Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

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Innervisions by Stevie WonderInnervisions is an album themed on social issues, drugs, spirituality, and urban life by Stevie Wonder in 1973. Wonder did virtually everything on this album from songwriting to producing to playing the vast majority of the album’s instruments and it may have been an attempt to replicate Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 What’s Going On album. Innervisions achieved similar artistic and commercial results to that previous album with the added dimension of musical innovation. Wonder put all the different topics and themes into a striking vision (or “Innervision”) which would be one of the most effective and entertaining of Wonder’s long career.

Although he was only 23 years old at the time of its release, Innervisions was already Wonder’s 16th studio album, all on Motown’s Tamla label. However, it was the first on which he composed every song and virtually played every instrument. He made heavy use of the ARP synthesizer, which was popular at the time because of its ability to construct a full sound environment. Many considered this album to be the pinnacle of Wonder’s long career. As one reviewer put it at the time;

“Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is a beautiful fusion of the lyric and the didactic, telling us about the blind world that Stevie inhabits with a depth of musical insight that is awesome…”

The album peaked at number four on the U.S. album charts and became Stevie Wonder’s first album ever to reach the U.K. Top 10. It also won the 1974 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.


Innervisions by Stevie Wonder
Released: August 3, 1973 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1973
Side One Side Two
Too High
Visions
Living for the City
Golden Lady
Higher Ground
Jesus Children of America
All in Love Is Fair
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
He’s Misstra Know-It-All
Principle Musician
Stevie Wonder – Most instrumentation including:
Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano, Synthesizers, Harmonica, Drums and Percussion

The album’s first side begins with the pre-disco funk of “Too High”, where Wonder shows off his instrumental skills on Fender Rhodes, harmonica, synthesized bass, and especially drumming (a talent he rarely receives credit for). “Visions” is one song in which Wonder doesn’t completely dominate. Acoustic guitars are provided by Dean Parks with refrained electric by David “T” Walker and upright double bass by Malcolm Cecil . Despite the arrangement being extremely sparse, Wonder still manages to forge some great vocal melodies.

“Living for the City” is a cinematic composition of civic injustice with great musical drive and interesting interludes with synth riffs. The lyrics are delivered with an exaggerated growl for effect and a dramatic spoken part describes the life of a young man who migrates from Mississippi to New York City, only to be tricked into transporting drugs, arrested, and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Wonder intentionally got his voice very hoarse for the recording. “Golden Lady” is a mellow ballad with a funky bass above a jazzy piano. It is a great way to complete side one, with judicious but effective use of synthesizers and a Hammond organ lead by Clarence Bell.

Side two starts with “Higher Ground”, a “peoples” song dominated by the Hohner clavinet with a Mu-tron III envelope filter pedal. This tune is completely performed by Wonder and reached #4 on the U.S. pop chart. Reportedly, he wrote and recorded the song all within a three-hour burst of creativity in May 1973. The weakest part of the album follows with “Jesus Children of America” and “All in Love Is Fair”, not terrible songs, but certainly not Wonder’s best.

The very Latin influenced “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” is the lightest and most fun song on the album, with great vocal dynamics and inventiveness. Beginning with an unusual skit (which would proliferate decades later on hip-hop songs), this piano-led tune about a faux hero repeats the Spanish phrase ‘Todo ‘stá bien chévere’ which means “everything is really cool” and reached the Top 20 on the U.S. charts. Another charting hit, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” finishes the album with Wonder once again playing all instrumentation, including multiple backing vocals. The song had a second charting life in 1977, when it was released on the B-side of “Sir Duke” and tells the story of a con man.

Three days after the release of Innervisions, Wonder was critically injured in a car accident in North Carolina. His head injuries placed him in a coma for four days and he permanently lost his sense of smell. As he recovered, Wonder was deeply concerned that he might have also lost his musical faculty and was hesitant to even attempt to play the clavinet that was brought to his hospital room. Finally he played and his spirit quickly returned and his recovery accelerated as Stevie Wonder continued into the prime of his creative career.

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1973 Images

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

Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band

Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band

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Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers BandBrothers and Sisters was at once the career peak and the first step into the abyss for The Allman Brothers Band. It was released in the wake of dual tragedies, a year apart, which took the lives of two founding members and saw the emergence of another founding member as the group’s primary driver. On the upside, this album served as the band’s commercial peak while still maintaining much of the quality blend which brought the band to critical prominence in earlier years. On the downside, this success marked the beginning of an era of celebrity which saw the band drift away from its music-centric approach of their earliest albums and start to produce “country-fried hit records and egos that ripped them all apart”, as drummer Butch Trucks would later state.

Like with the group’s previous album, Eat a Peach, a member of the band died while the band was in the process of recording, resulting in an album where the member only played on select tracks. In the previous case, the victim was lead guitarist Duane Allman, who offered much to that double LP but was completely absent from this one. Bassist Berry Oakley played on the first two tracks of Brothers and Sisters before he was tragically killed on November 11, 1972 from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident. Oakley declined medical treatment at the scene, thinking he was alright, but three hours later he was rushed to the hospital due to extreme pain, and died of cerebral swelling caused by a fractured skull. Ironically, Oakley’s accident in Macon, Georgia was just three blocks from where Duane Allman had his fatal motorcycle accident the year before and both had died of head injuries. Lamar Williams replaced Oakley on bass for the remainder of the album’s session.

More than any other group member, guitarist Dickey Betts stepped into the leadership role and shines brightest on this album, composing five of the seven tracks and maintaining guitar excellence throughout. Betts and Allman had established a harmonized guitar repertoire during the band’s early years, with Betts’ country flavored style contrasting perfectly with Allman’s blues/jazz fusion style. Following the death of Duane Allman, Betts stepped up to be the group’s sole guitarist, furiously practicing the slide guitar methods in order to cover the majority of Duane Allman’s parts. Led by Betts, the band put together a light but enjoyable album with a crisp sound which melts their unique style of rock with doses of country, blues, and borderline funk.


Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band
Released: August, 1973 (Capricorn)
Produced by: Johnny Sandline & Allman Brothers Band
Recorded: Capricorn Sound Studios, Macon, GA, October-December 1972
Side One Side Two
Wasted Words
Ramblin’ Man
Come and Go Blues
Jelly Jelly
Southbound
Jessica
Pony Boy
Band Musicians
Greg Allman – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Dickey Betts – Guitars, Vocals
Berry Oakley – Bass
Lamar Williams – Bass
Jaimoe – Drums, Percussion
Butch Trucks – Drums, Percussion

Gregg Allman‘s “Wasted Words” opens the album as a perfect “outlaw country” tune with Betts’s guitar riffs mocking the vocal melody and accompanied by a nice honky tonk piano, making for an upbeat introduction to Brothers and Sisters. “Ramblin’ Man” is, by far, the most popular song on this album and the only Top Ten of the band’s career. It would be the most typical of country/rock songs if not for the fantastic guitars throughout by Betts who composed and sings lead on the track.
Still, the song has rarely been performed live due its rigid structure not allowing for much improvisation, a must in the band’s concert performances. the recording was also the final track to feature Oakley.

“Come and Go Blues” is a nice break in the action from all the country and Gregg Allman’s finest moment on the album. This moderate funk jam contains great piano which drives the verse music and later comes to the forefront with a lead and a counter-riff during the intense final verse. The drumming and percussion by the dual of Trucks and Jaimoe and Butch Trucks is exceptional on this really cool track. The sides are bookmarked by a couple of live-sounding blues jams which sound like they could have been cut from the same session. “Jelly Jelly”, written by songwriter and producer Trade Martin, is the more forgettable of the two, not terrible but too overtly bluesy for a complex band like the Allmans. “Southbound” contains a little more funk but is rather mediocre compared to the band’s better material.

The instrumental “Jessica” is Betts’s finest moment on record, led by the three-part harmonized signature riff where the guitarist is joined by Allman on Hammond organ and Chuck Leavell on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Levell later plays piano during an intense long middle part, which also includes a further great lead section by Betts. One of the more focused jams in rock history, this song is really one last look back at the monumental music which built this band. The opening acoustic guitar is played by Les Dudek and the song is named for Betts then two-year-old daughter. “Pony Boy” starts as pure southern blues before morphing into a bluegrass beat. Sung by Betts who provides slide acoustic guitar and is accompanied by piano and upbeat country drum beat in a great, scaled down jam that provides a fitting conclusion to the album.

Brothers and Sisters five weeks at #1 on the U.S. albums chart and made The Allman Brothers Band one of the top concert draws in the country. However, personality conflicts started to tear the band apart and future releases suffered with the band never again reaching this level of critical or commercial prominence.

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1973 Images

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

 

Selling England By the Pound by Genesis

Selling England by the Pound
by Genesis

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Selling England By the Pound by GenesisThe classic lineup of Genesis was at their absolute peak musically and melodically on the 1973 album Selling England by the Pound. The band had a steady progression in the early 1970s albums, leading to this climax which fused their heavy prog-rock and overtly theatrical background with an English folk theme topped by incredible rock virtuosity. The album has a storybook quality and is nearly drifts into “concept album” territory. Instead it is more a collection of short stories, fables, and fairy tales that don’t really have much in common save the English themes. And, of course, the fantastic musicianship that made this album one of the greatest albums of the progressive rock genre.

While all members of the quintet are at their absolute peak on this album, no one shines brighter than guitarist Steve Hackett. This is his absolute moment in the sun and makes one wonder why there was relatively so little from him in subsequent years (even though he stayed with Genesis through three more albums). On this album Hackett perfected the use of the tapping technique and sweep picking, techniques which would not become widely popular until a decade later. This is also the album were drummer Phil Collins (who would later be more associated as the band’s front man) best displays his drumming skills. Even lead singer Peter Gabriel gets into the musical act, providing flute on several tracks to add to the overall English folk vibe.

A nice balance is struck throughout the album and on a matrix of levels. The four epic pieces alternate with the four lighter pieces throughout the album and with these an alternation between deeper and heavier eccentricity with contemporary pop and fragile love song themes. There is also a nice consolidation between the rock and folk sections, the overt literary allusions and hook-driven themes often all within the same track. This combination makes this album infinitely listenable and not the least bit dated four decades after its release.


Selling England By the Pound by Genesis
Released: October 12, 1973 (Atlantic)
Produced by: John Burns and Genesis
Recorded: Island Studios, London, August 1973
Side One Side Two
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Odeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Group Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Flute
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars, Cello
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

A long intro with only guitar textures and vocal melody mask the ultimate dynamics of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”, the de facto title song of Selling England by the Pound. This eight minute album opening song blends lyricism and acoustic texture during the opening verses with the exquisite musicianship during this middle jam. During this section each musician’s skills are showcased nicely before the song fades into an add yet intriguing mellow outro which eats up nearly two minutes with psychedelic rudiments. “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was the band’s first charting single through five LPs, climbing all the way to #21 on the UK charts. It has a mechanical sound-effect during the intro with spoken word intro before it breaks into a pleasant pop (almost “glam”) song with the chorus melody being mirrored by a heavy synth riff and a very active bass line by Mike Rutherford. The lyrics were derived from the painting by Betty Swanwick called The Dream, which originally did not include the lawn mower which the band asked Swanwick to add to the painting to match the song’s protagonist. A simple, “lawnmower man” who is constantly getting advice from people concerned with his future, but is content with what he is (“I know what I like and I like what I know”). Although the song was the most accessible in their collection to date, it still contains some Genesis edge including a return to the mechanical effect during the coda beneath a flute lead to end the song.

I don’t make such assertions lightly, but “Firth of Fifth” is one of the greatest rock masterpieces ever, despite its relative mainstream and radio obscurity. This song has everything great about a progressive rock song, starting with an unbelievable classical piano intro by Tony Banks which lasts over a minute alternating between among time signatures before giving way to a pure rock verse and chorus performed by the entire ensemble. The song then travels through a sonic journey of several sections, some with vocals, some instrumental, but all purely excellent. There is a part with a light flute solo by Gabriel over Banks’ methodical piano riffs, which leads to part where the piano builds and builds until breaking into a frantic synth led over the full band rendition of the opening piano piece, where Collins especially shines on drum. Then comes perhaps the greatest guitar lead ever by Hackett, who sustains notes into the stratosphere above a basic driving, bluesy backing rhythm. But this guitar is anything but basic, striking notes in the most methodical and melodic way where each one counts. Even the sparse lyrics are superior, especially during the final verse;

“Now that the river dissolves in sea, so death too has claimed another soul / and so with Gods and Men the sheep remain inside their pen until the shepherd leads his flock away / the sands of time were eroded by the river of constant change…”

The title of “Firth of Fifth” is a pun on the estuary of the River Forth in Scotland, commonly known as the Firth of Forth. Although, like all tracks on the album, “Firth of Fifth” is credited to all five band members, Banks was actually the author of most of this song with Rutherford helping out with some of the lyrics.

Genesis in 1973

Selling England by the Pound is also notable for a milestone in the band’s career, containing the first song with lead vocals by Phil Collins, who would take over those duties permanently following Gabriel’s departure in 1975. “More Fool Me” is a bit melodramatic yet pleasant love song and pretty much only involves Hackett and Rutherford on acoustic guitars and Collins on lead vocal. Collins sings soprano most of the way, which really stands out due to the song’s sparse arrangement.

Side two is a much more theatrical side, especially with the side’s opener “The Battle of Epping Forest”. This begins with colonial-type battle march, led by flute and a marching drum rhythm. It then bursts into a full prog-rock arrangement through the first verse before morphing its way through many multi-character, story-telling sections in a manner similar to “Get Em Out by Friday” from their previous album Foxtrot. A wild, choppy guitar provides rhythm for the second verse leading to a complete break in the middle “Reverend” section, with a waltz-like tempo and more deliberate melody. The song was inspired by territorial gang battles in East London but uses heavy allegory of middle age clashes in the forest while subtly eschewing an anti-war message;

“There’s no one left alive, it must be a draw…”

“After the Ordeal” is presented as an instrumental epilogue to “The Battle of Epping Forest” but acts more like an intermission bridge between two epic songs. Written mainly by Hackett, the piece has two distinct parts with the first half an up-tempo classical guitar piece with a piano backing and the second half a slower rock piece beneath Hackett’s electric lead. This lead is again masterful and the only real problem is that it is edited way too short.

The eleven-plus minute epic “The Cinema Show” sustained as the fan favorite from this album. It begins as a purely romantic, modern day “Romeo and Juliet” tale, led by dual acoustic folk guitars and melodic lead vocals by Gabriel. The lyrics from Banks and Rutherford were inspired from a T.S. Eliot poem along with Greek mythology and have highly sexualized overtones. Like the other epics on this album, the song builds into many sections once the entire band gets involved, including a complex vocal motif and yet another lead to great lead guitar by Hackett which segues into a five minute long jam with various synth leads by Banks, some backing operatic vocal choirs, and incredible drumming by Collins, playing a shuffle in 7/8 time. The synth sounds act as a sneak preview of the band’s next album, the double LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The song dissolves back to 4/4 time and segues into the closing song “Aisle of Plenty”, a reprise of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”, giving the album a bookend effect.

Selling England by the Pound was classic Genesis hitting on all cylinders, and the band put together a completely original and musically superior album like no other. Although it would pale in comparison to the commercial success of the band’s pop-oriented 1980s album, it nearly topped the charts in the UK, which was a big deal at the time. But where there album shines is artistically, and on this front it belongs on the list of best ever.

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1973 Images

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

Piano Man by Billy Joel

Piano Man by Billy Joel

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Piano Man by Billy JoelWhile in the midst of a bitter legal with his first label Family Records, Billy Joel sought exile in Los Angeles, biding his time as a lounge singer under the assumed name “Bill Martin”. Joel had toured long to support his 1971 debut Cold Spring harbor, an album which was essentially dead commercially due to faulty production (something that would be fixed years later with a re-release). Under these odd circumstances, the performer was still able to land a new contract with Columbia Records as well as compose and record Piano Man, which would give him his most famous song and his pop identity, along with some other significant highlights.

“I had no leverage and had to drop off the face of the Earth…”

Joel’s career detour to the west coast was the latest in a long musical journey. He had been performing since age four and joined his first group after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He started as a pure rocker in the band The Echoes, a group that specialized in British Invasion covers and became a popular in New York. In 1967, Joel joined the band The Hassles, a band that had signed with United Artists records and released two albums and four singles in the late 1960s, but nothing caught on commercially. Joel and Hassles’ drummer Jon Small formed the odd duet Attila with Joel on distorted and highly processed Hammond organ. Attila released their one eponymous debut album in July 1970 before disbanding when Joel had an affair with Small’s wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.

While the album as whole definitely draws influence from contemporaries like Elton John, James Taylor, and John Denver, the major signature songs on the album are very personal and original. The songs, all written by Joel, contain well developed characters and story narratives with some impressive music that straddles the line between rock and folk.


Piano Man by Billy Joel
Released: November 9, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Michael Stewart
Recorded: Record Plant and Devonshire Sound, Los Angeles, September 1973
Side One Side Two
Traveling Prayer
Piano Man
Ain’t No Crime
You’re My Home
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
Worse Comes to Worst
Stop In Nevada
If I Only Had the Words (to Tell You)
Somewhere Along the Line
Captain Jack
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Richard Bennett – Guitars
Emory Gordy, Jr. – Bass
Ron Tutt – Drums

An interesting drum shuffle by Ron Tutt along with a driving bass line moves the opener “Traveling Prayer” into an upbeat, Western sounding honky-tonk. The song comes complete with banjo and fiddle yet surprisingly sparse piano to open an album called Piano Man. Another Western-themed song completes the first side with Joel’s fictionalized “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”. This is a brilliant song both lyrically and musically with its great piano interludes and rock riffs inspired by composer Aaron Copland. Although Joel himself admits it is historically inaccurate calling it “an experiment with an impressionist type of lyric”, it draws a great comparison between the famous outlaw and himself. “Ain’t No Crime” is the first real song where Joel executes his piano talent, with mock Ray Charles vocals he would utilize in later pop hits. “You’re My Home” is an acoustic ballad written about his wife Elizabeth, with some nice layered topical instruments including a pedal steel guitar.

Billy Joel, 1973

Of course the highlight of the first side is the famous title song, which became a modest hit at the time (peaking at #25) but endured as a classic through time. That original single version was heavily edited, something Joel himself referred to on his second album Street Life Serenade on the song “The Entertainer”;

“It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long, if you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05…”

The lyrical limerick contains real characters from the piano lounges Joel played while in L.A. while lawyers at Columbia Records tried to get him out of his first record deal. Musically, the song is a perfect ballroom ballad with exquisite sound including liberal use of harmonica and accordion above Joel’s bouncy piano, a testament to the production techniques of Michael Stewart.

The album loses steam a bit on the second side, with some quality but less-than-interesting filler. “Worse Comes to Worst” is like a slow reggae with definite pop overtones and accordion by Michael Omartian. “Stop in Nevada” is a general story-telling pop song, while “If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)” is an attempt at a crooning pop standard, but with some decent piano riffs between the verses. “Somewhere Along the Line” picks up the bit with a pop/folk flavor.

The closer “Captain Jack” is the album’s tour-de-force. It was pivotal in Joel gaining the Columbia contract, due to a performance of the song in an April 1972 live radio concert at WMMR in Philadelphia, and the subsequent airplay (and flood of requests) this recording received on the station. The song was inspired by suburban teenagers in Long Island who obtained heroin from a dealer known as “Captain Jack”, who lived across the street from Joel’s apartment. Musically the song alternates between the piano ballad verses and the soaring, riff-driven chorus with heavy use of organ. Joel played the song on his first television appearance, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974.

Billy Joel claimed he that he netted only about $7000 total from the Piano Man album. This was the first of two Los Angeles based albums for Joel which brought him neither him fame nor fortune, but set the stage for his phenomenal success later in the decade, starting with his triumphant return to New York with Turnstiles in 1976.

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1973 Images

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

Lynard Skynard - Pronounced

Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd
by Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Lynard Skynard - PronouncedLynyrd Skynyrd burst onto the national scene with their 1973 debut Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd, which not only featured many of the band’s most popular songs but also defined the genre of “Southern Rock” more than any other album. This six-piece group out of Jacksonville, Florida fused blues, country, and straight-forward rock to forge an edge that is totally unpretentious and unassuming. Produced by Al Kooper, there are few debut records which express such confidence and drive, with a balanced diversity between upbeat honky-tonk rock and the delicate jam songs, which would Be the prime templates for the “power ballads” which proliferated a decade or more later.

The grouped was formed nine years earlier, in the summer of 1964. High school friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed a band with two other friends called “The Noble Five”. Through many personnel and name changes in the late 1960s, these three remained the core. In 1970, the band changed their name to “Leonard Skinner” as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a strict phys-ed teacher at their high school in Jacksonville, who constantly harassed them because of their long hair (which played a big part in Rossington dropping out of school). The more distinctive spelling was adopted at the suggestion of Kooper in 1972 when he signed the band his Sounds of the South, a subsidiary of MCA Records.

The band had grown notoriety by opening for the band Strawberry Alarm Clock and that band’s guitarist Ed King joined Lynyrd Skynyrd to play bass on the debut album (later switching back to guitar, giving the band three guitarists). One day the band was playing a high school prom when their then roadie Billy Powell played what would become the intro piece to “Free Bird”, the band’s most famous song. Powell was immediately invited him to join the band as keyboardist and the classic lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd was established.

 


Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Released: August 13, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Studio One, Doraville, Georgia, March 27-May 1, 1973
Side One Side Two
I Ain’t the One
Tuesday’s Gone
Gimme Three Steps
Simple Man
Things Going On
Mississippi Kid
Poison Whiskey
Freebird
Band Musicians
Ronnie Van Zandt – Lead Vocals
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Allen Collins – Guitars
Billy Powell – Keyboards
Ed King – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

“Freebird”‘s majestic organ intro leads to one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history, as Rossington used a glass Coricidin bottle for a slide to emulate his hero, the late Duane Allman. The poignant yet melancholy lyrics were written by Collins when he then-girlfriend (and later wife) spoke the opening lines verbatim;

“If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?”

The moody ballad gives way to a frantic ending jam led by the dual guitar leads and ever-more creative ways to grind out the three backing chords and even contains a drum roll by Bob Burns that lasts nearly a minute. The song completes the band’s debut album in climatic fashion.

The album begins with some backward percussion effects that introduce “I Ain’t the One”. Although this intro is rather awkward, the song finally catches its groove with the Rossington riff and piano embellishment from Powell, saving the song from bring too ordinary. “Tuesday’s Gone” then provides an immediate contrast to the opener, instantly displaying the band’s range and penchant for differing moods. The great harmonized guitars throughout serenade the lyrical theme of changing times with guest Robert Nix filling in on drums and producer Al Kooper providing bass and Mellotron.

Aside from the later hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Gimme Three Steps” may the be the quintessential Southern Rock song for all time. Led by a great riff sequence by Collins and just the right amount of lead guitar activity between verses, the storytelling song became the band’s first charting hit. The lyrics are based on an actual experience by Van Zant in a biker bar in Jacksonville when he had a gun pulled on him. That bar was actually called The Pastime Bar, but was renamed “The Jug” (from the song’s lyrics) in September 2012. “Simple Man” finishes off side one as a rather “simple” song, which somehow stretches three chords for nearly six minutes, using some sonic dynamics which saves it from getting too mundane.

Aside from the closer, side two contains some lesser known yet interesting tunes. “Things Goin’ On” at times seems a bit and unsure of itself, especially due to its lack of a strong beat, but the song contains some very entertaining elements such as the alternating instrumental leads between Rossington and Powell. “Mississippi Kid” is the most unique song on the album while being a definite nod to southern blues. It was constructed by Burns and producer Al Kooper, who also adds the signature mandolin while Ed king plays a respectable slide for his only guitar part on the album. “Poison Whiskey” is a short, funky song with more use of the nice double guitar harmony by Rossington and Collins.

A shortened version of “Free Bird” was released as a single and the full song received heavy airplay for decades to come. After the band’s devastating plane crash, which took the life of Van Zant in 1977, a live version of the song re-charted with even greater success.

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1973 Images

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

Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and Palmer

Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

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Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and PalmerEmerson, Lake, & Palmer reached their progressive climax with their fourth studio album Brain Salad Surgery. It was the group’s most ambitious and commercially successful album, with a mixture of rock and classical along with some cutting edge electronic sounds, used for the first time on any of the group’s records. The album was the first on the trio’s new Manticore label and was produced by the group’s guitarist, bassist, and lead vocalist Greg Lake. Lake co-wrote the album’s lyrics with former King Crimson bandmate Pete Sinfield, who was also signed to the group’s new label. This was the first time any outside musician appeared on an album by the trio.

Brain Salad Surgery was a concerted effort by the group to produce an album which could be performed in its entirety live, unlike the highly overdubbed material of their previous album Trilogy. Employing some of the tactics used by Pink Floyd, the band wrote some of the music in a cinema, “live” on stage, reworking arrangements to capture the emotion of the film. Most of the material was composed as instrumental pieces with lyrics added to some later on. Three instrumentals remained on the final album, while three more (“When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind I’ll Be Your Valentine”, “Tiger In a Spotlight”, and the title song “Brain Salad Surgery”) were omitted because of time constraints.

The album’s unique title came from a lyric in Dr. John’s song “Right Place, Wrong Time”, released earlier in 1973 which stated; “just need a little brain salad surgery, got to cure this insecurity.” The album cover artwork was done by the artist Giger, integrating an industrial mechanism with a human skull along with the latest ELP logo (which Giger also created).


Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer
Released: November 19, 1973 (Manticore)
Produced by: Greg Lake
Recorded: Advision Studios and Olympic Studios, London, June–September 1973
Side One Side Two
Jerusalem
Toccata
Still, You Turn Me On
Benny the Bouncer
Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 1
Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 2
Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression
Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression
Band Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Keith Emerson – Piano, Organ, Keyboards, Accordion
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

This album packed with dynamic flourishes of musical virtuosity begins in a rather subdued, if not standard way. “Jerusalem” is an adaptation of Hubert Parry’s hymn with lyrics Taken from the preface to William Blake’s “Milton” poem. This only managed to get it banned by the BBC for potential “blasphemy”. Musically, the organ is a little overwhelming in the mix with not much bass presence at all, but it is also notable as the first known track to use the Moog Apollo, the first polyphonic synthesizer still in prototype at the time. The album quickly picks up with the instrumental “Toccata”, sounding more like the top-end prog rock of the era, which the group was known for. Keith Emerson‘s deeper rudiments are of the type that would be replicated by the band Rush on guitar and bass years later, and the mid-section contains a long percussive solo by Carl Palmer with more synth effects mixed in. “Toccata” draws from the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concerto, whom Emerson flew to Geneva to discuss his arrangement with in order obtain permission.

Lake’s acoustic ballad “Still, You Turn Me On” is poetic and beautiful with layered riffs and a nice counter-balance of melody and song craft to the furious instrumental which precedes it. This short but poignant song contains profound yet romantic lyrics which earned it a fair share of radio play;

“Do you wanna be an angel, do you wanna be a star, do you wanna play some magic on my guitar / Do you wanna be a poet, do you wanna be my string, you could be anything…”

Sinfield’s first lyrical contribution comes with “Benny the Bouncer”, an electronic honky-tonk of sort with comical lyrics which are oddly vocalized, giving a bit of light fare before the album moves into its side-plus extended piece.

“Karn Evil 9” is a suite whose three movements comprise roughly a side and a quarter of the album where the band pulls out all the sonic stops. The most well-known section is “1st Impression, Part 2” with the famous “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” lyric, which was later used as a title for a live album. The story of “Karn Evil 9” tells of a futuristic world from which “all manner of evil and decadence had been banished.” The decadence of the old world is preserved through exhibits that are part of a futuristic carnival show, which exhibits depravities. This story is told lyrically through the first and third impressions, with the second impression being a three piece jazz improv with Emerson on piano, Lake on Bass, and Palmer on drums. The piece also includes its share of synthesizers with a steel drum part and Emerson’s voice fed through a modulator to sound like a child’s voice, Emerson’s only official vocal credit on an ELP record.

Following the success of Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson Lake, and Palmer went on some very successful (albeit extravagant) tours through 1974, including one performance broadcast nationwide in the United States. Then then went on an untimely three-year break to re-invent their music, but never again were able to capture their momentum, leading to the group’s break by the end of the decade.

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1973 Images

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

Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ amp; The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen 1973 Albums

Buy Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Buy The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle

Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ amp; The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen started off his recording career with two albums in 1973, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, released in January, and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, released in September. Both albums were produced by the team of Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos and both were well-received critically but had little commercial success at the time. Both albums also used musicians that would be later make up the E Street Band (at the time known as the “Bruce Springsteen Band”), however Springsteen’s best friend guitarist Steve Van Zandt was all but shut out from the sessions due to budgetary constraints. The pair would not perform again together for several years.

Springsteen had been playing acoustic guitar, in the tradition of early Bob Dylan style folk, for more than half a decade before his management signed a record deal with Columbia Records in June 1972. When planning began for the debut album, Springsteen had advocated for a band arrangement but the label’s A&R man John Hammond wanted a more solo-dominated album, reflecting the live sound. Eventually a compromise was reached where the album would consist of five “band” recordings and five solo recordings. However, when then-CBS President Clive Davis listened to the ten tracks he commented that not he strongly preferred the band tracks, and also felt that the album lacked a potential hit single. Springsteen composed two more commercial-sounding songs (“Blinded By the Light” and “Spirit In the Night”) and reached out to saxophonist Clarence Clemons of a rival North Jersey band to add a new element to these new songs. Three Springsteen solo tracks were omitted from Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ bringing the total track count to nine, seven band and two solo tracks. Despite this effort to further “commercialize” the album is was a major flop sales-wise upon its release. According to a local Freehold, NJ record store owner, the Partridge Family far outsold the hometown Springsteen during the very first week that the album was released and it wouldn’t be until years later when Springsteen became nationally famous that anyone would even hear of this album.

Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band in 1973

Recording sessions for The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle took place exactly a year later, during the summer of 1973. On every level (critically, commercially, and sonically), this sophomore album is superior to the debut, although together they form a fine evolution in advancement. Still, initial sales were still slow and, like its predecessor, this album would not get widespread listens until after the huge breakthrough of Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run. Expanding on the basic approach of his debut album, The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle offers multi-strains of other musical styles, and is much more a “band” effort, with keyboard player David Sancious (whose home on the E Street gave the album and group its name) stepping in to play a major role in musical arrangements. Lyrically, this may have been Springsteen’s nod of nostalgia and final goodbye to the small-town street life as he was moving on to higher ground. It was also a signature album for drummer Vini Lopez, who offered a busy Keith Moon style approach for his final album with the that was lacking in later E Street material.

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Released: January 5, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos
Recorded: 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, NY, July-September 1972
Side One Side Two
Blinded By the Light
Growin’ Up
Mary, Queen of Arkansas
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Lost In the Flood
The Angel
For You
Spirit In the Night
It’s Hard To Be a Saint In the City
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
Released: September 11, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos
Recorded: 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, NY, May-September 1973
Side One Side Two
The E Street Shuffle
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Kitty’s Back
Wild Billy’s Circus Story
Incident On 57th Street
Rosalita
New York City Serenade
Primary Musicians (Both Albums)
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Harmonica
David Sancious – Piano, Keyboards
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass
Vini Lopez – Drums, Vocals

Springsteen’s debut album started with a song written intentionally to provide it with a radio-friendly hit. “Blinded by the Light” contains a barrage of words above a loose, almost lost musical jam. The song is almost all verse until it finally reaches the distant breaks of the chorus hook. Session piano man Harold Wheeler joins in on piano along with Clemons, Lopez, and Springsteen playing the remainder of instruments. Like the album, the single didn’t make many waves upon release, but three years later a re-arranged version of the song was recorded by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and it reached #1 in both the US and Canada, ironically becoming the highest charting song of all that Springsteen wrote through his long career.

Greetings from Asbury Park NJ by Bruce Springsteen“Growin’ Up” is a true early classic by Springsteen, a bit sharper and better organized than the opening track. The song that doesn’t quite receive the production quality it deserves on this recording but still resonates through the years. “Mary Queen of Arkansas” is one of the two “solo” songs on the debut album, along with the side two opener “The Angel”. Both are a bit melodramatic for the sophisticated listener with Springsteen’s naked voice wearing a little thin, but “Mary Queen of Arkansas” does have a bit of charm and spontaneity. “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” is a linear story told in a furious stream of advice lines, all fed out in a brief but entertaining musical blitz. The bouncy bass by Garry Tallent is particularly entertaining in this slight-but-fun romp. “Lost In the Flood” finishes side one of Greetings as slow piano ballad that builds tension before eventually breaking into a full arrangement about two minutes into the song. It is also notable as the only track on these first two albums to feature Steven Van Zandt, who dubbed in sound effects for the song.

The debut album ends strong with three upbeat songs which forecast the approach expanded upon on the second album. “For You” is upbeat and romantic, driven by the bouncy organ by Sancious and the heartfelt melodies of Springsteen. “Spirit in the Night” is a fun and adventurous song with the the strongest early presence by Clemons, who provides saxophone, hand claps, and backing vocals on this track. The closer, “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is the most Dylan-esque of all songs on this album with a nice mixture of acoustic guitar and piano providing a fine bedding to the frantic, poetic lyrics in a very entertaining way, making for a great way to end the album.

The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce SpringsteenSpringsteen’s second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, begins with the de facto title song “The E Street Shuffle”, which was allegedly inspired by a snowy night when the band’s rented truck broke down after a gig in New York City and they decided to walk the short distance to Sancious’ mother’s home in the vicinity. It begins with some off-tune horns before breaking into a very funky guitar and clavinet riff, which makes it clear right away that the sound is more refined on this album. It has a definitive 1970s sound with some baritone added by Albany “Al” Tellone.

“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” continues the Jersey shore scenery promised in the debut’s title. Romantic lyrics line this mostly pleasant and enjoyable song with the slight exception of the over-exaggerated “breath-y” vocals by Springsteen in the opening verses. Beyond that, Springsteen’s acoustic and electric guitar mixes are excellent with some accordion added by future E Street Band member Danny Federici. “Kitty’s Back” is an extended, multi-part song which opens with a slow moving bluesy guitar lead which abruptly morphs to a more upbeat, jazzy verse with boogie bass by Tallent and some great horns. Later, there is a wild, almost psychedelic jam section in the middle which includes a great organ solo by Sancious.

“Wild Billy’s Circus Story” is a cool song which really strikes a chord to end the first side. It evolved from a previous song called “Circus Town”, which was recorded for the Greetings album but never released. Flipping the original LP over, is the side two opener “Incident on 57th Street”. A distorted piano kicks off this absolutely brilliant song, perhaps the most polished and melodic song on the album. Lyrically, “Incident” tells a romantic story set against a New York street fight, in the spirit of “West Side Story”, with fully developed characters and setting, something Springsteen would revisit often in the future.

Speaking of characters, one of Springsteen’s most enduring is “Rosalita”, a song which elaborately tells of a love forbidden because the girl’s parents don’t approve of the boy’s rock and roll lifestyle. Although never released as a single, it was Springsteen’s first song to receive significant airplay, especially on FM radio as anticipation grew for the release of Born to Run two years later. This was in spite of its over seven-minute running length. The song also received a second popular life during the 1980s when a vintage video of the song became one of the most played videos on MTV. The ten-minute “New York City Serenade” completes the album with a bit of subtle melodrama but nice use of instrumentation, especially the acoustic guitar. The song never gets lost or mundane over its extended length.

By the end of 1973 and the release of Springsteen’s second album, critics were starting to take note of his approach of absurdist energy and heart-on-sleeve pretension, and would soon be crawling over each other the sing his praises. Much of this praise was well-deserved but some was down-right overblown. Still, the was little doubt that Springsteen was just getting started and would be around for years to come.

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1973 Images

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