The Firm

1985 Album of the Year
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The Firm 1985 albumThere was much anticipation ahead of the release of The Firm’s debut album. This “super group”, anchored by former Swan Song label mates Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, sparked a curiosity on whether these guys, who each hadn’t delivered any new music in several years, still had the individual magic as well as what kind of material they would produce collectively. Although the album (along with The Firm’s short career) has been considered a commercial failure by some, thirty years after its release it is clear that The Firm is a unique musical statement which seamless blends classic rock elements from earlier days with just a touch of eighties sonic innovation. These elements and the unique and excellent musicianship of the four group members ultimately makes this one of the best overall albums of the decade and our Classic Rock Review Album of the Year for 1985.

Following the death of John Bonham and dissolution of Led Zeppelin in 1980, Page worked on a series of small and short-term projects as well as the defunct super group, XYZ. In 1983, Page played a series of charity concerts with an ensemble that included Rodgers, who was then working on his first post-Bad-Company solo album. Following the tour, Rodgers and Page began to jam together and decided to write and record new material. They enlisted bassist Tony Franklin, who Page had worked with when touring with Roy Harper in 1984, and drummer Chris Slade, a former member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

The new group self-produced the album in England. The songs composed for The Firm are simple, there is nothing earth breaking in structure or arrangement and no heavy lyrical messages. However the musical performance and production methods are done expertly, with the simplest elements brought to their full harmonic and melodic fruition with just a tad of synths and extra bits of ear candy throughout.


The Firm by The Firm
Released: February 11, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page & Paul Rodgers
Recorded: Sol Studios, Cookham, Berkshire, England, 1984
Side One Side Two
Closer
Make Or Break
Someone To Love
Together
Radioactive
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
Money Can’t Buy
Satisfaction Guaranteed
Midnight Moonlight
Group Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass, Keyboards
Chris Slade – Drums, Percussion

The opening track, “Closer” nicely blends Page’s Zeppelin-type, oddly timed rudimental riffs with Rodgers smooth and soulful rock melody. However, what is immediately of note is the strength of the group’s rhythm section, especially the potent fretless bass of Franklin. As an added bonus, this track also incorporates a brass section which gives the song an extra punch that adds to its overall unique vibe. “Make or Break” starts with Rodgers’ droning and hypnotic slow guitar slosh through the slow, new wave flavored verses. As the song progresses, Page and Franklin join in to add to the building intensity of the music with the real payoff comeing during the outro, where Page’s overdubbed, slightly psychedelic slide guitars and Slade’s frantic drumming give the track a bit of a “Dazed and Confused” heavy vibe while Rodgers’ intense vocals work to a crescendo before the song finally collapses.

“Someone To Love” is another track where Franklin’s bass really stands out, adding a definitive punch to the sloshy riffs by Page, which themselves are in stark contrast to Slade’s measured and steady drum beat. On the vocal front, Rodgers has a spot on melody, making the most of the simple lyrics in a strong and soulful declaration. Page returns to his folk roots with the intro of simple acoustic ballad, “Together”. The acoustic backing is accented by electric pedal-effect guitars in the foreground and later on Page adds a mellow but melodic electric lead. During the bridge sections, the song really elevates with Rodgers’ melodic vocals being mimicked by Franklin’s bass, all working together to make this an absolute forgotten gem which has so much more substance than the typical “power ballad”. Listening to this album 30 years later, it is hard to believe that “Radioactive” was the only real “hit” from the album, reaching the Top 30 on the pop charts. Now, that’s not to say that this isn’t a fine track – it is – and very original to boot. This is especially due to Page’s odd, squeaky guitar interludes, which turn this standard and steady rock song into a unique, new wave mechanical piece.

 
The second side begins with, perhaps, the only real mistake on this album, a cover of the Righteous Brothers classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. That being said, this is a unique rendition to a popular standard with Rodgers showing his exquisite crooning chops and Franklin standing out with his buzzy bass bends along with a fine chorus of backing singers. However, that leaves Page and Slade basically at the level of wedding backing band, methodically playing the chords and hitting the beats. “Money Can’t Buy” is the most Bad Company-like song on the album with its dark folk elements and even Page seeming to mimic Mick Ralphs in style. During the bridge sections, the song employs a strong rock riff section while the rest has a nice blend of acoustic, multiple electric, synths, and rhythms, especially during the middle lead section.

 
The legendary Jimmy Page saved his finest work for the final two tracks of the album. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is a steady track which gives Page plenty of room for sonic mastery, including the use of some bowed guitar starting in the second verse. This song also features the finest lead on the album, with the heavy, bluesy guitar returning during the long outro. Rogers’ vocals draw you in and the rhythms are simple but potent throughout, driven by Slade’s drumming, which finds the space in between the various measured riffs. The closing track, “Midnight Moonlight”, takes the listener back to another time, ten years gone. It got its birth as an unfinished piece entitled, “Swansong”, which was left over from Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti sessions in 1974. With Rogers collaborating, this deliberative and patient song goes through several slow and delicate acoustic sections, like a soft and surreal journey, held together by frequent returns to the main theme and ever-surprising new melodies and instrumental arrangements. There is a section for about a minute in the middle where Page is completely solo, playing a variety of acoustic motifs in differing styles before the full band roars back with a full backing chorus before the track builds through a long crescendo at the end.

The Firm peaked at #17 in the US and #15 in the UK, which was rather lukewarm given its quality and group membership. The Firm would record a follow-up album, Mean Business in 1986, before the group dissolved and the musicians went their separate ways. Slade went on to become AC/DC’s drummer while Franklin did a lot of work with television and movie soundtracks. Ultimately, both Page and Rodgers reunited with the former bandmates from the 1970s, albeit both for a limited time.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Songs From the Big Chair
by Tears For Fears

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Songs From the Big Chair by Tears For FearsIn the 1980s, Tears For Fears was a progressive/new wave project by composer and vocalist Roland Orzabal and bassist Curt Smith. They reached their commercial peak with their second studio album Songs from the Big Chair, which peaked at #2 in the UK and topped the US charts, while spawning four hit singles. Thematically, the album adopts a sort of mellow, electronic, primal-scream-like approach with rich and sophisticated pop compositions on the human condition and emotional healing.

Orzabal and Smith were acquaintances as teenagers and later as session musicians, where they first met future group drummer Manny Elias. After a short stint with the band Graduate, which yielded an album and single release in 1980, they formed a band to the develop a sound similar to Brian Eno or Peter Gabriel. The group got their name from a technique used in primal school therapy, developed by the American psychologist Arthur Janov, and most famous as the inspiration for the album,  John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Keyboardist Ian Stanley offered the duo free use of his home studio where Tears For Fears recorded and released three singles through 1981 and 1982, with the third of these, “Mad World”, reaching #3 in the UK late in 1982. Their debut album, The Hurting, was released in early 1983 with Stanley and Elias becoming full bandmembers, making Tears For Fears a quartet.

In 1984, the group began working with producer Chris Hughes on a follow-up to their successful debut album, with two singles released late in that year ahead of the early 1985 release of Songs From the Big Chair. The album’s title was inspired by a 1976 television film, “Sybil”, about a woman with multiple personalities who only found stability when sitting in her therapist’s “big chair”.


Songs From the Big Chair by Tears For Fears
Released: February 25, 1985 (Phonograph)
Produced by: Chris Hughes
Recorded: The Wool Hall, Somerset, UK, 1984
Side One Side Two
Shout
The Working Hour
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Mothers Talk
I Believe
Broken
Head over Heels
Listen
Primary Musicians
Roland Orzabal – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Curt Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ian Stanley – Keyboards
Manny Elias – Drums

A regimented percussion introduces and persists throughout “Shout”, co-written by Orzabel and Stanley. In contrast to the mechanical instrumentation, the melodic vocals and synth riffs help the song grow in richness as it progresses. Released in November 1984, it was a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. “The Working Hour” has a completely different feel, starting with a jazzy saxophone solo and orchestral effects before the song fully kicks in with percussion by Jerry Marotta and grand piano by Andy Davis. It takes two full minutes before the vocal part of the first verse begins in this interesting song which is at once dark, desparate and distant but also warm and inviting.

Another chart topper, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” makes good use of arpeggios and motifs, which helped make it the cleanest pop song thus far on the album. The song’s middle section has a couple of rhythmic guitar sections with a later hard-rock-style guitar lead played by Hughes, who also played a large role in completing this composition. The first single released ahead of this album, “Mothers Talk” is driven by overbearing synths, percussion and chanting vocals, While this song has some new wave elements, these are buried within the thick production.

The second side starts with “I Believe”, a lounge-like ballad by Orzabel which stays sad and slow throughout and features Will Gregory on saxophone. The side and album concludes with “Listen”, a dramatic track which features long stretches of synth ambiance between vocal lines before it builds to an intense crescendo in the long outro where Orzabel and Marilyn Davis trade distant vocal chants. The middle of the side features a mini-suite where differing versions of the hyper-synth track “Broken” acts as both an intro and epilogue to the track “Head Over Heels”. The most melodic and interesting song on the album, “Head Over Heels” also possesses the best musical arrangement and overall composition, especially during the ascending chorus sections with sweet musical overtones and riffs by a variety of instrumentals. The outro to this Top 10 hit finishes with a coda section featuring bouncy bass, main riff and scat vocals until it reaches a climax at very end with a solo vocal line by Orzabal.

Songs From the Big Chair hit the Top 30 in about a dozen national charts across the globe. The band followed-up this worldwide hit with a world tour that lasted over a year before the group took an extended break, not releasing their third album until 1989.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Listen Like Thieves by INXS

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Listen Like Thieves by INXSINXS forged their most successful rock formula on, Listen Like Thieves, the 1985 album which would set the pace for the group’s most successful commercial run through the late eighties and early nineties. The sound they forged on this fifth studio album morphs traditional rock with a dance production value along with the lyrical themes are upbeat and optimistic, portraying a feeling of opportunity and forgiveness. Commercially successful, the album spawned five single releases, including the group’s first US Top 10 hit.

INXS originated in an Australian high school in 1977, when keyboardist Andrew Farriss recruited vocalist Michael Hutchence into his band, which also included bassist Garry Gary Beers. Eventually, this early band merged with another group that included guitarist Tim Farriss (Andrew’s older brother) and multi-instrumentalist Kirk Pengilly. Once INXS was fully established, a third Farriss brother, drummer Jon Farriss rounded out the lineup. The band began regularly supporting fellow Australian band Midnight Oil and enlisted that group’s manager, Gary Morris. Early in 1980 the band signed a five-album record deal with a Sydney independent label and INXS released their first single, “Simple Simon”/”We Are the Vegetables”. Their self-titled debut album was released later in 1980 and featured their first Australian Top 40 single as the album itself went gold and reached the Top 30. A year later, Underneath the Colours was released to similar success but the individual members decided to take a short break from the band to pursue other musical projects.

In mid-1982, the group recorded and released the international album Shabooh Shoobah, which brought the group to the attention of Western audiences due to popular singles and videos on the new network MTV. The band travelled to England to record their fourth album, The Swing, which was released in April 1984 and continued their worldwide ascent in popularity, especially after an extended European tour later in 1984.

For Listen Like Thieves, INXS morphed their sound from new wave towards a more straight-ahead rock direction. Produced by Chris Thomas, the album was the first to be recorded in the band’s home country since 1981’s Underneath the Colours. Leading up to the album’s release, the group played some high profile concerts including an Australian performance for British Prince Charles and Princess Diana as well as a featured spot in the Australian version of Live Aid.


Listen Like Thieves by INXS
Released: October 14, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: Rhinoceros Studios, Sydney, Australia, August 1985
Side One Side Two
What You Need
Listen Like Thieves
Kiss the Dirt
Shine Like It Does
Good + Bad Times
Biting Bullets
This Time
Three Sisters
Same Direction
One x One
Red Red Sun
Group Musicians
Michael Hutchence – Lead Vocals
Andrew Farriss – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Farriss – Guitars
Kirk Pengilly – Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals
Garry Gary Beers – Basss
Jon Farriss – Drums, Percussion

Most songs on Listen Like Thieves were composed by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence. However, the title track is credited to all six members of INXS. With dramatic storytelling and an effective vocal performance, this atmospheric song is musically like a movie clip track for a spy thriller with an edge of good, buoyant bass throughout by Beers. “Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)” sounds like it was inspired by Roxy music, with a subtle rhythm and blues approach and reserved vocals, along with great production and arrangement. This track also features effective, steady drumming by Jon Farriss and reached #15 on the Australian singles chart. “Shine Like It Does” features a smooth, almost soothing melody along with orchestral-style synths, but “Good + Bad Times” unfortunately has a dated, eighties sound and is kind of a throw-away filler. In contrast, “Biting Bullets” is purely like a punk rant, with slight, U2-ish elements.

 
The album’s most popular track is the opening, “What You Need”, which offers instant and obvious appeal with its funky synth bass line and guitar rotation along with its upbeat message. The track provides a great hook and short musical interludes, packing much into the three and a half minute duration. Of special note is the R&B progressions, the second of which climaxes with a smooth ending sax solo by Pengilly. “What You Need” was the band’s first American Top 10 hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard pop singles chart. The album’s second side starts with “This Time”, a song solely composed by Andrew Farriss and featuring a mixture of electric and acoustic guitars along with great melody in vocals and in riff. This track is also advanced in its arrangement and approach and lyrically it centers on the key line;

this time will be the last time that we will fight like this

Tim Farriss’s “Three Sisters” is an experimental, instrumental with jungle sound effects which leads into “Same Direction”, maintaining the synthesized beats through its long, Oingo Boingo like intro. Like a breath of fresh air, “One x One” has a strong, show time arrangement and, while still synth dominated, this song gets back to the direct rock and funk rhythms of earlier on the album. It all concludes with “Red Red Sun”, co-written by Jon Farriss and perhaps the hardest rocking song on the album.

Listen Like Thieves topped the Australian album charts and fell just short of the Top 10 on the US charts. Following the album’s release, INXS went on a world tour through North America, Europe, and New Zealand before returing to the studio to record Kick, their most successful album commercially.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday

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Voices Carry by Til Tuesday‘Til Tuesday had a short but fruitful career encapsulated within the bonds of the mid 1980s music scene. Their 1985 debut album, Voices Carry, features the famous, indelible title track which put the band on the map and has since given them a permanent position on the pantheon of eighties “one hit wonders”. However, all of the songs on this album have a pop approach and each displays the distinct skills of the four band members as they stick closely to those elements in which they are most comfortable and perform masterfully.

Fronted by lead vocalist and bassist Aimee Mann, ‘Til Tuesday was formed in 1982 in Boston. A few months after their formation, the group won a 1983 radio station competition which resulted in their original demo “Love In a Vacuum” receiving significant airplay in the Boston area. Soon the group was signed to Epic Records and they entered the studio with producer Mike Thorne.

The group went to New York city to record the album. All songs on Voices Carry credit Mann with the lyrics and the musicians – guitarist Robert Holmes, keyboardist Joey Pesce, and drummer Michael Hausman – with composing the music.


Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday
Released: June 25, 1985 (Epic)
Produced by: Mike Thorne
Recorded: R.P.M. Sound Studios, New York
Side One Side Two
Love in a Vacuum
Looking Over My Shoulder
I Could Get Used to This
No More Crying
Voices Carry
Winning the War
You Know the Rest
Maybe Monday
Are You Serious?
Don’t Watch Me Bleed
Sleep
Group Musicians
Aimee Mann – Lead Vocals, Bass
Robert Holmes – Guitars, Vocals
Joey Pesce – Piano, Synths, Vocals
Michael Hausman – Drums, Percussion

Voices Carry begins with a re-recorded version of “Love in a Vacuum”, the group’s radio hit from 1983. Here Mann’s funky bass adds variety to the otherwise steady rhythm and beat and some cool interjections of scat backing vocals are added between many of the lead vocal lines. In a similar vein, “Looking Over My Shoulder” features a funky slap bass, steady drums, and just a bit of flavoring from Holmes’ guitar and Pesce’s keyboard motifs. This track much more interesting vocally than the opener with nice, ascending melodies by Mann.

On “I Could Get Used to This”, the group delves full-fledged into a solid mid eighties sound while still sounding somewhat interesting in arrangement and melody. Although some of the synths are a bit overbearing, “No More Crying” returns to a more standard, rock-based new wave vibe with a rhythmic, punchy edge. Of course, the most popular song on the album is the classic “Voices Carry” with lyrics about a controlling relationship and saving face in public. Actually, the antagonist in the song was originally a woman but the gender pronouns were changed at the request of the label. Musically, there are cool intervening synth lines between each vocal line and the delivery of the chorus hook is excellent and true highlight of the album. Fellow label mate Cyndi Lauper had originally wanted to record the song before the group decided to release it as their lead single where it peaked at #8 on the Billboard pop charts.

 
The album’s second side begins with “Winning the War”, which features a long instrumental intro led by Holmes’s guitar riffing. When the first verse finally kicks in, Mann’s vocals are delivered at near the highest register of her range. “You Know the Rest” is slow and steady with Pesce’s heavy use of electric pianos and synths and a slow but creative drum beat by Hausman. “Maybe Monday” is another song with a new wave groove along with an interesting mix of topical guitars, a basic bass which locks in well with the rhythm, and more excellent vocals.

“Are You Serious?” is a guitar-driven, funk-rocker during verses, while being more synth driven during the choruses and both trade parts in a decent instrumental interlude during the bridge. The steady “Don’t Watch Me Bleed” is a close sister to “Voices Carry”, at least during the verses, while the duration contains ethereal guitar soundscapes and vocals. The steady closer “Sleep” ends the album on a high note musically but on a lyrical sad note, with a theme of saying goodbye to an ailing loved one. Beyond that, the song was well constructed and arranged and should’ve been another hit for the band in 1985.

Voices Carry found some critical acclaim and reached the Top 20 on the album charts. The 1986 follow-up, Welcome Home, saw more individual songwriting but less commercial success and ‘Til Tuesday essentially broke up upon the release of of their third and final album, Everything’s Different Now in 1988.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Misplaced Childhood by Marillion

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Misplaced Childhood by MarillionMisplaced Childhood is a 1985 concept album by the British group Marillion, which consists of an LP side continuous pieces of music. Thematically, the compositional lyrics were written by the group’s vocalist Fish (born Derek William Dick), who wrote a theme based on elements of lost love lament, and lost childhood. This platinum selling third release by the group has gone on to be their most successful as it topped the charts in their home UK and registered on those charts for 41 consecutive weeks.

The group was formed (originally as “Silmarillion”) in 1979 by guitarist Steve Rothery. Fish joined on as vocalist in 1981 with keyboardist Mark Kelly and bassist Pete Trewavas joinig the following year. After releasing a three song demo which caught some attention, Marillion recorded and released their debut album, Script for a Jester’s Tear, in 1983. The album peaked in the Top 10 of the UK charts and spawned the Top 20 single, “Garden Party”. Former Steve Hackett drummer Ian Mosley joined the group in time to record their the second album, Fugazi, in 1984.

The concept for Misplaced Childhood was sparked during an “acid trip” by Fish when he hallucinated a vision of a child dressed as a soldier. He instantly wrote “a large scrawl of prose” with a mixture of autobiographical, traditional, and popular culture references. The album was recorded in the spring of 1985 in Berlin, Germany and produced by Chris Kimsey. Aside from composing the the music itself, the biggest challenge was getting the songs to flow together seamlessly from one song to the next, with some “link” sections constructed to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.


Misplaced Childhood by Marillion
Released: June 17, 1985 (MCA)
Produced by: Chris Kimsey
Recorded: Hansa Ton Studios, Berlin March–May 1985
Side One Side Two
Pseudo Silk Kimono
Kayleigh
Lavender
Bitter Suite
Heart of Lothian
Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)
Lords of the Backstage
Blind Curve
Childhoods End?
White Feather
Primary Musicians
Fish – Lead Vocals
Steve Rothery – Guitars
Mark Kelly – Keyboards
Pete Trewavas – Bass
Ian Mosley – Drums, Percussion

to triumphant rock closer “White Feather.” Steve Rothery’s New Wave-y riffs give the album a decidedly ’80s sheen, but his Steve Hackett-esque solos keep the songs grounded in the prog idiom. Keyboardist Mark Kelly takes a similar approach, moving from breezy synth pads to intricate melodic runs.

The opener “Pseudo Silk Kimono” is a subtle, slow, and soft piece, fueled by long synth strings and guitar pedal effects throughout the two brief verses. “Kayleigh” is the signature song on this album and most indelible track from Marillion overall. A perfect song of reflection, which topped the list of the River of Rock’s list of Forgotten 80s classics, the song is dripping with nostalgia and emotion lyrically while it is musically led by the great guitar riffing and fantastic lead by Rothery. Largely ignored in America, the song reached number 2 on the British charts and also ranked high in several other European countries. Most importantly, it holds up well 30 years later as a piece that represents the best elements of eighties rock.

 
The third song in the side one medley and often added as an epilogue to “Kayleigh” on classic rock radio, “Lavender” is short but dramatic track which found British chart success on its own in 1985. Built on simple, repeating riff, the song borrows a bit from the folk song “Lavender Blue” but with a definitive, prog rock flavor. The five part “Bitter Suite” follows with rapidly changing chapters morphing into each other. “Brief Encounter” features Mosley’s rolling drums above Kelley’s droning synth, accompanied by a distant lead guitar before “Lost Weekend” marches exclusively to a hi-hat beat along with (mostly) spoken vocals by Fish. “Blue Angel” has a pure old-Genesis-like approach with a slow, repeating riff and exquisite lead guitar over poetic lyrics. “Misplaced Rendezvous” has picked electric guitar and emotive vocals before it morphs into the piano driven “Windswept Thumb” with much the same vibe to conclude the suite. Even though it features stronger rhythms and rock elements with odd timings, “Heart of Lothian” sounds like a natural continuation of the suite with an ethereal, double-guitar lead riff through much of the track before it finally giving way to calm, synth-driven outro to end the first side.

MarillionThe second side (and musical movement) begins with the percussive orchestra of “Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)” with animated xylophone-like synths by Kelly complimented by Mosley’s complex drum pattern and Fish’s most strained yet strong vocals thus far. The short “Lords of the Backstage” features odd-timed syncopation as a different variation of “Waterhole” before the album turns to the second extended, five-part suite, “Blind Curve”. The opening section is a slow rocker with only one real verse before moving on to “Passing Strangers”, a ballad with strong, dark rhythms which concludes with a fantastic, multi-part guitar lead. The “Mylo” section has the same basic vibe but with more melodic and expressive vocals and a later cool synth, which makes this one of the most pleasant sections of the second side. The suite slows with the soundtrack-like “Perimeter Walk” before the climatic ending of “Threshold” where the main theme in “Passing Strangers” returns with much excited tension, not relenting until the song finally resolves with a short guitar outro.

“Childhoods End?” is a pleasant, almost poppy dance song, driven by the bouncy bass of Trewavas along with odd, funky rhythms during the verses. This is complemented by stronger, straight-forward rock choruses which work to make this track different than anything else on the album in musical vibe. The song’s title is phrased as a question which is ultimately answered in the negative at the very end of the lyrics. The closing “White Feather” is a new wave flavored, groove rap with animated drums and a uni-directional arrangement before it fades out to complete the album.

During the tour for Misplaced Childhood, Fish would often announce that there is time for only one more track before the band performed the entire album in sequence. Marillion followed up with a less successful fourth album, Clutching at Straws in 1987, before Fish left the band to pursue a solo career. He returned to the group in 2015 to launch the “Farewell to Childhood” tour, where the group plays the full LP to honor its 30th anniversary.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

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Mike and the Mechanics

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Mike and the MechanicsMike + The Mechanics was a quasi-solo project by Genesis bassist and guitarist Mike Rutherford The 1985 self-title debut was a commercial success which spawned three hit singles and helped shape the sounds of the mid 1980s. Musically, the album features a mix of classic rock and new wave elements oriented towards the radio-friendly pop music of the day, fueled by the compositions mainly co-written by Rutherford and producer Christopher Neil.

Shortly after Genesis condensed down to a three-piece group in the late 1970s, each of the members decided to embark on parallel solo projects in-between the Genesis albums and tours. Rutherford released his first two solo albums, Smallcreep’s Day and Acting Very Strange in 1980 and 1982 respectively. However, he found the process of recording a record alone artistically unsatisfying and soon started a songwriting partnership with Scottish performer/composer B.A. Robertson. Following the success of Genesis’s 1983 self-titled album, the pair enlisted Neil as an additional composer and producer of the initial Mike + the Mechanics album.

It was decided that the core of the group would be Rutherford on guitars and bass along with keyboardist Adrian Lee and drummer Peter Van Hooke. Beyond that, session musicians and vocalists were brought in where needed, with three different lead vocalists performing on Mike + the Mechanics.


Mike and the Mechanics by Mike and the Mechanics
Released: October 5, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Christopher Neil
Recorded: AIR Studios, Montserrat, 1985
Side One Side Two
Silent Running
All I Need Is a Miracle
Par Avion
Hanging By a Thread
I Get the Feeling
Take the Reins
You Are the One
A Call to Arms
Taken In
Primary Musicians
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass
Adrian Lee – Keyboards
Peter Van Hooke – Drums

A long synth swell introduces the opening track, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)”, a song written by Rutherford and Robertson and featuring Paul Carrack on lead vocals. When the song fully kicks in, it features great musical atmospherics to accompany the complex yet poetic lyrics. While dominated by Lee’s keyboards throughout, there is nice short rock guitar lead by Rutherford, making it a complete rock song, which was very successful on the pop charts in both the UK and US. The album’s second track was also its second single. “All I Need Is a Miracle”, sees the group moving into the realm of pop accessibility with strong synth motifs and catchy melodic hooks by Paul Young. While the lyrics have much less depth than those on the opener, this song became the biggest charting on the album when it reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1986.

Mike and the Mechanics“Par Avion” is a slow-paced, synth-drenched ballad with soft and reserved lead vocals by the third lead vocalist, John Kirby. Rutherford originally wrote the song with a heavier arrangement but Neil thought it worked better as a softer ballad. “Hanging By a Thread” is much more complex than the previous track, laced with strong synth sections, most prevalent during the song’s extended bridge section. Next comes, “I Get the Feeling”, an upbeat showcase for Young’s vocals, features dual saxophones and Hammond organ throughout to sustain the feel-good vibe.

“Take the Reins” starts out with a pretty cool synth arpeggio but morphs into a song proper which sounds dated and superficial for a pop song sans soul and brain, making it the weakest so far on the album. “You Are the One” is a ballad with sort of the same feeling as late seventies era Genesis, when that group moved away from the complex theatrical numbers and more towards softer, accessible ballads. Speaking of Genesis, “A Call to Arms” began as an unfinished track which was rejected by that group before Rutherford gave it new life for Mike + The Mechanics. The song contains good bass and steady drumming under rich synths through the anthemic, save-the-world, adjust-the-attitude song with well-treated lead vocals by Carrack.

 
The album’s best song is save for last as “Taken In” features a subtle, sad and steady mood. The understated music is perfect backdrop for the fine lead vocals of Young, who delivers on the very effective use of lyrical repetition as composed by Rutherford and Neil. Further adding to the vibe is a slight sax lead after the each verse of this song which became the third Top 40 hit and a tremendous way to finish the able.

Mike + the Mechanics reached number 26 on the Billboard 200 album charts and, being satisfied with the results of this project, Rutherford decided to continue with this band rather than returning to a typical “solo” career. This paid off, as the group’s next album, Living Years in 1988, brought them even greater commercial success and Mike + and the Mechanics continued well into the 1990s.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

Heart by Heart

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Heart 1985 albumIn 1985, Heart made a dramatic comeback, fueled by an equally dramatic alteration to their traditional sound. A successful hard rock band in the late 1970s, the group had nearly fallen off the face of popular music in the early 1980s before deciding to make a transition towards more mainstream pop/rock. The result was their self-titled record, Heart, which brought this American group its greatest commercial success, reaching quintuple platinum status and becoming their first and only chart topper.

Led by sisters from Seattle, lead vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Ann Wilson, Heart found instant success with their 1976 debut album Dreamboat Annie and the follow up Little Queen the next year. However, some legal entanglements between early labels caused the group to lose some commercial momentum before bouncing back with the double-platinum selling Dog and Butterfly in late 1978. After a trio of less-than stellar releases in the early 1980s, along with a short foray by Nancy Wilson into motion pictures, the group moved to Capitol Records and decided to makeover their image and their music.

Heart was the second album to feature the rhythm section of bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi, following their respective debuts on 1983’s Passionworks. Produced by Ron Nevison, the album also used several outside musicians and songwriting teams to write and record a good portion of the material in a concerted effort to reach mainstream pop audiences. In doing so, the group all but abandoned the acoustic and folk sounds which were present in much of their early work.


Heart by Heart
Released: July 6, 1985 (Capitol)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, January–April 1985
Side One Side Two
If Looks Could Kill
What About Love
Never
These Dreams
The Wolf
All Eyes
Nobody Home
Nothin’ at All
What He Don’t Know
Shell Shock
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Howard Leese – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mark Andes – Bass Guitar
Denny Carmassi – Drums

Right from the jump, Heart delves into a full, 1980s hair band aura with the opener, “If Looks Could Kill”. Driving rhythms and clichéd lyric hooks rule the day, and this is not the last time they cover this territory, but overall may be the finest of its type. The fine, “What About Love”, begins with a slow and dramatic synth entrance leads to a fine verse with Ann Wilson’s vocals nicely floating above these richly orchestrated (albeit fake) strings. While the song is steady in its approach, it still has strong teeth, especially during the guitar lead by Howard Leese and during the outro which features excited vocals by Ann Wilson and a driving bass by Andes. “What About Love”, which was originally recorded by the Canadian rock group Toronto, was a Top Ten hit for Heart.

An original composition by the group, “Never” was another Top Ten hit. With a good mixture of bright keyboards and crunchy, distorted guitar riffs, the song features simple vocal hook which is one of the best on the album. A fresh musical arrangement during the third verse also adds some nice variety to the track. Co-written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, “These Dreams” was the biggest hit of all, becoming Heart’s first single to hit number one on the Billboard charts in early 1986. This fine, upbeat ballad is the only track to feature Nancy Wilson on lead vocals, who had a bit of cold when she recorded the track resulting in the happy accident of distinct raspy vocals. The track also features fine drum accents by Carmassi and a bridge section which is uplifting even as song maintains its dreamy, romantic vibe.

Bookending the sides of the original album, “The Wolf” is a straight-forward, driving rocker where Ann Wilson’s vocals reach new heights and Leese provides some interesting, double-tracked guitar textures, while “All Eyes” has a sound that reverts back slightly to a bluesy, hard rock seventies sound, with Nancy Wilson’s guitar work leading the way. “Nobody Home” is the closest to a power ballad on the album. Driven by an electronic piano which leads the way under Ann Wilson’s melodic vocals, the song gives the album that added dimension as a sweet but sad song complete with a soaring lead guitar by guest Frankie Sullivan.

“Nothin’ at All” leads into the final section of the album and serves as Heart‘s final high-water mark. Another mid-eighties pop rocker, this popular tune has a more subtle rock rhythm held together by Leese, Andes, and Carmassi, in much the same vein as eighties-era Journey. Unfortunately, the album finishes with two of its weakest tunes. “What He Don’t Know” does offer some decent rock elements musically, with acoustic verses over a choppy rhythmic beat, but falters due to its totally trite lyrics. The closer, “Shell Shock”, seems to have even less substance as a formulaic rocker, which may strike a certain mood, but has little true musical substance.

Beyond topping the American charts, Heart also charted well in the UK (#19) and other national charts. Heart’s follow-up album, Bad Animals in 1987, continued in much the same musical direction and scored further commercial success for the group.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Dream Into Action
by Howard Jones

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Dream Into Action by Howard JonesAt first glance, Dream Into Action by Howard Jones may seem like a typical, mid-1980s synth pop album. However, a deeper listen reveals that there is much substance to the authentic material composed by Jones for his second release. Loaded with mainly up tempo and optimistic tunes, the album was a big hit back in its day as it fit in well with the pop scene of 1985. But strip away the synths and the slick production, and you still have some fine melodies and solid singer-songwriter type songs.

Jones started in the music business when he and his three younger brothers formed a band called Red Beat in the late 1970s. Howard had been playing piano since about age seven and later attended the Royal Northern College of Music. After launching a solo career in 1983, Jones rented out the famed Marquee Club in London so that record label executives could see him perform, a successful strategy as he signed with Warner Music shortly afterwards. Jones scored a Top 40 hit with the single “New Song”, released in advance of his debut album, Human’s Lib, which reached #1 in the UK and double platinum in sales. A 1984 single, “Like to Get to Know You Well” became an official anthem of that summer’s Olympic games and, subsequently, a worldwide hit.

Dream Into Action was recorded in England in late 1984 with famed producer Rupert Hine helping forge the sound. Jones composed all the songs on the album and played most of music with the exception of bass guitar, played by his brother Martin Jones. Shortly before the album’s release in early 1985, Jones performed alongside Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Thomas Dolby in a synthesizer jam at Grammy Awards ceremony, setting him up for the pop success to come.


Dream Into Action by Howard Jones
Released: March 23, 1985 (Elektra)
Produced by: Rupert Hine
Recorded: Farmyard Studios, Little Chalfont, England, 1984–1985
Side One Side Two
Things Can Only Get Better
Life In One Day
No One Is to Blame
Dream Into Action
Like to Get to Know You Well
Assault and Battery
Look Mama
Bounce Right Back
Elegy
Is There A Difference?
Automaton
Hunger For the Flesh
Primary Musicians
Howard Jones – Lead Vocals, Piano, Synths, Drums, Percussion
Martin Jones – Bass Guitar
TKO Horns – Saxophones, Trombone

The positive and upbeat, “Things Can Only Get Better”, starts the album in typical Howard Jones fashion. Synths dominate and there is a funk groove that persists throughout but the sound is accented perfectly by the horns and vocals. Lyrically, everyone can relate to the feelings described in this song, which was a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The equally catchy “Life In One Day” offers some sage advice in its main hook along with a danceable groove and a chorus from the backing female vocal trio collectively known as Afrodiziak.

The ballad “No One Is to Blame” is about unfulfilled desires and attractions. A stripped down version appears on this album with just vocals, a piano and a simple back beat, allowing the haunting nature of the message to fits nicely with the minimal production. The song was later re-recorded and remixed by Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham into what some may say is a “superior” mix, which became another big hit for Jones. However, what is gained in the added techniques is lost the simplistic beauty of the original version.

The title track, “Dream Into Action” is purely an exercise in synth sounds and beats, like an anthem to 80’s synth pop. “Like to Get to Know You Well” contains a strong melody, a steel drum effect, and more feel good happy lyrics about getting to know someone more than in just a superficial way. An interesting song overall which begins strong but unfortunately finishes weakly with a way too long, repetitive chorus. “Assault and Battery” finishes the original first side (on the US version) as the underrated gem of this album. Jones’ piano and synths are in contrast but work well nonetheless and the track departs from the imagery of previous songs with their positive spin and advice to live every day to it’s fullest. This one explores the morality of killing animals for food;

Children’s stories with their farmyard favorites. At the table in a different disguise…:

The album’s second side contains lesser know songs which are still interesting and entertaining. “Look Mama” has a funky bassline and rhythms with lyrics which delve into every teenager’s thoughts when they are dealing with an overprotective parent. There are lots of layers of sound in this one, it’s not monochromatic in any way. “Bounce Right Back” has an odd mix of sinister sounding synths and quasi rap lyrics  and once again, is giving some advice.  This time on the wisdom of keeping your cool and watching what you say and do because, “those crazy words you fling from your mouth will bounce back on you some day.” The ethereal sounds of “Elegy” are in contrast to anything else on this album, as are the dark lyrics that speak of suffering and wishing for death.

We return to the bouncy, catchy melody on “Is There A Difference?”, with the theme being a philosophical discussion about whether our apparent differences really matter in the overall scheme of things. “Automaton” appropriately sounds like a machine with odd, syncopated sounds accenting the vocals. An indulgence in synths,  this tune is about a robot who looks human, but is empty inside. The album wraps with “Hunger For the Flesh”, another philosophical rant where Jones explores the human tendency to nourish one’s body at the expense of nourishing one’s soul. The synth sounds in this one roll and roar like a thunderstorm and flood of Biblical proportions with Jones’ vocals being perhaps the most earnest on this closer.

Dream into Action went on to become Jones’ most successful album, reaching #2 in his home UK and #10 in the US, where it stayed on the charts for an entire year. Eventually his fame subsided but, in the late 1980s, Jones began practicing Nichiren Buddhism and credits his daily chanting as having a profoundly positive effect on his life.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Centerfield by John Fogerty

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Centerfield by John FogertyA true solo album in every sense of the word, Centerfield, features John Fogerty writing every song as well as playing every instrument on those songs. Simple in composition while rich in melody, this comeback album which was his most popular post Creedence Clearwater Revival release. Still, the album was ludicrously marred by a lawsuit in which Fogerty’s former label sued him for allegedly plagiarizing himself. After several years in litigation, Fogerty ultimately won that case and was compensated for all legal costs.

The final Creedence album was Mardi Gras, released in 1972. Fogerty then began a solo career, starting with a 1973 debut where he played covers of mainly country music hits. A second solo album was released in 1975 and, despite weak sales, it yielded Fogerty’s first solo hit, “Rockin’ All Over the World”. The following year, Fogerty finished an album called, Hoodoo, but it was rejected as unsatisfactory by his record company and the master tapes were later destroyed.

Fogerty entered into an extended hiatus which lasted the better part of eight years before entering the studio in mid 1984. While many of the songs have a definite nostalgic touch, there is a streak of bitterness on this album, especially when directed towards Saul Zaentz, the owner of Fogerty’s former label, Fantasy Record.


Centerfield by John Fogerty
Released: January 15, 1985 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: The Plant Studios, Sausalito, CA, July–September 1984
Side One Side Two
The Old Man Down the Road
Rock and Roll Girls
Big Train (From Memphis)
I Saw It On T.V.
Mr. Greed
Searchlight
Centerfield
I Can’t Help Myself
Zanz Kant Danz (Vanz Kant Danz)
Primary Musician
John Fogerty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Saxophone, Harmonica, Drums, Percussion

Zaentz sued Fogerty specifically over the opening track, “The Old Man Down the Road”, which he claimed was too similar to the song “Run Though the Jungle” from Cosmo’s Factory (Fogerty displayed the differences between the two songs by playing each live in court). “The Old Man Down the Road” does have an indelible riff with a subtle blend of guitars – acoustic, electric, and slide – along with some classic tremolo effects to make it all so cool. This also features an interesting vocal melody and just the right lead riff to make this all quintessential Fogerty.

“Rock and Roll Girls” follows as an accessible pop/rocker which became a big radio hit in its own right. Built on a three-chord, driving rock riff with a rhythm and beat to match, Fogerty’s vocals hit a slight yodel during the verses. Of particular note is the saxophone, where the multi-instrumentalist has a couple of cool leads in between the verses. “Big Train (From Memphis)” is a pure country rocker through and through, so authentic that it sounds like it must be a cover (although its not).

The middle third of the album hits a bit of a creative lull. “I Saw It On T.V.” has the flow and temperament of a CCR song with steady, strummed acoustic guitar and nice transitional guitars between vocal lines, which are much more refined than Fogerty’s usual soulful screed. “Mr. Greed” doesn’t quite work as well as some of the other songs, featuring a pure, hard rock riff which heavy guitar interludes in between the lines and sophomoric lyrics. “Searchlight” is a more interesting track which blends classic blues and Bayou country along with some Motown elements all under a heavy rock vocal and drum beat.

 
The title song is upbeat and catchy with a choppy percussion effect leading the way before the full song kicks in with slide guitar, bouncy organ, and thumping bass. Fogerty’s vocals on “Centerfield” are at their finest on this album, even if the lyrics are slightly corny, and the chorus is its most melodic part. “I Can’t Help Myself” is a unique and entertaining track with a pure new wave in beat and effect, especially the multitude of electronic percussion effects. Once again, the vocal melodies carry the day, making it a lost gem of a pop song. “Zanz Kant Danz (a.k.a. Vanz Kant Danz)” closes the album, with Caribbean elements in the intro and interesting beats, guitar riffs and synths throughout. The verse section is almost modern disco and the mid section has an extended percussion section, adding to the overall dance elements of this closing track.

Centerfield performed well worldwide, topping the charts in several countries including the USA. It also, surprisingly, reached the Top 10 on the American Country Albums chart. Fogerty followed-up the album with Eye of the Zombie in 1986, which was much less successful and led to another extended hiatus from music.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Scarecrow by John Mellencamp

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Scarecrow by John Cougar MellencampWhile much of popular music in 1985 was moving towards more synth-based compositions and refined production, John “Cougar” Mellencamp decided to return to his roots on Scarecrow. In fact, Mellencamp was so dedicated to incorporating the sound of classic 1960s music that he mandated to his band that they learn about a hundred old singles verbatim while rehearsing for recording the album. The result was a highly entertaining and successful album which set the template for many future works.

Mellencamp’s breakthrough album was 1982’s American Fool, his fifth release as “John Cougar”. Following this success, he insisted on using his birth name, Mellencamp, on future releases. 1983’s Uh-Huh was another commercial success and the first to feature both Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic on guitars.

Co-produced by Don Gehman, the album was the first to be recorded at Mellencamp’s studio in Belmont, Indiana, known as “The Belmont Mall”. Along with the definitive 60s music theme, the lyrical theme of this album was the transitional economy which saw the ruin of many family farms during the era, giving the album an overall bittersweet tone.


Scarecrow by John Cougar Mellencamp
Released: November 4, 1985 (Riva)
Produced by: Don Gehman & John Mellencamp
Recorded: Belmont, Indiana, March 20-April 29, 1985
Side One Side Two
Rain On the Scarecrow
Grandma’s Theme
Small Town
Minutes to Memories
Lonely Ol’ Night
The Face of the Nation
Justice and Independence ’85
Between a Laugh and a Tear
Rumbleseat
You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.
Primary Musicians
John Cougar Mellencamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Larry Crane – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Wanchic – Guitars, Vocals
John Cascella – Keyboards
Toby Myers – Bass, Vocals
Kenny Aronoff – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The main album theme is portrayed on the opening track, “Rain On the Scarecrow”, co-written by George M. Green. Mellencamp’s chanting lyrics are dark and desperate, while musically this track builds on a sixties-type folk riff with bright guitars and a direct bass by Toby Myers. “Grandma’s Theme” follows as a short interlude of a traditional tune called “In the Baggage Coach Ahead”, sung by Laura Mellencamp, John Mellencamp’s actual grandmother. This links to “Small Town”, a standard folk-rocker built with a strong and direct drum beat by Kenny Aronoff. The song reached #6 on the  US pop charts and was adopted as a rustic theme by many subsequent interests.

“Minutes to Memories” is another co-composed by Green and this stays in the same vibe as the previous song with some interesting percussive effects and other little sonic treats. This song does get interesting and intense later on with backing vocals by Mimi Mapes complimenting the rest of the ensemble. “Lonely Ol’ Night” starts with simple, dueling riffs, which are worked in well with the steady beat of the song. This popular track contains some of the best melodies on the album, with the title inspired by a line from the 1963 film, Hud, starring Paul Newman. “The Face of the Nation” is built with a unique bass riff by Myers accompanied by bouncy guitar by Crane and choppy keyboards by John Cascella throughout, However, it is Aronoff’s drumming which shines brightest on this track.

Scarecrow‘s original second side begins with “Justice and Independence ’85”,a drum-driven funk rocker which attempts to cleverly use titles as names for members of a family. “Between a Laugh and a Tear” is the song on the album which sounds closest to the old “John Cougar” sound, as a direct rocker with subtle guitar riffs and backing vocals by guest, Rickie Lee Jones. The catchy “Rumbleseat” is acoustic pop with plenty of melody and entertaining riffs, more great bass by Myers and a perfect blend of guitars by Wanchic and Crane. “You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin'” stays in same vein as much of the other songs musically but seems to randomly drop famous people and events and seems to try too hard to make a profound point.

John Mellencamp Band

The closing track, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60’s Rock)”,  finds the intended sound perfectly. This catchy, Top 10 pop hit with definitive sixties elements and topical tributes, features a cool mid section with a nice array of short instrumental leads, including a penny whistle organ by Cascella. Despite all this, Mellencamp was initially reluctant to include the song on the album, feeling it was too light-hearted in contrast to the more serious songs.

Following its release, Scarecrow peaked at #2 in the US and spawned a major tour through 1985 and 1986. In the spirit of the album’s theme, Mellencamp helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert, an annual event which continues three decades later.

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1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.