”/”Crazy Train”), being the most recognizable on their respective albums. But soon, Diary of a Madman makes it’s own mark as a deeper, darker, more classically-oriented piece.

“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” is where the music starts to get serious. The best song on this album, it both perfectly illuminates the twin sides of Rhoads, while being the ultimate theme song for Ozzy Osbourne himself. The production work is stellar, blending the classical and heavy metal elements perfectly. In the third verse, with the long, distorted droning electric guitars, really brings the volcanic passion of this song bubbling to the surface.

Blizzard of Ozz band 1981

There is some controversy that has followed this album through the years, as the original bass and drum recordings, done by Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake were later re-recorded (by Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge) at the instance of Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon Osbourne, in order to cleanse songwriting credits from Daisley and Kerslake. This is really unfortunate, because the original recording were much of a band effort, and the bass and drum performances shine throughout, especially through the second side of the album and the songs “Little Dolls”, “Tonight”, and “S.A.T.O.”.

But this album is undoubtedly Rhoads from start to finish. And what an eerie finish indeed, with the haunting title song. That traverses through a few haunting verses and a very haunting mid section. Then the outtro – when Rhoads furious riff is accompanied by a chorus of spiritual voices that escort his very last performance on record to a bone-chilling end.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

1981 Images

 

Don’t Say No by Billy Squier

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Bily Squier was an odd figure on the pantheon of rock. On the one hand, there is no doubt that he was a very talented vocalist with exception songwriting instincts and pop music instincts. Listening to his 1981 breakthrough, Don’t Say No, leaves one with little doubt that this is a bona fide and legitimate rocker. But then there is the other hand, something that’s a little odd, a little off, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but nonetheless was (probably) responsible for Squier not getting his due accolades through the years and decades. It certainly can be argued that being a little “off” adds a distinction or an “edge” that makes such an artist more interesting. This certainly was the case on Don’t Say No and its equally impressive follow-up, Emotions In Motion, in 1982.

A Massachusetts native, Squier had been performing live throughout New England since the late 1960s, including stints with the bands Magic Terry & The Universe, Kicks, The Sidewinders and Piper. This latter group released two critically acclaimed (albeit commercially unsuccessful) albums in the late 1970s and opened for KISS during the height of that band’s success. Squier departed Piper to launch his solo career in 1980 with his debut album The Tale of the Tape, which had a couple of minor hits.

For this sophomore effort, Squier invited Queen guitarist Brian May to act as producer. However, May had too many prior commitments and instead suggested Reinhold Mack, who recently produced Queen’s very successful 1980 albums The Game. This combination proved fruitful, as In the Dark reached the Top 5 on the album charts and spawned two Top 40 singles.

 


Don’t Say No by Billy Squier
Released: April 13, 1981 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Recorded: The Power Station, New York
Side One Side Two
 In the Dark
 The Stroke
 My Kinda Lover
 You Know What I Like
 Too Daze Gone
Lonely Is the Night
Whadda You Want from Me
Nobody Knows
I Need You
Don’t Say No
Primary Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Percussion
Cary Sharaf – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards
Mark Clarke – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

 
This “second tier” of songs are best exemplified with the final three songs on the album, which break from the normal pattern with differing tempos and acoustic textures. “Nobody Knows” is the only song that can be considered a ballad. Squier’s near-soprano vocals above a slowly-picked guitar line and just the right amount of bass and strings later gives way to the full band joining in and a fantastic double-tracked guitar lead that captures the mood perfectly. “I Need You” is a very good pop song, with a really cool new-wave-ish bass/synth riff, calm strummed acoustic and strategically inserted electric guitar during verses that becomes more forceful during the choruses. Unlike that smooth song, “Don’t Say No” is put together in bits and pieces with some interesting lyrics;

I live on the border-line, you come from the void…”

Which brings us back to that “oddness” that we mentioned at the top. Don’t Say No is littered with examples, mainly outtros of songs, such as the orgasmic chant at the end of the opener “In the Dark” or the frantic pick-up that ends “Lonely Is the Night”. But this is most evident on the album’s closing title track, which begins with a fade-in of the first verse and fades out completely near the end, only to re-emerge suddenly. Is this edgy or amateurish? Ultimately, the listener must decide. Some of Squier’s influences are apparent in a couple of other fine songs. “Too Daze Gone” contains many of the same blues-based elements utilized by Aerosmith in the 1970s, while “Lonely Is the Night” is a definite nod to Presence-era Led Zeppelin, but with an additional gloss layer that makes it very entertaining and radio-friendly.

Billy Squier

Of course, Don’t Say No is best know for the “hits” that are still heard on AOR and other media to this day. The opener, “In the DarK” has a very good sound with mixture of guitars and synths and a steady, staccato beat along with plenty of little riffs throughout that make this song a trans-era hit. Mack’s great production is apparent right from the start. “The Stroke” is a double-entendre with infectious lyric and riff and a steady, marching beat throughout. This marching continues through to “My Kindda Lover”, but with a sweeter demeanor, as compared to it’s totally cynical predecessor.

When we made our choice as to which albums from 1981 we would review, we decided that we would either choose Foreigner 4 and Don’t Say No (but not both) as they cover very similar territory as far as genre and quality. They are also similar being that the most popular songs on each album are pretty much the best songs on each album – something that, believe it or not, is really quite rare. But while it was difficult to determine if “Urgent” was superior to “The Stroke” or if “In the Dark” was better than “Juke Box Hero”, it was ultimately the second tier of songs that, in our opinion, gave Don’t Say No the edge. Even though there are some weak points on the album, overall this is the finest work that Billy Squier ever produced.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Ghost In the Machine by The Police

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Ghost In the Machine by PoliceGhost in the Machine is the fourth album by The Police and the first to actually use an English title, albeit the title was borrowed from the Albert Koestler novel of the same name. Although it used the foundation of a simple three piece power sound with reggae beats and a punk edge that was built by the band’s previous three albums, this album is a definitive evolution towards more ethereal jazzy sounds that would later come to fruition on the Synchronicity album in 1983.

For the first time since the band’s formation four years earlier, a dominant influence was starting to emerge from lead vocalist and bass player Sting, who lobbied for the addition of synths, layered horns, saxophones, and lyrics heavily influenced by philosophical theory. This new direction caused a riff with the other band members, especially drummer and original founding member Stewart Copeland, and proved to be the beginning of the end for this short-live and talented band. As it turned out, the more mainstream (and well-earned) popularity the Police achieved, the further they grew apart, disbanding after the break through of Synchronicity and the headlining world tour that followed.
 


Ghost In the Machine by The Police
Released: October 2, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, January – September, 1981
Side One Side Two
Spirits In the Material World
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Invisible Sun
Hungry for You Demolition Man
Too Much Information
Rehumanize Yourself
One World (Not Three)
Ωmegaman
Secret Journey
Darkness
Group Musicians
Sting – Bass, Keyboards, Saxophone, Lead Vocals
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths, Backing Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals

 
The album opens with “Spirits in the Material World”, which sets the tone for this collection with a steady synth riff against, a syncopated drum beat, and philosophical lyrics –

There is no political solution / to our troubled evolution / have no faith in constitution / there is no bloody revolution…

Originally written by Sting in 1976, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is the most upbeat song on the record although the lyrics suggest it’s about a guy with a crush on a girl and he is trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. It nicely fluctuates between a calm, piano arpeggio during the verse and a classic, steel drum-fueled reggae during the chorus. The song reached #1 on the mainstream rock charts, making it the biggest pop hit on the album.
 

 
What do you do if your lyrics are too hot for the English speaking world? Set them against the backdrop of a ska beat and sing them in French of course. “Hungry For You” has probably confused many non francophone listeners who may think they just can’t understand the words (because they’re in French).

The band returns to philosophical rambling with “Rehumanize Yourself”. The beginning of this song sounds like it may have influenced The Bangles hit “Walk Like and Egyptian” with Horns drifting and soaring above the racing beat.

I work all day at the factory/I’m building a machine that’s not for me/There must be a reason that I can’t see/You’ve got to humanize yourself…

Invisible Sun by The Police

“Invisible Sun” continues the philosophical introspection with monotone vocals and lyrics poetically describing the mundane tasks of the day and hoping for an unseen reward at the end of the day. These words were especially striking when set against the imagery of the music video, showing footage of struggles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

The feel of Ghost in the Machine is clearly a departure from the previous Police projects. Guitarist Andy summers probably had the least amount of influence on this album, simply due to the pure displacement by the presence of all the other instrumentation. That’s not to say that this isn’t a good listen, as the band was well on their way to their creative apex.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 

Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band

Freeze Frame by J Geils Band

Freeze Frame is a confluence album, where a hard-working band with vast longevity in the bag reaches their heights towards the sunset of their career. It is a work that combines many elements of their traditional, rock n’ soul, party-time backbone with a new, (then) cutting-edge, approach that incorporates synthesized soundscapes and new wave entertainment. And Freeze Frame IS new wave in the truest sense – a well-produced collection that explores under-developed areas of the rock landscape.

Although the band bears the name of founding guitarist J. Geils, this album really belongs to keyboardist, songwriter, and producer Seth Justman. Justman was a student at Boston University in the late 1960s when he followed the band, then known as “The J. Geils Blues Band”, which was then an acoustic trio led by Geils and virtuoso harmonica player Richard Salwitx, better known by his stage name, Magic Dick. Soon a local DJ known as Peter Wolf joined as front man and lead singer along with drummer Stephan Bladd and, with the eventual addition of Justman, the six-man lineup that would stay together for a decade and a half was in place.

Through the 1970s, the band achieved moderate commercial success with a few minor hits, but nothing like the worldwide fame that they would enjoy in the early 1980s with Freeze Frame, fueled by the Justman’s catchy and cleaver #1 hit “Centerfold”, which introduced the band to much of the mainstream pop world.
 


Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band
Released: October 26, 1981 (EMI)
Produced by: Seth Justman
Recorded: Long View Farm, North Brookfield, MA, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Freeze Frame
 Rage In the Cage
 Centerfold
 Do You Remember When?
 Insane, Insane Again
Flamethrower
River Blindness
Angel In Blue
Piss On the Wall
Band Musicians
Peter Wolf – Lead Vocals | Seth Justman – Keyboards, Vocals
J. Geils – Guitars | Magic Dick – Harmonica, Trumpet, Saxophone
Danny Klein – Bass | Stephen Bladd – Drums, Vocals

 
The album is really a potpourri of songs that can be segmented into one of about three distinct categories. The first of these is the direct pop category, consisting of the smash hit “Centerfold” and the opening title song. Both are bouncy and catchy and lead by an airy and accessible organ riff and upbeat entertainment, while carefully flirting with some risque subject matter. “Freeze Frame” has a great stop-start chorus, and was itself a successful top-ten hit. The band also produced a couple of entertaining music videos for the brand new MTV for these songs, no doubt helping their climb in the charts.
 

 
The next category of songs are synch-dominated, pop-art compositions that deviate vastly from the band’s traditional sound. Here, Justman’s genius shines through as he accomplishes this deviation while he still preserves the album’s overall integrity. “Rage In the Cage” is a frantic collection of beat-based tangents that is spastic and entertaining. Some wild sounds are nicely placed bit by bit to project audio that is at once natural and artificial, with the natural drumming by Bladd complimenting everything else (bass, horns, harmonica, and synths) which straddle the line between synthesized and natural. “Insane, Insane Again” takes a very similar approach but with a frantic bass line by Danny Klein holding together the backbone. “River Blindness” starts like an episode of a television mystery, with bombastic horns, before it kicks into the the main riff and takes the listener on a musical journey to dark and mysterious relms that sounds about 90% synthesized, but with a heavy guitar by Geils near the very end.

The final category of songs on Freeze Frame maintains the band,s traditional rock/soul sound through the ballad “Angel In Blue” and the rockers “Flamethrower” and “Piss On the Wall”. The album’s closer with the quasi-vulgar title, at first appears as a somewhat frivolous homage to the band’s own legacy, albeit with some excellent blues harp by Magic Dick. But it also adds a bit of rebellious punk rock doom and gloom –

“…everybody’s shaking ‘cause the big one’s about to fall, I’m just trying to hold it steady while I piss on the wall…”

“Angel In Blue” is a pleasant tune with a melancholy tone, containing the biggest presence by Geils on the entire album. The song is masterfully constructed with just the right touch of organ and drum beat, and a nice ensemble of backing vocals and horns in the outtro.

There is one song that doesn’t quite fit into any of the above categories, the excellent ballad “Do You Remember When?”, which contains elements of the best of ALL these categories. If you like discovering truly great, “lost” songs – this is may be one. It has all the elements of a classic love song, but with such an edge and perfectly placed musical motifs – Geils repeated, 5-note guitar riff, organ, piano, strings, extra percussion, just the right amount of special effects, and interesting background vocals. It also contains the finest vocal performance by Peter Wolf, with an amazing high note near the end of the song, which he holds and variates for nearly 10 seconds.

In the story of rock, the J. Geils Band is not quite unique in being a longstanding quality act that finally gets their mainstream “break” near the twilight of their career (see Bonnie Raitt, REO Speedwagon, or Supertramp). But they may be unique in that their popular breakthrough is also their artistic masterpiece.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

East Side Story by Squeeze

East Side Story by Squeeze East Side Story is the fourth studio album by Squeeze, released in 1981. The album signified a break with the band’s traditional “new wave” sound towards more divergent styles and genres including progressive rock, soul, and psychedelia. The band originally wanted to do a four-sided “double LP” with each side using a different producer – Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Paul McCartney, and Elvis Costello. In the end, Squeeze released a long 14-song single LP with Costello co-producing along with Roger Bechirian. Under Costello’s guidance, the band produced an album of smart, uptempo pop tunes which guitarist Chris Difford labled as “suburban short stories.”

Difford founded Squeeze in 1974 along with lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Tilbrook. The group was named after The Velvet Underground’s oft-derided 1973 album and found moderate success in the London suburbs in the mid 1970s. After signing with A&M Records, the band released a self-titled debut album in 1978, followed by Cool For Cats in 1979 and Argybargy in 1980, each of which were fine albums but strictly within the confines of the newly coined “new wave” genre.

With East Side Story, the band recorded their masterpiece as they branched out to explore other facets of their talents. With the variety of genres explored, the production of Costello, and the fully developed songwriting of Difford and Tilbrook East Side Story has the feel of the double-album it was originally intended to be.
 


East Side Story by Squeeze
Released: May 15, 1981 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Bechirian & Elvis Costello
Recorded: London, 1980-1981
Side One Side Two
 In Quintessence
 Someone Else’s Heart
 Tempted
 Piccadilly
 There’s No Tomorrow
 Heaven
 Woman’s World
Is That Love?
F-Hole
Labelled With Love
Someone Else’s Bell
Mumbo Jumbo
Vanity Fair
Messed Around
Band Musicians
Glenn Tilbrook – Lead Vocals, Guitars | Chris Difford – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Carrack – Keys, Vocals | John Bentley – Bass | Gilson Lavis – Drums

 
The album begins with “In Quintessence”, an upbeat song with repetitive phrasing and simultaneous vocals by Tilbrook and Difford throughout. This is followed by “Someone Else’s Heart” (not to be confused with “Someone Else’s Bell” on the second side of the album), which harkens back to the new-wave-ish sound with a crisp organ and subdued vocals with fantastic harmonies.

Later on the album’s first side is the album’s finest sequence of songs. “Piccadilly” starts with an excellent piano before settling into a simple, upbeat, three-chord rock groove with chanting vocals delivered in a linear, story-telling fashion. “There’s No Tomorrow” contains a heavy dose of Beatle-esque surrealism with a dramatic key riff and backwards-masked percussion along with Costello on backing vocals. The ska influenced “Heaven” is an excellent song which contains a great bass line and weird sound effects after the chanting choruses. Later in the song their is a banjo section with some weird, vocalized animal sounds. The side ends with “Woman’s World”, a good pop song with nice piano note runs, building ascension in the late verses, and a great key jump later on.
 

 
By far the best song on the album, “Tempted” contains a great thumping bass line by John Bentley under the subtlely swelling organ by band newcomer Paul Carrack, who was a member of Squeeze for this one album. Carrack also sang most of the seductive lyrics with some cool secondary and background vocals. The band’s first “hit” in the U.S., “Tempted” has become one of Squeeze’s most well known songs as it is infectiously catchy and never seems to grow old. It is quite ironic that, with short-timer Carrack at the lead, most passive fans are unaware of the basic sound of the band as normally led by Tilbrook’s vocals.

Although much weaker than the first, the second side of the album does contain a few very interesting tracks. “Is That Love” was the first single released from the album, while “F-Hole” contains thick strings and an almost psychedelic approach. “Labelled With Love” contains a pure country rhythm with calm acoustic guitar, piano, and rim-shot drums overlayed by some good guitar later on. It was a song recorded as a semi-farce and Tilbrook initially objected to its inclusion on the album but was convinced by Costello and it became a minor hit. “Vanity Fair” uses orchestration much like later-era Beatles albums with no rock instrumentation, just vocals, while the album concludes with “Messed Around”, a rockabilly song much like the Stray Cats, that would be more convincing without the vocals of Tilbrook.

After a fifth album was released in 1982, Squeeze took a break for a while before reforming later in the decade. Although they continued to record interesting music, the band would not again reach the heights of East Side Story.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

1981 Images

 

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Bella Donna by Stevie NicksAfter three albums with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was doubtlessly the most recognizable figure in that popular and talented band. However, her actual participation as far as songwriting and lead vocals had never eclipsed 50% on any of those albums. So prior to her debut solo effort in 1981, there was uncertainty about how a full album of her music would pan out. One serious listen to Bella Donna would set all doubt aside. This debut solo album went on to achieve critical and commercial success, topping the U.S. album charts and spawning four Top 40 hit singles, while reaching the Top 20 in six other nations.

The album contains ten songs composed by Nicks on piano over several years while on tour with Fleetwood Mac in the late seventies. These songs were then enhanced by producer Jimmy Iovine and a posse of talent, ranging from headline acts like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, to top-notch session musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. The result is an interesting and pleasant listen which contains some timeless works that flirt with pop, country, and folk while remaining distinctive and original.
 


Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks
Released: July 27, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty
Recorded: Studio 55, Los Angeles, Autumn 1980 – Spring 1981
Side One Side Two
 Bella Donna
 Kind of Woman
 Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
 Think About It
 After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman
Primary Musicians
Stevie Nicks – Lead Vocals, Piano
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
Lori Perry & Sharon Celani – Backing Vocals
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
Dan Dugmore – Pedal Steel
Bob Glaub – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums

 

…and we fight for the northern star”

While Bella Donna‘s opening title song is definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque in it’s calm approach and long sustained guitar drones, it also contains a more ceremonious or ritualistic feel, like some kind of mass, as it vacillates between beatless sound scape and rhythmic drive. It is followed by “Kind of Woman”, another very calm, almost melancholy song, with a waltz-like beat an excellent guitar lead.

The album then abruptly takes a radical turn with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, one of two songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on the album, along with the entertaining “Outside the Rain” on the second side. That band didn’t use these songs for themselves (and their current album, Hard Promises really could’ve used these), and the resultant Nicks-led recordings add a completely new dimension to Bella Donna.
 

 
“Leather and Lace” is a true duet with Henley, resulting in a moody and romantic ballad which has a sparse acoustic arrangement that really showcases the vocal talents of both. On the other end of the pop spectrum, “Edge of Seventeen” offered a rhythmic dance beat with a near rap in between the oft-repeated chorus about the “white winged dove”. Rumor has it that the title was coined by Tom Petty’s wife, who replied “age of seventeen” when asked by Nicks how old they were when they first met. But Stevie mis-heard this as “edge of seventeen” and was instantly taken by the concept.

Perhaps the most enjoyable song on the album, “After the Glitter Fades” is a pure country song, reminiscent to some of Olivia Newton John’s early stuff, with dynamic vocals nicely complimenting to rich arrangement, which contains virtuoso piano by Roy Bittan and masterful pedal steel by Dan Dugmore.

Stevie Nicks would continue on with Fleetwood Mac as well as produce more solo albums with much success in both throughout the rest of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. But artistically, she would not again reach the heights of Bella Donna in either side of her musical career.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Give the People What They Want
by The Kinks

Buy Give the People What They Want

Give the People What They Want by The Kinks

Although Give the People What They Want was the 18th full-length album by The Kinks and was released nearly two decades after their actual debut, it has a feel as fresh and vigorous as any debut album. The sound is strong and contemporary, the lyrics are biting and direct, yet the message is more mature, philosophical, and satirical in nature. Best of all for the music listener, the album is interesting and entertaining with solid material throughout. With all this being said, it is somewhat amazing that the album has been pretty much panned and ignored by the rock press (and fans) for the past thirty years. This is part of why Classic Rock Review exists.

The Kinks started out in London shortly after The Beatles’ American breakthrough in 1964, in what came to be known as the original “British Invasion”. They came to prominence with simple, rocking pop songs in the mid 1960s. They later evolved towards theatrical rock and concept albums through the late sixties and early seventies. By the late seventies, they had seen alot of their earliest work co-opted and repackaged by acts in the punk, new wave, and hard rock genres. In this environment, chief songwriter Ray Davies came back with an album that not only shows this younger generation that The Kinks can do it just as well but that they can do it even better.

Listening to Give the People What They Want one has to keep reminding themself that this is a band approaching middle age, as there is so much youthfulness
 


Give the People What They Want by The Kinks
Released: August 15, 1981 (Arista)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Konk Studios, London, May, 1979 – June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Around the Dial
Give the People What They Want
Killer’s Eyes
Predictable
Add It Up
Destroyer
Yo-Yo
Back to Front
Art Lover
A Little Bit of Abuse
Better Things
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Rodford – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 
Overall, the album is very dark and cynical, with the exception of the finale “Better Things”, which offers a refreshing ode to optimism during the closing credits. Prior to that song, each offers a cynical look at a different subject facing people in 1981, ranging from the entertainment industry to crime and criminals to basic inter-personal issues. The sound is raw yet beautiful, capturing the dynamics of a garage band with the skill of cutting edge and smooth production. As producer, Ray Davies seemed to know exactly how much flavoring to sprinkle on the basic rhythms lead by his brother and lead guitarist Dave Davies.

The opener, “Around the Dial” is a very entertaining and interesting song that laments the downfall of a cool and edgy radio DJ, who disappeared inexplicably. It starts as the simplest of songs, with one sustained chord played over and then a simple hard rock riff, but then floats towards some interesting and melodic changes in the middle. It is followed by the album’s title song that laments the deterioration of popular culture and the crass and cynical dishing out of entertainment. This is all set to definitively punk rhythm and chant, complete with its own shock lyric on the Kennedy assassination.
 

 
Many of the songs that follow also reflect a higher end punk sound. But to say this album was “influenced” by punk would be almost a travesty. The Kinks were one of the true inventors of the genre, a dozen years before it even became a genre. By this point in 1981, punk had about five years of mainstream fame and recognition. With the production of Give the People What They Want, it is almost like the Kinks were stepping in to show these young punks how to do it with actual musical skill.

Further, this album contains some moments that could not be constructed by these punk bands on their best day. “Killer’s Eyes” is a haunting yet beautiful song about a person beyond help and beyond hope – a killer and the effect his actions have on his family and friend. It is a moody and melancholy masterpiece with outstanding sound. Another song with an excellent sound, perhaps the best on the album is “Yo-Yo”. Once you get past the repetitive use of the “yo-yo” symbolic lyric, this is a very interesting and entertaining listen that addresses the challenges of married life with its changing expectations and perspectives. It is very unique as a down beat song with a very upbeat beat.

The rest of the songs that make up the heart of the album are all upbeat and modern mixes of punk new wave and ska with their own distinctive issues. “Predictable” about the mundane, boring, regularness of everyday life, “Add It Up” on the change in someone who comes into money, “Back To Front” laments double-talk and could have been the theme song to Catch 22, and the minor hit “Destroyer”, a look at the effects of drug use that shows that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a bit of self-plagiarism.

The Kinks in 1981

But just when you get settled comfortably into the album’s punk/new wave vibe, it takes a radical turn with the last three songs. The first two of these are quite disturbing but may very well be ingenious. “Art Lover”, is creepy in that seems to be sympathetic to a stalker and possible pedophile. Adding to this creepiness is the fact it is sticky sweet, almost like a children’s song, and leaves one to think that Davies must have been trying to be provocative or sarcastic, because it is hard to think that the song’s message is to be taken literal. “A Little Bit of Abuse” follows with a light-hearted look at domestic abuse and battered wife syndrome. It is put together in a slow bluesy, pleasant, and melodic pop-rock package that in no way sets the mood for such a heavy subject. Again, it appears to invert the true message by demonstrating the absurdity of the common excuse making for such actions. Together, either these are brilliant, deep psychological masterpieces or we’re reading too much into it.

The closing “Better Things” then goes on to break the mold of this pessimistic album with a happy and hopeful song of hope. It concludes Give the People What They Want, a weird and wonderful ride that is true rock n roll at it’s most legitimate.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.