My Own Prison by Creed

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My Own Prison by CreedOver the course of 100+ weeks on the album charts, Creed’s 1997 debut album, My Own Prison steadily grew from a small independent release to a multi-platinum blockbuster which remains their most critically acclaimed work. The album’s sound hearkens back to the grunge classics released earlier in the decade, which stuck a chord with the angst of youth and the musical taste of fans like those of Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.

Formed in Tallahassee, Florida in 1993, Creed was spawned by the songwriting team of guitarist Mark Tremonti and vocalist Scott Stapp, who had been classmates in both high school and college. After several writing sessions, the duo held auditions for a rhythm section to complete the band’s lineup. With several original songs already written, Creed began playing local gigs, one of which at a club run by Jeff Hanson, who was so impressed by their original material that he signed on to manage the band.

Hanson booked the group with producer John Kurzweg and self-funded their recording sessions starting in 1995. My Own Prison was released independently in 1997 and initially distributed to radio stations in Florida, resulting in about 6,000 copies sold. Later in 1997, the group was signed by Wind-Up Records and the album was remixed for further distribution.


My Own Prison by Creed
Released: August 26, 1997 (Wind Up)
Produced by: John Kurzweg
Recorded: The Kitchen Studio, Tallahassee, FL and Criteria Studios, Miami, FL, 1995
Track Listing Group Musicians
Torn
Ode
My Own Prison
Pity for a Dime
In America
Illusion
Unforgiven
Sister
What’s This Life For
One
Scott Stapp – Lead Vocals
Mark Tremonti – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Marshall – Bass
Scott Phillips – Drums
My Own Prison by Creed

 

The slow grunge of “Torn”, features gently picked electric and elongated vocal patterns before eventually building towards a strong rhythm and melody. Late in the song, the chorus melody is brought down to a very simple arrangement with clean guitar and untreated vocals, which provides the opportunity for one last dynamic blast. “Ode” has an interesting main riff and timing, with Stapp’s doubled vocals in the chorus section as well as some fine harmonies. Tremonti provides chromatic chord movements and harmonic licks. While repetitive, the title song “My Own Prison” is much clearer and easier to grasp than first two tracks. The lead single from the album, it reached the Top 10 of both the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

“Pity for a Dime” has a bright feel through its chording sequence, while “In America” is built on a cool drum roll by Scott Phillips along with socially conscious lyrics and some inventive effects through the melodic choruses. Bassist Brian Marshall commences “Illusion” with a doomy riff, soon joined by the sloshy guitars of Tremonti, while “Unforgiven” is a refreshing, upbeat, succinct jam with an effective verse and chorus.

Creed, 1997

The album wraps with its two most potent and indelible tunes. “What’s This Life For” was written about a friend who committed suicide with lyrics about the quest for meaning in the world. Musically, the track starts with delicate guitars and moves through some grunge progressions, with the highlight of song being an acoustic strummed coda which builds stronger and stronger through each iteration. The closing track “One” contains both the measured bass line of Marshall and the wild, effect driven guitar lead by Tremonti, with Stapp’s strong hook in between. This combo all resulted in “One” becoming a huge hit in 1999, two years after its release.

Once it caught on, My Own Prison became a charting hit world wide as well as being one of the top 200 selling albums of all time in the US. The group soon began developing material for their second album (Human Clay in 1999), which would bring Creed even more success.

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1997 Images

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

 

American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash

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American II by Johnny CashBuilding on the momentum of his 1994 comeback album, American Recordings, country/rock legend Johnny Cash decided to do a sequel in what would become a very successful late career series. However, where the first album was sparse, dark folk with just Cash and his acoustic guitar, American II: Unchained features much richer and brighter arrangements due in large part to the musical help of Tom Petty and (three of) The Heartbreakers.

While not a huge commercial hit, American Recordings had much critical acclaim and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. A revitalized Cash said that the reception and response was one of the highlights of his career, which at that point dated back forty years. Later in 1994, Cash recorded a solo cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and joined up with Brooks & Dunn for his own “Folsom Prison Blues” to contribute to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country. Cash also revitatlized his acting career by appearing with his wife June Carter on a number of episodes of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Along with producer and label owner Rick Rubin, Cash decided to enlist contemporary rock musicians for this follow-up album. Fresh off the success of his solo record Wildflowers, Petty was enlisted along with fellow Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein, to be the core of the backing band. Other cameos on this album included Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac and bassist Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. American II: Unchained is made mostly of cover songs with a few Cash originals sprinkled throughout the album.


American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash
Released: November 5, 1996 (American)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: Sound City & Ocean Way Studios, Los Angeles and The Cowboy Arms And Recording Spa, Nashville, TN, 1995-1996
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rowboat
Sea of Heartbreak
Rusty Cage
The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)
Country Boy
Memories Are Made of This
Spiritual
The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea
Southern Accents
Mean Eyed Cat
Meet Me in Heaven
I Never Picked Cotton
Unchained
I’ve Been Everywhere
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Tom Petty – Guitars, bass, Vocals
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Marty Stuart – Guitars, Bass
Steve Ferroneh – Drums, PercussionAmerican II by Johnny Cash

With a fantastic array of acoustic and electric guitars above a moderate classic country beat, the album begins with a cover of Beck’s “Rowboat”. Here, the guitars are delivered in various country and rock styles with Cash’s simple and somber vocals making this an overall sonic treat. “Sea of Heartbreak” is a brighter and more upbeat cover with fine chorus harmonies by Petty. The song was originally a Country hit for Don Gibson and features acoustic guitar by Buckingham and percussion by Fleetwood. Cash’s cover of “Rusty Cage” is the most striking and unique song on American II: Unchained. Originally written and recorded on Soundgarden’s Badmotofinger, Cash’s vocals follow the droning acoustic riff through the first two verses before breaking into an unabashed rock arrangement for the latter half of the song. This hip and timely track ultimately won a Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

Cash returns to form on the pure, classic country of “The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)”, which features a fine slide guitar lead by Campbell throughout. “Country Boy” and “Mean Eyed Cat” are two remakes of Sun Studio recordings from the late 1950s and each provide a nice slice of sonic nostalgia to add to the album’s diversity. “Memories Are Made of This” is presented as a bright folk song with upbeat, brushed drums, later joined by fine piano and distant whistle organ by Tench in a very good recording. Next come a couple of spiritual songs, the first of which is simply called “Spiritual”, a somber track which is a little drawn out and melodramatic. Written by several in-laws, The Carters, “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” is a more upbeat cry for redemption as told by a third party observer.

Johnny Cash 1996

The later third of the album features more diverse songs. The inversion “Southern Accents” is presented as a soft acoustic ballad, where the Heartbreakers back Cash on their own song from their album of the same name a decade earlier. “Meet Me in Heaven” is a Cash original and presented brilliantly with a bright acoustic by Petty mixed along with Campbell’s softly picked electric and Tench’s piercing keys. Originally a hit by Roy Clark, “I Never Picked Cotton” is a fun Country classic which changes keys frequently during the two and a half minute duration and features some backing vocals by Petty. The title track “Unchained” is a soft acoustic ballad cover by Jude Johnstone and features some cool Chamberlin strings by Petty and Tench. Wrapping it all up is the fun jaunt “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which completes the album with upbeat rockabilly music and impressive, breathless rap by Cash as he lists the cascade of locations in each of the four main verses.

Although it had much crossover appeal, American II: Unchained was a much bigger commercial success on the Country charts than the Pop Charts. This recipe for success continued with more albums in the “American” series by Cash and Ruben, extending into the early part of the next century.

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1996 music celebration image

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

Yourself or Someone Like You
by Matchbox 20

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Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox TwentyA blockbuster debut for Florida-based rock band Matchbox 20, the 1996 album Yourself or Someone Like You hit the post-grunge sweet spot with popular music fans as it became a big hit worldwide. This success was especially true in the group’s native United States, where the album reached Diamond status by selling in excess of 12 million copies. Further, the formula employed on this record was strongly influential in the wake of its release.

Originally called “Tabitha’s Secret”, the band was formed in Orlando, Florida by composer and vocalist Rob Thomas, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette. Eventually, session man Adam Gaynor and classically trained Kyle Cook were recruited as the band’s guitarists to complete the quintet as Matchbox 20 earned a recording contract with Atlantic Records.

Yourself or Someone Like You was recorded in Atlanta in Spring 1996 with producer Matt Serletic, a former member of Collective Soul. Nearly a decade after its release, the subject on the front cover sued the band, claiming the photo was taken as he was walking down the street after being asked to pose.


Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox 20
Released: October 1, 1996 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Matt Serletic
Recorded: Atlanta, GA, June 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Real World
Long Day
3 A.M.
Push
Girl Like That
Back 2 Good
Damn
Argue
Kody
Busted
Shame
Hang
Rob Thomas – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Kyle Cook – Guitars, Vocals
Adam Gaynor – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Yale – Bass
Paul Doucette – Drums

 
1996_matchboxtwenty-yourselforsomeonelikeyou_150

All the songs on Yourself or Someone Like You were written by or co-written by Thomas and the album is quite top-heavy in the sense that the first six tracks were all released as singles. The opener “Real World” starts with strong, twangy guitars in the intro, setting an upbeat pace for the album with choppy, vocal-driven, theatrical verses and a chiming guitar lead before third verse. “Long Day” makes a sudden, acoustic entry before suddenly smashing into a strong electric rock arrangement after two lines. This song builds much tension until it is dispelled by a twangy guitar lead before the acoustic bridge, which in turn leads to a strong song outro. “Long Day” was the first single from the album, released in late 1996, but was not as successful as future singles through 1997 and 1998. One of those successful songs, “3 A.M.”, was composed by several group members along with John Joseph Stanley back in the days of Tabitha’s Secret. This features a patient, in turn acoustic and electric intro, with a catchy leading riff preceding each line of the verses. Bittersweet to the core, the true genius of this song is that it can be interpreted in many different ways, making it the best overall song on the album.

“Push” is another one of of the band’s successful singles as a melodic ballad with enjoyably strummed electric guitar and ironic lyrics which are delivered through the ever-intensifying chorus sections. “Girl Like That” seems to hearken back to the pop music of the early eighties, with a new-wave fused pop/rock and plenty of accessible décor, including sharply stopped riffs and a slight backing vocal chorus. The longest track on this album full of succinct songs, “Back 2 Good” includes a rich arrangement of orchestral instruments to add to the overall melancholy mood. Technically, this 1998 single release would prove to be the biggest hit song from Yourself or Someone Like You, due to discrepancies in charts.

Matchbox 20

The album’s second half is much less effective as several tracks seem to cover well-tredded ground. “Damn” is a methodical rocker with a steady rock drum beat which persists throughout and “Argue” is another pleasant rocker musically. “Kody” is a moderate acoustic track with twangy electric overtones and somber lead vocals, while “Busted” and “Shame” feature differing levels of pop accessibility. The closing, somber acoustic ballad, “Hang”, features inverted roles as Thomas plays some acoustic guitar and Cook shares lead vocal duties.

Yourself or Someone Like You charted in countries around the world, reaching the top in Australia. It would be nearly a half decade before Matchbox 20 would release their second album, Mad Season, in 2000. Through the decade of the 2000s, the group would have steady but declining success, solidifying this debut album the commercial peak of their career.

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1996 music celebration image

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

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3
by Traveling Wilburys

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Traveling Wilburys Volume 3As heralded and popular as the Traveling Wilburys 1988 debut album was, the 1990 follow up Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 was relatively ignored. In part, this was the fault of the group members themselves who took their penchant for inside jokes a bit too far by naming this second Traveling Wiburys release “Volume 3”. Further confusing to fans was the adoption of completely new “Wilbury” pseudonyms by the four remaining group members. All this being said, the music on this album is excellent and entertaining.

The untimely death of Roy Orbison in December 1988 (while Traveling Wilburys Vol 1 was hitting its peak popularity) instantly reduced the super-group to a quartet. While the mainly spontaneous debut album was loose and fun, the vibe on this second album seems more business-like. Further, George Harrison, the originator and unofficial band leader, has a much lighter presence on Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.

Stepping in to fill the void are Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who each have a much stronger presence up front than on the debut album. On a note of consistency, the album was once again produced by Harrison and Jeff Lynne, who offered up exquisite sonic quality throughout the album.


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 29, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Clayton Wilbury & Spike Wilbury
Recorded: April–May 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
She’s My Baby
Inside Out
If You Belonged to Me
The Devil’s Been Busy
7 Deadly Sins
Poor House
Where Were You Last Night?
Cool Dry Place
New Blue Moon
You Took My Breath Away
Wilbury Twist
Spike Wilbury (George Harrison)
Guitars, Mandolin, Sitar, Vocals
Boo Wilbury (Bob Dylan)
Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Clayton Wilbury (Jeff Lynne)
Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Muddy Wilbury (Tom Petty)
Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Jim Keltner
Drums, Percussion

The opener “She’s My Baby” is a harder rocker than practically anything on the previous album. A driving musical riff with booming drums by Jim Keltner and, most importantly, the blistering lead guitar of guest Gary Moore, all work to make this a totally unique Wilburys track. “Inside Out” reverts back to the group’s conventional acoustic driven folk style. The lead vocals are by Dylan during the verses with other Wilburys taking some sections and the lyrics offer a clever play on words. “If You Belonged to Me” is a bright, multi-acoustic track with intro harmonica (and later harmonica lead) by Dylan. Petty takes the vocal helm on “The Devil’s Been Busy”, with Harrison adding some sparse but strategically placed sitar in the verses, followed by a full-fledged, electrified sitar solo later in the song. The track also contains good melodies and harmonies to the profound lyrics,

While you’re strolling down the fairway, showing no remorse / Glowing from the poisons they’ve sprayed on your golf course / While you’re busy sinking birdies and keeping your scorecard, the devil’s been busy in your back yard…”

“7 Deadly Sins” is a fifties style doo-wop with multi-vocal parts and a nice, growling saxophone by Jim Horn. Entertaining enough, but perhaps a bridge too far in the Wilburys penchant for retrospection. “Poor House” starts with Harrison’s signature, weeping guitar. Beyond that, the song sticks to basic blue grass arrangement with harmonized lead vocals and a nice lead guitar by Harrison. “Where Were You Last Night?” has a cool descending acoustic riff throughout and appears to be Dylan parodying his own caricature. With a plethora of acoustic instruments and phrases, “Cool Dry Place” is entertaining musically and classic Petty lyrically with his cool insider lines;

We got solids and acoustics and some from plywood board,
and some are trimmed in leather, and some are made with gourds / There’s organs and trombones and reverbs we can use, lots of DX-7s and old athletic shoes…”

“New Blue Moon” is not much lyrically, but fun, entertaining and sonically interesting nonetheless, while “You Took My Breath Away” is a moderate acoustic ballad where Lynne’s production does add some depth to the overall feel. It all concludes with the wild frenzied rocker of “Wilbury Twist”, which somewhat mocking, while at once a tribute of the dance crazes through the years. Each member takes a turn at lead vocals, making this a fitting end to the album and the Traveling Wilburys short career.

By the early 2000s, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 were out of print and did not resurface in any form until The Traveling Wilburys Collection, a box set including both studio albums with bonus tracks was released in 2007.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.

Damn the Torpedoes by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersThe major label breakthrough by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the 1979 release Damn the Torpedoes, scored both commercial success and critical acclaim. This was accomplished in spite of the fact that there were some legal issues surrounding Petty’s new contract with MCA over the publishing rights to the songs he wrote. Once the album was released, it rose to #2 on the American album charts where it remained for several weeks.

In the early 1970s, Tom Petty started a rock band known as Mudcrutch in his hometown Gainesville, Florida along with future Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. After the group migrated to Southern California, they decided to split in separate ways as Petty initiated a solo career and Tench formed his own group with bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Petty heard this group and instantly took to their sound and eventually this new group, along with Campbell, became the “Heartbreakers”, backing up Petty on his “solo” endeavors. The group released an eponymous debut album in 1976, the 1978 follow-up You’re Gonna Get It!, which had some commercial success.

Not long after the release of the second album, the group’s independent label was sold to MCA Records and Petty soon struggled to free himself from the publishing aspects by sending himself into bankruptcy. After all was settled and Petty retained his publishing rights, the group was committed to work on this third album in a short time. They worked with producer Jimmy Iovine and chose an album title that references a famous quote by Admiral David Farragut.


Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: October 19, 1979 (MCA)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine & Tom Petty
Recorded: Sound City & Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Refugee
Here Comes My Girl
Even the Losers
Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)
Century City
Don’t Do Me Like That
You Tell Me
What Are You Doin’ in My Life
Louisiana Rain
Group Musicians
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards, Accordion
Benmont Trench – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Blair – Bass
Stan Lynch – Drums, Vocals

Petty composed most of the music on this album independently, with the only exceptions being the first two tracks which were co-written by Petty and Campbell. “Refugee” provides a potent and dramatic start to the album with plenty of atmosphere forged by the keys, guitar, and Petty’s voice, all of which are unique but catchy and strong. The lead section seems like a bit of unorganized chaos which somehow all comes together to help build the intensity and made this song a Top 20 hit in the early 1980. “Here Comes My Girl” is another upbeat and atmospheric song, this time with the simple rock beat of Lynch in conflict to Campbell’s seemingly slow and disjointed guitar pattern, but it all jives beautifully nonetheless. Petty barks out the first couple of lines in each verse in a quasi-rap while hitting melodic harmony during the chorus hook resulting in ear candy bliss.

The bright and jangly opening riff of “Even the Losers” leads to a classic Petty melody in this third pop/rock classic to start off Damn the Torpedoes. Here Campbell’s lead uses some classic rock technique, while the subsequent bridge features some deep Hammond organ by Tench beneath more rapidly delivered vocals. Lyrically, the theme looks for optimism and wisdom in the face of adversity and is analogous to a band’s struggle to find recognition. The first less than excellent track on the album, “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” is a slightly upbeat “lover’s lament” tune which lacks the succinct delivery of much of the rest of the album’s material. The side one closer “Century City” is more of a pure rocker where Petty’s vocals are slightly strained in excited energy.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The second side kicks off with the indelible “Don’t Do Me Like That” which was composed years earlier by Petty when he was in the group Mudcrutch. You won’t find a more straight-forward, hard rocker (and this album is full of these) with it’s slow, choppy guitar riff complemented by a fast rocking piano throughout and simple, catchy hook. The first single from the album, it went on to become the band’s first Top 10 hit. The remainder of side two tilts more towards blues/rock. “You Tell Me” has an almost funk approach with the music being guided by a pointed bass riff of guest Donald “Duck” Dunn. “What Are You Doin’ in My Life” features a cool slide guitar and some honky-tonk piano, while “Louisiana Rain” closes things up at a more moderate and moody pace with heavy Southern rock influence.

Damn the Torpedoes was a Top 5 album in the US and Canada and has sold over four million copies worldwide. It also sparked Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers success throughout the 1980s and beyond.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Flirtin’ With Disaster
by Molly Hatchet

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Flirtin With Disaster by Molly HatchetMolly Hatchet‘s great wall of distorted guitars found its high point on their second studio album Flirtin’ with Disaster, released in 1979. Like Lynard Skynard on steroids, this album touches on the conventional late-seventies theme of rocking out and partying hard. However, the group accomplishes this atmosphere by the non-conventional means of using a triple-guitar attack of axemen Steve Holland, Dave Hlubak and Duane Roland, who alternate roles  playing rhythm, lead, and/or harmonized electric guitars.

The group was formed by Hlubek and Holland in Jacksonville, Florida in 1975 and took their name from an urban legend about a prostitute who mutilated her clients. The group was managed by Pat Armstrong, who had briefly been co-manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd and had Molly Hatchet record their original demo tracks at Skynard’s studio. Further, Ronnie Van Zant was set to produce the debut album by Molly Hatchet but lost his life in a plane crash in late 1977.

Producer Tom Werman ultimately took the reigns for that self-titled 1978 debut and stayed on for Flirtin’ With Disaster, which was recorded in studios on both coasts. Musically, it’s a hard driving rock record, plain and simple with no frills or lofty concepts.The mythical cover art is a painting by Frank Frazetta entitled “Dark Kingdom”.


Flirtin’ With Disaster by Molly Hatchet
Released: October, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Bee Jay Recording Studios, Orlando & Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, 1979
Side One Side Two
Whiskey Man
It’s All Over Now
One Man’s Pleasure
Jukin’ City
Boogie No More
Flirtin’ With Disaster
Good Rockin’
Gunsmoke
Long Time
Let the Good Times Roll
Group Musicians
Danny Joe Brown – Lead Vocals  |  Duane Roland – Guitars
Steve Holland – Guitars  |  Dave Hlubak – Guitars
Banner Thomas – Bass  |  Bruce Crump – Drums

Nine of the ten tracks on Flirtin’ With Disaster are original and eight of those were co-written by lead vocalist Danny Joe Brown. After a thick intro comes a short but sweet harmonica lead in “Whiskey Man”. On this opening track the guitars are used very efficiently in a harmonized lead over the strong chords of the bridge as the lyrics focus on the dangers of partying too hard. The cover “It’s All Over Now” starts with a drum roll intro and overall strong drumming by Bruce Crump, along with some boogie piano by guest Jai Winding on this song which was the first number-one hit for the Rolling Stones a decade and a half earlier.

“One Man’s Pleasure” is different than previous tracks, as it is mainly guided by the steady bass of Banner Thomas through the song proper with the guitars adding texture for the overall rhythm and beat (until the blistering guitar lead). “Jukin’ City” starts with three-note riff which forms the basis for much of the song, although there are some rudimental parts that make it all interesting later on. A slow, measured rock riff with bluesy guitars layered on top kicks off “Boogie No More”, which soon abruptly changes direction and tempo to launch into an extended, “Freebird”-like jam for the final four-plus minutes of the track.

The second side begins with the title song, “Flirtin’ with Disaster”, a true rock classic by Brown, Hlubek, and Thomas which rolls full throttle through every second of its five minute duration. The only single from the album, the song barely failed to reach the Top 40 but remained on the pop charts for 10 weeks. More importantly, this became the band’s signature track which most closely resembled their creed of living fast, hard, and close to the edge.

After a tremendous peak, the album loses a bit of edge on the next few tracks. “Good Rockin'” is a bit too standard Alt-Country, while “Gunsmoke” starts with a cow-bell led beat, some boogie-piano and bouncy bass, but gets crowded out on this album. Things do change up a bit on “Long Time”, which has a bit of a darker feel.  The album ends strong with, “Let the Good Times Roll”, another good jam with animated drums and crisp guitar orchestration. This closing song sounds like it could have been a pop hit under the right circumstances and contains an ending jam with some of the finest Southern rock elements and rudiments.

Flirtin’ With Disaster reached the To 20 of the Pop Albums chart and sold over two million copies in the U.S. However, Brown soon left the band due to health problems. Although he would return to the Molly Hatchet lineup in the early eighties, the group never regained their footing and would completely abandon their original style to try to gain favor with new audiences.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

Second Helping by Lynard Skynard

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Second Helping by Lynard SkynardAfter their acclaimed, classic 1973 debut album, Lynard Skynard returned with the equally impressive Second Helping, where they continued to forge the emerging genre of Southern-fried rock. Like the first album, this record was produced by Al Kooper, who followed the same basic formula but with a little more leanings toward the geographic roots music which influenced the young band. For this album, the group grew to seven members as original bassist Leon Wilkeson returned to the lineup and Ed King moved from bass to become the third guitarist, giving the group a nearly unprecedented mixture and chorus of rock textures.

Kooper got his start in the music business as a fourteen-year-old guitarist for The Royal Teens in 1958. As a low level session man seven years later, he improvised the famous organ riff that marked that classic song. Kooper later started many groups, including Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and eventually started the Sounds of the South label in affiliation with MCA. In 1972, Kooper signed Lynyrd Skynyrd after catching a club gig in Atlanta and personally took the reins in producing their first few albums, starting in 1973.

Led by the direct, storytelling lyrics of composer and front man Ronnie Van Zant, the group entered the studio in early 1974 determined to avoid the “sophomore slump” after their stellar debut. Musically, the tracks were composed by King along with original guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, who each used remarkable restraint in avoiding competition for the limited space in the mostly standard-length tracks on this eight song LP.


Second Helping by Lynard Skynard
Released: April 15, 1974 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, January 1974
Side One Side Two
Sweet Home Alabama
I Need You
Don’t Ask Me No Questions
Workin’ for MCA
The Ballad of Curtis Loew
Swamp Music
The Needle and the Spoon
Call Me the Breeze
Group Musicians
Ronnie Van Zant – Vocals
Allen Collins – Guitars
Ed King – Guitars, Bass
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Billy Powell – Piano, Keyboards
Leon Wilkeson – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

 

The album kicks off with “Sweet Home Alabama”, a simple song has become indelible over its 40 years of existence. Unlike everything else on the album, this track was recorded in Georgia in late 1973 with just King, Wilkeson, and drummer Bob Burns laying down the basic backing track (with full band overdubs to follow later). The famous opening riff was one of the first King developed after switching from bass to guitar. With a great locked-in bass line, fantastic dual guitars, and plenty of other sonic candy, Van Zant’s vocals tell stories of contemporary and historical importance, including both tributes and scorns. One of the more famous comes at the beginning of the second verse with a literal calling out of Neil Young in response to his songs “Alabama” and “Southern Man”, which Van Zant (a close friend of Young’s) felt unfairly indicted a whole culture and region.

The moody “I Need You” is like a continuation of the “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man” tracks from the 1973 debut album. This long and slow blues ballad contains screaming and whining guitar leads by the trio of guitarists. “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” is direct rocker with a crisp, blended guitar riff, composed by Rossington. Kooper added some horns for effect on this popular track with a great and direct hook that is easily catchy. The original first side winds down with “Workin’ for MCA”, which seems at once to be a tribute and indictment of the group’s record label. This jam-based rocker literally tells story of group’s signing two years earlier and features a great electric piano lead by Billy Powell, followed by trade-off leads by each of the three guitarists.

The original second side of Second Helping starts with one of the best tracks on the album, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”. This touching tribute to an unsung bluesman contains calm and moody country guitars by Collins and, although the song gradually builds with more rock-oriented arrangement, it maintains its pure vibe all the way along until the slowing slide guitar in the outro. While the song is based on a composite of people, it paints a vivid picture of Van Zants’ original neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida and the inspiration to play music. “Swamp Music” is pure Southern blues, with an upbeat, underlying rhythm, This song never really deviates from its basic structure and contains good, short jams with vocals mocking the guitar licks. “The Needle and the Spoon” may be the weakest song on the album, as it sounds like a shallow knock-off of “Sweet Home Alabama” in riff, rhythm, and melody but probably could have developed into something better if it had been given the time to grow. The only cover on the album is J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze”, which worked out to be a really good fit for Lynard Skynard. Powerful double riffs, the return of the horns, an upbeat rhythm by Wilkeson and Burns, blues-based jamming by all three guitarists, and a honky-tonk piano Powell all shine on this upbeat album closer.

Second Helping reached #12 on the Billboard album charts and was certified Gold within a few months of its release, eventually reaching Platinum status. This turned out to be the high-water mark of Lynard Skynard’s commercial success. Subsequent years were marked with lineup shifts and personal tragedy, making these few years of the band’s original existence all the more precious and important.

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1974 Images

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

 

Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty

1989 Album of the Year

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Full Moon Fever by Tom PettyThis week marked the 25th anniversary of Full Moon Fever, which is listed the first official “solo” album by Tom Petty. However, the circumstances surrounding the production of this album are far too unique to really classify it as solo, especially when you consider the large contributions by members from both of Petty’s (then) current groups – The Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys. From that latter group came Jeff Lynne, who co-wrote and co-produced the album, which became Petty’s greatest critical and commercial success of his career, spawning seven radio singles which kept material from the album on the airwaves for years to come. More impressively, the material from this album has stood the test of time.  This was the major deciding factor in our naming Full Moon Fever as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1989.

While Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had found top-level fame in the early 1980s, they began to stagnate a bit by the middle part of the decade. Their 1987 release Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) had crept towards the metallic eighties pop style, deviating from the Southern-flavored roots pop/rock which had forged the band’s earlier sound. Early in 1988, Petty decided to record a solo album in the vein of what Bruce Springsteen and Phil Collins were doing outside of their respective groups. Petty brought in Lynne as a collaborator, but soon after they got started on this album, they were asked by George Harrison to help him record some B-side material for singles from his most recent album, Cloud Nine. This simple goal soon ballooned into the forming of the “super-group” , Traveling Wilburys, to which Petty and Lynne dedicated much of the remainder of that year in producing the fantastic album ,Volume One (which also happened to be our Album of the Year, from 1988). The experience of working with this group of legendary musicians had a profound effect on the direction of Petty’s solo album once work on that resumed.

The third producer and major contributor to Full Moon Fever was Mike Campbell, Petty’s guitarist from the Heartbreakers. Although Petty’s decision to do a solo album outside of the Heartbreakers was not received very well by the group members, all but one contributed in some way to this album. The recording process was reportedly laid back and low-key, with Petty finding contributing roles for many musician friends that stopped by Campbell’s garage studio where much of the recording took place. Like many great albums, there were some recorded tracks which did not make the final cut. These included the single b-sides “Down the Line” and “Don’t Treat Me Like A Stranger”, “Waiting for Tonight” featuring the female group The Bangles, and “Indiana Girl”, an early version of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, which became a hit five years later.


Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty
Released: April 24, 1989 (MCA)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, ↦ Mike Campbell
Recorded: Various Studios, Los Angeles, 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Free Fallin’
I Won’t Back Down
Love Is a Long Road
A Face in the Crowd
Runnin’ Down a Dream
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Yer So Bad
Depending On You
The Apartment Song
Alright for Now
A Mind with a Heart of Its Own
Zombie Zoo
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Mandolin, Keyboards
Jeff Lynne – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Jones – Drums, Percussion

Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty

 

The album commences with “Free Fallin'”, which would ultimately become the most popular song associated with Petty. With beautifully blended acoustic guitars and wistful, sarcastic lyrics. Using vivid scenery from California’s San Fernando Valley, Petty speaks of breaking free from a past love, but is freely falling a good thing or not? Although the song never leaves the core chord structure, there is much variety to vocal inflections and various guitar riff variations and arrangements.

Not far behind in popularity is “I Won’t Back Down”, a simple song about things worth fighting for with a syncopated bass line, vibrant guitar licks and good harmonies on the chorus. Harrison joins in along with Howie Epstein, making the lineup simultaneously three-fifths Wilburys and three-fifths Heartbreakers on the recording. The first single released from Full Moon Fever, the song reached the Top 20 on the charts. Co-written by Campbell, “Love Is a Long Road” employs classic Heartbreakers’ style rock and roll. With driving guitars backed with hard driving drum and bass and sharp production, the song continues the theme of salvation through fighting for things worthwhile.

After the calm and steady Americana of “A Face in the Crowd”, a song of anonymity with little variation, the album reaches its dynamic climax with “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Frenzied rock compared to the rest of this album, this riff-driven tune sounds like a relentless car chase with some outstanding guitar solos and a signature reference to Del Shannon. The song reached the top of the Billboard Album Rock Tracks and has since found a residency on classic rock stations. Following “Running Down a Dream” on CD versions, Petty gives a tongue-in-cheek monologue about the marking of the end of the first side of the LP. .

While not as punchy and driven as the original “Side 1”, the songs on the second side shift towards more personal themes. The cover “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” is a nod to one of Petty’s favorite bands, The Byrds, with doubled vocals and twangy guitars, its nothing new or different from the original, but it does introduce younger Petty fans to one of his influences. The Wilburys sound returns with “Yer So Bad”, an upbeat acoustic folk tune with layered guitars, harmonized vocals, some sarcastically cute lyrics and a catchy chorus. “Depending On You” is a bit Beatlesque, with its toe tapping beat and a chorus that sticks in your head, while “The Apartment Song” is a throwaway,  but fun with an interesting ‘interlude’.

“Alright for Now” may be the best forgotten gem on the album, as a short and sweet lullaby performed on acoustic. The song shows the true range of compositions Petty and Lynne utilized on this album. “A Mind With a Heart of It’s Own” is another highlight of side two, with a jangly Bo Diddley beat and an overall retro feel to the production and vocals. The lyrics on this song are glimpses of memories and connections tangentially strung together. The closer ,”Zombie Zoo” ,may be considered Tom Petty’s “Monster Mash”. Set in a nightclub with an overall theme of substance vs. style, with modern sock-hop rock, penny whistle organ, and rich sound and vocal arrangements. The late Roy Orbison even joined in on backing vocals on this song.  This is the closest the production comes to having an ELO-type vibe, showing Lynn’s great restraint at refraining from past production practices.

Full Moon Fever peaked in the Top Ten on both sides af the Atlantic and has gone well past 5× platinum on both continents. The following year, Petty returned to the Wilburys, releasing their second album oddly titled Volume 3 (leaving many to call this album “Traveling wilburys, Volume 2”). In 1991, Petty reunited with the Heartbreakers and found renewed success with Into the Great Wide Open, as Petty’s success cascaded well into the next decade.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums and our Album of the Year from 1989.

 

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1
by Traveling Wilburys

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1988 Album of the Year

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1“Super Groups” were commonplace during the seventies and eighties, often causing much hype which was rarely surpassed by the music itself. But in the case of the Traveling Wilburys, by far the most “super” of any super group, the resulting music was downright brilliant. Their debut Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 displays an incredible array of three decades of pop and rock elements wrapped in concise tunes penned and performed by some of the biggest legends in the business. The group and album were not initially planned and came together through a serendipitous series of coincidences and the fantastic music they produced together easily makes Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1988.

It all started in Los Angeles in Spring 1988 when George Harrison was looking to record B-side material for a vinyl 12-inch European single. Jeff Lynne, who co-produced Harrison’s most recent album Cloud Nine was also in Los Angeles at the time. Lynne was producing some music for Roy Orbison as well as the debut solo album, Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. Lynne was able to enlist both artists to help out Harrison, who was in a huge hurry to record his material. The final piece of the Traveling Wilbury puzzle was Bob Dylan, who had built a home studio in nearby Malibu and agreed to let the makeshift group record the very next day. On that day, the legendary musicians wrote and recorded the song “Handle with Care” in about five hours. The experience was so positive that all five agreed to form a group and reconvened a month later to record the other nine tracks on what would become Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Here the magic continued as the group wrote and recorded on acoustic guitars. With a limited amount of time before Dylan headed out on a scheduled tour, the five singers in the group often took turns at songs until Harrison (as group arbiter) selected the best “lead” voice for each part. The final phase was Harrison and Lynne returning to England for final overdubs and production. Here Harrison added some electric and lead guitars, Lynne added keyboards and bass, Jim Keltner was brought in on drums.

Although it is generally agreed that Harrison was the group’s leader, they did work hard to maintain a collective image and even set up fictional names for each member masquerading as the “Wilbury” brothers – Nelson (Harrison), Otis (Lynne), Lucky (Dylan), Lefty (Orbison), and Charlie T. Jr. (Petty) with Keltner given the humorous “outsider” name “Buster Sidebury”. All group members also got songwriting credits on the album, although the publishing credits were disbursed according to the actual songwriter. The Wilbury name originated from Harrison and Lynne previously working together as a pseudonym for slight recording errors (“we’ll bury ’em in the mix”).


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 18, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne and George Harrison
Recorded: Lucky Studios and Dave Stewart Studios, Los Angeles and FPSHOT, London, April–May 1988
Side One Side Two
Handle with Care
Dirty World
Rattled
Last Night
Not Alone Anymore
Congratulations
Heading for the Light
Margarita
Tweeter and the Monkey Man
End of the Line
Band Musicians
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Dylan – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Roy Orbison – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The ringing guitars of “Handle with Care”, the original Wilbury song, starts things off. Harrison, the primary composer, delivers deliberate vocalizing during the verses which gives way to Orbison’s smooth crooning during the choruses. Dylan and Petty deliver a chanting post-chorus and two instances of Harrison’s classic guitar along with a short Dylan harmonica lead make the song a true classic in just about every way. Within its brief three and a half minutes the song is dotted with decades of rock history, making this the perfect track to introduce the album. While not every song on the album wraps itself so well as “Handle with Care”, there is not a truly weak moment on the album.
 

 
On “Dirty World” Dylan’s rough lead vocals are complimented by smooth backing vocals and a bright acoustic arrangement. The song also contains some horns and an interesting arrangement all around. This song was a particularly enjoyable one for the band to record as each member took a turn singing in the “round” during the extended outro. Jeff Lynne’s “Rattled” is pure rockabilly led by Orbinson on vocals, almost like a lost early Elvis song. Lynne’s bass and Harrison’s lead guitar shine musically and the actual “rattle” in the song is drummer Keltner tapping the refrigerator grill with his drum sticks.

“Last Night” contains Caribbean elements with some percussion and horns and Petty singing during verse and Orbinson during the bridges. The whimsical, storytelling song has a great aura and feel throughout. Petty did the core composing with each group member contributing to the songwriting approach. The verses has an upbeat folk/Latin feel with the bridge being a bit more dramatic. The first side completes with “Not Alone Any More”, a vocal centerpiece for Orbison. His vocals smoothly lead a modern version of early sixties rock and Lynne’s keyboards add more decoration than any other song on the first side. If “Not Alone Anymore” is in the clouds, the second side opener “Congratulations” is right down at ground level. This tavern style ballad with Dylan on lead vocals sounds much like his late 70s / early 80s era material, with blues-like reverences to broken relationships, and includes a very short but great lead guitar by Harrison right at the end.

The up-tempo “Heading for the Light” is a quintessential Harrison/Lynne production, with the former Beatle composing and singing and the former ELO front man providing the lush production and orchestration. The song contains great picked guitar fills as well as a saxophone solo by Jim Horn. “Margarita” may be the oddest song on the album but is still a great sonic pleasure. It begins with a programmed eighties synth line then the long intro slowly works its way into a Latin acoustic section topped by horns, lead guitar, and rich vocal harmonies. It is not until a minute and a half in that Petty’s lead vocals come in for a single verse then the song works its ways through various short sections towards an encapsulated synth ending. This spontaneous composition with free-association lyrics showed with a group of this talent could do on the spot.

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is Bob Dylan channeling Bruce Springsteen and coming out with what may have been one of the best Springsteen songs ever (even though he had nothing to do with it). This extended song with the traditional Dylan style of oodles of verses and a theatrical chorus includes several references to Springsteen songs throughout and is in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey. It may have been Dylan’s delayed response to the press repeatedly coining Bruce “the next Dylan”. No matter what the case, the result is an excellent tune with lyrics rich enough to base a book or movie.
 

 
The most perfect album closer to any album – ever, “End of the Line” contains a Johnny Cash-like train rhythm beneathe deeply philosophical lyrics, delivered in a light and upbeat fashion. Harrison, Lynne, Orbinson, and Harrison again provide the lead vocals during the chorus hooks while Petty does the intervening verses. The song revisits the classic music themes of survival and return with the universal message that, in the big picture, it all ends someday. The feeling of band unity is also strongest here with the folksy pop/rock chords and great harmonies. The music video for “End of the Line” was filmed after Roy Orbison’s death in December 1988, mere weeks after the album’s release, and paid tasteful respect with a shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair during the verse which Orbison sang.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 sold over two million copies within its first six months, a figure which made this album a higher seller than any of Bob Dylan’s albums to that date. The album was critically favored and won a Grammy award in 1990. The surviving members of the group reconvened for a second album, which fell far short of capturing the magic of this debut and a long-planned tour by the group never materialized, although members continued to collaborate on each other’s albums for years to come. The incredible magic that came together in 1988 is yet to repeated anywhere in the rock universe.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums and our album of the year for 1988.

 

Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd
by Lynard Skynard

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Lynard Skynard - PronouncedLynard Skynard burst onto the national scene with their 1973 debut Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd, which not only featured many of the band’s most popular songs but also defined the genre of “Southern Rock” more than any other album. This six-piece group out of Jacksonville, Florida fused blues, country, and straight-forward rock to forge an edge that is totally unpretentious and unassuming. Produced by Al Kooper, there are few debut records which express such confidence and drive, with a balanced diversity between upbeat honky-tonk rock and the delicate jam songs, which would Be the prime templates for the “power ballads” which proliferated a decade or more later.

The grouped was formed nine years earlier, in the summer of 1964. High school friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed a band with two other friends called “The Noble Five”. Through many personnel and name changes in the late 1960s, these three remained the core. In 1970, the band changed their name to “Leonard Skinner” as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a strict phys-ed teacher at their high school in Jacksonville, who constantly harassed them because of their long hair (which played a big part in Rossington dropping out of school). The more distinctive spelling was adopted at the suggestion of Kooper in 1972 when he signed the band his Sounds of the South, a subsidiary of MCA Records.

The band had grown notoriety by opening for the band Strawberry Alarm Clock and that band’s guitarist Ed King joined Lynard Skynard to play bass on the debut album (later switching back to guitar, giving the band three guitarists). One day the band was playing a high school prom when their then roadie Billy Powell played what would become the intro piece to “Free Bird”, the band’s most famous song. Powell was immediately invited him to join the band as keyboardist and the classic lineup of Lynard Skynard was established.

 


Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd by Lynard Skynard
Released: August 13, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Studio One, Doraville, Georgia, March 27-May 1, 1973
Side One Side Two
I Ain’t the One
Tuesday’s Gone
Gimme Three Steps
Simple Man
Things Going On
Mississippi Kid
Poison Whiskey
Freebird
Band Musicians
Ronnie Van Zandt – Lead Vocals
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Allen Collins – Guitars
Billy Powell – Keyboards
Ed King – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

 
“Freebird”‘s majestic organ intro leads to one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history, as Rossington used a glass Coricidin bottle for a slide to emulate his hero, the late Duane Allman. The poignant yet melancholy lyrics were written by Collins when he then-girlfriend (and later wife) spoke the opening lines verbatim;

If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?”

The moody ballad gives way to a frantic ending jam led by the dual guitar leads and ever-more creative ways to grind out the three backing chords and even contains a drum roll by Bob Burns that lasts nearly a minute. The song completes the band’s debut album in climatic fashion.

The album begins with some backward percussion effects that introduce “I Ain’t the One”. Although this intro is rather awkward, the song finally catches its groove with the Rossington riff and piano embellishment from Powell, saving the song from bring too ordinary. “Tuesday’s Gone” then provides an immediate contrast to the opener, instantly displaying the band’s range and penchant for differing moods. The great harmonized guitars throughout serenade the lyrical theme of changing times with guest Robert Nix filling in on drums and producer Al Kooper providing bass and Mellotron.

Aside from the later hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Gimme Three Steps” may the be the quintessential Southern Rock song for all time. Led by a great riff sequence by Collins and just the right amount of lead guitar activity between verses, the storytelling song became the band’s first charting hit. The lyrics are based on an actual experience by Van Zant in a biker bar in Jacksonville when he had a gun pulled on him. That bar was actually called The Pastime Bar, but was renamed “The Jug” (from the song’s lyrics) in September 2012. “Simple Man” finishes off side one as a rather “simple” song, which somehow stretches three chords for nearly six minutes, using some sonic dynamics which saves it from getting too mundane.

Aside from the closer, side two contains some lesser known yet interesting tunes. “Things Goin’ On” at times seems a bit and unsure of itself, especially due to its lack of a strong beat, but the song contains some very entertaining elements such as the alternating instrumental leads between Rossington and Powell. “Mississippi Kid” is the most unique song on the album while being a definite nod to southern blues. It was constructed by Burns and producer Al Kooper, who also adds the signature mandolin while Ed king plays a respectable slide for his only guitar part on the album. “Poison Whiskey” is a short, funky song with more use of the nice double guitar harmony by Rossington and Collins.

A shortened version of “Free Bird” was released as a single and the full song received heavy airplay for decades to come. After the band’s devastating plane crash, which took the life of Van Zant in 1977, a live version of the song re-charted with even greater success.

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1973 Images

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