Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

Buy Nine Lives

Flaming Pie by Paul McCartneyAfter spending a few years working on The Beatles Anthology project, it was clear that Paul McCartney wanted to continue revisiting the sounds and styles of the past when he resumed his solo career. Flaming Pie, McCartney’s tenth solo album, was a success in achieving this goal as it features an array of styles which pinpoint musical moments with and without the Beatles. This was also an album where McCartney collaborated with Ringo Starr as well as a couple of his own immediate family members.

Coming into the decade of the 1990s, McCartney was one of the highest grossing rock acts. Still, he decided to branch out into orchestral and opera music with Liverpool Oratorio in 1991 and electronica music the final year with Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest. In 1993, McCartney released the pop/rock album Off the Ground, which would be his last studio album for the next four years.

Following the completion of the Anthology project, McCartney teamed up with co-producer and multi instrumentalist Jeff Lynne with the intention of producing something “pure and easy”. The album was recorded over the course of two years and included new material as well as some songs initiated in previous years. These sessions also produced excess material, most notably the “Oobu Joobu” series of rare tracks.


Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney
Released: May 5, 1997 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin, Jeff Lynne and Paul McCartney
Recorded: Sun Valley, Idaho and Abbey Road Studios, London, September 1992 – February 1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Song We Were Singing
The World Tonight
If You Wanna
Somedays
Young Boy
Calico Skies
Flaming Pie
Heaven On a Sunday
Used to Be Bad
Souvenir
Little Willow
Really Love You
Beautiful Night
Great Day
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Bass, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Percussion
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Miller – Bass, Chapman Stick
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 
Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

 

The album’s opener, “The Song We Were Singing”, is instantly rewarding and pleasant as it alternates between softly picked acoustic folk verses and the strong, Scottish-folk influenced choruses. Philosophically it centers around the core of McCartney’s existence, the “song”, and it appears to allude to his relationship with John Lennon. The pop radio hit “The World Tonight” features verses with interesting harmonies before McCartney breaks out vocally in the pre-chorus as well as a slight but excellent piano later.

As the album settles in, we have “If You Wanna”, an acoustic rocker with some strong late seventies, early eighties pop elements along with some excellent lead guitars, followed in contrast by the picked acoustic ballad “Somedays”, the first of two tracks produced and orchestrated by Sir George Martin. “Young Boy” is a standard, but pleasant, pop / rock track where McCartney teamed up with the legendary Steve Miller. Later on the album, the duo returns on the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” where Miller shares lead vocals and proves that he has the better blues pedigree as McCartney’s lines sound more like a novelty.

The acoustic picked “Calico Skies” was written in 1991 during a hurricane blackout while the title track, “Flaming Pie” features a sound that is pure late-era Beatles, with boogie piano accented by crisp, distorted guitar riffs. “Heaven on a Sunday” takes a soft jazz approach with pleasant melodies, backing vocals by Linda McCartney and a great contrasting, whining rock lead guitar by son James McCartney.

Paul McCartney

The album’s final stretch features some of the more interesting tracks. “Souvenir” is a sonic masterpiece from beginning to end, using some classic rock motifs and a melancholy ballad approach, while “Little Willow” is a sad ballad which McCartney wrote for the children of the late Maureen Starkey, wife of Ringo. Next comes a unique composition by Paul and Ringo,”Really Love You”, with a kicking rhythm focused on the strong bass and drum beat and a classic blues / soul / R&B feel. “Beautiful Night” is a grandiose song with grandiose production by Martin and soaring vocals and lyrics by McCartney. His strained vocals through the later half of this power ballad makes it an instant classic. Wrapping up the album is “Great Day”, acting almost as the reciprocal of “Beautiful Night” with simple finger-picked guitar and hand percussion. This closing track features Linda McCartney joining on backing vocals, which would sadly be her last collaboration with Paul as she passed away a year after the album’s release.

Flaming Pie was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at number two in both the UK and US. It has grown to become one of McCartney’s most critically acclaimed albums of his long solo career.

~

1997 Images

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

 

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3
by Traveling Wilburys

Buy Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3

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.

~

1990 Page ad

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

Eldorado by E.L.O.

Buy Eldorado

Eldorado by ELOElectric Light Orchestra (ELO) made a huge leap forward with Eldorado, the first complete concept album by the group. Rich melodies with various rock and classical influences made this album highly accessible and well received by mainstream audiences making this ELO’s commercial break through. Composed by vocalist, guitarist, and group leader Jeff Lynne, the tune sequence loosely follows the story of a dreamer trying to escape reality. Along the way there are plenty of mixed metaphors using various classic stories and characters from Robin Hood to William Tell to Lancelot to The Wizard of Oz and, of course, Eldorado.

When formed in 1969, ELO declared its purpose as to “pick up where the Beatles left off with ‘I Am the Walrus’.”. The idea came from Roy Wood, formerly of the band, The Move, who had the idea to form a rock band that would regularly use orchestral instruments. He recruited Lynne from fellow Birmingham group, The Idle Race. The debut ,The Electric Light Orchestra, was released in 1971 but tensions between Wood and Lynne led to Wood’s departure during the recordings for ELO 2, which spawned the group’s first US hit, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. Released in late 1973, On the Third Day, featured the hit single, “Showdown,” and continued the band’s rise in popularity.

On those early albums, Lynne would overdub the strings during recording. However, on Eldorado a 30-piece orchestra and choir was hired, with Louis Clark brought on to arrange and conduct the strings (Clark would later become a full group member). This inclusion limited the group’s three resident string players to a few lead sections on scattered songs. Also during the recording of this album, bassist Ike de Albuquerque quit the group, leaving Lynn to also take on those duties.

The inspiration for this ambitious record came from Lynne’s father, a classical music lover.


Eldorado by Electric Light Orchestra
Released: September, 1974 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, February–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Eldorado Overture
Can’t Get It Out of My Head
Boy Blue
Laredo Tornado
Poor Boy (The Greenwood)
Mister Kingdom
Nobody’s Child
Illusions in G Major
Eldorado
Eldorado Finale
Group Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Orchestration
Richard Tandy – Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration
Mik Kaminski – Violin
Mike Edwards   Hugh McDowell – Cellos
Bev Bevan – Drums, Percussion

 

“Eldorado Overture” commences with a dramatic entrance with haunting synthesizer sounds by Richard Tandy along with a spoken word poetry introduction before it breaks musically into the climatic main theme. Like many of the tracks on the album, the end dissolves directly into the next song. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” is a calm yet desperate melody about the dream of something deeper and more romantic. Very well produced and filled with rock and orchestral motifs and operatic backing vocals, this song would go on to become the first really great song by Electric Light Orchestra as well as the band’s first Top 10 single in the US.

“Boy Blue” is an upbeat rocker with a message, describing the reaction of townspeople to the return of a soldier from conflict. The song is driven by piano and bass during verses and choruses with a break for orchestral flourishes above piano during mid-section. “Laredo Tornado” starts with a heavy, droning rock guitar but soon settles into a moderate, clavichord-driven soul and funk tune that takes its time navigating the first verses. The most seventies sounding cool of any track, the song climaxes during the chorus hooks with Lynne’s high-pitched vocals and has extended outro for some string parts to compliment the opening guitar riff. “Poor Boy (The Greenwood)” returns to upbeat, old time rock n roll, with the song’s finale briefly touching on the main theme to finish the first side.

The second side starts with an electric piano version of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” (albeit uncredited and with alternate lyrics), renamed as “Mister Kingdom”. The song does break into different sections, but not enough to consider it an independent composition. “Nobody’s Child” starts with strong strings, almost a wedding march, which dissolves into a marching piano and cinematic club jazz arrangement. “Illusions in G Major” is a pure fifties rocker, highlighted by a shredding lead guitar during the quickest and most straight-forward song on Eldorado.

The melancholy but beautiful title song “Eldorado” starts with strings playing an almost siren-sounding rotation before it settles into the calm ballad. Lynne’s vocals are most somber and deep with the lyrical vibe being of melancholy resignation and living in dreams with expiration. Late in the song is a pleasant orchestral link to the climatic finale. “Eldorado Final” echos and extends the opening song but with a more furious, driving passage to the finale.

Although Eldorado would not chart in ELO’s home UK until four years later in 1978, it was an instant hit in the US and several other nations. More importantly, the sound forged on this record would set a template for success on future ELO albums.

~

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

Buy Full Moon Fever

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.

~

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

Buy Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

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.

~

1988 Images

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

 

Cloud Nine by George Harrison

Cloud Nine by George HarrisonAfter a long hiatus from the regular recording process, former Beatle George Harrison teamed up with former Electric Light Orchestra front man Jeff Lynne to produce Cloud Nine. This was Harrison’s tenth solo studio album but his first in five years and his last to be released in his lifetime. The album was a surprise, re-establishing Harrison as a radio pop artist as well as a recipient of much critical acclaim. The album fuses much of  Harrison’s signature sound along with Lynne’s richly produced sonic landscapes (which were themselves derived from late-era Beatles) along with some of the slick rock and synth qualities of contemporary 1980s production.

After the lukewarm reception to his 1982 album Gone Troppo, Harrison grew frustrated with the music business and suspended his recording career. He tried his hand at film making and contributed a few single songs to soundtracks and other artist’s projects. He made a rare public appearance at a tribute to Carl Perkins in late 1985 along with former band mate Ringo Starr and friend Eric Clapton which rekindled his desire to make music again.

Production for Cloud Nine began in late 1986 at Harrison’s home studio in England. Along with Lynne, both Starr and Clapton contributed to the album as well as other major recording artists such as Gary Wright and Elton John, who contributed on piano but not vocals as he was on his own career hiatus recovering from vocal surgery at the time. The end result was a sort of “comeback” album for Harrison, who was well aware of this fact. He inserted many vintage references in the lyrics and musical styles and posed with one of his first guitars, a 1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet, for the cover shot.
 


Cloud Nine by George Harrison
Released: November 2, 1987 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: George Harrison & Jeff Lynne
Recorded: FPSHOT, Oxfordshire, England, January−March 1987
Side One Side Two
Cloud 9
That’s What It Takes
Fish On the Sand
Just For Today
This Is Love
When We Was Fab
Devil’s Radio
Someplace Else
Wreck of the Hesperus
Breath Away from Heaven
Got My Mind Set On You
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Sitar, Lead Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Vocals
Gary Wright – Piano
Jim Horn – Saxophone
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion

 
Harrison’s slow and steady title song, “Cloud 9”, starts things off in a trance-like fashion with not much real movement musically but with plenty of sonic décor from the signature Harrison slide guitar to sharp and short brass accents. A collaboration with Lynne and Wright called “That’s What It Takes” follows as a more traditional pop song. This song is acoustic and upbeat but with a definite melancholy edge and signature background vocals by Lynne.

“Fish On the Sand” is the album’s first foray into synth-driven music with near programmic bass and drum beat accented by a simple electric riff and some nice chord progressions. “Just For Today” is a minor key piano ballad by Harrison in the fashion usually reserved for ex-band mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while “This Is Love” is a pleasant and accessible pop song with great lead guitars and trends towards the song style of the subsequent Traveling Wilburys project. In fact, the original B-side for this single was “Handle w/ Care”, which itself was the lead track and single for Traveling Wilburys.
 

 
The most interesting song on Cloud Nine is “When We Was Fab”, a collaboration between Harrison and Lynne, which has a very ELO edge while making an overt nod to Harrison’s days with the Beatles. It is complete with many string arrangements, Harrison’s slide guitar, rich vocal harmonies and a sitar section at the end of the song. The lyrics make direct references to original Beatles songs as well as inside stories and the song reached the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album’s second side starts with “Devil’s Radio”, a straight out piano-driven rocker with measured guitar interludes and lyrics which express Harrison’s general disdain for the media. “Someplace Else” is a pleasant, acoustic ballad which is a fine listen but contains fairly typical subject matter of melancholy songs. On the contrary, “Wreck of the Hesperus” is an upbeat and fun song with lyrics that invoke various landmarks around the world but the following “Breath Away from Heaven” is an ill-advised, almost painful experiment, which uses many 1980s style synths in its methodical choppiness.
 

 
It is almost a shame that the final song on Harrison’s final solo studio album during his life was written by someone else, as “Got My Mind Set on You” was written by Rudy Clark for James Ray in 1962. But that being said, this is a fun pop song which Harrison performs masterfully and squeezes every ounce of entertainment from this beat-driven simple song. The song features great grawling sax by Jim Horn and it went on to become Harrison’s third and final #1 hit. In fact, as of 2012, “Got My Mind Set on You” was the last #1 hit by any former Beatle.

Although Cloud Nine was the last solo album released in Harrison’s lifetime, it wasn’t his final project and he and Lynne moved on to form The Traveling Wilburys, who released a brilliant debut album in 1988. Harrison spent over a decade on his final album, Brainwashed, released in 2002, a year after his death.

~

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

1987 Images

 

Out of the Blue by E.L.O.

Buy Out of the Blue

Out Of the Blue by Electric Light OrchestraOut Of the Blue was the seventh album by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), which began its life in the Swiss Alps after the band wrapped up it’s New World Record tour in April 1977. ELO’s lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Jeff Lynne rented a small chalet near Lake Geneva. He brought his guitar and rented an electric piano and tape recorder, giving himself about a month of solitude to compose new music. But for about two weeks the weather was terrible and Lynne struggled to write anything of substance. Then one morning, the sun came out exposing the majestic mountains and Lynne’s writer’s block disappeared. Starting with the suite “Concerto For a Rainy Day”, the songwriter composed the bulk of this upcoming double album in total, about fourteen tracks in two weeks. The songs were then rehearsed by and arranged for the band and orchestra before production began at Musicland in Munich, Germany, a place favored by Lynne because of its proximity to “a great football pitch out the back for having a break”.

Lynne was happy to get 40 orchestral musicians into the relatively small Musicland after originally booking and being unsatisfied with a much larger studio where there was too much natural re-verb. In the end, every one of the 19 tracks on Out Of the Blue were composed and produced by Lynne and the album was on the shelf in mere months. Out Of the Blue was a great success, reaching the top five on album charts in seven different countries and becoming the most highly regarded album by ELO. The album also benefited from being highly relevant to its time, having some disco-friendly sounds in the year which brought us Saturday Night Fever and spaceship-centered artwork in the year that brought us Star Wars.

Creatively, it was the apex of Lynne’s ambition to blend basic rock’n’roll with orchestral overtones, something many fans and critics believe was his independent crusade to continue the Beatles musical direction of their latter years. Ironically, Beatles producer George Martin felt their only double album, 1968’s White Album could’ve been edited back to form a really excellent single album and Out Of the Blue may have been better served to follow that advice. The songs tend to be overproduced, which is sonically fulfilling at the beginning but gets mundane as the album progresses, especially with a rather weak fourth “side”. The rich vocal arrangements and the method of call and return by Lynn’s lead and the harmonized backing, especially wear thin as the album progresses.
 

Classic Rock Review
Out Of the Blue by E.L.O.
Released: October 1977 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, May-August 1977
Side One Side Two
Turn To Stone
It’s Over
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Across the Border
Night In the City
Starlight
Jungle
Believe Me Now
Steppin’ Out
Side Three Side Four
Standin’ In the Rain
Big Wheels
Summer and Lightning
Mr. Blue Sky
Sweet Is the Night
The Whale
Birmingham Blues
Wild West Hero
Primary Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Richard Tandy – Keyboards, Guitars
Louis Clark – Orchestra Conductor
Kelly Groucutt – Bass, Vocals
Bev Bevan – Drums, Vocals

 
The album fades in with the hit “Turn to Stone” with a beat equivalent to early techno and Lynne’s call-out vocals returned by thick harmonies (something that will be repeated all too often on this album). The song contains great texture, a key component to many songs on the album along with the skill of mixing string-laden pop hooks with driving rock and roll. The next song, “It’s Over” is an odd song to be placed anywhere but at the end of a side. The song contains a driving acoustic through the verses with a nice piano piece in the lead

Sweet Talkin' Woman single, 1978A short wedding march introduces “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, a tremendous pop song with fine melodies, harmonies, and overall great use of vocals. “Jungle” is a song of just plain fun with its various types of sound effects, upbeat tempo, and use of nonsensical vocal flourishes and jungle animal noises provided by Lynne along with bassist Kelly Groucutt and drummer Bev Bevan. “Believe Me Now” is a short yet entertaining instrumental that introduces the melodic an melancholy “Steppin’ Out”, written in a similar vein to past classics like “Telephone Line”.

Based on old-time rock, “Across the Border” adds mariachi horns into the already-packed musical palette of sound effects, Moog synthesizer, and violin by Mik Kaminski. The album’s second side starts with “Night In the City”, a definitely disco-influenced track with just a hint of prog-rock experimentation through the changing chord structures and vocal arrangements. “Starlight” is a dreamy, slow dance influenced, piano driven song with topical, new-age sounds.
 

 
The entirety of side three is subtitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day”, a four track suite based on the weather and how it affects mood change, ending gloriously with “Mr. Blue Sky”, an uplifting celebration of sunshine. The song has liberal use of vocoder from keyboardist Richard Tandy. Beyond this, the song contains the best vocals on this vocal-rich album, from the cool lead by Lynne, to the multi-part harmonies in the chorus, to the building arrangement following the second verse, to the great choral arrangement later in the song. Leading up to this climatic final song, the concerto (which would be the end of Lynne’s dabbling in symphonic rock) contains the haunting “Standin’ in the Rain”, the dramatic, string-driven “Big Wheels”, and the acoustic, pop-oriented “Summer and Lightning”.

Electric Light Orchestra

Side four is, unfortunately, the weakest side on Out Of the Blue as this otherwise fine album fizzles to an anti-climatic end. It is not that these songs are terrible, just that all the spectacular moments have passed and nothing here seems too original or inspiring. “Sweet Is the Night” may have been a hit single if it were released, as it does have some pleasant and melodic moments. “The Whale” is an instrumental which is largely an experiment with synthesized sounds by Tandy. “Birmingham Blues” is mainly uninspired filler, and the album’s closer, “Wild West Hero” adds some “honky tonk” elements which seem forced and underdeveloped.

Still, Out Of the Blue contains some fantastic songs and there were actually even a couple of very good songs that were originally kept off (although later added for the 30th anniversary edition. These were the fine instrumental “The Quick and the Daft” and the melodic, pop-oriented “Latitude 88 North”, which has a sound that may have actually been ahead of its time for 1977. Then again, Jeff Lynne and ELO always seemed to be just a little ahead of their time.

~

1977 Images

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

 

A New World Record by E.L.O.

Buy A New World Record

A New World Record by ELO The sixth overall album for Electric Light Orchestra (E.L.O.), A New World Record would become the band’s breakthrough worldwide. Lead singer, chief songwriter, and producer Jeff Lynne later said he considered this album to be the band’s pinnacle (and he may be right). The album combines the better elements of ELO’s of previous works – great pop sensibility and melody with deeper orchestral arrangements and polished production. It is also a transitional album where the sound of the band becomes less progressive and more radio-friendly, with no less than four “hit” songs charting from A New World Record, helping the band to finally break through in their native England.

A New World Record was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, the same location where ELO recorded their previous album Face the Music the year before (it is also the same location where our most recent review Presence by Led Zeppelin was recorded). This studio in the basement of a majestic hotel along with its famed engineer Reinhold Mack.

Many have describe the band’s sound as The Beatles advanced about a half decade later, and there is definitely audio evidence to back that assertion, but there is much more here. Although on one level completely unique, the sound that Jeff Lynne and the band forged through the mid-to-late seventies was the perfect soundtrack for the colorful, bright, and “Star Wars” motif of the era. Further, while many sentiments migrated to the polar extremes of disco and punk when abandoning the over-indulgent virtuosity of progressive rock, E.L.O. chose a more mainstream, roots-rock core just as the generation which grew up in the 1950s were feeling nostalgic for this music. This same core was never truly abandoned by the Beatles, through all their late sixties innovation, so there may be the true comparison.

 


A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra
Released: September 11, 1976 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, July 1976
Side One Side Two
Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria
Mission (A World Record)
So Fine
Livin’ Thing
Above the Clouds
Do Ya
Shangri-La
Band Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Richard Tandy – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Kelly Groucutt – Bass, Vocals
Bev Bevan – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Mik Kaminski – Violin
Hugh McDowell & Melvyn Gale – Cellos
Louis Clark – Orchestral

 

A New World Record begins with “Tightrope”, which comes in with a deep and doomy synth that gives way to strings and orchestral vocals before finally kicking in fully at around 1:15 with the thumping rhythm of drummer Bev Bevan and bassist Kelly Groucutt. An excellent rock song interspersed with the “edge” of orchestral strings and choral vocals, this song sets the pace for the rest of the album allthe way through its concluding “Shangri-La”. This last song seems to be a play on to the theme song to the band’s 1974 album El Dorado, both mythical places where the music of E.L.O. tries to take us.

The beautiful and serene “Telephone Line” is a more traditional love song with a definite late-era-Beatles “Golden Slumbers” vibe, especially during the verse. Vocally, the song is superb with Lynn’s voice starting at extreme mid-range for the “telephone” effect before slowly morphing towards normalcy and the chorus “do wap” section adds an undeniable hook. In contrast “Rockaria”, while still very poppy and entertaining, could not be any less conventional. Perhaps the best song on the album, it literally adds opera to a true rock song, in a way as smooth (if not smoother) than Queen did on A Night At the Opera a year earlier. “Rockaria” constantly fluctuates between an aria and an old time, thumping rock song, all very seamless and sweet, yet truly unique.

The first side ends with “Mission”, a quasi-thematic piece with heavy strings throughout with nice sprinklings of Lynne’s guitars and Richard Tandy’s clavichord. The second side kicks off with “So Fine”, a funky song with some modern, almost synthesized sounds complementing that show the band was trying to fit into the disco world as well.
 

 
A signature orchestral riff is carried over from “So Fine” to the hit song “Livin’ Thing”, driven by an excellent acoustic rhythm, some majestic lead vocals, and a couple of violin interludes by Mike Kaminski, This would one of the most popular songs ever by the band. “Above the Clouds” follows as an odd but interesting, McCartney-esque song with thumping piano and a subtle Theremin whining in the background through two verses before breaking down with a slow string-led ending. “Do Ya” is pop/rock at its finest, perfect for the era as a radio hit as well as a nice counter-balace to the more serious material on the album. The song is a simple rocker yet impossible to ignore and puts the album well over the top as a commercial success.

In the wake of the tremendous success of A New World Record, E.L.O. would go on to produce their most ambitious effort the following year with Out Of the Blue in 1977 and would remain a relevant force in the pop and rock world into the early eighties.

~

1976 Images

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