Rush 1975 Albums

Buy Fly By Night
Buy Caress Of Steel

Rush 1975 albums1975 was the year when Rush truly became Rush with the first recordings following the arrival of drummer and lyricist, Neal Peart. During the course of that year, the group released two albums, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel, which document the Canadian trio’s remarkable evolution from straight-forward hard rockers to a distinct style of complex, progressive rock featuring dynamic musical arrangements and a multitude of lyrical depth. Over the course of this year, the group also experienced a dramatic rise and fall in mainstream popularity, as these albums had vastly different receptions in terms of sales and critical response. This fact would ultimately forge the band’s musical vision for years to come.

After a half decade of building their following in the Toronto area, Rush released their independently produced self-tiled debut album in early 1974 with drummer John Rutsey backing up bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. In the summer of 1974, Rutsey was forced to depart due to health difficulties. Peart had recently returned to his native Ontario after several years in England and auditioned for the newly opened position with Rush. The group desperately needed to find a replacement for Rutsey in order to fulfill their tour obligations, which launched with a show as an opening act in front of 11,000 in Pittsburgh just two weeks after Peart joined the band. Now signed to Mercury Records, Rush was able to enter the studio with a proper producer in late 1974.

Rush in 1975

Terry Brown first worked with the group when he remixed the debut album for larger release (the original pressings for Rush were only 3500 copies). Impressed by his talents, the group asked him to produce their sophomore effort, Fly By Night. This album was recorded in bits and pieces between the group’s various gigs on the tour circuit over the Winter of 74-75. Aside from his percussive talents, Peart (an avid reader) had many lyrical ideas which made him chief (and eventually sole) lyricist and added more dimensions to the group’s sound and imagination. However, with the exception of one extended suite and one acoustic folk tune, Fly By Night stayed pretty much within the heavy rock/blues bounds established on the debut album, but with a richer, hi-fidelity sound.

In contrast, Caress of Steel, showed the group quickly moving towards progressive rock with two mult-part suites accompanying three traditionally arranged rock tracks. These longer pieces used various textures and sonic dynamics to portray the desired dramatic effect, which worked in some places but not so much in others. The group was very ambitious and enthusiastic about this third album, following the commercial triumph of the second, but it sold fewer copies and has become one of Rush’s most overlooked recordings. Both Fly by Night and Caress of Steel were recorded at the state-of-the-art Toronto Sound Studios on 24-track analog tape, which would remain the highest professional recording standard through the mid 1990s. Including these two albums, Brown would produce ten consecutive releases by Rush through 1982’s Signals.


Fly By Night by Rush
Released: February 15, 1975 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, Toronto, December 1974–January 1975
Side One Side Two
Anthem
Best I Can
Beneath, Between, and Behind
By-Tor and the Snow Dog
Fly By Night
Making Memories
Rivendell
In the End

Caress of Steel by Rush
Released: September 24, 1975 (Anthem)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, Toronto, June–July 1975
Side One Side Two
Bastille Day
I Think I’m Going Bald
Lakeside Park
The Necromancer
The Fountain of Lamneth
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neal Peart – Drums, Percussion

 

The world’s first introduction to Peart both lyrically and percussively comes with “Anthem”, which opens Fly By Night. A frenzied beginning with oddly-timed riff and beat gives way to the musical main phrase of “Anthem”, with the verses highlighted by Lee’s animated bass underneath his soaring, high-pitched vocals. During the lead section, Lee and Peart show how tight they keep the rhythms as Lifeson goes off in a Jimmy Page bluesy lead on a song which features lyrics inspired by elements of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. “Best I Can” was composed solely by Lee and sounds closer to material from the debut than the opening song. However, there is enough edge here with just the slightest flourishes by Peart on the drums and Lifeson providing a wah-wah laced lead, to make it all interesting. Lifeson contributes Zeppelin-esque, bluesy double guitars on “Beneath, Between & Behind”, with Peart adding some lyrics which appear to be about the rise and decline of the United States as it headed for its Bicentennial;

Ten score years ago, defeat the kingly foe, a wondrous dream came into being / Tame the trackless waste, no virgin land left chaste, all shining eyes, but never seeing…”

Fly By Night by Rush“By-Tor and the Snow Dog” is the first of many sci-fi/fantasy inspired epics by Rush during the late 1970s. The eight and a half minute track works well as a good narrative accompanied by upbeat, almost funky hard rock throughout and with plenty of dramatic pause for theatrical flourishes. There is a wild, triple guitar lead by Lifeson during the “battle scene” after the second verse, which concludes with a tremendous rudiment section with each successive phrase being slightly shortened than the previous. A calm, effect-driven section takes up some time in the middle before Lifeson returns with his “victorious” lead prior to the concluding final verse. Overall, this track is the best production by Terry Brown on this album.

“Fly by Night” starts the original second side as the most popular and successful track on the album of the same name. Musically driven by Lifeson’s riffs and progressions, the song’s lyrics were written by Peart when departing for London in 1971 in an attempt to “make it” in music, an endeavor which ultimately failed but, ironically, led to his getting the gig with Rush back in Canada. “Making Memories” is a simple acoustic funk about the group’s early experiences on the supporting group touring circuit. Eventually released as a single in 1977, the track features great electric guitar overtones and a later blistering lead by Lifeson.

After six consecutive fast-charged songs, the platinum selling Fly By Night concludes with two relatively laid back numbers. “Rivendell” features Lee on finger-picks acoustic, with Lifeson adding some pedal-effected guitars throughout. Although there are no drums on this track, Peart added the poetic lyrics on Tolkein’s fictional paradise, which Lee delivers in a reserved, folk-singer like method. “In the End” is, unfortunately, the weakest song on the album as its finale. Not terrible, but essentially acoustic and electric versions of the same repeated song stretched to seven minutes with simple, pre-Peart lyrics.

Rush in 1975

Caress of Steel kicks off with “Bastille Day”, a very heavy rock song musically, but with some interesting time changes and style caveats. Lifeson’s first lead is quite jazzy, with a back-to-back second lead being pure heavy metal. Lyrically, Peart throws in plenty of historical and poetry references about societal turmoil  and the French Revolution specifically. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is a bit less effective than the opener. Almost a joke song, but with some philosophical undertones. In this musically moderate tune, Peart got the idea for its title and theme from both the track “Goin’ Blind” by fellow touring mates Kiss and due to LIfeson’s obsession with his hair. The third and final standard length song is the exquisite and excellent “Lakeside Park”. This song portrays the simplicity and magic of fun events during childhood and adolescence and features a simple vibe with more complexity in its structure. Of particular note are the pauses between verses and prior to the outro section, where Peart adds very interesting drum fills that somehow fit into the slight time allotted without missing a beat.

Caress of Steel by Rush“The Necromancer” is the side one closing epic fantasy, which incorporates the members of Rush (three travelers, men of Willowdale) into the narrative as they face an evil supernatural force in the forest. Peart’s spoken narration introduces each of the suite’s three distinct sections, starting with Lifeson’s multiple guitar textures of “Into the Darkness”. This is followed by the hard-rock oriented “Under the Shadow”, with a single, uni-directional verse followed by a strong jam section, leading to the moderate finale with simple chords called “Return of the Prince”.

The entirety of Caress of Steel‘s second side is the over nineteen minute “The Fountain of Lamneth”, which in reality is not not a cohesive long piece, but several short pieces wrapped by a common intro and reprise theme. In fact, each of the six parts of this were listed as separate “songs” on some later cassette versions, and not even in the same running sequence. The intro “In the Valley” has three distinct musical phrases with Lee providing distinctive “voices” for each. It starts as a pleasant folk acoustic song, then breaks into a thunderous electric-driven heavy metal part which alternates with interlude sections which are cool and jazzy. For the concluding chapter, “The Fountain”, the arrangement repeats in reverse order, giving an arc of symmetry to the whole piece.

The four middle parts of “The Fountain of Lamneth” are each rather interesting and original, starting with “Didacts and Narpets”, Peart’s wild drum piece with shouted vocal lines and sounds is very new wavish in approach. “No One at the Bridge” has a dark feel initially, which slightly gives way to patient musical interludes and gentle sonic swells. This piece uses a ship lost at sea as a metaphor for a feeling of being lost on a personal level. “Panacea” and “Bacchus Plateau” are both solo compositions by Lee, something that will become exceedingly rare over time. “Panacea” features Lee playing a classical acoustic with Lifeson slowly adding electric overtones with very cool pedal effects during the verses, with a fuller band arrangement during the choruses. “Bacchus Plateau” is a more pop oriented rock song with an upbeat sound and vibe that somewhat betrays the lyrical theme of demise;

Draw another goblet from the cask of ’43, crimson misty memory, hazy glimpse of me / Give me back my wonder – I’ve something more to give. I guess it doesn’t matter, there’s not much more to live…”

To the dismay of the band and their label, Caress of Steel, would not attain gold certification for nearly twenty years after its release. The effect of this “commercial failure” on Rush was immediate, as they were soon playing smaller concerts and given an ultimatum by the record company for success on their next release. They delivered in a big way with 1976’s classic 2112, which combined the better elements of both Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. The rest, as they say, is history.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

One of These Nights
by The Eagles

Buy One of These Nights

One of These Nights by The EaglesA very diverse record which proved to be The Eagles major breakthrough album, One of These Nights, presents the band at a junction between their country/rock past and pop/rock oriented future. The album is also the first to feature guitarist Don Felder, who permanently joined the four founding members to make The Eagles a quintet (which they would remain even through further lineup shifts). Further, this is the only release by the group to feature songwriting contributions and lead vocals by all of the five members.

Established as a country and folk/rock group, the group released their eponymous debut album in June, 1972, which spawned three Top 40 hits and instantly put the group on the map. This was quickly followed by the quasi-concept album, Desperado, with songs that made comparisons between modern (1970s era) rock stars and outlaws from the American West a century earlier. While less successful than the debut, this second album saw guitarist/vocalist Glen Frey and drummer/vocalist Don Henley collaborate as a songwriting team for most of the material. For The Eagles’ 1974 third album, On the Border, the band turned to producer Bill Szymczyk who brought in Felder for a couple tracks in order to give the group a slightly harder-edged sound. The album also spawned, “Best of My Love”, which became the Eagles’ first number one single and established them in the upper echelon of touring groups.

One of These Nights had a relatively long production span, with sessions taking place in both Miami and Los Angeles, as Szymczyk and the band wanted to fully capitalize on their heightened commercial success. The group worked hard to find the perfect arrangements, fine musicianship, and pitch perfect multi-part harmonies. They ultimately achieved the desired end result, as this would become the group’s first chart topping album.


One of These Nights by The Eagles
Released: June 10, 1975 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, & Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1974-1975
Side One Side Two
One of These Nights
Too Many Hands
Hollywood Waltz
Journey of the Sorcerer
Lyin’ Eyes
Take It to the Limit
Visions
After the Thrill Is Gone
I Wish You Peace
Group Musicians
Glen Frey – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Bernie Leadon – Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Randy Meisner – Bass, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Built on the animated bass line of Randy Meisner along with Henley’s smooth lead vocals and disco drum beat, the opening title track shows the group in a pop music light not quite seen before. The chorus section features high-pitched vocal harmonies on this sexually charged song which was a far cry from the country/rock feel of The Eagles’ traditional songs to that point. Released as a single ahead of the LP, “One of These Nights” hit number one later in the summer of 1975. Meisner takes lead vocals on “Too Many Hands”, a song which he co-wrote with Felder and featuring a chorus of acoustic and electric guitars with strong bass beats to give the overall mix a consistent thump.

“Hollywood Waltz” is a true country waltz and acoustic ballad, co-written by Bernie Leadon who also adds mandolin and pedal steel to the mix. From the beginning, Leadon was the true heart of the group’s country sound and the side one ending instrumental, “Journey of the Sorcerer”, offers a full showcase for Leadon as he slowly works a banjo phrase before the piece reaches full arrangement with strings and rhythm for the main theme. This pattern repeats a few times as the arrangement dissolves to minor banjo picking a few times before coming back full again on this piece which became the theme music for Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series.

The Eagles in 1975

The album’s second side begins with “Lyin’ Eyes”, featuring perfectly arranged instrumentation to back the story-telling vocals provided by by Frey (lead) and Henley (harmony). Leadon adds a beautiful country lead guitar throughout with thumping bass by Meisner and dual acoustic guitars. Released as the second single from One of These Nights, the song reached the Top 10 of both the US pop and Country charts and received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Group.

One of the finest overall songs by The Eagles and a true highlight on this album, “Take It to the Limit” was a collaborative composition among Meisner, Henley, and Frey, with Meisner taking lead vocals. The song is musically fueled by a country waltz throughout with a heavy presence of orchestral strings and piano by guest Jim Ed Norman. The song, which became the group’s thir chart topper, ends with a climatic vocal outro where Meisner hits some tremendous sustained high notes. After a fine rock intro which features some bluesy lead guitars, “Visions” kicks in with the only recorded lead vocal by Felder, albeit slightly buried in the mix. Layered background vocals guide the upbeat rhythms moving along through the entire duration of this overall decent and entertaining track.

Time passes and you must march on, half the distance takes you twice as long, so you keep on singing for the sake of the song after the thrill is gone…”

“After the Thrill Is Gone” is a slow country ballad by Frey and Henley, who also share lead vocals through the track. This fine song features tremendous lead guitar and pedal steel by Felder and Leadon respectively and is one of the finest forgotten gems by the Eagles. The album ends with “I Wish You Peace”, co-written by Leaden and his then-girlfriend Patti Davis, daughter of future president Ronald Reagan. Leaden performs folky lead vocals in a song with electric piano, acoustic guitars, and a heavy presence of strings. A later lead guitar by Leadon offers what would turn out to be his swan song as he departed from the group shortly after the album’s release.

Leadon would eventually be replaced by Joe Walsh for the Eagles’ next studio album, Hotel California, which received even higher acclaim for the group. But before that, the group released the compilation, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which included the three hits from the recently released One of These Nights and would go on the be the best overall selling album of the 20th century.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Blues for Allah by
Grateful Dead

Buy Blues for Allah

Blues For Allah by Grateful DeadA unique album in the Grateful Dead‘s vast catalog, Blues for Allah, is made up of four proper songs, three instrumentals, and the bizarre, Avant Garde title suite. Produced and released following a year-long break by the group (the first such hiatus of their then 10-year career), the music features a crisp and energetic approach which captures the band’s seven members at their most natural while still maintaining an inspired edge which is usually only associated with the Grateful Dead’s live performances.

Mickey Hart temporarily left the Grateful Dead in early 1971, following their two hugely successful 1970 albums. This left Bill Kreutzmann as the sole drummer/percussionist for nearly four years. During this same time, keyboardist Ron “Pigman” McKernan lost his life and was replaced by Keith Godchaux, with his wife Donna Jean Godchaux later joining as a vocalist. The Dead released a couple of critically acclaimed live albums during the early 1970s as well as the studio albums, Wake of the Flood (1973) and From the Mars Hotel (1974), both of which were released on their new Grateful Dead Records label.

In the Spring of 1975, the band convened at Ace Studios, owned by guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, to begin production on Blues for Allah, which would become their eighth studio album and the first to feature Hart since 1970’s American Beauty. The album’s (and song’s) title was a tribute by lyricist Robert Hunter to Saudi King Faisal, a fan of the Grateful Dead who was assassinated during the time of recording.


Blues for Allah by Grateful Dead
Released: September 1, 1975 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Ace Studio, San Rafael, CA, February–May 1975
Side One Side Two
Help On the Way
Slipnot!
Franklin’s Tower
King Solomon’s Marbles
The Music Never Stopped
Crazy Fingers
Sage and Spirit
Blues for Allah
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux – Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Mickey Hart – Drums

The album commences with the pleasant and melodic, “Help On the Way”, complete with plenty of complex riffing by Weir and bassist Phil Lesh and a clear and assertive lead vocal by Jerry Garcia. The fusion of riffs and melodies, licks and leads soon morphs into the jazzy, “Slipnot!”, where Keith Godchaux gets into the act with a short electric piano lead before a searing electric guitar by Garcia. This fine interlude climaxes with the danceable funk of “Franklin’s Tower”, the third tune in the opening medley and, ultimately, the most popular song from this album. Here Garcia again takes the lead vocals, softly crying out Hunter’s fine lyrics on music and freedom, albeit with a slight foreboding tone;

God help the child who rings that bell, it may have one good ring left, you can’t tell…”

“King Solomon’s Marbles” is an exciting and upbeat jam, built from the bottom up by the group’s rhythm section, Lesh, Hart, and Kreutzmann. Distinguished in two parts, the second part builds intensity with additional layers, while maintaining the same complex rhythmic patterns. “The Music Never Stopped” starts with a basic drum beat followed by Lesh’s bass and the two rhythm guitars as it reaches an orchestrated groove. Weir takes lead vocals through the verses with Donna Godchaux leading the chorus sections and a slight saxophone added throughout by guest Steven Schuster. This track features lyrics by John Perry Barlow and breaks into a bit of a waltz after the final chorus before coming back to the main rhythm for one final guitar lead. The original second side starts with the fantastic “Crazy Fingers”, featuring a very slow reggae musically with Garcia reciting some of Hunter’s best lyrics. On this track, every musician plays a pleasant riff or phrase which at once clash and harmonize for a beautiful musical effect. There is a freedom and easiness about the whole song as well as a theme of serenity to one’s place;

Gone are the days we stop to decide where we should go, we just ride…”

From this point, the fine danceable grooves and rock arrangements dissipate. “Sage and Spirit” is an asymmetrical piece by Weir, featuring mainly acoustic guitar and piano throughout and lacking any sort of real rhythmic definition. The piece does seem to dip into a mellow bit in the middle, before coming back with full folk intensity. This all leads to the totally off-the-wall title track which starts with a very short, harmonized riff before falling into monk-like chants harmonized by Garcia and Donna, along with some Indian-style hand percussion. The interesting middle section, credited to all seven members of the group, is an ad hoc jam of no form before the track reaches the third and final phase of the suite, which is closest to an actual song with richer harmonies accompanying Donna’s scat vocals, a loose guitar and bass riff, and an actual drum beat. The opening chants do return at very end but with some traditional rock instrumentation to close out the album.

Blues for Allah reached number 12 on the pop albums chart in 1975 but, until recently, had not been heralded as a Grateful Dead classic. The group resumed touring in 1976 and returned to more traditionally formatted albums in the years to follow.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Toys in the Attic
by Aerosmith

Buy Toys in the Attic

Toys in the Attic by AerosmithAerosmith scored their first real commercial success with their third album, Toys in the Attic. Released in 1975, this album establishes a distinct rock sound for the group with more attention paid to mass appeal and represents the high-water mark of the group’s initial 1970s phase. Beyond the spawning of a couple of big hits, the album is filled with solid tracks, which are mainly solid blues-based rock with just enough sub-genre edge to make it a very interesting listen from cover to cover.

Having signed with Columbia, Aerosmith released their self-titled debut early in 1973, which closely reflected the live sound the group had been forging through their first three years together. While the album was not a commercial success, it laid the groundwork for their core blues rock sound. The following year, the band released their second album, Get Your Wings, which was the first of five Aerosmith albums to be produced or co-produced by Jack Douglas. The production and approach showed a slight move by the group towards more pop/rock arrangements.

Douglas brought the band to New York at the beginning of 1975 to start work on Toys in the Attic. Lead vocalist Steven Tyler co-wrote most of the original material along with several of the group’s musicians. Tyler also came up with the ideas for the album’s theme and cover when he found a disfigured teddy bear in the attic of his home.


Toys in the Attic by Aerosmith
Released: April 8, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, January–March 1975
Side One Side Two
Toys in the Attic
Uncle Salty
Adam’s Apple
Walk This Way
Big Ten Inch Record
Sweet Emotion
No More No More
Round and Round
You See Me Crying
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums

Co-written by lead guitarist Joe Perry, the title track “Toys in the Attic” sets an unambiguous heavy metal vibe, which may even verge on the edge of punk with its forward approach. This works well as a hard rock opener but does sort of deceive the listener as for the overall tone of this album. That deception is short-lived, as the moderate and jazzy “Uncle Salty” commences with a custom approach and great sonic dynamics which bring out every instrument. This track was co-written by bassist Tom Hamilton, who adds a steady and melodic bass to compliment Tyler’s fine melodies throughout and multiple vocal parts in the outro.

One of the group’s most overlooked and underrated tracks, “Adam’s Apple” is an upbeat blues rocker with some great riffs by Perry and Hamilton and an interesting lyrical take on the Biblical story of Eden. The hit “Walk This Way” got its start with a pre-concert warm up riff by Perry. On the recording, Douglas does his finest production work from the opening simple but effective dance beat by Joey Kramer through the crisp intro/interlude riffs, which feature perfectly mirrored guitars by Perry and Brad Whitford. This track may also be the source of invention of rap, with Tyler rhythmically delivering his lyrics on young lust and loss of virginity through the verses. The overall great arrangement which uses each element to maximal effect for commercialization, which resulted in the song reaching #10 on the pop charts in 1977.

Aerosmith in 1975The only cover on the Toys in the Attic is “Big Ten Inch Record”, a song written by Fred Weismantel and recorded by Bull Moose Jackson in 1952. The band pretty much stuck to the original rockabilly approach complete with piano, a horn section and an impressive harmonica lead by Tyler. “Sweet Emotion” starts with Hamilton’s cool and haunting bass line accompanied by Perry’s slow but effective talk box. During the verses, Tyler delivers another quasi rap with Kramer’s steady drum beat holding the steady pace until the song concludes with heavy section featuring a full band arrangement of intro section complete with several overdubbed guitars. The lead single from the album, “Sweet Emotion” was Aerosmith’s first Top 40 hit.

The album concludes with three diverse gems which tip the scales to make this an absolute classic. “No More No More” is a simple and bright rock gem with elements of everything Aerosmith does best. The music is straight-forward and direct, while lyrics about the trials and rewards of being in a working rock and roll band with the final verse features ascending chord changes climaxing with the song’s underlying theme lyric;

time’s there a changin’, nothing ever stands still, if I stop changin’ they’ll be writing by will, it’s the same ol’ story never get a second chance to advance to the top of the hill…”

“Round and Round” is built around Whitford’s doomy, Black Sabbath-like riff, with the bridge sections featuring a nice use of overdubbed, soaring guitars that give this otherwise repetitive track some real flavor. The song’s outro builds a lot tension which is not relieved before the song ends. The heavily orchestrated closing ballad, “You See Me Crying” is a fantastic closer with a whole different sonic signature than rest of the songs. However, this was also  a source of frustration within the band, which left a few members off this track and which would not be performed live by the band for over three decades. Still, the result of this layered piano ballad is a tremendous closer for the album featuring a tone that is melancholy but with music that is animated and bursting at the seams, leaving nothing to wither here.

Toys in the Attic reached #11 on the US charts and has sold over 8× Platinum since its release. The album’s popularity launched Aerosmith into the upper echelon of contemporary rock acts in the mid to late seventies and even sparked the group’s older material (such as the track “Dream On” from the 1973 debut album) to reemerge into prominence.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

A Night at the Opera
by Queen

Buy A Night at the Opera

A Night at the Opera by QueenQueen really reached for the stars with the production and release of their fourth album, A Night at the Opera in 1975. At the time it was the most expensive album ever recorded as it utilized extraordinary and methodical overdubs to achieve a rich orchestral and choral effects and incorporated rich replications of a wide range of styles. Many of these styles had not previously been adopted by hard rock bands, but the tremendous inventiveness and attention to details made this album the pinnacle of Queen’s career.

The origins of queen date back to 1968, when guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor started the group, Smile, while students in London. A friend and follower of the band, Farrokh Bulsara, eventually joined the group in late 1970 and convinced the members to change the name to Queen because of its “regal” quality and his ability (as an art student) to design an adequate logo. After going through a number of bass players, John Deacon joined in 1971 as the permanent fourth member of the group which maintain this lineup for the next 20 years. Shortly after the release of their 1973 self-titled debut album, Bulsara officially adopted his stage name, Freddie Mercury. In 1974, the group released two critically acclaimed LPs, Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, each of which spawned a Top 10 hit in the UK with Sheer Heart Attack being their first commercial success in the US.

In early 1975, the band shopped for a better record deal, at first considering Led Zeppelin’s new Swan Song label before signing with A&M who gave the group a huge recording budget. A Night at the Opera was co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker and the individual band members who invented some of the distinctive techniques required to achieve the desired sounds and effects. The album borrowed its title from a popular 1935 Marx Brothers movie of the same name.


A Night at the Opera by Queen
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker & Queen
Recorded: Sarm, Roadhouse, Olympic Studios, Scorpio and Lansdowne Studios, London, August–November 1975
Side One Side Two
Death on Two Legs
Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon
I’m in Love with My Car
You’re My Best Friend
’39
Sweet Lady
Seaside Rendezvous
The Prophet’s Song
Love of My Life
Good Company
Bohemian Rhapsody
God Save the Queen
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano
Brian May – Guitars, Ukulele, Harp, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with Freddie Mercury’s, “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”, at first coming in with a classical sounding piano and doomy sound effects, including a slight background scream. The song then breaks in as a steady rocker with an upfront lead by May and unambiguous lyrics of pure venom, adding an acid sensation to this otherwise enjoyable rock song. Mercury penned the tune about Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who had reportedly mistreated the band during their early years. As if to intentionally lighten the atmosphere after the opener, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” follows as a light music hall piano track which, after a single minute, abruptly morphs into a hard rock bridge to Taylor’s “I’m in Love with My Car”. On this unique take on a classic analogy between a woman and an automobile, Taylor’s lead vocals work perfectly for the slow screed along with May’s raw guitar chords.

 
“You’re My Best Friend” was written by John Deacon on a Wurlitzer electric piano and is the closest the group would come to a traditional seventies pop song. The song features stark but enjoyable production and overdubs with depth, contrasting with the upfront Wurli piano, and deep backing harmonies throughout. May adds some fine harmonized guitars late in the song, topping off this immensely entertaining track, which was a Top 10 hit. “’39” is another giant leap in musical diversity as a folk acoustic track with a simple stomp in the background and May taking lead vocals. The track has an aura of fantasy brought on by the operatic backing vocals, the slight synthesizer effects and the lyrical fantasy of time and space travel. The album’s first side ends with, perhaps, the two weakest tracks on A Night at the Opera. “Sweet Lady” is a bridge too far in trying to be original, with odd timings and creative riffs which, unfortunately, do not pay entertainment dividends. “Seaside Rendezvous” is another experimental music hall type song, which features vocalized renditions of different instruments, making it more of a musical accomplishment than a legitimate track on a rock album.

The second side begins with “The Prophet’s Song”, a theatrical epic by May with a dramatic, building theme and slightly psychedelic feel. The middle section features an orchestra made wholly of layered vocals with repetitive timing effects. When the music returns, May brings the rock track back with a layered guitar lead over choppy rhythms through a long outro with an acoustic solo instrumental at the very end. Mercury’s “Love of My Life” is a sad and simple song of lost love, which mainly features Mercury solo on piano with just some slight bass, backing harmonies, and a later distant but potent electric guitar lead by May. After a very slight intro guitar lead, May plays a solo ukulele while singing lead vocals on “Good Company”. This building track eventually incorporates some rhythm and further overdubbed guitars which recreate a Dixieland jazz arrangement.

 
The masterpiece of the album is Mercury’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a song which he had developed in pieces dating back to the late 1960s. Starting with an a capella vocal harmony intro before making its way to the song proper with Mercury singing and playing piano, the song moves through several distinct phases and sonic dynamics, the most famous being the long middle, pseudo-opera section. This was accomplished through an elaborate choir effect created by Mercury, May and Taylor singing their specific vocal parts for hours on end, with over 180 separate overdubs mixed and sub-mixed onto the 24-track master tape, with the entire process taking about three weeks to complete. Still, with all of this bombast and tremendous production, it may be the quiet sections of the song, such as Mercury’s final solo vocal line with subtle guitar backing by May, that makes this song a true masterpiece. The album concludes with May’s instrumental of “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem, which was originally recorded in 1974 as a homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Years later May admitted that if A Night at the Opera had been a commercial flop (therefore losing a boatload of money), Queen would have disbanded. Fortunately, it was a critical and commercial success, reaching number 4 in the US and selling over 12 million copies worldwide. Queen would continue with a tremendously successful run for years to come, following up in 1976 with A Day at the Races, a loose sequel to A Night at the Opera, which again borrowed its title from a Marx Brothers movie.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Crisis? What Crisis?
by Supertramp

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Crisis What Crisis by SupertrampCrisis? What Crisis? is often overlooked in comparison to Supertramp‘s other albums from the mid to late seventies due to its relative lack of hit singles or classic rock radio staples. However, this fourth release by the British group is a solid collection of songs which collectively show the group slightly evolving their sound from the prog-heavy epics of past efforts towards the more pop accessible tunes of their near future. More importantly, this material continues to sound fresh and vibrant four decades after its release.

After two albums which were not commercially successful and lineup shifts which left only the two primary vocalists Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson as permanent members, Supertramp regrouped and produced the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Crime of the Century in 1974. However, this produced a whole new type of pressure on the group to meet or exceed that level of success with a follow-up. The group began work on this new album as soon as the touring for the previous album completed.

With little time to rehearse, Davies and Hodgson had to develop songs individually, without a cohesive vision for the album as a whole, like had been done on Crime of the Century. While in the studio, Davies did come up with the cover concept and album title, which was taken from a line in the film, The Day of the Jackal. Only four of the album’s ten tracks had been performed live prior to entering the studio with producer Ken Scott. One song, “You Started Laughing”, was recorded but left off the album, being used as a B-side to a single instead.


Crisis? What Crisis? by Supertramp
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Ken Scott & Supertramp
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles & Ramport and Scorpio Studios, London, Summer 1975
Side One Side Two
Easy Does It
Sister Moonshine
Ain’t Nobody But Me
A Soapbox Opera
Another Man’s Woman
Lady
Poor Boy
Just a Normal Day
The Meaning
Two of Us
Group Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
John Helliwell – Saxophone, Clarinet, Woodwinds, Vocals
Doug Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

The opening two tracks of Crisis? What Crisis? make it clear that this album takes a far different approach from its predecessor, as both tracks are guitar-dominated in contrast to the almost completely piano-dominated Crime of the Century. The very short intro track, “Easy Does It” dedicates about a quarter of its length to street side sound effects and approaching whistler. From there it is one single verse, with a short lead section, a second chorus, and out, still leaving plenty of guitar centric sonic candy with deadened electric and strummed acoustic blended beneath Hodgson’s melodic lead vocals. The bright acoustic track, “Sister Moonshine”, follows with plenty of extra overdubbed acoustic and electric flourishes during the intro verses. Davies joins with backing vocals during the post chorus along with a cool harmonica in the background and choppy rhythms by bassist Doug Thompson and drummer Bob Siebenberg.

“Ain’t Nobody But Me” features lead vocals by Davies and a dramatic and theatrical rock arrangement which builds in tension before breaking into a rather moderate doo-wop-rock like chorus. John Helliwell later adds a saxophone lead to follow before an equally dramatic second verse followed by a second chorus and a long outro with entertaining vocal duets which bring it down before it all explodes one last time with closing guitar lead. “A Soapbox Opera”,  has promise of an epic in the same vein as those on Crime of the Century, but the song is really a lot more simple and less weighty, although still a pleasant enough listen with piano, strings, and a creative bridge section. The side one closer “Another Man’s Woman” features a mix of dramatic, rotating piano in contrast to Davies’ whimsical lead vocals and a funky chorus with sharp guitar riffing and effects for a good jam. The long and deliberate mid section finds room for Davies’ meandering piano solo while the background ambiance gains momentum and eventually joins the composition for a decent lead section that concludes the track.

Supertramp in 1975

“Lady” opens with a xylophone-like effect before the song launches with a bouncy electric piano accompanying Hodgson’s lead vocals. Although a little elongated in the end, this single release would have fit well on later albums like Breakfast In America. On the other hand, “Poor Boy” is a totally unique track which starts with odd scat vocals by Davies accompanied by gently rocking electric piano. This leads to a calm and pleasant intro with Helliwell adding an accordion in background of the intro as well as a nice clarinet lead later on. When the song proper kicks in, it includes a pleasant melody and bouncy bass by Thompson along with Davies’ electric piano mixed with some jazzy acoustic piano. “Just a Normal Day” starts as a very slow piano ballad with vocals by Davies and good bass and drum fills, with Hodgson rotating in on second lead vocals, which may actually detract from the overall melancholy vibe. After a good, effective sax lead, the emotional third chorus by Davies acts as the climax of song.

The album wraps with two emotional tracks led by Hodgson. “The Meaning” fades in with a picked acoustic accompanied by slight keyboards and clarinet. The hyper, panicked vocals by Hodgson during verses act as good contrast to very pleasant, melodic, and moody musical vibe throughout as each verse builds on the previous one by adding instrumentation and rhythmic drive. A slight organ lead by Davies precedes the fourth and final verse as it builds to an outro crescendo with effective use of lyrical repetition. The closing ballad,  “Two of Us”, features a slight acoustic accompanying the organ in a very sparse arrangement with chorus vocals that reach for the stratosphere with the very high pitched vocals of Hodgson on this song with a very simple message about committed love.

Although some members of the group were initially dissatisfied with Crisis? What Crisis?, it did reach the Top 20 on several national charts and sold over a million copies worldwide. A remastered version of the album was released in 2002 to much greater acclaim than it received upon its original release.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Fleetwood Mac

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Fleetwood Mac 1975 albumAfter eight years, nine albums, several lineup shifts, and many musical reinventions, the lineup and sound that would bring Fleetwood Mac to the top of the pop world finally fell into place in 1975. Fleetwood Mac, the group’s tenth release (and second with an eponymous title, after the group’s 1968 debut), was the group’s first chart-topping album and spawned their first three Top 20 singles in the US. More importantly, this new sound which fused Fleetwood Mac’s traditional British blues/rock with mid seventies California folk/rock, would be the basis of the group’s magic formula for success for the next decade and a half and reserve them an indelible spot in pop music history.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and guitarist Peter Green were all members of the group, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers , in 1967 when the trio had an opportunity with some free recording studio time. Green was so impressed with the recordings that he suggested that they all break from Mayall and start their own group. When Fleetwood and McVie were hesitant to make the move, Green enticed them by naming the new group Fleetwood Mac after the rhythm players. A year later, the new group released the initial Fleetwood Mac album, a pure blues record that was a Top 5 success in their native UK, despite having no singles. A second album, Mr. Wonderful, followed soon after with the addition of some keyboards and horns. Their third album, Then Play On,  in 1969, was recorded mainly at the legendary Chess Records Studio in Chicago and would be the peak of the group’s Peter Green led blues era. Green had a bad experience with LSD which apparently contributed to the onset of schizophrenia and he had to leave the group in 1970.

The early 1970s brought much more change for Fleetwood Mac. Between 1970 and 1974 the group released six albums with five different lineups. The most significant change during this period came with the release of 1971’s Future Games, which featured the addition of guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch and Keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie, the former Christine Perfect now married to John McVie. The group’s sound radically morphed from blues to pop/rock, which caused a decline in their popularity in the UK but a gradually increase in the US. In 1974, Welch convinced the group to relocate from England to Los Angeles, which led to a new recording contract with Warner Brothers. However, after the release of Heroes Are Hard to Find in September 1974, Welch abruptly left the band, leaving the three remaining members scrambling to find a replacement.

While in an LA studio with producer Keith Olsen, Fleetwood heard a recording from the album Buckingham Nicks and soon asked vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham to join the band. Buckingham agreed only if his musical partner and girlfriend Stevie Nicks also become part of the band, and the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup was officially in place on the last day of 1974. Within a month, the quartet was in the recording studio, working on arrangements of individual compositions for a new album, co-produced by Olsen.


Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac
Released: July 11, 1975 (Reprise)
Produced by: Keith Olsen & Fleetwood Mac
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, January–February 1975
Side One Side Two
Monday Morning
Warm Ways
Blue Letter
Rhiannon
Over My Head
Crystal
Say You Love Me
Landslide
World Turning
Sugar Daddy
I’m So Afraid
Group Musicians
Lindsey Buckingham – Guitars, Vocals
Christine McVie – Keyboards, Vocals
Stevie Nicks – Vocals
John McVie – Bass
Mick Fleetwood – Drums, Percussion

“Monday Morning” starts the record off as a driving folk/pop anthem by Buckingham, who adds a good melody progression and a slight slide lead guitar in conjunction with the rolling shuffle of rhythm by Fleetwood. Christine McVie’s ballad “Warm Ways” follows and immediately establishes the diversity of Fleetwood Mac’s new sound. This soulful ballad, built on electric piano and a nice, subtle mixture of acoustic and calmly picked electric guitars, was released as the lead single from the album in the UK. “Blue Letter” features lead vocals by Buckingham with harmonies by Nicks and is an upbeat, quasi-county, Eagles-like California tune. Originally intended for a second Buckingham Nicks LP, the song was written by Michael Curtis and Richard Curtis in 1974.

Stevie Nicks’ introduction to the Fleetwood Mac audience arrives in one of the group’s most indelible songs ever, “Rhiannon”. The song is lyrically based on a Welsh legend of a goddess who possesses a woman.  This soft and mysterious ballad lays nicely on top of a thumping bass line by John McVie and rich group vocal harmonies during the hook. Buckingham adds slight guitar leads in the spaces where needed, making for an all around great song, which peaked at #11 on the pop charts in the summer of 1976. Another hit single, “Over My Head”, follows as a pure, mid seventies pop song by Christine McVie which is steady and pleasant throughout. This track also features some non-standard rhythms, especially the bongos played by Fleetwood subtly in the background. The album’s first side ends with “Crystal”, a soft rock / alt country song featuring acoustic guitar and electric piano. While written by Nicks and originally featured on the 1973 Buckingham Nicks LP, this track features Buckingham on lead vocals with Nicks adding much backing harmony throughout.

Fleetwood Mac in 1975“Say You Love Me” is a pop track built on a simple piano riff with sparse and slow chord changes during the verses and a bit more movement during the choruses. Led by Christine McVie, the song features pleasant melodies and harmonies and a classic minimal guitar lead by Buckingham, all making for the third big from this album. Nicks’ “Landslide” is the album’s high-water mark. With a simple arrangement featuring fingerpicked acoustic with the slightest guitar overdubs by Buckingham and exquisite vocals rendering the philosophical lyrics by Nicks. Reserved, sparse and beautiful the song paints a great lyrically scenery and features a great, distant electric guitar lead, which perfectly fits the vibe and mood of the song.

After a long intro with fade-in of bluesy guitar rotation by Buckingham accompanied by animated hi-hat action by Fleetwood, the song proper of “World Turning” arrives with alternating lead vocals between Buckingham and Christine McVie. A pleasant enough sounding song with Christine McVie providing a nice mix of piano and organ to her lead vocals, “Sugar Daddy” does lack the compositional quality of much of the material earlier on the album. However, the music recovers on the closer “I’m So Afraid” as rolling drums set a dramatic mood matched by Buckingham’s equally dramatic vocals and later fine, harmonized lead guitars.

Among dedicated fans, Fleetwood Mac is often referred to as the “White Album” and, while this only experienced modest success upon its release, the group’s heavy touring pushed the album to the top of the charts, 15 months after its release. Following the massive success of Rumours in 1977, interest in this 1975 album was re-ignited and it eventually was certified 5x platinum in sales.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Hair of the Dog by Nazareth

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Hair of the Dog by NazarethNazareth reached the pinnacle of their long career with their sixth studio album, Hair of the Dog. Produced by the group’s guitarist, Manny Charlton, the album at once contains some solid rock templates for the emerging heavy genres along with some strong examples of the group’s penchant for experimental rock, including a prime example of the group’s talent for re-interrupting compositions. The result is the group’s best known and highest selling release, with over two million copies sold worldwide.

Nazareth formed in Scotland in late 1968, taking their name from a line in The Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, released earlier that year. All four members of this group, led by Charlton and lead vocalist Dan McCafferty were members of the group The Shadettes, dating back as far as 1961. In 1970, the band relocated to London, which soon brought them a recording contract, starting with their self-titled debut album in 1971 and the country-rock flavored Exercises in 1972. The group then supported Deep Purple on tour and caught the ear of bassist and producer Roger Glover, who would go on to produce Nazareth’s next three albums, Razamanaz and Loud n’ Proud in 1973, and Rampant in 1974, each of which built on the group’s growing success.

The song and album Hair of the Dog was originally derived from the hook “Son of a Bitch” as “Heir of the Dog”, but changed as a compromise with the record label, using a popular phrase describing a folk hangover cure. The first song recorded for the sessions was a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts”, intended as a single-only release. the album itself was slated to include an electric piano and slide guitar fueled cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty”, but a last minute switch was made after A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss heard the recording of “Love Hurts”.


Hair of the Dog by Nazareth
Released: April 19, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Manny Charlton
Recorded: Escape Studios, Kent, England, 1974–1975
Side One Side Two
Hair of the Dog
Miss Misery
Love Hurts
Changin’ Times
Beggars Day
Rose In the Heather
Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman
Please Don’t Judas Me
Group Musicians
Dan McCafferty – Lead Vocals, “Talk Box”
Manny Charlton – Guitars, Keyboards
Pete Agnew – Bass, Vocals
Darrell Sweet – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The pure, unrelenting, unambiguous title track commences with the cow-bell laden drum beat of Darrell Sweet, soon accompanied by the crisp guitar riff of Charlton. McCafferty’s rough but melodic vocals provide the indelible hook along with the middle talk-box lead, all making for a song filled with infectious rock elements, which helped Nazareth become a staple of classic rock radio for decades to come. “Miss Misery” follows as a more serious hard rock counterpart to the almost celebratory opening track. This track reaches into the very heart of the album, which is mainly negative in lyrical tone but in no way meek in delivery. As a bonus, Charlton’s slide guitar lead gives it all a blues legitimacy that brings the song to a higher level, especially with his odd but satisfying guitar chime section to end the track.

Originally written by Boudleaux Bryant, “Love Hurts” features exquisite, Phil Spector-like production with tremendous space provided for each instrument, especially Charlton’s flanged guitar pattern and Sweet’s echo-drenched drums and percussion. This is also the first song on album where Pete Agnew‘s bass has a real presence, with McCafferty’s soft-edged and emotive vocals making this arrangement a true group effort. The best part of this Top 10 hit is the slow, sustained guitar lead, which reaches for the Heavens sonically.

The best way to follow-up the drippy power ballad is with an even more powerful, the riff-driven rocker, “Changin’ Times”. The song proper is like Led Zeppelin on steroids, with different variations on the main riff alternating between the fire-one, high-register a capella vocals. However, what makes this side one closer a classic is the building, closing jam which adds several overdubbed guitars to the unrelenting, throbbing beat, making this a true highlight of the album. “Beggars Day” is a fine blend of hard rock, which falls somewhere on the spectrum between Aerosmith and AC/DC. Charlton supplies great electric guitar blends, riffs between the vocal lines and a good sense of melody and rock intensity throughout, with the guitar lead continuing the use of multiple bluesy guitars, giving it a thick atmosphere of pure rock ambiance.

Nazareth in 1975The dissolution of ”Beggar’s Day” leads to the final phase of the album where the heavy rock elements are all but abandoned for explorations into other sub-genres. The instrumental rendition of Nils Lofgren’s “Rose In the Heather” has souped-up country-rock elements with effected-laden guitars and synths, making it all very orchestral. “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman” is a rather light-hearted foray into folk and blues with the most low-key vocals by McCafferty (which, if nothing else, shows his vocal versatility). The song’s middle jam contains some nice variations in riffs and beats, while the lyrics are intentionally trite in contrast to the serious musical skill portrayed on this track. The album concludes with “Please Don’t Judas Me”, which at first is a very interesting mix of Middle Eastern flavored acoustic, electric, synths, and tabla by guest Simon Phillips. But, perhaps the biggest flaw on this otherwise classic album, the extreme song length and over dramatization loses the listener about half way through this nearly ten minute track, with way too much repetition through the last half of the song.

Following the success of Hair of the Dog, Nazareth continued to have moderate commercial success, releasing nine more studio albums and a popular live album over the next decade, giving the band a respectable measure of longevity and a healthy catalog.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Born to Run by
Bruce Springsteen

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Born To Run by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen has described the songs on Born To Run as different scenes happening on the same summer night somewhere in New Jersey and New York City. This third album commenced as Springsteen’s admitted effort to break into the mainstream, with accessible songs, rich production methods and deliberative sequencing. The strategy worked as the album peaked in the Top 5 and received near universal critical acclaim, with many today considering this the best work of his career.

Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle were both released in 1973. On those albums, Springsteen made several specific lyrical references to his hometown area near the Northern part of the Jersey Shore. Born To Run includes more general references to reach a wider audience, with Springsteen later calling the work a “dividing line” in the progression of his writing.

Impressed by his first Springsteen concert, music critic Jon Landau enlisted as Springsteen’s manager and co-producer of this upcoming album in 1974. Columbia records invested a sizeable budget in the album’s production, which led to Springsteen being entangled in the recording process for over a year while frustratingly trying to achieve the perfect sound. Like on his previous album, Springsteen enlisted the “E Street Band”, complete with new members, pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, who each play a vital role on this album.


Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
Released: August 25, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Mike Appel, & Jon Landau
Recorded: Record Plant & 914 Sound Studios, New York, May 1974–July 1975
Side One Side Two
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
Night
Backstreets
Born To Run
She’s the One
Meeting Across the River
Jungleland
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry W. Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

While all songs were composed by Springsteen, it was Bittan’s piano, not Springsteen’s guitar which took the main musical role throughout Born To Run. “Thunder Road” starts things off with an odd harmonica and piano intro where Springsteen and Bittan struggle to reach the right tempo before the song launches and builds with fine lyrics and inspired music. Along with its folk-style lyrics, the music is like a journey into a night of adventure, which grows in intensity as the building musical arrangement perfectly matches the mood of this opening song. With horn arrangements by Steven Van Zandt, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” effectively adds this extra element that gives the upbeat sense of celebration on the song which tells of the formation of the E Street Band. Springsteen’s vocals are superb on this track as he hits the different chord changes with razor precision.

While a step lower in quality, “Night” is an apt and upbeat number with a rich arrangement and would become a concert favorite. The music features a heavy presence by bassist Gary Tallent. The album’s first side wraps with the extended track, “Backstreets”. This track patiently begins with a piano and bass intro that builds the tension as the listener awaits some explosion into the scene, which finally does arrive after about a minute. This track is the first where Springsteen’s guitar plays a significant role with strong rhythms throughout and a middle guitar lead, while the vocals are delivered with intensity throughout, often using repetition to great effect.

Bruce Springsteen 1975The strongest point of the album is the romanticized title song with majestic production. “Born To Run” may be the quintessential Springsteen song with such a unique and exquisite sound not paralleled anywhere else in his catalog or beyond. Each member of the musical ensemble is at their absolute best, from the insatiable bass of Tallent to the dry but bouncy drums of guest Ernest “Boom” Carter to the frenzied sax solo of Clarence Clemons, to the complementing orchestration of the piano of David Sancious, the organ of Danny Federici, and the harpsichord/glockenspiel of Bittan. And that brings us to Springsteen himself, who plays a sharp electric guitar with a strong tremolo effect and vocally delivers the best lyrics of his career. This song, which was the first recorded for the album of the same name, is the four and a half minutes where it all truly comes together.

“She’s the One” is a simple song which builds off a simple underlying rhythm, and never really changes much, just building on the established vibe and melody. “Meeting Across the River” follows with a unique arrangement and a dark, jazzy feel. Springsteen’s vocals are right up front in the mix with the rest of the arrangement, including a signature trumpet by Randy Brecker and double bass by Richard Davis, in the distance. The epic closer “Jungleland” starts with a violin part by Suki Laha which gives it a strong theatrical feel. Eventually, the full rock arrangement arrives and a middle lead guitar brings it to a crescendo. This is soon broken by Clemons’ slowly building sax solo, a true highlight which soon progresses into the most memorable part of the song before the suite dissolves into a very slow section with just piano chords. This ushers Springsteen’s vocals back in as he dramatically navigates through the final suspenseful moments of the song and album.

The album’s release was given a huge promotional budget, which led to Springsteen landing on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week in October, 1975. Through the decades, Born To Run has reemerged several times onto the album charts, with the latest peak coming in 2005 when the 30th Anniversary edition reached the Top 20 in the US. In recent years, Springsteen has frequently performed the album in its entirety and in order for special concert ocassions.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Otis Blue by Otis Redding

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Otis Blue by Otis ReddingOtis Redding‘s third studio album, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, (most commonly known as simply, Otis Blue) was a commercial success and has been critically acclaimed for the half century since its 1965 release. Despite consisting mainly of covers of recently released songs from contemporary artists, the album features much musical innovation and originality to accompany Redding’s distinct and emotive vocals and its influence rippled through rock, blues, and soul for decades to follow. The album also spawned three Top 40 singles for Redding, vastly boosting his notability.

Redding began his musical career as a member of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, which toured mainly in the South (USA) during the early 1960s. One day in 1962, Redding drove group guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Jenkins to a session at Stax Records and, when the session ended early, Redding was granted time to perform two songs backed by the studio group Booker T. & the MG’s. This impromptu session resulted in the single, “These Arms of Mine”, which sold more than 800,000 copies and led to the recording of Redding’s 1963 debut album, Pain in My Heart. After more than a year of touring America and the release of several more singles, Redding released his second studio album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, in early 1965.

In July, Redding and the studio crew worked on writing and arranging songs for a third album, producing most of the material over a 24 hour period. The album was then recorded with the Booker T band, along with The Memphis Horns and pianist Isaac Hayes.


Otis Blue by Otis Redding
Released: September 15, 1965 (Atco)
Produced by: Jim Stewart, Isaac Hayes, & David Porter
Recorded: Stax Recording Studios, April-July, 1965
Side One Side Two
Ole Man Trouble
Respect
Change Gonna Come
Down in the Valley
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
Shake
My Girl
Wonderful World
Rock Me Baby
Satisfaction
You Don’t Miss Your Water
Primary Musicians
Otis Redding – Lead Vocals
Booker T. Jones – Piano, Keyboards
Isaac Hayes – Piano, Keyboards
Steve Cropper – Guitars
Donald Dunn – Bass
Al Jackson, Jr. – Drums

Although predominated by cover songs, Otis Blue begins with two originals by Redding. “Ole Man Trouble” is exquisitely produced and performed, as Redding wails out a weeping lead vocal between the squeezed out guitar chords by Steve Cropper, with a few brass interludes between the vocal lines. The only real flaw here is that the song is too short, a reccurring issue throughout this all-too-short album. This is followed by the song “Respect”, which reached #35 on the pop chart and #4 on the R&B chart. Reflecting back through the decades, it is clear why Aretha Franklin’s version is the better known, as it is far superior in delivery and musical arrangement. That being said, this original version is a fantastic rendition, totally funky and groovy, just lacking the strong feminine perspective and advanced arrangement that the latter version so aptly possesses.

After the opening two originals, the album delves into the first of three covers by Sam Cooke, who had been shot to death in 1964. “Change Gonna Come” is a slow, soul classic and a timely anthem where Redding makes you feel every syllable of this classic anthem on struggle, while the musical arrangement offers a few caveats in intensity. Cooke wrote the song after he and his entourage were denied entry to a motel in Louisiana and both versions of the song became anthems for the Civil Rights movement. The cover “Down in the Valley” is a more upbeat track but not as potent as the opening two original tracks, with the best part being the intense outro section. The first side finishes with “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, a collaboration between Redding and Jerry Butler that is a simple but effective refrain of desperation with ever-intense horns and piano to match the growing intensity of Redding’s lead vocals. The song also became Redding’s highest charting single to date.

Otis Redding in 1965The second side is full of cover’s, starting with Cooke’s “Shake”, one of the more upbeat tracks driven heavily by the bass and drums rhythm of Donald Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr.. The next two songs are similar in that they both lack the background vocals and countermelodies of their more famous versions, The Temptations’ “My Girl” and Cooke’s “Wonderful World”. “Rock Me Baby” is a more effective cover, expertly converting a B.B. King blues classic into a brilliant soul arrangement while also featuring the first and only rock-style guitar solo by Cropper. Next comes a couragous attempt at converting the nearly brand new, “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones with a distinctive spin including original instrumental interludes. The album concludes with a rendition of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” as a moderate soul ballad, which starts to get pretty intense near the end, but fades out way too soon.

While Otis Blue did not chart well in the US, it reached number 6 on the UK Albums Chart, and topped the Billboard R&B chart. In the years that followed, Redding scored continued success with some of his most famous hits such as “Try a Little Tenderness” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, along with an indelible performance at the famed Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Tragically, Redding lost his life in a plane crash in December 1967, cutting short a brilliant career on the rise.

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1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.