The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel

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The Nylon Curtain by Billy JoelAfter much commercial success with his previous albums, Billy Joel really branched out to new musical territory on his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain. On this album, the artist ventures out towards more electronic instrumentation, richer compositional arrangements as well as more complex lyrical content. Joel has called this album one of his most ambitious efforts and has often stated that he is most proud of this recording.

The great success of the chart-topping pop/rock albums The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses led to Joel being labeled a balladeer or even a soft rocker. For The Nylon Curtain, Joel tried his hand at topical songs and was decidedly more ambitious in his use of the recording studio.

Along with producer Phil Ramone, Joel set out to forge a sonic masterpiece during the Fall of 1981, spending much more time in the studio then on previous efforts and employing brand new digital recording techniques. Joel maintained many of his backing band members, including guitarists David Brown and Russell Javors along with his longtime rhythm section, bassist Doug Stegmeyer and drummer Liberty DeVitto. However, several session players were also employed to provide extra synthesizers, strings, horns and percussion during the rich production.

 


The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel
Released: September 23, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: A&R Recording and Media Sound Studios, New York City, Spring 1982
Side One Side Two
Allentown
Laura
Pressure
Goodnight Saigon
She’s Right on Time
A Room of Our Own
Surprises
Scandinavian Skies
Where’s the Orchestra?
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitar
David Brown – Lead Guitar
Russell Javors – Rhythm Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums & Percussion

 

The pleasant, choppy piano tune aura, complete with industrial sound effects, masks the frustrating stories embedded in the opening track “Allentown”. The song plays like a theatrical diddy, especially during the quasi-dramatic bridge section and its combo with the real themes of blue collar manufacturing towns (not just the Pennsylvania city it is named for) made it a universal theme. The brilliant track “Laura” follows with Joel delivering a John Lennon-like quality vocally during the verses and the guitarists presenting some George Harrison-like guitar motifs during the dramatic choruses. Lyrically, this song is superb in describing a totally dysfunctional relationship with all the biting energy of the day’s most vicious punk rock while utilizing incredible melody and sonic drama.

The hit song “Pressure” is a totally unique new wave rocker within Billy Joel’s collection. It is musically cutting edge with sharp synths throughout and a mechanical, biting drum beat. The lyrics speak of the dichotomy between philosophical outlook and actual real life grew out of an episode of writer’s block Joel was feeling one day in his New York apartment. The extended track “Goodnight Saigon” completes the original first side as a heart-wrenching, haunting, brilliantly descriptive ballad about the plight of those serving in Vietnam. This song is beautifully simple with a piano motif mixed between acoustic verses and it eventually builds to a chorus crescendo with marching drums. During this part live, Joel would frequently enlist local veterans to perform onstage.

“She’s Right on Time” is a pleasant pop tune that has a quasi-Christmas theme. Joel uses several melodic vocal sections and a depth of vocals to give everything a strong, live feel. “A Room of Our Own” is the most easy going track on the album, with a down-home rock and roll feel and strong drums and some creative bass by DeVitto and Stegmeyer respectively. “Surprises” feel like another quasi-tribute to Lennon, at least vocally. While the electric piano and synths are pure eighties in sound, this track has enough gentle and melancholy vibe to make it a forgotten classic.

Billy Joel, 1982

The climactic point of the second side comes with “Scandinavian Skies”, from its really pointed and dramatic intro, through the plethora of sonic treats and production throughout. Joel’s sweet melodic vocals are placed above a really cool drum shuffle with subtle piano and synths during this song’s ‘A’ sections, while the synths of guest Rob Mounsey are much more up front and dramatic during the ‘B’ sections. The lyrics speak of a journey and several opaque incidents in many Northern European locales. The closing ballad “Where’s the Orchestra?” is almost an afterthought after the climactic previous tune, but it does feature some nice little flourishes on sax and clarinet by Eddie Daniels to accompany Joel’s simple piano and vocals.

While not as commercially successful as Joel’s previous albums, The Nylon Curtain was still a smash by any measure, reaching the Top 10 on the albums charts and selling over two million copies in the U.S. alone. Joel went in the opposite direction for his next album, An Innocent Man in 1983, which had a much lighter tone as a tribute to R&B and doo wop music of the fifties and sixties.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

“Security” by Peter Gabriel

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Peter Gabriel 1982 albumIn 1982, Peter Gabriel released his fourth self-titled solo album, which was labeled “Security” on the shrink wrap of some early LP pressings. While this album lacked an original title, it certainly took an original approach as it heavily uses electronic instrumentation, sampling, and other innovative recording techniques and was one of the first to be a fully digital recording. The result is a wide ranging album which ranges from some very brilliant moments to experimental motifs with varying degrees of potency and musical relevance.

After departing genesis in 1975, Gabriel decided to launch a solo career, starting with the release of his initial self-titled album in 1977. A second, more experimental, solo LP followed in 1978 with his third album in 1980 reuniting Gabriel with drummer Phil Collins and being noteworthy as the first to innovate the “gated” drum sound.

After a long tour to promote that third album, Gabriel began composing and recording at his rural home with a mobile studio that included the costly Fairlight CMI sampling computer. Producer David Lord added technical support as Gabriel deleted all presets from the machine in order to start fresh with new sonic constructs. In all, work on this album took about a year and a half with several versions of each track recorded as well as a full alternate version of the album recorded with German lyrics.


Peter Gabriel by Peter Gabriel
Released: September 6, 1982 (Charisma)
Produced by: David Lord & Peter Gabriel
Side One Side Two
The Rhythm of the Heat
San Jacinto
I Have the Touch
The Family and the Fishing Net
Shock the Monkey
Lay Your Hands on Me
Wallflower
Kiss of Life
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Synths, Drums
David Rhodes – Guitars
Larry Fast – Synthesizers
Tony Levin – Bass, Chapman Stick
Jerry Marotta – Drums, Percussion

 

A dramatic representation of a native landscape and rituals shines through on the opener “The Rhythm of the Heat”. Sparse, distant rhythms are topped with melodic, descriptive vocals with lyrics which emulate surrender to ancient customs. The song’s ending percussion ensemble may be a bit over the top, but overall this track is a true keeper of the Genesis legacy. “San Jacinto” is a bit brighter and less dramatic, being slower and more deliberative (albeit less cohesive) than the opening track.

Peter Gabriel

“I Have the Touch” is structured more like a typical eighties pop track and offers a timely break from the more in-your-face electronica of the earlier tracks. Lyrically, this song about the desire for contact and closeness in the paradox of modern urban life. “The Family and the Fishing Net” seems to return to the vibe of the opening track but with more methodical effects over a consistent, slow drum beat by Jerry Marotta. Later on, guitarist David Rhodes adds some strategic riffs and rich, harmonized vocals to move the track more towards standard rock territory.

The second side starts with “Shock the Monkey”, by far the most memorable track from this album and a surprise Top 40 pop hit. Funky, beat driven, and with a nice mixture of synths and guitars above a great, smooth bass line by Tony Levin, this song features some real musical and sonic assets which all work to make it original, unique and entertaining.

Though the duration of this album, the tracks, while still inventive, seem to lose some steam. “Lay Your Hands On Me” commences as a quiet rap before the song morphs into an almost Gospel-like recital while lyrically touching on the absurdities of modern life. “Wallflower” starts with slight flute solo by Gabriel before settling into an electric piano ballad, while the closer “Kiss of Life” takes a more upbeat turn with strong synths and percussion.

“Security” reached the Top 10 in the U.K. and the Top 30 in the U.S. and would be the last of his self-titled studio albums. While it would take several years to follow-up, the momentum accelerated for Gabriel recorded with his chart-topping fifth studio album, So, released in 1986.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier

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Emotions In Motion by Billy SquierBilly Squier delivered a second straight solid hard rocker with 1982’s Emotions in Motion, the third overall solo release by the Massachusettes native. While continuing much of the solid musical groundwork laid down by his 1981 breakthrough album Don’t Say Know (and with similar commercial success), this album also served to expand Squier’s sound into the sub-genres of funk, new wave as well as other dance-oriented rock.

Like it’s predecessor, Emotions in Motion was co-produced by Squier and Reinhold Mack and it reached the Top 5 of the pop albums charts while eventually gaining multi-platinum levels in sales. The sonic qualities of production tend to tilt towards the high-end of the EQ spectrum with the percussion being a little over-produced. However, the album’s real saving grace is the compositions, all written solely by Squier, and strong enough to avoid sounding dated. The cover art for the album was created by Andy Warhol.


Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier
Released: July 23, 1982 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Side One Side Two
Everybody Wants You
Emotions In Motion
Learn How to Live
In Your Eyes
Keep Me Satisfied
It Keeps You Rockin’
One Good Woman
She’s a Runner
Catch 22
Listen to the Heartbeat
Band Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jeff Golub – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards, Vocals
Doug Lubahn – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

 

The album commences with its biggest hit, “Everybody Wants You”, which centers around a catchy, mechanical riff and a perfectly accessible hook. The bridge has a more dramatic feel before the song returns to its contagious, new wave grove. “Everybody Wants You” reached the top of Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks chart, holding that spot for six consecutive weeks. The title song, “Emotions In Motion”, takes a different approach with a bass-driven groove accented by a funky hard rock guitar by Jeff Golub and some of the backing vocal motifs by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor.

After a folksy opening riff which is accented by the saxophone of Dino Solera, “Learn How to Live” breaks into a dramatic hard rock verse and is soon realized as the first song which reaches the level of the better material from In the Dark. “In Your Eyes” continues the best sequence on the album as a pristine, acoustic power ballad with fantastic mood and melody as the song builds to a crescendo with synth counter melodies by Alan St. Jon as well as fine slide guitar licks. “Keep Me Satisfied” ends side one as a pure rock shuffle with almost a Southern feel, while “It Keeps You Rockin'” launches the second side with a slow and heavy musical thump contrasted by Squier’s full-throated wails that give this track a real Zeppelin-esque feel. “One Good Woman” features a bass-driven funk with contrasting, whining guitars and a direct, driving drum beat by Bobby Chouinard. All this makes for a fine and unique rocker and one of the more undervalued gems on the album.

“She’s a Runner” is the album’s final high water mark, starting off with a deliberative electric riff solo accompanied by Squier’s melodic and soulful vocals. When it fully kicks in, this track features a plethora of modern rock sonic treats, including a short but potent piano lead during the bridge. Next comes “Catch 22”, a thumping, methodical rocker with some competing riffs and licks on the periphery, all held together by the glue of Doug Lubahn’s bass. The album closes with a final attempt at hard rock and pop on “Listen to the Heartbeat”, containing some great individual elements like a flanged guitar intro riff and decent hook. However, it seems a bit under-cooked as not everything works cohesively as a whole.

Following the release of Emotions in Motion, Squier hit the road with most of the players on this album and soon moved from a major opening act to an arena-level headliner before his career plateaued in 1984 and declined later in the decade.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Business As Usual by Men At Work

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1982 Album Of the Year

Business As Usual by Men At Work One would not be out of line to suggest that this is a rather “unusual” (pun intended) selection for our 1982 album of the year. In fact, Business As Usual was originally released in November 1981 in Australia, the home country of the five piece rock band Men At Work. The lead single from the album, “Who Can It Be Now?” was released even earlier and had become a #1 hit Down Under by late summer 1981. Still, Columbia Records twice rejected distribution in the western world until its overwhelming success finally got the album released in the U.S. in April 1982. Here the album would go on to top the album charts and, as the year ended, Men At Work would occupy the #1 position on both the single and album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. Still, why would a “rock” site like ours choose this “pop” album as the best of 1982? Well, of the seventeen albums we reviewed from 1982 (most of which were pretty “good” but very few of which were truly “great”), Business As Usual seemed to be the most consistently solid and original back to front.

Produced by Peter McIan, the album has a solid new wave sound which compliments the good pop song-craft of guitarist and lead vocalist Colin Hay. With a knack for asymmetrical vocal movement from calm and raspy to strong and desperate, Hay provided a concise vocal guide above the band’s reggae and ska influenced rhythmic pulse. The resultant effect was a message that was simultaneously entertaining, a bit humorous, and deeply philosophical. The band also added other sonic elements, such as the phased guitar sounds and just the right infusion of saxophone by Greg Ham to give them an elemental edge over other pop-oriented new wave groups of the day.

Men At Work made their initial international break through to audiences in the western provinces of Canada, while opening for Fleetwood Mac on a North American tour. But it would be in the United States where the floodgates to success would open for the group. Business As Usual would become the most successful album by an Australian group to date, spending an unprecedented 15 weeks at #1 on the American album charts. It sold over 6 million copies in the states and 15 million worldwide.
 


Business As Usual by Men At Work
Released: April 22, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Spring-Autumn 1981
Side One Side Two
Who Can It Be Now?
I Can See It In Your Eyes
Down Under
Underground
Helpless Automation
People Just Love to Play With Words
Be Good Johnny
Touching the Untouchables
Catch a Star
Down By the Sea
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals
Jonathan Rees – Bass
Jerry Speiser – Drums

 

The album begins with the first real hit by the band, “Who Can It Be Now?”, an almost-satirical piece but with good quality music and arrangement and an excellent outtro. The call and response between the vocal and the saxophone during the chorus is done masterfully. The song was recorded prior to the rest of the album and released as a single in Australia in June 1981, and contains a lyrical narrative of a seclusion and paranoia. “I Can See It In Your Eyes” follows in perfect new wave form. The high, piercing synth notes compliment the driving yet melodic back-beat which is accented with good rudiments during the guitar lead.

Guitarist Ron Strykert co-wrote “Down Under”, another huge international hit for the band with a more pronounced reggae beat and interesting lyrics flush with Australian slang. The song remains a perennial favorite on Australian radio and television. It was played during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has been ranked the #4 all-time greatest Australian song by that nation’s Performing Rights Association. In 2010 however, the flute riff from the song was found to have plagiarised the classic Australian song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”, written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair.
 

 
The third single from the album was “Be Good Johnny”, a song written by Hay and Ham with lyrics from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy who is constantly being told what to do but feels that he is misunderstood by adults in his life. The song’s title is offers homage to the Chuck Berry classic Johnny B. Goode (a cleaver play on words itself) and features some spoken dialog by Greg Ham. Ham also takes lead vocals on the Devo-esque piece “Helpless Automation”.

Beyond the radio hits, the rest of the album contains some very strong songs. “Underground” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album, complex both lyrically and in musical arrangement, with a fine guitar riff by Strykert and great drumming by Jerry Speiser. Strykert also wrote “People Just Love to Play with Words”, perhaps the most pop-oriented song on the album, which again builds towards good outtro vocals by Hay.

Men At Work

The second side of the album includes some gems such as “Touching the Untouchables”, a complex piece with dynamic vocals and interesting guitar and sax riffs throughout. “Catch a Star” builds from simple rudiments by bassist Jonathan Rees until it blossoms into a very moderate ska beat. “Down By the Sea” closes the album as a laid back extended piece with composing contributions by each member of the band.

Men At Work won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1983, a first for any Australian recording act. They would go on to record another fine album of equal artistic quality as a follow-up to Business As Usual later that year, but with much less commercial success. The 1982 success would not again be matched.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Asia

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AsiaAsia was a short-lived “supergroup” which existed primarily in the early 1980s. Their debut eponymous album was wildly successful commercially, reaching #1 in the US on the Billboard album charts and the top selling album in the States for the year 1982. However, the band also tended to be a letdown to progressive rock fans who were eager to hear the sound forged by former members of some of the top groups in that genre during its heyday of the 1970s. However, the output on Asia, produced by Mike Stone, was distictly pop-rock with only minor nods towards the instrumental flourishes that identified progressive rock.

Guitarist Steve Howe had spent 11 years with the band Yes, playing on all the essential albums that made up the band’s early sound. Howe continued with the band until Yes officially split up (for the first time) on April 18, 1981. John Wetton had done extensive work as a session musician with acts such as Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry and with legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Wetton also lead the prog-rock staple King Crimson for several years during the early 1970s, replacing founding member Greg Lake when Lake went on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. That trio’s drummer Carl Palmer got his start in the mid 1960s with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. With Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, he played on some of the most acclaimed progressive rock albums ever. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was a virtual newcomer to the scene starting with the new wave band The Buggles in 1979 and joining Yes for one album, 1980’s Drama.

In 1981, Howe, Wetton, Palmer, and Downes formed the band Asia, an apparent “marriage made in Heaven” for prog rock fans. But this new band did focus on a more distinct 1980s sound, which focused less on musical virtuosity and more on sonic accessibility.
 


Asia by Asia
Released: March, 1982 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Stone
Recorded: Marcus Studios & Virgin Townhouse, London, June-November 1981
Side One Side Two
Heat Of the Moment
Only Time Will Tell
Sole Survivor
One Step Closer
Time Again
Wildest Dreams
Without You
Cutting It Fine
Here Comes the Feeling
Band Musicians
John Wetton – Bass, Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

 

If there is any place on Asia where a hardcore prog rock fan can find some solace, it is on the second side. “Wildest Dreams” contains some abrupt changes between verse and choruses and provides an extensive drum showcase for Palmer. “Without You” is a pleasant ballad, mellow throughout with interesting, moody parts. “Cutting It Fine” is the most interesting here with an acoustic beginning and an extensive piano instrumental by Downes in the coda.

Asia in 1982

On the first side, “Sole Survivor” displays a definite 80s sound, but with an interesting build in the beginning and a flute-like keyboard solo during the middle part. “One Step Closer”, co-written by Howe contains a good beginning which is a hybrid between the Yes and Kansas sound. With the harmonized verse vocals, this song is a true showcase on the album.

“Heat of the Moment” employs several basic rock techniques including the overused Phil Spector drum beat and a subtle building throughout. This opener was the signature song on the album and its biggest hit, reaching #1 on the pop charts.
 

 
The other major hit, “Only Time Will Tell”, is the best song on the album. Although song was composed by Downes and Wetton, the mocking guitar by Howe throughout makes this a real centerpiece for the former Yes axeman. The song contains instrumental rudiments and the guitar licks all above and almost-Barry-Manilow-like ballad somehow makes this a very interesting listen. The biggest flaw of this song is that it fades out way too soon.

Asia released a follow-up, Alpha in 1983 and a third 1985 album, Astra, each to less critical and commercial acclaim and this supergroup fizzled soon thereafter. Steve Howe went on to form yet another supergroup with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett called GTR. Wetton released several solo albums and Palmer later rejoined the newly reformed ELP in 1992.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

American Fool by John Cougar

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American Fool by John CougarAmerican Fool may mark the midway point of the artist’s evolution from the stage name “Johnny Cougar” back to his given name John Mellencamp. The differing names (of which there are four distinct) mirrored the change in musical style and image from the slick, glam-like pop star of the 1970s to the earthy, folk singer of the 1980s. This album straddles the line between the two, with a slight edge to the former as it tends to get quite formulaic as it progresses. In 1974, when Mellencamp was struggling to break through in the music industry, his manager suggested that his given name was too hard to market and concocted “Johnny Cougar” for the artist. The name used on American Fool, his sixth overall, was simply “John Cougar” the last of three to use this name.

Although his previous album, 1980’s Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did yielded two Top 40 singles, Mellencamp hated that album, dismissed its material as “stupid little pop songs”, and derided its outlandish cost of production of about a quarter of a million dollars. So it was clear that he wanted to move in a different direction with this album, and he accomplished much with a more authentic sound throughout. Still, American Fool is an uneven album with the bulk of the good (and popular) material on its first side and much repetitive filler on the second.

Also, there are, unfortunately, a bunch of interesting performances on this album that have gone un-credited. A record of who performed on the keyboards, accordion, harmonica, and who were female background singers, have been hard to discover. These are apparently session performances, but they all enhanced the album above the very basic core sound of the five credited musicians.

 


American Fool by John Cougar
Released: July 10, 1982 (Riva)
Produced by: Don Gehman & John Mellencamp
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles & Criteria Studios, Miami, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Hurts So Good
Jack and Diane
Hand To Hold On To
Danger List
Can You Take It
Thundering Hearts
China Girl
Close Enough
Weakest Moments
Primary Musicians
John Mellencamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Vocals
Larry Crane – Guitars
George Perry – Bass
Kenny Aronoff – Drums

 

The album opens with “Hurts So Good”, co-written by George S. Green, a childhood friend of Mellencamp’s who would go on to collaborate on some of his most recognizable songs. This song is as pure a rocker as you can get. Its sonic boundaries combines a Lynard-Skynard-like-70s guitar riff with the most modern 80s drum sound (a potent formula) and it follows the common rock arrangement of Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus/Outtro. “Hurts So Good” would be Mellencamp’s biggest hit to date, reaching #2 on the Billboard charts.

A couple of other songs on the first side stick to this same basic formula, including the pleasant and melodic “Hand to Hold on To” and “Danger List”, a song composed by Mellencamp and guitarist Larry Crane. This latter song contains some harmonized guitars over an acoustic intro, returning to simple riff intermediately throughout the verse and chorus. It is reserved and quiet through most of its duration but gets louder and more rock-oriented as it approaches the end. According to Mellencamp, he recorded about 30 different improvised verses for the original demo and weeded out the ones he didn’t like for the final cut.
 

 
As much as “Hurts So Good” and the rest of the first side stick to convention, “Jack & Diane” is completely original in arrangement, using all kinds of instrumentation. “Hand claps” were added to the sparse, main electric riff to help keep time with the intention of removing them on the final cut, but it was just too empty without them so this distinct sound was kept in the mix. The acoustic verses and choruses are accompanied at different times by nice little flourishes of piano, organ, bass, and percussive effects. The song was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami and Mellancamp gave the credit for the arrangement to the legendary Mick Ronson, who salvaged the song after Mellencamp had thrown it on the “junk heap”.

The second side of the album is much less rewarding with the bulk of the material being lesser songs that strictly follow the same formula as the hits on the first side. Ironically, the strongest moment on this side is the closing song “Weakest Moments”, a moody ballad with nice lyrical motifs. The song is acoustic throughout and also contains an interesting flute-like organ lead, an accordion, and a female backing chorus. Cougar’s vocals are a bit exaggerated in their melancholy, but otherwise this a fine tune to close the album.

With the commercial success of American Fool under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to add his real surname, going as “John Cougar Mellencamp” on his next album, 1983’s Uh-Huh. Eventually, the evolution would be complete and this artist would simply become John Mellencamp.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

 

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

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Nebraska by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s 1982 solo album Nebraska was an original “demo” that found unexpected life as a major label recording by a major label artist. The tracks for this sparsely-recorded album were recorded on a cassette 4-track recorder in Springsteen’s home as demos intended to be recorded with the E Street Band. The band did start recording the full-production versions of the songs in the studio but Springsteen and his engineers later decided that the “haunting folk” essence of the original demos best suited the dark themes of the compositions. So the original demos themselves were used on the album Nebraska. This was not an easy task, as the original demos were not recorded at optimal volume or with optimal noise reduction, and it was extremely difficult to transfer such recordings to vinyl, But with the help of newer mastering technologies, the finished product found the right balance of raw legitimacy and sonic competency that would ultimately become one of Springsteen’s highest regarded efforts.

According to Springsteen, he wanted to approach his next album differently by having many songs written and arranged previously, rather than working the writing process out in the studio;

I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I’m gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin’ ’em, then I’ll teach ’em to the band…”

During these same demo sessions, Springsteen recorded tracks that would be held over for his 1984 blockbuster Born In the U.S.A., including the title track, “Downbound Train”, and “Working On the Highway”. Fans have long speculated whether Springsteen’s full-band recording of the album (nicknamed “Electric Nebraska”) will ever surface, as these recordings have been held in tight confinement for 30 years.

 


Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Released: September 30, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen
Recorded: at Springsteen’s Colts Neck, NJ bedroom, January 3, 1982
Side One Side Two
Nebraska
Atlantic City
Mansion On the Hill
Johnny 99
Highway Patrolman
State Trooper
Used Cars
Open All Night
My Father’s House
Reason to Believe
Musician
Bruce Springsteen – Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Mandolin, Organ, Percussion

 

Some of the songs were inspired by left-wing historian Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States. The influence could be heard in “Mansion On the Hill”, a metaphor for the life of the wealthy that is unattainable by the working class who are locked out by the “hardened steel gates”, and “Johnny 99”, the story of a man who lost his job and then went crazy with a gun. This latter song with a nice boogie guitar has lyrics which explain the desperation of a man with debts no honest man could pay.

Nebraska got its title from a 1950s killing spree in and around Lincoln, Nebraska, by 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The opening title song contains dark lyrics, telling a story from the point of view of a murderer in a matter of fact way – not an emotional plea but simply a statement of facts. This makes the song all the more stark, bleak, and chilling in that we are always searching for reasons why people do bad things, but in this case, the criminal says there is just meanness in this world. The writing style for this track in particular was influenced by Flannery O’Connor, who Springsteen had been recently reading.

“Atlantic City” is the best track on this album (as well as its most popular). It tells the story of a young couple relocating because the young man grew tired of trying unsuccessfully to make an honest living and is taking a job with the mob in Atlantic City. It was written right around the time when the city was looking towards big-time gaming to save the city in the early eighties. Springsteen incorporated some real-life figures into this fictional song, the “chicken man” was mafia boss Philip Testa, who was killed by a bomb planted at his Philadelphia house in March 1981.
 

 
“Highway Patrolman” continues the themes of crimes and conscience in the story of brothers – one a lawman, one a criminal. The story is once again told in the first person with the lawman constantly struggling to keep his brother out of trouble and in the end letting him escape after he kills a man in a barroom fight. Musically and melodically, this is one of the most entertaining compositions on the album.

I’ve found that the songs “State Trooper” and “Open All Night”, yet more stories of desperation are linked in a way. “State Trooper” contains a guitar pattern which emulates the recurring sound of the road. The protagonist doesn’t have a license or registration, but he is driving late at night on a deserted highway just saying a prayer that his problems don’t get bigger by being stopped by a cop. “Open All Night” contains a similar beat, with the guitar a little more jangly in the fashion of of old time rock and roll. With nearly the same scenario of a guy driving alone through Jersey, but with more optimistic anticipation of seeing the girl he just recently met. The closing song “Reason To Believe”, finishes the album with a more upbeat note.

Bruce Springsteen would try to recreate the dark simplicity of Nebraska in 1995 when he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, album very similar musically and lyrically. However, it was impossible to recreate the happy accident that brought this simple casette demo, recorded in a New Jersey bedroom on a Sunday afternoon in January 1982, to the ears of millions.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

 

Billy Idol

Billy IdolThe debut album by Billy Idol is amazingly diverse and mainstream-leaning for an artist supposedly fresh off the punk scene. In fact, Idol today admits that his late seventies outfit, Generation X, differed starkly from other acts on the scene like The Clash or The Sex Pistols; “They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones’, but we were honest about what we liked.” Generation X was inspired by mid-Sixties British pop and were one of the first “punk” acts appear on the BBC. When the band broke up in 1981, Idol transitioned nicely to his own sound. This self-titled debut album was produced by Keith Forsey through 1981 and early 1982 and is confluent with Generation X’s final 1981 LP as well as Idol’s initial EP Don’t Stop that same year.

American guitarist Steve Stephens would become as much a part of the solo act as Idol himself, forging a slick rock sound to canvas the Elvis-like vocals of Idol. Stephens’ slashing guitar chords became as identifiable as Idol’s melodic choruses and sneering postures. This album eventually became Idol’s breakthrough in America, a place Generation X had struggled to find any audience. It took over a year beyond June 1982 until some of Idol’s videos began  breaking through to the MTV audience.

With Forsey’s production, the album was given a “modern” sound for the time which employed piano, synthesizers, saxophone, and background singers. This sweetened the sound enough for the mainstream audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The LP peaked at number 45 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Gold by RIAA in 1983.

 


Billy Idol by Billy Idol
Released: June 16, 1982 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: London, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Come On, Come On
White Wedding (Part 1)
Hot In the City
Dead On Arrival
Nobody’s Business
Love Calling
Hole In the Wall
Shooting Stars
It’s So Cruel
Congo Man
Dancing With Myself
Band Musicians
Billy Idol – Vocals | Steve Stephens – Guitars
Phil Feit – Bass | Steve Missal – Drums

 

The album starts with “Come On Come On”, a very pop-rock dominated song with driving bass and choppy guitars. This sets the pace for several songs with a definite 1980s sound. These include the guitar-centric, straight up rocker “Dead On Arrival” and the almost-hair band “Nobody’s Business”

“White Wedding” contains a much darker sound. One of his most recognizable songs, Idol claimed in later years that this song actually had nothing to do with his “little sister”, but he just found the concept interesting. The song was a hit upon its original release and charted even higher several years later in the UK, following rotation of its famous video. The song is titled “White Wedding (Part 1)” on the album due to the release of a synthesizer based dance version on 7″ vinyl called “White Wedding (Part 2)”.

“Hot In the City” was the initial single from the album. The song has a moderate, melodic tempo and some sweet pop hooks. It gained more popularity as the decade progressed and was an even bigger hit when released as a single from the compilation Vital Idol in 1987.
 

 
The second side of the album starts with “Love Calling”, driven by the drumming of Steve Missal, along with some odd chanting between verse lines. It gives off a trance-like vibe except during the breaks when Idol screams “if you want to rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub”. “Hole In the Wall” and “Shooting Stars” each contain cool guitar textures by Stevens and a very animated bass by Phil Feit in the fashion that U2 would eventually make very popular. “It’s So Cruel” starts calm with liberal use of synthesizers, almost a ballad, until it eventually builds with stronger tones.

Modern versions of the album conclude with “Dancing With Myself”, a song originally recorded for the final Generation X album in 1981, then co-opted by Idol for his Don’t Stop EP, when he remixed it and gave the song an overall brighter, poppier finish. When Idol started to break through with MTV videos in 1983, one was made for “Dancing With Myself” and the song was added to the Billy Idol LP, replacing a short percussion filler called “Congo Man”.

Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad and got his stage name in grade school from a teacher who nicknamed him “Billy Idle” in a degradng fashion. Billy took this name as a badge of honor and, with some minor re-spelling, used it to launch himself to international stardom.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

Coda by Led Zeppelin

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Coda by Led ZeppelinCoda is a unique album for us to review. Although it is listed officially as the ninth and final studio album by Led Zeppelin, it could just as well be listed as a quasi-compilation of unreleased tracks in the tradition of The Who’s Odds and Sods or Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Like those, this is a fine and entertaining album, and a must-have for any serious fan of the artist. But we internally debated whether it was proper to include Coda with our reviews from 1982. After all, it had been a full two years since the death of drummer John Bonham and the subsequent disbandment of Led Zeppelin as a cohesive group. Also, the most recent recordings on Coda were made four years prior to its November 1982 release, with the earliest recording stretching back to the late 1960s. The truth is, we simply could not overlook this album. After all, this IS Led Zeppelin and this band is likely to be the only one which Classic Rock Review covers every single studio album (I mean, we’ve already done Presence, what can we possibly exclude?)

The album spans the band’s entire career, from live performances just after their debut album to unused songs from In Through the Out Door sessions. However, it focuses mainly on the bookends of very early material and very recent material with very little representation from the band’s most popular “middle” years. This is most likely due to the fact that 1975’s Physical Graffiti included many unreleased songs from that era.

With such a chasm between the early and recent material, producer and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did a great job making it all sound cohesive. This included extensive, yet not overwhelming, post-production treatment of each track. According to Page, the album was released because there was so much bootleg stuff out following the disbandment. However, Coda was not a comprehensive collection in its original form. The 1982 LP contained eight tracks and ran at a mere 33 minutes in length. Eleven years later, four more tracks were added to CD versions of the album, tracks which were mysteriously excluded originally. Some have suggested it was really only released to fulfill a contract obligation to Atlantic Records.
 


Coda by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 19, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969-November 1978
Side One Side Two
We’re Gonna Groove
Poor Tom
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Walter’s Walk
Ozone Baby
Darlene
Bonzo’s Montreaux
Wearing and Tearing
Tracks Added to CD Edition in 1993
Baby Come On Home
Travelling Riverside Blues
White Summer/Black Mountain Side
Hey Hey What Can I Do
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
“Walter’s Walk” is the oddest song in this collection, as it is the only that comes from the mid-era of the band, credited as a 1972 recording during the Houses Of the Holy sessions. However, both Page’s guitar style and especially Robert Plant‘s vocals are clues that a significant amount of overdubbing was likely done for the Coda album. As one who, recently reviewed Plant’s 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven, it is quite clear that his vocals on this track are a much greater match for 1982 than for 1972. Still there’s no doubt that this song existed in some form in the early 1970s as a portion of it was included in the extended jam version of “Dazed and Confused”.

Most of the original second side were tracks leftover from the 1978 Stockholm sessions for In Through the Out Door. These are all solid and well produced tracks which were only excluded due to time constraints and were slated to be released as an EP following the band’s 1980 North American tour, a tour which never took place due to Bonham’s death. From these particular tracks, you can hear that Zeppelin was experimenting with more modern genres during that era. “Ozone Baby” is the closest to new wave that the band ever came. It is riff-driven with some interesting changes and features harmonized vocal effects from Plant, a rarity for the band. “Wearing and Tearing” is the song most closely resembling the times, admittedly a response to the punk scene that swallowed up the U.K. while Led Zeppelin was on an extended hiatus in the late seventies. In this sense, it is probably the most interesting song on the album because it possesses the raw power of their early material and offers a glimpse to where they might have gone had they continued.

“Darlene” is a fantastic, oft-overlooked gem by Led Zeppelin with a perfect guitar riff and entertaining rock piano. John Paul Jones really stepped to the forefront on In Through the Out Door, writing much of the material and adding the extra dimensions of keyboards on a consistent basis. That approach is best demonstrated on this track, which incorporates a basic, rockabilly canvas with some interesting variations and song transitions. The side is rounded out by “Bonzo’s Montreux”, a live drum rehearsal caught on tape by one of the engineers before a 1976 show in Montreux, Switzerland. Page later added some electronic effects, and the band had a suitable tribute to their fallen comrade.
 

 
Coda begins with a wild frenzy of a song, “We’re Gonna Groove”, written by soul artists Ben E. King and James Bethea with the original title “Groovin'”. A studio version was scheduled to appear on Led Zeppelin II, but due to the band’s hectic schedule that year, they never got around to recording it. Page took a live version of the song, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and did a masterful job of overdubbing lead guitars and enhancing the vocals and drums for the Coda track. He did something similar for “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is taken from the same concert, the only song in the “studio album” collection to be repeated, which is unfortunate, although this version is superior to that on the band’s first album.

“Poor Tom” is the absolute gem from this album, a folk song from sessions for Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970. It is backed by a consistent and infectious drum shuffle by Bonham. The song contains dueling acoustic guitars and some fine harmonica by Plant, a great skill by the vocalist often overlooked. The unexplained lyric to this song is rumored to have deep roots in English folklore and/or contemporary philosophy. From those same sessions came “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”, another acoustic folk song that was released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”, but was long out of print when it was finally released on Zeppelin’s 1993 box set and subsequent versions of coda.

Led Zeppelin in 1979

Three more songs were also added to post-1993 versions of the album. “Baby Come On Home” is a straight-up soul ballad from sessions so early that the tape canister was actually labeled, “The Yardbirds” (Led Zeppelin was originally called the “New Yardbirds”). That master tape went missing for several decades and allegedly turned up in a refuse bin outside Olympic Studios in 1991. The track itself is an interesting listen with Page playing a Leslie guitar and Jones on piano and Hammond organ, not to mention the sheer novelty of hearing the band perform this genre straight up. “White Mountain/Black Mountainside” is a long, solo instrumental that Page performed often during the band’s early years until it morphed into music which would become “Stairway to Heaven”. “Traveling Riverside Blues” is a barrage of blues anthems that show the Zeppelin sound forged in the earliest days, especially the bluesy slide guitar by Page and the great bass by Jones. It is the finest of the four newly added tracks and it baffles fans like myself as to why it was originally excluded. Although this song got its title from a Robert Johnson classic, it is actually more like a (then) modern day tribute to the blues legend, with Plant incorporating lyrics from several of Johnson’s songs.

The term “coda” means a passage that ends a musical piece, following the main body. To the band’s credit, they kept their compact implicit in this title and did not continue any further without without Bonham. This gave Led Zeppelin a bit of career cohesion which all but guarantees that their tremendous legacy will never be stained.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums

 

One On One by Cheap Trick

One On On by Cheap TrickMany critics believed that Cheap Trick was already past their peak by the time that got around to recording their sixth studio album, One On One in 1982. The band had really hit an apex in the late 1970s by combining the glam-fused power pop of British bands like Sweet with the good time heavy rock of California artists like Van Halen and all with an edge. In fact, this Illinois based band may have been too clever for their own good as they always seemed just outside the mainstream at any giving moment, but we digress. The truth is, with One On One, Cheap Trick may have actually hit its rock-centric peak, despite what mainstream critics may have said.

The album is laced with the intense yet measured, screaming vocals of Robin Zander, giving it all an air of importance mastered by the likes of The Who’s Roger Daltry. This wailing tops off the master song craft of guitarist and chief songwriter Rick Nielsen, a founding member of the band and its predecessor in the late 1960s. Although, at first, the songs themselves may seem muddled and distant, subsequent listens give the songs more breadth and depth.

The slickness of production on this album by producer Roy Thomas Baker gives it a bright, glam feel. But this could have just as easily had a darker, biker-rock feel due to the flexible writing style. One On One was the first album to feature bassist Jon Brant, the replacement for Tom Petersson, who departed after the band’s previous album All Shook Up.

 


One On One by Cheap Trick
Released: April 30, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
I Want You
One On One
If You Want My Love
Oo La La La
Lookin’ Out for Number One
She’s Tight
Time Is Runnin’
Saturday At Midnight
Love’s Got a Hold On Me
I Want to Be a Man
Four Letter Man
Band Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keys | Rick Nielsen – Guitars, Vocals
Jon Brant – Bass, Vocals | Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

 
The album starts off with the upbeat “I Want You” which establishes the hyper, high end vocals ala Sweet in an upbeat and pure rocker. The title song follows with a more steady, quasi-heavy metal motif. The first side wraps with “Oo La La La” containing a bluesy, Aerosmith-like hook and especially with heavy yet vocals, and “Lookin’ Out For Number One” a grinding, heavy metal screed.

The beautiful and elegant “If You Want My Love” is the showcase for the first side. A very Beatle-esque piece right down to the three-part “oohs”, with several distinguishing parts that build a very moody and desperate love song. The song is a prime example of the band’s rich talent, especially the composing and arranging talents of Neilson.
 

 
Side two begins with the hyper and fun “She’s Tight”, with the album’s best vocal performance by Zander. The song strikes just the right amount of synths to balance the almost-punk main riff, giving it a very infectious feel overall. Critics have said this was the band trying to achieve a more commercial rock sound, unlike anything before. This may be true, but it is still undeniable that this is excellent to the hilt.

The next track “Time is Runnin'” is the truest pop-oriented song to this point on the album, while “Saturday at Midnight” really deviates from the feel of the rest of the album as a new-wavish, dance track, released as a 7″ single to appeal to a wider audience. Drummer Bun E. Carlos co-wrote “Love’s Got a Hold on Me” as electronic effects on his flanged-out drums lace the wild yet melodic “I Want Be Man”. The album concludes with the Queen-like rocker “Four Letter Word”, complete with faux audience rudiments.

With One On One, Cheap Trick released an album full of brash, loud, raucous rockers. The album achieved moderate success but physical copies of the album were out of print for several years. In April 2010 it was reissued along with the following 1983 album Next Position Please on one CD.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images