80 Years Ago Today

Buy King of the Delta Blues Singers

Robert Johnson and Pat Albano

NOTE: Below is the original article I wrote five years ago entitled “75 Years Ago Today” which focused on the historic Robert Johnson recordings which were coincidentally made on the very same day that my father was born. At the time, I couldn’t know that the 75th birthday of Pasquale John Albano would be his last here on Earth, as he passed away the following year on August 15, 2012.

      – Ric Albano 11/23/16


75 Years Ago Today

Robert JohnsonOn November 23, 1936 in San Antonio, TX, a young blues man from the Mississippi Delta cut the first half of his famed 29 recorded tracks. These simple songs would ripple through the rock and roll world some three decades later, when some soon-to-be-famous musicians in England discovered the classic recordings and implemented many of the unique and innovative techniques of this young blues player, named Robert Johnson. Johnson was a huge influence on Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton of Cream, and most especially Jimmy Page & Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. It turns out that these 29 tracks were a lot of recordings for Delta musicians of the time and may have helped to preserve the legend of a constantly traveling, Depression-era, blues man of which only two known photographs exist. He otherwise may have gone overlooked or simply forgotten in time, and then how would rock n roll have turned out?

Johnson, who was born 100 years ago in 1911, has come to be known as the “grandfather of rock n roll” due to the rippling of his influence on rock decades later. He lived a short and nomadic life, dead by the age of 27, and was a truly mythic blues figure, shrouded in mystery and rumour. The biggest of these was that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for extraordinary talent as a guitarist, singer, and composer. Extensive research into his life have suggested Johnson was haunted and driven by a desire to never return to the sharecropper’s agricultural work of his adolescent years, and he lived a live of constantly appearing, disappearing, and reappearing in several locations throughout the south and mid-west. These facts could have certainly played right into the overactive imaginations of some who like to attribute supernatural hands to the unexplained genius, much like the rumors that would swirl about rock n roll stars a half century later. Nonetheless, a true telling of the Robert Johnson story would not be complete without covering this legend, as has been told in print and film many times over the year. Here is the AMG (All Music Guide) version:

Robert Johnson was a young black man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi. Branded with a burning desire to become great blues musician, he was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar from Johnson, tuned it, and handed it back to him.

Within less than a year’s time, in exchange for his everlasting soul, Robert Johnson became the king of the Delta blues singers, able to play, sing, and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard. As success came with live performances and phonograph recordings, Johnson remained tormented, constantly haunted by nightmares of hellhounds on his trail, his pain and mental anguish finding release only in the writing and performing of his music.

Just as he was to be brought to Carnegie Hall to perform in John Hammond’s first Spirituals to Swing concert, the news had come from Mississippi; Robert Johnson was dead, poisoned by a jealous girlfriend while playing a jook joint. Those who were there swear he was last seen alive foaming at the mouth, crawling around on all fours, hissing and snapping at onlookers like a mad dog. His dying words (either spoken or written on a piece of scrap paper) were, “I pray that my redeemer will come and take me from my grave.” He was buried in a pine box in an unmarked grave, his deal with the Devil at an end.

Although this legend may seem far-fledged, there is some further situational evidence to support this. Johnson was a teenage plantation worker in Robinsville, MS when married his first wife, who died shortly after during childbirth. It was at this point that Johnson apparently got his drive to get away from agriculture and be a blues musician. He started on harmonica, sitting in with some of the local Delta legends such as Son House and Charley Patton. By their later accounts, he played adequately as a harmonica player but really wanted to play guitar. But when they let him play during sets, he was a bit of a joke, seemingly possessing no skill at all. Johnson then suddenly left Robinsville only to reappear a year later with some unbelievable and innovative skills on the guitar, which far exceeded that of Son House or any of his contemporaries. According to House;

When he finished all our mouths were standing open. I said, ‘Well, ain’t that fast! He’s gone now!’ To a man, there was only one explanation as how Johnson had gotten that good, that fast; he had sold his soul to the devil.

While no one is sure where the “devil tuning the guitar at the crossroads” detail of the story came about, there is some evidence that Johnson was tutored by Ike Zimmerman of Hazelhurst, Mississippi, who would frequently play late at night in graveyards, as a pragmatic measure to not disturb anyone. Further, some have suggested that the “crossroads” story was actually that of a lesser known musician named Tommy Johnson (as suggested in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, and later combined with the already mysterious bio of the legend Robert Johnson.

In another similarity to later rock myths, Johnson was also believed by some to have faked his own death. The following footage from 1942, shows a yet-to-be identified street musician with incredible finger skill, that some claimed is actually Robert Johnson;
 

 
Another rumor has Johnson living until the mid sixties, dying of liver cancer after his legend was re-discovered with the release of Columbia Record’s King of the Delta Blues Singers, which was the direct recordings that influenced so many 60’s-era musicians. But the truth is, there were many witnesses to Johnson’s death in 1938, allegedly due to poison slipped in his drink by the jealous husband of a woman he had bedded.

Johnson’s success at serial womanizing was another attribute that is sometimes attributed to his deal with the devil. He wandered up and down the Delta and as far away as Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago. He supposedly used different names in different places, with as many as eight different surnames confirmed by researchers. He had a multi-pronged routine when he would arrive in a new town. He’d first, play popular songs for tips on street corners. Later, in the local black saloon or “juke joint”, he would play the dark and complex original blues which made him legendary, usually accompanying local blues men. Finally, he would find a woman to suit his needs for his stay in that town. The duration of stays were also erratic, some times a day or two, sometimes a week, and he would often disappear suddenly and without notifying anyone.

Robert Johnson
The second of two known photos of Robert Johnson

Eventually, Johnson sought out H.C. Speir, talent scout from Jackson, Mississippi, who put Johnson in touch with producer Ernie Oertle. On November 23, 1936, Oertle brought Johnson to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, a temporary “studio” for Brunswick Records. There, Johnson performed facing a corner in order to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique later labeled “corner loading”, which Johnson apparently invented on the spot. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson recorded sixteen selections along with alternate takes for most of these. These included “Cross Road Blues”, “Kind Hearted Woman Blues”, “Terraplane Blues”, which became his first regional commercial “hit”, selling 5,000 copies. The rest of Johnson’s historic recordings were made in 1937.

Robert Johnson’s recordings began to pick up steam and his popularity grew. By 1938, Johnson was about to go national, as a Columia Records executive sought him out to play the first From Spirituals to Swing concert at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. But unfortunately, Johnson had already been murdered in Mississippi and was replaced that night by Big Bill Broonzy, who paid tribute to Johnson by performing a couple of his songs from the stage.

Ironically, Johnson did not have nearly the influence on his fellow blues musicians through the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s as he did on the young rock musicians of the 60’s, who amazingly recoginized his skills through the dusty old recordings. This may be because many of his techniques, such as the boogie bass line, were “re-invented” during the advent of rock n roll in the 1950’s, showing just how far ahead of his time Johnson was. In fact, when Brian Jones first played Johnson for fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards, he reacted by asking, “Who is the other guy playing with him?” not realizing it was Johnson playing all himself.

None of this would have been possible, had he not found his way to that makeshift recording studio, 75 years ago today. On that very same day, the ninth child of Italian immigrants Donata and Guiseppe Albano was born in Hazleton, PA. That child was named Pasquale John Albano, my father, who today celebrates his 75th birthday.

Happy birthday, Dad.

~

All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass DVDThe chronological framework of Classic Rock Review spans the years 1965-2000 in order to coincide with the rise and fall of the traditional, artist-driven, hard-copy “album”. Nearly mirroring this time span and on a parallel track is the meteoric rise and fall of Tower Records, a record “superstore” with humble beginnings to cult-like status to mainstream worldwide success to sudden demise. Directed by Colin Hanks, All Things Must Pass is a feature-length documentary that examines the company’s origins, serendipitous growth, culture, influence and its legacy.

The promise of this story is in the opening script; “In 1999 Tower Records had over a billion dollars in sales by 2004 the company was bankrupt…” However, in reality, this documentary unfolds in proportion to real time events, with much more attention spent on the decades of growth and expansion in the company and much less (not enough) focused on the sudden and shocking collapse of Tower Records and the recorded music industry as a whole.

Russ Soloman in Tower SF, 1968aThe focal point of the documentary is Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, who got started at a young age working in his father’s variety drug store in Sacramento, California in the 1940s. Solomon’s experience in the record industry started by selling used records from the soda fountain jukebox and slowly led to Russ focusing solely on the wholesale and retail record sales of the multi-purpose drug store. After an initial attempt and failure at running an independent record store in the 1950s, Soloman incorporated Tower Records in 1960 and had several years of steady growth in Sacramento. In 1968, Solomon opened a 5,000-square-foot store in San Francisco, which lauded itself as having the “largest inventory anywhere” and met with immediate phenomenal success. Solomon then replicated this model with an even larger location on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which caught the attention of many popular rock artists and record industry insiders.

Much of the documentary talks about staff who started as simple clerks and rose to the highest executive positions when the company grew and expanded. These stories are somewhat interesting but a bit too “inside baseball” for the passive viewer. The documentary does do well in talking about its culture and relaxed atmosphere, with no dress code and an implicit tolerance of drinking and drugs with the only real “rule” being to show up everyday. Soloman claimed he had a “Tom Sawyer” style of management, letting his staff enthusiastically do the hard work and giving them the freedom to get the work done in their own style. Many of these workers were musicians or music fanatics, creating an ideal social atmosphere for the customers they were looking to attract. The documentary includes on-camera commentary by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Dave Grohl as well as a really cool 1974 audio advertisement by John Lennon.

Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, Tower Records grew nationally and internationally, with sales and profits rising each year until the company did over a billion dollars annually by the end of the century. Then came the collapse of terrestrial retail as digital technologies emerged starting in the year 2000 when, after 40 years of consistent growth, sales flat-lined. By no means was this collapse due in total to outside forces and some of the key players at Tower own up to mistakes. One major mistake was the panicked sale of Tower’s Japanese outlets which, ironically, are now the only store locations that are still operating today.

Empty Tower store, 2006

A native of Sacramento, Hanks spent seven years on this documentary and presents the story expertly, bringing the record store experience back to those of us who grew up in that era. The most vivid and haunting scenes coming at the very beginning and very end with a completely empty but still-in-tact Tower location in a retail strip-mall, showing the passing of a cultural pastime.

All Things Must Pass was released on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group on September 13, 2016.
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End of Our Original 5-Year Mission

At the beginning of 2011, Classic Rock Review set out on a monumental task to review the best and most important rock and roll album released during the 30 year period between 1965 and 1994. To accomplish this, we set up a 5 year schedule, covering six classic years annually or approximately one every two months. On December 14, 2015, we published the 452nd and final album review of this original mission, The Who’s My Generation, completing a monumental task of original material that, combined, would fill the pages of about six full novels.

Moving into 2016, Classic Rock Review will pivot towards new features with more select album reviews (we did miss a few) and other interesting content. Stay tuned for our next newsletter for more details!

Album Covers Montage


Greg Kihn, Painted Black

Greg KihnAdding to his long and distinguished career in rock music, Greg Kihn is now fully immersed in the world of creative fiction. His latest novel, Painted Black, is the second in a sequence which has Kihn’s fictional characters interact with real life people and events. In this case, the focus is on the Rolling Stones in general and the death of their founding member, Brian Jones, in particular. In July 1969, Jones was discovered at the bottom of his home swimming pool in what the local coroner concluded was a “death by misadventure”. However, over the past four plus decades, many have theorized that Jones’ death was not an accident and Kihn himself believes that Jones may have been murdered.

Published this past April, Painted Black follows Kihn’s 2013 novel Rubber Soul, which features the rise of The Beatles from playing the clubs in Liverpool though the heights of Beatlemania. The story is written from the point of view of Bobby Dingle, a young man close in age to the “Fab Four”, who helps his father run a second hand store on Penny Lane in Liverpool. His occupation earned him the nickname “Dust Bin Bob” and he befriended the young Beatles through their mutual appreciation of American rock and blues records that Bob collected while trading items for the shop. In the book, he introduces the group to the sounds of James Brown and many others who would become legends. While Dust Bin Bob was the central character, following the turmoil in his family life and his travels with the merchant marines, The Beatles and music were ever present in the story.  Khin manages to weave this story into an almost James Bond like tale of international mystery.

Painted Black by Greg Kihn book coverIn our recent interview with Greg Kihn, he told us that when he completed Rubber Soul, the experience had been so enjoyable that he decided to simply keep writing. For this second in the series, Dust Bin Bob and few supporting characters return but the focus shifts from the Beatles to the Stones and a few years later in time. Brian Jones gave the Rolling Stones their name and was the undisputed band leader during the early part of their career. However, by the late sixties his leadership and musical contributions began to wane, due mainly to chemical dependency but also some personal disputes with other band members. After Jones was arrested a second time for drug possession in 1968, it was difficult for him to acquire a visa to tour the United States and he was soon dismissed from the band he founded. Later in 1968, Jones took up residence of an estate formerly owned by Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne. In Kihn’s novel, Jones finds an ancient mirror in this house and becomes obsessed with “mirror gazing”, or looking into the mirror for meditation and seeing visions. One of the visions Jones sees eventually leads to his death.

As a teenage musician growing up in Baltimore, Kihn was strongly influenced by British rock and was especially intrigued by Jones due to his musical innovations and slide guitar technique. He started his musical career off in the singer/songwriter mode before relocated to the San Francisco Bay area and concentrating on rock-oriented music. After a debut solo album in 1976 called Beserkley Chartbusters, he formed The Greg Kihn Band with guitarist Robbie Dunbar, bassist Steve Wright, and drummer Larry Lynch. In 1981, the group reached the Top 20 with “The Breakup Song” from the album RocKihnRoll. This was one of a series of album titles that punned on Kihn’s name, including Next of Kihn, Kihntinued, Kihnspiracy, Kihntageous, Citizen Kihn, and the 1989 compilation album Kihnsolidation. Through this long recording career, Kihn’s biggest hit single was 1983’s “Jeopardy”, which he told us took all of fifteen minutes to write but nearly topped the pop singles charts. In comparing this to the relative ease he had in writing Painted Black he said, “sometimes the best songs write themselves.”

 
One thing the award-winning “Jeopardy” video did show was Kihn’s affinity for the horror genre.  He began his literary career in 1996 with the novel Horror Show, which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. This was followed by three more novels in the horror fiction category. Although he has moved on from writing in this category, Kihn told us that he would love to someday do a “creature feature” show.

Kihn also had a long and distinguished radio career on classic rock station KUFX in San Jose, CA. During his 16 years at the station, Kihn had the top-rated morning show in Greg Kihn at AT&T Park in San Franciscothe nation’s fourth largest market and this helped spawn his annual “Khincert”, a rock concert in Mountain View, CA where the Greg Kihn Band has opened up for some rock legends including The Who, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Miller Band, and Boston. Greg Kihn is also an avid sports fan and has had the honor of singing the national anthem prior to games by the World Champion San Francisco Giants and other professional sports teams in the Bay area.

Although he has tried his hand in many different fields, Kihn has managed a level on consistency (or should we say, “Kihnsistency”) when it comes to his business practices. Since the early seventies he has been managed by his friend and business partner Joel Turtle and he takes pride in the fact that he maintains total ownership of his musical library. He plans to soon make his entire catalogue available on GregKihn.com.

We asked Greg Kihn about the possibility of third installment in the “Dust Bin Bob” series and he said it was a definite possibility. Although he gave no specifics on who the next rock protagonist may be he talked about how out of control that (late sixties) era was, citing Jimi Hendrix as wild, flamboyant and “crazy as a loon” while being the world’s greatest guitarist. “Without people like them (Hendrix and Jones), guitar players may have gotten there but it would have taken much longer.” We look forward to seeing what’s next.

~

Buy Painted Black by Greg Kihn

Top 9 Rock Moments from 1964

The earliest year we will review on Classic Rock Review will be 1965. But this week we will cheat a little and look at the top moments from the preceding year, 1964, as we part from the 50th Anniversary of that historic rock n’ roll year.

1. Beatlemania

February – April 1964
Beatles on Ed Sullivan show
For the vast amount of rock bands that tour a foreign country for the first time, it is a rather unremarkable event for the people of that country. But on Friday, February 7, 1964, the British band The Beatles were greeted by over three thousand ravenous fans as they touched ground at the then-newly-minted John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. the group’s first stop on their initial American tour was a national television spot on the Ed Sullivan show, which drew over 70 million viewers on Sunday night, February 9th. This touched off a frenzy known as “Beatlemania”, which included an East Coast American tour, two more appearances on the Sullivan show, and climaxed in April, 1964. In consecutive weeks, The Beatles achieved chart dominance, the likes of which have not been equaled before or since. On April 4th they occupied the top five positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with their singles “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “Please Please Me”. A week later on April 11th, the group held 14 positions on the that same chart, the highest number of concurrent charting singles by one artist ever. In the wake of this initial Beatlemania, came a flood of copycat artists known as the “British Invasion”.

2. The Who Become “The Who”

Spring 1964
The Who in 1964

When 1964 began, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltry were in a mod group called The Detours, which played gigs at parties, small hotels, and social clubs. In the early part of the year a series of events took place in rapid succession which put in place one of the most dynamic acts in rock history. First, the group became aware of the group “Johnny Devlin and the Detours” and Townshend decided to float a bunch of “joke” names to see if his bandmates took to any. Daltrey chose “The Who” because he thought it had a “pop punch”. In April, the group had a chance encounter with a stand-in drummer for another band called Keith Moon. They were so immediately taken by his aggressive style that they immediately asked Moon to join The Who. Shortly afterward, Townshend was miming some machine gun theatrics when he accidentally broke the head of his guitar on the low ceiling of the stage. Angered by the laughter that ensued, he smashed the instrument on the stage before picking up another guitar and continuing to perform. Townshend would replicate this moment on stage for decades to come.

3. A Hard Day’s Night

July, 1964
A Hard Days Night by The BeatlesFollowing the frenzied popular success of their arrival in America, the Beatles returned to England and soon achieved an artistic success which rock and pop groups would attempt but fail to replicate for the next half century. A Hard Day’s Night eas a full length film, released on July 6, 1964, which starred the members of the group playing themselves within the frenzy of Beatlemania. A financial and critical success, the film has been ranked as one of the all-time greats of the 20th century. The full length soundtrack of the same name was released on July 10th and was the first Beatles’ album to contain all original music. This album also shows a marked leap in sophistication in the Beatles music with such classics as “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Things We Said Today”, “And I Love Her”, “I Should Have Known Better”, “If I Fell”, and “I’ll Be Back”. John Lennon was the dominate songwriter on this album with George Harrison becoming the first to employ a new 12-string electric guitar which would be very influential to the later sound of the sixties.

4. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks

July-August, 1964
The Kinks 1964 albumIn July 1964, The Kinks were in IBC Studios in London when guitarist Dave Davies decided to slice the speaker cone of his guitar amp and poke it with a pin, making a natural distortion sound that came to define hard rock for decades to come. While Davies innovation is not disputed, the identity of the guitarist who played lead. Future Deep Purple organist Jon Lord claimed he was at the session and that then-session player Jimmy Page, later of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, played the solo. The Kinks dispute this account and claim Davies handled the lead himself. No matter the case, there is no doubt that this single song, which wa later brought to new heights on Van Halen’s debut album, is one of the greatest single sources of influence in rock history.

5. The Supremes Five Consecutive #1 Hits

Starting in September 1964
The Supremes
While the Beatles completely dominated the pop world during the early part of the year, The Supremes achieved an unprecedented feat in late 1964 into early 1965. Five consecutive singles released by the Motown group – “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again” – reached number one on the American pop charts.

6. “The House of the Rising Sun”

May-June, 1964
House of the Rising Sun by The AnimalsGroup leader Eric Burdon first heard the traditional American song “House of the Rising Sun” when it was performed by folk singer Johnny Handle. He decided to arrangement in a way inspired by Bob Dylan, but with electric instrumentation. The result is a unique and indelible track by The Animals unlike anything else from the early sixties.

7. Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds

The Yardbirds in 1964
Eric Clapton joined the Yardbirds in late 1963 and left the band in early 1965 when he was dissatisfied with their new pop direction. In between was the calendar year 1964, when Clapton led the group to explore and advance the blues foundations which would be adopted by many groups over the coming decades, including several of Clapton’s own vast musical entities.

8. The Rolling Stones Debut Album

April 16, 1964
The Rolling Stones debut albumThe most remarkable thing about the Rolling Stones debut album may be just how unremarkable it really is. Recorded in early 1964, the album was self-titled in the UK, while the US version dubbed England’s Newest Hitmakers and was full of blues covers with only one Jagger-Richards original.

9. The Times They Are a-Changin’

January 13, 1964
The Times They Are a Changin by Bob DylanEver the prophet, Bob Dylan could not have more aptly named his third album, released right at the beginning of 1964. Like his later 1964 album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan performed all instruments and vocals on this album, which his first to feature only original compositions.

Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Comebacks and Reunions

Woodstock '94 stage

Through the long history of rock and roll, there have been impressive second acts. We’ve spoken about such comebacks during some of our late 1980s reviews, most prominently the full re-ascent of the band,  Aerosmith, and the  Traveling Wilburys 1988 Album of the Year. As for reunions, the group Yes made the ultimate attempt with their 1991 album Union, which included all eight past and (then) present members from various eras of the band.

1994 Albums and Tours

The year 1994 was a particularly active year for comebacks and reunions. We’ve touched on some of these in recent weeks with our reviews of The Division Bell by Pink Floyd and American Recordings by Johnny Cash. For Pink Floyd, it was their final album and sparked what would be their last world tour, while for Johnny Cash it was the beginning of the last great phase of his long career. Below is a list of four additional “reunion” albums released during 1994.

Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles

Hell Freezes Over
The Eagles
November 8, 1994 (Geffen)
Produced by Stan Lynch, Elliot Scheiner, Carol Donovan, & Rob Jacobs

As the title suggests, by the early 1990s an Eagles reunion seemed like a very remote possibility. But The Eagles had reformed after a fourteen-year-long break up, with the same lineup which was intact when they disbanded in 1980. Hell Freezes Over, its accompanying video, and the subsequent two-year tour which followed were all very successful. Even though there were only four new tracks on this live release, the album sold over six million copies. Music fans were more than ready for an Eagles reunion in 1994 and they enjoyed the newer arrangements of classic songs while propelling two of the newer tracks to Top 40 hits.

Far From Home by Traffic

Far From Home
Traffic
May 9, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Steve Winwood & Jim Capaldi

At the urging of Bob Weir, the living members of Traffic reunited to open for The Grateful Dead during their 1992 summer tour. Two years later, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi recorded and released a new album under the name “Traffic”, the first such release in 20 years. Although Far From Home had no involvement from the other four members of the group, it reached the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic and sparked an independent tour. This tour included an appearance at Woodstock ’94 (more on that festival below) and provided the content for a 2005 double live album and DVD package called, Last Great Traffic Jam.

Voodoo Lounge by The Rolling Stones

Voodoo Lounge
The Rolling Stones
July 11, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Don Was, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Their 20th studio album, Voodoo Lounge was the first new release by The Rolling Stones in half a decade. With the influence of producer Don Was, this was also mainly a return to the blues, R&B, and country rock which the band had employed during their classic late 1960s/early 1970s recordings. The result was a critical and commercial success as the album debuted at #1 in the UK and reached #2 in the US, spawned several radio hits, and is considered by many as the last great studio effort by the Stones.

No Quarter by Page and Plant

No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded
Page & Plant
November 8, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

After nearly a decade and a half of anticipation, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant finally reunited for a 90-minute “UnLedded” MTV project, a stripped-down, “unplugged” concert of Led Zeppelin classics recorded in various locations including Morocco, Wales, and London. With a great response to the television special, the duo decided to release an album called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. Along with the re-worked Zeppelin tunes, the album features four new original, Eastern-influenced songs, something the pair desired to compose since the Houses of the Holy sessions more than two decades earlier.

Woodstock ’94

A quarter century after the original, historic Woodstock festival, a new geneation experienced “3 More Days of Peace and Music” in Saugerties, New York at Woodstock ’94 on the weekend of August 12-14. The location of this concert (10 miles from the artist colony of Woodstock, NY) was originally intended for the 1969 festival, but that concert was ultimately moved to a farm in Bethel, New York.

Woodstock 94 muddy crowdThere were some striking similarities to that original concert, starting with the larger than expected crowd which ultimately caused the gates to be wide open and several thousands to enter for free. Ultimately, an estimated 350,000 attended Woodstock ’94, a huge crowd but about 100,000 short of the 1969 show. Another striking similarity between the two festivals was the rainy weather on the second day, which in this case turned much of the entire field had turned into mud.

Although the bulk of the more than 80 performance acts were contemporary performers, there were a respectable amount from the original Woodstock who appeared at Woodstock ’94. These included Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Band, John Sebastian, Santana, and Country Joe McDonald. Also, some members of original groups Sweetwater and Jefferson Airplane along with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, were additional Woodstock alumni to appear at the festival.

This concert was also a special event for three members of Aerosmith who attended the 1969 concert as teenagers and performed as a headliner in the 1994 festival. This was also a showcase for Peter Gabriel, who headlined the last night of the festival and closed Woodstock ’94.

21st Century Reunions

In more recent times, we’ve had Rush make an incredible comeback in the 2000s, various reunions by The Who, and a full reunion of the four core members of Pink Floyd for one single set during the Live 8 concert in 2005. Led Zeppelin also finally came together for a single reunion concert in London on December 10, 2007, with Page and Plant being joined by John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John Bonham.

Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion concert

As the years go along, there are increasingly more comebacks by classic rock acts.

~

Ric Albano

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

~

Ric Albano

Half Way There

Glass Half FullToday we reach the halfway point of Classic Rock Review’s five-year mission to review the most important albums of the classic rock era (1965-1995). So we figured that this was a good time to reflect on what’s been done so far as well as reveal some plans for future features on the site.

When we started the site, we mapped out a way to hit all those classic rock years by examining each one over an approximate two-month period, there are six review periods per calendar year. We chose this era because it encompasses the years spanning from when the modern “album” came into form and the dawning of the mp3-era, which effectively phased out the classic album. We also decided to not review these years in sequential order, instead opting to review “anniversary” years, divisible by five. We offer thorough and honest reviews that blend hard facts with seasoned opinions. We focus on both the qualities and issues with each album , although there inevitably is more positive than negative content because we only actually review albums of importance and a certain level of quality. However, beyond our single Album of the Year designation for each year reviewed, we do use any rating system and tend to let the words speak for themselves.

Since we launched on January 1, 2011 we have systematically focused in on fifteen of these years and reviewed over 200 albums, all while slowly growing and reaching out to more and more viewers on a daily basis. The amount of albums reviewed for each “classic” year varies, with the heaviest year so far being 1971 (our very first review year) with 18 album reviews and the lightest being 1986 with 10 album reviews. We plan to stay in the 10s (teens?) for all future review periods, with the exception of 1965, which will only focus on the handful of “real” albums produced that year. We have also done a handful of “twin” album reviews in very rare instances where an artist released two albums in the same year, which also have similar content, personnel, and production value. In all, we have reviewed 217 albums in the past 30 months, about one every four days of real time.

All Classic Rock Reviews, 01/01/11-06/30/13
All Classic Rock Reviews, 01/01/11-06/30/13

Classic Rock Review also includes several special features per year, which focus on important works and subjects beyond the regular “feature year” rotation (such as this very article you’re now reading). This is one area where we plan on expanding in the future. Some potential new features coming soon on Classic Rock Review:

  • A “what did we miss?” forum.
    We do realize that we’re unlikely to please everyone on the albums we select for review. Since our inception, we have included 20-30 “other albums of note” on each year’s page that give a kind of “honorable mention” to those albums not reviewed. But moving forward, we may poll you to select additional albums to review.
  • Dedicated artist pages.
    For select artists who have multiple reviews on our site, we will start offering biographical “hubs” that tie together their careers over extended periods of time.
  • Online album store.
    Although each album review links to an Amazon page to purchase that album, we plan on expanding options for purchasing music through Classic Rock Review. This will include a dedicated section to browse through albums past reviewed and help generate some revenue to support our cause.
  • Charts, trivia, and updates.
    Some fun stuff to make the site more interactive as well as keep track of these classic artists with modern updates.
  • Rock n’ roll roots.
    Although there have been many attempts through the years to map the roots relationships of major rock artists, we may take a unique approach to tying together these influences and relationships.

Although we’ll add these additional features to enhance the overall user experience on our site, the primary focus of Classic Rock Review over the next 30 months will continue to be great album reviews. Half of what seemed like a tremendous span of time – five years – has now passed and Classic Rock Review is going stronger than ever. Thank you to our loyal readers!

~

Jesus Christ Superstar, a Rock Opera

Jesus Christ Superstar original rock operaBefore it was a theatre act, Broadway play, or motion picture, Jesus Christ Superstar was simply a 1970 rock album produced by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist by Tim Rice. The work is loosely based on the four Gospels’ accounts of the last weeks of the life of Jesus Christ, but takes much liberty in interpretting the philosophical and interpersonal dynamics between Jesus and his apostles, especially Judas Iscariot, the man who would ultimately betray him. The work largely follows the form of a traditional passion play but with a twentieth century interpretation with a focus on the psychology of Jesus and the other characters.

Webber and Rice had collaborated on several previous projects, starting with the 1965 musical The Likes of Us, which was actually shelved for four solid decades and not publicly performed until 2005. In 1968, the duo was commissioned to write a piece which became Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a retelling of story of the biblical figure Joseph, set to several musical styles. In 1969 Rice and Webber wrote a song for the Eurovision Song Contest called “Try It and See”, which was later rewritten as “King Herod’s Song” for Jesus Christ Superstar. Webber says has said the piece was written as a rock album from the outset and set out from the start to tell the story through the music itself. Musically, Webber took delight in exploring different keys and time signatures, while Rice came up with some clever wordplay which fused modern phrases with traditional terms.

On this original album, the part of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, lead vocalist of Deep Purple, while Judas Iscariot is performed by Murray Head. Both Englishmen were in their mid-twenties and had several years in the music business with limited success. After declining an invitation to join the band upon their formation, Gillan joined Deep Purple in mid 1969. A performance of the song “Child in Time” caught the ear of Rice, who contacted Gillan and offered him the role of Jesus. After just a few rehearsals with Rice and Webber, Gillan recorded his entire vocal contributions in one three hour session. Beyond his singing and songwriting skills, Murray Head was also a seasoned actor who won a leading role in the Oscar-nominated film Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1971. For the role of Mary Magdalene, a then relative unknown Yvonne Elliman was chosen. Elliman had just begun performing in clubs the previous year and would be one of the few players and singers to join the cast of the Broadway production in subsequent years.


Jesus Christ Superstar, Original Rock Opera
Released: September, 1970 (Decca)
Produced by: Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
Side One Side Two
Overture
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s the Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying
Everything’s Alright
This Jesus Must Die
Hosana
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
Pilate’s Dream
The Temple
Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
I Don’t Know How to Love Him
Damned for All Time / Blood Money
Side Three Side Four
The Last Supper
Gethsemane
The Arrest
Peter’s Denial
Pilate and Christ
King Herod’s Song
Could We Start Again Please?
Judas’s Death
Trial Before Pilate
Superstar
The Crucifixion
John Nineteen: Forty-One
Vocal Cast & Roles
Ian Gillan – Jesus  |  Murray Head – Judas  |  Yvonne Elliman – Mary Magdalene
Paul Davis – Peter  |  Victor Brox – Caiaphas  |  Brian Keith – Annas
Barry Dennen – Pontius Pilate  |  Mike D’Abo – King Herod
Primary Musicians
Neil Hubbard – Guitars  |  Henry McCulloch – Guitars  |  Allan Spenner – Bass
Peter Robinson – Piano, Organ  |  Bruce Rowland – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with a heavily distorted guitar, setting the pace for the “rock” part of the rock opera before the actual overture kicks in with a musical sequence later repeated in the climatic “Trial Before Pilate”. “Heaven on Their Minds” a total funk/rock masterpiece sung solo by Murray Head as Judas with some great piano and organ by Peter Robinson and just a touch of strings for color. The story starts with Judas expressing concern over Jesus’ rising popularity and the inherent danger that brings in a land occupied by the Romans. “What’s the Buzz” introduces Jesus and the Apostles in a hippy-dippy kind of pop/hip song, absurdly
bringing the scene into the (then) modern age. Musically, the stratospheric bass by Alan Spenner brings the hyper jazz/funk to an extraordinary level.

Judas and Jesus have their first heated debate over the course of two tracks; “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”. This debate concerns the appropriateness of Jesus consorting with Mary Magdeline, as Elliman offers a soft counter-balance to the argument with the verses of “Everything’s Alright”. The song is in a 5/4 time signature, offering the perfect rhythm to push it forward at a brisk pace for full effect and the vocal contrasts between Gillan, Head, and Elliman makes it a masterpiece. To close the original first side, the dark “This Jesus Must Die” is the most theatrical to this point as the conspirators are given dark and sinister vocals performed by Victor Brox as Caiaphas and Brian Keith as Annas and other performers as high priests. Halfway, the song picks up with a rock beat and the dialogue speaks of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist who was put to death for his believes, a fate that the conspirators wish on Jesus.

The upbeat “Hosanna”, driven by strings, chorus, and a soaring melody begins Side 2 and symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. “Simon Zealotes” and “Poor Jerusalem” reflect more of the competing philosophical vision. John Gustafson makes his only appearance on the album as Apostle Simon the Zealot, who suggests a revolution led by Jesus, offering power and glory to Jesus after a successful overthrow of the Roman occupation in an upbeat section backed by funk rhythms, led by piano and bass. Gillan’s reply as Jesus in “Poor Jerusalem” is more of a short piano ballad where Jesus rejects this suggestion, stating that none of his followers understands what true power is, nor do they understand his true message.

A bit of filler is thrown into the middle of the second side. “Pilate’s Dream” is a short, acoustic song that features Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, who foresees the trial and execution of Jesus along with the coming spread of Christianity. On “The Temple” the album gets a little lethargic and repetitive with the story of usary in the temple being a bit superfluous followed by Jesus being accosted by lepers, cripples, and beggars, all wanting to be healed.

Yvonne EllimanOne of the highlights of the first act, and the peak of Elliman’s involvement on the album is the short reprise of “Everything’s Alright” which leads into the soulful folk song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Led by the dual acoustic guitars of future Roxy Music member Neil Hubbard and future member of Paul McCartney’s Wings Henry McCulloch, the song contains a laid back arrange which provides the perfect canvas to compliment Elliman’s fantastic vocals. The song itself became a Top 20 pop hit. “Damned for All Time” / “Blood Money” begins with a free form, distorted solo electric guitar followed in sequence by a chorus of flutes before a riff-driven rock section with Head on lead vocals. Accented by great horn sections, this production masterpiece aptly closes the first Act, even with some abrupt changes between the two parts of the medley. Thematically, the song deals with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the high priest conspirators along with his internal conflict over the situation and hauntingly ends with an-almost Greek chorus speaking to Judas’ conscience.

Act II begins with “The Last Supper”, a self-contained, multi-part suite which masterfully blends the rock and theatrical elements. Alternating between the folk chorus of the Apostles and several other parts consistng of another spirited dialogue between Jesus and Judas, with Gillan and Head at top vocal form, accompanied by a great electric piano and more exquisite bass by Spenner. While dealing with Gospel text, Rice also uses drug references “What’s that in the bread, it’s gone to my head” and slows the Apostles chorus as they fade from drunkenness, unaware of the profound proclamation made by Jesus. “Gethsemane” is the real showcase for Gillan and the most like “Child In Time”, the Deep Purple song which got Gillan the gig in the first place. Starting with great acoustic guitar and bouncy bass, the song soon builds with much orchestral accompaniment and is, perhaps, the most dramatic part of the entire album dealing with Jesus’ own crisis of faith as he faces his immanent demise.

Ian Gillan“The Arrest” starts a long sequence in the second act where Jesus faces an all night ordeal leading to his crucifixion. The apostles slowly wake to find Jesus under arrest to the tune of “What’s the Buzz” followed by various vocal members playing almost like reporters and nice rock passages travels along with the movement of the arresting party as they go before the high priests. A slight deviation is taken in “Peter’s Denial” featuring Paul Davis as Jesus’ closest apostle confidant but distancing himself when confronted on three separate occasions. The end of the Side 3 is the most sticky sweet, show-tune-ish section of the album, as well as least rock oriented. Dennen returns as Pilate in an exaggerated, jazzy version of “Hosanna” named “Pilate and Christ”. Pilate “washes his hands” of the situation and sends Jesus to the Jewish King Herod, leading to the rendition of Webber and Rice’s ragtime “Try it and See”, performed by Mike D’Abo as Herod.

The final original side started “Could We Start Again Please?”, the only showcase for Elliman during the second act which doesn’t quite measure up to those in the first act and is almost set up like a pop song off the beaten path. “Judas’ Death” is a reprise of “Damned for All Time” and “Blood Money” with the same vocalists and Head’s vocals at top form as Judas’s guilt becomes overwhelming;

I have been splattered with innocent blood, I should be dragged through the slime and the mud…”

Head then does his own version as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” before committing suicide to0 the sounds of the haunting Greek chorus.

The climax of the story is “Trial Before Pilate” which returns to the “Overture” a great sequence with wild, off key jazzy strings, synths, and horns and an intense dialogue between Gillan and Dennen with the crowd joining in as Pilate’s various thoughts on whether to release or crucify Jesus. A short rock break is taken with “The Thirty-Nine Lashes”, ending with a nice drum fill by Bruce Rowland. A final dialogue between Jesus and Pilate ensues with the crowd convincing Pilate to ultimately crucify Jesus; “I wash my hands of your demolition, die if you want to, you innocent puppet…” Although “Superstar” is supposed to be the focal point of the opera, it really pales in comparison to some of the other finer tracks. It does some nice chorus-driven hooks cut by one last funky track musically and a posthumous reappearance of Head’s Judas, now a ghost and some soulful female backup singers. The song, which is almost mocking in tone, did peak at number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1971. The album then kind of whimpers out in an anti-climatic fashion with the nearly psychedelic synth-experimentation of “The Crucifixion” followed by the calm, orchestral reprise of “Gethsemane” in “John Nineteen: Forty-One”.

Andrew Lloyd WebberAndrew Lloyd Webber originally thought the production would be limited to a niche audience, blocked out on either side by young people thinking it was uncool subject matter and religious people who would think it was too controversial. Then unexpectedly it rose to the top of the album charts, sparking a short arena tour and what Webber called “one of the worst productions he had ever seen on Broadway”. In fact, the only reason it was put on Broadway was to head off the various small theatre and school productions which had begun to sprout up in 1971.

Webber and Tim Rice collaborated once again with Evita in the late 1970s and Webber would go on to produce two of the most successful Broadway productions ever with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, both debuting in the 1980s. Ian Gillan went on to meteoric success as frontman of Deep Purple, climaxing with the 1972 album Machine Head (our 1972 Album of the Year) before abruptly leaving the group in 1973, although he would reunite with Deep Purple several times in the future. Murray Head continued to act and record songs, with his biggest charting success being “One Night in Bangkok” in the mid 1980s. After her Broadway performances and role as Mary Magdelene in the 1974 Hollywood film of Jesus Christ Superstar, Yvonne Elliman sang on several Eric Clapton albums, most poingnently Slowhand in 1977, before a brief but successful disco/pop career, which included several Top 20 hits. She decided to dedicate herself to her two children in 1979 and has pretty much stayed out of the public spotlight since.

Over the past four decades, several different versions of Jesus Christ Superstar were produced spanning the entire spectrum of media, on every corner of the globe, making it one of the most popular universal productions ever. In May 2012, Webber launched a reality television show called Superstar where the UK public decided who would play the role of Jesus in an upcoming arena tour. Ben Forster was chosen and the arena tour, which began September 2012 and continues to this day (March 2013). Webber claims this tour most closely represents the original vision for the rock opera.

~
R.A.

A Classic Rock Review Special Feature.