Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

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Go To Heaven by Grateful DeadLong derided as one of the most unpopular albums among the Grateful Dead faithful, Go To Heaven is ,nonetheless, a solid record musically. The biggest change in the group’s sound comes with the arrival of keyboard player Brent Mydland, who replaced the late Keith Godchaux and provided the band with a wide array of piano, organ, synth, vocal, and composition style unlike anything they had before. Beyond this, Go To Heaven is, perhaps, the Dead’s most diverse album and is positioned squarely at the crossroads of their sonic evolution from the beginning of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s.

The Grateful Dead’s original keyboardist, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, died in March 1973 due to complications from alcohol abuse. He was replaced by pianist Godchaux, who had begun touring with the group as early as 1971. Through the mid seventies, the Grateful Dead put out a series of albums which explored differing styles, including the jazz influenced Wake of the Flood, the experimental and meditative Blues for Allah, the prog-rock influenced Terrapin Station, and Shakedown Street, which incorporated some disco influence.

Go to Heaven touched elements from each of those previous styles, along with a slight return to the band’s core grooves while incorporating some modern funk and synth motifs. Produced by Gary Lyons, these diverse styles and deliberate motifs are held together by the consistent but reserved drumming by the duo Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. While this may be a far cry from the group’s lauded stage improvisation, it made for an enjoyable studio album which holds up decades later.


Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead
Released: April 28, 1980 (Arista)
Produced by: Gary Lyons
Recorded: Club Le Front, San Rafael, CA, July 1979–January 1980
Side One Side Two
Alabama Getaway
Far From Me
Althea
Feel Like a Stranger
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)
Easy to Love You
Don’t Ease Me In
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with the simple rocker “Alabama Getaway”, penned by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. This short blues rock jam contains a couple of nice guitar leads by Garcia and adventurous lyrics. Mydland’s first and finest track is the amazingly catchy and steady rocker “Far From Me”. While Mydland’s piano drives the rhythm, a blend of crunchy guitars march in the background complimented by a cool background chorus. Garcia’s “Althea” is, perhaps, the most indelible Grateful Dead track from Go To Heaven. The track sounds like a quiet room being penetrated by pinpoint notes, beats, and other sonic candy, including percussive effects and the brilliant, buzzing bass by Phil Lesh. This track also actually hits a pleasant bridge (a rarity for Dead tunes) with some really bluesy slide guitar in the latter part of the song and gets ever-so-slightly intense during the final guitar lead. Lyrically, Hunter draws from some classical pieces including Shakespeare’s Hamlet;

You may be the fate of Ophelia, sleeping and perchance to dream. Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered to the extreme…”

From here, the album takes a turn with three consecutive songs co-written by singer and guitarist Bob Weir and lyricist John Perry Barlow. “Feel Like a Stranger” is a cool funk/rocker with bright guitar chords and a wild analog synth by Mydland. This catchy tune works hard to fit its genre, even including some high-pitched, disco-influenced backing vocals but reaches an unnecessary, abrupt ending to close the album’s original first side. “Lost Sailor” is mellow and dark with some jazzy elements and deep, philosophical lyrics to compliment the overall moodiness. “Saint of Circumstance” is more upbeat and pop-oriented than the previous track, and the lyrics suggest this may be the default title song of the album. Musically, the song contains lots of catchy passages from the rock drive of the intro and chorus to the escalating piano runs by Mydland to the sparse but effective guitar licks by Garcia.

Grateful Dead

A half-minute psychedelic percussion piece by Hart and Kreutzmann called “Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)” leads to the final two tracks which nearly reflect the album’s first two, but in reverse order. Mydland’s “Easy to Love You” is a soft rocker with some signature Grateful Dead musical elements and the almost anti-Dead vocal smoothness which strongly reflects the style of Michael McDonald. The traditional track “Don’t Ease Me In” closes the album with a track that the band jammed to when they were still called “The Warlocks” pre-1965. Garcia leads the way with quasi-country vocals and bluesy guitar, while there is also a pretty entertaining Hammond organ lead by Mydland.

Go To Heaven reached the Top 30 on the American Pop Albums chart, which was a moderate success for the band which was almost completely non-top-40 until the late eighties. More importantly, it still sounds good today and shows that this band had some vast talent away from the stage.

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

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Begin Here by The Zombies

Begin Here by The Zombies

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Begin Here by The ZombiesWe commence our year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 album releases with the oldest music we’ll ever cover at Classic Rock Review. The British group, The Zombies, recorded several singles through 1964 a few of which caught fire in the U.S. market. To capitalize, the group rushed into the studio late in 1964 to record enough material to release an album for the American market. The twelve track album The Zombies was released in January 1965 in the U.S., while the band took a little more time to complete their fourteen track U.K. debut, Begin Here, a few months later. While either version of this album contains too many covers by contemporary standards, there is certainly enough variation and originality in the originals to sustain this as a classic.

The Zombies were originally formed as “The Mustangs” in 1961, while its five members were still at school. After finding out that other bands were using “Mustangs”, the band’s permanent name was coined by short-time member Paul Arnold, who left the group to become a physician. The band “won” a recording contract with Decca Records after winning a beat-group competition and instantly recorded their first hit, “She’s Not There” in 1964. Written by keyboardist Rod Argent, the song contains a cool, jazzy electric piano, Bossa Nova rhythms by drummer Hugh Grundy, and the signature, breathy vocals by lead vocalist Colin Blunstone. The song reached The Top 20 in the UK in September 1964 and climbed all the way to #2 in the U.S. in December 1964.

The group immediately toured the United States and were featured on the initial episode of the national TV show Hullabaloo. Throughout this frenzy, the group was composing and recording, while developing a distinct musical and vocal style with featured a blend of keyboards, snapping rhythms, and distinct lead and harmonized vocals.


Begin Here by The Zombies
Released: March 1, 1965 (Decca)
Produced by: Ken Jones
Recorded: June – November 1964
Side One Side Two
Road Runner
Summertime
I Can’t Make Up My Mind
The Way I Feel Inside
Work n’ Play
You Really Got A Hold On Me/Bring It On Home To Me
She’s Not There
Sticks and Stones
Can’t Nobody Love You
Woman
I Don’t Want to Know
I Remember When I Loved Her
What More Can I Do
I Got My Mojo Working
Bonus Tracks
It’s Alright with Me
Sometimes
Kind of Girl
Tell Her No
Group Musicians
Colin Blunstone – Lead Vocals
Rod Argent – Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul Atkinson – Guitars
Chris White – Bass, Vocals
Hugh Grundy – Drums

Begin Here starts with a rocking version of Bo Didley’s “Road Runner”. Paul Atkinson adds some surf rock guitar elements to complement Blunstone’s wild, intense vocals and a slight organ solo by Argent. George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is next interpreted as a calm and jazzy number with great sixties sonic motifs, led by the electric piano of Argent and the smooth lead vocals of Blunstone. The first original on the album is written by bassist Chris White. “I Can’t Make Up My Mind” is pure sixties pop, with The Zombies offering their first hint of great harmonies with a slight guitar lead by Atkinson. Argent’s “The Way I Feel Inside” is definitely influenced by The Beatles, and most specifically the song “If I Fell” from A Hard Days Night, while “Work n’ Play” is a cool sixties-style instrumental, led by the piano of guest Ken Jones (who wrote the number) and a harmonica lead by Argent.

The medley “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me/Bring It On Home to Me” may be the weakest spot on the album, considering The Beatles had already done their own version of the first part of this medley, and there is nothing special added here. In contrast, the cover “Sticks and Stones” is a great jam even if you can sense some Rolling Stones/Them influence, especially vocally. Atkinson’s bright, picked guitar drives the blues/soul influenced “Can’t Nobody Love You”, a rare track where Argent is reserved to the background with White’s bass and Grundy’s drums much more animated. “Woman” is  riff-driven with harmonized vocals throughout and changes method and tempo between the verse and chorus sections.

The Zombies

“I Don’t Want to Know” is another pop track by White with some lead vocal rudiments, while Argent’s “I Remember When I Loved Her” contains a dark, almost Western feel with echoed, picked acoustic and constant 6/4 rhythmic drive with some percussion effects. Later a haunting organ rises in the background, adding to the overall vibe and show that The Zombies were sophisticated beyond their years and explored abstract musical avenues long before art-rock came along. White’s third and final composition on the album is the short but excellent “What More Can I Do”, which vastly predicts the Doors sound of years to come. Rounding out the original album is “I Got My Mojo Working”, a pure, upbeat blues which forecasts the future of rock n roll with consistent, driving riff and beat and more than apt harmonica by Argent.

Some of the group’s originals which were only included on the American version, The Zombies, were the sixties jam, “It’s Alright With Me”, the Beatlesque rocker, “Sometimes”, and most especially the 1965 hit single “Tell Her No”. This latter track by Argent is a jazz/rock classic with great sense of melody and composition that became the group’s second Top 10 hit in the United States.

After the frenzy of early 1965, The Zombies got into a bit of a commercial rut, releasing several singles through 1966 without much popular reaction. Eventually, the band made their way to Abbey Road Studios in 1967 and recorded their classic album, Odessey and Oracle, released in 1968. Unfortunately, the group was already on the outs by that point, assuring a short but meteoric path for one of the sixties most ingenious rock bands.

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

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The Pretenders debut album

Pretenders by The Pretenders

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The Pretenders debut albumPretenders, is the self-titled debut studio album by the British-American band of the same name. Released just weeks into the new decade of the eighties, this was one of the more widely anticipated debuts as the group had already achieved commercial success with three charting hits in 1979. Those three singles (along with two of the ‘B sides’) were combined with new studio material to make this fine rock album, which debuted at #1 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. The album also received high praise critically, which it has sustained as it is included on many lists of top debuts of all time.

The Pretenders are led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in 1973 and wrote for the weekly music paper NME. She formed and played in many groups through the mid seventies and was involved with the inception of the punk scene, including short stints with early versions of The Clash and The Damned. After recording a demo of original songs, Hynde was convinced to assemble a more permanent band to reach the next level. Bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott joined Hynde in this yet-to-be named band in early 1978.

Later that year, the group chose their name after the Platters song, “The Great Pretender”, and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ ,”Stop Your Sobbing”, with producer Nick Lowe and drummer Gerry Mackelduff. Released in January 1979, the single gained the new group some attention and radio play as well as the backing to record more songs and eventually this debut album. Martin Chambers signed on as the group’s permanent drummer and the quartet recorded scores of tracks through 1979 with producer Chris Thomas, many of which were not released until a re-mastered edition of Pretenders was released in 2006.


Pretenders by The Pretenders
Released: January 19, 1980 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas & Nick Lowe
Recorded: Wessex Studios and Air Studios, London, 1979
Side One Side Two
Precious
The Phone Call
Up the Neck
Tattooed Love Boys
Space Invader
The Wait
Stop Your Sobbing
Kid
Private Life
Brass In Pocket
Lovers of Today
Mystery Achievement
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
James Honeyman-Scott – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Farndon – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

Hynde wrote the bulk of the material on Pretenders and found a nice blend of rock, punk and pop, with the slightest hint of new wave edge. “Precious” starts as a rapid, two chord jam until the song gets a little more intense and sonically interesting with phasing and reverse-reverb effects, and overtly vulgar lyrics. The song was a cynical ode to Hynde’s home city of Akron, a theme she would revisit in a more sentimental way in later years on “My City Was Gone” from Learning to Crawl. “The Phone Call” is a rudiment driven, new wave rocker where the vocals are mostly spoken word with some interesting deviations during the short, rapid, off-beat choruses, while “Up the Neck” is much more contemporary and melodic than the first two tracks as a steady, jangly, and pleasant pop/rocker throughout.

The PretendersReturns to the feel of the opening track, “Tattooed Love Boys” shoots a strong sexual vibe by Hynde and is close to punk in underlying feel, albeit much more refined up top. This track also employs a very odd time signature and the first of several brilliant guitar leads by Honeyman-Scott. Next comes the album’s only instrumental, “Space Invader”, driven by Farden’s bass line in the opening jam and a slight synth section by Honeyman-Scott. “The Wait” has more interesting riffs and rudiments in the verse where Hynde’s lead vocals seem to be in a race between the crunch riffing, while the chorus has a more standard rock release with great bass by Farndon, who co-wrote this song.

While this album is fine throughout, the second side is especially strong. “Kid” is a melodic and upbeat ballad with some cool instrumental passages, including a nice acoustic section and very animated, rolling drums by Chambers. Here, Hynde abandons the punk bravado and branches out with a love song about vulnerability and Honeyman-Scott contributes layers of fine lectric guitars. “Private Life” follows as a quasi reggae tune, but with the guitar riff and vocals giving it a dark feel. Although the group rarely leaves the same basic riff through its six and a half minute duration, the song does contain some soul-fueled background vocal variations and another respectable rock guitar lead.

“Brass in Pocket” is the most popular early track by The Pretenders, driven by the slightly funky riff by Honeyman-Scott, Hynde’s great sense of melody, and Farndon’s rounded eighties bass to introduce the new decade. Lyrically, the song is one of self-assurance among women with a laid-back swagger and confidence. The song was a pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 20 in the US. “Lovers of Today” starts as pure ballad but takes some interesting turns into classic rock areas with coolly strummed acoustic with strong electric riffs above while maintaining the overall melancholy mood of the track. The album ends strong with “Mystery Achievement”, a powerful and intense rocker with more melodic vocals by Hynde.

Pretenders was a commercial success worldwide, reaching the Top 10 on a half dozen album charts in 1980. The next year the group followed up with an EP and a second full-length album, Pretenders II.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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On Through the Night by Def Leppard

On Through the Night
by Def Leppard

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On Through the Night by Def LeppardIt is clear that Def Leppard had yet to refine their signature sound when they recorded their debut LP, On Through the Night. The album, which contains songs then described as “working-class hard rock anthems” are raw and energetic and was produced in a way which is a little short of professional, but this may be part of the overall charm. Led by the duo guitarists of Steve Clark and Peter Willis, the young group showed some hard rock and heavy metal sophistication as well as an advanced knack for composing hooks.

Def Leppard grew out of a band called Atomic Mass, featuring Willis and bassist Rick Savage. In 1977, 18-year-old Joe Elliott successfully auditioned for the band and brought with him the name “Deaf Leopard”, which he had envisioned as a band name through his school days. Clark joined the band in early 1978 and later that year, while recording their first EP of original music, then-15-year-old Rick Allen joined the group as its permanent drummer, rounding out the quintet.

That EP actually sold well in the U.K., fueled by the song “Getcha Rocks Off”, which got some healthy airtime on the BBC, and the band developed a loyal following in the British hard rock and heavy metal scene. This led to a major record deal in 1979 and the production of On Through the Night late in that year. Produced by Tom Allom, the album is split between re-recorded versions of the group’s previous single, EP tracks and a handful of newly written songs.


On Through the Night by Def Leppard
Released: March 14, 1980 (Mercury)
Produced by: Tom Allom
Recorded: Startling Studios, Ascot, England, December 1979
Side One Side Two
Rock Brigade
Hello America
Sorrow Is a Woman
It Could Be You
Satellite
Walls Came Tumbling Down
Wasted
Rocks Off
It Don’t Matter
Answer to the Master
Overture
Group Musicians
Joe Elliott – Lead Vocals
Steve Clark – Guitars
Peter Willis – Guitars
Rick Savage – Bass
Rick Allen – Drums

“Rock Brigade” starts the album with the energy of a cross between Aerosmith and early Rush, a very seventies vibe for this group that would become synonymous with eighties rock. Driven by the double guitar crunch of Clark and Willis, the song features plenty of slight sound effects to enhance the otherwise solid rock song. Where the opener is a cool rocker, “Hello America” seems overtly tacky during the naked opening vocal chorus, but is otherwise pretty heavy and upbeat with some well placed synth effects in the chorus by session man Chris M. Hughes.

Def Leppard In 1980“Sorrow Is a Woman” is the best song on the album. it starts with a solid and dramatic rock phrase which gives way to the reserved, almost jazzy verse sections with well-picked guitars and fantastic bass by Savage. After a calm and moody first and second chorus, the song launches into a heavy and extended, multi-part bridge with traded and harmonized guitar licks and leads. “It Could Be You” is a heavy blues rocker by Willis with a frenzied feel and nearly as frenzied vocals by Elliot, making this the closest to heavy metal on the first side.
“Satellite” is a bit darker and more murky than the previous tracks and the song tries too hard to be relevant, though it is entertaining enough. The first side finishes with “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”, a song with an epic feel due to the theatrical beginning with spoken narration by guest Dave Cousins of the UK band the Strawbs. The English feel is interrupted by a riff and rudiment rock section which shows that this young band can actually jam pretty well.

On the second side of On Through the Night, Def Leppard starts to sound like eighties hair band that they would ultimately become. “Wasted” is almost comically simple in its approach and repetition, but it is the one song which remained from this album in the band’s repo ire through their superstar years. “Rocks Off” is an updated version of the band’s 1978 radio hit, and is another straight-forward rocker, this time laced with faux crowd noise at various points. The music is tight on this latter track as the duo guitars shine atop the fast and potent rhythm lead by the exquisite timing of drummer Allen, especially during the extended jam which closes the song. “It Don’t Matter” is upbeat with great bluesy guitars in the intro and solo section with well-timed and executed rock riffing during the verses and some chorus chanting, while “Answer to the Master” takes a turn towards the “darker” heavy metal themes floating through other groups at the time.

And with this message that I bring to you / A beacon of light to see you through / For time is on our side

Def Leppard’s first album ends with a nod to the past, with the a hard prog rock epic “Overture”. Starting with an acoustic arpeggio and a folkish,  melodic vibe through the opening two minutes, the track breaks into an electric rock shuffle during the next phase, with poetic lyrics and subtle melody by Elliot. Next, the song goes through some riff-based sections to bridge it back full circle to the opening section with nearly identical lyrics.

Although On Through the Night was a not a huge commercial success upon release, the album was eventually certified platinum by the end of the decade it ushered in. More importantly, it caught the ear of famed producer “Mutt” Lange, who refined the band’s sound on their second album, High ‘n’ Dry in 1981. This led to further success as Def Leppard quickly climbed to the top of the hard rock world.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Double Fantasy by John Lennon

Double Fantasy
by John Lennon & Yoko Ono

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Double Fantasy by John LennonReleased just three weeks before he was murdered, Double Fantasy was at once John Lennon‘s great comeback effort and tragic final release of his lifetime. The album was a true collaboration with Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, with songs pretty much alternating throughout the album’s sequence between songs written and sung by Lennon and those written and sung by Ono. While the album was initially panned by critics, most changed their tune after Lennon’s death and the subsequent deluge of popular support, which served to propel the record to the top of the charts worldwide.

With the birth of Lennon and Ono’s son Sean in October 1975, John Lennon effectively began a hiatus from the music business. Prior to this, Lennon had released an album of cover songs simply titled Rock n’ Roll. Over the subsequent five years, Lennon gave all his attention to his family and performed no touring or recording save from the occasional acoustic demo recorded in his New York apartment. Lennon took a sailing trip down the Atlantic coast to Bermuda in the summer of 1980, which sparked his compositional creativity as he began to write new songs and rework earlier demos. At the same time, Ono also wrote many songs and the couple decided to release their combined work on a single album. The end result was an album of personally focused material with an underlying theme about a man and woman who found each other years into their relationship, with the tracks  sequenced as a dialogue between Lennon and Ono.

They enlisted producer Jack Douglas, and asked him to assemble a backing band without telling them for whom they would be recording. Lennon and Ono initially financed the recording sessions as Lennon was not signed to a record label at the time and the couple wanted the recording sessions to remain secret until they were satisfied with the finished production. After leaking the news to a few A&R folks, the Lennons chose the fledgling Geffen Records, reportedly because David Geffen was the only one who showed Ono the proper respect.


Double Fantasy by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released: November 17, 1980 (Geffen)
Produced by: Jack Douglas, John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Recorded: The Hit Factory, New York, August–September 1980
Side One Side Two
(Just Like) Starting Over
Kiss Kiss Kiss
Cleanup Time
Give Me Something
I’m Losing You
I’m Moving On
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
Watching the Wheels
Yes, I’m Your Angel
Woman
Beautiful Boys
Dear Yoko
Every Man Has a Woman
Hard Times Are Over
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Yoko Ono – Vocals
Hugh McCracken – Guitars
Tony Levin – Bass
Andy Newmark – Drums

The album’s lead single, “(Just Like) Starting Over” is also Double Fantasy‘s opening track. A slight chime noise cues the opening strummed acoustic with Lennon’s crooning vocals in the intro section. The track next breaks into a full, 50s-style rock doo-wop with modern rock elements as a very entertaining, quasi-tribute to Elvis Presley. The outro fadeout includes Ono speaking while Lennon adds soprano chants to complete the track which would posthumously become Lennon’s biggest solo hit, topping the charts for five weeks. Later on the first side, “Cleanup Time” is a funky rocker throughout and reminiscent of certain tracks from Lennon’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges,  his last studio album prior to Double Fantasy.

Ono’s three tracks on the first side are “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, the disco and new wave-influenced song features Ono gasping heavily and appearing to reach orgasm, the Devo-influenced “Give Me Something”, and “I’m Moving On”, which complements and closely mimicks Lennon’s, “I’m Losing You”. Both of these latter tracks were originally recorded by Cheap Trick members Rick Nielson and Bun E. Carlos, but were re-recorded by the session musicians, including guitarists Hugh McCracken and Earl Slick. “I’m Losing You” is a great, moody track where Lennon’s voice sits above the slow rock jam with superb musical motifs. The song was written by Lennon in Bermuda after unsuccessfully trying to connect on a phone call to Ono.

“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” was written by Lennon for his young son and starts with the same percussive bells as the opening song. Musically, it contains strong Caribbean elements along with a consistently strummed acoustic and an extended ending with pleasant sound effects. The song also contains some of the best lyrics on the album;

I can hardly wait to see you come of age / Everyday, in every way it’s getting better and better / Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

“Watching the Wheels” is the best produced song on the album, along with a great musical performance by all players. The bass is spectacular by Tony Levin, bouncy and out front but still nicely locked in with the steady beat of drummer Andy Newmark. On top, the bluesy piano adds for a whimsical mood and Lennon’s parting vocals are very strong and exciting. Ideally, “Watching the Wheels” would have made a great album closer, as Lennon speaks of his “lost” 5 years when he concentrated on domestic life.

John Lennon in 1980

The remainder of side two is dominated by Ono, as she composed and sang four of the six tracks while the two remaining tracks were written by Lennon, directly for her. “Yes, I’m Your Angel” starts with some urban sound effects which go on for nearly a minute before music comes to the forefront as a piano-driven show-tune with accompanying instrumentation and sound collages. “Beautiful Boys” is musically interesting with great layered guitars and potent, high notes of bass, with Ono’s lyrics directly addressing Sean and John. “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” is a moderate and reserved funk/disco, while the closer “Hard Times Are Over” contains a bluesy beat and piano with a live, night club feel.

Lennon’s remaining two songs are the upbeat and funky “Dear Yoko”, with rockabilly vocals, bouncy bass, and a strong horn section, and the much superior ballad, “Woman”. Here, Lennon’s words are deeply romantic, while his vocals are almost desperate. Musically, this track contains a great chord progression throughout along with a pleasant but refrained musical backing. The key jump upward for the third verse perfectly completes the love-song vibe of this song which reached the Top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Following the recording of Double Fantasy, Lennon and Ono immediately started working on a follow-up album, which eventually surfaced as Milk and Honey in early 1984 and is officially listed as Lennon’s final studio album. However, most consider Double Fantasy as the ex-Beatle’s true swan song, as he was working hard promoting it right up until the day he died. On that day, he gave his final interview and optimistically spoke of the future, completing the thought with the now sad phrase; “While there’s life, there’s hope.”

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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The Game by Queen

The Game by Queen

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The Game by QueenQueen reached their commercial peak in the U.S.A. with the 1980 release of their eighth studio album, The Game. This was the only album by the band to reach the top of the charts in America and it eventually surpassed 1977’s, News of the World, as Queen’s top seller with over four million copies distributed. The songwriting on this album is very spread out and diversified, with all songs written individually by band members and each of the four members writing at least two tracks each on this ten track album, which is solid throughout and contains no real weak tracks or filler material.

Queen rode the success of News of the World into a huge world tour in late 1977 and early 1978. They followed this up with the recording and release of the album Jazz, which reached the Top Ten in the US. After another large world tour, the group released their first live album, the double-platinum selling, Live Killers, in 1979. Later that year, the group participated in Paul McCartney’s Concert for the People of Kampuchea, with a live rendition of their 1974 track “Now I’m Here”, being featured on the subsequent album.

Co-produced by Reinhold Mack at his studio in Munich, The Game, was recorded during two distinct phases. Four of the tracks were recorded during the summer of 1979, with the remaining six being produced nearly a year later in early 1980. This album marked the first time that Queen used a synthesizer, a practice they would adopt through most of their later work. Guitarist Brian May stated that the band was “trying to get outside what was normal” and Mack’s recording approach was different than what they had done through their first seven studio albums. The group also employed some pop sub-genres to their tradition “classic rock” core, with elements of new wave and disco spread throughout this record.


The Game by Queen
Released: June 30, 1980 (EMI)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Queen
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, June 1979 – May 1980
Side One Side Two
Play the Game
Dragon Attack
Another One Bites the Dust
Need Your Loving Tonight
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Rock It (Prime Jive)
Don’t Try Suicide
Sail Away Sweet Sister
Coming Soon
Save Me
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Guitars, Piano
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the quasi-theme song “Play the Game”, written by lead vocalist Freddie Mercury in the style of a classic Queen piano ballad, with great rock elements. It all starts with spacey and shrieking synth sound effect before settling into the warm and delicate verse. Everyone in the group brings their ‘A’ game to this track, as middle section blends the heavier rock elements led by May with some more wild synth effects. “Dragon Attack” was composed by May and is the first track built on pure textures, a practice which Queen would expand on later on this album and on later albums. The song features a slight drum solo by Roger Taylor before it reaches its heights with some wild, dueling guitars above the middle section with a unique arrangement that allows these guitars to creep in and totally invade the song’s core.

The hit song “Another One Bites the Dust” was composed by John Deacon and is largely built on his simple bass riff which was inspired by the contemporary group Chic. Later, the song takes on a funky element when May adds guitar in the second verse before it goes “pure disco” during a bridge which includes a simple dance beat strewn by various synth sound effects. The formula worked, as “Another One Bites the Dust” sold seven million copies as a single, reached the Top Ten in Britain, and became Queen’s second and final #1 hit in the United States.

Queen’s initial #1 hit is also on The Game, although it was released nearly a year earlier. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was written by Mercury as a tribute to the late Elvis Presley. This is also one of the few tracks in the Queen catalog where Mercury plays guitar, as he claimed he composed it in just ten minutes while strumming the few chords that he knew. This all worked out, as a rockabilly track with great style, rich harmonies, and a potent bass line and guitar riffing. Preceding the hit track in the album’s sequence is Deacon’s very pop-oriented “Need Your Loving Tonight”, a bright and light tune driven by melody and produced with a much different approach than the more up-front and focused tracks on the album.

Queen

The second side commences with “Rock It (Prime Jive)”, written by Taylor. This song is in two distinct parts, with Mercury crooning during the long intro and Taylor taking over during the new-wave influenced body of the song. While the song really doesn’t go anywhere from here, it is still intense and interesting enough in its upbeat approach. “Don’t Try Suicide” is a song that’s hard to peg. It does have some very cool sonic motifs throughout, but it is so extremely corny in its PSA-style message that it almost sounds like it should have reserved for a non-album project;

Don’t do it, Don’t do it, Don’t-do it, Don’t put your neck on the line, Don’t drown on me babe, Blow your brains out, don’t do that – yeah…

The album’s final three tracks were each recorded during the 1979 sessions. “Sail Away Sweet Sister” is a fine tune by May where the guitarist takes lead vocals and performs his most potent, harmonized guitar lead on the album. This song also features English folk elements and more great harmonies and production. Taylor’s, “Coming Soon” , is percussion driven with a stylistic blend somewhere between ELO and Cheap Trick, along with some heavy new wave elements to top it off. The album concludes with May’s “Save Me”, which starts as a sad song of lament but soon launches into a dynamic theatrical piece. While Mercury is back on lead vocals, May played most of the instruments on the track including acoustic and electric guitars, piano and synthesizer. While not a big hit in the US, this album closer peaked at #11 on the UK Singles chart.

The Game was a true worldwide hit, reaching the Top Ten on charts in eleven different nations and achieving Gold or Platinum status in all major pop music markets. Queen and producer Reinhold Mack were also nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards in 1981, another measure of peak success for Queen.

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

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Permanent Waves by Rush

Permanent Waves by Rush

Buy Permanent Waves

Permanent Waves by RushOn the very first day of the new decade, Rush launched an evolved sound for the 1980s with Permanent Waves, their seventh studio album. The group approached this album differently than previous efforts by designating specific time and space to compose and rehearse. The result is a strong collection of songs more succinct than those on the group’s most recent efforts, such as 1977’s A Farewell to Kings and 1978’s Hemispheres, which were among Rush’s most progressive-oriented releases. While Permanent Waves maintained some of the core elements and rudiments of previous work, the group now ventured into fairly uncharted rock sub-genres such as new wave and reggae.

Both of those previously listed Rush albums were recorded in South Wales during the summers of their respective years of release. After Hemispheres was released in October 1978, the group went on an extensive eight-month tour into mid 1979. They decided to take some time off for the first time in several years to recoup and plan their next album. According to lyricist and drummer Neil Peart, this was the first time they had ever taken time off prior to recording an album and the group retreated to a farmhouse on the Georgian Bay in Northern Ontario. Later, the group also performed some of the tracks from Permanent Waves (primarily the three from ‘Side A’) live in late 1979, prior to the album’s release.

In fact, the album’s tracks were pretty much completed in the same sequence as they appear on the final product. When Rush moved into Le Studio in Quebec in the Autumn of 1979, they had nearly a full album’s worth of material, including an extensive, medieval-inspired track called “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” However, the group decided this was too “out of place” and the song was eventually discarded with short sections appearing elsewhere. The album was produced Terry Brown, who had worked with Rush on each of their previous five albums (and would also do so on two future albums). The album’s title was coined by Peart when discussing “cultural waves” with vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee and exclaiming that “a big album was like a permanent wave”.


Permanent Waves by Rush
Released: January 1, 1980 (Mercury)
Produced by: Rush & Terry Brown
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, September-October 1979
Side One Side Two
The Spirit of Radio
Freewill
Jacob’s Ladder
Entre Nous
Different Strings
Natural Science
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synths
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion

Permanent Waves launches with the wild fingerboard action of guitarist Alex Lifeson, introducing the exciting and unique opener “The Spirit of Radio”. Inspired by the slogan of a local Toronto rock radio station, the song transcends into a pure celebration of music, showcasing a perfect blend of Rush past and present. Funky rudiments lead to the main riff, which bookmark the accessible verse sections where Lifeson’s guitars ring out like a chorus of triumphant bells across a landscape. The track also uses effects and hard production untypical of any previous Rush track, such as the inclusion of steel drums by guest percussionist Erwig Chuapchuaduah, an atypical but fantastic method that introduces the Rush of a new decade.

As fine as the opener is, “Freewill” is the best song on the album. Lyrically superb as Peart’s words are dripping with wisdom and philosophy, Lifeson’s guitar strikes the perfect balance between a ring and a crunch while remaining cool and even throughout. The bass led mid-section is the real highlight that puts this song over the top, with perfect timings and a potent jam as good as any of the group’s historic instrumental flourishes. Like on much of the album, Lee’s voice is reserved, direct, and sung at a lower register than on previous albums. However, during the final verse Lee lets loose the highest part of his vocal range for a dynamic climax to the song. “Jacob’s Ladder” comes in with a pure march joined by all three members, and only employs one single verse before a fine instrumental section is kicked off. Led by Lifeson’s harmonized guitar leads, the song goes from here through the final five minutes or so on a soundscape of morphing textures. From hard rock jam to synth ensemble to repetitive rudimentary pattern which builds in intensity until reaching the songs climatic outro. There is so little spoken word on this extended track that it is almost although the musical and sonic motifs speak to the listener.

Rush in 1980

Like the first side closer, the album’s final track, “Natural Science” is an extended track in the spirit of earlier Rush material. This final track was the only one fully constructed in the studio, composed after the band discarded the intended “Green Knight” epic. Peart locked himself in a cabin near Le Studio for three days to come up with the new lyrical concept, which explores the autonomous societies that emerge and decline in tidal pools. Musically, the track starts with a calm, strummed acoustic section with heavy natural reverb on Lee’s vocals along with water sound effects recorded by Lifeson and Peart in a row boat. The song soon launches into an exciting rock part with wild vocals by Lee and tremendous drumming by Peart (but, what else is new?). Late in the song comes the “lesson” lyric from the professor;

Wave after wave will flow with the tide and bury the world as it does, Tide after tide will flow and recede, leaving life to go on as it was…”

While it was written prior to entering the studio, “Different Strings” was reserved for production in order to embellish some sonic qualities and add some piano by artistic collaboratoe Hugh Syme. The interesting “Entre Nous” is about as close to pop/rock as Rush will ever get. With a theme of relationships, the track starts with a rotating electric guitar by Lifeson and a heavy synth by Lee. The verse is pure hard rock with a direct and choppy riff along with a direct beat by Peart. The choruses introduce a quasi-folk element with an acoustic guitar and the refrain of “just between us”, which technically translates to the song’s title.

Permanent Waves became Rush’s highest charting album to date, reaching #4 in the US. This also began a string of releases through the early eighties which continued the band’s commercial success as the rock trio continued to evolve their sound and compositional approach.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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The River by Bruce Springsteen

The River by Bruce Springsteen

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The River by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s fifth studio album, The River, is a massive album in both length and scope. Released in late 1980, this double album includes tracks that originated during the early years of Springsteen’s career as well as a plethora of new material drawn from recent projects and recent tours. Some consider The River to be the closing act of a three album “trilogy”, starting with Born to Run in 1975 and moving through Darkness at the Edge of Town in 1978, as each of these follow Springsteen’s mythical characters during crucial periods of their lives.

This album was originally intended as a single album with the working title “The Ties That Bind”, intended to be released in late 1979. However, the composition of the title song, motivated Springsteen to add darker, folk-influenced material and compile a more sweeping collection of songs of diverse genres. In all the album’s recording took about 18 months with Jon Landau and Steven Van Zandt joining Springsteen as co-producers. Sonically, the album aimed for a cinematic-style “live” sound through most of the tracks. Lyrically, the songs range from hope to disillusionment, from the point of view of individuals to that of outside storytellers. As Springsteen stated at the time;

I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them…”

Much like with the previous album where he penned nearly eighty songs, Springsteen composed all the tracks and was very prolific in writing for this album. While The River contains a healthy twenty tracks, even more than that were excluded from the album. A handful of these, such as “Be True”, “Held Up Without a Gun”, and “Roulette” were issued as B-sides of singles, while a few tracks were given to other artists, such as Gary U.S. Bonds and Warren Zevon, to record. Several others landed on future Springsteen box sets, with several more yet to be released.


The River by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 17, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, & Steven Van Zandt
Recorded: The Power Station, New York, March 1979–August 1980
Side One Side Two
The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out In the Street
Crush On You
You Can Look
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Side Three Side Four
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
Ramrod
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck On the Highway
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Percussion
Steven Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Danny Federici – Organ, Glockenspiel
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with “The Ties That Bind”, which was originally slated as the title song. It has a jangly kind of sound which would be reverberated through the eighties and beyond, but the group still seems too force it just a bit to find an accessible hook. In all, Clarence Clemons‘s sax solo is the best part of this open track. On “Sherry Darling”, the producers added some “fake” live elements which really aren’t needed because this track is quite catchy enough on its own. Here, Springsteen’s lead vocals seem to mimic Elvis Costello while the backing vocals are meant to mimic a live barroom, right down to the point where they are slightly off-time and slightly off-key. While still upbeat and catchy, “Jackson Cage” seems to have a richer and more profound meaning than the preceding songs, once again displaying Springsteen’s commitment to directness and honesty in popular music. “Two Hearts” is driven by the rapid-fire drums of Max Weinberg, backing the multi-level lyrics;

I was living in a world of childish dreams, someday these childish dreams must end, to become a man and grow up to dream again…

The first side closes with “Independence Day” which is introduced by a calm acoustic and high whistle organ from Danny Federici. This father-and-son character sketch, where the son concludes that they will never agree and thus declares his “independence” unilaterally. This first side closer was, essentially a rewrite of “Adam Raised a Cain” on Darkness At the Edge of Town.

Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen“Hungry Heart” adds an instant charge to the album, as Springsteen’s vocal seem much brighter than normal, matching the overall vibe of this catchy track. Led by the piano riffing of Roy Bittan throughout with great contributions by everyone else, like Clemens’s low sax bass notes, Federici’s choppy organ lead, and the rich vocal choruses backing up Springsteen. The song’s title was drawn from a line in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” and the song was written at the request of Joey Ramone, with the intent to be recorded by The Ramones. However, Landau convinced Springsteen to keep it for himself and it went on to become his first Top Ten hit.

“Out In the Street” follows as another great, catchy tune led by Bittan’s piano. here, the arrangement is spectacular, maximizing the best elements of the E Street Band. This catchy number has some elements of sixties pop with contemporary sound that became timeless. The album unfortunately drops off a bit with the pure filler “Crush On You” and “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”, with the latter at least using some slightly satirical lyrics to make it a bit more entertaining. “I Wanna Marry You” is weak lyrically but has a great vibe musically with just a hint of Caribbean vibe led by the bass pattern by Garry Tallent . The album’s title song closes the second side as the first true folk/Americana track in the sequence. The lyrics closely resemble the story of Springsteen’s own sister and brother-in-law and is cited as the source inspiration for future 1980s heartland rock.

Then I got Mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote, and for my 19th birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat…”

The jazzy “Point Blank” contains some great sonic textures on piano, guitar and bass. The theme works hand-in-hand with the title song and Springsteen gets really intense vocally and lyrically through last verse, before a long fade out to complete this six-minute tune. “Cadillac Ranch” is an upbeat jam backed by a cool, rockabilly guitar which is mocked by the vocal melody. Named after the makeshift automobile monument in Amarillo, Texas, the theme here is similar to the youthful missions on earlier Springsteen albums. “I’m a Rocker” has all the elements of a top-notch pop/rock song, with a choppy drum pattern by Weinberg, a good hook, and a cool call and response. Still, the track lacks something production-wise which keeps it from reaching its full potential.

The second song released from the album, “Fade Away” is pleasant and solid throughout. Great vocals and melody by Springsteen lead the fine musical blend of acoustic guitar, organ, and steady, seventies style bass. This desperate love song is a true classic which Van Zandt cited as one his all-time favorites. “Stolen Car” uses more texture than substance to achieve the dark mood, with plucked piano, distant drums with heavy reverb, and an almost church-like organ.

E Street Band

The final side begins with “Ramrod”, an organ/synth led rocker with a growling sax lead by Clemens. While the song is entertaining enough, it doesn’t really go anywhere. “The Price You Pay” is a moderate ballad with a steady beat and dry vocals which tend to get monotonous vocally and lyrically. However, this track remains strong musically, especially with Bittan’s piano and the slight harmonica by Springsteen. The epic length “Drive All Night” starts with simple, heartbeat like bass by Tallent and moves along at a crawl, only to be salvaged by Clemens’ fine solo and Springsteen’s exceptional, passionate singing. This song works in concert with the closing “Wreck On the Highway”, a bright, almost Country ballad with a steady beat. The relaxed feel and vibe of the music betray the grim lyrics of death on this song, closing the album with the dark feel which would be picked up on Springsteen’s next solo album, Nebraska.

The River was Springsteen’s first number one album and was followed by a lengthy tour through 1980 and 1981. Springsteen called this album a “gateway” to a lot of his future writing, with Nebraska and Tunnel of Love directly picking up on stories and themes that originate on The River.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Departure by Journey

Departure by Journey

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Departure by JourneyJourney continued their climb to rock superstardom with 1980’s Departure, the group’s highest charting studio album of the six with founding keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rolie. This album contains a diverse group of styles and themes within classic rock and its many sub-genres, and it also explores many areas sonically. Most pointedly, Departure is a transitional album for the group, as it perfectly balances elements from their recent and further past with previews of what’s to come for Journey.

Following the band’s 1978 album Infinity, drummer Aynsley Dunbar was replaced by accomplished jazz drummer Steve Smith. In 1979, the group recorded the LP Evolution, which included the group’s first Top 20 single, but was less than satisfying for the band production-wise.

Former engineers Geoff Workman and Kevin Elson stepped up to assume producer duties on Departure. The band was well-stocked entering the studio, with nearly twenty new songs composed. Ultimately, they recorded a dozen songs for this album with a few excess tracks saved for other projects. These included the track “Little Girl”, which landed on the future soundtrack Dream, After Dream and the excellent song “Natural Thing”, a soulful rock/waltz co-written by bassist Ross Valory. Armed with all this compositional ammunition, the group was set to record most of the material live in the studio, which gave it and edge compared to the more refined work they did both before and after this record.


Departure by Journey
Released: March 23, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Geoff Workman & Kevin Elson
Recorded: The Automatt, San Francisco, November, 1979
Side One Side Two
Anyway You Want It
Walks Like a Lady
Someday Soon
People and Places
Precious Time
Where Were You
I’m Cryin’
Line of Fire
Departure
Good Morning Girl
Stay Awhile
Homemade Love
Group Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Gregg Rolie – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with its most popular and sustaining track, “Any Way You Want It”. The song was written by lead vocalist Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon and it peaked at #23 on the Billboard pop charts. More importantly, this opening track sets the pace for this album where Perry and Schon shine brightest throughout. Schon achieves this hard rock bliss through his potent and perfected rock riffs with melodic distortion, while Perry’s vocals use heavy reverb to add to the majesty. While the opener exists mainly in the stratosphere, “Walks Like a Lady” comes back to ground level while being just as entertaining. On this track, all five members of the band shine equally, from the skip-along bass of Valory to the fine drum shuffle by Smith, to the deep Hammond B3 chords by Rolie, to multiple bluesy riffs by Schon, to the fantastic melodies by Perry.

“Someday Soon” is the first of two rock duets, with Rolie and Perry trading vocal lines throughout this one. The mesmerizing rhythm carries song along at a steady pace and, after Schon’s first true guitar lead of the album, the song enters into a strong, majestic outro, led by a rich vocal chorus and more intense rock elements. “People and Places” is the closest to a prog rock track on the album, especially with the multiple voices in the intro cascade. On this second duet, Rolie takes the lead during the intense verses while Perry handles the uplifting choruses. The song has an English folk feel through its first half but then evolves into a theatrical hard rock track, closing with Rolie’s distant Hammond fading away. Filled with so many great little sound riffs, “Precious Time” starts with just Schon’s rapidly strummed electric guitar accompanying Perry’s fast-paced melodies until Rolie joins in with an impressive blues harmonica through the second verse. Eventually, the rhythm section comes in to make it a more steady hard rock song, ending with a decent blues jam led by the harmonica once again.

Journey in 1980The album’s second side commences with, perhaps, the lone weak spot on the album. “Where Were You” is a straight-forward rocker with standard riff and rhythm and the slightest hint of a boogie piano between the phrases. “I’m Cryin'” is more interesting as a dark, dramatic, and bluesy tune where Schon’s heavy guitar chops are laid on top of the moderate musical backing led by Rollie, who co-wrote the track. This song also gives Perry plenty of room for dynamics, especially at the tail end of the bridge and the very end of the song. Perry wrote all the lyrics for the album, which are somewhat weak throughout, but pleasant enough to the ear to due his fantastic vocal ability and range. “Line of Fire” is an explosive and upbeat blues rocker but seems to lack the rhythmic thump needed to carry this song properly, save for the recorded shotgun blast, captured by Workman to precede the final verse.

The short title piece begins the final progression of the album. Schon’s “Departure” is not really a true track, just some harmonics above seemingly random soundscapes. The next two short but satisfying ballads preview a vital aspect of Journey’s albums in the near future. “Good Morning Girl” is led by Schon’s finger-picked electric accompanied by a smooth Mellotron with differing strings and Perry’s melodic vocals. A very simple structure, with just verses at different rotating keys. “Stay Awhile” is like an old fashioned rock slow dance, but this one is almost completely led by the fine vocal melodies of Perry. The album closer, “Homemade Love”, contains an interesting off-beat by Smith with Perry’s nearly-scat vocals and Schon reserving one of his finest guitar leads for the album’s conclusion.

Departure went triple-platinum in sales and Journey rode this success with a major tour. This tour spawned the follow-up live album Captured, which was another major success for the group later in 1980. However, Rolie had become tired of life on the road and decided to leave the band and pursue solo projects.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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1979 Album of the Year

Breakfast In America
by Supertramp

1979 Album of the Year

Buy Breakfast In America

Breakfast In America by SupertrampBreakfast In America is, at once, an artistic statement and a pure pop record. This sixth overall album by Supertramp was composed and recorded after the British group relocated to Los Angeles. Much like their three previous albums, the songs on Breakfast In America were split between founding members Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, who have contrasting musical and vocal styles but have a knack for blending these styles into interesting and cohesive albums. Here, the chemistry and talent reaches an apex and the result is Supertramp’s best selling, most critically acclaimed and highest charting album, as well as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1979.

While Supertramp started as a purely progressive rock act in 1970, their mid seventies albums started to inch towards more pop/rock song craft. Released in early 1977, Even In the Quietest Moments, which contained the group’s first worldwide Top 40 hit “Give a Little Bit”. After that album’s release, the band decided to permanently relocate to America’s west coast and each member found fresh influence in the prolific pop music culture which was booming in late seventies Los Angeles.

Prior to the extended recording sessions, the group recorded a couple of demo sessions to sort out the best material. Originally, Davies and Hogdson were planning on doing a concept album, which would examine their conflicting personalities and world views called “Hello Stranger”. However, the group eventually decided on abandoning this concept and focusing more on the songs they considered more fun to perform. In this light, the album’s title was changed to reflect the bouncy, upbeat song introduced by Hodgson. Along with producer Peter Henderson, the group forged a fantastic sound for the album by focusing more on capture and performance than mixing and mastering techniques. This process took months and was only completed when the December 1978 deadline arrived.


Breakfast in America by Supertramp
Released: March 29, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Peter Henderson & Supertramp
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, May–December 1978
Side One Side Two
Gone Hollywood
The Logical Song
Goodbye Stranger
Breakfast In America
Oh Darling
Take the Long Way Home
Lord Is It Mine
Just Another Nervous Wreck
Casual Conversations
Child of Vision
Group Musicians
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Helliwell – Woodwinds, Reeds, Keyboards, Vocals
Dougie Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

Breakfast in America is bookended by two dramatic and theatrical extended tracks which give a sense of the group’s earlier work. “Gone Hollywood” starts with long fade of carnival-like piano before strongly breaking in as a duet of Davies and Hodgson harmonized vocals. After two short verses, a long middle section starts with a subtle but haunting saxophone lead by John Helliwell before Davies takes over lead vocals and tension slowly builds with rhythmic accents of the consistent piano arpeggio. After a climatic Hodson-led section, the song returns to a final verse and concludes with an optimistic musical outro.

“The Logical Song” is a brilliant song lyrically, melodically, and especially musically by Hodgson. The album’s first single, the song reached the Top 10 is several countries and became the group’s most successful hit. The song is highlighted by the later progressions, including the brighter piano notes under Helliwell’s first sax lead and the outro led by the bass riff of Dougie Thompson under the second sax solo. Lyrically, Hodgson critiques the structured education system and society’s unbalanced focus on true knowledge. The dynamics of the Wurlitzer piano are on full display during “Goodbye Stranger”, Davies’ ode to rock groupies. Beyond anything else, this song has exceptionally great sonic aesthetics with some cool guitar textures by Hodgson, including a cool rock outro with a refined guitar lead.

Supertramp in 1979

The album’s title song was written by Hodgson while still a teen in the late sixties. “Breakfast in America” is almost frivolous in subject matter, but quite powerful musically with an interesting, English band march beneath the contemporary rock vocals. The song was a hit in the UK but failed to chart in the States. The side one close “Oh Darling” is an unheralded romantic ballad where Davies uses expert chord progressions and diminishment to perfectly set the beautifully melancholy mood. Hodgson makes his own significant contributions, starting textured electric guitar riffs and acoustic accents to compliment the Wurli piano and vocals perfectly, and climaxing with the closing vocal duet that builds to a crescendo before nicely fading out.

Take the Long Way Home singleThe second side starts with the album’s most philosophical track. The lyrics of “Take the Long Way Home” may be about “stepping out” or growing old or re-examining your life or a combination of these. Hodgson again finds a fine melody to accompany the piano progressions, which dominate the verses and choruses and are accented perfectly by Thomson’s bass. During the bridge, there is an exciting tradeoff between the tenor saxophone and Davies’s bluesy harmonica and during the haunting final descent the song slowly marches away into an echoed darkness, completing the overall effect. “Lord Is It Mine” follows as a sweet and sad piano ballad by Hodgson, who uses his highest falsetto voice to carry the tune with minimal arrangement above the guiding piano. Later, there is a nice clarinet lead by Helliman leading to a climatic final section. Lyrically, the track contains nice little motifs such as,

“You know I get so weary from the battles in this life and there’s many times it seems that you’re the only hope in sight…”

Next come a couple of tracks by Davies. “Just Another Nervous Wreck” is a building pop/rock song about the struggle of the everyman. It starts with an animated electric piano and vocals and builds with many traditional rock elements including a fine harmonized guitar lead and chorus vocals, before the strong, climatic outro with Davies’s vocals becoming ever more desperate and strained. “Casual Conversations” takes the opposite approach to the previous track, as a short, jazzy, mellow tune. Cool piano carries this along, with not much movement elsewhere, just a guide cymbal beat by drummer Bob Siebenberg. “Child of Vision” closes things out as a seven-plus minute track with an epic feel. Employing some newer musical styles and elements, the track is Helliwell’s only partial songwriting credit on the album and it ends with a long piano solo with a improvised feel. This ending, unfortunately, seems mainly there to take up some time and “run out the clock”, which makes for a less than satisfying conclusion to this otherwise flawless album.

Breakfast in America won two Grammy Awards in 1980, and topped the album charts in several countries, including France where it became the biggest-selling English language album of all time. The group followed the album with a 120-date world tour which broke concert attendance records in Europe and Canada. In 1980, the band released the double live album Paris, another huge success worldwide. The group did not follow up Breakfast in America with another studio release until Famous Last Words was released in late 1982, nearly four years later. Although that album was a commercial success, the subsequent tour led to Hodgson’s departure from the group, breaking up the classic lineup of Supertramp.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.