Jesus Christ Superstar original rock opera

Jesus Christ Superstar, a Rock Opera

Jesus Christ Superstar original rock operaBefore it was a theatre act, Broadway play, or motion picture, Jesus Christ Superstar was simply a 1970 rock album produced by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist by Tim Rice. The work is loosely based on the four Gospels’ accounts of the last weeks of the life of Jesus Christ, but takes much liberty in interpretting the philosophical and interpersonal dynamics between Jesus and his apostles, especially Judas Iscariot, the man who would ultimately betray him. The work largely follows the form of a traditional passion play but with a twentieth century interpretation with a focus on the psychology of Jesus and the other characters.

Webber and Rice had collaborated on several previous projects, starting with the 1965 musical The Likes of Us, which was actually shelved for four solid decades and not publicly performed until 2005. In 1968, the duo was commissioned to write a piece which became Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a retelling of story of the biblical figure Joseph, set to several musical styles. In 1969 Rice and Webber wrote a song for the Eurovision Song Contest called “Try It and See”, which was later rewritten as “King Herod’s Song” for Jesus Christ Superstar. Webber says has said the piece was written as a rock album from the outset and set out from the start to tell the story through the music itself. Musically, Webber took delight in exploring different keys and time signatures, while Rice came up with some clever wordplay which fused modern phrases with traditional terms.

On this original album, the part of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, lead vocalist of Deep Purple, while Judas Iscariot is performed by Murray Head. Both Englishmen were in their mid-twenties and had several years in the music business with limited success. After declining an invitation to join the band upon their formation, Gillan joined Deep Purple in mid 1969. A performance of the song “Child in Time” caught the ear of Rice, who contacted Gillan and offered him the role of Jesus. After just a few rehearsals with Rice and Webber, Gillan recorded his entire vocal contributions in one three hour session. Beyond his singing and songwriting skills, Murray Head was also a seasoned actor who won a leading role in the Oscar-nominated film Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1971. For the role of Mary Magdalene, a then relative unknown Yvonne Elliman was chosen. Elliman had just begun performing in clubs the previous year and would be one of the few players and singers to join the cast of the Broadway production in subsequent years.


Jesus Christ Superstar, Original Rock Opera
Released: September, 1970 (Decca)
Produced by: Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
Side One Side Two
Overture
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s the Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying
Everything’s Alright
This Jesus Must Die
Hosana
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
Pilate’s Dream
The Temple
Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
I Don’t Know How to Love Him
Damned for All Time / Blood Money
Side Three Side Four
The Last Supper
Gethsemane
The Arrest
Peter’s Denial
Pilate and Christ
King Herod’s Song
Could We Start Again Please?
Judas’s Death
Trial Before Pilate
Superstar
The Crucifixion
John Nineteen: Forty-One
Vocal Cast & Roles
Ian Gillan – Jesus  |  Murray Head – Judas  |  Yvonne Elliman – Mary Magdalene
Paul Davis – Peter  |  Victor Brox – Caiaphas  |  Brian Keith – Annas
Barry Dennen – Pontius Pilate  |  Mike D’Abo – King Herod
Primary Musicians
Neil Hubbard – Guitars  |  Henry McCulloch – Guitars  |  Allan Spenner – Bass
Peter Robinson – Piano, Organ  |  Bruce Rowland – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with a heavily distorted guitar, setting the pace for the “rock” part of the rock opera before the actual overture kicks in with a musical sequence later repeated in the climatic “Trial Before Pilate”. “Heaven on Their Minds” a total funk/rock masterpiece sung solo by Murray Head as Judas with some great piano and organ by Peter Robinson and just a touch of strings for color. The story starts with Judas expressing concern over Jesus’ rising popularity and the inherent danger that brings in a land occupied by the Romans. “What’s the Buzz” introduces Jesus and the Apostles in a hippy-dippy kind of pop/hip song, absurdly
bringing the scene into the (then) modern age. Musically, the stratospheric bass by Alan Spenner brings the hyper jazz/funk to an extraordinary level.

Judas and Jesus have their first heated debate over the course of two tracks; “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”. This debate concerns the appropriateness of Jesus consorting with Mary Magdeline, as Elliman offers a soft counter-balance to the argument with the verses of “Everything’s Alright”. The song is in a 5/4 time signature, offering the perfect rhythm to push it forward at a brisk pace for full effect and the vocal contrasts between Gillan, Head, and Elliman makes it a masterpiece. To close the original first side, the dark “This Jesus Must Die” is the most theatrical to this point as the conspirators are given dark and sinister vocals performed by Victor Brox as Caiaphas and Brian Keith as Annas and other performers as high priests. Halfway, the song picks up with a rock beat and the dialogue speaks of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist who was put to death for his believes, a fate that the conspirators wish on Jesus.

The upbeat “Hosanna”, driven by strings, chorus, and a soaring melody begins Side 2 and symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. “Simon Zealotes” and “Poor Jerusalem” reflect more of the competing philosophical vision. John Gustafson makes his only appearance on the album as Apostle Simon the Zealot, who suggests a revolution led by Jesus, offering power and glory to Jesus after a successful overthrow of the Roman occupation in an upbeat section backed by funk rhythms, led by piano and bass. Gillan’s reply as Jesus in “Poor Jerusalem” is more of a short piano ballad where Jesus rejects this suggestion, stating that none of his followers understands what true power is, nor do they understand his true message.

A bit of filler is thrown into the middle of the second side. “Pilate’s Dream” is a short, acoustic song that features Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, who foresees the trial and execution of Jesus along with the coming spread of Christianity. On “The Temple” the album gets a little lethargic and repetitive with the story of usary in the temple being a bit superfluous followed by Jesus being accosted by lepers, cripples, and beggars, all wanting to be healed.

Yvonne EllimanOne of the highlights of the first act, and the peak of Elliman’s involvement on the album is the short reprise of “Everything’s Alright” which leads into the soulful folk song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Led by the dual acoustic guitars of future Roxy Music member Neil Hubbard and future member of Paul McCartney’s Wings Henry McCulloch, the song contains a laid back arrange which provides the perfect canvas to compliment Elliman’s fantastic vocals. The song itself became a Top 20 pop hit. “Damned for All Time” / “Blood Money” begins with a free form, distorted solo electric guitar followed in sequence by a chorus of flutes before a riff-driven rock section with Head on lead vocals. Accented by great horn sections, this production masterpiece aptly closes the first Act, even with some abrupt changes between the two parts of the medley. Thematically, the song deals with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the high priest conspirators along with his internal conflict over the situation and hauntingly ends with an-almost Greek chorus speaking to Judas’ conscience.

Act II begins with “The Last Supper”, a self-contained, multi-part suite which masterfully blends the rock and theatrical elements. Alternating between the folk chorus of the Apostles and several other parts consistng of another spirited dialogue between Jesus and Judas, with Gillan and Head at top vocal form, accompanied by a great electric piano and more exquisite bass by Spenner. While dealing with Gospel text, Rice also uses drug references “What’s that in the bread, it’s gone to my head” and slows the Apostles chorus as they fade from drunkenness, unaware of the profound proclamation made by Jesus. “Gethsemane” is the real showcase for Gillan and the most like “Child In Time”, the Deep Purple song which got Gillan the gig in the first place. Starting with great acoustic guitar and bouncy bass, the song soon builds with much orchestral accompaniment and is, perhaps, the most dramatic part of the entire album dealing with Jesus’ own crisis of faith as he faces his immanent demise.

Ian Gillan“The Arrest” starts a long sequence in the second act where Jesus faces an all night ordeal leading to his crucifixion. The apostles slowly wake to find Jesus under arrest to the tune of “What’s the Buzz” followed by various vocal members playing almost like reporters and nice rock passages travels along with the movement of the arresting party as they go before the high priests. A slight deviation is taken in “Peter’s Denial” featuring Paul Davis as Jesus’ closest apostle confidant but distancing himself when confronted on three separate occasions. The end of the Side 3 is the most sticky sweet, show-tune-ish section of the album, as well as least rock oriented. Dennen returns as Pilate in an exaggerated, jazzy version of “Hosanna” named “Pilate and Christ”. Pilate “washes his hands” of the situation and sends Jesus to the Jewish King Herod, leading to the rendition of Webber and Rice’s ragtime “Try it and See”, performed by Mike D’Abo as Herod.

The final original side started “Could We Start Again Please?”, the only showcase for Elliman during the second act which doesn’t quite measure up to those in the first act and is almost set up like a pop song off the beaten path. “Judas’ Death” is a reprise of “Damned for All Time” and “Blood Money” with the same vocalists and Head’s vocals at top form as Judas’s guilt becomes overwhelming;

I have been splattered with innocent blood, I should be dragged through the slime and the mud…”

Head then does his own version as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” before committing suicide to0 the sounds of the haunting Greek chorus.

The climax of the story is “Trial Before Pilate” which returns to the “Overture” a great sequence with wild, off key jazzy strings, synths, and horns and an intense dialogue between Gillan and Dennen with the crowd joining in as Pilate’s various thoughts on whether to release or crucify Jesus. A short rock break is taken with “The Thirty-Nine Lashes”, ending with a nice drum fill by Bruce Rowland. A final dialogue between Jesus and Pilate ensues with the crowd convincing Pilate to ultimately crucify Jesus; “I wash my hands of your demolition, die if you want to, you innocent puppet…” Although “Superstar” is supposed to be the focal point of the opera, it really pales in comparison to some of the other finer tracks. It does some nice chorus-driven hooks cut by one last funky track musically and a posthumous reappearance of Head’s Judas, now a ghost and some soulful female backup singers. The song, which is almost mocking in tone, did peak at number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1971. The album then kind of whimpers out in an anti-climatic fashion with the nearly psychedelic synth-experimentation of “The Crucifixion” followed by the calm, orchestral reprise of “Gethsemane” in “John Nineteen: Forty-One”.

Andrew Lloyd WebberAndrew Lloyd Webber originally thought the production would be limited to a niche audience, blocked out on either side by young people thinking it was uncool subject matter and religious people who would think it was too controversial. Then unexpectedly it rose to the top of the album charts, sparking a short arena tour and what Webber called “one of the worst productions he had ever seen on Broadway”. In fact, the only reason it was put on Broadway was to head off the various small theatre and school productions which had begun to sprout up in 1971.

Webber and Tim Rice collaborated once again with Evita in the late 1970s and Webber would go on to produce two of the most successful Broadway productions ever with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, both debuting in the 1980s. Ian Gillan went on to meteoric success as frontman of Deep Purple, climaxing with the 1972 album Machine Head (our 1972 Album of the Year) before abruptly leaving the group in 1973, although he would reunite with Deep Purple several times in the future. Murray Head continued to act and record songs, with his biggest charting success being “One Night in Bangkok” in the mid 1980s. After her Broadway performances and role as Mary Magdelene in the 1974 Hollywood film of Jesus Christ Superstar, Yvonne Elliman sang on several Eric Clapton albums, most poingnently Slowhand in 1977, before a brief but successful disco/pop career, which included several Top 20 hits. She decided to dedicate herself to her two children in 1979 and has pretty much stayed out of the public spotlight since.

Over the past four decades, several different versions of Jesus Christ Superstar were produced spanning the entire spectrum of media, on every corner of the globe, making it one of the most popular universal productions ever. In May 2012, Webber launched a reality television show called Superstar where the UK public decided who would play the role of Jesus in an upcoming arena tour. Ben Forster was chosen and the arena tour, which began September 2012 and continues to this day (March 2013). Webber claims this tour most closely represents the original vision for the rock opera.

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R.A.

A Classic Rock Review Special Feature.

 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

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Get a Grip by AerosmithAerosmith made an amazing comeback in the late 1980s, as the band which was essentially dead at the beginning of that decade sprang back with a second act unlike many others in rock history. However, with their first release of the 1990s, Get a Grip, the band kind of “jumped the shark” in providing manufactured, crowd-tested anthems with extra vanilla production techniques and cheap, low grade lyrics. Further, the group attempted to mask is hyper-commercialized approach by adding some boilerplate social commentary. As tacky as this approach was artistically, it certainly worked commercially as Get a Grip became Aerosmith’s best-selling studio album worldwide with sales of over 20 million copies.

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, the album employees outside composers and performers more than any other Aerosmith album, with compositions by only band members being more the exception than the rule. Joey Kramer, a quality drummer since the band’s inception with their debut album two decades earlier, is reduced to providing almost mind-numbing drumming and hardly ever adding any variation to the most basic of 4/4 beats. This may just be the most egregious of several examples where the band just decided to play it safe and not really variate from their late eighties formula, even regress at times.

The album was actually rejected by Geffen in its original form during the summer of 1992 and the band returned to the studio to record more “radio-friendly” material, ultimately delaying the album’s release by about 6 months. Get a Grip would be the final album Aerosmith would record for Geffen Records.

 


Get a Grip by Aerosmith
Released: April 20, 1993 (Virgin)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood & Little Mountain Sound, Vancouver, Jan-Nov 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Intro / Eat the Rich
Get a Grip
Fever
Livin’ On the Edge
Flesh
Walk On Down
Shut Up and Dance
Cryin’
Gotta Love It
Crazy
Line Up
Amazing
Boogie Man
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums
 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

The tackiness of the album is evident from the jump with the terrible “Intro” with jungle noises, behind a cheesy rap by vocalist Steven Tyler and sampling of “Walk This Way”. This leads to “Eat the Rich”, co-written by hired songwriter Jim Vallance, which starts as a decent enough, riff-driven rock song but is unfortunately tarnished by cheap and cheesy lyrics and a few tawdry lines thrown in for pure “shock value”. Then, as if to just underline the total suckiness of the song, it ends with a loud belch. Still, this song was a hit and appeared on a few future compilations.

Vallance also co-wrote the title song “Get a Grip”, a frantic rap which gets repetitive. Better than the opener, but still pretty weak. “Fever” is the best of the opening trio because of strong rock and blues influences by lead guitarist Joe Perry. This still feels a bit cheap and, by this point in the album, it feels like this band of 40-somethings is trying just a bit too hard to be  hip and hard rocking.

Song doctor Mark Hudson’s “Livin’ On the Edge” is the first real quality song on the album, featuring Brad Whitford on acoustic guitar accompanied by almost-Eastern-sounding lead guitars and good quality melodies. There is also a decent bridge arrangement with some slight piano and the song’s only real issue is the artificially elongated ending, which reprises after a few false stops, extending the song about a minute and a half longer than it should be without much true benefit for the listener. The song was a Top 20 hit on the Pop charts. “Flesh” was co-written by long time collaborator Desmond Child and starts with a synthesized and sound-effect-drenched opening, before finally kicking with decent musical and melodic elements featuring Whitford on lead guitar. Perry’s “Walk On Down” is just as weak lyrically as other material but is a bit interesting because of Joe Perry’s vocals. “Shut Up and Dance” may be the nadir of this album. Composed by jack Blades and Tommy Shaw (then of Damn Yankees), there is a decent hook in the chorus but the verses are really cheap and repetitive.

“Cryin'” was co-written by Taylor Rhodes and is, perhaps, the best song on the album. A ballad performed at maximum volume, the production value is top-notch and the song contains a great fade-out coda, reminding us that Aerosmith can really extend a song organically when they really want to. Both Perry and Whitford play guitar solos while Tyler adds a harmonica solo.

Bassist Tom Hamilton adds some funky bass to the groove “Gotta Love It”, which also contains some biting guitar riffs. Child returns and adds some mandolin to the ballad “Crazy”, which has a decent enough vibe once you get past the corny intro. The song was another chart success for the band and also earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1994. “Line Up” features Lenny Kravitz in a fusion between Motown and heavy rock along with a bluesy slide guitar and a slight horn section.

Leaving aside the experimental “Boogie Man”, the album truly completes with “Amazing” by Richard Supa. This excellent piano ballad with great chord structure and perfectly arranged instrumentation, almost single-handedly redeems the album with a great outtro similar to “What It Takes” on their previous album, but a lame 1940s-like spoken radio announcement completely rips the listener from the moody vibe and reminds him how cheesy this album really is right to the end.

Although a commercial phenom, Get a Grip tainted Aerosmith’s reputation for authentic rock quite substantially. They would redeem themselves a bit with their next album, the fine Nine Lives in 1997, which was much more substantial musically but less successful commercially.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

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Siamese Dream by Smashing PumpkinsBuilding on the surprise success of their debut album Gish, the Smashing Pumpkins matured their blend of dream pop, heavy metal, and progressive rock on Siamese Dream, a blockbuster album which eventually sold over six million worldwide. Co-produced by Butch Vig and the group’s leader and primary composer Billy Corgan, the album has high level production for early nineties alternative rock, which intentionally aimed for loose arrangements and a raw, basic sound. The producers goals were to create a work with great sonic depth and layered sounds built the “old fashioned” way using multiple overdubs and sonic harmonies.

Despite the successful end result, the actual making of this record was quite tumultuous. The band was upgraded from Caroline Records to the parent Virgin Records and high expectations for this this sophomore record put immense pressure on the band. Further complicating things was a severe heroin addiction by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, which was the motivating factor for the band relocating to Triclops Studios in Marietta, Georgia for the album sessions, so they could Chamberlin off from his known drug connections. Corgan took on ever-increasing roles in the studio, often overdubbing or re-recording tracks by his band mates if he felt he can improve on them.

Executives from Virgin began to grow impatient with the album’s recording as it went over budget and became behind schedule and even came to the studio to observe the band after hearing about their problems. This move only served to put more stress on Corgan, who would not let the company cut corners if it meant compromising the sound. Eventually the album came in about $250,000 over budget and by the time recording was completed, Corgan and Vig were too exhausted to continue and employed engineer Alan Moulder to mix the album.


Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins
Released: July 27, 1993 (Virgin)
Produced by: Butch Vig & Billy Corgan
Recorded: Triclops Sound Studios in Marietta, GA, December 1992-March 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Cherub Rock
Quiet
Today
Hummer
Rocket
Disarm
Soma
Geek USA
Mayonaise
Spaceboy
Silverfuck
Sweet Sweet
Luna
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
James Iha – Guitars, Vocals
D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums
 
Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

A couple of short drum rolls give a false beginning before the “Cherub Rock” builds in an ever-intensifying one minute intro. The several vocal styles by Corgan are displayed immediately with the good alternative hook “Let me out!” being the most indelible moment in the song. Like several tracks on this album, “Cherub Rock” was recorded by Corgan and Chamberlin alone. “Quiet” follows with a classic metal-like revolving riff. However, the song never really gets to any satisfactory destination.

“Today” was the first song written by Corgan for Siamese Dream. Beginning with quiet picked notes which give way to full-fledged grunge riff topped by a catchy and melodic melody. While topically upbeat, the song contains dark lyrics which Corgan wrote the song about a day in which he was having suicidal thoughts, supplying great contrast between the grim subject matter and bouncy tune which brought the band popularity through widespread radio airplay. “Hummer” contains an opening montage constructed by noise-heavy sound effects which later gives way to a calmer bass by D’arcy Wretzky and great guitar textures throughout, although the song does kind of lose steam about halfway through its seven minute duration. “Rocket” is almost a dance song with its steady and methodical rhythms, making it the fourth and final single from the album.

The most acclaimed song on the album is “Disarm”, an acoustic song with heavy string and “bell” effects which make for a very moody, melodic and theatrical feel throughout. Unlike many of the songs on Siamese Dream, which are lengthy and tend to wear out their welcome, “Disarm” is short at barely over three minutes. Despite being banned by the BBC, the song peaked at number 11 on the UK singles chart. “Soma” was co-written by guitarist James Iha and is very quiet and restrained until it breaks into a heavier version of the same emo theme for effect. The song contains about 40 overdubbed guitar parts, demonstrating the meticulous production techniques. Chamberlin gets much acclaim for his performance in “Geek U.S.A.” with a heavy drum roll and heavy metal riff. The song is a reworked version of an earlier song by the band entitled “Suicide Kiss”.

The latter part of the album is less even and less heralded. “Mayonaise” is another collaboration between Corgan and Iha and begins with a strummed electric and some lightly-bluesy, unplugged little riffs before once again progressing to the heavy riffs. Almost romantic in its approach, the song has a decent melody and garnered considerable radio play despite not being released as a single. “Spaceboy” is an acoustic, Bowie-esque song with heavy mellotron added by Corgan, who wrote the song as a tribute to his autistic half-brother. “Silverfuck” contains some sonic textures but the melodies and overall vocals are kind of weak. “Sweet Sweet” is a 12-string ballad arranged like a Scottish folk song but with the distinctive Corgan vocals leading to the the calm and decent closer “Luna” which is almost upbeat in tone, ending the album in a whole different place than it was played out on throughout its duration.

Siamese Dream earned The Smashing Pumpkins their first Grammy nominations in 1994 and established the band as a top level act in the ever-popular alternative genre which had yet to peak.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Vs. by Pearl Jam

Vs. by Pearl Jam

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Vs. by Pearl Jam Pearl Jam tried to strike a balance between embracing their phenomenal success brought on by their debut Ten (our 1991 Album of the Year) and trying to maintain their rigorous standards of integrity in the face of that massive commercial success. The band set out on an intentionally obscure path which mirrored the “secret society” movement of Led Zeppelin at the height of that band’s popularity with their untitled fourth album in 1971. Like that classic album, the title Vs. does not appear anywhere on the cover, no singles were released from the album until several years later, and Pearl Jam also refused to produce any music videos from the album.

The album was originally slated for the title “Five Against One”, which represented the band’s perspective on their struggles trying to make this sophomore record. However, the title was changed shortly before its release to Vs. as a mocking tribute to all the media stories that would compare Pearl Jam against another Seattle-based band, primarily Nirvana. Lead singer Eddie Vedder took personal exception to this adversarial tone because most of the Seattle bands worked together in promoting their scene. The title was changed so late in the process that some of the first cassette pressings of the album were labeled Five Against One.

Vs. was co-produced by Brendan O’Brien and contains a rawer and more aggressive sound compared with the band’s previous release. In fact, some members of the band have since lamented that they wished the debut had more of a vintage sound like Vs.. O’Brien used an unusual linear approach of recording and mixing each song in turn so the band can focus singularly on each track, with most of the music developed through jam sessions. The lyrical content, written primarily by Vedder, is at times simplistic and self-righteous but this is offset by a passionate delivery with an intense and live-sounding performance.


Vs. by Pearl Jam
Released: October 19, 1993 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Nicasio, CA and Seattle, WA, March–May 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Go
Animal
Daughter
Glorified G
Dissident
W.M.A.
Blood
Rearviewmirror
Rats
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Leash
Indifference
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike McCready – Guitars
Stone Gossard – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Abbruzzese – Drums
 
Vs by Pearl Jam

Dave Abbruzzese joined Pearl Jam on drums in mid 1991, making this his first album recorded with the band. He composed the music for the album’s frantic opening rocker “Go”, a song relentless throughout and building right until its crashing end. It was the first single from the album on international releases. “Animal” was composed by guitarist Stone Gossard but is somewhat less appealing than the opener, yet adequate due to its short but great lead. The album’s original title Five Against One was taken from a lyric from “Animal”.

Daughter by Pearl Jam“Daughter” is a storytelling song in the same vein as “Jeremy” from debut album. It is a surreal acoustic tune by Gossard, with an otherwise standard arrangement until it dissolves into an odd, faded ending. Lyrically, Vedder wrote about a girl with a learning difficulty which is misinterpreted as outright defiance by her parents. This rather odd song became the most popular radio hit from the album. Although never officially released as a single in the U.S., “Daughter” song topped Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock charts for eight consecutive weeks and became the band’s first Top 40 single on the Pop charts.

“Glorified G” is a light, almost poppy song with chorus hook complete with backing vocals. Musically, the song features a twangy, Country-esque guitar by Mike McCready and an upright bass by Jeff Ament. Lyrically, the song was inspired by an incident after Abbruzzese told the band he had just bought two guns and Vedder was outraged, sparking a conversation about guns within the band. Overall the song straddles the line between country and funk before it later breaks into a strong rock section in the outro. “Dissident” is a political statement by Vedder with great vocal melodies and music collaborated by Gossard, McCready, and Ament, built from a live jam. The good, melodic guitars lead this slow but strong storytelling song, again not released in the United States, but charted as a single in several other countries.

RearViewMirror by Pearl Jam“W.M.A.” is driven by Abbruzzese’s rolling drums and Ament’s repetitive bass lines never really deviates making the song kind of mundane after the first three minutes, despite the fast and funky guitars and U2-like quality of the way it builds over a simple phrase. “Blood” alternates between thrash metal and funk, which is interesting at first but soon sounds like nothing more than an unorganized jam used for album filler. “Rearviewmirror” is a song of great motion that contains a syncopated riff and bass line and an E-bow effect by McCready, blending new wave type music with Vedder’s distinctive grunge vocals on top. “Rats” is a rather typical (by this point in the album) funk/rock song, upbeat and entertaining, but not quite original.

“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” may be the climatic point of the album. It is an acoustic waltz by Vedder that acts as a nice break late in the album with a definitive chorus hook. An overall melancholy tune about nostalgia and long lost love told through the eyes of an elder woman who never left her small hometown, rather typical pop song fare but not typical of Pearl Jam. While the album is pretty uniformly strong throughout, it is kind of weak at the end. “Leash” is heavy, shouting, with bad transitions and rather uninteresting. The final track “Indifference” is a mundane song which completely falls in line with its title, save for just a light tinge of cabaret blues by Gossard which may be the song’s redemption. Still, the deep connection which the song is trying to accomplish never quite materializes and Vs. does not finish as strongly as it should have.

Still, the album was nothing short of phenomenal commercially. Upon its release, Vs. set the record for most copies of an album sold in its first week – well over a million – a record it held for five years. It occupied the number one spot on the Billboard album charts for five weeks and has been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA in the United States. It was also nominated for “Best Rock Album” at the 1995 Grammy Awards, giving Pearl Jam the mainstream acceptance that they claimed they loathed.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Counterparts by Rush

Counterparts by Rush

Counterparts by RushWhile there is a definite break from the pop-leaning, synth-fused sound that had defined the Rush sound since the mid-1980s, their evolution back towards rock was not quite complete on Counterparts. Some have claimed that this was the back-to-basics album for the rock power trio, the truth is they had been migrating back on their previous two albums. But while the material leaned more towards the then-hip alternative rock sound, the album still contained its share of pop oriented and radio-friendly material, and it paid off commercially. The band’s fifteenth studio album, the album was Rush’s highest charting album in the US, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard 200.

The dark and emotional themes of Neil Peart‘s lyrics on Counterparts continue many of the trends of the band’s previous 1991 album Roll the Bones. Also resumed from the previous album was the inclusion of the instrumental, something that the band had abandoned through most of the 1980s. In this case, the instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone” was a thematic sequel to “Where’s My Thing?” and was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1994.

While Peart took care of all the lyrics, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson composed all the music, an arrangement employed by the band since the mid 1970s.
 


Counterparts by Rush
Released: October 19, 1993 (Anthem)
Produced by: Peter Collins & Rush
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, April-June 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Animate
Stick It Out
Cut To the Chase
Nobody’s Hero
Between Sun and Moon
Alien Shore
The Speed of Love
Double Agent
Leave That Thing Alone
Cold Fire
Everyday Glory
Geddy Lee – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neal Peart – Drums & Percussion
 
Counterparts by Rush

An opening drum beat by Peart introduces “Animate” and suggests the album is intended to be built on musical motifs with lyrical rhymes, rhymes, and more rhymes and just a touch of poetry. Still, a decent overall sound and a very entertaining middle part which includes the line which gave the album its title followed by a short, bluesy guitar lead by Lifeson. “Cut to the Chase” contains a moody picked guitar with bass accents by Lee eventually gives way to harder rocking section. As many have labeled Counterparts as Rush’s foray into “alternative” music this may be the best example to make that case, with the sound having a definite 1990s “groove”.

“Nobody’s Hero” contains a nice strummed acoustic and good guitars all around by Lifeson, with lyrics which remember lost friends much like the song “Afterimage” on Grace Under Pressure a decade earlier. “Stick It Out” takes a more raw, grungy sound and combines it with an almost-89s-hair-band-like anthem lyrically. The simple yet doomy riff over the verse gives way to a softer middle section, which just acts as a wall to bounce off the more appealing, heavier elements of the song, which charted at #1 on the Album Rock Tracks chart.

Peart really shows his drum chops on “Between Sun and Moon”, while yielding the lyrics to guest Pye Dubois. Combined, the song is melodic and entertaining throughout, and purely the most enjoyable song on the album. “Alien Shore” is driven by a funky rhythm on Lee’s bass and a great drum shuffle by Peart, but the vocal melody kind of mundane and repetitive, resulting in the song never quite hitting its potential, as one might have under the production techniques of Terry Brown, their producer from the early days.

The album’s latter tracks include the sonically pleasing “The Speed of Love” and the odd but original “Double Agent”, which forecasts the future Rush sound of the 2000s while continuing their occasional experimental pieces of the 1990s, such as the title song from the previous album Roll the Bones. “Cold Fire” is laid back with a steady beat, soaring vocals, and a good hook which made it very radio-friendly and earned it a #2 on the U.S. mainstream rock charts. The album concludes with “Everyday Glory”, which includes Lifeson’s bright guitars and Peart’s strong rhythms with a good bridge being the salvation of this song.

While it was the commercial peak of Rush’s long career, few would rank Counterparts in the top echelon of albums in Rush’s long career. This album’s success was due primarily to weak competition during the rather weak rock year of 1993.

~

1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Candlebox 1993 album

Candlebox by Candlebox

Candlebox 1993 albumCandlebox was one of the last riders of the huge Seattle grunge wave of the early 1990s. Consequently, they were at the vanguard of the post-grunge wave, where this newly labeled “alternative” music was becoming less and less alternative. Their debut album Candlebox came in mid 1993, a couple of years after many of their Seattle contemporaries made an international splash with this fresh new sound. Further, the commercial success of the album took a while to materialize, as the album did not enter the Billboard 200 until over a year following its release, although it did remain on that chart for two subsequent years.

The four-piece band was formed in late 1991 and took their name from a line in a Midnight Oil song. Their rise to fame was quite rapid as a demo tape found its way to Madonna’s Maverick label and the group landed a record deal in 1992. In their early career, Candlebox was occasionally looked down upon by members of the grunge movement who criticized their style which leaned more towards classic rock then the punk and indie sound of other bands in the genre. Nevertheless, the band worked and played hard until they got their big break.

We start our look at 1993 with this album because it is an example of where 1993 was on the rock timeline – in a phrase, it was when alternative rock stopped being alternative. Candlebox is the perfect representation as they had one of the greatest songs of the decade but it was the only truly complete song on the album, as the rest just seem to be reaching for the gold ring but falling just a bit frustratingly short.
 


Candlebox by Candlebox
Released: July 20, 1993 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Kelly Gray & Candlebox
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March–April 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Don’t You
Change
You
No Sense
Far Behind
Blossom
Arrow
Rain
Mother’s Dream
Cover Me
He Calls Home
Kevin Martin – Lead Vocals
Peter Klett – Guitars
Bardi Martin – Bass
Scott Mercado – Drums

Candlebox 1993 album

A little nervous laughter (intentional or not) starts the album before the song “Don’t You” breaks in with a Pearl Jam–like-jam, riff-driven hard rock with simple and steady drumming and some boilerplate vocal effects. “Change” is a distant and moody song with picked out, reverb-drenched guitar notes by Peter Klett, before it breaks into a strong part during the choruses. Like many of the alternative albums of the day, this song employs a tactic in use since “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on Led Zeppelin I in 1969, of letting the dynamics be extra-dynamic by sheer use of contrast.

Deadened guitar notes introduce the rotating shuffle of “You”, a minor radio hit for the band. The song’s best moment is the sustained-notes guitar lead by Klett towards the end, preceded by an an almost rap-like lyrical rhythm and choppy drumming  by Scott Mercado. On the next track, “No Sense”, Mercado adds some Boss-Nova style drums accompanied by some interesting guitar and bass interplay before it unfortunately launches into typical grunge orgasm, which is quite a shame for this good beginning showed promise before it gets formulaic.

“Far Behind” is, quite simply one of the greatest songs of the decade of the 1990s, led by incredible vocal intensity by lead vocalist Kevin Martin. Everything comes together on this song, from the crisp opening riff and fantastic middle lead by by Klett to the incredible climax after in the final minute mark of this song. The song was actually recorded in April 1992, four months after the band’s formation, for their original demo tape and it peaked at #18 on the U.S. charts in 1994. The song is a tribute to the late Andrew Wood, lead vocalist of Mother Love Bone, the band which sparked much of the grunge movement.

“Blossom” is slow and methodical with good bass accents by Bardi Martin, again breaking into grunge formula, but strong enough to remain one of the better songs on the album. The next two songs are not quite there, just thrashing for the sake of thrash as the formula and becomes more of an unfocused distraction than a true sonic reward. Kevin Martin has an adequate voice, but not quite the soaring mystical kind necessary to pull off the heavier moody stuff which requires much range (see Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder). The most unfortunate production faux pas is “Rain”, cool and bluesy from the start with the band doing an adequate job pulling it off before the song abruptly stops about halfway through and breaks into a funk/grunge section which was totally unnecessary for this song.

The album does recover a bit with the final two, acoustic driven tracks. “Cover Me” is a refreshing slow ballad with great strumming and picking by Klett. “He Calls Home” concludes the album as a bit of melodramatic ballad about a homeless man, carried by mainly by the vocals of Kevin Martin.

Candlebox had success both critically and commercially and the band was eager to follow up on the success, But by the time the band released the follow-up record, Lucy in October 1995, the rock landscape was already changing again and they never quite surpassed the success of their debut.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

1973 Classic Rock Review Album of the Year

The Dark Side of the Moon
by Pink Floyd

1973 Classic Rock Review Album of the Year

Buy Dark Side of the Moon

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink FloydPerhaps the most complete concept album of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon was the ultimate redemption for Pink Floyd. Culminating years of progressive and experimental music, this album focused on the most atomic elements of human life (and not just the bright spots) and set it all to the beat of a human heart over a 44-minute journey that leaves the listener contemplating the larger picture from several angles. This album sits in a unique place in rock history, bridging the final days of the late 1960s psychedelic era with the new wave, electronic phase that dominated the late 1970s. It also is the perfect pivot point for Pink Floyd itself, representing their past (the opening sound-collage dominated sequence from the album’s start through the intro to “Time”), their present (more rock/pop oriented with long instrumental passages in the middle of the album), and their future (the ending medley, dominated by Roger Waters).

The concept was first introduced to the band by Waters immediately following the release of Meddle in 1971. Although Waters wrote all of the lyrics, The Dark Side of the Moon was the last complete band effort, with all four members getting composing credits. The music was composed and developed as a suite during live performances throughout 1972, with the band simultaneously recording the material for the album Obscured by Clouds. Recording for The Dark Side of the Moon took place at Abbey Road Studios in London, using some of the most advanced recording techniques of the time. The group, along with engineer Alan Parsons, made great use of multi-track recording, tape loops, analogue synthesizers, and a series of recorded interviews to give the album a completely original and unique sound. Snippets of voices were recorded when staff and other occupants of the studio answered a series of questions printed on flashcards. This in itself proved to be an interesting experiment as responses from Paul and Linda McCartney were not used because they seemed too calculating while the most notable responses came from the studios’ doorman, Gerry O’Driscoll.

Although the album only held the number one spot in the US for one a week, it remained on the chart for an incredible 741 weeks (over 14 years) and has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Released 40 years ago today, The Dark Side of the Moon tops many lists as the greatest album of all time and is Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1973.


The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Released: March 1, 1973 (Capitol)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, June 1972–January 1973
Side One Side Two
Speak to Me
Breathe
On the Run
Time
The Great Gig In the Sky
Money
Us and Them
Any Colour You Like
Brain Damage
Eclipse
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Roger Waters – Basss, Snyths, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

Each original side of the album is a continuous piece of music. The first side begins with “Speak to Me”, which forms a kind of overture previewing several sound snippets from the album. Drummer Nick Mason receives a rare solo writing credit because the only real instrumentation is his kick drum, treated to sound like a heartbeat. “Breathe” is a natural extension of the moody songs on previous albums with double-tracked vocals by David Gilmour. Slow and methodical, every note and beat counts while Gilmour adds rich in texture with overdubbed electric and pedal steel guitars. The lyrics are as simple and brief as the title and act as a short intro for the journey up ahead.

One of the amazing qualities of The Dark Side of the Moon is how the album instantly yet seamlessly switches moods, such as when it goes from ethereal “Breathe” to the frantic “On the Run”. This an instrumental piece was performed almost exclusively on an EMS synthesizer and is driven by entering an 8-note sequence repeated at a high tempo, with more voices and sound effects on top to make the piece ever-intensifying until it finally crashes at the end with what sounds like a crashing airplane. This leads to the long intro for “Time”, starting with a chorus of chiming clocks which were painfully recorded one by one by Parsons and various antique stores in London and then synced together through multiple tape machines. Next, comes a passage dominated by Mason’s drums with heavy use of rototoms and a backing “tick-tock” sound created by Waters picking two muted strings on his bass. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is a fantastic release into a full-fledged rock song which contains one of the greatest guitar leads ever. The song is incredibly simple, especially during the verse, but sounds so rich due to excellent production and musicianship. It contains deeply philosophical lyrics, sung by both Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright along with a chorus of female background singers. This is the final song to ever be credited to all four members of the band and is, perhaps, the best overall group effort in Pink Floyd’s long career.

Pink Floyd in 1973

After a short, one verse reprise of “Breathe”, appended to “Time”, comes the most unique and controversial song on the album. “The Great Gig In the Sky” has no legible lyrics, but instead contains about four minutes of improvised scat vocals by Clare Torry, a session singer who Parsons knew from other projects. Depending on your artistic point of view, this could be the worst or the best song on the album, the most meaningful or most absurd, and if nothing demonstrates why Pink Floyd is an acquired taste. Originally titled “The Mortality Sequence”, it is backed by a beautiful, minor key piano sequence by Wright and Torry added her vocals in one session which she entered without previously hearing the backing track. The band paid her sixty quid for the session and sent her on her way, not really hearing from her again until three decades later when Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution constituted co-authorship with Richard Wright. Torry won the suit for an undisclosed amount and all pressings of the album after 2005 credit her as co-composer.

Money singleSide two begins with “Money”, a song which is a true double-edged sword, at once being one of the most recognizable and accessible Pink Floyd songs and one of the most overplayed and overrated. Still, for a hit song it is quite unique and artistically rewarding, written by Waters in the unusual 7/4 time signature for the verses before breaking into more standard, rock-oriented 4/4 time for Gilmour’s extended guitar solo in the middle. During this middle section the sonic tones are also adjusted, as a sparse “dry” section under subtle guitar licks is bookended by stronger dynamics with heavy use of reverb and chaotic drumming by Mason. The song also features a short saxophone lead by Dick Parry.

Parry and his sax have a more prominent role in “Us and Them”, a song about as moody and surreal as one can get while maintaining top notch rock status. It was released as a single in 1974, but kind of flopped as it failed to reach the Top 100 on the charts. However, but the more macro jury of time has rightfully judged this a true Pink Floyd classic. The tune was originally written on the piano by Wright for the film soundtrack Zabriskie Point in 1969 but was rejected by the film’s director. This slow paced, seven and a half minute song contains more spoken phrases which adds to the overall feel. “Us and Them” directly bridges to “Any Colour You Like”, another reprise of “Breathe” but from a totally instrumental approach. In fact, only Gilmour, Mason, Wright are credited for this composition, as Waters is oddly left out.

However, Waters does dominate the final two tracks on the album, taking on lead vocals as well as solo credit for “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”. Here the concept of “Dark Side of the Moon” is fully laid out with a sonically superior, perfect wrap to the album. Further, the larger picture of life itself is focused down to a particular individual as the insanity-themed lyrics are based on former band frontman Syd Barrett‘s mental instability, which began following the success of their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967. Waters would re-visit Barrett’s situation in much more detail on the band’s next album Wish You Were Here. Musically, “Brain Damage” contains great layered guitars and a totally unique, synth-organ lead, while “Eclipse” reverts back to a more traditional band jam led by Wright’s Hammond organ. Both songs also contain great female backing vocals. When the main instrumentation fades the sound of the heartbeat from “Speak to Me” comes back to the forefront with one final, profound spoken part by door man O’Driscoll:

“There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. (The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.)”

The members of Pink Floyd have long lamented the duality of feelings they have towards the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. It would work to at once validate them as a top-notch artistic group and fractured them as a cohesive unit. The quartet would have much more success throughout the seventies and maintained headlining status even after Waters departed in the eighties. But they would never again quite reach that moment in time when everything came together to create a true rock masterpiece.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Quadrophenia by The Who

Quadrophenia by The Who

Buy Quadrophenia

Quadrophenia by The WhoQuadrophenia completed the mega-creative trifecta for The Who, which peaked with Who’s Next in 1971 but was bookended by the two greatest rock operas ever – Tommy in 1969 and this album in 1973, both double albums. The term “Quadrophenia” was coined by the band’s sole composer Pete Townshend, as a play on the word “schizophrenia” with a specific meaning of someone with four distinct personalities. On a deeper level, the title was meant as a nod to the new quadrophonic sound (the earliest form of “surround sound” which never quite caught on in its day) and is also a representation of the four band members themselves. The linear story that runs through the album comes from the psychological perspective of an English teenager in the early 1960s, making the album also a loose tribute to the group’s earliest fans.

Townshend has stated that the idea for Quadrophenia evolved from an idea for an autobiographical concept album titled “Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock!” in 1972 with songs such as “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Long Live Rock” along with the first compositions that ended up on the album. Townshend instead decided to create a character named Jimmy with four personalities that reflected those of the band members, each associated with a “theme” which recurs throughout the album.

While not as cohesive or focused as Who’s Next and not as popular as Tommy, this may be the ultimate Who album due to its sheer breadth and ambition Townshend expanded fully from his traditional guitar-centric approach to include pianos and keyboards as prominent lead instruments. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Roger Daltrey is in top form, carrying many of the songs while delicately working through the multiple character parts reflected in several of the extended songs. Further, Townshend considers this the best produced Who album ever, due in part to the professional techniques of Kit Lambert along with the innovative ones done by himself.


Quadrophenia by The Who
Released: October 19, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Kit Lambert, Glyn Johns & The Who
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
Side One Side Two
I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Quadrophenia
Cut My Hair
The Punk Meets the Godfather
I’m One
The Dirty Jobs
Helpless Dancer
Is It In My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
Side Three Side Four
5:15
Sea and Sea
Drowned
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Group Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Piano, Synths, Banjo, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Horns, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The instrumental “I Am the Sea” acts as overture with snippets of vocals of future songs over ocean and rain sounds, Townshend went out and recorded these sounds personally at various locations in England. “The Real Me” is the first “real” song, driven by a guitar riff and an impressive bass performance by John Entwistle, which was recorded in one take. Lyrically, this song acts as an introduction to Jimmy Cooper, his four personalities, his visits to a psychiatrist, and his domestic situation. Another long instrumental follows with the title track “Quadrophenia”, which kind of distracts the listener by having another instrumental so close to the intro, especially since this one is so theatrical.

The first side finishes with two very strong tunes. “Cut My Hair” is the first song to introduce a historical perspective, as the lyric details the Mod fashion and a radio broadcast near the end speaks of an actual riot in Brighton between Mods and Rockers. Sung by Townshend, this is a real good theatrical tune and contains great synth effects. “The Punk Meets the Godfather” is a pure climatic rock with great sound and lyrics and the first of several great performances on the album by drummer Keith Moon. In fact, this song may be “Exhibit A” that The Who can never really be The Who without Entwistle and Moon.

The Who in 1973

“I’m One” begins the original second side with a country-ish acoustic ballad with great ethereal guitar tone in the background, before it breaks into a much more upbeat tune. The introspective lyrics contemplate how the protagonist has not much going for him except for the Mod lifestyle. “The Dirty Jobs” is one of the great unheralded songs on Quadrophenia, led by a fantastic vocal performance by Daltrey and innovative, melodic synths throughout, which pretty much replace guitars as the lead instrument on this song.

“Helpless Dancer” is the oddest song on first two sides, a march-like approach with horns, piano, and a short acoustic part in the middle. All four members have a theme song relating to one of Jimmy’s personalities, and this one is Daltrey’s theme as the “Tough Guy”. The song ends with a short snippet of one of the band’s earliest hits, “The Kids Are Alright”. “Is It in My Head?” is a moderate and catchy acoustic song, which leads to “I’ve Had Enough”. Going through several phases, like some of the extended pieces on Tommy, “I’ve Had Enough” morphs from from a driving rock verse to the string infused “Love Reign O’er Me” part to the banjo-led hook part. Daltry carries the tune vocally, aptly setting the differing moods of the song.

5:15 single by The WhoOne of the only “hits” on the album, “5:15” goes through a melodic journey telling a story that mainly observes the outside environment while traveling on a train. The song contains great horns, beautiful vocals, and especially great piano by guest Chris Stainton. The dramatic ending contains intense drums and thumping piano notes. The scene moves to Brighton with “Sea and Sand”, which alternates between folk-ish acoustic and pure, Who-style rock with lyrics that portray Jimmy’s affinity for the beach as an escape from the unpleasant realities of home and life in London.

The narrative continues with “Drowned”, a philosophical theme about losing one’s self in the ocean, in a suicidal attempt to become one with God. Set to upbeat music with great rotating piano, guitar licks, and more great drums. In fact, this may Moon’s best performance on the album, and that is saying something. “Drowned” is also the oldest song on Quadrophenia, initially written as an ode to Meher Baba in early 1970. Moon’s theme, “Bellboy” completes side three. It starts as a standard rocker with Daltrey at vocals before the song gets taken over by Moon’s comical yet effective vocals. Lyrically it tells of a former Mod hero of Jimmy’s who has “sold out” and become a pathetic bellboy at a Brighton resort.

Entwistle’s theme is the “Is It Me?” part of “Doctor Jimmy” (which also shows up at various points of the album). With synthesized fiddle effects, horns, and great bass, this ambiguous loose reference to “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” speaks again of the multiple personalities running through the story, but with alcohol being catalyst for the change. The longest song on the album, Daltrey effectively plays both roles vocally. “The Rock” acts as both a long intro to final song and recap of much of the previous material, much like “Underture” from Tommy. In truth, “The Rock” is a bit of over-indulgent filler. The final song “Love, Reign O’er Me” is Townshend’s theme on the album, which again delves into the philosophy of Meher Baba as Jimmy finds his “true self” while on a stolen boat, during a storm in the sea. The song begins with some classical piano and orchestral instrumentations, later giving way to great synth effects and lead guitars, all by Townshend. But it is Daltrey’s vocal performance which has gained the best critical response, with many considering this song the finest performance of his career.

Quadrophenia reached #2 on the U.S. album charts, the highest ever for The Who, kept from the top spot by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In 1979, the film Quadrophenia was released but focused more on the story than the music, which was relegated to mere background during certain scenes. Although the band viewed the original tour in support of the album as disastrous due to ineffective techniques of including synthesizers live in 1973, they revisited Quadrophenia in the future with a dedicated tour in 1996, and most recently this past November (2012), where the album was played in its entirety along with a few selected hits during the encore.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

The Captain and Me by The Doobie Brothers

The Captain and Me
by The Doobie Brothers

Buy The Captain and Me

The Captain and Me by The Doobie BrothersThe Captain and Me is the third album by The Doobie Brothers on which they combine their trademark funk with just a touch of California folk and country-rock. Combined, this distinctive yet diverse record was their most substantial and consistent of their early years, offering differing sonic textures and enjoyable tunes for an overall fulfilling listen. The album is bookmarked by several songs from guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, including the album’s biggest hits and the title song which combine funk and rock with just a taste of traditional blues. In between and some contrasting, folk-oriented songs by guitarist/keyboardist Patrick Simmons, which contain unique instrumental passages.

The group was formed in 1969 by Johnston and drummer John Hartman in Northern California. Simmons joined a year later along with bassist Tiran Porter and gained a strong following among local chapters of the Hells Angels. In 1971, the band signed with Warner Brothers and released their self-titled debut album to little commercial success. Later that year the band added a second drummer/percussionist Michael Hossack, completing the classic band lineup. The Doobies second album, Toulouse Street in 1972, fared much better on the strength of a couple of hit songs.

Warner put pressure on the band to move quickly on producing their third album along with producer Ted Templeman. They began reworking old tunes and improvisational pieces that they played live. The label did help out with the album artwork, providing 19th century garments and the horse-drawn stagecoach from the Warner Brothers film studios lot.


The Captain and Me by The Doobie Brothers
Released: March 2, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Warner Brothers Studios, Hollywood, 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Natural Thing
Long Train Runnin’
China Grove
Dark Eyed Cajun Woman
Clear As the Driven Snow
Without You
South City Midnight Lady
Evil Woman
Busted Down O’Connelly Corners
Ukiah
The Captain and Me
Band Musicians
Tom Johnston – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Patrick Simmons – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Tiran Porter – Bass, Vocals
John Hartman – Drums, Vocals
Michael Hossack – Drums, Percussion

“Natural Thing”, a decent melodic rocker with a funky flanged guitar and good harmonies, starts off the album. The song is notable for its synthesized horn effects, which were put together by programmers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who overdubbed individual notes to create the chords. Johnston’s “Long Train Runnin'” evolved from a long-time, ad-libbed jam called “Rosie Pig Moseley”. Templeman convinced Johnston to write words to the pure funk song, which also includes a distinctive harmonica solo by Johnston and a heavy presence by the dual percussionists. “Long Train Runnin'” became the band’s first Top Ten single.

Another charting hit was “China Grove”, one of the catchiest rock songs of the band’s career, built on a simple but effective riff along with exquisite production. Although the song’s title is based on a real town in Texas, the story is largely a fictional, with lyric’s again added by Johnston to an instrumental track titled “Parliament”. “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” takes a different approach, much darker than previous material. It is blue-eyed blues with good guitar licks, electric piano, and strings – almost Van Morrison in its feel.

“Clear As the Driven Snow” is Simmons first contribution to the album, a bright and acoustic folk song in the manner of John Denver, save for the fact that it morphs into a decent jam towards the end while never leaving the signature acoustic riff. Simmons also wrote “South City Midnight Lady”, an almost country acoustic ballad, which adds a serene, almost romantic element to the album. Pedal steel guitar is provided by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, then of Steely Dan, who would later become an official member of the Doobie Brothers. “Evil Woman” is probably the weakest song on the album, an unfocused and under-produced song which could have went somewhere had it been better developed.

The album’s closing sequence begins with “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”, a short acoustic piece by James Earl Luft which into segues into “Ukiah”, a tribute to a small town in Northern California where the band frequently played in their early years. The song has a Chicago-style upbeat with driven bass by Porter and great lead guitar interludes. “Ukiah” acts as bridge song to title song finale, an acoustic Tune which trys to give the album a bit of a “concept” feel. Still, the song contains soaring guitars and harmonies which concludes the album on a high note.

In all, The Captain and Me is a potpourri of sonic phrases which best symbolizes the heart of the early Doobie Brothers sound. Although the band would achieve greater commercial success later in the decade, it was with a different sound and mainly different lineup.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band

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Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper BandThe Alice Cooper Band reached their commercial peak with 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies. This sixth Alice Cooper album, produced by Bob Ezrin, refined some of the basic rock grit of earlier work with the theatrical glam of the now famous (or infamous) live shows. The album’s title derives from the surprise the band felt about their massive success following their two 1971 albums and 1972’s School’s Out. They literally went from living together in a basement to one of the top rock acts in two years. The band’s leader Alice Cooper wrote the bulk of the album’s lyrics, some of which touched on very controversial subjects for shock value.

The album was first recorded at a mansion the band purchased called the “Galecie Estate” in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ezrin used various methods to achieve certain effects, including using a greenhouse with a marble floor as an echo chamber. The group completed the album at Morgan Studios in London, where the sessions became “party central” with many famous guests such as Harry Nilsson, Rich Grech, Marc Bolan, and Keith Moon stopping in, but all were too inebriated to contribute musically. Band guitarist Glen Buxton also struggled with substance abuse at the time and two session guitarists were needed to be brought in to finish his parts.

After the album was released, the band embarked on a massive tour that included 64 concerts in 59 cities in less than three months, which broke many U.S. box office records. These live performances featured Cooper doing skits that included tearing apart baby dolls and attacking mannequins while using several stage props and effects which required a crew of 40 to 50 people and used about 1 tons of equipment. This stagecraft all came with a cost as the tour, originally estimated to bring in $20 million, barely cleared $5 million.

 


Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band
Released: February 25, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: The Galecie Estate, Greenwich, CT, August 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Hello Hooray
Raped and Freezin’
Elected
Billion Dollar Babies
Unfinished Sweet
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Generation Landslide
Sick Things
Mary Ann
I Love the Dead
Band Musicians
Alice Cooper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Michael Bruce – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Glen Buxton – Lead Guitars
Dennis Dunaway – Bass, Vocals Guitars
Neal Smith – Drums

Although the majority of the music on Billion Dollar Babies was composed by guitarist/keyboardist Michael Bruce, the opener “Hello Hooray” was written by singer/songwriter Rolf Kempf and was actually originally recorded by Judy Collins. This is a true show tune with soaring vocal melodies, a Bowie-esque rock arrangement, and a climatic coda section, which truly separates Alice Cooper from any of his shock rock successors like Marilyn Manson. “Raped and Freezin'” is an upbeat rock song with a temperament much lighter than the lyrical content. The lyrics tell of someone chased through the desert in Mexico and the arrangement attempts a Mexican-flavored end section, but fall just a bit short.

The sparse lyrics of “Elected” are nicely supplemented by energetic and entertaining music. This effect-laden song is actually a remake of an earlier band track called “Reflected” and the lyrics take the form of a campaign speech. Drummer Neal Smith provides stomping drum beats and Ezrin adds a cinematic touch with brass arrangements that complement the well crafted guitar riffs. The title song “Billion Dollar Babies” is riff driven and keeps Cooper keep his hard rock cred with guest Donovan providing background vocals. “Unfinished Sweet” contains some strong sound effects with the simple guitar riffs and vocals which mimic the primary riff along with a movie-like middle section with many more effects.

The second side begins with the satirical “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, a clever story song about the sheer outrage over Cooper’s stage antics. The music is upbeat and melodic with singalong chorus and a doo wop-tinged backing. The song was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and Top 10 hit in the U.K. The album peaks with “Generation Landslide”, a unique gem which starts with blue-grassy acoustic riff before switching to a drum-marched infused verse with a throbbing bass line by Dennis Dunaway. Although not released as a single, the song became a live staple and fan favorite throughout Cooper’s career.

The rest of the album is dedicated to pure theatrics. “Sick Things” is a doomy and melodramatic tune dedicated to the band’s fan base with strong horn arrangements by Ezrin above a simple bass line. “Mary Ann” is a rare ballad where Bruce’s distant-sounding pianos offer sharp contrast to Cooper’s near-sounding vocals. “I Love the Dead” is, the most controversial song of Cooper’s career to that point with an overt theme that unabashedly promotes necrophilia. Although it was no doubt manufactured just for this shock effect, it may be a bit much for those who cherish some sliver of taste in rock and roll.

Billion Dollar Babies reached the top of the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would be the peak of the Alice Cooper Group. But just when it appeared like this hard rock band was about to step into the top echelon, tensions between the members led to a split after just one more album, Muscle of Love. Alice Cooper continued as a solo artist for decades to come while Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith went on to form a new group which took its name from this album, Billion Dollar Babies.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.