Mike and the Mechanics

Mike and the Mechanics

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Mike and the MechanicsMike + The Mechanics was a quasi-solo project by Genesis bassist and guitarist Mike Rutherford The 1985 self-title debut was a commercial success which spawned three hit singles and helped shape the sounds of the mid 1980s. Musically, the album features a mix of classic rock and new wave elements oriented towards the radio-friendly pop music of the day, fueled by the compositions mainly co-written by Rutherford and producer Christopher Neil.

Shortly after Genesis condensed down to a three-piece group in the late 1970s, each of the members decided to embark on parallel solo projects in-between the Genesis albums and tours. Rutherford released his first two solo albums, Smallcreep’s Day and Acting Very Strange in 1980 and 1982 respectively. However, he found the process of recording a record alone artistically unsatisfying and soon started a songwriting partnership with Scottish performer/composer B.A. Robertson. Following the success of Genesis’s 1983 self-titled album, the pair enlisted Neil as an additional composer and producer of the initial Mike + the Mechanics album.

It was decided that the core of the group would be Rutherford on guitars and bass along with keyboardist Adrian Lee and drummer Peter Van Hooke. Beyond that, session musicians and vocalists were brought in where needed, with three different lead vocalists performing on Mike + the Mechanics.


Mike and the Mechanics by Mike and the Mechanics
Released: October 5, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Christopher Neil
Recorded: AIR Studios, Montserrat, 1985
Side One Side Two
Silent Running
All I Need Is a Miracle
Par Avion
Hanging By a Thread
I Get the Feeling
Take the Reins
You Are the One
A Call to Arms
Taken In
Primary Musicians
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass
Adrian Lee – Keyboards
Peter Van Hooke – Drums

A long synth swell introduces the opening track, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)”, a song written by Rutherford and Robertson and featuring Paul Carrack on lead vocals. When the song fully kicks in, it features great musical atmospherics to accompany the complex yet poetic lyrics. While dominated by Lee’s keyboards throughout, there is nice short rock guitar lead by Rutherford, making it a complete rock song, which was very successful on the pop charts in both the UK and US. The album’s second track was also its second single. “All I Need Is a Miracle”, sees the group moving into the realm of pop accessibility with strong synth motifs and catchy melodic hooks by Paul Young. While the lyrics have much less depth than those on the opener, this song became the biggest charting on the album when it reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1986.

Mike and the Mechanics“Par Avion” is a slow-paced, synth-drenched ballad with soft and reserved lead vocals by the third lead vocalist, John Kirby. Rutherford originally wrote the song with a heavier arrangement but Neil thought it worked better as a softer ballad. “Hanging By a Thread” is much more complex than the previous track, laced with strong synth sections, most prevalent during the song’s extended bridge section. Next comes, “I Get the Feeling”, an upbeat showcase for Young’s vocals, features dual saxophones and Hammond organ throughout to sustain the feel-good vibe.

“Take the Reins” starts out with a pretty cool synth arpeggio but morphs into a song proper which sounds dated and superficial for a pop song sans soul and brain, making it the weakest so far on the album. “You Are the One” is a ballad with sort of the same feeling as late seventies era Genesis, when that group moved away from the complex theatrical numbers and more towards softer, accessible ballads. Speaking of Genesis, “A Call to Arms” began as an unfinished track which was rejected by that group before Rutherford gave it new life for Mike + The Mechanics. The song contains good bass and steady drumming under rich synths through the anthemic, save-the-world, adjust-the-attitude song with well-treated lead vocals by Carrack.

 
The album’s best song is save for last as “Taken In” features a subtle, sad and steady mood. The understated music is perfect backdrop for the fine lead vocals of Young, who delivers on the very effective use of lyrical repetition as composed by Rutherford and Neil. Further adding to the vibe is a slight sax lead after the each verse of this song which became the third Top 40 hit and a tremendous way to finish the able.

Mike + the Mechanics reached number 26 on the Billboard 200 album charts and, being satisfied with the results of this project, Rutherford decided to continue with this band rather than returning to a typical “solo” career. This paid off, as the group’s next album, Living Years in 1988, brought them even greater commercial success and Mike + and the Mechanics continued well into the 1990s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

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Help by The Beatles

Help! by The Beatles

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Help by The BeatlesTheir fifth overall studio album, Help!, is perhaps the final of The Beatles‘ pop-centric, “mop-top” era records released over the course of 30 months. Still, the group did make some musical strides on this album, most particularly a stylistic move towards folk and country on several tracks and the addition of piano and keyboards, performed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney on a few songs. Released in conjunction with their second feature-length film (of the same name), Help!, contains fourteen tracks split evenly between seven that were featured in the film (side one) and seven other 1965 studio tracks on the original second side of the LP.

Already a relentlessly hard working group, The Beatles’ American and worldwide breakthrough in early 1964 only served to expand their schedule as their label and management looked to fully capitalize on their unprecedented popular success. During March and April of 1964, the group members filmed A Hard Day’s Night as they played themselves in a “mock-umentary” about their sudden success where the Beatles showed a knack for comedy. That film was accompanied by their third studio LP with each being very well received. During the summer of 1964, the Beatles embarked on an international tour through Europe, Asia, and Australia, followed by a 30-concert tour of the United States. Returning to Abbey Road studios, the Beatles recorded and released their fourth studio LP, Beatles for Sale in late 1964, which had a much darker tone than any of their previous work.

The Beatles on the set of HelpIn early 1965, the group filmed the movie, Help!, which included a much larger budget than the previous year’s A Hard Days Night. As a result, this movie was filmed in color and at many disparate locations including various places in England, the Bahamas, and the Austrian Alps. However, the richer plot and cast served to alienate the band members who stated that they felt like “guest stars” or even extras in their own film, despite the fact that the drummer, Ringo Starr, plays a central part in the plot.

Music for the film and album was produced by George Martin who, for the first time, employed “track bouncing” techniques for overdubbing. Distinct versions of the record were released in the UK and North America (we focus on the long since canonized British LP version in this review). The North American (Capitol Records) release was of EP length and features some orchestral scores produced by Dave Dexter, with omitted songs later appearing on the US versions of Beatle VI and Rubber Soul. On the other end of the spectrum, a few songs that were recorded intended for the film were not used in either the movie or on the album, including the tracks “If You’ve Got Trouble”, “That Means a Lot”, “Yes It Is”, and an early version of, “Wait”, a song re-recorded for Rubber Soul later in the year.


Help! by The Beatles
Released: August 6, 1965 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI (Abbey Road) Studios, February–June 1965
Side One Side Two
Help!
The Night Before
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
I Need You
Another Girl
You’re Going to Lose That Girl
Ticket to Ride
Act Naturally
It’s Only Love
You Like Me Too Much
Tell Me What You See
I’ve Just Seen a Face
Yesterday
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The title track storms in with a sudden vocal explosion of the distinct intro section of “Help”. Written by Lennon to express his personal difficulties with the Beatles’ sudden success, the song contains a desperate message lyrically but an excited and frantic approach musically and tonally, making for a strange but effective mix of emotions throughout. The descending bass and guitar line during the chorus is the most effective and interesting element of this fine track which became the group’s tenth #1 pop hit. McCartney’s, “The Night Before”, features a nice mixture of guitars and electric piano, adding an overall twang effect to the background. The sharp beat and rhythm is kind of boilerplate Beatles at this point in their career but this song does feature a unique, duo guitar lead by McCartney and George Harrison.

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is a loose tribute to Bob Dylan which features a tremendous sound that is at once simple but still fills the room. Lennon constructed this not as a lovey-dovey song, but as an introspective track where he delivers totally distinct vocals and gives early Beatles fans a glimpse into what group would the later become. Aside from Lennon’s strummed acoustic, the song musically features simple, layered percussion and an earthy, ending flute solo by guest John Scott. “I Need You” is an early, forgotten gem by Harrison that features sweet sounds, such as a cool guitar pedal effect, and somber vocals.

Later on the first side, the Beatles revert back to some of their traditional styles. “Another Girl” includes some bluesly slide guitars, possibly influenced by Brian Jones, as well as a nice little solo lead at the very end. But otherwise, the track was garden variety and had not ever been played live by any Beatle until April 2015, over 50 years after it was recorded. Lennon’s “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” was a bit more popular, in somewhat the same vein of the female vocal groups of the day, with its backing vocal chorus call-and-response. “Ticket To Ride” is not only the only track to exceed three minutes in length, but may well be the finest overall song on the album. There are inventive and entertaining blends of sound throughout and droning rhythms with steady but interesting drum patterns by Starr during the verse/chorus sections that work seamlessly with Harrison’s ringing guitar riff and Lennon and McCartney’s harmonized melodies. The song transitions to a few upbeat bridge sections which transition back with a slight solo guitar flourish. Lyrically, the song caught some controversy due to its sexual connotations, but nonetheless topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic when it was released ahead of the album in April 1965.

The Beatles in 1965

The album’s second side features two tracks which made up one of the oddest inverted 45 singles ever. The cover “Act Naturally”, with lead vocals by Starr is a country-flavored acoustic track and complete change of pace for the group, which was originally issued as a single with McCartney’s “Yesterday” occupying the ‘B’ side. Of course, “Yesterday” became one of the most popular songs in music history, even though its solo performance by McCartney with string quartet and non-rock-n-roll approach was considered a significant risk by the band at the time. It is a song that hits every note in your emotions and a universal song that makes one feel a little nostalgic no matter what age. McCartney says he received the entire melody in a dream and hurried to a piano to play the tune before he forgot it, using the filler theme “Scrambled Eggs”.

The remaining songs on side two are relatively lesser known, albeit interesting. “It’s Only Love” is a short blend of Byrds-meet-Roy Orbison with a slight preview of the psychedelic flower-power English pop to come. Harrison’s “You Like Me Too Much” is another retro-sounding tune with a hi-hat and double piano holding the beat and a bridge section which features trade-offs between lead guitar and piano by Lennon and Martin. On “Tell Me What You See”, complex percussion rules the day through the first two verses and an electric piano section at end. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” features a great intro with dueling acoustic guitars, fantastic vocals by McCartney, and a fast-paced skiffle beat throughout. If anything, this track shows how the Beatles can take common instruments, voices and tools to  make unique and divergent sounds. The Larry Williams cover, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” concludes the album as a groovy early sixties jam which, if anything, shows that this is still the “Beatles” after the unconventional track, “Yesterday”. This song is also notable as the final cover song on a Beatles album until 1970’s Let It Be, which included the traditional folk song, “Maggie Mae”.

Beyond spawning three #1 singles, Help! became an album chart-topper as well as a multi-platinum seller worldwide. Following the album’s release, The Beatles embarked on their third US tour, which opened with the classic Shea Stadium performance on August 15, 1965 that shattered all previous attendance records. Following the tour, the group took some time to focus on their next album, which would become the classic Rubber Soul late in 1965.

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

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Heart 1985 album

Heart by Heart

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Heart 1985 albumIn 1985, Heart made a dramatic comeback, fueled by an equally dramatic alteration to their traditional sound. A successful hard rock band in the late 1970s, the group had nearly fallen off the face of popular music in the early 1980s before deciding to make a transition towards more mainstream pop/rock. The result was their self-titled record, Heart, which brought this American group its greatest commercial success, reaching quintuple platinum status and becoming their first and only chart topper.

Led by sisters from Seattle, lead vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Ann Wilson, Heart found instant success with their 1976 debut album Dreamboat Annie and the follow up Little Queen the next year. However, some legal entanglements between early labels caused the group to lose some commercial momentum before bouncing back with the double-platinum selling Dog and Butterfly in late 1978. After a trio of less-than stellar releases in the early 1980s, along with a short foray by Nancy Wilson into motion pictures, the group moved to Capitol Records and decided to makeover their image and their music.

Heart was the second album to feature the rhythm section of bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi, following their respective debuts on 1983’s Passionworks. Produced by Ron Nevison, the album also used several outside musicians and songwriting teams to write and record a good portion of the material in a concerted effort to reach mainstream pop audiences. In doing so, the group all but abandoned the acoustic and folk sounds which were present in much of their early work.


Heart by Heart
Released: July 6, 1985 (Capitol)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, January–April 1985
Side One Side Two
If Looks Could Kill
What About Love
Never
These Dreams
The Wolf
All Eyes
Nobody Home
Nothin’ at All
What He Don’t Know
Shell Shock
Group Musicians
Ann Wilson – Lead Vocals
Nancy Wilson – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Howard Leese – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Mark Andes – Bass Guitar
Denny Carmassi – Drums

Right from the jump, Heart delves into a full, 1980s hair band aura with the opener, “If Looks Could Kill”. Driving rhythms and clichéd lyric hooks rule the day, and this is not the last time they cover this territory, but overall may be the finest of its type. The fine, “What About Love”, begins with a slow and dramatic synth entrance leads to a fine verse with Ann Wilson’s vocals nicely floating above these richly orchestrated (albeit fake) strings. While the song is steady in its approach, it still has strong teeth, especially during the guitar lead by Howard Leese and during the outro which features excited vocals by Ann Wilson and a driving bass by Andes. “What About Love”, which was originally recorded by the Canadian rock group Toronto, was a Top Ten hit for Heart.

An original composition by the group, “Never” was another Top Ten hit. With a good mixture of bright keyboards and crunchy, distorted guitar riffs, the song features simple vocal hook which is one of the best on the album. A fresh musical arrangement during the third verse also adds some nice variety to the track. Co-written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin, “These Dreams” was the biggest hit of all, becoming Heart’s first single to hit number one on the Billboard charts in early 1986. This fine, upbeat ballad is the only track to feature Nancy Wilson on lead vocals, who had a bit of cold when she recorded the track resulting in the happy accident of distinct raspy vocals. The track also features fine drum accents by Carmassi and a bridge section which is uplifting even as song maintains its dreamy, romantic vibe.

Bookending the sides of the original album, “The Wolf” is a straight-forward, driving rocker where Ann Wilson’s vocals reach new heights and Leese provides some interesting, double-tracked guitar textures, while “All Eyes” has a sound that reverts back slightly to a bluesy, hard rock seventies sound, with Nancy Wilson’s guitar work leading the way. “Nobody Home” is the closest to a power ballad on the album. Driven by an electronic piano which leads the way under Ann Wilson’s melodic vocals, the song gives the album that added dimension as a sweet but sad song complete with a soaring lead guitar by guest Frankie Sullivan.

“Nothin’ at All” leads into the final section of the album and serves as Heart‘s final high-water mark. Another mid-eighties pop rocker, this popular tune has a more subtle rock rhythm held together by Leese, Andes, and Carmassi, in much the same vein as eighties-era Journey. Unfortunately, the album finishes with two of its weakest tunes. “What He Don’t Know” does offer some decent rock elements musically, with acoustic verses over a choppy rhythmic beat, but falters due to its totally trite lyrics. The closer, “Shell Shock”, seems to have even less substance as a formulaic rocker, which may strike a certain mood, but has little true musical substance.

Beyond topping the American charts, Heart also charted well in the UK (#19) and other national charts. Heart’s follow-up album, Bad Animals in 1987, continued in much the same musical direction and scored further commercial success for the group.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones

Out of Our Heads by
The Rolling Stones

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Out of Our Heads by The Rolling StonesThe Rolling Stones made major strides towards composing their own music successfully during the year 1965. Out of Our Heads was released (in the U.S.) and lit the fuse for the most successful run of the band’s long career. Although about half of this album does still utilize the R&B covers on which the group cut their teeth, it is among the original tracks where the most commercial impact was made fifty years ago and where the most indelible songs persist right through the present day.

The Rolling Stones were formed in London in 1962 by mult-instrumentalist Brian Jones, guitarist Keith Richards and vocalist Mick Jagger. They specialized in Chicago-style blues as well as fifties rock and roll and had a longstanding residency at the famed Crawdaddy Club. Over the following winter, bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts joined to round out the classic 1960s quintet. The group hired Andrew Loog Oldham, a former publicist for The Beatles, who acted as both their manager and producer for their early albums. By 1964, the group signed with Decca Records and they released their debut album, “England’s Latest Hitmakers”, during the height of Beatlemania. However, Oldham made a concerted effort to promote the Rolling Stones as the “anti-Beatles” or “the bad boys of rock n roll”. Early in 1965, the group released their second LP, The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK, The Rolling Stones, Now! in the US, with both versions reaching the Top 5 in their respective countries.

Although the title is the same, Out of Our Heads also has two distinct versions for the US and UK. Oddly, the US version was released first, on July 30, 1965, and has become the more lauded and respected version of the album (which we’ll focus on in this review). The British version of the album contains a few distinct originals, such as “Heart of Stone”, with impressive guitars and heavily reverbed tambourine hits, and a calm, pop, version of “I’m Free”, a song made more famous by later cover versions.


Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones
Released: July 30, 1965 (London)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: London, November 1964–May 1965
Side One Side Two
Mercy, Mercy
Hitch Hike
The Last Time
That’s How Strong My Love Is
Good Times
I’m All Right
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Cry to Me
The Under Assistant West Coast Promotional Man
Play with Fire
The Spider and the Fly
One More Try
Additional Tracks (UK version)
She Said Yeah
Talkin’ Bout You
Oh, Baby
Heart of Stone
I’m Free
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Percussion
Keith Richards – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Organ, Harmonica, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

The US version of Out of Our Heads begins with a couple of R&B covers with pop leanings. “Mercy, Mercy” has a rotating riff and hook with slightly humorous, high pitched backing vocals. In fact, the only element which sounds like the “Stones” is Jagger’s vocals, which are as soulful and as gritty as ever. “Hitch Hike” works least well of the cover songs simply because there are many superior versions out there. This being said, the musical elements are all entertaining on this versions including the choppy rhythms and a cool guitar lead by Richards.

Released as a single, early in the year, “The Last Time” was the Rolling Stones’ first original hit. This combines a perfect blend of blues and folk, while also being perhaps the furthest the Stones lean towards Beatles territory with twangy guitars and happy-go-lucky drumming by Watts. Still, Jagger’s deep, bluesy vocals make it quite distinct, especially during the frantic coda that fades the song out.

Three more covers finish up the LP’s first side. Roosevelt Jamison’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” is an attempt at deep soul, which, while not completely terrible, sounds somewhat amateurish by the Stones. Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” features a vocal range that is more suited for Jagger, while the subtle rhythms are excellent by Wyman and Watts on this track. Bo Diddley’s “I’m All Right” is a live track originally released on the EP Got Live If You Want It! The song is a short but interesting live rocker with high energy and pure sixties vibe.

The album’s second side is much more original and musically substantive. This starts with the classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, a song which is pure classic rock personified. Led by Richards’ indelible riff, the song features, perhaps, Jagger’s finest vocal performance ever, as he performs contrasting tones between the verses and choruses. The rest of the band follows suit, with Jones performing a fast paced, strummed acoustic while Wyman plays a slightly funky bass and Watts bangs away with a fast rock drum beat, making this classic a complete band song. Released as a single month before the album, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the group’s first number one in the US, but was initially banned in the UK because its lyrics were considered sexually suggestive.

Bert Russell’s “Cry to Me” is a bit anti climatic following “Satisfaction”, but a decent enough blues ballad nonetheless. The album then wraps up with four group originals. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” maintains the bluesy vibe with consistent harmonica by Jones throughout and sharp drumming by Watts. “Play with Fire” has a dark folk feel and features some bass and production by Phil Spector along with old English style harpsichord by Jack Nitzsche. Recorded during a break from touring in January, 1965, this perfectly moody gem shows much of the same promise as more renowned later classics. “The Spider and the Fly” has a mosey-along, steady paced, down home groove with double guitar grooves, harmonica, and a thematically appropriate vocal melody by Jagger, having all the elements of what could’ve (and should’ve) been a hit by the band. “One More Try” closes the album as a short, boogie-woogie rocker with optimistic lyrics, making it the closest to pure sixties Brit pop by the group.

Out of Our Heads became The Rolling Stones’ first US #1 album, eventually going platinum, which the British version peaked at #2. Their following album, 1966’s Aftermath, saw the band entirely move towards original compositions and they soon found peak success worldwide.

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

1965 Page
 

Centerfield by John Fogerty

Centerfield by John Fogerty

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Centerfield by John FogertyA true solo album in every sense of the word, Centerfield, features John Fogerty writing every song as well as playing every instrument on those songs. Simple in composition while rich in melody, this comeback album which was his most popular post Creedence Clearwater Revival release. Still, the album was ludicrously marred by a lawsuit in which Fogerty’s former label sued him for allegedly plagiarizing himself. After several years in litigation, Fogerty ultimately won that case and was compensated for all legal costs.

The final Creedence album was Mardi Gras, released in 1972. Fogerty then began a solo career, starting with a 1973 debut where he played covers of mainly country music hits. A second solo album was released in 1975 and, despite weak sales, it yielded Fogerty’s first solo hit, “Rockin’ All Over the World”. The following year, Fogerty finished an album called, Hoodoo, but it was rejected as unsatisfactory by his record company and the master tapes were later destroyed.

Fogerty entered into an extended hiatus which lasted the better part of eight years before entering the studio in mid 1984. While many of the songs have a definite nostalgic touch, there is a streak of bitterness on this album, especially when directed towards Saul Zaentz, the owner of Fogerty’s former label, Fantasy Record.


Centerfield by John Fogerty
Released: January 15, 1985 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: The Plant Studios, Sausalito, CA, July–September 1984
Side One Side Two
The Old Man Down the Road
Rock and Roll Girls
Big Train (From Memphis)
I Saw It On T.V.
Mr. Greed
Searchlight
Centerfield
I Can’t Help Myself
Zanz Kant Danz (Vanz Kant Danz)
Primary Musician
John Fogerty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Saxophone, Harmonica, Drums, Percussion

Zaentz sued Fogerty specifically over the opening track, “The Old Man Down the Road”, which he claimed was too similar to the song “Run Though the Jungle” from Cosmo’s Factory (Fogerty displayed the differences between the two songs by playing each live in court). “The Old Man Down the Road” does have an indelible riff with a subtle blend of guitars – acoustic, electric, and slide – along with some classic tremolo effects to make it all so cool. This also features an interesting vocal melody and just the right lead riff to make this all quintessential Fogerty.

“Rock and Roll Girls” follows as an accessible pop/rocker which became a big radio hit in its own right. Built on a three-chord, driving rock riff with a rhythm and beat to match, Fogerty’s vocals hit a slight yodel during the verses. Of particular note is the saxophone, where the multi-instrumentalist has a couple of cool leads in between the verses. “Big Train (From Memphis)” is a pure country rocker through and through, so authentic that it sounds like it must be a cover (although its not).

The middle third of the album hits a bit of a creative lull. “I Saw It On T.V.” has the flow and temperament of a CCR song with steady, strummed acoustic guitar and nice transitional guitars between vocal lines, which are much more refined than Fogerty’s usual soulful screed. “Mr. Greed” doesn’t quite work as well as some of the other songs, featuring a pure, hard rock riff which heavy guitar interludes in between the lines and sophomoric lyrics. “Searchlight” is a more interesting track which blends classic blues and Bayou country along with some Motown elements all under a heavy rock vocal and drum beat.

 
The title song is upbeat and catchy with a choppy percussion effect leading the way before the full song kicks in with slide guitar, bouncy organ, and thumping bass. Fogerty’s vocals on “Centerfield” are at their finest on this album, even if the lyrics are slightly corny, and the chorus is its most melodic part. “I Can’t Help Myself” is a unique and entertaining track with a pure new wave in beat and effect, especially the multitude of electronic percussion effects. Once again, the vocal melodies carry the day, making it a lost gem of a pop song. “Zanz Kant Danz (a.k.a. Vanz Kant Danz)” closes the album, with Caribbean elements in the intro and interesting beats, guitar riffs and synths throughout. The verse section is almost modern disco and the mid section has an extended percussion section, adding to the overall dance elements of this closing track.

Centerfield performed well worldwide, topping the charts in several countries including the USA. It also, surprisingly, reached the Top 10 on the American Country Albums chart. Fogerty followed-up the album with Eye of the Zombie in 1986, which was much less successful and led to another extended hiatus from music.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Scarecrow by John Cougar Mellencamp

Scarecrow by John Mellencamp

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Scarecrow by John Cougar MellencampWhile much of popular music in 1985 was moving towards more synth-based compositions and refined production, John “Cougar” Mellencamp decided to return to his roots on Scarecrow. In fact, Mellencamp was so dedicated to incorporating the sound of classic 1960s music that he mandated to his band that they learn about a hundred old singles verbatim while rehearsing for recording the album. The result was a highly entertaining and successful album which set the template for many future works.

Mellencamp’s breakthrough album was 1982’s American Fool, his fifth release as “John Cougar”. Following this success, he insisted on using his birth name, Mellencamp, on future releases. 1983’s Uh-Huh was another commercial success and the first to feature both Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic on guitars.

Co-produced by Don Gehman, the album was the first to be recorded at Mellencamp’s studio in Belmont, Indiana, known as “The Belmont Mall”. Along with the definitive 60s music theme, the lyrical theme of this album was the transitional economy which saw the ruin of many family farms during the era, giving the album an overall bittersweet tone.


Scarecrow by John Cougar Mellencamp
Released: November 4, 1985 (Riva)
Produced by: Don Gehman & John Mellencamp
Recorded: Belmont, Indiana, March 20-April 29, 1985
Side One Side Two
Rain On the Scarecrow
Grandma’s Theme
Small Town
Minutes to Memories
Lonely Ol’ Night
The Face of the Nation
Justice and Independence ’85
Between a Laugh and a Tear
Rumbleseat
You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.
Primary Musicians
John Cougar Mellencamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Larry Crane – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Wanchic – Guitars, Vocals
John Cascella – Keyboards
Toby Myers – Bass, Vocals
Kenny Aronoff – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The main album theme is portrayed on the opening track, “Rain On the Scarecrow”, co-written by George M. Green. Mellencamp’s chanting lyrics are dark and desperate, while musically this track builds on a sixties-type folk riff with bright guitars and a direct bass by Toby Myers. “Grandma’s Theme” follows as a short interlude of a traditional tune called “In the Baggage Coach Ahead”, sung by Laura Mellencamp, John Mellencamp’s actual grandmother. This links to “Small Town”, a standard folk-rocker built with a strong and direct drum beat by Kenny Aronoff. The song reached #6 on the  US pop charts and was adopted as a rustic theme by many subsequent interests.

“Minutes to Memories” is another co-composed by Green and this stays in the same vibe as the previous song with some interesting percussive effects and other little sonic treats. This song does get interesting and intense later on with backing vocals by Mimi Mapes complimenting the rest of the ensemble. “Lonely Ol’ Night” starts with simple, dueling riffs, which are worked in well with the steady beat of the song. This popular track contains some of the best melodies on the album, with the title inspired by a line from the 1963 film, Hud, starring Paul Newman. “The Face of the Nation” is built with a unique bass riff by Myers accompanied by bouncy guitar by Crane and choppy keyboards by John Cascella throughout, However, it is Aronoff’s drumming which shines brightest on this track.

Scarecrow‘s original second side begins with “Justice and Independence ’85”,a drum-driven funk rocker which attempts to cleverly use titles as names for members of a family. “Between a Laugh and a Tear” is the song on the album which sounds closest to the old “John Cougar” sound, as a direct rocker with subtle guitar riffs and backing vocals by guest, Rickie Lee Jones. The catchy “Rumbleseat” is acoustic pop with plenty of melody and entertaining riffs, more great bass by Myers and a perfect blend of guitars by Wanchic and Crane. “You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin'” stays in same vein as much of the other songs musically but seems to randomly drop famous people and events and seems to try too hard to make a profound point.

John Mellencamp Band

The closing track, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60’s Rock)”,  finds the intended sound perfectly. This catchy, Top 10 pop hit with definitive sixties elements and topical tributes, features a cool mid section with a nice array of short instrumental leads, including a penny whistle organ by Cascella. Despite all this, Mellencamp was initially reluctant to include the song on the album, feeling it was too light-hearted in contrast to the more serious songs.

Following its release, Scarecrow peaked at #2 in the US and spawned a major tour through 1985 and 1986. In the spirit of the album’s theme, Mellencamp helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert, an annual event which continues three decades later.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Southern Accents by Tom Petty

Southern Accents by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Southern Accents by Tom PettyTom Petty & the Heartbreakers found a nice blend of mid-eighties pop and their traditional rock sound on 1985’s Southern Accents. This sixth album by the group (and first new release in nearly three years) was put together by a vast number personnel. Along with Heartbreakers’ members Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, three other producers were involved in the production and beyond the five band members, over thirty session players and singers were used in recording this album.

Petty and the Heartbreakers entered the 1980s on a high streak, following the success of their 1979 album, Damn the Torpedoes. However, the follow-up album, Hard Promises in 1981, saw some friction between the band and the record company over pricing policy. Their 1982 album, Long After Dark saw the arrival of bass player Howie Epstein, who had been a member of Del Shannon’s backing band.

Southern Accents was originally conceived as a concept album about the “modern South”. This mission was ultimately abandoned when Eurhythmics founder Dave Stewart contributed some compositions and production techniques which contrasted with the overall concept. Tensions arose among the band members, who each had distinct visions of the album’s musical direction. These frustrations culminated with Petty breaking his left hand after punching a wall during a mixing session.


Southern Accents by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: March 26, 1985 (MCA)
Produced by: Tom Petty, Jimmy Iovine, Mike Campbell, David A. Stewart, & Robbie Robertson
Recorded: Sound City, Village Recorder, & Sunset Sound, Los Angeles and Church Studio, London, 1983–85
Side One Side Two
Rebels
It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me
Don’t Come Around Here No More
Southern Accents
Make It Better (Forget About Me)
Spike
Dogs On the Run
Mary’s New Car
The Best of Everything
Group Musicians
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards, Dobro
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Howie Epstein – Bass, Vocals
Stan Lynch – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with “Rebels”, which features a traditional Tom Petty-style, musical approach with the additional elements of brass and rich backing vocals. Thematically, this track perfectly fits the “Southern Accents” theme and the song also found mainstream appeal by reaching #5 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me” is the first Petty/Stewart collaboration and migrates more towards, mid-eighties slick production, But with a funk bass by Epstein and call and response vocals between Petty and a backing chorus, the song is still interesting, especially with
Benmont Tench‘s cool new-wave/jazz piano during the long outro.

The album’s biggest hit, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” employs Indian-style sitar by Stewart and repetitive but effective track percussion. The song proper is pleasant and melodic throughout and it breaks out into a full rock jam at the end with a wailing guitar lead by Campbell, thumping bass by Epstein and some “real” drums by Stan Lynch. The song was allegedly inspired by Stevie Nicks break up with Joe Walsh, but is best known for its Alice in Wonderland themed music video.

“Southern Accents” is a Jackson Browne-like piano tune, which is unique for the group, albeit a little bit dragged out and mundane, Still, the track works as a graceful title track which hits on the original theme of the album. “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” is the third and final collaboration between Petty and Stewart and employs a full-fledged, upbeat Motown vibe which is executed finely. Oft forgotten in the Petty catalog, this song reached the Top 20 of the Modern Rock charts.

The rest of the second side features an eclectic mix of lesser-known songs. “Spike” is down-home country with cool, chanting lyrics, brush drums and Tench’s electric piano to carry the day. “Dogs On the Run” was co-written by Campbell and returns to old Heartbreakers-style rock for the final time on the album. “Mary’s New Car” has a late-seventies funk/pop vibe (almost disco), along with interesting sounding lead vocals and a subtle, reverb-drenched sax lead. Like the first side, the second side ends with a piano ballad. “The Best of Everything” contains better melodies and good brass to close out the album with style.

Southern Accents reached the Top 10 in the US and the Top 40 in several other countries. The subsequent concert tour spawned the live album Pack Up the Plantation in late 1985 before the band toured with Bob Dylan through the next couple years.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

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Brothers In Arms by Dire StraitsDire Straits reached their commercial peak and achieved worldwide fame with their fifth studio album, Brothers In Arms. All the songs on this album were composed by lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Knopfler and he and the group honed their signature sound of r&b and jazz with an increased sense of pop song craft that ultimately paid off as the album dominated charts worldwide and won two Grammy awards. It is also notable for being one of the first directed towards CD sales by offering extended versions of some songs and, as a result, Brothers In Arms became the first CD ever to sell over one million copies in that medium.

Early in the 1980s, Dire Straits had a couple of successful albums with 1980’s Making Movies and 1982’s Love Over Gold. The latter of these two featured long and experimental songs with extensive piano and keyboard Alan Clark’s piano and keyboard work and was the first Dire Straits album produced by Knopfler. The group embarked on an extensive world tour before taking a break in late 1983 and early 1984.

Recording for Brothers In Arms took place on the Caribbean island of Montserrat during the Winter of 1984-85. The album was co-produced by Neil Dorfsman, who made good use of the limited space of the small studio. During the sessions, group drummer Terry Williams was replaced by Omar Hakim, who reportedly recorded all of the album’s drum parts in just two days. A second keyboardist, Guy Fletcher, also joined the group for the first time during recording.


Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits
Released: May 13, 1985 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Neil Dorfsman & Mark Knopfler
Recorded: AIR Studios, Montserrat, November 1984–March 1985
Side One Side Two
So Far Away
Money for Nothing
Walk of Life
Your Latest Trick
Why Worry
Ride Across the River
The Man’s Too Strong
One World
Brothers in Arms
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Guy Fletcher – Keyboards, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Omar Hakim – Drums

The opening track, “So Far Away”, was also the album’s lead single, reaching the Top 20 in the UK. The song features a very simple but effective structure, with two complementing guitar patterns and subtle vocals by Knopfler. Lyrically, the track speaks of distance in a relationship, whether it be real or symbolic. The only song to feature a co-writer and co-lead-singer, “Money for Nothing” was co-written by Sting (credited as Gordon Sumner). The song was a pure pop attempt that paid off big time, as this catchy dance track with a crunchy riff became the group’s most successful single. The lyrics were inspired by a conversation Knopfler heard while in an electronics store in New York City, with the words delivered entirely as a third person narrative.

 
“Walk of Life” is the best pure pop song on the album and the high point of danceable pop before the album comes down to a more mellow level. Musically, it is built a classic Hammond organ line by Clark along with a contrasting Western-style guitar by Knopfler. The melodic lead vocals are nicely complemented by interesting backing vocal patterns, which made for another smash hit worldwide and the group’s biggest commercial hit in their native UK. Starting with a signature saxophone by Michael Brecker, “Your Latest Trick” is Adult contemporary at its best, utilizing fine electric piano chords and a steady bass by John Illsley along with jazzy, clicking percussion by Hakim. “Why Worry” may be the finest overall song on this album, as a quiet and reserved ballad with finely picked guitars throughout. It starts with a long, subtle guitar intro and remains mellow throughout, building only slightly during the chorus with a nice, descending keyboard line in between verse sections. Poetic lyrics persist throughout;

Why worry, there should be laughter after the pain, there should be sunshine after rain, these things have always been the same, so why worry now…”

The album’s second side has less pop pursuit with several tracks lyrically focused on militarism. “Ride Across the River” contains a very slight reggae beat and distant horns throughout the long, story-telling song. “The Man’s Too Strong” is an acoustic, outlaw country-style track with interesting hard electric guitar riffs after each chorus, while “One World” is much weaker musically with a totally 80s style of fretless bass, standard funk guitar, simple beats and cheesy keys. The album concludes with the title track, “Brothers in Arms”, which starts with a dramatic key swell before settling in with a slight guitar lead in the vein of Pink Floyd. Later, the track contains calm but effective melodies before the keys and lead guitars carry the mood through most of the second half of the song.

Dire Straits in 1985

Early in 2015, Brothers In Arms re-entered the UK Album Charts, making it a total of 356 weeks it has spent on those charts. It is one of Earth’s best-selling albums, having sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Another successful world tour followed, including 21 straight nights playing in Sydney, Australia in 1986. However, another long break after the tour led to a temporary breakup of the band, and they would not release another studio album until 1991, six years after Brothers In Arms.

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

1985 Page
 

1970 Album of the Year

Moondance by Van Morrison

1970 Album of the Year
Buy Moondance

Moondance by Van MorrisonWe’ve covered more music from the year 1970 than from any other year at Classic Rock Review. Through these nineteen articles covering twenty-three different albums, we’ve observed some of the finest rock groups as they branched out to embrace some roots or otherwise raw musical genres. Through all that great music, we believe that no one hit the sweet spot like Van Morrison and the most and authentic, entertaining and timeless effort of his long career, Moondance. Morrison blends diverse styles such as jazz, folk rock, country, R&B, and American soul with potent melodies and pristine arrangements, all on a cohesive album which always sounds fresh. For these reasons, we have chosen Moondance as our album of the year for 1970.

Morrison’s previous album, Astral Weeks, was filled with impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness tunes and was recorded in just a few sessions in New York City in late 1968. After that recording, Morrison and his wife decided to move to upstate New York, where the composer began writing songs for a follow-up album. Despite the critical acclaim of Astral Weeks, its improvised nature did not lead to much commercial success and Morrison looked to strike a balance between musical integrity and audience accessibility.

Coproduced by Lewis Merenstein, fresh musicians were recruited for Moondance, starting in the summer of 1969. While all the tracks were composed by Morrison on acoustic guitar, he entered the studio with no written arrangements, leaving room for this album to grow organically with any riffs or fills generated spontaneously through jam sessions. The result is a record of renewal and redemption which is every bit as authentic as its predecessor while shedding that album’s dark and gloomy feel, as Morrison employs simple memories and nature motifs lyrically.


Moondance by Van Morrison
Released: February 28, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison & Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: A & R Studios, New York, August–December 1969
Side One Side Two
And It Stoned Me
Moondance
Crazy Love
Caravan
Into the Mystic
Come Running
These Dreams of You
Brand New Day
Everyone
Glad Tidings
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
John Platania – Guitars
Jeff Labes – Piano, Keyboards
Jack Schroer – Saxophones
Colin Tilton – Flute, Saxophone
John Klingberg – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

The lyrics of Moondance seem to be symbiotically linked through the individual tracks with certain elemental themes reappearing throughout. One of these primary elements is water and nowhere is it more prominent than on the opening track “And It Stoned Me”. This nostalgic song about a day of adolescence in Ireland, speaks of walking to a fishing hole, getting caught in the rain, and ultimately receiving some H2O rejuvenation. Each lyrical line is filled with vivid yet poetic images and emotions while the moderate yet soulful rock sound features sax accents and a dual lead section featuring Morrison’s acoustic guitar and the piano of Jeff Labes.

The pure jazzy title tune is built on a walking bass pattern of John Klingberg, subtle piano chords by Labes and a great overall melody by Morrison. It later features a jazzy sax lead by Jack Schroer The lyrics of “Moondance” are specifically a tribute to the autumn season as well as romance in general and this hit song did not actually chart until 1977, seven years after its release. “Crazy Love” features Motown inspired, high pitched soul vocals which were accomplished by Morrison getting as close to the microphone as possible. This song is also the  to feature Gospel-style backing singers while the music is very reserved with acoustic, bass, and brushed drums.

“Caravan” is a pure celebration of radio portrayed through a moderate rock backing and very intense vocalization. After two verses comes the first of two improvised bridge sections that bring this song to a new level along with syncopated beats and punching brass. The side one closer “Into the Mystic” paints an indelible picture of life on the water where Morrison again returns to his youth in the port city of Belfast. The mood of this subtle folk tune is driven by a cool but direct bass line, strummed acoustic, and a building array of other instruments added ounthe duration, including a foghorn-mimicking alto saxophone for great effect.

“We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun / Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic…”

The album’s second side contains some lesser known but quality songs. The Top 40 hit “Come Running” is upbeat, almost country in its approach, especially with the boogie-woogie piano by Labes, a two chord guitar pattern by John Platania and the first real affirmative presence by drummer Gary Mallaber. The track is not very complex lyrically but this is intentional as it works as an upbeat counter to some of the deeper songs from the first side. “These Dreams of You” portrays upbeat blues with bass rhythm, slide acoustic, and harmonica by Morrison. On “Brand New Day”, the tone is excellent even if the vocal melody seems a bit recycled. Nonetheless, this track is definitely a spiritual, Gospel influenced, song of redemption with rich backing harmonies.

Van MorrisonThe energy returns fully on “Everyone”, which starts with a cool harpsichord by Labes that persists through repetitive, beat driven pattern of this song of pure celebration. Colin Tilton provides flute flourishes throughout this Baroque-styled track which is an ode to the power of music. The album concludes with “Glad Tidings”, featuring the most pronounced bass line, exceptional drumming, subtle saxophones and squeezed out electric guitar notes all behind Morrison’s clarion vocals. While many songs on this album revisit the past, this one is set firmly in the present day of 1970 as Morrison sends “glad tidings” from his new home in New York.

Moondance was a critical and commercial success, peaking in the Top 40 in charts in both the US and the UK. It has continuously sold well during the four and a half decades since its release, eventually certified as triple platinum in sales. Later in 1970, Morrison released the follow-up album, His Band and the Street Choir, which feature “Domino”, the song which ultimately became Morrison’s biggest hit ever. Through the 1970s and into decades beyond, he released a succession of fine albums but none have reached quite the level of esteem as our album of the year, Moondance.

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

Deja Vu by Crosby Stills Nash and Young

Déjà Vu by
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

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Deja Vu by Crosby Stills Nash and YoungDéjà Vu is the sophomore effort by the super group with the expanded name of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, after the addition of Neil Young to the group. Each of the four named members of the group contributed an original composition to each side of the original LP, which worked to give this album a very diverse musical and textual feel overall. following its release, the album topped the charts in the US and went on to be the most successful record overall for the group as a four piece.

The 1969 self-titled debut by Crosby, Stills & Nash was a critical and commercial success. On that album, Stephen Stills played the bulk of the instruments with drummer Dallas Taylor being the only player outside the core trio. After the album’s release and success, the band looked to add more players, at first trying to recruit Steve Winwood (to no avail). At the urging of Atlantc Records founder Ahmet Ertegün, Young was brought on as a fourth member, reuniting him with Stills, his Buffalo Springfield bandmate. This updated group then embarked on their initial tour in the summer of 1969.

Through late 1969, great anticipation was building for another album by the group. Ultimately, the album took a long time to record, with over 500 studio hours logged over the course of five months. The end result is an album filled with precise playing, rich harmonies, and strong rhythms, with three charting singles and several more tracks which have sustained throughout the decades.


Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Released: March 11, 1970 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Recorded: Wally Heider’s Studios, San Francisco and Los Angeles, July-December, 1969
Side One Side Two
Carry On
Teach Your Children
Almost Cut My Hair
Helpless
Woodstock
Déjà Vu
Our House
4 + 20
Country Girl
Everybody, I Love You
Primary Musicians
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Stephen Stills – Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Vocals
Graham Nash – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Neil Young – Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Greg Reeves – Bass
Dallas Taylor – Drums

The songs through most of Déjà Vu are great Americana classics which, if they are flawed at all, are just a bit too short in duration. “Carry On” has an upbeat acoustic folk intro. Still’s thumping bass and some hand percussion are present through much of the opening verses. The later section changes direction a bit while still giving room for harmonies to fully shine along with some great electric guitar licks. “Teach Your Children” is a pure, steady country tune by Graham Nash, featuring exquisite harmonies throughout. This track also has some impressive pedal steel by guest Jerry Garcia, who made this signature arrangement in return for the CSNY teaching members of the Grateful Dead how to effectively harmonize for their upcoming 1970 albums.

“Almost Cut My Hair” is a bluesy, hippie anthem by David Crosby, featuring a triple guitar attack by Crosby, Stills, and most especially Young on lead guitar. This track is also the most ‘live’ sounding on the album and features no harmonies, with Crosby alone supplying the soulful lead vocals throughout. The album again changes direction with Young’s “Helpless”, where Neil plays acoustic, electric, piano, and harmonica along with the lead vocals. This track was originally recorded by Young with Crazy Horse in early 1969. The album’s first side concludes with “Woodstock”, a song written by Joni Mitchell as a folk song but adapted by CSNY as a rocked out version with potent, electric guitar motifs and exceptionally harmonized counter-melodies during the choruses. Mitchell did not play at the actual Woodstock festival, but wrote the song based on accounts from then-boyfriend Nash, and recorded her own version for the album, Ladies of the Canyon.

Crosby Stills Nash Young

Side two of the album contains five more fine tracks, although not quite at the level of the first side. Crosby’s title track, “Déjà Vu”, may be the oddest song on the album, as it slowly works its way into an acoustic groove for the intro section but then abruptly breaks into a slow, bluesy rock for the duration. Nash’s “Our House” is a very British pop, piano love tune, unlike anything this band had done before or since. The song simply portrays a day in the life of Nash and Mitchell verbatim. “4 + 20” is a short acoustic folk tune by Stills, followed by Young’s “Country Girl”, a loose medley with a waltz-like beat, deep organ textures in the background, and slight harmonies. The album concludes with “Everybody I Love You”, the only collaboration on the album (between Stills and Young), which seems like the least finished track on the album overall.

Within a year after the successful release of Déjà Vu, each of the four members recorded solo albums — Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, Stills’ self-titled debut, Nash’s Songs for Beginners and Young’s After the Gold Rush, all four of which reached the Top 20 on the charts. However, there would not be another CSNY studio album by all four until American Dream in 1988, nearly two decades later.

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