Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

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Some Girls by The Rolling StonesSome Girls was a major commercial and critical success for the Rolling Stones in 1978. Here, the classic British rock group incorporated the new genres of disco, punk, along with New York style new wave while maintaining their core rock sound. The marathon sessions for this album consumed the entire winter of 1977-78 and ended up yielding about 50 new songs, many of which were used on future studio albums as well as countless bootleg recordings over the years. The engineering approach to recording differed from the sounds of mid seventies Stones albums, with the use of classic techniques along with state-of-the-art amplifiers.

The band added guitarist Ronnie Wood to the line-up, replacing Mick Taylor who left the band three years later. Wood had toured with the band as early as 1975 when he was still a member of the band Faces and his permanent addition added some much needed support for primary guitarist Keith Richards. Heroin dependency and a pending possession charge were a serious concern for the group during production of Some Girls. The Toronto drug bust held a real possibility that Richards might be sent to prison for years, but the ultimate judgment was an order to perform a charity show for The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

During this era, vocalist Mick Jagger stepped up with a greater than usual role in songwriting and producing. Although Richards was present as co-producer and co-composer, Jagger gained control of the band’s musical direction for the next several albums through 1981’s Tattoo You. The result is a blend of glitzy and decadent rock which still makes it a definitive Stones album. However, not everyone was thrilled with this new musical direction, band manager and studio pianist Ian Stewert sat out the Some Girls sessions in protest of the approach.


Some Girls by The Rolling Stones
Released: June 9, 1978 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Miss You
When the Whip Comes Down
Imagination
Some Girls
Lies
Far Away Eyes
Respectable
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Shattered
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

 

The groovy bass of Bill Wyman leads the repetitive riff of “Miss You”. This was the lead single from Some Girls, released in May 1978 ahead of the album. It reached the top of the charts, becoming the Rolling Stones’ last U.S. #1 hit and rode the tail end of the disco wave. A highlight later in the song is the short saxophone solo by Mel Collins. “When the Whip Comes Down” features a fairly standard, Richards-based riff with a verse-chorus repeat pattern. Lyrically, the song is about a gay street hustler in an attempt by Jagger to show he has an ear for the American urban scene.

The cover of Norman Whitfield‘s and Barrett Strong’s “Imagination” is a pleasant enough update of the Temptations classic but not really a wise choice as album track (should have been reserved for a B-side or compilation). Wood’s Faces band mate Ian McLagan provides organ for the track. The title song “Some Girls” sounds a bit like a Scottish folk song on acid, with flanged out guitars and several stand-alone verses with guitar interludes before a break with harmonies and picked acoustic. The later verse is like a perverse updated version of “California Girls”, albeit using race and ethnicity instead of location, and the song ends with a fine blues harp lead by Sugar Blue, which is unfortunately cut short in the fade. “Lies” is a frantic song in a genre style developed by the Stones in the late seventies, on later songs such “Neighbors”. Held together by the steady beat by drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones end side one with a smoke-filled and ambiguous musical piece with lyrics equal parts irony and ecstasy.
 

 
Aside for the throwaway parody “Far Away Eyes”, side two provides the strongest moments on Some Girls. “Respectable” is fun and upbeat faux punk with Jagger supplying his relatively new guitar skills to complete a three-axe attack. The Rolling Stones do some self-examination of their admitted mid-seventies complacency and heed the wake-up call of their younger contemporaries. “Before They Make Me Run” is Richard’s outlaw anthem where he takes the mic for lead vocals and alludes to his own drug and legal problems.

“Beast of Burden” is the best song on the album. It contains well-crafted guitar interplay between Richards and Wood with a weaving attack. Vocally and lyrically, Jagger is superb as he delivers a classic blues anthem complete with the mid-section vocal testament, all with an entertaining and contemporary flair. The album concludes with “Shattered”, which bookends nicely with the opener “Miss You” as another somewhat improvised “disco” piece. Some have suggested this last track was a tribute to the New York Dolls, delighting in the degradation of New York City during its dark days of the seventies.

Some Girls reached #1 in the U.S. and eventually became the Rolling Stones biggest selling album in America, with over six million copies sold. The band embarked on summer tour of the states in 1978, where they played a few small venue shows under a pseudonym just for fun. They followed up with the similar sounding Emotional Rescue in 1980, which found more commercial success as well as inner turmoil which nearly broke up the band.

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1978 Images

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

 

Stranger In Town by Bob Seger

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Bob SegerBob Seger released his tenth overall album, Stranger In Town, in 1978. It follows the major commercial breakthrough of Night Moves, and expands the practice of using two groups of backing musicians. Seger used his own backing Silver Bullet Band and the famous Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section from Alabama, with each playing on about half the tracks. The result is an album which contains a balanced mixture of rock anthems and poignant ballads with lyrical topics of restlessness, escape, and longing which defined blue collar rock ethic. Upon its release, the album rocketed up the charts in the United States and was certified platinum less than a month after the release.

One change within the Silver Bullet band was drummer David Teegarden, who replaced original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin. While walking on a road, Martin was hit by a car from behind and was left unable to walk.

The overall theme of Stranger In Town is dealing with the sudden rise to fame and adapting to the changes that happen when becoming a star. For Seger, this rise came when he was on the north side of thirty and mature enough to wax philosophical about shallowness and keep perspective on his own roots and character. The resultant success of this second straight blockbuster served to not only solidify his success but actually increase it.


Stranger In Town by Bob Seger
Released: May 5, 1978 (Capitol)
Produced by: Bob Seger, Punch Andrews, & Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Recorded: Criteria Sound Studios, Miami, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama, Sound Suite Studios, Detroit, Michigan, 1977-78
Side One Side Two
Hollywood Nights
Still the Same
Old Time Rock and Roll
Till It Shines
Feel Like a Number
Ain’t Got No Money
We’ve Got Tonight
Brave Strangers
The Famous Final Scene
Primary Musicians
Bob Seger – Guitars, Vocals
Robyn Robbins – Keyboards
Barry Beckett – Keyboards
Drew Abbott – Guitars
Pete Carr – Guitars
Chris Campbell – Bass
Alto Reed – Saxophone
Roger Hawkins – Drums, Percussion

 

The album rolls to a start with “Hollywood Nights”, a driving rocker held down by Teegarden’s drums. This story-telling song with the late seventies subject of the “gone Hollywood” theme never really gets off the basic beat and patterns but still feels satisfying as a pure rocker and reached the Top 20 on the charts. “Still the Same” strikes a more somber vibe. Led by the piano of Robyn Robbins, this almost country-like tune has a unique arrangement with only one real verse and chorus and a truncated variation following the short piano lead section. The theme continues the Hollywood scene and the attitude which seemed foreign to Seger. Commercially, “Still the Same” was a big hit, reaching #4 on the pop singles chart.

The next two songs prominently feature the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. “Old Time Rock and Roll” was presented to  Seger by the group during the album sessions. Composed by George Jackson and Thomas Jones, Seger re-wrote most of the lyrics but failed to take a songwriting credit. He later admitted this was “the dumbest thing I ever did”, as this nostalgic look at the music of a previous generation became a staple at weddings and parties for decades to come has been ranked the second-most played jukebox single of all time. “Till It Shines” is probably the most perfect song for the group, filling it with sonic décor throughout the introspective in the acoustic number. The philosophical lyrics are delivered with a pleasant melody above a pleasant ensemble of steady music, which includes a guitar lead by Eagle Glenn Frey.

“Feel Like a Number” is sort of the default theme song of the album and it demonstrates how the sequencing of the album works by counter-balancing ballads with rockers. The song is a typical working class song about one being lost in the world around him, which shows him little or no respect. The Frankie Miller cover “Ain’t Got No Money” closely mimics “The Fire Down Below” from Night Moves, almost to the point of plagiarism. Another Eagle, Don Felder provides the guitar solo. “We’ve Got Tonight” is a piano ballad which has an almost Neil Diamond quality at the top. This was another hit single for Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, reaching number 13 on the U.S. pop charts and an even bigger hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton when they remade it in 1983.

“Brave Strangers” has an epic quality to it and is the finest song on side two. After a couple of upbeat, driving verses, the song halts and goes into a moderate jazzy section highlighted by the piano of Doug Riley, the saxophone of Alto Reed, and fine backing vocals. Thematically the song is a sequence to (or retelling of) the scene in the song “Night Moves”, reliving that evocative and nostalgic tale. “The Famous Final Scene” continues the cinematic scope of “Brave Strangers” but as a mellow ballad carried by Muscle Shoals’ twin guitarists Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. But the real highlight is the piano and organ by Barry Beckett, which adds the dripping melancholy to the album’s final song.

Mirroring the sales of Night Moves, Stranger In Town would eventually go six times platinum. With this continued success, Seger tried his hand at songwriting for other artists and co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit “Heartache Tonight” in 1979. The following year he released his third consecutive blockbuster album with Against the Wind, which became his first and only #1 album.

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1978 Images

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

 

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello

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This Year's Model by Elvis Costello1978 was a breakthrough year for Elvis Costello. His second album, This Year’s Model, was released in the Spring featuring his backing band, The Attractions, for the first time. Further, My Aim Is True, Costello’s 1977 debut album, was re-released internationally following his signing with Columbia Records. Much of the material for This Year’s Model is comprised largely of leftovers from My Aim Is True and the tour which followed. While the debut featured a more retro sound, this album leans more towards punk, with the Attractions adding a reckless rock edge. Produced by Nick Lowe, Costello and the Attractions speed through the album’s tracks at a frantic and blinding pace.

Different releases of the album contained different tracks. The single “Radio, Radio”, a song protesting the commercialization of radio broadcasts and recording studios, appeared on the US version of the album. The subjects of this song caused much hesitation over when and where it was to be broadcasted. In December 1977, Costello was a last minute replacement on Saturday Night Live and was instructed to play the song “Less than Zero.” However, after a few bars, Costello turned to the Attractions, waved his hand to stop and then led the band in a performance of “Radio, Radio.” Costello was banned from SNL for a dozen years afterward.

Nervous energy drives the action in This Year’s Model, a 35 minute journey of sweet pop-driven blasts. Brief as it is, the entire album is filled with hooks, efficient without excess.


This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
Released: March 17, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Nick Lowe
Recorded: Eden Studios, London, 1977–78
Side One Side Two
No Action
This Year’s Girl
The Beat
Pump It Up
Little Triggers
You Belong to Me
Hand In Hand
(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea
Lip Service
Living In Paradise
Lipstick Vogue
Night Rally
Primary Musicians
Elvis Costello – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Nieve – Piano, Organ
Bruce Thomas – Bass
Pete Thomas – Drums

 

In less than two minutes, “No Action” sets the pure punk pace right from the jump. The organ by Steve Nieve adds a little melody and high-end flourishes to the song’s paranoia. “This Year’s Girl” follows as more retro pop than punk, with a fuzzy guitar that is somewhat obscured by the swirling organ during this de facto title song of the album. Lyrically, the song is a downright vicious indictment of a socialite/hipster, becoming a centerpiece of Costello’s early work.

After the weaker track “The Beat”, comes “Pump It Up”, a driving, riff-driven rock song fused with eros and frantic lyrics. It is an especially good track for bassist Bruce Thomas. “Little Triggers” is a mellow and emotional piece and the closest thing to a ballad on this album. The first side closer “You Belong to Me” is the best song on the first side. With McCartney-like vocals, the upbeat and direct tune is not at all ambiguous lyrically, vocally, or sonically. Reverted to the pattern of the first album, the song is a tribute to garage rock with Nieve’s whiny Vox Continental organ line and Costello’s echoed and twangy lead guitar.

The second side begins with a quintessential Elvis Costello pop song called “Hand in Hand”, a short, melodic, direct, and entertaining tune. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” features a very new wave syncopation and beat complete with ska-influenced odd timings under a very standard melody and big tremolo organ sound. The song was left off the original U.S. release because record execs thought the theme was too “British”.

“Lip Service” contains nice riffing in a generally pop-oriented tune while “Living in Paradise” is fueled by Nieve’s new wave synth in tandem with Thomas’ rolling bass. The mood oriented “Lipstick Vogue” is driven by a frenzied beat by drummer Pete Thomas along with bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation). Perhaps the most punk of any song on the album, the song serves as a showcase for the new group’s extraordinary energy along with the scornful cynicism of Costello’s lyrics.

The album concludes with “Night Rally”, which works like a sixties British pop song updated for seventies new wave. A calm but apt closer for the album, “Night Rally” demonstrates how Costello’s songs seem to work best when they are short, direct, and to the point, in this case the subject is an expose on fascism.

After a North American tour and some personal and professional controversy, Costello and the Attractions continued the momentum into 1979 with the production of his released his third album Armed Forces.

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1978 Images

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

 

Don’t Look Back by Boston

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Don't Look Back by BostonDon’t Look Back was the much anticipated second album by Boston. After the unprecedented success of the group’s debut album, the two year wait was considered a long gap between albums. Still, producer and composer Tom Scholz considered the album to be rushed and history has shown that this album fell far short of the debut (which, by the way, was our album of the year for 1976). Still, there are moments of brilliance dispersed through this album which are among the finest ever produced by Scholz. Further, Don’t Look Back did reach #1 on the album charts, achieving one benchmark that the debut did not (Boston peaked at number 3), even if overall sales through three and a half decades were only about a fifth of the incredible 17 million of the debut.

Due to the unprecedented record sales of Boston, the group went from a virtually unknown act to a major headliner in less than a year. In fact, Boston was the first and only band to make their New York debut at historic Madison Square Garden in 1977. The fusion of Scholz’s unique guitar sounds and vocalist Brad Delp‘s vocal abilities were a major draw to catch this rock “band” live. However, Boston was never really a true band but more a conscious effort to de-emphasize Scholz as the mastermind behind the music.

Despite their incredible success on all fronts through 1976 and 1977, Don’t Look Back was recorded in a tiny home studio built by Scholz (at the time he jokingly called Boston “the one multi-million-selling basement band that never left the basement”). For the most part, this album was recorded by three of the five members of the original band with guitarist Barry Goudreau only providing leads on a handful of tracks and bassist Fran Sheehan only partially playing on one. In the end, Don’t Look Back meets (and in some cases surpasses) the sonic quality of Boston’s dazzling debut, but most of its compositions tend to pale in comparison.


Don’t Look Back by Boston
Released: August 2, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Scholz
Recorded: Hideaway Studio and Northern Studio, Massachusetts, 1977-78
Side One Side Two
Don’t Look Back
The Journey
It’s Easy
A Man I’ll Never Be
Feelin’ Satisfied
Party
Used to Bad News
Don’t Be Afraid
Primary Musicians
Brad Delp – All Vocals
Tom Scholz – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion
Barry Goudreau – Guitars
Sib Hashian – Drums, Percussion

 

A few of the songs on Don’t Look Back, came from Scholz’s early seventies back catalog, including the title song “Don’t Look Back”, which became a Top 10 hit for the group. Led by the infectious, recurring guitar riff, which is an apt beginning for an album so dominated by guitar sounds, this song contains the most variation and development of any on the album. During the choruses Scholz’s layered riff builds, offering a new variation with each iteration and the climatic lead section, while Delp’s layered vocals are well formed and melodic throughout.

Next comes the sequence of “The Journey”/”It’s Easy”, which mimics the “Foreplay/Long Time” from the debut album (although that original was considered one track). “The Journey is a short sonic instrumental with Scholz repeating the same emotional riff, adding more dramatic effects each time until abruptly breaking into the full arrangement of “It’s Easy”. Lyrically, this song goes back to the philosophical realm of past songs like “Peace of Mind”, while leaning more towards a love song. Musically, it is pretty average with only the pre-chorus vocals providing any real highlight on the song.

A Man I'll Never Be singleCompleting the first side is “A Man I’ll Never Be”, the best song on Don’t Look Back. On its surface, this is built like a typical power ballad (even though those really weren’t that typical in 1978). But what makes this song special is the layered guitar riffs, which are some of the best ever – anywhere! Particularly impressive is the Scholz’s lead during the middle section which jumps from key to key in an impressive choir of guitar mastery. Nearly all the sonic candy provided by Scholz alone, with Delp adding rather low key vocals and drummer Sib Hashian sticking to a standard drum beat. Further, the sticky-sweet, trite lyrics keep this one from being a true masterpiece, while it certainly comes close. In the end all the great guitars give way to a majestic organ to bring the climax to an end before a very short piano outro closes the song. This piano was actually the only part of the entire album recorded in a “professional” recording studio, simply because Scholz could not fit one in his basement.

Boston in 1978

By all accounts, the second side of the album is where the weak spots lie and Scholz later conceded that only the first side of Don’t Look Back was truly completed. The best part of the upbeat “Feelin’ Satisfied” is a long riff-driven outro following the second verse. The next track “Party”, the weakest song on the album which sounds like a cheap filler to emulate the far superior “Smokin’” from Boston. A much better song is the moody yet melodic “Used to Bad News”, written solely by Delp. Here Scholz completely puts down the guitars to focus on the fine melodies of the Hammond organ. Delp fills in with a great acoustic (along with his vocal melodies) and Goudreau provides a short guitar lead before the organ returns for some fine riffing during the final verse. Although the shortest song on side two, “Used to Bad News” seems to pack in more quality than the other three combined. “Don’t Be Afraid” finishes things off, again offering sonic quality and vocal mastery with the added dynamics of some mean drumming by Hashian. Still, the composition itself is rather weak, making this an unsatisfying conclusion to what potentially could have been a much better album.

Boston went on another tour following Don’t Look Back, but management problems soon plagued the band. Further, Scholz refused to be hurried in producing Boston’s third album and CBS Records filed a lawsuit, alleging breach of contract. A long court battle ensued and that album, Third Stage took more than eight years until it was finally released at the end of 1986.

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1978 Images

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

Darkness On the Edge of Town
by Bruce Springsteen

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Darkness On the Edge of Town by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen set out to make a rural influenced album with Darkness On the Edge of Town, the long awaited follow-up to his 1975 breakthrough, Born to Run. The album’s delay was caused mainly by a legal battle with former manager, Mike Appel,  over song rights and control, during which Springsteen toured extensively with the E Street Band, building group chemistry which carried over into the recordings. The album was produced by Springsteen, John Landau and guitarist Steve Van Zandt, with Landau being more a “formalist”, Van Zandt preferring more of a “garage” sound and Springsteen acting as arbitrator.

The songwriting sessions for Darkness On the Edge of Town were the most prolific of Springsteen’s career. He composed at least 70 songs and recorded a whopping 52 of those, either fully or partially. Some of the unused material became hits for other artists, such as “Because the Night” for Patti Smith, “Fire” for The Pointer Sisters, “Rendezvous” for Greg Kihn, and “This Little Girl” for Gary U.S. Bonds, while several others were held over for Springsteen’s next album, the double LP The River in 1980. Adding to Springsteen’s reputation for providing hits for other bands was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band #1 pop hit with a rearranged version of “Blinded by the Light” from his debut, Greetings from Asbury park, NJ.

Springsteen’s songs were inspired by such diverse influences as the new punk sound and his recent embrace of traditional country music. He later called this album an honest “reckoning with the adult world” and a reaction to his own good fortune. Unlike the escapism themes of Born To Run, the album pays tribute to the stability of small time life, through good times and bad. Musically and sonically, the album features the dynamic of the many players fighting for space within the limited sonic domain of this record, making it interesting and entertaining from end to end.


Darkness at the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen
Released: June 2, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, & Steve Van Zandt
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Badlands
Adam Raised a Cain
Something In the Night
Candy’s Room
Racing In the Street
The Promised Land
Factory
Streets of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness On the Edge of Town
E Street Band
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Steve Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Clarence Clemans – Saxophone, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Vocals
Danny Federici – Keyboards
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

 

Starting strong with “Badlands” which, aside from “Born to Run”, may be the quintessential Springsteen song, the album roars in full frenzy. The carnival-like, twinkly piano of Roy Bittan meshes nicely with the warm toned organ sounds of his counterpart Danny Federici, all beneath the stark and straight-forward chants of lyrics chronicling the revolving blue-collar life. Springsteen provides just enough hard rock guitar to make it respectable and Clarence Clemens plays a mean sax solo, although it does sound a little out of place with the mesh of the band vibe.

The dark but upbeat bluesy “Adam Raised a Cain” contains music with a simple drive while the vocal melodies are dynamic and interesting. Perhaps Springsteen’s strongest showing as a performer on Darkness On the Edge of Town, he displays much vocal range – from the laid back verses to the intense choruses to the screaming final verse. It also contains his most impressive guitar work with a fiery guitar lead. “Something In the Night” follows with a very interesting intro build-up to a song that is an anthem and a ballad all wrapped into one, with adventurous vocals and an infectious piano riff.
 

 
“Candy’s Room” sounds like it was influenced by Lou Reed, although Springsteen does actually sing a bit in this song. It is a real showcase for drummer Max Weinberg , who shows his enormous talent with a big drum sound. Lyrically, the song details a young man’s naïve love of the damaged Candy. The first side ends with “Racing In the Street”, a somber sequel to “Born to Run” influenced by the California sound of Jackson Browne. This much acclaimed, dirge-like ballad speaks of a man with dead end job with his only joy coming from driving his custom wheels.

The second side brings the mood back up with “The Promised Land”, returning to the pop formula. Clemens returns with another short sax solo, this time interrupted by Springsteen’s harmonica solo and there are even some backing “oohs” and “ahhs” during the third verse. The song’s title was inspired by a Chuck Berry song of the same title and the lyrics link to other songs on the album. The short but potent “Factory” depicts a numbing sort of working life, inspired by Springsteen’s own father who worked in a noisy factory which affected his hearing. “Streets of Fire” is very intense and melodramatic (almost too melodramatic) with Federici’s church-like organ setting the mood.

Prove It All Night singleWith a sax lead right off the top, “Prove It All Night” brings the mood right back, scoring the only Top 40 hit from Darkness On the Edge of Town. Bassist Garry Tallent adds the perfect counterpart to the melodic keyboards and new-fangled guitar lead by Springsteen. Building with drive and excitement to the climatic outro with wails of love and the surrendering of a women’s virtue. The album concludes with the powerful title song, which starts with a Motown inspired soul beat before it breaks into a full arrangement. “Darkness On the Edge of Town” serves as an inspired conclusion to the album of the same name, especially as it refrains from being whiny as some of Springsteen’s other “working class” songs.

Although not exactly a commercial hit, Darkness On the Edge of Town did remain on the charts for 97 weeks and has sold steadily enough over 35 years to reach triple-platinum status. The 1978 tour which followed has been considered one of legendary status for the intensity and length of its shows. In 2010, a triple CD box set The Promise featured 22 previously unreleased tracks from the Darkness sessions with some added production. But this still only scratches the surface of the incredible proliferation of Springsteen in 1977/78, as scores of those songs have yet to be officially released.

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

1978 Images

 

Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

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Excitable Boy by Warren ZevonExcitable Boy was Warren Zevon’s follow up to his self-titled 1976 album which established Zevon as a rising talent in the Los Angeles singer/songwriter community. Once again, Zevon teamed up with friends and colleagues to produce some fine pop rock. The difference this time was that while Linda Ronstadt’s recordings of several songs from his Warren Zevon album were bigger hits than the original Zevon recorded versions, they created much buzz about this sophomore effort. As a result, Excitable Boy was actually a hit in its own right, featuring the same sardonic, sharp style with crisp, often dark lyrics, which combine perfectly with pop rock melodies to tell quirky yet emotionally stirring stories.

Zevon was born in Chicago to a Jewish immigrant from Russia, but grew up in Fresno, California. As a teen, he briefly studied classical music under Igor Stravinsky but he quit high school at sixteen and moved to New York to become a folk singer. Zevon toured regularly with the Everly Brothers as keyboard player and band leader during the early seventies before returning to California in 1975.

While in Los Angeles, Zevon roomed with then-unknown Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and he collaborated with Jackson Browne, who produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut. An all-star list of contributors to that album included Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt. Though only a modest commercial success, the 1976 album was critically acclaimed, so Browne and co-producer Waddy Wachtel returned for Excitable Boy.


Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon
Released: January 18, 1978 (Asylum)
Produced by: Jackson Browne & Waddy Wachtel
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, 1977
Side One Side Two
Johnny Strikes Up the Band
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Excitable Boy
Werewolves of London
Accidentally Like a Martyr
Nighttime in the Switching Yard
Veracruz
Tenderness on the Block
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Primary Musicians
Warren Zevon – Piano, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar, Lead Vocals
Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar – Guitar, Percussion
Russ Kunkel – Drums

 

The album opens with “Johnny Strikes up The Band” featuring a steady piano from Zevon accented with catchy guitar riffs by Wachtel. The song is a perfect introduction as it is about a band leader who makes people forget their troubles when he “strikes up the band.” This leads into “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”, which tells the story of a political double-crossing resulting in a “Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” type revenge story where the headless ghost of Roland hunts down the man who did him wrong and kills him.

The album’s title track is, on the surface, a bubbly, happy pop tune complete with a doo-wop chorus, saxophone, and a rollicking melody. The lyrics, however, tell the horrific tale of a young sociopath’s bizarre penchant for rape and murder. Zevon’s deadpan matter-of- fact delivery on “Excitable Boy” strikes the perfect balance in this macabre, sardonic tale. With bright, piano-driven melody,  doo-wop sax, and back up vocals, rape and murder never sounded so carefree.

Perhaps the most recognizable song in this collection is “Werewolves of London”. While this is not Zevon’s creative masterpiece, it does have a great hook with the howling chorus and piano beat as well as some memorable lyrics.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walking through the streets of Soho in the rain…”

The side one closer, “Accidentally Like a Martyr”, is a perfect ballad of heartbreak, lost love, and misplaced trust accented by mournful slide guitar and melancholy piano.

The second side starts of weak with “Nighttime in the Switching Yard”,  a dated disco piece which seems out of place on this album. However, the side improves from there. “Veracruz” is a Spanish influenced ballad that tells the story of young men going off to battle. Zevon manages to put forth some political opinions without getting too preachy. The recorders, harps and Spanish guitar paint a sad but inspiring scene.

Browne co-wrote “Tenderness on the Block”, a story of a young girl growing up, full of promise and potential set to an optimistic and bouncy piano. This may seem uncharacteristically positive for Zevon, but it is really a bittersweet story as it is told from the point of view of a parent watching their child go out into the world. “Lawyers Guns and Money” is a brilliant closer which tells the story of a hapless young rogue who finds himself in trouble with the Russian Mafia after going home with a waitress (the way he always did). He laments how he has run out of luck and Dad’s lawyers, guns and money can’t get him out of this fix, a typical song of  comeuppance, which Zevon composes so well.

Excitable Boy was the best selling album of Zevon’s up and down career and reached the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts. The remainder of Zevon’s three decade long career was marked by self-imposed declines and a inspired comebacks, right up to his final album produced shortly before Zevon’s death in 2003.

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1978 Images

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

 

Parallel Lines by Blondie

Buy Parallel Lines

Parallel Lines by BlondieBlondie has become one of those groups that is often misunderstood on multiple levels. First, this was a band, not a female solo artist with a common nickname. Next, this was not a disco group but a bona fide new wave, experimental rock band with pop leanings which had started out at CBGBs right alongside the Ramones and the Talking Heads. Blondie just had far better pop success, which started with 1978’s Parallel Lines, produced by Mike Chapman. This third studio album, which masterfully blended bubblegum pop with elements of punk, went on to sell over twenty million copies worldwide and reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

The group’s iconic figure, composer and lead vocalist Deborah Harry, was already age 33 and a seasoned veteran of the New York rock scene when this album was produced. Her artistic and domestic partner in creating the group was guitarist Chris Stein, who brought with him inspiration from the new music scene of the Mercer Arts Center on New York’s Lower East Side. The duo first played together in the group The Stilettos in 1973 and formed many incarnations of a rock group before drummer Clem Burke and keyboard player Jimmy Destri came aboard and formed Blondie in 1975. The group released their self-titled debut album in December 1976 but scored their first commercial success in Australia in 1977, when a music television program mistakenly played their video “In the Flesh”.  That song, which has been described as “a forerunner to the power ballad”, went to number one down under. In February 1978, Blondie released their second album, Plastic Letters.

Producer Chapman intentionally steered the band away from their punk and new wave  leanings (although much of those elements seeped through) and towards making a pop album. He mixed Stein’s guitar right up beside Deborah Harry’s vocals and navigates from song to song and style to style smoothly. Chapman also imposed a tough rehearsal schedule and tightened up the rhythm and timing on the recordngs.


Parallel Lines by Blondie
Released: September, 1978 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Mike Chapman
Recorded: Record Plant, New York City, June–July 1978
Side One Side Two
Hanging On the Telephone
One Way or Another
Picture This
Fade Away and Radiate
Pretty Baby
I Know But I Don’t Know
11:59
Will Anything Happen?
Sunday Girl
Heart of Glass
I’m Gonna Lose You Too
Just Go Away
Band Musicians
Deborah Harry – Lead Vocals  |  Chris Stein – Guitars |  Frank Infante – Guitar, Vocals
Jimmy Destri – Keyboards  |  Nigel Harrison – Bass, Vocals  |  Clem Burke – Drums

 
The album begins with “Hanging on the Telephone”, a cover song written by Jack Lee for the new wave band the Nerves. Although this song sounds a bit dated just for the technology references (i.e. “telephone booth”), it does contain a pleasant harmonized guitar lead and is a near perfect setup for the next track. “One Way or Another” was co-written by bassist Nigel Harrison, who joined Blondie just prior to the recording of Parallel Lines. This rock and roll classic is a ballsy female creed of pure will and determination with an infectious cascading guitar lick. The song concludes with a tremendous outro which contains layered vocals and siren effects and it reached U.S. Top 40 in April, 1979.

“Picture This” is another gem on the first side, and the first foray into retro rock. The heavy guitar riffs are masterfully mixed throughout, giving the song a great vibe while maintaining an edge, accented by the profound lyrics;

all I want is 20/20 vision a total portrait with no omissions…”

Stein’s “Fade Away and Radiate” Sounds like it is influenced by early Alice Cooper with its slow and haunting atmosphere. It kicks in nicely with well treated guitar and synth effects and dry but powerful vocals. “Pretty Baby” follows as a more upbeat rock song with a call and response chorus and great guitar riffs between verses. The group’s final 1978 addition, guitarist Frank Infante wrote “I Know But I Don’t Know” and shares lead vocals with Harry. This song has an intro organ has Latin influence but Burke’s driving drums make it come off more as punk rock, especially when coupled with Infante’s scorching guitar runs.

The album’s second side contains Parallel Lines two biggest hits. “Sunday Girl” almost sounds like a sixties cover, but is really just a masterful composition by Stein with a great vocal melody executed by Harry. The light plunking guitar and gentle cruising rhythms gives the song an air of innocence which is a nice break on this album and propelled it to the top of the U.K. charts.
 

 
From pure retro in “Sunday Girl”, the album takes a sharp turn to pure disco of “Heart of Glass”. The song evolved from a very different sounding demo by Stein and Harry, but the studio recording was fused together beat by beat by Chapman, who had lofty goals for this track from the start. It reached number one in both the U.S. and the U.K. (and beyond) and the group has long admitted the song was a flagrant attempt to exploit the then still raging disco scene. Deborah Harry’s vocal reaches a more airy high-pitched level than the more brassy rock numbers, which works perfectly with the band groove.

The rest of side two contains some fine tunes which tend to be overlooked next to the big hits. Destri’s “11:59” is a moderate-tempo song with apocalyptic overtones, highlighted by a choppy chord beat and organ lead. “Will Anything Happen?” is a great piece of popped-out punk which is led by a hyper guitar riff, smooth, cool vocals by Harry, and an incredibly long drum roll by Burke. The apt and brilliant closer “Just Go Away” was composed solely by Harry and is quite an original female punk classic, which finishes Parallel Lines on a very high note.

Parallel Lines got its title from a song left off the album (although the lyrics for that song were printed on the original album sleeve. Of the twelve tracks that made the cut, six were issued as singles, making this a true commercial blockbuster.

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

1978 Images

 

The Cars

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The CarsQuite simply one of the best produced albums of the era, the 1978 self-titled debut album from The Cars was a unique sounding breakthrough which brought the group instant worldwide attention. This is due to the brilliant production by Roy Thomas Baker and the approachable compositions of group leader Ric Ocasek. Combined, these elements made for a potent mix of new wave cool and radio-friendly pop, which positioned The Cars as an unavoidable jewel to carry the day in the late seventies. The band would later jokingly refer to this as their “true greatest-hits album”, as just about all of the nine tracks have receive significant rotation on rock radio through the years.

Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr began performing as a duo in Columbus, Ohio before migrating to Boston in the early 1970s. There they joined with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, formed the folk band Milkwood, and released a 1973 album which failed to chart. After a few more Ocasek/Orr incarnations, including a jazz band, the group decided to go in a rock-oriented direction. Guitarist Elliot Easton and drummer David Robinson rounded out the quintet with Robinson coming up with the band’s simple name.

After a demo of the song “Just What I Needed” began getting heavy airplay on a Boston radio station, Elektra Records sent Baker across the ocean to scout the band. After seeing The Cars perform in a Boston school gymnasium, Baker instantly signed the group to a four album deal, all of which he would personally produce.


The Cars by The Cars
Released: June 14, 1978 (Elektra)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, February 1978
Side One Side Two
Good Times Roll
My Best Friend’s Girl
Just What I Needed
I’m in Touch with Your World
Don’t Cha Stop
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
Bye Bye Love
Moving In Stereo
All Mixed Up
Band Musicians
Ric Ocasek – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Benjamin Orr – Bass, Lead Vocals
Elliot Easton – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Hawkes – Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
David Robinson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The albums first three tracks each reached the Top 40 on the pop charts. “Good Times Roll” commences the album aptly with a slow-rocking guitar riff to draw in traditional rock fans while a full-fledged new wave band arrangement and production is attractive to fans on late 70s pop. Like many of the popular songs on the album, “Good Times Roll” is masterfully segmented with repeated choruses each containing different sonic elements – a guitar riff, a synth lead, chorus vocals, and creative counter-melodies. The song methodically sequences through musical passages on the journey to the song’s end. Ocasek’s lyrics and title are meant more as irony than a true pronouncement of celebration.

“My Best Friend’s Girl” follows with much of the same formula as “Good Times Roll”, building from a simple guitar riff to a full band arrangement. However, this song has more roots rock and blues elements than the opener, especially the cleanly picked guitar overdub and lead by Easton and the bouncy electric piano by Hawkes. While this recording pushes the song into new wave territory, it remains firmly a pop song with simple elements like handclaps and call-and-response vocal interplay. “Just What I Needed” may be the most purely new wave song on the album with spazzy guitars and square-wave synth lead. The only song on the first side which Orr sings instead of Ocasek, the song was the group’s first big hit regionally and internationally.

Aside from the cool but repetitive guitar riffing, “I’m in Touch with Your World” is really just a sound-effect-laden collage which tends to sound undercooked and a bit confused. Although not a terrible listen, the song is almost like an experimental piece which samples many synth-driven sound effects and uses other concise methods such as a saxophone solo that lasts all of five seconds. “Don’t Cha Stop” starts with a good guitar led verse which unfortunately gives way to the stale caricature of a chorus. Aside from drummer Robinson getting a chance to really wail on the drums, this side one closer one of the few tracks on the album which doesn’t hold up sonically three and a half decades later.

The flange-driven drum march of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, which later contains a few really good guitar jams. Beyond that, the song tends to lose steam as it gets repetitive during the body. Perhaps, the formula from side one goes a bit too far on this side two opener and by this point on the album Ocasek’s dry vocals seem to wear a little thin on the ears of the passive listener. Perhaps Baker had this in mind when sequencing the final three tracks which each feature Orr on lead vocals.

These final three also segue into each other, in an exhilarating mini-suite which may constitute the finest part of The Cars. “Bye Bye Love” is simply the best song on the album. A composition which dates back to the mid seventies, this tune has a driving rock energy and Orr not only handles lead vocals but also plays his best bass on the album. Aside from Orr, the song is a real showcase for Hawkes, who artfully uses the repetitive riffs between the verse lines with layered and building keyboard font which change with each iteration. A less in-your-face and more unassuming track than some of the more popular songs, “Bye Bye Love” starts and concludes with great energy with Easton’s brilliant guitar a head-banging, rudimentary rock riff.

The Cars, 1978

Hawkes co-wrote “Moving in Stereo”, making it the only song on the album not composed solely by Ocasek. A darker, theatrical, and more intense sonic experience which nearly lasts five minutes (a very long song for this album), the song carries a theme for audiophiles and stereo enthusiasts. Orr has a much smoother singer style which works well for this moody song and his bass is treated with an effects unit that doubles the bass line one octave higher. The closer “All Mixed Up” is the closest thing to a ballad on this album, with Orr singing in an almost folk-like method and with a higher range than anywhere else. While the song maintains some of the album’s new wave elements, it contains many other features such as some good faux synth orchestral horns, an actual saxophone, and a short, country-influenced guitar lead.

The Cars sold one million copies by the end of 1978 and remained on the charts for nearly three years. Although it only peaked at number 18, Billboard ranked it number 4 on their “Top Albums of the Year” countdown. Critically, the album has been labeled “a genuine rock masterpiece”. It launched a ten year charting career for the group which included several more hit albums and songs.

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

1978 Images

 

52nd Street by Billy Joel

52nd Street

52nd Street by Billy JoelThe third of consecutive masterpieces by Billy Joel in the late 1970s, 52nd Street, amazingly encapsulates musical elements from Joel’s past, present and future in a rather short album. It was put together by Joel and producer Phil Ramone in near secrecy in a small studio around the corner from the street which bears its name. In fact, that famous street was where Joel’s label was located (about a block away from the studio) as well as being one of New York City’s traditional jazz centers in the twentieth century. This was also Ramone’s third consecutive album with Joel, starting with Turnstiles in 1976 and The Stranger in 1977.

Building on the styles of those previous albums, 52nd Street is a bit more sophisticated and jazzy, with looser, street-wise arrangements. Contrarily, this album makes some deliberate attempts at mimicking styles from several artists and genres, which makes the album very diverse. There is no doubt that Joel drew from influences of his youth as well as some late seventies contemporaries such as fellow New York jazz/rockers Steely Dan.

Once The Stranger became a chart phenom in early 1977, Joel and Ramone quickly re-entered the studio to record a follow-up, enlisting the same core band which played on the previous album and had toured with Joel since his return to New York in 1975. Within a span of about three months, the album was composed, recorded, mixed, mastered, and released. Joel did all of the composing and arranging while Ramone did a masterful job of making all the various styles and techniques flow together smoothly from start to finish.


52nd Street by Billy Joel
Released: October 13, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: A&R Recording, New York City, July–August 1978
Side One Side Two
Big Shot
Honesty
My Life
Zanzibar
Stiletto
Rosalinda’s Eyes
Half a Mile Away
Until the Night
52nd Street
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano
Richie Cannata – Saxophones, Clarinet, Keyboards
Steve Khan – Guitars, Vocals
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums

 

The nine track 52nd Street can really be divided into three, three-song sections. The first of these sections contain the three big radio hits, all of which reached the Top 40. Allegedly an inside dig against Mick Jagger’s wife Bianca, “Big Shot” drops some New York society names and terms with its storytelling lyrics. Musically, Joel takes a back seat to the members of his rock band, especially guitarist Steve Khan, whose strong guitar riffs drive the song much more than the simple guide piano.

While “Big Shot” is a showcase for his band, the following track “Honesty” is where Joel firmly takes center stage. This is a song which demonstrates the upper limit of Joel’s writing and performing ability, a philosophical piano ballad with soaring yet delicate vocals. “Honesty” may be Joel’s best Elton John impression, a complex piece with a great bridge seeping with emotion. The song features David Spinozza on acoustic guitar and Robert Freedman providing horn and string orchestration.

“My Life” is a steady rocker, driven by Khan’s acoustic guitar and an excellent bass by Doug Stegmeyer. On top of it all, are the tasteful lead piano riffs and great melodies by Joel and, even when he is at his most pop-oriented, his lyrics maintain their philosophic edge. On this track, the music is laid back and reserved yet still has a feeling of fast-paced motion, a tribute to Ramone’s ingenious production techniques.

 
The second three-song section of the album is where the true genius of the 52nd Street lies. All three of these songs are gems which have kind of gotten lost in the retrospectives of Joel’s career, but all three belong in the top echelon. “Zanzibar” is one of Joel’s most complex and richly arranged compositions. This tour de force of 52nd Street is a truly unique song which vacillates from pure rock to jazz with Joel’s shouting vocals leading the way throughout. Even when the song seems to breakdown to a completely off-the-wall jazz section, it works great and flows well with guest Freddie Hubbard on flugelhorn and trumpet. The song evokes the carnival-esque glare of Manhattan at night.

“Stiletto” is a great piano blues/rocker led by a saxophone riff by Richie Cannata. This song has some interesting sonic passages starting with a simple but powerful beat by Liberty DeVitto that drives this song which would be entertaining whether performed solo in a nightclub or in a stadium filled with 50,000 people. The bridge section is a fun piano run that harkens back slightly to “Root Beer Rag”, while the lyrics are nearly sadomasochist. On the lighter and cleaner side, “Rosalinda’s Eyes” is a moderately soft love ballad with Spanish-influenced rhythms, like a more mature version of “Just the Way You Are”. The song contains many sonic treasures by guest players, including vibes and marimba by Mike Mainieri, nylon string guitar by Hugh McCracken and a unique and excellent percussion by Ralph MacDonald, which Ramone creatively had play out for 20 or 30 seconds after the rest of the song fades.

Perhaps the only flaw on 52nd Street lies within the final three songs, which each seem to try too hard to point in one direction or another. I have long contended that the demise of rock and roll began once it became self-aware, sometime in the 1970s, and these last three songs each exhibit that theory to an extent. “Half a Mile Away” may sound like Joel’s earliest 70s pop attempts or later 80s numbers, but either way it sounds hollow compared to the finer tracks. The bright horn arrangements are the only real highlights from this song. “Until the Night” is a very retro, Phil Spector inspired track that forecasts some tracks on the future album An Innocent Man. This is a good tune where Joel really shows his vocal range, but is a little too self-indulgent and over-produced to really jive on this album. The best part of the song is the dramtic bridge section which precedes and equally dramatic sax solo by Cannata. The title song “52nd Street” finishes the album as almost an afterthought (probably by design). After the dramatic climax of “Until the Night” and a pregnant pause, the closer kicks in as a very brief, one verse Ray Charles tribute with a clarinet lead during the outro section.

Although it did not sell as well as its predecessor, 52nd Street was Billy Joel’s first #1 album that was extremely well-received by critics, and earned the 1979 Grammy for Album of the Year. 52nd Street is also distinct as the first album to be commercially released on compact disc, by Sony Music in Japan in 1982. Joel continued his commercial success with fine albums throughout the eighties, but none were quite as good as his works from the late seventies.

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

1978 Images

 

London Town by Wings

London Town by WingsAs the sixth overall album under the group name Wings, the 1978 album London Town is often overlooked as a great album by the Paul McCartney led band. But a great album this certainly is, despite the relative commercial disappointment at the time. Wings was coming off two number one albums in 1976 (the preceding studio album Wings at the Speed of Sound and the live album Wings Over America), as well as McCartney’s two biggest hit singles of his career. Decades later, London Town trumps all those in musical quality, richness and quantity, clocking in at over 50 minutes, near the physical upper limit for a single vinyl LP.

Sessions for the album began in February 1977 at Abbey Road Studios with initial plans for a release later that year. After Linda McCartney discovered that she was pregnant, the group nixed a planned tour and decided to move recording to moored on a yacht in the Virgin Islands called “Fair Carol” in May 1977. Several new songs were recorded in this unorthodox studio, including the songs “Mull of Kintyre” and “Girls’ School”, which were released as a single in August. To the surprise of everyone, “Mull of Kintyre” became the best selling British single of all time (replacing McCartney’s own The Beatles’ song “She Loves You”), while the single barely made the charts in the U.S. While the band was on break for Linda’s maternity, two members (guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English) departed Wings, leaving just the McCartneys lead guitarist Denny Laine as a trio.

With Laine promoted to the forefront, this is the most guitar-centric Wings album. Laine also performs lead vocals on two tracks, giving the album a group feel while keeping Paul McCartney firmly at the forefront. A very diverse album, London Town is an adventurous celebration of music itself, hopping from one contemporary genre to another, all grounded by the underlying rock riffs and rhythms provided by Laine and McCartney. The album also featured many state-of-the-art synthesizers, making it a very interesting listen.


London Town by Wings
Released: March 31, 1978 (Capitol)
Produced by: Paul McCartney
Recorded: Abbey Road and Air-London-Studios, London, Fair Carol (private yacht), Virgin Islands, February 1977-January 1978
Side One Side Two
London Town
Café On the Left Bank
I’m Carrying
Backwards Traveler / Cuff Link
Children, Children
GirlFriend
I’ve Had Enough
With a Little Luck
Famous Groupies
Deliver Your Children
Name and Address
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Morse Moose and the Grey Goose
Band Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Violin, Drums, Percussion
Denny Laine – Guitars, Recorder, Percussion, Vocals
Linda McCartney – Keyboards, Vocals

 

The tremolo electric piano of the title song “London Town” sets the pace for this soft-rock classic opener. McCartney’s bouncy bass gives it a soulful edge that saves it from being too traditionally English and the singer works through some great vocal melodies and harmonies. Lyrically, the song is sort of a modern day “Penny Lane”, offering word motifs of an ordinary British street scene. That 1966 song was accented by the distinct piccolo trumpet while a dozen years later “London Town” is brought into greatness by Laine’s brief but potent electric guitars. The song became a Top 40 hit in the U.S.

Like a traveler through Europe, the album transports the listener from London to Paris with the more upbeat yet just as melodic tune “Cafe on the Left Bank”. This song is sonically superb with the mixture of Laine’s hard-edged riffing, Paul McCartney’s bass and Linda McCartney’s bouncy waltz-organ. The soft “I’m Carrying” is a mainly solo piece by McCartney, recorded on the yacht as just gently picked acoustic and vocals, “Yesterday” style. Some orchestral strings were later overdubbed in London along with McCartney adding an electric guitar using a Gizmo, a then-new device which allows a guitar to be played by vibrating the strings rather than plucking them. The medley of “Backwards Traveler” and “Cuff Link” may be one of the very few parts of the album which feel like filler. “Backwards Traveler” is a single verse and repeated chorus which lasts all of a minute before devolving into a synth-driven funk instrumental “Cuff Link”, which may have sounded hip in 1978 but sounds dated today.

Wings in 1978

Laine takes over lead vocals on “Children Children”, which almost has a Burl Ives feel at first, but does eventually rise to a pleasant folk/rock song. A fiddle part is added by Paul McCartney along with layered acoustics and a main keyboard riff. “Girlfriend” was written for Michael Jackson as a soul-style song at first intended just as a demo. The recording itself does have does have some interesting caveats such as the bridge with pop/rock elements including a heavy guitar lead by Laine and great bass throughout. Making yet another radical transformation, “I’ve Had Enough” is a pure rocker that almost sounds like a proto-punk, (or at the very least Kinks-like) cynical song. This side one closer never relents from the its rock vibe, which only intensifies with the guitar overdubs by Laine later in the song.

“With a Little Luck” returns to the soft pop/rock as a turn towards optimism. It contains a rich arrangement of synth and electric piano parts and passionate lyrics with McCartney repeatedly using terms like “exploding” and “rocketing” to explain the desired outcome of fate, no doubt metaphors for the music industry. During the final verse, his shredding voice wails in hopeful desperation. The middle synth and bass section (unfortunately omitted from the original single and most “Best of..” collections) is a real highlight of the song, with Linda McCartney showing some of her keyboard talents. The song hit number one in the United States and reached number 5 in the UK.

“Famous Groupies” is a marching sing-along about the taboo subject of “those magnificent examples of female pulchritude and luminosity”. The song’s ironic theme was allegedly inspired by Linda’s distain for some of the more outspoken “groupies” and is a very entertaining acoustic folk song with regal chorus and ascending verses in the vibe of Jethro Tull and multi-character aspect of old Genesis. The brilliant “Deliver Your Children” is the second and final song to feature Denny Laine on lead vocals (although McCartney does harmonize on almost every line). The verses are pure country rock, complete with acoustic lead riffs, while the chorus is more pop-oriented. Overall, “Deliver Your Children” is one of the most unique Wings songs and a truly under-appreciated gem despite some slightly trite lyrics.

While the album is downright brilliant through ten tracks, it tends to lose some steam during the final three. “Name and Address” is a tribute to Elvis Presley, who died the previous August, and is entertaining enough except a bit too stereotypical, like a Vegas lounge act of an Elvis impersonator. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is a bit better as a dark folksy, Scottish waltz by McCartney and Laine. Acoustic throughout with unique percussion, this moody tune contains a slight but potent electric guitar and a flute riff in the foreground. The closer “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose” seems like an attempt to end with a progressive-like mini suite but it seems to lack much substance to justify its six and a half minutes, While not a terrible or excruciating listen, the song is just an unfortunate closer for a very fine album.

London Town reached number two on the album charts, Wings’ first album since their 1971 debut Wild Life to not hit the top spot. Replacements for McCulloch and English were hired later in 1978 so the group could continue touring as a five-piece. Wings would release one more album in 1979 before McCartney settled into a multi-decade solo career, which continues to this day.

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

1978 Images