Music From Big Pink by The Band

Music From Big Pink by The Band

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Music From Big Pink by The BandAfter a decade of touring as a backing group for other artists, The Band released an incredible debut with Music from Big Pink in 1968. By blending their vast influences of country, Gospel, rock, folk, and R&B into strong compositions, influenced and helped along by Bob Dylan, the group forged an album with an honest, laid-back feel, which sharply broke with the current trends of over-the-top psychedelic rock. The album’s title stems from a (pink) house near Woodstock, NY, where several band members lived while they wrote and rehearsed material for this album. While many demo tapes were recorded there, the actual recording of the album, produced by John Simon took place in studios in New York City and Los Angeles. Concurrently, much of the Dylan-fronted material was recorded and eventually released as The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan in 1975.

The group’s originator was drummer Levon Helm, from the Arkansas side of the Mississippi Delta, who formed the rockabilly group The Hawks with front-man Ronnie Hawkins in the late fifties. In 1958, the group migrated to Ontario, Canada, which had a growing market for music from the American South, and toured clubs up there for many years. Along the way, Canadian natives Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manual, and Garth Hudson joined up at various points. When Hawkins took time off, the rest of the band continued to play club dates and soon migrated more towards the blues stylistically. In 1964, the group split from Hawkins and released a few singles as Levon and the Hawks with Helm on lead vocals. When Bob Dylan went “electric” in 1965, he enlisted The Band as his backing group, and they toured the world through 1966. However, Dylan suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident and was unable to tour for nearly a year. He retreated to the Catskill town of Woodstock and the Band decided to join him, taking a long deserved break from touring to try their hand at writing their own music.

With this brand new endeavor, The Band made a consorted effort to produce the most “legitimate” songs possible. This philosophy also extended the adaptation of the simple name “The Band”. While Dylan composed three of the eleven album tracks and there was one cover, Manuel and Robertson split most of the rest of the songwriting duties, later admitting they were students of Dylan’s various approaches to composing. Dylan also did the cover illustration for the album.


Music From Big Pink by The Band
Released: July 1, 1968 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Simon
Recorded: New York and Los Angeles, 1968
Side One Side Two
Tears of Rage
To Kingdom Come
In a Station
Caledonia Mission
The Weight
We Can Talk
Long Black Veil
Chest Fever
Lonesome Suzie
This Wheel’s on Fire
I Shall Be Released
Band Musicians
Robbie Robertson – Guitars, Vocals
Richard Manuel – Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Vocals
Garth Hudson – Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Saxophone
Rick Danko – Bass, Fiddle, Vocals
Levon Helm – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

With a “how slow can you go?” tempo, the opener “Tears of Rage” is full of deliberate anguish. Co-written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel, the song has a strong Biblical underlying theme, examining a relationship between parents and daughter. A version of this song with Dylan on lead vocal and the Band backing him was included on The Basement Tapes. “To Kingdom Come” is Robertson’s debut as a songwriter and contains more upbeat, sixties-style music with harmonized vocals and a great bass by Danko throughout, gluing together the slight bursts of musical motifs. The worst part of this fine song is that it ends too quickly, fading out during an interesting guitar lead by Robertson.

Manuel’s “In a Station” returns to the bluesy ballad with topical keyboards and slightly interesting guitar interludes. Written and sung by Robertson, the fine “Caledonia Mission” starts as a ballad but progresses to an interesting, jazzy number with strong horns throughout.

The most famous song on the album is “The Weight”, an iconic music marker in the history of rock n’ roll. A significant influenced on American popular music the lyrics return to Biblical settings, with fictional characters playing the modern day protagonists. Over time becoming one of The Band’s best known songs, it failed to reach the Top 40 when released as a single in 1968, although subsequent cover versions did much better for various artists. Robertson sites the movies of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel as well as his initial visit to the Mississippi Delta as influences for the song, although Helm later claimed several member of the band had a part in writing the lyrics.

The Band in 1968

Side two of the original LP starts off with the funky “We Can Talk”, with Manuel, Helm, and Danko taking turns on vocals. “Long Black Veil” is an Americana cover, written by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill, and contains a fine acoustic guitar and prevalent electric piano. “Chest Fever” starts with Hudson’s calm but catchy organ riff, topped by Manuel’s rock piano and Danko’s bass. Soon to become a fan favorite, this may be the closest to traditional hard rock that they get on this album.

“Lonesome Suzie” is a ballad with Manuel crooning above Hudson’s soulful organ and Robertson’s calmly picked guitars. “This Wheel’s on Fire” is a good solid track co-written by Dylan and Danko, featuring high-pitched harmonies, and a country-tinged backing. Dylan also composed the closer “I Shall Be Released”, which drips with melancholy and depth. Led by Richard Manuel’s haunting tenor vocals above gently stroked piano and acoustic, this is a real template for future power ballads. With more connotations of redemption, the song stands as a classic “prison song”. One of his unrecorded gems, Dylan later recorded his own impromptu version of the song, included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II.

Although not a great commercial hit, Music from Big Pink came as a big surprise to music insiders, with many established rock musicians siting it as an immediate influence. An eponymous follow-up album made of unfinished songs from these sessions was recorded and released in 1969 to near equal acclaim.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

The Beatles (white album)

The Beatles

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The Beatles (white album)In 1968, The Beatles released their only double studio album, an eponymous release commonly referred to as The White Album. Despite the official title which emphasized group identity, the actual recordings were segmented and increasingly individualized based on the original composer of each tune.  Much of this was due to dissent and inner turmoil in which members openly objected to certain tunes. In fact, all four members of the group play together on barely half of the album’s 30 tracks and producer George Martin later admitted he advocated for a “very good single album” in lieu of including so many marginal individualized tracks. Thematically, the White Album was a complete withdrawal from The Beatles 1967 albums, retreating from the lush and vivid colorful themes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour with a plain white sleeve (save for the band’s name discreetly embossed) to pair with the most simple of titles. This was also the first release by the group on their independent label, Apple Records.

Even with 30 tracks, the album omitted much potential material. Several songs started during the five months of recording were later included on Abbey Road and several solo albums by the members and the group opted to release the tracks “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” (two of the most popular songs ever by the Beatles) as a pre-release single than include them on the White Album. With such a large amount of tracks, the album contains an eclectic mix of songs from wide musical genres, including folk, country , avant-garde, classical and chamber music, and British dance-hall music. The Beatles only slightly continued their psychedelic leanings from 1967 but spent much more effort returning to basic rock and blues of their earlier years. Such diversity on a single album was largely unprecedented in 1968 and seemed to bring equal measures of praise and criticism from fans and critics over the years. Still, The Beatles was a phenomenal commercial success, reaching number one on both side of the Atlantic and selling well over 10 million copies worldwide.

Many of the songs originated in Rishikesh, India while the band was collectively on a Transcendental Meditation retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the spring of 1968. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney used the time to write songs in earnest and would frequently meet to discuss song ideas (even though this was in contrast to the meditation “course”). Theses songs were composed on acoustic guitar, the only Western instrument available during their Indian visit. Once back in England, the group gathered at George Harrison‘s home to hash out the close to forty new compositions and make preliminary plans for recording. The sessions for The White Album were the first on which the band used 8-track recording, starting with “Hey Jude” at Trident Studios in central London before returning to Abbey Road Studios once EMI installed their own 8-track machine.

During the lengthy sessions from May through October 1968 much internal conflict began, group members later pinpointed this as the beginning of their ultimate breakup. Frustrated with his diminished role on several tracks, drummer Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving McCartney as the drummer on a couple of tracks. These were also the first Beatles sessions where wives and girlfriends frequently attended, most notably Lennon’s future wive Yoko Ono, who was constant presence at the sessions. As a result of the tension McCartney and Lennon would often record in separate studios at Abbey Road (there were three), each using different engineers. The turmoil of these sessions extended beyond the band members. Engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked on several albums with the Beatles, abruptly quit and announced he would no longer work with the band and even George Martin took an unannounced holiday midway through the sessions, leaving the group to scramble for an interim producer. In the end, however, Lennon. McCartney, and Martin got together for a 24-hour session to mix, master, and sequence the White Album.


The Beatles by The Beatles
Released: November 22, 1968 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI and Trident Studios, London, May-October, 1968
Side One Side Two
Back In the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Blackbird
Piggies
Rocky Raccoon
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
I Will
Julia
Side Three Side Four
Birthday
Yer Blues
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
…Except Me and My Monkey
Sexy Sadie
Helter Skelter
Long, Long, Long
Revolution 1
Honey Pie
Savoy Truffle
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 9
Good Night
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Saxophone, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Drums, Flugelhorn, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Organ, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

McCartney played drums on the first two tracks of The Beatles. The opener “Back in the USSR” commences with jet aircraft effects and breaks into an upbeat rocker, combining elements of earlier Beatles and Beach Boys songs. In fact, Mike Love of the Beach Boys also attended the retreat in Rishikesh and he encouraged McCartney to “talk about the girls all around Russia” when Paul told him of his idea to write a song called “Back in the USSR” as a homage to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”. Although no tracks from The White Album were initially released as singles, “Back in the USSR” was released by Parlophone as a single in the UK in 1976, eight years later. “Dear Prudence” arrives like an awakening or a drawing out, with the hypnotically picked, rotating guitars by Lennon. The subject of this song is Prudence Farrow, part of the Rishikesh entourage, who became so serious about her meditation that she rarely came out of the cottage she was living in, prompting others to enlist Lennon to try and make sure she came out more often. Towards the end of the song is a good rock jam which previews some of the finer moments on the album.

“Glass Onion” contains lyrics and music that acts as an epilogue to Magical Mystery Tour. Like a psychedelic trip through the past year, the lyrics call out earlier Beatles songs by name with provocative lyrics to fans such as; “Well here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul”, which Lennon later dismissed as having no deeper meaning. On the gibberish front, McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” may contain sophomoric lyrics, but this song shines for its pure sonic quality, starting with McCartney’s vocals which sound like nothing else he had (or has) done. Thematically, this infectiously fun song is an expression of the pure joy of everyday, ordinary life. While Lennon, openly detested this song in its original, reggae-influenced form, the band spent many sessions reworking it towards its finished form.

George HarrisonAfter the filler experimental piece “Wild Honey Pie”, a flamenco guitar phrase introduces “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”. Like a kids song gone rogue, the song mocks a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took break from meditation to go hunting tigers. Recorded later in the album sessions, “Bungalow Bill” features Yoko Ono singing co-lead vocals for a single line, the only female lead vocal in the Beatles library. Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the best moment on the album. With a great piano intro and chord structure, the song features a pulsating rhythm beneath the profound vocals of Harrison and wild guitar  by guest Eric Clapton. Inspiration for the song came from reading the I Ching which prompted Harrison to experiment by writing a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. Those words were “gently weeps” and he immediately began writing the song, although many of his verses were later omitted. The presence of Clapton also served to temporarily alleviate the studio tension, as the band members were on their best behavior during his time in the studio.

The fantastic first side concludes with Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, an asymmetrical mini suite, which moves several sections rapidly, each becoming more anthemic and rocking. Lennon claims the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that George Martin showed him. and it has been cited by both McCartney and Harrison as one of their favorites on the White Album.

Paul McCartney“Martha My Dear” begins with a great piano through intro, soon accompanied by orchestration and a very slight thumping rock section during the middle of the bridge. McCartney is the only Beatle to appear on this track (written about his English sheepdog), which includes nice brass and string arrangements by Martin. “I’m So Tired” is another short masterpiece by Lennon with very emotive vocals masterfully adjusted for differing effects. A direct, first-person account of a sleepless night in India, the unabashed examination of his own fragile state of mind, previews later solo work by Lennon such as Plastic Ono Band. Back to McCartney, with the solo recording of “Blackbird”, a beautiful acoustic solo piece with music based on J.S. Bach’s “Bourrée”. The hypnotizing acoustic, double-tracked vocals and tapping percussion and the guitar make for a pretty and inspirational tune with lyrics inspired by the Civil Rights struggle.

“Piggies” is a Baroque influenced song by Harrison as social commentary on the class system. Originally written in 1966 at his parents’ home, Harrison’s mother provided the line “What they need’s a damn good whacking” while Lennon contributed the line “clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.” The predominant harpsichord is accompanied by a string quartet, produced by Chris Thomas in Martin’s absence. Ringo Starr“Rocky Raccoon” is a Western saloon type folk song with McCartney on consistent acoustic and lead vocals, Lennon providing harmonica and harmonium, and George Martin adding the nice honky-tonk piano breaks. An actual collaboration between McCartney and Lennon, this storytelling song originated during a three man acoustic jam with folk singer Donovan on retreat in India. “Don’t Pass Me By” is the first composition credited to Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and would have made for a good Ringo Starr solo track. Starr also provides an interesting tack piano, accompanied by great bluegrass fiddle playing by guest Jack Fallon. The song was a #1 hit in Denmark in April 1969.

Following his frivolous, minute and a half “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, McCartney provides the retro feeling “I Will”. With much nod towards early Beatles, this song contains a unique arrangement with vocal bass and unconvential percussion. Although simple and short, “I Will” took 67 takes to record. Lennon’s solo ballad “Julia” is a finger-picking acoustic song written for his mother Julia Lennon, who died in car accident when John was 17 years old. The fun celebration rocker “Birthday” starts the album’s third side. One of the rare tracks written in the studio, the song features a catchy blues progression guitar riff augmented by choppy piano.

This third side is where some of the White Album’s weaker spots come to the fore. “Yer Blues” is one of these, as an almost-annoying blues tune with the only redeeming quality being the slight middle jam section that is unfortunately cut short by a return to the repetitive verse. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” is another marginal song by Lennon, albeit a little more interesting due to its frantic rocking style, complete with groovy late sixties guitars and rudiments. in between these is the pleasant folk diddy “Mother Nature’s Son” by McCartney, the best song on this side. This song completely captures the intended mood with great acoustic riffs and horns ensemble musically and inspired lyrics based on a lecture by the Maharishi. McCartney recorded it “live”, singing and playing acoustic guitar simultaneously with overdubs done later.

John LennonThe four Beatles left India at different times and with different opinions of the Maharishi. Lennon, a t one point a “true believer”, ultimately became the most jaded by the experience and expressed this brilliantly on the song “Sexy Sadie”. starting with an interesting reverbed piano, the song is arranged in manner frequently used by the group Queen a decade later, with lush backing vocal choruses, other parts laden with effects, and a lead guitar lying sharply above the mix. “Helter Skelter” is a style piece, with little substance by McCartney, in a deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible. Still, this became one of the most famous (or infamous) on the album following the Manson family murder spree and its use as title for the subsequent book. After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on me fingers!”, included on the stereo mix of the song. Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” completes side three as a cross between jazz waltz, folk, and psychedelia with good underlying riffs and great drum interludes, but not very cohesive overall. With the topical organ this track sounds like it may have been influenced by Pink Floyd.

And then there is Lennon’s “Revolution”. Originally, a single ten-minute piece comprised of a song proper and an improvised coda, the first part of the song was edited out as “Revolution 1”, a slow acoustic blues number with “shooby-do-wah” vocals and added horns. However, most of the Beatles were unhappy with this version, so a heavier, more upbeat version of “Revolution” was recorded and released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single. Still, Lennon wanted to return to the earlier recording and fought to have “Revolution 1” included on the White Album as well as re-record the avant-garde sound collage as the track “Revolution 9”, using the last six minutes of the original recording as a starting point. With numerous sound effects, tape loops, and overdubs, and virtually no musical melody, the eight and a half minute track is the longest track that the Beatles officially released. McCartney was against including this song on the album and Beatles fans have debated its merits for four and a half decades. In any case, it was a dissatisfying “tour de force” for this otherwise fine musical collection.

The Beatles was quickly followed up by Yellow Submarine less than two months later in January 1969. By then the band had already moved on to their next project, which was eventually released as Let It Be. Despite the unevenness of the music, the controversial inclusions, and the utter lack of promotion, the album became a classic. As McCartney later unapologetically put it, “it’s the bloody Beatles White Album!”

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

1978 Album of the Year

Van Halen

1978 Album of the Year

Buy Van Halen’s Debut Album

Van Halen 1978 debut albumVan Halen‘s debut album is a pedal-to-the-metal hard rocker with a distinct approach that thundered onto the scene in early 1978. This self-titled album continues to rank among the top debuts of all time and makes appearances on other straight-up rock album lists. While not particularly original musically, Van Halen was completely original sonically. This was due to the jaw dropping speed and flair guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. With a noted lack of blues-based licks, which were replaced by a furious placement of picked, crunched, and hammered notes, Van Halen’s leads, solos, and riffs are the most indelible moments on a very memorable album. Forged in the fresh shadow of punk rock, the Van Halen sound showed that musical talent can be every bit as fresh, energetic, and bombastic. With this innovative record which sounds every bit as fresh 35 years after its release, Van Halen has risen to become Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1978.

Van Halen was formed in Southern California in 1972 by the brothers that give the band its name – guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan Van Halen and were “forced” to study classical piano at very young ages. When the brothers began playing rock and roll, Alex was actually on guitar and Eddie was on drums.  But once Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to switch instruments and took over as drummer. In 1974, the group rented a sound system from David Lee Roth and soon invited him to join as lead vocalist. Roth was the son of a renowned eye surgeon, who had considerable wealth and was the nephew of Manny Roth, who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha?, which featured performers such like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Roth possessed an in-your-face charisma that demanded attention (like a true frontman should). While not considered a particularly accomplished crooner, his yelps and screams fit perfectly within the high-energy sound of the group.

Soon after Roth joined,  the band decided to replace their current bass player with Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from a rival band called “Snake”, who impressed the Van Halen brothers during an all-night jam session. In subsequent years, the group played everything from backyard parties on a flatbed truck to some of the most famous night clubs on the Sunset Strip. They forged what Roth calls a “girl-friendliness” to heavy rock. In the summer of 1976, Gene Simmons of Kiss saw Van Halen perform and offered to produce a high end demo tape for the group. After a few recordings in Los Angeles and New York, Simmons opted out of the arrangement after the group declined his suggestion to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs” and Kiss management told Simmons that they had “no chance of making it”.

In mid-1977,  Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw the group perform in Hollywood and was so impressed that he scored Van Halen a recording contract within a week (although the group now laments that this contract was not financially favorable to the members who ended up owing money by the end of 1978). Templeman produced the debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders over a three week period in the Fall of 1977. All of the tracks were recorded with minimal over-dubbing and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a “live” feel. After the sessions, the group returned to playing small venues in Southern California until the album was released in early 1978.


Van Halen by Van Halen
Released: February 10, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA, September – October 1977
Side One Side Two
Runnin’ with the Devil
Eruption
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Jamie’s Cryin’
Atomic Punk
Feel Your Love Tonight
Little Dreamer
Ice Cream Man
On Fire
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

The album is made of nine original compositions, credited to all four band members, along with two re-interpreted covers. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony drive the opener “Runnin’ with the Devil”, which arrives like an alien visitor and then comes off heavier than it actually is in reality. It is down-and-dirty but short of hedonistic and got its lyrical inspiration from the Ohio Players song “Runnin’ from the Devil”. While released as a single, it failed to chart in 1978 but has  become a classic rock radio staple and still a signature tune of Van Halen.

The instrumental “Eruption” contains some of the best 100 seconds of guitar ever recorded. This masterpiece by Eddie Van Halen was not intended for the debut album but was overheard by Templeman as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date and he decided to include it on the album. The piece is the first to feature Van Halen’s custom two-handed finger-tapping technique which had not been perfected by any other player to that date (but went “viral” among guitarists in the eighties). Played on his custom Frankenstrat with a custom array of effect units and vintage tube amps, the piece has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo ever by Guitar World magazine. “Eruption” works as a perfect lead-in to the kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, the lone charting “hit” from this album. You Really Got Me singleThis may be one of the very few remakes that actually best the original, which is saying something since the 1964 tune by Ray Davies is a bona fide classic which features a young session player named Jimmy Page. But Van Halen takes this simple, two and a half minute piece, and brings it to a fevered level of excitement with Eddie performing riffs within riffs, Roth adding vocal ad-lib screams in the chorus, and the post solo guitar dribble leading to a unique mid section with sound effects by both. The song became the lone Top 40 single from Van Halen.

Although very repetitive, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an extremely entertaining song which borders on being a Van Halen-flavored punk epic, especially with closing “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant. Unlike the totally feel-good “You Really Got Me”, this has a much darker feel, especially with the deep bridge lyrics;

“I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I’ve lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”

“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” displays the effortless expression of the band, which replaces the pretension and self-consciousness of many of their late seventies peers. The hyper-blues shuffle of “I’m the One”, which highlights the entertaining showmanship of the band. With dynamics which range from the monstrous rhythmic surge to the later a cappella do-wop section, “I’m The One” is an underrated gem, which concludes the fantastic first side of the album.

Although not nearly as memorable, the second side of Van Halen does contain its share of high moments. “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” shows that the band definitely can play pop rock anthems. These two tracks share similar memorable riffs and catchy harmonized choruses and they both sound like they should have been bigger radio hits. Sandwiched between the two is “Atomic Punk”, an almost experimental song with intro guitar effects giving way to theatrical verses. However, this song’s title may be more provocative than the overall tune is actually substantive and the disorganized return after the guitar lead appears to be one of the few faux pas of the recording.

Van Halen

“Little Dreamer” is the finest tune on side two and may be the one true band effort on Van Halen. Eddie comes down to Earth with a standard riff and more subtle theatrics while the rest of the group steps forward as Michael Anthony’s bouncing bass contrasts yet compliments Alex Van Halen’s steady drum beat and Roth’s actual singing is at its finest on this record. “Little Dreamer” also offers a preview of some of the more substantive music featured on upcoming albums Van Halen II and Women and Children First. “Ice Cream Man” is cover from Chicago blues artist John Brim, which features David Lee Roth solo on acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple of turns before it finally breaks into a full-fledged rocker, ala Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, the most forgettable song on the album is the finale “On Fire”, making for the only true weak spot on this incredible debut. While Eddie’s guitars are still impressive, the overall vibe makes really feels more like weak, hair-band material from a future Van Halen clone.

Van Halen initially peaked at #19 on the U.S. Albums chart and made a reappearance in 1984. By the end of the century, it was certified a Diamond album (over ten million copies sold or 20x platinum) and it made yet another appearance on the album charts in 2012 to coincide with Van Halen’s latest reunion. The band toured for nearly a year as the opening act for Black Sabbath before returning to the studio in late 1978 to record the follow-up Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Time Passages by Al Stewart

Time Passages by Al Stewart

Buy Time Passages

Time Passages by Al StewartTime Passages was the third of Al Stewart‘s popular late seventies albums, following Modern Times in 1975 and Year of the Cat in 1976. While all three of these albums were produced by Alan Parsons, on this one there is a minor nod towards soft rock production. Musically, Time Passages continues Stewart’s traditional blend of folk, jazz, and pop/rock, with masterful arrangements, rich sonic textures, and the top-notch production of Parsons. Lyrically, Stewart alternates between the contemporary subjects and concerns of baby boomers reaching their thirties and his distinct knack for presenting historical figures an events in graceful yet easily accessible pop song epics.

The Scottish born Stewart commenced his musical career in the mid 1960s at coffee houses in London’s Soho. Starting in 1967. He went on to release several folk albums on Columbia Records but found little mainstream success. In 1972, Stewart released Orange, a transitional album which combined songs in his confessional style with more historical themes that he would soon increasingly adopt. His 1973 release, Past, Present and Future, was the first in the United States and his popularity steadily grew throughout the rest of the decade.

During these years, Stewart began to form a proper backing band, led by guitarists Tim Renwick and Peter White. On Time Passages, Renwick provides the bulk of lead guitar while White played keyboards, accordion, and other instruments as well as co-wrote a couple of the tunes.


Time Passages by Al Stewart
Released: September, 1978 (RCA)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Davlen Studios, Los Angeles, June 1978
Side One Side Two
Time Passages
Valentina Way
Life In Dark Water
A Man for All Seasons
Almost Lucy
The Palace of Versailles
Timeless Skies
Song on the Radio
End of the Day
Primary Musicians
Al Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Peter White – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Renwick – Guitars
Robin Lamble – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums

The album’s title song “Time Passages” is a masterpiece on the utter surreal-ness of the passage of time (as demonstrated by the “time warp” album cover). Stewart uses great imagery to accomplish this while the pleasant music adds a pleasant soft rock backing with perfect late seventies production by Parsons. Released as a single, this would become Stewart’s highest charting song ever. It reached #7 on the Billboard pop chart and also spent ten weeks at #1 on the easy listening chart, the longest stay at number one on this chart in the entire decade. “Valentina Way” starts with classical piano by Peter Robinson before abruptly entering a disco section. Despite this dated musical arrangement, the underlying song is pretty good and is musically salvaged by White’s recurring guitar lead/riff.

The first historical number is “Life in Dark Water”, a slow, moody, almost psychedelic rocker driven by the rotating lyrics and a simple, repeated four chord progression. There is some musical deviation in the middle with a short, carnival sounding verse and extended guitar lead by Renwick. The song which references the Mary Celeste, a British-American merchant ship discovered unmanned and abandoned in 1872. Although the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced seamen, the seven member crew were never seen again while the ship was found in perfect shape with personal effects and over six months’ worth of food and water on board. “A Man for All Seasons” completes the first side with a musical a mix of Phil Spector meets alt-country. With a knack for telling historical stories in effected musical means, Stewart tells the story of Sir Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet.

The second side is just as solid as the first, starting with “Almost Lucy, a country/western influenced folk song with good percussive effects throughout. The subtle backing music plays off of Stewart’s vocals perfectly, which reflect the lyrics about the sad life of a prostitute;

“And all these changing faces never bothered her at all that just existed like a back-drop or a pattern on the wall, Lucy looks like someone who is waiting for a call she knows will come but no-one else can hear at all”

Led by smooth synth run by Peter Solley at the top and between verses, “The Palace of Versailles” is another historical diddy. The interplay between Stewart’s acoustic and Renwick’s electric guitars is fantastic, with Parsons adding some orchestral strings towards the end, giving this an epic feel and increasing the continental elegance at the core of this work. The acoustic “Timeless Skies” has a sparse arrangement with White subtly adding some accordion and mandolin as the song progresses.

“Song on the Radio” is the other “radio song” from Time Passages, peaking in the Top 30, despite its lengthy six and a half minute duration (it is interesting that the two “hits” are also the two longest songs on the album). Featuring the distinct alto saxophone of Phil Kenzie, this song may first present itself as pure pop on the surface, but it really has much deeper meaning and connotations lyrically. The closer “End of the Day” was written mainly by Peter White and is mostly instrumental, spending more than half of its duration in a prolonged instrumental introduction before a single, extended verse concludes the album. Soft and jazzy, this pleasant song is an effective way to leave listeners wanting for more.

Time Passages peaked at #10 on the charts and continues to be held as one of his finer albums. Stewart’s pop success continued into the early 1980s until his career slowly lost steam in subsequent years.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Infinity by Journey

Infinity by Journey

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Infinity by JourneyThe classic lineup of Journey came together for the album Infinity, released in 1978. Although this was the fourth overall album for the group that had been together since 1973, it was the first to feature lead vocalist and iconic front man Steve Perry. With his smooth tenor voice and apparent ability to traverse keys at will, Perry ushered in a new era of pop accessibility for Journey. the album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who had worked with such rock legends as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, Nazareth, and Queen. Baker said he aimed for a layered sound approach, complete with harmonized lead guitars, similar to his work with Queen in the mid seventies.

Journey was formed as a professional jazz/fusion “backing band” built by former Santana manager Herbie Herbert, originally called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie were also recent Santana members and they were surrounded by a number of musical lineups through the early years of the group, eventually settling on bassist Ross Valory and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Journey released three albums in three years with none achieving significant sales. Schon, Valory, and Dunbar took singing lessons in an attempt to add vocal harmonies to Rolie’s lead and even brought in a temporary front man, Robert Fleischman in 1977 to transition to a more popular style.

Perry had achieved moderate success with California bands, Ice and Alien Project, but was on the verge of giving up music when Herbert heard a demo of Perry in Alien Project. Perry was brought on tour and eventually replaced Fleischman permanently in late 1977. With a new contract with Columbia Records, the band set out to make a cohesive and popular record.


Infinity by Journey
Released: January 20, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: His Master’s Wheels Studio, San Francisco, October-December 1977
Side One Side Two
Lights
Feeling That Way
Anytime
Lă Do Dā
Patiently
Wheel In the Sky
Somethin’ To Hide
Winds of March
Can Do
Opened the Door
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Gregg Rollie – Keyboards, Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars
Ross Valory – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

The geographical ballad “Lights” (which can still regularly be heard at San Francisco Giants baseball games) leads things off on Infinity. The complete ode to their home “city by the bay”, was actually written by Perry about Los Angeles before he joined the band. Although originally just a very minor hit, which reached #68 on the charts, the song became more popular over the years to the point where it is now one of Journey’s most easily recognizable songs.

Greg Rollie takes the lead vocal mic on the next two tracks. On “Feeling That Way” he duets with Perry, on a pleasantly moody track with an eighties moderate rock feel. The first incarnation of the song was an instrumental intended for the group’s third album Next, but was left off that album. When Perry joined the band, he helped add a chorus with Rolie adding the verse lyrics. “Anytime” features Rollie solo on lead vocals. This song was co-written by Robert Fleischman during his short time with the group and was released as a single from the album.

“Lă Do Dā” is an upbeat, pure rocker, driven almost entirely by texture, from Schon’s opening guitar effects to the long sustained vocals with electronic effects. “Patiently” was the first collaboration between Perry and Schon and soon became a fan favorite. On this delicate yet hip ballad, Schon plays an acoustic-like form on his electric guitar through the beginning verses, while the concluding full-band jam makes it all the more interesting.

The second side opens with “Wheel in the Sky”, which contains almost an upbeat country riff, especially in the interplay between Schon’s guitar and Ross Vallory’s bass. The song began its life as a poem called “Wheels in My Mind” by Diane Vallory, wife of the bassist and it reached No. 57 on the Billboard charts.
“Somethin’ to Hide” is another pleasant quasi-ballad, driven by Perry’s soaring, atmospheric vocals and Schon’s scorching fret work, along with some subtle keyboard arrangements by Rolie.

Neal’s father, jazz musician Matt Schon composed some of the fine chord structures for “Winds of March”, an arrangement would have worked well with many of the later prog metal acts. This has a love-song-like lyric but with a more somber feel from the dark piano runs to the flange effects on Dunbar’s drums, making it one of the better songs on side two. The album’s final two racks offer a slight glimpse into Journey’s future. “Can Do” is a pure upbeat rocker co-written by Perry and Ross Valory, while “Opened the Door” is the only real soft rock song on the album. Led by the synths from Rollie and more layered guitars from Schon, it is easy to see how the group laid the brickwork here for a lot of their 80s ballads.

Infinity was the first album by the group to contain tracks that received regular airplay as well as the first with charting singles. It was the first of a string hit albums, which eventually served to help Journey become one of the top rock groups in the world. While a few more changes would take place in subsequent years, starting with Herbert firing drummer Dunbar, Journey would consistently gain more popularity through the next half decade.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Hemispheres by Rush

Hemispheres by Rush

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Hemispheres by RushHemispheres, the sixth studio album by Rush, was the second straight album recorded in the United Kingdom. It also contained the second half of a multi-album concept called “Cygnus X-1”, which took up the entire first side  as its title track. Musically, the group continued to use multi-movement song structures, complex rhythms and time signatures to pack this album with musical virtuosity by this trio at the very height of their talent and creativity. Lyrically, Neil Peart continued the scientific/fantasy approach of recent albums but with a decidedly philosophical bend, using a mixture of literary, factual, and fictional methods.

The music is complex and flowing with a lush production. Like the previous four studio album, Hemispheres was produced by Terry Brown. Influenced by progressive rock bands like Yes and King Crimson, the group set out to make more complex music, stretching the maximum potential of three rock musicians to be replicated in live situations. Lead vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee added Minimoog synthesizer and bass pedals to his arsenal while guitarist Alex Lifeson  experimented with classical and twelve-string guitars, often using a holder stand to easily switch between guitars live. Peart continued to add diverse percussion to his ever-growing drum set, including timpani, blocks, orchestral bells, chimes, and melodic cowbells.

Although the second half of a multi-part fantasy which starts in space but ends on Mount Olympus, the overall concept of Hemispheres is to explore and interpret human psychology via the left and right portions of the brain. This whole concept was developed by Peart who, as lyricist, had led the group to to ever greater levels of conceptual complexity since joining Rush in 1974. For their part, musical composers Lee and Lifeson, matched the ingenuity with their tightest, sharpest, and most inventive playing ever with brilliant complexity.


Hemispheres by Rush
Released: October 29, 1978 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown and Rush
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, South Wales, June–August 1978
Side One Side Two
Cygnus X-1, Book II:
Hemispheres
Circumstances
The Trees
La Villa Strangiato
Primary Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizers
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synthesizers
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion, Synthesizers

 

While the story line isn’t as comprehensible as “2112”, the side-long suite of “Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres” is much more consistent musically. In fact, it is constructed more like a stage musical than a contemporary prog-rock piece, with the “Prelude” section acting as a true overture. starting off with slow rudiments which, for a moment, feel unsure, the music soon finds its groove, moving through seamless passages in the first three instrumental minutes. You don’t have to be a Rush fanatic to appreciate the quality rock on display here, which (like “2112 Overture”) is the most indelible part of the overall extended piece. A single verse three minutes in sets the stage for the story.

Next come the two parts which describe the two sides of Hemispheres – “Apollo (Bringer of Wisdom)” and ” Dionysus (Bringer of Love)”. These two parts are really just different verses of the same tune, with a Lifeson guitar lead representing the “the bridge of death” crossing between them. Surprisingly, there is not a bigger contrast sonically between these two contrasting characters, as Geddy Lee brilliantly has shown he could pull off in “2112”. The awkward transition into these tracks is the first real flaw of the extended piece. After abandoning the “chains of reason” in pursuit of “joy and love”, the mythical civilization faces cold, starvation, and predators, which causes caos and ultimate battle in the very theatrical climax to the piece, “Armageddon (The Battle of Heart and Mind)”. Here Lee’s voice hits the highest of registers, perhaps a bit too far for contemporary tastes, as he relates the story of aimless conflict which ensued with the confusion brought on by the awareness of Apollo and Dionysus.

Rush in 1978

Finally, comes the bridge back to the final song from A Farewell to Kings. “Cygnus X-1:Book I” was a spacey number about a guy who deliberately steers his spaceship into a black hole out of his burning curiosity to see what was on the other side. On the “Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)” echoes from that song overlaid on the long synth sounds of Lee while Peart’s lyric morphs from the philosophical to the fantasy. The protagonist from the former song was able to make the chaos suddenly cease (although it is really unclear why) and the world unites into a “single, perfect sphere” as described in the pleasant acoustic final part with its Pollyanna, Utopian vision.

The second side begins in sharp contrast with excellent, frenzied musical piece of “Circumstances”. This is Rush, the rock band, at their absolute best. Peart’s crazed but ultra-tight drumming and Lee’s thundering Rickenbacker bass provide the best rhythm section in rock and are in top form. There is very short middle section for variety, where a synth-led waltz gives way the chord-and-riff-driven jam before breaking back into one final chorus. In a way, there is more sonically packed into this less-than-four-minute piece than all of the extended, 18-minute “Hemispheres”. Further, the song has great philosophical lyrics in two languages;

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, the more that things change, the more they stay the same…”

The philosophy continues with “The Trees”, a parable on socialism and collectivism. Here, Lifeson takes center stage from his classical acoustic intro through the incredible movement through differing guitar textures. Like “Circumstances”, there is another mid-section which starts with some synth and percussion motifs before breaking into a full band jam, which brings the tune to a fevered conclusion with an ironic lyrical ending.

This all leads to “La Villa Strangiato”, the crowning musical achievement of Rush’s long career. The band admits that this was incredibly difficult to record, even claiming that this single track took longer than the entire album Fly By Night. At first, they were obsessed with recording the nine-minute, twelve-section track in one single take, but eventually capitulated and recorded it in three parts. The result is an analog recording with a bit of tape hiss, but this does not detract from the music one bit. Based on a dream by Lifeson, “La Villa Strangiato” (“The Strange House”) begins with half minute Spanish guitar that gives way to, perhaps, the most exciting intro in rock and roll. Like a world awakening from a long slumber, the dream flanged guitar is cut through by the underlying, three-note beat by Lee and Peart. Eventually, the tension breaks into a full band rudimentary riff offset by interludes of smooth instrumental soaring. During the complex middle section, the mood comes down a little bit, to a basic beat for Lifeson’s bluesy guitar leads (like Rush in Pink Floyd mode), again building ever so slowly towards a more intense rhythm part. Several more connecting sections ensue, including a jazzy section led by bass and drums. The music meanders and draws the listener to a lull before suddenly breaking back to the main theme as a lead-in to the outro with a sudden and abrupt ending, which leaves the audience wanting for more.

Although Hemispheres received relatively good reviews it did not fare well commercially. With great success on the horizon, this would be the last Rush studio album to fail to make the Top 10 until 1987’s Hold Your Fire, six albums in the future. The recording of five studio albums in four years, coupled with 300 gigs a year, and the shear exhaustion of making such a complex album would play a major factor in the band deciding to move towards more accessible material in the future.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

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City to City by Gerry RaffertyGerry Rafferty was an artist who really didn’t like fame all that much. In fact, he once walked out on his former band, Stealers Wheel,  shortly after they topped the charts with “Stuck in the Middle with You”  in 1973. The success found Rafferty  retreating to his native Scotland before being coerced back into rejoining that band. Ironically, City to City brought Rafferty fame in droves after a long hiatus from the public eye. This album reached the top of the U.S. album charts and produced three Top 20 hits. But beyond its commercial success, it was the absolute apex of Rafferty’s career where if left indelible musical marks which define his output to this day.

Rafferty joined the folk group The Humblebums in 1969. Two years later he was signed to a solo contract an released his 1971 debut Can I Have My Money Back?, a critical success but commercial failure. In 1972, Rafferty formed Stealers Wheel with Walter Egan and recorded three albums before the duo disbanded in 1975. This was followed by legal wrangling over the demise of Stealers Wheel which kept Rafferty out of the studio for three solid years.

Though it would seem to have strike the pop charts out of the blue, City to City does not depart dramatically from the music Rafferty has recorded over the past decade. In fact, he used much of the same personnel he had on his first solo album seven years earlier, starting with producer Hugh Murphy. The album’s title was meant to be satirical, as Rafferty conquers the world one metropolis at a time. Fueled by Rafferty’s compositional skills, the group forged a fresh sound with diverse styles, while lyrically Rafferty juxtaposes the differences between urban and pastoral life.


City to City by Gerry Rafferty
Released: January 20, 1978 (United Artists)
Produced by: Hugh Murphy
Recorded: Chipping Norton Recording Studios, London, 1977
Side One Side Two
The Ark
Baker Street
Right Down the Line
City to City
Stealin’ Time
Mattie’s Rag
Whatever’s Written In Your Heart
Home and Dry
Island
Waiting For the Day
Primary Musicians
Gerry Rafferty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Hugh Burns – Guitars
Tommy Eyre – Piano, Keyboards, Brass
Graham Preskett – Fiddle, Strings
Gary Taylor – Bass, Vocals
Henry Spinetti – Drums

The opening tune “The Ark” starts with a Celtic-flavored thumping intro led by fiddle and mandolin combo of Graham Preskett. It soon breaks into a pleasant ballad, reminiscent of the band Badfinger, with the vibe of sailing along calm water within the beat. While it never really breaks from its deliberate and steady tone, this five and a half minute song feels full and complete.

While long considered Rafferty’s signature song, “Baker Street” may also be one of the quintessential tracks of the late seventies. At once pop yet progressive, this song is an urban journey accompanied by baskets of sonic candy, The bass of Gary Taylor supplies a lot of this décor, as do the keyboards, organ, and synths of Tommy Eyre as do the cool and smooth layered vocals of Rafferty, delivering the self-reflecting and mature lyrics. But all this plays a supporting role to the memorable saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft, which guides the song from phrase to phrase. Rafferty lobbied the record label to have “Baker Street” as the lead single from the album and it became hugely popular, reaching the top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic before the album was even released.

The mechanical yet groovy “Right Down The Line” was the other major hit from the album. An upbeat song of romance, this tune is firmly within easy listening range while still feeling vibrant and young and in no way sappy. Rafferty’s excellent vocal harmonies during the bridges along with the cool steel guitar intro and lead of Brian Cole are the musical highlights for this song which reached #12 on Billboard pop charts and topped the “Easy Listening” charts. The album then takes a sharp turn with title song “City to City”. A quasi-blue grass composition, the song comes complete with a train-whistle-sounding harmonica by Paul Jones and could be an outlaw country song if not for all the production flourishes throughout. “Stealin’ Time” is a great mood-setting song to complete side one. Led by the electric piano of Tommy Eyre, the song is very patient and deliberate musically, like mid-era Pink Floyd. Following a nice lead by Hugh Burns, the arrangement turns interesting as it builds some intensity in the outro section.

The second side starts a long, thumping fade-in on “Mattie’s Rag”, which gives way to an upbeat and bouncy tune including an interesting dobro lead by Cole, and a fantastic fiddle and string coda riff by Preskett. “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” feels like a Gospel song at first, before Rafferty takes control of this McCartney-styled piano ballad. Musically, this six and a half minute song is almost entirely Eyre’s piano, with a short Moog synth lead in the middle while lyrically, the melancholy song is a bit introspective and spiritual;

“Maybe I’ve always set my sights too high, you take the easy way and still get by
I know there ain’t no special way, we all get there anyway…”

Topping off the album are three upbeat songs. “Home and Dry” contains a thumping beat by Henry Spinetti with smooth vocal delivery by Rafferty, much like the hit songs from side one. In fact, “Home and Dry” was the third single from the album in the U.S. and it peaked at #28 on the pop charts. “Island” does its title justice with a strong Caribbean beat and gently strummed acoustic by Rafferty, but topically it has more of a jazz nightclub feel. It contains the ever-present saxophone of Ravenscroft and plenty of other exotic instrumentation. Rafferty plays rudimentary piano on “Waiting For the Day”, which complements Eyre’s boogie-woogie electric piano. Starting as perhaps the most straight-forward rocker on album, the song takes a couple of unexpected breaks where Rafferty’s solo vocals are highlighted, clear and up front.

Although Rafferty declined to tour right away following the release of City to City, the momentum carried on to his 1979 album Night Owl, which spawned another trio of Top 40 singles. While the artist continued to release albums throughout the 1980s, his popularity waned and heavy drinking ultimately led to his demise.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

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Some Girls by The Rolling StonesSome Girls was a major commercial and critical success for the Rolling Stones in 1978. Here, the classic British rock group incorporated the new genres of disco, punk, along with New York style new wave while maintaining their core rock sound. The marathon sessions for this album consumed the entire winter of 1977-78 and ended up yielding about 50 new songs, many of which were used on future studio albums as well as countless bootleg recordings over the years. The engineering approach to recording differed from the sounds of mid seventies Stones albums, with the use of classic techniques along with state-of-the-art amplifiers.

The band added guitarist Ronnie Wood to the line-up, replacing Mick Taylor who left the band three years later. Wood had toured with the band as early as 1975 when he was still a member of the band Faces and his permanent addition added some much needed support for primary guitarist Keith Richards. Heroin dependency and a pending possession charge were a serious concern for the group during production of Some Girls. The Toronto drug bust held a real possibility that Richards might be sent to prison for years, but the ultimate judgment was an order to perform a charity show for The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

During this era, vocalist Mick Jagger stepped up with a greater than usual role in songwriting and producing. Although Richards was present as co-producer and co-composer, Jagger gained control of the band’s musical direction for the next several albums through 1981’s Tattoo You. The result is a blend of glitzy and decadent rock which still makes it a definitive Stones album. However, not everyone was thrilled with this new musical direction, band manager and studio pianist Ian Stewert sat out the Some Girls sessions in protest of the approach.


Some Girls by The Rolling Stones
Released: June 9, 1978 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Miss You
When the Whip Comes Down
Imagination
Some Girls
Lies
Far Away Eyes
Respectable
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Shattered
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

The groovy bass of Bill Wyman leads the repetitive riff of “Miss You”. This was the lead single from Some Girls, released in May 1978 ahead of the album. It reached the top of the charts, becoming the Rolling Stones’ last U.S. #1 hit and rode the tail end of the disco wave. A highlight later in the song is the short saxophone solo by Mel Collins. “When the Whip Comes Down” features a fairly standard, Richards-based riff with a verse-chorus repeat pattern. Lyrically, the song is about a gay street hustler in an attempt by Jagger to show he has an ear for the American urban scene.

The cover of Norman Whitfield‘s and Barrett Strong’s “Imagination” is a pleasant enough update of the Temptations classic but not really a wise choice as album track (should have been reserved for a B-side or compilation). Wood’s Faces band mate Ian McLagan provides organ for the track. The title song “Some Girls” sounds a bit like a Scottish folk song on acid, with flanged out guitars and several stand-alone verses with guitar interludes before a break with harmonies and picked acoustic. The later verse is like a perverse updated version of “California Girls”, albeit using race and ethnicity instead of location, and the song ends with a fine blues harp lead by Sugar Blue, which is unfortunately cut short in the fade. “Lies” is a frantic song in a genre style developed by the Stones in the late seventies, on later songs such “Neighbors”. Held together by the steady beat by drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones end side one with a smoke-filled and ambiguous musical piece with lyrics equal parts irony and ecstasy.

Aside for the throwaway parody “Far Away Eyes”, side two provides the strongest moments on Some Girls. “Respectable” is fun and upbeat faux punk with Jagger supplying his relatively new guitar skills to complete a three-axe attack. The Rolling Stones do some self-examination of their admitted mid-seventies complacency and heed the wake-up call of their younger contemporaries. “Before They Make Me Run” is Richard’s outlaw anthem where he takes the mic for lead vocals and alludes to his own drug and legal problems.

“Beast of Burden” is the best song on the album. It contains well-crafted guitar interplay between Richards and Wood with a weaving attack. Vocally and lyrically, Jagger is superb as he delivers a classic blues anthem complete with the mid-section vocal testament, all with an entertaining and contemporary flair. The album concludes with “Shattered”, which bookends nicely with the opener “Miss You” as another somewhat improvised “disco” piece. Some have suggested this last track was a tribute to the New York Dolls, delighting in the degradation of New York City during its dark days of the seventies.

Some Girls reached #1 in the U.S. and eventually became the Rolling Stones biggest selling album in America, with over six million copies sold. The band embarked on summer tour of the states in 1978, where they played a few small venue shows under a pseudonym just for fun. They followed up with the similar sounding Emotional Rescue in 1980, which found more commercial success as well as inner turmoil which nearly broke up the band.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Bob Seger

Stranger In Town by Bob Seger

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Bob SegerBob Seger released his tenth overall album, Stranger In Town, in 1978. It follows the major commercial breakthrough of Night Moves, and expands the practice of using two groups of backing musicians. Seger used his own backing Silver Bullet Band and the famous Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section from Alabama, with each playing on about half the tracks. The result is an album which contains a balanced mixture of rock anthems and poignant ballads with lyrical topics of restlessness, escape, and longing which defined blue collar rock ethic. Upon its release, the album rocketed up the charts in the United States and was certified platinum less than a month after the release.

One change within the Silver Bullet band was drummer David Teegarden, who replaced original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin. While walking on a road, Martin was hit by a car from behind and was left unable to walk.

The overall theme of Stranger In Town is dealing with the sudden rise to fame and adapting to the changes that happen when becoming a star. For Seger, this rise came when he was on the north side of thirty and mature enough to wax philosophical about shallowness and keep perspective on his own roots and character. The resultant success of this second straight blockbuster served to not only solidify his success but actually increase it.


Stranger In Town by Bob Seger
Released: May 5, 1978 (Capitol)
Produced by: Bob Seger, Punch Andrews, & Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Recorded: Criteria Sound Studios, Miami, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama, Sound Suite Studios, Detroit, Michigan, 1977-78
Side One Side Two
Hollywood Nights
Still the Same
Old Time Rock and Roll
Till It Shines
Feel Like a Number
Ain’t Got No Money
We’ve Got Tonight
Brave Strangers
The Famous Final Scene
Primary Musicians
Bob Seger – Guitars, Vocals
Robyn Robbins – Keyboards
Barry Beckett – Keyboards
Drew Abbott – Guitars
Pete Carr – Guitars
Chris Campbell – Bass
Alto Reed – Saxophone
Roger Hawkins – Drums, Percussion

The album rolls to a start with “Hollywood Nights”, a driving rocker held down by Teegarden’s drums. This story-telling song with the late seventies subject of the “gone Hollywood” theme never really gets off the basic beat and patterns but still feels satisfying as a pure rocker and reached the Top 20 on the charts. “Still the Same” strikes a more somber vibe. Led by the piano of Robyn Robbins, this almost country-like tune has a unique arrangement with only one real verse and chorus and a truncated variation following the short piano lead section. The theme continues the Hollywood scene and the attitude which seemed foreign to Seger. Commercially, “Still the Same” was a big hit, reaching #4 on the pop singles chart.

The next two songs prominently feature the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. “Old Time Rock and Roll” was presented to  Seger by the group during the album sessions. Composed by George Jackson and Thomas Jones, Seger re-wrote most of the lyrics but failed to take a songwriting credit. He later admitted this was “the dumbest thing I ever did”, as this nostalgic look at the music of a previous generation became a staple at weddings and parties for decades to come has been ranked the second-most played jukebox single of all time. “Till It Shines” is probably the most perfect song for the group, filling it with sonic décor throughout the introspective in the acoustic number. The philosophical lyrics are delivered with a pleasant melody above a pleasant ensemble of steady music, which includes a guitar lead by Eagle Glenn Frey.

“Feel Like a Number” is sort of the default theme song of the album and it demonstrates how the sequencing of the album works by counter-balancing ballads with rockers. The song is a typical working class song about one being lost in the world around him, which shows him little or no respect. The Frankie Miller cover “Ain’t Got No Money” closely mimics “The Fire Down Below” from Night Moves, almost to the point of plagiarism. Another Eagle, Don Felder provides the guitar solo. “We’ve Got Tonight” is a piano ballad which has an almost Neil Diamond quality at the top. This was another hit single for Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, reaching number 13 on the U.S. pop charts and an even bigger hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton when they remade it in 1983.

“Brave Strangers” has an epic quality to it and is the finest song on side two. After a couple of upbeat, driving verses, the song halts and goes into a moderate jazzy section highlighted by the piano of Doug Riley, the saxophone of Alto Reed, and fine backing vocals. Thematically the song is a sequence to (or retelling of) the scene in the song “Night Moves”, reliving that evocative and nostalgic tale. “The Famous Final Scene” continues the cinematic scope of “Brave Strangers” but as a mellow ballad carried by Muscle Shoals’ twin guitarists Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. But the real highlight is the piano and organ by Barry Beckett, which adds the dripping melancholy to the album’s final song.

Mirroring the sales of Night Moves, Stranger In Town would eventually go six times platinum. With this continued success, Seger tried his hand at songwriting for other artists and co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit “Heartache Tonight” in 1979. The following year he released his third consecutive blockbuster album with Against the Wind, which became his first and only #1 album.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

This Year's Model by Elvis Costello

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello

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This Year's Model by Elvis Costello1978 was a breakthrough year for Elvis Costello. His second album, This Year’s Model, was released in the Spring featuring his backing band, The Attractions, for the first time. Further, My Aim Is True, Costello’s 1977 debut album, was re-released internationally following his signing with Columbia Records. Much of the material for This Year’s Model is comprised largely of leftovers from My Aim Is True and the tour which followed. While the debut featured a more retro sound, this album leans more towards punk, with the Attractions adding a reckless rock edge. Produced by Nick Lowe, Costello and the Attractions speed through the album’s tracks at a frantic and blinding pace.

Different releases of the album contained different tracks. The single “Radio, Radio”, a song protesting the commercialization of radio broadcasts and recording studios, appeared on the US version of the album. The subjects of this song caused much hesitation over when and where it was to be broadcasted. In December 1977, Costello was a last minute replacement on Saturday Night Live and was instructed to play the song “Less than Zero.” However, after a few bars, Costello turned to the Attractions, waved his hand to stop and then led the band in a performance of “Radio, Radio.” Costello was banned from SNL for a dozen years afterward.

Nervous energy drives the action in This Year’s Model, a 35 minute journey of sweet pop-driven blasts. Brief as it is, the entire album is filled with hooks, efficient without excess.


This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
Released: March 17, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Nick Lowe
Recorded: Eden Studios, London, 1977–78
Side One Side Two
No Action
This Year’s Girl
The Beat
Pump It Up
Little Triggers
You Belong to Me
Hand In Hand
(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea
Lip Service
Living In Paradise
Lipstick Vogue
Night Rally
Primary Musicians
Elvis Costello – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Nieve – Piano, Organ
Bruce Thomas – Bass
Pete Thomas – Drums

In less than two minutes, “No Action” sets the pure punk pace right from the jump. The organ by Steve Nieve adds a little melody and high-end flourishes to the song’s paranoia. “This Year’s Girl” follows as more retro pop than punk, with a fuzzy guitar that is somewhat obscured by the swirling organ during this de facto title song of the album. Lyrically, the song is a downright vicious indictment of a socialite/hipster, becoming a centerpiece of Costello’s early work.

After the weaker track “The Beat”, comes “Pump It Up”, a driving, riff-driven rock song fused with eros and frantic lyrics. It is an especially good track for bassist Bruce Thomas. “Little Triggers” is a mellow and emotional piece and the closest thing to a ballad on this album. The first side closer “You Belong to Me” is the best song on the first side. With McCartney-like vocals, the upbeat and direct tune is not at all ambiguous lyrically, vocally, or sonically. Reverted to the pattern of the first album, the song is a tribute to garage rock with Nieve’s whiny Vox Continental organ line and Costello’s echoed and twangy lead guitar.

The second side begins with a quintessential Elvis Costello pop song called “Hand in Hand”, a short, melodic, direct, and entertaining tune. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” features a very new wave syncopation and beat complete with ska-influenced odd timings under a very standard melody and big tremolo organ sound. The song was left off the original U.S. release because record execs thought the theme was too “British”.

“Lip Service” contains nice riffing in a generally pop-oriented tune while “Living in Paradise” is fueled by Nieve’s new wave synth in tandem with Thomas’ rolling bass. The mood oriented “Lipstick Vogue” is driven by a frenzied beat by drummer Pete Thomas along with bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation). Perhaps the most punk of any song on the album, the song serves as a showcase for the new group’s extraordinary energy along with the scornful cynicism of Costello’s lyrics.

The album concludes with “Night Rally”, which works like a sixties British pop song updated for seventies new wave. A calm but apt closer for the album, “Night Rally” demonstrates how Costello’s songs seem to work best when they are short, direct, and to the point, in this case the subject is an expose on fascism.

After a North American tour and some personal and professional controversy, Costello and the Attractions continued the momentum into 1979 with the production of his released his third album Armed Forces.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.