Degüello by ZZ Top

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Degüello by ZZ TopZZ Top came back from an extended break to close out the 1970s with Degüello, their sixth studio release. Mirroring the group itself, this album is as much about an attitude and lifestyle as it is about the actual music (a prime example is that the extended, three year break was used to grow the signature beards of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill). All this being said, there are real gems on this funk and blues influenced record, which borrowed its name from the Mexican Army bugle call at commencement of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. The title may also be analogous to the group’s approach of wielding their electric-blues signature sound to reach a new level of pop/rock achievement.

ZZ Top got started in 1969, with the release of a couple of singles composed by Gibbons. The group’s self-titled debut album was released in 1971, followed by Rio Grande Mud and Tres Hombres the following two years. A live album and a couple of more studio albums were released in the mid seventies, highlighted by the critically-acclaimed Tejas in 1976. Following a worldwide tour to support the album, the band planned a 90-day tour, which was ultimately extended to be two years long.

In 1979, ZZ Top signed a new contract with Warner Bros. Records, with Degüello being the first release of this new contract. The album was produced by the group’s long time manager Bill Ham, who first met the band when they opened for The Doors at a concert in Houston and remained with ZZ Top right up until their breakup in 1996.


Degüello by ZZ Top
Released: November 14, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bill Ham
Recorded: 1979
Side One Side Two
I Thank You
She Loves My Automobile
I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide
A Fool For Your Stockings
Manic Mechanic
Dust My Broom
Lowdown in the Street
Hi Fi Mama
Cheap Sunglasses
Esther Be the One
Group Musicians
Billy Gibbons – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Dusty Hill – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Frank Beard – Drums, Percussion

Degüello opens with a cover of Sam & Dave’s 1968 Soul hit “I Thank You”, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. ZZ Top’s version takes the Soul roots and treats it with Texas flavored blues-boogie, with Gibbons vocals being extra rough but potent. “She Loves My Automobile” is more blues with the added synthesized horn arrangement by Hill complimenting Gibbon’s bluesy guitar solos.

“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” is more rock oriented than the previous tracks with a cool drum shuffle by Frank Beard. The song is cut a bit rough with the overdubbed guitars, but this ultimately adds to the overall charm of the song, which was released as a single. A cool outro goes into a bit of a funk with a backing clavichord by Hill. The fine beat-driven ballad “A Fool for Your Stockings” is sonically different than anything else on the album, with a few excellent, mood-driven guitar instrumentals above dry and pointed bass and drums. Side One ends with “Manic Mechanic”, a unique and almost Frank Zappa-esque track with oddly-produced spoken vocals over strong rock and funk riffing.

Like the first side, the second starts with a cover. Robert Johnson‘s “Dust My Broom”, was made most famous by Elmore James in the 1950s and ZZ Top’s version sticks pretty close to that version with a pure, standard blues arrangement and some slide guitars. “Lowdown In the Street” is back to a more edgy approach, with an interesting vocal arrangement that complements the main riff. “Hi Fi Mama” features Hill’s only lead vocals on the album and he employs a Little Richard-type hyper approach to the vocals. Musically, there is a nice back-n-forth between Gibbons’ guitars and Hill’s synth horn arrangement.

The album’s climax comes with “Cheap Sunglasses”, built on a consistent groove which has been derided as either a rip-off of Edger Winter’s “Frankenstein” or Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today” (or both). No matter the case, this is a musical highlight for the band, with a long, cool, middle section built on a bass groove and key riffs with some bluesy lead guitar by Gibbons and great drumming by Beard throughout. After a final verse, the song slowly dissolves through scaled back groove. “Esther Be the One” is the most like a standard late seventies pop/rock song, with a full arrangement of dual guitars, keyboards, and a great bass groove to top off the album.

The platinum selling Degüello reached the Top 40 on the charts and sparked the group’s first tour of Europe in 1980. More importantly, it re-ignited ZZ Top’s career and introduced the band to a new radio audience, which brought even more popularity through the early 1980s.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

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The End of the Innocence by Don HenleyThe End of the Innocence was Don Henley‘s best selling solo album and his lone solo release in the 16 year span between 1984 and 2000. A pure pop effort, the album spawned seven singles with six of those reaching the Top Ten of the Mainstream Rock charts and the title song reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard pop chart. The End of the Innocence expands on Henley’s extraordinary talent for composing, which dates back to the Eagles debut album, and moves firmly into the adult contemporary realm. While the sound of the album has remnants of 1980s slick, Henley’s enlistment of six co-producers, gives The End of the Innocence enough diversity to make it interesting.

Taking five years to compose and refine material for a follow-up, Henley relished in the success of his blockbuster 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast. Taking this time also gave him the time to gather some compositional, performance, and production talent for his next effort.

Among his collaborators on the album are Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, musical journeyman Bruce Hornsby, and Danny Kortchmar, part of California’s “mellow mafia”, who worked with Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt, and Warren Zevon among others. The result is an overall high quality album, albeit uneven. When the songs are good, they are very good, profound, rewarding, and indelible. On the flip side is the cheap eighties filler which, unfortunately, there is quite a bit of between the fine tracks. Still, there is little doubt that Henley was shooting for something big on this album to solidify his legacy in rock, and there is no doubt he achieved that goal.


The End of the Innocence by Don Henley
Released: June 27 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Don Henley, Mike Campbell, John Corey, Bruce Hornsby, Danny Kortchmar, Greg Ladanyi, & Stan Lynch
Recorded: 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The End of the Innocence
How Bad Do You Want It?
I Will Not Go Quietly
The Last Worthless Evening
New York Minute
Shangri-La
Little Tin God
Gimme What You Got
If Dirt Were Dollars
The Heart of the Matter
Don Henley – Lead Vocals, Drums
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards
Bob Glaub – Bass
Stanley Jordan – Guitars, Drums, VocalsThe End of the Innocence by Don Henley

 

The End of the Innocence is bookmarked by two of its finest tracks. “The Heart of the Matter” closes and solidifies the album with a perfect tone and tenor and great melody and hook. The wise and mature lyrics about “forgiveness” wash away the bitter taste of some earlier tracks. These lyrics are accompanied by fine musical motifs, from the opening twangy guitar riff through the many rooms of pleasant melody and sonic bliss. “The Heart of the Matter” was co-written by Campbell, and sometimes-Eagles contributor J.D. Souther and reached the Top 20 with significant airplay. The opening title track was co-written by Hornsby and features his deliberate, choppy piano style backing Henley’s melancholy driven melody. This is pure, calm, adult-oriented music with lyrics about the the shattering of childhood simplicity. with low-key yet tremendously effective vocals. “The End of the Innocence” also features an outstanding soprano sax lead by Wayne Shorter which adds to the overall mood of longing for redemption.

The original first side of the album includes a few pure eighties rockers that could be mistaken for cheesy movie soundtracks. After a strong percussion intro, “How Bad Do You Want It” is driven by a sax riff with synth decor and simple rhythms. The straight-forward melody and catchy hook is accompanied by background vocals by many including Sheryl Crow. “I Will Not Go Quietly” has some blues-based guitar riffing but is mainly rock-oriented with simple, hard rock drum beats up front. This song also kind of awkwardly features Axl Rose on backing vocals.

The middle of the album contains a couple more fine tracks. “The Last Worthless Evening” has acoustic with electric overtones reminiscent of Eagles. This stellar – musical mix and production to compliment Henley’s excellent vocals, perhaps his best on the album. The harmonized hook in the bridge brings this song , co-written by John Corey, to the next level. Like a classic movie score with high strings and a club piano out front, “New York Minute” arrives as the album’s most unique and interesting track. The song proper features a fine electric piano by Toto member David Paich along with another great sax solo by Shorter.

The remainder of the album contains songs of lesser quality which have not held up over time. “Shangri-La” starts with a semi-interesting percussive intro before it breaks into a lame attempt at a dance song. “Little Tin God” contains a reggae beat and is a little better than the rest of the filler, due to the great middle high-pitch bend synth solo. “Gimme What You Got” features a pleasant melody and good guitar textures but quickly gets old as it progresses. “If Dirt Were Dollars” has a good bluesy acoustic by Campbell throughout, but the lyrics and delivery are cheap (“as dirt”) as it is trite, preachy, and hard to get through. It is tracks like these that keep The End of the Innocence from being an absolute classic.

Still, the album sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone and won Henley his second Grammy award for Best male Vocalist in 1990. With various Eagles reunions through the 1990s. it would be another 11 years until Henley released his next solo album, Inside Job in 2000.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Copperhead Road by Steve Earle

Copperhead Road by Steve EarleSteve Earle has always woven in and out of the outlaw country genre  exploring different sectors of musical territory. Back in 1988, Earle took his first major turn into what would eventually be called “Americana” with the album Copperhead Road. This hybrid of country twang and solid rock elements propelled the Texas native into an area all his own for decades to come. This album followed Earle’s first two releases, Guitar Town, in 1986 and Exit 0 in 1987, both of which had sold well and earned enthusiastic reviews within the country music scene. But Earle and Nashville soon tired of each other and the artist set out to make an album “where heavy metal meets bluegrass”.

Prior to signing with MCA Records, Earle had paid his debts in the music industry in Nashville and various locations in Texas. Starting in 1975, he spent over a decade as a songwriter, session player, band bassist and front man for his group “The Dukes”. Earle had a previous contract with Epic Records but was dropped after releasing just one EP called Pink and Black in 1982.

Copperhead Road contains a definite eighties production sound by producer Tony Brown. It employs a big drum sound and arena-influenced guitars, at times sounding more like Aerosmith or Guns n’ Roses than the country/rock sound of the contemporary “New Traditionalists”. Still, the songs’ roots shine through all the gloss and firepower. Beyond the songwriting and vocals, Earle is fluent array of instruments, including six and twelve string acoustic guitars, mandolin, and harmonica.


Copperhead Road by Steve Earle
Released: October 17, 1988 (MCA)
Produced by: Steve Earle and Tony Brown
Recorded: Memphis, 1988
Side One Side Two
Copperhead Road
Snake Oil
Back to the Wall
The Devil’s Right Hand
Johnny Come Lately
Even When I’m Blue
You Belong to Me
Waiting on You
Once You Love
Nothing but a Child
Primary Musicians
Steve Earle – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica  | Donny Roberts – Guitars
John Jarvis – Piano  | Kelly Looney – Bass  |  Ken Custer – Drums

 

The songs on side one of Copperhead Road reflect on Earle’s leftist politics. “Snake Oil” attacks then president Ronald Reagan, comparing him to a traveling con man. “Back to the Wall” is about poverty and homelessness and “The Devil’s Right Hand” is an anti-gun tune which tells the tale of a lonely gunslinger. “Johnny Comes Lately” has its roots in Earle’s anti-Vietnam activism as a young man. This tells the story of two generations of soldiers coming home from the war – one a veteran of World War II and his son, a veteran of the Vietnam War – and contrasts the differing receptions they received on returning home. This side one closer features the folk group The Pogues as Earle’s backing band.

Title track “Copperhead Road” was also the big hit single from the album. It starts with a bagpipe-sounding synth and then morphs into a mandolin-dominated opening verses before dramatically crashing into it’s loud “rock” sections later in the song. It tells the story of a Vietnam war veteran from a Tennessee moonshine clan who returns home to grow marijuana on his family’s land in order to make ends meet. The song has a anthemic feel throughout, making it one of Earle’s most memorable songs.
 

 
So is Earle primarily a musician or a political activist? Well, on side two of Copperhead Road, he pretty much abandons his preaching on social justice and rage against the establishment for more traditional, country-influenced “love” songs. “Even When I’m Blue” is a typical country theme, which deals with your typical love and life scenarios. “You Belong to Me” and “Once You Love” are honest and absorbing reflections of the heart of a dysfunctional romantic. The closer “Nothing But a Child” is a quasi-Christmas song which features guest Maria McKee on vocals and the group Telluride providing mandolin, dobro, and violins.

Following the release of Copperhead Road, Earle was compared to everyone from Bruce Springsteen to John Mellencamp to Randy Newman to Waylon Jennings. However, a combination of heroin abuse and troubles with the law halted his career in the 1990s and Earle never quite reached the level of those artists. However, by the end of the century Earle was back to form and released several more important albums through the 2000s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Eliminator by ZZ Top

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Eliminator by ZZ TopSince their inception in 1969, ZZ Top had a strong and successful career with decent album sales and scattered radio hits through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. With their eighth album in 1983, Eliminator, the group finally found major commercial success, topping charts worldwide and U.S. sales of over 10 million copies. Formulaic to a fault, the group and their manager/producer Bill Ham embraced a hybrid sound which blended their traditional Texas blues guitars with synths and sequencers. This updated eighties sound, combined with the directed use of image and video (featuring the customized 1930s Ford coupe and Dean Z electric guitars) brought ZZ Top their first real taste of fame.

The trio consists of guitarist and vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist and vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard. Formed in Houston in 1969, the group was signed to London Records in 1970 and released their debut album in 1971. Although centered around blues-rock, ZZ Top had experimented with several styles and lyrical motifs through their initial seven studio albums. In 1980, the band embarked on their first tour of Europe and gained some exposure to the electronic new wave/pop of the day. This experience heavily influenced much of the sonic qualities and song themes for Eliminator, as many of the songs were written backstage on that tour. The band then chose Memphis as the recording location because of the city’s musical tradition.

Sound engineer Linden Hudson researched popular song tempos, and suggested that 120 beats per minute was the most popular tempo in rock music, so most of the recorded Eliminator album was recorded at that tempo. This has since become know as “the people’s tempo”. Although this sort of sound manipulation may not go over well with all old-school blues and rock purists or blues-rock purists, the album does not contain one filler song, as each individual track works well as a stand-alone song. In fact, one can claim that the whole is much less than the sum of this album’s parts

 


Eliminator by ZZ Top
Released: March 23, 1983 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bill Ham
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee, 1982
Side One Side Two
Gimme All Your Lovin’
Got Me Under Pressure
Sharp Dressed Man
I Need You Tonight
I Got the Six
Legs
Thug
TV Dinners
Dirty Dog
If I Could Only Flag Her Down
Bad Girl
Group Musicians
Billy Gibbons – Guitar, Vocals
Dusty Hill – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Frank Beard – Drums, Percussion

 

Beard’s simple rock drum beat sets the pace for the riff-driven “Gimme All Your Lovin'” (which in turn sets the pace for the album). Accented by a few guitar overdubs and pad synths, this opener contains one of the more famous leads by Gibbons and reached the Top 40 on the U.S. charts. “Got Me Under Pressure” follows and has become the most controversial song, not due to lyrical content, but due to allegations by Hudson that it was written and recorded by himself and Gibbons in one afternoon without the involvement or knowledge of the other two band members. Although the band members disputed much of his compositional accounts, Linden says he created the bass on a synthesizer, the drums on a drum machine, and helped Gibbons write the lyrics while Gibbons performed the guitars and vocals.

“Sharp Dressed Man” is the most catchy of the hit songs and utilizes a more traditional rock arrangement with some strange vocal effects being the only really synthesized parts. While on tour in England to support the album Degüello, the band members were impressed with the cool threads and overall sense of fashion. The song reached the Top Ten on the mainstream rock charts and has remained one of the band’s most famous songs.

ZZ Top in 1983

The best song on the album is “I Need You Tonight”, led by Gibbons’s really soulful and bluesy guitar with an effect-laden edge. Hill uses a real bass guitar (not a synth bass arpeggio) and the song contains some great melodies during the choruses, adding a splash of sweetness to this extended piece with an almost dark feel. The persistent reaching of Gibbons’ guitar, especially during the long instrumental sections, makes it a highlight of the album and even as the song ends, it feels like the bluesy guitar is reluctant to quit. The short but potent “I Got the Six” completes the first side as a full-fledged, good time party anthem.

The early part of the album’s second side is the best demonstration of the “synthesizer meets soul” sound which the group was aiming for on Eliminator. On “Legs” the synths are most prominent along with a consistent beat and very few chord changes. With a decent melody, clear hook, and some bluesy lead guitar licks, “Legs” was inspired by a real-life situation when the group spotted a young lady and spun the car around for a second look. But when she vanished Gibbons said, “That girl’s got legs, and she knows how to use them.” “Thug” is the most unabashed eighties-style, synth-heavy song, almost sounding experimental. “TV Dinners” contains organ-like synths good lead by Gibbons. Written late in the recording process, the song’s title was inspired by a woman in a Memphis nightclub, where the group went during a break in recording.

“Dirty Dog” is the best pure dance song on the second side, with a constant, rhythmic synth by Hill and the thump-thump-thump of the kick drum by Beard. This is the song where the attempted meshing fully came together.
“If I Could Only Flag Her Down” contains much of the same boogie feel from ZZ Top days of past. The closer “Bad Girl” is sung by Hill who uses a Little Richard-type, frantic voice in this almost live sounding, old time rocker.

Following Eliminator′s release, the band embarked on a worldwide tour which was extremely successful, breaking many records. ZZ Top’s next album, 1985’s Afterburner was another commercial success and utilized much of the same “synthesizer meets soul” formula. In fact, the band embraced this sound so strongly in the 1980s that they re-mastered their first six albums with 80s style echo and drum machines, much unlike their original album sound, in a 1987 box set called Six Pack.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

1983 Images

 

Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf

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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.

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1977 Images

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

The Psychedelic Sounds of
The 13th Floor Elevators

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Psychedelic Sounds of the13th Floor ElevatorsEmerging from Austin, Texas in the mid-sixties was the band which many consider to be the pioneers of psychedelic rock, The 13th Floor Elevators. The band was led by guitarist and vocalist Roky Erickson and lyricist Tommy Hall who added a very special and unique element to the band’s sound with the “electric jug”. This was a crock-jug with a microphone held up to it while it was being blown into. However, in contrast to traditional musical jug technique, Hall vocalized musical runs into the mouth of the jug, using the jug to create echo and distortion of his voice.

The band’s debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators was recorded in Texas and released in late 1966. The band found some commercial and artistic success in 1966-67, before dissolving amid legal troubles due to heavy drug use and unabashed vocal advocacy for the practice. In fact, in the album’s liner notes Hall wrote a manifesto detailing the history of mind-altering substances and advocating for societal acceptance of LSD, mescaline, and marijuana as a gateway to a higher, ‘non-Aristotelian’ state of consciousness”. At Hall’s urging, the band played most of their live shows and recorded their albums while under the influence of LSD, which was not yet illegal in 1966. At the peak of their success, the band appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, where the host innocently asked, “who’s the head of the band?” To which Hall replied, “we’re all heads”.

Despite their very short time in the limelight, The 13th Floor Elevators are credited with being major influences for many future artists including Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Allman Brothers, and fellow Texans ZZ Top, whose guitarist Billy Gibbons credits Elevators’ axe man Stacy Sutherland with shaping his band’s earliest sound. Further, Erickson’s wild, banshee-like screams and high-pitched notes have been credited by some as a major influence on Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. The band was also credited by many as being a major influence on the punk rock genre, which wouldn’t fully emerge until a decade later.
 


The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators
Released: November, 1966 (International Artists)
Produced by: Lelan Rogers & Gordon Bynum
Recorded: Sumet Sound, Dallas TX, January-October 1966
Side One Side Two
You’re Gonna Miss Me
Roller Coaster
Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)
Reverberation (Doubt)
Don’t Fall Down
Fire Engine
Thru the Rhythm
You Don’t Know (How Young You Are)
Kingdom of Heaven
Monkey Island
Tried to Hide
Band Musicians
Roky Erikson – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitars
Stacy Sutherland – Lead Guitars
Benny Turman – Bass, Violin
John Ike Walton – Drums, Percussion
Tommy Hall – Amplified Jug

 
The 13th Floor Elevators were formed in late 1965, when Erickson left his band the Spades to complete the lineup. In January 1966, the band went to Houston to record two songs for producer Gordon Bynum to be released as a 45 single. The songs were Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, which he had previously recorded with the Spades, and Hall-Sutherland’s “Tried to Hide”. These songs would eventually bookmark the Psychedelic Sounds… album. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” eventually became popular outside Texas, and by October it peaked at #55 on the Billboard charts, the band’s one and only “hit” single. The song sounds like it was influenced by a mixture of Van Morrison and Them and California surf music. It is quite edgy for the time, with the electric jug going wild and powered by Erickson’s feral vocals and Sutherland’s concise but agile guitar work. “Tried to Hide” finishes the album ends on a “high” note (no pun intended) with some high-pitched percussion up front and all the intensity of Hall’s electric jug and Erickson’s voice.

The album’s body contains a mixture of adequate, sixties-style rock and ballads cut with this new “acid rock” sound the band was forging. “Roller Coaster” is a song with sharp, echoed, electric notes that was likely a heavy influence on Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” on their own psychedelic debut a year later. “Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)” is a pleasant little ballad with a dreamy, nicely picked guitar and the noted absence of the electric jug (which appears on just about every other song). “Reverberation (Doubt)” is a song which was clearly years ahead of its time, a true hippie creed in 1966, while “Fire Engine”, with its wild, freaky siren effects (which may be laughable using today’s technology), may be one of the earliest examples of punk. Although there are some throw-away, forgettable songs on the album, most of it is interesting, innovative, and unique, probably due to the very mind-altering substance that would lead to the band’s quick demise.

By 1968, four of the five members of the 13th Floor Elevators were facing pending drug possession charges and Erickson was eventually sentenced to 10 years for marijuana possession (but pleaded insanity and spent much of the coming decades in and out of mental institutions). To this day, there is much debate over whether the band members were the single originators of “psychedelic rock” or just part of a select movement spearheaded by lesser known artists. In either case, there is no doubt that the 13th Floor Elevators were rock pioneers.

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1966 Images

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

 

Pearl by Janis Joplin

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Pearl by Janis JoplinPearl was the final, posthumous album in the brief but explosive career of Janis Joplin. She died before the album’s completion on October 4, 1970, at just 27, done in by an overdose of heroin. Janis lived hard and died young.

An awkward girl from Beaumont, Texas, she would make her mark in a time and place that must have seemed like another universe – San Francisco in the late 1960s. She was fearless in the sense that she never let the shallow opinions of her adolescent peers define her and she found her place making her mark in unapologetic, unyielding fashion.

But this radical transformation ultimately came at a tragic price, as chemical dependency grabbed hold of her and refused to let go. It’s not that she didn’t try to escape this fate, even going so far as to move back to Beaumont and adopt the fashionable bee-hive hairdo of the day. But in the end, she just couldn’t stay away from the scene, the lifestyle, the drugs, and the music.

“You can go all around the world trying to do something with your life, but you only got to do one thing well…”

Janis’s style was rough, raw, and completely genuine. She didn’t have an image manufactured by a team of publicists, and would not have done well in an American Idol-like situation. She lived in the moment with every note she sang, deeply entrenched in the emotions that effervesced from every strained vocal.
 


Pearl by Janis Joplin
Released: January 11, 1971 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles between September 5 and October 1, 1971
Side One Side Two
Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues
My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can
Primary Musicians
Janis Joplin – Vocals
John Till – Electric Guitar
Bobby Womack – Acoustic Guitar
Ken Pearson – Organ
Richard Bell – Piano
Brad Campbell – Bass
Clark Pierson – Drums, Vocals

 

Pearl has a more polished and accessible sound than anything Joplin had done earlier with Big Brother & the Holding Company or The Kozmic Blues Band, the original bands she worked with in San Francisco with limited success on the national and international scene.

The sound of the album was due in large part to the expertise of Paul A. Rothchild, who had shaped the sound of The Doors as their long time producer. Further, The Full Tilt Boogie, a profession group of backing musicians, shaped the sound that was the canvas for Janis’ dynamic vocals. Joplin had previously met and worked with the band over the summer of 1970, when they were on board the famous Festival Express, a train filled with performing and partying musicians that rode across Canada.

Aside from the Kris Kristofferson penned hit “Me and Bobby McGee”, there is really nothing special about the selections on this album. But, they are entertaining enough to make Pearl the crown jewel in the catalog of this rare talent. Most of the songs are standard rock and blues with a bit of country influence here and there. This is immediately apparent on the first two tracks, “Move Over”, which Joplin wrote herself, and the quasi-famous “Cry baby”. But there are also a few oddities on the album, like the a capella “Mercedes Benz” and the purely instrumental “Buried Alive in the Blues”, which was included despite the fact that Janis died before recording the vocals.

I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for one single yesterday…”

Kristofferson had just introduced his song to Joplin just a few weeks before her death, and wasn’t even aware that she had actually recorded it until afterwards. Ironically, it would be her biggest hit and most famous song, true fame that she wasn’t able to experience during the shooting star trajectory of her life.

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1971 Images

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