Alice In Chains

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Alice In Chains 1995 albumAlice in Chains took a whole bunch of personal turmoil and spun it into a fine album with their 1995 self-titled release. Informally referred to as “The Dog Record”, this third release saw the band building on their established atonal style as well as branching out with some accessible pop/rock tracks that helped the album sell over three million copies and reach double platinum status. This album is also notable as the group’s final studio release with original vocalist Layne Staley, as they would not complete another studio album before his death in 2002.

Following the massive success of their 1992 album, Dirt, Alice In Chains worked through a grueling tour schedule. However, bassist Mike Starr longed for home and was replaced by Mike Inez in advance of their acoustic-based, chart-topping album, Jar of Flies, released in early 1994. Soon after its release, Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction, which caused the group to cease touring and be replaced during the Woodstock ’94 festival.

Through the Spring and Summer of 1995 the group recorded Alice in Chains in Seattle with producer Toby Wright. Few of the songs had been written before the recording sessions began and, as Staley continued to struggle with addiction, guitarist Jerry Cantrell stepped up as chief composer as well as lead vocalist on several of the earliest tracks. Cantrell was facing his own turmoil after the break-up of his long time girlfriend, but this lent to helping him create some of the album’s signature tunes.


Balance by Van Halen
Released: November 7, 1995 (Columbia)
Produced by: Toby Wright & Alice in Chains
Recorded: Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, April–August 1995
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Grind
Brush Away
Sludge Factory
Heaven Beside You
Head Creeps
Again
Shame In You
God Am
So Close
Nothin’ Song
Frogs
Over Now
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Inez – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums

 
Alice In Chains 1995 album

The album’s opening track as well as lead single, “Grind” is both slow and doomy, yet infectiously catchy. Cantrell made heavy use of wah effect on his guitars and Staley provided good harmonies to Cantrell’s lead vocals during the chorus breaks. “Brush Away” is less effective than the opener but does contain a nice effect of dual guitars. “Sludge Factory” follows with a slow drudge through initial sections and cool overdubs during the ‘B’ section. The song drifts into a long middle section which includes some distant spoken words and impressive drum patterns by Sean Kinney.

Cantrell’s “Heaven Beside You” is the first really great song on the album. It has a classic rock approach while maintaining an alternative edge, built on the acoustic guitar throughout with some later overdubbed electric guitar riffs and slight lead sections, all adding to the overall majesty of the song. The track was released as a single and reached the Top 5 of the Mainstream Rock chart in 1996.

 
“Head Creeps” has a nice vibe with animated rhythms by Inez and Kinney and a wild effect on Staley’s vocals all through its theatrical passages. Another successful mainstream rock track, “Again” employs the most direct heavy metal approach with its deadened hard guitar texture, rolling drums, thumping bass, and chanting vocals. “Shame In You” features a steady but deliberate drum pattern by Kinney before it breaks in with a fuller arrangement, ultimately finishing.

This album does descend to a nadir during the next three tracks. After a feedback drenched intro works its way into a freaky, slow groove. “God Am” becomes rather dry and listless for the duration. “So Close” continues much of this same vibe, albeit in a more succinct fashion, while on “Nothin’ Song” the vocals follow guitar through the verses while the choruses change direction in tone and tempo.

Alice In Chains

Wrapping things up are a couple of stronger tracks. The eight minute acoustic epic “Frogs” is slow, dark, and theatrical with Inez’s slicing bass and potent musical interlude between providing the early highlights. Later, a long outro section is quite entertaining, even though it remains very slow and steady with no deviation. The closer “Over Now” may be the most pop-oriented track on the album, with its pleasant guitar textures complementing the simple but effective vocal melodies and lyrics. The slight bridge and outro section bring a little more sonic candy to this song which features Cantrell on lead vocals.

Tracks from Alice In Chains received Grammy nominations in 1996 and 1997 and the album was up for several other industry awards. Debuting at number one, the album stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for nearly a year. While no tour followed the album release, the group did perform a single show in April 1996, which was recorded for a live MTV Unplugged album later that year.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Foo Fighters

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Foo FightersWith the suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain abruptly ending what looked like a promising rise for the rock trio in 1994, the group’s drummer, Dave Grohl, decided to write and record independent material as a “cathartic experience”. The resulting work, Foo Fighters, an album and act which derived its name from a term World War II aircraft pilots would use to describe various UFOs. No one (even Grohl) at the time knew that this album would act as the commencement of a highly successful rock band for decades to come.

The name originally served as a proxy, intentionally used by Grohl to preserve his anonymity after recordings were completed. Those recordings took place over just one week in October 1994 at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, with Grohl frantically recording all instrumentation and vocals himself. Along with producer Barrett Jones, the duo spent long days recording up to four songs each day in the order that they would ultimately appear on the album. Having never been a front man, Grohl was initially insecure about his singing so he often double-tracked and applied added effects to his voice. Many of the compositions were initiated during Grohl’s time in Nirvana, as he would often bring a guitar along on tour. However, there were many parts composed on the fly during the short studio time.

Grohl originally pressed a limited number of LPs and cassettes to pass out among fellow musicians and friends. He had been offered a permanent gig as drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and briefly considered taking it before Petty heard one of his tapes and encouraged Grohl to pursue “the solo thing”. Soon these tapes reached some major labels and Grohl signed with Capitol, who accepted the original recordings but had them remixed. Grohl then recruited a full band to forge a live show and fulfill Capitol’s request for a photo of a full band.


Foo Fighters by Foo Fighters
Released: July 4, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: Barrett Jones and Dave Grohl
Recorded: Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, October 1994
Album Tracks Primary Musician
“This Is a Call
I’ll Stick Around
Big Me
Alone + Easy Target
Good Grief
Floaty
Weenie Beenie
Oh, George
For All the Cows
X-Static
Wattershed
Exhausted
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums

Foo Fighters

The opener, “This Is a Call”, is actually one of the more recent songs written by Grohl and, right from the jump, his sense of melody and accessibility is evident along with his penchant for unabashed, hard-edged rock. the song starts with some double vocals above strummed electric for one line before the song explodes into a full and intense rock arrangement and it peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. “I’ll Stick Around” is more like a traditional Nirvana song with rotating riffs and a quasi-punk feel. The song’s vocal vibe ranges from detached whine to emotional screed with the music following perfectly throughout. The third song, “Big Me”, displays a third distinct type of talented musical style by Grohl. As a calm and melodic pop song, the track displays a knack for effective use of repetition and arrangement in getting the songs message out in a quick and effective way.

“Alone + Easy Target” dates back to 1991 and is another good jam, albeit not quite as innovative as the first three songs. “Good Grief” is driven by steady, upbeat drums and drilling guitar textures and the choruses get a little punk intensive, while “Floaty” contrasts with a pleasant 12-string acoustic intro before launching into a flange-drenched steady rock sway during the verses. “Weenie Beenie” brings the effects to a nearly absurd level with its textures and heavily treated vocals. While this is all fun as a headbanger, there is not much in terms of musical substance. “Oh, George” returns to melodic hard rock and is a loose tribute to George Harrison, who he calls his “favorite Beatle”.

Dave Grohl

Coming down the stretch, Foo Fighters maintains its energy and vibrancy while offering more diverse selections. “For All the Cows” is another Nirvana-esque track, starting with calm, jazzy verses and exploding into heavy punk screeds during the choruses. “X-Static” is notable as the only track with an outside musician, as Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs plays guitar. “Wattershed” is a punk jam with nearly screamed vocals that rail against mailmen, banks, record contracts, and other divergent subjects. “Exhausted” closes things out and works great with its title as the closing track to this rapidly recorded collection. The track is notable for an extremely long “feedback” section in the middle, before the main musical riff reprises to shepherd out the album.

Foo Fighters charted well throughout the world and was promoted through several tours domestically and internationally. These tours served to gel the members as a proper “group” and much success would follow, starting with the 1997 second album, The Colour and the Shape, and continuing well into the next century.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Heart by Heart

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Heart 1985 albumIn 1985, Heart made a dramatic comeback, fueled by an equally dramatic alteration to their traditional sound. A successful hard rock band in the late 1970s, the group had nearly fallen off the face of popular music in the early 1980s before deciding to make a transition towards more mainstream pop/rock. The result was their self-titled record, Heart, which brought this American group its greatest commercial success, reaching quintuple platinum status and becoming their first and only chart topper.

Led by sisters from Seattle, lead vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Ann Wilson, Heart found instant success with their 1976 debut album Dreamboat Annie and the follow up Little Queen the next year. However, some legal entanglements between early labels caused the group to lose some commercial momentum before bouncing back with the double-platinum selling Dog and Butterfly in late 1978. After a trio of less-than stellar releases in the early 1980s, along with a short foray by Nancy Wilson into motion pictures, the group moved to Capitol Records and decided to makeover their image and their music.

Heart was the second album to feature the rhythm section of bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi, following their respective debuts on 1983’s Passionworks. Produced by Ron Nevison, the album also used several outside musicians and songwriting teams to write and record a good portion of the material in a concerted effort to reach mainstream pop audiences. In doing so, the group all but abandoned the acoustic and folk sounds which were present in much of their early work.


Heart by Heart
Released: July 6, 1985 (Capitol)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, January–April 1985
Side One Side Two
If Looks Could Kill
What About Love
Never
These Dreams
The Wolf
All Eyes
Nobody Home
Nothin’ at All
What He Don’t Know
Shell Shock
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Howard Leese – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mark Andes – Bass Guitar
Denny Carmassi – Drums

Right from the jump, Heart delves into a full, 1980s hair band aura with the opener, “If Looks Could Kill”. Driving rhythms and clichéd lyric hooks rule the day, and this is not the last time they cover this territory, but overall may be the finest of its type. The fine, “What About Love”, begins with a slow and dramatic synth entrance leads to a fine verse with Ann Wilson’s vocals nicely floating above these richly orchestrated (albeit fake) strings. While the song is steady in its approach, it still has strong teeth, especially during the guitar lead by Howard Leese and during the outro which features excited vocals by Ann Wilson and a driving bass by Andes. “What About Love”, which was originally recorded by the Canadian rock group Toronto, was a Top Ten hit for Heart.

An original composition by the group, “Never” was another Top Ten hit. With a good mixture of bright keyboards and crunchy, distorted guitar riffs, the song features simple vocal hook which is one of the best on the album. A fresh musical arrangement during the third verse also adds some nice variety to the track. Co-written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, “These Dreams” was the biggest hit of all, becoming Heart’s first single to hit number one on the Billboard charts in early 1986. This fine, upbeat ballad is the only track to feature Nancy Wilson on lead vocals, who had a bit of cold when she recorded the track resulting in the happy accident of distinct raspy vocals. The track also features fine drum accents by Carmassi and a bridge section which is uplifting even as song maintains its dreamy, romantic vibe.

Bookending the sides of the original album, “The Wolf” is a straight-forward, driving rocker where Ann Wilson’s vocals reach new heights and Leese provides some interesting, double-tracked guitar textures, while “All Eyes” has a sound that reverts back slightly to a bluesy, hard rock seventies sound, with Nancy Wilson’s guitar work leading the way. “Nobody Home” is the closest to a power ballad on the album. Driven by an electronic piano which leads the way under Ann Wilson’s melodic vocals, the song gives the album that added dimension as a sweet but sad song complete with a soaring lead guitar by guest Frankie Sullivan.

“Nothin’ at All” leads into the final section of the album and serves as Heart‘s final high-water mark. Another mid-eighties pop rocker, this popular tune has a more subtle rock rhythm held together by Leese, Andes, and Carmassi, in much the same vein as eighties-era Journey. Unfortunately, the album finishes with two of its weakest tunes. “What He Don’t Know” does offer some decent rock elements musically, with acoustic verses over a choppy rhythmic beat, but falters due to its totally trite lyrics. The closer, “Shell Shock”, seems to have even less substance as a formulaic rocker, which may strike a certain mood, but has little true musical substance.

Beyond topping the American charts, Heart also charted well in the UK (#19) and other national charts. Heart’s follow-up album, Bad Animals in 1987, continued in much the same musical direction and scored further commercial success for the group.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Empire by Queensrÿche

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Empire by QueensrycheThe progressive metal band Queensrÿche reached their commercial peak in 1990 with the release of their double-length LP, Empire. This fourth overall album by the quintet from Washington state, reached triple-platinum in sales, spawned several radio hits, and received a Grammy nomination. The group, which is known for sound re-invention and experimentation, may have taken their boldest step yet by stripping away much of their heavy metal elements in order to concentrate heavier on songcraft.

Queensrÿche was founded in the late 1970s by guitarists Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo, who were later joined by bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield in 1980. A year later, the group recorded a demo tape with the assistance of vocalist Geoff Tate, who was a member of a rival band in the Seattle area. After two years of circulating the demo tape, it was finally released as a self-titled EP in 1983, leading to the group’s signing with EMI shortly after. In 1984, the group travelled to London to record their first full-length album, The Warning, which was released in September of that year. Rage For Order followed in 1986, leading to Operation: Mindcrime, a narrative concept album that reaped much critical success upon its release in 1988. This, combined with relentless touring, set the band up for their breakthrough success.

For Empire, the group brought in producer Peter Collins, most famous for working with Rush on a couple of their mid-eighties albums. Together, the band and producer worked to split the difference between popular hard rock and progressive-flavored metal. Although only eleven tracks, nine of these are in excess of five minutes in duration, pushing the overall length to double-album length on vinyl.


Empire by Queensrÿche
Released: August 20, 1990 (EMI)
Produced by: Peter Collins
Recorded: Vancouver Studios, Vancouver, & Triad Studios, Redmond, WA, Spring 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Best I Can
The Thin Line
Jet City Woman
Della Brown
Another Rainy Night (Without You)
Empire
Resistance
Silent Lucidity
Hand On Heart
One and Only
Anybody Listening?
Geoff Tate
Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Chris DeGarmo
Guitars, Keyboards
Michael Wilton
Guitars
Eddie Jackson
Bass, Vocals
Scott Rockenfield
Drums, Percussion

Written by DeGarmo, “Best I Can”, launches the album with a dramatic synth intro and spoken vocals until these give way to a choppy synth piano with choir-like vocals in the intro to the first verse. The lyrics examine overcoming odds while suffering a physical handicap. “The Thin Line” is a riff-driven rocker with heavy bass presence by Jackson during the verses, and impressive guitar leads later on. A driving track with accessible riffs and hooks, “Jet City Woman” talks about coming home to family after a long road trip. Written by Tate for his flight attendant wife, this straight-ahead hard rocker was released as a single and reached the Top 40 in the UK.

Empire‘s original second side is where the album starts to get interesting. “Della Brown” is built on the funky bass rudiments with choppy drum beats, reserved guitar motifs and a fine lead melody. While it never leaves its pace or temperament through its seven minute duration, it does employ many long lead and effects sections. This is followed by three tracks which showcase Wilton’s writing and playing. “Another Rainy Night (Without You)” starts with harmonized guitars and settles into a standard, steady rock track, which reached #7 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The title song starts with some answering machine effects and breaks into a groove which is heavier than the preceding tracks. “Empire” is about drug trafficking and the bridge section is complete with a telephone-like voice reading statistics of law enforcement spending versus other expenditures. “Resistance” is heavier yet, at least through the intro. Here, Tate provides high register vocals and the track is also a bit of a showcase for Rockenfield.

The album’s most popular track is also its finest. “Silent Lucidity” starts with DeGarmo’s picked acoustic accompanied by Tate’s fine, reserved vocals. Very mellow with rich production throughout, the song really takes off with the tension-building lead guitar, complete with spoken vocal effects, making the whole thing sad and beautiful at once. The biggest hit for the band, “Silent Lucidity” peaked at #9 on the Billboard singles chart and topped the Album Rock Tracks chart.

“Hand On Heart” features duo guitars and bass along with an interesting arrangement which surrounds the basic rock format, while “One and Only” is a choppy rocker that has a bit of a Journey-vibe to it. Rounding out the album is “Anybody Listening?”, a dark-tinged track that is slow and methodical for maximum dramatic effect. The arrangement weaves in and out of prog rock and metallic ballad modes and includes a slight, fretless bass, which adds a nice effect to close everything out.

Empire peaked at number 7 in the US and sparked a massive headline tour for Queensrÿche. While the group had continued success through the early nineties, they would not peak at this level again.

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

1990 images
 

Facelift by Alice In Chains

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Facelift by Alice In ChainsAlice In Chains released an impressive debut album in 1990 with Facelift. Some have given this record the distinction of being the first “grunge” record to be certified platinum, although we may stipulate that this album is not strictly “grunge”. The group has a strong heavy metal pedigree, which shines through the otherwise methodical and moody tunes. In all, Facelift is full of tracks which are heavy, melodic and dark and it (unintentionally) became the wellspring for musical trends to come.

The group originated when vocalist (and then drummer) Layne Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a Seattle rehearsal studio in the mid eighties. The two struggling musicians instantly bonded and worked on several musical projects together before Alice In Chains fully formed. In 1988, the group recorded a demo which eventually made its way to Columbia Records‘ A&R department and representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Ienner. Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Ienner signed Alice in Chains to that label in 1989.

After the release and success of an EP earlier in 1990, the label fast tracked the production of the debut album with producer Dave Jerden. Mainly recorded at London Bridge Studio, Cantrell felt that the album’s moody aura was a direct result of the feel of Seattle. Meanwhile, drummer Sean Kinney claims he recorded the album with a broken hand because he didn’t want to miss the group’s “first big break.”


Facelift by Alice In Chains
Released: August 21, 1990 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden
Recorded: London Bridge Studio, Seattle & Capitol Recording Studio, Hollywood, December 1989-April 1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
We Die Young
Man In the Box
Sea of Sorrow
Bleed the Freak
I Can’t Remember
Love, Hate, Love
It Ain’t Like That
Sunshine
Put You Down
Confusion
I Know Somethin (‘Bout You)
Real Thing
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Starr – Bass, Vocals
Sean Kinney – Drums, Percussion, Piano

The opening track “We Die Young” comes in as a standard hard rock song with a just a bit of vocal and lyrical edge. Cantrell wrote the song when he observed on a bus some “9 or 10 year-olds with beepers to deal drugs”. This track, which originated on the group’s earlier studio EP, clocks in at just two and a half minutes and ends just as aprubtly as it begins.

The true gem of Facelift comes early on with “Man In the Box”. The track employs simple but masterful sonic expressions and a steady drive which could uniformly cut through Staley’s lead vocals. Cantrell uses a talk box effect with bassist Mike Starr holding down the bottom end of the grinding riff. Released as a single in 1991, this became the signature song of the band’s early career and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1992.

 
Kinney’s choppy piano complements Cantrell’s slide guitar notes during the deceptive beginning of the beat and rhythm driven “Sea of Sorrow”. The song peaked at number 27 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks and was a moderate radio hit. “Bleed the Freak” is the first somewhat weak track on the album, with the vocals a bit whiny, while “I Can’t Remember” extends the preceding track but with a darker, more foreboding feel. The body of this latter song uses timing for maximum effect, even if the song never really accelerates from its slow and deliberate pace.

The heart of the album contains some of the more diverse tracks. The extremely slow “Love, Hate, Love” features some competing riffs that somehow end at the same place during the sparse but effective verses, while the choruses are even more impressive due to Staley’s soaring vocal melody as he wails through lyrics of standard love fair. Cantrell offers some Wah-Wah effects on “It Ain’t Like That”, which has strong elements of traditional eighties heavy metal, but with the dark overtones that tilt it towards grunge. A bright chorus of guitars make the verse section of “Sunshine” unlike anything else on the album, although this track’s chorus is a little more straight-forward hard rock, with Cantrell singing some smooth backing vocals behind Staley’s raspy throat. “Put You Down” is good-time hard rock musically, in a style reminiscent of our recent review of Damn Yankees.

The final three tracks are all excellent and work to close the album very strongly. The slow, moody, stream-of-consciousness that starts off “Confusion” is complemented by an odd chord progression that adds to the overall effect. Co-written by Starr, who adds enough low-end bass punch, this song builds nicely in intensity through the chorus and is one of the few tracks to have a proper lead guitar and it is bluesy and effective for this fine song. “I Know Somethin (Bout You)” has a very funky intro by Cantrell and Starr. Masterfully odd timings throughout make this one of the more entertaining tracks along with the complex vocal patterns during the chorus hooks, which help build the song to a climax before its abrupt ending. “Real Thing” is a bit of  traditional blues mixed with straight-forward heavy rock. Like tracks earlier on the album, the sonic textures carry the day on this closer which works to elevate the album to the classic level.

Facelift barely missed the Top 40 on the album charts and was far from an instant success, selling less than 40,000 copies in its first six months. But there is still little doubt that, with this album, Alice In Chains was a blazing a trail for the deluge of change that was about to come to the music scene.

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

1990 images

Live Through This by Hole

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Live Through This by HoleFor their second album, Hole took a much different approach than on their debut, Pretty On the Inside. That first album featured a straight-out, punk rock approach, while Live Through This is forged more in the nineties style pop/punk approach presented by Nirvana. Of course, this is far from coincidence as Hole’s front woman Courtney Love was married to Nirvana’s front man Kurt Cobain, and Cobain had at least some influence on this album (the exact amount of his input and influence has now been a controversy for 20 years). Whatever the case may be, Live Through This received much critical accolades along with the band’s first taste of commercial acceptance.

Hole was formed by Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson in 1989. Love had briefly been a member of Faith No More before moving to Los Angeles to pursue work as an actress. The duo used Michael “Flea” Balzary’s rehearsal space and began writing material for what would eventually be their debut album in 1991. Released on an independent label, Pretty on the Inside got a positive reception from underground critics who appreciated its loud, abrasive and deliberately shocking approach. That same year, Love became romantically involved with Cobain as Nirvana’s Nevermind achieved international success. Late in 1992, Hole signed an eight-album contract with Geffen Records in late 1992.

In early 1993, Hole permanently added bassist Kristen Pfaff and drummer Patty Schemel to halt the rotation of temporary rhythm players. With a full band in place, they released the single “Beautiful Son” and set out on some short tours before heading into the studio later in the year. Produced by Paul Q. Kolderie & Sean Slade, the album was recorded at Triclops Sound Studios in Marietta, Georgia.


Live Through This by Hole
Released: April 12, 1994 (Geffen)
Produced by: Paul Q. Kolderie & Sean Slade
Recorded: Triclops Sound Studios, Marietta, Georgia, October 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Violet
Miss World
Plump
Asking For It
Jennifer’s Body
Doll Parts
Credit In the Straight World
Softer, Softest
She Walks On Me
I Think That I Would Die
Gutless
Olympia
Courtney Love – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Eric Erlandson – Guitars
Kristen Pfaff – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Patty Schemel – Drums, Percussion

Live Through This by Hole

 

The opener “Violet” starts the oft-used, fire-one approach of three-cord riff / vocal line / repeat. This is an effective way to get a message through and gives off the vibe of a modern day Velvet Underground. The song, which explores themes of sexual exploitation and self-abasement, was released as a single and peaked at number 29 on the Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks. “Miss World” starts as a lazy acoustic before becoming more potent with a gradual building and good drums by Schemel. Apparently referring to the album cover, the song’s lyrics touch on the theme of self-image and pageantry as put forth by the lyric; “I’m miss world, somebody kill me!” the more electric-based “Plump” follows as a short vessel for Love to emotively rant.

“Asking for It” is one of the more substantive tracks, inspired by an occurrence at a concert in which Love was assaulted and had her clothes ripped off of her while crowd-surfing. This song, with a calmer approach musically which lets Pfaff’s bass come through, includes the phrase which gave Live Through This its album title. After “Jennifer’s Body”, which explores the humiliation of a faithless lover, the album moves to the folksy and moderate “Doll Parts”. The song went on to peak at #4 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and became one of the band’s most popular songs. This dark song contains some entertaining and potent melodies and was written by Love during the early part of her relationship with Cobain with whirlwind lyrics such as; “I love him so much it just turns to hate”.

The latter part of the album tends to thin out a bit, with the one exception being the deep and indelible “Softer, Softest”, which features Cobain on backing vocals. Erlandson and Love wrote the song in 1991 with the original title “Pee Girl” and the track references some childhood traumas of Love. “She Walks on Me” is a pure punk track with screaming vocals during verse and more melody during chorus, while “I Think That I Would Die” is more interesting in its approach, with finely picked acoustic during verses and harmonized vocals, cool bass, and some keyboards during bridge. “Gutless” is not terrible in a punk/new wave approach, but it is very tiresome at this point on the album. The closer “Olympia” was a last second replacement for a track entitled “Rock Star”, switched out so late that the album mislabeled the final song. The actual final song criticizes the Women’s Studies department at Evergreen State College, where a lot of “riot grrl” bands which were emerging at the time.

Most critics consider Live Through This to be the finest output of Hole’s career. However, a significant cloud was put over the critical success of this album, as Kurt Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot four days prior to the album’s official release. Adding to the tragedy, bassist Kristen Pfaff (who had already decided to quit the band) died of an apparent heroin overdose just two months later.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.


1994 Images

 

Superunknown by Soundgarden

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Superunknown by SoundgardenAlthough it was the group’s fourth overall release, Superunknown was the real breakthrough album for Soundgarden in 1994. This release was a critical and commercial success and the 15 track album, which clocks in over 70 minutes in length and pushes the capacity limits of CDs, would have easily been a double album a decade earlier. Musically and compositionally, Superunknown blended the group’s core metal style with elements of punk, rock, pop, and psychedelia, along with some songs of Middle-Eastern or Indian influence. The band also experimented with different drum and guitar sounds, as well as layering techniques to create a more expansive sonic output.

After the group’s extensive touring following the 1991 album Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden began work on this album with producer Michael Beinhorn in 1993. The four band members worked on material independently and then brought demos to the collective sessions. Ultimately, front man Chris Cornell composed the lion’s share of the material but points out that the recording process was far more important than on previous albums.

Lyrically, the album is a bit dark, with themes dealing with seclusion, fear, revenge, substance abuse and depression. Cornell said that the album’s closing song “Like Suicide” is literal and the album’s cover art includes a black and white image of an upside-down burning forest. The inspiration for the album’s title came from the misreading of a video entitled “Superclown”.


Superunknown by Soundgarden
Released: March 8, 1994 (A&M)
Produced by: Michael Beinhorn & Soundgarden
Recorded: Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, July–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Let Me Drown
My Wave
Fell on Black Days
Mailman
Superunknown
Head Down
Black Hole Sun
Spoonman
Limo Wreck
The Day I Tried to Live
Kickstand
Fresh Tendrils
4th of July
Half
Like Suicide
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kim Thayil – Guitars
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Vocals
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Superunknown by Soundgarden

 

The crisp, rhythm-driven rocker “Let Me Drown” opens the album on an upbeat note but doesn’t contain much variation or movement beyond that. “My Wave” is much better, albeit with the same basic vibe. Guitarist Kim Thayil provides a rotating trance during song proper with odd timings during the chorus hooks and an ending with partially psychedelic section. “My Wave” was released as a single and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

Soundgarden in 1994

“Fell on Black Days” is the gem of the early part of the album. It is at once an illustration of the better part of 90s grunge rock and the greater overall post-Beatles hard rock sound. Written by Cornell, it contains a riff in the time signature of 6/4 while the drums of Matt Cameron are straight 4/4, giving it an unsettling but adventurous feel. Cameron wrote “Mailman”, which contains extraordinarily slow riffing during the verses in a kind of droning, but seems to fall short of reaching its intended effect. The title song “Superunknown” changes thing up quite a bit with a more like upbeat, blues rock and anthemic feel. Written by bassist Ben Shepherd, “Head Down” begins with a calm acoustic that is soon joined by doomy arrangement, making for a very interesting and rewarding start. The song latter dissolves into odd drum section by guest Gregg Keplinger, which ends the song awkwardly.

“Black Hole Sun” is the quintessential Soundgarden song, due to the masterful guitar phrases by Thayil and the exquisite composition by Cornell. The effect is a totally unique and cool sound as Cameron holds the song together while Thayil and Shepherd play the slow riffs of the verses. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and stayed there for a total of seven weeks. “Spoonman” is a great riff-driven rocker, with fantastic, soaring vocals by Cornell and plenty of percussive candy throughout. The song was named for Artis the Spoonman, a street performer from Seattle who also performed on the recording, and is the last really great song on the album.

The latter part of the album is less impressive than the earlier part, with a few odd tracks standing out. “Limo Wreck” is an odd yet entertaining waltz rocker with riffing by Thayil and Cameron during the intro and great soulful singing by Cornell, which only gets better as the song grows in intensity. “The Day I Tried to Live” has an intense bass riff, which matched in intensity by all other band members except for drummer Cameron, who kind of stays slow and steady throughout. “Kickstand” is a very short and frantic rocker with not much substance, while “Fresh Tendrils” is built on open riffing and trance-like sounds and features Natasha Shneider on clavinet. This is followed by a couple of weird, de-tuned tracks, the acid-influenced “4th of July”, and the calm but measured “Half”, which features Shepherd on lead vocals along with a viola and cello.

Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold over a quarter million copies in its opening week. “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun” won Grammy Awards in 1995 and the album ultimately sold over 9 million copies worldwide.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.

Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

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Vitalogy by Pearl JamReleased in late 1994, Vitalogy is the raw, aggressive, experimental and somewhat bizarre third album by Pearl Jam. The album was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who also worked on the group’s 1993 album Vs. However, this recording has a much more stripped-down, lean, and slightly improvised sound, which received mixed reactions from critics and fans. Further, the album is very uneven, with some of the most potent material being sandwiched between complete filler or incomplete compositions. All that being said, Vitalogy is certainly original, diverse, and uncompromising and an essential cornerstone of the group’s collection.

Most of the tracks were written and recorded while Pearl Jam toured to support Vs. during 1993 and 1994. Three main studios in cities at opposite corners of the U.S. were used during this time, with the finishing touches and mixing done at Heart’s Bad Animals in Seattle. The album was originally titled “Life”, but was changed when a new packaging scheme and concept were designed by lead vocalist and lyricist Eddie Vedder, who also contributed some guitar playing for the first time on a Pearl Jam record.

There were also increased tensions among the group members, which stemmed from substance abuse and personal feuds among band members and ultimately led to the group’s firing of drummer Dave Abbruzzese once recording had completed. Lead guitarist Mike McCready, who entered rehab during the album’s production, has noted the album’s shortage of solos and the tunes being of a more rhythmic nature.


Vitalogy by Pearl Jam
Released: November 22, 1994 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: in Seattle, Atlanta, & New Orleans, November 1993–October 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Last Exit
Spin the Black Circle
Not for You
Tremor Christ
Nothingman
Whipping
Pry, To
Corduroy
Bugs
Satan’s Bed
Better Man
Aye Davanita
Immortality
Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Accordion
Mike McCready – Guitars, Vocals
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Ament – Bass, Vocals
Dave Abbruzzese – Drums
 
Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

 

Vitalogy starts with a couple of aggressive and high energy tunes. After a jazz improve-like intro, the opener “Last Exit” breaks into frenzy of upbeat drums, and includes a quirky backwards-masked guitar lead. “Spin the Black Circle” is another ripping number with an almost-punk guitar by Stone Gossard. Written as a tribute to vinyl records, the song was released as the lead single from the album. It peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and won the band its first Grammy Award, receiving the award for Best Hard Rock Performance.

“Not for You” is a bit calmer with a steady beat and, with the exception of Vedder’s angst-ridden, strained and out-of-tune vocals, this may have passed as a straight up rock song from the 1980s. In fact, on this track McCready played a 12-string Rickenbacker given to him by Tom Petty. The most melodic song thus far on the album with interesting counter-riffs by the duo guitarists who co-wrote the music, “Tremor Christ” is a slow musical rotation of guitar chops and bass riffs by Jeff Ament. The song was recorded in one night in New Orleans and it managed to reach number 16 on both the Mainstream Rock chart, despite not officially being released as a single. Ament wrote the almost-Americana-like-waltz of “Nothingman”, a searching and melancholy tune which offers a sonic break to the early part of the album.

The first couple of gratuitous fillers come next with Vedder’s volatile and frenzied, four-chord rocker “Whipping” and what sounds like a studio jam of an aborted song called “Pry, To”. Then comes the best overall track on the album, “Corduroy”, which captures much of the same lightning as the better tracks on their debut album Ten. The song begins with McCready’s tense guitar arpeggio and finishes with Ament’s late song bass riff (which is very reminiscent of a similar section in Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”). In between, is desperate yet melodic screed on the pressures of fame and the absurdity that the same brown corduroy jacket Vedder once bought for $12 was being sold for about 50 times that price, because it was suddenly “hip”.

The album falls to its nadir with “Bugs”, a nearly solo track by Vedder, where he spouts absurd lyrics over a simple two-chord accordion riff – a joke song which is much more annoying than entertaining. More prime album real estate is wasted on “Satan’s Bed”, although this is much more listenable than previous song and with a decent sixties-influenced riff by Gossard. The drums on “Satan’s Bed” were performed by drum tech Jimmy Shoaf, as Abbruzzese was hospitalized with tonsillitis.

The highlight of the latter part of the album is “Better Man”, a song Vedder wrote while in high school. After an interesting feedback-laden intro section, the song proper contains emotional and melodic vocals above picked chords with a slight organ played by O’Brien in the distance. This haunting intro takes up nearly half the song before it kicks in with the full band arrangement. The bridge/outro part is best part of song as “Better man” completes strongly as a minor masterpiece which reached the top of the Mainstream Rock chart. After another long fade-in to join a piece mid jam, the instrumental “Aye Davanita” has a slightly interesting groove. The acoustic and strummed electric driven “Immortality” is steady throughout but with not much movement, while the long, sound collage closer “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” is really a cheap knock-off of “Revolution #9” (which we’re no fans of to begin with) and this monstrous filler tends to cheapen the album as a whole.

In its first week of exclusively vinyl release, Vitalogy sold 35,000 copies and was the first vinyl album to chart due to exclusively vinyl sales in nearly a decade. The album has gone on to be certified five times platinum and was nominated for two Grammys in 1996. With new drummer Jack Irons, Pearl Jam promoted the album with worldwide tours which were continually complicated by their ongoing boycott of Ticketmaster outlets.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.

1994 Images

 

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

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Jar of Flies by Alice In ChainsOne of the biggest debates about Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains is how exactly to refer to it. Wikipedia refers to it as “the first EP in music history to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 Chart”. However, that same site’s definition of an EP sets the maximum time at 25 minutes, so at 30:49 Jar of Flies is a proper LP album. Whatever may ultimately be the case, this short 1994 collection of songs is edgy, diverse, and entertaining and captures the short-lived group in their prime and exploring new avenues of rock music adventure. The result is a collection which is highly reflective lyrically while moody and methodical musically.

Following the success of their 1992 album Dirt, Alice in Chains went on an extensive world tour with new bassist Mike Inez, who replaced Mike Starr after he left the group. Upon returning to Seattle in September 1993, the band went to London Bridge Studio and spent an entire week writing and recording. While this was originally done purely for cathartic reasons and the group never originally intended this material for public release, the record label insisted and Jar of Flies debuted at number one on the American album charts.

The material on the album employs rich musical scope and a healthy variation of instrumentation. While most of the songs were built on Jerry Cantrell‘s acoustic guitar and Layne Staley‘s lyrics, the group tactfully used overdubs and session musicians to enrich the sonic quality of this record.


Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains
Released: January 25, 1994 (Columbia)
Produced by: Alice In Chains
Recorded: London Bridge, Seattle & Scream, Studio City, CA, September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rotten Apple
Nutshell
I Stay Away
No Excuses
Whale and Wasp
Don’t Follow
Swing on This
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Inez – Bass
Sean Kinney – Drums, Percussion

Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains

 

The opener “Rotten Apple” starts with the slow bass riff by newbie Inez coupled by the furious talk-box riffing by Cantrell. The song feels its way around for a while before fully kicking in with drums and vocals, but it then, unfortunately, becomes repetitive and mundane through the remainder of its seven minute duration. A gently strummed bright acoustic starts “Nutshell” which, while still dark and foreboding, is overall more melodic than the opener. Cantrell’s crunchy outro lead guitar is the real reward in this sad piece of music.

Jar of Flies really starts to pick up with “I Stay Away” and remains top notch through the rest of the album. Starting light and melodic, the song eventually builds in intensity with swarming guitars during the pre-choruses and a soaring ethereal surge during the hooks. The song reached number ten on the Mainstream Rock charts and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance . Starting with an interesting rock drum beat by Sean Kinney, “No Excuses” contains harmonized vocals throughout and steady, hypnotizing guitar/bass riff. The song was the most popular radio hit from the album as its easygoing pace and catchy chorus struck a chord with listeners.

A rare instrumental in the group’s collection, “Whale & Wasp” starts with a long, reverb-drenched droning electric guitar note by note above a gently picked acoustic piece. Later on, a nicely harmonized lead keeps the moody feeling going as does the subtle string quartet which accompanies the band during this piece. “Don’t Follow” leans more towards a traditional folk acoustic piece, very laid back and deliberate. The second half of song picks it up a bit with slight rhythm by Inez and Kinney and a frantic harmonica by guest David Atkinson. There’s no deception in the title of the album’s closer, as “Swing on This” is built on a jazz swing, provided mainly by Inez’s bass and nicely complimented by Kinney’s drums and Cantrell’s push chords. The song’s refrain is more alt-rock-oriented, almost in an awkward way, building up tension until the swing returns and Kinney’s drums carry through the final stages of the song and album.

Alice In Chains in 1994

Jar of Flies has been certified triple-platinum and landed at or near the top of the charts in countries across the globe. However, this accomplishment was bittersweet. After the album’s release, Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction and the band had to eventually cancel their scheduled tour dates to support the album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.

1994 Images

 

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience

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Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix ExperienceWhile Jimi Hendrix is an undeniable rock legend on his own, the group Jimi Hendrix Experience were a formidable power trio for a short but important period. Electric Ladyland was the last of three albums by the Experience and this double LP was their creative and musical apex. The only album to be produced Hendrix himself, the recordings spanned over a year in duration and were made on two continents using different (4 track/8 track) technologies. Naturally, this resulted in a very eclectic album that pivots on Hendrix’s vast talents and unique interpretations ranging from folk to pop to psychedelic blues.

The initial material for this third album was produced by Bryan “Chas” Chandler and recorded before the release of the group’s second album, Axis: Bold As Love, in December 1967. That album was a Top Ten commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic and set the stage for Electric Ladyland in mid 1968. Following those first recordings in London, production resumed during the Spring of 1968 at the brand new Record Plant Studios in New York City. During this time, Hendrix fell out with Chandler and assumed production responsibilities himself.

The result is an album of interesting compositions and unequaled sonic coloring. Splitting time between sixties psychedelic epics and timeless blues jams led by one of the greatest rock guitarists ever. Further, many of the tracks on the album expand beyond the traditional sound of the power trio by featuring collaborations with a range of outside musicians playing an array of instruments.


Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: October 25, 1968 (Reprise)
Produced by: Jimi Hendrix
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London & Record Plant Studios, New York, July 1967-August 1968
Side One Side Two
…And the Gods Made Love
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
Crosstown Traffic
Voodoo Chile
Little Miss Strange
Long Hot Summer Night
Come On (Part I)
Gypsy Eyes
Burning of the Midnight Lamp
Side Three Side Four
Rainy Day, Dream Away
1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
Moon, Turn the Tides…Gently Gently Away
Still Raining, Still Dreaming
House Burning Down
All Along the Watchtower
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Primary Musicians
Jimi Hendrix – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Lead Vocals
Noel Redding – Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

A totally freaky use of backwards masking, tape loops, and sound effects make up the experimental opener “…And the Gods Made Love”. In an interview, Hendrix explained the choice of this track to open the album saying, “we knew people will jump on to criticize (this track), so I put it first to get it over with.” The smooth and soul-influence, yet odd-timed “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” follows as the default title song. The song comes complete with Hendrix overdubbing high-pitched harmonies and doing a bang-up job.

“Crosstown Traffic” is one of the earliest tracks on the album, recorded in London and on a four track machine. Beyond the tight, funk-influenced arrangements, this track features a compressed piano fed through miniature, hand-built Leslie speakers for a totally unique vibe. Featuring Traffic’s Dave Mason on backing vocals, “Crosstown Traffic” was released as a single and reached the Top 40. Mason’s band mate, Steve Winwood, plays organ on “Voodoo Chile”, a 15 minute bluesy tune a real live club feel, despite being recorded in a New York City studio. This song stays steady until the very end when it becomes frantic in a climax before breaking down into faux live sounds to end the first side.

The second side begins with “Little Miss Strange”, the most unique song on the album. Written by bassist Noel Redding, who also plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals, This British pop-oriented track does contain overlain and harmonized electric guitars by Hendrix, and great drumming (along with additional vocals) by Mitch Mitchell. “Long Hot Summer Night” sounds a lot like something from the contemporary group Cream, contains great riffs through the verses and features guest Al Kooper on piano. The first cover song on the album is Earl King’s “Come On (Part I)”, as a great rock version of pure blues song with a sound right out of the future (the seventies).

“Gypsy Eyes” is another great track of rudiments and riffs, a pure Hendrix classic. The song is infamous as an example of Hendrix’s studio perfectionism, as he and Mitchell recorded well over 50 takes, while Redding got fed up and abandoned his bass duties, leaving Hendrix to overdub that instrument himself. This was an early indicator of the upcoming break up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The very psychedelic but extremely interesting and musically fruitful “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” features an over-the-top harpsichord and a great backing vocal ensemble. Featuring imaginative lyrics and released as a single from the album, the song builds to a crescendo towards end, completing the fine second side.

Unfortunately, the third side is far less rewarding albeit interesting because of sheer uniqueness. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” sounds cool and loose with a long warm up, but when it finally kicks in to the song proper, it feels unfocused and asymmetrical, fading out too fast during the second verse. “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” is a thirteen and a half  minute progressive which seems to deliberately take up space, with the exception of the middle improv section which includes an intense drum roll by Mitchell, breaking through the otherwise calm and serene setting. The song features a third member of Traffic, Chris Wood on flute. “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” has more sound effects rotating in and out, but is really not very substantive.

Jimi Hendrix Experience

The final side begins with the reprise “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”, a slightly more upbeat of song which starts side three, almost like a do-over, but still very loose and unfocused. The album recovers with “House Burning Down”, a wild, upbeat psychedelic funk with a marching rock beat during the verses. Perhaps a bit too acid-y with the pan effects, but still an enjoyable listen with a wild ending.

Although a cover of a Bob Dylan song from late in 1967, “All Along the Watchtower”, is perhaps the best Jimi Hendrix recording ever. It is sonically superior to anything else on the album, with a dark mood set perfectly and just the right amount of musicianship and effect. The lyrics echo lines in the biblical Book of Isaiah and the music features wild overdubs above the core acoustic chords along with some of Hendrix’s finest vocals ever. Hendrix had received advanced tapes from Dylan and began recording “All Along The Watchtower” less than a month after it was released on Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding. Rolling Stone Brian Jones provided some percussion on the song. One of the most popular opening riffs in rock and roll breaks into the droning rock beat of the closer “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. The funky guitar sits beneath a pure psychedelic Delta blues riff which ends the double album on a high note.

Electric Ladyland reached #1 on the US album charts as well as #6 in the UK. After the dissolution of Jimi Hendrix Experience in early 1969, Hendrix formed the short-lived Gypsy Sun and Rainbows to perform at Woodstock that summer before forming the Band of Gypsys, with whom he would record one studio album. That album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which Hendrix opened in Greenwich Village, New York City.

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1968 Images

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