Woodstock '94 stage

Comebacks and Reunions

Woodstock '94 stage

Through the long history of rock and roll, there have been impressive second acts. We’ve spoken about such comebacks during some of our late 1980s reviews, most prominently the full re-ascent of the band,  Aerosmith, and the  Traveling Wilburys 1988 Album of the Year. As for reunions, the group Yes made the ultimate attempt with their 1991 album Union, which included all eight past and (then) present members from various eras of the band.

1994 Albums and Tours

The year 1994 was a particularly active year for comebacks and reunions. We’ve touched on some of these in recent weeks with our reviews of The Division Bell by Pink Floyd and American Recordings by Johnny Cash. For Pink Floyd, it was their final album and sparked what would be their last world tour, while for Johnny Cash it was the beginning of the last great phase of his long career. Below is a list of four additional “reunion” albums released during 1994.

Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles

Hell Freezes Over
The Eagles
November 8, 1994 (Geffen)
Produced by Stan Lynch, Elliot Scheiner, Carol Donovan, & Rob Jacobs

As the title suggests, by the early 1990s an Eagles reunion seemed like a very remote possibility. But The Eagles had reformed after a fourteen-year-long break up, with the same lineup which was intact when they disbanded in 1980. Hell Freezes Over, its accompanying video, and the subsequent two-year tour which followed were all very successful. Even though there were only four new tracks on this live release, the album sold over six million copies. Music fans were more than ready for an Eagles reunion in 1994 and they enjoyed the newer arrangements of classic songs while propelling two of the newer tracks to Top 40 hits.

Far From Home by Traffic

Far From Home
Traffic
May 9, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Steve Winwood & Jim Capaldi

At the urging of Bob Weir, the living members of Traffic reunited to open for The Grateful Dead during their 1992 summer tour. Two years later, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi recorded and released a new album under the name “Traffic”, the first such release in 20 years. Although Far From Home had no involvement from the other four members of the group, it reached the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic and sparked an independent tour. This tour included an appearance at Woodstock ’94 (more on that festival below) and provided the content for a 2005 double live album and DVD package called, Last Great Traffic Jam.

Voodoo Lounge by The Rolling Stones

Voodoo Lounge
The Rolling Stones
July 11, 1994 (Virgin)
Produced by Don Was, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Their 20th studio album, Voodoo Lounge was the first new release by The Rolling Stones in half a decade. With the influence of producer Don Was, this was also mainly a return to the blues, R&B, and country rock which the band had employed during their classic late 1960s/early 1970s recordings. The result was a critical and commercial success as the album debuted at #1 in the UK and reached #2 in the US, spawned several radio hits, and is considered by many as the last great studio effort by the Stones.

No Quarter by Page and Plant

No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded
Page & Plant
November 8, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

After nearly a decade and a half of anticipation, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant finally reunited for a 90-minute “UnLedded” MTV project, a stripped-down, “unplugged” concert of Led Zeppelin classics recorded in various locations including Morocco, Wales, and London. With a great response to the television special, the duo decided to release an album called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. Along with the re-worked Zeppelin tunes, the album features four new original, Eastern-influenced songs, something the pair desired to compose since the Houses of the Holy sessions more than two decades earlier.

Woodstock ’94

A quarter century after the original, historic Woodstock festival, a new geneation experienced “3 More Days of Peace and Music” in Saugerties, New York at Woodstock ’94 on the weekend of August 12-14. The location of this concert (10 miles from the artist colony of Woodstock, NY) was originally intended for the 1969 festival, but that concert was ultimately moved to a farm in Bethel, New York.

Woodstock 94 muddy crowdThere were some striking similarities to that original concert, starting with the larger than expected crowd which ultimately caused the gates to be wide open and several thousands to enter for free. Ultimately, an estimated 350,000 attended Woodstock ’94, a huge crowd but about 100,000 short of the 1969 show. Another striking similarity between the two festivals was the rainy weather on the second day, which in this case turned much of the entire field had turned into mud.

Although the bulk of the more than 80 performance acts were contemporary performers, there were a respectable amount from the original Woodstock who appeared at Woodstock ’94. These included Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Band, John Sebastian, Santana, and Country Joe McDonald. Also, some members of original groups Sweetwater and Jefferson Airplane along with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, were additional Woodstock alumni to appear at the festival.

This concert was also a special event for three members of Aerosmith who attended the 1969 concert as teenagers and performed as a headliner in the 1994 festival. This was also a showcase for Peter Gabriel, who headlined the last night of the festival and closed Woodstock ’94.

21st Century Reunions

In more recent times, we’ve had Rush make an incredible comeback in the 2000s, various reunions by The Who, and a full reunion of the four core members of Pink Floyd for one single set during the Live 8 concert in 2005. Led Zeppelin also finally came together for a single reunion concert in London on December 10, 2007, with Page and Plant being joined by John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John Bonham.

Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion concert

As the years go along, there are increasingly more comebacks by classic rock acts.

~

Ric Albano

At Folsum Prison by Johnny Cash

At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash

Buy At Folsom Prison

At Folsum Prison by Johnny CashClassic Rock Review only covers studio albums, not compilations or live albums. But there will be one exception to this rule – At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash. This totally unique and legendary record, by one of the legendary founders of rock and Americana, may be the most honest album of all time. The album was recorded in one day at Folsom State Prison in California, where Cash performed two nearly identical shows during the morning and afternoon of January 13, 1968, with 15 tracks chosen for the album. We mentioned this during our Feature on Live Albums, when we proclaimed the studio album exclusivity. But again, this is an exception due to the artist and its place in time.

Cash had the concept of recording an album live in a prison since he wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” in 1955 and he finally got the go-ahead in 1967 from Columbia Records and producer Bob Johnston. Still, Cash mainly financed the project himself. Accompanying Cash on stage were “The Tennessee Three”; guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, who had worked with Cash since he moved to Memphis in 1954, and drummer W.S. Holland. The performers rehearsed for days, an uncommon occurrence for them, and were even visited by California governor Ronald Reagan during a rehearsal.

A few of the songs recorded but not released on the original album were the country waltz and farmer’s lament “Busted” and “Joe Bean”, a song about a prisoner falsely accused who faces a hanging on his birthday. “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer” is a theatrical song, written by Cash and his future wife June Carter, from the 1963 album Blood, Sweat, and Tears. With metallic hammer sounds throughout, this recording  suffers from too many tempo changes (which is probably why it was ultimately left off the album).

Cash himself was no stranger to run-ins with the law. Having struggled with drugs and alcohol, he was arrested several times in the late fifties and early sixties. Although he never served a prison sentence, these incidents helped cultivate his outlaw image which he embraced throughout his career. Still, Cash credits this album and the ensuing fame as helping turn his life around.


At Folsum Prison by Johnny Cash
Released: May, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Live at Folsom State Prison, January 13, 1968
Side One Side Two
Folsom Prison Blues
Dark As a Dungeon
I Still Miss Someone
Cocaine Blues
25 Minutes to Go
Orange Blossom Special
The Long Black Veil
Send a Picture of Mother
The Wall
Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog
Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart
Jackson
Give My Love to Rose
I Got Stripes
Green, Green Grass of Home
Greystone Chapel
Primary Musicians
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Luther Perkins – Guitars
June Carter – Vocals
Marshall Grant – Bass
W.S. Holland – Drums

The performances actually began with performances by Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers, who also joined Cash during the latter part of the performance. A prison MC encouraged the prisoners to “respond” to Cash’s performance, but also made personal announcements for prisoners (by number) when they had a visitor, making this all the more real. Cash breaks right into his performance with his signature “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” before breaking into “Folsom Prison Blues”. Cash was inspired to write this after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in the Air Force in West Germany. While it wasn’t a big hit originally, this live version became a Top 40 pop hit in 1968 and topped the Country charts.

Many of the remaining  songs on the album fit well with prison, sorrow, and longing for freedom. Merle Travis’s “Dark As a Dungeon” is a slow,  country waltz about Appalachian coal miners, while “I Still Miss Someone” is a short and sweet song with melodic vocals, written by Cash and his nephew Roy Cash Jr. Red Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues” is perhaps the most intense and exciting part of the first side, with the music again employing the famous “train” rhythm and fast shuffle throughout with the two note bass line of Grant, never really deviating until the very end.
 
Johnny Cash on stage at Folsom Prison
 
Shel Silverstein’s “25 Minutes to Go” is a countdown to execution, performed very similar (albeit inverse) to Cash’s famous flood song “Five Feet High and Rising” with a few key changes for effect. On this song, Cash sells the desperation well with lyrics like;

Well I’m waiting for the pardon that well set me free, with 9 more minutes to go, but this ain’t the movies so forget about me, 8 more minutes to go…”

On the traditional fiddle song “Orange Blossom Special”, Cash plays harmonica and sings all the parts in this frantic and breathless song with great drum rolls by Holland.

Cash then performed several ballads and folk songs solo, with just his acoustic guitar. “The Long Black Veil” is a haunting folk song, with haunting but beautiful vocals by Cash, which tell a story about a man falsely accused but refuses to provide an alibi in order to save the honor of his best friend’s wife. “Send a Picture of Mother” is a Johnny Cash original and pure folk song which shows that Cash’s originals are still the best songs in this collection. Harlan Howard’s “The Wall” is a song about escaping prison;

Well, the warden walked by and said son don’t try, I’d hate to see you fall, well, there is no doubt, they’re carry you out if you ever touch that wall…”

…lyrics to which Cash comments “they’re mean bastards, aren’t they?” A couple of novelty songs from his album Everybody Loves A Nut follow, “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” and “Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart”, adding comic relief to the show.

June Carter and the Tennessee Three bring the level back up with the recent hit from 1967, “Jackson”, one of the highlights of the second side. The album then concludes with a quartet of songs specifically about prison. “Give My Love to Rose” is a Cash original in the traditional tragic country form about a prisoner and his lament of not seeing his wife and son. This has a much larger chord set than most Cash songs, with guitarist Luther Perkins doing a great job with the subtle changes. “I Got Stripes” gets back to the upbeat train rhythm, while Curly Putman’s popular worldwide sixties tune “Green, Green Grass of Home” features the Statler Brothers and June Carter returning to the stage.

The album concludes with “Greystone Chapel”, an original composed by Glen Sherley, who was then an inmate at Folsom. Sherley made a recording of the song and passed it on to a pastor who regularly visited inmates at Folsom, who then got it to Cash. The inclusion of this song solidifies the authenticity of the album and its intent.

At Folsom Prison reached the Top 20 in several countries and really revitalized Cash’s career, with several of his earliest recordings making a popular comeback in subsequent years. Cash would record two more live albums at prisons; San Quentin in California in 1969 and Österåker Prison in Sweden in 1972. He also soon took on the persona of “The Man in Black” to show his solidarity with all the downtrodden.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Beatles official stereo collection

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

~

Ric Albano

Glass Half Full

Half Way There

Glass Half FullToday we reach the halfway point of Classic Rock Review’s five-year mission to review the most important albums of the classic rock era (1965-1995). So we figured that this was a good time to reflect on what’s been done so far as well as reveal some plans for future features on the site.

When we started the site, we mapped out a way to hit all those classic rock years by examining each one over an approximate two-month period, there are six review periods per calendar year. We chose this era because it encompasses the years spanning from when the modern “album” came into form and the dawning of the mp3-era, which effectively phased out the classic album. We also decided to not review these years in sequential order, instead opting to review “anniversary” years, divisible by five. We offer thorough and honest reviews that blend hard facts with seasoned opinions. We focus on both the qualities and issues with each album , although there inevitably is more positive than negative content because we only actually review albums of importance and a certain level of quality. However, beyond our single Album of the Year designation for each year reviewed, we do use any rating system and tend to let the words speak for themselves.

Since we launched on January 1, 2011 we have systematically focused in on fifteen of these years and reviewed over 200 albums, all while slowly growing and reaching out to more and more viewers on a daily basis. The amount of albums reviewed for each “classic” year varies, with the heaviest year so far being 1971 (our very first review year) with 18 album reviews and the lightest being 1986 with 10 album reviews. We plan to stay in the 10s (teens?) for all future review periods, with the exception of 1965, which will only focus on the handful of “real” albums produced that year. We have also done a handful of “twin” album reviews in very rare instances where an artist released two albums in the same year, which also have similar content, personnel, and production value. In all, we have reviewed 217 albums in the past 30 months, about one every four days of real time.

All Classic Rock Reviews, 01/01/11-06/30/13

All Classic Rock Reviews, 01/01/11-06/30/13

Classic Rock Review also includes several special features per year, which focus on important works and subjects beyond the regular “feature year” rotation (such as this very article you’re now reading). This is one area where we plan on expanding in the future. Some potential new features coming soon on Classic Rock Review:

  • A “what did we miss?” forum.
    We do realize that we’re unlikely to please everyone on the albums we select for review. Since our inception, we have included 20-30 “other albums of note” on each year’s page that give a kind of “honorable mention” to those albums not reviewed. But moving forward, we may poll you to select additional albums to review.
  • Dedicated artist pages.
    For select artists who have multiple reviews on our site, we will start offering biographical “hubs” that tie together their careers over extended periods of time.
  • Online album store.
    Although each album review links to an Amazon page to purchase that album, we plan on expanding options for purchasing music through Classic Rock Review. This will include a dedicated section to browse through albums past reviewed and help generate some revenue to support our cause.
  • Charts, trivia, and updates.
    Some fun stuff to make the site more interactive as well as keep track of these classic artists with modern updates.
  • Rock n’ roll roots.
    Although there have been many attempts through the years to map the roots relationships of major rock artists, we may take a unique approach to tying together these influences and relationships.

Although we’ll add these additional features to enhance the overall user experience on our site, the primary focus of Classic Rock Review over the next 30 months will continue to be great album reviews. Half of what seemed like a tremendous span of time – five years – has now passed and Classic Rock Review is going stronger than ever. Thank you to our loyal readers!

~

Classic Christmas Rock Songs

Classic Rock Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas Rock SongsNearly from its inception, rock and roll and Christmas songs have made for a potent mixture of holiday-flavored punch. This marriage dates back to 1957 with the first Elvis Presley Christmas Album and Bobby Helms’s timeless “Jingle Bell Rock”, a rockabilly Christmas classic which was actually written by an advertising executive and a publicist, joining together the overt commercialism with these early anthems. However, it wasn’t all about dollars and cents, as demonstrated in 1963 when major Christmas initiatives by producer Phil Spector and The Beach Boys were pulled off the shelf after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Below we review our favorite songs during the classic rock era. Please be sure to let us know which ones you like best, including those that we omit.

Christmas by The Who, 1969“Christmas” by The Who, 1969

This is a truly fantastic song from the rock opera Tommy but, as such, this song is only about Christmas for a short period of the song, the rest of the song is spent pondering whether the aforementioned Tommy’s soul can be saved as he is deaf, dumb and blind – lacking the capacity to accept Jesus Christ. This aspect of the song works exceptionally well in the scheme of the album, but not so much in the scheme of it being a Christmas song. That said, no song captures the majesty of children on Christmas day as well as this one.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon, 1971“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, 1971

John Lennon’s voice is fantastic and the song itself evokes the kind of melancholy Christmas spirit I find in great Christmas songs. The backing vocals work very well and the bass guitar, sleigh bells, chimes, glockenspiel all play their part as well, a testament to the excellent production by Phil Spector. It does sound a little dated with the overt political correctness and, of course ant-war sentiment. Then there is a bit of irony, foe, although the song advocates “War is Over”, the personal war between Lennon and Paul McCartney was at a fevered pitch with Lennon poaching McCartney’s lead guitarist for this very song just to stick him in the eye a bit. So, in that sense, I guess war was not quite over.

I Believe In Father Christmas, 1975“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake, 1975

You really do learn something new every day. In fact while doing research into this song’s origin I discovered that this is actually a Greg Lake solo song and not an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song which I had always believed because of its inclusion on their 1977 Works compilation album. This new revelation does not diminish my love of the song one iota. The song was written by Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Lake says the song was written in protest at the commercialization of Christmas, while Sinfield says it is more about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. I tend to believe them both, as I’ve always found the melancholy song to be much too complex to be written about any single subject or incident. Musically and melodically, the song is a masterpiece, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements. Each verse is more intense than the last and the arrangement elicits all kinds of emotions, far deeper than the typical “feel good” Christmas song.

Father Christmas by The Kinks, 1977“Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977

Just listen to the first fifteen seconds of this song and you will see, it’s amazing! Starting with a Christmas-y happy piano melody and sleigh bells before punk-influenced guitar and drums crash in with the impact of a meteor. Lead singer Ray Davies sings as two characters in the song; the first is a department store Santa (“Father Christmas”), the second is a gang of poor kids. Davies makes his vocals more forceful for their demands, “Father Christmas give us some money!” I have long thought Davies is probably the most underrated singer in Rock, and the Kinks may be the most underrated band in rock history. What other band appeared in the British invasion did a few concept albums and then practically invented punk rock!? Dave Davies lead guitar is fantastic, definitely the most entertaining work in any of the Christmas songs on this list. The drums are also a huge high point as they roll franticly between verses. If you needed a definition of it, this IS Christmas Rock!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy, 1977“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
by David Bowie & Bing Crosby, 1977

This partial cover (Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” part was original, while Crosby sang the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”) was actually as about as original a compositions as any Christmas song with a rock theme to it. So why does this song make the cut? Well it is fantastic! It’s DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY! It’s a great little song that feels like Christmas. Two totally different artists from different genres and eras coming together to sing a song for a television special, only around Christmas could this happen. Well, in fact it was recorded in London in August of 1977 for an upcoming Christmas special and Crosby passed away in October, before it aired, making it even more special.

A Wonderful Christmas Time, 1979“A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, 1979

Not to be out done by his former Beatle mate turned musical rival (see above), Paul McCartney launched the post-Wings phase of his solo career with “Wonderful Christmas Time”. A song with an uncanny ability to instantly put one into the Christmas spirit, this synth-driven, new-wave ballad showcased McCartney’s mastery at writing pleasant pop songs in just about any sub-genre. Unfortunately, his “wonderful Christmas” was interrupted soon after the new year of 1980, when he got busted In Japan for marijuana possession and spent ten days in prison before he was released.

Christmas Wrapping, 1981“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981

“Christmas Wrapping” is a really fun new-wave style song that jives musically by an otherwise obscure group. The song goes through quite a few little progressions – a little guitar rift and some jolly percussion instruments introduce the listener to the song’s primary beat of guitar and drums. Lead singer Patty Donahue flirts with actually rapping through the song which comes out really cool despite my less than enthused relationship to that genre. The interlude of horns really makes this song fun as they bridge the gap between verses.

2000 Miles, 1983“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders, 1983

Not really intended to be so much a Christmas song as a lament about missing someone with the hope they return at Christmas. It was nevertheless released in 1983 in advance of the band’s 1984 album Learning To Crawl because of its holiday season potential. The vivid lyrics which paint the Christmas landscape and activity, along with the masterful delivery by lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde above the simple folk-guitar riff, makes this one for the ages.

Thank God Its Christmas, 1984“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, 1984

This is a Christmas rock song that often gets overlooked but is virtually impossible to ignore due to Freddie Mercury’s singing. Co-written by drummer Roger Taylor, the drums have a smooth grooving feeling, albeit very processed. Mercury’s backing keyboards and occasional Christmas bells give the song that holiday feeling it needs. The addition of the guitar later in the song by the other co-writer, Brian May adds some earthiness, but the song would benefit from more of it. The piece never quite transcends the mellowness or the karaoke-like quality of the song, but is still a Christmas classic.

Do They Know Its Christmas, 1984Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, 1984

Sure, it is outrageously corny, especially when you are watching Boy George and other eighties has-beens singing next to the likes of Bono and Sting. But underneath all the silliness lies a pretty good song, written in a decent style of British pop. This song is the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who co-wrote this song along with Midge Ure, and then they brought together these top-notch English musicians to perform under the name Band Aid as all proceeds went to relief for the Ethiopian famine of 1984-1985. The success of this single eventually lead to the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, the following summer.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, 1985“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1985

The only true cover of a “traditional” Christmas song on this list, this song was actually recorded in December 1975, but was not released for a solid decade when Bruce Springsteen began putting together his triple live album 1975-1985. It was put out as the B-Side to his single “My Hometown” in 1985 and has since become a holiday staple and rock and pop stations worldwide.

Another Christmas Song, 1989“Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull, 1989

We conclude with a beautiful and elegant song put out by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull during their leaner years, this May be one that many do not know. From the 1989 album Rock Island, this is actually a sequel to “A Christmas Song” put out by Jethro Tull on their 1968 debut album two decades earlier, but is far superior in beauty elegance than the original. With some light flute, drums, and the occasional wood block sound and other percussive effects, the song features Tull’s traditional guitarist Martin Barre who nicely accents the flute line from Anderson in the interweaving musical passages. Lyrically, it describes an old man who is calling his children home to him for Christmas and subtly drawing their attention to other parts of the world and other people;

Everyone is from somewhere, even if you’ve never been there
So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me…”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Christmas rock tradition continued with fine originals such as “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a rendition of “Heat Miser” by The Badlees, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Clause” by The Killers, and Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”. It is likely this tradition will continue for years to come.

~
J.D. Cook and Ric Albano

                

In the Dark by Grateful Dead

In the Dark by Grateful Dead

Buy In the Dark

In the Dark by Grateful DeadIn the Dark was the first studio album by the Grateful Dead in over seven years (their twelfth overall) and was a comeback album on several levels. It was a return to the style of the band’s most famous albums in the earlier 1970s and became an unexpectedly popular success reaching the top ten on the Billboard album chart making it the highest charting album of the group’s long career. Further, the album comes in the wake of serious health issues with guitarist and primary front man Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s health declined through the early 1980s and he nearly lost his life in 1986 when he slipped into a diabetic coma for several days. Although he survived this incident, it caused some permanent memory loss and it is said that Garcia had to re-learn many of his established guitar techniques.

The album was recorded in an unusual fashion.  The band was constantly touring and had been performing much of the new material live for years so they decided to record the basic tracks live on stage in an empty and darkened Marin Veterans Auditorium. This process gave the album its title and helped the band achieve a more authentic sound, something the Dead had long struggled with on studio albums. Later overdubs were added in the studio, which gave the album’s sound a sonic, blended edge. In an interview, Garcia spoke about the recording process on this album;

Marin Vets turns out to be an incredibly nice room to record in. There’s something about the formal atmosphere in there that makes us work. Going in [Marin Vets] without an audience and playing just to ourselves was in the nature of an experiment…”

The band’s sound in the 1980s was also unique to any other era due to the unique talents of Brent Mydland, who possessed both a unique voice and great piano and keyboard skills. Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in 1980 and stayed with the group until his death from a drug overdose in July 1990, making him the third keyboardist in the band to die. Mydland also became a prominent songwriter on both 1980’s Go To Heaven and 1989’s Built To Last, but only contributed one song, “Tons of Steel”, to In the Dark.
 


In the Dark by Grateful Dead
Released: July 6, 1987 (Arista)
Produced by: Jerry Garcia & John Cutler
Recorded: San Rafeal, California, January-March 1987
Side One Side Two
Touch Of Grey
Hell in a Bucket
When Push Comes to Shove
West L.A. Fadeaway
Tons Of Steel
Throwing Stones
Black Muddy River
Band Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Mickey Hart – Drums

 
The album commences and is most identified with “Touch of Grey”, one of four compositions by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, a long time collaborator. This song became the band’s first and only Top 40 hit in their three decade-long career. Hunter had originally intended this song for a solo album in 1981, which was never completed. It was picked up by the Dead for their live shows starting in 1982 and serendipitously carried the central message of the band (and especially Garcia) in 1987 – “I will get by, I will survive”. Although the song became a live favorite by fans before it was issued on album, there was a later backlash after the song’s popularity brought an influx of pop-oriented faux “deadheads”, sometimes referred to as “touchheads” after this song.

The other Garcia/Hunter tunes on the album are the groove-driven “When Push Comes to Shove”, the John Belushi tribute “West L.A. Fadeaway”, and the closing ballad “Black Muddy River”. This last track contains some Gospel influence and great guitars, while “When Push Comes to Shove” contains a good rhythm driven by dueling drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
 

 
Guitarist Bob Weir also co-wrote and provided lead vocals for a couple of tracks. “Hell In a Bucket” is the best song on the album overall, as it fuses entertaining lyrics and a melodic hook with an excellent mixture of sound by all band members, especially Garcia on lead guitar and Phil Lesh on bass. Co-written by Brent Mydland, the song also contains a unique electric piano riff. “Throwing Stones” is an extended yet repetitive piece which became a minor hit on album-oriented radio. Lyrically, this song is written in much the same style of early Bob Dylan, but musically the band is able to add some real flavor, especially the long guitar lead by Garcia.

In the Dark was received like no other Grateful Dead album and gave the band a pop commercialism and acceptance like they had never received before. The band did eventually settle back into a regular touring routine and lived out their final years as a live jam band right up until Garcia’s death in 1995.

~

1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

 

The Rolling Stones in 1967

The Rolling Stones in 1967

The Rolling Stones in 1967Let’s talk for a moment about controversy. The fact that we occasionally have double album reviews (that is reviews of two single albums by the same artist) may be a bit controversial, as some have suggested that each album is worthy of a review by CRR, is worthy of its own singular review. However, we do have strict internal guidelines which must be met in order to present a double review. In order of importance, these are – 1.) Albums released during same calendar year, 2.) Same primary performers on both albums, 3.) Same basic genre or sound (within reason), and 4.) Same producer. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk for a moment about controversy.

We had planned on doing a double review of The Rolling Stones (UK) albums from 1967, Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. However, upon listening and researching, it was clear that these albums do not meet criteria 3 or 4 above and further, TSM Request is not a very good album (just a very controversial one). So we decided to do a single review on the January 1967 album Between the Buttons yesterday and talk about the rest of the band’s 1967 material in this blog today.

Flowers by The Rolling Stones As we mentioned in Between the Buttons review, that was the last to have separate releases in Britain and America, with the US version including both songs from the January, 1967 double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday”, while excluding the songs “Back Street Girl” and “Please Go Home”. All four of these tracks were included on the piecemeal, American only album Flowers, which was released in June of ’67 and also included songs from the British version of the 1966 album Aftermath, along with the September 1966 single “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?”, and three previously unreleased tracks dating back to December 1965 – “My Girl”, “Ride On, Baby”, and “Sittin’ On a Fence”. By the time of that release, work on the next album was well underway.

Their Satanic Majesties Request was released on December 8, 1967 after a long recording process due to some court appearances and jail terms within the band. Although it is the first album produced by “The Rolling Stones”, there were few moments when the entire band was present in the studio at the same time. Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager and producer of their first five albums, got fed up with the band’s lack of focus and eventually quit. Lead vocalist Mick Jagger admitted that the result was “a lot of rubbish” because “anyone let loose in the studio will produce stuff like that”. The band experimented with many new instruments and sound effects with guitarists Brian Jones and Keith Richards leading the way in creating elaborate (albeit mainly unfocused) soundscapes. At one time, the band was considering making the project a psychedelic Christmas album. I

Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling StonesCritically, the album was viewed as a poorly conceived attempt to outdo The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (released in June ’67). the production quality came under particularly harsh criticism and the Band would not again attempt to produce an album independently. The album does include a few interesting compositions which make it part of many rock fans collections. Bassist Bill Wyman composed and sang vocals on “In Another Land”, which was allegedly about the fact that Wyman was the only band member who didn’t take L.S.D. at the time. It was released as a single but credited to Bill Wyman and not The Rolling Stones. “Citadel” contains a catchy guitar riff, which is unfortunately offset by an overkill of effects. “2000 Man” starts off acoustic with a beat and is probably the best song on the first side. The best song on the album, by far, is “She’s a Rainbow”, a true gem among otherwise mediocre material. It has a catchy and bright piano by session man Nicky Hopkins, the use of Mellontron by Jones, rich lyrics by Jagger, and a driving rhythm led by drummer Charlie Watts. The song also has some orchestration and strings arranged by future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

As 1968 got underway, the band soon turned back to the blues-based rock n roll that brought them to fame in the first place. Jimmy Miller would produce their subsequent albums, starting with the classic, Beggar’s Banquet.

 

The Beatles’ Last Audition

At the end of the Beatles last ever live performance (on a London rooftop) John Lennon jokingly said “I hope we passed the audition”. Well, there was actually a time when the band had to pass auditions and the last of these instances happened 50 years ago today, when the band entered Abbey Road Studios for the first time.

Although the actual recordings made that day were nothing spectacular, several events happened that day which would change the course of rock history…

Special Feature on Beatles’ 50th Anniversary of First Abbey Road Session