The group Tesla never quite fit within any definitive genre box, which may have ultimately prevented the Northern California band from reaching their critical or commercial potential. In the 1980s they were a “hair band” that was a few steps ahead of the norm back then. In the 1990s they were too focused and upbeat to get swept up in the “grunge” wave. In between they bridged the gap with 1989’s Great Radio Controversy, their most highly renowned album. While riddled with more than its share of eighties “heavy metal” caricature, there is material on this album with soul and musicianship which few new releases touched at that time.
Formed in 1982 and originally named City Kidd, the group renamed themselves Tesla after inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, during the recording of their first album, Mechanical Resonance. The band’s signature sound was forged by lead vocalist Jeff Keith along with guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch.
Produced by the team of Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, The Great Radio Controversy contains mainly big-sounding production methods in line with 1980s pop-metal, but also reaches back to more authentic and earthy methods. The album was produced at Bearsville Studio outside of Woodstock, NY, a studio originally built by Bob Dylan’s manager.
Great Radio Controversyby Tesla
Released: February 1, 1989 (Geffen) Produced by: Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero Recorded: Bearsville Studio, New York, 1988
Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
Be a Man
Lazy Days, Crazy Nights
Did It for the Money
The Way It Is
Flight to Nowhere
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals Frank Hannon – Guitars, Piano, Organ Tommy Skeoch – Guitars Brian Wheat – Bass Troy Luccketta – Drums
While the songs early on are somewhat standard, the album does improve as it progresses. Co-written by bassist Brian Wheat, “Hang Tough” starts with his mechanical bass pattern before the twin guitars come in for a harmonized riff and later return for a decent dual guitar solo. “Lady Luck” follows with some rich vocal harmonies before “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” breaks in with the driving rhythm guitar of Skeoch. A simple yet rewarding song, this third is cut by bluesy breaks in between the verses.
“Be a Man” starts with a long, bluesy slide intro before the slow riffing brings the song into its proper context. The pure rocker “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” is a notch above most tracks on the early half of the album, with a dark and determined feeling overall along with a decent vocal hook. The album continues to get stronger with “Did It for the Money”, which creatively meanders before finding its footing, which is pretty solid and strong. “Yesterdaze Gone” displays Tesla at their heaviest, almost true heavy metal in beat but firmly down in the arena rock vocally, along with a pretty wild mid section guitar lead with harmonies so rich it almost sounds like a synth envelope.
“The Way It Is” was co-written by drummer Troy Luccketta and is one of the highlights of album as well as Tesla’s career. The moody acoustic intro and verse eventually gives way to the strong yet deep choruses. The song’s bridge and outro bring the song to a whole new level sonically as repetition works well with theme and musical backing and Keith’s vocals are at their absolute zenith during “The Way It Is”.
“Love Song” is nearly as impressive, being perhaps the best power ballad ever. This uni-directional song is driven by the beautiful guitar motifs of Hannon. Commencing with a complex acoustic intro before moving towards the joyful strummed electric riff that introduces the song proper. The song is complete and melodic to the end without a wasted note or moment. “Paradise” is another fine song that contains a sad acoustic intro to a love song with a distinctly different feel than the song titled “Love Song”. Keith’s vocals pick up the pace while the music remains low key in the mid section prior to a funk-influenced alternate section which follows. The closing track,”Party’s Over” tries to end the album with a rock anthem, but falls just a bit short.
Great Radio Controversy reached the Top 20 of the American album charts and spawned three Top 40 hits on the Mainstream Rock chart. In 1990, Tesla maintained their commercial momentum with the live Five Man Acoustical Jam before returning to the studio the following year with Psychotic Supper.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
The second distinct phase of Aerosmith‘s fame hit full stride in 1989 with the release of Pump, the band’s tenth overall studio album and their third release since reuniting in 1985. And much like their third overall release Toys In the Attack back in 1975, this album was a tremendous commercial success. Pump sold over seven million copies, is the only Aerosmith album to score three Top 10 singles on the Billboard pop chart, and became the fourth bestselling album overall for the year 1990. The album is also notable within the Aerosmith collection for its inclusion of a variety of instrumental interludes which precede several of the album tracks, adding a sense of diversity to the mix.
However, the overall musical quality of Pump is more mixed than its impressive commercial accolades may indicate. This was the second of three sequential studio albums with producer Bruce Fairbairn, which were all recorded in Vancouver, BC, Canada. All of these albums employed an overt attempt to further commercialize the band, with hook-heavy material trumping Aerosmith’s strong tradition of more raw and improvised-style, heavy, blues rock. On the bright side, guitarist Brad Whitford explained that the album title was a celebration of how “pumped up” the group was to kick their various substance abuse habbits, and this was especially evident in lead vocalist Steven Tyler, who put forth his greatest effort of his long career.
The group spent of the bulk of the winter of 1988-89 working on this album, first getting together to rehearse in December 1988 near their homes in Massachusetts and then migrating across the continent to the studio in Vancouver in Early 1989. Nearly 20 songs were written, with Fairborn splitting these compositions into “A” and “B” lists as far as “single” consideration. A few of the tracks not included on Pump were the later 1997 hit “Hole In My Soul” and the country-flavored “Sedona Sunrise”, which was later included on the 2006 compilation Devil’s Got a New Disguise.
Released: September 12, 1989 (Geffen) Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn Recorded: Little Mountain Sound Studio, Vancouver, BC, February–June 1989
Love In An Elevator
Monkey On My Back
Janie’s Got a Gun
The Other Side
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Voodoo Medicine Man
What It Takes
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals Brad Whitford – Guitars Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals Joey Kramer – Drums
Pump commences with a super-sexed triology of tunes filled with not-so-subtle innuendos, almost to the point of absurdity. Tyler later admitted this was almost over-compensation for all the years of fame they spent wasted and disinterested in sex. The Opener “Young Lust” is simple and cheap, yet not terribly trite. Co-written by lead guitarist Joe Perry and hired hand Jim Vallance, this is a strong and frenzied number that, if nothing else, proves the group was not going “adult contemporary” as the 1980s wound down. A fairly impressive drum solo by Joey Kramer bridges into the follow-up “F.I.N.E.” This second song is much more melodic and original than the opener, closer to seventies-era Aerosmith in approach and dynamics. The expert use of both guitarists with distinct rock textures act as a canvas for Tyler’s strong vocals. The song’s title is an acronym for “Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional”, coining a Hollywood catch-phrase for the nineties, with the only real drawback of “F.I.N.E.” being a few lame attempts at comedic lines.
“Love In an Elevator” begins with a female spoken-word intro known as “Going Down” while the song proper is pure Tyler and Perry, following each other in riff and melody. The verses contain some anthemic chanting in the spirit of Def Leppard and Perry’s mult-part lead is somewhat interesting with odd backing sound motifs thrown in during this extended mid section, including some backwards-masking and vocal harmonization this continues in the outtro with some trumpets by Fairbairn. Released as a single, the song peaked at number 5 on the Billboard pop chart. “Monkey on My Back” starts with Perry’s slow but heavy, bluesy slide guitar. This song’s overall feel is messy and distant, much like material from 1977’s Draw the Line, which gives it a bit of nostalgic touch, while scorning the excess of those old days with it’s telling of the consequences of heavy drug use.
Bass player Tom Hamilton, an oft-forgotten member of Aerosmith, co-wrote the classic “Janie’s Got a Gun”, which brought the group their first and only Grammy award. This masterpiece of arrangement and production is a true rock classic with beautiful sonic breezes coming from all directions – from the bouncy, high-pitched bass riff and slamming percussive effect of the verses, to the masterful use of keyboards and strings to the storybook passages of distinct song sections. The song tackles serious subject matter in a tackful and creative manner and it solidifies Aerosmith as a notch above most rock bands in their class. While there is little guitar presence (for such a guitar-centric group), “Janie’s Got a Gun” is certainly in the top echelon of pieces through their multi-decade career.
Many of the musical interludes on Pump were done by Randy Raine-Reusch, with his most impressive being the “Dulcimer Stomp” intro to “The Other Side”. Another Top 40 single, the song proper contains a nice arrangement of horns, harmonized vocals and plenty of pop hooks, while economically using guitars, with just small and subtle bits of riffing. The real weak spot of the album follows in the next trio of songs. “My Girl” contains very little substance or soul, while “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” has a decent bluesy beginning before it abruptly screams into something totally uninteresting. co-written by Whitford, “Voodoo Medicine Man” seems to make an attempt at something dramatic and deep, but this ultimately doesn’t amount to much beyond the opening verse and the somewhat interesting mid section.
“What It Takes” really salvages the latter part of this album, by returning to the group’s mid seventies practice of performing a power ballad to conclude their albums. Co-wriiten by long time collaborator Desmond Child, Aerosmith perfects the song type they invented a decade and a half earlier, with their secret being more “power” than “ballad”, exuding all the emotion without resorting to any lame, sappy maneuvers. Fairborn’s generous use of accordion and Perry’s interesting pre-bridge guitar lead is only trumped by the song’s outro, the best moment on the album. True performance magic in the fantastic, improvised vocals by Tyler show the true heights of the singer’s talent. While “Janie Got a Gun” is the creative masterpiece which ended the original side one, “What It Takes” is the performance masterpiece to end Pump on the highest of notes.
With the greatest commercial success of their career, Aerosmith found a whole new audience and used this as an opportunity to tour and release a couple compilation albums in the early nineties. Their next studio release would not come until 1993 with the album Get a Grip.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
The 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 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 Innocenceby 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
The End of the Innocence
How Bad Do You Want It?
I Will Not Go Quietly
The Last Worthless Evening
New York Minute
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, Vocals
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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
For all the musical complexity that Rush has shown over the years, it is absolutely amazing how much they can do with simplicity. On Presto, their thirteenth studio album released in late 1989, the classic rock trio showed such masterful efficiency like never before or since. As lead vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee stated, “We wanted Presto to be more of a singer’s album, and I think you’ll notice that the arrangements musically support the vocals.” Produced by Rupert Hine, the album is also unique in some of its arrangement techniques, such as the inclusion of piano arpeggios (a first) and backing vocals by guitarist Alex Lifeson (a rarity).
In a way, it seemed like, for a good part of the 1980s, Rush was chasing the sound that they finally caught on Presto. It may be the point where the band started embracing their past and abandoned their silly technology-based notions of 1980s music. That being said, the group did pen an occasional gem during this three album (1984’s Grace Under Pressure, 1985’s Power Windows, and 1987’s Hold Your Fire) foray into synth pop. The problem was the lack of vigor and consistency on those albums, which they were finally able accomplished on this album.
Presto was the band’s first album with Atlantic Records, after their long association with Mercury Records. In kind, the album feels like a fresh start on many levels, including lyrically. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart provided more experience-based lyrics which were given the ability stand out more than in most past Rush projects, due to the methodical arrangements. Peart also admitted that he took a looser approach to the lyrical content than on other Rush albums, with the songs “many threads” but with no “manifesto”. Rush also chose to remain close to home when recording this album, mimicking their frequent practice from the early years.
Released: November 21, 1989 (Anthem) Produced by: Rupert Hine & Rush Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, June-August 1989
Show Don’t Tell
Anagram (for Mongo)
Hand Over Fist
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Vocals Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion
While Presto is enjoyable throughout, there is no doubt that this album is a bit top-heavy with much of the finest material coming early on in the album’s sequence. “Show Don’t Tell” begins with a signature is the opening rudimental riff sequence, which harkens back to the groups excellent 1970s material. Lee plays a funky and bouncy bass throughout, including a mid-section jam with a short bass lead. The verses and chorus hook are less classic Rush than 1980s Rush on this song which reached #1 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart, however the song overall reaches a nice balance between the two worlds. And from here, the album only gets stronger.
“Chain Lightning” employs a unique hipster riff with exciting motion, like moving through a superhero sequence through verse and pre-chorus. A short but potent guitar lead by Lifeson complements the fantastic bass throughout and the rich vocal effects actually work well during the choruses. “The Pass” is simply a masterpiece and lyrically, one of Peart’s best ever efforts. Musically, the mood is captured with the pulse of simple, chorded bass notes that prove counterpart to the melody. There is a feeling of an emotional journey throughout as the second verse changes up the backing rhythm and Lifeson’s slow brewing guitar lead in the mid-section is backed by Peart’s drumming with expert efficiency and precision. Stated by the group on multiple occasions as one of their all-time favorites, the true highlight of “The Pass” is the potent lyric right from the top;
“Proud swagger out of the schoolyard, waiting for the world’s applause / rebel without a conscience, martyr without a cause / static on your frequency, electric storms in your veins / raging at unreachable glory, straining at invisible chains…”
Rolling in like a hard rock song, “War Paint” soon becomes much more complex as it builds through the verses and choruses. The subtle musical passages are again masterful on this song, as this may well be Rush’s perfect 80s-era pop song. Lyrically, Peart uses a military allegory to describe perceived beauty and romantic courting, almost like different take on “Cinema Show” by Genesis. The heavy and climatic third verse precedes Lifeson’s best lead on the album, as the final lyrical turn calls for the “war paint” to “paint the mirror black”.
From here, the album becomes a bit weaker, while still staying well beyond the threshold of listen-ability. “Scars” has an interesting synth/percussion intro but is really quite hollow beyond that, fueled almost entirely by Peart’s lyrics and rhythms (both influenced by Africa). The album’s title song, “Presto” is a bit frustrating in the sense that it never seems to deliver on it’s own promise. A nice, driving acoustic throughout the verses is interrupted by a disjointed arrangement which tends to make the song lose momentum every time it feels like its about to hit its stride. “Superconductor” is built on simple rock riffs with lyrics that somewhat harken back to material on Signals and a very interesting, synth-fueled ballroom-waltz-like middle section, but falls into mediocrity beyond that.
The true highlight of the latter part of the album is “Anagram (for Mongo)”. This sounds like the kind of song that Rush was supposed to write in their new, sophisticated 1980s form all along. The driving pad-topped intro gives way to pure rock verses with Lifeson’s muted electric riffing, and then the chorus is lighter but beautifully melodic with Lee’s vocals. But the true genius of the song is the incredibly profound wordplay by Peart, who fused together multiple word puzzles (in the form of anagrams) into a coherent and melodic rock song. This leads the listener from room to room of philosophical observances and absurd contradictions, all while playing with words in a most cleaver way. Modern Rock Review listed “Analog (for Mongo)” as the #1 Great Forgotten Rush song.
The final three songs on Presto are almost experiments in sound, each with a strong piano presence. The dystopian “Red Tide” starts with a piano arpeggio and synth motifs, which are a little over the top for Rush. The song does pick up pace a bit in third verse but then unwisely falls back opening riff. “Hand Over Fist” contains a light and funky guitar riff which is soon dissolved in more textured beats and lyrics. This song has a fun lyrical configuration and hook, but not too much musically. “Available Light” closes the album as a moody track with slow, deliberate beat and minimalist piano chords which build in intensity through the chorus progression. This is another track which shows much promise but never quite delivers, making for a somewhat anticlimactic end to this fine album.
Despite the fact that it is rarely listed in the upper echelon of Rush albums, Presto is still a fresh and excellent listen a quarter century after its release. While reaching the Top 20 on the album charts, it did not fare much better commercially than its predecessor Hold Your Fire, but it was a definite symbol, as Rush entered the 1990s, that their sound and direction of the 1980s was about to be left behind.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
The 1980s seemed to have been a time for old time rockers to make incredible (albeit short) comebacks after several years in the wilderness. This was case with Paul Simon’s Graceland, the Grateful Dead’s In the Dark, and the many members of Traveling Wilburys with their fantastic 1988 debut album. In the case of Eric Clapton, he never really went away, releasing four studio albums earlier in the 1980s along with several live and compilation albums. Still, by the very end of the decade he had faded from the top level of popular music until his late 1989 release of Journeyman, which propelled “slow hand” right back to the top.
The 1980s were also troubling times personally for Clapton, as he developed a heroin addiction and admitted that he was an alcoholic. Reluctant to clean up, Clapton became suicidal and is quoted as saying, “the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead.” While struggling through recovery, Clapton performed on Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’ debut solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking as well as worked on two Phil Collins produced albums Behind the Sun and August. In 1987, Clapton remade “After Midnight” as a promotional track for Michelob beer and in 1988 he released his four-album box set Crossroads, which primed him for a big comeback.
Clapton did not compose much of the material on Journeyman himself, only collaborating on two of the twelve songs. He instead focused on performing (both on guitars and vocals) a handful of blues covers, a few more contemporary songs, and several new originals which were written by long-time collaborator Jerry Williams. There are also many cameos by fellow major-label artists, making the album an interesting mix of styles and genres. Produced by Jill Dell’Abate & Russ Titelman, the album’s sound fused eighties rhythms with overloaded, blues-era guitar textures, a method at least partially borrowed from 1980s-era ZZ Top material.
Journeymanby Eric Clapton
Released: November 18, 1989 (Reprise) Produced by: Jill Dell’Abate & Russ Titelman Recorded: 1989
Anything for Your Love
Running on Faith
Run So Far
Lead Me On
Before You Accuse Me
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro Nathan East – Bass, Vocals Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion
Clapton’s vocals are quite distinct on this album, perhaps as good as any during his long career. This is evident on Williams “Pretending”, the album’s opening song which shot to the top of the rock charts. The song starts with very short boogie-woogie piano before breaking into a synth arpeggio topped with exquisite guitar licks and a very good chorus melody. The song’s highlight is the great outro where the intensity increases perfectly and the bluesy guitar smokes in superb splendor.
“Anything for Your Love” contains consistent and interesting percussion by drummer Jim Keltner, who provides the song’s deliberate pace which makes it at once relaxing and full of tension – a rare quality. “Bad Love” was co-written by Clapton and Mick Jones and begins with a synth part which works as a bedding for another fantastic guitar riff which sets the pace for what would become Clapton’s last #1 song. Featuring Collins on drums and harmony vocals, “Bad Love” features a middle bridge riff which makes the song an interesting listen.
“Running on Faith” has an eighties era beat but a definite retro feel everywhere else. This excellent ballad with good chord structures climaxes during the uplifting coda with a Gospel-like chorus. “Hard Times” was written by Ray Charles and mimics his club-style blues dominated by piano with accents of lead guitar and horns and a very impressive vocal effort by Clapton. The most regrettable moment on the album is the unwise cover of the classic “Hound Dog”, which takes away from album overall.
The second side begins with another Williams-penned pop song, “No Alibis” – perhaps the poppiest song on the album. Still, it has a nice, steady, deliberate approach to it and good harmonies featuring Chaka Khan and Daryl Hall. “Run So Far” was written by George Harrison and features the former Beatle on guitar and harmony vocals, while “Old Love” is a collaboration between Clapton and Robert Cray. This long, bluesy ballad, has earnest, dual guitars throughout the long coda. This is followed by “Breaking Point”, which was co-written Marty Grebb, the former keyboardist of the 1960s group The Buckinghams.
“Lead Me On” is the real highlight of the latter part of the album. It was written by Cecil and Linda Womack (of the group Lomack Lomack) and features fine performances by both on this song. Linda provides co-lead vocals while Cecil plays acoustic guitar to accompany the nice electric piano and subtle electric riffs. An overall production highlight, the song is a tad bit more upbeat at the very end and shows Clapton’s versatility to enter different genres. The album concludes with “Before You Accuse Me”, a pure blue-eyed blues rendition of a 1957 Bo Diddley classic. This version is great sounding and catchy, while not very original overall.
Clapton claims Journeyman is one of his favorite albums and, while it only reached number 16 on the Billboard charts, it went double platinum, a first in his long career. However, this new found commercial success was dampened by the horrific tragedy of Clapton’s four-year-old son dying after a fall from a window of a New York City apartment in 1991. Clapton’s grief was later captured in the song “Tears in Heaven”.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
Originally released only on cassette, Junta by Phish, defies almost every convention for debut albums. The album was independently recorded and produced by the Vermont-based group but contains top-notch sound to complement the rich progressive-rock influenced epics that persist throughout the album’s lineup. Titled after the band’s first official manager, the album contains mainly nontraditional structures and arrangements based on jazz fusion and improvisation, resulting in symphonic-like epics where each member is given ample room to shine. The rare, few “basic” songs on Junta are mainly light and tend to lean towards the upbeat, funk side of the rock spectrum.
Phish was formed by guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman at the University of Vermont in 1983 and they played their first live performance at the school’s cafeteria late that year. They cut their teeth in the mid eighties playing Grateful Dead songs. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell joined the group, completing the band’s four-piece lineup, which persists to this day. During this era, the group distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes and Anastasio went so far as to write a nine-song concept album accompanied by a written thesis called The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday.
In 1988, the band began a rigorous practice schedule, which included locking themselves in a room and jamming for hours on end to “discover” new material. Junta is a product of a couple of these sessions and was brought as one piece to the studio to be recorded in its entirety.
Released: May 8, 1989 (self-release) Produced by: Phish Recorded: Euphoria Sound Studios, Revere, Massachusetts, 1988
You Enjoy Myself
Dinner and a Movie
The Divided Sky
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitars Page McConnell – Piano, Vocals Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals Jonathan Fishman – Drums, Trombone, Vocals
Anastasio got the bulk of compositional credit on the album, starting with the opener “Fee”, a truly excellent song with Caribbean and jazz percussive beats and tones. The soaring vocals with staccato backing vocal scats shows that, although they rarely display it, the group has some vocal chops. The first epic, “You Enjoy Myself” is in sharp contrast to the melodic opener, making its arrival one of the few really awkward moments on the album. Improvised with odd timings, the piece works into a progressive waltz, driven by the organ and piano McConnell. Then at about the midway point, an excellent guitar rips in for a few fleeting moments before the climatic funk section starts along with one word chants and a strong bass by Gordon.
“Esther” takes the album on yet another wild turn, as lyric-rich journey which changes mood from carnival to church to an ultimate tranquil tragedy of drowning. The excellent piano riffs by McConnell are reminiscent of Tony Banks during the better Genesis years and the persistent groove by Fishman throughout provides the glue for the song through its nine and a half minutes. “Golgi Apparatus” starts as definite funk jam but soon morphs into something more rock oriented, perhaps the most rock-oriented song on the album, showing the versatility of the group. The next couple of tracks tend to get a bit repetitive. “Foam”, repeats the same mechanical pattern forged by a bass riff with sharp piano notes and guitar motifs above, while “Dinner and a Movie” gets a bit mundane lyrically, but is interesting musically. This is the part of the album where you’re just waiting for a release, the whole jam thing is a bit exhausting by this point.
Then comes the most rewarding song on the album, “The Divided Sky”. This mostly instrumental, twelve-minute epic begins with a nice acoustic intro with the perfect complement of xylophone by McConnell and bass by Gordon. The intro section is cut by deep vocal harmonies where the music stops completely before returning with a totally different feel and arrangement. Here the group methodically builds towards a guitar lead before breaking down to a quiet organ motif on which a new, signature guitar riff builds the song back up. Then comes the payoff of the greatest guitar lead on the album by Anatasio and a full-fledged musical jam by the entire band through the latter part of the song. In contrast, the follow-up eleven-minute “David Bowie”, while still a great jam, pales as a follow-up to “The Divided Sky”.
“Fluffhead” starts with a fine, elongated acoustic guitar riff and honky-tonk piano and breaks into a catchy (albeit silly) hook. Combined with the instrumental part “Fluff’s Travels” (which really isn’t a separate piece), this is the longest piece on the original album, which is saying something for an album like Junta. Another good guitar lead over some very odd chords and timing also make for, perhaps, the closest to a true jazz improv. Eventually it all releases into reprise of “Fluffhead” with some Gospel-like revival singing improvisation before it dissolves into a simple, strumming acoustic riff and a winding rendition of the opening riff. The album wraps with “Contact”, the sole composition by Gordon, whose slow bass riff introduces the song. Much like the album’s opener, this closer has a Latin feel and, while lyrics are again repetitive again, but not as mundane as on other songs and the tune is more than salvaged by some nice bass motifs and a bridge with romantic lyrics.
Junta finally got wide release when Elektra Records distributed a massive two CD, two-hour release in late 1992, three and a half years after the original cassette. The newer version included three bonus tracks – “Sanity”, “Icculus”, and the twenty-five minute “Union Federal” – along with a longer version of “Contact”. In 2012, a vinyl version of the original eleven song version of Junta was released, which in a way completed this classic album’s journey to the appropriate medium.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
Short of careers cut short by tragedy, there are very few times in rock history where a band or artist finished with their greatest work. Abbey Road, the eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles, is one such occasion. Released in October of 1969, This album marks the last true collaboration all four Beatles in the studio with producer George Martin (Let It Be was released in April of 1970, weeks before the Beatles broke up, it was mostly recorded prior to any Abbey Road recording sessions). This final effort with their classic producer and at the studio they would make famous, Abbey Road would go on to tremendous popularity and critical success and become our of the Year for 1969.
It is no secret that the Beatles were going through internal turmoil later in their career. Having lost the glue that held them together, manager Brian Epstein just two years earlier, the band had been going through personal and financial struggles. The strained business relationship was complicated by the addition of John Lennon‘s new love interest, Yoko Ono, who was a constant presence in their recording sessions. During a break in recording in March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and when Lennon returned from his honeymoon, he approached Paul McCartney with a song he had written about the occasions called “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The song was immediately recorded without George Harrison or Ringo Starr, who were both away from London when Lennon had his sudden inspiration. With McCartney on piano, bass, and drums, and Lennon on vocals and guitars, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single, all done without half the group members knowledge or consent. But such was the case for the Beatles in 1969.
Early in the year, The Beatles seemed to be on the road to breaking up during the recording of what would become Let it Be, as each member had started doing solo projects. It was McCartney who approached George Martin and asked him to work with them on another studio album. Martin agreed as long as the band agreed to his strict discipline in the studio and let him have control over the production from start to finish. So, recording began in February 1969 with Martin at the helm as well as all four Beatles at Abbey Road Studio. Some of the early recordings for the Abbey Road sessions included non-album material which would surface elsewhere, such as Harrison’s acoustic demo of “All Things Must Pass” (later on a solo album of the same name), McCartney’s “Come And Get It” (a minor hit for Badfinger in 1970), and “Old Brown Shoe”, an interesting composition by Harrison, used as the B-side for “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. However, as the sessions moved along, the Beatles found their magic formula once again and made the classic Abbey Road music which showcases each member of the band performing at their finest level.
Abbey Roadby The Beatles
Released: September 26, 1969 (Apple) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, February-August 1969
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun
You Never Give Me Your Money
Mean Mr. Mustard
She Came In Through Bathroom Window
Carry That Weight
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals
The album aptly begins with the Lennon led “Come Together” While the title sounds like a lead in to a hippie commune sing along, it is actually has a rougher edge to it with a funky bass, bluesy guitar and sloshy drums. “Come Together” and “Something” were released as a double A-sided single. George Harrison’s, “Something”, is often regarded as Harrison’s finest composition. It is certainly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It starts with the line, “Something in the way she moves…” and the music flows right along with that movement. It has a natural, fluid feel to it with the steady bass, beautiful guitar riffs and cricket like sounds that lead into a perfect fade out.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a duplicitous song. The lyrics describing the antics of a sociopathic serial killer are in stark contrast to the syrupy sweet music. The anvil banging and McCartney’s mischievous vocal delivery add to the effect that this is a children’s song gone awry, but one can’t help but sing along. The next McCartney led song, “Oh Darling” has a completely different style. McCartney’s voice carries the whole thing. This doo-wop inspired song actually has a tinge of Motown in it with the intense, strained vocal and simple accompaniment.
Ringo Starr’s contribution, “Octopus’s Garden” is another childlike fantasy song. Ringo has said it was inspired by a story he had heard about how octopus like to gather shiny objects and make their own little “garden”. This song lightens the mood after the intensity of “Oh Darling” and the black hole that ends side one, “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”. This is a lengthy indulgence that has some interesting parts, a few moments of brilliance and some superb musicianship. That said it carries on for a nearly eight minute decent into repetitive madness.
The second side is where the magic of this album really starts. It opens with the uplifting and fresh sounds of Harrison’s second contribution, the sonic masterpiece, “Here Comes the Sun”. The harmony of vocals and the light, catchy melody capture the feeling of rebirth that comes from a new beginning, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as winter fades and spring blooms. This, along with the outstanding, “Something” may make this Harrison’s best Beatles album ever. “Because” features a three part harmony tripled in production so it sounds like nine voices over a simple moog synthesizer and harpsichord. The vocals are masterful and the production technique is superb. Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata”, played backwards, inspired the chords of the song.
“You Never Give Me Your Money” drops in perfectly with soft piano chords and dramatic vocals, there is a plethora of music in this piece. The sounds draw you in and the steady drum beat is mesmerizing. The production on this one is masterful as it leads the listener into the medley that is the heart of this production masterpiece. The production of these little vignettes is brilliant in how they blend together into a cohesive story. “Sun King” reprises the triple three part harmonies while, “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are more upbeat and end in a crash. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” was inspired by a determined female fan who crawled through a bathroom window of Paul’s home. There is a cool riff going on throughout the song.
With a slight pause in the medley, “Golden Slumbers” rises as another melodramatic McCartney contribution showcasing his knack for making pretty melodies. This abruptly leads to “Carry That Weight”, featuring a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” where Ringo is prominent in the vocal harmonies. Fittingly, it all culminates with “The End”. There is a showcase for each performer here. The guitar parts were done by Paul, John and George and Ringo has his only drum solo as a Beatle. It is a grand finale that brings this album, as well as the Beatles recording days, to an end in grand style.
Abbey Road’s cover, though it appears to be a simple shot of the band walking across the street in single file, has been said to have some clues to the rumored death of Paul McCartney. Paul is walking barefoot in a suit, George is dressed in jeans, much like a gravedigger, Ringo is dressed in similar fashion as an undertaker while John is dressed in white to symbolize a minister. Adding to the intrigue is the license plate on the VW that reads, “28 IF” as Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. Of course, Paul McCartney is not dead, but the “clues” became a fan obsession and the band seemed to have an endless supply of “clues” to egg them on.
Of course, the album was a huge success, reaching the top of the charts in scores of countries as the sixties came to an end. The songs on this album lean on each other much as the Beatles needed to lean on each other to produce the quality and quantity of music they made throughout their career. There are a few outstanding singles, but the medley only shines because they put together pieces of songs that weren’t quite complete on their own and created something unique, special and fleeting as the Beatles rode off into history shortly after Abbey Road was released.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.