461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton

Buy 461 Ocean Boulevard

461 Ocean Blvd by Eric ClaptonEric Clapton was remarkably prolific through the late 1960s into the year 1970. By the end of that year, he had been featured in six different successful rock and blues groups and had also released his debut solo album. However, personal strife and substance addiction halted his momentum for the better part of for years, until he released, 461 Ocean Boulevard in 1974, which brought Clapton back into the public light with a remade sound and image. Produced by Tom Dowd, the album features freshly interpreted versions of cover songs from various genres and eras, along with laid back vocals by Clapton, and surprisingly few guitar leads.

Clapton and Dowd had worked together previously with the short-lived super-group Derek and the Dominos and the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which was also recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami. Much of the material on that album was inspired by Clapton’s unrequited affections for Patti Boyd, then wife of George Harrison. A second album was planned for the group, with several tracks recorded in early 1971 but personal conflicts led to the disbanding of Derek and the Dominos soon after. After a performance at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in which he collapsed on stage, Clapton withdrew from recording and touring as he struggled with drugs and alcohol.

By 1974, Clapton and Boyd were together and he had kicked the drug habit. Carl Radle, former bassist for Derek and the Dominos, presented Clapton with a demo tape of songs. With an assembled group, Clapton returned to Criteria Studios and temporarily lived at the house at 461 Ocean Boulevard in Golden Beach, Florida.


461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton
Released: July, 1974 (RSO)
Produced by: Tom Dowd
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, Fla, April–May 1974
Side One Side Two
Motherless Children
Give Me Strength
Willie and the Hand Jive
Get Ready
I Shot the Sheriff
I Can’t Hold Out
Please Be With Me
Let It Grow
Steady Rollin’ Man
Mainline Florida
Primary Musicians
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Yvonne Elliman – Vocals
Dick Sims – Keyboards
Carl Radle – Bass
Jamie Oldaker – Drums, Percussion

 

Part of the charm of 461 Ocean Boulevard is the knack for arranging songs in contrast to the original tone of these tunes. On “Motherless Children”, Clapton and Radle set an upbeat, almost celebratory tone to a song with a tragic origin based on the autobiographical circumstances of Blind Willie Johnson. Starting with a chorus of picked electric guitars, the track is ever building until it reaches a great drive, fueled by the fantastic drums of Jamie Oldaker.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Johnny Otis dance classic “Willie and the Hand Jive” has a rather somber interpretation with choppy guitar and bass, and vocals so reserved that they seem almost hummed.

The two original tracks on the first side are “Give Me Strength”, a slow and very short blues track with slide acoustic up front and deep Ray Charles-like-organ behind, and “Get Ready”, co-written by vocalist Yvonne Elliman. The most indelible cover on the album is Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, a timely capitalization of the emerging reggae trend then sweeping the rock world, where Clapton finds yet another singing voice. Guitarist George Terry had played on Marley’s album, Burnin’, and convinced Clapton to record a cover version of the song (which he initially declined but was persuaded by the other musicians). The song went on to become Clapton’s only number one song on the Billboard pop charts.

The second side of 461 Ocean Boulevard starts with a cover of “I Can’t Hold Out”, written by Willie Dixon for Elmore James in 1959. The highlight of this song is Clapton’s slide guitar solo, a rare treat on this reserved album. “Please Be With Me” is a country ballad written by Charles Scott Boyer, which features great harmony vocals by Elliman and just enough slide electric above the calm dobro played by Clapton.

Eric Clapton

The Clapton original “Let It Grow” may be the true highlight of the album, featuring a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars under more very somber vocals, perhaps the quietest Clapton sings on this quiet album. This base hippie folk song about “planting love” builds in tenacity and mood with acoustic, electric, piano, organ, ever so creeping to prominence. A short but potent slide guitar leads to an intense outro with a picked electric pattern and subtle, swelling keyboards by Dick Sims. “Steady Rollin’ Man” is a piano and clavichord driven rendition of a Robert Johnson Tune with good bass by Radle. The ending song “Mainline Florida” was written by Terry and feels like the most rock-oriented song on the album, featuring a great seventies rock guitar riff and a wild lead over the vocals later in the song.

461 Ocean Boulevard topped the charts in the USA and Canada and reached the top ten in several other countries. While this was his only album in four years, Clapton got much more prolific and released four studio albums over the next four years, all of which pretty much follow the same style patterns as this one.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar, a Rock Opera

Jesus Christ Superstar original rock operaBefore it was a theatre act, Broadway play, or motion picture, Jesus Christ Superstar was simply a 1970 rock album produced by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist by Tim Rice. The work is loosely based on the four Gospels’ accounts of the last weeks of the life of Jesus Christ, but takes much liberty in interpretting the philosophical and interpersonal dynamics between Jesus and his apostles, especially Judas Iscariot, the man who would ultimately betray him. The work largely follows the form of a traditional passion play but with a twentieth century interpretation with a focus on the psychology of Jesus and the other characters.

Webber and Rice had collaborated on several previous projects, starting with the 1965 musical The Likes of Us, which was actually shelved for four solid decades and not publicly performed until 2005. In 1968, the duo was commissioned to write a piece which became Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a retelling of story of the biblical figure Joseph, set to several musical styles. In 1969 Rice and Webber wrote a song for the Eurovision Song Contest called “Try It and See”, which was later rewritten as “King Herod’s Song” for Jesus Christ Superstar. Webber says has said the piece was written as a rock album from the outset and set out from the start to tell the story through the music itself. Musically, Webber took delight in exploring different keys and time signatures, while Rice came up with some clever wordplay which fused modern phrases with traditional terms.

On this original album, the part of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, lead vocalist of Deep Purple, while Judas Iscariot is performed by Murray Head. Both Englishmen were in their mid-twenties and had several years in the music business with limited success. After declining an invitation to join the band upon their formation, Gillan joined Deep Purple in mid 1969. A performance of the song “Child in Time” caught the ear of Rice, who contacted Gillan and offered him the role of Jesus. After just a few rehearsals with Rice and Webber, Gillan recorded his entire vocal contributions in one three hour session. Beyond his singing and songwriting skills, Murray Head was also a seasoned actor who won a leading role in the Oscar-nominated film Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1971. For the role of Mary Magdalene, a then relative unknown Yvonne Elliman was chosen. Elliman had just begun performing in clubs the previous year and would be one of the few players and singers to join the cast of the Broadway production in subsequent years.


Jesus Christ Superstar, Original Rock Opera
Released: September, 1970 (Decca)
Produced by: Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
Side One Side Two
Overture
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s the Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying
Everything’s Alright
This Jesus Must Die
Hosana
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
Pilate’s Dream
The Temple
Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
I Don’t Know How to Love Him
Damned for All Time / Blood Money
Side Three Side Four
The Last Supper
Gethsemane
The Arrest
Peter’s Denial
Pilate and Christ
King Herod’s Song
Could We Start Again Please?
Judas’s Death
Trial Before Pilate
Superstar
The Crucifixion
John Nineteen: Forty-One
Vocal Cast & Roles
Ian Gillan – Jesus  |  Murray Head – Judas  |  Yvonne Elliman – Mary Magdalene
Paul Davis – Peter  |  Victor Brox – Caiaphas  |  Brian Keith – Annas
Barry Dennen – Pontius Pilate  |  Mike D’Abo – King Herod
Primary Musicians
Neil Hubbard – Guitars  |  Henry McCulloch – Guitars  |  Allan Spenner – Bass
Peter Robinson – Piano, Organ  |  Bruce Rowland – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with a heavily distorted guitar, setting the pace for the “rock” part of the rock opera before the actual overture kicks in with a musical sequence later repeated in the climatic “Trial Before Pilate”. “Heaven on Their Minds” a total funk/rock masterpiece sung solo by Murray Head as Judas with some great piano and organ by Peter Robinson and just a touch of strings for color. The story starts with Judas expressing concern over Jesus’ rising popularity and the inherent danger that brings in a land occupied by the Romans. “What’s the Buzz” introduces Jesus and the Apostles in a hippy-dippy kind of pop/hip song, absurdly
bringing the scene into the (then) modern age. Musically, the stratospheric bass by Alan Spenner brings the hyper jazz/funk to an extraordinary level.

Judas and Jesus have their first heated debate over the course of two tracks; “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”. This debate concerns the appropriateness of Jesus consorting with Mary Magdeline, as Elliman offers a soft counter-balance to the argument with the verses of “Everything’s Alright”. The song is in a 5/4 time signature, offering the perfect rhythm to push it forward at a brisk pace for full effect and the vocal contrasts between Gillan, Head, and Elliman makes it a masterpiece. To close the original first side, the dark “This Jesus Must Die” is the most theatrical to this point as the conspirators are given dark and sinister vocals performed by Victor Brox as Caiaphas and Brian Keith as Annas and other performers as high priests. Halfway, the song picks up with a rock beat and the dialogue speaks of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist who was put to death for his believes, a fate that the conspirators wish on Jesus.

The upbeat “Hosanna”, driven by strings, chorus, and a soaring melody begins Side 2 and symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. “Simon Zealotes” and “Poor Jerusalem” reflect more of the competing philosophical vision. John Gustafson makes his only appearance on the album as Apostle Simon the Zealot, who suggests a revolution led by Jesus, offering power and glory to Jesus after a successful overthrow of the Roman occupation in an upbeat section backed by funk rhythms, led by piano and bass. Gillan’s reply as Jesus in “Poor Jerusalem” is more of a short piano ballad where Jesus rejects this suggestion, stating that none of his followers understands what true power is, nor do they understand his true message.

A bit of filler is thrown into the middle of the second side. “Pilate’s Dream” is a short, acoustic song that features Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, who foresees the trial and execution of Jesus along with the coming spread of Christianity. On “The Temple” the album gets a little lethargic and repetitive with the story of usary in the temple being a bit superfluous followed by Jesus being accosted by lepers, cripples, and beggars, all wanting to be healed.

Yvonne EllimanOne of the highlights of the first act, and the peak of Elliman’s involvement on the album is the short reprise of “Everything’s Alright” which leads into the soulful folk song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Led by the dual acoustic guitars of future Roxy Music member Neil Hubbard and future member of Paul McCartney’s Wings Henry McCulloch, the song contains a laid back arrange which provides the perfect canvas to compliment Elliman’s fantastic vocals. The song itself became a Top 20 pop hit. “Damned for All Time” / “Blood Money” begins with a free form, distorted solo electric guitar followed in sequence by a chorus of flutes before a riff-driven rock section with Head on lead vocals. Accented by great horn sections, this production masterpiece aptly closes the first Act, even with some abrupt changes between the two parts of the medley. Thematically, the song deals with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the high priest conspirators along with his internal conflict over the situation and hauntingly ends with an-almost Greek chorus speaking to Judas’ conscience.

Act II begins with “The Last Supper”, a self-contained, multi-part suite which masterfully blends the rock and theatrical elements. Alternating between the folk chorus of the Apostles and several other parts consistng of another spirited dialogue between Jesus and Judas, with Gillan and Head at top vocal form, accompanied by a great electric piano and more exquisite bass by Spenner. While dealing with Gospel text, Rice also uses drug references “What’s that in the bread, it’s gone to my head” and slows the Apostles chorus as they fade from drunkenness, unaware of the profound proclamation made by Jesus. “Gethsemane” is the real showcase for Gillan and the most like “Child In Time”, the Deep Purple song which got Gillan the gig in the first place. Starting with great acoustic guitar and bouncy bass, the song soon builds with much orchestral accompaniment and is, perhaps, the most dramatic part of the entire album dealing with Jesus’ own crisis of faith as he faces his immanent demise.

Ian Gillan“The Arrest” starts a long sequence in the second act where Jesus faces an all night ordeal leading to his crucifixion. The apostles slowly wake to find Jesus under arrest to the tune of “What’s the Buzz” followed by various vocal members playing almost like reporters and nice rock passages travels along with the movement of the arresting party as they go before the high priests. A slight deviation is taken in “Peter’s Denial” featuring Paul Davis as Jesus’ closest apostle confidant but distancing himself when confronted on three separate occasions. The end of the Side 3 is the most sticky sweet, show-tune-ish section of the album, as well as least rock oriented. Dennen returns as Pilate in an exaggerated, jazzy version of “Hosanna” named “Pilate and Christ”. Pilate “washes his hands” of the situation and sends Jesus to the Jewish King Herod, leading to the rendition of Webber and Rice’s ragtime “Try it and See”, performed by Mike D’Abo as Herod.

The final original side started “Could We Start Again Please?”, the only showcase for Elliman during the second act which doesn’t quite measure up to those in the first act and is almost set up like a pop song off the beaten path. “Judas’ Death” is a reprise of “Damned for All Time” and “Blood Money” with the same vocalists and Head’s vocals at top form as Judas’s guilt becomes overwhelming;

I have been splattered with innocent blood, I should be dragged through the slime and the mud…”

Head then does his own version as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” before committing suicide to0 the sounds of the haunting Greek chorus.

The climax of the story is “Trial Before Pilate” which returns to the “Overture” a great sequence with wild, off key jazzy strings, synths, and horns and an intense dialogue between Gillan and Dennen with the crowd joining in as Pilate’s various thoughts on whether to release or crucify Jesus. A short rock break is taken with “The Thirty-Nine Lashes”, ending with a nice drum fill by Bruce Rowland. A final dialogue between Jesus and Pilate ensues with the crowd convincing Pilate to ultimately crucify Jesus; “I wash my hands of your demolition, die if you want to, you innocent puppet…” Although “Superstar” is supposed to be the focal point of the opera, it really pales in comparison to some of the other finer tracks. It does some nice chorus-driven hooks cut by one last funky track musically and a posthumous reappearance of Head’s Judas, now a ghost and some soulful female backup singers. The song, which is almost mocking in tone, did peak at number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1971. The album then kind of whimpers out in an anti-climatic fashion with the nearly psychedelic synth-experimentation of “The Crucifixion” followed by the calm, orchestral reprise of “Gethsemane” in “John Nineteen: Forty-One”.

Andrew Lloyd WebberAndrew Lloyd Webber originally thought the production would be limited to a niche audience, blocked out on either side by young people thinking it was uncool subject matter and religious people who would think it was too controversial. Then unexpectedly it rose to the top of the album charts, sparking a short arena tour and what Webber called “one of the worst productions he had ever seen on Broadway”. In fact, the only reason it was put on Broadway was to head off the various small theatre and school productions which had begun to sprout up in 1971.

Webber and Tim Rice collaborated once again with Evita in the late 1970s and Webber would go on to produce two of the most successful Broadway productions ever with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, both debuting in the 1980s. Ian Gillan went on to meteoric success as frontman of Deep Purple, climaxing with the 1972 album Machine Head (our 1972 Album of the Year) before abruptly leaving the group in 1973, although he would reunite with Deep Purple several times in the future. Murray Head continued to act and record songs, with his biggest charting success being “One Night in Bangkok” in the mid 1980s. After her Broadway performances and role as Mary Magdelene in the 1974 Hollywood film of Jesus Christ Superstar, Yvonne Elliman sang on several Eric Clapton albums, most poingnently Slowhand in 1977, before a brief but successful disco/pop career, which included several Top 20 hits. She decided to dedicate herself to her two children in 1979 and has pretty much stayed out of the public spotlight since.

Over the past four decades, several different versions of Jesus Christ Superstar were produced spanning the entire spectrum of media, on every corner of the globe, making it one of the most popular universal productions ever. In May 2012, Webber launched a reality television show called Superstar where the UK public decided who would play the role of Jesus in an upcoming arena tour. Ben Forster was chosen and the arena tour, which began September 2012 and continues to this day (March 2013). Webber claims this tour most closely represents the original vision for the rock opera.

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R.A.

A Classic Rock Review Special Feature.

 

Slowhand by Eric Clapton

Buy Slowhand

Slow Hand by Eric Clapton1977’s Slowhand was the pinnacle of Eric Clapton’s pop-rock phase during the late seventies, fusing well-crafted rockers, ballads, alt country, and blues numbers. The album came a few years into Clapton’s “comeback” following a four year hiatus in the early seventies. Prior to that Clapton had been one of the most prolific artists on Earth, forming and playing in the band The Yarbirds, John Mayell’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie, and Derek and the Dominoes, as well as releasing his debut solo release in 1970. Clapton then fell into a deep funk and heroin addiction due to his unrequited infatuation of Patty Boyd, then George Harrison’s wife. By 1974, Clapton had won Boyd over and began his comeback with the critically acclaimed 461 Ocean Boulevard, although that album was comprised mainly of covers. Clapton followed suit over the next couple years with studio albums which were about 60/40 covers to original but with less success.

With Slowhand, Clapton reached a nice balance recording more recently composed songs by other artists while writing many himself or in concert with members of his backing band. Here the formula is perfected with enough musical prowess to attract rock and blues fans and the right touches of pop craftsmanship to reach the radio-friendly pop audience of the day.

The album was produced by Glyn Johns who had previously worked as an engineer with several top caliber bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. It contains three of Clapton’s most popular singles as well as several other classic rock standards that became Clapton classics. The album is an easy listen from front-to-back, with a sort of laid-back virtuosity that never sound pretentious or forced. Yet it is quite eclectic in the styles and approach used in forging each of the nine tracks.
 


Slow Hand by Eric Clapton
Released: November 1977 (R.S.O.)
Produced by: Glyn Johns
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1977
Side One Side Two
Cocaine
Wonderful Tonight
Lay Down Sally
Next Time You See Her
We’re All the Way
The Core
May You Never
Mean Old Frisco
Peaches and Diesel
Primary Musicians
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Marcy Levy – Vocals
George Terry – Guitars
Carl Radle – Bass
Jamie Oldaker – Drums

 

Slowhand‘s hit songs are all stack up front. Right from the jump, the album establishes a nice groove with J.J. Cale‘s “Cocaine”. The combination of the song’s ever-infectious, groovy guitar riff and taboo subject made it both a cult classic and pop song all at the same time. I remember how big this was at a sixth grade, catholic school dance, where the chorus hook whipped us adolescents into a frenzy that totally baffled the chaperones who were on the lookout for the more overt shock-rock by artists like Alice Cooper and not this relatively calm, soft spoken Clapton song. For his part, Eric Clapton claims this is actually an anti-drug song, but that is definitely up for debate. There is no doubt this song did its part to inspire a lot of young people of the seventies to become coke heads in the eighties and because of its “ambiguous” message, Clapton rarely performed the song live for many decades.

Eric Clapton and Patti BoydWhat “Cocaine” did to proliferate drug use, “Wonderful Tonight” may have done for sex. This standard slow dance at weddings and events of all kinds got its start when Clapton was waiting for Boyd to get ready for a Paul McCartney concert they were attending in 1976 and the rest is history. As a disc jockey, I played this song at every single gig, always introducing it as “a song for the ladies”. Although I’ve heard this song way more than its fair share, it is still hard not to appreciate this as one of Clapton’s finest pieces, with the signature guitar riff and almost quiet vocals of Clapton, backed by the perfect slow-dance rhythm of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jamie Oldaker.

Background singer Marcy Levy and rhythm guitarist George Terry wrote the album’s third hit, “Lay Down Sally”. This is an almost-country song driven more by Terry’s rhythm than the Clapton’s lead. The members of the backing band were all from Oklahoma and Clapton explained how the sound came much more naturally for them;

“It’s as close as I can get, being English, but the band being a Tulsa band, they play like that naturally…”

Marcy LevyLevy also co-wrote “The Core”, a song on which she shares lead vocals with Clapton. The song has a great dancing riff that drives it along nicely through the verses with another excellent, counter-riff following the choruses. The long overall sequence and ending sax solo inflates the song to near epic length at close to nine minutes. “Next Time You See Her” is another fine song with a late sixties vibe due to its organ-rich backing and the chanting vocal style of the bridge, almost a revival folk song. “Mean Old Frisco” is an updated blues song which fills in nicely on the second side.

But the true heart of the album is a trio of largely forgotten classics which really put the album over the top. “We’re All the Way” is a tremendous ballad which ends the first side. It is every bit as romantic as “Wonderful Tonight” with nice harmonies and a perfectly subdued guitar riff that hangs in the background. “May You Never” is an up-beat folk song played as a reverse-schadenfreude barroom anthem, which should have been far more popular. The closer “Peaches and Diesel” is a beautiful instrumental. It predates the instrumental fad of the 1980s with a great, picked-out rhythm and a couple of simple lead riffs soaring above. It closes this pop-fueled album in a more classic style for Clapton.

Eric Clapton 1977

Slow Hand‘s title derives from Clapton’s long-time nickname which was born in the early sixties during his days with the Yardbirds. The album ultimately reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, kept from the top spot only by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It would be his highest charting album for nearly twenty years.

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1977 Images

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