Meddle by Pink Floyd

Buy Meddle

Meddle by PinkFloydIn 1967, Pink Floyd released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a fantastic work led by the talented songwriting of lead singer &amp, guitarist Syd Barrett (Classic Rock Review will explore that album in 2012). The album launched the band into instant superstardom at a very young age. However, soon after that album was released, Barrett went mad, became erractic, was fired from the band, and was replaced by his best friend and understudy David Gilmour.

Six years later, the band would put out their absolute classic The Dark Side of the Moon (CRR review in 2013!). This album solidified the band as an essential group in classic rock and may be one of the greatest albums of all time. But The Dark Side of the Moon resembles in absolutely no way Pipet At the Gates of Dawn. There was a serious evolution that took place in the band during those six years. In that time in between, Pink Floyd but out an array of six or seven experimental, avant garde albums and movie soundtracks that slowly forged their sound towards that on The Dark Side of the Moon.

Perhaps more than any other album during that time period, 1971’s Meddle finds the happy medium that threads these two successful yet divergent eras of Pink Floyd. It contains enough experimental music to make it interesting to the art lover, just enough melodic songs to be liked by the pop music lover, and a few brilliant moments of theatrical rock n roll to make it collectable to those who love The Dark Side of the Moon.
 


Meddle byPink Floyd
Released: October 30, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road & Morgan Studios, London, January-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
One of These Days
A Pillow of Winds
Fearless
San Tropez
Seamus
Echoes
Band Musicians
 David Gilmour – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Vocals  

 
The first side of the album contains five standard-length tracks while the second contains the single, side long “Echoes”. This song forcasts much of what Pink Floyd would put out throughout the decade of the 1970s, save the shorter material on The Wall. The song begins with an experimental sound similar to a submarine “ping”, created by keyboardist Richard Wright, who fed a single note through a Leslie speaker. The song slowly works towards the standard verses and choruses before sliding into a very long “middle section” of blues jams and experimental passages then finally returning for a the last verse/chorus sequence. All in all it is a 23-minute piece.

Pink Floyd Meddle posterThe first side starts with the instrumental “One Of These Days”, which would become a concert staple for decades to come. It is driven by a constant buzzing bass, backwards-masked effects, and a howling guitar lead. The song explodes into a wind storm that leads into “A Pillow of Winds”, a soft acoustic love song much in the vein of those put out on albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. This second song could not be in more contrast to the first.

“Fearless” may be the best overall song on the album and talks about meeting challenges in the face of adversity. Musically it is highlighted by Gilmour’s calm yet strong guitar strumming and the odd beat from drummer Dave Mason. The odd ending to the song uses field recordings from an English soccer game, with fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry & the Pacemakers in a heavily reverberated, eerie fade-out. “San Tropez” is a jazz-inflected pop song with a shuffle tempo, composed and sang by Roger Waters. It adds yet another diverse dimension to the album with its easy-going crooner-like melody and atmosphere. Side one concludes with the throwaway “Seamus”, a pseudo-blues novelty song meant to be a humorous filler with an annoying, howling dog throughout. The song is often ranked as the worst song ever by dedicated Pink Floyd fans.

Pink Floyd in 1971

Meddle received generally positive critical reviews and was a moderately well seller on both sides of the Atlantic, Going platinum in bothe the US and the UK and reach #3 on the English charts. The band would put out a fine soundtrack album, Obscured By Clouds in 1972 before reach the heights with Dark Side in 1973.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

Straight Up by Badfinger

Buy Straight Up

Straight Up by Badfinger

After the success of their 1970 album No Dice, Badfinger finished recording its third album with Geoff Emerick as producer. But the tapes were rejected by their label, Apple Records. So one of the founders of the label, George Harrison (Apple was founded by all four Beatles), took over as producer of the album. This continued the long relationship that Badfinger had with the Beatles, starting with being the first artists signed to the Apple label. Paul McCartney wrote “Come and Get It”, which would become their first big hit. Members of Badfinger played on Harrison’s album All Things Must Pass, Ringo Starr‘s hit single “It Don’t Come Easy”, as well as John Lennon‘s album Imagine (check out our review of that album). In fact, the band’s name came from a working title of the Beatles hit “With a Little Help From My Friends” called “Bad Finger Boogie”.

Harrison himself would not be able to finish the album, as he needed to steer his efforts towards his benefit Concert for Bangladesh (where Badfinger also performed), so he turned production over to Todd Rundgren. The resulting album, Straight Up, contains such good pop craftsmanship that it sometimes feels like your listening to AM radio in the early 70s, with the diverse styles of pop that jump from one to another. This could be a double-edged sword, as the varying production methods may disrupts the overall “flow” of the album. But on the flip side, there are no bad songs among the dozen on this album – no filler or sub-standard songs – so there is always something rewarding upon multiple listens.

Further, although Badfinger is alleged to have grown to hate the Beatles comparisons with their own sound, they sure did not shy away from that musical pathway enough times on Straight Up.
 


Straight Up by Badfinger
Released: December 13, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison & Todd Rundgren
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & AIR Studios, London June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Take It All
Baby Blue
Money
Flying
I’d Die Babe
The Name of the Game
Suitcase
Sweet Tuesday Morning
Day After Day
Sometimes
Perfection
It’s Over
Band Musicians
Pete Ham – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Tom Evans – Bass, Vocals
Joey Molland – Guitar, Vocals
Mike Gibbons – Drums

 
Straight Up may have marked the pinnacle of Badfinger’s short but brilliant heyday. Tragedy would soon befall them in the years to come, especially after they left Apple for Warner Brothers in 1974, where they would make much more excellent music, most od which would get shelved due to legal problems originating from the manager, which ultimately led to the suicides of Ham (in 1975) and Evans (in 1983).

The album begins with a rather peculiar selection, the moody and melancholy “Take It All”, which is a fine number by Pete Ham, but not the usual upbeat song you expect to kickoff a rock n roll album. That upbeat song is the second track, “Baby Blue”, written by Ham and produced by Rundgren, with a complex yet catchy guitar riff and a simple, early-sixties-like drum beat performed by drummer Mike Gibbons.

Guitarist Joey Molland added a few of his own numbers with “Suitcase”, “Sweet Tuesday Morning”, and “Sometimes”, written in his own unique style, edgy and not quite like anything contemporary. Bass player Tom Evans also penned multiple songs on the album in a style loosely associated with John Lennon.

Day After Day single

However, Pete Ham was the true genius within Badfinger. Beyond the album’s first two songs, he wrote three other superb songs on Straight Up. Two of these – “Perfection” and “The Name of the Game” should have been big hits, while the third one, “Day After Day”, was one, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts. The song was not only produced by Harrison but also featured the ex-Beatle on lead guitar as well as Leon Russell on piano.

Some rock historians contend that Badfinger would have had much more success had they had come around five years earlier or five years later, but the early seventies were not very receptive to their Beatle-esque pop songs. Whether this is true or not, we can certainly appreciate them now from the vantage point of four decades in the future.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

Imagine by John Lennon

Buy Imagine

Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine, the second full post-Beatles album by John Lennon, kicks off with an idyllic song envisioning a utopian world where there is no conflict and everyone agrees. Sounds pretty good on the surface, but this is where the art of making a album comes into play. The title song taken on it’s own may lead the listener to believe that this is how Lennon wished the world would be some day. But listening to the album as a whole completes the picture of how Lennon really seemed to view his world.

In many ways, the album was a musical continuation of Lennon’s 1970 debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which also featured Phil Spector as producer and a heavy presence by Klaus Voormann on the bass guitar. Many songs from Imagine (especially those on the “second side”) feel like they could have been left over from that previous album. However, there is a clear and distinct departure on Imagine towards a more cerebral and measured approach to these deep, inner subjects as opposed to the raw “primal scream” method on Plastic Ono Band.
 


Imagine by John Lennon
Released: September 9, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector, John Lennon, & Yoko Ono
Recorded: Ascot Studio (John Lennon’s Home), Tittenhurst Park, England,
Record Plant, New York, June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Imagine
Crippled Inside
Jealous Guy
It’s So Hard
I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier
Gimme Some Truth
Oh My Love
How Do You Sleep?
How?
Oh Yoko!
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Whistling, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Dobro
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Alan White – Drums, Percussion

 
The song “Imagine” is perhaps the most recognizable and universally appealing song John Lennon ever released. It has become the anthem of “peace” for generations, with it’s Garden of Eden-esque quality and a child-like or even animal-like interaction with the surrounding environment, where there is no danger and nothing to fear. It is technically stunning in it’s simplicity but not as deep as the rest of the album.

“Crippled Inside” is where we begin to peel back the pretty scenery to find the dirt and rocks beneath the surface. The song has an earthy, country vibe. You can picture the good old boys sitting around on a porch jamming out this tune. All that is missing is the jug and washboard.
 

 
A personal statement in the form of an honest and heartfelt apology and asking for forgiveness, “Jealous Guy” is a pleasant song. Spector’s presence is obvious, with the trademark strings building behind the fine ballad. Spector-ization of this album is a double edged sword – the simple, honest themes are probably best in their stripped down version, but Spector’s production does add a bit of richness and commercial appeal

Despite the strength of “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy,” The first side of the album is bogged down with much filler and is ultimately much weaker and less interesting than side two, where the action is. From the simple love song, “Oh My Love” to the deep, introspective “How?”, which includes perhaps the best lyric on the album-

“How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?”

The second side also includes a very personal dig at Lennon’s former bandmate and songwriting partner. Earlier in 1971, Paul McCartney had released his second solo album Ram, which contained the opening song “Too Many People” that had some harsh lyrics directed at John and his wife, Yoko Ono. “John had been doing a lot of preaching”, McCartney admitted in 1984. “I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ that was a little dig at John and Yoko”. “How Do You Sleep?” was a direct response, with even less veiled criticism that directly took on McCartney with clear references and double-entendres.

“Gimme Some Truth” is the best song on this album. It is a rant expressing John’s frustration with the general bullshit of life and society. It features scathing lyrics delivered in a syncopated rhythm against a background heavy with bass and drums –

“I’m sick to death of seeing things from tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists All I want is the truth Just gimme some truth now I’ve had enough of watching scenes of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas”

It is a precise statement about politicians lying and propagandizing – cut the crap and just tell the truth.

Although the album features Beatles band mate George Harrison as lead guitarist, he does not shine too brightly at any one moment. Pianist Nicky Hopkins, however, provides some great virtuoso and memorable playing, especially on “Crippled Inside”, “Jealous Guy”, and the upbeat pop song, “Oh Yoko!”. Alan White takes over for Ringo on drums and there are many guest musicians, including several members of the band Badfinger.

John Lennon in studio, 1971

On Imagine, John Lennon slides from themes of love, life, political idealism, to raw emotion. Honesty is an ongoing theme in his lyrics, especially after he descends from the polyanic vision of the theme song. It settles on the more realistic theme of life is not perfect, but if one lives honestly, loves fully and rises above the conflicts, it’s pretty close.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

1971 Images

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

Buy Aqualung

Aqualung by Jethro TullAqualung, the fourth album by Jethro Tull, was recorded at the same time and in the same studio (Island Studios, December 1970) as the fourth album by Led Zeppelin. While recording a section of the album’s title song, “Aqualung”, lead guitarist Martin Barre was moved to impress his counterpart, Jimmy Page and laid down a solo that was totally unorthodox for his style. The result is now an indelible part of Jethro Tull’s legacy, as “Aqualung” the song and Aqualung the album are among their most famous works. This little example of Barre’s guitar work is one of the things that, for better or for worse, make Aqualung one of the most unusual (top-notch) albums in rock history.

The album feels like a concept album and I suppose you can claim that it is. Except there is not a single concept to tie everything together, but rather three or four disparate concepts. So is it a concept album at all? Further, this album is loaded with quality, original material that entertains, enlightens, and intrigues. But it also contains a large amount of “filler” material that does little more than annoy, and possibly discourage the less dedicated listener from discovering the more brilliant moments of the album.
 


Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Released: March 19, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Ian Anderson & Terry Ellis
Recorded: Island Studios, London, December 1970-February 1971
Side One Side Two
Aqualung
Cross-Eyed Mary
Cheap Day Return
Mother Goose
Wond’ring Aloud
Up to Me
My God
Hymn 43
Slipstream
Locomotive Breath
Wind Up
Primary Musicians
Ian Anderson – Acoustic Guitar, Flute, Vocals
Martin Barre – Electric Guitars, Recorder
Jefferey Hammond-Hammond – Bass, Recorder, Vocals
John Evans – Piano, Organ, Mellotron
Clive Bunker – Drums, Percussion

 
As with all of Jethro Tull’s material, Aqualung‘s driving force is guitarist, flutist, and lead vocalist Ian Anderson. At their core, during their heyday in the early to mid 70s, Jethro Tull was an English folk band. Anderson’s acoustic backbone, lyrics, vocals, and flute, “decorates” their material with elements of contemporary rock. On this album, that order is turned inside-out as the most up-front and most recognizable material (“Aqualung”, “Cross-Eyed Mary”, “Hymn 43”, “Locomotive Breath”) is electric and riff-centric.

Photographer Jennie Franks Anderson, then wife of the lead singer, had taken a series of photos of homeless men, which inspired her to write the bulk of the lyrics of the opening title song. The title “Aqualung” was coined by Ian Anderson after the gurgling sound of underwater diving gear, which described the wheezing of the song’s character. While that character definitely possessed some perverse (or worse) characteristics in the opening song (“eyeing little girls with bad intent”), the inverse is explored in the second, companion song “Cross-Eyed Mary” (“gets no kicks from little boys, would rather make it with a letching gray”). Together, this pair makes a fantastic, albeit slightly deceptive, opening to the album.
 

 
“Mother Goose”, a pleasant and playful acoustic diddy, is a radical departure from the riff-driven rock that is established on the first two songs. However, it is sandwiched between two other short, acoustic fillers that seem out of place and unnecessary, as they do nothing more than confuse the listener further. The first side concludes with a return to the riff-driven rock, albeit in a calmer tone in “Up to Me”.

Another extended concept on God and religion is spread out through the second side of the album . “My God” is an alternative rock song, two decades before its time. It is a melodramatic and acoustic intro that takes a while to develop into deliberate, tense piano riff that gives way to booming electric guitars during the verses and later contains a long and bizarre trade-off between flute and choral interlude in the mid section. “Hymn 43” is a more upbeat, traditional rock song but with equal scorn at religion, especially Christianity. The album’s closer, “Wind Up”, again picks up this theme as a dramatic, theatrical piano piece with vocals in the same styling as “Aqualung”.

The piano of John Evans is featured more on this album than any other, especially with the long intro to “Locomotive Breath”, a song that deviates into a more traditional theme of broken relationships.

On their next two albums (Thick As a Brick in 1972, A Passion Play in 1973), Jethro Tull would create full-fledged, unambiguous, concept albums that would be well-regarded by prog rock enthusiasts but panned by more tradition rock fans. With Aqualung, they come pretty close to satisfying both of these camps, whether intentionally or not.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

 

Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin

Buy Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IVLed Zeppelin‘s fourth studio album, which has no proper title but is commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, may well be the pinnacle of the band’s early sound. Over time it has become their most popular album by far but, ironically, it is the only album in a string of six consecutive (from Led Zeppelin II in 1969 to In Through the Out Door in 1979) that did not reach #1 on the charts, as it peaked at #2. The album itself was also a bit of a philosophical statement, as the band and manager Peter Grant had decided to avoid the rock press and mainstream promotional channels and go “directly to the fans” with an almost-secret-society-type product which contained no official title or other descriptive language save for the four original symbols located on the inner sleeve and vinyl label.

This new, fourth album is where it would all came together for the band, with the confluence of the different themes and styles that Zeppelin had explored through their first three years and first three albums as well as with many, many happy accidents. The result is an album which contains moments that will forever be etched in rock history.

Their previous album, Led Zeppelin III released in 1970, was a critical and commercial disappointment at the time (although it would gain much appreciation and esteem years later). This was due mainly to confusion by fans and critics alike, due to the high content of acoustic folk songs, which vastly deviated from the band’s heavier, blues-based approach of their first two albums. In retrospect, this attempt by the band to branch out to other styles and genres was rather ingenious as it became rather popular throughout the seventies. With the continued diversity of styles on this fourth album, Led Zeppelin assured ever-growing success for generations to come.
 


Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 8, 1971 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Island Studios, London & Headley Grange, East Hampshire
December, 1970 – February, 1971
Side One Side Two
Black Dog
Rock and Roll
The Battle of Evermore
Stairway to Heaven
Misty Mountain Hop
Four Sticks
Going to California
When the Levee Breaks
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Recorders, Piano, Synths, Guitar
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
In time, Zeppelin would become one of the most diverse rock bands ever, incorporating elements from blues, jazz, folk, country, funk, reggae, as well as developing their own distinct styles that would be echoed in heavy metal, arena rock, and jam bands for decades to come. But in late 1970, Jimmy Page, the band’s lead guitarist and sole producer, was especially stung by the harsh critique and weak sales of their latest album and wanted to get a new album out as soon as possible, as he was brimming with ideas. He got together with Robert Plant, Zeppelin’s dynamic vocalist and chief lyricist, to work on some these new concepts, the first of which was an extended piece that was intended to be a replacement for the band’s live showcase “Dazed and Confused”, which dates back to the band’s first album.

Put together from a couple of instrumental pieces, written on several 6 and 12 string guitars, the song “Stairway to Heaven” would go on to not only be the band’s most famous song, but the most requested song ever on FM radio. The song draws lyrical influence from Welsh folklore, and musical influence from multiple areas, depending on the part of the song, of which there are three distinct, set back to back in sequence. It starts with Page’s finger-picked, folk acoustic accompanied by recorders played by bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones. After a few poetic verses, the song enters the pivital second part, a madrigal played on an electric 12-string, with ever intensive verses and refrains. One of the absolute best moments in rock history is when drummer John Bonham makes his entrance at about 4 ½ minutes into the song’s duration, adding the rhythmic element that finally breaks the tension and reminds us that, although massively overplayed through the years, this IS the definitive Led Zeppelin signature. The song’s finale is a heavy, electric jam with overdubbed guitars and high-majestic vocals, bringing the song to the heights before concluding with a calm refrain with an a capella vocal.
 

 
Recording for the fourth album started at Island Studios in London in December, 1970. Jethro Tull was in the studio at the same time recording Aqualung, and Led Zeppelin wanted a little more space to be creative. So they found an old estate in the English countryside called Headley Grange and moved there for better atmosphere. Here they could hunt in the forest by day, drink tea at the proper hour, and gather around the campfire at night, with moments of inspiration for recording in between. This was possible due to the latest technical innovation, the Rolling Stones mobile studio, a portable, professional recording unit, that was used for some of the classic albums of the early seventies. It was brought to Headley Grange by that band’s road manager, Ian Stewart, who was also a piano virtuoso and would ultimately contribute to the songs “Rock and Roll” and “Boogie With Stu” during these sessions.

Rock and Roll single

Aside from “Stairway to Heaven”, the band did not have any fully developed songs coming into these recording sessions, which left open the opportunity for the many “creative accidents” that would make up this fouth album, several of which involved Bonham. The drummer was having trouble with the odd timings involved with the song that would become “Four Sticks” (in fact, the song got its title when Bonham, in frustration, actually did a take with four sticks in his hands), and took a break from trying by kicking into the straight-forward, 4/4 beat of “Good Golly, Miss Molly”. Page joined in with an improvised riff, and the song “Rock and Roll” was born. That signature, opening beat that Bonham played would become one of the most recognizable intros in rock history.

Another unplanned composition is “The Battle of Evermore”, which was the result of Page picking up a mandolin brought in by Jones and composing a distinct piece, that was originally intended to be a short instrumental, but built into a Medieval folk song when Jones added an acoustic and Plant added vocals and lyrics and even wrote a separate vocal part for a “town crier”, which was later performed by folk singer Sandy Denny, the only guest singer to ever appear in a Led Zeppelin song.

Led Zeppelin 1971

While at Headley Grange, the band wrote and recorded the bulk of the rest of the album, including the heavier songs like “Misty Mountain Hop”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and “Black Dog”, which was actually named for a stray black lab that kept coming around the place. Also, the band recorded many songs that would left off the album, like “Down By the Seaside”, “Night Flight”, “Black Country Woman” and the afore mentioned “Boogie With Stu”. Page toyed with the idea of releasing a double album, but didn’t want the necessary delay in release that would be required for such an undertaking. Unfortunately, the album would be delayed anyway for several months because of mixing problems and the abrupt departure of an audio engineer. Even though all recording was wrapped up by late February, 1971, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album would not be released until November 8th of that year.

Beyond, the production issues, Page also got some heavy static from Atlantic Records on several fronts. The executives not only had concerns with the album’s cover art, but had a very big problem with Page’s plan to not include the band’s name on the exterior jacket nor give the album a proper title. The executives and marketing “specialists” at the record company called this strategy an act of “career suicide”, but Page was adamant in his quest to “let the music do the talking”. This strategy also included avoiding any of the normal publicity associated with releasing a new album, especially press releases and access.

Four Symbols

The only definitive markings with this album were the personal symbols that each member constructed of their own design. The exact meaning of these “four symbols” has never been revealed much by the band members, especially Page, who came up with the concept and whose own symbol, an odd script that appears to spell out the word “Zoso”, is the most mysterious of all. After reluctantly agreeing to this peculiar concept, Atlantic distributed graphics of the four symbols to the trade magazines.

The final fight with the record company, involved the song “Stairway to Heaven”, which Atlantic desperately wanted to release as a single, but Page refused because doing so what mean that it would have to be edited from its running time of 7:50, and this was completely unacceptable. As it turns out, this refusal along with the album’s unplanned, delayed release built up so much anticipation among fans that it contributed to thousands upon thousands of sales over an extended period of time.

The real genius of Led Zeppelin IV is just how unique, unconventional, and unaware this album’s creation was. There is virtually nothing fabricated, it is pure rock n roll. John Bonham displays amazing efficiency, playing on only about 5 1/2 of the album’s 8 tracks, but making an indelible impression while he is there, with some of the most memorable drum beats in history. John Paul Jones, a virtuoso bass player, contributes piano, synths, recorders, acoustic guitar, and even some vocals. Robert Plant, a vocalist at the height of his fame due to his signature, high-pitched wails, tones it back where appropriate, especially on the lighter, folk-influenced songs like “Going to California”. Jimmy Page, perhaps the greatest producer since George Martin, is still ambitious enough to make something truly unique, while still unafraid to “borrow” from some of the great genres of the past.

It’s so refreshing that a band at this stage, going into their fourth album with a lot success already in the bag, would make an album that reaches the fringes of rock without a self-aware agenda to do so.

~

Led Zeppelin online

Led Zeppelin on Twitter  Led Zeppelin on Facebook
Led Zeppelin official website
Buy Led Zeppelin IV

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums

The Yes Album by Yes

Buy The Yes Album

There are certain albums that have undoubtedly broken through to establish new rules of rock n’ roll and are, therefore immortally classics. Then there are some albums that seem to have missed a great opportunity to become such a classic. The Yes Album by Yes, seems to straddle the line between these two possibilities as it falls just a few feet shy of being a top level rock n’ roll classic. Nonetheless, this is truly a great rock album.

When listening to this album, there are certain awe-inspiring moments where you can’t help but marvel at the sure technical talent of this band. To a lesser extent, there are the moments of over-indulgence and repetition that give The Yes Album a certain “not quite completed” vibe that leaves the slight, regrettable aftertaste of “could-have-been”.

This duality is immediate right up front with the opener “Yours Is No Disgrace”. This is a song that very well may have been considered one of the best ever, if it would have only been arranged better and finished. The simple riff that rips the song into being, grabs you right up front, with a shot of rock adrenaline and prog intellect, but it dissolves all too soon into a calm, droning, harmonized chant of the mundane and simple lyric line. Then the song picks up again and does enter some very interesting musical passages, only to return the drab vocals in just a slightly varied fashion. It is like someone in the band dug the Beatles’ infamous “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)” and wanted to do their own, updated version of that ill-fated experiment.
 


The Yes Album by Yes
Released: February 19, 1971 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Yes and Eddie Offord
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, October-November, 1970
Side One Side Two
  Yours Is No Disgrace
  The Clap
  Starship Trooper
 I’ve Seen All Good People
 The Venture
 Perpetual Change
Group Musicians
 Jon Anderson – Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vachalia, Vocals
Tony Kaye – Piano, Organ, Synths
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion  

 

The Yes Album introduces us to a new band member, guitarist Steve Howe, perhaps the one member most responsible for the band’s phenomenal success over the coming years. Howe’s live acoustic instrumental “The Clap”, an impressive showcase that uniquely fuses classical with blue-grass, is unfortunately mis-placed in the song sequence as the second song on Side One, a side that concludes with the first of two multi-part suites on the album, “Starship Trooper”.

With each of its three sections written by a different individual member (“Life Seeker” by vocalist Jon Anderson, “Disillusion” by bassist Chris Squire, “Wurm” by Howe), the song easily and pleasantly moves from one part to another. “Life Seeker” is a tension-filled rock segment that contains some of the earliest use of a quality flange effect, which is re-introduced in the concluding instrumental section “Wurm”. In between is an interesting break with acoustic and bass, and well-harmonized vocals.
 

 
The second side of the album opens with the second suite “I’ve Seen All Good People”, a two-part, quasi-hippie “get together” type song that first starts with an a capella vocal preview of Squire’s straight-rocking end part “All Good People”, which follows the melodic, acoustic-driven “Your Move”, written by Anderson and featuring a folksy recorder played by Colin Goodring (you may recognize this part being played in recent credit card commercials).

Compared to the other, more interesting parts of this album, “A Venture” is anything but – being just a straight-forward almost formulaic pop song that relies heavily on the keyboards on Tony Kaye, who would be replaced following this album by the more dynamic Rick Wakeman.

Kaye also plays a big part in the finale “Perpetual Change”, and entertaining extended piece that previews some of the fine material to come in the following year with the pair of excellent albums Fragile and Close to the Edge, ending The Yes Album on a strong note.

Even though it falls just a bit short of being a bona fide classic, there is no doubt that this is an important album in the history of progressive rock.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

 

L.A. Woman by The Doors

Buy L.A. Woman

LA Woman by The Doors

L.A. Woman, is the final Doors album with lead singer and poet, Jim Morrison. This album encompasses a mixture of blues, funk, and rock while maintaining a sound that is still distinctly The Doors. The album strikes the rare balance of going back to basics while still exploring uncharted territory in the initial, pioneering journey of rock n roll. The music itself also possesses this simultaneous duality as it is much stripped down from the exuberant production of earlier albums, such as Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, but is also enhanced by a new “voice” that Morrison discovered and the emergence of the bass guitar as a front and center instrument in the band’s sound.

Starting in 1967, The Doors had five previous studio albums to figure out what is necessary and what is superfluous. This is evident in every detail of L.A. Woman, right down to the album cover artwork. Gone is the image of a half naked Jim Morrison out in front of his “backing band”. On the cover of this album, an off-center, bearded Morrison is slouched down to appear smaller below the rest of the band. The cover contained a very generic look with the band name and title in uniform block lettering, omitting the use of even the band’s trademark stenciled logo. Interesting is the omission of the “The” in the band’s name, as the album is credited to simply to “Doors”, which perhaps implies that there are now several , generic “doors of perception” to be cleansed, not just these four particular ones. Whether or not this was the actual intent, there is no doubt that the band wanted to strip away any pretense of something mystical or magical and just put out an album of blues-influenced, rock music, and that they did.
 


L.A. Woman by The Doors
Released: April 19, 1971 (Electra)
Produced by: Bruce Botnick and The Doors
Recorded: The Doors Workshop, Los Angeles, December 1970-January 1971
Side One Side Two
  The Changeling
  Love Her Madly
  Been Down So Long
  Cars Hiss by My Window
  L.A. Woman
 L’America
 Hyacinth House
 Crawling King Snake
 The WASP (Texas Radio & Big Beat)
 Riders on the Storm
Musicians
Jim Morrison – Vocals & Voice Effects
Robbie Krieger – Lead Guitars
Ray Manzarek – Piano & Keyboards
John Densmore – Drums
Jerry Scheff – Bass
Marc Benno – Rhythm Guitars

 
A variety of themes permeate the album. The first track, “The Changeling” grabs your attention right away, with its addictive, funky hook accented by Morrison’s primal grunts. It is like Jim Morrison addressing the listeners about his pending move to Paris and attempt at a new life as a poet, like many of the 20th century’s great writers had done before. With his boisterous blues outburst of “see me change”, those who had watched Morrison’s career knew what he was talking about. Here was a man who had made a career out of being a chameleon – starting as a military brat progressing into a highway drifter and film student before creating the ideal “rock star” archetype that is still mimicked today, only to destroy that image by growing a beard, gaining weight, and sabotaging the band’s live bankability with bizarre on stage antics. Jim Morrison was a changeling and with the first track on L.A. Woman he was telling everyone that he was not done. This “change” theme is revisited later in the album, especially in the songs “Hyacinth House”, “The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)”, and “Riders On the Storm”.

Riders On the Storm single

“Riders”, the album’s closer, is a unique song in the history of rock n roll. With several influences including, the traditional cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and Morrison’s own defunct film, HWY: An American Pastoral as well as his poems. Often considered a Morrison masterpiece, because of its haunting theme and whispered background vocals, the song is really a showcase for the other three band members – guitarist Robbie Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – who use the song as a preview of the group’s new direction.

The band already knew coming in that this album would be an endpoint on a couple of fronts. It was the last one necessary to fulfill their contract with Electra Records, and the band had already quietly agreed to a break from Morrison, as he planned to move to Paris following its completion, and continue as a trio with Krieger, Manzarek, and Densmore. In fact, a common misconception is that the late-1971 album Other Voices was made in reaction to Morrison’s death, when it was actually started prior to his passing, with some songs actually worked on during the L.A. Woman sessions.

Beyond the four members of The Doors, there were two addition musicians involved with the making of L.A. Woman, bassist Jerry Scheff who played on every track and blues guitarist Mark Benno, who played rhythm guitar on four of the album’s tracks. Scheff, who was Elvis Presley‘s regular bass player at the time, was as much a part of the music on L.A. Woman as any of the “regular” Doors (a defacto “fifth Door”), being right out front in the mix and providing the memorable riffs for some of the most memorable songs.

Benno added his talents to the album’s title song along with “Been Down So Long”, “Cars Hiss By My Window”, and the cover of the John Lee Hooker song “Crawling King Snake”. These tracks also happened to be the same ones where Morrison best used his new found “blues” voice, a vocal style unlike any he had presented before, but did with exceptional talent and ease, especially on “Cars Hiss by My Window” – a song in which Morrison’s vocals shine on two levels, the straight-up singer voice, and the wild-mimicked bluesy-harmonica sounding “voice” solo that ends the song. Although Benno had never even heard of The Doors before being booked for these sessions, he and Morrison became fast friends, going to lunch and drinking together between recordings.

Aside from the well-received title song, these extra-bluesy songs that Benno worked on have been commonly knocked by die-hard Doors fans as the “filler” on L.A. Woman, but, although they may not quite match the rest of the album, they certainly do not detract from the album as a whole. Lyrically these songs may not quite be the high points of the album, but the only real filler is the odd-marching, quasi-psychedelic “L’America”, which sounds like an incomplete experiment that should have been left for the box sets decades later.

Love Her Madly single

Thematically, L.A. Woman is not an acid trip, an orchestral, or a poem, but is quite simply the completion of the band’s take on blues rock that started with their previous album, Morrison Hotel in 1970, but it is not a pure blues album. In fact, one of the band’s finest pop songs is present in “Love Her Madly”, which sounds like it could of fit well on Strange Days in 1967. It is perhaps the best audio evidence that this is, in fact, The Doors we are in listening to.

The band was not looking to explore new musical themes or expand consciousness – they just wanted to record an album and the result was a magical capture of lightning in a bottle. Certain unforeseen situations led to this confluence. Longtime producer Paul Rothschild had disagreements with the band on their approach and walked away from the project early on, leaving the production to engineer Bruce Botnik and the band members themselves.

The album was recorded at the band’s rehearsal space on Santa Monica Blvd, in a building that was once an antique store. Botnik converted a bathroom into the vocal booth for Morrison and used just an 8-track recorder, which is incredible considering the depth of the resulting sound. This location was chosen after the Doors decided to forego professional studio costs and considered a number of locations including Robbie Krieger’s beach house, which was decorated with several hyacinth plants.

“Hyacinth House” is an oft-overlooked gem on L.A. Woman with Krieger’s folksy guitars, Morrison’s calm yet desperate pleads of paranoia and need for change and, most especially, Ray Manzarek’s virtuoso work on the organ where he subtly mimic’s a piece by Chopin. Another interesting piece on the “second side” of the album is “The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)”, a spoken-word poem that at once pays homage to Mexican pirate radio of the sixties while taking the listener on an undecipherable poetic journey, all above a funky-riff that could have been used for a Sesame Street learning experiment. It is hard to think that anyone but Morrison himself truly “got” this song, but it does add a nice bit of balance to much of the rest of the album.

The Doors in 1970

Speaking of “sides” of the album (for those of us old enough to remember such things), one of the flaws of L.A. Woman is the fact that it reversed what should have been the extended closing number of each side – the 7-plus minute songs “Riders on the Storm” and “L.A. Woman”. The title song, with its movement and rhythm, and nearly constant build to a crescendo, is the undeniable climax of the album and would have worked best as the last song on the album instead of “Riders On the Storm”, which kind of drip-drops its way out. As a matter of fact, both these songs were included in the high-selling Greatest Hits compilation in 1980, with “Riders” finishing side one and “L.A. Woman” wrapping up side two. Was this the quiet recognition of an original faux pas in song sequence by the band?

But no matter where it sits in the song sequence, the song “L.A. Woman” is a masterpiece, just like the album of the same name is. Every track is musically crafted to near perfection without being over-produced nor overdone. This is probably due to the fact that The Doors were just looking to make music with this album and not accomplish any loftier goals. They simply wanted to jam and move on to the next phases of their lives and careers. Tragically, there would not be much of that life left in Jim Morrison, who died at the age of 27 on July 3, 1971, just three months after the album was released.

~

Contributers:
J.D. Cook
Ric Albano

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.