Badfinger and Wish You Were Here

Badfinger’s 1974 Albums

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Buy Wish You Were Here
Buy Badfinger Combo (Badfinger, Wish You Were Here, & BBC Sessions)

Badfinger and Wish You Were HereBadfinger had one of the saddest roller coaster rides of the early 1970’s rock n’ roll era. Despite personal tragedies, they recorded and released two quality albums, Badfinger and Wish You Were Here, both of which were released in 1974 and brought the promise of top-level fame within their sights. But this was not to be, as the group had a fraud perpetrated in their name which ultimately led to financial ruin, both these 1974 albums being ultimately pulled from the shelves, and the ultimate tragedy of band leader Pete Ham committing suicide in early 1975. In fact, much of the world would not know these albums even existed for over three decades.

Badfinger had a fairly good run early on in their career from 1969 through 1971. aside from the Beatles themselves, they were the most successful artists on the Apple Records label. However, by 1972 Apple was in serious financial disarray and Badfinger had decided to part ways once they completed a final album they were obligated to deliver to the label. The group’s new manager, Stan Polley had secured what seemed to be a very lucrative deal with Warner Brothers. By late 1973, Badfinger was in the London studio serving the dual purpose of finishing their fourth and final album for Apple (eventually called Ass) along with recording their initial effort for Warner Brothers.

Although recordings for the album began as early as 1972, Ass wasn’t released until late November 1973 due to production problems. In the end, Apple engineer Chris Thomas was hired to finish production duties. Thomas would stay on for both of the 1974 albums. Most of the material on Badfinger was written in the studio as it was recorded, and that album was released very shortly after Ass. The band continued on its hectic schedule, going on a short but intense tour of America in the Spring of 1974, with one concert being recorded for a possible live release.

In April, Badfinger headed to Caribou Ranch recording studio in Colorado, to record their second album of 1974, Wish You Were Here. Their reported $3 million deal with Warner Brothers, called for a total of six albums over three years, so the band had no real incentive to take time off, especially since Polley had assured they’d be advanced $225,000 for each new record (although the band would never see any of that). Further, Warner‘s publishing arm had become increasingly troubled by a lack of communication from Polley and the status of an escrow account for these advance funds. After completing Wish You Were Here, Badfinger had a legitimate masterpiece in the making. But soon, it would all start to unravel due to actions not of their doing.


Badfinger by Badfinger
Released: February 1974 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: Olympic Studios and AIR Studios, London, June-November 1973
Side One Side Two
I Miss You
Shine On
Love Is Easy
Song for a Lost Friend
Why Don’t We Talk?
Island
Matted Spam
Where Do We Go from Here?
My Heart Goes Out
Lonely You
Give It Up
Andy Norris

Wish You Were Here by Badfinger
Released: November 1974 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: Caribou Ranch, Nederland, Colorado, April-May 1974
Side One Side Two
Just a Chance
You’re So Fine
Got to Get Out of Here
Know One Knows
Dennis
In the Meantime/Some Other Time
Love Time
King Of the Load
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Pete Ham – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Joey Molland – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Evans – Bass, Vocals
Mike Gibbins – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

After Badfinger and Wish You Were Here were pulled from the shelves in early 1975, they would not be commercially available in the United States for over 30 years. When a Badfinger compilation was released in the early 1990s, only tracks from the four Apple albums were included, leaving many young music fans with the impression that Badfinger’s career finished in 1973. With the proliferation of mp3s near the turn of the century, interest about these “lost” albums began to grow and they were finally released on CD in 2007.

Badfinger 1974 albumBadfinger is a direct and concise attempt at a pure pop album. All four members of the group composed songs, starting with Pete Ham’s ballad “I Miss You”, a mainly solo piece that doesn’t contain much in sonic arrangement or lyrical depth, but is beautiful in its simplicity. In sharp contrast to the opener, “Shine On” is a bright, acoustic-folk-influenced track with great melodies and hooks. Seeming ready made for product placement, “Shine On” falls almost too perfectly into early seventies “have a nice day”, feel-good, sing-songy song. “Love Is Easy” was written by guitarist Joey Molland and is beat-driven and one of the few tracks to be released as a single from either of the 1974 albums.

Ham’s “Song For a Lost Friend” is the first song on album that is not a direct, front and center pop tune. This measured composition is the first song on Badfinger that reaches the level of excellence Badfinger was able to traverse. A great guitar lead follows philosophical lament that, in retrospect, could sum up Badfinger’s career as a whole;

“You had a goal, you know you aimed so high, you had a soul, you knew you had to try / You’re just a victim of the time of day no matter what you say or do, you saw your dream and you just took a play and for a while your dream came true – what could you do?”

Taking about a minute for a clever intro of someone entering their house and turning on the radio to a distant rendition of the very song we’re about to hear, Tom Evans‘s “Why Don’t We Talk?” is a very John Lennon-ish type of song in its approach. Molland’s “Island” is the most hard rock based on the first side, built on rudimental riffs, driving rhythm sections, and potent guitar lead.

Badfinger‘s second original side is far superior to the first, with each band member composing some unheralded gems. These four tracks are sandwiched between a couple of unique tracks which bookmark the side. “Matted Spam” is a full-fledged funk n’ soul, complete with driving bass, a full horn section and a later saxophone solo. This song of optimism is infectiously bouncy and catchy with an almost Gospel feel of revival. The closer “Andy Norris” straddles the line between old time rock of the fifties and an early prototype for upcoming acts like The Ramones.

The four standout tracks that are the heart of quality on Badfinger start with “Where Do We Go from Here?” by Evans. It is excellent, melodic, and driven by a cool Wurli piano with tactical guitar licks music and vocals desperate but controlled. Evans’s bass has a bit of Caribbean feel in its beat, which is confirmed later with a short steel drum lead. “My Heart Goes Out” is a British-flavored-folk track with unique arrangement, composed by drummer Mike Gibbins. The chorus of string instruments including mandolin, dobro, and acoustic guitars gives a special melancholy vibe that keeps things interesting. “Lonely You” is one of the truly best power ballads of the early seventies as Ham advances the McCartney-esque strain of soft pop to the next level. This may be a bit sappy for some, but there is not a flaw in this song compositionally or sonically as musically the blend of piano and acoustic are exquisite and guitar leads are potent and the arrangement has long outro to absorb the overall feel as it dissolves. Molland’s “Give It Up” seems to have tapped into nineties grunge about two decades early. This track is very dynamic with an eerie, quiet beginning and verse before it launches into strong part with blended, distorted guitars and a long coda contains wild, lead guitars which pushed the sonic limits of the early seventies. These four powerful, Side B tracks really preserve Badfinger as a relevant rock album four decades later, in spite of its poor reviews and weak sales upon its original 1974 release.

Wish You Were Here by BadfingerDuring, its very short seven week span on the shelves in late 1974, Wish You Were Here did receive positive reviews, and for good reason, as this may be Badfinger’s overall best work. The album forges higher-end seventies pop with contemporary rock, including elements of folk, country, prog and hard rock. Like the previous album, each band member contributed to the songwriting, starting with Ham’s pure rock-driven rocker “Just a Chance”. The harmonized vocals throughout this track announces that this album is something a bit different from past Badfinger LPs. “You’re So Fine” follows as an upbeat acoustic, with a picked-electric that has a Byrds-like quality. Written by Gibbins, the vocals are again vocals harmonized nicely and a beautiful solo guitar interlude leads to country-inspired lead with a subtle vocal chorus and slight harmonica add the great vibe of this tune. The strummed acoustic, dark and moody “Got to Get Out of Here” may by Molland’s prophetic (or telegraphed) telling of his coming departure from the band. A very simple arrangement, with just some excellent organ overtones over the simply strummed acoustic chords, the lyrics seem to tell of the chaos of the era – “Got to get out of here, a man who feels the space begins to need the wall…” A very deep and introspective track.

Badfinger in 1974

Ham’s “Know One Knows” brings the mood back up with a clever play on words after the building intro breaks into steady, descending groove under the pleasant melody. The between-verse interludes are interesting and powerful with fine drum fills by Gibbons and the bridge lead is backed by spoken words by Japanese singer Mika Kato. “Dennis” is a tremendous song on Wish You Were Here and one of the best of Badfinger’s career. This brilliantly chilling song about a child teetering between mischief and innocence is presented in three distinct parts, it starts with very moderate piano-backed verses, cut with strong and slow guitar riffs. The song then moves to more upbeat, almost doo-wop rock section with an exquisite chord structure and passionate vocal harmonies and backing parts. “Dennis” maintains a deep and sweet tenor, but yet there’s a tone of desperation in the closing “there’s a way” part which closes the song. The song’s title is actually an adjective (as in “Dennis the Menace”) and not a noun, as it was written by Ham about his girlfriend’s son, not named Dennis.

Side two begins with “In the Meantime”/”Some Other Time”, the closest to prog rock that Badfinger ever got. Starting with an eerie orchestration before breaking into the rudiment and riff filled “In the Meantime”, the part of the song that seems to preview the sound from emerging American groups like Kansas and Styx. the track alternates back and forth between Gibbins and Molland compositions, with décor of fine strings and horns through all the multiple parts of this suite. In contrast to that seven minute opus, “Love Time” is a very short and direct acoustic ballad, which brings the mood back to the moderate, mellow, middle, where Badfinger seems to work so well. An ever-so short bridge with guitar solo nicely leads this song into final, abrupt verse.

“King of the Load” is Evans’ only composition and lead vocal on Wish You Were Here, containing a great electric piano and vocals with guitar accents during choruses that are particularly beautiful and another strong guitar lead. That being said, this song may suffer from lack of clarity in the lyrics and its odd title. The closing medley “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch”/”Should I Smoke” is an incredible rocker with a strong rhythm, melody, and some of the best second vocals during the choruses. The song gets a bit more moderate during Molland’s “Should I Smoke” part but still carries much of the same drive, albeit accented by orchestration. This closing track solidifies the album as a true classic rock album for all time.

Wish You Were Here would be the band’s final album with their principle line-up of Ham/Molland/Evans/Gibbins, as Molland quit Badfinger shortly after its release. Still, in spite of the dire cloud that was descending on the group, the remaining members soldiered on and immediately went back into the studios to record their planned third album for Warner Brothers. In just eleven days, Ham, Evans, and Gibbons recorded the Head First album, but the label outright rejected this album as it was now clear that Stan Polley had embezzled all the previous advance money and a lawsuit was filed on December 10, 1974. With their current album suddenly withdrawn from shelves and their follow-up rejected, Badfinger desperately attempted to reach Polley to resolve the situation, but he would not return their calls. On April 24, 1975, Pete Ham hanged himself in the garage of his new home he could no longer afford. His suicide note ended with “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me”.

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1974 images

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

Get Your Wings by Aerosmith

Get Your Wings by Aerosmith

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Get Your Wings by AerosmithAfter their raw but potent debut in 1973, Aerosmith really started to forge their classic 1970s rock sound with their second album, Get Your Wings. This was due, in small part, to the arrival of producer Jack Douglas, who would go on to produce a total of seven albums with the group. Douglas helped Aerosmith translate their sound to the studio process of the 1970s and found a nice niche somewhere between blues and rock n’ roll to help launch the group into the mainstream for the first time. In a way, Get Your Wings shows Aerosmith at the crossroads of both finding the rock sound that would proliferate in the 1980s while continuing with the raw, barroom-style tunes of their earliest days.

Aerosmith toured constantly from their earliest days of 1971, through the support for their 1973 debut Aerosmith. Later that same year, they finally took a break and headed into the New York studio to concentrate on this second album for about a solid month. Front man and lead vocalist Steven Tyler continued his compositional dominance by writing three songs solo and co-writing every other song with the exception of the album’s single cover song.

Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford also continued their dual-axe attack, trading lead and rhythm duties and seamlessly switching between blues-rock and more standard fare hard rock. With this arrangement, many early critics of the band deemed them clones of the Rolling Stones, but that comparison was overtly simplistic as Aerosmith was surely blazing their own, bold trail even at this very early juncture in their career.


Get Your Wings by Aerosmith
Released: March 1, 1974 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ray Colcord and Jack Douglas
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York, December 1973-January 1974
Side One Side Two
Same Old Song and Dance
Lord of the Thighs
Spaced
Woman of the World
S.O.S. (Too Bad)
Train Kept a’ Rollin’
Seasons of Wither
Pandora’s Box
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums, Percussion

The most popular song on album starts things off with “Same Old Song and Dance”, built around Perry’s crisp guitar riff. With some edgy lyrics, dueling guitars, interspersed horns, and a tenor sax lead by session man Michael Brecker, the song proved to be a minor hit in the short term and a concert staple for the long run. Tyler’s “Lord of the Thighs” is built on an effective drum beat by Joey Kramer, who drives the intro which builds nicely with each instrument coming in turn. Tyler’s vocals are especially deep and bluesy as the song goes through three definitive sections, ending with Perry’s riff-infused outro with several effect-rich overdubs. The song was the last recorded for the album as Aerosmith needed one more song and locked themselves in the rehearsal room until they came up with this one.

Perhaps the most underwhelming song on the album, “Spaced” is a song that is entertaining nonetheless. With a subtle but eerie beginning to Tyler’s vocals closely follow Perry’s guitar riffing, the song is a lament to man-made mayhem. “Woman of the World” is a song which dates back to the mid sixties and Tyler’s former band, The Strangeurs. Co-written by then-band-mate Don Solomon, the song’s intro follows same basic pattern of “Lord of the Thighs”, but soon finds its own way as a very entertaining and rewarding tune with cool melodies and potent riffing. The ending jam contains a harmonica solo by Tyler, sandwiched between leads by Perry and Whitford.

Aerosmith in 1974

The second side of Get Your Wings kicks off with “S.O.S. (Too Bad)”, which previews some of the more raw, sleeze songs Aerosmith would use on albums like Draw the Line. A hard rock song, with underlying riffs and topical textures, this short and energetic song fills the same space that punk rock would soon occupy. The album’s only cover, “Train Kept A-Rollin'”, actually caused a chasm between the band and producer Douglas. This unique album track fused two distinct versions at differing tempos and put them together back-to-back, with the second one incorporating some “live” elements. Because the band disapproved of the method, Douglas also brought in two session guitarists, each to play lead on respective halves of the song. The addition crowd noise at the end of the track was treated and synthesized to form the “wind” effects that led into the next song.

“Seasons of Wither” is one of the best Aerosmith songs ever and is Tyler’s strongest recording effort. Beyond vocal duties, the singer also picks out the unique acoustic notes that give the tune such an eerie yet beautiful feel. Further, although Get Your Wings is a somewhat weak album for bassist Tom Hamilton, he truly shines on this song, nicely complimenting Tyler’s unique acoustic riffs with moderate and measured notes that drive the song from phrase to phrase. “Seasons of Wither” paints pictures of a vivid scenery which is at once foreboding and romantic and ends with one of the most efficient guitar leads ever, very short with a single, sustained note taking up last few bars of the song. The album finishes strong with a rare compositional credit for drummer Joey Kramer. “Pandora’s Box” is a pure rock n’ soul which bookends the album finely with the return of brass section present in the opener “Same Old Song and Dance” and was heavily inspired by 1960s Motown and blue-eyed soul.

Get Your Wings only reached #74 on the album charts which, at the time, was a big disappointment for the band who had (rightly) felt that they had recorded something special. In time it has sold more than three million copies and proved to be the starting point for their greatest run of quality albums.

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1974 images

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

Walls and Bridges by John Lennon

Walls and Bridges by John Lennon

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Walls and Bridges by John LennonWalls and Bridges seems to be one album that often gets lost in the John Lennon collection. It is not as dramatic as Plastic Ono Band, nor is it as popular as Imagine, nor as sad and tragic as the circumstances surrounding Double Fantasy. Still, this fifth post-Beatles album by Lennon (which he self-produced) is unique in its production and arrangements with a decidedly “modern” sound which includes sharp guitars, well-rounded yet thumping bass, dry snare drum with deep delays, and plenty of horn arrangements throughout. This album also captures Lennon’s mood during his 18 month “Lost Weekend”, his only separation form Yoko Ono during the last 13 years of Lennon’s life.

Lennon and Ono moved to New York in 1971 and escalated their anti-war message, which brought the Nixon administration and FBI to embark on a multi-year attempt at deportation. 1972’s Some Time in New York City was an overtly political album, which was mainly a commercial and critical flop. Lennon’s next album, Mind Games in 1973, was an effort to move back towards a more standard rock and roll arrangement and included Ken Ascher on keyboards and Jim Keltner on drums, both of whom would be brought back for Walls and Bridges.

After he and Ono decided to separate, Lennon moved to Los Angeles with May Pang, an assistant of Ono’s. During this time, he was drinking and was involved with many alcohol-fueled public antics, which brought the former Beatle some negative publicity. In the midst of this chaos, it was growing ever harder to get any recordings done. So Lennon and Pang settled back in New York in the Spring of 1974 and started rehearsing new material with a group of core musicians, including Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, and Klaus Voormann (who played on Lennon’s first two solo albums) on bass. After moving to the studio and recording the basic tracks, Lennon took the helm during overdubbing, which gave the album it s distinct arrangements and sound.


Walls and Bridges by John Lennon
Released: September 26, 1974 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon
Recorded: Record Plant East, New York City, July–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Going Down on Love
Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
Old Dirt Road
What You Got
Bless You
Scared
#9 Dream
Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)
Steel and Glass
Beef Jerky
Nobody Loves You
Ya Ya
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Percussion
Jesse Ed Davis – Guitars
Ken Ascher – Piano, Keyboards
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums

The opener “Going Down on Love” is marked by the percussion by Arthur Jenkins under the main blues riff and hook. This multi-section song with higher-register vocals contains the first horn ensemble which sets the tone for the album. This is followed by the only non-Beatles song by Lennon to top the charts, “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”. Lennon’s lead vocals are harmonized by Elton John, who also plays piano on the track and was so impressed with the final result that he made a bet with Lennon that it would reach #1 on the charts. When Lennon lost the bet, he agreed to perform a few songs at an Elton John concert on what would turn out to be Lennon’s last major public performance of his life.

Lennon also collaborated with Harry Nilsson on “Old Dirt Road”. This song contains a country flavored piano and strummed acoustic, harkening back to “Jealous Guy” from Imagine, as a slow and steady ballad with a bit of Beatles bounce in the pre-chorus. On “What You Got”, Lennon gives a wild vocal performance in a funk-infused track with piano, strong horns, and very animated drums by Keltner. “Bless You” is a soul-inspired ballad with heavy electric piano, slowly strummed acoustic, and a moody sax solo. Lennon’s vocals are very melody driven and song is perfect for soft-rock, easy listening in 1974 and he called this track the “best piece of work on the album”. Side one of Walls and Bridges wraps with “Scared”, which contains dramatic, wolf howling sound effects before breaking into a direct, bass and piano driven beat which reminds one of the Plastic Ono Band album in its raw emotion and candidness.

“#9 Dream” is one of the most indelible Lennon songs ever recorded. The slide guitar by Davis, which seems to mimic fellow Beatle George Harrison, is accompanied by strummed acoustic, deep strings, and very ethereal vocals. There are sudden but non-abrasive changes in the arrangement and a chorus of background vocals including some whispers by May Pang. Lennon claims the entire song, including the chorus hook; “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” (which has no specific meaning), came to him in a dream. “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” is the second song harmonized by Elton John through lead verses. There is a lot packed into this short song, with multiple melodies and moods. “Steel and Glass” is a dark folk song, with dramatic picked acoustic guitars in minor chords beneath strong and poignant vocals in opening verses before it breaks into richer arrangement for subsequent choruses and verses.

The mostly instrumental “Beef Jerky” starts with guitar feedback effects before morphing into an arrangement with a more “modern sound”. “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” is a sad acoustic song about fair-weather friends. Lyrically, it contains the potent line; “I’ve been across to the other, I’ve shown you everything, I’ve got nothing to hide…” while musically the strings seem to mimic those in “Mind Games” from the previous album and the bluesy guitar lead above slow horn ensemble is one of the finest moments on the album. The album closes with “Ya Ya”, a short and upbeat cover which features Julian Lennon on drums and was included as a surprise for John’s 11-year-old son with the credit; “Starring Julian Lennon on drums and Dad on piano and vocals”.

Walls and Bridges rose quickly up the charts and reached #1 in the US less than a week after its release. In 1975, Lennon released an album of cover songs called Rock n’ Roll. He also reunited with Yoko Ono and commenced a five year retirement from music when the arrival of the couple’s son, Sean, later in that year.

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1974 images

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

Second Helping by Lynard Skynard

Second Helping by Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Second Helping by Lynard SkynardAfter their acclaimed, classic 1973 debut album, Lynyrd Skynyrd returned with the equally impressive Second Helping, where they continued to forge the emerging genre of Southern-fried rock. Like the first album, this record was produced by Al Kooper, who followed the same basic formula but with a little more leanings toward the geographic roots music which influenced the young band. For this album, the group grew to seven members as original bassist Leon Wilkeson returned to the lineup and Ed King moved from bass to become the third guitarist, giving the group a nearly unprecedented mixture and chorus of rock textures.

Kooper got his start in the music business as a fourteen-year-old guitarist for The Royal Teens in 1958. As a low level session man seven years later, he improvised the famous organ riff that marked that classic song. Kooper later started many groups, including Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and eventually started the Sounds of the South label in affiliation with MCA. In 1972, Kooper signed Lynyrd Skynyrd after catching a club gig in Atlanta and personally took the reins in producing their first few albums, starting in 1973.

Led by the direct, storytelling lyrics of composer and front man Ronnie Van Zant, the group entered the studio in early 1974 determined to avoid the “sophomore slump” after their stellar debut. Musically, the tracks were composed by King along with original guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, who each used remarkable restraint in avoiding competition for the limited space in the mostly standard-length tracks on this eight song LP.


Second Helping by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Released: April 15, 1974 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, January 1974
Side One Side Two
Sweet Home Alabama
I Need You
Don’t Ask Me No Questions
Workin’ for MCA
The Ballad of Curtis Loew
Swamp Music
The Needle and the Spoon
Call Me the Breeze
Group Musicians
Ronnie Van Zant – Vocals
Allen Collins – Guitars
Ed King – Guitars, Bass
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Billy Powell – Piano, Keyboards
Leon Wilkeson – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

The album kicks off with “Sweet Home Alabama”, a simple song has become indelible over its 40 years of existence. Unlike everything else on the album, this track was recorded in Georgia in late 1973 with just King, Wilkeson, and drummer Bob Burns laying down the basic backing track (with full band overdubs to follow later). The famous opening riff was one of the first King developed after switching from bass to guitar. With a great locked-in bass line, fantastic dual guitars, and plenty of other sonic candy, Van Zant’s vocals tell stories of contemporary and historical importance, including both tributes and scorns. One of the more famous comes at the beginning of the second verse with a literal calling out of Neil Young in response to his songs “Alabama” and “Southern Man”, which Van Zant (a close friend of Young’s) felt unfairly indicted a whole culture and region.

The moody “I Need You” is like a continuation of the “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man” tracks from the 1973 debut album. This long and slow blues ballad contains screaming and whining guitar leads by the trio of guitarists. “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” is direct rocker with a crisp, blended guitar riff, composed by Rossington. Kooper added some horns for effect on this popular track with a great and direct hook that is easily catchy. The original first side winds down with “Workin’ for MCA”, which seems at once to be a tribute and indictment of the group’s record label. This jam-based rocker literally tells story of group’s signing two years earlier and features a great electric piano lead by Billy Powell, followed by trade-off leads by each of the three guitarists.

The original second side of Second Helping starts with one of the best tracks on the album, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”. This touching tribute to an unsung blues man contains calm and moody country guitars by Collins and, although the song gradually builds with more rock-oriented arrangement, it maintains its pure vibe all the way along until the slowing slide guitar in the outro. While the song is based on a composite of people, it paints a vivid picture of Van Zants’ original neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida and the inspiration to play music. “Swamp Music” is pure Southern blues, with an upbeat, underlying rhythm, This song never really deviates from its basic structure and contains good, short jams with vocals mocking the guitar licks. “The Needle and the Spoon” may be the weakest song on the album, as it sounds like a shallow knock-off of “Sweet Home Alabama” in riff, rhythm, and melody but probably could have developed into something better if it had been given the time to grow. The only cover on the album is J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze”, which worked out to be a really good fit for Lynard Skynard. Powerful double riffs, the return of the horns, an upbeat rhythm by Wilkeson and Burns, blues-based jamming by all three guitarists, and a honky-tonk piano Powell all shine on this upbeat album closer.

Second Helping reached #12 on the Billboard album charts and was certified Gold within a few months of its release, eventually reaching Platinum status. This turned out to be the high-water mark of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s commercial success. Subsequent years were marked with lineup shifts and personal tragedy, making these few years of the band’s original existence all the more precious and important.

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1974 images

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

Holiday by America

Holiday by America

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Holiday by AmericaOne of the most interesting things about doing all these classic rock album reviews are the little tidbits of information you learn along the way, some of which completely shatter your preconceptions about certain artists and works. Choosing to review the album Holiday by the group America seemed like a perfect match for the date July 4th. After all, this is the quintessential American holiday. But then some elementary research revealed that the group is, in fact, British. Who knew? In any case, the album review goes on as we examine this fine effort by the folk rock trio with the patriotic name, kicking off our two month feature on the most important albums released in the year 1974.

Multi instrumentalists and vocalists Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek shared a common lineage as they were all sons of American military fathers and British mothers. They met in high school in London in the mid-1960s and soon found that they complemented each others talents and blended three-part vocal harmony. The trio played their first gigs as America in the London area opening for acts such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, and The Who. America was eventually signed to a Warner Brothers UK subsidiary label in 1971 and released their debut album later that year. This was followed by the successful 1972 album Homecoming which helped win the group a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. However, Hat Trick, America’s third album in 1973 was a critical and commercial disappointment..

For this fourth album, America brought on legendary producer George Martin along with engineer Geoff Emerick, both of whom shaped the sound of the Beatles the decade before. Under Martin’s direction, the group adopted a more British pop style which was enhanced by Martin’s addition of strings and brass. With all three group members composing songs for the album, Martin compared the competition among America as that among Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Each member’s songs were well represented on the album with Martin doing all the final arrangements.


Holiday by America
Released: June 26, 1974 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, April-May 1974
Side One Side Two
Miniature
Tin Man
Another Try
Lonely People
Glad To See You
Mad Dog
Hollywood
Baby It’s Up To You
You
Old Man Took
What Does It Matter
In The Country
Primary Musicians
Gerry Beckley – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Dewey Bunnell – Guitars, Vocals
Dan Peek – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Willie Leacox – Drums, Percussion

Holiday begins with an intro instrumental with film soundtrack-like qualities call “Miniature”, which features subtle piano with rich orchestration which swells in presence as the seventy-two second track progresses. After this brief theatrical intro, each of the three permanent group members present their best pop compositions in turn, starting with Bunnell’s “Tin Man”. The great jazzy chord patterns of acoustic and bass set the mood perfectly for this philosophical play on a character in The Wizard of Oz, while Bunnell’s distinctive vocals come through with pristine clarity. The song is uni-directional as it never returns to the verse after the initial one, and the addition of a piano phrase in the final choruses shows Martin’s absolute mastery of production techniques. “Tin Man” became the band’s fourth Top Ten hit, climaxing at number four.

Beckley’s “Another Try” is driven by an upbeat and bouncy piano tune musically, while the lyrics are more somber and downtrodden. Built in the tradition as late 60s British pop ala classic Bee Gees, the song is all piano and bass at the core, a departure from the folk rock for which America is noted, and just a touch of subtle strings and brass are added starting in the second chorus. Peek’s “Lonely People” returns the listener to traditional acoustic folk in a song he co-wrote with his wife Catherine Mayberry. Despite its title, the song is really an upbeat and inspiring tune of encouragement lyrically and contains just the right amount of accordion, harmonica, and boogie piano beneath the strummed acoustic musically. Ironically, the song was inspired as an optimistic antidote to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, on which Martin had an integral role nearly a decade earlier.

“Glad To See You” contains a moderate, rocking piano with a well-rounded bass and drums and pristine background harmonies, giving it the typical seventies soft rock sound with the added bonus of Martin’s slight touch of orchestration. “Mad Dog” finishes the original first side as a McCarthy-esque bouncy old English dance hall tune with just a touch of 1970s production in the bass and overtone sounds. This entertaining song is about drinking too much, which would make it the perfect pub song.

While the second side of Holiday is not terrible, it very much boilerplate with few new original moments. One exceptional standout is Bunnell’s “Old Man Took”, an acoustic soft jazz track with a cool soul vibe and lyrical content that is more mature and introspective if not quasi-religious. “Hollywood” is a choppy dark folk song with a simple acoustic chord structure and splattered sound effects, while the minor hit “Baby It’s Up To You” dips back into the smooth, love song, folk rock formula. the tracks “You” and “What Does It Matter” are pleasant enough listens while “In The Country” eases the album to its close without anything particularly memorable.

Holiday reached number 3 on the Billboard album chart and was certified gold just a few months after its release. Martin continued to work with America over the next few years and few studio albums, with the group’s popularity peaking in 1975 with the releases of the Martin-produced Hearts LP and the compilation album History.

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1974 images

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

1994 Album of the Year

Four by Blues Traveler

1994 Album of the Year

Buy Four

Four by Blues TravelerLabeled as a “jam band” since their inception in the late 1980s, many have contended that Blues Traveler does not translate well on standard studio recordings. Their 4th album, Four seems to dispute this assertion as it strikes a nice balance of sonic aptitude, classic sounding blues rock and compositional originality. The album was also the New Jersey group’s commercial breakthrough, fueled by the radio appeal of a couple well-record simple pop songs. But the truly rewarding material on four are the more complex works where songwriting genius meets inspired performance to reach that higher level of indelible entertainment. It is for this reason, that Classic Rock Review has chosen Four as best among all the great works of 1994 and our Album of the Year.

The four members of Blues Traveler started together while still in high school in Princeton, New Jersey in 1987. John Popper was a multi-instrumentalist who aspired to be a stand up up comedian but found his calling on harmonica after an in-class solo performance. Guitarist Chan Kinchla was a promising football player who committed to playing music after a knee injury. Rounding out the quartet was bassist Bobby Sheehan and drummer Brendan Hill. The group was originally called Blues Band but changed their name to Blues Traveler when they moved to Brooklyn, New York following their collective graduation from high school.

While in New York, Blues Traveler began playing gigs and shared resources with Spin Doctors, another group that Popper originally founded. By the end of the decade, the group signed to A&M Records and Blues Traveler released their self-titled debut in 1990. This was followed by Travelers and Thieves, a live EP tribute to Bill Graham called On Tour Forever and their critically acclaimed third album Save His Soul. Blues Traveler also got some national exposure through their appearances on the David Letterman show and their initiative in founding of the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) festival in 1992.

The production team of Michael Barbiero and Steve Thompson, who first worked with Blues Traveler on Save His Soul in 1993, stayed on for the production of Four in early 1994. This time, the crew got the full benefit of a public relations campaign by A&M Records, starting with the release of the lead single “Run-Around” and the accompanying Wizard-of-Oz-man-behind-the-curtain themed video, which introduced the group to the MTV crowd for the first time. A long bass slide by Sheehan introduces the album and its most popular song, which is no doubt catchy and entertaining although it never relents from its four chords.


Four by Blues Traveler
Released: September 13, 1994 (A&M)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero & Steve Thompson
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, February-June 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Run-Around
Stand
Look Around
Fallible
The Mountains Win Again
Freedom
Crash Burn
Price To Pay
Hook
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Just Wait
Brother John
John Popper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Chan Kinchla – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Bobby Sheehan – Bass Vocals
Brendan Hill – Drums, Percussion

Four by Blues Traveler

“Stand” is a funk/rap track which features a harmonica and guitar in sync post chorus and Popper’s first great harmonica solo on the record. The bridge is backed by Kinchla’s drenched guitar chords while Sheehan and Hill bring up the speed with clever use of rhythm, adding a progressive rock jam element to the otherwise standard funk rhythm. The ballad “Look Around” could not be more different as a soft rock piano ballad, featuring guest Chuck Leavell on piano. Solidifying the effect is the eighties style power guitar by Kinchla and slow tom fills by Hill. “Fallible” starts with a crazed harmonica solo before it breaks into a rock oriented groove with a distorted to wah-wah guitar. The lyrics speak of taking ownership with the limited life you have;

“in the name of all the power that’s centered in your hand
If you crave some revolution take possession of your stand
It’s the only one you’ll get to make, in a moment come and gone
So do your best to stay awake and own the path you’re on…”

Sheehan’s sole composition on the album is the calm, acoustic tune, “The Mountains Win Again”, with moderate bass pattern which is mimicked by vocal melody. Some of the best sounding guitars on this record are in the subtle deep blues riffs by guest Warren Haynes, who sustains absolutely every note and makes it count to the max. Everything else in this song is measured perfectly, even the reprise of the intro harmonica riff, which only lasts a single line to set up the single guitar chord which closes the song beautifully. After an odd and awkward bass intro, “Freedom” breaks into full-fledged rap/rock ala Red Hot Chili Peppers. Lyrically, the song tackles the slippery slope of statism in lieu of freedom;

I’ll defend what’s mine cause what’s mine will be all mine
It’s what I’d fight for it’s for what I’d bleed
I roll the dice on the grand experiment, while I am strong I will get what I need
You take it for granted, I guess that’s what it’s for
But before you demand it take a look out your back door…”

The next three songs on the album are its best sequence, solidifying Four as a bonafide classic. “Crash Burn” is a short and fantastic, riff-driven jam showcase. Starting with a harmonized guitar/harmonica riff, then followed by the frenzied, rhythm-driven verses and then a lead section where each musician takes his moment to shine. Although largely unheralded, “Price to Pay” is the best song on this best overall album from 1994. It starts with a moody harmonica, picked guitar and bass notes and then kicks into a catchy rock/funk for effect and tactfully alternates between the two. Driven by Popper’s potent story-telling, the middle part of the song builds emotionally into very intense rock sections which eventually give way back to the soft melody.

The popular song ,”Hook” is a song that is quite cynically (and brilliantly) baited to prove the psychological point of falling for the frivolous “hook”. With lyrical lines such as “I’ve said nothing so far and I can keep it up for as long as it takes” and “I don’t mean any of this, still my confession draws you near”, the song is lyrically an intentional farce. Yet, it is a performance masterpiece for the group led by Popper’s vocals and harmonica over the chord pattern and tempo similar to the classical Canon in D” by Pachelbel. Solidifying this instant classic is the rapid-fire lyrical rant through the final verse, which makes the song indelible.

Blues Traveler

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is an odd and short instrumental, which really seems out of place in this late sequence on the album. This is followed by “Just Wait”, where Popperplays a 12-string acoustic in a folk song of hope and encouragement, almost religious in its sense of redemption. the album closes with “Brother John”, a group collaboration in the tradition of Southern Gospel. The song features a wild classic bass riff by Sheehan and many rudimentary shifts, almost like Blues Traveler goes Blues Brothers. There is a  middle vocal section over drums with all band members provide backing vocals in the call and response to the soulful vocals of guest Jono Manson.

Four reached the Top Ten on the U.S. album charts and has sold over 6 million copies worldwide. Blues Traveler continued their rise through popular culture, with songs appearing on several television shows and movies in subsequent years. Beyond this commercial success, the album has held up beautifully over the past two decades and has earned its place in the pantheon of classic rock albums.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums and our album of the year.

Live Through This by Hole

Live Through This by Hole

Buy Live Through This

Live Through This by HoleFor their second album, Hole took a much different approach than on their debut, Pretty On the Inside. That first album featured a straight-out, punk rock approach, while Live Through This is forged more in the nineties style pop/punk approach presented by Nirvana. Of course, this is far from coincidence as Hole’s front woman Courtney Love was married to Nirvana’s front man Kurt Cobain, and Cobain had at least some influence on this album (the exact amount of his input and influence has now been a controversy for 20 years). Whatever the case may be, Live Through This received much critical accolades along with the band’s first taste of commercial acceptance.

Hole was formed by Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson in 1989. Love had briefly been a member of Faith No More before moving to Los Angeles to pursue work as an actress. The duo used Michael “Flea” Balzary’s rehearsal space and began writing material for what would eventually be their debut album in 1991. Released on an independent label, Pretty on the Inside got a positive reception from underground critics who appreciated its loud, abrasive and deliberately shocking approach. That same year, Love became romantically involved with Cobain as Nirvana’s Nevermind achieved international success. Late in 1992, Hole signed an eight-album contract with Geffen Records in late 1992.

In early 1993, Hole permanently added bassist Kristen Pfaff and drummer Patty Schemel to halt the rotation of temporary rhythm players. With a full band in place, they released the single “Beautiful Son” and set out on some short tours before heading into the studio later in the year. Produced by Paul Q. Kolderie & Sean Slade, the album was recorded at Triclops Sound Studios in Marietta, Georgia.


Live Through This by Hole
Released: April 12, 1994 (Geffen)
Produced by: Paul Q. Kolderie & Sean Slade
Recorded: Triclops Sound Studios, Marietta, Georgia, October 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Violet
Miss World
Plump
Asking For It
Jennifer’s Body
Doll Parts
Credit In the Straight World
Softer, Softest
She Walks On Me
I Think That I Would Die
Gutless
Olympia
Courtney Love – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Eric Erlandson – Guitars
Kristen Pfaff – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Patty Schemel – Drums, Percussion

Live Through This by Hole

The opener “Violet” starts the oft-used, fire-one approach of three-cord riff / vocal line / repeat. This is an effective way to get a message through and gives off the vibe of a modern day Velvet Underground. The song, which explores themes of sexual exploitation and self-abasement, was released as a single and peaked at number 29 on the Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks. “Miss World” starts as a lazy acoustic before becoming more potent with a gradual building and good drums by Schemel. Apparently referring to the album cover, the song’s lyrics touch on the theme of self-image and pageantry as put forth by the lyric; “I’m miss world, somebody kill me!” the more electric-based “Plump” follows as a short vessel for Love to emotively rant.

“Asking for It” is one of the more substantive tracks, inspired by an occurrence at a concert in which Love was assaulted and had her clothes ripped off of her while crowd-surfing. This song, with a calmer approach musically which lets Pfaff’s bass come through, includes the phrase which gave Live Through This its album title. After “Jennifer’s Body”, which explores the humiliation of a faithless lover, the album moves to the folksy and moderate “Doll Parts”. The song went on to peak at #4 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and became one of the band’s most popular songs. This dark song contains some entertaining and potent melodies and was written by Love during the early part of her relationship with Cobain with whirlwind lyrics such as; “I love him so much it just turns to hate”.

The latter part of the album tends to thin out a bit, with the one exception being the deep and indelible “Softer, Softest”, which features Cobain on backing vocals. Erlandson and Love wrote the song in 1991 with the original title “Pee Girl” and the track references some childhood traumas of Love. “She Walks on Me” is a pure punk track with screaming vocals during verse and more melody during chorus, while “I Think That I Would Die” is more interesting in its approach, with finely picked acoustic during verses and harmonized vocals, cool bass, and some keyboards during bridge. “Gutless” is not terrible in a punk/new wave approach, but it is very tiresome at this point on the album. The closer “Olympia” was a last second replacement for a track entitled “Rock Star”, switched out so late that the album mislabeled the final song. The actual final song criticizes the Women’s Studies department at Evergreen State College, where a lot of “riot grrl” bands which were emerging at the time.

Most critics consider Live Through This to be the finest output of Hole’s career. However, a significant cloud was put over the critical success of this album, as Kurt Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot four days prior to the album’s official release. Adding to the tragedy, bassist Kristen Pfaff (who had already decided to quit the band) died of an apparent heroin overdose just two months later.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Amorica by The Black Crowes

Amorica by The Black Crowes

Buy Amorica

Amorica by The Black CrowesAlthough not a particularly strong seller, The Black Crowes may have reached the quality peak of their career with their third album, Amorica. After two commercial blockbusters in the early nineties, the band was not able to sustain their commercial momentum. However, they may have strongly elevated their artistic credibility as they completed their evolution towards quasi-improvised, groove-constructed tracks that improve with each listen. Produced by Jack Joseph Puig, the album is also a sonic masterpiece, has just enough rock elements are strategically placed in the cracks between the funk and blues inspired structures.

The group’s 1992 album, The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, saw them expand their sound with a chorus of backup singers and two new permanent band members. On this album, the six-piece band went “old school”, finding plenty of space for each musician to exercise their respective chops, while guitarists Rich Robinson and Marc Ford stayed firmly above the fray. Lyrically, vocalist Chris Robinson wrote highly introspective lyrics.

On the popular music front, Amorica is noted for the controversy over its racy original album cover (taken from a 1976 cover of Hustler magazine). As a result, early pressings were banned from many retail outlets and an alternative cover (pictured above) was put together for later releases.


Amorica by The Black Crowes
Released: November 1, 1994 (American)
Produced by: Jack Joseph Puig
Recorded: May-June 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Gone
A Conspiracy
High Head Blues
Cursed Diamond
Nonfiction
She Gave Good Sunflower
P.25 London
Ballad In Urgency
Wiser Time
Downtown Money Waster
Descending
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman – Drums, Percussion

Amorica by The Black Crowes

A percussive start by drummer Steve Gorman leads into the opening track “Gone”, a raw, slightly out of tune guitar jam that sounds rough and unrehearsed track, but still carries cool charm. “A Conspiracy” is similar but a bit more refined, after starting very choppy with the illusion of being highly unfocused. The guitar arrangement between Ford and Robinson provides the thrust behind lyrics laced with a sense of dread. “High Head Blues” is really the first really accessible song on the album, as an upbeat and entertaining track reminiscent of Eric Burden and War. The percussion is provided by guest Eric Bobo and drives the long verse sections before the driving rock of the refrain.

“Cursed Diamond” is the first of several ballads, although this includes some loose and wild instrumentation which really picks up in intensity as it goes along. “Nonfiction” has a country feel and features picked acoustic with sweet overtones of slide guitar, accordion, bass, and fine keyboards by Eddie Harsch. Harsch starts “She Gave Good Sunflower” with a cool, 70’s-inspired distorted electric piano before meandering into a more standard Black Crowes-style rock and soul arrangement, although most of the remainder of the song is a simple, upbeat jam with flailing wah-wah guitars. “Ballad in Urgency” is another completely unique track on the album, with calm but potent guitar tones and phrasing and decidedly downtrodden lyrics. The song dissolves into a piano section with fine bass added by Johnny Colt.

The highlight of the latter part of the album, “Wiser Time” is driven by the excellent beat by Gorman, slide guitars by Rich Robinson, and duo lead vocals. The extended verses are carried by this fine three chord repetitive sequence, with sparse rock chorus sections breaking up the song. Later on the track there is a great four-part lead section, starting with a bluesy acoustic, followed by electric piano, then a single wailing electric guitar, and finally soaring harmonized guitars, giving this song buckets of variety. “Downtown Money Waster” contains ragtime piano and slide acoustic with scat percussive effects, while Chris Robinson does a great Delta blues impression vocally. The closer, “Descending” is a long ballad with more great slide guitars. The thumping bass riff of Colt picks things up a bit in the middle section before a true piano solo brings song and album to a calm ending.

Amorica eventually reached Gold status by selling 500,000 copies and the band enjoyed a successful tour the following year. In 1996, the group followed up with Three Snakes and One Charm, the final album with this lineup before several members parted ways in subsequent years.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Purple by Stone Temple Pilots

Purple by Stone Temple Pilots

Buy Purple

Purple by Stone Temple PilotsStone Temple Pilots reached their peak early in their career with the release of Purple in 1994. This second album builds off the sounds forged on the band’s 1992 debut album Core, while bringing that sound to a more enriched, mature, and entertaining level. This was accomplished by expanding on the sub-genres fused with the core hard-rock, grunge approach, utilizing some folk, jazz, funk, and Southern rock elements. Lyrically, the songs contain many references to vocalist and lyricist Scott Weiland‘s struggles with drug abuse and the collateral damage brought on by this addictions. This serves to add a tinge of darkness and foreboding to the otherwise inspiring musical vibes.

After the release of Core in September of 1992, the group received some negative reviews blasting them as “rip-offs” of more established contemporaries like Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. However, these critical reviews were in sharp contrast to popular opinion, as illustrated in one Rolling Stone magazine poll where the band was simultaneously voted “Best New Band” by the magazine’s readers and “Worst New Band” by its music critics. Still, by the time the group returned to the studio to record this second album, they were determined to make their mark of distinction on the rock world.

Producer Brendan O’Brien was again brought on to strike the sonic balance of the raw compositions written by the band. Brothers Dean DeLeo and Robert DeLeo nearly equally shared the musical compositions, with Weiland later adding the melodies and lyrics. Production of the album was completed in less than a month, and Purple was greeted with great fanfare, debuting at number one in the U.S. upon its release.


Purple by Stone Temple Pilots
Released: June 7, 1994 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien
Recorded: Southern Tracks Studio, Atlanta, GA, Spring 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Meatplow
Vasoline
Lounge Fly
Interstate Love Song
Still Remains
Pretty Penny
Silvergun Superman
Big Empty
Unglued
Army Ants
Kitchenware & Candybars
Scott Weiland – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Dean DeLeo – Guitars, Drums
Robert DeLeo – Bass, Guitars
Eric Kretz – Drums, Percussion

Purple by Stone Temple Pilots

 

Dominated by dual guitar riffs of DeLeo brothers, “Meatplow” is a slow rocker that strategically bends flat in overall tone, starting the album with a methodical edge which slowly churns towards the desired vibe. “Vasoline” is less patient, with a pure rudimental riff by Robert DeLeo that at once contrasts and compliments Weiland’s melodic vocals. Released as a single, the song reached the top of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. The song verse’s syncopated riff in non-standard timing is grounded by the steady 4/4 beat of drummer Eric Kretz, which builds a rhythmic tension that is released in the chorus.

Kretz is particularly impressive with drums and percussion throughout “Lounge Fly”. This track starts with a unique, backwards-masked riff with interludes by complex, rolling drums before it works its way towards a more normal rock arrangement. During the middle section, this song moves to a pure acoustic folk arrangement with duet vocals before building back to a hard rock format with a screeching guitar lead credited to Paul Leary of the band Butthole Surfers.

Perhaps the best song ever composed by Stone Temple Pilots, “Interstate Love Song” leaves an indelible sonic impression on the listener and the succinct arrangement ferments a desire for more. The much too short acoustic intro by Robert DeLeo breaks into the finest of riffing, which alternates between the layered blues rock and twangy overdub of the interludes and the funky, crunchy riffs of the verses. Weiland’s vocals are also top notch and potent throughout, as he delivers the lyrics that deal with the lack of honesty in hiding his addiction to heroin;

“waiting on a Sunday afternoon for what I read between the lines, your lies, feelin’ like a hand in rusted shame, so do you laugh or does it cry? Reply?”

“Still Remains” has an almost outlaw country (or at least Southern-fried rock) approach with twangy guitar layers and more very good, moody vocals. Dean DeLeo’s “Pretty Penny” takes another radical turn in style with Eastern-flavored acoustic instruments and various hand percussion. This calm and steady track never relents by breaking into anything harder rocking and harkens back to the English folk of Traffic or even Jethro Tull, but with distinctive STP vocals during the chorus. By contrast, “Silvergun Superman” is a progressive song which gets better and better as it goes along. Starting with slow, heavy metal rock riffs, the chorus breaks into a soaring vocal and moving bass section and then bridge further adds variety to the arrangement before a shredding guitar lead brings this song up to yet the next level. However, there is a bizarre breakdown at the end of the track which is a bit unprofessional and drains all the afore momentum.

“Big Empty” is fueled by the bluesy and jazzy slide guitar of Dean DeLeo above the bouncy, funk bass of his brother Robert. The song originally appeared on the soundtrack to the movie The Crow and was later a successful single that reached the Top Ten of the Mainstream Rock charts. “Unglued” is, perhaps, the most upbeat and “dance-ready” rocker on Purple, short but sweet and entertaining with none of the droning of most of the other tracks. Another unique track, “Army Ants” starts with a moody, descending riff, drenched in heavy flange before it breaks into a harder rocking song that jams at top level for a couple verses and choruses before returning to the intro part and starting all over. The closer “Kitchenware & Candybars” may be the most melodramatic of all tracks complete with orchestral effects by O’Brien. The song includes a hidden twelfth track sung as a lounge song by guest Richard Peterson, who provides a closing overture that explains the album’s back cover, which displays a cake with the phrase “12 Gracious Melodies”.

Within a few months of its release, Purple had sold over three million copies and propelled the band to headliner status. The following year, Stone Temple Pilots recorded their third album, Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, which took an even more radical music departure. Here critics were more favorable to the band’s sound, while fans were not quite so impressed.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Smash by The Offspring

Smash by The Offspring

Buy Smash

Smash by The OffspringOften overlooked by their more lauded West Coast contemporaries, The Offspring were nonetheless a hard rock powerhouse in the mid to late nineties. Their aptly named breakthrough album, Smash, achieved platinum sales and reached the Top 10 in over a dozen countries, peaking at #4 on the US album charts. Unlike the group’s first two releases, which were close to hardcore punk in genre, this third independent album leans more towards the emerging grunge rock and pop punk sound, which brought the critical and commercial success. In total, Smash has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling independent label album of all time.

The Offspring began in Southern California in the mid 1980s with guitarist, lyricist, and front man Bryan “Dexter” Holland and bassist Greg Kriesel. Later on the group added Ron Welty and guitarist Kevin Wasserman to round out the quartet. In 1989, the group recorded their first album with producer Thom Wilson, who continued to work with the group on their 1991 sophomore effort and on Smash.

However, when they began studio work on this album in 1993, the band’s relations with Wilson had begun to strain. Still, the team worked well enough together to forge a successful sound which became highly influential over the coming decades and still resonates with listeners to this day.


Smash by The Offspring
Released: April 8, 1994 (Epitath)
Produced by: Thom Wilson
Recorded: Track Record, North Hollywood, CA, October–December 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Time to Relax
Nitro (Youth Energy)
Bad Habit
Gotta Get Away
Genocide
Something to Believe In
Come Out and Play
Self Esteem
It’ll Be a Long Time
Killboy Powerhead
What Happened to You?
So Alone
Not the One
Smash
Dexter Holland – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kevin Wasserman – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Kriesel – Bass, Vocals
Ron Welty – Drums, Vocals

Smash by The Offspring

Aside from the single cover song, Holland composed all songs on Smash, which includes a spoken-word narrator who makes three appearances, starting with the 25 second intro “Time to Relax”. Welty’s relentless drums drive the track “Nitro (Youth Energy)”, with dueling vocals and guitars buried quite a bit back in the mix and a constant refrain of “living like there’s no tomorrow”. “Bad Habit” takes a different approach as Kriesel’s slow, accented bass riff dominates the intro and first verse before the second verse brings additional punk structure and drive. Later there is a naked vocal middle section laced with profanity, which may actually be the overall most creative and interesting part of the song.

“Gotta Get Away” starts with a drum roll and bass intro, reminiscent of a 1960s pop beat, before the song morphs into a more hard rock oriented arrangement which seems to be heavily influenced by Nirvana. Released as a single, the song reached number 6 on the Modern Rock chart. “Genocide” is mainly structured more like a heavy metal track with distorted riffs and double-kick drums but the vocals keep it grounded within the pop/punk realm. Overall not a bad tune, just thick and slow in the melody hooks. “Something to Believe In” is an honest attempt at 70s-style punk, before it later dissolves to a bass driven bridge.

The song this band was born to play, “Come Out and Play”, with an anthemic, shout-along chorus, was the catalyst that brought the Offspring great success. Although not officially released as a single, the song hit the airwaves and raced to the top of the Mainstream Rock charts. Fueled by Holland’s Eastern-style riff, lyrics on adolescence, and an entertaining stop-start arrangement, the song struck a unique chord in the rock music universe. The second most popular song on the album, “Self Esteem” is a fun song with great, pathetic, philosophical, and almost comical lyrics about an unhealthy relationship. Beginning with full arrangement, the song leans on strong bass and deadened guitars during the verses and a fuller arrangement elsewhere as the truth of its lyric puts it over the top;

“the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care…”

Later in the album, the material thins out a bit. “It’ll Be a Long Time” sounds like a fast-paced Black Sabbath song, more worried about the riff and the jam than the noise and attitude of punk. “Killboy Powerhead” is the a cover by contemporary punk group The Didjits with a cool, Saturday morning cartoon vibe. “What Happened to You?” is a very short but entertaining excursion into ska where the performance and production is tighter than anywhere else on the album, while “So Alone” is pure filler of 100mph punk that lasts barely 70 seconds in total duration. “Not the One” is where surf music meets punk, setting up the closer “Smash”, which almost sounds like a pimped-out, punked-out version on the previous track. This final song does pick up a bit in intensity before abruptly ending with “closing comments” by a narrator.

The unprecedented success of Smash garnered attention from major labels like Columbia Records, with whom The Offspring signed in 1996. The following year, the group released their much anticipated follow-up Ixnay on the Hombre, which continued to elevate the group’s success.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.