Destroyer by Kiss

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Destroyer by KissOn the brink of mainstream success, glam rock band Kiss set out to create a serious studio album by enlisting Alice Cooper’s producer Bob Ezrin. In producing the band’s fourth album, Destroyer, Ezrin added richer production and instrumentation with some outside musicians to the band’s base, party-rock sound. As none of the band members had any formal musical training or knew much musical theory, Ezrin ran the sessions like a classroom, explaining theory along the way and scolding any band member who deviated from specific directions, something Kiss would later refer to as “musical boot camp”. The result was the most successful album to date, following the modest success of the the first three studio albums, and the launching of Kiss into super-stardom through the late 1970s and beyond.

The group was formed in 1972, when guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons stumbled upon an Ad placed by veteran New York drummer Peter Criss. Criss had previously played in a band called “Lips”, to which Stanley evolved into the name “Kiss”. Starting as a trio, the group played hard rock covers and eventually injected original material as well as their trademark stage costumes. After three studio albums with modest success, Kiss released a very successful live album in late 1975 called Alive!, which sought to capture the live energy of their concerts.

For the production of Destroyer, rather than try to recreate a concert setting on this studio album, Ezrin went the opposite route and made what is perhaps the most experimental album in the Kiss catalog. Not everyone was on board with this, as lead guitarist Ace Frehley (who joined the group as a fourth member in 1974) caused much friction to the point where he was threatened to be replaced and then relented. Virtually no one was on board with the inclusion of the orchestra to back “Beth”, with the exception of Criss, who wrote song and sang lead. This song, of course became a smash hit for the band and opened up their music to whole new audiences.

 


Destroyer by Kiss
Released: March 15, 1976 (Casablanca)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: Electric Lady & Record Plant, New York, Sep 1975- Feb 1976
Side One Side Two
Detroit Rock City
King of the Night Time World
God of Thunder
Great Expectations
Flaming Youth
Sweet Pain
Shout It Out Loud
Beth
Do You Love Me?
Rock and Roll Party
Group Musicians
Paul Stanley – Rhythm Guitars, Vocals
Ace Frehley – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Gene Simmons – Bass, Vocals
Peter Criss – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album’s opener, “Detroit Rock City” includes news reports and other sound effects overlaying a hard rock song with dramatic lyrics written by Stanley and inspired by a real life story where a fan was killed in a car crash while hurrying to get to a Kiss concert. “King Of the Night” follows, but is of far less quality, almost a caricature of a pretentious rock song by players with minimal skill. “God Of Thunder” features vocals by Simmons and over the years came to be known as his theme song, even though it was actually written by Stanley.

One can definitely hear the Alice Cooper influence on “Great Expectations”, which uses a Beethoven piece in the intro before breaking into a decent but haunting rock song. “Flaming Youth” is a piece orchestrated by Ezrin from three separate songs written by Frehley, Simmons, and Stanley. Alice Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner played the guitar lead on this track as well as on “Sweet Pain”, another mediocre, formulaic song that opens the album’s second side.

“Shout It Out Loud” was strongly influenced by the band’s label Casablanca Records, who insisted that the band create another “rock anthem” in the same vein as “Rock and Roll All Nite” from the previous album. While the song was popular and eventually became a regular concert staple on the oldies circuit, it was not nearly as successful as its predecessor.

 
Peter Criss’s “Beth” was written several years earlier when he was in the band Chelsea, with the lyrics coming nearly verbatim from a bandmate’s phone conversation with a clingy girlfriend (who he called “Beck”, short for Becky) as the band was rehearsing. Criss was the only band member to actual perform in the song, singing with his raspy voice which strongly contrasted the piano and strings by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which Ezrin brought in to back the track. “Beth” was originally the B-side of the “Detroit Rock City” and later released as a single of its own, peaking at #7 on the Billboard singles chart in September 1976, the group’s first Top 10 song. It was a last-minute addition to the album as Simmons and Stanley strongly objected because it was not a typical Kiss song.

Kiss in 1976

“Do You Love Me?” is the last real song on the album with an almost hip-hop drum beat, funky bass, and a good guitar during the bridge. The lyrics question how much adoration is for the man versus the rock star in the situations the band members were starting to experience. It also acts as a bit of a prediction as stardom was just starting to befall the New York band behind the white makeup.

In less than a year following Destroyer, two more highly successful studio albums were released, Rock and Roll Over in November 1976, and Love Gun in 1977. This was followed by a second popular live album (Alive II) and a whole plethora of touring, marketing and media successes that made Kiss one of the top earning bands of the decade.

~

1976 Images

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

 

Turnstiles by Billy Joel

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Turnstiles by Billy JoelTurnstiles is , in a lot of ways, the “growing up” album for Billy Joel. Even though he was only in his mid twenties at the time of its production (which was also his debut as a producer), it is the most reflective and nostalgic album that he would ever make. Further, it came at a time when he had decided to return to his native New York from a three year exile to California where he cut his teeth in piano bars and wrote and recorded his initial two albums for Columbia Records. This additional element played a large part in constructing this collection of songs which focus on the past and present in a deep and philosophical way.

This geographic shift by Joel is evident on several levels, lyrically as well as stylistically on Turnstiles. Both Hollywood and New York are explicitly and implicitly referred to in several songs, with the rest comparing and contrasting the past and present through specific issues – music (“All You Want To Do Is Dance”), careers (“James”), and politics/ideology (“Angry Young Man”). The album’s cover shows Joel at a subway turnstile with eight others, each representing a central lyrical characters in each of the album’s eight songs.

Stylistically, Joel abandoned the softer “California” sound, for more raw, albeit diverse, rock using his new touring band in the studio. This also migrated his sound more towards that of fellow east-coaster Bruce Springsteen, who had just released his masterpiece, Born to Run. The decision came after Joel fired the original producer of the album, James William Guercio, after being dissatisfied with the initial recordings. He then and took over as producer himself and moved production to a studio in his native Long Island to make the album his way. The result was a very musically diverse and satisfying gem.

 


Turnstiles by Billy Joel
Released: May 19, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Billy Joel
Recorded: Ultrasonic Studios, Hempstead, NY, January 1976
Side One Side Two
Say Goodbye to Hollywood
Summer, Highland Falls
All You Want To Do Is Dance
New York State of Mind
James
Prelude / Angry Young Man
I’ve Loved These Days
Miami 2017
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Russell Javors – Guitars
Richie Cannata – Saxophone, Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty Devitto – Drums

 

“Say Goodbye to Hollywood” launches the album with Spector-esque percussion effects and a great overall sonic aura. Here, even the “stylish” strings are held to a minimum, so the song resists the urge of being forever “dated” in the mid-seventies. The vacillating between a slow and calm beat in the verse and a driving rocker during the chorus is a good testament to the songwriting genius of Billy Joel. The song was a celebration of his life back in New York, breaking from the culture of Hollywood.

“Summer, Highland Falls”, a true gem of a Billy Joel song, philosophically deep yet a pleasant and melodic listen. The piano definitely leads the music but does not dominate, as Billy Joel the producer allowed much room for his fine backing band. This is followed up by another reflective song, but of a sharply contrasting genre called “All You Wanna Do Is Dance”. With a consistent reggae beat and Caribbean overtones, this song fuses in some artistic nods to Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell as well as Bob Marley.

Billy Joel in 1976

Billy Joel describes “New York State of Mind” as rebellious against those ex-New Yorkers who seemed to celebrate the city’s demise during the mid seventies. It would go on to become a standard, especially after September 11th, being played at all kinds of ball games and events. The song showcases Joel’s technical proficiency on the piano as well as the fine sax playing of Richie Cannata. It is an early impersonation of Ray Charles, something he would revisit ten years later with “Baby Grand”.
 

 
The second side of Turnstiles starts with “James”, a song that is a bit corny and seems like a knock-off of Elton John’s “Daniel”, with the electric piano and all. Exploding from this calm serenity comes the “Prelude” to “Angry Young Man”, the most technically proficient, wildly entertaining, and lyrically deep song on the album. The long, multi-part “Prelude” is a jam that Joel and his band would use to start live shows for decades to come, and is a testament to the fine skills of guitarist Russell Javors, bassist Doug Stegmeyer, and drummer Liberty Devitto. The fantastic lyrics are a biting and self-effacing;

…and there’s always a place for the angry young man, with his fist in the air and his head in the sand…”

It is also a prelude to later extended classics like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from The Stranger and “Zanzibar” from 52nd Street.

The two moody and beautiful “I’ve Loved These Days” is again about growing up and feels almost too sentimental to be lamenting the end to days of indulgence and partying, presumably during Joel’s California days. This may have been a smash hit were a more traditional ballad about love or broken relationships. “Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)” is a dystopian ballad, which borders on the absurd, probably as a satire on the doom and gloom attitude about New York. The song is narrated by a senior citizen in Florida during our present decade, who recalls a “celebration” concert held as sections of New York City were systematically destroyed. The music starts as a ballad, launches into a rocker and then ends the album in nice way, with fading piano riff.

Turnstiles would become the first of the three finest albums by Billy Joel, which were released in consecutive years starting in 1976. While it did not achieve the commercial success of its successors, 1977’s The Stranger or 1978’s 52nd Street, Turnstiles may well be the most cohesive album of the trio.

~

1976 Images

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

 

Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme
by Simon & Garfunkel

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Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon & GarfunkelAlthough Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is officially the third album by Simon & Garfunkel, they certainly did not take the traditional path to get to this point. Nevertheless, this album would be their commercial and artistic breakthrough which would launch them into international stardom through the rest of the 1960s (and far beyond that for Paul Simon). This album, like many albums from 1966, fused different styles and genres while it experimented with non-traditional instrumentation which helped push out the outer walls of the rock n roll universe.

Starting out a decade earlier as the teen duet Tom & Jerry, these natives from Queens in New York City struggled for years to find an audience and an identity. While attending college in 1963, Simon & Garfunkel began to catch on in the burgeoning folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village and this ultimately led to a record deal with Columbia Records. Their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3am, was recorded and released in 1964 and contained a few originals penned by Simon among mostly cover songs. However, it did not fare very well in popularity leading to a breakup of Simon & Garfunkel shortly afterward, with Paul Simon moving to England to pursue a solo career. There in 1965 Simon recorded his solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook and began his own rise through the English folk scene. But back in the states a song from the Simon & Garfunkel album called “The Sound of Silence” was slowly climbing the charts, due mainly to its vast popularity on college radio stations. Seeing an opportunity, the duo’s producer, Tom Wilson dubbed in some electric guitars, bass and drums onto the original, pure acoustic track of “The Sound of Silence” and released it as a single nationwide. The song climbed the charts an ultimately hit #1 on January 1, 1966. With this development, Simon & Garfunkel reunited and quickly recorded a bunch of songs, including five from Simon’s recent solo album, which were released as the album Sounds of Silence in early 1966. This album fared much better than the duo’s debut effort and gave them the creative freedom to work on an all-original album of new songs.

Released in October 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme got its name from a traditional English ballad that originated in the 16th century, which Simon learned while in the United Kingdom. The album would go an to receive popular as well as critical acclaim and serve as a lynchpin to Simon & Garfunkel’s career.
 


Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Released: October 10, 1966 (Decca, UK Version)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: December 1965-August 1966
Side One Side Two
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Patterns
Cloudy
Homeward Bound
The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
The 59th Street Bridge Song
The Dangling Conversation
Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall
A Simple Desultory Philippic
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
A Poem on the Underground Wall
7 O’Clock News/Silent Night
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Art Garfunkel – Lead Vocals, Piano
Joe South – Guitars
Carol Kaye – Bass

 
“Scarborough Fair / Canticle” is a song unique in the Simon & Garfunkel library, with an almost psychedelic, Pink Floyd-ish vibe (although that band did not appear on the scene until 1967). This song would also set a template for future bands drawing on traditional folk such as Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”. But beyond just recanting the traditional song, which contains lyrics where a young man asks his female lover to perform impossible tasks, the song fuses with a counterpoint, “Canticle”. Here, Art Garfunkel sings a reworked version of Simon’s 1963 “The Side of a Hill” with new, anti-war lyrics. In stark contrast, the next song “Patterns” bursts through with sparks of musical notes by acoustic guitar, organ, bass, and various percussion, combined with lyrics about how life is a labyrinthine maze, following patterns that are difficult to unravel. Here the listener is already made aware of the diversity of this album.

Although most of its songs were written during 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme does include a few songs from the previous year, including a remake of “Cloudy” from Simon’s solo album and the single “Homeward Bound”, which Simon wrote while at a railway station near Liverpool during a long, overnight wait for the next train. The song itself is, perhaps mid-sixties folk at its best and became a huge, top-five hit for the duo.
 

 
Interspersed between a variety of simple folk songs are some radical departures, most of which work brilliantly. “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” is an upbeat, almost rock song. As is “A Simple Desultory Phillippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)”, with its heavy fuzz guitar and high organ chops along with a Dylan-esque accent on Simon’s vocals. The later of these two is one of the more entertaining on the album, almost comical. “The Dangling Conversation” doesn’t quite work as well in its experimentation with strings and orchestral arrangements.

59th Street Bridge Song SingleAnother catchy pop song which greatly improved Simon & Garfunkel’s radio appeal is The “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, although this ong was not officially released as a single until a few years later. Using the colloquial name of the Queensboro Bridge in New York City as a backdrop, the song’s message is immediate – in deep contrast to the rushed pace of city life, the protagonist is simply taking his time and enjoying the day, feelin’ groovy. It features Dave Brubeck Quartet members Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass.

The album concludes with a couple of unique and interesting numbers. “A Poem On the Underground Wall” is almost psychedelic in its approach, containing an upbeat acoustic guitar up front and a contrasting deep, doomy organ in background. “7 O’clock News / Silent Night” is a haunting, artistic statement on the state of affairs in late 1966. On one side it contains a simulated news broadcast by Charlie O’Donnell, which amazingly forecasts subjects that will be front and center in years to come – Nixon, mass murderers, Martin Luther King, and war protests. On the other side is a simply arranged version of the Christmas carol “Silent Night”, backed by Garfunkel’s piano. The closing track with its dual themes and titles, mimics the opening tracks and bring the album full circle.

After Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel’s popularity continued to rise with the soundtrack to the film The Graduate and two more highly successful albums. They split up again for good in 1970, although they would reunite for several special shows and tours over the years.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1966 albums.

 

Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

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I had the pleasure of seeing Bob Dylan live over the summer. It was a great experience, which I wrote about for Modern Rock Review. So I jumped at the chance to review one of Dylan’s greatest albums – Blonde on Blonde for Classic Rock Review. Dylan’s music has served as an inspiration to me through some dark times. EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED! Just kidding about getting stoned, but those last two sentences illustrate a good deal about Blonde On Blonde. It is a seminal album in Dylan’s sixties career that somehow balances the silly, philosophical, and melancholy. I dare say it does this a great deal better than I just did. This said, this album is not Dylan’s masterpiece. That honor, in my humble opinion, belongs to its 1965 predecessor, Highway 61 Revisited. However, these albums have been linked together as Blonde On Blonde is sometimes regarded as the third part of Dylan’s mid-1960s trilogy of rock albums which commenced with Bringing It All Back Home. The album has also been considered the first significant double album in rock music (and is the first true double album to be reviewed by Classic Rock Review.

After the release of Highway 61 Revisited in August 1965, Dylan went on some extensive touring with his new “electric” band which had so upset the audience and organizers of 1965 Newport Folk Festival. During this time he contacted a group who were performing under the name Levon and the Hawks. The band was comprised of four Canadian musicians, including guitarist Robbie Robertson, and would eventually come to be called “The Band”. Dylan rehearsed with the Hawks in Toronto on September 15, and eventually they all went into Columbia Records studios in New York City. There they recorded a hit single “Positively 4th Street” (which was not included on the album). Dylan was trying to formulate the shape of his next album, and soon became frustrated by the slow progress of the recordings with the Hawks in New York. Producer Bob Johnston suggested moving the sessions to Nashville where Johnston lived and had extensive experience with Nashville session musicians. Recordings for what would become Blonde On Blonde began there in February 1966.

Keyboardist Al Kooper assisted Dylan in the songwriting process by working song arrangements out on piano and then teaching the tunes to the studio musicians at the recording sessions. However one song, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, confused the musicians who expected to end many times before the entire eleven and a half minutes of the final recording. The final day of recording sessions ultimately produced six songs in thirteen hours of studio time, including “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, which featured a trumpet part by bassist Charlie McCoy, and the giddy, half-serious “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, where a local trombonist was recruited to join in.
 


Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan
Released: May 16, 1966 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Music Row Studios, Nashville, February-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile
(with the Memphis Blues Again)
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like a Woman
Side Three Side Four
Most Likely You Go Your Way
Temporary Like Achilles
Absolutely Sweet Marie
4th Time Around
Obviously 5 Believers
Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Vocals
Robbie Robertson – Guitar, Vocals
Al Kooper – Organ, Guitar
Charlie McCoy – Bass, Trumpet
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

 
The fun, if silly, song with dual meanings is about the escapism of getting stoned on pot due to the inevitability of getting stoned by society. Combine this with a wild musical ride brought about by tambourine, harmonica, clapping, hooting, hollering, piano, and the aforementioned trumpet and trombone, and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is an extremely unique and fun song. “Pledging My Time” follows with a similar quickly-put-together sound, but without the fun of the opener. Luckily, this is followed by “Visions of Johanna”, a lyrical triumph with a simple but effective musical backing. There are some really cool effects thrown throughout the song, but it leans a bit on the lengthy side. Not that Dylan fans ever minded length very much.

The album returns from a lyrical odyssey with the fantastic keyboard-driven “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”. This song blends Dylan’s lyrics with a great musical spine. The piano drives the song up and down like rolling hills as Dylan’s voices leads the way. It also contains great lines –

And I told you, as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant to do you any harm
But sooner or later one of us must know
But you just did what you’re supposed to do
Sooner or later one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you…”

The lyrics point to a scorned lover, but the music keeps things up beat and mellow almost as if the music is trying to keep the scorned lover happy while Dylan breaks her heart. Side Two of this four-sided album begins the classic, simple and perfect “I Want You”. This song contains perhaps the best opening line of any song period –

The guilty undertaker sighs, the lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns, blow into my face with scorn
But it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you…”

From here the song becomes one of the most simplistic sex songs in history. Dylan doesn’t convolute the feelings being expressed in the song and he adds little imagery to the fact that he wants the woman the song is addressing. It’s a love song without love, but it isn’t lust either. Dylan just isn’t sugar coating what he wants with hidden meanings.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” is another long one, but the funky guitar and keyboard use makes this song a lot more interesting than the goliath “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, which closes the album. I could keep putting in examples of Dylan’s fantastic lyrics, but then this review would have more of Dylan than Dylan. That was a joke playing on my middle name which comes from this very same artist. Silly yes, but needed? I think so. “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” is a lyrical jam that still feels fresh after seven minutes of run time. Especially with lyrics like –

One was Texas Medicine, and the other was Railroad Jin, and like a fool I mixed them…”

“…your debutant just knows what you need, but I know what you want…”

So maybe I lied about quoting from the songs anymore. Those lyrics are two that always resonated with me for personal reasons. Who hasn’t mixed Texas Medicine and Railroad Gin? “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” is another very Dylan song that pokes fun at the fashion industry. Dylan is commenting on the fact that outrageous fashion trends, like leopard-skin pillbox hats are fleeting and silly much like fashion as an industry which creates faux crazes over the clothes it declares to be in to rack up cash from people who can’t just be comfortable with what they want to wear. The song is great and the guitar and drums again create a topsy-turvy sense in the music.

Bob Dylan in 1966

“Just Like a Woman” has Dylan’s lyrics, but the music sounds so similar to the simple beats of “Visions of Johanna” that someone who has heard the album multiple times can get a bit bored. In order for a Dylan song to be great it must have the lyrical and musical components working together to bring about a unity of song. Not all the songs on Blonde On Blonde do this, yet none of these songs really lack lyrically. They occasionally just have overly simple beats that don’t change enough to keep a listener’s attention.

As we proceed to “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, it becomes apparent that there are two distinct sounds that make up Blonde On Blonde – the up-tempo, fun sounding sound, as on this song, and the melancholy, simple-beat songs like “Just Like a Woman”. If you couldn’t tell, I prefer the up-tempo fun sounding ones. “Most Likely You Go Your Way..” is a bit short, but still a good listen. “Temporary Like Achilles” is one of the melancholy songs. Dylan’s voice is slow and simple but the piano plays a strangely interesting melody through the first chorus, until the song slows down a bit for the duration. The album then jumps back to the fun, more pop-oriented “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, where the guitar and drums return to exciting change-up mode and Dylan’s voice is back at its peak. The lyrics also seem more interesting with a good back beat –

Well, six white horses that you did promise/Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary/But to live outside the law, you must be honest…”

Verbal hypocrisy abounds in those fine-tuned lyrics. The song even has a few jam sections spread throughout the chorus. Slight changes in instruments and times also seem to flow out towards the end of the song.

One of the few melancholy songs I really love on this album is “4th Time Around”, a loose tribute to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”, which was in itself an ode to Dylan in that it uses his language to hide a scandalous affair. I love the song because of the guitar which runs up and down through the songs. Up to this point I’ve avoided the stories surrounding Dylan’s various songs only because there are so many, but this one just seemed to cool to ignore. Onwards to another playful song – “Obviously 5 Believers” which has quite blues vibe running all the way through it. I could easily see a house band jamming out in a crowded bar to this song which closes out side three. The album closes with the side-long “Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands”, perhaps the only Dylan song from the period that I really don’t like. It is a far cry from “Desolation Row”, which closed out the prior album.

I still contend that I think that previous album is superior to Blonde On Blonde, but that does not mean that this is not a solid album with a solid place in Dylan’s sixties career. The songs that have lyrics and music are the classics here and they are the ones people remember for a reason. Then again, this is just one Dylan’s opinion. Feel free to argue the point with me.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1966 albums.

 

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors As the Grateful Dead’s long career began to wind down in the early nineties, there were many pseudo-hippie, jam-oriented bands that emerged to fill the void for the “dead heads”. Although many would ultimately have long and successful careers (i.e. Phish, Widespread Panic), none would achieve greater concentrated commercial success than the Spin Doctors. The band’s debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, released in 1991, became a huge (albeit belated) commercial success through 1993 and 1994. This was fueled by some catchy and concise pop songs, starting with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” followed by “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olson Blues”.

Pocket Full of Kryptonite languished for nearly a year as the band embarked on nearly non-stop touring of small and medium clubs in the Northeast. Then some of the songs were finally picked up by radio, and once in the rotation, these songs stuck around for a long time. The catchy, repetitive, three or four chord riffs and funky rhythm were perfectly suited for radio in the early nineties and Spin Doctors soon became a sensation, selling millions of albums around the world. Ultimately, the multi-platinum album sold millions world-wide and Spin Doctors looked poised to launch a long and successful career. But this was not to be, the band’s fame seemed to decline nearly as rapidly as it rose, by 1996 they were no longer a major label act.


Pocket Full of Krypotonite by Spin Doctors
Released: August 20, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Frank Aversa, Peter Deneberg, Frankie La Rocka, Spin Doctors
Recorded: Power Station & RPM Studios, New York, August-December 1990
Track Listing Band Musicians
Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
What Time Is It?
Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Forty or Fifty
Refrigerator Car
More Than She Knows
Two Princes
Off My Line
How Could You Want Him
Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist
Chris Barron – Vocals
Eric Schenkman – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mark White – Bass
Aaron Comess – Drums, Vocals
Buy Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

There is something really cool about the tie-in of the album’s title with the opener “Jimmy Olsen Blues”. This catchy song tells the story of an alternate universe where young Jimmy Olsen plots the destruction of the ultimate superhero to win the affection of Lois Lane. Like most of the hits, the song is fueled by the riffs of guitarist Eric Schenkman which cut through the moderate and measured vocals of Chris Barron.

“Two Princes” would ultimately become the band’s biggest ever hit, not just through radio and commercial channels, but also in pop culture. It was used as song of celebration by the 1993 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, as a theme on several television shows including the children’s show Sesame Street and an Israeli TV comedy, and has been featured in several movies as well as covered by many bands.

While most of the tracks on Pocket Full of Krytonite are short, pop-ready hits, the band does takes some different approaches. The nearly pure funk “What Time Is It?”, is led by the slap-bass of Mark White while their “jam band” core seeps through in songs such as the ten minute closer “Shinbone Alley/Hard To Exist”.

Although, Spin Doctors would go on to record and release five more studio albums through 2005, none of these would achieve any critical recognition or commercial success of note.

~
RA

1991 Images

Graceland by Paul Simon

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Graceland by Paul SimonIn some of our previous reviews from the year 1986, you’ve probably already heard us mention several times our distaste for the slick sound that was predominant throughout releases issued that year. We’ve also lamented the fact that even established acts like Genesis and Journey seemed to fall into the “group think” of replicating this uninspired, artificial, “modern” sound to some extent or another. In the midst of all this, comes a breath of fresh air in Paul Simon’s Graceland, a true original.

The album contains a wide array of styles and sounds from vast corners of the globe, often intermingled together in ingenious ways by Simon, who was also the album’s producer. He enlisted over 50 musicians and singers to perform on this album, with a vast amount coming from South Africa and receiving their first exposure to a western audience. But African music is just one element on this diverse album which also includes a healthy mix of country, Tex-Mex, and reggae influence throughout, while also maintaining some of the signature Paul Simon styles that he had developed throughout his long career.

But simply throwing together all these elements is not, in of itself, enough to make a great album. It takes a bit of musical genius as well as the courage to take chances and go against the musical mainstream. Simon surely does this on Graceland. He uses the bass guitar as a lead instrument throughout, he adds the world elements strategically and in judicious doses perfectly straddling the line between the deep, philosophical artist and jocular clown to reach a notch of originality which is truly his and his alone.
 


Graceland by Paul Simon
Released: August 12, 1986 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Paul Simon
Recorded: Johannesburg, London, & New York, February 1985 – June 1986
Side One Side Two
The Boy In the Bubble
Graceland
I Know What I Know
Gumboots
Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Under African Skies
Homeless
Crazy Love, Vol. II
That Was Your Mother
All Around the World
(or Myth of Fingerprints)
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead & Background Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass
Ray Phiri – Guitars
Adrian Belew – Guitars, Synths
Bakithi Kumalo – Bass
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Vocal Ensemble
Isaac Mtshali – Drums
Ralph MacDonald – Percussion

 
Paul Simon’s previous album was 1983’s Heart’s and Bones, which has since been praised by critics (including this one), but was a bitter commercial disappointment at the time of its release. Simon felt that he had lost his popular momentum and that his commercial fortunes were unlikely to change. So for the album which would become Graceland, he decided to be highly experimental since he had nothing to lose. After hearing a cassette recording of a song called “Gumboots” by Boyoyo Boys, he traveled to South Africa to embrace the culture and find a suitable place to record the album. For this particular song, Simon wrote the lyrics and melody but pretty much left the rest of “Gumboots” in tact – a fast-paced accordian-driven song that sounds like a warped version of polka.

The popular South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo play a big part in two songs – “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless” – the latter being completely a capella with much of the lyric in Zulu. The group was founded by the legendary Joseph Shabalala who co-wrote both of these songs with Simon. The final South African influence comes from the female vocal group The Gaza Singers who co-wrote and sang backup on the song “I Know What I Know”.

Paul Simon in 1986

The catchy and upbeat “You Can Call Me Al”, with lyrics describing a mid-life crisis, became the biggest hit from Graceland. Musically, the track features a penny whistle solo by Morris Goldberg and a palindromic bass run by Bakithi Kumalo. But the most memorable impression left by the song was the popular music video starring Simon and comedian Chevy Chase, in which the 6’9″ Chase lip-syncs the vocals while an annoyed-looking 5’3″ Simon mimics various instrumental sections, including the above-mention penny whistle and bass as well as percussion and horn parts. The video introduced the 45-year Simon to a whole new generation on MTV.
 

 
Graceland also contains several songs on which Simon collaborated with some of his American counterparts. He sings a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt in the calm and thoughtful “Under African Skies” and enlists Los Lobos as a backup band for the closer “All Around the World or The Myth of the Fingerprints”. But, by far, Simon’s most rewarding collaboration came in the album’s title song “Graceland”.

While still teenagers in the Bronx in the late fifties, a young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (who at the time called themselves “Tom & Jerry”) would spend hours trying to master the harmonies of Phil & Don Everly. For the song “Graceland”, these same Everly Brothers provided background harmonies for Simon nearly three decades later. The song at once contains an upbeat, almost country & western sound, while also providing ethereal and deliberate lyrics on top. Simon would later say that this was the best song he ever wrote. While that may be a stretch, we do agree it is a great song.

Warner Brothers almost didn’t release this album because they thought it was too far “out there” for a mainstream audience to accept. When they finally relented, they were surely glad that they did as Graceland went platinum five times over. In the end, Paul Simon provided yet another example of the wonderful things that can be created when a talented musician strips away all commercial concerns and just lets his talent and instinct take over.

~

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

The Bridge by Billy Joel

The Bridge by Billy JoelBilly Joel‘s 1986 studio album, The Bridge, represents a crossroads on many fronts. It is the seventh and final Billy Joel studio album to be produced by Phil Ramone. Ramone, starting with The Stranger in 1977, forged the sound during the most successful span of Joel’s career. It was also Joel’s first album during the 1980’s to not be focused on a single, overriding concept. 1980’s Glass Houses was punk/new wave, 1982’s The Nylon Curtain was social commentary, and 1983’s An Innocent Man was homage to musical styles and personalities of the past. The Bridge is very diverse, incorporating many styles as well as several guest musicians. On a final note, this album is first of Billy Joel’s “family-centric” releases that would wind down his career as a pop musician.

The Bridge features vividly picturesque songs, each of which cross over well to other media. “Modern Woman” was featured in a Hollywood movie, “Big Man On Mulberry Street” was used in a television show, “This Is the Time” was commonly the backdrop during tributes and retirements, and “A Matter of Trust” was featured in one of the iconic music videos of the day. Even the lesser known songs on the album, such as “Temptation” and “Running On Ice” – sound like they would work well in the visual medium.

After a bit of a hiatus from recording, Joel began work on the album in 1985.
 


The Bridge by Billy Joel
Released: July 9, 1986 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: The Power Station & Chelsea Sound, New York City, 1985-1986
Side One Side Two
Running On Ice
These Are the Times
A Matter of Trust
Modern Woman
Baby Grand
Big Man On Mulberry Street
Temptation
Code of Silence
Getting Closer
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Piano; Keyboards, Guitar, Lead Vocals
Russell Javors – Guitars  |   Rob Mounsey – Synthesizers & Orchestration
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass  |  Liberty Devito – Drums & Percussion

 
The album’s first song “Running on Ice” shows that this is a long way from the “Piano Man” days. With a heavily “modern” (for 1986) sound which could be an updated version of the ska-influenced Police tracks and a frantic, sound-effect washed, tense verse that gives way to a flowing chorus section. The album then settles into a nice groove with “This Is the Time”. Featuring some excellently over laid guitars by Russell Javors, “This Is the Time” is a melancholy yet sweet ballad, which shows that Billy Joel was still in the upper pantheon of songwriting in 1986. It is a song of self-awareness, of a happy life and the grasping at the nostalgia which will surely follow these days –

“a warmth from the memory of days to come…” 

A Matter of Trust Single by Billy JoelIn the video for “A Matter of Trust”, Billy Joel is seen playing a Les Paul in this guitar-centric and entertaining hard rocker, which takes yet another departure from his traditional sound but was yet another hit. Joel is the absolute master of vocal melody making it all sound so natural and effortless, which plays a big part in being able to jump from genre to genre. “Big Man On Mulberry Street” goes in an almost completely opposite direction of the rock song. It is a Broadway-esque show tune with elements of big band and jazz. An extended version of the song was used on an episode bearing the same name on the hit television Moonlighting, starring Cybil Sheppard and Bruce Willis.

Rounding out the album’s second side, “Temptation” is another excellent song which hearkens back to 1970s-era Billy Joel in style. “Code of Silence” may be the only song in Joel’s catalog where he uses a co-writer, the flamboyant yet talented Cyndi Lauper. “Getting Closer” is a song of hope born out of the ashes of cynicism and features the legendary Steve Winwood on Hammond organ.
 

 
But the true legend on the album is Ray Charles. who performs a duet with Billy Joel on the song “Baby Grand”. The two originally got together when Charles found out that Joel had named his daughter Alexa Ray in honor of Ray Charles so Charles contacted him and suggested that they may want to work together, if they could find the “right song.” Joel considered Ray Charles one of his idols; “…as big of a pianist or as big of a star I could ever become, I could never be Ray Charles….” Joel got right to work, trying to compose a song in the style of Charles’ classic “Georgia on My Mind”, and wrote “Baby Grand” over the course of one night. Joel originally sang the song in his thick New York accent, but decided to do a Charles impression instead once he got comfortable working with him. The finished product is as much a tribute to Charles himself as it is to the instrument they both love.

Although The Bridge was a bit weaker commercially than many of Joel’s previous albums, it is a solid album through and through and especially shines in comparison to the weak music scene in 1986.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

3.V by Zebra

3.V by ZebraThe three-piece rock band Zebra did not spend a long time on the national scene, nor did they have tremendous success while they were on that scene. But there is no doubt that they made some unique and original music while they were there. They are, in a sense, a rare and secret gem of a band which fewer have enjoyed than legitimately should have, due mainly to the lack of the support which they legitimately earned and deserved. That being said, there are some striking fouls and unforced errors that the band made once they did reach the national stage and it cannot be denied that, to a small extent, they had a hand in their own professional demise.

By 1986, the band was facing pressure from Atlantic Records to produce a hit album. Zebra’s self-titled debut album was released in 1983 to critical acclaim and moderate sales. They followed that up with the Jack Douglous-produced No Tellin’ Lies in 1984, but unfortunately this sophomore effort had weaker sales and a Luke-warm reception. For their third release, the band made a concerted effort to create a more widely-accepted pop-rock album and to this end, Zebra succeeded. However, by the time 3.V (pronounced “three point five”) was put on sale, the record company had all but pulled support for the project, dooming it to obscurity despite the fact that includes some of the band’s finest work. It would be the their last album for 16 years, a swan song of sorts as they spent their last creative energy on this final run at fame.

But back to the flaws and fouls committed by the band themselves. Although 3.V contains no terrible songs, the sequence of songs is suspect, such as opening with the uninspiring “Can’t Live Without” while burying the fine gem “About to Make the Time”. The album is plagued by clusters of both mediocrity as well as pure brilliance, which makes it feel unbalanced to the listener. Also, the confusing title – using mixed media to resolve a nonsensical phrase – was a serious faux pas for a band who really needed to hit this out of the park commercially. Finally, there is the production quality, something that had hampered the band’s sound on all of their recordings.
 


3.V by Zebra
Released: November, 1986 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Zebra
Recorded: 1986
Side One Side Two
Can’t Live Without
He’s Making You the Fool
Time
Your Mind’s Open
Better Not Call
You’ll Never Know
About to Make the Time
You’re Only Losing Your Heart
Hard Living Without You
Isn’t That the Way
Band Musicians
Randy Jackson – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Lead Vocals
Felix Hanemann – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Guy Gelso – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 
There is a surreal quality to the Zebra sound, a distance and narrowness which makes it either sound like it comes from some exotic, unidentified place or sound like it’s not quite professional. The truth is, it is a bit of both. Despite the band’s concerted effort to make a more pop-friendly album and the corresponding adjustment in production technique, 3.V still possesses this quality for better or worse.

On the downside there is “Can’t Live Without”, the opening and song and emphasis single from the album. After starting with a nice acoustic under some scat vocals, the song kicks into a full-fledged 80s sound, with an over-processed snare drum, saturation of keyboards, and a weak bass presence. The vocals stay mainly in the high register, which gives it a bit of monotony vocally. On most of this album, lead singer Randy Jackson alternates between the standard and falsetto voice, providing dramatic contrast in the process. But not on this opening song.

On the higher end, there are the songs which follow in sequence on the first side. “He’s Making You the Fool” contains some real sonic treats during the bridge and in the coda, with entertaining and alternating vocal motifs. This then fades into the real classic of the album, “Time”. Containing a pleasant 12-string acoustic throughout, which even allows bass player Felix Hanemann to get in some rare features of that instrument, this is perhaps the best piece that the band has ever recorded. Even with a heavier chorus, “Time” maintains a melancholy mood throughout and it contains a brilliant ending addendum section which really brings the whole piece home.

Next comes a 180-degree mood shift with the inspiring and uplifting “Your Mind’s Open”, a great song fueled by good keyboards (also played by Hanemann), just the right flavoring of acoustic and vocal effects, and some vivid lyrics such as “taking safaris right up into the sky…”

The true highlight of the second side is “About to Make the Time”, a very interesting, acoustic-driven song with steady bass riff and good bass presence throughout. It is a philosophical song which establishes a long pattern that works very well with repetition and should have been placed as the last song on the album – it would have been a gem of a closer.

The rest of 3.V contains mostly adequate but unspectacular songs, all within the Zebra style and musical direction, but in no way furthering the band’s quest to remain any longer with a major label. It is really a shame because this band had the potential to create much more quality material.

~
RA

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

1986 Images

Imagine by John Lennon

Buy Imagine

Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine, the second full post-Beatles album by John Lennon, kicks off with an idyllic song envisioning a utopian world where there is no conflict and everyone agrees. Sounds pretty good on the surface, but this is where the art of making a album comes into play. The title song taken on it’s own may lead the listener to believe that this is how Lennon wished the world would be some day. But listening to the album as a whole completes the picture of how Lennon really seemed to view his world.

In many ways, the album was a musical continuation of Lennon’s 1970 debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which also featured Phil Spector as producer and a heavy presence by Klaus Voormann on the bass guitar. Many songs from Imagine (especially those on the “second side”) feel like they could have been left over from that previous album. However, there is a clear and distinct departure on Imagine towards a more cerebral and measured approach to these deep, inner subjects as opposed to the raw “primal scream” method on Plastic Ono Band.
 


Imagine by John Lennon
Released: September 9, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector, John Lennon, & Yoko Ono
Recorded: Ascot Studio (John Lennon’s Home), Tittenhurst Park, England,
Record Plant, New York, June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Imagine
Crippled Inside
Jealous Guy
It’s So Hard
I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier
Gimme Some Truth
Oh My Love
How Do You Sleep?
How?
Oh Yoko!
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Whistling, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Dobro
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Alan White – Drums, Percussion

 
The song “Imagine” is perhaps the most recognizable and universally appealing song John Lennon ever released. It has become the anthem of “peace” for generations, with it’s Garden of Eden-esque quality and a child-like or even animal-like interaction with the surrounding environment, where there is no danger and nothing to fear. It is technically stunning in it’s simplicity but not as deep as the rest of the album.

“Crippled Inside” is where we begin to peel back the pretty scenery to find the dirt and rocks beneath the surface. The song has an earthy, country vibe. You can picture the good old boys sitting around on a porch jamming out this tune. All that is missing is the jug and washboard.
 

 
A personal statement in the form of an honest and heartfelt apology and asking for forgiveness, “Jealous Guy” is a pleasant song. Spector’s presence is obvious, with the trademark strings building behind the fine ballad. Spector-ization of this album is a double edged sword – the simple, honest themes are probably best in their stripped down version, but Spector’s production does add a bit of richness and commercial appeal

Despite the strength of “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy,” The first side of the album is bogged down with much filler and is ultimately much weaker and less interesting than side two, where the action is. From the simple love song, “Oh My Love” to the deep, introspective “How?”, which includes perhaps the best lyric on the album-

“How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?”

The second side also includes a very personal dig at Lennon’s former bandmate and songwriting partner. Earlier in 1971, Paul McCartney had released his second solo album Ram, which contained the opening song “Too Many People” that had some harsh lyrics directed at John and his wife, Yoko Ono. “John had been doing a lot of preaching”, McCartney admitted in 1984. “I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ that was a little dig at John and Yoko”. “How Do You Sleep?” was a direct response, with even less veiled criticism that directly took on McCartney with clear references and double-entendres.

“Gimme Some Truth” is the best song on this album. It is a rant expressing John’s frustration with the general bullshit of life and society. It features scathing lyrics delivered in a syncopated rhythm against a background heavy with bass and drums –

“I’m sick to death of seeing things from tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists All I want is the truth Just gimme some truth now I’ve had enough of watching scenes of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas”

It is a precise statement about politicians lying and propagandizing – cut the crap and just tell the truth.

Although the album features Beatles band mate George Harrison as lead guitarist, he does not shine too brightly at any one moment. Pianist Nicky Hopkins, however, provides some great virtuoso and memorable playing, especially on “Crippled Inside”, “Jealous Guy”, and the upbeat pop song, “Oh Yoko!”. Alan White takes over for Ringo on drums and there are many guest musicians, including several members of the band Badfinger.

John Lennon in studio, 1971

On Imagine, John Lennon slides from themes of love, life, political idealism, to raw emotion. Honesty is an ongoing theme in his lyrics, especially after he descends from the polyanic vision of the theme song. It settles on the more realistic theme of life is not perfect, but if one lives honestly, loves fully and rises above the conflicts, it’s pretty close.

~

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

1971 Images