Breakfast In America
by Supertramp

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1979 Album of the Year

Breakfast In America by SupertrampBreakfast In America is, at once, an artistic statement and a pure pop record. This sixth overall album by Supertramp was composed and recorded after the British group relocated to Los Angeles. Much like their three previous albums, the songs on Breakfast In America were split between founding members Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, who have contrasting musical and vocal styles but have a knack for blending these styles into interesting and cohesive albums. Here, the chemistry and talent reaches an apex and the result is Supertramp’s best selling, most critically acclaimed and highest charting album, as well as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1979.

While Supertramp started as a purely progressive rock act in 1970, their mid seventies albums started to inch towards more pop/rock song craft. Released in early 1977, Even In the Quietest Moments, which contained the group’s first worldwide Top 40 hit “Give a Little Bit”. After that album’s release, the band decided to permanently relocate to America’s west coast and each member found fresh influence in the prolific pop music culture which was booming in late seventies Los Angeles.

Prior to the extended recording sessions, the group recorded a couple of demo sessions to sort out the best material. Originally, Davies and Hogdson were planning on doing a concept album, which would examine their conflicting personalities and world views called “Hello Stranger”. However, the group eventually decided on abandoning this concept and focusing more on the songs they considered more fun to perform. In this light, the album’s title was changed to reflect the bouncy, upbeat song introduced by Hodgson. Along with producer Peter Henderson, the group forged a fantastic sound for the album by focusing more on capture and performance than mixing and mastering techniques. This process took months and was only completed when the December 1978 deadline arrived.


Breakfast in America by Supertramp
Released: March 29, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Peter Henderson & Supertramp
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, May–December 1978
Side One Side Two
Gone Hollywood
The Logical Song
Goodbye Stranger
Breakfast In America
Oh Darling
Take the Long Way Home
Lord Is It Mine
Just Another Nervous Wreck
Casual Conversations
Child of Vision
Group Musicians
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Helliwell – Woodwinds, Reeds, Keyboards, Vocals
Dougie Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

Breakfast in America is bookended by two dramatic and theatrical extended tracks which give a sense of the group’s earlier work. “Gone Hollywood” starts with long fade of carnival-like piano before strongly breaking in as a duet of Davies and Hodgson harmonized vocals. After two short verses, a long middle section starts with a subtle but haunting saxophone lead by John Helliwell before Davies takes over lead vocals and tension slowly builds with rhythmic accents of the consistent piano arpeggio. After a climatic Hodson-led section, the song returns to a final verse and concludes with an optimistic musical outro.

“The Logical Song” is a brilliant song lyrically, melodically, and especially musically by Hodgson. The album’s first single, the song reached the Top 10 is several countries and became the group’s most successful hit. The song is highlighted by the later progressions, including the brighter piano notes under Helliwell’s first sax lead and the outro led by the bass riff of Dougie Thompson under the second sax solo. Lyrically, Hodgson critiques the structured education system and society’s unbalanced focus on true knowledge. The dynamics of the Wurlitzer piano are on full display during “Goodbye Stranger”, Davies’ ode to rock groupies. Beyond anything else, this song has exceptionally great sonic aesthetics with some cool guitar textures by Hodgson, including a cool rock outro with a refined guitar lead.

The album’s title song was written by Hodgson while still a teen in the late sixties. “Breakfast in America” is almost frivolous in subject matter, but quite powerful musically with an interesting, English band march beneath the contemporary rock vocals. The song was a hit in the UK but failed to chart in the States. The side one close “Oh Darling” is an unheralded romantic ballad where Davies uses expert chord progressions and diminishment to perfectly set the beautifully melancholy mood. Hodgson makes his own significant contributions, starting textured electric guitar riffs and acoustic accents to compliment the Wurli piano and vocals perfectly, and climaxing with the closing vocal duet that builds to a crescendo before nicely fading out.

Take the Long Way Home singleThe second side starts with the album’s most philosophical track. The lyrics of “Take the Long Way Home” may be about “stepping out” or growing old or re-examining your life or a combination of these. Hodgson again finds a fine melody to accompany the piano progressions, which dominate the verses and choruses and are accented perfectly by Thomson’s bass. During the bridge, there is an exciting tradeoff between the tenor saxophone and Davies’s bluesy harmonica and during the haunting final descent the song slowly marches away into an echoed darkness, completing the overall effect. “Lord Is It Mine” follows as a sweet and sad piano ballad by Hodgson, who uses his highest falsetto voice to carry the tune with minimal arrangement above the guiding piano. Later, there is a nice clarinet lead by Helliman leading to a climatic final section. Lyrically, the track contains nice little motifs such as,

You know I get so weary from the battles in this life and there’s many times it seems that you’re the only hope in sight…”

Next come a couple of tracks by Davies. “Just Another Nervous Wreck” is a building pop/rock song about the struggle of the everyman. It starts with an animated electric piano and vocals and builds with many traditional rock elements including a fine harmonized guitar lead and chorus vocals, before the strong, climatic outro with Davies’s vocals becoming ever more desperate and strained. “Casual Conversations” takes the opposite approach to the previous track, as a short, jazzy, mellow tune. Cool piano carries this along, with not much movement elsewhere, just a guide cymbal beat by drummer Bob Siebenberg. “Child of Vision” closes things out as a seven-plus minute track with an epic feel. Employing some newer musical styles and elements, the track is Helliwell’s only partial songwriting credit on the album and it ends with a long piano solo with a improvised feel. This ending, unfortunately, seems mainly there to take up some time and “run out the clock”, which makes for a less than satisfying conclusion to this otherwise flawless album.

Breakfast in America won two Grammy Awards in 1980, and topped the album charts in several countries, including France where it became the biggest-selling English language album of all time. The group followed the album with a 120-date world tour which broke concert attendance records in Europe and Canada. In 1980, the band released the double live album Paris, another huge success worldwide. The group did not follow up Breakfast in America with another studio release until Famous Last Words was released in late 1982, nearly four years later. Although that album was a commercial success, the subsequent tour led to Hodgson’s departure from the group, breaking up the classic lineup of Supertramp.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Damn the Torpedoes by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersThe major label breakthrough by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the 1979 release Damn the Torpedoes, scored both commercial success and critical acclaim. This was accomplished in spite of the fact that there were some legal issues surrounding Petty’s new contract with MCA over the publishing rights to the songs he wrote. Once the album was released, it rose to #2 on the American album charts where it remained for several weeks.

In the early 1970s, Tom Petty started a rock band known as Mudcrutch in his hometown Gainesville, Florida along with future Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. After the group migrated to Southern California, they decided to split in separate ways as Petty initiated a solo career and Tench formed his own group with bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Petty heard this group and instantly took to their sound and eventually this new group, along with Campbell, became the “Heartbreakers”, backing up Petty on his “solo” endeavors. The group released an eponymous debut album in 1976, the 1978 follow-up You’re Gonna Get It!, which had some commercial success.

Not long after the release of the second album, the group’s independent label was sold to MCA Records and Petty soon struggled to free himself from the publishing aspects by sending himself into bankruptcy. After all was settled and Petty retained his publishing rights, the group was committed to work on this third album in a short time. They worked with producer Jimmy Iovine and chose an album title that references a famous quote by Admiral David Farragut.


Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: October 19, 1979 (MCA)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine & Tom Petty
Recorded: Sound City & Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Refugee
Here Comes My Girl
Even the Losers
Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)
Century City
Don’t Do Me Like That
You Tell Me
What Are You Doin’ in My Life
Louisiana Rain
Group Musicians
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards, Accordion
Benmont Trench – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Blair – Bass
Stan Lynch – Drums, Vocals

Petty composed most of the music on this album independently, with the only exceptions being the first two tracks which were co-written by Petty and Campbell. “Refugee” provides a potent and dramatic start to the album with plenty of atmosphere forged by the keys, guitar, and Petty’s voice, all of which are unique but catchy and strong. The lead section seems like a bit of unorganized chaos which somehow all comes together to help build the intensity and made this song a Top 20 hit in the early 1980. “Here Comes My Girl” is another upbeat and atmospheric song, this time with the simple rock beat of Lynch in conflict to Campbell’s seemingly slow and disjointed guitar pattern, but it all jives beautifully nonetheless. Petty barks out the first couple of lines in each verse in a quasi-rap while hitting melodic harmony during the chorus hook resulting in ear candy bliss.

The bright and jangly opening riff of “Even the Losers” leads to a classic Petty melody in this third pop/rock classic to start off Damn the Torpedoes. Here Campbell’s lead uses some classic rock technique, while the subsequent bridge features some deep Hammond organ by Tench beneath more rapidly delivered vocals. Lyrically, the theme looks for optimism and wisdom in the face of adversity and is analogous to a band’s struggle to find recognition. The first less than excellent track on the album, “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” is a slightly upbeat “lover’s lament” tune which lacks the succinct delivery of much of the rest of the album’s material. The side one closer “Century City” is more of a pure rocker where Petty’s vocals are slightly strained in excited energy.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The second side kicks off with the indelible “Don’t Do Me Like That” which was composed years earlier by Petty when he was in the group Mudcrutch. You won’t find a more straight-forward, hard rocker (and this album is full of these) with it’s slow, choppy guitar riff complemented by a fast rocking piano throughout and simple, catchy hook. The first single from the album, it went on to become the band’s first Top 10 hit. The remainder of side two tilts more towards blues/rock. “You Tell Me” has an almost funk approach with the music being guided by a pointed bass riff of guest Donald “Duck” Dunn. “What Are You Doin’ in My Life” features a cool slide guitar and some honky-tonk piano, while “Louisiana Rain” closes things up at a more moderate and moody pace with heavy Southern rock influence.

Damn the Torpedoes was a Top 5 album in the US and Canada and has sold over four million copies worldwide. It also sparked Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers success throughout the 1980s and beyond.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

The Fine Art of Surfacing
by The Boomtown Rats

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The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown RatsThe Boomtown Rats third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, was the commercial apex of the band’s short career. Musically, the group branched out from their punk rock roots towards many styles in the new wave realm. Lyrically, the music was influenced by group leader Bob Geldof‘s travels in the United States prior to the album’s production. Still, this album by the Irish group did much better in the UK, where it broke into the Top 10, than it did in the US, where it failed to reach the Top 100 on the album charts.

The group got its name from a gang of children in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory and were signed by Ensign Records shortly after relocating to London in 1976. A Top 40 hit, “Lookin’ After No. 1” predated the band’s self-titled 1977 debut album. The Boomtown Rats follow-up album, 1978’s A Tonic For the Troops, was an even greater success, spawning three more hit singles including the number one hit “Rat Trap”.

Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Phil Wainman, The Fine Art of Surfacing was recorded in Holland in late 1978. Beyond the album’s ten tracks, there were two short hidden tracks and three more B-sides recorded during the sessions. While the album’s themes are serious, there is a lighter and somewhat humorous approach to the songwriting, giving the overall vibe an entertaining depth.


The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown Rats
Released: October 9, 1979 (Columbia)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange & Phil Wainman
Recorded: Phonogram Studios, Hilversum, Holland, 1978
Side One Side Two
Someone’s Looking at You
Diamond Smiles
Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)
Having My Picture Taken
Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)
I Don’t Like Mondays
Nothing Happened Today
Keep It Up
Nice N Neat
When the Night Comes
Group Musicians
Bob Geldof – Lead Vocals, Saxophone
Gerry Cott – Guitars
Garry Roberts – Guitars, Vocals
Johnnie Fingers – Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Briquette – Bass, Vocals
Simon Crowe – Drums, Vocals

A calm strummed acoustic and sustained organ introduces the album opener “Someone’s Looking at You” before the song breaks in with a solid, rock arrangement. This track has a theatrical Kinks-style influence and the song reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart in early 1980. Another pop single, “Diamond Smiles” comes close to being a decent new wave pop rock song but it does lack a bit on the melodic side. A highlight from this track is the great outro which contains some orchestral elements.
“Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)” is led by the piano of Johnnie Fingers and is filled with great little musical and effect motifs, melodic vocals, strong guitars, and just enough synth effects to make it a very interesting track.

The odd but entertaining “Having My Picture Taken” was co-written by bassist Pete Briquette and is filled with reggae elements. Fingers employs several overdubbed piano and keyboard sections, while Gerry Cott adds a potent rock guitar lead later on the track. Geldof wrote most of the material on The Fine Art of Surfacing with the exception of “Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)”, written (of course) by Johnnie Fingers. The first side wraps with this fine rocker of an insomniac song in the same vein as John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired”. While the lyrics trend a bit towards the frivolous, the musical drive, blended vocals, and great production make this a track an interesting listen.

 
The Boomtown Rats signature song shows some amazing restraint in its simple arrangement of Fingers’s piano along with just lead and backing vocals. The track, which became the band’s second number one single, was based on the real life shooting spree where a teenage girl fired into a school playground in San Diego, CA, in early 1979, killing two adults and injuring nine others. When asked about her motivation for the shootings, the girl simply replied “I Don’t Like Mondays”. The song was composed less than a month after the incident but Geldof worked hard to obscure the true meaning of the song.

“Nothing Happened Today” is an ironic title of an upbeat rocker which is a sort of an “ode to boredom”. The song contains many electronic effects to build the backing riffs to this mainly vocal-driven tune and breaks into a sort of electric jug band section during the bridge. Co-written by Cott, “Keep It Up” is fun, upbeat, and made of pure pop fluff, led by some nice synth leads while it tries hard to find catchy riffs and hooks. “Nice N Neat” is probably the only track on the album that even hints at the band’s punk roots, albeit a more polished version of punk. There is a brief drum solo section by Simon Crowe and a nice blend of rhythm and lead guitars by Cott and Garry Roberts. “When the Night Comes” blends nice acoustic guitars with synths in the intro and the music is great throughout with a blended sound somewhere between that of classic Springsteen and Thin Lizzy. There is a wild bass line by Briquette up front during the vocals and this complete jam of a song leaves the listener wanting for more as the album concludes.

The success of The Fine Art of Surfacing did not lead to purely harmonious days for the group, as Cott departed from the band in early 1980. The Boomtown Rats put out a handful of quality albums through the early-to-mid eighties before Geldof’s founding of Band Aid and Live Aid brought their profile up again.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

London Calling by The Clash

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London Calling by The ClashThe Clash advanced light years with their third release London Calling. This 1979 double album explored many sub-genres and showed with no doubt that this band was the most advanced of the punk groups to come out of London in the mid seventies. Through extensive touring and exposure to groups of differing genres, The Clash developed a blend of thoughtful music to combine with their core punk principles, forming a new genre standard which would come to be know as “post punk”. Thematically, the album contains songs that point a critical eye towards the contemporary world, with much of the background and characters based in London. While these themes work well together to make the album cohesive, they don’t form the type of narrative arc which would elevate London Calling into a “concept” album.

 Presley 1956 debut albumThe album’s front cover borrowed it style heavily from Elvis Presley’s self-titled 1956 debut album. The Clash’s versions features a black-and-white photograph of Simonon smashing his bass against the stage at a gig in New York City in September 1979. Many retrospective publications have listed this album cover as one of the top ever and was selected by the British government as one of ten “Classic Album Covers” to be used on Royal Mail postage stamps in 2010.

By the time The Clash was conceived in 1976, veteran London-based guitarist and vocalist John Graham Mellor had permanently adopted his stage name of Joe Strummer. The group was formed when Stummer joined up with two members of the group London SS, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, in order to form a “band that would rival the Sex Pistols”. Just six months after their first live performance, The Clash signed to CBS Records and began working on their debut album, which would be released only in the UK originally. Through these earliest days, the band worked with several drummers (over 200 by Strummer’s count). Finally, Topper Headon came along and the band finally had a permanent drummer. At the request of CBS, the group recorded a more standard, “cleaner”, less spontaneous album with Give ‘Em Enough Rope in 1978. This second album was a tremendous success in the UK but not quite the American breakthrough CBS had hoped.

After recording their second studio album, the band separated from their manager and needed to find another location to compose their music. The band began to work on their third album during the summer of 1979 at a rehearsal space called Vanilla Studios, which was located in the back of a garage. The Clash found a successful formula with Jones composing and arranging the music and Strummer writing the lyrics. By the end of the summer, the band entered Wessex Studios to begin recording London Calling with producer Guy Stevens, who used unconventional methods and fostered a very relaxed atmosphere for the band members. CBS initially denied the double album release, but instead gave permission for the band to include a free 12-inch single (which essentially made it a double album anyway).


London Calling by The Clash
Released: December 14, 1979 (CBS)
Produced by: Guy Stevens & Mick Jones
Recorded: Wessex Sound Studios, London, August–November 1979
Side One Side Two
London Calling
Brand New Cadillac
Jimmy Jazz
Hateful
Rudie Can’t Fail
Spanish Bombs
The Right Profile
Lost In the Supermarket
Clampdown
The Guns of Brixton
Side Three Side Four
Wrong ‘Em Boyo
Death or Glory
Koka Kola
The Card Cheat
Lover’s Rock
Four Horsemen
I’m Not Down
Revolution Rock
Train in Vain
Group Musicians
Joe Strummer – Guitars, Piano, Vocals  |  Mick Jones – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul Simonon – Bass, Vocals  |  Topper Headon – Drums, Percussion

The first of four sides begins “London Calling”, the title song which was originally the most popular track on the album. Musically, the song contains choppy guitars and bass throughout contrasted by the ever-steady drum beat by Headon. Composed by Strummer and Jones, the title was taken from the BBC World Service‘s station identification during World War II and the lyrics concern modern day issues. “Brand New Cadillac” is an updated version of a rock classic original composed in the 1950s by Vince Taylor. The first of three cover songs on London Calling, this recording features distant and spatial sound, giving it a bit of a surreal feel to the otherwise standard roots rocker.

The first of several genre diverse tracks, “Jimmy Jazz” starts with heavily flanged guitar riff that tops off the standard jazz vibe with acoustic guitar, shuffling drums, and an impressive bass pattern by Simonon. This is also the first of plenty of tracks with brass sections and leads by the session group collectively known as the The Irish Horns. “Hateful” is an odd but interesting little track with nice rock grooves, call and response vocals, and differing sub-arrangements throughout the track. Closing out the first side, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is pure rock/reggae, in many ways similar to the previous song, but the weakest overall on the side.

A new wave track with driving and melodic bass over quicky strummed acoustic by Jones and chanting and unrelenting vocals by Strummer starts the second side. Written the Basque terrorist bombings in Spain, “Spanish Bombs” compares this modern day experience with the Spanish Civil War. “The Right Profile” is a choppy, upbeat funk built on bouncy bass riff by Simonon and great brass accents and later saxophone solo by The Irish Horns, making it the best song thus far on the album. “Lost In the Supermarket” features Jones on lead vocals and is built on a great rhythm, which is almost disco with an adult contemporary style vocals and musical melodies. Written about an actual market on the World’s End Estate in London, Strummer wrote this song for Jones when imagining his childhood growing up in a basement with his mother and grandmother, with the cool lyric; “I wasn’t born so much as I fell out…”

Clampdown by The Clash“Clampdown” has the initial feel of a punk epic at first but later morphs into a bit-driven canvas for vocal phrases by Strummer, who cites many situations and locations (including our own hometown of Harrisburg, PA). This track originally began as an instrumental track called “Working and Waiting” but the Strummer decided to add the rapid-fire lyrics about fighting the status quo. “The Guns of Brixton” was a rare Clash track written by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in the Brixton section of London. Simonon also contributes lead vocals to this pure reggae track with some topical sound effects on the guitars and great bass and drums throughout.

The original third side of London Calling may be the strongest overall musically, despite the fact that it begins with the unfocused “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, which starts with a short rendition of the Country/Americana standard “Stagger Lee”. “Death or Glory” returns to standard hard rock with cynical lyrics, a great musical arrangement and performances by the entire band. Written in part as the stereotypical punk fascination of trashing the previous generation of rockers, the song ironically has sweet but strong vocal harmonies and very satisfying chord progressions. “Koka Kola” is the closest to a traditional punk track on the entire album (at least vocally), although musically it is a bit too polished to be a true punk song, as the bass leads the song much more than the guitars. Jones’s “The Card Cheat” is a piano-dominated track, almost in the Billy Joel domain musically (albeit there is a whole different story lyrically). The band executes another excellent and entertaining musical performance, with expert mixture of horns, and rock instruments in production.

The Clash in 1979The album’s final side commences with “Lover’s Rock”, a song which sounds most like a late seventies pop song, although it is a bit risqué lyrically with strong sexual overtones. There is a cool flanged guitar and harmonized vocals up top during the song proper while the long outro takes it all in a bit of a different direction. “Lover’s Rock” advocates safe sex and planning. “Four Horsemen” is more straightforward musically than the previous track as an upbeat rocker built more for lyrical themes by Strummer, while Jones’s, “I’m Not Down”, is primarily a funky track with some rock and disco elements.

The cover of Danny Ray and the Revolutionaries track, “Revolution Rock”, is a fun and entertaining group reggae jam, accented by Strummer’s varying vocal screeds and strained vocals. All in all very interesting, especially the top-notch rhythms by Simonon and Headon, a bouncy organ by session man Mickey Gallagher, and more strong brass presence by The Irish Horns. The double album wraps up with “Train in Vain”, which by today’s standards would be considered a “hidden track” because it was not listed on the original album sleeve. However, this was due more to late decision making on the song rather than a concerted effort to provide an “Easter Egg”. In any case, this track written and sung by Jones would go on to become the most popular track on the album due to its disco-like beat, funky riffs, and loose but melodic vocal lines.

London Calling was originally much more popular in the UK, where it reached the Top 10, than it was in the US. However, the album would eventually sell tenfold the copies in America, where it went platinum and remains a much heralded release in rock history. The Clash followed up with an even more ambitious triple-album release of Sandinista! in late 1980, followed by the fine Combat Rock in 1982, before the band unfortunately imploded in the mid eighties, making these sparse releases ever the more valuable.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Dream Police by Cheap Trick

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Dream Police by Cheap TrickCheap Trick concluded their impressive late seventies output with their fourth studio album, Dream Police. This album follows the breakthrough success of the live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was released earlier in 1979 and went triple platinum in the United States. Further, the live singles, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That a Shame”, were both charting hits and helped open up the group to a mainstream audience. With this momentum, Dream Police went on to become the group’s best selling album and the first to reach the Top Ten on the charts in the United States.

Cheap Trick was formed in 1973 in Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973 by guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had been performing locally with various bands since the early sixties. One former band, Fuse, released an album in 1970 and featured bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos, who also became founding members of Cheap Trick. By 1975, the group enlisted Robin Zander on lead vocals and recorded their first demo tapes which led to them signing with Epic Records the following year. In early 1977, the band released their self-titled debut album, followed by In Color later that year and Heaven Tonight in mid 1978. While none of these three albums made the Top 40 in America, they were each critically acclaimed and especially well received in Japan, which propelled the band to tour in that country and record At Budokan, which was originally intended as a Japan-only release.

Tom Werman, the original A&R man who discovered Cheap Trick in 1976, produced In Color, Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police. On this latter album, Werman and the group expanded their sound into more complex songs with richer arrangements, including some synthesized orchestration. These sessions also included several outtakes, which would appear on re-issues of Dream Police. These included several tracks with alternate lead vocals among band members, the song “It Must Be Love” which was later covered by Rick Derringer, and the song “Next Position Please” which became the title track of Cheap Trick’s 1983 album of the same name.


Dream Police by Cheap Trick
Released: September 21, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Dream Police
Way of the World
The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)
Gonna Raise Hell
I’ll Be with You Tonight
Voices
Writing on the Wall
I Know What I Want
Need Your Love
Group Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitar  |  Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass. Vocals  |  Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

The album is a bit top-heavy, with the best songs on Dream Police being right up front. It begins with Nielsen’s impressive title track, a hyper and exciting rock song, topped off with a persistent synth string section. With a lyrical theme touching on the ultimate stoner paranoia, there is much packed into this less-than-four-minute song making it, ultimately, a satisfying and unique track which reached the Top 40. Co-written by Zander, “Way of the World” is a suitable follow-up to the fantastic title song as another complex and upbeat rocker. Originally composed and recorded under the title, “See Me Now”, Zander and the group employ rich vocal patterns to complement the thick wall of distorted guitars and synths by Nielsen and just enough post-production effects (without over doing it) by Werman.

Like its title suggests, “The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” is a pretty straight-forward rock n’ roll track, with this good-time feel contrasted by the theme of serious real-world issues. Neilsen shines brightest on this track with crisp and excellent guitar riffs along with several well-executed, overdubbed leads, including an extended outro that contains a short, “borrowed” guitar phrase from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. At first, “Gonna Raise Hell” seems like almost a parody of Kiss in its simple rock drive and shouted vocals. Starting with the simplest beat and bass riff by Petersson, the song morphs into a more dance-oriented track, especially during the expanded, textured instrumental which occupies the final third of this nine and a half minute track.

Side Two of Dream Police is filled with songs that show some real promise but seem to ultimately be less-than-developed. The only track on which all four members are credited compositionally, “I’ll Be with You Tonight” is a rock jam which is pleasant enough but contains very little lyrical or musical substance. The pop hit “Voices” starts with sound effects of whispered voices before breaking into a moderate ballad ala George Harrison. Petersson’s bass lines keep everything interesting but Zander’s vocals may be a bit too melodramatic on this single, which reached number 32 in the US.

Cheap Trick“Writing on the Wall” is a fun song musically as an upbeat, pure rocker that moves at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. Nielson provides a fine middle guitar jam over some faux crowd noise and Zander has a nice vocal rant at the end which, unfortunately is faded out a bit too quickly. On “I Know What I Want”, Petersson takes on lead vocal duties in what appears to be a pure attempt at new wave pop that could have been developed into something a little stronger. With the exception of Nielson’s lead guitar, this song overall falls short of the mark. Rounding out the album is “Need Your Love”. A long intro, starting with Carlos’s steady drum beat and the gradual addition of other steady instrumentation layered on top alternates with the thumping counter-melody which finds a nice hard-rock core. Mostly a sonic texture piece, this closing track has a bit of a jam at the end to end the album on a strong note.

A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, and “Can’t Hold On”, a bluesy track performed at Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were “Such A Good Girl” and “Take Me I’m Yours”, which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.

Dream Police spawned Cheap Trick’s arena-headlining 1980 tour and landed them a gig with former Beatles producer George Martin for their follow-up All Shook Up. While not as successful commercially, this album commenced a very prolific and diverse decade for the group.

~

1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

In Through the Out Door
by Led Zeppelin

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In Through the Out Door by Led ZeppelinThrough most critics eyes, the years have not been kind to, In Through the Out Door, the final studio album by Led Zeppelin and only one released in the group’s last four years of existence. In spite of the poor reviews, this album reached number one on the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone. The album is most notable for the contributions of bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, who co-wrote six of the seven tracks on the album. On the flip side, In Through the Out Door contains the only two original Led Zeppelin songs which were not in-part composed by lead guitarist Jimmy Page.

The group’s previous studio release, Presence, was released in the Spring of 1976 and was followed up later in the year by the concert film and soundtrack, The Song Remains the Same. Led Zeppelin launched a major concert tour in 1977 where the band set concert records, including a Guinness Book of World Records entry for a single act concert record of 76,000+ outside Detroit, MI. However, tragedy struck in late July when lead singer Robert Plant‘s five-year-old son died suddenly from a stomach virus and the rest of the tour was cancelled immediately. The band went on hiatus for over a year with their future uncertain.

In November, 1978 the group reunited at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm to write and record new music. The emerging genres of disco, punk, and new wave had all blossomed since the last time Led Zeppelin was in the studio and the group knew it needed to develop a fresh sound. On each of their previous LPs, Page was at the vanguard of Led Zeppelin’s musical direction but, in this case, he and drummer John Bonham were struggling with substance abuse and often showed up late to the studio. With this backdrop, Jones and Plant stepped up to fill in the void, resulting in several tunes which were driven more by synth and piano than guitars.

In Through the Out Door album cover variations

Although recording was wrapped up by December 1978, the album’s release was delayed several times and the group’s August 1979 concerts at the Knebworth Music Festival, which were supposed to be sort of a large scale “record release party”, took place about a month before the album’s release. When the album was finally released, it had very unusual packaging. Wrapped in what resembled a plain brown paper bag, the retail packaging concealed one of the six possible album covers, each of which show the same sepia-tone barroom scene, but from from different angles.


In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin
Released: August 15, 1979 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Polar Studios, Stockholm, Sweden, November–December 1978
Side One Side Two
In the Evening
South Bound Suarez
Fool In the Rain
Hot Dog
Carouselambra
All My Love
I’m Gonna Crawl
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Gizmotron
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums

A long, haunting intro builds the anticipation at the top of this long awaited Led Zeppelin LP until Plant’s single rendition of the song’s title launches “In the Evening” to fully kick in with its a steady rock drive. Guided by the ever-strong drumming of Bonham, this track contains a few moments of nice re-arranging but, for the most part, the nearly seven minute song sticks to the same formula with the exception of the atmospheric post-lead section where Jones’s string synths are most prevalent. “South Bound Suarez” lightens things up considerably as a Jerry Lee Lewis influenced pure roots rocker with Jones leading the way on honky-tonk piano. Much like the opening track, Plant’s lyrics here are rather pedestrian to express a mood rather than a deeper meaning.

Led Zeppel in 1979With the exception of possibly “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” on Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier, “Fool in the Rain” may be the closest to a full-fledged pop hit attempt in the long, non-Top-40-seeking, history of Led Zeppelin. The first track on the album where the vocals and lyrics are up-front, this story-telling track is accented by measured musical flourishes of reggae and samba blended with a traditional rock riff. The mid-section builds to a percussive crescendo showing Bonham’s talents had not diminished one iota late in Zeppelin’s career, and Page contributes his own very long, buzzy guitar solo. On the first side closer “Hot Dog”, the group takes a lighted-hearted foray into rockabilly, starting with a nice, long Country piano lead by Jones. Although usually cheap stunts like this don’t work well for rock bands (see the Rolling Stones), this case seems like an affirmative, legitimate rocker. Half a universe away is “Carouselambra”, an extended track which is totally unique in the Zeppelin catalog. The synth-infused pattern of sound makes for a true centerpiece for Jones, on both synth and bass, where he plays as animated as ever during part A of this three part suite. The song’s middle part touches on some cool soundscapes on both synths and droning guitar. The thick lyrics are hidden in Plant’s vocals deep beneath the swirl of sound, but seem to describe the fall of a society which refuses to acknowledge exterior threats;

How keen the storied hunter’s eye prevails upon the land, to seek the unsuspecting and the weak / And powerless the fabled sat, too smug to lift a hand, toward the foe that threatened from the deep. Who cares to dry the cheeks of those who saddened stand adrift upon a sea of futile speech? And to fall to fate and make the ‘status plan’…”

The most bittersweet song the group has ever recorded, “All My Love” is a real gem on this album. The only possible flaw here is the relative absence of Page on the track, but everything else is exquisite and puts it on the top echelon of all Zeppelin tracks. Equally potent to Jones’s brilliant synth arrangements and performance is Plant’s voice and greatly poetic lyrics, all above Bonham’s ever-steady thump. The key jump in the coda brings everything to a climatic height on a song which is at once a tribute to Plant’s late son and his newborn son. Plant’s most dynamic vocal performance on the album finishes things up on “I’m Gonna Crawl”. Commencing with Jones’s (now signature) synths, the song morphs into a true modern blues track where Page and Plant really shine, just like in the old days.

In Through the Out Door stayed on top of the charts for seven weeks and, upon this album’s release, all seven previous Led Zeppelin albums re-entered the Billboard 200, an unprecedented feat. Page later admitted that he was not very keen of this album and stated he wanted to follow-up with “something hard-hitting and riff-based again.” Unfortunately, the next album would never come as Bonham died in September 1980 and Zeppelin soon permanently disbanded, making In Through the Out Door the final chapter in one of rock n’ roll’s greatest sagas.

~

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

The Long Run by The Eagles

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The Long Run by The EaglesThe Eagles completed their torrent through the seventies with 1979’s The Long Run, the studio album which closed the decade as the number one album in the USA. This diverse album certainly has its share of variety, especially when it comes to the lead vocals where four of the five band members took their turn up front. On the flipside, this is not the most cohesive album as it jumps from style to style and mood to mood, kind of like it is The Eagles’ own radio station. Nonetheless, this sixth studio album by the band was another commercial smash which spent eight weeks on top of the charts and sold nearly eight million copies worldwide.

The tremendous success of 1976’s Hotel California made The Eagles one of the most successful bands in the world. They went on tour for much of 1977, but frictions arose between founding members Randy Meisner and Glen Frey leading to Meisner’s departure following the tour. Ironically, Meisner was replaced in the Eagles by the same man who replaced him in his previous band Poco, bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit. With this new lineup in tow, the group entered the the recording studio in late 1977, originally intending to complete a double album. However, they were unable to write enough songs and the album was ultimately delayed for two years. In the interim the group recorded and released the holiday songs “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Funky New Year”, released as a single in 1978, while guitarist Joe Walsh recorded and released, But Seriously Folks, that same year.

The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced every Eagles studio album since On the Border in 1974. Vocalist and drummer Don Henley was a co-writer on nine of the ten album tracks, with each of the other band members (along with a few outside the band) contributing to the writing process. The Long Run is also notable for being the final studio album on the Asylum Records label.


The Long Run by The Eagles
Released: September 24, 1979 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Bayshore Recording Studios, Coconut Grove, FL & One Step Up, Love n’ Comfort, Britannia Recording and Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, March 1978-September 1979
Side One Side Two
The Long Run
I Can’t Tell You Why
In the City
The Disco Strangler
King of Hollywood
Heartache Tonight
Those Shoes
Teenage Jail
The Greeks Don’t Want no Freaks
The Sad Cafe
Group Musicians
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Vocals
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Timothy B. Schmit – Bass. Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album’s title song, “The Long Run”, kicks things off. Right from the jump, the group shows they are masters at refining the song and forging a sonic masterpiece with just enough of this, a bit of that, splashed in this standard pop/rock tune, including bluesy guitar riffs, horns, and vocal choruses. Released as a single, the song reached the Top Ten in America in early 1980. From here, the album takes an immediate left turn with the pure soul love song, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, featuring Schmit on lead vocals. An excellent track (albeit hard to believe this is the Eagles), the song’s coda contains a good, long guitar lead by Frey through the final fade-out.

“In the City” got its start as a Joe Walsh solo track, co-written by Barry De Vorzon which was used on the film The Warriors. The rest of the group heard it and decided to re-record it for the album, resulting in a beautiful and melodic tune that is a true classic about the plight of urban dwellers. On “The Disco Strangler” the group switches to methodical funk with almost stream-of-consciousness vocals by Henley and oddly timed rhythms led by the bass of Schmit, However, this track seems a tad incomplete as it quickly fades out after two verses. “King of Hollywood” is nearly a pure mood piece, almost too late seventies in style for its own good. Driven by story and lyrics of selling out for fame, the track stays on the same standard beat and rhythmic pattern until the Don Felder guitar solo over the bridge.

The album’s second side is more solid musically than the first. The brilliant “Heartache Tonight” drew some songwriting from Bob Seger and J.D. Souther. The infectious beat and cool country harmony are the most memorable aspects of this track. But beyond the surface, this is really a showcase for the band’s guitarists with the mixture of rock and blues styles by Walsh and Felder interwoven throughout this popular track, which reached #1 in the U.S. in November 1979, the group’s final chart-topping song.

“Those Shoes” is built off of a simple heartbeat pulse by Schmidt and Henley with some wild guitars by Felder, who subtly use a “talkbox” effect throughout. “Teenage Jail” contains a slow country swing with some extra dense guitars above  liberal use of stop/start rudiments during the new-age first part of the closing lead section. A more standard bluesy guitar lead finishes the song that is abruptly interrupted by the start of “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks”. This pure fun, party song would be right at home in a frat house or a barroom, especially with the ready made with closing chant which is, perhaps, the last bit of fun the Eagles had on a record.

The album ends with its finest song. “The Sad Café” is a somber ballad about the band’s beginnings at the legendary L.A. saloon The Troubadour. Driven by simple, electric, piano notes, strummed acoustic, rounded bass, and harmonized vocals, the group’s performance is topped off by the fine lead vocals by Henley. There is also some dynamic production, especially after the bridge where the song reaches a sonic climax before coming back down to its mellow core. The song ends with an extended saxophone lead by David Sanborn, concluding the last studio track by the Eagles for a decade and a half.

Just months after the release of The Long Run, tempers reached a fevered pitch within the group, leading to an imminent breakup. The band and Szymczyk did release a final live album in 1980, but reportedly mixed the album in separate studios to stay out of each other’s way. It would not be until 1994, with Hell Freezes Over that the group would perform together again.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Flirtin’ With Disaster
by Molly Hatchet

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Flirtin With Disaster by Molly HatchetMolly Hatchet‘s great wall of distorted guitars found its high point on their second studio album Flirtin’ with Disaster, released in 1979. Like Lynard Skynard on steroids, this album touches on the conventional late-seventies theme of rocking out and partying hard. However, the group accomplishes this atmosphere by the non-conventional means of using a triple-guitar attack of axemen Steve Holland, Dave Hlubak and Duane Roland, who alternate roles  playing rhythm, lead, and/or harmonized electric guitars.

The group was formed by Hlubek and Holland in Jacksonville, Florida in 1975 and took their name from an urban legend about a prostitute who mutilated her clients. The group was managed by Pat Armstrong, who had briefly been co-manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd and had Molly Hatchet record their original demo tracks at Skynard’s studio. Further, Ronnie Van Zant was set to produce the debut album by Molly Hatchet but lost his life in a plane crash in late 1977.

Producer Tom Werman ultimately took the reigns for that self-titled 1978 debut and stayed on for Flirtin’ With Disaster, which was recorded in studios on both coasts. Musically, it’s a hard driving rock record, plain and simple with no frills or lofty concepts.The mythical cover art is a painting by Frank Frazetta entitled “Dark Kingdom”.


Flirtin’ With Disaster by Molly Hatchet
Released: October, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Bee Jay Recording Studios, Orlando & Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, 1979
Side One Side Two
Whiskey Man
It’s All Over Now
One Man’s Pleasure
Jukin’ City
Boogie No More
Flirtin’ With Disaster
Good Rockin’
Gunsmoke
Long Time
Let the Good Times Roll
Group Musicians
Danny Joe Brown – Lead Vocals  |  Duane Roland – Guitars
Steve Holland – Guitars  |  Dave Hlubak – Guitars
Banner Thomas – Bass  |  Bruce Crump – Drums

Nine of the ten tracks on Flirtin’ With Disaster are original and eight of those were co-written by lead vocalist Danny Joe Brown. After a thick intro comes a short but sweet harmonica lead in “Whiskey Man”. On this opening track the guitars are used very efficiently in a harmonized lead over the strong chords of the bridge as the lyrics focus on the dangers of partying too hard. The cover “It’s All Over Now” starts with a drum roll intro and overall strong drumming by Bruce Crump, along with some boogie piano by guest Jai Winding on this song which was the first number-one hit for the Rolling Stones a decade and a half earlier.

“One Man’s Pleasure” is different than previous tracks, as it is mainly guided by the steady bass of Banner Thomas through the song proper with the guitars adding texture for the overall rhythm and beat (until the blistering guitar lead). “Jukin’ City” starts with three-note riff which forms the basis for much of the song, although there are some rudimental parts that make it all interesting later on. A slow, measured rock riff with bluesy guitars layered on top kicks off “Boogie No More”, which soon abruptly changes direction and tempo to launch into an extended, “Freebird”-like jam for the final four-plus minutes of the track.

The second side begins with the title song, “Flirtin’ with Disaster”, a true rock classic by Brown, Hlubek, and Thomas which rolls full throttle through every second of its five minute duration. The only single from the album, the song barely failed to reach the Top 40 but remained on the pop charts for 10 weeks. More importantly, this became the band’s signature track which most closely resembled their creed of living fast, hard, and close to the edge.

After a tremendous peak, the album loses a bit of edge on the next few tracks. “Good Rockin'” is a bit too standard Alt-Country, while “Gunsmoke” starts with a cow-bell led beat, some boogie-piano and bouncy bass, but gets crowded out on this album. Things do change up a bit on “Long Time”, which has a bit of a darker feel.  The album ends strong with, “Let the Good Times Roll”, another good jam with animated drums and crisp guitar orchestration. This closing song sounds like it could have been a pop hit under the right circumstances and contains an ending jam with some of the finest Southern rock elements and rudiments.

Flirtin’ With Disaster reached the To 20 of the Pop Albums chart and sold over two million copies in the U.S. However, Brown soon left the band due to health problems. Although he would return to the Molly Hatchet lineup in the early eighties, the group never regained their footing and would completely abandon their original style to try to gain favor with new audiences.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Stormwatch by Jethro Tull

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Stormwatch by Jethro TullStormwatch was the twelfth studio album by Jethro Tull in twelve years, as they released exactly one album per year from the start of their career in 1968. Like all Jethro Tull albums, Ian Anderson is the chief composer and visionary of the musical and thematical directions, with this one heavily focused on the worldwide issues at the end of the 1970s. This is the last Tull album to feature the classic line-up of the 1970s. Stormwatch also became the final album for keyboardist John Evan and drummer Barriemore Barlow, both of whom had been with the band for close to a decade. This was also the final appearance of bassist John Glascock, who died following heart surgery a few weeks after the release of the album.

In the mid-1970s, Jethro Tull continued the pattern they developed earlier in the decade, with 1975’s Minstrel In the Gallery closely resembling Aqualung in its approach and the follow-up, Too Old to Rock n’ Roll, Too Young to Die being a concept album like Thick As a Brick four years earlier. During this time, the band’s studio orchestra arranger, David Palmer, became an official member of the band. In 1977, the group turned to a more solid folk approach with the album Songs From the Wood, followed by the similarly folk Heavy Horses in 1978, followed by an extensive tour where Glascock’s health issues first surfaced.

Many consider Stormwatch to be the third album of a “folk trilogy”. However, this album is much darker and more serious in its approach lyrically and far more varied musically than the two previous albums. Co-produced by Robin Black, the confluence of musical factors makes this a unique Jethro Tull album.


Degüello by ZZ Top
Released: September 14, 1979 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson & Robin Black
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, London, Spring-Summer 1979
Side One Side Two
North Sea Oil
Orion
Home
Dark Ages
Warm Sporran
Something’s On the Move
Old Ghosts
Dun Ringill
Flying Dutchman
Elegy
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Bass
Martin Barre – Guitars, Mandolin  |  David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral
John Evan – Piano, Organ  |  Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

“North Sea Oil” begins with a rock waltz beat, similar to that used on the hit “Living In the Past” a decade earlier, but much more intense musically. Anderson’ s ethereal vocals float above the music, which employs a full arrangement with great little music phrases moving in and out and a catchy refrain vocally. “Orion” packs in a lot of variety in less than four minutes, with the driving rock choruses giving way to folk verses of Anderson’s strummed acoustic and Evan’s piano. This is one of only three tracks that Glascock recorded, with Anderson taking up bass on the rest of the album, to go along with his usual singing, flute, and acoustic guitar duties. “Home” is, perhaps, Jethro Tull’s only true “power ballad”. Martin Barre performs some great harmonized electric guitars during the chorus to complement the simple but touching lyrics;

As the dawn sun breaks over sleepy gardens, I’ll be here to do all things to comfort you / And though I’ve been away, left you alone this way, why don’t you come awake and let your first smile take me home…”

“Dark Ages” reverts to full rock-opera mode, almost like Jethro Tull meets Pink Floyd. There is a reverse-effect on Anderson’s vocals during the haunting intro part, while the rest of this extended suite is filled with musical motifs. While “Dark Ages” is mainly lyric driven, there is plenty of room for each musician to take center stage at some point along this nine and a half minute journey (even Anderson on bass). The first side concludes with the instrumental “Warm Sporran”, an adult-oriented jazz shuffle and rhythm, built on a bass riff and topped by some Irish folk elements, complete with flute, mandolin, bagpipes, marching drums, some humming vocals. While not a bad listen, this is a bit out of place where it lands on the album.

“Something’s On the Move” is planted firmly in riff-based rock n roll, as Anderson’s slight flute riffs do not betray this mission focused on Barre’s main guitar riff in many variations. “Old Ghosts” starts with a rock riff march that nicely morphs to an orchestral march during the verses, resulting in a melodic pop/rock song. “Dun Ringill” is a psychedelic folk tune that starts with highly treated spoken vocals before it fades into a sparse arrangement with just acoustics and multiple vocals by Anderson. This song borrowed its name from a historic site adjacent to a home Anderson once owned.

The second extended song on the album, “Flying Dutchman” starts with classical-style piano and flute, accented by brief rock-drenched guitars. A mandolin-driven pop arrangement follows in what is really the second side’s answer to the extended “Dark Ages” on the first side, but not quite as interesting overall. What is interesting is “Elegy”, the closing instrumental track. This was written by David Palmer (the only non-Anderson composition) as a moody and soft piece which eventually grows thicker in arrangement to elevate among the decade’s best instrumental tracks. Although it was rumored that “Elegy” was a homage to Glascock, it was actually dedicated to Palmer’s father and was recorded early in the sessions, making it one of the few tracks on which Glascock plays.

Stormwatch‘s theme and album cover seemed to be rather prophetic for the band, with the coming personnel departures and the confusing genre-bending of Jethro Tull’s near future albums in the early 1980s.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Degüello by ZZ Top

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Degüello by ZZ TopZZ Top came back from an extended break to close out the 1970s with Degüello, their sixth studio release. Mirroring the group itself, this album is as much about an attitude and lifestyle as it is about the actual music (a prime example is that the extended, three year break was used to grow the signature beards of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill). All this being said, there are real gems on this funk and blues influenced record, which borrowed its name from the Mexican Army bugle call at commencement of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. The title may also be analogous to the group’s approach of wielding their electric-blues signature sound to reach a new level of pop/rock achievement.

ZZ Top got started in 1969, with the release of a couple of singles composed by Gibbons. The group’s self-titled debut album was released in 1971, followed by Rio Grande Mud and Tres Hombres the following two years. A live album and a couple of more studio albums were released in the mid seventies, highlighted by the critically-acclaimed Tejas in 1976. Following a worldwide tour to support the album, the band planned a 90-day tour, which was ultimately extended to be two years long.

In 1979, ZZ Top signed a new contract with Warner Bros. Records, with Degüello being the first release of this new contract. The album was produced by the group’s long time manager Bill Ham, who first met the band when they opened for The Doors at a concert in Houston and remained with ZZ Top right up until their breakup in 1996.


Degüello by ZZ Top
Released: November 14, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bill Ham
Recorded: 1979
Side One Side Two
I Thank You
She Loves My Automobile
I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide
A Fool For Your Stockings
Manic Mechanic
Dust My Broom
Lowdown in the Street
Hi Fi Mama
Cheap Sunglasses
Esther Be the One
Group Musicians
Billy Gibbons – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Dusty Hill – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Frank Beard – Drums, Percussion

Degüello opens with a cover of Sam & Dave’s 1968 Soul hit “I Thank You”, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. ZZ Top’s version takes the Soul roots and treats it with Texas flavored blues-boogie, with Gibbons vocals being extra rough but potent. “She Loves My Automobile” is more blues with the added synthesized horn arrangement by Hill complimenting Gibbon’s bluesy guitar solos.

“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” is more rock oriented than the previous tracks with a cool drum shuffle by Frank Beard. The song is cut a bit rough with the overdubbed guitars, but this ultimately adds to the overall charm of the song, which was released as a single. A cool outro goes into a bit of a funk with a backing clavichord by Hill. The fine beat-driven ballad “A Fool for Your Stockings” is sonically different than anything else on the album, with a few excellent, mood-driven guitar instrumentals above dry and pointed bass and drums. Side One ends with “Manic Mechanic”, a unique and almost Frank Zappa-esque track with oddly-produced spoken vocals over strong rock and funk riffing.

Like the first side, the second starts with a cover. Robert Johnson‘s “Dust My Broom”, was made most famous by Elmore James in the 1950s and ZZ Top’s version sticks pretty close to that version with a pure, standard blues arrangement and some slide guitars. “Lowdown In the Street” is back to a more edgy approach, with an interesting vocal arrangement that complements the main riff. “Hi Fi Mama” features Hill’s only lead vocals on the album and he employs a Little Richard-type hyper approach to the vocals. Musically, there is a nice back-n-forth between Gibbons’ guitars and Hill’s synth horn arrangement.

The album’s climax comes with “Cheap Sunglasses”, built on a consistent groove which has been derided as either a rip-off of Edger Winter’s “Frankenstein” or Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today” (or both). No matter the case, this is a musical highlight for the band, with a long, cool, middle section built on a bass groove and key riffs with some bluesy lead guitar by Gibbons and great drumming by Beard throughout. After a final verse, the song slowly dissolves through scaled back groove. “Esther Be the One” is the most like a standard late seventies pop/rock song, with a full arrangement of dual guitars, keyboards, and a great bass groove to top off the album.

The platinum selling Degüello reached the Top 40 on the charts and sparked the group’s first tour of Europe in 1980. More importantly, it re-ignited ZZ Top’s career and introduced the band to a new radio audience, which brought even more popularity through the early 1980s.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.