Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin

1975 Album of the Year

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Physical Graffiti by Led ZeppelinToday we cover an album that epitomizes everything that is great about classic rock. Through their dozen years as a band, Led Zeppelin released eight studio albums, all of which were excellent to differing degrees. But Physical Graffiti is the best for two reasons. First is simple math, as it is their sole double studio album, hence twice the normal rock n roll bliss. More importantly is the sheer diversity of this album, which combines newly composed material with outtakes from the group’s three previous studio albums and in the process captures an incredible array of styles, production and compositional methods. All of this, plus the simple fact that the individual performances are brimming with innovative and outstanding musicianship, helped to make Physical Graffiti an easy choice as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1975.

In their first three years as a band, Led Zeppelin recorded and released four albums with sequential numerical titles. Over the course of these albums, the material branched out from heavy blues to acoustic folk and many subtle sub-genres in between. Released in 1973, Houses of the Holy ,was built more in the studio than any of its predecessors, taking advantage of technological advances and use of overdubs to forge the sound. To follow-up, the group went to Headley Grange in East Hampshire, England in late 1973. They had previously recorded, Led Zeppelin IV ,with Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio at this location but these later sessions were soon abandoned as the new material was underdeveloped and bassist John Paul Jones had fallen ill. Instead, the sessions were turned over to the new group Bad Company, who had recently signed to Led Zeppelin’s new label Swan Song and used the location to record their 1974 eponymous debut album.

The group reconvened at Headley Grange in January 1974 and were much more fruitful, recording eight new tracks over the next several weeks. The running time of these tracks extended beyond the length of a conventional album (at the time, vinyl albums were typically around 45 minutes), so the group decided to extend it out to a double length LP by including several unreleased songs from previous Led Zeppelin albums. This extended the project quite a bit as additional overdubs were required to establish sonic consistency, so final mixing did not take place until October 1974. The album’s title was coined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, who wanted to convey how much “physical energy” had gone into producing this album. The title also sparked the idea for its unique, Grammy nominated album packaging, with a die-cut sleeve through which various images can be alternated into the windows of a New York City brownstone tenement.


Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
Released: February 25, 1975 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations in the UK and US, July 1970-February 1974
Side One Side Two
Custard Pie
The Rover
In My Time of Dying
Houses of the Holy
Trampled Underfoot
Kashmir
Side Three Side Four
In the Light
Bron-Yr-Aur
Down By the Seaside
Ten Years Gone
Night Flight
The Wanton Song
Boogie With Stu
Black Country Woman
Sick Again
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Mandolin
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

The album opens unabashedly with “Custard Pie”, which takes the simplest crisp guitar riffs and builds such an infectious groove around it by combining with Jones’ cool clavichord, John Bonham‘s steady but incredible drumming. Lyrically, the song pays homage to a few traditional blues songs – “Drop Down Mama” by Sleepy John Estes and “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White – with vocalist Robert Plant adding further authenticity with some fine harmonica playing over the otherwise straight-up rock music. “The Rover” was an outtake from a 1972 Houses of the Holy session and it is a wonder why it was ever cut (it would have fit perfectly between “D’Yer Ma’ker” and “No Quarter”). In any case, it remains one of Zeppelin’s most forgotten gems as solid hard rock at its melodic finest. Even more impressive are Plant’s vocals, which soar finely over the rock landscape which crosses both time and space;

Traversed the planet when heaven sent me, I saw the kings who rule them all. Still by the firelight and purple moonlight I hear the rested rivers call…”

“In My Time of Dying” is a rare track with songwriting credits going to all four band members (although the song’s roots date back to the 1920s) and is also distinct as the studio recording with the longest duration. As a slow and deliberate blues, it reverts back to Led Zeppelin’s debut album with Page’s impossibly slow slide guitar being complemented by Jones and Bonham, who are masterful at adding perfectly timed bottom end rhythm to give it all structure. At around four minutes in, a frenzied second part of the song commences, highlighted by Bonham’s incredible drum patterns and Page’s multi-textured multiple guitar solos. Then, after building the tensions as far as possible, the group returns with a heavy rock rendition of the opening part.

The album’s second side starts with “Houses of the Holy”, the title track which was left off the album of the same name. Unlike the aforementioned “The Rover”, this song is actually more at home here as a very basic track with just repeated verses and riff interludes. It never really travels anywhere musically, just gains in Trampled Underfoot by Led Zeppelinintensity in its vibe and sexually charged lyrics as it goes along. Sticking with the sex themes, “Trampled Under Foot” uses car parts as metaphors for female body parts and, much like the previous song, relies on repetition and building intensity. Musically, this track has a great funk groove throughout which never gets old, and features a funky clavichord lead by Jones with Page adding some whining guitar textures underneath.

“Kashmir” is a masterful and innovative track written by Page, Plant and Bonham over the course of three years. It is sonically pleasing and interesting throughout its eight and a half minute duration with several theatrical “scenes’ slowly unfolding in time. The song’s main progression is built on an ascending riff developed by Page with Jones conducting further orchestration performed by session string and horn sections and Bonham’s drums fed through a phaser for effect. Plant actually found inspiration for the lyrics in Morocco but preferred Kashmir (where he had never been) as a mystical, imaginative place which transcends a physical location on Earth;

To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen, they talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed. Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear but not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear…”

Side three of Physical Graffiti begins with “In the Light”, one of the oddest but ultimately entertaining songs in the entire Led Zeppelin collection. A long synthesizer and bowed guitar intro by Jones and Page breaks into an enjoyable and upbeat rock section with Jones providing some inspired electric piano. The track was originally a piano-driven ballad called “Everybody Makes It Through” but the verse sections were rewritten with the improvised outro section retained as a canvas for the layers of Page’s guitars. Next comes “Bron-Yr-Aur” the first instrumental since Led Zeppelin II as a pleasant solo acoustic bit by Page which turned out to be the group’s shortest track on record. “Down By the Seaside” is another totally unique song in the Zeppelin catalog as a mellow country/folk track which possibly drew inspiration from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Recorded during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, the song is pleasant and rewarding as a one-off foray into this musical territory and features Jones’ electric piano interludes complemented by Page’s ascending guitar textures.

“Ten Years Gone” is Led Zeppelin at their studio best, as an exquisite song with outstanding contributions by each group member. The opening arrangement is just a simple ringing guitar and bass before launching into a majestic heavy riff which divides the verse stanzas. Started as a pure instrumental piece by Page, the track includes two of his most inspiring leads, which sandwich the heavy middle bridge section and where Jones’ bass and Bonham’s drums are brought out with their best elements. Each subsequent section in this suite builds on the last, reaching for an ultimate emotional crescendo as Page layers guitar upon guitar with distinct voices so that nothing ever gets buried underneath. Finally, there are Plant’s poetic lyrics of love, destination, regret and redemption sung in a very somber and reserved voice as he recalls the heartbreaking decision to abandon his teenage girlfriend in order to pursue his musical dreams. The outro is only real section where he raises his voice with great, desperate improvisation, almost as if he is trying to shout back through time.

Led Zeppelin in 1975

The fourth and final side begins with “Night Flight”, which dates back to late 1970. After the emotional intensity of “Ten Years Gone”, this bouncy rocker provides a lighter feel and owes much of its musical power to Jones’ Hammond organ with Page just adding strong rhythmic licks on guitar, almost as if their roles are reversed. Plant’s vocals are dynamic and strong throughout this track, almost to the point of straining. On “The Wanton Song” Zeppelin seems to step into the future musically with odd-timed but fierce riffs and Bonham’s unambiguous drumming. Two interludes contain fantastic guitar textures, attained by Page feeding through a Leslie keyboard speaker, which give the start sound just enough flavor and diversity to make it classic.

If there is any weakness on Physical Graffiti it is in the way the album wraps. While interesting in their own way, the final three tracks are rather tame in comparison with the tremendous material which precede them. “Boogie with Stu” was an improvised jam during the Led Zeppelin IV sessions, featuring Ian Stewart on piano with Page on mandolin, leaving Plant with his one and only session on guitar. Page returns to guitar on “Black Country Woman” with Jones moving to mandolin in what would turn out to be the last Zeppelin acoustic song on their original studio records. Recorded in 1972, the song features a truly authentic setting, outside with a passing overhead airplane left on the tape at the beginning. The album wraps with “Sick Again” which, unlike the other three powerful side closers, is a rather common heavy blues rock song to complete the album as a whole. With lyrics about the LA groupie scene, this track musically features a nice overdubbed, whining guitar through the chorus sections and obviously contains some impressive performances but does not seem to be mixed too well, with vocals and bass getting lost behind the guitars and drums.

Physical Graffiti was a success commercially and critically, reaching the top of the album charts upon its release and eventually going 16x platinum in sales. With half the album being like a tour of the multiple phases that this group with incredible musical diversity had gone through during their first five years and five studio albums and the other half showing the band progressing forward with the fusion of funk, heavy pop, soul, and the modern sound that would become new wave, this remains the single best example of what made Led Zeppelin such a tremendous musical force.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

The Who By Numbers

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The Who By NumbersWith both the successes and failures of conceptual rock operas behind them, The Who made a transitional record with 1975’s The Who By Numbers. The album contains some leftover tracks from early 1970s aborted projects, Lifehouse and Long Live Rock, along with a few other tracks which remain faithful to the group’s classic rock sound. Conversely, the rest of the album contains songs previewing the solo work of guitarist Pete Townshend, who would become an ever dominant force in the group.

Following the success of 1969’s rock opera album, Tommy, the members of The Who were able to live comfortably for the first time. Townshend was actually embarrassed by his wealth and felt an immediate pressure to make an even more impressive follow-up. He conceived of the multi-media project, Lifehouse, and even booked a series of experimental concerts, but couldn’t convince his band mates of the merits of this project. Instead, Who’s Next featured the best songs composed for Lifehouse and became its own classic album. In May 1972, the group started and abandoned another proposed album called, Long Live Rock, causing tensions between Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. Still, the band regrouped and recorded the fine 1973 double album, Quadrophenia, and spent much of 1974 working on the major motion picture version of Tommy, which earned Townshend an Oscar nomination for its score.

Townshend admits that, The Who By Numbers, was very difficult to compose and record as he suffered from writer’s block and  a bout of depression as his 30th birthday approached. Produced by Glyn Johns, the sessions for the album were reportedly long and uninspired, only saved by the group’s stellar performances even when at their worst. The apathy of this project went so far that no one really cared about packaging, so bassist John Entwistle submitted the hand-drawn artwork which became the album’s cover.


The Who By Numbers by The Who
Released: October 3, 1975 (Polydor)
Produced by: Chris Charlesworth, Bill Curbishley, Glyn Johns, & Robert Rosenberg
Recorded: Shepperton Studios, Middlesex, England, April–June 1975
Side One Side Two
Slip Kid
However Much I Booze
Squeeze Box
Dream From the Waist
Imagine a Man
Success Story
They Are All in Love
Blue, Red and Grey
How Many Friends
In a Hand or a Face
Group Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Ukulele, Banjo, Accordion, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

“Slip Kid” opens with and is built on a steady percussion which persists throughout without much further affirmative animation by drummer Keith Moon. Townshend provides crisp riffing throughout and a soaring guitar lead in the middle, with a post-lead interplay section between his pedal-effected guitars and the piano tickling of guest Nicky Hopkins. “However Much I Booze” features a bright acoustic, with bouncy bass and steady drums throughout the pleasant verses. Townshend takes lead vocals above an arrangement which is reflective of a traditional Who track in dynamics and theatrical vibe.

“Squeeze Box” is the most popular track on The Who By Numbers as an upbeat and fun number with plenty of ethnic instrumentation including acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo lead, but no real “squeeze box” accordion except possibly during the sweet refrain section. The song was originally written for a proposed television appearance which didn’t materialize, but it did reach the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in the UK. Perhaps the peak level of the album comes with, “Dreaming from the Waist”, where Moon’s talent is finally unleashed at a top level of animation. Similar in tone and temperament to the tracks on, Quadrophenia, Daltry’s vocals are strong and direct during the upbeat verses with a mellower call and response during the choruses. The only real flaw on this track is that it fades out way too soon. “Imagine a Man” is a finger-picked acoustic folk ballad with heavy reverb on Townshend’s vocals and strong harmonies during the hook where Moon adds an intense drum roll which never resolves fully, more like an orchestral percussionist than a rock drummer.

The Who in 1975
 
The album’s second side features more obscure, albeit interesting, selections. “Success Story” was written by Entwistle and features an easy three-chord rock riff and slightly humorous lyrics about the rock n’ roll lifestyle. “They Are All in Love” has a nice piano by Hopkins and a quasi-Irish folk feel overall. “Blue, Red and Grey” features a Townshend solo on ukulele and some swelling brass by Entwistle in the background, an overall quiet and personal reflection brought down to the smallest stage. “How Many Friends” returns back to the more majestic, theatrical setting with  overdubs of guitars and piano, while the closing “In a Hand or a Face” contains some of the most contemporary hard rock elements, with the real highlight being an intense hold on a climactic bass and drum fill.

The Who by Numbers, peaked in the Top 10 album charts on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the group opted to play little material from the album during a subsequent tour, which included some record breaking concerts where The Who focused on their classic material.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

The Hissing of Summer Lawns
by Joni Mitchell

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The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni MitchellJoni Mitchell continued her musical evolution from folk and pop towards free form jazz with her adventurous 1975 album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. The album incorporates a plethora of musical elements ranging from native African instrumentation to the latest synthesizer technology and various elements in between, all nicely accenting Mitchell’s songwriting and vocal melodies. Mitchell also brought in over a dozen musicians from various rock and jazz genres to record on the 10 tracks of this album.

After a prolonged break from touring at the beginning of the decade, Mitchell decided to return to live performances after the success of the 1971 album Blue. With this, she also started to move towards more pop oriented material starting with the Top 40 hit “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” from the album For the Roses. In early 1974, Mitchell released Court and Spark, which included her first Top 10 hit “Help Me” while also slightly incorporating jazz elements. During the subsequent tour for that album, several Los Angeles shows were recorded for the commercially successful live album, Miles of Aisles.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns was the second album which Mitchell self-produced (following Court and Spark). She entered the studio in early 1975 to record acoustic demos of songs written during extensive touring of the previous years. Over the next several months, these songs expanded with ever complex arrangements and a wider range of instruments. Speaking of the album, Mitchell stated; “this record is a total work conceived graphically, musically, lyrically and accidentally…the whole unfolded like a mystery….”


The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell
Released: Novewmber 23, 1975 (Asylum)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, 1974
Side One Side Two
In France They Kiss on Main Street
The Jungle Line
Edith and the Kingpin
Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow
Shades of Scarlett Conquering
The Hissing of Summer Lawns
The Boho Dance
Harry’s House / Centerpiece
Sweet Bird
Shadows and Light
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Victor Feldman – Keyboards, Percussion
Max Bennett – Bass
John Guerin – Drums

The opener “In France They Kiss On Main Street” starts with solo acoustic strumming before the verse breaks in with a complex arrangement, led by the bouncy fretless bass of Max Bennett and the reserved but timely guitar licks by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Mitchell delivers the nearly stream-of-consciousness lyrics about differences in cultural norms on this song which was released as a single. The innovative track “The Jungle Line” uses a field recording of the African Drummers of Burundi along with other creative percussive effects built on a synthesizer and deadened acoustic strings. This all makes for an odd, unique backing which serves as a nice canvas to bring out the fine melodies that persist throughout the track.

“Edith and the Kingpin” next settles into a mellow groove with exquisite production that brings the various elements which make a potpourri of sonic flourishes to complement the basic melody and acoustic strumming. The cool vibe continues on “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”, which features nice chord changes, a direct bass line and a percussive orchestra, including congas by Victor Feldman. Best of all on this track is the swelling, pedal effected guitars by Larry Carlton, which serve to bring out the beauty of Mitchell’s great vocal melody. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” is a club-like, minor key piano ballad with eventual accompaniment by laid back jazz group and string arrangement. A long instrumental section, led by the electric piano of Victor Feldman finishes the song and original first side of the album.

Joni Mitchell in 1975

Co-written by John Guerin, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” has a bass-driven groove with plenty of percussion and keyboards for its own little mellow rock orchestra. The track also features an acoustic guitar by James Taylor and the subtle addition of wind and reed instruments, which work to push this title track over the top. “The Boho Dance” starts as a piano ballad but kicks in with a jazzy arrangement as it progresses, with a slight flugle horn and bass flute adding just enough atmosphere during the song proper. Mitchell got the title from a passage in the Tom Wolfe novel, The Painted Word.

“Harry’s House / Centerpiece” is built around a decent acoustic ballad with its share of cool guitar and trumpet effects by Robben Ford and Chuck Findley respectively. The middle part of the song incorporates the pure club jazz song “Centerpiece” and features the piano of Joe Sample and harmonized, high-pitched vocals, which work very well for this part. “Sweet Bird” has a very reserved arrangement with slow and steady acoustic chords and distant electric guitar effects by Carlton. “Shadows and Light” is a very creative (and weird) way to conclude the album as a solo performance, built by Mitchell in the studio. Solo vocal lines are accented by rich, multi-tracked harmonies and slight synths, almost like Medieval monk chants.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1977. Following the album’s release, Mitchell participated in several all-star concerts and took an extensive cross country trip which supplied the inspiration for her 1976 album, Hejira. That album also had a heavy jazz influence as did much of the material Mitchell composed throughout the remainder of the decade.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Fool For the City by Foghat

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Fool For the City by FoghatFoghat may have set the template for the sound and tone of mainstream, 1980s “hair” rock five years before that decade even began. Fool for the City, the fifth overall release by the British quartet, was the apex of the group’s success and includes their most potent and indelible contributions to the classic rock radio pantheon. While there are no Earth-shattering rock innovations here, there is a solid (and pleasantly surprising) uniformity of quality tunes spread throughout this seven track album.

Foghat was formed in London in 1970 by guitarist/vocalist “Lonesome” Dave Peverett with drummer Roger Earl, and the band took their name from a childhood game invented by Peverett and his brother. Later that year, former Black Cat Bones guitarist Rod Price joined on and the group soon recorded and released their self-titled 1972 debut album. This effort scored some immediate success with the radio popularity of a hard rock version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. Over the next two years, the group recorded and released three additional studio albums which followed the same basic pattern of mostly original material combined with a few reinterpretations of blues-based covers. However, none of these records reached the same level of success as the debut, causing original bassist Tony Stevens to leave the band due to the endless touring and recording schedule.

Producer Nick Jameson, who produced the group’s 1974 album, Rock and Roll Outlaws, as well as, Fool For the City, became a member of the group on bass and keyboards during the recording of this album. The album cover features Earl sitting on a box in the middle of a New York City street, “fishing” down an open manhole, an activity which led to his arrest shortly after the shot was taken.


Fool For the City by Foghat
Released: September 15, 1975 (Bearsville)
Produced by: Nick Jameson
Recorded: Suntreader Studios, Sharon, Vermont, 1974
Side One Side Two
Fool For the City
My Babe
Slow Ride
Terraplane Blues
Save Your Loving (For Me)
Drive Me Home
Take It or Leave It
Group Musicians
Dave Peverett – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rod Price – Guitars, Vocals
Nick Jameson – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Earl – Drums, Percussion

Peverett’s opening title song sets up the album perfectly as an upbeat hard rocker with a very catchy hook. Released as a single, “Fool For the City” barely missed making the Top 40 on the Pop charts. “My Babe” is a cover of an early career single by The Righteous Brothers, written by Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. While sandwiched between two much more popular tracks, this rendition may well be the most outstanding track on the album’s first side, starting with a crisp, blues/rock riff by Price before the harmonized hook arrives backed by nothing but the clap-along drum beat. When the song’s full arrangement kicks in, it is infectious and upbeat throughout with additional bluesy, distorted slide guitar licks along with effective rudiments in the rhythm.

The group’s most popular and sustaining track ever, “Slow Ride” was a Top 20 pop hit in 1975. It starts with a reserved beat by Earl, soon accompanied by Peverett’s main riff and then more sonic décor added in turn. Although over eight minutes in length, this song is very light on lyrical heft, instead fully relying on the rhythms, riffs, and chanted melodies to carry the day. “Slow Ride” is also a real showcase for Jameson, especially during the internal verses and the funky, bass-driven bridge section.

Foghat in 1976

The album’s original second side starts with a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues”, which features an acoustic intro that is pretty faithful to original but, after that, the group kicks in full boar with a wild rock arrangement featuring an ever-present slide guitar by Price. This works to make the track almost as respectable as Zeppelin’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” in the category of true “modern” renditions of Johnson’s music. “Save Your Loving (For Me)” is built on an upbeat bass groove topped by a dual guitar riff which closing mimics the vocal melody line, at least during the verses, while “Drive Me Home” is a fast-paced, Stonesy style rock n’ blues with a nice inclusion of boogie piano in the tradition of Ian Stewart. The album closer is the only track that deviates from the established heavy rock style, as a cool funk/soul fused song led by Jameson’ electric piano and a reserved guitar presence. “Take It or Leave It” goes through some nice variations in tone while never reaching the blistering rock level of the previous six tracks, showing some serious compositional and musical talent by the group.

Fool for the City, reached platinum level sales status and remains Foghat’s most popular album. Jameson’s short stint with the band lasted barely over a year but the group did find further success with their 1977 live album before their popularity slowly dissipated in the early 1980s.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Rush 1975 Albums

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Buy Caress Of Steel

Rush 1975 albums1975 was the year when Rush truly became Rush with the first recordings following the arrival of drummer and lyricist, Neal Peart. During the course of that year, the group released two albums, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel, which document the Canadian trio’s remarkable evolution from straight-forward hard rockers to a distinct style of complex, progressive rock featuring dynamic musical arrangements and a multitude of lyrical depth. Over the course of this year, the group also experienced a dramatic rise and fall in mainstream popularity, as these albums had vastly different receptions in terms of sales and critical response. This fact would ultimately forge the band’s musical vision for years to come.

After a half decade of building their following in the Toronto area, Rush released their independently produced self-tiled debut album in early 1974 with drummer John Rutsey backing up bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. In the summer of 1974, Rutsey was forced to depart due to health difficulties. Peart had recently returned to his native Ontario after several years in England and auditioned for the newly opened position with Rush. The group desperately needed to find a replacement for Rutsey in order to fulfill their tour obligations, which launched with a show as an opening act in front of 11,000 in Pittsburgh just two weeks after Peart joined the band. Now signed to Mercury Records, Rush was able to enter the studio with a proper producer in late 1974.

Rush in 1975

Terry Brown first worked with the group when he remixed the debut album for larger release (the original pressings for Rush were only 3500 copies). Impressed by his talents, the group asked him to produce their sophomore effort, Fly By Night. This album was recorded in bits and pieces between the group’s various gigs on the tour circuit over the Winter of 74-75. Aside from his percussive talents, Peart (an avid reader) had many lyrical ideas which made him chief (and eventually sole) lyricist and added more dimensions to the group’s sound and imagination. However, with the exception of one extended suite and one acoustic folk tune, Fly By Night stayed pretty much within the heavy rock/blues bounds established on the debut album, but with a richer, hi-fidelity sound.

In contrast, Caress of Steel, showed the group quickly moving towards progressive rock with two mult-part suites accompanying three traditionally arranged rock tracks. These longer pieces used various textures and sonic dynamics to portray the desired dramatic effect, which worked in some places but not so much in others. The group was very ambitious and enthusiastic about this third album, following the commercial triumph of the second, but it sold fewer copies and has become one of Rush’s most overlooked recordings. Both Fly by Night and Caress of Steel were recorded at the state-of-the-art Toronto Sound Studios on 24-track analog tape, which would remain the highest professional recording standard through the mid 1990s. Including these two albums, Brown would produce ten consecutive releases by Rush through 1982’s Signals.


Fly By Night by Rush
Released: February 15, 1975 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, Toronto, December 1974–January 1975
Side One Side Two
Anthem
Best I Can
Beneath, Between, and Behind
By-Tor and the Snow Dog
Fly By Night
Making Memories
Rivendell
In the End

Caress of Steel by Rush
Released: September 24, 1975 (Anthem)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, Toronto, June–July 1975
Side One Side Two
Bastille Day
I Think I’m Going Bald
Lakeside Park
The Necromancer
The Fountain of Lamneth
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neal Peart – Drums, Percussion

 

The world’s first introduction to Peart both lyrically and percussively comes with “Anthem”, which opens Fly By Night. A frenzied beginning with oddly-timed riff and beat gives way to the musical main phrase of “Anthem”, with the verses highlighted by Lee’s animated bass underneath his soaring, high-pitched vocals. During the lead section, Lee and Peart show how tight they keep the rhythms as Lifeson goes off in a Jimmy Page bluesy lead on a song which features lyrics inspired by elements of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. “Best I Can” was composed solely by Lee and sounds closer to material from the debut than the opening song. However, there is enough edge here with just the slightest flourishes by Peart on the drums and Lifeson providing a wah-wah laced lead, to make it all interesting. Lifeson contributes Zeppelin-esque, bluesy double guitars on “Beneath, Between & Behind”, with Peart adding some lyrics which appear to be about the rise and decline of the United States as it headed for its Bicentennial;

Ten score years ago, defeat the kingly foe, a wondrous dream came into being / Tame the trackless waste, no virgin land left chaste, all shining eyes, but never seeing…”

Fly By Night by Rush“By-Tor and the Snow Dog” is the first of many sci-fi/fantasy inspired epics by Rush during the late 1970s. The eight and a half minute track works well as a good narrative accompanied by upbeat, almost funky hard rock throughout and with plenty of dramatic pause for theatrical flourishes. There is a wild, triple guitar lead by Lifeson during the “battle scene” after the second verse, which concludes with a tremendous rudiment section with each successive phrase being slightly shortened than the previous. A calm, effect-driven section takes up some time in the middle before Lifeson returns with his “victorious” lead prior to the concluding final verse. Overall, this track is the best production by Terry Brown on this album.

“Fly by Night” starts the original second side as the most popular and successful track on the album of the same name. Musically driven by Lifeson’s riffs and progressions, the song’s lyrics were written by Peart when departing for London in 1971 in an attempt to “make it” in music, an endeavor which ultimately failed but, ironically, led to his getting the gig with Rush back in Canada. “Making Memories” is a simple acoustic funk about the group’s early experiences on the supporting group touring circuit. Eventually released as a single in 1977, the track features great electric guitar overtones and a later blistering lead by Lifeson.

After six consecutive fast-charged songs, the platinum selling Fly By Night concludes with two relatively laid back numbers. “Rivendell” features Lee on finger-picks acoustic, with Lifeson adding some pedal-effected guitars throughout. Although there are no drums on this track, Peart added the poetic lyrics on Tolkein’s fictional paradise, which Lee delivers in a reserved, folk-singer like method. “In the End” is, unfortunately, the weakest song on the album as its finale. Not terrible, but essentially acoustic and electric versions of the same repeated song stretched to seven minutes with simple, pre-Peart lyrics.

Rush in 1975

Caress of Steel kicks off with “Bastille Day”, a very heavy rock song musically, but with some interesting time changes and style caveats. Lifeson’s first lead is quite jazzy, with a back-to-back second lead being pure heavy metal. Lyrically, Peart throws in plenty of historical and poetry references about societal turmoil  and the French Revolution specifically. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is a bit less effective than the opener. Almost a joke song, but with some philosophical undertones. In this musically moderate tune, Peart got the idea for its title and theme from both the track “Goin’ Blind” by fellow touring mates Kiss and due to LIfeson’s obsession with his hair. The third and final standard length song is the exquisite and excellent “Lakeside Park”. This song portrays the simplicity and magic of fun events during childhood and adolescence and features a simple vibe with more complexity in its structure. Of particular note are the pauses between verses and prior to the outro section, where Peart adds very interesting drum fills that somehow fit into the slight time allotted without missing a beat.

Caress of Steel by Rush“The Necromancer” is the side one closing epic fantasy, which incorporates the members of Rush (three travelers, men of Willowdale) into the narrative as they face an evil supernatural force in the forest. Peart’s spoken narration introduces each of the suite’s three distinct sections, starting with Lifeson’s multiple guitar textures of “Into the Darkness”. This is followed by the hard-rock oriented “Under the Shadow”, with a single, uni-directional verse followed by a strong jam section, leading to the moderate finale with simple chords called “Return of the Prince”.

The entirety of Caress of Steel‘s second side is the over nineteen minute “The Fountain of Lamneth”, which in reality is not not a cohesive long piece, but several short pieces wrapped by a common intro and reprise theme. In fact, each of the six parts of this were listed as separate “songs” on some later cassette versions, and not even in the same running sequence. The intro “In the Valley” has three distinct musical phrases with Lee providing distinctive “voices” for each. It starts as a pleasant folk acoustic song, then breaks into a thunderous electric-driven heavy metal part which alternates with interlude sections which are cool and jazzy. For the concluding chapter, “The Fountain”, the arrangement repeats in reverse order, giving an arc of symmetry to the whole piece.

The four middle parts of “The Fountain of Lamneth” are each rather interesting and original, starting with “Didacts and Narpets”, Peart’s wild drum piece with shouted vocal lines and sounds is very new wavish in approach. “No One at the Bridge” has a dark feel initially, which slightly gives way to patient musical interludes and gentle sonic swells. This piece uses a ship lost at sea as a metaphor for a feeling of being lost on a personal level. “Panacea” and “Bacchus Plateau” are both solo compositions by Lee, something that will become exceedingly rare over time. “Panacea” features Lee playing a classical acoustic with Lifeson slowly adding electric overtones with very cool pedal effects during the verses, with a fuller band arrangement during the choruses. “Bacchus Plateau” is a more pop oriented rock song with an upbeat sound and vibe that somewhat betrays the lyrical theme of demise;

Draw another goblet from the cask of ’43, crimson misty memory, hazy glimpse of me / Give me back my wonder – I’ve something more to give. I guess it doesn’t matter, there’s not much more to live…”

To the dismay of the band and their label, Caress of Steel, would not attain gold certification for nearly twenty years after its release. The effect of this “commercial failure” on Rush was immediate, as they were soon playing smaller concerts and given an ultimatum by the record company for success on their next release. They delivered in a big way with 1976’s classic 2112, which combined the better elements of both Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. The rest, as they say, is history.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

One of These Nights
by The Eagles

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One of These Nights by The EaglesA very diverse record which proved to be The Eagles major breakthrough album, One of These Nights, presents the band at a junction between their country/rock past and pop/rock oriented future. The album is also the first to feature guitarist Don Felder, who permanently joined the four founding members to make The Eagles a quintet (which they would remain even through further lineup shifts). Further, this is the only release by the group to feature songwriting contributions and lead vocals by all of the five members.

Established as a country and folk/rock group, the group released their eponymous debut album in June, 1972, which spawned three Top 40 hits and instantly put the group on the map. This was quickly followed by the quasi-concept album, Desperado, with songs that made comparisons between modern (1970s era) rock stars and outlaws from the American West a century earlier. While less successful than the debut, this second album saw guitarist/vocalist Glen Frey and drummer/vocalist Don Henley collaborate as a songwriting team for most of the material. For The Eagles’ 1974 third album, On the Border, the band turned to producer Bill Szymczyk who brought in Felder for a couple tracks in order to give the group a slightly harder-edged sound. The album also spawned, “Best of My Love”, which became the Eagles’ first number one single and established them in the upper echelon of touring groups.

One of These Nights had a relatively long production span, with sessions taking place in both Miami and Los Angeles, as Szymczyk and the band wanted to fully capitalize on their heightened commercial success. The group worked hard to find the perfect arrangements, fine musicianship, and pitch perfect multi-part harmonies. They ultimately achieved the desired end result, as this would become the group’s first chart topping album.


One of These Nights by The Eagles
Released: June 10, 1975 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, & Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1974-1975
Side One Side Two
One of These Nights
Too Many Hands
Hollywood Waltz
Journey of the Sorcerer
Lyin’ Eyes
Take It to the Limit
Visions
After the Thrill Is Gone
I Wish You Peace
Group Musicians
Glen Frey – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Bernie Leadon – Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Built on the animated bass line of Randy Meisner along with Henley’s smooth lead vocals and disco drum beat, the opening title track shows the group in a pop music light not quite seen before. The chorus section features high-pitched vocal harmonies on this sexually charged song which was a far cry from the country/rock feel of The Eagles’ traditional songs to that point. Released as a single ahead of the LP, “One of These Nights” hit number one later in the summer of 1975. Meisner takes lead vocals on “Too Many Hands”, a song which he co-wrote with Felder and featuring a chorus of acoustic and electric guitars with strong bass beats to give the overall mix a consistent thump.

“Hollywood Waltz” is a true country waltz and acoustic ballad, co-written by Bernie Leadon who also adds mandolin and pedal steel to the mix. From the beginning, Leadon was the true heart of the group’s country sound and the side one ending instrumental, “Journey of the Sorcerer”, offers a full showcase for Leadon as he slowly works a banjo phrase before the piece reaches full arrangement with strings and rhythm for the main theme. This pattern repeats a few times as the arrangement dissolves to minor banjo picking a few times before coming back full again on this piece which became the theme music for Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series.

The Eagles in 1975

The album’s second side begins with “Lyin’ Eyes”, featuring perfectly arranged instrumentation to back the story-telling vocals provided by by Frey (lead) and Henley (harmony). Leadon adds a beautiful country lead guitar throughout with thumping bass by Meisner and dual acoustic guitars. Released as the second single from One of These Nights, the song reached the Top 10 of both the US pop and Country charts and received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Group.

One of the finest overall songs by The Eagles and a true highlight on this album, “Take It to the Limit” was a collaborative composition among Meisner, Henley, and Frey, with Meisner taking lead vocals. The song is musically fueled by a country waltz throughout with a heavy presence of orchestral strings and piano by guest Jim Ed Norman. The song, which became the group’s thir chart topper, ends with a climatic vocal outro where Meisner hits some tremendous sustained high notes. After a fine rock intro which features some bluesy lead guitars, “Visions” kicks in with the only recorded lead vocal by Felder, albeit slightly buried in the mix. Layered background vocals guide the upbeat rhythms moving along through the entire duration of this overall decent and entertaining track.

Time passes and you must march on, half the distance takes you twice as long, so you keep on singing for the sake of the song after the thrill is gone…”

“After the Thrill Is Gone” is a slow country ballad by Frey and Henley, who also share lead vocals through the track. This fine song features tremendous lead guitar and pedal steel by Felder and Leadon respectively and is one of the finest forgotten gems by the Eagles. The album ends with “I Wish You Peace”, co-written by Leaden and his then-girlfriend Patti Davis, daughter of future president Ronald Reagan. Leaden performs folky lead vocals in a song with electric piano, acoustic guitars, and a heavy presence of strings. A later lead guitar by Leadon offers what would turn out to be his swan song as he departed from the group shortly after the album’s release.

Leadon would eventually be replaced by Joe Walsh for the Eagles’ next studio album, Hotel California, which received even higher acclaim for the group. But before that, the group released the compilation, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which included the three hits from the recently released One of These Nights and would go on the be the best overall selling album of the 20th century.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Blues for Allah by
Grateful Dead

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Blues For Allah by Grateful DeadA unique album in the Grateful Dead‘s vast catalog, Blues for Allah, is made up of four proper songs, three instrumentals, and the bizarre, Avant Garde title suite. Produced and released following a year-long break by the group (the first such hiatus of their then 10-year career), the music features a crisp and energetic approach which captures the band’s seven members at their most natural while still maintaining an inspired edge which is usually only associated with the Grateful Dead’s live performances.

Mickey Hart temporarily left the Grateful Dead in early 1971, following their two hugely successful 1970 albums. This left Bill Kreutzmann as the sole drummer/percussionist for nearly four years. During this same time, keyboardist Ron “Pigman” McKernan lost his life and was replaced by Keith Godchaux, with his wife Donna Jean Godchaux later joining as a vocalist. The Dead released a couple of critically acclaimed live albums during the early 1970s as well as the studio albums, Wake of the Flood (1973) and From the Mars Hotel (1974), both of which were released on their new Grateful Dead Records label.

In the Spring of 1975, the band convened at Ace Studios, owned by guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, to begin production on Blues for Allah, which would become their eighth studio album and the first to feature Hart since 1970’s American Beauty. The album’s (and song’s) title was a tribute by lyricist Robert Hunter to Saudi King Faisal, a fan of the Grateful Dead who was assassinated during the time of recording.


Blues for Allah by Grateful Dead
Released: September 1, 1975 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Ace Studio, San Rafael, CA, February–May 1975
Side One Side Two
Help On the Way
Slipnot!
Franklin’s Tower
King Solomon’s Marbles
The Music Never Stopped
Crazy Fingers
Sage and Spirit
Blues for Allah
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux – Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Mickey Hart – Drums

The album commences with the pleasant and melodic, “Help On the Way”, complete with plenty of complex riffing by Weir and bassist Phil Lesh and a clear and assertive lead vocal by Jerry Garcia. The fusion of riffs and melodies, licks and leads soon morphs into the jazzy, “Slipnot!”, where Keith Godchaux gets into the act with a short electric piano lead before a searing electric guitar by Garcia. This fine interlude climaxes with the danceable funk of “Franklin’s Tower”, the third tune in the opening medley and, ultimately, the most popular song from this album. Here Garcia again takes the lead vocals, softly crying out Hunter’s fine lyrics on music and freedom, albeit with a slight foreboding tone;

God help the child who rings that bell, it may have one good ring left, you can’t tell…”

“King Solomon’s Marbles” is an exciting and upbeat jam, built from the bottom up by the group’s rhythm section, Lesh, Hart, and Kreutzmann. Distinguished in two parts, the second part builds intensity with additional layers, while maintaining the same complex rhythmic patterns. “The Music Never Stopped” starts with a basic drum beat followed by Lesh’s bass and the two rhythm guitars as it reaches an orchestrated groove. Weir takes lead vocals through the verses with Donna Godchaux leading the chorus sections and a slight saxophone added throughout by guest Steven Schuster. This track features lyrics by John Perry Barlow and breaks into a bit of a waltz after the final chorus before coming back to the main rhythm for one final guitar lead. The original second side starts with the fantastic “Crazy Fingers”, featuring a very slow reggae musically with Garcia reciting some of Hunter’s best lyrics. On this track, every musician plays a pleasant riff or phrase which at once clash and harmonize for a beautiful musical effect. There is a freedom and easiness about the whole song as well as a theme of serenity to one’s place;

Gone are the days we stop to decide where we should go, we just ride…”

From this point, the fine danceable grooves and rock arrangements dissipate. “Sage and Spirit” is an asymmetrical piece by Weir, featuring mainly acoustic guitar and piano throughout and lacking any sort of real rhythmic definition. The piece does seem to dip into a mellow bit in the middle, before coming back with full folk intensity. This all leads to the totally off-the-wall title track which starts with a very short, harmonized riff before falling into monk-like chants harmonized by Garcia and Donna, along with some Indian-style hand percussion. The interesting middle section, credited to all seven members of the group, is an ad hoc jam of no form before the track reaches the third and final phase of the suite, which is closest to an actual song with richer harmonies accompanying Donna’s scat vocals, a loose guitar and bass riff, and an actual drum beat. The opening chants do return at very end but with some traditional rock instrumentation to close out the album.

Blues for Allah reached number 12 on the pop albums chart in 1975 but, until recently, had not been heralded as a Grateful Dead classic. The group resumed touring in 1976 and returned to more traditionally formatted albums in the years to follow.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Toys in the Attic
by Aerosmith

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Toys in the Attic by AerosmithAerosmith scored their first real commercial success with their third album, Toys in the Attic. Released in 1975, this album establishes a distinct rock sound for the group with more attention paid to mass appeal and represents the high-water mark of the group’s initial 1970s phase. Beyond the spawning of a couple of big hits, the album is filled with solid tracks, which are mainly solid blues-based rock with just enough sub-genre edge to make it a very interesting listen from cover to cover.

Having signed with Columbia, Aerosmith released their self-titled debut early in 1973, which closely reflected the live sound the group had been forging through their first three years together. While the album was not a commercial success, it laid the groundwork for their core blues rock sound. The following year, the band released their second album, Get Your Wings, which was the first of five Aerosmith albums to be produced or co-produced by Jack Douglas. The production and approach showed a slight move by the group towards more pop/rock arrangements.

Douglas brought the band to New York at the beginning of 1975 to start work on Toys in the Attic. Lead vocalist Steven Tyler co-wrote most of the original material along with several of the group’s musicians. Tyler also came up with the ideas for the album’s theme and cover when he found a disfigured teddy bear in the attic of his home.


Toys in the Attic by Aerosmith
Released: April 8, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, January–March 1975
Side One Side Two
Toys in the Attic
Uncle Salty
Adam’s Apple
Walk This Way
Big Ten Inch Record
Sweet Emotion
No More No More
Round and Round
You See Me Crying
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums

Co-written by lead guitarist Joe Perry, the title track “Toys in the Attic” sets an unambiguous heavy metal vibe, which may even verge on the edge of punk with its forward approach. This works well as a hard rock opener but does sort of deceive the listener as for the overall tone of this album. That deception is short-lived, as the moderate and jazzy “Uncle Salty” commences with a custom approach and great sonic dynamics which bring out every instrument. This track was co-written by bassist Tom Hamilton, who adds a steady and melodic bass to compliment Tyler’s fine melodies throughout and multiple vocal parts in the outro.

One of the group’s most overlooked and underrated tracks, “Adam’s Apple” is an upbeat blues rocker with some great riffs by Perry and Hamilton and an interesting lyrical take on the Biblical story of Eden. The hit “Walk This Way” got its start with a pre-concert warm up riff by Perry. On the recording, Douglas does his finest production work from the opening simple but effective dance beat by Joey Kramer through the crisp intro/interlude riffs, which feature perfectly mirrored guitars by Perry and Brad Whitford. This track may also be the source of invention of rap, with Tyler rhythmically delivering his lyrics on young lust and loss of virginity through the verses. The overall great arrangement which uses each element to maximal effect for commercialization, which resulted in the song reaching #10 on the pop charts in 1977.

Aerosmith in 1975The only cover on the Toys in the Attic is “Big Ten Inch Record”, a song written by Fred Weismantel and recorded by Bull Moose Jackson in 1952. The band pretty much stuck to the original rockabilly approach complete with piano, a horn section and an impressive harmonica lead by Tyler. “Sweet Emotion” starts with Hamilton’s cool and haunting bass line accompanied by Perry’s slow but effective talk box. During the verses, Tyler delivers another quasi rap with Kramer’s steady drum beat holding the steady pace until the song concludes with heavy section featuring a full band arrangement of intro section complete with several overdubbed guitars. The lead single from the album, “Sweet Emotion” was Aerosmith’s first Top 40 hit.

The album concludes with three diverse gems which tip the scales to make this an absolute classic. “No More No More” is a simple and bright rock gem with elements of everything Aerosmith does best. The music is straight-forward and direct, while lyrics about the trials and rewards of being in a working rock and roll band with the final verse features ascending chord changes climaxing with the song’s underlying theme lyric;

time’s there a changin’, nothing ever stands still, if I stop changin’ they’ll be writing by will, it’s the same ol’ story never get a second chance to advance to the top of the hill…”

“Round and Round” is built around Whitford’s doomy, Black Sabbath-like riff, with the bridge sections featuring a nice use of overdubbed, soaring guitars that give this otherwise repetitive track some real flavor. The song’s outro builds a lot tension which is not relieved before the song ends. The heavily orchestrated closing ballad, “You See Me Crying” is a fantastic closer with a whole different sonic signature than rest of the songs. However, this was also  a source of frustration within the band, which left a few members off this track and which would not be performed live by the band for over three decades. Still, the result of this layered piano ballad is a tremendous closer for the album featuring a tone that is melancholy but with music that is animated and bursting at the seams, leaving nothing to wither here.

Toys in the Attic reached #11 on the US charts and has sold over 8× Platinum since its release. The album’s popularity launched Aerosmith into the upper echelon of contemporary rock acts in the mid to late seventies and even sparked the group’s older material (such as the track “Dream On” from the 1973 debut album) to reemerge into prominence.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

A Night at the Opera
by Queen

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A Night at the Opera by QueenQueen really reached for the stars with the production and release of their fourth album, A Night at the Opera in 1975. At the time it was the most expensive album ever recorded as it utilized extraordinary and methodical overdubs to achieve a rich orchestral and choral effects and incorporated rich replications of a wide range of styles. Many of these styles had not previously been adopted by hard rock bands, but the tremendous inventiveness and attention to details made this album the pinnacle of Queen’s career.

The origins of queen date back to 1968, when guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor started the group, Smile, while students in London. A friend and follower of the band, Farrokh Bulsara, eventually joined the group in late 1970 and convinced the members to change the name to Queen because of its “regal” quality and his ability (as an art student) to design an adequate logo. After going through a number of bass players, John Deacon joined in 1971 as the permanent fourth member of the group which maintain this lineup for the next 20 years. Shortly after the release of their 1973 self-titled debut album, Bulsara officially adopted his stage name, Freddie Mercury. In 1974, the group released two critically acclaimed LPs, Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, each of which spawned a Top 10 hit in the UK with Sheer Heart Attack being their first commercial success in the US.

In early 1975, the band shopped for a better record deal, at first considering Led Zeppelin’s new Swan Song label before signing with A&M who gave the group a huge recording budget. A Night at the Opera was co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker and the individual band members who invented some of the distinctive techniques required to achieve the desired sounds and effects. The album borrowed its title from a popular 1935 Marx Brothers movie of the same name.


A Night at the Opera by Queen
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker & Queen
Recorded: Sarm, Roadhouse, Olympic Studios, Scorpio and Lansdowne Studios, London, August–November 1975
Side One Side Two
Death on Two Legs
Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon
I’m in Love with My Car
You’re My Best Friend
’39
Sweet Lady
Seaside Rendezvous
The Prophet’s Song
Love of My Life
Good Company
Bohemian Rhapsody
God Save the Queen
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano
Brian May – Guitars, Ukulele, Harp, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with Freddie Mercury’s, “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”, at first coming in with a classical sounding piano and doomy sound effects, including a slight background scream. The song then breaks in as a steady rocker with an upfront lead by May and unambiguous lyrics of pure venom, adding an acid sensation to this otherwise enjoyable rock song. Mercury penned the tune about Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who had reportedly mistreated the band during their early years. As if to intentionally lighten the atmosphere after the opener, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” follows as a light music hall piano track which, after a single minute, abruptly morphs into a hard rock bridge to Taylor’s “I’m in Love with My Car”. On this unique take on a classic analogy between a woman and an automobile, Taylor’s lead vocals work perfectly for the slow screed along with May’s raw guitar chords.

 
“You’re My Best Friend” was written by John Deacon on a Wurlitzer electric piano and is the closest the group would come to a traditional seventies pop song. The song features stark but enjoyable production and overdubs with depth, contrasting with the upfront Wurli piano, and deep backing harmonies throughout. May adds some fine harmonized guitars late in the song, topping off this immensely entertaining track, which was a Top 10 hit. “’39” is another giant leap in musical diversity as a folk acoustic track with a simple stomp in the background and May taking lead vocals. The track has an aura of fantasy brought on by the operatic backing vocals, the slight synthesizer effects and the lyrical fantasy of time and space travel. The album’s first side ends with, perhaps, the two weakest tracks on A Night at the Opera. “Sweet Lady” is a bridge too far in trying to be original, with odd timings and creative riffs which, unfortunately, do not pay entertainment dividends. “Seaside Rendezvous” is another experimental music hall type song, which features vocalized renditions of different instruments, making it more of a musical accomplishment than a legitimate track on a rock album.

The second side begins with “The Prophet’s Song”, a theatrical epic by May with a dramatic, building theme and slightly psychedelic feel. The middle section features an orchestra made wholly of layered vocals with repetitive timing effects. When the music returns, May brings the rock track back with a layered guitar lead over choppy rhythms through a long outro with an acoustic solo instrumental at the very end. Mercury’s “Love of My Life” is a sad and simple song of lost love, which mainly features Mercury solo on piano with just some slight bass, backing harmonies, and a later distant but potent electric guitar lead by May. After a very slight intro guitar lead, May plays a solo ukulele while singing lead vocals on “Good Company”. This building track eventually incorporates some rhythm and further overdubbed guitars which recreate a Dixieland jazz arrangement.

 
The masterpiece of the album is Mercury’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a song which he had developed in pieces dating back to the late 1960s. Starting with an a capella vocal harmony intro before making its way to the song proper with Mercury singing and playing piano, the song moves through several distinct phases and sonic dynamics, the most famous being the long middle, pseudo-opera section. This was accomplished through an elaborate choir effect created by Mercury, May and Taylor singing their specific vocal parts for hours on end, with over 180 separate overdubs mixed and sub-mixed onto the 24-track master tape, with the entire process taking about three weeks to complete. Still, with all of this bombast and tremendous production, it may be the quiet sections of the song, such as Mercury’s final solo vocal line with subtle guitar backing by May, that makes this song a true masterpiece. The album concludes with May’s instrumental of “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem, which was originally recorded in 1974 as a homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Years later May admitted that if A Night at the Opera had been a commercial flop (therefore losing a boatload of money), Queen would have disbanded. Fortunately, it was a critical and commercial success, reaching number 4 in the US and selling over 12 million copies worldwide. Queen would continue with a tremendously successful run for years to come, following up in 1976 with A Day at the Races, a loose sequel to A Night at the Opera, which again borrowed its title from a Marx Brothers movie.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Crisis? What Crisis?
by Supertramp

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Crisis What Crisis by SupertrampCrisis? What Crisis? is often overlooked in comparison to Supertramp‘s other albums from the mid to late seventies due to its relative lack of hit singles or classic rock radio staples. However, this fourth release by the British group is a solid collection of songs which collectively show the group slightly evolving their sound from the prog-heavy epics of past efforts towards the more pop accessible tunes of their near future. More importantly, this material continues to sound fresh and vibrant four decades after its release.

After two albums which were not commercially successful and lineup shifts which left only the two primary vocalists Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson as permanent members, Supertramp regrouped and produced the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Crime of the Century in 1974. However, this produced a whole new type of pressure on the group to meet or exceed that level of success with a follow-up. The group began work on this new album as soon as the touring for the previous album completed.

With little time to rehearse, Davies and Hodgson had to develop songs individually, without a cohesive vision for the album as a whole, like had been done on Crime of the Century. While in the studio, Davies did come up with the cover concept and album title, which was taken from a line in the film, The Day of the Jackal. Only four of the album’s ten tracks had been performed live prior to entering the studio with producer Ken Scott. One song, “You Started Laughing”, was recorded but left off the album, being used as a B-side to a single instead.


Crisis? What Crisis? by Supertramp
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Ken Scott & Supertramp
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles & Ramport and Scorpio Studios, London, Summer 1975
Side One Side Two
Easy Does It
Sister Moonshine
Ain’t Nobody But Me
A Soapbox Opera
Another Man’s Woman
Lady
Poor Boy
Just a Normal Day
The Meaning
Two of Us
Group Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
John Helliwell – Saxophone, Clarinet, Woodwinds, Vocals
Doug Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

The opening two tracks of Crisis? What Crisis? make it clear that this album takes a far different approach from its predecessor, as both tracks are guitar-dominated in contrast to the almost completely piano-dominated Crime of the Century. The very short intro track, “Easy Does It” dedicates about a quarter of its length to street side sound effects and approaching whistler. From there it is one single verse, with a short lead section, a second chorus, and out, still leaving plenty of guitar centric sonic candy with deadened electric and strummed acoustic blended beneath Hodgson’s melodic lead vocals. The bright acoustic track, “Sister Moonshine”, follows with plenty of extra overdubbed acoustic and electric flourishes during the intro verses. Davies joins with backing vocals during the post chorus along with a cool harmonica in the background and choppy rhythms by bassist Doug Thompson and drummer Bob Siebenberg.

“Ain’t Nobody But Me” features lead vocals by Davies and a dramatic and theatrical rock arrangement which builds in tension before breaking into a rather moderate doo-wop-rock like chorus. John Helliwell later adds a saxophone lead to follow before an equally dramatic second verse followed by a second chorus and a long outro with entertaining vocal duets which bring it down before it all explodes one last time with closing guitar lead. “A Soapbox Opera”,  has promise of an epic in the same vein as those on Crime of the Century, but the song is really a lot more simple and less weighty, although still a pleasant enough listen with piano, strings, and a creative bridge section. The side one closer “Another Man’s Woman” features a mix of dramatic, rotating piano in contrast to Davies’ whimsical lead vocals and a funky chorus with sharp guitar riffing and effects for a good jam. The long and deliberate mid section finds room for Davies’ meandering piano solo while the background ambiance gains momentum and eventually joins the composition for a decent lead section that concludes the track.

Supertramp in 1975

“Lady” opens with a xylophone-like effect before the song launches with a bouncy electric piano accompanying Hodgson’s lead vocals. Although a little elongated in the end, this single release would have fit well on later albums like Breakfast In America. On the other hand, “Poor Boy” is a totally unique track which starts with odd scat vocals by Davies accompanied by gently rocking electric piano. This leads to a calm and pleasant intro with Helliwell adding an accordion in background of the intro as well as a nice clarinet lead later on. When the song proper kicks in, it includes a pleasant melody and bouncy bass by Thompson along with Davies’ electric piano mixed with some jazzy acoustic piano. “Just a Normal Day” starts as a very slow piano ballad with vocals by Davies and good bass and drum fills, with Hodgson rotating in on second lead vocals, which may actually detract from the overall melancholy vibe. After a good, effective sax lead, the emotional third chorus by Davies acts as the climax of song.

The album wraps with two emotional tracks led by Hodgson. “The Meaning” fades in with a picked acoustic accompanied by slight keyboards and clarinet. The hyper, panicked vocals by Hodgson during verses act as good contrast to very pleasant, melodic, and moody musical vibe throughout as each verse builds on the previous one by adding instrumentation and rhythmic drive. A slight organ lead by Davies precedes the fourth and final verse as it builds to an outro crescendo with effective use of lyrical repetition. The closing ballad,  “Two of Us”, features a slight acoustic accompanying the organ in a very sparse arrangement with chorus vocals that reach for the stratosphere with the very high pitched vocals of Hodgson on this song with a very simple message about committed love.

Although some members of the group were initially dissatisfied with Crisis? What Crisis?, it did reach the Top 20 on several national charts and sold over a million copies worldwide. A remastered version of the album was released in 2002 to much greater acclaim than it received upon its original release.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.