Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd

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Obscured by Clouds by Pink FloydOne of the lost treasures of classic rock and, by far, the most overlooked album in the Pink Floyd catalog during their classic era, Obscured by Clouds acted as a mere warm-up for the more ambitious and highly-regarded Dark Side of the Moon. In fact, by the time Obscured was released in June 1972, the band had been performing material from Dark Side (then titled “Eclipse”) live for many months and had already entered the studio to start recording the 1973 classic. Many die-hard Floyd fans don’t even consider this a “real” album by the band, just the last in a series of soundtracks the group scored between 1968-1972. It is, in fact, a soundtrack for the French film La Vallée (The Valley) by Barbet Schroeder, but far surpasses the previous three; The Committee (1968), More (1969), and Zabriskie Point (1969).

The band itself largely disregarded the Obscured by Clouds album, starting with the rough production, which includes odd sequencing and abrupt endings. At times the album feels like a high-end demo tape and few tracks were ever played live in subsequent tours. Another element in the string of strikes against the album’s success was early pressings of the album were defective with excessive sibilance.

Despite all of this, the album is quite good musically. The band composed to a rough cut of the film, creating pieces that were intended to be cross-faded at various points in the film. But in the process, they managed to create a significant number of complete songs. The instrumentals float pleasantly, filled with interesting textures, but it is the proper songs which are the real standouts on this album, which in a lot ways completes the work started on 1971’s Meddle.

 


Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd
Released: June 2, 1972 (EMI)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Strawberry Studios, Château d’Hérouville, France, Feb-Mar 1972
Side One Side Two
Obscured by Clouds
When You’re In
Burning Bridges
The Gold, It’s in the…
Wot’s, Uh…the Deal?
Mudmen
Childhood’s End
Free Four
Stay
Absolutely Curtains
Group Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Synths, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 
The album begins with a couple of under-cooked instrumentals, although the lead-off title track does have an interesting synth pulse throughout and a general guitar lead piece by David Gilmour (one of many elements which would recycled on Dark Side of the Moon). “When You’re In” contains a more rock-oriented riff and may be the final track credited to all four band members. It contains some nice fills by drummer Nick Mason but sounds as though it is an incomplete attempt at building a proper rock song.

“Burning Bridges” is a ballad which would have fit nicely on any Pink Floyd album. Vocally, it is a duet by Gilmour and keyboardist Rick Wright, who co-wrote the song and provides its mellow organ riff and melody. This became sort of the “movie theme” on the album as it is reprised later on side one with the instrumental “Mudmen”.

The Valley film promoAnother sign that the band did not take this album too serious was some of the odd naming of tracks, even some of the most interesting tracks on the album. “The Gold It’s in the…” is a pure rocker with a cool and hip early seventies, post-Beatles rock vibe. This particular song has produced polarizing opinions among fans and critics, with some purists feeling it was a shallow attempt at a contemporary rock sound, while others argue it shows their ability to diversify (I tend to agree with the latter). This song’s lyrics are also full of adventure and idealism, another rarity among Pink Floyd themes.

“Wot’s… Uh the Deal?” is as sweet a song as Pink Floyd had ever put out as well as the most totally underrated ever. Again, this may be in part to the obscure title (wot’s…uh the deal with that?). It is an acoustic ballad with double-tracked vocals by Gilmour and lyrics by bassist Roger Waters. The song features and extended piano instrumental which is then complemented by a fine slide-guitar solo. The lyrics are desperate and emotional, but not to the extent of being melodramatic or sappy.

“Free Four” is an absolute gem by Waters and, in truth, one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever. Thematically, it may be Waters’ first summation of the life and death themes he would deeply explore in Dark Side and beyond. It is also the only song on Dark Side of the Moon that features Waters on lead vocals, a role he would later dominate on his final three albums with the band. Unlike the other nonsensical titles, “Free Four” is easily attributed to the rock count-in and persists as an upbeat acoustic folk tune with great layered electric guitars by Gilmour and clap-like percussive drumming by Mason. “Free Four” was the first Pink Floyd song to get significant airplay in the USA.

Gilmour and Wright each also had a showcase song on side two. Gilmour’s “Childhood’s End” is the last song he would write independently while Waters was still with the band and contains a dramatic beginning (echoed in later years by U2) and rapid, rhythmic ticking which would be later recycled and perfected for “Time”. It was one of the rare tracks from this album to be performed live, often containing extended lead sections to feature Gilmour’s guitar playing. Obscured by Clouds is also the final Pink Floyd in their classic era to feature lead vocals by Wright on the melancholy love song “Stay”, a very well done ballad with more interesting guitars, piano, and organ. The album concludes with the experimental track “Absolutely Curtains” (which may have actually worked better as an opening track). The only really instrumentation comes from Wright, with some sparse percussion by Mason, through first three and a half minutes before dissolving into a vocal chant by Mapuga tribe of New Guinea (featured in the film).

Originally titled “The Valley”, the album was re-titled as Obscured by Clouds when the band fell out with the film company. This may be yet another reason why this great music has been so grossly understated over the past four decades.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Harvest by Neil Young

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Harvest by Neil YoungHarvest is an album of Americana personified by Neil Young. It is where rock and roll goes to Nashville (literally), with simple and tight rhythms and subtle acoustic guitars are flavored by distant steel guitars and harmonica all under clearly vocalized lyrics about the simple struggles of life. This was the fourth studio album by the Canadian native and included a rich list of contemporary musicians who provided cameos on the album. It was Young’s most successful album commercially, the best selling album of 1972 in the US, and was followed up 20 years later by the equally powerful Harvest Moon, which Classic Rock Review named as our album of the year for 1992.

After his brief stint with the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Young recruited a group of country session musicians, whom he would name “The Stray Gators”. These included pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummand and drummer Kenny Buttrey, all of whom would reunite for Harvest Moon. In contrast to this “Nashville” sound, Harvest also includes two tracks featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and were produced and arranged by Jack Nitzsche.

The project began in February 1971 when Young traveled to Nashville to appear on the Johnny Cash television show. He was approached by producer Elliot Mazer, who had just opened Quadrofonic Sound Studios and wanted him to record at the studio. Being a fan of the Nashville studio musicians known as “Area Code 615”, Young made the decision to start recording that very evening. As it turns out, most of those musicians had gigs that night (it was a Saturday), Mazer had to “scrape up” the three players who would become the “Stray Gators”. Young re-recorded some of the new material he had used the previous month on a live recording at UCLA in California. Although it got off to a quick start, the album would not be completed and released for over a year due to a back injury that Young suffered.

 


Harvest by Neil Young
Released: February 14, 1972 (Reprise)
Produced by: Neil Young, Elliot Mazer, Henry Lewy, & Jack Nitzsche
Recorded: Quadraphonic Studios, Nashville, January–September 1971
Side One Side Two
Out On the Weekend
Harvest
A Man Needs a Maid
Heart of Gold
Are You Ready for the Country?
Old Man
There’s a World
Alabama
The Needle and the Damage Done
Words (Between the Lines of Age)
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Jack Nitzsche – Piano, Guitar, Orchestration
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel
Tim Drummand – Bass
Kenny Buttrey – Drums

 
The simple rhythm of “Out On the Weekend” grabs you from the beginning with Drummand’s bass guitar and Buttrey’s kick drum locked in perfect time. This mellow country two-step is followed by the even more gentle country waltz Of the title song. Harvest brings you onto the farm with a great melody by Young, who offers uplifting lyrics in a portrait of vulnerability and sincerity.

The two Nitzsche produced orchestral tracks may try a bit too hard to contrast with authentic Nashville sound. “A Man Needs a Maid” sounds authentic enough at first with just piano and vocals but soon morphs into an overblown orchestral section which strays far from the theme of simplicity. Lyrically, the song contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help. “There’s a World” is not quite as deep and drifts far too much towards the Moody Blues on Days of Future Passed, trying to be dramatic and operatic.

The song “Heart of Gold” was released a month before the album and would go on to top the charts. It is pure pop with country flavoring and just a dash of Dylan with the ever-present harmonica, a sound which did very well in 1972. The song features backup vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, who were also doing the Johnny Cash show the same night as Young, and agreed to come to the studio to “help out”. Taylor and Ronstadt also provide vocals for “Old Man”, the most philosophical and musically deep song on the album. Taylor further provides banjo on this song which Young wrote about an aging caretaker of a ranch Young acquired in the early 1970s. The song is both haunting and poignant, as the 24-year-old sees some of the same needs and desires he has in the old one.

Young also wrote a handful of electric guitar based tunes for the album, while maintaining the same basic rhythm section. “Are You Ready for the Country?” starts with boogie piano introduction by Young and morphs into a loose jam with good slide guitar to end the first side. “Alabama” is a sequel to “‘Southern Man” from Young’s 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It contains some harmonies from ex-band mates David Crosby and Stephen Stills and is probably the hardest rocking song on the album musically. Lyrically, it tackles the history of prejudice in the state and sparked an answer by Lynard Skynard in the song “Sweet Home Alabama”, who address Neil Young directly in that songs lyric.

“The Needle and the Damage Done” is the only live recording and the most haunting song on the album, with lyrics that speak of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction. Young said of the song;

I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men…”

Unfortunately the mood of the subtle “Needle” is abruptly broken by the weak mixing into the album’s closer “Words (Between the Lines of Age)”. This song features a lengthy guitar workout with the band with multiple improvised solos and alternating time signatures between standard 4/4 and the more unusual 11/8 for interludes.

The mood on Harvest is melancholic with songs that describe the longing for new love. The success of the album was met by Young with extreme mixed feelings, who was never one to play the role of “pop star”. Whether by design or by fate, Young never again quite hit the commercial success of this 1972 album, although he certainly put out several more quality works.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan

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Can't Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan For a debut effort, Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan is quite polished and refined. This is hardly a surprise as the group’s founders and core songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are notorious for their attention to every sonic detail and near-obsessive perfectionism in the studio. Long considered a unique item in the group’s collection, the album has hardly a weak spot and is loaded with solid pop/rock tunes back-to-front. Still, the two biggest hits were both extended pieces which each explored differing musical genres. This would be a forecast of the subsequent albums through the latter part of the decade.

Although Fagen provided lead vocals for the bulk of the songs on the album, he was not confident in his live performance. So the band enlisted David Palmer to be the “frontman” live and Palmer also sang lead on a couple of the tracks on the album. After a short time however, Fagen and Becker grew dissatisfied with Palmer’s interpretation of the songs and this, coupled with the fact that the big hits from the album featured Fagen on lead vocals, led to Palmer’s released from the band in 1973, with Fagen handling lead vocals for the rest of Steely Dan’s career.

It is clear that the songwriting on Can’t Buy a Thrill is top notch, with each song being tightly constructed, while a spectrum of sub-genres are explored. These include, Latin, jazz, bossa nova, and traditional “classic” rock n’ roll. Also, the diversity of instrumentation and sound textures used on this album make it a very interesting listen and have helped it hold up well over the past four decades.

 


Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan
Released: October 1972 (ABC)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, August 1972
Side One Side Two
Do It Agian
Dirty Work
Kings
Midnight Cruiser
Only a Fool Would Say That
Reelin’ In the Years
Fire In the Hole
Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)
Change of the Guard
Turn That Heartbeat Over Again
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Bass, Vocals
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter – Guitars
Jim Hodder – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album begins with “Do It Again”, which was the biggest commercial hit from Can’t buy a Thrill. This six minute song fueled by Latin rhythms of Victor Feldman, draws you in and holds you throughout, despite virtually no pattern changes throughout. There are two overlapping solos, each using odd effects to flavor the middle part of the song, starting with an “electric sitar” performed by Denny Dias, then a plastic organ by Fagen. Altogether, “Do It Again” is remarkably odd material for a top ten radio hit of the early 1970s.

“Dirty Work” follows with a more traditionally soft pop/rock arrangement. However, due to the inclusion of lead vocals by Palmer and the overall Philly blue-eyed soul sound, the song was all but scrubbed from the band’s repertoire and relegated to the lost gems category. “Kings” takes a dramatic jazz approach, much like the future work of Steely Dan. It contains good guitar overdubs, led by session man Elliot Randall and clever, ironic lyrics such as;

and though we sung his fame, we all went hungry just the same…”

“Midnite Cruiser” is a pleasant and melodic song with lead vocals by the group’s original drummer Jim Hodder, who also sang on on Steely Dan’s non-album debut single, “Dallas”. “Only a Fool Would Say That” finishes off the first side with a Bossa-Nova beat, excellent guitars by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and good vocals by Fagen.
 

 
“Reelin’ in the Years” is a great jam all-around – piano, bass, drums, vocal harmonies and, of course, guitars led by New York session man Elliott Randall – it is a true classic rock classic. This became the second hit song from Can’t Buy a Thrill. Becker’s dryly sarcastic lyrics and thumping bass line made it one the most overtly sharp and heavy tunes in the Steely Dan catalog.

The rest of side two contains lesser known songs which are solid nonetheless. “Fire in the Hole” contains a nice choppy piano by Fagen and pedal steel guitar by Baxter. “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” is the second song to feature Palmer on lead vocals and should be considered a great soft rock classic with a bouncy bass line by Becker. “Change of the Guard” is another pop-oriented song with great electric piano and a definite late 1970s Billy Joel vibe, while “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” is like a mini-prog rock song with good extended lead parts and interesting effects. This last song is also notable as one that contains co-lead vocals by Becker, a rarity.

Can’t Buy a Thrill was the first of seven top-notch albums by Steely Dan that extended through the rest of the decade into 1980, the pinnacle being 1977’s Aja. Although the group ceased from touring altogether in 1975, they still produced enough critically acclaimed albums and radio hits to make them one of the top acts of the 1970s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

1972 Images

 

Foxtrot by Genesis

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Foxtrot by GenesisAfter a couple albums of extreme experimentation in theatrical rock, Foxtrot is where it all came together for Genesis. This 1972 album was the first of three, in consecutive years, that marked the creative apex during the band’s “Peter Gabriel” era. Gabriel was the band’s lead vocalist and flamboyant front man through the early 1970s who went on to have a successful solo career after his departure in 1975. Foxtrot is a solid album which struck a nice balance between jam-oriented progressive rock and theme-oriented art rock with not a weak moment anywhere on the album, making it one of the most esteemed prog rock albums ever.

The centerpiece of the album is the 22-minute closer “Supper’s Ready”, which Gabriel explained as “a personal journey which ends up walking through scenes from Revelation in the Bible.” This epic song is divided into several sections, some recurring, which straddle the line between classical and rock music and contain multiple changes in time and key signature and mood. While the five members of the band were given songwriting credit for “Supper’s Ready”, Gabriel authored most of the lyrics while drummer Phil Collins did much of the arranging and segues between the various sections. When performed live, the provided their audience with a programme which described many of the scenes with words such as;

At one whistle the lovers become seeds in the soil, where they recognise other seeds to be people from the world in which they had originated. While they wait for Spring, they are returned to their old world to see Apocalypse of St John in full progress…”

“Supper’s Ready” launches abruptly into the first verse with vocals by Gabriel along with guitars by Steve Hackett. The lyrical imagery tells of a common domestic scene morphing into a supernatural experience (which Gabriel has long claimed was true). With various scenes and characters of varying complexity, the song previews a style employed on Genesis’s 1974 double album The Lamb lies Down on Broadway. Towards the middle of the song is “Willow Farm”, which started as a stand-alone song but acts as a light break from the serious subject matter of “Supper’s Ready” (much like an intermission in a play).


Foxtrot by Genesis
Released: October 6, 1972 (Island)
Produced by: David Hitchcock
Recorded: Island Studios, London, August 1972
Side One Side Two
Watcher of the Skies
Time Table
Get Em’ Out By Friday
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
Horizons
Supper’s Ready
Band Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Flute, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Tony Banks – Piano, Keys, Vocals
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with Tony Banks mellotron intro to “Watcher of the Skies”. The album got its title from a preset “foxtrot” on the instrument and, in turn, future versions of the mellotron contain the “Watcher mix” as part of its tape set. The long introduction cross fades into the song’s main theme, which uses unusual time signatures under the chanting vocal melody of Gabriel. Lyrics were provided by Banks and Mike Rutherford, who envisioned an empty Earth being approached by an alien visitor.

“Time Table” takes a more traditional folk-rock approach with melancholy lyrics of medieval days gone by, highlighted by Banks’ piano intro and accents and Mike Rutherford‘s exquisite bass patterns. The song offers a calm and melodic approach that would be refined during the band’s “middle era” of the late 1970s. The lyric speaks of speaks of “a carved oak table that played host to kings and queens who sipped wine from goblets gold”. A short acoustic instrumental by Hackett, “Horizons” acted as a lead-in to “Supper’s Ready” at the beginning of the album’s second side. It became an extremely popular piece in the band’s live sets during Hackett’s tenure with Genesis.

Genesis in 1972“Get Em’ Out by Friday” is a unique and theatrical multi-act piece which may be the quintessential Genesis brand of song. It fluctuates in tenor and tone through the various phases of the story with Gabriel “playing” several characters with his singing. The “play” takes place in a future (ironically, 2012), using elements of reality and science fiction with the central theme being a landlord evicting tenants by force or by attrition. Under the guidelines of the government bureaucracy called “Genetic Control”, all tenants are restricted to being under four feet tall in order to fit “twice as many in the same building size”. Rutherford has commented that the lyrics of this song were the best that Gabriel had written.

The first side completes with another mini-suite “Can-Utility and the Coastliners”, which again returns to the middle ages and the 10th century English King Canute, who tried to demonstrate the absurdity of his worshipers by trying to halt the sea during a major storm;

They told of one who tired of all singing “Praise him, praise him” / “We heed not flatterers,” he cried, by our command, waters retreat, show my power, halt at my feet…”

The song starts as a top-notch folk song, led by the pastoral guitars of Hackett and the dynamic vocals of Gabriel, but later morphs into a classic prog-rock jam led mainly by the punchy keys of Tony Banks and the skilled drumming of Phil Collins.

Foxtrot is where Genesis began to forge their legacy as a top level art rock group. Although it was far from a commercial “hit”, this was also the band’s first album to break into the charts, reaching #12 in the UK. They would have plenty of commercial hits in later years, long after they abandoned their penchant for art rock.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

The Joshua Tree by U2

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1987 Album of the Year

The Joshua Tree by U2The Joshua Tree was the long-awaited fifth studio album by U2, released in the spring of 1987. Although not a true “concept” album, it was uniformly inspired by the United States and the geography, literature, and politics and the nation the band so often toured in the early part of their career. U2 released four studio albums in the relatively short period of 1980-1984, culminating with The Unforgettable Fire, their widespread commercial breakthrough. They began writing new material in mid-1985 and began recording in Ireland at the start of 1986. However, this fifth album took a long time to formulate and produce, building much anticipation among fans.

The Joshua Tree was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who both worked with the band on the band on The Unforgettable Fire and whose goal was a harder rocking sound for the band while still exploring unconventional song structures. Throughout the 1986 sessions, U2 strove for a “cinematic” quality for the record, embedding American scenery as a backdrop to the soaring sound scapes and lyrics. Many of those lyrics were influenced by American writers that lead vocalist Bono had been reading at the time. Musically, although all the group members had different ideas on how to approach this album, they all agreed that they felt disconnected from the dominant synth pop and other musical trends of the time. Most of the recording was done in a Georgian house, with the dining room and drawing room used for recording and performing.

After completing the album, Bono said he thought that The Joshua Tree was their most complete record since their first. This opinion was born out with its commercial and critical success as the album became the fastest-selling album in British history to date, selling over a quarter million copies in two days. It reached number one within two weeks of release and spent over three years on the album charts. The Joshua Tree topped the albums charts in 20 total countries. Ultimately, the album sold over 25 million copies worldwide and topped several publication’s lists of album of the year for 1987 including, of course, our’s.


The Joshua Tree by U2
Released: March 9, 1987 (Island)
Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno
Recorded: Various Studios, Ireland, January 1986–January 1987
Side One Side Two
Where the Streets Have No Name
Still Haven’t Found What Looking For
With Or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers of the Disappeared
Band Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
The Edge – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums

The album starts out with a great, nearly two minute, anticipation building intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name”, a top twenty hit worldwide. The intro provides a smooth synth pad rise that gives way to the hyper arpeggio riff by guitarist The Edge, who joined by an equally intense rhythm section throughout the song. Due to its multiple time signature shifts, Lanois called this “the science project song”, while Eno estimated that half of the album sessions were spent trying to record a suitable version of the song. Bono wrote the lyrics while on a visit to Ethiopia, which at the time was devastated by famine.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” originated from a rhythm pattern by drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. with lyrics influenced by American gospel music. Nominated for Song of the Year, a the 1988 Grammy Awards, its lyrics describe spiritual yearning, accented by Bono’s vocal soul desperation and accompanied by The Edge’s guitar chime riff. The song’s title was influenced by Bob Dylan’s line from the song “Idiot Wind”; “You’ll find out when you reach the top you’re on the bottom…”, suggesting the recurrence of life and the infinite quest for happiness.

“With or Without You” was the band’s first single release and one of the oldest compositions on the album, dating back to 1985. Bassist Adam Clayton provided a pulsating bass line as a canvas to slowly developing, ambient guitar notes and dynamic vocals. The song was originally rejected by the band and producers but Bono reworked an arrangement with friend Gavin Friday and gave the song a second life. The lyrics address marriage from the perspective of a popular musician and the contrast between life on the road and domestic life. “Bullet the Blue Sky” is an equally simple song but with an entirely different, intense approach. Written about American involvement in the El Salvador Civil War of the 1980s, with aggressive and growly vocals and an intense rhythm. Latin America was also the subject of the album’s closing song “Mothers of the Disappeared”, written about the “Madres de Plaza de Mayo”, a group of women whose children had been “disappeared” under various dictatorships.

Some of the lesser known songs on the album explore various sub-genres of American music. “Running to Stand Still” is influenced by acoustic blues with a lyric that looks back at the band’s native Dublin, Ireland. “Red Hill Mining Town” is a blue-collar folk song, directly influenced by Bob Dylan, who Bono met for the first time in 1984. “Trip Through Your Wires” contains a definite nod towards blue-eyed soul, while “Exit” captured the band in a live studio jam with lyrics influenced by Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.

The western desert was greatly symbolic on The Joshua Tree (which itself is a national monument in the Mohave Desert) and “In God’s Country” puts that image to music beautifully. It was the band’s most overt attempt at a contemporary rock song on the album while still containing some trademark guitar licks and rhythms. The up-tempo song was difficult to records musically and early versions of the song were written about Ireland before the shift was made to America.

“One Tree Hill” was the fifth and final overall single from the album and was written in dedication to the band’s former roadie Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin in 1986. Following the funeral in New Zealand, Bono wrote the lyrics to “One Tree Hill”, which he dedicated to Carroll. This song has been described it as “a soft, haunting benediction” and describes a volcano near Auckland, New Zealand, where Carroll was a native and where the band first worked with him in 1984.

U2 in 1987

U2 has had a long and storied career which continues into its fourth decade. The Joshua Tree has been the apex of this long career and has held up excellently a quarter century later. In our 15 reviews of 1987 albums, re elected 25 years later, we’ve featured several that marked an artist’s commercial and creative peak. However, unlike any of those others, U2 has persevered over the subsequent decades and continued to release quality and relevant material right up through the present day.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

 

Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith

Permanent Vacation by AerosmithIn spite of their much celebrated “reunion” in 1984, two years later Aerosmith was still a band in turmoil. Their 1985 album Done With Mirrors did not do so well commercially and various members of the band were still struggling with the alcohol and drug habits which caused their initial split in 1979. Still, the band was determined to get back to the top of the rock world and made a concerted effort to make their next studio album the vehicle on which to make that rise. Permanent Vacation pretty much accomplished this goal, but not before some tough decisions were made. The band’s label, Geffen Records, insisted that they would only fund this recording if all five band members complete a drug and alcohol rehab program (which they did). Also, after listening to the demos, Geffen insisted that outside songwriters be brought in to work with the band members, a tough condition to accept for a band that had previously recorded eight albums of all original material over the preceding fourteen years.

The “song doctors” which were hired fired for this project were Desmond Child and Jim Vallance. Child was a Florida resident who had a minor hit with his band Rouge in 1979 before deciding to dedicate his time to strictly songwriting. He penned some hits for bands like Cher, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Poison, and Joan Jett before writing pop hits for Aerosmith starting with this album, through the 1990s. Vallance was best know for his songwriting partnership with Bryan Adams which lasted through his first five solo albums and all of Adams’ early hits. Vallance also wrote songs for Kiss, Bonnie Raitt, and Northern Lights, and would also help to write several hit songs for Aerosmith through the mid 1990s. Permanent Vacation was recorded in Vallance’s hometown of Vancouver and produced by Bruce Fairbairn.

As for the band members of Aerosmith themselves, they credit the fact that they successfully “cleaned up” for reawakening their musical zest. This was most evident right out front with vocalist Steven Tyler, who especially shined on this album with his strong and dynamic singing, catchy hooks, interesting lyrics, and even a return to his blues roots with prolific harp playing. The combination of the polished pop songs, classic-era rockers, and a judicious amount of experimentation made for a successful combination on this album with very few weak points throughout.


Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith
Released: August 18, 1987 (Geffen)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: Little Mountain Sound Studios, Vancouver, BC, March–May 1987
Side One Side Two
Heart’s Done Time
Magic Touch
Rag Doll
Simoriah
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
St. John
Hangman Jury
Girl Keeps Coming Apart
Angel
Permanent Vacation
I’m Down
The Movie
Band Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Piano | Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars | Tom Hamilton – Bass | Joey Kramer – Drums

The album begins with a couple of riff driven rockers by Tyler and lead guitars Joe Perry along with one each of the “song doctors”. “Heart’s Done Time”, co-written by Child, provides an intense intro section and some autobiographical lyrics which seem to tell of the band’s rocky journey to this point in their career. “Magic Touch”, co-written by Vallance contains some signature Perry-style muddy guitar riffs with decent, melodic vocals by Tyler.

“Rag Doll” was one of three charting hits from the album and brings in yet another professional songwriter, Holly Knight, who collaborated with Vallance and Tyler in a swinging hybrid between 1940s “hit parade” and 1980s “hair rock”. A strong horn section along with Perry’s slide guitar sweeten the song nicely and add a contrast like no other to the album. The following “Simoriah” contains textured riffs and soaring vocals, returning the band to the full-fledged rock n roll realm.

“Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” -was co-written by Child and became the band’s biggest hit in years. This clavichord led, brass intensive was originally written as “Cruisin’ for a Lady” but was updated after Tyler met the band Mötley Crüe and derived from their California “dude” talk, this new title, refrain, and narrative.

The most interesting songs on the album bookend the end of side one and beginning of side two, as each returns to some of the band’s vintage roots. The earthy blues of “St. John” hearkens back to Aerosmith’s very first album in 1973 and is more blues than rock, although there is still plenty of both. The excellent, harmonica-driven “Hangman Jury” starts as a perfect rendition of acoustic blues, with porch swing on a summer night effects included, before breaking into an upbeat Aerosmith rocker circa mid-1970s. In fact, the opening rendition was so perfect that that the band was later sued by blues man Lead Belly’s estate for royalties.

“Girl Keeps Coming Apart” is a frenzied and exciting song, led by the driving drums by Joey Kramer, the funky guitars and harmonies by Perry, and plenty of sonic splashes from horns and harmonicas throughout. Unfortunately, the album’s momentum is broken by the power ballad “Angel” which, although a big radio hit, is the tackiest and most caricature-driven song. Aerosmith had a hand in creating this type of song, as they finished many of their 1970s albums with lighter fare, but with “Angel” they went just a tad too far and it is probably the weakest moment on the album. The Caribbean-influenced title track follows, which was co-written by guitarist Brad Whitford and is quite fun and entertaining.

Of the scores of artists that attempted to cover Beatles songs over the years, Aerosmith has done the best job. I’ve long opined, to much controversy, that their 1978 cover of “Come Together” was superior to the 1969 original, and the same may be true of “I’m Down” on this album, which adds some great sound to the famous Shea Stadium performance of the song by the Beatles 22 years earlier, which looked like a lot of fun but really couldn’t be heard over the screaming fans. The album concludes with “The Movie”, a weird instrumental credited to all five members of the band, but driven mainly by the pulsating bass line of Tom Hamilton, many added synthesized effects, and a spoken female voice in a foreign language.

Permanent Vacation is considered Aerosmith’s true comeback album and went on to sell over five million copies in the U.S. alone. It would reinvent Aerosmith through the rest of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, as they pretty followed the same formula and found continued commercial success.

~
R.A.


1987 Images

 

The Lonesome Jubilee
by John Mellencamp

The Lonesome Jubilee by John MellancampThe Lonesome Jubilee is the ninth album by singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, who released many genres of music dating back to his days as “Johnny Cougar” in the mid 1970s. On this album, Mellencamp made a concerted effort to include rootsy, Americana instrumentation to complement the folk/rock style he had perfected through the 1980s. Unlike any previous album by Mellencamp, The Lonesome Jubilee was planned out in advance and was originally slated to be a double album. However, Mellancamp decided about half the songs he’d written didn’t fit the overall concept so they were shelved and the album was cut back to a single record.

Following his previous album, Scarecrow in 1985 which mainly celebrated roots rock, Mellencamp and his band went on an extensive tour which helped them jive well as a band. With this new album, they a very distinct vision of what they wanted it to sound like from the beginning, with much expansion musically and the addition of fiddle, accordions, richer background vocals, banjos, and more acoustic arrangements in the tradition of folk and country.

The album was also the first to be recorded at Mellencamp’s Indiana recording studio named Belmont Mall, built in 1984. It was co-produced by Don Gehman. Recording took about a “school year”, starting in September 1986 and finishing up in June 1987.


The Lonesome Jubilee by John Mellencamp
Released: August 24, 1987 (Merury)
Produced by:John Mellencamp & Don Gehman
Recorded: Belmont Mall Studio in Belmont, IN, September 1986–June 1987
Side One Side Two
Paper in Fire
Down and Out In Paradise
Check It Out
The Real Life
Cherry Bomb
We Are the People
Empty Hands
Hard Times for an Honest Man
Hotdogs and Hamburgers
Rooty Toot Toot
Primary Musicians
John Mellancamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Wanchic – Guitars, Dobro
Larry Crane – Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica
Tony Myers – Bass, Banjo
John Cascella – Keyboards, Accordion
Kenny Aronoff – Drums & Percussion

This album was one of Mellencamp’s most commercially successful worldwide, charting in ten countries. This was due to two top ten and one top twenty charting songs, starting with the opener “Paper In Fire”, an intense yet catchy song with good lyrical analogies and plenty of teaser riffs from the instrumentation being used on the album. This is followed by “Down and Out in Paradise”, a basic folk-like bitch fest from the perspective of the down-trodden above a decent rock arrangement.

“Check It Out” is the best song on the album with a unique chorus structure and features John Cascella on accordion, front and center with strong rhythm backing throughout, especially by drummer Kenny Aronoff. “The Real Life” may be the closest song on the album to the early eighties folk/rock which brought Mellencamp to stardom in the first place, especially on his 1982 breakthrough American Fool.

Fiddle player Lisa Germano shines on the album’s biggest hit “Cherry Bomb” on which she also provides vocals. Germano would become a permanent part of Mellencamp’s band until the mid 1990s. The song itself follows a nostalgic trip back into the past in the “my how times have changed” strain.

The second side starts with the dark acoustic “We Are the People”, which gives a nod to the tradition of Woody Guthrie, lead by the unique blend of chords of Mike Wanchic and banjo finger-picking by Tony Myers. “Empty Hands” was co-written by George Michael Green, a childhood friend of Mellencamp’s who collaborated with him throughout his career. “Hard Times For an Honest Man” is loosely dedicate to John’s Uncle Joe, who died of cancer around the time of the album. The album’s closer “Rooty Toot Toot” is an upbeat alt-country song that became a minor charting hit.

The Lonesome Jubilee may be Mellencamp’s strongest album, song for song and solidified his signature sound of Midwestern folk in the rock n roll era. Although he continued to have commercial success for many subsequent years, this 1987 album marked the peak of Mellencamp’s career.

~

1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1987 albums.


Tunnel of Love
by Bruce Springsteen

Tunnel of Love by Bruce SpringsteenFollowing the multi-year, top of the pop world success of the studio album Born In the USA and the live compilation Live / 1975-85, Bruce Springsteen surprised a lot of listeners with the 1987 follow-up Tunnel of Love. This was Springsteen’s eighth studio album overall by Bruce Springsteen and the third (non-sequentially) to not feature his backing E Street Band, although several members did make cameos throughout this album and drummer Max Weinberg did play on most of the tracks. Thematically, the album turns inward especially when dealing the subject of relationships and love gone wrong, as it was written around the time that Springsteen’s first marriage was deteriorating. However, what makes this theme unique to this album is Springsteen’s ability to honesty examine both sides of the romantic relationship, and in the process implicate himself for his own infidelities.

The decision to follow-up a highly produced, blockbuster hit with something more subdued was a repeat of what Springsteen did earlier in the decade when he followed The River in 1980 with Nebraska in 1982. However, Tunnel of Love is not nearly as sparse as co-producers Jon Landau and Chuck Plotkin worked with Springsteen and using some synthesized soundscapes, electronic drums, backing vocalists, along with some E Street musicians, albeit in a a very subtle and understated way throughout.

Although the album topped the charts after its release and contained three Top 20 hits, it was not the album that the legions of crossover pop fans expected from Springsteen. Ultimately, Tunnel of Love would sell less than a third of the copies as Born In the USA.
 


Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 9, 1987 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, & Chuck Plotkin
Recorded: January – July 1987
Side One Side Two
Ain’t Got You
Tougher Than the Rest
All That Heaven Will Allow
Spare Parts
Cautious Man
Walk Like a Man
Tunnel of Love
Two Faces
Brilliant Disguise
One Step Up
When You’re Alone
Valentine’s Day
Primary Musicians
Bruce Sprinsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Harmonica
Danny Federici – Organ | Max Weinberg – Drums & Percussion

 
The album starts off a Capella with “Ain’t Got You”, which breaks into a rockabilly beat with deadened acoustic strings and laid back harmonica. This short diddy speaks to the hollowness of popular success when it can’t be shared with the one you love. “Tougher Than the Rest” follows with a great contrast to the opener, using electronic drums, synths, and heavily-reverbed vocals. The diversity of the material is further highlighted by “All That Heaven Will Allow”, an upbeat acoustic with a some surprising fine bass guitar by Springsteen. With a great melody and catchy hook make this an underrated classic and the best song on the first side of the album.

“Spare Parts” is almost “Outlaw Country” and therefore lacks much of the subtlety that is present on the much of the rest of the album. It even contains some explicitly “dirty” lyrics with,

Bobby says he’ll pull out, Bobby stays in / Janey had a baby, wasn’t any sin…”

“Cautious Man” is the closest nod back to the style the Nebraska album, as a sparse and haunting acoustic folk song, with the side-closing “Walk Like a Man” returns to childhood, with relative stories above a cool, laid back synth arrangement and strumming acoustic. Lyrically, it appears to be Springsteen speaking directly to his father. While the first side of the album is interesting, the second side is much more sonically enjoyable.
 

 
“Brilliant Disguise” is the best song on the album, with a great chord structure and melody throughout. This song kind of sums up the underlying theme of the entire album, deep thoughts and reflections about simple moments lone within the frenzied bubble of great fame and commercial success. Musically, the song contains some nice piano by Roy Bittan, accenting the subtle acoustic folk strumming and simple but elegant vocals.

The title track “Tunnel of Love” starts weirdly with an almost-dance beat before giving way to another calm synth riff that acts as canvas for descriptive, slightly poetic, and highly allegorical lyrics. It is about as pure a pop song as Springsteen even wrote and is highlighted by some excellent lead guitar by Nils Lofgren, who later replicates Springsteen’s howling towards the end. “Two Faces” is an adequate but typical pop song with a nice organ lead towards the end by Danny Federici, while “When You’re Alone” features some backing vocals by Springsteen’s saxophone player from the E Street Band, Clarence Clemons.

“One Step Up” is another gem on the second side with a good guitar riff and great vocal hook. This song is very understated with the barest of arrangement, but still had enough radio appeal to make it a pop hit. The closing song “Valentine’s Day” sums up the album nicely as a melancholy and confessional number, which compares heartbreak and fear of loss with death itself,

…they say that if die in your dreams, you die in your bed / but honey, last night I dreamed my eyes rolled back in my head…”

In one way, Tunnel of Love marked a return to the simple folk/Americana form that predated the phenomenal success of Born In the U.S.A.. In a contrasting other way, it also marked a severing point from the most musically lucrative years for Springsteen. Although he did tour in 1988 with the E Street Band to promote this album, he would not make another studio album with his backing band until 2002’s The Rising.

~
R.A.


1987 Images

 

One Way Home by The Hooters

Buy One Way Home

One Way Home by The HootersAfter two years of extensive touring in support of their first major label success, Nervous Night, the Philadelphia based group The Hooters returned to the studio to record One Way Home. Like their breakthrough predecessor, this album was co-produced by Rick Chertoff, a former executive at Columbia Records, along with the band’s primary songwriters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman. Unlike its predecessor, One Way Home was heavily folk and Americana influenced and a testament to the Hooters desire to put the music first as well as experiment with the new influences and instruments they discovered during their extensive touring.

Although there are some similarities in songwriting and instrumentation, One Way Home is a clear step forward from Nervous Night in terms of production. That 1985 is heavy with slick, pop, eighties style production while this 1987 album, although still clearly catchy pop, is closer to the Hooters’ signature rootsy mixed sound.

Along with Bazilian and Hyman, the band consisted of rhythm guitarist John Lilly, bassist Andy King, and drummer Dave Uosikkinen, who had been with the band since its inception in 1980. Uosikkinen’s distinctive drumming is the backbone of The Hooters sound as he hits those drums hard and with an intensity that keeps the sound loud and right up front.
 


One Way Home by The Hooters
Released: July, 1987 (Columbia)
Produced by: Rick Chertoff, Eric Bazilian, & Rob Hyman
Recorded: Various Locations, 1986-1987
Side One Side Two
Satellite
Karla With a ‘K’
Johnny B
Graveyard Waltz
Fightin’ On the Same Side
One Way Home
Washington’s Day
Hard Rockin Summer
Engine 999
Band Musicians
Eric Bazilian – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin, Saxophone, Harmonica
Rob Hyman – Lead vocals, Keyboards, Accordion, Melodica
John Lilly – Guitars
Andy King – Bass
David Uosikkinen – Drums

 
The album begins with “Satellite”, an example of the Hooters ability to artfully blend modern synth sounds with traditional instruments. The song was inspired by a televangelist broadcasting his message and includes some space aged synthesizer sounds. “Karla with a K” takes this one step further by making a accordion sound really hip and fresh. The song, named after a hurricane, was inspired by a street performer the band met in Louisiana.

The band also included an updated version of “Fightin’ On the Same Side” from their independent album, Amore – still upbeat but with a slower tempo and the awesome addition of accordion. “Johnny B” is a haunting song about fighting addiction with an outstanding guitar solo and harmonica accents. This song remains very popular to this day with the band’s German fans. “Hard Rockin’ Summer” was inspired by a group of “heavy metal” kids who would hang out outside the band’s rehearsal space. The title song, “One Way Home” is perhaps the best on the album. It has a heavy reggae beat, similar to the Nervous Night version of “All You Zombies”. The lyrics are dark and spiritually cryptic similar to Zombies as well.
 

 
“Washington’s Day” is akin to a campfire sing a long and is rumored to be Bob Dylan’s favorite Hooters Song. It has a hook that can get a crowd swaying in unison. “Graveyard Waltz” has the same eerie feeling as that on the earlier “Where Do the Children Go?”, as both songs deal with death, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

Although One Way Home did not enjoy the mass commercial appeal of its predecessor, it did open up the European market for the band due to the popularity of “Satellite” across the Atlantic. In fact, after the band performed the song on Britain’s Top Of the Pops in December 1987, they were privileged to meet their idol Paul McCartney. A month earlier, on Thanksgiving night 1987, The Hooters headlined a show at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, which was broadcast live on MTV and Westwood One radio network simultaneously, perhaps the absolute pinnacle of their American success. Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the fan base for the band shifted even larger in Europe, especially in Sweden and Germany, while it declined in America.

~

1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums

 

The House of Blue Light by Deep Purple

Buy The House of Blue Light

The House of Blue Light by Deep PurpleThrough the years, Deep Purple went though a bunch of lineup changes with only drummer Ian Paice remaining with the band throughout all phases. In fact, there have been so many different versions of the band that a labeling system (MarkI, Mark II, Mark III, etc.) has been established, with most rock historians agreeing that the “Mark II” lineup was the most potent and significant. This Mark II lineup itself had three different phases, the first during the band’s most popular period 1969-1973, and the last for a single studio album in 1993. In between, the Mark II lineup had a significant “reunion” period from 1984 to 1988. The House of Blue Light came right in the heart of this Renaissance period for the band, adding a strong dose of classic rock legitimacy to an area dominated by modern trends and hair bands.

Following the surprise success of 1984’s Perfect Stranger, the band ran into difficulty getting the follow-up album recorded, with much of it re-recorded after unsatisfactory initial attempts. Bassist Roger Glover had spent much of the late seventies and early eighties working as a producer and began providing this service to the band once the Mark II lineup reunited. He chose a remote theatre in Northern Vermont to record the album using a mobile recording unit to try and find the appropriate atmosphere for the creative process. Still the band struggled to gel during recording and production and some earlier personal rifts began to resurface.

When the album was released in early 1987, there were distinct versions between LP/cassette and CD releases with the CD version offering some extensions to song lengths. Curiously, when the album was remastered for further digital publication, the shorter LP versions of the songs were preserved for future listeners.

 


The House of Blue Light by Deep Purple
Released: January 17, 1987 (Atco)
Produced by: Roger Glover & Deep Purple
Recorded: The Playhouse, Stowe, Vermont, 1986
Side One Side Two
Bad Attitude
The Unwritten Law
Call Of the Wild
Mad Dog
Black and White
Hard Lovin’ Woman
The Spanish Archer
Strangeways
Mitzi Dupree
Dead or Alive
Band Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
John Lord – Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums, Percussion

 
On the first side of The House of Blue Light, the band seems to make a concerted effort to nail an ’80s-flavored rock radio hit and many have compared these songs to those by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore‘s band Rainbow, which had a lifespan between the two major Mark II runs. This is especially true with the bouncy song “Call Of the Wild”, an accessible keyboard driven tune with refined vocal hooks. “Mad Dog” and “Black and White” further this trend as upbeat, straight-forward eighties rockers that, frankly, could have been done by scores of bands less talented than Deep Purple.

One song that stands out is “The Unwritten Law”, which is intense, drum-driven, and dramatic. Vocalist Ian Gillan hearkens back to his dynamic younger years with vocal improvisation while Paice carries the day and adds further evidence that he is one of rock n roll’s most under-appreciated drummers. The album’s opener “Bad Attitude” features keyboardist Jon Lord and his signature sound of playing a Hammond organ through a Marshall stack to form one of the coolest rock tones.
 

 
The second side of the album is actually much more interesting. After the intense, riff-driven opener “Hard Lovin; Woman” comes the excellent “Spanish Archer”, with a surreal Eastern flavor provided by Blackmore. With all members player and singing with an intense, reckless abandonment, this song is a bona fide classic for any era of Deep Purple. “Strangeways” follows as a lyric-driven screed on society, which is cool and entertaining nonetheless.

The bluesy “Mitzi DuPree” is one of the more unique songs on any Deep Purple album as Gillen guides the listener through a literal story about an exotic woman over some tavern-style piano by Lord and cool bass by Glover.

Although the album was ultimately a commercial disappointment. the music of The House of Blue Light has stood up to the test of time well. Deep Purple kept their momentum through 1988 with the successful live album Nobody’s Perfect, before personal issues lead to Gillan leaving the band again for a short spell.

~

1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.