Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy

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Jailbreak by Thin LizzyAfter a long musical journey which included style shifts, various lineup changes and five less-than-commercially successful albums, Thin Lizzy finally broke through in 1976 with Jailbreak. This quasi-concept record has an overlying theme about a figure simply known as “The Warrior” breaking away from the despotic “Overmaster” to lead the oppressed masses in a dystopian-shattering revolution. But the real beauty of this album is tilted far more towards its sound than its lyrics, as Thin Lizzy had fully mastered the the crisp, harmonized guitar attack with much rhythmic movement to complement the distinctive, barked-out lead vocals of composer and front-man Phil Lynott.

Thin Lizzy was founded in Dublin in 1969 when Lynott and drummer Brian Downey left their group Orphanage to form a new band with musicians formally from the band Them. In 1971, the group relocated to London but the musical style remained distinctly Celtic with lyrics strongly referencing Dublin and surrounding areas. In 1972, Thin Lizzy’s version of a traditional Irish ballad, “Whiskey in the Jar” was a smash hit in their native Ireland and reached the Top 10 in the UK. However, album sales did not follow suit and after, the departures of several guitarists, Lynott decided to morph the group’s sound towards harder rock and recruited Scott Gorham and then-18-year-old Brian Robertson for a double lead-guitar attack starting with the 1975 album, Fighting.

However, the record label was growing impatient with lackluster sales and gave Thin Lizzy one final chance to produce a commercially successful album. With producer John Alcock, the band extensively composed, rehearsed and recorded tracks over the winter of 1975-76, developing a tight arrangement on each of Jailbreak‘s nine track.

 


Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy
Released: March 26, 1976 (Vertigo)
Produced by: John Alcock
Recorded: Ramport Studios, London, December 1975–February 1976
Side One Side Two
Jailbreak
Angel From the Coast
Running Back
Romeo and the Lonely Girl
Warriors
The Boys Are Back in Town
Fight or Fall
Cowboy Song
Emerald
Group Musicians
Phil Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Scott Gorham – Guitars
Brian Robertson – Guitars
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

 

The opening title track, “Jailbreak”, is a pure hard rock song of action with timeless theme of escape. It musically builds tension a bit during verses, setting up a satisfying chorus release, and contains other cool distinctions ranging from the corny alarm section under the bridge to the cool lyrical nod to Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”. Co-written by Robertson, “Angel From the Coast” picks up where the opener left off and accelerates with much movement in the hyper-funk lead riff and rhythm. This song features exceptional drumming by Downey with great rudiments throughout by the entire band and the soaring, harmonized lead precedes a rapid funk chord effect by the two guitars in an extended bridge jam.

“Running Back” was the album’s most controversial track, internally. Intended as the lead single from the album, Lynott and Alcock brought in session keyboardist Tim Hinkley to add more “pop” elements. This was done against the objections of Robertson, who had played a large role in the original arrangement, including his own additions of piano and bottleneck guitar, and Robertson ultimately did not play on the album version of this song. Although a bit tacky lyrically, “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” features a pleasant music mix with acoustic backing the blues/jazz electric guitar, animated drums and a later piercing guitar lead. The dramatic “Warriors” was co-written by Gorham and is the hardest rocker on the album, employing some mid seventies-style heavy metal with just a tad of punk, adding to the overall sonic diversity of the album.

Thin Lizzy in 1976

The original second side of Jailbreak is where the true musical gems are found. “The Boys Are Back in Town” is, by far, the most distinctive Thin Lizzy song. It features interesting chord progressions during the verses, a brilliantly simple chorus hook and one of the most indelible rock riffs ever put to record as Gorham and Robertson perfectly harmonize their guitars during the post-chorus breaks. Lyrically, the song originated as a tribute to a returning vet from Vietnam but later morphed as a sort of party anthem dedicated to any number of traveling heroes. Although the song was not a tremendous charting hit upon its original release, it has been used countless times at sporting events, in movies, on television and as a permanent fixture on classic rock radio all over the world. In contrast to the preceding popular upbeat number, “Fight Or Fall” is quite mellow and laid back with acoustic guitar and subtle electric overtones, but with a still steady and upbeat rhythm by Lynott and Downey. This fine track is divided by slight rudimentary breaks between the verses and features a bit of American soul added to the ending section.

“Cowboy Song” starts as a subtle, Western ballad with Lynott’s bass imitating a trotting horse. But soon breaks into a riff-driven hard rocker, especially with the infectious riff which builds to triple harmonized guitars, post lead section. The final verse cools with just bass and drums, before this all explodes into a blistering, blues/rock guitar lead later in the song. The album concludes with “Emerald”, a strong rocker in tribute to Irish heritage and one more thematic “fight” against invaders, with dueling guitars to nicely symbolize the battle and rebellion. This closing track is also notable as the only composition on this album credited to all four band members.

Jailbreak was the group’s first Gold album and it set them up for subsequent success in the years that followed. However, a bit of the commercial tailcoats were severed when both Lynott and Robertson suffered ailments and injuries which caused large parts of the 1976 tours to be cancelled and expedited the production of the group’s follow-up album, Johnny the Fox.

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

 

Moondance by Van Morrison

1970 Album of the Year
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Moondance by Van MorrisonWe’ve covered more music from the year 1970 than from any other year at Classic Rock Review. Through these nineteen articles covering twenty-three different albums, we’ve observed some of the finest rock groups as they branched out to embrace some roots or otherwise raw musical genres. Through all that great music, we believe that no one hit the sweet spot like Van Morrison and the most and authentic, entertaining and timeless effort of his long career, Moondance. Morrison blends diverse styles such as jazz, folk rock, country, R&B, and American soul with potent melodies and pristine arrangements, all on a cohesive album which always sounds fresh. For these reasons, we have chosen Moondance as our album of the year for 1970.

Morrison’s previous album, Astral Weeks, was filled with impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness tunes and was recorded in just a few sessions in New York City in late 1968. After that recording, Morrison and his wife decided to move to upstate New York, where the composer began writing songs for a follow-up album. Despite the critical acclaim of Astral Weeks, its improvised nature did not lead to much commercial success and Morrison looked to strike a balance between musical integrity and audience accessibility.

Coproduced by Lewis Merenstein, fresh musicians were recruited for Moondance, starting in the summer of 1969. While all the tracks were composed by Morrison on acoustic guitar, he entered the studio with no written arrangements, leaving room for this album to grow organically with any riffs or fills generated spontaneously through jam sessions. The result is a record of renewal and redemption which is every bit as authentic as its predecessor while shedding that album’s dark and gloomy feel, as Morrison employs simple memories and nature motifs lyrically.


Moondance by Van Morrison
Released: February 28, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison & Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: A & R Studios, New York, August–December 1969
Side One Side Two
And It Stoned Me
Moondance
Crazy Love
Caravan
Into the Mystic
Come Running
These Dreams of You
Brand New Day
Everyone
Glad Tidings
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
John Platania – Guitars
Jeff Labes – Piano, Keyboards
Jack Schroer – Saxophones
Colin Tilton – Flute, Saxophone
John Klingberg – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

The lyrics of Moondance seem to be symbiotically linked through the individual tracks with certain elemental themes reappearing throughout. One of these primary elements is water and nowhere is it more prominent than on the opening track “And It Stoned Me”. This nostalgic song about a day of adolescence in Ireland, speaks of walking to a fishing hole, getting caught in the rain, and ultimately receiving some H2O rejuvenation. Each lyrical line is filled with vivid yet poetic images and emotions while the moderate yet soulful rock sound features sax accents and a dual lead section featuring Morrison’s acoustic guitar and the piano of Jeff Labes.

The pure jazzy title tune is built on a walking bass pattern of John Klingberg, subtle piano chords by Labes and a great overall melody by Morrison. It later features a jazzy sax lead by Jack Schroer The lyrics of “Moondance” are specifically a tribute to the autumn season as well as romance in general and this hit song did not actually chart until 1977, seven years after its release. “Crazy Love” features Motown inspired, high pitched soul vocals which were accomplished by Morrison getting as close to the microphone as possible. This song is also the  to feature Gospel-style backing singers while the music is very reserved with acoustic, bass, and brushed drums.

“Caravan” is a pure celebration of radio portrayed through a moderate rock backing and very intense vocalization. After two verses comes the first of two improvised bridge sections that bring this song to a new level along with syncopated beats and punching brass. The side one closer “Into the Mystic” paints an indelible picture of life on the water where Morrison again returns to his youth in the port city of Belfast. The mood of this subtle folk tune is driven by a cool but direct bass line, strummed acoustic, and a building array of other instruments added ounthe duration, including a foghorn-mimicking alto saxophone for great effect.

We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun / Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic…”

The album’s second side contains some lesser known but quality songs. The Top 40 hit “Come Running” is upbeat, almost country in its approach, especially with the boogie-woogie piano by Labes, a two chord guitar pattern by John Platania and the first real affirmative presence by drummer Gary Mallaber. The track is not very complex lyrically but this is intentional as it works as an upbeat counter to some of the deeper songs from the first side. “These Dreams of You” portrays upbeat blues with bass rhythm, slide acoustic, and harmonica by Morrison. On “Brand New Day”, the tone is excellent even if the vocal melody seems a bit recycled. Nonetheless, this track is definitely a spiritual, Gospel influenced, song of redemption with rich backing harmonies.

Van MorrisonThe energy returns fully on “Everyone”, which starts with a cool harpsichord by Labes that persists through repetitive, beat driven pattern of this song of pure celebration. Colin Tilton provides flute flourishes throughout this Baroque-styled track which is an ode to the power of music. The album concludes with “Glad Tidings”, featuring the most pronounced bass line, exceptional drumming, subtle saxophones and squeezed out electric guitar notes all behind Morrison’s clarion vocals. While many songs on this album revisit the past, this one is set firmly in the present day of 1970 as Morrison sends “glad tidings” from his new home in New York.

Moondance was a critical and commercial success, peaking in the Top 40 in charts in both the US and the UK. It has continuously sold well during the four and a half decades since its release, eventually certified as triple platinum in sales. Later in 1970, Morrison released the follow-up album, His Band and the Street Choir, which feature “Domino”, the song which ultimately became Morrison’s biggest hit ever. Through the 1970s and into decades beyond, he released a succession of fine albums but none have reached quite the level of esteem as our album of the year, Moondance.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

Black Rose by Thin Lizzy

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Black Rose by Thin LizzyPerhaps the last great classic album by Thin Lizzy, the 1979 release Black Rose: A Rock Legend, peaked at number 2 on the U.K. album charts, making it the band’s most successful album commercially. Produced by Tony Visconti, the rich sound established on the group’s previous albums continues and is built upon by the eclectic songwriting of lead vocalist and bassist Phil Lynott. Thin Lizzy has been hailed as the first true rock band from Ireland, and Lynott took this privilege seriously by composing several songs through their career which were rooted in Irish tradition, starting with the famous Irish traditional folk song, “Whiskey in the Jar”,  which was Thin Lizzy’s first charting hit in 1972. On Black Rose, the closing title song contains a seamless medley of Irish standards and Celtic mythology, presented within a top-notch rock arrangement that makes this album one of a kind.

Thin Lizzy recorded their commercial breakthrough, Jailbreak, in 1976. On this album, the group established their signature twin guitar sound with guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham and the success of the album saw the group touring alongside bands Like Aerosmith and Rush. However, Lynott contracted hepatitis and the tour had to be cancelled. The following tour was again cancelled, this time when Robertson got a hand injury resulting from a drunken brawl, which ultimately resulted in artery and nerve damage. The 1977 album, Bad Reputation, was recorded as a trio, but Robertson did rejoin the band for the critically acclaimed Live and Dangerous in 1978. However, the strain between Robertson and Lynott ultimately resulted in the guitarist being replaced by blues-inspired journeyman Gary Moore.

Lynott and Moore had played together in a band called Skid Row in the late sixties right before Lynott formed Thin Lizzy. In 1974 Moore briefly joined Thin Lizzy during a tour in 1974 and was a replacement for Robertson during a tour in 1977. Black Rose saw the first actual recording to feature Moore, who offered a shredding contrast to Gorham’s more traditional style, but advanced the dual guitar sound to a level not seen by the band before or after.


Black Rose: A Rock Legend by Thin Lizzy
Released: April 13, 1979 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Tony Visconti
Recorded: Paris and London, December 1978–February 1979
Side One Side Two
Do Anything You Want To
Toughest Street in Town
S & M
Waiting For an Alibi
Sarah
Got to Give It Up
Get Out of Here
With Love
Róisín Dubh (Black Rose):
A Rock Legend
Group Musicians
Phil Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Scott Gorham – Guitars, Vocals
Gary Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the thundering rhythms by Lynott and drummer Brian Downey before the two guitarists break into the first of many harmonized guitar riffs. Recorded in Paris, the song uses rapidly rhyming lyrics during the verse which yield to a more traditionally constructed chorus. Above the outro thumps, Lynott adds some distant vocals stating “Elvis is dead” and the brief start of “Blue Suede Shoes” before it completely fades out. the collaborative “Toughest Street in Town” leans more towards early eighties style hard rock as it massages the band’s “tough guy image” in a rather trite fashion with a chanting hook but still some slightly interesting lyrics,

Like a rat in a pack it attacks from the back through a crack in a track and you take a smack…”

A long drum roll introduces the unique composition “S & M”, which is driven by flange-drenched rapid funk music and starkly brutal lyrics. This track was co-written by drummer Downey, who provides a consistent shuffle throughout and also adds a slight drum solo later. “Waiting for an Alibi” is pure upbeat rock and probably the best constructed pop/rock track on the first side. The first single released from Black Rose, the song features further harmonized guitars by Moore and Gorham and well-crafted, poetic lyrics by Lynott. “Sarah” completes side one as a ballad with slightly Latin rhythms dedicated to Lynott’s then-newborn first daughter. This song sounds different than anything else on the album due to the instrumental arrangement and additional session musicians, including a pre-fame journeyman harmonica player called Huey Lewis. Moore’s fine, sharply contrasting lead guitar after the second verse/chorus temporarily brings the song back into the hard rock realm.

A bluesy intro by Gorham introduces “Got to Give It Up” before the song rockets into another strong rock song with more great lead guitars. Apparently glimpsing his own dire fate, Lynott wrote the song about resolving to get on the wagon but failing to do so. Almost as a response to the previous song, “Get Out of Here” offers a more rigid counterpoint. This song was co-written by Midge Ure, who would later join the band as a full member. A bit corny, but still a fun listen musically, the song is filled with pessimistic lyrics;

I used to be a dreamer but I realized that it’s not my style at all / In fact it becomes clearer that a dreamer doesn’t stand a chance at all…”

“With Love” is a desperate song with a dark feel overall where guest bassist Jimmy Bain supplies a boogie bass pattern under the dualing lead guitars. The closing “Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend” is a wild Irish rock odyssey by Lynott and Moore where everyone in the band is at the top of their game performance-wise. Consisting of a blend of traditional songs fused together by original riffs, Rolling Stone recently called this “the best Irish rock song of all time”. Completing the tribute to the Emerald Isle, Lynott name-drops some famous Irish artists during the improvised outro, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Van Morrison.

While Black Rose was a critical and commercial success, Thin Lizzy could never quite ride the success as their bad luck continued when Moore abruptly left the band later in 1979. The band recorded three more studio albums to mediocre receptions before  Thin Lizzy’s breakup in 1983. Tragically, Lynott died three years later due to complications from substance abuse, solidifying this album as the group’s final masterpiece.

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1979 Images

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

 

The Unforgettable Fire by U2

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The Unforgettable Fire by U2 U2 decided to take a bit of a turn following their initial mainstream success. They brought in producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to forge the ambient sound of The Unforgettable Fire. Much of the album was recorded in a castle in the group’s native Ireland, with the live acoustic of the various rooms lending much to the unique final sound. Led by the layered and effects-laden guitar of The Edge and the introspective and philosophical poetic lyrics of Bono, this album brought the group to a higher artistic level, while still carrying enough pop/rock punch to make this a mainstream success and solidify U2’s new found standing as the eighties top rock group.

Steve Lillywhite had produced U2’s initial three albums, culminating with the UK chart topper, War, in 1983. However, both the producer and the band agreed that they did not want to create the “son of War” on the next album and amicably parted ways. The Edge was a longtime fan of Eno’s “weird works”, but Eno was also initially reluctant to work with the band and suggested Lanois, his engineer, instead. However, Bono’s vision for the band won Eno over and both Eno and Lanois agreed to produce the record.

In May 1984 the band moved into Slane Castle where they wrote and recorded much of the material. Bassist Adam Clayton said they were “looking for something that was a bit more serious, more arty”, and the castle offered much inspiration on that front. The group took the album’s title from an art exhibit about the bombing of Hiroshima that they saw while on tour in Japan.


The Unforgettable Fire by U2
Released: October 1, 1984 (Island)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois
Recorded: Slane Castle & Windmill Lane Studios, Ireland, May–August 1984
Side One Side Two
A Sort of Homecoming
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Wire
The Unforgettable Fire
Promenade
4th of July
Bad
Indian Summer Sky
Elvis Presley and America
MLK
Group Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals  |  The Edge – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass  |  Larry Mullen Jr – Drums

The rolling drums of Larry Mullen Jr introduce the album opener “A Sort of Homecoming”. The rhythm is soon crowded out by a bucket of treated guitar phrases, all of which seem pretty cool by themselves but kind of saturate the atmosphere as produced on this album. This recording of the fine song suffers in comparison to the later, superior and simpler live version on the 1985 EP, Wide Awake in America, where the vocals and rhythm are much better defined and the song’s true beauty shines through.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” is the most brilliant early career track by U2. Here is the quintessential U2 sound displayed at its height with the steady and shuffling rhythm section of Mullen and Clayton, the alternating arpeggios, chord strums and textures of The Edge, and Bono’s vocals soaring above all else. The first of two songs written about Martin Luther King, Jr, it was released as the album’s lead single in September 1984 and became a popular radio hit.

 
“Wire” could easily be a pre-cursor to the later, dance-oriented Manchester sound, as the opening spastic guitar is joined by even more frenzied rhythms, including some strong funk elements. Clayton puts down some slap bass and Bono’s vocals are near screams at times, harkening back to U2’s post punk roots. “The Unforgettable Fire” is an upbeat, but deep and most philosophical track on side one. This title song has at once a pop feel along with something darker and more foreboding. It was released as the album’s second and final single and includes a string arrangement by Irish musician Noel Kelehan. “Promenade” is a short and incomplete song, seemingly built as a studio experiment in capturing sound.

The second side begins with the Eno-influenced atmospheric instrumental piece “4th of July” before launching into “Bad”, the highlight of side two. This song continually builds as it goes, with Bono’s voice getting ever more animated and Mullen and Clayton getting more intense, while The Edge stays pretty consistent throughout. It began with an improvised guitar riff during a jam session at Slane Castle, with Bono adding lyrics about heroin addicts in Dublin.

“Indian Summer Sky” is another fine, upbeat track with multiple sections of vocal and musical motifs. “Elvis Presley and America” is a unique but odd and questionable acoustic, with long, improvised lyrics. This song was almost entirely a spur of the moment creation with rhythm borrowed from an altered backing track of “A Sort of Homecoming”. The closer “MLK” is all synth and vocals, but with a brilliant melody and lyrics that serve as a lullaby to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Unlike much of the other experimental tracks, this brief closer gives the album a real classic feel to end the album on a high note.

The Unforgettable Fire was re-packaged in 1985 along with a VHS documentary of the making-of the album. and a remastered 25th Anniversary edition was in 2009 with several bonus tracks. U2 launched a worldwide The Unforgettable Fire Tour, further increasing the band’s massive popularity.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

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Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

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Astral Weeks by Van MorrisonAstral Weeks was the second solo album by Van Morrison, and in a lot of ways it was his own, direct counter-reaction to the debut album which was released in 1967 without Morrison’s consent and filled with weak studio outtakes. With a blending of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Astral Weeks was a complete departure from anything Morrison had done previously and the impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness nature of the music has received critical acclaim for four and a half decades and counting. Amazingly, most of the recording of the eight album songs was done in just two sessions and done among musicians who had never played together before.

Van Morrison got his start with the group Them, which had a handful singles in the mid 1960s. After an American tour in 1966, the band members became involved in a dispute with their manager over revenues, which ultimately led to the band’s break up. Convinced to record solo by producer Bert Berns, Morrison recorded eight songs in 1967, which were originally intended to be used as ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides of four singles. Instead, these songs were compiled and released as Morrison’s debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! without the singer even being consulted. Although the song “Brown Eyed Girl” did reach the Top 10 in the US, Morrison was dissatisfied with the album and sought out a new recording contract.

Morrison moved to Boston where he started to perform in an acoustic duo with double bassist and Berklee student Tom Kielbania. Soon, they began to develop the basic material for Astral Weeks. Producer Lewis Merenstein Went to see Morrison’s live act and was moved by his unique sound. Merenstein had a background in jazz, and decided to replace Kielbania with veteran bassist Richard Davis, who served as the session leader among the unfamiliar musicians. By all accounts, the sessions lacked basic formalities, with Morrison playing the songs on acoustic guitar and letting the session musicians play exactly what they felt.


Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Released: November, 1968 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: Century Sound Studios, New York City, September-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Ballerina
Slim Slow Slider
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Jay Berliner – Guitars
Larry Fallon – Strings, Horns, Harpsichord
Richard Davis – Bass
Connie Kay – Drums

 

All eight songs were composed by Morrison and each original album side was subtitle, with side one called “In The Beginning”. The opening title song is one of the strongest on the album. A pure ballad of romanticism which gradually builds on its acoustic and double bass core, adding intensity throughout while not really changing chord structure and the long string-intensive fade out really drives home the central theme of “…to be born again in another time, in another place…” Morrison described it as “transforming energy, or going from one source to another with it being born again like a rebirth”.

The folksy, classical acoustic guitar of Jay Berliner begins “Beside You”, a truly improvised piece. A “spur of the moment” feel persists throughout, especially when it comes to Davis’ bass and, in fact, this song may be a little over the top for the average listener in its sheer roughness of composition. “Sweet Thing” is a lot closer to a traditional love song while still containing a bit of improvised vocals. Musically, it is held together by the glue of a semi-tight rhythm and the fine string accents of Larry Fallon coupled with the flute of John Payne. Lyrically, there positive and romantic lyrics in a natural setting;

And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear, clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean against tomorrow’s sky…

The first side ends with “Cyprus Avenue”, a great and romantically intense song with a core blues arrangement and topical Celtic/folk instrumentation. Fallon’s ever-present harpsichord and later fiddle makes the song a lot looser and more striking as it progresses. A long fade maintains (if not escalates) the intensity of this song, named after a wealthy street in Morrison’s hometown of Belfast.

Side two of Astral Weeks is subtitled “Afterwards” and begins with the most jazzy track on the album, “The Way Young Lovers Do”. With a just a splash of Mexican horns, this definite sixties swing song is a very rewarding listen in spite of being one of the shorter songs on the album. A great fiddle adds real flavor to the subdued acoustic tune, “Madame George”, which is otherwise driven by Morrison’s voice and never really leaves the exact chord progression over its nearly ten minute duration. Driven by vibraphone, “Ballerina” is still intense and romantic on its own, with nice sustained horn accents. The song is the only one composed while Morrison was still a member of Them in 1966. Unfortunately, the album seems to run out of steam by the time it reaches the closer “Slim Slow Slider”, which is little more than a showcase for the saxophone of John Payne.

Despite the fact that it failed to achieve significant sales success and reached gold status 33 years after its release, Astral Weeks remains a cult favorite. Morrison would soon achieve his commercial breakthrough with his third solo album, Moondance, released in early 1970.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

War by U2

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War by U2With their third album War in early 1983, U2 fully arrived on the international music scene and has remained on the top echelon ever since. A commercial success for the band, the album topped the U.K. charts and reached #12 in the U.S. Further, it found the band forging their definitive sound for the first time under the guidance of producer Steve Lillywhite, who introduced the band some new recording techniques. Among these was the incorporation of a “click track” to keep perfect time, an idea that drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was initially against. However, he did relent and the album ended up being a real showcase for Mullen.

The album got its title from the band’s perception of the world at the time, or as lead vocalist Bono put it; “War seemed to be the motif for 1982.” The title was also a concerted effort by the band to branch out into “heavier” theme, as they felt that critics had taken the music from their first two albums, Boy and October, lightly. Being an Irish band, U2 was in a unique position to address the troubles in Northern Ireland, and hit that head on with this album. Still, U2 was cognizant that such heavy themes could backfire with mainstream listeners, so they also worked hard to compose melodic and more direct tunes.

Lead guitarist The Edge uses far less delay and echo than previously and experiments with differing guitar textures throughout, adding to the overall sonic atmosphere of passion. As a counter-balance, bassist Adam Clayton provides the “glue” musically with simple, strong, and direct bass lines. With these carefully balanced dynamics, U2 found their formula for success throughout the rest of the decade.


War by U2
Released: February 28, 1983 (Island)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, May 17–August 20, 1982
Side One Side Two
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Seconds
New Year’s Day
Like a Song…
Drowning Man
The Refugee
Two Hearts Beat As One
Red Light
Surrender
“40”
Band Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals
The Edge – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums

 

Although all songs on War are credited to the entire group, in reality certain tunes were largely composed by individuals. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” was composed by The Edge, and has remained one of the most indelible tunes of the band’s career. From its opening martial drumbeat, featuring a heavy hat and beat by Mullen to the simple, raw guitar variations accompanied by some strategic violin by guest Steve Wickham, the song is a unique musical experience. Add the passionate vocals (including some great backing vocals by The Edge), which describe the Bloody Sunday events of 1972, and you have a rock and roll classic.

The other popular “hit” from the first side, “New Year’s Day”, was originally written by Bono as a love song to his new bride but later morphed into an ode to the Polish Solidarity movement. Clayton’s distinctive bass line drives the song while The Edge alternates between the signature piano line and several guitar textures, including an actual rock guitar lead. Overall, the song portrays a great atmosphere with the optimistic fantasy of unity and theme of starting over, and became the group’s first Top Ten single in England.

The rest of side one contains solid tracks which compliment each other nicely. “Seconds” contains another wild beat by Mullin above a strummed acoustic guitar. Although a little unfocused and a bit busy, the song is original and entertaining. “Like a Song…” sticks to the formula on the first side, although it does get pretty intense as it progresses. “Drowning Man” is acoustic and haunting – almost jazzy – with trance electric guitars above strummed acoustic and deeper sounding vocals by Bono.

 
The best pure pop song on album (and perhaps of any early-era U2) is “Two Hearts Beat as One”. While still just slightly unfocused and edgy, this tune is held together by the superior composition and pure performance by the whole band, especially Bono on vocals. A propulsive bass line by Clayton and a fantastic counter-melody by The Edge during the chorus push this song to the top level of any U2 classic. The song became a hit in several nations as well as a rare staple of the dance floor for U2. “The Refugee”, on its surface is a new wave motif, almost to the point of absurdity. Yet it is still oddly entertaining based mainly on the odd guitar textures by The Edge.

The album’s closing tracks include a couple featuring the background chorus from the group The Coconuts. “Red Light” is the closest to a pure rock song on this album, with Bono singing in more contemporary manner and more rock-oriented guitar riffing, a sound that U2 would morph towards in the future, starting with Achtung Baby in the early 1990s. “Surrender” is danceable, almost post-disco and could be a decent pop song in its own right with rapid verse lyrics and sustained chorus. The album concludes with “40”, which was written and recorded right at the end of the sessions, allegedly in less than an hour. With Clayton having already left the studio, The Edge plays both the electric and bass guitar, while Bono based the lyrics on Psalm 40 from the Bible.

U2 toured relentlessly in support of War, starting in December 1982 (prior to the album’s release) through most of 1983. The tour spawned a concert film Live at Red Rocks and an accompanying EP, Under a Blood Red Sky, which further increased the band’s exposure and live appeal.

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1983 Images

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

The Joshua Tree by U2

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1987 Album of the Year

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U2 in 1987

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

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1987 Images

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

 

Achtung Baby by U2

Achtung Baby by U2“The sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree.” This is how lead singer and lyricist Bono described the radical new approach that the established and successful band U2 took when putting together their 1991 album Achtung Baby. The album was produced following the group’s first extended break from touring and recording and it marked a distinct milestone in the evolution of U2’s sound.

This was the first full studio album since the blockbuster The Joshua Tree in 1987 and Bono felt that they were creatively unprepared for the phenomenal success of The Joshua Tree, which resulted in the critically panned soundtrack album Rattle and Hum in 1988. In October 1990, the group headed to Berlin to start work on this new album. On the eve of German reunification the band felt that recording there would be uplifting and inspiring. Instead, they found the vibe to be depressing (the studio was located in a former SS ballroom). Further, there was division growing within the band itself over the musical direction. Bono and lead guitarist The Edge were becoming influenced by recent fads such as the Madchester scene in England and the industrial rock movement in America. However, these dance-oriented beats and rhythms did not sit well with bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, who felt their roles were being diminished within the band. The fact that Bono and The Edge were also writing the material in more isolation did not help matters.

The band was actually close to breaking up in Germany as ideas stagnated and disagreements escalated. But they were all brought back together by the nearly totally improvised “One”, where each member contributed on the spot to this excellent new composition. The band returned home to Dublin for Christmas 1990 where they all recommitted to a future with U2. The bulk of the rest of the album would be recorded in Dublin starting in February 1991.


Achtung Baby by U2
Released: November 19, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno
Recorded: Hansa Ton Studios, Berlin, STS & Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, October 1990 – September 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Zoo Station
Even Better Than the Real Thing
One
Until the End of the World
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?
So Cruel
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Acrobat
Love Is Blindness
Bono – Lead Vocals, Guitar
The Edge – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullin, Jr. – Drums & Percussion

Achtung Baby by U2

The album’s title, “Achtung Baby”, is German for “Attention, baby!” or “Watch out, baby!”, and it was adopted by sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy during recording in the early Berlin sessions. Later in the process, the band decided on this as the title over more “serious sounding” titles that they were considering. The album was co-produced by Daniel Lanois, who was hands-on from start to finish and Brian Eno, who would work on the project intensely for several days straight and then take three or four weeks off in order to be able to come back and listen with “fresh ears”.

Upon listening to the album, the first thing you’re struck by is the sound – steady, almost techno beats, processed vocals, and very judicious use of the band’s previous biggest asset, The Edge’s signature riffs. For this album, the inventive guitarist used many different techniques and processing, most with stellar success, some with less.

Some of the most inventive guitars appear on the songs “Zoo Station”, “Love Is Blindness”, and the first hit from the album “Mysterious Ways”, which introduced the pop world to the “new U2”. Other songs used various inovative techniques as well. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” starts with wild synths and then uses doubled up, octave vocals. “So Cruel” uses a simple piano riff with a modern dance beat. “The Fly” experiments with alternate personalities of Bono, each portrayed by distinctive vocals built by cadence and effect. While the music fluctuates between alternative and R&B. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” starts as a piece of doomy, space age, psychedelia then morphs into a decent pop song that really hits a sweet note during the bridge with the high-pitched Bono vocals.

Other song highlights include the cleaver and inventive “Until the End of the World”, which portrays an imagined conversation between Jesus Christ and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, while moving towards the traditional U2 sound musically. “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” contains a calm R&B beat with just enough musical decor to make it really moody under the somber vocals.

The true great from this album, on a level with anything U2 has done before or since is “One” . This is a gem that really deviates from much of the rest of the album. It starts with a traditionally strummed acoustic guitar coupled with a nice, overdubbed electric riff and then kicks in with perfect rhythm accompaniment. Calm vocals become more agitated as the verses proceed until we reach a climatic banshee scream at the close. Further, this is the song that really saved the album and possibly the band. As The Edge recalls;

“At the instant we were recording it, I got a very strong sense of its power. We were all playing together in the big recording room, a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war, and everything fell into place. It was a reassuring moment, when everyone finally went, ‘oh great, this album has started.’ It’s the reason you’re in a band…”

As the release date drew near, rumors of U2’s new direction leaked out and certain critics and members of the press began to preemptively trash the new album on hearsay alone. On the eve of Achtung Baby’s release in November 1991, U2 was more unsure and less confident than they had been for any previous work. However, once the actual music was heard, the reception nearly all positive by critics and fans alike, with Achtung Baby topping most “album of the year” polls and winning a Grammy.

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

1991 Images