Abbey Road by The Beatles

1969 Album of the Year

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Abbey Road by The BeatlesShort of careers cut short by tragedy, there are very few times in rock history where a band or artist finished with their greatest work. Abbey Road, the eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles, is one such occasion. Released in October of 1969, This album marks the last true collaboration all four Beatles in the studio with producer George Martin (Let It Be was released in April of 1970, weeks before the Beatles broke up, it was mostly recorded prior to any Abbey Road recording sessions). This final effort with their classic producer and at the studio they would make famous, Abbey Road would go on to tremendous popularity and critical success and become our of the Year for 1969.

It is no secret that the Beatles were going through internal turmoil later in their career. Having lost the glue that held them together, manager Brian Epstein just two years earlier, the band had been going through personal and financial struggles. The strained business relationship was complicated by the addition of John Lennon‘s new love interest, Yoko Ono, who was a constant presence in their recording sessions. During a break in recording in March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and when Lennon returned from his honeymoon, he approached Paul McCartney with a song he had written about the occasions called “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The song was immediately recorded without George Harrison or Ringo Starr, who were both away from London when Lennon had his sudden inspiration. With McCartney on piano, bass, and drums, and Lennon on vocals and guitars, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single, all done without half the group members knowledge or consent. But such was the case for the Beatles in 1969.

Early in the year, The Beatles seemed to be on the road to breaking up during the recording of what would become Let it Be, as each member had started doing solo projects. It was McCartney who approached George Martin and asked him to work with them on another studio album. Martin agreed as long as the band agreed to his strict discipline in the studio and let him have control over the production from start to finish. So, recording began in February 1969 with Martin at the helm as well as all four Beatles at Abbey Road Studio. Some of the early recordings for the Abbey Road sessions included non-album material which would surface elsewhere, such as Harrison’s acoustic demo of “All Things Must Pass” (later on a solo album of the same name), McCartney’s “Come And Get It” (a minor hit for Badfinger in 1970), and “Old Brown Shoe”, an interesting composition by Harrison, used as the B-side for “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. However, as the sessions moved along, the Beatles found their magic formula once again and made the classic Abbey Road music which showcases each member of the band performing at their finest level.


Abbey Road by The Beatles
Released: September 26, 1969 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, February-August 1969
Side One Side Two
Come Together
Something
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Oh Darling
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun
Because
You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
Her Majesty
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

 

The album aptly begins with the Lennon led “Come Together” While the title sounds like a lead in to a hippie commune sing along, it is actually has a rougher edge to it with a funky bass, bluesy guitar and sloshy drums. “Come Together” and “Something” were released as a double A-sided single. George Harrison’s, “Something”, is often regarded as Harrison’s finest composition. It is certainly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It starts with the line, “Something in the way she moves…” and the music flows right along with that movement. It has a natural, fluid feel to it with the steady bass, beautiful guitar riffs and cricket like sounds that lead into a perfect fade out.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a duplicitous song. The lyrics describing the antics of a sociopathic serial killer are in stark contrast to the syrupy sweet music. The anvil banging and McCartney’s mischievous vocal delivery add to the effect that this is a children’s song gone awry, but one can’t help but sing along. The next McCartney led song, “Oh Darling” has a completely different style. McCartney’s voice carries the whole thing. This doo-wop inspired song actually has a tinge of Motown in it with the intense, strained vocal and simple accompaniment.

Ringo Starr’s contribution, “Octopus’s Garden” is another childlike fantasy song. Ringo has said it was inspired by a story he had heard about how octopus like to gather shiny objects and make their own little “garden”. This song lightens the mood after the intensity of “Oh Darling” and the black hole that ends side one, “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”. This is a lengthy indulgence that has some interesting parts, a few moments of brilliance and some superb musicianship. That said it carries on for a nearly eight minute decent into repetitive madness.

Beatles during Abbey Road sessions
 
The second side is where the magic of this album really starts. It opens with the uplifting and fresh sounds of Harrison’s second contribution, the sonic masterpiece, “Here Comes the Sun”. The harmony of vocals and the light, catchy melody capture the feeling of rebirth that comes from a new beginning, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as winter fades and spring blooms. This, along with the outstanding, “Something” may make this Harrison’s best Beatles album ever. “Because” features a three part harmony tripled in production so it sounds like nine voices over a simple moog synthesizer and harpsichord. The vocals are masterful and the production technique is superb. Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata”, played backwards, inspired the chords of the song.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” drops in perfectly with soft piano chords and dramatic vocals, there is a plethora of music in this piece. The sounds draw you in and the steady drum beat is mesmerizing. The production on this one is masterful as it leads the listener into the medley that is the heart of this production masterpiece. The production of these little vignettes is brilliant in how they blend together into a cohesive story. “Sun King” reprises the triple three part harmonies while, “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are more upbeat and end in a crash. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” was inspired by a determined female fan who crawled through a bathroom window of Paul’s home. There is a cool riff going on throughout the song.

With a slight pause in the medley, “Golden Slumbers” rises as another melodramatic McCartney contribution showcasing his knack for making pretty melodies. This abruptly leads to “Carry That Weight”, featuring a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” where Ringo is prominent in the vocal harmonies. Fittingly, it all culminates with “The End”. There is a showcase for each performer here. The guitar parts were done by Paul, John and George and Ringo has his only drum solo as a Beatle. It is a grand finale that brings this album, as well as the Beatles recording days, to an end in grand style.

Abbey Road’s cover, though it appears to be a simple shot of the band walking across the street in single file, has been said to have some clues to the rumored death of Paul McCartney. Paul is walking barefoot in a suit, George is dressed in jeans, much like a gravedigger, Ringo is dressed in similar fashion as an undertaker while John is dressed in white to symbolize a minister. Adding to the intrigue is the license plate on the VW that reads, “28 IF” as Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. Of course, Paul McCartney is not dead, but the “clues” became a fan obsession and the band seemed to have an endless supply of “clues” to egg them on.

Of course, the album was a huge success, reaching the top of the charts in scores of countries as the sixties came to an end. The songs on this album lean on each other much as the Beatles needed to lean on each other to produce the quality and quantity of music they made throughout their career. There are a few outstanding singles, but the medley only shines because they put together pieces of songs that weren’t quite complete on their own and created something unique, special and fleeting as the Beatles rode off into history shortly after Abbey Road was released.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

The Kinks Are the
Village Green Preservation Society

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Classic Rock Review 1968 Album of the Year

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation SocietyAlthough it barely made a ripple critically or commercially upon its release the concept album The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society would go on to become one of the most influential in rock history. Like many great works the album was born out of a series of “happy accidents”. The band’s composer and front man, Ray Davies, had originally wanted to do a concept album about life in London but after a trip to rural Devonshire, England he decided to work on the “village” concept instead. Also, by 1968 the Kinks had begun to experience diminished chart success with pop singles, so they made a concerted change  towards more substantial musical art. While most bands of the era were into their psychedelic phase and experimenting with newfangled sounds, the Kinks went back to their English roots and thoughtfully reflected on the loss of rural England to the modernization of the swinging sixties. They composed songs that blended the best of their rock and roll sound with various ethnic instrumentation and the result is a masterpiece that sits at the crossroads of rock history. So, despite the plethora of great albums during the year of 1968, we chose this Kinks work as our 1968 Album of the Year.

Personally, I take credit for The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society becoming Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1968. As an avid fan of the group’s 1981 album Give the People What They Want, I decided to explore further Kinks songs in my father’s vast music collection. I listened to a few tracks from this album and, what really ingrained the piece in my head was when I watched Edgar Wright’s film Hot Fuzz a day or so later. It contains two tracks from this album, and they fit perfectly into the film. So suddenly reminded of the album, I endeavored to listen to it again and I found myself no longer liking it but loving it!

The Kinks were one of the most prolific bands of the sixties producing an album every year from 1964 onwards, producing yearly releases through the mid seventies. The album immediately prior to the Village Green was 1967’s Something Else which was the last time the Kinks worked with American producer Shel Talmy, clearing the way for Ray Davies to explore with more creative freedom. Prior to 1968, concept albums were not known to be commercially successful and The Kinks knew this better than most, as their earlier concept album Face to Face did not do well on the market, but Davies was driven to give it another try.

The concept of the album is a nostalgic look back at rural English life. Each song deals with a particular part of that life gone by. I will discuss what I believe each song is saying a bit farther down. The album is the last to include the original four members of The Kinks, as bassist Pete Quaife left the group in early 1969. Due to the arrangements of these songs, Quaife’s role was diminished on this album.Now onto the individual songs!

The title track is a call to arms to preserve the rural English way of life. Which brings up the question would the album be better suited if the title track was the last song on the album instead of the first, seeing as it’s a sort of culmination of the themes on the album. That said, there are really no other lingering questions I have about this album.


The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks
Released: November 22, 1968 (Pye)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Pye Studios, London November 1966–October 1968
Side One Side Two
The Village Green Preservation Society
Do You Remember Walter?
Picture Book
Johnny Thunder
Last of the Steam-Powered Trains
Big Sky
Sitting by the Riverside
Animal Farm
Village Green
Starstruck
Phenomenal Cat
All of My Friends Were There
Wicked Annabella
Monica
People Take Pictures of Each Other
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Sccordion, Flute, Horns
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Nicky Hopkins – Keybopards, Mellotron
Peter Quaife – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

 

The opening title track is also perhaps the most entertaining song on the album. The song opens with a fairly simple but catchy melody involving a guitar, flute and drums. The lyrics are a call for preservation;

God save little shops, china cups and virginity…”

This gave rise to fans shouting “God save the Kinks” in the years following the album’s release. Despite my wondering how the song would work closing the album out; it does a wonderful job of drawing the listener in and establishing the themes and tones of the album. The second track, “Do You Remember Walter?”, was recently mentioned by Edgar Wright on twitter as basically describing Gary King, the main character of the film The World’s End;

 

The song is about a man who was very popular in his young years but who has obviously not achieved much in life beyond having a good amount of fun in his younger years. The singer laments the fact that he and Walter wouldn’t even know each other if they met in the modern day. The song ends on the line, “People often change but memories of people can remain,” this is similar to the lines in a later track called “People Take Pictures of Each Other”. Musically the piano intro almost sounds like ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” for a moment before the drums and Dave Davies‘ guitar rolls in. Despite the slightly melancholy subject matter of a person growing up and becoming little more than a cog in the wheel of the world, the song remains fairly upbeat.

After this comes “Picture Book”. Mick Avory‘s drums in this song have an almost garage band feeling to them and it’s wonderful. It stays connected to the albums theme of looking back at the past as “Picture Books” are obvious ways in which we categorize and view the past. It’s a really fun song that I could easily see being played over a commercial for cameras. Even though cameras are slowly dying as their inclusion on cell phones has rendered them all but obsolete. Strangely that makes the song work even better for the album in some ways. “Johnny Thunder” seems to be a about a man who escaped his small town and spent the rest of his life on the go. “Old Johnny vowed that he would never / Ever end up like the rest / Johnny Thunder rides the highway”. The acoustic guitar introduction to the song has an exciting quality and Ray Davies’ vocal pitch changes when the backing vocals come in and are a fun musical aesthetic that is almost never heard in music anymore.

The best part about the next track is that the way it builds up ‘steam’ seems to mirror the songs title “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”. A harmonica is employed in the song as well. It’s both a nod to vagabonds riding trains and a somber sort of sendoff for the dying technology. The drums are steady but increase in speed and you can almost visualize them as the train’s wheels turning faster and faster. The song just gets better and better as it builds steam. It adds in a few more instruments and even some clapping. As the song reaches its climax you can picture a train mounting a hill and building energy as it does only to crest the hill and coast for a second before it starts to power itself again. The song paints a wonderful visual picture with music and is an absolute joy to listen to. On “Big Sky”, Ray Davies does a sort of narration throughout the song instead of singing. I’m not completely sure what the song is saying. I believe it’s essentially commenting on the fact that all of our human problems are essentially pointless when faced with something as big and majestic as the sky but that is just my guess.

One of my many favorite tracks on this album is “Sitting By the Riverside”. It’s a completely different type of song from the first six songs on the album. It has a similar theme to “Big Sky” as it conjures the image of a person relaxing on a riverside and enjoying the beauty of nature. I also tend to think of Gondola boat drivers singing in Italian to their passengers when I listen to the song. It’s interesting that at two separate points in the song it feels like it’s about to go in a radically different direction musically but quickly returns to the main flow of the song. It’s amazing to listen to how much of this song is done with Ray Davies’ vocals. “Animal Farm” is after this and it has a completely upbeat tempo throughout. The song seems to comment on the idea that rural life is simpler and more peaceful than city life. The whole song seems like an optimistic and idealist view of a farm from the perspective of someone who longs to live on one. I believe the mellotron makes its first real appearance in the background of this song.

The Kinks on "the village green"My favorite track on the entire album is “Village Green”. This was the earliest song, recorded during the sessions for Something Else, and set the theme which inspired everything on the album. A large amount of wind instruments create a stirring, slightly melancholy beginning to the song. The character of the song first describes the town he came from and his past happiness there with a woman named Daisy. He then spends the rest of the song lamenting leaving it as it has become a tourist trap and “Daisy’s married Tom the Grocer boy”. The wind instruments really lend a sort of sad vibe to the song that allows you to slip right into the feeling of it. Conversely, I’m not really sure how “Starstruck” fits into the albums concept. My guess as to how this really connects is that big cities have a tendency to chew up innocent people from small towns. Musically, Avory’s drums take center stage through most of this song.

The album goes through a radical music change with “Phenomenal Cat”. The song starts with what sounds like a wood flute solo that reminds you of something you’d hear in a forest. The entire song has a dream like fairy tale mood to it. It seems to be touching on small town’s penchant for myths that spring up around certain characters, people or even animals that reside inside of them. The ‘la la la’ sections of the song sound like the vocalist was inhaling helium before takes but it helps to add to the strange quality of the song.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society continues to change as the next song starts off with an accordion dance number. “All of My Friends Were There” reminds me a lot of the Pennsylvania Polka but that’s just because I’m used to hearing the accordion within it. It’s only fitting that an album about rural England would contain an accordion number as that was long known as the instrument of common rural Europeans. The lyrics themselves point to the embarrassment that can come from standing out or performing in a small town where you know every member of an audience. Ray Davies even sings as if he is covering a European folk song.

“Wicked Annabella” returns the album to its more rock oriented roots but it still has some tricks up its sleeve. Dave Davies is the lead vocalist on this track and there is an echo on Davies’ voice to give it a spooky impression. The guitar on the album is heavily distorted to add to the spooky nature of it. The lyrics deal with a woman who is the town black sheep and because of her reclusive nature she has become the town witch and boogey man who people tell their children about to scare them into falling asleep at night. Every small town does seem to have someone like this.

Once more the album does a ‘180’ with the next song, “Monica”. The character of the song’s title is the complete opposite of Wicked Annabella so it makes sense that the song would be completely different. Monica is the girl every guy wants to marry in the town. The song has a Latin jazz feel to it which fits perfectly with the idea that everyone wants to love the character of Monica.  I love the fact that all of the characters in this album seem to be representations of people every small town has. “People Take Picture of Each Other” is a fun ending to the album that sort of blends “All of My Friends Were There” with some of the albums other influences such as “Do You Remember Walter?”. It is a pretty literal song as it is about people taking picture of things to remember them. It might not be the albums strongest act but it holds up when compared to the rest of the album.

Upon its original release, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society only sold about 100,000 copies and, 45 years after its release, it has yet to reach Gold record status. The Kinks continued to be an extremely dynamic band that adapted to three decades of rock and roll changes, constantly evolving and doing what they wanted to do. In 1973 and 1974, the group released the albums Preservation Act 1 and Preservation Act 2 respectively, which Ray Davies later acknowledged as sequels to this album, when he referred to the three as his “Preservation trilogy”. In many ways, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society stands out in 1968 for innovating via the use of classic sounds and instruments. Along with that the Kinks presented a clear concept album which contains themes and messages that should be clear to anyone who comes from a small town even up to the modern day. This wasn’t something that was done a lot as many of rock and roll’s first forays into concept albums were a bit confusing and disjointed. Unfortunately in a strange twist of fate this Kink’s album has become something that needs Preservation itself. It has been dubbed a ‘cult classic’ but anyone with ears should be able to hear it’s simply a classic. People should discuss the Kinks as one of the great bands up there with the Beatles, and the Stones. So let this be the first act in the movement that will bring about this album’s very own Preservation Society!

God save the Kinks, china cups and virginity!

~ J.D. Cook

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums and our Album of the Year for 1968.

 

Van Halen

Buy Van Halen’s Debut Album

1978 Album of the Year

Van Halen 1978 debut albumVan Halen‘s debut album is a pedal-to-the-metal hard rocker with a distinct approach that thundered onto the scene in early 1978. This self-titled album continues to rank among the top debuts of all time and makes appearances on other straight-up rock album lists. While not particularly original musically, Van Halen was completely original sonically. This was due to the jaw dropping speed and flair guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. With a noted lack of blues-based licks, which were replaced by a furious placement of picked, crunched, and hammered notes, Van Halen’s leads, solos, and riffs are the most indelible moments on a very memorable album. Forged in the fresh shadow of punk rock, the Van Halen sound showed that musical talent can be every bit as fresh, energetic, and bombastic. With this innovative record which sounds every bit as fresh 35 years after its release, Van Halen has risen to become Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1978.

Van Halen was formed in Southern California in 1972 by the brothers that give the band its name – guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan Van Halen and were “forced” to study classical piano at very young ages. When the brothers began playing rock and roll, Alex was actually on guitar and Eddie was on drums.  But once Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to switch instruments and took over as drummer. In 1974, the group rented a sound system from David Lee Roth and soon invited him to join as lead vocalist. Roth was the son of a renowned eye surgeon, who had considerable wealth and was the nephew of Manny Roth, who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha?, which featured performers such like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Roth possessed an in-your-face charisma that demanded attention (like a true frontman should). While not considered a particularly accomplished crooner, his yelps and screams fit perfectly within the high-energy sound of the group.

Soon after Roth joined,  the band decided to replace their current bass player with Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from a rival band called “Snake”, who impressed the Van Halen brothers during an all-night jam session. In subsequent years, the group played everything from backyard parties on a flatbed truck to some of the most famous night clubs on the Sunset Strip. They forged what Roth calls a “girl-friendliness” to heavy rock. In the summer of 1976, Gene Simmons of Kiss saw Van Halen perform and offered to produce a high end demo tape for the group. After a few recordings in Los Angeles and New York, Simmons opted out of the arrangement after the group declined his suggestion to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs” and Kiss management told Simmons that they had “no chance of making it”.

In mid-1977,  Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw the group perform in Hollywood and was so impressed that he scored Van Halen a recording contract within a week (although the group now laments that this contract was not financially favorable to the members who ended up owing money by the end of 1978). Templeman produced the debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders over a three week period in the Fall of 1977. All of the tracks were recorded with minimal over-dubbing and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a “live” feel. After the sessions, the group returned to playing small venues in Southern California until the album was released in early 1978.


Van Halen by Van Halen
Released: February 10, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA, September – October 1977
Side One Side Two
Runnin’ with the Devil
Eruption
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Jamie’s Cryin’
Atomic Punk
Feel Your Love Tonight
Little Dreamer
Ice Cream Man
On Fire
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 

The album is made of nine original compositions, credited to all four band members, along with two re-interpreted covers. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony drive the opener “Runnin’ with the Devil”, which arrives like an alien visitor and then comes off heavier than it actually is in reality. It is down-and-dirty but short of hedonistic and got its lyrical inspiration from the Ohio Players song “Runnin’ from the Devil”. While released as a single, it failed to chart in 1978 but has  become a classic rock radio staple and still a signature tune of Van Halen.

The instrumental “Eruption” contains some of the best 100 seconds of guitar ever recorded. This masterpiece by Eddie Van Halen was not intended for the debut album but was overheard by Templeman as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date and he decided to include it on the album. The piece is the first to feature Van Halen’s custom two-handed finger-tapping technique which had not been perfected by any other player to that date (but went “viral” among guitarists in the eighties). Played on his custom Frankenstrat with a custom array of effect units and vintage tube amps, the piece has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo ever by Guitar World magazine. “Eruption” works as a perfect lead-in to the kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, the lone charting “hit” from this album. You Really Got Me singleThis may be one of the very few remakes that actually best the original, which is saying something since the 1964 tune by Ray Davies is a bona fide classic which features a young session player named Jimmy Page. But Van Halen takes this simple, two and a half minute piece, and brings it to a fevered level of excitement with Eddie performing riffs within riffs, Roth adding vocal ad-lib screams in the chorus, and the post solo guitar dribble leading to a unique mid section with sound effects by both. The song became the lone Top 40 single from Van Halen.

Although very repetitive, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an extremely entertaining song which borders on being a Van Halen-flavored punk epic, especially with closing “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant. Unlike the totally feel-good “You Really Got Me”, this has a much darker feel, especially with the deep bridge lyrics;

I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I’ve lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”

“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” displays the effortless expression of the band, which replaces the pretension and self-consciousness of many of their late seventies peers. The hyper-blues shuffle of “I’m the One”, which highlights the entertaining showmanship of the band. With dynamics which range from the monstrous rhythmic surge to the later a cappella do-wop section, “I’m The One” is an underrated gem, which concludes the fantastic first side of the album.

Although not nearly as memorable, the second side of Van Halen does contain its share of high moments. “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” shows that the band definitely can play pop rock anthems. These two tracks share similar memorable riffs and catchy harmonized choruses and they both sound like they should have been bigger radio hits. Sandwiched between the two is “Atomic Punk”, an almost experimental song with intro guitar effects giving way to theatrical verses. However, this song’s title may be more provocative than the overall tune is actually substantive and the disorganized return after the guitar lead appears to be one of the few faux pas of the recording.

“Little Dreamer” is the finest tune on side two and may be the one true band effort on Van Halen. Eddie comes down to Earth with a standard riff and more subtle theatrics while the rest of the group steps forward as Michael Anthony’s bouncing bass contrasts yet compliments Alex Van Halen’s steady drum beat and Roth’s actual singing is at its finest on this record. “Little Dreamer” also offers a preview of some of the more substantive music featured on upcoming albums Van Halen II and Women and Children First. “Ice Cream Man” is cover from Chicago blues artist John Brim, which features David Lee Roth solo on acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple of turns before it finally breaks into a full-fledged rocker, ala Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, the most forgettable song on the album is the finale “On Fire”, making for the only true weak spot on this incredible debut. While Eddie’s guitars are still impressive, the overall vibe makes really feels more like weak, hair-band material from a future Van Halen clone.

Van Halen initially peaked at #19 on the U.S. Albums chart and made a reappearance in 1984. By the end of the century, it was certified a Diamond album (over ten million copies sold or 20x platinum) and it made yet another appearance on the album charts in 2012 to coincide with Van Halen’s latest reunion. The band toured for nearly a year as the opening act for Black Sabbath before returning to the studio in late 1978 to record the follow-up Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut.

~

1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums and our album of the year for 1978.


 

Synchronicity by The Police

1983 Album of the Year

Synchronicity by The PoliceThe Police saved the best for last with 1983’s Synchronicity, ending their short five year and five album recording career with their masterpiece. And although the album was once again co-produced by Hugh Padgham,  as on 1981’s Ghost In the Machine, it marked a significant shift away from the dominant reggae/ska influences of the band’s first four albums. The album got it’s title from the theory of synchronicity by Carl Jung, who believed that life was not a series of random events but rather an expression of a deeper order, which led to the insights that a person was both embedded in an orderly framework and was the focus of that orderly framework. The end result was a potent blend that hit all the major criteria (in our opinion, of course) that make a truly great album – an entertaining, original, timely, cerebral, and human collection of music. For these reasons, Synchronicity is our clear choice for 1983’s album of the year.

Like many great albums, Synchronicity was born out of struggle and strife. The marriages of both bassist/vocalist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers had recently failed and, after half a decade of constant touring and recording, the once tight-knit trio had begun to conflict with each other. The group took a break in 1982 in order to pursue outside projects. Sting was starting to land bit parts in films while Summers collaborated with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on the instrumental album I Advance Masked. Drummer Stewart Copeland composed the musical score for the film Rumble Fish which spawned the radio hit single “Don’t Box Me In”. But as each member found their own success, that only served to widen wedge among The Police as a group and all had pretty much resolved that the band’s demise was soon imminent. So the group resolved to make a final masterpiece born out of the stress of the looming break-up. It wasn’t easy, as the three band members recorded their parts in separate rooms for the basic tracks and Padgham added subsequent overdubs with only one member in the studio at a time.

The result is diverse and daring, with the most experimental tracks of the album front-loaded on side one and the “hits” reserved for the second side. With this one last best shot of showing the world everything they were capable of doing, both in performance and production. The music contains a plethora of rhythms, from reggae, blues, and African to straight up pop/rock, while the theme is about things past or ending and the scope migrates from the global to the personal.

 


Synchronicity by The Police
Released: June 1, 1983 (A & M)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, December 1982-February 1983
Side One Side Two
Synchronicity I
Walking In Your Footsteps
O My God
Mother
Miss Gradenko
Synchronicity II
Every Breath You Take
King of Pain
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Tea In the Sahara
Murder By Numbers
Band Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Oboe, Saxophone
Andy Summers – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums & Percussion

 

“Synchronicity I” starts the album with a synthesized arpeggio pattern accented by a driving bass and drum beat. It is a rather simple and direct (albeit frantic) piece with some multi-vocal parts and harmonies by Sting that lyrically introduce Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious”. “Walking In Your Footsteps” follows with native percussion and a good melody above the oddest of simplistic arrangements. The lyrics relate extinct dinosaurs to modern day humans and the then-common theme of humanity’s ultimate nuclear destruction.

The first song on the album to contain a somewhat traditional arrangement, “O My God” is bass driven throughout with a bit of funk guitar chords, some light synth pads, and strong and soulful vocals. The song is a real showcase for Sting with the bass, the anguished lyrics and voice, and the outtro saxophone solo above an improvised-sounding ending. “Mother” is a Summers composition that sounds like a cross between The Velvet Underground and Alice Cooper. Summers vocals are raw, yet weirdly entertaining and some horn sounds are added to intensify the “insanity vibe”. Copeland gets his own composition with “Miss Gradenko”, a return musically to the band’s reggae / new wave fusion. Short and deliberate with a great bass and very measured but effective lead guitar, the lyrics tell of a romance in the middle of a communist bureaucracy wrought by paranoia in the Kremlin.
 

 
“Synchronicity II” is the best song on the album and the one song were The Police break into a full-fledged, hard rock arrangement. From the beginning wailing vocals of Sting to the fantastic guitar textures by Summers, switching from chords to note patterns seamlessly. The musical tone follows the lyrics closely, which describe a man’s working day and domestic life and compares it to the seemingly unrelated Loch Ness monster, making this a more true title song than “Synchronicity I”. Overall, this song which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, sounds like no other Police song and is a true classic of the 1980s.

The album’s second side begins with “Every Breath You Take”, a song almost totally built on Summers’ sonic texture with Sting’s simplistic rhyming on top. The bridge contains some well-placed piano notes and Copeland shows great restraint by the utter basic-ness of his drum beat, on this song which is actually rather up-tempo but deceptively throws a vibe of a ballad. Overall, “Every Breath You Take” became one of most successful singles ever, topping the Billboard charts for nine weeks and the song won Song of the Year at the 1984 Grammy Awards.

King Of Pain single“King of Pain” is a simple sing-song tune which morphs into a Caribbean grove accented by some more pure rock. The song displays the instrumental genius of the band and production quality of Padgham and contains a rather traditional (and excellent) rock guitar lead by Summers. Lyrically, Sting references painful everyday occurrences to symbolize the frustrations of everyday life with the narrator sees his fate as predetermined. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a classic ballad with excellent ambiance, sort of like “Every Breath You Take” from a different point of view – but with superior lyrics which references mythological and literary characters.

The bass driven “Tea in the Sahara” concluded the original LP (which omitted “Murder By Numbers”) and kind of brings the overall scene to a conclusion in the desert. Sting’s performance is more solo than anywhere else on the album, with the bass leading the way and the lyrics based on the novel The Sheltering Sky. A long drum intro starts the closer “Murder by Numbers”, co-written by Sting and Summers. The tune eventually fully kicks in as a cabret number with lyrics comparing political power to the development of a serial killer.

Synchronicity reached number one in many countries and was nominated for the “Album of the Year” Grammy. The Police set off on a world on a year-long world tour, which ended with a hiatus that was effectively the end of the group. The trio did reconvene in 1986 to record a new album, but after a half-hearted attempt, that project was abandoned. The Police would not fully reunite until 2007, over two decades after their break.

~

1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow

Classic Rock Review 1993 Album of the Year

Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl CrowSheryl Crow‘s official debut was at once brilliant and controversial. In fact, the title Tuesday Night Music Club comes from the assembled studio group who composed and recorded the album together with Crow at the forefront and guitarist Bill Bottrell as producer. However, only Crow was signed to the big record deal and she soon inflamed the situation by not stating accurate songwriting facts in post-fame interviews, a practice that was publicly denounced by Bottrell and other group members. Still, it is hard to dispute that the music is original, entertaining, and interesting and this is the criteria we use when selecting our Classic Rock Review Album of the Year.

Crow was a former music teacher from Missouri, who started gigging with bands on the weekends. She also began recording jingles at a local studio and her voice was featured in many national commercials in the late 1980s. She later toured with Michael Jackson as a backup vocalist during his world tour 1987-1989 and got several session gigs as a backup singer with several established artists such as Stevie Wonder, Belinda Carlisle and Don Henley. Crow was signed to A&M and attempted a debut album in 1992, but convinced the label not to release the album because she was dissatisfied with the result.

While Crow was dating Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, she began jamming with his ad hoc group of composers known as the “Tuesday Music Club” at Ricketts’ studio. This rapidly developed into a vehicle for Crow’s next attempt at a debut album. After the release and success of the album, Crow’s relationship with Gilbert and the rest of the group became acrimonious due to disputes about songwriting credits, of which Crow was given a disproportionate share of royalties. Kevin Gilbert was killed in 1996, which pretty much cemented the rift between Crow and the rest of the Tuesday Night Music Club.


Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow
Released: August 3, 1993 (A&M)
Produced by: Bill Bottrell
Recorded: Los Angeles, 1992-1993
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Run Baby Run
Leaving Las Vegas
Strong Enough
Can’t Cry Anymore
Solidify
The Na-Na Song
No One Said It Would Be Easy
What I can Do For You
All I Wanna Do
We Do What We Can
I Shall Believe
Sheryl Crow – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Dave Baerwald – Guitars
Bill Bottrell – Guitars
Kevin Gilbert – Keyboards, Guitars
Dan Schwartz – Bass
Brian MacLeod – DrumsTuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow

The album begins with the soulful and steady “Run, Baby, Run”, a unique opener opener of revival blues that never picks up the pace and never really made much waves when it was released as the lead singer. Still, it sets up the following “Leaving Las Vegas” finely. Co-written by guitarist David Baerwald who borrowed the title from a book written by his friend John O’Brien, “Leaving Las Vegas” is the first track to contain the unique percussive effect, featured throughout the album. With a slow riff throughout played in different instrumental variations and topped by strummed acoustic and dynamic vocals, the song became a minor hit but indelible landmark on this album. However, this song also had its share of controversy as Crow stated that the song was “autobiographical” during an appearance on the David Letterman Show, which infuriated Baerwald and the rest of the group, especially when O’Brien committed suicide soon after.

Two other songs early in the album went on to have chart success. “Strong Enough” is a very melodic and moody acoustic folk song with a potpourri of great ethnic instrumentation including organ, mandolin, and accordion. The song charted at No. 5 on the Billboard charts. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is built on the choppy strumming by Bottrell and strong chorus and bridge hooks by Crow. This Top 40 tune also has some well placed, subtle lead guitar riffs throughout.

The biggest hit on the album and the song which brought Tuesday Night Music Club widespread attention is “All I Wanna Do”. The lyrics are based on the poem “Fun” by Wyn Cooper from his 1987 book The Country of Here Below. Musically, the song is dominated Gilbert’s bouncy bass and the pedal steel by Bottrell which gives the song a sonic vibe somewhere between “Stuck In the Middle With You” and “The Rain Song” (both from 1973). The song reached number two on the charts and was the winner of the 1995 Grammy Record of the Year.

“Solidify” is an attempt at funk/disco, not all that terrible, but definitely a tangent song. “No One Said It Would Be Easy” borrows from the sound Neil Young put for the on Harvest Moon (the Classic Rock Review album of the year from the previous year, 1992), with a very calm and deliberate, almost too slow approach and dreamy lead guitar. and the emotional charge Crows invests in a song about trying to salvage a troubled relationship. Baerwald’s “What I Can Do For You” is a decent slow rocker containing a thumping rhythm by bassist Dan Schwartz and high-register vocals by Crow during the choruses.

The album does contain a few weak spots, with the nadir being the rap filler “The Na-Na Song”. “We Do What We Can” is a nightclub cabaret blues with cheap electronic drums keeping a simple, slow rock beat. The album does end strong with “I Shall Believe”, which uses its title cleverly to work into an unusual perspective. It continues the “Strong Enough” theme of “don’t give up on me” and contains a restrained and laid back lead by Bottrell.

Tuesday Night Music Club went on to sell more than 7 million copies worldwide and won three Grammy awards in 1995. Although it launched a highly successful career for Sheryl Crow, she never again quite found the band chemistry as with the ad hoc group who met in Bottrell’s studio on Tuesday nights.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

1993 Images

 

The Dark Side of the Moon
by Pink Floyd

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1973 Classic Rock Review Album of the Year

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink FloydPerhaps the most complete concept album of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon was the ultimate redemption for Pink Floyd. Culminating years of progressive and experimental music, this album focused on the most atomic elements of human life (and not just the bright spots) and set it all to the beat of a human heart over a 44-minute journey that leaves the listener contemplating the larger picture from several angles. This album sits in a unique place in rock history, bridging the final days of the late 1960s psychedelic era with the new wave, electronic phase that dominated the late 1970s. It also is the perfect pivot point for Pink Floyd itself, representing their past (the opening sound-collage dominated sequence from the album’s start through the intro to “Time”), their present (more rock/pop oriented with long instrumental passages in the middle of the album), and their future (the ending medley, dominated by Roger Waters).

The concept was first introduced to the band by Waters immediately following the release of Meddle in 1971. Although Waters wrote all of the lyrics, The Dark Side of the Moon was the last complete band effort, with all four members getting composing credits. The music was composed and developed as a suite during live performances throughout 1972, with the band simultaneously recording the material for the album Obscured by Clouds. Recording for The Dark Side of the Moon took place at Abbey Road Studios in London, using some of the most advanced recording techniques of the time. The group, along with engineer Alan Parsons, made great use of multi-track recording, tape loops, analogue synthesizers, and a series of recorded interviews to give the album a completely original and unique sound. Snippets of voices were recorded when staff and other occupants of the studio answered a series of questions printed on flashcards. This in itself proved to be an interesting experiment as responses from Paul and Linda McCartney were not used because they seemed too calculating while the most notable responses came from the studios’ doorman, Gerry O’Driscoll.

Although the album only held the number one spot in the US for one a week, it remained on the chart for an incredible 741 weeks (over 14 years) and has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Released 40 years ago today, The Dark Side of the Moon tops many lists as the greatest album of all time and is Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1973.

 


The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Released: March 1, 1973 (Capitol)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, June 1972–January 1973
Side One Side Two
Speak to Me
Breathe
On the Run
Time
The Great Gig In the Sky
Money
Us and Them
Any Colour You Like
Brain Damage
Eclipse
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Roger Waters – Basss, Snyths, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 

Each original side of the album is a continuous piece of music. The first side begins with “Speak to Me”, which forms a kind of overture previewing several sound snippets from the album. Drummer Nick Mason receives a rare solo writing credit because the only real instrumentation is his kick drum, treated to sound like a heartbeat. “Breathe” is a natural extension of the moody songs on previous albums with double-tracked vocals by David Gilmour. Slow and methodical, every note and beat counts while Gilmour adds rich in texture with overdubbed electric and pedal steel guitars. The lyrics are as simple and brief as the title and act as a short intro for the journey up ahead.

Pink Floyd in 1973

One of the amazing qualities of The Dark Side of the Moon is how the album instantly yet seamlessly switches moods, such as when it goes from ethereal “Breathe” to the frantic “On the Run”. This an instrumental piece was performed almost exclusively on an EMS synthesizer and is driven by entering an 8-note sequence repeated at a high tempo, with more voices and sound effects on top to make the piece ever-intensifying until it finally crashes at the end with what sounds like a crashing airplane. This leads to the long intro for “Time”, starting with a chorus of chiming clocks which were painfully recorded one by one by Parsons and various antique stores in London and then synced together through multiple tape machines. Next, comes a passage dominated by Mason’s drums with heavy use of rototoms and a backing “tick-tock” sound created by Waters picking two muted strings on his bass. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is a fantastic release into a full-fledged rock song which contains one of the greatest guitar leads ever. The song is incredibly simple, especially during the verse, but sounds so rich due to excellent production and musicianship. It contains deeply philosophical lyrics, sung by both Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright along with a chorus of female background singers. This is the final song to ever be credited to all four members of the band and is, perhaps, the best overall group effort in Pink Floyd’s long career.

After a short, one verse reprise of “Breathe”, appended to “Time”, comes the most unique and controversial song on the album. “The Great Gig In the Sky” has no legible lyrics, but instead contains about four minutes of improvised scat vocals by Clare Torry, a session singer who Parsons knew from other projects. Depending on your artistic point of view, this could be the worst or the best song on the album, the most meaningful or most absurd, and if nothing demonstrates why Pink Floyd is an acquired taste. Originally titled “The Mortality Sequence”, it is backed by a beautiful, minor key piano sequence by Wright and Torry added her vocals in one session which she entered without previously hearing the backing track. The band paid her sixty quid for the session and sent her on her way, not really hearing from her again until three decades later when Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution constituted co-authorship with Richard Wright. Torry won the suit for an undisclosed amount and all pressings of the album after 2005 credit her as co-composer.

Money singleSide two begins with “Money”, a song which is a true double-edged sword, at once being one of the most recognizable and accessible Pink Floyd songs and one of the most overplayed and overrated. Still, for a hit song it is quite unique and artistically rewarding, written by Waters in the unusual 7/4 time signature for the verses before breaking into more standard, rock-oriented 4/4 time for Gilmour’s extended guitar solo in the middle. During this middle section the sonic tones are also adjusted, as a sparse “dry” section under subtle guitar licks is bookended by stronger dynamics with heavy use of reverb and chaotic drumming by Mason. The song also features a short saxophone lead by Dick Parry.

Parry and his sax have a more prominent role in “Us and Them”, a song about as moody and surreal as one can get while maintaining top notch rock status. It was released as a single in 1974, but kind of flopped as it failed to reach the Top 100 on the charts. However, but the more macro jury of time has rightfully judged this a true Pink Floyd classic. The tune was originally written on the piano by Wright for the film soundtrack Zabriskie Point in 1969 but was rejected by the film’s director. This slow paced, seven and a half minute song contains more spoken phrases which adds to the overall feel. “Us and Them” directly bridges to “Any Colour You Like”, another reprise of “Breathe” but from a totally instrumental approach. In fact, only Gilmour, Mason, Wright are credited for this composition, as Waters is oddly left out.

However, Waters does dominate the final two tracks on the album, taking on lead vocals as well as solo credit for “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”. Here the concept of “Dark Side of the Moon” is fully laid out with a sonically superior, perfect wrap to the album. Further, the larger picture of life itself is focused down to a particular individual as the insanity-themed lyrics are based on former band frontman Syd Barrett‘s mental instability, which began following the success of their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967. Waters would re-visit Barrett’s situation in much more detail on the band’s next album Wish You Were Here. Musically, “Brain Damage” contains great layered guitars and a totally unique, synth-organ lead, while “Eclipse” reverts back to a more traditional band jam led by Wright’s Hammond organ. Both songs also contain great female backing vocals. When the main instrumentation fades the sound of the heartbeat from “Speak to Me” comes back to the forefront with one final, profound spoken part by door man O’Driscoll:

There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. (The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.)”

The members of Pink Floyd have long lamented the duality of feelings they have towards the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. It would work to at once validate them as a top-notch artistic group and fractured them as a cohesive unit. The quartet would have much more success throughout the seventies and maintained headlining status even after Waters departed in the eighties. But they would never again quite reach that moment in time when everything came together to create a true rock masterpiece.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.

 

Machine Head by Deep Purple

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Album Of the Year, 1972

Machine Head by Deep PurpleDeep Purple is often overlooked as one of the truly great classic rock acts. This may be because they reigned during the prime of so many other great British rock groups who crowded out this band’s accomplishments. Or, perhaps it is because of the dizzying amount of lineup changes and their various “Mark XX” phases. In any case, this was a top-notch act and they were never better than they were on their 1972 classic Machine Head. This was the sixth overall studio album by the band and the third by their classic “Mark II” lineup, which consisted of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, and Ian Paice.

The album is famous on several fronts, but mostly due to circumstances surrounding its planned recording at Montreux Casino in Switzerland, a large arena built in a complex of casinos, restaurants and entertainment facilities. The Casino was slated to be closed for the winter after a final concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers on December 4, 1971, after which Deep Purple would begin recording. However, an audience fired a flare into the roof, sparking a fire which left the Casino in ashes. After an aborted attempt to record in another theatre, the band ended up recording the album in a couple of adjacent hallways and a bathroom at The Grand Hotel, outside Montreux, with the mobile recording unit owned by the Rolling Stones. The whole experience was memorialized in the hit song “Smoke On the Water”.

Musically, the album seems to strike the perfect balance between accessible hard rock and instrumental jams. Just about every track contains multiple leads showcasing the musical talents of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard virtuoso Jon Lord, while remaining relatively short. upbeat, and melodic. This proved to be a potent formula for 1972 hard rock.


Machine Head by Deep Purple
Released: March 1972 (EMI)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: Grand Hotel, Montreux, Switzerland, December 1971
Side One Side Two
Highway Star
Maybe I’m a Leo
Pictures of Home
Never Before
Smoke On the Water
Lazy
Space Truckin’
Band Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Jon Lord – Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums

The ultimate car song. “Highway Star” kicks off the album, taking the traditional Beach Boys’ subject matter of cars and girls to a whole new sonic level. The song was born when a curious reporter asked Blackmore to demonstrate how he composed a song. Both Blackmore and Lord have extended lead sections, with Lord’s borrowing heavily from Bach, all above a pulsating rhythm which would influence hard rock and heavy metal for decades to come. Vocalist Ian Gillan shoes off his dynamic singing, which rivaled anyone from the day save Zeppelin’sRobert Plant.

Speaking of Zeppelin, that band’s influence is definitely present in “Maybe I’m a Leo”, a riff-driven tune with deliberately slow but powerful drumming by Ian Paice. The curious thing here is why Gillan was so reserved on this palette which was custom made for high-pitched vocals to soar. Although all songs on Machine Head are officially credited to all five band members, this one was written mostly by bassist Roger Glover. “Pictures of Home” is Deep Purple at their most poignant, a driving rhythm topped by sweeping vocals pushing out deep lyrical motifs, all accented by the distinct, distorted Hammond organ of John Lord. Glover even gets a short bass solo in the middle section before Blackmore warms for lift-off before a surprising false stop and comeback makes the song all the more interesting. Side one concludes with “Never Before”, which has a funky intro that breaks into a pure riff-driven rock verse and a pretty standard hard rock song.

Deep Purple, early 1970s

One of the most popular songs by the band, “Smoke On the Water” also contains one of the most famous riffs in rock history. In fact, the band would play this up in concert by going through a short showcase of the “most famous riffs” before landing on this one as an intro to “Smoke On the Water”. The song intro builds with each member coming in at separate times before breaking into the verse with its literal story telling of the recording of this album. The title of the song was coined by Glover after he dreamed of smoke from casino fire spreading over Lake Geneva. The lyrics pay homage to “Funky Claude”, who is director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs, who helped some of the audience escape the fire. A sculpture along the lake shore has been erected in Montreaux with the band’s name, song title, and the famous riff in musical notes.

“Lazy” is the most jam-oriented song on the album, with a long four and a half minute instrumental before finally reaching an upbeat blues arrangement during verses and choruses. The very start of the intro organ sounds a lot like the psychedelic Deep Purple of the late 1960s, but breaks into a very bluesy riff complete with boogie-bass by Glover. Naturally, Lord and Blackmore have their own lead sections during the jam and Gillan even adds a harmonica solo between the verses.

The album concludes with the fantastic “Space Truckin'”. The theme and lyrics sound like they describes a Saturday morning cartoon for cool kids and the music has contains choreographed parts during the verses and some frantic riffing during the chorus. But it is Paice who outshines everyone else with his top-notch drumming throughout this song. There is a very slight guitar lead during the bridge which quickly gives way to the percussive potpourri, as if Blackmore knew to step out the way of an oncoming train. The song leaves the listener begging for more as it fades out to finish the album.

Machine Head reached number 1 in the UK and number 7 in the US, remaining on the charts for over two years. More importantly was its influence on several rock bands spanning many genres and years. Deep Purple was at the top of their game but followed up with a weak 1973 effort, Who Do We Think We Are before Gillan left the band (for the first time) later that year.

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1972 Images

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

 

The Joshua Tree by U2

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1987 Album of the Year

The Joshua Tree by U2The Joshua Tree was the long-awaited fifth studio album by U2, released in the spring of 1987. Although not a true “concept” album, it was uniformly inspired by the United States and the geography, literature, and politics and the nation the band so often toured in the early part of their career. U2 released four studio albums in the relatively short period of 1980-1984, culminating with The Unforgettable Fire, their widespread commercial breakthrough. They began writing new material in mid-1985 and began recording in Ireland at the start of 1986. However, this fifth album took a long time to formulate and produce, building much anticipation among fans.

The Joshua Tree was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who both worked with the band on the band on The Unforgettable Fire and whose goal was a harder rocking sound for the band while still exploring unconventional song structures. Throughout the 1986 sessions, U2 strove for a “cinematic” quality for the record, embedding American scenery as a backdrop to the soaring sound scapes and lyrics. Many of those lyrics were influenced by American writers that lead vocalist Bono had been reading at the time. Musically, although all the group members had different ideas on how to approach this album, they all agreed that they felt disconnected from the dominant synth pop and other musical trends of the time. Most of the recording was done in a Georgian house, with the dining room and drawing room used for recording and performing.

After completing the album, Bono said he thought that The Joshua Tree was their most complete record since their first. This opinion was born out with its commercial and critical success as the album became the fastest-selling album in British history to date, selling over a quarter million copies in two days. It reached number one within two weeks of release and spent over three years on the album charts. The Joshua Tree topped the albums charts in 20 total countries. Ultimately, the album sold over 25 million copies worldwide and topped several publication’s lists of album of the year for 1987 including, of course, our’s.


The Joshua Tree by U2
Released: March 9, 1987 (Island)
Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno
Recorded: Various Studios, Ireland, January 1986–January 1987
Side One Side Two
Where the Streets Have No Name
Still Haven’t Found What Looking For
With Or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers of the Disappeared
Band Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
The Edge – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums

The album starts out with a great, nearly two minute, anticipation building intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name”, a top twenty hit worldwide. The intro provides a smooth synth pad rise that gives way to the hyper arpeggio riff by guitarist The Edge, who joined by an equally intense rhythm section throughout the song. Due to its multiple time signature shifts, Lanois called this “the science project song”, while Eno estimated that half of the album sessions were spent trying to record a suitable version of the song. Bono wrote the lyrics while on a visit to Ethiopia, which at the time was devastated by famine.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” originated from a rhythm pattern by drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. with lyrics influenced by American gospel music. Nominated for Song of the Year, a the 1988 Grammy Awards, its lyrics describe spiritual yearning, accented by Bono’s vocal soul desperation and accompanied by The Edge’s guitar chime riff. The song’s title was influenced by Bob Dylan’s line from the song “Idiot Wind”; “You’ll find out when you reach the top you’re on the bottom…”, suggesting the recurrence of life and the infinite quest for happiness.

“With or Without You” was the band’s first single release and one of the oldest compositions on the album, dating back to 1985. Bassist Adam Clayton provided a pulsating bass line as a canvas to slowly developing, ambient guitar notes and dynamic vocals. The song was originally rejected by the band and producers but Bono reworked an arrangement with friend Gavin Friday and gave the song a second life. The lyrics address marriage from the perspective of a popular musician and the contrast between life on the road and domestic life. “Bullet the Blue Sky” is an equally simple song but with an entirely different, intense approach. Written about American involvement in the El Salvador Civil War of the 1980s, with aggressive and growly vocals and an intense rhythm. Latin America was also the subject of the album’s closing song “Mothers of the Disappeared”, written about the “Madres de Plaza de Mayo”, a group of women whose children had been “disappeared” under various dictatorships.

Some of the lesser known songs on the album explore various sub-genres of American music. “Running to Stand Still” is influenced by acoustic blues with a lyric that looks back at the band’s native Dublin, Ireland. “Red Hill Mining Town” is a blue-collar folk song, directly influenced by Bob Dylan, who Bono met for the first time in 1984. “Trip Through Your Wires” contains a definite nod towards blue-eyed soul, while “Exit” captured the band in a live studio jam with lyrics influenced by Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.

The western desert was greatly symbolic on The Joshua Tree (which itself is a national monument in the Mohave Desert) and “In God’s Country” puts that image to music beautifully. It was the band’s most overt attempt at a contemporary rock song on the album while still containing some trademark guitar licks and rhythms. The up-tempo song was difficult to records musically and early versions of the song were written about Ireland before the shift was made to America.

“One Tree Hill” was the fifth and final overall single from the album and was written in dedication to the band’s former roadie Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin in 1986. Following the funeral in New Zealand, Bono wrote the lyrics to “One Tree Hill”, which he dedicated to Carroll. This song has been described it as “a soft, haunting benediction” and describes a volcano near Auckland, New Zealand, where Carroll was a native and where the band first worked with him in 1984.

U2 in 1987

U2 has had a long and storied career which continues into its fourth decade. The Joshua Tree has been the apex of this long career and has held up excellently a quarter century later. In our 15 reviews of 1987 albums, re elected 25 years later, we’ve featured several that marked an artist’s commercial and creative peak. However, unlike any of those others, U2 has persevered over the subsequent decades and continued to release quality and relevant material right up through the present day.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

 

Are You Experienced?
by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Classic Rock Review's 1967 Album of the Year
Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceAn extraordinary debut by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Classic Rock Review has named Are You Experienced? as our Album of the Year for the phenomenal music year of 1967. On this album, the sound is harder and heavier than anything else from 1967, yet it is not in the slightest bit unfocused. Led by the extraordinary talent of Jimi Hendrix, the Experience was an unheralded act as a group, especially when it came to the wild and entertaining drumming of Mitch Mitchell. Along with bassist Noel Redding, this power trio released the most stunning debut in rock history and one of the greatest albums of all time.

The sound forged on the album synthesized elements of 1967 psychedelic rock with traditional rock, blues, and soul. This was all topped off by the proficient and original guitar work by Hendrix, who used cutting edge techniques and technology to create sounds never before heard. Hendrix also composed solid songs, rooted in heavy blues and roots rock. This, along with the frantic but solid rhythm by Redding and Mitchell, gave Hendrix the perfect canvas on which to paint his guitar masterpieces.

Producer Chas Chandler helped form the Jimi Hendrix Experience in England in 1966 and signed the group with Track Records, a label run by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The group started with three singles, recorded in-between tours of England in late ’66 and early ’67. All three (“Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”) reached the top 10 on the UK charts. The original album was released in the UK in May, 1967 without the three singles (or B-sides), but the subsequent US version did include the singles in order to maximize the impact of the group in the States, where they were still relatively unknown. At the suggestion of Paul McCartney, the Experience debuted in America at the Monterrey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967.

Some of the tracks not included on the US version (but available on other versions) include the pure blues “Red House” with its wailing lead guitar and the Cream-influenced “Can You See Me”, with double-tracked vocals over a strong, riff-driven rocker. “Stone Free” is frenzied but with a good hook and “Highway Chile” has a more modern sound with a funky shuffle and R&B pattern.
 


Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: May 12, 1967 (Track)
Produced by: Chas Chandler
Recorded: De Lane Lea & Olympic Studios, London, December 1966-April 1967
Side One Side Two
Purple Haze
Manic Depression
Hey Joe
Love Or Confusion
May This Be Love
I Don’t Live Today
The Wind Cries Mary
Fire
Third Stone From the Sun
Foxy Lady
Are You Experienced?
Tracks On Alternative Album Versions
Red House
Can You See Me
Remember
51st Anniversary
Highway Chile
Band Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion

 
Are You Experienced? starts with a classic anthem from the late 1960s, “Purple Haze”. A rather simple rock song that takes on a much higher aura (especially the acid era), the song is Hendrix’s best known composition. It was adapted from a poem he wrote called “Purple Haze, Jesus Saves” and contains the classic lyric; “excuse me while I kiss the sky”. But the true signature of this song is the instantly recognizable classic guitar riff which instantly signals the tone and tenor of the album.

“Manic Depression” contains hypnotic and frantic drums by Mitchell, under a driving rock riff by Hendrix and Redding. This song set the stage for all the future heavy blues and heavy metal song textures of the coming decades. Lyrically was more an expression of romantic frustration than the clinical definition of manic depression. “Hey Joe” is a riff-driven version of a very popular folk song by Billy Roberts. As we pointed out last year in our review of Love’s debut album, “Hey Joe” seemed to be a mandatory in those days, as it was covered by The Surfaris, The Leaves, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Deep Purple, The Mothers of Invention, and The Band of Joy. However, none of these versions are as popular as the version by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which made the song their own through this memorable version.

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967

The album’s first side concludes with three lesser known tracks. “Love Or Confusion” is a good and solid rock song, heavy throughout but yet somewhat psychedelic with overdubbed guitars and rotating bass and drum backing. “May This Be Love” contains soft, double-tracked vocals with Mitchell’s marching drums holding together the slow moving, tidal song with slow yet wild guitars with phasing effects. “I Don’t Live Today” has a call and response with riff and verse line, but is overall one of the weaker songs on the album.

The second side starts with the fantastic ballad “The Wind Cries Mary”. Written by Hendrix following an argument with his girlfriend, the lyrics use a hurricane as an allegory for a relationship;

A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life / Somewhere a queen is weeping, somewhere a king has no wife…”

These lyrics are every bit as poetic as Bob Dylan while every bit as romantic as Otis Redding, but presented as a pure, bona fide rock ballad. Musically Hendrix’s laid back and bluesy guitar is backed by a steady, driving bass by Redding. The soft and somber playing and singing by Hendrix masks a moderately fast underlying rhythm, giving the song an edge unlike any other.

The album once again picks up with “Fire”, a frantic, highly charged pop/soul song complete with a backing chorus hooks by the band members. There is a nice key jump under the guitar lead, a great drum rhythm by Mitchell, and almost novelty lyrics. The song showcased the raw energy of this power trio and their ability to perform at breakneck speed. “Third Stone From the Sun” is a cool and interesting piece, multi-part, with an almost soundtrack like quality. It contains some strong jazz elements with extremely spacy guitars and an excellent drum improvisation coupled with a three note repeating bass line. This extended piece would be a pure instrumental were it not for a haunting, spoken vocals and wild vocal sound effects.

“Foxy Lady” is another popular rock song with a definite signature of psychedelia. Built around a howling guitar and inspired drumming, the sexually-charged song is full of passion and desire and would go on to become one of Hendrix’s most popular songs. The album concludes with the purely psychedelic title song. Drawing strong influence from Beatles songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Are You Experienced?” employs backwards-masked drums and other sonic and surreal sounds along with classically 1967 lyrics such as; “not necessarily stoned but beautiful”. Although unlike anything else of the album which shares its name, the song is a fitting conclusion to this totally original album, even as it fades into psychedelic oblivion at its conclusion.

With uncompromising energy yet delicate artistic flair, Are You Experienced was an immediate classic that has not faded one iota 45 years later. While later punk bands took on the pretentiousness of offering uncompromising rock, the truth is not a single one had anywhere near the talent of Hendrix and there may never be a true talent of his equal again.

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1967 Images

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

 

Harvest Moon by Neil Young

Buy Harvest Moon

1992 Album Of the Year
Harvest Moon by Neil Young It may be a bit controversial to name a decidedly “retro” album as the album of the year for any particular year. Many rock fans who reflect back on the era of the early nineties, and the year 1992 in particular, will rightfully think of the alternative or “grunge” craze which had then fully materialized. But Classic Rock Review is all about timelessness in rock, and Harvest Moon by Neil Young may have sounded like something that should have been made 20 years earlier, but 20 years later it holds up as well as anything from 1992. So we chose this restrained, Nashville-produced, Americana classic over anything that came out of Seattle that year.

Much speculation has been made about the relationship of this album to Young’s 1972 album Harvest, with many labeling Harvest Moon as a “sequel” to that album two decades earlier. There certainly is a case to be made due to the similarities in title, the fact that both albums were recorded in Nashville with some of the same players (dubbed the “Stray Gators” by Young), Ben Keith on pedal Steel, Tim Drummand on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Then, of course, there is the plain fact that the albums are very similar in sound and arrangement. However, Young denied that there was a strong connection between the two albums in an interview;

…people see the correlation between the two, and it’s kind of a plus to be able to refer back 20 years and see the same people and do that. But the thrust of the albums is different, even though the subject matter is similar, so I tend to shy away more from comparisons between them…”

Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with vastly different styles from electronic to rockabilly to hard-edged electric rock. Previous to Harvest Moon he explored the outer limits of guitar noise with the 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded along with his sometime backing band, Crazy Horse. In this light, Young’s return to his predominant style of the 1970s, was just another radical turn in style. While most longtime fans and critics appreciated this move, some found his return the antipathy of spontaneity and therefore less ambitious.

 


Harvest Moon by Neil Young
Released: October 27, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Neil Young & Ben Keith
Recorded: Redwood Digital, Woodside, Sep 1991-Feb 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Unknown Legend
From Hank to Hendrix
You and Me
Harvest Moon
War of Man
One of These Days
Such a Woman
Old King
God Smack
Dreamin’ Man
Natural Beauty
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Banjo
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel, Marimba
Spooner Oldham – Piano, Keyboards
Tim Drummand – Bass
Kenny Buttrey– Drums
 
Harvest Moon by Neil Young

 

The opening track on Harvest Moon is “Unknown Legend”, a song of romance and imagination which tells of an adventurous woman who has settled into the relative obscurity of domestic life and middle age. The sound is intentionally retro and haunting with the deep reverb and a sparse, acoustic arrangement beneath the strong melody which is harmonized by Linda Rondstadt. The song’s lyrics are bittersweet and poetic;

..the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes…”

“From Hank to Hendrix” is a self-reflective county-rock song which speaks of Young’s own diverse influences and is led by a strong harmonica riff musically while it lyrically sounds like it may have been influenced by younger contemporaries like Tom Petty. “You and Me” is the most direct link back to Harvest, with strong elements of “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done” evident implicitly and explicitly. It is a personal and introspective ballad with a very sparse arrangement of just acoustic guitar and vocals by Young and Nicolette Larsen who does some fine harmonizing.

What truly makes the album a masterpiece is the absolute masterpiece of a title song, “Harvest Moon”. The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.

 
The middle of the album contains a couple more Neil Young classics. “War of Man” is dark folk with an Americana aura throughout, where Young comments on the destructive tendencies of mankind. It contains a haunting acoustic arrangement with some interesting presence by Drummand on bass, who breaks into an almost-rock rhythm towards the end. In comparison to the cynical “War of Man”, the next song “One Of These Days” could not be more different in tone, although similar in overall quality as a song. It is a song of gratitude and appreciation of friends and acquaintances, set to a moderate Nashville beat with more great melodies and harmonies.

Neil Young 1992

The album next thins a bit with the all-to-soft piano and orchestral ballad “Such a Woman” and the frivolous “Old King”, which is only finds salvation with the fine banjo picking by Young. However, the album does end strong with the return to the solid, Nashville-influenced accessibility in “Dreamin’ Man” and the ten minute, live acoustic closer “Natural Beauty”. This last song is a gentle, minor-key folk song which uses nature as an allegory for love.

Harvest Moon was Young’s 21st overall album and, although it was highly reflective, it was far from his last. In fact, just this month (June 2012) Young released his 34th overall album, a collection of traditional standards called Americana, which he recorded along with Crazy Horse. It may seem absurd to suggest that Young may still be around making music in yet another 20 years, when he’ll be age 86. But we wouldn’t bet against it.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.