Full of subtle but solid and rewarding tracks which are well composed and sonically masterful, Bridge of Sighs is the album where Robin Trower may have advanced the rock guitar a bit. This second solo album by Trower is the most solid and heralded output of his career, filled with consistent tracks of strong blues-rock with just a sprinkle jazz flare and improvisation that prevents the music from ever getting caught in a rut. Complimenting Trower’s guitar work are bassist and lead vocalist James Dewar along with drummer Reg Isidore, who complete this outstanding power trio and added their own fantastic performance contributions.
From 1967 through 1971, Trower was guitarist for the band Procol Harum, spanning most of that band’s successful career. Trower first worked with Dewar in a short-lived supergroup Jude before the two branched out with Isidore to commence Troer’s solo career. The debut album Twice Removed from Yesterday was released in 1973, but to little critical or commercial success.
Recorded and released in 1974, Bridge of Sighs was produced by Matthew Fisher, keyboardist for Procol Harum and Trower’s former band mate. Former Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick also helped out with forging the sound of this album. The album reached the Top 10 in the United States and stayed on the charts for the better part of a year.
Bridge od Sighsby Robin Trower
Released: April, 1974 (Chrysalis) Produced by: Matthew Fisher Recorded: Olympic and AIR studios, London, Early 1974
Day of the Eagle
Bridge of Sighs
In This Place
The Fool and Me
Too Rolling Stoned
About to Begin
Little Bit of Sympathy
James Dewar – Lead Vocals, Bass Robin Trower – Guitars Reg Isidore – Drums
“Day of the Eagle” sets a frantic pace for the album during the beginning rudiments, before the song settles into upbeat, bluesy groove with good, soulful vocals by Dewar. The guitar sounds are much more impressive than the actual techniques in this sonic explosion which starts the album. The title track, “Bridge of Sighs” follows as the most indelible track. Starting with gated chimes and long, decaying guitar notes, the song’s vibe is like bending the fabric of space and time. Droning and intense throughout, “Bridge of Sighs” never relents from its slower than slow pace, which works out well when Trower opts for long and slow outro with sound effects rather than the obligatory guitar lead in the coda section.
Wind effects from previous track serve as a bridge to lead into the calm but foreboding love song, “In This Place”. Every note is accented beautifully by the precise beats of Isidore, while this song is a true showcase for Trower in every other way. Here, the guitarist shows his true a mastery of fat, sustained tones above several other outstanding guitar textures. It seems almost a shame that the song is so short. “The Fool and Me” is an upbeat blues/rock jam, co-written by Dewar, that puts a strong cap on the first side as a real gem with mocking guitars and funky, strategic pauses. The second side starts with “Too Rolling Stoned”, the longest and best overall track on the album. It starts with a funky, bass-fueled song proper where Dewar especially shines on bass and vocals. Midway through, the track reaches an extended, slow rock guitar jam that meanders through the coda. This long ending part seems to be an intentional contrast to the early parts of the song, as a simple and direct beat with a clap and “party” sounds persist under Trower’s animated guitar lead.
“About to Begin” is a calm jazzy number that seems to go in one direction, almost as a pause in the action during a movie drama. “Lady Love” is a very direct rocker which seems to be the only real attempt at a pop crossover on Bridge of Sighs. Still, this track contains soem great, late sixties-style blues guitar leads and Isidore’s drums and percussion play an equally important role in another song where the only weak spot seems to be that it is too short. The album concludes with more blistering blues rock of “Little Bit of Sympathy”. This one has a long mid-section sans bass but with extra hand percussion, giving it a cool edge. When the full rock arrangement kicks back in, the group is in full form with Trower doing more unique and inventive techniques to keep the listener wanting for more.
Bridge of Sighs would go on to a strong influence on the rock guitar sounds of the late seventies and beyond. Trower continued recording solo records, releasing one album per year through 1978, but never again quite reaching the heights of this album.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.
Procol Harum released their fantastic eponymous debut at the end of the summer of 1967 but most listeners have not had an opportunity to hear it as it was created. This is because only mono versions of the album were released even though the material was recorded on multi-track tape. Those original multi-track tapes were misplaced and have not been located to this day. This is really a tragedy because the originality and pleasant dynamics of the band’s earliest sound is quite evident even through these sub-par mixes. Procol Harum found their niche by combining centuries-old classical and baroque elements with the then modern day moody-ish soul inspired by artists like Ray Charles. This was all topped by the poetic lyrics of wordsmith Keith Reid.
Most of these early compositions originated from Reid’s lyrics, with the music built later to accommodate the structure. Musically the band built rich layers of keyboards by Matthew Fisher, often overdubbing piano and Hammond organ to forge the lead melodic instrumentation. Topping off the sound is the English, blue-eyed soul voice of lead singer Gary Brooker , who delivers the lyric in a distinct and intelligent manner.
The album did not sell well in the band’s home country of England, as neither of their charting singles, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Homborg” were included on the original English version. However, critically Procol Harum was very well recieved, especially among many of their contemporary musicians.
Procol Harumby Procol Harum
Released: September, 1967 (Deram) Produced by: Denny Cordell Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, June 1967
She Wandered Through Garden Fence
Something Following Me
Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)
A Christmas Camel
Salad Days (Are Here Again)
Good Captain Clack
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Gary Brooker – Lead Vocals, Piano Matthew Fisher – Organ Robin Trower – Guitars Dave Knights – Bass BJ Wilson – Drums
The UK version of the album begins with “Conquistador”, one of the very few songs which originated from Brooker (instead of Reid), who had written a Spanish-influenced piece before the band was even formed. It is melody driven with choppy piano and swirling organ, resulting in an overall feeling of adventure. A live version of the song was released as a single five years later and peaked at #16 on the charts, the second highest charting song in the band’s history.
The most popular song ever by the band was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, which lead of the US version of the album and was one of the most beautifully orchestrated anthems of the 1960s. The calm, baroque organ by Fisher contrasts sharply with the soulful vocals of Brooker, yet it all works in perfect harmony. Reid came up with the title when he overheard the phrase at a party, and originally wrote four verses for the song but only two verses were recorded. Although much speculation has been made over the meaning of the lyrics, Reid has said they are simply about a one night stand with a woman. For over 40 years the song was credited to Reid and Brooker alone, but in Fisher won co-writing credit for his distinctive contribution to the music. The song not only reached #1 in the UK, but has also been credited by a performing rights group as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years.
“She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” is a light and bouncy number with a bright and riff-laden organ line and lead by Brooker and melodic vocals by Reid, despite some of the dark lyrics. “Something Following Me” is classically soulful with lyrics influenced by Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The song is the first on the album to prominently feature guitar by Robin Trower. Trower also shines on the bluesy “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)”, which is fueled by slow bass riff by Dave Knights and previews some of 1970s bluesy classic rock styles.
The second side opens with another soulful number, “A Christmas Camel”, with a melodic keyboard duel between Brooker’s piano and Fisher’s organ and steady rhythm held down by BJ Wilson. If a true Kaleidoscope is a celebration of color, the song “Kaleidoscope” is a celebration of sound. It is organ driven with piano backing and swirling bass and drums throughout, all under the effortless, chanting yet melodic vocals of Brooker. The album concludes with the light “Salad Days (Are Here Again)”, followed by a piano-led instrumental and Fisher’s closer “Repent Walpurgis”, a suitable melodic number to complete this fine debut album.
Some versions of the album include “Homburg”, the follow-up single to “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, with surreal lyrics and a hypnotizing rhythm. Procol Harum built on their success in 1967 with a series of fine albums well into the 1970s, although frequent personnel shifts would never quite let the band elevate to top-level popularity.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1967 music.
We pretty much cover studio albums exclusively at Classic Rock Review and will continue to do so with the exception of the few studio/live hybrids that we explore later in this article. The reason we do this is because of the generally ubiquitous nature of these live albums as well as the inconsistency in sound and the art of production. In short, we feel the only true way to hear a band live is to hear a band live and we’ll stick to that whole other entertainment art form, the studio album. However, this surely does not mean that the live album has now place in the world of classic rock. So today we will examine some of the more important live albums through time, with a special look at 1976, the current year we are reviewing with our regular features and one year that was especially rich with quality live albums.
The Classic Live Albums
Ever since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 there have been live recordings, starting with the the first commercially available music recordings in the 1880s. All recordings were “live”, whether in a studio or concert hall for about 70 years until the 1950s when the first multi track recordings began. But it wasn’t really until 1960s when the true distinction of a live album was made. Although rock n’ roll would be the genre most strongly tied to the live album, two of the most influential recordings came from artists tied mainly to other styles, James Brown and Johnny Cash.
Live At the Apollo was recorded on October 24, 1962 at the famed theatre in Harlem, New York and released the following year. It was produced at Brown’s expense when his record label opposed the concept of recording an album full of live versions of songs which had already been released. To everyone’s surprise, Live At the Apollo sold rapidly and spent more than a year on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was so popular that many radio DJs began playing the album in its entirety, only pausing for commercials during the side break.
Johnny Cash met much of the same resistance from his own record label when he proposed recording an album live at the prison he made famous over a decade earlier with his song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The album was recorded at the state prison in California during two shows on the morning and afternoon of January 10, 1968 and released later that year. Cash was supported in this project by his future wife June Carter, his backing band The Tennessee Three, supporting act The Statler Brothers, as well as then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, but with little investment by Columbia records. Nonetheless, the album still rocketed to number one on the Country Charts and the top twenty on the mainstream charts. Further, the album revitalized Cash’s career and lead to his producing a second prison album, At San Quentin.
A third mega-successful live album from the recordings in the 1960s was the Woodstock soundtrack, a 6-sided triple album released on May 11, 1970. The album was unique at the time not only because of the variety of performers (18 different artists performed on the original version), but also for its “feel” as just about each track contained stage announcements and conversations among the musicians, which acted as a narrator of the overall Woodstock story. The original LP was also laid out with side one backed with side six, side two backed with side five, and side three backed with side four, to accommodate the popular record changer turntables, something which would become standard for most multi-disk live albums.
Starting in 1970, a prolific period of several top-notch live recordings began. That year featured many great live albums such as Live At Leeds by The Who, Absolutely Live by The Doors, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker, which had sales fueled by his impressive performance on the the a fore-mentioned Woodstock soundtrack. Subsequent years saw more classic live recordings such as At Filmore East by the Allman Brothers in 1971, Made In Japan by Deep Purple in 1972, Yessongs by Yes in 1973, Alive by Kiss in 1975, along with a couple of original live recordings by the Grateful Dead.
As the golden age of live albums started to wane in the late seventies and early eighties, the quality live albums were fewer and further between. In 1978 Aerosmith released the fine Live Bootleg while the newcomers Cheap Trick released At Budokan. The Eagles finished off their remarkable career with Eagles Live in 1980 while another band with a long career capitalized on their new found fame with Showtime! in 1982. The following year, U2 displayed their talents on Under a Blood Red Sky.
The great live album that never was should have been released following the plethora of great performances at Live Aid in 1985. No tradition “album” was released from these performances with a four DVD set finally coming out in 2004.
Live Albums in 1976
At this articles date of publication, the year the Classic Rock Review is examining is 1976, which also happened to be a very strong year for live recordings. In fact, the deliberation on whether to cover some these live albums with regular reviews is what initially sparked the idea for this special feature. So we’ll give a little bit of special attention to some of the great live albums from the bicentennial year.
Frampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton
Released January 6, 1976 (Double LP)
Perhaps one of the most successful commercial live albums ever, Frampton Comes Alive! was a double live that sold at a price comparable to “single” albums of the day. This marketing scheme may have incentivized fans to check out this artist whose previous four solo albums had little commercial success, but it was the quality of the material and performance that created the snowball effect making this a true breakthrough for Frampton.
Robin Tower Live by Robin Tower
Released March 3, 1976 (Single LP)
Recorded in Sweden over a year before its release, this album by a true power trio lead by the former axeman of Procol Harum captures the group extremely loose and freewheeling. This is because the shows were recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Company while the band was completely unaware that the show was being taped.
Live Bullet by Bob Segar
Released April 12, 1976 (Double LP)
Live Bullet forecast the popular rise of Bob Seger by first becoming a staple on Detroit rock radio and later reaching a much further audience due to some of the timeless classics on the album. Although Seger’s success was still mainly regional, this album played a large role in him headlining before 78,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome in June 1976.
One More From the Road by Lynard Skynard
Released September 13, 1976 (Double LP)
This was Lynard Skynard’s first, and sadly last live album during the “classic” era of the band, which ended with a plane crash in 1977 that killed several members. The version of “Freebird” propelled that then-five-year-old song into FM radio super status for decades to come.
The Song Remains the Same by Led Zeppelin
Released September 28, 1976 (Double LP)
Led Zeppelin was a fantastic live act, as we later found out from the various bootlegs and eventual collections released in the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, the band’s only concerted effort at capturing the live magic was done during a couple of sub-par shows at the end of their 1973 tour. Producer Jimmy Page and the band spent three years overdubbing and patching in both audio and video for the dual film and soundtrack. It was great because it was Zeppelin live and it was all we had for decades. But it could have been so much greater.
All the World’s a Stage by Rush
Released September 29, 1976 (Double LP)
All the World’s a Stage was the first live album by Rush, marking the conclusion of the first four studio, one live album “phase” of the band. They would repeat this pattern several more times through their long career. The performances were recorded in June 1976 in the trio’s home city of Toronto.
Wings Over America by Wings
Released December 10, 1976 (Triple LP)
A decade after the Beatles stopped playing live gigs, fans finally got a chance to hear Paul McCartney perform live with his new band, Wings. Although the triple album was made up mostly of songs from McCartney’s post-Beatles career, Wings Over America did offer five Beatles songs becoming the most modern recordings to date of these compositions.
Through the years there were a select number of albums which contained a hybrid of live and recorded material. These include Cream‘s Wheels Of Fire from 1968, Pink Floyd‘s Ummagumma from 1969, Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers and Everybody’s In Showbiz by The Kinks from 1972, and Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 1979. Classic Rock Review may review these as regular albums when the time comes.
Ironically, as more and more live albums proliferated through the 1990s their prestige seemed to wane and fewer and fewer were considered “classic” recordings. This is likely due to the relative simplicity of digital recordings and hence the less capturing of “lightning in a bottle” with live performances. Still, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the fine live albums through the decades, so please feel free to comment on some of these omissions.