Nimrod by Green Day

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

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

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


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

Nimrod by Green Day

 

 

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

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

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

Green Day 1997

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

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

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

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1997 Images

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

 

Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Grateful Dead in 1977

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

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

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1977 Images

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

 

Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring

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Ixnay On the Hombre by The OffspringIn their prime, The Offspring‘s music found the sweet spot somewhere between hard rock and hardcore. Their 1997 fourth overall release and major label debut, Ixnay on the Hombre, features a diverse collection of songs which range from thrashing punk to moody and philosophical rock to the occasional bit of light comical fare. The resulting album found both critical acclaim and worldwide commercial success, as it sold over three million copies across the globe.

After the massive commercial success of their previous album, Smash in 1994, the band was the biggest act on the small Epitaph label. They eventually decided to leave the label and signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, but not before they bought out the rights to their 1989 debut album and re-released it.

The Offspring entered the studio in mid 1996 with producer Dave Jerden and recorded close to twenty songs from the sessions. This was eventually pared back to a dozen album tracks along with a couple of spoken word novelty tracks.


Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring
Released: February 4, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden
Recorded: Eldorado Recording Studios, Hollywood, California
Track Listing Group Musicians
Disclaimer
The Meaning of Life
Mota
Me and My Old Lady
Cool to Hate
Leave It Behind
Gone Away
I Choose
Intermission
All I Want
Way Down the Line
Don’t Pick It Up
Amazed
Change the World
Dexter Holland – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kevin Wasserman – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Kriesel – Bass, Vocals
Ron Welty – Drums, Vocals

 

Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring

 

The album begins with one of the spoken word tracks, “Disclaimer”, a sarcastic dissertation on warning labels recited by Jello Biafra. The music starts with “The Meaning of Life”, a rapid punk/pop track which sets the pace for much of the material on the album. After a unique percussive intro by Ron Welty, “Mota” breaks out with a hard-edged ska feel throughout with definite punk overtones and good, edgy rudiments.

Most of the material on the album was written by lead vocalist Dexter Holland, who belts his signature story-telling lyrical rants and unique wails later on the track “Me and My Old Lady”, which also features a really cool groove and is the best song of the early part of album. Unfortunately, this is followed by two of the more forgettable tracks, “Cool to Hate”, which tries to be high-school anthemic, and “Leave It Behind” a standard and forgettable song.

The Offspring

The heart of Ixnay On the Hombre starts with “Gone Away”, an interesting, grunge-inspired track with differing vibes and textures. Greg Kriesel‘s bass fueled verses tradeoff with the piercing guitar riff interludes of Kevin Wasserman on this top Mainstream Rock Track. “I Choose” was another hit from the album built on the fantastic funky riffing and rhythms with Kriesal and Welty’s bass and drums complementing the charged electric riffs by Wasserman, who later provides a traditional hard rock guitar lead.

“Intermission” provides a true point of levity to usher in the latter part of the album, which includes the fastest punk track “All I Want”, the eclectic track “Way Down the Line”, and “Don’t Pick It Up”, an entertaining mixture of ska and surf rock. “Amazed” is another quality track, almost as good as the earlier hits, while the closer “Change the World” comes just a little short of greatness due to the tense punk beat which detracts from the otherwise fine melody and bass line.

Ixnay on the Hombre reached the Top Ten of the US album charts and The Offspring toured relentlessly throughout the world to promote the record.

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1997 Images

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

 

Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

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Mechanical Resonance by TeslaMechanical Resonance is the 1986 debut album by hard rock quintet Tesla. The original album sides were distinctive in approach, with the first side containing garden-variety hair-metal anthems complete with easily chant-able hooks. The second side features more mature and original compositions which, ironically, found much greater popularity at the time and persist to the modern day.

Hailing from in Sacramento, California the group originated from an early eighties band called City Kidd, formed by guitarist Frank Hannon bassist Brian Wheat. Later vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta joined the group that gained popularity through the mid 1980s, leading to a record deal with the Geffen label.

During recording of this debut with producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the band members decided to change their name in honor of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla and the title Mechanical Resonance comes from one of the scientist’s experiments. During this time, the group also began to migrate their sound in a ‘rootsier’ direction.

 


Mechanical Resonance by Tesla
Released: December 8, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York, 1986
Side One Side Two
EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin’ Atcha Live
Gettin’ Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We’re No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Changes
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes
Group Musicians
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Wheat – Bass, Vocals
Troy Luccketta – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “EZ Come EZ Go”features a staccato bass entry by Wheat accompanying a steady drum beat and a blistering guitar lead to open the album on a high musical note. It soon settles into a quasi-melodramatic setting with Keith’s voice and heart beat-like bass thumps before the song finally gets to the hook, which is almost an afterthought compared to the other sonic elements. “Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with another dramatic guitar lead-in with the overall vibe being similar to classic Van Halen with an upbeat jam.

“Gettin’ Better” is the best song on the first side and it starts with nice finger-picked soft intro where Hannon’s delicate playing and Keith’s soulful vocals shine. It then breaks into a riff-driven rocker with a thematic chant for the rest of the song. “2 Late 4 Love” starts with a drum roll by Luccketta along with some guitar effects for another dramatic entry, but becomes rather ordinary beyond this.  “Rock Me to the Top” is co-written by Skeoch and the contrast in style is evident musically with its slightly darker textures. “We’re No Good Together” is the album’s first power ballad and is slow-dance ready with a slow beat and bluesy rock guitar licks. Midway through, the song takes a pleasantly surprising sonic turn and becomes an excitable, upbeat blues rock jam for the duration.

Tesla in 1986

The heart of album is the first three songs on side two, starting with their popular anthem, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Composition wise, this is more thorough than anything else on the album with acoustic and electric textures throughout, dark imagery, and a great melody and hooks. “Changes” starts with a classical piano intro before a choppy guitar riff introduces the dramatic song proper. This emotionally charged song crafts a great sonic atmosphere and a line from this track was ultimately used for the group’s greatest hits collection a decade later. The album’s only cover is “Little Suzi”, an expert acoustic/electric adaptation of the early eighties synth song by Ph.D. It starts with a really cool acoustic folk intro, while later the song has a methodical but powerful drive of multiple textures all held together with Wheat’s bass

“Love Me” is a pure riff-driven rocker with Keth’s vocals soaring over the methodical music and beats, in a style which sounds like it could have been a really big hit a few years earlier. The bridge section adds a surprise with some talk box while the later lead has nice blend of harmonized guitars. Winding down the album, “Cover Queen” features a slightly interesting arrangement, while the closer “Before My Eyes” has a doomy and dramatic intro where the group’s talents are given space to shine a bit as the song unfolds slowly and leaves plenty of room for instrumental atmosphere.

Mechanical Resonance reached the Top 40 on the US album charts and was certified platinum by the end of the decade. Tesla would reach even greater success with their next album, Great Radio Controversy, but still hold this debut in such regard that they released Mechanical Resonance Live in August 2016.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Trial By Fire by Journey

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Trial by Fire by JourneyFor Journey‘s most avid fans, the 1996 album Trial By Fire may be best described as one last guilty dip into the group’s heyday of the previous decade. With that in mind, it’s really a shame that the music here nods back to the group’s post-fame eighties rather than the far superior pre-fame late seventies sound. In any case, this was the first time in a dozen years that the five-piece lineup which brought Journey its greatest success got together to make a record.

Following the phenomenal success of 1981’s Escape and Frontiers along with the subsequent major tours, Journey took some extended time off. Lead vocalist Steve Perry released his debut solo album while guitarist Neal Schon participated in the short-lived “super group” HSAS, fronted by Sammy Hagar. Turmoil ensued during the recording of their next album, Raised On Radio in 1986, as bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith were dismissed from the band due to “musical and professional differences”. Although that album was a commercial success, Perry went on an indefinite hiatus, leaving the group in limbo for several years.

In the early 1990s, keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined Schon, Valory and Smith for a series of tribute concerts. This indirectly led to the early 80s lineup of Perry, Schon, Cain, Valory and Smith reuniting in 1995 and recording this new album with producer Kevin Shirley in 1996, making it the first new Journey album in 10 years.


Trial by Fire by Journey
Released: October 22, 1996 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Shirley
Recorded: Ocean Way Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA, The Site and Wildhorse Studios, Marin County, CA, Summer 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Message of Love
One More
When You Love a Woman
If He Should Break Your Heart
Forever In Blue
Castles Burning
Don’t Be Down on Me Baby
Still She Cries
Colors of the Spirit
When I Think of You
Easy to Fall
Can’t Tame the Lion
It’s Just the Rain
Trial by Fire
Baby I’m a Leavin’ You
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

Trial by Fire by Journey

The group’s core members of Perry, Schon and Cain wrote the bulk of the songs on Trial by Fire. One of the few exceptions is the opening “Message Of Love”, which was co-written by lyricist John Bettis. The song swells in with some backwards-masked voices before strong beat-driven, perfectly fine, albeit ultra-ordinary pop song. This is an interesting slight nod back to the 1983 hit “Separate Ways” just prior to Schon’s lead guitar. “One More” starts with a movie-like string arrangement by David Campbell before breaking into Valory’s bass-driven rhythm to accompany Perry’s interesting and slightly dark vocal melody. “When You Love A Woman” is a classic Journey ballad with rocking piano, strategic guitar overtones and soulful/romantic vocals. The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as becoming a Top 10 hit on the American pop charts, the group’s last such hit to date.

“If He Should Break Your Heart” continues the parade of slick, love-oriented songs and, while the theme is unoriginal, this one takes on a pleasant mellow rock vibe musically. On “Forever In Blue”, the verse music is driven by a spunkier, choppy guitar riff with some fine snare clicks by Smith, For his part, Perry does get a bit soulfully strained as the song goes on, which works to add a bit of authenticity to the sound. Schon provides a wah-wah fused blues guitar between each verse line of “Castles Burning”, along with a later simple but exciting, squeaky rotating riff over the bridge to bring the song to a higher sonic level. This sparks the best sequence on the album with “Don’t Be Down On Me Baby” laid out like a classic Soul ballad with a simple, rotating piano phrase accompanied by Perry’s soaring lead vocals and “Still She Cries” featuring nicely picked guitar motifs in intro sets before the mood settles with steady rhythms throughout this ballad.

Journey in 1996

Unfortunately, there are many superfluous songs beyond this point. “Colors of the Spirit” does employ world-music inspired sounds through its long, jungle-like intro before unfortunately reverting back to standard fonts for the song proper. “When I Think of You” is, perhaps, the nadir of album as an uninspired ballad, while “Easy to Fall” only works later on with some fine, bluesy/jazz guitar work by Schon. “Can’t Tame the Lion” is a pure rock song that remain upbeat and rocking throughout before the mood is once again brought down with the ballad “It’s Just the Rain”. The title track, “Trial By Fire”, provides welcome relieve by this point of the Goliath-length album as Smith provides some odd beats accompanying Valory’s cool bass and Schon’s jazzy guitar for an overall fine vibe, while the “hidden” “Baby I’m a Leavin’ You” features a heavy Caribbean-influence with musical flourishes and a nice, light way to complete the album.

Trial By Fire reached #3 on the album charts and Journey appeared to be back in top commercial form as they prepared for a subsequent tour> However, Perry injured himself during a hiking, rendering him unable to perform for over a year. By 1998, both Perry and Smith were out of the group and Journey continued as a patchwork band into the new century.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Blue by Joni Mitchell

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Blue by Joni MitchellThe fourth album by Joni Mitchell, the 1971 release Blue, saw the folk singer reach her highest critical acclaim. The album employs sparse musical arrangements leaning heavily towards the folk genre, with Mitchell playing acoustic guitar, piano, or dulcimer as the primary instrument to accompany her vocals. Lyrically, each of the songs on Blue hone in on a specific feeling, situation or, in many cases, a specific person.

A Canadian native, Mitchell first sang publicly at bonfires before finally pursuing a paid gig at a folk and jazz club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1962. She intended to pursue a career in art rather than music, but grew disillusioned by the priority given to technical skill over creativity in art school, so she migrated several times (to Toronto, Detroit, New York, and finally Los Angeles) in pursuit of a career as a folk singer. Before receiving widespread notoriety as a performer, Mitchell had success as a composer by writing several songs made popular by other artists, most notably Judy Collin’s Top 10 hit “Both Sides Now” in 1967. The following year, Mitchell released her debut album, Song to a Seagull, followed by Clouds in 1969 and Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, with each release being more popular and critically acclaimed than its predecessor.

Mitchell decided to stop touring for a year and focus solely on writing and painting. During this time she also took an extended tour of Europe, which was fertile ground for some of the “travelogue” songs that would appear on Blue. After recording in early 1971, an original version of the album was set for release in March but Mitchell decided to replace two of the songs with last minute compositions, delaying the album’s release until June.


Blue by Joni Mitchell
Released: June 22, 1971 (Reprise)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles, 1971
Side One Side Two
All I Want
My Old Man
Little Green
Carey
Blue
California
This Flight Tonight
River
A Case of You
The Last Time I Saw Richard
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Dulcimer
James Taylor – Guitars
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

On of the last minute additions to the album, “All I Want” starts this off with a bright and heavy use of an Appalachian dulcimer and is presented as a pop/folk song with great melody. “My Old Man” follows as the first of several solo piano tune which was presumably written about Mitchell’s former love interest Graham Nash. The sad but beautiful “Little Green” is the first true folk tune on the album, utilizing an Open G tuning to give each note a clean, ringing sound. The song was originally written in 1967 and cryptically spoke of Mitchell’s daughter who she gave up for adoption in 1965 and did not reveal to the world until decades later.

“Carey” is an upbeat tune with a much richer arrangement than most of the tracks on the album. Mitchell’s vocals and dulcimer are backed by bass from Stephen Stills and slight percussion by Russ Kunkel. In a way, the music on this track previews some of Mitchell’s more complex material later in the seventies, while the lyrics straddle the line between idealism and material comfort. The slow and melancholy, piano-fused title track finishes the first side as a slightly anti-drug, “the party’s over” type of lament.

Joni Mitchell in 1971

“California” features a cool acoustic by Mitchell and James Taylor, on top of which the singer employs plenty of lyrical and dynamic improvising. The song’s lyrical theme is based on her longing for home while traveling in France. “This Flight Tonight” has a darker acoustic feel with a descending chord structure in the pre-chorus. The lyric tell of the singer’s regrets as she departs on a flight and the song was later rearranged into a hard rock classic by the band Nazareth.

“River” is a Mitchell solo piano ballad, which borders on being a Christmas song. It is told from the perspective of a person in a warm climate, longing for the cold and frozen ‘river” through poetic and inventive lyrics, with Mitchell slightly incorporating “Jingle Bells” on the ending piano. “A Case of You” is a methodical solo acoustic track with a subtle, second guitar by Taylor and features joyous, love-themed lyrics synonymous of “drinking in” a person like beer or whisky. The album concludes with “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, a piano ballad with ethereal vocals and lyrics which document Joni’s brief marriage to Chuck Mitchell while struggling to be a folk singer in the mid 1960s.

Beyond its many subsequent accolades, Blue was also a commercial success in its time, reaching #15 in the US and #3 in the UK. With the album’s success, Mitchell decided to return to live touring and continued on to develop some of the most interesting music of her career.

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1971 Images

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

Odelay by Beck

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Odelay by BeckOdelay is a rich sonic tapestry which incorporates elements of grunge, punk, folk, country, blues, rap and other elements, including a heavy use of sampling from established songs. The album was the fifth overall and second major label release for Beck and became his breakthrough effort into mainstream critical and commercial success. Overall, this record is an eclectic, zig-zagging experience which seems to employ an effort to include something for various groups of musical fans.

A pre-high school drop out from Los Angeles, Beck Hanson worked a stream of menial jobs while trying to establish a career as a folk and blues performer in the late 1980s. After migrating to New York, Beck became involved in the East Village’s anti-folk scene and began to write free-associative songs. In 1992, he recorded the experimental, hip-hop infused anthem, “Loser”, which was released as a limited, 500-copy single in early 1993 but received heavy radio play and topped the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Between 1993 and 1994, Beck released three independent albums; Golden Feelings, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, and One Foot In the Grave; as well as the major-label debut Mellow Gold in 1994. Beck also began performing on major tours and festivals, a workload which made it quite ironic that he was deemed king of “the slacker generation”.

In its original sessions, Odelay was slated to be an acoustic-driven album. Eventually, Beck abandoned this approach and enlisted the Dust Brothers (E.Z. Mike Simpson and “King Gizmo”) as co-producers, who infused their heavily-treated, layered percussive back-beats to many of the tracks. Odelay was also the first full-fledged production where Beck had the time and budget to indulge in compositional creativity.


Odelay by Beck
Released: June 18, 1996 (DGC)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & The Dust Brothers
Recorded: various studios, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Devils Haircut
Hotwax
Lord Only Knows
The New Pollution
Derelict
Novacane
Jack-Ass
Where It’s At
Minu
Sissyneck
Readymade
High 5 (Rock the Catskills)
Ramshackle
Beck Hanson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Harmonica, Percussion
Mike Boito – Keyboards, Trumpet
Joey Waronker – Drums, Percussion

Odelay by Beck

Most of the songs on Odelay were co-written by Beck, John King and Michael Simpson, starting with “Devils Haircut”. This opener features a heavy rock riff with the first of many sampled electronic rhythms, complete with well-placed sound effects between the verses and choruses. “Hotwax” changes direction with a bluesy acoustic intro, soon joined by electric elements in an enjoyable groove through the heart of the song as well as a slightly hip-hop vocal approach by Beck. “Lord Only Knows” replicates the Rolling Stones’ many renditions of country/rock, especially in the vocal delivery and upbeat acoustic rhythms with slide electric overtones. “The New Pollution” is a basic, repetitive sample song with a decent vocal melody until the mid-section, which includes a distant saxophone and some good keyboard effects, while “Derelict” features a longer and more complex repeating percussive pattern in trying to accomplish a certain dark vibe. “Novacane” is the first track on the album which goes full hip-hop, excessive scratching et all.

The album regains focus with the sixties flavored folk/pop, “Jack-Ass”. Featuring a good mixture of acoustic and electric guitars and a sharp xylophone pattern. This song samples a cover of the classic “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, originally by Bob Dylan on the album Bringing It All Back Home. The even more popular,
“Where It’s At”, features a great, laid back electric piano during intro and verse before launching into full robotic hip-hop chorus chant as a nice fusing of genres. The song was written and first performed in 1995, and features some of the better lyrics and rhyming on the album;

Pick yourself up, off the side of the road, with your elevator bones and your whip-flash tones / Members only, hypnotizers, move through the room like ambulance drivers…”

“Minus” is a track that is a bit different, production wise, as it gets into a decent but thick rock groove before unfortunately breaking apart near the end. The whistling intro of “Sissyneck” soon breaks into a quasi-country/rap, which is at once stylistic but also partially farcical. Ultimately, the fine slide steel guitar by guest Gregory Liesz makes this song worthwhile as a fine listen.

Beck

The album wraps up unevenly with its three final disparate tracks. “Readymade” delves back into the avante garde, driven by Beck’s bass and guitar rhythms and vocal melody along with short flourishes of interesting lead instruments. “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” is the dreadful nadir of the album as a kitsch hip-hop rendition which detracts from the finer elements of the album. The album concludes with the excellent dark ballad “Ramshackle”, with a laid back acoustic arrangement and slightly harmonized vocals during the choruses that sweeten it up just enough to make it all soar.

Odelay was a Top 20, platinum selling album on both sides of the Atlantic and received several Grammy nominations in years subsequent to its release. In the wake of its release, the album at once propelled Beck’s career and opened up scrutiny on the legalities of album sampling use in new albums, which pretty much assured that this exact approach would not be replicated again.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

 

Fly Like An Eagle by
Steve Miller Band

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Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller BandWith his ninth studio release, Steve Miller struck commercial gold in the quadruple platinum selling 1976 album, Fly Like An Eagle. The music on the album moves through phases of psychedelic-folk, acid-blues, soul, blue grass and other types of roots genres, while the lyrical melodies and hooks help to maintain a pop-centric sensibility which results in a very accessible, catchy and easy listen throughout.

Miller formed the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco in the late 1960s as a psychedelic/blues group and soon negotiated a fairly lucrative five album deal with Capitol/EMI in 1967. Those five albums were recorded and released within a relatively short period of time (1968-1971) to mixed commercial success. The better tracks from these five were rolled into the 1972 double album compilation, Anthology. The following year, the group went through a major change in personnel as well as musical approach for the chart-topping album The Joker.

As producer of Fly Like An Eagle, Miller entered the studio in 1975 with bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber and ultimately recorded enough material for a double length LP. Miller instead opted to release two single albums concurrently, with Book of Dreams following a year later in May 1977.

 


Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 20, 1976 (Capital)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Space Intro
Fly Like an Eagle
Wild Mountain Honey
Serenade
Dance, Dance, Dance
Mercury Blues
Take the Money and Run
Rock n’ Me
You Send Me
Blue Odyssey
Sweet Maree
The Window
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

 

Miller’s synth arpeggios using an ARP Odyssey machine set the mood for the title track, “Fly Like an Eagle”. Slow and soulful, the track musically features Miller’s slightly funky intro guitar riff and the choppy Hammond B3 organ by Joachim Young. Miller’s lead vocals and hook carry this Top 5 song best with a soaring sensation to match the song’s title and the slightest recurring synths for effect. Written by Steve McCarty, “Wild Mountain Honey” enters from the dissolve of a previous track as a psychedelic folk song with Eastern influence. A synth lead over subtle percussion, with the slightest flavoring of sitar. this song is a bit elongated to absorb the full vibe and complete this smooth but psychedelic opening sequence.

“Serenade” is a transition tune, as an adventurous, driving strummed folk/rock song with harmonized vocals throughout, which works to ease the album’s sound down towards the roots music to follow. On “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the album takes a radical turn away from the mid-seventies space/pop towards a pure blue grass diddy with multiple acoustic instrument textures. This track was co-written by Joseph and Brenda Cooper and features an authentic lead dobro by John McFee as the musical highlight of this hoe-down. The cover of the 1940s song “Mercury Blues” follows and is delivered in an effective way which maintains its original R&B feel while subtly adding mid-seventies rock elements. The popular “Take the Money and Run” commences side two by continuing the “down home” sequence. An anthem for the slacker outlaw, this catchy and upbeat tune features slight chanting lyrics and excellent drumming by Mallaber throughout, with Miller delivering a thick and chorded guitar which works with the sharp and dynamic beats.

Steve Miller Band in 1970s

The aptly titled pure pop/rocker “Rock n’ Me” flew to the top of the charts as an inversion of Free’s earlier hit “All Right Now”. The rock guitar riff sets the edge before the song proper utilizes deadened classic rock chord patterns all under the exceptional vocal melodies and a traditional tourist effect lyric, which names several American cities along the way. After a forgettable rendition of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”, the album recovers with a couple of interesting tracks. “Sweet Maree” is an authentic acoustic blues with a wild harmonica by James Cotton. This song keeps a very basic arrangement through several distinct sections with only some fine electric blues guitar and slight tambourine percussion joining the ever-present acoustic and harmonica. The closing track, “The Window”, slowly swells into a soulful organ/acoustic groove with sonic textures similar to the title song, book-ending the album in a fine, consistent way.

Fly Like An Eagle was a hit worldwide, peaking at #3 in Miller’s native USA. The following year’s Book of Dreams was a similar success, making the mid-to-late seventies the most successful phase of Miller’s long career.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Load by Metallica

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Load by MetallicaFive years in the making, Metallica took a semi-radical turn on their sixth studio album, Load. The album incorporates elements of alternative rock, blues, southern rock and even country while remaining rooted in the group’s traditional brand of heavy metal. While this musical progression caused a bit of controversy among long time fans, the album was an immediate commercial hit and was their fastest selling out of the gate.

The group’s 1991 breakthrough, Metallica (“The Black Album”), brought Metallica to the mainstream and sparked several years of touring throughout the world, including a headlining slate at Woodstock ’94. In the summer of 1995, the group took a short break before returning to the studio later that year.

Songs for the album were mainly written by lead vocalist / guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett played a large role in shaping the sonic direction of Load with the many guitar styles and textures. The album was produced by Hetfied, Ulrich and Bob Rock, who was instrumental in migrating the band’s sound closer to the mainstream.


Load by Metallica
Released: June 4, 1996 (Elektra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: The Plant Studios, Sausalito, CA, May 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Ain’t My Bitch
2 X 4
The House Jack Built
Until It Sleeps
King Nothing
Hero of the Day
Bleeding Me
Cure
Poor Twisted Me
Wasting My Hate
Thorn Within
Ronnie
The Outlaw Torn
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Guitars
Jason Newsted – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums

Load by Metallica

The strongest trait of Load‘s nearly eighty minute odyssey is how cohesive the album is in spite of its abundance of genres and tones. The opener “Ain’t My Bitch” is nearly a pure pop/rocker with choppy riff and rhythms, which made it a hit on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts. “2 X 4” starts with Ulrich’s drum intro into a slightly bluesy hard rock, featuring slide guitars by Hammett. “The House Jack Built” goes through several distinct sections as the song unfolds, with a very theatrical feel overall. Sound effects from Hammett’s guitar act as a dramatic guide throughout, climaxing with a wild talk-box lead section.

“Until It Sleeps” starts with fretless bass section by Jason Newsted before it breaks into the melodic verses. The picked electric riff throughout is the highlight of this track, which remains laid back and moderate throughout and became Metallica’s first and only Top 10 hit on the pop charts. “King Nothing” starts with wild feedback effect before Newstead’s driving bass ushers in the building main riff, in an arrangement very similar (right down to the middle nursery rhyme section) to “Enter Sandman” from the previous album. In all, this is the most traditional-sounding and raw song on the album thus far.

The best overall track on the album, “Hero of the Day” is built on Hammett’s simple but brilliant guitar pattern and executed with differing arrangement elements from heavy rock to strummed acoustic with electric accents. The later lead section is equally simple but ever more excellent and the song ends in hard-rock crescendo making it an instant classic which still sounds potent 20 years later. The picked guitar and bass intro of “Bleeding Me” shows the band pointing towards an alternative rock / grunge approach, in the same manner as bands like Alice in Chains. This song remains fairly moderate and consistent until about 5 minutes in, when it takes a more direct, metal approach for the duration. On the eighties-flavored “Cure”, the guitar textures are fairly interesting but the composition itself is rather weak, while “Poor Twisted Me” has guitar tones which fall somewhere between Van Halen and ZZ Top reaching legit rock heights towards the end, making it an overall fine track. “Wasting My Hate” starts as pure upbeat blues before breaking into an intense hard rocker with cool, returning riffs.

Metallica in 1996

Hetfield wrote the ballad “Mama Said” about his difficult relationship with his mother, who died of cancer when he was 16 years old and is a real heartfelt folk song by Hetfield with emotional intensity throughout. Acoustic throughout, when this song fully kicks in, it is almost country with pedal steel and later a heavier slide guitar, while the bridge contains further layered guitars and harmonized vocals. On “Thorn Within”, the group returns to a slow metal format with multiple riff variations, not as strong as this album’s best, but certainly not a throwaway track either. “Ronnie” works its way in with an excellent, bluesy riff and keep the simple blues/rock anthem feel throughout. While the song is five minutes long and repetitive, it never gets stale because if its excellent execution and tonal qualities, making it a highlight of the latter part of the album. Unfortunately, the album concludes with the unfocused and bloated “The Outlaw Torn”, a nearly ten-minute droning and slightly interesting track, which is far from the best way to complete the album.

Load debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts and went on to top charts in over a dozen countries around the globe. Metallica’s momentum continued as they headlined Lollapalooza in mid-1996 and followed-up with the 1997 “sequel” album, Reload, which featured many tracks started during the production of this album.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

 

Bringing Down the Horse
by The Wallflowers

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Bringing Down The Horse by The WallflowersThe Wallflowers struck a fine chord with their second LP, Bringing Down the Horse. The songs on the album were all composed by front man Jakob Dylan and the musical arrangements featured an array of acoustic instrumentation – including 6-string acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro and pedal steel – complementing the core “electric” rock timbres and rhythms. In all, this roots rock sound led to much critical and commercial success as the album went triple platinum and was nominated for multiple Grammy awards.

The group was formed in New York in 1988 by Dylan and guitarist Tobi Miller, originally using the name “The Apples”. The group went through several lineup migrations, with keyboardist Rami Jaffee joining in 1990 after the group migrated to Los Angeles and changed their name to The Wallflowers. The following year the group was signed to Virgin Records and released their self-titled debut in 1992. While reviews for the album were mostly positive, sales were slow and soon the group split with Virgin and reverted back to playing LA-area clubs. During this time, Greg Richling became the group’s permanent bassist while drummer Peter Yanowitz departed, leaving the group without a full-time drummer. Still, The Wallflowers signed with Interscope Records and began preparing for their second album.

After the group sent demos to several producers, T Bone Burnett was impressed and agreed to produce the album. Burnett enlisted Matt Chamberlain on drums throughout the recording sessions as well as several other guest musicians and backing vocalists to help enrich the group’s sound. Due to the long duration between the band’s first and second albums, songs on Bringing Down the Horse were composed over a long span, dating back to the late 1980s.


Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: T Bone Burnett
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Groove Masters, & O’Henry Sound Studios, Los Angeles, Brooklyn Studios, Brooklyn, NY, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
One Headlight
6th Avenue Heartache
Bleeders
Three Marlenas
The Difference
Invisible City
Laughing Out Loud
Josephine
God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
Angel On My Bike
I Wish I Felt Nothing
Jakob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Michael Ward – Guitars
Rami Jaffee – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Richling – Bass
Matt Chamberlain – Drums
 
Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers

The album begins with its two biggest commercial and radio hits. “One Headlight” marches in with a steady, rhythmic thump, accented by alternating licks from Jaffee’s Hammond B3 organ and the lead guitar of guest Jon Brion. The song’s title was inspired by the band’s leaner days, when they were able to move on in spite of less than stellar support. Methodical and melodic throughout, this song was an instant classic in the late nineties and remains so today. “6th Avenue Heartache” dates back to the band’s earliest days and was written by Dylan in 1988 about a homeless man on his street. Musically, Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) provides the perfect lead guitar above the simple, acoustic and bluesy rhythm of the song. Repetitive to be sure, but to great effect as this song never seems to linger too long.

“Bleeders” features a bright acoustic and is upbeat but not over the top. Later there is an interesting duo organ/guitar lead during the short bridge. “Three Marlenas” is built on three basic strummed chords, which set the scene for Dylan’s folk-like storytelling about basic domestic situations and multiple personalities. “The Difference” was another hit as an upbeat, frenzied rocker with a distinct guitar riff and good harmonies through the pre-choruses, with Richling’s bass assuming control during the track’s driving choruses. “Invisible City” is a slow ballad with Dylan’s subtle acoustic contrasting Chamberlain’s up-front drum beat, while “Laughing Out Loud” features twangy guitars and folksy pop/rock lyrics and melodies.

The Wallflowers in 1996

“Josephine” brings things back down as a slow ballad with differing soundscapes and levels of intensity for mood effect. Ward provides a short but excellent bluesy guitar lead and reprise during the outtro. Alternating back uptempo, “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” is Southern-flavored rock. “Angel on My Bike” is the best candidate for an accessible hit song late in the album as it features all The Wallflower special ingredients – strummed acoustic, ethereal electric, Hammond organ, thumping bass, animated drums and melodic and catchy vocals. The piano lead makes this a bit different than earlier songs as well as the good musical interludes and overall vibe, which is at once melancholy and celebrational. For the closer, “I Wish I Felt Nothing”, the group goes full-fledged country/waltz with Leo LeBlanc adding a fantastic pedal steel slide, giving the song some real flavor and completing this fine album on a sweet note.

Bringing Down the Horse reached the Top 10 in both the US and Canada and it remains the group’s highest-selling album to date. Following its release, The Wallflowers toured extensively and their popularity continued to ascend for several years leading up to the new millennium.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.