All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass DVDThe chronological framework of Classic Rock Review spans the years 1965-2000 in order to coincide with the rise and fall of the traditional, artist-driven, hard-copy “album”. Nearly mirroring this time span and on a parallel track is the meteoric rise and fall of Tower Records, a record “superstore” with humble beginnings to cult-like status to mainstream worldwide success to sudden demise. Directed by Colin Hanks, All Things Must Pass is a feature-length documentary that examines the company’s origins, serendipitous growth, culture, influence and its legacy.

The promise of this story is in the opening script; “In 1999 Tower Records had over a billion dollars in sales by 2004 the company was bankrupt…” However, in reality, this documentary unfolds in proportion to real time events, with much more attention spent on the decades of growth and expansion in the company and much less (not enough) focused on the sudden and shocking collapse of Tower Records and the recorded music industry as a whole.

Russ Soloman in Tower SF, 1968aThe focal point of the documentary is Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, who got started at a young age working in his father’s variety drug store in Sacramento, California in the 1940s. Solomon’s experience in the record industry started by selling used records from the soda fountain jukebox and slowly led to Russ focusing solely on the wholesale and retail record sales of the multi-purpose drug store. After an initial attempt and failure at running an independent record store in the 1950s, Soloman incorporated Tower Records in 1960 and had several years of steady growth in Sacramento. In 1968, Solomon opened a 5,000-square-foot store in San Francisco, which lauded itself as having the “largest inventory anywhere” and met with immediate phenomenal success. Solomon then replicated this model with an even larger location on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which caught the attention of many popular rock artists and record industry insiders.

Much of the documentary talks about staff who started as simple clerks and rose to the highest executive positions when the company grew and expanded. These stories are somewhat interesting but a bit too “inside baseball” for the passive viewer. The documentary does do well in talking about its culture and relaxed atmosphere, with no dress code and an implicit tolerance of drinking and drugs with the only real “rule” being to show up everyday. Soloman claimed he had a “Tom Sawyer” style of management, letting his staff enthusiastically do the hard work and giving them the freedom to get the work done in their own style. Many of these workers were musicians or music fanatics, creating an ideal social atmosphere for the customers they were looking to attract. The documentary includes on-camera commentary by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Dave Grohl as well as a really cool 1974 audio advertisement by John Lennon.

Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, Tower Records grew nationally and internationally, with sales and profits rising each year until the company did over a billion dollars annually by the end of the century. Then came the collapse of terrestrial retail as digital technologies emerged starting in the year 2000 when, after 40 years of consistent growth, sales flat-lined. By no means was this collapse due in total to outside forces and some of the key players at Tower own up to mistakes. One major mistake was the panicked sale of Tower’s Japanese outlets which, ironically, are now the only store locations that are still operating today.

Empty Tower store, 2006

A native of Sacramento, Hanks spent seven years on this documentary and presents the story expertly, bringing the record store experience back to those of us who grew up in that era. The most vivid and haunting scenes coming at the very beginning and very end with a completely empty but still-in-tact Tower location in a retail strip-mall, showing the passing of a cultural pastime.

All Things Must Pass was released on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group on September 13, 2016.
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Madman Across the Water
by Elton John

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Madman Across the Water by Elton JohnMadman Across the Water was the fourth studio album by Elton John and his sixth overall album released within a span of just 29 months. The album is filled with songs that highlight John’s mellow and melodic music with Bernie Taupin‘s theatrical lyrical themes, making it a rather unique offering. Most of these tracks are over five minutes in length and filled with complex and deep arrangements, which gives the record a progressive-like feel and has kept this music viable and fresh four decades after its creation.

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton John started performing piano standards in pubs by the age fifteen and soon joined an R&B backing group called Bluesology, which often backed popular American soul acts while touring England. He later adopted his stage name as a tribute to fellow Bluesology members Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. John was later a profession session man who played on tracks recorded by artists ranging from The Hollies to Roger Hodgson and also began composing songs with Taupin for other artists. After a low-selling 1969 debut album, John reached international prominence in 1970, starting with his self-titled second release and the Top Ten hit “Your Song”. This was followed later in the year by Tumbleweed Connection, an American West inspired concept album which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Elton John next toured America and recorded the live album 11–17–70 in New York City on that date.  The prolific output of John and Taupin continued in early 1971 when they composed and recorded the soundtrack to the film Friends.

Like those four previous releases, Madman Across the Water was produced by Gus Dudgeon. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios over several sessions throughout 1971 and included a rich array of session musicians along with the fine string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, which helped forge a rich and theatrical vibe for this album.

 


Madman Across the Water by Elton John
Released: November 5, 1971 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, February-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
Tiny Dancer
Levon
Razor Face
Madman Across the Water
Indian Sunset
Holiday Inn
Rotten Peaches
All the Nasties
Goodbye
Primary Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano
Caleb Quaye – Guitars
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Mandolin, Sitar
Roger Pope – Drums

Unlike Tumbleweed Connection, this is not quite a theme album although it does provide an account of Elton John’s experiences in America. This is most prominent on “Tiny Dancer”, the album opener, which is also its finest song and a true classic. As reflected through this whole album, John’s music and melody are top notch while Taupin’s lyrics are a little less than so. Everything about the musical arrangement is perfectly placed from the bass lines and ever-intensifying rhythms to the strings to the steel guitar by session man B.J. Cole and, of course, John’s piano which subtly finds its way through the complex chord progressions. Even though the second verse is verbatim lyrically to the first, the arrangement and performance is varied enough to make it completely distinct.

Led by John’s vocal melodies, “Levon” beautifully builds throughout. Here, Taupin’s obscure lyrics are much more thought provoking and work better overall with the rich song craft. A fine acoustic accompanies the piano of the first verse while Brian Odgers‘s funky bass line is accompanied by a cool honky-tonk piano during the second verse. Topping it all off are the orchestral strings, which are much more up front and assert their presence more here than anywhere else on the album. The long coda contains a blend of many of these styles executed in harmony, a real tribute to Dudgeon’s production style. “Razor Face” has a great chord progression with the verse combination of piano and high-pitched organ by Yes’s virtuoso keyboardist Rick Wakeman. John’s vocals hit the higher registers nicely, spouting lyrics which are not great but effective enough to make this interesting and entertaining. The dark and dramatic title track is unlike many others in the Elton John collection, as this relies more on texture and effect than musical composition. It is musically built more on acoustic guitar than piano with the orchestral strings again being well asserted. The song nearly fades out in the middle, but slowly comes back for one final verse where the lyrics speak of paranoia and self-destruction;

The ground’s a long way down but I need more, Is the nightmare black or are the windows painted?”

Side two of the album is far less memorable than the first and many of the songs feature backing musicians more prominently than John himself. “Indian Sunset” contains evocative and a capella vocals up front, but is less than stellar in achieving its intended theatrics. “Holiday Inn” is a folk waltz with exquisite vocal arrangements but is really a centerpiece for Davey Johnstone on mandolin and acoustic guitar. “Rotten Peaches” and “All the Nasties” are both slightly Gospel influenced, with the former feature high bass note progressions by Dee Murray and the latter including the Cantores em Ecclesia Choir. The album ends somberly, with the short and aptly titled “Goodbye”.

Upon its release, Madman Across the Water was thought to be a flop, as it failed to reach the Top 40 in John’s home country of England. Through the years, however, it did become a multi-Platinum success and has found increasing critical acclaim. Starting with Elton John’s next release, Honky Château in 1972, he would employ a more permanent backing group for both recording and touring and enter into the most successful phase of his career.

~

1971 Images

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

 

Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Walls and Bridges by John Lennon

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Walls and Bridges by John LennonWalls and Bridges seems to be one album that often gets lost in the John Lennon collection. It is not as dramatic as Plastic Ono Band, nor is it as popular as Imagine, nor as sad and tragic as the circumstances surrounding Double Fantasy. Still, this fifth post-Beatles album by Lennon (which he self-produced) is unique in its production and arrangements with a decidedly “modern” sound which includes sharp guitars, well-rounded yet thumping bass, dry snare drum with deep delays, and plenty of horn arrangements throughout. This album also captures Lennon’s mood during his 18 month “Lost Weekend”, his only separation form Yoko Ono during the last 13 years of Lennon’s life.

Lennon and Ono moved to New York in 1971 and escalated their anti-war message, which brought the Nixon administration and FBI to embark on a multi-year attempt at deportation. 1972’s Some Time in New York City was an overtly political album, which was mainly a commercial and critical flop. Lennon’s next album, Mind Games in 1973, was an effort to move back towards a more standard rock and roll arrangement and included Ken Ascher on keyboards and Jim Keltner on drums, both of whom would be brought back for Walls and Bridges.

After he and Ono decided to separate, Lennon moved to Los Angeles with May Pang, an assistant of Ono’s. During this time, he was drinking and was involved with many alcohol-fueled public antics, which brought the former Beatle some negative publicity. In the midst of this chaos, it was growing ever harder to get any recordings done. So Lennon and Pang settled back in New York in the Spring of 1974 and started rehearsing new material with a group of core musicians, including Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, and Klaus Voormann (who played on Lennon’s first two solo albums) on bass. After moving to the studio and recording the basic tracks, Lennon took the helm during overdubbing, which gave the album it s distinct arrangements and sound.


Walls and Bridges by John Lennon
Released: September 26, 1974 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon
Recorded: Record Plant East, New York City, July–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Going Down on Love
Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
Old Dirt Road
What You Got
Bless You
Scared
#9 Dream
Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)
Steel and Glass
Beef Jerky
Nobody Loves You
Ya Ya
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Percussion
Jesse Ed Davis – Guitars
Ken Ascher – Piano, Keyboards
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The opener “Going Down on Love” is marked by the percussion by Arthur Jenkins under the main blues riff and hook. This multi-section song with higher-register vocals contains the first horn ensemble which sets the tone for the album. This is followed by the only non-Beatles song by Lennon to top the charts, “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”. Lennon’s lead vocals are harmonized by Elton John, who also plays piano on the track and was so impressed with the final result that he made a bet with Lennon that it would reach #1 on the charts. When Lennon lost the bet, he agreed to perform a few songs at an Elton John concert on what would turn out to be Lennon’s last major public performance of his life.

Lennon also collaborated with Harry Nilsson on “Old Dirt Road”. This song contains a country flavored piano and strummed acoustic, harkening back to “Jealous Guy” from Imagine, as a slow and steady ballad with a bit of Beatles bounce in the pre-chorus. On “What You Got”, Lennon gives a wild vocal performance in a funk-infused track with piano, strong horns, and very animated drums by Keltner. “Bless You” is a soul-inspired ballad with heavy electric piano, slowly strummed acoustic, and a moody sax solo. Lennon’s vocals are very melody driven and song is perfect for soft-rock, easy listening in 1974 and he called this track the “best piece of work on the album”. Side one of Walls and Bridges wraps with “Scared”, which contains dramatic, wolf howling sound effects before breaking into a direct, bass and piano driven beat which reminds one of the Plastic Ono Band album in its raw emotion and candidness.

“#9 Dream” is one of the most indelible Lennon songs ever recorded. The slide guitar by Davis, which seems to mimic fellow Beatle George Harrison, is accompanied by strummed acoustic, deep strings, and very ethereal vocals. There are sudden but non-abrasive changes in the arrangement and a chorus of background vocals including some whispers by May Pang. Lennon claims the entire song, including the chorus hook; “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” (which has no specific meaning), came to him in a dream. “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” is the second song harmonized by Elton John through lead verses. There is a lot packed into this short song, with multiple melodies and moods. “Steel and Glass” is a dark folk song, with dramatic picked acoustic guitars in minor chords beneath strong and poignant vocals in opening verses before it breaks into richer arrangement for subsequent choruses and verses.

The mostly instrumental “Beef Jerky” starts with guitar feedback effects before morphing into an arrangement with a more “modern sound”. “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” is a sad acoustic song about fair-weather friends. Lyrically, it contains the potent line; “I’ve been across to the other, I’ve shown you everything, I’ve got nothing to hide…” while musically the strings seem to mimic those in “Mind Games” from the previous album and the bluesy guitar lead above slow horn ensemble is one of the finest moments on the album. The album closes with “Ya Ya”, a short and upbeat cover which features Julian Lennon on drums and was included as a surprise for John’s 11-year-old son with the credit; “Starring Julian Lennon on drums and Dad on piano and vocals”.

Walls and Bridges rose quickly up the charts and reached #1 in the US less than a week after its release. In 1975, Lennon released an album of cover songs called Rock n’ Roll. He also reunited with Yoko Ono and commenced a five year retirement from music when the arrival of the couple’s son, Sean, later in that year.

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1974 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

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Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John We’ve been down this road before of critiquing double albums which would have worked better as a single album. See our recent review of Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones or stayed tuned for our look at The Beatles’ White Album later this year. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the 1973 double-length album by Elton John may also fit this mold. The album starts extremely strong, with deeply produced and thoughtful compositions through the first side and a half, but then the bottom falls out with a barrage of trite filler before a slight recovery towards the end of side four. The album comes at the end of an incredibly prolific, four and a half year span for John and lyricist Bernie Taupin. In that span which began in mid-1969, the pair had composed and recorded a live album, a film soundtrack, and six studio albums before this double seventh album.

After a failed attempt to record in Jamaica, the album was recorded in a 18th century castle outside Paris, France called the Château d’Hérouville, where Elton John had recorded his previous two albums, Honky Château in 1972 and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player earlier in 1973. Taupin reportedly wrote all the lyrics to the album’s 17 songs in two and a half weeks while John composed most of the music in three days while in Jamaica.

The album was produced by Gus Dudgeon, who was not initially expecting to produce a two-record collection. However, John and Taupin had composed 22 tracks for the album and ended up recording 18 of these (two of which were fused together for the opening medley). This diverse double album recapped many of the styles (for good and bad) which John explored through his first four years in the spotlight and even added a bit of prog rock with the epic opener “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”. This eleven minute epic starts with a long, multi-part instrumental with doomy organs accented by synths performed by engineer David Hentschel, and of course plenty of piano, all meant to replicate the type of music John envisioned played at his own funeral. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is riff-driven and melodic with a backing vocal chorus and a very active guitar by Davey Johnstone.


Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Released: October 5, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, Hérouville, France, May 1973
Side One Side Two
Funeral For a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding
Candle In the Wind
Bennie and the Jets
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
This Song Has No Title
Grey Seal
Jamaica Jerk-Off
I’ve Seen That Movie Too
Side Three Side Four
Sweet Painted Lady
The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)
Dirty Little Girl
All the Girls Love Alice
Your Sister Can’t Twist
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Roy Rogers
Social Disease
Harmony
Primary Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano, Organ, Mellotron
Davey Johnstone – Acoustic, Electric, & Slide Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Dee Murray – Bass, Vocals
Nigel Olsson – Drums, Vocals

The ballad “Candle In the Wind” was a recurring theme throughout Elton John’s career, with three separate versions released as singles and reaching the pop charts in 1974, 1988, and 1997. This original version has the most rock “decor” with a strongly distorted guitar above the piano melody and more great harmonies, fitting the epic theme of this album. It’s lyrics pay homage to Marilyn Monroe, with the actual phrase “candle in the wind” first used in tribute to Janis Joplin.

“Bennie and the Jets” is a choppy piano song with glam overtones about a fictional band (much like David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars). It would go on to become one of John’s most popular songs, but the artist was against releasing it as a single in the first place because original version in its first carnation was too “dry”. Some live effects were added by Dudgeon to give the song some atmosphere, which livened it up enough for John to capitulate.

The title song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is the finest composition on the album. It was written by Taupin, playing homage to the first movie he even saw as a child, The Wizard of Oz, and facing the realities of life as he had now grown up. John performs a signature vocal part in an extraordinarily high register, which Dudgeon claims is totally natural and completely improvised by John in the studio. The slowly-building arrangement reaches a full orchestral climax that leaves the listener wanting for more.

Side two has a couple of more fine tunes, the piano folk “This Song Has No Title” with light flute and soaring vocal melodies, and the upbeat “Grey Seal”, with a driving bass by Dee Murray to complement John’s boogie piano, with a definite 70s pre-disco sound. Then the album reaches its first song to not feel cohesive nor epic, like a bad joke in a serious drama, called “Jamaica Jerk Off”, a dreadful mock-reggae. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” finishes the side in an attempt at another mellow classic that doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliance of “Rocket Man” or “Tiny Dancer”.

Elton John Band, 1973The album’s third side is, by far, the most forgettable, “Sweet Painted Lady” is a “shock” song about a prostitute where Taupin uses explicit and cheap lyrics (“getting paid for being laid, I guess that’s the name of the game”) in a lame attempt to add some sleaze to the act. “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)” has a slight “The Night Chicago Died” or “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” quality, but is otherwise very forgettable. “Dirty Little Girl” is essentially “Bennie and the Jets” reformed in both music and melody to present a screed against a promiscuous woman. The only somewhat interesting song on the side is “All the Girls Love Alice”, about a young groupie with lesbian appeal, that musically returns to the higher quality.

The final side starts with “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, a totally retro tune right down to the bad Sha-Na-Na-style harmonies, with the only really interesting element being John’s Fafsa organ lead during the bridge. A much more convincing rocker is “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, a straight-up hard rock song with drummer Nigel Olsson shining brightest along with the driving, riff-driven electric guitar of Johnstone. The song was a surprise hit single, reaching the top 10 in the UK and the top 20 in the US, despite being banned on many radio stations fearing that the title would incite violence.

The final three songs on the album gains back some of the credibility built up earlier. “Roy Rogers” is a lazy country waltz with guitar pedal effects meant to replicate a steel guitar. “Social Disease” is also country-tinged with barking dogs and inclusion of banjo and twangy guitars by Johnstone above the choppy piano of John. “Harmony” closes the record finely with acoustic guitar, thoughtful, melodic progressions, and (of course) fine vocal harmonies. The song was considered as a fourth single, but by then it was too close to Elton John’s eighth album, 1974’s Caribou.

In all, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a very good album (filler and all) and was the climax of Elton John’s early, artistically lucrative, peak years. His output is terms of quality and quantity began to thin out through the late 1970s, but he would come back strong in the 1980s with another successful phase in his career.

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1973 Images

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

 

Honky Château by Elton John

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Honky Chateau by Elton JohnAlthough barely three years into his international career, Elton John was already on his fifth major label album by mid 1972 with Honky Château. It featured John’s regular touring band, including new guitarist and background vocalist Davey Johnstone . The album was a transitional one for John as it bridged the singer/songwriter formula of his early career with the more pop/rock oriented music he would produce later. There is also much diversity and depth on this album; spanning from songs with deep, introspective or even cynical tones to those which are light, upbeat, and follow the pattern of “good time” rock and roll.

In 1967, John had established a songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin, when they both answered the same ad. During the late 1960s, the two worked primarily as staff songwriters at various English studios before Elton John’s debut album, Empty Sky in 1969, followed by three more studio albums and a movie soundtrack through 1970 and 1971.

Honky Château is a bit lighter than its immediate predecessor Madman Across the Water and features an eclectic mix of ballads, rockers, blues, and country-rock. It comes at the dawning of Elton John’s creative apex with song-craft skill and dynamic performance.


Honky Chateau by Elton John
Released: May 19, 1972 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, Hérouville, France, January 1972
Side One Side Two
Honky Cat
Mellow
I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself
Susie (Dramas)
Rocket Man
Salvation
Slave
Amy
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Hercules
Band Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin, Vocals
Dee Murray – Bass, Vocals
Nigel Olsson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The fast and spirited “Honky Cat” kicks off the album with a choppy piano tune that contains a touch of banjo by Johnstone playing banjo. This Top Ten pop song is accented by a horn section and is mirrored by the closing “cat” song “Hercules”. “Mellow” is a slow tempo piano ballad which gains a bit of funk during the chorus and contains a very odd yet melodic organ solo by John. The tongue-in-cheek parody “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” maintains the New Orleans-style atmosphere while dealing with the serious subject of suicide. “Susie (Dramas)” once again returns to the choppy, upbeat piano template but with a cool guitar riff during choruses.

“Rocket Man” is the most famous song from this album, reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and inspired by a shooting star sighting by Taupin. The lyrics describe an astronaut’s mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to complete his mission. The song really stands out sonically with atmospheric textures, showcasing the talents of producer Gus Dudgeon. The production also features the layered vocal harmonies provided by Johnstone along with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson.

Side two of the album is filled with mainly pleasant yet unremarkable songs. “Salvation” fits the early 1970s singer/songwriter mold with an almost-Gospel backing choir. “Slave” is driven by a melodic acoustic rhythm with a great topical electric guitar with excellent chorus effect and a definite country feel with some pedal steel and banjo by Johnstone. “Amy” returns to the “honky piano” but with a rhythm that at times seems unsure. But the one song that shines on the second side is “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, a simply beautiful and elegant ballad that looks at New York City from the street-level view. This emotionally charged song best illustrates the songwriting skills of John/Taupin, using minimal instrumentation but achieving so much melody and movement with just piano, mandolin, and very melodic vocals.

Honky Château became Elton John’s first number one album in the United States and was eventually certified platinum. It also set this artist up for the most successful year of his career in 1973.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.