Give the People What They Want
by The Kinks

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Give the People What They Want by The Kinks

Although Give the People What They Want was the 18th full-length album by The Kinks and was released nearly two decades after their actual debut, it has a feel as fresh and vigorous as any debut album. The sound is strong and contemporary, the lyrics are biting and direct, yet the message is more mature, philosophical, and satirical in nature. Best of all for the music listener, the album is interesting and entertaining with solid material throughout. With all this being said, it is somewhat amazing that the album has been pretty much panned and ignored by the rock press (and fans) for the past thirty years. This is part of why Classic Rock Review exists.

The Kinks started out in London shortly after The Beatles’ American breakthrough in 1964, in what came to be known as the original “British Invasion”. They came to prominence with simple, rocking pop songs in the mid 1960s. They later evolved towards theatrical rock and concept albums through the late sixties and early seventies. By the late seventies, they had seen alot of their earliest work co-opted and repackaged by acts in the punk, new wave, and hard rock genres. In this environment, chief songwriter Ray Davies came back with an album that not only shows this younger generation that The Kinks can do it just as well but that they can do it even better.

Listening to Give the People What They Want one has to keep reminding themself that this is a band approaching middle age, as there is so much youthfulness
 


Give the People What They Want by The Kinks
Released: August 15, 1981 (Arista)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Konk Studios, London, May, 1979 – June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Around the Dial
Give the People What They Want
Killer’s Eyes
Predictable
Add It Up
Destroyer
Yo-Yo
Back to Front
Art Lover
A Little Bit of Abuse
Better Things
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Rodford – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 
Overall, the album is very dark and cynical, with the exception of the finale “Better Things”, which offers a refreshing ode to optimism during the closing credits. Prior to that song, each offers a cynical look at a different subject facing people in 1981, ranging from the entertainment industry to crime and criminals to basic inter-personal issues. The sound is raw yet beautiful, capturing the dynamics of a garage band with the skill of cutting edge and smooth production. As producer, Ray Davies seemed to know exactly how much flavoring to sprinkle on the basic rhythms lead by his brother and lead guitarist Dave Davies.

The opener, “Around the Dial” is a very entertaining and interesting song that laments the downfall of a cool and edgy radio DJ, who disappeared inexplicably. It starts as the simplest of songs, with one sustained chord played over and then a simple hard rock riff, but then floats towards some interesting and melodic changes in the middle. It is followed by the album’s title song that laments the deterioration of popular culture and the crass and cynical dishing out of entertainment. This is all set to definitively punk rhythm and chant, complete with its own shock lyric on the Kennedy assassination.
 

 
Many of the songs that follow also reflect a higher end punk sound. But to say this album was “influenced” by punk would be almost a travesty. The Kinks were one of the true inventors of the genre, a dozen years before it even became a genre. By this point in 1981, punk had about five years of mainstream fame and recognition. With the production of Give the People What They Want, it is almost like the Kinks were stepping in to show these young punks how to do it with actual musical skill.

Further, this album contains some moments that could not be constructed by these punk bands on their best day. “Killer’s Eyes” is a haunting yet beautiful song about a person beyond help and beyond hope – a killer and the effect his actions have on his family and friend. It is a moody and melancholy masterpiece with outstanding sound. Another song with an excellent sound, perhaps the best on the album is “Yo-Yo”. Once you get past the repetitive use of the “yo-yo” symbolic lyric, this is a very interesting and entertaining listen that addresses the challenges of married life with its changing expectations and perspectives. It is very unique as a down beat song with a very upbeat beat.

The rest of the songs that make up the heart of the album are all upbeat and modern mixes of punk new wave and ska with their own distinctive issues. “Predictable” about the mundane, boring, regularness of everyday life, “Add It Up” on the change in someone who comes into money, “Back To Front” laments double-talk and could have been the theme song to Catch 22, and the minor hit “Destroyer”, a look at the effects of drug use that shows that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a bit of self-plagiarism.

The Kinks in 1981

But just when you get settled comfortably into the album’s punk/new wave vibe, it takes a radical turn with the last three songs. The first two of these are quite disturbing but may very well be ingenious. “Art Lover”, is creepy in that seems to be sympathetic to a stalker and possible pedophile. Adding to this creepiness is the fact it is sticky sweet, almost like a children’s song, and leaves one to think that Davies must have been trying to be provocative or sarcastic, because it is hard to think that the song’s message is to be taken literal. “A Little Bit of Abuse” follows with a light-hearted look at domestic abuse and battered wife syndrome. It is put together in a slow bluesy, pleasant, and melodic pop-rock package that in no way sets the mood for such a heavy subject. Again, it appears to invert the true message by demonstrating the absurdity of the common excuse making for such actions. Together, either these are brilliant, deep psychological masterpieces or we’re reading too much into it.

The closing “Better Things” then goes on to break the mold of this pessimistic album with a happy and hopeful song of hope. It concludes Give the People What They Want, a weird and wonderful ride that is true rock n roll at it’s most legitimate.

~

1981 Images

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

 

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Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones


Tattoo You by Rolling Stones
Part of the fun of reviewing all these great albums is discovering that some of your own long held preconceptions are, in fact, false. Approaching this album, Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones, I was “sure” on a couple of things that I had always “known”. I was “sure” it was a bit of a comeback album for the band, a return to Sticky Fingers-like rock n’ roll after the various glam, disco, and funk tangents that the band undertook in the 1970s. I was also “sure” that it was a fun and cohesive album for the band to make (I mean, just listen to the first two songs and tell me they’re not having fun).

But with some initial research for this article, I found that I was wrong on both counts. The album is not directed or cohesive. It is a mishmash of unreleased material recorded over that same time period when the Stones were exploring different tangents. It was also recorded at a time of great stress within the band, so it was hardly “fun” to make, despite the resulting vibe.

In fact, album’s creation is the direct result of a practical business decision. The band was about to embark on a huge worldwide tour in late 1981/early 1982, and it was decided that having a new album to promote would boost the band’s ticket sales. With no time to write, rehearse, and record new material, long time associate and producer Chris Kimsey stepped in. He told the band that he could make an album from what he knew already existed as outtakes over the past decade or so and began sifting through old recordings to find suitable material.
 


Tattoo by Rolling Stones
Released: August 24, 1981 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Chris Kimsey, Mick Jaggar, & Keith Richards
Recorded: Various Locations, November, 1972 – June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Start Me Up
Hang Fire
Slave
Little T&A
Black Limousine
Neighbours
Worried About You
Tops
Heaven
No Use in Crying
Waiting on a Friend
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Synthesizer
Charlie Watts – Drums

 
Kimsey spent a few months going through the material from several previous Stones albums, discovering many incomplete or under-developed songs that had been either forgotten or rejected in the past. The earliest of these would become the songs “Tops” and “Waiting For a Friend”, the latter being Tattoo You‘s critically acclaimed signature number that closes the album’s laid back second-side. These songs were originally written and recorded in late 1972 during the sessions for the album Goat’s Head Soup and feature ex-guitarist Mick Taylor. “Waiting For a Friend” also features a solo by jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

In 1975, during the sessions for the album Black and Blue, the band recording the backing tracks for a reggae-influenced song, but after twenty or so takes they got frustrated and shelved it. This same song would be re-born three more times during sessions for subsequent albums, as “Never Stop” during the sessions for Some Girls in 1977, then as “Start It Up” during the Emotional Rescue sessions in 1979. At that time, most of the band were convinced they had a hit, but guitarist Keith Richards was sure that he heard something very similar on the radio somewhere and insisted it be scrapped. Finally, with the production of Tattoo You, the song would be released as “Start Me Up” to tremendous success, reaching #2 on the Billboard pop charts, a position that the band would not reach or eclipse again in their lengthy career.
 

 
The remainder of the album comes from the sessions of those two most recent albums, Some Girls and Emotional Rescue. Most of these “songs” already had the instrument tracks recorded and just lacked vocals from Mick Jaggar. In fact, the bulk of the actual recording sessions for Tattoo You Jaggar was the only band member in attendance. The exceptions were “Neighbours” and “Heaven” which were the only brand new songs on the album.

Physical Graffiti Cover Building

However, even though the album was not constructed in a traditional fashion nor did it contain much up-to-date material, it certainly used cutting promotion. On August 1, 1981, MTV went on the air, a mere three weeks before the album’s release. The band would produce four videos to appear on the new network, including a rather creative one for “Neighbours” that plays off of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window and a memorable one for “Waiting For a Friend” that takes place in front of the same New York building featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

The use of this new cable medium, would bring this (then) twenty-year-old band front and center to a new generation of music fans, including myself. At thirteen, I believed this was all new material by the Rolling Stones, and I continued to believe so right up until earlier this week.

~

1981 Images

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

 

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Who’s Next by The Who

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Perhaps THE most complete rock album in history, Who’s Next has just about everything a classic rock fan can want in an album. It has plenty of three-chord power riffs, melodic piano ballads, cutting edge technological innovation, virtuoso performances, raw power, accessibility, depth, message, anthems, a nice balance between acoustic and electric, and an even nicer balance between electronic and analog. In total, this album by The Who is satisfying, wildly entertaining and hits its absolute peak at the very end.

That moment in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, set up by the then cutting edge synth, that lulls the listener into believing that the album is over and will simply fade away. But then comes a few drum hits (and with Keith Moon “a few” is perhaps 20 or 30), that build to a dramatic re-introduction and Rodger Daltry’s scream, and the keystone lyric of the entire album;

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”

This lyric stands completely alone on an island of sonic majesty that ends with the band working through the hammering, staccato ending chords. It is a true thing of beauty. So on this note, Classic Rock Review will grant our very first Album of the Year for the very first year we’ve covered, 1971 to the album Who’s Next by The Who.
 


Who’s Next by The Who
Released: August 14, 1971 (Decca/Polydor)
Produced by: Glyn Johns & The Who
Recorded: Pete Townshend & John Entwistle’s Home Studios, Olympic Studios, London, The Record Plant, New York, 1970 – 1971
Side One Side Two
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
Love Ain’t for Keeping
My Wife
The Song Is Over
Gettin’ In Tune
Going Mobile
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Band Musicians
Pete Townshend – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Daltrey – Vocals, Harp
John Entwistle – Bass, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

 
Who’s Next is pure authenticity. It is completely unaware of itself, built totally of the kinetic energy of the moment, it is neither calculated nor contrived. This is quite ironic when put in the light of how Who’s Next actually came along.

The album derived from a “concept album” idea by guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend. The title of this was to be Lifehouse, and it was started in 1970 as the follow up to the band’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy. The concept itself was futuristic and far out, so much so, in fact, that absolutely no one else in the band “got” it. This caused much friction and, according to Townshend himself, brought him to the verge of suicide.

After giving up on recording some of the Lifehouse tracks in New York, The Who went back to London to start over with a new producer, Glyn Johns. However, many elements from Lifehouse persisted through this new project. None more so than the heavy use of synthesizers by Townshend.

VCS-3 Synthesizer
VCS3 Synthesizer

The album starts with a song with a strange name and a strange sound. “Baba O’Riley” is a hybrid name, derived from the names of a guru and a friend, that starts with what must have been such a strange sound to listeners in 1971. It is an organ fed through a VCS3 synthesizer, physically played by Townshend, to come up with these strange, yet interesting, rotating patterns. It finally breaks in with the simplistic two chord riff – on piano then bass than guitar – that dominates the song, but does so much to hold together what is today a very familiar anthem with the central theme of “Teenage Wasteland”. The song climaxes with a violin solo by guest Dave Arbus, with a building rhythm behind it that works itself into a frenzy before coming to a climatic end on a single note.

All songs are written by Townshend except for “My Wife”, written and sung by bass player John Entwistle, a comical song that includes some brass played by Entwistle. The song is rare in that the bass line is almost normal, but this is easily accented by the frenzy of Moon’s drumming.

One of the most unique and endearing legacies of The Who, is the band’s frequent use of two lead vocalists (Daltry & Townshend) within a single song. It is a brilliant tactic that transforms the mood and temperament. This change is particularly dramatic in “The Song Is Over”, which alternates between a Townshend ballad and the Daltry-led majestic screed.

The Who in 1971

The rest of the album is filled with, enjoyable, pop-oriented songs. “Bargain” contains some pleasant guitar and synth motifs built on top of an acoustic riff. “Going Mobile” has a Woodstock-era, traveling the countryside vibe and a signature synth solo. “Love Ain’t for Keeping” contains harmonies and (gasp) almost a straight-played drum beat, while the ballads “Getting’ In Tune” and “Behind Blue Eyes” both contain some dramatic and theatrical bridge sections.

Which brings us back to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which starts awkwardly in the very first second, but there is not another unsure moment for the rest of this 8 ½ minute anthem. Years later, people would give punk credit for bring rock back to its roots, but isn’t that exactly the message in this song?

What started out as a “plan B” after a frustrating, failed project was spun into pure gold by the band that never shied away from taking chances on this album. As a result, The Who struck a chord that still resonates to this day, forty years later. We have no doubt it will continue to do so forty years from now.

~

1971 Images

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

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Sticky Fingers
by The Rolling Stones

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Sticky Fingers is the third of the trilogy of Rolling Stones albums that, in our opinion, comprise the heart of the band’s prime. The first two were Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Let It Bleed in 1969, which collectively provided the sessions from which three of the songs on this album originated. However, Sticky Fingers stands out from the rest by being a distinctly transitional album. It is the band’s first “independent” album on their own Rolling Stones label and it bridges the gap between their hit-making, English-sound of the 1960s and the more urban-American sounding Stones that would develop through the 1970s.

Further, this album is also one of the first that is a bit reflective of the sixties culture and attitudes, something that would be repeated by many others throughout the seventies. The large number of (mostly) negative references to drugs shows an awakening in response to the recent deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison and morbid wondering if there may be some among this band that will be next to go to the grave. This is also the first studio release since the 1969 debacle at Altamont, a festival which was supposed to be a west coast counterpart to Woodstock but ended up in a riot which resulted in the death of an audience member.

But the main reason for this transition is due to a major shift in personal, away from the band’s original leader Brian Jones, who was dismissed from the band in 1969 and then died mysteriously a few months later. Jones’ replacement was 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor, who makes his mark on Sticky Fingers as a suitable counterpart to Keith Richards.
 


Sticky Fingers by Rolling Stones
Released: April 23, 1971 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Alabama; Olympic Studios, London
March, 1969 – January, 1971
Side One Side Two
Brown Sugar
Sway
Wild Horses
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
You Gotta Move
Bitch
I Got the Blues
Sister Morphine
Dead Flowers
Moonlight Mile
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass, Piano
Charlie Watts – Drums

 
The song that elevates Sticky Fingers from a good album to a great album is “Wild Horses”. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in December 1969, this ode to heartbreak contains sweet excellent interplay between the electric and acoustics of Richards and Taylor, along with some of Mick Jaggar‘s finest lyrics ever;

“I’ve watched you suffer a dull aching pain / now you’ve decided to show me the same…”

The song was allegedly written about Marianne Faithfull, who played another large role on this album, as co-writer of the dark “Sister Morphine”, the oldest song on the album, dating back to March 1969, when Jaggar and Richards backed up Faithfull on what was originally a song of her own.

“Sister Morphine” is the first of the three songs that close the album with similar drugs n doom lyrical themes. The next is “Dead Flowers” which, although just as dark lyrically, is a nice upbeat and light departure from its melodramatic predecessor, even though Jaggar’s country voice is less than convincing. His voice is much more suited for the album’s fine closer, “Moonlight Mile”, a moody, melancholy, and slightly dark ballad that eases the listener out of the album. Like much of the album, it was recorded in March 1970 at Jaggar’s home at Stargroves and is the product of an all-night session between the singer and guitarist Mick Taylor after Keith Richards mysteriously disappeared from the sessions.

Aside from the country feel of “Dead Flowers”, the band experimented with a few other genres on Sticky Fingers. “You Gotta Move” is an attempt at 1930s Delta Blues, obviously in response to some of early work by Led Zeppelin. Another song, “I Got the Blues” is a better effort that tilts towards sixties soul and contains some excellent organ by guest Billy Preston.
 
Rolling Stones in 1971
 
The glue that holds the album together is three solid rockers built around Richards’ signature riffs. “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch” are quasi-twin songs that open each side to the upbeat, catchy vibe that made this band so popular in the first place. In fact, this was played out in real time as the opener actually hit #1 on the pop charts. And then there is the classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, a hybrid that goes from a rocker hitting on all cylinders that suddenly relents into a wild, five-minute instrumental section with guests Rocky Dijon on congas and Bobby Keys on saxophone, and a spacey, droning guitar section by Taylor.

Models of longevity, the Rolling Stones surely did some fine and interesting work over the years and decades that followed 1971. But they would never quite reach the level of Sticky Fingers again.

~

1971 Images

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

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Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart

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Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod StewartWith his solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, Faces lead singer Rod Stewart produced a unique and entertaining album, albeit strange in many ways. The album only really contained four original songs with the other six being covers, but it sounded completely original in the ways the songs were arranged and interpreted. It was done in a year when Faces would release two albums as a group, and each member of Faces contributed to this “solo” album. Guitarist Ronnie Wood and keyboardist Ian McLagan were featured prominently throughout. However, the album’s credits were very vague on some of the credits and recording information. The mandolin player who is front and center on a few tunes is referenced as; “the mandolin player in Lindisfarne” after Rod Stewart had forgotten his name (this was later revealed to be Ray Jackson of the folk-rock group Lindisfarne).

The album blends an incredible mixture of rock, folk, country, blues, and funk. Classical guitarist Martin Quittenton is front and center with his acoustic guitar through much of Every Picture Tells a Story, setting the tone for many of the other intruments and styles to blend along. While constantly alternating between originals and covers, there is a definite consistancy and flow to the album, which was once aptly described as “a romantic, earthy portrait of a young man joyously celebrating his young life”.
 


Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart
Released: July 9, 1971 (Mercury)Produced by: Rod Stewart
Recorded: Los Angles, November 1970
Side One Side Two
Every Picture Tells a Story
Seems Like a Long Time
That’s All Right
Amazing Grace
Tomorrow Is a Long Time
Henry
Maggie May
Mandolin Rain
(I Know) I’m Losing You
Reason To Believe
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Martin Quittenton – Acoustic Guitars
Ian McLagan – Organ, Piano
Ronnie Wood – Electric & Steel Guitars, Bass
Micky Waller – Drums

 
The album starts with the title song, “Every Picture Tells a Story”, which was written by Stewart and Ronnie Wood. A great song with excellent motion (in the music as well as the lyrics) that sets the pace for the feel of the album. Drummer Micky Waller Plays a strong and loose rhythm throughout as the song has a vibe of an improvised jam that comes together serendipitously. Theodore Anderson’s “Seems Like a Long Time” follows as a fine piano ballad with good lead guitars by Wood and nice distance effect on the vocal as the song persists.

The rest of side one works through original interpretations of standard covers. “That’s All Right”, made most famous by Elvis, contains a bluesy, slide acoustic intro to piano driven rocker. The traditional spiritual “Amazing Grace” is in the same bluesy vein and is mostly instrumental then one verse before end. Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” is a fine song to wrap up the side with acoustic, fiddle, and interesting vocals by Stewart as he tries to adopt a “Dylan-esque” accent but comes off sounding more like Johnny Cash.

Maggie May singleThe true genius of the album lies on side two with Quittenton leading the way with a short classical intro to “Maggie May”, which would become one of the most celebrated songs in rock history. Driven nicely with a bright acoustic in the forefront and a driving bass and organ heavy in mix, the song works through the entertaining story of a young man involved with an older woman. Initially released as a B-side (but with its total length), it soon became favorites of radio stations and fans across the world. After the many verses, the song breaks down to feature the solo mandolin of Ray Jackson which leads the song through the famous coda phase.

Jackson is also featured in “Mandolin Wind”, but as a more traditional mid-song solo. This final original by Stewart is a very calm and moody acoustic ballad with a stop/start format and some excellent over-layed guitars in the vein of some recent material by the Stones, giving the song a strong and unique edge. At about 4:50, the song becomes more intense and rock-oriented with the drums kicking in and bringing the song home.

The album concludes with a couple of remakes of sixties songs. “(I Know) I’m Losing You” was first recorded by the Temptations and includes a funk rock groove unlike anything else on the album, making for a nice change of pace. “Reason To Believe” was first recorded by folk singer Tim Hardin in 1965 and became a nice ballad to finish the album as well as a pop hit. The song was re-done by Stewart later in his career but the arrangement on this album, with the fine piano, organ, and fiddle, was the best by far.

Even though it was near the very beginning of a very long solo career, Every Picture Tells a Story would go on to be universally considered as Stewart’s masterpiece. It has timeless quality that introduces pop and rock fans to the best of folk, while still offering rich arrangement and production.

~

1971 Images

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

 

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Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic

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The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by TrafficTraffic reached a level of distinction with the second album of the second incarnation of the band (their fifth album overall). The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is a diverse and entertaining album that showcases the band at its absolute peak, but also forges a path as peculiar as the album’s title. The album follows-up 1970’s John Barleycorn Must Die and pretty much follows the same formula of a methodical mix of rock and slow fusion jazz, built mainly in the studio. Although it was not a rousing commercial success, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys was met with a great critical response.

The original phase of the band, led by Dave Mason was more rock and pop oriented than this second more experimental and progressive phase led primarily by Steve Winwood.

The band nearly broke up after Mason left the band in 1968. Winwood moved on to the super-group Blind Faith while the remaining members joined various other projects. Blind Faith disbanded after just one album and Winwood soon went to work on a solo album. He called in his former band mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood to help out but their contributions were so significant that it was decided that the project would become a Traffic album. Released in July, 1970, John Barleycorn Must Die was a surprise hit reaching #5 on the Billboard charts, and giving Traffic unexpected new life.
 


Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic
Released: November, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Steve Winwood
Recorded: Island Studios, London, September, 1971
Side One Side Two
Hidden Treasure
The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
Light Up or Leave Me Alone
Rock & Roll Stew
Many a Mile to Freedom
Rainmaker
Group Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Vocals
Jim Capaldi – Percussion, Vocals
Chris Wood – Flute, Saxophone
Ric Grech – Bass, Violin
Jim Gordon – Drums

 
While Traffic operated as a trio for Barleycorn, they became a quintet for the follow-up by adding Ric Grech, who played with Winwood in Blind Faith, on bass and Jim Gordon on drums. This not only gave the band a fuller sound, but also allowed them to branch out towards richer sub-genres, as showcased in the album’s title song.

This eleven and a half minute anthem draws deep influence from Mile Davis’ Bitches Brew, released just a year earlier, with a nice break towards standard rock for the choruses. The title of “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” has been the subject of much debate over the years, including references to many drug, but the lyrics suggest that it most likely is a direct shot at the music industry in general and the fad of glam rock in particular –

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced while you’re living beyond all your means and the man in the suit has just bought a new car from the profit he’s made on your dreams”

 

 
A commentary on commercialism of the industry, the artists are a means to a financial end, the creative process takes a back seat to profits, it can steal your pride, but it can’t take your spirit.

” But spirit is something that no one destroys.”

Listening to the album as a whole, which contains a mix of jazz, progressive, and classic rock, “Rock & Roll Stew” may have been a more appropriate title song. Along with “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, it is one of two songs where Capaldi takes over on lead vocals, a rarity on Traffic albums before or since. Both songs are also similar as straight up classic rock with some funk influence.

The rest of the album is at a calmer, more “mellow” pace, as set by the album’s opener, “Hidden Treasure”, with a jazzy piano, steady beat, and strategic flute motifs. “Many a Mile to Freedom” is a progressive rock “ballad” co-written by Winwood and Capaldi’s wife, Anna. It has a beautifully flowing style, accented by some soaring electric guitar, with the flute “floating” dreamily along with the lyrics –

“for together we flow like a river, together we melt like the snow…”

In all, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is a bold and creative album using the talents of each band member to their fullest, and showcases Traffic at their absolute peak.

~

1971 Images

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

 

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Fireball by Deep Purple

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I started this review planning to explain how this album set up Deep Purple for its, presumptively superior masterpiece, 1972’s Machine Head. But the more I’ve listened to Fireball in preparation for the review, the more I began to think that it may be just as good as it’s more famous and heralded successor. On this album, the band fuses influences from diverse contemporaries like Black Sabbath and The James Gang while perfecting their own distinct style, which they had started on the preceding album, Deep Purple In Rock.

Fireball contains seven songs, many of which are built around a basic riff and theme but extended by instrumental solo sections that are, in no way, boring or mundane. In most cases, these instrumentals are traded between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist John Lord, both virtuoso players with well-refined sounds. Bassist Roger Glover also gets involved with a solo of his own in the opening title song, “Fireball”.

However, the musician that shines the brightest on this album is drummer Ian Paice. Perhaps the most underrated drummer during the classic rock era, Paice may not quite reach the talents of Keith Moon or John Bonham, but he is certainly not too far behind. The 1971 album is far ahead of its time, as many of the styles and techniques would be echoed by countless “hair bands” in the 1980s. But Paice’s drumming gives Fireball an edge that those future efforts would not contain, as few drummers can match such skills, something that apparent right from the very start of the album with his double-kick beat that introduces “Fireball”.
 


Fireball by Deep Purple
Released: July, 1971 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, The Hermitage, & Olympic Studios, London
September, 1970 – July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Fireball
No, No, No
Demon’s Eye
Anyone’s Daughter
The Mule
Fools
No One Came
Musicians
Ian Gillan – Vocals
Jon Lord – Keyboards, Piano, Hammond Organ
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums

 
One of the signatures of this “Mark II” version of Deep Purple is that the songs possess great ambiance, Lead by the Blackmore/Lord, heavy guitar/distorted organ riffs. This ambiance makes a great canvas for the dynamic vocals of Ian Gillian. Although the “Mark I” version of the band put out three fine albums prior to his arrival in late 1969, Gillian proved to be the missing piece that completed the band and launched them into their finest run through the early seventies.
 

 
Surprisingly, the only “hit” song that came from these same recording sessions, “Strange Kind of Woman”, was left off the original album (it was added as a bonus track in later CD issues). Amazingly, aside from the title song and the bluesy “Demon’s Eye”, most of the original songs on Fireball remain unknown to anyone who doesn’t own actually the album, with little to no airplay on classic rock or AOR stations. So there are definitely some hidden gems to be discovered by the average listener.

“The Mule” is way ahead of it’s time. It fuses some clam 60s psychedelia with a wild, almost uncomfortable drum beat by Paice. “Fools” begins with a very calm, tension-building intro that harkens back to the earliest Deep Purple albums before launching into a crisp and heavy riff. It is surprising that this has not been redone. “No One Came” is a catchy, traveling-type groove, while “Anyone’s Daughter” is a surprising departure into country-rock with some slide guitar by Blackmore and an impressive, honky-tonk piano by Lord.

So, upon further review, Fireball is more than a mere stepping stone on the way to the masterpiece Machine Head, but is in fact a classic in its own right.

~

1971 Images

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

 

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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.

 

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Meddle by Pink Floyd

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Meddle by PinkFloydIn 1967, Pink Floyd released their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a fantastic work led by the talented songwriting of lead singer & guitarist Syd Barrett. That album launched the band into instant form of super-stardom at a very young age. However, soon after that album was released, Barrett went mad, became erractic, was fired from the band, and was replaced by his best friend and understudy David Gilmour. Over the next several years, the group experimented with differing sounds and textures, forging many great moments but nothing as cohesive and groundbreaking as their debut album.

In 1973, the band would put out their absolute classic The Dark Side of the Moon, analbum solidified the band as an essential group in classic rock and may be one of the greatest albums of all time. But The Dark Side of the Moon resembles in absolutely no way Pipet At the Gates of Dawn. There was a serious evolution that took place in the band during those six years. In that time in between, Pink Floyd but out an array of six or seven experimental, avant garde albums and movie soundtracks that slowly forged their sound towards that on The Dark Side of the Moon.

Perhaps more than any other album during that time period, 1971’s Meddle finds the happy medium that threads these two successful yet divergent eras of Pink Floyd. It contains enough experimental music to make it interesting to the art lover, just enough melodic songs to be liked by the pop music lover, and a few brilliant moments of theatrical rock n roll to make it collectible to those who love The Dark Side of the Moon.
 


Meddle byPink Floyd
Released: October 30, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road & Morgan Studios, London, January-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
One of These Days
A Pillow of Winds
Fearless
San Tropez
Seamus
Echoes
Group Musicians
 David Gilmour – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Vocals  

 
The first side of the album contains five standard-length tracks while the second contains the single, side long “Echoes”. This song forcasts much of what Pink Floyd would put out throughout the decade of the 1970s, save the shorter material on The Wall. The song begins with an experimental sound similar to a submarine “ping”, created by keyboardist Richard Wright, who fed a single note through a Leslie speaker. The song slowly works towards the standard verses and choruses before sliding into a very long “middle section” of blues jams and experimental passages then finally returning for a the last verse/chorus sequence. All in all it is a 23-minute piece.

Pink Floyd Meddle posterThe first side starts with the instrumental “One Of These Days”, which would become a concert staple for decades to come. It is driven by a constant buzzing bass, backwards-masked effects, and a howling guitar lead. The song explodes into a wind storm that leads into “A Pillow of Winds”, a soft acoustic love song much in the vein of those put out on albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. This second song could not be in more contrast to the first.

“Fearless” may be the best overall song on the album and talks about meeting challenges in the face of adversity. Musically it is highlighted by Gilmour’s calm yet strong guitar strumming and the odd beat from drummer Dave Mason. The odd ending to the song uses field recordings from an English soccer game, with fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry & the Pacemakers in a heavily reverberated, eerie fade-out. “San Tropez” is a jazz-inflected pop song with a shuffle tempo, composed and sang by Roger Waters. It adds yet another diverse dimension to the album with its easy-going crooner-like melody and atmosphere. Side one concludes with the throwaway “Seamus”, a pseudo-blues novelty song meant to be a humorous filler with an annoying, howling dog throughout. The song is often ranked as the worst song ever by dedicated Pink Floyd fans.

Pink Floyd in 1971

Meddle received generally positive critical reviews and was a moderately well seller on both sides of the Atlantic, Going platinum in bothe the US and the UK and reach #3 on the English charts. The band would put out a fine soundtrack album, Obscured By Clouds in 1972 before reach the heights with Dark Side in 1973.

~

1971 Images

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

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Straight Up by Badfinger

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Straight Up by Badfinger

After the success of their 1970 album No Dice, Badfinger finished recording its third album with Geoff Emerick as producer. But the tapes were rejected by their label, Apple Records. So one of the founders of the label, George Harrison (Apple was founded by all four Beatles), took over as producer of the album. This continued the long relationship that Badfinger had with the Beatles, starting with being the first artists signed to the Apple label. Paul McCartney wrote “Come and Get It”, which would become their first big hit. Members of Badfinger played on Harrison’s album All Things Must Pass, Ringo Starr‘s hit single “It Don’t Come Easy”, as well as John Lennon‘s album Imagine (check out our review of that album). In fact, the band’s name came from a working title of the Beatles hit “With a Little Help From My Friends” called “Bad Finger Boogie”.

Harrison himself would not be able to finish the album, as he needed to steer his efforts towards his benefit Concert for Bangladesh (where Badfinger also performed), so he turned production over to Todd Rundgren. The resulting album, Straight Up, contains such good pop craftsmanship that it sometimes feels like your listening to AM radio in the early 70s, with the diverse styles of pop that jump from one to another. This could be a double-edged sword, as the varying production methods may disrupts the overall “flow” of the album. But on the flip side, there are no bad songs among the dozen on this album – no filler or sub-standard songs – so there is always something rewarding upon multiple listens.

Further, although Badfinger is alleged to have grown to hate the Beatles comparisons with their own sound, they sure did not shy away from that musical pathway enough times on Straight Up.
 


Straight Up by Badfinger
Released: December 13, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison & Todd Rundgren
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & AIR Studios, London June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Take It All
Baby Blue
Money
Flying
I’d Die Babe
The Name of the Game
Suitcase
Sweet Tuesday Morning
Day After Day
Sometimes
Perfection
It’s Over
Band Musicians
Pete Ham – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Tom Evans – Bass, Vocals
Joey Molland – Guitar, Vocals
Mike Gibbons – Drums

 
Straight Up may have marked the pinnacle of Badfinger’s short but brilliant heyday. Tragedy would soon befall them in the years to come, especially after they left Apple for Warner Brothers in 1974, where they would make much more excellent music, most od which would get shelved due to legal problems originating from the manager, which ultimately led to the suicides of Ham (in 1975) and Evans (in 1983).

The album begins with a rather peculiar selection, the moody and melancholy “Take It All”, which is a fine number by Pete Ham, but not the usual upbeat song you expect to kickoff a rock n roll album. That upbeat song is the second track, “Baby Blue”, written by Ham and produced by Rundgren, with a complex yet catchy guitar riff and a simple, early-sixties-like drum beat performed by drummer Mike Gibbons.

Guitarist Joey Molland added a few of his own numbers with “Suitcase”, “Sweet Tuesday Morning”, and “Sometimes”, written in his own unique style, edgy and not quite like anything contemporary. Bass player Tom Evans also penned multiple songs on the album in a style loosely associated with John Lennon.

Day After Day single

However, Pete Ham was the true genius within Badfinger. Beyond the album’s first two songs, he wrote three other superb songs on Straight Up. Two of these – “Perfection” and “The Name of the Game” should have been big hits, while the third one, “Day After Day”, was one, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts. The song was not only produced by Harrison but also featured the ex-Beatle on lead guitar as well as Leon Russell on piano.

Some rock historians contend that Badfinger would have had much more success had they had come around five years earlier or five years later, but the early seventies were not very receptive to their Beatle-esque pop songs. Whether this is true or not, we can certainly appreciate them now from the vantage point of four decades in the future.

~

1971 Images

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

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