Reckless by Bryan Adams

Reckless by Bryan Adams

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Reckless by Bryan AdamsReckless was the first album by a Canadian artist to sell more than one million units within Canada. Not to mention that this fourth studio album by Bryan Adams was also a major commercial success well beyond the Canadian borders, charting near the top worldwide and spawning six singles which each reached into the top 15 of Billboard‘s pop charts in the U.S. All of the ten tracks on the album were co-written by Adams and his longtime composing partner Jim Vallence and it firmly displays the masterful ability of this songwriting team to tap into the pop/rock, radio-friendly vibe of the middle eighties.

 
Adams dropped out of high school in his mid teens and was working and recording as a professional musician by age 16. In 1978, Adams met Vallance, former drummer of the group Prism, in a Vancouver music store. Vallance had resolved to focus on a career as a studio musician and songwriter and by year’s end the team had landed Adams a contract with A&M records. His self-titled debut album was released in early 1980 and Adams’ second album, You Want It You Got It, was released the following year, both to very minor success. Released in 1983, Cuts Like a Knife contained four radio hits with adjoining videos, setting up Adams and Vallance for a blockbuster follow-up.

Co-produced by Bob Clearmountain, the sessions for Reckless began in March 1984 with daily songwriting sessions in Vallance’s home studio. A group of initial tracks were recorded but Adams was unhappy with the sound and took a month off and came back with some new songs and new ideas for the record. Once completed, the album was a particularly strong showcase for the layered guitars of Keith Scott and has a pristine sonic quality that holds up 30 years later.


Reckless by Bryan Adams
Released: November 5, 1984 (A&M)
Produced by: Bob Clearmountain & Bryan Adams
Recorded: Little Mountain Sound Studios, Vancouver, March–August 1984
Side One Side Two
One Night Love Affair
She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancin’
Run to You
Heaven
Somebody
Summer of ’69
Kids Wanna Rock
It’s Only Love
Long Gone
Ain’t Gonna Cry
Primary Musicians
Bryan Adams – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano  |  Keith Scott – Guitars, Vocals
Tommy Mandel – Keyboards  |  Dave Taylor – Bass  |  Pat Steward – Drums, Vocals

Although nowhere near the hit of some of the other tracks, the opener “One Night Love Affair” is possibly the best overall track on the album and captures mid-eighties mainstream rock at its finest. The song contains great, ethereal guitars throughout above the simple base riff and direct beat by drummer Pat Steward. The song’s arrangement changes at sonically strategic times through the later verses as the sound wall is built masterfully by Clearmountain. Unfortunately, the mood is quickly broken by “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancin'”, the only real overt filler on Reckless, unfortunately placed so early on the album.

The last song to be recorded for the album but the first of its string of hit singles, “Run to You” has just a tinge of surreal darkness in the rotating riff of this otherwise mainstream pop song. The highlight of the track is a harmonized guitar lead by Scott during the bridge. “Heaven” is the lone “power ballad” on the album. While Adams would focus on such ballads later in his career, this was still something of a novelty when it was recorded in 1983 for the soundtrack for the film A Night in Heaven and features former Journey drummer Steve Smith. Nearly two years later, the song was re-released as the third single from Reckless and topped the charts in June 1985.

Book-ending the sides are another couple of more hits from the album. “Somebody” is a good pop-rocker, with an easily catchy hook that makes it a rock anthem. “Summer of ’69” is a story-telling song that struck a chord in the summer of ’85 as a nostalgic look at the “best days of my life”. This latter song almost didn’t make it on the album because neither Adams nor Vallance originally thought it was a strong enough.

“Kids Wanna Rock” sounds to be influenced by ZZ Top, with a bit of a Tex-Mex blues vibe through its guitars, further accented by the upbeat bluesy lead section. “It’s Only Love” was a happy accident when Tina Turner was touring in Vancouver during the final week of recording and agreed to come in the studio and perform co-lead vocals. The result was the final hit from the album in January 1986. Reckless concludes with a couple of forgotten gems. “Long Gone” is another good bluesy rock song in a style which would later emulated by artists like Tommy Conwell and even includes an impressive harmonica solo by Adams. “Ain’t Gonna Cry” is new wave in tempo but rock in approach due to the heavy guitars, penny-whistle organ by Tommy Mandel and the good driving bass by Dave Taylor. The song’s finale breaks down into a noisy implosion, given this otherwise polished album an improvised conclusion.

In total, Reckless has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and is Adams’ best-selling album in the United States. Following the album’s release, Adams embarked on a two year world tour and would not follow-up with a new studio album until 1987. A 30th Anniversary edition of the album, featuring previously unreleased material, is slated for release in November 2014.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

Private Dancer by Tina Turner

Private Dancer by Tina Turner

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Private Dancer by Tina TurnerThe story surrounding Tina Turner and her remarkable comeback with Private Dancer is the stuff of Hollywood movies. In fact, it was a Hollywood movie, and this remarkable vocalist who got her start nearly three decades earlier made the biggest commercial splash of her career in 1984. The fifth overall solo album from Turner since leaving her ex-husband Ike’s band in 1976, this was Turner’s debut for Capitol Records after she had absurdly been left without a recording contract during several previous years. When the album that so many record executives were hesitant to make was finally released to the public, it was a tremendous smash world wide.

Just a few years earlier, no one could have imagined that this longtime star of the soul genre would become the top performer on the pop charts, and do so without compromising her musical repertoire. In the late 1970s, Turner made her living through various television appearances and Las Vegas-style gigs and her initial solo albums reflected this strategy musically. In 1982, Turner met A&R man, John Carter, who promised her a new record deal.

Carter also set about finding the right songs for Turner, which she recorded at several different studios and with several different producers. However, while recording was in process a new regime of executives at Capitol and initially planned to drop Turner. The new label president called Roger Davies and summarily dropped Tina Turner from the roster. Carter fought hard to keep her on and the label was more than rewarded when Private Dancer spawned seven singles.


Private Dancer by Tina Turner
Released: May 29, 1984 (Capital)
Produced by: Terry Britten, John Carter, Leon Chancler, Wilton Felder, Rupert Hine, Joe Sample, Greg Walsh & Martyn Ware
Recorded: England, 1983-1984
Side One Side Two
I Might Have Been Queen
What’s Love Got to Do With It
Show Some Love
I Can’t Stand the Rain
Private Dancer
Let’s Stay Together
Better Be Good to Me
Steel Claw
Help!
1984
Primary Musicians
Tina Turner – Lead Vocals  |  Terry Britten – Guitars, Vocals
Rupert Hine – Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals  |  Jack Bruno – Drums

Bassist and producer Rupert Hine was enlisted to work on several tracks on Private Dancer, starting with the opener “I Might Have Been Queen”. The song was co-written by Jamie West-Oram, lead guitarist of The Fixx, a band which Hine had recently produced with great success. The song was written specifically for Turner and its lyrics reflect Turner’s belief in reincarnation. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” is the most popularly sustained song from the album, due in part to the later movie of the same name. Turner’s vocal and melodic delivery are masterful in both their ascent and constraint. Written by guitarist Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, the song topped the charts in the Summer of 1984 and marked the undeniable moment of Turner’s comeback success.

“Show Some Respect” is another song written by Britten with a decidedly eighties synth and funk approach. One of the later songs released as a single, this track became a Top 40 hit in 1985. Britten also produced the next track, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, a remake of of the 1974 hit for Ann Peebles. The album’s title song was written by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, who wrote the song for his band’s Love Over Gold album, but ultimately decided he didn’t want to sing a song from a female perspective. Ironically, Knopler is the only member of Dire Straits not to appear on Turner’s version of the song, which also features a guitar solo by the legendary Jeff Beck.

Private Dancer‘s second side begins with a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, which turner released in late 1983, well ahead of the album. While Turner remains faithful to the original, she also adds some unique delivery to this track which topped the Billboard Dance chart. “Better Be Good to Me” is the most pop/rock oriented song on the album, originally intended for Pat Benatar. Produced by Hine and composed by the team of Holly Knight, Mike Chapman, and Nicky Chinn, the song reached #5 on the pop charts.

The album winds down with three lesser known recordings. “Steel Claw” was written by Paul Brady and features a lineup similar to “Private Dancer”, with members of Dire Straits (sans Knopfler) and Beck adding a solo. The Beatles’ “Help!” is delivered in a gospel-tinged by Turner, in a rendition she had been working on since the early eighties. David Bowie’s “1984” concludes the album as an electronic track that pays homage during the actual year it was written about.

Private Dancer reached the Top 10 in over a dozen countries, sold over eight million copies, and won four Grammy’s for Turner. Capitalizing on this immense popularity, Turner went on a World tour through 1985, which included over 170 dates on three continents.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Slide It In by Whitesnake

Slide It In by Whitesnake

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Slide It In by WhitesnakeWhitesnake made its first real splash with the release of their sixth album, Slide It In in 1984. Although the album was far from a blockbuster hit, a second version of the album finally established Whitesnake in America and set the stage for greater future success. Under the tutelage of producer Martin Birch, the group found the perfect sound for the mid-eighties hard rock audience. However, this pivotal album for the band was actually constructed during a time of shifting personnel for Whitesnake, with lineup shifts around founder and front man David Coverdale before, during, and after the record’s production.

In 1978, Coverdale founded Whitesnake as a solo project following his brief gig as Deep Purple’s lead vocalist. The new band’s earliest sound utilized some of the blues-rock basics of British groups years earlier. Joining Coverdale in this new band was fellow Deep Purple member Jon Lord on keyboards, guitarist Micky Moody, and a rotating rhythm section. Whitesnake’s first four albums did well in the UK but failed to make any waves in the US. In 1981 guitarist Mel Galley, who had spent a dozen years with the band Trapeze, became the group’s second guitarist and was on board for the recording of the 1982 release Saints and Sinners, the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album to date.

First recorded in late 1983, Slide It In cam out as two distinct mixes, each with differing personnel. After the group’s new American label Geffen objected to the “flat sounding” mix on the UK release, Coverdale fired Moody and bassist Colin Hodgkinson and had their parts re-recorded by new members John Sykes and Neil Murray respectively, before the entire album was re-mixed and re-sequenced for a U.S. release. While the newer mix was sonically superior overall, some fans lament that it diminishes the presence of Lord’s keyboards and the overall bass guitar.


Slide It In by Whitesnake
Released: January 1984 (Geffen)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: 1983
Side One Side Two
Slide It In
Slow and Easy
Love Ain’t No Stranger
All or Nothing
Gambler
Guilty of Love
Hungry for Love
Give Me More Time
Spit It Out
Standing In the Shadow
Group Musicians
David Coverdale – Lead Vocals
Mel Galley – Guitars, Vocals
Jon Lord – Keyboards
Neil Murray – Bass
Cozy Powell Drums

An AC/DC inspired riff and beat on the opening title song is contrasted by Coverdale’s distinctly non-AC/DC vocals on this track of rock raunch to the core with not-so-subtle lyrics. “Slide It In” is really an entertaining and melodic musical showcase with a good guitar lead by Moody under an alternate chord structure. Co-written by Moody, “Slow an’ Easy” is a track of pure rock drama, slowly unfolding with every note, breath, and rudimentary beat. Built on a diverse collection of guitar motifs, the track takes nearly two and a half minutes until it finally gets to the hook, which contains claps and chants, perfectly setting it up for future arena shows. Held together by Powell’s precise drumming, once fully realized this song never relents from its drive, which helped propel the song into the Top 20 of the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

Next up in the parade of classic rock gems is “Love Ain’t No Stranger”, which starts with long synths accompanied by an acoustic guitar, before ultimately kicking into a steady rocker, While there are no real “power ballads” on Slide It In, the short intro verses on this track may be as close as the group gets. “All or Nothing” is pure hard rock in the spirit of groups like Rainbow, solidly built on a heavy metal riff by Galley with dramatic vocal wails by Coverdale and a consistent jam drive throughout. The fine first side closes with “Gambler”, which may be the perfect Whitesnake song as a moody track with rotating riffs and great keys. Vocally, Coverdale shows much range within each verse, while the lead section contains back-to-back solos by Lord and Galley, continuing the great hard rock parade.

Whitesnake in 1984

Unfortunately, the second side is not as potent as the first. It starts with “Guilty of Love”, an upbeat rock song which was the first recorded for the album and released as a single in mid 1983. With this, the song was the only one produced by Eddie Kramer. The similarly titled “Hungry for Love” is slightly better than its predecessor due to a better rock jam by the musicians and cool bluesy riff lines by Galley and Murray. “Give Me More Time” is very melodic and well put together and sounds like it should have been a hit song. Constructed in pristine fashion from verse to pre-chorus to chorus, with a great lead section that contains a harmonized lead by Galley over wild drumming by Powell.

“Spit It Out” continues where the previous song left off, but with the sharp return to sexual gratuitousness. Still, the song is solid musically with nice mid-section built on a rapid hi-hat beat by Powell and slight guitar strumming by Galley before it explodes back for the guitar lead. The album concludes with the apt, steady, and slightly dark rocker, “Standing In the Shadow”. While the track pales in comparison to songs earlier on the album, it is probably the best of Coverdale’s several solo compositions on the album.

Slide It In did squeak into the Top 40 in America, while reaching the Top 10 in the UK, eventually reaching double platinum in sales. However, the personnel shifts continued as Lord joined a reunited Deep Purple and Powell joined the revamped super group Emerson, Lake, and Powell. Coverdale and Sykes later composed and recorded the blockbuster 1987 album Whitesnake, but Coverdale then fired the entire band for the more “photogenic” younger group that appeared in all the late eighties videos.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters

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The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger WatersRoger Waters commenced his post-Pink Floyd career with a concept album that he largely composed while still an active member of the group in the late 1970s. The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking was actually released a year before Waters made the official announcement of his departure from the band, but by early 1984 he had apparently already made up his mind. The previous year, Pink Floyd released The Final Cut, which got a disappointing reception both critically and commercially, and Pink Floyd did not opt to support the album with a tour, as both Waters and guitarist David Gilmour began work on separate solo records.

The concept of The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking was developed by Waters in 1977 and presented to Pink Floyd along with an alternate concept. Ultimately, the group chose the alternative, which was developed into Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Waters had decided early on to use whichever was not chosen by the band as a solo project and, in 1983, he revisited this concept. The story focuses on a man’s dreams in real time during the early morning hours of a day, which weave in and out of interlocking stories.

Musical conductor and pianist Michael Kamen co-produced the album with Waters and together they put together a talented ensemble of musicians and singers. This started with drummer Andy Newmark, who Waters used on a track of The Final Cut, and climaxed with legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. Brought in after the basic tracks had been recorded, Clapton nonetheless has a strong presence throughout this album and even shines brightest during a few brilliant musical moments.


The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters
Released: April 30, 1984 (Harvest)
Produced by: Roger Waters & Michael Kamen
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, February–December 1983
Side One Side Two
4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad)
4:33 AM (Running Shoes)
4:37 AM (Arabs with Knives and West German Skies)
4:39 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 2)
4:41 AM (Sexual Revolution)
4:47 AM (The Remains of Our Love)
4:50 AM (Go Fishing)
4:56 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 1)
4:58 AM (Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin)
5:01 AM (The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Part 10)
5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes)
5:11 AM (The Moment of Clarity)
Primary Musicians
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Guitars  |  Eric Clapton – Lead Guitars, Synths
Michael Kamen – Piano  |  Andy Newmark – Drums, Percussion

While it is hard to compare the musical style of this album to anything else, there are a lot of the same elements as The Wall on this album. While the narrative is hard to decipher, the story is about an English man who’s married to an American wife (just like Waters) and begins with the man having a nightmare and we follow his dreams and reality for 45 minutes of real time. “4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Traveling Abroad)” enters with plenty of sound effects and distant, theatrical guitar chords. There is a distant sound of a newsreader saying “Apparently they were traveling abroad and they picked up some hitchhikers…”, which seems to be the catalyst for many of the dream-stories about traveling and hitchhikers. On this track Waters establishes a melody that recurs throughout the album. “4:33 AM (Running Shoes)” is much stronger musically with tension-filled drums, screams of backing chorus, and wailing saxophone by David Sanborn.

In the dream narrative, the main character has an affair with a young female hitchhiker but wakes next to his wife with a strong feeling of guilt. This guilt materializes into another nightmare where Arab terrorists threaten him because of his infidelity. In “4:39 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 2)”, the character straddles a desperate state between dream and reality, with the most panicked, dream-induced screams. “4:41 AM (Sexual Revolution)” is the most Pink Floyd-like track thus far, with everything being at maximum intensity and Clapton’s blues guitars throughout to accompany the great chorus passages with backing vocals. This song devolves to very quiet mid-section, where only Clapton’s guitar persists before everything eventually kicks back in. “4:47 AM (The Remains of Our Love)” closes the first side by again returning to the opening theme, as a soft singer/folk track. The story twists again as the scene changes from Europe to America (Wyoming) and the song slowly dissolves, some great honky tonk piano by Kamen, which perfectly compliments Clapton’s slide acoustic.

Side Two is far superior musically and the tracks are far more diverse melodically. “4:50 AM (Go Fishing)” is the best song on the album and a bona fide classic. The moods are perfectly illustrated and, unlike many other tracks, the story doesn’t alternate between dream and reality. The story talks about an experimental move to a simple life in the wilderness that eventually falls apart and breaks up the family, with the protagonist now finding himself as a hitchhiker. The outro has strong, slow rock with the best sax lead by Sanborn and an animated organ by Andy Bown.

Moving forward, we have the link song “4:56 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 1)” with a slight, bluesy and jazzy piano. “4:58 AM (Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin)” is moody and moderate with some spoken effects in the background and melodic vocals out front, leading to the climatic “5:01 AM (The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Part 10)”, the most upbeat and very entertaining rock song with a steady beat and many cool guitar licks. Lyrically, it breaks out of regular narrative to do an overview of everything.

The album’s closing sequence begins with the soft ballad “5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes)”. Clapton’s guitar and Kamen’s piano notes are in perfect sync after the song proper tells a story of sympathy in the face of turmoil. Starting as simple acoustic ballad by Waters, this song becomes Clapton’s finest track on the album. “5:11 AM (The Moment of Clarity)” is a slow acoustic folk waltz, which utilizes the opening predominant theme to bookmark the album at its close.

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking reached the Top ten in several countries, but did not fare as well in the U.S. . Waters, Kamen, Clapton and Newmark did go on a short tour to support the album, but the elaborate stage and effects ended up losing a large sum of money for Waters. A film based on this concept was proposed and some footage and animation completed by 1985, but this is yet to officially see the light of day.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

Grace Under Pressure by Rush

Grace Under Pressure by Rush

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Grace Under Pressure by RushFor their tenth studio album, Grace Under Pressure, Rush brought in producer Pete Henderson, after employing Terry Brown for eight consecutive studio albums, dating back to Fly By Night in 1975. The parting with Brown was amicable and the band even went so far as to include a small tribute to him in the liner notes of the album. A dark album thematically, drummer and lyricist Neil Peart examined subjects from within and without and from the past and present. Peart gave the album its title from a Ernest Hemingway line that seemed to describe were the band was after leaving Brown and moving onto uncharted musical territory.

Grace Under Pressure is a natural compliment to Rush’s previous 1982 album, Signals, although this one is a bit darker and more mechanical in approach. Like on that album, bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee continued to use synthesizers as a primary instrument, but the production on this album balances the synths perfectly with the layered guitar work of Alex Lifeson. Although he had a lighter role than on previous Rush albums, Lifeson described Grace Under Pressure as the, “most satisfying of all our records.”

Rush had originally approached producer Steve Lillywhite to record this album, but Lillywhite withdrew at the last minute, leaving the group to temporarily self-produce until Henderson was hired. Recorded in the familiar confines of Le Studio in Quebec, Henderson and the band spent up to fourteen hours per day perfecting the album’s sound.


Grace Under Pressure by Rush
Released: April 12, 1984 (Anthem)
Produced by: Peter Henderson & Rush
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin-Heights, Quebec, November 1983–March 1984
Side One Side Two
Distant Early Warning
Afterimage
Red Sector A
The Enemy Within (Part I of “Fear”)
The Body Electric
Kid Gloves
Red Lenses
Between the Wheels
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synths
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with Lee’s driving bass line and key synth hook on “Distant Early Warning”. Unlike much of Rush’s early catalog, Peart uses repetition to get across important lyrical themes and “red alert” is the key hook here, as Peart conflates the universal and the personal. Lifeson later adds a minimal, textured guitar lead, which brings the strongest rock element to the song as a whole, as the track continues to build to a crescendo. Released as a single, “Distant Early Warning” reached #3 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts. Peart wrote “Afterimage” to describe the impressions left by a friend who died suddenly in an accident. The song roars in with a wall of pure sound during the intro and first verse and music and has elements of reggae during the post-verses, while the choruse uses more pop/rock elements with Lifeson’s lead riff mimicking Lee’s voice

“Red Sector A” is built on Peart’s consistent, almost disco-flavored beat and Lee’s constant synth arpeggio, as there is no bass guitar on the track. Lyrically, this is one of the darkest songs in Rush’s collection, as it was inspired by Lee’s mother’s stories about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, where she was held prisoner. Using an atypical arrangement, in a lot of ways, it is Lifeson’s guitars that best convey the feel of this song as his chord structure throughout mimics the desperate wails of a human soul in a mechanical Hell; “Are we the last ones left alive? Are we the only human beings to survive?” The open reggae chords and funk rhythms of “The Enemy Within”, concludes the first side. Far from the doom and gloom of other parts of the “Fear”, this upbeat track is rhythmically supreme, especially with Lee’s bass.

The first two songs of the second side are where Lifeson has the most presence. “The Body Electric” is an exciting rocker that seems to at once celebrate and lament and the emerging computer age. Built on Peart’s rotating and almost robotic drum pattern, Lee and Lifeson add much melody over top during the verses, while the choruses are more rock-oriented and intense. “Kid Gloves” features Lifeson’s well-textured, staccato guitar riff and some odd-timed rudiments as it moves through passages that play with time and tempo.

Rush in 1984

The oddest track on the album, “Red Lenses” alternates between two distinct sections of chorus and verse, with the verses being totally synth-driven and almost cheesy in approach, while the opening and chorus sections are built on a cool, funky bass and rhythms. During an expanded mid section, Peart moves from marimba-style beats to additional, percussion-driven parts, making this his strongest overall track. The grinding synth intro of the closer “Between the Wheels” perfectly illustrates the song’s intended vibe of a negative and dystopian world. The track contains sections of brilliant rock arrangements, always eventually returning the beginning grind, and ends almost violently, with foreboding riffs on guitar and percussive smashes on drums and piano.

Grace Under Pressure reached the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts and immediately went platinum upon its release in the US. This would mark the high-water mark of Rush’s mid-eighties body of work, as subsequent albums relied much more heavily on synthesizers.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

1984 by Van Halen

1984 by Van Halen

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1984 by Van HalenThe original lineup of Van Halen reached their artistic and commercial apex with their final album together. 1984 (officially titled using Roman Numerals MCMLXXXIV) was released near the start of the year, 1984. Due to a radio-friendly song with an MTV-friendly video, the album had an immediate pop crossover effect that ultimately propelled the album to the highest charting position and sales by the band to date. But beyond the commercial appeal of the album, there lies a solid core of rock compositions and exquisite production by Ted Templeman that demonstrates Van Halen at their absolute peak.

Van Halen had steadily grown in popularity from their fine 1978 debut album, through 1983, when they were entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “highest paid band of all-time” for its headlining at the US Festival. However, there were some internal creative issues as guitarist Eddie Van Halen had felt dissatisfied by the concessions he made to Templeman and front man David Lee Roth on the group’s previous 1982 album Diver Down. During the sessions for that album, Roth rejected the idea of developing a synth riff by Eddie Van Halen into a full-fledged song (that riff would later be re-purposed for the song “Jump”). For his part, Templeman was instrumental in the vast amount of cover songs used on Diver Down, to which Eddie had objections.

In this climate, Van Halen decided to build his own studio with the help of engineer Donn Landee and named the studio 5150 (after the LAPD code for “escaped mental patient”). Some music analysts claim that 1984 is the only Diamond selling album (over 10 million copies) to be entirely recorded and mixed in a “home studio”. As a result, 1984 has more influence from Eddie Van Halen than any other album. Always the innovator, Van Halen’s radical electric guitar tapping technique on the Van Halen I track “Eruption” was mistakenly thought by some to be a synthesizer. When he actually did use synthesizers on this album, it brought a new mainstream appreciation for the instrument and sales of them increased overnight.


MCMLXXXIV by Van Halen
Released: January 9, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: 5150 Studios, Hollywood, CA, 1983
Side One Side Two
1984
Jump
Panama
Top Jimmy
Drop Dead Legs
Hot For Teacher
I’ll Wait
Girl Gone Bad
House of Pain
Group Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

Like all of the group’s previous five albums, all music and lyrics on 1984 were credited to all four member of the band. However, in negotiations years later bassist Michael Anthony was removed from this album’s credits. The title track opener, “1984” is little more than synthesized soundscapes by Eddie Van Halen, but this does offer an effective intro to “Jump”

The only #1 song of the band’s career, “Jump” is undeniably infectious, with solid rock rhythm allows the long-string synths to play out and still be effective. Eddie Van Halen’s guitars are slight, only present during the pre-chorus, first half of the lead section, and outro. The second half of the lead is reserved for his interesting synth solo over slowly descending chord structure for great effect.

In contrast to the guitar-light “Jump” is the drenched riff of “Panama”, where Van Halan’s guitar textures are as fine as ever. Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen lay down strong rhythms while Roth adds excitable vocals. The cool, spoken word mid-section following the guitar lead also features Eddie Van Halen revving his Lamborghini in the background, as the car was backed up to the studio and microphones were attached to the exhaust pipe.

The album’s first side concludes with a couple of forgotten classic gems. “Top Jimmy” is a tribute to James Paul Koncek of the band Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs and starts with overdubbed guitar effects in its long intro. It then breaks into a frenzied, upbeat rock blues, with Van Halen showmanship, alternating back and forth between the deep intro riff and good-time verse/chorus section. Van Halen says “Drop Dead Legs” was inspired by AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, but you can also hear a lot of early Aerosmith in the way this song is constructed and delivered. Built on a slow guitar grind, the song really comes to life with great harmonized vocal chorus by Anthony and Van Halen, which augments Roth’s finely strained rock lead vocals.

The second side starts with “Hot for Teacher”, a unique and entertaining song built for the younger MTV audience. The tremendous drumming of Alex Van Halen, offers a fine long intro for the pure rock theater of the song proper. “I’ll Wait” is the second keyboard-dominated song (and the second single) on the album. It was also very controversial within the group as Roth and Templeman wanted to remove the song from the album, But Eddie Van Halen refused. The song is also unique in that there is no bass through the first verses and choruses, just in the lead section, and it is co-written by Doobie Brother Michael McDonald.

Van Halen in 1984

The finest jam on the album comes on “Girl Gone Bad”. It begins with a long and dramatic beginning, with bass creeping ever closer during intro picked and chimed guitars by Eddie and fast-moving, high-end percussion by Alex. When it all kicks in, it is as good as any Van Halen song instrumentally, even seeming to be a bit Rush-influenced with the great instrumental rudiments and includes some cool scat vocals by Roth during the long bridge section. The album’s closer, “House of Pain” originally dated back to the demos Van Halen recorded with Gene Simmons prior to being signed by Warner Bros. in the mid 1970s. Consequently,it is the most like a traditional Van Halen song on side two, being upbeat and riff-driven with a slight section of guitar excellence.

1984 peaked at #2 on the Billboard album charts, ironically blocked for 5 consecutive weeks from the top spot by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, on which Eddie Van Halen contributed a guitar solo to the song “Beat It”. It would be the last Van Halen album to feature all four original members, as Roth left the band following the 1984 tour and did not record with the band again until 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, which was recorded after Anthony had already left the band.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

The Last In Line by Dio

The Last In Line by Dio

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The Last In Line by DioAfter stints in several rock groups, Ronnie James Dio found his popular groove in the early eighties with the founding of the group, Dio. Although this band was named after the veteran vocalist and songwriter, it was approached as a true rock group with each member contributing to the original compositions. Dio’s second release, The Last In Line, was released in mid 1984 and reached great critical acclaim within the rock and metal community. The album was also a mainstream crossover hit, reaching the Top 10 on several album charts fueled by three tracks which landed in the Top 10 of the American Mainstream Rock tracks chart.

Dio’s music career began way back in 1957, when he founded the band, The Vegas Kings, as a teenager in his hometown of Cortland, New York. This group went through various changes in name and personnel through the 1960s, with a few singles released along the way. In 1967, that group transformed into The Electric Elves, later shortening its name to Elf. Through the early seventies, Elf recorded three albums and toured with major acts such as Deep Purple. When Ritchie Blackmore left that group to form Rainbow in 1975, he recruited members of Elf, including Dio. While with Rainbow, Dio wrote most of the lyrics for the first three albums. However, when given the opportunity to replace Ozzy Osbourne in the legendary Black Sabbath, Dio jumped ship in 1979. Three years later, disagreements within that band resulted in the departure of Dio and drummer Vinny Appice, who formed Dio in October 1982. The following May, the band released their debut album, Holy Diver, which featured two MTV hits.

The original quartet of Dio included Vivian Campbell on guitar and Jimmy Bain on bass. Later on keyboardist Claude Schnell was recruited for live shows and ultimately became a permanent member of the band.


The Last In Line by Dio
Released: July 2, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Caribou Ranch, Colorado, 1984
Side One Side Two
We Rock
The Last In Line
Breathless
I Speed at Night
One Night In the City
Evil Eyes
Mystery
Eat Your Heart Out
Egypt (The Chains Are On)
Group Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Vivian Campbell – Guitars
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Vinny Appice – Drums, Percussion

The Last In Line followed the same basic pattern as Holy Diver, leading these albums to later be packaged together. The album comes in strong with “We Rock”, led by the frenzied drums by Appice throughout, including a beat-driven post lead section. Co-written by bassist Bain, the most quality track on the album is the title track, “The Last in Line”. The laid back intro section allows for a nice setup to the driving song proper, with its steady and heavy approach. However, it is Dio’s philosophical and fascinating lyrics that shine brightest on this track, finding the line between good and evil like a heavy metal counterpart to “Hotel California”,

We don’t come along, we are fire, we are strong, we’re the hand that writes and quickly moves away…”

“Breathless” sounds much like Rainbow-era material, built on the interesting riffing by Campbell and the melodic hooks by Dio. “I Speed at Night” may be the most overtly concocted tune (perhaps to take advantage of the recent success of Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”). In any case, this is not a good showcase for Dio and Appice. The side one closer “One Night In the City” is heavy pop, starting with a couple of interesting riff sections before it breaks into pristine rock with repeatable hooks. “Evil Eyes” forges the high-end 80’s heavy rock where Campbell adds some of his finest guitar work during the brief verses and frantic, hammer-on lead.

“Mystery” is the most accessible song on the album and a true Dio classic. Everything comes together on this collaboration between Dio and Bain, as it is melodic and musically sweet, with a hook, guitar lead, and keyboard riff that it puts in firmly within the boundaries of pop/rock radio. “Eat Your Heart Out” follows as one last accessible hard rock song and a true band collaboration with good rock rudiments. The album closer “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” adds a theatrical and dramatic element to the album with opening wind effects and a slow and deliberative thumping in the verses.

Within two months of its release, The Last In Line was certified Gold and would later go on to become the first Dio album to be certified Platinum. A third album followed soon in 1985, along with more later in the decade, but the group would not again achieve this level of success.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

The Unforgettable Fire by U2

The Unforgettable Fire by U2

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The Unforgettable Fire by U2 U2 decided to take a bit of a turn following their initial mainstream success. They brought in producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to forge the ambient sound of The Unforgettable Fire. Much of the album was recorded in a castle in the group’s native Ireland, with the live acoustic of the various rooms lending much to the unique final sound. Led by the layered and effects-laden guitar of The Edge and the introspective and philosophical poetic lyrics of Bono, this album brought the group to a higher artistic level, while still carrying enough pop/rock punch to make this a mainstream success and solidify U2’s new found standing as the eighties top rock group.

Steve Lillywhite had produced U2’s initial three albums, culminating with the UK chart topper, War, in 1983. However, both the producer and the band agreed that they did not want to create the “son of War” on the next album and amicably parted ways. The Edge was a longtime fan of Eno’s “weird works”, but Eno was also initially reluctant to work with the band and suggested Lanois, his engineer, instead. However, Bono’s vision for the band won Eno over and both Eno and Lanois agreed to produce the record.

In May 1984 the band moved into Slane Castle where they wrote and recorded much of the material. Bassist Adam Clayton said they were “looking for something that was a bit more serious, more arty”, and the castle offered much inspiration on that front. The group took the album’s title from an art exhibit about the bombing of Hiroshima that they saw while on tour in Japan.


The Unforgettable Fire by U2
Released: October 1, 1984 (Island)
Produced by: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois
Recorded: Slane Castle & Windmill Lane Studios, Ireland, May–August 1984
Side One Side Two
A Sort of Homecoming
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Wire
The Unforgettable Fire
Promenade
4th of July
Bad
Indian Summer Sky
Elvis Presley and America
MLK
Group Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals
The Edge – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen Jr – Drums

The rolling drums of Larry Mullen Jr introduce the album opener “A Sort of Homecoming”. The rhythm is soon crowded out by a bucket of treated guitar phrases, all of which seem pretty cool by themselves but kind of saturate the atmosphere as produced on this album. This recording of the fine song suffers in comparison to the later, superior and simpler live version on the 1985 EP, Wide Awake in America, where the vocals and rhythm are much better defined and the song’s true beauty shines through.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” is the most brilliant early career track by U2. Here is the quintessential U2 sound displayed at its height with the steady and shuffling rhythm section of Mullen and Clayton, the alternating arpeggios, chord strums and textures of The Edge, and Bono’s vocals soaring above all else. The first of two songs written about Martin Luther King, Jr, it was released as the album’s lead single in September 1984 and became a popular radio hit.

 
“Wire” could easily be a pre-cursor to the later, dance-oriented Manchester sound, as the opening spastic guitar is joined by even more frenzied rhythms, including some strong funk elements. Clayton puts down some slap bass and Bono’s vocals are near screams at times, harkening back to U2’s post punk roots. “The Unforgettable Fire” is an upbeat, but deep and most philosophical track on side one. This title song has at once a pop feel along with something darker and more foreboding. It was released as the album’s second and final single and includes a string arrangement by Irish musician Noel Kelehan. “Promenade” is a short and incomplete song, seemingly built as a studio experiment in capturing sound.

The second side begins with the Eno-influenced atmospheric instrumental piece “4th of July” before launching into “Bad”, the highlight of side two. This song continually builds as it goes, with Bono’s voice getting ever more animated and Mullen and Clayton getting more intense, while The Edge stays pretty consistent throughout. It began with an improvised guitar riff during a jam session at Slane Castle, with Bono adding lyrics about heroin addicts in Dublin.

U2

“Indian Summer Sky” is another fine, upbeat track with multiple sections of vocal and musical motifs. “Elvis Presley and America” is a unique but odd and questionable acoustic, with long, improvised lyrics. This song was almost entirely a spur of the moment creation with rhythm borrowed from an altered backing track of “A Sort of Homecoming”. The closer “MLK” is all synth and vocals, but with a brilliant melody and lyrics that serve as a lullaby to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Unlike much of the other experimental tracks, this brief closer gives the album a real classic feel to end the album on a high note.

The Unforgettable Fire was re-packaged in 1985 along with a VHS documentary of the making-of the album. and a remastered 25th Anniversary edition was in 2009 with several bonus tracks. U2 launched a worldwide The Unforgettable Fire Tour, further increasing the band’s massive popularity.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

In The Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

Buy In The Eye Of The Storm

In The Eye of the Storm by Roger HodgsonAlthough it was not a great commercial success, Roger Hogdson‘s debut album did well in advancing the compositional foundation that he established in his decade-plus as one of the leaders of Supertramp. On, In the Eye of the Storm, Hodgson wrote, arranged, produced, and performed just about every note and, more importantly, found the proper synthesis of Supertramp inspired prog rock and a contemporary, mid-eighties sound. The album reveals that Hodgson, who had always shared vocal and songwriting duties with Rick Davies through seven studio albums with Supertramp, is more than apt at carrying an entire LP by himself.

Following the breakout success of Supertramp’s, Breakfast In America, and the worldwide tour that followed, Hodgson decided to relocate to remote Nevada City, California, where he built  Unicorn Studio. The rest of the group remained in Los Angeles through the recording of 1982’s, Famous Last Words, which caused a bit of a logistical situation that effected the group harmony. Following a final tour, Hodgson decided to leave Supertramp and concentrate on solo projects.

Originally, Hodgson recorded an album titled, Sleeping With the Enemy, but he decided to withhold it at the last minute when he was dissatisfied with the overall quality. In this light, In the Eye of the Storm, was a second pass at much of the material with a more deliberative approach, resulting in a well-crafted and highly listenable album.


In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hogdson
Released: December 7, 1984 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Hodgson
Recorded: Unicorn Studios, Nevada City, California, 1983-84
Side One Side Two
Had a Dream
In Jeopardy
Lovers In the Wind
Hooked On a Problem
I’m Not Afraid
Give Me Love, Give Me Life
Only Because of You
Primary Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass
Jimmy Johnson – Bass  |  Michael Shrieve – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with a long and dramatic movie-like intro to “Had a Dream”. Eventually, this gives way to thumping rhythms and a familiar bouncy piano that harkens back to Supertramp, as the song proper contains a high-end rock arrangement with anti-war lyrics. There is an interesting, laid back bridge section which is moody and melodic with a slow guitar lead before the track comes back full-fledged with a more traditional guitar lead into the final verse and long outro built on Hodgson’s piano and guitar motifs. An edited version of “Had a Dream” was released as a single and reached number 48 on the charts.

The next song, “In Jeopardy”, was also released as a single. Built on pleasant little piano riffs, call and response vocals, and percussive flourishes, the song contains a couple of modern synth leads but Hodgson. While the musical mood is light and upbeat, the song’s theme continues the dark theme of uncertainty established by the opening track. After a minor key piano intro, which meanders a bit, “Lovers In the Wind”, moves into a melodic but melancholy, soft-rock song with rich harmonies. This accessible, adult-contemporary track features fretless bass by Jimmy Johnson, adding a really smooth edge to the song, which was a huge hit in some Southeast Asian countries.

Perhaps the closest track to traditional Supertramp, “Hooked On a Problem” is built on the consistent ¾ beat during the verse and a pleasant and extra-melodic chorus. The song has a carnival-like feel with plenty of sonic treats, and is presented in a machine-like rotation with a cool organ and some slight saxophone by guest Scott Page. Still, the lyrics are a bit foreboding;

I’m walking a tightrope with stars in my eyes, In danger of falling, won’t you kiss me goodbye? Can somebody help me? What they trying to do?”

The album’s original second side contains three extended tracks of over seven minutes each. “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” starts with a distant vocal and piano and eventually launches into an upbeat hook, built mostly on simple synth motifs. The song has almost a Meatloaf-like vibe in its emotional and theatrical mix. “I’m Not Afraid” is a mini-suite, starting with pure eighties synth-piano and the grittiest vocals on album. Following a bluesy lead section where Hogdson’s lead guitar trades licks with the harmonica of Ken Allardyce, comes a long and rhythmic outro section. The album concludes with the uplifting piano track, “Only Because of You”, which is almost religious in theme. The song contains a long mid-section with scat vocals by guest Claire Diament and some short synth and guitar leads by Hodgson before winding down to the final verse sections.

Although In the Eye of the Storm only reached number 46 on the Billboard album charts, it did perform far better elsewhere around the globe, and eventually sold over two million copies worldwide. Hodgson followed-up with a second solo record, Hai Hai, in 1987, before taking an extended break from recording to pursue other projects.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

The Works by Queen

The Works by Queen

Buy The Works

The Works by QueenThe Works was sort of a comeback album by Queen in 1984. We say “sort of” because the group never really went away, they just faced a major commercial flop with their previous effort, a quasi-disco record called Hot Space, which seemed woefully outdated in 1982. In this light, The Works was a return to form, albeit with strong eighties sonic and arrangement sensibilities. On this nine track album, each member of the quartet brought in at least one complete composition and, while there are some major weak points in the mix, these are superseded by the brilliant high points as well as the fact that this album turned out to be an important pivot point for Queen in the 1980s.

The decade began strong for the group, with the 1980 release of The Game, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would become their best selling album. Later that same year, the group released the soundtrack to the movie Flash Gordon, which further expanded their audience and reach. A worldwide tour followed, which included several concerts with audiences topping 100,000 in Latin American in 1981. That same year, Queen worked with David Bowie on the single “Under Pressure”, a spontaneous occurrence, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording, and another huge success, reaching number one in the UK. Late in 1981, Queen released their Greatest Hits compilation, which sold over 25 million copies worldwide and is still the best selling album in UK Chart history. However, 1982 turned out to be a disaster, not just with the flop of Hot Space, but with the inner turmoil which began to brew in the band, as guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were both very critical of the new sound and its apparent abandonment of Queen’s core rock audience. For the first time in a decade, the group took a break from touring and recording, with some band members working on outside projects and solo albums.

After about a year apart, Queen reunited in August 1983 to begin work on this eleventh studio album. They convened in Los Angeles, making this the first time Queen recorded in America, and spent several months working on the album with co-producer and engineer Reinhold Mack. Here the group fused May and Taylor’s rock sound with some of the German-influenced electro pop advocated by vocalist and arranger Freddie Mercury, to fulfill the original mission laid out by Taylor, who stated at the beginning of recording, “Let’s give them the works!”


The Works by Queen
Released: February 27, 1984 (EMI)
Produced by: Queen & Reinhold Mack
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles and Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, August 1983–January 1984
Side One Side Two
Radio Ga Ga
Tear It Up
It’s a Hard Life
Man On the Prowl
Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)
I Want to Break Free
Keep Passing the Open Windows
Hammer to Fall
Is This the World We Created…?
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

In what was probably an attempt to show the world that “Queen is back”, most of the songs on the albums first side, seem to harken back to previous famous songs by the band. May’s straight-forward anthem rocker “Tear It Up” contains a consistent beat that seems to slightly rip off the group’s own “We Will Rock You” from the 1977 album News of the World. Mercury’s piano ballad, “It’s a Hard Life” is pleasant and with good sound production, reminiscent of classic Queen of the 1970s, especially during the uplifting guitar lead by May. “Man On the Prowl” is a Jerry Lee Lewis inspired rockabilly track, complete with those famous Queen backing vocals, very similar to those used on the group’s 1979 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

“Radio Ga Ga” was the lead single from The Works, as well as its opening track, and immediately feels like a breath of fresh musical air. This brilliant composition which combines a synthesized rhythm with pristine melody, was written by Taylor wholly on a synthesizer, but brilliantly arranged by Mercury, who really shines during the escalating pre-chorus, as the singer transforms the rather silly and trite lyrics into an uplifting and majestic piece. There is very little presence by May on this track, but when he does appear at the very end, he performs a simple slide lead which enhances the track further.

 
The album’s second side begins “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)”, a really convoluted and disorganized song, which has no real direction and it appears to just throw in the “kitchen sink” of styles and techniques as a kind of extended filler. Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free” is far better than previous track, as it contains good pop craftsmanship, a cool rhythmic riff and a catchy vocal melody, resulting in a pure pop song that is impossible not to enjoy at some level. When Deacon insisted he didn’t want a guitar solo on the track, session man Fred Mandel was commissioned to perform a synth solo. Mercury’s “Keep Passing the Open Windows” starts as a dramatic piano track but, quickly morphs to a bass-driven rock track led by bassist John Deacon, which is fairly entertaining at first, But the trite lyrics grow old as the repetition increases through this five and a half minute track.

“Hammer to Fall” contains a catchy rock riff, catchy melody, and catchy harmonies, adding up to a latter-era Queen classic. Lyrically the song deals with the threat of imminent doom, but musically it feeds into the good-time, call-and-response of eighties pop/rock. This track should have concluded the album on a high note, but instead the group opted for the short acoustic folk ballad “Is This the World We Created?”, a very simple and somber piece by Mercury, which leaves the listener in a low mood as the album concludes. Not a bad piece, but should have been placed before “Hammer to Fall” for maximum effect.

Commercially, The Works did fine as an album, charting in the Top 20 in over a dozen nations worldwide. More importantly, Queen was restored as a top-level, headline act. By 1985, they were again once again playing in front of hundreds of thousands and they performed in front of millions at Live Aid in July of that year. During that festival, the visual of the entire audience at Wembley Stadium clapping in unison to “Radio Ga Ga”, has been cited as one of the greatest live performances of all time.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.