Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

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This album review is provided by Mike Fishman, who has written about Van Morrison for the Mystic Avenue blog and writes about film for IndependentFilmNow.com.

Veedon Fleece by Van MorrisonAny musician with a career spanning 50 years is going to hit at least a few major milestones and when you’re talking about an artist as prolific as Van Morrison the milestones inevitably start piling up. This past Fall of 2019 found many longtime fans celebrating 45 years since the release of Veedon Fleece, Morrison’s eighth studio album and one of his lesser-discussed yet just as affecting works. This October 1974 studio release, heavily influenced by Morrison’s Irish roots and personal life, shares a special kinship with 1968’s Astral Weeks as two albums that mirror and complement each other, in both subtle and overt ways.

While critically acclaimed upon it’s release, Astral Weeks did not initially sell well during a time when Morrison was financially struggling. His next (third) solo album, Moondance, would become his million-selling commercial breakthrough in 1970. Here, Morrison abandoned the previous record’s abstract folk compositions and composed more accessible and rhythmic songs. This commercial and/or critical success continued with his subsequent albums – His Band and the Street Choir (1970), Tupelo Honey (1971), Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) and Hard Nose the Highway (1973).

All of the songs on Veedon Fleece were composed and produced by Morrison with most written in his native Ireland in October 1973. The album features prominent acoustic guitar, bass, flute and strings with the vocals delivered with an intensity and a narrative approach in the lyrics that is seen less frequently elsewhere. While Morrison would continue to mine sites of remembrance from his youth in Belfast, few other albums are as steeped in that setting as this one.


Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison
Released: October, 1974 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison
Recorded: Mercury Studios, New York & Caledonia Studios, Oakland, CA, November 1973-Spring 1974
Side One Side Two
Fair Play
Linden Arden Stole the Highlights
Who Was That Masked Man
Streets of Arklow
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River
Bulbs
Cul de Sac
Comfort You
Come Here My Love
Country Fair
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Ralph Walsh – Guitars
James Trumbo – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Dahaud Shaar – Drums

 

Veedon Fleece opens with the second longest song on the album. “Fair Play,” and introduces a markedly consistent sound and feel that will inform the rest of the album with a mix of folk, jazz, blues and soul as well as lyrics incorporating Morrison’s Irish roots. Here, James Trumbo‘s piano is at the forefront, playing off of Morrison’s committed vocals with a gentle melody that falls into place than charges ahead. “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” continues the album in an introspective mood. Trumbo’s piano opens the song tenderly, with notes of melancholy and regret until Morrison enters, assured and conversational with the lyrics now directly narrative and naming the main character. Morrison sings hard, barking out words, biting them off at times, and utilizing a falsetto that soars over acoustic guitar and strings. His impassioned vocals grow intense when he darkly draws out the word “hatchet.” Across just two and half minutes a story emerges of a hard-drinking man hiding out in San Francisco after having “stole the highlights” with “one hand tied behind his back.”

The third song on Veedon Fleece connects directly to its predecessor with the first line of “Who Was That Masked Man” echoing the closing line of “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights,” now detailing the loneliness of “livin’ with a gun.” Morrison again adopts a falsetto that lends urgency to the mournful melody as acoustic guitar dances around the sung lines. The title can’t help but evoke the Lone Ranger; a symbol of the America that Morrison was taking a respite from but the protagonist here is no hero in the traditional sense. There is a palpable sense of paranoia and of being watched with the image of a fish inside a bowl, an image Morrison would return to years later on one of his many songs about the pitfalls of fame, “Goldfish Bowl.” “Streets of Arklow” is notable as a culmination of the intermingling of the folk, soul and blues of its preceding three songs and the first song on the album where Morrison starts to really let loose. It’s a song enraptured with beauty and the sharing of beauty with another. “Streets of Arklow” is supported by gliding strings, at times murmuring in the background, then swelling darkly, to give the song a strong sense of movement until it comes to an abrupt stop that feels immediately picked up by the next song, “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River”. The centerpiece of the album, this side one closer is the longest song on the album with hard-strummed acoustic guitar and scat singing as strings swirl and a flute trills against probing piano. The journey in “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River” is partly down memory lane but mostly in the clear present, possibly conjoining images of Ireland and America.

Van Morrison in 1974

Opening Side Two of Veedon Fleece, “Bulbs” is strikingly jaunty with Morrison’s vocals featuring a country-blues “hey, hey, hey” along with some deep grunting that suggests a tuba. “Cul De Sac” marks a return to the more introspective feel of the album. Bluesy piano and guitar drive the song as Morrison delivers one of his most impassioned vocals on record, as he emphasizes nearly every word, enunciating, stretching vowels and repeating syllables. “Comfort You” descends gently, with Morrison singing sweetly, a guitar fluttering and strings entering, caressing the melody, while “Come Here My Love” opens with spare guitar and finds Morrison singing in a more direct manner, almost conversational although occasionally elongating a word. “Country Fair” closes the album with guitar, bass and synthesizer whispering behind Morrison’s wistful vocals as Jim Rothermel‘s recorder remains prominent throughout. The delicate melody and impassioned singing create an atmosphere both restless and calming to close the album.

Veedon Fleece has been referred to as Van Morrison’s “forgotten masterpiece” and its influence reverberated through the music of scores of artists for decades to come. After a decade without taking any time off, Morrison took a hiatus from music following the album’s release and would not release a follow-up album for three years.

~

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

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Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder

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Fullfilligness First Finale by Stevie WonderAt the age of just 24, Stevie Wonder released his 17th studio album with 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. This record came when the composer, musician and vocalist was in the heart of his prime creative output  and features Wonder playing most of the instruments along with an array of backing vocalists. The result is a refined blend of pop, jazz and soul using economical musical arrangements along with a somber and reflective lyrical tone overall.

In 1971, Wonder had allowed his Motown contract to expire after nearly a decade on the famed label as an adolescent star. After two independently recorded albums, he negotiated a new contract with Motown Records which gave him more musical autonomy starting with the 1972 Music of My Mind, a full-length artistic statement with some lyrics that dealt with social and political issues. Talking Book followed later that year and featured a couple of number 1 hits, “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, which also won three Grammy Awards between them. In 1973 won three more Grammy Awards with the epic social consciousness of the record Innervisions.

Wonder nearly lost his life when he was in a serious car accident while on tour in August 1973. After months of recovering and a renewed sense of faith and personal strength, he got back on tour and developed songs through improvisation and introspection in early 1974. Fulfillingness’ First Finale was co-produced by Wonder along with Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil and was recorded at multiple studios in New York City and Los Angeles.


Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder
Released: July 22, 1974 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil
Recorded: Record Plant Studios and Westlake Recording Studios, Los Angeles; Media Sound and Electric Lady Studios, New York, 1974
Side One Side Two
Smile Please
Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
Too Shy To Say
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Creepin’
You Haven’t Done Nothin’
It Ain’t No Use
They Won’t Go When I Go
Bird of Beauty
Please Don’t Go
Primary Musicians
Stevie Wonder – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Drums, Percussion
Michael Sembello – Guitars
Reggie McBride – Bass
Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, Shirley Brewer – Backing Vocals

 

The smooth pop/jazz ballad of the opener “Smile Please” sets the warm vibe for the album, led by Wonder’s Fender Rhodes piano and the Latin flavored guitar of Michael Sembello. “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” is ultimately a Gospel song where Wonder conveys confidence in his devotion and is backed by an array of backing vocalists including pop legend Paul Anka. “Too Shy to Say” follows as a different kind of ballad with Wonder’s piano complemented by the steel guitar of Pete Kleinow, adding unique ambiance for this otherwise vocal-driven ballad.

The album takes an upbeat turn with “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, a Top 5 pop hit which melds reggae with mid-seventies and displays Wonder’s incredible mastery of technologically diverse instrumentation. “Creepin'” is a pure soul love song featuring a small array of then-cutting-edge synthesizers, while the political and funky “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” is melodically entertaining with nice horn arrangement and features Wonder’s overdubbed orchestra of percussive elements. This second side opener also features members of The Jackson 5 on background vocals.

Stevie Wonder on stage

The latter part of this record is where the pure genius resides. “It Ain’t No Use” returns to the spiritually driven theme with the expert use of backing vocals in a smooth soul vibe swelling to a stronger hook while maintaining its overall compositional integrity. The haunting “They Won’t Go When I Go” was co-written by Yvonne Wright and features a sound both ancient and modern as well as a chorus of self-harmonizing by Wonder. With a combo of his smooth and upbeat styles along with great melody and strategic backing vocal chants, Wonder delivers a masterpiece with the aptly titled “Bird of Beauty”, which is also rhythmically interesting due to his fine drumming and Moog bass. “Please Don’t Go”, an excellent, upbeat love song closes the album with a style that forecasts the best elements of modern day R&B, including a fine mix of electric piano and synths and a sweet, piercing harmonica lead to climax the mood before the crescendo of the final verse and coda brings it all home.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale was Wonder’s first to officially top the Pop Albums charts and, like its two predecessors, this album received three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal and Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance. In fact, when Paul Simon won the Album Of The Year Grammy the following for year for Still Crazy After All These Years, he sarcastically thanked Stevie Wonder for not making an album in 1975.

~

1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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Deep Purple’s 1974 albums

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Deep Purple 1974 albumsIn 1974, Deep Purple released their only two albums with the “Mark III” lineup, Burn and Stormbringer. With these records, the group not only replaced vocalist Ian Gillan (who quit) and bassist Roger Glover (who was fired), but also made a stylistic shift towards the popular early seventies style funk rock. Critical response to this new endeavor was mixed (Burn generally received more favorable reviews) while commercial sales remained strong for both albums worldwide.

After Gillan and Glover joined Deep Purple in late 1969, the group’s popularity exploded with each of the initial three “Mark II” albums – Deep Purple In Rock (1970), Fireball (1971), Machine Head (1972) – being more popular and better received than the last. An extensive world tour in 1972 resulted in the double-live album, Made in Japan, which went on to become one of rock’s highest selling live-concert recordings. The 1973 studio album Who Do We Think We Are was an instant gold record but ultimately is a less than spectacular record overall. Exhausted with the frantic pace, Gillan requested a break, but was pushed by management to complete another tour. The resulting tensions ultimately led to Gillan quitting Deep Purple in the summer of 1973, shortly followed by the dismissal of Glover.

In August 1973, former Trapeze bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes joined the group, originally intended to take on the duo roles vacated by Gillan and Glover. However, the band came close to bringing in former Free vocalist Paul Rodgers, before he decided to start Bad Company. The idea of remaining a five-piece but with dual lead vocalists persisted and, after several auditions, the group chose David Coverdale, a then-unknown vocalist from Northeast England.


Burn by Deep Purple
Released: February 15, 1974 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, Montreux, Switzerland, November 1973
Side One Side Two
Burn
Might Just Take Your Life
Lay Down, Stay Down
Sail Away
You Fool No One
What’s Goin’ On Here
Mistreated
‘A’ 200

Stormbringer by Deep Purple
Released: November 1974 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Martin Birch & Deep Purple
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany & The Record Plant, Los Angeles, August-September 1974
Side One Side Two
Stormbringer
Love Don’t Mean a Thing
Holy Man
Hold On
Lady Double Dealer
You Can’t Do It Right
High Ball Shooter
The Gypsy
Soldier of Fortune
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
David Coverdale – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Jon Lord – Keyboards
Glenn Hughes – Bass, Vocals
Ian Paice – Drums

 

The self-produced album Burn was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland during November 1973. All members of the group participated in the songwriting but Hughes was not initially given any credits due to past contractual obligations. The title track kicks things off as a hyper-paced mini-epic which frequently returns to the signature riff by Ritchie Blackmore, who later trades off leads with keyboardist Jon Lord. “Might Just Take Your Life” was the lead single from the album and it starts with Lord’s sloshy organ riff before settling into a fine rock groove topped by Coverdale’s soulful vocals.

Burn by Deep Purple On the upbeat “Lay Down, Stay Down” Coverdale and Hughes trade off lead vocals resulting in a heavy Doobie-Brothers-like song, while “Sail Away” is a clavichord-driven rocker with contrasting vocals by the two singers and a later psychedelic-type synth by Lord. “You Fool No One” features a wild drum and percussion ensemble by Ian Paice before it breaks into a pure classic rocker with some sixties influence.

The album concludes with three songs of very differing styles. The blues rocker “What’s Goin’ On Here” features thumping rhythms, a generous use of piano by Lord and crisp guitars by Blackmore for an overall effect that should’ve made this track a hit. “Mistreated” is an extended, droning song that only really comes to life later with another fine guitar lead. The odd, synth driven instrumental “‘A’ 200” closes things out with a rhythm making this sort of a more modern adaptation of the Jeff Beck classic “Beck’s Bolero”.

Burn sold over a million copies worldwide and fared well on the charts, hitting the Top 10 in the UK and the US and reaching #1 in several European countries. In April 1974, this lineup of Deep Purple co-headlined the California Jam festival in Ontario, CA, which drew an audience of more than a quarter million and was broadcast on national Television in the US.

Stormbringer by Deep Purple-Following another world tour, the group returned to the studio in the late summer of 1974 to record Stormbringer. Co-produced by Martin Birch, the album was recorded in both Munich, Germany and Los Angeles and it musically displays Deep Purple even more fully embracing soul and funk elements with Hughes and Coverdale exerting much more influence and Lord providing an exceptionally strong and versatile effort.

The title track “Stormbringer” opens the album strongly as a perfect junction where Coverdale’s and classic Deep Purple’s styles intersect. The song features heavy rhythms, judicious synths, a soaring guitar lead and doomy lyrics to make it a mid-seventies metal classic. The second track, “Love Don’t Mean a Thing”, offers a sharp contrast to the first with duo lead vocals and a cool, bluesy vibe overall. The next two songs are the only not to include Blackmore in composing and they show this stylistically. “Holy Man” is, perhaps, furthest away from Purple’s core – a pleasant enough ballad with plenty of mid-seventies ear candy – but it sounds nothing like traditional Deep Purple. The keyboard-driven “Hold On” closes the original first side by displaying Lord’s skills at both electric piano and clavichord.

Deep Purple 1974

Side two starts with a return to thumping hard rock on “Lady Double Dealer”, along with some funk elements in the bridge. “You Can’t Do It Right (With the One You Love)” is so funk that it is almost pre-disco, while “High Ball Shooter” is a hybrid of harder blues rock and soulful vocals along with a fine extended organ lead and “The Gypsy” features harmonized guitars and lead vocals. The album concludes with the straight-forward acoustic ballad “Soldier of Fortune”, a quiet and haunting way to wrap things up.

Unhappy with the stylistic shifts in the band he co-founded and named in 1968, Blackmore left Deep Purple following the subsequent Stormbringer tour in 1975. Blackmore then formed Rainbow with Ronnie James Dio while Deep Purple replaced him temporarily with guitarist Tommy Bolin and recorded the forgettable Come Taste the Band. They called it quits in early 1976 and would not reunite for nearly a decade to come.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis

1974 Album of the Year

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The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by GenesisPerhaps the most “out there” album by Genesis as well as out Classic Rock Review Album of the Year, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is a rich double-length concept rock opera. The complex album was built in two phases with the overall story arc and lyrics written by front man Peter Gabriel and much of the music composed earlier by the other band musicians. Serendipitously, it all came together with some truly brilliant moments both musically and lyrically. However, this was not enough to prevent the ultimate parting of ways between the group and Gabriel, who departed Genesis about a year after this album’s release.

After the success of their 1973 album Selling England by the Pound and the subsequent tour, Genesis headed to the famous Headley Grange mansion (which Led Zeppelin and Bad Company had previously inhabited) to write and develop material. However, the building was in poor condition and, believing the house was haunted, several band members found it difficult to sleep. Gabriel was absent from these sessions due to personal problems and most of the music was worked out by keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist.guitarist Mike Rutherford and drummer Phil Collins. In fact, Rutherford had began composing a theme based on Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince but Gabriel insisted on composing an original story himself to the point where there was friction at the mere suggestion of a lyrical adjustment.

Lead guitarist Steve Hackett, who was a standout on the previous two albums, admitted he was pretty much “an innocent bystander” on this album, although he did manage to conjure a handful of impressive guitar leads. In contrast, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was probably the finest overall musical effort for Banks and Collins. Banks’ range on this album stretched from his use of both the nearly outdated Mellotron and some brand new synthesizers, while this may be Collins’ best overall performance as a drummer on an album which is highly rhythm driven.

Co-produced by John Burns, the album contains some advanced musical techniques and some very modern compositional approaches that touch on the yet-to-be formalized genres of punk and new wave. The album also features Brian Eno, who is credited with the “enossification” of several tracks with his mastery of synthesizers.


The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
Released: November 18, 1974 (Atco)
Produced by: John Burns & Genesis
Recorded: Island Mobile Studios, Wales, August–October 1974
Side One Side Two
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Fly On a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
Cuckoo Cocoon
In the Cage
The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
Back in N.Y.C.
Hairless Heart
Counting Out Time
The Carpet Crawlers
The Chamber of 32 Doors
Side Three Side Four
Lilywhite Lilith
The Waiting Room
Anyway
Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist
The Lamia
Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats
The Colony of Slippermen
Ravine
The Light Dies Down on Broadway
Riding the Scree
In the Rapids
It
Group Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Flute, Oboe
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Banks has a long classical piano intro to the title track, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, which persists throughout behind the rock arrangement. Gabriel’s new vocal style for this album is also established here, as is Rutherford’s aggressive bass approach. Lyrically, the song introduces the protagonist Rael, who emerges from a night of mischief to witness an odd occurrence, and includes a slight rendition of The Drifters’ “On Broadway” in its outro. “Fly on a Windshield” is a direct sequel to title song, with strummed acoustic and spooky backing effects. Rutherford described the original inspiration as “Pharaohs going down the Nile” prior to Gabriel’s lyrics being added. In the story, Rael witnesses a big cloud solidify like a screen and follow him as he flees up Broadway, showing up pictures of what existed around it in the past. These images are described in “Broadway Melody of 1974”, a short but highly excellent track with a simple, choppy rock riff.

“Cuckoo Cocoon” is the first song on the album set up like a recent Genesis song, with picked guitar, melody, flute, and good vocal melodies. In the story, Rael regains consciousness to find himself wrapped in a cocoon and in some sort of dark cave. On the album’s first side, the group seems to try too hard to link songs in a continuum, However, the intro to “In the Cage” contains an exception link as it builds towards driving rhythms. The song itself builds tension with odd timings and beats, as all the instruments seem to be doing their own independent thing but yet somehow all jive together. There are exception rhythms by Rutherford and Collins and fantastic, multi-part leads by Banks in the long mid section. Noticing he is trapped in one of several linked cages, Rael sees his brother John for the first of several encounters that add metaphor to the deeper story. Next, Rael is spun into an empty modern hallway with a highly polished floor. much like a modern department store for “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”. Musically, this is a radical turn from the dramatic to the light and entertaining as this marching song builds with each verse, employing grand effects and instrumentation along the way.

Genesis In 1974The album’s second side begins with “Back in N.Y.C.”, which was way ahead of its time musically. Gabriel’s vocals are at their most desperate and strained in an excellent rock manner above the synth motifs and pounding rhythms. Much tension is built through the music of Banks, Rutherford, and Collins, especially in the bridge section. This is the first of three tracks where we learn of Rael through retrospective stories, here revealed to have been a thug and pyromaniac in his past. “Hairless Heart” is the first instrumental of the album with some English style acoustic slight pedal guitar by Hackett and a thicker synth lead by Banks. The title reverts back lyrics in “Back in N.Y.C.” and seems to indicate a softer side to the character. “Counting Out Time” is the last of the retrospective trio, a light and entertaining pop song with just a touch of funk and wild, synth-effected guitar lead in the most “enossified” of any song thus far on the album. This lighter song speaks of Rael’s first intimate encounter, which he tried to execute through specific instructions from a book entitled Erogenous Zones.

“The Carpet Crawlers” brings us back to the present and the main plot, and is one of the most heralded tracks on the album. This pleasant and moody contains good harmonies by Collins and Gabriel’s lead vocals get more and more animated as the song goes along as more and more is being discovered by Rael in this dark room. Here, the protaganist finds himself among others for the first time as they point upwards towards an endless staircase that leads to a chamber which they “got to get in to get out”. “The Chamber of 32 Doors” starts with dramatic intro and guitar lead until the song proper is driven by bouncy bass of Rutherford, which slow to three-note measured rhythm during next desperate post-verse section. This fine, multi-part composition finds Rael facing the difficult choice of choosing the appropriate door. Here there is a bit of editorializing on the types of people to trust in this endeavor;

I’d rather trust a countryman than a townman, You can judge by his eyes, take a look if you can, He’ll smile through his guard, Survival trains hard. I’d rather trust a man who works with his hands, He looks at you once, you know he understands, Don’t need any shield, When you’re out in the field…”

The person Rael chooses to lead him is the blind “Lilywhite Lilith” who feels her way through but leads him to a cave that he believes will bring him death. Musically, the song contains dual lead vocals in a pretty heavy rock song with multiple rock guitars and an outro refrain that revises “Broadway Melody 1974” but with more dynamic vocals. “Lilywhite Lilith” is also the only track credited solely to Gabriel and Collins. “The Waiting Room” is the wildest, sound-effect laden piece of experimental music, which Collins called “The Evil Jam” when it was started by Hackett and Banks back at Headley Grange. “Anyway” was deveoped from an unused 1969 composition called “The Light” and is often overlooked as a classic. This beautiful and desperate piano tune captures the mood and the various thoughts when it appears that Rael’s death is imminent. Just a hint of synths compliment the piano and later rock section with harmonized guitar lead by Hackett and great philosophical lyrics by Gabriel;

Does Earth plug a hole in Heaven or Heaven plug a hole in Earth, how wonderful to be so profound when everything you are is dying underground…”

By contrast, “Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist” is short, light and with little substance lyrically but its rock jam makes it entertaining overall. in all, the latter part of side three is the weakest part of the album, where it doesn’t quite seem to flow well. “The Lamia” contains a quirky intro as it really doesn’t fit with previous track. This long, story-telling piano ballad is very poetic and profound and probably the best song lyrically, but is slow developing musically until it finally ends with good lead by Hackett that seems to be cut off too soon. Here Rael faces death again in an erotic act that kills his seductive attacker. The most overt filler, “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats” is all effect-laden, slow and surreal, but a weak way to end a side of a record.

A long, minute and a half instrumental intro with Eastern musical influence using various sound effects and percussion starts the extended “The Colony of Slippermen”. Soon, it breaks into upbeat and bouncy theatrical sound, in the same vein as “The Battle of Epping Forest” from their previous album. Rael is a little disillusioned, when the grotesque Slipperman reveal that the entire colony have one-by-one been through the same glorious romantic tragedy as he and now Rael shares their physical appearance and shadowy fate. The only escape from this colony is through a dreaded visit to the notorious Doktor Dyper who will remove the source of his “desire” problem. During the long middle section, the story turns but music remains upbeat and entertaining. After a most dramatic loss, Rael calls for his brother John to help him, but he refuses.

Genesis 1974

After “Ravine”, another link song with little substance, comes “The Light Dies Down on Broadway”, a recurrence of the opening song, but much more calmer and moderate. This is the only track where Gabriel did not write the lyrics (Banks and Rutherford took care of that) and it offers Rael a choice to “escape” back through a portal to New York City or save his drowning brother who had fallen in the rapids. He chose the latter, which carries through the next two tracks and the climax of the story. “Riding the Scree” is funky with odd-timed beats and carnival elements under a long synth lead by Banks. “In the Rapids” contains good guitars by Hackett throughout with layers as the piece builds in intensity. The moral of the story revealed here as Rael hauls his brother’s limp body out of the water and looks to find it is not John’s face, but his own. Collins remarked that the entire concept was about split personality, as Rael believed he is looking for John but is actually looking for a missing part of himself.

The closing track “It” contains fastly strummed guitars and is upbeat and optimistic. This track is almost an epilogue outside of the main theme, as a song of discovery and revelation and directly quotes the Rolling Stones (then brand new) “It is only rock and roll but I like it” for it’s final line. Ultimately, the entire meaning of this complex story is defined by “It”, and “It” appears everywhere, either you get “It” or you don’t.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway reached number 10 in the UK, but didn’t cracking the US Top 40. Upon its release, Genesis went on a world concert tour and, at Gabriel’s insistence, performed the album in its entirety over 100 times. Gabriel had already revealed to the band that he was leaving before the tour commenced, but did not make this public until after the tour in Summer of 1975. Although the album was hardly a success at the time, it is now considered a Genesis classic.

~

1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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Eldorado by E.L.O.

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

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

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

The inspiration for this ambitious record came from Lynne’s father, a classical music lover.


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

Joni Mitchell

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

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

~

1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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Bad Company 1974 debut

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

Bad Company in 1974

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

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

~

1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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War Child by Jethro Tull

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Robin Trower

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

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

~

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Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

David Bowie

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

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

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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