Dire Straits

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Dire Straits 1978 debutBritish quartet Dire Straits launched their fruitful career in 1978 with an impressive self-titled debut studio album. This album features nine tracks composed by guitarist/vocalist Mark Knopfler who blended elements of American roots music with a distinct guitar style and a reserved, husky vocal for an appealing overall style which found receptive audiences worldwide. The multi-platinum selling Dire Straits topped the album charts in several countries and reach the Top 5 in several more, including the US and the UK.

The group was formed in the mid 1970s by Mark and his younger brother, rhythm guitarist David Knopfler. Originally from Newcastle, England, the brothers migrated to London where Mark was working as a teacher while performing with pub bands at night. Bassist John Illsley and veteran drummer Pick Withers were eventually recruited and the band was formed with a name that referenced to their current financial situation. The band borrowed money to record a five-song demo tape, which was well received by a local disc jockey and the airing of “Sultans of Swing” led to a recording contract with the Vertigo Records division of Phonogram Inc.

The debut, Dire Straits, was recorded in early 1978 with producer Muff Winwood. Following its recording (but months prior to its release), the group began heavily promoting the songs with a European summer tour which created much anticipation for the album.


Dire Straits by Dire Straits
Released: October 7, 1978 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Muff Winwood
Recorded: Basing Street Studios, London, February-March 1978
Side One Side Two
Down to the Waterline
Water of Love
Setting Me Up
Six Blade Knife
Southbound Again
Sultans of Swing
In the Gallery
Wild West End
Lions
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Knopfler – Guitars, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Pick Withers – Drums

 

“Down to the Waterline” features a methodical entry to the album before the full band arrangement kicks in with a bit of a western swing and direct, narrative vocals with ever-present guitar licks. Right from the jump, the rhythm and lead dynamics of the Knopfler brothers is established as a dynamic on this album. Withers introduces “Water of Love”with some methodical percussion. Soon the rootsy, acoustic song proper arrives with methodical vocals for an overall pleasant effect. “Six Blade Knife” is a rhythm-fronted textural song which seems to draw much influence from Fleetwood Mac rhythms on their then-recent Rumours album. Released as a single, this song actually charted on Country charts in both the US and Canada. The Southern rock influenced “Southbound Again” completes the original first side with a repeated riff motif played much during its short, less than three-minute duration.

Dire Straits in 1978

“Sultans of Swing” is the best and most popular track on the album, a true masterpiece from beginning to end. Each group member is at top form in support of Knopfler’s mastery on lead guitars and vocals with variety, movement and distinction between verse licks and solo leads. The song became the group’s first international hit in 1979 with its descriptive lyrics inspired by Knopfler witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a deserted pub in South London, and is uniquely delivered as they describe a musical genre much unlike the excellent, rhythmic rock song, right up to the rather ironic lyrics;

they don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it aint what they call rock n’ roll…”

The duration of the album features three quasi-jam tracks of differing sub-genres. After a pleasant intro, “In the Gallery” morphs into a quasi-reggae beat for the verses with interesting drum fills and lyrics written as a tribute to Leeds sculptor/artist. “Wild West End” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with a repeated riff under the verse and chorus hooks, along with some sparse vocal harmonies. The closer “Lions” has a walking rhythm guitar and a bluesy lead guitar above a strong, rhythmic rock storyteller.

Dire Straits spent no time enjoying the success of their debut record. Soon after its release, they jumped on the circuit with Talking Heads on their first North American tour and before the end of 1978 they traveled to the Bahamas to begin work on their second album, Communiqué.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

Who Are You by The Who

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Who Are You by The WhoThe Who‘s eighth overall and final studio album with drummer Keith Moon, 1978’s Who Are You marks a notable transition for the rock quartet. Here, the music is built on layered arrangements which heavily utilizes synthesizers while multiple styles are explored among the album’s ten tracks. Further, some of the lyrical themes draw from defunct theme albums from earlier in the 1970s such as Pete Townshend‘s Lifehouse and John Entwistle‘s 905.

Through a five year span in the mid-1970s, the band recorded and released only one studio album, The Who by Numbers in 1975. This era was marred by disagreements among the band members over musical direction and the approach to live touring. However, they did work on several peripheral projects over this span, such as the Tommy motion picture in 1974 and the documentary film The Kids Are Alright in 1977 and 1978.

Recording of Who Are You began in London in January 1978 with producers Glyn Johns & Jon Astley. During production there were several personnel clashes as well as some issues with Moon’s playing and lead singer Roger Daltrey underwent throat surgery. Ironically, this was perhaps the strongest album vocally for Daltrey while being one of the weaker outputs by Townshend, the band’s traditional composer.

Classic Rock Review
Who Are You by The Who
Released: August 18, 1978 (Polydor)
Produced by: Glyn Johns & Jon Astley
Recorded: Ramport Studios, Olympic Studios, & RAK Studios, England, October 1977 – April 1978
Side One Side Two
New Song
Had Enough
905
Sister Disco
Music Must Change
Trick of the Light
Guitar and Pen
Love Is Coming Down
Who Are You
Group Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Vocals, Percussion
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Keyboards, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

 

It is obvious from beginning that this differs from any classic Who album with heavy synth presence from the jump on the opener “New Song”. Still, the multiple theatrical parts of this Townshend song show that there are still complex rock compositions on this Who album. The next two tracks were originally intended for a defunct attempt of a rock opera by Entwistle. “Had Enough” has a synth-guided melody with steady, thumping bass and slightly animated drums by Moon. Released as a single from the album, the song features a full string orchestra arranged by Astley. A wild synth arpeggio gives way to strummed acoustic guitar and a steady rock beat on “905”. Here, Entwistle provides smooth and melodic lead vocals with a slight country/rock feel during the choruses, while employing a heavy sci-fi feel elsewhere.

“Sister Disco” is the first song to lean towards classic era Who (or at least as far back as 1973’s Quadrophenia). This is also the first track to feature Townshend’s vocals as a co-lead vocalist while the music features moderate rock riff and beat with rapid, high string synths before the song dissolves with an extended solo acoustic outro. “Music Must Change” is a theatrical piece with many interesting changes. Here, Daltrey’s vocals show fantastic range on this jazz, Broadway blues track which completed the original first side of the album. Entwistle’s third songwriting contribution, “Trick of the Light”, may be the most straightforward rocker on the album with a hypnotizing, rotating rock riff accented by Moon’s mobile drumming and more strong vocals by Daltrey.

The Who in 1978

Another highlight on the album, “Guitar and Pen”, has a straight-forward main riff in contrast to the odd-timed beats followed by much building to strong crescendos throughout. The song also features virtuoso piano playing by guest Rod Argent along with some generous but judicious use of synths throughout. “Love Is Coming Down” is a ballad with call and response vocals and some complex string orchestration. The album concludes with its climatic title song, which kicks off with a jazzy synth, slow dance beat and harmonized hook. The verses of “Who Are You” resort to pure rock with Moon exploring the rapid drum rolls and Daltry providing his most straining yet melodic vocals, while the bridge middle section explores many little musical minuets, including a slight piano lead by Argent. Released as a single, “Who Are You” reached the Top 20 in both the US and UK.

During a break from recording this album in May 1978, The Who played live on a sound stage for a sequence in the upcoming documentary The Kids Are Alright, which turned out to be the final performance by the classic quartet which was formed in 1964. Moon died on September 6, 1978, about three weeks after the release of Who Are You.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

 

More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads

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More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking HeadsThe second album by Talking Heads, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food got its sarcastic title by addressing the cliche of the “sophomore jinx” where songs not used on the debut are combined with inferior and underdeveloped new compositions. However, that “jinx” was obliterated here as the quirky new wave quartet found decent commercial success and widespread critical acclaim for their fine combination of standard motifs and inventive techniques, perfect for that era of popular music.

Composer, guitarist and vocalist David Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz were all alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design and formed their first band in 1973 before migrating to New York City in 1975. Getting their name from a TV Guide article, Talking Heads were signed to Sire Records in November 1976 and added keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison early in 1977. The group’s debut album, Talking Heads 77 found decent success in part due to the single “Psycho Killer”, which hit the airwaves around the same time as New York City was embroiled in the “summer of Sam”.

More Songs About Buildings and Food was the first of a trilogy collaboration between the group and producer Brian Eno, who took their raw sound and emphasized on more danceable rhythms to fuse a unique vibe for Byrne’s art/rock compositions. On this album the group also started their long tradition of recording in the Bahamas at Compass Studios.


More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads
Released: July 14, 1978 (Sire)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Talking Heads
Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, March–April 1978
Side One Side Two
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
With Our Love
The Good Thing
Warning Sign
The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
Found a Job
Artists Only
I’m Not in Love
Stay Hungry
Take Me to the River
The Big Country
Group Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Percussion
Jerry Harrison – Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Vocals
Chris Frantz – Drums, Percussion

 

A rapid shuffle above a pointed hard rock riff defines the sound of “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel”, with extra percussion between the verses. This opening track acts as sort of a bridge between the debut album’s tension and the bigger rhythmic sound of this album. “With Our Love” follows with a rather spazzy funk feel in the verses, while “The Good Thing” is the most accessible song thus far with an upbeat yet smooth, rounded sound led by Weymouth’s bass and odd but catchy harmonized refrains. Co-written by Frantz, “Warning Sign” features a drum beat with exaggerated reverb joined by catchy bass and guitar riff in long intro before the song proper develops into choppy new wave track.

“The Girls Want to Be with the Girls” may be the first track where the group seems to try too hard to force a quirkly style and it ends up feeling disjointed, while the side one closer “Found a Job” features pure funk verses and new wave rock choruses. Side two begins with “Artists Only”, a song which explores several pleasant styles in rapid fashion, while “I’m Not in Love” moves back to funk but with driving, rapid rhythms as it makes its way through many odd sections before completing with an entertaining quasi-guitar lead jam. “Stay Hungry” is a shorter funk/jam featuring much synth influence by Eno.

Talking Heads

By far, the album’s commercial anchor is its only cover song, a distinct version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” featuring a sound that defines an eighties hit while still in the late 1970s. The deliberative rhythm method and fine production technique brought the group a worldwide Top 40 crossover hit. The album ends with the pleasant sonics of “The Big Country” with a fine mixture of acoustic and electric and a slide/country vibe topped by a steady drum beat.

More Songs About Buildings and Food peaked in the Top 30 of the Pop Albums charts and eventually reached gold record status. Eno and the Talking Heads continued this successful formula with 1979’s Fear of Music and the hit album Remain in Light in 1980.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

 

Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull

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Heavy Horses by Jethro TullDuring a the late 1970s, Jethro Tull released a trio of albums with heavy folk influence. The second of this trio and the eleventh overall studio album by the band is 1978’s Heavy Horses. This album features strong and consistent tunes which take a journey into a rural landscape of folklore and the underlying simple theme of an honest day’s work. Further, in spite of going against the day’s prevailing musical trends of punk and new wave, Heavy Horses was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic as the album reached the Top 20 on both the UK and US album charts following its release.

Following several successful forays into progressive rock through the early and mid seventies and accompanying large arena tours, Jethro Tull and their primary composer Ian Anderson decided to scale back and develop more simple folk rock songs. The critically acclaimed 1977 album, Songs from the Wood, reflected on English culture and history and was the first to include new member David Palmer, who brought many classical elements into the fold.

Produced by Anderson, Heavy Horses was recorded in London during a time when he was settling into a domestic life with his new wife and son. Just prior to this album’s recording in 1977, Pink Floyd released their classic album Animals, which explored differing human personality types. Heavy Horses may more exactly fit that literal title as it lyrically sees things from the perspective and environment of several rural creatures.


Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull
Released: April 10, 1978 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, Fulham, England, May 1977-January 1978
Side One Side Two
…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps
Acres Wild
No Lullaby
Moths
Journeyman
Rover
One Brown Mouse
Heavy Horses
Weathercock
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Flute, Mandolin
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Organ
David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral Arrangements
John Glascock – Bass, Vocals
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

 

A tense rhythmic timing drives the acoustic-driven opener “…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps”, a song which is probably more prog rock than folk, complete with strategic stops and dueling flute and organ solos. The track lyrically describes the movement of a barn cat with creative adjectives, describing the process of the night guard and hunt. “Acres Wild” follows as a mandolin driven, pop-oriented rocker with heavy Celtic influence musically and lyrics which paint a picture of playing long while on a journey.

“No Lullaby” is the first of two extended songs and it starts with a heavy rock guitar intro by Martin Barre, followed by the showcasing of drummer/percussionist Barriemore Barlow as it eases into a slow, methodical rhythm, About two minutes in, this mini-suite takes a radical turn to a more upbeat, tense-filled shuffle before again returning to the methodical verse section and lead flourishes. The bright and pleasant folk tune “Moths” features harpsichord by John Evan along with other ethnic string instrumentation as it expertly alternates keys throughout its short duration. A philosophical creed on living for today, “Moths” displays the scene from different perspectives and with sincere emotion. “Journeyman” starts with a funky bass riff by John Glascock as the rest of the group builds around musically, each finding their own small space within the song.

Jethro Tull in 1978

The album’s original second side starts with “Rover”, a tribute to Anderson’s pet dog which features a more traditional Jethro Tull soundscape. With lyrics telling of story time with a young child, “One Brown Mouse” starts and ends as straight folk/rocker but nicely diverges into a mid-section of folk orchestration. The epic, nine-minute title track plays on differing intensities of the same musical theme, as the song is a literal tribute to the work-horse. It all wraps with “Weathercock”, a theme on the rotational nature of life as album ends at the break of dawn and a simple musical arrangement, built with acoustic, mandolin, organ and other simple elements.

Jethro Tull recorded performances during the European leg of the Heavy Horses tour, and later in 1978 released a live double album called Bursting Out. In March 2018, the group released a five-disc, 40th anniversary version of Heavy Horses, which features several alternate and outtakes, 22 previously unreleased live tracks, and a 96-page booklet with track-by-track annotation by Anderson of the album and its associated recordings.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon

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You Can Tune a Piano but You Cant Tuna Fish by REO SpeedwagoOften derided for its ludicrous title and album cover, You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish was nonetheless the most important benchmark for REO Speedwagon. Released in 1978, this was the seventh studio album by the Illinois-based rock band who had worked relentlessly throughout the decade but, prior to this record, failed to make the Top 40. You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish peaked at number 29 and went on to achieve double platinum status in the US.

Named after a classic flat bed truck, REO Speedwagon was formed in 1967 at the University of Illinois in Champaign by keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer as a cover band playing in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. After several lineup shifts, guitarist Gary Richrath joined in late 1970 and the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously, leading to a deal with Epic Records and the band’s self-titled debut album in 1971. The group twice replaced lead singers before Kevin Cronin permanently joined the group in January 1976. The following year, the group released a live album and relocated to Los Angeles.

Recording of You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish took place in Illinois and California in late 1977 and early 1978. This album was the first to feature bassist Bruce Hall and it was co-produced by Cronin and Richrath along with Paul Grupp and John Boylan.


You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon
Released: March 16, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath, Paul Grupp, & John Boylan
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles & Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977-1978
Side One Side Two
Roll with the Changes
Time for Me to Fly
Runnin’ Blind
Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again
Sing to Me
Lucky for You
Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

 

The album launches with “Roll with the Changes”, a piano-based rocker by Cronin which would soon go on to become a classic rock staple. Richrath’s heavy, whining guitar is accented throughout with Dougherty taking his turn with a Hammond organ lead and a rich backing chorus belting out the catchy counter hook. The album’s other anchor comes next with “Time for Me to Fly”, a classic breakup song that is built like an early prototype for some of the better eighties power ballads which would come later. Built on the pleasant musical combo of Cronin’s 12-string acoustic and Dougherty’s Moog synthesizer along with fine melodic, vocals and a harmonized double bridge, which bookmarks the slight guitar lead. While both of these tracks would go on to be classics, they did not receive initial pop notoriety as both failed to chart in the Top 40.

Richrath’s first composition, “Runnin’ Blind”, was co-written by Debbie Mackron and is highlighted by a pure, thick guitar sound. “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again” is another acoustic ballad with some heavier elements added on top for a harder rock effect and high pop accessibility. The original first side concludes with Richrath’s short but heavy “Sing to Me”.

REO Speedwagon in 1978

Side two is filled with hard rock material and is anchored by a couple of tracks with extended jams. Although lyrically weak, “Lucky for You” is musically supreme with some excellent bass by Hall as well as later harmonized lead guitars which sheppard in the extended jams of the second half of track. After the Southern rock tinged “Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?” and the filler instrumental “The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot”, comes the closer “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” a strong, pure rocker highlighted by Dougherty’s piano lead and guest Lon Price‘s intermittent saxophone licks.

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish set the stage for super-stardom during the 1980s. REO Speedwagon also started to morph from hard rock to more pop-oriented and ballad-centric material as the new decade unfolded.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

Van Halen

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1978 Album of the Year

Van Halen 1978 debut albumVan Halen‘s debut album is a pedal-to-the-metal hard rocker with a distinct approach that thundered onto the scene in early 1978. This self-titled album continues to rank among the top debuts of all time and makes appearances on other straight-up rock album lists. While not particularly original musically, Van Halen was completely original sonically. This was due to the jaw dropping speed and flair guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. With a noted lack of blues-based licks, which were replaced by a furious placement of picked, crunched, and hammered notes, Van Halen’s leads, solos, and riffs are the most indelible moments on a very memorable album. Forged in the fresh shadow of punk rock, the Van Halen sound showed that musical talent can be every bit as fresh, energetic, and bombastic. With this innovative record which sounds every bit as fresh 35 years after its release, Van Halen has risen to become Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1978.

Van Halen was formed in Southern California in 1972 by the brothers that give the band its name – guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan Van Halen and were “forced” to study classical piano at very young ages. When the brothers began playing rock and roll, Alex was actually on guitar and Eddie was on drums.  But once Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to switch instruments and took over as drummer. In 1974, the group rented a sound system from David Lee Roth and soon invited him to join as lead vocalist. Roth was the son of a renowned eye surgeon, who had considerable wealth and was the nephew of Manny Roth, who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha?, which featured performers such like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Roth possessed an in-your-face charisma that demanded attention (like a true frontman should). While not considered a particularly accomplished crooner, his yelps and screams fit perfectly within the high-energy sound of the group.

Soon after Roth joined,  the band decided to replace their current bass player with Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from a rival band called “Snake”, who impressed the Van Halen brothers during an all-night jam session. In subsequent years, the group played everything from backyard parties on a flatbed truck to some of the most famous night clubs on the Sunset Strip. They forged what Roth calls a “girl-friendliness” to heavy rock. In the summer of 1976, Gene Simmons of Kiss saw Van Halen perform and offered to produce a high end demo tape for the group. After a few recordings in Los Angeles and New York, Simmons opted out of the arrangement after the group declined his suggestion to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs” and Kiss management told Simmons that they had “no chance of making it”.

In mid-1977,  Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw the group perform in Hollywood and was so impressed that he scored Van Halen a recording contract within a week (although the group now laments that this contract was not financially favorable to the members who ended up owing money by the end of 1978). Templeman produced the debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders over a three week period in the Fall of 1977. All of the tracks were recorded with minimal over-dubbing and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a “live” feel. After the sessions, the group returned to playing small venues in Southern California until the album was released in early 1978.


Van Halen by Van Halen
Released: February 10, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA, September – October 1977
Side One Side Two
Runnin’ with the Devil
Eruption
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Jamie’s Cryin’
Atomic Punk
Feel Your Love Tonight
Little Dreamer
Ice Cream Man
On Fire
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 

The album is made of nine original compositions, credited to all four band members, along with two re-interpreted covers. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony drive the opener “Runnin’ with the Devil”, which arrives like an alien visitor and then comes off heavier than it actually is in reality. It is down-and-dirty but short of hedonistic and got its lyrical inspiration from the Ohio Players song “Runnin’ from the Devil”. While released as a single, it failed to chart in 1978 but has  become a classic rock radio staple and still a signature tune of Van Halen.

The instrumental “Eruption” contains some of the best 100 seconds of guitar ever recorded. This masterpiece by Eddie Van Halen was not intended for the debut album but was overheard by Templeman as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date and he decided to include it on the album. The piece is the first to feature Van Halen’s custom two-handed finger-tapping technique which had not been perfected by any other player to that date (but went “viral” among guitarists in the eighties). Played on his custom Frankenstrat with a custom array of effect units and vintage tube amps, the piece has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo ever by Guitar World magazine. “Eruption” works as a perfect lead-in to the kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, the lone charting “hit” from this album. You Really Got Me singleThis may be one of the very few remakes that actually best the original, which is saying something since the 1964 tune by Ray Davies is a bona fide classic which features a young session player named Jimmy Page. But Van Halen takes this simple, two and a half minute piece, and brings it to a fevered level of excitement with Eddie performing riffs within riffs, Roth adding vocal ad-lib screams in the chorus, and the post solo guitar dribble leading to a unique mid section with sound effects by both. The song became the lone Top 40 single from Van Halen.

Although very repetitive, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an extremely entertaining song which borders on being a Van Halen-flavored punk epic, especially with closing “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant. Unlike the totally feel-good “You Really Got Me”, this has a much darker feel, especially with the deep bridge lyrics;

I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I’ve lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”

“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” displays the effortless expression of the band, which replaces the pretension and self-consciousness of many of their late seventies peers. The hyper-blues shuffle of “I’m the One”, which highlights the entertaining showmanship of the band. With dynamics which range from the monstrous rhythmic surge to the later a cappella do-wop section, “I’m The One” is an underrated gem, which concludes the fantastic first side of the album.

Although not nearly as memorable, the second side of Van Halen does contain its share of high moments. “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” shows that the band definitely can play pop rock anthems. These two tracks share similar memorable riffs and catchy harmonized choruses and they both sound like they should have been bigger radio hits. Sandwiched between the two is “Atomic Punk”, an almost experimental song with intro guitar effects giving way to theatrical verses. However, this song’s title may be more provocative than the overall tune is actually substantive and the disorganized return after the guitar lead appears to be one of the few faux pas of the recording.

Van Halen

“Little Dreamer” is the finest tune on side two and may be the one true band effort on Van Halen. Eddie comes down to Earth with a standard riff and more subtle theatrics while the rest of the group steps forward as Michael Anthony’s bouncing bass contrasts yet compliments Alex Van Halen’s steady drum beat and Roth’s actual singing is at its finest on this record. “Little Dreamer” also offers a preview of some of the more substantive music featured on upcoming albums Van Halen II and Women and Children First. “Ice Cream Man” is cover from Chicago blues artist John Brim, which features David Lee Roth solo on acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple of turns before it finally breaks into a full-fledged rocker, ala Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, the most forgettable song on the album is the finale “On Fire”, making for the only true weak spot on this incredible debut. While Eddie’s guitars are still impressive, the overall vibe makes really feels more like weak, hair-band material from a future Van Halen clone.

Van Halen initially peaked at #19 on the U.S. Albums chart and made a reappearance in 1984. By the end of the century, it was certified a Diamond album (over ten million copies sold or 20x platinum) and it made yet another appearance on the album charts in 2012 to coincide with Van Halen’s latest reunion. The band toured for nearly a year as the opening act for Black Sabbath before returning to the studio in late 1978 to record the follow-up Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums and our Album of the Year for 1978.

 

Time Passages by Al Stewart

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Time Passages by Al StewartTime Passages was the third of Al Stewart‘s popular late seventies albums, following Modern Times in 1975 and Year of the Cat in 1976. While all three of these albums were produced by Alan Parsons, on this one there is a minor nod towards soft rock production. Musically, Time Passages continues Stewart’s traditional blend of folk, jazz, and pop/rock, with masterful arrangements, rich sonic textures, and the top-notch production of Parsons. Lyrically, Stewart alternates between the contemporary subjects and concerns of baby boomers reaching their thirties and his distinct knack for presenting historical figures an events in graceful yet easily accessible pop song epics.

The Scottish born Stewart commenced his musical career in the mid 1960s at coffee houses in London’s Soho. He played alongside Cat Stevens, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison, Roy Harper, and others and even shared a flat with Paul Simon during his time in England. Stewart’s first record as a solo artist was a single called “The Elf”, which featured session guitar work from Jimmy Page. Starting in 1967. He went on to release several folk albums on Columbia Records but found little mainstream success. In 1972, Stewart released Orange, a transitional album which combined songs in his confessional style with more historical themes that he would soon increasingly adopt. His 1973 release, Past, Present and Future, was the first in the United States and his popularity steadily grew throughout the rest of the decade.

During these years, Stewart began to form a proper backing band, led by guitarists Tim Renwick and Peter White. On Time Passages, Renwick provides the bulk of lead guitar while White played keyboards, accordion, and other instruments as well as co-wrote a couple of the tunes.


Time Passages by Al Stewart
Released: September, 1978 (RCA)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Davlen Studios, Los Angeles, June 1978
Side One Side Two
Time Passages
Valentina Way
Life In Dark Water
A Man for All Seasons
Almost Lucy
The Palace of Versailles
Timeless Skies
Song on the Radio
End of the Day
Primary Musicians
Al Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Peter White – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Renwick – Guitars
Robin Lamble – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums

 

The album’s title song “Time Passages” is a masterpiece on the utter surreal-ness of the passage of time (as demonstrated by the “time warp” album cover). Stewart uses great imagery to accomplish this while the pleasant music adds a pleasant soft rock backing with perfect late seventies production by Parsons. Released as a single, this would become Stewart’s highest charting song ever. It reached #7 on the Billboard pop chart and also spent ten weeks at #1 on the easy listening chart, the longest stay at number one on this chart in the entire decade. “Valentina Way” starts with classical piano by Peter Robinson before abruptly entering a disco section. Despite this dated musical arrangement, the underlying song is pretty good and is musically salvaged by White’s recurring guitar lead/riff.

The first historical number is “Life in Dark Water”, a slow, moody, almost psychedelic rocker driven by the rotating lyrics and a simple, repeated four chord progression. There is some musical deviation in the middle with a short, carnival sounding verse and extended guitar lead by Renwick. The song which references the Mary Celeste, a British-American merchant ship discovered unmanned and abandoned in 1872. Although the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced seamen, the seven member crew were never seen again while the ship was found in perfect shape with personal effects and over six months’ worth of food and water on board. “A Man for All Seasons” completes the first side with a musical a mix of Phil Spector meets alt-country. With a knack for telling historical stories in effected musical means, Stewart tells the story of Sir Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet.

The second side is just as solid as the first, starting with “Almost Lucy, a country/western influenced folk song with good percussive effects throughout. The subtle backing music plays off of Stewart’s vocals perfectly, which reflect the lyrics about the sad life of a prostitute;

And all these changing faces never bothered her at all that just existed like a back-drop or a pattern on the wall, Lucy looks like someone who is waiting for a call she knows will come but no-one else can hear at all

Led by smooth synth run by Peter Solley at the top and between verses, “The Palace of Versailles” is another historical diddy. The interplay between Stewart’s acoustic and Renwick’s electric guitars is fantastic, with Parsons adding some orchestral strings towards the end, giving this an epic feel and increasing the continental elegance at the core of this work. The acoustic “Timeless Skies” has a sparse arrangement with White subtly adding some accordion and mandolin as the song progresses.

“Song on the Radio” is the other “radio song” from Time Passages, peaking in the Top 30, despite its lengthy six and a half minute duration (it is interesting that the two “hits” are also the two longest songs on the album). Featuring the distinct alto saxophone of Phil Kenzie, this song may first present itself as pure pop on the surface, but it really has much deeper meaning and connotations lyrically. The closer “End of the Day” was written mainly by Peter White and is mostly instrumental, spending more than half of its duration in a prolonged instrumental introduction before a single, extended verse concludes the album. Soft and jazzy, this pleasant song is an effective way to leave listeners wanting for more.

Time Passages peaked at #10 on the charts and continues to be held as one of his finer albums. Stewart’s pop success continued into the early 1980s until his career slowly lost steam in subsequent years.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

Infinity by Journey

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Infinity by JourneyThe classic lineup of Journey came together for the album Infinity, released in 1978. Although this was the fourth overall album for the group that had been together since 1973, it was the first to feature lead vocalist and iconic front man Steve Perry. With his smooth tenor voice and apparent ability to traverse keys at will, Perry ushered in a new era of pop accessibility for Journey. the album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who had worked with such rock legends as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, Nazareth, and Queen. Baker said he aimed for a layered sound approach, complete with harmonized lead guitars, similar to his work with Queen in the mid seventies.

Journey was formed as a professional jazz/fusion “backing band” built by former Santana manager Herbie Herbert, originally called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie were also recent Santana members and they were surrounded by a number of musical lineups through the early years of the group, eventually settling on bassist Ross Valory and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Journey released three albums in three years with none achieving significant sales. Schon, Valory, and Dunbar took singing lessons in an attempt to add vocal harmonies to Rolie’s lead and even brought in a temporary front man, Robert Fleischman in 1977 to transition to a more popular style.

Perry had achieved moderate success with California bands, Ice and Alien Project, but was on the verge of giving up music when Herbert heard a demo of Perry in Alien Project. Perry was brought on tour and eventually replaced Fleischman permanently in late 1977. With a new contract with Columbia Records, the band set out to make a cohesive and popular record.


Infinity by Journey
Released: January 20, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: His Master’s Wheels Studio, San Francisco, October-December 1977
Side One Side Two
Lights
Feeling That Way
Anytime
Lă Do Dā
Patiently
Wheel In the Sky
Somethin’ To Hide
Winds of March
Can Do
Opened the Door
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Greg Rollie – Keyboards, Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars
Ross Valory – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

 

The geographical ballad “Lights” (which can still regularly be heard at San Francisco Giants baseball games) leads things off on Infinity. The complete ode to their home “city by the bay”, was actually written by Perry about Los Angeles before he joined the band. Although originally just a very minor hit, which reached #68 on the charts, the song became more popular over the years to the point where it is now one of Journey’s most easily recognizable songs.

Greg Rollie takes the lead vocal mic on the next two tracks. On “Feeling That Way” he duets with Perry, on a pleasantly moody track with an eighties moderate rock feel. The first incarnation of the song was an instrumental intended for the group’s third album Next, but was left off that album. When Perry joined the band, he helped add a chorus with Rolie adding the verse lyrics. “Anytime” features Rollie solo on lead vocals. This song was co-written by Robert Fleischman during his short time with the group and was released as a single from the album.

“Lă Do Dā” is an upbeat, pure rocker, driven almost entirely by texture, from Schon’s opening guitar effects to the long sustained vocals with electronic effects. “Patiently” was the first collaboration between Perry and Schon and soon became a fan favorite. On this delicate yet hip ballad, Schon plays an acoustic-like form on his electric guitar through the beginning verses, while the concluding full-band jam makes it all the more interesting.

The second side opens with “Wheel in the Sky”, which contains almost an upbeat country riff, especially in the interplay between Schon’s guitar and Ross Vallory’s bass. The song began its life as a poem called “Wheels in My Mind” by Diane Vallory, wife of the bassist and it reached No. 57 on the Billboard charts.
“Somethin’ to Hide” is another pleasant quasi-ballad, driven by Perry’s soaring, atmospheric vocals and Schon’s scorching fret work, along with some subtle keyboard arrangements by Rolie.

Neal’s father, jazz musician Matt Schon composed some of the fine chord structures for “Winds of March”, an arrangement would have worked well with many of the later prog metal acts. This has a love-song-like lyric but with a more somber feel from the dark piano runs to the flange effects on Dunbar’s drums, making it one of the better songs on side two. The album’s final two racks offer a slight glimpse into Journey’s future. “Can Do” is a pure upbeat rocker co-written by Perry and Ross Valory, while “Opened the Door” is the only real soft rock song on the album. Led by the synths from Rollie and more layered guitars from Schon, it is easy to see how the group laid the brickwork here for a lot of their 80s ballads.

Infinity was the first album by the group to contain tracks that received regular airplay as well as the first with charting singles. It was the first of a string hit albums, which eventually served to help Journey become one of the top rock groups in the world. While a few more changes would take place in subsequent years, starting with Herbert firing drummer Dunbar, Journey would consistently gain more popularity through the next half decade.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

Hemispheres by Rush

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Hemispheres by RushHemispheres, the sixth studio album by Rush, was the second straight album recorded in the United Kingdom. It also contained the second half of a multi-album concept called “Cygnus X-1”, which took up the entire first side  as its title track. Musically, the group continued to use multi-movement song structures, complex rhythms and time signatures to pack this album with musical virtuosity by this trio at the very height of their talent and creativity. Lyrically, Neil Peart continued the scientific/fantasy approach of recent albums but with a decidedly philosophical bend, using a mixture of literary, factual, and fictional methods.

The music is complex and flowing with a lush production. Like the previous four studio album, Hemispheres was produced by Terry Brown. Influenced by progressive rock bands like Yes and King Crimson, the group set out to make more complex music, stretching the maximum potential of three rock musicians to be replicated in live situations. Lead vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee added Minimoog synthesizer and bass pedals to his arsenal while guitarist Alex Lifeson  experimented with classical and twelve-string guitars, often using a holder stand to easily switch between guitars live. Peart continued to add diverse percussion to his ever-growing drum set, including timpani, blocks, orchestral bells, chimes, and melodic cowbells.

Although the second half of a multi-part fantasy which starts in space but ends on Mount Olympus, the overall concept of Hemispheres is to explore and interpret human psychology via the left and right portions of the brain. This whole concept was developed by Peart who, as lyricist, had led the group to to ever greater levels of conceptual complexity since joining Rush in 1974. For their part, musical composers Lee and Lifeson, matched the ingenuity with their tightest, sharpest, and most inventive playing ever with brilliant complexity.


Hemispheres by Rush
Released: October 29, 1978 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown and Rush
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, South Wales, June–August 1978
Side One Side Two
Cygnus X-1, Book II:
Hemispheres
Circumstances
The Trees
La Villa Strangiato
Primary Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizers
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synthesizers
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion, Synthesizers

 

While the story line isn’t as comprehensible as “2112”, the side-long suite of “Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres” is much more consistent musically. In fact, it is constructed more like a stage musical than a contemporary prog-rock piece, with the “Prelude” section acting as a true overture. starting off with slow rudiments which, for a moment, feel unsure, the music soon finds its groove, moving through seamless passages in the first three instrumental minutes. You don’t have to be a Rush fanatic to appreciate the quality rock on display here, which (like “2112 Overture”) is the most indelible part of the overall extended piece. A single verse three minutes in sets the stage for the story.

Next come the two parts which describe the two sides of Hemispheres – “Apollo (Bringer of Wisdom)” and ” Dionysus (Bringer of Love)”. These two parts are really just different verses of the same tune, with a Lifeson guitar lead representing the “the bridge of death” crossing between them. Surprisingly, there is not a bigger contrast sonically between these two contrasting characters, as Geddy Lee brilliantly has shown he could pull off in “2112”. The awkward transition into these tracks is the first real flaw of the extended piece. After abandoning the “chains of reason” in pursuit of “joy and love”, the mythical civilization faces cold, starvation, and predators, which causes caos and ultimate battle in the very theatrical climax to the piece, “Armageddon (The Battle of Heart and Mind)”. Here Lee’s voice hits the highest of registers, perhaps a bit too far for contemporary tastes, as he relates the story of aimless conflict which ensued with the confusion brought on by the awareness of Apollo and Dionysus.

Finally, comes the bridge back to the final song from A Farewell to Kings. “Cygnus X-1:Book I” was a spacey number about a guy who deliberately steers his spaceship into a black hole out of his burning curiosity to see what was on the other side. On the “Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)” echoes from that song overlaid on the long synth sounds of Lee while Peart’s lyric morphs from the philosophical to the fantasy. The protagonist from the former song was able to make the chaos suddenly cease (although it is really unclear why) and the world unites into a “single, perfect sphere” as described in the pleasant acoustic final part with its Pollyanna, Utopian vision.

The second side begins in sharp contrast with excellent, frenzied musical piece of “Circumstances”. This is Rush, the rock band, at their absolute best. Peart’s crazed but ultra-tight drumming and Lee’s thundering Rickenbacker bass provide the best rhythm section in rock and are in top form. There is very short middle section for variety, where a synth-led waltz gives way the chord-and-riff-driven jam before breaking back into one final chorus. In a way, there is more sonically packed into this less-than-four-minute piece than all of the extended, 18-minute “Hemispheres”. Further, the song has great philosophical lyrics in two languages;

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, the more that things change, the more they stay the same…”

The philosophy continues with “The Trees”, a parable on socialism and collectivism. Here, Lifeson takes center stage from his classical acoustic intro through the incredible movement through differing guitar textures. Like “Circumstances”, there is another mid-section which starts with some synth and percussion motifs before breaking into a full band jam, which brings the tune to a fevered conclusion with an ironic lyrical ending.

Rush in 1978

This all leads to “La Villa Strangiato”, the crowning musical achievement of Rush’s long career. The band admits that this was incredibly difficult to record, even claiming that this single track took longer than the entire album Fly By Night. At first, they were obsessed with recording the nine-minute, twelve-section track in one single take, but eventually capitulated and recorded it in three parts. The result is an analog recording with a bit of tape hiss, but this does not detract from the music one bit. Based on a dream by Lifeson, “La Villa Strangiato” (“The Strange House”) begins with half minute Spanish guitar that gives way to, perhaps, the most exciting intro in rock and roll. Like a world awakening from a long slumber, the dream flanged guitar is cut through by the underlying, three-note beat by Lee and Peart. Eventually, the tension breaks into a full band rudimentary riff offset by interludes of smooth instrumental soaring. During the complex middle section, the mood comes down a little bit, to a basic beat for Lifeson’s bluesy guitar leads (like Rush in Pink Floyd mode), again building ever so slowly towards a more intense rhythm part. Several more connecting sections ensue, including a jazzy section led by bass and drums. The music meanders and draws the listener to a lull before suddenly breaking back to the main theme as a lead-in to the outro with a sudden and abrupt ending, which leaves the audience wanting for more.

Although Hemispheres received relatively good reviews it did not fare well commercially. With great success on the horizon, this would be the last Rush studio album to fail to make the Top 10 until 1987’s Hold Your Fire, six albums in the future. The recording of five studio albums in four years, coupled with 300 gigs a year, and the shear exhaustion of making such a complex album would play a major factor in the band deciding to move towards more accessible material in the future.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

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City to City by Gerry RaffertyGerry Rafferty was an artist who really didn’t like fame all that much. In fact, he once walked out on his former band, Stealers Wheel,  shortly after they topped the charts with “Stuck in the Middle with You”  in 1973. The success found Rafferty  retreating to his native Scotland before being coerced back into rejoining that band. Ironically, City to City brought Rafferty fame in droves after a long hiatus from the public eye. This album reached the top of the U.S. album charts and produced three Top 20 hits. But beyond its commercial success, it was the absolute apex of Rafferty’s career where if left indelible musical marks which define his output to this day.

Rafferty joined the folk group The Humblebums in 1969. Two years later he was signed to a solo contract an released his 1971 debut Can I Have My Money Back?, a critical success but commercial failure. In 1972, Rafferty formed Stealers Wheel with Walter Egan and recorded three albums before the duo disbanded in 1975. This was followed by legal wrangling over the demise of Stealers Wheel which kept Rafferty out of the studio for three solid years.

Though it would seem to have strike the pop charts out of the blue, City to City does not depart dramatically from the music Rafferty has recorded over the past decade. In fact, he used much of the same personnel he had on his first solo album seven years earlier, starting with producer Hugh Murphy. The album’s title was meant to be satirical, as Rafferty conquers the world one metropolis at a time. Fueled by Rafferty’s compositional skills, the group forged a fresh sound with diverse styles, while lyrically Rafferty juxtaposes the differences between urban and pastoral life.


City to City by Gerry Rafferty
Released: January 20, 1978 (United Artists)
Produced by: Hugh Murphy
Recorded: Chipping Norton Recording Studios, London, 1977
Side One Side Two
The Ark
Baker Street
Right Down the Line
City to City
Stealin’ Time
Mattie’s Rag
Whatever’s Written In Your Heart
Home and Dry
Island
Waiting For the Day
Primary Musicians
Gerry Rafferty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Hugh Burns – Guitars
Tommy Eyre – Piano, Keyboards, Brass
Graham Preskett – Fiddle, Strings
Gary Taylor – Bass, Vocals
Henry Spinetti – Drums

 

The opening tune “The Ark” starts with a Celtic-flavored thumping intro led by fiddle and mandolin combo of Graham Preskett. It soon breaks into a pleasant ballad, reminiscent of the band Badfinger, with the vibe of sailing along calm water within the beat. While it never really breaks from its deliberate and steady tone, this five and a half minute song feels full and complete.

While long considered Rafferty’s signature song, “Baker Street” may also be one of the quintessential tracks of the late seventies. At once pop yet progressive, this song is an urban journey accompanied by baskets of sonic candy, The bass of Gary Taylor supplies a lot of this décor, as do the keyboards, organ, and synths of Tommy Eyre as do the cool and smooth layered vocals of Rafferty, delivering the self-reflecting and mature lyrics. But all this plays a supporting role to the memorable saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft, which guides the song from phrase to phrase. Rafferty lobbied the record label to have “Baker Street” as the lead single from the album and it became hugely popular, reaching the top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic before the album was even released.

The mechanical yet groovy “Right Down The Line” was the other major hit from the album. An upbeat song of romance, this tune is firmly within easy listening range while still feeling vibrant and young and in no way sappy. Rafferty’s excellent vocal harmonies during the bridges along with the cool steel guitar intro and lead of Brian Cole are the musical highlights for this song which reached #12 on Billboard pop charts and topped the “Easy Listening” charts. The album then takes a sharp turn with title song “City to City”. A quasi-blue grass composition, the song comes complete with a train-whistle-sounding harmonica by Paul Jones and could be an outlaw country song if not for all the production flourishes throughout. “Stealin’ Time” is a great mood-setting song to complete side one. Led by the electric piano of Tommy Eyre, the song is very patient and deliberate musically, like mid-era Pink Floyd. Following a nice lead by Hugh Burns, the arrangement turns interesting as it builds some intensity in the outro section.

The second side starts a long, thumping fade-in on “Mattie’s Rag”, which gives way to an upbeat and bouncy tune including an interesting dobro lead by Cole, and a fantastic fiddle and string coda riff by Preskett. “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” feels like a Gospel song at first, before Rafferty takes control of this McCartney-styled piano ballad. Musically, this six and a half minute song is almost entirely Eyre’s piano, with a short Moog synth lead in the middle while lyrically, the melancholy song is a bit introspective and spiritual;

Maybe I’ve always set my sights too high, you take the easy way and still get by
I know there ain’t no special way, we all get there anyway…”

Topping off the album are three upbeat songs. “Home and Dry” contains a thumping beat by Henry Spinetti with smooth vocal delivery by Rafferty, much like the hit songs from side one. In fact, “Home and Dry” was the third single from the album in the U.S. and it peaked at #28 on the pop charts. “Island” does its title justice with a strong Caribbean beat and gently strummed acoustic by Rafferty, but topically it has more of a jazz nightclub feel. It contains the ever-present saxophone of Ravenscroft and plenty of other exotic instrumentation. Rafferty plays rudimentary piano on “Waiting For the Day”, which complements Eyre’s boogie-woogie electric piano. Starting as perhaps the most straight-forward rocker on album, the song takes a couple of unexpected breaks where Rafferty’s solo vocals are highlighted, clear and up front.

Although Rafferty declined to tour right away following the release of City to City, the momentum carried on to his 1979 album Night Owl, which spawned another trio of Top 40 singles. While the artist continued to release albums throughout the 1980s, his popularity waned and heavy drinking ultimately led to his demise.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.