Let It Be by The Beatles

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Let It Be by The BeatlesReleased less than a month after the announcement of their breakup, Let It Be was a unique release by The Beatles on several fronts. First, the bulk of the album was recorded over a year earlier (and before the recording and release of 1969’s Abbey Road) and was slated to be released twice in 1969 as different incarnations of an album called Get Back. Also, after it was finally released, there was debate over the enriched production added by Phil Spector, which ultimately led to a 2003 re-mixed version called Let It Be Naked.

The idea for this project was sparked by Paul McCartney who wanted to use these sessions to “get back” to the rock basics of the band’s early years. McCartney was also eager to play live again and wanted simplify the band’s sound, which had gotten increasingly complex in the studio. As an added dimension, the rehearsals and recording sessions would be filmed as part of a planned documentary showing the group prepare for a return to playing live.

Starting in late 1968, the project was marred by confusion in purpose and production duties and, ultimately, led to strong animosity within the band itself. In fact, George Harrison temporarily quit the band and agreed to return only if plans for a live tour were nixed (the band ended up playing a single “show” on the roof of Apple Studios). Still, the band was incredibly prolific in rehearsing over a hundred songs during these sessions, which included early incarnations of songs which would end up on Abbey Road and several early solo albums by individual band members.

An originally intended release date for Get Back was set for the summer of 1969, but the group members were dissatisfied with the mix and the project was temporarily shelved while they worked on Abbey Road. Early in 1970, a second version was attempted, again to less-than satisfactory results. Finally, Spector was brought in to “save” the project in March 1970 and finished the album which now had a new title and new status as the final album by the world’s most popular rock band.


Let It Be by The Beatles
Released: May 8, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector & George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road, Twickenham & Apple studios, London, February 1968-April 1970
Side One Side Two
Two of Us
Dig a Pony
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Dig It
Let It Be
Maggie Mae
I’ve Got a Feeling
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
For You Blue
Get Back
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Tambora, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion

“Two of Us” was written by McCartney about a driving adventure with his future wife, Linda. While early incarnations were electric guitar-driven, the final album version was mostly acoustic with harmonized vocals by McCartney and John Lennon. “Dig a Pony” was composed and sung by Lennon, almost as a counterpart to the opener as it was inspired by his future wife, Yoko. This song was also the first of several to feature guest Billy Preston on electric piano.

The oldest composition on Let It Be, “Across the Universe” was written by Lennon in 1967 and originally recorded in early 1968. The song’s vibe was heavily influenced by the transcendental meditation the band was studying at the time, and its melodic flow make it one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. “I Me Mine” was Harrison’s first songwriting contribution to the album with lyrics that mock the bickering within the band. Late on the album’s first side are a couple of filler tracks, each less than a minute in duration. “Dig It” is credited to all four group members (giving Ringo Starr a rare songwriting credit), while “Maggie Mae” is a traditional British skiffle tune.

McCartney’s title ballad was Billboard’s highest debut single to that date and the final single before the band’s breakup announcement. The song was sparked by a dream he had about his mother (Mary), who had died when Paul was a teenager and its title and theme served as a call for serenity in the face of the band’s breakup.

Beatles on Sound Stage 1969

The album’s second side begins with “I’ve Got a Feeling”, a fusion of two unfinished songs, along with John Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year”, which may have been one of the last true collaborations between the famous songwriting team. McCartney’s guitar-driven and upbeat rock theme fuses nicely with Lennon’s mellow folk lines to make a unique tune. In contrast, “One After 909” was a song written a full decade earlier in 1960, as one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions. It was recorded here as a symbolic gesture to signify the band’s return to “good ol’ rock n’ roll”. “The Long and Winding Road” became the group’s twentieth and final number one song as a mature and philosophical piano ballad by McCartney. After production modifications by Spector, which included orchestral strings Richard Anthony Hewson and a choral arrangement by John Barham, McCartney expressed outrage at the enhancements without his input.

Harrison’s “For You Blue” features Lennon playing lap steel guitar with McCartney playing an intentionally dulled piano, which act as the only “bass” on the track. The album closer, “Get Back”, was the earliest single from the album, released over a year before the album as a single credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston.” The album’s version is a different mix of the song. The song’s evolution was fully documented on film and the album’s version ends with the ironic quote by Lennon,

I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition…”

Let It Be topped national charts in a half dozen countries worldwide and won an Academy Award for the Best Original Score for the songs in the film. Beatles fans still debate whether this is truly their final studio album or more of a posthumous release of tracks from an unfinished project. In any case, it is a quality addition to the band’s portfolio.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Grateful Dead 1970 Albums

Buy Workingman’s Dead
Buy American Beauty

Grateful Dead 1970 albumsWith the arrival of a new decade, the Grateful Dead decided to shift towards scaled back folk and country style rock. This proved to be a wise endeavor as their two 1970 releases, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are both regarded among the finest studio albums of their long career. These albums were recorded and released just a few months apart with each expanding further into the realm of Americana as tracks on each album explicitly cite locations throughout the United States.

Prior to producing Workingman’s Dead, members of the Grateful Dead were facing tumultuous times. The cost of recording their ambitious 1969 album, Aoxomoxoa had put the band in significant debt and they were also dealing with the aftermath of a drug bust while on tour in New Orleans. The new musical direction was at least partially influenced by the group’s friendship with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who inspired the harmonized vocal approach above simple, acoustic-based music. The title of Workingman’s Dead was coined by Jerry Garcia when describing the new sound of the band. The album was recorded front to back in just nine days in February 1970.

American Beauty takes an even more reserved approach, with just four of the six band members recording the vast majority of the album. Co-produced by Steve Barncard, who was brought on board when the group’s normal sound crew was off working on the Medicine Ball Caravan Tour in Canada. Guitarist Bob Weir describes the approach as a total abandonment of the San Francisco sound that they helped establish in the mid 1960s but was co-opted by the press hyped “summer of love”. On this latter album, the group’s compositions, melodies and harmonies were all better formed and more brilliantly refined, making this perhaps the finest overall Grateful Dead album.


Workingman’s Dead by Grateful Dead
Released: June 14, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, & Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific High Recording Studio, San Francisco, February 1970
Side One Side Two
Uncle John’s Band
High Time
Dire Wolf
New Speedway Boogie
Cumberland Blues
Black Peter
Easy Wind
Casey Jones

American Beauty by Grateful Dead
Released: November 1, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Barncard & Grateful Dead
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, August–September 1970
Side One Side Two
Box of Rain
Friend of the Devil
Sugar Magnolia
Operator
Candyman
Ripple
Brokedown Palace
Till the Morning Comes
Attics of My Life
Truckin’
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron McKernan – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion

 

Workingman’s Dead commences with “Uncle John’s Band”, built on moderate, acoustic chords and an overdubbed lead acoustic guitar. There are exquisite harmonies during first half of each verse, with Garcia taking solo lead at sporadic parts beyond that. The dual drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Micky Hart have a strong presence throughout the song, which was written by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, like the majority of songs on this album.

Workingman's Dead by Grateful Dead“High Time” is an almost pure country song with a strummed acoustic waltz and vocals to match by Garcia. Here the harmonies are a little off and bass a bit too deep sonically, but the later pedal steel works really well on this track. “Dire Wolf” is an upbeat folk ballad with very active pedal steel along with other lead guitar licks over the strummed acoustic backing. This colorful tale features the catch phrase “don’t murder me”, which makes it dark and accessible at once. “New Speedway Boogie” leans more towards British-style blues of the 1960s with rumbling bass and hand clap-like percussion, while the lyrics tackle the tragic events of the December 1969 Altamont concert in the group’s home region.

The second side of Workingman’s Dead begins with a couple of unheralded gems. “Cumberland Blues” was co-written by bassist Phil Lesh and is a fun, rambling song where Garcia’s banjo and Lesh’s bass drag the adventurous music along as the group’s new direction towards Americana and roots music fully materializes. “Black Peter” is a slower country track where Garcia’s reverb-drenched vocals are strong but sweet, bringing the sad song up to a higher level of quality. Dual acoustics, bass, and brushed drums set the sparse backing that gives the vocals the room they deserve. On “Easy Wind” keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan takes the helm, with his vocal style matching Hunter’s laboring lyrics and the rocky beat dual drum beats. Mckernan’s harmonica lead after first chorus commences a long middle section with sporadic guitar leads interspersed throughout.

The album concludes “Casey Jones”, starting with an infamous “snort” and unabashedly narrating a tale of cocaine abuse. Musically, the group launches into the most popular and accessible song on Workingman’s Dead with great electric guitars throughout that compliment Garcia’s fine vocal melodies along with great, animated rhythms by Weir, Lesh, and Kreutzmann, making this the most complete group performance on the album.

American Beauty by Grateful DeadAmerican Beauty starts with “Box of Rain”, a collaboration between Hunter and Lesh where the bassist takes a rare shot at lead vocals above bright and jangly music and a chorus of harmonized vocals. The song is constructed with subtle chord changes which give it an air of unidirectional originality. “Friend of the Devil” is a more straight-forward rendition of bluegrass-inspired Americana with a consistent, descending riff and fine vocal melody by Garcia. An exceptionally well produced track, the song features a mixture of guitars, bass, and a lead mandolin by guest David Grisman and lyrics about an outlaw on the run. “Sugar Magnolia” ia a quintessential Dead “hippie” song and a rare collaboration between Weir and Hunter. Written as a souped-up love song by Weir, it features a definitive groove on guitars and well-defined drums by Kreutzmann with lyrics speak of an extraordinary woman in beauty and character;

She can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a Willys in four wheel drive / She’s a summer love in the spring, fall and winter, she can make happy any man alive…”

“Operator” is the fourth track on American Beauty with a fourth different lead vocalist, McKernan, who also wrote the tune. This song has an Arlo Guthrie feel with root acoustic and a bright electric lead and is the only song to include all six band members as Hart adds some cool percussion effects. “Candyman” completes the album’s first side as a slow, bluesy ballad with an exception slide guitar lead with weird tremolo effects which, combined with Hammond organ of guest Howard Wales, give it a real spacey and surreal effect.

Grateful Dead

“Ripple” may be the sweetest overall song recorded by the Grateful Dead with exquisite lyrics by Hunter which are poetic and quasi-religious. Musically, a consistent drum shuffle by Kreutzmann is complimented by Lesh’s potent and sharp, yet extraordinarily complementary bass and rapid mandolin notes by Grisman. But, by far the best element here is Garcia’s voice, as he delivers the haiku phrased lyrics masterfully. “Brokedown Palace” is almost a medley from “Ripple” as it starts during the dissolve of that song. However, where the previous track was so effortless, this ballad almost tries too hard, especially during the closing harmonized scat section.

“Till the Morning Comes” is an upbeat acoustic with various lead guitar phrases and harmonized vocals throughout, while “Attics of My Life” bring the harmonies to a whole new level while the song is musically rhythm driven with Lesh, and Kreutzmann moving to the forefront. American Beauty concludes with “Truckin'”, the quintessential song about touring. An autobiographical song which was a complete band collaboration, it was written to be an “endless tune” with future verses added as new experiences were had. The hook harmonies are complimented by Weir’s verse vocals, almost like a Greek chorus response, and the bridge is the payoff, where the group almost employs a traditional rock riff and coins the famous phrase “What a long, strange trip its been…”

Following the release of American Beauty, Hart briefly left the Grateful Dead, returning in 1974. The year before that, McKernan lost his life to alcoholism and Garcia lost his life in 1995. In July 2015, the remaining band members will play select shows to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary as a band. These shows have been dubbed as the “Fare Thee Well” tour after a lyrical phrase in the song “Brokedown Palace.”

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
by Derek & the Dominos

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Layla by Derek and the DominosLayla and Other Assorted Love Songs was the sole studio album by super group Derek & the Dominos. A double length LP, the fourteen tracks on the album included a few traditional blues jams along with original compositions written mainly by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock. Although the album was originally panned by critics and record buyers alike, it has deservedly grown in stature over the decades as a bonafide classic rock gem. In Fact, it may be the best overall effort of Clapton’s long career.

Clapton’s 1969 super group, Blind Faith, lasted less than a calendar year. Late in that year, the legendary guitarist joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends because he desired the relative anonymity of this group. However, Clapton soon discovered that three of his fellow bandmates had planned to leave Delaney & Bonnie and, after an extended tour into 1970, guitarist Clapton, keyboardist Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon formed the core of Derek & the Dominos.

The first project by the quartet was actually Clapton’s self-titled debut album, released in August 1970. Whitlock and Clapton began jamming and composing as early as April 1970 and, starting in May, all four members did session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. The group then toured, with the band’s name being spontaneously conjured backstage before their first gig in June. That same month, band members along with Harrison and Dave Mason recorded a single produced by Phil Spector. However, the group was not thrilled with Spector’s method and decided to pursue other recording arrangements.

The band flew to Miami to record with producer Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios. Dowd, who was also producing the Allman Brothers Band’s album Idlewild South, took the Dominos to an Allman Brothers concert and Clapton and Duane Allman formed an instant bond that resulted in Allman contributing to the majority of the album as a second lead guitarist. Although Allman declined to join the group outright, he played a few gigs with the band while they were in Florida.


Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos
Released: November 9, 1970 (Atco)
Produced by: Tom Dowd, Derek & the Dominos
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, August-October 1970
Side One Side Two
I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues
Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
I Am Yours
Anyday
Key to the Highway
Side Three Side Four
Tell the Truth
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
Have You Ever Loved a Woman
Little Wing
It’s Too Late
Layla
Thorn Tree in the Garden
Group Musicians
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Bobby Whitlock – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Duane Allman – Guitars
Carl Radle – Bass, Percussion
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion, Piano

Although the song that gives the album its name is on side four, near the end of the running order, the heart and soul of the album may very well be right up front on side one. “I Looked Away” is a melodic song built on a potpourri of guitar riffs and a distinct southern rock aesthetic. Both Clapton and Whitlock trade lead vocal lines on the song which is the first of several to reflect of Clapton’s obsession with Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd. In fact, it may be the case that every song on Layla illustrates all the different sides of love, with Boyd being the consistent protagonist. Without a doubt, “Bell Bottom Blues” is the best and most emotional of these, as authentic, bluesy, and soulful, the song’s post-chorus has an extraordinarily brilliant progression that, when played over and over creates a recursion of emotion that never dulls nor wares. It also sounds like the perfect culmination of everything Clapton did to that point in his career and his finest vocal performance with its melancholy desperation of unrequited love;

Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?
Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?
I’d gladly do it because I don’t want to fade away…”

“Keep On Growing” has more traditional blues riffing but with a touch of harder edge rock and upbeat rhythms. The vocals are harmonized by Clapton and Whitlock with about four or five distinct guitar tracks, making for a carnival of sound. Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is the first traditional blues cover, as well as the first track on the album where Clapton and Allman have room for their blues chops, with great slide techniques being employed throughout this song. Side two begins with “I Am Yours”, a changeup in feel and style with acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, hand percussion and just the slightest touch of electric lead guitar. Clapton gave co-writing credit to Nizami Gəncəvi, a 12th century Persian poet whose story of Layla and Majnun gave this album its title track and whose poem was used for the lyrics of this track.

“Anyday” returns to the core style of Clapton and Whitlock, with each trading lead vocals and joining together for the melodramatically exciting choruses. Musically, this song contains frenzied guitars and fantastic rhythms with drummer Gordon adding frenzied energetic fills during the more excited parts of the song and Radle adding his share of funky bass. “Key to the Highway” is a nine-plus minute impromptu jam of a song by Big Bill Broonzy that was not intended for the album but recorded on the fly by Dowd (hence, the fade-in). “Tell the Truth” sounds like a pure pop/soul/funk compositional approach but with lead guitars giving it all an edge that makes it unique to this group, while “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” is a showcase for bassist Radle as it has the most upbeat rhythm of any song on the album. It also features a souped-up jam with melodic hook and fantastic energy, making it, perhaps closest to an Allman Brothers track than any other on the album.

Derek and the Dominos-We swing back to the classic blues jam on “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, where Clapton gets to showcase his skills both instrumentally and vocally. Then comes the fantastic rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Little Wing”. The arrangement here makes it almost a completely different song than the original featured on Axis: Bold as Love, as this one has vocals up front and extended jam in middle, with dual vocals and dual lead guitars throughout by Clapton and Allman. In a tragic coincidence, Hendrix died just days after Derek and the Dominos recorded this song.

Of course, the climax of the album comes with its title song and classic rock radio staple, “Layla”. Inspired by the tragic poem by Nizami, the song is a funk/rock rendition of Clapton’s growing friendship and infatuation by the wife of his friend and musical collaborator, George Harrison, who turned to Clapton when Harrison all but abandoned her for Indian religion. Originally written as a ballad, Allman brought it into the hard rock realm with the signature riff, while the rest of the group plays tighter and more focused during the song proper than on any other part of the album. The ending was developed independently by drummer Jim Gordon, who Clapton heard playing a piano piece before one of the sessions and convinced him to allow it to be used as part of the song. The second movement of Layla was recorded a week after the first and concatenated to the end of the track, making its total length of seven minutes. This turned out to be a brilliant move, as a crescendo ending, constantly building with the dual whining guitars simulating the wailing emotion that underlines the song’s theme. The album concludes with “Thorn Tree in the Garden”, a short and sad acoustic ballad by Whitlock (and only track where he performs sole lead vocals), which serves as a final ode to lost romance.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs originally peaked in the Top 20 of the Pop Albums chart and made reoccuring appearances in the Billboard 200 in 1974, 1977, and 2011. Although Derek and the Dominos were poised to record a follow-up album in 1971, because of tensions and drug abuse among the band members, along with the tragic death of Duane Allman later that year. In the end, this was a unique snapshot of serendipitous music that still sounds brilliant 45 years later.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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After the Gold Rush
by Neil Young

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After the Gold Rush by Neil YoungFor his third studio album, Neil Young embraced the Country/rock fusion style for which he would  become best known. After the Gold Rush is a moderate to slow paced album, which may require a certain type of mood to enjoy, But once tuned in, the music is an infusion of genres a nice variety of electric and acoustic guitars along with steady rhythms and just enough intense edge to make it artistically viable. Every track is good, all showing some value with very little filler, making the album solid as a whole.

Young first found mainstream success with the group Buffalo Springfield, a band which had a successful but very short existence. For that group’s 1967 second album, Young wrote and recorded three solo tracks apart from the rest of the group which , in essence, was the beginning of his solo career. Young’s 1968 self-titled debut received mixed reactions and reviews, while his next release Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere was the first to feature his backing band, Crazy Horse. Released in 1969, this second album was a raw and energetic rock record which was recorded in just two weeks and found some mainstream success. Later that year, Young became the fourth member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and recorded the early 1970 Déjà Vu with the group.

Much of After the Gold Rush was recorded in Young’s basement studio in California. Young set out to find a middle ground between the Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash sound and even enlisted CSNY bassist Greg Reeves and drummer Ralph Molina of Crazy Horse. The album got its title from an unpublished screenplay by Dean Stockwell-Herb Berman, for which Young wanted to write the soundtrack. However, the film was never produced and the actual script has been lost to time.


After the Gold Rush by Neil Young
Released: September 19, 1970 (Reprise)
Produced by: Neil Young, David Briggs, & Kendall Pacios
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Sound City, & Redwood Studios, California, December 1969–June 1970
Side One Side Two
Tell Me Why
After the Gold Rush
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Southern Man
Till the Morning Comes
Oh, Lonesome Me
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Birds
When You Dance I Can Really Love
I Believe in You
Cripple Creek Ferry
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Nils Lofgren – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Reeves – Bass
Ralph Molina – Drums, Vocals

The acoustic track with plenty of hammer-ons along with bright strumming guitar action drives the opening track “Tell Me Why”, which also includes some sparse but nice harmonies. This song was originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during their tours earlier in 1970. The indelible title track is a classic ballad, simple and measured with the sparse arrangement of a distant piano and near lead vocals, with session man Bill Peterson adding a pleasant flugelhorn lead. The lyrics to “After the Gold Rush” are at once disparate and yet very poetic in a song that reflects contemporary life.

Peaking at #33, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” was the only real radio hit on the album, as it returns to the Country sound with strong pop elements. This Tin-Pan-Alley like song has a wistful melody and a waltz-like beat with a simple arrangement. In contrast, “Southern Man” contains a solid rock groove featuring Young on electric guitar and then-18-year-old Nils Lofgren on piano. There are harmonized vocals during hook, solo vocals during the verses and an extended jam in the middle. The lyrics vividly describe the racism towards blacks in the American South, with a sweeping accusation which sparked a direct response by Lynyrd Skynyrd on their later hit “Sweet Home Alabama”.

Neil YoungAfter the abruptly cut “Till the Morning Comes” completes side one, the second side starts with the album’s only cover track, Don Gibson’s classic Country song, “Oh, Lonesome Me”. While remaining moderately slow paced, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” contains strong variations in mood, adding its own diverse slice of uniqueness. This original track contains excellent melody and a bit of a dark tenor, which elevates the simple Country beats to a much higher level which was expanded upon on Young’s 1972 album Harvest.

Dating back to the days of Buffalo Springfield, “Birds” is a slow piano ballad, a bit sappy but with great harmonies during the choruses. Then comes “When You Dance I Can Really Love”, a very Byrds-esque jangly rocker, which seems to work a bit too hard to try and be a relevant rock song, falling just a bit short. “I Believe in You” is one final, sweet Country ballad with complex harmonies and plenty of mellow sonic treats dispersed throughout the straight-forward, traditional love/heartache song. The album concludes with “Cripple Creek Ferry”, a way-too-short song which is nonetheless deep and effective.

After the Gold Rush peaked at number eight on the American Pop Albums chart and spawned an acoustic solo tour by Young. A solo act would remain his status for the better part of a decade as CSNY split up and Crazy Horse signed their own independent record deal as a group.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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In Rock by Deep Purple

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Deep Purple In RockThe famous Mark II lineup of Deep Purple launched their first pure rock album in a big way in 1970 with Deep Purple In Rock. This output was filled with dynamic and energetic songs which gave plenty of space for musical and vocal virtuosity while still sustaining the root rock and blues elements to attract the hard rock base the group built with their late sixties outputs. The result was their breakthrough album in Europe and the launch of the band’s short reign as hard rock superstars.

While the Mark I version of Deep Purple had some success in the US, their three albums had failed to break through in their home country of England. Lead vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper were replaced in June 1969 by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover respectively. This new lineup’s first actual recording was the live Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a classical work composed by keyboardist Jon Lord and performed by the band along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Recording for the self-produced Deep Purple In Rock began in late 1969. Preceding the album’s release was the single “Hallelujah”, which failed to chart. “Black Night” was a second single which was released at the time of the album’s release (although not included on the album). This fared better and peaked at #2 on the UK charts, making it the first real hit for this version of the group.


In Rock by Deep Purple
Released: June 3, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: IBC, De Lane Lea & Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1969–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Speed King
Bloodsucker
Child In Time
Flight of the Rat
Into the Fire
Living Wrck
Hard Lovin’ Man
Group Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Jon Lord – Organ, Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums, Percussion

Lord’s opening church-like organ masks the rock frenzy which suddenly launches into an unabashed pre-punk rock rant of “Speed King”. The song does come down for a building lead section where keyboardist Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore trade lead licks before joining together in the riff that brings the track back up at the end. While the song is not a cover, Gillan borrowed several lines from popular oldies such as “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “Tutti Frutti” and “The Battle of New Orleans”. “Bloodsucker” is a more moderate rocker and a bit less impressive than the opener, while still containing many areas for musical improv leads.

“Child in Time” is a true masterpiece throughout the entirety of its ten minutes of rock theatrics. From Lord’s jazzy organ intro to the building, séance like verses and vocal wails by Gillan, to the incredible middle jam section with a bluesy guitar lead by Blackmore. Lord adapted the track from a song called “Bombay Calling” by a group called It’s a Beautiful Day, which Deep Purple made completely its own with their impressive rock instrumentation. But the real focal point is Gillan’s voice, as his wails are orgasmic early and almost painful in the final stanza.

Deep PurpleWhile the most famous songs reside on side one, the true heart of this album is on side two. This all starts with the incredible “Flight of the Rat”, featuring fantastic guitar riffing in a pure rock frenzy, especially Lord and Blackmore during the middle jam section where they each have extended leads while Glover consistently holds it all together. A choppy, funked-out section follows the long section with everything stopping for two full seconds before starting over with a fourth verse. And as if that all wasn’t enough, it all concludes with a drum solo by Ian Paice, making this track a real band showcase.

“Into the Fire” has a doomy, King Crimson inspired intro and slow rocking through the slightly bluesy verses. Blackmore performs a slow, phased guitar solo on this track. “Living Wreck” starts with an excellent drum beat by Paice and sneaks a peek of a future Deep Purple sound as demonstrated on their 1971 album Fireball. The cat like, organ effect between verses can be a bit abrasive, but this is quickly forgotten by the fine musical interludes of the bridge. Of course, this dramatic and theatrical album must end in dramatic and theatrical fashion. “Hard Lovin’ Man” starts with a building jam based on Glover’s bass riff and, after a few standard rock verses, Lord’s piercing organ solo is almost beyond the sonic bounds and builds an uneasy tension as the rest of the band rocks behind.

Following the release of Deep Purple In Rock, the group went on an extended world tour, which established the group as one of the top hard rock acts in the world and set them up for much further success with later albums.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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Black Sabbath 1970 albums

Buy Black Sabbath
Buy Paranoid

Black Sabbath 1970 albumsOver the course of a year, Black Sabbath morphed from a pop blues band to a dark practitioner of occult music to a respectable hard rock band which helped forge the emerging genre of heavy metal. Over the course of that year, the group recorded and released two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, and caused a minor tectonic shift in the rock world. To listen to these albums back-to-back is to hear the incredible development in compositional depth and performance cohesion by these four British musicians.

In 1968, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne were in a band called Rare Breed when they were invited to form a blues rock group by guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. The new group eventually settled on the name Earth and received positive feedback which led to the recording of some demos. This momentum was briefly halted when Iommi joined Jethro Tull for a very short time. When the group reunited in 1969, they discovered that another British band was using the name Earth and decided to change their name to that of a dark song being developed by Butler. This name change also fostered a decision to focus songwriting on similar material. In the Autumn 1969, the group was signed to Philips Records and entered the studio with producer Rodger Bain.

Black Sabbath was recorded live in the studio with very few overdubs added. Due to the loss of a few fingertips, Iommi detuned his guitar for easier playing, which had the added “doomy” effect which worked well with the overall theme of this debut album. Further, the raw sound (sometimes referred to as “sonic ugliness”) worked to give it a sense of raw legitimacy not often heard on recordings in 1970.

Just four months after the release of their debut, recording sessions for Paranoid commenced. Even with this short duration, most of the songs had been worked out in concert during time reserved for improvisational jams. Thematically, this second album was a concerted effort to counter the “flower in your hair” hippie pop which was proliferating in mainstream music. Unlike the first album, which focused on the occult and fantasy, this album tackled real life issues in a brutal and direct way.


Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Released: February 13, 1970 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Regent Sound Studios, London, October 1969
Side One Side Two
Black Sabbath
The Wizard
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Evil Woman
Sleeping Village
Warning

Paranoid by Black Sabbath
Released: September 18, 1970 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Regent Sound and Island Studios, London, June 1970
Side One Side Two
War Pigs
Paranoid
Planet Caravan
Iron Man
Electric Funeral
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Fairies Wear Boots
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Tony Iommi – Guitars, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

 

Impossibly slow and doomy, like a tolling bell the song which gives the band and debut album its name contains a repetitive riff by Butler and Iommi while Osbourne’s vocals are delivered like a medieval chant. Three quarters of the way through, it finally abandons the repetitive riff and picks up speed for a decent rock outro. “The Wizard” is a much more interesting track, starting with a bluesy harmonica intro by Osbourne (why didn’t he play that instrument more often?) When the song kicks in, it flowers into a great rock jam with drummer Bill Ward providing some motion to the rudimentary riffs of Iommi and Ward. Overall, the best earliest track by the band, “The Wizard” was inspired by the character of Gandalf from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein.

Black Sabbath 1970 debut album“Behind the Wall of Sleep” refers to the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. Another fine, riff-driven rocker, Butler breaks from the standard riffs to provide some slight fills in between the call-and-response scheme. On the North American version of this album, this was part of an extended medley with the opening and interlude music titled “Wasp”. Butler’s flange-treated bass solo gives way to the powerful main riff of “N.I.B.” Osbourne adds some harmony beyond the basic mimicking of the riff line especially during the descending chorus section, which also includes an impressive tambourine by Ward. Lyrically, the song is told from the point of view of Lucifer, ending the first side like it began, in darkness.

The second side of Black Sabbath moves more towards the group’s blues-rock origin. “Evil Woman” was a cover of a song by the band Crow which was pushed by Black Sabbath’s management who wanted something “commercial sounding” on the album. The song was the group’s first single but was excluded from the North American version of the album which instead included the track “Wicked World”, a hyper jam with a slightly psychedelic middle section which breaks down to a true guitar “solo” by Iommi.

The dark acoustic of “Sleeping Village” features a strange jaw harp-like sound in the background before the song proper breaks into a standard, hard rock track with a long, multi-section jam, leading into the closing track “Warning”. This final track is a cover of a song by Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and starts with a buzzy bass, joined by deliberate drums and consistent bluesy guitar flourishes through each of the early verses. After a point when it breaks and switches gear, the rest of this extended track is used as a showcase for Iommi’s guitar skills, using many textures and techniques.

On Paranoid, Butler stepped up to become the group’s chief lyricist. The opening track, “War Pigs” was initially entitled “Walpurgis”, but morphed into a dramatic anti-war song. Osbourne’s vocals are much more melodic during the memorable verses, while the music subtly weaves from the two-chord, main riff to a much more complex jam where Iommi takes over with many excellent guitar textures through late song jam. The album’s actual title track, “Paranoid” is a simple but very effective track built on a few simple guitar riffs and an incredible rhythmic drive. These all complimenting Osbourne’s majestic, echo-laden vocals. The double-tracked, fuzzy lead guitar is really the only variation in repetitive song, which reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, making it the group’s highest charting single before or since.

Paranoid by Black Sabbath“Electric Funeral” contains a sound as doomy as its title suggests, with lyrics about an “atomic tide”. Like many Sabbath songs, it works the main theme for a while before changing things up about halfway through where Osbourne’s voice is especially horse for the latter part of this track. “Planet Caravan” has an alternative musical arrangement with jazzy strummed guitars, moderately steady bass, hand percussion, and some piano provided by engineer Tom Allom. Osbourne’s Pink-Floyd-like vocals were fed through a Leslie speaker for vibrato effect, with the song concluding with a long, excellent jazzy guitar lead by Iommi.

Now the time is here for Iron Man to spread fear, vengeance from the grave, kills the people he once saved…”

The quintessential Black Sabbath song, “Iron Man” is indelible from start to finish. The kick drum intro is joined by droned guitar notes and a mechanical intro voice before the main section propels a slow and doomy rock while the chorus is more complex and melodic. The song breaks into two faster paced jam sections, the first one shorter with a fine return to the final verse. The latter jam is a full-fledged outro rock section, which may have been an inspiration for later epic songs such as “Stairway To Heaven” and “Freebird”, built on fantastic rhythms by Ward and a very apt lead guitar Iommi.

Even though all of the more popular tracks are on Paranoid‘s first side, the album may actually be strongest down the stretch. A slow bass phrase accompanied by subtle but complex drum pattern starts “Hand of Doom” before the guitar crashes in with a strong rock section. After two rounds of this pattern, the song enters a mid-section, changing this up nicely with rapid notes, funky bass, and animated drums complementing an original melody by Osbourne. The instrumental “Rat Salad” is almost Hendrix-like with its mixture of slight effects and pure, unabashed guitar-led jamming at the beginning. However, the second half of the song is dominated by an impressive drum solo by Ward, which would often stretch 45 minutes in concert. “Fairies Wear Boots” has a good, moderate opening jam with further drum flourishes. The song proper is like a doomy blues song, three chord with emotive vocals on top, but very heavy overall. The track nicely transitions back to first section, this time very smoothly and skillfully. This closing track has the only lyrics written by Osbourne, who recounted an altercation with skinheads while he and Butler were on acid. The fading outro leaves the listener wanting more.

Despite not receiving good initial reviews, both Black Sabbath and Paranoid reached the Top 10 on the UK pop charts, with the latter being the only Black Sabbath album to top the Albums chart. Over time, both these albums have grown in status with many citing these as the absolute inception of Heavy Metal and Stoner Rock.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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John Barleycorn Must Die
by Traffic

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John Barleycorn Must Die by TrafficTraffic returned from a short hiatus with the 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die. Reformed as a trio, the group built this album mainly on extended, jazz-infused jams which was musically a bit of a departure from the pop-oriented approach to the music of their first three albums in the late 1960s. The album actually started as a solo project for keyboardist and vocalist Steve Winwood but soon morphed into traffic’s fourth overall album when Winwood enlisted a couple of former bandmates for this project.

Winwood had joined traffic as a teenager in 1967. Led by songwriter and guitarist Dave Mason, the quartet also included drummer Jim Capaldi and woodwinds player Chris Wood.After the release of a few hit singles, Traffic released their debut album Mr. Fantasy late in 1967. The following year brought their eponymous second album and Mason’s classic tune “Feelin’ Alright”. However, Mason departed from the group shortly after, leaving Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi as a trio for the recording of their partial studio / partial live album Last Exit. In early 1969, Winwood left Traffic without explanation, effectively dissolving the band at that time.

Following the initial incarnation of Traffic, Winwood went on to form the super-group Blind Faith, which lasted less than a year and recorded a single album. Under a contract which required another album, Winwood began recording as strictly as solo artist, playing all instruments. However, he soon wanted some familiar players and enlisted Capaldi on drums. This solo project officially morphed into a Traffic reunion when Wood was brought on board.


John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic
Released: July 10, 1970 (Island)
Produced by: Chris Blackwell, Steve Winwood, & Guy Stevens
Recorded: Island Studios & Olympic Studios, London, February–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Glad
Freedom Rider
Empty Pages
Stranger to Himself
John Barleycorn
Every Mother’s Son
Group Musicians
Steve Winwood – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion
Chris Wood – Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards
Jim Capaldi – Drums, Percussion

Everything gets started with “Glad”, an instrumental which at first sounds like an aptly named celebration with Winwood’s upbeat jazz piano riff. The middle jam section includes a free-form like approach, starting with a saxophone solo by Wood on top of great rhythms by Winwood and Capaldi. The long, slow outro contains a mesmerizing mix of piano, organ, and percussion, and slowly meanders towards a segue into “Freedom Rider”. The album’s first proper song subtly starts with a rocking piano and baritone saxophone phrase but employs a more upbeat and funky approach when the verse breaks in. Winwood may shine brighter on bass than keys, while Wood adds some sweeping flute passages and a potent lead on this track with poetic lyrics by Capaldi.

Side one concludes with the beat-driven rocker “Empty Pages”, which has Wood moving over to Hammond organ and, while Capaldi co-wrote four of the six tracks on this album, he never shines brighter than on this one. His drumming excels from start to finish, while the optimistic lyrics speak of a “clean slate” in a new romantic life. Winwood adds his own highlight with a fine, extended electric piano lead on this track which was the sole single released from John Barleycorn Must Die.

Traffic in 1970While no tracks on the original first side contain any guitars, each of the three songs on side two feature Winwood playing electric and/or acoustic guitar. In fact, the side opener “Stranger to Himself” features both, with an acoustic in the opening and main riff and an electric slightly within the verses and fully during the blistering lead section. The first song written for this album, it is close to being a full Winwood solo effort (he even plays drums), with only some backing vocals provided by Capaldi. “John Barleycorn” is a traditional, anti-whiskey, folk song which is primarily acoustic with slight further arrangements. Through its several verses, instrumentation is built every so subtly. The album concludes with “Every Mother’s Son”, another early track that features only Winwood and Capaldi. A fine droning lead guitar riff drives the slow intro, which most sounds like tunes from the Blind Faith album. The beat completely stops for two measures near the beginning of a Hammond organ lead, reflecting the loose production that is part of the overall charm of this album.

John Barleycorn Must Die peaked at number 5 on the album charts, Traffic’s highest charting album ever in the US, and was only slightly less successful in the UK. Through the early 1970s, the band would expand and contract their lineup (including a short reunion with Mason), but these three core players would remain at the heart of this successful band.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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Badfinger 1970 albums

Buy Magic Christian Music
Buy No Dice

Badfinger 1970 albumsBadfinger thrust into the world of popular music with their first two releases, the soundtrack Magic Christian Music and the rock album No Dice. The first of these was actually an unplanned hybrid of five songs recorded specifically for the film The Magic Christian and seven songs released in the late 60s when the group was known as “The Iveys”. The latter was their pop/rock breakthrough as it significantly expanded the group’s popularity with a handful of indelible songs.

Based in London, The Iveys caught the attention of Mal Evans in early 1968, shortly after he was brought on board the Beatles’ brand new Apple Records. The group was signed to the label in April 1968 and immediately began recording soft rock styled pop singles, which were released throughout the next several months. In early 1969, Maybe Tomorrow by the Iveys was compiled from previous singles and released as a debut album. Later that year, the group changed their name to Badfinger and recorded a few songs, produced by Paul McCartney, intended for a multi-artist soundtrack to The Magic Christian. However, when Apple couldn’t retain the rights to Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In the Air”, the label decided to release a Badfinger-only soundtrack.

The band refined their sound in a more rock-oriented direction on No Dice. This was due in part to the arrival of guitarist Joey Molland, formally of the band The Rain. The four group members also recorded sessions on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. Mal Evans was the original producer for this album but, after Apple execs expressed dissatisfaction with the sound, longtime Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick was brought in to finish the album. Even though No Dice was released during a very competitive Christmas season for rock records, it did very well commercially and became the band’s best-selling LP.


Magic Christian Music by Badfinger
Released: January 9, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul McCartney, Mal Evans, & Tony Visconti
Recorded: Abbey Road, Trident, IBC & Olympic Studios, London, 1968-1969
Side One Side Two
Come and Get It
Crimson Ship
Dear Angie
Fisherman
Midnight Sun
Beautiful and Blue
Rock of All Ages
Carry On Till Tomorrow
I’m in Love
Walk Out In the Rain
Angelique
Knocking Down Our Home
Give It a Try
Maybe Tomorrow

No Dice by Badfinger
Released: November 9, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Geoff Emerick & Mal Evans
Recorded: Abbey Road & Trident Studios, London, April–August 1970
Side One Side Two
I Can’t Take It
I Don’t Mind
Love Me Do
Midnight Caller
No Matter What
Without You
Blodwyn
Better Days
It Had to Be
Watford John
Believe Me
We’re for the Dark
Band Musicians
Pete Ham – Guitars, Paino, Vocals
Tom Evans – Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Ron Griffiths – Bass, Vocals (Magic Christian only)
Joey Molland – Guitars, Vocals (No Dice only)
Mike Gibbins – Drums, Vocals

 

“Come and Get It” was written by McCartney during the sessions for Abbey Road but not included on that album. He offered the song to Badfinger along with his producer services on the condition that they record it exactly like this demo. The opening track and lead single from Magic Christian Music, “Come and Get It” was the group’s first hit, reaching the Top 10 in both the US and the UK.

Magic Christian Music by BadfingerOther new tracks recorded for the movie included “Crimson Ship”, “Give It a Try”, “Midnight Sun”, and “Rock of All Ages”. The latter song was also produced by McCartney and has a pure, Early-Beatles’ inspired rock feel that made it a highlight of the album’s first side. “Dear Angie” was written by bassist Ron Griffiths and producer Tony Visconti as the Ivey’s second single in 1969. Griffiths left the group later in the year, making this his only composition for the band.

Tom Evans started off as a guitarist but later moved to bass following the departure of Griffiths and the arrival of Molland. On Magic Christian Music, Evans composed and sang lead vocals on many tracks, including the folk-tinged “Fisherman”, the pop-oriented “Beautiful and Blue”, the quasi-psychedelic “Angelique”, and the closing ballad “Maybe Tomorrow”. This last track was the Ivey’s first single in mid-1968 and includes string arrangements by George Martin, but had disappointing chart success following its release.

Evans co-wrote “Carry on Till Tomorrow” with Pete Ham. This track may be the most complex on the album, starting dark and melancholy, but adapting contrasting musical arrangements ranging from simple folk with rich vocal harmonies to sweeping strings and blistering lead guitar. Ham’s other contributions to Magic Christian Music are the upbeat, jazzy rocker “I’m in Love”, the sixties folk tune “Walk Out In the Rain”, and the Roy Orbison-like crooner “Knocking Down Our Home”, a song with piano, clarinets, and Caribbean-like beats in a laid back and breezy journey through catastrophic irony.

Starting with No Dice, Ham would play an increasing role in Badfinger’s musical direction, as evident on the hard rock opener “I Can’t Take It”. Still, this album was incredibly democratic compositionally with drummer Joey Molland writing or co-writing several tracks. “I Don’t Mind” is a flange-induced rock ballad, sung by Evans with Emerick adding subtle production effects. “Love Me Do” is the first song with Molland on lead vocals as a very basic rocker and apparent homage by the band to their mentors.

No Dice by BadfingerThe true heart of the album begins with Ham’s ballad “Midnight Caller”. This simple but exquisite song features beautiful vocals by Ham to his simple, rocking piano, steadily strummed acoustic, slightly funky bass and subtle drums. The hit song “No Matter What” was originally cut from the album when Apple considered its sound (produced by Mal Evans) to be insufficient. Later in the sessions, however, the group needed another track and revisited this track to find a pure pop/rock sound that perfectly fit the times in late 1970. Complex harmonies, call and response vocals, and good rock instrumentation with effective sonic treats like a distorted organ and fine lead guitar, all worked to make this simplest of upbeat love themes one the group’s biggest ever hits, peaking at number 5 in the UK and number 8 in the US.

The polar opposite of previous feel-good song, “Without You” is a melancholy classic and a true collaboration between Ham and Evans. Actually the song is a fusion of two ballads with Ham’s “If It’s Love” used for the verses and Evans’ chorus giving the song its title. Badfinger’s version features a smooth, George Harrison-like lead guitar by Molland and a long outro chorus with building instrumentation. However, this original version was far from the most popular version of this song, which has been covered by over a hundred artists. Harry Nilsson heard the Badfinger recording of this song and instantly decided to cover it on his Nilsson Schmilsson album in 1971. His version topped the US pop chart for four weeks in 1972, and was one of the highest selling singles for that year. When Nilsson passed away in 1994, Mariah Carey decided to record the song as a tribute to him and it once again topped the pop charts.

Side two of No Dice contains some lesser known tracks which are of no less quality. Ham’s “Blodwyn” is an upbeat, drinking pub type folk song with Country-inspired lead guitars, while “Better Days” with interlude guitar riffs and Elvis-inspired lyrics by Molland as well as an effective key change for the final verse. “It Had to Be” is a simple ballad written by Gibbins with Ham offering the emotive lead vocals, while “Watford John” is a band jam with a boogie piano named after a studio engineer employed by Apple.

The album ends very strong with a gem each by Evans and Ham. “Believe Me” is a John Lennon-inspired rock screed with harmonized vocals and a methodical but powerful delivery, along with the best overall guitar lead on the album, a duo effort which is slightly harmonized and slightly competing. This track was one of the earlier efforts by the group and Mal Evans. An absolute gem by Ham, “We’re for the Dark” completes the album as a simple but effective arrangement with tremendous sonic effect. This includes a fine fade-in of single acoustic, Ham’s double-tracked vocals, and the slightest accompaniment of bass guitar and orchestration, which never overpower the root acoustic and vocal elements. Although there are no drums, there is a consistent, rapid, heart-beat like beat throughout, which works to boast the songs motion overall.

Upon completion of No Dice, Emerick and the band began recording songs for a potential follow-up album. Although the project never materialized, several of these tunes appeared as bonus tracks on later versions of this album, with the beat-driven, slow rocker “Mean, Mean Jemima” being the best of this lot. In 1971, Badfinger started over with a new album project which spawned Straight Up, another successful pop rock release by the group.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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Plastic Ono Band
by John Lennon

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Plastic Ono Band by John LennonOur third and final installment of the “Life After Beatles” series looks at the critically acclaimed debut record by John Lennon called John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band. Unlike any other that Lennon had recorded within or beyond the Beatles, this album was raw and forthright lyrically and stripped to the bare essentials musically. The songs were largely the product of the “primal scream” psychological therapy that Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono undertook through a large part of 1970, following the Beatles’ breakup. This technique emphasized the emotional release of repressed traumas, which is evident throughout the album as Lennon touches on the most base elements of life and death.

Prior to 1970, Lennon and Ono had jointly issued three experimental albums along with Live Peace in Toronto 1969, which was credited to the “Plastic Ono Band”, a newly enshrined joint vehicle for Lennon and Ono’s musical projects. In early 1970 they released the single “Instant Karma!”, which sold over a million copies and reached the top five on both sides of the Atlantic, making it the first true solo “hit” by any of the Beatles. The song was produced by Phil Spector, who was also working on the Beatles Let It Be album, and featured Klaus Voormann on bass, who Lennon would retain for this album.

Starting in July 1970, Lennon recorded demos of tracks inspired by the ongoing therapy which was then taking place in the United States. In September the couple returned to England and began recording at Abbey Road. The sessions began with Lennon, Voormann, and former Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr jamming to early rock standards to forge a tight sound among the three. Ultimately, the new tracks were laid down with this base, three-piece arrangement. Originally slated to be the album’s producer, Spector’s busy schedule meant he could only work on a few songs, so Lennon and Ono produced most of the material themselves, forging a dry rhythmic sound which worked perfectly with the thematic feel of the album. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band was recorded simultaneously with Ono’s debut solo album of avant garde sounds, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.


Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon
Released: December 11, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, & Phil Spector
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & Ascot Sound Studios, London, September–October 1970
Side One Side Two
Mother
Hold On
I Found Out
Working Class Hero
Isolation
Remember
Love
Well Well Well
Look at Me
God
My Mummy’s Dead
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Ringo Starr – Drums

On the same day they released their respective albums, the couple also released a joint single of Ono’s “Why” and Lennon’s “Mother”. Starting with a tolling bell which symbolizes the death of his mother when John was a teenager, the song abruptly enters as a raw and untamed prayer with choppy piano chords and bass notes along with Starr’s moderately steady drum beat. Actually a cry to both parents (who Lennon pretty much grew up without), this ode to abandonment features a final line which is repeated nearly a dozen times with increasing intensity and dramatic effect. This represents the fact that being left behind by both parents will always be in the back drop of anything else in his life. In contrast, the sweet and soft “Hold On” changes the tone from the inner battle that has been going on forever to a hopeful mood of optimism. Musically, this is led by fantastic, jazzy tremolo guitar by Lennon.

I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa, they didn’t want me so they made me a star…”

We return to the primal scream, angry-at-the-world material with “I Found Out”. Starting with pure, raw blues as Lennon’s vocals mimicks his guitar riff, the song takes off when Voorman and Starr break in with upbeat rhythms, with the bass line being the true highlight of this dark but fine tune. Speaking of dark, “Working Class Hero” is a solo folk performance where Lennon provides at once a slightly profound anthem to the “regular guy” and a bitch fest to suppress all hope of escaping to a better life. Closing side one, “Isolation” is a largely underrated classic as a great desperate ballad where Lennon’s vocal skills are at their best. A beautiful piano is upfront while the rhythm is very refined and laid back and everything is staggered (or “isolated”), eventually climaxing in a crescendo with exquisite timing.

People say we got it made, don’t they know we’re so afraid, isolation…”

With a consistent, driving beat and vocals methodically delivered with long pauses between each verse line, “Remember” is another gem from the heart of this album. During the well-spaced chorus sections the song briefly changes direction with more standard, melodic rock timings. Lyrically, this song deals with remembering events of the past and how some memories are not that rosy but they still help you shape your today. For the song’s climax, Lennon references “The Fifth of November”, a British holiday known as Guy Fawkes Night and celebrated with fireworks, hence the ending explosion. “Love” is a soft and weepy ballad, which works well as a counterbalance on this emotional album. Musically, the song features piano by Spector and a soft, tender acoustic guitar by Lennon. This song was eventually released as a single in 1982, in the wake of Lennon’s assassination.

John LennonThe weakest part of the album begins with “Well Well Well”, a six minute filler that is not at all focused or anywhere nearly as interesting as the other “primal scream” tracks. Aside from some interesting stomping and crunchy guitar riffs, this song has about as much merit as a prolonged conversation where no one says anything of substance. “Look At Me” is another weak track, albeit at least a bit moody and melodic. The only song to predate the Beatles’ breakup, this song was written during sessions for the White Album in 1968 and contains a finger-picked acoustic technique similar to that album’s “Dear Prudence”. The album does recover nicely with the philosophical closer, “God”, featuring Billy Preston on piano. The song features a totally unique compositional formation with long, repetitive mid-section screed. Here, Lennon earnestly declares what he believes in and (most prominently) doesn’t believe in, with a whole list of terrestrial idols culminating with The Beatles themselves. This is followed by the sad closing section where Lennon repeatedly declares “the dream is over”, ultimately addressing the elephant in the room to which all previous subjects have built towards.

Much like the classic Abbey Road a year earlier, Platic Ono Band ends with a song after the final song, in this case a low-fi demo of a brief diddy called “My Mummy’s Dead”. The album reached Top 10 and spent several months in 1971 in the charts. Lennon followed up on the success of this album with Imagine, another self-confessional (albeit tamer) album which was a worldwide hit for Lennon.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

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McCartney by Paul McCartney

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McCartney by Paul McCartneyThe second of our three “Life After Beatles” reviews looks at the most controversial release in the sense that it played an indirect role in the group’s demise. Covertly recorded during The Beatles last months as an official band, McCartney is a very scaled back one-man effort by Paul McCartney, who tracked much of the music at home. As such, reception and reviews of this album have been mixed and deservedly so. In one sense, there are songs which are very efficient, saying more in 150 seconds or less than most standard or elongated rock songs. On the other hand, there is some annoying repetition, which signals the presence of underdeveloped material released before its time.

Following the release of Abbey Road in September 1969, John Lennon confided in his bandmates that he was finished being a Beatle. After strenuously trying to change Lennon’s mind, McCartney retreated to his isolated farm in Campbeltown, Scotland, where he lost touch with the other Beatles and neglected their common management of Apple Records. With encouragement from his wife Linda McCartney, Paul began developing solo material and he purchased a four-track recorder when the McCartneys returned to their proper home in London. Playing every instrument with just some backing vocals by Linda, McCartney later took his recordings to Morgan Studios and Abby Road to record overdubs, using a fake name in each case to keep the upcoming album a secret. While a handful of the tracks on McCartney date back to Beatles’ sessions, most of the material was composed and developed over a two month span in the Winter of 1969-70.

When the album was revealed to Apple (and the other Beatles), McCartney was slated for a mid-April release date. However, Phil Spector had been working on post-production of the Let It Be album and accompanying film that had a world premiere scheduled for April 28th. Harrison and Lennon wrote to McCartney that his album release would be postponed until June 4th, which was hand delivered to McCartney by Ringo Starr. This situation nearly came to blows and, although the other Beatles relented on their demands, McCartney decided to go public on April 9, 1970, with what was essentially his resignation from the band. Nine days later, McCartney was released.


McCartney by Paul McCartney
Released: April 17, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Paul McCartney
Recorded: McCartney’s home, St John’s Wood; Morgan Studios, Willesden; Abbey Road Studios, London, December 1969–February 1970
Side One Side Two
The Lovely Linda
That Would Be Something
Valentine Day
Every Night
Hot As Sun / Glasses
Junk
Man, We Was Lonely
Oo You
Mama Miss America
Teddy Boy
Singalong Junk
Maybe I’m Amazed
Kreen-Akrore
Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Percussion
Linda McCartney – Backing Vocals

The early part of the album runs sequentially, with the first three songs being the first three recordings McCartney made at home for this project. “The Lovely Linda” is the shortest song and is only annoying because it seems like there is so much more here than on some of the later filler – with a nice bass groove and interesting hand percussion to accompany the bright acoustic – only to go away after just 43 seconds. In contrast, “That Would Be Something” is mostly filler, with only two distinct lines and musical melodies repeated to death. The first of several instrumentals, “Valentine Day” is a simple riff-oriented blues jam with interesting percussion that McCartney claims he improvised on the spot while the tape was running.

“Every Night” is the first really complete and excellent song on the album. This song also is, in many ways, the true heart of this domestic-inspired record. Recorded at Abbey Road, everything works well on this brief love song, including McCartney’s duo acoustic, bass, subtle drums, and, most especially, his exquisite vocal melodies. The album’s second instrumental, “Hot As Sun/Glasses” begins with a bright, Polynesian-influenced jam that McCartney first developed in the late 1950s. This shortly breaks down with the eerie sound of tapping crystal wineglasses at home.

Back Cover of McCartney
Back Cover of McCartney
A short but beautiful gem, “Junk” was originally written during the sessions for The White Album. This acoustic ballad with philosophical lyrics features some xylophone in the final verse as well as the first vocal harmonies by Linda McCartney. Linda’s vocals are even more present on “Man We Was Lonely”, the original side one closer. This fine and polished track features electric overdubbed guitars complementing the strummed acoustic strummed in intro and a “hoe-down” duet with a bouncy beat and enjoyable melodies.

A rock riff jam with interesting guitars and bass line, “Oo You” was originally recorded at home as an instrumental but McCartney decided to add mainly scat vocals later in the studio. Two distinct instrumentals were combined to form “Momma Miss America”, the best musical passage on the album with the first half featuring potent bass, piano, and drums and subtle guitar motifs with interesting effects on each. The bass and drums persist on the second half, accompanied by a heavy acoustic presence and lead guitar above it all. While “Teddy Boy” was rejected as a Beatles track, this acoustic folk track actually works much better as a solo song. Of note here are Linda’s backing vocals, the finest on this (or any other) album. When accompanied by Paul’s bass vocals, the backing chorus has an almost orchestral effect. The reprise “Singalong Junk” is an instrumental version that is actually longer than the song proper on side one. A few notches above elevator music, the melody is played on piano with the fine additions of mellotron strings.

 
In a way, one can claim that “Maybe I’m Amazed” is the reason for the album as a whole, as the one true radio hit and indelible song. On the other hand, one might also argue that it this is too well produced to blend with the preceding tracks, as this Abbey Road production abandons the “homey” feel. In any case, it is a real showcase for McCartney’s talent as a composer and performer, especially when it comes to the soaring lead guitars between each verse. Following this climatic moment, “Kreen-Akrore” finishes the album as a showcase for dry drums and percussive effects, only disrupted by very short full instrumentation sections which reprise a small phrase from “Maybe I’m Amazed”. This piece was inspired by the hunting rituals of tribesmen in the Brazilian Amazon.

Despite its mixed reviews, McCartney was a worldwide hit, reaching number 2, in the UK and Number 1 in the US, where it sold over a million copies in its first six weeks. Some have cynically noted that this album was a commercial beneficiary of the the publicity surrounding the Beatles’ break-up, which McCartney initiated. In any case, it commenced a long and successful solo career which continues 45 years later.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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