1966_RollingStones Aftermath

Aftermath by The Rolling Stones

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Aftermath by Rolling StonesAlthough it was their fourth album released in Britain and their sixth album released in America, Aftermath was really the second “true” album by The Rolling Stones, following 1965’s Out Of Our Heads. This one, like that previous one, was released in two distinct versions in the UK and in the USA, a common practice for the day (this review will look at the “greater” album, considering all the tracks included on either version of Aftermath). The UK hit single “Paint It Black” was added to the American version, replacing four songs that were included on the UK version.

With Out Of Our Heads, the band reached the peak of their mid-sixties (then cutting-edge) mixture of Chicago-style blues and pop-rock. Aftermath builds on this while it progresses the band more towards their distinct sound and image as “rock and roll’s bad boys”. It is also the first Stones album to include all original material, written by the tandem of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although not himself a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was the driving force behind some of the unique and distinct sonic quality of the album. Jones incorporated wider musical influences, such as psychedelia and folk, and widely expanded the use of instrumentation, with songs on Aftermath including touches of dulcimer, sitar, marimba, and various keyboards.

Aftermath was also the first Rolling Stones album to be recorded entirely in the United States at the legendary RCA Studios in Hollywood and it was the first album the band released in true stereo.
 

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Aftermath by Rolling Stones
Released: April 15, 1966 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, December 1965-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Mother’s Little Helper
Stupid Girl
Lady Jane
Under My Thumb
Doncha Bother Me
Goin’ Home
Flight 505
High And Dry
Out Of Time
It’s Not Easy
I Am Waiting
Take It or Leave It
Think
What To Do
Song Included On U.S. Version
Paint It, Black
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Dulcimer, Sitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Organ
Charlie Watts – Drums. Percussion, Marimba

Much of the music’s backbone is still rooted in Chicago electric blues, with Jones’ instrumental tangents adding strategic flavoring to several songs. The opener “Mother’s Little Helper” contains a signature riff of heavily compressed 12-string electric guitar played with a slide. The song itself is a Beatle-esque, upbeat ode with a much darker message about drug dependency that made it one of the more thought provoking songs of the era.

“Stupid Girl” features a Fafsa organ by band manager and studio keyboardist Ian Stewart. It has the musical vibe of mid-sixties surf music and contains some juvenile lyrics that degrade the band’s groupies, one of several songs on the album that portray the fairer sex in a less-than-stellar light. Feminists have long lamented the message in “Under My Thumb”, which speaks of gaining the “upper hand” in a sexual relationship. No matter the message, the music to this song is absolutely brilliant, led by Jones’ marimba riff throughout with Richards’ acoustic and electric guitars and Bill Wyman‘s driving “fuzz” bass. Jones later brings back the marimba for the Phil Spector-esque “Out of Time”. This song was soon covered by English solo artist Chris Farlowe, whose recording was actually produced by Mick Jagger and reached number one on the UK singles in July, 1966.

Rolling Stones Paint It Black single“Paint It, Black” is, in reality, constructed very similar to the band’s 1965 smash hit “Satisfaction”, in the sense that a catchy and heavy rock song is wrapped around a signature riff. However, the riff on “Paint It, Black” uses the much more exotic sitar which Jones recently learned from Beatles guitarist and Indian music enthusiast George Harrison. During the verse, drummer Charlie Watts adds to the atmosphere by playing a Middle Eastern-flavored drum pattern while Jagger contributed the dark lyrics, about depression, mourning, and cynicism. Keith Richard plays both electric and acoustic guitars as well as contributes background vocals to this hit song.

“Lady Jane” showcases Brian Jones on dulcimer and has a middle-age feel throughout due to its distinct instrumentation and precise vocals. Fans have long considered this song a hidden gem from Aftermath and critics have long argued that Jones deserved a song writing credit. The dulcimer is brought back by Jones on “I Am Waiting”, another good, meditative song.

Unfortunately, Aftermath does include a lot of filler as not all the songs hit the mark. “Goin’ Home” is an 11-minute blues jam, remarkable for its length in the era, but really Mundane in its delivery. “It’s Not Easy” is uninspired, basic filler while “Think” is a feeble attempt to rip-off “Satisfaction” with its buzz and precisely picked strings falling short of anything really interesting. Other songs are more interesting but don’t seem quite done, such as the bluesy “Doncha Bother Me”, the piano rocking “Flight 505”, and the upbeat, acoustic folk/bluegrass “High and Dry”, which has a nice edge due to Jagger’s vocals and Jones’ blues harp, but also contains an annoying, up-front and distracting hi-hat beat.

Rolling Stones in 1966

Aftermath would ultimately be the high-water mark for Brian Jones’ influence on the band. Over the next few years and albums, his contributions were eventually diminished in lieu of the Jagger/Richards influence until he was ultimately nudged out of the band in 1969. He died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

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Blonde On Blonde by Bob DylanI had the pleasure of seeing Bob Dylan live over the summer. It was a great experience, which I wrote about for Modern Rock Review. So I jumped at the chance to review one of Dylan’s greatest albums – Blonde on Blonde for Classic Rock Review. Dylan’s music has served as an inspiration to me through some dark times. EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED! Just kidding about getting stoned, but those last two sentences illustrate a good deal about Blonde On Blonde. It is a seminal album in Dylan’s sixties career that somehow balances the silly, philosophical, and melancholy. I dare say it does this a great deal better than I just did. This said, this album is not Dylan’s masterpiece. That honor, in my humble opinion, belongs to its 1965 predecessor, Highway 61 Revisited. However, these albums have been linked together as Blonde On Blonde is sometimes regarded as the third part of Dylan’s mid-1960s trilogy of rock albums which commenced with Bringing It All Back Home. The album has also been considered the first significant double album in rock music (and is the first true double album to be reviewed by Classic Rock Review.

After the release of Highway 61 Revisited in August 1965, Dylan went on some extensive touring with his new “electric” band which had so upset the audience and organizers of 1965 Newport Folk Festival. During this time he contacted a group who were performing under the name Levon and the Hawks. The band was comprised of four Canadian musicians, including guitarist Robbie Robertson, and would eventually come to be called “The Band”. Dylan rehearsed with the Hawks in Toronto on September 15, and eventually they all went into Columbia Records studios in New York City. There they recorded a hit single “Positively 4th Street” (which was not included on the album). Dylan was trying to formulate the shape of his next album, and soon became frustrated by the slow progress of the recordings with the Hawks in New York. Producer Bob Johnston suggested moving the sessions to Nashville where Johnston lived and had extensive experience with Nashville session musicians. Recordings for what would become Blonde On Blonde began there in February 1966.

Keyboardist Al Kooper assisted Dylan in the songwriting process by working song arrangements out on piano and then teaching the tunes to the studio musicians at the recording sessions. However one song, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, confused the musicians who expected to end many times before the entire eleven and a half minutes of the final recording. The final day of recording sessions ultimately produced six songs in thirteen hours of studio time, including “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, which featured a trumpet part by bassist Charlie McCoy, and the giddy, half-serious “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, where a local trombonist was recruited to join in.

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Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan
Released: May 16, 1966 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Music Row Studios, Nashville, February-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile
(with the Memphis Blues Again)
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like a Woman
Side Three Side Four
Most Likely You Go Your Way
Temporary Like Achilles
Absolutely Sweet Marie
4th Time Around
Obviously 5 Believers
Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Vocals
Robbie Robertson – Guitar, Vocals
Al Kooper – Organ, Guitar
Charlie McCoy – Bass, Trumpet
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

The fun, if silly, song with dual meanings is about the escapism of getting stoned on pot due to the inevitability of getting stoned by society. Combine this with a wild musical ride brought about by tambourine, harmonica, clapping, hooting, hollering, piano, and the aforementioned trumpet and trombone, and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is an extremely unique and fun song. “Pledging My Time” follows with a similar quickly-put-together sound, but without the fun of the opener. Luckily, this is followed by “Visions of Johanna”, a lyrical triumph with a simple but effective musical backing. There are some really cool effects thrown throughout the song, but it leans a bit on the lengthy side. Not that Dylan fans ever minded length very much.

The album returns from a lyrical odyssey with the fantastic keyboard-driven “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”. This song blends Dylan’s lyrics with a great musical spine. The piano drives the song up and down like rolling hills as Dylan’s voices leads the way. It also contains great lines –

And I told you, as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant to do you any harm
But sooner or later one of us must know
But you just did what you’re supposed to do
Sooner or later one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you…”

The lyrics point to a scorned lover, but the music keeps things up beat and mellow almost as if the music is trying to keep the scorned lover happy while Dylan breaks her heart. Side Two of this four-sided album begins the classic, simple and perfect “I Want You”. This song contains perhaps the best opening line of any song period –

The guilty undertaker sighs, the lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns, blow into my face with scorn
But it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you…”

From here the song becomes one of the most simplistic sex songs in history. Dylan doesn’t convolute the feelings being expressed in the song and he adds little imagery to the fact that he wants the woman the song is addressing. It’s a love song without love, but it isn’t lust either. Dylan just isn’t sugar coating what he wants with hidden meanings.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” is another long one, but the funky guitar and keyboard use makes this song a lot more interesting than the goliath “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, which closes the album. I could keep putting in examples of Dylan’s fantastic lyrics, but then this review would have more of Dylan than Dylan. That was a joke playing on my middle name which comes from this very same artist. Silly yes, but needed? I think so. “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” is a lyrical jam that still feels fresh after seven minutes of run time. Especially with lyrics like –

One was Texas Medicine, and the other was Railroad Jin, and like a fool I mixed them…”

“…your debutant just knows what you need, but I know what you want…”

So maybe I lied about quoting from the songs anymore. Those lyrics are two that always resonated with me for personal reasons. Who hasn’t mixed Texas Medicine and Railroad Gin? “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” is another very Dylan song that pokes fun at the fashion industry. Dylan is commenting on the fact that outrageous fashion trends, like leopard-skin pillbox hats are fleeting and silly much like fashion as an industry which creates faux crazes over the clothes it declares to be in to rack up cash from people who can’t just be comfortable with what they want to wear. The song is great and the guitar and drums again create a topsy-turvy sense in the music.

Bob Dylan in 1966

“Just Like a Woman” has Dylan’s lyrics, but the music sounds so similar to the simple beats of “Visions of Johanna” that someone who has heard the album multiple times can get a bit bored. In order for a Dylan song to be great it must have the lyrical and musical components working together to bring about a unity of song. Not all the songs on Blonde On Blonde do this, yet none of these songs really lack lyrically. They occasionally just have overly simple beats that don’t change enough to keep a listener’s attention.

As we proceed to “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, it becomes apparent that there are two distinct sounds that make up Blonde On Blonde – the up-tempo, fun sounding sound, as on this song, and the melancholy, simple-beat songs like “Just Like a Woman”. If you couldn’t tell, I prefer the up-tempo fun sounding ones. “Most Likely You Go Your Way..” is a bit short, but still a good listen. “Temporary Like Achilles” is one of the melancholy songs. Dylan’s voice is slow and simple but the piano plays a strangely interesting melody through the first chorus, until the song slows down a bit for the duration. The album then jumps back to the fun, more pop-oriented “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, where the guitar and drums return to exciting change-up mode and Dylan’s voice is back at its peak. The lyrics also seem more interesting with a good back beat –

Well, six white horses that you did promise/Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary/But to live outside the law, you must be honest…”

Verbal hypocrisy abounds in those fine-tuned lyrics. The song even has a few jam sections spread throughout the chorus. Slight changes in instruments and times also seem to flow out towards the end of the song.

One of the few melancholy songs I really love on this album is “4th Time Around”, a loose tribute to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”, which was in itself an ode to Dylan in that it uses his language to hide a scandalous affair. I love the song because of the guitar which runs up and down through the songs. Up to this point I’ve avoided the stories surrounding Dylan’s various songs only because there are so many, but this one just seemed to cool to ignore. Onwards to another playful song – “Obviously 5 Believers” which has quite blues vibe running all the way through it. I could easily see a house band jamming out in a crowded bar to this song which closes out side three. The album closes with the side-long “Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands”, perhaps the only Dylan song from the period that I really don’t like. It is a far cry from “Desolation Row”, which closed out the prior album.

I still contend that I think that previous album is superior to Blonde On Blonde, but that does not mean that this is not a solid album with a solid place in Dylan’s sixties career. The songs that have lyrics and music are the classics here and they are the ones people remember for a reason. Then again, this is just one Dylan’s opinion. Feel free to argue the point with me.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Revolver by The Beatles

Revolver by The Beatles

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Revolver by The BeatlesAs many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated. To a generation of listeners raised in the digital era, this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted songwriting styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented and phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of summer 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums as the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s songwriting. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987. This was when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums, so this is the version we have reviewed.

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Revolver by The Beatles
Released: August 5, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, April-June, 1966
Side One Side Two
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
I’m Only Sleeping
Love You To
Here, There, and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said, She Said
Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One
Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows
Band Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Synths, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson, the British Labour Prime Minister, and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times. Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, molded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Beatles Got To Get You Into My Life singleMcCartney’s “Got to Get You into My Life” was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Beatles in 1966

The most groundbreaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable soundscape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Album of the Year 1991

Ten by Pearl Jam

Album of the Year 1991

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Ten by Pearl JamPearl Jam‘s excellent debut is one of the most potent and indelible of debut albums ever released. The album called Ten was released in August 1991, at the vanguard of a new musical movement spearheaded by the Seattle grunge invasion. This album has sold just over ten million copies to date. More importantly, the fusion of syles and songcraft worked to forge a sound which would have immediate ripples through the hard rock world and beyond.

The album and the band itself came together after situations that developed rapidly in the 18 months prior to Ten‘s release. Pearl Jam’s founding members, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Steve Gossard, played together in the band Mother Love Bone during the late 1980s. That band’s career was cut short when, shortly before the release of the group’s debut album, vocalist Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose in 1990. Devastated, Gossard and Ament did not play together for months until they began jamming with fellow Seattle guitarist Mike McCready. Soon they recorded a few instrumental demos, which came to be known as the “Stone Gossard Demos”. These tapes were circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer to complete a rock band. San Diego vocalist Eddie Vedder acquired a copy of the demo and began to write lyrics for the instrumentals. Songs originally titled “Dollar Short”, “Agytian Crave”, and “E Ballad” were soon reworked as “Alive”, “Once”, and “Black”. Gossard and Ament heard the updated demo with Vedder’s vocals and lyrics, and sent him a ticket to fly to Seattle for an audition on October 13, 1990. There Vedder rehearsed with the band, which now included drummer Dave Krusen.

The new band was initially named Mookie Blaylock after the New Jersey Nets basketball star, but because Blaylock had recently landed a deal with Nike, the band had to reconsider the name and settle on Pearl Jam, while Ten‘s title was taken from Blaylock’s jersey number. They soon landed a deal with Epic Records and entered Seattle’s London Bridge Studios in March 1991 with producer Rick Parashar. In little more than a month, the sessions were completed and soon after, in May 1991, Krusen left the band to enter rehab and was replaced by drummer Matt Chamberlain.

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Ten by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Rick Parashar & Pearl Jam
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March 27-April 26, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Once
Even Flow
Alive
Why Go
Black
Jeremy
Oceans
Porch
Garden
Deep
Release / Master-Slave
Eddie Vedder – Vocals
Mike McCready – Lead Guitar
Steve Gossard – Guitar
Jeff Ament – Bass
Dave Krusan – Drums
 
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Vedder’s lyrics for the album are mainly negative and deal with subjects like depression, loneliness, and suicide. The song “Jeremy” was inspired, in part, by a true story in which a high school student shot himself in front of his classmates. This haunting but catchy tune includes an unconventional storytelling vocal melody during the verse and a soaring hook during the chorus. The music for the song was written on acoustic guitar by bassist Jeff Ament in February 1991, just before the band went into the studio.

Both the opener “Once” and the brilliant “Alive” were formed as part of a three song cycle by Vedder called “Mamasan” (with the third song, “Footsteps”, a B-side on the “Jeremy” single). “Alive” starts with a slow, methodical, majestic intro by Gossard, but is then dominated by Vedder with his distinct and odd vocals and melody. A simple but entertaining guitar riff in the calm bridge gives way to a contrasting coda/crescendo jam by McCready. While the song’s lyric deals with the shock of a son discovering that his real father is dead, many fans have come to interpret interpreted “Alive” as an uplifting and inspirational anthem.

Pearl Jam Evenflow singleAccording to the band members, “Evenflow” was an extremely difficult song to record, taking up to 75 to 100 attempts to capture effectively. The result, however, is another classic, vocally driven song with a great hook during chorus and a heavy funk riff by Gossard. The song nearly fades away during the lead bridge, before coming back with a vengeance in another outtro crescendo. Vedder’s lyrics describe his experience of being a homeless man and panhandler. The song was released as the second single from Ten and peaked at #3 on the Mainstream Rock charts.

The album also includes a couple of calm, surreal, melancholy efforts that act as an excellent counter-weight to the heavier songs on the album. “Black” is a melancholy song with obscure lyrics that appear to deal with a loss of some kind. It contains a signature, harmonic vocal motif which, combined with an accompanying lead guitar, forms a memorable sonic hook in the background of the song. The acoustic and melodic “Oceans” is nearly a love song with a few odd passages and percussive effects which make it a unique ballad. “Release” is a more droning and atmospheric piece.

Pearl Jam in 1991

Ten was not an immediate success, as it initially sold slowly upon its release. It took until the later part 1992 until it finally caught on in the mainstream, peaking at #2 on the Billboard album chart. Ironically, Pearl Jam was then accused by some of “jumping on the grunge bandwagon” in the wake of the immediate success by their crosstown contemporaries Nirvana, even though that band released their breakthrough album, Nevermind in September 1991, a month later than Pearl Jam’s debut. There has been much debate over the years over which of these two albums from 1991 was the superior effort. For us at Classic Rock Review there is no contest as Ten is deeper, better sounding, with better songs and much less filler material. That is why it is our Album of the Year for 1991.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Metallica 1991 album

Metallica (Black Album) by Metallica

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Metallica 1991 albumAfter four studio albums and ever-building popularity in the 1980s, heavy metal band Metallica felt they were poised for their artistic breakthrough. During the summer of 1990, the band got together to write some songs lead by primary songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, but with input from the other members of the band; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted.

The band then hired Bob Rock as mixing engineer, having been impressed by his past work with Mötley Crüe. However, after comparing the band’s previous studio albums to a recent live show, Rock was convinced that the band was not capturing their live energy in their self-produced recordings and convinced Metallica, to hire him on as full producer, to which they agreed. As Ulrich stated, “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it.” However, things did not go smoothly at first, as Rock was very frank and forthcoming with the band and they resented being told what to do. Eventually Rock reached an implicit compromise with the band members. He would not mess with their arrangements, just their tempo, and after about 8 months of marathon rehearsing, recording, and mixing sessions, they forged a new and tremendously successful sound for Metallica. It was a combination of the band’s traditional thrash metal grit with a slowed down tempo, diverse instrumentation, and more melodic vocals. Under Rock’s direction, the bass guitar was also brought up to a more equitable position in the mix, which also enhanced the breadth of the sound and added a new, doomier dimension.

The result was the band’s 1991 eponymous fifth album that would come to be known as “The Black Album”, due to its simple cover and packaging. The album would go on to tremendous commercial success, breaking the radio silence that many thought the band would never realistically break through.

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Metallica by Metallica
Released: August 13, 1991 (Electra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield, & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles,
October 6, 1990-June 16, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Enter Sandman
Sad But True
Holier Than Thou
The Unforgiven
Wherever I May Roam
Don’t Tread On Me
Through the Never
Nothing Else Matters
Of Wolf & Man
The God That Failed
My Friend of Misery
The Struggle Within
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Lead Guitar
Jason Newstead – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums, Percussion

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The lynchpin that holds the entire look and feel of The Black Album together is the opener “Enter Sandman”. Built off a riff by Kirk Hammett, this doomy, futuristic sounding motif was the first written for the album and the last recorded, but the first mixed so Rock could use it as a sonic template for the final, mixed and mastered sound of the album. A rather simple song with a simple theme on dreams and nightmares, “Enter Sandman” would become a recognizable audio icon in many corners of pop culture. The song is followed by “Sad But True”, which could almost be considered “Enter Sandman, Pt II”, as it has a similar sound and theme about dreams. “Holier Than Thou” was originally slated as the first “emphasis single”, as it harkens back to the band’s traditional, thrash metal style, with the sound driven by Hetfield’s layered rhythm guitars and Ulrich’s front & center double-kick drums.

On a macro level, the album winds through a journey of differing sounds which fuse with the base, core sound of the band. “Wherever I May Roam” starts with an Eastern-influenced sitar riff before kicking into the typical, slow beat metal sound, occasionally reaching other gears as it works through some odd timing signatures while maintaining an overall cohesiveness. “Don’t Tread On Me” has a marching, almost patriotic feel in the intro before it nicely fuses into a steady beat with interesting chord changes during the verses, making it a unique listen on the album. “Nothing Else Matters” was a love song written by Hetfield, which he originally did not intend to use for Metallica but was eventually encouraged to do so by the other band members. The song includes a full orchestral score by Michael Kamen, most of which was not used for the album’s version of the song, but was remixed for an alternate “elevator version”, which the band found fascinating.

Metallica

Another personal song written by Hetfield is “The God That Failed”, which dealt with growing up in a family with Christian Science beliefs that forbid medical treatment from outside physicians. Hetfield’s mother eventually died from cancer, in part because of this practice. Newsted’s main songwriting contribution to the album is “My Friend of Misery”. The song, which begins with a doomy bass riff, was originally intended to be an instrumental (as all previous Metallica albums had contained one) but was adapted into a proper song that fits nicely with the overall feel of the album.

The best song on the album is “The Unforgiven”. Like much of their songs, it contains building and fluctuating sections held together by consistent drumming by Ulrich, but “The Unforgiven” offers a reverse method by returning to the calm and melodic during the chorus, not the verse. From the finger-picked, classical acoustic guitar in the intro, to the melancholy guitar lead, to Hetfield’s best vocal performance ranging from traditional grit in the verse to a softer, very melodic melody during the choruses, this song is a bonafide classic. Apparently the band concurred, writing two sequels – 1997’s “Unforgiven II” from ReLoad and 2008’s “Unforgiven III” from Death Magnetic. Ironically, the band lifted a horn sound from an old Clint Eastwood “spaghetti western” for the intro to this song, while Eastwood would return to westerns the following year with a film named Unforgiven.

Prior to this album, most critics dismissed Metallica as an over-hyped garage band, which would never catch on beyond the core of dedicated, cult-like fans. Metallica would prove them wrong and make many in the ever-changing industry reconsider the scope of genres which have mass appeal. The album would be a major influence for the post-grunge sound of the mid to late nineties and be the absolute pinnacle of Metallica’s long and successful career. As Hammett simply referred to it; “it is our Dark Side of the Moon”.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

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Psychotic Supper by TeslaOut of the deluge of “hair bands” that populated the rock scene in the late 1980s, Tesla was, perhaps, the most talented and interesting. The band composed songs which were deeper and less formulaic and had slightly better dynamics then the clones of Poison or Mötley Crüe. By the time the band got around to its third studio album, Psychotic Supper in 1991, they seemed primed to move into the top level of popular rock bands. Their previous studio album, Great Radio Controversy in 1989, got their great radio play with a few charting hits as well as critical respected. This was followed by the live Five Man Acoustical Jam, which put the band on the cutting edge of the rising trend of performing stripped down versions of heavier songs in an intimate setting. With that setup, the band looked to knock it out of the park with this release.

But Psychotic Supper suffered greatly from its time and place in the rock and roll scene. It was released within 30 days of two of the most influential albums of the decade coming out of the Seattle grunge scene – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which would become a phenomenon in the coming years. To compound this misfortune, Tesla’s album was also released within 30 days of long awaited albums by established artists – Metallica’s self-titled (black) album and Guns n Rose’s duo realease of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. All of this combined to “crowd out” the news of the release and effectively diffuse any momentum that Tesla had built.

The album contains a more stripped-down production method (than practiced in the eighties) and few overdubs to give it an air of legitimacy and live feel. It is the band’s bluesy, acoustic-tinged, approach at its height, with just a flourish of self-indulgence which may have further “dated” the sound in a year of radical change in rock n’ roll.

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Psychotic Supper by Tesla
Released: August 30, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero
Recorded: 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Change In the Weather
Edison’s Medicine
Don’t De-Rock Me
Call It What You Want
Song and Emotion
Time
Government Personnel
Freedom Slaves
Had Enough
What You Give
Stir It Up
Can’t Stop
Toke About It
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitar, Keyboards
Brian Wheat – Bass, Piano
Troy Luccketta – Drums & Percussion

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

“Call It What You Want” is one of the most striking songs with the moody and melodic intro morphing into an exciting, upbeat theme with dynamic vocals and sonically pleasing guitar accents. While the “Tesla sound” may be encompassed in “Call It What You Want”, their overall band theme could be “Edison’s Medicine”, which tells the story about the famous inventor Thomas Edison and his lesser known (but equally brilliant) rival Nikola Tesla, the band’s namesake.

“Song and Emotion” is an almost bluesy rendition on picked electric lead by the soulful vocals of Keith. The song slowly works its way in before exploding into a heavier rhythm while still maintaining its original feel. “Government Personnel” is a pure acoustic, near-spoof that lasts barely a minute but is still very entertaining. The highly suggestive “Toke About It” uses Van Halen-like showmanship rock to present a party atmosphere to close out the album.

“What You Give” is the most memorable anthem from Psychotic Supper, due especially to the interplay between Frank Hannon on acoustic and Tommy Skeoch on electric guitars. The song itself is a philosophical examination of relationships that is intentionally slow developing to accent the vocal performance as well as its own fine arrangement.

Some of the heavier material on the album include the driving, accent-heavy, and aptly titled “Don’t De-Rock Me” and the more standard fare “Had Enough” with some bluesy-edged lead guitars.

Tesla never quite fit into any specific box as far as genre goes, and sadly this prevented the band from getting their due in retrospective critique. In the late eighties they were a step ahead of the (what was then considered) “heavy metal” scene and in the early nineties they weren’t melodramatic enough to benefit from the grunge or alternative waves that swept the rock world. Psychotic Supper was, in effect, the band’s “last hurrah”. After their next album, Bust a Nut in 1994, the band commenced a six year “hiatus” to close out the century which all but ended the productive portion of their run at fame.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Blood Sugar Sex Magik
by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili PeppersJust as the Red Hot Chili peppers were starting to break out in the late 1980s, two of the band’s members were struggling mightily with drug abuse. One of them, lead singer Anthony Kiedis, decided to get clean and survived. Unfortunately the other, guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in June 1988. The band’s then drummer Jack Irons subsequently quit due to the substance problems in the band and went on to help form Pearl Jam. So Kiedis and bassist Flea were left to search for a new guitarist and drummer.

Guitarist John Frusciante was an avid fan of the band and auditioned along with former P-Funk guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight. Frusciante was ultimately chosen to fill Slovak’s place along with drummer Chad Smith, who joined just prior to production of the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk, which would be their last album with EMI. Courted by many labels, the band ultimately signed with Warner Brothers, at the urging of Kiedis and Rick Rubin was brought in to produce the Chili Peppers first album for the label.

At Rubin’s suggestion, the band recorded the album in an old mansion once owned by magician Harry Houdini. In early summer 1991, equipment was moved in and the band decided that they would remain inside the mansion for the duration of recording. Frusciante, Kiedis, and Flea each had their own separate rooms at each end of the house and Kiedis ended up recording all his vocals in his room, as it was large enough to accommodate the recording equipment. For over thirty days, the Chili Peppers worked inside the house on the album that would become Blood Sugar Sex Magic.

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: September 24, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: The Mansion, Los Angeles, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Power of Equality
If You Have to Ask
Breaking the Girl
Funky Monks
Suck My Kiss
I Could Have Lied
Mellowship Slinky in B Major
The Righteous & the Wicked
Give It Away
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Under the Bridge
Naked In the Rain
Apache Rose Peacock
The Greeting Song
My Lovely Man
Sir Psycho Sexy
They’re Red Hot
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals, Trumpet, Keyboards
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

Buy Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

The album would go on to be their blockbuster breakthrough, spawning several radio-friendly “hits” which were cherry-picked from a super-sized album loaded with funk/hip-hop fused, sexually-charged explicit material. The first of these hits was “Give It Away”, a very simple and catchy rap which first brought the album some mainstream attention in the Fall of 1991. This paved the way for the follow-up single which would put the band over the top for the first time in their career.

RHCP Under the Bridge single“Under the Bridge” was at first considered one of those songs that did “not fit the style” of the band. It was written by Kiedis as he reflected on his heroin and cocaine addictions about a moment that he came to believe was his lowest point. It started as a poem which Rubin stumbled upon and suggested Kiedis show it to the rest of the band. After some convincing, he sang the verse to Frusciante, they began structuring the song. After the song was recorded, Rubin felt the grand and epic outtro would benefit from a large group of singers. Frusciante invited his mother, Gail and her friends, all of whom sang in a choir, to perform the outtro.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik begins with a couple of rap songs with funk backing – “The Power OF Equality” and “If You Have to Ask”, each a bit trite and mundane compared to the album’s stronger material. The album then suddenly takes a sharp turn with “Breaking the Girl”, one of its more melodic tracks and a complete departure from the hip-hop/funk canvas. Acoustic and dreamy with pulsating bass, long strings and a tribalistic drum beat, the song shows that Kleidis can sing when he wants to.

Here the album starts to get much more interesting. Following “Breaking the Girl” is Flea’s slap-bass fueled “Funky Monks”, complete with high-pitched chorus vocals and a more interesting arrangement. This is followed by the heavier “Suck My Kiss”, an excellent song of pure energy that employs the higher tactic of innuendo in contrast to the more explicit songs. A softer, almost love song follows called “I Could Have Lied”. Driven by melodic bass, acoustic, steady drums, and a toned down, soft vocal, Kiedis supposedly wrote this about his brief relationship he had with Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor.

“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is a funk sandwich wrapped in the bread of pure rock riffs, while “The Righteous and the Wicked” is another enjoyable listen, being bass groove driven, with a funky guitar, melodic vocals, and a good hook. It is essential Red Hot Chili Peppers in its diversity and even contains a nice riff in the middle which has a definitive Led Zeppelin quality

Unfortunately, as the 17-song album goes along much of the later material tends to be repetitive and overdone. One exception may be the eight minute mini-suite, “Sir Psycho Sexy”, which has a bit of a Frank Zappa quality to it musically accompanying porno-level explicitly sexual lyrics.

Despite some of the shortcomings, the album is a must have for any serious rock collector, especially those interested in unique sound and fusion. With Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers set out to make their best possible album, which would be long remembered, and they definitely accomplished that goal.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Nevermind by Nirvana

Nevermind by Nirvana

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Nevermind by NirvanaI was born on the same day in February 1991 that Kurt Cobain, the lead singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter for Nirvana, celebrated his twenty fifth birthday. Later that same year, Nirvana released their breakthrough album Nevermind, an album which many reviewers consider a classic and some even consider “all time” material. But, even though I’m virtually the same age as the naked baby on the album’s cover (although, I assure you, it is not me), I couldn’t disagree more with this “classic” and “all time” jibberish.

In all honesty, it was not until my freshmen year of college that I started to allow myself to like Nirvana. My pre-college hatred of the band was due entirely to their popularity, especially among a very fickle group of emo, “misunderstood” high school teens who seemed to love the band just because Kurt Cobain committed suicide. The way the man and the band is idolized because he was “brave” enough to kill himself really irks me to this day, especially when it seeps into the realm of mainstream music journalism. All of that said, when I went off to college I was able to accept the music without being confronted with teenage Goths sporting his face on their purses.

But I still contend that Nevermind is NOT a classic. It certainly has some good tracks, and maybe even one or two great ones, but as a true album it falls short of being anything beyond mediocre to OK. In the early nineties this album’s new grunge sound may have been cutting edge but that hasn’t stopped it from sounding dated and trashy today. Of course, it will always be a famous album for simply being a Nirvana album since they had such a short run before Cobain’s death. In a way this may be understandable, as the “shooting star” phenomenon has always been romanticized in rock n’ roll. But I will try to give this album as fair and honest review as any other.

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Nevermind by Nirvana
Released: September 24, 1991 (Geffen)
Produced by: Butch Vig
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Hollywood, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
Smells Like Teen Spirit
In Bloom
Come As You Are
Breed
Lithium
Polly
Territorial Pissings
Drain You
Lounge Act
Stay Away
On a Plain
Something In the Way
Kurt Cobain – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Krist Novoselic – Bass, Vocals
Dave Grohl – Drums, Vocals

Buy Nevermind by Nirvana

The album opens fairly strong with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In the past I had always viewed this song as an overplayed cliché tune, but it really is the best of that album. Further it is one of only two songs that wasn’t written completely by Kurt Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl share the credit (maybe that means something). Stranger still the song would be vastly improved if the lyrics weren’t completely nonsensical and hard to understand. That said Cobain provided awesome reverb sounds from his guitar, and the drums sound straight out of a garage which really works for this song. Combine those elements with the continuing changes in the songs melodies and you’ve got a hit.

The following two tracks, “In Bloom” and “Come As You Are”, contain more of the same – the guitar is crisp and fun on both, the lyrics stay nonsensical, but Cobain’s voice no longer hurts one’s ear. Novoselic’s opening bass rift of “Come As You Are” is of particular note, but it unfortunately stays mostly the same throughout the song. The guitar solo of this song is also quite fun. The song following these three solid opening tracks is “Breed”. There is little to nothing good about it. It is fast, it is furious, it is boring.

With “Lithium” the album returns to the sound most people define as Nirvana. The lyrics are actually discussing being on lithium pills and this lends the song a bit of lyrical meaning. Cobain’s vocals are both understandable and emotional throughout the songs various changes in pace. I especially appreciate the lyrics “I’m not gonna crack,” when placed with the various other lyrics like “I killed you”. You can really hear someone emotionally cracking and trying to pretend they aren’t. Unfortunately from Lithium the album pretty much drops into the gutter.

“Polly” and “Territorial Pissings” are both entirely forgettable. The only thing of value the songs lend to the album are an acoustic break from the fast pace in “Polly” and a bizarre intro featuring the lyrics from The Youngbloods “Get Together” on “Territorial Pissings”. The screaming on this latter song is particularly terrible.

By the time “Drain You” comes you are breathing a sigh of relief. Grohl’s drums in this song are admirable, and the crescendo within is fun, but it’s special. This is followed by the decently solid “Lounge Act”, a song with not much to it, but nothing terrible either. It is a good mid-album filler song with the exception of Cobain’s banshee vocals in the middle of the song which do nothing but make you want to skip to the next track.

Nirvana

After “Lounge Act” the album sticks to being mediocre – “Stay Away”, “On a Plain”, and “Something In the Way” are all fairly forgettable. “Stay Away” has a boring and simple drum into that leads into a decent song with an interesting dueling-voices dynamic, “On a Plain” is simply boring, and “Something In the Way” would have been a good ending had it not been so monotonous. But wait the album is not over! After waiting though ten minutes of silence there is a secret track called “Endless, Nameless”. I will simply say I was so enraged by its sheer horrid nature that it harmed my ears.

Nevermind was Nirvana’s breakthrough album and it certainly has been successful commercially. By the end of the decade, it was certified diamond (double platinum) and has continued to sell very well since. Unfortunately it just seems like Nirvana’s success is due to their folklore as much as their musical capabilities and philosophical lyrics. I guess sometimes your first impression of a band, that they were only popular because of Cobain’s suicide, is right. Nevermind isn’t a terrible album – there are some really good tracks – but much of the album is entirely forgettable.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Out of Time by REM

Out of Time by R.E.M.

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Out of Time by REMFollowing the success of R.E.M.‘s 1988 album Green and the extensive supporting tour which followed, the band took nearly a year to recuperate before reconvening to produce their next album. That album would come in 1991 and be titled Out of Time, and would serve to further expose this once niche alternative band to mainstream commercial audiences. The seventh studio album by the band, Out Of Time was by far the most richly produced to date, with more relatable compositions, an expansion of the instrumentation used, cameos from contemporary artists, and much more attention paid to sonic detail of the finished product.

The album combines the elements which were carried over from Green – pop and folk – with the addition of country, funk, and classical elements. The band’s chief lyricist, singer Michael Stipe, moved away from the overtly political themes they had used frequently in the 1980s, towards more personally-relatable and accessible songs, a direction they would continue through the 1990s.

Fueled by the blockbuster hit “Losing My Religion”, which became the band’s biggest, Out of Time would top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the fact that R.E.M. did not tour to support the album. The single and album won a combined three Grammy Awards in 1992 and to date has sold over 18 million copies worldwide.


Out of Time by R.E.M.
Released: March 12, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt & R.E.M.
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, Sep-Oct 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Radio Song
Losing My Religion
Low
Near Wild Heaven
Endgame
Shiny Happy People
Belong
Half a World Away
Texarkana
Country Feedback
Me in Honey
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals, Melodica
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Bill Berry – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

Out of Time by R.E.M.

The album commences with “Radio Song”, a lighthearted funk that was completely unique to anything the band had done to that point. The song features vocals by KRS-One, leader of Boogie Down Productions, and also shows off the talents of the band’s drummer Bill Berry. Another popular song from the album to include a guest vocalist was “Shiny Happy People”, featuring Kate Pierson of the B-52s. The song is introduced with a unique string arrangement before breaking into a typical, upbeat R.E.M. riff. It became the band’s fourth career Top 10 hit. The song’s title is based on a Southern phrase meaning “being at the end of one’s rope, however Stipe has also stated the lyrics are influenced by unrequited love.

Near Wild Heaven” was another single released from the album, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It was the first such song to be written and sung by Mills. Mills also provided vocals for “Texarkana”. While this was not released as an official “single”, did well on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Country Feedback” was written as a stream-of-conscious by Stipe who claims he sang it in one take as an experiment and it was not re-recorded. The recording features pedal steel guitar by John Keane.

With the success of Out of Time, R.E.M.’s status grew to a top-level, major act from their humble beginnings as a “cult band” on colleg radio. They would continue the momentum into the next year with 1992’s Automatic For the People.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

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Luck of the Draw by Bonnie RaittIt had taken nearly two decades for Bonnie Raitt to achieve the commercial success that critics had long felt she would achieve. That success came with Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, her tenth album overall. She followed this up with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw, an even more popular release which has sold close to 8 million copies in the United States alone to date. The album spawned many radio-friendly hits and introduced Raitt to a general pop audience. This is a bit ironic in that Raitt’s claim to fame had long been as an outside-the-mainstream female blues performer who uniquely played signature bottleneck slide. Although some of this legacy cascaded into Luck of the Draw, it wasn’t quite the front and center element which made this album successful.

While in college in the late 1960s, Raitt became enthralled with the blues and eventually played alongside such established blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In the Fall of 1970, a reporter from Newsweek caught her act at a nightclub in New York City and the subsequent article spawned much interest in Raitt from major recording labels. She recorded her debut album in 1971 and during the 1970s released a series of roots-influenced albums which incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. By the mid 1980s however, her sales began to slump and it appeared that her run was over when she made this dramatic commercial comeback.

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Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt
Released: June 25, 1991 (Capitol)
Produced by: Don Was & Bonnie Rait
Recorded: Ocean Way Recordings & Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, Spring 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Something to Talk About
Good Man, Good Woman
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Tangled and Dark
Come to Me
No Business
One Part Be My Lover
Not the Only One
Papa Come Quick (Jody and Chico)
Slow Ride
Luck Of the Draw
All At Once
Bonnie Raitt – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Turner Stephen Bruton – Guitars
Bruce Hornsby – Piano, Keyboards
James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Bass
Curt Bisquera – Drums

Buy Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

With Raitt taking writing credit for only four songs on Luck of the Draw, and none of these “hits”, this album was created mainly around her talent as a performer and collaborator. The down side of this method is that while it has her face and voice throughout, it is not a personal look into the artist.

“Something to Talk About” was written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who has written for Ann Murray, Emmylou Harris and Cher. The song was actually rejected by Ann Murray’s producers her own album Something to Talk About. Raitt’s guitar work on this pleasant, bouncy pop song makes it an interesting listen and a way to kickoff the album out with some sass .

The duo, “Good Man, Good Woman” with Delbert McClinton is a predictable pop song with a steady back beat accented by McClinton’s harmonica. This is followed by “I Can’t Make you Love Me”, perhaps Raitt’s biggest hit on this record. Her voice is understated while she hits all the right notes. It is the bare simplicity and honesty of her voice against the soft piano played by Bruce Hornsby that give this song it’s universal appeal. How much more honest can lyrics be, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” – a simple truth to which almost any listener can relate. The remainder of the album’s “hits” – “Slow Ride” and “Not the Only One” – are also pop songs that may have been hits performed by other artists, but find a happy home in this collection.

The songs that Raitt wrote herself include “Tangled and Dark”, a jazzy song with a cool sax interlude and “Come to Me”, which is drenched in Caribbean rhythms and gutsy lyrics like “I ain’t looking for a man Baby can’t stand a little shaky ground/He’ll give me fire and tenderness/And got the guts to stick around. The most insightful and heartfelt performance is the album’s closer, “All At Once”, which offers a glimpse into the difficulties of a family going through a divorce. The anger and confusion of trying to come to terms with damaged relationships penned in lyrics such as “Looks to me there’s lots more broken than anyone can really see/Why the angels turn their backs on some is just a mystery to me.”

Record companies had been trying to make a superstar out of Bonnie Raitt for years. They did not achieve success until they started capitalizing on her assets – her expressive vocals and her guitar skills while using collaborators in pursuit of commercial success. The resulting album drops Bonnie Raitt the folksy blues singer guitar player into a pillow of pop perfection.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.