2112 by Rush

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2112 by RushConvinced that their run at fame was all but over, the members of Rush decided to go out “in a blaze of glory”. They were all very satisfied with the previous album, 1975’s Caress of Steel and felt that the rock world just didn’t get it. Further, with sales down and exposure decreased, they resented the fact that their label, Mercury Records, seemed to be pressuring them at their most vulnerable point rather than offering the support they really needed. The label specifically did not want them to do another album with “concept” songs, such as they had with the 12-minute “The Necromancer” and the side-long epic “The Fountain of Lamneth”.

But rather than deliver some lame, commercialized album like the record company had demanded, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart decided to double down and make the album that THEY wanted to make as a band. They had all accepted the fact that this was probably their last best shot in the music industry and were willing to go back to life as civilians rather than have their creative instincts dictated from above. In fact, they had jocularly referred to their recent tour of clubs as the “Down the Tubes” tour.

On April 1, 1976, Rush released 2112, which indeed included a side-long eponymous concept song. But instead of choosing a pure prog rock album, the band blends a nice mix of heavy pop rock with the five standard length songs on the second side. With limited label support and little-to-no radio support, this platinum album would still go on to sell like hotcakes on the strength of word-of-mouth alone. Ironically, it would buy the band their creative independence from any future mingling by Mercury and subsequent labels. The band would be free to make whatever kind of music they wanted to make. As Neil Peart, the band’s primary lyricist said;

It was the skeleton key that let us open that door…”

 


2112 by Rush
Released: April 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, February 1976
Side One Side Two
2112 A Passage to Bangkok
The Twilight Zone
Lessons
Tears
Something For Nothing
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Bass, Synths Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neil Peart – Drums, Vocals

 

The obvious focal point of the album is the “2112” suite that occupies the entire first side. Like he had on previous albums, Peart turned to author and philosopher Ayn Rand for inspiration, as the story closely mirrors that of her short story Anthem (ironically, the song “Anthem” off Fly By Night, while definitely inspired by Rand, was less a translation of the story by the same name). “2112” tells the dystopian story of a multi-planet society controlled the Federation of the “Red Star”, who have “no need for ancient ways” or items like the electric guitar, which is discovered by the story’s protagonist.

Rush in 1976

The seven-part suite is a cohesive and mesmerizing piece with an exciting jam, “2112 Overture”, kicking things off. Geddy Lee sings in different voices, playing the protagonist, the nemesis “priests”, and the “Oracle” – and he pulls it off fantastically, especially during the “Presentation” section of the suite. Further, the space age effects that encapsulate the whole piece give it an additional edge for appealing to the Star Wars generation of the late 1970s (even though “2112” preceded the Lucas classic by more than a year). As yet another added dimensions, there is also something a bit religious about it with the lyric “…and the meek shall inherit the earth…”, as well as the fictional society being run by “priests”. The world was ready for this type of progressive statement, that fit perfectly 1976 but yet still sounds fresh a generation and a half later.
 

 
The second side of the album is filled with standard-length, accessible pop rock songs that are each radio friendly (so, in this sense the band may have, in fact, quasi-capitulated to the record company). The side is highlighted by “A Passage to Bangkok”, a longtime fan favorite that moves from location to location on a “train” (which, at one point, mysteriously jumps the Atlantic Ocean from Bogota to Katmandu), sampling all the diverse “herb” of these native lands. “Something For Nothing”, which returns to the Randian theme on individuality, shows the band at full force to end the album on a high.

Rush Starman LogoThe album’s back cover included the “Starman Logo”, which Neil Peart describes as symbolic of the individual against the masses. The logo was designed by Hugh Syme, who first worked with Rush on their cover of Caress of Steel and would be involved with most of band’s cover art in the future. Syme also played mellotron on the 2112 song “Tears”, becoming the first outside musician to make an appearance on a Rush album. That song is unique as a love song written solely by Lee, who also plays acoustic guitar on the track. Alex Lifeson also had his own fully composed song with “Lessons”, which features and upbeat blend of acoustic and electric riffs. “The Twilight Zone” is based on two episodes of the Rod Serling television show of the same name, with the lyrics based on two specific episodes; “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town” It was the first and only single to be released from 2112.

The success of this album launched the band into their most prolific and artistically intensive period of their career. Although the longevity of Rush would see them compose even finer albums over the next several decades, 2112 remains a definitive work in the band’s history.

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1976 Images

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

 

A Trick Of the Tail and
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis

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Buy Wind & Wuthering

A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering by GenesisWe love Genesis here at Classic Rock Review. Although, this is certainly not evident by our treatment of the band so far in this inaugural year. We’ve had four previous opportunities to cover Genesis albums during our look at four classic years but passed on each of those albums (Trespass in 1971, Abacab in 1981, Invisible Touch in 1986, and We Can’t Dance in 1991). Well, today is an opportunity for some make up as we will do a double review of Genesis’ two 1976 releases A Trick Of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering.

These two albums mark Peter Gabriel‘s departure and drummer Phil Collins debut as the group’s lead singer. These are also the only two albums where Genesis is a four piece band. They were a five piece with Gabriel and would become a three piece in the future following the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett.

The band had searched long for a replacement for Gabriel (some claiming as many as 400 auditions were conducted) all while they wrote and recorded the instrumental tracks for what would become A Trick Of the Tail. Collins provided a vocal “guide” so these candidates could become familiar with their potential vocal role for this material, but no one was sufficient for the job. After briefly considering putting the album out as a pure instrumental, the band decided that Collins should be the new permanent vocalist, although he was initially reluctant to do so.

Critical expectations were low leading up the release of A Trick Of the Tail in early 1976. Hence, the album’s quality and originality were a pleasant surprise to all. It was although the four remaining members had a point to prove – that they could continue successfully without Gabriel – and they proved it brilliantly. Collins demonstrated that he is an excellent singer by staying with in the tonal range of Gabriel while still exploring his own territory vocally. The songwriting credits extend to everyone, making the album’s composition a true group effort. They stayed true to the Genesis legacy while evolving ever so slightly towards a new, modern sound. In musical direction, the album is an impressionist piece of art rock, using storytelling with and without words. The lyrics are like fairy tales or fables and the music makes you envision scenery much as an opera.

With Wind & Wuthering the band stayed true with the basic formula and philosophy as A Trick Of the Tail. However, it feels a bit more forced sounding less fresh than its predecessor. This is especially true on the second side where the band seemed to be making one last try at constructing an art piece in the fashion of their earlier albums. But, most of the songs sound under developed. That being said, Wind & Wuthering does have some brilliant moments, especially when it comes to the songs that open and close the album.

 


A Trick Of the Tail by Genesis
Released: February 2, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, October-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Dance On a Volcano
Entangled
Squonk
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault, & Battery
Ripples
A Trick Of the Tail
Los Endos
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis
Released: December 23, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Relight Studios, Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, September-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Eleventh Earl of Mar
One For the Vine
Your Own Special Way
Wot Gorilla?
All in a Mouse’s Night
Blood On the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers…
…In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars

 

One of the fascinating qualities about A Trick Of the Tail, is how each song is so entirely different from the previous one. Some may consider this to be non cohesive, but we feel it enhances the listening experience by presenting the talents of these musicians in one package. “Dance On a Volcano” is the most complete group composition on the album. With a minute long intro that sets the sound scape, a measured, plodding tempo during the two verses moves into a frantic pace during the futuristic section that drives the song on a tangent towards its conclusion. The message of the song is when faced with an ugly, volatile challenge, you need to attack the situation like a hero would and dive right into the fire and fight. The song reprises during the album’s closing instrumental “Los Endos”, a foray into the world of jazz fusion. During the closing fadeout, the band pays homage to their former lead singer as Collins recites a few lines from “Supper’s Ready” off of 1972’s Foxtrot, an epic song closely associated with Peter Gabriel.

Steve Hackett’s “Entangled” has an ethereal musical soundscape, like an old English folk song. The lyrics juxtapose the peaceful sleep induced by anesthesia and the dreams of flying over the landscape until the song drifts towards a haunting instrumental section at the end. As a counter piece on the second side, Mike Rutherford‘s “Ripples” is a beautiful but sad ballad with fine melodies during the chorus that lament old age and dying –

Sail away, ripples never come back, they’ve gone to the other side…”

Keyboardist Tony Banks contributed the most compositions on A Trick Of the Tail. “Mad Man Moon” is a piano ballad with strings that blossoms into something almost theatrical, like an opera or performance art. “Squonk” is the first heavy, rock sounding release of the “new” Genesis. Full of hooks and catchy melodies, it retells the English legend of the squonk, a sad creature which roams about wallowing in misery and then melts away to tears once captured. Banks also wrote the album’s predominant “pop” songs.

The upbeat title song “A Trick Of the Tail” focuses on a “beast” character who leaves his own kingdom and enters the world of humans. He is captured and put on display in a freak show after his captors refuse to believe in his kingdom, which he claims is covered in gold. “Robbery, Assault, and Battery” is an entertaining song which moves from section to section, exploring many different time signatures and melodies. Both of these songs had promotional videos made, a forecast of the music world a half decade later with the advent of MTV.
 

 
Wind & Wuthering begins with a seven and a half minute mini-suite called “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, a good jam lead by Rutherford’s keys with and interesting middle section led by the folksy motifs of Hackett. This piece feels like a combination of several songs off The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and refers back to an historical English figure and events. Banks’ “One For the Vine” is a nearly ten minute piano tune with fine vocals by Collins. Sounding more like 80’s era Genesis, this piece morphs into a mellow, program-music-like piece before breaking out into a wild, percussive upbeat section.

Mike Rutherford’s “Your Own Special Way” is the plainest forecast of the new pop-ier direction that the band would pursue as a trio in the late seventies and through the eighties. A waltz, lead by a strumming, 12-string riff the song breaks into a full-fledged soft love song during chorus. It later goes into a gratuitous electric piano part that seems to do nothing but eat up clock, showing that the band was, in some sense, just trying to get through this album. “Wot Gorilla?” concludes the first side as a basic yet interesting instrumental.

Genesis in 1976

The second side of Wind & Wuthering sees the band attempting to return to Gabriel-era theatrics, but falling just a bit short in this quest. “All In A Mouse’s Night” is a play involving a couple, a cat, and a mouse, while “Blood On the Rooftops” starts with a nice, classical sounding guitar and contains fine overall instrumentation, but the song as a whole doesn’t quite reach its potential. The album concludes with a three song medley, the first two of which are average but interesting instrumentals. “Afterglow” concludes it all with a beautiful and simple approach that offers a melodic conclusion to Genesis’ second album of 1976.

With our previous two presentations of twin album reviews (Alice Cooper in 1971 and Guns n Roses in 1991), the material was close to even in quality and importance. However, this is not quite the case here as A Trick Of the Tail, which we consider a classic, is decidedly superior to Wind & Wuthering, which may be reserved for dedicated Genesis fans.

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1976 Images

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

 

Rocks by Aerosmith

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Rocks by AerosmithWe commence our look at 1976 with a review of the fourth of four great albums by Aerosmith that launched their career during their classic period of the 1970s. Starting with their self-titled debut in 1973, Get Your Wings in 1974, and Toys In the Attic in 1975, Rocks is probably the most aptly named of these as it completes the slow metamorphosis of the band from the heavy blues sound of their to a pure, raw rock band. The album was a commercial success and became a great influence on the prolific hard rock and heavy metal sound throughout the next decade and a half.

Although Rocks is less pop-oriented than the band’s previous album, it carries on many of the same trends that began with that album. These include exploring (and/or inventing) different sub-genres like rap rock and funk and finishing up with a “power ballad”, which was still a fresh concept for hard rock bands in the mid seventies. However, Rocks is by far the most cohesive Aerosmith album. It is solid from top to bottom and a real jam with a mixture of tight riffs and improvised leads throughout. The production is at once clean and dense and the overall sound is still fresh-sounding to listeners three and a half decades later.

The content of the album ranges from themes of longing and nostalgia, to darker themes of impending doom and death, to songs which celebrate the rock n roll lifestyle in general. The music includes strong input and participation from each band member with compositions being penned by four different songwriters.

 


Rocks by Aerosmith
Released: May 3, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas & Aerosmith
Recorded: The Wherehouse, Waltham, MA, February-March, 1976
Side One Side Two
Back in the Saddle
Last Child
Rats in the Cellar
Combination
Sick As a Dog
Nobody’s Fault
Get the Lead Out
Lick, And a Promise
Home Tonight
Band Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums, Vocals

 

“Back In the Saddle” launches Rocks as it would launch concerts for years to come. The song starts with a dramatic build-up before giving way to an understated main riff with droning lead guitars by Joe Perry. It contains a cowboy-influenced double-entente lyric, repleat with sound effects to match the mood and lead singer Steve Tyler’s screaming hook. The song is one of the heaviest on the album along with “Rats In the Cellar”, a song that borders on heavy metal, but with a nice bluesy harmonica solo by Tyler. The song was inspired by the death of the group’s drug dealer and should jave been taken as a dark omen. “Combination” features dual lead vocals by Perry and Tyler with some nice instrumental sections including a frantic outtro.

Aerosmith in 1976

The hit song “Last Child” was co-written by guitarist Brad Whitford and is a very upbeat and entertaining song. It features Perry on the lap steel and guest Paul Prestopino on banjo and is a great example of the hip-hop rock that the band formulated in the mid-seventies, starting with “WalK This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” on the previous album. There is a great lead section and outtro, which makes ths song a classic. The “Home Sweet Home” theme is later reprised on the Tyler piano ballad “Home Tonight”, which once again features Perry on the lap steel as well as Hamilton, drummer Joey Kramer, and producer Jack Douglas performing background vocals.

The album’s second side includes some of the basic, straight-up rockers which somehow never seem to fade over time. “Sick As a Dog” was co-written by bassist Tom Hamilton, who plays guitar on the song while both Perry and Tyler play bass. “Get the Lead Out” is a good time, dance-promoting song that goes off on a few nice musical tangents while “Lick and a Promise” is about rock groupies and more generally, the rock audience audience.

The album’s best song is “Nobody’s Fault”, a great song with fantastic hook and poetic (albeit apocalyptic) lyrics;

“Holy lands are sinking, birds take to the sky
The prophets are all stinking drunk and I know the reason why…”

Co-written by Brad Whitford, this is a heavy song, almost metal, that uses thick analogies to tell of a coming, inevitable doom. Several members of the band have cited this song as among their favorites ever.

While it appeared like the band was ever-climbing in 1976, they were in fact at the apex of their early career which would falter due to hard drug use among band members. Although Aerosmith would put out a couple more decent studio albums plus a live album by the decade’s end, these paled in comparison to the great early albums. The band would soon face turmoil that would derail their career for nearly a decade before they would make of the great comebacks in rock history.

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1976 Images

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