1981_Rush MovingPictures

Moving Pictures by Rush

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1981 Album of the Year

Moving Pictures by Rush Since the arrival of drummer Neil Peart in the summer of 1974, Rush had produced six consecutive quality albums rock albums, up to and including Permanent Waves in 1980. Then came Moving Pictures which, in many ways, was their musical masterpiece and in all ways would become the most popular album they ever released. This album also would represent a crossroads for the band, at once showcasing many elements of the sound that they had forged throughout the late 1970s while also mildly previewing their new wave influenced sound of the early 1980s. In this sense, it may well be the most diverse album that Rush ever produced as well as the most complete and rewarding album overall of 1981, making it Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for that year.

Following the success of the 1976 concept album, 2112, the group delved further into progressive rock with the “Cygnus X-1” concept which spanned two albums and culminated with the 12-part instrumental “La Villa Strangiato” from the 1978 album Hemispheres. With Permanent Waves, released on the first day of the new decade, Rush began to alter their style with some reggae and new wave elements to complement the hard rock core, a sound they expanded upon when production began on this album in late 1980.

Moving Pictures was the seventh consecutive album produced by Terry Brown, who played a huge role in forging Rush’s sound during this classic phase of the career. It is also the first album where Geddy Lee plays some keyboards and bass on each and every song, complementing Alex Lifeson‘s guitar style and sound, which is distinct on every song. As a premiere rock drummer, Peart had long experimented with different styles and time signatures, and he continues to do so on Moving Pictures. But as the band’s primary lyricist, Peart explores more diverse subjects than he had in the past, finding lyrical inspiration in classical literature as well as contemporary events.

 

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Moving Pictures by Rush
Released: February 12, 1981 (Mercury)
Produced by: Rush & Terry Brown
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, Canada, Oct-Nov 1980
Side One Side Two
Tom Sawyer
Red Barchetta
YYZ
Limelight
The Camera Eye
Witch Hunt
Vital Signs
Musicians
Geddy Lee – Bass, Synths, Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synths
Neil Peart – Drums & Percussion

 
The final song on the album, “Vital Signs”, contains a dual reggae/electronica influence that would have fit perfectly on their next studio album, Signals. “Witch Hunt” features dramatic sound effects, a deliberate arrangement, and guest keyboardist Hugh Syme, who also designed the album’s signature covers. This song would later be revealed as the third part of the “Fear” series, released chronologically in reverse. As Peart explained in an interview;

The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn’t think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness, but by fear.

Moving Pictures is also the last album from the era to include an extended piece, “The Camera Eye”. The track paints a lyrical and musical picture of the metro activity of New York City and London, with the title deriving from works by American author John Dos Passos. To this point in their career, Rush had included a track of seven minutes or more in length on each of their first eight albums (including Moving Pictures), but would not do so again for over 30 years. Another rarity on future Rush albums would be a pure instrumental. “YYZ” is a fantastic and thrilling little jam that showcases each of the trio’s musical virtuosity. Musically, the song displays a steady, trance-like motif with many showcase sections for each musician, with its title coming from the airport code from the group’s hometown Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Tom Sawyer single by RushThe best known song on the album, and probably the band’s most popular song ever, is “Tom Sawyer”. The song was co-written by Canadian lyricist Pye Dubois, who gave a poem to the band entitled “Louis the Lawyer” and asked if the band would be interested in putting it to music. Peart then added “the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be”, by using the American literary metaphor. Musically, this steady but complex song incorporates a heavy use of synths, differing time signatures and accessible melodies. “Limelight” was another hit off the album, which portrays Peart’s uneasiness with fame. It contains one of rock music’s most famous riffs, delivered by Lifeson in a perfectly cultivated crunch of distorted guitar that sounds as good as any sound he had ever cultivated. Peart’s lyrics speak of his slight disillusionment with fame and the growing intrusions into his personal life, complete with Shakespearian references.

The tour-de-force of the album is the fantastic “Red Barchetta”, a vivid action story about a joyride in a car taken during a dystopian future where such actions are unlawful. The song was inspired by the futuristic short story “A Nice Morning Drive,” by Richard Foster, published in 1973, which Peart adapted with his own love of classic automobiles. A true classic jam, this complex song was recorded in one take and contains some of the best bass playing by Lee, who really shines on this track.

Rush in Studio, 1980

Moving Pictures was the first Rush album to top the Canadian album charts and nearly did the same in the US and the UK, reaching the Top 3 in both those countries. The album went on to reach quadruple platinum status world wide and it still sounds as fresh and relevant, multiple decades after its release. During Rush’s 2010–11 Time Machine Tour, the album was played live in its entirety for the first and only time.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

The Bends by Radiohead

The Bends by Radiohead

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The Bends by RadioheadThe Bends is the classic rock coming of age album by Radiohead, for which they received critical acclaim as well as chart and commercial success. This 1995 album was at once a major shift in the group’s musical direction as well as a move towards accessible tunes, as reflected in its five charting singles. A major contributor to this compositional evolution was the more sprawling approach in front man Thom Yorke‘s songwriting, who delivered more global lyrical themes in comparison to the personal ones of earlier work. In turn, the music was sweeping and dynamic with diverse styles and arrangements added to their three-guitar attack to forge a grand and forceful sound.

The group’s first album was 1993’s Pablo Honey, which featured a strong alternative / grunge presence. This brought some international success and much subsequent touring. The following year, Radiohead released the EP, My Iron Lung, featuring some early versions of tracks which would be re-worked for The Bends. However, this EP had poor commercial success.

The Bends was produced by John Leckie, with Radiohead working on song arrangements for the album through the entirety of 1994. Work on the album was slow through the initial months, as the group felt pressure to create the perfect follow-up to Pablo Honey. An initial release date of October 1994 was pushed back several months as Leckie taught the band “how to use the studio in different ways”.


The Bends by Radiohead
Released: March 13, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Leckie
Recorded: Abbey Road and RAK Studios, London, August–November 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Planet Telex
The Bends
High and Dry
Fake Plastic Trees
Bones
(Nice Dream)
Just
My Iron Lung
Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was
Black Star
Sulk
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Thom Yorke – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Jonny Greenwood – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Ed O’Brien – Guitars, Vocals
Colin Greenwood – Bass
Phil Selway – Drums, Percussion
 
The Bends by Radiohead

Extra-present drums set the pace for the odd, spaced-out beat of the opening track “Planet Telex”. Released as a single, the track features some tremolo keyboard and guitar textures, with the chorus offering the most rewarding part of this otherwise bland emo screed. The title track, “The Bends”, follows with a strong rock arrangement through a long riff intro. The verses revert back to a more steady arrangement but the song rocks well throughout with lyrics that are thematic. The ballad “High and Dry” is the first real highlight of the album, as Yorke’s vocals are pleasant and melodic above a blend of acoustic and electric guitars by Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien. Written well before the album sessions, there was much debate on whether this light song would even be included on the album. Not only was it included, but it was also a successful single.

“Fake Plastic Trees” is another acoustic track but, unlike the previous ballad, this has more of a psychedelic, early Pink-Floyd-like vibe. “Bones” follows with a strong rhythmic presence by bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway as well as some topical tremolo guitar and a ringing distant guitar. This short, three-minute song finishes with strong rock riffs and accents. “(Nice Dream)” follows with a descending, four-chord acoustic riff in the intro which sets the meter for the moderate folk/alternative song. The best part of this track are the excellent post-chorus guitar layers. Another fine track, “Just” starts with a strummed intro, soon accompanied by a strong distorted electric. When it fully kicks in, this track features a great musical arrangement in verses to accompany the fine vocal melodies, perhaps the finest on the album.

Radiohead in 1995

“My Iron Lung”, the title track from the previously released EP, is an odd art of noise. The first part of song is built droning rhythm and jangly guitar melodies, while the second section is nearly incoherent in a deliberate attempt at pure noise. Alternative to the core, whine in vocals but song is saved by good melody and arrangement. On “Permanent Daylight”, Yorke’s vocals hide within a wall of noise, while “Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was” employs space-like psychedelic effects using echo and sustain in the background with a slow, acoustic folk in foreground. “Black Star” returns to upbeat rock with a full arrangement fading in through the intro and moderate verses with cool guitar textures and good drumming elsewhere. “Sulk” features an interesting, slow waltz shuffle drum beat upon which the rest of the textures are built. Each verse adds more sonic candy, especially with the guitar, bass, and keyboard textures. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” concludes the album with a dark, repeating riff and elongated vocal phasing, making it a bit anti-climatic for an album ending.

While The Bends charted well in several countries throughout the world, it only peaked at #88 in the US, making it an initial disappointment. However, this album has only grown in stature and influence over the two decades following its release, with many Brit pop bands taking cues from many of its songs.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters

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Foo FightersWith the suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain abruptly ending what looked like a promising rise for the rock trio in 1994, the group’s drummer, Dave Grohl, decided to write and record independent material as a “cathartic experience”. The resulting work, Foo Fighters, an album and act which derived its name from a term World War II aircraft pilots would use to describe various UFOs. No one (even Grohl) at the time knew that this album would act as the commencement of a highly successful rock band for decades to come.

The name originally served as a proxy, intentionally used by Grohl to preserve his anonymity after recordings were completed. Those recordings took place over just one week in October 1994 at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, with Grohl frantically recording all instrumentation and vocals himself. Along with producer Barrett Jones, the duo spent long days recording up to four songs each day in the order that they would ultimately appear on the album. Having never been a front man, Grohl was initially insecure about his singing so he often double-tracked and applied added effects to his voice. Many of the compositions were initiated during Grohl’s time in Nirvana, as he would often bring a guitar along on tour. However, there were many parts composed on the fly during the short studio time.

Grohl originally pressed a limited number of LPs and cassettes to pass out among fellow musicians and friends. He had been offered a permanent gig as drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and briefly considered taking it before Petty heard one of his tapes and encouraged Grohl to pursue “the solo thing”. Soon these tapes reached some major labels and Grohl signed with Capitol, who accepted the original recordings but had them remixed. Grohl then recruited a full band to forge a live show and fulfill Capitol’s request for a photo of a full band.


Foo Fighters by Foo Fighters
Released: July 4, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: Barrett Jones and Dave Grohl
Recorded: Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, October 1994
Album Tracks Primary Musician
This Is a Call
I’ll Stick Around
Big Me
Alone + Easy Target
Good Grief
Floaty
Weenie Beenie
Oh, George
For All the Cows
X-Static
Wattershed
Exhausted
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums

Foo Fighters

The opener, “This Is a Call”, is actually one of the more recent songs written by Grohl and, right from the jump, his sense of melody and accessibility is evident along with his penchant for unabashed, hard-edged rock. the song starts with some double vocals above strummed electric for one line before the song explodes into a full and intense rock arrangement and it peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. “I’ll Stick Around” is more like a traditional Nirvana song with rotating riffs and a quasi-punk feel. The song’s vocal vibe ranges from detached whine to emotional screed with the music following perfectly throughout. The third song, “Big Me”, displays a third distinct type of talented musical style by Grohl. As a calm and melodic pop song, the track displays a knack for effective use of repetition and arrangement in getting the songs message out in a quick and effective way.

“Alone + Easy Target” dates back to 1991 and is another good jam, albeit not quite as innovative as the first three songs. “Good Grief” is driven by steady, upbeat drums and drilling guitar textures and the choruses get a little punk intensive, while “Floaty” contrasts with a pleasant 12-string acoustic intro before launching into a flange-drenched steady rock sway during the verses. “Weenie Beenie” brings the effects to a nearly absurd level with its textures and heavily treated vocals. While this is all fun as a headbanger, there is not much in terms of musical substance. “Oh, George” returns to melodic hard rock and is a loose tribute to George Harrison, who he calls his “favorite Beatle”.

Dave Grohl

Coming down the stretch, Foo Fighters maintains its energy and vibrancy while offering more diverse selections. “For All the Cows” is another Nirvana-esque track, starting with calm, jazzy verses and exploding into heavy punk screeds during the choruses. “X-Static” is notable as the only track with an outside musician, as Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs plays guitar. “Wattershed” is a punk jam with nearly screamed vocals that rail against mailmen, banks, record contracts, and other divergent subjects. “Exhausted” closes things out and works great with its title as the closing track to this rapidly recorded collection. The track is notable for an extremely long “feedback” section in the middle, before the main musical riff reprises to shepherd out the album.

Foo Fighters charted well throughout the world and was promoted through several tours domestically and internationally. These tours served to gel the members as a proper “group” and much success would follow, starting with the 1997 second album, The Colour and the Shape, and continuing well into the next century.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt

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Tragic Kingdom by No DoubtNo Doubt offered an upbeat breath of fresh air to the mid nineties with their dynamic masterpiece, Tragic Kingdom. This third overall studio album by the California-based rock band found tremendous commercial and chart success and sustained seven singles over the period between late 1995 and early 1998. Led by the dynamic vocals of Gwen Stefani, the group composed songs blending a diverse array of musical genres including blues, rock, ska, reggae, grunge, new wave and punk.

The group was formed in 1986 by keyboardist Eric Stefani, with his sister Gwen occasionally joining in on backing vocals when they practiced in their parents’ garage. Bassist Tony Kanal later joined after catching one of the band’s early shows and began a (initially) secret relationship with Gwen. In early 1988, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young joined No Doubt, rounding out the band’s long-standing lineup. Impressed by the group’s rabid live following, No Doubt was signed to a multi-album deal by Interscope Records in 1990. However, the group’s initial two releases, their 1992 self-titled debut and the self-produced The Beacon Street Collection failed to gain widespread success.

Producer Matthew Wilder was brought on board to produce Tragic Kingdom. The album included recordings made over a two and a half year period between March 1993 and October 1995, with recordings made in nearly dozen studios in and around Los Angeles. This album would also be the last to feature Eric Stefani, who was the primary composer of the material on the first two albums. After Eric officially left the band in 1994, most of the other group members stepped up to co-write the new material.


Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt
Released: October 6, 1995 (Interscope)
Produced by: Matthew Wilder
Recorded: Los Angeles, March 1993–October 1995
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Spiderwebs
Excuse Me Mr.
Just A Girl
Happy Now?
Different People
Hey You
The Climb
Sixteen
Sunday Morning
Don’t Speak
You Can Do It
World Go ‘Round
End It On This
Tragic Kingdom
Gwen Stefani – Lead Vocals
Tom Dumont – Guitars
Eric Stefani – Piano, Keyboards
Tony Kanal – Bass
Adrian Young – Drums, Percussion

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt

The opener “Spiderwebs” starts with a steady reggae show piece with some brass before it quickly changes into a more frenzied and rock-oriented ska groove. Dumont’s crisply squeezed guitar chords and Kanal’s thumping bass lines accompany a steady beat by Young. Released as a single, the song reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. “Excuse Me Mr.” features a more frenzied ska riff and is especially entertaining during the bridge section where a frantic drum shuffle is accompanied by honky tonk piano and some fat brass. This song was originally composed as an acoustic folk song but the recording was lost in a studio accident, causing the group to re-write and re-record a punked-up version. “Just a Girl” features a wild sounding guitar riff accented by slight bass and steady hi-hat fused drums through the intro and verses and, later on, Eric Stefani adds a soaring synth lead over the ever-intensive rhythms. The lead single from the album, the song charted twice in the Top 40, eventually peaking at number 3. The lyrics, written by Gwen Stefani, tell of her own experiences dealing with female stereotypes;

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes, I’m exposed and it’s no big surprise / Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand, this world is forcing me to hold your hand…”

“Happy Now?” is a more vocal and lyric driven track with strong guitar riffing and chords. This is one of several tracks which lyrically deal with Gwen Stefani’s recent breakup with Kanal, after a seven year relationship. “Different People” features strong rudiments and a great animated bass line, while “Hey You!” has a unique and excellent arrangement with a heavy sixties vibe brought on by the overt sitar and harpsichord as well as the more subtle structuring of the rock groove. “The Climb” is a dramatic blues song written by Eric Stefani and it features cool penny-whistle organ parts under the verses with several guitar textures by Dumont. The song goes through several trans-formative sections and a long ending dissolve where each musician gets to add bits of embellishment in turn. Following the standard ska of “Sixteen”, a drum shuffle fades in along with a driven bass which makes it closer to pure reggae with heavy rock guitars and dynamic, dramatic vocals.

The album’s first and only ballad, “Don’t Speak”, offers one its most indelible moments. The song starts with Eric Stefani’s slow, rocking electric piano in verses but breaks into jazzy acoustic choruses complete with a later excellent flamenco acoustic lead by Dumont. Slight use of strings and brass are just enough to bring out the emotions without getting overly sappy, shining the spotlight on Gwen Stefani’s vocals, which are best at their very best on this album. The song would go on to become the breakthrough single. received tremendous airplay, and helped elevate the album as well as previously released singles. It would also go on to be nominated for Song of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards.

Coming down the stretch, Tragic Kingdom features more entertaining tracks such as “You Can Do It”, which is funky, seventies style soul with heavy brass, disco strings, wah-wah guitar and rounded bass patterns. “World Go ‘Round” returns to the upbeat reggae with horns and Hammond organ and plenty of brass, while the closing title song is a strong and steady, guitar and vocal driven rocker which is set up like a theatrical mini-suite complete with horn sections and a rapid fingerboard guitar lead. The best of this lot is “End It on This” (which should have been the album closer). This last, great song on the album has a definitive new wave feel with rapid guitar riffs and bass notes accented by melodic piano patterns. The choruses feature especially potent keyboards and bass which work together to give a feel of rapid melodic motion. The song then steadies into a traditional guitar lead section before an intense and fantastic outro section.

No Doubt

Following Tragic Kingdom‘s release and success, No Doubt embarked on a an extensive tour which lasted about two and a half years. A 1997 performance from this tour was recorded in the group’s home city of Anaheim and released as a Live in the Tragic Kingdom DVD. The band would not follow-up with another studio album until Return of Saturn was released in 2000, a half decade after Tragic Kingdom.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

My Generation by The Who

My Generation by The Who

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My Generation by The WhoThe Who released an impressive debut album in December 1965 with My Generation. Although the group was initially dissatisfied with the album, it has grown in the past half century to be regarded as one of the pivotal rock albums of the mid sixties. With most songs composed by guitarist, Pete Townshend, along with a few select blues and funk covers, the album features a raw, hard rock sound and approach which may have been heavier than any on any popular rock album up to that point in time.

Townshend grew up in a musical family outside London and met future bandmates, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle in grammar school. Daltrey, who was a year older than the others, started the group The Detours in 1959 and soon recruited Entwistle into the band on bass. Although Daltrey played guitar originally, in 1961 Entwistle suggested Townshend be hired as guitarist with Daltrey moving to lead vocals. In early 1964, the group changed their name to The Who and brought on drummer Keith Moon to round out the classic quartet.

Over the next year plus, The Who toured relentlessly and became a favorite band of the English “mod” movement. The group adopted mod fashion and lifestyle and even temporarily changed their name to, “The High Numbers”, for their initial 1964 single because management thought the name played better to their audience. Filmmakers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp later took over as managers and encouraged the group to change their repertoire towards R&B, Motown, and soul with the new slogan “Maximum R&B”. In late 1964, The Who recorded and released the song “I Can’t Explain”, which further expanded their sound to the raw, riff-driven sound made popular by The Kinks.

My Generation reflects a confluence of these evolving early sounds by the group. Produced by Shel Talmy, the album features songs released as singles earlier in 1965 along with a further mix of originals and cover songs which reflect their strongest live material.


My Generation by The Who
Released: December 3, 1965 (Brunswick)
Produced by: Shel Talmy
Recorded: IBC Studios, London, April-October 1965
Side One Side Two
Out In the Street
I Don’t Mind
The Good’s Gone
La-La-La-Lies
Much Too Much
My Generation
The Kids Are Alright
Please, Please, Please
It’s Not True
I’m a Man
A Legal Matter
The Ox
Tracks Included on Alternate Versions of the Album
Circles
I Can’t Explain
Bald Headed Woman
Group Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

To kick off the album, “Out In the Street”, sounds like it has a false start by Daltry during intro, but when it does fully kick in it is a gritty rocker with driving rhythms and strong drumming by Moon. Later in the song they play with harmony arrangements, rudiments and guitar effects, making it an interesting listen. “I Don’t Mind”, follows as the first of two James Brown covers. Dramatic and soulful, the group again shows off their tight rock ability and style versatility.

“The Good’s Gone”, is a unique, droning rocker built on sharp drum patterns and extended guitar chording by Townshend.  The song is  repetitive but to great effect during verses and choruses with the tension finally relieved during the slight bridges, and this arrangement stretches it out beyond an almost-unheard-of-for-1965 four minutes in duration. “La-La-La-Lies”, is the first pure pop song on the album and it features a heavy piano presence by guest Nicky Hopkins along with rich backing harmonies throughout. The song failed to chart in the UK but was a significant hit in Sweden. While still entertaining, “Much Too Much”, is the first song to sound incomplete and the lead vocals melody seem to meander a bit.

The title track, “My Generation”, is the obvious highlight of the side and album, as well as the strongest song for both Entwistle and Moon. Perhaps the first ever true punk song, it gives a heavy nod to teenage angst in general and the mod counterculture specifically. The song is distinct musically with Daltrey’s signature stutter through the verses, Entwistle’s fantastic bass lead, and a final verse which goes up a key to add intensity and climaxes in a wild, unhinged coda. The song reached number 2 in the UK in October 1965 and is The Who’s highest charting single ever in their home country through a long and distinguished career.

The Who

The second side begins with “The Kids Are Alright”, another indelible Who classic which features rhythm, melody and strong accessibility. The song also features musical interludes where Moon gets to wail on the drums, making this a precursor to many Who classics in years to come and was referred back to during an interlude part of 1973’s Quadrophenia. After this zenith, the album regress’s a bit starting with, “Please, Please, Please”, which sounds like it would have been an exciting live track but doesn’t quite translate on this studio record. “It’s Not True”, is an upbeat, Southern-style rocker with rich harmonies and lyrics more reflective of outlaw country, while the oft-covered Bo Diddley classic, “I’m a Man”, features fascinating blues vocals by Daltrey and a wild piano lead by Hopkins.

The album does end strong with a couple of original and innovative tracks. “A Legal Matter”, is a frenzied rocker, sandwiched between an interesting guitar intro and outro and featuring pleasant and strong rock elements and melodies throughout. “The Ox”, closes the album as an improvised jam with Moon working off the floor tom drums of the Sufari’s 1963 classic “Wipeout” and Townshend, Entwistle, and Hopkins complementing each other throughout the improvisation.

My Generation became a template for future garage rock, heavy metal and punk genres. However, The Who quickly moved on to forge their own distinct sound, starting with 1966’s A Quick One, with increasing elements of theatrical arrangements and philosophical themes which would elevate the group to ever-increasing heights.

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

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Turn Turn Turn by The Byrds

Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

Buy Turn! Turn! Turn!

Turn Turn Turn by The ByrdsThe Byrds finished their breakout year of 1965 with their second highly acclaimed and commercially successful album of that year. Turn! Turn! Turn! built on the group’s distinct, multi-guitar-timbre, folk/rock sound with a fine mixture of original, cover, and reinterpreted traditional tunes. Of the originals on this album, guitarist and vocalist Jim McGuinn‘s contributions were on par with those by Gene Clark, who had been The Byrd’s primary composer of original material up to that point in time.

McGuinn, Clark, and David Crosby formed the group as a folk trio called, The Jet Set, in early 1964. However, McGuinn had become a fan of the Beatles early music and began to fuse his solo folk repertoire with acoustic/rock versions of their songs. While rehearsing new material, the band began to bridge the gap between folk music and rock and soon drummer Michael Clarke was added to the band. The group made some demos and released one single on Elektra Records, “Please Let Me Love You”, under the name, “The Beefeaters”, in October 1964. Bassist / mandolin player Chris Hillman joined the band in late 1964, rounding out the original five-piece lineup. Next, with a recommendation from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, the group was signed to Columbia Records and decided to rename themselves (one final time) to The Byrds. In early 1965, the group reached immediate fame with an original cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, followed by their debut album of the same name, which reached the Top 10 on the album charts during the summer of 1965. That same summer, the group toured England and was being promoted as “America’s answer to the Beatles”.

With this international success, The Byrds returned to Columbia Studios in Hollywood with producer Terry Melcher to record a second album. By now, folk rock was becoming a growing trend and the group was primed to fully capitalize on their momentum. However, the recording of Turn! Turn! Turn! was not without its tensions, as Crosby (who had one co-writing credit on the album) accused McGuinn and Melcher of conspiring to keep his songs off of the album. Crosby had written a handful of originals which were rejected for this album, as had Clark, who had three additional tracks rejected. Most of these songs were included in the extended 1996 CD reissue of the album.


Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds
Released: December 6, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Terry Melcher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June – November, 1965
Side One Side Two
Turn! Turn! Turn!
It Won’t Be Wrong
Set You Free This Time
Lay Down Your Weary Tune
He Was a Friend of Mine
The World Turns All Around Her
Satisfied Mind
If You’re Gone
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Wait and See
Oh! Susannah
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Gene Clark – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Percussion

The signature guitar orchestra led by McGuinn’s jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker dominates the music of the opening title track, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)”. These guitars are complimented by perfectly harmonized vocals, and Clarke’s rolling drum pattern under the chorus sections. While it is filled with so much sustained guitar textures, it stops on a dime several times between each verse/chorus sequence, including a false ending before a coda with extra intensity. The song was originally composed by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, with many of the lyrics were lifted from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, possibly written by King Solomon in the 10th century BC. With that, the song holds the distinction as the #1 pop hit with the oldest lyrics.

Like the opener, “It Won’t Be Wrong”, is another upbeat track but with more standard love song style lyrics. Cowritten by McGuinn and Harvey Gerstand, this track features some interesting style changes which make it unconventional and a bit strange. Clark’s, “Set You Free This Time”, is a country/pop flavored track, especially in its vocal approach. In fact, this is the first song to feature solo lead singer, with harmonies used sparingly and with Clark’s fine harmonica solo as the song fades out. “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, is the first of two Bob Dylan covers on the album and is set up like a spiritual with the chorus/hook featuring heavy harmonies. Musically, this song has much the same jangly vibe and strong drums as previous tracks, but with an added heavy bass presence by Hillman. The first side concludes with an original rendition of the traditional folk tune, “He Was a Friend of Mine”, a finger-picked acoustic song with stripped down arrangement and a slight, distant organ by Melcher under the later verses.

The Byrds in 1965

“The World Turns All Around Her”, is a fine, pop-oriented composition by Clark which may only suffer from lack of strong rhythm presence in production mix. “Satisfied Mind”, follows as a country-esque cover of a folk song by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes. Along with the fine sparse instrumentation and harmonica lead, this track is highlighted by profound and philosophical lyrics;

Money won’t buy back your youth when you’re old, a friend when you’re lonely or a love that’s grown cold / The wealthiest person is a pauper at times compared to the man with a satisfied mind…”

Clark’s, “If You’re Gone”, is different than any other track on the album. Vocal-centric with a slow-rock backing, the song has distinct and interesting, almost haunting, chanting low-register vocals. While not quite as potent as their cover of, “Mr Tambourine Man”, the Byrds’ cover of, “The Times They Are a-Changin'” ,still dekuvers somewhat of an interesting arrangement of the Dylan classic. Further, the group members were pleasantly surprised when Beatles George Harrison and Paul McCartney showed up during the recording of this track. “Wait and See”, is the only song to feature Crosby as a co-writer, along with McGuin, while the group chose to do a souped up version of the popular campfire song, “Oh! Susannah”, to close the album.

Turn! Turn! Turn! peaked in the Top 20 of album charts in both the US and UK. However, The Byrds wasted little time moving forward musically, as they released their controversial breakthrough single, “Eight Miles High”, just two and a half weeks after this album’s release. Just two months later, Gene Clark left the group in February 1966, commencing a wave of personnel shifts which would continue through the duration of the group’s career.

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

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Rubber Soul by The Beatles

Rubber Soul by The Beatles

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Rubber Soul by The BeatlesAs the years have gone by, Rubber Soul has distinguished itself more and more from the “typical” early album by The Beatles. While the 14 selections remain pretty much bright and poppy, the underlying lyrical content starts to touch on more mature themes, as its center of gravity migrates from teenage love to young adult sex. More importantly are the compositions, the music and the sound production which feature a stream of creative innovativeness by the group and producer George Martin.

Following the band’s international success in 1964, the year 1965 saw many new achievements and discoveries for the group, ranging from their reception of Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in June to their first experiences with LSD and other drugs later in the year. During the summer of 1965, the motion picture and accompanying soundtrack album Help! were released and continued their phenomenal chart success. The group’s third US tour followed, opening with a then world-record crowd of over 55,000 at Shea Stadium in New York on August 15th, with many more sold out cities to follow. That Fall even saw the premier of an American Saturday-morning cartoon series of the band, the first ever television series to feature animated versions of real, living people.

After the tour, the group had little time to record their sixth album in order for it to hit the markets in time for Christmas. However, due to their second straight year of top-level success, there was little pressure to focus on hit singles, which made this their most cohesive album effort to date. They returned to London in October 1965 and nearly all of the songs were composed and recorded within a four week period into November. The Beatles grew up quite a bit on this album. The harmonies are simple but artfully arranged while the production begins to get a bit “edgy” (without being too revolutionary) but adding more piano and keyboards as well as excess percussion and some non-traditional instrumentation.

Stylistically, the group incorporates contemporary R&B, soul, folk rock, and just a tad of psychedelic music styles. In fact, the album’s title is a play on the slang term “plastic soul”, which some musicians coined to describe Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones when he attempted to replicate the “soul” singing style.


Rubber Soul by The Beatles
Released: December 3, 1965 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Studios, London, October-November, 1965
Side One Side Two
Drive My Car
Norweigen Wood
You Won’t See Me
Nowhere Man
Think For Yourself
The Word
Michelle
What Goes On
Girl
I’m Looking Through You
In My Life
Wait
If I Needed Someone
Run For Your Life
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards. Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Bass, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Organ, Vocals

The album opener, “Drive My Car”, reaches back to The Beatles’ roots as a pure rocker with little deviation, save for the overdubbed piano during chorus sections and Ringo Starr‘s cow bell throughout. Lyrically, the comical phrases are augmented by the title, which is an old blues euphemism for sex. Rubber Soul‘s next two tracks feature incredible production value. John Lennon‘s, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, is where the group takes its first real leap into the unknown as an acoustic folk song with a complementing sitar riff played by George Harrison. This works to gives a mystical feel to this story of what seems to be about a love affair that has lost its spark and the fire that was once warm and welcoming becomes vengeful in the end. Some have credited this song as the conception of the “world music” genre. “You Won’t See Me”, is a somewhat forgotten gem by Paul McCarftney. It is piano driven with fine chord progressions and melodies throughout. The bridge section shows off McCartney’s complex compositional skills, while the three part-harmonies throughout are another highlight to the song.

The Beatles in 1965

“Nowhere Man”, features clever lyrics and philosophical commentary by Lennon, all while remaining melodic and pop-oriented. Harrison provides a slight guitar lead after first verse, while McCartney and Starr thumb out good rhythms throughout on this track which reach number 3 on the pop charts in America. “Think for Yourself”, is the first of two compositions by Harrison this album and features an intriguing “fuzz” bass line by McCartney, complemented by a Vox Continental organ played by Lennon, giving it a total mid sixties vibe. While still entertaining, “The Word”, is the first song in the sequence which is not absolutely excellent, as the harmonies seem a bit too forced. However, this track does contain a cool piano backdrop and outstanding drums by Starr. The first side wraps with another unique track, the European folk-influenced, “Michelle”, complete with lyrics partially in French. This melodramatic love song is beautifully produced with rich background harmonies and Chet Atkins-style finger-picked electric guitar by McCartney for great sonic effect. “Michelle”, which was originally written as a spoof on French Bohemians during the Beatles’ early days, was re-written with proper lyrics for Rubber Soul and eventually won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967.

Side two of the album is not quite as excellent as the first side, but still contains solid songs throughout. “What Goes On”, is Starr’s country and western influenced contribution, in which he sings lead vocals and receives partial compositional credit for the only time on the album. Lennon’s, “Girl”, features great folk rhythms and melodies and previews some of his finer solo works years later. With more fine harmonies, the songs lyrics paint a vivid picture of a character who drives the protagonist crazy but is mesmerizing nonetheless;

Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure? Did she understand it when they said… That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure? Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Following McCartney’s bright and sparse acoustic pop track, “I’m Looking Through You”, comes Lennon’s masterpiece of this album, “In My Life”. Everything about this two and a half minute ballad showcases the Beatles at their best in 1965, The opening guitar notes, which were written by McCartney but played by Harrison, instantly tug at heartstrings. The poetic lyrics drip with sentimentality and lead to the climatic, Baroque–style piano lead played by Martin, which got a unique effect when the producer recorded it at half speed and found an authentic-sounding harpsichord result when played back at the normal rate. The first of its kind, Lennon wrote the song as a long poem reminiscing on his childhood years, themes which would be further explored by Beatles’ members on future band albums.

“Wait”, features great choruses and a decent bridge by McCartney along with a creative percussive ensemble and pedal-effected guitars, but is otherwise a weak song for this album. This is followed by Harrison’s smooth classic, “If I Needed Someone”, which features deliberate vocals, a sweet guitar and upbeat rhythms. This song was nearly simultaneously recorded and released as a cover by the Hollies and became a minor hit for that group. While Rubber Soul is a bright album overall, it concludes with the dark and violent, “Run for Your Life”, an ode to domestic violence or perhaps the “outlaw country” of 1965, as presented by Lennon. A very far cry from the “Give Peace a Chance” theme of the near future, it is hard to discern if this is serious or dark comedy lyrically, but musically it contains a plethora of guitar textures – from the strummed acoustic, to the slide electric and rockabilly lead – which make it undeniably catchy overall.

Like all albums to that point, Rubber Soul was released with differing British and American versions, with the British version eventually becoming canon (and hence, the one we review here). The album was another commercial success, originally staying on the charts for nearly a year, with several chart comebacks throughout the decades. Within the following year of 1966, The Beatles would continue to accelerate their recording innovations with the follow-up, Revolver ,and give up on touring completely to strictly become a studio-oriented band.

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

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Do You Believe In Magic by The Lovin Spoonful

Do You Believe in Magic
by The Lovin’ Spoonful

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Do You Believe In Magic by The Lovin SpoonfulThe Lovin Spoonful had a meteoric career which climaxed shortly after it began in the mid 1960s. Do You Believe in Magic is the 1965 debut album by the group. It displays an incredible diversity of styles, ranging from folk to blues to country, bluegrass, and jug band. Led by composer and vocalist John Sebastian, this debut contains tracks which are equal parts original and innovative along with a healthy amount of reinterpreted standards  traversing many American genres.

Sebastian grew up as the son of a studio session harmonica player (of the same name) and he launched his own music career playing the folk circuit in Greenwich Village, New York City in the early 1960s. Along with guitarist Zal Yanovsky and two future members of The Mamas and The Papas, Sebastian formed a group called The Mugwumps in 1964. Later bassist Steve Boone and drummer Joe Butler joined Sebastian and Yanovsky to form The Lovin’ Spoonful. Starting in 1965, the group began recording for Elektra Records before Kama Sutra Records exercised a previous option to sign the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Beyond the 12 tracks which appear on Do You Believe In Magic, the band recorded some of their biggest hit singles in 1965. Sebastian’s “Daydream” is a moderate pop/folk song which reached #2 in both the US and the UK. The rock-oriented chart topper “Summer In the City” was written by Sebastian and Boone and features a signature Hohner electric piano, further expanding the group’s palette.


Do You Believe In Magic by The Lovin Spoonful
Released: November 26, 1965 (Kama Sutra)
Produced by: Erik Jacobsen
Recorded:June-September, 1965
Side One Side Two
Do You Believe In Magic
Blues In the Bottle
Sportin’ Life
My Gal
You Baby
Fishin’ Blues
Did You Ever Have to…
Make up Your Mind?
Wild About My Lovin’
The Other Side of This Life
Younger Girl
On the Road Again
Night Owl Blues
Primary Musicians
John Sebastian – Guitars, Keyboards. Vocals
Zal Yanovsky – Guitars
Steve Boone – Bass, Vocals
Joe Butler – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album aptly begins with its title song, “Do You Believe In Magic”, an upbeat folk tune with nicely layered guitars and a backing vocal chorus provided by Yanovsky and Butler. Thematically, the “magic” is about the power of music and this certainly resonated in 1965 as this, oft-covered, debut single from the group reached the Top 10 in the US.

As was the custom for debut albums of the time, the bulk of Do You Believe In Magic is cover songs, including the remainder of the original first side. “Blues in the Bottle” features bending, descending notes with Sebastian’s vocals being deep and rustic. “Sportin’ Life” is a slower blues number with some legitimate lead guitars for that genre, while “My Gal” is a fun, rocked up folk song about an alcoholic girlfriend who can “get drunk on shoe polish”. Co-written by Phil Spector, Barry Mann and, Cynthia Weil, “You Baby” is a somber, crooning folk song centering on the vocals, sort of in the realm of Roy Orbison with good mixture of guitar riffs. “Fishin’ Blues” closes out the side by adding a blue grass dimension to the group’s sound, with Sebastian’s vocals matching the country mood and Yanovsky’s consistent pick/slide guitar overtones bring the tune to a new level.

The Lovin Spoonful in 1965

A picked guitar intro gives way to a bright organ rhythm on Sebastian’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” with the singer adding vocals with a dynamic range. The second single released from the album, this song reached #2 on the American Billboard charts in 1966. “Wild About My Lovin'” follows as a simple blues track with a moderate rhythm and beat, with the philosophical “Other Side of This Life” featuring a good bass-driven rhythm by Boone.

The album finishes strong with three Sebastian originals, starting with the romantic ballad, “Younger Girl”. “On the Road Again”, is one of the harder rocking songs – in the manor of traditional rock and roll, at least – not too much in way of substance, but a fun song nonetheless. The closing instrumental, “Night Owl Blues”, is the only one credited to all four band members. It is led by a proficient harmonica through the first section, where Sebastian shows off his talent on this instrument for the first time (he would later do some memorable harp for other artists like The Doors), later followed by a quality lead guitar section by Yanovsky, complemented by some ever intensive playing by the rhythm section.

Do You Believe in Magic reached the Top 10 on the album charts and sparked an avalanche of further hit singles, albums and soundtrack themes over the next two years. Yanovsky departed from the band in mid-1967, followed by Sebastian’s decision to go solo in early 1968, which effectively ended The Lovin’ Spoonful.

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

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Having a Rave Up by The Yardbirds

Having a Rave Up
by The Yardbirds

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Having a Rave Up by The YardbirdsHaving a Rave Up with The Yardbirds is an oddly constructed mish-mash of recent singles, new recordings, and live tracks recorded over 19 months prior to this album’s release. Still, this late 1965 release captures the heart of The Yardbirds from many different angles and laid a firm foundation for the heavy blues rock which would dominate the music world for decades to come. The songs on this album straddled between live and studio tracks as well as the group’s earlier pure blues and later psychedelic rock. Side one features (then) current lead guitarist Jeff Beck while Side Two features older live recordings with former guitarist Eric Clapton, songs which were previously released in England on the 1964 album, Five Live Yardbirds.

That live album failed to reach the charts and was subsequently not issued in the US or any other part of the world. Clapton soon departed as he considered himself a blues purist and didn’t like the commercial approach being forged with tracks like the hit single, “For Your Love”. Released in June 1965, the album For Your Love, was the group’s first international release and featured songs with both Clapton and Beck on lead guitar. Later in the summer, The Yardbirds embarked on their first US tour and decidedly shifted their focus towards the American market.

Some of the studio tracks for Having a Rave Up were recorded during that first American tour at Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis and Chess Studios in Chicago. The album was co-produced by Giorgio Gomelsky and group bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Smith also helped give the album its title as he forged many of the “rave up” arrangements during the middle instrumental sections of several songs, especially those on the “live” side of the album.


Having a Rave Up by The Yardbirds
Released: November 15, 1965 (Epic)
Produced by: Giorgio Gomelsky & Paul Samwell-Smith
Recorded: London, New York, Chicago, Memphis, March 1964–September 1965
Side One Side Two
You’re a Better Man Than I
Evil Hearted You
I’m a Man
Still I’m Sad
Heart Full of Soul
The Train Kept A-Rollin’
Smokestack Lightning
Respectable
I’m a Man
Here ‘Tis
Group Musicians
Keith Relf – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Jeff Beck – Lead Guitars
Eric Clapton – Lead Guitars
Chis Dreja – Guitars
Paul Samwell-Smith – Bass, Vocals
Jim McCarty – Drums, Vocals

The understated but fantastic opener, “You’re a Better Man Than I”, launches things with advanced rock techniques and message. Production wise, there is a subtle play on amplitude to give a serious and somber effect and bring out the rolling bass and drums along with the catchy and hip melodies by vocalist Keith Relf. The song was written by brothers Brian and Mike Hugg and it features a sustain-heavy guitar lead by Beck. Group collaborator Graham Gouldman composed the guitar-driven “Evil Hearted You” which was a major hit for The Yardbirds in Britain. Here, Beck inventively uses Spanish scales and odd chords before the group launches into their first frantic, rave-up bridge.

Next comes a distinct and souped-up version of the Bo Diddley classic “I’m a Man”. This studio recording of the song was recorded at Chess Studios and it packs much into its two and a half minute duration while still remaining a loose and fun jam. Relf’s harmonica really shines as the main lead instrument here, with guitarists Beck and Chis Dreja contributing nicely to the frenzied end jam. On the second side is another fine but not quite as potent version led by Clapton’s guitars. “Still I’m Sad” is the only fully original composition on the album, co-written by Smith and drummer Jim McCarty. This track takes a radical turn as a dark folk song with monk-like chanting persisting throughout to a steady, slow beat.

The heart of the album comes at the end of the first side, starting with Gouldman’s “Heart Full of Soul”. Starting with a slightly Indian-influenced guitar riff by Beck, the song features a good mixture of rock elements with superb production and a perfect mid-sixties vibe, “Heart Full of Soul” reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. “The Train Kept A-Rollin'” would become the classic late sixties jam song with renditions by countless bands following this version by The Yardbirds. Relf recorded two lead vocals for an odd effect, which becomes more of a distraction, but this is counterbalanced by a couple of great jam sections with over-driven guitars and shuffling rhythms.

The Yardbirds in 1965

The four remaining songs were renditions of traditional blues classics recorded live with Eric Clapton in London in March 1964. While these are not the best recordings, as the bass and drums are too loud and the lead vocals are a bit too low in the mix, the energy of the performances nevertheless seeps through. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” is the best of these as a sixties rock interpretation of a pure blues song. The Isley Brother’s “Respectable” is fast and frantic, with early reflections of the latter ska genre, while the closing “Here ‘Tis” features great bass with a scat, chanting vocal chorus in the background and wild, frenzied guitar picking along with rapid percussion.

Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds was the Yardbirds’ highest charting album in the US during their active career and a later re-issue was packaged with eleven additional bonus tracks. These include the popular single, “Shapes of Things”, a group original which lies on the cutting edge of sonic evolution, and “New York City Blues”, a true precursor to the Led Zeppelin blues sound several years later.

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

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Physical Grafitti by Led Zeppelin

Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin

1975 Album of the Year

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Physical Graffiti by Led ZeppelinToday we cover an album that epitomizes everything that is great about classic rock. Through their dozen years as a band, Led Zeppelin released eight studio albums, all of which were excellent to differing degrees. But Physical Graffiti is the best for two reasons. First is simple math, as it is their sole double studio album, hence twice the normal rock n roll bliss. More importantly is the sheer diversity of this album, which combines newly composed material with outtakes from the group’s three previous studio albums and in the process captures an incredible array of styles, production and compositional methods. All of this, plus the simple fact that the individual performances are brimming with innovative and outstanding musicianship, helped to make Physical Graffiti an easy choice as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1975.

In their first three years as a band, Led Zeppelin recorded and released four albums with sequential numerical titles. Over the course of these albums, the material branched out from heavy blues to acoustic folk and many subtle sub-genres in between. Released in 1973, Houses of the Holy ,was built more in the studio than any of its predecessors, taking advantage of technological advances and use of overdubs to forge the sound. To follow-up, the group went to Headley Grange in East Hampshire, England in late 1973. They had previously recorded, Led Zeppelin IV ,with Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio at this location but these later sessions were soon abandoned as the new material was underdeveloped and bassist John Paul Jones had fallen ill. Instead, the sessions were turned over to the new group Bad Company, who had recently signed to Led Zeppelin’s new label Swan Song and used the location to record their 1974 eponymous debut album.

The group reconvened at Headley Grange in January 1974 and were much more fruitful, recording eight new tracks over the next several weeks. The running time of these tracks extended beyond the length of a conventional album (at the time, vinyl albums were typically around 45 minutes), so the group decided to extend it out to a double length LP by including several unreleased songs from previous Led Zeppelin albums. This extended the project quite a bit as additional overdubs were required to establish sonic consistency, so final mixing did not take place until October 1974. The album’s title was coined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, who wanted to convey how much “physical energy” had gone into producing this album. The title also sparked the idea for its unique, Grammy nominated album packaging, with a die-cut sleeve through which various images can be alternated into the windows of a New York City brownstone tenement.


Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
Released: February 25, 1975 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations in the UK and US, July 1970-February 1974
Side One Side Two
Custard Pie
The Rover
In My Time of Dying
Houses of the Holy
Trampled Underfoot
Kashmir
Side Three Side Four
In the Light
Bron-Yr-Aur
Down By the Seaside
Ten Years Gone
Night Flight
The Wanton Song
Boogie With Stu
Black Country Woman
Sick Again
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Mandolin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Mandolin
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

The album opens unabashedly with “Custard Pie”, which takes the simplest crisp guitar riffs and builds such an infectious groove around it by combining with Jones’ cool clavichord, John Bonham‘s steady but incredible drumming. Lyrically, the song pays homage to a few traditional blues songs – “Drop Down Mama” by Sleepy John Estes and “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White – with vocalist Robert Plant adding further authenticity with some fine harmonica playing over the otherwise straight-up rock music. “The Rover” was an outtake from a 1972 Houses of the Holy session and it is a wonder why it was ever cut (it would have fit perfectly between “D’Yer Ma’ker” and “No Quarter”). In any case, it remains one of Zeppelin’s most forgotten gems as solid hard rock at its melodic finest. Even more impressive are Plant’s vocals, which soar finely over the rock landscape which crosses both time and space;

“Traversed the planet when heaven sent me, I saw the kings who rule them all. Still by the firelight and purple moonlight I hear the rested rivers call…”

“In My Time of Dying” is a rare track with songwriting credits going to all four band members (although the song’s roots date back to the 1920s) and is also distinct as the studio recording with the longest duration. As a slow and deliberate blues, it reverts back to Led Zeppelin’s debut album with Page’s impossibly slow slide guitar being complemented by Jones and Bonham, who are masterful at adding perfectly timed bottom end rhythm to give it all structure. At around four minutes in, a frenzied second part of the song commences, highlighted by Bonham’s incredible drum patterns and Page’s multi-textured multiple guitar solos. Then, after building the tensions as far as possible, the group returns with a heavy rock rendition of the opening part.

The album’s second side starts with “Houses of the Holy”, the title track which was left off the album of the same name. Unlike the aforementioned “The Rover”, this song is actually more at home here as a very basic track with just repeated verses and riff interludes. It never really travels anywhere musically, just gains in Trampled Underfoot by Led Zeppelinintensity in its vibe and sexually charged lyrics as it goes along. Sticking with the sex themes, “Trampled Under Foot” uses car parts as metaphors for female body parts and, much like the previous song, relies on repetition and building intensity. Musically, this track has a great funk groove throughout which never gets old, and features a funky clavichord lead by Jones with Page adding some whining guitar textures underneath.

“Kashmir” is a masterful and innovative track written by Page, Plant and Bonham over the course of three years. It is sonically pleasing and interesting throughout its eight and a half minute duration with several theatrical “scenes’ slowly unfolding in time. The song’s main progression is built on an ascending riff developed by Page with Jones conducting further orchestration performed by session string and horn sections and Bonham’s drums fed through a phaser for effect. Plant actually found inspiration for the lyrics in Morocco but preferred Kashmir (where he had never been) as a mystical, imaginative place which transcends a physical location on Earth;

“To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen, they talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed. Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear but not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear…”

Side three of Physical Graffiti begins with “In the Light”, one of the oddest but ultimately entertaining songs in the entire Led Zeppelin collection. A long synthesizer and bowed guitar intro by Jones and Page breaks into an enjoyable and upbeat rock section with Jones providing some inspired electric piano. The track was originally a piano-driven ballad called “Everybody Makes It Through” but the verse sections were rewritten with the improvised outro section retained as a canvas for the layers of Page’s guitars. Next comes “Bron-Yr-Aur” the first instrumental since Led Zeppelin II as a pleasant solo acoustic bit by Page which turned out to be the group’s shortest track on record. “Down By the Seaside” is another totally unique song in the Zeppelin catalog as a mellow country/folk track which possibly drew inspiration from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Recorded during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, the song is pleasant and rewarding as a one-off foray into this musical territory and features Jones’ electric piano interludes complemented by Page’s ascending guitar textures.

“Ten Years Gone” is Led Zeppelin at their studio best, as an exquisite song with outstanding contributions by each group member. The opening arrangement is just a simple ringing guitar and bass before launching into a majestic heavy riff which divides the verse stanzas. Started as a pure instrumental piece by Page, the track includes two of his most inspiring leads, which sandwich the heavy middle bridge section and where Jones’ bass and Bonham’s drums are brought out with their best elements. Each subsequent section in this suite builds on the last, reaching for an ultimate emotional crescendo as Page layers guitar upon guitar with distinct voices so that nothing ever gets buried underneath. Finally, there are Plant’s poetic lyrics of love, destination, regret and redemption sung in a very somber and reserved voice as he recalls the heartbreaking decision to abandon his teenage girlfriend in order to pursue his musical dreams. The outro is only real section where he raises his voice with great, desperate improvisation, almost as if he is trying to shout back through time.

Led Zeppelin in 1975

The fourth and final side begins with “Night Flight”, which dates back to late 1970. After the emotional intensity of “Ten Years Gone”, this bouncy rocker provides a lighter feel and owes much of its musical power to Jones’ Hammond organ with Page just adding strong rhythmic licks on guitar, almost as if their roles are reversed. Plant’s vocals are dynamic and strong throughout this track, almost to the point of straining. On “The Wanton Song” Zeppelin seems to step into the future musically with odd-timed but fierce riffs and Bonham’s unambiguous drumming. Two interludes contain fantastic guitar textures, attained by Page feeding through a Leslie keyboard speaker, which give the start sound just enough flavor and diversity to make it classic.

If there is any weakness on Physical Graffiti it is in the way the album wraps. While interesting in their own way, the final three tracks are rather tame in comparison with the tremendous material which precede them. “Boogie with Stu” was an improvised jam during the Led Zeppelin IV sessions, featuring Ian Stewart on piano with Page on mandolin, leaving Plant with his one and only session on guitar. Page returns to guitar on “Black Country Woman” with Jones moving to mandolin in what would turn out to be the last Zeppelin acoustic song on their original studio records. Recorded in 1972, the song features a truly authentic setting, outside with a passing overhead airplane left on the tape at the beginning. The album wraps with “Sick Again” which, unlike the other three powerful side closers, is a rather common heavy blues rock song to complete the album as a whole. With lyrics about the LA groupie scene, this track musically features a nice overdubbed, whining guitar through the chorus sections and obviously contains some impressive performances but does not seem to be mixed too well, with vocals and bass getting lost behind the guitars and drums.

Physical Graffiti was a success commercially and critically, reaching the top of the album charts upon its release and eventually going 16x platinum in sales. With half the album being like a tour of the multiple phases that this group with incredible musical diversity had gone through during their first five years and five studio albums and the other half showing the band progressing forward with the fusion of funk, heavy pop, soul, and the modern sound that would become new wave, this remains the single best example of what made Led Zeppelin such a tremendous musical force.

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1975 Images

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