Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart

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Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod StewartWith his solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, Faces lead singer Rod Stewart produced a unique and entertaining album, albeit strange in many ways. The album only really contained four original songs with the other six being covers, but it sounded completely original in the ways the songs were arranged and interpreted. It was done in a year when Faces would release two albums as a group, and each member of Faces contributed to this “solo” album. Guitarist Ronnie Wood and keyboardist Ian McLagan were featured prominently throughout. However, the album’s credits were very vague on some of the credits and recording information. The mandolin player who is front and center on a few tunes is referenced as; “the mandolin player in Lindisfarne” after Rod Stewart had forgotten his name (this was later revealed to be Ray Jackson of the folk-rock group Lindisfarne).

The album blends an incredible mixture of rock, folk, country, blues, and funk. Classical guitarist Martin Quittenton is front and center with his acoustic guitar through much of Every Picture Tells a Story, setting the tone for many of the other intruments and styles to blend along. While constantly alternating between originals and covers, there is a definite consistancy and flow to the album, which was once aptly described as “a romantic, earthy portrait of a young man joyously celebrating his young life”.
 


Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart
Released: July 9, 1971 (Mercury)Produced by: Rod Stewart
Recorded: Los Angles, November 1970
Side One Side Two
Every Picture Tells a Story
Seems Like a Long Time
That’s All Right
Amazing Grace
Tomorrow Is a Long Time
Henry
Maggie May
Mandolin Rain
(I Know) I’m Losing You
Reason To Believe
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Martin Quittenton – Acoustic Guitars
Ian McLagan – Organ, Piano
Ronnie Wood – Electric & Steel Guitars, Bass
Micky Waller – Drums

 
The album starts with the title song, “Every Picture Tells a Story”, which was written by Stewart and Ronnie Wood. A great song with excellent motion (in the music as well as the lyrics) that sets the pace for the feel of the album. Drummer Micky Waller Plays a strong and loose rhythm throughout as the song has a vibe of an improvised jam that comes together serendipitously. Theodore Anderson’s “Seems Like a Long Time” follows as a fine piano ballad with good lead guitars by Wood and nice distance effect on the vocal as the song persists.

The rest of side one works through original interpretations of standard covers. “That’s All Right”, made most famous by Elvis, contains a bluesy, slide acoustic intro to piano driven rocker. The traditional spiritual “Amazing Grace” is in the same bluesy vein and is mostly instrumental then one verse before end. Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” is a fine song to wrap up the side with acoustic, fiddle, and interesting vocals by Stewart as he tries to adopt a “Dylan-esque” accent but comes off sounding more like Johnny Cash.

Maggie May singleThe true genius of the album lies on side two with Quittenton leading the way with a short classical intro to “Maggie May”, which would become one of the most celebrated songs in rock history. Driven nicely with a bright acoustic in the forefront and a driving bass and organ heavy in mix, the song works through the entertaining story of a young man involved with an older woman. Initially released as a B-side (but with its total length), it soon became favorites of radio stations and fans across the world. After the many verses, the song breaks down to feature the solo mandolin of Ray Jackson which leads the song through the famous coda phase.

Jackson is also featured in “Mandolin Wind”, but as a more traditional mid-song solo. This final original by Stewart is a very calm and moody acoustic ballad with a stop/start format and some excellent over-layed guitars in the vein of some recent material by the Stones, giving the song a strong and unique edge. At about 4:50, the song becomes more intense and rock-oriented with the drums kicking in and bringing the song home.

The album concludes with a couple of remakes of sixties songs. “(I Know) I’m Losing You” was first recorded by the Temptations and includes a funk rock groove unlike anything else on the album, making for a nice change of pace. “Reason To Believe” was first recorded by folk singer Tim Hardin in 1965 and became a nice ballad to finish the album as well as a pop hit. The song was re-done by Stewart later in his career but the arrangement on this album, with the fine piano, organ, and fiddle, was the best by far.

Even though it was near the very beginning of a very long solo career, Every Picture Tells a Story would go on to be universally considered as Stewart’s masterpiece. It has timeless quality that introduces pop and rock fans to the best of folk, while still offering rich arrangement and production.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

 

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

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What's Going On by Marvin Gaye

When something is completely original, breakthrough, and/or innovative it grabs our attention. Classic Rock Review’s mission is to spotlight what are, in our opinion, the most essential albums in the history of rock n roll. And classic rock n roll is our focal point, so we don’t normally drift too far from the mainstream center of that particular genre. But we do reserve the right to occasionally travel to the fringes when we spot something there that is extraordinary and cannot be ignored.

What’s Going on is, in no way, a rock n roll album. But it did evolve from a common ancestor and would become an incredibly influential album that would effect the direction of rock n roll (as well as many other genres) as the subsequent decades unfolded.

It was written in the wake of a great tragedy in Gaye’s live after the death of his longtime singing partner Tammi Terrell, who died of a brain tumor at age 24 in March, 1970. Gaye went into a deep depression and temporarily retired from music order to try out (unsuccessfully) for the the Detroit Lions football team. Then he was contacted by Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson, who asked Gaye to produce a politically conscious song that they were working on.
 


What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
Released: May 21, 1971 (Tamla)
Produced by: Marvin Gaye
Recorded: Hitsville USA, Golden World, & United Sound Studios, Detroit
& The Sound Factory, Hollywood between June, 1970 and March, 1971
Side One Side Two
 What’s Going On
 What’s Happening Brother
 Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)
 Save the Children
 God Is Love
Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)
Right On
Wholy Holy
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Primary Musicians
 Marvin Gaye – Vocals, Piano, Percussion
Joe Messina & Robert White – Electric Guitars
James Jamerson & Bob Babbit – Bass
David Van De Pitte – Orchestral
Chet Forest – Drums

 
The song was titled “What’s Going On” and it was slated to be performed by the Motown R&B group The Originals, but soon Cleveland and Benson was able to convince Gaye to come out of his brief retirement and perform it himself. The song contains a cool groove highlighted by the animated bass of James Jamerson and Marvin’s emotional and soaring vocals, with deep, introspective lyrics that fluctuate the title from a statement to a question and then back again. It would set the pace for the eventual album of the same name, although none of the other songs on the album would quite reach the excellence of this title song.

However, when the song was complete, it initially faced resistance from Motown founder and CEO Berry Gordy, Jr, who felt it deviated from the “Motown sound” and consequently, would not sell to the target audience. Gordy eventually gave in and was proven wrong to the highest degree as “What’s Going On” became the fastest selling song in Motown’s history upon it’s release in early 1971. Encouraged by this success, Gaye set out to record a full album in the same basic theme, this time with the full support of Gordy and the label, who let Marvin take the reigns and produce it as he saw fit.

The result is what many consider to be Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, although some of the accolades bestowed upon this work have been ludicrously fawning through the years, especially by those critics looking for deep political or spiritual meaning. Although, it has much of both, the music is not done justice by inflating this meta data beyond the thin shell of its environmental context.

The music, however, is deep. Influenced by a wide array of contemporaries, ranging from Miles Davis (“Flyin’ High In the Friendly Sky”) to War (“Right On”). But, most importantly, there is a spark of originality here that make it distinct from anything else during Marvin Gaye’s career or, perhaps even, Motown’s. It is richly produced with many background singers and vocalists, an array of percussionists, and an orchestra conducted by David Van De Pitte. Further, the songs fuse together, unfolding like an audio movie much like a rock opera, except (as we noted earlier) this is not rock n roll.

What’s Going On started as a happy accident, where a down-in-the-dumps singer comes across a work that gives him principal and purpose and, utilizing deep talents not before discovered, he produces an extraordinary work of art, well ahead of its time.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

 

Fireball by Deep Purple

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I started this review planning to explain how this album set up Deep Purple for its, presumptively superior masterpiece, 1972’s Machine Head. But the more I’ve listened to Fireball in preparation for the review, the more I began to think that it may be just as good as it’s more famous and heralded successor. On this album, the band fuses influences from diverse contemporaries like Black Sabbath and The James Gang while perfecting their own distinct style, which they had started on the preceding album, Deep Purple In Rock.

Fireball contains seven songs, many of which are built around a basic riff and theme but extended by instrumental solo sections that are, in no way, boring or mundane. In most cases, these instrumentals are traded between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist John Lord, both virtuoso players with well-refined sounds. Bassist Roger Glover also gets involved with a solo of his own in the opening title song, “Fireball”.

However, the musician that shines the brightest on this album is drummer Ian Paice. Perhaps the most underrated drummer during the classic rock era, Paice may not quite reach the talents of Keith Moon or John Bonham, but he is certainly not too far behind. The 1971 album is far ahead of its time, as many of the styles and techniques would be echoed by countless “hair bands” in the 1980s. But Paice’s drumming gives Fireball an edge that those future efforts would not contain, as few drummers can match such skills, something that apparent right from the very start of the album with his double-kick beat that introduces “Fireball”.
 


Fireball by Deep Purple
Released: July, 1971 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, The Hermitage, & Olympic Studios, London
September, 1970 – July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Fireball
No, No, No
Demon’s Eye
Anyone’s Daughter
The Mule
Fools
No One Came
Musicians
Ian Gillan – Vocals
Jon Lord – Keyboards, Piano, Hammond Organ
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums

 
One of the signatures of this “Mark II” version of Deep Purple is that the songs possess great ambiance, Lead by the Blackmore/Lord, heavy guitar/distorted organ riffs. This ambiance makes a great canvas for the dynamic vocals of Ian Gillian. Although the “Mark I” version of the band put out three fine albums prior to his arrival in late 1969, Gillian proved to be the missing piece that completed the band and launched them into their finest run through the early seventies.
 

 
Surprisingly, the only “hit” song that came from these same recording sessions, “Strange Kind of Woman”, was left off the original album (it was added as a bonus track in later CD issues). Amazingly, aside from the title song and the bluesy “Demon’s Eye”, most of the original songs on Fireball remain unknown to anyone who doesn’t own actually the album, with little to no airplay on classic rock or AOR stations. So there are definitely some hidden gems to be discovered by the average listener.

“The Mule” is way ahead of it’s time. It fuses some clam 60s psychedelia with a wild, almost uncomfortable drum beat by Paice. “Fools” begins with a very calm, tension-building intro that harkens back to the earliest Deep Purple albums before launching into a crisp and heavy riff. It is surprising that this has not been redone. “No One Came” is a catchy, traveling-type groove, while “Anyone’s Daughter” is a surprising departure into country-rock with some slide guitar by Blackmore and an impressive, honky-tonk piano by Lord.

So, upon further review, Fireball is more than a mere stepping stone on the way to the masterpiece Machine Head, but is in fact a classic in its own right.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

 

Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney

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Ram by Paul & Linda McCartneyAlthough Paul McCartney had, by any success metric, the best post-Beatles career of any of his former band mates, he often frustrated fans and critics alike with his constant fluctuation between the artful, avant garde and the well-polished pop hits in his collection. McCartney’s sophomore effort, Ram, although probably more of the former than the latter, strikes the proper balance between these two extremes more than any other album in the McCartney collection.

The album is much more well respected today than it was upon it’s release in the spring of 1971, just a year after the official breakup of the Beatles and the simultaneous release of his debut solo album McCartney. There are three reasons why this was probably the case. The first was the confusion brought on by the different names used – from “Paul McCartney” to “Paul & Linda McCartney” (this one) to “Paul McCartney & Wings” to simply “Wings”. Next, there was a barrage of material coming from McCartney under these various names. Between 1971 and 1973, he released four albums, multiple non-album singles and a movie soundtrack. Finally, there was a variety of song writing and production quality among this material and evident within the album itself.

McCartney was recorded at home on his Scottish farm, and (almost) all by Paul alone. Ram has a similar feel in spots, but definitely has a sharper studio feel throughout, especially on the hit medley “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.
 


Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Released: May 17, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul & Linda McCartney
Recorded: Columbia Recording Studios and A & R Studios, New York,
November, 1970-March, 1971
Side One Side Two
Too Many People
3 Legs
Ram On
Dear Boy
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Smile Away
Heart of the Country
Monkberry Moon Delight
Eat at Home
Long Haired Lady
Ram On (Reprise)
The Back Seat of My Car
Primary Musicians
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Linda McCartney – Keyboards, Vocals
David Spinozza – Guitars
Hugh McCracken – Guitars
Denny Seiwell – Drums

 
This odd medley, combining two unrelated subjects, moods, and tempos, is the first song that really sounds “done” on the album. The raw, quasi-unfinished production works well for through album’s first three songs, but wears a little thin by the time we get to “Dear Boy”. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, returns to the rich production that was so prominent on The Beatles’ later albums, such as Abbey Road, and features a flugelhorn solo by trumpeter Marvin Stamn. Also, this is one of the few song’s on the album where Linda’s vocals are not sonically “treated” and appear to be on par with Paul’s.

Linda McCartney has received much criticism for her vocal abilities over the years, but her contributions to Ram range from adequate to good in most cases, especially on “Long Hair Lady”, where she actually has some “speaking parts” with lead vocals (most of her contributions are background, harmonies, or “call backs”). However, on most songs her voice is highly treated with effects that make it obvious that she is not on the same plane as her talented husband.

The album’s title song, “Ram On”, is a ukulele-driven ballad with somber vocals and over-dubbed effects on piano, percussion, vocals, and various string instruments. The song gives a moody “meaning” to the song and the album. The beginning has an odd piano exercise, sound room instructions, and a false start, no doubt left here for avant garde reasons – but flounders at end with quick fade-out just when it starts to get enjoyable.

The first side finishes with “Smile Away”, which may be a nostalgic nod to the simple, early Beatles rockers, but would have worked better as a strictly live song. It is understandable why it would not be well received in 1971, when so many thresholds in rock were being crossed and elevated.

Paul and Linda McCartneySide two of the album finds some of the more interesting songs. “Heart of the Country” is a down-home, country-esque song, much like “Rocky Raccoon” of the past and “Sally G” a few years in the future. “Monkberry Moon Delight” and “Long Hair Lady” are both fantastic in their uniqueness – one a screaming screed above a driving piano riff that transitions to differing, interesting parts, the other is a mini-suite that seamlessly alternates between moody psychedelia to a blue-grass melody.

The album concludes with “Back Seat of My Car”, a good, classically-McCartney ballad. It is theatrical and romantic, almost melancholy, and is also an anthem of solidarity for Paul and Linda, dedicated to their own world and their own desires no matter what critique rains upon them, with the defiantly-repeated lyric; “…we believe that we can’t be wrong…”.

Perhaps the album’s strongest number is the one that starts it off, “Too Many People”. With a nice diminishing acoustic riff, accented by an excellent overtone of electric riff by guitarist Hugh McCracken and Paul’s Rickenbacker bass. It is expertly honed and yet has a raw edge to it, plus there is much folklore surrounding this song.

John Lennon took offense to some of the lyrics in this song, which led to his retort in a song on his album Imagine later in 1971 (check out our review of that album). McCartney did admit that he had Lennon in mind when he wrote the line; “…too many people, preaching practices…”, but some have speculated that it was actually a deeper dig with the closing line; “…she’s waiting for me… actually focused on Yoko and her alleged fascination with Paul before she got involved with John.

Whatever the ultimate truth, it appeared that at times both Lennon and McCartney were speaking to an audience of one – each other. When John wrote a song personifying his childhood vision of Liverpool in “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Paul immediately responded with his own in “Penny Lane”. McCartney came up with the jug band concept in “Sgt. Pepper’s” and Lennon comes up with the carnival concept in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. And after John Lennon collaborated with his non-musician wife on several projects, Paul McCartney enlisted his own non-musician wife starting with this album, Ram.

It’s a shame that this creative rivalry could not survive beyond 1980.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

 

Meddle by Pink Floyd

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Meddle by PinkFloydIn 1967, Pink Floyd released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a fantastic work led by the talented songwriting of lead singer &amp, guitarist Syd Barrett (Classic Rock Review will explore that album in 2012). The album launched the band into instant superstardom at a very young age. However, soon after that album was released, Barrett went mad, became erractic, was fired from the band, and was replaced by his best friend and understudy David Gilmour.

Six years later, the band would put out their absolute classic The Dark Side of the Moon (CRR review in 2013!). This album solidified the band as an essential group in classic rock and may be one of the greatest albums of all time. But The Dark Side of the Moon resembles in absolutely no way Pipet At the Gates of Dawn. There was a serious evolution that took place in the band during those six years. In that time in between, Pink Floyd but out an array of six or seven experimental, avant garde albums and movie soundtracks that slowly forged their sound towards that on The Dark Side of the Moon.

Perhaps more than any other album during that time period, 1971’s Meddle finds the happy medium that threads these two successful yet divergent eras of Pink Floyd. It contains enough experimental music to make it interesting to the art lover, just enough melodic songs to be liked by the pop music lover, and a few brilliant moments of theatrical rock n roll to make it collectable to those who love The Dark Side of the Moon.
 


Meddle byPink Floyd
Released: October 30, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road & Morgan Studios, London, January-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
One of These Days
A Pillow of Winds
Fearless
San Tropez
Seamus
Echoes
Band Musicians
 David Gilmour – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Vocals  

 
The first side of the album contains five standard-length tracks while the second contains the single, side long “Echoes”. This song forcasts much of what Pink Floyd would put out throughout the decade of the 1970s, save the shorter material on The Wall. The song begins with an experimental sound similar to a submarine “ping”, created by keyboardist Richard Wright, who fed a single note through a Leslie speaker. The song slowly works towards the standard verses and choruses before sliding into a very long “middle section” of blues jams and experimental passages then finally returning for a the last verse/chorus sequence. All in all it is a 23-minute piece.

Pink Floyd Meddle posterThe first side starts with the instrumental “One Of These Days”, which would become a concert staple for decades to come. It is driven by a constant buzzing bass, backwards-masked effects, and a howling guitar lead. The song explodes into a wind storm that leads into “A Pillow of Winds”, a soft acoustic love song much in the vein of those put out on albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. This second song could not be in more contrast to the first.

“Fearless” may be the best overall song on the album and talks about meeting challenges in the face of adversity. Musically it is highlighted by Gilmour’s calm yet strong guitar strumming and the odd beat from drummer Dave Mason. The odd ending to the song uses field recordings from an English soccer game, with fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry & the Pacemakers in a heavily reverberated, eerie fade-out. “San Tropez” is a jazz-inflected pop song with a shuffle tempo, composed and sang by Roger Waters. It adds yet another diverse dimension to the album with its easy-going crooner-like melody and atmosphere. Side one concludes with the throwaway “Seamus”, a pseudo-blues novelty song meant to be a humorous filler with an annoying, howling dog throughout. The song is often ranked as the worst song ever by dedicated Pink Floyd fans.

Pink Floyd in 1971

Meddle received generally positive critical reviews and was a moderately well seller on both sides of the Atlantic, Going platinum in bothe the US and the UK and reach #3 on the English charts. The band would put out a fine soundtrack album, Obscured By Clouds in 1972 before reach the heights with Dark Side in 1973.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

Straight Up by Badfinger

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Straight Up by Badfinger

After the success of their 1970 album No Dice, Badfinger finished recording its third album with Geoff Emerick as producer. But the tapes were rejected by their label, Apple Records. So one of the founders of the label, George Harrison (Apple was founded by all four Beatles), took over as producer of the album. This continued the long relationship that Badfinger had with the Beatles, starting with being the first artists signed to the Apple label. Paul McCartney wrote “Come and Get It”, which would become their first big hit. Members of Badfinger played on Harrison’s album All Things Must Pass, Ringo Starr‘s hit single “It Don’t Come Easy”, as well as John Lennon‘s album Imagine (check out our review of that album). In fact, the band’s name came from a working title of the Beatles hit “With a Little Help From My Friends” called “Bad Finger Boogie”.

Harrison himself would not be able to finish the album, as he needed to steer his efforts towards his benefit Concert for Bangladesh (where Badfinger also performed), so he turned production over to Todd Rundgren. The resulting album, Straight Up, contains such good pop craftsmanship that it sometimes feels like your listening to AM radio in the early 70s, with the diverse styles of pop that jump from one to another. This could be a double-edged sword, as the varying production methods may disrupts the overall “flow” of the album. But on the flip side, there are no bad songs among the dozen on this album – no filler or sub-standard songs – so there is always something rewarding upon multiple listens.

Further, although Badfinger is alleged to have grown to hate the Beatles comparisons with their own sound, they sure did not shy away from that musical pathway enough times on Straight Up.
 


Straight Up by Badfinger
Released: December 13, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison & Todd Rundgren
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & AIR Studios, London June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Take It All
Baby Blue
Money
Flying
I’d Die Babe
The Name of the Game
Suitcase
Sweet Tuesday Morning
Day After Day
Sometimes
Perfection
It’s Over
Band Musicians
Pete Ham – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Tom Evans – Bass, Vocals
Joey Molland – Guitar, Vocals
Mike Gibbons – Drums

 
Straight Up may have marked the pinnacle of Badfinger’s short but brilliant heyday. Tragedy would soon befall them in the years to come, especially after they left Apple for Warner Brothers in 1974, where they would make much more excellent music, most od which would get shelved due to legal problems originating from the manager, which ultimately led to the suicides of Ham (in 1975) and Evans (in 1983).

The album begins with a rather peculiar selection, the moody and melancholy “Take It All”, which is a fine number by Pete Ham, but not the usual upbeat song you expect to kickoff a rock n roll album. That upbeat song is the second track, “Baby Blue”, written by Ham and produced by Rundgren, with a complex yet catchy guitar riff and a simple, early-sixties-like drum beat performed by drummer Mike Gibbons.

Guitarist Joey Molland added a few of his own numbers with “Suitcase”, “Sweet Tuesday Morning”, and “Sometimes”, written in his own unique style, edgy and not quite like anything contemporary. Bass player Tom Evans also penned multiple songs on the album in a style loosely associated with John Lennon.

Day After Day single

However, Pete Ham was the true genius within Badfinger. Beyond the album’s first two songs, he wrote three other superb songs on Straight Up. Two of these – “Perfection” and “The Name of the Game” should have been big hits, while the third one, “Day After Day”, was one, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts. The song was not only produced by Harrison but also featured the ex-Beatle on lead guitar as well as Leon Russell on piano.

Some rock historians contend that Badfinger would have had much more success had they had come around five years earlier or five years later, but the early seventies were not very receptive to their Beatle-esque pop songs. Whether this is true or not, we can certainly appreciate them now from the vantage point of four decades in the future.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

Imagine by John Lennon

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Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine, the second full post-Beatles album by John Lennon, kicks off with an idyllic song envisioning a utopian world where there is no conflict and everyone agrees. Sounds pretty good on the surface, but this is where the art of making a album comes into play. The title song taken on it’s own may lead the listener to believe that this is how Lennon wished the world would be some day. But listening to the album as a whole completes the picture of how Lennon really seemed to view his world.

In many ways, the album was a musical continuation of Lennon’s 1970 debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which also featured Phil Spector as producer and a heavy presence by Klaus Voormann on the bass guitar. Many songs from Imagine (especially those on the “second side”) feel like they could have been left over from that previous album. However, there is a clear and distinct departure on Imagine towards a more cerebral and measured approach to these deep, inner subjects as opposed to the raw “primal scream” method on Plastic Ono Band.
 


Imagine by John Lennon
Released: September 9, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector, John Lennon, & Yoko Ono
Recorded: Ascot Studio (John Lennon’s Home), Tittenhurst Park, England,
Record Plant, New York, June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Imagine
Crippled Inside
Jealous Guy
It’s So Hard
I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier
Gimme Some Truth
Oh My Love
How Do You Sleep?
How?
Oh Yoko!
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Whistling, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Dobro
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Alan White – Drums, Percussion

 
The song “Imagine” is perhaps the most recognizable and universally appealing song John Lennon ever released. It has become the anthem of “peace” for generations, with it’s Garden of Eden-esque quality and a child-like or even animal-like interaction with the surrounding environment, where there is no danger and nothing to fear. It is technically stunning in it’s simplicity but not as deep as the rest of the album.

“Crippled Inside” is where we begin to peel back the pretty scenery to find the dirt and rocks beneath the surface. The song has an earthy, country vibe. You can picture the good old boys sitting around on a porch jamming out this tune. All that is missing is the jug and washboard.
 

 
A personal statement in the form of an honest and heartfelt apology and asking for forgiveness, “Jealous Guy” is a pleasant song. Spector’s presence is obvious, with the trademark strings building behind the fine ballad. Spector-ization of this album is a double edged sword – the simple, honest themes are probably best in their stripped down version, but Spector’s production does add a bit of richness and commercial appeal

Despite the strength of “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy,” The first side of the album is bogged down with much filler and is ultimately much weaker and less interesting than side two, where the action is. From the simple love song, “Oh My Love” to the deep, introspective “How?”, which includes perhaps the best lyric on the album-

“How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?”

The second side also includes a very personal dig at Lennon’s former bandmate and songwriting partner. Earlier in 1971, Paul McCartney had released his second solo album Ram, which contained the opening song “Too Many People” that had some harsh lyrics directed at John and his wife, Yoko Ono. “John had been doing a lot of preaching”, McCartney admitted in 1984. “I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ that was a little dig at John and Yoko”. “How Do You Sleep?” was a direct response, with even less veiled criticism that directly took on McCartney with clear references and double-entendres.

“Gimme Some Truth” is the best song on this album. It is a rant expressing John’s frustration with the general bullshit of life and society. It features scathing lyrics delivered in a syncopated rhythm against a background heavy with bass and drums –

“I’m sick to death of seeing things from tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists All I want is the truth Just gimme some truth now I’ve had enough of watching scenes of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas”

It is a precise statement about politicians lying and propagandizing – cut the crap and just tell the truth.

Although the album features Beatles band mate George Harrison as lead guitarist, he does not shine too brightly at any one moment. Pianist Nicky Hopkins, however, provides some great virtuoso and memorable playing, especially on “Crippled Inside”, “Jealous Guy”, and the upbeat pop song, “Oh Yoko!”. Alan White takes over for Ringo on drums and there are many guest musicians, including several members of the band Badfinger.

John Lennon in studio, 1971

On Imagine, John Lennon slides from themes of love, life, political idealism, to raw emotion. Honesty is an ongoing theme in his lyrics, especially after he descends from the polyanic vision of the theme song. It settles on the more realistic theme of life is not perfect, but if one lives honestly, loves fully and rises above the conflicts, it’s pretty close.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

1971 Images

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

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Aqualung by Jethro TullAqualung, the fourth album by Jethro Tull, was recorded at the same time and in the same studio (Island Studios, December 1970) as the fourth album by Led Zeppelin. While recording a section of the album’s title song, “Aqualung”, lead guitarist Martin Barre was moved to impress his counterpart, Jimmy Page and laid down a solo that was totally unorthodox for his style. The result is now an indelible part of Jethro Tull’s legacy, as “Aqualung” the song and Aqualung the album are among their most famous works. This little example of Barre’s guitar work is one of the things that, for better or for worse, make Aqualung one of the most unusual (top-notch) albums in rock history.

The album feels like a concept album and I suppose you can claim that it is. Except there is not a single concept to tie everything together, but rather three or four disparate concepts. So is it a concept album at all? Further, this album is loaded with quality, original material that entertains, enlightens, and intrigues. But it also contains a large amount of “filler” material that does little more than annoy, and possibly discourage the less dedicated listener from discovering the more brilliant moments of the album.
 


Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Released: March 19, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Ian Anderson & Terry Ellis
Recorded: Island Studios, London, December 1970-February 1971
Side One Side Two
Aqualung
Cross-Eyed Mary
Cheap Day Return
Mother Goose
Wond’ring Aloud
Up to Me
My God
Hymn 43
Slipstream
Locomotive Breath
Wind Up
Primary Musicians
Ian Anderson – Acoustic Guitar, Flute, Vocals
Martin Barre – Electric Guitars, Recorder
Jefferey Hammond-Hammond – Bass, Recorder, Vocals
John Evans – Piano, Organ, Mellotron
Clive Bunker – Drums, Percussion

 
As with all of Jethro Tull’s material, Aqualung‘s driving force is guitarist, flutist, and lead vocalist Ian Anderson. At their core, during their heyday in the early to mid 70s, Jethro Tull was an English folk band. Anderson’s acoustic backbone, lyrics, vocals, and flute, “decorates” their material with elements of contemporary rock. On this album, that order is turned inside-out as the most up-front and most recognizable material (“Aqualung”, “Cross-Eyed Mary”, “Hymn 43”, “Locomotive Breath”) is electric and riff-centric.

Photographer Jennie Franks Anderson, then wife of the lead singer, had taken a series of photos of homeless men, which inspired her to write the bulk of the lyrics of the opening title song. The title “Aqualung” was coined by Ian Anderson after the gurgling sound of underwater diving gear, which described the wheezing of the song’s character. While that character definitely possessed some perverse (or worse) characteristics in the opening song (“eyeing little girls with bad intent”), the inverse is explored in the second, companion song “Cross-Eyed Mary” (“gets no kicks from little boys, would rather make it with a letching gray”). Together, this pair makes a fantastic, albeit slightly deceptive, opening to the album.
 

 
“Mother Goose”, a pleasant and playful acoustic diddy, is a radical departure from the riff-driven rock that is established on the first two songs. However, it is sandwiched between two other short, acoustic fillers that seem out of place and unnecessary, as they do nothing more than confuse the listener further. The first side concludes with a return to the riff-driven rock, albeit in a calmer tone in “Up to Me”.

Another extended concept on God and religion is spread out through the second side of the album . “My God” is an alternative rock song, two decades before its time. It is a melodramatic and acoustic intro that takes a while to develop into deliberate, tense piano riff that gives way to booming electric guitars during the verses and later contains a long and bizarre trade-off between flute and choral interlude in the mid section. “Hymn 43” is a more upbeat, traditional rock song but with equal scorn at religion, especially Christianity. The album’s closer, “Wind Up”, again picks up this theme as a dramatic, theatrical piano piece with vocals in the same styling as “Aqualung”.

The piano of John Evans is featured more on this album than any other, especially with the long intro to “Locomotive Breath”, a song that deviates into a more traditional theme of broken relationships.

On their next two albums (Thick As a Brick in 1972, A Passion Play in 1973), Jethro Tull would create full-fledged, unambiguous, concept albums that would be well-regarded by prog rock enthusiasts but panned by more tradition rock fans. With Aqualung, they come pretty close to satisfying both of these camps, whether intentionally or not.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

 

Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin

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Led Zeppelin IVLed Zeppelin‘s fourth studio album, which has no proper title but is commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, may well be the pinnacle of the band’s early sound. Over time it has become their most popular album by far but, ironically, it is the only album in a string of six consecutive (from Led Zeppelin II in 1969 to In Through the Out Door in 1979) that did not reach #1 on the charts, as it peaked at #2. The album itself was also a bit of a philosophical statement, as the band and manager Peter Grant had decided to avoid the rock press and mainstream promotional channels and go “directly to the fans” with an almost-secret-society-type product which contained no official title or other descriptive language save for the four original symbols located on the inner sleeve and vinyl label.

This new, fourth album is where it would all came together for the band, with the confluence of the different themes and styles that Zeppelin had explored through their first three years and first three albums as well as with many, many happy accidents. The result is an album which contains moments that will forever be etched in rock history.

Their previous album, Led Zeppelin III released in 1970, was a critical and commercial disappointment at the time (although it would gain much appreciation and esteem years later). This was due mainly to confusion by fans and critics alike, due to the high content of acoustic folk songs, which vastly deviated from the band’s heavier, blues-based approach of their first two albums. In retrospect, this attempt by the band to branch out to other styles and genres was rather ingenious as it became rather popular throughout the seventies. With the continued diversity of styles on this fourth album, Led Zeppelin assured ever-growing success for generations to come.
 


Led Zeppelin (IV) by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 8, 1971 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Island Studios, London & Headley Grange, East Hampshire
December, 1970 – February, 1971
Side One Side Two
Black Dog
Rock and Roll
The Battle of Evermore
Stairway to Heaven
Misty Mountain Hop
Four Sticks
Going to California
When the Levee Breaks
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Recorders, Piano, Synths, Guitar
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
In time, Zeppelin would become one of the most diverse rock bands ever, incorporating elements from blues, jazz, folk, country, funk, reggae, as well as developing their own distinct styles that would be echoed in heavy metal, arena rock, and jam bands for decades to come. But in late 1970, Jimmy Page, the band’s lead guitarist and sole producer, was especially stung by the harsh critique and weak sales of their latest album and wanted to get a new album out as soon as possible, as he was brimming with ideas. He got together with Robert Plant, Zeppelin’s dynamic vocalist and chief lyricist, to work on some these new concepts, the first of which was an extended piece that was intended to be a replacement for the band’s live showcase “Dazed and Confused”, which dates back to the band’s first album.

Put together from a couple of instrumental pieces, written on several 6 and 12 string guitars, the song “Stairway to Heaven” would go on to not only be the band’s most famous song, but the most requested song ever on FM radio. The song draws lyrical influence from Welsh folklore, and musical influence from multiple areas, depending on the part of the song, of which there are three distinct, set back to back in sequence. It starts with Page’s finger-picked, folk acoustic accompanied by recorders played by bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones. After a few poetic verses, the song enters the pivital second part, a madrigal played on an electric 12-string, with ever intensive verses and refrains. One of the absolute best moments in rock history is when drummer John Bonham makes his entrance at about 4 ½ minutes into the song’s duration, adding the rhythmic element that finally breaks the tension and reminds us that, although massively overplayed through the years, this IS the definitive Led Zeppelin signature. The song’s finale is a heavy, electric jam with overdubbed guitars and high-majestic vocals, bringing the song to the heights before concluding with a calm refrain with an a capella vocal.
 

 
Recording for the fourth album started at Island Studios in London in December, 1970. Jethro Tull was in the studio at the same time recording Aqualung, and Led Zeppelin wanted a little more space to be creative. So they found an old estate in the English countryside called Headley Grange and moved there for better atmosphere. Here they could hunt in the forest by day, drink tea at the proper hour, and gather around the campfire at night, with moments of inspiration for recording in between. This was possible due to the latest technical innovation, the Rolling Stones mobile studio, a portable, professional recording unit, that was used for some of the classic albums of the early seventies. It was brought to Headley Grange by that band’s road manager, Ian Stewart, who was also a piano virtuoso and would ultimately contribute to the songs “Rock and Roll” and “Boogie With Stu” during these sessions.

Rock and Roll single

Aside from “Stairway to Heaven”, the band did not have any fully developed songs coming into these recording sessions, which left open the opportunity for the many “creative accidents” that would make up this fouth album, several of which involved Bonham. The drummer was having trouble with the odd timings involved with the song that would become “Four Sticks” (in fact, the song got its title when Bonham, in frustration, actually did a take with four sticks in his hands), and took a break from trying by kicking into the straight-forward, 4/4 beat of “Good Golly, Miss Molly”. Page joined in with an improvised riff, and the song “Rock and Roll” was born. That signature, opening beat that Bonham played would become one of the most recognizable intros in rock history.

Another unplanned composition is “The Battle of Evermore”, which was the result of Page picking up a mandolin brought in by Jones and composing a distinct piece, that was originally intended to be a short instrumental, but built into a Medieval folk song when Jones added an acoustic and Plant added vocals and lyrics and even wrote a separate vocal part for a “town crier”, which was later performed by folk singer Sandy Denny, the only guest singer to ever appear in a Led Zeppelin song.

Led Zeppelin 1971

While at Headley Grange, the band wrote and recorded the bulk of the rest of the album, including the heavier songs like “Misty Mountain Hop”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and “Black Dog”, which was actually named for a stray black lab that kept coming around the place. Also, the band recorded many songs that would left off the album, like “Down By the Seaside”, “Night Flight”, “Black Country Woman” and the afore mentioned “Boogie With Stu”. Page toyed with the idea of releasing a double album, but didn’t want the necessary delay in release that would be required for such an undertaking. Unfortunately, the album would be delayed anyway for several months because of mixing problems and the abrupt departure of an audio engineer. Even though all recording was wrapped up by late February, 1971, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album would not be released until November 8th of that year.

Beyond, the production issues, Page also got some heavy static from Atlantic Records on several fronts. The executives not only had concerns with the album’s cover art, but had a very big problem with Page’s plan to not include the band’s name on the exterior jacket nor give the album a proper title. The executives and marketing “specialists” at the record company called this strategy an act of “career suicide”, but Page was adamant in his quest to “let the music do the talking”. This strategy also included avoiding any of the normal publicity associated with releasing a new album, especially press releases and access.

Four Symbols

The only definitive markings with this album were the personal symbols that each member constructed of their own design. The exact meaning of these “four symbols” has never been revealed much by the band members, especially Page, who came up with the concept and whose own symbol, an odd script that appears to spell out the word “Zoso”, is the most mysterious of all. After reluctantly agreeing to this peculiar concept, Atlantic distributed graphics of the four symbols to the trade magazines.

The final fight with the record company, involved the song “Stairway to Heaven”, which Atlantic desperately wanted to release as a single, but Page refused because doing so what mean that it would have to be edited from its running time of 7:50, and this was completely unacceptable. As it turns out, this refusal along with the album’s unplanned, delayed release built up so much anticipation among fans that it contributed to thousands upon thousands of sales over an extended period of time.

The real genius of Led Zeppelin IV is just how unique, unconventional, and unaware this album’s creation was. There is virtually nothing fabricated, it is pure rock n roll. John Bonham displays amazing efficiency, playing on only about 5 1/2 of the album’s 8 tracks, but making an indelible impression while he is there, with some of the most memorable drum beats in history. John Paul Jones, a virtuoso bass player, contributes piano, synths, recorders, acoustic guitar, and even some vocals. Robert Plant, a vocalist at the height of his fame due to his signature, high-pitched wails, tones it back where appropriate, especially on the lighter, folk-influenced songs like “Going to California”. Jimmy Page, perhaps the greatest producer since George Martin, is still ambitious enough to make something truly unique, while still unafraid to “borrow” from some of the great genres of the past.

It’s so refreshing that a band at this stage, going into their fourth album with a lot success already in the bag, would make an album that reaches the fringes of rock without a self-aware agenda to do so.

~

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums

The Yes Album by Yes

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There are certain albums that have undoubtedly broken through to establish new rules of rock n’ roll and are, therefore immortally classics. Then there are some albums that seem to have missed a great opportunity to become such a classic. The Yes Album by Yes, seems to straddle the line between these two possibilities as it falls just a few feet shy of being a top level rock n’ roll classic. Nonetheless, this is truly a great rock album.

When listening to this album, there are certain awe-inspiring moments where you can’t help but marvel at the sure technical talent of this band. To a lesser extent, there are the moments of over-indulgence and repetition that give The Yes Album a certain “not quite completed” vibe that leaves the slight, regrettable aftertaste of “could-have-been”.

This duality is immediate right up front with the opener “Yours Is No Disgrace”. This is a song that very well may have been considered one of the best ever, if it would have only been arranged better and finished. The simple riff that rips the song into being, grabs you right up front, with a shot of rock adrenaline and prog intellect, but it dissolves all too soon into a calm, droning, harmonized chant of the mundane and simple lyric line. Then the song picks up again and does enter some very interesting musical passages, only to return the drab vocals in just a slightly varied fashion. It is like someone in the band dug the Beatles’ infamous “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)” and wanted to do their own, updated version of that ill-fated experiment.
 


The Yes Album by Yes
Released: February 19, 1971 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Yes and Eddie Offord
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, October-November, 1970
Side One Side Two
  Yours Is No Disgrace
  The Clap
  Starship Trooper
 I’ve Seen All Good People
 The Venture
 Perpetual Change
Group Musicians
 Jon Anderson – Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vachalia, Vocals
Tony Kaye – Piano, Organ, Synths
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion  

 

The Yes Album introduces us to a new band member, guitarist Steve Howe, perhaps the one member most responsible for the band’s phenomenal success over the coming years. Howe’s live acoustic instrumental “The Clap”, an impressive showcase that uniquely fuses classical with blue-grass, is unfortunately mis-placed in the song sequence as the second song on Side One, a side that concludes with the first of two multi-part suites on the album, “Starship Trooper”.

With each of its three sections written by a different individual member (“Life Seeker” by vocalist Jon Anderson, “Disillusion” by bassist Chris Squire, “Wurm” by Howe), the song easily and pleasantly moves from one part to another. “Life Seeker” is a tension-filled rock segment that contains some of the earliest use of a quality flange effect, which is re-introduced in the concluding instrumental section “Wurm”. In between is an interesting break with acoustic and bass, and well-harmonized vocals.
 

 
The second side of the album opens with the second suite “I’ve Seen All Good People”, a two-part, quasi-hippie “get together” type song that first starts with an a capella vocal preview of Squire’s straight-rocking end part “All Good People”, which follows the melodic, acoustic-driven “Your Move”, written by Anderson and featuring a folksy recorder played by Colin Goodring (you may recognize this part being played in recent credit card commercials).

Compared to the other, more interesting parts of this album, “A Venture” is anything but – being just a straight-forward almost formulaic pop song that relies heavily on the keyboards on Tony Kaye, who would be replaced following this album by the more dynamic Rick Wakeman.

Kaye also plays a big part in the finale “Perpetual Change”, and entertaining extended piece that previews some of the fine material to come in the following year with the pair of excellent albums Fragile and Close to the Edge, ending The Yes Album on a strong note.

Even though it falls just a bit short of being a bona fide classic, there is no doubt that this is an important album in the history of progressive rock.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.