Black Sabbath 1970 albums

Buy Black Sabbath
Buy Paranoid

Black Sabbath 1970 albumsOver the course of a year, Black Sabbath morphed from a pop blues band to a dark practitioner of occult music to a respectable hard rock band which helped forge the emerging genre of heavy metal. Over the course of that year, the group recorded and released two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, and caused a minor tectonic shift in the rock world. To listen to these albums back-to-back is to hear the incredible development in compositional depth and performance cohesion by these four British musicians.

In 1968, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne were in a band called Rare Breed when they were invited to form a blues rock group by guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. The new group eventually settled on the name Earth and received positive feedback which led to the recording of some demos. This momentum was briefly halted when Iommi joined Jethro Tull for a very short time. When the group reunited in 1969, they discovered that another British band was using the name Earth and decided to change their name to that of a dark song being developed by Butler. This name change also fostered a decision to focus songwriting on similar material. In the Autumn 1969, the group was signed to Philips Records and entered the studio with producer Rodger Bain.

Black Sabbath was recorded live in the studio with very few overdubs added. Due to the loss of a few fingertips, Iommi detuned his guitar for easier playing, which had the added “doomy” effect which worked well with the overall theme of this debut album. Further, the raw sound (sometimes referred to as “sonic ugliness”) worked to give it a sense of raw legitimacy not often heard on recordings in 1970.

Just four months after the release of their debut, recording sessions for Paranoid commenced. Even with this short duration, most of the songs had been worked out in concert during time reserved for improvisational jams. Thematically, this second album was a concerted effort to counter the “flower in your hair” hippie pop which was proliferating in mainstream music. Unlike the first album, which focused on the occult and fantasy, this album tackled real life issues in a brutal and direct way.


Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Released: February 13, 1970 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Regent Sound Studios, London, October 1969
Side One Side Two
Black Sabbath
The Wizard
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Evil Woman
Sleeping Village
Warning

Paranoid by Black Sabbath
Released: September 18, 1970 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Regent Sound and Island Studios, London, June 1970
Side One Side Two
War Pigs
Paranoid
Planet Caravan
Iron Man
Electric Funeral
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Fairies Wear Boots
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Tony Iommi – Guitars, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

 

Impossibly slow and doomy, like a tolling bell the song which gives the band and debut album its name contains a repetitive riff by Butler and Iommi while Osbourne’s vocals are delivered like a medieval chant. Three quarters of the way through, it finally abandons the repetitive riff and picks up speed for a decent rock outro. “The Wizard” is a much more interesting track, starting with a bluesy harmonica intro by Osbourne (why didn’t he play that instrument more often?) When the song kicks in, it flowers into a great rock jam with drummer Bill Ward providing some motion to the rudimentary riffs of Iommi and Ward. Overall, the best earliest track by the band, “The Wizard” was inspired by the character of Gandalf from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein.

Black Sabbath 1970 debut album“Behind the Wall of Sleep” refers to the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. Another fine, riff-driven rocker, Butler breaks from the standard riffs to provide some slight fills in between the call-and-response scheme. On the North American version of this album, this was part of an extended medley with the opening and interlude music titled “Wasp”. Butler’s flange-treated bass solo gives way to the powerful main riff of “N.I.B.” Osbourne adds some harmony beyond the basic mimicking of the riff line especially during the descending chorus section, which also includes an impressive tambourine by Ward. Lyrically, the song is told from the point of view of Lucifer, ending the first side like it began, in darkness.

The second side of Black Sabbath moves more towards the group’s blues-rock origin. “Evil Woman” was a cover of a song by the band Crow which was pushed by Black Sabbath’s management who wanted something “commercial sounding” on the album. The song was the group’s first single but was excluded from the North American version of the album which instead included the track “Wicked World”, a hyper jam with a slightly psychedelic middle section which breaks down to a true guitar “solo” by Iommi.

The dark acoustic of “Sleeping Village” features a strange jaw harp-like sound in the background before the song proper breaks into a standard, hard rock track with a long, multi-section jam, leading into the closing track “Warning”. This final track is a cover of a song by Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and starts with a buzzy bass, joined by deliberate drums and consistent bluesy guitar flourishes through each of the early verses. After a point when it breaks and switches gear, the rest of this extended track is used as a showcase for Iommi’s guitar skills, using many textures and techniques.

On Paranoid, Butler stepped up to become the group’s chief lyricist. The opening track, “War Pigs” was initially entitled “Walpurgis”, but morphed into a dramatic anti-war song. Osbourne’s vocals are much more melodic during the memorable verses, while the music subtly weaves from the two-chord, main riff to a much more complex jam where Iommi takes over with many excellent guitar textures through late song jam. The album’s actual title track, “Paranoid” is a simple but very effective track built on a few simple guitar riffs and an incredible rhythmic drive. These all complimenting Osbourne’s majestic, echo-laden vocals. The double-tracked, fuzzy lead guitar is really the only variation in repetitive song, which reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, making it the group’s highest charting single before or since.

Paranoid by Black Sabbath“Electric Funeral” contains a sound as doomy as its title suggests, with lyrics about an “atomic tide”. Like many Sabbath songs, it works the main theme for a while before changing things up about halfway through where Osbourne’s voice is especially horse for the latter part of this track. “Planet Caravan” has an alternative musical arrangement with jazzy strummed guitars, moderately steady bass, hand percussion, and some piano provided by engineer Tom Allom. Osbourne’s Pink-Floyd-like vocals were fed through a Leslie speaker for vibrato effect, with the song concluding with a long, excellent jazzy guitar lead by Iommi.

Now the time is here for Iron Man to spread fear, vengeance from the grave, kills the people he once saved…”

The quintessential Black Sabbath song, “Iron Man” is indelible from start to finish. The kick drum intro is joined by droned guitar notes and a mechanical intro voice before the main section propels a slow and doomy rock while the chorus is more complex and melodic. The song breaks into two faster paced jam sections, the first one shorter with a fine return to the final verse. The latter jam is a full-fledged outro rock section, which may have been an inspiration for later epic songs such as “Stairway To Heaven” and “Freebird”, built on fantastic rhythms by Ward and a very apt lead guitar Iommi.

Even though all of the more popular tracks are on Paranoid‘s first side, the album may actually be strongest down the stretch. A slow bass phrase accompanied by subtle but complex drum pattern starts “Hand of Doom” before the guitar crashes in with a strong rock section. After two rounds of this pattern, the song enters a mid-section, changing this up nicely with rapid notes, funky bass, and animated drums complementing an original melody by Osbourne. The instrumental “Rat Salad” is almost Hendrix-like with its mixture of slight effects and pure, unabashed guitar-led jamming at the beginning. However, the second half of the song is dominated by an impressive drum solo by Ward, which would often stretch 45 minutes in concert. “Fairies Wear Boots” has a good, moderate opening jam with further drum flourishes. The song proper is like a doomy blues song, three chord with emotive vocals on top, but very heavy overall. The track nicely transitions back to first section, this time very smoothly and skillfully. This closing track has the only lyrics written by Osbourne, who recounted an altercation with skinheads while he and Butler were on acid. The fading outro leaves the listener wanting more.

Despite not receiving good initial reviews, both Black Sabbath and Paranoid reached the Top 10 on the UK pop charts, with the latter being the only Black Sabbath album to top the Albums chart. Over time, both these albums have grown in status with many citing these as the absolute inception of Heavy Metal and Stoner Rock.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

John Barleycorn Must Die
by Traffic

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John Barleycorn Must Die by TrafficTraffic returned from a short hiatus with the 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die. Reformed as a trio, the group built this album mainly on extended, jazz-infused jams which was musically a bit of a departure from the pop-oriented approach to the music of their first three albums in the late 1960s. The album actually started as a solo project for keyboardist and vocalist Steve Winwood but soon morphed into traffic’s fourth overall album when Winwood enlisted a couple of former bandmates for this project.

Winwood had joined traffic as a teenager in 1967. Led by songwriter and guitarist Dave Mason, the quartet also included drummer Jim Capaldi and woodwinds player Chris Wood.After the release of a few hit singles, Traffic released their debut album Mr. Fantasy late in 1967. The following year brought their eponymous second album and Mason’s classic tune “Feelin’ Alright”. However, Mason departed from the group shortly after, leaving Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi as a trio for the recording of their partial studio / partial live album Last Exit. In early 1969, Winwood left Traffic without explanation, effectively dissolving the band at that time.

Following the initial incarnation of Traffic, Winwood went on to form the super-group Blind Faith, which lasted less than a year and recorded a single album. Under a contract which required another album, Winwood began recording as strictly as solo artist, playing all instruments. However, he soon wanted some familiar players and enlisted Capaldi on drums. This solo project officially morphed into a Traffic reunion when Wood was brought on board.


John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic
Released: July 10, 1970 (Island)
Produced by: Chris Blackwell, Steve Winwood, & Guy Stevens
Recorded: Island Studios & Olympic Studios, London, February–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Glad
Freedom Rider
Empty Pages
Stranger to Himself
John Barleycorn
Every Mother’s Son
Group Musicians
Steve Winwood – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion
Chris Wood – Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards
Jim Capaldi – Drums, Percussion

Everything gets started with “Glad”, an instrumental which at first sounds like an aptly named celebration with Winwood’s upbeat jazz piano riff. The middle jam section includes a free-form like approach, starting with a saxophone solo by Wood on top of great rhythms by Winwood and Capaldi. The long, slow outro contains a mesmerizing mix of piano, organ, and percussion, and slowly meanders towards a segue into “Freedom Rider”. The album’s first proper song subtly starts with a rocking piano and baritone saxophone phrase but employs a more upbeat and funky approach when the verse breaks in. Winwood may shine brighter on bass than keys, while Wood adds some sweeping flute passages and a potent lead on this track with poetic lyrics by Capaldi.

Side one concludes with the beat-driven rocker “Empty Pages”, which has Wood moving over to Hammond organ and, while Capaldi co-wrote four of the six tracks on this album, he never shines brighter than on this one. His drumming excels from start to finish, while the optimistic lyrics speak of a “clean slate” in a new romantic life. Winwood adds his own highlight with a fine, extended electric piano lead on this track which was the sole single released from John Barleycorn Must Die.

Traffic in 1970While no tracks on the original first side contain any guitars, each of the three songs on side two feature Winwood playing electric and/or acoustic guitar. In fact, the side opener “Stranger to Himself” features both, with an acoustic in the opening and main riff and an electric slightly within the verses and fully during the blistering lead section. The first song written for this album, it is close to being a full Winwood solo effort (he even plays drums), with only some backing vocals provided by Capaldi. “John Barleycorn” is a traditional, anti-whiskey, folk song which is primarily acoustic with slight further arrangements. Through its several verses, instrumentation is built every so subtly. The album concludes with “Every Mother’s Son”, another early track that features only Winwood and Capaldi. A fine droning lead guitar riff drives the slow intro, which most sounds like tunes from the Blind Faith album. The beat completely stops for two measures near the beginning of a Hammond organ lead, reflecting the loose production that is part of the overall charm of this album.

John Barleycorn Must Die peaked at number 5 on the album charts, Traffic’s highest charting album ever in the US, and was only slightly less successful in the UK. Through the early 1970s, the band would expand and contract their lineup (including a short reunion with Mason), but these three core players would remain at the heart of this successful band.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

Badfinger 1970 albums

Buy Magic Christian Music
Buy No Dice

Badfinger 1970 albumsBadfinger thrust into the world of popular music with their first two releases, the soundtrack Magic Christian Music and the rock album No Dice. The first of these was actually an unplanned hybrid of five songs recorded specifically for the film The Magic Christian and seven songs released in the late 60s when the group was known as “The Iveys”. The latter was their pop/rock breakthrough as it significantly expanded the group’s popularity with a handful of indelible songs.

Based in London, The Iveys caught the attention of Mal Evans in early 1968, shortly after he was brought on board the Beatles’ brand new Apple Records. The group was signed to the label in April 1968 and immediately began recording soft rock styled pop singles, which were released throughout the next several months. In early 1969, Maybe Tomorrow by the Iveys was compiled from previous singles and released as a debut album. Later that year, the group changed their name to Badfinger and recorded a few songs, produced by Paul McCartney, intended for a multi-artist soundtrack to The Magic Christian. However, when Apple couldn’t retain the rights to Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In the Air”, the label decided to release a Badfinger-only soundtrack.

The band refined their sound in a more rock-oriented direction on No Dice. This was due in part to the arrival of guitarist Joey Molland, formally of the band The Rain. The four group members also recorded sessions on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. Mal Evans was the original producer for this album but, after Apple execs expressed dissatisfaction with the sound, longtime Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick was brought in to finish the album. Even though No Dice was released during a very competitive Christmas season for rock records, it did very well commercially and became the band’s best-selling LP.


Magic Christian Music by Badfinger
Released: January 9, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul McCartney, Mal Evans, & Tony Visconti
Recorded: Abbey Road, Trident, IBC & Olympic Studios, London, 1968-1969
Side One Side Two
Come and Get It
Crimson Ship
Dear Angie
Fisherman
Midnight Sun
Beautiful and Blue
Rock of All Ages
Carry On Till Tomorrow
I’m in Love
Walk Out In the Rain
Angelique
Knocking Down Our Home
Give It a Try
Maybe Tomorrow

No Dice by Badfinger
Released: November 9, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Geoff Emerick & Mal Evans
Recorded: Abbey Road & Trident Studios, London, April–August 1970
Side One Side Two
I Can’t Take It
I Don’t Mind
Love Me Do
Midnight Caller
No Matter What
Without You
Blodwyn
Better Days
It Had to Be
Watford John
Believe Me
We’re for the Dark
Band Musicians
Pete Ham – Guitars, Paino, Vocals
Tom Evans – Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Ron Griffiths – Bass, Vocals (Magic Christian only)
Joey Molland – Guitars, Vocals (No Dice only)
Mike Gibbins – Drums, Vocals

 

“Come and Get It” was written by McCartney during the sessions for Abbey Road but not included on that album. He offered the song to Badfinger along with his producer services on the condition that they record it exactly like this demo. The opening track and lead single from Magic Christian Music, “Come and Get It” was the group’s first hit, reaching the Top 10 in both the US and the UK.

Magic Christian Music by BadfingerOther new tracks recorded for the movie included “Crimson Ship”, “Give It a Try”, “Midnight Sun”, and “Rock of All Ages”. The latter song was also produced by McCartney and has a pure, Early-Beatles’ inspired rock feel that made it a highlight of the album’s first side. “Dear Angie” was written by bassist Ron Griffiths and producer Tony Visconti as the Ivey’s second single in 1969. Griffiths left the group later in the year, making this his only composition for the band.

Tom Evans started off as a guitarist but later moved to bass following the departure of Griffiths and the arrival of Molland. On Magic Christian Music, Evans composed and sang lead vocals on many tracks, including the folk-tinged “Fisherman”, the pop-oriented “Beautiful and Blue”, the quasi-psychedelic “Angelique”, and the closing ballad “Maybe Tomorrow”. This last track was the Ivey’s first single in mid-1968 and includes string arrangements by George Martin, but had disappointing chart success following its release.

Evans co-wrote “Carry on Till Tomorrow” with Pete Ham. This track may be the most complex on the album, starting dark and melancholy, but adapting contrasting musical arrangements ranging from simple folk with rich vocal harmonies to sweeping strings and blistering lead guitar. Ham’s other contributions to Magic Christian Music are the upbeat, jazzy rocker “I’m in Love”, the sixties folk tune “Walk Out In the Rain”, and the Roy Orbison-like crooner “Knocking Down Our Home”, a song with piano, clarinets, and Caribbean-like beats in a laid back and breezy journey through catastrophic irony.

Starting with No Dice, Ham would play an increasing role in Badfinger’s musical direction, as evident on the hard rock opener “I Can’t Take It”. Still, this album was incredibly democratic compositionally with drummer Joey Molland writing or co-writing several tracks. “I Don’t Mind” is a flange-induced rock ballad, sung by Evans with Emerick adding subtle production effects. “Love Me Do” is the first song with Molland on lead vocals as a very basic rocker and apparent homage by the band to their mentors.

No Dice by BadfingerThe true heart of the album begins with Ham’s ballad “Midnight Caller”. This simple but exquisite song features beautiful vocals by Ham to his simple, rocking piano, steadily strummed acoustic, slightly funky bass and subtle drums. The hit song “No Matter What” was originally cut from the album when Apple considered its sound (produced by Mal Evans) to be insufficient. Later in the sessions, however, the group needed another track and revisited this track to find a pure pop/rock sound that perfectly fit the times in late 1970. Complex harmonies, call and response vocals, and good rock instrumentation with effective sonic treats like a distorted organ and fine lead guitar, all worked to make this simplest of upbeat love themes one the group’s biggest ever hits, peaking at number 5 in the UK and number 8 in the US.

The polar opposite of previous feel-good song, “Without You” is a melancholy classic and a true collaboration between Ham and Evans. Actually the song is a fusion of two ballads with Ham’s “If It’s Love” used for the verses and Evans’ chorus giving the song its title. Badfinger’s version features a smooth, George Harrison-like lead guitar by Molland and a long outro chorus with building instrumentation. However, this original version was far from the most popular version of this song, which has been covered by over a hundred artists. Harry Nilsson heard the Badfinger recording of this song and instantly decided to cover it on his Nilsson Schmilsson album in 1971. His version topped the US pop chart for four weeks in 1972, and was one of the highest selling singles for that year. When Nilsson passed away in 1994, Mariah Carey decided to record the song as a tribute to him and it once again topped the pop charts.

Side two of No Dice contains some lesser known tracks which are of no less quality. Ham’s “Blodwyn” is an upbeat, drinking pub type folk song with Country-inspired lead guitars, while “Better Days” with interlude guitar riffs and Elvis-inspired lyrics by Molland as well as an effective key change for the final verse. “It Had to Be” is a simple ballad written by Gibbins with Ham offering the emotive lead vocals, while “Watford John” is a band jam with a boogie piano named after a studio engineer employed by Apple.

The album ends very strong with a gem each by Evans and Ham. “Believe Me” is a John Lennon-inspired rock screed with harmonized vocals and a methodical but powerful delivery, along with the best overall guitar lead on the album, a duo effort which is slightly harmonized and slightly competing. This track was one of the earlier efforts by the group and Mal Evans. An absolute gem by Ham, “We’re for the Dark” completes the album as a simple but effective arrangement with tremendous sonic effect. This includes a fine fade-in of single acoustic, Ham’s double-tracked vocals, and the slightest accompaniment of bass guitar and orchestration, which never overpower the root acoustic and vocal elements. Although there are no drums, there is a consistent, rapid, heart-beat like beat throughout, which works to boast the songs motion overall.

Upon completion of No Dice, Emerick and the band began recording songs for a potential follow-up album. Although the project never materialized, several of these tunes appeared as bonus tracks on later versions of this album, with the beat-driven, slow rocker “Mean, Mean Jemima” being the best of this lot. In 1971, Badfinger started over with a new album project which spawned Straight Up, another successful pop rock release by the group.

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1970 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

Plastic Ono Band
by John Lennon

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Plastic Ono Band by John LennonOur third and final installment of the “Life After Beatles” series looks at the critically acclaimed debut record by John Lennon called John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band. Unlike any other that Lennon had recorded within or beyond the Beatles, this album was raw and forthright lyrically and stripped to the bare essentials musically. The songs were largely the product of the “primal scream” psychological therapy that Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono undertook through a large part of 1970, following the Beatles’ breakup. This technique emphasized the emotional release of repressed traumas, which is evident throughout the album as Lennon touches on the most base elements of life and death.

Prior to 1970, Lennon and Ono had jointly issued three experimental albums along with Live Peace in Toronto 1969, which was credited to the “Plastic Ono Band”, a newly enshrined joint vehicle for Lennon and Ono’s musical projects. In early 1970 they released the single “Instant Karma!”, which sold over a million copies and reached the top five on both sides of the Atlantic, making it the first true solo “hit” by any of the Beatles. The song was produced by Phil Spector, who was also working on the Beatles Let It Be album, and featured Klaus Voormann on bass, who Lennon would retain for this album.

Starting in July 1970, Lennon recorded demos of tracks inspired by the ongoing therapy which was then taking place in the United States. In September the couple returned to England and began recording at Abbey Road. The sessions began with Lennon, Voormann, and former Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr jamming to early rock standards to forge a tight sound among the three. Ultimately, the new tracks were laid down with this base, three-piece arrangement. Originally slated to be the album’s producer, Spector’s busy schedule meant he could only work on a few songs, so Lennon and Ono produced most of the material themselves, forging a dry rhythmic sound which worked perfectly with the thematic feel of the album. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band was recorded simultaneously with Ono’s debut solo album of avant garde sounds, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.


Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon
Released: December 11, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, & Phil Spector
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & Ascot Sound Studios, London, September–October 1970
Side One Side Two
Mother
Hold On
I Found Out
Working Class Hero
Isolation
Remember
Love
Well Well Well
Look at Me
God
My Mummy’s Dead
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Ringo Starr – Drums

On the same day they released their respective albums, the couple also released a joint single of Ono’s “Why” and Lennon’s “Mother”. Starting with a tolling bell which symbolizes the death of his mother when John was a teenager, the song abruptly enters as a raw and untamed prayer with choppy piano chords and bass notes along with Starr’s moderately steady drum beat. Actually a cry to both parents (who Lennon pretty much grew up without), this ode to abandonment features a final line which is repeated nearly a dozen times with increasing intensity and dramatic effect. This represents the fact that being left behind by both parents will always be in the back drop of anything else in his life. In contrast, the sweet and soft “Hold On” changes the tone from the inner battle that has been going on forever to a hopeful mood of optimism. Musically, this is led by fantastic, jazzy tremolo guitar by Lennon.

I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa, they didn’t want me so they made me a star…”

We return to the primal scream, angry-at-the-world material with “I Found Out”. Starting with pure, raw blues as Lennon’s vocals mimicks his guitar riff, the song takes off when Voorman and Starr break in with upbeat rhythms, with the bass line being the true highlight of this dark but fine tune. Speaking of dark, “Working Class Hero” is a solo folk performance where Lennon provides at once a slightly profound anthem to the “regular guy” and a bitch fest to suppress all hope of escaping to a better life. Closing side one, “Isolation” is a largely underrated classic as a great desperate ballad where Lennon’s vocal skills are at their best. A beautiful piano is upfront while the rhythm is very refined and laid back and everything is staggered (or “isolated”), eventually climaxing in a crescendo with exquisite timing.

People say we got it made, don’t they know we’re so afraid, isolation…”

With a consistent, driving beat and vocals methodically delivered with long pauses between each verse line, “Remember” is another gem from the heart of this album. During the well-spaced chorus sections the song briefly changes direction with more standard, melodic rock timings. Lyrically, this song deals with remembering events of the past and how some memories are not that rosy but they still help you shape your today. For the song’s climax, Lennon references “The Fifth of November”, a British holiday known as Guy Fawkes Night and celebrated with fireworks, hence the ending explosion. “Love” is a soft and weepy ballad, which works well as a counterbalance on this emotional album. Musically, the song features piano by Spector and a soft, tender acoustic guitar by Lennon. This song was eventually released as a single in 1982, in the wake of Lennon’s assassination.

John LennonThe weakest part of the album begins with “Well Well Well”, a six minute filler that is not at all focused or anywhere nearly as interesting as the other “primal scream” tracks. Aside from some interesting stomping and crunchy guitar riffs, this song has about as much merit as a prolonged conversation where no one says anything of substance. “Look At Me” is another weak track, albeit at least a bit moody and melodic. The only song to predate the Beatles’ breakup, this song was written during sessions for the White Album in 1968 and contains a finger-picked acoustic technique similar to that album’s “Dear Prudence”. The album does recover nicely with the philosophical closer, “God”, featuring Billy Preston on piano. The song features a totally unique compositional formation with long, repetitive mid-section screed. Here, Lennon earnestly declares what he believes in and (most prominently) doesn’t believe in, with a whole list of terrestrial idols culminating with The Beatles themselves. This is followed by the sad closing section where Lennon repeatedly declares “the dream is over”, ultimately addressing the elephant in the room to which all previous subjects have built towards.

Much like the classic Abbey Road a year earlier, Platic Ono Band ends with a song after the final song, in this case a low-fi demo of a brief diddy called “My Mummy’s Dead”. The album reached Top 10 and spent several months in 1971 in the charts. Lennon followed up on the success of this album with Imagine, another self-confessional (albeit tamer) album which was a worldwide hit for Lennon.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

McCartney by Paul McCartney

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McCartney by Paul McCartneyThe second of our three “Life After Beatles” reviews looks at the most controversial release in the sense that it played an indirect role in the group’s demise. Covertly recorded during The Beatles last months as an official band, McCartney is a very scaled back one-man effort by Paul McCartney, who tracked much of the music at home. As such, reception and reviews of this album have been mixed and deservedly so. In one sense, there are songs which are very efficient, saying more in 150 seconds or less than most standard or elongated rock songs. On the other hand, there is some annoying repetition, which signals the presence of underdeveloped material released before its time.

Following the release of Abbey Road in September 1969, John Lennon confided in his bandmates that he was finished being a Beatle. After strenuously trying to change Lennon’s mind, McCartney retreated to his isolated farm in Campbeltown, Scotland, where he lost touch with the other Beatles and neglected their common management of Apple Records. With encouragement from his wife Linda McCartney, Paul began developing solo material and he purchased a four-track recorder when the McCartneys returned to their proper home in London. Playing every instrument with just some backing vocals by Linda, McCartney later took his recordings to Morgan Studios and Abby Road to record overdubs, using a fake name in each case to keep the upcoming album a secret. While a handful of the tracks on McCartney date back to Beatles’ sessions, most of the material was composed and developed over a two month span in the Winter of 1969-70.

When the album was revealed to Apple (and the other Beatles), McCartney was slated for a mid-April release date. However, Phil Spector had been working on post-production of the Let It Be album and accompanying film that had a world premiere scheduled for April 28th. Harrison and Lennon wrote to McCartney that his album release would be postponed until June 4th, which was hand delivered to McCartney by Ringo Starr. This situation nearly came to blows and, although the other Beatles relented on their demands, McCartney decided to go public on April 9, 1970, with what was essentially his resignation from the band. Nine days later, McCartney was released.


McCartney by Paul McCartney
Released: April 17, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul McCartney
Recorded: McCartney’s home, St John’s Wood; Morgan Studios, Willesden; Abbey Road Studios, London, December 1969–February 1970
Side One Side Two
The Lovely Linda
That Would Be Something
Valentine Day
Every Night
Hot As Sun / Glasses
Junk
Man, We Was Lonely
Oo You
Mama Miss America
Teddy Boy
Singalong Junk
Maybe I’m Amazed
Kreen-Akrore
Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Percussion
Linda McCartney – Backing Vocals

The early part of the album runs sequentially, with the first three songs being the first three recordings McCartney made at home for this project. “The Lovely Linda” is the shortest song and is only annoying because it seems like there is so much more here than on some of the later filler – with a nice bass groove and interesting hand percussion to accompany the bright acoustic – only to go away after just 43 seconds. In contrast, “That Would Be Something” is mostly filler, with only two distinct lines and musical melodies repeated to death. The first of several instrumentals, “Valentine Day” is a simple riff-oriented blues jam with interesting percussion that McCartney claims he improvised on the spot while the tape was running.

“Every Night” is the first really complete and excellent song on the album. This song also is, in many ways, the true heart of this domestic-inspired record. Recorded at Abbey Road, everything works well on this brief love song, including McCartney’s duo acoustic, bass, subtle drums, and, most especially, his exquisite vocal melodies. The album’s second instrumental, “Hot As Sun/Glasses” begins with a bright, Polynesian-influenced jam that McCartney first developed in the late 1950s. This shortly breaks down with the eerie sound of tapping crystal wineglasses at home.

Back Cover of McCartney
Back Cover of McCartney
A short but beautiful gem, “Junk” was originally written during the sessions for The White Album. This acoustic ballad with philosophical lyrics features some xylophone in the final verse as well as the first vocal harmonies by Linda McCartney. Linda’s vocals are even more present on “Man We Was Lonely”, the original side one closer. This fine and polished track features electric overdubbed guitars complementing the strummed acoustic strummed in intro and a “hoe-down” duet with a bouncy beat and enjoyable melodies.

A rock riff jam with interesting guitars and bass line, “Oo You” was originally recorded at home as an instrumental but McCartney decided to add mainly scat vocals later in the studio. Two distinct instrumentals were combined to form “Momma Miss America”, the best musical passage on the album with the first half featuring potent bass, piano, and drums and subtle guitar motifs with interesting effects on each. The bass and drums persist on the second half, accompanied by a heavy acoustic presence and lead guitar above it all. While “Teddy Boy” was rejected as a Beatles track, this acoustic folk track actually works much better as a solo song. Of note here are Linda’s backing vocals, the finest on this (or any other) album. When accompanied by Paul’s bass vocals, the backing chorus has an almost orchestral effect. The reprise “Singalong Junk” is an instrumental version that is actually longer than the song proper on side one. A few notches above elevator music, the melody is played on piano with the fine additions of mellotron strings.

 
In a way, one can claim that “Maybe I’m Amazed” is the reason for the album as a whole, as the one true radio hit and indelible song. On the other hand, one might also argue that it this is too well produced to blend with the preceding tracks, as this Abbey Road production abandons the “homey” feel. In any case, it is a real showcase for McCartney’s talent as a composer and performer, especially when it comes to the soaring lead guitars between each verse. Following this climatic moment, “Kreen-Akrore” finishes the album as a showcase for dry drums and percussive effects, only disrupted by very short full instrumentation sections which reprise a small phrase from “Maybe I’m Amazed”. This piece was inspired by the hunting rituals of tribesmen in the Brazilian Amazon.

Despite its mixed reviews, McCartney was a worldwide hit, reaching number 2, in the UK and Number 1 in the US, where it sold over a million copies in its first six weeks. Some have cynically noted that this album was a commercial beneficiary of the the publicity surrounding the Beatles’ break-up, which McCartney initiated. In any case, it commenced a long and successful solo career which continues 45 years later.

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All Things Must Pass
by George Harrison

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All Things Must Pass by George HarrisonWe start our three part mini-series called “Life After Beatles” with All Things Must Pass, the triple LP album which George Harrison the month the Beatles officially broke up. However, much of the material on this album dates back to later Beatles projects (usually as material rejected by the band) as well as personal contemporary influence from artists like Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. For the Beatle who was often relegated to a supporting player with one or few compositions per album, this was a massive break out for Harrison as he firmly established his own musical identity and introduced methods like his signature slide guitar technique. The result was a critical and commercial success and some consider this to be the best of all the former Beatles’ solo albums.

Harrison previously recorded two experimental solo albums called Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which made use of early synthesizers. Following the release of The Beatles’ White Album in late 1968, Harrison took a trip to America, which included a stop at Dylan’s residence in Woodstock, NY as The Band was working on their self-titled sophomore album. Inspired by the songwriting methods of Dylan and his protégés and a renewed fascination with the guitar, Harrison began writing prolifically, and contributed songs to artists Billy Preston, Doris Tory, an Cream. Harrison also briefly toured with Clapton and his group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Although he began to openly discuss recording a solo album in 1969, it was not until The Beatles’ break-up in the Spring of 1970, that Harrison moved forward with the project.

Producer Phil Spector was invited to listen to Harrison’s growing library of unreleased compositions, some of which dated back as far as 1966. These diverse songs ranged in sub-genres from rock to country, Motown, Gospel and Indian music, as well as many hybrid fusions of these styles. Even though there was enough finished material to release a triple-length album, Harrison reportedly made demos of at least twenty other songs, most of which have yet to be released. Due to Spector’s rich “wall of sound” recording method, it is hard to discern exactly who played what on which track. However, this album did employ an incredible roster of talented rock musicians to back Harrison. Along with Clapton and Preston, these included fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, Dave Mason, Alan White, Phil Collins, and all four members of the group Badfinger.


All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
Released: November 27, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison & Phil Spector
Recorded: Abbey Road, Trident, & Apple Studios London, May–October 1970
Side One Side Two
I’d Have You Anytime
My Sweet Lord
Wah-Wah
Isn’t It a Pity
What Is Life
If Not for You
Behind That Locked Door
Let It Down
Run of the Mill
Side Three Side Four
Beware of Darkness
Apple Scruffs
Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp
Awaiting on You All
All Things Must Pass
I Dig Love
Art of Dying
Isn’t It a Pity (version 2)
Hear Me Lord
Side Five Side Six
Out of the Blue
It’s Johnny’s Birthday
Plug Me In
I Remember Jeep
Thanks for the Pepperoni
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eric Clapton – Guitars
Klaus Voorman – Bass
Ringo Starr – Drums

All Things Must Pass starts with the ballad “I’d Have You Anytime”, a song co-written by Harrison and Dylan in Woodstock in November 1968. This opener features a fine guitar lead by Clapton, although he was not originally credited due to contractual concerns. The first minute and a half of the hit “My Sweet Lord” is quite brilliant in its approach. But this song does get quite repetitive and the backing religious chants wear thin later on in the song. The song turned out to be a mixed blessing as Harrison’s biggest pop hit (number one for four weeks) but also controversial due to the lawsuit for copyright infringement due to this tracks similarity to the sixties pop hit “He’s So Fine”.

“Wah-Wah” is a track with great sonic texture and arrangement that was written during Harrison’s brief departure from the Beatles in early 1969. It was the first track recorded for the album and includes a great performance by Badfinger in backing Harrison. “Isn’t It a Pity” is even older, dating back to the 1966 Rubber Soul sessions. Two distinct versions of this melancholy ballad were included on the album, with the seven-minute side one closer being the more popular version, which reached the top of the charts in Canada.

George Harrison and Eric Clapton in 1970The fantastic rocker “What Is Life” is one of Harrison’s most indelible tunes, driven by a rich guitar riff, great melody, and strategic horns, all of which helped make it a top-ten hit in the United States. Originally, the song was a concerted effort at “blue-eyed soul” but the result is much closer to heavy rock/pop. Written solely by Dylan, “If Not for You” is a bright pop song with slight Caribbean elements and the only song not at least partially composed by Harrison. “Behind That Locked Door” follows as a Country-waltz with some steel guitars in distance, while “Let It Down” was one of a few presented to the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions, but ultimately rejected by the other band members. “Run of the Mill” starts with blissful blend of guitars while the lyrics express some frustration with the circumstances surrounding the Beatles’ business practices.

The album’s fine third side begins with the slow drudge and subtle, building intensity of “Beware of Darkness”. The lyrics of this song reflect Eastern philosophy and the wariness of corrupting influences. A light tribute to rock fans, “Apple Scruffs” is dominated by harmonica, upbeat strummed acoustic, and rich harmony vocals. The clicking percussion by Mal Evans gives it a feeling of spontaneity. “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” contains some good melodies and great sonic feel as a distant slide guitar and near piano work well together, while “Awaiting On You All” is a Gospel rock revival that is almost too richly produced for its own good.

The excellent title ballad is filled with rich instrumentation and a great overall vibe. First recorded with The Beatles, the song was originally released by Billy Preston on his Encouraging Words album. Harrison was influenced by The Band’s communal music-making with the lyrics drawing from Timothy Leary’s poem “All Things Pass”. “I Dig Love” has a raw sound and catchy groove – repetitive but in useful way, while “Art of Dying” contains more great rock elements. The side four closer “Hear Me Lord” is an explicit prayer asking for help in becoming a better person, with a strong chorus in background and a very animated piano throughout.

The final two sides of the album is known collectively as “Apple Jam”, with four of the five tracks being improvised instrumental tracks. The best of these is the long droning “Out of the Blue”, a two-chord jam with decent sax lead early on and subtle piano and organ motifs later. “I Remember Jeep” contains some synthesized effects overdubs and features former Cream and Bind Faith drummer Ginger Baker, while “Thanks for the Pepperoni” is the most roots-rock oriented jam. The only vocal track on these two sides is “It’s Johnny’s Birthday”, which was recorded as a gag to present to John Lennon on his 30th birthday.

All Things Must Pass launched a long and respectable solo career for George Harrison, concluding with his 15-year final project Brainwashed. Still, few dispute that this first post-Beatles release is Harrison’s true masterpiece that would never be equaled.

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The Madcap Laughs
by Syd Barrett

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The Madcap Laughs by Syd BarrettAfter his tumultuous exit from Pink Floyd, Composer, guitarist, and vocalist Syd Barrett spent several years working on his debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs. Beginning in April 1968, the album was recorded in stages and five different producers were employed, including then-current Pink Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters. When it was finally released at the beginning of 1970, the album was more of a curiosity that a solid rock effort and it found minimal commercial success in the UK.

Following the release and success of Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, Barrett started to display counter-productive, erratic behavior. This led to the group adding Gilmour as a fifth member to pick up the slack on guitar and vocals in late 1967. Soon Barrett was no longer able to perform live but the group had hoped he would remain as their primary songwriter and lead vocalist for studio tracks. However, his mental state had deteriorated further and the material he presented to the band was largely unworkable. Barrett was officially dismissed from Pink Floyd in April 1968 and only one of his tracks appeared on that year’s album by the group, A Saucerful of Secrets.

Almost immediately upon departing from Pink Floyd, Barrett entered Abbey Road Studios with producer Peter Jenner. Although only one track from these initial sessions would appear on The Madcap Laughs, many tracks were attempted. In July 1968, Barrett abruptly stopped recording and ended up in psychiatric care in his hometown of Cambridge. Early in 1969, a refreshed Barrett resumed work on the album with producer Malcolm Jones. These sessions proved much more fruitful than those of the previous year, with a large part of the album recorded at Abbey Road in April 1969. However, there were still issues with recording as rhythm players had a tough time matching Barrett’s inconsistent timings and chord structures. Soon Jones’ interest in the project began to wane just as Gilmour had started taking an interest in Barrett’s project.

In July 1969, Waters and Gilmour were completing Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma when they decided to get involved with The Madcap Laughs. In just a few sessions, they worked on several remade versions and overdubs of previous material along with a handful of new tracks. However, Barrett started to protest further overdubs, so Gilmour and Waters decide to mix the collective material and declared the album complete.


The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett
Released: January 3, 1970 (Harvest)
Produced by: Syd Barrett, Peter Jenner, Malcolm Jones, David Gilmour, & Roger Waters
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, May 1968–August 1969
Side One Side Two
Terrapin
No Good Trying
Love You
No Man’s Land
Dark Globe
Here I Go
Octopus
Golden Hair
Long Gone
She Took a Long Cold Look
Feel
If It’s in You
Late Night
Primary Musicians
Syd Barrett – Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Gilmour – Guitars, Bass
Mike Ratledge – Keyboards
Robert Wyatt – Drums

With a slowly strummed acoustic and the slightest hint of overdubbed electric guitars, “Terrapin” starts the album complete with many blatant mistakes, especially during the chord changes at the end of each sequence. However, this is part of the charm of the album and Barrett’s vocals are on the same high level as on Piper At the Gates of Dawn. Over five-minutes in duration, the song has a hypnotic vibe along with stream-of-consciousness lyrics. “No Good Trying” follows with a full band arrangement, and a psychedelic sound, animated by drums up front with distant whining guitars and keys in background.

“Love You” is upbeat and joyous, bouncy melody over a music hall style piano, while “No Man’s Land” is a droning rocker with good rhythms and bass and a slightly potent lead by Barrett. The haunting “Dark Globe” is the first in the sequence to be produced by Gilmour and Waters, This solo track by Barrett has strummed acoustic and dramatic, deep and desperate lyrics which appear to be Barrett’s first-person account of his own mental state. Concluding the first side is “Here I Go”, a fifties type ballad with elements of English pop and especially dry vocals.

Released a few months prior to the album, “Octopus” is the lone single from The Madcap Laughs. This light and melodic track also gave the album its title when Gilmour mistakenly heard the lyric; the lyric; “Well, the mad cat laughed at the man on the border…” The most overtly psychedelic track is the dark and distant “Golden Hair”, which took some lyrics from poet James Joyce sung through haunting vocals. “Long Gone” is the last truly quality track on the album (and perhaps the finest on the album). It features very good acoustic and deep melody, almost Country-like in the verses but more artistic in chorus.

Syd BarrettDown the stretch, the album does include some really sub-par material. “She Took a Long Cold Look” sounds stale in comparison to the fine preceding track and its rambling and lack of structure (which has a charm earlier in the album) starts to really wear thin here. On the acoustic solo track “Feel”, there is some effective use of reverb at strategic parts but this is offset by the inclusion of studio chatter and the weird false start which reveals Barrett’s incoherent mumbling condition at the beginning of the off-tune “If It’s in You”. The album concludes with “Late Night”, the only song from his 1968 recording sessions with Jenner to make the album. This track features full band arrangement, albeit disjointed, as Barrett’s lyrics of isolation bring the listener back to the original purpose of this album.

The Madcap Laughs sold just enough copies and got well enough reviews that EMI decided to ask for a second Syd Barrett solo album. A month after this album’s release, recording commenced for what would become the second studio album, Barrett, produced solely by Gilmour. This album features a slightly richer sound, especially in the rhythmic mix, but material is not quite as interesting musically aside from the standout tracks “Baby Lemonade”, “Gigolo Aunt” (which was actually started in 1968), and the closing, stream-of-consciousness track “Effervescing Elephant”, which seems like an appropriate closer to Barrett’s recording career. In June 1970, Barrett performed his first and only solo concert, which was cut short after only four songs when he abruptly put down his guitar and walked off stage.

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Led Zeppelin III

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Led Zeppelin IIILed Zeppelin III is a classic album from Led Zeppelin. Composed largely at a remote cottage in Wales which lacked any modern amenities, the band found a pastoral vibe of folk and acoustic instrumentation, which ultimately led them to thrive as one of the most diverse rock acts in history. However, the plethora of acoustic tunes were not met with great accolades at the time by either critics or the rabid fans who had enormous anticipation for the long awaited a follow-up to the group’s pair of fantastic 1969 albums. In fact, the album fared much better pre-release (with advance sales driving it to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic) than afterward, as it was one of the weakest selling records in the group’s catalog when they disbanded a decade later.

Led Zeppelin had been touring relentlessly through 1969 in both the US and Europe, with each successive tour booking larger and larger venues. Some of these early concerts lasted in excess of four hours and the band members took no extended breaks to rejuvenate. In early 1970, guitarist/producer Jimmy Page and vocalist/lyricist Robert Plant retreated to a Welsh cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur to write new material. With no electricity, they were forced to compose songs with acoustic instruments and they found strong influences in local Celtic folk music.

Later, Page and Plant were joined by drummer bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham for rehearsals and initial recordings at another rural location called Headley Grange in Southern England. Adding to the album’s mystique was the totally unique cover for the original vinyl edition. Designed by an art school friend of Page’s, the packaging featured a rotating wheel behind a gatefold, similar to crop rotations. Further, the original pressings of the album included inscribed phrases from occultist Aleister Crowley, whom Page studied intensely.


Led Zeppelin III by Led Zeppelin
Released: October 5, 1970 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Bron-Yr-Aur, Snowdonia, Wales, Headley Grange, England, and Olympic Studios, London, January–August 1970
Side One Side Two
Immigrant Song
Friends
Celebration Day
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Out On the Tiles
Gallow’s Pole
Tangerine
That’s the Way
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Hat’s Off to (Roy) Harper
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Banjo, Dulcimer
John Paul Jones – Keyboards, Bass, Mandolin
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

While Led Zeppelin III is considered their “acoustic” album, it is kind of ironic that it begins with one of Led Zeppelin’s heaviest and most strident numbers. Written during the band’s tour of Iceland, “Immigrant Song” is the ultimate action/adventure song, fitting in just as easily with Saturday action matinees as with the Norse legends it portrays. Released as a single, the song reached the Top 20 on the pop charts, a rare feat for this decidedly non-Top 40 band.

“Friends” goes to the true heart of the album as a song which straddles both the acoustic and electric elements. Starting as a totally unplugged number with a true Middle Eastern flavor, the song builds with a string arrangement along with an early synth effect by Jones. Bonham plays a unique percussive rhythm while Page employs an open tuning for the first of many times on the album. “Celebration Day” is a distinctly “modern” seventies rock song, perhaps the first moment when Zeppelin moved a little away from the raw blues of “II” and towards the more polished rock of “IV”. Page utilizes several guitar riffs simultaneously while Plant’s lyrics were inspired by his first trip to New York City.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” appears to be the original blues classic that Zeppelin had been searching for through their first couple albums. Recorded live in the studio, the song features Jones played Hammond organ and bass pedals behind Page’s blistering blues guitar work and Plant’s most soulful vocals. Not to be outdone, Bonham’s drum sound is as potent as any ever recorded, a tribute to both his playing talent and Page’s production methods. Bonham also got a songwriting credit for “Out On the Tiles”, the side one closer which he named after the British phrase for hitting the pubs. The track contains one of the more aggressive riff sequences along with some heavy natural reverb and unique rhythm and syncopation. Played live only a few times in the early 1970s, this is truly an underrated gem in the Led Zeppelin catalog.

Led Zeppelin in 1970

 
“Gallows Pole” sets the pace for the purely acoustic second side. Derived from a centuries old Scandinavian folk song called “The Maid Freed from the Gallows”, this rendition of the song is great through its building first half, but does lose some steam through the bit-too-long outro, where the song’s building motion loses some momentum, even if Page’s banjo playing is a fascination. “Tangerine” is the oldest composition on the album, written solely by Page while he was a member of the Yardbirds. On the track Page uses a twelve-string acoustic and pedal steel guitar on this excellent folk/Country song, which is often forgotten in the pantheon of Zeppelin greats. The track is also the final one on the album to feature a full rhythm arrangement with electric bass and drums.

“That’s the Way” is a fantastic piece in its elegant simplicity, pure beauty, and poetic lyrics. Page and Jones find perfect texture with acoustic guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, and pedal steel through the somber verses. During the song’s outro, the song uses subtle backward masking on the acoustic for a unique effect. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is an acoustic rendition of a heavy blues instrumental called “Jennings Farm Blues”, which the band performed and recorded in late 1969. Pure fun (stomp is so adequate), the album version pays tribute to the Welsh cottage with Page and Jones strumming dual acoustics and Bonham playing spoons, castanets, and a thumbing kick drum throughout the recording. Finishing off the album is “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”, an odd tribute to Bukka White as well as the afore mentioned harper. The song was recorded solely by Plant and Page, using a vibrato effect and a slide acoustic guitar respectively.

In 1990, twenty years after its release Led Zeppelin III had reached double platinum status. However, just nine years later the album’s total sales had tripled and this classic work’s stature has only grown through th early 21st century, with the recent 2014 special edition of the album entering the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts.

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Morrison Hotel by The Doors

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Morrison Hotel by The DoorsAlthough its actual title has long been in dispute, Morrison Hotel turns out to be an aptly named album by The Doors. Lead vocalist Jim Morrison was involved in composing every song on the album and solely wrote more than half the tracks. Morrison’s lyrics portray a sense of maturity, while musically the group moved towards a more roots-focused rock sound, shedding any remnants of psychedlia from their first four albums. This change in sound was met with both critical and commercial success as this fifth album by the band reached the Top 5 on the US album charts and also became the band’s highest charting album in the UK.

Starting with the infamous incident in Miami, 1969 was a very tough year for The Doors as multiple promoters cancelled shows while Morrison stood trial for indecent exposure and public lewdness (he was later convicted and posthumously pardoned over four decades later). Musically, the group released The Soft Parade, an album greatly enhanced with brass and strings. That album was largely panned by critics (although has held up very well through time) and many were starting to predict the group’s demise. Still the group carried on with future plans, starting with the recording of two concerts and a live rehearsal at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood in July, 1969, the fruits of which would be used for several live releases through the decades.

Recording of new material for Morrison Hotel took place in November 1969 with producer Paul Rothchild, who produced all previous Doors’ albums. Guitarist Robbie Krieger co-wrote five of the tracks, while keyboardist Ray Manzarek migrated more towards using acoustic and electric pianos. The front cover photo was taken (without permission) at an actual establishment in Los Angeles called Morrison Hotel, while the back cover is a photograph of a bar called Hard Rock Café. While the album has always been commonly referred to as “Morrison Hotel” due to the front cover, the original LP labeled each side of the album separately, with side one as “Hard Rock Café” and side two as “Morrison Hotel”. This caused some to refer to the album with two titles, “Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café” or vice-versa.


Morrison Hotel by The Doors
Released: February 9, 1970 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles, August 1966-November 1969
Side One Side Two
Roadhouse Blues
Waiting For the Sun
You Make Me Real
Peace Frog
Blue Sunday
Ship of Fools
Land Ho!
The Spy
Queen of the Highway
Indian Summer
Maggie McGill
Group Musicians
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Robbie Krieger – Guitars
Ray Manzarek – Piano, Keyboards, Bass
John Densmore – Drums

Krieger’s fat, distorted guitar riff leads the drive of “Roadhouse Blues”, the pure rocker which opens the album. The nicely locked guitar and bass riff is accompanied by Manzarek’s barrelhouse piano and the ever-present harmonica of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian. Morrison leads the way with his party-ready lyrics in a manner like a manifestation of a night of drinking, moving through the various moods and mental musings. The song was one of the more methodically produced by Rothchild, who was striving for sonic perfection over several takes.

While the opening track sets the overall pace for the album, “Waiting for the Sun” is one of two tracks that peeks back to the earlier sound of the Doors. A leftover from the album of the same name, this track was recorded in early 1968 and features a sonically superior organ sound and an overall dark and moody vibe throughout. Still, the title and lyrics contain enough optimism that River of Rock named this as one of their Top 9 Songs of Springtime. “You Make Me Real” is driven by Manzarek’s piano roll and the frantic drumming of John Densmore. The song also showcases Morrison’s ability to rise above his normally laid-back crooner style towards the vocal frenzy of a Little Richard and Krieger adds a couple of excellent leads.

“Peace Frog” is one of the most indelible tracks from the album, pure funk throughout with inventive dual Morrison vocals simultaneously singing two lines. Krieger’s main riff is nicely distorted with percussive Wah-wah effect. The song’s mid-section includes a line from Morrison’s poem “Newborn Awakening” later released in full on his posthumous solo album An American Prayer. The song medleys with “Blue Sunday”, a pure ballad with light organ and simple guitar backing in a very short but pleasant track. The original first side concludes with “Ship of Fools”, starting with odd-timed rhythms in the intro with Densmore locked in perfectly with session bassist Ray Neapolitan. The track goes through several musical and vocal sections before returning to the main theme before the outro and is an overall lyrical comment on society at the end of the sixties.

The Doors at Hard Rock Cafe

“Land Ho!” is a wild, joyous, and buoyant rock tune about sailors and adventures. After the second verse, the song eases into a moderate bridge until Morrison screams the main hook and launches the partially frivolous but totally fun outro. “The Spy” goes to the jazz nightclub scene and is different than anything else The Doors have ever recorded. Morrison’s vocals are reserved but potent, as are the lyrics which border on the fine line between true love and total manipulation.

One of the more underrated songs in The Doors’ catalog, “Queen of the Highway” features Manzarek’s incredible electric piano and the song structure goes through many sonically superior rudiments that lets it build throughout and gives the feeling that there is so much more packed into this less-than-three-minute track, all guided by Densmore’s powerful drumming. “Indian Summer” is a weak throwback to the Doors’ first recordings in 1966, and does little more than add some pure mood to the album. Like it begins, Morrison Hotel ends with a blues-tinged rocker. Krieger leads the way musically on “Maggie McGill” with his double-tracked, twangy guitar riffs throughout while Morrison waxes poetic and reflective in a form that previews the Doors’ next (and final) studio album, L.A. Woman.

Beyond Morrison Hotel, the year 1970 also saw The Doors releasing their first live album, Absolutely Live, as well as the first of many compilations, named 13. While it was clear that their career was on the back end, the band members still had a bit more work to do.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

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.

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R.A.

A Classic Rock Review Special Feature.