As the Grateful Dead’s long career began to wind down in the early nineties, there were many pseudo-hippie, jam-oriented bands that emerged to fill the void for the “dead heads”. Although many would ultimately have long and successful careers (i.e. Phish, Widespread Panic), none would achieve greater concentrated commercial success than the Spin Doctors. The band’s debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, released in 1991, became a huge (albeit belated) commercial success through 1993 and 1994. This was fueled by some catchy and concise pop songs, starting with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” followed by “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olson Blues”.
Pocket Full of Kryptonite languished for nearly a year as the band embarked on nearly non-stop touring of small and medium clubs in the Northeast. Then some of the songs were finally picked up by radio, and once in the rotation, these songs stuck around for a long time. The catchy, repetitive, three or four chord riffs and funky rhythm were perfectly suited for radio in the early nineties and Spin Doctors soon became a sensation, selling millions of albums around the world. Ultimately, the multi-platinum album sold millions world-wide and Spin Doctors looked poised to launch a long and successful career. But this was not to be, the band’s fame seemed to decline nearly as rapidly as it rose, by 1996 they were no longer a major label act.
Pocket Full of Krypotoniteby Spin Doctors
Released: August 20, 1991 (Epic) Produced by: Frank Aversa, Peter Deneberg, Frankie La Rocka, Spin Doctors Recorded: Power Station & RPM Studios, New York, August-December 1990
Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
What Time Is It?
Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Forty or Fifty
More Than She Knows
Off My Line
How Could You Want Him
Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist
Chris Barron – Vocals Eric Schenkman – Guitars, Piano, Vocals Mark White – Bass Aaron Comess – Drums, Vocals
There is something really cool about the tie-in of the album’s title with the opener “Jimmy Olsen Blues”. This catchy song tells the story of an alternate universe where young Jimmy Olsen plots the destruction of the ultimate superhero to win the affection of Lois Lane. Like most of the hits, the song is fueled by the riffs of guitarist Eric Schenkman which cut through the moderate and measured vocals of Chris Barron.
“Two Princes” would ultimately become the band’s biggest ever hit, not just through radio and commercial channels, but also in pop culture. It was used as song of celebration by the 1993 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, as a theme on several television shows including the children’s show Sesame Street and an Israeli TV comedy, and has been featured in several movies as well as covered by many bands.
While most of the tracks on Pocket Full of Krytonite are short, pop-ready hits, the band does takes some different approaches. The nearly pure funk “What Time Is It?”, is led by the slap-bass of Mark White while their “jam band” core seeps through in songs such as the ten minute closer “Shinbone Alley/Hard To Exist”.
Although, Spin Doctors would go on to record and release five more studio albums through 2005, none of these would achieve any critical recognition or commercial success of note.
Lenny Kravitz followed up his brilliant 1989 debut, Let Love Rule with Mama Said two years later. Although many critics thought this sophomore effort paled in comparison, Mama Said was Kravitz’s commercial breakthrough. The album was a stylistic evolution from his debut reflecting the changes in Kravitz’s life. His recent breakup with wife Lisa Bonet made Mama Said an album filled with emotions of loss and sadness as well as the denial of such. Some have referred to this as Kravitz’s “divorce album”.
As the sole producer of the album and performer of most of its music, Kravitz was innovative and inspired, fusing elements of jazz, soul, rock, and dance music. He was also free to enlist musicians of his choosing to help out. Former high school classmate and current Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash helped out on a few songs. Kravitz even co-wrote a song with Sean Ono Lennon, the 15-year-old son of his musical idol John Lennon. The song was “All I Ever Wanted”, on which Lennon also played piano. For the most part, however, Kravitz was pretty much a one man band on this album with engineer Henry Hirsch filling in on a variety of instruments where needed.
Some listeners have also noted that Kravitz moved forward a couple years in parallel from the late sixties influence fixations of Let Love Rule to the early seventies sound of Mama Said, which sounds like it could have been produced during that era.
Mama Saidby Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin) Produced by: Lenny Kravitz Recorded: 1990-1991
Fields Of Joy
Always On the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
More Than Anything In This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Difference Is Why
Stop Draggin’ Around
Flowers For Zoe
Fields Of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements Karl Denson – Saxophone David Domanich – Drums
Slash joined in for the first two songs, the emotive “Fields of Joy” and the intense “Always On the Run”. This latter song was a dedication to Kravitz’s mother, actress Roxie Roker, and the default title song of the album. It was also co-written by Slash and combines some very funky Sly Stone-esque grooves and horns with some Hendrix-like heavy rock guitars.
The following two songs, seem to indicate non-acceptance of his faltering marriage, the Lennon-esque “Stand By My Woman” and the swirling Philly soul sound of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. Both are very entertaining and melodic hits, with the latter featuring a pulsating bass line, a sitar riff, many strings, and the singer’s flawless, high pitched vocals. The video for this song is nearly an exact replica of the Doors 1968 performance on The Smothers Brothers show, complete with Kravitz dressed nearly exactly the way Jim Morrison did for that performance.
Other standouts on Mama Said are the quiet ballad “Flowers For Zoe,” written for Kravitz’s daughter , the anti-song anthem “When The Morning Turns To Light”, and a psychedelic song with a vulgar name, “What The Fuck Are We Saying?”. Kravitz returns to the high falsetto on the brilliant, jazz influenced “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which gradually builds with guitars, horns, strings, and saxophone, while remaining cool and refrained throughout.
With the commercial success of Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz was poised to deliver a string of successful albums through the rest of the nineties, although the edge that he possessed on his first two releases would never quite return.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
Gish is the debut album by alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, released independently in 1991. The album was co-produced by Butch Vig and recorded in his studio in Madison, Wisconsin. The other co-producer was the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Billy Corgan who worked tirelessly on getting the right sound, spending hours each on everything from harmonies to guitar tones to drum tunings. This was highly unusual for indy recordings at the time, which were usually recorded “nearly live” in a few days due to shoe-string budgets. This album had about 30 days of working sessions and was very intense and stressful for the four band members.
The result is a technically proficient album with strong performances by all members, starting with the beautifully executed syncopation by drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who was described as a jazz/hard-rock drum freak let loose on alt-rock radio. Along with Corgan, the rich and layered guitars were performed by James Iha, who has a knack for playing catchy melodies. Rounding out the lineup is bassist D’arcy Wretzky, whose low, cutting bass lines have been compared to that of Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.
The album itself has two distinctive influences – a hard-edged, alternative metal and a softer, psychedelic, dreamy influence. On Gish, these distinctions are often pulled apart, making it slightly unballanced overall, top-heavy with the songs with the most punch up front. Corgan was the son of a professional jazz guitarist and started his musical career in the early 1980’s forming the the Smashing Pumpkins in 1988 in Chicago.
Gishby Smashing Pumpkins
Released: May 28, 1991 (Caroline) Produced by: Butch Vig & Billy Corgan Recorded: Smart Studios, Madison, WI, December 1990–March 1991
I Am One
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars James Iha – Guitars, Vocals D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums
Four songs on the album were previously recorded as demos in 1989. “I Am One” starts the album and was Smashing Pumpkin’s first single. A frenetic and explosive rocker led by Chamberlin’s opening groove and the many layers of guitars by Corgan and Iha. The closer “Daydream” is also in this group, although it varies widely as a folky number featuring D’Arcy on lead vocals and including a “hidden track” at the very end.
The psychedelic “Rhinoceros” contains a cool and unique tremolo guitar and almost whispered vocals, giving an effect that is at once fascinating and nerve wracking. At over 6 minutes, it is the longest song on the album and provides a glimpse into the type of material that the band would develop in later years. It is one of the few early songs that would be performed live consistently throughout the band’s career.
A couple more of the heavier songs on the album are “Siva”, with flowing feedback and crunchy guitars and the catchy “Bury Me”, which is held together by D’Arcy’s bassline and features co-lead vocals by Iha.
Then there are the dreamy/pop sixties-influenced numbers. “Suffer” is a steady jam with soft, chiming riffs and beats by all band members. It includes several soun effects, like a distored sitar approximation and a strange flute solo. Corgan has described “Snail” as his favorite from this album primarily because it is so unapparent as anything of quality upon first listen, but slowly creeps into a better place. “Tristessa” took its title from Jack Kerouac’s 1960 novella of the same name. The word is Spanish for “sadness” and the song was originally pressed as a 7″ single prior to the release of this album.
Released prior to the more heralded 1991 albums by Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Gish nonetheless paved the way for Smashing Pumpkins to become one of the most important alt-rock bands of the 1990s. Although the album had no chart success and many mainstream critics didn’t look at this album untll the years when the band’s popularity was exploding, Gish eas the highest selling independent album for three years following its release.
It had been four years since Guns n’ Roses had put out their last full studio album, which also happened to be their first studio album and the biggest selling debut of all time, Appetite For Destruction. With fans and critics alike eager for new material, the band unloaded a great volume of music on September 17, 1991, the day they released the equivalent of two double albums, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.
With these albums, especially Use Your Illusion I, the band demonstrated much growth and expansion of style, including elements of country, blues, and progressive rock, while maintaining the hard rock edge which made Guns n’ Roses famous in the first place. Much like Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, these albums included older recordings which were not previously used interspersed with new material that was written for the project(s). The band also included a well-known cover on each album and each also has at least one track sung by band members other than lead singer Axl Rose.
These two albums, released in 1991, would be the final studio albums with this classic lineup in tact and Guns n’ Roses would not release another studio album for 17 years until Chinese Democracy in 2008. Also, the band put out no less than ten videos from these two albums, a final gorge for the heyday of MTV and music videos, which would go into rapid decline through the nineties.
Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion IIby Guns n’ Roses
Released: September 17, 1991 (Geffen) Produced by: Mike Clink & Guns n’ Roses Recorded: A&M Studios, Record Plant, Studio 56, Conway Studios, Metalworks, Los Angeles, 1990-1991
Use Your Illusion I
Use Your Illusion II
Right Next Door to Hell
Dust n’ Bones
Live and Let Die
Don’t Cry (Original)
Back Off Bitch
Double Talkin’ Jive
Garden of Eden
Don’t Damn Me
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Get the Ring
Pretty Tied Up
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry (Alternate)
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Axl Rose – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion Slash – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Dobro, Six String Bass Izzy Stradlin – Guitars, Vocals Dizzy Reed – Keyboards, Vocals Duff McKagan – Bass, Vocals Matt Sorum – Drums, Vocals
Use Your Illusion I starts off with a song intentionally aimed at Rose’s neighbor in Hollywood who had recently sued him, called “Next Door To Hell”. It also contains “Back Off Bitch” and “Bad Obsession”, which were originally written for Appetite for Destruction “Bad Obsession” later features Michael Monroe, of Hanoi Rocks and a big influence on the band, playing the harmonica and tenor saxophone.
“Don’t Cry” is a calm and steady song, which became a big radio hit. The serene guitar is cut by Rose’s sharp vocals which climax with a ridiculously long, 25 second, ad hoc vocal to end the song. Another version of this song, with alternate lyrics was included on Use Your Illusion II. “Live and Let Die” is a cover that would’ve been better left alone, as it does not add anything to the intensity of the original Paul McCartney version. “The Garden” has a bluesy beginning with a moderate acoustic accented by a long slide electric. It then kicks in more intensely for the heavier and doomier chorus sections which feature Alice Cooper on vocals. This is interesting because much of the theatrical feel of these albums are reminiscent of early Alice Cooper Band, especially the 10-minute-plus closer of Use Your Illusion I called “Coma”.
A couple of other interesting tracks from the first album are the punk-influenced, fast and furious “Garden of Eden”, and the slow country/waltz with a heavy slide guitar presence, reminiscent of cuts from the Stones Sticky Fingers called “You Ain’t the First”. “Dead Horse” which starts with intentionally flat and apathetic vocals over an opening acoustic part but later kicks into a better jam. But, without a doubt the best song on either album, and perhaps the best song ever by Guns n’ Rose, is “November Rain” on Use Your Illusion I.
It is amazing how, from several different perspectives, “November Rain” represents the exact end of an era, the eighties hair-band era with the obligatory power ballad and high budget music video. For this song, the tab was about $1.5 million for an eight minute video which itself depicts the good times ending; as a joyous wedding celebration through most of the song morphs into a surreal funeral during the coda. The irony here is that Guns n’ Roses themselves help bring an end to this hair band era with the cutting-edge Appetite for Destruction, which cut against the grain of many rock conventions and helped open up the industry to the deluge of grunge which was rapidly approaching. But the song itself is purely great – a piano ballad led by Rose, a theatrical, orchestral backdrop, and some of the finest guitar work by Slash which helped secure his spot as a rock legend. “November Rain” may well be one of the best songs of the entire decade of the nineties.
I suppose the danger of releasing so much music at one time is simply overkill. And if one is to listen to both of these extra-long albums, back-to-back they may become numb to the band’s edge (especially the vocals) and it all eventually becomes repetitive. What was exciting and innovative on the first album, feels like over-indulgence on the second, and this is part of the problem with Use Your Illusion II. The other part is that it is simply not as good as its twin brother. In this light, the opening “Civil War” comes off as preachy and melodramatic and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, which had long been a staple of the band in concert, just doesn’t to have the effect it had a few years before (and this may be the most tolerable of all their covers, due to an excellent lead by Slash).
Released a few months ahead of the albums and featured in the film Terminator II: Judgment Day, “You Could Be Mine” was the first big hit from either album and actually propelled sales of Use Your Illusion II slightly ahead of those by Use Your Illusion I. In reality, this is an average song at best, which benefited greatly from the cross-marketing, including a special video featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in character.
Being just about as long as UYI I, this second album does include a few interesting highlights. Izzy Stradlin, who wrote several songs on both albums, sang solo lead on “14 Years”, a song dedicated to Axl Rose, whom he had known since 1977 (14 years earlier) when the high school classmates started their first band together in their hometown of Lafayette, Indiana. “Yesterdays” is a highly reflective song, which sounds like it should be reserved for the end of one’s career. Bassist Duff McKagan provided lead vocals on “So Fine”, while the provocative “Get In the Ring” gets very personal during a profanity-laced middle section where Rose calls out several members of the music press by name. The second album concludes with the weird and distorted rap “My World”, which feels like a throwaway filler so that they could reach the 30 song mark between the two albums.
Seven years later, with fans already in a frenzy for new material from Guns n’ Roses (which would not arrive for another decade), the band released a compilation simply entitled Use Your Illusion, which featured six of the more popular cuts from each album, a sort of “trial pack” for the casual fan.
When determining which albums to review here at Modern Rock Review, we like to stay pretty much within the bounds of mainstream rock and usually only make exceptions for very important albums which just cannot be ignored. Once in a while, however, we’ll find something odd, obscure, unknown, or all of the above that strikes a chord with us and lands a prestigious spot on our review board. The Dylans were a very short-lived band that came out of the “Madchester” scene in England. They really tapped into the retro-rock sound that would blossom in the early nineties and they did so early and well. So, for our second review of 1991, we’ve decided to review this band’s self-titled debut album, The Dylans. This debut has been called “totally underrated” by those who are aware of it’s existence (which are not a very great number). They combine fuzzy guitars, and effects-laden vocals with a more modern rhythm and back beat and their songs fluctuate between the psychedelic sounds of the sixties and the modern pop sounds of the eighties.
The band was formed by Colin Gregory, who had been with the sixties-retro band 1000 Violins through the late eighties as a guitarist. Gregory moved to bass and lead vocals to make way for the two rhythm guitarists Jim Rodger and Andy Curtis. Within months after their formation in 1990, the band was signed to an indie subsidiary of RCA Records. As the band started to write and record songs for their debut, Curtis was replaced by Andy Cook, who would become the chief songwriter for the album.
The Dylansby The Dylans
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two) Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
She Drops Bombs
I Hope the Weather Stays Fine
Sad Rush On Sunday
No Coming Down
Mary Quaint In Blue
Colin Gregory – Guitar, Bass, Vocals Jim Rodger – Guitars Andy Cook – Guitars Quentin Jennings – Keyboards Gary Jones – Drums
The album has a great start and a strong finish, with a bit of repetitive lull in the middle. It is well-produced throughout with plenty of sonic ear candy along with solid melodies and song structures. Right from the start, with the song “She Drops Bombs”, it is evident that the band wants to tap into sixties psychedelia, with some remnants of Revolver-era Beatles (especially the Harrison songs) and other, more obscure acts like Strawberry Alarm Clock, giving it all a very vibey, acid rock feel. This sound is scattered throughout the album, especially on “No Coming Down”, “Indian Sun”, the single “Godlike”, and the album’s only instrumental which is titled “Particle Ride”.
The other predominant sound of the album is more influenced by 1980s British pop. “Planet Love” starts with a sixties-like effect which was gypped from the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” but then settles into a U2-esque beat, behind the still heavily-layered top end. “I Hope the Weather Stays Fine” has some definite eighties club music influence, but still maintains that English top end and a Doors-like organ to give it a unique edge. It also contains an interesting second “voice” to deliver the catch phrase title of the song. “Love To” is an upbeat, feel-good, “life is good” song to change the pace a bit.
But perhaps the two most interesting songs on the album are the ones which do not sound too “sixties” or too “eighties” either way. “Sad Rush On Sunday” has an upbeat, three chord, very catchy riff and remains snappy throughout, accented by deeply wah-wahed guitars. “Mary Quant In Blue”, the last single from the album and The Dylan’s biggest “hit” ever, contains a definite dance beat, noted-riff, layered guitars, with a very melodic hook delivered by new wave-ish vocals.
This 1991 debut album would be the pinnacle for the band. In the following years, The Dylans would be plagued by several lineup changes which would delay the recording of their second album, Spirit Finger, until 1994. Then, when sales for that album were lethargic and lower than expected, the band decided to call it quits altogether.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1991 albums.
“The sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.” This is how lead singer and lyricist Bono described the radical new approach that the established and successful band U2 took when putting together their 1991 album Achtung Baby. The album was produced following the group’s first extended break from touring and recording and it marked a distinct milestone in the evolution of U2’s sound.
This was the first full studio album since the blockbuster The Joshua Tree in 1987 and Bono felt that they were creatively unprepared for the phenomenal success of The Joshua Tree, which resulted in the critically panned soundtrack album Rattle and Hum in 1988. In October 1990, the group headed to Berlin to start work on this new album. On the eve of German reunification the band felt that recording there would be uplifting and inspiring. Instead, they found the vibe to be depressing (the studio was located in a former SS ballroom). Further, there was division growing within the band itself over the musical direction. Bono and lead guitarist The Edge were becoming influenced by recent fads such as the Madchester scene in England and the industrial rock movement in America. However, these dance-oriented beats and rhythms did not sit well with bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, who felt their roles were being diminished within the band. The fact that Bono and The Edge were also writing the material in more isolation did not help matters.
The band was actually close to breaking up in Germany as ideas stagnated and disagreements escalated. But they were all brought back together by the nearly totally improvised “One”, where each member contributed on the spot to this excellent new composition. The band returned home to Dublin for Christmas 1990 where they all recommitted to a future with U2. The bulk of the rest of the album would be recorded in Dublin starting in February 1991.
Achtung Babyby U2
Released: November 19, 1991 (Island) Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno Recorded: Hansa Ton Studios, Berlin, STS & Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, October 1990 – September 1991
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Love Is Blindness
Bono – Lead Vocals, Guitar The Edge – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals Adam Clayton – Bass Larry Mullin, Jr. – Drums & Percussion
The album’s title, “Achtung Baby”, is German for “Attention, baby!” or “Watch out, baby!”, and it was adopted by sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy during recording in the early Berlin sessions. Later in the process, the band decided on this as the title over more “serious sounding” titles that they were considering. The album was co-produced by Daniel Lanois, who was hands-on from start to finish and Brian Eno, who would work on the project intensely for several days straight and then take three or four weeks off in order to be able to come back and listen with “fresh ears”.
Upon listening to the album, the first thing you’re struck by is the sound – steady, almost techno beats, processed vocals, and very judicious use of the band’s previous biggest asset, The Edge’s signature riffs. For this album, the inventive guitarist used many different techniques and processing, most with stellar success, some with less.
Some of the most inventive guitars appear on the songs “Zoo Station”, “Love Is Blindness”, and the first hit from the album “Mysterious Ways”, which introduced the pop world to the “new U2”. Other songs used various inovative techniques as well. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” starts with wild synths and then uses doubled up, octave vocals. “So Cruel” uses a simple piano riff with a modern dance beat. “The Fly” experiments with alternate personalities of Bono, each portrayed by distinctive vocals built by cadence and effect. While the music fluctuates between alternative and R&B. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” starts as a piece of doomy, space age, psychedelia then morphs into a decent pop song that really hits a sweet note during the bridge with the high-pitched Bono vocals.
Other song highlights include the cleaver and inventive “Until the End of the World”, which portrays an imagined conversation between Jesus Christ and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, while moving towards the traditional U2 sound musically. “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” contains a calm R&B beat with just enough musical decor to make it really moody under the somber vocals.
The true great from this album, on a level with anything U2 has done before or since is “One” . This is a gem that really deviates from much of the rest of the album. It starts with a traditionally strummed acoustic guitar coupled with a nice, overdubbed electric riff and then kicks in with perfect rhythm accompaniment. Calm vocals become more agitated as the verses proceed until we reach a climatic banshee scream at the close. Further, this is the song that really saved the album and possibly the band. As The Edge recalls;
“At the instant we were recording it, I got a very strong sense of its power. We were all playing together in the big recording room, a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war, and everything fell into place. It was a reassuring moment, when everyone finally went, ‘oh great, this album has started.’ It’s the reason you’re in a band…”
As the release date drew near, rumors of U2’s new direction leaked out and certain critics and members of the press began to preemptively trash the new album on hearsay alone. On the eve of Achtung Baby’s release in November 1991, U2 was more unsure and less confident than they had been for any previous work. However, once the actual music was heard, the reception nearly all positive by critics and fans alike, with Achtung Baby topping most “album of the year” polls and winning a Grammy.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.
In some of our previous reviews from the year 1986, you’ve probably already heard us mention several times our distaste for the slick sound that was predominant throughout releases issued that year. We’ve also lamented the fact that even established acts like Genesis and Journey seemed to fall into the “group think” of replicating this uninspired, artificial, “modern” sound to some extent or another. In the midst of all this, comes a breath of fresh air in Paul Simon’s Graceland, a true original.
The album contains a wide array of styles and sounds from vast corners of the globe, often intermingled together in ingenious ways by Simon, who was also the album’s producer. He enlisted over 50 musicians and singers to perform on this album, with a vast amount coming from South Africa and receiving their first exposure to a western audience. But African music is just one element on this diverse album which also includes a healthy mix of country, Tex-Mex, and reggae influence throughout, while also maintaining some of the signature Paul Simon styles that he had developed throughout his long career.
But simply throwing together all these elements is not, in of itself, enough to make a great album. It takes a bit of musical genius as well as the courage to take chances and go against the musical mainstream. Simon surely does this on Graceland. He uses the bass guitar as a lead instrument throughout, he adds the world elements strategically and in judicious doses perfectly straddling the line between the deep, philosophical artist and jocular clown to reach a notch of originality which is truly his and his alone.
Gracelandby Paul Simon
Released: August 12, 1986 (Warner Brothers) Produced by: Paul Simon Recorded: Johannesburg, London, & New York, February 1985 – June 1986
The Boy In the Bubble
I Know What I Know
Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Under African Skies
Crazy Love, Vol. II
That Was Your Mother
All Around the World
(or Myth of Fingerprints)
Paul Simon – Lead & Background Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Ray Phiri – Guitars Adrian Belew – Guitars, Synths Bakithi Kumalo – Bass Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Vocal Ensemble Isaac Mtshali – Drums Ralph MacDonald – Percussion
Paul Simon’s previous album was 1983’s Heart’s and Bones, which has since been praised by critics (including this one), but was a bitter commercial disappointment at the time of its release. Simon felt that he had lost his popular momentum and that his commercial fortunes were unlikely to change. So for the album which would become Graceland, he decided to be highly experimental since he had nothing to lose. After hearing a cassette recording of a song called “Gumboots” by Boyoyo Boys, he traveled to South Africa to embrace the culture and find a suitable place to record the album. For this particular song, Simon wrote the lyrics and melody but pretty much left the rest of “Gumboots” in tact – a fast-paced accordian-driven song that sounds like a warped version of polka.
The popular South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo play a big part in two songs – “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless” – the latter being completely a capella with much of the lyric in Zulu. The group was founded by the legendary Joseph Shabalala who co-wrote both of these songs with Simon. The final South African influence comes from the female vocal group The Gaza Singers who co-wrote and sang backup on the song “I Know What I Know”.
The catchy and upbeat “You Can Call Me Al”, with lyrics describing a mid-life crisis, became the biggest hit from Graceland. Musically, the track features a penny whistle solo by Morris Goldberg and a palindromic bass run by Bakithi Kumalo. But the most memorable impression left by the song was the popular music video starring Simon and comedian Chevy Chase, in which the 6’9″ Chase lip-syncs the vocals while an annoyed-looking 5’3″ Simon mimics various instrumental sections, including the above-mention penny whistle and bass as well as percussion and horn parts. The video introduced the 45-year Simon to a whole new generation on MTV.
Graceland also contains several songs on which Simon collaborated with some of his American counterparts. He sings a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt in the calm and thoughtful “Under African Skies” and enlists Los Lobos as a backup band for the closer “All Around the World or The Myth of the Fingerprints”. But, by far, Simon’s most rewarding collaboration came in the album’s title song “Graceland”.
While still teenagers in the Bronx in the late fifties, a young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (who at the time called themselves “Tom & Jerry”) would spend hours trying to master the harmonies of Phil & Don Everly. For the song “Graceland”, these same Everly Brothers provided background harmonies for Simon nearly three decades later. The song at once contains an upbeat, almost country & western sound, while also providing ethereal and deliberate lyrics on top. Simon would later say that this was the best song he ever wrote. While that may be a stretch, we do agree it is a great song.
Warner Brothers almost didn’t release this album because they thought it was too far “out there” for a mainstream audience to accept. When they finally relented, they were surely glad that they did as Graceland went platinum five times over. In the end, Paul Simon provided yet another example of the wonderful things that can be created when a talented musician strips away all commercial concerns and just lets his talent and instinct take over.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.
Following the most commercially successful era for the band, lead singer Steve Perry firmly took control over Journey‘s musical direction. The ultimate result of this new direction was this 1986 album Raised On Radio, an album which would (at least initially) become just about as popular as their biggest earlier albums, but ultimately would symbolize the decline and fall of Journey’s successful run in through the late 1970s and early 1980s.
After the 1983 album Frontiers and the subsequent stadium tour, the band took a bit of a hiatus to pursue different projects. Guitarist Neal Schon made the second of his two “experimental” solo albums, which prompted Perry to pursue his own solo album. Street Talk, released in 1984, contained the pop-rock and ballads that seemed a little too close to Journey’s signature sound for the other band members, causing some tension within the band. The five members of Journey, including Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass, and Steve Smith on drums, did re-convene to record a couple of songs for movie soundtracks later in 1984, but took virtually all of 1985 off.
Finally, the band wanted to record a new album, but Perry was hesitant to do so because his mother was ailing. When she convinced him to do the album, Perry was more determined than ever to take the reigns on the musical direction, something that he had slowly been doing as early as 1980, when founding member Greg Rollie departed. Perry’s idea for Raised On Radio (a title which he insisted on over the band’s original title of “Freedom”) was to forge a new sound that was a hybrid of traditional Journey and his solo own work. When early session work did not go over well, Perry convinced Schon and Cain to back him in firing Valory and Smith and Journey continued on as a trio.
Raised On Radioby Journey
Released: May 27, 1986 (Columbia) Produced by: Steve Perry Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, Autumn-Winter 1985
Girl Can’t Help It
Be Good to Yourself
Once You Love Somebody
Happy To Give
Raised On Radio
I’ll Be Alright Without You
It Could Have Been You
The Eyes Of a Woman
Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Vocals Randy Jackson – Bass Larrie Londin – Drums & Percussion
Much of the album has a feel similar to Perry’s Street Talk. However, there is one element that makes this definitive Journey (and, in reality, saves the album from musical oblivion) and that element is Neal Schon’s guitar work. Mainly floating above the rhythm, Schon’s excellent guitars add the only truly interesting and uplifting sonic value to this album, with the exception of a few songs with great vocals such as on the opening classic “Girl Can’t Help It”.
Raised On Radio does get off to a very good start. “Girl Can’t Help It” is the best song on the album, with a direct and crisp sound with a just slight flange, a simple but memorable piano riff, and some counter-harmonic guitars to accent it all. The song morphs from the simple, melodic first section to a more intense second part with some excellent harmonies. “Positive Touch” follows with a definite 1986 sound that is still quite entertaining. Guest Dan Hull adds a great saxophone and the song also contains an entertaining outtro section, highlighted by Perry’s majestic high-pitched melodies. To this point Raised On Radio still feels like the natural progression of the Journey sound.
Unfortunately, the album then takes a serious downward turn. Although both were significant pop hits, “Suzanne” and “Be Good to Yourself” are sub-standard to most of the vast radio hits of Journey’s past. These are mostly disposable songs, with just small sprinklings of guitar excellence and vocal harmonies. The greatest disappoint here is Cain’s keyboard work, which has really fallen off from the bluesy piano ballads of Escape and Frontiers towards a cheap and cheesy synth sound on this album.
The rest of Raised On Radio is high-end mediocre at best. “Once You Love Somebody” contains a nice funky bass by future American Idol host Randy Jackson and the title song opens with a nice blues harp by Hull, but both of these are really average songs on the whole. “I’ll Be Alright Without You” is the best song on the second side, as a soft-rock adult contemporary ballad with harmonized vocals nicely complemented by Perry’s crooning and Schon’s slow walk-up to the signature guitar riff in the outro. “The Eyes of a Woman” is a little doomy with deep, long string synths and the closer “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever” is an attempt to replicate past ballad smashes such as “Faithfully” that falls far short.
Following the release of Raised On Radio, Journey embarked on a tour which was initially very successful, but in early 1987 Perry suddenly and unexpectedly pulled the plug and the band was forced to cancel the rest of the tour and went on an indefinite hiatus. Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain teamed up with Cain’s ex-Babys’ band mates John Waite and Ricky Phillips to form Bad English in 1988 while Ross Valory teamed up with Gregg Rolie to form The Storm. They would not again reconvene as a band for nearly a decade, when the five members who made up Journey prior to Raised On Radio had a short-lived comeback. But the classic band was never again the same.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.
Billy Joel‘s 1986 studio album, The Bridge, represents a crossroads on many fronts. It is the seventh and final Billy Joel studio album to be produced by Phil Ramone. Ramone, starting with The Stranger in 1977, forged the sound during the most successful span of Joel’s career. It was also Joel’s first album during the 1980’s to not be focused on a single, overriding concept. 1980’s Glass Houses was punk/new wave, 1982’s The Nylon Curtain was social commentary, and 1983’s An Innocent Man was homage to musical styles and personalities of the past. The Bridge is very diverse, incorporating many styles as well as several guest musicians. On a final note, this album is first of Billy Joel’s “family-centric” releases that would wind down his career as a pop musician.
The Bridge features vividly picturesque songs, each of which cross over well to other media. “Modern Woman” was featured in a Hollywood movie, “Big Man On Mulberry Street” was used in a television show, “This Is the Time” was commonly the backdrop during tributes and retirements, and “A Matter of Trust” was featured in one of the iconic music videos of the day. Even the lesser known songs on the album, such as “Temptation” and “Running On Ice” – sound like they would work well in the visual medium.
After a bit of a hiatus from recording, Joel began work on the album in 1985.
The Bridgeby Billy Joel
Released: July 9, 1986 (Columbia) Produced by: Phil Ramone Recorded: The Power Station & Chelsea Sound, New York City, 1985-1986
Running On Ice
These Are the Times
A Matter of Trust
Big Man On Mulberry Street
Code of Silence
Billy Joel – Piano; Keyboards, Guitar, Lead Vocals Russell Javors – Guitars | Rob Mounsey – Synthesizers & Orchestration Doug Stegmeyer – Bass | Liberty Devito – Drums & Percussion
The album’s first song “Running on Ice” shows that this is a long way from the “Piano Man” days. With a heavily “modern” (for 1986) sound which could be an updated version of the ska-influenced Police tracks and a frantic, sound-effect washed, tense verse that gives way to a flowing chorus section. The album then settles into a nice groove with “This Is the Time”. Featuring some excellently over laid guitars by Russell Javors, “This Is the Time” is a melancholy yet sweet ballad, which shows that Billy Joel was still in the upper pantheon of songwriting in 1986. It is a song of self-awareness, of a happy life and the grasping at the nostalgia which will surely follow these days –
“a warmth from the memory of days to come…”
In the video for “A Matter of Trust”, Billy Joel is seen playing a Les Paul in this guitar-centric and entertaining hard rocker, which takes yet another departure from his traditional sound but was yet another hit. Joel is the absolute master of vocal melody making it all sound so natural and effortless, which plays a big part in being able to jump from genre to genre. “Big Man On Mulberry Street” goes in an almost completely opposite direction of the rock song. It is a Broadway-esque show tune with elements of big band and jazz. An extended version of the song was used on an episode bearing the same name on the hit television Moonlighting, starring Cybil Sheppard and Bruce Willis.
Rounding out the album’s second side, “Temptation” is another excellent song which hearkens back to 1970s-era Billy Joel in style. “Code of Silence” may be the only song in Joel’s catalog where he uses a co-writer, the flamboyant yet talented Cyndi Lauper. “Getting Closer” is a song of hope born out of the ashes of cynicism and features the legendary Steve Winwood on Hammond organ.
But the true legend on the album is Ray Charles. who performs a duet with Billy Joel on the song “Baby Grand”. The two originally got together when Charles found out that Joel had named his daughter Alexa Ray in honor of Ray Charles so Charles contacted him and suggested that they may want to work together, if they could find the “right song.” Joel considered Ray Charles one of his idols; “…as big of a pianist or as big of a star I could ever become, I could never be Ray Charles….” Joel got right to work, trying to compose a song in the style of Charles’ classic “Georgia on My Mind”, and wrote “Baby Grand” over the course of one night. Joel originally sang the song in his thick New York accent, but decided to do a Charles impression instead once he got comfortable working with him. The finished product is as much a tribute to Charles himself as it is to the instrument they both love.
Although The Bridge was a bit weaker commercially than many of Joel’s previous albums, it is a solid album through and through and especially shines in comparison to the weak music scene in 1986.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.
The three-piece rock band Zebra did not spend a long time on the national scene, nor did they have tremendous success while they were on that scene. But there is no doubt that they made some unique and original music while they were there. They are, in a sense, a rare and secret gem of a band which fewer have enjoyed than legitimately should have, due mainly to the lack of the support which they legitimately earned and deserved. That being said, there are some striking fouls and unforced errors that the band made once they did reach the national stage and it cannot be denied that, to a small extent, they had a hand in their own professional demise.
By 1986, the band was facing pressure from Atlantic Records to produce a hit album. Zebra’s self-titled debut album was released in 1983 to critical acclaim and moderate sales. They followed that up with the Jack Douglous-produced No Tellin’ Lies in 1984, but unfortunately this sophomore effort had weaker sales and a Luke-warm reception. For their third release, the band made a concerted effort to create a more widely-accepted pop-rock album and to this end, Zebra succeeded. However, by the time 3.V (pronounced “three point five”) was put on sale, the record company had all but pulled support for the project, dooming it to obscurity despite the fact that includes some of the band’s finest work. It would be the their last album for 16 years, a swan song of sorts as they spent their last creative energy on this final run at fame.
But back to the flaws and fouls committed by the band themselves. Although 3.V contains no terrible songs, the sequence of songs is suspect, such as opening with the uninspiring “Can’t Live Without” while burying the fine gem “About to Make the Time”. The album is plagued by clusters of both mediocrity as well as pure brilliance, which makes it feel unbalanced to the listener. Also, the confusing title – using mixed media to resolve a nonsensical phrase – was a serious faux pas for a band who really needed to hit this out of the park commercially. Finally, there is the production quality, something that had hampered the band’s sound on all of their recordings.
Released: November, 1986 (Atlantic) Produced by: Zebra Recorded: 1986
Can’t Live Without
He’s Making You the Fool
Your Mind’s Open
Better Not Call
You’ll Never Know
About to Make the Time
You’re Only Losing Your Heart
Hard Living Without You
Isn’t That the Way
Randy Jackson – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Lead Vocals Felix Hanemann – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals Guy Gelso – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
There is a surreal quality to the Zebra sound, a distance and narrowness which makes it either sound like it comes from some exotic, unidentified place or sound like it’s not quite professional. The truth is, it is a bit of both. Despite the band’s concerted effort to make a more pop-friendly album and the corresponding adjustment in production technique, 3.V still possesses this quality for better or worse.
On the downside there is “Can’t Live Without”, the opening and song and emphasis single from the album. After starting with a nice acoustic under some scat vocals, the song kicks into a full-fledged 80s sound, with an over-processed snare drum, saturation of keyboards, and a weak bass presence. The vocals stay mainly in the high register, which gives it a bit of monotony vocally. On most of this album, lead singer Randy Jackson alternates between the standard and falsetto voice, providing dramatic contrast in the process. But not on this opening song.
On the higher end, there are the songs which follow in sequence on the first side. “He’s Making You the Fool” contains some real sonic treats during the bridge and in the coda, with entertaining and alternating vocal motifs. This then fades into the real classic of the album, “Time”. Containing a pleasant 12-string acoustic throughout, which even allows bass player Felix Hanemann to get in some rare features of that instrument, this is perhaps the best piece that the band has ever recorded. Even with a heavier chorus, “Time” maintains a melancholy mood throughout and it contains a brilliant ending addendum section which really brings the whole piece home.
Next comes a 180-degree mood shift with the inspiring and uplifting “Your Mind’s Open”, a great song fueled by good keyboards (also played by Hanemann), just the right flavoring of acoustic and vocal effects, and some vivid lyrics such as “taking safaris right up into the sky…”
The true highlight of the second side is “About to Make the Time”, a very interesting, acoustic-driven song with steady bass riff and good bass presence throughout. It is a philosophical song which establishes a long pattern that works very well with repetition and should have been placed as the last song on the album – it would have been a gem of a closer.
The rest of 3.V contains mostly adequate but unspectacular songs, all within the Zebra style and musical direction, but in no way furthering the band’s quest to remain any longer with a major label. It is really a shame because this band had the potential to create much more quality material.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.