Dire Straits

Buy Dire Straits

Dire Straits 1978 debutBritish quartet Dire Straits launched their fruitful career in 1978 with an impressive self-titled debut studio album. This album features nine tracks composed by guitarist/vocalist Mark Knopfler who blended elements of American roots music with a distinct guitar style and a reserved, husky vocal for an appealing overall style which found receptive audiences worldwide. The multi-platinum selling Dire Straits topped the album charts in several countries and reach the Top 5 in several more, including the US and the UK.

The group was formed in the mid 1970s by Mark and his younger brother, rhythm guitarist David Knopfler. Originally from Newcastle, England, the brothers migrated to London where Mark was working as a teacher while performing with pub bands at night. Bassist John Illsley and veteran drummer Pick Withers were eventually recruited and the band was formed with a name that referenced to their current financial situation. The band borrowed money to record a five-song demo tape, which was well received by a local disc jockey and the airing of “Sultans of Swing” led to a recording contract with the Vertigo Records division of Phonogram Inc.

The debut, Dire Straits, was recorded in early 1978 with producer Muff Winwood. Following its recording (but months prior to its release), the group began heavily promoting the songs with a European summer tour which created much anticipation for the album.


Dire Straits by Dire Straits
Released: October 7, 1978 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Muff Winwood
Recorded: Basing Street Studios, London, February-March 1978
Side One Side Two
Down to the Waterline
Water of Love
Setting Me Up
Six Blade Knife
Southbound Again
Sultans of Swing
In the Gallery
Wild West End
Lions
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Knopfler – Guitars, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Pick Withers – Drums

 

“Down to the Waterline” features a methodical entry to the album before the full band arrangement kicks in with a bit of a western swing and direct, narrative vocals with ever-present guitar licks. Right from the jump, the rhythm and lead dynamics of the Knopfler brothers is established as a dynamic on this album. Withers introduces “Water of Love”with some methodical percussion. Soon the rootsy, acoustic song proper arrives with methodical vocals for an overall pleasant effect. “Six Blade Knife” is a rhythm-fronted textural song which seems to draw much influence from Fleetwood Mac rhythms on their then-recent Rumours album. Released as a single, this song actually charted on Country charts in both the US and Canada. The Southern rock influenced “Southbound Again” completes the original first side with a repeated riff motif played much during its short, less than three-minute duration.

Dire Straits in 1978

“Sultans of Swing” is the best and most popular track on the album, a true masterpiece from beginning to end. Each group member is at top form in support of Knopfler’s mastery on lead guitars and vocals with variety, movement and distinction between verse licks and solo leads. The song became the group’s first international hit in 1979 with its descriptive lyrics inspired by Knopfler witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a deserted pub in South London, and is uniquely delivered as they describe a musical genre much unlike the excellent, rhythmic rock song, right up to the rather ironic lyrics;

they don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it aint what they call rock n’ roll…”

The duration of the album features three quasi-jam tracks of differing sub-genres. After a pleasant intro, “In the Gallery” morphs into a quasi-reggae beat for the verses with interesting drum fills and lyrics written as a tribute to Leeds sculptor/artist. “Wild West End” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with a repeated riff under the verse and chorus hooks, along with some sparse vocal harmonies. The closer “Lions” has a walking rhythm guitar and a bluesy lead guitar above a strong, rhythmic rock storyteller.

Dire Straits spent no time enjoying the success of their debut record. Soon after its release, they jumped on the circuit with Talking Heads on their first North American tour and before the end of 1978 they traveled to the Bahamas to begin work on their second album, Communiqué.

~

1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

Who Are You by The Who

Buy Who Are You

Who Are You by The WhoThe Who‘s eighth overall and final studio album with drummer Keith Moon, 1978’s Who Are You marks a notable transition for the rock quartet. Here, the music is built on layered arrangements which heavily utilizes synthesizers while multiple styles are explored among the album’s ten tracks. Further, some of the lyrical themes draw from defunct theme albums from earlier in the 1970s such as Pete Townshend‘s Lifehouse and John Entwistle‘s 905.

Through a five year span in the mid-1970s, the band recorded and released only one studio album, The Who by Numbers in 1975. This era was marred by disagreements among the band members over musical direction and the approach to live touring. However, they did work on several peripheral projects over this span, such as the Tommy motion picture in 1974 and the documentary film The Kids Are Alright in 1977 and 1978.

Recording of Who Are You began in London in January 1978 with producers Glyn Johns & Jon Astley. During production there were several personnel clashes as well as some issues with Moon’s playing and lead singer Roger Daltrey underwent throat surgery. Ironically, this was perhaps the strongest album vocally for Daltrey while being one of the weaker outputs by Townshend, the band’s traditional composer.

Classic Rock Review
Who Are You by The Who
Released: August 18, 1978 (Polydor)
Produced by: Glyn Johns & Jon Astley
Recorded: Ramport Studios, Olympic Studios, & RAK Studios, England, October 1977 – April 1978
Side One Side Two
New Song
Had Enough
905
Sister Disco
Music Must Change
Trick of the Light
Guitar and Pen
Love Is Coming Down
Who Are You
Group Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Vocals, Percussion
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Keyboards, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

 

It is obvious from beginning that this differs from any classic Who album with heavy synth presence from the jump on the opener “New Song”. Still, the multiple theatrical parts of this Townshend song show that there are still complex rock compositions on this Who album. The next two tracks were originally intended for a defunct attempt of a rock opera by Entwistle. “Had Enough” has a synth-guided melody with steady, thumping bass and slightly animated drums by Moon. Released as a single from the album, the song features a full string orchestra arranged by Astley. A wild synth arpeggio gives way to strummed acoustic guitar and a steady rock beat on “905”. Here, Entwistle provides smooth and melodic lead vocals with a slight country/rock feel during the choruses, while employing a heavy sci-fi feel elsewhere.

“Sister Disco” is the first song to lean towards classic era Who (or at least as far back as 1973’s Quadrophenia). This is also the first track to feature Townshend’s vocals as a co-lead vocalist while the music features moderate rock riff and beat with rapid, high string synths before the song dissolves with an extended solo acoustic outro. “Music Must Change” is a theatrical piece with many interesting changes. Here, Daltrey’s vocals show fantastic range on this jazz, Broadway blues track which completed the original first side of the album. Entwistle’s third songwriting contribution, “Trick of the Light”, may be the most straightforward rocker on the album with a hypnotizing, rotating rock riff accented by Moon’s mobile drumming and more strong vocals by Daltrey.

The Who in 1978

Another highlight on the album, “Guitar and Pen”, has a straight-forward main riff in contrast to the odd-timed beats followed by much building to strong crescendos throughout. The song also features virtuoso piano playing by guest Rod Argent along with some generous but judicious use of synths throughout. “Love Is Coming Down” is a ballad with call and response vocals and some complex string orchestration. The album concludes with its climatic title song, which kicks off with a jazzy synth, slow dance beat and harmonized hook. The verses of “Who Are You” resort to pure rock with Moon exploring the rapid drum rolls and Daltry providing his most straining yet melodic vocals, while the bridge middle section explores many little musical minuets, including a slight piano lead by Argent. Released as a single, “Who Are You” reached the Top 20 in both the US and UK.

During a break from recording this album in May 1978, The Who played live on a sound stage for a sequence in the upcoming documentary The Kids Are Alright, which turned out to be the final performance by the classic quartet which was formed in 1964. Moon died on September 6, 1978, about three weeks after the release of Who Are You.

~

1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

 

Truth by The Jeff Back Group

Buy Truth

Truth by Jeff BeckThere probably has never a debut album like Jeff Beck‘s 1968 solo debut, Truth. This album, of unique interpretations of diverse covers, introduced the talents of future superstar Rod Stewart on lead vocals as well as bassist Ronnie Wood, pianist Nicky Hopkins and the combo future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Further, the choice to focus on hard-edged, guitar-centric, blues-based rock on this debut album pivoted from Beck’s previous solo output which focused on pop-based singles.

Beck was introduced to R&B by Rolling Stone Ian Stewart in the early 1960s, which set the course of his young music career. Through 1963 and 1964 he played in several groups around London, including the Rumbles and the Tridents, while also scoring some gigs as a studio session player. Following the sudden departure of Eric Clapton from The Yardbirds in early 1965, Beck was recruited on the recommendation of Page, a fellow session musician. Beck was present for The Yardbirds commercial peak, including several successful singles and the albums For Your Love in 1965 and the untitled album which became known as “Roger the Engineer” in 1966. Beck launched his solo career with a series of pop singles through 1967 and early 1968 which resulted in three Top 40 hits in the UK.

Aside from the session for the Page-composed track “Beck’s Bolero” in May 1966, recording sessions for Truth took place over just four days in May 1968 with producer Micky Most. The ten-song album features three blues-based original tracks composed by Beck and Stewart.


Truth by The Jeff Beck Group
Released: August, 1968 (EMI)
Produced by: Micky Most
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, Olympic Sound Studios & De Lane Lea Recording Studios, London, May 1968
Side One Side Two
Shapes of Things
Let Me Love You
Morning Dew
You Shook Me
Ol’ Man River
Greensleeves
Rock My Plimsoul
Beck’s Bolero
Blues De Luxe
Ain’t Superstitious
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals
Jeff Beck – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
John Paul Jones – Organ, Bass
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Ronnie Wood – Bass
Micky Waller – Drums

 

The album commences with an interesting hard rock remake of The Yardbirds’ 1966 hit “Shapes of Things”. Here, the drums of Micky Waller really stand out throughout as the song features deliberate sections including a unique, the mid-section jam. A definite Cream influence is heard on the original heavy blues rocker, “Let Me Love You”, with a quick turn of co-lead vocals by Beck during the first chorus. Towards the end of the song, Beck’s guitar and Stewart’s vocals do call and response, a technique later borrowed by Page and Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin’s early albums. “Morning Dew” is an oft-covered track by folk singer Bonnie Dobson, with this album’s version focusing on Wood’s thumping bass and a subtle wah-wah-laden guitar throughout.

Next comes Willie Dixon‘s “You Shook Me”, a song first released by Muddy Waters in 1962. This happy-go-lucky version finds Beck, Jones and Hopkins all competing for lead instrumentation during its short duration, in contrast to a more extended Zeppelin cover recorded later in 1968. “Ol’ Man River” is a composition which dates back to the 1920s, with this version showcasing Stewart’s vocals better than any other track n the album, while “Greensleeves” has roots back to the 1500s. This second side opener offers a nice acoustic break to add warmth to the album and further showcase Beck’s diversity as a guitar player. “Rock My Plimsoul” is another original of authentic multi-textured electric blues.

Jeff Beck Group 1968

The hauntingly beautiful “Beck’s Bolero” was recorded while Beck and Page were active members of the Yardbirds and it offered a glimpse into rock n roll’s future back in 1966. Joining the guitar duo on this instrumental was Hopkins, Jones and Who drummer Keith Moon as they re-create a Spanish ‘bolero’ with a highly electric feel led by the Beck’s ethereal Les Paul riff in the main theme. Later, a second part is introduced by Moon’s thundering drums leading to section exemplifying the earliest form of heavy metal music. “Blues De Luxe” is an extended, half jocular original complete with canned studio applause and an impressive, extended piano lead by Hopkins. The album concludes with an indelible cover of Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” featuring a wild wah-wah guitar which is showcased through strategic stops. After Beck does much indulgence, Waller gets the final album thrill with a short drum solo before the collaborative crash which concludes the album.

Truth peaked at number 15 on the Billboard charts and its influence on future music is immeasurable. A 1969 follow-up album called Beck-Ola was recorded and released by much of this same group before the members went on to other musical endeavors. Despite being offered a slot with The Rolling Stones following the death of Brian Jones, Beck decided to re-form the Jeff Beck Group with new members into the 1970s.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Living In the Material World
by George Harrison

Buy Living in the Material World

Living In the Material World by George HarrisonLiving in the Material World was the fourth overall studio album (and second pop/rock release) by former Beatle George Harrison. This long-anticipated 1973 album is distinct in both Harrison’s initial major role as a record producer as well as for its strongly spiritual and philosophical lyrics. The themes were driven by Harrison’s strong devotion to Hindu spirituality in general and to Krishna consciousness in particular, with some songs contrasting the need for inner peace while being a musician with worldwide popularity.

Following the tremendous critical and commercial success of his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, Harrison embarked on a humanitarian aid project to raise money for the people of Bangladesh, culminating with two Concert for Bangladesh shows and a subsequent live album. During this same time period (1971-1972), Harrison also produced a few singles for fellow Beatle Ringo Starr and helped promote Raga, the documentary on Ravi Shankar. Finally, in late 1972 he was ready to start recording his next studio album.

In contrast with its predecessor, Living In the Material World featured scaled down production by Harrison. He had originally planned on bringing in Phil Spector to co-produce but once recording sessions got under way, Harrison had gathered a core backing group and was the project’s sole producer. While Harrison performed all the guitar parts on the album, he employed pianist Nicky Hopkins, keyboardist Gary Wright, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Jim Keltner for most tracks. These recording sessions in London took a bit longer than expected, resulting in the intended release date being pushed back.


Living In the Material World by George Harrison
Released: May 30, 1973 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison
Recorded: Apple Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1972-March 1973
Side One Side Two
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
Sue Me, Sue You Blues
The Light That Has Lighted the World
Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long
Who Can See It
Living in the Material World
The Lord Loves the One
(That Loves the Lord)
Be Here Now
Try Some, Buy Some
The Day the World Gets ‘Round
That Is All
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro, Sitar
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Gary Wright – Organ, Harmonium
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the pleasant hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, which features a simple, repeated verse that is expertly accented by Harrison’s lead guitar and a gentle but potent piano by Hopkins. With lyrics he described as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it” this track became Harrison’s second #1 song in the US and also reached the Top 10 in several other countries. “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is much in contrast with the opening track, built on loose piano honky-tonk backing lyrics inspired by Paul McCartney’s lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles’ joint partnership, Apple Corps.

“The Light That Has Lighted the World” is a melancholy piano ballad with weepy lead vocals, acoustic strumming and a fine lead over top, while “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is a bright, upbeat pop love song written for Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. “Who Can See It” returns to the melodramatic devotional featuring a subtle, Leslie guitar lead. The original first side concludes with the upbeat, happy-go-lucky title track with Hopkins’ piano again holding things together along with the thumping bass/drum rhythm. “Living In the Material World” also features strategic stops for slower breaks with much instrumentation including a sitar section and an extended sax lead.

George Harrison in 1973

The second side opens with the excellent composition, “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)” with melodic vocals and musical flourishes, leading to climatic slide lead to end the track. Lyrically, Harrison sought feedback about Krishna philosophy, which encouraged him to develop such themes that are unorthodox in popular music. “Be Here Now” is a quiet and surreal acoustic ballad with some earthy and ethereal sounds, as “Try Some, Buy Some” (a leftover from 1970 co-produced by Spector) is a musical waltz built on a descending riff and it reaches for grandiose heights with horns and other “wall of sound” production techniques. Next comes the Beatlesque acoustic ballad “The Day the World Gets ‘Round”, short and sweet but with rich production. The album concludes with the aptly titled “That Is All”, a forotten classic filled with melancholy emotion and musical aptitude, where Harrison really stretches his vocal range with high-pitched sustained notes.

Living In the Material World topped the charts in the US and reached #2 in the UK while achieving Gold record certification. In a continuation of his charitable work, Harrison donated his copyright for most of the tracks to his Material World Charitable Foundation, which ultimately ensured a stream of income for the charities of his choice. Following the album’s release, Harrison became the first ex-Beatle to tour North America when he toured with a large ensemble of musicians starting in 1974.

~

1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Reach the Beach by The Fixx

Buy Reach the Beach

Reach the Beach by The FixxThe British pop group hit their peak with the 1983 release of the album Reach the Beach, their second studio album and most successful commercially. This record contains accessible songs built on some catchy pop/rock melodies and some innovative use of synthesizers and other effects. Surprisingly, the production of this successful album came during a time of transition as the group was changing bass players with about half of the tracks not including bass at all.

The band originated with the name The Portraits in 1979 when vocalist Cy Curnin and drummer Adam Woods formed the band while in college in London. Along with keyboardist Rupert Greenall, The Portraits had some minor success, releasing a couple of singles before disbanding late in 1980 and soon reforming as The Fixx with guitarist Jamie West-Oram and bassist Charlie Barrett. The group independently released the single “Lost Planes” in February 1981, which caught the attention of MCA Records who offered a contract to the group. Their successful 1982 debut album, Shuttered Room, featured the charting hits “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies”.

Recording for Reach the Beach began later in 1982 with producer Rupert Hine. Barrett had been replaced on the previous tour by Alfie Agius, who began the recording sessions as the group’s bassist but left the group before the album was completed.

 


Reach the Beach by The Fixx
Released: May 15, 1983 (MCA)
Produced by: Rupert Hine
Recorded: Farmyard Studios, Buckinghamshire, England, 1982-1983
Side One Side Two
One Thing Leads to Another
The Sign of Fire
Running
Saved by Zero
Opinions
Reach the Beach
Changing
Liner
Privilege
Outside
Group Musicians
Cy Curnin – Lead Vocal
Jamie West-Oram – Guitars
Rupert Greenall – Keyboards
Adam Woods – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its (and the group’s) biggest hit. Starting with the funky guitar and bass riffing, “One Thing Leads to Another” has a steady beat and melodic lead vocals accented by effects throughout the verses. Accompanied by a successful MTV video, “One Thing Leads to Another” reached #4 on the US pop charts and topped the charts in Canada. “The Sign of Fire” follows as another upbeat funk/dance tune with an ascending/descending link between its two predominant chords for a pleasant hypnotizing movement effect. There are some inventive passages as we get through the mid section of the song, which is the only one to feature future band member Dan K. Brown on bass. The spastic and disjointed “Running” follows with heavy new wave elements and some more melodic passages.

While as simple and straight forward as other tracks on this album, the futuristic “Saved by Zero” feels much deeper both sonically and lyrically. This is due to strategic synth effects which blend with Curnin’s vocal embellishments along with the jittery guitar riffs of West-Oram. Lyrically, the song is about finding simplicity with the loss of material things and “the release you get when you have nothing left to lose”. “Opinions” closes the fine first side of the record, built on Curnin’s near a-capella vocals in the intro verse and a musical arrangement which slowly emerges underneath until the song finally fully materializes about halfway through.

The Fixx 1983

The album’s original second side features lesser known tracks. The title track “Reach the Beach” is a deliberative synth/pop song, led by the simple keyboard riff and synth bass of Greenall along with several sonic electronic sections. “Changing” is the first real filler but “Liner” works as an electronic representation of funk and soul with Agius adding some proficient slap bass and Greenall replicating a horn section on synth. “Privilege” is a quasi-kraut-rocker with some interesting dynamics and a nice use of disparate, simple motifs as the song progresses, while the closer “Outside” is shepherded by the steady but interesting beat by Woods. This acts as a backbone to the slow and sloshy guitar riffing of Jamie West-Oram and Curnin’s soulful lead vocals.

Reach the Beach peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts and was eventually certified multi-platinum with sales in the millions. The group continued with modest success through the late 1980s and into the 1990s but never again reached the commercial heights of this album.

~

1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Aladdin Sane by David Bowie

Buy Aladdin Sane

Aladdin Sane by David BowieThe sixth studio album by David Bowie, 1973’s Aladdin Sane furthers the narrative, begun on the previous year’s hit album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, of the fictional Ziggy Stardust character in what Bowie deemed “Ziggy goes to America”. In fact, the majority of the album was written and recorded during the previous album’s tour and it’s music reflects the pros of performing in new found superstardom and the cons of the wear and tear of constant touring.

Many have compared the approach of this album with that of Bowie’s 1970 third album, The Man Who Sold the World, which had a heavier-than-typical rock sound, marking a departure from Bowie’s previous predominant folk rock style. Another similarity is in lyrical content, with The Man Who Sold the World referencing schizophrenia, paranoia and delusion while In contrast, Aladdin Sane is a pun on “A Lad Insane”, believed to have been inspired by the recent diagnosis of David’s brother Terry Jones with schizophrenia.

Co-produced by Ken Scott, most of Aladdin Sane was recorded at Trident Studios in London in early 1973, the album is the fourth to feature a solid rock backing band, led by guitarist Mick Ronson, along with several guest musicians to provide a rich diversity of musical sub-genres.


Aladdin Sane by David Bowie
Released: April 13, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ken Scott & David Bowie
Recorded: Trident Studios, London & RCA Studios, New York, October 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Watch That Man
Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)
Drive-In Saturday
Panic in Detroit
Cracked Actor
Time
The Prettiest Star
Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Jean Genie
Lady Grinning Soul
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Synths, Saxophone, Harmonica
Mick Ronson – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Mike Garson – Piano, Keyboards
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Woody Woodmansey – Drums

The sloshy opener, “Watch That Man”, features heavily distorted guitars over a steady rock beat. The thick arrangement includes a backing chorus harmony during the hook sections and the overall vibe represents a slight change of musical direction. The title track, fashioned “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)”, alternates between the ethereal, avant- garde piano verses, musically led by Mike Garson, and the more rocking choruses which combine for a psychedelic feel throughout. Adding a further dimension, the song’s coda includes a short quote from the popular song “On Broadway”.

“Drive-In Saturday” has a doo-wop-like bass line and beat but with a Bowie-esque vocal melody before the tune works towards a more standard pop/rock tune musically. Lyrically, the song describes a post-apocalyptic, futuristic world where inhabitants watch old porn films in a drive in theater to learn how sex is performed. “Panic in Detroit” comes back to the topical present as it is lyrically based  on Iggy Pop’s descriptions to Bowie about experiencing the 1967 Detroit riots. The song employs a Bo Diddley-like “hand-jive” beat by Woody Woodmansey before a more complex bass line by Trevor Bolder takes over in the verses. Closing out the original first side, “Cracked Actor” features straight forward rock music with some raunchy, risque sexual lyrics.

David Bowie in 1973

The burlesque verses of “Time” feature music hall piano by Garson before the track explodes into a full rock arrangement led by Ronson’s strategically clear riffs. The track reaches a nice climax in the long coda section as Bowie provides scat vocals over the guitar lead. “The Prettiest Star” is another old-timey structured song with doo-wop backing vocals and topped with modern sonic rock elements, while the album’s only cover song, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, has a short, spaced out intro before breaking into a jazzed-up, pre-punk version of the Rolling Stones classic. This is slightly interesting upon first listen but ultimately a forgettable version of song.

A refreshing rebound of two fine tracks close album , starting with the sloshy, riff-driven, bluesy rock jam of “The Jean Genie”. Recorded in New York, this is one track with a nice amount of sonic space to let the listener enjoy this simple but entertaining song, which became Bowie’s biggest pop hit to date when it peaked at #2 in the UK. “Lady Grinning Soul” starts with a final long piano intro by Garson before the song proper kicks in with gently strummed acoustic, rapid, staccato piano and high-pitched but soft lead vocals, Compared in style to a James Bond theme, there is a slight flamenco guitar lead before another verse and a climatic coda to complete the album.

With over 100,000 advance orders, Aladdin Sane debuted on top of the UK charts, reaching the Top 20 in the US. Over time, it would go on to sell over 4 million copies worldwide. A few months after the album’s release, Bowie dramatically announced the “death” of the Ziggy Stardust character towards the end of a live concert.

~

1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Walking Into Clarksdale by Page & Plant

Buy Walking Into Clarksdale

Walking Into Clarksdale by Page and PlantNearly two decades after they recorded the final Led Zeppelin studio album with 1979’s In Through the Out Door, guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant  collaborated on an album of new original music with Walking Into Clarksdale. With a blend of world music and alternative rock elements along with modern production techniques, this is not a Zeppelin album in any sense nor was it designed to be so. Instead this stands as a unique work within the long solo catalogs of either artist.

Page and Plant re-united in 1993 after casual discussions between the two about performing on the popular MTV Unplugged television series, which had been a rousing success for artists ranging from Eric Clapton to Tesla to Nirvana. Producer Bill Curbishley, who had been managing Plant since the 1980s and began managing Page in 1994, was able to close the deal and, in August 1994, they recorded performances in London, Wales, and Morocco of several re-arranged Led Zeppelin tunes along with four new tracks. These performances were aired on MTV in October, with the album No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded released in November 1994. Following the successful release of this album, Page and Plant launched a world tour backed by bassist Charlie Jones, drummer Michael Lee, and a small orchestra of musicians and background singers.

Walking Into Clarksdale was recorded and produced by Page and Plant along with engineer Steve Albini over the course of five months at Abbey Road Studios in London. Albini, an indie rock producer known for his harsh and brutal recordings, took some dynamic chances in mixing the guitar phrases, Mideastern drones, sawing strings, and repetitive drum patterns which proliferate this album’s sound.


Walking Into Clarksdale by Page & Plant
Released: April 21, 1998 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, 1997-1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Shining in the Light
When the World Was Young
Upon a Golden Horse
Blue Train
Please Read the Letter
Most High
Heart in Your Hand
Walking into Clarksdale
Burning Up
When I Was a Child
House of Love
Sons of Freedom
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals,
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
Charlie Jones – Bass, Percussion
Michael Lee – Drums, Percussion

Walking Into Clarksdale by Page and Plant

 

 

The album begins with “Shining in the Light”, featuring an interesting acoustic progression along with the rhythmic feel of a rotating riff. The string sections in between verses help build the musical momentum of this track. “When the World Was Young” follows, built with a gently thumping bass by Jones and methodical guitar motifs by Page, Quiet tension is built for about two and a half minutes before the song explodes into a Zeppelin-like heavy section where drummer Michael Lee finally gets to perform a full rock beat, The song’s lyrics, while slightly obscure seem to focus on a mystical afterlife. “Upon a Golden Horse” starts with a full-fledged electric intro which gives way to calmer, waltz-like verses as Plant attempts to hit the vocal stratosphere (but doesn’t quite reach it) while Page provides the record’s first heavy blues guitar lead before being overtaken by the rich string arrangements of Lynton Naiff. “Blue Train” is a sad ballad led by Page’s uniquely structured guitar lead and Plant’s melancholy lyric;

Lost in my darkness now, the rain keeps falling down
Light of my life, where have you gone?
Love’s true flame dies without the warmth of your sun…”

On “Please Read the Letter”, Plant provides harmonies with himself through most of the track, previewing the prevalent arrangements on the later album Raising Sand, where he will team up with Alison Krauss, re-record this track and win a Grammy in 2009. On this original version, while Page provides his signature heavy rock riffing in the verse, while the overall feel has a more country/folk vibe. The indelible “Most High” features an electronic percussion loop accompanied by droning guitar as a song that finally realizes the Eastern rock fusion that Page and Plant had been loosely experimenting with for a quarter century. Further, the guest musicians Ed Shearmur and Tim Whelan give the track a bit of crisp sonic candy, much needed on this album of subtle arrangements.

Page and Plant, 1998

A calm, Western guitar sound by Page, accompanied by Plant’s soft but soulful vocals make “Heart in Your Hand” an atmospheric tune with very calm rhythms. This is vastly contrasted by the heavy rocking title song, “Walking into Clarksdale”, which celebrates the duos history and love of the blues. While musically a throwback with little spurts of Zeppelin-esque blues-rock flourishes, the song may be the most potent lyrically with references to being born with blues in the soul as well as the infamous “Devil at the crossroads” legend which is tied to the physical location;

And I see twelve white horses walking in line
Moving east across the metal bridge on highway forty-nine
And standing in the shadows of a burnt out motel
The King of Commerce Mississippia waited with his hound from hell…”

After the final highlight of the title track, the album winds down with some slightly interesting, albeit weaker material. “Burning Up”, while decent musically, seems to be one of the more under-cooked or disjointed tracks on the album, followed by “When I Was a Child” with a heavy use of tremolo/volume effects on the atmospheric guitars and soaring, soulful vocals by Plant throughout. “House of Love” returns to the electronic percussion but with less effect than “Most High” as the guitar and bass parts don’t quite jive with the percussion and give it more of a demo feel. The closer “Sons of Freedom” is a spastic, proto-punk track with differing sonic qualities through its duration.

While Walking Into Clarksdale reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and achieved Gold record status, it was an overall commercial disappointment in comparison to its predecessor. Page planned on continuing with a follow-up album and reportedly began writing over a dozen tunes. However, Plant grew tired of the larger arena and decided he wanted to get back to playing clubs, there by disbanding the partnership. To date (20 years later), Walking Into Clarksdale is the last studio recording by Jimmy Page.

~

1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull

Buy Heavy Horses

Heavy Horses by Jethro TullDuring a the late 1970s, Jethro Tull released a trio of albums with heavy folk influence. The second of this trio and the eleventh overall studio album by the band is 1978’s Heavy Horses. This album features strong and consistent tunes which take a journey into a rural landscape of folklore and the underlying simple theme of an honest day’s work. Further, in spite of going against the day’s prevailing musical trends of punk and new wave, Heavy Horses was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic as the album reached the Top 20 on both the UK and US album charts following its release.

Following several successful forays into progressive rock through the early and mid seventies and accompanying large arena tours, Jethro Tull and their primary composer Ian Anderson decided to scale back and develop more simple folk rock songs. The critically acclaimed 1977 album, Songs from the Wood, reflected on English culture and history and was the first to include new member David Palmer, who brought many classical elements into the fold.

Produced by Anderson, Heavy Horses was recorded in London during a time when he was settling into a domestic life with his new wife and son. Just prior to this album’s recording in 1977, Pink Floyd released their classic album Animals, which explored differing human personality types. Heavy Horses may more exactly fit that literal title as it lyrically sees things from the perspective and environment of several rural creatures.


Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull
Released: April 10, 1978 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, Fulham, England, May 1977-January 1978
Side One Side Two
…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps
Acres Wild
No Lullaby
Moths
Journeyman
Rover
One Brown Mouse
Heavy Horses
Weathercock
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Flute, Mandolin
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Organ
David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral Arrangements
John Glascock – Bass, Vocals
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

 

A tense rhythmic timing drives the acoustic-driven opener “…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps”, a song which is probably more prog rock than folk, complete with strategic stops and dueling flute and organ solos. The track lyrically describes the movement of a barn cat with creative adjectives, describing the process of the night guard and hunt. “Acres Wild” follows as a mandolin driven, pop-oriented rocker with heavy Celtic influence musically and lyrics which paint a picture of playing long while on a journey.

“No Lullaby” is the first of two extended songs and it starts with a heavy rock guitar intro by Martin Barre, followed by the showcasing of drummer/percussionist Barriemore Barlow as it eases into a slow, methodical rhythm, About two minutes in, this mini-suite takes a radical turn to a more upbeat, tense-filled shuffle before again returning to the methodical verse section and lead flourishes. The bright and pleasant folk tune “Moths” features harpsichord by John Evan along with other ethnic string instrumentation as it expertly alternates keys throughout its short duration. A philosophical creed on living for today, “Moths” displays the scene from different perspectives and with sincere emotion. “Journeyman” starts with a funky bass riff by John Glascock as the rest of the group builds around musically, each finding their own small space within the song.

Jethro Tull in 1978

The album’s original second side starts with “Rover”, a tribute to Anderson’s pet dog which features a more traditional Jethro Tull soundscape. With lyrics telling of story time with a young child, “One Brown Mouse” starts and ends as straight folk/rocker but nicely diverges into a mid-section of folk orchestration. The epic, nine-minute title track plays on differing intensities of the same musical theme, as the song is a literal tribute to the work-horse. It all wraps with “Weathercock”, a theme on the rotational nature of life as album ends at the break of dawn and a simple musical arrangement, built with acoustic, mandolin, organ and other simple elements.

Jethro Tull recorded performances during the European leg of the Heavy Horses tour, and later in 1978 released a live double album called Bursting Out. In March 2018, the group released a five-disc, 40th anniversary version of Heavy Horses, which features several alternate and outtakes, 22 previously unreleased live tracks, and a 96-page booklet with track-by-track annotation by Anderson of the album and its associated recordings.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

Pilgrim by Eric Clapton

Buy Pilgrim

Pilgrim by Eric ClaptonThe thirteenth overall studio album of his then-decades long solo career, Pilgrim was the first record by Eric Clapton in nearly a decade to feature all new studio material. The songs on this album trend towards refined and stylish adult-oriented rock with heavy pop sensibilities and nods towards R&B, soul and the blues. This lengthy album features 14 tracks, totaling over 75 minutes of mostly original music which was composed and compiled by Clapton over several years through the mid 1990s.

The previous studio album by Clapton with all new material was Journeyman in 1989. The early 1990s brought much tragedy, first when fellow blues guitarist and then current tour member Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in August 1990, then in March 1991 Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor died after falling from the 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment at 117 East 57th Street. Clapton expressed the grief of losing his son in the 1991 Grammy-winning song “Tears in Heaven”, which also anchored his successful 1992 live Unplugged album. In 1994, Clapton released Cradle, an album of reinterpreted versions of blues standards, followed by highly successful singles in 1995 (“Love Can Build a Bridge”) and 1996 (“Change the World”).

Co-produced by Simon Climie, Pilgrim was recorded throughout 1996 and 1997 for release in early 1998, with the title track being the initial composition. Clapton’s goal was reportedly to make “the saddest record of all time” with more personal songs about his son and others close to him.


Pilgrim by Eric Clapton
Released: March 10, 1998 (Reprise)
Produced by: Simon Climie & Eric Clapton
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Ocean Studios, Los Angeles,1996-1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
My Father’s Eyes
River of Tears
Pilgrim
Broken Hearted
One Chance
Circus
Going Down Slow
Fall Like Rain
Born in Time
Sick and Tired
Needs His Woman
She’s Gone
You Were There
Inside of Me
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Dave Bronze – Bass
Steve Gadd – DrumsPilgrim by Eric Clapton

 

 

The album begins with the subdued reggae rhythms of “My Father’s Eyes”, a song which advances methodically with some blues slide guitar throughout and more overt blues lead later. The song, which reached the Top 40 as the album’s lead single, features lyrics inspired by the fact that Clapton never met his father, who died in 1985. “River of Tears” is a pure, slow blues song with an electronic synth base, a fretless bass, and some machine-generated drumming, with an extended intro which contributes to its seven minute running time.

“Pilgrim” has a more distinct R&B feel due to Clapton’s breathy, higher-register vocals and a heavy Curtis Mayfield inspiration, while “Broken Hearted” was co-written by keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and has the feel of a traditional Clapton pop song with very melodic vocals throughout. “One Chance” begins with a scratchy-record effect to set the intended context for this funky R&B track with distinctly blues vocals. “Circus” is a haunting and beautiful acoustic shuffle with slightly weepy vocals by Clapton. He wrote the song about the last night he spent with his son Conor (when the two attended a circus) and it was originally written and recorded for the 1992’s Unplugged, but that version was ultimately left off that album.

Eric Clapton in 1998

Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” is one of two covers on the album and features great heavy blues guitar. Bob Dylan’s “Born in Time” is the other cover and returns to the predominant sound arrangement, which works well here behind Clapton’s vocal interpretation. “Fall Like Rain” has an upbeat shuffle with pleasant sonic elements, such as layered acoustic and electric guitars, which provide a more organic feel in contrast to the electronic instrumentation.

Coming down the stretch of the album are songs which mainly cover familiar ground. “Sick and Tired” has a live feel with a traditional blues arrangement with some surprising strings added towards the end of the song. “Needs His Woman” starts off as a pure, quiet acoustic ballad before full, slick arrangement, which actually distracts from the underlying beauty, while the closing track “Inside of Me” returns to the electronic R&B sound. The best track of the latter part of the album is “You Were There”, a pleasant, methodical ballad with consistent rhythms augmented by moody chords and melody. As this song progresses it has a strong uplifting effect, complemented by Clapton’s fine closing guitar lead.

Although Pilgrim received mixed critical reviews, it sold over 4 million copies worldwide, reached the Top 10 in nearly two dozen countries and was nominated for several music awards, making it one of Clapton’s most commercially successful albums.

~

1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Fleetwood Mac 1968 Albums

Buy Fleetwood Mac
Buy Mr. Wonderful

Fleetwood Mac 1968 albumsThe long and multi-faceted recording career of Fleetwood Mac got started in 1968 when the group was producing pure blues music and led by guitarist and vocalist Peter Green. During the year, the group released its initial two studio albums, (Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Wonderful. These are a pair of similarly laid out, 12-song records which each had a nice mix of originals and interpretive covers, and helped propel the group to the forefront of Britain’s burgeoning heavy blues scene in the late 1960s.

Fleetwood Mac was formed in April 1967 by three members of the the British blues band John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Here, Green recorded five songs with bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, including an instrumental which Green named after the rhythm section “Fleetwood Mac”. Soon after, Green enticed the pair to form a new band by naming it after the rhythm section and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was added by the end of the “summer of love”.

The group was signed to the Blue Horizon label and recorded additional tracks with producer Mike Vernon to make up Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled debut album (often distinguished by the title Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac because of later 1975 self-titled album). Despite the fact that no singles were released, this debut album was successful, reaching the Top 5 in the UK and bringing Fleetwood Mac instant notoriety. The band soon released two singles “Black Magic Woman” (later a big hit for Santana) and “Need Your Love So Bad”. Following the February album release, the group recorded a couple of singles for release, starting with “Black Magic Woman” in March 1968, which later became a huge hit for Santana.

The band’s second album, Mr. Wonderful, was recorded with Vernon in April and released in August 1968. While the song styles remained consistently pure blues, the arrangement expanded to include a horn section as well as a dedicated keyboard player, Christine Perfect of Chicken Shack, who later became the wife of McVie and a permanent member of Fleetwood Mac.


(Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac
Released: February 24, 1968 (Blue Horizon)
Produced by: Mike Vernon
Recorded: CBS Studios and Decca Studios, London, April–December 1967
Side One Side Two
My Heart Beat Like a Hammer
Merry Go Round
Long Grey Mare
Hellhound on My Trail
Shake Your Moneymaker
Looking for Somebody
No Place to Go
My Baby’s Good to Me
I Loved Another Woman
Cold Black Night
The World Keep On Turning
Got to Move
Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac
Released: August 23, 1968 (Blue Horizon)
Produced by: Mike Vernon
Recorded: CBS Studios, London, April 1968
Side One Side Two
Stop Messin’ Round
I’ve Lost My Baby
Rollin’ Man
Dust My Broom
Love That Burns
Doctor Brown
Need Your Love Tonight
If You Be My Baby
Evenin’ Boogie
Lazy Poker Blues
Coming Home
Trying So Hard to Forget
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Peter Green – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeremy Spencer – Guitars, Vocals
John McVie – Bass
Mick Fleetwood – Drums, Percussion

 

On the debut album, Green and Spencer alternate originals as well as lead vocal duties. Spencer’s “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” leads off with an explosion of his signature heavy slide blues guitar and a legit sounding blues right from jump with just enough originality and driving intensity. Green’s “Merry Go Round” is a slower blues by contrast, highlighted by the authentic singing of Green and excited, open hat drumming of Fleetwood. “Long Grey Mare” is the only track to feature bassist Bob Brunning and leans more towards pop/rock while still maintaining a blues core and adding a pretty impressive harmonica by Green.

Fleetwood Mac debut albumThe first classic cover is Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”. This features a unique, stripped down arrangement with Spencer providing impressive piano accompanied only by Green’s soulful vocals. Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker” picks up the mood picks again with a full band arrangement and a return to Spencer’s heavy slide guitar as the song builds in frenzied intensity towards a final climax. Bookmarking the end of Side 1 and beginning of Side 2 are two of the original recordings by Green, McVie and Fleetwood while still members of the Bluesbreakers. “Looking for Somebody” feature’s McVie’s heavy thumping bass locked in under Green’s harmonica intro, while Howlin Wolf’s “No Place to Go” is a constant, rotating drone riff and harmonica licks that never relent.

The remainder of Fleetwood Mac covers familiar ground, with Spencer penning “My Baby’s Good to Me” and “Cold Black Night” and Green contributing “I Loved Another Woman” and “The World Keep On Turning”. The latter of which is a low key solo acoustic and vocal performance by Green and a true highlight of the latter part of the album because of its shear authenticity. The closes with the upbeat, full arrangement of James’ “Got to Move”, which has a real live feel throughout.

Fleetwood Mac in 1968

Mr. Wonderful is essentially a live studio album which was written and recorded much quicker than its predecessor. As a result, it has not stood up as well critically or commercially, although there are some real gems on the album. The album also features several songs co-written by Green and band Manager C.G. Adams, starting with the fine opener, “Stop Messin’ Round”, which would go on to be often covered. “I’ve Lost My Baby” is the first track by Spencer, as a blues ballad with plenty of slide in between each vocal line. “Rollin’ Man” is upbeat, almost rock with inclusion of Perfect’s piano and the call and response between the lead guitar and saxophone lead along with great rhythms by Mcvie and Fleetwood throughout.

Mr. Wonderful by Fleetwood Mac“Dust My Broom” was recorded and contributed to by both Robert Johnson and Elmore James and Fleetwood Mac does great heavy rendition of this classic here. “Love That Burns” is a long blues ballad with bleeding emotion throughout, highlighted by Christine Perfect’s nice piano lead during the fade-out.

But then there’s the less than stellar tracks. “Doctor Brown” and “Need Your Love Tonight” sound like essentially the same song while “If You Be My Baby” follows the pattern of the previous Green/Adams compositions, being a bit edgy and a bit upbeat and excitable. The upbeat instrumental “Evenin’ Boogie” and fun “Coming Home” add some life to the album’s second side before the sparse but fine closer “Trying So Hard to Forget” features harmonica-laden slow porch blues with a laid back arrangement that gives room for Green’s vocals.

Shortly after the release of Mr. Wonderful, Fleetwood Mac added guitarist Danny Kirwan, the first of many lineup shifts which would mark the multiple phases as this bands long and successful career.

~

1968 Images

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