Echo by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Echo by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersClosing out the century with their tenth studio album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers blended folk/rock arrangements with introspective lyrical themes on Echo. The album’s tracks were composed and produced in the wake of Tom Petty‘s divorce from his wife of two decades and his own subsequent bought of depression and the isolation of living alone in a cabin. Petty stated that in this era he didn’t see a lot of people because he wasn’t happy and “didn’t want to lay that on everybody”.

Prior to Echo, Petty had been on a decade-long streak of commercial and critical success. In 1988 he became a member of the impromptu super group The Traveling Wilburys, immediately followed by the phenomenal success of Petty’s 1989 debut solo record, Full Moon Fever. In the 1990s, Petty alternated albums between the Heartbreakers (Into the Great Wide Open in 1991 and She’s the One in 1996) and solo (Wildflowers in 1994), all of which achieved great success in charting and airplay. During this era, the group also released a 1993 Greatest Hits compilation, which reached number 1 on the album charts and went Platinum a dozen times over, as well as Playback, a 1995 six-disc box set.

Echo was produced by Rick Rubin and recorded over the span of 1997 and 1998. Rubin had previously produced Wildflowers and She’s the One and had enlisted the Heartbreakers in backing up the legendary Johnny Cash on his 1996 album , Unchained.


Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Released: April 13, 1999 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell & Rick Rubin
Recorded: 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Room at the Top
Counting on You
Free Girl Now
Lonesome Sundown
Swingin’
Accused of Love
Echo
Won’t Last Long
Billy the Kid
I Don’t Wanna Fight
This One’s for Me
No More
About to Give Out
Rhino Skin
One More Day, One More Night
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Vocals
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Howie Epstein – Bass, Vocals
Steve Ferrone – Drums
 
Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

At over an hour of running time, Echo is a 15-song album with the length of a traditional double LP. It is book-ended by tracks which share the common theme of isolation and observation. The opening “Room at the Top” is a melancholy lament of lost love which Petty later described as one of the most depressing songs in rock history”. The closing “One More Day, One More Night” is a bluesy ballad which concludes with Mike Campbell‘s understated blues rock guitar lead. In between these two tracks is an ebb-and-flow of songs of high and low moods and arrangements.

“Counting on You” is a crisp folk-rock track with a fine rotation of sonic ear candy including piercing guitar licks, electric piano and slight fiddle. Harkening back to the group’s late seventies post-punk era, “Free Girl Now” is an upbeat rocker which comes down for a cool third verse with picked electric guitar and choppy organ by Benmont Tench. This song was the lead single from the album and it reached the Top 10 the Mainstream Rock charts. Tench’s country-esque piano introduces the ballad “Lonesome Sundown” which hits some nice chords and features Petty’s vocals at top notch, hitting some of the higher notes in his range. The next track, “Swingin'” is a fine example of Petty’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s style, while “Accused of Love” is a bright and upbeat acoustic pop song. The title track, “Echo” is a sad acoustic ballad driven by Petty’s melancholy lyrics.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The album’s latter half features some of its more interesting tunes, “Won’t Last Long” features a blend of driving, double strummed acoustic guitars in the verse and complex vocals patterns in the chorus along with a mid section where everything come down to reveal a subtle, penny-whistle organ. The acoustic “Billy the Kid” is topped off by tremolo guitar and backed with strong drum beat by Steve Ferrone, the newest member of the Heartbreakers. Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Fight” is a unique song in the Heartbreaker’s catalog, as this quasi-punk hard rocker is the only one to feature a lead vocal from someone other than Petty, while “This One’s for Me” is a bright and melodic ode to self interest. The sad but beautiful ballad “No More” features strings, percussion and other sweet instrumentation and effects in the arrangement, as the mood comes back up on “About to Give Out”, featuring a country-boogie piano lead by Tench. The album climaxes with the profound “Rhino Skin”, with the sharp lyrics accompanied by deadened guitar accompanied by a moody string arrangement and Howie Epstein‘s sharp bass rhythms.

Sadly, Echo would be the final album Heartbreakers’ album to feature Epstein,, who died in 2003 from a heroin overdose. Due to the painful memories associated with this album, Petty did not listen to this album for many years after its release, but was pleasantly surprised by its quality when his wife insisted they listen to during a long drive together.

~

1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Crimson and Clover by
Tommy James & the Shondells

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Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the ShondellsTommy James and the Shondells hit their creative and commercial climax  in 1969 with their sixth studio album, Crimson and Clover. This album combines some heavy psychedelic elements with the group’s core pop/R&B sensibilities for a potent cross-section of authentic fine sixties music. Crimson and Clover is also the first album in which the group’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Tommy James, played a large part in composing the bulk of the material.

The group’s roots stretch back a decade to 1959 in Michigan, when a 12-year-old James formed Tom and the Tornadoes, with the group releasing its first single, “Long Pony Tail”, in 1962. James renamed the band the Shondells in 1964 when they recorded the single “Hanky Panky” for local label Snap Records, which was a modest local hit in the Midwest but not big enough to keep the original Shondells together past high school graduation. The following year, a Pittsburgh dance promoter discovered the single and played it at various events and on radio stations, generating enough interest to attract James to play shows in Western Pennsylvania. A second version of the backing band was recruited in Greensburg, PA, including keyboardist Ron Rosman and bassist Mike Vale.

With this new touring group, James made a deal with Roulette Records to receive national promotion, which drove “Hanky Panky” to number 1 on the pop charts in July 1966. More success quickly followed, including the Top Ten hits “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1967), “Mirage” (1968) and “Mony Mony” (1968), all of which were penned by outside writers. In late 1968, the group was given artistic control by Roulette and decided to take a new direction by writing their own songs and self-producing their next album, Crimson and Clover.


Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells
Released: January, 1969 (Roulette)
Produced by: Tommy James and the Shondells
Recorded: 1968
Side One Side Two
Crimson and Clover
Kathleen McArthur
I’m a Tangerine
Do Something to Me
Crystal Blue Persuasion
Sugar on Sunday
Breakaway
Smokey Roads
I’m Alive
Group Musicians
Tommy James – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eddie Gray – Guitars, Vocals
Ron Rosman – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Vale – Bass, Vocals
Peter Lucia – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by drummer Peter Lucia, the album’s opening title track is a juxtaposition of James soulful vocals and the heavily treated tremolo guitar effect. This sets the stage for the overall vibe of “Crimson and Clover”, which was recorded by James, Vale and Lucia as an intended single, released ahead of the album in late 1968 and topped the US pop charts in February 1969. The song was also a hit internationally, reaching number one in six other nations. The next track, “Kathleen McArthur”, is an English folk style tune complete with harpsichord, flute and lyrics about a servant falling secretly for the daughter of his aristocratic employer, while “I’m a Tangerine” appears to be an overt attempt at psychedelic pop with strong influence from early Pink Floyd.

“Do Something to Me” is the album’s only cover track but this Top 40 hit takes a refreshing turn back to straight-forward rock n’ roll with an Elvis inspired revival complete with a “fake” live audience reaction such as whistling, hooting and hollering. The album’s best overall song is “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, co-written by guitarist Eddie Gray, features a unique and excellent blend of psychedelic guitar, soul bass, hand percussion, flamenco acoustic and melodic vocals. Later on Vale’s bass leads into a key change upward that completes this song as a classic,which made it to #2 on the charts.

Tommy James and the Shondells

The rest of the album features a diverse set of interesting songs. “Sugar on Sunday” dips back into the psychedelic bubblegum, although this one does have some interesting elements, with an almost Gospel-like feel from the backing vocals. “Breakaway” is harder rock and experimental with a combination of fuzz guitar and basic soul piano providing dueling arrangements and a slight mid section led by bass. Backwards-masked spoken vocals leads to the ballad “Smokey Roads”, featuring some interesting drum transitions by Lucia, while “I’m Alive” features sharp guitars that break through the thumping rhythms and is thematically celebratory. The album concludes with an alternate take of the title track’s coda section to bring it all full circle.

In the year it was released, Crimson and Clover reached the Top 10 of the album charts and maintained its esteem through the next half century. However, the group did not persist much longer, as the Shondells disbanded in early 1970 when Tommy James collapsed after a show and was initially pronounced dead. He did recover and launched a solo career shortly after.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

 

Motörhead’s 1979 albums

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Buy Bomber

Motorhead 1979 albumsDuring the year 1979, Motörhead released their second and third albums, Overkill and Bomber, two records that put this hard rock trio on the map. Overkill was an unexpected success and has gone on to be considered a major leap forward in both style and critical acclaim. Led by bassist and vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, the group forged a raw and heavy but somewhat melodic and accessible sound which forged elements of heavy blues and punk rock.

Kilmister joined the group Hawkwind in the early 1970s, which spawned some successful albums and a Top 5 single in the UK. However, he was fired by the band in 1975 after being briefly jailed on drug charges when entering Canada and forcing the band to cancel some scheduled shows. Lemmy immediately decided to form a new band and named it Motörhead after a song he had recently written. The band quickly found success and a contract with United Artists. Material for the eventual album On Parole was recorded but the label initially refused to release it because they were dissatisfied with the sound (it was ultimately also released in 1979, after Motörhead’s breakthrough success). Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke, both of whom would remain as the group’s core trio as some original group members departed in coming years. In August 1977, the group’s self-titled debut record was released and it spent a brief time on the UK Albums chart. In 1978, the group signed with Bronze Records and released a cover of the Kingsmen classic “Louie Louie”, followed by a tour to promote the record.

With the minor success from this single, the group commenced recording for a new album in December 1978 with producer Jimmy Miller. The resulting Overkill album became a Top 30 album on the charts and it sparked a tour and a quick follow-up record, Bomber, which was also produced by Miller.


Overkill by Motorhead
Released: March 24, 1979 (Bronze)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller & Neil Richmond
Recorded: Roundhouse and Sound Development Studios, London, December 1978-January 1979
Side One Side Two
Overkill
Stay Clean
(I Won’t) Pay Your Price
I’ll Be Your Sister
Capricorn
No Class
Damage Case
Tear Ya Down
Metropolis
Limb From Limb

Bomber by Motorhead
Released: October 27, 1969 (Bronze)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Roundhouse Studios and Olympic Studios, London, July-August 1979
Side One Side Two
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Lawman
Sweet Revenge
Sharpshooter
Poison
Stone Dead Forever
All the Aces
Step Down
Talking Head
Bomber
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Lemmy Kilmister – Lead Vocals, Bass
Eddie Clarke – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Taylor – Drums

 

Overkill begins with its fine title track, a song of genuine energy and release. Notable for Taylor’s an early use of double kick pedals the track employs minimal overdubs through its head banging parade. The next track, “Stay Clean”, has an almost punk vibe to it along with some electronic treatment on Kilmister’s vocals along with his cool buzzy bass and slight bass lead while “(I Won’t) Pay Your Price” has a Southern rock feel blended with straight-ahead energy and layered guitar textures by Clarke.

Overkill by Motorhead“I’ll Be Your Sister” returns to the pop/punk energetic rock, but with a bit different and interesting twist. “Capricorn” begins with drum rhythms and a dramatic guitar build up, later culminating with some of the later reverb-drenched guitars have a Hendrix-style effect. The album’s second side starts with the crisp rock riffing of “No Class” then returns to the punk style of “Damage Case”, with just enough classic rock swing to make it interesting and anthemic. “Tear Ya Down” releases more energy, “Metropolis” features slightly bluesy riffing and some harmonized vocals and the album closer “Limb From Limb” is built on a hypnotic, rotating riff between each verse line.

Motorhead in 1979

Less than four months after the release of Overkill, Motörhead began working on their next album, Bomber. Without having much opportunity to develop the songs and with Miller struggling with substance abuse during the sessions, this third album turned out to be less edgy and more formulaic. The album is bookmarked by, perhaps, its strongest songs. The opener “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is both refined and energetic as a slightly raw hard rocker, while the closing title song is an obvious classic track with the energy and freshness of much of the material on Overkill, making for a hit Top 40 single on the UK singles chart.

Bomber by Motorhead“Lawman” features some cool chord changes while basically hitting on main riff and lyrical hook which scoffs at the police. “Sweet Revenge” changes things up as methodical sludge rocker with a cool, bluesy slide by Clarke during the choruses. “Sharpshooter” again returns back to riff-rock, while “Poison” and “Stone Dead Forever” trend towards a fusion of punk and metal. “All the Aces” revives the definitive Motörhead sound while “Step Down” reverts to a real classic Black Sabbath vibe, making it one of the better tracks on the album.

In spite of being a bit rushed and underdone, Bomber peaked at #12 on the UK albums chart, making it their strongest showing on the charts up to that point. A tour of Europe followed, complete with a spectacular aircraft bomber-shaped lighting rig, as the group headed into the new decade of the 1980s with the promise of more success.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

The Guess Who’s 1969 albums

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Buy Canned Wheat

The Guess Who 1969 albumsAlthough the group was already over a decade old and had already released three albums, the pop career of The Guess Who really got underway with the release of two albums in 1969; Wheatfield Soul and Canned Wheat. These albums spawned several hit singles and ignited the group’s meteoric span at the heights of the pop and rock world internationally, which continued into the early seventies. Both of these albums were produced by Jack Richardson.

Formed in Winnipeg in 1958, The Guess Who recorded their debut single, “Tribute To Buddy Holly”, in 1962 as “Chad Allan and the Reflections”. Three years later the group produced their debut album, Shakin’ All Over and corresponding title song which topped the Canadian charts and reached the Top 30 in the United States. Two more albums, Hey Ho (What You Do to Me!) and It’s Time were released in the next year and a half through 1965 and 1966, before Allen was replaced by 18-year-old Burton Cummings. In 1967, The Guess Who were hired as the house band on the CBC radio show The Swingers as well as the television program Let’s Go, giving the group vast exposure in Canada and eventually leading to their international record deal with RCA Records.


Wheatfield Soul by The Guess Who
Released: March, 1969 (RCA)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: A & R Studios, New York, September 1968
Side One Side Two
These Eyes
Pink Wine Sparkles in the Glass
I Found Her in a Star
Friends of Mine
When You Touch Me
A Wednesday in Your Garden
Lightfoot
Love and a Yellow Rose
Maple Fudge
We’re Coming to Dinner

Canned Wheat by The Guess Who
Released: September, 1969 (RCA)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: RCA Studio A, New York, New York, 1969
Side One Side Two
No Time
Minstrel Boy
Laughing
Undun
6 A.M. or Nearer
Old Joe
Of a Dropping Pin
Key
Fair Warning
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Burton Cummings – Lead Vocals, piano, keyboards, flute, harmonica
Randy Bachman – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Kale – Bass, Vocals
Gary Peterson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Wheatfield Soul was recorded in New York City in September 1968 with most songs co-written by Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman. The album offers an odd but interesting mix of structured sixties Brit-pop and roaming experimental songs, some which work and some which don’t. Standing above all else is the fantastic opening track, “These Eyes”, a song of perfect sonic execution. It starts with simple electric piano riff by Cummings along with choppy electric and lightly strummed acoustic by Bachman and then slowly adds arrangement and orchestration matched by Cummings’ vocal intensity to make for a perfect pop song for the late 1960s. The song became the group’s first single to reach the top ten in the US and it has individually sold over one million copies.

Wheatfield Soul by The Guess WhoPink Wine Sparkles in the Glass” is a short but rather complex rocker with differing tempos and homages to contemporaries like the Beatles and the Bee Gees, while “I Found Her in a Star” is a more standard ballad with plenty of sonic décor including both smooth orchestration and buzzy electric guitar. The freaky psychedelic rock suite “Friends of Mine” has multiple section built on simple jam riffs with Cummings adding somewhat improvised poetic motifs which seem to be influenced by The Doors’ Jim Morrison and include a contemporary reference of Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour with the statement;

Kurt is the walrus and the walrus does funny things to the veins in his left arm….”

The second side of Wheatfield Soul is equally as diverse, starting with “When You Touch Me”, which starts with Gary Peterson‘s animated drums and settles into a pop-oriented groove but may be a little underdone to become a hit. Bachman’s “A Wednesday in Your Garden” is a pretty and pleasant jazz rock ballad with lead vocals remaining high in rock intensity, while “Lightfoot” is a pure folk tribute song with multiple acoustics and lyrics that call Gordon Lightfoot “an artist painting Sistine masterpieces”. “Love and a Yellow Rose” starts as an Eastern-style chant accompanied by single, buzzy guitar before fully kicking in as an entertaining funk rocker, followed by the happy-go-lucky, bouncy, bubblegum rock of “Maple Fudge”. The closer “We’re Coming to Dinner” is a cool jazz rocker with plenty of groovy elements led by an effective rebellious hook which should’ve made this a hit in the late sixties.

The Guess Who

Outside of Canada where it reached the Top Ten, Wheatfield Soul was not a commercial success. However, it did set a standard to be built upon and improved upon for a follow-up album. Canned Wheat was recorded through 1969 and features tracks which are more evenly spread out in temper and quality. The opener “No Time” is an early “alternate” version of the later re-recorded hit featured on the 1970 album American Woman. It starts with weird, dissonant guitars before breaking into the moderate rock groove. Later, Bachman’s extended guitar lead reaches into psychedelia a bit, making this distinct recording pretty interesting. “Minstrel Boy” follows as slightly jazzy folk track with bouncy bass by Jim Kale along with definitively strummed chords and darkly-tinged lyrics.

Canned Wheat by The Guess WhoTwo of the more popular tracks on Canned Wheat, “Laughing” and “Undun” were actually recorded twice due to quality issues. “Laughing” alternates between a sad ballad and a more upbeat pop love song, a combination which propelled the track to the top of the Canadian Singles Chart and the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bachman’s “Undun” was originally issued as the B-side of “Laughing” and this jazzy track features excellence all around – unique, bright guitar chording by Bachman, the best bass playing yet by kale, bossa-nova style drumming by Peterson, and vocals which stretch the ranges by Cummings – along with a very cool and unique bridge. While a little disjointed in direction, “6 A.M. or Nearer” is a very pleasant listen nonetheless to complete the original first side.

“Old Joe” is a track by Cummings with an intro that features backward-masked piano and haunting chords before breaking into a folk piano ballad with fine, dynamic vocals and good, animated rhythms, while “Of a Dropping Pin” is a decent rocker with a profound lyrical hook. “Key” is the album’s eleven-minute extended track which starts with sitar before breaking into a rhythmic rock section during the initial three verses. Then, after a standard guitar lead comes an interesting drum/percussion section topped by various guitar textures before Peterson goes into a full-fledged drum solo which takes up the second half of this extended suite. The album concludes with the short track, “Fair Warning”, with jazzy guitar chords and spoken words.

By the time Canned Wheat was released in September 1969, The Guess Who had already begun recording material for their next album, American Woman, the first of two albums released in 1970 by the group.

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Skid Row

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This album review is provided by Merry Mercurial, a writer of fiction, essays, reviews, and the “highly subjective” music blog, The Music According to Merry.

Skid RowEvery bit as fun as candy cigarettes, if not as addictive as the nicotine-laced real deals, Skid Row released their self-titled debut album on January 24, 1989. From the beginning, the biggest criticism leveled against the band was the extent to which they blended in with the big-hair, big-chants, “Big Guns” era of metal at the turn of the ’90s. They weren’t here to reinvent pop-metal. They didn’t offer some special recipe inimitable by the likes of Bon Jovi or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Rock purists who considered the genre transgressive, or at least inventive, by nature weren’t forgiving to Skid Row—to many, the band was a formula filler.

  • The feathery blond hair that shimmied perfectly under stage lighting to the radio-friendly thump of “Shake, shake—shake it like a rattlesnake.”
  • The leather.
  • The decade-appropriate guitar distortion and solos.
  • The earnest, angsty, but ultimately good-guy anthems from the POV of, well, youth gone wild. Their very song titles seemed borrowed from a manual called Getting by in Glam Metal.

If there’s one reason Skid Row broke free of the pack, it was a tall, Bahamian-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter named Sebastian.
As lead vocalist of the band starting in ’87, Sebastian Bach knew how to accentuate simple phrases (like the “Hey, man!” of “Youth Gone Wild”) in a way that hinted at history and place—this wasn’t someone who’d scrubbed his voice clean for mass appeal; this guy was from somewhere. And this was a guy who went for it, full tilt, with everything he sang.


Skid Row by Skid Row
Released: January 24, 1989 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Michael Wagener
Recorded: Royal Recorders in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Big Guns
Sweet Little Sister
Can’t Stand The Heartache
Piece Of Me
18 And Life
Rattlesnake Shake
Youth Gone Wild
Here I Am
Makin’ A Mess
I Remember You
Midnight/Tornado
Sebastian Bach – Lead Vocals
Scotti Hill – Guitars, Vocals
Dave Sabo – Guitars, Vocals
Rachel Bolan – Bass, Vocals
Rob Affuso – Drums, Percussion
 
Skid Row

 

Though never released as a single, “Here I Am” may offer one of the best examples of Sebastian Bach’s stylistic range, and of Skid Row’s potential. Musically, the song doesn’t exactly break down barriers of rhythm and arrangement—but it sure is fun. Hinged on aggressive guitars that screech occasionally toward dog-whistle heights, the music doesn’t bother ebbing or tapering; it stays loud and proud until inter-track silence falls.

As for Sebastian? He growls and he throws out low-tone vocal punches. On choruses, he aims for the back-most benches of the stadium bleachers. The way he trills about “her German cigarettes” exemplifies the happy medium between drama and shtick, as does the jump-roping beat of his ensuing “no-no-no.” True, this vocal quirk may not be such a different beast from Axl Rose bringing the world to its “shun n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n knees” in GNR’s “Welcome to the Jungle” from their ’87 album Appetite for Destruction. But Sebastian doesn’t just master the sexy/slapstick stutter or just theatrically accentuate his rs. Or just slingshot from low-lows to seraphic-highs. He packages the full suite in a way that feels effortless. His voice, in fact, can create the impression of a feline when catnip’s being tossed around the room—free, fast, moody, everywhere at once.

Skid Row in 1989

Also comprised, at the time, of bassist Rachel Bolan, guitarists Scotti Hill and Dave Sabo, and drummer Rob Affuso, Skid Row recorded their first album in Geneva, Wisconsin. Under the banner of Atlantic Records, they worked with producer Michael Wagener, also notable for his work with Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Megadeth. The auspicious debut would reach number six on the Billboard 200 and earn 5× platinum certification by the RIAA. Of the album’s four singles, “18 and Life” became the band’s most popular, reaching number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

After a nine-year run, Sebastian Bach parted ways with Skid Row in 1996. That he went on to perform in Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway along with The Rocky Picture Horror Show — and that, to fresh generation of fans, he will forever be Gil from the band Hep Alien on Gilmore Girls — should come as no surprise. The same theatrical acumen that helped him elevate Skid Row from the midlist made (and make) him an all-around great performer. Skid Row is still together today, now with Rob Hammersmith on drums and ZP Theart leading the vocals. Check out their latest music, outrageous fonts, and tour schedule on thier official website.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
 

Mutations by Beck

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Mutations by BeckFor his sixth studio album, Beck and company decided to move in a decidedly non-commercial direction. The result is the lo-fi, psychedelic-oriented potpourri of Mutations. Released in late 1998, the songs on this album are masterfully composed to appear simple and straightforward at first, but reveal more sonic depth upon subsequent listens. Despite being less commercially successful than previous records, the album reached the Top 20 in the US and has gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide.

Beck’s previous album, 1996’s Odelay, was a commercial breakthrough as a fine blend of diverse genres such as country, blues, rap, jazz and rock with a methodical, “cut-and-paste” type method of production. The ensuing aftermath of success saw the normally reclusive artist land a Grammy nomination along with appearances on mainstream television. With this sudden rise, a proper strategy for a follow-up had less time to mature.

Entering the sessions for Mutations in Los Angeles, Beck and his touring band recorded over a dozen songs in two weeks with producer Nigel Godrich. In contrast to the previous album’s production, much of this captured the performance of the musicians live as they recorded with heavy use of acoustic guitars, keyboards and strings.


Mutations by Beck
Released: November 22, 1998 (DCG)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & Nigel Godrich
Recorded: Los Angeles, March–April 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Cold Brains
Nobody’s Fault but My Own
Lazy Flies
Canceled Check
We Live Again
Tropicalia
Dead Melodies
Bottle of Blues
O Maria
Sing It Again
Static
Beck Hansen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Percussion
Smokey Hormel – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Manning – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Justin Meldal-Johnsen – Bass, Vocals
Joey Waronker – Drums, PercussionMutations by Beck

The opening track and single release “Cold Brains” features some oddly poetic lyrics which Beck compared to the humorous side of Leonard Cohen with a musical vibe that is “like country music on the moon”. “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” was another single release which went on to become one of the most beloved songs in the artist’s library as it builds from a sparse setting into a rich orchestral arrangement.

The upbeat and pulsing “Lazy Flies” follows, leading to a break for the Western flavored tune “Canceled Check” and the harpsichord laden “We Live Again”. The album’s third single, “Tropicalia” was inspired by world music, especially music from Brazil. The song was written by Beck while riding on a tour bus.

Beck

As the album progresses it features many lesser known tracks which continue to touch on diverse musical areas. “Dead Melodies” is an acoustic ballad with subtle backing vocals, “Bottle Of Blues” lives up to its title’s promise, “O Maria” features a piano-driven swing, while “Sing It Again” and “Static” each feature a subtle musical landscape. The most interesting track of the latter album is “Diamond Bollocks”, a track with many twists and turns while maintaining a catchy groove and consistent, moderate beat. The album then concludes with the minimalist “Runners Dial Zero”.

Mutations was originally intended to be released by the indie label Bong Load Records. However, after the executives at Beck’s major label, Geffen, heard the finished product they reneged on their permission to let the smaller label release the record. This led to years of litigation between the artist and label over this album which eventually won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

Dire Straits

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Dire Straits 1978 debutBritish quartet Dire Straits launched their fruitful career in 1978 with an impressive self-titled debut studio album. This album features nine tracks composed by guitarist/vocalist Mark Knopfler who blended elements of American roots music with a distinct guitar style and a reserved, husky vocal for an appealing overall style which found receptive audiences worldwide. The multi-platinum selling Dire Straits topped the album charts in several countries and reach the Top 5 in several more, including the US and the UK.

The group was formed in the mid 1970s by Mark and his younger brother, rhythm guitarist David Knopfler. Originally from Newcastle, England, the brothers migrated to London where Mark was working as a teacher while performing with pub bands at night. Bassist John Illsley and veteran drummer Pick Withers were eventually recruited and the band was formed with a name that referenced to their current financial situation. The band borrowed money to record a five-song demo tape, which was well received by a local disc jockey and the airing of “Sultans of Swing” led to a recording contract with the Vertigo Records division of Phonogram Inc.

The debut, Dire Straits, was recorded in early 1978 with producer Muff Winwood. Following its recording (but months prior to its release), the group began heavily promoting the songs with a European summer tour which created much anticipation for the album.


Dire Straits by Dire Straits
Released: October 7, 1978 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Muff Winwood
Recorded: Basing Street Studios, London, February-March 1978
Side One Side Two
Down to the Waterline
Water of Love
Setting Me Up
Six Blade Knife
Southbound Again
Sultans of Swing
In the Gallery
Wild West End
Lions
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Knopfler – Guitars, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Pick Withers – Drums

 

“Down to the Waterline” features a methodical entry to the album before the full band arrangement kicks in with a bit of a western swing and direct, narrative vocals with ever-present guitar licks. Right from the jump, the rhythm and lead dynamics of the Knopfler brothers is established as a dynamic on this album. Withers introduces “Water of Love”with some methodical percussion. Soon the rootsy, acoustic song proper arrives with methodical vocals for an overall pleasant effect. “Six Blade Knife” is a rhythm-fronted textural song which seems to draw much influence from Fleetwood Mac rhythms on their then-recent Rumours album. Released as a single, this song actually charted on Country charts in both the US and Canada. The Southern rock influenced “Southbound Again” completes the original first side with a repeated riff motif played much during its short, less than three-minute duration.

Dire Straits in 1978

“Sultans of Swing” is the best and most popular track on the album, a true masterpiece from beginning to end. Each group member is at top form in support of Knopfler’s mastery on lead guitars and vocals with variety, movement and distinction between verse licks and solo leads. The song became the group’s first international hit in 1979 with its descriptive lyrics inspired by Knopfler witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a deserted pub in South London, and is uniquely delivered as they describe a musical genre much unlike the excellent, rhythmic rock song, right up to the rather ironic lyrics;

they don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it aint what they call rock n’ roll…”

The duration of the album features three quasi-jam tracks of differing sub-genres. After a pleasant intro, “In the Gallery” morphs into a quasi-reggae beat for the verses with interesting drum fills and lyrics written as a tribute to Leeds sculptor/artist. “Wild West End” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with a repeated riff under the verse and chorus hooks, along with some sparse vocal harmonies. The closer “Lions” has a walking rhythm guitar and a bluesy lead guitar above a strong, rhythmic rock storyteller.

Dire Straits spent no time enjoying the success of their debut record. Soon after its release, they jumped on the circuit with Talking Heads on their first North American tour and before the end of 1978 they traveled to the Bahamas to begin work on their second album, Communiqué.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall & Oates

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Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and OatesFor all the success that this Philadelphia-based duo would experience later on in their career, Daryl Hall and John Oates struggled to find a commercial footing early on. That’s not to say that they didn’t produce interesting and creative music as demonstrated brilliantly on their second album, Abandoned Luncheonette, released in late 1973. Despite only reaching #33 on the album charts during its initial run, this album slowly grew in stature and would finally reach platinum-selling status about three decades after its release.

The duo first met in 1967 while each was leading a separate group during a band competition. They later discovered that they had common musical interests and that both attended Temple University. The Hall & Oates musical duo was officially formed in 1970, with a recording contract at Atlantic Records. Their debut album, Whole Oates, was produced by Arif Mardin and released in November 1972 but failed to have any commercial success.

For Abandoned Luncheonette, the group and production team moved from from Philadelphia to New York where their disparate influences of folk, rock and soul were refined with the help of expert session players to forge the album’s musical tapestry as well as the group’s signature sound for the next decade. Much like on their album, the compositions and to a lesser extent lead vocals are split between the two with Hall & Oates penning just a few co-written songs.


Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and Oates
Released: November 3, 1973 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Arif Mardin
Recorded: Atlantic Studios and Advantage Sound Studios, New York City, 1973
Side One Side Two
When The Morning Comes
Had I Known You Better Then
Las Vegas Turnaround (Stewardess Song)
She’s Gone
I’m Just A Kid
Abandoned Luncheonette
Lady Rain
Laughing Boy
Everytime I Look At You
Primary Musicians
Daryl Hall – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
John Oates – Guitars, Vocals
Chris Bond – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Gelfand – Bass
Bernard Purdie – Drums, Percussion

The album begin’s with Hall’s “When the Morning Comes”, a subtle acoustic reggae beat sprinkled with a cool mellotron by Chris Bond . It allows plenty of room for Hall’s vocals to expand through his generous range. Rhythmically, the song is kept moving by the drums of the legendary Bernard Purdie. Oats provides his initial composition with “Had I Known You Better Then”, a folk singer/songwriter type song with just a hint of the rock n’ soul sound driven by a slight electric piano by Hall. “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)” has a fine, unique musical groove, highlighted by the saxophone lead of Joe Farrell and the main lyrical subject appears to be Hall’s girlfriend Sara Allen, the later subject of the 1976 hit song “Sara Smile”.

Another future hit for the duo is the fantastic “She’s Gone”, the true classic song from album. With a building arrangement starting with Steve Gelfand‘s bass and the subtle soul piano. A true duet, the atmosphere continues building atmosphere through its duration with horns introducing the strong outro section. Although released in 1974 as a single, it wouldn’t chart until it was re-released two years later, when it became a Top Ten hit in 1976. “I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)” revisits the somewhat tacky acoustic folk/rock by Oates, albeit with good harmonies throughout and an interesting use of keyboards.

Hall and Oates, 1973

The album’s title song commences the original side two, as a nostalgic storyteller suite interesting arrangement of piano, horns and further orchestration. “Abandoned Luncheonette” rapidly shifts a few times in style and shift, expressing the past moments of the now defunct location. “Lady Rain” is a funky folk tune with good combined vocals and an interesting dark string arrangement and bluesy guitar licks by Hugh McCracken, while the simple ballad “Laughing Boy” features Hall solo on piano and vocals and just some very subtle orchestration, providing a mood which sounds like it would fit better in a thematic or concept album. The extended closer
“Everytime I Look At You” starts as an upbeat funk/rocker with a heavy guitar and bass presence that make this heavier than anything else on this album. Hall provides an excellent guitar lead before Hall’s climatic vocal part followed by and unexpected outro of banjo and fiddle to an escalating tempo to finish the album.

Both Hall & Oates have allegedly cited Abandoned Luncheonette as their favorite album in their catalog. The duo released their third album, War Babies, in 1974 before moving on to RCA Records and much success in subsequent years.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Infidels by Bob Dylan

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Infidels by Bob DylanIn 1983, Bob Dylan released his studio album, Infidels. With this, Dylan received his highest critical and commercial success in nearly a decade. Still, through time, Infidels received criticism for not including some classic tracks like “Foot of Pride”, “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” and “Blind Willie McTell”, which were both recorded for this album but ultimately omitted. The latter of these would not be released until an outtakes album in 1991 but has come to be considered a true classic in Dylan’s expansive portfolio.

Late in the 1970s, Dylan became an evangelical Christian and, after dedicating three months of discipleship, he decided to release a trilogy of Gospel influenced music. Slow Train Coming (1979) was well-received critically, won Dylan a Grammy award for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody”, and marked his first work with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. The subsequent albums Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) were less regarded by critics and fans.

Co-produced by Knofler, Infidels was seen as a return to Dylan’s secular music roots. He initially wanted to self-produce the album but capitulated due to his lack of knowledge of emerging recording technology. Dylan had spoken with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello about producing this album before hiring Knopfler.

 


Infidels by Bob Dylan
Released: October 27, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan
Recorded: The Power Station, New York City, April-May 1983
Side One Side Two
Jokerman
Sweetheart Like You
Neighborhood Bully
License to Kill
Man of Peace
Union Sundown
I and I
Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Mark Knopfler – Guitars
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Robbie Shakespeare – Bass
Sly Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its strongest tune, “Jokerman”, which is musically led by Robbie Shakespeare‘s thumping bass and the subtle duo guitars of Knopfler and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Meanwhile, Dylan provides potent lyrics and great melody and, although very repetitive, the song has much forward motion due to the increasing vocal intensity as well as the subtle building of musical arrangement and fine harmonica leads late in the song. Released as a single in 1984, “Jokerman” simultaneously spawned Dylan’s MTV-era music video. “Sweetheart Like You” follows as a rather standard ballad with a good hook. Knofler’s influence is very evident in its arrangement which also features keyboardist Alan Clark.

Much of the material on Infidels has a solid rock or pop arrangement, displaying how far musically Dylan had strayed from the folk or roots based music he proliferated in the 1960s while still touching on the topical issues of the day. “Neighborhood Bully” has a new wave edge with a bit of Southern-style guitar slide while lyrically using sarcasm to defend Israel’s right to exist. “License to Kill” closes the first side as a slow and steady rocker with plenty of twangy and guitar motion with lyrics that address man’s relationship to the environment.

Bob Dylan in 1983

The surprising rock arrangements continue into the second side with the layered electric guitar riffs, Hammond organ of “Man of Peace” and the crisp rocker “Union Sundown”, with Clark providing some nice rocking piano in mix and guest Clydie King adding some backing vocals. “I and I” is an interesting tune with subtle verses and more forceful choruses, making it perhaps the best song on the album’s second side. The album concludes with the pleasant, upbeat ballad, “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”, a purely traditional love song.

A gold selling record, Infidels Reach the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in the UK. This achievement would mark the artist’s best success in the decade of the 1980s up until the 1989 release of the classic Oh Mercy.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead

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Wake of the Flood by Grateful DeadThe Grateful Dead‘s long awaited sixth studio album, Wake of the Flood, marked a new era for the California band. Their first studio album in nearly three years, this was the first album on their independent Grateful Dead Records label as well as the first to feature the couple Keith Godchaux on piano and keyboards and Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals. This seven track album features compositions which draw from a blend of influences, ranging from the roots genres of country, folk and ragtime to a seventies modern fusion of funk and jazz rock.

In 1970, the Grateful Dead released two critically acclaimed studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, where they scaled back their sound with heavy folk and country influences. Following this breakthrough success, the band did extensive worldwide touring and would release three live albums in three years – Grateful Dead in 1971, Europe ’72 in 1972, and Bear’s Choice in 1973. Keith Godchaux joined the group in 1971 as a pianist alongside founding keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, when Pigpen was moved exclusively to Hammond B3 organ at the time. In 1972, McKernan’s health deteriorated, leaving him unable tour, and  ultimately lose his life in March 1973 due to complications from liver damage. Percussionist Micky Hart also temporarily left the band during this era, leaving drummer Bill Kreutzmann as the sole member behind the skins.

In August 1973, the Grateful Dead took a break from touring to record studio versions of new songs which had been in live rotation. The band chose to record Wake of the Flood at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, near their Bay area home base. The band self produced the album along with help from staff engineers and recorded everything is less than two weeks.


Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead
Released: October 15, 1973 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: The Grateful Dead
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, August, 1973
Side One Side Two
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Row Jimmy
Stella Blue
Here Comes Sunshine
Eyes of the World
Weather Report Suite
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

Sonically, Wake of the Flood moves from very simple to more complex as the album moves along. The opening “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” has a real loose, live feel as a down-home bluegrass track featuring the fiddle of guest Vassar Clements throughout. Jerry Garcia‘s lead vocals are somewhat low in the mix of this track which likely got its title as a play on “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champs”, a mid-sixties bluegrass group started by Garcia, McKernan and guitarist Bob Weir. “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” introduces Keith Godchaux to the listening audience as lead vocalist and co-writer with lyricist Robert Hunter. The first single from this album, this song has some strong melodic ideas and harmonies which are not completely formed on this recording.

Garcia’s complex and rhythmic “Row Jimmy” is the first sonically satisfying song on the album as a ballad accented with clavichord and percussion to complement the usual fine bass by Phil Lesh along with dual guitar licks. The exquisite “Stella Blue” is the best showcase of Garcia’s emotional vocals and is an overall well produced and tight ballad with an original and beautiful vibe with Hunter’s lyrics telling a story of lost love and sadness.

Grateful Dead in 1973

The album’s second side starts with the song that gives album its title. “Here Comes Sunshine” features another rich musical mix with an optimistic story of better days to come. The funky track “Eyes of the World” furthers the group’s sonic advancement into the fine mixes which they would display later in the 1970s, with great chord progressions, rudiments, rhythms and lead guitar. This leads to the album closer, Weir’s fantastic, three part “Weather Report Suite”, which showcases incredible, layered guitars and a smoothly put together and exquisitely produced jazz-influenced musical journey throughout. The “Prelude” section is an acoustic instrumental with slowly building rhythmic accompaniment, leading to “Part I”, featuring lyrics by guest Eric Andersen. The song addresses the seasons, and their relationship to the narrator’s state of mind. “Part II (Let it Grow)” feature’s Weir’s longtime lyrical partner John Perry Barlow and is the most upbeat part of the suite with music is perfectly laid out with various elements, including rich horns and a closing dual sax and harmonica lead, all making for a fine closing of this album.

Reaching the Top 20, Wake of the Flood fared better on the pop charts than any previous studio album. The Grateful Dead Records did not last all that long, collapsing in 1976, which resulted in this album all but disappearing from the marketplace for about a dozen years until it was issued on CD in the late 1980s.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.