Foreigner 4

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Foreigner 4Foreigner 4 was a platinum-selling commercial blockbuster for the group Foreigner in 1981. It spawned several highly successful singles and began the group’s transition from a hard rock band to a more mainstream, pop outfit. Aside form being the group’s fourth studio album, ‘4’ symbolizes Foreigner’s downsizing from six-members (as they had been since their inception in 1976) to a four member band.

Released in 1977, 1978, and 1979 respectively, the group’s fist three albums – Foreigner, Double Vision and Head Games – were each more successful than the last. However, co-founders Al Greenwood and Ian McDonald were fired from the band by guitarist and primary composer Mick Jones who wanted more creative control in the band’s direction.

Jones collaborated with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, who had recently had huge success with AC/DC’s Back In BlackForeigner 4 was recorded at Electric Lady Studios and featured several songwriting collaborations between Jones and lead vocalist Lou Gramm, who had especially strong performances throughout this album.


4 by Foreigner
Released: July 2, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Mick Jones and Mutt Lange
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York, 1981
Side One Side Two
Night Life
Juke Box Hero
Break It Up
Waiting for a Girl Like You
Luanne
Urgent
I’m Gonna Win
Woman In Black
Girl On the Moon
Don’t Let Go
Band Musicians
Lou Gramm – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Mick Jones – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Wills – Bass, Vocals
Dennis Elliott – Drums, Vocals

 

The opening track “Night Life” is a natural extension of tracks from Head Games as a riff and beat driven rocker with a catchy hook which capitalizes on the post-disco party themes of the day. “Juke Box Hero” is a much more original track, starting with a deep synth bass and a heartbeat-like kick drum by Dennis Elliott during initial verse. Led by Gramm’s dynamic vocals, the song builds to a crescendo leading up to the chorus hook, with storytelling lyrics about a wanna be rock star. “Break It Up” is the ultimate example of Jones’s rock style as a rudiment filled guitar/riff and choppy piano tune which may be the best overall track on the album. The song’s spectacular arrangement also features great bass throughout by Rick Wills and finishes with a slight but effective guitar lead during the outro.

Foreigner in 1981

Foreigner the rock band of the 1970s met Foreigner the ballad churners of the 1980s at the junction of “Waiting for a Girl Like You”. Dominated by keyboards throughout, from the ethereal synth with descending riff in the opening, to the slow and measured electric piano which guides the verses and choruses, the song became a Platinum-selling power ballad with the unique distinction of spending a record-setting 10 weeks at number 2 on the American pop charts without ever reaching the top. “Luanne” finishes the album’s first side as a pure rocker with some 50s, 70s and 80s elements mixed together for an overall pleasant and entertaining tune. The smash #1 hit “Urgent” starts with a unique, sharp synth riff and popping bass that makes for a pure rock dance track. Gramm’s vocals place it solidly on the rock side more than the dance side, but the song has a uniform vibe which makes it infectiously catchy. The song also features a signature saxophone lead by guest Junior Walker.

Through the rest of the second side of the album, Foreigner 4 has tracks of more standard rock fare, not terrible but not enough to make this album a classic. “I’m Gonna Win” is a hard rocker with good, accessible and dynamic vocals as it builds throughout in intensity and energy. “Woman in Black” is a song where Jones really shines on guitar on many levels, providing a chorus of entertaining rock riffs and licks throughout with the many different textures throughout this composition. “Girl On the Moon” has a haunting quality with pedal-drenched guitars interacting with suddenly appearing synth motifs. On this track, a short but interesting bridge and lead section follows the first chorus. The album wraps with “Don’t Let Go”, an incomplete song which seems to have the makings of a really solid track but falls just a bit short.

Foreigner 4 was an immediate hit in its day, hitting #1 position on the Billboard album chart for 10 weeks. Through the years, the album reached platinum level 6 times over and, despite latter pop success, would be Foreigner’s commercial peak.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Fire of Unknown Origin
by Blue Öyster Cult

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Fire of Unknown Origin by Blue Oyster CultFire of Unknown Origin was released during an era when Blue Öyster Cult fully embraced their mythical “cult” status amoung hard rock fans, a feature of early eighties coolness which propelled them higher than they probably deserved. Still, this album is a quality jam of non-pretentious rock which still sounds pretty potent three and a half decades later. The songs on Fire of Unknown Origin are clearly theatrical, which may suggest an intended concept work. However, a closer listen proves that this is not the case, it is simply a collection of rock songs.

The New York based quintet was prolific in recording and touring through the early 1970s before their breakthrough fourth album, Agents of Fortune in 1976, which featured the group’s trademark hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. The group followed with the studio albums Spectres in 1977, Mirrors in 1977, and Cultösaurus Erectus in 1980, as well as the multi-platinum selling live album, Some Enchanted Evening in 1978. These albums all received a fair amount of critical acclaim but differing levels of commercial success.

The group’s eighth studio album, Fire of Unknown Origin was produced by Martin Birch and took a noted pivot towards the use of more synthesizers and other New Wave elements. Concurrently, the band’s sound also become even more theatrical with the lyrics more mysterious and cunning.


Fire of Unknown Origin by Blue Oyster Cult
Released: July, 1981 (Columbia)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Kingdom Sound Studios, New York & The Automatt, San Francisco, 1981
Side One Side Two
Fire of Unknown Origin
Burnin’ for You
Veteran of the Psychic Wars
Sole Survivor
Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver
Vengeance (The Pact)
After Dark
Joan Crawford
Don’t Turn Your Back
Band Musicians
Eric Bloom – Guitars, Vocals
Donald Roeser – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Keyboards
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Vocals
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

 

The album’s title song was co-written by longtime collaborator, Patti Smith. “Fire of Unknown Origin” is a pure eighties funk/pop song, complete with the keyboards of Allen Lanier as co-lead instrument. The track features an interesting groove with a good level of intensity and motion, highlighted by the excellent dual guitar lead above the animated, hi-hat infused drums of Albert Bouchard. “Burnin’ for You” is THE Blue Oyster Cult classic from their later era. Everything comes together on this composition by Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, from the layered flanged-out intro guitars to the rich intro vocal chorus to classic bass riff by Joe Bouchard in the verses under smooth vocals by Roeser. An early MTV video favorite, this song spent three weeks in the Top 40 and topped the Billboard Top Tracks chart.

The intense and dramatic “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” was co-written by vocalist and guitarist Eric Bloom with British author Michael Moorcock. This intense and dramatic mini-suite is ushered in by a theatrical drum beat with Bloom’s vocals working well with the descending synth patterns. “Sole Survivor” kicks off with a cool bass and slightly treated vocals by Bloom during the highly melodic verses. The choruses have a strong hook, giving the song an overall sense of variety and style in spite of some cheesy but fun electronic effects during the final verse. “Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver” matches its title as a heavier track than anything on the first side, probably pretty potent for its day but, in retrospect, about at the same level as your garden variety hair band anthem.

Blue Oyster Cult

The album’s second side “Vengeance (The Pact)” was written by the Bouchard brothers and features a smooth intro with choppy rock verses. This track has interesting music and melodic passages throughout its multiple distinct parts. “After Dark” starts with a punk-flavored drum shuffle with New Wave-like bass, guitars, and keyboards on top, making this the most “modern” sounding track on the album. Starting with an extended solo concert piano section, “Joan Crawford” is the controversial track on the album as it unabashedly tries to cash in on the “Mommie Dearest” phenomena of the day. This track does break into a decent rock groove with rapid piano accompanied by choppy guitar riffs and really does fit in with the other theatrical themes on the album. “Don’t Turn Your Back” comes in directly from “Joan Crawford” and settles into a unique vibe built by beats in odd measures, a jazzy bass line and smooth vocal melodies and harmonies. This closer still has strong rock elements, especially through the drums and guitar lead, but is ultimately in a sub-genre that is hard to identify, which makes it truly original.

Fire of Unknown Origin reached the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic. It would be the final studio album with the band’s original lineup for seven years, a duration in which Blue Öyster Cult lost much of its commercial momentum, making this 1981 album their high water mark.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Long Distance Voyager
by The Moody Blues

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Long Distance Voyager by The Moody BluesThe Moody Blues scored some latter career commercial success with the chart-topping album Long Distance Voyager in 1981. While this was the ninth studio album by the group, it was only the second since the group went on an extended hiatus nearly a decade earlier. Musically, Long Distance Voyager balances itself by employing some of the dreamy, intelligent songs for which the group is best known, as well some modern beat-driven pop tracks.

In 1974, after seven albums in seven years and several world tours, the Moody Blues commenced an extended break. Some songs were composed for a near future group album, but these were instead to become Blue Jays, a duo album by guitarist/vocalist Justin Hayward and bassist/vocalist John Lodge. Other group members also released solo albums through the mid 1970s before the group finally reunited to record the 1978 album Octave. This would be the final album to involve keyboardist Mike Pinder.

Pinder was replaced by Patrick Moraz, previously with the group Yes, which prompted Pinder to file a lawsuit to prevent a new Moody Blues album from reaching the public without his contributions. Ultimately, the lawsuit was unsuccessful and the Pip Williams produced Long Distance Voyager was released in May 1981 and was the first release in a decade and a half not to be produced by Tony Clarke, who had worked on every Moody Blues album since 1967’s Days of Future Passed. This album is also notable as the sole one recorded at the band’s own Threshold Studios, which was custom-designed for the band by Decca Records but disbanded shortly after Decca’s sale to Polygram.

 


Long Distance Voyager by The Moody Blues
Released: May 15, 1981 (Threshold)
Produced by: Pip Williams
Recorded: Threshold and RAK Studios, London, February 1980–April 1981
Side One Side Two
The Voice
Talking Out of Turn
Gemini Dream
In My World
Meanwhile
22,000 Days
Nervous
Painted Smile
Reflective Smile
Veteran Cosmic Rocker
Band Musicians
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Vocals
Patrick Moraz – Keyboards
Ray Thomas – Flute, Harmonica, Vocals
John Lodge – Bass, Vocals
Graeme Edge – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with Hayward’s “The Voice” with a dramatic, orchestral synth intro before the upbeat song proper kicks in. This modern rock song is led by synths with driving rhythms, acoustic guitar, and choral backing vocals to complement Hayward’s melodic lead vocals, while lyrically the song is about finding your inner guide, your true north. The song was ahit, reaching the Top 20 on the opo charts.

“Talking Out of Turn” was written and sung by Lodge and, although laden by a consistent synth arpeggio, this track is really an acoustic love song at its core. The track unfolds slowly and methodically and maintains its rich arrangement throughout its seven-plus minute duration, with heavy orchestral elements in the coda. “Gemini Dream” was the biggest hit from the album, topping the charts in Canada and peaking at #12 in the USA. New wave and (nearly) dance-oriented, this track features duo lead vocals by Hayward and Lodge, which works best during the “make it work out” call-and-response section of the bridge.

The ballad “In My World” features Hayward’s brightly strummed acoustic guitar complemented by a pedal steel by guest B.J. Cole to complete the album’s original first side. Another Hayward song starts the second side, as “Meanwhile” is a sing-songy acoustic track, pleasant like an early seventies soft rock song with acoustic guitar and Moraz’s electric piano. A good song overall, “Meanwhile” was also a minor hit, reaching #11 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. “Nervous” is a pure introspective folk song by Lodge, with picked acoustic, and a string section performed by William’s “New World Philharmonic”.

The Moody Blues in 1981

Much of the rest of the album’s second side is dominated by tracks fronted by Ray Thomas. “22,000 Days” is beat driven with strong and steady drums by Graeme Edge, who composed this track which features theatrical musical flourishes. The final three tracks comprise a mini-suite, giving the album a thematic feel. “Painted Smile” has very English, “Top of the Pops” like crooning by Thomas above a slight waltz beat along with cool, carnival like effects. “Reflective Smile” acts as a bridge, narrated by Dave Symonds, leading to the closing climax, “Veteran Cosmic Rocker”. This closing track features strong rock elements along with a middle section features a plethora of sounds from pure blues rock to psychedelic and Eastern soundscapes.

Long Distance Voyager topped the charts in the US and Canada and reached the Top 10 in the UK. Although the group continued with this formula to further success through the mid 1980s, they would not again record an album this complete in future years.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 

Moving Pictures by Rush
35th Anniversary

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NOTE: This article was originally published in April 2011 and re-purposed for the album’s 35th anniversary on February 12, 2016.

Moving Pictures by RushSince the arrival of drummer Neil Peart in the summer of 1974, Rush had produced six consecutive quality albums rock albums, up to and including Permanent Waves in 1980. Then came Moving Pictures which, in many ways, was their musical masterpiece and in all ways would become the most popular album they ever released. This album also would represent a crossroads for the band, at once showcasing many elements of the sound that they had forged throughout the late 1970s while also mildly previewing their new wave influenced sound of the early 1980s. In this sense, it may well be the most diverse album that Rush ever produced as well as the most complete and rewarding album overall of 1981, making it Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for that year.

Following the success of the 1976 concept album, 2112, the group delved further into progressive rock with the “Cygnus X-1” concept which spanned two albums and culminated with the 12-part instrumental “La Villa Strangiato” from the 1978 album Hemispheres. With Permanent Waves, released on the first day of the new decade, Rush began to alter their style with some reggae and new wave elements to complement the hard rock core, a sound they expanded upon when production began on this album in late 1980.

Moving Pictures was the seventh consecutive album produced by Terry Brown, who played a huge role in forging Rush’s sound during this classic phase of the career. It is also the first album where Geddy Lee plays some keyboards and bass on each and every song, complementing Alex Lifeson‘s guitar style and sound, which is distinct on every song. As a premiere rock drummer, Peart had long experimented with different styles and time signatures, and he continues to do so on Moving Pictures. But as the band’s primary lyricist, Peart explores more diverse subjects than he had in the past, finding lyrical inspiration in classical literature as well as contemporary events.

 


Moving Pictures by Rush
Released: February 12, 1981 (Mercury)
Produced by: Rush & Terry Brown
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, Canada, Oct-Nov 1980
Side One Side Two
Tom Sawyer
Red Barchetta
YYZ
Limelight
The Camera Eye
Witch Hunt
Vital Signs
Musicians
Geddy Lee – Bass, Synths, Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synths
Neil Peart – Drums & Percussion

 
The final song on the album, “Vital Signs”, contains a dual reggae/electronica influence that would have fit perfectly on their next studio album, Signals. “Witch Hunt” features dramatic sound effects, a deliberate arrangement, and guest keyboardist Hugh Syme, who also designed the album’s signature covers. This song would later be revealed as the third part of the “Fear” series, released chronologically in reverse. As Peart explained in an interview;

The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn’t think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness, but by fear.

Moving Pictures is also the last album from the era to include an extended piece, “The Camera Eye”. The track paints a lyrical and musical picture of the metro activity of New York City and London, with the title deriving from works by American author John Dos Passos. To this point in their career, Rush had included a track of seven minutes or more in length on each of their first eight albums (including Moving Pictures), but would not do so again for over 30 years. Another rarity on future Rush albums would be a pure instrumental. “YYZ” is a fantastic and thrilling little jam that showcases each of the trio’s musical virtuosity. Musically, the song displays a steady, trance-like motif with many showcase sections for each musician, with its title coming from the airport code from the group’s hometown Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Tom Sawyer singleThe best known song on the album, and probably the band’s most popular song ever, is “Tom Sawyer”. The song was co-written by Canadian lyricist Pye Dubois, who gave a poem to the band entitled “Louis the Lawyer” and asked if the band would be interested in putting it to music. Peart then added “the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be”, by using the American literary metaphor. Musically, this steady but complex song incorporates a heavy use of synths, differing time signatures and accessible melodies. “Limelight” was another hit off the album, which portrays Peart’s uneasiness with fame. It contains one of rock music’s most famous riffs, delivered by Lifeson in a perfectly cultivated crunch of distorted guitar that sounds as good as any sound he had ever cultivated. Peart’s lyrics speak of his slight disillusionment with fame and the growing intrusions into his personal life, complete with Shakespearian references.

The tour-de-force of the album is the fantastic “Red Barchetta”, a vivid action story about a joyride in a car taken during a dystopian future where such actions are unlawful. The song was inspired by the futuristic short story “A Nice Morning Drive,” by Richard Foster, published in 1973, which Peart adapted with his own love of classic automobiles. A true classic jam, this complex song was recorded in one take and contains some of the best bass playing by Lee, who really shines on this track.

Rush in Studio, 1980

Moving Pictures was the first Rush album to top the Canadian album charts and nearly did the same in the US and the UK, reaching the Top 3 in both those countries. The album went on to reach quadruple platinum status world wide and it still sounds as fresh and relevant, multiple decades after its release. During Rush’s 2010–11 Time Machine Tour, the album was played live in its entirety for the first and only time.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Face Dances by The Who

Face Dances by The Who

Face Dances was the ninth album from the legendary band The Who but their first without drummer Keith Moon, who died of an overdose shortly after the release of their previous album, Who Are You in 1978. Unlike their English contemporaries Led Zeppelin, who also lost their drummer during that time span and decided they could not continue without him, The Who decided to make a comeback in 1981 with a new drummer, Kenney Jones.

In spite of this fracture in personnel integrity, Face Dances is actually a very good album. Jones holds his own with the musical virtuosos in the band, guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle, and the material is strong and up-to-date while maintaining some of the signature qualities that make The Who, The Who.

Although the band was far removed from their days of rock operas and complicated theme albums, the material seems to flow along a consistent vibe that is at once deep and a bit comical, but always strong and forward. It is a credit to their ability to adapt to changing times and changing tastes in the music world.
 


Face Dances by The Who
Released: March 16, 1981 (Polydor)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Odyssey Recording Studios, London, July-December, 1980
Side One Side Two
 You Better, You Bet
 Don’t Let Go the Coat
 Cache Cache
 The Quiet One
 Did You Steal My Money?
How Can You Do It Alone
Daily Records
You
Another Tricky Day
Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals | Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Vocals | Kenney Jones – Drums

 
This comical trait is obvious right from the jump with “You Better, You Bet”, an entertaining mini-suite with complex chord structures that flow together along a silky smooth narrative. “Did You Steal My Money?” is another near-frivolous song that takes a little concentration to recognize the fantastic vocal performance that is put forth by vocalist Roger Daltrey.
 

 
As usual, Townshend’s songs are introspective and, to a lesser extent, philosophical. “Don’t Let Go the Coat” was inspired by guru Meher Baba (who was partially responsible for the title to the song “Baba O’Riley” a decade earlier), while “Cache, Cache” was a literal telling of Townshend’s ill-fated, one day retirement from the music business. Entwistle contributes a unique original with his own raspy vocals and near-heavy-metal sound with “The Quiet One”.

The second side of the album contains lesser known but strong songs throughout , highlighted by “Daily Records” and “Another Tricky Day”. Although Face Dances is not quite Who’s Next or Quadraphenia, it is a solid record and important in the band’s rebound following the tragic death of Moon. The band would put out another studio album, It’s Hard, in 1982 before ultimately disbanding for over a decade and a half.

The album cover of Face Dances features sixteen square paintings (four of each band member) that were commissioned by artist Peter Blake (of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover fame), who enlisted many British artists of differing styles (including himself) to make this unique cover.

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RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Too Fast for Love by Mötley Crüe

Perhaps more than any other band, Mötley Crüe epitomized the “hair band” phenomena of the 1980s, with their updated version of 1970s glam. But they did have a brief moment of pre-glam, pre-hair when they were simply a hungry hard rock band from L.A. looking to make their breakthrough.

The band’s 1981 debut album Too Fast for Love captures this era in raw and unpolished form. There are flaws throughout, including the obvious fact that Nikki Sixx had not yet learned how to play bass (which he later admitted), the overall low budget under-production, and the fact that songs do tend to repeat themselves in near mind-numbing sequence. In spite of this, the album illustrates that there is something real and legit about these four young talents, including Sixx whose main contribution is as the band’s primary songwriter, which can attract even non-fans of the band or the genre.

The talent represented here validates Mötley Crüe as a legitimate rock band. This is especially true for the most talented member of the band, guitarist Mick Mars, who is the only member of the band that truly has his sound fully formed and cultivated on this debut.
 


Too Fast for Love byMötley Crüe
Released: December, 1981 (Elektra)
Produced by: Mötley Crüe
Recorded: Hit City West, Los Angeles, 1981
Side One Side Two
Live Wire
Come On and Dance
Public Enemy #1
Merry-Go-Round
Take Me To the Top
Piece of Your Action
Starry Eyes
Too Fast for Love
On With the Show
Musicians
Vince Neil – Lead Vocals | Mick Mars – Guitars
Nikki Sixx – Bass | Tommy Lee – Drums

 
Mars’ sound is the lynch pin that really elevates this album from semi-professional demo to consumer-ready rock product. His technique and sound textures are best displayed on the album’s only ballad, “Merry-Go-Round”, in which Mars alternates between lightly picked staccato notes and sustained, heavy chords and includes a fantastic, overdubbed lead that takes the song home.

However, a true listen to Too Fast for Love reveals that there are some other budding musicians beyond Mars. Although both fall just short of being fully matured in their craft, Tommy Lee plays some animated and entertaining drums while Vince Neil sings with a melodic, new-wave-ish voice.

Several of the songs reflect the band’s seventies influences. The opener “Live Wire”, with it’s machine-gun rift that dissolves into a calmer mid-section is reminiscent of Rush’s “Bastille Day”. Deep Purple’s influence can easily be heard in the entertaining “Piece of Your Action”, while the album’s title song sounds like any number of Kiss songs.
 

 
Too Fast for Love also includes a couple of really good rock-pop songs. “Public Enemy #1” would have been a huge hit if it were released during the band’s heyday a half decade later, while the closer “On With the Show” displays the Crüe’s versatility as up-and-coming musicians.

Even some of the album’s weaker songs, such as “Take Me to the Top” and “Starry Eyes” display a bit of authentic, early eighties charm that makes Mötley Crüe’s debut well worth the listen.

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RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

1981 Images

Paradise Theatre by Styx

Paradise Theatre by Styx

At a time when the “concept album” had all but gone out of fashion, Styx released Paradise Theatre, an album that loosely couples a fairly interesting concept with some strategically placed (albeit unrelated) pop and rock songs.

The concept itself is one of rapid decay and lament to a past Golden Age symbolized by an actual theater on Chicago’s west side built on the eve of the Great Depression and dead by the mid 50’s. Brought forward to the turbulent economic times around 1980, this concept worked well. But concept itself is not enough, in the end it is all about the music.

Although the album is a little less than the band’s best output (The Grand Illusion four years earlier), the music did tap into a popular confluence between the band’s long-time, loyal listeners and a new crop of pop-rock fans that were suddenly starting to pay attention to durable bands from the 1970s such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, and Styx.
 


Paradise Theatre by Styx
Released: January 19, 1981 (A&M)
Produced by: Styx
Recorded: Pumpkin Studios, Oak Lawn, IL, 1980
Side One Side Two
 A.D. 1928
 Rockin’ the Paradise
 Too Much Time On My Hands
 Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
 The Best of Times
Lonely People
She Cares
Snowblind
Half-Penny, Two-Penny
A.D. 1958
State Street Sadie
Musicians
Dennis DeYoung – Keyboards, Vocals | James Young – Guitars, Vocals
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocoder, Vocals
Chuck Panozzo – Bass | John Panozzo – Drums & Percussion

 
Musically, Paradise Theatre contains a nice balance among the band’s three primary songwriters, Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, and James (JY) Young.

Shaw’s best contribution is the hit “Too Much Time On My Hands”, which is about as good as a pop single got for that era. It contains a nice mix of synth effects, a classic guitar solo, crisp and catchy lyrics, and well-delivered vocals. Besides some great axe work, Shaw also adds the top-end harmonies that distinguishes the Styx sound.
 

 
JY’s efforts were back-to-back tracks on the album’s second side. “Snowblind” is an anti-drug song with a lugubrious feel throughout. In spite of it’s noble message for society on the surface, it was targeted by Tipper Gore’s PMRC and other anti-rock groups for allegedly backwards masking Satanic messages. The band was truly offended by these charges and would mock them on their next album, Kilroy Was Here, with genuine backwards messaging.

“Half Penny, Two Penny” may be the best rock song on the album. A mini-suite in of itself, it builds to a crescendo with some excellent lead guitar and just the right touch of piano and saxophone (by guest Steve Eisen) in the coda where repeatedly JY screams;

“I wanna be free!”

The Best Of Times single

But the concept itself and all the songs that surround it, truly belongs to DeYoung. “The Best of Times” provides not only the top hit on the album, but the recurring theme with the opener “A.D. 1928” and the closer “A.D. 1958”. Many longtime fans (and apparently some band members themselves) lamented the heavy introduction of ballads by Denis DeYoung, starting with the soft-rock hit “Babe” on the previous album, Cornerstone. But this is a case where the ballad is supreme (and not so much sappy) with strong influence from each of the members of Styx and the obvious endorsement of fans at large.

However, some of the other “theme” songs really tend to straddle the line between legitimate rock opera and some high school theater production. This is especially true for “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned”, both popular songs on the album, each of which can either be interpreted as entertaining or over-the-top on any given day. For this reason, Paradise Theatre never really rises to the level of excellence of the best rock operas, such as The Who’s Quadrophenia, although it is still an interesting and enjoyable listen.

A nice touch was added to top off the album, a classy, “song after the last song” in the same fashion as “Her Majesty” off Abby Road by The Beatles. The half-minute long saloon-piano piece called “State Street Sadie”, adds just a touch of nostalgia right out of the 1920s that brings home the overall theme of Paradise Theatre.

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RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 
 
1981 Images

 


Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

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There is something pure about Ozzy Osbourne that makes him so endearing to his fiercely loyal fans. Without pretension, this big, overbearing lug that just plugs away at his prophesying to the darker fringes of the Western psyche. Despite all his success, Ozzy is more Eagor than ego. But from this rock critic’s perspective, in his career that spanned over four decades, there was only a very brief moment in time when Ozzy Osbourne was truly great. It was during a few short years at the top of his solo career, when he shared the stage with an equally iconic partner, Randy Rhoads. Together they produced two brilliant albums, Blizzard of Ozz in 1980 and Diary of a Madman in 1981.

A classically trained, guitar virtuoso, Rhoads was a young musical genius who looked at his meteoric rise in rock n’ roll as just a minor pit stop on his road to achieving a true classical music education. He had actually planned on returning to school in the near future before his life was cut short when an idiotic pilot tried some idiotic stunts on a small plane in Florida in early 1982.
 


Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: November 7, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Max Norman, Ozzy Osbourne, & Randy Rhoads
Recorded: February 9 – April 23, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Over the Mountain
 Flying High Again
 You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll
 Believer
Little Dolls
Tonight
S.A.T.O.
Diary of a Madman
Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead & Backing Vocals
Randy Rhoads – Guitars
Bob Daisley – Bass
Lee Kerslake – Drums & Percussion

 
At first, it seems apparent that with Diary of a Madman the band wanted to carbon-copy their breakthrough Blizzard of Ozz. In fact, the first two songs, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” strongly mirror the first two songs of that album (“I Don’t Know”/”Crazy Train”), being the most recognizable on their respective albums. But soon, Diary of a Madman makes it’s own mark as a deeper, darker, more classically-oriented piece.

“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” is where the music starts to get serious. The best song on this album, it both perfectly illuminates the twin sides of Rhoads, while being the ultimate theme song for Ozzy Osbourne himself. The production work is stellar, blending the classical and heavy metal elements perfectly. In the third verse, with the long, distorted droning electric guitars, really brings the volcanic passion of this song bubbling to the surface.

Blizzard of Ozz band 1981

There is some controversy that has followed this album through the years, as the original bass and drum recordings, done by Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake were later re-recorded (by Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge) at the instance of Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon Osbourne, in order to cleanse songwriting credits from Daisley and Kerslake. This is really unfortunate, because the original recording were much of a band effort, and the bass and drum performances shine throughout, especially through the second side of the album and the songs “Little Dolls”, “Tonight”, and “S.A.T.O.”.

But this album is undoubtedly Rhoads from start to finish. And what an eerie finish indeed, with the haunting title song. That traverses through a few haunting verses and a very haunting mid section. Then the outtro – when Rhoads furious riff is accompanied by a chorus of spiritual voices that escort his very last performance on record to a bone-chilling end.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

1981 Images

 

Don’t Say No by Billy Squier

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Bily Squier was an odd figure on the pantheon of rock. On the one hand, there is no doubt that he was a very talented vocalist with exception songwriting instincts and pop music instincts. Listening to his 1981 breakthrough, Don’t Say No, leaves one with little doubt that this is a bona fide and legitimate rocker. But then there is the other hand, something that’s a little odd, a little off, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but nonetheless was (probably) responsible for Squier not getting his due accolades through the years and decades. It certainly can be argued that being a little “off” adds a distinction or an “edge” that makes such an artist more interesting. This certainly was the case on Don’t Say No and its equally impressive follow-up, Emotions In Motion, in 1982.

A Massachusetts native, Squier had been performing live throughout New England since the late 1960s, including stints with the bands Magic Terry & The Universe, Kicks, The Sidewinders and Piper. This latter group released two critically acclaimed (albeit commercially unsuccessful) albums in the late 1970s and opened for KISS during the height of that band’s success. Squier departed Piper to launch his solo career in 1980 with his debut album The Tale of the Tape, which had a couple of minor hits.

For this sophomore effort, Squier invited Queen guitarist Brian May to act as producer. However, May had too many prior commitments and instead suggested Reinhold Mack, who recently produced Queen’s very successful 1980 albums The Game. This combination proved fruitful, as In the Dark reached the Top 5 on the album charts and spawned two Top 40 singles.

 


Don’t Say No by Billy Squier
Released: April 13, 1981 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Recorded: The Power Station, New York
Side One Side Two
 In the Dark
 The Stroke
 My Kinda Lover
 You Know What I Like
 Too Daze Gone
Lonely Is the Night
Whadda You Want from Me
Nobody Knows
I Need You
Don’t Say No
Primary Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Percussion
Cary Sharaf – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards
Mark Clarke – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

 
This “second tier” of songs are best exemplified with the final three songs on the album, which break from the normal pattern with differing tempos and acoustic textures. “Nobody Knows” is the only song that can be considered a ballad. Squier’s near-soprano vocals above a slowly-picked guitar line and just the right amount of bass and strings later gives way to the full band joining in and a fantastic double-tracked guitar lead that captures the mood perfectly. “I Need You” is a very good pop song, with a really cool new-wave-ish bass/synth riff, calm strummed acoustic and strategically inserted electric guitar during verses that becomes more forceful during the choruses. Unlike that smooth song, “Don’t Say No” is put together in bits and pieces with some interesting lyrics;

I live on the border-line, you come from the void…”

Which brings us back to that “oddness” that we mentioned at the top. Don’t Say No is littered with examples, mainly outtros of songs, such as the orgasmic chant at the end of the opener “In the Dark” or the frantic pick-up that ends “Lonely Is the Night”. But this is most evident on the album’s closing title track, which begins with a fade-in of the first verse and fades out completely near the end, only to re-emerge suddenly. Is this edgy or amateurish? Ultimately, the listener must decide. Some of Squier’s influences are apparent in a couple of other fine songs. “Too Daze Gone” contains many of the same blues-based elements utilized by Aerosmith in the 1970s, while “Lonely Is the Night” is a definite nod to Presence-era Led Zeppelin, but with an additional gloss layer that makes it very entertaining and radio-friendly.

Billy Squier

Of course, Don’t Say No is best know for the “hits” that are still heard on AOR and other media to this day. The opener, “In the DarK” has a very good sound with mixture of guitars and synths and a steady, staccato beat along with plenty of little riffs throughout that make this song a trans-era hit. Mack’s great production is apparent right from the start. “The Stroke” is a double-entendre with infectious lyric and riff and a steady, marching beat throughout. This marching continues through to “My Kindda Lover”, but with a sweeter demeanor, as compared to it’s totally cynical predecessor.

When we made our choice as to which albums from 1981 we would review, we decided that we would either choose Foreigner 4 and Don’t Say No (but not both) as they cover very similar territory as far as genre and quality. They are also similar being that the most popular songs on each album are pretty much the best songs on each album – something that, believe it or not, is really quite rare. But while it was difficult to determine if “Urgent” was superior to “The Stroke” or if “In the Dark” was better than “Juke Box Hero”, it was ultimately the second tier of songs that, in our opinion, gave Don’t Say No the edge. Even though there are some weak points on the album, overall this is the finest work that Billy Squier ever produced.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Ghost In the Machine by The Police

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Ghost In the Machine by PoliceGhost in the Machine is the fourth album by The Police and the first to actually use an English title, albeit the title was borrowed from the Albert Koestler novel of the same name. Although it used the foundation of a simple three piece power sound with reggae beats and a punk edge that was built by the band’s previous three albums, this album is a definitive evolution towards more ethereal jazzy sounds that would later come to fruition on the Synchronicity album in 1983.

For the first time since the band’s formation four years earlier, a dominant influence was starting to emerge from lead vocalist and bass player Sting, who lobbied for the addition of synths, layered horns, saxophones, and lyrics heavily influenced by philosophical theory. This new direction caused a riff with the other band members, especially drummer and original founding member Stewart Copeland, and proved to be the beginning of the end for this short-live and talented band. As it turned out, the more mainstream (and well-earned) popularity the Police achieved, the further they grew apart, disbanding after the break through of Synchronicity and the headlining world tour that followed.
 


Ghost In the Machine by The Police
Released: October 2, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, January – September, 1981
Side One Side Two
Spirits In the Material World
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Invisible Sun
Hungry for You Demolition Man
Too Much Information
Rehumanize Yourself
One World (Not Three)
Ωmegaman
Secret Journey
Darkness
Group Musicians
Sting – Bass, Keyboards, Saxophone, Lead Vocals
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths, Backing Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals

 
The album opens with “Spirits in the Material World”, which sets the tone for this collection with a steady synth riff against, a syncopated drum beat, and philosophical lyrics –

There is no political solution / to our troubled evolution / have no faith in constitution / there is no bloody revolution…

Originally written by Sting in 1976, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is the most upbeat song on the record although the lyrics suggest it’s about a guy with a crush on a girl and he is trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. It nicely fluctuates between a calm, piano arpeggio during the verse and a classic, steel drum-fueled reggae during the chorus. The song reached #1 on the mainstream rock charts, making it the biggest pop hit on the album.
 

 
What do you do if your lyrics are too hot for the English speaking world? Set them against the backdrop of a ska beat and sing them in French of course. “Hungry For You” has probably confused many non francophone listeners who may think they just can’t understand the words (because they’re in French).

The band returns to philosophical rambling with “Rehumanize Yourself”. The beginning of this song sounds like it may have influenced The Bangles hit “Walk Like and Egyptian” with Horns drifting and soaring above the racing beat.

I work all day at the factory/I’m building a machine that’s not for me/There must be a reason that I can’t see/You’ve got to humanize yourself…

Invisible Sun by The Police

“Invisible Sun” continues the philosophical introspection with monotone vocals and lyrics poetically describing the mundane tasks of the day and hoping for an unseen reward at the end of the day. These words were especially striking when set against the imagery of the music video, showing footage of struggles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

The feel of Ghost in the Machine is clearly a departure from the previous Police projects. Guitarist Andy summers probably had the least amount of influence on this album, simply due to the pure displacement by the presence of all the other instrumentation. That’s not to say that this isn’t a good listen, as the band was well on their way to their creative apex.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.