1966_RollingStones Aftermath

Aftermath by The Rolling Stones

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Aftermath by Rolling StonesAlthough it was their fourth album released in Britain and their sixth album released in America, Aftermath was really the second “true” album by The Rolling Stones, following 1965’s Out Of Our Heads. This one, like that previous one, was released in two distinct versions in the UK and in the USA, a common practice for the day (this review will look at the “greater” album, considering all the tracks included on either version of Aftermath). The UK hit single “Paint It Black” was added to the American version, replacing four songs that were included on the UK version.

With Out Of Our Heads, the band reached the peak of their mid-sixties (then cutting-edge) mixture of Chicago-style blues and pop-rock. Aftermath builds on this while it progresses the band more towards their distinct sound and image as “rock and roll’s bad boys”. It is also the first Stones album to include all original material, written by the tandem of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although not himself a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was the driving force behind some of the unique and distinct sonic quality of the album. Jones incorporated wider musical influences, such as psychedelia and folk, and widely expanded the use of instrumentation, with songs on Aftermath including touches of dulcimer, sitar, marimba, and various keyboards.

Aftermath was also the first Rolling Stones album to be recorded entirely in the United States at the legendary RCA Studios in Hollywood and it was the first album the band released in true stereo.
 

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Aftermath by Rolling Stones
Released: April 15, 1966 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, December 1965-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Mother’s Little Helper
Stupid Girl
Lady Jane
Under My Thumb
Doncha Bother Me
Goin’ Home
Flight 505
High And Dry
Out Of Time
It’s Not Easy
I Am Waiting
Take It or Leave It
Think
What To Do
Song Included On U.S. Version
Paint It, Black
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Dulcimer, Sitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Organ
Charlie Watts – Drums. Percussion, Marimba

Much of the music’s backbone is still rooted in Chicago electric blues, with Jones’ instrumental tangents adding strategic flavoring to several songs. The opener “Mother’s Little Helper” contains a signature riff of heavily compressed 12-string electric guitar played with a slide. The song itself is a Beatle-esque, upbeat ode with a much darker message about drug dependency that made it one of the more thought provoking songs of the era.

“Stupid Girl” features a Fafsa organ by band manager and studio keyboardist Ian Stewart. It has the musical vibe of mid-sixties surf music and contains some juvenile lyrics that degrade the band’s groupies, one of several songs on the album that portray the fairer sex in a less-than-stellar light. Feminists have long lamented the message in “Under My Thumb”, which speaks of gaining the “upper hand” in a sexual relationship. No matter the message, the music to this song is absolutely brilliant, led by Jones’ marimba riff throughout with Richards’ acoustic and electric guitars and Bill Wyman‘s driving “fuzz” bass. Jones later brings back the marimba for the Phil Spector-esque “Out of Time”. This song was soon covered by English solo artist Chris Farlowe, whose recording was actually produced by Mick Jagger and reached number one on the UK singles in July, 1966.

Rolling Stones Paint It Black single“Paint It, Black” is, in reality, constructed very similar to the band’s 1965 smash hit “Satisfaction”, in the sense that a catchy and heavy rock song is wrapped around a signature riff. However, the riff on “Paint It, Black” uses the much more exotic sitar which Jones recently learned from Beatles guitarist and Indian music enthusiast George Harrison. During the verse, drummer Charlie Watts adds to the atmosphere by playing a Middle Eastern-flavored drum pattern while Jagger contributed the dark lyrics, about depression, mourning, and cynicism. Keith Richard plays both electric and acoustic guitars as well as contributes background vocals to this hit song.

“Lady Jane” showcases Brian Jones on dulcimer and has a middle-age feel throughout due to its distinct instrumentation and precise vocals. Fans have long considered this song a hidden gem from Aftermath and critics have long argued that Jones deserved a song writing credit. The dulcimer is brought back by Jones on “I Am Waiting”, another good, meditative song.

Unfortunately, Aftermath does include a lot of filler as not all the songs hit the mark. “Goin’ Home” is an 11-minute blues jam, remarkable for its length in the era, but really Mundane in its delivery. “It’s Not Easy” is uninspired, basic filler while “Think” is a feeble attempt to rip-off “Satisfaction” with its buzz and precisely picked strings falling short of anything really interesting. Other songs are more interesting but don’t seem quite done, such as the bluesy “Doncha Bother Me”, the piano rocking “Flight 505”, and the upbeat, acoustic folk/bluegrass “High and Dry”, which has a nice edge due to Jagger’s vocals and Jones’ blues harp, but also contains an annoying, up-front and distracting hi-hat beat.

Rolling Stones in 1966

Aftermath would ultimately be the high-water mark for Brian Jones’ influence on the band. Over the next few years and albums, his contributions were eventually diminished in lieu of the Jagger/Richards influence until he was ultimately nudged out of the band in 1969. He died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

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Blonde On Blonde by Bob DylanI had the pleasure of seeing Bob Dylan live over the summer. It was a great experience, which I wrote about for Modern Rock Review. So I jumped at the chance to review one of Dylan’s greatest albums – Blonde on Blonde for Classic Rock Review. Dylan’s music has served as an inspiration to me through some dark times. EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED! Just kidding about getting stoned, but those last two sentences illustrate a good deal about Blonde On Blonde. It is a seminal album in Dylan’s sixties career that somehow balances the silly, philosophical, and melancholy. I dare say it does this a great deal better than I just did. This said, this album is not Dylan’s masterpiece. That honor, in my humble opinion, belongs to its 1965 predecessor, Highway 61 Revisited. However, these albums have been linked together as Blonde On Blonde is sometimes regarded as the third part of Dylan’s mid-1960s trilogy of rock albums which commenced with Bringing It All Back Home. The album has also been considered the first significant double album in rock music (and is the first true double album to be reviewed by Classic Rock Review.

After the release of Highway 61 Revisited in August 1965, Dylan went on some extensive touring with his new “electric” band which had so upset the audience and organizers of 1965 Newport Folk Festival. During this time he contacted a group who were performing under the name Levon and the Hawks. The band was comprised of four Canadian musicians, including guitarist Robbie Robertson, and would eventually come to be called “The Band”. Dylan rehearsed with the Hawks in Toronto on September 15, and eventually they all went into Columbia Records studios in New York City. There they recorded a hit single “Positively 4th Street” (which was not included on the album). Dylan was trying to formulate the shape of his next album, and soon became frustrated by the slow progress of the recordings with the Hawks in New York. Producer Bob Johnston suggested moving the sessions to Nashville where Johnston lived and had extensive experience with Nashville session musicians. Recordings for what would become Blonde On Blonde began there in February 1966.

Keyboardist Al Kooper assisted Dylan in the songwriting process by working song arrangements out on piano and then teaching the tunes to the studio musicians at the recording sessions. However one song, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, confused the musicians who expected to end many times before the entire eleven and a half minutes of the final recording. The final day of recording sessions ultimately produced six songs in thirteen hours of studio time, including “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, which featured a trumpet part by bassist Charlie McCoy, and the giddy, half-serious “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, where a local trombonist was recruited to join in.

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Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan
Released: May 16, 1966 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Music Row Studios, Nashville, February-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile
(with the Memphis Blues Again)
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like a Woman
Side Three Side Four
Most Likely You Go Your Way
Temporary Like Achilles
Absolutely Sweet Marie
4th Time Around
Obviously 5 Believers
Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Vocals
Robbie Robertson – Guitar, Vocals
Al Kooper – Organ, Guitar
Charlie McCoy – Bass, Trumpet
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

The fun, if silly, song with dual meanings is about the escapism of getting stoned on pot due to the inevitability of getting stoned by society. Combine this with a wild musical ride brought about by tambourine, harmonica, clapping, hooting, hollering, piano, and the aforementioned trumpet and trombone, and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is an extremely unique and fun song. “Pledging My Time” follows with a similar quickly-put-together sound, but without the fun of the opener. Luckily, this is followed by “Visions of Johanna”, a lyrical triumph with a simple but effective musical backing. There are some really cool effects thrown throughout the song, but it leans a bit on the lengthy side. Not that Dylan fans ever minded length very much.

The album returns from a lyrical odyssey with the fantastic keyboard-driven “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”. This song blends Dylan’s lyrics with a great musical spine. The piano drives the song up and down like rolling hills as Dylan’s voices leads the way. It also contains great lines –

And I told you, as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant to do you any harm
But sooner or later one of us must know
But you just did what you’re supposed to do
Sooner or later one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you…”

The lyrics point to a scorned lover, but the music keeps things up beat and mellow almost as if the music is trying to keep the scorned lover happy while Dylan breaks her heart. Side Two of this four-sided album begins the classic, simple and perfect “I Want You”. This song contains perhaps the best opening line of any song period –

The guilty undertaker sighs, the lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns, blow into my face with scorn
But it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you…”

From here the song becomes one of the most simplistic sex songs in history. Dylan doesn’t convolute the feelings being expressed in the song and he adds little imagery to the fact that he wants the woman the song is addressing. It’s a love song without love, but it isn’t lust either. Dylan just isn’t sugar coating what he wants with hidden meanings.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” is another long one, but the funky guitar and keyboard use makes this song a lot more interesting than the goliath “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, which closes the album. I could keep putting in examples of Dylan’s fantastic lyrics, but then this review would have more of Dylan than Dylan. That was a joke playing on my middle name which comes from this very same artist. Silly yes, but needed? I think so. “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” is a lyrical jam that still feels fresh after seven minutes of run time. Especially with lyrics like –

One was Texas Medicine, and the other was Railroad Jin, and like a fool I mixed them…”

“…your debutant just knows what you need, but I know what you want…”

So maybe I lied about quoting from the songs anymore. Those lyrics are two that always resonated with me for personal reasons. Who hasn’t mixed Texas Medicine and Railroad Gin? “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” is another very Dylan song that pokes fun at the fashion industry. Dylan is commenting on the fact that outrageous fashion trends, like leopard-skin pillbox hats are fleeting and silly much like fashion as an industry which creates faux crazes over the clothes it declares to be in to rack up cash from people who can’t just be comfortable with what they want to wear. The song is great and the guitar and drums again create a topsy-turvy sense in the music.

Bob Dylan in 1966

“Just Like a Woman” has Dylan’s lyrics, but the music sounds so similar to the simple beats of “Visions of Johanna” that someone who has heard the album multiple times can get a bit bored. In order for a Dylan song to be great it must have the lyrical and musical components working together to bring about a unity of song. Not all the songs on Blonde On Blonde do this, yet none of these songs really lack lyrically. They occasionally just have overly simple beats that don’t change enough to keep a listener’s attention.

As we proceed to “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, it becomes apparent that there are two distinct sounds that make up Blonde On Blonde – the up-tempo, fun sounding sound, as on this song, and the melancholy, simple-beat songs like “Just Like a Woman”. If you couldn’t tell, I prefer the up-tempo fun sounding ones. “Most Likely You Go Your Way..” is a bit short, but still a good listen. “Temporary Like Achilles” is one of the melancholy songs. Dylan’s voice is slow and simple but the piano plays a strangely interesting melody through the first chorus, until the song slows down a bit for the duration. The album then jumps back to the fun, more pop-oriented “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, where the guitar and drums return to exciting change-up mode and Dylan’s voice is back at its peak. The lyrics also seem more interesting with a good back beat –

Well, six white horses that you did promise/Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary/But to live outside the law, you must be honest…”

Verbal hypocrisy abounds in those fine-tuned lyrics. The song even has a few jam sections spread throughout the chorus. Slight changes in instruments and times also seem to flow out towards the end of the song.

One of the few melancholy songs I really love on this album is “4th Time Around”, a loose tribute to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”, which was in itself an ode to Dylan in that it uses his language to hide a scandalous affair. I love the song because of the guitar which runs up and down through the songs. Up to this point I’ve avoided the stories surrounding Dylan’s various songs only because there are so many, but this one just seemed to cool to ignore. Onwards to another playful song – “Obviously 5 Believers” which has quite blues vibe running all the way through it. I could easily see a house band jamming out in a crowded bar to this song which closes out side three. The album closes with the side-long “Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands”, perhaps the only Dylan song from the period that I really don’t like. It is a far cry from “Desolation Row”, which closed out the prior album.

I still contend that I think that previous album is superior to Blonde On Blonde, but that does not mean that this is not a solid album with a solid place in Dylan’s sixties career. The songs that have lyrics and music are the classics here and they are the ones people remember for a reason. Then again, this is just one Dylan’s opinion. Feel free to argue the point with me.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Album of the Year 1991

Ten by Pearl Jam

Album of the Year 1991

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Ten by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s excellent debut is one of the most potent and indelible of debut albums ever released. The album called Ten was released in August 1991, at the vanguard of a new musical movement spearheaded by the Seattle grunge invasion. This album has sold just over ten million copies to date. More importantly, the fusion of syles and songcraft worked to forge a sound which would have immediate ripples through the hard rock world and beyond.

The album and the band itself came together after situations that developed rapidly in the 18 months prior to Ten‘s release. Pearl Jam’s founding members, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Steve Gossard, played together in the band Mother Love Bone during the late 1980s. That band’s career was cut short when, shortly before the release of the group’s debut album, vocalist Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose in 1990. Devastated, Gossard and Ament did not play together for months until they began jamming with fellow Seattle guitarist Mike McCready. Soon they recorded a few instrumental demos, which came to be known as the “Stone Gossard Demos”. These tapes were circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer to complete a rock band. San Diego vocalist Eddie Vedder acquired a copy of the demo and began to write lyrics for the instrumentals. Songs originally titled “Dollar Short”, “Agytian Crave”, and “E Ballad” were soon reworked as “Alive”, “Once”, and “Black”. Gossard and Ament heard the updated demo with Vedder’s vocals and lyrics, and sent him a ticket to fly to Seattle for an audition on October 13, 1990. There Vedder rehearsed with the band, which now included drummer Dave Krusen.

The new band was initially named Mookie Blaylock after the New Jersey Nets basketball star, but because Blaylock had recently landed a deal with Nike, the band had to reconsider the name and settle on Pearl Jam, while Ten‘s title was taken from Blaylock’s jersey number. They soon landed a deal with Epic Records and entered Seattle’s London Bridge Studios in March 1991 with producer Rick Parashar. In little more than a month, the sessions were completed and soon after, in May 1991, Krusen left the band to enter rehab and was replaced by drummer Matt Chamberlain.

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Ten by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Pearl Jam
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March 27-April 26, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Once
Even Flow
Alive
Why Go
Black
Jeremy
Oceans
Porch
Garden
Deep
Release / Master-Slave
Eddie Vedder – Vocals
Mike McCready – Lead Guitar
Steve Gossard – Guitar
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Krusan – Drums
 
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Vedder’s lyrics for the album are mainly negative and deal with subjects like depression, loneliness, and suicide. The song “Jeremy” was inspired, in part, by a true story in which a high school student shot himself in front of his classmates. This haunting but catchy tune includes an unconventional storytelling vocal melody during the verse and a soaring hook during the chorus. The music for the song was written on acoustic guitar by bassist Jeff Ament in February 1991, just before the band went into the studio.

Both the opener “Once” and the brilliant “Alive” were formed as part of a three song cycle by Vedder called “Mamasan” (with the third song, “Footsteps”, a B-side on the “Jeremy” single). “Alive” starts with a slow, methodical, majestic intro by Gossard, but is then dominated by Vedder with his distinct and odd vocals and melody. A simple but entertaining guitar riff in the calm bridge gives way to a contrasting coda/crescendo jam by McCready. While the song’s lyric deals with the shock of a son discovering that his real father is dead, many fans have come to interpret interpreted “Alive” as an uplifting and inspirational anthem.

Pearl Jam Evenflow singleAccording to the band members, “Evenflow” was an extremely difficult song to record, taking up to 75 to 100 attempts to capture effectively. The result, however, is another classic, vocally driven song with a great hook during chorus and a heavy funk riff by Gossard. The song nearly fades away during the lead bridge, before coming back with a vengeance in another outtro crescendo. Vedder’s lyrics describe his experience of being a homeless man and panhandler. The song was released as the second single from Ten and peaked at #3 on the Mainstream Rock charts.

The album also includes a couple of calm, surreal, melancholy efforts that act as an excellent counter-weight to the heavier songs on the album. “Black” is a melancholy song with obscure lyrics that appear to deal with a loss of some kind. It contains a signature, harmonic vocal motif which, combined with an accompanying lead guitar, forms a memorable sonic hook in the background of the song. The acoustic and melodic “Oceans” is nearly a love song with a few odd passages and percussive effects which make it a unique ballad. “Release” is a more droning and atmospheric piece.

Pearl Jam in 1991

Ten was not an immediate success, as it initially sold slowly upon its release. It took until the later part 1992 until it finally caught on in the mainstream, peaking at #2 on the Billboard album chart. Ironically, Pearl Jam was then accused by some of “jumping on the grunge bandwagon” in the wake of the immediate success by their crosstown contemporaries Nirvana, even though that band released their breakthrough album, Nevermind in September 1991, a month later than Pearl Jam’s debut. There has been much debate over the years over which of these two albums from 1991 was the superior effort. For us at Classic Rock Review there is no contest as Ten is deeper, better sounding, with better songs and much less filler material. That is why it is our Album of the Year for 1991.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Metallica 1991 album

Metallica (Black Album) by Metallica

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Metallica 1991 albumAfter four studio albums and ever-building popularity in the 1980s, heavy metal band Metallica felt they were poised for their artistic breakthrough. During the summer of 1990, the band got together to write some songs lead by primary songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, but with input from the other members of the band; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted.

The band then hired Bob Rock as mixing engineer, having been impressed by his past work with Mötley Crüe. However, after comparing the band’s previous studio albums to a recent live show, Rock was convinced that the band was not capturing their live energy in their self-produced recordings and convinced Metallica, to hire him on as full producer, to which they agreed. As Ulrich stated, “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it.” However, things did not go smoothly at first, as Rock was very frank and forthcoming with the band and they resented being told what to do. Eventually Rock reached an implicit compromise with the band members. He would not mess with their arrangements, just their tempo, and after about 8 months of marathon rehearsing, recording, and mixing sessions, they forged a new and tremendously successful sound for Metallica. It was a combination of the band’s traditional thrash metal grit with a slowed down tempo, diverse instrumentation, and more melodic vocals. Under Rock’s direction, the bass guitar was also brought up to a more equitable position in the mix, which also enhanced the breadth of the sound and added a new, doomier dimension.

The result was the band’s 1991 eponymous fifth album that would come to be known as “The Black Album”, due to its simple cover and packaging. The album would go on to tremendous commercial success, breaking the radio silence that many thought the band would never realistically break through.

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Metallica by Metallica
Released: August 13, 1991 (Electra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield, & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles,
October 6, 1990-June 16, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Enter Sandman
Sad But True
Holier Than Thou
The Unforgiven
Wherever I May Roam
Don’t Tread On Me
Through the Never
Nothing Else Matters
Of Wolf & Man
The God That Failed
My Friend of Misery
The Struggle Within
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Lead Guitar
Jason Newstead – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums, Percussion

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The lynchpin that holds the entire look and feel of The Black Album together is the opener “Enter Sandman”. Built off a riff by Kirk Hammett, this doomy, futuristic sounding motif was the first written for the album and the last recorded, but the first mixed so Rock could use it as a sonic template for the final, mixed and mastered sound of the album. A rather simple song with a simple theme on dreams and nightmares, “Enter Sandman” would become a recognizable audio icon in many corners of pop culture. The song is followed by “Sad But True”, which could almost be considered “Enter Sandman, Pt II”, as it has a similar sound and theme about dreams. “Holier Than Thou” was originally slated as the first “emphasis single”, as it harkens back to the band’s traditional, thrash metal style, with the sound driven by Hetfield’s layered rhythm guitars and Ulrich’s front & center double-kick drums.

On a macro level, the album winds through a journey of differing sounds which fuse with the base, core sound of the band. “Wherever I May Roam” starts with an Eastern-influenced sitar riff before kicking into the typical, slow beat metal sound, occasionally reaching other gears as it works through some odd timing signatures while maintaining an overall cohesiveness. “Don’t Tread On Me” has a marching, almost patriotic feel in the intro before it nicely fuses into a steady beat with interesting chord changes during the verses, making it a unique listen on the album. “Nothing Else Matters” was a love song written by Hetfield, which he originally did not intend to use for Metallica but was eventually encouraged to do so by the other band members. The song includes a full orchestral score by Michael Kamen, most of which was not used for the album’s version of the song, but was remixed for an alternate “elevator version”, which the band found fascinating.

Metallica

Another personal song written by Hetfield is “The God That Failed”, which dealt with growing up in a family with Christian Science beliefs that forbid medical treatment from outside physicians. Hetfield’s mother eventually died from cancer, in part because of this practice. Newsted’s main songwriting contribution to the album is “My Friend of Misery”. The song, which begins with a doomy bass riff, was originally intended to be an instrumental (as all previous Metallica albums had contained one) but was adapted into a proper song that fits nicely with the overall feel of the album.

The best song on the album is “The Unforgiven”. Like much of their songs, it contains building and fluctuating sections held together by consistent drumming by Ulrich, but “The Unforgiven” offers a reverse method by returning to the calm and melodic during the chorus, not the verse. From the finger-picked, classical acoustic guitar in the intro, to the melancholy guitar lead, to Hetfield’s best vocal performance ranging from traditional grit in the verse to a softer, very melodic melody during the choruses, this song is a bonafide classic. Apparently the band concurred, writing two sequels – 1997’s “Unforgiven II” from ReLoad and 2008’s “Unforgiven III” from Death Magnetic. Ironically, the band lifted a horn sound from an old Clint Eastwood “spaghetti western” for the intro to this song, while Eastwood would return to westerns the following year with a film named Unforgiven.

Prior to this album, most critics dismissed Metallica as an over-hyped garage band, which would never catch on beyond the core of dedicated, cult-like fans. Metallica would prove them wrong and make many in the ever-changing industry reconsider the scope of genres which have mass appeal. The album would be a major influence for the post-grunge sound of the mid to late nineties and be the absolute pinnacle of Metallica’s long and successful career. As Hammett simply referred to it; “it is our Dark Side of the Moon”.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

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Psychotic Supper by TeslaOut of the deluge of “hair bands” that populated the rock scene in the late 1980s, Tesla was, perhaps, the most talented and interesting. The band composed songs which were deeper and less formulaic and had slightly better dynamics then the clones of Poison or Mötley Crüe. By the time the band got around to its third studio album, Psychotic Supper in 1991, they seemed primed to move into the top level of popular rock bands. Their previous studio album, Great Radio Controversy in 1989, got their great radio play with a few charting hits as well as critical respected. This was followed by the live Five Man Acoustical Jam, which put the band on the cutting edge of the rising trend of performing stripped down versions of heavier songs in an intimate setting. With that setup, the band looked to knock it out of the park with this release.

But Psychotic Supper suffered greatly from its time and place in the rock and roll scene. It was released within 30 days of two of the most influential albums of the decade coming out of the Seattle grunge scene – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which would become a phenomenon in the coming years. To compound this misfortune, Tesla’s album was also released within 30 days of long awaited albums by established artists – Metallica’s self-titled (black) album and Guns n Rose’s duo realease of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. All of this combined to “crowd out” the news of the release and effectively diffuse any momentum that Tesla had built.

The album contains a more stripped-down production method (than practiced in the eighties) and few overdubs to give it an air of legitimacy and live feel. It is the band’s bluesy, acoustic-tinged, approach at its height, with just a flourish of self-indulgence which may have further “dated” the sound in a year of radical change in rock n’ roll.

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Psychotic Supper by Tesla
Released: August 30, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero
Recorded: 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Change In the Weather
Edison’s Medicine
Don’t De-Rock Me
Call It What You Want
Song and Emotion
Time
Government Personnel
Freedom Slaves
Had Enough
What You Give
Stir It Up
Can’t Stop
Toke About It
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitar, Keyboards
Brian Wheat – Bass, Piano
Troy Luccketta – Drums & Percussion

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

“Call It What You Want” is one of the most striking songs with the moody and melodic intro morphing into an exciting, upbeat theme with dynamic vocals and sonically pleasing guitar accents. While the “Tesla sound” may be encompassed in “Call It What You Want”, their overall band theme could be “Edison’s Medicine”, which tells the story about the famous inventor Thomas Edison and his lesser known (but equally brilliant) rival Nikola Tesla, the band’s namesake.

“Song and Emotion” is an almost bluesy rendition on picked electric lead by the soulful vocals of Keith. The song slowly works its way in before exploding into a heavier rhythm while still maintaining its original feel. “Government Personnel” is a pure acoustic, near-spoof that lasts barely a minute but is still very entertaining. The highly suggestive “Toke About It” uses Van Halen-like showmanship rock to present a party atmosphere to close out the album.

“What You Give” is the most memorable anthem from Psychotic Supper, due especially to the interplay between Frank Hannon on acoustic and Tommy Skeoch on electric guitars. The song itself is a philosophical examination of relationships that is intentionally slow developing to accent the vocal performance as well as its own fine arrangement.

Some of the heavier material on the album include the driving, accent-heavy, and aptly titled “Don’t De-Rock Me” and the more standard fare “Had Enough” with some bluesy-edged lead guitars.

Tesla never quite fit into any specific box as far as genre goes, and sadly this prevented the band from getting their due in retrospective critique. In the late eighties they were a step ahead of the (what was then considered) “heavy metal” scene and in the early nineties they weren’t melodramatic enough to benefit from the grunge or alternative waves that swept the rock world. Psychotic Supper was, in effect, the band’s “last hurrah”. After their next album, Bust a Nut in 1994, the band commenced a six year “hiatus” to close out the century which all but ended the productive portion of their run at fame.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Blood Sugar Sex Magik
by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili PeppersJust as the Red Hot Chili peppers were starting to break out in the late 1980s, two of the band’s members were struggling mightily with drug abuse. One of them, lead singer Anthony Kiedis, decided to get clean and survived. Unfortunately the other, guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in June 1988. The band’s then drummer Jack Irons subsequently quit due to the substance problems in the band and went on to help form Pearl Jam. So Kiedis and bassist Flea were left to search for a new guitarist and drummer.

Guitarist John Frusciante was an avid fan of the band and auditioned along with former P-Funk guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight. Frusciante was ultimately chosen to fill Slovak’s place along with drummer Chad Smith, who joined just prior to production of the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk, which would be their last album with EMI. Courted by many labels, the band ultimately signed with Warner Brothers, at the urging of Kiedis and Rick Rubin was brought in to produce the Chili Peppers first album for the label.

At Rubin’s suggestion, the band recorded the album in an old mansion once owned by magician Harry Houdini. In early summer 1991, equipment was moved in and the band decided that they would remain inside the mansion for the duration of recording. Frusciante, Kiedis, and Flea each had their own separate rooms at each end of the house and Kiedis ended up recording all his vocals in his room, as it was large enough to accommodate the recording equipment. For over thirty days, the Chili Peppers worked inside the house on the album that would become Blood Sugar Sex Magic.

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: September 24, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: The Mansion, Los Angeles, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Power of Equality
If You Have to Ask
Breaking the Girl
Funky Monks
Suck My Kiss
I Could Have Lied
Mellowship Slinky in B Major
The Righteous & the Wicked
Give It Away
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Under the Bridge
Naked In the Rain
Apache Rose Peacock
The Greeting Song
My Lovely Man
Sir Psycho Sexy
They’re Red Hot
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals, Trumpet, Keyboards
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

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The album would go on to be their blockbuster breakthrough, spawning several radio-friendly “hits” which were cherry-picked from a super-sized album loaded with funk/hip-hop fused, sexually-charged explicit material. The first of these hits was “Give It Away”, a very simple and catchy rap which first brought the album some mainstream attention in the Fall of 1991. This paved the way for the follow-up single which would put the band over the top for the first time in their career.

RHCP Under the Bridge single“Under the Bridge” was at first considered one of those songs that did “not fit the style” of the band. It was written by Kiedis as he reflected on his heroin and cocaine addictions about a moment that he came to believe was his lowest point. It started as a poem which Rubin stumbled upon and suggested Kiedis show it to the rest of the band. After some convincing, he sang the verse to Frusciante, they began structuring the song. After the song was recorded, Rubin felt the grand and epic outtro would benefit from a large group of singers. Frusciante invited his mother, Gail and her friends, all of whom sang in a choir, to perform the outtro.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik begins with a couple of rap songs with funk backing – “The Power OF Equality” and “If You Have to Ask”, each a bit trite and mundane compared to the album’s stronger material. The album then suddenly takes a sharp turn with “Breaking the Girl”, one of its more melodic tracks and a complete departure from the hip-hop/funk canvas. Acoustic and dreamy with pulsating bass, long strings and a tribalistic drum beat, the song shows that Kleidis can sing when he wants to.

Here the album starts to get much more interesting. Following “Breaking the Girl” is Flea’s slap-bass fueled “Funky Monks”, complete with high-pitched chorus vocals and a more interesting arrangement. This is followed by the heavier “Suck My Kiss”, an excellent song of pure energy that employs the higher tactic of innuendo in contrast to the more explicit songs. A softer, almost love song follows called “I Could Have Lied”. Driven by melodic bass, acoustic, steady drums, and a toned down, soft vocal, Kiedis supposedly wrote this about his brief relationship he had with Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor.

“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is a funk sandwich wrapped in the bread of pure rock riffs, while “The Righteous and the Wicked” is another enjoyable listen, being bass groove driven, with a funky guitar, melodic vocals, and a good hook. It is essential Red Hot Chili Peppers in its diversity and even contains a nice riff in the middle which has a definitive Led Zeppelin quality

Unfortunately, as the 17-song album goes along much of the later material tends to be repetitive and overdone. One exception may be the eight minute mini-suite, “Sir Psycho Sexy”, which has a bit of a Frank Zappa quality to it musically accompanying porno-level explicitly sexual lyrics.

Despite some of the shortcomings, the album is a must have for any serious rock collector, especially those interested in unique sound and fusion. With Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers set out to make their best possible album, which would be long remembered, and they definitely accomplished that goal.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Out of Time by REM

Out of Time by R.E.M.

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Out of Time by REMFollowing the success of R.E.M.‘s 1988 album Green and the extensive supporting tour which followed, the band took nearly a year to recuperate before reconvening to produce their next album. That album would come in 1991 and be titled Out of Time, and would serve to further expose this once niche alternative band to mainstream commercial audiences. The seventh studio album by the band, Out Of Time was by far the most richly produced to date, with more relatable compositions, an expansion of the instrumentation used, cameos from contemporary artists, and much more attention paid to sonic detail of the finished product.

The album combines the elements which were carried over from Green – pop and folk – with the addition of country, funk, and classical elements. The band’s chief lyricist, singer Michael Stipe, moved away from the overtly political themes they had used frequently in the 1980s, towards more personally-relatable and accessible songs, a direction they would continue through the 1990s.

Fueled by the blockbuster hit “Losing My Religion”, which became the band’s biggest, Out of Time would top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the fact that R.E.M. did not tour to support the album. The single and album won a combined three Grammy Awards in 1992 and to date has sold over 18 million copies worldwide.


Out of Time by R.E.M.
Released: March 12, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, Sep-Oct 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Radio Song
Losing My Religion
Low
Near Wild Heaven
Endgame
Shiny Happy People
Belong
Half a World Away
Texarkana
Country Feedback
Me in Honey
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals, Melodica
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

Out of Time by R.E.M.

The album commences with “Radio Song”, a lighthearted funk that was completely unique to anything the band had done to that point. The song features vocals by KRS-One, leader of Boogie Down Productions, and also shows off the talents of the band’s drummer Bill Berry. Another popular song from the album to include a guest vocalist was “Shiny Happy People”, featuring Kate Pierson of the B-52s. The song is introduced with a unique string arrangement before breaking into a typical, upbeat R.E.M. riff. It became the band’s fourth career Top 10 hit. The song’s title is based on a Southern phrase meaning “being at the end of one’s rope, however Stipe has also stated the lyrics are influenced by unrequited love.

Near Wild Heaven” was another single released from the album, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It was the first such song to be written and sung by Mills. Mills also provided vocals for “Texarkana”. While this was not released as an official “single”, did well on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Country Feedback” was written as a stream-of-conscious by Stipe who claims he sang it in one take as an experiment and it was not re-recorded. The recording features pedal steel guitar by John Keane.

With the success of Out of Time, R.E.M.’s status grew to a top-level, major act from their humble beginnings as a “cult band” on colleg radio. They would continue the momentum into the next year with 1992’s Automatic For the People.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

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Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin DoctorsAs the Grateful Dead’s long career began to wind down in the early nineties, there were many pseudo-hippie, jam-oriented bands that emerged to fill the void for the “dead heads”. Although many would ultimately have long and successful careers (i.e. Phish, Widespread Panic), none would achieve greater concentrated commercial success than the Spin Doctors. The band’s debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, released in 1991, became a huge (albeit belated) commercial success through 1993 and 1994. This was fueled by some catchy and concise pop songs, starting with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” followed by “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olson Blues”.

Pocket Full of Kryptonite languished for nearly a year as the band embarked on nearly non-stop touring of small and medium clubs in the Northeast. Then some of the songs were finally picked up by radio, and once in the rotation, these songs stuck around for a long time. The catchy, repetitive, three or four chord riffs and funky rhythm were perfectly suited for radio in the early nineties and Spin Doctors soon became a sensation, selling millions of albums around the world. Ultimately, the multi-platinum album sold millions world-wide and Spin Doctors looked poised to launch a long and successful career. But this was not to be, the band’s fame seemed to decline nearly as rapidly as it rose, by 1996 they were no longer a major label act.

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Pocket Full of Krypotonite by Spin Doctors
Released: August 20, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Frank Aversa, Peter Deneberg, Frankie La Rocka, Spin Doctors
Recorded: Power Station & RPM Studios, New York, August-December 1990
Track Listing Band Musicians
Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
What Time Is It?
Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Forty or Fifty
Refrigerator Car
More Than She Knows
Two Princes
Off My Line
How Could You Want Him
Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist
Chris Barron – Vocals
Eric Schenkman – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mark White – Bass
Aaron Comess – Drums, Vocals

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There is something really cool about the tie-in of the album’s title with the opener “Jimmy Olsen Blues”. This catchy song tells the story of an alternate universe where young Jimmy Olsen plots the destruction of the ultimate superhero to win the affection of Lois Lane. Like most of the hits, the song is fueled by the riffs of guitarist Eric Schenkman which cut through the moderate and measured vocals of Chris Barron.

“Two Princes” would ultimately become the band’s biggest ever hit, not just through radio and commercial channels, but also in pop culture. It was used as song of celebration by the 1993 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies, as a theme on several television shows including the children’s show Sesame Street and an Israeli TV comedy, and has been featured in several movies as well as covered by many bands.

While most of the tracks on Pocket Full of Krytonite are short, pop-ready hits, the band does takes some different approaches. The nearly pure funk “What Time Is It?”, is led by the slap-bass of Mark White while their “jam band” core seeps through in songs such as the ten minute closer “Shinbone Alley/Hard To Exist”.

Although, Spin Doctors would go on to record and release five more studio albums through 2005, none of these would achieve any critical recognition or commercial success of note.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

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Mama Said by Lenny KravitzLenny Kravitz followed up his brilliant 1989 debut, Let Love Rule with Mama Said two years later. Although many critics thought this sophomore effort paled in comparison, Mama Said was Kravitz’s commercial breakthrough. The album was a stylistic evolution from his debut reflecting the changes in Kravitz’s life. His recent breakup with wife Lisa Bonet made Mama Said an album filled with emotions of loss and sadness as well as the denial of such. Some have referred to this as Kravitz’s “divorce album”.

As the sole producer of the album and performer of most of its music, Kravitz was innovative and inspired, fusing elements of jazz, soul, rock, and dance music. He was also free to enlist musicians of his choosing to help out. Former high school classmate and current Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash helped out on a few songs. Kravitz even co-wrote a song with Sean Ono Lennon, the 15-year-old son of his musical idol John Lennon. The song was “All I Ever Wanted”, on which Lennon also played piano. For the most part, however, Kravitz was pretty much a one man band on this album with engineer Henry Hirsch filling in on a variety of instruments where needed.

Some listeners have also noted that Kravitz moved forward a couple years in parallel from the late sixties influence fixations of Let Love Rule to the early seventies sound of Mama Said, which sounds like it could have been produced during that era.

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Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1990-1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Fields Of Joy
Always On the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
More Than Anything In This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Difference Is Why
Stop Draggin’ Around
Flowers For Zoe
Fields Of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Butterfly
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums
Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements
Karl Denson – Saxophone
David Domanich – Drums

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Slash joined in for the first two songs, the emotive “Fields of Joy” and the intense “Always On the Run”. This latter song was a dedication to Kravitz’s mother, actress Roxie Roker, and the default title song of the album. It was also co-written by Slash and combines some very funky Sly Stone-esque grooves and horns with some Hendrix-like heavy rock guitars.

The following two songs, seem to indicate non-acceptance of his faltering marriage, the Lennon-esque “Stand By My Woman” and the swirling Philly soul sound of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. Both are very entertaining and melodic hits, with the latter featuring a pulsating bass line, a sitar riff, many strings, and the singer’s flawless, high pitched vocals. The video for this song is nearly an exact replica of the Doors 1968 performance on The Smothers Brothers show, complete with Kravitz dressed nearly exactly the way Jim Morrison did for that performance.

It Ain't Over Til It's Over Video by Lenny Kravitz, 1991     Touch Me Video by The Doors, 1968

Other standouts on Mama Said are the quiet ballad “Flowers For Zoe,” written for Kravitz’s daughter , the anti-song anthem “When The Morning Turns To Light”, and a psychedelic song with a vulgar name, “What The Fuck Are We Saying?”. Kravitz returns to the high falsetto on the brilliant, jazz influenced “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which gradually builds with guitars, horns, strings, and saxophone, while remaining cool and refrained throughout.

With the commercial success of Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz was poised to deliver a string of successful albums through the rest of the nineties, although the edge that he possessed on his first two releases would never quite return.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

1991 Images

Gish by Smashing Pumkins

Gish by The Smashing Pumpkins

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Gish by Smashing PumkinsGish is the debut album by alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, released independently in 1991. The album was co-produced by Butch Vig and recorded in his studio in Madison, Wisconsin. The other co-producer was the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Billy Corgan who worked tirelessly on getting the right sound, spending hours each on everything from harmonies to guitar tones to drum tunings. This was highly unusual for indy recordings at the time, which were usually recorded “nearly live” in a few days due to shoe-string budgets. This album had about 30 days of working sessions and was very intense and stressful for the four band members.

The result is a technically proficient album with strong performances by all members, starting with the beautifully executed syncopation by drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who was described as a jazz/hard-rock drum freak let loose on alt-rock radio. Along with Corgan, the rich and layered guitars were performed by James Iha, who has a knack for playing catchy melodies. Rounding out the lineup is bassist D’arcy Wretzky, whose low, cutting bass lines have been compared to that of Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.

The album itself has two distinctive influences – a hard-edged, alternative metal and a softer, psychedelic, dreamy influence. On Gish, these distinctions are often pulled apart, making it slightly unballanced overall, top-heavy with the songs with the most punch up front. Corgan was the son of a professional jazz guitarist and started his musical career in the early 1980’s forming the the Smashing Pumpkins in 1988 in Chicago.


Gish by Smashing Pumpkins
Released: May 28, 1991 (Caroline)
Produced by: Butch Vig & Billy Corgan
Recorded: Smart Studios, Madison, WI, December 1990–March 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
I Am One
Siva
Rhinoceros
Bury Me
Crush
Suffer
Snail
Tristessa
Window Paine
Daydream
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
James Iha – Guitars, Vocals
D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums

Gish by Smashing Pumkins

Four songs on the album were previously recorded as demos in 1989. “I Am One” starts the album and was Smashing Pumpkin’s first single. A frenetic and explosive rocker led by Chamberlin’s opening groove and the many layers of guitars by Corgan and Iha. The closer “Daydream” is also in this group, although it varies widely as a folky number featuring D’Arcy on lead vocals and including a “hidden track” at the very end.

The psychedelic “Rhinoceros” contains a cool and unique tremolo guitar and almost whispered vocals, giving an effect that is at once fascinating and nerve wracking. At over 6 minutes, it is the longest song on the album and provides a glimpse into the type of material that the band would develop in later years. It is one of the few early songs that would be performed live consistently throughout the band’s career.

A couple more of the heavier songs on the album are “Siva”, with flowing feedback and crunchy guitars and the catchy “Bury Me”, which is held together by D’Arcy’s bassline and features co-lead vocals by Iha.

Then there are the dreamy/pop sixties-influenced numbers. “Suffer” is a steady jam with soft, chiming riffs and beats by all band members. It includes several soun effects, like a distored sitar approximation and a strange flute solo. Corgan has described “Snail” as his favorite from this album primarily because it is so unapparent as anything of quality upon first listen, but slowly creeps into a better place. “Tristessa” took its title from Jack Kerouac’s 1960 novella of the same name. The word is Spanish for “sadness” and the song was originally pressed as a 7″ single prior to the release of this album.

Released prior to the more heralded 1991 albums by Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Gish nonetheless paved the way for Smashing Pumpkins to become one of the most important alt-rock bands of the 1990s. Although the album had no chart success and many mainstream critics didn’t look at this album untll the years when the band’s popularity was exploding, Gish eas the highest selling independent album for three years following its release.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.