Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

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Little Earthquakes by Tori AmosLittle Earthquakes is the debut solo album of singer/songwriter Tori Amos. It followed the dissolution of her 1980s synth-pop band called “Y Kant Tori Read”, with a batch of a dozen compositions which set the stage for her solo career as well as forge a template for the more introspective music that flourished among female singer/songwriters during the 1990s. The songs are often stripped-down and raw, but consistently genuine throughout. The album shattered many long-held conventions in the popular music industry (especially for debuts) and launched a career for Amos where she would sell 12 million (and counting) albums worldwide and be nominated for 8 Grammy Awards.

The album was recorded in various phases between 1990 and 1991 in locations ranging from the renowned Capitol Records studios in Hollywood to the home studio of Amos’s then boyfriend. At the label’s urging, Amos then relocated to London (where it was thought there would be a more receptive audience for eccentric performers) where she spent the better part of a year performing in small bars and clubs, slowly getting the material exposed. Little Earthquakes was actually released in the UK in January 1992, a month ahead of its US release, to much critical acclaim.

Sonically, the album contains a balance of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and some very innovative use of vocals to build mood-inspiring crescendos throughout. The best example of all these elements is found in the closing title song, “Little Earthquakes”, which fluctuates between the introspective ballad with deep lyrics and the primal expression of vocal emotives over the consistent and haunting reverberation of a kick drum.


Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos
Released: February 25, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Tori Amos, Eric Rosse, Davitt Sigerson, Ian Stanley
Recorded: Capitol Records, Los Angeles, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Crucify
Girl
Silent All These Years
Precious Things
Winter
Happy Phantom
China
Leather
Mother
Tear In Your Hand
Me and a Gun
Little Earthquakes
Tori Amos – Lead & Backing Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Piano
Steve Caton – Guitars, Bass
Eric Rosse– Synths, Percussion, Backing Vocals
 
Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

All songs on Little Earthquakes written and composed by Tori Amos. The first single from the album was “Silent All These Years”, which did not make a huge splash on the airwaves but did connect with many listeners on an intimate level. A delicate song built on a chromatic piano figure with many subtle flourishes and more sudden and diverse voices from Amos, the song’s bridge is an intense release of pent-up fear and uncertainty into a new role of benevolence and confidence.

“Precious Things” and “Tear In Your Hand” 4:38 are more traditionally arranged with Will McGregor playing bass and Carlo Nuccio playing drums on each track, with “Precious Things” using more experimental sounds such as the intro breathy percussive effects. “Girl” is moody and hypnotic with a consistent drum beat and piano riff interwoven with a variety of orchestral and guitar effects and a building vocal ensemble during the bridge.

The opening “Crucify” is about guilt, self-doubt, and a bit of paranoia, using much Christian symbolism throughout. Lyrically, one may compare this to the type of self-examination Roger Waters used on The Wall. Despite the deep subject matter, the song is musically one of the brighter and more pop-oriented on the album, lead by a moody electric piano and accented by a vocal chorus.

The best composition on the album is “Winter”, one of  four singles released from the album. This is a deeply personal song where Amos incorporated her father, a Christian minister. Lyrically it uses the wonder and confusion of winter and transition of seasons in a reflective allegory for growing up –

“…when you gonna make up your mind, when you gonna love you as much as I do / because things are gonna change so fast”

“China” is often cited as one of Amos’ most traditional-oriented songs, a soft lament to lost with more highly allegorical lyrics. But a few of the songs on the album are so raw and and exposed that they are hard to listen to. “Mother” contains just piano and vocal and may be a bit drug out at seven minutes in duration. “Me and a Gun” is the most haunting song on the album It consists of a single,  acapella vocal by Amos which lyrically recounts her thoughts during a violent rape that she suffered through years earlier following a late-night gig. As she explained the experience and the reason for the song:

“How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was ‘Me and a Gun’ but it wasn’t a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn’t needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter…”

But then there are some lighter moments on to the album (at least musically). “Happy Phantom” is upbeat and jazzy musically, offering an light and entertaining break from the depth and moodiness of the rest of the album while still maintaining a rather dark lyrical motif. “Leather” is another good composition with excellent arrangement and production. The pleasant and melodic melody is complimented by poignant strings and subtle bits of heavy guitar by Steve Caton, along with entertaining sections of rag-time piano by Amos.

Following Little Earthquakes, Amos consistently released highly acclaimed albums throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. Her most recent studio release is 2011’s Night of Hunters.

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1992 Images

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

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

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Core by Stone Temple PilotsAround 1990, a hard rock band from San Diego, CA called Mighty Joe Young recorded a demo featuring some unorthodox musical styles, such as funk and yodeling and soon began to attract a fan-base in Southern California. After the group was signed to Atlantic Records and began work on their first professional studio album, they received a call from their lawyer who informed them that there was a blues-man who had already claimed the name Mighty Joe Young.  So the group hastily chose the name Stone Temple Pilots, after the STP motor oil stickers that adorned their rehearsal space, and continued on to record what would become their debut album Core.

The “core” of this group is Singer Scott Weland and bassist Robert DeLeo, who first met in 1986 and had performed together in various bands since. DeLeo later recruited his older brother Dean DeLeo as the band’s guitarist with drummer Eric Kretz rounding out the quartet. Although all four contributed to the songs on the album, Robert DeLeo wrote the bulk of the compositions with Weiland applying much lyrical content, forging a distinctly flavored version of grunge metal.

The album was released in September of 1992 but original received mixed to very negative reviews, with some critics blasting the more popular songs as “rip-offs” of more established grunge bands and the lesser know material as “pedestrian”. While there is no denying that the band incorporates several signature elements of contemporary bands Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, the very fact that so many of the songs on Core have held up over the past two decades is testament to the quality of this material.


Core by Stone Temple Pilots
Released: September 29, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien
Recorded: 1991-1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
Wicked Garden
No Memory
Sin
Naked Sunday
Creep
Piece of Pie
Plush
Wet My Bed
Crackerman
Where the River Goes
Scott Weiland – Lead Vocals
Dean DeLeo – Guitars
Robert DeLeo – Bass
Eric Kretz– Drums
 
Core by Stone Temple Pilots

 

A distant rap commences the album and its initial track, “Dead & Bloated”, which breaks into a slow and methodical riff and beat, During live renditions of this track, Weiland often hands a bullhorn to a fan to perform the intro. “Sex Type Thing” was the debut single from the album and the most controversial on the album due to its first person telling of perpetrating a rape (although Weiland contends its purpose was anti-rape). Musically, the song is much more upbeat, with DeLeo crediting “In the Light” by Led Zeppelin as a primary influence on the main riff.

“Wicked Garden” is one of the signature songs on the album, with a series of distinct sections, each lead by pristine vocal motifs fueled by melody. Weiland revealed that the song about people allowing all their innocence and purity to be lost from their lives. Following the calm, picked guitar instrumental by Dean DeLeo called “No Memory”, “Sin” commences with a splash but is overall a weaker attempt at another anthem song like “Wicked Garden”. The only refreshing part is an acoustic section later in the song, but it breaks away too early for a sub-par guitar lead.

Robert DeLeo wrote the calm, melodic, melancholy, acoustic ballad “Creep”, which he says was influenced by Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. This radio hit never really deviates too much from its dark temperament, with Weiland doing his best Kurt Cobain vocal impression for the melodramatic lyrics.

What would become one of the band’s biggest all-time hits, “Plush” is built on a unique chord structure which was inspired by Robert DeLeo’s love of ragtime music. Lyrically, the song was loosely based on a newspaper article Weiland had read about a girl who had been found dead in an area outside of San Diego. The song won a Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock Performance” in 1994 and the award-winning video won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist that same year.

But aside from “Plush”, much of the later part of the album is sub-par at best. “Piece of Pie” sounds worn out with the same old drum beat driving once again while “Wet My Bed” is an ill-advised, superfluous filler. Although “Crackerman” received a fair amount of radio airplay, it has been accurately critiqued as “a bad Alice in Chains parody”, and the closer “Where the River Goes” is a leftover from the Mighty Joe Young demo which probably should have been left off the album. In the case of these tracks, less would have been more in forging a consistent and rewarding album.

Stone Temple Pilots, built on the success of Core with a couple more residual albums through the mid nineties, before substance abuse brought them back to Earth. Today, several of this album’s songs remain rock radio staples and the band’s position in the pantheon of heavy grunge is secure.

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1992 Images

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

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

Diamonds In the Coal
by The Badlees

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Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees At a time when many in the rock world were in the process of re-imaging from the slick 80’s hair band to the grungy 90s alternative, a young Pennsylvania band called The Badlees was forging their own path with a sound called “roots rock” with their first full length album, Diamonds In the Coal. The band, which had been steadily gaining popularity since the release of their initial EP It Ain’t For You in late 1990, had solidified their lineup with the addition of Paul Smith in 1991. With Smith’s addition, the Badlees had the core quintet in place that would drive them through their most productive years. The result is a well-crafted, entertaining, and thoughtful album with fine and exquisite details.

The album was co-produced by guitarist Bret Alexander and contains all original compositions which were mainly written by Alexander with about half being co-penned by band associate Mike Naydock. The songs are augmented by a structure of electric and acoustic guitars, solid rhythms, judicious use of ethic instruments, layered vocals, and thoughtful lyrics.

There are few things easier than to live badly and die well…”

This quote by Oscar Wilde was placed inner sleeve of Diamonds In the Coal, in an obvious play on the band’s name. Further, each song on the lyrics page contained its own special quote from philosophers and artists ranging from Aristotle to Andy Warhol, some of the extra attention to detail the band put into the atmosphere of the album. Topping it off were the authentic pictures that were used for the cover of early 20th century coal miners that drummer Ron Simasek found at a local Historical Society.

 


Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees
Released: January 14, 1992 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: Bret Alexander & the Badlees
Recorded: Waterfront Recording, Hoboken, NJ / Susquehanna Sound, Northumberland, PA, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Like a Rembrandt
Back Where We Came From
Just One Moment
The Real Thing
Heaven On Earth
Interlude / Badlee Rap
The Next Big Thing
Dirty Neon Times
Spending My Inheritance
Sister Shirley
Mystery Girl
Road to Paradise
Diamonds In the Coal
Pete Palladino – Lead Vocals
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ron Simasek– Drums & Percussion
 

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

 

Thematically, Diamonds In the Coal is nearly sliced in half by the light intermission of “Interlude/Badlee Rap”, with the rap itself performed by Loose Bruce above some slight guitar and harmonica. Songs previous to this on the album are mainly pop-oriented, with basic structure and strong hooks. This all starts with the opener “Like a Rembrandt”, of which Alexander sets the scene as “a bunch of young kids partying out by an old coal breaker and realizing full well that this may be the greatest summer of their lives”.

“Back Where We Came From” (commonly referred to as “The Na Na Song”) follows with a strong delivery by lead vocalist Pete Palladino. This acoustic-driven tune with electric overtones, was the first single from the album and the first to receive significant airplay. It also shows that the Badlees had perfected a song template that the much more heralded Hootie and the Blowfish would replicate years later. Despite the Bon Jovi-ish hook at the onset, “Heaven On Earth” is still a song with good instrumentation lead by a solid, strummed acoustic while the lighter sound of “The Real Thing” contains serene and solid guitar riffs by Alexander with just a touch of the instrument which would become more predominant in the band, the mandolin. “Just One Moment” is another pop-oriented track with a bouncy and choppy riff, good vocals, and strong back beat by Simasek.

The Badlees

The second “half” of the album contains songs that explore deeper subject matter and richer musical structure. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger provides good vocal interplay with Palladino during “The Next Big Thing”, while upbeat power-pop anthem “Dirty Neon Times” provides more fantastic vocal harmonies by Feltenberger in a pleasant, acoustic driven song.

Alexander’s “Spending My Inheritance” is a well composed, sort of “people’s anthem” tune with some harmonica intertwined with fiddle by guest performer David Rose. “Sister Shirley” is perhaps the most unique song on the album. It includes a picturesque lyrical narrative by Naydock and some sweet, jazzy guitar by Alexander – a rewarding listen, which shows the band’s musical and compositional range. Feltenberger wrote “Road to Paradise”, in an odd time, with steady acoustic strumming against slightly spastic drums all topped by intricate, three-part vocal patterns.

The closing title song is the true masterpiece of Diamonds In the Coal. Here, the listener is brought into the dark, forgotten patch towns of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region. The imagery in this song’s lyric is so vivid that you can almost feel the coal dust flying, while the music sets the perfect scene with a methodic, marching rhythm below and some authentic, ethnic instrumentation up above. This song showed the true promise of the band in 1992 and would be the primer for their breakthrough album River Songs three years later.

Recently, Bret Alexander looked back with great fondness on the creation of this album, saying he had a tremendous amount of fun and creative fulfillment writing the songs and producing Diamonds In the Coal. Although he does lament that he doesn’t feel that the overall “sound” of the album has held up sonically through the years. There is a definite early-nineties, polished-up quality with the drum sound snare-centric, the rhythms contain little variation, and the well-compressed vocals always seeming to hang at eye-level. But still, after 20 years, a deeper listener will definitely appreciate the quality of the songs and recognize the watershed of creative music “springs” that began their flow with Diamonds.

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1992 Images

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

1982 Album Of the Year

Business As Usual by Men At Work

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1982 Album Of the Year

Business As Usual by Men At Work One would not be out of line to suggest that this is a rather “unusual” (pun intended) selection for our 1982 album of the year. In fact, Business As Usual was originally released in November 1981 in Australia, the home country of the five piece rock band Men At Work. The lead single from the album, “Who Can It Be Now?” was released even earlier and had become a #1 hit Down Under by late summer 1981. Still, Columbia Records twice rejected distribution in the western world until its overwhelming success finally got the album released in the U.S. in April 1982. Here the album would go on to top the album charts and, as the year ended, Men At Work would occupy the #1 position on both the single and album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. Still, why would a “rock” site like ours choose this “pop” album as the best of 1982? Well, of the seventeen albums we reviewed from 1982 (most of which were pretty “good” but very few of which were truly “great”), Business As Usual seemed to be the most consistently solid and original back to front.

Produced by Peter McIan, the album has a solid new wave sound which compliments the good pop song-craft of guitarist and lead vocalist Colin Hay. With a knack for asymmetrical vocal movement from calm and raspy to strong and desperate, Hay provided a concise vocal guide above the band’s reggae and ska influenced rhythmic pulse. The resultant effect was a message that was simultaneously entertaining, a bit humorous, and deeply philosophical. The band also added other sonic elements, such as the phased guitar sounds and just the right infusion of saxophone by Greg Ham to give them an elemental edge over other pop-oriented new wave groups of the day.

Men At Work made their initial international break through to audiences in the western provinces of Canada, while opening for Fleetwood Mac on a North American tour. But it would be in the United States where the floodgates to success would open for the group. Business As Usual would become the most successful album by an Australian group to date, spending an unprecedented 15 weeks at #1 on the American album charts. It sold over 6 million copies in the states and 15 million worldwide.
 


Business As Usual by Men At Work
Released: April 22, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Spring-Autumn 1981
Side One Side Two
Who Can It Be Now?
I Can See It In Your Eyes
Down Under
Underground
Helpless Automation
People Just Love to Play With Words
Be Good Johnny
Touching the Untouchables
Catch a Star
Down By the Sea
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals
Jonathan Rees – Bass
Jerry Speiser – Drums

 

The album begins with the first real hit by the band, “Who Can It Be Now?”, an almost-satirical piece but with good quality music and arrangement and an excellent outtro. The call and response between the vocal and the saxophone during the chorus is done masterfully. The song was recorded prior to the rest of the album and released as a single in Australia in June 1981, and contains a lyrical narrative of a seclusion and paranoia. “I Can See It In Your Eyes” follows in perfect new wave form. The high, piercing synth notes compliment the driving yet melodic back-beat which is accented with good rudiments during the guitar lead.

Guitarist Ron Strykert co-wrote “Down Under”, another huge international hit for the band with a more pronounced reggae beat and interesting lyrics flush with Australian slang. The song remains a perennial favorite on Australian radio and television. It was played during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has been ranked the #4 all-time greatest Australian song by that nation’s Performing Rights Association. In 2010 however, the flute riff from the song was found to have plagiarised the classic Australian song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”, written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair.
 

 
The third single from the album was “Be Good Johnny”, a song written by Hay and Ham with lyrics from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy who is constantly being told what to do but feels that he is misunderstood by adults in his life. The song’s title is offers homage to the Chuck Berry classic Johnny B. Goode (a cleaver play on words itself) and features some spoken dialog by Greg Ham. Ham also takes lead vocals on the Devo-esque piece “Helpless Automation”.

Beyond the radio hits, the rest of the album contains some very strong songs. “Underground” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album, complex both lyrically and in musical arrangement, with a fine guitar riff by Strykert and great drumming by Jerry Speiser. Strykert also wrote “People Just Love to Play with Words”, perhaps the most pop-oriented song on the album, which again builds towards good outtro vocals by Hay.

Men At Work

The second side of the album includes some gems such as “Touching the Untouchables”, a complex piece with dynamic vocals and interesting guitar and sax riffs throughout. “Catch a Star” builds from simple rudiments by bassist Jonathan Rees until it blossoms into a very moderate ska beat. “Down By the Sea” closes the album as a laid back extended piece with composing contributions by each member of the band.

Men At Work won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1983, a first for any Australian recording act. They would go on to record another fine album of equal artistic quality as a follow-up to Business As Usual later that year, but with much less commercial success. The 1982 success would not again be matched.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Asia

Asia

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AsiaAsia was a short-lived “supergroup” which existed primarily in the early 1980s. Their debut eponymous album was wildly successful commercially, reaching #1 in the US on the Billboard album charts and the top selling album in the States for the year 1982. However, the band also tended to be a letdown to progressive rock fans who were eager to hear the sound forged by former members of some of the top groups in that genre during its heyday of the 1970s. However, the output on Asia, produced by Mike Stone, was distictly pop-rock with only minor nods towards the instrumental flourishes that identified progressive rock.

Guitarist Steve Howe had spent 11 years with the band Yes, playing on all the essential albums that made up the band’s early sound. Howe continued with the band until Yes officially split up (for the first time) on April 18, 1981. John Wetton had done extensive work as a session musician with acts such as Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry and with legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Wetton also lead the prog-rock staple King Crimson for several years during the early 1970s, replacing founding member Greg Lake when Lake went on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. That trio’s drummer Carl Palmer got his start in the mid 1960s with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. With Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, he played on some of the most acclaimed progressive rock albums ever. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was a virtual newcomer to the scene starting with the new wave band The Buggles in 1979 and joining Yes for one album, 1980’s Drama.

In 1981, Howe, Wetton, Palmer, and Downes formed the band Asia, an apparent “marriage made in Heaven” for prog rock fans. But this new band did focus on a more distinct 1980s sound, which focused less on musical virtuosity and more on sonic accessibility.
 


Asia by Asia
Released: March, 1982 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Stone
Recorded: Marcus Studios & Virgin Townhouse, London, June-November 1981
Side One Side Two
Heat Of the Moment
Only Time Will Tell
Sole Survivor
One Step Closer
Time Again
Wildest Dreams
Without You
Cutting It Fine
Here Comes the Feeling
Band Musicians
John Wetton – Bass, Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

 

If there is any place on Asia where a hardcore prog rock fan can find some solace, it is on the second side. “Wildest Dreams” contains some abrupt changes between verse and choruses and provides an extensive drum showcase for Palmer. “Without You” is a pleasant ballad, mellow throughout with interesting, moody parts. “Cutting It Fine” is the most interesting here with an acoustic beginning and an extensive piano instrumental by Downes in the coda.

Asia in 1982

On the first side, “Sole Survivor” displays a definite 80s sound, but with an interesting build in the beginning and a flute-like keyboard solo during the middle part. “One Step Closer”, co-written by Howe contains a good beginning which is a hybrid between the Yes and Kansas sound. With the harmonized verse vocals, this song is a true showcase on the album.

“Heat of the Moment” employs several basic rock techniques including the overused Phil Spector drum beat and a subtle building throughout. This opener was the signature song on the album and its biggest hit, reaching #1 on the pop charts.

The other major hit, “Only Time Will Tell”, is the best song on the album. Although song was composed by Downes and Wetton, the mocking guitar by Howe throughout makes this a real centerpiece for the former Yes axeman. The song contains instrumental rudiments and the guitar licks all above and almost-Barry-Manilow-like ballad somehow makes this a very interesting listen. The biggest flaw of this song is that it fades out way too soon.

Asia released a follow-up, Alpha in 1983 and a third 1985 album, Astra, each to less critical and commercial acclaim and this supergroup fizzled soon thereafter. Steve Howe went on to form yet another supergroup with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett called GTR. Wetton released several solo albums and Palmer later rejoined the newly reformed ELP in 1992.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

American Fool by John Cougar

American Fool by John Cougar

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American Fool by John CougarAmerican Fool may mark the midway point of the artist’s evolution from the stage name “Johnny Cougar” back to his given name John Mellencamp. The differing names (of which there are four distinct) mirrored the change in musical style and image from the slick, glam-like pop star of the 1970s to the earthy, folk singer of the 1980s. This album straddles the line between the two, with a slight edge to the former as it tends to get quite formulaic as it progresses. In 1974, when Mellencamp was struggling to break through in the music industry, his manager suggested that his given name was too hard to market and concocted “Johnny Cougar” for the artist. The name used on American Fool, his sixth overall, was simply “John Cougar” the last of three to use this name.

Although his previous album, 1980’s Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did yielded two Top 40 singles, Mellencamp hated that album, dismissed its material as “stupid little pop songs”, and derided its outlandish cost of production of about a quarter of a million dollars. So it was clear that he wanted to move in a different direction with this album, and he accomplished much with a more authentic sound throughout. Still, American Fool is an uneven album with the bulk of the good (and popular) material on its first side and much repetitive filler on the second.

Also, there are, unfortunately, a bunch of interesting performances on this album that have gone un-credited. A record of who performed on the keyboards, accordion, harmonica, and who were female background singers, have been hard to discover. These are apparently session performances, but they all enhanced the album above the very basic core sound of the five credited musicians.

 


American Fool by John Cougar
Released: July 10, 1982 (Riva)
Produced by: Don Gehman & John Mellencamp
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles & Criteria Studios, Miami, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Hurts So Good
Jack and Diane
Hand To Hold On To
Danger List
Can You Take It
Thundering Hearts
China Girl
Close Enough
Weakest Moments
Primary Musicians
John Mellencamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Vocals
Larry Crane – Guitars
George Perry – Bass
Kenny Aronoff – Drums

 

The album opens with “Hurts So Good”, co-written by George S. Green, a childhood friend of Mellencamp’s who would go on to collaborate on some of his most recognizable songs. This song is as pure a rocker as you can get. Its sonic boundaries combines a Lynard-Skynard-like-70s guitar riff with the most modern 80s drum sound (a potent formula) and it follows the common rock arrangement of Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus/Outtro. “Hurts So Good” would be Mellencamp’s biggest hit to date, reaching #2 on the Billboard charts.

A couple of other songs on the first side stick to this same basic formula, including the pleasant and melodic “Hand to Hold on To” and “Danger List”, a song composed by Mellencamp and guitarist Larry Crane. This latter song contains some harmonized guitars over an acoustic intro, returning to simple riff intermediately throughout the verse and chorus. It is reserved and quiet through most of its duration but gets louder and more rock-oriented as it approaches the end. According to Mellencamp, he recorded about 30 different improvised verses for the original demo and weeded out the ones he didn’t like for the final cut.

As much as “Hurts So Good” and the rest of the first side stick to convention, “Jack & Diane” is completely original in arrangement, using all kinds of instrumentation. “Hand claps” were added to the sparse, main electric riff to help keep time with the intention of removing them on the final cut, but it was just too empty without them so this distinct sound was kept in the mix. The acoustic verses and choruses are accompanied at different times by nice little flourishes of piano, organ, bass, and percussive effects. The song was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami and Mellancamp gave the credit for the arrangement to the legendary Mick Ronson, who salvaged the song after Mellencamp had thrown it on the “junk heap”.

The second side of the album is much less rewarding with the bulk of the material being lesser songs that strictly follow the same formula as the hits on the first side. Ironically, the strongest moment on this side is the closing song “Weakest Moments”, a moody ballad with nice lyrical motifs. The song is acoustic throughout and also contains an interesting flute-like organ lead, an accordion, and a female backing chorus. Cougar’s vocals are a bit exaggerated in their melancholy, but otherwise this a fine tune to close the album.

With the commercial success of American Fool under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to add his real surname, going as “John Cougar Mellencamp” on his next album, 1983’s Uh-Huh. Eventually, the evolution would be complete and this artist would simply become John Mellencamp.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

Billy Idol

Billy Idol

Billy IdolThe debut album by Billy Idol is amazingly diverse and mainstream-leaning for an artist supposedly fresh off the punk scene. In fact, Idol today admits that his late seventies outfit, Generation X, differed starkly from other acts on the scene like The Clash or The Sex Pistols; “They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones’, but we were honest about what we liked.” Generation X was inspired by mid-Sixties British pop and were one of the first “punk” acts appear on the BBC. When the band broke up in 1981, Idol transitioned nicely to his own sound. This self-titled debut album was produced by Keith Forsey through 1981 and early 1982 and is confluent with Generation X’s final 1981 LP as well as Idol’s initial EP Don’t Stop that same year.

American guitarist Steve Stephens would become as much a part of the solo act as Idol himself, forging a slick rock sound to canvas the Elvis-like vocals of Idol. Stephens’ slashing guitar chords became as identifiable as Idol’s melodic choruses and sneering postures. This album eventually became Idol’s breakthrough in America, a place Generation X had struggled to find any audience. It took over a year beyond June 1982 until some of Idol’s videos began  breaking through to the MTV audience.

With Forsey’s production, the album was given a “modern” sound for the time which employed piano, synthesizers, saxophone, and background singers. This sweetened the sound enough for the mainstream audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The LP peaked at number 45 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Gold by RIAA in 1983.

 


Billy Idol by Billy Idol
Released: June 16, 1982 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: London, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Come On, Come On
White Wedding (Part 1)
Hot In the City
Dead On Arrival
Nobody’s Business
Love Calling
Hole In the Wall
Shooting Stars
It’s So Cruel
Congo Man
Dancing With Myself
Band Musicians
Billy Idol – Vocals | Steve Stephens – Guitars
Phil Feit – Bass | Steve Missal – Drums

 

The album starts with “Come On Come On”, a very pop-rock dominated song with driving bass and choppy guitars. This sets the pace for several songs with a definite 1980s sound. These include the guitar-centric, straight up rocker “Dead On Arrival” and the almost-hair band “Nobody’s Business”

“White Wedding” contains a much darker sound. One of his most recognizable songs, Idol claimed in later years that this song actually had nothing to do with his “little sister”, but he just found the concept interesting. The song was a hit upon its original release and charted even higher several years later in the UK, following rotation of its famous video. The song is titled “White Wedding (Part 1)” on the album due to the release of a synthesizer based dance version on 7″ vinyl called “White Wedding (Part 2)”.

“Hot In the City” was the initial single from the album. The song has a moderate, melodic tempo and some sweet pop hooks. It gained more popularity as the decade progressed and was an even bigger hit when released as a single from the compilation Vital Idol in 1987.
 

 
The second side of the album starts with “Love Calling”, driven by the drumming of Steve Missal, along with some odd chanting between verse lines. It gives off a trance-like vibe except during the breaks when Idol screams “if you want to rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub”. “Hole In the Wall” and “Shooting Stars” each contain cool guitar textures by Stevens and a very animated bass by Phil Feit in the fashion that U2 would eventually make very popular. “It’s So Cruel” starts calm with liberal use of synthesizers, almost a ballad, until it eventually builds with stronger tones.

Modern versions of the album conclude with “Dancing With Myself”, a song originally recorded for the final Generation X album in 1981, then co-opted by Idol for his Don’t Stop EP, when he remixed it and gave the song an overall brighter, poppier finish. When Idol started to break through with MTV videos in 1983, one was made for “Dancing With Myself” and the song was added to the Billy Idol LP, replacing a short percussion filler called “Congo Man”.

Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad and got his stage name in grade school from a teacher who nicknamed him “Billy Idle” in a degradng fashion. Billy took this name as a badge of honor and, with some minor re-spelling, used it to launch himself to international stardom.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982

The Movie Soundtrack

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982The movie soundtrack has become a great source for discovering music. Many dramatic scenes are fully augmented by appropriate audio, which in turn drives sales of the songs themselves. It is a nice cross-marketing scheme, but as far as top quality works of new original music by various artists. there are surprisingly few of these albums that actually hold up well over time.

We’ve decided to this feature while our regular reviews look at the year 1982, because that was the year when, in our opinion, the best of these movie soundtracks was released, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The soundtrack features songs of many of the eras quintessential rock artists, most of which were not released elsewhere on conventional artist album. Both this movie and album soundtrack ushered in a heyday for such movie soundtracks (as well as copycat movies) through the early and mid 1980s. But before we delve into the merits of this particular soundtrack, let’s look at some other important soundtracks throughout the years.

Easy Rider soundtrack, 1969A significant early soundtrack is that for the 1969 cult film Easy Rider, a film often remembered for its late 1960’s rock music. The album was a surprise chart hit, peaking at #6 on the Billboard album charts, and is most associate with a sub-genre known as “biker music”. Steppenwolf is featured most prominently, as “Born To Be Wild” is played during the opening scene and another song, “The Pusher” leads off the soundtrack itself. Other songs featured on Easy Rider include The Byrd‘s “Wasn’t Born to Follow”, “Don’t Bogart Me” by Fraternity of Man and If 6 Was 9″ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The producers of this soundtrack also utilized a practice which is prominent to this day. When they encountered problems in licensing the original recording of “The Weight” by The Band, they commissioned the artist Smith to record a cover version for the soundtrack. A couple more covers of Bob Dylan were recorded by Roger McGuinn for the album.

Heavy Metal soundtrack, 1981Heavy Metal was a 1981 rotoscoping-animated film, which employs various science fiction and fantasy stories adapted from Heavy Metal magazine. Due to many legal wranglings involving the copyrights of some of the music, the film and soundtrack were unavailable, except through underground, pirated copies. It was finally released on CD and videocassette (along with a simultaneous re-release in theaters) in 1996. Although the film is called “heavy metal”, the music itself includes original music from various rock genres. This includes songs by Sammy Hagar, Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, Donald Fagen, Journey, Grand Funk Railroad, Cheap Trick, Don Felder, and Stevie Nicks. Probably the only true “heavy metal” band represented is Black Sabbath, whose song “The Mob Rules” is featured.

Vision Quest soundtrack, 1985The 1985 soundtrack to the movie Vision Quest includes a nice mixture of pop and rock tunes and featured some high charting hits. These include the Madonna ballad “Crazy for You” and the song “Only the Young” by Journey, the last release by that band’s classic lineup. Other highlights from this soundtrack are “Change” by John Waite, “Hungry for Heaven” by Dio, “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider and “I’ll Fall in Love Again” by Sammy Hagar, one his last solo releases before joining up with Van Halen.

Pretty In Pink soundtrack, 1986The 1980s were, by far, the heyday for soundtracks, many more then we could possibly cover here. A series of teen-oriented movies by director John Hughes including The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink. The music from these focused primarily on new wave artists such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Simple Minds, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Smiths. Several other 1980s soundtracks includes the songs by Kenny Loggins, a seventies folk singer who basically made a career out of movie soundtrack songs in the 1980s. Loggins wrote and performed “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, the title song from Footloose, and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun, all of which were the most prominent songs from those respective films.

We’ve decided to use a rather narrow definition of this category which we’re focusing on for this profile. Basically, the main criteria is original music, recently produced, by various artists. Since this excludes, many fine soundtracks, we’ll look at some of the better which fall outside our criteria.

Artist Centric Soundtracks

Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour promoMovies which were built around the music of a specific artist have been around almost as long as there have been movies and recorded music. During the classic rock era, this was made most prominent by The Beatles, who made four movies with accompanying soundtracks of their original music. Of these, Magical Mystery Tour is the most interesting, primarily because the music is so excellent while the film itself is so terrible (later this year, we will do a regular review of this album).

Following in the Beatles footsteps were scores of these types of soundtracks for films at all different levels of production from major Hollywood worldwide productions to documentaries. Some of the best of these include David Bowie‘s 1973 Ziggy Stardust movie, Led Zeppelin 1976 rendition of The Song Remains the Same (something we’ve touched on during a previous special feature on The Live Album), The Bee Gees-centric soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, Prince‘s 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain, and U2‘s 1988 Rattle and Hum, another one where the music is far superior to the film.

Of course, tribute movies to specific artists will also fall in this category (as well as the next), and there have been several standouts here, from Oliver Stone’s The Doors to the Johnny Cash bio Walk the Line to the bio on Ray Charles. There are hundreds more of these films, television series, and documentaries.

A unique type of these are those films that feature fictional bands but still produce interesting music. Prominent among this category are Eddie and the Cruisers from the 1980s and Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! from the 1990s, both of which focus on the early to mid 1960s era.

Soundtracks of Music from the Distant Past

Almost Famous, 2000Along with some of those mentioned above, there have also been some great movie soundtracks that include past music using various artists, usually due to the story itself being set sometime in the past. The best of these include Goodfellas, Forrest Gump, and Almost Famous. The latter is a film by Cameron Crowe and it profiles his own start as a rock journalist while he was still a teenager. In Crowe’s later life writing screenplays for films, music plays a strong role and the soundtracks are all all interesting. Other Crowe movies include 1989’s Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and his 1982 debut film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which brings us back to the focus of this article.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack, 1982Several of the movie’s songs became hit singles, including Jackson Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby”, which reached #7 on the Billboard chart. But the excellence of this album lies in the number of great songs by top-notch artists which (a the time) were not available anywhere else. Despite the comedic genre of the film and its suggestive title, many of these songs are great ballads such as “Love Rules” by Don Henley, “Love Is the Reason” by Graham Nash, and “Sleeping Angel” by Stevie Nicks. Other standouts were the title track by Sammy Hagar, “I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme)” by Jimmy Buffett, “So Much in Love” by Timothy B. Schmit, “Never Surrender” by Don Felder, and “Waffle Stomp” by Joe Walsh (for those of you keeping score, that is four of the five members of The Eagles when they broke up a year earlier).

As this movie was oozing with rock n roll, several songs in the film itself, were not even included on the soundtrack. These include “We Got the Beat” by The Go Go’s, “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars, “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, which plays after dialogue about “the second side of Zeppelin 4” (which does not include “Kashmir”). There is further dialogue in the film that talked about Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Earth Wind & Fire, and Debbie Harry of Blondie and, during the school dance scene, the band plays covers of “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Wooly Bully”. There may never again be movie which is not primarily about music, that contains so much great music.

~
Ric Albano

Coda by Led Zeppelin

Coda by Led Zeppelin

Buy Coda

Coda by Led ZeppelinCoda is a unique album for us to review. Although it is listed officially as the ninth and final studio album by Led Zeppelin, it could just as well be listed as a quasi-compilation of unreleased tracks in the tradition of The Who’s Odds and Sods or Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Like those, this is a fine and entertaining album, and a must-have for any serious fan of the artist. But we internally debated whether it was proper to include Coda with our reviews from 1982. After all, it had been a full two years since the death of drummer John Bonham and the subsequent disbandment of Led Zeppelin as a cohesive group. Also, the most recent recordings on Coda were made four years prior to its November 1982 release, with the earliest recording stretching back to the late 1960s. The truth is, we simply could not overlook this album. After all, this IS Led Zeppelin and this band is likely to be the only one which Classic Rock Review covers every single studio album (I mean, we’ve already done Presence, what can we possibly exclude?)

The album spans the band’s entire career, from live performances just after their debut album to unused songs from In Through the Out Door sessions. However, it focuses mainly on the bookends of very early material and very recent material with very little representation from the band’s most popular “middle” years. This is most likely due to the fact that 1975’s Physical Graffiti included many unreleased songs from that era.

With such a chasm between the early and recent material, producer and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did a great job making it all sound cohesive. This included extensive, yet not overwhelming, post-production treatment of each track. According to Page, the album was released because there was so much bootleg stuff out following the disbandment. However, Coda was not a comprehensive collection in its original form. The 1982 LP contained eight tracks and ran at a mere 33 minutes in length. Eleven years later, four more tracks were added to CD versions of the album, tracks which were mysteriously excluded originally. Some have suggested it was really only released to fulfill a contract obligation to Atlantic Records.
 


Coda by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 19, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969-November 1978
Side One Side Two
We’re Gonna Groove
Poor Tom
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Walter’s Walk
Ozone Baby
Darlene
Bonzo’s Montreaux
Wearing and Tearing
Tracks Added to CD Edition in 1993
Baby Come On Home
Travelling Riverside Blues
White Summer/Black Mountain Side
Hey Hey What Can I Do
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
“Walter’s Walk” is the oddest song in this collection, as it is the only that comes from the mid-era of the band, credited as a 1972 recording during the Houses Of the Holy sessions. However, both Page’s guitar style and especially Robert Plant‘s vocals are clues that a significant amount of overdubbing was likely done for the Coda album. As one who, recently reviewed Plant’s 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven, it is quite clear that his vocals on this track are a much greater match for 1982 than for 1972. Still there’s no doubt that this song existed in some form in the early 1970s as a portion of it was included in the extended jam version of “Dazed and Confused”.

Most of the original second side were tracks leftover from the 1978 Stockholm sessions for In Through the Out Door. These are all solid and well produced tracks which were only excluded due to time constraints and were slated to be released as an EP following the band’s 1980 North American tour, a tour which never took place due to Bonham’s death. From these particular tracks, you can hear that Zeppelin was experimenting with more modern genres during that era. “Ozone Baby” is the closest to new wave that the band ever came. It is riff-driven with some interesting changes and features harmonized vocal effects from Plant, a rarity for the band. “Wearing and Tearing” is the song most closely resembling the times, admittedly a response to the punk scene that swallowed up the U.K. while Led Zeppelin was on an extended hiatus in the late seventies. In this sense, it is probably the most interesting song on the album because it possesses the raw power of their early material and offers a glimpse to where they might have gone had they continued.

“Darlene” is a fantastic, oft-overlooked gem by Led Zeppelin with a perfect guitar riff and entertaining rock piano. John Paul Jones really stepped to the forefront on In Through the Out Door, writing much of the material and adding the extra dimensions of keyboards on a consistent basis. That approach is best demonstrated on this track, which incorporates a basic, rockabilly canvas with some interesting variations and song transitions. The side is rounded out by “Bonzo’s Montreux”, a live drum rehearsal caught on tape by one of the engineers before a 1976 show in Montreux, Switzerland. Page later added some electronic effects, and the band had a suitable tribute to their fallen comrade.
 

 
Coda begins with a wild frenzy of a song, “We’re Gonna Groove”, written by soul artists Ben E. King and James Bethea with the original title “Groovin'”. A studio version was scheduled to appear on Led Zeppelin II, but due to the band’s hectic schedule that year, they never got around to recording it. Page took a live version of the song, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and did a masterful job of overdubbing lead guitars and enhancing the vocals and drums for the Coda track. He did something similar for “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is taken from the same concert, the only song in the “studio album” collection to be repeated, which is unfortunate, although this version is superior to that on the band’s first album.

“Poor Tom” is the absolute gem from this album, a folk song from sessions for Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970. It is backed by a consistent and infectious drum shuffle by Bonham. The song contains dueling acoustic guitars and some fine harmonica by Plant, a great skill by the vocalist often overlooked. The unexplained lyric to this song is rumored to have deep roots in English folklore and/or contemporary philosophy. From those same sessions came “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”, another acoustic folk song that was released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”, but was long out of print when it was finally released on Zeppelin’s 1993 box set and subsequent versions of coda.

Led Zeppelin in 1979

Three more songs were also added to post-1993 versions of the album. “Baby Come On Home” is a straight-up soul ballad from sessions so early that the tape canister was actually labeled, “The Yardbirds” (Led Zeppelin was originally called the “New Yardbirds”). That master tape went missing for several decades and allegedly turned up in a refuse bin outside Olympic Studios in 1991. The track itself is an interesting listen with Page playing a Leslie guitar and Jones on piano and Hammond organ, not to mention the sheer novelty of hearing the band perform this genre straight up. “White Mountain/Black Mountainside” is a long, solo instrumental that Page performed often during the band’s early years until it morphed into music which would become “Stairway to Heaven”. “Traveling Riverside Blues” is a barrage of blues anthems that show the Zeppelin sound forged in the earliest days, especially the bluesy slide guitar by Page and the great bass by Jones. It is the finest of the four newly added tracks and it baffles fans like myself as to why it was originally excluded. Although this song got its title from a Robert Johnson classic, it is actually more like a (then) modern day tribute to the blues legend, with Plant incorporating lyrics from several of Johnson’s songs.

The term “coda” means a passage that ends a musical piece, following the main body. To the band’s credit, they kept their compact implicit in this title and did not continue any further without without Bonham. This gave Led Zeppelin a bit of career cohesion which all but guarantees that their tremendous legacy will never be stained.

~

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums

 

One On On by Cheap Trick

One On One by Cheap Trick

One On On by Cheap TrickMany critics believed that Cheap Trick was already past their peak by the time that got around to recording their sixth studio album, One On One in 1982. The band had really hit an apex in the late 1970s by combining the glam-fused power pop of British bands like Sweet with the good time heavy rock of California artists like Van Halen and all with an edge. In fact, this Illinois based band may have been too clever for their own good as they always seemed just outside the mainstream at any giving moment, but we digress. The truth is, with One On One, Cheap Trick may have actually hit its rock-centric peak, despite what mainstream critics may have said.

The album is laced with the intense yet measured, screaming vocals of Robin Zander, giving it all an air of importance mastered by the likes of The Who’s Roger Daltry. This wailing tops off the master song craft of guitarist and chief songwriter Rick Nielsen, a founding member of the band and its predecessor in the late 1960s. Although, at first, the songs themselves may seem muddled and distant, subsequent listens give the songs more breadth and depth.

The slickness of production on this album by producer Roy Thomas Baker gives it a bright, glam feel. But this could have just as easily had a darker, biker-rock feel due to the flexible writing style. One On One was the first album to feature bassist Jon Brant, the replacement for Tom Petersson, who departed after the band’s previous album All Shook Up.

 


One On One by Cheap Trick
Released: April 30, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
I Want You
One On One
If You Want My Love
Oo La La La
Lookin’ Out for Number One
She’s Tight
Time Is Runnin’
Saturday At Midnight
Love’s Got a Hold On Me
I Want to Be a Man
Four Letter Man
Band Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keys | Rick Nielsen – Guitars, Vocals
Jon Brant – Bass, Vocals | Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

 
The album starts off with the upbeat “I Want You” which establishes the hyper, high end vocals ala Sweet in an upbeat and pure rocker. The title song follows with a more steady, quasi-heavy metal motif. The first side wraps with “Oo La La La” containing a bluesy, Aerosmith-like hook and especially with heavy yet vocals, and “Lookin’ Out For Number One” a grinding, heavy metal screed.

The beautiful and elegant “If You Want My Love” is the showcase for the first side. A very Beatle-esque piece right down to the three-part “oohs”, with several distinguishing parts that build a very moody and desperate love song. The song is a prime example of the band’s rich talent, especially the composing and arranging talents of Neilson.
 

 
Side two begins with the hyper and fun “She’s Tight”, with the album’s best vocal performance by Zander. The song strikes just the right amount of synths to balance the almost-punk main riff, giving it a very infectious feel overall. Critics have said this was the band trying to achieve a more commercial rock sound, unlike anything before. This may be true, but it is still undeniable that this is excellent to the hilt.

The next track “Time is Runnin'” is the truest pop-oriented song to this point on the album, while “Saturday at Midnight” really deviates from the feel of the rest of the album as a new-wavish, dance track, released as a 7″ single to appeal to a wider audience. Drummer Bun E. Carlos co-wrote “Love’s Got a Hold on Me” as electronic effects on his flanged-out drums lace the wild yet melodic “I Want Be Man”. The album concludes with the Queen-like rocker “Four Letter Word”, complete with faux audience rudiments.

With One On One, Cheap Trick released an album full of brash, loud, raucous rockers. The album achieved moderate success but physical copies of the album were out of print for several years. In April 2010 it was reissued along with the following 1983 album Next Position Please on one CD.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images