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.

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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.

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1971 Images

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