Eldorado by ELO

Eldorado by E.L.O.

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Eldorado by ELOElectric Light Orchestra (ELO) made a huge leap forward with Eldorado, the first complete concept album by the group. Rich melodies with various rock and classical influences made this album highly accessible and well received by mainstream audiences making this ELO’s commercial break through. Composed by vocalist, guitarist, and group leader Jeff Lynne, the tune sequence loosely follows the story of a dreamer trying to escape reality. Along the way there are plenty of mixed metaphors using various classic stories and characters from Robin Hood to William Tell to Lancelot to The Wizard of Oz and, of course, Eldorado.

When formed in 1969, ELO declared its purpose as to “pick up where the Beatles left off with ‘I Am the Walrus’.”. The idea came from Roy Wood, formerly of the band, The Move, who had the idea to form a rock band that would regularly use orchestral instruments. He recruited Lynne from fellow Birmingham group, The Idle Race. The debut ,The Electric Light Orchestra, was released in 1971 but tensions between Wood and Lynne led to Wood’s departure during the recordings for ELO 2, which spawned the group’s first US hit, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. Released in late 1973, On the Third Day, featured the hit single, “Showdown,” and continued the band’s rise in popularity.

On those early albums, Lynne would overdub the strings during recording. However, on Eldorado a 30-piece orchestra and choir was hired, with Louis Clark brought on to arrange and conduct the strings (Clark would later become a full group member). This inclusion limited the group’s three resident string players to a few lead sections on scattered songs. Also during the recording of this album, bassist Ike de Albuquerque quit the group, leaving Lynn to also take on those duties. The inspiration for this ambitious record came from Lynne’s father, a classical music lover.


Eldorado by Electric Light Orchestra
Released: September, 1974 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, February–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Eldorado Overture
Can’t Get It Out of My Head
Boy Blue
Laredo Tornado
Poor Boy (The Greenwood)
Mister Kingdom
Nobody’s Child
Illusions in G Major
Eldorado
Eldorado Finale
Group Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Orchestration
Richard Tandy – Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration
Mik Kaminski – Violin
Mike Edwards   Hugh McDowell – Cellos
Bev Bevan – Drums, Percussion

“Eldorado Overture” commences with a dramatic entrance with haunting synthesizer sounds by Richard Tandy along with a spoken word poetry introduction before it breaks musically into the climatic main theme. Like many of the tracks on the album, the end dissolves directly into the next song. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” is a calm yet desperate melody about the dream of something deeper and more romantic. Very well produced and filled with rock and orchestral motifs and operatic backing vocals, this song would go on to become the first really great song by Electric Light Orchestra as well as the band’s first Top 10 single in the US.

“Boy Blue” is an upbeat rocker with a message, describing the reaction of townspeople to the return of a soldier from conflict. The song is driven by piano and bass during verses and choruses with a break for orchestral flourishes above piano during mid-section. “Laredo Tornado” starts with a heavy, droning rock guitar but soon settles into a moderate, clavichord-driven soul and funk tune that takes its time navigating the first verses. The most seventies sounding cool of any track, the song climaxes during the chorus hooks with Lynne’s high-pitched vocals and has extended outro for some string parts to compliment the opening guitar riff. “Poor Boy (The Greenwood)” returns to upbeat, old time rock n roll, with the song’s finale briefly touching on the main theme to finish the first side.

The second side starts with an electric piano version of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” (albeit uncredited and with alternate lyrics), renamed as “Mister Kingdom”. The song does break into different sections, but not enough to consider it an independent composition. “Nobody’s Child” starts with strong strings, almost a wedding march, which dissolves into a marching piano and cinematic club jazz arrangement. “Illusions in G Major” is a pure fifties rocker, highlighted by a shredding lead guitar during the quickest and most straight-forward song on Eldorado.

The melancholy but beautiful title song “Eldorado” starts with strings playing an almost siren-sounding rotation before it settles into the calm ballad. Lynne’s vocals are most somber and deep with the lyrical vibe being of melancholy resignation and living in dreams with expiration. Late in the song is a pleasant orchestral link to the climatic finale. “Eldorado Final” echos and extends the opening song but with a more furious, driving passage to the finale.

Although Eldorado would not chart in ELO’s home UK until four years later in 1978, it was an instant hit in the US and several other nations. More importantly, the sound forged on this record would set a template for success on future ELO albums.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

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Court and Spark by Joni MitchellCourt and Spark is the sixth album by Joni Mitchell and the first where she moved towards pop and jazz elements to blend with her base folk compositions. The album has been considered by some to be a concept album due to its consistent, recurring themes about love and fleeting relationships. Another underlying theme is Los Angeles and Mitchell’s apparent inability to leave it despite her negative view of the city and its inhabitants. Musically, the new approach worked well and was well-received by audiences as Court and Spark became her best-selling album and lone chart-topper.

Mitchell released her debut album Song to a Seagull in March 1968, followed by the Grammy award winning Clouds in 1969. Subsequent albums Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, and For the Roses were all met with increasing popularity and critical praise through the early years of the seventies. These albums were also the first on which Mitchell also acted as producer.

While recording and producing Court and Spark, Mitchell intentionally made a break with her earlier folk sound. She was backed by the “L.A. Express”, a talented group of musicians led by guitarist Larry Carlton. She would later tour with this group and recorded a series of shows in August 1974 that were used for the future live album Miles of Aisles.


Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
Released: January 1, 1974 (Asylum)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: 1973
Side One Side Two
Court and Spark
Help Me
Free Man in Paris
People’s Parties
Same Situation
Car On a Hill
Down to You
Just Like This Train
Raised on Robbery
Trouble Child
Twisted
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Clavinet
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Tom Scott – Woodwinds & Reeds
Wilton Felder – Bass
John Guerin – Drums & Percussion

While Court and Spark is pretty solid throughout, there is no doubt that it is a bit top-heavy, with the first four tracks being the best on the album. The title track “Court and Spark” contains slow, minor key piano and extra-melodic vocals, with Mitchell’s voice pivoting smoothly through the many differing parts. This song constantly feels like it is about to break out, but instead offers great restraint and ends rather abruptly with strong piano bass notes followed by a single slide guitar note. “Help Me” became Mitchell’s only Top 10 single as a pleasant pop ballad with a deeper musical, lyrical, and melodic connotations and great bass by Wilton Felder. Lyrically, the song talks about finding the balance between commitment and freedom;

“It’s got me hoping for the future and worrying about the past / ‘Cause I’ve seen some hot, hot blazes come down to smoke and ash / We love our lovin’ but not like we love our freedom…”

Written in tribute to Asylum records owner David Geffen, “Free Man in Paris” contains bright and upbeat motifs over the bedding of Mitchell’s driving acoustic and the subtle shuffle beat by drummer John Guerin. Guest José Feliciano adds some Jerry Garcia-like interlude riffs on guitar. “People’s Parties” is a short song built on the strummed 12 string acoustic and recursive vocal melody. This song has no real structure but repeating verses until the “laughing it all away” and the direct fade to the piano ballad “Same Situation”. This builds as it goes along, with tremolo guitar notes and soaring melodies of beautiful sadness.

“Car on a Hill” is a moderate pop/funk song with more excellent exercises on Mitchell’s vocal range and a couple of unique sections where it dissolves into an avant garde section. The Grammy award winning “Down to You” was recognized for its very rich arrangement, which may be a bit much in parts as the song seems to get lost and unsure of itself. The mood picks up with “Just Like This Train”, a bright acoustic track with the variety and vibe of those on the early part of the album and lyrics that use a train and station as allegories for relationships.

Joni Mitchell

“Raised on Robbery” is a straight-forward, true rocker, which was released as the lead single ahead of the album in December 1973. This outright rock tune was emblematic of Mitchell’s new musical direction and features The Band’s Robbie Robertson on lead guitar. “Trouble Child” is another pleasant soft rock track with the slightest tinge of an edge, as it musically has just the slightest elements of jazz, led by the trumpet of Chuck Findley. The album finishes with a cover of the 1952 Annie Ross jazz tune “Twisted”, a half-serious ode to the protagonist’s insanity, which contains some backing skits by the comedy team Cheech & Chong.

Court and Spark received four Grammy nominations as an album and eventually went double platinum. Joni Mitchell continued to migrate towards jazz rock on subsequent fine albums, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and, Hejira, but neither were quite as successful as this one.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Bad Company 1974 debut

Bad Company 1974 debut

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Bad Company 1974 debutOriginally considered a pet project of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and his new label, Swan Song, it took no time for Bad Company to find their own niche in the rock pantheon. The very first album on the label, Bad Company, shot straight to the top of the album charts and has since eclipsed five times platinum, becoming one of the top fifty best selling albums of the seventies along the way. These accomplishments were due to the basic and raw approach to rock and roll, which really struck a chord with mainstream listeners. While hardly visionary, Bad Company‘s sound is distinct, with each of the four players given the space to reach the listener individually and collectively.

The group was founded in 1973 when guitarist Mick Ralphs left Mott the Hoople and joined two former members of the rock band Free, drummer Simon Kirke and vocalist Paul Rodgers. When Grant agreed to manage the band, he brought in King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell to complete the quartet. Rodgers’ fascination with the Jeff Bridges film Bad Company as well as a passage from a book of Victorian morals, gave the band its name.

Produced independently, Bad Company was recorded at the centuries old workhouse, Headley Grange, with a mobile studio in late 1973. This was the same location where much of Led Zeppelin’s third and fourth albums (and some holdover songs for Physical Graffiti) were recorded, and owes to the rich, spatial sound of the album.


Bad Company by Bad Company
Released: June 26, 1974 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Bad Company
Recorded: Headley Grange, East Hampshire, England, November 1973
Side One Side Two
Can’t Get Enough
Rock Steady
Ready for Love
Don’t Let Me Down
Bad Company
The Way I Choose
Movin’ On
Seagull
Group Musicians
Paul Rogers – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Mick Ralphs – Guitars, Keyboards
Boz Burrell – Bass
Simon Kirke – Drums

Mick Ralphs composed “Can’t Get Enough”, which became Bad Company’s highest charting and best selling song. The sound and energy of this album is immediately apparent in the interplay between Ralphs and Kirke on this opener and perhaps no other song that follows better captures the dynamics of Bad Company. “Rock Steady” is more blues-rock flavored and not quite as feverishly catchy as the opener (but it is catchy nonetheless). Here, Rodgers’ vocals are more dynamic and the song builds a bit before it ends a bit too abruptly.

Ralphs brought “Ready for Love” over from Mott the Hoople, as he sang a version of that song himself on the 1972,  All the Young Dudes. This is the first place where the vibe changes to a more somber theme with soulful vocals by Rodgers and a real place for bassist Burrell to shine before the song dissolves nicely in slow rhythms and piano. “Don’t Let Me Down” is a piano ballad with rich backing vocals and a saxophone by guest musicians. The first collaboration between Rodgers and Ralph, the song features steady beats, minimal guitars (until the lead more than half way through), and is designed to drive home the very simple message –

“Don’t let me down, tell me love can be found…”

The second side begins with “Bad Company”, co-written by Kirke, and completing the odd trifecta of song, artist and album sharing the same title. Perhaps the darkest track on the album, “Bad Company” could’ve been influenced by Alice Cooper musically but is much more soulful vocally. The theatrical, piano-driven verses are interrupted masterfully when the full arrangement kicks in during choruses, led by Ralph’s pristine rock guitar. While Rodgers wrote the song, the blending of guitars is what really shines on “The Way I Choose”, with beats like a slow country waltz and some strategic stop/start timing.

Bad Company in 1974

“Movin’ On” comes closest to capturing the rock energy of the opener “Can’t Get Enough”, as a very catchy and accessible rock track. Again, the lyrics and rhythms have much economy but still pack a great punch that is impossible to ignore, and this formula drove the song into the Top 20. “Seagull” is the folk-flavored acoustic closer which maintains a very simple arrangement throughout with only the addition of tambourine half way through. With great vocals, the song seems ready made for a movie soundtrack, but is yet a rather odd way to wrap things up on this album.

Led by Bad Company, Swan Song Records had four albums in the Billboard Top 200 chart less than a year after its launch. This original lineup of the group nearly tracked directly with the lifespan of the label as their final 1982 album Rough Diamonds was the second to last release on the label, which folded in 1983.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

War Child by Jethro Tull

War Child by Jethro Tull

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War Child by Jethro TullJethro Tull made a sharp turn back towards a more traditionally structured album with War Child in 1974. Following two consecutive concept albums that each consisted of single, album-length suites, group leader Ian Anderson decided to focus on richer arrangements within shorter tracks of various rock sub-genres. The seventh studio album by the group in seven years, the album did not fare well among critics, who seemed confused by its non-standard approach. While the album is certainly uneven, it does contain some downright brilliant moments. And it may have contained more had some tracks not been omitted.

“Rainbow Blues” is choppy blues rocker that was later included on, M.U. The Best of Jethro Tull in 1976. “Glory Row” is an even better track, built on an acoustic core with a tremendous array of musical flourishes and textures. This song appeared on Repeat: The Best of Jethro Tull, Vol II in 1977. Other tracks were recorded when War Child was meant to accompany a film of the same name and planned as a double-album set, and many of these would not see the light of day until decades later, but were included as bonus tracks on the 2002 version of the album.

Prominently featured on the album and these bonus tracks are string arrangements by David Palmer, adding another dimension to the already rich arrangements. Palmer used a string quartet of all female players to complement the five men in the group, who composed their final album as a cohesive unit.


War Child by Jethro Tull
Released: October 14, 1974 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Matthew Fisher
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, 1974
Side One Side Two
War Child
Queen and Country
Ladies
Back-Door Angels
Sealion
Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day
Bungle In the Jungle
Only Solitaire
The Third Hoorah
Two Fingers
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Saxophones
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Keyboards, Accordion
Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond – Bass
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

Entering with air raid sound effects and later battle sounds, the title track “War Child” breaks in with a melodic piano and sax intro. The verses are strongly driven by the bass of Jeffrey Hammond with just a few splashes of electric guitar and piano riffs. Anderson’s saxophone takes a large role in this opener, especially with the short but potent lead, and his largely cryptic lyrics use war as an allegory for a bad relationship. “Queen and Country” contains an accordion and contrasting rock riff in a choppy but ever-building song that touches on the over-taxation faced by many British rock n’ roll “tax exiles” in the 1970s (as were Jethro Tull). Martin Barre adds an aggressive, over driven guitar that is the rock and roll glue for a track that may otherwise be in the realm of polka.

“Ladies” is dark acoustic folk, with a more prominent flute than on the previous two tracks, bringing back Jethro Tull’s traditional English folk and classical tendencies. This song later morphs into a driving rock rhythm during the closing fade-out. At first, “Back-Door Angels” seems a bit disjointed and unorganized, but it launches into an impressive jam initiated by the wild sounding synth lead of John Evan. “Sealion” is the most intense and free-form rock song on the first side, with a chorus section being more like a carnival beat. Lyrically a critique of the music industry, this track’s rock arrangement gives drummer Barriemore Barlow a real chance to shine.

Side two is far superior to side one, with the first three tracks actually predating the sessions for War Child. The three were written and recorded in Paris for an album following 1972’s Thick As a Brick, but abandoned when Anderson decided to do another concept album with 1973’s A Passion Play. “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day” is the true gem of this group, and the album as a whole. This brilliant song starts as a simple and melodic acoustic folk song by Anderson, which builds with richer and richer arrangement as it goes along. Accordion, flute, electric guitar, xylophone, bass and drums are all added in turn as the track packs much into its four minutes while each new instrument is given its own space in the mix, showing the quality of Anderson’s production as well as his songwriting. Lyrically, the song is a poetic ode to an ever-increasingly hectic life;

“And as you cross the circle line, the ice-wall creaks behind, you’re a rabbit on the run. And the silver splinters fly in the corner of your eye shining in the setting sun. Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story’s too damn real and in the present tense? Or that everybody’s on the stage, and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience?”

“Bungle in the Jungle” is a great allegory about romance and the perfect pop song for this album. Here, the string arrangements by Palmer are most effective, making this the most melodic and accessible track on the album. Written in late 1972, Anderson used human conditions and emotions as analogies to the stereotypical animal behaviors. “Only Solitaire” is more of an outtake than a proper song but is a rather apt folk acoustic that gets off to a great start with good harmonies but then annoying breaks down and ends after a minute and a half.

“The Third Hoorah” is an upbeat and fun European marching song with a nice mix of acoustic, harpsichord, Scottish, and rock elements to make it interesting musically. Anderson heavily borrows lyrics from the album’s opening title song, in what seems to be an attempt to give the album a unifying theme. Closing things out, “Two Fingers” is the most like a mid-seventies classic rock song in approach, with another great performance by Barre and Hammond. The song is an updated version of an unreleased track recorded for Aqualung in 1971 called “Lick Your Fingers Clean”.

In spite of the critical panning, War Child reached number two on the U.S. pop albums chart and quickly went went Gold. The album was followed-up by Minstrel In the Gallery in 1975 (on which Palmer became an official band member) and the 1976 album Too Old to Rock n’ Roll, Too Young to Die, which was Anderson’s final attempt at a theatrical rock production.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower

Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower

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Bridge of Sighs by Robin TrowerFull of subtle but solid and rewarding tracks which are well composed and sonically masterful, Bridge of Sighs is the album where Robin Trower may have advanced the rock guitar a bit. This second solo album by Trower is the most solid and heralded output of his career, filled with consistent tracks of strong blues-rock with just a sprinkle jazz flare and improvisation that prevents the music from ever getting caught in a rut. Complimenting Trower’s guitar work are bassist and lead vocalist James Dewar along with drummer Reg Isidore, who complete this outstanding power trio and added their own fantastic performance contributions.

From 1967 through 1971, Trower was guitarist for the band Procol Harum, spanning most of that band’s successful career. Trower first worked with Dewar in a short-lived supergroup Jude before the two branched out with Isidore to commence Troer’s solo career. The debut album Twice Removed from Yesterday was released in 1973, but to little critical or commercial success.

Recorded and released in 1974, Bridge of Sighs was produced by Matthew Fisher, keyboardist for Procol Harum and Trower’s former band mate. Former Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick also helped out with forging the sound of this album. The album reached the Top 10 in the United States and stayed on the charts for the better part of a year.


Bridge od Sighs by Robin Trower
Released: April, 1974 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Matthew Fisher
Recorded: Olympic and AIR studios, London, Early 1974
Side One Side Two
Day of the Eagle
Bridge of Sighs
In This Place
The Fool and Me
Too Rolling Stoned
About to Begin
Lady Love
Little Bit of Sympathy
Musicians
James Dewar – Lead Vocals, Bass
Robin Trower – Guitars
Reg Isidore – Drums

“Day of the Eagle” sets a frantic pace for the album during the beginning rudiments, before the song settles into upbeat, bluesy groove with good, soulful vocals by Dewar. The guitar sounds are much more impressive than the actual techniques in this sonic explosion which starts the album. The title track, “Bridge of Sighs” follows as the most indelible track. Starting with gated chimes and long, decaying guitar notes, the song’s vibe is like bending the fabric of space and time. Droning and intense throughout, “Bridge of Sighs” never relents from its slower than slow pace, which works out well when Trower opts for long and slow outro with sound effects rather than the obligatory guitar lead in the coda section.

Wind effects from previous track serve as a bridge to lead into the calm but foreboding love song, “In This Place”. Every note is accented beautifully by the precise beats of Isidore, while this song is a true showcase for Trower in every other way. Here, the guitarist shows his true a mastery of fat, sustained tones above several other outstanding guitar textures. It seems almost a shame that the song is so short. “The Fool and Me” is an upbeat blues/rock jam, co-written by Dewar, that puts a strong cap on the first side as a real gem with mocking guitars and funky, strategic pauses. The second side starts with “Too Rolling Stoned”, the longest and best overall track on the album. It starts with a funky, bass-fueled song proper where Dewar especially shines on bass and vocals. Midway through, the track reaches an extended, slow rock guitar jam that meanders through the coda. This long ending part seems to be an intentional contrast to the early parts of the song, as a simple and direct beat with a clap and “party” sounds persist under Trower’s animated guitar lead.

Robin Trower

“About to Begin” is a calm jazzy number that seems to go in one direction, almost as a pause in the action during a movie drama. “Lady Love” is a very direct rocker which seems to be the only real attempt at a pop crossover on Bridge of Sighs. Still, this track contains soem great, late sixties-style blues guitar leads and Isidore’s drums and percussion play an equally important role in another song where the only weak spot seems to be that it is too short. The album concludes with more blistering blues rock of “Little Bit of Sympathy”. This one has a long mid-section sans bass but with extra hand percussion, giving it a cool edge. When the full rock arrangement kicks back in, the group is in full form with Trower doing more unique and inventive techniques to keep the listener wanting for more.

Bridge of Sighs would go on to a strong influence on the rock guitar sounds of the late seventies and beyond. Trower continued recording solo records, releasing one album per year through 1978, but never again quite reaching the heights of this album.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

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Diamond Dogs by David BowieFollowing the successful album and tours of the conceptual The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie decided to try another rock-opera-style piece based on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, when the author’s estate refused publishing rights, Bowie shifted slightly to the New York based, post-apocalyptic world of Diamond Dogs, with much of the Orwell related material reserved for the second side. The album is also transitional on several levels. It was the first release in five years not to feature Bowie’s early seventies backing band, which had featured guitarist Mick Ronson, as Bowie took over all guitar duties himself. Further, it was stylistically the final album to contain “glam” elements musically. This album is unique and the raw approach has been credited as an early influence of the emerging punk sound.

Bowie had tasted his first bit of stardom in 1972 as both Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust charted and and his non-album single “John, I’m Only Dancing” became a hit in the UK. Further, Bowie wrote and produced the smash hit “All the Young Dudes” for Mott the Hoople and co-produced Lou Reed’s solo breakthrough album Transformer with Mick Ronson. His 1973 album Aladdin Sane became his first number one album and a follow-up album of covers called Pin Ups also did well. All the while, Bowie continued to tour as “Ziggy Stardust” but got so entangled in the persona that it started to effect his offstage personality. Finally, Bowie decided to give the persona an abrupt “death” after a July 1973 press conferences and show in London, where footage for a film was shot.

In 1974 Bowie moved to New York, leaving his former backing band behind and gaining inspiration for this new concept album. Diamond Dogs does feature its own lead character “Halloween Jack”. While Bowie self produced this album, it was the first of many in which he collaborated with Tony Visconti, who would co-produce much of Bowie’s future work.


Diamond Dogs by David Bowie
Released: May 24, 1974 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie
Recorded: Olympic Studios and Island Studios, London, October 1973-February 1974
Side One Side Two
Future Legend
Diamond Dogs
Sweet Thing
Candidate
Sweet Thing (Reprise)
Rebel Rebel
Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me
We Are the Dead
1984
Big Brother
Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Saxophone, Keyboards
Mike Garson – Keyboards
Herbie Flowers – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums

The long droning synths with spoken word, doomy lyrics make up the short intro track “Future Legend”, where the stage for Diamond Dogs is set with “fleas the size of rats and rats the size of cats”. The title track “Diamond Dogs” then begins with Bowie’s interesting intro guitar riff and settles in a theatrical rock n’ roll track which seems to hold back a bit from full-fledged production. Released as the album’s lead single, the track was a disappointment on the charts.

Next comes a mini-suite, centered around the track “Sweet Thing”, which starts with more doomy, backwards-masked effects before breaking into  a pleasant ballad with great singing. Bowie’s first real guitar lead is also featured at end of (the first) “Sweet Thing”. The avante garde “Candidate”, the middle part of the medley, contains rolling drums, piano, saxophone, and distorted guitars. Lou Reed-inspired, this builds into a more upbeat and intense number before abruptly coming back down for “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” A sax solo and calmer demeanor, this piece was recorded during album sessions in 1973. The outro piano is interrupted by Herbie Flowers‘ thumping bass to complete the piece on an up note.

Rebel Rebel singleThe most upbeat moment on the record, “Rebel Rebel” is a simple, fun, and direct rocker, where the repetition and unrelenting riff actually work to enhance the song. Dating back to 1973, the song became a glam rock anthem. Driven by its infectious guitar riff, “Rebel Rebel” reached Number five on the UK charts.

The second side begins with “Rock n’ Roll with Me”, co-written by Warren Peace. This piano ballad with edge, is much like Bowie’s earlier seventies work but with anthemic elements such as the harmonized chorus and great lead notes in the second verse. “We Are the Dead” is perhaps the most moody and theatrical track on the album. It starts as a ballad but soon morphs into a long lyrical litany in the ‘B’ section before returning back to the pleasant, electric piano driven track with steady, rounded bass notes.

David Bowie

“1984” is built on pure 1970s funk, with squeezed chords, high strings, much hi-hat action by drummer Aynsley Dunbar. This Orwell-inspired track has a good hook and sounds like Bowie was trying to take the most futuristic approach possible in this song written about a time then ten years in the future. The album closes with a medley starting with “Big Brother”, as a trumpet intro morphs into the thumping bass of the song proper. Lyrically, the song mirrors the finale of Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the character’s love of “Big Brother”. “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” contains scat vocals of barely legible chants under rotating riff and percussion, as the last, classic-style Bowie track on record, throwing in the kitchen sink stylistically.

Diamond Dogs reached the Top five on both sides of the Atlantic and spawned a lavish North American Tour that was recorded for the live album, David Live, released later in 1974.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Rush

Rush 1974 debut album

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RushRush burst onto the international scene in 1974 with an energetic and entertaining debut album. The only album to feature drummer John Rutsey, this self-titled album is also unique in the style, with many of the tracks taking a direct blues-flavored rock approach reflective of contemporary groups like Led Zeppelin and Nazareth. The Canadian power trio sets the template rudimentary sonic output that would become a signature over their long career. However, by predating the arrival of drummer and lyricist Neal Peart, it is clear that much of the thematic and rhythmic elements of later Rush albums is not present on this debut.

In September 1968, Rush played their first gig in a church basement in Suburban Toronto, led by 15-year-old classmates Geddy Lee (Gary Lee Weinrib) on bass and lead vocals and Alex Lifeson (Aleksander Zivojinovic) on guitars. In 1971, the group signed with Ray Daniels and got a fortuitous boost when Ontario dropped the drinking age to 18, allowing the band to play the Toronto night club circuit. Here, their emerging style of heavy-blues and rock was well received and the band was soon playing gigs six nights a week and began composing some original songs. When Daniels was initially unsuccessful in getting the band signed to a major record label, he created his own called Moon Records.

The band started recording in Toronto during late night sessions when the rates were least expensive. Rush’s first effort was a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, which the band released as a single in 1973 along with the original composition “You Can’t Fight It” on the B-side. These initial sessions were produced by Dave Stock but the group was not happy with the quality of sound and decided to self-produce the rest of the album at Sound Studios in Toronto, using (rather prinitive) 8-channel multi-track recorders.


Rush by Rush
Released: March 1, 1974 (Moon)
Produced by: Rush
Recorded: Eastern Sound Studios, Toronto, February–November 1974
Side One Side Two
Finding My Way
Need Some Love
Take a Friend
Here Again
What You’re Doing
In the Mood
Before and After
Working Man
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Vocals
John Rutsey – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Lifeson’s powerful riff slowly fades in to introduce the album and its opening track “Finding My Way”. The heart of the song contains a kind of hyper-blues approach, which only kicks in on the inverse verse, post-verse, and bridge sections. Lyrically, the song is more motif than lyrical substance but there is a cool rhythmic section post-lead showing Lee and Rutsey had some pretty good rhythmic comparability.

The next two tracks are examples of songs you won’t see on any future Rush albums beyond this debut album. “Need Some Love” is a straight-forward and, frankly, trite rocker which is nonetheless catchy and infectious, especially due to Rutsey’s fine drumming. “Take a Friend” is the most disposable song on the album. The most interesting part of track is the 30 seconds or so of rolling rock frenzy that fades in before the song proper kicks in.

Rush recovers nicely with the first side closer “Here Again”, a bluesy and moody rocker which shows the first flashes on brilliance in Geddy Lee’s bass playing. It is also Lee’s finest vocal performance on this album, showing much range and variants of intensity. For his part, Lifeson offers a variety of electric and acoustic guitar textures on a song that is very patient as it builds tension for about four minutes before hitting the climatic refrain followed by droning but potent guitar lead.

Rush in 1974

Side two begins with a couple of sexually charged songs, albeit of differing styles. “What You’re Doing” is the most Zeppelin-esque track on the album, with riff-driven phrases and guitar interludes between verses and wet, reverb-drenched vocals for maximum effect. Rutsey also goes into several frantic drum rolls during the guitar lead in this truly entertaining rocker. Conversely, “In the Mood” leans more towards pop/rock, with a smoother groove than the previous track. Released as a single, this track was played by a St. Louis Classic rock radio station each night at 7:45 due to the light “hey baby, it’s a quarter to eight, I feel I’m in the mood…”

“Before and After” is Alex Lifeson’s strongest showing on the album, with the instrumental “before” part being an absolutely beautiful piece of sonic treasures. It starts with a chimed electric over strummed acoustic and rounded bass notes and slowly builds into a stronger second section with heavily flanged guitars. A little over two minutes into the track it changes course and breaks into a more standard hard rock track with animated drumming and strong guitar riffs during the “after” part. The album ends with its most popular and indelible song, “Working Man”. This song is rather simple as far as Rush songs go but is definitely catchy and accessible, in a Black Sabbath-sort of way. The mid section takes a radical turn with upbeat bass line leading the multi-section jam, featuring several different leads by Lifeson, all in different styles. “Working Man” was the song that introduced Rush to America, when Cleveland DJ Donna Halper adopted it as a theme for the working-class town.

While Rush was only printed in 3500 copies in its original pressing, the American breakthrough of “Working Man” caught the attention of Mercury Records, who signed Rush by mid 1974. However, Rutsey was unable to physically keep up with the pace of national touring and left the group that same year. He was soon replaced by Peart, establishing the rock trio that persists to this day.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

461 Ocean Blvd by Eric Clapton

461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton

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461 Ocean Blvd by Eric ClaptonEric Clapton was remarkably prolific through the late 1960s into the year 1970. By the end of that year, he had been featured in six different successful rock and blues groups and had also released his debut solo album. However, personal strife and substance addiction halted his momentum for the better part of for years, until he released, 461 Ocean Boulevard in 1974, which brought Clapton back into the public light with a remade sound and image. Produced by Tom Dowd, the album features freshly interpreted versions of cover songs from various genres and eras, along with laid back vocals by Clapton, and surprisingly few guitar leads.

Clapton and Dowd had worked together previously with the short-lived super-group Derek and the Dominos and the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which was also recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami. Much of the material on that album was inspired by Clapton’s unrequited affections for Patti Boyd, then wife of George Harrison. A second album was planned for the group, with several tracks recorded in early 1971 but personal conflicts led to the disbanding of Derek and the Dominos soon after. After a performance at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in which he collapsed on stage, Clapton withdrew from recording and touring as he struggled with drugs and alcohol.

By 1974, Clapton and Boyd were together and he had kicked the drug habit. Carl Radle, former bassist for Derek and the Dominos, presented Clapton with a demo tape of songs. With an assembled group, Clapton returned to Criteria Studios and temporarily lived at the house at 461 Ocean Boulevard in Golden Beach, Florida.


461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton
Released: July, 1974 (RSO)
Produced by: Tom Dowd
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, Fla, April–May 1974
Side One Side Two
Motherless Children
Give Me Strength
Willie and the Hand Jive
Get Ready
I Shot the Sheriff
I Can’t Hold Out
Please Be With Me
Let It Grow
Steady Rollin’ Man
Mainline Florida
Primary Musicians
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Yvonne Elliman – Vocals
Dick Sims – Keyboards
Carl Radle – Bass
Jamie Oldaker – Drums, Percussion

Part of the charm of 461 Ocean Boulevard is the knack for arranging songs in contrast to the original tone of these tunes. On “Motherless Children”, Clapton and Radle set an upbeat, almost celebratory tone to a song with a tragic origin based on the autobiographical circumstances of Blind Willie Johnson. Starting with a chorus of picked electric guitars, the track is ever building until it reaches a great drive, fueled by the fantastic drums of Jamie Oldaker.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Johnny Otis dance classic “Willie and the Hand Jive” has a rather somber interpretation with choppy guitar and bass, and vocals so reserved that they seem almost hummed.

The two original tracks on the first side are “Give Me Strength”, a slow and very short blues track with slide acoustic up front and deep Ray Charles-like-organ behind, and “Get Ready”, co-written by vocalist Yvonne Elliman. The most indelible cover on the album is Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, a timely capitalization of the emerging reggae trend then sweeping the rock world, where Clapton finds yet another singing voice. Guitarist George Terry had played on Marley’s album, Burnin’, and convinced Clapton to record a cover version of the song (which he initially declined but was persuaded by the other musicians). The song went on to become Clapton’s only number one song on the Billboard pop charts.

The second side of 461 Ocean Boulevard starts with a cover of “I Can’t Hold Out”, written by Willie Dixon for Elmore James in 1959. The highlight of this song is Clapton’s slide guitar solo, a rare treat on this reserved album. “Please Be With Me” is a country ballad written by Charles Scott Boyer, which features great harmony vocals by Elliman and just enough slide electric above the calm dobro played by Clapton.

Eric Clapton

The Clapton original “Let It Grow” may be the true highlight of the album, featuring a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars under more very somber vocals, perhaps the quietest Clapton sings on this quiet album. This base hippie folk song about “planting love” builds in tenacity and mood with acoustic, electric, piano, organ, ever so creeping to prominence. A short but potent slide guitar leads to an intense outro with a picked electric pattern and subtle, swelling keyboards by Dick Sims. “Steady Rollin’ Man” is a piano and clavichord driven rendition of a Robert Johnson Tune with good bass by Radle. The ending song “Mainline Florida” was written by Terry and feels like the most rock-oriented song on the album, featuring a great seventies rock guitar riff and a wild lead over the vocals later in the song.

461 Ocean Boulevard topped the charts in the USA and Canada and reached the top ten in several other countries. While this was his only album in four years, Clapton got much more prolific and released four studio albums over the next four years, all of which pretty much follow the same style patterns as this one.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan

Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan

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Pretzel Logic by Steely DanAt first glance, Steely Dan‘s third album, Pretzel Logic, may seem almost too short and efficient. Many of the songs do not even reach three minutes in length and the album as a whole barely surpasses the threshold beyond EP territory. However, after a few listens you realize that this may be the true genius of the album after all. Composers Donald Fagen and Walter Becker started their studio practice of employing scores of session musicians to record just the right part, phrase or note so that not a moment is wasted on filler. By expertly mixing pop, rock, and jazz intricacies into direct and succinct album tracks, the duo found a sonic sweet spot for the mid seventies. This allowed them to proliferate on pop radio while hardly ever seeing the light of public performances.

Following the success of Steely Dan’s debut Can’t Buy a Thrill, the group felt that the 1973 follow-up Countdown to Ecstasy was rushed and incomplete due to their hectic touring schedule not allowing time to develop the material properly. As a consequence, that second album did not receive good critical or commercial marks. Further, after the departure of front man David Palmer, Fagen was the sole lead singer, a role he did not like performing live.

When the band entered The Village Recorder studio with producer Gary Katz in late 1973, they decided to write material without regard to live performances. Fagen and Becker also decided to use many Los Angeles-based studio musicians, something that eventually led to the departure of all remaining “band” members and solidifying Steely Dan as a duo for the rest of their career. Also, following the release of Pretzel Logic in 1974 when the group ceased performing live and focused on studio recording exclusively.


Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan
Released: February 20, 1974 (ABC)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Santa Monica, CA, October 1973-January 1974
Side One Side Two
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Night by Night
Any Major Dude Will Tell You
Barrytown
East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
Parker’s Band
Through with Buzz
Pretzel Logic
With a Gun
Charlie Freak
Monkey In Your Soul
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Saxophone
Walter Becker – Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Baxter – Guitars
Denny Dias – Guitars
Jim Gordon – Drums

The album begins with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, which would become the biggest hit of Steely Dan’s career, topping out at number four on the pop charts. Musically, this is about as smooth as any song by the band, led by the simple piano line of Michael Omartian and great samba-inspired drums and percussion by Jim Gordon. During the lead and bridge section, the song morphs from jazz to rock seamlessly and the rather obscure lyrics tend to add to the overall mystique of this unique song (although artist Rikki Ducornet believes it was inspired by Fagen approaching her at a college party years earlier).

The choppy rock rhythm and spectrum of brass intervals of “Night by Night” is followed by the cools and somber “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”. Starting with a brightly strummed acoustic that soon settles into an electric piano groove with electric guitar overtones, this latter song offers great little guitar riffs between the verses composed of uplifting lyrics of encouragement;

“Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again
When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more
Any major dude will tell you…”

The oldest composition on the album, Fagen’s “Barrytown” is lyric driven with a moderate piano backing, not all that complex but with good melody and arrangement. Named for a small upstate New York town near the duo’s alma mater, the song is a satirical look at the small town class system. The first side concludes with the only cover and instrumental on Pretzel Logic, Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”. This modern interpretation, features the indelible pedal guitar lead by Jeff Baxter, who emulated a mute-trombone solo masterfully. The rest of the piece pleasantly moves through many differing lead sections before returning to Baxter’s guitar to finish things up.

“Parker’s Band” contains much movement as a funky track with rock overtones. Perhaps the highlight of this track is the dual drums by Gordon and Jeff Porcaro, which are potent and flawless. “Through With Buzz” is a short, almost psychedelic piece driven by mesmerizing piano and a strong string presence. This is another example of how the Katz and the group gets everything out the door with extreme efficiency in this lyrical proclamation of a resolution. The title track, “Pretzel Logic”, contains a slow electric piano groove and verse vocals which are the most blues based of any on the album of the same name. This song contains lyrics that are cryptic, driving rhythms and grooves, a pretty respectable guitar lead by Becker, and is also the only song on the second side which exceeds three minutes in length.

Steely Dan 1974

The album’s final stretch features three very short tracks of differing styles. “With a Gun” is like an upbeat Western with strummed fast acoustic, Tex-Mex styled electric riffs, and a strong, Country-influenced drum beat. “Charlie Freak” features a descending piano run, which the vocals mimic with simple, storied lyrics of a downtrodden man who pawns his ring to the protagonist at a discounted price to buy the drug fix that ultimately does him in. The closer “Monkey in Your Soul” features the coolest of grooves, with an electric piano and clavichord accented by horns between the verses and a Motown-like clap to end the album on an upbeat note.

Pretzel Logic reached the Top Ten on the album charts and remains one of the group’s most critically acclaimed releases. Two of many session players used on this album (Jeff Porcaro and David Paich) went on to form the group Toto and Becker and Fagen continued the formula of using the best possible musicians on several more fine albums through the 1970s.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Crime of the Century by Supertramp

Crime of the Century by Supertramp

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Crime of the Century by SupertrampCrime of the Century was the album where it all came together for Supertramp, as they composed scores of tracks in order to find the best eight to make this record. Along the way, the group forged a non-traditional and unique sound which falls somewhere along the twisted road between progressive rock and pop music. Produced by Ken Scott, the album is also a sonic masterpiece with incredible dynamics. Crime of the Century was the group’s commercial breakthrough in the West, reaching the Top Five in the U.S. and did especially well in Canada, where reached #1 and stayed on the charts for over two years, while selling over a million copies in that country.

Supertramp’s origins date back to 1969 when Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes (know as ‘Sam’, and to who Crime of the Century is dedicated) offered keyboardist Rick Davies financial backing to form his own band. In the subsequent auditioning, Davies found Roger Hodgson to play bass and perform lead vocals, along with several other revolving musicians to fill the band. Supertramp got their name from the early century novel The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by William Henry Davies (no relation to Rick) and released their first two albums, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped in 1970 and 1971 respectively. Despite receiving critical praise, neither album sold well and all members gradually dropped out except Davies and Hodgson. The pair decided to embrace their radically different backgrounds, musical inspirations, and life philosophies. They composed over 40 songs through the next few years, in order to produce a bona fide success.

Crime of the Century was recorded at various English studios by Scott and the group, methodically selecting the best moments to include on the final album. While not a concept album, there is much recursion and referencing amoung the tracks, which consistently alternates primary vocalists all the way through. Lyrically, many of these tracks deal with themes of youth, isolation, loneliness and mental stability, leaving many to initially compare the group to Pink Floyd. However, the musicianship and style of Supertramp is obviously distinct, as has become evident over the past four decades.


Crime of the Century by Supertramp
Released: September, 1974 (A&M)
Produced by: Ken Scott & Supertramp
Recorded: Ramport Studios, Scorpio Sound, & Trident Studios, London, February-June 1974
Side One Side Two
School
Bloody Well Right
Hide in Your Shell
Asylum
Dreamer
Rudy
If Everyone Was Listening
Crime of the Century
Group Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Piano, Guitars, Vocals
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
John Helliwell – Saxophone, Clarinet
Doug Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

The methodical patience and sonic dynamics of this album is evident from the very beginning, with the long, slow harmonica intro of “School”. Hodgson’s verse vocals are first only above his flanged guitar, and then an elongated, strummed guitar section before the song finally fully kicks in. Davies later provides a bright piano lead as, perhaps, the most entertaining aspect of this song, which lyrically touches the same subject matter which Hodgson will master later with “The Logical Song” on Breakfast In America. “Bloody Well Right” gives us Supertramp’s first incorporation of their signature Wurli piano, with Davies’ very entertaining beginning solo. This song has the feel of a totally unique and groovy track with perfect rock aspects disrupting the Wurli solo and an electric guitar lead with a wild pedal wah with perfect textures. Hodgson had moved from bass to piano and guitar in recent years and Doug Thompson was brought on as the full time bassist, and does much to hold the entire song together especially during the second part of the bouncy chorus sections. Originally released as a ‘B’ side, “Bloody Well Right” soon became the most popular song from Crime of the Century and would remain the band’s signature song for years to come.

All that being said, “Hide In Your Shell” is the best overall song on the album, with perfect structure, dynamics, and just the right amount of effects at the right moments. This is dripping with introspective melancholy, presented in four perfectly orchestrated sections (verse/post-verse/pre-chorus/chorus) through each progression. This time Hodgson is on the Wurli electric with Davies accompanying with moody organ during the verses. The song also features a chorus of guest vocalists for background, also masterfully placed and the unique combo of John Helliwell‘s saxophone and an eerie saw, played by an “anonymous street musician”, under the chorus are the climax of the fantastic track. The outro is also a highlight, as it builds and builds to a perfect crescendo to drive the song home. Davies beautiful high piano introduces the progressive ballad “Asylum”, which uses two verses to build the vibe before potently kicking in to the reserved, accented drums of Bob Siebenberg. The song finds its way to a very intense section, where Davies vocals get ever more desperate, accented by the wild musical effects and rhythms. “Asylum” is also lyrically potent, albeit a bit cryptic and poetic;

“Bluesy Monday is the one day that they come here, when they haunt me and taunt me in my cage. I mock them all, they’re feelin’ small, they got no answer, they’re playin’ dumb but I’m just lauging as they rage…”

The second side starts with  interesting piano runs during the initial verses and later bridge of “Dreamer”, which on its surface seems like the most straight forward pop track (it did reach #15 in the US and #1 in Canada). However, it does contain a very interesting bridge where sonic dynamics are vital once again with building stereo effects. Overall, there is a lot packed into this three and a half minute song. While “Dreamer” seems to scoff at the wide-eyed optimist, “Rudy” takes the opposite approach of life wasted waiting for opportunity. It is the longest and most asymmetrical song which moves through sections of jazz, rock, and prog on its journey. The initial verses are quiet and reserved before the song goes through some strong theatrical sections, containing the most stereotypical mid-seventies musical elements such as high strings and proto-disco rhythms. The song then winds down with orchestration straight out of a classic movie soundtrack.

Supertramp

Hodgson’s final lead on the album is on the ballad “If Everyone Was Listening”, which is built on rocking piano during the verses. The highlight here is the subtle clarinet during the choruses and alto sax lead in mid-section, making this Helliwell’s strongest track. Continuing the recursion, “If Everyone Was Listening” seems to lyrically refer back to “Dreamer”, while adding its own bit of social commentary. The title track “Crime of the Century” concludes the album with a definitive Pink Floyd feel, as it starts with quick lyrical motif identifying some unknown evil force before going into methodical music sections with no further commentary. The song contains a pretty good guitar lead by Hodgson, the first and only appearance by that instrument on the second side, before descending into an unusually long chorded-piano part which seems to do little more than fill in the album’s last few minutes.

With the critical and commercial success of Crime of the Century, Supertramp stabilized their lineup of Davies-Hodgson-Helliwell-Thomson-Siebenberg for the next decade and four subsequent studio albums. Over that period, the group would grow in stature and popularity while increasingly drifting away from the musical formula which made this 1974 album a masterpiece.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.