Stunt by Barenaked Ladies

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Stunt by Barenaked LadiesIn 1998, the fourth studio album by Barenaked Ladies became their commercial breakthrough and ultimately, their most successful album. Stunt features a refined set of this Canadian group’s brand of quirky and creative lyrics which give the impression that they are either geniuses or on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or both). This is set to a fine array of melodic and musical passages with the use of various styles (jangly pop, alt-country, bossa nova, blue-eyed rap, and even a bit of psychedelic rock) to keep it all interesting. The formula worked as the album sold several million copies and topped the charts in the US.

The roots of Barenaked Ladies began in the late eighties in Toronto with the duo of guitarists/vocalists Steven Page and Ed Robertson. From the start, the two performed in an improvised and nearly comical manner (the group’s name came from one improvised skit) and they often opened for a popular comedy group. By the summer of 1990, bassist Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart were part of the group and 1991’s The Yellow Tape, originally recorded as a demo tape, became their initial album release. When the band was taken off the bill for a New Year’s Eve concert in Toronto because a political staffer objected to their name, a media story about political correctness gone too far brought the group a surge in publicity, leading to the band being signed to Reprise/Sire Records in April 1992. Over the next four years the band released three studio albums, Gordon (1992), Maybe You Should Drive (1994) and Born on a Pirate Ship (1996), as well as the 1997 live record, Rock Spectacle.

Co-produced by David Leonard, Susan Rogers and the group, Stunt is the first studio album to feature keyboardist and guitarist Kevin Hearn. Fifteen songs were recorded for the album, with thirteen appearing on the original version and the tracks “Long Way Back Home” and “She’s On Time” appearing as “hidden tracks” on limited edition versions of the album.


Stunt by Barenaked Ladies
Released: July 7, 1998 (Reprise)
Produced by: David Leonard, Susan Rogers & Barenaked Ladies
Recorded: February–March 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
One Week
It’s All Been Done
Light Up My Room
I’ll Be That Girl
Leave
Alcohol
Call and Answer
In the Car
Never Is Enough
Who Needs Sleep?
Told You So
Some Fantastic
When You Dream
Steven Page – Guitars, Vocals
Ed Robertson – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Kevin Hearn – Piano, Keyboards, Banjo
Jim Creeggan – Bass, Cello, Vocals
Tyler Stewart – Drums, PercussionStunt by Barenaked Ladies

 

 

The album begins with the band’s highest charting single in both the US and the UK, and odd, quasi rap about a lover’s quarrel sandwiched between main hooks, which make it a highly original and unlikely smash hit. During the rapid raps there are alternating passages of pop culture references and personal anecdotes and, ironically, a similar live version of the song never fully materialized. Page’s “It’s All Been Done”, another hit from the album, follows as a jangly power pop anthem, complete with chanting “oohs”. a nice creeping Hammond by organ by Hearn, and some complex harmonies as the song progresses.

“Light Up My Room” is a pleasant folk/rock ballad which starts with a moderate arrangement and features a distinct drum shuffle by Stewart throughout, while “I’ll Be That Girl” has an almost country-esque feel but with a rock edge and just a bit of Barenaked Ladies oddness. Robertson’s “Leave” starts as an almost bluegrass acoustic tune but quickly incorporates rock elements, maturing into one of the more pleasant sounding songs on the album, in sharp contrast to the basic three-chord rock stomp of “Alcohol”, an odd philosophical turn of a drinking song, complete with party chanting and an electric piano lead.

Barenaked Ladies

The second half of the album features several more fine tunes, from the inventive “Call and Answer” to the old Western feel of “In the Car” to the bouncy “Never Is Enough”, featuring some electronic effects for light fun. “Who Needs Sleep?” is a melodic ode to the “pleasures of insomnia”, featuring some slight flute riffs by Page, while “Told You So” is straight-forward acoustic pop. “Some Fantastic” is the best of this bunch as a pleasant, Caribbean flavored rocker with inventive piano riffs by Hearn, a percussive blend by Stewart, and plenty of variety in both music and vocal melody with two lead vocalists trading off throughout. The spacey “When You Dream” completes the album with probably its slowest tempo and a surreal feel throughout

Shortly after Stunt‘s release of the album, Hearn was diagnosed with leukemia and had to be replaced during the subsequent tour. The group’s commercial momentum continued into the new century with several songs featured in television, movies and commercials and additional success on future albums.

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1998 Page

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

 

The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get

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The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get by Joe WalshThe second of two albums featuring singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Walsh with his backup group Barnstorm, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get features a fine selection of diverse rock, blues, folk and jazz. This diversity in style is parallel to the diversity of composers within Barnstorm as well as the multiple lead vocalists throughout the album. As a result, this 1973 album proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Walsh and the band, reaching the Top 10 in the United States.

After much success with James Gang, Walsh decided to leave that rock trio in late 1971. He relocated to Colorado, where he formed the band Barnstorm, with bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale. Very soon after forming, the group started recording their debut album, which was originally released as the eponymous Barnstorm (later listed as a Joe Walsh solo album) in October 1972. While a critical success, the album had only moderate commercial success.

The group immediately began work on a follow-up in late 1972 with producer Bill Szymczyk. Recorded throughout the winter of 1972-1973, this second album features a fourth Barnstorm member, keyboardist Rocke Grace, although the album is fully credited to Walsh as a solo artist.


The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get by Joe walsh
Released: June 18, 1973 (ABC-Dunhill)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Rocky Mountain Way
Book Ends
Wolf
Midnight Moodies
Happy Ways
Meadows
Dreams
Days Gone By
Day Dream (Prayer)
Primary Musicians
Joe Walsh/strong> – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards. Vocals
Kenny Passarelli – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Rocke Grace – Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Drums, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals

The album begins with its most popular and indelible track, “Rocky Mountain Way”, compositionally credited to all four Barnstorm members. This entertaining, methodical rocker features a masterful coda section with an impressive talk box lead followed by Walsh’s signature slide guitar as the song fades out. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Walsh reflecting on his decision to leave the James Gang and move to Colorado and it became Walsh’s first Top 40 hit.

Vitale’s “Book Ends” is a Bowie-esque glam ballad with piano and nicely treated guitars on top, while the drummer takes on lead vocals duties, followed by the dark folk, almost pyschedelic vibe of “Wolf”, where the minimal arrangement lets the full sonic effect shine through as well as concentrate on Walsh’s vocal delivery. “Midnight Moodies” is a jazzy, piano-led instrumental composed by Grace, with some good rhythms, slight rock guitar as well as plenty of flute flourishes by Vitale. “Happy Ways” features lead vocals by bassist Passarelli along with plenty of extra percussion added by Vitale and session percussionist Joe Lala.

Joe Walsh and Barnstorm

The album’s original second side begins with “Meadows”, a rocker with multiple dynamics throughout from the hard rocking chorus to the quiet acoustic mid section. “Dreams” may be the best overall song on the second side as a very unique track which highlights Barnstorm’s musical talent and versatility. It alternates from quiet jazz ballad to upbeat Gospel sound with piano and organ playing a large musical role throughout. Vitale’s “Days Gone By” is a pleasant enough jazz/pop/rocker but an odd one as the final proper song on the album, being a sort of fusion between the sounds of Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and a Broadway show tune. “Day Dream (Prayer)” was constructed as a stand-alone coda, featuring rich backing vocals by guests Venetta Fields and Clydie King and really only one proper verse before a long fade out ending the album.

In 1974, Walsh played slide guitar on Vitale’s debut solo album, Roller Coaster Weekend, continuing a decades long musical relationship between the two despite the fact that Barnstorm would break up following The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Later that same year, Walsh released his first totally solo record, So What, which was much more introspective and much less musically diverse than this final Barnstorm album.

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1973 Images

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

 

Living In the Material World
by George Harrison

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Living In the Material World by George HarrisonLiving in the Material World was the fourth overall studio album (and second pop/rock release) by former Beatle George Harrison. This long-anticipated 1973 album is distinct in both Harrison’s initial major role as a record producer as well as for its strongly spiritual and philosophical lyrics. The themes were driven by Harrison’s strong devotion to Hindu spirituality in general and to Krishna consciousness in particular, with some songs contrasting the need for inner peace while being a musician with worldwide popularity.

Following the tremendous critical and commercial success of his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, Harrison embarked on a humanitarian aid project to raise money for the people of Bangladesh, culminating with two Concert for Bangladesh shows and a subsequent live album. During this same time period (1971-1972), Harrison also produced a few singles for fellow Beatle Ringo Starr and helped promote Raga, the documentary on Ravi Shankar. Finally, in late 1972 he was ready to start recording his next studio album.

In contrast with its predecessor, Living In the Material World featured scaled down production by Harrison. He had originally planned on bringing in Phil Spector to co-produce but once recording sessions got under way, Harrison had gathered a core backing group and was the project’s sole producer. While Harrison performed all the guitar parts on the album, he employed pianist Nicky Hopkins, keyboardist Gary Wright, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Jim Keltner for most tracks. These recording sessions in London took a bit longer than expected, resulting in the intended release date being pushed back.


Living In the Material World by George Harrison
Released: May 30, 1973 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison
Recorded: Apple Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1972-March 1973
Side One Side Two
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
Sue Me, Sue You Blues
The Light That Has Lighted the World
Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long
Who Can See It
Living in the Material World
The Lord Loves the One
(That Loves the Lord)
Be Here Now
Try Some, Buy Some
The Day the World Gets ‘Round
That Is All
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro, Sitar
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Gary Wright – Organ, Harmonium
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the pleasant hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, which features a simple, repeated verse that is expertly accented by Harrison’s lead guitar and a gentle but potent piano by Hopkins. With lyrics he described as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it” this track became Harrison’s second #1 song in the US and also reached the Top 10 in several other countries. “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is much in contrast with the opening track, built on loose piano honky-tonk backing lyrics inspired by Paul McCartney’s lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles’ joint partnership, Apple Corps.

“The Light That Has Lighted the World” is a melancholy piano ballad with weepy lead vocals, acoustic strumming and a fine lead over top, while “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is a bright, upbeat pop love song written for Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. “Who Can See It” returns to the melodramatic devotional featuring a subtle, Leslie guitar lead. The original first side concludes with the upbeat, happy-go-lucky title track with Hopkins’ piano again holding things together along with the thumping bass/drum rhythm. “Living In the Material World” also features strategic stops for slower breaks with much instrumentation including a sitar section and an extended sax lead.

George Harrison in 1973

The second side opens with the excellent composition, “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)” with melodic vocals and musical flourishes, leading to climatic slide lead to end the track. Lyrically, Harrison sought feedback about Krishna philosophy, which encouraged him to develop such themes that are unorthodox in popular music. “Be Here Now” is a quiet and surreal acoustic ballad with some earthy and ethereal sounds, as “Try Some, Buy Some” (a leftover from 1970 co-produced by Spector) is a musical waltz built on a descending riff and it reaches for grandiose heights with horns and other “wall of sound” production techniques. Next comes the Beatlesque acoustic ballad “The Day the World Gets ‘Round”, short and sweet but with rich production. The album concludes with the aptly titled “That Is All”, a forotten classic filled with melancholy emotion and musical aptitude, where Harrison really stretches his vocal range with high-pitched sustained notes.

Living In the Material World topped the charts in the US and reached #2 in the UK while achieving Gold record certification. In a continuation of his charitable work, Harrison donated his copyright for most of the tracks to his Material World Charitable Foundation, which ultimately ensured a stream of income for the charities of his choice. Following the album’s release, Harrison became the first ex-Beatle to tour North America when he toured with a large ensemble of musicians starting in 1974.

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1973 Images

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

 

Holy Diver by Dio

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Holy Diver by Dio Holy Diver is the 1983 debut studio album by Dio, led by veteran rock vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Drawing on the influences of multiple contemporaries in pop and rock music, this platinum selling album has been historically viewed as a hallmark moment in the evolution of heavy metal, a genre which proliferated through the decade of the 1980s. Dio’s lyrics center on the topics o good and evil and draw from subjects from classic heroic adventure elements to some of the dark realities of contemporary life.

Ronnie Jame Dio became the second lead vocalist for Black Sabbath in late 1979, as that group’s original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne embarked on his own solo career. With Dio, the group found a commercial rebound as both 1980’s Heaven and Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules became Top 40, Gold selling albums. However, during the mixing of 1982’s live album, disagreements ensued which resulted in both Dio and drummer Vinny Appice leaving the band. Both wanted to form a new band, so Dio recruited his former Rainbow band mate, bassist Jimmy Bain and (following the Ozzy Osbourne model) recruited a young, then unknown guitarist named Vivian Campbell to complete the rock quartet.

By the time Campbell joined, most of the material which would appear on Holy Diver had already been composed. Dio had long been courted by Warner Bros. records to work on a solo project, so production and recording arrangements swiftly fell into place.

 


Holy Diver by Dio
Released: May 25, 1983 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, 1983
Side One Side Two
Stand Up and Shout
Holy Diver
Gypsy
Caught in the Middle
Don’t Talk to Strangers
Straight Through the Heart
Invisible
Rainbow In the Dark
Shame on the Night
Group Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals, Synthesizers
Vivian Campbell – Guitars
Jimmy Bain – Bass, Keyboards
Vinny Apice – Drums

 

Holy Diver kicks off with the straight up, hard rocking “Stand Up and Shout”, a song of rebellion containing all the prime elements which would come define 80s metal – straight-forward message, flamboyant vocals, crunchy riffing under whining leads and plenty of animated drum fills. The title song is introduced by a long atmospheric intro before the marching riff-driven music enters. A unique anthem of the day which has grown to be one of Dio’s most popular tracks, “Holy Diver” features the first of many excellent, deliberative guitar leads by Campbell. “Gypsy” is delivered in blistering fashion, while “Caught in the Middle” is a more melodic rocker and it displays the group at its tightest with fine delivery and great production. “Don’t Talk to Strangers” features a quiet, melodramatic acoustic intro with Dio’s vocals hitting an especially high register before the band launches into full gear for this side one closer.

Ronnie James Dio in 1983

The original side two is the real heart of the album, where Dio the group really gels at their best. “Straight Through the Heart” was co-written by Bain and features some great musical rudiments with strategic stops and fills by Appice and a cool, melodic bridge. The most unique moment on album is the intro to “Invisible” with a heavily flanged guitar and dry vocals soon contrasted by the heavy jam and majestic vocals of the song proper. Later on, Campbell’s lead patiently works its way in before he unleashes some fine fingerboard effects, while Dio’s lyrical profiency is on full display;

she was a photograph just ripped in half, a smile inside a frown…”

The most accessible rock song on the album is “Rainbow in the Dark”, which features a prominent keyboard riff by Dio and a catchy hook and theme which seems to reference Dio’s late seventies rock band. A radio favorite and charting rock track, “Rainbow in the Dark” is anchored by a doomy yet uplifting guitar riff which blends especially well with the later guitar lead. “Shame on the Night” seems to have borrowed the opening howl from Deep Purple’s classic “Hush” (perhaps another veiled shot at ex-band mate Ritchie Blackmore?). This closing track has a slow and sloshy delivery which gives Dio’s vocal full frontal expression and the differing sections in bridge and extended coda also give this a definitive prog rock feel.

Building on the commercial and critical success of Holy Diver, the group delivered a similarly effective follow up with 1984’s The Last in Line and continued on as a successful group through most of the eighties decade.

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1983 Images

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

 

Lenny Kravitz 5

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Lenny Kravitz 5The fifth studio album by Lenny Kravitz, released in 1998 is aptly titled 5 and saw the talented artist return to top commercial success as well as expand his world wide audience. This winner of two Grammy Awards, successfully found Kravitz both establishing himself as a genuine funk and R&B artist while also advancing his incredibly diverse fusion of rock and soul which he had established early on in his recording career. The result is an accessible and accomplished work that offers an array of sonic candy.

Following the success of Kravitz’s 1989 debut, Let Love Rule and the 1991 follow-up record, Mama Said, Kravitz advanced his songwriting and production projects for multiple artists. In 1993 he released Are You Gonna Go My Way, which reached number 12 on the album charts and spawned several singles. This album was also the initial to feature guitarist Craig Ross and was partially recorded in The Bahamas where Kravitz would eventually build a recording studio. Kravitz’s fourth album, Circus, was released in 1995 but was a bit of a commercial disappointment.

With 5, Kravitz both aimed to return to commercial relevance and, for the first time, he embraced digital technology and sampling. The album was recorded in both Kravitz-owned studios in New York City and The Bahamas with the assistance of engineer Terry Manning.


5 by Lenny Kravitz
Released: May 12, 1998 (Island)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: Ghetto Lounge Studios and Compass Point Studios, Bahamas, 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Live
Supersoulfighter
I Belong to You
Black Velveteen
If You Can’t Say No
Thinking of You
Take Time
Fly Away
It’s Your Life
Straight Cold Player
Little Girl’s Eyes
You’re My Flavor
Can We Find a Reason?
American Woman
Without You
Lenny Kravitz – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums
Craig Ross – Guitars, Keyboards
Jack Daley – BassLenny Kravitz 5

 

 

“Live” was co-written by Kravitz and Ross as a riff driven guitar rocker with a Rick-James–like funk approach. The rich arrangement includes a brass section, a choppy bass rhythm by Jack Daley and a long saxophone lead by Harold Todd late in the song. “Supersoulfighter” finds Kravitz fully immersing in the genre of old as he personally provides soul synths, sound effects, a cool clavichord and a steady drum beat. In contrast, “I Belong to You” starts with electronic percussion soon accompanied by some R&B bass with not too much more variation.

A heavy synth rhythm and some electronic treatment on vocals are prevalent on the track “Black Velveteen”, which later features a Bowie-like vocal delivery. “If You Can’t Say No” employs maximum modern R&B and strategically placed sonic décor (clav, piano, organ, etc.) and a fantastic bluesy guitar lead, while ultimately still being a singer’s song. The sad and emotional ballad “Thinking of You” was dedicated to Kravitz’s mother, Roxie Roker, who died of cancer in 1995, while “Take Time” features a slow, sloshy drum beat accompanied by psychedelic keys and an overall mechanical background to soulful vocals, There is obviously a heavy Prince influence on this latter one, especially during the heavy rock guitar lead.

While 5 is pretty solid throughout,  the second half of the album is where real gems lie with rock, funk and soul musical diversity. The guitar driven rocker “Fly Away” was an immediate hit with its catchy melody, interesting slap bass and a potent drum beat. Originally composed as a ballad, this revised funky track also makes great use of effects on the vocals, which helped it ascend to the Top 20 and won Kravitz a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Male Rock Performance. Though much less popular, “It’s Your Life” is equally as excellent as its predecessor as a heavy funk rocker with some synth horns and melodic verses over a pointed bass line. “Straight Cold Player” is a quasi-instrumental driven by a complex drum beat by guest Cindy Blackman, while “Little Girl’s Eyes” is a slow soul ballad with much synth atmosphere and a long outro with a guitar lead.

Lenny Kravitz, 1998

The original release of 5 wrapped up with two more excellent tunes. “You’re My Flavor” features a unique blend of rock with bass moving faster than guitars in verses and a melodic hard guitar riff in choruses. “Can We Find a Reason?” is an acoustic track with trippy lead guitar overtones, a heavy Hammond organ and a Gospel like backing vocals to augment Kravitz’s droning, alternative rock guitar lead and soulful, peacenik vocals. In 1999, the album was re-issued to include Kravitz’s smash hit cover of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” and the acoustic ballad “Without You”.

A Top 40 album, 5 spawned further commercial success for Kravitz, with the subsequent 2000 Greatest Hits album being his most successful album, selling nearly 11 million copies worldwide.

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1998 Page

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

 

Reach the Beach by The Fixx

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Reach the Beach by The FixxThe British pop group hit their peak with the 1983 release of the album Reach the Beach, their second studio album and most successful commercially. This record contains accessible songs built on some catchy pop/rock melodies and some innovative use of synthesizers and other effects. Surprisingly, the production of this successful album came during a time of transition as the group was changing bass players with about half of the tracks not including bass at all.

The band originated with the name The Portraits in 1979 when vocalist Cy Curnin and drummer Adam Woods formed the band while in college in London. Along with keyboardist Rupert Greenall, The Portraits had some minor success, releasing a couple of singles before disbanding late in 1980 and soon reforming as The Fixx with guitarist Jamie West-Oram and bassist Charlie Barrett. The group independently released the single “Lost Planes” in February 1981, which caught the attention of MCA Records who offered a contract to the group. Their successful 1982 debut album, Shuttered Room, featured the charting hits “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies”.

Recording for Reach the Beach began later in 1982 with producer Rupert Hine. Barrett had been replaced on the previous tour by Alfie Agius, who began the recording sessions as the group’s bassist but left the group before the album was completed.

 


Reach the Beach by The Fixx
Released: May 15, 1983 (MCA)
Produced by: Rupert Hine
Recorded: Farmyard Studios, Buckinghamshire, England, 1982-1983
Side One Side Two
One Thing Leads to Another
The Sign of Fire
Running
Saved by Zero
Opinions
Reach the Beach
Changing
Liner
Privilege
Outside
Group Musicians
Cy Curnin – Lead Vocal
Jamie West-Oram – Guitars
Rupert Greenall – Keyboards
Adam Woods – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its (and the group’s) biggest hit. Starting with the funky guitar and bass riffing, “One Thing Leads to Another” has a steady beat and melodic lead vocals accented by effects throughout the verses. Accompanied by a successful MTV video, “One Thing Leads to Another” reached #4 on the US pop charts and topped the charts in Canada. “The Sign of Fire” follows as another upbeat funk/dance tune with an ascending/descending link between its two predominant chords for a pleasant hypnotizing movement effect. There are some inventive passages as we get through the mid section of the song, which is the only one to feature future band member Dan K. Brown on bass. The spastic and disjointed “Running” follows with heavy new wave elements and some more melodic passages.

While as simple and straight forward as other tracks on this album, the futuristic “Saved by Zero” feels much deeper both sonically and lyrically. This is due to strategic synth effects which blend with Curnin’s vocal embellishments along with the jittery guitar riffs of West-Oram. Lyrically, the song is about finding simplicity with the loss of material things and “the release you get when you have nothing left to lose”. “Opinions” closes the fine first side of the record, built on Curnin’s near a-capella vocals in the intro verse and a musical arrangement which slowly emerges underneath until the song finally fully materializes about halfway through.

The Fixx 1983

The album’s original second side features lesser known tracks. The title track “Reach the Beach” is a deliberative synth/pop song, led by the simple keyboard riff and synth bass of Greenall along with several sonic electronic sections. “Changing” is the first real filler but “Liner” works as an electronic representation of funk and soul with Agius adding some proficient slap bass and Greenall replicating a horn section on synth. “Privilege” is a quasi-kraut-rocker with some interesting dynamics and a nice use of disparate, simple motifs as the song progresses, while the closer “Outside” is shepherded by the steady but interesting beat by Woods. This acts as a backbone to the slow and sloshy guitar riffing of Jamie West-Oram and Curnin’s soulful lead vocals.

Reach the Beach peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts and was eventually certified multi-platinum with sales in the millions. The group continued with modest success through the late 1980s and into the 1990s but never again reached the commercial heights of this album.

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1983 Images

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

 

Aladdin Sane by David Bowie

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Aladdin Sane by David BowieThe sixth studio album by David Bowie, 1973’s Aladdin Sane furthers the narrative, begun on the previous year’s hit album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, of the fictional Ziggy Stardust character in what Bowie deemed “Ziggy goes to America”. In fact, the majority of the album was written and recorded during the previous album’s tour and it’s music reflects the pros of performing in new found superstardom and the cons of the wear and tear of constant touring.

Many have compared the approach of this album with that of Bowie’s 1970 third album, The Man Who Sold the World, which had a heavier-than-typical rock sound, marking a departure from Bowie’s previous predominant folk rock style. Another similarity is in lyrical content, with The Man Who Sold the World referencing schizophrenia, paranoia and delusion while In contrast, Aladdin Sane is a pun on “A Lad Insane”, believed to have been inspired by the recent diagnosis of David’s brother Terry Jones with schizophrenia.

Co-produced by Ken Scott, most of Aladdin Sane was recorded at Trident Studios in London in early 1973, the album is the fourth to feature a solid rock backing band, led by guitarist Mick Ronson, along with several guest musicians to provide a rich diversity of musical sub-genres.


Aladdin Sane by David Bowie
Released: April 13, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ken Scott & David Bowie
Recorded: Trident Studios, London & RCA Studios, New York, October 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Watch That Man
Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)
Drive-In Saturday
Panic in Detroit
Cracked Actor
Time
The Prettiest Star
Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Jean Genie
Lady Grinning Soul
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Synths, Saxophone, Harmonica
Mick Ronson – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Mike Garson – Piano, Keyboards
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Woody Woodmansey – Drums

The sloshy opener, “Watch That Man”, features heavily distorted guitars over a steady rock beat. The thick arrangement includes a backing chorus harmony during the hook sections and the overall vibe represents a slight change of musical direction. The title track, fashioned “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)”, alternates between the ethereal, avant- garde piano verses, musically led by Mike Garson, and the more rocking choruses which combine for a psychedelic feel throughout. Adding a further dimension, the song’s coda includes a short quote from the popular song “On Broadway”.

“Drive-In Saturday” has a doo-wop-like bass line and beat but with a Bowie-esque vocal melody before the tune works towards a more standard pop/rock tune musically. Lyrically, the song describes a post-apocalyptic, futuristic world where inhabitants watch old porn films in a drive in theater to learn how sex is performed. “Panic in Detroit” comes back to the topical present as it is lyrically based  on Iggy Pop’s descriptions to Bowie about experiencing the 1967 Detroit riots. The song employs a Bo Diddley-like “hand-jive” beat by Woody Woodmansey before a more complex bass line by Trevor Bolder takes over in the verses. Closing out the original first side, “Cracked Actor” features straight forward rock music with some raunchy, risque sexual lyrics.

David Bowie in 1973

The burlesque verses of “Time” feature music hall piano by Garson before the track explodes into a full rock arrangement led by Ronson’s strategically clear riffs. The track reaches a nice climax in the long coda section as Bowie provides scat vocals over the guitar lead. “The Prettiest Star” is another old-timey structured song with doo-wop backing vocals and topped with modern sonic rock elements, while the album’s only cover song, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, has a short, spaced out intro before breaking into a jazzed-up, pre-punk version of the Rolling Stones classic. This is slightly interesting upon first listen but ultimately a forgettable version of song.

A refreshing rebound of two fine tracks close album , starting with the sloshy, riff-driven, bluesy rock jam of “The Jean Genie”. Recorded in New York, this is one track with a nice amount of sonic space to let the listener enjoy this simple but entertaining song, which became Bowie’s biggest pop hit to date when it peaked at #2 in the UK. “Lady Grinning Soul” starts with a final long piano intro by Garson before the song proper kicks in with gently strummed acoustic, rapid, staccato piano and high-pitched but soft lead vocals, Compared in style to a James Bond theme, there is a slight flamenco guitar lead before another verse and a climatic coda to complete the album.

With over 100,000 advance orders, Aladdin Sane debuted on top of the UK charts, reaching the Top 20 in the US. Over time, it would go on to sell over 4 million copies worldwide. A few months after the album’s release, Bowie dramatically announced the “death” of the Ziggy Stardust character towards the end of a live concert.

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1973 Images

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

 

Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull

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Heavy Horses by Jethro TullDuring a the late 1970s, Jethro Tull released a trio of albums with heavy folk influence. The second of this trio and the eleventh overall studio album by the band is 1978’s Heavy Horses. This album features strong and consistent tunes which take a journey into a rural landscape of folklore and the underlying simple theme of an honest day’s work. Further, in spite of going against the day’s prevailing musical trends of punk and new wave, Heavy Horses was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic as the album reached the Top 20 on both the UK and US album charts following its release.

Following several successful forays into progressive rock through the early and mid seventies and accompanying large arena tours, Jethro Tull and their primary composer Ian Anderson decided to scale back and develop more simple folk rock songs. The critically acclaimed 1977 album, Songs from the Wood, reflected on English culture and history and was the first to include new member David Palmer, who brought many classical elements into the fold.

Produced by Anderson, Heavy Horses was recorded in London during a time when he was settling into a domestic life with his new wife and son. Just prior to this album’s recording in 1977, Pink Floyd released their classic album Animals, which explored differing human personality types. Heavy Horses may more exactly fit that literal title as it lyrically sees things from the perspective and environment of several rural creatures.


Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull
Released: April 10, 1978 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, Fulham, England, May 1977-January 1978
Side One Side Two
…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps
Acres Wild
No Lullaby
Moths
Journeyman
Rover
One Brown Mouse
Heavy Horses
Weathercock
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Flute, Mandolin
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Organ
David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral Arrangements
John Glascock – Bass, Vocals
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

 

A tense rhythmic timing drives the acoustic-driven opener “…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps”, a song which is probably more prog rock than folk, complete with strategic stops and dueling flute and organ solos. The track lyrically describes the movement of a barn cat with creative adjectives, describing the process of the night guard and hunt. “Acres Wild” follows as a mandolin driven, pop-oriented rocker with heavy Celtic influence musically and lyrics which paint a picture of playing long while on a journey.

“No Lullaby” is the first of two extended songs and it starts with a heavy rock guitar intro by Martin Barre, followed by the showcasing of drummer/percussionist Barriemore Barlow as it eases into a slow, methodical rhythm, About two minutes in, this mini-suite takes a radical turn to a more upbeat, tense-filled shuffle before again returning to the methodical verse section and lead flourishes. The bright and pleasant folk tune “Moths” features harpsichord by John Evan along with other ethnic string instrumentation as it expertly alternates keys throughout its short duration. A philosophical creed on living for today, “Moths” displays the scene from different perspectives and with sincere emotion. “Journeyman” starts with a funky bass riff by John Glascock as the rest of the group builds around musically, each finding their own small space within the song.

Jethro Tull in 1978

The album’s original second side starts with “Rover”, a tribute to Anderson’s pet dog which features a more traditional Jethro Tull soundscape. With lyrics telling of story time with a young child, “One Brown Mouse” starts and ends as straight folk/rocker but nicely diverges into a mid-section of folk orchestration. The epic, nine-minute title track plays on differing intensities of the same musical theme, as the song is a literal tribute to the work-horse. It all wraps with “Weathercock”, a theme on the rotational nature of life as album ends at the break of dawn and a simple musical arrangement, built with acoustic, mandolin, organ and other simple elements.

Jethro Tull recorded performances during the European leg of the Heavy Horses tour, and later in 1978 released a live double album called Bursting Out. In March 2018, the group released a five-disc, 40th anniversary version of Heavy Horses, which features several alternate and outtakes, 22 previously unreleased live tracks, and a 96-page booklet with track-by-track annotation by Anderson of the album and its associated recordings.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon

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You Can Tune a Piano but You Cant Tuna Fish by REO SpeedwagoOften derided for its ludicrous title and album cover, You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish was nonetheless the most important benchmark for REO Speedwagon. Released in 1978, this was the seventh studio album by the Illinois-based rock band who had worked relentlessly throughout the decade but, prior to this record, failed to make the Top 40. You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish peaked at number 29 and went on to achieve double platinum status in the US.

Named after a classic flat bed truck, REO Speedwagon was formed in 1967 at the University of Illinois in Champaign by keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer as a cover band playing in campus bars, fraternity parties, and university events. After several lineup shifts, guitarist Gary Richrath joined in late 1970 and the regional popularity of the band grew tremendously, leading to a deal with Epic Records and the band’s self-titled debut album in 1971. The group twice replaced lead singers before Kevin Cronin permanently joined the group in January 1976. The following year, the group released a live album and relocated to Los Angeles.

Recording of You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish took place in Illinois and California in late 1977 and early 1978. This album was the first to feature bassist Bruce Hall and it was co-produced by Cronin and Richrath along with Paul Grupp and John Boylan.


You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish by REO Speedwagon
Released: March 16, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Cronin, Gary Richrath, Paul Grupp, & John Boylan
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles & Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977-1978
Side One Side Two
Roll with the Changes
Time for Me to Fly
Runnin’ Blind
Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again
Sing to Me
Lucky for You
Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

 

The album launches with “Roll with the Changes”, a piano-based rocker by Cronin which would soon go on to become a classic rock staple. Richrath’s heavy, whining guitar is accented throughout with Dougherty taking his turn with a Hammond organ lead and a rich backing chorus belting out the catchy counter hook. The album’s other anchor comes next with “Time for Me to Fly”, a classic breakup song that is built like an early prototype for some of the better eighties power ballads which would come later. Built on the pleasant musical combo of Cronin’s 12-string acoustic and Dougherty’s Moog synthesizer along with fine melodic, vocals and a harmonized double bridge, which bookmarks the slight guitar lead. While both of these tracks would go on to be classics, they did not receive initial pop notoriety as both failed to chart in the Top 40.

Richrath’s first composition, “Runnin’ Blind”, was co-written by Debbie Mackron and is highlighted by a pure, thick guitar sound. “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again” is another acoustic ballad with some heavier elements added on top for a harder rock effect and high pop accessibility. The original first side concludes with Richrath’s short but heavy “Sing to Me”.

REO Speedwagon in 1978

Side two is filled with hard rock material and is anchored by a couple of tracks with extended jams. Although lyrically weak, “Lucky for You” is musically supreme with some excellent bass by Hall as well as later harmonized lead guitars which sheppard in the extended jams of the second half of track. After the Southern rock tinged “Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?” and the filler instrumental “The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot”, comes the closer “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” a strong, pure rocker highlighted by Dougherty’s piano lead and guest Lon Price‘s intermittent saxophone licks.

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish set the stage for super-stardom during the 1980s. REO Speedwagon also started to morph from hard rock to more pop-oriented and ballad-centric material as the new decade unfolded.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

Pilgrim by Eric Clapton

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Pilgrim by Eric ClaptonThe thirteenth overall studio album of his then-decades long solo career, Pilgrim was the first record by Eric Clapton in nearly a decade to feature all new studio material. The songs on this album trend towards refined and stylish adult-oriented rock with heavy pop sensibilities and nods towards R&B, soul and the blues. This lengthy album features 14 tracks, totaling over 75 minutes of mostly original music which was composed and compiled by Clapton over several years through the mid 1990s.

The previous studio album by Clapton with all new material was Journeyman in 1989. The early 1990s brought much tragedy, first when fellow blues guitarist and then current tour member Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in August 1990, then in March 1991 Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor died after falling from the 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment at 117 East 57th Street. Clapton expressed the grief of losing his son in the 1991 Grammy-winning song “Tears in Heaven”, which also anchored his successful 1992 live Unplugged album. In 1994, Clapton released Cradle, an album of reinterpreted versions of blues standards, followed by highly successful singles in 1995 (“Love Can Build a Bridge”) and 1996 (“Change the World”).

Co-produced by Simon Climie, Pilgrim was recorded throughout 1996 and 1997 for release in early 1998, with the title track being the initial composition. Clapton’s goal was reportedly to make “the saddest record of all time” with more personal songs about his son and others close to him.


Pilgrim by Eric Clapton
Released: March 10, 1998 (Reprise)
Produced by: Simon Climie & Eric Clapton
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Ocean Studios, Los Angeles,1996-1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
My Father’s Eyes
River of Tears
Pilgrim
Broken Hearted
One Chance
Circus
Going Down Slow
Fall Like Rain
Born in Time
Sick and Tired
Needs His Woman
She’s Gone
You Were There
Inside of Me
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Dave Bronze – Bass
Steve Gadd – DrumsPilgrim by Eric Clapton

 

 

The album begins with the subdued reggae rhythms of “My Father’s Eyes”, a song which advances methodically with some blues slide guitar throughout and more overt blues lead later. The song, which reached the Top 40 as the album’s lead single, features lyrics inspired by the fact that Clapton never met his father, who died in 1985. “River of Tears” is a pure, slow blues song with an electronic synth base, a fretless bass, and some machine-generated drumming, with an extended intro which contributes to its seven minute running time.

“Pilgrim” has a more distinct R&B feel due to Clapton’s breathy, higher-register vocals and a heavy Curtis Mayfield inspiration, while “Broken Hearted” was co-written by keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and has the feel of a traditional Clapton pop song with very melodic vocals throughout. “One Chance” begins with a scratchy-record effect to set the intended context for this funky R&B track with distinctly blues vocals. “Circus” is a haunting and beautiful acoustic shuffle with slightly weepy vocals by Clapton. He wrote the song about the last night he spent with his son Conor (when the two attended a circus) and it was originally written and recorded for the 1992’s Unplugged, but that version was ultimately left off that album.

Eric Clapton in 1998

Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” is one of two covers on the album and features great heavy blues guitar. Bob Dylan’s “Born in Time” is the other cover and returns to the predominant sound arrangement, which works well here behind Clapton’s vocal interpretation. “Fall Like Rain” has an upbeat shuffle with pleasant sonic elements, such as layered acoustic and electric guitars, which provide a more organic feel in contrast to the electronic instrumentation.

Coming down the stretch of the album are songs which mainly cover familiar ground. “Sick and Tired” has a live feel with a traditional blues arrangement with some surprising strings added towards the end of the song. “Needs His Woman” starts off as a pure, quiet acoustic ballad before full, slick arrangement, which actually distracts from the underlying beauty, while the closing track “Inside of Me” returns to the electronic R&B sound. The best track of the latter part of the album is “You Were There”, a pleasant, methodical ballad with consistent rhythms augmented by moody chords and melody. As this song progresses it has a strong uplifting effect, complemented by Clapton’s fine closing guitar lead.

Although Pilgrim received mixed critical reviews, it sold over 4 million copies worldwide, reached the Top 10 in nearly two dozen countries and was nominated for several music awards, making it one of Clapton’s most commercially successful albums.

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1998 Page

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