Infidels by Bob Dylan

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Infidels by Bob DylanIn 1983, Bob Dylan released his studio album, Infidels. With this, Dylan received his highest critical and commercial success in nearly a decade. Still, through time, Infidels received criticism for not including some classic tracks like “Foot of Pride”, “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” and “Blind Willie McTell”, which were both recorded for this album but ultimately omitted. The latter of these would not be released until an outtakes album in 1991 but has come to be considered a true classic in Dylan’s expansive portfolio.

Late in the 1970s, Dylan became an evangelical Christian and, after dedicating three months of discipleship, he decided to release a trilogy of Gospel influenced music. Slow Train Coming (1979) was well-received critically, won Dylan a Grammy award for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody”, and marked his first work with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. The subsequent albums Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) were less regarded by critics and fans.

Co-produced by Knofler, Infidels was seen as a return to Dylan’s secular music roots. He initially wanted to self-produce the album but capitulated due to his lack of knowledge of emerging recording technology. Dylan had spoken with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello about producing this album before hiring Knopfler.

 


Infidels by Bob Dylan
Released: October 27, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan
Recorded: The Power Station, New York City, April-May 1983
Side One Side Two
Jokerman
Sweetheart Like You
Neighborhood Bully
License to Kill
Man of Peace
Union Sundown
I and I
Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Mark Knopfler – Guitars
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Robbie Shakespeare – Bass
Sly Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its strongest tune, “Jokerman”, which is musically led by Robbie Shakespeare‘s thumping bass and the subtle duo guitars of Knopfler and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Meanwhile, Dylan provides potent lyrics and great melody and, although very repetitive, the song has much forward motion due to the increasing vocal intensity as well as the subtle building of musical arrangement and fine harmonica leads late in the song. Released as a single in 1984, “Jokerman” simultaneously spawned Dylan’s MTV-era music video. “Sweetheart Like You” follows as a rather standard ballad with a good hook. Knofler’s influence is very evident in its arrangement which also features keyboardist Alan Clark.

Much of the material on Infidels has a solid rock or pop arrangement, displaying how far musically Dylan had strayed from the folk or roots based music he proliferated in the 1960s while still touching on the topical issues of the day. “Neighborhood Bully” has a new wave edge with a bit of Southern-style guitar slide while lyrically using sarcasm to defend Israel’s right to exist. “License to Kill” closes the first side as a slow and steady rocker with plenty of twangy and guitar motion with lyrics that address man’s relationship to the environment.

Bob Dylan in 1983

The surprising rock arrangements continue into the second side with the layered electric guitar riffs, Hammond organ of “Man of Peace” and the crisp rocker “Union Sundown”, with Clark providing some nice rocking piano in mix and guest Clydie King adding some backing vocals. “I and I” is an interesting tune with subtle verses and more forceful choruses, making it perhaps the best song on the album’s second side. The album concludes with the pleasant, upbeat ballad, “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”, a purely traditional love song.

A gold selling record, Infidels Reach the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in the UK. This achievement would mark the artist’s best success in the decade of the 1980s up until the 1989 release of the classic Oh Mercy.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones

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Let It Bleed by The Rolling StonesThe middle release of the three greatest Rolling Stones albums, Let It Bleed finished the decade of the 1960s with a mostly solid blues/rock effort which contains a pop/rock gem. That song has been said to symbolize the demise of the “swinging sixties”, but can also lend meaning to many other situations, large and small. Closer to home, the Rolling Stones had lost their original leader and musical visionary Brian Jones to a drowning accident earlier in 1969, making this a true transitional album dividing the early and later periods of the band’s most productive years. Let It Bleed did reach the top position on the UK charts as well as #3 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart in the US.

Jones performed minor roles on two of the album’s nine tracks, while his replacement, Mick Taylor, plays guitar on only two tracks. This left a lot of space for Keith Richards to fill with various electric, acoustic, and steel guitars making this his finest output of his long career with the Stones. The dichotomy of order turning to disarray is portrayed in the carefully orchestrated cover image of several diverse items being supported by a record spindle, following into a chaotic state on the back cover of the LP.

A song recorded during the sessions for Let It Bleed but not included on the album was the popular hit, “Honky Tonk Woman”. Here Richard’s electric riff drove the song to number one on the singles chart during the summer of 1969, shortly after the death of Jones. A fiddle-laced earlier version of the song called “Country Honk” (on which Jones played) did appear on the album, complete with weird ambiance at the very beginning and very end. This version doesn’t have quite the spark of the single version, especially when it comes to the rhythm section, but it does show the group in a legitimate country stomp.


Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones
Released: December 5, 1969 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, November 1968-November 1969
Side One Side Two
Gimme Shelter
Love in Vein
Country Honk
Live With Me
Let it Bleed
Midnight Rambler
You Got the Silver
Monkey Man
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Brian Jones – Congas, Autoharp
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vibes
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

 

The true gem on Let It Bleed (and perhaps the best Stones song ever) is the closer, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. While a most adequate way for the Stones to conclude their sixties work, the song was actually recorded a year earlier in November 1968, before their previous album, Beggars Banquet, was even released. A mature song with fantastic content and sound, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, starts with a choral arrangement which morphs into a straight-forward acoustic folk ballad with French horn solo played by Al Kooper, who also played piano and organ during the later funk/rock sections. Lyrically, the song contains poetic lyrics most especially the classic extended verse;

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore, to get your prescription filled, I was standing in line with Mr. Jitters and man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda, my favorite flavor’s cherry red / I sang my song to Mr. Jitters and he said one word to me and that was death

This lyric gives a rather pedestrian story to the otherwise rock star lifestyle and you can see this song’s influence on future hybrid songs such as “American Pie”. During the fade, the London Bach Choir reenters for an extended outro which finishes the song and album nicely.

The album begins with “Gimme Shelter”, starting with a lot of sonic style with a sound that is distant and slightly doomy. Richard’s hammer-on guitar notes bed the ethereal singing of Mary Clayton, who trades vocal jabs with lead vocalist Mick Jagger through the apocalyptic lyrics of impending doom. Jagger and Richards wrote the original material on Let It Bleed, with Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” being the only cover. With nice overall acoustic and slide guitar effects, this was indicative of the group’s turn towards acoustic country blues, complete with mandolin by Ry Cooder.

“Live With Me” is a forgotten classic – funk influenced throughout and a forward-looking towards the Stones’ seventies sound. Beginning with cool bass riff by Bill Wyman, this definitive group number displays the group hitting on all cylinders during their prime. The title track “Let It Bleed” is a unidirectional song where a simple acoustic diddy builds throughout with new instruments gradually added. Jagger provides good vocal melodies and drummer Charlie Watts builds some good rhythm on this great tune to wrap up the first side, even if the song does linger a bit too long.

Side two begins with “Midnight Rambler”, a pure blues track which harkens back to the group’s earliest work musically with consistent, overdubbed harmonica by Jagger throughout its nearly seven minutes. With Brian Jones on congas, the song works into a frenzy before coming to a complete stop and builds up once again for the second half. “You Got the Silver” is more acoustic blues with cool electric riffs treated with reverse echo near the beginning of each verse and a subtle Hammond organ section before the song breaks into a full band arrangement during the final minute. It is also the only song on the album on which Richards sings lead vocals. Another song laced great sound effects, “Monkey Man” begins with cool piano, jazzy bass, and bluesy guitar expertly mixed. Richards’ guitar may be intentionally too loud in the mix for further effect, as the song’s style sets the stage for the material on their next album, Sticky Fingers.

By the end of the sixties, the Rolling Stones music had tones that were both textually dark and musically clear. This was further symbolized just one day after the release of Let It Bleed, the group played the infamous Altamont concert where a man lost his life during a riot as the band performed.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones

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Exile On Main Street by The Rolling StonesMany esteemed and big-name rock publications have rated Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones as one of the greatest albums of all time (especially the publication which bears the same name as the band). Honestly, this fact may expose the single most egregious display of “group think” in the rock world or at the very least, a floating declaration that has gone unexamined for about 40 years. While the music is legitimate rock throughout, this 1972 double album pales in comparison to its predecessor, 1971’s single LP Sticky Fingers, while maintaining much of the same musical direction. In fact, there is very little new ground broken on Exile On Main Street, which fails to provide much stylistic variation among its four sides and seriously lacks top notch production quality. The album also presents a lack of band integrity, as many sessions featured outside players taking on prominent roles in the recordings.

The album featured material which was written and recorded between 1968 and 1972, with the bulk being done in the basement of a rented a villa called Nellcôte in France, while the band was on “tax exile” from their native England in late 1971. The loose plan was to sleep all day and record all night, but this loose setting and arrangement bred a rash of no-shows throughout the recording process, in which case band members and other players would fill in on instruments they may have not naturally played. Producer Jimmy Miller filled in on drums for a few tracks, while several players filled in on bass for Bill Wyman, who only played on about half of the tracks.

The resulting album is murky and raw, with the vocals of lead singer Mick Jagger often buried in the mix. While this is not terrible in of itself, it grows old over the course of 18 album tracks. Jagger has been critical of the album through the years, stating at the time of its release;

It’s very rock & roll, you know. I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over…everyone knows what their roots are, but you’ve got to explore everywhere…”

Apparently, much of the rock press expressed similar apprehension about the album at the time of release, but these mainstream critics have largely done an about-face and morphed in with the “all time greatest this” or “all time greatest that” party line.


Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones
Released: May 12, 1972 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969–March 1972
Side One Side Two
Rocks Off
Rip This Joint
Shake Your Hips
Casino Boogie
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Virginia
Torn and Frayed
Sweet Black Angel
Loving Cup
Side Three Side Four
Happy
Turd On the Run
Ventilator Blues
I Just Want to See His Face
Let It Loose
All Down the Line
Stop Breaking Down
Shine a Light
Soul Survivor
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards wrote the bulk of the material. The first of the four sides may actually be the weakest on the album. It starts with the decent loose jam “Rocks Off”, a sound later echoed by Aerosmith on their album Draw the Line, but then devolves into the very average rockabilly of “Rip This Joint”. Both feature the rock piano of Nicky Hopkins, who had worked with the stones on past projects. The Slim Harpo cover “Shake Your Hips”, brings back a sound reminiscent of the band’s earliest blues material, but by the time we get to “Casino Boogie”, Jagger’s strained vocals start to wear thin on the listener and the album’s flow seems to be nonexistent.

“Tumbling Dice” is probably the most popular song from Exile, with lyrics that tell a story about a gambler. The song was originally slated for Sticky Fingers, and features band manager Ian Stewart on piano and second guitarist Mick Taylor filling in on bass for Wyman.

The second side is probably the best of the four, starting with the country-inspired “Sweet Virginia” where drummer Charlie Watts plays a nice shuffle and a saxophone solo is provided by Bobby Keys. Lyrically, this song is both folksy and frank;

But come on come on down sweet Virginia / come on honey child I beg of you
Come on come on down you got it in you / got to scrape that shit right off your shoes…”

“Torn and Frayed” sounds like it landed just short of being great, just a tad too unorganized and under-cooked to be taken very seriously. Still, it contains a great slide guitar by Richards and organ by Jim Price above the three-chord honky tonk. “Sweet Black Angel” hearkens back to the sound on 1967’s Between The Buttons and is one of the few tracks on this album to feature all five Rolling Stones playing their appropriate instruments. Unfortunately momentum is lost with “Loving Cup”, which slides back to the predictable and mundane sound of the first side.

“Happy” features Richards vocals and is a refreshing change-up in ways, with crisp brass accenting this second single from the album which reached the top 40 in the charts. Keys prides saxophone and percussion, while Jim Price adds trumpet. “Ventilator Blues” was co-written by Taylor, the only song on the album which a member of the Stones besides Jagger and Richards gets a songwriting credit. “I Just Want to See His Face” commences with a bad fade in from “Ventilator Blues” and is yet another exhibit of a very average piece being lauded. It is a repetitive and (slightly) improvised piece with some gospel influence, but not much more. “Let It Loose” starts with a different sound of effect-heavy guitar riff but this is the only really interesting part of the song, which once again seems undercooked and weakly composed.

The final side of the album begins with “All Down the Line”, again the same exact song over again save for Taylor’s interesting slide. The Robert Johnson cover “Stop Breaking Down” reveals an embarrassing gap in composition quality between much of the original material and this (then) 35-year-old song. “Shine a Light” is the last good song on the album, perhaps best song on the album. This piano ballad that is focused yet soulful and features the fantastic organ and piano work by Billy Preston and great backing vocals by Clydie King and Vanetta Fields. It was written mainly by Jagger back in 1968 about then-band member Brian Jones’ addiction to drugs and detachment from the rest of the band, but was left off the Beggars Banquet from that year. “Soul Survivor”, another really uninspired song, finishes off the side and the album.

Beatles producer George Martin has opined that their double “White” album may have worked better as a really good single album. That sentiment is multiplied and on steroids with Exile on Main Street, which would have worked best is saved for some future “basement tapes” collection. As a proper album of this great era, it is extremely average and definitely not the desert island record that so many had deemed it to be.

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1972 Images

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

 

Sticky Fingers
by The Rolling Stones

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Sticky Fingers is the third of the trilogy of Rolling Stones albums that, in our opinion, comprise the heart of the band’s prime. The first two were Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Let It Bleed in 1969, which collectively provided the sessions from which three of the songs on this album originated. However, Sticky Fingers stands out from the rest by being a distinctly transitional album. It is the band’s first “independent” album on their own Rolling Stones label and it bridges the gap between their hit-making, English-sound of the 1960s and the more urban-American sounding Stones that would develop through the 1970s.

Further, this album is also one of the first that is a bit reflective of the sixties culture and attitudes, something that would be repeated by many others throughout the seventies. The large number of (mostly) negative references to drugs shows an awakening in response to the recent deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison and morbid wondering if there may be some among this band that will be next to go to the grave. This is also the first studio release since the 1969 debacle at Altamont, a festival which was supposed to be a west coast counterpart to Woodstock but ended up in a riot which resulted in the death of an audience member.

But the main reason for this transition is due to a major shift in personal, away from the band’s original leader Brian Jones, who was dismissed from the band in 1969 and then died mysteriously a few months later. Jones’ replacement was 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor, who makes his mark on Sticky Fingers as a suitable counterpart to Keith Richards.
 


Sticky Fingers by Rolling Stones
Released: April 23, 1971 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Alabama; Olympic Studios, London
March, 1969 – January, 1971
Side One Side Two
Brown Sugar
Sway
Wild Horses
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
You Gotta Move
Bitch
I Got the Blues
Sister Morphine
Dead Flowers
Moonlight Mile
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass, Piano
Charlie Watts – Drums

 
The song that elevates Sticky Fingers from a good album to a great album is “Wild Horses”. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in December 1969, this ode to heartbreak contains sweet excellent interplay between the electric and acoustics of Richards and Taylor, along with some of Mick Jaggar‘s finest lyrics ever;

“I’ve watched you suffer a dull aching pain / now you’ve decided to show me the same…”

The song was allegedly written about Marianne Faithfull, who played another large role on this album, as co-writer of the dark “Sister Morphine”, the oldest song on the album, dating back to March 1969, when Jaggar and Richards backed up Faithfull on what was originally a song of her own.

“Sister Morphine” is the first of the three songs that close the album with similar drugs n doom lyrical themes. The next is “Dead Flowers” which, although just as dark lyrically, is a nice upbeat and light departure from its melodramatic predecessor, even though Jaggar’s country voice is less than convincing. His voice is much more suited for the album’s fine closer, “Moonlight Mile”, a moody, melancholy, and slightly dark ballad that eases the listener out of the album. Like much of the album, it was recorded in March 1970 at Jaggar’s home at Stargroves and is the product of an all-night session between the singer and guitarist Mick Taylor after Keith Richards mysteriously disappeared from the sessions.

Aside from the country feel of “Dead Flowers”, the band experimented with a few other genres on Sticky Fingers. “You Gotta Move” is an attempt at 1930s Delta Blues, obviously in response to some of early work by Led Zeppelin. Another song, “I Got the Blues” is a better effort that tilts towards sixties soul and contains some excellent organ by guest Billy Preston.
 
Rolling Stones in 1971
 
The glue that holds the album together is three solid rockers built around Richards’ signature riffs. “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch” are quasi-twin songs that open each side to the upbeat, catchy vibe that made this band so popular in the first place. In fact, this was played out in real time as the opener actually hit #1 on the pop charts. And then there is the classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, a hybrid that goes from a rocker hitting on all cylinders that suddenly relents into a wild, five-minute instrumental section with guests Rocky Dijon on congas and Bobby Keys on saxophone, and a spacey, droning guitar section by Taylor.

Models of longevity, the Rolling Stones surely did some fine and interesting work over the years and decades that followed 1971. But they would never quite reach the level of Sticky Fingers again.

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1971 Images

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