No Code by Pearl Jam

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No Code by Pearl JamIn 1996, Pearl Jam created a stoner rock classic with their fourth studio album, No Code. Here, the alternative grunge pioneers branched out with diverse music tracks which incorporated elements of blues, country, psychedelia and world music. The resulting record is not quite as forward and accessible as previous efforts by the band but does feature subtle, droning riffs, layered percussion, and philosophical lyrics all mixed with Pearl Jam’s established signature, hard rock sound.

As Pearl jam gained fame in the early 1990s, they grew increasingly uncomfortable with their success and began to rebel against the industry by refusing make music videos, issuing CDs in non-standard jackets and boycotting the Ticketmaster agency, which resulted in limiting the venues where the band was able to play and eventually led to the cancellation of their 1994 summer tour. There was also some internal strife within the band. After Pearl Jam finished the recording their third album, Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired for “political differences” when he disagreed with the Ticketmaster boycott. Abbruzzese was replaced by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who joined the band in backing Neil Young on his 1995 album Mirror Ball, which in turn spawned two songs which landed on Pearl Jam’s 1995 EP, Merkin Ball.

On No Code, the group worked with producer Brendan O’Brien, with whom they had worked on 1993’s Vs. as well as Vitalogy. Work on the album began in Chicago during the summer of 1995 with other recording sessions taking place in New Orleans and their home studio in Seattle.


No Code by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1996 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, July 1995 – May 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Sometimes
Hail, Hail
Who You Are
In My Tree
Smile
Off He Goes
Habit
Red Mosquito
Lukin
Present Tense
Mankind
I’m Open
Around the Bend
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Sitar, Harmonica
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Chapman, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums

No Code by Pearl Jam

Written by vocalist Eddie Vedder, the opening track “Sometimes” is subtle and quiet, almost jazzy, as it feels like it is on the verge of exploding any moment but never does. In contrast, “Hail, Hail” is a strong rocker with a sound like the Pearl Jam of old in their full glory. Released as a single, this track reached the Top 10 on both the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. An odd but cool percussive intro by Irons ushers in “Who You Are” before Vedder’s vocals and a guitar riff by Stone Gossard cut through in a simple song structure, which gradually progresses and builds as it goes along. This track has a very Eastern feel in its vibe and lyrical message.

“In My Tree” works as another rhythm-driven track with more animated and soulful vocals than anything presented thus far. While most of this song feels distant and slightly under baked, near the very end it builds into a driving and droning hard rocker. Bassist Jeff Ament wrote the music for “Smile”, a Neil Young inspired driving rocker, complete with harmonica and a consistent, solid beat. “Off He Goes” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with reserved lead vocals and a fine mixture of lead guitars by Gossard and Mike McCready on top. This song unfolds in a very methodical way, making it a nice reliever of the tensions of some of the more potent, shorter tunes on the album. Speaking of tension, “Habit” is tight knit rocker where some heavy blues meets strong alternative vibes, while “Red Mosquito” was inspired by Vedder’s bought of food poisoning and features a buzzy lead guitar played by McCready using a Zippo lighter.

Pearl Jam

“Lukin” is a very short, two verse, one chorus punk rocker where Vedder strains his voice to the point of nearly being unrecognizable, followed by “Present Tense”, a slow and moody, almost dark track featuring differing guitar textures by McCready. The most unique song on the album is “Mankind”, written and sung by Gossard, with a sound approximating seventies glam rock. The artsy “I’m Open” has spoken vocal narration with wild guitar effects, synths and some piano for a New Age atmosphere, while “Around the Bend” wraps the album as an acoustic, almost country arrangement, save for the unique, tom-fused drum beat by Irons.

No Code debuted at number one in the US and topped the charts in several countries. In spite of this, much of the band’s fan base were dissatisfied with the change in musical direction and this album ultimately became the first Pearl Jam album to not reach multi-platinum status.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Station to Station by David Bowie

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Station to Station by David BowieHis tenth overall studio album, Station to Station was a transitional album for David Bowie. Musically, this 1976 album seamlessly bridges the gap between soul and glam rock of Bowie’s early 1970s work and the experimental, synth-driven “krautrock” works to come later in the decade. This was also one of the last album’s where Bowie employed a musical alter ego with “The Thin White Duke” persona.

Bowie had moved to the United States in 1974, first to New York, after he completed recording Diamond Dogs. The following year, Bowie recorded the soul-influenced Young Americans in Philadelphia. This album spawned Bowie’s first number one hit with “Fame”, co-written by John Lennon, and elevated Bowie to becoming a worldwide pop superstar. Not all was well, however, as Bowie had major financial issues with his manager and developed a significant cocaine habit.

Station to Station was recorded after Bowie migrated to Los Angeles and completed the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Recorded in late 1975, the album was co-produced by Harry Maslin and featured guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked on the previous Young Americans. Seven songs were recorded during the sessions, with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” being ultimately omitted from the six-track album.

 


Station to Station by David Bowie
Released: January 23, 1976 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Harry Maslin
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, September-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing
TVC 15
Stay
Wild Is the Wind
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 

The album opens with the extended title song, “Station to Station”, which was the longest song Bowie had recorded to date at over ten minutes long. A long and methodical intro introduces the track before any vocals arrive for the first of two distinct parts. Shortly after the song’s five minute mark, the song picks up the pace which makes it feel more like a theatrical number.  It is rhythmically built with the bouncy bass of George Murray and the good, animated, disco-influenced drums Dennis Davis throughout the song. “Golden Years” is the closest to a pure pop song on the album, built on moderate funk groove with reserved backing hook, giving the vocals space for assertion. This repetitive but entertaining track was originally released as a single in late 1975 and it peaked in the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in early 1976.

“Word on a Wing” is an exquisite, upbeat ballad, driven by the piano of Roy Bittan. Here Bowie’s lyrics and vocal delivery are delivered with a desperate passion throughout in a quasi-religious song written out of a drug-fueled spiritual despair which Bowie later described as the darkest days of his life. “TVC 15” comes from another side of the drug experience, when fellow rocker Iggy Pop hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. Musically, this interesting and entertaining track is built off Bittan’s bouncy, boogie-woogie piano, later breaking into a straight-forward disco/rock during the verses with nice vocal effects and atmosphere like a rock carnival throughout.

David Bowie in 1976

“Stay” commences with Alomar’s funky/blues guitar lead in an excellent, methodical rock lead-in. The rest of the track is a very inventive gem with funky bass and heavy rock guitars over a steady beat and multiple styles of vocals throughout. The album conclude’s with its sole cover, the pleasant ballad with layered guitars and seventies production, “Wild Is the Wind”. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, this track caught Bowie’s attention when recorded by Nina Simone, and his own vocal interpretation been praised through the years.

Station to Station reached #3 on the Billboard Album charts and would be David Bowie’s highest-charting album in the US for nearly four decades. Bowie later cited this album along with its 1977 follow-up, Low, as two of his finest works.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

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Mechanical Resonance by TeslaMechanical Resonance is the 1986 debut album by hard rock quintet Tesla. The original album sides were distinctive in approach, with the first side containing garden-variety hair-metal anthems complete with easily chant-able hooks. The second side features more mature and original compositions which, ironically, found much greater popularity at the time and persist to the modern day.

Hailing from in Sacramento, California the group originated from an early eighties band called City Kidd, formed by guitarist Frank Hannon bassist Brian Wheat. Later vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta joined the group that gained popularity through the mid 1980s, leading to a record deal with the Geffen label.

During recording of this debut with producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the band members decided to change their name in honor of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla and the title Mechanical Resonance comes from one of the scientist’s experiments. During this time, the group also began to migrate their sound in a ‘rootsier’ direction.

 


Mechanical Resonance by Tesla
Released: December 8, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York, 1986
Side One Side Two
EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin’ Atcha Live
Gettin’ Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We’re No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Changes
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes
Group Musicians
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Wheat – Bass, Vocals
Troy Luccketta – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “EZ Come EZ Go”features a staccato bass entry by Wheat accompanying a steady drum beat and a blistering guitar lead to open the album on a high musical note. It soon settles into a quasi-melodramatic setting with Keith’s voice and heart beat-like bass thumps before the song finally gets to the hook, which is almost an afterthought compared to the other sonic elements. “Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with another dramatic guitar lead-in with the overall vibe being similar to classic Van Halen with an upbeat jam.

“Gettin’ Better” is the best song on the first side and it starts with nice finger-picked soft intro where Hannon’s delicate playing and Keith’s soulful vocals shine. It then breaks into a riff-driven rocker with a thematic chant for the rest of the song. “2 Late 4 Love” starts with a drum roll by Luccketta along with some guitar effects for another dramatic entry, but becomes rather ordinary beyond this.  “Rock Me to the Top” is co-written by Skeoch and the contrast in style is evident musically with its slightly darker textures. “We’re No Good Together” is the album’s first power ballad and is slow-dance ready with a slow beat and bluesy rock guitar licks. Midway through, the song takes a pleasantly surprising sonic turn and becomes an excitable, upbeat blues rock jam for the duration.

Tesla in 1986

The heart of album is the first three songs on side two, starting with their popular anthem, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Composition wise, this is more thorough than anything else on the album with acoustic and electric textures throughout, dark imagery, and a great melody and hooks. “Changes” starts with a classical piano intro before a choppy guitar riff introduces the dramatic song proper. This emotionally charged song crafts a great sonic atmosphere and a line from this track was ultimately used for the group’s greatest hits collection a decade later. The album’s only cover is “Little Suzi”, an expert acoustic/electric adaptation of the early eighties synth song by Ph.D. It starts with a really cool acoustic folk intro, while later the song has a methodical but powerful drive of multiple textures all held together with Wheat’s bass

“Love Me” is a pure riff-driven rocker with Keth’s vocals soaring over the methodical music and beats, in a style which sounds like it could have been a really big hit a few years earlier. The bridge section adds a surprise with some talk box while the later lead has nice blend of harmonized guitars. Winding down the album, “Cover Queen” features a slightly interesting arrangement, while the closer “Before My Eyes” has a doomy and dramatic intro where the group’s talents are given space to shine a bit as the song unfolds slowly and leaves plenty of room for instrumental atmosphere.

Mechanical Resonance reached the Top 40 on the US album charts and was certified platinum by the end of the decade. Tesla would reach even greater success with their next album, Great Radio Controversy, but still hold this debut in such regard that they released Mechanical Resonance Live in August 2016.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Rainbow Rising

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Rainbow RisingRainbow returned with a revamped lineup and fresh approach for the group’s second studio album, Rising. The record is comprised of six solid compositions which are comparable to the material the band had done before with dynamic and tight performances. The quintet started as a project by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he departed from that group.

Blackmore established Rainbow when he joined with the American rock band, Elf, in 1975. Blackmore wanted to record some material that was rejected by Deep Purple members and he enlisted Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio who in turn suggested his band mates to back up on the recordings. Soon, this project turned into the album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, with the album name (and ultimately the band name) inspired by the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. However, Blackmore was unhappy about the live performances of many in the Elf line-up and he fired everybody except Dio.

Keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Cozy Powell were recruited to complete this second incarnation of Rainbow. Further, Blackmore began constructing interesting chord progressions, inspired by his new found interest in playing cello and composing material with Dio supplying mythical lyrics. Rising was recorded in less than month in Munich, Germany with producer Martin Birch in early 1976.

 


Rising by Rainbow
Released: May 17, 1976 (Polydor)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 1976
Side One Side Two
Tarot Woman
Run with the Wolf
Starstruck
Do You Close Your Eyes
Stargazer
Light In the Black
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums

 

From the jump, the sound of this album features sonic elements which are beyond its time. “Tarot Woman” starts with a long, wild synth intro by Carey, which sets a dramatic stage before Blackmore’s guitar riff gradually fades into the song proper. This opening track has a definitive Deep Purple quality especially during Blackmore’s soaring guitar lead. “Run with the Wolf” settles into a more conventional rock sound, still employing dramatic and satisfying overtones, but much more compact and succinct in its delivery.

“Starstruck” follows as the best overall rocker on the first side, based on classic heavy blues rock constructs and the rollicking rhythms by Bain and Powell and an excited melody by Dio, whose vocals soar and shout with great emotion. The most ordinary song on the album, “Do You Close Your Eyes” is a pretty standard hard rock song in the vein of mid seventies contemporaries like Kiss, and it does suffer slightly from compositional underdevelopment and sonic overproduction.

rainbow in 1976

The album’s second side features two extended tracks, each with a duration of over eight minutes. “Stargazer” is the epic track from Rising, starting with an interesting and inventive drum intro and working its way through several slow but powerful sections, with potent lead vocals by Dio and fantastic lead trade-offs by Blackmore and Carey. The song features mystical lyrics which tell the fable of a wizard who builds a tower from which to fly only for him to fall and die like any mortal man and includes a contribution by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The rudiment-filled hard rocker “A Light in the Black” completes the album and sets a template for the future sounds of groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. This closer is highlighted by an incredible instrumental section with multiple keyboard and guitar leads.

Rising did well on the UK charts but not quite as well in the US. However, the influence of this album would reverberate for decades and it is considered by most to be Rainbow’s best overall album.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Someday Maybe by The Clarks

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Someday Maybe by The ClarksAlthough this group has had a long and fruitful career which continues to this day, The Clarks only had one major label release. The 1996 record Someday Maybe is a solid and steady effort full of steady rock/pop tracks crafted in multiple sub-genres. While neglected its due amount of promotion, this album is on par with some of the highly popular albums of the same era, making it a largely unknown or forgotten gem of the mid nineties.

Based in and around the Pittsburgh area, the group derived from a college band called The Administration, featuring vocalist/guitarist Scott Blasey, guitarist Robert James Hertweck and drummer David Minarik. After several lineup changes and the addition of bassist Greg Joseph in 1986, they changed the name to “The Clarks” as a generic nod to a common name in Western Pennsylvania. Next, the group began to focus more on original material and in 1988, the Clarks began independently recording their first album, I’ll Tell You What Man…, which sold modestly well in the Pittsburgh area. Two more independent albums followed, a self-titled release in 1991 and Love Gone Sour, Suspicion, and Bad Debt in 1994.

The steadily growing popularity of The Clarks finally scored them a major label deal for two albums with MCA Records in 1996. The group immediately began working with LA-based talent, producer Tim Bomba and engineer John Siket, to record Someday Maybe.


Someday Maybe by The Clarks
Released: November 25, 1996 (MCA)
Produced by: Tim Bomba
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Stop!
Courtney
Mercury
Rain
Caroline
Never Let You Down
Fatal
The Box
One Day In My Life
No Place Called Home
Everything Has Changed
These Wishes
Last Call
Hollywood
Lost and Found
Scott Blasey – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob James – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Joseph – Bass, Vocals
Dave Minarik – Drums, Vocals
 
Someday Maybe by The Clarks

In a bit of irony, the opening track “Stop!” starts abruptly as a solid rocker throughout. This strong opener features a choppy rhythm guitar riff and bluesy lead licks, while the chorus lyrics borrow from Buffalo Springfield’s hit “For What It’s Worth”. “Courtney” follows as a catchy, pure nineties pop/rock track with a bright acoustic and electric arrangement. “Mercury” leans towards folk/rock or almost alt country with plenty of fine riffs and hooks to accent the overall vibe, while “Rain” is a slow acoustic ballad which moves like a waltz and features slight desperation in Blasey’s lead vocals as well as a short but excellent ending guitar lead by James.

The heart of the album begins with the radio single “Caroline”, which is presented as pure new wave pop with rapid lyric delivery and much energy throughout. “Never Let You Down” may be the hardest rocking song on the entire album, due to the rapid riffing and relentless rhythms by Joseph and Minarik. Next comes the most unique track on Someday Maybe, the excellent, soft jazz “Fatal”, with some very interesting changes and rewarding musical interludes and duet lead vocals by guest Kelsey Barber.

the clarks

Coming down the stretch, the album returns to simple and straight-forward form. “The Box” and “One Day In My Life” are strong and steady rockers, with the latter one highlighted by the rich backing harmonies in the choruses. “No Place Called Home” is a folk/Americana acoustic ballad with dramatic lyrics from the point of view of a reluctant outlaw, while “These Wishes” is built on Minarik’s interesting drum shuffle. The album concludes with “Last Call”, a late night barroom anthem with a catchy sing-along hook.

The Clarks’ big label reign was short-lived as MCA fell into financial disarray before Someday Maybe received any notable promotion and, ultimately, their contract was terminated. However, after a short break, the band continued to record independently and remained a strong regional draw for years to come.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

The Young Rascals

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The Young RascalsThe 1966 self-titled debut by The Young Rascals is made mostly of cover songs. However, this in no way implies that the album is unoriginal as the quartet’s original blend of rock and soul brands each song with a distinctive quality. In total, The Young Rascals expertly captures the sound of this fun and energetic new band with an advanced talent for escalating the emerging sound of mid sixties music.

The Young Rascals were formed in Garfield, New Jersey in early 1965. Keyboardist/vocalist Felix Cavaliere and vocalist Eddie Brigati, who were previously members of Joey Dee and the Starliters and, with the addition of guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli, the band originally chose the name “The Rascals” (a name they would eventually adopt in later years). However, upon signing with Atlantic Records, discovered that it clashed with another group called “Harmonica Rascals”.

Just months after their formation, the group recorded and released their first single “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”, co-written by lyricist Pam Sawyer and singer Laurie Burton. This fun and unique folk track with much range musically from the rich, Phil Spector-like vocal arrangements to the quasi-psychedelic guitar lead. The single and the group’s subsequent national television appearance set the stage for the recording of the group’s debut album.

 


The Young Rascals by The Young Rascals
Released: March 28, 1966 (Atlantic)
Produced by: The Young Rascals
Recorded: September 1965 – March 1966
Side One Side Two
Slow Down
Baby Let’s Wait
Just a Little
I Believe
Do You Feel It
Good Lovin’
Like a Rolling Stone
Mustang Sally
I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
In the Midnight Hour
Group Musicians
Felix Cavaliere – Keyboards, Vocals
Eddie Brigati – Percussion, Vocals
Gene Cornish – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Dino Danelli – Drums

 

The B-side of The Young Rascal’s lead single, “Slow Down” starts the album as an upbeat and fun jam with plenty of choppy rock elements in this Larry Williams composition from the late 1950s. “Baby Let’s Wait” is another song by Sawyer and Burton written for the group as a long drum roll by Danelli introduces this emotional, R&B-inspired ballad. On the cover “Just a Little”, the bass and acoustic guitar takes the musical forefront on a track which has a Latin overall feel which meshes well with the smooth lead vocals and rich harmonies.

“I Believe” features the most soulful feel yet, highlighted by the very dramatic performance vocally by Brigati and the Hammond organ by Cavaliere. The first and only track written by members of the band, “Do You Feel It” is a dance-oriented, call and response sixties rocker which acts as a good warm up for the album’s climatic centerpiece, “Good Lovin'”. Written by Arthur Resnick and Rudy Clark, this crisp, short and direct rock jam with just enough input by all group members to balance it at just the right level sonically. Highlighting it all is Cavaliere’s distinct, melodic organ solo which soars to a rare level that establishes the song as an all time classic.

The Young Rascals

Much of the rest of side two is comprised of covers of well-known contemporary songs. There is an apt cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, which sticks pretty close to the original from Highway 61 Revisited and works fine save for the over-the-top harmonized chorus sections and other minor parts where the group tries to be fancy. Next, The Young Rascals play an almost ridiculously slow version of “Mustang Sally”, with a sloshy rock n’ soul groove and vocals which are legitimately soulful throughout. The closer “In the Midnight Hour” is an almost direct copy of Wilson Pickett’s original, which is a pretty impressive feat in itself.

The Young Rascals reached the Top 20 on the album charts and sold well in the U.S. The group had continued success in subsequent years as Brigati and Cavaliere began composing original songs which would establish them as one of the top acts of the late 1960s.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1966 albums.

 

Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson

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Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry NilssonThe seventh studio album by Harry Nilsson, the music on 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson unfolds almost like a television variety show with its incredible diversity in musical style. The most commercially successful work of Nilsson’s career, the album was his first to fully delve into the pop/rock realm as it features a vast array of mature pop ranging from tin pan alley to contemporary rock.

With a musical career that dated back to the late fifties, Nilsson began to have some real success as a songwriter in 1963 when he wrote a songs for artists like Little Richard and producers like Phil Spector. His debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson was released in 1966 with album releases coming in rapid succession over the next several years but with very modest commercial success. However, Nilsson’s multi-octave vocals caught the ear of Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor who introduced his music to the band. By 1968, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were citing Nilsson as one of their favorite American artists. Nilsson’s first commercial breakthrough came when his rendition of Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” was featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, becoming a Top 10 hit and leading to a subsequent Grammy Award.

Nilsson Schmilsson was produced by Richard Perry, who enlisted top-notch players to back Nilsson. This includes bassist Klaus Voormann, formally of Manfred Mann’s band, and drummer Jim Gordon who had recently been involved with Derek and the Dominos. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in London.

 


Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson
Released: November 13, 1971 (RCA/Victor)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June 1971
Side One Side Two
Gotta Get Up
Driving Along
Early in the Morning
The Moonbeam Song
Down
Without You
Coconut
Let the Good Times Roll
Jump Into the Fire
I’ll Never Leave You
Primary Musicians
Harry Nilsson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
John Uribe – Guitars
Klaus Voormann – Bass, Guitar
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion

 

The ten-song album features three covers and seven Nilsson originals including its first two tracks. “Gotta Get Up” is a theatrical pop/rocker driven by Nilsson’s bouncy piano, complete with a rich arrangement including slight horns and other elements packed into this song of less than two and a half minutes. The acoustic “Driving Along” follows and works well as an early seventies soft rocker with rich vocals, slight horns and a Mellotron by Perry. The album’s first cover is “Early in the Morning”, originally a late 1940s Cuban-influenced track by Louis Jordan. On this version, Nilsson nearly performs solo with a choppy reverb laden organ and extraordinarily soulful lead vocals.

“The Moonbeam Song” features slowly strummed acoustic topped by soft vocals soon accompanied by a rich backing chorus. The poetic verse structure of this song is atypical, with elongated lines at times to extenuate the overall feel. On the moderate piano rocker “Down”, Nilsson’s strained vocals and Jim Keltner‘s potent drum beats drive home the central theme strongly to finish the first side. The pop-oriented second side begins with the chart-topping cover of “Without You”, originally composed and released by Badfinger for their No Dice LP. Here, Nilsson took an incredibly dramatic ballad and made it even more emotional and melancholy as he uses his voice to max potential and performs both parts of the original duet by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Further, the orchestration of Paul Buckmaster made this an almost operatic piece.

Harry Nilsson

Following the emotional drama of “Without You”, comes the light and nearly frivolous “Coconut”. Here, a finger-picked acoustic riff starts the rotating and persistent percussion, which does not change through the entire duration of this quirky Caribbean hit. The cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” has a genuine Southern feel throughout with bouncy piano, a fine harmonica lead and slight slide guitar by John Uribe interjected between vocal lines. In contrast, the rocker “Jump Into the Fire” is built on a de-tuned bass groove by Herbie Flowers and well-treated vocals which sound unlike anything else on the album. The slow and simple piano ballad, “I’ll Never Leave You”, wraps things up with many instances of pleasant sonic additives throughout.

Nilsson Schmilsson was nominated for several Grammy awards with the song “Without You” winning for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In an attempt to build on this success, Nilsson followed with a couple of spin-offs, Son of Schmilsson in 1972 and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973, but neither of these were received nearly as well critically or commercially.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums

 

Get Close by The Pretenders

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Get Close by The PretendersThe fourth overall album by The Pretenders, the 1986 release Get Close, shows a radical musical transition by the group firmly controlled by composer and lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde. In fact, by the end of recording sessions for this album Hynde would be the only original member of the group remaining, as original drummer Martin Chambers was released from the band early in the recording process.

The Pretenders’ original guitarist and bassist, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, each died from substance abuse in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Hynde and Chambers decided to continue with the band and eventually added guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster for the 1984 album Learning to Crawl, a critical and commercial success. The band built on this success with a performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the first recording sessions for Get Close resulted in the album’s final track, a slick pop cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors”. It was here that Hynde decided that Chambers’ playing had deteriorated and fired him from the band, which sparked a discouraged Foster to quit shortly after. Hynde and McIntosh recorded the rest of the album with producers Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine in multiple studios and with multiple session musicians. Two of these players, bassist T.M. Stevens and drummer Blair Cunningham, were eventually hired as The Pretenders’ new rhythm section.

 


Get Close by The Pretenders
Released: October 20, 1986 (Sire)
Produced by: Bob Clearmountain & Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: Air Studios, London; Power Station and Right Track Recording, New York City; Bearsville Studio, Bearsville N.Y.; Polar Studios, Stockholm
Side One Side Two
My Baby
When I Change My Life
Light of the Moon
Dance!
Tradition of Love
Don’t Get Me Wrong
I Remember You
How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?
Chill Factor
Hymn to Her
Room Full of Mirrors
Primary Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars
T.M. Stevens – Bass
Blair Cunningham – Drums, Percussion

 

The bright and jangly chords of “My Baby” enter to a steady beat in this moderate love song filled with suspended fourth chords, strategic double-track vocals and some crowd sound effects later on. Released as a single, this album opener spent two weeks at #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts. “When I Change My Life” is another mellow track with strummed acoustic, persistent lead guitar notes and a waltz-like beat by the bass and drums. This moody and well-produced track also features some layered synths strategically placed later in the track.

After these initial fine tracks, the album devolves a bit starting with the slicker rock arrangement of the cover, “Light of the Moon” and followed by the rhythm and beat oriented “Dance!”. While this latter track does contain some fine droning guitar and Hammond organ leads, the dry vocals and mind-numbing repetition make this extended track a chore to listen to. The album returns to form with the moderate ballad “Tradition of Love”, featuring a fine musical arrangement, melodic vocals and the ever slightest twist of psychedelic through its guitar and voice-effect fused outro.

Chrissie Hynde

The most indelible song on the album is the happy-go-lucky rock jaunt “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, driven by the Stevens’ thumping bass line and McIntosh’s choppy guitar chords. This song’s slight rotating bridge is the only deviation from the original verse pattern and is followed by a lead that is very slight and mimicks Hynde’s main vocal melody. “I Remember You” features a reggae arrangement, driven by various keys and methodical rhythms, followed by “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?”, full-fledged devolution into eighties synth pop which is a bit embarrassing for the talents of Hynde and the group. “Chill Factor” is better as a Motown flavored, soulful ballad with a steady, slow beat and rich backing vocals. Written by Meg Keene, “Hymn to Her” starts with minimal synth through the intro vocals before breaking into steady, AOR smooth rock feel, which eventually builds to a harder rocking arrangement.

For the tour supporting Get Close, The Pretenders expanded to a quintet with the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell, signaling a future commitment to evolve further. However, this lineup did not last and, when McIntosh quit in 1987, The Pretenders were effectively finished as a working band.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Trial By Fire by Journey

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Trial by Fire by JourneyFor Journey‘s most avid fans, the 1996 album Trial By Fire may be best described as one last guilty dip into the group’s heyday of the previous decade. With that in mind, it’s really a shame that the music here nods back to the group’s post-fame eighties rather than the far superior pre-fame late seventies sound. In any case, this was the first time in a dozen years that the five-piece lineup which brought Journey its greatest success got together to make a record.

Following the phenomenal success of 1981’s Escape and Frontiers along with the subsequent major tours, Journey took some extended time off. Lead vocalist Steve Perry released his debut solo album while guitarist Neal Schon participated in the short-lived “super group” HSAS, fronted by Sammy Hagar. Turmoil ensued during the recording of their next album, Raised On Radio in 1986, as bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith were dismissed from the band due to “musical and professional differences”. Although that album was a commercial success, Perry went on an indefinite hiatus, leaving the group in limbo for several years.

In the early 1990s, keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined Schon, Valory and Smith for a series of tribute concerts. This indirectly led to the early 80s lineup of Perry, Schon, Cain, Valory and Smith reuniting in 1995 and recording this new album with producer Kevin Shirley in 1996, making it the first new Journey album in 10 years.


Trial by Fire by Journey
Released: October 22, 1996 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Shirley
Recorded: Ocean Way Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA, The Site and Wildhorse Studios, Marin County, CA, Summer 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Message of Love
One More
When You Love a Woman
If He Should Break Your Heart
Forever In Blue
Castles Burning
Don’t Be Down on Me Baby
Still She Cries
Colors of the Spirit
When I Think of You
Easy to Fall
Can’t Tame the Lion
It’s Just the Rain
Trial by Fire
Baby I’m a Leavin’ You
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

Trial by Fire by Journey

The group’s core members of Perry, Schon and Cain wrote the bulk of the songs on Trial by Fire. One of the few exceptions is the opening “Message Of Love”, which was co-written by lyricist John Bettis. The song swells in with some backwards-masked voices before strong beat-driven, perfectly fine, albeit ultra-ordinary pop song. This is an interesting slight nod back to the 1983 hit “Separate Ways” just prior to Schon’s lead guitar. “One More” starts with a movie-like string arrangement by David Campbell before breaking into Valory’s bass-driven rhythm to accompany Perry’s interesting and slightly dark vocal melody. “When You Love A Woman” is a classic Journey ballad with rocking piano, strategic guitar overtones and soulful/romantic vocals. The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as becoming a Top 10 hit on the American pop charts, the group’s last such hit to date.

“If He Should Break Your Heart” continues the parade of slick, love-oriented songs and, while the theme is unoriginal, this one takes on a pleasant mellow rock vibe musically. On “Forever In Blue”, the verse music is driven by a spunkier, choppy guitar riff with some fine snare clicks by Smith, For his part, Perry does get a bit soulfully strained as the song goes on, which works to add a bit of authenticity to the sound. Schon provides a wah-wah fused blues guitar between each verse line of “Castles Burning”, along with a later simple but exciting, squeaky rotating riff over the bridge to bring the song to a higher sonic level. This sparks the best sequence on the album with “Don’t Be Down On Me Baby” laid out like a classic Soul ballad with a simple, rotating piano phrase accompanied by Perry’s soaring lead vocals and “Still She Cries” featuring nicely picked guitar motifs in intro sets before the mood settles with steady rhythms throughout this ballad.

Journey in 1996

Unfortunately, there are many superfluous songs beyond this point. “Colors of the Spirit” does employ world-music inspired sounds through its long, jungle-like intro before unfortunately reverting back to standard fonts for the song proper. “When I Think of You” is, perhaps, the nadir of album as an uninspired ballad, while “Easy to Fall” only works later on with some fine, bluesy/jazz guitar work by Schon. “Can’t Tame the Lion” is a pure rock song that remain upbeat and rocking throughout before the mood is once again brought down with the ballad “It’s Just the Rain”. The title track, “Trial By Fire”, provides welcome relieve by this point of the Goliath-length album as Smith provides some odd beats accompanying Valory’s cool bass and Schon’s jazzy guitar for an overall fine vibe, while the “hidden” “Baby I’m a Leavin’ You” features a heavy Caribbean-influence with musical flourishes and a nice, light way to complete the album.

Trial By Fire reached #3 on the album charts and Journey appeared to be back in top commercial form as they prepared for a subsequent tour> However, Perry injured himself during a hiking, rendering him unable to perform for over a year. By 1998, both Perry and Smith were out of the group and Journey continued as a patchwork band into the new century.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Billy Breathes by Phish

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Billy Breathes by PhishAs their sixth official studio album, Billy Breathes is an early indication of Phish moving towards more mainstream rock music. Here, the four-piece group combined folk, rock and psychedelic into standard-length, accessible numbers with a good sense of melody and song craft. As a result, this 1996 release remains one of the most popular albums by a band better known for its jam-band fused live performances and moderately sized by avidly dedicated fan base.

After the release of their first two official studio album, Junta in 1989 and Lawn Boy in 1990, Phish began to design intricate and highly interactive concerts. Guitarist and front man Trey Anastasio led the band in giving musical cues for the audience to react in certain ways and band members would often switch instruments to make their live shows truly original. As a result of the band’s growing popularity,they were signed to Elektra Records with 1992’s A Picture of Nectar being Phish’s first release on that label. This was followed by the studio albums Rift and Hoist in 1993 and 1994 respectively and the live album, A Live One, which became the group’s first gold-selling album in 1995.

After rehearsing at their independent recording studio in Vermont, the group migrated to Bearsville Studios in the Catskill mountains of nearby New York state to record in early 1996. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the album features an almost equal split of compositions co-written by Anastasio and lyricist Tom Marshall and songs credited to all members of the band.


Billy Breathes by Phish
Released: October 15, 1996 (Elektra)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, NY, February–June 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Free
Character Zero
Waste
Taste
Cars Trucks Buses
Talk
Theme from the Bottom
Train Song
Bliss
Billy Breathes
Swept Away
Steep
Prince Caspian
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Page McConnell – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jon Fishman – Drums, Vocals
Billy Breathes by Phish

The only song that can be considered a “hit’ from Billy Breathes is the opening track “Free”, which reached #11 on the Mainstream Rock charts. Starting with a straight and direct droning rock background, this inventive song crams a lot of differing musical phrases into its less-than-four-minute duration. The start of “Character Zero” is a sparse blues arrangement before breaking in with heavy rock elements, including a driving drum beat by Jon Fishman and a bouncy bass by Mike Gordan. “Waste” is mainly quiet acoustic ballad, with a kind of “slacker love story” theme. As the song progresses, there is a subtle building in arrangement and a good sense of melody by Anastasio. The bridge is the first real place where the song fully realizes its dynamics and is followed by an exquisite piano lead by Page McConnell.

Almost like a musical exercise in maintaining odd timing and rudiments, “Taste” gives the impression that all band members seem to be playing contrasting parts but somehow this all works at a certain tension-filled level. In contrast, McConnell’s short instrumental, “Cars Trucks Buses”, falls into a nice groove throughout and gives much space for his organ and piano leads. The same dreaming, descending acoustic riff is repeated through the entirety of “Talk”, with differing musical accompaniment along with a sing-songy vocal melody. At just under six and a half minutes, “Theme from the Bottom” is the longest track on the album. It starts with a simple, dark and dissonant piano which is soon joined by upbeat rhythmic groove for a nice counter-effect. The second half of the song comes a mainly instrumental blistering rock section. The urban-folk sounding “Train Song” was co-written by guest Joe Linitz and Gordon, who provides whimsical lead vocals for the track.

Phish

The latter part of the album features the products of many improvisations during the album’s pre-production. “Bliss” features slow acoustic textures which gradually fade into an atmospheric instrumental. The title track, “Billy Breathes” hearkens back to seventies soft folk with modest, understated vocals along with rich harmonies in the chorus. Then comes the excellent and unique bridge section with banjo joined by slight and sharp brass songs before Anatasio’s top level guitar lead ushers the song with interesting chord pattern behind to make it a high point on the album. The final three tsongs complement each other and sound like they could’ve been a single, cohesive suite. “Swept Away” is quiet and reserved acoustic folk in a very short moment of mood, like it could have been an intro to some television or theatrical performance. “Steep” is pure psychedelic driven by keyboard and pedal effects before a rich vocal section dominates the second half of short track. “Prince Caspian” meanders in before an electric riff acts as bedding for the song’s main hook. The song proper of this closer is quite repetitive to get its lyrical point across before it again slowly dissolves into a fade with one final “shock” rock riff reprise to end the song and album.

When recording was wrapping for Billy Breathes, the band made a snap decision to use a a closeup shot of Mike Gordon’s face as the album’s cover, something Anastasio later said he regretted. Nonetheless, the album sold very well and remains, along with 2000’s Farmhouse, as one of the commercial peaks of Phish’s long career.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.