Business As Usual by Men At Work

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1982 Album Of the Year

Business As Usual by Men At Work One would not be out of line to suggest that this is a rather “unusual” (pun intended) selection for our 1982 album of the year. In fact, Business As Usual was originally released in November 1981 in Australia, the home country of the five piece rock band Men At Work. The lead single from the album, “Who Can It Be Now?” was released even earlier and had become a #1 hit Down Under by late summer 1981. Still, Columbia Records twice rejected distribution in the western world until its overwhelming success finally got the album released in the U.S. in April 1982. Here the album would go on to top the album charts and, as the year ended, Men At Work would occupy the #1 position on both the single and album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. Still, why would a “rock” site like ours choose this “pop” album as the best of 1982? Well, of the seventeen albums we reviewed from 1982 (most of which were pretty “good” but very few of which were truly “great”), Business As Usual seemed to be the most consistently solid and original back to front.

Produced by Peter McIan, the album has a solid new wave sound which compliments the good pop song-craft of guitarist and lead vocalist Colin Hay. With a knack for asymmetrical vocal movement from calm and raspy to strong and desperate, Hay provided a concise vocal guide above the band’s reggae and ska influenced rhythmic pulse. The resultant effect was a message that was simultaneously entertaining, a bit humorous, and deeply philosophical. The band also added other sonic elements, such as the phased guitar sounds and just the right infusion of saxophone by Greg Ham to give them an elemental edge over other pop-oriented new wave groups of the day.

Men At Work made their initial international break through to audiences in the western provinces of Canada, while opening for Fleetwood Mac on a North American tour. But it would be in the United States where the floodgates to success would open for the group. Business As Usual would become the most successful album by an Australian group to date, spending an unprecedented 15 weeks at #1 on the American album charts. It sold over 6 million copies in the states and 15 million worldwide.
 


Business As Usual by Men At Work
Released: April 22, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Spring-Autumn 1981
Side One Side Two
Who Can It Be Now?
I Can See It In Your Eyes
Down Under
Underground
Helpless Automation
People Just Love to Play With Words
Be Good Johnny
Touching the Untouchables
Catch a Star
Down By the Sea
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals
Jonathan Rees – Bass
Jerry Speiser – Drums

 

The album begins with the first real hit by the band, “Who Can It Be Now?”, an almost-satirical piece but with good quality music and arrangement and an excellent outtro. The call and response between the vocal and the saxophone during the chorus is done masterfully. The song was recorded prior to the rest of the album and released as a single in Australia in June 1981, and contains a lyrical narrative of a seclusion and paranoia. “I Can See It In Your Eyes” follows in perfect new wave form. The high, piercing synth notes compliment the driving yet melodic back-beat which is accented with good rudiments during the guitar lead.

Guitarist Ron Strykert co-wrote “Down Under”, another huge international hit for the band with a more pronounced reggae beat and interesting lyrics flush with Australian slang. The song remains a perennial favorite on Australian radio and television. It was played during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has been ranked the #4 all-time greatest Australian song by that nation’s Performing Rights Association. In 2010 however, the flute riff from the song was found to have plagiarised the classic Australian song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”, written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair.
 

 
The third single from the album was “Be Good Johnny”, a song written by Hay and Ham with lyrics from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy who is constantly being told what to do but feels that he is misunderstood by adults in his life. The song’s title is offers homage to the Chuck Berry classic Johnny B. Goode (a cleaver play on words itself) and features some spoken dialog by Greg Ham. Ham also takes lead vocals on the Devo-esque piece “Helpless Automation”.

Beyond the radio hits, the rest of the album contains some very strong songs. “Underground” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album, complex both lyrically and in musical arrangement, with a fine guitar riff by Strykert and great drumming by Jerry Speiser. Strykert also wrote “People Just Love to Play with Words”, perhaps the most pop-oriented song on the album, which again builds towards good outtro vocals by Hay.

Men At Work

The second side of the album includes some gems such as “Touching the Untouchables”, a complex piece with dynamic vocals and interesting guitar and sax riffs throughout. “Catch a Star” builds from simple rudiments by bassist Jonathan Rees until it blossoms into a very moderate ska beat. “Down By the Sea” closes the album as a laid back extended piece with composing contributions by each member of the band.

Men At Work won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1983, a first for any Australian recording act. They would go on to record another fine album of equal artistic quality as a follow-up to Business As Usual later that year, but with much less commercial success. The 1982 success would not again be matched.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

The Stranger by Billy Joel

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1977 Album Of the Year

The Stranger by Billy Joel There is a bit of irony in The Stranger being our selection as Album of the Year for 1977. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great album by Billy Joel. But it follows Turnstiles and precedes 52nd Street, which are even greater albums even though they may not be Album of the Year for their respective years. The truth is, 1977 was indeed a year of pop music (just check out all our reviews from the year) and this is one of the best pop albums of all time. Joel’s fifth studio album, The Stranger far surpassed the moderate chart successes of his previous four in the early to mid seventies. It reached #2 in the U.S. album charts, is Joel’s best-selling non-compilation album, and surpassed Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to become Columbia Records best-selling album to that date.

All the material from the album was written exclusively by Joel and produced by Phil Ramone with most of songs composed in the studio. Joel credits Ramone for much of the album’s success due to his innovative production methods which complemented Joel’s songs. This team first worked together on 1976’s Turnstiles and built on the successful fusion of rock/pop and different genres introduced on that album. Joel favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and make the production more accessible.

The infectious, radio-ready material was complemented by a few vignettes that covered the middle-class ground that Bruce Springsteen was so successfully exploiting in the mid 1970s. But unlike Springsteen, Billy Joel also clearly constructed some artistic centerpieces that give The Stranger a feel of flow and depth. Although it lacks a true masterpiece like “Piano Man”, “Angry Young Man”, or “Zanzibar” from other albums, The Stranger is probably the most consistent throughout with very few moments of weakness.
  

Classic Rock Review
The Stranger by Billy Joel
Released: September 1977 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, July-September 1977
Side One Side Two
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
The Stranger
Just the Way You Are
Scenes Form An Italian Restaurant
Vienna
Only the Good Die Young
She’s Always a Woman
Get It Right the First Time
Everybody Has a Dream
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Steve Khan – Guitars
Richie Cannata – Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto– Drums

 

The album launches with the sharp, underlying rock riff of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, a song exquisite in its pure oddness. Joel’s the piano takes a back seat for most of this entertaining song, lending space to the various other elements of sonic candy; guitar, saxophone, sound effects, and vocal harmonies. The coda features a slight variation of the main theme, solidifying the overall theatrical feel of the song. Aside from the protagonist, the song has many named, blue-collar characters, which paint a vivid picture of city life in a working class neighborhood. Bass player Doug Stegmeyer lent his Corvette to record the sound-effect in the song’s coda. “Movin’ Out” was also the title of a later Broadway musical based on Billy Joel’s songs.

The title song, “The Stranger”, moves from the quiet cabaret during the opening and closing sections to the disco fused body of the song. The harmonized vocal performance during the choruses are particularly pleasing during this stretch of the song. The signature whistling melody was originally supposed to be played by a clarinet, but Phil Ramone convinced Joel to use the whistle instead after he heard him doing it in rehearsal. “Just the Way You Are” was the biggest hit single off the album, reaching #3 on the pop charts and covered by scores of artists including Frank Sinatra. Joel makes no secret of his disdain of this song, written about his then wife and business manager, and had originally decided against including the track on the album and his band called it “lounge lizard” music. But with the encouragement of fellow artist Linda Rondstadt, Joel and Ramone decided to make a more interesting mix with synthesizers, a vocal chorus, and an extended saxophone lead by Richie Cannata.

Billy Joel, 1977

“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is a multi-part suite which morphs from scene to scene in each of four distinct parts that explore rock jazz, blues, and show tunes. The song starts with the atmosphere of a piano bar (or Italian restaurant) and next it moves to a teenage hangout with “a song about New Orleans” and an excellent tenor sax lead. Then there is the song within the song, an upbeat piano tune originally written as the stand-alone “Ballad of Brenda and Eddie”. The song dissolves back to the Italian restaurant to the main theme for the outro. The seven-and-a-half-minute epic is the longest of Joel’s studio cuts.

The album’s second side is the fantastic “Vienna”, inspired by Joel’s young half-brother Alexander Joel (now a classical conductor), who grew up in Vienna. Billy Joel explained how the city was a perfect metaphor for a crossroads situation in life;

During the Cold War, Vienna was between the Warsaw Pact nations and the NATO countries…it was between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages…it’s the place where cultures co-mingle”

Musically, the song is a calm piano song with great melodic vocals and a touch of accordion by Dominic Cortese, giving the song a legitimate European feel.

Only the Good Die Young singleI’ve always felt that “Only the Good Die Young” took on multiple meanings. There’s the topical and obvious narrative, which was quite controversial at that time as some felt it was anti-Catholic and the use of the name “Virginia” was a play on “virginity”. But there is also the philosophical undertone of examining one’s life and fate and there is the lamenting of the title itself, which is a profound statement. Still, as deep as this may be lyrically, it is completely light and fun musically. While it begins with a catchy piano part, the song is largely driven by the acoustic guitar of Steve Khan and has an “old time rock” feel.

“She’s Always a Woman” is a beautiful waltz played with a deep and melodic piano line, which pissed off a lot of women’s groups because of alleged stereotyping of the fairer sex. It has been described as a love song about a modern woman with quirks and flaws. “Get It Right the First Time” is an interesting and entertaining rock shuffle featuring a unique drum beat by Liberty DeVitto and a flute lead played by Cannata. The album concludes with the Ray Charles influenced “Everybody Has a Dream”, which includes an instrumental reprise of “The Stranger” to close out the album.

The skyrocketing success of The Stranger, was the first of a long string of Billy Joel albums which would achieve great commercial success over the next decade and a half until Joel “retired” from composing popular music around 1993. While this album fit 1977 perfectly, it does not sound dated in any way and that is why it is Classic Rock Review‘s album of the year.

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1977 Images

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

 

Boston

Review of Boston

Classic Rock Review Album of the Year, 1976
BostonAlthough portrayed as a true “band”, Boston was really pretty much a solo project by engineer Tom Scholz. An M.I.T. graduate then working for Polaroid, Sholz built a home studio in Massachusetts in the early 1970s and began experimenting with innovative sounds and developing songs. Sholz formed a band called Mother’s Milk with singer Brad Delp and guitarist Barry Goudreau , but was soon unsatisfied with the live sound and disbanded the band in order to concentrate on the studio work (although Delp continued as the primary vocalist). A perfectionist, Scholz worked on the demos for about seven years, frequently submitting tapes to record labels only to be rejected. Finally, in 1975 Sholz got the attention of Epic Records who signed Sholz and Delp under a few conditions. They had to perform a live audition, which meant that a full band had to be assembled. Also, Epic refused Sholz’s request to use his demo tapes from home, insisting that all material come from a “professional studio”. It appeared the entire album had to be re-recorded and seven years of work scrapped.

However, Scholz found an ally in producer John Boylan, who had the makeshift “band” doing sessions at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles while Sholz was back in Massachusetts finalizing his demos and transferring them to a professional, 24-track format. It was a very elaborate (and Expensive) diversion, but in the end it was well worth it. Aside from Delp’s vocals and most of the drum tracks, very little of the recordings from Capitol Studios was used in the final mix of the Boston album, which is all the more incredible when you consider the absolutely innovative nature of the album’s sound.

Arriving in August 1976, Boston resurrected the classic rock format which seemed to be giving way to the new, divergent genres of punk rock and disco. Scholz’s innovative use of self-designed equipment would be reproduced and replicated throughout the subsequent years, especially the 1980s. While the fusion of hard rock with delicate motifs and layered melodies and harmonics had been done in the past by artists like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Yes, and The James Gang, it was mastered by Boston.
 


Boston by Boston
Released: August 25, 1976 (Kirshner)
Produced by: John Boylan & Tom Scholz
Recorded: Foxglove Studios, Watertown, MA, October 1975 – April 1976
Side One Side Two
More Than a Feeling
Peace of Mind
Foreplay
Long Time
Rock and Roll Band
Smokin’
Hitch a Ride
Something About You
Let Me Take You Home Tonight
Band Musicians
Brad Delp – All Vocals, Acoustic Guitars
Tom Scholz – Guitars, Keys, Bass
Barry Goudreau – Guitars
Sib Hashian – Drums

 
If there is any any flaw in the Boston album it is that they got the sides wrong. While each side works well as a cohesive unit, the album should have started with side two, with the introductory “Rock and Roll Band”, and worked its way up to the fantastic side one, closing with “Long Time”. In this spirit, I’ve decided to review the second side first.

“Rock and Roll Band” is an ironic song in that Boston never really was a “band” before the production of this album. The project started just with Sholz, Delp, and drummer Jim Masdea trying to recreate the recordings that Sholz was recording, but never really reaching any point of notoriety live. Masdea, who left shortly before the Sholz and Delp were signed to Epic, did perform the drums on this track but none others. When the record label insisted on a full band doing a live audition of the material, Sholz enlisted the rest of the players and the “band” was formed.

Boston

“Smokin” was originally written by Brad Delp as a piece called “Shakin” and contains an upbeat grove in the same vein as Grand Funk though topped off by the unmistakable sound of Boston. A long jam in the middle is dominated by Sholz’s organ work and the steady, consistent drumming of Sib Hashian. “Hitch a Ride” is a beautiful ballad and a true classic by Boston. It is first dominated by the acoustic guitar through the verses under the restrained vocals by Delp. A peculiar yet entertaining organ lead comes after the second chorus, but the long ending featuring a double-tracked electric guitar lead may is the real treat. It may be one of the finest guitar leads ever performed. The song’s meaning has long been in dispute. With lyrics like –

Life is like the coldest winter, people freeze the tears I cry”

and –

Gonna hitch a ride, head for the other side
Leave it all behind, never change my mind…
Freedom on my mind, carry me away for the last time”

Some may be led to believe that this beautiful song is actually about taking one’s life, especially in light of Delp’s suicide in 2007 (although Delp did not write the song).

Closing out the second side, the album’s final two tracks are the closest to standard pop songs with standard subject matter. “Something About You”, although a fine song by any standard, is the closest thing to a throwaway song on this album as it is nothing spectacular compared to the rest of the material on the album. “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” is much better, a true pop song with the highest production value. It has a beautiful arrangement among the acoustic, electric, and organ parts and a very melodic bridge with a counter-melody. It all wraps up with an upbeat, revival-like coda section that fades to the end.
 

 
With a rather unique fade in which only serves to add more mystique to the song, “More Than a Feeling” the first song on the first album, is the greatest song Boston would ever create. It is a perfect rock song in many ways, beginning with a pleasant acoustic folk riff that launches into an incredible rock riff linked by a short, space age guitar lead previewing the fantastic harmonized electric guitar of Tom Sholz. The most fantastic item in this department store full of ear candy, Sholz would go on to patten this sound with the development of the Rockman. In “More Than a Feeling”, the guitar lead is played over a quite complex yet totally melodic progression, with the final note seems to sustain into infinity under the vocals of Brad Delp vocals in the final chorus. The song itself took five years for Sholz to perfect and his diligence sure paid off.

An acoustic intro betrays the hard rocking tenor of “Peace of Mind”, a commentary on work/life balance. Here Delp’s harmonies shine brightest through the choruses and there is also some great bass by Sholz, proving his talents on yet another instrument. On “Foreplay”, the album’s oldest piece, Sholz plays the organ and clavichord in a space age instrumental consisting of rapid triplet arpeggios played on a Hammond M3 organ. All “effects” were performed on guitar by Sholz, as the band swears that not a single synthesizer was used on the album. “Long Time” is the perfect closing song, starting with a great lead guitar which pierces through the very basic rhythm by the organ and bass as the song kicks in and accents each verse nicely. The choruses switch up and are dominated by a strummed acoustic guitar and what sounds like an electronic hand clap. But even with this radical departure, the song flows perfectly from one section to the other.

Boston became the most successful debut ever by an artist and remained so for over a decade, selling a million albums in less than three months and nine times that figure over its first decade. The band would put out a similarly-styled follow-up with Don’t Look Back two years later, but Sholz felt that effort was “rushed” and it did not fare nearly as well critically nor commercially. In reality, Boston would be that unique super nova by the band which could never be replicated. It was also the rare piece that was extremely excellent, extremely popular, and has held up over the decades, and that is what makes it Classic Rock Review‘s album of the year for 1976.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

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Classic Rock Review Album of the Year, 1966
Pet Sounds by the Beach BoysTo this day, The Beach Boys remain the most commercially successful American rock band with 36 Top 40 hits. Most of these hits were scored between 1962 and 1965, when the bulk of the band members were still teenagers. In 1966, the band took a radical turn under the leadership of Brian Wilson with the release of the innovative and artistic Pet Sounds. Brian had ceased touring with the band, which left him plenty of time to concentrate on producing what he had declared would be “the greatest album ever made”. He enlisted the help of over 50 session musicians, performing instruments from all across the musical universe. Although a commercial failure as compared to the group’s phenomenal success in recent years, this album would go on through history being critically acclaimed and lauded as one of the greatest albums ever by several rock publications. Although we don’t take a position on “ever” here at Classic Rock Review, we have selected Pet Sounds as our top album for the year 1966.

The eleventh overall album by the Beach Boys, Pet Sounds was truly unique in its approach and production. Much of the album was produced while the band was on tour in Japan using the cream of Los Angeles session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” with Brian Wilson in charge of production and musical composition and Tony Asher providing much of the lyrics. When the band returned from the tour, they found a nearly complete album requiring little more than their vocals to finish it off. This caused some friction within the group, especially from lead singer Mike Love who was also the band’s chief lyricist during their early, hit-making years. Love called the project “Brian’s ego music” while other group members worried that they would lose their core audience if they changed their successful musical formula. Founding members Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson also reportedly had problems with the abandonment of “good times and fast cars” in the Beach Boys songs.

The Beach Boys

The true catalyst that set the tone for Pet Sounds was the December 1965 release of The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul. The album was filled with good, all original songs, unlike the standard practice of filling albums with a few commercial hits and much filler. As Brian Wilson recalled of his first impressions of that album;

“I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs that somehow went together like no album ever made before…”

Wilson started by contacting Asher, then a young lyricist and copywriter who had been working on advertising jingles, who Wilson had met in a recording studio months earlier. While Wilson articulated the general vibe of each song, Asher interpreted this into actual lyrics. Most of the songs for Pet Sounds were composed over the winter of 1965-1966. Love is co-credited on just a few tracks, notably the opening “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “I Know There’s an Answer”, which was originally composed as the LSD-ridden “Hang Onto Your Ego” but was rewritten and retitled at the insistence of Love.

Developing his production methods over several years, Brian Wilson refined and developed many of the techniques innovated by Phil Spector. With the new, state-of-the-art Ampex 8-track recorder, Wilson would first record all the backing tracks, mixing them down to stereo or even mono versions, leaving 6 or 7 tracks open for the Beach Boys complex vocal leads and harmonies. He has since stated that he named the album using Spector’s initials as a tribute. Unlike Spector however, Wilson was almost completely deaf in his right ear, making his accomplishments all the more remarkable.
 


Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
Released: May 16, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Recorded: Los Angeles, July 1965 – April 1966
Side One Side Two
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Head On My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting For the Day
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s An Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No
Band Musicians
Brian Wilson – Organ, Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
Mike Love – Lead Vocals
Al Jardine – Lead & Backing Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals

 
The group’s 1966 hit “Good Vibrations” was originally intended to be on the album (and, in fact, presented to Capitol Records as an example of the album’s sound), but to everyone’s surprise was cut from the running order by Brian Wilson. Released as a single, the song went on to top the charts worldwide as well as win a Grammy for song of the year.

Pet Sounds starts with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, which sets the pace for the album with the carnival-like intro, broken by the vocals of Brian Wilson which are upbeat yet melancholy all at once. The song was released as a single and peaked at #8 in the summer of 1966 and contains some signature, complex Beach Boys harmonies making it a sort of bridge from their good times surf music to this new frontier of art rock.

Each of the songs on the album’s first side introduces a new technique by Wilson. “You Still Believe In Me” was the first song for which Asher provided lyrics, derived from a working song by Wilson called “In My Childhood”. It has a Baroque style vibe and an almost teenage-like lover’s lament in the lyric and vocals. “That’s Not Me” is quite psychedelic and with very unique and minimalist instrumentation under a standard vocal line and chorus, with lead vocals by Mike Love and the rest of the Beach Boys playing most of the instruments, an oddity on this album. In contrast, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” is a beautiful but sad song performed entirely by Brian Wilson and session musicians. These session players included bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine who make a strong impact on the song “I’m Waiting For the Day”, which contains a constant rhythm against the near constant fluctuations in arrangement in this asymmetrical tangent of a song.

Sloop John B by The Beach Boys The track “Sloop John B” had been suggested to Wilson by Al Jardine and was recorded during the previous summer of 1965. It was a traditional Caribbean folk song that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a light and fun song to end the first side with an arrangement that constantly builds with instrumentation, intensity, and vocal layering. Brian Wilson, who was not a big fan of traditional folk music, changed many of the lyrics to the song and actually auditioned each group member for lead vocals, as he wanted it to have a distinctively “rock” sound in the end. Ultimately, he chose himself and Mike Love for this task.

Pet Sounds contains a couple of instrumental tracks, another quality that was not typical for albums in 1966. Both “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” and the title song “Pet Sounds” had originally been recorded as backing tracks for existing songs, but were ultimately chosen to be published without vocals. “Let’s Go Away..” is a calm and grown up piece of 1960’s soft jazz with marimba and acoustic guitar holding the piece together under various orchestral instruments, including violins, piano, saxophones, oboe, vibes, a guitar with a coke bottle on the strings. Originally titled “The Old Man And The Baby”, Brian Wilson once stated that the song was “the most satisfying piece of music I’ve ever made”. “Pet Sounds” is more percussion driven, carving out a strong slice of sixties identity for Wilson and the band. It was originally called “Run James Run” and intended to be used as the theme of a James Bond movie.
 

 
The second side of the album starts with the two masterpiece songs on Pet Sounds. With the ethereal vocals of the youngest brother Carl Wilson, “God Only Knows” may be the perfect love song with the edge of excellent instrumentation, arrangement and harmonies later in the song. The song was one of the first commercial songs to use the word ‘God’ in its title, a decision that Wilson and Asher agonized over, fearing it would not get airplay as a result. With French horns in the song’s famous introduction and a harpsichord throughout, the song is distinct and unique and a true classic. “I Know There’s An Answer” is another melodic, well-crafted, and entertaining song which is distinctly more upbeat than its predecessor. It contains distinct and entertaining sprinkles of bass harmonica by Tommy Morgan in the verses and later as a lead solo. Influenced by an LSD trip, the song also features a banjo section and intense vocals during the choruses.

Rounding out the album are three more excellent compositions of differing tone and tempo. “Here Today” sounds like it should have been single material. An upbeat love song with more conventional and conservative arrangements, it is song about love always having the potential for heartbreak never too far away. It contains an orchestral instrumental break influenced by composer J.S. Bach. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is perhaps the most profound statement made by Brian Wilson on this album. The lyrics are about the loss of innocence in growing up and to a lesser extent, his evolving role in the band and all those who thought he was crazy for doing Pet Sounds. The final track, “Caroline, No” extends this longing for innocence and the static, status quo. The song was apparently dedicated to a high school love interest named Carol and was originally titled “Carol, I Know” but morphed to the other title and was actually released as a Brian Wilson single in early 1966, his first and only “solo” work during the groups Capitol years. The song (and album) ends with the sound of an approaching and passing train and a dog furiously barking at it.

Pet Sounds would be at once the apex of the Beach Boy’s artistic and output and the termination of their hit-making years. Wilson attempted to follow it up in 1967 with a project called Smile but it fell apart due to his mental problems and drug use. In that sense, the other band members may been correct about “not messing with the formula”. But what would the world have missed if they had simply stuck to writing more songs about fast cars, good times, and women?

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th Anniversary of 1966 Albums.

 

Ten by Pearl Jam

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1991 Album of the Year Banner
Ten by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s excellent debut is one of the most potent and indelible of debut albums ever released. The 1991 album, called Ten after the number of tracks included on the album, was released on August 27, 1991, at the vanguard of the Seattle grunge invasion, and has sold just over ten million copies to date. More importantly, the fusion of syles and songcraft worked to forge a sound which would have immediate ripples through the hard rock world and beyond.

The album and the band itself came together after situations that developed rapidly in the 18 months prior to Ten‘s release. Pearl Jam’s founding members, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Steve Gossard, played together in the band Mother Love Bone during the late 1980s. That band’s career was cut short when, shortly before the release of the group’s debut album, vocalist Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose in 1990. Devastated, Gossard and Ament did not play together for months until they began jamming with fellow Seattle guitarist Mike McCready. Soon they recorded a few instrumental demos, which came to be known as the “Stone Gossard Demos”. These tapes were circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer to complete a rock band. San Diego vocalist Eddie Vedder acquired a copy of the demo and began to write lyrics for the instrumentals. Songs originally titled “Dollar Short”, “Agytian Crave”, and “E Ballad” were soon reworked as “Alive”, “Once”, and “Black”. Gossard and Ament heard the updated demo with Vedder’s vocals and lyrics, and sent him a ticket to fly to Seattle for an audition on October 13, 1990. There Vedder rehearsed with the band, which now included drummer Dave Krusen.

The new band was initially named Mookie Blaylock after the New Jersey Nets basketball star, but because Blaylock had recently landed a deal with Nike, the band had to reconsider the name and settle on Pearl Jam, while Ten‘s title was taken from Blaylock’s jersey number. They soon landed a deal with Epic Records and entered Seattle’s London Bridge Studios in March 1991 with producer Rick Parashar. In little more than a month, the sessions were completed and soon after, in May 1991, Krusen left the band to enter rehab and was replaced by drummer Matt Chamberlain.


Ten by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Pearl Jam
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March 27-April 26, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Once
Even Flow
Alive
Why Go
Black
Jeremy
Oceans
Porch
Garden
Deep
Release / Master-Slave
Eddie Vedder – Vocals
Mike McCready – Lead Guitar
Steve Gossard – Guitar
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Krusan – Drums
 
Buy Ten by Pearl Jam

Vedder’s lyrics for the album are mainly negative and deal with subjects like depression, loneliness, and suicide. The song “Jeremy” was inspired, in part, by a true story in which a high school student shot himself in front of his classmates. This haunting but catchy tune includes an unconventional storytelling vocal melody during the verse and a soaring hook during the chorus. The music for the song was written on acoustic guitar by bassist Jeff Ament in February 1991, just before the band went into the studio.

Both the opener “Once” and the brilliant “Alive” were formed as part of a three song cycle by Vedder called “Mamasan” (with the third song, “Footsteps”, a B-side on the “Jeremy” single). “Alive” starts with a slow, methodical, majestic intro by Gossard, but is then dominated by Vedder with his distinct and odd vocals and melody. A simple but entertaining guitar riff in the calm bridge gives way to a contrasting coda/crescendo jam by McCready. While the song’s lyric deals with the shock of a son discovering that his real father is dead, many fans have come to interpret interpreted “Alive” as an uplifting and inspirational anthem.

Evenflow SingleAccording to the band members, “Evenflow” was an extremely difficult song to record, taking up to 75 to 100 attempts to capture effectively. The result, however, is another classic, vocally driven song with a great hook during chorus and a heavy funk riff by Gossard. The song nearly fades away during the lead bridge, before coming back with a vengeance in another outtro crescendo. Vedder’s lyrics describe his experience of being a homeless man and panhandler. The song was released as the second single from Ten and peaked at #3 on the Mainstream Rock charts.

The album also includes a couple of calm, surreal, melancholy efforts that act as an excellent counter-weight to the heavier songs on the album. “Black” is a melancholy song with obscure lyrics that appear to deal with a loss of some kind. It contains a signature, harmonic vocal motif which, combined with an accompanying lead guitar, forms a memorable sonic hook in the background of the song. The acoustic and melodic “Oceans” is nearly a love song with a few odd passages and percussive effects which make it a unique ballad. “Release” is a more droning and atmospheric piece.

Pearl Jam in 1991

Ten was not an immediate success, as it initially sold slowly upon its release. It took until the later part 1992 until it finally caught on in the mainstream, peaking at #2 on the Billboard album chart. Ironically, Pearl Jam was then accused by some of “jumping on the grunge bandwagon” in the wake of the immediate success by their crosstown contemporaries Nirvana, even though that band released their breakthrough album, Nevermind in September 1991, a month later than Pearl Jam’s debut. There has been much debate over the years over which of these two albums from 1991 was the superior effort. For us at Classic Rock Review there is no contest as Ten is deeper, better sounding, with better songs and much less filler material. That is why it is our Album of the Year for 1991.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

 

Back In the High Life
by Steve Winwood

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Album of the Year, 1986 Banner

Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood Steve Winwood is an artist who has had two major phases of his professional career. Starting as a teenager with the Spencer Davis Group, he was thrust into the international spotlight with a pair of mega-hits “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man”. This kicked off the first phase of his career playing and fronting several progressive rock bands including Blind Faith and, more prominently, Traffic throughout the late sixties and early seventies.

Then, in the 1980s, Winwood came back with the second phase of his career which was more distinctly pop and blue-eyed soul. He scored some minor hits from the albums Arc of a Diver in 1980 and Talking Back to the Night in 1982. These albums set the stage for the most successful album of his career – 1986’s Back In the High Life. Here, Winwood took some of the styles and methods that he had developed on the previous two albums and brought it to a whole new level.

The album achieves that elusive goal of combining great songs that will stand the test of time while also catering to the commercial appeal of the day. As we mentioned earlier in other reviews, this was no easy task in 1986 when the prevailing pop “sound” was at a nadir. Winwood and co-producer Russ Titelman sacrificed nothing here. The entire album managed to encompass the sounds of the eighties, as it uses its share of synthesizers and modern fonts without sounding dated. This was achieved by counter-balancing the “80’s” sounds with some traditional instruments, styles and Winwood’s distinctive and emotive vocals. There is also excellent songwriting, with most songs co-written by Winwood and Will Jennings and all including some cool lyrics and catchy melodies.

1986 is the third year overall that this new 2011 enterprise called Classic Rock Review has examined, the first two were 1971 and 1981. It may seem like we choose these years at random, there is a method to our madness as we choose to review years with significant anniversaries (that is anniversaries divisible by ‘5’), and it is the 25th anniversary of the music of 1986. With each of these review years, we choose an Album of the Year to review last, and for 1986 that album is Back In the High Life.
 


Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood
Released: July, 1986 (Island)
Produced by: Russ Titelman & Steve Winwood
Recorded: Unique Recording & The Power Station, New York, Netherturkdonic Studio, Gloucestershire, England, Fall 1985-Spring 1986
Side One Side Two
Higher Love
Take It As It Comes
Freedom Overspill
Back In the High Life Again
The Finer Things
Wake Me Up On Judgment Day
Split Decision
My Love’s Leavin’
Primary Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Keyboards, Synths, Lead Vocals
Phillipe Saisse – Bass
Jimmy Brawlower – Drums & Percussion

 
For a pop-oriented album, Back In the High Life is unique. Each of its eight tracks exceed five minutes in length which is something not seen much outside of prog rock, art rock, or dance tracks. This may be a further testament to the thought and effort put into these compositions. The album also contains some cameo appearances by popular contemporaries, diversely spread throughout.

The album kicks off with the song which would become Winwood’s only #1 hit of his long career, “Higher Love”. This nicely sets the pace for what we’ll expect from the rest of the album – Caribbean rhythms with synth, horns, funky bass, and the distinctive, upper-range vocals. This song is awash in good feelings; “Let me feel that love come over you…”, almost a gospel-like song, and it features soul star Chaka Kahn singing high background harmonies.

On the other end, the album concludes with a couple of interesting songs with very different co-writers. “Split Decision” was co-written by the legendary Joe Walsh and begins with a distinctive, crunchy riff from Walsh and then smoothly works towards a more Winwood-centric riff with organ and reggae beat in the verse and a soul-influenced chorus. The lyric is another take on the influences of good and evil on a person;

“One man puts the fire out, the other lights the fuse…”

“My Love’s Leavin'” was co-written by British eccentric artist Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and contains stark soundscapes which are ethereal and haunting, about facing reality and singing of hope and faith in the face of a loss.

Steve Winwood“Freedom Overspill” contains some rewarding instrumentation with an edgy, whining guitar providing some of the best licks on the album above a masterful arrangement of synths, organ, horns, and rhythm. It is very funky and very eighties, but somehow it is not a caricature. The lyrics paint a picture of a couple up all night hashing out their differences – “Coffee and tears the whole night through/Burning up on midnight oil/And it’s come right back on you”.

“The Finer Things” was another radio hit from the album, with its misty opening, bouncing, Police-like rhythms, and lots of changes throughout. The song rolls along like the river, at some points calm and serene while at others rough and tumbling rapids. This metaphor is explicit in the lyrics;

“So time is a river rolling into nowhere, I will live while I can I will have my ever after…” 

“Wake Me Up On Judgment Day” is a song about wanting to avoid struggle – to get to the good stuff without all of the pitfalls – “Give me life where nothing fails, not a dream in a wishing well”. The song kicks in like a sunrise, the burst of light then explodes from the dawn. Ironically, this song talks of “horns” but actual “horns” are used sparingly with a heavy bass line and much percussion.

But the single element that makes Back In the High Life a truly great album is the title song “Back In the High Life Again”. According to co-writer Jennings, the song was one that Winwood seemed to have little interest in developing when recording began on the album. Until one winter day Winwood returned to his mansion after his divorce to find everything gone except for a mandolin in the corner of the living room. Jennings said, “He went over and picked up the mandolin, and he already had the words in his head, and that’s when he wrote the melody.” The recording of this song for the album includes a lead mandolin along several other ethnic instruments such as acoustic guitar, accordion, bagpipes, and marching drums, with guest James Taylor on backing vocals. This is all as a backdrop for the excellent vocal melody by Winwood, which portrays the feeling of hope and optimism.
 

 
The song was later covered by Warren Zevon, whose bare-bones, emotional delivery has an entirely different mood from Winwood’s original release, mournful and melancholy, almost satirical. This despite the fact that Zevon did not change the key or melody for his recording. Perhaps the truest test for a quality song is when it can have several interpretations and “faces”, depending on its delivery, and “Back In the High Life Again” is truly a great song.

Back In the High Life was the final album Winwood would do for Island Records, a label he had been with for 21 years at the time of the album’s released in July, 1986. Despite this longevity, Winwood was still relatively young at 38 and he would go on to do more interesting things in the subsequent years; signing with Virgin Records and producing a few more hit albums in the late eighties, reuniting the band Traffic in nineties, and most recently working with former Blind Faith band mate Eric Clapton, with whom he toured in 2011.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Who’s Next by The Who

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

VCS-3 Synthesizer
VCS3 Synthesizer

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

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

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

The Who in 1971

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

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

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

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1971 Images

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