Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band

Freeze Frame by J Geils Band

Freeze Frame is a confluence album, where a hard-working band with vast longevity in the bag reaches their heights towards the sunset of their career. It is a work that combines many elements of their traditional, rock n’ soul, party-time backbone with a new, (then) cutting-edge, approach that incorporates synthesized soundscapes and new wave entertainment. And Freeze Frame IS new wave in the truest sense – a well-produced collection that explores under-developed areas of the rock landscape.

Although the band bears the name of founding guitarist J. Geils, this album really belongs to keyboardist, songwriter, and producer Seth Justman. Justman was a student at Boston University in the late 1960s when he followed the band, then known as “The J. Geils Blues Band”, which was then an acoustic trio led by Geils and virtuoso harmonica player Richard Salwitx, better known by his stage name, Magic Dick. Soon a local DJ known as Peter Wolf joined as front man and lead singer along with drummer Stephan Bladd and, with the eventual addition of Justman, the six-man lineup that would stay together for a decade and a half was in place.

Through the 1970s, the band achieved moderate commercial success with a few minor hits, but nothing like the worldwide fame that they would enjoy in the early 1980s with Freeze Frame, fueled by the Justman’s catchy and cleaver #1 hit “Centerfold”, which introduced the band to much of the mainstream pop world.
 


Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band
Released: October 26, 1981 (EMI)
Produced by: Seth Justman
Recorded: Long View Farm, North Brookfield, MA, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Freeze Frame
 Rage In the Cage
 Centerfold
 Do You Remember When?
 Insane, Insane Again
Flamethrower
River Blindness
Angel In Blue
Piss On the Wall
Band Musicians
Peter Wolf – Lead Vocals | Seth Justman – Keyboards, Vocals
J. Geils – Guitars | Magic Dick – Harmonica, Trumpet, Saxophone
Danny Klein – Bass | Stephen Bladd – Drums, Vocals

 
The album is really a potpourri of songs that can be segmented into one of about three distinct categories. The first of these is the direct pop category, consisting of the smash hit “Centerfold” and the opening title song. Both are bouncy and catchy and lead by an airy and accessible organ riff and upbeat entertainment, while carefully flirting with some risque subject matter. “Freeze Frame” has a great stop-start chorus, and was itself a successful top-ten hit. The band also produced a couple of entertaining music videos for the brand new MTV for these songs, no doubt helping their climb in the charts.
 

 
The next category of songs are synch-dominated, pop-art compositions that deviate vastly from the band’s traditional sound. Here, Justman’s genius shines through as he accomplishes this deviation while he still preserves the album’s overall integrity. “Rage In the Cage” is a frantic collection of beat-based tangents that is spastic and entertaining. Some wild sounds are nicely placed bit by bit to project audio that is at once natural and artificial, with the natural drumming by Bladd complimenting everything else (bass, horns, harmonica, and synths) which straddle the line between synthesized and natural. “Insane, Insane Again” takes a very similar approach but with a frantic bass line by Danny Klein holding together the backbone. “River Blindness” starts like an episode of a television mystery, with bombastic horns, before it kicks into the the main riff and takes the listener on a musical journey to dark and mysterious relms that sounds about 90% synthesized, but with a heavy guitar by Geils near the very end.

The final category of songs on Freeze Frame maintains the band,s traditional rock/soul sound through the ballad “Angel In Blue” and the rockers “Flamethrower” and “Piss On the Wall”. The album’s closer with the quasi-vulgar title, at first appears as a somewhat frivolous homage to the band’s own legacy, albeit with some excellent blues harp by Magic Dick. But it also adds a bit of rebellious punk rock doom and gloom –

“…everybody’s shaking ‘cause the big one’s about to fall, I’m just trying to hold it steady while I piss on the wall…”

“Angel In Blue” is a pleasant tune with a melancholy tone, containing the biggest presence by Geils on the entire album. The song is masterfully constructed with just the right touch of organ and drum beat, and a nice ensemble of backing vocals and horns in the outtro.

There is one song that doesn’t quite fit into any of the above categories, the excellent ballad “Do You Remember When?”, which contains elements of the best of ALL these categories. If you like discovering truly great, “lost” songs – this is may be one. It has all the elements of a classic love song, but with such an edge and perfectly placed musical motifs – Geils repeated, 5-note guitar riff, organ, piano, strings, extra percussion, just the right amount of special effects, and interesting background vocals. It also contains the finest vocal performance by Peter Wolf, with an amazing high note near the end of the song, which he holds and variates for nearly 10 seconds.

In the story of rock, the J. Geils Band is not quite unique in being a longstanding quality act that finally gets their mainstream “break” near the twilight of their career (see Bonnie Raitt, REO Speedwagon, or Supertramp). But they may be unique in that their popular breakthrough is also their artistic masterpiece.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Bella Donna by Stevie NicksAfter three albums with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was doubtlessly the most recognizable figure in that popular and talented band. However, her actual participation as far as songwriting and lead vocals had never eclipsed 50% on any of those albums. So prior to her debut solo effort in 1981, there was uncertainty about how a full album of her music would pan out. One serious listen to Bella Donna would set all doubt aside. This debut solo album went on to achieve critical and commercial success, topping the U.S. album charts and spawning four Top 40 hit singles, while reaching the Top 20 in six other nations.

The album contains ten songs composed by Nicks on piano over several years while on tour with Fleetwood Mac in the late seventies. These songs were then enhanced by producer Jimmy Iovine and a posse of talent, ranging from headline acts like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, to top-notch session musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. The result is an interesting and pleasant listen which contains some timeless works that flirt with pop, country, and folk while remaining distinctive and original.
 


Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks
Released: July 27, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty
Recorded: Studio 55, Los Angeles, Autumn 1980 – Spring 1981
Side One Side Two
 Bella Donna
 Kind of Woman
 Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
 Think About It
 After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman
Primary Musicians
Stevie Nicks – Lead Vocals, Piano
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
Lori Perry & Sharon Celani – Backing Vocals
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
Dan Dugmore – Pedal Steel
Bob Glaub – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums

 

…and we fight for the northern star”

While Bella Donna‘s opening title song is definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque in it’s calm approach and long sustained guitar drones, it also contains a more ceremonious or ritualistic feel, like some kind of mass, as it vacillates between beatless sound scape and rhythmic drive. It is followed by “Kind of Woman”, another very calm, almost melancholy song, with a waltz-like beat an excellent guitar lead.

The album then abruptly takes a radical turn with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, one of two songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on the album, along with the entertaining “Outside the Rain” on the second side. That band didn’t use these songs for themselves (and their current album, Hard Promises really could’ve used these), and the resultant Nicks-led recordings add a completely new dimension to Bella Donna.
 

 
“Leather and Lace” is a true duet with Henley, resulting in a moody and romantic ballad which has a sparse acoustic arrangement that really showcases the vocal talents of both. On the other end of the pop spectrum, “Edge of Seventeen” offered a rhythmic dance beat with a near rap in between the oft-repeated chorus about the “white winged dove”. Rumor has it that the title was coined by Tom Petty’s wife, who replied “age of seventeen” when asked by Nicks how old they were when they first met. But Stevie mis-heard this as “edge of seventeen” and was instantly taken by the concept.

Perhaps the most enjoyable song on the album, “After the Glitter Fades” is a pure country song, reminiscent to some of Olivia Newton John’s early stuff, with dynamic vocals nicely complimenting to rich arrangement, which contains virtuoso piano by Roy Bittan and masterful pedal steel by Dan Dugmore.

Stevie Nicks would continue on with Fleetwood Mac as well as produce more solo albums with much success in both throughout the rest of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. But artistically, she would not again reach the heights of Bella Donna in either side of her musical career.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Escape by Journey

Escape by JourneyRarely does a band become more successful after one of its founders and leader departs from the group. Greg Rollie was the original lead singer, keyboardist, and overall and heart and soul of the group Journey from the band’s beginning in 1973 to the arrival of front man Steve Perry in 1978. After some lukewarm sales of the band’s moderately successful initial three albums with Rollie as lead singer, the band hired Perry at the request of Columbia Records, initially to split vocal duties with Rollie. However, Perry eventually became the primary lead vocalist and, by the end of 1980, Rollie had decided to call it quits altogether.

Fortunately for Journey, the British pop band The Babys were breaking up at about the same time, freeing up keyboardist Jonathan Cain to join the band. This created the respectable songwriting triumvirate of Perry, Schon, and Cain that launched the band into mega popularity through the early 1980s, starting with their 1981 album, Escape.

Although a critical listener may find the lyrical content a bit common and trite, there is no denying that sound that was forged on this album creates a niche and feeling that is quite fantastic. There is an edge to each and every song that makes it indelible and taps into a deep reservoir of nostalgia, while some of the individual, performances are at a stratospheric level.
 


Escape by Journey
Released: July 31, 1981 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Elson & Mike Stone
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California, Winter-Spring, 1981
Side One Side Two
Don’t Stop Believin’
Stone In Love
Who’s Crying Now’
Keep On Runnin’
Still They Ride
Escape
Lay It Down
Dead or Alive
Mother, Father
Open Arms
Group Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathon Cain – Keyboards, Piano, Guitar, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

 
While Cain was the driving force behind crafting many of the songs on Escape, and Perry and Schon provided, without a doubt, the incredible performances of this album (more on them later), bass player Ross Valory added a special touch to this album, with a unique-sounding, high end buzz to his bass sound that gives it just an edge to make the overall sound distinct. This is evident right from the jump on the hit “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” as he compliments the low end of Cain’s rotating piano riff in a preview of one of the elements the distinguishes this album from any other (including other Journey albums).

Don't Stop Believin' singleNeal Schon knows how to make an entrance, holding off for nearly a minute in this opening song, then providing a memorable rapid guitar tap that builds in intensity and volume. The guitarist is on at every moment in this album, making one wonder why he is not better recognized in the present day. He adds a solo at the end of “Who’s Crying Now” that elevates the otherwise standard love song to a new level and shines brightest on “Mother, Father”, the best song on the album.

A true classic in every sense, “Mother, Father” was arranged by Neal’s father and jazz musician Matt Schon who put together the ingenious chord structure that sets the mood for Perry’s soulful vocals and the absolutely superlative solo in the mid section. It climaxes with a surreal, harmonized outro, which completes a song that is as melodramatic as anything The Who ever did, while as deep into the “inner space” as anything that Pink Floyd ever did.

Steve Perry’s voice is a unique entity, unlike any ever quite heard before or since. He compliments any odd 7th or augmented chord by smoothly transitioning from note to note along an almost-superhuman range. He never seems to miss a note, but especially shines on the rockers “Lay It Down” and “Stone In Love”, as well as the ballad “Open Arms”, a calm lullaby that eases the album to its conclusion after the emotional journey of “Mother, Father”.

Another high point on the album is “Still They Ride” a haunting ballad, dripping with melancholy, that is dark yet addictive, here the band displays amazing discipline in measuring out the simple and slow notes with perfect, moody precision.

Journey in 1981

In total, Escape is a difficult album to pigeon hole. It is best known for its ballads that rose high in the charts, but yet has made a few “Top Heavy Metal Album” lists. It was undoubtedly a template for scores of album oriented rock efforts in the 1980s. Yet it gives a slight nod to the progressive rock of the 1970s with the exotic arrangements, jazz fusion, and the mini-suite title song, “Escape” (not to mention the official title of the album being the cleverly arranged “E5C4P3”).

No matter how it may be classified, it was certainly and instantly a hit, and the band did not shy away from reaping the benefits from this new found fame. In 1982, with the gush of a mainstream audience, Journey became the top-selling concert ticket, and that same year a Journey Escape video game was released for the Atari 2600 system.

Journey may be credited or blamed for what followed in the wake of Escape, when acts such as Poison, Bon Jovi, and countless other “hair” bands would put forth their own inferior carbon copies of this album but nonetheless stuck to the formula and gained success from it. In any case, they were the originators of this hybrid of pop-friendly “hard rock”, whether by design or not.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1981 albums.

1981 Images

Pearl by Janis Joplin

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Pearl by Janis JoplinPearl was the final, posthumous album in the brief but explosive career of Janis Joplin. She died before the album’s completion on October 4, 1970, at just 27, done in by an overdose of heroin. Janis lived hard and died young.

An awkward girl from Beaumont, Texas, she would make her mark in a time and place that must have seemed like another universe – San Francisco in the late 1960s. She was fearless in the sense that she never let the shallow opinions of her adolescent peers define her and she found her place making her mark in unapologetic, unyielding fashion.

But this radical transformation ultimately came at a tragic price, as chemical dependency grabbed hold of her and refused to let go. It’s not that she didn’t try to escape this fate, even going so far as to move back to Beaumont and adopt the fashionable bee-hive hairdo of the day. But in the end, she just couldn’t stay away from the scene, the lifestyle, the drugs, and the music.

“You can go all around the world trying to do something with your life, but you only got to do one thing well…”

Janis’s style was rough, raw, and completely genuine. She didn’t have an image manufactured by a team of publicists, and would not have done well in an American Idol-like situation. She lived in the moment with every note she sang, deeply entrenched in the emotions that effervesced from every strained vocal.
 


Pearl by Janis Joplin
Released: January 11, 1971 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles between September 5 and October 1, 1971
Side One Side Two
Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues
My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can
Primary Musicians
Janis Joplin – Vocals
John Till – Electric Guitar
Bobby Womack – Acoustic Guitar
Ken Pearson – Organ
Richard Bell – Piano
Brad Campbell – Bass
Clark Pierson – Drums, Vocals

 

Pearl has a more polished and accessible sound than anything Joplin had done earlier with Big Brother & the Holding Company or The Kozmic Blues Band, the original bands she worked with in San Francisco with limited success on the national and international scene.

The sound of the album was due in large part to the expertise of Paul A. Rothchild, who had shaped the sound of The Doors as their long time producer. Further, The Full Tilt Boogie, a profession group of backing musicians, shaped the sound that was the canvas for Janis’ dynamic vocals. Joplin had previously met and worked with the band over the summer of 1970, when they were on board the famous Festival Express, a train filled with performing and partying musicians that rode across Canada.

Aside from the Kris Kristofferson penned hit “Me and Bobby McGee”, there is really nothing special about the selections on this album. But, they are entertaining enough to make Pearl the crown jewel in the catalog of this rare talent. Most of the songs are standard rock and blues with a bit of country influence here and there. This is immediately apparent on the first two tracks, “Move Over”, which Joplin wrote herself, and the quasi-famous “Cry baby”. But there are also a few oddities on the album, like the a capella “Mercedes Benz” and the purely instrumental “Buried Alive in the Blues”, which was included despite the fact that Janis died before recording the vocals.

I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for one single yesterday…”

Kristofferson had just introduced his song to Joplin just a few weeks before her death, and wasn’t even aware that she had actually recorded it until afterwards. Ironically, it would be her biggest hit and most famous song, true fame that she wasn’t able to experience during the shooting star trajectory of her life.

~

1971 Images

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

 

Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys

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1971 was an exceptionally great year for rock n roll, and we at Classic Rock Review regret that we can not give a proper review to all the great works from that year in the short time we allotted ourselves. However, there is one that we felt we had to “squeeze in” before we’re done, due to it being probably the most unique and unusual album of that year – Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys. This 17th overall album by the group was also sort of a commercial comeback as it reached the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic.

To be honest, this album can be very frustrating. It is a mish-mash that, on the one hand, offers deep, rewarding, quality compositions worthy of the talent in this band. But on the other hand, there are some tacky, directed “social commentary” songs that, in many cases, barely rise to the level of musical Public Service Announcements. However, the album does possess a cohesive mood and tone and it does get more consistent and stronger as it goes along. So, in the end, we decided that the good here outweighs the bad and that the album needed to be reviewed.

Some has stated that Surf’s Up defined the band’s tumultuous career better than any other album, and this very well may well be the case. The Beach Boys rode to fame on selling good times, fast cars, surfing, and girls. In the process, the squeezed every bit of the “endless fun” out of California and over-used the term “surf” (which, including this album and title song, is used in some form in the titles of four different albums and eleven different songs). In the end, this was all a nice fantasy, but eventually you have to grow up and face the realities of life.
 


Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys
Released: August 30, 1971 (Brother)
Produced by: The Beach Boys
Recorded: Los Angeles between November, 1966 and June, 1971
Side One Side Two
 Don’t Go Near the Water
 Long Promised Road
 Take a Load Off Your Feet
 Disney Girls (1957)
 Student Demonstration Time
Feel Flows
Lookin’ at Tomorrow
A Day In the Life of a Tree
Til I Die
Surf’s Up
Band Musicians
Brian Wilson – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Love – Vocals, Saxophone
Al Jardine – Bass, Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals

 

The band’s primary songwriter and musical driving force, Brian Wilson, retired from performing live by 1965 due to psychological and anxiety issues. He instead concentrated on studio production for the band. In 1966 he produced the brilliant Pet Sounds, a great departure from the band’s early work that was universally acclaimed.

Later that year, Wilson brought in Van Dyke Parks to collaborate on a follow-up album titled SMiLE, but due to growing artistic turmoil within the band, Brian’s deteriorating mental state, and a prolonged production problem, Parks abandoned the project in 1967 and the album was never released.

A key song from those sessions called “Surf’s Up” was performed live on piano by Brian Wilson for a CBS News special on “modern” music, which caused much curiosity and speculation by fans and critics about the unreleased “SMiLE” material over the next several years. During this time (1967-1970), The Beach Boys released several more albums, but each decreased in popularity, signaling a rapid decline for the band.

Then in 1971, Jack Reiley was brought in as manager, and he master-minded this new album. It was to be built around the (now mythical) song “Surf’s Up”, along with other abandoned out-takes from previous projects and new, politically-orientated songs. Reiley would also co-write a couple of fine songs with Carl Wilson and even performed the lead vocals on the psychedelic Parks/Brian Wilson song “A Day in the Life of a Tree”, after everyone in the band refused to sing it.
 

 
The youngest of the three brothers in the band, Carl Wilson had never previously written anything of significance for The Beach Boys, but his co-written contributions of “Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows” are two the best songs on this album. Further, with Brian all but absent from the (1971) production of this album, Carl stepped up and assumed many of the producer responsibilities, although production credit was ultimately given to simply “The Beach Boys”.

The album’s sound is further diversified by the large number of other songwriting contributors. Al Jardine wrote some of the new “politically conscious” songs, including the opener “Don’t Go Near the Water”, an ironic message from a band that had been advocating the exact opposite for many years. Mike Love reworked a live standard into “Student Demonstration Time” and, although not quite yet an “official” member of the band, Bruce Johnston wrote and sang lead another on the album’s finer songs, the nostalgiac “Disney Girls (1957)” (Johnston was a long time “stand-in” for Brian Wilson on stage).

However, even though his actual participation was minimal, Brian Wilson managed to contribute the album’s two most significant songs, the two that close out Surf’s Up.

First, there was the newly-penned “Til I Die”, a beautiful but haunting ode to helplessness, which contains the tradition “Beach Boys sound” built around the rich harmonies of Carl, Brian, and Mike Love.

Then, of course, there is the climatic title song written five years earlier. A mini-suite in three distinct parts fused together seamlessly. The original, Brian Wilson produced backing track provides a backdrop for new vocals by Carl during the first part, while Brian’s original vocals are used in the middle part. The song’s concluding section was based on another SMiLE-era track, “Children Are the Father of Man”, and features Jardine on lead vocals and Carl and Brian doing harmonies. As a whole, even though the song distinctly changes and the lyrics are a bit thick, the message is undeniable.

Through the rest of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Brian Wilson virtually dropped out of the music scene while the rest of the band would tour and play some of their greatest hits from the early 60s in what would become known as the “Endless Summer”. Surf’s Up proved to be their last, best effort as, artistically, the Beach Boys would not quite reach this level again.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

 

Love It to Death & Killer by Alice Cooper

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Buy Killer

Alice Cooper ComboDue to his legendary live shows, Alice Cooper tended to get swallowed up by the stage persona that would come to define his career. But the foundation that preceded the stage act, was built on some very solid, very original, and very interesting music. In 1971, Alice Cooper was not merely the individual Vincent Damon Furnier, but was also a solid and excellent Alice Cooper Band which stood toe to toe with many of the more heralded groups of the day musically. Book-ending the year were two classic releases from this group, Love It to Death and Killer.

The band consisted of former members from the sixties rock band The Spiders, which Furnier joined as a 16-year-old in 1964. The Alice Cooper name and persona was adopted in 1968 and the following year they released their debut album Pretties for You. In 1970, the group recorded and released Easy Action, which was mired in production and censorship issues, temporarily halted the group’s momentum.

That all turned around in 1971, with the release of these two albums, which are similar in many ways. Both were recorded at the RCA studios in Chicago, with the same performers and the same producer, the legendary Bob Ezrin. These albums are also similar in tone and style, which took a quantum leap here from the band’s previous two albums. With this in mind, Classic Rock Review has decided, for the first time, to combine two albums into a single review.


Love It to Death by Alice Cooper Band
Released: January 12, 1971 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: RCA Mid-American Recording Center, Chicago, 1970
Side One Side Two
 Caught In a Dream
 I’m Eighteen
 Long Way To Go
 Black Juju
Is It My Body
Hallowed Be My Name
Second Coming
Ballad of Dwight Fry
Sun Arise
Killer by Alice Cooper Band
Released: November, 1971 (Warner Bothers)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: RCA Mid-American Recording Center, Chicago, 1971
Side One Side Two
 Under My Wheels
 Be My Lover
 Halo of Flies
 Desperado
You Drive Me Nervous
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Dead Babies
Killer
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
 Alice Cooper – Vocals, Harmonica
Michael Bruce – Guitars, Keyboards
Glen Buxton – Lead Guitars
Dennis Dunaway – Bass
Neal Smith – Drums

 
If we were to compare these albums with each other, Love It to Death would get a slight edge overall, primarily because it is more complete throughout. This album also contains the brilliant “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, which is perhaps one of the greatest overlooked songs ever, due to it’s haunting original theme and the quality of the music itself.

The song has some perfectly layered acoustic, a crisp bass line by Dennis Dunaway, an organ rotation by Ezrin, and a crazy, moaning electric guitar by Glenn Buxton. A perfect backdrop for the spastic, insane vocals of Cooper, which draw heavy influence from the poetry and theatrics of Jim Morrison and The Doors.

Love It to Death also contains more diversity than its successor, with “Black JuJu” drawing from Pink Floyd circa Saucerful of Secrets and “Sun Arise” being nearly the polar opposite, a happy-go-lucky pop song in the vein of the AM hits of the day. But the core of this album is made up of straight-out rockers.

Guitarist and keyboardist Michael Bruce actually had a bigger hand in songwriting than Cooper himself and his songs are some of the most recognizable on either album. On Love It to Death, these include the upbeat “Caught In a Dream” and “Is It My Body”, along with the slightly doomier but brilliant “I’m Eighteen”, the biggest early hit for Alice Cooper.

But while Love It to Death is the more complete album, the best “side” of music is the first side of Killer. “Under My Wheels” kicks things off with a guest appearance by guitarist Rick Derringer, followed by “Be My Lover”, both of which are solid, accessible rockers by Bruce, and give the impression that this album will be much more mainstream than it’s predecessor.

However this notion is quickly dismissed, as the band launches into the progressive “Halo of Flies”, a King Crimson-esque virtuoso that features extraordinary playing, especially from drummer Neil Smith, and proves, without a doubt, that Alice Cooper was much more a band than an individual in 1971.

The side concludes with “Desperado”, an excellent and completely original song that alternates between a moody crooner and an agitated shouter. It was allegedly written as a tribute to Morrison, who had died in Paris shortly before the making of Killer.

After this solid sequence of songs on the first side, Killer runs out of steam on the second, as the material becomes a little thin and gets very repetitive. Nonetheless, this album is worth owning right alongside Love It to Death.

Over the next two years, Alice Cooper the band would put out three more albums and continue to gain in popularity. Unfortunately, the live show cast an ever larger shadow and the band broke up by 1975, with Alice Cooper the individual carrying on as a solo act for decades to come.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

 

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

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What's Going On by Marvin Gaye

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

~

1971 Images

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

 

Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

1971 Images

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

 

L.A. Woman by The Doors

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LA Woman by The Doors

L.A. Woman, is the final Doors album with lead singer and poet, Jim Morrison. This album encompasses a mixture of blues, funk, and rock while maintaining a sound that is still distinctly The Doors. The album strikes the rare balance of going back to basics while still exploring uncharted territory in the initial, pioneering journey of rock n roll. The music itself also possesses this simultaneous duality as it is much stripped down from the exuberant production of earlier albums, such as Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, but is also enhanced by a new “voice” that Morrison discovered and the emergence of the bass guitar as a front and center instrument in the band’s sound.

Starting in 1967, The Doors had five previous studio albums to figure out what is necessary and what is superfluous. This is evident in every detail of L.A. Woman, right down to the album cover artwork. Gone is the image of a half naked Jim Morrison out in front of his “backing band”. On the cover of this album, an off-center, bearded Morrison is slouched down to appear smaller below the rest of the band. The cover contained a very generic look with the band name and title in uniform block lettering, omitting the use of even the band’s trademark stenciled logo. Interesting is the omission of the “The” in the band’s name, as the album is credited to simply to “Doors”, which perhaps implies that there are now several , generic “doors of perception” to be cleansed, not just these four particular ones. Whether or not this was the actual intent, there is no doubt that the band wanted to strip away any pretense of something mystical or magical and just put out an album of blues-influenced, rock music, and that they did.
 


L.A. Woman by The Doors
Released: April 19, 1971 (Electra)
Produced by: Bruce Botnick and The Doors
Recorded: The Doors Workshop, Los Angeles, December 1970-January 1971
Side One Side Two
  The Changeling
  Love Her Madly
  Been Down So Long
  Cars Hiss by My Window
  L.A. Woman
 L’America
 Hyacinth House
 Crawling King Snake
 The WASP (Texas Radio & Big Beat)
 Riders on the Storm
Musicians
Jim Morrison – Vocals & Voice Effects
Robbie Krieger – Lead Guitars
Ray Manzarek – Piano & Keyboards
John Densmore – Drums
Jerry Scheff – Bass
Marc Benno – Rhythm Guitars

 
A variety of themes permeate the album. The first track, “The Changeling” grabs your attention right away, with its addictive, funky hook accented by Morrison’s primal grunts. It is like Jim Morrison addressing the listeners about his pending move to Paris and attempt at a new life as a poet, like many of the 20th century’s great writers had done before. With his boisterous blues outburst of “see me change”, those who had watched Morrison’s career knew what he was talking about. Here was a man who had made a career out of being a chameleon – starting as a military brat progressing into a highway drifter and film student before creating the ideal “rock star” archetype that is still mimicked today, only to destroy that image by growing a beard, gaining weight, and sabotaging the band’s live bankability with bizarre on stage antics. Jim Morrison was a changeling and with the first track on L.A. Woman he was telling everyone that he was not done. This “change” theme is revisited later in the album, especially in the songs “Hyacinth House”, “The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)”, and “Riders On the Storm”.

Riders On the Storm single

“Riders”, the album’s closer, is a unique song in the history of rock n roll. With several influences including, the traditional cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and Morrison’s own defunct film, HWY: An American Pastoral as well as his poems. Often considered a Morrison masterpiece, because of its haunting theme and whispered background vocals, the song is really a showcase for the other three band members – guitarist Robbie Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – who use the song as a preview of the group’s new direction.

The band already knew coming in that this album would be an endpoint on a couple of fronts. It was the last one necessary to fulfill their contract with Electra Records, and the band had already quietly agreed to a break from Morrison, as he planned to move to Paris following its completion, and continue as a trio with Krieger, Manzarek, and Densmore. In fact, a common misconception is that the late-1971 album Other Voices was made in reaction to Morrison’s death, when it was actually started prior to his passing, with some songs actually worked on during the L.A. Woman sessions.

Beyond the four members of The Doors, there were two addition musicians involved with the making of L.A. Woman, bassist Jerry Scheff who played on every track and blues guitarist Mark Benno, who played rhythm guitar on four of the album’s tracks. Scheff, who was Elvis Presley‘s regular bass player at the time, was as much a part of the music on L.A. Woman as any of the “regular” Doors (a defacto “fifth Door”), being right out front in the mix and providing the memorable riffs for some of the most memorable songs.

Benno added his talents to the album’s title song along with “Been Down So Long”, “Cars Hiss By My Window”, and the cover of the John Lee Hooker song “Crawling King Snake”. These tracks also happened to be the same ones where Morrison best used his new found “blues” voice, a vocal style unlike any he had presented before, but did with exceptional talent and ease, especially on “Cars Hiss by My Window” – a song in which Morrison’s vocals shine on two levels, the straight-up singer voice, and the wild-mimicked bluesy-harmonica sounding “voice” solo that ends the song. Although Benno had never even heard of The Doors before being booked for these sessions, he and Morrison became fast friends, going to lunch and drinking together between recordings.

Aside from the well-received title song, these extra-bluesy songs that Benno worked on have been commonly knocked by die-hard Doors fans as the “filler” on L.A. Woman, but, although they may not quite match the rest of the album, they certainly do not detract from the album as a whole. Lyrically these songs may not quite be the high points of the album, but the only real filler is the odd-marching, quasi-psychedelic “L’America”, which sounds like an incomplete experiment that should have been left for the box sets decades later.

Love Her Madly single

Thematically, L.A. Woman is not an acid trip, an orchestral, or a poem, but is quite simply the completion of the band’s take on blues rock that started with their previous album, Morrison Hotel in 1970, but it is not a pure blues album. In fact, one of the band’s finest pop songs is present in “Love Her Madly”, which sounds like it could of fit well on Strange Days in 1967. It is perhaps the best audio evidence that this is, in fact, The Doors we are in listening to.

The band was not looking to explore new musical themes or expand consciousness – they just wanted to record an album and the result was a magical capture of lightning in a bottle. Certain unforeseen situations led to this confluence. Longtime producer Paul Rothschild had disagreements with the band on their approach and walked away from the project early on, leaving the production to engineer Bruce Botnik and the band members themselves.

The album was recorded at the band’s rehearsal space on Santa Monica Blvd, in a building that was once an antique store. Botnik converted a bathroom into the vocal booth for Morrison and used just an 8-track recorder, which is incredible considering the depth of the resulting sound. This location was chosen after the Doors decided to forego professional studio costs and considered a number of locations including Robbie Krieger’s beach house, which was decorated with several hyacinth plants.

“Hyacinth House” is an oft-overlooked gem on L.A. Woman with Krieger’s folksy guitars, Morrison’s calm yet desperate pleads of paranoia and need for change and, most especially, Ray Manzarek’s virtuoso work on the organ where he subtly mimic’s a piece by Chopin. Another interesting piece on the “second side” of the album is “The W.A.S.P. (Texas Radio & the Big Beat)”, a spoken-word poem that at once pays homage to Mexican pirate radio of the sixties while taking the listener on an undecipherable poetic journey, all above a funky-riff that could have been used for a Sesame Street learning experiment. It is hard to think that anyone but Morrison himself truly “got” this song, but it does add a nice bit of balance to much of the rest of the album.

The Doors in 1970

Speaking of “sides” of the album (for those of us old enough to remember such things), one of the flaws of L.A. Woman is the fact that it reversed what should have been the extended closing number of each side – the 7-plus minute songs “Riders on the Storm” and “L.A. Woman”. The title song, with its movement and rhythm, and nearly constant build to a crescendo, is the undeniable climax of the album and would have worked best as the last song on the album instead of “Riders On the Storm”, which kind of drip-drops its way out. As a matter of fact, both these songs were included in the high-selling Greatest Hits compilation in 1980, with “Riders” finishing side one and “L.A. Woman” wrapping up side two. Was this the quiet recognition of an original faux pas in song sequence by the band?

But no matter where it sits in the song sequence, the song “L.A. Woman” is a masterpiece, just like the album of the same name is. Every track is musically crafted to near perfection without being over-produced nor overdone. This is probably due to the fact that The Doors were just looking to make music with this album and not accomplish any loftier goals. They simply wanted to jam and move on to the next phases of their lives and careers. Tragically, there would not be much of that life left in Jim Morrison, who died at the age of 27 on July 3, 1971, just three months after the album was released.

~

Contributers:
J.D. Cook
Ric Albano

1971 Images

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