Forever Changes is the third album by the folk rock band Love, and has become their crowning achievement musically. It is a richly produced and sonically fine album which was not a huge hit commercially but became recognized as one of the finest albums from the California scene in 1967. Produced by Bruce Botnick and the band’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter Arthur Lee, the album is made of songs are primarily acoustic-based with liberal splashes of brass and strings along with a strong rhythmic backbone, while the use of electric guitars, which dominated most of the band’s first two albums, is limited to a few strategic appearances.
The band released their critically acclaimed debut album in 1966, but took a bit of an artistic detour with the follow-up Da Capo in early 1967. Prior to recording Forever Changes, Love downsized to a five piece by dropping keyboardist Alban Pfisterer and saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli. Still, the group was undergoing some severe internal strife and the sessions began with only Lee and guitarist Bryan MacLean from the band along with several well-known Los Angeles session musicians. This was allegedly due to the rest of the line-up’s alleged inability to function at the time, and the song “Andmoreagain” was recorded with this session arrangement. According to Botnick, the use of session musicians “sparked” the band and they soon got their act together to record the rest of the album.
Instrumentally, the album is made of an acoustic core of guitar textures with an overlay of horns, strings, and orchestral swell, with some of the brass punctuating the melodies. Lee worked with arranger David Angel, spending several weeks playing and singing the envisioned orchestral parts, which he had envisioned for these compositions from the beginning. The result is a diverse album with fluctuations in rhythm patterns, tonal color, and lyrical substance.
Forever Changesby Love
Released: November, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Bruce Botnick & Arthur Lee Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, June-September 1967
Alone Again Or
A House Is Not a Motel
The Daily Planet
The Red Telephone
Maybe the People Would Be the Times
Live and Let Live
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
Bummer In the Summer
You Set the Scene
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Guitars Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars Bryan MacLean – Guitars, Vocals Ken Forssi – Bass Michael Stuart – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Although Lee wrote the bulk of the material on the album, the opener and most well known track, “Alone Again Or” was written by MacLean. It contains nice Spanish acoustic with brass rudiments, which alternate with cool, bass-driven verses held together by bassist Ken Forssi. This was the sole single released from the album to reach the Billboard singles chart, with a re-issue peaking at No. 99 in 1970. MacLean’s other contribution to the album is “Old Man”, another Mexican-influenced folk song with strategic brass and some lyrical references to Christianity.
“A House Is Not a Motel” is a strong acoustic rocker with the definitive 1960s California sound until later exploding into a heavier electric sound led by guitarist Johnny Echols. It contains cynical lyrics by Lee with images of war and violence. “The Daily Planet” seems to have been both influenced by The Beatles’ Revolver, while in turn becoming a great influence on some future numbers by The Who. Neil Young, who was originally slated to co-produce the album, only stuck around long enough to arrange this track. The album’s first side concludes with the psychedelic-fused “The Red Telephone” with some really interesting chord changes but almost nonsensical lyrics. This song has been called a “paranoid nursery rhyme”.
“Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” starts side two with a pessimistic look at “flower power”, while “Live and Let Live” follows as a more melodic political ballad with musically progressive sections, good melodies, and some lead electric guitar by Echols. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” reflects the hippie culture of the day, in which Lee was deeply entrenched, but with a foreboding sense of doom with the threat of the draft and war.
Not really a “bummer” at all, the upbeat and infectious “Bummer in the Summer” is a short acoustic rocker where Lee does a Bob Dylan-like “sing-talk”. The album ends with its only extended track, the seven-minute “You Set the Scene”. Forssi and drummer Michael Stuart provide a driving rhythm through the verses, much like Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. The songs morphs into a multi-part mini-suite with later parts with horns, strings, and a contrasting melody, including a free styling “rap”, which may be the first ever on record.
Despite the artistic achievement of Forever Changes, the inner turmoil in Love continued. MacLean quit the band shortly after the album’s release and, while Lee made several more albums with a new version of the band, by the early 1970s Love was no more.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the music of 1967.
Rock’s first “super group”, the British trio Cream was only together for a few years in the late 1960s with only four albums to their credit. However, they left a strong legacy and cast a huge shadow of influence on the genre that became known as classic rock. Perhaps their signature work, 1967’s Disraeli Gears fused the core genres of jazz and blues with a heavy dose of sixties pop and just a touch of psychedelic flourishes. The album was also the American breakthrough for the band, reaching number 4 on the charts, and elevating Cream’s popularity to the upper level among their contemporaries in the “second British invasion”.
Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce was classically trained and had played in Manfred Mann’s band along with various jazz bands with drummer Ginger Baker prior to Cream’s formation in 1966. Guitarist Eric Clapton was already a “legend” in the UK (but Disraeli Gears introduced him to a vast amount of the American audience), and was encouraged by the management at Atlantic Records to become the “front man” of the band. Clapton did begin singing lead vocals on a few songs but was content to leave the bulk of those duties to Bruce.
The title of the album is based on a inside joke, after one of the band’s roadies mis-pronounced the bike part “derailleur gears” as “disraeli gears”. It was recorded in New York during May 1967, and produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also co-wrote a couple of the tracks along with his wife Gail Collins. The record company was disappointed at the lack of American success by Cream’s 1966 debut Fresh Cream and had requested that the band record in New York so their “top guys” could directly supervise the sessions. Pappalardi helped bring the band’s song into a more “modern” realm while maintaining the blues core.
Disraeli Gearsby Cream
Released: November, 1967 (Reaction) Produced by: Felix Pappalardi Recorded: Atlantic Studios, New York City, May 1967
Sunshine Of Your Love
World Of Pain
Dance the Night Away
Tales Of Brave Ulysses
We’re Going Wrong
Outside Woman Blues
Take It Back
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Piano, Harmonica Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The album begins with one of the “Strange Brew”, one of the more popular songs from the album which was constructed in a very unique way. The song was originally called “Lawdy Mama”, a straight blues song that evolved from a Buddy Guy riff converted from shuffle to straight time. Pappalardi and Collins took a tape of a live performance of the song and overlaid a a pop melody with new psychedelic-influenced lyrics, making the song a “strange brew” of pop and pure blues with Clapton maintaining the original riff and Albert King style guitar solo.
Another very interesting mix come in the song “World Of Pain”, which starts as an almost fifties style ballad but with very interesting bass progressions and wah-wah guitar overtones, before breaking into a more harmonized sixties groove in the chorus. “Dance the Night Away” is driven by a lush 12-string riff along with a folk-influenced melody, harmonized vocals, and mystical lyrics. This may be the band’s furthest wandering from their blues core.
On the flip side, “Sunshine Of Your Love” is the undeniable rock anthem from the album. It was written by Clapton and Bruce along with poet Pete Brown, and is driven by an infectious 10-note riff that has become one of the most recognizable in rock history. That riff was originally developed by Bruce after seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the first time in London. The fat guitar tone itself has become renowned as the best example of Clapton’s late sixties “woman tone”, with Baker holding it all together with an African influenced drum progression.
The second side of the album begins with “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, with lyrics inspired by Homer’s Odyssey penned by artist Martin Sharp. This melodramatic narration alternates between calm, minimalist vocal parts and more frenzied musical jams. Clapton fused an uptempo song he was working on inspired by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” with Bruce’s slow bass progression, making the overall affect very unique.
“SWLABR” is a fun song with lyrics by Brown, which compare a woman with the “Mona Lisa”, only to lyrically deface her image later on. The song’s title is an acronym for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow” and contains some of the finer upbeat musicianship by the band members. “We’re Going Wrong” was written by Bruce in total and features Baker using Timpani drum mallets. “Outside Woman Blues” is a standard blues song written in the 1920s, which Clapton updated with a slightly rock-oriented arrangement. The album concludes with a couple of unusual tracks – “Take It Back”, which features Bruce on harmonica, and “Mother’s Lament”, an old music hall song which features three part harmony by all of the band’s members.
Cream had a very straight-forward, muscular, and funky sound at a time when the trends were moving towards the more artistic soundscapes of “the summer of love”. With the release of Disraeli Gears in November 1967, Cream was a band primed for the big time. They followed in short time with 1968’s Wheels of Fire, but within a year that had decided to disband after some planned farewell concerts and a farewell album.
Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.
The Piper At the Gates of Dawn is the legendary debut album by Pink Floyd and the only album during their Syd Barrett-led era. This era began during the summer of 1965, when Barrett joined the established band which included his childhood friend Roger Waters and unilaterally began to call this band “The Pink Floyd Sound”, after a couple of obscure blues men he had in his record collection. By 1966, the band became part of London’s “underground” scene, gained some high connections, and played some high profile gigs attended by celebrities. In early 1967, the band signed with EMI and their debut album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Norman Smith. The sessions had their share of turmoil as Barrett was unresponsive to direction and constructive criticism.
The sessions for The Piper At the Gates of Dawn came during the middle of a turbulent, exciting, and productive year for Pink Floyd, which also saw the release and charting of three non-album singles. “See Emily Play” was the highest charting on these early singles as the follow-up to “Arnold Layne”, a controversial song as it depicted a transvestite whose primary pastime was stealing women’s clothes and undergarments from washing lines and many English radio stations refused to play the song.
Knowing the band’s reputation for long and improvised live renditions, EMI gave Smith and the band free reign to create the album they wanted to make. There is a certain genius to this album which may take a lot of work for mainstream audiences to “get”. At just the age of 24, Barrett reached inside and tapped into a psychological world caught between the wondrous discoveries of childhood and the tragic revelations of a finite life. The also captures both the pleasure and madness of psychedelic music, all the more compelling in light of Barrett’s subsequent breakdown and deterioration which would force him out of the band within a year.
The album also contains many philosophical and intellectual elements, including it’s title, which Barret took from Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind In the Willows. Although the compositions are genius, there are some flaws in the production as the overall mix is a bit bright and the bass is woefully under-represented throughout. Still, the production is fine enough for the musical quality to shine through, especially for the seasoned listener.
The Piper At the Gates of Dawnby Pink Floyd
Released: August 4, 1967 (Capitol/EMI) Produced by: Norman Smith Recorded: EMI Studios, London, February – July 1967
Pow R Toc H
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
Tracks On Alternate Album Versions
Candy and a Currant Bun
See Emily Play
Apples and Oranges
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Lead Vocals Richard Wright – Piano, Organ, Vocals Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion
The album begins with “Astronomy Domine”, the ultimate space odyssey song with wild tremolo effects and a chanting vocal duet between Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright. There is an extended instrumental section after first verse sequence before the song returns for the concluding sequence. the riff-driven “Lucifer Sam” follows with a cool, mid-sixties British groove, making the song a lot less psychedelic than those on the rest of the album.
“Matilda Mother” begins with some interplay between Waters’ bass and Wright’s organ, who plays a big role in the song by also taking on lead vocals. There are also some fine harmonies during the verses and a slow carousel-like sequence through the end. “Flaming” is another melody-driven song but with wild sound effects throughout as well as a bright acoustic guitar, overdubbed in the third and fourth verses and an odd, yet melodic middle break. “Pow R. Toc H.” is the first of two instrumentals on the album, with the heart of the song driven mainly by a blues riff (one of the few moments where Waters bass is well represented). This is a great early art piece by Pink Floyd, though there are times when the sound effects are just a tad overwhelming. According to drummer Nick Mason, the band members were present at Abbey Road when they watched The Beatles recording “Lovely Rita” for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and decided to try voice effects and noises similar for “Pow R. Toc H.”
Barrett wrote eight of the album’s eleven songs along with contributing to two instrumentals which were credited to the whole band. Waters was credited with one composition, “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. This closer of the first side is a more frenzied piece than anything else on the album, with Mason really shines on this track with a style of over-the-top drumming which should make Keith Moon proud. Rumor has it that the band insisted in contract negotiations that “Interstellar Overdrive” remain in experimental form on the debut album. The song, which became the the unofficial theme song of the underground event “the fourteen hour technicolor dream”, was the first recorded by the band in January. This instrumental starts strong, with a strong and catchy main riff, but within a minute and a half the song begins to deteriorate into a psychedelic collage of sound effects, which goes on for about seven minutes and may have be just a bit much for any sober listener.
Barrett takes over the rest of the album, with some fine and interesting compositions. “The Gnome” is an upbeat, acoustic folk song with some exaggerated vocals by Barrett and some excellent bass by Waters. “Chapter 24” is perhaps the first deeply philosophical song by a band that would make their reputation exploring such matters. Barrett’s melody floats above the transcending musical motif with the middle part dissolving with a Middle-Eastern sounding organ. The song was inspired by by text from chapter 24 of the ancient Chinese script I Ching (The Book of Changes).
“The Scarecrow” is built on a series of percussive effects by Mason and organ flights by Wright. These at first sound disparate, but are soon held together by layered vocals in concert with tightly strummed electric guitars. An acoustic montage is later overdubbed over the whole ensemble in the outro.
“Bike” is the most brilliant and chilling song on the album, and perhaps the quintessential Syd Barrett song. Lyrically, the song is metered like a 10-year-old’s boasting rant about disparate subjects during the verse and a melancholy chorus about a “girl who fits in with my world”. Knowing of Barrett’s eventual mental demise, the song has turned out to be extremely profound. Musically, the song is driven by good piano and effects by Wright throughout and rock driven rock verses with softer, melodic choruses through the song proper, which lasts less than two minutes. The song and album concludes with a psychedelic reprise of sound collages.
After the release of the album in August 1967, Pink Floyd continued to perform in London, drawing ever larger crowds. But Barrett’s mental state continued to deteriorate and soon he got to the point where he could not perform onstage. Aside from a few more single tracks and one song on the next album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Barrett would not perform with the band again, making The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, a truly unique work.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
Perhaps the album with the single biggest gap between initial commercial success and ultimate historical relevance, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become a legendary fountainhead of influence and inspiration. Although this avant-garde rock group lasted a very short time, few artists claim to have broken so much new territory. They blended unique arrangements of traditional rock with a frank, explicit, and uncompromising degree of taboo subjects such as sexual adventurism and drug abuse, which put the band way outside the mainstream. Their work in the mid-to-late 1960s has been credited as a primary influence on the punk and new wave explosions of a decade later, even though they were only appreciated by a “cult” audience at the time and otherwise dismissed with indifference or scorn by mainstream rock critics and fans. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the band began to get recognition as an important band of the ’60s, if not all time.
The group’s leader was guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Lou Reed, who had dabbled in many types of rock, jazz, and beat poetry since his teen years in the late 1950s. Fusing all these, influences he developed a unique style of speak/sing vocals. While working as a staff songwriter, Reed met Welsh multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and the two found a shared interest in fusing the avant-garde with pop/rock music. They formed a band called the Primitives which changed to the Velvet Underground in 1965 with the addition of guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. With Reed as the primary songwriter, the group started working on unique but un-commercial sounding songs for their live act but caught a break when pop-artist Andy Warhol caught the band live and decided he wanted to “manage” them. Warhol incorporated the Velvet Underground’s music into a greater mixed-media/performance art ensemble that he called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”.
While the band was uncompromising in their music and lyrics, they did have to compromise on their personnel. The band was reluctant to accept German fashion model and singer Nico as a fifth member, but her inclusion was insisted upon by Warhol. While Reed remained the principal lead vocalist, Nico did sing three of the better songs on the album. Although many have dismissed Warhol’s producer credit as purely ornamental, Reed felt that he did play a vital part in completing this album;
…he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked and as a consequence of him being the producer, we’d just walk in and set up and do what we always did and no one would stop it because Andy was the producer…”
Despite the high profile benefactor, the album’s release was not without complications, delaying its release until nearly a year after recording wrapped with the bulk of all recordings happening in April 1966 at Scepter Studios in New York City. These sessions were financed in part by Columbia Records but that company rejected the final product, as did several other labels, before the MGM-owned Verve Records accepted the recordings. The fact that this innovative material was in the can before other breakthrough projects like Pet Sounds and Revolver, makes this album all the more remarkable.
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Released: March 12, 1967 (Verve) Produced by: Andy Warhol amp; Tom Wilson Recorded: New York City, April – November 1966
I’m Waiting For the Man
Venus In Furs
Run Run Run
All Tomorrow’s Parties
There She Goes Again
I’ll Be Your Mirror
The Black Angel’s Death Song
Lou Reed – Guitars, Vocals Nico – Vocals John Cale – Viola, Piano Sterling Morrison – Guitar, Bass, Vocals Maureen Tucker – Drums & Percussion
The album begins with “Sunday Morning”, a collaboration between Reed and Cale, which was actually the last song recorded for the album in late 1966. It was written at the request of co-producer Tom Wilson, who felt the album could use another pop-oriented song. Although the song was written to be sung by Nico, Reed ultimately sang lead on the track.
“I’m Waiting for the Man” follows as the first of many provocative and nihilistic songs about drug use. It is driven by a distorted guitar and driving bass by Reed and Morrison in a very simple rock riff which really sets the song’s background perfectly. “Femme Fatale” is the first track on the album to feature lead vocals by Nico, and the atmosphere could not be different than that of the preceding song, as it has a very measured rhythm and jazzy arrangement. Warhol commissioned Reed to write the song about actress and model Edie Sedgwick.
The musical styles continue to fluctuate through the rest of the first side. “Venus in Furs” is a sexually-charged tune which is driven by Cale’s viola and Reed’s oddly-tuned guitar and straight-forward, yet poetic vocal narrative. “Run Run Run” returns to a simnple, bluesy-rock tone, with Reed actually doing some traditional style singing and a proper rock drum beat by Tucker. The Warhol click became the inspiration to “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, which Reed described as an accurate description of certain people at the Factory;
I watched Andy. I watched Andy watching everybody. I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things…”
“Heroin” is the most original, most memorable, and best song on the album. It was written by Reed in 1964, and received harsh criticism for not overtly condemning drug usage (although it doesn’t exactly praise it). The song has a song years (if not decades) ahead of its time with pleasant, melodic, strummed electric guitar and a droning electric viola that builds to a frenzied crescendo.
The next two songs are the most pop-oriented on the album. “There She Goes Again” has an actual hook with responsive background vocals and some quasi-soul musical rudiments. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is Nico’s final song on the album and is arranged as a very short, traditional ballad. It was released as a single in July 1966, ahead of the album’s release. The album does retain its “weirdness” with the final two tracks. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” is put together like a psychedelic Dylan song. Throughout the song, there are loud bursts of audio feedback, and hissing with guitars tuned low and a screeching viola. The nearly-eight-minute long “European Son” has a more traditional rock guitar and bass, with long, improvised vocals and more crazy sound effects.
On this 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground espoused a frank bleakness in their music which would inspire musicians of future generations, while maintaining a strong musical core. However, the were not able to achieve longevity, as Nico was out of the band by the end of the year to pursue a solo career and the association with Warhol quickly deteriorated. The group did manage to release a few more albums over the next four years, before disbanding in the early 1970s.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s 45th anniversary of albums from 1967.
Although Days of Future Passed is the second official album by The Moody Blues, it was the first to lay out the prog-rock template which would define the band’s sound for the next decade. It was also the first album to feature singer/songwriter Justin Hayward and guitarist/bassist John Lodge, two central figures who shaped the band’s direction during their heyday. Originating in Birmingham, England, the band began as an R&B based pop band during the first “British invasion” of 1964, scoring two hits that year with “Steal Your Heart Away” and “Go Now”, which gave their 1965 debut album its title. By 1966, the band wanted to change direction and, after some personnel changes, began working out the material that would ultimately end up on Days of Future Passed.
However, the result of this album was not how it was originally planned. The band’s label, Decca Records wanted to to showcase its enhanced stereo-sound technology which they called “Deramic Sound”. The label commissioned a hybrid orchestral/rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” with the Moody Blues chosen as the “rock” band because A&R manager Hugh Mendl was a huge fan. But when producer Tony Clarke had heard the new original material that the band had been working on, he took it upon himself to replace the Dvorek material and instead had the London Festival Orchestra, led by conductor/arranger Peter Knight, adapt sections from the Moody Blues’ originals.
The result was a totally unique release (even for 1967), which the record company nearly rejected because they didn’t know how to market it. Audience response was quite favorable and the album became both one of the most influential psychedelic rock albums ever and a vessel for some of the Moody Blues’ most timeless radio hits. The album was also one of the first true “concept” albums (predating The Who’s Tommy by two years) with the concept being the “day” being an allegory for phases of life itself. In fact, the concept was so important to the essence of this album, that the song order was one of the very few to be preserved on 8-track tape versions.
Days of Future Passedby The Moody Blues
Released: November 11, 1967 (Decca/Deram) Produced by: Tony Clarke Recorded: Decca Studios, London, October – November 1967
The Day Begins / Morning Glory
Dawn Is a Feeling
Lunch Break / Peak Hour
Forever Afternoon (Tuesday Afternoon)
(Evening) Time to Get Away
The Sunset / Twilight Time
Nights In White Satin / Late Lament
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Lead Vocals John Lodge – Bass, Guitars, Vocals Mike Pinder – Keys, Piano, Vocals Ray Thomas – Flute, Horns, Keys Graeme Edge – Drums, Vocals Peter Knight – Orchestral Conductor
Days of Future Passed is a bit “bottom heavy” with the finest material late on the first and throughout the original second side. “The Day Begins” fittingly starts the album with a dramatic, movie-like swell which quickly morphs into a long orchestral overture. About four minutes in, the song features a poem written by drummer Graeme Edge, but recited by keyboardist Mike Pinder, something that would be reprised with another poem towards the end of the album. Pinder’s “Dawn Is a Feeling” is the first proper “song” on the album. It is a moderate piano ballad with some musical theatrics before dissolving into into a long orchestral ending, something common to most songs on the album.
Multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas wrote “Another Morning”, a European-style dance song, led by Thomas’ flute riff. It has a much edgy-er sixties pop arrangement than any of the previous songs with a complex vocals during the choruses. The final track on the first side is called “Lunch Break”, with an orchestral intro that suddenly bursts into the full rock arrangement of Lodge’s “Peak Hour”, which seems to derive much of its influence from The Who.
The heart of the album begins with a classic composition, entitled “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” on the album, but later released as a single titled simply “Tuesday Afternoon”. It is the best overall track on the album, with a perfect combination of folk and sixties psychedelia. The then “cutting edge” instrument of the mellotron, played by Pinder, mixes perfectly with the acoustic and bass guitars and the absolutely brilliant vocals and melody by Hayward, show his earliest potential as a top-notch composer.
Lodge’s “(Evening) Time to Get Away” is a bit darker and more melodramatic but still one of the greats on the album as it builds towards more upbeat sections without ever losing its overall feel. The evening theme continues with Pinder’s “The Sunset”, a cool mix of orchestral effects with a rock based melody and lead vocal and some middle-eastern rhythms. Thomas’ “Twilight Time” follows with a full piano rocking background and some overdone effects and distant vocals as well as some abrupt orchestral dissolve and a quick ending. This is likely due to the remixing of the album which took place in 1978 after it was discovered that the original master tapes had begun to deteriorate. For this reason, the original 1967 stereo mix has never seen a CD release with all modern versions of the album derived from the later remix.
The album reaches a dramatic climax with “Nights in White Satin”, another timeless composition by Hayward. As the first single from this album, the song was a huge international hit despite its long-running length. After the chart success of other long songs such as “Hey Jude” and “Layla”, “Knights In White Satin” was re-released in 1972 and it charted even higher, reaching #2 on Billboard chart and #1 on several other charts, with even a Spanish-language version, “Noches de Seda”, topping charts in some countries. The song was written by Hayward at age 19 and dissolves into the Edge’s spoken-word poem “Late Lament” to finish the album.
Days of Future Passed was a hodge-podge of orchestral and rock arrangements of compositions by several young musicians, along with some spoken word poetry and newer electronic effects (such as the inclusion of the mellotron during key parts of key songs). Somehow it all works without conflict and this bold and ambitious original effort set the Moody Blues up to produce several more original classics in subsequent years.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
I have been a fan of The Doors music since I was about 12 or 13 and have constantly gone back and forth over which is their absolute best album. This has been an impossible task because, as one who discovered their music a full decade after the death of vocalist Jim Morrison, all six of their original studio albums have been equally timeless in my opinion. As a music critic, however, I must take a fresh listen to a lot of the music I’ve “known” all my life and give an honest, sober, critical opinion using my more mature listening skills. From this perspective, I have concluded that the Doors first two albums are even BETTER than I remember. So it is today that I have the daunting yet rewarding labor of love that is reviewing The Doors and Strange Days together.
Of course, in this process I’ve tried to discern which is the greater work and these two albums have, at different times nudged ahead of each other. The albums are very similar with each having a handful of radio-friendly “pop” songs, perhaps one romantic ballad, and an extended tour-de-force to cap off the album. The establishment rock press has long given The Doors the edge due to its innovative breakthrough, and there is some merit to that, However, I could not see choosing one over the other for my own “desert island” list. One one hand, Strange Days has a slight edge in that it is solid throughout and there are no weak filler songs (of which there are a few on The Doors). Also, “Days” has a slightly better climactic ending with “When the Music’s Over” as compared to its “parent” song “The End” (that’s right, I actually said that!) But on the other hand, Strange Days has nothing comparable to “Light My Fire”, a unique song in the history of rock, nor does it contain any brilliant cover interpretations like “Alabama Song” or “Back Door Man”.
The heart of any discussion about The Doors revolves around Morrison, the genius poet who lived in his life on the edge until his death at age 27. And Morrison made a remarkable evolution during that year of 1967. He came into the year as a shy, unseasoned performer who was unsure of his voice and would turn away from the crowd when onstage. By year’s end, as the Doors fame was at its absolute peak, Morrison had morphed into the rash, master of improvisation who taunted police officers while onstage in New Haven, CT to the point where the show was halted and Morrison was arrested and dragged off stage. But what really struck me when revisiting the music this week, is how musically advanced each of these album are sonically.
Much of the credit for the overall sound has to go to producer Paul Rothchild, who spent about four times as long mixing and mastering as the band did with the actual recording. However, the musicians themselves – guitarist <strong, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – brought an excellent and eclectic mix of diverse styles and influences. They stepped forward and shined to make excellent music, but also showed remarkable restraint when necessary and faded into the background to offer the perfect canvas for Morrison to forge his poetic nuggets.
Released: January 4, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, August 1966
Break On Through
The Crystal Ship
Twentieth Century Fox
Light My Fire
Back Door Man
I Looked At You
End Of the Night
Take It As It Comes
Released: September 25, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, March-May 1967
You’re Lost, Little Girl
Love Me Two Times
People Are Strange
My Eyes Have Seen You
I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind
When the Music’s Over
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals Robbie Krieger – Guitars Ray Manzarek – Keyboards, Piano, Bass John Densmore – Drums
The Doors album was released during the very first week of 1967. It was on the cutting edge of modern music during a historic year for rock n roll on many fronts. However, the actual recording procedures were quite antiquated. Recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood over six days, Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick used a 4-track tape machine for all recording and overdubbing (to put this in perspective, by the early 1970s top albums were recorded on 24 tracks). What Rothchild and Botnick lacked in modern technology, they made up for in proficiency and genius.
Ironically for such a breakthrough album, both the opening and closing songs had parts which were censored. In a section of the closer “The End”, Morrison repeats “fuck” repeatedly, but this was buried so far in the mix to be unintelligible. The opening song, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” originally contained the lyrics; “She gets high, she gets high”, which was truncated to simply “She gets…, she gets…” Aside from this unfortunate omission, the song is the absolute perfect opener for the album and the band itself. The band’s unofficial motto was “Where you see a wall, we see a door” and “Break on Through” is the perfect musical articulation of this. The piece also showcases the talents of each member, beginning with an infectious groove led by Densmore’s jazz-flavored drums and Manarek’s Fender Rhodes keyboard bass groove. Kreiger plays an adaptation of a Paul Butterfield blues riff, while Morrison provides some shredding vocals to make the mission and message completely unambiguous.
A more moderate groove follows with “Soul Kitchen”. Kreiger plays a funk/soul riff that he says was trying to emulate the horn section of a typical James Brown song. Manzarek’s key bass is “doubled up” in unison with session bassist Larry Knechtel to further highlight the “soul” aspect of the song. The song is a tribute to a restaurant in Venice Beach which often let Morrison sleep overnight while he was homeless in 1965. “The Crystal Ship” may be one of the few traditional “love songs” in the band’s catalog. Morrison croons like early Frank Sinatra while Manzarek shows that he is also an impressive pianist.
“Twentieth Century Fox” is the first boilerplate “pop song” on the album, using the cleaver double-entendre hook in a piece meant for nothing more than dancing. However the next track, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” couldn’t be further from a traditional pop/rock track. Written in 1927 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the song was used in various operas as “Whisky Bar” or “Moon over Alabama”. The song was presented to the band by Manzarek and adapted with updated lyrics, becoming an entertaining part of their live sets.
Although composition credit for all songs on The Doors went to the band as a whole, the album’s primary writers were actually Morrison and Krieger. One day, the guitarist presented a mellow folk song to the band called “Light My Fire”. Impressed by the interesting chord changes, the rest of the band kicked in and built upon the simple song with Densmore providing a Latin beat, Morrison adding some lyrics and Manzarek coming up with the famous, signature keyboard run. Further, the band added a long “jam” section in the middle of the song as a showcase for their musical talents, inflating the song’s duration to over seven minutes. The song would go on to become the band’s first number one hit and probably their most famous ever. José Feliciano’s cover version won a Grammy a few years later and the song was used in television commercials (something Morrison was vehemently opposed to). It was also the subject of controversy on the Ed Sullivan Show, when the band was told they couldn’t use the “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, but Morrison sang the original lyric anyway.
The second side of the debut album starts with “Back Door Man”, a blues song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. The Doors version includes some wild howling and screaming by Morrison above an intense, pulsating beat by the band members, making the whole recording very sexual in nature. This is something Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin would replicate in their earliest recordings a few years later.
The middle part of the second side contains three short song. haunting “End of the Night” was one of the earliest Doors songs, written in 1965. Musically, Kreiger shines brightest here, with Morrison borrowing the title and key lyric from William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence”. This song is sandwiched between two more upbeat numbers. “I Looked at You” is a pure California sixties pop song, with an almost surfer-like vibe, while “Take It As It Comes” plays on the “time for everything” theme, no doubt inspired by The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn Turn”.
This all leads to “The End”, the aptly named climax of The Doors debut album. Originally written by Morrison as a “breakup song”, the track morphed into a dark 12-minute opus which employed the outer boundaries of musical forms by the band members. During a spoken-word section midway through the song, Morrison added a nod to the Oedipus complex;
Father…Yes son? I want to kill you / Mother, I want to …”
Reportedly, the first time this song was performed with that part, it simultaneously got the band fired from their gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and signed with Elektra Records. The track that ended up on the album was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs whatsoever and captures a masterful moment in time where a quiet and soft ballad erupts into a crazy and dynamic seance. The song is esteemed both musically and and culturally and it made The Doors an instant classic in 1967.
Although the debut had far from reached its peak, the band returned to the studio in March to record the follow-up which would become Strange Days. Many of the songs for this new album had been written alongside the ones that appeared on The Doors, and some may contend that the best of them had already been used on the debut album. But, if this is true (and I’m not really sure that it is), then what the doors lacked in originality they more than made up for in musical prowess. The result is the hardest rocking album the band would ever produce and a real unsung influence on artists for decades to come.
“Strange Days” is the lead off title song, a frenzied barrage of music which uses some wild telephonic sound effects on the guitars and vocals. Although the first album had its moments of intensity, there was nothing like the throbbing rhythms of pure majesty which fill this song from beginning to end. Much of the credit here has to go to session bassist Douglass Lubahn, who really added quality low-end to the studio tracks which were hard to replicate during the quartet’s live performances (as impressive as they were). Lyrically, the song is totally about debauchery and sin, and the ultimate comeuppance;
Bodies confused, memories misused / As we run from the day to a strange night of stone…”
Lubahn also shines on the much more restrained following track, “You’re Lost, Little Girl”. This song is so well-crafted musically, blending subtly textured instrumentation that it is hardly noticeable how minimalist and repetitive the lyrics are.
“Love Me Two Times” shows yet another dimension of the band, combining a cool rockabilly riff with a more modern melody and intense rock changes. It’s radio-friendly overtones tend to mask the strong underlying sexual message, making it at once a light and bouncy pop tune and an adult-oriented blues piece.
Although the Doors are often labeled as a “psychedelic” band, the truth is the only really dabbled in this form and it was never really a centerpiece of their central sound. That being said, Strange Days does enter a bit of a psychedelic phase near the end of the first side. “Unhappy Girl” explores some odd patterns and piano effects by Manzarek and backwards tape masking, resulting in a haunting undertone to the all-too-cheery vocals by Morrison. “Horse Latitudes” is a short poem that Morrison wrote as a teen, based on a painting he had seen. On the album, the band does some odd noise making to try and enhance this poem, but it is Morrison’s deliverance that really carries the track.
Proving that the band can leap from poetry to pop without violating some mysterious sense of form, “Moonlight Drive” follows to close the first side of Strange Days. This was the Doors’ earliest original composition, the first song Morrison sang to Manzarek when first discussing the idea of forming a band. A long staple of their early set list, the studio version adapted Krieger’s new slide guitar technique, giving an added dimension to the funky jounce of Manzarek’s piano. Morrison provides romantic yet philosophical lyrics throughout as the song continues to gain momentum and intensity. The Doors were always more about personal power than “flower power” and Morrison in particular advocated personal freedom through testing every limit. “Moonlight Drive” illustrates this view perfectly in a very entertaining fashion.
The second side of Strange Days starts with “People Are Strange”, the first single released from the album (while “Light My Fire” was still high on the charts) in the autumn of 1967. The song has a European cabaret quality and is a very short and catchy number. Written primarily by Krieger, the song morphs from a simple guitar ballad to a light and bouncy piano/keyboard dominated number with a simple, two-note bass line and lyrics which seem to be influenced by LSD. “My Eyes Have Seen You” is a pure rock song, which fits well with some of the poppier stuff from the first album, complete with Morrison returning to the shredding, screaming vocals. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” seems to have been influenced by Brian Jones and his mid-sixties work with the Rolling Stones, especially with its use of the marimba.
Just as the album begins in a rock frenzy, it completes with the 11-minute rock epic “When the Music’s Over”. Structurally, it is built similar to the end, with opening and closing verse hooks wrapped around a long poetic interlude by Morrison. But this journey is much less dark and much more like a religious journey examining the soul. Morrison assumes the role shaman, while the musicians reach for the unexplored using their remarkable capacity for musical theatrics. Kreiger plays an acid-hot guitar intermixed with a theremin, while Manzarek bounces along with melodic keys and heartbeat bass line and Densmore performs some impressive, double-jointed drumming. Lyrically, Morrison coins some of his most famous phrases;
The face in the mirror won’t stop, the girl in the window won’t drop / A feast of friends, ‘Alive!’ she cried, waiting for me outside…”
Without a doubt, part of the band’s success was their “When The Music’s Over” became a vehicle for the quartet to quite literally propel themselves into the heady and rarefied space that true improvisation will construct for both performer and audience alike.
Strange Days is more surreal than psychedelic and it showed the world that the debut album was no fluke. Rothchild had high hopes for this second album, even later admitting that he thought it might “be bigger than anything The Beatles had done”. It was not, faring not quite as well as the debut critically or commercially (even though it did reach #3 and spawned two Top 40 hits). It’s lack of larger success may have been due to it curiously being released in September ’67, the same month when its predecessor The Doors was peaking at #2 on the album charts.
The Doors put out four more solid studio albums plus a double-live album over the next four years and had much further success and added to their brief but potent legacy. However, the band never did quite regain the tremendous momentum that they had in 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
It may be a bit controversial to name a decidedly “retro” album as the album of the year for any particular year. Many rock fans who reflect back on the era of the early nineties, and the year 1992 in particular, will rightfully think of the alternative or “grunge” craze which had then fully materialized. But Classic Rock Review is all about timelessness in rock, and Harvest Moon by Neil Young may have sounded like something that should have been made 20 years earlier, but 20 years later it holds up as well as anything from 1992. So we chose this restrained, Nashville-produced, Americana classic over anything that came out of Seattle that year.
Much speculation has been made about the relationship of this album to Young’s 1972 album Harvest, with many labeling Harvest Moon as a “sequel” to that album two decades earlier. There certainly is a case to be made due to the similarities in title, the fact that both albums were recorded in Nashville with some of the same players (dubbed the “Stray Gators” by Young), Ben Keith on pedal Steel, Tim Drummand on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Then, of course, there is the plain fact that the albums are very similar in sound and arrangement. However, Young denied that there was a strong connection between the two albums in an interview;
“people see the correlation between the two, and it’s kind of a plus to be able to refer back 20 years and see the same people and do that. But the thrust of the albums is different, even though the subject matter is similar, so I tend to shy away more from comparisons between them…”
Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with vastly different styles from electronic to rockabilly to hard-edged electric rock. Previous to Harvest Moon he explored the outer limits of guitar noise with the 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded along with his sometime backing band, Crazy Horse. In this light, Young’s return to his predominant style of the 1970s, was just another radical turn in style. While most longtime fans and critics appreciated this move, some found his return the antipathy of spontaneity and therefore less ambitious.
Harvest Moonby Neil Young
Released: October 27, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Neil Young & Ben Keith Recorded: Redwood Digital, Woodside, Sep 1991-Feb 1992
From Hank to Hendrix
You and Me
War of Man
One of These Days
Such a Woman
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Banjo Ben Keith – Pedal Steel, Marimba Spooner Oldham – Piano, Keyboards Tim Drummand – Bass Kenny Buttrey– Drums
The opening track on Harvest Moon is “Unknown Legend”, a song of romance and imagination which tells of an adventurous woman who has settled into the relative obscurity of domestic life and middle age. The sound is intentionally retro and haunting with the deep reverb and a sparse, acoustic arrangement beneath the strong melody which is harmonized by Linda Rondstadt. The song’s lyrics are bittersweet and poetic;
“the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes…”
“From Hank to Hendrix” is a self-reflective county-rock song which speaks of Young’s own diverse influences and is led by a strong harmonica riff musically while it lyrically sounds like it may have been influenced by younger contemporaries like Tom Petty. “You and Me” is the most direct link back to Harvest, with strong elements of “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done” evident implicitly and explicitly. It is a personal and introspective ballad with a very sparse arrangement of just acoustic guitar and vocals by Young and Nicolette Larsen who does some fine harmonizing.
What truly makes the album a masterpiece is the absolute masterpiece of a title song, “Harvest Moon”. The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.
The middle of the album contains a couple more Neil Young classics. “War of Man” is dark folk with an Americana aura throughout, where Young comments on the destructive tendencies of mankind. It contains a haunting acoustic arrangement with some interesting presence by Drummand on bass, who breaks into an almost-rock rhythm towards the end. In comparison to the cynical “War of Man”, the next song “One Of These Days” could not be more different in tone, although similar in overall quality as a song. It is a song of gratitude and appreciation of friends and acquaintances, set to a moderate Nashville beat with more great melodies and harmonies.
The album next thins a bit with the all-to-soft piano and orchestral ballad “Such a Woman” and the frivolous “Old King”, which is only finds salvation with the fine banjo picking by Young. However, the album does end strong with the return to the solid, Nashville-influenced accessibility in “Dreamin’ Man” and the ten minute, live acoustic closer “Natural Beauty”. This last song is a gentle, minor-key folk song which uses nature as an allegory for love.
Harvest Moon was Young’s 21st overall album and, although it was highly reflective, it was far from his last. In fact, just this month (June 2012) Young released his 34th overall album, a collection of traditional standards called Americana, which he recorded along with Crazy Horse. It may seem absurd to suggest that Young may still be around making music in yet another 20 years, when he’ll be age 86. But we wouldn’t bet against it.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
The band which practically invented the genre of dark alternative metal, Alice In Chains bridged the gap between the “traditional” heavy metal and the new, alternative inspired “fusion” metals which began to proliferate in the 1990s. With their second album, Dirt the band really came of age. The album was very well received by music critics and sold well commercially, having been certified platinum four times over. Like their 1990 debut album Facelift, this album was produced by Dave Jerden, with songs primarily written on the road prior to entering the studio. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell has stated that Dirt was the band’s best work.
There is no doubt that the material on this album has a very dark feel throughout. Themes such as depression, war, death, nihilism, and especially drug abuse are explored thoroughly in the morbid lyrics and suitably complemented by the slow, methodical, bleak and doomy music and melody. Lead singer Layne Staley was in the middle of his constant struggle with substance abuse (which he would ultimately lose at the age of 34) and he had recently quit a stunt in rehab. The other band members were also struggling with various chemical dependency and depression ailments and were not shy about laying their soul bare on this album. As Cantrell recently stated;
“I was going through a tough time, everyone was, but that’s what made the album stronger and more intense, I look back on that period of time as the longest four years of sex, drugs and alcohol we all went through…”
The band’s roots date back to 1987 in Seattle when Staley first met Cantrell in 1987. In between the band’s debut in 1990 and Dirt in 1992, Seattle suddenly became an international “scene” with the phenomenal success of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. As a result, Alice In Chains were suddenly marketed as an “alternative” band, instead of their traditional heavy metal billing in order to help build anticipation for the new album. This strategy worked because the band was hard enough for metal fans, yet dark and punk-influenced enough to join the ranks of the grunge bands.
Dirtby Alice In Chains
Released: September 29, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Dave Jerden & Alice in Chains Recorded: Various Locations, March-May 1992
Dam That River
Rain When I Die
Down In a Hole
Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
Hate To Feel
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals Mike Starr – Bass Sean Kinney– Drums
Dirt balances heavy rock sounds with textured acoustic numbers and the album spawned five singles; “Them Bones”, “Down in a Hole”, “Rooster”, “Angry Chair”, and “Would?”, the album’s closer which was actually the lead single. Starting with an excellent bass by Mike Starr (who left the band after the album’s release) “Would?” works its way through fine verses and choruses before it ends abruptly following a climatic bridge. The song was written in memory of Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Seattle band Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose in 1990.
On the opposite end of the album, it begins with “Them Bones”, in an instant, explosive beginning. The song builds tension through the verse with its layered guitars of differing sonic distances and odd 7/8 beat signature. Cantrell bluntly said of the song;
“I was just thinking about mortality, that one of these days we’ll end up a pile of bones…”
“Down in a Hole” contains some eighties-style guitars (unique on the album) and maintains a very slow drum beat by Sean Kinney, leaving all of the movement to the guitars and bass. Cantrell was at first hesitant to present the song to the band, feeling that it may be too “soft”, but surprisingly got a positive response and they recorded it. “Angry Chair”, written by Staley, is more riff and accent oriented.
“Rooster” is the most purely alternative, and perhaps the strongest overall song on the album. It is slow and moody with deeply chorus-saturated, strummed guitars which later give way to piercing, distorted, heavy guitars. Lyrically, the song paints a masterful picture of Cantrell’s father and his Vietnam experience. Jerry Cantrell Sr. went by the nickname “Rooster” since childhood, which coincidentally was also a common reference to men carrying the M60 machine gun due to the the muzzle flash from which makes an outline or pattern reminiscent of a rooster’s tail. The constant alternating between the dreamy verses, and surging, explosive choruses masterfully captures the fits and starts of combat, especially the first person experience in Vietnam.
“Dam That River” is steady and riff driven, with harmonized vocals during the verses and Staley alone during “choruses”. It contains a decent lead after second verse before reaching an abrupt ending. “Rain When I Die” has a bass beginning, odd rhythm, doomy guitars during long intro before breaks into a repetitive guitar riff but with some of the best sounding guitars on the album (with the exception for maybe “Rooster”). “Sickman” features a mechanical drum beat and falls into that grove initially before deprecating into a slow, waltz-like break, It repeats this pattern and expands on the slow part during the bridge with some great Brian May-like guitars. It is really like two songs in one constantly alternating like the Beatles’ “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”
Dirt is commonly seen by fans as Alice in Chains’ album dedicated to the experience of heroin use. Honestly, the whole junky thing does get old when beaten to death and it feels at times like going into the darkness is just a game to the composers. From the listener’s point-of-view it may get to the point of like watching a stale old movie plot, reused over again. This is especially true during a sequence of songs later in the album starting with the Black Sabbath-esque “Junkhead”, followed by the suicidal “Dirt”, and “God Smack”, which does redeem itself partially by actually celebrating the joys of heroin abuse and stepping away from the doom-and-gloom for one song. “Hate to Feel” almost sounds like it belongs in some kind of rock opera, and briefly rips off “Dazed and Confused” during middle. It is this bit of repetitiveness that holds the album back a step from full-fledged classic status.
All that being said, the album was a critical success and is often considered to be one of the best rock records of the 1990s. Although the band’s status and artistic output continued through the better part of the decade, the underlining issues never really went away. The band ceased touring soon after the release of Dirt, Staley later also disappeared from recording and the group never did quite fulfill their potential.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
One of the hardest working bands of the late 1980s, Soul Asylum finally broke though in 1992 with Grave Dancers Union. Made up of well-composed three and four minute songs, the album contains an amazing amount of genre diversity as well as tidbits of experimentation without every elongating any one section or theme unnecessarily. Each song stands out in its own way, with no two sounding completely alike. There are very few weak, filler-level tracks, while the standouts are very strong. While the album is brilliant musically throughout, it does fluctuate lyrically between deep, poetic lyrics and some which are cheap and trite. But that being said, this is one of the best albums of 1992 and it nicely straddles the line between the predominant genre of the day, alternative, and many other sub-genres of rock n’ roll.
This is officially the sixth studio album by the Minneapolis quintet, preceded by three independent releases in 1986 and two more on the A&M label – Clam Dip & Other Delights in 1989, And the Horse They Rode In On in 1990. The band also toured relentlessly during these years while forging their sound from its early punk roots to the modern alternative with many other elements thrown in. However they a hard time breaking beyond a regional act and, due to weak sales from these latter two albums, the band was dropped from the A&M label. In the early 1990s, the band re-formed as an unplugged, acoustic act, which caught the attention of Columbia Records and led to this initial album for that label.
The album marks the emergence of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner as the true “front man” for the group, a role he was hesitant to embrace in the past but a key role in the chemistry of the band’s sound and image. The sessions for this album did not go without controversy as producer Michael Beinhorn grew dissatisfied with the performance of drummer Grant Young midway through the sessions. He brought in Sterling Campbell, who had vast experience with acts such as David Bowie and Duran Duran. Campbell recorded the latter sessions for the album and eventually replaced Young as Soul Asylum’s permanent drummer in the mid 1990s.
Grave Dancers Unionby Soul Asylum
Released: October 6, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Michael Beinhorn Recorded: The Powerstation and River Sound, New York City, May 1992
Somebody To Shove
Keep It Up
Get On Out
Without a Trace
Growing Into You
The Sun Maid
Dave Pirner – Guitars, Horn Arrangements, Vocals Dan Murphy – Guitar, Vocals Karl Mueller – Bass Grant Young– Drums
The album starts fast and strong with “Somebody to Shove”, an upbeat and catchy rocker with many elements of alternative or “grunge” rock. The tense verse builds to a release on the chorus which flows smoothly to the punk-like hook title of the song, which tells the classic story of the fool in suspended anticipation. “Black Gold” follows with a good acoustic intro and interesting changes, but is a little convoluted and weak lyrically. Written by Pirner, this was one of five singles spawned from Grave Dancers Union.
By far the most popular of these singles was “Runaway Train”, the band’s biggest hit ever. The song brought the band to international status and won the Grammy for the best rock song in 1994. Some believe the title derived from a 1980s review of the band, which described their sound as “an unholy mix of Kiss and Hank Williams tossed under a runaway train”. However, the popular video for the song focused on the “runaway” aspect, displaying several photos of teenage runaways who were still missing at the time. Musically, the song is acoustic throughout, even during the guitar lead by Dan Murphy with some Hammond organ added by sessionist Booker T. Jones III. The song also contains some of the most profound lyrics on the album;
“And everything seems cut and dry, day and night, earth and sky, somehow I just don’t believe it…”
The middle part of the album sees the band exploring many sub-genres. “Keep It Up” can either be described as a nod back to 80s-style power pop or a precursor to the soon-to-arrive Collective Soul sound. In either case, it contains a heavy bass presence by Karl Mueller along with subdued vocals by Pirner. “Homesick” is a Stonesy slow country-rock revival love song, which is melancholy yet a very pleasant listen with some philosophical lyrics to boot. “New World” has an odd timed beat and a fantastic, melancholy vibe, while arranged masterfully by its constant return to the fine main acoustic riff. “April Fool” kicks off with a heavy metal riff and beat before the fits and stops of an Alice Cooper-like breaks in the verse, all topped off by multi-layered guitar parts.
“Without a Trace” is the default title song of the album, containing the lyric which gave Grave Dancers Union its title. In recent years, Pirner has dedicated the song to the memory of Mueller, who died cancer seven years ago today on June 17, 2005.
The album completes with a couple of average songs – the upbeat “Growing Into You” and the effects-laden “99%” –before the climatic concluding track “The Sun Maid”. This pleasant acoustic ballad with nice, Beatlesque strings from the Meridian String Quartet, shows the full promise of the band’s songwriting talent and ends the album on a strong note.
Within a year of its release, Grave Dancers Union was certified triple-platinum and has been, by far the top selling album by Soul Asylum. They have slowly released albums fairly consistently since then, with a new album every third-to-half decade or so, each with moderate acclaim and sales. The band plans to release a new studio album called Delayed Reaction in July 2012, their first release since 2006.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
Blind Melon is the 1992 debut album by the rock band of the same name. The album was an international seller due primarily to the breakthrough hit “No Rain” along with a few other minor hits. With producer Rick Parashar, the band approached production of the album to be intentionally devoid of any digital effects or any 1990’s production techniques in an attempt to make a “classic” sounding record. This extended to the use of out-of-date amplifiers and instrumentation. The results were mixed with some tracks enhanced by the “vintage” sound and others just sounding muddled and under-developed.
Although often mis-labeled as a “Seattle” band, the album was merely recorded in Seattle. The band itself was formed in Los Angeles and made up of personnel from the South and Midwest. Blind Melon came together in 1990 when vocalist Shannon Hoon, an Indiana native met guitarist Rogers Stevens and bassist Brad Smith, both from Mississippi. Stevens and Smith eventually persuaded fellow-Mississippi drummer Glen Graham to come to L.A. and a second guitarist, Christopher Thorn rounded out the quintet. Although the band’s rise in L.A. was rather rapid, they were signed to Capitol Records in 1991, they eventually decided that they did not “fit in” with that scene and relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they were able to rent a house big enough for them and their equipment and work on new material for their first album.
The iconic cover art is based on a 1975 photograph of Graham’s younger sister in an awkward bee costume and was carried through for the band’s videos which used a modern day actor who resembled the younger Graham.
Blind Melonby Blind Melon
Released: September 14, 1992 (Capitol) Produced by: Rick Parashar & Blind Melon Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, February-June 1992
Soak the Sin
Tones Of Home
Dear Ol’ Dad
Seed To a Tree
Shannon Hoon – Lead Vocals, Guitar Rogers Stevens – Lead Guitars Christopher Thorn – Guitar, Mandolin Brad Smith – Bass, Flute, Vocals Glenn Graham – Drums, Percussion
Blind Melon opens up with a multi-part jam song called “Soak the Sin”, which is slightly reminiscent of what Pearl Jam was doing on their debut, but with a looser structure. This is followed up by the funk-driven “Tones of Home”, a better structured single with a nice rhythm by Smith and Graham. However, the lyrics here are a bit trite and immature –
“I thought that this would be the land of milk and honey, but I’ve come to find out that it’s all hate and money…”
“I Wonder” adds a lot of diverse parts, starting with an acoustic intro and winding through several riff-driven sections. There is a sense of hesitation and under-development as the players appear to follow Hoon through the various changes. This begins a section of the album where Blind Melon seems to be on the brink of making strong and interesting rock music but had not allow the time for the songs to properly ripen. “Paper Scratcher” and “Dear Ol Dad” illustrate this perfectly, with the only real highlight being the acoustic lead by Stevens.
The heart of the album is two back-to-back songs in the middle. “Change” is the first of these, a nice acoustic ballad with brilliant harmonica and mandolin overtones by Thorn. It is a coming-of-age song with poetic lyrics and fine performances by everyone, showing that this band definitly had potential to develop into a top-notch act.
The other great song on the album is, of course, “No Rain”, by far the most popular song by the band. Although its popularity was fueled by the brilliant MTV video that depicts a bee girl trying to find her niche in the world, the musical credentials of the song itself make it an entertaining and timeless classic decades later. It contains a most unusual arrangement where Stevens’ lead and Thorn’s acoustic are given’ prime attention with just sparse rhythm intervening mostly for effect. This all adds as a perfect canvas for Hoon’s fantastic vocals, unmistakably clear and present and a bright signpost along the highway that is 1990’s music.
Unfortunately, the album really falls off and these highlights, with the final six tracks not adding much in terms of originality or entertainment that is not already present earlier on the album. Of these, only the closer “Time’ offers much in way of ambition, as the band attempts to summarize the themes of the previous twelve tracks to end the album.
Like many rock band’s Blind Melon‘s turn at fame was meteoric and cut short tragically. Shortly after releasing the band’s follow-up album Soup in 1995, lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose, abruptly ending the band’s rise.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.