The Game by Queen

The Game by Queen

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The Game by QueenQueen reached their commercial peak in the U.S.A. with the 1980 release of their eighth studio album, The Game. This was the only album by the band to reach the top of the charts in America and it eventually surpassed 1977’s, News of the World, as Queen’s top seller with over four million copies distributed. The songwriting on this album is very spread out and diversified, with all songs written individually by band members and each of the four members writing at least two tracks each on this ten track album, which is solid throughout and contains no real weak tracks or filler material.

Queen rode the success of News of the World into a huge world tour in late 1977 and early 1978. They followed this up with the recording and release of the album Jazz, which reached the Top Ten in the US. After another large world tour, the group released their first live album, the double-platinum selling, Live Killers, in 1979. Later that year, the group participated in Paul McCartney’s Concert for the People of Kampuchea, with a live rendition of their 1974 track “Now I’m Here”, being featured on the subsequent album.

Co-produced by Reinhold Mack at his studio in Munich, The Game, was recorded during two distinct phases. Four of the tracks were recorded during the summer of 1979, with the remaining six being produced nearly a year later in early 1980. This album marked the first time that Queen used a synthesizer, a practice they would adopt through most of their later work. Guitarist Brian May stated that the band was “trying to get outside what was normal” and Mack’s recording approach was different than what they had done through their first seven studio albums. The group also employed some pop sub-genres to their tradition “classic rock” core, with elements of new wave and disco spread throughout this record.


The Game by Queen
Released: June 30, 1980 (EMI)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Queen
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, June 1979 – May 1980
Side One Side Two
Play the Game
Dragon Attack
Another One Bites the Dust
Need Your Loving Tonight
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Rock It (Prime Jive)
Don’t Try Suicide
Sail Away Sweet Sister
Coming Soon
Save Me
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Guitars, Piano
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the quasi-theme song “Play the Game”, written by lead vocalist Freddie Mercury in the style of a classic Queen piano ballad, with great rock elements. It all starts with spacey and shrieking synth sound effect before settling into the warm and delicate verse. Everyone in the group brings their ‘A’ game to this track, as middle section blends the heavier rock elements led by May with some more wild synth effects. “Dragon Attack” was composed by May and is the first track built on pure textures, a practice which Queen would expand on later on this album and on later albums. The song features a slight drum solo by Roger Taylor before it reaches its heights with some wild, dueling guitars above the middle section with a unique arrangement that allows these guitars to creep in and totally invade the song’s core.

The hit song “Another One Bites the Dust” was composed by John Deacon and is largely built on his simple bass riff which was inspired by the contemporary group Chic. Later, the song takes on a funky element when May adds guitar in the second verse before it goes “pure disco” during a bridge which includes a simple dance beat strewn by various synth sound effects. The formula worked, as “Another One Bites the Dust” sold seven million copies as a single, reached the Top Ten in Britain, and became Queen’s second and final #1 hit in the United States.

Queen’s initial #1 hit is also on The Game, although it was released nearly a year earlier. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was written by Mercury as a tribute to the late Elvis Presley. This is also one of the few tracks in the Queen catalog where Mercury plays guitar, as he claimed he composed it in just ten minutes while strumming the few chords that he knew. This all worked out, as a rockabilly track with great style, rich harmonies, and a potent bass line and guitar riffing. Preceding the hit track in the album’s sequence is Deacon’s very pop-oriented “Need Your Loving Tonight”, a bright and light tune driven by melody and produced with a much different approach than the more up-front and focused tracks on the album.

Queen

The second side commences with “Rock It (Prime Jive)”, written by Taylor. This song is in two distinct parts, with Mercury crooning during the long intro and Taylor taking over during the new-wave influenced body of the song. While the song really doesn’t go anywhere from here, it is still intense and interesting enough in its upbeat approach. “Don’t Try Suicide” is a song that’s hard to peg. It does have some very cool sonic motifs throughout, but it is so extremely corny in its PSA-style message that it almost sounds like it should have reserved for a non-album project;

Don’t do it, Don’t do it, Don’t-do it, Don’t put your neck on the line, Don’t drown on me babe, Blow your brains out, don’t do that – yeah…

The album’s final three tracks were each recorded during the 1979 sessions. “Sail Away Sweet Sister” is a fine tune by May where the guitarist takes lead vocals and performs his most potent, harmonized guitar lead on the album. This song also features English folk elements and more great harmonies and production. Taylor’s, “Coming Soon” , is percussion driven with a stylistic blend somewhere between ELO and Cheap Trick, along with some heavy new wave elements to top it off. The album concludes with May’s “Save Me”, which starts as a sad song of lament but soon launches into a dynamic theatrical piece. While Mercury is back on lead vocals, May played most of the instruments on the track including acoustic and electric guitars, piano and synthesizer. While not a big hit in the US, this album closer peaked at #11 on the UK Singles chart.

The Game was a true worldwide hit, reaching the Top Ten on charts in eleven different nations and achieving Gold or Platinum status in all major pop music markets. Queen and producer Reinhold Mack were also nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards in 1981, another measure of peak success for Queen.

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

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Permanent Waves by Rush

Permanent Waves by Rush

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Permanent Waves by RushOn the very first day of the new decade, Rush launched an evolved sound for the 1980s with Permanent Waves, their seventh studio album. The group approached this album differently than previous efforts by designating specific time and space to compose and rehearse. The result is a strong collection of songs more succinct than those on the group’s most recent efforts, such as 1977’s A Farewell to Kings and 1978’s Hemispheres, which were among Rush’s most progressive-oriented releases. While Permanent Waves maintained some of the core elements and rudiments of previous work, the group now ventured into fairly uncharted rock sub-genres such as new wave and reggae.

Both of those previously listed Rush albums were recorded in South Wales during the summers of their respective years of release. After Hemispheres was released in October 1978, the group went on an extensive eight-month tour into mid 1979. They decided to take some time off for the first time in several years to recoup and plan their next album. According to lyricist and drummer Neil Peart, this was the first time they had ever taken time off prior to recording an album and the group retreated to a farmhouse on the Georgian Bay in Northern Ontario. Later, the group also performed some of the tracks from Permanent Waves (primarily the three from ‘Side A’) live in late 1979, prior to the album’s release.

In fact, the album’s tracks were pretty much completed in the same sequence as they appear on the final product. When Rush moved into Le Studio in Quebec in the Autumn of 1979, they had nearly a full album’s worth of material, including an extensive, medieval-inspired track called “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” However, the group decided this was too “out of place” and the song was eventually discarded with short sections appearing elsewhere. The album was produced Terry Brown, who had worked with Rush on each of their previous five albums (and would also do so on two future albums). The album’s title was coined by Peart when discussing “cultural waves” with vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee and exclaiming that “a big album was like a permanent wave”.


Permanent Waves by Rush
Released: January 1, 1980 (Mercury)
Produced by: Rush & Terry Brown
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, September-October 1979
Side One Side Two
The Spirit of Radio
Freewill
Jacob’s Ladder
Entre Nous
Different Strings
Natural Science
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synths
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion

Permanent Waves launches with the wild fingerboard action of guitarist Alex Lifeson, introducing the exciting and unique opener “The Spirit of Radio”. Inspired by the slogan of a local Toronto rock radio station, the song transcends into a pure celebration of music, showcasing a perfect blend of Rush past and present. Funky rudiments lead to the main riff, which bookmark the accessible verse sections where Lifeson’s guitars ring out like a chorus of triumphant bells across a landscape. The track also uses effects and hard production untypical of any previous Rush track, such as the inclusion of steel drums by guest percussionist Erwig Chuapchuaduah, an atypical but fantastic method that introduces the Rush of a new decade.

As fine as the opener is, “Freewill” is the best song on the album. Lyrically superb as Peart’s words are dripping with wisdom and philosophy, Lifeson’s guitar strikes the perfect balance between a ring and a crunch while remaining cool and even throughout. The bass led mid-section is the real highlight that puts this song over the top, with perfect timings and a potent jam as good as any of the group’s historic instrumental flourishes. Like on much of the album, Lee’s voice is reserved, direct, and sung at a lower register than on previous albums. However, during the final verse Lee lets loose the highest part of his vocal range for a dynamic climax to the song. “Jacob’s Ladder” comes in with a pure march joined by all three members, and only employs one single verse before a fine instrumental section is kicked off. Led by Lifeson’s harmonized guitar leads, the song goes from here through the final five minutes or so on a soundscape of morphing textures. From hard rock jam to synth ensemble to repetitive rudimentary pattern which builds in intensity until reaching the songs climatic outro. There is so little spoken word on this extended track that it is almost although the musical and sonic motifs speak to the listener.

Rush in 1980

Like the first side closer, the album’s final track, “Natural Science” is an extended track in the spirit of earlier Rush material. This final track was the only one fully constructed in the studio, composed after the band discarded the intended “Green Knight” epic. Peart locked himself in a cabin near Le Studio for three days to come up with the new lyrical concept, which explores the autonomous societies that emerge and decline in tidal pools. Musically, the track starts with a calm, strummed acoustic section with heavy natural reverb on Lee’s vocals along with water sound effects recorded by Lifeson and Peart in a row boat. The song soon launches into an exciting rock part with wild vocals by Lee and tremendous drumming by Peart (but, what else is new?). Late in the song comes the “lesson” lyric from the professor;

Wave after wave will flow with the tide and bury the world as it does, Tide after tide will flow and recede, leaving life to go on as it was…”

While it was written prior to entering the studio, “Different Strings” was reserved for production in order to embellish some sonic qualities and add some piano by artistic collaboratoe Hugh Syme. The interesting “Entre Nous” is about as close to pop/rock as Rush will ever get. With a theme of relationships, the track starts with a rotating electric guitar by Lifeson and a heavy synth by Lee. The verse is pure hard rock with a direct and choppy riff along with a direct beat by Peart. The choruses introduce a quasi-folk element with an acoustic guitar and the refrain of “just between us”, which technically translates to the song’s title.

Permanent Waves became Rush’s highest charting album to date, reaching #4 in the US. This also began a string of releases through the early eighties which continued the band’s commercial success as the rock trio continued to evolve their sound and compositional approach.

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

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The River by Bruce Springsteen

The River by Bruce Springsteen

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The River by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s fifth studio album, The River, is a massive album in both length and scope. Released in late 1980, this double album includes tracks that originated during the early years of Springsteen’s career as well as a plethora of new material drawn from recent projects and recent tours. Some consider The River to be the closing act of a three album “trilogy”, starting with Born to Run in 1975 and moving through Darkness at the Edge of Town in 1978, as each of these follow Springsteen’s mythical characters during crucial periods of their lives.

This album was originally intended as a single album with the working title “The Ties That Bind”, intended to be released in late 1979. However, the composition of the title song, motivated Springsteen to add darker, folk-influenced material and compile a more sweeping collection of songs of diverse genres. In all the album’s recording took about 18 months with Jon Landau and Steven Van Zandt joining Springsteen as co-producers. Sonically, the album aimed for a cinematic-style “live” sound through most of the tracks. Lyrically, the songs range from hope to disillusionment, from the point of view of individuals to that of outside storytellers. As Springsteen stated at the time;

I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them…”

Much like with the previous album where he penned nearly eighty songs, Springsteen composed all the tracks and was very prolific in writing for this album. While The River contains a healthy twenty tracks, even more than that were excluded from the album. A handful of these, such as “Be True”, “Held Up Without a Gun”, and “Roulette” were issued as B-sides of singles, while a few tracks were given to other artists, such as Gary U.S. Bonds and Warren Zevon, to record. Several others landed on future Springsteen box sets, with several more yet to be released.


The River by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 17, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, & Steven Van Zandt
Recorded: The Power Station, New York, March 1979–August 1980
Side One Side Two
The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out In the Street
Crush On You
You Can Look
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Side Three Side Four
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
Ramrod
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck On the Highway
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Percussion
Steven Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Danny Federici – Organ, Glockenspiel
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with “The Ties That Bind”, which was originally slated as the title song. It has a jangly kind of sound which would be reverberated through the eighties and beyond, but the group still seems too force it just a bit to find an accessible hook. In all, Clarence Clemons‘s sax solo is the best part of this open track. On “Sherry Darling”, the producers added some “fake” live elements which really aren’t needed because this track is quite catchy enough on its own. Here, Springsteen’s lead vocals seem to mimic Elvis Costello while the backing vocals are meant to mimic a live barroom, right down to the point where they are slightly off-time and slightly off-key. While still upbeat and catchy, “Jackson Cage” seems to have a richer and more profound meaning than the preceding songs, once again displaying Springsteen’s commitment to directness and honesty in popular music. “Two Hearts” is driven by the rapid-fire drums of Max Weinberg, backing the multi-level lyrics;

I was living in a world of childish dreams, someday these childish dreams must end, to become a man and grow up to dream again…

The first side closes with “Independence Day” which is introduced by a calm acoustic and high whistle organ from Danny Federici. This father-and-son character sketch, where the son concludes that they will never agree and thus declares his “independence” unilaterally. This first side closer was, essentially a rewrite of “Adam Raised a Cain” on Darkness At the Edge of Town.

Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen“Hungry Heart” adds an instant charge to the album, as Springsteen’s vocal seem much brighter than normal, matching the overall vibe of this catchy track. Led by the piano riffing of Roy Bittan throughout with great contributions by everyone else, like Clemens’s low sax bass notes, Federici’s choppy organ lead, and the rich vocal choruses backing up Springsteen. The song’s title was drawn from a line in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” and the song was written at the request of Joey Ramone, with the intent to be recorded by The Ramones. However, Landau convinced Springsteen to keep it for himself and it went on to become his first Top Ten hit.

“Out In the Street” follows as another great, catchy tune led by Bittan’s piano. here, the arrangement is spectacular, maximizing the best elements of the E Street Band. This catchy number has some elements of sixties pop with contemporary sound that became timeless. The album unfortunately drops off a bit with the pure filler “Crush On You” and “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”, with the latter at least using some slightly satirical lyrics to make it a bit more entertaining. “I Wanna Marry You” is weak lyrically but has a great vibe musically with just a hint of Caribbean vibe led by the bass pattern by Garry Tallent . The album’s title song closes the second side as the first true folk/Americana track in the sequence. The lyrics closely resemble the story of Springsteen’s own sister and brother-in-law and is cited as the source inspiration for future 1980s heartland rock.

Then I got Mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote, and for my 19th birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat…”

The jazzy “Point Blank” contains some great sonic textures on piano, guitar and bass. The theme works hand-in-hand with the title song and Springsteen gets really intense vocally and lyrically through last verse, before a long fade out to complete this six-minute tune. “Cadillac Ranch” is an upbeat jam backed by a cool, rockabilly guitar which is mocked by the vocal melody. Named after the makeshift automobile monument in Amarillo, Texas, the theme here is similar to the youthful missions on earlier Springsteen albums. “I’m a Rocker” has all the elements of a top-notch pop/rock song, with a choppy drum pattern by Weinberg, a good hook, and a cool call and response. Still, the track lacks something production-wise which keeps it from reaching its full potential.

The second song released from the album, “Fade Away” is pleasant and solid throughout. Great vocals and melody by Springsteen lead the fine musical blend of acoustic guitar, organ, and steady, seventies style bass. This desperate love song is a true classic which Van Zandt cited as one his all-time favorites. “Stolen Car” uses more texture than substance to achieve the dark mood, with plucked piano, distant drums with heavy reverb, and an almost church-like organ.

E Street Band

The final side begins with “Ramrod”, an organ/synth led rocker with a growling sax lead by Clemens. While the song is entertaining enough, it doesn’t really go anywhere. “The Price You Pay” is a moderate ballad with a steady beat and dry vocals which tend to get monotonous vocally and lyrically. However, this track remains strong musically, especially with Bittan’s piano and the slight harmonica by Springsteen. The epic length “Drive All Night” starts with simple, heartbeat like bass by Tallent and moves along at a crawl, only to be salvaged by Clemens’ fine solo and Springsteen’s exceptional, passionate singing. This song works in concert with the closing “Wreck On the Highway”, a bright, almost Country ballad with a steady beat. The relaxed feel and vibe of the music betray the grim lyrics of death on this song, closing the album with the dark feel which would be picked up on Springsteen’s next solo album, Nebraska.

The River was Springsteen’s first number one album and was followed by a lengthy tour through 1980 and 1981. Springsteen called this album a “gateway” to a lot of his future writing, with Nebraska and Tunnel of Love directly picking up on stories and themes that originate on The River.

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

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Departure by Journey

Departure by Journey

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Departure by JourneyJourney continued their climb to rock superstardom with 1980’s Departure, the group’s highest charting studio album of the six with founding keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rolie. This album contains a diverse group of styles and themes within classic rock and its many sub-genres, and it also explores many areas sonically. Most pointedly, Departure is a transitional album for the group, as it perfectly balances elements from their recent and further past with previews of what’s to come for Journey.

Following the band’s 1978 album Infinity, drummer Aynsley Dunbar was replaced by accomplished jazz drummer Steve Smith. In 1979, the group recorded the LP Evolution, which included the group’s first Top 20 single, but was less than satisfying for the band production-wise.

Former engineers Geoff Workman and Kevin Elson stepped up to assume producer duties on Departure. The band was well-stocked entering the studio, with nearly twenty new songs composed. Ultimately, they recorded a dozen songs for this album with a few excess tracks saved for other projects. These included the track “Little Girl”, which landed on the future soundtrack Dream, After Dream and the excellent song “Natural Thing”, a soulful rock/waltz co-written by bassist Ross Valory. Armed with all this compositional ammunition, the group was set to record most of the material live in the studio, which gave it and edge compared to the more refined work they did both before and after this record.


Departure by Journey
Released: March 23, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Geoff Workman & Kevin Elson
Recorded: The Automatt, San Francisco, November, 1979
Side One Side Two
Anyway You Want It
Walks Like a Lady
Someday Soon
People and Places
Precious Time
Where Were You
I’m Cryin’
Line of Fire
Departure
Good Morning Girl
Stay Awhile
Homemade Love
Group Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Gregg Rolie – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with its most popular and sustaining track, “Any Way You Want It”. The song was written by lead vocalist Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon and it peaked at #23 on the Billboard pop charts. More importantly, this opening track sets the pace for this album where Perry and Schon shine brightest throughout. Schon achieves this hard rock bliss through his potent and perfected rock riffs with melodic distortion, while Perry’s vocals use heavy reverb to add to the majesty. While the opener exists mainly in the stratosphere, “Walks Like a Lady” comes back to ground level while being just as entertaining. On this track, all five members of the band shine equally, from the skip-along bass of Valory to the fine drum shuffle by Smith, to the deep Hammond B3 chords by Rolie, to multiple bluesy riffs by Schon, to the fantastic melodies by Perry.

“Someday Soon” is the first of two rock duets, with Rolie and Perry trading vocal lines throughout this one. The mesmerizing rhythm carries song along at a steady pace and, after Schon’s first true guitar lead of the album, the song enters into a strong, majestic outro, led by a rich vocal chorus and more intense rock elements. “People and Places” is the closest to a prog rock track on the album, especially with the multiple voices in the intro cascade. On this second duet, Rolie takes the lead during the intense verses while Perry handles the uplifting choruses. The song has an English folk feel through its first half but then evolves into a theatrical hard rock track, closing with Rolie’s distant Hammond fading away. Filled with so many great little sound riffs, “Precious Time” starts with just Schon’s rapidly strummed electric guitar accompanying Perry’s fast-paced melodies until Rolie joins in with an impressive blues harmonica through the second verse. Eventually, the rhythm section comes in to make it a more steady hard rock song, ending with a decent blues jam led by the harmonica once again.

Journey in 1980The album’s second side commences with, perhaps, the lone weak spot on the album. “Where Were You” is a straight-forward rocker with standard riff and rhythm and the slightest hint of a boogie piano between the phrases. “I’m Cryin'” is more interesting as a dark, dramatic, and bluesy tune where Schon’s heavy guitar chops are laid on top of the moderate musical backing led by Rollie, who co-wrote the track. This song also gives Perry plenty of room for dynamics, especially at the tail end of the bridge and the very end of the song. Perry wrote all the lyrics for the album, which are somewhat weak throughout, but pleasant enough to the ear to due his fantastic vocal ability and range. “Line of Fire” is an explosive and upbeat blues rocker but seems to lack the rhythmic thump needed to carry this song properly, save for the recorded shotgun blast, captured by Workman to precede the final verse.

The short title piece begins the final progression of the album. Schon’s “Departure” is not really a true track, just some harmonics above seemingly random soundscapes. The next two short but satisfying ballads preview a vital aspect of Journey’s albums in the near future. “Good Morning Girl” is led by Schon’s finger-picked electric accompanied by a smooth Mellotron with differing strings and Perry’s melodic vocals. A very simple structure, with just verses at different rotating keys. “Stay Awhile” is like an old fashioned rock slow dance, but this one is almost completely led by the fine vocal melodies of Perry. The album closer, “Homemade Love”, contains an interesting off-beat by Smith with Perry’s nearly-scat vocals and Schon reserving one of his finest guitar leads for the album’s conclusion.

Departure went triple-platinum in sales and Journey rode this success with a major tour. This tour spawned the follow-up live album Captured, which was another major success for the group later in 1980. However, Rolie had become tired of life on the road and decided to leave the band and pursue solo projects.

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

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1979 Album of the Year

Breakfast In America
by Supertramp

1979 Album of the Year

Buy Breakfast In America

Breakfast In America by SupertrampBreakfast In America is, at once, an artistic statement and a pure pop record. This sixth overall album by Supertramp was composed and recorded after the British group relocated to Los Angeles. Much like their three previous albums, the songs on Breakfast In America were split between founding members Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, who have contrasting musical and vocal styles but have a knack for blending these styles into interesting and cohesive albums. Here, the chemistry and talent reaches an apex and the result is Supertramp’s best selling, most critically acclaimed and highest charting album, as well as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1979.

While Supertramp started as a purely progressive rock act in 1970, their mid seventies albums started to inch towards more pop/rock song craft. Released in early 1977, Even In the Quietest Moments, which contained the group’s first worldwide Top 40 hit “Give a Little Bit”. After that album’s release, the band decided to permanently relocate to America’s west coast and each member found fresh influence in the prolific pop music culture which was booming in late seventies Los Angeles.

Prior to the extended recording sessions, the group recorded a couple of demo sessions to sort out the best material. Originally, Davies and Hogdson were planning on doing a concept album, which would examine their conflicting personalities and world views called “Hello Stranger”. However, the group eventually decided on abandoning this concept and focusing more on the songs they considered more fun to perform. In this light, the album’s title was changed to reflect the bouncy, upbeat song introduced by Hodgson. Along with producer Peter Henderson, the group forged a fantastic sound for the album by focusing more on capture and performance than mixing and mastering techniques. This process took months and was only completed when the December 1978 deadline arrived.


Breakfast in America by Supertramp
Released: March 29, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Peter Henderson & Supertramp
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, May–December 1978
Side One Side Two
Gone Hollywood
The Logical Song
Goodbye Stranger
Breakfast In America
Oh Darling
Take the Long Way Home
Lord Is It Mine
Just Another Nervous Wreck
Casual Conversations
Child of Vision
Group Musicians
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Helliwell – Woodwinds, Reeds, Keyboards, Vocals
Dougie Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

Breakfast in America is bookended by two dramatic and theatrical extended tracks which give a sense of the group’s earlier work. “Gone Hollywood” starts with long fade of carnival-like piano before strongly breaking in as a duet of Davies and Hodgson harmonized vocals. After two short verses, a long middle section starts with a subtle but haunting saxophone lead by John Helliwell before Davies takes over lead vocals and tension slowly builds with rhythmic accents of the consistent piano arpeggio. After a climatic Hodson-led section, the song returns to a final verse and concludes with an optimistic musical outro.

“The Logical Song” is a brilliant song lyrically, melodically, and especially musically by Hodgson. The album’s first single, the song reached the Top 10 is several countries and became the group’s most successful hit. The song is highlighted by the later progressions, including the brighter piano notes under Helliwell’s first sax lead and the outro led by the bass riff of Dougie Thompson under the second sax solo. Lyrically, Hodgson critiques the structured education system and society’s unbalanced focus on true knowledge. The dynamics of the Wurlitzer piano are on full display during “Goodbye Stranger”, Davies’ ode to rock groupies. Beyond anything else, this song has exceptionally great sonic aesthetics with some cool guitar textures by Hodgson, including a cool rock outro with a refined guitar lead.

Supertramp in 1979

The album’s title song was written by Hodgson while still a teen in the late sixties. “Breakfast in America” is almost frivolous in subject matter, but quite powerful musically with an interesting, English band march beneath the contemporary rock vocals. The song was a hit in the UK but failed to chart in the States. The side one close “Oh Darling” is an unheralded romantic ballad where Davies uses expert chord progressions and diminishment to perfectly set the beautifully melancholy mood. Hodgson makes his own significant contributions, starting textured electric guitar riffs and acoustic accents to compliment the Wurli piano and vocals perfectly, and climaxing with the closing vocal duet that builds to a crescendo before nicely fading out.

Take the Long Way Home singleThe second side starts with the album’s most philosophical track. The lyrics of “Take the Long Way Home” may be about “stepping out” or growing old or re-examining your life or a combination of these. Hodgson again finds a fine melody to accompany the piano progressions, which dominate the verses and choruses and are accented perfectly by Thomson’s bass. During the bridge, there is an exciting tradeoff between the tenor saxophone and Davies’s bluesy harmonica and during the haunting final descent the song slowly marches away into an echoed darkness, completing the overall effect. “Lord Is It Mine” follows as a sweet and sad piano ballad by Hodgson, who uses his highest falsetto voice to carry the tune with minimal arrangement above the guiding piano. Later, there is a nice clarinet lead by Helliman leading to a climatic final section. Lyrically, the track contains nice little motifs such as,

“You know I get so weary from the battles in this life and there’s many times it seems that you’re the only hope in sight…”

Next come a couple of tracks by Davies. “Just Another Nervous Wreck” is a building pop/rock song about the struggle of the everyman. It starts with an animated electric piano and vocals and builds with many traditional rock elements including a fine harmonized guitar lead and chorus vocals, before the strong, climatic outro with Davies’s vocals becoming ever more desperate and strained. “Casual Conversations” takes the opposite approach to the previous track, as a short, jazzy, mellow tune. Cool piano carries this along, with not much movement elsewhere, just a guide cymbal beat by drummer Bob Siebenberg. “Child of Vision” closes things out as a seven-plus minute track with an epic feel. Employing some newer musical styles and elements, the track is Helliwell’s only partial songwriting credit on the album and it ends with a long piano solo with a improvised feel. This ending, unfortunately, seems mainly there to take up some time and “run out the clock”, which makes for a less than satisfying conclusion to this otherwise flawless album.

Breakfast in America won two Grammy Awards in 1980, and topped the album charts in several countries, including France where it became the biggest-selling English language album of all time. The group followed the album with a 120-date world tour which broke concert attendance records in Europe and Canada. In 1980, the band released the double live album Paris, another huge success worldwide. The group did not follow up Breakfast in America with another studio release until Famous Last Words was released in late 1982, nearly four years later. Although that album was a commercial success, the subsequent tour led to Hodgson’s departure from the group, breaking up the classic lineup of Supertramp.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Damn the Torpedoes by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersThe major label breakthrough by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the 1979 release Damn the Torpedoes, scored both commercial success and critical acclaim. This was accomplished in spite of the fact that there were some legal issues surrounding Petty’s new contract with MCA over the publishing rights to the songs he wrote. Once the album was released, it rose to #2 on the American album charts where it remained for several weeks.

In the early 1970s, Tom Petty started a rock band known as Mudcrutch in his hometown Gainesville, Florida along with future Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. After the group migrated to Southern California, they decided to split in separate ways as Petty initiated a solo career and Tench formed his own group with bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Petty heard this group and instantly took to their sound and eventually this new group, along with Campbell, became the “Heartbreakers”, backing up Petty on his “solo” endeavors. The group released an eponymous debut album in 1976, the 1978 follow-up You’re Gonna Get It!, which had some commercial success.

Not long after the release of the second album, the group’s independent label was sold to MCA Records and Petty soon struggled to free himself from the publishing aspects by sending himself into bankruptcy. After all was settled and Petty retained his publishing rights, the group was committed to work on this third album in a short time. They worked with producer Jimmy Iovine and chose an album title that references a famous quote by Admiral David Farragut.


Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: October 19, 1979 (MCA)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine & Tom Petty
Recorded: Sound City & Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Refugee
Here Comes My Girl
Even the Losers
Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)
Century City
Don’t Do Me Like That
You Tell Me
What Are You Doin’ in My Life
Louisiana Rain
Group Musicians
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards, Accordion
Benmont Trench – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Blair – Bass
Stan Lynch – Drums, Vocals

Petty composed most of the music on this album independently, with the only exceptions being the first two tracks which were co-written by Petty and Campbell. “Refugee” provides a potent and dramatic start to the album with plenty of atmosphere forged by the keys, guitar, and Petty’s voice, all of which are unique but catchy and strong. The lead section seems like a bit of unorganized chaos which somehow all comes together to help build the intensity and made this song a Top 20 hit in the early 1980. “Here Comes My Girl” is another upbeat and atmospheric song, this time with the simple rock beat of Lynch in conflict to Campbell’s seemingly slow and disjointed guitar pattern, but it all jives beautifully nonetheless. Petty barks out the first couple of lines in each verse in a quasi-rap while hitting melodic harmony during the chorus hook resulting in ear candy bliss.

The bright and jangly opening riff of “Even the Losers” leads to a classic Petty melody in this third pop/rock classic to start off Damn the Torpedoes. Here Campbell’s lead uses some classic rock technique, while the subsequent bridge features some deep Hammond organ by Tench beneath more rapidly delivered vocals. Lyrically, the theme looks for optimism and wisdom in the face of adversity and is analogous to a band’s struggle to find recognition. The first less than excellent track on the album, “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” is a slightly upbeat “lover’s lament” tune which lacks the succinct delivery of much of the rest of the album’s material. The side one closer “Century City” is more of a pure rocker where Petty’s vocals are slightly strained in excited energy.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The second side kicks off with the indelible “Don’t Do Me Like That” which was composed years earlier by Petty when he was in the group Mudcrutch. You won’t find a more straight-forward, hard rocker (and this album is full of these) with it’s slow, choppy guitar riff complemented by a fast rocking piano throughout and simple, catchy hook. The first single from the album, it went on to become the band’s first Top 10 hit. The remainder of side two tilts more towards blues/rock. “You Tell Me” has an almost funk approach with the music being guided by a pointed bass riff of guest Donald “Duck” Dunn. “What Are You Doin’ in My Life” features a cool slide guitar and some honky-tonk piano, while “Louisiana Rain” closes things up at a more moderate and moody pace with heavy Southern rock influence.

Damn the Torpedoes was a Top 5 album in the US and Canada and has sold over four million copies worldwide. It also sparked Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers success throughout the 1980s and beyond.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Madman Across the Water by Elton John

Madman Across the Water
by Elton John

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Madman Across the Water by Elton JohnMadman Across the Water was the fourth studio album by Elton John and his sixth overall album released within a span of just 29 months. The album is filled with songs that highlight John’s mellow and melodic music with Bernie Taupin‘s theatrical lyrical themes, making it a rather unique offering. Most of these tracks are over five minutes in length and filled with complex and deep arrangements, which gives the record a progressive-like feel and has kept this music viable and fresh four decades after its creation.

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton John started performing piano standards in pubs by the age fifteen and soon joined an R&B backing group called Bluesology, which often backed popular American soul acts while touring England. He later adopted his stage name as a tribute to fellow Bluesology members Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. John was later a profession session man who played on tracks recorded by artists ranging from The Hollies to Roger Hodgson and also began composing songs with Taupin for other artists. After a low-selling 1969 debut album, John reached international prominence in 1970, starting with his self-titled second release and the Top Ten hit “Your Song”. This was followed later in the year by Tumbleweed Connection, an American West inspired concept album which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Elton John next toured America and recorded the live album 11–17–70 in New York City on that date.  The prolific output of John and Taupin continued in early 1971 when they composed and recorded the soundtrack to the film Friends.

Like those four previous releases, Madman Across the Water was produced by Gus Dudgeon. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios over several sessions throughout 1971 and included a rich array of session musicians along with the fine string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, which helped forge a rich and theatrical vibe for this album.


Madman Across the Water by Elton John
Released: November 5, 1971 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, February-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
Tiny Dancer
Levon
Razor Face
Madman Across the Water
Indian Sunset
Holiday Inn
Rotten Peaches
All the Nasties
Goodbye
Primary Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano
Caleb Quaye – Guitars
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Mandolin, Sitar
Roger Pope – Drums

Unlike Tumbleweed Connection, this is not quite a theme album although it does provide an account of Elton John’s experiences in America. This is most prominent on “Tiny Dancer”, the album opener, which is also its finest song and a true classic. As reflected through this whole album, John’s music and melody are top notch while Taupin’s lyrics are a little less than so. Everything about the musical arrangement is perfectly placed from the bass lines and ever-intensifying rhythms to the strings to the steel guitar by session man B.J. Cole and, of course, John’s piano which subtly finds its way through the complex chord progressions. Even though the second verse is verbatim lyrically to the first, the arrangement and performance is varied enough to make it completely distinct.

Led by John’s vocal melodies, “Levon” beautifully builds throughout. Here, Taupin’s obscure lyrics are much more thought provoking and work better overall with the rich song craft. A fine acoustic accompanies the piano of the first verse while Brian Odgers‘s funky bass line is accompanied by a cool honky-tonk piano during the second verse. Topping it all off are the orchestral strings, which are much more up front and assert their presence more here than anywhere else on the album. The long coda contains a blend of many of these styles executed in harmony, a real tribute to Dudgeon’s production style. “Razor Face” has a great chord progression with the verse combination of piano and high-pitched organ by Yes’s virtuoso keyboardist Rick Wakeman. John’s vocals hit the higher registers nicely, spouting lyrics which are not great but effective enough to make this interesting and entertaining. The dark and dramatic title track is unlike many others in the Elton John collection, as this relies more on texture and effect than musical composition. It is musically built more on acoustic guitar than piano with the orchestral strings again being well asserted. The song nearly fades out in the middle, but slowly comes back for one final verse where the lyrics speak of paranoia and self-destruction;

“The ground’s a long way down but I need more, Is the nightmare black or are the windows painted?”

Side two of the album is far less memorable than the first and many of the songs feature backing musicians more prominently than John himself. “Indian Sunset” contains evocative and a capella vocals up front, but is less than stellar in achieving its intended theatrics. “Holiday Inn” is a folk waltz with exquisite vocal arrangements but is really a centerpiece for Davey Johnstone on mandolin and acoustic guitar. “Rotten Peaches” and “All the Nasties” are both slightly Gospel influenced, with the former feature high bass note progressions by Dee Murray and the latter including the Cantores em Ecclesia Choir. The album ends somberly, with the short and aptly titled “Goodbye”.

Upon its release, Madman Across the Water was thought to be a flop, as it failed to reach the Top 40 in John’s home country of England. Through the years, however, it did become a multi-Platinum success and has found increasing critical acclaim. Starting with Elton John’s next release, Honky Château in 1972, he would employ a more permanent backing group for both recording and touring and enter into the most successful phase of his career.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown Rats

The Fine Art of Surfacing
by The Boomtown Rats

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The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown RatsThe Boomtown Rats third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, was the commercial apex of the band’s short career. Musically, the group branched out from their punk rock roots towards many styles in the new wave realm. Lyrically, the music was influenced by group leader Bob Geldof‘s travels in the United States prior to the album’s production. Still, this album by the Irish group did much better in the UK, where it broke into the Top 10, than it did in the US, where it failed to reach the Top 100 on the album charts.

The group got its name from a gang of children in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory and were signed by Ensign Records shortly after relocating to London in 1976. A Top 40 hit, “Lookin’ After No. 1” predated the band’s self-titled 1977 debut album. The Boomtown Rats follow-up album, 1978’s A Tonic For the Troops, was an even greater success, spawning three more hit singles including the number one hit “Rat Trap”.

Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Phil Wainman, The Fine Art of Surfacing was recorded in Holland in late 1978. Beyond the album’s ten tracks, there were two short hidden tracks and three more B-sides recorded during the sessions. While the album’s themes are serious, there is a lighter and somewhat humorous approach to the songwriting, giving the overall vibe an entertaining depth.


The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown Rats
Released: October 9, 1979 (Columbia)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange & Phil Wainman
Recorded: Phonogram Studios, Hilversum, Holland, 1978
Side One Side Two
Someone’s Looking at You
Diamond Smiles
Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)
Having My Picture Taken
Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)
I Don’t Like Mondays
Nothing Happened Today
Keep It Up
Nice N Neat
When the Night Comes
Group Musicians
Bob Geldof – Lead Vocals, Saxophone
Gerry Cott – Guitars
Garry Roberts – Guitars, Vocals
Johnnie Fingers – Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Briquette – Bass, Vocals
Simon Crowe – Drums, Vocals

A calm strummed acoustic and sustained organ introduces the album opener “Someone’s Looking at You” before the song breaks in with a solid, rock arrangement. This track has a theatrical Kinks-style influence and the song reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart in early 1980. Another pop single, “Diamond Smiles” comes close to being a decent new wave pop rock song but it does lack a bit on the melodic side. A highlight from this track is the great outro which contains some orchestral elements.
“Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)” is led by the piano of Johnnie Fingers and is filled with great little musical and effect motifs, melodic vocals, strong guitars, and just enough synth effects to make it a very interesting track.

The odd but entertaining “Having My Picture Taken” was co-written by bassist Pete Briquette and is filled with reggae elements. Fingers employs several overdubbed piano and keyboard sections, while Gerry Cott adds a potent rock guitar lead later on the track. Geldof wrote most of the material on The Fine Art of Surfacing with the exception of “Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)”, written (of course) by Johnnie Fingers. The first side wraps with this fine rocker of an insomniac song in the same vein as John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired”. While the lyrics trend a bit towards the frivolous, the musical drive, blended vocals, and great production make this a track an interesting listen.

The Boomtown Rats signature song shows some amazing restraint in its simple arrangement of Fingers’s piano along with just lead and backing vocals. The track, which became the band’s second number one single, was based on the real life shooting spree where a teenage girl fired into a school playground in San Diego, CA, in early 1979, killing two adults and injuring nine others. When asked about her motivation for the shootings, the girl simply replied “I Don’t Like Mondays”. The song was composed less than a month after the incident but Geldof worked hard to obscure the true meaning of the song.

“Nothing Happened Today” is an ironic title of an upbeat rocker which is a sort of an “ode to boredom”. The song contains many electronic effects to build the backing riffs to this mainly vocal-driven tune and breaks into a sort of electric jug band section during the bridge. Co-written by Cott, “Keep It Up” is fun, upbeat, and made of pure pop fluff, led by some nice synth leads while it tries hard to find catchy riffs and hooks. “Nice N Neat” is probably the only track on the album that even hints at the band’s punk roots, albeit a more polished version of punk. There is a brief drum solo section by Simon Crowe and a nice blend of rhythm and lead guitars by Cott and Garry Roberts. “When the Night Comes” blends nice acoustic guitars with synths in the intro and the music is great throughout with a blended sound somewhere between that of classic Springsteen and Thin Lizzy. There is a wild bass line by Briquette up front during the vocals and this complete jam of a song leaves the listener wanting for more as the album concludes.

The success of The Fine Art of Surfacing did not lead to purely harmonious days for the group, as Cott departed from the band in early 1980. The Boomtown Rats put out a handful of quality albums through the early-to-mid eighties before Geldof’s founding of Band Aid and Live Aid brought their profile up again.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

London Calling by The Clash

London Calling by The Clash

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London Calling by The ClashThe Clash advanced light years with their third release London Calling. This 1979 double album explored many sub-genres and showed with no doubt that this band was the most advanced of the punk groups to come out of London in the mid seventies. Through extensive touring and exposure to groups of differing genres, The Clash developed a blend of thoughtful music to combine with their core punk principles, forming a new genre standard which would come to be know as “post punk”. Thematically, the album contains songs that point a critical eye towards the contemporary world, with much of the background and characters based in London. While these themes work well together to make the album cohesive, they don’t form the type of narrative arc which would elevate London Calling into a “concept” album.

 Presley 1956 debut albumThe album’s front cover borrowed it style heavily from Elvis Presley’s self-titled 1956 debut album. The Clash’s versions features a black-and-white photograph of Simonon smashing his bass against the stage at a gig in New York City in September 1979. Many retrospective publications have listed this album cover as one of the top ever and was selected by the British government as one of ten “Classic Album Covers” to be used on Royal Mail postage stamps in 2010.

By the time The Clash was conceived in 1976, veteran London-based guitarist and vocalist John Graham Mellor had permanently adopted his stage name of Joe Strummer. The group was formed when Stummer joined up with two members of the group London SS, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, in order to form a “band that would rival the Sex Pistols”. Just six months after their first live performance, The Clash signed to CBS Records and began working on their debut album, which would be released only in the UK originally. Through these earliest days, the band worked with several drummers (over 200 by Strummer’s count). Finally, Topper Headon came along and the band finally had a permanent drummer. At the request of CBS, the group recorded a more standard, “cleaner”, less spontaneous album with Give ‘Em Enough Rope in 1978. This second album was a tremendous success in the UK but not quite the American breakthrough CBS had hoped.

After recording their second studio album, the band separated from their manager and needed to find another location to compose their music. The band began to work on their third album during the summer of 1979 at a rehearsal space called Vanilla Studios, which was located in the back of a garage. The Clash found a successful formula with Jones composing and arranging the music and Strummer writing the lyrics. By the end of the summer, the band entered Wessex Studios to begin recording London Calling with producer Guy Stevens, who used unconventional methods and fostered a very relaxed atmosphere for the band members. CBS initially denied the double album release, but instead gave permission for the band to include a free 12-inch single (which essentially made it a double album anyway).


London Calling by The Clash
Released: December 14, 1979 (CBS)
Produced by: Guy Stevens & Mick Jones
Recorded: Wessex Sound Studios, London, August–November 1979
Side One Side Two
London Calling
Brand New Cadillac
Jimmy Jazz
Hateful
Rudie Can’t Fail
Spanish Bombs
The Right Profile
Lost In the Supermarket
Clampdown
The Guns of Brixton
Side Three Side Four
Wrong ‘Em Boyo
Death or Glory
Koka Kola
The Card Cheat
Lover’s Rock
Four Horsemen
I’m Not Down
Revolution Rock
Train in Vain
Group Musicians
Joe Strummer – Guitars, Piano, Vocals  |  Mick Jones – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul Simonon – Bass, Vocals  |  Topper Headon – Drums, Percussion

The first of four sides begins “London Calling”, the title song which was originally the most popular track on the album. Musically, the song contains choppy guitars and bass throughout contrasted by the ever-steady drum beat by Headon. Composed by Strummer and Jones, the title was taken from the BBC World Service‘s station identification during World War II and the lyrics concern modern day issues. “Brand New Cadillac” is an updated version of a rock classic original composed in the 1950s by Vince Taylor. The first of three cover songs on London Calling, this recording features distant and spatial sound, giving it a bit of a surreal feel to the otherwise standard roots rocker.

The first of several genre diverse tracks, “Jimmy Jazz” starts with heavily flanged guitar riff that tops off the standard jazz vibe with acoustic guitar, shuffling drums, and an impressive bass pattern by Simonon. This is also the first of plenty of tracks with brass sections and leads by the session group collectively known as the The Irish Horns. “Hateful” is an odd but interesting little track with nice rock grooves, call and response vocals, and differing sub-arrangements throughout the track. Closing out the first side, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is pure rock/reggae, in many ways similar to the previous song, but the weakest overall on the side.

A new wave track with driving and melodic bass over quicky strummed acoustic by Jones and chanting and unrelenting vocals by Strummer starts the second side. Written the Basque terrorist bombings in Spain, “Spanish Bombs” compares this modern day experience with the Spanish Civil War. “The Right Profile” is a choppy, upbeat funk built on bouncy bass riff by Simonon and great brass accents and later saxophone solo by The Irish Horns, making it the best song thus far on the album. “Lost In the Supermarket” features Jones on lead vocals and is built on a great rhythm, which is almost disco with an adult contemporary style vocals and musical melodies. Written about an actual market on the World’s End Estate in London, Strummer wrote this song for Jones when imagining his childhood growing up in a basement with his mother and grandmother, with the cool lyric; “I wasn’t born so much as I fell out…”

Clampdown by The Clash“Clampdown” has the initial feel of a punk epic at first but later morphs into a bit-driven canvas for vocal phrases by Strummer, who cites many situations and locations (including our own hometown of Harrisburg, PA). This track originally began as an instrumental track called “Working and Waiting” but the Strummer decided to add the rapid-fire lyrics about fighting the status quo. “The Guns of Brixton” was a rare Clash track written by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in the Brixton section of London. Simonon also contributes lead vocals to this pure reggae track with some topical sound effects on the guitars and great bass and drums throughout.

The original third side of London Calling may be the strongest overall musically, despite the fact that it begins with the unfocused “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, which starts with a short rendition of the Country/Americana standard “Stagger Lee”. “Death or Glory” returns to standard hard rock with cynical lyrics, a great musical arrangement and performances by the entire band. Written in part as the stereotypical punk fascination of trashing the previous generation of rockers, the song ironically has sweet but strong vocal harmonies and very satisfying chord progressions. “Koka Kola” is the closest to a traditional punk track on the entire album (at least vocally), although musically it is a bit too polished to be a true punk song, as the bass leads the song much more than the guitars. Jones’s “The Card Cheat” is a piano-dominated track, almost in the Billy Joel domain musically (albeit there is a whole different story lyrically). The band executes another excellent and entertaining musical performance, with expert mixture of horns, and rock instruments in production.

The Clash in 1979The album’s final side commences with “Lover’s Rock”, a song which sounds most like a late seventies pop song, although it is a bit risqué lyrically with strong sexual overtones. There is a cool flanged guitar and harmonized vocals up top during the song proper while the long outro takes it all in a bit of a different direction. “Lover’s Rock” advocates safe sex and planning. “Four Horsemen” is more straightforward musically than the previous track as an upbeat rocker built more for lyrical themes by Strummer, while Jones’s, “I’m Not Down”, is primarily a funky track with some rock and disco elements.

The cover of Danny Ray and the Revolutionaries track, “Revolution Rock”, is a fun and entertaining group reggae jam, accented by Strummer’s varying vocal screeds and strained vocals. All in all very interesting, especially the top-notch rhythms by Simonon and Headon, a bouncy organ by session man Mickey Gallagher, and more strong brass presence by The Irish Horns. The double album wraps up with “Train in Vain”, which by today’s standards would be considered a “hidden track” because it was not listed on the original album sleeve. However, this was due more to late decision making on the song rather than a concerted effort to provide an “Easter Egg”. In any case, this track written and sung by Jones would go on to become the most popular track on the album due to its disco-like beat, funky riffs, and loose but melodic vocal lines.

London Calling was originally much more popular in the UK, where it reached the Top 10, than it was in the US. However, the album would eventually sell tenfold the copies in America, where it went platinum and remains a much heralded release in rock history. The Clash followed up with an even more ambitious triple-album release of Sandinista! in late 1980, followed by the fine Combat Rock in 1982, before the band unfortunately imploded in the mid eighties, making these sparse releases ever the more valuable.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Dream Police by Cheap Trick

Dream Police by Cheap Trick

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Dream Police by Cheap TrickCheap Trick concluded their impressive late seventies output with their fourth studio album, Dream Police. This album follows the breakthrough success of the live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was released earlier in 1979 and went triple platinum in the United States. Further, the live singles, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That a Shame”, were both charting hits and helped open up the group to a mainstream audience. With this momentum, Dream Police went on to become the group’s best selling album and the first to reach the Top Ten on the charts in the United States.

Cheap Trick was formed in 1973 in Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973 by guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had been performing locally with various bands since the early sixties. One former band, Fuse, released an album in 1970 and featured bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos, who also became founding members of Cheap Trick. By 1975, the group enlisted Robin Zander on lead vocals and recorded their first demo tapes which led to them signing with Epic Records the following year. In early 1977, the band released their self-titled debut album, followed by In Color later that year and Heaven Tonight in mid 1978. While none of these three albums made the Top 40 in America, they were each critically acclaimed and especially well received in Japan, which propelled the band to tour in that country and record At Budokan, which was originally intended as a Japan-only release.

Tom Werman, the original A&R man who discovered Cheap Trick in 1976, produced In Color, Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police. On this latter album, Werman and the group expanded their sound into more complex songs with richer arrangements, including some synthesized orchestration. These sessions also included several outtakes, which would appear on re-issues of Dream Police. These included several tracks with alternate lead vocals among band members, the song “It Must Be Love” which was later covered by Rick Derringer, and the song “Next Position Please” which became the title track of Cheap Trick’s 1983 album of the same name.


Dream Police by Cheap Trick
Released: September 21, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Dream Police
Way of the World
The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)
Gonna Raise Hell
I’ll Be with You Tonight
Voices
Writing on the Wall
I Know What I Want
Need Your Love
Group Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass. Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

The album is a bit top-heavy, with the best songs on Dream Police being right up front. It begins with Nielsen’s impressive title track, a hyper and exciting rock song, topped off with a persistent synth string section. With a lyrical theme touching on the ultimate stoner paranoia, there is much packed into this less-than-four-minute song making it, ultimately, a satisfying and unique track which reached the Top 40. Co-written by Zander, “Way of the World” is a suitable follow-up to the fantastic title song as another complex and upbeat rocker. Originally composed and recorded under the title, “See Me Now”, Zander and the group employ rich vocal patterns to complement the thick wall of distorted guitars and synths by Nielsen and just enough post-production effects (without over doing it) by Werman.

Like its title suggests, “The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” is a pretty straight-forward rock n’ roll track, with this good-time feel contrasted by the theme of serious real-world issues. Neilsen shines brightest on this track with crisp and excellent guitar riffs along with several well-executed, overdubbed leads, including an extended outro that contains a short, “borrowed” guitar phrase from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. At first, “Gonna Raise Hell” seems like almost a parody of Kiss in its simple rock drive and shouted vocals. Starting with the simplest beat and bass riff by Petersson, the song morphs into a more dance-oriented track, especially during the expanded, textured instrumental which occupies the final third of this nine and a half minute track.

Side Two of Dream Police is filled with songs that show some real promise but seem to ultimately be less-than-developed. The only track on which all four members are credited compositionally, “I’ll Be with You Tonight” is a rock jam which is pleasant enough but contains very little lyrical or musical substance. The pop hit “Voices” starts with sound effects of whispered voices before breaking into a moderate ballad ala George Harrison. Petersson’s bass lines keep everything interesting but Zander’s vocals may be a bit too melodramatic on this single, which reached number 32 in the US.

Cheap Trick“Writing on the Wall” is a fun song musically as an upbeat, pure rocker that moves at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. Nielson provides a fine middle guitar jam over some faux crowd noise and Zander has a nice vocal rant at the end which, unfortunately is faded out a bit too quickly. On “I Know What I Want”, Petersson takes on lead vocal duties in what appears to be a pure attempt at new wave pop that could have been developed into something a little stronger. With the exception of Nielson’s lead guitar, this song overall falls short of the mark. Rounding out the album is “Need Your Love”. A long intro, starting with Carlos’s steady drum beat and the gradual addition of other steady instrumentation layered on top alternates with the thumping counter-melody which finds a nice hard-rock core. Mostly a sonic texture piece, this closing track has a bit of a jam at the end to end the album on a strong note.

A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, and “Can’t Hold On”, a bluesy track performed at Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were “Such A Good Girl” and “Take Me I’m Yours”, which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.

Dream Police spawned Cheap Trick’s arena-headlining 1980 tour and landed them a gig with former Beatles producer George Martin for their follow-up All Shook Up. While not as successful commercially, this album commenced a very prolific and diverse decade for the group.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.