Reggatta de Blanc by The Police

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Reggatta de Blanc by The PoliceDriven by the strength of two UK number one singles, Reggatta de Blanc helped launch The Police into the commercial stratosphere. Building on the strength of their 1978 debut, Outlandos d’Amour, this second album marked a slight change in the band’s sound, with a more polished and refined production of the trio’s energetic musical performances. The album’s title loosely translates to “white reggae”, a label which aptly describes the core of the group’s signature sound but falls short of touching on the depth of their influences.

In 1976, American drummer Stewart Copeland was playing in a British progressive rock band called Curved Air when he met former school teacher turned musician Gordon Sumner, professionally known as Sting. The two jammed and contemplated starting a punk rock band with guitarist Henry Padovani. The trio toured the UK as a supporting act and even recorded a single called “Fall Out” in 1977. Later that year, Copeland and Sting merged with two members of a band called Strontium 90, Mike Howlett and guitarist Andy Summers. About a decade older than the other musicians, Summers had much music industry experience dating back well into the sixties with groups such as Eric Burdon and the Animals. After some live gigs, the Police pared back to a trio with Sting composing original material. Copeland’s older brother, producer Miles Copeland, helped finance the Police’s first album, Outlandos d’Amour, released in 1978. On the strength of the single,”Roxanne”, Miles got the group signed with A&M Records, and the later hit “Can’t Stand Losing” sparked the group’s first tour of the USA.

Like it’s predecessor, Reggatta de Blanc was recorded at Surrey Sound with producer Nigel Gray. The studio was considered too small for a major label act but it was where the group was comfortable recording. With a small budget and limited time for recording, some of the material was re-purposed from previous group projects.


Reggatta de Blanc by The Police
Released: October 2, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Nigel Gray & The Police
Recorded: Surrey Sound Studios, Leatherhead, England, February – August 1979
Side One Side Two
Message in a Bottle
Reggatta de Blanc
It’s Alright for You
Bring on the Night
Deathwish
Walking on the Moon
On Any Other Day
The Bed’s Too Big Without You
Contact
Does Everyone Stare
No Time This Time
Group Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The opener “Message in a Bottle” was the lead single from the album and subsequently became the group’s first number one hit on the UK Singles chart. This jazzed up reggae with a definitive pop/rock sheen was derived from a riff that Sting had developed while on the first American tour in 1978. The potent and metaphoric lyrics about finding other lonely “castaways” were written during the Surrey studio sessions. The title quasi-instrumental “Reggatta de Blanc” commences with Copeland’s rapid percussive intro, leading to bass rhythm under various delicate guitar textures and vocal chanting and yodeling throughout. Composed collectively by the trio, this evolved from improvisational stage jams during performances of the hit “Can’t Stand Losing You” and the track went on to surprising win a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1980.

On “It’s Alright for You” the group reached back to their punk roots, albeit with a little more of pop smoothness and variable tempos to make it a dance bop. Sting’s “Bring on the Night” has an extended, dramatic intro before settling into another fine pop/reggae track with some of the lyrics re-purposed from a song he wrote with his former band Last Exit. “Deathwish” follows as an interesting closer to the original first side, using several simple riffs, phrases and beats all fused together for a unique kind of jam.

The Police 1979

The textual “Walking on the Moon” was built on Sting’s simple bass riff, Summers’ atmospheric chord strum and very subtle high end percussion by Copeland. Sting said he wrote it as “walking around the room” while intoxicated one night after a concert, remembering the tune the following morning but altering the title. The song became their second British chart topper and a big hit in many other countries but did not chart in the United States. The first of two songs to feature Copeland on lead vocals, “On Any Other Day” is a happy-go-lucky rock track about the crumbling of domestic life. This is followed by the pure reggae track “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”, another track originated by Sting during the Last Exit days. Copeland penned the next two songs, “Contact” which features a crisp and jangly intro riff by Summers trading of with rich synths in the verses, and “Does Everyone Stare”, a tune where Summers plays piano Copeland does his second lead vocals. “No Time This Time” is a strong, punk-like rock closer which actually includes a rare guitar lead. The song was previously released as the B-Side to the “So Lonely” single in November 1978.

Reggatta de Blanc was the first of four consecutive albums by The Police to reach #1 on the UK Album charts. Soon after the group embarked on their first world tour, branching out into places that had been seldom destinations for rock performers like India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Greece, Egypt and Mexico.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa

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Joes Garage by Frank ZappaFrank Zappa is one of those musical figures that people either get or they don’t. If you happen to fall in the latter category and want to give his music another try, a good place to start would be Joe’s Garage. Zappa is very demanding. He makes little effort to be approachable. However this particular ‘project/object’ collection contains all of the Zappa benchmarks that his fans love: Musical virtuosity, social parody, pop satire, compositional complexity, stylistic diversity, crude lyrics and a wicked sense of humor. JOE’S GARAGE is a semi-political rock opera containing a variety of styles. But the primary focus on this particular outing is story-driven rock and roll in the tradition of The Who’s Tommy. Joe’s Garage, Act I and Acts II & III are release numbers 28 & 29 in Zappa’s 62-album discography.

1979 was a very productive year for Zappa. He released seven LPs’ worth of new material in the course of a year. Joe’s Garage was comprised of 3 records – Act I was released in September and Act II & Act III were released together two months later. This particular outing is a brilliant mix of stellar musicianship, social commentary, melodic pieces, scathing lyrics, guitar improvisation, detailed production and humor. It is highly creative, imaginative and above all, quite a bit of fun. Joe’s Garage is noted for its use of “Xenochrony”, a recording technique created by Zappa that takes guitar solos from older live recordings and overdubs them onto newer studio recordings to produce random musical coincidences. Zappa described this album as a stupid little story about how the government is going to do away with music.

Frank Zappa moved into Village Recorders on April 11, 1979 planning to record a couple of songs and leave. By the first of June, he and his entourage had completed a dozen tunes. According to one studio staffer, Zappa claimed to have exhausted his supply of written material, but asked to extend his stay nonetheless. “I’m going home and writing an opera this weekend,” he told the skeptical staff. The following Monday, he was back in the studio with Joe’s Garage. This concept piece wove the material Zappa had already recorded with other songs he’d written over the weekend.


Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III by Frank Zappa
Released: Act I released on September 17, 1979 (Zappa Records)
Acts II & III released on November 19, 1979 (Zappa Records)
Produced by: Frank Zappa
Recorded: Villiage Recorders, Hollywood, CA, April-August, 1979
Joe’s Garage, Act I
Act I, Side 1: Joe’s Exploits Act I, Side 2: Sex and Side Gigs
The Central Scrutinizer
Joe’s Garage
Catholic Girls
Crew Slut
Wet T-Shirt Nite
Toad-O Line
Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?
Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up
Scrutinizer Postlude
Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III
Act II, Side 1: The Closet Act II, Side 2: Prison
A Token of My Extreme
Stick It Out
Sy Borg
Dong Work for Yuda
Keep It Greasy
Outside Now
Act III, Side 1: Dystopian Society Act III, Side 2: Imaginary Guitar Notes
He Used to Cut the Grass
Packard Goose
Watermelon in Easter Hay
A Little Green Rosetta
Musicians
Frank Zappa – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
Warren Cuccurullo – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Denny Walley – Slide Guitar, Vocals
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
Tommy Mars – Keyboards
Arthur Barrow – Bass, Guitar
Patrick O’Hearn – Bass
Ed Mann – Percussion, Vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums, Combustible Vapors, Optometric Abandon
Jeff Hollie – Tenor Sax
Earle Dumler – Baritone Sax
Bill Nugent – Bass Sax
Craig Steward – Harmonica
Ike Willis, Dale Bozzio, Al Malkin, Terry Bozzio, and The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen – Vocals & Chorus

 

The rock opera starts with a spoken word narrative by “The Central Scrutinizer”. The narrator tells us what can happen if we choose a career in music. He warns us that it will not be an easy life if we chose to go down that path. The protagonist, Joe, doesn’t heed the government’s warning and sets out on his journey on the title track, “Joe’s Garage”. This song accurately describes a typical teenager’s first trip to his friends’ garage to jam with his buddies. The plot chronicles the journey from the first band practice to the eventual record deal, followed by changing musical trends, the subsequent loss of the record deal, and then nostalgia for the innocence of the old garage days.

Joe’s band starts getting their first gigs at church functions and Joe sings about the virtues of their original fans, the “Catholic Girls”, in this intricate drum-workout song with the 9/16 time signature breaks. Zappa name checks two members of his band, master drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, later of Missing Persons and Duran Duran fame. The story introduces a new character, Mary, who is the innocent “Catholic Girl” of the aforementioned song, and chronicles her ominous evolution in the next song; the raucous blues number “Crew Slut”. Portrayed by Dale Bozzio, a later founding member of Missing Persons. Mary is also the central figure in the following funk-rock-pop-samba, “Wet T-shirt Nite”. Even if the lyrics offend, there is always the brilliantly complex music chugging underneath. Mary’s character arc is now complete. This composition contains a marvelous Carlos Santana-like guitar jam outro.

He Used to Cut the Grass

Following the trajectory of Joe’s story so far, the next song asks the obvious question, “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” This is a purposely juvenile, AOR-type rock song with lavatory lyrics but with a complex bridge that reminds you of Genesis or King Crimson at their most bombastic. The song is quite the juxtaposition of 3 distinctly different styles that Zappa loves to combine to create his own unique genre. “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” is a semi-serious reggae song about a girl that seduced Joe then abandoned him after he developed feelings for her. Joe is getting pretty discouraged in this light, soulful ballad. This is really the only song on the record without ‘eyebrows’ on it. That is the term Zappa used to add his distinct personality to all of his music from synclavier solos to large orchestral pieces.

Frank Zappa Joes Garage Acts II and IIIActs II & III opens with “A Token of My Extreme”. This song has a gorgeous melody and an impossibly cool drum and bass section that people still study. JOE looks to find comfort from the toil of musical disappointments, relief from the heartache of broken relationships and a remedy from the onslaught of disease by joining a new age church – “The First Church of Appliantology”, owned by L. Ron Hoover (Scientology founder). With salvation promised to him, Joe goes to a dance club to celebrate his new found joy in the turgid disco song, “Stick It Out”. Partially sung in German, this is an upbeat dance song that pushes good taste to the limit (don’t play this for your mom!) Joe picks up a partner, “Sy Borg”, at the club and romances his new date over a quiet storm of funky reggae and trippy avant-jazz moog solos. This song may make you uncomfortable the first time around, but you’ll get used to it. It’s good for you.

The lifestyle finally caught up with him. Joe eventually got arrested for deviant behavior and met a man in jail named Bald-Headed John. The melody, rhythm section, production and imaginative lyrics in the song “Dong Work for Yuda” is Zappa at his peak. The puerile lyrics are 9th grade humor; also the way Zappa liked it. Drummer Terry Bozzio narrates in a made up language (based on the speech patterns of Zappa’s road manager) and the song is peppered with in-jokes from the band. It is impossible to feel gloomy while listening to this slow-paced, doo wop melody. I dare you. “Keep It Greasy” is Joe trying to adapt to a solitary life in jail over a drum beat that alternates between 19/8 and 21/8 making it ridiculously impossible for most humans to play or even tap their feet to the groove. Zappa often used funny or crude lyrics as a tool to get people to pay attention to his more complex serious music (Case in point – The considerable profits from Zappa’s 1982 comedy-rock song “Valley Girl” paid for his hugely expensive classical LPs. London Symphony Orchestra Recordings, Voumes 1 & 2).

In the alienation anthem, “Outside Now”, Joe dreams of being released from jail. This is an oft -covered song by Zappa enthusiasts. This one is in 11/4 and has a beautiful ostinato pattern that flows over the symmetrical vocal round at the end of the piece. At this point, a totalitarian twist is introduced to the story in “He Used to Cut the Grass”. While Joe was in jail, the government outlawed music in America (following Iran’s lead in 1979) to save us from depravity and to control the population. This song is somber and reflective and mostly instrumental guitar improvisation.

If you only listen to two songs on this record, they should be the next two. “Packard Goose” is Frank’s critique of rock journalism. Because he doesn’t have any instrument to play, Joe imagines music in his head in his jail cell. Then he imagines reviewers’ critiques of his imaginary music. Funny. The hidden meaning is that fans opinions matter, not the opinions of journalists that tell fans what is good and what isn’t. (Zappa had a hostile relationship with the rock press, even though they typically fawned over his work.) This piece is a top-tier composition with beautifully constructed complex music, thought-provoking lyrics, and a prog-rock instrumental section reminiscent of 70’s Return to Forever or Gentle Giant. Another amazing Vinnie Colaiuta workout is showcased on this track. This song has the oft-quoted, ‘Music is the Best’ poem that shows up on Zappa social media memes and T-shirts. Bitterness never sounded so righteously beautiful;

Maybe you thought I was the Packard Goose
Or the Ronald MacDonald of the nouveau-abstruse
Well f**k all them people, I don’t need no excuse
For being what I am. Do you hear me, then?
All them rock ‘n roll writers is the worst kind of sleaze
Selling punk like some new kind of English disease
Is that the wave of the future? Aw, spare me please!
Oh no, you gotta go
Who do you write for?
I wanna know
I believe you is the government’s whore
And keeping peoples dumb (I’m really dumb)
Is where you’re coming from
And keeping peoples dumb (I’m really dumb)
Is where you’re coming from
F**k all them writers with the pen in their hand
I will be more specific so they might understand
They can all kiss my ass
But because it’s so grand
They best just stay away. Hey, hey, hey
Hey, Joe, who did you b**w?
Moe pushed the button boy
And you went to the show
Better suck a little harder or the shekels won’t flow
And I don’t mean your thumb (Don’t mean your thumb)
So on your knees you bum
Just tell yourself it’s yum (Yourself it’s yum)
And suck it till you’re numb
Journalism’s kinda scary
And of it we should be wary
Wonder what became of Mary?
VOICE OF MARY’S VISION:
Hi! It’s me . . . the girl from the bus . . .
Remember? The last tour? Well . . .
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
MUSIC IS THE BEST . . .
Wisdom is the domain of the Wis (which is extinct)
Beauty is a French phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth neck ornament
Currently in resurgence . . .
JOE:
If you’re in the audience and like what we do
Well, we want you to know that we like you all too
But as for the sucker who will write the review
If his mind is prehensile (Mind is prehensile)
He’ll put down his pencil (Put down his pencil)
And have himself a squat
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
Give it all you got
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
Sit ‘n spin until you rot
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
He really needs to squat
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil) (Cosmic Utensil)
Now that I got that over with
I’ll just play my imaginary guitar again
Hey . . . hah . . . soundin’ pretty good there, me!
Ah . . . get down . . . UH!
Boy, what an imagination!
Love myself better than I love myself . . . I think . . .
What tone! Sounds like an Elegant Gypsy!
What is that? Musk? It’s hip!

“Watermelon in Easter Hay” is possibly the most beautiful instrumental that Zappa ever wrote. It’s a guitar melody, in the style of David Gilmore that Joe hears in his head but cannot play since he is still in jail. The expressive guitar line soars over a beat in 9/4 and builds to a climax with gongs, marimbas, chimes and mallets. This haunting emotional odyssey is atypical for Frank since his guitar playing is more commonly in the ‘mangle it, strangle it’ style of the solo section. Even Zappa’s harshest critics confessed that it was one of the most gorgeous pieces of music ever produced.

The final track, the goofy coda “A Little Green Rosetta”, tells of Joe’s decision to quit the music business in order to restore his sanity. He gets a new job making cupcakes at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (Zappa’s newly completed recording studio.) This pleases the Central Scrutinizer, who’s narrated the entire story up until this song. The song has a cast-party sing along from the band members and staff and concludes the story on a happy note.

Joe’s Garage was released at the mid-point of Zappa’s career and expanded his reach to a new generation of rock fans. The record peaked at number 27 on the Billboard charts. It has been called one of Zappa’s most important late ’70s works and overall political statements. Highly recommended for lovers of liberty. For his performance on Joe’s Garage, Vinnie Colaiuta was named ‘the most technically advanced drummer ever’ by Modern Drummer, which ranked the album as one of the top 25 greatest drumming performances of all time. If you are offended by George Carlin’s list of 7 dirty words, it’s best to skip this fine collection and check out Hot Rats, Zappa’s Grammy-winning, 1969 instrumental jazz-fusion album. No bad words on that one. Freedom of speech can get gross at times.

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”.
– Frank Zappa

Ron Simasek is a profession drummer, former member of The Badlees and current member of Gentlemen East, who has performed with dozens of artists and played on hundreds of recordings.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Into the Music by Van Morrison

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Into the Music by Van MorrisonVan Morrison completed his impressive 1970s output with his classic 11th studio album, Into the Music in 1979. The album features a large ensemble of musicians and singers to back Morrison’s distinctive, soulful and oft-improvised vocals, with many of the lyrics celebrating life, love and other positive themes. The album’s title was taken from a 1975 biography of Morrison by Ritchie Yorke, which is a play on the song title “Into the Mystic” from 1970’s Moondance album.

Moondance was Van Morrison’s first million selling album and it was quickly followed by a couple more albums which were critically and commercially successful, His Band and the Street Choir later in 1970 and Tupelo Honey in 1971. Both of those albums also produced hit singles but Morrison decided to break from that formula with a trio of meditative, poetic and experimental albums, Saint Dominic’s Preview in 1972, Hard Nose the Highway and Veedon Fleece in 1974. By this point the artist had been working almost non stop for nearly a decade, so he decided to take an extended hiatus. He returned in 1977 with the release of A Period of Transition, a collaboration with New Orleans legend Dr. John, followed by the synth-heavy album Wavelength in 1978.

Morrison wrote most of the songs for Into the Music while staying in a rural English village and would often compose while walking through the fields with his guitar. The album was recorded in early 1979 at the Record Plant in Sausalito, CA with co-producer/engineer Mick Glossop and released in the summer of that year.


Into the Music by Van Morrison
Released: August 1979 (Mercury)
Produced by: Mike Glossop & Van Morrison
Recorded: Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, 1979
Side One Side Two
Bright Side of the Road
Full Force Gale
Steppin’ Out Queen
Troubadours
Rolling Hills
You Make Me Feel So Free
Angeliou
And the Healing Has Begun
It’s All In the Game
You Know What They’re Writing About
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Herbie Armstrong – Guitars, Vocals
Mark Jordan – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Peter Van Hooke – Drums

 

One of the more upbeat tracks, “Bright Side of the Road”, opens the album. The song is a lyrical and musical celebration to its core and is both expertly performed and produced, even if its single release failed to reach the Top 40. “Full Force Gale” continues the upbeat trend but with a more country flavor due to the prolific fiddle by Toni Marcus and a slide guitar lead by Ry Cooder. The lyrics by Morrison are explicitly spiritual as he describes the feeling of encounters with “the Lord”.

“Steppin’ Out Queen” is a jazzy pop track featuring fine piano by Mark Jordan and a rich arrangement with brass and backing vocals are excellent additions to make this a rich arrangement which still leaves plenty of space for Morrison’s soulful vocals. “Troubadours” is a rather unique ballad with instrumentation that includes fanfare, flutes, and violin all over Jordan’s simple piano and the bass rhythms of David Hayes, while “Rolling Hills” is a pure Irish folk song with fiddle, mandolin and perfectly executed vocal delivery. The celebratory first side concludes with the melodic and pop-oriented “You Make Me Feel So Free”, a stellar example of well-produced late seventies sound, complete with a sax lead by Pee Wee Ellis.

Van Morrison

For this album, Morrison set out to “return to something deeper and once again take up the quest for music”, and this is most evident on the spontaneous and transcendent second side. On “Angeliou”, an otherwise very English folk song with harpsichord, the repetitive lyrics are beautifully delivered by Morrison’s summoning every vocal trick at his disposal, while later spoken word sections are accompanied by the distant, beautiful vocalizing by Katie Kissoon. “And the Healing Has Begun” is another Gospel ballad with a simple, rotating chord structure, leading to the climatic medley built on the 1951 cover “It’s All in the Game”, with a very relaxed and subtle unfolding of the song and arrangement. “You Know What They’re Writing About” is, essentially, the long outro to the previous track which offers Morrison a final opportunity for dramatic vocal gymnastics, where he fluctuates from a whisper to a crescendo.

Into the Music reached the Top 30 on the UK Charts and received widespread acclaim with some critics listing it as one of the year’s best albums. The release finished off a legendary decade of output for this artist who continues to perform 40 years later.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Highway to Hell by AC/DC

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Highway to Hell by AC DCThe first era of the group AC/DC climaxed with their sixth studio album in 1979, Highway to Hell. Displaying the group’s signature riff-driven hard rocker from cover to cover, this album was both the first to find commercial success in the United States, reaching the Top 20 on the album charts, and the last to feature lead vocalist Bon Scott. Highway to Hell went Platinum in five nations around the world and would ultimately become the group’s the second highest selling album.

Australian guitarist brothers Angus Young and Malcom Young formed the group in late 1973. They first portrayed a glam rock image and found minor local success with a rotating lineup of vocalists and rhythm players. When veteran Melbourne promoter Michael Browning later became the group’s manager, he suggested abandoning the glam rock image for a harder rock sound. Scott and drummer Phil Rudd joined as permanent group members in Autumn 1974 and AC/DC soon quickly recorded their debut album, High Voltage. Starting by becoming a successful act in Australia, the group methodically built an international following through the late 1970s. Bassist Cliff Williams debuting on the critically acclaimed 1978 release Powerage which, like all previous releases, was produced by George Young, older brother of Angus and Malcom.

The group’s label, Atlantic Records, wanted a more radio-friendly sound and insisted on a more mainstream producer for the record that would become Highway to Hell. Eventually, Mutt Lange got the gig and spent close to three months in England developing the material and perfecting the sound.


Highway to Hell by AC/DC
Released: July 27, 1979 (Atlantic)
Produced by:Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Recorded: Albert Studio, Sydney, Roundhouse, London, Criteria Studio, Miami, December 1978–April 1979
Side One Side Two
Highway to Hell
Girls Got Rhythm
Walk All Over You
Touch Too Much
Beating Around the Bush
Shot Down in Flames
Get It Hot
If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)
Love Hungry Man
Night Prowler
Group Musicians
Bon Scott – Lead Vocals
Angus Young – Guitars
Malcom Young – Guitars, Vocals
Cliff Williams – Bass, Vocals
Phil Rudd – Drums

 

The album takes off with its definitive title track, which portrays the group’s bluesy hard rock at its best and features great vocal melodies by Scott. The theme of “Highway to Hell” reflects the incredibly stressful nature of touring and the song became so successful that it was named the “Most Played Australian Work Overseas” in 2009. Next comes perhaps the most accessible pop/rocker on the album, “Girls Got Rhythm”, which was later released as both a single and the title track of a four-song EP.

“Walk All Over You” tries a bit too hard to be an anthem, especially with its shifting rhythms and intensities, but the song does gain some momentum in third verse, post lead section. “Touch Too Much” has more typical AC/DC good guitar tones by the brothers Young, along with call-and-response vocals in the later verse ad intense vocals by Scott in song’s coda. The first side concludes with “Beating Around the Bush” is an interesting, upbeat blues track influenced by early Fleetwod Mac, featuring stop/start timing in the music arrangement and strong sexual lyrical connotation.

AC DC

Much like the first side, the second begins with tight, catchy rocker. “Shot Down in Flames” has great riffs throughout to back strained hard vocals during song’s hook. After the highly formulaic “Get It Hot”, “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” provides social commentary on “living in the human zoo” and features potent bass by Williams and a slow, bluesy but effective guitar lead. The funky “Love Hungry Man” adds some overall variety, leading to the closer “Night Prowler”. This moderately paced, dramatic song with a tone of fear and loathing became controversial when it was cited by serial killer Richard Ramirez, who murdered more than 15 souls in California in 1985.

With the breakthrough success of Highway to Hell, the group began work on a highly anticipated follow-up in early 1980. Sadly, Scott died during a night off from recording in February 1980, leaving AC/DC the tough decision to disband or carry on with a new vocalist. With encouragement from Scott’s family, the group continued with new vocalist Brian Johnson and the ultimate result, Back In Black, would ultimately become the group’s most successful album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Get the Knack by The Knack

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Get the Knack by The KnackGet the Knack was one of those rare debut albums that became the singular phenomenal success defining  a band’s career. Released in the beginning of summer 1979, this album by The Knack was, at the time, one of the most successful debut records in history. The dozen tunes that make up this shooting star of an album combine timely, glossed-up pop/punk aesthetics with suggestive and borderline risque lyrics to make a potent combination which struck at chord among the youth at the end of the 1970s.

In May 1978, less than a year before recording their successful debut, the quartet was formed in Los Angeles. Vocalist Doug Fieger and guitarist Berton Averre had previously formed a songwriting partnership and were able to hit the ground running with the new band and quickly gain a following. By the end of 1978, The Knack was courted by several major record labels and the group decided to sign with Capitol Records in January 1979.

In April 1979, the album was recorded in just two weeks with producer Mike Chapman. Upon its release and aggressive marketing campaign, Get the Knack was an immediate success. It went Gold in less than two weeks, sold more than a million copies in less than two months, and spent five weeks at number one on the US album charts, ultimately becoming one of the best selling albums of 1979.


Get the Knack by The Knack
Released: June 11, 1979 (Capital)
Produced by: Mike Chapman
Recorded: April 1979
Side One Side Two
Let Me Out
Your Number or Your Name
Oh Tara
(She’s So) Selfish
Maybe Tonight
Good Girls Don’t
My Sharona
Heartbeat
Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)
Lucinda
That’s What the Little Girls Do
Frustrated
Group Musicians
Doug Fieger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Berton Averre – Guitars
Prescott Niles – Bass
Bruce Gary – Drums

 

By far the record;s most popular track, “My Sharona” features a riff built on  an infectious beat by drummer Bruce Gary, with My Sharona single by The Knacka melody and repeated lyrical motifs that made this the number one pop song of the year. The song further features a cool instrumental break with an extended guitar lead that gives it much classic rock cred and helps make it an indelible listen even after 40 years. The song was written by Fieger for his then 17-year-old girlfriend Sharona Alperin, who appeared on promotional copies of the single.

Unfortunately, “My Sharona” is the only true highlight of the album’s second side, which includes a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat”, the new wave spaz of “Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)”, the jangly power pop of “That’s What the Little Girls Do” and the anthemic closer “Frustrated”. The only slightly original track on Side 2 is “Lucinda”, which features cleverly built guitar phrases.

The first side is much more interesting overall, starting with the relentless drive of “Let Me Out”, a quasi punk teen anthem with definite Cheap Trick influence. “Your Number or Your Name” has a calmer melody while maintaining the fast and upbeat rhythms of the opener, while “Oh Tara” introduces a more complex arrangement with animated bass by Prescott Niles which helps give this upbeat new wave song an overall feel like a ballad. The first and only actual ballad on the album is Fieger’s “Maybe Tonight”, with a finely strummed electric guitar is joined by an acoustic and some strategic overdubs and tape effects, including backwards masked drum cymbals, pedal-laden guitar effects, double-vocal effects and rich harmonies.

The Knack in 1979

Then there’s the two most controversial songs on the album, both of which originally contained explicitly vulgar lyrics which were later changed to make these suitable for airplay. “(She’s So) Selfish” features a deliberately slow drum beat through its long intro before getting to the lyrics which have been criticized as being sexist and downright nasty. The hit song “Good Girls Don’t” is built an intro harmonica riff with an overall excellent melody and chorus hook as a pure example of late seventies pop rock. Originally written by Fieger in 1972, the song was made radio-friendly by altering the lyric “wishing you could get inside her pants” to “wishing she was givin’ you a chance”.

With the overnight success of Get the Knack, a strong backlash materialized against The Knack in the music industry. This was magnified when their quickly recorded follow-up album, …But the Little Girls Understand and its related single releases were all commercial flops in 1980. This sharp contrast of endeavors soon led to internal dissent within the group and, by mid-1982, the Knack split up.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Motörhead’s 1979 albums

Buy Overkill
Buy Bomber

Motorhead 1979 albumsDuring the year 1979, Motörhead released their second and third albums, Overkill and Bomber, two records that put this hard rock trio on the map. Overkill was an unexpected success and has gone on to be considered a major leap forward in both style and critical acclaim. Led by bassist and vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, the group forged a raw and heavy but somewhat melodic and accessible sound which forged elements of heavy blues and punk rock.

Kilmister joined the group Hawkwind in the early 1970s, which spawned some successful albums and a Top 5 single in the UK. However, he was fired by the band in 1975 after being briefly jailed on drug charges when entering Canada and forcing the band to cancel some scheduled shows. Lemmy immediately decided to form a new band and named it Motörhead after a song he had recently written. The band quickly found success and a contract with United Artists. Material for the eventual album On Parole was recorded but the label initially refused to release it because they were dissatisfied with the sound (it was ultimately also released in 1979, after Motörhead’s breakthrough success). Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke, both of whom would remain as the group’s core trio as some original group members departed in coming years. In August 1977, the group’s self-titled debut record was released and it spent a brief time on the UK Albums chart. In 1978, the group signed with Bronze Records and released a cover of the Kingsmen classic “Louie Louie”, followed by a tour to promote the record.

With the minor success from this single, the group commenced recording for a new album in December 1978 with producer Jimmy Miller. The resulting Overkill album became a Top 30 album on the charts and it sparked a tour and a quick follow-up record, Bomber, which was also produced by Miller.


Overkill by Motorhead
Released: March 24, 1979 (Bronze)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller & Neil Richmond
Recorded: Roundhouse and Sound Development Studios, London, December 1978-January 1979
Side One Side Two
Overkill
Stay Clean
(I Won’t) Pay Your Price
I’ll Be Your Sister
Capricorn
No Class
Damage Case
Tear Ya Down
Metropolis
Limb From Limb

Bomber by Motorhead
Released: October 27, 1969 (Bronze)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Roundhouse Studios and Olympic Studios, London, July-August 1979
Side One Side Two
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Lawman
Sweet Revenge
Sharpshooter
Poison
Stone Dead Forever
All the Aces
Step Down
Talking Head
Bomber
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Lemmy Kilmister – Lead Vocals, Bass
Eddie Clarke – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Taylor – Drums

 

Overkill begins with its fine title track, a song of genuine energy and release. Notable for Taylor’s an early use of double kick pedals the track employs minimal overdubs through its head banging parade. The next track, “Stay Clean”, has an almost punk vibe to it along with some electronic treatment on Kilmister’s vocals along with his cool buzzy bass and slight bass lead while “(I Won’t) Pay Your Price” has a Southern rock feel blended with straight-ahead energy and layered guitar textures by Clarke.

Overkill by Motorhead“I’ll Be Your Sister” returns to the pop/punk energetic rock, but with a bit different and interesting twist. “Capricorn” begins with drum rhythms and a dramatic guitar build up, later culminating with some of the later reverb-drenched guitars have a Hendrix-style effect. The album’s second side starts with the crisp rock riffing of “No Class” then returns to the punk style of “Damage Case”, with just enough classic rock swing to make it interesting and anthemic. “Tear Ya Down” releases more energy, “Metropolis” features slightly bluesy riffing and some harmonized vocals and the album closer “Limb From Limb” is built on a hypnotic, rotating riff between each verse line.

Motorhead in 1979

Less than four months after the release of Overkill, Motörhead began working on their next album, Bomber. Without having much opportunity to develop the songs and with Miller struggling with substance abuse during the sessions, this third album turned out to be less edgy and more formulaic. The album is bookmarked by, perhaps, its strongest songs. The opener “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is both refined and energetic as a slightly raw hard rocker, while the closing title song is an obvious classic track with the energy and freshness of much of the material on Overkill, making for a hit Top 40 single on the UK singles chart.

Bomber by Motorhead“Lawman” features some cool chord changes while basically hitting on main riff and lyrical hook which scoffs at the police. “Sweet Revenge” changes things up as methodical sludge rocker with a cool, bluesy slide by Clarke during the choruses. “Sharpshooter” again returns back to riff-rock, while “Poison” and “Stone Dead Forever” trend towards a fusion of punk and metal. “All the Aces” revives the definitive Motörhead sound while “Step Down” reverts to a real classic Black Sabbath vibe, making it one of the better tracks on the album.

In spite of being a bit rushed and underdone, Bomber peaked at #12 on the UK albums chart, making it their strongest showing on the charts up to that point. A tour of Europe followed, complete with a spectacular aircraft bomber-shaped lighting rig, as the group headed into the new decade of the 1980s with the promise of more success.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

George Harrison

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George HarrisonReleased in early 1979, George Harrison’s eponymous studio album is a light and breezy work of bliss and contentment by the ex-Beatle as he started a new family in his late 30’s. Adding to the overall atmosphere, much of this record was composed while on an extended hiatus in Hawaii, which followed a full year away from any activity  in the music industry. Since it’s release 40 years ago, George Harrison has generally been received well as may be considered one of this artist’s top solo releases.

Harrison had immediate post-Beatles success with the 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass and, to a lesser extent with 1973’s Living In the Material World. Late in 1974, Harrison became the first ex-Beatle to tour North America in conjunction with the release of the album Dark Horse. However, Harrison considered this the least satisfactory of his three post-Beatles studio albums and this, combined with the demise of the Apple Records label, led Harrison to launch his own label called Dark Horse Records. The 1976 album, Thirty Three & 1/3, became the first album release for this label, and it produced a couple of minor hit singles; “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace”.

Harrison spent much of 1977 following Formula 1 racing and traveled to Hawaii in early 1978 to begin writing for this album, which he would co-produce with Russ Titelman. Recording for the album took place at both Harrison’s suburban home studio and London’s AIR Studios and the sessions included cameos by contemporary artists Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Gary Wright.


George Harrison by George Harrison
Released: February 20, 1979 (Dark Horse)
Produced by: Russ Titelman & George Harrison
Recorded: FPSHOT, Oxfordshire & AIR Studios, London, 1978
Side One Side Two
Love Comes to Everyone
Not Guilty
Here Comes the Moon
Soft-Hearted Hana
Blow Away
Faster
Dark Sweet Lady
Your Love Is Forever
Soft Touch
If You Believe
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro, Mandolin, Sitar, Bass
Neil Larsen – Piano, Keyboards
Willie Weeks – Bass
Andy Newmark – Drums

The album begins with the single “Love Comes to Everyone”, a nice fusion of styles between Harrison’s signature slide guitar of the early seventies and the bass-driven bright pop of the late seventies led by Willie Weeks. The whole vibe of this song is accented nicely by Winwood’s sharp synth lead. “Not Guilty” is a track originally written for the Beatles’ White Album a decade earlier with lyrics referring to Harrison’s ever-straining relationship with his band mates following the failed pilgrimage to India to follow the Maharishi. Due to the tense subject matter, the original 1968 completed recording was not included on the Beatles’ double album. The late seventies version features a jazzy electric piano Neil Larsen and an overall feel that justifies giving this one ten years to mature.

George Harrison 1979

Another nod back to his Beatles’ years, “Here Comes the Moon” acts as a natural sequel to “Here Comes the Sun” from the Abbey Road album. This subtle, acoustic track features fine methodical accompaniment including vocal effects and a vocal chorus. Inspired by the hallucinatory effects of some Hawaiian “magic mushrooms”, the good-timey ragtime tune “Hard Hearted Hannah” features a fine acoustic lead and some call and response vocals. Perhaps the finest overall track, “Blow Away” features an exquisite combo of electric piano and slide electric guitar in the lead in along with a very catchy chorus hook and great guitar link back from chorus to verse. The song was the lead single from the album and became a hit in the United States and Canada.

The album’s second side starts with “Faster” an upbeat, celebratory tribute to Formula 1 racing which also served as the early title for this record. Next comes two subtle love songs, “Dark Sweet Lady” with a beautiful Caribbean style and the methodically strummed acoustic of “Your Love Is Forever”. A leftover from Thirty Three & 1/3, “Soft Touch” was re-written in Hawaii with a tropical theme and musical arrangement, while the closing track “If You Believe” wraps things up with an upbeat and positive message.

The feeling of bliss demonstrated on George Harrison would be shocked by reality during the production of Harrison’s follow-up album Somewhere in England, with the murder of former band mate John Lennon in December 1980. Harrison rewrote a track to pay tribute to Lennon and invited the remaining Beatles to play on the track “All Those Years Ago”, a Top Ten hit in 1981.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Breakfast In America
by Supertramp

Buy Breakfast In America

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.

Supertramp in 1979

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

1979 Images

 

Damn the Torpedoes by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Buy Damn the Torpedoes

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.