The Byrds 1968 Albums

Buy The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Buy Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds 1968 albums1968 was a transitional year for folk/rock group, The Byrds, in terms of both musical approach and lineup changes. During the year, the group released two albums, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. While each of these albums have their own distinct sound individually, they are extraordinarily disparate collectively, with The Notorious Byrd Brothers having a folk/rock/psychedelic sound and Sweetheart of the Rodeo moving radically towards traditional country and bluegrass.

The Byrds hit their commercial peak during the mid 1960s with the albums Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Fifth Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday, as well as the multiple hit singles spawned from these first four albums. These were also encapsulated  on a Greatest Hits compilation released late in 1967. The group subtly evolved during the time span between their 1964 founding and the beginning of 1968, moving from melodic folk/rock/pop driven by multiple guitar textures towards a more underground psychedelic sound with sprawling instrumentation.

Producer Gary Usher, who had first worked with the group on Younger Than Yesterday, produced both of the 1968 albums and (especially on The Notorious Byrd Brothers) employed much innovative studio experimentation. The Notorious Byrd Brothers was recorded in the Autumn of 1967 and it musically reaches the apex of the Byrds’ psychedelic endeavors. With a core folk rock skeleton, the succinct tracks on this album added subtle elements of baroque, jazz, country and the earliest elements of electronic music. While the album is lauded as one of the top albums by the Byrds, the recording sessions were plagued with tension, highlighted by the departure of drummer Michael Clarke and the firing of guitarist, vocalist and composer David Crosby due to his poor attendance at recording sessions and other controversial issues. Original band member Gene Clark, who had departed in early 1966, rejoined for a few weeks during production of The Notorious Byrd Brothers but swiftly left the group again.

For Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the group added Gram Parsons, a pioneer of country rock. As such, the the Byrds’ overall sound evolved rapidly in that direction and they migrated to Nashville for much of the recording of the album and with many session musicians brought in to contribute. Like its predecessor, there were tensions during the production of Sweetheart of the Rodeo as well as some legal complications. Conceived by the initial concept by Roger McGuinn for the album that would become Sweetheart of the Rodeo was to expand upon the genre-spanning approach of the Byrds’ previous LP, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, by recording a double album overview of the history of American popular music. The planned album would begin with bluegrass and Appalachian music, then move through country and western, jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music, before culminating with futuristic proto-electronica featuring the Moog modular synthesizer.


The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds
Released: January 15, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June–December, 1967
Side One Side Two
Artificial Energy
Goin’ Back
Natural Harmony
Draft Morning
Wasn’t Born to Follow
Get to You
Change Is Now
Old John Robertson
Tribal Gathering
Dolphin’s Smile
Space Odyssey
Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds
Released: August 30, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville & Hollywood, March-May 1968
Side One Side Two
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
I Am a Pilgrim
The Christian Life
You Don’t Miss Your Water
You’re Still on My Mind
Pretty Boy Floyd
Hickory Wind
One Hundred Years from Now
Blue Canadian Rockies
Life in Prison
Nothing Was Delivered
Primary Musicians (Both Albums)
Roger McGuinn -Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Mandolin, Vocals
Gary Usher – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

 

The Notorious Byrd Brothers begins with the entertaining and inventive “Artificial Energy”, co-written by Clarke, bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist/vocalist Roger McGuinn. The song features a choppy rock and rhythm with sharp, distant horns and lyrics that deal with the dark side of dependency on the drug “speed”. “Goin’ Back” is one of a few tunes co-written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and it employs a more traditional Byrds’ folk rock sound, complete with chiming 12-string guitar and polished harmonies. Hillman’s “Natural Harmony” follows as a short atmospheric song with plenty of sonic effects, including the use of an early Moog synthesizer.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers album coverCrosby’s “Draft Morning” is a bass-led protest tune with a soft psychedelic vibe and a clever use of military march and weapons sounds in contrast, culminating with a slight guitar lead playing “Taps” at the very end. King and Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow” is pure sixties folk with some Simon and Garfunkel lyrical and melodic style blended with country and psychedelic elements. The waltz-like “Get to You” was co-written by Clark and completes the original first side.

“Change Is Now” features fine guitar work on differing levels and good musical textures throughout, leading to the short country romp, “Old John Robertson”, a tribute by a retired film director. This is followed by the final two Crosby songs, “Tribal Gathering”, which offers a nice change in vibe with rapid vocal delivery, and the effect-laden “Dolphin’s Smile”. Closing out the album is “Space Odyssey”, a droning and chanting tribute to Arthur C. Clarke’s short story and Stanley Kubrick’s contemporary film.

Overall, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is distinct and inventive but suffers from very quick turnarounds as certain moods are introduced and quickly abandoned. In contrast, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a much more focused album but the group seems to overall be outside of their natural element and musical comfort zone.

The Byrds in 1968

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is bookmarked by covers of a couple of unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Right from the jump on the opener “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, it is clear that the Byrds are moving in a different direction with the heavy use of steel guitar, and good country melody and harmonies. The closer “Nothing Was Delivered” is a bit more interesting in its rich harmonies and cool, thumping refrain which works counter to otherwise country/blues rhythm.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo album coverMuch of the rest of this album is filled with contemporary covers and the occasional traditional song, such as “I Am a Pilgrim”, which has a vibe of pure back-country, porch country-blues with fiddle and banjo really taking the forefront and smooth lead vocals by Hillman. Other highlights of Sweetheart of the Rodeo include William Bell’s philosophical “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and a couple of Parsons’ compositions, “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years from Now”.

After the completion of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in Nashville, The Byrds appeared at the Grand Ole Opry but was greeted harshly by country music purists. Soon Parsons ended his short stint with the band and the Byrds finished out the 1960s as an altered and truncated rock band.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

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John Wesley Harding by Bob DylanAfter a relatively long hiatus from recording due to a serious motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan returned to simple form and constructs with his eighth studio album, John Wesley Harding, at the end of 1967. This simple, folk and country album with a slight hint of spirituality was a notable departure from the Dylan’s previous three albums in 1965 and 1966 (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the double-length Blonde On Blonde).

It had been over a year since the release of Blonde On Blonde when Dylan began work on John Wesley Harding in the Autumn of 1967. The July 1966 motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, NY, gave him the opportunity to break from nearly five straight years of non-stop touring, recording and promoting. After his recovery, Dylan spent a substantial amount of time recording informal demos with members of The Band, later dubbed “the basement tapes” and released on a 1975 album of the same title. Oddly, although Dylan submitted nearly all of the basement tape tunes for copyright, he decided not to include any of this material for his next studio release.

Instead, Dylan went to Nashville with producer Bob Johnston and a simple rhythm section made up of bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenneth Buttrey. In total, the twelve album tracks took under twelve hours of studio time to record and the release of John Wesley Harding was just as expedited, arriving in stores less than four weeks after the final recordings were made. A unique attribute of this album is the inclusion of liner notes written by Dylan, which incorporate song details through the telling of fictional stories.


John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Released: December 27, 1967 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville, October–November, 1967
Side One Side Two
John Wesley Harding
As I Went Out One Morning
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
All Along the Watchtower
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
Drifter’s Escape
Dear Landlord
I Am a Lonesome Hobo
I Pity the Poor Immigrant
The Wicked Messenger
Down Along the Cove
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Charlie McCoy – Bass
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

 

Most of the tracks on this album were first constructed lyrically with musical arrangements worked out later. The opening title track features a bright acoustic with bouncy bass and rhythms and tells the tale of real-life Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin (the song and album title spelled his name incorrectly). “As I Went Out One Morning” is almost too short as its fine rhythmic pace seems to be abruptly ended just as the track is heating up. In contrast, “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is more like traditional, Dylan-flavored folk with a slight nod towards Country or Gospel in its delivery.

The most indelible two and a half minutes on the album, “All Along the Watchtower” has a strong rotating rhythm to accompany Dylan’s memorable lyrical passages which echo passages from the Biblical Book of Isaiah. This song would be brought to full realization with the much more famous Jimi Hendrix Experience version on the 1968 double album Electric Ladyland. “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” features a bright storytelling atmosphere that is almost farcical in its light delivery while at once attempting to portray a moral message. Closing out the original first side is “Drifter’s Escape”, where Dylan’s desperate, weepy vocals and soulful harmonica are in nice contrast to consistent, monotone rhythms.

Bob Dylan in 1967

The waltzy, piano based tune “Dear Landlord” starts side two with interesting chord progressions, followed by the wicked harmonica intro which sets the scene for “I Am a Lonesome Hobo”. These are followed by the rather forgettable folk songs “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” and “The Wicked Messenger” before a refreshing change of pace late to complete the album. Both “Down Along the Cove” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” were recorded during the final album sessions and each feature Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar (an inclusion which Johnston wanted to use more on the album, but was overruled by Dylan). Both of these tracks are warm, cheerful love songs, with the closer having a distinct Country arrangement which seems to preview Dylan’s next studio release, Nashville Skyline in 1969.

Even though Bob Dylan intentionally had this album released without publicity or accompanying singles, it still charted very highly in both the US and UK. Following its release, Dylan made his first live appearance in nearly two years, Backed by The Band at a Woody Guthrie memorial concert in January 1968, but returned to seclusion for much of the rest of that year.
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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Axis Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceThe second album from the trio’s explosive and productive 1967, Axis: Bold as Love, was released in the United Kingdom by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in December 1967. The album wasn’t released in the United States until early 1968 in order to not interfere with the charting success of the group’s debut album, Are You Experienced?. In comparison to that highly successful debut, this second album has more complex  sonic compositions, although the tracks may not be as indelible.

Axis: Bold As Love was started immediately after the completion of Are You Experienced? in the Spring of 1967 as it was necessary to fulfill the Jimi Hendix led group’s two album contract with UK-based Track Records, a contract which also stated that both albums had to be produced in the year 1967.

The album was recorded at Olympic Studios with producer Chas Chandler, who had also produced the debut. During the first two days of album sessions in May 1967, the group recorded basic tracks for seven compositions (although less than half of these were ultimately included on the album). The recording sessions were sporadic over the next five months as the group became more and more in demand as a live attraction. During the latter sessions in October, Hendrix took on a larger role in producing, a role he would fully assume on the group’d next LP, Electric Ladyland.


Axis: Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: December 1, 1967 (Track)
Produced by: Chas Chandler
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May-October 1967
Side One Side Two
EXP
Up from the Skies
Spanish Castle Magic
Wait Until Tomorrow
Ain’t No Telling
Little Wing
If 6 Was 9
You Got Me Floatin’
Castles Made of Sand
She’s So Fine
One Rainy Wish
Little Miss Lover
Bold as Love
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Vocals

 

Axis: Bold as Love opens with the short experimental track “EXP”, which employs feedback and stereo panning of Hendrix’s guitar, leading to the space/rock track ,”Up from the Skies”, a song recorded on the last day of recording at Olympic Studios. The lyrics to “Spanish Castle Magic” were inspired by a club outside Seattle where Hendrix performed early in his career. It became one of the few songs on this album which was regularly performed live later in Hendrix’s career.

The pop-flavored single “Wait Until Tomorrow” drew influence from The Isley Brothers and features some fine musical interplay between Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding. The original first side completes with two of the album’s more indelible tracks. The oft-covered “Little Wing” features a unique bluesy guitar progression which evolved from a 1966 song that Hendrix recorded with the R&B duo, The Icemen, and is finely decorated through the progression with a glockenspiel. “If 6 Was 9” was one of the initial tracks developed for this album and features a plethora of studio effects adding to a very psychedelic sound.

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967

The rocker “You Got Me Floatin'” opens the second side and features some backing vocals from members of the British group The Move, who toured with Hendrix on a package tour through Britain during winter 1967, supplied backing vocals. The melancholy “Castles Made of Sand” follows, laced with philosophical lyrics, while Redding’s “She’s So Fine” offers a sixties Brit-pop break in the album. “One Rainy Wish” features Hendrix using some jazz guitar, as “Little Miss Lover” features an early use of muted wah-wah effect. The closing title song, “Bold as Love” was recorded with over twenty different takes and with four different endings before settling on a version which features drummer Mitch Mitchell with a short solo along with several more sonic effects.

While not as celebrated as the other two Jimi Hendrix Experience studio, albums Axis: Bold As Love has nonetheless received much critical acclaim as well as commercial success in its day, as it peaked in the Top Ten.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Nimrod by Green Day

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Nimrod by Green DayNimrod is the 1997 fifth studio release by Green Day. Here, the group expanded their style and sound by adding some subtle orchestration and by blending some diverse sub-genres with their core punk rock sound. Overall, this album packs 18 songs composed by vocalist, guitarist and lyricist Billy Joe Armstrong and the other members of the trio, into a relatively short running time of 48 minutes with each track having a distinct character.

The group’s early 1994, Dookie became a huge commercial success and eventually won the group a Grammy award. Green Day’s 1995 fourth studio album, Insomniac, was a dark and heavy reaction to the band’s new found popularity, which brought the band some critical acclaim at the expense of some commercial success. In 1996, the group launched an extensive world tour to promote Insomniac but this quickly took its toll on the band members and they ultimately decided to cancel the European leg of the tour and spend some time at home.

The group recorded Nimrod at Conway Studios in Los Angeles with producer Rob Cavallo, who had co-produced both of their previous two albums. Inspired by The Clash’s London Calling, Green Day wanted to create a more experimental album and branch out from their traditional “three chord” song structure. About 30 songs were recorded for Nimrod over the course of several months with a dozen or so left on the “cutting room floor”.


Nimrod by Green Day
Released: October 14, 1997 (Reprise)
Produced by: Rob Cavallo & Green Day
Recorded: Conway Studios, Los Angeles, March–July 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Nice Guys Finish Last
Hitchin’ a Ride
The Grouch
Redundant
Scattered
All the Time
Worry Rock
Platypus (I Hate You)
Uptight
Last Ride In
Jinx
Haushinka
Walking Alone
Reject
Take Back
King for a Day
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Prosthetic Head
Billie Joe Armstrong – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Dirnt – Bass, Vocals
Tré Cool – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Nimrod by Green Day

 

 

The opener, “Nice Guys Finish Last”, rides on a two chord punk riff before the bass-driven half verse gives way to a more traditional song structure. While offering a nod to the band’s past roots, there is something more definitively contemporary in this track’s sound. After a very slight violin intro by guest Petra Haden, “Hitchin’ a Ride” breaks into a repetitive but catchy riff led by the bass of Mike Dirnt with melodic lead vocals by Armstrong. “The Grouch” reverts back to a standard and straight forward screed about the fear of morphing from an angry young man to a “shitty old man”, while “Redundant” features an interesting, moderate but driving beat and descending riff pattern, making it the best overall song of the early album.

Like punk with rounded edges, “Scattered” bridges towards pop sensibilities with the highlight of the track being a wild, double kick drum beat in the middle section by Tré Cool. “All the Time” takes another sonic turn with crisp guitar riffing setting the upbeat pace, while “Worry Rock” seems to carry some heavy influence from Weezer, as Armstrong adds a unique rockabilly twang to the guitar lead.

“Platypus (I Hate You)” returns to a frenzied pace with fuzzy, sawed guitar notes and profanity-laced lyrics by Armstrong, giving way to Dirnt and Cool, who launch into “Uptight” with a strong bass and drum riff. It is almost to the point of being  faster, harder disco with some layered, deadened guitars added for an interesting sonic effect. The instrumental “Last Ride In” dissolves in from the  end of the previous track with a simple, persistent bass riff, interesting percussion and sixties-style xylophone, horns, strings and picked guitar for an overall surf rock feel and a really cool interlude to the album.

Green Day 1997

That mood is interrupted by the next punk screed, “Jinx”, with a melody seems to borrow heavily from The Platters’ “Great Pretender”. The chiming guitars of “Haushinka” lead a lush wall of sound, while Armstrong’s harmonica riff sub-divides the pop/rock “Walking Alone” 2:45 – harmonica riff through beginning and between verses of this pop/rock track. The album weakest two songs follow with “Reject” and “Take Back”, which really sounds like two sides of the same throwaway coin.

However, the album recovers nicely with three fine tracks to close it out. “King for a Day” features a ska, or even proto-polka sound, lead by celebratory, slightly out of tune horns and a really inventive blend of disparate genres which make for a fun party song, if nothing else. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” may be the most indelible song of Green Day’s career as a simple, acoustic break-up song with minimal arrangement. This song was written by Armstrong around 1990, but refused by the band for inclusion on several albums before they reluctantly accepted it here. Although it was not officially released as a single, it would later sell millions as as a digital download and soon became a sentimental standard. The closer, “Prosthetic Head”, features simple rock with riff similar to MTV theme and crisp and clean verses with bass up front in mix and heavier, anthemic choruses.

Nimod was a worldwide hit and it reached the Top 10 in Green Day’s native USA. Through the rest of 1997 and 1998,The band launched another world tour and took some time before returning to the studio after the new millennium.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel

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The Nylon Curtain by Billy JoelAfter much commercial success with his previous albums, Billy Joel really branched out to new musical territory on his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain. On this album, the artist ventures out towards more electronic instrumentation, richer compositional arrangements as well as more complex lyrical content. Joel has called this album one of his most ambitious efforts and, although he would experience some burnout from its production, has often stated that he is most proud of this recording.

The great success of the chart-topping pop/rock albums The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses led to Joel being labeled a balladeer or even a soft rocker. For The Nylon Curtain, Joel tried his hand at topical songs and was decidedly more ambitious in his use of the recording studio.

Along with producer Phil Ramone, Joel set out to forge a sonic masterpiece during the Fall of 1981, spending much more time in the studio then on previous efforts and employing brand new digital recording techniques. Joel maintained many of his backing band members, including guitarists David Brown and Russell Javors along with his longtime rhythm section, bassist Doug Stegmeyer and drummer Liberty DeVitto. However, several session players were also employed to provide extra synthesizers, strings, horns and percussion during the rich production.

 


The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel
Released: September 23, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: A&R Recording and Media Sound Studios, New York City, Spring 1982
Side One Side Two
Allentown
Laura
Pressure
Goodnight Saigon
She’s Right on Time
A Room of Our Own
Surprises
Scandinavian Skies
Where’s the Orchestra?
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitar
David Brown – Lead Guitar
Russell Javors – Rhythm Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums & Percussion

 

The pleasant, choppy piano tune aura, complete with industrial sound effects, masks the frustrating stories embedded in the opening track “Allentown”. The song plays like a theatrical diddy, especially during the quasi-dramatic bridge section and its combo with the real themes of blue collar manufacturing towns (not just the Pennsylvania city it is named for) made it a universal theme. The brilliant track “Laura” follows with Joel delivering a John Lennon-like quality vocally during the verses and the guitarists presenting some George Harrison-like guitar motifs during the dramatic choruses. Lyrically, this song is superb in describing a totally dysfunctional relationship with all the biting energy of the day’s most vicious punk rock while utilizing incredible melody and sonic drama.

The hit song “Pressure” is a totally unique new wave rocker within Billy Joel’s collection. It is musically cutting edge with sharp synths throughout and a mechanical, biting drum beat. The lyrics speak of the dichotomy between philosophical outlook and actual real life grew out of an episode of writer’s block Joel was feeling one day in his New York apartment. The extended track “Goodnight Saigon” completes the original first side as a heart-wrenching, haunting, brilliantly descriptive ballad about the plight of those serving in Vietnam. This song is beautifully simple with a piano motif mixed between acoustic verses and it eventually builds to a chorus crescendo with marching drums. During this part live, Joel would frequently enlist local veterans to perform onstage.

“She’s Right on Time” is a pleasant pop tune that has a quasi-Christmas theme. Joel uses several melodic vocal sections and a depth of vocals to give everything a strong, live feel. “A Room of Our Own” is the most easy going track on the album, with a down-home rock and roll feel and strong drums and some creative bass by DeVitto and Stegmeyer respectively. “Surprises” feel like another quasi-tribute to Lennon, at least vocally. While the electric piano and synths are pure eighties in sound, this track has enough gentle and melancholy vibe to make it a forgotten classic.

Billy Joel, 1982

The climactic point of the second side comes with “Scandinavian Skies”, from its really pointed and dramatic intro, through the plethora of sonic treats and production throughout. Joel’s sweet melodic vocals are placed above a really cool drum shuffle with subtle piano and synths during this song’s ‘A’ sections, while the synths of guest Rob Mounsey are much more up front and dramatic during the ‘B’ sections. The lyrics speak of a journey and several opaque incidents in many Northern European locales. The closing ballad “Where’s the Orchestra?” is almost an afterthought after the climactic previous tune, but it does feature some nice little flourishes on sax and clarinet by Eddie Daniels to accompany Joel’s simple piano and vocals.

While not as commercially successful as Joel’s previous albums, The Nylon Curtain was still a smash by any measure, reaching the Top 10 on the albums charts and selling over two million copies in the U.S. alone. Joel went in the opposite direction for his next album, An Innocent Man in 1983, which had a much lighter tone as a tribute to R&B and doo wop music of the fifties and sixties.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

My Own Prison by Creed

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My Own Prison by CreedOver the course of 100+ weeks on the album charts, Creed’s 1997 debut album, My Own Prison steadily grew from a small independent release to a multi-platinum blockbuster which remains their most critically acclaimed work. The album’s sound hearkens back to the grunge classics released earlier in the decade, which stuck a chord with the angst of youth and the musical taste of fans like those of Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.

Formed in Tallahassee, Florida in 1993, Creed was spawned by the songwriting team of guitarist Mark Tremonti and vocalist Scott Stapp, who had been classmates in both high school and college. After several writing sessions, the duo held auditions for a rhythm section to complete the band’s lineup. With several original songs already written, Creed began playing local gigs, one of which at a club run by Jeff Hanson, who was so impressed by their original material that he signed on to manage the band.

Hanson booked the group with producer John Kurzweg and self-funded their recording sessions starting in 1995. My Own Prison was released independently in 1997 and initially distributed to radio stations in Florida, resulting in about 6,000 copies sold. Later in 1997, the group was signed by Wind-Up Records and the album was remixed for further distribution.


My Own Prison by Creed
Released: August 26, 1997 (Wind Up)
Produced by: John Kurzweg
Recorded: The Kitchen Studio, Tallahassee, FL and Criteria Studios, Miami, FL, 1995
Track Listing Group Musicians
Torn
Ode
My Own Prison
Pity for a Dime
In America
Illusion
Unforgiven
Sister
What’s This Life For
One
Scott Stapp – Lead Vocals
Mark Tremonti – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Marshall – Bass
Scott Phillips – Drums
My Own Prison by Creed

 

The slow grunge of “Torn”, features gently picked electric and elongated vocal patterns before eventually building towards a strong rhythm and melody. Late in the song, the chorus melody is brought down to a very simple arrangement with clean guitar and untreated vocals, which provides the opportunity for one last dynamic blast. “Ode” has an interesting main riff and timing, with Stapp’s doubled vocals in the chorus section as well as some fine harmonies. Tremonti provides chromatic chord movements and harmonic licks. While repetitive, the title song “My Own Prison” is much clearer and easier to grasp than first two tracks. The lead single from the album, it reached the Top 10 of both the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

“Pity for a Dime” has a bright feel through its chording sequence, while “In America” is built on a cool drum roll by Scott Phillips along with socially conscious lyrics and some inventive effects through the melodic choruses. Bassist Brian Marshall commences “Illusion” with a doomy riff, soon joined by the sloshy guitars of Tremonti, while “Unforgiven” is a refreshing, upbeat, succinct jam with an effective verse and chorus.

Creed, 1997

The album wraps with its two most potent and indelible tunes. “What’s This Life For” was written about a friend who committed suicide with lyrics about the quest for meaning in the world. Musically, the track starts with delicate guitars and moves through some grunge progressions, with the highlight of song being an acoustic strummed coda which builds stronger and stronger through each iteration. The closing track “One” contains both the measured bass line of Marshall and the wild, effect driven guitar lead by Tremonti, with Stapp’s strong hook in between. This combo all resulted in “One” becoming a huge hit in 1999, two years after its release.

Once it caught on, My Own Prison became a charting hit world wide as well as being one of the top 200 selling albums of all time in the US. The group soon began developing material for their second album (Human Clay in 1999), which would bring Creed even more success.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead

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Terrapin Station by Grateful DeadBy the mid 1970s, the fiercely independent Grateful Dead decided to make a radical turn towards more conventional music business practices. Foremost in this new direction was the decision to abandon their own record label by signing with Clive Davis’s then-new Arista Records as well as work with an outside producer for the first time in nearly a decade. The initial studio release following this new direction was 1977’s Terrapin Station, which remains a highly regarded yet polarizing album four decades after its release.

In 1974, the Grateful Dead decided to take a hiatus from live touring and, for the next two years, the only band activity was the recording and release of the eccentric 1975 studio album Blues For Allah. In June 1976, the group resumed touring under new management and their Spring 1977 tour has been held in high regard as some of the best performances of their long career.

Terrapin Station was produced by Keith Olsen and recorded at Sound City Studios in Southern California. Olsen made a concerted effort to deliver a song cycle which could break through commercially. This included some post-production overdubs of strings, horns, saxophone and and choral vocals which caused some differing opinions among group members with the end results.


Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead
Released: July 27, 1977 (Arista)
Produced by: Keith Olsen
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, November 1976 – May 1977
Side One Side Two
Estimated Prophet
Dancin’ in the Streets
Passenger
Samson And Delilah
Sunrise
Terrapin Station (Part 1)
Group Musicians
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux – Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Percussion

 

The album begins with one of its most indelible tracks, “Estimated Prophet”, written and sung by guitarist Bob Weir with lyrics by poet John Perry Barlow. This track is filled with great melodies, overt sonic riffs, jazzy leads and lyrics which seem to scorn the faithful optimist. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann forged a beat in the 14/8 time signature while session man Tom Scott added lyricon and saxophone to jazz up the song’s arrangement.

The remainder of side one features eclectic song styles intended to be more radio-friendly material. “Dancin’ in the Streets” is a full fledged, funk/disco cover of the Martha and the Vandellas hit but almost sounds like it belongs in some corny school play rendition in comparison. “Passenger” was written by bassist Phil Lesh and features harmonized lead vocals by Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux in an upbeat pop/funk song which was released as a single. “Samson & Delilah” is a traditional song arranged by Weir and it starts with some fine, oddly timed drums before settling into a signature Dead groove with guitars and bass. The first side concludes with “Sunrise”, a folk ballad by Donna Godchaux with some added orchestrations behind.

Grateful Dead in 1977

The entirety of side two is dedicated to the sixteen and a half minute, seven part “Terrapin Station” suite. It was written by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter and is a musical breath of fresh air in contrast to the somewhat disjointed first side of the album. The first part, “Lady with a Fan”, was based on a traditional English folk song known as “The Lady of Carlisle”, and features a theme of seduction and foolish bravery with a fantastic, harmonized guitar lead in between the Garcia-led verses. The next three “Terrapin” parts are more upbeat and climatic while remaining very pleasant and melodic. During “Terrapin Transit” the jam breaks into a slight psychedelic motif with synths, bass and much percussion by Mickey Hart, while “Terrapin Flyer” features richer production over the percussion motifs. “Refrain” includes an opera-like chorus as the final act of the adventure. This suite was actually Part 1 of a two part composition, the second of which was never recorded or performed by the Grateful Dead.

Terrapin Station was far from the hoped for commercial breakthrough for the group (that would not come for another decade with In the Dark), but it did reach the Top 30 on the Pop Albums charts and was eventually certified Gold. The Grateful Dead followed this album with a similar approach on Shakedown Street in 1978 before changing direction in the 1980s.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier

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Emotions In Motion by Billy SquierBilly Squier delivered a second straight solid hard rocker with 1982’s Emotions in Motion, the third overall solo release by the Massachusettes native. While continuing much of the solid musical groundwork laid down by his 1981 breakthrough album Don’t Say Know (and with similar commercial success), this album also served to expand Squier’s sound into the sub-genres of funk, new wave as well as other dance-oriented rock.

Like it’s predecessor, Emotions in Motion was co-produced by Squier and Reinhold Mack and it reached the Top 5 of the pop albums charts while eventually gaining multi-platinum levels in sales. The sonic qualities of production tend to tilt towards the high-end of the EQ spectrum with the percussion being a little over-produced. However, the album’s real saving grace is the compositions, all written solely by Squier, and strong enough to avoid sounding dated. The cover art for the album was created by Andy Warhol.


Emotions in Motion by Billy Squier
Released: July 23, 1982 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Side One Side Two
Everybody Wants You
Emotions In Motion
Learn How to Live
In Your Eyes
Keep Me Satisfied
It Keeps You Rockin’
One Good Woman
She’s a Runner
Catch 22
Listen to the Heartbeat
Band Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jeff Golub – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards, Vocals
Doug Lubahn – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

 

The album commences with its biggest hit, “Everybody Wants You”, which centers around a catchy, mechanical riff and a perfectly accessible hook. The bridge has a more dramatic feel before the song returns to its contagious, new wave grove. “Everybody Wants You” reached the top of Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks chart, holding that spot for six consecutive weeks. The title song, “Emotions In Motion”, takes a different approach with a bass-driven groove accented by a funky hard rock guitar by Jeff Golub and some of the backing vocal motifs by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor.

After a folksy opening riff which is accented by the saxophone of Dino Solera, “Learn How to Live” breaks into a dramatic hard rock verse and is soon realized as the first song which reaches the level of the better material from In the Dark. “In Your Eyes” continues the best sequence on the album as a pristine, acoustic power ballad with fantastic mood and melody as the song builds to a crescendo with synth counter melodies by Alan St. Jon as well as fine slide guitar licks. “Keep Me Satisfied” ends side one as a pure rock shuffle with almost a Southern feel, while “It Keeps You Rockin'” launches the second side with a slow and heavy musical thump contrasted by Squier’s full-throated wails that give this track a real Zeppelin-esque feel. “One Good Woman” features a bass-driven funk with contrasting, whining guitars and a direct, driving drum beat by Bobby Chouinard. All this makes for a fine and unique rocker and one of the more undervalued gems on the album.

“She’s a Runner” is the album’s final high water mark, starting off with a deliberative electric riff solo accompanied by Squier’s melodic and soulful vocals. When it fully kicks in, this track features a plethora of modern rock sonic treats, including a short but potent piano lead during the bridge. Next comes “Catch 22”, a thumping, methodical rocker with some competing riffs and licks on the periphery, all held together by the glue of Doug Lubahn’s bass. The album closes with a final attempt at hard rock and pop on “Listen to the Heartbeat”, containing some great individual elements like a flanged guitar intro riff and decent hook. However, it seems a bit under-cooked as not everything works cohesively as a whole.

Following the release of Emotions in Motion, Squier hit the road with most of the players on this album and soon moved from a major opening act to an arena-level headliner before his career plateaued in 1984 and declined later in the decade.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Chicago V

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Chicago VContinuing an incredible run of musical output and commercial success, Chicago released their fifth overall album in a 39 month span with 1972’s Chicago V. The fourth studio album by the seven-piece ensemble, this release is notable for actually being the first that was of standard, single-LP length. Keyboardist Robert Lamm stepped to the forefront more than any single band member on this album, composing eight out of the ten songs on Chicago V.

By the time this record was recorded in the Fall of 1971, Chicago had recorded three successful double-length studio albums – Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, Chicago II in 1970, and Chicago III in January 1971. The group had also toured almost continuously during these years, which spawned their fourth release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall late in 1971.

Chicago V was recorded in New York City in just over a week with producer James William Guercio, who had produced each of Chicago’s albums to date. This one would be the most successful yet, reaching the top of the charts where it spent a total of nine weeks as well as achieving longstanding regard as one of Chicago’s finest albums ever.


Chicago V by Chicago
Released: July 10, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: 52nd Street Studios, New York, September 1971
Side One Side Two
A Hit by Varèse
All Is Well
Now That You’ve Gone
Dialogue (Part I)
Dialogue (Part II)
While the City Sleeps
Saturday In the Park
State of the Union
Goodbye
Alma Mater
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Saxophones, Flute, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

“A Hit by Varèse” starts things off as a tribute to French-American composer Edgard Varèse, who was a huge influence on Lamm and known to experiment with new musical technology early in the 20th century. This track works in that spirit with some “free form” distorted guitar by Terry Kath in the intro along with a jazzy beat accented by horns in the verses and a cool sax trade-off lead by Walter Parazaider later on. “All Is Well” follows as a more standard pop “break up” song by Lamm, while trombonist James Pankow offers his sole composition with “Now That You’ve Gone”, a track ushered in by the rolling drums of Danny Seraphine and reaching a nice blend of funk and soul along with Chicago’s already diverse sound.

Finishing off the original first side is Lamm’s two part suite “Dialogue”. In Part I, the song’s lyrics are a musical dialogue between lead singers Kath and bassist Peter Cetera, while Part II features a repeated groove along with a chorus hook sung by multiple band members. Side two begins with the tension-filled, horn-led, politically-charged “While the City Sleeps”, which later features an antagonistic guitar lead by Kath.

Chicago in 1972
Following the stark side opener comes the refreshing contrast of “Saturday in the Park”, a bright celebration of a summer day. Lamm was inspired to write the song after walking through New York City’s Central on the Fourth of July, 1971 (actually a Sunday) and he immediately documented the action of various musicians, merchants and passers-by. The indelible piano along with melodic vocal duet of Lamm and Cetera, helped propel this song to #1 for the band. The next two tracks, the funky “State of the Union” and the cool, Latin-influenced “Goodbye”, each feature Cetera taking solo lead vocals, something he would do much more regularly in later years. The album concludes with Kath’s somber “Alma Mater”, a piano and acoustic guitar driven track with rich harmonies that  give it a Gospel feel.

Through the mid 1970s, Chicago continued to release successful albums enumerated by Roman numerals (Chicago VI in 1973, Chicago VII in 1974, etc…), ultimately becoming the the top US singles charting group of the decade according to Billboard magazine.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Straight On Till Morning by Blues Traveler

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Straight On Till Morning by Blues TravelerWith a newly found international audience waiting for nearly three years for Blues Traveler to release a follow-up to their breakthrough album, the group ultimately found a mixed reception for their 1997 album Straight On Till Morning. While this album continues along the same basic sonic path as the the group’s 1994 blockbuster, Four, Straight On Till Morning differs in the sense that it contains no big radio hits and the group experiments with differing sub genres.

Four was fueled by the Grammy winning single “Run-Around” and the catchy, quasi-ballad “Hook”, which introduced a more mainstream audience to the formerly jam-band oriented group. This popularity only grew when Blues Traveler appeared at Woodstock ’94, toured with The Rolling Stones and were featured prominently on the popular television shows Roseanne and Saturday Night Live. In addition, several of the group’s tracks were included on film soundtracks as their modern interpretation of classic, Chicago-style blues had become chic in the middle 1990s. In 1996, Live from the Fall, a double live album featuring recordings from the band’s 1995 was released and achieved platinum status in sales.

Straight on Till Morning was produced by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the same team that produced Four. The objective with this album was to continue the commercial success of its predecessor while trying not to alienate the group’s core fan base which desired more of their jam band output. On that note, an over
20-minute piece, called ‘Traveler’s Suite”, was composed but ultimately left off the album.


Straight On Till Morning by Blues Traveler
Released: July 1, 1997 (A&M)
Produced by:Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Carolina Blues
Felicia
Justify the Thrill
Canadian Rose
Business As Usual
Yours
Psycho Joe
Great Big World
Battle of Someone
Most Precarious
The Gunfighter
Last Night I Dreamed
Make My Way
John Popper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar
Chan Kinchla – Guitars
Bobby Sheehan – Bass
Brendan Hill – Drums, Percussion

Straight On Till Morning by Blues Traveler

 

A moderate but infectious slide riff by guitarist Chan Kinchla introduces the opening track, “Carolina Blues”. Here, the verses have a growling, bluesy melody and the bridge section builds to a crescendo before settling into final verse section. This song was also the first single released from Straight On Till Morning. “Felicia” follows as a track built on cool, slightly funky bass riff by Bobby Sheehan and the song is performed just a bit more rapidly than it should but this works on a kind of spastic groove level. “Justify the Thrill” is another funk screed, which seems a bit underdone melodically but is worthwhile due to the extended harp solo by front man John Popper. Compared to previous albums, Popper does less of his signature harmonica playing on this album but he certainly makes due with his opportunities.

A penny-whistle intro aptly introduces the light, candy store rocker “Canadian Rose”, a song Popper wrote about a fictional character when he realized he had not spent any real time in Canada. On “Business as Usual”, the guitar, bass and harmonica form a really tight funk jam to introduce a quasi-rap song, while “Yours” is delivered as a tradition love song. This latter song starts as low-fi solo-acoustic-folk diddy before softly reaching a richer arrangement complete with a string section with a later highlight being Kinchla’s souring, feedback-laden guitar lead. “Psycho Joe” was co-written by Sheehan and is one of the more straight-out pop oriented tunes on the album, with a slightly reggae rhythm. In contrast, “Great Big World” was co-written by drummer Brendan Hill and finds the band back in the familiar territory of a heavy blues jam vibe.

Blues Traveler

Hidden away later on the album are some musical gems, which probably get lost in the album’s excess running time. “Battle of Someone” is probably the most interesting song of the latter part of the album due to its atypical, jazzy rhythm which gives all the band members plenty of room to embellish throughout its six minute duration. “Most Precarious” is a bright acoustic, pop-oriented track with a “La Bamba”-like shuffle throughout, while “The Gunfighter” returns to some well tread territory and lacks in any real originality. “Last Night I Dreamed” was composed solely by Kinchla and features a rapid mariachi, three-chord jam with Hill’s cool drum beat and some excess percussion throughout. “Make My Way” concludes the album and unfolds like a Southern R&B / Gospel track, complete with electric piano, funky organ and a chorus of female backing vocals.

By the end of the 1990s, Blues Traveler met with some personal hardship when Popper had emergency heart surgery followed by the tragic death of Sheehan due to a drug overdose. Although the band decided to carry on into the new millennium, they would not again achieve the high level of success like they did in their nineties heyday.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.