After working for over a decade to refine their sound, Social Distortion finally got their opportunity for a major label release in 1990. Their third overall album, Social Distortion, displays the group’s unique mixture of blues and rockabilly flavored punk rock. Led by primary composer and vocalist Mike Ness, the group found the time and resources to find their true sound. They also found themselves fortuitous beneficiaries of a changing musical environment, which was growing more receptive to alternative sounds.
Social Distortion was formed in 1978 by Ness and guitarist Dennis Danell. By 1981, the group released their first of many singles, which was followed by their debut album, Mommy’s Little Monster in 1983, released on their own independent label. After a brief hiatus in the mid eighties, the band reformed with new members John Maurer on bass and Christopher Reece on drums and released their second album, Prison Bound in 1988.
After signing with Epic Records in 1989, the band returned to the studio with producer Dave Jerden. Now armed with more time and money than ever before, Social Distortion worked out a lean and powerful sound, partially influenced nearly in equal parts by The Ramones and by Johnny Cash.
Social Distortionby Social Distortion
Released: March 27, 1990 (Epic) Produced by: Dave Jerden Recorded: Track Record in North Hollywood, CA, August–October 1989
So Far Away
Let It Be Me
Story of My Life
Ring of Fire
Ball and Chain
It Coulda Been Me
She’s a Knockout
A Place in My Heart
Mike Ness – Lead Vocals, Guitars Dennis Danell – Guitars John Maurer – Bass, Vocals Christopher Reece – Drums, Percussion
Social Distortion begins with the track “So Far Away”, written by Ness and Maurer. The two guitar riff attack with rapid rhythms highlights a very simple song structure, while the clear lyrical message gives song its head wagging creds. “Let It Be Me” is pure, raw, punk straight from the seventies and a good overall energetic performance highlighted by the creative way Ness drawls out the main title hook, all very adolescent and rebellious while still being apt musically. “Story of My Life” is one of the more melodic tracks with root rock n roll elements and nice backing vocals and medleys.
While entertaining enough, “Sick Boys” is really nothing new in its musical approach, just a bunch of Na Na Na’s to make it sing-along-able. The fully punked-out cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” subtly lets the main melody ring out through the distortion and is vastly entertaining even if it falls far short of the original 1966 masterpiece. The song was a minor hit, reaching #25 on the Modern Rock Tracks. Another hit radio , “Ball and Chain” features bright music which is contrasted by rough vocals, but they melodic enough to make it all work.
Coming down the stretch, the album gets only stronger. “It Coulda Been Me” is notable because of its fine harmonica interludes and a great lead later, while maintaining a sound that is very catchy and accessible. A long, upbeat drum leads into “She’s a Knockout”, a song which tilts towards heavy blues rock, at least musically. After a false stop halfway through, the whole song repeats again, virtually verbatim. “A Place in My Heart” is one of many tracks on this album which have a standard, love song-type title while actually being upbeat and intense. “Drug Train” is a bluesy romp to close the album, with excellent playing by each member, while sparse but effective lyrically. With a good harmonica and slight blues guitar leads, this track ends the album on a high note.
While Social Distortion only peaked at #128, it did remain on the album charts for over 20 weeks. More importantly, it set the band up for more success through the nineties and influenced a new sub-genre known as “cow punk”.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
Perhaps the most lyrically potent album ever, Bob Dylan delivered a masterpiece with his fifth overall album, Bringing It All Back Home, released 50 years ago today on March 22, 1965. On this record, Dylan’s lyrics became more stylistic and surreal, with the composer employing stream-of-consciousness rants influenced by dreams and the result of isolated and intense writing binges. Most impressively, the words are striking and profound and persist in their relevance a half century later, as it personifies the absolute reach for the ultimate heights even if it risks an ultimate fall. Musically, this album featured Dylan’s first “electric” recordings as he worked with a full backing arrangement on the tracks on the first side. While the album’s second side features traditional acoustic folk songs, there is a steady vibe that unifies the album from end to end and makes it an indisputable work of art as a whole.
While they remained firmly within the realm of folk music, the very titles of Dylan’s 1964 albums (The Times They Are a’ Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan) signaled that the composer may traverse the strict standards of folk music, even if they simultaneously established Dylan as the leading folk performer of his generation. He retreated to Woodstock, NY during much of the summer of 1964, along with fellow folk singer and then-girlfriend Joan Baez. According to Baez, Dylan would stand at a typewriter in the corner of a room, “tapping away relentlessly for hours.” In late August 1964, Dylan had a private meeting with The Beatles in New York City which apparently had a radical effect on both the artistic entities.
Later in the year, Dylan and producer Tom Wilson began experimenting with techniques of fusing rock and folk music. After a few failed attempts at overdubbing electric backing tracks to existing acoustic recordings, the composer and producer brought in a full band for sessions in January 1965. Here, for the first time, Dylan employed his unique method of rapidly “teaching” each individual session man (who had no prior awareness of the material being recorded) exactly he wanted their individual part to be. Amazingly, the entire album was recorded in just a few days, with the entire second side recorded on January 15, 1965.
Those songs recorded for the second side were intentionally stripped down, usually with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar/harmonica accompanied by one other single player to add the slightest bit of flavoring and counter-melody to the otherwise raw tracks. While the production team could have easily released full “electric” versions of every track on this final album, it is rather ingenious the way the second side was presented as almost a natural bridge between Dylan’s previous work and the new direction he was heading, even on the first side of this very album.
Bringing It All Back Homeby Bob Dylan
Released: March 22, 1965 (Columbia) Produced by: Tom Wilson Recorded: Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, January, 1965
Subterranean Homesick Blues
She Belongs to Me
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
On the Road Again
Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
Mr. Tambourine Man
Gates of Eden
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica Al Gorgoni – Guitar Kenny Rankin – Guitar Paul Griffin – Piano, Keyboards William E. Lee – Bass Bobby Gregg – Drums
Looking at the second side first, it begins with the oldest song on the album, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, written over a year before the album’s release and performed many times through 1964. This well-crafted folk song with highly poetic lyrics, features Dylan’s acoustic nicely complimented by the slightest electric guide guitar of Bruce Langhorne. Less than a month after its release on Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds released their own interpretation of the song, which reached number one on the Billboard charts and helped spawn their debut album of the same name. Lyrically, the song was influenced by French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini with focus on a central muse who has been interpreted as anyone from an American Indian shaman to Jesus Christ. Of course, the similarities to an LSD trip cannot be disregarded;
Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind, down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves of the haunted frightened trees, out to the windy beach far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow / Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let me forget about today until tomorrow…”
“Gates of Eden” is nine verses of pure folk intensity, where Dylan commands full attention as he tells fables and fortunes about universal and existential stories, with Dylan performing the entire song solo end to end. This song was also written in late June or July 1964, and has clear religious overtones with the Biblical location of pure peace and serenity within a turbulant universe. With little variation throughout its five minute duration, Dylan masterfully commands total attention during each autonomous viginette, with a single harmonica note separating each verse and alerting to a new start. Further, the lyrics describe historical and mythical figures alike;
With a time-rusted compass blade, Aladdin and his lamp sits with utopian hermit monks, side saddle on the golden calf and on their promises of paradise you will not hear a laugh all except inside the gates of Eden…”
The most haunting and pure dark folk track on the album, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” best displays the pure genius of Dylan with a song that is a perfect message both musically and, most especially lyrically. First performed live in October, 1964, this grim masterpiece features Dylan’s best acoustic performance (with no harmonica!) as well as some of his most memorable lyrical images, which express the composer’s rants against hypocrisy, commercialism, institutionalism, and contemporary politics and, decades later, Dylan has named this track as one that means the most to him. After the brilliant cascade of lyrical genius, the track concludes with the most profound line of all;
And if my thought-dreams could been seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine, but it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only…”
The album concludes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” which, despite its name, is a much brighter acoustic song than anything else on side two and has an almost electric vibe. William E. Lee offers refrained but interesting bass guitar to the acoustic strumming and dynamic melodies of Dylan’s vocals. The song’s subject may have been the folk protest movement in general or Baez in particular, or even both. In any case, this offers a perfect conclusion to Bringing It All Back Home and leaves an almost deafening reverberation in the listener’s ear after the song concludes.
Rolling back to the beginning, this brilliant album has a rather unpolished start as the intro to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is slightly cut off. However, once this song fully launches, it never relents for one single moment, with its only real flaw being that it ends too soon. Here Dylan blends the musical influences of Chuck Berry and Woody Guthrie along with a lyrical style similar to the writings of Jack Kerouac. Released as a single ahead of the album, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” became Dylan’s first Top 40 hit in the US, as well as a the Top 10 hit in the UK. Dylan employs a completely different vocal style on “She Belongs to Me”, a much smoother song musically than the opening track. While his vocalizing has long been the subject of debate and some derision, it is really quite amazing how Dylan can shift gears from track to track. Musically, a gently strummed acoustic is complemented by the picked electric guitar of Langhorne along with a subtle rhythm track and Dylan also executes a few of his finest harmonica leads on this song.
“Maggie’s Farm” may very well be the ultimate counter-counterculture song, exposing some of the hypocrisies of a rebellion against “the establishment” while implementing even stricter standards within itself. Armed with some of his more brutal lyrics, Dylan unambiguously screeds through this explicit poetry and clarion declaration of independence. Essentially, this is an announcement of his musical transformation, which found further importance when Dylan performed it as the opening tune during his defiant electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in August of that year.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more / Well, I try my best to be just like I am but everybody wants you to be just like them, they sing while you slave and I just get bored, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more…”
As cynical as the previous tracks are, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” completely pivots in the opposite direction, almost like an extremist love song. The very title (a mathematical equation which results in “absolutely unlimited love”) indicates the complete offering of one’s existence to a significant other, in this case Dylan’s future wife Sara Lowndes. Another complete departure for Dylan is “Outlaw Blues”, a rollicking, bluesy and about as heavy as rock and roll came in 1965. In fact, this song could, at once, be a true ancestor to bluesy jam bands as well as the hard rock and heavy metal which arrived a half a decade later. With “On the Road Again”, Dylan takes a large step forward both musically and lyrically. This strong rock/blues track with especially potent drums by Bobby Gregg, contain lyrics written in the spirit of Kerouac’s novel On the Road but with a definite original edge;
Well, there’s fist fights in the kitchen, enough to make me cry / The mailman comes in and even he’s gotta take a side / Even the butler, he’s got something to prove / Then you ask why I don’t live here, Honey, how come you don’t move?”
The album’s first side ends with a bit of levity in the false start of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”. Once the song really kicks in, it employs a true stream-of-consciousness and may have the most surreal lyrics on the album. The song’s title alludes to the track “Bob Dylan’s Dream” from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but as an almost satirical sequel to that serious folk song.
Upon its release, Bringing It All Back Home reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and has continued to grow in stature and importance in the half century since its release. Later in 1965, Dylan would record and release another masterpiece, Highway 61 Revisited, an album Classic Rock Review will examine on August 30th, the 50th anniversary of that album’s release.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.
Ever the artist searching for a new, authentic sound, Paul Simon went to Brazil and employed the heavily percussive samba known as Batucada for his 1990 album, The Rhythm of the Saints. Here Simon fuses his witty pop and folk roots with Latin musical and rhythm techniques by employing nearly 70 session musicians. Beyond the vast number of Latin and African musicians, Simon also brought in contemporary musicians such as guitarist J.J. Cale, drummer Steve Gadd and vocalist Kim Wilson.
The album’s conception came on the heels of Simon’s tremendous success with Graceland, the 1986 release where he worked with South African musicians and vocalists. This gave the composer a taste of world music which he chose to pursue again for his next project starting in the late eighties. While maintaining some musicians from the Graceland sessions, such as the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, most of the backing musicians were from Latin America such as the popular Grupo Cultural Olodum.
Simon produced the album and first recorded most of the rhythm tracks in Rio de Janeiro, starting in December 1989. Guitarist Vincent Nguini performed on several of the tracks as well as helped out with several of the arrangements (and has remained a member of Simon’s band ever since). Overdubs were recorded and the album was mixed at The Hit Factory in New York City in mid 1990.
The Rhythm of the Saintsby Paul Simon
Released: October 16, 1990 (Warner Bros.) Produced by: Paul Simon Recorded: Rio de Janero, Brazil, December 1989–June 1990
The Obvious Child
Can’t Run But
Further To Fly
She Moves On
Born At the Right Time
The Cool, Cool River
The Rhythm of the Saints
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars J.J.Cale – Guitars Naná Vasconcelos – Percussion
Although not originally intended to do so, “The Obvious Child” starts The Rhythm of the Saints off. As the lead single from this decidedly non-pop-oriented album, the label insisted that it be placed first on the album, (against Simon’s own wishes) and the track went on to be Simon’s final Top 20 hit. The military-type drums were recorded live in an outdoor square and add much contrast to the chanting vocals by Simon above strummed acoustic. The second track, “Can’t Run But”, is built on much more subtle rhythms, a xylophone, and a subtle bass, all too calm and cool against Simon’s signature rapid vocals. There is a slight bluesy guitar in the distance making this reminiscent of some of the Police’s more extravagant tracks, with lyrics that deal with the 1986 Chernobyl incident.
“The Coast” was co-written Nguini and starts with subtle hand drums, like a jungle rhythm in the distance. This song is built on brightly picked electric guitar with notes that nicely squeeze out and builds with some brass before relinquishing to a percussive chorus and starting over again. “Proof” contains good, strong brass horn accents over complex but subtle rhythms that topically rotate through an almost-digital like arpreggio while the bass rhythm uses simple 4/4 duo beats. There are also good vocal variations and plenty of interesting instrumental interludes. “Further to Fly” is more bass driven and almost jazzy in approach, but not quite as rewarding as the previous tracks, seeming like a more improvised, rehearsal-like track.
“She Moves On” may be the first song which reflects the folk roots of Simon, albeit it does have some jazzy bass, horns, and smooth guitars and (of course) a chorus of percussion. Written about Simon’s ex-wife, actress Carrie Fisher, this lover’s lament brilliantly incorporates a female chorus for a single line with great effect. “Born at the Right Time” is just as interesting, with bright guitars, bass, accordion, and a catchy melody which makes this one of the more accessible songs on the album. In contrast, “The Cool, Cool River” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, especially during the verses and kind of takes a left turn in feel and tempo during the ‘B’ sections.
Coming down the stretch, “Spirit Voices” is more music oriented than most of the tracks with a few complementing guitars and a wild fretless bass under Simon’s whimsical vocals. Co-written by Brazilian songwriter Milton Nascimento, this track is uplifting overall. The title track “The Rhythm of the Saints” finishes off the album and, like the title suggests, the percussive orchestra returns with a vengeance to the point of nearly overwhelming the light guitar, bass, and vocals of Simon. The later call and response vocals between Simon and a chorus are almost spiritual in nature.
It is hard to surmise whether The Rhythm of the Saints has an over-exuberance of percussion which distracts from the core song craft or if the opposite is true, meaning these track may not have been quite as interesting without the arrangements. In any case, this album was a critical and commercial success all over the world and yet another high water mark in the long and brilliant career of Paul Simon.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
Alice In Chains released an impressive debut album in 1990 with Facelift. Some have given this record the distinction of being the first “grunge” record to be certified platinum, although we may stipulate that this album is not strictly “grunge”. The group has a strong heavy metal pedigree, which shines through the otherwise methodical and moody tunes. In all, Facelift is full of tracks which are heavy, melodic and dark and it (unintentionally) became the wellspring for musical trends to come.
The group originated when vocalist (and then drummer) Layne Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a Seattle rehearsal studio in the mid eighties. The two struggling musicians instantly bonded and worked on several musical projects together before Alice In Chains fully formed. In 1988, the group recorded a demo which eventually made its way to Columbia Records‘ A&R department and representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Ienner. Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Ienner signed Alice in Chains to that label in 1989.
After the release and success of an EP earlier in 1990, the label fast tracked the production of the debut album with producer Dave Jerden. Mainly recorded at London Bridge Studio, Cantrell felt that the album’s moody aura was a direct result of the feel of Seattle. Meanwhile, drummer Sean Kinney claims he recorded the album with a broken hand because he didn’t want to miss the group’s “first big break.”
Faceliftby Alice In Chains
Released: August 21, 1990 (Columbia) Produced by: Dave Jerden Recorded: London Bridge Studio, Seattle & Capitol Recording Studio, Hollywood, December 1989-April 1990
We Die Young
Man In the Box
Sea of Sorrow
Bleed the Freak
I Can’t Remember
Love, Hate, Love
It Ain’t Like That
Put You Down
I Know Somethin (‘Bout You)
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals Mike Starr – Bass, Vocals Sean Kinney – Drums, Percussion, Piano
The opening track “We Die Young” comes in as a standard hard rock song with a just a bit of vocal and lyrical edge. Cantrell wrote the song when he observed on a bus some “9 or 10 year-olds with beepers to deal drugs”. This track, which originated on the group’s earlier studio EP, clocks in at just two and a half minutes and ends just as aprubtly as it begins.
The true gem of Facelift comes early on with “Man In the Box”. The track employs simple but masterful sonic expressions and a steady drive which could uniformly cut through Staley’s lead vocals. Cantrell uses a talk box effect with bassist Mike Starr holding down the bottom end of the grinding riff. Released as a single in 1991, this became the signature song of the band’s early career and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1992.
Kinney’s choppy piano complements Cantrell’s slide guitar notes during the deceptive beginning of the beat and rhythm driven “Sea of Sorrow”. The song peaked at number 27 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks and was a moderate radio hit. “Bleed the Freak” is the first somewhat weak track on the album, with the vocals a bit whiny, while “I Can’t Remember” extends the preceding track but with a darker, more foreboding feel. The body of this latter song uses timing for maximum effect, even if the song never really accelerates from its slow and deliberate pace.
The heart of the album contains some of the more diverse tracks. The extremely slow “Love, Hate, Love” features some competing riffs that somehow end at the same place during the sparse but effective verses, while the choruses are even more impressive due to Staley’s soaring vocal melody as he wails through lyrics of standard love fair. Cantrell offers some Wah-Wah effects on “It Ain’t Like That”, which has strong elements of traditional eighties heavy metal, but with the dark overtones that tilt it towards grunge. A bright chorus of guitars make the verse section of “Sunshine” unlike anything else on the album, although this track’s chorus is a little more straight-forward hard rock, with Cantrell singing some smooth backing vocals behind Staley’s raspy throat. “Put You Down” is good-time hard rock musically, in a style reminiscent of our review of Damn Yankees.
The final three tracks are all excellent and work to close the album very strongly. The slow, moody, stream-of-consciousness that starts off “Confusion” is complemented by an odd chord progression that adds to the overall effect. Co-written by Starr, who adds enough low-end bass punch, this song builds nicely in intensity through the chorus and is one of the few tracks to have a proper lead guitar and it is bluesy and effective for this fine song. “I Know Somethin (Bout You)” has a very funky intro by Cantrell and Starr. Masterfully odd timings throughout make this one of the more entertaining tracks along with the complex vocal patterns during the chorus hooks, which help build the song to a climax before its abrupt ending. “Real Thing” is a bit of traditional blues mixed with straight-forward heavy rock. Like tracks earlier on the album, the sonic textures carry the day on this closer which works to elevate the album to the classic level.
Facelift barely missed the Top 40 on the album charts and was far from an instant success, selling less than 40,000 copies in its first six months. But there is still little doubt that, with this album, Alice In Chains was a blazing a trail for the deluge of change that was about to come to the music scene.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
Before its swift exit from the mainstream rock scene in 1991, “hair metal” had its last hurrah during the year 1990. Perhaps the apex of this final phase was the self-titled debut album by the super group, Damn Yankees, which brought together three musicians from different rock outfits, each of whom had tremendous success in the years and decades previous to Damn Yankees. The result was a double platinum commercial success which spawned several radio and charting hits.
Vocalist and guitarist Ted Nugent had been performing live since 1958 and found some mainstream success with his band, the Amboy Dukes, in the late sixties and early seventies. However, when Nugent launched his solo career the mid seventies, he found his greatest success with three multi-platinum albums in consecutive years 1975, 1976, 1977. During that same era, bassist and vocalist Jack Blades formed the funk band Rubicon, which had a few minor hits before breaking up in 1979. The following year, Blades formed a band called “Ranger”, which morphed into “The Rangers” and ultimately, Night Ranger. The group had tremendous success through the 80’s, selling millions of albums and charting several hit singles. Tommy Shaw joined the established Chicago group, Styx, in late 1975 as second guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Over the next eight years, the group had tremendous success, including the standout albums, The Grand Illusion, in 1977 and, Paradise Theatre, in 1981. However, Shaw grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the group’s music towards pop ballads and theatrical role playing, so he left Styx to pursue a solo career which yielded three albums in the late eighties.
Damn Yankees was formed in 1989, with drummer Michael Cartellone (who had played in the final stages of Shaw’s solo band) rounding out the quartet. Some of the material on this album was brought in by individual members, but most was composed collaboratively in the studio. Producer Ron Nevison also brought in multiple session musician to enrich the music and allow the three vocalists to concentrate on melodies and harmonies.
Damn Yankeesby Damn Yankees
Released: February 22, 1990 (Warner Bros.) Produced by: Ron Nevison Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA & Can-Am Studios, Tarzana, CA, 1989-90
Coming of Age
Tell Me How You Want It
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals Ted Nugent – Guitars, Vocals Jack Blades – Bass, Vocals Michael Cartellone – Drums
The album starts with the hit, “Coming of Age”, which sets the pace for the slick, polished, hard rock sound of the album. Blades brought this popular song with him into Damn Yankees, which features catchy, chanting vocal motifs, accented by accent by Nugent’s choppy riffs, which all worked to make this perfect for pop and rock radio alike. “Bad Reputation” follows in the same vein as a pure riff-driven raunch, unambiguous lyrically and not too far from that musically – steady beat throughout – nice bridge with complex vocal patterns before song returns with Nugent’s blistering lead. After some cool deadened guitar notes in the intro, “Runaway” launches into a full-fledged pop rocker. Led by Shaw’s lead vocals, the song contains nice complements throughout, including some sparse but tactical keyboards by session man Steve Freeman.
The album’s best track is also its most popular. “High Enough” is a ballad which starts and ends with a string ensemble put together by Nevison with strummed acoustic during initial verse. Shaw’s high harmonies perfectly complement Blades’ lead vocals on this track filled with harmonic bliss, both vocally and musically. Further, there is enough arrangement variation to make this Top 5 hit a true classic from the album.
Damn Yankees‘s title song has an Aerosmith-like feel in its riffing, but a much different vibe once the vocals come in. The mid section of this track is dominated by Nugent, with several wild effects through the guitar lead and lead vocals over the bridge. “Come Again” is a folk ballad by Shaw which reflects some of the arena ballads by Styx. Beginning with a picked acoustic during the verse, this song continuously builds in a moody but melodic track that is contrasted by Nugent’s frenzied guitar riffs. “Mystified” starts with some great blues elements, including some slide guitar over initial porch-stomp verses. The song soon turns into a more standard rock drive, but maintains the great blues harmonics during Nugent’s soaring lead, making this the last real highlight of the album.
The remaining three tracks are not the strongest. “Rock City” a bit of frivolous number, only really there for the mind-numbed partier, making it one of the weaker numbers on the album. Led by the strong but standard drumming of Cartellone and the fine vocal harmonies, “Tell Me How You Want It”, is a track which has all the elements of a hit song in 1990, but never reached that plateau. Nugent’s “Piledriver”, is almost a direct rip-off of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” in its sonic approach. That’s not to say that Nugent’s guitar is not impressive – it is – but the comic breakdown in the middle of this blistering lead is a bit over the top. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining way to wrap up the album.
Damn Yankees reached the Top 20 on the Billboard album charts and remained a hit well into 1991. The group went on a successful world tour and returned with a 1992 follow-up album Don’t Tread, which was a minor hit on its own. In 1994, Nugent left the group, with Shaw & Blades releasing a single album as a duet before ending the short run of Damn Yankees.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
If Led Zeppelin had attempted to make a pop-oriented album, it may have sounded like Manic Nirvana. This 1990 release by Robert Plant fuses some of the pop and dance-oriented elements of his earlier solo efforts released in the 1980s with a retro vocal and guitar approach reminiscent of the classic rock band that Plant fronted for a dozen years. This approach usually works, in some places spot on, in others less so. But, in total, it all makes for an interesting listen.
Around 1990, there was a resurgence of Led Zeppelin in the musical scene, and there is little doubt that this played a part in the approach of Manic Nirvana. In May 1988, Plant and former bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined Jason Bonham (son of original drummer John Bonham) for the first official Led Zeppelin show in nearly a decade. Page also showed up for a cameo at a few of Plant’s concerts and Plant provided vocals for one song on Page’s solo album, Outrider. Later in 1990, the 54-track Led Zeppelin Box Set was released as the first ever compilation of any kind by the group and it included several tracks which had never before been released.
Manic Nirvana was the second of a trio of albums that Plant worked on with keyboardist/guitarist Phil Johnstone, following the commercial success of Now and Zen, released in 1988. Johnstone also co-produced the album with Plant and Mark Stent, and the trio came up with sonic qualities on this record which were unlike those on other albums. The sessions for this album produced a few tracks which would not be released until Plant’s 2006 box set, Nine Lives, including the standout, “One Love”, which has fifties-like undertones with cool slide guitars and horn-like accents.
Manic Nirvanaby Robert Plant
Released: March 19, 1990 (Es Paranza) Produced by: Phil Johnstone, Mark Stent & Robert Plant Recorded: 1989
S S S & Q
Tie Dye On the Highway
Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica Doug Boyle – Guitars Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Guitars Charlie Jones – Bass Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion
The opening track, “Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes on You)”, starts with a sweeping flange similar to that on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Led Zeppelin’s Presence. This is soon interrupted by a steady thumping beat as Plant unleashes a few wails similar to (but less effective than) those of his heyday. Released as a single, this song reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. “Big Love” is driven by the steady, methodical groove of drummer Chris Blackwell and is carried by Plant’s excited vocals. The bridge section includes a raw guitar lead sandwiched betwwen sections with complex background vocal patterns. “S S S & Q” allegedly means ”soak, shake, splash, and quake” and has a long lead intro of the bluesiest rock guitars on the album. This gives way to more controlled riffing above sterile and modern rhythm, giving the heart of this song a dance-track feel, especially during the synth and quasi-rap bridge with just a touch of James Brown-like textures.
Johnstone’s picked acoustic fades in on “I Cried” accompanied by some rounded bass notes by Charlie Jones. Starting with the main chorus, Plant provides majestic vocals on this excellent song that eventually builds with electric textures and dynamic sections. The outro fades with subtle acoustic textures, closing this smooth and introspective song. Orchestral strings commence “She Said”, soon cut by strong rock riffs and beats. However, this song, which starts interesting, does get a bit long in the tooth through its five minute duration. “Nirvana” is co-written by Jones and starts with an almost punk riff before breaking in with a steady beat and bass. This track tries to reach for the mystical, especially with the droning guitar lead which has a slight tinge of Indian flavor and the twin pauses for Plant to deliberately recite the song’s title. the track ends with a weird effect, like a backwards-masked, out of tune piano.
“Tie Dye on the Highway” starts off with actual sound from Woodstock before breaking into a dance beat with droning instrumentation and a pleasant vocal melody by Plant, which reflects his style from some earlier solo albums. Plant even supplies a slight harmonica lead adding further variety to make this one of the standouts on the album. The only cover on the album, “Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night”, contains an actual record scratch from the sampled kick drum of the 1961 original by Kenny Dino. The strong beat gives Plant’s vocals plenty of room to soar in this chanting rap with fine backing vocals as well. Released as the second single from the album, the song reached #8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
The cheesy synth intro of “Anniversary” disrupts the cool groove from the previous track. This song never really goes anywhere, just adding certain instrumentation such as the off-beat drums and cool bluesy guitar lead. Guitarist Doug Boyle co-wrote “Liars Dance”, a folksy acoustic with Boyle’s picked notes falling between, and sometimes mimicking, Plant’s vocal lines. The track stays purely between the blues acoustic and lead vocals, making it a quality track late in the album. “Watching You” employs one more shot at the frenzied production. However, the drums have more reverberation than is necessary for effect, causing the vocals and strumming acoustic to be a bit buried in the mix. Still, with a hypnotic effect, this song acts as a very potent closer as Plant’s excited vocals are excellent in the background.
Plant and Johnstone followed up Manic Nirvana with 1993’s Fate of Nations before Plant reunited with Page in 1994 to perform and compose new music.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
The Kinks sophomore effort is often overlooked in their catalog due to the popularity of their recently released debut and the critical acclaim of later albums. But the rapidly recorded Kinda Kinks is a fine album with decent tracks, advanced sonic qualities, and mainly original compositions, which cause some to deem this, “the first proper Kinks album”. The album was rapidly recorded in between touring and released in the UK on March 5, 1965, just two weeks after recording wrapped and 50 years ago today.
In 1963, The Kinks were formed in London, by brother guitarists Ray Davies and Dave Davies along with bassist Pete Quaife. The band originally went through a series of lead vocalists, including a young Rod Stewart, before Ray Davies took on the main vocal duties. In late 1963, the band was introduced to American record producer Shel Talmy, who helped The Kinks secure a recording contract with Pye Records the following year. Soon after, Mick Avory was brought on as the permanent drummer, completing the quartet which would remain in place through most of the 1960s. In 1964, the group released four singles, the most successful being “You Really Got Me”, released in August, and “All Day and All of the Night”, released in October, both of which were Top Ten hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Their late 1964 debut LP, Kinks, consists largely of covers with a few tracks written by Davies or Talmy.
With the success of the singles and album, the group toured extensively through the winter of 1965, including a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Eastern Asia. Upon returning to England, recording began promptly on this album, which would ultimately include 10 of 12 original compositions. Also recorded but left off the album were three tracks penned by Ray Davies, including the fine song craft of “Set Me Free”, the beat-driven rocker with stream-of-conscious vocal lines “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy”, and the very catchy and unique “Who’ll Be the Next In Line”. On Kinda Kinks, they started to stray beyond the boundaries of strict R&B and blues-based rock into the early workings of the hard rock sound.
Kinda Kinksby The Kinks
Released: March 5, 1965 (Pye) Produced by: Shel Talmy Recorded: Pye Studios, London, February 1965
Look for My Baby
Got My Feet on the Ground
Nothin’ In the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl
Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight
Tired of Waiting for You
Dancing in the Street
Don’t Ever Change
Come On Now
You Shouldn’t Be Sad
Something Better Beginning
Set Me Free
Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy
Who’ll Be Next in Line
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals Pete Quaife – Bass, Vocals Mick Avory – Drums
The album commences with “Look for My Baby” with a style that is a bit sixties, standard pop (harmonized vocals and call-response) but top-notch at that. The listener is immediately struck by the great sounding drums, a tribute to Talmy’s great production. “Got My Feet on the Ground” was co-written by Dave Davies, who also provides some strained but effective lead vocals on this upbeat and snappy pure rocker.
The album takes a somber turn with, “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”, a dark folk/blues with a single guitar and vocal through the first verse and a slight arrangement afterwards with acoustic bass and muted snare snaps. The cover, “Naggin’ Woman”, is Rolling Stones influenced as much, if not more, than the original blues source. While pin-point guitars are not quite up to snuff, they are close enough for rock n’ roll. “Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight”, contains a piano driven riff which is locked in with Quaife’s choppy bass. This is lyrically shallow but interesting musically, especially with the advanced bridge section which previews some of the advanced Kinks arrangements of future years.
The smooth and cool hit, “Tired of Waiting for You”, is the true highlight of the album, led by the complex drum beat of session drummer Bobby Graham and the two chord march riff of Dave Davies during the intro/chorus hook section. Ray Davies’ fine vocals soar above the masterful changes of the inventive verse sections. The song was recorded in mid 1964 and was intended as a single but held over until this album in 1965. When released, it became the group’s third Top Ten hit and their highest single for the next 18 years until the 1983 hit, “Come Dancing”, from State of Confusion.
After a rocked out, almost new wave version of the oft-covered, “Dancing in the Street”, comes the fine, “Don’t Ever Change”, with a folksy, slight Beatles vibe. This forgotten gem from the Kinks early years, contains a nice mixture of acoustic and electric guitars with a consistent, upbeat drum shuffle by Avery and a unique vocal pattern which varies in tempo and intensity while music remains steady behind. The short, “Come On Now”, has the makings for a good rock song but seems a bit under cooked, while, “So Long”, is pure acoustic folk and the first place where Ray Davies’ vocals are left natural and pure. In contrast, “You Shouldn’t Be Sad”, is an upbeat, poppy, and utterly trite song, perhaps the only real filler on the album. The album concludes with, “Something Better Beginning”, a slight ballad with a bit of melancholy tone and fine chord progressions in a classic lover’s lament with a unique title and approach.
According to Ray Davies, the band was not completely satisfied with Kinda Kinks, due to the rushed production which resulted in some songs being underdeveloped. However, these tracks have stood up well over this past half century, which is evident by the number of tracks (seven) later covered by major rock acts. Starting with, The Kink Kontroversy, in late 1965. The Kinks continued their stylistic shift, continuing a diverse career which would continue for decades.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.
Who would have guessed that out of the ashes of tragedy would rise the rock n’ roll classic, Back In Black? Recorded just a few weeks following the untimely death of their lead singer, AC/DC forged an indelible album of work whic, 35 years after its release, is the second best-selling album of all time worldwide (behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller). For the first time, we have put our Album of the Year up for popular vote, with three hard rock classics from 1980 nominated for this honor. Through January and February you have voted and your choice was overwhelmingly in favor of Back In Black as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for the year 1980.
Formed in Australia in 1973 by brothers Angus Young and Malcom Young, AC/DC found significant success at home with the domestic release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in 1976. This led to an international record deal with Atlantic and continued momentum through the late seventies as the group toured extensively throughout Europe and the successful releases of the albums High Voltage, Let There Be Rock, and Powerage, the latter of which marked the debut of bassist Cliff Williams. The group’s first major breakthrough came in 1979 with the album Highway To Hell, which was also the band’s initial collaboration with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange.
Highway To Hell reached the Top on the US album charts and the group was ambitious about following this up with an even more accessible heavy rock album. Unfortunately, vocalist Bon Scott would not see this realized, as he died after a night of heavy drinking in February 1980. After briefly considering retirement, the surviving members of AC/DC emerged with renewed determination in March of 1980 and various candidates were auditioned for Scott’s replacement. 32-year-old rock journeyman Brian Johnson was brought in when Angus Young recalled Scott citing admiration for the then-vocalist of the band, Geordie, years earlier. After locating Johnson, the singer successfully passed the audition for AC/DC, who were impressed by the fact that he didn’t try to merely mimic Scott’s style but reinterpret it with a soulful style.
After hiring their new front man, the band then immediately headed to the Bahamas to compose and record the new album. Despite riding out several tropical storms which knocked out the electricity, Lange and the band rehearsed and recorded the album in just seven weeks. The result is a direct, hard rock record with Johnson-penned lyrics about sex and parties driven by crisp riffs and direct, snare-centered beats by drummer Phil Rudd. While the album’s title and all-black cover was designed as a respectful tribute to Scott, the music itself was far from somber or mournful.
Back In Blackby AC/DC
Released: July 25, 1980 (Jet) Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, April-May 1980
Shoot to Thrill
What Do You Do for Money Honey
Given the Dog a Bone
Let Me Put My Love Into You
Back in Black
You Shook Me All Night Long
Have a Drink on Me
Shake a Leg
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
Brian Johnson – Lead Vocals Angus Young – Guitars Malcolm Young – Guitars, Vocals Cliff Williams – Bass, Vocals Phil Rudd – Drums, Percussion
An ominous drone of bell tolls commence the album as a not-so-subtle memorial to AC/DC’s fallen member. “Hells Bells” acts not only as a tribute but as an ironic terminal from the previous Highway to Hell, which turned out to be Scott’s swan song. Johnson’s lyrics speak of his angst while trying to adjust to his sudden change of environment and pressure to deliver with his new band. Despite the doomy beginning, the song’s body is really more of an upbeat and intense party chant. Continuing the early album momentum, “Shoot to Thrill” is an interesting little screed with many of the group’s seventies-type grooves and an inventive use of space by adding variation in style rather than substance. This track’s final sequences features Angus Young’s whining guitar mimicking Johnson’s lead vocals as in an updated Page-Plant action.
The remainder of the album’s first side contains three of the most disposable tracks on Back In Black. “What Do You Do for Money Honey” has a great adolescent chant about a gold-digging woman but not much more substantively. “Given the Dog a Bone” is similar in temperament. Aside from the catchy use of call-and-response vocals, there’s really no “here” here, as the track’s riffs, beats, and lead sound just like those on other tracks of this album. “Let Me Put My Love Into You” does contain a nice thumping bass by Williams, which carries the slight riffs that gradually build and, given some room to breathe, Johnson’s voice really does soar here. However, this moderate bluesy track does have a hook which seems a bit forced.
One of the most famous count-offs in rock history commences the spectacular second side of Back In Black as Rudd’s hat ignites the title song with a fantastic marching beat. The track’s verses feature a quasi-rap by Johnson and the choruses build to a crescendo with the duo guitar riffs fantastic throughout this song of pure energy. The song peaked in the US Top 40 in 1981 but did not officially chart on the UK charts until 2011, over 3o years after its release. An even bigger hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long” has grown into the most indelible AC/DC tune. Malcom Young’s intro perfectly sets up this hard rock dance-oriented track, while the chorus hook and counter-riff work in perfect harmony. For his part, Angus Young adds one of his most potent guitar leads on this track which saw a whole new life when it was featured on the 1986 soundtrack Who Made Who. The slightly tragic and slightly morbid “Have a Drink on Me” is a sideways tribute to Bon Scott, starting with a cool blues slide before finding a steady rock beat. While still presented as an upbeat party screed, the song’s pre-chorus contains some ironic philosophy;
“Don’t worry about tomorrow, take it today, forget about the check we’ve got hell to pay…”
“Shake a Leg” contains a fantastic intro section, launching into a faux verse that ends with a majestic vocal screed by Johnson which leads into the actual song riff and launch. Everyone is at their absolute best on this track – the vocals seem to elevate to an even high plane of frenzy while Rudd’s drums are a steady prime mover in this song about movement. After a blistering guitar lead, Johnson reprises the intro over the multi modal exchanges of Angus and Malcolm Young’s guitars. After the frenzy comes “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, a steady barroom blues which eventually builds into a fantastic rock track that works perfectly to conclude the album. Williams’ bass thumps as a heartbeat between the twin guitar riffs on either side of the mix on this song which reached number 15 on the UK singles charts, placing it higher than any track on the album.
Despite never reaching the top of the album charts in The US, Back In Black has been a charting phenomenon, re-entering charts several times throughout the decades, even as recently as 2014. The album has sold 22 million albums worldwide and set the group up for further success through the 1980s and beyond.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.
Few rock and roll comebacks are as bizarre, but complete, as that of Ozzy Osbourne in 1980. Just a year after being fired from Black Sabbath, the superstar rock group that he founded and fronted since the late 1960s, emerging with the his fantastic debut solo album, Blizzard of Ozz. The immediate success of this album was due in part to the emergence of guitarist Randy Rhoads who burst onto the rock scene with an aggressive and fresh approach to playing rock guitar with some classical elements.
Actually, this didn’t start as a true solo project for Osbourne. The Blizzard of Ozz was a “side band” the vocalist formed in 1978, while still a member of Black Sabbath. Osbourne abandoned the project to focus on recording Sabbath’s Never Say Die!, his final album with that band before being replaced by Ronnie James Dio. Osbourne, Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley rehearsed at a live-in rehearsal facility along with a friend of Osbourne’s on drums. After auditioning several drummers, Lee Kerslake, formerly of Uriah Heep, was brought on as the group’s drummer just prior to recording this album.
The quartet entered the studio still billed as “The Blizzard of Ozz”, with the agreement that the album would be credited to the band with Osbourne’s name in smaller print. After failing to find a satisfactory producer, all four members took on production duties themselves. The approach used was similar to that on Van Halen’s debut album, with Rhoads’ guitars front and center as a complement to Osbourne’s familiar vocals. Most of the group members were surprised when originally seeing the album cover with “Ozzy Osbourne” in bigger print and “The” removed from the title Blizzard of Ozz, which would ripple into further issues among the musicians in years to come.
Blizzard of Ozzby Ozzy Osbourne
Released: September 20, 1980 (Jet) Produced by: Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhoads, Bob Daisley & Lee Kerslake Recorded: Ridge Farm Studios, Rusper, England, March−April 1980
I Don’t Know
Goodbye to Romance
No Bone Movies
Revelation (Mother Earth)
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals Randy Rhoads – Guitars Don Airey – Keyboards Bob Daisley – Bass, Vocals Lee Kerslake – Drums, Percussion
A long, sustained, anticipation-building, spacey gong sound swells in before being sliced cleanly by Rhoads rapid, deadened machine gun riff on the opener “I Don’t Know”. After two verses of this heavy bliss comes the surprising, flange-heavy middle bridge section which exits into a strong launch of Rhoads’ first lead of the album. The song has a mini epic feel during the multi-part bridge before the intro and verse section return for a final verse before the sudden and clever ending. “Crazy Train” contains one of the most famous intros in rock history as the thumping rhythms of Daisley and Kerslake are cut by Osbourne’s vocal effects before Rhoads steals the show with his indelible riff. The entire track is an exercise in the best of accessible hard rock – slightly doomy lyrics delivered clearly and melodically above air-instrument-worthy crunches and fills. Rhoads’ lead is short but rapid and potent with the lyrical content reflecting the ongoing Cold War and the ever-present fear of annihilation. Released as the album’s lead single, “Crazy Train” failed to reach the Top 40 but has long since become a rock radio staple and classic from the era.
A change-up that shows there’s much more to this album compositionally, “Goodbye to Romance” was the first track written for the album as a sort of ode to Osbourne’s departure from Black Sabbath. The beat is almost impossibly slow but there is enough variety in Rhoads multi-tracked textures and Daisley’s bouncy bass line through the first verses and choruses. The song really reaches a new level starting with Rhoads’ guitar lead, which seems to set a template for a decade plus of power ballads to follow. The song’s final verse takes an alternate approach both melodically and in intensity, before a calm synth leads the song through the outro. After three, five-minute-something tracks filled with passion and emotion, comes a slight respite in the classical acoustic solo of “Dee”, Rhoads’ short tribute to his mother. “Suicide Solution” is the closest this lineup comes to classic Black Sabbath in its pure darkness and doominess, complete with a long effects-laden section which caused much controversy in subsequent years. The song’s outro contains some slight Hammond organ and sixties-style psychedelic guitar effects, which make it an interesting listen.
The album’s second side is a bit more experimental. Inspired by a book about 19th century occultist Aleister Crowley which Osbourne found in the studio, “Mr. Crowley” starts with deep synth section played by Don Airey. The verse breaks in with a strong hard rock phrase which falls somewhere on the scale between Led Zeppelin and Foreigner and, although impressive, Rhoads’ lead seems more like a technical exercise than an affirmative dispatch. The guitarist does make up for this later in the song with a fantastic, harmonized counter-riff that really elevates the track overall to the classic level. “No Bone Movies” is much more frivolous in its approach. A true band jam, this is the only song credited to all four core members of “The Blizzard of Oz” and the most interesting element is the bright, bluesy guitars, which sound like nothing else on the album. Almost a comic relief piece, lyrically the song is about constant self-vows to abandon pornography;
“Silver screen, such a disgrace, I couldn’t look her straight in the face, a blue addiction I live in disgust, degradation, eaten by lust…”
“Revelation (Mother Earth)” is the most intense and, perhaps, overall best song on the album. The track contains a chorus of heavy and delicate guitars by Rhoads along with a healthy dose of keyboards, synths and percussive effects. Osbourne also does a masterful job vocally, expertly portraying the apocalyptic desperation of the lyrics. However, the best part of this track is the extended instrumental section, which is led into by a heavy metal guitar and bass riff, passes through a fine classical piano and synth section by Daisey, and then returns to Rhoads’ riffing and one final, heavy outro with multi-tracked guitars and a complexity to the jam as fine as anything Deep Purple had ever done. After the depth of the previous track, “Steal Away (The Night)” concludes the album as a fun party song which gives everyone the opportunity to let loose musically. Here, Daisley and Kerslake really step to the forefront, which reminds everyone that Blizzard of Oz is really a band effort.
The album was a huge commercial success and is Osbourne’s top selling record, having sold over 6 million copies worldwide. However, there was some controversy as Daisley and Kerslake sued Osbourne (and eventually won) for unpaid royalties. In response, Osbourne re-released Blizzard of Oz with newly recorded bass and drum tracks in 2002. But fans grew to loathe this new release and the original version was reinstated as official in 2011.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.
British Steel was the album where Judas Priest finally found a mainstream American audience and launched the heavy metal band into stadium headliners. The album reached the Top 40 in the American album charts, while faring even better in the group’s home Britain. This orchestrated move towards a more commercial sound and away from the complexity of their earlier material, helped open the door for a new style of heavy rock which persisted throughout the new decade.
The origins of Judas Priest date back to 1969 when guitarist K.K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill began jamming to tunes by Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Cream and The Yardbirds and took their name from Bob Dylan’s song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”. Eventually the band moved away from blues rock towards heavier music and soon the group began opening up for top-billing acts in England. In 1973, vocalist Rob Halford joined as front man and the next year lead guitarist Glenn Tipton was enlisted just prior to the recording of the group’s debut, Rocka Rolla, in 1974. In the late seventies, Judas Priest migrated further towards a gritty metal sound with the studio albums Sad Wings of Destiny, Sin After Sin, Stained Class and Killing Machine and the critically acclaimed 1979 live album Unleashed in the East.
Long time drummer Les Binks quit in late 1979 and was replaced by Dave Holland just prior to the recording of British Steel. Produced by Tom Allom, original recordings began at Startling Studios in December 1979, but these were soon abandoned for a fresh start at Ringo Starr’s Tittenhurst Park studios in early 1980.
British Steelby Judas Priest
Released: April 14, 1980 (Columbia) Produced by: Tom Allom Recorded: Startling Studios and Tittenhurst Park, England, December 1979–February 1980
Breaking the Law
Living After Midnight
You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise
Rob Halford – Lead Vocals K.K. Downing – Guitars Glenn Tipton – Guitars Ian Hill – Bass Dave Holland – Drums
The music for all songs on British Steel was composed by Downing and Tipton, while all the lyrics were written by Halford. The infectious riff of “Breaking the Law” gets thing rolling, complete with sound effects and a primal, chanting hook. This opener (on the American version of the album) strongly signifies the group’s move into a simpler and less processed sound. This direction is further reinforced with the driving rhythm of “Rapid Fire” and the moderate crunch of “Metal Gods”.
The album’s first side concludes with two of its finest tracks. “Grinder” mixes deliberate guitar riffs with Hill’s steady, driving bass and a deep and raw hook by Halford which seems to forecast future acts like Metallica. “United” is an anthemic masterpiece with great sonic effects production-wise and the most melodic vocals on the album. Holland’s reverb-drenched drums seems ready for the arena while the rest of the instrumentation rests nicely in a dry but bright room.
The second side contains more diverse tracks. “Living After Midnight” is probably the most popular song from British Steel, which has sustained through the years due to its radio-friendly hooks and beats. This was the group’s first gold album in the U.S. due to its easily accessible portrayal of the rebellious spirit in the same vein as contemporaries like the group Kiss.
The fine, steady rocker “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise” patiently finds its way through the verse, chorus rotation with some very dynamic vocals by Halford, which he sustains as a highlight of the song along with a fine guitar lead by Tipton. “The Rage” is one of the most interesting tracks on the album, starting as an off-beat reggae phrasing by Downing and Hill before morphing into a Van Halen-style riff with doomy lyrics. Closing out the album, “Steeler” is an upbeat rocker which forecasts the group’s sound in subsequent years.
Following the success of British Steel, Judas Priest followed the same basic formula with 1981’s Point of Entry and 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance, each continuing the group’s rise in popularity. Three decades later, the group embarked on a 30th anniversary tour by playing the album live in its entirety for the first time, proving the sustainability of this fine record.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.