Paul Simon

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Paul Simon 1972 debut albumStaking his own claim in the musical landscape, Paul Simon began exploring world influences with his 1972 eponymous album. It was his first post Simon and Garfunkel album, and let Simon subtly explorations musical genres from America and around the world. While there is much experimentation, most of the album;s songs have a stripped-down arrangement with a low-key feel, allowing Simon to shine brightly with his truly solo compositions. Paul Simon was actually the second solo album by this artist, as he had recorded and released an album in the U.K. in 1965, which remained unreleased in the U.S until 2005.

Simon was actually teaching songwriting classes at New York University shortly after the split from Garfunkel in 1970. He then traveled to several locations to record demos and tracks for this album. Recordings took place in Kingston, Jamaica, Paris, and New York. Much of these recordings are individual performances with differing levels of production quality, but this serves to make the album all the more interesting. Since the album uses instrumentation so sparingly, the additional riffs and melodies make a greater impact during their short sequences.

The album contained many autobiographical elements lyrically, with several songs making explicit reference to Simon’s marriage to Peggy Harper, while others make more veiled references to Simon’s own adolescence, the place he grew up, and the challenges of the music industry.
 


Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Released: January 14, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Halee & Paul Simon
Recorded: Various Locations, January-March 1971
Side One Side Two
Mother and Child Reunion
Duncan
Everything Put Together Falls Apart
Run That Body Down
Armistice Day
Me and Julio Down By the School Yard
Peace Like a River
Papa Hobo
Hobo’s Blues
Paranoia Blues
Congratulations
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Percussion
Larry Knechtel – Piano, Organ
Hal Blaine – Drums

 
Recorded in Jamaica, “Mother and Child Reunion” may have been the very first mainstream use of reggae, something that would cascade in the years to follow. The song also includes a strong dose of Motown influence, making it a bit more unique that many of its pop successors. The song included a plethora of background musicians who would not appear anywhere else on the album. A sharp musical turn takes place with Celtic influenced folk song “Duncan”. The ringing guitars, banjo, dual flutes, and cheap and distant hi-hats accent this song of travel and discovery with a slightly Dylan-esque in lyrical approach (with flutes replacing harmonica).

I was playing my guitar, lying underneath the stars, just thanking the Lord for my fingers…”

The remainder of side one explores some soft jazz compositions. “Everything Put Together Falls Apart” is the shortest and sparsest song, finger-picked acoustic nearly throughout with just a dash of bluesy piano. “Run That Body Down” is in the same basic genre, with a fuller musical arrangement using the whole spectrum of rock instruments and some surprise musical interludes, including an excellent guitar solo using heavy jazz wah-wah by Jerry Hahn. On “Armistice Day”, Simon really attacks the acoustic guitar with the most base type of musical discovery, almost violently, until the song evens out a bit with an electric guitar overlaid along with some topical horns.

The second side begins with the most popular song from this album, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. Although upbeat and melodic, this song has some darker undertones about crime and drug use along with some cryptic lyrical puzzles. “Peace Like a River” is a kind of a bluesy folk song with some great arpeggio riffs throughout, and a very non-symmetrical arrangement. “Papa Hobo” is waltz-like with a bluesy acoustic and a distinct big bass harmonica by Charlie McCoy.

The hobo sequence continues with “Hobo’s Blues”, an upbeat, jazzy instrumental feature the violin of Stéphane Grappelli, who also co-wrote the song (the only one on the album not completely written by Simon). “Paranoia Blues” is straight-out acoustic blues with consistent kick-drum and hi-hat by Hal Blaine and lyrics that sum up as an anti-New York screed. The mellow ballad “Congratulations” completes the album with a softer, yet still bluesy acoustic and pleasant electric piano by Larry Knechtel who plays completely solo as the song and album ends.

The juxtaposition of simple, American genres along with some complex and original arrangements makes Paul Simon the first of several gems by this unique composer. You can say what you will about Simon, you can never call him unoriginal.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

1972 Images

 

The Eagles

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The Eagles debut albumThe Eagles produced an impressive, diverse, and sonically superior debut album in 1972, launching a successful elevation throughout the rest of the decade. The album was produced in London by Glyn Johns and was an immediate commercial and critical success. The album is extraordinarily balanced with all four band members writing and singing lead vocals on several tracks, with a mixture of rock, folk, and country, throughout musically. The sound was forged from the budding country-rock scene in Los Angeles, led by groups such as Poco, adding instruments like banjo and pedal steel guitar to the basic rock arrangement. Leading the way in forging this sound was guitarist Bernie Leadon.

Prior to forming the group, the band members all acted as backup players for singer Linda Ronstadt and all four played on her eponymous album, released in 1972. Leadon, along with bassist Randy Meisner, guitarist Glen Frey, and drummer Don Henley, decided to break off and start their band and were soon signed to the new label Asylum Records. The band’s name was allegedly suggested by Leadon during a peyote trip in the Mohave desert.

Despite their rapid formation and quick recording of this debut, it is amazingly polished and has a remarkable level of pop sensibility. The Eagles spawned three top 40 hit singles, all which remain very popular to this day, while much of the rest of the album contains well-constructed songs with incredible vocal harmonies by all four band members.


The Eagles by The Eagles
Released: June 17, 1972 (Asylum)
Produced by: Glyn Johns
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, February 1972
Side One Side Two
Take It Easy
Witchy Woman
Chug All Night
Most Of Us Are sad
Nightingale
Train Leaves Here This Morning
Take the Devil
Early Bird
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Tryin’
Band Musicians
Glen Frey – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Bernie Leadon – Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Guitar, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the popular “Take It Easy”, a song written by Frey and fellow L.A. songwriter Jackson Browne. A relatively simple anthem with memorable and clever lyrics, the song possesses a definitive country/rock arrangement accented by Leadon’s frantic banjo in the second half of the tune. There are rich harmonies throughout, establishing another later trademark of the band’s on this first single which peaked at #12 on the charts.

The moody and mysterious “Witchy Woman” follows in great contrast to the opening song. Henley took over vocals on this tune he co-wrote with Leadon, and showcases his fantastic vocal talents for the only time on this album. Leadon adds to the mood with his great guitar on this tune that he began while a member of the band Flying Burrito Brothers at the beginning of the 1970s. The song’s protagonist was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and inspiration for many of his female literary characters.

The remainder of the first side contains the only real weak spots on the album. Frey’s “Chug All Night” is pretty much a throwaway song, the worst on the album. The country-waltz “Most of Us Are Sad” was also written by Frey, but sang by Meisner, while “Nightingale” is more upbeat country / folk. This last song on side one is the second contribution by Jackson Browne and has the quintessential early 1970s California sound with more great harmonies during choruses.

Side two is much more interesting. It starts with “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, co-written by Leaden and former Byrd Gene Clark. This is a great, laid back tune, much like Neil Young’s title song to Harvest, but with the added bonus of very rich vocals. The subtle acoustic is accented by calm electric slow riffs, which shows the definite Byrds influence. “Take the Devil” was composed and sang by Meisner and is almost like a dark twin to “Witchy Woman”, although it is clear that Meisner does not have the vocal range of Henley. “Earlybird” gets off to a very unique start with odd percussion and bird whistles. This Leadon tune has a heavy banjo presence throughout (almost as an arpeggio replacement for the bass) along with the inclusion of some wild guitars over top.

“Peaceful Easy Feeling” is a calm acoustic love song composed by L.A, singer/songwriter Jack Tempchin and delivered masterfully by Frey. The country-flavored ballad set in the desert (an image the Eagles ran with on their earliest material) became the third top 40 hit off the album, peaking at #22. The album concludes with Meisner’s upbeat “Tryin” which returns to the genre established on the first side that would one day be deemed “outlaw country”.

The three “hits” from The Eagles album comprised about a third of the 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which became the top-selling album of the 20th century. Although this is a fantastic feat, it conversely dampened sales of the Eagles first four studio albums, the best of which was this 1972 debut.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones

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Exile On Main Street by The Rolling StonesMany esteemed and big-name rock publications have rated Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones as one of the greatest albums of all time (especially the publication which bears the same name as the band). Honestly, this fact may expose the single most egregious display of “group think” in the rock world or at the very least, a floating declaration that has gone unexamined for about 40 years. While the music is legitimate rock throughout, this 1972 double album pales in comparison to its predecessor, 1971’s single LP Sticky Fingers, while maintaining much of the same musical direction. In fact, there is very little new ground broken on Exile On Main Street, which fails to provide much stylistic variation among its four sides and seriously lacks top notch production quality. The album also presents a lack of band integrity, as many sessions featured outside players taking on prominent roles in the recordings.

The album featured material which was written and recorded between 1968 and 1972, with the bulk being done in the basement of a rented a villa called Nellcôte in France, while the band was on “tax exile” from their native England in late 1971. The loose plan was to sleep all day and record all night, but this loose setting and arrangement bred a rash of no-shows throughout the recording process, in which case band members and other players would fill in on instruments they may have not naturally played. Producer Jimmy Miller filled in on drums for a few tracks, while several players filled in on bass for Bill Wyman, who only played on about half of the tracks.

The resulting album is murky and raw, with the vocals of lead singer Mick Jagger often buried in the mix. While this is not terrible in of itself, it grows old over the course of 18 album tracks. Jagger has been critical of the album through the years, stating at the time of its release;

It’s very rock & roll, you know. I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over…everyone knows what their roots are, but you’ve got to explore everywhere…”

Apparently, much of the rock press expressed similar apprehension about the album at the time of release, but these mainstream critics have largely done an about-face and morphed in with the “all time greatest this” or “all time greatest that” party line.


Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones
Released: May 12, 1972 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969–March 1972
Side One Side Two
Rocks Off
Rip This Joint
Shake Your Hips
Casino Boogie
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Virginia
Torn and Frayed
Sweet Black Angel
Loving Cup
Side Three Side Four
Happy
Turd On the Run
Ventilator Blues
I Just Want to See His Face
Let It Loose
All Down the Line
Stop Breaking Down
Shine a Light
Soul Survivor
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards wrote the bulk of the material. The first of the four sides may actually be the weakest on the album. It starts with the decent loose jam “Rocks Off”, a sound later echoed by Aerosmith on their album Draw the Line, but then devolves into the very average rockabilly of “Rip This Joint”. Both feature the rock piano of Nicky Hopkins, who had worked with the stones on past projects. The Slim Harpo cover “Shake Your Hips”, brings back a sound reminiscent of the band’s earliest blues material, but by the time we get to “Casino Boogie”, Jagger’s strained vocals start to wear thin on the listener and the album’s flow seems to be nonexistent.

“Tumbling Dice” is probably the most popular song from Exile, with lyrics that tell a story about a gambler. The song was originally slated for Sticky Fingers, and features band manager Ian Stewart on piano and second guitarist Mick Taylor filling in on bass for Wyman.

The second side is probably the best of the four, starting with the country-inspired “Sweet Virginia” where drummer Charlie Watts plays a nice shuffle and a saxophone solo is provided by Bobby Keys. Lyrically, this song is both folksy and frank;

But come on come on down sweet Virginia / come on honey child I beg of you
Come on come on down you got it in you / got to scrape that shit right off your shoes…”

“Torn and Frayed” sounds like it landed just short of being great, just a tad too unorganized and under-cooked to be taken very seriously. Still, it contains a great slide guitar by Richards and organ by Jim Price above the three-chord honky tonk. “Sweet Black Angel” hearkens back to the sound on 1967’s Between The Buttons and is one of the few tracks on this album to feature all five Rolling Stones playing their appropriate instruments. Unfortunately momentum is lost with “Loving Cup”, which slides back to the predictable and mundane sound of the first side.

“Happy” features Richards vocals and is a refreshing change-up in ways, with crisp brass accenting this second single from the album which reached the top 40 in the charts. Keys prides saxophone and percussion, while Jim Price adds trumpet. “Ventilator Blues” was co-written by Taylor, the only song on the album which a member of the Stones besides Jagger and Richards gets a songwriting credit. “I Just Want to See His Face” commences with a bad fade in from “Ventilator Blues” and is yet another exhibit of a very average piece being lauded. It is a repetitive and (slightly) improvised piece with some gospel influence, but not much more. “Let It Loose” starts with a different sound of effect-heavy guitar riff but this is the only really interesting part of the song, which once again seems undercooked and weakly composed.

The final side of the album begins with “All Down the Line”, again the same exact song over again save for Taylor’s interesting slide. The Robert Johnson cover “Stop Breaking Down” reveals an embarrassing gap in composition quality between much of the original material and this (then) 35-year-old song. “Shine a Light” is the last good song on the album, perhaps best song on the album. This piano ballad that is focused yet soulful and features the fantastic organ and piano work by Billy Preston and great backing vocals by Clydie King and Vanetta Fields. It was written mainly by Jagger back in 1968 about then-band member Brian Jones’ addiction to drugs and detachment from the rest of the band, but was left off the Beggars Banquet from that year. “Soul Survivor”, another really uninspired song, finishes off the side and the album.

Beatles producer George Martin has opined that their double “White” album may have worked better as a really good single album. That sentiment is multiplied and on steroids with Exile on Main Street, which would have worked best is saved for some future “basement tapes” collection. As a proper album of this great era, it is extremely average and definitely not the desert island record that so many had deemed it to be.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie

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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David BowieThrough a very long and distinguished career, David Bowie’s absolute classic is the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It takes the musicianship and experimental of Bowie’s previous album, Hunky Dory in 1971, to a whole new level where Bowie really hit his stride and forged his distinctive sound. Although it is a concept album, nothing feels forced and nowhere is it repetitive, just a grand parade of songs which collectively tell a story. Bowie’s lyrics and vocals are deep and emotive, albeit tragic, while guitarist Mick Ronson held the music down to a respectable rock level with his sharp and fat guitar riffs.

The concept follows the character “Ziggy Stardust”, a space alien who manifests himself as a self-indulgent rock star who takes this form to try and convince humanity to alter their path of destruction. As Bowie described;

The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll…”

The character of Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a collection of real life personalities, including singers Vince Taylor and Stardust Cowboy, and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. Bowie planned for the album to coincide with a stage show or television production but neither fully materialized.

There were also several extra compositions and recordings created during the sessions for this album. One of the most famous was “All the Young Dudes”, written within the context of the “Ziggy Stardust” concept but ultimately given to the band Mott the Hoople, for whom the song would be a big hit. A couple of songs that would become radio hits for Bowie – “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “The Jean Genie” – were also recorded during these sessions but not included on the album.


The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars
by David Bowie
Released: June 6, 1972 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Ken Scott
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, September 1971–January 1972
Side One Side Two
Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy
Lady Stardust
Star
Hang Onto Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock n’ Roll Suicide
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Piano, String Arrangements, Vocals
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

An off-beat drum pattern by Mick Woodmansey fuels the opening song “Five Years”. Moody and low key with a definite influence from Plastic Ono Band era John Lennon, the character of Ziggy Stardust is introduced in dramatic yet elegant fashion with profound lyrics, such as;

“my brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare / I had to cram many things to store everything in there…”

“Soul Love” is also percussion-driven with a steadily strummed acoustic and unique vocal choruses by Bowie. There is some strongly accented layered electric guitars by Ronson during the chorus and Bowie’s saxophone solo to close the album. “Moonage Daydream” continues the acoustic trend with a steady but animated bass by Trevor Bolder and sharp electric riff overtones. This song adds a lot more sonic flavoring than its predecessors with piano, backing vocals, orchestration and a wild, “moon age” guitar lead towards the end.

David Bowie and Mick Ronson

“Starman” is the best song on the album and a late addition to the album. It is classic David Bowie hearkens back into the same groove thematically as his first major hit “Space Oddity”. An acoustic ballad accentuated by space age transitional effects, orchestration, and great post-chorus riff by Ronson, the song was Bowie’s first commercial hit in three years and persists as one of his classics to this day. Some have even stated that it is the single most influential song in his entire catalog. The song is also a pivitol point in the album’s concept where the protagonist morphs from being manipulative to delusional.

The first side concludes with the only cover song on the album; “It Ain’t Easy”, written by Ron Davies and covered by many artists including Three Dog Night who had a 1970 album of the same name. It may seem l;ike an oddity to include a cover on a “concept” album, by “It Ain’t Easy” fits right in with the vibe of this album even though it uses unique instrumentation such as a 12-string acoustic and a harpsichord in the mix.

The moody piano of “Lady Stardust” starts off side two with a ballad of almost Elton John quality and structure. There is once again great bass by Bolder but little to no guitar presence on this tune loosely dedicated to Marc Bolan of T. Rex and the “glam” scene in general. “Star” is a sort of retro piano rocker which speaks of gangs and cliques in London, while “Hang On to Yourself” comes off like early proto-punk with a definite glam twist. This latter song contains an interesting slide guitar by Ronson and sets the album up for a climatic conclusion.

Suffragette City single“Ziggy Stardust”, the album’s default theme song, is interesting and unique rocker with tight instrumentation which heavily leans towards riff-driven classic rock during the verses, while the choruses drift towards the newly-established Bowie sound. Mick Ronson really shines on this song with his crisp, distorted, and methodical guitar riff which gives the song an eternal signature. Bowie accents the two parts of the song with distinct vocals and well delivered lyrics in each. The original album mix segued from “Ziggy” into “Suffragette City”, another standard with rocker with great edge and execution by both Bowie and Ronson. Drawing inspiration from a range of artists that span from Little Richard to the Velvet Underground, “Suffragette City” reminds the listener that David Bowie is, in fact, a rock star first and foremost, no matter how “out there” the bulk of his material may drift. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople before they chose “All the Young Dudes” for their own project.

After the frantic, top-notch electric rock, the album closes with the calm and acoustic “Rock n’ Roll Suicide”, which documents Ziggy’s collapse as a washed-up performer (showing an amazing sense of self-awareness at time when rock was still relatively young). The song gradually builds though subtle, tremolo electric guitar effects and into full orchestration as a dramatic coda for the album.

A concert film of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was directed by D.A. Pennebaker and eventually released in 1973, a slight consolation to the intended television special which never materialized. The album was vastly more successful in the U.K. than in the U.S. upon release, but has grown to become universally renowned over the past 40 years as one of the best ever produced.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd

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Obscured by Clouds by Pink FloydOne of the lost treasures of classic rock and, by far, the most overlooked album in the Pink Floyd catalog during their classic era, Obscured by Clouds acted as a mere warm-up for the more ambitious and highly-regarded Dark Side of the Moon. In fact, by the time Obscured was released in June 1972, the band had been performing material from Dark Side (then titled “Eclipse”) live for many months and had already entered the studio to start recording the 1973 classic. Many die-hard Floyd fans don’t even consider this a “real” album by the band, just the last in a series of soundtracks the group scored between 1968-1972. It is, in fact, a soundtrack for the French film La Vallée (The Valley) by Barbet Schroeder, but far surpasses the previous three; The Committee (1968), More (1969), and Zabriskie Point (1969).

The band itself largely disregarded the Obscured by Clouds album, starting with the rough production, which includes odd sequencing and abrupt endings. At times the album feels like a high-end demo tape and few tracks were ever played live in subsequent tours. Another element in the string of strikes against the album’s success was early pressings of the album were defective with excessive sibilance.

Despite all of this, the album is quite good musically. The band composed to a rough cut of the film, creating pieces that were intended to be cross-faded at various points in the film. But in the process, they managed to create a significant number of complete songs. The instrumentals float pleasantly, filled with interesting textures, but it is the proper songs which are the real standouts on this album, which in a lot ways completes the work started on 1971’s Meddle.

 


Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd
Released: June 2, 1972 (EMI)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Strawberry Studios, Château d’Hérouville, France, Feb-Mar 1972
Side One Side Two
Obscured by Clouds
When You’re In
Burning Bridges
The Gold, It’s in the…
Wot’s, Uh…the Deal?
Mudmen
Childhood’s End
Free Four
Stay
Absolutely Curtains
Group Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Synths, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 
The album begins with a couple of under-cooked instrumentals, although the lead-off title track does have an interesting synth pulse throughout and a general guitar lead piece by David Gilmour (one of many elements which would recycled on Dark Side of the Moon). “When You’re In” contains a more rock-oriented riff and may be the final track credited to all four band members. It contains some nice fills by drummer Nick Mason but sounds as though it is an incomplete attempt at building a proper rock song.

“Burning Bridges” is a ballad which would have fit nicely on any Pink Floyd album. Vocally, it is a duet by Gilmour and keyboardist Rick Wright, who co-wrote the song and provides its mellow organ riff and melody. This became sort of the “movie theme” on the album as it is reprised later on side one with the instrumental “Mudmen”.

The Valley film promoAnother sign that the band did not take this album too serious was some of the odd naming of tracks, even some of the most interesting tracks on the album. “The Gold It’s in the…” is a pure rocker with a cool and hip early seventies, post-Beatles rock vibe. This particular song has produced polarizing opinions among fans and critics, with some purists feeling it was a shallow attempt at a contemporary rock sound, while others argue it shows their ability to diversify (I tend to agree with the latter). This song’s lyrics are also full of adventure and idealism, another rarity among Pink Floyd themes.

“Wot’s… Uh the Deal?” is as sweet a song as Pink Floyd had ever put out as well as the most totally underrated ever. Again, this may be in part to the obscure title (wot’s…uh the deal with that?). It is an acoustic ballad with double-tracked vocals by Gilmour and lyrics by bassist Roger Waters. The song features and extended piano instrumental which is then complemented by a fine slide-guitar solo. The lyrics are desperate and emotional, but not to the extent of being melodramatic or sappy.

“Free Four” is an absolute gem by Waters and, in truth, one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever. Thematically, it may be Waters’ first summation of the life and death themes he would deeply explore in Dark Side and beyond. It is also the only song on Dark Side of the Moon that features Waters on lead vocals, a role he would later dominate on his final three albums with the band. Unlike the other nonsensical titles, “Free Four” is easily attributed to the rock count-in and persists as an upbeat acoustic folk tune with great layered electric guitars by Gilmour and clap-like percussive drumming by Mason. “Free Four” was the first Pink Floyd song to get significant airplay in the USA.

Gilmour and Wright each also had a showcase song on side two. Gilmour’s “Childhood’s End” is the last song he would write independently while Waters was still with the band and contains a dramatic beginning (echoed in later years by U2) and rapid, rhythmic ticking which would be later recycled and perfected for “Time”. It was one of the rare tracks from this album to be performed live, often containing extended lead sections to feature Gilmour’s guitar playing. Obscured by Clouds is also the final Pink Floyd in their classic era to feature lead vocals by Wright on the melancholy love song “Stay”, a very well done ballad with more interesting guitars, piano, and organ. The album concludes with the experimental track “Absolutely Curtains” (which may have actually worked better as an opening track). The only really instrumentation comes from Wright, with some sparse percussion by Mason, through first three and a half minutes before dissolving into a vocal chant by Mapuga tribe of New Guinea (featured in the film).

Originally titled “The Valley”, the album was re-titled as Obscured by Clouds when the band fell out with the film company. This may be yet another reason why this great music has been so grossly understated over the past four decades.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Harvest by Neil Young

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Harvest by Neil YoungHarvest is an album of Americana personified by Neil Young. It is where rock and roll goes to Nashville (literally), with simple and tight rhythms and subtle acoustic guitars are flavored by distant steel guitars and harmonica all under clearly vocalized lyrics about the simple struggles of life. This was the fourth studio album by the Canadian native and included a rich list of contemporary musicians who provided cameos on the album. It was Young’s most successful album commercially, the best selling album of 1972 in the US, and was followed up 20 years later by the equally powerful Harvest Moon, which Classic Rock Review named as our album of the year for 1992.

After his brief stint with the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Young recruited a group of country session musicians, whom he would name “The Stray Gators”. These included pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummand and drummer Kenny Buttrey, all of whom would reunite for Harvest Moon. In contrast to this “Nashville” sound, Harvest also includes two tracks featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and were produced and arranged by Jack Nitzsche.

The project began in February 1971 when Young traveled to Nashville to appear on the Johnny Cash television show. He was approached by producer Elliot Mazer, who had just opened Quadrofonic Sound Studios and wanted him to record at the studio. Being a fan of the Nashville studio musicians known as “Area Code 615”, Young made the decision to start recording that very evening. As it turns out, most of those musicians had gigs that night (it was a Saturday), Mazer had to “scrape up” the three players who would become the “Stray Gators”. Young re-recorded some of the new material he had used the previous month on a live recording at UCLA in California. Although it got off to a quick start, the album would not be completed and released for over a year due to a back injury that Young suffered.

 


Harvest by Neil Young
Released: February 14, 1972 (Reprise)
Produced by: Neil Young, Elliot Mazer, Henry Lewy, & Jack Nitzsche
Recorded: Quadraphonic Studios, Nashville, January–September 1971
Side One Side Two
Out On the Weekend
Harvest
A Man Needs a Maid
Heart of Gold
Are You Ready for the Country?
Old Man
There’s a World
Alabama
The Needle and the Damage Done
Words (Between the Lines of Age)
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Jack Nitzsche – Piano, Guitar, Orchestration
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel
Tim Drummand – Bass
Kenny Buttrey – Drums

 
The simple rhythm of “Out On the Weekend” grabs you from the beginning with Drummand’s bass guitar and Buttrey’s kick drum locked in perfect time. This mellow country two-step is followed by the even more gentle country waltz Of the title song. Harvest brings you onto the farm with a great melody by Young, who offers uplifting lyrics in a portrait of vulnerability and sincerity.

The two Nitzsche produced orchestral tracks may try a bit too hard to contrast with authentic Nashville sound. “A Man Needs a Maid” sounds authentic enough at first with just piano and vocals but soon morphs into an overblown orchestral section which strays far from the theme of simplicity. Lyrically, the song contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help. “There’s a World” is not quite as deep and drifts far too much towards the Moody Blues on Days of Future Passed, trying to be dramatic and operatic.

The song “Heart of Gold” was released a month before the album and would go on to top the charts. It is pure pop with country flavoring and just a dash of Dylan with the ever-present harmonica, a sound which did very well in 1972. The song features backup vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, who were also doing the Johnny Cash show the same night as Young, and agreed to come to the studio to “help out”. Taylor and Ronstadt also provide vocals for “Old Man”, the most philosophical and musically deep song on the album. Taylor further provides banjo on this song which Young wrote about an aging caretaker of a ranch Young acquired in the early 1970s. The song is both haunting and poignant, as the 24-year-old sees some of the same needs and desires he has in the old one.

Young also wrote a handful of electric guitar based tunes for the album, while maintaining the same basic rhythm section. “Are You Ready for the Country?” starts with boogie piano introduction by Young and morphs into a loose jam with good slide guitar to end the first side. “Alabama” is a sequel to “‘Southern Man” from Young’s 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It contains some harmonies from ex-band mates David Crosby and Stephen Stills and is probably the hardest rocking song on the album musically. Lyrically, it tackles the history of prejudice in the state and sparked an answer by Lynard Skynard in the song “Sweet Home Alabama”, who address Neil Young directly in that songs lyric.

“The Needle and the Damage Done” is the only live recording and the most haunting song on the album, with lyrics that speak of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction. Young said of the song;

I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men…”

Unfortunately the mood of the subtle “Needle” is abruptly broken by the weak mixing into the album’s closer “Words (Between the Lines of Age)”. This song features a lengthy guitar workout with the band with multiple improvised solos and alternating time signatures between standard 4/4 and the more unusual 11/8 for interludes.

The mood on Harvest is melancholic with songs that describe the longing for new love. The success of the album was met by Young with extreme mixed feelings, who was never one to play the role of “pop star”. Whether by design or by fate, Young never again quite hit the commercial success of this 1972 album, although he certainly put out several more quality works.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan

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Can't Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan For a debut effort, Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan is quite polished and refined. This is hardly a surprise as the group’s founders and core songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are notorious for their attention to every sonic detail and near-obsessive perfectionism in the studio. Long considered a unique item in the group’s collection, the album has hardly a weak spot and is loaded with solid pop/rock tunes back-to-front. Still, the two biggest hits were both extended pieces which each explored differing musical genres. This would be a forecast of the subsequent albums through the latter part of the decade.

Although Fagen provided lead vocals for the bulk of the songs on the album, he was not confident in his live performance. So the band enlisted David Palmer to be the “frontman” live and Palmer also sang lead on a couple of the tracks on the album. After a short time however, Fagen and Becker grew dissatisfied with Palmer’s interpretation of the songs and this, coupled with the fact that the big hits from the album featured Fagen on lead vocals, led to Palmer’s released from the band in 1973, with Fagen handling lead vocals for the rest of Steely Dan’s career.

It is clear that the songwriting on Can’t Buy a Thrill is top notch, with each song being tightly constructed, while a spectrum of sub-genres are explored. These include, Latin, jazz, bossa nova, and traditional “classic” rock n’ roll. Also, the diversity of instrumentation and sound textures used on this album make it a very interesting listen and have helped it hold up well over the past four decades.

 


Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan
Released: October 1972 (ABC)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, August 1972
Side One Side Two
Do It Agian
Dirty Work
Kings
Midnight Cruiser
Only a Fool Would Say That
Reelin’ In the Years
Fire In the Hole
Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)
Change of the Guard
Turn That Heartbeat Over Again
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Bass, Vocals
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter – Guitars
Jim Hodder – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album begins with “Do It Again”, which was the biggest commercial hit from Can’t buy a Thrill. This six minute song fueled by Latin rhythms of Victor Feldman, draws you in and holds you throughout, despite virtually no pattern changes throughout. There are two overlapping solos, each using odd effects to flavor the middle part of the song, starting with an “electric sitar” performed by Denny Dias, then a plastic organ by Fagen. Altogether, “Do It Again” is remarkably odd material for a top ten radio hit of the early 1970s.

“Dirty Work” follows with a more traditionally soft pop/rock arrangement. However, due to the inclusion of lead vocals by Palmer and the overall Philly blue-eyed soul sound, the song was all but scrubbed from the band’s repertoire and relegated to the lost gems category. “Kings” takes a dramatic jazz approach, much like the future work of Steely Dan. It contains good guitar overdubs, led by session man Elliot Randall and clever, ironic lyrics such as;

and though we sung his fame, we all went hungry just the same…”

“Midnite Cruiser” is a pleasant and melodic song with lead vocals by the group’s original drummer Jim Hodder, who also sang on on Steely Dan’s non-album debut single, “Dallas”. “Only a Fool Would Say That” finishes off the first side with a Bossa-Nova beat, excellent guitars by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and good vocals by Fagen.
 

 
“Reelin’ in the Years” is a great jam all-around – piano, bass, drums, vocal harmonies and, of course, guitars led by New York session man Elliott Randall – it is a true classic rock classic. This became the second hit song from Can’t Buy a Thrill. Becker’s dryly sarcastic lyrics and thumping bass line made it one the most overtly sharp and heavy tunes in the Steely Dan catalog.

The rest of side two contains lesser known songs which are solid nonetheless. “Fire in the Hole” contains a nice choppy piano by Fagen and pedal steel guitar by Baxter. “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” is the second song to feature Palmer on lead vocals and should be considered a great soft rock classic with a bouncy bass line by Becker. “Change of the Guard” is another pop-oriented song with great electric piano and a definite late 1970s Billy Joel vibe, while “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” is like a mini-prog rock song with good extended lead parts and interesting effects. This last song is also notable as one that contains co-lead vocals by Becker, a rarity.

Can’t Buy a Thrill was the first of seven top-notch albums by Steely Dan that extended through the rest of the decade into 1980, the pinnacle being 1977’s Aja. Although the group ceased from touring altogether in 1975, they still produced enough critically acclaimed albums and radio hits to make them one of the top acts of the 1970s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

1972 Images

 

Foxtrot by Genesis

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Foxtrot by GenesisAfter a couple albums of extreme experimentation in theatrical rock, Foxtrot is where it all came together for Genesis. This 1972 album was the first of three, in consecutive years, that marked the creative apex during the band’s “Peter Gabriel” era. Gabriel was the band’s lead vocalist and flamboyant front man through the early 1970s who went on to have a successful solo career after his departure in 1975. Foxtrot is a solid album which struck a nice balance between jam-oriented progressive rock and theme-oriented art rock with not a weak moment anywhere on the album, making it one of the most esteemed prog rock albums ever.

The centerpiece of the album is the 22-minute closer “Supper’s Ready”, which Gabriel explained as “a personal journey which ends up walking through scenes from Revelation in the Bible.” This epic song is divided into several sections, some recurring, which straddle the line between classical and rock music and contain multiple changes in time and key signature and mood. While the five members of the band were given songwriting credit for “Supper’s Ready”, Gabriel authored most of the lyrics while drummer Phil Collins did much of the arranging and segues between the various sections. When performed live, the provided their audience with a programme which described many of the scenes with words such as;

At one whistle the lovers become seeds in the soil, where they recognise other seeds to be people from the world in which they had originated. While they wait for Spring, they are returned to their old world to see Apocalypse of St John in full progress…”

“Supper’s Ready” launches abruptly into the first verse with vocals by Gabriel along with guitars by Steve Hackett. The lyrical imagery tells of a common domestic scene morphing into a supernatural experience (which Gabriel has long claimed was true). With various scenes and characters of varying complexity, the song previews a style employed on Genesis’s 1974 double album The Lamb lies Down on Broadway. Towards the middle of the song is “Willow Farm”, which started as a stand-alone song but acts as a light break from the serious subject matter of “Supper’s Ready” (much like an intermission in a play).


Foxtrot by Genesis
Released: October 6, 1972 (Island)
Produced by: David Hitchcock
Recorded: Island Studios, London, August 1972
Side One Side Two
Watcher of the Skies
Time Table
Get Em’ Out By Friday
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
Horizons
Supper’s Ready
Band Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Flute, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Tony Banks – Piano, Keys, Vocals
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with Tony Banks mellotron intro to “Watcher of the Skies”. The album got its title from a preset “foxtrot” on the instrument and, in turn, future versions of the mellotron contain the “Watcher mix” as part of its tape set. The long introduction cross fades into the song’s main theme, which uses unusual time signatures under the chanting vocal melody of Gabriel. Lyrics were provided by Banks and Mike Rutherford, who envisioned an empty Earth being approached by an alien visitor.

“Time Table” takes a more traditional folk-rock approach with melancholy lyrics of medieval days gone by, highlighted by Banks’ piano intro and accents and Mike Rutherford‘s exquisite bass patterns. The song offers a calm and melodic approach that would be refined during the band’s “middle era” of the late 1970s. The lyric speaks of speaks of “a carved oak table that played host to kings and queens who sipped wine from goblets gold”. A short acoustic instrumental by Hackett, “Horizons” acted as a lead-in to “Supper’s Ready” at the beginning of the album’s second side. It became an extremely popular piece in the band’s live sets during Hackett’s tenure with Genesis.

Genesis in 1972“Get Em’ Out by Friday” is a unique and theatrical multi-act piece which may be the quintessential Genesis brand of song. It fluctuates in tenor and tone through the various phases of the story with Gabriel “playing” several characters with his singing. The “play” takes place in a future (ironically, 2012), using elements of reality and science fiction with the central theme being a landlord evicting tenants by force or by attrition. Under the guidelines of the government bureaucracy called “Genetic Control”, all tenants are restricted to being under four feet tall in order to fit “twice as many in the same building size”. Rutherford has commented that the lyrics of this song were the best that Gabriel had written.

The first side completes with another mini-suite “Can-Utility and the Coastliners”, which again returns to the middle ages and the 10th century English King Canute, who tried to demonstrate the absurdity of his worshipers by trying to halt the sea during a major storm;

They told of one who tired of all singing “Praise him, praise him” / “We heed not flatterers,” he cried, by our command, waters retreat, show my power, halt at my feet…”

The song starts as a top-notch folk song, led by the pastoral guitars of Hackett and the dynamic vocals of Gabriel, but later morphs into a classic prog-rock jam led mainly by the punchy keys of Tony Banks and the skilled drumming of Phil Collins.

Foxtrot is where Genesis began to forge their legacy as a top level art rock group. Although it was far from a commercial “hit”, this was also the band’s first album to break into the charts, reaching #12 in the UK. They would have plenty of commercial hits in later years, long after they abandoned their penchant for art rock.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.