Rattle and Hum by U2

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Rattle and Hum by U2With some major commercial success in the bag by 1988, U2 decided to try something different. The ambitious double length LP Rattle and Hum is a hybrid of new studio tracks and live recordings comprised of select cover songs and previously released originals and this record was released along with a companion documentary film. The result is a collection that is both interesting and entertaining as well as uneven and disjointed, all of which was reflected in the album’s mixed critical reception.

The idea for this album was spawned in mid 1987 during the tour supporting their highly acclaimed and commercially successful The Joshua Tree. Film director Phil Joanou pitched the idea to the band and they ultimately chose a late 1987 show  at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado as the concert to film and record the bulk of the live material. The project’s title was derived from a lyric from the song “Bullet the Blue Sky”, which appears here as one of the live tracks.

Rattle and Hum was produced by Jimmy Iovine, with studio tracks recorded at several studios, including the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Much of this new studio material incorporated elements of American roots music such as folk, blues, Gospel and soul into U2’s distinct rhythmic sound.


Rattle and Hum by U2
Released: October 10, 1988 (Island)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: Sun Studio, Memphis, TN; Point Depot, Danesmoat & STS Studios, Dublin, Ireland; A&M Studios & Ocean Way, Los Angeles; McNichols Arena, Denver, CO; Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ; 1987-1988
Side One Side Two
Helter Skelter (Live)
Van Diemen’s Land
Desire
Hawkmoon 269
All Along the Watchtower (Live)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live)
Freedom for My People
Silver and Gold (Live)
Pride (Live)
Side Three Side Four
Angel of Harlem
Love Rescue Me
When Love Comes to Town
Heartland
God Part II
The Star Spangled Banner
Bullet the Blue Sky” (Live)
All I Want Is You
Group Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
The Edge – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with an odd sequence of songs, starting with a live cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”, which is a bit smoother, cleaner and calmer than McCartney’s original. Next comes “Van Diemen’s Land”, featuring guitarist The Edge on lead vocals for this sparse arrangement with picked electric and much reverb. The lead single from the album, “Desire” is the first place where the heart of the album is reached with a Bo Diddley-like rhythm working well as bedding for Bono‘s soaring vocals and fine harmonica. The song reached the Top 5 in the US and later won a Grammy Award. “Hawkmoon 269” finishes the original first side as a methodical track, built on repeated rhythms and lyrical motifs along with fine overdubbed, layered guitars.

The album’s second side features all live tracks, starting with a cover of Bob Dylans‘s “All Along the Watchtower”, recorded in San Francisco. Although upbeat throughout, the overall vibe is rather lethargic, not even coming close to capturing the magic of the Hendrix version on Electric Ladyland. “Silver and Gold” is a strong rocker with a folk-like lyrical delivery and a strong bass presence by Adam Clayton along with an explosive ending guitar lead by The Edge. Also included on side two are live versions of previous U2 hits “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, with the former track featuring a Gospel-like arrangement with a chorus by The New Voices of Freedom.

U2 in 1988

The third side of Rattle and Hum is the album’s finest, starting with the exquisite “Angel of Harlem”, a fine, lyrically rich Soul rendition which shows the group’s musical versatility. Released as the album’s second single, the song was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. “Love Rescue Me” was co-written by Bono and Bob Dylan and it slowly fades in with harmonica and picked electric guitar. Arranged like a classic ballad, the track is quiet during the verses, exploding during choruses where Dylan joins Bono on vocals, and later on features The Memphis Horns. “When Love Comes to Town” features B.B. King on lead guitar and co-lead vocals and is held together with Clayton’s thumping bass and rolling drums by Larry Mullen, Jr., all adding further unique elements to this album’s potpourri of sound. “Heartland” closes the side through a slow, methodical intro before slowly building towards a full-throated, high octave chorus and arrangement.

The fourth and final side commences with “God Part II”, an intense, rhythmic rocker with some dance elements and the chorus hook “I Believe In Love”. The song was written by Bono as a sort of sequel to John Lennon’s song “God” from his 1970 album Plastic Ono Band. After a short inclusion of Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”, comes the climatic live track “Bullet the Blue Sky”, recorded at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, featuring a persistent, mechanical motion. The album concludes with the ballad “All I Want Is You” with fine sonic effects over simple, strummed guitars along with an orchestral arrangement which adds to the song’s beauty.

Despite the critical panning, Rattle and Hum topped the charts in over a half dozen countries and went on to sell over 14 million copies worldwide. It also marked the end of an era for the group as they headed into the 1990s and forged a new sound on future albums.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Skyscraper by David Lee Roth

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Skyscraper by David Lee RothDavid Lee Roth‘s second full-length solo album, the commercially successful Skyscraper, has had mixed critical response since it was released in 1988. This album, while continuing much of the same good-time-hard-rock direction that Roth had personified throughout his career as a front man, also saw some subtle movement towards other sub-genres. Most of the compositions on Skyscraper were co-written by Roth and virtuoso lead guitarist Steve Vai.

Following the phenomenal success of Van Halen’s 1984, Roth decided he would give a solo project a go. In early 1985 he released Crazy from the Heat, a four-song EP of cover tunes, which was popular due mainly to innovative music videos and creative character roles. From this latter pool, Roth planned to create of feature-length film and, although the project fell through, the move played a part in Roth officially parting ways from Van Halen in on April 1985. Later that year Roth assembled a backing group consisting of Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. This group along with long-time Van Halen producer Ted Templeman recorded and released the LP Eat ‘Em and Smile in 1986 to widespread commercial and critical success.

For the production Skyscraper, Roth and Vai took the producer reigns. Recorded at various studios in Southern California in late 1987, this new arrangement gave the duo much creative freedom to try differing approaches. The original 1988 LP contained ten tracks while subsequent CD reissues incorporated the 1985 hits “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Crazy from the Heat.


Skyscraper by David Lee Roth
Released: January 26, 1988 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Vai & David Lee Roth
Recorded: Capitol Records Studio, Smoketree, SNS, Stucco Blue & Sunset S, Los Angeles, Spring–Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Knucklebones
Just Like Paradise
The Bottom Line
Skyscraper
Damn Good
Hot Dog and a Shake
Stand Up
Hina
Perfect Timing
Two Fools a Minute
Primary Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Steve Vai – Guitars
Brett Tuggle – Keyboards
Billy Sheehan – Bass, Vocals
Gregg Bissonette – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by Bissonette, the opener “Knucklebones” features a crisp, flanged guitar riff by Vai along with his later harmonized lead. Overall, the song is pretty catchy but standard hard rock with the apt hook for an opener “get the show on the road”. The album’s biggest hit song, “Just Like Paradise”, follows. The composition, which was co-written by keyboardist Brett Tuggle, is accented by piano chords and features just enough catchy melodies and hook to propel it to the Top 10 on the US pop charts.

The rhythm-driven track “The Bottom Line” features a rapid double-kick drum and a rolling bass line by Sheehan, making it musically rewarding albeit a bit tacky lyrically. The title track “Skyscraper” features plenty of synth and vocal effects, rhythmic rudiments to add atmosphere and finely dissolves into a jazzy acoustic coda towards the end. The original first side finishes with the climatic ballad
“Damn Good”, perhaps the highlight of the album. Led by the harmonized acoustic of Vai performed with a slightly Eastern bend, the song overall features just the right mix of melody and synth effects with a nostalgic lyrical nod by Roth back to the Van Halen years.

David Lee Roth and Steve Vai

With “Hot Dog and a Shake”, the album returns to straight-up, good-time hard rock along with some obvious sexual innuendo. “Stand Up” goes in another direction as a pure eighties electronic pop with plenty of synth bass and brass motifs by Tuggle, the kind of sound that, ironically, Roth had criticized former band mate Eddie Van Halen for just a few years earlier. Industrial guitar tones dominate the intro to “Hina”, a unique track which results in one of the more interesting listens on this album. The album concludes with two more attempts at pop music, “Perfect Timing” and “Two Fools a Minute”, the latter featuring a more interesting musical arrangement complete with fret-less bass and bluesy guitars.

Although Skyscraper sold over two million copies and reached Billboard’s Top 10, the David Lee Roth band soon began to disintegrate with the departure of Sheehan soon after its release and Vai after its supporting tour. Roth’s solo career never again gained much traction and he eventually reunited with Van Halen.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1
by Traveling Wilburys

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1988 Album of the Year

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1“Super Groups” were commonplace during the seventies and eighties, often causing much hype which was rarely surpassed by the music itself. But in the case of the Traveling Wilburys, by far the most “super” of any super group, the resulting music was downright brilliant. Their debut Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 displays an incredible array of three decades of pop and rock elements wrapped in concise tunes penned and performed by some of the biggest legends in the business. The group and album were not initially planned and came together through a serendipitous series of coincidences and the fantastic music they produced together easily makes Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1988.

It all started in Los Angeles in Spring 1988 when George Harrison was looking to record B-side material for a vinyl 12-inch European single. Jeff Lynne, who co-produced Harrison’s most recent album Cloud Nine was also in Los Angeles at the time. Lynne was producing some music for Roy Orbison as well as the debut solo album, Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. Lynne was able to enlist both artists to help out Harrison, who was in a huge hurry to record his material. The final piece of the Traveling Wilbury puzzle was Bob Dylan, who had built a home studio in nearby Malibu and agreed to let the makeshift group record the very next day. On that day, the legendary musicians wrote and recorded the song “Handle with Care” in about five hours. The experience was so positive that all five agreed to form a group and reconvened a month later to record the other nine tracks on what would become Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Here the magic continued as the group wrote and recorded on acoustic guitars. With a limited amount of time before Dylan headed out on a scheduled tour, the five singers in the group often took turns at songs until Harrison (as group arbiter) selected the best “lead” voice for each part. The final phase was Harrison and Lynne returning to England for final overdubs and production. Here Harrison added some electric and lead guitars, Lynne added keyboards and bass, Jim Keltner was brought in on drums.

Although it is generally agreed that Harrison was the group’s leader, they did work hard to maintain a collective image and even set up fictional names for each member masquerading as the “Wilbury” brothers – Nelson (Harrison), Otis (Lynne), Lucky (Dylan), Lefty (Orbison), and Charlie T. Jr. (Petty) with Keltner given the humorous “outsider” name “Buster Sidebury”. All group members also got songwriting credits on the album, although the publishing credits were disbursed according to the actual songwriter. The Wilbury name originated from Harrison and Lynne previously working together as a pseudonym for slight recording errors (“we’ll bury ’em in the mix”).


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 18, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne and George Harrison
Recorded: Lucky Studios and Dave Stewart Studios, Los Angeles and FPSHOT, London, April–May 1988
Side One Side Two
Handle with Care
Dirty World
Rattled
Last Night
Not Alone Anymore
Congratulations
Heading for the Light
Margarita
Tweeter and the Monkey Man
End of the Line
Band Musicians
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Dylan – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Roy Orbison – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The ringing guitars of “Handle with Care”, the original Wilbury song, starts things off. Harrison, the primary composer, delivers deliberate vocalizing during the verses which gives way to Orbison’s smooth crooning during the choruses. Dylan and Petty deliver a chanting post-chorus and two instances of Harrison’s classic guitar along with a short Dylan harmonica lead make the song a true classic in just about every way. Within its brief three and a half minutes the song is dotted with decades of rock history, making this the perfect track to introduce the album. While not every song on the album wraps itself so well as “Handle with Care”, there is not a truly weak moment on the album.
 

 
On “Dirty World” Dylan’s rough lead vocals are complimented by smooth backing vocals and a bright acoustic arrangement. The song also contains some horns and an interesting arrangement all around. This song was a particularly enjoyable one for the band to record as each member took a turn singing in the “round” during the extended outro. Jeff Lynne’s “Rattled” is pure rockabilly led by Orbinson on vocals, almost like a lost early Elvis song. Lynne’s bass and Harrison’s lead guitar shine musically and the actual “rattle” in the song is drummer Keltner tapping the refrigerator grill with his drum sticks.

“Last Night” contains Caribbean elements with some percussion and horns and Petty singing during verse and Orbinson during the bridges. The whimsical, storytelling song has a great aura and feel throughout. Petty did the core composing with each group member contributing to the songwriting approach. The verses has an upbeat folk/Latin feel with the bridge being a bit more dramatic. The first side completes with “Not Alone Any More”, a vocal centerpiece for Orbison. His vocals smoothly lead a modern version of early sixties rock and Lynne’s keyboards add more decoration than any other song on the first side. If “Not Alone Anymore” is in the clouds, the second side opener “Congratulations” is right down at ground level. This tavern style ballad with Dylan on lead vocals sounds much like his late 70s / early 80s era material, with blues-like reverences to broken relationships, and includes a very short but great lead guitar by Harrison right at the end.

The up-tempo “Heading for the Light” is a quintessential Harrison/Lynne production, with the former Beatle composing and singing and the former ELO front man providing the lush production and orchestration. The song contains great picked guitar fills as well as a saxophone solo by Jim Horn. “Margarita” may be the oddest song on the album but is still a great sonic pleasure. It begins with a programmed eighties synth line then the long intro slowly works its way into a Latin acoustic section topped by horns, lead guitar, and rich vocal harmonies. It is not until a minute and a half in that Petty’s lead vocals come in for a single verse then the song works its ways through various short sections towards an encapsulated synth ending. This spontaneous composition with free-association lyrics showed with a group of this talent could do on the spot.

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is Bob Dylan channeling Bruce Springsteen and coming out with what may have been one of the best Springsteen songs ever (even though he had nothing to do with it). This extended song with the traditional Dylan style of oodles of verses and a theatrical chorus includes several references to Springsteen songs throughout and is in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey. It may have been Dylan’s delayed response to the press repeatedly coining Bruce “the next Dylan”. No matter what the case, the result is an excellent tune with lyrics rich enough to base a book or movie.
 

 
The most perfect album closer to any album – ever, “End of the Line” contains a Johnny Cash-like train rhythm beneathe deeply philosophical lyrics, delivered in a light and upbeat fashion. Harrison, Lynne, Orbinson, and Harrison again provide the lead vocals during the chorus hooks while Petty does the intervening verses. The song revisits the classic music themes of survival and return with the universal message that, in the big picture, it all ends someday. The feeling of band unity is also strongest here with the folksy pop/rock chords and great harmonies. The music video for “End of the Line” was filmed after Roy Orbison’s death in December 1988, mere weeks after the album’s release, and paid tasteful respect with a shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair during the verse which Orbison sang.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 sold over two million copies within its first six months, a figure which made this album a higher seller than any of Bob Dylan’s albums to that date. The album was critically favored and won a Grammy award in 1990. The surviving members of the group reconvened for a second album, which fell far short of capturing the magic of this debut and a long-planned tour by the group never materialized, although members continued to collaborate on each other’s albums for years to come. The incredible magic that came together in 1988 is yet to repeated anywhere in the rock universe.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums and our album of the year for 1988.

 

Now and Zen by Robert Plant

Now and Zen by Robert PlantRobert Plant launched his post-Led Zeppelin solo career with two fine albums, Pictures at Eleven, in 1982 and, The Principle of Moments , in 1983. His career then got a little murky in the mid-1980s with the short-lived cover band The Honeydrippers and his bizzare third album Shaken and Stirred. His fourth album, 1988’s Now and Zen, was a career renaissance as the vocalist and songwriter once again found his groove in eighties pop. The album made the top 10 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and has been certified triple platinum. The album also featured Zeppelin band mate Jimmy Page who performed on a Plant solo album for the first time (a favor Plant would return later in the year on Page’s Outrider album).

Keyboardist Phil Johnstone co-produced and co-wrote most of the material with Plant. Johnstone was part of a whole new band that Plant employed for this album after pretty much using the same personnel on all of his first three albums. Plant discovered Johnstone and engineer Dave Barrett after hearing a demo tape by the pair.

The resulting sound is a stylistic fusion that seamlessly combines hard rock and guitar blues with the synth-driven pop of the eighties and the then-new computer synchronization techniques. Now and Zen is also a vocal masterpiece for Plant who strikes his “mature” voice better than on any other of his eighties material. Lyrically, Plant’s songs have substance, intelligence and taste, making this a solo career high point in that area as well.


Now and Zen by Robert Plant
Released: February 29, 1988 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Robert Plant, Phil Johnstone, and Tim Palmer
Recorded: Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Heaven Knows
Dance On My Own
Tall Cool One
The Way I Feel
Helen of Troy
Billy’s Revenge
Ship of Fools
Why
White, Clean, and Neat
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals  |  Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Synths
Doug Boyle – Guitars  |  Phil Scragg – Bass  |  Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion

 

“Heaven Knows” rolls in like a fast moving storm and immediately establishes the underlying groove of Now and Zen. The song is synth heavy, but not to the point of being ludicrous like on Shaken n’ Stirred, but does contain the first appearance by Page with a dramatic guitar solo. The song topped mainstream rock charts. “Dance On My Own” starts with slight background whistling and breaks into a call-and return verse between Plant and guitarist Doug Boyle which is almost like a cheerleading chant. Overall, this song draws from good elements of all three of Plant’s previous solo albums; interesting modern guitar riffs, unique “Zeppelin-light” lead vocals, and a pleasant female backing vocal chorus.

A sterile piano guides the sound collage-ridden “Tall Cool One”, which became the top pop hit off the album. The song was Plant and Page’s response to the Beastie Boys’ unauthorized sampling of Led Zeppelin material, by sampling their own music from Zeppelin tracks “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Ocean”, “Black Dog”, “Custard Pie”, and “When the Levee Breaks”. Aside from the group’s short reunion at Live Aid in 1985, this was the first time in Plant’s solo career that he openly embraced his former band. Otherwise, “Tall Cool One” is a rather typical pop song with some really corny moments when Johnstone does the bridge rap. “The Way I Feel” completes side one as the moodiest song on the side with great atmosphere by Boyle and Johnstone beneath Plant’s soaring vocals and a fretless bass by Phil Scragg.

Early on the second side of Now and Zen is really where Plant has his musical renaissance. “Helen of Troy” comes in like a near heavy-metal tune with layered guitars above a strong bass before breaking into more pop elements during the rest of the song. A funky, syncopated rhythm persists throughout the song under all those great guitars, the first of two most guitar-centric songs on the album. “Billy’s Revenge” follows with a do-wop intro and pure rock song afterwards. Aside from a couple of short but great synth organ sections by Johnstone, this song is otherwise dominated by Boyle’s guitar while Plant’s vocals reach their highest register on the album. The frantic song comes to a crashing end, leading into the third of three great songs.

Robert Plant 1988

“Ship of Fools” is one of Plant’s all time classics and a true testament to his best eighties style. It is the high water mark of the album in mood, vocals, lyrics and Boyle’s guitars are at their finest, probably an all-time career highlight for him. A slight synth percussion works best on the mood of this song and the subtle instrumental outro is done with great taste, leaving the listener yearning for more.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the album does not come close to the quality of these past three songs. “Why” was co-written by engineer Robert Crash, who programmed a cheesy synth riff that prevents the song from be taken seriously. The closer “White, Clean and Neat” brings the album’s quality up slightly as an original with almost beat-like poetry with good, measured guitar lines. But the corny bridge section with spoken lines that eerily echoes the worst of Shakin’ and Stirred, leaving the overall album just shy of great.

With the critical and commercial success of Now and Zen, Robert Plant was at a high point of his solo career. Also, he further embraced his Zeppelin past by performing songs from the band on his 1988 and subsequent tours, bring his live career a balance which it had lacked for years.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Copperhead Road by Steve Earle

Copperhead Road by Steve EarleSteve Earle has always woven in and out of the outlaw country genre  exploring different sectors of musical territory. Back in 1988, Earle took his first major turn into what would eventually be called “Americana” with the album Copperhead Road. This hybrid of country twang and solid rock elements propelled the Texas native into an area all his own for decades to come. This album followed Earle’s first two releases, Guitar Town, in 1986 and Exit 0 in 1987, both of which had sold well and earned enthusiastic reviews within the country music scene. But Earle and Nashville soon tired of each other and the artist set out to make an album “where heavy metal meets bluegrass”.

Prior to signing with MCA Records, Earle had paid his debts in the music industry in Nashville and various locations in Texas. Starting in 1975, he spent over a decade as a songwriter, session player, band bassist and front man for his group “The Dukes”. Earle had a previous contract with Epic Records but was dropped after releasing just one EP called Pink and Black in 1982.

Copperhead Road contains a definite eighties production sound by producer Tony Brown. It employs a big drum sound and arena-influenced guitars, at times sounding more like Aerosmith or Guns n’ Roses than the country/rock sound of the contemporary “New Traditionalists”. Still, the songs’ roots shine through all the gloss and firepower. Beyond the songwriting and vocals, Earle is fluent array of instruments, including six and twelve string acoustic guitars, mandolin, and harmonica.


Copperhead Road by Steve Earle
Released: October 17, 1988 (MCA)
Produced by: Steve Earle and Tony Brown
Recorded: Memphis, 1988
Side One Side Two
Copperhead Road
Snake Oil
Back to the Wall
The Devil’s Right Hand
Johnny Come Lately
Even When I’m Blue
You Belong to Me
Waiting on You
Once You Love
Nothing but a Child
Primary Musicians
Steve Earle – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica  | Donny Roberts – Guitars
John Jarvis – Piano  | Kelly Looney – Bass  |  Ken Custer – Drums

 

The songs on side one of Copperhead Road reflect on Earle’s leftist politics. “Snake Oil” attacks then president Ronald Reagan, comparing him to a traveling con man. “Back to the Wall” is about poverty and homelessness and “The Devil’s Right Hand” is an anti-gun tune which tells the tale of a lonely gunslinger. “Johnny Comes Lately” has its roots in Earle’s anti-Vietnam activism as a young man. This tells the story of two generations of soldiers coming home from the war – one a veteran of World War II and his son, a veteran of the Vietnam War – and contrasts the differing receptions they received on returning home. This side one closer features the folk group The Pogues as Earle’s backing band.

Title track “Copperhead Road” was also the big hit single from the album. It starts with a bagpipe-sounding synth and then morphs into a mandolin-dominated opening verses before dramatically crashing into it’s loud “rock” sections later in the song. It tells the story of a Vietnam war veteran from a Tennessee moonshine clan who returns home to grow marijuana on his family’s land in order to make ends meet. The song has a anthemic feel throughout, making it one of Earle’s most memorable songs.
 

 
So is Earle primarily a musician or a political activist? Well, on side two of Copperhead Road, he pretty much abandons his preaching on social justice and rage against the establishment for more traditional, country-influenced “love” songs. “Even When I’m Blue” is a typical country theme, which deals with your typical love and life scenarios. “You Belong to Me” and “Once You Love” are honest and absorbing reflections of the heart of a dysfunctional romantic. The closer “Nothing But a Child” is a quasi-Christmas song which features guest Maria McKee on vocals and the group Telluride providing mandolin, dobro, and violins.

Following the release of Copperhead Road, Earle was compared to everyone from Bruce Springsteen to John Mellencamp to Randy Newman to Waylon Jennings. However, a combination of heroin abuse and troubles with the law halted his career in the 1990s and Earle never quite reached the level of those artists. However, by the end of the century Earle was back to form and released several more important albums through the 2000s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Green by R.E.M.

Green by R.E.M.Years before alternative was “cool” (in other words, when “alternative” was still alternative), R.E.M. was forging their own way through the super-slick eighties. Their sixth album, 1988’s Green, was the breakout album that followed the group’s quintet of critically acclaimed but commercially light pieces earlier in the decade. The result was a successful attempt to strike the right balance in both of those fields and branch out to an international audience. This was the group’s debut album for the big label Warner Brothers Records after cutting their teeth with the indie I.R.S. Records with their late 1987 release Document, which received major airplay but was not widely distributed overseas. In their frustration, the band entertained big label offers and signed with Warner for reportedly between $6 million and $12 million.

Working with producer Scott Litt (who would produce five albums in all with the band), R.E.M. began recording demos in their home town of Athens, Georgia before moving to major studios in Memphis, Ten. and Woodstock, NY for the proper recording. The record’s tracks ranged from upbeat to more somber and political material. Led my vocalist Michael Stipe, the band made a consorted effort to “not write any more R.E.M.-type songs”. The group began what would become a tradition of swapping instruments and the result was a very eclectic and sonically diverse output.

Green is defined by the tweaks the group made to their creative process, grown out of the restlessness of their then eight-year career of near constant touring. For R.E.M., this meant composing positive, or at least satirical and playful, material for the first time in a while. The band were also more open to strong rock influences such as the Byrds, the Doors, and Led Zeppelin, than they had been in the past.

 


Green by R.E.M.
Released: November 7, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt and R.E.M.
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis & Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, May–Sep 1988
Side One Side Two
Pop Song 89
Get Up
You Are the Everything
Stand
World Leader Pretend
The Wrong Child
Orange Crush
Turn You Inside-Out
Hairshirt
I Remember California
11
Band Musicians
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals  |  Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Accordion, Vocals  |  Bill Berry – Drums, Vocals

 

Green labeled its original LP sides, with side one being the “air” side. “Pop Song 89” is a twangy, three-chord, upbeat song with a memorable lead guitar riff by Peter Buck and harmonized, low key vocals by Stipe. This opener is a sarcastically titled, semi-parody of pop music which is deliberately simplistic. “Get Up” follows with a straight-forward rock arrangement but seems to be a little more forced than the opener, especially with the excess vocal parts. The lyrics were written about bassist Mike Mills and his habit to sleep late during their recording sessions.

“You Are the Everything” is the first song to use a completely alternate arrangement, with Buck playing mandolin, Mills on accordion, and drummer Bill Berry providing a simple bass. Set to the backdrop of chirping crickets, the song provides a Southern pastoral setting and straight-forward, love-song-like lyrics through a fine vocal melody by Stipe, making this the first really interesting song on the album. The group returned to this exact arrangement on the second side song “Hairshirt”, which adds even more melody and entertainment to the mix with top-notch mandolin and very laid back accordion and bass.

The ultimate R.E.M. pop song, “Stand” starts with carnival-like organ and moves towards some good guitar riff and great vocal hooks. With a kind of in-your-face singsong chorus sung by Stipe and Mills in close harmony and a signature wah-wah guitar solo by Buck, the song did well on radio, MTV, and the pop charts. “World Leader Pretend” is a much more serious piece led by a driving acoustic guitar, interesting drum accents and a subtle cello by guest Jane Scarpantoni. The song is notable as the first and only to have lyrics printed on the original album sleeve. The first side ends with “The Wrong Child”, an acoustic guitar and mandolin piece with several competing vocal parts which Make it almost interesting but a little too busy at times.
 

 
The second side is referred to by the band as the “metal” side, and starts with the military stomp of “Orange Crush”. Stipe sings through a megaphone that lends his vocals a corroded quality appropriate to the subject matter (the title refers to the chemical “agent orange”), which is counter-balanced by the very interesting tone and theme. Although not commercially released as a U.S. single, “Orange Crush” reached number one on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks.

The rest of the album consists of moderately interesting tunes. “Turn You Inside-Out” contains a slow, electric twang with a methodical and strong beat by percussionist Keith LeBlanc. “I Remember California” has a strong electric intro arrangement which gives way to just simple bass and busy, tom-filled drums by Berry during the verse, making it unique and interesting, although a bit too long. “11” (the eleventh, untitled track) close the album with Buck playing drums on an upbeat, new-wavish song with definite British influence.

Green has gone on to sell over four million copies worldwide and the band launched a visually developed tour to support it in 1989. Riding the worldwide success of this album, the band continued the momentum with the success withs Out of Time in 1991 and Automatic for the People in 1992.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.


1988 Images

 

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

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Ric Albano

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron MaidenOne of Iron Maiden’s most popular albums, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son has the dual properties of being the last of their “classic” era and the first release to prominently feature a progressive metal arrangement and include keyboards. This concept album features lyrics that are based on supernatural mysticism and English folklore and the title and theme worked well as the group’s seventh overall album. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son reached the Top 20 in the U.S. and #1 on the U.K. Album Charts, their first to do so since 1982’s The Number of the Beast. The album also spawned four Top 10 singles on the U.K. charts.

Musically, the album is led by guitarist Adrian Smith and contains traditional prog-rock arrangements with stop/start transitions between riffs, tempos, and time signatures along with strong and memorable vocal hooks by lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson. They built on the guitar synths introduced on their previous album Somewhere in Time in 1986 towards full keyboard synthesizers.

Bassist Steve Harris came up with the album title and theme after he read Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son and realized this was to be Iron Maiden’s seventh studio album. Dickinson revised his earlier role of providing most lyrics with much collaboration among the band members who “checked up on each other to see what everybody else was up to”.

 


Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden
Released: April 11, 1988 (EMI)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February-March 1988
Side One Side Two
Moonchild
Infinite Dreams
Can I Play With Madness
The Evil That Men Do
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
The Prophecy
The Clairvoyant
Only The Good Die Young
Band Musicians
Bruce Dickinson – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Adrian Smith – Guitars, Synths
Dave Murray – Guitars  |  Steve Harris – Bass  |  Nicko McBrain – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “Moonchild” comes in almost like a Jethro Tull acoustic song entry before quickly turning to something a bit heavier and more dynamic. The focus on the number seven is immediate in the lyrics and this is the first in the conceptual sequence of the album. “Infinite Dreams” is introduced by a chorus guitars and later contains funky bass by Harris and choppy guitars by Dave Murray during first verse but the song evolves through many sections of differing sonic intensity, getting progressively heavier towards the song’s climax and the following final verse.

“Can I Play with Madness” is the most mainstream track on the album and contains a completely different vibe than the more melodramatic efforts elsewhere. The song originated as a ballad but evolved into a more upbeat track which became the album’s first single, peaking at #3 on the U.K. charts. The extremely poppy chorus would become a sore spot for many long time fans. The strong and melodic “The Evil That Men Do” concludes the first side as a classic Iron Maiden track, complete with a great guitar lead by Smith. The song’s title was taken from Marc Anthony’s speech following Julius Caesar’s assassination.
 

 
The title song “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” is a nearly ten minute extended piece which begins with a simple guitar/synth track but builds quickly. The interludes between the opening verses are excellent with Dickinson complementing the musical harmony. A long, prog rock middle instrumental has a consistent hi-hat by drummer Nicko McBrain guiding the way with some spoken lines at top of this section. It concludes by morphing into a full-fledge prog-influenced jam, not unlike “The Cinema Show” on Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound a decade and a half earlier.

After the tour-de-force title track, the album inevitably loses steam, although the final three tracks are all quality. “The Prophecy” begins with a softly picked guitar and long synth strings and a good, minute-long classical ending. “The Clairvoyant” begins with a raw bass by Harris, setting the pace for this enjoyable rocker, which was the catalyst for album’s concept as the first track written. “Only the Good Die Young” is an upbeat closer and, in a way, the most classic eighties metal song on the album (and therefore the least prog oriented). It contains another great harmonized guitar lead and ends with a reprise of the intro to “Moonchild” with the same “seven” theme revisited.

Following the release of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the band headlined the Monsters of Rock before a crowd of over 100,000. This would turn out to be the pinnacle of their success as Adrian Smith soon left the band and their fortunes and peak popularity began to deteriorate.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.


1988 Images

 

Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge debut albumIn 1988, Melissa Etheridge released a strong and passionate debut album which was built during several years of grinding out recognition, one small venue at a time. With this well earned pedigree behind her and a drive and determination for success ahead, Etheridge found a rather unique niche and filled a rather huge void in the popular music scene of the late 1980s. Her raw-throated vocals, confessional compositions, and simple yet effective acoustic-built music totally contrasted the flash and fluff which saturated the conventional airwaves and this stunning debut helped clear the path for the seismic shift in the music scene which would occur a few years later.

A native of Leavenworth, Kansas,  Etheridge began performing at age eight and was involved in many stage productions through high school. She later moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, but dropped out to pursue a musical career in California. There, she played countless acoustic gigs, slowly building a following and muddling through several rejections until finally receiving a publishing deal to write songs for movies starting with the 1987 movie Weeds starring Nick Nolte. Shortly after, Etheridge got a full record deal with Island Records.

The album was produced by Etheridge and Niko Bolas along with a couple members of the backing band. The songs were built in the light of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, along with a sensitive female bravado and passionate delivery which is captured well in the production. While there is little thematical variation on Melissa Etheridge, it is a very even album which delivers potent tracks throughout.

 


Melissa Etheridge by Melissa Etheridge
Released: May 2, 1988 (Island)
Produced by: Melissa Etheridge, Niko Bolas, Craig Krampf, & Kevin McCormick
Recorded: October 19–25, 1987
Side One Side Two
Similar Features
Chrome Plated Heart
Like the Way I Do
Precious Pain
Don’t You Need
The Late September Dogs
Occasionally
Watching You
Bring Me Some Water
I Want You
Primary Musicians
Melissa Etheridge – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Johnny Lee Schell – Guitars
Kevin McCormick – Bass  |  Wally Badarou – Keyboards  |  Craig Krampf – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with the fine “Similar Features” which kicks off with measured bass notes before moving into a moderate arrangement led by Etheridge’s acoustic and the subtle electric guitar phrases by Johnny Lee Schell. “Chrome Plated Heart” arrives with a boogie-blues rhythm held together by the kick drum of Craig Krampf along with a slight riff by Schell. Here Etheridge really shines through vocally with biting lyrics;

I got a two dollar stare, Midas in my touch and Delilah in my hair
I got bad intentions on the soles of my shoes with this red hot fever and these chromium blues

A production masterpiece, “Like the Way I Do” has a consistently strummed acoustic accented by a sharp, double-beat rhythm by bassist Kevin McCormick during the verse. The song uses an ingenious, minimalist approach, which pretty much went against the grain of every production technique of the late eighties and is a good example of the of Etheridge’s early material with dramatic vocals telling a story of heartbreak and longing bordering on obsession. As the singer once explained, her songs are not so much about sadness and anger then they are written about “internal conflicts”.

The middle part of the album contains some uniquely arranged songs. “Precious Pain” is a softer, folksy acoustic tune musically (albeit the lyrics are just as sharp as anywhere else). The first three songs of the second side – “The Late September Dogs”, “Occasionally”, and “Watching You” – all use minimalist arrangements, with “Occasionally” taking this to the extreme with Etheridge’s vocals accompanied only by a slight percussive thumping of the acoustic guitar body.

The song which captures the overall angst of the album is “Bring Me Some Water”, a tune as dramatic as can be pulled off while staying within the realm of good taste. Nominated for a Grammy, the tune captures the main theme of hunger for affection and pain of unrequited love. Melissa’s obsession with romantic break-ups and recriminations may narrow the range of the album, but make this work sound relevant and viable a quarter century later. The thumping rhythm and bit of funky bass drives the closer “I Want You”, a fine tune of unbridled desire to complete the album.

The Melissa Etheridge album peaked at #22 on the Billboard charts and initiated her steady rise to the top of the pop world in the early 1990s, when Etheridge started to abandon her musical pursuits for celebrity causes. Never quite recreated in intensity or quality, this first album was a career highlight for the singer/songwriter.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick

Lap of Luxury by Cheap TrickLap of Luxury was, by most definitions, a comeback album for Cheap Trick, although it didn’t quite reach the blockbuster status that the band and their label were attempting to achieve. In many ways it is a very ordinary album for the late 1980s due the use of several “song doctors” who composed mainstream, radio-friendly material. Still, there is something which is at once desperate and exciting about this band’s sound and, in particular, the wailing croon of vocalist Rob Zander. Combined with the unambiguous guitar textures of Rick Nielsen, there is a definite edge to this band’s sound which shined through in spite of the attempts to smooth it out with mainstream compositions.

The group’s tenth studio album overall, Lap of Luxury was produced by Richie Zito and broke a streak of five straight commercial disappointments through the early and mid eighties, despite the fact that the band used top level producers on those albums including George Martin, Todd Rundgren, Roy Thomas Baker and Jack Douglas. Due to the band’s commercial decline, Epic Records demanded that they collaborate with professional songwriters in the same way that Aerosmith had done for their commercial comeback Permanent Vacation the previous year. This did result in the album reaching the Top 20 and spawning the group’s first and only number one single.

Lap of Luxury back cover
Lap of Luxury back cover

The album also marks the return of bassist Tom Petersson, who is often credited for having the first idea to build a twelve-string bass. Petersson had left the band in 1980 and returned in 1987 to join drummer Bun E. Carlos in the rhythm section and restore the original quartet from the 1970s. The group also brought back the practice of featuring Zander and Petersson on the front cover while putting Nielson and Carlos on the back, which they had done on three late seventies albums as an inside joke.

 


Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick
Released: April 12, 1988 (Epic)
Produced by: Richie Zito
Recorded: 1987-1988
Side One Side Two
Let Go
No Mercy
The Flame
Space
Never Had a Lot to Lose
Don’t Be Cruel
Wrong Side of Love
All We Need Is a Dream
Ghost Town
All Wound Up
Band Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass, Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

Prior to Lap of Luxury, Rick Nielsen was the group’s chief songwriter but he only co-wrote four tunes on this album. The record starts off with, “Let Go”, which contains a thumping rhythm, simple but strong riffs and anthem-shout lyrics – the type of material on which the band traditionally excels. The song was co-written by Todd Cerney who co-wrote songs with Eddie Money, Loverboy and Bad English. The song was released as a single and peaked at #35 on the Mainstream Rock chart. “No Mercy” contains exotic percussion with much use of rhythms and synths during the verse while again going for the big hit sound during the choruses.

A great acoustic riff provides the bedding for “The Flame”, a power ballad which drips with melancholy reflection. This excessively deep song compliments the band’s traditional light fare of songs such as “She’s Tight” on One on One with Zander’s dramatic sobs and Nielson’s guitar and keyboard soundscapes. The song was penned by British songwriters Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham and the band initially rejected it and had to be persuaded to record it by Zito. It went on to become the band’s first and only number one hit.

Holly Knight composed hundreds of songs for scores of artists throughout the eighties and nineties, but one of her most forgettable is Cheap Trick’s “Space”, the album’s most definitive filler. “Never Had a Lot to Lose” is an interesting end to side one mainly due to the old-time rock riff by Nielson and the song’s overall new wave vibe. This is a pure band original and shows that Cheap Trick really excels when sticking to their own material.
 

 
A rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” starts side two with a great arrangement that is not so much a remake as a modern day recreation of the classic song. Led by the precise drumming of Carlos, Cheap Trick’s version of this song reached #4 on the charts and became a radio staple. “Wrong Side of Love” is the closest the band comes to a boilerplate “hair band” sound with squeezed out, mechanical riffs and formulaic lyrical patterns. “All We Need Is a Dream” contains high register vocals reminiscent of the seventies band Sweet. Melodramatic but entertaining, the song contains vocal pauses which seem awkward at first but ultimately work with the overall vibe.

The album ends strong with a couple of quality tunes. “Ghost Town” is second ballad of the album, slightly acoustic with a touch of piano. It was co-written by Grammy award winner Diane Warren, who would go on to write some of the most famous soundtrack ballads of the 1990s. On the closer “All Wound Up”, the band returns to their early sound with sharp riffing by Neilson and some great bass by Petersson.

Busted was released in 1990 and was also produced by Richie Zito, as the band attempted to capitalize on the success of Lap of Luxury. This time, however, the band was allowed more creative control and professional songwriters were only used on a handful of songs. The first single “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” reached No. 12 on the charts but failed to reach as high as the label expected. The second single, the Diane Warren penned “Wherever Would I Be,” suffered a worse fate reaching only No. 50. The following singles, “If You Need Me” and “Back N’ Blue” were not successful, although the later single reached No. 32 on the US Mainstream Rock charts.

Cheap Trick rode the momentum of Lap of Luxury and the success of their 1991 Greatest Hits release to sustain their popularity through the rest of the decade. The four members of the group remained together through various big name and independent label arrangements until 2010 when Bun E. Carlos departed the group, three and a half decades after the band first formed.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images