Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

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Ritchie Blakmore's RainbowOriginating as a side project for Ritchie Blackmore while he was still the guitarist for Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow turned out to be the debut studio album for Rainbow, the new group that would be Blackmore’s sole focus for nearly a decade to come. This album, which found critical acclaim and notoriety for its fantasy based lyrics combined with it’s more direct heavy rock sound, was composed and delivered by Blackmore along with members of the American band Elf.

Blackmore co-founded Deep Purple in 1968 and saw that group through stylistic and personnel changes before they reached the top of the rock world with the 1972 classic album Machine Head. However, tensions in the group led to the departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover the following year and the pair were replaced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes respectively. This new lineup of Deep Purple released a pair of 1974 albums, Burn and Stormbringer, which saw a stylistic shift towards seventies style funk rock, a style of which Blackmore was not all too fond.

In late 1974, Blackmore entered a studio in Florida with members of Elf, a group fronted by Ronnie James Dio which had opened for Deep Purple on a previous tour and of whom Blackmore had been very impressed. The intent was to record and release a solo single, but Blackmore found the experience so satisfying that he decided to extend the sessions to a full album. The group traveled to Musicland Studios in Munich, West Germany with producer Martin Birch to record Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. With this further positive recording experience, Blackmore decided to leave Deep Purple and become a full time member of Rainbow.


Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow by Rainbow
Released: August 4, 1975 (Polydor)
Produced by: Ritchie Blackmore, Martin Birch, & Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, February – March 1975
Side One Side Two
Man on the Silver Mountain
Self Portrait
Black Sheep of the Family
Catch the Rainbow
Snake Charmer
Temple of the King
If You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll
Sixteenth Century Greensleeves
Still I’m Sad
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Micky Lee Soule – Piano, Keyboards
Craig Gruber – Bass
Gary Driscoll – Drums

Right from the start, “Man on the Silver Mountain”, seems at least a half decade ahead of its time as it delivers a style common in the 1980s, with Dio’s dynamic vocals over simple rock riffing and rhythms. This became the debut single by Rainbow and remains one of their best known radio tracks. “Self Portrait” features a complex time signature due to the execution by drummer Gary Driscoll and bassist Craig Gruber and this track is highlighted by Blackmore’s fantastic, bluesy lead.

“Black Sheep of the Family” is a cover of a song by the band Quatermass and it adds a fine upbeat, almost conventional pop break on the first side. This song was the intended single that Blackmore originally recorded in ’74. “Catch the Rainbow” is an extended bluesy ballad to end the original first side, highlighted by surprising co-lead vocals / medley by Shoshana and Blackmore’s long guitar-lead outro. To start Side 2, “Snake Charmer” is built with some interesting guitar riffs and layers.

Rainbow in 1975

“Temple of the King” is a real highlight of the second side, as a track with a medieval tenor and tone with a calm, moderate delivery. This song features more great bass playing by Gruber along with harmonized vocals to accompany Blackmore’s crisp, moody guitar lead and later dissolve into a classical style acoustic in outtro. “If You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll” is a good time, pure rocker with choppy piano by Micky Lee Soule, who also adds a later piano lead. “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves”is a hard rocker with more medieval lyrics (albeit no real musical interpretation of the traditional English folk song from 1580). Here, Soule plays a clavinet to add to the rock effect as Dio expertly delivers the lyric. The album ends rather oddly with an instrumental cover of the Yardbirds’ “Still I’m Sad” from their 1965 album Having a Rave Up. This instrumental features a hyper blues riff with tremendous percussion by Driscoll throughout.

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was a fairly successful commercial album, reaching the Top 30 in the USA and nearly hitting the Top 10 in the UK. Ronnie James Dio has cited this release as his favorite Rainbow album. Beyond Dio however, Blackmore was unhappy with the rest of the former Elf line-up and he soon released everybody except for Dio for the 1976 follow-up release, Rainbow Rising, and subsequent international tours.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

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Voices by Hall & Oates

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Voices by Hall and OatesHall and Oates finally reached commercial pay dirt with their ninth studio album, Voices. Released in the summer of 1980, this record was on the Billboard album charts for over 100 weeks as it slowly became a massive hit peaking about a year after it was released and being a catalyst for phenomenal commercial success through the mid 1980s. Voices is split musically, with its original first side featuring new wave pop and side two reverting to more classic elements of rock, funk and soul.

This duo from Philadelphia delivered a critically acclaimed album, Abandoned Luncheonette, in 1973 but had no hit singles through their first three albums (although “She’s Gone” from Abandoned Luncheonette would be re-released in 1976 and become a hit). After signing with RCA Records they released their 1975 self-titled fourth album, which contained the Top Ten ballad “Sara Smile”, a song Daryl Hall wrote for his girlfriend and future songwriting collaborator Sara Allen. The late seventies saw four more album releases – Bigger Than Both of Us (1976), Beauty on a Back Street (1977), Along the Red Ledge (1978), and X-Static (1979) – all of which found moderate Top 40 success with Bigger Than Both of Us spawning their first number one hit, “Rich Girl” in early 1977. Still, with this wide output and near constant touring, Hall and Oates felt like they were not maximizing their potential during this period.

The new decade brought a new approach for the duo as Hall and John Oates decided to self-produce their next album as well as use their own touring band, including bassist John Siegler and drummer Jerry Marotta, in the studio. They also decided to record in New York City (their then hometown) instead of Los Angeles, where they had recorded much of their late seventies albums. What would become Voices was written and arranged over a short period of time and recorded in early 1980.


Voices by Hall & Oates
Released: July 29, 1980 (RCA)
Produced by: Daryl Hall & John Oates
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York City, November 1979 – April 1980
Side One Side Two
How Does It Feel to Be Back
Big Kids
United State
Hard to Be in Love with You
Kiss on My List
Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
You Make My Dreams
Everytime You Go Away
Africa
Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)
Primary Musicians
Daryl Hall – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
John Oates – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
G.E. Smith – Guitars
John Siegler – Bass
Jerry Marotta – Drums

It is clear by the first four tracks what the group and label wanted to portray as their sound on Voices and, perhaps even more surprising,  the two Oates led tracks are the higher quality of this group. “How Does It Feel to Be Back” kicks things off with lead vocals by Oates, a jangly guitar and a strong beat which makes it feel like a cross  between Springsteen and Eddie Money. Hall’s “Big Kids” is more new wave flavored than the opener and has an odd effect on his vocals which is not needed at all. “United State” is another new wave track with a stronger rock presence while “Hard to Be In Love with You” features some interesting guitar and synth layers and duo lead vocals by Hall and Oates.

The hit “Kiss On My List” has the most interesting back story of any song on the album. It was written by Janna Allen (Sara’s sister) and, having never recorded a song before, Hall agreed to cut a demo as a product for her songwriting portfolio. However, the production team liked the demo so much that they decided to add vocals and instrumentation to the demo, including a fantastic guitar lead by guest Jeff Southworth. Released as the third single from the album, “Kiss On My List” became a number one hit song. For her part, Sara Allen co-wrote two other songs on Voices, including “Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)”, which features a choppy mix of ska beats and R&B vocal motifs and the funky hit “You Make My Dreams”. This latter song features Hall’s choppy electric piano contrasted by his excited vocal melodies as it reached the Top 5 of the charts in 1981.

Hall and Oates

The retro-sounding second side of the album starts with a cover of the classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. This oft covered track, written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector, may have it’s best effort at modernizing the 1964 Righteous Brothers classic sound with Oates and Hall replicating the vocals of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield nicely and the instrumentation does not try to replicate the original “wall of sound” but uses a tasteful modern rock arrangement. Hall’s “Everytime You Go Away” is an excellent soulful ballad which was recorded live in the studio to try and capture the sound like that of the classic Stax Studios in Memphis. This song comes complete with rich organ by guest Ralph Schuckett and, although this version was not released as a single, it was covered by Paul Young in 1985 and became another number 1 hit. “Africa” is a fun track by Oates who provides native-like lead vocals over a chanting backing chorus and a hand-jive like drum beat with a later sax lead by Charlie DeChant. The closing track, “Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)”, is a bass-driven final attempt at a pop hit, deriving from a mass murderer who was circulating in the New York subways at the time, giving it a dark comedic quality.

Voices debuted at number 75 in August 1980 and slowly climbed to its Top 20 peak nearly a year later. By that time, Hall and Oates had already recorded and released their 1981 follow-up, Private Eyes, which continued their meteoric commercial momentum.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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Back On the Streets by Donnie Iris

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Back On the Streets by Donnie IrisReleased in the summer of 1980, Back on the Streets was the debut solo record by Pittsburgh based artist Donnie Iris. This came after Iris spent more than a decade fronting national bands and, on this album, he collaborated with producer, composer and keyboardist Mark Avsec to deliver a blend of classic rock and cutting-edge new wave with a particular focus on vocal arrangements and hooks. The album spawned a national hit as well as several songs that received heavy regional airplay.

Iris was born Dominic Ierace in Western Pennsylvania and drew early inspiration from Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. After forming and fronting several groups through high school and college in the early-to-mid 1960s, he started The Jaggerz, a group which originally performed R&B covers. After gaining popularity through Pennsylvania and Ohio, the group secured a contract with Gamble Records in 1969 with their debut album, Introducing the Jaggerz released later that year. The following year, the group came to national prominence with their sophomore album We Went to Different Schools Together and the 1970 Top 5 hit “The Rapper”. A third Jaggerz album, Come Again, was released in 1975, shortly before Iris left the group to become a studio engineer. While at Jeree Recording, Iris worked with the band Wild Cherry and he briefly joined the band as a guitarist in 1978-1979.

Avsec was then also playing keyboards for Wild Cherry and once that group disbanded, Donnie and Mark decided to form a songwriting project together. Their initial release was a 1979 disco-influenced single called “Bring on the Eighties”, but it had little commercial success. With this, the pair decided to go in a harder rock direction when they entered the studio in early 1980 to record a full-length album with the freshly christened group Donnie Iris and the Cruisers.


Back On the Streets by Donnie Iris
Released: July 15, 1980 (Midwest National)
Produced by: Mark Avsec
Recorded: Jeree Studios, New Brighton, PA, Spring 1980
Side One Side Two
Ah! Leah!
I Can’t Hear You
Joking
Shock Treatment
Back On the Streets
Agnes
You’re Only Dreaming
She’s So Wild
Daddy Don’t Live Here Anymore
Too Young to Love
Primary Musicians
Donnie Iris – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Marty Lee Hoenes – Guitars
Mark Avsec – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Albritton McClain – Bass
Kevin Valentine – Drums

The album begins with its lead single and most indelible tune, “Ah! Leah!”, Catchy with simple riffs combined with complex vocal arrangements, this track reached number the Top 30 of the US Billboard Hot 100 and puns on its title have been used on Iris’ 2009 live album Ah! Live! as well as his 2010 Christmas album Ah! Leluiah!. The album’s other single, “I Can’t Hear You”, follows as a straight-ahead new wave rocker with just a touch of Talking Heads influence in the verses but breaking out with rich harmonies in the choruses. “Joking” is an even better new wave track with some cool synths over the crisp rock guitar riffs by Marty Lee Hoenes to reach a sound similar to The Cars earliest material.

Avsec’s “Shock Treatment” features a weird, synth lead psychedelic intro before song proper kicks in led by the fine bass of guest Robert Peckman and the various vocal experiments make it almost sound like a show tune from a modern movie. The album’s title song and side one closer adds some variety with a real classic rock, Who-type feel complete with distorted guitar riffing, synthesized orchestration and intense story-telling vocals, while “Agnes” is another dynamic rocker with a simple riff, cool vibe and call and response vocals.

Donnie Iris and the Cruisers

“You’re Only Dreaming” is a group composition with input from bassist Albritton McClain and drummer Kevin Valentine as is the frantic, sexually charged tune “She’s So Wild”, which ends quite abruptly. The album then returns to the moderate, power pop/new wave track with “Daddy Don’t Live Here Anymore”, with a vibe that has a bit of Cheap Trick influence and a cool, almost psychedelic synthesized organ lead by Avsec. Wrapping things up is “Too Young to Love”, the closest thing to a ballad on this album albeit with tremendous musical dynamics such as a sax lead by Kenny Blake and Iris singing his heart out with dramatic, strained vocals to finish the album strongly.

While Back On the Streets was originally released by the small Midwest Records, its immediate success got Iris signed to a five-album deal with MCA Records, starting with the national re-release of this debut in in October 1980.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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James Gang Rides Again

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James Gang Rides Again by The James GangThe James Gang reached the peak of their relatively short time together with front man Joe Walsh with their sophomore album James Gang Rides Again in the summer of 1970. The album combines their blues-based power-trio rock with a branched-out experimental method that incorporates keyboards into their sound and includes elements of country. While not a great commercial success, James Gang Rides Again was critically acclaimed and a great influence for many rock bands that emerged later in the decade.

James Gang was founded by drummer Jim Fox in Cleveland, Ohio in 1965. They were were originally a five-piece, British rock influenced band including bassist Tom Kriss. In 1968, Walsh was brought on to replace the group’s original lead guitarist and, after two prompt defections, the band quickly realigned as a trio to fulfill live commitments. With Walsh assuming lead vocal duties, the group decided they liked their sound and moved forward as a threesome. After signing with ABC’s new Bluesway Records subsidiary in early 1969, they recorded and released their debut, Yer’ Album, later that year. Sales for this album were disappointing and a new singer was briefly considered so that Walsh could focus on guitars. While deciding to maintain Walsh as lead vocalist, Kriss decided to abruptly depart from the band in November 1969.

Bassist Dale Peters was recruited by Fox just in time for recording of the group’s second album. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Bill Szymczyk, the group wanted to replicate the energy of its ever-popular live shows, where the group would jam to new material in the dressing rooms before each show.  With the combination of low label expectations and the state-of-the-art equipment at The Record Plant, the group took a loose and experimental approach to the material on James Gang Rides Again.


James Gang Rides Again by The James Gang
Released: July, 1970 (ABC)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, November 1969
Side One Side Two
Funk #49
Asshtonpark
Woman
The Bomber
Tend My Garden
Garden Gate
There I Go Again
Thanks
Ashes the Rain and I
Group Musicians
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Dale Peters – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Jim Fox – Drums, Percussion, Organ

The blistering opening track “Funk #49”, was a group composition that derived from a warm-up jam and initially ad-libbed lyrics by Walsh about an untamed girlfriend. The recording features a slight but potent percussion break by Fox before pivoting back to a final verse. The song was released as a single to moderate initial success but became a later staple on classic rock stations. The instrumental “Asshtonpark” features a slow rhythmic build up towards a country-esque groove featuring a generous amount of delay on Walsh’s guitar. The song’s title is a tribute to production designer Assheton Gorton. The catchy rocker “Woman” follows, starting with and built on Peters’ bass line with some great guitar dynamics to adding a dramatic element to the groove.

The album’s original first side ended with the excellent multi-part suite called “The Bomber”. Here, the musical talent of this emerging trio is fully exhibited, book-marked by the heavy, frantic verses of “Closet Queen”, which reportedly blew out the studio monitors at The Record Plant upon playback. The song’s mid section improvises a couple of established instrumentals, including Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and an electric rendition of Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro”, which spawned a threatened suit that resulted in certain editions of the track being edited to remove “Boléro” (since restored). In contrast to sound, but just as innovative is “Tend My Garden”, featuring Walsh pulling quadruple duty on vocals, organ, acoustic and electric guitar, a method (as well as a signature riff) that would be echoed years later by Tom Scholz of Boston on “More Than a Feeling” from Boston’s 1976 debut album. From the dissolve of the majestic “Tend My Garden”, comes the simple, homey, front porch country-blues of “Garden Gate”, a short minute and a half track which appears to be a solo performance by Walsh.

James Gang

The whimsical “There I Go Again” may be closest to pure pop ever by James Gang (or Walsh for that matter). This catchy acoustic tune is accented by fine pedal steel guitar of guest Rusty Young. While remaining in the pop form, “Thanks” has a bit more complexity overall with an original arrangement applied to this short acoustic folk tune. “Ashes the Rain and I” concludes the album as a dark acoustic folk with heavy orchestration applied after the first verse and interlude. While certainly atmospheric and original, the decision to shepherd out this record with so much extraneous instrumentation seems like an odd decision by Szymczyk and the band.

Following the recording sessions for James Gang Rides Again, the group embarked on a tour opening for The Who in the United States in early 1970. This led to the group touring the United Kingdom and appearing on the British TV show “Top of the Pops”, which increased their international appeal. However, after 1971’s studio album Thirds and the live album James Gang Live in Concert, Walsh left the band the band at the end of the year to form Barnstorm. Fox and Peters continued the James Gang with several vocalists and guitarists through several more albums over the next half decade but never again would reach this level of artistic merit or sustainability before the group finally disbanded in early 1977.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Fun House by The Stooges

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Fun House by The StoogesThe second of the initial trio of albums by The Stooges which were considered integral to the development of punk rock, Fun House, has consistently grown in critical stature in the half century since it’s release in the summer of 1970. Though commercially unsuccessful, this recording a pure raw energy and animalistic sexuality as been described in positive ways ranging from “exquisitely horrible” to “sixties psychedelic rock trapped in the reality of 1970” to “competent monotony with intellectual appeal”.

Stooges front man Iggy Pop, born James Newell Osterberg, started as a drummer in local Ann Arbor, Michigan bands in the early 1960s. In an effort to create a “new form of blues music”, not derivative of historical precedents, he recruited brothers Ron Asheton (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums) along with bassist Dave Alexander. Being the leader of this new band, Osterberg decided to be the lead singer and soon was christened with the nickname “Pop” by the other band members. With this, he adopted the stage name Iggy Pop by the time the group made its live debut as the “Psychedelic Stooges” in late 1967. They experimented with avant garde methods, incorporating such household objects as a vacuum cleaner and a blender into an intense wall of feedback and soon the group gained a reputation for their wild and unpredictable live performances. While touring with the band MC5 in 1968, the Stooges were discovered by a scout for Elektra Records and they released their self-titled 1969 debut album to disappointingly low sales and bad critical reviews.

Hoping for better results, Elektra head Jac Holzman recruited former Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci the group’s second album. Gallucci was initially doubtful that he could capture their live feeling on tape, But once in the studio in Los Angeles, he and the group decided to tear down all soundproofing and discard any isolation methods to emulate their live performances as closely as possible. The result is a very raw sound compared to the advancing sonic qualities of 1970 contemporary records.


Fun House by The Stooges
Released: July 7, 1970 (Elektra)
Produced by: Don Gallucci
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders. Los Angeles, May 1970
Side One Side Two
Down on the Street
Loose
T.V. Eye
Dirt
1970
Fun House
L.A. Blues
Group Musicians
Iggy Pop – Lead Vocals
Ron Asheton – Guitars
Dave Alexander – Bass
Scott Asheton – Drums

The influence of some of the more intense numbers by The Doors can be felt in the opening “Down on the Street”, with a strong interlocked bass and guitar riff holding the backing track for Iggy Pop’s reverberated vocals and chants. Although this song feels raw at first listen, it is more refined than anything that follows and may be the most traditionally produced track on Fun House, even to the point of having Ron Asheton guitar overdubbed during the lead section. “Loose” follows with an interesting drum intro by Scott Asheton as he finds the upbeat groove which, overall, leans more toward the yet-to-be-developed punk genre with a starkly honest lyric.

“T.V. Eye” features a bluesy riff while the vocals are still energetic, wailing and (occasionally) screaming. This very repetitive song builds a tension which never really breaks but does reach a bit of a crescendo late in the song, just before an abrupt stop and restart. Iggy Pop has said he was channeling blues legend Howlin’ Wolf while recording “T.V. Eye”. “Dirt” has a long drum intro by Scott Asheton as Alexander’s bass and Ron Asheton’s guitar slowly join in to this overall soulful rocker. Here, Iggy Pop sounds similar to Eric Burdon of The Animals on this one while it is an overall showcase for Ron Asheton, especially during the multi-textured, wah-wah fused guitar lead.

The Stooges in 1970

It is quite obvious that the second side of an album derives from a singular jam which now includes saxophonist Steve Mackay, and Gallucci laid this out in side-long linear fashion. On “1970”, the rhythmic drums and bass provide backdrop for a pseudo-blues bark on a jam that does provide differing chord structures for the chorus and post-chorus. Late in the song Mackay makes his debut, adding a distinct and original element to the overall sound and vibe. On “Fun House” Mackay is more of an integral part of the sound while Scott Asheton’s drumming is a fine adhesive for the overall jam and Iggy Pop’s vocals are more strained and desperate than ever, as he technically makes his lyrical finale on the album. “L.A. Blues” wraps things up with, effectively, five minutes of noise, screams and off-beat chops as all five members desperately search for a common ending before settling on a sustained feedback loop by Ron Asheton.

Although Fun House has sold under 100,000 copies to date, it has influenced numerous other artists, with many specifically citing as this as their favorite album. The Stooges and their individual members, soon entered a tumultuous period and it would be nearly three years before they followed up Fun House (with the critically acclaimed Raw Power) but that album was sandwiched in between a pair of band breakups.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Goo by Sonic Youth

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Goo by Sonic YouthSonic Youth‘s 1990 album Goo was a critical success and reached the highest album charting position of the group’s career. Their sixth overall release, this was the first after signing their initial major-label recording deal with Geffen Records, which included complete creative control by the band. Goo resulted in an expansion of the group’s 1980s sound of combining punk with experimental alt-rock, but with more deliberate references to pop culture and contemporary topics.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City 1981 by guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon (who were later married), and they derived their name from MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and reggae artist Big Youth. Within a year, guitarist Lee Ranaldo was part of the group. They went through several drummers through their early years and initial recordings before Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth in 1985. The group’s 1988 double album Daydream Nation was a huge critical success, included songs that received significant airplay and has since been chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. With this, the band began looking for a major label deal, eventually landing with Geffen.

A group of about eight demos were recorded by the group in late 1989 before they secured a full recording budget to enter Sorcerer Sound in early 1990 with producer Nick Sansano. The team employed experimental and abstract techniques to achieve unique sound collages and other sonic qualities for this album.


Goo by Sonic Youth
Released: June 26, 1990 (DGC)
Produced by: Nick Sansano, Ron Saint Germain, & Sonic Youth
Recorded: Sorcerer Sound Recording & Greene St. Recording Studios, New York City, March–April 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dirty Boots
Tunic (Karen’s Song)
Mary Christ
Kool Thing
Mote
Disappearer
My Friend Goo
Mildred Pierce
Cinderella”s Big Score
Scooter & Jinx
Titanium Expose
Thurston Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Lee Ranaldo – Guitars, Vocals
Kim Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Steve Shelley – Drums, Percussion
Goo by Sonic Youth

 

The album opener “Dirty Boots” meanders in with two distinct riffs and the eventual full rhythm arrangement before first verse. The music is intense and biting but Moore’s vocals seem half-hearted until the song reaches a “sonic crescendo” with inventive feedback before breaking down and methodically working its way through the instrumental outro. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” was composed by Gordon as a loose tribute to Karen Carpenter. She delivers the lyrics in a mainly spoken word manner under rapid ethereal riffing, offering a very haunting look into inner destructive thoughts. “Mary-Christ” doesn’t quite work nearly as well as the opening two tracks as a proto-punk, badly improvised screed.

The album’s most famous track, “Kool Thing”, features interesting, upbeat rock intro with great drumming by Shelley throughout. The mid section breaks down into a bass-backed spoken word bridge featuring Gordon and and guest Chuck D. The song’s title was inspired by an interview that Gordon conducted with LL Cool J and the lyrics make reference to several of the rapper’s works. “Mote” is the sole composition by Ranaldo on Goo as well as his only lead vocals. The seven and a half minute track moves from an overloaded feedback intro to basic rock chording to a pure psychedelic and atmospheric trip which persists without form. “Disappearer” follows, featuring a thick upper range and steady rhythm under Moore’s melodic vocals and multiple key jumps through the progression into several sonic tunnels.

Sonic Youth in 1990

The album does lose momentum over its second half where the group seems to be treading over much of the same ground from earlier on this album. Starting with the quasi-title low-light, “My Friend Goo”, and into “Mildred Pierce”, which starts with a basic upbeat rhythm before devolving into a feedback overloaded, unintelligible screed. “Cinderella’s Big Score” is slightly catchy, but lacks much substance or definition, while “Scooter & Jinx” is a noise collage of more filler. The closer “Titanium Exposé” is a bit interesting with a nearly two minute intro before the melodic verse proper comes in, followed by a slightly interesting bridge jam before a more upbeat, drum-driven jam leads to one last feedback collage to end the album.

Commercially, Goo fared a bit better in the UK than their native US and the album’s controversial content helped bring a further buzz beyond that which the group normally received. Through the 1990s and into the new millennium, Sonic Youth’s influence continued.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

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Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds

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Mr Tambourine Man by The ByrdsIn mid 1965, The Byrds released a debut album comprised partially of contemporary folk covers, partially of original songs, and fully of their signature folk-rock sound. Mr. Tambourine Man instantly made the group famous as an American counter-point to the the dominance of the mid-1960s British Invasion, led by the Beatles. This album features four reinterpretations of Bob Dylan songs that had been released within a year prior, including the lead single and title track of the album.

Most of the five original members of the Byrds had come from more of a pure folk background than rock n’ roll. The group was formed as a folk trio called The Jet Set in Los Angeles in 1964 by guitarist/vocalists Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby. But due to the phenomenal success of the Beatles, the trio decided to expand to a full band with the addition of bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke by the end of 1964. The Byrds even mimicked the instrumentation used by the fab four in their film A Hard Day’s Night, including a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar for McGuinn, Gretsch Tennessean guitars for Clark and Crosby and a Ludwig drum kit for Clarke.

After signing with Columbia Records, the group entered the studio in January 1965 to record the then-unreleased Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man” with a rock band arrangement including changing the time signature to the rock-friendly 4/4. The L.A. session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew were used on this single, which was released as the Byrds’ debut single in April 1965, just a month after Dylan released the song on his album, Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965. For the main album sessions later in the Spring of 1965, producer Terry Melcher initially wanted the entire debut album recorded with session musicians, but the group members insisted that they perform all instrumentation themselves.


Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds
Released: June 21, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Terry Melcher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, January – April 1965
Side One Side Two
Mr. Tambourine Man
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Spanish Harlem Incident
You Won’t Have to Cry
Here Without You
The Bells of Rhymney
All I Really Want to Do
I Knew I’d Want You
It’s No Use
Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe
Chimes of Freedom
We’ll Meet Again”
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Gene Clark – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Percussion

While the track “Mr. Tambourine Man” reached phenomenal heights in its day and beyond by instantly establishing the group’s sound, this version is, in contrast to Dylan’s original, a comically commercial parody compared to the depth of Dylan’s haunting lyrical universe in the original. Further, with all the praise heaped upon the re-workings of the cover songs, some of the group’s excellent originals tend to get overlooked. A prime example of this is Clark’s “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”, originally released as a single B-side but featuring a mellow-direct rock sound which would reverberate in many forms for decades to come.

Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident” follows as the most folk-focused song thus far on Mr. Tambourine Man, while still continuing the layered guitar approach on this very short vignette. Co-written by McGuinn and Clark, “You Won’t Have to Cry” has a quintessential early sixties Beatles-type beat contrasted by the complex vocals of folk trios from the same era, making it a true combo song. “Here Without You” is a darker type of lover’s lament song while still maintaining and driving home the signature sound arrangement, while “The Bells of Rhymney” features a slight middle instrumental section that gives a little room to establish a feeling or vibe. This song was adapted by folk singer Pete Seeger from a poem written by Idris Davies about a Welsh coal mining disaster in 1926.

The Byrds

The album’s original second side begins with Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do”, which adds some solid rock rhythms and ends with a nice guitar overdub. “I Knew I’d Want You” then breaks out of this album’s normal pattern with a cool 6/8 shuffle and a straight-forward minor ballad approach as Michael Clarke really has a chance to shine. The final original song on the album, “It’s No Use”, is a pop/rocker which combines a Chuck Berry-like lead guitar combined with a folk/ballad vocal melody and arrangement highlighted by Hillman’s bass playing. Jackie DeShannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” features a cool, 12-string intro and riff throughout with hand-jive like beat and a closing guitar with a really deep tremolo for a unique, slightly psychedelic effect. “Chimes of Freedom”, the fourth and final Dylan composition on the record, features a more deliberate folk approach in order to highlight the lyrics more than the music, leading to the closing “We’ll Meet Again”, which while a little corny and out of character for the group, does offer a sentimental send-off to the album.

Mr. Tambourine Man reached the Top 10 in both the US And UK, establishing the band as an international success. The Beatles, who had influenced the group’s arrangement just a year earlier, reflected the Byrds’ sound on their late 1965 album, Rubber Soul. This immediate influence is perhaps the best tribute to the Byrds debut album’s success.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

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Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young

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Tonight's the Night by Neil YoungDuring an era of glam rock and progressive virtuoso, Neil Young delivered a raw and genuine record with Tonight’s the Night. Although released in mid 1975, the music on this album was recorded years earlier, with the bulk of it coming from a single jam session in August 1973. The somber songs were recorded in the wake of the deaths of two professional colleagues of Young’s, former Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten as well as a roadie who worked for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Young found both critical and commercial success with 1972’s Americana-flavored LP Harvest. Young then went on tour with Whitten and member of the backing group “The Stray Gators”, which included pedal steel player Ben Keith. However, it became apparent during rehearsals that Whitten could not function due to his drug abuse.  Shortly after being released from the tour, Whitten died from an overdose in November 1972. Original music from this tour was later released on the 1973 live album Time Fades Away, the first of what would be three consecutive commercial failures later known as the “ditch trilogy”. Young and Keith then formed “The Santa Monica Flyers” with keyboardist and guitarist Nils Lofgren. Following the second drug-induced death in less than a year, roadie Bruce Berry in mid 1973, Young decided to record an album specifically inspired by the incidents.

Tonight’s the Night was recorded quickly, capturing a raw energy and spontaneity. Much of it was recorded in a small rehearsal room behind a music equipment rental shop in Los Angeles in August and September 1973. However, Tonight’s the Night raw sound and dark tone was initially rejected by the Reprise label, causing a two year delay in its release. In the meantime, Young recorded another album, On the Beach in 1974, a more melodic and acoustic effort that also sold poorly (the second of the “ditch trilogy”). After a brief stadium tour with CSNY in late 1974, Young recorded another acoustic album, entitled Homegrown, an album he ultimately decided not to release (many of the songs were later included on other albums by Young). Instead, he fought once again to have Tonight’s the Night released, and it finally was in June 1975.


Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young
Released: June 20, 1975 (Reprise)
Produced by: David Briggs, Tim Mulligan, Elliot Mazer & Neil Young
Recorded: Fillmore East, New York City, Broken Arrow Ranch & Studio Instrument Rentals, Hollywood, March 1970 – September 1973
Side One Side Two
Tonight’s the Night (Pt. I)
Speakin’ Out
World on a String
Borrowed Tune
Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown
Mellow My Mind
Roll Another Number (For the Road)
Albuquerque
New Mama
Lookout Joe
Tired Eyes
Tonight’s the Night” (Pt. II)
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Ben Keith – Pedal Steel & Slide Guitars
Nils Lofgren – Piano, Guitars, Vocals
Billy Talbot – Bass
Roger Earl – Drums, Vocals

The opening title track has an intro that methodically builds harmonies through repetition of main hook. The song directly references Bruce Berry and talks of how the late roadie would play Young’s guitar late at night after gigs. From the jump, it is unmistakable that this album is sonically raw for a major artist release and this especially true of Young’s lead vocals on this track where he is, at times, too close or too far away from the mic. “Speakin’ Out” features bluesy piano and lead electric with an excellent melody over the dueling instruments, right up to Young saying “alright Nils” to coach the commencement of a guitar lead. “World on a String” is a more straight-forward country/rock track, with “Borrowed Tune” being a straight-up admission of being a derivation of the Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane” from 1966’s Aftermath. This Neil Young version features his fine harmonica intro and slow, emotive, high pitched vocals matching the melody of Lofgren’s piano.

The oldest track on Tonight’s the Night is a 1970 live Fillmore East recording of “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown”. The song was co-written by Whitten, who also provides vocals with the performance by Crazy Horse and this heavy rocker has a Grateful-Dead-like style to provide a different vibe, that still seems to fit perfectly in the sequence of this album. “Mellow My Mind” is first song that really sounds like a Harvest-era Neil Young tune, with a nice blend of folk, rock and country under harmonic and unique vocals, while “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” is more pure country track with a pedal steel lead by Keith, multi-part harmonies throughout, and a spoken word vocal in third verse which reminisces about the Woodstock Music Festival.

Neil Young

While “Albuquerque” has a great Western vibe during extended intro, the rest of the song does not quite live up to its initial promise, and the following track, “New Mama” is also pretty standard and unremarkable. However, the next two songs may be the best overall on the album. “Lookout Joe” is a strong, chord, driven rocker with a fine melody and hook and a slow but strong rock beat by Kenny Buttrey leading to the fine guitar lead by Keith. The spoken word, pleasant, mellow intro and verses of “Tired Eyes” are contrasted by the rich harmonies of the choruses. This song is, effectively, the grand finale as a lazy harmonica plays over the country-esque backing before the final track, “Tonight’s the Night” (Part II) offers a different take on the opener with just a slightly distinctive musical arrangement driven by the pulsating bass by Billy Talbot throughout.

While Tonight’s the Night did reach the Top 30 in the American Pop Albums chart, it’s poor sales solidified this as the third and final installment of the “ditch trilogy”. While it received mixed reviews at the time, it is now widely regarded as a classic by Neil Young. For decades there has been speculation that an entirely different version of the album exists that is even more intense than this published version, but as of 2020 that version has not yet seen the light of day.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

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Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart

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Gasoline Alley by Rod StewartHis second official solo album, Gasoline Alley, is a critically acclaimed 1970 album by Rod Stewart. It features a diverse mixture of covers and originals that reflect the various styles of Stewart’s various musical projects and this album has been described as one that both celebrates tradition while featuring the rock sensibilities of its present. Ultimately, while the album is a sentimental snapshot of place and time, it has maintained its musical integrity and interest a half century after its creation.

Sir Roderick David Stewart was born in war-torn London, 1945 to parents of both Scottish and English ancestry. As a teenager he developed an interest in English folk music and he began playing harmonica in the early 1960s, joining the rhythm and blues group The Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. One of the group’s earlier gigs in 1963 was opening for The Rolling Stones in London. After leaving The Dimensions, Stewart made his recording début with the single “Up Above My Head” in June 1964, and soon signed a solo recording contract with Decca Records, where he recorded several further singles and made some national television appearances through the mid 1960s but found little commercial success.

In early 1967, guitarist Jeff Beck recruited Stewart to front the heavy blues Jeff Beck Group. The group included bassist Ronnie Wood and the 1968 debut album, Truth, featured contributions from future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and acted as a model for Zeppelin’s own debut album. Stewart co-wrote three of the original tracks on this critically acclaimed album, which spawned a world wide tour in late 1968 into 1969. The Jeff Beck Group’s second album, Beck-Ola, was recorded in April 1969 for release that summer.

The heavily-touring group was slated to play the Woodstock Music Festival before Stewart and Wood abruptly left the group to eventually form Faces with former members of The Small Faces. Meanwhile, Stewart recorded and released his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (known as The Rod Stewart Album in the US) in late 1969, which established his heartfelt mixture of folk, rock, and country blues in both original and cover material. Faces début album, First Step was released in early 1970 with a more straight-forward rock and roll style and this group quickly earned a strong live following. Simultaneously, Stewart entered the studio with producer Lou Reizner to record Gasoline Alley, which struck a balance between the Faces’ sound and Stewart’s solo debut.


Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart
Released: June 12, 1970 (Mercury)
Produced by: Lou Reizner & Rod Stewart
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, February–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Gasoline Alley
It’s All Over Now
Only A Hobo
My Way Of Giving
Country Comfort
Cut Across Shorty
Lady Day
Jo’s Lament
You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Martin Quittenton – Guitar
Ronnie Wood – Guitar, Bass
Ian McLagan – Piano, Organ
Mick Waller – Drums

Stewart and Wood collaborated on the opening title track, an excellent folk track with a 12-string acoustic topped by dueling lead guitars and Stewart mimicking the lead riffs throughout to create a catchy melody. Stanley Matthews provides a mandolin lead to “Gasoline Alley” to complete the aura of this ode to a simpler past. the cover of Bobby and Shirley Jean Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” follows as an entertaining track with a country rock feel due to Wood’s twangy guitar and the piano style of Ian McLagan.

A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Only a Hobo”, a song Dylan himself would not release until decades later, offers a nice change of pace as a simple acoustic waltz with sad and moody lyrics delivered masterfully by Stewart. “My Way of Giving” soulfully starts with organ, bass and the masterful guitar chording by Wood. The song was co-written by Ronnie Lane for the Small Faces in 1966 and he, along with Faces band mate Kenney Jones on drums, perform on this track. “Country Comfort” is an Elton John / Bernie Taupin composition and the piano of this folk ballad is delivered nicely by guest Pete Sears, The song also features an odd but charming backing vocal by Jack Reynolds.

Rod Stewart

The album’s second side offers more diversity to its solid overall sound. “Cut Across Shorty” was originally written for Eddie Cochran in 1960 and, a decade later, this version features a duo acoustic beginning by Wood and Martin Quittenton, which is cut across by Mick Waller‘s unique drum pattern before everything kicks in for a driving rhythm under and some fiddle sprinkled throughout. Two Stewart acoustic originals follow, the partly surreal but all feeling ballad “Lady Day” with a fine a fiddle lead, and the celtic-feeling “Jo’s Lament”, with layered instrumental arrangement. “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It)” wraps things up with a simmering beat and a funk-inflected theme which brings back the Faces’ rhythm section for a final cameo.

While a commercial disappointment in the UK, Gasoline Alley did become the first of 15 consecutive albums for Stewart to chart in the Top 40 in the United States. He would soon reach superstardom with his next 1971 solo record, Every Picture Tells a Story</a,> and continue this success for decades as he became one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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The Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting

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The Dream of the Blue Turtles by StingFollowing a remarkable five years of stellar success with The Police, vocalist and songwriter Sting launched his solo career with his 1985 debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles. With this, Sting worked hard to distinguish his own sound away from the distinct styles of his former trio, bringing in a coterie of jazz, R&B and world style backing musicians. Lyrically, the tunes cover interpersonal as well as topical issues, which work well in some instances but come off a little preachy and pretentious in others.

Sting claims that he decided to leave the Police while onstage at Shea Stadium in New York in August 1983 in support of the group’s top-selling album Synchronicity. The group actually never formally broke up, but all three members focused on their individual projects in the mid 1980s. For Sting, this included working on the 1984 benefit project, Band Aid, and providing the intro vocals for Dire Strait’s hit song “Money for Nothing” from their 1985 album Brothers In Arms.

Co-produced by Pete Smith, the album was recorded both at Eddy Grant‘s studio in Barbados and at LeStudio in Quebec, Canada, a studio used frequently by Rush in the early to mid 1980s. Wanting to move away from the “confines of pop”, Sting’s goal was to erode the boundaries between rock and jazz by using top musicians familiar with both.


The Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting
Released: June 1, 1985 (A&M)
Produced by: Pete Smith & Sting
Recorded: Blue Wave Studio, Saint Philip, Barbados and Le Studio, Morin-Heights, Quebec, January 1984–March 1985
Side One Side Two
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
Love Is the Seventh Wave
Russians
Children’s Crusade
Shadows in the Rain
We Work the Black Seam
Consider Me Gone
The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Moon Over Bourbon Street
Fortress Around Your Heart
Primary Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
Kenny Kirkland – Keyboards
Branford Marsalis – Saxophone
Darryl Jones – Bass
Omar Hakim – Drums

The moderate cool jazz/pop with a good hook off “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” starts things off. Steady throughout, the bridge section breaks out of the main groove as an interesting change on this Top 10 hit. “Love Is the Seventh Wave” follows with highly philosophical lyrics above an electronic reggae arrangement. The song’s title is derived from a popular saying among surfers and sailors and it concludes with a brief homage to “Every Breath You Take” from Sting’s former band. Speaking of The Police, there is one remake on this album, “Shadows in the Rain”, originally released on 1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta. This version starts with an off-beat drum entry and the shout by someone of “what key is it in?”, building tension until the song breaks into an upbeat blues jam with an impressive sax lead by Branford Marsalis.

Co-written by Sergei Prokofiev, “Russians” features a synthesized and ominous vibe with lyrics that are both profound – (“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology / I hope the Russian love their children too”) – and a bit outdated philosophically. Other topical tracks include “Children’s Crusade” is a ballad with lyrics that speak of the devastation brought about by heroin addiction, and “We Work the Black Seam” with a chanting-like melody over some African beats and lyrics that speak of working men and modern industrialization.

Sting 1985

The jazz-tinged tunes continue with “Consider Me Gone”, with fine drumming by Omar Hakim to accompany Darryl Jones‘s bass, which later temporarily breaks into a fine jazz phrase. The title track is a short but entertaining piano jazz jam, with the title itself coming from an actual dream by Sting where aggressive and quite drunk blue turtles were doing back flips and destroyed his garden. Sting provides fretless bass on “Moon Over Bourbon Street”, while some distant horns give the arrangement lots of atmosphere beneath the narrative vocals. Like it begins, the album concludes with a strong pop song, “Fortress Around Your Heart”. This is, perhaps, the most “Police-like” track on Dream of the Blue Turtles with subtle key changes in the verses, animated drumming under the hook and very profound lyrics throughout. Marsalis’ final sax lead closes out the album on a fine note.

The Dream of the Blue Turtles reached the Top 5 in various countries on both sides of the Atlantic, answering the doubts as to whether it was wise to abandon the uber-successful Police. Later in 1985, a documentary film called Bring On the Night was released, focusing on this jazz-inspired project.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1985 albums.

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