The Last In Line by Dio

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The Last In Line by DioAfter stints in several rock groups, Ronnie James Dio found his popular groove in the early eighties with the founding of the group, Dio. Although this band was named after the veteran vocalist and songwriter, it was approached as a true rock group with each member contributing to the original compositions. Dio’s second release, The Last In Line, was released in mid 1984 and reached great critical acclaim within the rock and metal community. The album was also a mainstream crossover hit, reaching the Top 10 on several album charts fueled by three tracks which landed in the Top 10 of the American Mainstream Rock tracks chart.

Dio’s music career began way back in 1957, when he founded the band, The Vegas Kings, as a teenager in his hometown of Cortland, New York. This group went through various changes in name and personnel through the 1960s, with a few singles released along the way. In 1967, that group transformed into The Electric Elves, later shortening its name to Elf. Through the early seventies, Elf recorded three albums and toured with major acts such as Deep Purple. When Ritchie Blackmore left that group to form Rainbow in 1975, he recruited members of Elf, including Dio. While with Rainbow, Dio wrote most of the lyrics for the first three albums. However, when given the opportunity to replace Ozzy Osbourne in the legendary Black Sabbath, Dio jumped ship in 1979. Three years later, disagreements within that band resulted in the departure of Dio and drummer Vinny Appice, who formed Dio in October 1982. The following May, the band released their debut album, Holy Diver, which featured two MTV hits.

The original quartet of Dio included Vivian Campbell on guitar and Jimmy Bain on bass. Later on keyboardist Claude Schnell was recruited for live shows and ultimately became a permanent member of the band.


The Last In Line by Dio
Released: July 2, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Caribou Ranch, Colorado, 1984
Side One Side Two
We Rock
The Last In Line
Breathless
I Speed at Night
One Night In the City
Evil Eyes
Mystery
Eat Your Heart Out
Egypt (The Chains Are On)
Group Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Vivian Campbell – Guitars
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Vinny Appice – Drums, Percussion

The Last In Line followed the same basic pattern as Holy Diver, leading these albums to later be packaged together. The album comes in strong with “We Rock”, led by the frenzied drums by Appice throughout, including a beat-driven post lead section. Co-written by bassist Bain, the most quality track on the album is the title track, “The Last in Line”. The laid back intro section allows for a nice setup to the driving song proper, with its steady and heavy approach. However, it is Dio’s philosophical and fascinating lyrics that shine brightest on this track, finding the line between good and evil like a heavy metal counterpart to “Hotel California”,

We don’t come along, we are fire, we are strong, we’re the hand that writes and quickly moves away…”

“Breathless” sounds much like Rainbow-era material, built on the interesting riffing by Campbell and the melodic hooks by Dio. “I Speed at Night” may be the most overtly concocted tune (perhaps to take advantage of the recent success of Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”). In any case, this is not a good showcase for Dio and Appice. The side one closer “One Night In the City” is heavy pop, starting with a couple of interesting riff sections before it breaks into pristine rock with repeatable hooks. “Evil Eyes” forges the high-end 80’s heavy rock where Campbell adds some of his finest guitar work during the brief verses and frantic, hammer-on lead.

“Mystery” is the most accessible song on the album and a true Dio classic. Everything comes together on this collaboration between Dio and Bain, as it is melodic and musically sweet, with a hook, guitar lead, and keyboard riff that it puts in firmly within the boundaries of pop/rock radio. “Eat Your Heart Out” follows as one last accessible hard rock song and a true band collaboration with good rock rudiments. The album closer “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” adds a theatrical and dramatic element to the album with opening wind effects and a slow and deliberative thumping in the verses.

Within two months of its release, The Last In Line was certified Gold and would later go on to become the first Dio album to be certified Platinum. A third album followed soon in 1985, along with more later in the decade, but the group would not again achieve this level of success.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

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The Unforgettable Fire by U2

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The Unforgettable Fire by U2 U2 decided to take a bit of a turn following their initial mainstream success. They brought in producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to forge the ambient sound of The Unforgettable Fire. Much of the album was recorded in a castle in the group’s native Ireland, with the live acoustic of the various rooms lending much to the unique final sound. Led by the layered and effects-laden guitar of The Edge and the introspective and philosophical poetic lyrics of Bono, this album brought the group to a higher artistic level, while still carrying enough pop/rock punch to make this a mainstream success and solidify U2’s new found standing as the eighties top rock group.

Steve Lillywhite had produced U2’s initial three albums, culminating with the UK chart topper, War, in 1983. However, both the producer and the band agreed that they did not want to create the “son of War” on the next album and amicably parted ways. The Edge was a longtime fan of Eno’s “weird works”, but Eno was also initially reluctant to work with the band and suggested Lanois, his engineer, instead. However, Bono’s vision for the band won Eno over and both Eno and Lanois agreed to produce the record.

In May 1984 the band moved into Slane Castle where they wrote and recorded much of the material. Bassist Adam Clayton said they were “looking for something that was a bit more serious, more arty”, and the castle offered much inspiration on that front. The group took the album’s title from an art exhibit about the bombing of Hiroshima that they saw while on tour in Japan.


The Unforgettable Fire by U2
Released: October 1, 1984 (Island)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois
Recorded: Slane Castle & Windmill Lane Studios, Ireland, May–August 1984
Side One Side Two
A Sort of Homecoming
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Wire
The Unforgettable Fire
Promenade
4th of July
Bad
Indian Summer Sky
Elvis Presley and America
MLK
Group Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals
The Edge – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen Jr – Drums

The rolling drums of Larry Mullen Jr introduce the album opener “A Sort of Homecoming”. The rhythm is soon crowded out by a bucket of treated guitar phrases, all of which seem pretty cool by themselves but kind of saturate the atmosphere as produced on this album. This recording of the fine song suffers in comparison to the later, superior and simpler live version on the 1985 EP, Wide Awake in America, where the vocals and rhythm are much better defined and the song’s true beauty shines through.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” is the most brilliant early career track by U2. Here is the quintessential U2 sound displayed at its height with the steady and shuffling rhythm section of Mullen and Clayton, the alternating arpeggios, chord strums and textures of The Edge, and Bono’s vocals soaring above all else. The first of two songs written about Martin Luther King, Jr, it was released as the album’s lead single in September 1984 and became a popular radio hit.

 
“Wire” could easily be a pre-cursor to the later, dance-oriented Manchester sound, as the opening spastic guitar is joined by even more frenzied rhythms, including some strong funk elements. Clayton puts down some slap bass and Bono’s vocals are near screams at times, harkening back to U2’s post punk roots. “The Unforgettable Fire” is an upbeat, but deep and most philosophical track on side one. This title song has at once a pop feel along with something darker and more foreboding. It was released as the album’s second and final single and includes a string arrangement by Irish musician Noel Kelehan. “Promenade” is a short and incomplete song, seemingly built as a studio experiment in capturing sound.

The second side begins with the Eno-influenced atmospheric instrumental piece “4th of July” before launching into “Bad”, the highlight of side two. This song continually builds as it goes, with Bono’s voice getting ever more animated and Mullen and Clayton getting more intense, while The Edge stays pretty consistent throughout. It began with an improvised guitar riff during a jam session at Slane Castle, with Bono adding lyrics about heroin addicts in Dublin.

U2

“Indian Summer Sky” is another fine, upbeat track with multiple sections of vocal and musical motifs. “Elvis Presley and America” is a unique but odd and questionable acoustic, with long, improvised lyrics. This song was almost entirely a spur of the moment creation with rhythm borrowed from an altered backing track of “A Sort of Homecoming”. The closer “MLK” is all synth and vocals, but with a brilliant melody and lyrics that serve as a lullaby to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Unlike much of the other experimental tracks, this brief closer gives the album a real classic feel to end the album on a high note.

The Unforgettable Fire was re-packaged in 1985 along with a VHS documentary of the making-of the album. and a remastered 25th Anniversary edition was in 2009 with several bonus tracks. U2 launched a worldwide The Unforgettable Fire Tour, further increasing the band’s massive popularity.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

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In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

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In The Eye of the Storm by Roger HodgsonAlthough it was not a great commercial success, Roger Hogdson‘s debut album did well in advancing the compositional foundation that he established in his decade-plus as one of the leaders of Supertramp. On, In the Eye of the Storm, Hodgson wrote, arranged, produced, and performed just about every note and, more importantly, found the proper synthesis of Supertramp inspired prog rock and a contemporary, mid-eighties sound. The album reveals that Hodgson, who had always shared vocal and songwriting duties with Rick Davies through seven studio albums with Supertramp, is more than apt at carrying an entire LP by himself.

Following the breakout success of Supertramp’s, Breakfast In America, and the worldwide tour that followed, Hodgson decided to relocate to remote Nevada City, California, where he built  Unicorn Studio. The rest of the group remained in Los Angeles through the recording of 1982’s, Famous Last Words, which caused a bit of a logistical situation that effected the group harmony. Following a final tour, Hodgson decided to leave Supertramp and concentrate on solo projects.

Originally, Hodgson recorded an album titled, Sleeping With the Enemy, but he decided to withhold it at the last minute when he was dissatisfied with the overall quality. In this light, In the Eye of the Storm, was a second pass at much of the material with a more deliberative approach, resulting in a well-crafted and highly listenable album.


In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hogdson
Released: December 7, 1984 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Hodgson
Recorded: Unicorn Studios, Nevada City, California, 1983-84
Side One Side Two
Had a Dream
In Jeopardy
Lovers In the Wind
Hooked On a Problem
I’m Not Afraid
Give Me Love, Give Me Life
Only Because of You
Primary Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass
Jimmy Johnson – Bass  |  Michael Shrieve – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with a long and dramatic movie-like intro to “Had a Dream”. Eventually, this gives way to thumping rhythms and a familiar bouncy piano that harkens back to Supertramp, as the song proper contains a high-end rock arrangement with anti-war lyrics. There is an interesting, laid back bridge section which is moody and melodic with a slow guitar lead before the track comes back full-fledged with a more traditional guitar lead into the final verse and long outro built on Hodgson’s piano and guitar motifs. An edited version of “Had a Dream” was released as a single and reached number 48 on the charts.

The next song, “In Jeopardy”, was also released as a single. Built on pleasant little piano riffs, call and response vocals, and percussive flourishes, the song contains a couple of modern synth leads but Hodgson. While the musical mood is light and upbeat, the song’s theme continues the dark theme of uncertainty established by the opening track. After a minor key piano intro, which meanders a bit, “Lovers In the Wind”, moves into a melodic but melancholy, soft-rock song with rich harmonies. This accessible, adult-contemporary track features fretless bass by Jimmy Johnson, adding a really smooth edge to the song, which was a huge hit in some Southeast Asian countries.

Perhaps the closest track to traditional Supertramp, “Hooked On a Problem” is built on the consistent ¾ beat during the verse and a pleasant and extra-melodic chorus. The song has a carnival-like feel with plenty of sonic treats, and is presented in a machine-like rotation with a cool organ and some slight saxophone by guest Scott Page. Still, the lyrics are a bit foreboding;

I’m walking a tightrope with stars in my eyes, In danger of falling, won’t you kiss me goodbye? Can somebody help me? What they trying to do?”

The album’s original second side contains three extended tracks of over seven minutes each. “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” starts with a distant vocal and piano and eventually launches into an upbeat hook, built mostly on simple synth motifs. The song has almost a Meatloaf-like vibe in its emotional and theatrical mix. “I’m Not Afraid” is a mini-suite, starting with pure eighties synth-piano and the grittiest vocals on album. Following a bluesy lead section where Hogdson’s lead guitar trades licks with the harmonica of Ken Allardyce, comes a long and rhythmic outro section. The album concludes with the uplifting piano track, “Only Because of You”, which is almost religious in theme. The song contains a long mid-section with scat vocals by guest Claire Diament and some short synth and guitar leads by Hodgson before winding down to the final verse sections.

Although In the Eye of the Storm only reached number 46 on the Billboard album charts, it did perform far better elsewhere around the globe, and eventually sold over two million copies worldwide. Hodgson followed-up with a second solo record, Hai Hai, in 1987, before taking an extended break from recording to pursue other projects.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

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Purple Rain by Prince

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Purple Rain by PrincePrince reached the pinnacle of his success in 1984, with the release of the musically potent Purple Rain to accompany the major motion picture of the same name. The sixth studio album by the Minneapolis-based recording artist, it marks a slight departure from his earlier solo work. For the first time, Prince added and fully credited his band, The Revolution, and the production emphasized full band performances and multiple, layered instruments. The resulting hybrid of funk, rock, R&B and synthesized dance beats became one of the most popular and well regarded albums of the 1980s, reaching the top of the charts and selling over 20 million copies worldwide.

Keyboardist Lisa Coleman was one of only two additional musicians (along with guitarist Dez Dickerson) to perform on Prince’s breakthrough double album 1999. Following the tour for that album, Dickerson left the group for “religious reasons” and was replaced by guitarist and vocalist Wendy Melvoin, a childhood friend of Coleman. As mainstream success began to grow for Prince, due in part to the proliferation of MTV, he decided to use his band less sparsely and load up for an ambitious follow-up. Filmed almost entirely in Minneapolis, the movie Purple Rain contains stories behind many of the soundtrack’s songs and uses many musicians from the local scene.

As was the case on all but his earliest albums, Prince composed and arranged all of the songs on this album. However, he did elicit some input from his new band members. Another unique attribute of Purple Rain is the fact that three songs on the album were actually recorded live at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis with Prince adding some studio touches and edits to these later. The August 1983 show was a benefit concert and is historic as the first live appearance by Melvoin with The Revolution.


Purple Rain by Prince
Released: June 25, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Prince & the Revolution
Recorded: First Avenue & The Warehouse, Minneapolis and The Record Plant & Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, August 1983–March 1984
Side One Side Two
Let’s Go Crazy
Take Me with U
The Beautiful Ones
Computer Blue
Darling Nikki
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star
Purple Rain
Primary Musicians
Prince – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards
Wendy Melvoin – Guitars, Vocals
Lisa Coleman – Keyboards, Vocals
Matt Fink – Keyboards
Bobby Z – Drums, Percussion

Generally regarded as the most pop-oriented of Prince’s career, Purple Rain begins the story with Prince narrating along to a church-like organ, speaking about enjoying the here and now on the opener “Let’s Go Crazy”. An electronic drum beat kicks in along with a bouncy organ riff, and it drives this song into a frenzy of wild guitars and intense vocals, until it crashes into a cacophony of whining guitars and screaming. The song was one of two on this album to top the charts.

“Take Me With You” is a duet with Apollonia, who also starred as Prince’s romantic counterpart in the film. The song was originally meant to be on her Apollonia 6 album, but its inclusion on Purple Rain necessitated cuts to the suite-like following song, “Computer Blue”. This latter song melds synthesizers and a quirky, sloshy electronic beat with some guitar elements and perhaps stands out as the most stereotypically “eighties” in sound and style. “Darling Nikki” caused quite a stir with Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center for the racy subject matter addressed in the lyrics. The song itself is sparsely arranged with the emphasis on Prince’s chanted and groaned vocals. The song was not the centerpiece of the album, but it probably helped boost the notoriety of the album with all of the media attention surrounding the risqué lyrics.

“When Doves Cry” is one of the most creative songs on the album. Again, the arrangement is sparse as there is no bass, just an electronic drum beat, synthesized melodic sounds and Prince’s emotive vocals. The layers of sound are subtle and create a smokey, almost psychedelic feel. Written specifically for a sequence in the film, this worldwide hit was the top selling single for the year 1984, according to Billboard magazine.

Prince

The album’s final three tracks were all recorded live in 1983. “I Would Die 4U” is a departure from the rest of the album and is almost anthemic with a repetitive beat, chanted refrain and synthesized sounds. The song fades abruptly into “Baby I’m a Star”, delivered almost like a show tune with theatrical lyrics and a pounding steady, dance beat. Prince’s masterpiece on this album is the closing title track, “Purple Rain”. This song is Prince reaching into his blues and funk influences and coming up with a depth of sound in many layers. The guitars are front and center in this song with the solo soaring above the strings and drums, closing the album on a very high note.

Purple Rain was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”. Prince also won two Grammy Awards in 1985 for the album. However, he also announced that year that he would stop touring and making music videos after the release of his next album, Around the World in a Day, which ultimately led to the disbandment of the short-lived “Revolution”.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1984 albums.

 

The Works by Queen

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The Works by QueenThe Works was sort of a comeback album by Queen in 1984. We say “sort of” because the group never really went away, they just faced a major commercial flop with their previous effort, a quasi-disco record called Hot Space, which seemed woefully outdated in 1982. In this light, The Works was a return to form, albeit with strong eighties sonic and arrangement sensibilities. On this nine track album, each member of the quartet brought in at least one complete composition and, while there are some major weak points in the mix, these are superseded by the brilliant high points as well as the fact that this album turned out to be an important pivot point for Queen in the 1980s.

The decade began strong for the group, with the 1980 release of The Game, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would become their best selling album. Later that same year, the group released the soundtrack to the movie Flash Gordon, which further expanded their audience and reach. A worldwide tour followed, which included several concerts with audiences topping 100,000 in Latin American in 1981. That same year, Queen worked with David Bowie on the single “Under Pressure”, a spontaneous occurrence, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording, and another huge success, reaching number one in the UK. Late in 1981, Queen released their Greatest Hits compilation, which sold over 25 million copies worldwide and is still the best selling album in UK Chart history. However, 1982 turned out to be a disaster, not just with the flop of Hot Space, but with the inner turmoil which began to brew in the band, as guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were both very critical of the new sound and its apparent abandonment of Queen’s core rock audience. For the first time in a decade, the group took a break from touring and recording, with some band members working on outside projects and solo albums.

After about a year apart, Queen reunited in August 1983 to begin work on this eleventh studio album. They convened in Los Angeles, making this the first time Queen recorded in America, and spent several months working on the album with co-producer and engineer Reinhold Mack. Here the group fused May and Taylor’s rock sound with some of the German-influenced electro pop advocated by vocalist and arranger Freddie Mercury, to fulfill the original mission laid out by Taylor, who stated at the beginning of recording, “Let’s give them the works!”


The Works by Queen
Released: February 27, 1984 (EMI)
Produced by: Queen & Reinhold Mack
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles and Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, August 1983–January 1984
Side One Side Two
Radio Ga Ga
Tear It Up
It’s a Hard Life
Man On the Prowl
Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)
I Want to Break Free
Keep Passing the Open Windows
Hammer to Fall
Is This the World We Created…?
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

In what was probably an attempt to show the world that “Queen is back”, most of the songs on the albums first side, seem to harken back to previous famous songs by the band. May’s straight-forward anthem rocker “Tear It Up” contains a consistent beat that seems to slightly rip off the group’s own “We Will Rock You” from the 1977 album News of the World. Mercury’s piano ballad, “It’s a Hard Life” is pleasant and with good sound production, reminiscent of classic Queen of the 1970s, especially during the uplifting guitar lead by May. “Man On the Prowl” is a Jerry Lee Lewis inspired rockabilly track, complete with those famous Queen backing vocals, very similar to those used on the group’s 1979 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

“Radio Ga Ga” was the lead single from The Works, as well as its opening track, and immediately feels like a breath of fresh musical air. This brilliant composition which combines a synthesized rhythm with pristine melody, was written by Taylor wholly on a synthesizer, but brilliantly arranged by Mercury, who really shines during the escalating pre-chorus, as the singer transforms the rather silly and trite lyrics into an uplifting and majestic piece. There is very little presence by May on this track, but when he does appear at the very end, he performs a simple slide lead which enhances the track further.

 
The album’s second side begins “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)”, a really convoluted and disorganized song, which has no real direction and it appears to just throw in the “kitchen sink” of styles and techniques as a kind of extended filler. Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free” is far better than previous track, as it contains good pop craftsmanship, a cool rhythmic riff and a catchy vocal melody, resulting in a pure pop song that is impossible not to enjoy at some level. When Deacon insisted he didn’t want a guitar solo on the track, session man Fred Mandel was commissioned to perform a synth solo. Mercury’s “Keep Passing the Open Windows” starts as a dramatic piano track but, quickly morphs to a bass-driven rock track led by bassist John Deacon, which is fairly entertaining at first, But the trite lyrics grow old as the repetition increases through this five and a half minute track.

“Hammer to Fall” contains a catchy rock riff, catchy melody, and catchy harmonies, adding up to a latter-era Queen classic. Lyrically the song deals with the threat of imminent doom, but musically it feeds into the good-time, call-and-response of eighties pop/rock. This track should have concluded the album on a high note, but instead the group opted for the short acoustic folk ballad “Is This the World We Created?”, a very simple and somber piece by Mercury, which leaves the listener in a low mood as the album concludes. Not a bad piece, but should have been placed before “Hammer to Fall” for maximum effect.

Commercially, The Works did fine as an album, charting in the Top 20 in over a dozen nations worldwide. More importantly, Queen was restored as a top-level, headline act. By 1985, they were again once again playing in front of hundreds of thousands and they performed in front of millions at Live Aid in July of that year. During that festival, the visual of the entire audience at Wembley Stadium clapping in unison to “Radio Ga Ga”, has been cited as one of the greatest live performances of all time.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple

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Perfect Strangers by Deep PurpleThrough the past half century of classic rock and roll, there have been scores (if not hundreds) of major group reunions, with very mixed results. However, there have been very few groups that returned with the same potency contemporary relevance as the comeback of Deep Purple in 1984, which commenced with the composing and recording of the Perfect Strangers album. Here, the classic “Mark II” lineup, which had not been together in over a decade, struck a “perfect” balance between their indelible classic sound of the early seventies and the emerging 80s hard rock sensibilities, such as the great clichés embedded within its lyrics (i.e. “it’s not the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase…”).

The prior album recorded by the successful and popular “Mark II” lineup, was the rather forgettable Who Do We Think We Are in 1973. The dissatisfaction with that album, ultimately led to the departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist/producer Roger Glover. Glover was replaced by bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, and the group briefly debated continuing as a four-piece band, with Hughes also acting as lead vocalist. However, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore discovered the (then) unknown David Coverdale and liked his blues-tinged voice. This new (“Mark III”) lineup recorded two albums and embarked on a very successful tour in 1974, with the album Burn becoming only the second Top 10 album by the band. However, Blackmore was growing dissatisfied with the new funky and soul elements, and decided to leave in mid 1975. Still, the two original members, keyboardist John Lord and drummer Ian Paice decided to carry on and replaced Blackmore with Tommy Bolin (“Mark IV” lineup) for the studio album Come Taste the Band, which was released mere months before Deep Purple officially announced their break-up in 1976. Bolin tragically died of a drug overdose later that year.

The fact that Deep Purple reunited nearly a decade later is all the more remarkable due to the vast success of the individual members in the intervening years. Starting in 1975, Gillan formed the Ian Gillan Band and later formed a separate group named “Gillan” which put out several albums and had considerable success into the early 1980s. In 1983, Gillan joined the original members of Black Sabbath for a single year and single album, with the arrangement ending with the Deep Purple reunion. In Black Sabbath, Gillan replaced Ronnie James Dio, who ironically was the original singer of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, starting in 1975. Blackmore steered Rainbow through seven albums in eight years, with Glover joining on as bassist and producer for the final four of these albums in the early 1980s. Glover had earlier released two post-Deep Purple solo albums in the late 1970s. Lord and Paice formed the short-lived super group Paice Ashton Lord, which released the album Malice in Wonderland in 1977, before each moving on to other projects. Paice became the drummer for bluesman Gary Moore, while Lord joined Coverdale’s post-Deep Purple project, Whitesnake, recorded several albums with the band right through Slide It In in early 1984.

Rural Stowe, Vermont, USA was the unlikely location for the reunion of these five English rock stars. Here, the tracks for Perfect Strangers were composed and recorded in less than a month. Eight of these tracks made it on to the original record, with two more, the straight-up rocker “Not Responsible” and the extended instrumental “Son of Alerik”, appearing on later versions of the album.


Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple
Released: September 16, 1984 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roger Glover
Recorded: Horizons, Stowe, Vermont, August 1984
Side One Side Two
Knockin’ At Your Back Door
Under the Gun
Nobody’s Home
Mean Streak
Perfect Strangers
A Gypsy’s Kiss
Wasted Sunsets
Hungry Daze
Group Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals  |  Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
John Lord – Keyboards  |  Roger Glover – Bass  |  Ian Paice – Drums

Lord’s dramatic keyboard intro by Lord, borrowed heavily from the “Jaws” theme, is accented by a pulsating rhythm during the dramatic intro to “Knocking at Your Back Door”. This seven-minute album opener was quite the breath of fresh, classic rock air during the mid 1980s rock scene, and made an immediate impact with its classic yet modern (for 1984) sound. In all, the performance, rudiments, and picturesque lyrics are all excellent as is the long guitar lead by Blackmore to finish things up. “Under the Gun” is almost as equally impressive as the opener, albeit much less heralded. The thundering motor-drive of rhythm by Glover and Paice supports the repeated call-and-response between Blackmore and Lord, followed by the strong, harmonized riff through the verses.

“Nobody’s Home” is the only track on the album credited to all five band members (Lord and Paice rarely composed). A short synth intro is interrupted by another classic Deep Purple riff and a good lyrical catch line. While mainly vocal-driven by Gillan’s dynamic crooning, it contains that great old Blackmore-Lord dueling and a later organ solo which is wisely given much room to breathe. “Mean Streak” is the only song on the first side which is not completely excellent and, really, the lone weak link on the entire album. There is a nice upbeat chord progression, but it unfortunately all points towards the rather ho-hum hook.

Perfect Strangers singleThe beginning of side two returns to classic mode with the deep and profound title song “Perfect Strangers”. This song contains a quasi-heavy-metal drive but with great melody and a really cool and subtle passage to the post-chorus Eastern-style phrasing. The rhythm is steady throughout, leaving Gillan the room to vocally paint the pictures of the rich scenery of the lyrics about reincarnation and passing through time. “A Gypsy’s Kiss” comes in with a rhythm almost like rockabilly but quickly breaks into a frenzied beat. The most interesting section here is the multi-part instrumental, with Blackmore’s guitar lead over some very interesting rudiments before Lord doing both a synth and organ lead. This frantic track is reminiscent of those found on the group’s 1972 classic Machine Head.

“Wasted Sunsets” calms things down a bit as a dramatic ballad with long and moody guitar notes and leads and slow but effective riffs. The deep organ notes guide the moderate and measured rhythms on this track which is really a great showcase for Blackmore’s bluesy guitar. “Hungry Daze” finishes things up strong as an upbeat rock retrospective of the band’s earlier years. Here Gillan’s vocals are most dynamic and Paice provides a great drum section during an extended psychedelic section.

Perfect Strangers was a commercial success, charting in the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in six European countries, including the UK. This was followed up with a highly successful world tour that saw Deep Purple out-grossing every other artist except Bruce Springsteen in 1985. The Mark II lineup remained together for several subsequent years, releasing another studio album The House of Blue Light in 1987. However, the personnel shifts resumed near the end of the decade, resulting in even more “Mark X” lineups.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Learning to Crawl
by The Pretenders

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Learning to Crawl by The PretendersFollowing a very tumultuous period where two band members lost their lives due to drug overdoses, Learning to Crawl, was a bit of an early career comeback album for The Pretenders. The group’s third overall album, this early 1984 release was their first in nearly three years and contains recordings that date back to the summer of 1982. With the personnel turmoil, group leader Chrissie Hynde took a more active role in shaping the group’s sound and compositional direction, adding some maturity to the raw intensity of the Pretenders’ core approach. The result is an original blend of later-era new wave rock, which propelled the group to the height of its popularity.

After the great success of their self-titled debut album, the group released Pretenders II in 1981, but felt that album was rushed in order to take advantage of their popularity. The following year, original bass player, Pete Farndon,was fired due to his increasing drug dependency. Just two days later, original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure from cocaine intolerance, leaving the Pretenders cut in half almost overnight. Still, Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers continued on and began recording just a month after Honeyman-Scott’s death.

In 1983 Hynde brought on guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster as new permanent members of the band. One of the first recordings made by the new lineup was the B-side “Fast or Slow (The Law’s the Law)”, which was sung by drummer Chambers and has a folk/dance riff and beat throughout. The song, which seems to be about an actual altercation with the law, was released two months ahead of Learning to Crawl.


Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders
Released: January 7, 1984 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1982–83
Side One Side Two
Middle of the Road
Back On the Chain Gang
Time the Avenger
Watching the Clothes
Show Me
Thumbelina
My City Was Gone
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
I Hurt You
2000 Miles
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars, Vocals
Malcolm Foster – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

The album commences with the thundering “Middle of the Road”, a straight forward, three chord rocker. With a catchy vocal chorus hook and rapid-fire lead vocals, the song seems rather simple on its surface, but actually has a deeper underlying meaning interpreted from the Tao Te Ching. Hynde’s harmonica lead at end of the song completes the track which reached the Top 20 in America. “Back On the Chain Gang” may be the best song ever recorded by The Pretenders. Recorded and released as a single in 1982, the song features a smooth lead guitar by Billy Bremner, who was a temporary fill-in at the time. In spite of the odd lyrical tempo, Hynde’s vocals are catchy and delivered in a near weeping manner, making the song at once uplifting and melancholy, and with a good, inventive bridge. The song became the band’s biggest hit in the US, reaching number 5, and pays homage to Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Chain Gang” with workman vocals dubbed in the background.

 
“Time the Avenger” is another good, upbeat rock song with lots of little guitar riffs on top of Foster’s repeating 2/4 bass phrase. On this track, Hynde’s vocal style is much like that of Joni Mitchell, while she delivers more deeply philosophical lyrics such as; “Nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here”. After the brief new wave screed “Watching the Clothes”, the album’s first side concludes with the melodic “Show Me”. This upbeat and jangly track is a true a singer’s song, with each word maximized for melodic effect in the repeating vocal areas (there is not really verse/chorus setup). With slightly differing musical arrangements and approaches, the mixture of acoustic, electric, bass carries the song through its pleasant fade-out.

The second side is filled with songs of diverse styles, with mixed results. “Thumbelina” has a Country-rock, Johnny Cash-like rhythm and, like many lyrics of songs on this album, this appears to be written about Hynde’s daughter, Natalie (fathered by Kinks’ leader Ray Davies). In fact, Hynde named the album “Learning to Crawl” because that’s exactly what her daughter was doing at the time. “My City Was Gone” is another track that dates back to 1982 and features a consistent bass riff by Tony Butler with heavily-effected drums by Chambers. Lyrically, the song is about changing landscapes, and change itself and never really relents from straight-forward riff and beat.

The album’s only cover, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” features piano by former Squeeze member Paul Carrack along with crooning vocals by Hynde. In contrast, “I Hurt You” takes a pure new wave funk approach with multiple voices and vocal melodies and another driving, simple bass line. This song is most interesting at the very end with overdubbed, slightly strummed guitars and a cool lead by McIntosh. The album concludes with the beautiful and steady “2000 Miles”, with a sweet synth and guitar intro, which fades in with the perfect vibe for this song. The musicians add the right mixture of rhythm and effect to keep the song on a steady pace and provide the canvas for Hynde’s vocals. Written for the departed guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the tune is often considered a Christmas song, due to its lyrical content;

In these frozen and silent nights, sometimes in a dream you appear / Outside under the purple sky, diamonds in the snow sparkle, our hearts were singing, it felt like Christmas time…”

Learning to Crawl was critical and commercial success that launched the Pretenders to the upper echelon of pop/rock groups. However, the inner turmoil continued as both Chambers and Foster left the band before the completion of their next album, Get Close, leaving Hynde as the only original group member through their later years.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.