Station to Station by David Bowie

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Station to Station by David BowieHis tenth overall studio album, Station to Station was a transitional album for David Bowie. Musically, this 1976 album seamlessly bridges the gap between soul and glam rock of Bowie’s early 1970s work and the experimental, synth-driven “krautrock” works to come later in the decade. This was also one of the last album’s where Bowie employed a musical alter ego with “The Thin White Duke” persona.

Bowie had moved to the United States in 1974, first to New York, after he completed recording Diamond Dogs. The following year, Bowie recorded the soul-influenced Young Americans in Philadelphia. This album spawned Bowie’s first number one hit with “Fame”, co-written by John Lennon, and elevated Bowie to becoming a worldwide pop superstar. Not all was well, however, as Bowie had major financial issues with his manager and developed a significant cocaine habit.

Station to Station was recorded after Bowie migrated to Los Angeles and completed the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Recorded in late 1975, the album was co-produced by Harry Maslin and featured guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked on the previous Young Americans. Seven songs were recorded during the sessions, with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” being ultimately omitted from the six-track album.

 


Station to Station by David Bowie
Released: January 23, 1976 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Harry Maslin
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, September-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing
TVC 15
Stay
Wild Is the Wind
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 

The album opens with the extended title song, “Station to Station”, which was the longest song Bowie had recorded to date at over ten minutes long. A long and methodical intro introduces the track before any vocals arrive for the first of two distinct parts. Shortly after the song’s five minute mark, the song picks up the pace which makes it feel more like a theatrical number.  It is rhythmically built with the bouncy bass of George Murray and the good, animated, disco-influenced drums Dennis Davis throughout the song. “Golden Years” is the closest to a pure pop song on the album, built on moderate funk groove with reserved backing hook, giving the vocals space for assertion. This repetitive but entertaining track was originally released as a single in late 1975 and it peaked in the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in early 1976.

“Word on a Wing” is an exquisite, upbeat ballad, driven by the piano of Roy Bittan. Here Bowie’s lyrics and vocal delivery are delivered with a desperate passion throughout in a quasi-religious song written out of a drug-fueled spiritual despair which Bowie later described as the darkest days of his life. “TVC 15” comes from another side of the drug experience, when fellow rocker Iggy Pop hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. Musically, this interesting and entertaining track is built off Bittan’s bouncy, boogie-woogie piano, later breaking into a straight-forward disco/rock during the verses with nice vocal effects and atmosphere like a rock carnival throughout.

David Bowie in 1976

“Stay” commences with Alomar’s funky/blues guitar lead in an excellent, methodical rock lead-in. The rest of the track is a very inventive gem with funky bass and heavy rock guitars over a steady beat and multiple styles of vocals throughout. The album conclude’s with its sole cover, the pleasant ballad with layered guitars and seventies production, “Wild Is the Wind”. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, this track caught Bowie’s attention when recorded by Nina Simone, and his own vocal interpretation been praised through the years.

Station to Station reached #3 on the Billboard Album charts and would be David Bowie’s highest-charting album in the US for nearly four decades. Bowie later cited this album along with its 1977 follow-up, Low, as two of his finest works.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Rainbow Rising

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Rainbow RisingRainbow returned with a revamped lineup and fresh approach for the group’s second studio album, Rising. The record is comprised of six solid compositions which are comparable to the material the band had done before with dynamic and tight performances. The quintet started as a project by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he departed from that group.

Blackmore established Rainbow when he joined with the American rock band, Elf, in 1975. Blackmore wanted to record some material that was rejected by Deep Purple members and he enlisted Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio who in turn suggested his band mates to back up on the recordings. Soon, this project turned into the album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, with the album name (and ultimately the band name) inspired by the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. However, Blackmore was unhappy about the live performances of many in the Elf line-up and he fired everybody except Dio.

Keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Cozy Powell were recruited to complete this second incarnation of Rainbow. Further, Blackmore began constructing interesting chord progressions, inspired by his new found interest in playing cello and composing material with Dio supplying mythical lyrics. Rising was recorded in less than month in Munich, Germany with producer Martin Birch in early 1976.

 


Rising by Rainbow
Released: May 17, 1976 (Polydor)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 1976
Side One Side Two
Tarot Woman
Run with the Wolf
Starstruck
Do You Close Your Eyes
Stargazer
Light In the Black
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums

 

From the jump, the sound of this album features sonic elements which are beyond its time. “Tarot Woman” starts with a long, wild synth intro by Carey, which sets a dramatic stage before Blackmore’s guitar riff gradually fades into the song proper. This opening track has a definitive Deep Purple quality especially during Blackmore’s soaring guitar lead. “Run with the Wolf” settles into a more conventional rock sound, still employing dramatic and satisfying overtones, but much more compact and succinct in its delivery.

“Starstruck” follows as the best overall rocker on the first side, based on classic heavy blues rock constructs and the rollicking rhythms by Bain and Powell and an excited melody by Dio, whose vocals soar and shout with great emotion. The most ordinary song on the album, “Do You Close Your Eyes” is a pretty standard hard rock song in the vein of mid seventies contemporaries like Kiss, and it does suffer slightly from compositional underdevelopment and sonic overproduction.

rainbow in 1976

The album’s second side features two extended tracks, each with a duration of over eight minutes. “Stargazer” is the epic track from Rising, starting with an interesting and inventive drum intro and working its way through several slow but powerful sections, with potent lead vocals by Dio and fantastic lead trade-offs by Blackmore and Carey. The song features mystical lyrics which tell the fable of a wizard who builds a tower from which to fly only for him to fall and die like any mortal man and includes a contribution by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The rudiment-filled hard rocker “A Light in the Black” completes the album and sets a template for the future sounds of groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. This closer is highlighted by an incredible instrumental section with multiple keyboard and guitar leads.

Rising did well on the UK charts but not quite as well in the US. However, the influence of this album would reverberate for decades and it is considered by most to be Rainbow’s best overall album.

~

1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Fly Like An Eagle by
Steve Miller Band

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Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller BandWith his ninth studio release, Steve Miller struck commercial gold in the quadruple platinum selling 1976 album, Fly Like An Eagle. The music on the album moves through phases of psychedelic-folk, acid-blues, soul, blue grass and other types of roots genres, while the lyrical melodies and hooks help to maintain a pop-centric sensibility which results in a very accessible, catchy and easy listen throughout.

Miller formed the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco in the late 1960s as a psychedelic/blues group and soon negotiated a fairly lucrative five album deal with Capitol/EMI in 1967. Those five albums were recorded and released within a relatively short period of time (1968-1971) to mixed commercial success. The better tracks from these five were rolled into the 1972 double album compilation, Anthology. The following year, the group went through a major change in personnel as well as musical approach for the chart-topping album The Joker.

As producer of Fly Like An Eagle, Miller entered the studio in 1975 with bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber and ultimately recorded enough material for a double length LP. Miller instead opted to release two single albums concurrently, with Book of Dreams following a year later in May 1977.

 


Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 20, 1976 (Capital)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Space Intro
Fly Like an Eagle
Wild Mountain Honey
Serenade
Dance, Dance, Dance
Mercury Blues
Take the Money and Run
Rock n’ Me
You Send Me
Blue Odyssey
Sweet Maree
The Window
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

 

Miller’s synth arpeggios using an ARP Odyssey machine set the mood for the title track, “Fly Like an Eagle”. Slow and soulful, the track musically features Miller’s slightly funky intro guitar riff and the choppy Hammond B3 organ by Joachim Young. Miller’s lead vocals and hook carry this Top 5 song best with a soaring sensation to match the song’s title and the slightest recurring synths for effect. Written by Steve McCarty, “Wild Mountain Honey” enters from the dissolve of a previous track as a psychedelic folk song with Eastern influence. A synth lead over subtle percussion, with the slightest flavoring of sitar. this song is a bit elongated to absorb the full vibe and complete this smooth but psychedelic opening sequence.

“Serenade” is a transition tune, as an adventurous, driving strummed folk/rock song with harmonized vocals throughout, which works to ease the album’s sound down towards the roots music to follow. On “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the album takes a radical turn away from the mid-seventies space/pop towards a pure blue grass diddy with multiple acoustic instrument textures. This track was co-written by Joseph and Brenda Cooper and features an authentic lead dobro by John McFee as the musical highlight of this hoe-down. The cover of the 1940s song “Mercury Blues” follows and is delivered in an effective way which maintains its original R&B feel while subtly adding mid-seventies rock elements. The popular “Take the Money and Run” commences side two by continuing the “down home” sequence. An anthem for the slacker outlaw, this catchy and upbeat tune features slight chanting lyrics and excellent drumming by Mallaber throughout, with Miller delivering a thick and chorded guitar which works with the sharp and dynamic beats.

Steve Miller Band in 1970s

The aptly titled pure pop/rocker “Rock n’ Me” flew to the top of the charts as an inversion of Free’s earlier hit “All Right Now”. The rock guitar riff sets the edge before the song proper utilizes deadened classic rock chord patterns all under the exceptional vocal melodies and a traditional tourist effect lyric, which names several American cities along the way. After a forgettable rendition of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”, the album recovers with a couple of interesting tracks. “Sweet Maree” is an authentic acoustic blues with a wild harmonica by James Cotton. This song keeps a very basic arrangement through several distinct sections with only some fine electric blues guitar and slight tambourine percussion joining the ever-present acoustic and harmonica. The closing track, “The Window”, slowly swells into a soulful organ/acoustic groove with sonic textures similar to the title song, book-ending the album in a fine, consistent way.

Fly Like An Eagle was a hit worldwide, peaking at #3 in Miller’s native USA. The following year’s Book of Dreams was a similar success, making the mid-to-late seventies the most successful phase of Miller’s long career.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Agents of Fortune by
Blue Oyster Cult

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Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster CultThe most commercially successful album of the group’s career, the platinum selling Agents of Fortune is a diverse and interesting (albeit a bit incohesive) album by Blue Oyster Cult. Musically, this fourth album from the New York based quintet branched out from the dark and mysterious strain of heavy metal toward more pop-oriented, synth-drenched, arena style rock. Quite ironically, this album yielded the band’s most indelible single, which is a track that advances Blue Oyster Cult’s traditional musical approach rather than one which capitulates to popular trends.

Following the 1972 release of their self titled debut album, the group went on an extensive tour while simultaneously writing material for their next album, Tyranny and Mutation. This sophomore effort included the first of the band’s many collaborations with composer Patti Smith. The group’s third album, Secret Treaties in 1974 was the first to receive positive mainstream critical acclaim and launched the band into headlining status for the first time in their major label career.

Three producers collaborated on Agents of Fortune, Sandy Pearlman, Murray Krugman, and David Lucas along with engineer Shelly Yakus. The compositions on the album were dispersed among four of the five group members as well as some outside composers such as Smith, which made for an extremely diverse sequence in both sound and style as the album progresses.

 


Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult
Released: May 21, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman & David Lucas
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York City, 1975–76
Side One Side Two
This Ain’t the Summer of Love
True Confessions
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
The Revenge of Vera Gemini
Sinful Love
Tattoo Vampire
Morning Final
Tenderloin
Debbie Denise
Band Musicians
Eric Bloom – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Donald Roesar – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album begins on a sober, if not cynical, note to reflect the darker mood of the mid 1970s with,”This Ain’t the Summer of Love”, co-written by drummer Albert Bouchard. While musically this is rather typical pop/rock with a slightly harder edge, it has been suggested that this song forecasts the rage and thematic subject matter of punk rock. “True Confessions” was composed and sung by guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lanier. It is much brighter than the opener as a piano driven tune with an electric guitar trailing close behind to form a Randy Newman-type vibe with choppy rhythms.

Continuing the vast diversity of the album is the dark and smooth classic “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, the group’s biggest chart success and the only Top 10 single. Written by lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and primarily built around his ringing guitar riff. The lyrics are clearly about death, an odd choice of subject matter and arrangement to work for a mainstream audience, but this one certainly caught fire. The song is also notable for Bouchard’s consistent use of cowbell (later parodied on this classic Saturday Night Live skit) and a dynamic middle section which diverts into Roesar’s theatrical, feedback-laden guitar lead.

“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” starts with the infectious talk-box drenched riff, complemented by a choppy piano. On this track, Roesar’s vocals are dry and cool in contrast to the upbeat musical riffs, beats and rhythms. The lead section starts with wild synth effects to give life to the spacey lyrics, a line of which gives the album its title. Co-written by Smith, “The Revenge of Vera Gemini” finishes side one as a smooth, unique, interesting, and entertaining track with some spoken and sung female backing vocals under smooth musical arrangements and upbeat rhythms.

Blue Oyster Cult in1976

The album’s original second side starts with two of its weaker tracks. “Sinful Love” is a pale attempt at pop/soul with its only redeeming traits being a good guitar lead and consistent animated bass by Joe Bouchard. “Tattoo Vampire” continues the theatrical sequence but with a much harder rock approach, led by the guitars and lead vocals of Eric Bloom. Agents of Fortune does finish very strong, starting with Joe Bouchard’s “Morning Final”, which starts with a squealing guitar lead before settling into a funk groove accented by melodic injections through the verse sections and later musical rudiment sections featuring multiple keyboards. On “Tenderloin”, the bass motors along with calm synths/piano on top and very unique lead vocals by Bloom. “Debbie Denise” closes the album as a pleasant and moderate pop ballad which tries to pack in a bit too much variety of instrumentation and tempo.

Agents of Fortune reached the Top 30 on the Pop Albums chart and launched the band into an even larger concert attraction, where the Blue Oyster Cult indulged in a state-of-the-art laser light show to accompany their music. Through the next half decade, the group’s popularity continued to grow with more album and live success, reaching its peak just before Albert Bouchard left the group in the early 1980s.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy

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Jailbreak by Thin LizzyAfter a long musical journey which included style shifts, various lineup changes and five less-than-commercially successful albums, Thin Lizzy finally broke through in 1976 with Jailbreak. This quasi-concept record has an overlying theme about a figure simply known as “The Warrior” breaking away from the despotic “Overmaster” to lead the oppressed masses in a dystopian-shattering revolution. But the real beauty of this album is tilted far more towards its sound than its lyrics, as Thin Lizzy had fully mastered the the crisp, harmonized guitar attack with much rhythmic movement to complement the distinctive, barked-out lead vocals of composer and front-man Phil Lynott.

Thin Lizzy was founded in Dublin in 1969 when Lynott and drummer Brian Downey left their group Orphanage to form a new band with musicians formally from the band Them. In 1971, the group relocated to London but the musical style remained distinctly Celtic with lyrics strongly referencing Dublin and surrounding areas. In 1972, Thin Lizzy’s version of a traditional Irish ballad, “Whiskey in the Jar” was a smash hit in their native Ireland and reached the Top 10 in the UK. However, album sales did not follow suit and after, the departures of several guitarists, Lynott decided to morph the group’s sound towards harder rock and recruited Scott Gorham and then-18-year-old Brian Robertson for a double lead-guitar attack starting with the 1975 album, Fighting.

However, the record label was growing impatient with lackluster sales and gave Thin Lizzy one final chance to produce a commercially successful album. With producer John Alcock, the band extensively composed, rehearsed and recorded tracks over the winter of 1975-76, developing a tight arrangement on each of Jailbreak‘s nine track.

 


Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy
Released: March 26, 1976 (Vertigo)
Produced by: John Alcock
Recorded: Ramport Studios, London, December 1975–February 1976
Side One Side Two
Jailbreak
Angel From the Coast
Running Back
Romeo and the Lonely Girl
Warriors
The Boys Are Back in Town
Fight or Fall
Cowboy Song
Emerald
Group Musicians
Phil Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Scott Gorham – Guitars
Brian Robertson – Guitars
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

 

The opening title track, “Jailbreak”, is a pure hard rock song of action with timeless theme of escape. It musically builds tension a bit during verses, setting up a satisfying chorus release, and contains other cool distinctions ranging from the corny alarm section under the bridge to the cool lyrical nod to Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”. Co-written by Robertson, “Angel From the Coast” picks up where the opener left off and accelerates with much movement in the hyper-funk lead riff and rhythm. This song features exceptional drumming by Downey with great rudiments throughout by the entire band and the soaring, harmonized lead precedes a rapid funk chord effect by the two guitars in an extended bridge jam.

“Running Back” was the album’s most controversial track, internally. Intended as the lead single from the album, Lynott and Alcock brought in session keyboardist Tim Hinkley to add more “pop” elements. This was done against the objections of Robertson, who had played a large role in the original arrangement, including his own additions of piano and bottleneck guitar, and Robertson ultimately did not play on the album version of this song. Although a bit tacky lyrically, “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” features a pleasant music mix with acoustic backing the blues/jazz electric guitar, animated drums and a later piercing guitar lead. The dramatic “Warriors” was co-written by Gorham and is the hardest rocker on the album, employing some mid seventies-style heavy metal with just a tad of punk, adding to the overall sonic diversity of the album.

Thin Lizzy in 1976

The original second side of Jailbreak is where the true musical gems are found. “The Boys Are Back in Town” is, by far, the most distinctive Thin Lizzy song. It features interesting chord progressions during the verses, a brilliantly simple chorus hook and one of the most indelible rock riffs ever put to record as Gorham and Robertson perfectly harmonize their guitars during the post-chorus breaks. Lyrically, the song originated as a tribute to a returning vet from Vietnam but later morphed as a sort of party anthem dedicated to any number of traveling heroes. Although the song was not a tremendous charting hit upon its original release, it has been used countless times at sporting events, in movies, on television and as a permanent fixture on classic rock radio all over the world. In contrast to the preceding popular upbeat number, “Fight Or Fall” is quite mellow and laid back with acoustic guitar and subtle electric overtones, but with a still steady and upbeat rhythm by Lynott and Downey. This fine track is divided by slight rudimentary breaks between the verses and features a bit of American soul added to the ending section.

“Cowboy Song” starts as a subtle, Western ballad with Lynott’s bass imitating a trotting horse. But soon breaks into a riff-driven hard rocker, especially with the infectious riff which builds to triple harmonized guitars, post lead section. The final verse cools with just bass and drums, before this all explodes into a blistering, blues/rock guitar lead later in the song. The album concludes with “Emerald”, a strong rocker in tribute to Irish heritage and one more thematic “fight” against invaders, with dueling guitars to nicely symbolize the battle and rebellion. This closing track is also notable as the only composition on this album credited to all four band members.

Jailbreak was the group’s first Gold album and it set them up for subsequent success in the years that followed. However, a bit of the commercial tailcoats were severed when both Lynott and Robertson suffered ailments and injuries which caused large parts of the 1976 tours to be cancelled and expedited the production of the group’s follow-up album, Johnny the Fox.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

~

Ric Albano

Boston

Review of Boston

Classic Rock Review Album of the Year, 1976
BostonAlthough portrayed as a true “band”, Boston was really pretty much a solo project by engineer Tom Scholz. An M.I.T. graduate then working for Polaroid, Sholz built a home studio in Massachusetts in the early 1970s and began experimenting with innovative sounds and developing songs. Sholz formed a band called Mother’s Milk with singer Brad Delp and guitarist Barry Goudreau , but was soon unsatisfied with the live sound and disbanded the band in order to concentrate on the studio work (although Delp continued as the primary vocalist). A perfectionist, Scholz worked on the demos for about seven years, frequently submitting tapes to record labels only to be rejected. Finally, in 1975 Sholz got the attention of Epic Records who signed Sholz and Delp under a few conditions. They had to perform a live audition, which meant that a full band had to be assembled. Also, Epic refused Sholz’s request to use his demo tapes from home, insisting that all material come from a “professional studio”. It appeared the entire album had to be re-recorded and seven years of work scrapped.

However, Scholz found an ally in producer John Boylan, who had the makeshift “band” doing sessions at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles while Sholz was back in Massachusetts finalizing his demos and transferring them to a professional, 24-track format. It was a very elaborate (and Expensive) diversion, but in the end it was well worth it. Aside from Delp’s vocals and most of the drum tracks, very little of the recordings from Capitol Studios was used in the final mix of the Boston album, which is all the more incredible when you consider the absolutely innovative nature of the album’s sound.

Arriving in August 1976, Boston resurrected the classic rock format which seemed to be giving way to the new, divergent genres of punk rock and disco. Scholz’s innovative use of self-designed equipment would be reproduced and replicated throughout the subsequent years, especially the 1980s. While the fusion of hard rock with delicate motifs and layered melodies and harmonics had been done in the past by artists like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Yes, and The James Gang, it was mastered by Boston.
 


Boston by Boston
Released: August 25, 1976 (Kirshner)
Produced by: John Boylan & Tom Scholz
Recorded: Foxglove Studios, Watertown, MA, October 1975 – April 1976
Side One Side Two
More Than a Feeling
Peace of Mind
Foreplay
Long Time
Rock and Roll Band
Smokin’
Hitch a Ride
Something About You
Let Me Take You Home Tonight
Band Musicians
Brad Delp – All Vocals, Acoustic Guitars
Tom Scholz – Guitars, Keys, Bass
Barry Goudreau – Guitars
Sib Hashian – Drums

 
If there is any any flaw in the Boston album it is that they got the sides wrong. While each side works well as a cohesive unit, the album should have started with side two, with the introductory “Rock and Roll Band”, and worked its way up to the fantastic side one, closing with “Long Time”. In this spirit, I’ve decided to review the second side first.

“Rock and Roll Band” is an ironic song in that Boston never really was a “band” before the production of this album. The project started just with Sholz, Delp, and drummer Jim Masdea trying to recreate the recordings that Sholz was recording, but never really reaching any point of notoriety live. Masdea, who left shortly before the Sholz and Delp were signed to Epic, did perform the drums on this track but none others. When the record label insisted on a full band doing a live audition of the material, Sholz enlisted the rest of the players and the “band” was formed.

Boston

“Smokin” was originally written by Brad Delp as a piece called “Shakin” and contains an upbeat grove in the same vein as Grand Funk though topped off by the unmistakable sound of Boston. A long jam in the middle is dominated by Sholz’s organ work and the steady, consistent drumming of Sib Hashian. “Hitch a Ride” is a beautiful ballad and a true classic by Boston. It is first dominated by the acoustic guitar through the verses under the restrained vocals by Delp. A peculiar yet entertaining organ lead comes after the second chorus, but the long ending featuring a double-tracked electric guitar lead may is the real treat. It may be one of the finest guitar leads ever performed. The song’s meaning has long been in dispute. With lyrics like –

Life is like the coldest winter, people freeze the tears I cry”

and –

Gonna hitch a ride, head for the other side
Leave it all behind, never change my mind…
Freedom on my mind, carry me away for the last time”

Some may be led to believe that this beautiful song is actually about taking one’s life, especially in light of Delp’s suicide in 2007 (although Delp did not write the song).

Closing out the second side, the album’s final two tracks are the closest to standard pop songs with standard subject matter. “Something About You”, although a fine song by any standard, is the closest thing to a throwaway song on this album as it is nothing spectacular compared to the rest of the material on the album. “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” is much better, a true pop song with the highest production value. It has a beautiful arrangement among the acoustic, electric, and organ parts and a very melodic bridge with a counter-melody. It all wraps up with an upbeat, revival-like coda section that fades to the end.
 

 
With a rather unique fade in which only serves to add more mystique to the song, “More Than a Feeling” the first song on the first album, is the greatest song Boston would ever create. It is a perfect rock song in many ways, beginning with a pleasant acoustic folk riff that launches into an incredible rock riff linked by a short, space age guitar lead previewing the fantastic harmonized electric guitar of Tom Sholz. The most fantastic item in this department store full of ear candy, Sholz would go on to patten this sound with the development of the Rockman. In “More Than a Feeling”, the guitar lead is played over a quite complex yet totally melodic progression, with the final note seems to sustain into infinity under the vocals of Brad Delp vocals in the final chorus. The song itself took five years for Sholz to perfect and his diligence sure paid off.

An acoustic intro betrays the hard rocking tenor of “Peace of Mind”, a commentary on work/life balance. Here Delp’s harmonies shine brightest through the choruses and there is also some great bass by Sholz, proving his talents on yet another instrument. On “Foreplay”, the album’s oldest piece, Sholz plays the organ and clavichord in a space age instrumental consisting of rapid triplet arpeggios played on a Hammond M3 organ. All “effects” were performed on guitar by Sholz, as the band swears that not a single synthesizer was used on the album. “Long Time” is the perfect closing song, starting with a great lead guitar which pierces through the very basic rhythm by the organ and bass as the song kicks in and accents each verse nicely. The choruses switch up and are dominated by a strummed acoustic guitar and what sounds like an electronic hand clap. But even with this radical departure, the song flows perfectly from one section to the other.

Boston became the most successful debut ever by an artist and remained so for over a decade, selling a million albums in less than three months and nine times that figure over its first decade. The band would put out a similarly-styled follow-up with Don’t Look Back two years later, but Sholz felt that effort was “rushed” and it did not fare nearly as well critically nor commercially. In reality, Boston would be that unique super nova by the band which could never be replicated. It was also the rare piece that was extremely excellent, extremely popular, and has held up over the decades, and that is what makes it Classic Rock Review‘s album of the year for 1976.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Hotel California by The Eagles

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Hotel California by the EaglesWhether it was done intentionally or not, Hotel California came pretty close to being a true concept album by The Eagles. The songs each loosely share the themes of paradise lost or squandered and the album is bookmarked by geographical locations of such. As the band’s fifth album, it was transitional in several ways including music and personnel wise. Guitarist Bernie Leadon, a strong influence on the band’s country sound of the early years was replaced by funk-rock guitarist Joe Walsh, who had previously fronted the groups James Gang and Barnstorm. As a result, the band’s sound got a bit heavier while never abandoning its mainstream pop sensibilities.

The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced the Eagles previous two albums as well as several albums by Joe Walsh and the James Gang. Szymczyk was noted for laboriously experimenting until he found the right “sound” in each artist, as the producer possessed no musical talent or training, just extraordinary listening skills. The band took 18 months between releases of their previous album One of These Night and Hotel California, with eight of those months in the studio recording.

Thematically, members of the Eagles have described the album as a metaphor for the perceived decline of America. The band’s lead singer, songwriter, and drummer Don Henley said that because it was the bicentennial year and the “Eagle” is the symbol of our country, they felt obliged to make some kind of artistic statement. He explained how they used California as a microcosm of the whole United States, with comments on the nature of success and the attraction of excess, and an extremely pessimistic history of America.

 

Don Henley – Drums, Vocals


Hotel California by The Eagles
Released: December 8, 1976 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami & Record Plant, L.A., March-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Hotel California
New Kid In Town
Life In the Fast Lane
Wasted Time
Wasted Time (Reprise)
Victim of Love
Pretty Maids All In the Row
Try and Love Again
The Last Resort
Band Musicians
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Guitarron, Vocals

 

While the lyrical content of the album is up for debate, the true beauty of Hotel California is the sound, much of which was unlike anything the Eagles had done before. The opening theme song starts with long acoustic/electric intro, which was originally introduced to the band by lead guitarist Don Felder as an instrumental piece. This acts as a dramatic overture before the song kicks in with a quasi-Caribbean rhythm and beat with the first verse and the cryptic, yet intriguing, storytelling lyrics. However, the real treat that makes this song a bonafide classic are the dual electric guitars by Walsh and Felder, which float above the lyric stinging electric melodies throughout the verse and chorus, and take center stage with the long, dual guitar lead to close the song.

To this day, many of the unique terms and phases used in the song’s lyric are debated as to their exact meaning or intent. These include “colitas”, “this could be Heaven or this could be Hell”, “wine” referred to as a “spirit” (which it is not), “steely knives”, and the key phase of the song – “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.

After this unique artistic masterpiece, the band serves up a couple of songs which both went on to be big hits, one in the country-rock style of the past, and one in the heavier rock style of the future. “New Kid In Town” is probably the greatest country rock song ever (if there ever really was such a genre) It has some great chord structure, a beautiful mix of instrumentation, and more great guitar by Don Felder, although much less subtle than on the title song. Co-written by J.D. Souther and sung by Glenn Frey, the song ascends keys in the third verse and then finds a smooth passage back before the outtro, in a piece of musical mastery. “Life In the Fast Lane” features a heavy guitar riff and lead by Joe Walsh, with lyrics that are a bit edgy. It uses the driving analogy for a drug and danger fueled lifestyle and contains a great hook with an almost-disco beat. The nice flanged section after last chorus gives the song an edgy, new-wave feel that makes the sound quite advanced for 1976.

Eagles in 1976

The first side ends with “Wasted Time”, a song that may be the perfect barroom ballad speaking of broken relationships. The song is very slow and measured, with great vocals by Henley. However, the orchestral reprise of the song which opens up the second side of the album is, in fact, “wasted time” as it adds absolutely nothing to the album. This short foray is mercifully disrupted by the hard rocker “Victim of Love”, a song which proves that the Eagles can do more with two chords than any other band ever. This song was recorded live in the studio and contains a great descend into a slide solo by Joe Walsh.

Walsh’s only songwriting and lead vocal effort is “Pretty Maids All In a Row”, which is not a very strong representation of his talents. It is a piano ballad, surprising by Walsh with Felder playing the lead guitar role. “Try and Love Again” was written and sung by bassist Randy Meisner, who has that strange kind of voice which gives songs a cool edge, such on his “Take It To the Limit” on the previous album. Hotel California would be Meisner’s last album with the band, as he decided to return to his native Nebraska in order to be with his family.

The album concludes with Henley’s “The Last Resort”, which bookends the “Hotel California” theme nicely on one hand, but is kind of the anti-Hotel California on another hand. Where that classic song is poetic and leaves much room for interpretation, this one is preachy with lyrics that are a bit bigoted, racist, elitist, and yet self-loathing, taking away from the otherwise beautiful melody and score. All that being said, the song does include some profound lyrics;

There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here
You call something paradise, kiss it goodbye…”

 
Hotel California would be the absolute pinnacle of the The Eagles’ career, selling more than any other of their multiple successes and being considered high up on several “all time” lists. The band went on to record one more studio album, The Long Run, which took even longer to create. Although that album was also a smash hit, it contributed greatly to the tensions that ultimately broke up the band in 1980.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Destroyer by Kiss

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Destroyer by KissOn the brink of mainstream success, glam rock band Kiss set out to create a serious studio album by enlisting Alice Cooper’s producer Bob Ezrin. In producing the band’s fourth album, Destroyer, Ezrin added richer production and instrumentation with some outside musicians to the band’s base, party-rock sound. As none of the band members had any formal musical training or knew much musical theory, Ezrin ran the sessions like a classroom, explaining theory along the way and scolding any band member who deviated from specific directions, something Kiss would later refer to as “musical boot camp”. The result was the most successful album to date, following the modest success of the the first three studio albums, and the launching of Kiss into super-stardom through the late 1970s and beyond.

The group was formed in 1972, when guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons stumbled upon an Ad placed by veteran New York drummer Peter Criss. Criss had previously played in a band called “Lips”, to which Stanley evolved into the name “Kiss”. Starting as a trio, the group played hard rock covers and eventually injected original material as well as their trademark stage costumes. After three studio albums with modest success, Kiss released a very successful live album in late 1975 called Alive!, which sought to capture the live energy of their concerts.

For the production of Destroyer, rather than try to recreate a concert setting on this studio album, Ezrin went the opposite route and made what is perhaps the most experimental album in the Kiss catalog. Not everyone was on board with this, as lead guitarist Ace Frehley (who joined the group as a fourth member in 1974) caused much friction to the point where he was threatened to be replaced and then relented. Virtually no one was on board with the inclusion of the orchestra to back “Beth”, with the exception of Criss, who wrote song and sang lead. This song, of course became a smash hit for the band and opened up their music to whole new audiences.

 


Destroyer by Kiss
Released: March 15, 1976 (Casablanca)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: Electric Lady & Record Plant, New York, Sep 1975- Feb 1976
Side One Side Two
Detroit Rock City
King of the Night Time World
God of Thunder
Great Expectations
Flaming Youth
Sweet Pain
Shout It Out Loud
Beth
Do You Love Me?
Rock and Roll Party
Group Musicians
Paul Stanley – Rhythm Guitars, Vocals
Ace Frehley – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Gene Simmons – Bass, Vocals
Peter Criss – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album’s opener, “Detroit Rock City” includes news reports and other sound effects overlaying a hard rock song with dramatic lyrics written by Stanley and inspired by a real life story where a fan was killed in a car crash while hurrying to get to a Kiss concert. “King Of the Night” follows, but is of far less quality, almost a caricature of a pretentious rock song by players with minimal skill. “God Of Thunder” features vocals by Simmons and over the years came to be known as his theme song, even though it was actually written by Stanley.

One can definitely hear the Alice Cooper influence on “Great Expectations”, which uses a Beethoven piece in the intro before breaking into a decent but haunting rock song. “Flaming Youth” is a piece orchestrated by Ezrin from three separate songs written by Frehley, Simmons, and Stanley. Alice Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner played the guitar lead on this track as well as on “Sweet Pain”, another mediocre, formulaic song that opens the album’s second side.

“Shout It Out Loud” was strongly influenced by the band’s label Casablanca Records, who insisted that the band create another “rock anthem” in the same vein as “Rock and Roll All Nite” from the previous album. While the song was popular and eventually became a regular concert staple on the oldies circuit, it was not nearly as successful as its predecessor.

 
Peter Criss’s “Beth” was written several years earlier when he was in the band Chelsea, with the lyrics coming nearly verbatim from a bandmate’s phone conversation with a clingy girlfriend (who he called “Beck”, short for Becky) as the band was rehearsing. Criss was the only band member to actual perform in the song, singing with his raspy voice which strongly contrasted the piano and strings by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which Ezrin brought in to back the track. “Beth” was originally the B-side of the “Detroit Rock City” and later released as a single of its own, peaking at #7 on the Billboard singles chart in September 1976, the group’s first Top 10 song. It was a last-minute addition to the album as Simmons and Stanley strongly objected because it was not a typical Kiss song.

Kiss in 1976

“Do You Love Me?” is the last real song on the album with an almost hip-hop drum beat, funky bass, and a good guitar during the bridge. The lyrics question how much adoration is for the man versus the rock star in the situations the band members were starting to experience. It also acts as a bit of a prediction as stardom was just starting to befall the New York band behind the white makeup.

In less than a year following Destroyer, two more highly successful studio albums were released, Rock and Roll Over in November 1976, and Love Gun in 1977. This was followed by a second popular live album (Alive II) and a whole plethora of touring, marketing and media successes that made Kiss one of the top earning bands of the decade.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Dreamboat Annie by Heart

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Dreamboat Annie by HeartHeart, originally labeled the “female Led Zeppelin,” had an impressive debut with Dreamboat Annie. The album was appropriately released on Valentine’s Day in 1976. Produced by Mike Flicker, the album has a simple and direct sound that accentuates the rock dynamics within the instruments and vocals. The Seattle based band recorded the album in Vancouver and first released it in Canada only in 1975 on the Mushroom Records label, which at the time did not have a U.S. distribution system. But, due to heavy sales and radio play in Canada, Mushroom expanded to the U.S. solely to promote Heart, starting in Seattle and then working city by city through the United States, as the band’s popularity spread. The ultimate goal was to land a national distribution contract, but soon relations between the band and Mushroom deteriorated due to questionable ads. The result was Dreamboat Annie never quite reaching the heights that it legitimately deserved as a top-notch rock album with an original approach until the 1980s when Mushroom went out of business and Capitol Records picked up distribution of the early Heart material.

In the mid 1970s, there were very few women who performed and recorded the assertive, Zeppelin-esque rock that Heart had developed. Lead by singer Ann Wilson and her younger sister, guitarist and songwriter Nancy Wilson, the band developed something unapologetically strong and within the realm previously exclusive to male musicians and fans. These strong yet melodic rockers made for a potent combination which would be copied in future decades but was quite unique at the time Dreamboat Annie was released. But even within this new sub-genre, Heart added some variety with ballads and folk-influenced numbers, making this album an interesting listen.

 


Dreamboat Annie by Heart
Released: February 14, 1976 (Mushroom)
Produced by: Mike Flicker
Recorded: Can-Base Studios, Vancouver, July-August 1975
Side One Side Two
Magic Man
Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child)
Crazy On You
Soul Of the Sea
Dreamboat Annie
White Lightning and Wine
(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song
Sing Child
How Deep It Goes
Dreamboat Annie (Reprise)
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals, Flute
Nancy Wilson – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Roger Fisher – Guitars
Howard Leese – Keyboards
Steve Fossen – Bass

 

The album blasts out of the gate with the popular rocker “Magic Man” with a simple, rocking beat which provides the perfect backdrop for Ann Wilson’s voice. The song conatains a long mid-section with extended leads by guitarist Roger Fisher and keyboardist Howard Leese in turn, giving it a more “epic” feel beyond its melodic hook in the verse and chorus. This “epic” or “concept” structure is extended to the album itself with three different versions of the title song “Dreamboat Annie”. However, only the version which closes side one acts as true song, a fast picked folk song with layered harmonies and picked acoustic guitar and banjo. The other two kind of sound like alternate takes which were added as filler.

Probably the best song that Heart would ever record, “Crazy On You” is an absolute gem which employs all the elements that make a great rock song. It has a finger-picked acoustic intro which highlights the skills of Nancy Wilson, divergent instrumentation throughout as the acoustic makes a soft bed for the dynamic electric guitars to pierce through melodically, a good riff and hook, beautiful interludes, and a sense of mystique brought out by the chord arrangements. Once again, the dynamic and emotional vocals of Ann Wilson push the song over the top.

 

 

There is a lot to like about the album, especially when you explore some of the lesser known songs. “Soul Of The Sea” is a nice guitar ballad with layered strings which contrasts with “White Lightning and Wine”, a pure, bluesy rocker, driven by the rhythm of Steve Fossen and the sultry vocals of Wilson. “(Love Me Like Music) I’ll Be Your Song” features strummed acoustic by Nancy Wilson and some nice slide guitar by Leese, making the vibe almost country in ways, while another acoustic ballad “How Deep It Goes” features nice bass flourishes, fine synths, and good harmonies. “Sing Child” is the only group composition and really presents early Heart as a true band as it includes a guitar solo and jam in the middle along with some Ian Anderson-like flute by Ann Wilson.

Heart would go on to produce more popular albums, especially as they morphed towards being a more pop-oriented band. But Dreamboat Annie displays them at their most innovative and talented and is a most impressive debut.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1976 albums.