Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson

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Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry NilssonThe seventh studio album by Harry Nilsson, the music on 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson unfolds almost like a television variety show with its incredible diversity in musical style. The most commercially successful work of Nilsson’s career, the album was his first to fully delve into the pop/rock realm as it features a vast array of mature pop ranging from tin pan alley to contemporary rock.

With a musical career that dated back to the late fifties, Nilsson began to have some real success as a songwriter in 1963 when he wrote a songs for artists like Little Richard and producers like Phil Spector. His debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson was released in 1966 with album releases coming in rapid succession over the next several years but with very modest commercial success. However, Nilsson’s multi-octave vocals caught the ear of Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor who introduced his music to the band. By 1968, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were citing Nilsson as one of their favorite American artists. Nilsson’s first commercial breakthrough came when his rendition of Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” was featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, becoming a Top 10 hit and leading to a subsequent Grammy Award.

Nilsson Schmilsson was produced by Richard Perry, who enlisted top-notch players to back Nilsson. This includes bassist Klaus Voormann, formally of Manfred Mann’s band, and drummer Jim Gordon who had recently been involved with Derek and the Dominos. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in London.

 


Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson
Released: November 13, 1971 (RCA/Victor)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June 1971
Side One Side Two
Gotta Get Up
Driving Along
Early in the Morning
The Moonbeam Song
Down
Without You
Coconut
Let the Good Times Roll
Jump Into the Fire
I’ll Never Leave You
Primary Musicians
Harry Nilsson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
John Uribe – Guitars
Klaus Voormann – Bass, Guitar
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion

 

The ten-song album features three covers and seven Nilsson originals including its first two tracks. “Gotta Get Up” is a theatrical pop/rocker driven by Nilsson’s bouncy piano, complete with a rich arrangement including slight horns and other elements packed into this song of less than two and a half minutes. The acoustic “Driving Along” follows and works well as an early seventies soft rocker with rich vocals, slight horns and a Mellotron by Perry. The album’s first cover is “Early in the Morning”, originally a late 1940s Cuban-influenced track by Louis Jordan. On this version, Nilsson nearly performs solo with a choppy reverb laden organ and extraordinarily soulful lead vocals.

“The Moonbeam Song” features slowly strummed acoustic topped by soft vocals soon accompanied by a rich backing chorus. The poetic verse structure of this song is atypical, with elongated lines at times to extenuate the overall feel. On the moderate piano rocker “Down”, Nilsson’s strained vocals and Jim Keltner‘s potent drum beats drive home the central theme strongly to finish the first side. The pop-oriented second side begins with the chart-topping cover of “Without You”, originally composed and released by Badfinger for their No Dice LP. Here, Nilsson took an incredibly dramatic ballad and made it even more emotional and melancholy as he uses his voice to max potential and performs both parts of the original duet by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Further, the orchestration of Paul Buckmaster made this an almost operatic piece.

Harry Nilsson

Following the emotional drama of “Without You”, comes the light and nearly frivolous “Coconut”. Here, a finger-picked acoustic riff starts the rotating and persistent percussion, which does not change through the entire duration of this quirky Caribbean hit. The cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” has a genuine Southern feel throughout with bouncy piano, a fine harmonica lead and slight slide guitar by John Uribe interjected between vocal lines. In contrast, the rocker “Jump Into the Fire” is built on a de-tuned bass groove by Herbie Flowers and well-treated vocals which sound unlike anything else on the album. The slow and simple piano ballad, “I’ll Never Leave You”, wraps things up with many instances of pleasant sonic additives throughout.

Nilsson Schmilsson was nominated for several Grammy awards with the song “Without You” winning for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In an attempt to build on this success, Nilsson followed with a couple of spin-offs, Son of Schmilsson in 1972 and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973, but neither of these were received nearly as well critically or commercially.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums

 

Master of Reality
by Black Sabbath

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Master of Reality by Black SabbathBlack Sabbath‘s third album, Master of Reality, sees the quartet building on the foundations of their two 1970 albums and exploring new fusions of heavy rock n roll. Some of this was by design and some by a spontaneous happy accident resulting from the frenzied recording sessions in between a relentless touring schedule. The result was a highly influential album which was also the group’s most commercially successful record of their classic era.

Recorded in late 1969, the group’s self-tiled debut album contained a heavy dose of dark themes but was a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic. To build on this momentum, Black Sabbath returned to the studio just four months after the debut’s release to record Paranoid, which migrated lyrical focus more towards real world themes. Combined, these first two albums altered the rock landscape by solidifying “heavy metal” as a sub-genre. Following Paranoid‘s release, Black Sabbath launched their their first tour of the USA.

Master of Reality was recorded during the Spring of 1971 with producer Rodger Bain, the group’s third and final collaboration with this producer. Leading the group’s sound was guitarist Tony Iommi, who expanded his instrumentation to include keyboards and flute and tuned his guitar down a few semi-tones to produce a darker sound. The material on this eight-song album is also very diverse in themes, styles and rhythms.


Master of Reality by Black Sabbath
Released: July 21, 1971 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Island Studios, London, February–April 1971
Side One Side Two
Sweet Leaf
After Forever
Embryo
Children of the Grave
Orchid
Lord of This World
Solitude
Into the Void
Group Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitars, Keyboards, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with its most indelible tune, “Sweet Leaf”, with an odd but memorable beginning which is actually Iommi choking on a joint between recording takes. The song then instantly launches into a slow, simple but powerful distortion-drenched riff and, after two verses, Sabbath breaks into a rapid jam with bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward following Iommi in playing rapidly before returning to the main theme, which feels even more potent at this point. The lyrics are an unabashed love song to a piece of choice vegetation and is credited and is cited as the birth of stoner rock. “After Forever” has a less doomy, more upbeat rock feel with some synthesizer by Iommi who also provides a twangy but heavy opening guitar riff. The lyrics were written by Butler and mainly focus on Christian themes, which contradicted the views that many held of Black Sabbath as Satanic;

Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say if they knew you believe in God above? They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to love…”

The half minute long “Embryo” is an odd interlude, which sounds like it has Scottish origins and acts as an intro to the dramatic side one closer, “Children of the Grave”. This mostly straight-forward, heavy jam contains some anti-war themes and has been cited by vocalist Ozzy Osbourne as the group’s most “kick ass song”.

Black Sabbath, early 1970s

The album’s second side features some lesser known tracks, starting with “Orchid”, a finger picked, folk acoustic instrumental which at once adds some real character to the album and is slightly surreal in its hypnotic repetition of patterns. “Lord of this World” returns to the doomy metal but with very animated drums by Ward in the beginning and later sloshes through some bluesy rock riffing and slight jamming. “Solitude” starts with some picked guitar and a unique bass pattern by Butler, while Osbourne’s somber vocals are almost English folk in verses as a very laid back, dark and moody track. “Into the Void” features the crisp, strong riffing during the extended intro before the song eventually migrates to the classic-style song proper as an interest jam to complete the album.

Certified double platinum after selling 2 million copies, Master of Reality was Black Sabbath’s only Top 10 album in the US until the year 2013. The group built on this success with a world tour through 1972, before finally taking a break to work more methodically on their follow-up album.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

Blue by Joni Mitchell

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Blue by Joni MitchellThe fourth album by Joni Mitchell, the 1971 release Blue, saw the folk singer reach her highest critical acclaim. The album employs sparse musical arrangements leaning heavily towards the folk genre, with Mitchell playing acoustic guitar, piano, or dulcimer as the primary instrument to accompany her vocals. Lyrically, each of the songs on Blue hone in on a specific feeling, situation or, in many cases, a specific person.

A Canadian native, Mitchell first sang publicly at bonfires before finally pursuing a paid gig at a folk and jazz club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1962. She intended to pursue a career in art rather than music, but grew disillusioned by the priority given to technical skill over creativity in art school, so she migrated several times (to Toronto, Detroit, New York, and finally Los Angeles) in pursuit of a career as a folk singer. Before receiving widespread notoriety as a performer, Mitchell had success as a composer by writing several songs made popular by other artists, most notably Judy Collin’s Top 10 hit “Both Sides Now” in 1967. The following year, Mitchell released her debut album, Song to a Seagull, followed by Clouds in 1969 and Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, with each release being more popular and critically acclaimed than its predecessor.

Mitchell decided to stop touring for a year and focus solely on writing and painting. During this time she also took an extended tour of Europe, which was fertile ground for some of the “travelogue” songs that would appear on Blue. After recording in early 1971, an original version of the album was set for release in March but Mitchell decided to replace two of the songs with last minute compositions, delaying the album’s release until June.


Blue by Joni Mitchell
Released: June 22, 1971 (Reprise)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles, 1971
Side One Side Two
All I Want
My Old Man
Little Green
Carey
Blue
California
This Flight Tonight
River
A Case of You
The Last Time I Saw Richard
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Dulcimer
James Taylor – Guitars
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

On of the last minute additions to the album, “All I Want” starts this off with a bright and heavy use of an Appalachian dulcimer and is presented as a pop/folk song with great melody. “My Old Man” follows as the first of several solo piano tune which was presumably written about Mitchell’s former love interest Graham Nash. The sad but beautiful “Little Green” is the first true folk tune on the album, utilizing an Open G tuning to give each note a clean, ringing sound. The song was originally written in 1967 and cryptically spoke of Mitchell’s daughter who she gave up for adoption in 1965 and did not reveal to the world until decades later.

“Carey” is an upbeat tune with a much richer arrangement than most of the tracks on the album. Mitchell’s vocals and dulcimer are backed by bass from Stephen Stills and slight percussion by Russ Kunkel. In a way, the music on this track previews some of Mitchell’s more complex material later in the seventies, while the lyrics straddle the line between idealism and material comfort. The slow and melancholy, piano-fused title track finishes the first side as a slightly anti-drug, “the party’s over” type of lament.

Joni Mitchell in 1971

“California” features a cool acoustic by Mitchell and James Taylor, on top of which the singer employs plenty of lyrical and dynamic improvising. The song’s lyrical theme is based on her longing for home while traveling in France. “This Flight Tonight” has a darker acoustic feel with a descending chord structure in the pre-chorus. The lyric tell of the singer’s regrets as she departs on a flight and the song was later rearranged into a hard rock classic by the band Nazareth.

“River” is a Mitchell solo piano ballad, which borders on being a Christmas song. It is told from the perspective of a person in a warm climate, longing for the cold and frozen ‘river” through poetic and inventive lyrics, with Mitchell slightly incorporating “Jingle Bells” on the ending piano. “A Case of You” is a methodical solo acoustic track with a subtle, second guitar by Taylor and features joyous, love-themed lyrics synonymous of “drinking in” a person like beer or whisky. The album concludes with “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, a piano ballad with ethereal vocals and lyrics which document Joni’s brief marriage to Chuck Mitchell while struggling to be a folk singer in the mid 1960s.

Beyond its many subsequent accolades, Blue was also a commercial success in its time, reaching #15 in the US and #3 in the UK. With the album’s success, Mitchell decided to return to live touring and continued on to develop some of the most interesting music of her career.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

Madman Across the Water
by Elton John

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Madman Across the Water by Elton JohnMadman Across the Water was the fourth studio album by Elton John and his sixth overall album released within a span of just 29 months. The album is filled with songs that highlight John’s mellow and melodic music with Bernie Taupin‘s theatrical lyrical themes, making it a rather unique offering. Most of these tracks are over five minutes in length and filled with complex and deep arrangements, which gives the record a progressive-like feel and has kept this music viable and fresh four decades after its creation.

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton John started performing piano standards in pubs by the age fifteen and soon joined an R&B backing group called Bluesology, which often backed popular American soul acts while touring England. He later adopted his stage name as a tribute to fellow Bluesology members Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. John was later a profession session man who played on tracks recorded by artists ranging from The Hollies to Roger Hodgson and also began composing songs with Taupin for other artists. After a low-selling 1969 debut album, John reached international prominence in 1970, starting with his self-titled second release and the Top Ten hit “Your Song”. This was followed later in the year by Tumbleweed Connection, an American West inspired concept album which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Elton John next toured America and recorded the live album 11–17–70 in New York City on that date.  The prolific output of John and Taupin continued in early 1971 when they composed and recorded the soundtrack to the film Friends.

Like those four previous releases, Madman Across the Water was produced by Gus Dudgeon. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios over several sessions throughout 1971 and included a rich array of session musicians along with the fine string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, which helped forge a rich and theatrical vibe for this album.

 


Madman Across the Water by Elton John
Released: November 5, 1971 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, February-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
Tiny Dancer
Levon
Razor Face
Madman Across the Water
Indian Sunset
Holiday Inn
Rotten Peaches
All the Nasties
Goodbye
Primary Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano
Caleb Quaye – Guitars
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Mandolin, Sitar
Roger Pope – Drums

Unlike Tumbleweed Connection, this is not quite a theme album although it does provide an account of Elton John’s experiences in America. This is most prominent on “Tiny Dancer”, the album opener, which is also its finest song and a true classic. As reflected through this whole album, John’s music and melody are top notch while Taupin’s lyrics are a little less than so. Everything about the musical arrangement is perfectly placed from the bass lines and ever-intensifying rhythms to the strings to the steel guitar by session man B.J. Cole and, of course, John’s piano which subtly finds its way through the complex chord progressions. Even though the second verse is verbatim lyrically to the first, the arrangement and performance is varied enough to make it completely distinct.

Led by John’s vocal melodies, “Levon” beautifully builds throughout. Here, Taupin’s obscure lyrics are much more thought provoking and work better overall with the rich song craft. A fine acoustic accompanies the piano of the first verse while Brian Odgers‘s funky bass line is accompanied by a cool honky-tonk piano during the second verse. Topping it all off are the orchestral strings, which are much more up front and assert their presence more here than anywhere else on the album. The long coda contains a blend of many of these styles executed in harmony, a real tribute to Dudgeon’s production style. “Razor Face” has a great chord progression with the verse combination of piano and high-pitched organ by Yes’s virtuoso keyboardist Rick Wakeman. John’s vocals hit the higher registers nicely, spouting lyrics which are not great but effective enough to make this interesting and entertaining. The dark and dramatic title track is unlike many others in the Elton John collection, as this relies more on texture and effect than musical composition. It is musically built more on acoustic guitar than piano with the orchestral strings again being well asserted. The song nearly fades out in the middle, but slowly comes back for one final verse where the lyrics speak of paranoia and self-destruction;

The ground’s a long way down but I need more, Is the nightmare black or are the windows painted?”

Side two of the album is far less memorable than the first and many of the songs feature backing musicians more prominently than John himself. “Indian Sunset” contains evocative and a capella vocals up front, but is less than stellar in achieving its intended theatrics. “Holiday Inn” is a folk waltz with exquisite vocal arrangements but is really a centerpiece for Davey Johnstone on mandolin and acoustic guitar. “Rotten Peaches” and “All the Nasties” are both slightly Gospel influenced, with the former feature high bass note progressions by Dee Murray and the latter including the Cantores em Ecclesia Choir. The album ends somberly, with the short and aptly titled “Goodbye”.

Upon its release, Madman Across the Water was thought to be a flop, as it failed to reach the Top 40 in John’s home country of England. Through the years, however, it did become a multi-Platinum success and has found increasing critical acclaim. Starting with Elton John’s next release, Honky Château in 1972, he would employ a more permanent backing group for both recording and touring and enter into the most successful phase of his career.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

 

Hunky Dory by David Bowie

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Hunky Dory by David Bowie Classic Rock Review has launched a new feature called “What Did We Miss?” to revisit some albums that we overlooked the first time through our voyage into the classic rock years. We start with 1971, the very first year we covered when we launched in 2011, and a truly amazing year for music. And so it was that we overlooked a truly great release from 1971, David Bowie‘s fourth studio album, Hunky Dory. This was a landmark album for Bowie in many ways, as a transition between his folksy origins and his movement into what would become his signature sound for years to come. Thankfully some wrongs CAN be undone and in this is a big one.

Looking at this album with a larger lens, one can clearly see that this album is not only the opening of a new phase for Bowie but a loving goodbye to the sixties and those artists who inspired him. In fact, this album is filled with artistic, societal and pop culture references. Bowie refers to The Pretty Things, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol in the song titles and, in turn, a later band (The Kooks) and television show (Life On Mars) took their names from song titles on Hunky Dory. There are also historical references through the lyrics that mention Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill, Heinrich Himmler, Juan Pujol, and the society Golden Dawn.

But the real magic on this album lies in the music and melodies. The first side of Hunky Dory may be as good a side of musical excellence that you’ll find anywhere and, throughout the album, none of the songs go exactly where your ear expects them to go, as they throw in subtle or sometimes blatant changes. Co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, the album is a departure from Bowie’s previous 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World, which had a more solid rock sound. This album prominently features Rick Wakeman on piano, who comes to the forefront of the arrangement of most songs.


Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Released: December 17, 1971 (RCA)
Produced by: Ken Scott & David Bowie
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June–August 1971
Side One Side Two
Changes
Oh! You Pretty Things
Eight Line Poem
Life On Mars?
Kooks
Quicksand
Fill Your Heart
Andy Warhol
Song for Bob Dylan
Queen Bitch
The Bewlay Brothers
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Mellotron, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Piano
Trevor Bolder – Bass, Trumpet
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

The album opens with “Changes”, which makes excellent use of layering Bowie’s unique voice on top of an entertaining pop rock and bluesy jazz mix. The lyrics of “Changes” evoke a sense of the upheaval of the past decade as well as the present state of Bowie himself as he would jump through multiple persona over the next few years. This is the most played radio song from the album and developed into the quintessential Bowie song of the era. “Oh! You Pretty Things” is a much softer piano-driven song through first verses but breaks into a rousing chorus halfway through as other instruments join the piano as Bowie’s vocals get more impassioned. The lyrics speak of discontent with humanity and technology in the Cold War setting,

Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use…”

“Eight Line Poem” is a short track with Wakeman’s surreal piano topped by the bluesy guitar of Mick Ronson. The animated and emotional vocals recite Bowie’s “eight line poem” and feel like they’d fit perfectly in a small beat poet performance area. “Life On Mars?” is the real masterpiece of the album. Bowie’s emotional vocals lead Wakeman’s quietly beautiful piano into a full band, jazz-infused jam before Ronson’s guitar comes in with a quick riff leading back to the piano accompanied by the drums. Wild flute sounds add depth to the song. “It’s the Freakiest Show” and Life On Mars by David Bowie“Is there life on Mars?” are just a few of the poetic lines to which every person must add their own meaning, as this is the musical equivalent of the modernism movement in literature. The song has an orchestral sounding ending like some great show has just come to its climax, after which the piano gets the final say as it quietly fades out.

With the addition of bass player Trevor Bolder, all the members of the band that would become known as the “Spiders from Mars” were in place. On “Kooks”, this band shows their versatility as the pleasant traditional-sounding English pop song contains apt acoustic guitar, bass, piano, and melodically dances on the drum beats of Mick Woodmansey. It has a certain sort of grooviness to it as horns and violins enter into the mix. The words “A Trumpet you can blow” lead to the sound of a trumpet. The song was written for Bowie’s newborn son, Duncan Jones, with the “kooks” being Bowie and his wife Angie. “Quicksand” concludes the fantastic first side as a steady, dark folk, featuring double-tracked acoustic guitars and a string arrangement by Ronson. This song’s sad but beautiful melodies are accented by an ever-increasing intensity in the backing music and lyrics referring to occult magicians like “I’m closer to the dawn immersed in Crowley’s Uniform”. The theatrical inspirations come through on this song and if this album was a character’s journey, this would be the moment when the character hits rock bottom.

David Bowie band 1971

The album’s only cover song is the upbeat and philosophical jazz dance of “Fill Your Heart”. This old-time, sing-songy tune with piano, saxophone, driving bass, and especially pitched vocals by Bowie. There is a bit of a psychedelic bridge into the next track, “Andy Warhol”, using spacey synths and a vocal collage. When the song fully kicks in, it has a Spanish acoustic drive throughout with some creative percussive sounds by Woodmansey.

“A Song for Bob Dylan” is interesting because it refers to Dylan as a separate mythical character apart from Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s actual name). It’s an interesting reflection of him as his legend certainly grew beyond his control in the sixties leading to his famous slaughter of his folk only persona at the Newport Folk Festival. It would be hard to believe that Dylan’s own experimentation with changing persona didn’t directly influence Bowie’s future work. As Bowie states in the song,

Now, hear this Robert Zimmerman, I wrote a song for you about a strange young man named Dylan, with a voice like sand and glue
Some words of truthful vengeance that can pin us to the floor…”

The album winds down with a couple of more unexpected twists. “Queen Bitch” is highly influenced by the Velvet Underground, but with their overall effect brought to the next level. This song sounds like it could have been fresh and new six or seven years later and may well be a precursor to “Rebel Rebel” on 1974’s Diamond Dogs, as both seem like anthems of strong women you’d dub punks in the best way. While this song features overt textures of acoustic and electric guitar, the song is real showcase for Bolder on bass. “The Bewlay Brothers” sounds like a quiet acoustic post party song when it starts but it gets louder as it goes. You can almost picture Bowie walking down a quiet street after a wild night before singing it. The multiple voices that suddenly break in are oddly disconcerting near the end of the song, as this masterpiece of an album concludes as oddly as possible.

Hunky Dory was not an immediate hit upon its release but it reach the Top 5 following the commercial breakthrough of Ziggy Stardust in 1972. “Life on Mars?” was released as a single the year after that, reaching #3 in the UK. Wakeman was not around to directly enjoy this success, as he had moved on to join the band Yes and make an immediate impact on their album Fragile. In short, Hunky Dory is a sublime listen and it feels like the true start of David Bowie’s super-stardom. It is a must listen for music fans of all kind.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s “What Did We Miss?” series, looking at 1971 albums.

 

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

Who’s Next by The Who

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Perhaps THE most complete rock album in history, Who’s Next has just about everything a classic rock fan can want in an album. It has plenty of three-chord power riffs, melodic piano ballads, cutting edge technological innovation, virtuoso performances, raw power, accessibility, depth, message, anthems, a nice balance between acoustic and electric, and an even nicer balance between electronic and analog. In total, this album by The Who is satisfying, wildly entertaining and hits its absolute peak at the very end.

That moment in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, set up by the then cutting edge synth, that lulls the listener into believing that the album is over and will simply fade away. But then comes a few drum hits (and with Keith Moon “a few” is perhaps 20 or 30), that build to a dramatic re-introduction and Rodger Daltry’s scream, and the keystone lyric of the entire album;

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”

This lyric stands completely alone on an island of sonic majesty that ends with the band working through the hammering, staccato ending chords. It is a true thing of beauty. So on this note, Classic Rock Review will grant our very first Album of the Year for the very first year we’ve covered, 1971 to the album Who’s Next by The Who.
 


Who’s Next by The Who
Released: August 14, 1971 (Decca/Polydor)
Produced by: Glyn Johns & The Who
Recorded: Pete Townshend & John Entwistle’s Home Studios, Olympic Studios, London, The Record Plant, New York, 1970 – 1971
Side One Side Two
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
Love Ain’t for Keeping
My Wife
The Song Is Over
Gettin’ In Tune
Going Mobile
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Band Musicians
Pete Townshend – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Daltrey – Vocals, Harp
John Entwistle – Bass, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

 
Who’s Next is pure authenticity. It is completely unaware of itself, built totally of the kinetic energy of the moment, it is neither calculated nor contrived. This is quite ironic when put in the light of how Who’s Next actually came along.

The album derived from a “concept album” idea by guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend. The title of this was to be Lifehouse, and it was started in 1970 as the follow up to the band’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy. The concept itself was futuristic and far out, so much so, in fact, that absolutely no one else in the band “got” it. This caused much friction and, according to Townshend himself, brought him to the verge of suicide.

After giving up on recording some of the Lifehouse tracks in New York, The Who went back to London to start over with a new producer, Glyn Johns. However, many elements from Lifehouse persisted through this new project. None more so than the heavy use of synthesizers by Townshend.

VCS-3 Synthesizer
VCS3 Synthesizer

The album starts with a song with a strange name and a strange sound. “Baba O’Riley” is a hybrid name, derived from the names of a guru and a friend, that starts with what must have been such a strange sound to listeners in 1971. It is an organ fed through a VCS3 synthesizer, physically played by Townshend, to come up with these strange, yet interesting, rotating patterns. It finally breaks in with the simplistic two chord riff – on piano then bass than guitar – that dominates the song, but does so much to hold together what is today a very familiar anthem with the central theme of “Teenage Wasteland”. The song climaxes with a violin solo by guest Dave Arbus, with a building rhythm behind it that works itself into a frenzy before coming to a climatic end on a single note.

All songs are written by Townshend except for “My Wife”, written and sung by bass player John Entwistle, a comical song that includes some brass played by Entwistle. The song is rare in that the bass line is almost normal, but this is easily accented by the frenzy of Moon’s drumming.

One of the most unique and endearing legacies of The Who, is the band’s frequent use of two lead vocalists (Daltry & Townshend) within a single song. It is a brilliant tactic that transforms the mood and temperament. This change is particularly dramatic in “The Song Is Over”, which alternates between a Townshend ballad and the Daltry-led majestic screed.

The Who in 1971

The rest of the album is filled with, enjoyable, pop-oriented songs. “Bargain” contains some pleasant guitar and synth motifs built on top of an acoustic riff. “Going Mobile” has a Woodstock-era, traveling the countryside vibe and a signature synth solo. “Love Ain’t for Keeping” contains harmonies and (gasp) almost a straight-played drum beat, while the ballads “Getting’ In Tune” and “Behind Blue Eyes” both contain some dramatic and theatrical bridge sections.

Which brings us back to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which starts awkwardly in the very first second, but there is not another unsure moment for the rest of this 8 ½ minute anthem. Years later, people would give punk credit for bring rock back to its roots, but isn’t that exactly the message in this song?

What started out as a “plan B” after a frustrating, failed project was spun into pure gold by the band that never shied away from taking chances on this album. As a result, The Who struck a chord that still resonates to this day, forty years later. We have no doubt it will continue to do so forty years from now.

~

1971 Images

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

Pearl by Janis Joplin

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Pearl by Janis JoplinPearl was the final, posthumous album in the brief but explosive career of Janis Joplin. She died before the album’s completion on October 4, 1970, at just 27, done in by an overdose of heroin. Janis lived hard and died young.

An awkward girl from Beaumont, Texas, she would make her mark in a time and place that must have seemed like another universe – San Francisco in the late 1960s. She was fearless in the sense that she never let the shallow opinions of her adolescent peers define her and she found her place making her mark in unapologetic, unyielding fashion.

But this radical transformation ultimately came at a tragic price, as chemical dependency grabbed hold of her and refused to let go. It’s not that she didn’t try to escape this fate, even going so far as to move back to Beaumont and adopt the fashionable bee-hive hairdo of the day. But in the end, she just couldn’t stay away from the scene, the lifestyle, the drugs, and the music.

“You can go all around the world trying to do something with your life, but you only got to do one thing well…”

Janis’s style was rough, raw, and completely genuine. She didn’t have an image manufactured by a team of publicists, and would not have done well in an American Idol-like situation. She lived in the moment with every note she sang, deeply entrenched in the emotions that effervesced from every strained vocal.
 


Pearl by Janis Joplin
Released: January 11, 1971 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles between September 5 and October 1, 1971
Side One Side Two
Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues
My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can
Primary Musicians
Janis Joplin – Vocals
John Till – Electric Guitar
Bobby Womack – Acoustic Guitar
Ken Pearson – Organ
Richard Bell – Piano
Brad Campbell – Bass
Clark Pierson – Drums, Vocals

 

Pearl has a more polished and accessible sound than anything Joplin had done earlier with Big Brother & the Holding Company or The Kozmic Blues Band, the original bands she worked with in San Francisco with limited success on the national and international scene.

The sound of the album was due in large part to the expertise of Paul A. Rothchild, who had shaped the sound of The Doors as their long time producer. Further, The Full Tilt Boogie, a profession group of backing musicians, shaped the sound that was the canvas for Janis’ dynamic vocals. Joplin had previously met and worked with the band over the summer of 1970, when they were on board the famous Festival Express, a train filled with performing and partying musicians that rode across Canada.

Aside from the Kris Kristofferson penned hit “Me and Bobby McGee”, there is really nothing special about the selections on this album. But, they are entertaining enough to make Pearl the crown jewel in the catalog of this rare talent. Most of the songs are standard rock and blues with a bit of country influence here and there. This is immediately apparent on the first two tracks, “Move Over”, which Joplin wrote herself, and the quasi-famous “Cry baby”. But there are also a few oddities on the album, like the a capella “Mercedes Benz” and the purely instrumental “Buried Alive in the Blues”, which was included despite the fact that Janis died before recording the vocals.

I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for one single yesterday…”

Kristofferson had just introduced his song to Joplin just a few weeks before her death, and wasn’t even aware that she had actually recorded it until afterwards. Ironically, it would be her biggest hit and most famous song, true fame that she wasn’t able to experience during the shooting star trajectory of her life.

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1971 Images

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

 

Sticky Fingers
by The Rolling Stones

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Sticky Fingers is the third of the trilogy of Rolling Stones albums that, in our opinion, comprise the heart of the band’s prime. The first two were Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Let It Bleed in 1969, which collectively provided the sessions from which three of the songs on this album originated. However, Sticky Fingers stands out from the rest by being a distinctly transitional album. It is the band’s first “independent” album on their own Rolling Stones label and it bridges the gap between their hit-making, English-sound of the 1960s and the more urban-American sounding Stones that would develop through the 1970s.

Further, this album is also one of the first that is a bit reflective of the sixties culture and attitudes, something that would be repeated by many others throughout the seventies. The large number of (mostly) negative references to drugs shows an awakening in response to the recent deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison and morbid wondering if there may be some among this band that will be next to go to the grave. This is also the first studio release since the 1969 debacle at Altamont, a festival which was supposed to be a west coast counterpart to Woodstock but ended up in a riot which resulted in the death of an audience member.

But the main reason for this transition is due to a major shift in personal, away from the band’s original leader Brian Jones, who was dismissed from the band in 1969 and then died mysteriously a few months later. Jones’ replacement was 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor, who makes his mark on Sticky Fingers as a suitable counterpart to Keith Richards.
 


Sticky Fingers by Rolling Stones
Released: April 23, 1971 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Alabama; Olympic Studios, London
March, 1969 – January, 1971
Side One Side Two
Brown Sugar
Sway
Wild Horses
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
You Gotta Move
Bitch
I Got the Blues
Sister Morphine
Dead Flowers
Moonlight Mile
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass, Piano
Charlie Watts – Drums

 
The song that elevates Sticky Fingers from a good album to a great album is “Wild Horses”. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in December 1969, this ode to heartbreak contains sweet excellent interplay between the electric and acoustics of Richards and Taylor, along with some of Mick Jaggar‘s finest lyrics ever;

“I’ve watched you suffer a dull aching pain / now you’ve decided to show me the same…”

The song was allegedly written about Marianne Faithfull, who played another large role on this album, as co-writer of the dark “Sister Morphine”, the oldest song on the album, dating back to March 1969, when Jaggar and Richards backed up Faithfull on what was originally a song of her own.

“Sister Morphine” is the first of the three songs that close the album with similar drugs n doom lyrical themes. The next is “Dead Flowers” which, although just as dark lyrically, is a nice upbeat and light departure from its melodramatic predecessor, even though Jaggar’s country voice is less than convincing. His voice is much more suited for the album’s fine closer, “Moonlight Mile”, a moody, melancholy, and slightly dark ballad that eases the listener out of the album. Like much of the album, it was recorded in March 1970 at Jaggar’s home at Stargroves and is the product of an all-night session between the singer and guitarist Mick Taylor after Keith Richards mysteriously disappeared from the sessions.

Aside from the country feel of “Dead Flowers”, the band experimented with a few other genres on Sticky Fingers. “You Gotta Move” is an attempt at 1930s Delta Blues, obviously in response to some of early work by Led Zeppelin. Another song, “I Got the Blues” is a better effort that tilts towards sixties soul and contains some excellent organ by guest Billy Preston.
 
Rolling Stones in 1971
 
The glue that holds the album together is three solid rockers built around Richards’ signature riffs. “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch” are quasi-twin songs that open each side to the upbeat, catchy vibe that made this band so popular in the first place. In fact, this was played out in real time as the opener actually hit #1 on the pop charts. And then there is the classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, a hybrid that goes from a rocker hitting on all cylinders that suddenly relents into a wild, five-minute instrumental section with guests Rocky Dijon on congas and Bobby Keys on saxophone, and a spacey, droning guitar section by Taylor.

Models of longevity, the Rolling Stones surely did some fine and interesting work over the years and decades that followed 1971. But they would never quite reach the level of Sticky Fingers again.

~

1971 Images

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

Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys

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1971 was an exceptionally great year for rock n roll, and we at Classic Rock Review regret that we can not give a proper review to all the great works from that year in the short time we allotted ourselves. However, there is one that we felt we had to “squeeze in” before we’re done, due to it being probably the most unique and unusual album of that year – Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys. This 17th overall album by the group was also sort of a commercial comeback as it reached the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic.

To be honest, this album can be very frustrating. It is a mish-mash that, on the one hand, offers deep, rewarding, quality compositions worthy of the talent in this band. But on the other hand, there are some tacky, directed “social commentary” songs that, in many cases, barely rise to the level of musical Public Service Announcements. However, the album does possess a cohesive mood and tone and it does get more consistent and stronger as it goes along. So, in the end, we decided that the good here outweighs the bad and that the album needed to be reviewed.

Some has stated that Surf’s Up defined the band’s tumultuous career better than any other album, and this very well may well be the case. The Beach Boys rode to fame on selling good times, fast cars, surfing, and girls. In the process, the squeezed every bit of the “endless fun” out of California and over-used the term “surf” (which, including this album and title song, is used in some form in the titles of four different albums and eleven different songs). In the end, this was all a nice fantasy, but eventually you have to grow up and face the realities of life.
 


Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys
Released: August 30, 1971 (Brother)
Produced by: The Beach Boys
Recorded: Los Angeles between November, 1966 and June, 1971
Side One Side Two
 Don’t Go Near the Water
 Long Promised Road
 Take a Load Off Your Feet
 Disney Girls (1957)
 Student Demonstration Time
Feel Flows
Lookin’ at Tomorrow
A Day In the Life of a Tree
Til I Die
Surf’s Up
Band Musicians
Brian Wilson – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Love – Vocals, Saxophone
Al Jardine – Bass, Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals

 

The band’s primary songwriter and musical driving force, Brian Wilson, retired from performing live by 1965 due to psychological and anxiety issues. He instead concentrated on studio production for the band. In 1966 he produced the brilliant Pet Sounds, a great departure from the band’s early work that was universally acclaimed.

Later that year, Wilson brought in Van Dyke Parks to collaborate on a follow-up album titled SMiLE, but due to growing artistic turmoil within the band, Brian’s deteriorating mental state, and a prolonged production problem, Parks abandoned the project in 1967 and the album was never released.

A key song from those sessions called “Surf’s Up” was performed live on piano by Brian Wilson for a CBS News special on “modern” music, which caused much curiosity and speculation by fans and critics about the unreleased “SMiLE” material over the next several years. During this time (1967-1970), The Beach Boys released several more albums, but each decreased in popularity, signaling a rapid decline for the band.

Then in 1971, Jack Reiley was brought in as manager, and he master-minded this new album. It was to be built around the (now mythical) song “Surf’s Up”, along with other abandoned out-takes from previous projects and new, politically-orientated songs. Reiley would also co-write a couple of fine songs with Carl Wilson and even performed the lead vocals on the psychedelic Parks/Brian Wilson song “A Day in the Life of a Tree”, after everyone in the band refused to sing it.
 

 
The youngest of the three brothers in the band, Carl Wilson had never previously written anything of significance for The Beach Boys, but his co-written contributions of “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows” are two the best songs on this album. Further, with Brian all but absent from the (1971) production of this album, Carl stepped up and assumed many of the producer responsibilities, although production credit was ultimately given to simply “The Beach Boys”.

The album’s sound is further diversified by the large number of other songwriting contributors. Al Jardine wrote some of the new “politically conscious” songs, including the opener “Don’t Go Near the Water”, an ironic message from a band that had been advocating the exact opposite for many years. Mike Love reworked a live standard into “Student Demonstration Time” and, although not quite yet an “official” member of the band, Bruce Johnston wrote and sang lead another on the album’s finer songs, the nostalgiac “Disney Girls (1957)” (Johnston was a long time “stand-in” for Brian Wilson on stage).

However, even though his actual participation was minimal, Brian Wilson managed to contribute the album’s two most significant songs, the two that close out Surf’s Up.

First, there was the newly-penned “Til I Die”, a beautiful but haunting ode to helplessness, which contains the tradition “Beach Boys sound” built around the rich harmonies of Carl, Brian, and Mike Love.

Then, of course, there is the climatic title song written five years earlier. A mini-suite in three distinct parts fused together seamlessly. The original, Brian Wilson produced backing track provides a backdrop for new vocals by Carl during the first part, while Brian’s original vocals are used in the middle part. The song’s concluding section was based on another SMiLE-era track, “Children Are the Father of Man”, and features Jardine on lead vocals and Carl and Brian doing harmonies. As a whole, even though the song distinctly changes and the lyrics are a bit thick, the message is undeniable.

Through the rest of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Brian Wilson virtually dropped out of the music scene while the rest of the band would tour and play some of their greatest hits from the early 60s in what would become known as the “Endless Summer”. Surf’s Up proved to be their last, best effort as, artistically, the Beach Boys would not quite reach this level again.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.