Rush 1974 debut album

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RushRush burst onto the international scene in 1974 with an energetic and entertaining debut album. The only album to feature drummer John Rutsey, this self-titled album is also unique in the style, with many of the tracks taking a direct blues-flavored rock approach reflective of contemporary groups like Led Zeppelin and Nazareth. The Canadian power trio sets the template rudimentary sonic output that would become a signature over their long career. However, by predating the arrival of drummer and lyricist Neal Peart, it is clear that much of the thematic and rhythmic elements of later Rush albums is not present on this debut.

In September 1968, Rush played their first gig in a church basement in Suburban Toronto, led by 15-year-old classmates Geddy Lee (Gary Lee Weinrib) on bass and lead vocals and Alex Lifeson (Aleksander Zivojinovic) on guitars. In 1971, the group signed with Ray Daniels and got a fortuitous boost when Ontario dropped the drinking age to 18, allowing the band to play the Toronto night club circuit. Here, their emerging style of heavy-blues and rock was well received and the band was soon playing gigs six nights a week and began composing some original songs. When Daniels was initially unsuccessful in getting the band signed to a major record label, he created his own called Moon Records.

The band started recording in Toronto during late night sessions when the rates were least expensive. Rush’s first effort was a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, which the band released as a single in 1973 along with the original composition “You Can’t Fight It” on the B-side. These initial sessions were produced by Dave Stock but the group was not happy with the quality of sound and decided to self-produce the rest of the album at Sound Studios in Toronto, using (rather prinitive) 8-channel multi-track recorders.


Rush by Rush
Released: March 1, 1974 (Moon)
Produced by: Rush
Recorded: Eastern Sound Studios, Toronto, February–November 1974
Side One Side Two
Finding My Way
Need Some Love
Take a Friend
Here Again
What You’re Doing
In the Mood
Before and After
Working Man
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Vocals
John Rutsey – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Lifeson’s powerful riff slowly fades in to introduce the album and its opening track “Finding My Way”. The heart of the song contains a kind of hyper-blues approach, which only kicks in on the inverse verse, post-verse, and bridge sections. Lyrically, the song is more motif than lyrical substance but there is a cool rhythmic section post-lead showing Lee and Rutsey had some pretty good rhythmic comparability.

The next two tracks are examples of songs you won’t see on any future Rush albums beyond this debut album. “Need Some Love” is a straight-forward and, frankly, trite rocker which is nonetheless catchy and infectious, especially due to Rutsey’s fine drumming. “Take a Friend” is the most disposable song on the album. The most interesting part of track is the 30 seconds or so of rolling rock frenzy that fades in before the song proper kicks in.

Rush recovers nicely with the first side closer “Here Again”, a bluesy and moody rocker which shows the first flashes on brilliance in Geddy Lee’s bass playing. It is also Lee’s finest vocal performance on this album, showing much range and variants of intensity. For his part, Lifeson offers a variety of electric and acoustic guitar textures on a song that is very patient as it builds tension for about four minutes before hitting the climatic refrain followed by droning but potent guitar lead.

Rush in 1974

Side two begins with a couple of sexually charged songs, albeit of differing styles. “What You’re Doing” is the most Zeppelin-esque track on the album, with riff-driven phrases and guitar interludes between verses and wet, reverb-drenched vocals for maximum effect. Rutsey also goes into several frantic drum rolls during the guitar lead in this truly entertaining rocker. Conversely, “In the Mood” leans more towards pop/rock, with a smoother groove than the previous track. Released as a single, this track was played by a St. Louis Classic rock radio station each night at 7:45 due to the light “hey baby, it’s a quarter to eight, I feel I’m in the mood…”

“Before and After” is Alex Lifeson’s strongest showing on the album, with the instrumental “before” part being an absolutely beautiful piece of sonic treasures. It starts with a chimed electric over strummed acoustic and rounded bass notes and slowly builds into a stronger second section with heavily flanged guitars. A little over two minutes into the track it changes course and breaks into a more standard hard rock track with animated drumming and strong guitar riffs during the “after” part. The album ends with its most popular and indelible song, “Working Man”. This song is rather simple as far as Rush songs go but is definitely catchy and accessible, in a Black Sabbath-sort of way. The mid section takes a radical turn with upbeat bass line leading the multi-section jam, featuring several different leads by Lifeson, all in different styles. “Working Man” was the song that introduced Rush to America, when Cleveland DJ Donna Halper adopted it as a theme for the working-class town.

While Rush was only printed in 3500 copies in its original pressing, the American breakthrough of “Working Man” caught the attention of Mercury Records, who signed Rush by mid 1974. However, Rutsey was unable to physically keep up with the pace of national touring and left the group that same year. He was soon replaced by Peart, establishing the rock trio that persists to this day.

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1974 images

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

 

461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton

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461 Ocean Blvd by Eric ClaptonEric Clapton was remarkably prolific through the late 1960s into the year 1970. By the end of that year, he had been featured in six different successful rock and blues groups and had also released his debut solo album. However, personal strife and substance addiction halted his momentum for the better part of for years, until he released, 461 Ocean Boulevard in 1974, which brought Clapton back into the public light with a remade sound and image. Produced by Tom Dowd, the album features freshly interpreted versions of cover songs from various genres and eras, along with laid back vocals by Clapton, and surprisingly few guitar leads.

Clapton and Dowd had worked together previously with the short-lived super-group Derek and the Dominos and the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which was also recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami. Much of the material on that album was inspired by Clapton’s unrequited affections for Patti Boyd, then wife of George Harrison. A second album was planned for the group, with several tracks recorded in early 1971 but personal conflicts led to the disbanding of Derek and the Dominos soon after. After a performance at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in which he collapsed on stage, Clapton withdrew from recording and touring as he struggled with drugs and alcohol.

By 1974, Clapton and Boyd were together and he had kicked the drug habit. Carl Radle, former bassist for Derek and the Dominos, presented Clapton with a demo tape of songs. With an assembled group, Clapton returned to Criteria Studios and temporarily lived at the house at 461 Ocean Boulevard in Golden Beach, Florida.


461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton
Released: July, 1974 (RSO)
Produced by: Tom Dowd
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, Fla, April–May 1974
Side One Side Two
Motherless Children
Give Me Strength
Willie and the Hand Jive
Get Ready
I Shot the Sheriff
I Can’t Hold Out
Please Be With Me
Let It Grow
Steady Rollin’ Man
Mainline Florida
Primary Musicians
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Yvonne Elliman – Vocals
Dick Sims – Keyboards
Carl Radle – Bass
Jamie Oldaker – Drums, Percussion

 

Part of the charm of 461 Ocean Boulevard is the knack for arranging songs in contrast to the original tone of these tunes. On “Motherless Children”, Clapton and Radle set an upbeat, almost celebratory tone to a song with a tragic origin based on the autobiographical circumstances of Blind Willie Johnson. Starting with a chorus of picked electric guitars, the track is ever building until it reaches a great drive, fueled by the fantastic drums of Jamie Oldaker.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Johnny Otis dance classic “Willie and the Hand Jive” has a rather somber interpretation with choppy guitar and bass, and vocals so reserved that they seem almost hummed.

The two original tracks on the first side are “Give Me Strength”, a slow and very short blues track with slide acoustic up front and deep Ray Charles-like-organ behind, and “Get Ready”, co-written by vocalist Yvonne Elliman. The most indelible cover on the album is Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, a timely capitalization of the emerging reggae trend then sweeping the rock world, where Clapton finds yet another singing voice. Guitarist George Terry had played on Marley’s album, Burnin’, and convinced Clapton to record a cover version of the song (which he initially declined but was persuaded by the other musicians). The song went on to become Clapton’s only number one song on the Billboard pop charts.

The second side of 461 Ocean Boulevard starts with a cover of “I Can’t Hold Out”, written by Willie Dixon for Elmore James in 1959. The highlight of this song is Clapton’s slide guitar solo, a rare treat on this reserved album. “Please Be With Me” is a country ballad written by Charles Scott Boyer, which features great harmony vocals by Elliman and just enough slide electric above the calm dobro played by Clapton.

Eric Clapton

The Clapton original “Let It Grow” may be the true highlight of the album, featuring a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars under more very somber vocals, perhaps the quietest Clapton sings on this quiet album. This base hippie folk song about “planting love” builds in tenacity and mood with acoustic, electric, piano, organ, ever so creeping to prominence. A short but potent slide guitar leads to an intense outro with a picked electric pattern and subtle, swelling keyboards by Dick Sims. “Steady Rollin’ Man” is a piano and clavichord driven rendition of a Robert Johnson Tune with good bass by Radle. The ending song “Mainline Florida” was written by Terry and feels like the most rock-oriented song on the album, featuring a great seventies rock guitar riff and a wild lead over the vocals later in the song.

461 Ocean Boulevard topped the charts in the USA and Canada and reached the top ten in several other countries. While this was his only album in four years, Clapton got much more prolific and released four studio albums over the next four years, all of which pretty much follow the same style patterns as this one.

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1974 images

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

 

Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan

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Pretzel Logic by Steely DanAt first glance, Steely Dan‘s third album, Pretzel Logic, may seem almost too short and efficient. Many of the songs do not even reach three minutes in length and the album as a whole barely surpasses the threshold beyond EP territory. However, after a few listens you realize that this may be the true genius of the album after all. Composers Donald Fagen and Walter Becker started their studio practice of employing scores of session musicians to record just the right part, phrase or note so that not a moment is wasted on filler. By expertly mixing pop, rock, and jazz intricacies into direct and succinct album tracks, the duo found a sonic sweet spot for the mid seventies. This allowed them to proliferate on pop radio while hardly ever seeing the light of public performances.

Following the success of Steely Dan’s debut Can’t Buy a Thrill, the group felt that the 1973 follow-up Countdown to Ecstasy was rushed and incomplete due to their hectic touring schedule not allowing time to develop the material properly. As a consequence, that second album did not receive good critical or commercial marks. Further, after the departure of front man David Palmer, Fagen was the sole lead singer, a role he did not like performing live.

When the band entered The Village Recorder studio with producer Gary Katz in late 1973, they decided to write material without regard to live performances. Fagen and Becker also decided to use many Los Angeles-based studio musicians, something that eventually led to the departure of all remaining “band” members and solidifying Steely Dan as a duo for the rest of their career. Also, following the release of Pretzel Logic in 1974 when the group ceased performing live and focused on studio recording exclusively.


Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan
Released: February 20, 1974 (ABC)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Santa Monica, CA, October 1973-January 1974
Side One Side Two
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Night by Night
Any Major Dude Will Tell You
Barrytown
East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
Parker’s Band
Through with Buzz
Pretzel Logic
With a Gun
Charlie Freak
Monkey In Your Soul
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Saxophone
Walter Becker – Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Baxter – Guitars
Denny Dias – Guitars
Jim Gordon – Drums

 

The album begins with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, which would become the biggest hit of Steely Dan’s career, topping out at number four on the pop charts. Musically, this is about as smooth as any song by the band, led by the simple piano line of Michael Omartian and great samba-inspired drums and percussion by Jim Gordon. During the lead and bridge section, the song morphs from jazz to rock seamlessly and the rather obscure lyrics tend to add to the overall mystique of this unique song (although artist Rikki Ducornet believes it was inspired by Fagen approaching her at a college party years earlier).

The choppy rock rhythm and spectrum of brass intervals of “Night by Night” is followed by the cools and somber “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”. Starting with a brightly strummed acoustic that soon settles into an electric piano groove with electric guitar overtones, this latter song offers great little guitar riffs between the verses composed of uplifting lyrics of encouragement;

Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again
When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more
Any major dude will tell you…”

The oldest composition on the album, Fagen’s “Barrytown” is lyric driven with a moderate piano backing, not all that complex but with good melody and arrangement. Named for a small upstate New York town near the duo’s alma mater, the song is a satirical look at the small town class system. The first side concludes with the only cover and instrumental on Pretzel Logic, Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”. This modern interpretation, features the indelible pedal guitar lead by Jeff Baxter, who emulated a mute-trombone solo masterfully. The rest of the piece pleasantly moves through many differing lead sections before returning to Baxter’s guitar to finish things up.

“Parker’s Band” contains much movement as a funky track with rock overtones. Perhaps the highlight of this track is the dual drums by Gordon and Jeff Porcaro, which are potent and flawless. “Through With Buzz” is a short, almost psychedelic piece driven by mesmerizing piano and a strong string presence. This is another example of how the Katz and the group gets everything out the door with extreme efficiency in this lyrical proclamation of a resolution. The title track, “Pretzel Logic”, contains a slow electric piano groove and verse vocals which are the most blues based of any on the album of the same name. This song contains lyrics that are cryptic, driving rhythms and grooves, a pretty respectable guitar lead by Becker, and is also the only song on the second side which exceeds three minutes in length.

Steely Dan 1974

The album’s final stretch features three very short tracks of differing styles. “With a Gun” is like an upbeat Western with strummed fast acoustic, Tex-Mex styled electric riffs, and a strong, Country-influenced drum beat. “Charlie Freak” features a descending piano run, which the vocals mimic with simple, storied lyrics of a downtrodden man who pawns his ring to the protagonist at a discounted price to buy the drug fix that ultimately does him in. The closer “Monkey in Your Soul” features the coolest of grooves, with an electric piano and clavichord accented by horns between the verses and a Motown-like clap to end the album on an upbeat note.

Pretzel Logic reached the Top Ten on the album charts and remains one of the group’s most critically acclaimed releases. Two of many session players used on this album (Jeff Porcaro and David Paich) went on to form the group Toto and Becker and Fagen continued the formula of using the best possible musicians on several more fine albums through the 1970s.

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1974 images

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

 

Crime of the Century by Supertramp

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Crime of the Century by SupertrampCrime of the Century was the album where it all came together for Supertramp, as they composed scores of tracks in order to find the best eight to make this record. Along the way, the group forged a non-traditional and unique sound which falls somewhere along the twisted road between progressive rock and pop music. Produced by Ken Scott, the album is also a sonic masterpiece with incredible dynamics. Crime of the Century was the group’s commercial breakthrough in the West, reaching the Top Five in the U.S. and did especially well in Canada, where reached #1 and stayed on the charts for over two years, while selling over a million copies in that country.

Supertramp’s origins date back to 1969 when Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes (know as ‘Sam’, and to who Crime of the Century is dedicated) offered keyboardist Rick Davies financial backing to form his own band. In the subsequent auditioning, Davies found Roger Hodgson to play bass and perform lead vocals, along with several other revolving musicians to fill the band. Supertramp got their name from the early century novel The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by William Henry Davies (no relation to Rick) and released their first two albums, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped in 1970 and 1971 respectively. Despite receiving critical praise, neither album sold well and all members gradually dropped out except Davies and Hodgson. The pair decided to embrace their radically different backgrounds, musical inspirations, and life philosophies. They composed over 40 songs through the next few years, in order to produce a bona fide success.

Crime of the Century was recorded at various English studios by Scott and the group, methodically selecting the best moments to include on the final album. While not a concept album, there is much recursion and referencing amoung the tracks, which consistently alternates primary vocalists all the way through. Lyrically, many of these tracks deal with themes of youth, isolation, loneliness and mental stability, leaving many to initially compare the group to Pink Floyd. However, the musicianship and style of Supertramp is obviously distinct, as has become evident over the past four decades.


Crime of the Century by Supertramp
Released: September, 1974 (A&M)
Produced by: Ken Scott & Supertramp
Recorded: Ramport Studios, Scorpio Sound, & Trident Studios, London, February-June 1974
Side One Side Two
School
Bloody Well Right
Hide in Your Shell
Asylum
Dreamer
Rudy
If Everyone Was Listening
Crime of the Century
Group Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Piano, Guitars, Vocals
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
John Helliwell – Saxophone, Clarinet
Doug Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

 

The methodical patience and sonic dynamics of this album is evident from the very beginning, with the long, slow harmonica intro of “School”. Hodgson’s verse vocals are first only above his flanged guitar, and then an elongated, strummed guitar section before the song finally fully kicks in. Davies later provides a bright piano lead as, perhaps, the most entertaining aspect of this song, which lyrically touches the same subject matter which Hodgson will master later with “The Logical Song” on Breakfast In America. “Bloody Well Right” gives us Supertramp’s first incorporation of their signature Wurli piano, with Davies’ very entertaining beginning solo. This song has the feel of a totally unique and groovy track with perfect rock aspects disrupting the Wurli solo and an electric guitar lead with a wild pedal wah with perfect textures. Hodgson had moved from bass to piano and guitar in recent years and Doug Thompson was brought on as the full time bassist, and does much to hold the entire song together especially during the second part of the bouncy chorus sections. Originally released as a ‘B’ side, “Bloody Well Right” soon became the most popular song from Crime of the Century and would remain the band’s signature song for years to come.

All that being said, “Hide In Your Shell” is the best overall song on the album, with perfect structure, dynamics, and just the right amount of effects at the right moments. This is dripping with introspective melancholy, presented in four perfectly orchestrated sections (verse/post-verse/pre-chorus/chorus) through each progression. This time Hodgson is on the Wurli electric with Davies accompanying with moody organ during the verses. The song also features a chorus of guest vocalists for background, also masterfully placed and the unique combo of John Helliwell‘s saxophone and an eerie saw, played by an “anonymous street musician”, under the chorus are the climax of the fantastic track. The outro is also a highlight, as it builds and builds to a perfect crescendo to drive the song home. Davies beautiful high piano introduces the progressive ballad “Asylum”, which uses two verses to build the vibe before potently kicking in to the reserved, accented drums of Bob Siebenberg. The song finds its way to a very intense section, where Davies vocals get ever more desperate, accented by the wild musical effects and rhythms. “Asylum” is also lyrically potent, albeit a bit cryptic and poetic;

Bluesy Monday is the one day that they come here, when they haunt me and taunt me in my cage. I mock them all, they’re feelin’ small, they got no answer, they’re playin’ dumb but I’m just lauging as they rage…”

The second side starts with  interesting piano runs during the initial verses and later bridge of “Dreamer”, which on its surface seems like the most straight forward pop track (it did reach #15 in the US and #1 in Canada). However, it does contain a very interesting bridge where sonic dynamics are vital once again with building stereo effects. Overall, there is a lot packed into this three and a half minute song. While “Dreamer” seems to scoff at the wide-eyed optimist, “Rudy” takes the opposite approach of life wasted waiting for opportunity. It is the longest and most asymmetrical song which moves through sections of jazz, rock, and prog on its journey. The initial verses are quiet and reserved before the song goes through some strong theatrical sections, containing the most stereotypical mid-seventies musical elements such as high strings and proto-disco rhythms. The song then winds down with orchestration straight out of a classic movie soundtrack.

Supertramp

Hodgson’s final lead on the album is on the ballad “If Everyone Was Listening”, which is built on rocking piano during the verses. The highlight here is the subtle clarinet during the choruses and alto sax lead in mid-section, making this Helliwell’s strongest track. Continuing the recursion, “If Everyone Was Listening” seems to lyrically refer back to “Dreamer”, while adding its own bit of social commentary. The title track “Crime of the Century” concludes the album with a definitive Pink Floyd feel, as it starts with quick lyrical motif identifying some unknown evil force before going into methodical music sections with no further commentary. The song contains a pretty good guitar lead by Hodgson, the first and only appearance by that instrument on the second side, before descending into an unusually long chorded-piano part which seems to do little more than fill in the album’s last few minutes.

With the critical and commercial success of Crime of the Century, Supertramp stabilized their lineup of Davies-Hodgson-Helliwell-Thomson-Siebenberg for the next decade and four subsequent studio albums. Over that period, the group would grow in stature and popularity while increasingly drifting away from the musical formula which made this 1974 album a masterpiece.

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1974 images

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

 

Badfinger’s 1974 Albums

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badfinger in 1974

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

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

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

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

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1974 images

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

 

Get Your Wings by Aerosmith

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Aerosmith in 1974

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

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

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

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1974 images

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

 

Walls and Bridges by John Lennon

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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1974 images

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

 

Second Helping by Lynyrd Skynyrd

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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1974 images

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

 

Holiday by America

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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1974 images

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