The Doors and Strange Days, 1967

The Doors 1967 Albums

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Buy Strange Days

The Doors and Strange Days, 1967I 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.

The Doors debut albumThe Doors
Released: January 4, 1967 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, August 1966
Side One Side Two
Break On Through
Soul Kitchen
The Crystal Ship
Twentieth Century Fox
Alabama Song
Light My Fire
Back Door Man
I Looked At You
End Of the Night
Take It As It Comes
The End
Strange Days by The DoorsStrange Days
Released: September 25, 1967 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, March-May 1967
Side One Side Two
Strange Days
You’re Lost, Little Girl
Love Me Two Times
Unhappy Girl
Horse Latitudes
Moonlight Drive
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 DoorsThe 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.

The Doors

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.

Strange Days by The DoorsAlthough 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.

The Doors in 1967

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.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

1992 Album Of the Year

Harvest Moon by Neil Young

1992 Album Of the Year

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Harvest Moon by Neil Young 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 Moon by Neil Young
Released: October 27, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Neil Young & Ben Keith
Recorded: Redwood Digital, Woodside, Sep 1991-Feb 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Unknown Legend
From Hank to Hendrix
You and Me
Harvest Moon
War of Man
One of These Days
Such a Woman
Old King
God Smack
Dreamin’ Man
Natural Beauty
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Banjo
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel, Marimba
Spooner Oldham – Piano, Keyboards
Tim Drummand – Bass
Kenny Buttrey– Drums
 
Harvest Moon by Neil Young

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.

Neil Young 1992

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.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

 

Dirt by Alice In Chains

Dirt by Alice In Chains

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Dirt by Alice In ChainsThe 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.

 


Dirt by Alice In Chains
Released: September 29, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden & Alice in Chains
Recorded: Various Locations, March-May 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Them Bones
Dam That River
Rain When I Die
Down In a Hole
Sickman
Rooster
Junkhead
Dirt
God Smack
Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
Hate To Feel
Angry Chair
Would?
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Starr – Bass
Sean Kinney– Drums
 
Dirt by Alice In Chains

 

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.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

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Grave Dancers Union by Soul AsylumOne 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 Union by Soul Asylum
Released: October 6, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Michael Beinhorn
Recorded: The Powerstation and River Sound, New York City, May 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Somebody To Shove
Black Gold
Runaway Train
Keep It Up
Homesick
Get On Out
New World
April Fool
Without a Trace
Growing Into You
99%
The Sun Maid
Dave Pirner – Guitars, Horn Arrangements, Vocals
Dan Murphy – Guitar, Vocals
Karl Mueller – Bass
Grant Young– Drums
 
Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

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.

Runaway Train singleBy 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.

~

1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Blind Melon

Blind Melon

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Blind MelonBlind 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 Melon by Blind Melon
Released: September 14, 1992 (Capitol)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Blind Melon
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, February-June 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Soak the Sin
Tones Of Home
I Wonder
Paper Scratcher
Dear Ol’ Dad
Change
No Rain
Deserted
Sleepyhouse
Holyman
Seed To a Tree
DriveTime
Shannon Hoon – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rogers Stevens – Lead Guitars
Christopher Thorn – Guitar, Mandolin
Brad Smith – Bass, Flute, Vocals
Glenn Graham – Drums, Percussion
 
BlindMelon

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.

~

1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Abbey Road Studios, London

The Beatles First
Abbey Road Session

Abbey Road Studios, LondonAt the very end of The Beatles’ very last live performance, an improvised concert on the roof of a building in January 1969, John Lennon jokingly stated, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” This, of course, was met with laughter at the absurdity of the most popular band in the world having to pass an audition. But there was a time when the Beatles did audition on a regular basis (and didn’t always pass those auditions). The last real audition by the band was held less than seven years prior to that rooftop concert, and they were far from assured whether they would “pass” that one. It was held on June 6, 1962 at what would later be re-named Abbey Road Studios.

That was exactly a half century ago today. On that day, no one involved could have possibly imagined how historically connected this building in London and that shaggy rock band from Liverpool would become. Within 18 months, the Beatles would become the top rock band in the world, remain so until their breakup in 1970, and to this day remain the most popular act ever. This despite the fact that the band completely stopped touring midway through their career, relying solely on their studio recordings to maintain their fame, and these recordings have become legendary. And, with the exception of the Let It Be sessions, every one of the band’s singles, albums, and film soundtracks was recorded at this studio, with the band’s final studio album being a dedication which bore the name Abbey Road. Check out any major publication’s top whatever list of all-time albums and you’re likely to find multiple Beatles albums in the top ten, all of which were likely recorded at this studio.
(SIDE NOTE: Classic Rock Review does not make such lists, but we do extensively review each important album. The Beatles’ Revolver was reviewed last year, with Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour coming later this summer, while the rest will be scheduled during their respective anniversary years)

The Quarrymen in 1958The four band members arrived together at what was then known as EMI Studios at 3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London in a beat-up white van. Although they were four, they weren’t quite yet the “fab four”. The core three members – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – had been together since 1957 when they went by the name The Quarrymen. Each was a guitarist with vocal abilities and a passion for American rock n roll. The group went through several rotating members in the early years, the most notable being bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, who is credited by many for coming up with the name “Beatles” (although Lennon later contended it was his idea). In 1960, the band landed their first gigs in Hamburg, Germany, but the club owner specifically wanted a five-piece band so they hired drummer Pete Best. When the first Hamburg tour abruptly ended (three band members were deported), Sutcliffe decided to stay with his German girlfriend and attend art school in Hamburg. McCartney moved over to bass and The Beatles were now a quartet of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Best.

After the band unloaded their gear for the session scheduled for 6:00 pm, the studio engineers were dissatisfied with the quality and shape of the amplifiers, especially McCartney’s bass rig. So the session was delayed for about an hour while the crew went down to one of the studio’s famous echo chambers in the basement of the building to retrieve a suitable bass speaker and solder the appropriate inputs. The band members were directed to the building’s canteen where they nervously sipped tea and awaited the call to report to the sound stage. The building itself was already very old at that point. It was built in 1830 as a 9-bedroom townhouse along a footpath that lead to Kilburn Abbey. About a century later, in 1931, it was acquired by the Gramophone Company and converted into recording studios with the first recordings being of the London Symphony Orchestra. The company later amalgamated to form EMI (Electric and Musical Industries) an in 1957 it EMI acquired Capitol Records for distribution in American markets.

The Beatles at the Cavern, 1961Coming into 1962, it appeared to be a promising year for The Beatles. The previous year had seen ever greater success with further Hamburg gigs and a dedicated following back in Liverpool where they frequently headlined The Cavern Club. The band had backed up singer Tony Sheridan (as “The Beat Brothers”) for a single called “My Bonnie” which was making waves in Germany and caught the ear of a local Liverpool record store owner named Brian Epstein, who approached the band with an offer to manage them. Epstein got the band more money for gigs, better clothes, and their first real promise of landing a major record deal.

However, the early part of 1962 had been quite a bummer for the band thus far. They had performed their first major label studio audition for Decca in London on New Year’s Day, recording 15 tracks live. But by February, Decca had turned down the group because (in their infinite wisdom) they had concluded that “guitar music” was on the decline. Then in April the band received the tragic news that their former colleague Stuart Sutcliffe had died suddenly in Hamburg from a brain hemorrhage. All the while, Epstein was using the Decca audition tapes in an attempt to draw some interest from other major labels, but no one was biting. Finally, a producer and A&R man from EMI’s Parlophone label named George Martin gave the green light to audition the band in June.

Although Martin was the type of personality that wasn’t quick to dispose of any possibility, he did not sincerely believe that anything would come of this session. In fact, he had no intention of attending it personally, as he delegated production responsibilities to Ron Richards (the resident “rock n roll” guy). With Norman Smith as engineer, The Beatles started their first Abbey Road recording session at around 7:00 pm that evening.

John Lennon and Paul Mccartney at EMI Studios, 1962Now, this article may have thus far built up expectations that something truly magical happened on that day fifty years ago. But the truth is, this Beatles’ session was quite ordinary, even sub-par to the rejected Decca session recordings. In fact, the master tapes were soon destroyed when the record company determined there was nothing of commercial value from these sessions, so there was no “inferno” of musical genius or creativity. But there were several little “sparks” on that day which set the course of music history. The first of these came when the band first performed “Love Me Do”, which Smith recognized as a potential radio hit (in 1962, it was 100% about finding the next “radio hit”). He sent for George Martin down in the canteen and Martin came up to the control room and took over as producer for the rest of the session. The Beatles recorded four songs that night. Aside from “Love Me Do”, there were two more Lennon-McCartney originals; “P.S. I Love You” and “Ask Me Why”, and “Besame Mucho”, an old Latin crooner song that had been covered by The Coasters in 1960.

When the session wrapped up at around 10:00 pm, Martin called the band members into the control room and gave what was later described as a “lecture”. According to Smith;

…he gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists. They didn’t say a word, they didn’t even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’ I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’ That cracked the ice for us…”

Martin, whose specialty to that point was comedy and entertainment, was struck by the personalities, humor, and wit of the band members and within 15 minutes of giving his lecture he had decided to sign the band. However, Martin did have some problems with Pete Best’s drumming and later made it clear to Epstein that he reserved the right to enlist a drummer of his choosing for any future sessions. This final point was another spark from that day which ignited the Beatles’ destiny, as Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison decided to pursue the drummer they wanted all along, Ringo Starr.

Richard Starkey was a bit of a Liverpool legend to the rest of the Beatles. He was a little older, and had actually made some money as the long-time drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Around 1960, it was fashionable for all musicians to have a stage name (Lennon was “Long John”, McCartney was “Paul Rabon”, and George became “Carl Harrison”) and “Ringo Starr” was one of the few who actually kept his permanently. During a time when both bands were playing in Hamburg, Starr actually sat in with The Beatles when Best could not make a couple of gigs. Also, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, did a recording session with Starr at Akustik Studio in Hamburg in October 1960, backing up Hurricanes’ bassist Lu Walters on his cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Until Martin’s comments, The Beatles were not bold enough to try and poach Starr from his longtime band, but they decided the time was right to make the move and Starr agreed to join the band so long as he could finish out his committed dates with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In August 1962, Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the drummer of The Beatles and the true “fab four” were in place.

Fall 1962 Abbey Road sessions with Ringo StarrThe Beatles returned to Liverpool and resumed their regular gigs at the Cavern through the summer of 1962, not returning again to the Abbey Road studios until September. When they did return, there was a bit more turmoil as Martin had booked session drummer Alan White, not realizing that the group had replaced Best in the interim. So it was White who performed on Beatles’ first single “Love Me Do”, with Ringo Starr relegated to playing maracas and tambourine in order to receive pay for the sessions. However, the Beatles did assert themselves that future sessions include Ringo as a permanent member of the band. They also took a stand when Martin went to “Tin Pan Alley” to get them a “hit” song called “How Do You Do It?”. The band did record it, but refused to release it as a single saying they’d “never be able to show their face in Liverpool again”. Ironically, the song was later recorded by another Liverpool group, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and it did reach #1 on the U.K. charts.

Martin would not have to wait long for the Beatles to score their own #1 hit, “Please Please Me”, recorded in November and released in January, 1963. With this rapid success, EMI commissioned the production of the first Beatles’ album. On a single day – February 11, 1963 – the band recorded the bulk of what would become the Please Please Me album. The effect of this goliath session was best captured on the day’s final recording “Twist and Shout”, where Lennon’s voice is torn to shreds from the long day, giving it an unintended edge, which was one of the great happy accidents of rock history. The album was released by late March, and the rest as they say, is history.

Who knows what may have happened if The Beatles did not get that last “audition” on June 6, 1962? They were certainly a talented and determined band, and chances are we’d still be talking about them today anyway. But it is unlikely that the eternal marriage between The Beatles and Abbey Road would have come to be. Pete Best may have been a member of an alternate “fab four” and George Martin may have never realized his calling as rock’s greatest producer. Fortunately, things worked out in the way they were destined.

Also fortunate is the fact that one of the engineers secretly made mono copies of “Love Me Do” and “Besame Mucho” before the master tape from that session was destroyed, historically preserving some of the product of that historic day. This was not revealed until the 1980s, and these two tracks were finally released to the public on Anthology 1 in 1995, giving Pete Best his first ever royalties as a Beatle thirty-three years after the fact.

~

Ric Albano

Images And Words by Dream Theater

Images and Words by Dream Theatre

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Images And Words by Dream Theater Images and Words is the second studio album by Dream Theater, released in the summer of 1992. It is the first to feature vocalist James LaBrie and is considered one of the most influential albums ever for the genre of progressive metal, although it may be short-sighted to try and place this material into a well-defined box of any musical genre. On this album the music, vocals, and lyrics are in a constant exploration that appears to respect no boundaries of musical style. The result is a very diverse and complex masterpiece made up of a multitude of elements which, for the dedicated music fan, becomes more vivid with each subsequent listen.

Dream Theater’s seeds were planted in the mid 1980s when guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy, all attended the Berklee Schhol of Music in Boston. They formed a band called Majesty, along with keyboardist Kevin Moore and vocalist Chris Collins, who was later replaced by Charlie Dominici. After a name change due to a conflict, Dream Theater recorded their first album When Dream And Day Unite, released in 1989. During the subsequent tour however, the band became unsatisfied with Dominici’s vocals and his creative vision and he was released from the band. It would take two solid years until they found a satisfactory replacement, auditioning nearly 200 vocalists before LaBrie, formally of the Canadian band Winter Rose, sent the band an audition tape in 1991. With LaBrie on board, the band made anew audition tape and was soon signed to a seven album contract with Atco Records.

Beyond the band’s dedicated fans, Images and Words remains highly acclaimed by music critics and musicians alike. In a review of the album, critic Jonathan Scott stated;

The five musical prodigies of Dream Theater show here that they are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and shout, with unnaturally-sized drum kits and keyboardists equipped with mutant spider-fingers, that music, the art, cannot be condensed down to simple hooks and choruses…”

Providing historical context to the album, musician Jay Santos said;

“Although stemming from the late 80’s, their progressive style and superior and solid execution captured the attention of serious musicians hence giving them a safe place, protected from the grunge movement…”

Santos also pointed to the fact that the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs have long used portions of “Metropolis” as incidental music during their games, proving that while the band will never receive mainstream pop coverage, they still have still crossed over to mainstream culture.


Images and Words by Dream Theater
Released: July 7, 1992 (Atco)
Produced by: David Prater
Recorded: Bear Tracks Studios, New York, September-December 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Pull Me Under
Another Day
Take the Time
Surrounded
Metropolis, Pt. 1: Miracle and Sleeper
Under a Glass Moon
Wait for Sleep
Learning to Live
James LaBrie – Lead Vocals
John Petrucci – Guitars, Vocals
Kevin Moore – Keyboards
John Myung – Bass
Mike Portnoy– Drums, Vocals
 
Images and Words by Dream Theater

The album contains four extended pieces which clock in over 8 minutes apiece, each complex but with their own distinct signature. “Take the Time” begins very rudiment heavy before breaking into a funk section by Myung, who excels at bass throughout the track. While the song navigates through a multitude of sections reminiscent of early Genesis or Yes, it returns frequently to the main vocal hook and Petrucci’s signature lead riff. “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” is sprinkled with sonic candy with more great rudiments under the verse and plenty of space for virtuosity in its multiple parts. This piece never relents and keeps your ears perked at maximum attention as each band member shines brightly throughout, most especially Moore with a killer synth lead.

The closer “Learning to Live” starts off with more virtuoso instrumentation but is far more steady and subtle compared to other extended pieces. It is quite different than anything else on the album, with a more surreal quality which may take a few times to appreciate.

Pull Me Under singleThe opening song “Pull Me Under” has a long, building intro, before settling into a heavy metal riff by Petrucci and a double-kicked beat by Portnoy. Written by Moore, the lyrics are philosophical about life and death and contain a direct quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Despite being over eight minutes in length, the song was released as a single and peaked at #10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The album nicely counterbalances the extended tracks with more lighter, more conventional, and shorter tracks. “Another Day”, written by John Petrucci for his father, has been described as “prog metal meets Kenny G”. With its gently rocking piano and a couple saxophone leads by Jay Beckenstein, who rarely stepped away from playing “smooth jazz” before this session. “Surrounded” starts and ends as a ballad with a rotating key riff, accented by two piano chords but nicely morphs into a choppy, odd-timed rocker through the heart of the song.

The album’s diversity os once again displayed later on when the pure heavy metal “Under a Glass Moon”, frantic throughout and with all players at full throttle is followed by “Wait for Sleep”, a short and calm ballad containing mostly just piano and vocals. This latter track acts as the default title song for the album, containing its title in the lyric and describing the scene of the album’s cover.

Images and Words would become the first of a string of highly regarded albums that continues to this day, 20 years later, and is the most successful album to date commercially (although albums in recent years have fared better with chart positions). The band has gone through several personnel changes over the past two decades, with the most recent being the departure of founding drummer Mike Portnoy in 2010, who is now a member of Flying Colors (also reviewed today on our affiliate site Modern Rock Review). Still, Dream Theater keeps going strong with an album released in 2011 and another planned for later in 2012.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

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New Miserable Experience by Gin BlossomsReleased during the heyday of the grunge music movement, New Miserable Experience was the peak of Gin Blossoms‘s short-lived fame in the early 1990s. It consists of lean and jangly pop music that hearkened back to some of the college radio alternative pop of the 1980s such as The Replacements or R.E.M. The album was the band’s major-label debut after they had spent years building their popularity at the local level around Phoenix. However, the making of this album came with inner turmoil as chief songwriter and lead guitarist Doug Hopkins became an impediment by drinking heavily and growing stubborn and disillusioned with the recording process, which ultimately led to his termination from the band at the label’s insistence.

Hopkins’ writing credits included all four of the popular “hits” from the album, with his penchant for somber lyrics and notable melodies. He founded the Gin Blossoms in the mid 1980s and helped them develop into one of the most popular local bands in Tempe, AZ and facilitated independent record releases. Hopkins, who suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, was staunchly against the band signing with a major label, and this led to his downward spiral in the studio and eventual firing. Hopkins became increasingly despondent as the band rose to fame performing the songs he had written. Shortly after receiving a gold record for the song “Hey Jealousy”, he tore it off the wall and destroyed it. Ten days later, Hopkins committed suicide. As lead singer Robin Wilson later acknowledged; “Without Doug and his songwriting, we never could have signed a record deal.” Quite ironic.


New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms
Released: August 4, 1992 (A&M)
Produced by: John Hampton & Gin Blossoms
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN, 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Lost Horizons
Hey Jealousy
Mrs. Rita
Until I Fall Away
Hold Me Down
Cajun Song
Hands Are Tied
Found Out About You
Allison Road
29
Pieces Of the Night
Cheatin’
Robin Wilson – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Doug Hopkins – Guitars
Jesse Valenzuela – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Bill Leen – Bass
Phillip Rhodes– Drums, Percussion
 
New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms

The bulk of the hit songs on New Miserable Experience, were actually recorded three years earlier, in 1989, for the Gin Blossoms independent album Dusted. These included “Lost Horizons”, “Hey Jealousy”, “Cajun Song”, and “Found Out About You”. The opener “Lost Horizons” establishes the basic vibe of the album (which does not vary much throughout) with driving, bright guitars, subdued vocals and a steady, methodical rhythm. Lyrically, Hopkins addresses his own alcoholism and personal demons;

“I’ll drink enough of anything to make this world look new again, drunk, drunk, drunk in the gardens and graves…”

“Hey Jealousy” has a jangly power pop motif with more darkly confessional lyrics by Hopkins with a bit of emotional complexity. On Jesse Valenzuela‘s “Cajun Song”, the band displays more versatility with strong harmonies and country elements, something that is more fully explored later on the album’s closer “Cheatin'”. “Found Out About You” became the band’s only #1 hit, topping the Modern Rock Tracks, and the best pure pop song on the album, with a catchy hook and a melodic mix of guitar parts.

A few more of the more popular radio tracks include the melodic and restrained “Until I Fall Away” and “Allison Road”, which Has a Buddy Holly influenced beginning, and more pleasant and melodies and harmonies. Throughout the album, the rhythm section of bassist Bill Leen and drummer Phillip Rhodes, provide the steady and driving tempo which allows for movement on top end. This especially true on the album’s heavier tracks, “Mrs. Rita”, “Hold Me Down” and “Hands Are Tied”.

Many wondered if Gin Blossoms could replicate the success of New Miserable Experience without Hopkins songwriting. They did reach a level of success with their 1996 follow-up album and a few more hit singles, but by 1997 the band was finished and this album proved to be their apex.

~

1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Amused To Death by Roger Waters

Amused to Death by Roger Waters

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Amused To Death by Roger WatersFor what turned out to be his final solo studio album (to date, 20 years and counting), Roger Waters composed a complex (and often confused) concept album called Amused to Death. The title came from a book by author Neil Postman, which explored the history of the media and the concept (although cloudy) is of aliens arriving after the extinction of humans and finding all our skeletons sitting around television sets and trying to work out why it was that our end came before its time.  They come to the conclusion that we “amused ourselves to death”. While the album follows the same calm, storytelling, musically rich template of Waters’ two previous solo efforts, this album seems to be the most directly influenced by that material of Waters’ former band, Pink Floyd. In fact, there appears to be some direct sampling from Pink Floyd songs “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, “Echoes” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.

Lyrically, the album is brimming with hate on a variety of subjects from capitalism to America to religion to war to television to Stanley Kubrick to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Waters makes a few good points on these varied subjects, with the better use of sarcasm in these instances. However, the logic of the vast rants on Amused to Death is convoluted, such as when Waters somehow ties Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalists (deposed in 1949) to the slaughter at Tienanmen Square 40 years later by the very Communists that deposed them. He also applies moral relativism to the “Germans killing the Jews” and the “Jews killing the Arabs”. But the greatest offense may just be the mere fact that so much of the lyrical material seems dated and irrelevant, unlike past efforts which seem timeless and relevant to any era. Just take the example of Waters harping on television habits from his perspective at the dawn of the Internet age. A futurist, Mr. Waters is not.

Conversely, the album is superb musically. Waters’ enlisted legendary guitarist Jeff Beck to play lead guitar and a whole host of talent to provide additional music and vocal support. Amused to Death is mixed in QSound, a virtual surround sound, which enhances the spatial feel of the audio along with the various sound effects sprinkled throughout the album. The quality of production by Waters, Nick Griffiths, and Patrick Leonard is simply superb and makes this album worthwhile for any audiophile even if you like nothing else.


Amused to Death by Roger Waters
Released: September 7, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roger Waters, Nick Griffiths, & Patrick Leonard
Recorded: Various Locations, 1988-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Ballad of Bill Hubbard
What God Wants, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part II
The Bravery of Being Out of Range
Late Home Tonight, Part I
Late Home Tonight, Part II
Too Much Rope
What God Wants, Part II
What God Wants, Part III
Watching TV
Three Wishes
It’s a Miracle
Amused to Death
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer, Guitars
Jeff Beck – Guitars
Andy Fairweather Low – Guitars
Patrick Leonard – Piano, Keyboards
Graham Broad– Drums, Percussion
 
Amused to Death by Roger Waters

“The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” starts the album off with a spoken word story of the desperation of trying to save a comrade in the battle lines during World War I, recited in the first person by Alf Razell after some introductory David Gilmour-like guitar motifs by Jeff Beck, who continues to add licks even after the recital commences. The song abruptly “changes channels” into the upbeat and funky “What God Wants, Part I”, the first single from the album, banned by the BBC due to controversial lyrics. Driven by the bass of future American Idol judge Randy Jackson, we hear Waters voice for the first time on this track and it is quite clear that his voice is very rough and shot.

“Perfect Sense, Part I” contains a beautiful moody piano and dual lead vocals by Waters and female soul singer PP Arnold, while “Perfect Sense, Part II” contains a sequence where sports commentator Marv Albert darkly simulates a nuclear missile attack as a sporting event. “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” is musically the best song on the album, with a strong rock arrangement and interesting chord progressions, but it again comes off preachy lyrically.

The album settles down again with “Late Home Tonight” with some interesting strings and acoustic guitars accompanying Waters speaking before the calmness is shattered by the sound of a huge explosion. “Too Much Rope” features guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, who performed on Waters’ previous studio album Radio K.A.O.S. as well as many live tours. “Watching TV” is arranged like a happy-go-lucky acoustic country folk song with the very dark lyrical subject of the Tienanmen Square massacre, as Waters sings of his “yellow rose and her blood stained clothes”. Don Henley later shares lead vocals on the song.

The album concludes with three extended pieces, which many consider the climax of the album. “It’s a Miracle” is very sarcastic in content, with a tight composition and catchy melody. It highlights Waters very sharp satire with lyrics such as;

“We’ve got a warehouse of butter, we’ve got oceans of wine / We’ve got famine when we need it, got a designer crime / We’ve got Mercedes, we’ve got Porsche, Ferrari and Rolls Royce, we’ve got a choice…”

“Three Wishes” is a more personal song, a quality evident in the earlier works by Waters, with quality music and sad lyrics. The closing title song, “Amused to Death”, is a nine minute package of cynicism and sarcasm, with a tinge of hope at the end. The theme comes full circle as Bill Hubbard is laid to rest and memorialized.

There was no tour in support of Amused to Death and selections from the album were performed sparingly on future tours by Waters. As this may be the final studio output by the musical genius, it is worth a careful listen or two, even if it falls short of Roger Waters’ lyrical capabilities.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Automatic For the People by REM

Automatic For the People by R.E.M.

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Automatic For the People by REMAutomatic For the People is the eighth album by R.E.M., released in 1992 following their breakthrough Out of Time. Since the band did not tour to support that album, they were able to start writing and rehearsing for the next album shortly after its release in June 1991. The three musicians -guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry had informal rehearsals for months, often trading instruments and trying different musical arrangements. Lead vocalist and chief lyricist Michael Stipe was not present for these 1991 sessions and received finished demos at the start of 1992, when he started recording vocals.

The album is very much musically subdued and deals with mortality. This was not the original intent, as the band first strove to record a more “upbeat” album, but soon turned further away from the lighter, sweeter pop of previous albums. The finished product was co-produced by Scott Litt at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York. String arrangements by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones were recorded in Atlanta.

Many critics regard Automatic For the People as the finest R.E.M. album due to its beautiful and moving sounds mixed with melancholy themes of hopelessness and anger. It contains a core set of folk songs with majestic overtones resonating from the exotic instrumentation. This is the group’s coming-of-age album as they pass the “alternative” flame to the slew of new bands which now populated the rock landscape.


Automatic For the People by R.E.M.
Released: October 7, 1992 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Drive
Try Not to Breathe
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Everybody Hurts
New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
Sweetness Follows
Monty Got a Raw Deal
Ignoreland
Star Me Kitten
Man On the Moon
Nightswimming
Find the River
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry– Drums, Keyboards, Vocals
 
Automatic For the People by R.E.M.

The pace of the album is immediately set with the opening track “Drive”. This doomy, acoustic-driven tune with heavily reverbed vocals and a touch of accordion has Neil Young quality along with a touch of some of the moodier material by the James Gang. “Try Not to Breathe” follows as another acoustic tune, but much lighter and brighter than opener, although the Stipe’s lyrics are every bit as dark as they narrate the plight of an elderly person who has chosen to end his life.

The radio hit “Everybody Hurts” contains high, sweet vocals and romantic chord progressions by Buck with topped off by themes of desperate hope. The lyrics are stripped of their usual crypto-poetic attributes to a pure, raw, and unambiguous message;

“…when you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on, don’t let yourself go, everybody cries, everybody hurts sometimes…”

“New Orleans Instrumental No.1” is an entertaining musical break with tremolo electric piano and a sustained-note guitar groove. “Sweetness Follows” contains more ethereal doominess and a comforting melancholy while “Monty Got a Raw Deal” is built like a traditional R.E.M. song with an acoustic folk beginning and the later addition of the accordion and mandolin. “Ignoreland” is the most rock-oriented song on the album, with strong fuzz guitars, distorted vocals by Stipe, and intense drumming by Berry while “Star Me Kitten” is a calm and moody, almost psychedelic tune with ethereal organ and synth effects and a melodic lead guitar.

Nearly a decade after his death, many people had all but forgotten about comedian Andy Kaufman before R.E.M. figuratively brought him back to life with “Man On the Moon”, a song which both pays tribute to Kaufman while poking fun at the theorists who thought he staged his own death as an elaborate joke. Musically, the somber calmness seems to fit this theme perfectly and the effective two-part chorus puts the song over the top. The song’s title was later used to name the Hollywood biography of Kaufman, starring Jim Carey.

The nostalgic, piano driven “Nightswimming” is an ode to teenage freedom and discovery. The odd musical arrangement and mood makes this a unique and interesting listen. The album concludes with “Find the River” a nice acoustic ballad with piano, fiddle, backing vocals, and an overall good mixture, ending the album with a more traditional song than much of the other material.

Automatic For the People was yet another in a string of hit albums for R.E.M., reaching number two on the U.S. album charts and yielding six regular radio tracks. The album would perhaps be the high-water mark for this innovative band who were truly alternative long before alternative was cool.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.