Fun House by The Stooges

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Fun House by The StoogesThe second of the initial trio of albums by The Stooges which were considered integral to the development of punk rock, Fun House, has consistently grown in critical stature in the half century since it’s release in the summer of 1970. Though commercially unsuccessful, this recording a pure raw energy and animalistic sexuality as been described in positive ways ranging from “exquisitely horrible” to “sixties psychedelic rock trapped in the reality of 1970” to “competent monotony with intellectual appeal”.

Stooges front man Iggy Pop, born James Newell Osterberg, started as a drummer in local Ann Arbor, Michigan bands in the early 1960s. In an effort to create a “new form of blues music”, not derivative of historical precedents, he recruited brothers Ron Asheton (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums) along with bassist Dave Alexander. Being the leader of this new band, Osterberg decided to be the lead singer and soon was christened with the nickname “Pop” by the other band members. With this, he adopted the stage name Iggy Pop by the time the group made its live debut as the “Psychedelic Stooges” in late 1967. They experimented with avant garde methods, incorporating such household objects as a vacuum cleaner and a blender into an intense wall of feedback and soon the group gained a reputation for their wild and unpredictable live performances. While touring with the band MC5 in 1968, the Stooges were discovered by a scout for Elektra Records and they released their self-titled 1969 debut album to disappointingly low sales and bad critical reviews.

Hoping for better results, Elektra head Jac Holzman recruited former Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci the group’s second album. Gallucci was initially doubtful that he could capture their live feeling on tape, But once in the studio in Los Angeles, he and the group decided to tear down all soundproofing and discard any isolation methods to emulate their live performances as closely as possible. The result is a very raw sound compared to the advancing sonic qualities of 1970 contemporary records.


Fun House by The Stooges
Released: July 7, 1970 (Elektra)
Produced by: Don Gallucci
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders. Los Angeles, May 1970
Side One Side Two
Down on the Street
Loose
T.V. Eye
Dirt
1970
Fun House
L.A. Blues
Group Musicians
Iggy Pop – Lead Vocals
Ron Asheton – Guitars
Dave Alexander – Bass
Scott Asheton – Drums

The influence of some of the more intense numbers by The Doors can be felt in the opening “Down on the Street”, with a strong interlocked bass and guitar riff holding the backing track for Iggy Pop’s reverberated vocals and chants. Although this song feels raw at first listen, it is more refined than anything that follows and may be the most traditionally produced track on Fun House, even to the point of having Ron Asheton guitar overdubbed during the lead section. “Loose” follows with an interesting drum intro by Scott Asheton as he finds the upbeat groove which, overall, leans more toward the yet-to-be-developed punk genre with a starkly honest lyric.

“T.V. Eye” features a bluesy riff while the vocals are still energetic, wailing and (occasionally) screaming. This very repetitive song builds a tension which never really breaks but does reach a bit of a crescendo late in the song, just before an abrupt stop and restart. Iggy Pop has said he was channeling blues legend Howlin’ Wolf while recording “T.V. Eye”. “Dirt” has a long drum intro by Scott Asheton as Alexander’s bass and Ron Asheton’s guitar slowly join in to this overall soulful rocker. Here, Iggy Pop sounds similar to Eric Burdon of The Animals on this one while it is an overall showcase for Ron Asheton, especially during the multi-textured, wah-wah fused guitar lead.

The Stooges in 1970

It is quite obvious that the second side of an album derives from a singular jam which now includes saxophonist Steve Mackay, and Gallucci laid this out in side-long linear fashion. On “1970”, the rhythmic drums and bass provide backdrop for a pseudo-blues bark on a jam that does provide differing chord structures for the chorus and post-chorus. Late in the song Mackay makes his debut, adding a distinct and original element to the overall sound and vibe. On “Fun House” Mackay is more of an integral part of the sound while Scott Asheton’s drumming is a fine adhesive for the overall jam and Iggy Pop’s vocals are more strained and desperate than ever, as he technically makes his lyrical finale on the album. “L.A. Blues” wraps things up with, effectively, five minutes of noise, screams and off-beat chops as all five members desperately search for a common ending before settling on a sustained feedback loop by Ron Asheton.

Although Fun House has sold under 100,000 copies to date, it has influenced numerous other artists, with many specifically citing as this as their favorite album. The Stooges and their individual members, soon entered a tumultuous period and it would be nearly three years before they followed up Fun House (with the critically acclaimed Raw Power) but that album was sandwiched in between a pair of band breakups.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Goo by Sonic Youth

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Goo by Sonic YouthSonic Youth‘s 1990 album Goo was a critical success and reached the highest album charting position of the group’s career. Their sixth overall release, this was the first after signing their initial major-label recording deal with Geffen Records, which included complete creative control by the band. Goo resulted in an expansion of the group’s 1980s sound of combining punk with experimental alt-rock, but with more deliberate references to pop culture and contemporary topics.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City 1981 by guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon (who were later married), and they derived their name from MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and reggae artist Big Youth. Within a year, guitarist Lee Ranaldo was part of the group. They went through several drummers through their early years and initial recordings before Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth in 1985. The group’s 1988 double album Daydream Nation was a huge critical success, included songs that received significant airplay and has since been chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. With this, the band began looking for a major label deal, eventually landing with Geffen.

A group of about eight demos were recorded by the group in late 1989 before they secured a full recording budget to enter Sorcerer Sound in early 1990 with producer Nick Sansano. The team employed experimental and abstract techniques to achieve unique sound collages and other sonic qualities for this album.


Goo by Sonic Youth
Released: June 26, 1990 (DGC)
Produced by: Nick Sansano, Ron Saint Germain, & Sonic Youth
Recorded: Sorcerer Sound Recording & Greene St. Recording Studios, New York City, March–April 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dirty Boots
Tunic (Karen’s Song)
Mary Christ
Kool Thing
Mote
Disappearer
My Friend Goo
Mildred Pierce
Cinderella”s Big Score
Scooter & Jinx
Titanium Expose
Thurston Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Lee Ranaldo – Guitars, Vocals
Kim Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Steve Shelley – Drums, Percussion
Goo by Sonic Youth

 

The album opener “Dirty Boots” meanders in with two distinct riffs and the eventual full rhythm arrangement before first verse. The music is intense and biting but Moore’s vocals seem half-hearted until the song reaches a “sonic crescendo” with inventive feedback before breaking down and methodically working its way through the instrumental outro. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” was composed by Gordon as a loose tribute to Karen Carpenter. She delivers the lyrics in a mainly spoken word manner under rapid ethereal riffing, offering a very haunting look into inner destructive thoughts. “Mary-Christ” doesn’t quite work nearly as well as the opening two tracks as a proto-punk, badly improvised screed.

The album’s most famous track, “Kool Thing”, features interesting, upbeat rock intro with great drumming by Shelley throughout. The mid section breaks down into a bass-backed spoken word bridge featuring Gordon and and guest Chuck D. The song’s title was inspired by an interview that Gordon conducted with LL Cool J and the lyrics make reference to several of the rapper’s works. “Mote” is the sole composition by Ranaldo on Goo as well as his only lead vocals. The seven and a half minute track moves from an overloaded feedback intro to basic rock chording to a pure psychedelic and atmospheric trip which persists without form. “Disappearer” follows, featuring a thick upper range and steady rhythm under Moore’s melodic vocals and multiple key jumps through the progression into several sonic tunnels.

Sonic Youth in 1990

The album does lose momentum over its second half where the group seems to be treading over much of the same ground from earlier on this album. Starting with the quasi-title low-light, “My Friend Goo”, and into “Mildred Pierce”, which starts with a basic upbeat rhythm before devolving into a feedback overloaded, unintelligible screed. “Cinderella’s Big Score” is slightly catchy, but lacks much substance or definition, while “Scooter & Jinx” is a noise collage of more filler. The closer “Titanium Exposé” is a bit interesting with a nearly two minute intro before the melodic verse proper comes in, followed by a slightly interesting bridge jam before a more upbeat, drum-driven jam leads to one last feedback collage to end the album.

Commercially, Goo fared a bit better in the UK than their native US and the album’s controversial content helped bring a further buzz beyond that which the group normally received. Through the 1990s and into the new millennium, Sonic Youth’s influence continued.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

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Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds

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Mr Tambourine Man by The ByrdsIn mid 1965, The Byrds released a debut album comprised partially of contemporary folk covers, partially of original songs, and fully of their signature folk-rock sound. Mr. Tambourine Man instantly made the group famous as an American counter-point to the the dominance of the mid-1960s British Invasion, led by the Beatles. This album features four reinterpretations of Bob Dylan songs that had been released within a year prior, including the lead single and title track of the album.

Most of the five original members of the Byrds had come from more of a pure folk background than rock n’ roll. The group was formed as a folk trio called The Jet Set in Los Angeles in 1964 by guitarist/vocalists Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby. But due to the phenomenal success of the Beatles, the trio decided to expand to a full band with the addition of bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke by the end of 1964. The Byrds even mimicked the instrumentation used by the fab four in their film A Hard Day’s Night, including a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar for McGuinn, Gretsch Tennessean guitars for Clark and Crosby and a Ludwig drum kit for Clarke.

After signing with Columbia Records, the group entered the studio in January 1965 to record the then-unreleased Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man” with a rock band arrangement including changing the time signature to the rock-friendly 4/4. The L.A. session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew were used on this single, which was released as the Byrds’ debut single in April 1965, just a month after Dylan released the song on his album, Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965. For the main album sessions later in the Spring of 1965, producer Terry Melcher initially wanted the entire debut album recorded with session musicians, but the group members insisted that they perform all instrumentation themselves.


Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds
Released: June 21, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Terry Melcher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, January – April 1965
Side One Side Two
Mr. Tambourine Man
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Spanish Harlem Incident
You Won’t Have to Cry
Here Without You
The Bells of Rhymney
All I Really Want to Do
I Knew I’d Want You
It’s No Use
Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe
Chimes of Freedom
We’ll Meet Again”
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Gene Clark – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Percussion

While the track “Mr. Tambourine Man” reached phenomenal heights in its day and beyond by instantly establishing the group’s sound, this version is, in contrast to Dylan’s original, a comically commercial parody compared to the depth of Dylan’s haunting lyrical universe in the original. Further, with all the praise heaped upon the re-workings of the cover songs, some of the group’s excellent originals tend to get overlooked. A prime example of this is Clark’s “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”, originally released as a single B-side but featuring a mellow-direct rock sound which would reverberate in many forms for decades to come.

Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident” follows as the most folk-focused song thus far on Mr. Tambourine Man, while still continuing the layered guitar approach on this very short vignette. Co-written by McGuinn and Clark, “You Won’t Have to Cry” has a quintessential early sixties Beatles-type beat contrasted by the complex vocals of folk trios from the same era, making it a true combo song. “Here Without You” is a darker type of lover’s lament song while still maintaining and driving home the signature sound arrangement, while “The Bells of Rhymney” features a slight middle instrumental section that gives a little room to establish a feeling or vibe. This song was adapted by folk singer Pete Seeger from a poem written by Idris Davies about a Welsh coal mining disaster in 1926.

The Byrds

The album’s original second side begins with Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do”, which adds some solid rock rhythms and ends with a nice guitar overdub. “I Knew I’d Want You” then breaks out of this album’s normal pattern with a cool 6/8 shuffle and a straight-forward minor ballad approach as Michael Clarke really has a chance to shine. The final original song on the album, “It’s No Use”, is a pop/rocker which combines a Chuck Berry-like lead guitar combined with a folk/ballad vocal melody and arrangement highlighted by Hillman’s bass playing. Jackie DeShannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” features a cool, 12-string intro and riff throughout with hand-jive like beat and a closing guitar with a really deep tremolo for a unique, slightly psychedelic effect. “Chimes of Freedom”, the fourth and final Dylan composition on the record, features a more deliberate folk approach in order to highlight the lyrics more than the music, leading to the closing “We’ll Meet Again”, which while a little corny and out of character for the group, does offer a sentimental send-off to the album.

Mr. Tambourine Man reached the Top 10 in both the US And UK, establishing the band as an international success. The Beatles, who had influenced the group’s arrangement just a year earlier, reflected the Byrds’ sound on their late 1965 album, Rubber Soul. This immediate influence is perhaps the best tribute to the Byrds debut album’s success.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

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Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young

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Tonight's the Night by Neil YoungDuring an era of glam rock and progressive virtuoso, Neil Young delivered a raw and genuine record with Tonight’s the Night. Although released in mid 1975, the music on this album was recorded years earlier, with the bulk of it coming from a single jam session in August 1973. The somber songs were recorded in the wake of the deaths of two professional colleagues of Young’s, former Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten as well as a roadie who worked for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Young found both critical and commercial success with 1972’s Americana-flavored LP Harvest. Young then went on tour with Whitten and member of the backing group “The Stray Gators”, which included pedal steel player Ben Keith. However, it became apparent during rehearsals that Whitten could not function due to his drug abuse.  Shortly after being released from the tour, Whitten died from an overdose in November 1972. Original music from this tour was later released on the 1973 live album Time Fades Away, the first of what would be three consecutive commercial failures later known as the “ditch trilogy”. Young and Keith then formed “The Santa Monica Flyers” with keyboardist and guitarist Nils Lofgren. Following the second drug-induced death in less than a year, roadie Bruce Berry in mid 1973, Young decided to record an album specifically inspired by the incidents.

Tonight’s the Night was recorded quickly, capturing a raw energy and spontaneity. Much of it was recorded in a small rehearsal room behind a music equipment rental shop in Los Angeles in August and September 1973. However, Tonight’s the Night raw sound and dark tone was initially rejected by the Reprise label, causing a two year delay in its release. In the meantime, Young recorded another album, On the Beach in 1974, a more melodic and acoustic effort that also sold poorly (the second of the “ditch trilogy”). After a brief stadium tour with CSNY in late 1974, Young recorded another acoustic album, entitled Homegrown, an album he ultimately decided not to release (many of the songs were later included on other albums by Young). Instead, he fought once again to have Tonight’s the Night released, and it finally was in June 1975.


Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young
Released: June 20, 1975 (Reprise)
Produced by: David Briggs, Tim Mulligan, Elliot Mazer & Neil Young
Recorded: Fillmore East, New York City, Broken Arrow Ranch & Studio Instrument Rentals, Hollywood, March 1970 – September 1973
Side One Side Two
Tonight’s the Night (Pt. I)
Speakin’ Out
World on a String
Borrowed Tune
Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown
Mellow My Mind
Roll Another Number (For the Road)
Albuquerque
New Mama
Lookout Joe
Tired Eyes
Tonight’s the Night” (Pt. II)
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel & Slide Guitars
Nils Lofgren – Piano, Guitars, Vocals
Billy Talbot – Bass
Roger Earl – Drums, Vocals

The opening title track has an intro that methodically builds harmonies through repetition of main hook. The song directly references Bruce Berry and talks of how the late roadie would play Young’s guitar late at night after gigs. From the jump, it is unmistakable that this album is sonically raw for a major artist release and this especially true of Young’s lead vocals on this track where he is, at times, too close or too far away from the mic. “Speakin’ Out” features bluesy piano and lead electric with an excellent melody over the dueling instruments, right up to Young saying “alright Nils” to coach the commencement of a guitar lead. “World on a String” is a more straight-forward country/rock track, with “Borrowed Tune” being a straight-up admission of being a derivation of the Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane” from 1966’s Aftermath. This Neil Young version features his fine harmonica intro and slow, emotive, high pitched vocals matching the melody of Lofgren’s piano.

The oldest track on Tonight’s the Night is a 1970 live Fillmore East recording of “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown”. The song was co-written by Whitten, who also provides vocals with the performance by Crazy Horse and this heavy rocker has a Grateful-Dead-like style to provide a different vibe, that still seems to fit perfectly in the sequence of this album. “Mellow My Mind” is first song that really sounds like a Harvest-era Neil Young tune, with a nice blend of folk, rock and country under harmonic and unique vocals, while “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” is more pure country track with a pedal steel lead by Keith, multi-part harmonies throughout, and a spoken word vocal in third verse which reminisces about the Woodstock Music Festival.

Neil Young

While “Albuquerque” has a great Western vibe during extended intro, the rest of the song does not quite live up to its initial promise, and the following track, “New Mama” is also pretty standard and unremarkable. However, the next two songs may be the best overall on the album. “Lookout Joe” is a strong, chord, driven rocker with a fine melody and hook and a slow but strong rock beat by Kenny Buttrey leading to the fine guitar lead by Keith. The spoken word, pleasant, mellow intro and verses of “Tired Eyes” are contrasted by the rich harmonies of the choruses. This song is, effectively, the grand finale as a lazy harmonica plays over the country-esque backing before the final track, “Tonight’s the Night” (Part II) offers a different take on the opener with just a slightly distinctive musical arrangement driven by the pulsating bass by Billy Talbot throughout.

While Tonight’s the Night did reach the Top 30 in the American Pop Albums chart, it’s poor sales solidified this as the third and final installment of the “ditch trilogy”. While it received mixed reviews at the time, it is now widely regarded as a classic by Neil Young. For decades there has been speculation that an entirely different version of the album exists that is even more intense than this published version, but as of 2020 that version has not yet seen the light of day.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

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Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart

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Gasoline Alley by Rod StewartHis second official solo album, Gasoline Alley, is a critically acclaimed 1970 album by Rod Stewart. It features a diverse mixture of covers and originals that reflect the various styles of Stewart’s various musical projects and this album has been described as one that both celebrates tradition while featuring the rock sensibilities of its present. Ultimately, while the album is a sentimental snapshot of place and time, it has maintained its musical integrity and interest a half century after its creation.

Sir Roderick David Stewart was born in war-torn London, 1945 to parents of both Scottish and English ancestry. As a teenager he developed an interest in English folk music and he began playing harmonica in the early 1960s, joining the rhythm and blues group The Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. One of the group’s earlier gigs in 1963 was opening for The Rolling Stones in London. After leaving The Dimensions, Stewart made his recording début with the single “Up Above My Head” in June 1964, and soon signed a solo recording contract with Decca Records, where he recorded several further singles and made some national television appearances through the mid 1960s but found little commercial success.

In early 1967, guitarist Jeff Beck recruited Stewart to front the heavy blues Jeff Beck Group. The group included bassist Ronnie Wood and the 1968 debut album, Truth, featured contributions from future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and acted as a model for Zeppelin’s own debut album. Stewart co-wrote three of the original tracks on this critically acclaimed album, which spawned a world wide tour in late 1968 into 1969. The Jeff Beck Group’s second album, Beck-Ola, was recorded in April 1969 for release that summer.

The heavily-touring group was slated to play the Woodstock Music Festival before Stewart and Wood abruptly left the group to eventually form Faces with former members of The Small Faces. Meanwhile, Stewart recorded and released his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (known as The Rod Stewart Album in the US) in late 1969, which established his heartfelt mixture of folk, rock, and country blues in both original and cover material. Faces début album, First Step was released in early 1970 with a more straight-forward rock and roll style and this group quickly earned a strong live following. Simultaneously, Stewart entered the studio with producer Lou Reizner to record Gasoline Alley, which struck a balance between the Faces’ sound and Stewart’s solo debut.


Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart
Released: June 12, 1970 (Mercury)
Produced by: Lou Reizner & Rod Stewart
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, February–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Gasoline Alley
It’s All Over Now
Only A Hobo
My Way Of Giving
Country Comfort
Cut Across Shorty
Lady Day
Jo’s Lament
You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Martin Quittenton – Guitar
Ronnie Wood – Guitar, Bass
Ian McLagan – Piano, Organ
Mick Waller – Drums

Stewart and Wood collaborated on the opening title track, an excellent folk track with a 12-string acoustic topped by dueling lead guitars and Stewart mimicking the lead riffs throughout to create a catchy melody. Stanley Matthews provides a mandolin lead to “Gasoline Alley” to complete the aura of this ode to a simpler past. the cover of Bobby and Shirley Jean Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” follows as an entertaining track with a country rock feel due to Wood’s twangy guitar and the piano style of Ian McLagan.

A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Only a Hobo”, a song Dylan himself would not release until decades later, offers a nice change of pace as a simple acoustic waltz with sad and moody lyrics delivered masterfully by Stewart. “My Way of Giving” soulfully starts with organ, bass and the masterful guitar chording by Wood. The song was co-written by Ronnie Lane for the Small Faces in 1966 and he, along with Faces band mate Kenney Jones on drums, perform on this track. “Country Comfort” is an Elton John / Bernie Taupin composition and the piano of this folk ballad is delivered nicely by guest Pete Sears, The song also features an odd but charming backing vocal by Jack Reynolds.

Rod Stewart

The album’s second side offers more diversity to its solid overall sound. “Cut Across Shorty” was originally written for Eddie Cochran in 1960 and, a decade later, this version features a duo acoustic beginning by Wood and Martin Quittenton, which is cut across by Mick Waller‘s unique drum pattern before everything kicks in for a driving rhythm under and some fiddle sprinkled throughout. Two Stewart acoustic originals follow, the partly surreal but all feeling ballad “Lady Day” with a fine a fiddle lead, and the celtic-feeling “Jo’s Lament”, with layered instrumental arrangement. “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It)” wraps things up with a simmering beat and a funk-inflected theme which brings back the Faces’ rhythm section for a final cameo.

While a commercial disappointment in the UK, Gasoline Alley did become the first of 15 consecutive albums for Stewart to chart in the Top 40 in the United States. He would soon reach superstardom with his next 1971 solo record, Every Picture Tells a Story</a,> and continue this success for decades as he became one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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The Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting

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The Dream of the Blue Turtles by StingFollowing a remarkable five years of stellar success with The Police, vocalist and songwriter Sting launched his solo career with his 1985 debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles. With this, Sting worked hard to distinguish his own sound away from the distinct styles of his former trio, bringing in a coterie of jazz, R&B and world style backing musicians. Lyrically, the tunes cover interpersonal as well as topical issues, which work well in some instances but come off a little preachy and pretentious in others.

Sting claims that he decided to leave the Police while onstage at Shea Stadium in New York in August 1983 in support of the group’s top-selling album Synchronicity. The group actually never formally broke up, but all three members focused on their individual projects in the mid 1980s. For Sting, this included working on the 1984 benefit project, Band Aid, and providing the intro vocals for Dire Strait’s hit song “Money for Nothing” from their 1985 album Brothers In Arms.

Co-produced by Pete Smith, the album was recorded both at Eddy Grant‘s studio in Barbados and at LeStudio in Quebec, Canada, a studio used frequently by Rush in the early to mid 1980s. Wanting to move away from the “confines of pop”, Sting’s goal was to erode the boundaries between rock and jazz by using top musicians familiar with both.


The Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting
Released: June 1, 1985 (A&M)
Produced by: Pete Smith & Sting
Recorded: Blue Wave Studio, Saint Philip, Barbados and Le Studio, Morin-Heights, Quebec, January 1984–March 1985
Side One Side Two
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
Love Is the Seventh Wave
Russians
Children’s Crusade
Shadows in the Rain
We Work the Black Seam
Consider Me Gone
The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Moon Over Bourbon Street
Fortress Around Your Heart
Primary Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
Kenny Kirkland – Keyboards
Branford Marsalis – Saxophone
Darryl Jones – Bass
Omar Hakim – Drums

The moderate cool jazz/pop with a good hook off “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” starts things off. Steady throughout, the bridge section breaks out of the main groove as an interesting change on this Top 10 hit. “Love Is the Seventh Wave” follows with highly philosophical lyrics above an electronic reggae arrangement. The song’s title is derived from a popular saying among surfers and sailors and it concludes with a brief homage to “Every Breath You Take” from Sting’s former band. Speaking of The Police, there is one remake on this album, “Shadows in the Rain”, originally released on 1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta. This version starts with an off-beat drum entry and the shout by someone of “what key is it in?”, building tension until the song breaks into an upbeat blues jam with an impressive sax lead by Branford Marsalis.

Co-written by Sergei Prokofiev, “Russians” features a synthesized and ominous vibe with lyrics that are both profound – (“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology / I hope the Russian love their children too”) – and a bit outdated philosophically. Other topical tracks include “Children’s Crusade” is a ballad with lyrics that speak of the devastation brought about by heroin addiction, and “We Work the Black Seam” with a chanting-like melody over some African beats and lyrics that speak of working men and modern industrialization.

Sting 1985

The jazz-tinged tunes continue with “Consider Me Gone”, with fine drumming by Omar Hakim to accompany Darryl Jones‘s bass, which later temporarily breaks into a fine jazz phrase. The title track is a short but entertaining piano jazz jam, with the title itself coming from an actual dream by Sting where aggressive and quite drunk blue turtles were doing back flips and destroyed his garden. Sting provides fretless bass on “Moon Over Bourbon Street”, while some distant horns give the arrangement lots of atmosphere beneath the narrative vocals. Like it begins, the album concludes with a strong pop song, “Fortress Around Your Heart”. This is, perhaps, the most “Police-like” track on Dream of the Blue Turtles with subtle key changes in the verses, animated drumming under the hook and very profound lyrics throughout. Marsalis’ final sax lead closes out the album on a fine note.

The Dream of the Blue Turtles reached the Top 5 in various countries on both sides of the Atlantic, answering the doubts as to whether it was wise to abandon the uber-successful Police. Later in 1985, a documentary film called Bring On the Night was released, focusing on this jazz-inspired project.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1985 albums.

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“Melt” by Peter Gabriel

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Peter Gabriel 1980Peter Gabriel‘s third solo album was also the third to be officially eponymous, although this 1980 record has been given the unofficial title “Melt”. This album is credited as Gabriel’s artistic breakthrough due to its innovative use of electronic effects and gated drums without any cymbals. In fact, the album was released at different time in the UK and US because the original US distributor, Atlantic Records, refused to release and ultimately dropped Gabriel from their roster because they objected to its unconventional sound.

After departing Genesis in 1975, Gabriel took a unique approach to his new solo career. He wanted his record releases to be like issues of a magazine, all using similar typeface but with unique designs by Hipgnosis. Over time, each album received an unofficial nickname based on these cover designs. Gabriel’s 1977 debut was called “Car” while his 1978 sophomore release was called “Scratch”.

After an extensive tour through the second half of 1978, Gabriel dedicated much of 1979 to recording this third album. Co-produced by Steve Lillywhite, the music is influenced by African music and the recordings make inventive use of drum machines and other sequencers with the songs built up from the rhythm track.


Peter Gabriel (1980) by Peter Gabriel
Released: May 23, 1980 (Charisma)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite & Peter Gabriel
Recorded: Bath Studio and Townhouse Studio, London, England, 1979
Side One Side Two
Intruder
No Self Control
Start
I Don’t Remember
Family Snapshot
And Through the Wire
Games Without Frontiers
Not One of Us
Lead a Normal Life
Biko
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
David Rhodes – Guitars, Vocals
Larry Fast – Keyboards, Bagpipes
John Giblin – Bass
Jerry Marotta – Drums, Percussion

This album’s innovation is apparent right from the jump with the opening track “Intruder”, featuring Gabriel’s former band mate Phil Collins using a new “gated drum” sound that was developed along with engineer Hugh Padgham. While this may seem slightly dated listening four decades on and realizing the fact that it is more effect than melody, the song does feature a few slight breaks of interesting piano and chorus vocal. “No Self Control” contains slightly more structure than the opener with a lot of rock tension built through its various movements and this is followed by the slight instrumental interlude, “Start”, featuring the saxophone of Dick Morrissey over backing synth pads. “I Don’t Remember” arrives in sharp contrast to the smooth intro as the brash and bright new wave track with one of the catchier hooks on this album. An earlier version of this was recorded to be featured on a 7″ single in Europe, but Charisma Records rejected that version on the basis that Robert Fripp‘s guitar solo was not “radio-friendly” enough.

“Family Snapshot” starts as a dramatic piano ballad complete with some fine fretless bass by John Giblin and builds to a more upbeat tune in later verses. “And Through the Wire” seems to be a natural sequel to “Family Snapshot” until it suddenly awakes with a hook above some thumping bass and percussion. Featuring The Jam’s guitarist Paul Weller, this track closes side one on a strong note. “Games Without Frontiers” is the most indelible track from the album with a French-language chorus of “Jeux Sans Frontières”, which is a popular television show based on pageantry and competition which broadcast in several European countries. This song features a masterful potpourri of a marching percussion, a slide electrical guitar, a rap-like verse and a cool, whistling pre-chorus, all making for a beautiful sound collage. “Games Without Frontiers” became Gabriel’s first top-10 hit in the UK.

Peter Gabriel 1980

“Not One of Us” marks a return to synth-driven experimentation with a message that condemns xenophobia in general and the mentality of cliques, more specifically. Jerry Marotta‘s drumming and percussion pattern shine especially in the latter part of this song. “Lead a Normal Life” is built on a long, deliberate synth and piano arpeggio with only a short vocal section in between two long instrumental sections. This is the track where Atlantic’s founder Ahmet Ertegun reportedly asked, “Has Peter been in a mental hospital?” in rejecting this song in particular and the album overall. Then comes the climatic closer “Biko”. While the song structure itself is simple and steady (in the same vein as the Beatle’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver, the inventive overlay of sonic effects makes this it’s own distinct masterpiece. Lyrically, this song is a musical eulogy to black South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died in police custody in 1977, and it was therefore banned in South Africa even while reaching the Top 40 in the UK.

Peter Gabriel‘s third album topped the British charts and charted well in many other places world wide, firmly establishing his career as a solo artist. Another major tour followed the album’s release and extended through late 1980, before Gabriel began work on his fourth (and final) self-titled album, nicknamed “Security” and released in 1982.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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I Should Coco by Supergrass

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I Should Coco by SupergrassSupergrass released their debut album, I Should Coco in 1995. This energetic and eclectic record features an array of rock sub-genres from Brit pop to punk to ska to a dash of trippy psychedelia. The album’s weird title is derived from local English slang for “I should think so” and, being that the group members were still in their teens at the time of writing and recording, this album was advertised as “the sound of adolescence” in its day. As a result, I Should Coco reached the top of the UK Albums Chart and achieved Platinum status in sales.

Guitarist and vocalist Gaz Coombes played in the group The Jennifers with drummer Danny Goffey when both were in their mid teens. This group began to gain local notoriety around Oxford, England and they recorded a 1992 live demo to sell at shows. The Jennifers disbanded in 1993 as some members went on to university and Coombes formed Theodore Supergrass with Goffey bassist Mick Quinn. In mid-1994 the group’s name was shortened to simply Supergrass and they signed with Backbeat Records and issued their debut single, “Caught by the Fuzz”, which achieved the rare feat of being both NME and Melody Maker’s “Single Of The Week” status during the same week.

I Should Coco was recorded throughout much of 1994 with producer Sam Williams. Many of these sessions were specifically to record advance singles (three were released before the album), while the rest was captured during frenzied studio performances as the group wanted to catch the energy and excitement of the songs on tape. All songs on this 13-track album were composed by the members of Supergrass.


I Should Coco by Supergrass
Released: May 15, 1995 (Parlophone)
Produced by: Sam Williams
Recorded: Sawmills Studios, Cornwall, England, February-August 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
I’d Like to Know
Caught by the Fuzz
Mansize Rooster
Alright
Lose It
Lenny
Strange Ones
Sitting Up Straight
She’s So Loose
We’re Not Supposed To
Time
Sofa (of My Lethargy)
Time to Go
Gaz Coombes – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob Coombes – Keyboards
Mick Quinn – Bass, Vocals
Danny Goffey – Drums, Vocals
I Should Coco by Supergrass

The album opens with “I’d Like to Know”, which is strongly tied to a later song on the album, “Strange Ones”. This opening track features pure thumping modern punk, brimming with energy and unambiguous enthusiasm with Goffey’s drumming especially well done and with a few sonic surprises and rudiment shifts. “I’d Like To Know” was derived from “Strange Ones”, a standard punk rocker albeit with some radical timing changes and vocal effects, played backwards on tape cassette. Next comes “Caught by the Fuzz”, the group’s first single written around the true-life incident of lead singer Gaz Coombes’ arrest for possession of cannabis. “Mansize Rooster” is the first track on the album that is much more oriented towards ska than punk and it features very choppy use of piano and guitars. The keyboards are provided by Gaz’s older brother Rob Coombes, who at the time was an unofficial fourth member of the group (later to be made official).

The heavy riff-driven track “Lose It” is sandwiched between two pop hits from I Should Coco. “Alright” is an excellent upbeat track with good melody, interesting chord changes and a harmonized guitar lead, which all worked to make this the group’s biggest hit worldwide. “Lenny” was earlier released and became Supergrass’ first Top 10 hit in the UK, as a track which has some absurd lyrics over a real sixties hard rock feel featuring particular animation by Quinn on bass.

Supergrass

The latter part of the album moves away from the single-ready material and towards eclectic compositions. “Sitting Up Straight” features an early Who-like frantic reggae sound, while “She’s So Loose” finds the more mainstream nineties post-Brit pop feel with extended vocal lines using strategic reverb and just a slight bit of orchestration over the major strummed chord changes. The experimental “We’re Not Supposed To” is the album’s low point with some ridiculous pitched vocals, but they swiftly recover with the excellent, sloshy, Stones-like blues rocker “Time”, where Gaz Coombes delivers a completely distinct vocal style. The epic “Sofa (of My Lethargy)” is the album’s climax with thick vocals, slide guitar, mesmerizing organ tones and a later extended instrumental section for a spacey overall vibe. This more-than-six-minute epic then dissolves into the simple and short acoustic closer, “Time to Go”, as an apt final statement.

I Should Coco is credited with impacting the Britpop music scene as a whole and its success launched the group into a year and a half of heavy touring. They would not return to studio for a follow up for a few years and, even though In It For The Money was a platinum-selling success in the UK, they would not again quite reach the heights of their debut album.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

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Animal Tracks by The Animals

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Animal Tracks by The Animals, both versionsIn 1965, The Animals released a pair of albums that were each titled Animal Tracks, a May 1965 release in their native UK and a September release in the US. Aside from sharing a title these two records bore little resemblance in either song selections or effective approach. The UK release was filled with fresh recordings of mainly R&B covers, while the US version featured recent hit singles, B-sides along with other recordings previously released in Britain but not in America, making this a fine compilation of the group’s early career.

The Animals were formed in 1965 in Newcastle, England when vocalist Eric Burdon joined a group led by keyboardist Alan Price. The nickname “animals” was informally applied due to the group’s wild stage act and eventually they made the name official. After much success in their home region, the group moved to London in 1964, a timely move to catch the British Invasion wave. They performed original, dramatic versions of staple rhythm and blues songs from a variety of artists. The group’s 1964 debut was a reinterpreted version of the standard “Baby Let Me Take You Home”, followed by their haunting version of “House of the Rising Sun”, which became a worldwide hit for the group.

Producer Mickie Most shepherded all the group’s recordings through their initial two years in the studio. This included a US-only release titled The Animals On Tour, released in February 1965. Songs that landed on the UK version of Animal Tracks were recorded over the winter of 1964-1965


Animal Tracks (UK version) by The Animals
Released: May 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: November 1964 – March 1965
Side One Side Two
Mess Around
How You’ve Changed
Hallelujah I Love Her So
I Believe to My Soul
Worried Life Blues
Roberta
I Ain’t Got You
Bright Lights, Big City
Let the Good Times Roll
For Miss Caulker
Road Runner

Animal Tracks (US version) by The Animals
Released: September 1, 1969 (MGM)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: July 1964 – June 1965
Side One Side Two
We Gotta Get Out of This Place
Take It Easy Baby
Bring It On Home to Me
The Story of Bo Diddley
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
I Can’t Believe It
Club A-Go-Go
Roberta
Bury My Body
For Miss Caulker
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Eric Burdon – Lead Vocals
Hilton Valentine – Guitars, Vocals
Alan Price – Keyboards, Vocals
Chas Chandler – Bass, Vocals
John Steel – Drums, Percussion

 

The UK version of Animal Tracks sets the energetic and confident pace with the opening cover of “Mess Around”, a boogie tune composed by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun for Ray Charles, who made it a hit in 1953. The Animals also recorded the Ray Charles 1956 jubilant original “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and his slow blues track “I Believe to My Soul” for this album.

Animal Tracks UK by The AnimalsOther covers on the UK version include a a reflective, downbeat rendition of Chuck Berry’s “How You’ve Changed”, the Major Merriweather blues standard “Worried Life Blues”, a surging and angry version of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City”  and a cover of Calvin Carter’s “I Ain’t Got You”, a song also covered in 1965 by The Yardbirds. Animal Tracks (UK) also includes a couple of lighter covers, “Let the Good Times Roll” by Shirley Goodman and the closing Bo Didley track “Road Runner”, a tribute to the popular cartoon character.

Only two songs were featured on both versions of Animal Tracks, Al Smith’s “Roberta” a boogie rocker complete with call and response backing vocals and a twangy guitar lead by Hilton Valentine and Burdon’s “For Miss Caulker”, the only original song on the UK album, which is highlighted by Price’s blues club wild, minor-key piano. Price left the Animals due to personal and musical differences in early 1965, making the Animal Tracks sessions his last with the group until they reunited over a decade later.

Animal Tracks US by The AnimalsThe US version of the album featured an eclectic mix of songs recorded and released in the past year with just a few new recordings made in the summer of 1965. The earliest songs on this album date back to the summer of 1964 with the Burdon / Price original “Take It Easy Baby”, a swinging pop B-Side, as well as two tracks from their 1964 self-titled UK debut album, “Bury My Body” and “The Story of Bo Diddley”. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was an early 1965 single that was a trans-Atlantic hit as an original rendition of a song originally recorded by Nina Simone. The US version also includes the thumping original B-Side of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “Club A-Go-Go”, and also a soulful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me”.

In June 1965, the Animals returned to the studio with new keyboardist Dave Rowberry. Here they recorded the Burdon original, “I Can’t Believe It”, a fun bluesy track highlighted by rhythms by John Steel, a descending bass line and bright organ by Rowberry, complete with a fine lead ending with Burdon’s vocals nicely mimicking the organ notes. The highlight of the album is the indelible “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, a song which reached #2 on the UK charts. Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the Animals’ version is highlighted by the bass line of Chas Chandler, which intensely backs Burdon’s vocal dynamics and dramatics, which drive the song.

The Animals in 1965

With the departure of Price, the prime early days of the Animals began to rapidly morph. By the end of 1965, the group ended its association with Most and signed a new record deals starting with the 1966 MGM compilation, The Best of the Animals, which became their best-selling album in the US. By September of 1966, the group’s classic lineup had dissipated and they were re-branded Eric Burdon & the Animals, effectively an on-going solo project for the lead vocalist.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration 1965 albums.

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Fire and Water by Free

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Fire and Water by FreeThe 1970 album Fire and Water was the third studio album by Free and it proved to be the breakthrough of the group’s short but prolific career. The album showcases the British quartet at the peak of their blues rock talents and is at once strongly roots oriented while being sonically innovative. Fire and Water achieved worldwide commercial success, reaching the Top 20 in the US and climbing to #2 on the UK album chart, while staying on that chart for a total of 18 weeks.

Free was formed in London, England in April 1968 when guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke of the band Black Cat Bones joined vocalist Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser to form the new group. All four members were teenagers at the time of formation but their sparse, straight forward blues rock sound got them quickly noticed and the band was signed to Island Records within the year. Free recorded and released two albums in 1969, their debut Tons of Sobs and their self-titled follow-up, but these failed to achieve any notable commercial success or chart movement. However, the group was quickly becoming renowned for their live shows and non-stop touring. In fact, the group gained an American audience not from their studio albums but due to successful tours opening for Delaney and Bonnie and Blind Faith.

Fire and Water was recorded in London during early 1970 and it was largely self-produced by the group members with the assistance of John Kelly and future Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. These sessions stretched out over several months as the group continued its relentless touring schedule.


Fire and Water by Free
Released: June 26, 1970 (Island)
Produced by: Roy Baker, John Kelly & Free
Recorded: Trident Studios & Island Studios, London, January–June 1970
Side One Side Two
Fire and Water
Oh I Wept
Remember
Heavy Load
Mr. Big
Don’t Say You Love Me
All Right Now
Group Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals
Paul Kossoff – Guitars
Andy Fraser – Keyboards, Bass
Simon Birke – Drums, Percussion

Most of the tracks on Fire and Water were written by Fraser and Rodgers, starting with the opening title track, a song frequently covered through the years. “Fire and Water” sets the pace by featuring simple riffing and beat to back Rogers’ soulful rock vocals, with Kossoff’s droning lead section and Birke;s closing drum solo addsing much needed contrasts to make this an interesting rock anthem. Next comes “Oh I Wept”, the real highlight of the album’s first side. Here Fraser’s electric piano backs Rogers’ excellent Stevie Wonder-like vocals as this moderate ballad builds some power through the choruses and a short, bluesy guitar lead.

“Remember” is a reworking of an unused song originally titled “Woman by the Sea” from the debut Tons of Sobs recording sessions in late 1968 where Rogers shows yet another element to his vocals. “Heavy Load” is a piano ballad where Fraser shines on both bass and piano as the rhythms nicely fade to the background for a dreamy lead guitar section. Written by all four group members, “Mr. Big” is a slow jam structured to have a more intense instrumental section sandwiched between the definitive rock verses and choruses, while “Don’t Say You Love Me” is a slow, blues ballad with Rodgers vocals oriented towards soul complete with a Gospel-like choir in the background later in the song.

Free

The indelible number from this album is saved for the closer. “All Right Now” is a simple anthem built from a well-defined riff, beat and love song lyrical motifs. However, the unique element for this classic is the mid section which starts with a slight guitar lead over a drum shuffle before Kossoff’s second, more bluesy lead guitar is placed on top of Fraser’s signature bass and piano rhythms. The song was written on the spot following a show where the group was dissatisfied with their performance and audience response and decided they needed an uptempo rocker to close shows. Initiated by Fraser, the group composed this anthem in about “ten minutes” right there in the post-show dressing room and “All Right Now” went on to be a worldwide chart-topper and Free’s most popular song.

With the success of Fire and Water, Free appeared destined for superstardom in the 1970s. However, the road would not be so smooth as the group broke up temporarily in 1971 and permanently the following year as Fraser departed and Kossoff developed a drug addiction which ultimately took his life at age 25. In 1973, Rodgers and Kirke became half of the new group Bad Company, a band which fully realized the top-level potential that Free had shown earlier in the decade.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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