1981_BillySquier DontSayNo

Don’t Say No by Billy Squier

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Don't Say No by Billy SquierBily Squier was an odd figure on the pantheon of rock. On the one hand, there is no doubt that he was a very talented vocalist with exception songwriting instincts and pop music instincts. Listening to his 1981 breakthrough, Don’t Say No, leaves one with little doubt that this is a bona fide and legitimate rocker. But then there is the other hand, something that’s a little odd, a little off, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but nonetheless was (probably) responsible for Squier not getting his due accolades through the years and decades. It certainly can be argued that being a little “off” adds a distinction or an “edge” that makes such an artist more interesting. This certainly was the case on Don’t Say No and its equally impressive follow-up, Emotions In Motion, in 1982.

A Massachusetts native, Squier had been performing live throughout New England since the late 1960s, including stints with the bands Magic Terry & The Universe, Kicks, The Sidewinders and Piper. This latter group released two critically acclaimed (albeit commercially unsuccessful) albums in the late 1970s and opened for KISS during the height of that band’s success. Squier departed Piper to launch his solo career in 1980 with his debut album The Tale of the Tape, which had a couple of minor hits.

For this sophomore effort, Squier invited Queen guitarist Brian May to act as producer. However, May had too many prior commitments and instead suggested Reinhold Mack, who recently produced Queen’s very successful 1980 albums The Game. This combination proved fruitful, as In the Dark reached the Top 5 on the album charts and spawned two Top 40 singles.

 

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Don’t Say No by Billy Squier
Released: April 13, 1981 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Recorded: The Power Station, New York
Side One Side Two
 In the Dark
 The Stroke
 My Kinda Lover
 You Know What I Like
 Too Daze Gone
Lonely Is the Night
Whadda You Want from Me
Nobody Knows
I Need You
Don’t Say No
Primary Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Percussion
Cary Sharaf – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards
Mark Clarke – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

This “second tier” of songs are best exemplified with the final three songs on the album, which break from the normal pattern with differing tempos and acoustic textures. “Nobody Knows” is the only song that can be considered a ballad. Squier’s near-soprano vocals above a slowly-picked guitar line and just the right amount of bass and strings later gives way to the full band joining in and a fantastic double-tracked guitar lead that captures the mood perfectly. “I Need You” is a very good pop song, with a really cool new-wave-ish bass/synth riff, calm strummed acoustic and strategically inserted electric guitar during verses that becomes more forceful during the choruses. Unlike that smooth song, “Don’t Say No” is put together in bits and pieces with some interesting lyrics;

I live on the border-line, you come from the void…”

Which brings us back to that “oddness” that we mentioned at the top. Don’t Say No is littered with examples, mainly outtros of songs, such as the orgasmic chant at the end of the opener “In the Dark” or the frantic pick-up that ends “Lonely Is the Night”. But this is most evident on the album’s closing title track, which begins with a fade-in of the first verse and fades out completely near the end, only to re-emerge suddenly. Is this edgy or amateurish? Ultimately, the listener must decide. Some of Squier’s influences are apparent in a couple of other fine songs. “Too Daze Gone” contains many of the same blues-based elements utilized by Aerosmith in the 1970s, while “Lonely Is the Night” is a definite nod to Presence-era Led Zeppelin, but with an additional gloss layer that makes it very entertaining and radio-friendly.

Billy Squier

Of course, Don’t Say No is best know for the “hits” that are still heard on AOR and other media to this day. The opener, “In the DarK” has a very good sound with mixture of guitars and synths and a steady, staccato beat along with plenty of little riffs throughout that make this song a trans-era hit. Mack’s great production is apparent right from the start. “The Stroke” is a double-entendre with infectious lyric and riff and a steady, marching beat throughout. This marching continues through to “My Kindda Lover”, but with a sweeter demeanor, as compared to it’s totally cynical predecessor.

When we made our choice as to which albums from 1981 we would review, we decided that we would either choose Foreigner 4 and Don’t Say No (but not both) as they cover very similar territory as far as genre and quality. They are also similar being that the most popular songs on each album are pretty much the best songs on each album – something that, believe it or not, is really quite rare. But while it was difficult to determine if “Urgent” was superior to “The Stroke” or if “In the Dark” was better than “Juke Box Hero”, it was ultimately the second tier of songs that, in our opinion, gave Don’t Say No the edge. Even though there are some weak points on the album, overall this is the finest work that Billy Squier ever produced.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

Ghost In the Machine by The Police

Ghost In the Machine by The Police

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Ghost In the Machine by The PoliceGhost in the Machine is the fourth album by The Police and the first to actually use an English title, albeit the title was borrowed from the Albert Koestler novel of the same name. Although it used the foundation of a simple three piece power sound with reggae beats and a punk edge that was built by the band’s previous three albums, this album is a definitive evolution towards more ethereal jazzy sounds that would later come to fruition on the Synchronicity album in 1983.

For the first time since the band’s formation four years earlier, a dominant influence was starting to emerge from lead vocalist and bass player Sting, who lobbied for the addition of synths, layered horns, saxophones, and lyrics heavily influenced by philosophical theory. This new direction caused a riff with the other band members, especially drummer and original founding member Stewart Copeland, and proved to be the beginning of the end for this short-live and talented band. As it turned out, the more mainstream (and well-earned) popularity the Police achieved, the further they grew apart, disbanding after the break through of Synchronicity and the headlining world tour that followed.
 

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Ghost In the Machine by The Police
Released: October 2, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, January – September, 1981
Side One Side Two
Spirits In the Material World
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Invisible Sun
Hungry for You Demolition Man
Too Much Information
Rehumanize Yourself
One World (Not Three)
Ωmegaman
Secret Journey
Darkness
Group Musicians
Sting – Bass, Keyboards, Saxophone, Lead Vocals
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths, Backing Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals

The album opens with “Spirits in the Material World”, which sets the tone for this collection with a steady synth riff against, a syncopated drum beat, and philosophical lyrics –

There is no political solution / to our troubled evolution / have no faith in constitution / there is no bloody revolution…

Originally written by Sting in 1976, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is the most upbeat song on the record although the lyrics suggest it’s about a guy with a crush on a girl and he is trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. It nicely fluctuates between a calm, piano arpeggio during the verse and a classic, steel drum-fueled reggae during the chorus. The song reached #1 on the mainstream rock charts, making it the biggest pop hit on the album.

What do you do if your lyrics are too hot for the English speaking world? Set them against the backdrop of a ska beat and sing them in French of course. “Hungry For You” has probably confused many non francophone listeners who may think they just can’t understand the words (because they’re in French).

The band returns to philosophical rambling with “Rehumanize Yourself”. The beginning of this song sounds like it may have influenced The Bangles hit “Walk Like and Egyptian” with Horns drifting and soaring above the racing beat.

I work all day at the factory/I’m building a machine that’s not for me/There must be a reason that I can’t see/You’ve got to humanize yourself…

The Police Invisible Sun single“Invisible Sun” continues the philosophical introspection with monotone vocals and lyrics poetically describing the mundane tasks of the day and hoping for an unseen reward at the end of the day. These words were especially striking when set against the imagery of the music video, showing footage of struggles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

The feel of Ghost in the Machine is clearly a departure from the previous Police projects. Guitarist Andy summers probably had the least amount of influence on this album, simply due to the pure displacement by the presence of all the other instrumentation. That’s not to say that this isn’t a good listen, as the band was well on their way to their creative apex.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Freeze Frame by J Geils Band

Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band

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Freeze Frame by J Geils BandFreeze Frame is a confluence album, where a hard-working band with vast longevity in the bag reaches their heights towards the sunset of their career. It is a work that combines many elements of their traditional, rock n’ soul, party-time backbone with a new, (then) cutting-edge, approach that incorporates synthesized soundscapes and new wave entertainment. And Freeze Frame IS new wave in the truest sense – a well-produced collection that explores under-developed areas of the rock landscape.

Although the band bears the name of founding guitarist J. Geils, this album really belongs to keyboardist, songwriter, and producer Seth Justman. Justman was a student at Boston University in the late 1960s when he followed the band, then known as “The J. Geils Blues Band”, which was then an acoustic trio led by Geils and virtuoso harmonica player Richard Salwitx, better known by his stage name, Magic Dick. Soon a local DJ known as Peter Wolf joined as front man and lead singer along with drummer Stephan Bladd and, with the eventual addition of Justman, the six-man lineup that would stay together for a decade and a half was in place.

Through the 1970s, the band achieved moderate commercial success with a few minor hits, but nothing like the worldwide fame that they would enjoy in the early 1980s with Freeze Frame, fueled by the Justman’s catchy and cleaver #1 hit “Centerfold”, which introduced the band to much of the mainstream pop world.

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Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band
Released: October 26, 1981 (EMI)
Produced by: Seth Justman
Recorded: Long View Farm, North Brookfield, MA, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Freeze Frame
 Rage In the Cage
 Centerfold
 Do You Remember When?
 Insane, Insane Again
Flamethrower
River Blindness
Angel In Blue
Piss On the Wall
Band Musicians
Peter Wolf – Lead Vocals
Seth Justman – Keyboards, Vocals
J. Geils – Guitars
Magic Dick – Harmonica, Trumpet, Saxophone
Danny Klein – Bass
Stephen Bladd – Drums, Vocals

The album is really a potpourri of songs that can be segmented into one of about three distinct categories. The first of these is the direct pop category, consisting of the smash hit “Centerfold” and the opening title song. Both are bouncy and catchy and lead by an airy and accessible organ riff and upbeat entertainment, while carefully flirting with some risque subject matter. “Freeze Frame” has a great stop-start chorus, and was itself a successful top-ten hit. The band also produced a couple of entertaining music videos for the brand new MTV for these songs, no doubt helping their climb in the charts.

The next category of songs are synch-dominated, pop-art compositions that deviate vastly from the band’s traditional sound. Here, Justman’s genius shines through as he accomplishes this deviation while he still preserves the album’s overall integrity. “Rage In the Cage” is a frantic collection of beat-based tangents that is spastic and entertaining. Some wild sounds are nicely placed bit by bit to project audio that is at once natural and artificial, with the natural drumming by Bladd complimenting everything else (bass, horns, harmonica, and synths) which straddle the line between synthesized and natural. “Insane, Insane Again” takes a very similar approach but with a frantic bass line by Danny Klein holding together the backbone. “River Blindness” starts like an episode of a television mystery, with bombastic horns, before it kicks into the the main riff and takes the listener on a musical journey to dark and mysterious relms that sounds about 90% synthesized, but with a heavy guitar by Geils near the very end.

J Geils Band 1982

The final category of songs on Freeze Frame maintains the band,s traditional rock/soul sound through the ballad “Angel In Blue” and the rockers “Flamethrower” and “Piss On the Wall”. The album’s closer with the quasi-vulgar title, at first appears as a somewhat frivolous homage to the band’s own legacy, albeit with some excellent blues harp by Magic Dick. But it also adds a bit of rebellious punk rock doom and gloom –

“…everybody’s shaking ‘cause the big one’s about to fall, I’m just trying to hold it steady while I piss on the wall…”

“Angel In Blue” is a pleasant tune with a melancholy tone, containing the biggest presence by Geils on the entire album. The song is masterfully constructed with just the right touch of organ and drum beat, and a nice ensemble of backing vocals and horns in the outtro.

There is one song that doesn’t quite fit into any of the above categories, the excellent ballad “Do You Remember When?”, which contains elements of the best of ALL these categories. If you like discovering truly great, “lost” songs – this is may be one. It has all the elements of a classic love song, but with such an edge and perfectly placed musical motifs – Geils repeated, 5-note guitar riff, organ, piano, strings, extra percussion, just the right amount of special effects, and interesting background vocals. It also contains the finest vocal performance by Peter Wolf, with an amazing high note near the end of the song, which he holds and variates for nearly 10 seconds.

In the story of rock, the J. Geils Band is not quite unique in being a longstanding quality act that finally gets their mainstream “break” near the twilight of their career (see Bonnie Raitt, REO Speedwagon, or Supertramp). But they may be unique in that their popular breakthrough is also their artistic masterpiece.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

East Side Story by Squeeze

East Side Story by Squeeze

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East Side Story by SqueezeEast Side Story is the fourth studio album by Squeeze, released in 1981. The album signified a break with the band’s traditional “new wave” sound towards more divergent styles and genres including progressive rock, soul, and psychedelia. The band originally wanted to do a four-sided “double LP” with each side using a different producer – Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Paul McCartney, and Elvis Costello. In the end, Squeeze released a long 14-song single LP with Costello co-producing along with Roger Bechirian. Under Costello’s guidance, the band produced an album of smart, uptempo pop tunes which guitarist Chris Difford labled as “suburban short stories.”

Difford founded Squeeze in 1974 along with lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Tilbrook. The group was named after The Velvet Underground’s oft-derided 1973 album and found moderate success in the London suburbs in the mid 1970s. After signing with A&M Records, the band released a self-titled debut album in 1978, followed by Cool For Cats in 1979 and Argybargy in 1980, each of which were fine albums but strictly within the confines of the newly coined “new wave” genre.

With East Side Story, the band recorded their masterpiece as they branched out to explore other facets of their talents. With the variety of genres explored, the production of Costello, and the fully developed songwriting of Difford and Tilbrook East Side Story has the feel of the double-album it was originally intended to be.

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East Side Story by Squeeze
Released: May 15, 1981 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Bechirian & Elvis Costello
Recorded: London, 1980-1981
Side One Side Two
 In Quintessence
 Someone Else’s Heart
 Tempted
 Piccadilly
 There’s No Tomorrow
 Heaven
 Woman’s World
Is That Love?
F-Hole
Labelled With Love
Someone Else’s Bell
Mumbo Jumbo
Vanity Fair
Messed Around
Band Musicians
Glenn Tilbrook – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Chris Difford – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Carrack – Keys, Vocals
John Bentley – Bass
Gilson Lavis – Drums

The album begins with “In Quintessence”, an upbeat song with repetitive phrasing and simultaneous vocals by Tilbrook and Difford throughout. This is followed by “Someone Else’s Heart” (not to be confused with “Someone Else’s Bell” on the second side of the album), which harkens back to the new-wave-ish sound with a crisp organ and subdued vocals with fantastic harmonies.

Later on the album’s first side is the album’s finest sequence of songs. “Piccadilly” starts with an excellent piano before settling into a simple, upbeat, three-chord rock groove with chanting vocals delivered in a linear, story-telling fashion. “There’s No Tomorrow” contains a heavy dose of Beatle-esque surrealism with a dramatic key riff and backwards-masked percussion along with Costello on backing vocals. The ska influenced “Heaven” is an excellent song which contains a great bass line and weird sound effects after the chanting choruses. Later in the song their is a banjo section with some weird, vocalized animal sounds. The side ends with “Woman’s World”, a good pop song with nice piano note runs, building ascension in the late verses, and a great key jump later on.

By far the best song on the album, “Tempted” contains a great thumping bass line by John Bentley under the subtlely swelling organ by band newcomer Paul Carrack, who was a member of Squeeze for this one album. Carrack also sang most of the seductive lyrics with some cool secondary and background vocals. The band’s first “hit” in the U.S., “Tempted” has become one of Squeeze’s most well known songs as it is infectiously catchy and never seems to grow old. It is quite ironic that, with short-timer Carrack at the lead, most passive fans are unaware of the basic sound of the band as normally led by Tilbrook’s vocals.

Although much weaker than the first, the second side of the album does contain a few very interesting tracks. “Is That Love” was the first single released from the album, while “F-Hole” contains thick strings and an almost psychedelic approach. “Labelled With Love” contains a pure country rhythm with calm acoustic guitar, piano, and rim-shot drums overlaid by some good guitar later on. It was a song recorded as a semi-farce and Tilbrook initially objected to its inclusion on the album but was convinced by Costello and it became a minor hit. “Vanity Fair” uses orchestration much like later-era Beatles albums with no rock instrumentation, just vocals, while the album concludes with “Messed Around”, a rockabilly song much like the Stray Cats, that would be more convincing without the vocals of Tilbrook.

After a fifth album was released in 1982, Squeeze took a break for a while before reforming later in the decade. Although they continued to record interesting music, the band would not again reach the heights of East Side Story.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

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Bella Donna by Stevie NicksAfter three albums with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks was doubtlessly the most recognizable figure in that popular and talented band. However, her actual participation as far as songwriting and lead vocals had never eclipsed 50% on any of those albums. So prior to her debut solo effort in 1981, there was uncertainty about how a full album of her music would pan out. One serious listen to Bella Donna would set all doubt aside. This debut solo album went on to achieve critical and commercial success, topping the U.S. album charts and spawning four Top 40 hit singles, while reaching the Top 20 in six other nations.

The album contains ten songs composed by Nicks on piano over several years while on tour with Fleetwood Mac in the late seventies. These songs were then enhanced by producer Jimmy Iovine and a posse of talent, ranging from headline acts like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, to top-notch session musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn from the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. The result is an interesting and pleasant listen which contains some timeless works that flirt with pop, country, and folk while remaining distinctive and original.

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Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks
Released: July 27, 1981 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty
Recorded: Studio 55, Los Angeles, Autumn 1980 – Spring 1981
Side One Side Two
Bella Donna
Kind of Woman
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
Think About It
After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman
Primary Musicians
Stevie Nicks – Lead Vocals, Piano
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
Lori Perry & Sharon Celani – Backing Vocals
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
Dan Dugmore – Pedal Steel
Bob Glaub – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums

…and we fight for the northern star”

While Bella Donna‘s opening title song is definitely Fleetwood Mac-esque in it’s calm approach and long sustained guitar drones, it also contains a more ceremonious or ritualistic feel, like some kind of mass, as it vacillates between beatless sound scape and rhythmic drive. It is followed by “Kind of Woman”, another very calm, almost melancholy song, with a waltz-like beat an excellent guitar lead.

The album then abruptly takes a radical turn with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, one of two songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on the album, along with the entertaining “Outside the Rain” on the second side. That band didn’t use these songs for themselves (and their current album, Hard Promises really could’ve used these), and the resultant Nicks-led recordings add a completely new dimension to Bella Donna.

“Leather and Lace” is a true duet with Henley, resulting in a moody and romantic ballad which has a sparse acoustic arrangement that really showcases the vocal talents of both. On the other end of the pop spectrum, “Edge of Seventeen” offered a rhythmic dance beat with a near rap in between the oft-repeated chorus about the “white winged dove”. Rumor has it that the title was coined by Tom Petty’s wife, who replied “age of seventeen” when asked by Nicks how old they were when they first met. But Stevie mis-heard this as “edge of seventeen” and was instantly taken by the concept.

Perhaps the most enjoyable song on the album, “After the Glitter Fades” is a pure country song, reminiscent to some of Olivia Newton John’s early stuff, with dynamic vocals nicely complimenting to rich arrangement, which contains virtuoso piano by Roy Bittan and masterful pedal steel by Dan Dugmore.

Stevie Nicks would continue on with Fleetwood Mac as well as produce more solo albums with much success in both throughout the rest of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. But artistically, she would not again reach the heights of Bella Donna in either side of her musical career.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

 

Give the People What They Want by The Kinks

Give the People What They Want
by The Kinks

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Give the People What They Want by The KinksAlthough Give the People What They Want was the 18th full-length album by The Kinks and was released nearly two decades after their actual debut, it has a feel as fresh and vigorous as any debut album. The sound is strong and contemporary, the lyrics are biting and direct, yet the message is more mature, philosophical, and satirical in nature. Best of all for the music listener, the album is interesting and entertaining with solid material throughout. With all this being said, it is somewhat amazing that the album has been pretty much panned and ignored by the rock press (and fans) for the past thirty years. This is part of why Classic Rock Review exists.

The Kinks started out in London shortly after The Beatles’ American breakthrough in 1964, in what came to be known as the original “British Invasion”. They came to prominence with simple, rocking pop songs in the mid 1960s. They later evolved towards theatrical rock and concept albums through the late sixties and early seventies. By the late seventies, they had seen alot of their earliest work co-opted and repackaged by acts in the punk, new wave, and hard rock genres. In this environment, chief songwriter Ray Davies came back with an album that not only shows this younger generation that The Kinks can do it just as well but that they can do it even better.

Listening to Give the People What They Want one has to keep reminding themself that this is a band approaching middle age, as there is so much youthfulness
 

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Give the People What They Want by The Kinks
Released: August 15, 1981 (Arista)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Konk Studios, London, May, 1979 – June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Around the Dial
Give the People What They Want
Killer’s Eyes
Predictable
Add It Up
Destroyer
Yo-Yo
Back to Front
Art Lover
A Little Bit of Abuse
Better Things
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Rodford – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

Overall, the album is very dark and cynical, with the exception of the finale “Better Things”, which offers a refreshing ode to optimism during the closing credits. Prior to that song, each offers a cynical look at a different subject facing people in 1981, ranging from the entertainment industry to crime and criminals to basic inter-personal issues. The sound is raw yet beautiful, capturing the dynamics of a garage band with the skill of cutting edge and smooth production. As producer, Ray Davies seemed to know exactly how much flavoring to sprinkle on the basic rhythms lead by his brother and lead guitarist Dave Davies.

The opener, “Around the Dial” is a very entertaining and interesting song that laments the downfall of a cool and edgy radio DJ, who disappeared inexplicably. It starts as the simplest of songs, with one sustained chord played over and then a simple hard rock riff, but then floats towards some interesting and melodic changes in the middle. It is followed by the album’s title song that laments the deterioration of popular culture and the crass and cynical dishing out of entertainment. This is all set to definitively punk rhythm and chant, complete with its own shock lyric on the Kennedy assassination.

Many of the songs that follow also reflect a higher end punk sound. But to say this album was “influenced” by punk would be almost a travesty. The Kinks were one of the true inventors of the genre, a dozen years before it even became a genre. By this point in 1981, punk had about five years of mainstream fame and recognition. With the production of Give the People What They Want, it is almost like the Kinks were stepping in to show these young punks how to do it with actual musical skill.

Further, this album contains some moments that could not be constructed by these punk bands on their best day. “Killer’s Eyes” is a haunting yet beautiful song about a person beyond help and beyond hope – a killer and the effect his actions have on his family and friend. It is a moody and melancholy masterpiece with outstanding sound. Another song with an excellent sound, perhaps the best on the album is “Yo-Yo”. Once you get past the repetitive use of the “yo-yo” symbolic lyric, this is a very interesting and entertaining listen that addresses the challenges of married life with its changing expectations and perspectives. It is very unique as a down beat song with a very upbeat beat.

The rest of the songs that make up the heart of the album are all upbeat and modern mixes of punk new wave and ska with their own distinctive issues. “Predictable” about the mundane, boring, regularness of everyday life, “Add It Up” on the change in someone who comes into money, “Back To Front” laments double-talk and could have been the theme song to Catch 22, and the minor hit “Destroyer”, a look at the effects of drug use that shows that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a bit of self-plagiarism.

The Kinks in 1981

But just when you get settled comfortably into the album’s punk/new wave vibe, it takes a radical turn with the last three songs. The first two of these are quite disturbing but may very well be ingenious. “Art Lover”, is creepy in that seems to be sympathetic to a stalker and possible pedophile. Adding to this creepiness is the fact it is sticky sweet, almost like a children’s song, and leaves one to think that Davies must have been trying to be provocative or sarcastic, because it is hard to think that the song’s message is to be taken literal. “A Little Bit of Abuse” follows with a light-hearted look at domestic abuse and battered wife syndrome. It is put together in a slow bluesy, pleasant, and melodic pop-rock package that in no way sets the mood for such a heavy subject. Again, it appears to invert the true message by demonstrating the absurdity of the common excuse making for such actions. Together, either these are brilliant, deep psychological masterpieces or we’re reading too much into it.

The closing “Better Things” then goes on to break the mold of this pessimistic album with a happy and hopeful song of hope. It concludes Give the People What They Want, a weird and wonderful ride that is true rock n roll at it’s most legitimate.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Tattoo You by Rolling Stones

Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones

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Tattoo You by Rolling StonesPart of the fun of reviewing all these great albums is discovering that some of your own long held preconceptions are, in fact, false. Approaching this album, Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones, I was “sure” on a couple of things that I had always “known”. I was “sure” it was a bit of a comeback album for the band, a return to Sticky Fingers-like rock n’ roll after the various glam, disco, and funk tangents that the band undertook in the 1970s. I was also “sure” that it was a fun and cohesive album for the band to make (I mean, just listen to the first two songs and tell me they’re not having fun).

But with some initial research for this article, I found that I was wrong on both counts. The album is not directed or cohesive. It is a mishmash of unreleased material recorded over that same time period when the Stones were exploring different tangents. It was also recorded at a time of great stress within the band, so it was hardly “fun” to make, despite the resulting vibe.

In fact, album’s creation is the direct result of a practical business decision. The band was about to embark on a huge worldwide tour in late 1981/early 1982, and it was decided that having a new album to promote would boost the band’s ticket sales. With no time to write, rehearse, and record new material, long time associate and producer Chris Kimsey stepped in. He told the band that he could make an album from what he knew already existed as outtakes over the past decade or so and began sifting through old recordings to find suitable material.

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Tattoo Tou by Rolling Stones
Released: August 24, 1981 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Chris Kimsey, Mick Jagger, & Keith Richards
Recorded: Various Locations, November, 1972 – June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Start Me Up
Hang Fire
Slave
Little T&A
Black Limousine
Neighbours
Worried About You
Tops
Heaven
No Use in Crying
Waiting on a Friend
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Synthesizer
Charlie Watts – Drums

Kimsey spent a few months going through the material from several previous Stones albums, discovering many incomplete or under-developed songs that had been either forgotten or rejected in the past. The earliest of these would become the songs “Tops” and “Waiting For a Friend”, the latter being Tattoo You‘s critically acclaimed signature number that closes the album’s laid back second-side. These songs were originally written and recorded in late 1972 during the sessions for the album Goat’s Head Soup and feature ex-guitarist Mick Taylor. “Waiting For a Friend” also features a solo by jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

In 1975, during the sessions for the album Black and Blue, the band recording the backing tracks for a reggae-influenced song, but after twenty or so takes they got frustrated and shelved it. This same song would be re-born three more times during sessions for subsequent albums, as “Never Stop” during the sessions for Some Girls in 1977, then as “Start It Up” during the Emotional Rescue sessions in 1979. At that time, most of the band were convinced they had a hit, but guitarist Keith Richards was sure that he heard something very similar on the radio somewhere and insisted it be scrapped. Finally, with the production of Tattoo You, the song would be released as “Start Me Up” to tremendous success, reaching #2 on the Billboard pop charts, a position that the band would not reach or eclipse again in their lengthy career.

The remainder of the album comes from the sessions of those two most recent albums, Some Girls and Emotional Rescue. Most of these “songs” already had the instrument tracks recorded and just lacked vocals from Mick Jagger. In fact, the bulk of the actual recording sessions for Tattoo You Jagger was the only band member in attendance. The exceptions were “Neighbours” and “Heaven” which were the only brand new songs on the album.

Physical Graffiti buildingHowever, even though the album was not constructed in a traditional fashion nor did it contain much up-to-date material, it certainly used cutting promotion. On August 1, 1981, MTV went on the air, a mere three weeks before the album’s release. The band would produce four videos to appear on the new network, including a rather creative one for “Neighbours” that plays off of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window and a memorable one for “Waiting For a Friend” that takes place in front of the same New York building featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

The use of this new cable medium, would bring this (then) twenty-year-old band front and center to a new generation of music fans, including myself. At thirteen, I believed this was all new material by the Rolling Stones, and I continued to believe so right up until earlier this week.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Escape by Journey

Escape by Journey

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Escape by JourneyRarely does a band become more successful after one of its founders and leader departs from the group. Greg Rollie was the original lead singer, keyboardist, and overall and heart and soul of the group Journey from the band’s beginning in 1973 to the arrival of front man Steve Perry in 1978. After some lukewarm sales of the band’s moderately successful initial three albums with Rollie as lead singer, the band hired Perry at the request of Columbia Records, initially to split vocal duties with Rollie. However, Perry eventually became the primary lead vocalist and, by the end of 1980, Rollie had decided to call it quits altogether.

Fortunately for Journey, the British pop band The Babys were breaking up at about the same time, freeing up keyboardist Jonathan Cain to join the band. This created the respectable songwriting triumvirate of Perry, Schon, and Cain that launched the band into mega popularity through the early 1980s, starting with their 1981 album, Escape.

Although a critical listener may find the lyrical content a bit common and trite, there is no denying that sound that was forged on this album creates a niche and feeling that is quite fantastic. There is an edge to each and every song that makes it indelible and taps into a deep reservoir of nostalgia, while some of the individual, performances are at a stratospheric level.

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Escape by Journey
Released: July 31, 1981 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Elson & Mike Stone
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California, Winter-Spring, 1981
Side One Side Two
Don’t Stop Believin’
Stone In Love
Who’s Crying Now’
Keep On Runnin’
Still They Ride
Escape
Lay It Down
Dead or Alive
Mother, Father
Open Arms
Group Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathon Cain – Keyboards, Piano, Guitar, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

While Cain was the driving force behind crafting many of the songs on Escape, and Perry and Schon provided, without a doubt, the incredible performances of this album (more on them later), bass player Ross Valory added a special touch to this album, with a unique-sounding, high end buzz to his bass sound that gives it just an edge to make the overall sound distinct. This is evident right from the jump on the hit “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” as he compliments the low end of Cain’s rotating piano riff in a preview of one of the elements the distinguishes this album from any other (including other Journey albums).

Don't Stop Believin' singleNeal Schon knows how to make an entrance, holding off for nearly a minute in this opening song, then providing a memorable rapid guitar tap that builds in intensity and volume. The guitarist is on at every moment in this album, making one wonder why he is not better recognized in the present day. He adds a solo at the end of “Who’s Crying Now” that elevates the otherwise standard love song to a new level and shines brightest on “Mother, Father”, the best song on the album.

A true classic in every sense, “Mother, Father” was arranged by Neal’s father and jazz musician Matt Schon who put together the ingenious chord structure that sets the mood for Perry’s soulful vocals and the absolutely superlative solo in the mid section. It climaxes with a surreal, harmonized outro, which completes a song that is as melodramatic as anything The Who ever did, while as deep into the “inner space” as anything that Pink Floyd ever did.

Steve Perry’s voice is a unique entity, unlike any ever quite heard before or since. He compliments any odd 7th or augmented chord by smoothly transitioning from note to note along an almost-superhuman range. He never seems to miss a note, but especially shines on the rockers “Lay It Down” and “Stone In Love”, as well as the ballad “Open Arms”, a calm lullaby that eases the album to its conclusion after the emotional journey of “Mother, Father”.

Another high point on the album is “Still They Ride” a haunting ballad, dripping with melancholy, that is dark yet addictive, here the band displays amazing discipline in measuring out the simple and slow notes with perfect, moody precision.

Journey in 1981

In total, Escape is a difficult album to pigeon hole. It is best known for its ballads that rose high in the charts, but yet has made a few “Top Heavy Metal Album” lists. It was undoubtedly a template for scores of album oriented rock efforts in the 1980s. Yet it gives a slight nod to the progressive rock of the 1970s with the exotic arrangements, jazz fusion, and the mini-suite title song, “Escape” (not to mention the official title of the album being the cleverly arranged “E5C4P3”).

No matter how it may be classified, it was certainly and instantly a hit, and the band did not shy away from reaping the benefits from this new found fame. In 1982, with the gush of a mainstream audience, Journey became the top-selling concert ticket, and that same year a Journey Escape video game was released for the Atari 2600 system.

Journey may be credited or blamed for what followed in the wake of Escape, when acts such as Poison, Bon Jovi, and countless other “hair” bands would put forth their own inferior carbon copies of this album but nonetheless stuck to the formula and gained success from it. In any case, they were the originators of this hybrid of pop-friendly “hard rock”, whether by design or not.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Album of the Year 1971

Who’s Next by The Who

Album of the Year 1971

Buy Who’s Next

Who's Next by The WhoPerhaps THE most complete rock album in history, Who’s Next has just about everything a classic rock fan can want in an album. It has plenty of three-chord power riffs, melodic piano ballads, cutting edge technological innovation, virtuoso performances, raw power, accessibility, depth, message, anthems, a nice balance between acoustic and electric, and an even nicer balance between electronic and analog. In total, this album by The Who is satisfying, wildly entertaining and hits its absolute peak at the very end.

That moment in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, set up by the then cutting edge synth, that lulls the listener into believing that the album is over and will simply fade away. But then comes a few drum hits (and with Keith Moon “a few” is perhaps 20 or 30), that build to a dramatic re-introduction and Rodger Daltry’s scream, and the keystone lyric of the entire album;

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”

This lyric stands completely alone on an island of sonic majesty that ends with the band working through the hammering, staccato ending chords. It is a true thing of beauty. So on this note, Classic Rock Review will grant our very first Album of the Year for the very first year we’ve covered, 1971 to the album Who’s Next by The Who.

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Who’s Next by The Who
Released: August 14, 1971 (Decca/Polydor)
Produced by: Glyn Johns & The Who
Recorded: Pete Townshend & John Entwistle’s Home Studios, Olympic Studios, London, The Record Plant, New York, 1970 – 1971
Side One Side Two
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
Love Ain’t for Keeping
My Wife
The Song Is Over
Gettin’ In Tune
Going Mobile
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Band Musicians
Pete Townshend – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Daltrey – Vocals, Harp
John Entwistle – Bass, Brass, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion

Who’s Next is pure authenticity. It is completely unaware of itself, built totally of the kinetic energy of the moment, it is neither calculated nor contrived. This is quite ironic when put in the light of how Who’s Next actually came along.

The album derived from a “concept album” idea by guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend. The title of this was to be Lifehouse, and it was started in 1970 as the follow up to the band’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy. The concept itself was futuristic and far out, so much so, in fact, that absolutely no one else in the band “got” it. This caused much friction and, according to Townshend himself, brought him to the verge of suicide.

After giving up on recording some of the Lifehouse tracks in New York, The Who went back to London to start over with a new producer, Glyn Johns. However, many elements from Lifehouse persisted through this new project. None more so than the heavy use of synthesizers by Townshend.

VCS-3 Synthesizer

VCS3 Synthesizer

The album starts with a song with a strange name and a strange sound. “Baba O’Riley” is a hybrid name, derived from the names of a guru and a friend, that starts with what must have been such a strange sound to listeners in 1971. It is an organ fed through a VCS3 synthesizer, physically played by Townshend, to come up with these strange, yet interesting, rotating patterns. It finally breaks in with the simplistic two chord riff – on piano then bass than guitar – that dominates the song, but does so much to hold together what is today a very familiar anthem with the central theme of “Teenage Wasteland”. The song climaxes with a violin solo by guest Dave Arbus, with a building rhythm behind it that works itself into a frenzy before coming to a climatic end on a single note.

All songs are written by Townshend except for “My Wife”, written and sung by bass player John Entwistle, a comical song that includes some brass played by Entwistle. The song is rare in that the bass line is almost normal, but this is easily accented by the frenzy of Moon’s drumming.

One of the most unique and endearing legacies of The Who, is the band’s frequent use of two lead vocalists (Daltry & Townshend) within a single song. It is a brilliant tactic that transforms the mood and temperament. This change is particularly dramatic in “The Song Is Over”, which alternates between a Townshend ballad and the Daltry-led majestic screed.

The Who in 1971

The rest of the album is filled with, enjoyable, pop-oriented songs. “Bargain” contains some pleasant guitar and synth motifs built on top of an acoustic riff. “Going Mobile” has a Woodstock-era, traveling the countryside vibe and a signature synth solo. “Love Ain’t for Keeping” contains harmonies and (gasp) almost a straight-played drum beat, while the ballads “Getting’ In Tune” and “Behind Blue Eyes” both contain some dramatic and theatrical bridge sections.

Which brings us back to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which starts awkwardly in the very first second, but there is not another unsure moment for the rest of this 8 ½ minute anthem. Years later, people would give punk credit for bring rock back to its roots, but isn’t that exactly the message in this song?

What started out as a “plan B” after a frustrating, failed project was spun into pure gold by the band that never shied away from taking chances on this album. As a result, The Who struck a chord that still resonates to this day, forty years later. We have no doubt it will continue to do so forty years from now.

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1971 Images

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

Pearl by Janis Joplin

Pearl by Janis Joplin

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Pearl by Janis JoplinPearl was the final, posthumous album in the brief but explosive career of Janis Joplin. She died before the album’s completion on October 4, 1970, at just 27, done in by an overdose of heroin. Janis lived hard and died young.

An awkward girl from Beaumont, Texas, she would make her mark in a time and place that must have seemed like another universe – San Francisco in the late 1960s. She was fearless in the sense that she never let the shallow opinions of her adolescent peers define her and she found her place making her mark in unapologetic, unyielding fashion.

But this radical transformation ultimately came at a tragic price, as chemical dependency grabbed hold of her and refused to let go. It’s not that she didn’t try to escape this fate, even going so far as to move back to Beaumont and adopt the fashionable bee-hive hairdo of the day. But in the end, she just couldn’t stay away from the scene, the lifestyle, the drugs, and the music.

“You can go all around the world trying to do something with your life, but you only got to do one thing well…”

Janis’s style was rough, raw, and completely genuine. She didn’t have an image manufactured by a team of publicists, and would not have done well in an American Idol-like situation. She lived in the moment with every note she sang, deeply entrenched in the emotions that effervesced from every strained vocal.
 

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Pearl by Janis Joplin
Released: January 11, 1971 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles between September 5 and October 1, 1971
Side One Side Two
Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues
My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can
Primary Musicians
Janis Joplin – Vocals
John Till – Electric Guitar
Bobby Womack – Acoustic Guitar
Ken Pearson – Organ
Richard Bell – Piano
Brad Campbell – Bass
Clark Pierson – Drums, Vocals

Pearl has a more polished and accessible sound than anything Joplin had done earlier with Big Brother & the Holding Company or The Kozmic Blues Band, the original bands she worked with in San Francisco with limited success on the national and international scene.

The sound of the album was due in large part to the expertise of Paul A. Rothchild, who had shaped the sound of The Doors as their long time producer. Further, The Full Tilt Boogie, a profession group of backing musicians, shaped the sound that was the canvas for Janis’ dynamic vocals. Joplin had previously met and worked with the band over the summer of 1970, when they were on board the famous Festival Express, a train filled with performing and partying musicians that rode across Canada.

Janis Joplin

Aside from the Kris Kristofferson penned hit “Me and Bobby McGee”, there is really nothing special about the selections on this album. But, they are entertaining enough to make Pearl the crown jewel in the catalog of this rare talent. Most of the songs are standard rock and blues with a bit of country influence here and there. This is immediately apparent on the first two tracks, “Move Over”, which Joplin wrote herself, and the quasi-famous “Cry baby”. But there are also a few oddities on the album, like the a capella “Mercedes Benz” and the purely instrumental “Buried Alive in the Blues”, which was included despite the fact that Janis died before recording the vocals.

“I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for one single yesterday…”

Kristofferson had just introduced his song to Joplin just a few weeks before her death, and wasn’t even aware that she had actually recorded it until afterwards. Ironically, it would be her biggest hit and most famous song, true fame that she wasn’t able to experience during the shooting star trajectory of her life.

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1971 Images

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