Drama by Yes

Drama by Yes

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Drama by YesYes entered the 1980s with a new lineup and a renewed compositional approach. 1980’s Drama, is the band’s tenth studio album but the first not to feature Jon Anderson as the front man, as Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the group during rehearsals for this album. Soon, two members of the new wave group The Buggles, lyricist/vocalist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes were brought in to replace Anderson and Wakeman. While this naturally added some “modern” elements to Yes’s sound, the group simultaneously reverted back to their trademark early seventies approach, which overall made for an interesting and potent fusion.

During the mid to late seventies, Yes slowly morphed from a dedicated progressive rock band to offering more succinct fusion rock. Along the way, internal conflicts on the direction of the band erupted into shifts in the lineup. In 1973 drummer Alan White replaced longtime drummer Bull Bruford and, following the release of the controversial double LP Tales from Topographic Oceans, Wakeman left the band for the first time. 1974’s Relayer saw Yes move in a jazz fusion-influenced direction and was a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The group’s 1976 North American tour saw the band at the height of their popularity, playing sold-out stadiums with audiences as large as 100,000. Wakeman rejoined the group for their late 1970s albums Going For the One (another success) and Tormato (a commercial failure).

In late 1979, the band convened with producer Roy Thomas Baker to discuss their next album. A chasm grew over the musical approach between Anderson and Wakeman on one side and the rest of the group who wanted to return to a heavier sound. By March 1980, White, guitarist Steve Howe, and bassist Chris Squire began recording demos of instrumental material because Anderson and Wakeman were so disinterested in their approach. Horn and Downes Happened to be working in the same recording complex and, after Squire heard a demo of one of their new tracks, they were enlisted to joine this reconfigured version of Yes and recorded Drama.


Drama by Yes
Released: August 18, 1980 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Trevor Horn and Yes
Recorded: April–June 1980
Side One Side Two
Machine Messiah
White Car
Does It Really Happen?
Into the Lens
Run Through the Light
Tempus Fugit
Primary Musicians
Trevor Horn – Lead Vocals, Bass
Steve Howe – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Squire – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Alan White – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Although filled with extended tracks, this album moves by quickly and is as solid and complete as their tremendous early seventies efforts The Yes Album and Fragile. Also, while all five members of this newly formed band and Eddie Offord are credited with production, the majority of the workload was handled by Horn alone. The opener “Machine Messiah” rolls in with an animated yet doomy heavy prog-rock progression and heavily distorted guitar riffs. After about a minute and half, it breaks into an acoustic and bass driven verse section, which sounds much more like traditional Yes for two verses. This extended track later launches into upbeat and eclectic musical sections with several short leads by Howe, one of which is introduced by Downes and Squire trading synth and bass licks.

“White Car” is an odd interlude, orginally started as a Buggles song, with choppy synths mixed with some traditional orchestra instruments. This minute and a half long track is unidirectional with single verse and chorus. “Does It Really Happen?” starts with a cool, funky bass riff by Squire which is built around by the rest of group. In essence, the song acts as a bridge between the seventies and eighties versions of Yes, with deep Hammond-style-organ chops mixed in with the overall clean funk and some tempo variations during entertaining verses. Ending side one, the song contains some philosophical lyrics;

Time is the measure before its begun, slips away like running water…”

The most popular song on Drama is, “Into the Lens”, which started as a track intended for the second Buggles album called “I Am a Camera”. Squire’s bass rudiments in the intro are gradually joined by keys and guitars for a richer arrangement and experience. Vocally, this song is the first where Horn really distinguishes his style apart from that of Anderson’s and the track moves at a unique pace which is at once rushed and deliberative, really straddling the line between prog and pop like few songs before it. Ultimately, this track found its way back to The Buggles, who released it as “I Am a Camera” in late 1981 and nearly got a Top 40 hit.

Well treated by engineer Hugh Padgham, “Run Through the Light” starts with a slight, distant mandolin by Howe and vocals by Horn with deep reverb. Little by little, the instruments enter in the distance, never really coming completely to the foreground, making for an interesting sonic effect, especially with the multiple synth and guitar licks splattered throughout. The album ends with a high-end, traditional jam. “Tempus Fugit” starts with Downes’ choppy organ riff before launching into a complex patter by Squire’s flanged-out bass and complemented by a Howe’s reggae/ska guitar chop through the verses. Rapid, harmonized vocals lead to the ultimate lyrical hook of, “Yes”, reminding all that this makeshift super-group still carries the mantle of the classic band.

After touring together to support, Drama, this short-lived lineup began to disintegrate as members began to leave for various reasons. Ultimately, Howe and Downes were the last two left but opted to form a new group called, Asia, rather than continue to use the name, “Yes”. Ironically due to their commitment to their succesful new band, these two were the only ones not included when Yes reformed in 1983 and recorded their commercially successful, 90125, albeit Horn’s participation was as producer after Anderson returned on lead vocals.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Gaucho by Steely Dan

Gaucho by Steely Dan

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Gaucho by Steely DanSteely Dan had a smooth and steady upward climb through their heyday in the 1970s, with an album-a-year released for six straight years and each gaining in popularity. The group’s seventh album however, 1980’s Gaucho, proved to be a laborious project which was plagued by personal, legal, and creative problems. When finally complete, the album is a quasi-concept of interrelated tracks with frank lyrical themes and simple (or at least simple for this band) rhythms and musical structures.

After the tremendous success of 1977’s Aja, the group’s core duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker decided to migrate from Los Angeles back to their native New York City to record a follow-up album with producer Gary Katz. However, their perfectionism in recording did not translate well for New York session musicians when recordings began in 1978. Despite using over 40 studio musicians during a year of intense recording, Fagen and Becker were still not satisfied and spent in excess of $100,000 extra just on innovative processing of the drum beats alone. Further complicating the process, the recording of a song intended for the album called “The Second Arrangement” was accidently erased in 1979 and had to be replaced by another track late in the process. The album’s mixing sessions were no less intensive, expensive, and time consuming.

While recording the album, the group’s label was involved in a merger, which caused some legal static and prevented Becker and Fagen from changing labels. Also during this time, Becker was hit by a car and broke his leg, resulting in extensive hospitalization. Becker also battled substance abuse and his girlfriend tragically died of a drug overdose in early 1980. Gaucho was finally released in November 1980, over three years after its predecessor.


Gaucho by Steely Dan
Released: November 21, 1980 (MCA)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, 1978-1980
Side One Side Two
Babylon Sisters
Hey Nineteen
Glamour Profession
Gaucho
Time Out of Mind
My Rival
Third World Man
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Bass, Guitars, Piano, Synths, Vocals
Rob Mounsey – Piano, Keyboards
Steve Khan – Guitars

The album opener, “Babylon Sisters” ,comes in with a cool, slow and deliberate rhythm with some embellishment by the electric piano of Don Grolnick. Subtle horns and reggae elements sneak in just prior to the commencement of the first verse, along with the famous “Purdie Shuffle” by drumming legend Bernard Purdie. The album’s lyrical pace is also set here with simple but profound lines like “here comes those Santa Ana winds again.”

“Hey Nineteen” is one of the finest sonic pieces ever, and where the group’s meticulous production really pays off. A simple but completely infectious beat is complemented with each subtle instrument finding its own space, while the lyrics lightly discuss the disconnect between a thirty-something and a nineteen-year-old trying to make a go but finding little in common. The song peaked at #10, making it the last major hit for Steely Dan. The first side ends weakly with “Glamour Profession”, a song with a close to moderate disco beat and slight funk and soul elements, but very little movement in its seven and a half minutes.

With the title track, “Gaucho”, the album gets back on track. Driven by a sax riff in the intro and interludes and great bass by Becker, who also later adds a potent guitar lead to conclude the song. Steely Dan was sued by jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, for “borrowing” a bit from one of his songs. Fagen and Becker relented, making this the only song with a writing credit beyond those two. “Time Out of Mind” is poppy and catchy with a main chorus hook that builds nicely. However, the lyrical content is much darker with an unabashed celebration of one’s first experience with heroin. “My Rival” is almost like a movie or television soundtrack with storytelling lyrics of determination and interesting sonic qualities with an interspersing old-fashioned Hammond organ and modern square-font synth being used. The album closes with “Third World Man”, a slow and deliberate track which is  darker than the other material on the album.

In spite of its tortured conception, Gaucho was another solid hit for Steely Dan, reaching the Top Ten in the US and winning the 1981 Grammy Award for its engineering. However, the turmoil of the preceding years proved to be the breaking point and the group disbanded in mid 1981 and did not release another album for almost two solid decades.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police

Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police

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Zenyatta Mondatta by The PoliceZenyatta Mondatta was the hinge album which fell right in the middle of The Police‘s short career as an active band. True to form, this third studio release by the group contains a fine balance between their reggae-influenced roots of their first two albums in the late seventies and the more complex new wave rock of their final two albums in the early eighties. The result is a work that achieved both critical and commercial success and solidified the group as deserving of a perch in the top echelon of rock groups.

Formed in 1976 as a budding punk band, the Police members experimented with elements of reggae and jazz. Copeland’s brother and record executive Miles Copeland III agreed to finance The Police’s first album, Outlandos d’Amour in 1978, which was driven by the international hit “Roxanne”, and brought the group to the US for the first time. In October 1979, the group released their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, which topped the UK albums chart and spawned more hit singles.

Co-produced by Nigel Gray, Zenyatta Mondatta, was recorded during a break in the band’s first world tour. The band members have expressed disappointment over the final output as it was “rushed” due to much pressure from the label. Further, the band could not record in their home country due to tax reasons and instead did so in the Netherlands. However, this rushed atmosphere may have added to the dynamic elements and overall energy of this record.


Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police
Released: October 3, 1980 (A&M)
Produced by: Nigel Gray & The Police
Recorded: Wisseloord Studios, Hilversum, Netherlands, July–August 1980
Side One Side Two
Don’t Stand So Close to Me
Driven to Tears
When the World Is Running Down, Make the Best of What’s Still Around
Canary In a Coalmine
Voices Inside My Head
Bombs Away
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
Behind My Camel
Man In a Suitcase
Shadows In the Rain
The Other Way of Stopping
Group Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Andy Summers – Guitars, Piano, Synths, Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Synths, Vocals

With a dramatic intro to the song and the album, subtle synths lead to and eventually follow the guiding beat which lead to the album’s most indelible and popular track, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”. Expert instrumentation effect on simple riffs and beats complement Sting’s catchy melody which aligns with the guitar riffs. Lyrically, the song puts a new twist on the Lolita story, even going so far as to mention that story’s author, Nabakov. Fantastic rhythms bring in the dramatically simple but effective track “Driven to Tears”, on which Summers has a very short, screeching rock lead to add ever-more variety. this second song’s theme examines the divide between rich and poor.

“When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” is repetitive in almost a dance-rock fashion, built on Copeland’s simple but potent beat beneath the melodic and frantic vocals of Sting. The ability to take this hypnotic three-chord progression and add subtle dynamics and vocal inflections to give the song a more substantive feel. “Canary In a Coalmine” has an upbeat ska/reggae backing to harmonized lead vocals.  “Voices Inside My Head” has a disco beat with a funky bass and reverb effects on the guitar, which conjures images of David Gilmour on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Eventually, this song takes a bit of an African feel with some chanting vocals and slight drum variations. The first side ends with “Bombs Away”, written by Stewart Copeland. Bright and upbeat music betrays the dire apocalyptic sarcasm of the lyrics, while musically Copeland’s rapid-hat shuffle is complemented nicely by the simple and rounded bass notes of Sting.

 
The gibberish hook of “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” is almost regrettable because the music is so well-formed on this track, perhaps the finest on the album, and Summers’ true highlight. The guitar riffs throughout are bright and catchy, with rich harmonic textures and tasteful use of electronic effects. Released as a single, the song became the first for the group to reach the Top 10 in both the United Kingdom and the United States. “Behind My Camel”, is the most controversial on the album as Sting refused to play on this instrumental composed by Andy Summers (who took on bass duties himself). Pure theatrical, droning, guitar-driven track is unlike anything else on the album and it surprisingly won the Grammy Award in 1982 for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The Police 1980

While the album is solid to this point, it does seem to lose some steam down the stretch. “Man In a Suitcase” reverts back to the pure reggae, upbeat and light, with exceptionally good bass throughout by Sting, including an incredibly long decay of a single note coming out of the bridge section. “Shadows In the Rain” is a more deliberative track, built with a simple bass and drum groove riff along with a couple of piano notes each phrase, while Summers’ guitar places some distant rock motifs. Copeland’s “The Other Way of Stopping”, starts with what sounds like a chorus of drums in the intro, finely highlighting the choppy skins of the drummer, which is really the only highlight of this closing instrumental, which means the album may have been about a track too long.

Zenyatta Mondatta was a worldwide hit, landing near the top of nearly a dozen national charts. More importantly, it launched The Police into the furious second half of their career which saw even more success in the near future.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Turn of a Friendly Card by Alan Parsons Project

Turn of a Friendly Card
by Alan Parsons Project

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Turn of a Friendly Card by Alan Parsons ProjectAlan Parsons Project produced one of their more accessible albums with, Turn of a Friendly Card, a quasi-concept record which concludes with a sixteen-minute-plus title suite. The fifth album by the progressive group, this 1980 release contains a pleasant mix of melodic soft rock with multiple elements of funk and orchestral music put together by the group’s founders and composers, audio engineer Alan Parsons and keyboardist Eric Woolfson.

Parsons and Woolfson met at Abbey Road Studios in 1974. Parsons had worked there as an assistant engineer on several Beatles’ album and recently received accolades for his work on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Woolfson was working as a session pianist and signed on as Parsons’ manager, as he produced several successful albums through the mid 1970s. Eventually the duo decided to record a Woolfson composition inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe which became the Alan Parsons Project 1976 debut album entitled Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Now signed to Arista Records, the group released an album per year in the late seventies, with ever-growing popularity.

According to a report on Crypto Engine, Turn of a Friendly Card focuses on gambling as an escape from the doldrums of middle age. The concept was sparked when Woolfson was sitting in a casino in Monte Carlo and observed the activities and sounds going on around him. He revised the album’s title from a song he had written in the 1960s, which fit well with this new concept.


Turn of a Friendly Card by Alan Parsons Project
Released: November, 1980 (Arista)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Acousti Studio, Paris, Late 1979–Mid 1980
Side One Side Two
May Be a Price to Pay
Games People Play
Time
I Don’t Wanna Go Home
The Gold Bug
The Turn of a Friendly Card
Primary Musicians
Eric Woolfson – Piano, Keyboards, Accordion, Vocals
Alan Parsons – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Ian Bairnson – Guitars
David Paton – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums, Percussion

The hit track “Games People Play” features Lenny Zakatek on vocals and contains a cool synth arpeggio complemented by guide piano, using some of the methods that Pete Townshend used through the seventies with The Who. The song is compelling and focused, yet melodic and catchy with philosophical lyrics that touch on stepping out during an empty nest syndrome. The interesting bridge section touches on prog rock effects, concluding with a fine guitar lead by Ian Bairnson. “May Be a Price to Pay” starts the album off with some majestic horn sounds provided by orchestral conductor Andrew Powell. The track then breaks into a moderate funk beat to introduce the verse sections which, sung by Dave Terry, introduces the quasi-dramatic theme of the album;

Something’s wrong in this house today, while the master was riding the servents decided to play, something’s been going on, there may be a price to pay…”

The first track by the group to ever feature Woolfson on lead vocals, “Time” is one of the finest ballads by Alan Parsons Project. With Parsons adding backing vocals, this song actually features the voices of the group’s core duo and has expert arrangement. Starting with rotating piano and subtlety morphing to an acoustic-driven tune with great orchestral effects, “Time” peaked in the Top 20 in America, making it the group’s second most successful single, with deeply melancholy lyrics

Goodbye my love, Maybe for forever, goodbye my love, the tide waits for me / Who knows when we shall meet again, if ever, but time Keeps flowing like a river to the sea / Till it’s gone forever, gone forevermore…”

Closing the first side is an interesting, multi-sectional but steady pop/rocker in the vein of Little River Band, called “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”. This track is wrapped up in a more moody, minor key piano section for the intro and outro. “The Gold Bug” is an instrumental which has a Western cowboy feel, with Parsons adding some human whistle over the duo tremolando acoustic guitars of Bairnson and David Paton during the intro. In the “song proper” of this instrumental, Parsons adds an echoed clavinet and autoharp, making this the one track where the group’s namesake performs the most musically.

“The Turn of a Friendly Card” is the extended title suite which closes the album and is split into five distinct section. The title section opens and closes the track with lead vocals by Chris Rainbow . It has a distinct English folk feel accented by Woolfson’s nice blend of piano and harpsichord. “Snake Eyes” theatrically returns to the modern era and into the casino which influenced the album’s concept as a pleasant rocker, albeit a bit tacky with the blatant casino sound effects. “The Ace of Swords” returns to the harpsichord, this time performed by Parsons, as a way to set the scene of the orchestral instrumental section where the rhythm section of bassist David Paton and drummer Stuart Elliot shine through with fine rudiments. “Nothing Left to Lose” features Woolfson’s second lead vocal and is a great acoustic ballad with a smooth chorus of backing vocals and a fine ‘button’ accordion by an unidentified Parisian session player. Lyrically, this section may be a bit too clichéd, which is its sole weak spot, but later on the track nicely transitions to a heavier rock instrumental section, making this the true highlight of the second side. “The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two)” concludes the album as a simple reprise of the first part of the suite with a great electric guitar lead by Bairnson and closing orchestration to finish the album on a high note.

Turn of a Friendly Card reached the Top 20 in the US, the Top 40 in the UK, and was a hit in various other countries throughout the world. The Alan Parsons Project would continue through most of the eighties with more commercial success on subsequent albums.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Remain In Light by Talking Heads

Remain In Light
by Talking Heads

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Remain In Light by Talking HeadsRemain In Light is far from your typical rock album. In fact, a case might be made that it is not really a rock album at all. However, this widely acclaimed fourth studio album by Talking Heads is important in its creative approach and originality as well as a firm statement by the group that they were much more than a simple, New York, post-punk band. Remain In Light is filled with experimental African polyrhythms along with a series of samples and loops, all performed by the four group members and additional session musicians.

Talking Heads began as “The Artistics” in 1974 at the Rhode Island School of Design where three of its permanent members attended, including the couple Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, who played bass and drums respectively. Eventually the group migrated to New York City and played their first proper gig as “Talking Heads” at the famed CBGB in 1975. Over the next two years, the group gained a following which led to their signing with Sire Records. During each of the final three years of the 1970s, the group recorded and released Talking Heads 77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, and Fear of Music, each achieving higher acclaim and popularity. The most recent of these albums was produced by Brian Eno, who stayed on board for this fourth album.

Remain In Light was conceived when the members of Talking Heads wanted to make a more music and rhythm oriented album, in part to dispel notions of that the group was just a backing for frontman and chief lyricist David Byrne. Initial recordings were made in Nassau, the Bahamas, with instrumental sessions that experimented with the communal African recording methods. For his part, Byrne provided inspired lyrics from literature on Africa and re-invented his vocal style to match the free-associative feel of the compositions.


Remain In Light by Talking Heads
Released: October 8, 1980 (Sire)
Produced by: Brian Eno
Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau & Sigma Sound Studios, New York, July–August 1980
Side One Side Two
Born Under Punches (Heat Goes On)
Crosseyed and Painless
The Great Curve
Once in a Lifetime
Houses in Motion
Seen and Not Seen
Listening Wind
The Overload
Group Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Jerry Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Chris Frantz – Drums, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

While none of the compositions include chord changes and instead rely on the use of different harmonics and notes, the first side contains the more rhythmic songs with good sound loops, albeit excessively repetitive. The opener “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” is pure techno funk and never deviates from a 10-second sequence acting as a canvas for the vocals. “Crosseyed and Painless” is more dance-oriented than the opener and, although the chorus vocals are very melodic, this track is built predominantly as a club track. Lyrically this track discusses the paranoia and alienation of urban life. “The Great Curve” features layered, multi-part vocals over hyper rhythms and a rich horn section. The song and side ends with an interesting, droning, synthesiser-treated guitar solo by Adrian Belew.

The second side of Remain In Light features more introspective songs, commencing with most popular on this album and one of the most popular in the band’s career catalog. “Once In a Lifetime” has a refreshing refrain and is the most musically interesting thus far. While Weymouth’s basic bass pattern never changes, the other musicians play brilliantly, with Frantz adding good drum fills and guitarist Jerry Harrison laying down brilliant funk and rock guitar licks. For his part, Eno composed the vocal melody for the chorus after originally expressing reservations about the song. Released as the first single from the album, the song peaked at #14 on the UK Singles Chart in 1981.

“Houses in Motion” contains a spoken introduction and later fine chorus vocals, with the music a bit more interesting than similar tracks on the first side. Conversely, “Seen and Not Seen” is almost psychedelic, as Byrne speaks seemingly declarative statements above a clapping rhythm motif with many synth interjections. “Listening Wind” is almost a new wave pop song, features some Arabic music elements, while the closing track “The Overload” is a doomy rock track with haunting sound effects and somber, chanting verse vocals. This last track almost has a Pink Floyd quality to it, taking a different approach than any previous track on this album, but is also similar in its repetition as it slowly fades away into oblivion.

Remain In Light peaked in the Top 20 in the the US and was nearly as successful in the UK, eventually selling over a million copies worldwide. In order to replicate its thick rhythms, Talking Heads expanded to 9 stage members for the subsequent tour. Following this, the group went into an extended hiatus before returning for several more successful albums through the eighties.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

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Go To Heaven by Grateful DeadLong derided as one of the most unpopular albums among the Grateful Dead faithful, Go To Heaven is ,nonetheless, a solid record musically. The biggest change in the group’s sound comes with the arrival of keyboard player Brent Mydland, who replaced the late Keith Godchaux and provided the band with a wide array of piano, organ, synth, vocal, and composition style unlike anything they had before. Beyond this, Go To Heaven is, perhaps, the Dead’s most diverse album and is positioned squarely at the crossroads of their sonic evolution from the beginning of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s.

The Grateful Dead’s original keyboardist, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, died in March 1973 due to complications from alcohol abuse. He was replaced by pianist Godchaux, who had begun touring with the group as early as 1971. Through the mid seventies, the Grateful Dead put out a series of albums which explored differing styles, including the jazz influenced Wake of the Flood, the experimental and meditative Blues for Allah, the prog-rock influenced Terrapin Station, and Shakedown Street, which incorporated some disco influence.

Go to Heaven touched elements from each of those previous styles, along with a slight return to the band’s core grooves while incorporating some modern funk and synth motifs. Produced by Gary Lyons, these diverse styles and deliberate motifs are held together by the consistent but reserved drumming by the duo Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. While this may be a far cry from the group’s lauded stage improvisation, it made for an enjoyable studio album which holds up decades later.


Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead
Released: April 28, 1980 (Arista)
Produced by: Gary Lyons
Recorded: Club Le Front, San Rafael, CA, July 1979–January 1980
Side One Side Two
Alabama Getaway
Far From Me
Althea
Feel Like a Stranger
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)
Easy to Love You
Don’t Ease Me In
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with the simple rocker “Alabama Getaway”, penned by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. This short blues rock jam contains a couple of nice guitar leads by Garcia and adventurous lyrics. Mydland’s first and finest track is the amazingly catchy and steady rocker “Far From Me”. While Mydland’s piano drives the rhythm, a blend of crunchy guitars march in the background complimented by a cool background chorus. Garcia’s “Althea” is, perhaps, the most indelible Grateful Dead track from Go To Heaven. The track sounds like a quiet room being penetrated by pinpoint notes, beats, and other sonic candy, including percussive effects and the brilliant, buzzing bass by Phil Lesh. This track also actually hits a pleasant bridge (a rarity for Dead tunes) with some really bluesy slide guitar in the latter part of the song and gets ever-so-slightly intense during the final guitar lead. Lyrically, Hunter draws from some classical pieces including Shakespeare’s Hamlet;

You may be the fate of Ophelia, sleeping and perchance to dream. Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered to the extreme…”

From here, the album takes a turn with three consecutive songs co-written by singer and guitarist Bob Weir and lyricist John Perry Barlow. “Feel Like a Stranger” is a cool funk/rocker with bright guitar chords and a wild analog synth by Mydland. This catchy tune works hard to fit its genre, even including some high-pitched, disco-influenced backing vocals but reaches an unnecessary, abrupt ending to close the album’s original first side. “Lost Sailor” is mellow and dark with some jazzy elements and deep, philosophical lyrics to compliment the overall moodiness. “Saint of Circumstance” is more upbeat and pop-oriented than the previous track, and the lyrics suggest this may be the default title song of the album. Musically, the song contains lots of catchy passages from the rock drive of the intro and chorus to the escalating piano runs by Mydland to the sparse but effective guitar licks by Garcia.

Grateful Dead

A half-minute psychedelic percussion piece by Hart and Kreutzmann called “Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)” leads to the final two tracks which nearly reflect the album’s first two, but in reverse order. Mydland’s “Easy to Love You” is a soft rocker with some signature Grateful Dead musical elements and the almost anti-Dead vocal smoothness which strongly reflects the style of Michael McDonald. The traditional track “Don’t Ease Me In” closes the album with a track that the band jammed to when they were still called “The Warlocks” pre-1965. Garcia leads the way with quasi-country vocals and bluesy guitar, while there is also a pretty entertaining Hammond organ lead by Mydland.

Go To Heaven reached the Top 30 on the American Pop Albums chart, which was a moderate success for the band which was almost completely non-top-40 until the late eighties. More importantly, it still sounds good today and shows that this band had some vast talent away from the stage.

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

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Begin Here by The Zombies

Begin Here by The Zombies

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Begin Here by The ZombiesWe commence our year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 album releases with the oldest music we’ll ever cover at Classic Rock Review. The British group, The Zombies, recorded several singles through 1964 a few of which caught fire in the U.S. market. To capitalize, the group rushed into the studio late in 1964 to record enough material to release an album for the American market. The twelve track album The Zombies was released in January 1965 in the U.S., while the band took a little more time to complete their fourteen track U.K. debut, Begin Here, a few months later. While either version of this album contains too many covers by contemporary standards, there is certainly enough variation and originality in the originals to sustain this as a classic.

The Zombies were originally formed as “The Mustangs” in 1961, while its five members were still at school. After finding out that other bands were using “Mustangs”, the band’s permanent name was coined by short-time member Paul Arnold, who left the group to become a physician. The band “won” a recording contract with Decca Records after winning a beat-group competition and instantly recorded their first hit, “She’s Not There” in 1964. Written by keyboardist Rod Argent, the song contains a cool, jazzy electric piano, Bossa Nova rhythms by drummer Hugh Grundy, and the signature, breathy vocals by lead vocalist Colin Blunstone. The song reached The Top 20 in the UK in September 1964 and climbed all the way to #2 in the U.S. in December 1964.

The group immediately toured the United States and were featured on the initial episode of the national TV show Hullabaloo. Throughout this frenzy, the group was composing and recording, while developing a distinct musical and vocal style with featured a blend of keyboards, snapping rhythms, and distinct lead and harmonized vocals.


Begin Here by The Zombies
Released: March 1, 1965 (Decca)
Produced by: Ken Jones
Recorded: June – November 1964
Side One Side Two
Road Runner
Summertime
I Can’t Make Up My Mind
The Way I Feel Inside
Work n’ Play
You Really Got A Hold On Me/Bring It On Home To Me
She’s Not There
Sticks and Stones
Can’t Nobody Love You
Woman
I Don’t Want to Know
I Remember When I Loved Her
What More Can I Do
I Got My Mojo Working
Bonus Tracks
It’s Alright with Me
Sometimes
Kind of Girl
Tell Her No
Group Musicians
Colin Blunstone – Lead Vocals
Rod Argent – Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul Atkinson – Guitars
Chris White – Bass, Vocals
Hugh Grundy – Drums

Begin Here starts with a rocking version of Bo Didley’s “Road Runner”. Paul Atkinson adds some surf rock guitar elements to complement Blunstone’s wild, intense vocals and a slight organ solo by Argent. George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is next interpreted as a calm and jazzy number with great sixties sonic motifs, led by the electric piano of Argent and the smooth lead vocals of Blunstone. The first original on the album is written by bassist Chris White. “I Can’t Make Up My Mind” is pure sixties pop, with The Zombies offering their first hint of great harmonies with a slight guitar lead by Atkinson. Argent’s “The Way I Feel Inside” is definitely influenced by The Beatles, and most specifically the song “If I Fell” from A Hard Days Night, while “Work n’ Play” is a cool sixties-style instrumental, led by the piano of guest Ken Jones (who wrote the number) and a harmonica lead by Argent.

The medley “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me/Bring It On Home to Me” may be the weakest spot on the album, considering The Beatles had already done their own version of the first part of this medley, and there is nothing special added here. In contrast, the cover “Sticks and Stones” is a great jam even if you can sense some Rolling Stones/Them influence, especially vocally. Atkinson’s bright, picked guitar drives the blues/soul influenced “Can’t Nobody Love You”, a rare track where Argent is reserved to the background with White’s bass and Grundy’s drums much more animated. “Woman” is  riff-driven with harmonized vocals throughout and changes method and tempo between the verse and chorus sections.

The Zombies

“I Don’t Want to Know” is another pop track by White with some lead vocal rudiments, while Argent’s “I Remember When I Loved Her” contains a dark, almost Western feel with echoed, picked acoustic and constant 6/4 rhythmic drive with some percussion effects. Later a haunting organ rises in the background, adding to the overall vibe and show that The Zombies were sophisticated beyond their years and explored abstract musical avenues long before art-rock came along. White’s third and final composition on the album is the short but excellent “What More Can I Do”, which vastly predicts the Doors sound of years to come. Rounding out the original album is “I Got My Mojo Working”, a pure, upbeat blues which forecasts the future of rock n roll with consistent, driving riff and beat and more than apt harmonica by Argent.

Some of the group’s originals which were only included on the American version, The Zombies, were the sixties jam, “It’s Alright With Me”, the Beatlesque rocker, “Sometimes”, and most especially the 1965 hit single “Tell Her No”. This latter track by Argent is a jazz/rock classic with great sense of melody and composition that became the group’s second Top 10 hit in the United States.

After the frenzy of early 1965, The Zombies got into a bit of a commercial rut, releasing several singles through 1966 without much popular reaction. Eventually, the band made their way to Abbey Road Studios in 1967 and recorded their classic album, Odessey and Oracle, released in 1968. Unfortunately, the group was already on the outs by that point, assuring a short but meteoric path for one of the sixties most ingenious rock bands.

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

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The Pretenders debut album

Pretenders by The Pretenders

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The Pretenders debut albumPretenders, is the self-titled debut studio album by the British-American band of the same name. Released just weeks into the new decade of the eighties, this was one of the more widely anticipated debuts as the group had already achieved commercial success with three charting hits in 1979. Those three singles (along with two of the ‘B sides’) were combined with new studio material to make this fine rock album, which debuted at #1 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. The album also received high praise critically, which it has sustained as it is included on many lists of top debuts of all time.

The Pretenders are led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in 1973 and wrote for the weekly music paper NME. She formed and played in many groups through the mid seventies and was involved with the inception of the punk scene, including short stints with early versions of The Clash and The Damned. After recording a demo of original songs, Hynde was convinced to assemble a more permanent band to reach the next level. Bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott joined Hynde in this yet-to-be named band in early 1978.

Later that year, the group chose their name after the Platters song, “The Great Pretender”, and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ ,”Stop Your Sobbing”, with producer Nick Lowe and drummer Gerry Mackelduff. Released in January 1979, the single gained the new group some attention and radio play as well as the backing to record more songs and eventually this debut album. Martin Chambers signed on as the group’s permanent drummer and the quartet recorded scores of tracks through 1979 with producer Chris Thomas, many of which were not released until a re-mastered edition of Pretenders was released in 2006.


Pretenders by The Pretenders
Released: January 19, 1980 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas & Nick Lowe
Recorded: Wessex Studios and Air Studios, London, 1979
Side One Side Two
Precious
The Phone Call
Up the Neck
Tattooed Love Boys
Space Invader
The Wait
Stop Your Sobbing
Kid
Private Life
Brass In Pocket
Lovers of Today
Mystery Achievement
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
James Honeyman-Scott – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Farndon – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

Hynde wrote the bulk of the material on Pretenders and found a nice blend of rock, punk and pop, with the slightest hint of new wave edge. “Precious” starts as a rapid, two chord jam until the song gets a little more intense and sonically interesting with phasing and reverse-reverb effects, and overtly vulgar lyrics. The song was a cynical ode to Hynde’s home city of Akron, a theme she would revisit in a more sentimental way in later years on “My City Was Gone” from Learning to Crawl. “The Phone Call” is a rudiment driven, new wave rocker where the vocals are mostly spoken word with some interesting deviations during the short, rapid, off-beat choruses, while “Up the Neck” is much more contemporary and melodic than the first two tracks as a steady, jangly, and pleasant pop/rocker throughout.

The PretendersReturns to the feel of the opening track, “Tattooed Love Boys” shoots a strong sexual vibe by Hynde and is close to punk in underlying feel, albeit much more refined up top. This track also employs a very odd time signature and the first of several brilliant guitar leads by Honeyman-Scott. Next comes the album’s only instrumental, “Space Invader”, driven by Farden’s bass line in the opening jam and a slight synth section by Honeyman-Scott. “The Wait” has more interesting riffs and rudiments in the verse where Hynde’s lead vocals seem to be in a race between the crunch riffing, while the chorus has a more standard rock release with great bass by Farndon, who co-wrote this song.

While this album is fine throughout, the second side is especially strong. “Kid” is a melodic and upbeat ballad with some cool instrumental passages, including a nice acoustic section and very animated, rolling drums by Chambers. Here, Hynde abandons the punk bravado and branches out with a love song about vulnerability and Honeyman-Scott contributes layers of fine lectric guitars. “Private Life” follows as a quasi reggae tune, but with the guitar riff and vocals giving it a dark feel. Although the group rarely leaves the same basic riff through its six and a half minute duration, the song does contain some soul-fueled background vocal variations and another respectable rock guitar lead.

“Brass in Pocket” is the most popular early track by The Pretenders, driven by the slightly funky riff by Honeyman-Scott, Hynde’s great sense of melody, and Farndon’s rounded eighties bass to introduce the new decade. Lyrically, the song is one of self-assurance among women with a laid-back swagger and confidence. The song was a pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 20 in the US. “Lovers of Today” starts as pure ballad but takes some interesting turns into classic rock areas with coolly strummed acoustic with strong electric riffs above while maintaining the overall melancholy mood of the track. The album ends strong with “Mystery Achievement”, a powerful and intense rocker with more melodic vocals by Hynde.

Pretenders was a commercial success worldwide, reaching the Top 10 on a half dozen album charts in 1980. The next year the group followed up with an EP and a second full-length album, Pretenders II.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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On Through the Night by Def Leppard

On Through the Night
by Def Leppard

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On Through the Night by Def LeppardIt is clear that Def Leppard had yet to refine their signature sound when they recorded their debut LP, On Through the Night. The album, which contains songs then described as “working-class hard rock anthems” are raw and energetic and was produced in a way which is a little short of professional, but this may be part of the overall charm. Led by the duo guitarists of Steve Clark and Peter Willis, the young group showed some hard rock and heavy metal sophistication as well as an advanced knack for composing hooks.

Def Leppard grew out of a band called Atomic Mass, featuring Willis and bassist Rick Savage. In 1977, 18-year-old Joe Elliott successfully auditioned for the band and brought with him the name “Deaf Leopard”, which he had envisioned as a band name through his school days. Clark joined the band in early 1978 and later that year, while recording their first EP of original music, then-15-year-old Rick Allen joined the group as its permanent drummer, rounding out the quintet.

That EP actually sold well in the U.K., fueled by the song “Getcha Rocks Off”, which got some healthy airtime on the BBC, and the band developed a loyal following in the British hard rock and heavy metal scene. This led to a major record deal in 1979 and the production of On Through the Night late in that year. Produced by Tom Allom, the album is split between re-recorded versions of the group’s previous single, EP tracks and a handful of newly written songs.


On Through the Night by Def Leppard
Released: March 14, 1980 (Mercury)
Produced by: Tom Allom
Recorded: Startling Studios, Ascot, England, December 1979
Side One Side Two
Rock Brigade
Hello America
Sorrow Is a Woman
It Could Be You
Satellite
Walls Came Tumbling Down
Wasted
Rocks Off
It Don’t Matter
Answer to the Master
Overture
Group Musicians
Joe Elliott – Lead Vocals
Steve Clark – Guitars
Peter Willis – Guitars
Rick Savage – Bass
Rick Allen – Drums

“Rock Brigade” starts the album with the energy of a cross between Aerosmith and early Rush, a very seventies vibe for this group that would become synonymous with eighties rock. Driven by the double guitar crunch of Clark and Willis, the song features plenty of slight sound effects to enhance the otherwise solid rock song. Where the opener is a cool rocker, “Hello America” seems overtly tacky during the naked opening vocal chorus, but is otherwise pretty heavy and upbeat with some well placed synth effects in the chorus by session man Chris M. Hughes.

Def Leppard In 1980“Sorrow Is a Woman” is the best song on the album. it starts with a solid and dramatic rock phrase which gives way to the reserved, almost jazzy verse sections with well-picked guitars and fantastic bass by Savage. After a calm and moody first and second chorus, the song launches into a heavy and extended, multi-part bridge with traded and harmonized guitar licks and leads. “It Could Be You” is a heavy blues rocker by Willis with a frenzied feel and nearly as frenzied vocals by Elliot, making this the closest to heavy metal on the first side.
“Satellite” is a bit darker and more murky than the previous tracks and the song tries too hard to be relevant, though it is entertaining enough. The first side finishes with “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”, a song with an epic feel due to the theatrical beginning with spoken narration by guest Dave Cousins of the UK band the Strawbs. The English feel is interrupted by a riff and rudiment rock section which shows that this young band can actually jam pretty well.

On the second side of On Through the Night, Def Leppard starts to sound like eighties hair band that they would ultimately become. “Wasted” is almost comically simple in its approach and repetition, but it is the one song which remained from this album in the band’s repo ire through their superstar years. “Rocks Off” is an updated version of the band’s 1978 radio hit, and is another straight-forward rocker, this time laced with faux crowd noise at various points. The music is tight on this latter track as the duo guitars shine atop the fast and potent rhythm lead by the exquisite timing of drummer Allen, especially during the extended jam which closes the song. “It Don’t Matter” is upbeat with great bluesy guitars in the intro and solo section with well-timed and executed rock riffing during the verses and some chorus chanting, while “Answer to the Master” takes a turn towards the “darker” heavy metal themes floating through other groups at the time.

And with this message that I bring to you / A beacon of light to see you through / For time is on our side

Def Leppard’s first album ends with a nod to the past, with the a hard prog rock epic “Overture”. Starting with an acoustic arpeggio and a folkish,  melodic vibe through the opening two minutes, the track breaks into an electric rock shuffle during the next phase, with poetic lyrics and subtle melody by Elliot. Next, the song goes through some riff-based sections to bridge it back full circle to the opening section with nearly identical lyrics.

Although On Through the Night was a not a huge commercial success upon release, the album was eventually certified platinum by the end of the decade it ushered in. More importantly, it caught the ear of famed producer “Mutt” Lange, who refined the band’s sound on their second album, High ‘n’ Dry in 1981. This led to further success as Def Leppard quickly climbed to the top of the hard rock world.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Double Fantasy by John Lennon

Double Fantasy
by John Lennon & Yoko Ono

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Double Fantasy by John LennonReleased just three weeks before he was murdered, Double Fantasy was at once John Lennon‘s great comeback effort and tragic final release of his lifetime. The album was a true collaboration with Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, with songs pretty much alternating throughout the album’s sequence between songs written and sung by Lennon and those written and sung by Ono. While the album was initially panned by critics, most changed their tune after Lennon’s death and the subsequent deluge of popular support, which served to propel the record to the top of the charts worldwide.

With the birth of Lennon and Ono’s son Sean in October 1975, John Lennon effectively began a hiatus from the music business. Prior to this, Lennon had released an album of cover songs simply titled Rock n’ Roll. Over the subsequent five years, Lennon gave all his attention to his family and performed no touring or recording save from the occasional acoustic demo recorded in his New York apartment. Lennon took a sailing trip down the Atlantic coast to Bermuda in the summer of 1980, which sparked his compositional creativity as he began to write new songs and rework earlier demos. At the same time, Ono also wrote many songs and the couple decided to release their combined work on a single album. The end result was an album of personally focused material with an underlying theme about a man and woman who found each other years into their relationship, with the tracks  sequenced as a dialogue between Lennon and Ono.

They enlisted producer Jack Douglas, and asked him to assemble a backing band without telling them for whom they would be recording. Lennon and Ono initially financed the recording sessions as Lennon was not signed to a record label at the time and the couple wanted the recording sessions to remain secret until they were satisfied with the finished production. After leaking the news to a few A&R folks, the Lennons chose the fledgling Geffen Records, reportedly because David Geffen was the only one who showed Ono the proper respect.


Double Fantasy by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released: November 17, 1980 (Geffen)
Produced by: Jack Douglas, John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Recorded: The Hit Factory, New York, August–September 1980
Side One Side Two
(Just Like) Starting Over
Kiss Kiss Kiss
Cleanup Time
Give Me Something
I’m Losing You
I’m Moving On
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
Watching the Wheels
Yes, I’m Your Angel
Woman
Beautiful Boys
Dear Yoko
Every Man Has a Woman
Hard Times Are Over
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Yoko Ono – Vocals
Hugh McCracken – Guitars
Tony Levin – Bass
Andy Newmark – Drums

The album’s lead single, “(Just Like) Starting Over” is also Double Fantasy‘s opening track. A slight chime noise cues the opening strummed acoustic with Lennon’s crooning vocals in the intro section. The track next breaks into a full, 50s-style rock doo-wop with modern rock elements as a very entertaining, quasi-tribute to Elvis Presley. The outro fadeout includes Ono speaking while Lennon adds soprano chants to complete the track which would posthumously become Lennon’s biggest solo hit, topping the charts for five weeks. Later on the first side, “Cleanup Time” is a funky rocker throughout and reminiscent of certain tracks from Lennon’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges,  his last studio album prior to Double Fantasy.

Ono’s three tracks on the first side are “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, the disco and new wave-influenced song features Ono gasping heavily and appearing to reach orgasm, the Devo-influenced “Give Me Something”, and “I’m Moving On”, which complements and closely mimicks Lennon’s, “I’m Losing You”. Both of these latter tracks were originally recorded by Cheap Trick members Rick Nielson and Bun E. Carlos, but were re-recorded by the session musicians, including guitarists Hugh McCracken and Earl Slick. “I’m Losing You” is a great, moody track where Lennon’s voice sits above the slow rock jam with superb musical motifs. The song was written by Lennon in Bermuda after unsuccessfully trying to connect on a phone call to Ono.

“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” was written by Lennon for his young son and starts with the same percussive bells as the opening song. Musically, it contains strong Caribbean elements along with a consistently strummed acoustic and an extended ending with pleasant sound effects. The song also contains some of the best lyrics on the album;

I can hardly wait to see you come of age / Everyday, in every way it’s getting better and better / Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

“Watching the Wheels” is the best produced song on the album, along with a great musical performance by all players. The bass is spectacular by Tony Levin, bouncy and out front but still nicely locked in with the steady beat of drummer Andy Newmark. On top, the bluesy piano adds for a whimsical mood and Lennon’s parting vocals are very strong and exciting. Ideally, “Watching the Wheels” would have made a great album closer, as Lennon speaks of his “lost” 5 years when he concentrated on domestic life.

John Lennon in 1980

The remainder of side two is dominated by Ono, as she composed and sang four of the six tracks while the two remaining tracks were written by Lennon, directly for her. “Yes, I’m Your Angel” starts with some urban sound effects which go on for nearly a minute before music comes to the forefront as a piano-driven show-tune with accompanying instrumentation and sound collages. “Beautiful Boys” is musically interesting with great layered guitars and potent, high notes of bass, with Ono’s lyrics directly addressing Sean and John. “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” is a moderate and reserved funk/disco, while the closer “Hard Times Are Over” contains a bluesy beat and piano with a live, night club feel.

Lennon’s remaining two songs are the upbeat and funky “Dear Yoko”, with rockabilly vocals, bouncy bass, and a strong horn section, and the much superior ballad, “Woman”. Here, Lennon’s words are deeply romantic, while his vocals are almost desperate. Musically, this track contains a great chord progression throughout along with a pleasant but refrained musical backing. The key jump upward for the third verse perfectly completes the love-song vibe of this song which reached the Top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Following the recording of Double Fantasy, Lennon and Ono immediately started working on a follow-up album, which eventually surfaced as Milk and Honey in early 1984 and is officially listed as Lennon’s final studio album. However, most consider Double Fantasy as the ex-Beatle’s true swan song, as he was working hard promoting it right up until the day he died. On that day, he gave his final interview and optimistically spoke of the future, completing the thought with the now sad phrase; “While there’s life, there’s hope.”

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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