A Farewell to Kings by Rush

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A Farewell to Kings by RushA Farewell To Kings is the fifth studio album by Rush. It follows 2112, the band’s initial commercial breakthrough in 1976 (check out our Review of 2112). With A Farewell To Kings, the band decided to get even more complex, particularly by employing the first of a two-part concept which would be split over two albums. Although this concept would not be as coherent or as cohesive as that in 2112, it still makes for a very unique and entertaining listen. This first part of “Cygnus X-1” closes the album and speaks of space explorers whose ship is swallowed by a black hole. The theme continues on the next album, 1978’s Hemispheres, with a side long second part that is far more philosophical, speaking of the analytical versus artistic sides of the human brain in a fictional battle between Greek gods. So in essence, although their titles seem to hold nothing in common, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres appear to be forever linked.

The remainder of each of these two albums is downright excellent. In fact, if one were to combine the first side of …Kings with the second side of Hemispheres, the result may just be the best Rush album ever. But they are separate entities, so we will focus on A Farewell to Kings because it is a breakthrough. It is the first time Moog synthesizers, played by bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, are included. The album was also rare in that it was the only one to be recorded off the continent, at Rockfield Studios in Wales, UK.

A Farewell to Kings would become Rush’s first US Gold-selling album, undoubtedly fueled by the success of its predecessor. The band’s songwriting and musical approach got ever more complex, led by the complex lyrics of Neil Peart and the diversity of guitar motifs by Alex Lifeson as well as the great rhythm patterns of both Lee and Peart.
 


A Farewell to Kings by Rush
Released: September 1, 1977 (A&M)
Produced by: Rush & Terry Brown
Recorded: Rockford Studios, Wales, UK, June 1977
Side One Side Two
A Farewell to Kings
Xanadu
Closer To the Heart
Cinderella Man
Madrigal
Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keybords, Bass Pedals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Bass Pedals
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion

 
The classical guitar intro to the opening title song is excellent, offering a medieval backdrop including the sounds of actual birds chirping. The bass, electric guitar, and drums then crash in with gusto, letting you know that this is Rush and they are musically at their prime. an odd-timed bridge part starts with Lee and Peart and climaxes with a bass and guitar duel lead rudiment section, which is fantastic. Lyrically, the song is a metaphor of a crumbling Kingdom as an allegory of society as a whole. The lyrics also seem to indicate that this will be the first album where they move away from the Ayn Randian world view which was present on earlier album.

“Xanadu” is based on Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s eighteenth century poem, where the narrator describes searching for a mythical place where one can find immortality. The tranquil beginning brings to mind farmers working in a field, or near a monastery in a slow intro of nearly two minutes. Then the guitar and wind effects pick up before the drums come in like a storm rolling across the fields. Since there are no words here, it seems the meaning can literally be whatever you want it to be, and this helps paint a mental picture in the listener’s mind. It then breaks into a sharp and direct riff with strong guitar, bass, and cowbell-accented drums. Lyrically, the first verse is the singer contemplating how great it would be to find Xanadu. Then the protagonist sets out on his journey to actually find this mythical place and, by the 3rd verse, the listener finds that he has spent the last thousand years trapped in it’s pleasure dome. The message here is the danger of obsession, and the real irony is that he is that even heavens can become hells if you lose your freedom.

Held within the Pleasuredome/ Decreed by Kubla Khan
To taste my bitter triumph / as a mad immortal man
Nevermore shall I return / Escape these caves of ice
For I have dined on honeydew and drunk the milk of paradise…”

The song comes full circle with a calm outtro. “Xanadu”, which marks Rush’s clear foray into program music, is renowned as one of Rush’s finest extended pieces. Live performances of the song require each member to utilize an array of instruments to replicate the studio recording.
 

 
“Closer to the Heart” is the first Rush song to have an external co-writer, Peter Talbot. It became the band’s first “hit single” during the Christmas season of 1977 and still receives a substantial amount of radio play. Lyrically, the song continues the almost anti-2112, altruistic message, making it kind of a let down after the majesty of “Xanadu”. It does have a nice bridge after the second verse, which is just enough to give it the edge of a legitimate Rush song and Lifeson’s guitar is quite memorable throughout.

The album’s second side begins with “Cinderella Man”, based on Frank Capra’s 1936 film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, which is about a man who inherits a great deal of money and then is thought mad when he starts spending it to help the poor. Musically, the song is excellent with Lee’s bass really standing out through the whole song up to and including the wild and funky bridge where he shines brightest. Lee is also the sole writer of this song, one of the latest tracks to not be a band effort with Peart’s lyrics. “Madrigal” is less inspiring, almost unfinished. On the surface it is a very simple love song, but putting it on this album with more complex and epic songs makes it look a bit pathetic musically and lyrically. There is a nice combination of acoustic and electric guitar, keys and bass but barely any real drumming by Peart and it seems to end way too soon, make it one of the oddest songs in the Rush collection.

The album concludes with “Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage”. One night I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth and this song came on and I quite literally was scared by Alex Lifeson’s vocoder intro. It freaked the hell out of me! The intro section really evokes the depth and darkness of space with its introduction and spooky synth sounds. This adventure song evokes many literary and science fiction themes, with an apparent doomy ending as the ship is sucked into the black hole (although this turns drastically in the sequel on the next album). The pounding music seems to pain the image of a force pulling faster and faster as the ship is sucked closer and closer to the black hole, while the lyric; “every nerve is torn apart” paints a really freaky ending to the protagonist’s fate. Musically, this eleven minute epic is not quite as excellent as the other pieces during the era.

In a sense, I think the altruistic A Farewell to Kings was constructed as a counterpart (not complement) to self-interest theme of 2112, with Hemispheres being the balancing act between the two. In this sense, it is important to own all three albums in order to get the full effect of late seventies Rush.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Even In the Quietest Moments
by Supertramp

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Even In the Quietest Moments by Supertramp Even In the Quietest Moments was the third of four consecutive great albums produced by Supertramp in the mid to late seventies. However, this album was unique in many ways especially musically. The album includes a couple of acoustic-fueled songs by co-songwriter and vocalist Roger Hodgson, both of which would climb the pop charts. Released three years after the band’s art-rock breakthrough, Crime Of the Century, and two years prior to their popular smash, Breakfast In America, 1977’s Even In the Quietest Moments acts as a nice bridge between two corners of the band’s evolving sound.

Supertramp alternated between two distinct singers and songwriters. Hodgson has a high-pitched, child-like voice which contrasts sharply with Rick Davies, who has a more distinctly masculine, baritone voice. Still, it all seemed to work well through their career as they constructed distinct music that was elegant, witty, obscure and entertaining. This album is laid out with each taking alternate turns with the seven tracks, starting with Hodgson, whose four songs included the most popular, recognizable, and accessible. Still, Davies’ three contributions are the glue which holds the album together and makes it a very interesting piece for the critical listener.

Produced by Supertramp, the band employed famed engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked on much of the Beatles recordings. The album was mainly recorded at Caribou Ranch Studios, a converted barn in a remote area of Northern Colorado. The cover photo of a snow covered piano was taken outside near the studio.
 


Even In the Quietest Moments by Supertramp
Released: April, 1977 (A&M)
Produced by: Supertramp
Recorded: Caribou Ranch, Nederland, CO & Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA
December 1976 – January 1977
Side One Side Two
Give a Little Bit
Lover Boy
Even In the Quietest Moments
Downstream
Babaji
From Now On
The Fool’s Overture
Band Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keybords, Vocals
Rick Davies – Piano, Vocals
John Helliwell – Saxophone, Clarinet, Melodica
Dougie Thomson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums, Percussion

 
Roger Hodgson’s songs include the title song with a picked acoustic guitar line that paints a deep rural scene. This is nicely accented by the melodica of John Helliwell and later by the other instruments as the song gradually builds to add more intensity and vocal parts. The song, which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, is a beautiful journey to a simple place where the noise of life is filtered out and the purest emotions take center stage. It is hard to tell if this is simply a love song, a spiritual song or a combination of both.

On the second side of the album are the Indian-yoga influenced “Babaji”, a strange anthem true Supertramp fans may enjoy but may be more difficult for the novice listener, and the epic closer “Fools Overture”. A long instrumental intro complete with sound collage starts this song, with the vocals not beginning until 5 ½ minutes in. The song tells of World War II, particularly The Battle of Britain and Winston Churchill; in a reflective way;

History recalls how great the fall can be
While everybody’s sleeping, the boats put out to sea…
Too late the prophets cry, the island’s sinking let’s take to the sky…”

In all, the song is over ten minutes long and, despite its length and parts that seem unfocused, it was a Minor hit for the band commercially.

Give a Little Bit singleWith a hook that never seems to go out of style, the folksy, acoustic pop song “Give a Little Bit” kicks off this album in a fresh and upbeat (albeit deceptive) way. After a verse and chorus with just Hodgson and his 12-string, the perfect rhythm and tempo of bassist Dougie Thomson and drummer Bob Siebenberg provide the engine that pulls the song through some nice deviations. While the song seems simple on the surface, these subtle changes give it a more epic and edgy feel, especially during the coda. The song reached #15 on the Billboard charts was included in the first Supeman movie in 1978.

Davies contributions to the album are less accessible on the surface, but much more deeply rewarding overall. “Lover Boy” is almost like a show tune but with an edge. It has a bouncy intro hook and return line but then deviates off into a more surreal tangent with a slow and methodical piano riff that sells the drama with a gradual buildup. Just as the song appears to be completed with a fadeout, it re-emerges for a stronger, more rock-oriented conclusion. “Downstream” is a very simply arranged and romantic piano song that nicely ends the first side.

Davies tour de force, not just on this album but probably for his entire career is, “From Now On”. It is a bittersweet, almost melancholy song about the mundane routines of life but it never feels abrasive or excruciating. With an excellent, linear progression that goes through some interesting vocal and instrumental parts, the song concludes with a more uplifting coda section. It kind of feels like emerging from a good cry to a more optimistic feeling.

With the fairly good success of Even In the Quietest Moments and its hit songs, Supertramp set themselves up for their blockbuster commercial breakthrough, which would be the absolute peak of their success. The band would fade after Hodgson’s departure in 1983, but all seemed to have a good perspective on fame and how it fits into the bigger picture. When asked about the constant complaints of certain musicians in a recent interview, Davies simply put it; “We live a life of privilege, we should never forget it, really.”

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1977 albums.

 

Animals by Pink Floyd

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Animals by Pink Floyd One of the more underrated classic albums, Pink Floyd‘s Animals is set up like an epic movie with three self-contained sub-chapters and sub-plots that somehow all tie together in the end. This latter fact is all the more remarkable when you consider that two of the three extended tracks were actually re-made versions of songs that were excluded from the band’s previous album, Wish You Were Here. The “concept” for the album was constructed by bassist and chief songwriter, Roger Waters, who used farm animals as analogies to represent differing personality types, much in the same fashion as fellow Englishman George Orwell used in his literary classic Animal Farm.

Beyond the lyrical content, the album is also very unique musically. It is the most hard-rock oriented of any Pink Floyd album of the era and is the last to have extended instrumental sections and 10-minute-plus tracks. In a sense it is a bridge between the total group albums of the past and the Waters-centric albums that dominated from the late seventies until Waters departure in 1984. Although Waters had written a large part of the band’s material on previous albums, guitarist David Gilmour had been the primary vocalist since replacing original member Syd Barrett in 1968. With Animals, the proverbial “torch” was passed as Gilmour only shared partial vocals on one song while Waters sang lead everywhere else.

The album’s theme was a reaction to the state of rock music just as the new, raw genre of punk began to explode in London. Part of requirements of this simplistic new movement was to rally against artists of longevity and Pink Floyd was a frequent target of such ire. Despite this, some members of the band welcomed this new movement as a return to the underground scene from which the band had grown.

Animals was, by most accounts, a very stressful album for most of the band, as each was focused on personnel or other interests with the exception of Waters, who happily took the reigns and molded the album in his image. Despite this, it is the band’s most sonically rewarding effort outside of The Dark Side of the Moon and consistently ranks near the top of the pack for the most avid Pink Floyd fans. Although this is not for the casual listener, for the true music lover, there is a very appealing “oddness” to this album which keeps its sound fresh through the decades.
 


Animals by Pink Floyd
Released: January 23, 1977 (Columbia)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Britannia Row Studios, London, April-December 1976
Side One Side Two
Pigs On the Wing (Part 1)
Dogs
Pigs (3 Different Ones)
Sheep
Pigs On the Wing (Part 2)
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards
Nick Mason – Drums

 
In 1974, Pink Floyd embarked on the “Wish You Were Here” tour, playing new material in advance of the 1975 album of the same name. Two of the songs played during that tour were ultimately left off that album and later re-written for Animals. One of these was a jazzy acoustic piece by Gilmour called “You Gotta Be Crazy” that was slowed down with re-written lyrics and renamed “Dogs”.

Right from the jump, “Dogs” is something unique and off the tracks even for the vast Pink Floyd catalog. With that progression of odd acoustic chords by Gilmour and just the right touch of organ and synth effects by keyboardist Richard Wright, the layered music builds with ever greater intensity as it progresses through the first three verses. When the first guitar lead breaks in, it is clear that this is a Gilmour signature song, with the slow progressions through the first instrumental break being one of the best Pink Floyd jam ever. The biting and cynical lyrics are a concoction the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sol Alinsky, and Vito Corleone, and offer no counter-weight in the pursuit of pure power. At about 8½ minutes in, there is a long synth and “dog barking” section, which I used to consider filler but have to appreciate in my old age, especially when you consider how completely transformed the song is on the other side. Waters is now singing and, even though the acoustic is strumming the same exact chords, the music contains a completely different vibe.

“Dogs” is also a back link from the future song “Hey You” on The Wall, with the whole concept of the bad blood “stone” being revisited in that song which introduces the concept of that album. With the outro “who was…” section that concludes this 17-minute piece, Waters borrows from the famous Alan Ginsberg poem “Howl” as he goes off into a tangent about himself in what is like a window into The Wall.

“Sheep” is the other track that dates back to the 1974 tour, when it was a mainly instrumental piece called “Raving and Drooling”. It is a driving, synth-heavy piece with a wild effect on Water’s voice trailing the verse lines. The lyrics are at once violent and scolding;

Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel…”

The ten-plus-minute song contains a middle section which harkins back to “Dogs” by reviving the “stone” theme and effect before it progresses into a bizarre section that includes a re-written bible quote spoken by drummer Nick Mason through a heavy vocoder. It then bursts out into the climatic third verse where the “sheep” level their revenge against the “dogs”.
 

 
Animals is considered by many to be nihilistic, while others point to the two short pieces that bookend the album as an optimistic “wrapper” of hope. “Pigs On the Wing” is pure acoustic folk, like a slowed down Bob Dylan tune but with distinct vocals of Roger Waters. It was recorded as a single song with a guitar lead between the verses by the band’s touring second guitarist Snowy White. But in what turns out to be a rather shrewd and cunning move, Waters split the song into two parts of nearly equal length, omitting the guitar lead and also significantly increasing his album royalties as they were on a per-song basis. This move was deeply objected to by Gilmour who actually received half the royalties from his 17-minute piece “Dogs” than Waters received from this split song that was less than 3 minutes in total.

Pink Floyd, 1977

Not to be confused with “Pigs on the Wing”, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is the third major piece on the album. Musically is where this song really shines, especially the array of key parts performed by Wright along with the sharp, biting guitar crunches and cool sound effects throughout. The song also includes the world’s first and only “pig lead” as Gilmour using a talk box for some great effects during a long instrumental section. Lyrically, Waters takes aim at those with wealth and power, in what is really an updated version of “Us and Them” but with full concentration on the “Them”.

Following the release of Animals, the band embarked on their biggest tour to date, labeled the “In the Flesh” tour. This tour was Pink Floyd’s first experience with playing in large stadiums and they found themselves uncomfortable in such settings and much internal squabbling ensued. The tour also set the scene and setting for the story in the next album The Wall. That album would become vastly popular with a mainstream audience, something Animals would not achieve. Even so, Animals is a great album and totally unique among its rock n roll contemporaries.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.