Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
by Lucinda Williams

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Car Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda WilliamsCar Wheels on a Gravel Road, the fifth studio album by Lucinda Williams, is a highly acclaimed, awarded and influential 1998 record. In fact, several have credited its release as a pivotal moment in the course of folk and country roots music as well as the origin of the alternative country sub-genre. Further, this album’s rural lyrics about simple but relate able situations along with the excellent, earthy musical arrangements work to make it fresh and timeless decades after its release.

A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Williams began her music career in Austin and Houston, Texas in the mid 1970s. She developed a distinct blend of country folk and rock that led to her initial record deal and the 1978 release of her debut album Ramblin’ on My Mind. In the 1980s, Williams relocated to Nashville and began receiving critical acclaim and scored a minor hit with her 1988 self-titled album. 1992’s Sweet Old World had even more modest commercial success but was widely recognized for its fine songwriting. It would be six years before Williams, a recording perfectionist, would release her much-anticipated follow-up.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, commenced recording in 1995, shortly after Williams signed with American Recordings. The original version of the album was made with producer Gurf Morlix in Austin, Texas. However, Williams shelved that version and started over in Nashville with co-producers Steve Earle and Roy Bittan and a large ensemble of Nashville session players.


Car Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams
Released: June 30, 1998 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roy Bittan, Steve Earle, Ray Kennedy & Lucinda Williams
Recorded: Room and Board Studio, Nashville, & Rumbo Studio, Canoga Park, CA, 1995-1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Right in Time
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten
Drunken Angel
Concrete and Barbed Wire
Lake Charles
Can’t Let Go
I Lost It
Metal Firecracker
Greenville
Still I Long For Your Kiss
Joy
Jackson
Lucinda Williams – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Dobro
Gurf Morlix – Guitars, Vocals
John Ciambotti – Bass
Donald Lindley – Drums, PercussionCar Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams

 

 

The album commences with “Right in Time”, a minor hit with a twangy overall sound (but not so overt as modern country) and, ultimately, a moderate and pleasant mixture of layered guitars. The title track “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” has even more refined and methodical musical elements as a patient yet energetic track which melodically has an almost new wave rock approach. “2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten” starts off with a potent drum shuffle before more subtle guitars, a bass fill in the cool rhythms and a subtle accordion by Bittan. Although the extreme laid back vocals may be a little too staged, overall this is the best song of the opening trio.

“Drunken Angel” makes a strong statement as an Americana alt country staple with pure nineties grunge pop vocals and attitude, while “Concrete and Barbed Wire” reverts to an acoustic country waltz with a building arrangement throughout while staying within the old-time country realm. The storytelling “Lake Charles” features a strong beat with steady, thumping bass by Ciambotti and some slide guitar. The Randy weeks cover “Can’t Let Go” features Mississippi Delta like acoustic blues with a nice shuffle percussion beat and twin slide electric guitars on top.

Lucinda Williams

The album’s second half features an array of quality tracks with the standard alt country pop song “I Lost It”, a post-mordem on a lost relationship on “Metal Firecracker”, and the emotional country ballad “Greenville”, which features Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals. “Still I Long For Your Kiss” was co-written by Duane Jarvis, while “Joy” is built on rotating acoustic and electric bluesy riffs during its long intro and droning song proper. The quiet acoustic closer “Jackson”completes the record in a very moody and beautiful way.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road became Williams’ first Gold album and won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The crossover success of this album led to Williams touring with top-notch legends such as Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in support of the album.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Station to Station by David Bowie

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Station to Station by David BowieHis tenth overall studio album, Station to Station was a transitional album for David Bowie. Musically, this 1976 album seamlessly bridges the gap between soul and glam rock of Bowie’s early 1970s work and the experimental, synth-driven “krautrock” works to come later in the decade. This was also one of the last album’s where Bowie employed a musical alter ego with “The Thin White Duke” persona.

Bowie had moved to the United States in 1974, first to New York, after he completed recording Diamond Dogs. The following year, Bowie recorded the soul-influenced Young Americans in Philadelphia. This album spawned Bowie’s first number one hit with “Fame”, co-written by John Lennon, and elevated Bowie to becoming a worldwide pop superstar. Not all was well, however, as Bowie had major financial issues with his manager and developed a significant cocaine habit.

Station to Station was recorded after Bowie migrated to Los Angeles and completed the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Recorded in late 1975, the album was co-produced by Harry Maslin and featured guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked on the previous Young Americans. Seven songs were recorded during the sessions, with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” being ultimately omitted from the six-track album.

 


Station to Station by David Bowie
Released: January 23, 1976 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Harry Maslin
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, September-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing
TVC 15
Stay
Wild Is the Wind
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 

The album opens with the extended title song, “Station to Station”, which was the longest song Bowie had recorded to date at over ten minutes long. A long and methodical intro introduces the track before any vocals arrive for the first of two distinct parts. Shortly after the song’s five minute mark, the song picks up the pace which makes it feel more like a theatrical number.  It is rhythmically built with the bouncy bass of George Murray and the good, animated, disco-influenced drums Dennis Davis throughout the song. “Golden Years” is the closest to a pure pop song on the album, built on moderate funk groove with reserved backing hook, giving the vocals space for assertion. This repetitive but entertaining track was originally released as a single in late 1975 and it peaked in the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in early 1976.

“Word on a Wing” is an exquisite, upbeat ballad, driven by the piano of Roy Bittan. Here Bowie’s lyrics and vocal delivery are delivered with a desperate passion throughout in a quasi-religious song written out of a drug-fueled spiritual despair which Bowie later described as the darkest days of his life. “TVC 15” comes from another side of the drug experience, when fellow rocker Iggy Pop hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. Musically, this interesting and entertaining track is built off Bittan’s bouncy, boogie-woogie piano, later breaking into a straight-forward disco/rock during the verses with nice vocal effects and atmosphere like a rock carnival throughout.

David Bowie in 1976

“Stay” commences with Alomar’s funky/blues guitar lead in an excellent, methodical rock lead-in. The rest of the track is a very inventive gem with funky bass and heavy rock guitars over a steady beat and multiple styles of vocals throughout. The album conclude’s with its sole cover, the pleasant ballad with layered guitars and seventies production, “Wild Is the Wind”. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, this track caught Bowie’s attention when recorded by Nina Simone, and his own vocal interpretation been praised through the years.

Station to Station reached #3 on the Billboard Album charts and would be David Bowie’s highest-charting album in the US for nearly four decades. Bowie later cited this album along with its 1977 follow-up, Low, as two of his finest works.

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1976 Images

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

 

Born to Run by
Bruce Springsteen

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Born To Run by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen has described the songs on Born To Run as different scenes happening on the same summer night somewhere in New Jersey and New York City. This third album commenced as Springsteen’s admitted effort to break into the mainstream, with accessible songs, rich production methods and deliberative sequencing. The strategy worked as the album peaked in the Top 5 and received near universal critical acclaim, with many today considering this the best work of his career.

Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle were both released in 1973. On those albums, Springsteen made several specific lyrical references to his hometown area near the Northern part of the Jersey Shore. Born To Run includes more general references to reach a wider audience, with Springsteen later calling the work a “dividing line” in the progression of his writing.

Impressed by his first Springsteen concert, music critic Jon Landau enlisted as Springsteen’s manager and co-producer of this upcoming album in 1974. Columbia records invested a sizeable budget in the album’s production, which led to Springsteen being entangled in the recording process for over a year while frustratingly trying to achieve the perfect sound. Like on his previous album, Springsteen enlisted the “E Street Band”, complete with new members, pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, who each play a vital role on this album.


Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
Released: August 25, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Mike Appel, & Jon Landau
Recorded: Record Plant & 914 Sound Studios, New York, May 1974–July 1975
Side One Side Two
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
Night
Backstreets
Born To Run
She’s the One
Meeting Across the River
Jungleland
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry W. Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

While all songs were composed by Springsteen, it was Bittan’s piano, not Springsteen’s guitar which took the main musical role throughout Born To Run. “Thunder Road” starts things off with an odd harmonica and piano intro where Springsteen and Bittan struggle to reach the right tempo before the song launches and builds with fine lyrics and inspired music. Along with its folk-style lyrics, the music is like a journey into a night of adventure, which grows in intensity as the building musical arrangement perfectly matches the mood of this opening song. With horn arrangements by Steven Van Zandt, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” effectively adds this extra element that gives the upbeat sense of celebration on the song which tells of the formation of the E Street Band. Springsteen’s vocals are superb on this track as he hits the different chord changes with razor precision.

While a step lower in quality, “Night” is an apt and upbeat number with a rich arrangement and would become a concert favorite. The music features a heavy presence by bassist Gary Tallent. The album’s first side wraps with the extended track, “Backstreets”. This track patiently begins with a piano and bass intro that builds the tension as the listener awaits some explosion into the scene, which finally does arrive after about a minute. This track is the first where Springsteen’s guitar plays a significant role with strong rhythms throughout and a middle guitar lead, while the vocals are delivered with intensity throughout, often using repetition to great effect.

Bruce Springsteen 1975The strongest point of the album is the romanticized title song with majestic production. “Born To Run” may be the quintessential Springsteen song with such a unique and exquisite sound not paralleled anywhere else in his catalog or beyond. Each member of the musical ensemble is at their absolute best, from the insatiable bass of Tallent to the dry but bouncy drums of guest Ernest “Boom” Carter to the frenzied sax solo of Clarence Clemons, to the complementing orchestration of the piano of David Sancious, the organ of Danny Federici, and the harpsichord/glockenspiel of Bittan. And that brings us to Springsteen himself, who plays a sharp electric guitar with a strong tremolo effect and vocally delivers the best lyrics of his career. This song, which was the first recorded for the album of the same name, is the four and a half minutes where it all truly comes together.

“She’s the One” is a simple song which builds off a simple underlying rhythm, and never really changes much, just building on the established vibe and melody. “Meeting Across the River” follows with a unique arrangement and a dark, jazzy feel. Springsteen’s vocals are right up front in the mix with the rest of the arrangement, including a signature trumpet by Randy Brecker and double bass by Richard Davis, in the distance. The epic closer “Jungleland” starts with a violin part by Suki Laha which gives it a strong theatrical feel. Eventually, the full rock arrangement arrives and a middle lead guitar brings it to a crescendo. This is soon broken by Clemons’ slowly building sax solo, a true highlight which soon progresses into the most memorable part of the song before the suite dissolves into a very slow section with just piano chords. This ushers Springsteen’s vocals back in as he dramatically navigates through the final suspenseful moments of the song and album.

The album’s release was given a huge promotional budget, which led to Springsteen landing on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week in October, 1975. Through the decades, Born To Run has reemerged several times onto the album charts, with the latest peak coming in 2005 when the 30th Anniversary edition reached the Top 20 in the US. In recent years, Springsteen has frequently performed the album in its entirety and in order for special concert ocassions.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

The River by Bruce Springsteen

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The River by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s fifth studio album, The River, is a massive album in both length and scope. Released in late 1980, this double album includes tracks that originated during the early years of Springsteen’s career as well as a plethora of new material drawn from recent projects and recent tours. Some consider The River to be the closing act of a three album “trilogy”, starting with Born to Run in 1975 and moving through Darkness at the Edge of Town in 1978, as each of these follow Springsteen’s mythical characters during crucial periods of their lives.

This album was originally intended as a single album with the working title “The Ties That Bind”, intended to be released in late 1979. However, the composition of the title song, motivated Springsteen to add darker, folk-influenced material and compile a more sweeping collection of songs of diverse genres. In all the album’s recording took about 18 months with Jon Landau and Steven Van Zandt joining Springsteen as co-producers. Sonically, the album aimed for a cinematic-style “live” sound through most of the tracks. Lyrically, the songs range from hope to disillusionment, from the point of view of individuals to that of outside storytellers. As Springsteen stated at the time;

I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them…”

Much like with the previous album where he penned nearly eighty songs, Springsteen composed all the tracks and was very prolific in writing for this album. While The River contains a healthy twenty tracks, even more than that were excluded from the album. A handful of these, such as “Be True”, “Held Up Without a Gun”, and “Roulette” were issued as B-sides of singles, while a few tracks were given to other artists, such as Gary U.S. Bonds and Warren Zevon, to record. Several others landed on future Springsteen box sets, with several more yet to be released.


The River by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 17, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, & Steven Van Zandt
Recorded: The Power Station, New York, March 1979–August 1980
Side One Side Two
The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out In the Street
Crush On You
You Can Look
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Side Three Side Four
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
Ramrod
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck On the Highway
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Percussion
Steven Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Danny Federici – Organ, Glockenspiel
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with “The Ties That Bind”, which was originally slated as the title song. It has a jangly kind of sound which would be reverberated through the eighties and beyond, but the group still seems too force it just a bit to find an accessible hook. In all, Clarence Clemons‘s sax solo is the best part of this open track. On “Sherry Darling”, the producers added some “fake” live elements which really aren’t needed because this track is quite catchy enough on its own. Here, Springsteen’s lead vocals seem to mimic Elvis Costello while the backing vocals are meant to mimic a live barroom, right down to the point where they are slightly off-time and slightly off-key. While still upbeat and catchy, “Jackson Cage” seems to have a richer and more profound meaning than the preceding songs, once again displaying Springsteen’s commitment to directness and honesty in popular music. “Two Hearts” is driven by the rapid-fire drums of Max Weinberg, backing the multi-level lyrics;

I was living in a world of childish dreams, someday these childish dreams must end, to become a man and grow up to dream again…

The first side closes with “Independence Day” which is introduced by a calm acoustic and high whistle organ from Danny Federici. This father-and-son character sketch, where the son concludes that they will never agree and thus declares his “independence” unilaterally. This first side closer was, essentially a rewrite of “Adam Raised a Cain” on Darkness At the Edge of Town.

Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen“Hungry Heart” adds an instant charge to the album, as Springsteen’s vocal seem much brighter than normal, matching the overall vibe of this catchy track. Led by the piano riffing of Roy Bittan throughout with great contributions by everyone else, like Clemens’s low sax bass notes, Federici’s choppy organ lead, and the rich vocal choruses backing up Springsteen. The song’s title was drawn from a line in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” and the song was written at the request of Joey Ramone, with the intent to be recorded by The Ramones. However, Landau convinced Springsteen to keep it for himself and it went on to become his first Top Ten hit.

“Out In the Street” follows as another great, catchy tune led by Bittan’s piano. here, the arrangement is spectacular, maximizing the best elements of the E Street Band. This catchy number has some elements of sixties pop with contemporary sound that became timeless. The album unfortunately drops off a bit with the pure filler “Crush On You” and “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”, with the latter at least using some slightly satirical lyrics to make it a bit more entertaining. “I Wanna Marry You” is weak lyrically but has a great vibe musically with just a hint of Caribbean vibe led by the bass pattern by Garry Tallent . The album’s title song closes the second side as the first true folk/Americana track in the sequence. The lyrics closely resemble the story of Springsteen’s own sister and brother-in-law and is cited as the source inspiration for future 1980s heartland rock.

Then I got Mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote, and for my 19th birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat…”

The jazzy “Point Blank” contains some great sonic textures on piano, guitar and bass. The theme works hand-in-hand with the title song and Springsteen gets really intense vocally and lyrically through last verse, before a long fade out to complete this six-minute tune. “Cadillac Ranch” is an upbeat jam backed by a cool, rockabilly guitar which is mocked by the vocal melody. Named after the makeshift automobile monument in Amarillo, Texas, the theme here is similar to the youthful missions on earlier Springsteen albums. “I’m a Rocker” has all the elements of a top-notch pop/rock song, with a choppy drum pattern by Weinberg, a good hook, and a cool call and response. Still, the track lacks something production-wise which keeps it from reaching its full potential.

The second song released from the album, “Fade Away” is pleasant and solid throughout. Great vocals and melody by Springsteen lead the fine musical blend of acoustic guitar, organ, and steady, seventies style bass. This desperate love song is a true classic which Van Zandt cited as one his all-time favorites. “Stolen Car” uses more texture than substance to achieve the dark mood, with plucked piano, distant drums with heavy reverb, and an almost church-like organ

The final side begins with “Ramrod”, an organ/synth led rocker with a growling sax lead by Clemens. While the song is entertaining enough, it doesn’t really go anywhere. “The Price You Pay” is a moderate ballad with a steady beat and dry vocals which tend to get monotonous vocally and lyrically. However, this track remains strong musically, especially with Bittan’s piano and the slight harmonica by Springsteen. The epic length “Drive All Night” starts with simple, heartbeat like bass by Tallent and moves along at a crawl, only to be salvaged by Clemens’ fine solo and Springsteen’s exceptional, passionate singing. This song works in concert with the closing “Wreck On the Highway”, a bright, almost Country ballad with a steady beat. The relaxed feel and vibe of the music betray the grim lyrics of death on this song, closing the album with the dark feel which would be picked up on Springsteen’s next solo album, Nebraska.

The River was Springsteen’s first number one album and was followed by a lengthy tour through 1980 and 1981. Springsteen called this album a “gateway” to a lot of his future writing, with Nebraska and Tunnel of Love directly picking up on stories and themes that originate on The River.

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Classic Rock Review 1980 promo

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

 

Born In the U.S.A.
by Bruce Springsteen

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1984 Album of the Year

Born In the USA by Bruce SpringsteenBorn in the USA marked the height of commercial success for Bruce Springsteen. It sold over 30 million copies worldwide and spawned seven Top 10 singles, a record met but not surpassed. The album also spent a record 84 consecutive weeks in the Billboard Top 10. But here at Classic Rock Review, commercial success is but a minor factor in which albums we cover and how we cover them. To us, it is all about the quality of the music, especially in naming our albums of the year. Born In the USA contains traditional story-driven songs with contemporary production and entertaining melody and hooks, making it, in our opinion, the best album of 1984.

Springsteen had experienced vast commercial success with the Top 5 double album The River in 1980. In 1981, Springsteen was asked to write music for a film originally called “Born In the U.S.A.” (but eventually released as Light of Day in 1987). While working on his solo, introspective, album Nebraska, Springsteen merged the melody for a song called “Vietnam” with the film’s title and originally wanted to include it on that 1982 album but eventually concluded that it was out of place.

Recording sessions for Born In the USA date back to January 1982, nearly two and a half years before the album’s release. These sessions predate the release of Nebraska, as Springsteen was composing and recording a number of songs specifically intended for an album besides that dark folk album. In fact, by mid-1982 most of Born In the USA was already recorded with a few more tracks added in 1983 and a final track added in early 1984. In total, Springsteen wrote an estimated 70 songs for the album, with 12 making the final cut and several more used for B-sides such as “Shut Out the Light”, “Johnny Bye-Bye”, “Stand On It”, “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart”, and “Pink Cadillac”, which became a minor radio hit on its own.

After a new CD manufacturing plant was opened in Indiana, Born In the USA was the first compact disc manufactured in the United States (actually “born in the USA”!) All previous CDs had been manufactured in Japan.


Born In the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
Released: June 4, 1984 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin, Bruce Springsteen, & Steven Van Zandt
Recorded: The Power Station and The Hit Factory, New York, January 1982–March 1984
Side One Side Two
Born In the U.S.A.
Cover Me
Darlington County
Workin’ On the Highway
Downbound Train
I’m On Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
I’m Goin’ Down
Glory Days
Dancing In the Dark
My Hometown
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars 
Roy Bittan – Piano, Synths, Vocals
Steven Van Zandt – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Clarence Clemons – Sax, Percussion
Garry Tallent – Bass, Vocals
Max Weinberg – Drums, Vocals

The title track kicks off the album with spacey synths by Roy Bittan and a sanitized drum snare by Max Weinberg, world’s away from the folk of the past album. These intro sounds are nicely contrasted by Springsteen’s rough and strained rock vocals which belt out lyrics that deal with the cruel mistreatment of Vietnam veterans on their arrival back home. “Cover Me” is a bright pop song , albeit warmer than the opener and with some real bass presence by Garry Tallent. Springsteen originally wrote the song for Donna Summer but was urged by his manager, Jon Landau, to include it on the album and it peaked at #7 on the pop charts as a result.

“Darlington County” is a down-home track which seems to be slightly influenced by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was recorded in the spring of 1982 and gets its title from an actual county in South Carolina. “Working on the Highway” is the weakest song on the first side, almost a cheap attempt at rockabilly. In contrast, “Downbound Train” is an excellent dark, folk song with the added bonus of an eerie synth organ in the background. One of the more legitimate Springsteen songs on the first side, the song is a melancholy lament to a lost spouse with vivid imagery throughout.

 
“I’m On Fire” is a short but potent ballad with great production techniques on the voice, synths, picked guitar, and brushed drums, making it an overall masterpiece of arrangement. One of the earliest songs recorded for the album, the song came together in an impromptu jam between Springsteen, Bittan, and Weinberg. The second side is more solid throughout than the first and starts with a couple of songs which would’ve fit perfectly on Springsteen’s late seventies albums. “No Surrender” is an upbeat song of youth that was originally cut from the album but was reinstated at the insistence of guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who was very keen of the song. “Bobby Jean” is the most underrated Springsteen song, well constructed with a piano riff, a driving bass, great melody and romantic lyrics. The vocals are delivered masterfully with lyrics that are pure Jersey and the bonus of being the first song to include a sax solo by Clarence Clemens. Some have interpreted the lyrics to be a goodbye tribute to Van Zandt, who had decided to leave the E Street Band by the time of its recording. “I’m Goin’ Down” contains Clemons’ second sax solo and, like “Working on the Highway”, this is totally retro (but done much better here).

Bruce Springsteen in 1984

The album’s stretch run has three of its most popular hits. “Glory Days” is an infectious pop song with a great hook and story-telling lyrics. There is a cool mandolin track buried deep in the mix and a unique, improvised ending that helped fuel interest in this otherwise simple song. “Dancing In the Dark” was the last song recorded for the album and the first released as a single. This is a pure 80’s synth pop song, but so unlike anything Springsteen had done before, that it has got to be respected. The melody and arrangement is masterful (with the possible exception of the mind-numbing drums), making this experiment deep into the realm of radio-friendly an overall success. The album concludes with the folk ballad “My Hometown”, which is a darker look at the scenes and characters in “Born to Run”, a decade earlier. While talking about riots and unemployment in a very Wood-Guthrie-like approach, the serene backing vocal chorus through the final verse gives a sense of hope through the despair. This last song was also the last Top 10 single from the album, reaching #6 in late 1985.

Born In the USA was nominated for three Grammy Awards and won one for Best Rock Vocal Performance. With this unprecedented level of success, Springsteen went on a major tour which helped spawn a five-record box set called Live/1975–85. Springsteen has continued to record and tour through the present day, but has not again reached the level of success or overall quality in the intervening three decades.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

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Darkness On the Edge of Town
by Bruce Springsteen

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Darkness On the Edge of Town by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen set out to make a rural influenced album with Darkness On the Edge of Town, the long awaited follow-up to his 1975 breakthrough, Born to Run. The album’s delay was caused mainly by a legal battle with former manager, Mike Appel,  over song rights and control, during which Springsteen toured extensively with the E Street Band, building group chemistry which carried over into the recordings. The album was produced by Springsteen, John Landau and guitarist Steve Van Zandt, with Landau being more a “formalist”, Van Zandt preferring more of a “garage” sound and Springsteen acting as arbitrator.

The songwriting sessions for Darkness On the Edge of Town were the most prolific of Springsteen’s career. He composed at least 70 songs and recorded a whopping 52 of those, either fully or partially. Some of the unused material became hits for other artists, such as “Because the Night” for Patti Smith, “Fire” for The Pointer Sisters, “Rendezvous” for Greg Kihn, and “This Little Girl” for Gary U.S. Bonds, while several others were held over for Springsteen’s next album, the double LP The River in 1980. Adding to Springsteen’s reputation for providing hits for other bands was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band #1 pop hit with a rearranged version of “Blinded by the Light” from his debut, Greetings from Asbury park, NJ.

Springsteen’s songs were inspired by such diverse influences as the new punk sound and his recent embrace of traditional country music. He later called this album an honest “reckoning with the adult world” and a reaction to his own good fortune. Unlike the escapism themes of Born To Run, the album pays tribute to the stability of small time life, through good times and bad. Musically and sonically, the album features the dynamic of the many players fighting for space within the limited sonic domain of this record, making it interesting and entertaining from end to end.


Darkness at the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen
Released: June 2, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, & Steve Van Zandt
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Badlands
Adam Raised a Cain
Something In the Night
Candy’s Room
Racing In the Street
The Promised Land
Factory
Streets of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness On the Edge of Town
E Street Band
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Steve Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Clarence Clemans – Saxophone, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Vocals
Danny Federici – Keyboards
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

 

Starting strong with “Badlands” which, aside from “Born to Run”, may be the quintessential Springsteen song, the album roars in full frenzy. The carnival-like, twinkly piano of Roy Bittan meshes nicely with the warm toned organ sounds of his counterpart Danny Federici, all beneath the stark and straight-forward chants of lyrics chronicling the revolving blue-collar life. Springsteen provides just enough hard rock guitar to make it respectable and Clarence Clemens plays a mean sax solo, although it does sound a little out of place with the mesh of the band vibe.

The dark but upbeat bluesy “Adam Raised a Cain” contains music with a simple drive while the vocal melodies are dynamic and interesting. Perhaps Springsteen’s strongest showing as a performer on Darkness On the Edge of Town, he displays much vocal range – from the laid back verses to the intense choruses to the screaming final verse. It also contains his most impressive guitar work with a fiery guitar lead. “Something In the Night” follows with a very interesting intro build-up to a song that is an anthem and a ballad all wrapped into one, with adventurous vocals and an infectious piano riff.
 

 
“Candy’s Room” sounds like it was influenced by Lou Reed, although Springsteen does actually sing a bit in this song. It is a real showcase for drummer Max Weinberg , who shows his enormous talent with a big drum sound. Lyrically, the song details a young man’s naïve love of the damaged Candy. The first side ends with “Racing In the Street”, a somber sequel to “Born to Run” influenced by the California sound of Jackson Browne. This much acclaimed, dirge-like ballad speaks of a man with dead end job with his only joy coming from driving his custom wheels.

The second side brings the mood back up with “The Promised Land”, returning to the pop formula. Clemens returns with another short sax solo, this time interrupted by Springsteen’s harmonica solo and there are even some backing “oohs” and “ahhs” during the third verse. The song’s title was inspired by a Chuck Berry song of the same title and the lyrics link to other songs on the album. The short but potent “Factory” depicts a numbing sort of working life, inspired by Springsteen’s own father who worked in a noisy factory which affected his hearing. “Streets of Fire” is very intense and melodramatic (almost too melodramatic) with Federici’s church-like organ setting the mood.

Prove It All Night singleWith a sax lead right off the top, “Prove It All Night” brings the mood right back, scoring the only Top 40 hit from Darkness On the Edge of Town. Bassist Garry Tallent adds the perfect counterpart to the melodic keyboards and new-fangled guitar lead by Springsteen. Building with drive and excitement to the climatic outro with wails of love and the surrendering of a women’s virtue. The album concludes with the powerful title song, which starts with a Motown inspired soul beat before it breaks into a full arrangement. “Darkness On the Edge of Town” serves as an inspired conclusion to the album of the same name, especially as it refrains from being whiny as some of Springsteen’s other “working class” songs.

Although not exactly a commercial hit, Darkness On the Edge of Town did remain on the charts for 97 weeks and has sold steadily enough over 35 years to reach triple-platinum status. The 1978 tour which followed has been considered one of legendary status for the intensity and length of its shows. In 2010, a triple CD box set The Promise featured 22 previously unreleased tracks from the Darkness sessions with some added production. But this still only scratches the surface of the incredible proliferation of Springsteen in 1977/78, as scores of those songs have yet to be officially released.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

Tunnel of Love
by Bruce Springsteen

Tunnel of Love by Bruce SpringsteenFollowing the multi-year, top of the pop world success of the studio album Born In the USA and the live compilation Live / 1975-85, Bruce Springsteen surprised a lot of listeners with the 1987 follow-up Tunnel of Love. This was Springsteen’s eighth studio album overall by Bruce Springsteen and the third (non-sequentially) to not feature his backing E Street Band, although several members did make cameos throughout this album and drummer Max Weinberg did play on most of the tracks. Thematically, the album turns inward especially when dealing the subject of relationships and love gone wrong, as it was written around the time that Springsteen’s first marriage was deteriorating. However, what makes this theme unique to this album is Springsteen’s ability to honesty examine both sides of the romantic relationship, and in the process implicate himself for his own infidelities.

The decision to follow-up a highly produced, blockbuster hit with something more subdued was a repeat of what Springsteen did earlier in the decade when he followed The River in 1980 with Nebraska in 1982. However, Tunnel of Love is not nearly as sparse as co-producers Jon Landau and Chuck Plotkin worked with Springsteen and using some synthesized soundscapes, electronic drums, backing vocalists, along with some E Street musicians, albeit in a a very subtle and understated way throughout.

Although the album topped the charts after its release and contained three Top 20 hits, it was not the album that the legions of crossover pop fans expected from Springsteen. Ultimately, Tunnel of Love would sell less than a third of the copies as Born In the USA.
 


Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 9, 1987 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, & Chuck Plotkin
Recorded: January – July 1987
Side One Side Two
Ain’t Got You
Tougher Than the Rest
All That Heaven Will Allow
Spare Parts
Cautious Man
Walk Like a Man
Tunnel of Love
Two Faces
Brilliant Disguise
One Step Up
When You’re Alone
Valentine’s Day
Primary Musicians
Bruce Sprinsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Harmonica
Danny Federici – Organ | Max Weinberg – Drums & Percussion

 
The album starts off a Capella with “Ain’t Got You”, which breaks into a rockabilly beat with deadened acoustic strings and laid back harmonica. This short diddy speaks to the hollowness of popular success when it can’t be shared with the one you love. “Tougher Than the Rest” follows with a great contrast to the opener, using electronic drums, synths, and heavily-reverbed vocals. The diversity of the material is further highlighted by “All That Heaven Will Allow”, an upbeat acoustic with a some surprising fine bass guitar by Springsteen. With a great melody and catchy hook make this an underrated classic and the best song on the first side of the album.

“Spare Parts” is almost “Outlaw Country” and therefore lacks much of the subtlety that is present on the much of the rest of the album. It even contains some explicitly “dirty” lyrics with,

Bobby says he’ll pull out, Bobby stays in / Janey had a baby, wasn’t any sin…”

“Cautious Man” is the closest nod back to the style the Nebraska album, as a sparse and haunting acoustic folk song, with the side-closing “Walk Like a Man” returns to childhood, with relative stories above a cool, laid back synth arrangement and strumming acoustic. Lyrically, it appears to be Springsteen speaking directly to his father. While the first side of the album is interesting, the second side is much more sonically enjoyable.
 

 
“Brilliant Disguise” is the best song on the album, with a great chord structure and melody throughout. This song kind of sums up the underlying theme of the entire album, deep thoughts and reflections about simple moments lone within the frenzied bubble of great fame and commercial success. Musically, the song contains some nice piano by Roy Bittan, accenting the subtle acoustic folk strumming and simple but elegant vocals.

The title track “Tunnel of Love” starts weirdly with an almost-dance beat before giving way to another calm synth riff that acts as canvas for descriptive, slightly poetic, and highly allegorical lyrics. It is about as pure a pop song as Springsteen even wrote and is highlighted by some excellent lead guitar by Nils Lofgren, who later replicates Springsteen’s howling towards the end. “Two Faces” is an adequate but typical pop song with a nice organ lead towards the end by Danny Federici, while “When You’re Alone” features some backing vocals by Springsteen’s saxophone player from the E Street Band, Clarence Clemons.

“One Step Up” is another gem on the second side with a good guitar riff and great vocal hook. This song is very understated with the barest of arrangement, but still had enough radio appeal to make it a pop hit. The closing song “Valentine’s Day” sums up the album nicely as a melancholy and confessional number, which compares heartbreak and fear of loss with death itself,

…they say that if die in your dreams, you die in your bed / but honey, last night I dreamed my eyes rolled back in my head…”

In one way, Tunnel of Love marked a return to the simple folk/Americana form that predated the phenomenal success of Born In the U.S.A.. In a contrasting other way, it also marked a severing point from the most musically lucrative years for Springsteen. Although he did tour in 1988 with the E Street Band to promote this album, he would not make another studio album with his backing band until 2002’s The Rising.

~
R.A.


1987 Images

 

Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf

Buy Bat Out of Hell
Bat Out of Hell by Meat LoafAlthough credited as a solo album by Meat Loaf, the blockbuster album Bat Out of Hell was actually forged through a collaboration of three people – Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday), songwriter Jim Steinman and producer/guitarist Todd Rundgren. This album would go into the stratosphere sales-wise, certified platinum fourteen times over and currently ranked ninth all-time in worldwide sales. However, these gentlemen may have been the only three to believe in this project during its early years. By the time of its release in late 1977, the album had been worked on for over five years but it had been rejected by every major Label (and quite a few minor labels as well). The project was finally picked up by tiny Cleveland International Records, not so much by musical merit but more so when owner Steve Popovich heard the witty dialogue which precedes the song “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” (see video below).

Meat Loaf met Steinman shortly after releasing his soul-influenced debut album Stoney & Meatloaf in 1971. Both were deeply interested theatrical music as Meat Loaf had starred in several Broadway plays and the film, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Steinmen had composed for several productions including a sci-fi update of Peter Pan called Neverland, which was a pre-cursor to Bat Out of Hell. Writing for the album started as early as 1972, with the songs fully developed by the end of 1974, when Meat Loaf decided to leave the theatre to concentrate on this project. In 1975, the dual performed a live audition for Todd Rundgren, an avant garde performer and producer, who was impressed that the music did not fit any rock conventions or sub-genres to date. However, this was a double-edged sword as they had immense difficulty finding a record company willing to sign them. According to Meat Loaf’s autobiography, the band spent two and a half years auditioning the record and being rejected. One of the most brutal rejections came from CBS head Clive Davis, who first dismissed Meat Loaf by saying “actors don’t make records” before turning his ire towards Steinman’s songwriting;

You don’t know how to write a song! Have you ever listened to pop music? Have you ever heard any rock-and-roll music? You should go downstairs when you leave here and buy some rock-and-roll records…”

The group had reached a verbal deal with RCA Records and started recording the album in late 1975 at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, NY. However, the RCA deal fell through during production and Rundgren essentially footed the bill for recording himself. And this was no small bill as the album includes contributions by sixteen rock musicians and singers as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Some of these backing musicians include members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band as well as Rundgren’s backing band, Utopia.

Steinman, who wrote every song and gave the album its title and artwork, had wanted equal billing with Meat Loaf on the album’s title, but was out-voted by record execs who felt that Meat Loaf alone was a more marketable, with the unorthadox, “Songs by Jim Steinmen” sub-heading appearing on the album’s cover. Even after the album was finally released in October 1977, it took awhile to catch on In the U.S. Ironically, it was after a CBS Records convention where Meat Loaf performed a song for that label’s top artist Billy Joel, that the album finally got some mainstream momentum.
 


Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf
Released: October 21, 1977 (Epic)
Produced by: Todd Rundgren
Recorded: Bearsville Studio, Woodstock, NY, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Bat Out of Hell
Hot Summer Night
Heaven Can Wait
All Revved Up With No Place to Go
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad
Paradise By the Dashboard Light
For Crying Out Loud
Primary Musicians
Meatloaf – Lead Vocals
Jim Steinman – Keyboards, Percussion
Todd Rundgren – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano
Ellen Foley – Vocals
Kasim Sulton – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

 
Although Bat Out of Hell is generally high caliber throughout, it is quite uneven in musical flow, especially when you compare the dynamic and climatic opening title song and the slow moving closer “For Crying Out Loud”, a relationship-oriented song which spends about seven of its eight and a half minutes with a very simple and subdued arrangement.

Steinman has described “Bat Out of Hell” as “feverish, strong, romantic, vibrant, and rebellious”. He stated that his goal was to write “the ultimate car or motorcycle crash song”. It starts with a rapid and frantic piano backed by tribal drums before breaking into a calmer section with thick, dimensional guitar overtones. After about a two minute overture, the song proper commences with Meat Loaf singing the vivid lyrics. Steinman was extremely ambitious with this song and constantly suggested new parts to enhance the song, many of which were rejected by Rundgren. However, Steinman insisted on a motorcycle effect in the song and an exasperated Rundgren finally grabbed a guitar, set some custom controls and mimicked a Motorcycle effect in one take. Another great moment comes at the very end when Meatloaf’s intense and sustained vocals dissolves into a calm and subdued outro with a female chorus and synthesized strings.

In between the colossal epics that bookend the album are five excellently crafted, pop-oriented songs which maintain the dramatic overall feel of the theme. “Heaven Can Wait” is ballad which showcases Meat Loaf’s voice more than any other song, accompanied only by piano and a light orchestral arrangement by Ken Ascher. Converesly, “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” is a thumping rocker driven by the bass of Kasim Sulton and featuring saxophone by Edgar Winter. Although it is shortest song in duration on the album, it still feels kind of epic due to the interesting arrangement of the mid-section made up of short vignettes and a section with a breathless rant by Meat Loaf to close the song and first side.
 

 
After the unique intro, spoken by Steinman and Marcia McClain, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” settles into a classic, do-wop style rock song with a very catchy hook. Another radio-friendly track is the ballad “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”. This melancholy love song counter-balances the more theatrical music perfectly, while still maintaining an edge with the slightly satirical title. The song was written near the end of the album’s production and was reportedly influenced by the success of the Eagles’ soft rock approach in the late seventies. The single version of the song edited out the controversial lyric “There ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box” and reached #11 on the Billboard charts, the group’s highest-charting single.

Meatloaf

“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is either the most brilliant or the lamest song on the album. This duet features Ellen Foley sharing lead vocals and tells a hilarious story of teenage desire leading to permanent misery in three or four distinct sections. On one hand, the song is brilliantly produced, including a “play-by-play” section by New York Yankee announcer Phil Rizzuto, a couple of perfectly blended duet sections, and a Caribbean-influenced “Let Me Sleep On It” section. On the other hand, the song has grown to be the over-played caricature of Meat Loaf and this famous album.

The album’s title was resurrected for two more Meat Loaf albums. In 1993 came Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, again featuring the songwriting of Jim Steinman. In 2006 came Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, which did not involve Steinman, who had registered “Bat Out of Hell” as a trademark in 1995 in an attempt to prevent Meat Loaf from using the title again.

~

1977 Images

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

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Bella Donna by Stevie NicksAfter three albums with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was doubtlessly the most recognizable figure in that popular and talented band. However, her actual participation as far as songwriting and lead vocals had never eclipsed 50% on any of those albums. So prior to her debut solo effort in 1981, there was uncertainty about how a full album of her music would pan out. One serious listen to Bella Donna would set all doubt aside. This debut solo album went on to achieve critical and commercial success, topping the U.S. album charts and spawning four Top 40 hit singles, while reaching the Top 20 in six other nations.

The album contains ten songs composed by Nicks on piano over several years while on tour with Fleetwood Mac in the late seventies. These songs were then enhanced by producer Jimmy Iovine and a posse of talent, ranging from headline acts like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, to top-notch session musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. The result is an interesting and pleasant listen which contains some timeless works that flirt with pop, country, and folk while remaining distinctive and original.
 


Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks
Released: July 27, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty
Recorded: Studio 55, Los Angeles, Autumn 1980 – Spring 1981
Side One Side Two
 Bella Donna
 Kind of Woman
 Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
 Think About It
 After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman
Primary Musicians
Stevie Nicks – Lead Vocals, Piano
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
Lori Perry & Sharon Celani – Backing Vocals
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
Dan Dugmore – Pedal Steel
Bob Glaub – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums

 

…and we fight for the northern star”

While Bella Donna‘s opening title song is definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque in it’s calm approach and long sustained guitar drones, it also contains a more ceremonious or ritualistic feel, like some kind of mass, as it vacillates between beatless sound scape and rhythmic drive. It is followed by “Kind of Woman”, another very calm, almost melancholy song, with a waltz-like beat an excellent guitar lead.

The album then abruptly takes a radical turn with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, one of two songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on the album, along with the entertaining “Outside the Rain” on the second side. That band didn’t use these songs for themselves (and their current album, Hard Promises really could’ve used these), and the resultant Nicks-led recordings add a completely new dimension to Bella Donna.
 

 
“Leather and Lace” is a true duet with Henley, resulting in a moody and romantic ballad which has a sparse acoustic arrangement that really showcases the vocal talents of both. On the other end of the pop spectrum, “Edge of Seventeen” offered a rhythmic dance beat with a near rap in between the oft-repeated chorus about the “white winged dove”. Rumor has it that the title was coined by Tom Petty’s wife, who replied “age of seventeen” when asked by Nicks how old they were when they first met. But Stevie mis-heard this as “edge of seventeen” and was instantly taken by the concept.

Perhaps the most enjoyable song on the album, “After the Glitter Fades” is a pure country song, reminiscent to some of Olivia Newton John’s early stuff, with dynamic vocals nicely complimenting to rich arrangement, which contains virtuoso piano by Roy Bittan and masterful pedal steel by Dan Dugmore.

Stevie Nicks would continue on with Fleetwood Mac as well as produce more solo albums with much success in both throughout the rest of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. But artistically, she would not again reach the heights of Bella Donna in either side of her musical career.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.