The Dark Side of the Moon
by Pink Floyd

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1973 Classic Rock Review Album of the Year

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink FloydPerhaps the most complete concept album of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon was the ultimate redemption for Pink Floyd. Culminating years of progressive and experimental music, this album focused on the most atomic elements of human life (and not just the bright spots) and set it all to the beat of a human heart over a 44-minute journey that leaves the listener contemplating the larger picture from several angles. This album sits in a unique place in rock history, bridging the final days of the late 1960s psychedelic era with the new wave, electronic phase that dominated the late 1970s. It also is the perfect pivot point for Pink Floyd itself, representing their past (the opening sound-collage dominated sequence from the album’s start through the intro to “Time”), their present (more rock/pop oriented with long instrumental passages in the middle of the album), and their future (the ending medley, dominated by Roger Waters).

The concept was first introduced to the band by Waters immediately following the release of Meddle in 1971. Although Waters wrote all of the lyrics, The Dark Side of the Moon was the last complete band effort, with all four members getting composing credits. The music was composed and developed as a suite during live performances throughout 1972, with the band simultaneously recording the material for the album Obscured by Clouds. Recording for The Dark Side of the Moon took place at Abbey Road Studios in London, using some of the most advanced recording techniques of the time. The group, along with engineer Alan Parsons, made great use of multi-track recording, tape loops, analogue synthesizers, and a series of recorded interviews to give the album a completely original and unique sound. Snippets of voices were recorded when staff and other occupants of the studio answered a series of questions printed on flashcards. This in itself proved to be an interesting experiment as responses from Paul and Linda McCartney were not used because they seemed too calculating while the most notable responses came from the studios’ doorman, Gerry O’Driscoll.

Although the album only held the number one spot in the US for one a week, it remained on the chart for an incredible 741 weeks (over 14 years) and has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Released 40 years ago today, The Dark Side of the Moon tops many lists as the greatest album of all time and is Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1973.


The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Released: March 1, 1973 (Capitol)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, June 1972–January 1973
Side One Side Two
Speak to Me
On the Run
The Great Gig In the Sky
Us and Them
Any Colour You Like
Brain Damage
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Roger Waters – Basss, Snyths, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion


Each original side of the album is a continuous piece of music. The first side begins with “Speak to Me”, which forms a kind of overture previewing several sound snippets from the album. Drummer Nick Mason receives a rare solo writing credit because the only real instrumentation is his kick drum, treated to sound like a heartbeat. “Breathe” is a natural extension of the moody songs on previous albums with double-tracked vocals by David Gilmour. Slow and methodical, every note and beat counts while Gilmour adds rich in texture with overdubbed electric and pedal steel guitars. The lyrics are as simple and brief as the title and act as a short intro for the journey up ahead.

Pink Floyd in 1973

One of the amazing qualities of The Dark Side of the Moon is how the album instantly yet seamlessly switches moods, such as when it goes from ethereal “Breathe” to the frantic “On the Run”. This an instrumental piece was performed almost exclusively on an EMS synthesizer and is driven by entering an 8-note sequence repeated at a high tempo, with more voices and sound effects on top to make the piece ever-intensifying until it finally crashes at the end with what sounds like a crashing airplane. This leads to the long intro for “Time”, starting with a chorus of chiming clocks which were painfully recorded one by one by Parsons and various antique stores in London and then synced together through multiple tape machines. Next, comes a passage dominated by Mason’s drums with heavy use of rototoms and a backing “tick-tock” sound created by Waters picking two muted strings on his bass. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is a fantastic release into a full-fledged rock song which contains one of the greatest guitar leads ever. The song is incredibly simple, especially during the verse, but sounds so rich due to excellent production and musicianship. It contains deeply philosophical lyrics, sung by both Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright along with a chorus of female background singers. This is the final song to ever be credited to all four members of the band and is, perhaps, the best overall group effort in Pink Floyd’s long career.

After a short, one verse reprise of “Breathe”, appended to “Time”, comes the most unique and controversial song on the album. “The Great Gig In the Sky” has no legible lyrics, but instead contains about four minutes of improvised scat vocals by Clare Torry, a session singer who Parsons knew from other projects. Depending on your artistic point of view, this could be the worst or the best song on the album, the most meaningful or most absurd, and if nothing demonstrates why Pink Floyd is an acquired taste. Originally titled “The Mortality Sequence”, it is backed by a beautiful, minor key piano sequence by Wright and Torry added her vocals in one session which she entered without previously hearing the backing track. The band paid her sixty quid for the session and sent her on her way, not really hearing from her again until three decades later when Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution constituted co-authorship with Richard Wright. Torry won the suit for an undisclosed amount and all pressings of the album after 2005 credit her as co-composer.

Money singleSide two begins with “Money”, a song which is a true double-edged sword, at once being one of the most recognizable and accessible Pink Floyd songs and one of the most overplayed and overrated. Still, for a hit song it is quite unique and artistically rewarding, written by Waters in the unusual 7/4 time signature for the verses before breaking into more standard, rock-oriented 4/4 time for Gilmour’s extended guitar solo in the middle. During this middle section the sonic tones are also adjusted, as a sparse “dry” section under subtle guitar licks is bookended by stronger dynamics with heavy use of reverb and chaotic drumming by Mason. The song also features a short saxophone lead by Dick Parry.

Parry and his sax have a more prominent role in “Us and Them”, a song about as moody and surreal as one can get while maintaining top notch rock status. It was released as a single in 1974, but kind of flopped as it failed to reach the Top 100 on the charts. However, but the more macro jury of time has rightfully judged this a true Pink Floyd classic. The tune was originally written on the piano by Wright for the film soundtrack Zabriskie Point in 1969 but was rejected by the film’s director. This slow paced, seven and a half minute song contains more spoken phrases which adds to the overall feel. “Us and Them” directly bridges to “Any Colour You Like”, another reprise of “Breathe” but from a totally instrumental approach. In fact, only Gilmour, Mason, Wright are credited for this composition, as Waters is oddly left out.

However, Waters does dominate the final two tracks on the album, taking on lead vocals as well as solo credit for “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”. Here the concept of “Dark Side of the Moon” is fully laid out with a sonically superior, perfect wrap to the album. Further, the larger picture of life itself is focused down to a particular individual as the insanity-themed lyrics are based on former band frontman Syd Barrett‘s mental instability, which began following the success of their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967. Waters would re-visit Barrett’s situation in much more detail on the band’s next album Wish You Were Here. Musically, “Brain Damage” contains great layered guitars and a totally unique, synth-organ lead, while “Eclipse” reverts back to a more traditional band jam led by Wright’s Hammond organ. Both songs also contain great female backing vocals. When the main instrumentation fades the sound of the heartbeat from “Speak to Me” comes back to the forefront with one final, profound spoken part by door man O’Driscoll:

There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. (The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.)”

The members of Pink Floyd have long lamented the duality of feelings they have towards the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. It would work to at once validate them as a top-notch artistic group and fractured them as a cohesive unit. The quartet would have much more success throughout the seventies and maintained headlining status even after Waters departed in the eighties. But they would never again quite reach that moment in time when everything came together to create a true rock masterpiece.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.


Quadrophenia by The Who

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Quadrophenia by The WhoQuadrophenia completed the mega-creative trifecta for The Who, which peaked with Who’s Next in 1971 but was bookended by the two greatest rock operas ever – Tommy in 1969 and this album in 1973, both double albums. The term “Quadrophenia” was coined by the band’s sole composer Pete Townshend, as a play on the word “schizophrenia” with a specific meaning of someone with four distinct personalities. On a deeper level, the title was meant as a nod to the new quadrophonic sound (the earliest form of “surround sound” which never quite caught on in its day) and is also a representation of the four band members themselves. The linear story that runs through the album comes from the psychological perspective of an English teenager in the early 1960s, making the album also a loose tribute to the group’s earliest fans.

Townshend has stated that the idea for Quadrophenia evolved from an idea for an autobiographical concept album titled “Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock!” in 1972 with songs such as “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Long Live Rock” along with the first compositions that ended up on the album. Townshend instead decided to create a character named Jimmy with four personalities that reflected those of the band members, each associated with a “theme” which recurs throughout the album.

While not as cohesive or focused as Who’s Next and not as popular as Tommy, this may be the ultimate Who album due to its sheer breadth and ambition Townshend expanded fully from his traditional guitar-centric approach to include pianos and keyboards as prominent lead instruments. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Roger Daltry is in top form, carrying many of the songs while delicately working through the multiple character parts reflected in several of the extended songs. Further, Townshend considers this the best produced Who album ever, due in part to the professional techniques of Kit Lambert along with the innovative ones done by himself.

Quadrophenia by The Who
Released: October 19, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Kit Lambert, Glyn Johns & The Who
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
Side One Side Two
I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk Meets the Godfather
I’m One
The Dirty Jobs
Helpless Dancer
Is It In My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
Side Three Side Four
Sea and Sea
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Group Musicians
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Piano, Synths, Banjo, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Horns, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The instrumental “I Am the Sea” acts as overture with snippets of vocals of future songs over ocean and rain sounds, Townshend went out and recorded these sounds personally at various locations in England. “The Real Me” is the first “real” song, driven by a guitar riff and an impressive bass performance by John Entwistle, which was recorded in one take. Lyrically, this song acts as an introduction to Jimmy Cooper, his four personalities, his visits to a psychiatrist, and his domestic situation. Another long instrumental follows with the title track “Quadrophenia”, which kind of distracts the listener by having another instrumental so close to the intro, especially since this one is so theatrical.

The first side finishes with two very strong tunes. “Cut My Hair” is the first song to introduce a historical perspective, as the lyric details the Mod fashion and a radio broadcast near the end speaks of an actual riot in Brighton between Mods and Rockers. Sung by Townshend, this is a real good theatrical tune and contains great synth effects. “The Punk Meets the Godfather” is a pure climatic rock with great sound and lyrics and the first of several great performances on the album by drummer Keith Moon. In fact, this song may be “Exhibit A” that The Who can never really be The Who without Entwistle and Moon.

“I’m One” begins the original second side with a country-ish acoustic ballad with great ethereal guitar tone in the background, before it breaks into a much more upbeat tune. The introspective lyrics contemplate how the protagonist has not much going for him except for the Mod lifestyle. “The Dirty Jobs” is one of the great unheralded songs on Quadrophenia, led by a fantastic vocal performance by Daltry and innovative, melodic synths throughout, which pretty much replace guitars as the lead instrument on this song.

“Helpless Dancer” is the oddest song on first two sides, a march-like approach with horns, piano, and a short acoustic part in the middle. All four members have a theme song relating to one of Jimmy’s personalities, and this one is Daltry’s theme as the “Tough Guy”. The song ends with a short snippet of one of the band’s earliest hits, “The Kids Are Alright”. “Is It in My Head?” is a moderate and catchy acoustic song, which leads to “I’ve Had Enough”. Going through several phases, like some of the extended pieces on Tommy, “I’ve Had Enough” morphs from from a driving rock verse to the string infused “Love Reign O’er Me” part to the banjo-led hook part. Daltry carries the tune vocally, aptly setting the differing moods of the song.

5:15 single by The WhoOne of the only “hits” on the album, “5:15” goes through a melodic journey telling a story that mainly observes the outside environment while traveling on a train. The song contains great horns, beautiful vocals, and especially great piano by guest Chris Stainton. The dramatic ending contains intense drums and thumping piano notes. The scene moves to Brighton with “Sea and Sand”, which alternates between folk-ish acoustic and pure, Who-style rock with lyrics that portray Jimmy’s affinity for the beach as an escape from the unpleasant realities of home and life in London.

The narrative continues with “Drowned”, a philosophical theme about losing one’s self in the ocean, in a suicidal attempt to become one with God. Set to upbeat music with great rotating piano, guitar licks, and more great drums. In fact, this may Moon’s best performance on the album, and that is saying something. “Drowned” is also the oldest song on Quadrophenia, initially written as an ode to Meher Baba in early 1970. Moon’s theme, “Bellboy” completes side three. It starts as a standard rocker with Daltry at vocals before the song gets taken over by Moon’s comical yet effective vocals. Lyrically it tells of a former Mod hero of Jimmy’s who has “sold out” and become a pathetic bellboy at a Brighton resort.

Entwistle’s theme is the “Is It Me?” part of “Doctor Jimmy” (which also shows up at various points of the album). With synthesized fiddle effects, horns, and great bass, this ambiguous loose reference to “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” speaks again of the multiple personalities running through the story, but with alcohol being catalyst for the change. The longest song on the album, Daltry effectively plays both roles vocally. “The Rock” acts as both a long intro to final song and recap of much of the previous material, much like “Underture” from Tommy. In truth, “The Rock” is a bit of over-indulgent filler. The final song “Love, Reign O’er Me” is Townshend’s theme on the album, which again delves into the philosophy of Meher Baba as Jimmy finds his “true self” while on a stolen boat, during a storm in the sea. The song begins with some classical piano and orchestral instrumentations, later giving way to great synth effects and lead guitars, all by Townshend. But it is Daltry’s vocal performance which has gained the best critical response, with many considering this song the finest performance of his career.

Quadrophenia reached #2 on the U.S. album charts, the highest ever for The Who, kept from the top spot by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In 1979, the film Quadrophenia was released but focused more on the story than the music, which was relegated to mere background during certain scenes. Although the band viewed the original tour in support of the album as disastrous due to ineffective techniques of including synthesizers live in 1973, they revisited Quadrophenia in the future with a dedicated tour in 1996, and most recently this past November (2012), where the album was played in its entirety along with a few selected hits during the encore.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.


The Captain and Me
by The Doobie Brothers

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The Captain and Me by The Doobie BrothersThe Captain and Me is the third album by The Doobie Brothers on which they combine their trademark funk with just a touch of California folk and country-rock. Combined, this distinctive yet diverse record was their most substantial and consistent of their early years, offering differing sonic textures and enjoyable tunes for an overall fulfilling listen. The album is bookmarked by several songs from guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, including the album’s biggest hits and the title song which combine funk and rock with just a taste of traditional blues. In between and some contrasting, folk-oriented songs by keyboardist Patrick Simmons, which contain unique instrumental passages.

The group was formed in 1969 by Johnston and drummer John Hartman in Northern California. Simmons joined a year later along with bassist Tiran Porter and gained a strong following among local chapters of the Hells Angels. In 1971, the band signed with Warner Brothers and released their self-titled debut album to little commercial success. Later that year the band added a second drummer/percussionist Michael Hossack, completing the classic band lineup. The Doobies second album, Toulouse Street in 1972, fared much better on the strength of a couple of hit songs.

Warner put pressure on the band to move quickly on producing their third album along with producer Ted Templeman. They began reworking old tunes and improvisational pieces that they played live. The label did help out with the album artwork, providing 19th century garments and the horse-drawn stagecoach from the Warner Brothers film studios lot.

The Captain and Me by The Doobie Brothers
Released: March 2, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Warner Brothers Studios, Hollywood, 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Natural Thing
Long Train Runnin’
China Grove
Dark Eyed Cajun Woman
Clear As the Driven Snow
Without You
South City Midnight Lady
Evil Woman
Busted Down O’Connelly Corners
The Captain and Me
Band Musicians
Tom Johnston – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Patrick Simmons – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Tiran Porter – Bass, Vocals
John Hartman – Drums, Vocals
Michael Hossack – Drums, Percussion

“Natural Thing”, a decent melodic rocker with a funky flanged guitar and good harmonies, starts off the album. The song is notable for its synthesized horn effects, which were put together by programmers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who overdubbed individual notes to create the chords. Johnston’s “Long Train Runnin'” evolved from a long-time, ad-libbed jam called “Rosie Pig Moseley”. Templeman convinced Johnston to write words to the pure funk song, which also includes a distinctive harmonica solo by Johnston and a heavy presence by the dual percussionists. “Long Train Runnin'” became the band’s first Top Ten single.

Another charting hit was “China Grove”, one of the catchiest rock songs of the band’s career, built on a simple but effective riff along with exquisite production. Although the song’s title is based on a real town in Texas, the story is largely a fictional, with lyric’s again added by Johnston to an instrumental track titled “Parliament”. “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” takes a different approach, much darker than previous material. It is blue-eyed blues with good guitar licks, electric piano, and strings – almost Van Morrison in its feel.

“Clear As the Driven Snow” is Simmons first contribution to the album, a bright and acoustic folk song in the manner of John Denver, save for the fact that it morphs into a decent jam towards the end while never leaving the signature acoustic riff. Simmons also wrote “South City Midnight Lady”, an almost country acoustic ballad, which adds a serene, almost romantic element to the album. Pedal steel guitar is provided by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, then of Steely Dan, who would later become an official member of the Doobie Brothers. “Evil Woman” is probably the weakest song on the album, an unfocused and under-produced song which could have went somewhere had it been better developed.

The album’s closing sequence begins with “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”, a short acoustic piece by James Earl Luft which into segues into “Ukiah”, a tribute to a small town in Northern California where the band frequently played in their early years. The song has a Chicago-style upbeat with driven bass by Porter and great lead guitar interludes. “Ukiah” acts as bridge song to title song finale, an acoustic Tune which trys to give the album a bit of a “concept” feel. Still, the song contains soaring guitars and harmonies which concludes the album on a high note.

In all, The Captain and Me is a potpourri of sonic phrases which best symbolizes the heart of the early Doobie Brothers sound. Although the band would achieve greater commercial success later in the decade, it was with a different sound and mainly different lineup.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.


Band On the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings

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Band On the Run by Paul McCartney and WingsPaul McCartney finally hitting on all cylinders in his post-Beatles career with Band on the Run. It was his fifth such album since the 1970 breakup of the Fab Four and the third with his new group, Wings. He had made a respectable solo debut and a another good album, Ram, with his wife Linda McCartney. But then came the first two Wings album – the utterly forgettable Wild Life in late 1971, and the somewhat better but vastly uneven Red Rose Speedway in early 1973. During 1972 and 1973, McCartney was putting out much better material as non-album singles than the material on his albums. But that all changed with Band on the Run, an album which would be widely considered his finest.

The songs were all written by Paul and Linda McCartney at their Scottish retreat in the Summer of 1973. Red Rose Speedway was a commercial success and that was followed up by the Top Ten charting song “Live and Let Die” from the James Bond film of the same name. The couple also wanted to find an exotic locale to record this album and discovered that EMI had an international affiliate in Lagos, Nigeria. Coming into the project, Wings were a five person group. However, lead guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell dropped out of the band on the eve of their departure for Africa. This left Wings as a trio with guitarist and pianist Denny Laine along with the McCartneys. Paul McCartney took on the roles of the departed musicians as well as produced the album. Engineer Geoff Emerick was the fourth and final person to make the trip to Lagos.

Upon arriving however, the four discovered a militant nation with corruption and disease and a ramshackle studio which was under equipped with only one 8-track tape machine. Several incidents also plagued Wings during their time in Lagos stay. Paul and Linda were robbed at knife point while out walking one night and the thieves got away with a notebook full of handwritten lyrics and song notes, and cassettes containing demos for songs to be recorded. On another occasion a local political activist accused the group of being in Africa to exploit and steal African music and threatened to riot at the studio until McCartney who played the songs for him proving that they contained no local influence whatsoever. Paul McCartney also suffered a sudden bronchial spasm during one session which left him unconscious. Despite all of these distractions, the album did manage to get recorded on time and with limited post-production done back in London.

The album’s cover photo was shot by Clive Arrowsmith and features an expanded “band”. Along with Paul, Linda and Denny the photo includes journalist Michael Parkinson, comedian Kenny Lynch, actor James Coburn, columnist Clement Freud, actor Christopher Lee, and boxer John Conteh. While not quite as iconic as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the cover of Band on the Run has become one of the most famous in rock history.

Band On the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings
Released: December 5, 1973 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul McCartney
Recorded: Lagos, Nigeria, August–September 1973
Side One Side Two
Band On the Run
Mrs. Vanderbilt
Let Me Roll It
No Words
Helen Wheels
Picasso’s Last Wors (Drink to Me)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Band Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Piano, Drums & Percussion
Denny Laine – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Linda McCartney – Keyboards, Vocals

Although Paul McCartney had previous and future albums where he played virtually every instrument, this album is probably his most important accomplishment. Beyond stepping in at the last moment to provide the bulk of guitars and drums, McCartney also forged fine vocal melodies and chameleon–like changes in tone and inflection to fit the mood of each track. His arrangements are spectacular, especially on the mini-suites, and the productions are rich. This was also the album where McCartney first really started to develop his own style on bass and brought it up to the forefront of the mix.

The opening title song “Band On the Run” is one of the absolute classics of McCartney’s solo career. This three-part medley follows sequentially (at least among album tracks) the 4-part medley which ended Red Rose Speedway. After a complex two-minute intro, the third, acoustic-driven title part is the melodic payoff. The song strikes the balance between being experimental with unique structure yet accessible enough to make it impossible to be ignored by the pop world. McCartney credits George Harrison for coining the term “Band on the Run” during an acrimonious Apple board meeting in the Beatles’ final days.

“Jet” is a great follow-up to the fantastic opener with layers of sound, and an exploding chorus (like a jet). This rocker has great harmonies and background vocals in general and the title may have been influenced by the McCartney’s Labrador Retriever. Unlike most of the rest of the album, recorded in Nigeria, “Jet” was recorded back at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London.

The first side concludes with a couple of unique rockers. “Mrs Vanderbilt” is a driving acoustic tune with chanting vocal inflections during the verses and a great bass line throughout, which really stands out. The opening lines borrow from a catchphrase from music hall performer Charlie Chester. While recording in Lagos, the studio suffered a power outage so overdubs were later added in London. “Let Me Roll It” contains a bluesy rolling guitar riff during the verses and use of tape echo on the vocals, following a Fafsa organ and bass intro. the tune has long been considered to be an answer to John lennon’s “How Do you Sleep?” from

Side two begins with the very bright and acoustic “Mamunia” with more melodic and bouncy bass throughout. The lyrics are a bit nonsensical, more wordplay than meaning, but a cool synth lead near the end adds some variety and a new level to the sound. “No Words” is an electric song with judicious use of orchestra and sounds a lot like Harrison, vocal-wise. It jumps through several sections rapidly with differing instrumental arrangements, sounding somewhat under-developed and confused. It was the only song on the album partially credited to Denny Laine. “Helen Wheels” takes a simpler rock/pop approach with some whining vocal effect above a hook good enough to make it a hit song, peaking at #10 in the U.S. and #12 on the U.K.

“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” is another attempt at a multi-part suite, starting as an acoustic, almost Scottish folk tune and evolving through sections with clarinets, heavy strings, and even some odd percussion added by Ginger Baker, who was also recording in Nigeria at the time. The repetitive nature tilts a bit towards the infamous “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” with its repetitiveness and contains slight reprises of “Jet” and “Mrs Vanderbilt” in the mix. The album concludes with “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”, a great closer which really gets into the beat and rhythm with a vaudeville flavor. It takes some judicious breaks for vocal chorus with sustained organ before coming back to great effect and builds towards a climatic ending with heavy brass brought in to add to the tension before it finally breaks and abruptly reprises in the chorus of “Band on the Run” which fades the album out.

Band on the Run was the top-selling album of 1974 in both England and Australia and it won the Grammy for “Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Duo, Group or Chorus” in early 1975. The album was also the last time the group would be called “Paul McCartney & Wings” as they would simply be “Wings” for the duration of their existence and it was also McCartney’s final album on the Apple Records label which he started with his fellow Beatles five years earlier.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.


Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band

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Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper BandThe Alice Cooper Band reached their commercial peak with 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies. This sixth Alice Cooper album, produced by Bob Ezrin, refined some of the basic rock grit of earlier work with the theatrical glam of the now famous (or infamous) live shows. The album’s title derives from the surprise the band felt about their massive success following their two 1971 albums and 1972’s School’s Out. They literally went from living together in a basement to one of the top rock acts in two years. The band’s leader Alice Cooper wrote the bulk of the album’s lyrics, some of which touched on very controversial subjects for shock value.

The album was first recorded at a mansion the band purchased called the “Galecie Estate” in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ezrin used various methods to achieve certain effects, including using a greenhouse with a marble floor as an echo chamber. The group completed the album at Morgan Studios in London, where the sessions became “party central” with many famous guests such as Harry Nillson, Rich Grech, Marc Bolan, and Keith Moon stopping in, but all were too inebriated to contribute musically. Band guitarist Glen Buxton also struggled with substance abuse at the time and two session guitarists were needed to be brought in to finish his parts.

After the album was released, the band embarked on a massive tour that included 64 concerts in 59 cities in less than three months, which broke many U.S. box office records. These live performances featured Cooper doing skits that included tearing apart baby dolls and attacking mannequins while using several stage props and effects which required a crew of 40 to 50 people and used about 1 tons of equipment. This stagecraft all came with a cost as the tour, originally estimated to bring in $20 million, barely cleared $5 million.


Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band
Released: February 25, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: The Galecie Estate, Greenwich, CT, August 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Hello Hooray
Raped and Freezin’
Billion Dollar Babies
Unfinished Sweet
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Generation Landslide
Sick Things
Mary Ann
I Love the Dead
Band Musicians
Alice Cooper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Michael Bruce – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Glen Buxton – Lead Guitars
Dennis Dunaway – Bass, Vocals Guitars
Neal Smith – Drums

Although the majority of the music on Billion Dollar Babies was composed by guitarist/keyboardist Michael Bruce, the opener “Hello Hooray” was written by singer/songwriter Rolf Kempf and was actually originally recorded by Judy Collins. This is a true show tune with soaring vocal melodies, a Bowie-esque rock arrangement, and a climatic coda section, which truly separates Alice Cooper from any of his shock rock successors like Marilyn Manson. “Raped and Freezin'” is an upbeat rock song with a temperament much lighter than the lyrical content. The lyrics tell of someone chased through the desert in Mexico and the arrangement attempts a Mexican-flavored end section, but fall just a bit short.

The sparse lyrics of “Elected” are nicely supplemented by energetic and entertaining music. This effect-laden song is actually a remake of an earlier band track called “Reflected” and the lyrics take the form of a campaign speech. Drummer Neal Smith provides stomping drum beats and Ezrin adds a cinematic touch with brass arrangements that complement the well crafted guitar riffs. The title song “Billion Dollar Babies” is riff driven and keeps Cooper keep his hard rock cred with guest Donovan providing background vocals. “Unfinished Sweet” contains some strong sound effects with the simple guitar riffs and vocals which mimic the primary riff along with a movie-like middle section with many more effects.

The second side begins with the satirical “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, a clever story song about the sheer outrage over Cooper’s stage antics. The music is upbeat and melodic with singalong chorus and a doo wop-tinged backing. The song was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and Top 10 hit in the U.K. The album peaks with “Generation Landslide”, a unique gem which starts with blue-grassy acoustic riff before switching to a drum-marched infused verse with a throbbing bass line by Dennis Dunaway. Although not released as a single, the song became a live staple and fan favorite throughout Cooper’s career.

The rest of the album is dedicated to pure theatrics. “Sick Things” is a doomy and melodramatic tune dedicated to the band’s fan base with strong horn arrangements by Ezrin above a simple bass line. “Mary Ann” is a rare ballad where Bruce’s distant-sounding pianos offer sharp contrast to Cooper’s near-sounding vocals. “I Love the Dead” is, the most controversial song of Cooper’s career to that point with an overt theme that unabashedly promotes necrophilia. Although it was no doubt manufactured just for this shock effect, it may be a bit much for those who cherish some sliver of taste in rock and roll.

Billion Dollar Babies reached the top of the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would be the peak of the Alice Cooper Group. But just when it appeared like this hard rock band was about to step into the top echelon, tensions between the members led to a split after just one more album, Muscle of Love. Alice Cooper continued as a solo artist for decades to come while Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith went on to form a new group which took its name from this album, Billion Dollar Babies.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.


Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

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Innervisions by Stevie WonderInnervisions is an album themed on social issues, drugs, spirituality, and urban life by Stevie Wonder in 1973. Wonder did virtually everything on this album from songwriting to producing to playing the vast majority of the album’s instruments and it may have been an attempt to replicate Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 What’s Going On album. Innervisions achieved similar artistic and commercial results to that previous album with the added dimension of musical innovation. Wonder put all the different topics and themes into a striking vision (or “Innervision”) which would be one of the most effective and entertaining of Wonder’s long career.

Although he was only 23 years old at the time of its release, Innervisions was already Wonder’s 16th studio album, all on Motown’s Tamla label. However, it was the first on which he composed every song and virtually played every instrument. He made heavy use of the ARP synthesizer, which was popular at the time because of its ability to construct a full sound environment. Many considered this album to be the pinnacle of Wonder’s long career. As one reviewer put it at the time;

Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is a beautiful fusion of the lyric and the didactic, telling us about the blind world that Stevie inhabits with a depth of musical insight that is awesome…”

The album peaked at number four on the U.S. album charts and became Stevie Wonder’s first album ever to reach the U.K. Top 10. It also won the 1974 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Innervisions by Stevie Wonder
Released: August 3, 1973 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1973
Side One Side Two
Too High
Living for the City
Golden Lady
Higher Ground
Jesus Children of America
All in Love Is Fair
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
He’s Misstra Know-It-All
Principle Musician
Stevie Wonder – Most instrumentation including:
Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano, Synthesizers, Harmonica, Drums and Percussion

The album’s first side begins with the pre-disco funk of “Too High”, where Wonder shows off his instrumental skills on Fender Rhodes, harmonica, synthesized bass, and especially drumming (a talent he rarely receives credit for). “Visions” is one song in which Wonder doesn’t completely dominate. Acoustic guitars are provided by Dean Parks with refrained electric by David “T” Walker and upright double bass by Malcolm Cecil . Despite the arrangement being extremely sparse, Wonder still manages to forge some great vocal melodies.

“Living for the City” is a cinematic composition of civic injustice with great musical drive and interesting interludes with synth riffs. The lyrics are delivered with an exaggerated growl for effect and a dramatic spoken part describes the life of a young man who migrates from Mississippi to New York City, only to be tricked into transporting drugs, arrested, and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Wonder intentionally got his voice very hoarse for the recording. “Golden Lady” is a mellow ballad with a funky bass above a jazzy piano. It is a great way to complete side one, with judicious but effective use of synthesizers and a Hammond organ lead by Clarence Bell.

Side two starts with “Higher Ground”, a “peoples” song dominated by the Hohner clavinet with a Mu-tron III envelope filter pedal. This tune is completely performed by Wonder and reached #4 on the U.S. pop chart. Reportedly, he wrote and recorded the song all within a three-hour burst of creativity in May 1973. The weakest part of the album follows with “Jesus Children of America” and “All in Love Is Fair”, not terrible songs, but certainly not Wonder’s best.

The very Latin influenced “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” is the lightest and most fun song on the album, with great vocal dynamics and inventiveness. Beginning with an unusual skit (which would proliferate decades later on hip-hop songs), this piano-led tune about a faux hero repeats the Spanish phrase ‘Todo ‘stá bien chévere’ which means “everything is really cool” and reached the Top 20 on the U.S. charts. Another charting hit, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” finishes the album with Wonder once again playing all instrumentation, including multiple backing vocals. The song had a second charting life in 1977, when it was released on the B-side of “Sir Duke” and tells the story of a con man.

Three days after the release of Innervisions, Wonder was critically injured in a car accident in North Carolina. His head injuries placed him in a coma for four days and he permanently lost his sense of smell. As he recovered, Wonder was deeply concerned that he might have also lost his musical faculty and was hesitant to even attempt to play the clavinet that was brought to his hospital room. Finally he played and his spirit quickly returned and his recovery accelerated as Stevie Wonder continued into the prime of his creative career.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.


Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band

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Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers BandBrothers and Sisters was at once the career peak and the first step into the abyss for The Allman Brothers Band. It was released in the wake of dual tragedies, a year apart, which took the lives of two founding members and saw the emergence of another founding member as the group’s primary driver. On the upside, this album served as the band’s commercial peak while still maintaining much of the quality blend which brought the band to critical prominence in earlier years. On the downside, this success marked the beginning of an era of celebrity which saw the band drift away from its music-centric approach of their earliest albums and start to produce “country-fried hit records and egos that ripped them all apart”, as drummer Butch Trucks would later state.

Like with the group’s previous album, Eat a Peach, a member of the band died while the band was in the process of recording, resulting in an album where the member only played on select tracks. In the previous case, the victim was lead guitarist Duane Allman, who offered much to that double LP but was completely absent from this one. Bassist Berry Oakley played on the first two tracks of Brothers and Sisters before he was tragically killed on November 11, 1972 from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident. Oakley declined medical treatment at the scene, thinking he was alright, but three hours later he was rushed to the hospital due to extreme pain, and died of cerebral swelling caused by a fractured skull. Ironically, Oakley’s accident in Macon, Georgia was just three blocks from where Duane Allman had his fatal motorcycle accident the year before and both had died of head injuries. Lamar Williams replaced Oakley on bass for the remainder of the album’s session.

More than any other group member, guitarist Dickey Betts stepped into the leadership role and shines brightest on this album, composing five of the seven tracks and maintaining guitar excellence throughout. Betts and Allman had established a harmonized guitar repertoire during the band’s early years, with Betts’ country flavored style contrasting perfectly with Allman’s blues/jazz fusion style. Following the death of Duane Allman, Betts stepped up to be the group’s sole guitarist, furiously practicing the slide guitar methods in order to cover the majority of Duane Allman’s parts. Led by Betts, the band put together a light but enjoyable album with a crisp sound which melts their unique style of rock with doses of country, blues, and borderline funk.

Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band
Released: August, 1973 (Capricorn)
Produced by: Johnny Sandline & Allman Brothers Band
Recorded: Capricorn Sound Studios, Macon, GA, October-December 1972
Side One Side Two
Wasted Words
Ramblin’ Man
Come and Go Blues
Jelly Jelly
Pony Boy
Band Musicians
Greg Allman – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Dickey Betts – Guitars, Vocals
Berry Oakley – Bass
Lamar Williams – Bass
Jaimoe – Drums, Percussion
Butch Trucks – Drums, Percussion

Gregg Allman‘s “Wasted Words” opens the album as a perfect “outlaw country” tune with Betts’s guitar riffs mocking the vocal melody and accompanied by a nice honky tonk piano, making for an upbeat introduction to Brothers and Sisters. “Ramblin’ Man” is, by far, the most popular song on this album and the only Top Ten of the band’s career. It would be the most typical of country/rock songs if not for the fantastic guitars throughout by Betts who composed and sings lead on the track.
Still, the song has rarely been performed live due its rigid structure not allowing for much improvisation, a must in the band’s concert performances. the recording was also the final track to feature Oakley.

“Come and Go Blues” is a nice break in the action from all the country and Gregg Allman’s finest moment on the album. This moderate funk jam contains great piano which drives the verse music and later comes to the forefront with a lead and a counter-riff during the intense final verse. The drumming and percussion by the dual of Trucks and Jaimoe and Butch Trucks is exceptional on this really cool track. The sides are bookmarked by a couple of live-sounding blues jams which sound like they could have been cut from the same session. “Jelly Jelly”, written by songwriter and producer Trade Martin, is the more forgettable of the two, not terrible but too overtly bluesy for a complex band like the Allmans. “Southbound” contains a little more funk but is rather mediocre compared to the band’s better material.

The instrumental “Jessica” is Betts’s finest moment on record, led by the three-part harmonized signature riff where the guitarist is joined by Allman on Hammond organ and Chuck Leavell on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Levell later plays piano during an intense long middle part, which also includes a further great lead section by Betts. One of the more focused jams in rock history, this song is really one last look back at the monumental music which built this band. The opening acoustic guitar is played by Les Dudek and the song is named for Betts then two-year-old daughter. “Pony Boy” starts as pure southern blues before morphing into a bluegrass beat. Sung by Betts who provides slide acoustic guitar and is accompanied by piano and upbeat country drum beat in a great, scaled down jam that provides a fitting conclusion to the album.

Brothers and Sisters five weeks at #1 on the U.S. albums chart and made The Allman Brothers Band one of the top concert draws in the country. However, personality conflicts started to tear the band apart and future releases suffered with the band never again reaching this level of critical or commercial prominence.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.


Selling England by the Pound
by Genesis

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Selling England By the Pound by GenesisThe classic lineup of Genesis was at their absolute peak musically and melodically on the 1973 album Selling England by the Pound. The band had a steady progression in the early 1970s albums, leading to this climax which fused their heavy prog-rock and overtly theatrical background with an English folk theme topped by incredible rock virtuosity. The album has a storybook quality and is nearly drifts into “concept album” territory. Instead it is more a collection of short stories, fables, and fairy tales that don’t really have much in common save the English themes. And, of course, the fantastic musicianship that made this album one of the greatest albums of the progressive rock genre.

While all members of the quintet are at their absolute peak on this album, no one shines brighter than guitarist Steve Hackett. This is his absolute moment in the sun and makes one wonder why there was relatively so little from him in subsequent years (even though he stayed with Genesis through three more albums). On this album Hackett perfected the use of the tapping technique and sweep picking, techniques which would not become widely popular until a decade later. This is also the album were drummer Phil Collins (who would later be more associated as the band’s front man) best displays his drumming skills. Even lead singer Peter Gabriel gets into the musical act, providing flute on several tracks to add to the overall English folk vibe.

A nice balance is struck throughout the album and on a matrix of levels. The four epic pieces alternate with the four lighter pieces throughout the album and with these an alternation between deeper and heavier eccentricity with contemporary pop and fragile love song themes. There is also a nice consolidation between the rock and folk sections, the overt literary allusions and hook-driven themes often all within the same track. This combination makes this album infinitely listenable and not the least bit dated four decades after its release.


Selling England By the Pound by Genesis
Released: October 12, 1973 (Atlantic)
Produced by: John Burns and Genesis
Recorded: Island Studios, London, August 1973
Side One Side Two
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Odeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Group Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Flute
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars, Cello
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals


A long intro with only guitar textures and vocal melody mask the ultimate dynamics of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”, the de facto title song of Selling England by the Pound. This eight minute album opening song blends lyricism and acoustic texture during the opening verses with the exquisite musicianship during this middle jam. During this section each musician’s skills are showcased nicely before the song fades into an add yet intriguing mellow outro which eats up nearly two minutes with psychedelic rudiments. “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was the band’s first charting single through five LPs, climbing all the way to #21 on the UK charts. It has a mechanical sound-effect during the intro with spoken word intro before it breaks into a pleasant pop (almost “glam”) song with the chorus melody being mirrored by a heavy synth riff and a very active bass line by Mike Rutherford. The lyrics were derived from the painting by Betty Swanwick called The Dream, which originally did not include the lawn mower which the band asked Swanwick to add to the painting to match the song’s protagonist. A simple, “lawnmower man” who is constantly getting advice from people concerned with his future, but is content with what he is (“I know what I like and I like what I know”). Although the song was the most accessible in their collection to date, it still contains some Genesis edge including a return to the mechanical effect during the coda beneath a flute lead to end the song.

I don’t make such assertions lightly, but “Firth of Fifth” is one of the greatest rock masterpieces ever, despite its relative mainstream and radio obscurity. This song has everything great about a progressive rock song, starting with an unbelievable classical piano intro by Tony Banks which lasts over a minute alternating between among time signatures before giving way to a pure rock verse and chorus performed by the entire ensemble. The song then travels through a sonic journey of several sections, some with vocals, some instrumental, but all purely excellent. There is a part with a light flute solo by Gabriel over Banks’ methodical piano riffs, which leads to part where the piano builds and builds until breaking into a frantic synth led over the full band rendition of the opening piano piece, where Collins especially shines on drum. Then comes perhaps the greatest guitar lead ever by Hackett, who sustains notes into the stratosphere above a basic driving, bluesy backing rhythm. But this guitar is anything but basic, striking notes in the most methodical and melodic way where each one counts. Even the sparse lyrics are superior, especially during the final verse;

Now that the river dissolves in sea, so death too has claimed another soul / and so with Gods and Men the sheep remain inside their pen until the shepherd leads his flock away / the sands of time were eroded by the river of constant change…”

The title of “Firth of Fifth” is a pun on the estuary of the River Forth in Scotland, commonly known as the Firth of Forth. Although, like all tracks on the album, “Firth of Fifth” is credited to all five band members, Banks was actually the author of most of this song with Rutherford helping out with some of the lyrics.

Selling England by the Pound is also notable for a milestone in the band’s career, containing the first song with lead vocals by Phil Collins, who would take over those duties permanently following Gabriel’s departure in 1975. “More Fool Me” is a bit melodramatic yet pleasant love song and pretty much only involves Hackett and Rutherford on acoustic guitars and Collins on lead vocal. Collins sings soprano most of the way, which really stands out due to the song’s sparse arrangement.

Side two is a much more theatrical side, especially with the side’s opener “The Battle of Epping Forest”. This begins with colonial-type battle march, led by flute and a marching drum rhythm. It then bursts into a full prog-rock arrangement through the first verse before morphing its way through many multi-character, story-telling sections in a manner similar to “Get Em Out by Friday” from their previous album Foxtrot. A wild, choppy guitar provides rhythm for the second verse leading to a complete break in the middle “Reverend” section, with a waltz-like tempo and more deliberate melody. The song was inspired by territorial gang battles in East London but uses heavy allegory of middle age clashes in the forest while subtly eschewing an anti-war message;

There’s no one left alive, it must be a draw…”

“After the Ordeal” is presented as an instrumental epilogue to “The Battle of Epping Forest” but acts more like an intermission bridge between two epic songs. Written mainly by Hackett, the piece has two distinct parts with the first half an up-tempo classical guitar piece with a piano backing and the second half a slower rock piece beneath Hackett’s electric lead. This lead is again masterful and the only real problem is that it is edited way too short.

The eleven-plus minute epic “The Cinema Show” sustained as the fan favorite from this album. It begins as a purely romantic, modern day “Romeo and Juliet” tale, led by dual acoustic folk guitars and melodic lead vocals by Gabriel. The lyrics from Banks and Rutherford were inspired from a T.S. Eliot poem along with Greek mythology and have highly sexualized overtones. Like the other epics on this album, the song builds into many sections once the entire band gets involved, including a complex vocal motif and yet another lead to great lead guitar by Hackett which segues into a five minute long jam with various synth leads by Banks, some backing operatic vocal choirs, and incredible drumming by Collins, playing a shuffle in 7/8 time. The synth sounds act as a sneak preview of the band’s next album, the double LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The song dissolves back to 4/4 time and segues into the closing song “Aisle of Plenty”, a reprise of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”, giving the album a bookend effect.

Selling England by the Pound was classic Genesis hitting on all cylinders, and the band put together a completely original and musically superior album like no other. Although it would pale in comparison to the commercial success of the band’s pop-oriented 1980s album, it nearly topped the charts in the UK, which was a big deal at the time. But where there album shines is artistically, and on this front it belongs on the list of best ever.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.


Piano Man by Billy Joel

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Piano Man by Billy JoelWhile in the midst of a bitter legal with his first label Family Records, Billy Joel sought exile in Los Angeles, biding his time as a lounge singer under the assumed name “Bill Martin”. Joel had toured long to support his 1971 debut Cold Spring harbor, an album which was essentially dead commercially due to faulty production (something that would be fixed years later with a re-release). Under these odd circumstances, the performer was still able to land a new contract with Columbia Records as well as compose and record Piano Man, which would give him his most famous song and his pop identity, along with some other significant highlights.

I had no leverage and had to drop off the face of the Earth…”

Joel’s career detour to the west coast was the latest in a long musical journey. He had been performing since age four and joined his first group after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He started as a pure rocker in the band The Echoes, a group that specialized in British Invasion covers and became a popular in New York. In 1967, Joel joined the band The Hassles, a band that had signed with United Artists records and released two albums and four singles in the late 1960s, but nothing caught on commercially. Joel and Hassles’ drummer Jon Small formed the odd duet Attila with Joel on distorted and highly processed Hammond organ. Attila released their one eponymous debut album in July 1970 before disbanding when Joel had an affair with Small’s wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.

While the album as whole definitely draws influence from contemporaries like Elton John, James Taylor, and John Denver, the major signature songs on the album are very personal and original. The songs, all written by Joel, contain well developed characters and story narratives with some impressive music that straddles the line between rock and folk.


Piano Man by Billy Joel
Released: November 9, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Michael Stewart
Recorded: Record Plant and Devonshire Sound, Los Angeles, September 1973
Side One Side Two
Traveling Prayer
Piano Man
Ain’t No Crime
You’re My Home
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
Worse Comes to Worst
Stop In Nevada
If I Only Had the Words (to Tell You)
Somewhere Along the Line
Captain Jack
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Richard Bennett – Guitars
Emory Gordy, Jr. – Bass
Ron Tutt – Drums


An interesting drum shuffle by Ron Tutt along with a driving bass line moves the opener “Traveling Prayer” into an upbeat, Western sounding honky-tonk. The song comes complete with banjo and fiddle yet surprisingly sparse piano to open an album called Piano Man. Another Western-themed song completes the first side with Joel’s fictionalized “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”. This is a brilliant song both lyrically and musically with its great piano interludes and rock riffs inspired by composer Aaron Copland. Although Joel himself admits it is historically inaccurate calling it “an experiment with an impressionist type of lyric”, it draws a great comparison between the famous outlaw and himself. “Ain’t No Crime” is the first real song where Joel executes his piano talent, with mock Ray Charles vocals he would utilize in later pop hits. “You’re My Home” is an acoustic ballad written about his wife Elizabeth, with some nice layered topical instruments including a pedal steel guitar.

Of course the highlight of the first side is the famous title song, which became a modest hit at the time (peaking at #25) but endured as a classic through time. That original single version was heavily edited, something Joel himself referred to on his second album Street Life Serenade on the song “The Entertainer”;

“It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long, if you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05…”

The lyrical limerick contains real characters from the piano lounges Joel played while in L.A. while lawyers at Columbia Records tried to get him out of his first record deal. Musically, the song is a perfect ballroom ballad with exquisite sound including liberal use of harmonica and accordion above Joel’s bouncy piano, a testament to the production techniques of Michael Stewart.

The album loses steam a bit on the second side, with some quality but less-than-interesting filler. “Worse Comes to Worst” is like a slow reggae with definite pop overtones and accordion by Michael Omartian. “Stop in Nevada” is a general story-telling pop song, while “If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)” is an attempt at a crooning pop standard, but with some decent piano riffs between the verses. “Somewhere Along the Line” picks up the bit with a pop/folk flavor.

The closer “Captain Jack” is the album’s tour-de-force. It was pivotal in Joel gaining the Columbia contract, due to a performance of the song in an April 1972 live radio concert at WMMR in Philadelphia, and the subsequent airplay (and flood of requests) this recording received on the station. The song was inspired by suburban teenagers in Long Island who obtained heroin from a dealer known as “Captain Jack”, who lived across the street from Joel’s apartment. Musically the song alternates between the piano ballad verses and the soaring, riff-driven chorus with heavy use of organ. Joel played the song on his first television appearance, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974.

Billy Joel claimed he that he netted only about $7000 total from the Piano Man album. This was the first of two Los Angeles based albums for Joel which brought him neither him fame nor fortune, but set the stage for his phenomenal success later in the decade, starting with his triumphant return to New York with Turnstiles in 1976.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.


Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd
by Lynard Skynard

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Lynard Skynard - PronouncedLynard Skynard burst onto the national scene with their 1973 debut Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd, which not only featured many of the band’s most popular songs but also defined the genre of “Southern Rock” more than any other album. This six-piece group out of Jacksonville, Florida fused blues, country, and straight-forward rock to forge an edge that is totally unpretentious and unassuming. Produced by Al Kooper, there are few debut records which express such confidence and drive, with a balanced diversity between upbeat honky-tonk rock and the delicate jam songs, which would Be the prime templates for the “power ballads” which proliferated a decade or more later.

The grouped was formed nine years earlier, in the summer of 1964. High school friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed a band with two other friends called “The Noble Five”. Through many personnel and name changes in the late 1960s, these three remained the core. In 1970, the band changed their name to “Leonard Skinner” as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a strict phys-ed teacher at their high school in Jacksonville, who constantly harassed them because of their long hair (which played a big part in Rossington dropping out of school). The more distinctive spelling was adopted at the suggestion of Kooper in 1972 when he signed the band his Sounds of the South, a subsidiary of MCA Records.

The band had grown notoriety by opening for the band Strawberry Alarm Clock and that band’s guitarist Ed King joined Lynard Skynard to play bass on the debut album (later switching back to guitar, giving the band three guitarists). One day the band was playing a high school prom when their then roadie Billy Powell played what would become the intro piece to “Free Bird”, the band’s most famous song. Powell was immediately invited him to join the band as keyboardist and the classic lineup of Lynard Skynard was established.


Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd by Lynard Skynard
Released: August 13, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Studio One, Doraville, Georgia, March 27-May 1, 1973
Side One Side Two
I Ain’t the One
Tuesday’s Gone
Gimme Three Steps
Simple Man
Things Going On
Mississippi Kid
Poison Whiskey
Band Musicians
Ronnie Van Zandt – Lead Vocals
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Allen Collins – Guitars
Billy Powell – Keyboards
Ed King – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

“Freebird”‘s majestic organ intro leads to one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history, as Rossington used a glass Coricidin bottle for a slide to emulate his hero, the late Duane Allman. The poignant yet melancholy lyrics were written by Collins when he then-girlfriend (and later wife) spoke the opening lines verbatim;

If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?”

The moody ballad gives way to a frantic ending jam led by the dual guitar leads and ever-more creative ways to grind out the three backing chords and even contains a drum roll by Bob Burns that lasts nearly a minute. The song completes the band’s debut album in climatic fashion.

The album begins with some backward percussion effects that introduce “I Ain’t the One”. Although this intro is rather awkward, the song finally catches its groove with the Rossington riff and piano embellishment from Powell, saving the song from bring too ordinary. “Tuesday’s Gone” then provides an immediate contrast to the opener, instantly displaying the band’s range and penchant for differing moods. The great harmonized guitars throughout serenade the lyrical theme of changing times with guest Robert Nix filling in on drums and producer Al Kooper providing bass and Mellotron.

Aside from the later hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Gimme Three Steps” may the be the quintessential Southern Rock song for all time. Led by a great riff sequence by Collins and just the right amount of lead guitar activity between verses, the storytelling song became the band’s first charting hit. The lyrics are based on an actual experience by Van Zant in a biker bar in Jacksonville when he had a gun pulled on him. That bar was actually called The Pastime Bar, but was renamed “The Jug” (from the song’s lyrics) in September 2012. “Simple Man” finishes off side one as a rather “simple” song, which somehow stretches three chords for nearly six minutes, using some sonic dynamics which saves it from getting too mundane.

Aside from the closer, side two contains some lesser known yet interesting tunes. “Things Goin’ On” at times seems a bit and unsure of itself, especially due to its lack of a strong beat, but the song contains some very entertaining elements such as the alternating instrumental leads between Rossington and Powell. “Mississippi Kid” is the most unique song on the album while being a definite nod to southern blues. It was constructed by Burns and producer Al Kooper, who also adds the signature mandolin while Ed king plays a respectable slide for his only guitar part on the album. “Poison Whiskey” is a short, funky song with more use of the nice double guitar harmony by Rossington and Collins.

A shortened version of “Free Bird” was released as a single and the full song received heavy airplay for decades to come. After the band’s devastating plane crash, which took the life of Van Zant in 1977, a live version of the song re-charted with even greater success.


1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.