A Night at the Opera
by Queen

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A Night at the Opera by QueenQueen really reached for the stars with the production and release of their fourth album, A Night at the Opera in 1975. At the time it was the most expensive album ever recorded as it utilized extraordinary and methodical overdubs to achieve a rich orchestral and choral effects and incorporated rich replications of a wide range of styles. Many of these styles had not previously been adopted by hard rock bands, but the tremendous inventiveness and attention to details made this album the pinnacle of Queen’s career.

The origins of queen date back to 1968, when guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor started the group, Smile, while students in London. A friend and follower of the band, Farrokh Bulsara, eventually joined the group in late 1970 and convinced the members to change the name to Queen because of its “regal” quality and his ability (as an art student) to design an adequate logo. After going through a number of bass players, John Deacon joined in 1971 as the permanent fourth member of the group which maintain this lineup for the next 20 years. Shortly after the release of their 1973 self-titled debut album, Bulsara officially adopted his stage name, Freddie Mercury. In 1974, the group released two critically acclaimed LPs, Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, each of which spawned a Top 10 hit in the UK with Sheer Heart Attack being their first commercial success in the US.

In early 1975, the band shopped for a better record deal, at first considering Led Zeppelin’s new Swan Song label before signing with A&M who gave the group a huge recording budget. A Night at the Opera was co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker and the individual band members who invented some of the distinctive techniques required to achieve the desired sounds and effects. The album borrowed its title from a popular 1935 Marx Brothers movie of the same name.


A Night at the Opera by Queen
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker & Queen
Recorded: Sarm, Roadhouse, Olympic Studios, Scorpio and Lansdowne Studios, London, August–November 1975
Side One Side Two
Death on Two Legs
Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon
I’m in Love with My Car
You’re My Best Friend
’39
Sweet Lady
Seaside Rendezvous
The Prophet’s Song
Love of My Life
Good Company
Bohemian Rhapsody
God Save the Queen
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano
Brian May – Guitars, Ukulele, Harp, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with Freddie Mercury’s, “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”, at first coming in with a classical sounding piano and doomy sound effects, including a slight background scream. The song then breaks in as a steady rocker with an upfront lead by May and unambiguous lyrics of pure venom, adding an acid sensation to this otherwise enjoyable rock song. Mercury penned the tune about Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who had reportedly mistreated the band during their early years. As if to intentionally lighten the atmosphere after the opener, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” follows as a light music hall piano track which, after a single minute, abruptly morphs into a hard rock bridge to Taylor’s “I’m in Love with My Car”. On this unique take on a classic analogy between a woman and an automobile, Taylor’s lead vocals work perfectly for the slow screed along with May’s raw guitar chords.

 
“You’re My Best Friend” was written by John Deacon on a Wurlitzer electric piano and is the closest the group would come to a traditional seventies pop song. The song features stark but enjoyable production and overdubs with depth, contrasting with the upfront Wurli piano, and deep backing harmonies throughout. May adds some fine harmonized guitars late in the song, topping off this immensely entertaining track, which was a Top 10 hit. “’39” is another giant leap in musical diversity as a folk acoustic track with a simple stomp in the background and May taking lead vocals. The track has an aura of fantasy brought on by the operatic backing vocals, the slight synthesizer effects and the lyrical fantasy of time and space travel. The album’s first side ends with, perhaps, the two weakest tracks on A Night at the Opera. “Sweet Lady” is a bridge too far in trying to be original, with odd timings and creative riffs which, unfortunately, do not pay entertainment dividends. “Seaside Rendezvous” is another experimental music hall type song, which features vocalized renditions of different instruments, making it more of a musical accomplishment than a legitimate track on a rock album.

The second side begins with “The Prophet’s Song”, a theatrical epic by May with a dramatic, building theme and slightly psychedelic feel. The middle section features an orchestra made wholly of layered vocals with repetitive timing effects. When the music returns, May brings the rock track back with a layered guitar lead over choppy rhythms through a long outro with an acoustic solo instrumental at the very end. Mercury’s “Love of My Life” is a sad and simple song of lost love, which mainly features Mercury solo on piano with just some slight bass, backing harmonies, and a later distant but potent electric guitar lead by May. After a very slight intro guitar lead, May plays a solo ukulele while singing lead vocals on “Good Company”. This building track eventually incorporates some rhythm and further overdubbed guitars which recreate a Dixieland jazz arrangement.

 
The masterpiece of the album is Mercury’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a song which he had developed in pieces dating back to the late 1960s. Starting with an a capella vocal harmony intro before making its way to the song proper with Mercury singing and playing piano, the song moves through several distinct phases and sonic dynamics, the most famous being the long middle, pseudo-opera section. This was accomplished through an elaborate choir effect created by Mercury, May and Taylor singing their specific vocal parts for hours on end, with over 180 separate overdubs mixed and sub-mixed onto the 24-track master tape, with the entire process taking about three weeks to complete. Still, with all of this bombast and tremendous production, it may be the quiet sections of the song, such as Mercury’s final solo vocal line with subtle guitar backing by May, that makes this song a true masterpiece. The album concludes with May’s instrumental of “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem, which was originally recorded in 1974 as a homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Years later May admitted that if A Night at the Opera had been a commercial flop (therefore losing a boatload of money), Queen would have disbanded. Fortunately, it was a critical and commercial success, reaching number 4 in the US and selling over 12 million copies worldwide. Queen would continue with a tremendously successful run for years to come, following up in 1976 with A Day at the Races, a loose sequel to A Night at the Opera, which again borrowed its title from a Marx Brothers movie.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Crisis? What Crisis?
by Supertramp

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Crisis What Crisis by SupertrampCrisis? What Crisis? is often overlooked in comparison to Supertramp‘s other albums from the mid to late seventies due to its relative lack of hit singles or classic rock radio staples. However, this fourth release by the British group is a solid collection of songs which collectively show the group slightly evolving their sound from the prog-heavy epics of past efforts towards the more pop accessible tunes of their near future. More importantly, this material continues to sound fresh and vibrant four decades after its release.

After two albums which were not commercially successful and lineup shifts which left only the two primary vocalists Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson as permanent members, Supertramp regrouped and produced the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Crime of the Century in 1974. However, this produced a whole new type of pressure on the group to meet or exceed that level of success with a follow-up. The group began work on this new album as soon as the touring for the previous album completed.

With little time to rehearse, Davies and Hodgson had to develop songs individually, without a cohesive vision for the album as a whole, like had been done on Crime of the Century. While in the studio, Davies did come up with the cover concept and album title, which was taken from a line in the film, The Day of the Jackal. Only four of the album’s ten tracks had been performed live prior to entering the studio with producer Ken Scott. One song, “You Started Laughing”, was recorded but left off the album, being used as a B-side to a single instead.


Crisis? What Crisis? by Supertramp
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Ken Scott & Supertramp
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles & Ramport and Scorpio Studios, London, Summer 1975
Side One Side Two
Easy Does It
Sister Moonshine
Ain’t Nobody But Me
A Soapbox Opera
Another Man’s Woman
Lady
Poor Boy
Just a Normal Day
The Meaning
Two of Us
Group Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
John Helliwell – Saxophone, Clarinet, Woodwinds, Vocals
Doug Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

The opening two tracks of Crisis? What Crisis? make it clear that this album takes a far different approach from its predecessor, as both tracks are guitar-dominated in contrast to the almost completely piano-dominated Crime of the Century. The very short intro track, “Easy Does It” dedicates about a quarter of its length to street side sound effects and approaching whistler. From there it is one single verse, with a short lead section, a second chorus, and out, still leaving plenty of guitar centric sonic candy with deadened electric and strummed acoustic blended beneath Hodgson’s melodic lead vocals. The bright acoustic track, “Sister Moonshine”, follows with plenty of extra overdubbed acoustic and electric flourishes during the intro verses. Davies joins with backing vocals during the post chorus along with a cool harmonica in the background and choppy rhythms by bassist Doug Thompson and drummer Bob Siebenberg.

“Ain’t Nobody But Me” features lead vocals by Davies and a dramatic and theatrical rock arrangement which builds in tension before breaking into a rather moderate doo-wop-rock like chorus. John Helliwell later adds a saxophone lead to follow before an equally dramatic second verse followed by a second chorus and a long outro with entertaining vocal duets which bring it down before it all explodes one last time with closing guitar lead. “A Soapbox Opera”,  has promise of an epic in the same vein as those on Crime of the Century, but the song is really a lot more simple and less weighty, although still a pleasant enough listen with piano, strings, and a creative bridge section. The side one closer “Another Man’s Woman” features a mix of dramatic, rotating piano in contrast to Davies’ whimsical lead vocals and a funky chorus with sharp guitar riffing and effects for a good jam. The long and deliberate mid section finds room for Davies’ meandering piano solo while the background ambiance gains momentum and eventually joins the composition for a decent lead section that concludes the track.

Supertramp in 1975

“Lady” opens with a xylophone-like effect before the song launches with a bouncy electric piano accompanying Hodgson’s lead vocals. Although a little elongated in the end, this single release would have fit well on later albums like Breakfast In America. On the other hand, “Poor Boy” is a totally unique track which starts with odd scat vocals by Davies accompanied by gently rocking electric piano. This leads to a calm and pleasant intro with Helliwell adding an accordion in background of the intro as well as a nice clarinet lead later on. When the song proper kicks in, it includes a pleasant melody and bouncy bass by Thompson along with Davies’ electric piano mixed with some jazzy acoustic piano. “Just a Normal Day” starts as a very slow piano ballad with vocals by Davies and good bass and drum fills, with Hodgson rotating in on second lead vocals, which may actually detract from the overall melancholy vibe. After a good, effective sax lead, the emotional third chorus by Davies acts as the climax of song.

The album wraps with two emotional tracks led by Hodgson. “The Meaning” fades in with a picked acoustic accompanied by slight keyboards and clarinet. The hyper, panicked vocals by Hodgson during verses act as good contrast to very pleasant, melodic, and moody musical vibe throughout as each verse builds on the previous one by adding instrumentation and rhythmic drive. A slight organ lead by Davies precedes the fourth and final verse as it builds to an outro crescendo with effective use of lyrical repetition. The closing ballad,  “Two of Us”, features a slight acoustic accompanying the organ in a very sparse arrangement with chorus vocals that reach for the stratosphere with the very high pitched vocals of Hodgson on this song with a very simple message about committed love.

Although some members of the group were initially dissatisfied with Crisis? What Crisis?, it did reach the Top 20 on several national charts and sold over a million copies worldwide. A remastered version of the album was released in 2002 to much greater acclaim than it received upon its original release.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Fleetwood Mac

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Fleetwood Mac 1975 albumAfter eight years, nine albums, several lineup shifts, and many musical reinventions, the lineup and sound that would bring Fleetwood Mac to the top of the pop world finally fell into place in 1975. Fleetwood Mac, the group’s tenth release (and second with an eponymous title, after the group’s 1968 debut), was the group’s first chart-topping album and spawned their first three Top 20 singles in the US. More importantly, this new sound which fused Fleetwood Mac’s traditional British blues/rock with mid seventies California folk/rock, would be the basis of the group’s magic formula for success for the next decade and a half and reserve them an indelible spot in pop music history.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and guitarist Peter Green were all members of the group, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers , in 1967 when the trio had an opportunity with some free recording studio time. Green was so impressed with the recordings that he suggested that they all break from Mayall and start their own group. When Fleetwood and McVie were hesitant to make the move, Green enticed them by naming the new group Fleetwood Mac after the rhythm players. A year later, the new group released the initial Fleetwood Mac album, a pure blues record that was a Top 5 success in their native UK, despite having no singles. A second album, Mr. Wonderful, followed soon after with the addition of some keyboards and horns. Their third album, Then Play On,  in 1969, was recorded mainly at the legendary Chess Records Studio in Chicago and would be the peak of the group’s Peter Green led blues era. Green had a bad experience with LSD which apparently contributed to the onset of schizophrenia and he had to leave the group in 1970.

The early 1970s brought much more change for Fleetwood Mac. Between 1970 and 1974 the group released six albums with five different lineups. The most significant change during this period came with the release of 1971’s Future Games, which featured the addition of guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch and Keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie, the former Christine Perfect now married to John McVie. The group’s sound radically morphed from blues to pop/rock, which caused a decline in their popularity in the UK but a gradually increase in the US. In 1974, Welch convinced the group to relocate from England to Los Angeles, which led to a new recording contract with Warner Brothers. However, after the release of Heroes Are Hard to Find in September 1974, Welch abruptly left the band, leaving the three remaining members scrambling to find a replacement.

While in an LA studio with producer Keith Olsen, Fleetwood heard a recording from the album Buckingham Nicks and soon asked vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham to join the band. Buckingham agreed only if his musical partner and girlfriend Stevie Nicks also become part of the band, and the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup was officially in place on the last day of 1974. Within a month, the quartet was in the recording studio, working on arrangements of individual compositions for a new album, co-produced by Olsen.


Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac
Released: July 11, 1975 (Reprise)
Produced by: Keith Olsen & Fleetwood Mac
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, January–February 1975
Side One Side Two
Monday Morning
Warm Ways
Blue Letter
Rhiannon
Over My Head
Crystal
Say You Love Me
Landslide
World Turning
Sugar Daddy
I’m So Afraid
Group Musicians
Lindsey Buckingham – Guitars, Vocals
Christine McVie – Keyboards, Vocals
Stevie Nicks – Vocals
John McVie – Bass
Mick Fleetwood – Drums, Percussion

“Monday Morning” starts the record off as a driving folk/pop anthem by Buckingham, who adds a good melody progression and a slight slide lead guitar in conjunction with the rolling shuffle of rhythm by Fleetwood. Christine McVie’s ballad “Warm Ways” follows and immediately establishes the diversity of Fleetwood Mac’s new sound. This soulful ballad, built on electric piano and a nice, subtle mixture of acoustic and calmly picked electric guitars, was released as the lead single from the album in the UK. “Blue Letter” features lead vocals by Buckingham with harmonies by Nicks and is an upbeat, quasi-county, Eagles-like California tune. Originally intended for a second Buckingham Nicks LP, the song was written by Michael Curtis and Richard Curtis in 1974.

Stevie Nicks’ introduction to the Fleetwood Mac audience arrives in one of the group’s most indelible songs ever, “Rhiannon”. The song is lyrically based on a Welsh legend of a goddess who possesses a woman.  This soft and mysterious ballad lays nicely on top of a thumping bass line by John McVie and rich group vocal harmonies during the hook. Buckingham adds slight guitar leads in the spaces where needed, making for an all around great song, which peaked at #11 on the pop charts in the summer of 1976. Another hit single, “Over My Head”, follows as a pure, mid seventies pop song by Christine McVie which is steady and pleasant throughout. This track also features some non-standard rhythms, especially the bongos played by Fleetwood subtly in the background. The album’s first side ends with “Crystal”, a soft rock / alt country song featuring acoustic guitar and electric piano. While written by Nicks and originally featured on the 1973 Buckingham Nicks LP, this track features Buckingham on lead vocals with Nicks adding much backing harmony throughout.

Fleetwood Mac in 1975“Say You Love Me” is a pop track built on a simple piano riff with sparse and slow chord changes during the verses and a bit more movement during the choruses. Led by Christine McVie, the song features pleasant melodies and harmonies and a classic minimal guitar lead by Buckingham, all making for the third big from this album. Nicks’ “Landslide” is the album’s high-water mark. With a simple arrangement featuring fingerpicked acoustic with the slightest guitar overdubs by Buckingham and exquisite vocals rendering the philosophical lyrics by Nicks. Reserved, sparse and beautiful the song paints a great lyrically scenery and features a great, distant electric guitar lead, which perfectly fits the vibe and mood of the song.

After a long intro with fade-in of bluesy guitar rotation by Buckingham accompanied by animated hi-hat action by Fleetwood, the song proper of “World Turning” arrives with alternating lead vocals between Buckingham and Christine McVie. A pleasant enough sounding song with Christine McVie providing a nice mix of piano and organ to her lead vocals, “Sugar Daddy” does lack the compositional quality of much of the material earlier on the album. However, the music recovers on the closer “I’m So Afraid” as rolling drums set a dramatic mood matched by Buckingham’s equally dramatic vocals and later fine, harmonized lead guitars.

Among dedicated fans, Fleetwood Mac is often referred to as the “White Album” and, while this only experienced modest success upon its release, the group’s heavy touring pushed the album to the top of the charts, 15 months after its release. Following the massive success of Rumours in 1977, interest in this 1975 album was re-ignited and it eventually was certified 5x platinum in sales.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Hair of the Dog by Nazareth

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Hair of the Dog by NazarethNazareth reached the pinnacle of their long career with their sixth studio album, Hair of the Dog. Produced by the group’s guitarist, Manny Charlton, the album at once contains some solid rock templates for the emerging heavy genres along with some strong examples of the group’s penchant for experimental rock, including a prime example of the group’s talent for re-interrupting compositions. The result is the group’s best known and highest selling release, with over two million copies sold worldwide.

Nazareth formed in Scotland in late 1968, taking their name from a line in The Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, released earlier that year. All four members of this group, led by Charlton and lead vocalist Dan McCafferty were members of the group The Shadettes, dating back as far as 1961. In 1970, the band relocated to London, which soon brought them a recording contract, starting with their self-titled debut album in 1971 and the country-rock flavored Exercises in 1972. The group then supported Deep Purple on tour and caught the ear of bassist and producer Roger Glover, who would go on to produce Nazareth’s next three albums, Razamanaz and Loud n’ Proud in 1973, and Rampant in 1974, each of which built on the group’s growing success.

The song and album Hair of the Dog was originally derived from the hook “Son of a Bitch” as “Heir of the Dog”, but changed as a compromise with the record label, using a popular phrase describing a folk hangover cure. The first song recorded for the sessions was a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts”, intended as a single-only release. the album itself was slated to include an electric piano and slide guitar fueled cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty”, but a last minute switch was made after A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss heard the recording of “Love Hurts”.


Hair of the Dog by Nazareth
Released: April 19, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Manny Charlton
Recorded: Escape Studios, Kent, England, 1974–1975
Side One Side Two
Hair of the Dog
Miss Misery
Love Hurts
Changin’ Times
Beggars Day
Rose In the Heather
Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman
Please Don’t Judas Me
Group Musicians
Dan McCafferty – Lead Vocals, “Talk Box”
Manny Charlton – Guitars, Keyboards
Pete Agnew – Bass, Vocals
Darrell Sweet – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The pure, unrelenting, unambiguous title track commences with the cow-bell laden drum beat of Darrell Sweet, soon accompanied by the crisp guitar riff of Charlton. McCafferty’s rough but melodic vocals provide the indelible hook along with the middle talk-box lead, all making for a song filled with infectious rock elements, which helped Nazareth become a staple of classic rock radio for decades to come. “Miss Misery” follows as a more serious hard rock counterpart to the almost celebratory opening track. This track reaches into the very heart of the album, which is mainly negative in lyrical tone but in no way meek in delivery. As a bonus, Charlton’s slide guitar lead gives it all a blues legitimacy that brings the song to a higher level, especially with his odd but satisfying guitar chime section to end the track.

Originally written by Boudleaux Bryant, “Love Hurts” features exquisite, Phil Spector-like production with tremendous space provided for each instrument, especially Charlton’s flanged guitar pattern and Sweet’s echo-drenched drums and percussion. This is also the first song on album where Pete Agnew‘s bass has a real presence, with McCafferty’s soft-edged and emotive vocals making this arrangement a true group effort. The best part of this Top 10 hit is the slow, sustained guitar lead, which reaches for the Heavens sonically.

The best way to follow-up the drippy power ballad is with an even more powerful, the riff-driven rocker, “Changin’ Times”. The song proper is like Led Zeppelin on steroids, with different variations on the main riff alternating between the fire-one, high-register a capella vocals. However, what makes this side one closer a classic is the building, closing jam which adds several overdubbed guitars to the unrelenting, throbbing beat, making this a true highlight of the album. “Beggars Day” is a fine blend of hard rock, which falls somewhere on the spectrum between Aerosmith and AC/DC. Charlton supplies great electric guitar blends, riffs between the vocal lines and a good sense of melody and rock intensity throughout, with the guitar lead continuing the use of multiple bluesy guitars, giving it a thick atmosphere of pure rock ambiance.

Nazareth in 1975The dissolution of ”Beggar’s Day” leads to the final phase of the album where the heavy rock elements are all but abandoned for explorations into other sub-genres. The instrumental rendition of Nils Lofgren’s “Rose In the Heather” has souped-up country-rock elements with effected-laden guitars and synths, making it all very orchestral. “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman” is a rather light-hearted foray into folk and blues with the most low-key vocals by McCafferty (which, if nothing else, shows his vocal versatility). The song’s middle jam contains some nice variations in riffs and beats, while the lyrics are intentionally trite in contrast to the serious musical skill portrayed on this track. The album concludes with “Please Don’t Judas Me”, which at first is a very interesting mix of Middle Eastern flavored acoustic, electric, synths, and tabla by guest Simon Phillips. But, perhaps the biggest flaw on this otherwise classic album, the extreme song length and over dramatization loses the listener about half way through this nearly ten minute track, with way too much repetition through the last half of the song.

Following the success of Hair of the Dog, Nazareth continued to have moderate commercial success, releasing nine more studio albums and a popular live album over the next decade, giving the band a respectable measure of longevity and a healthy catalog.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Born to Run by
Bruce Springsteen

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Born To Run by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen has described the songs on Born To Run as different scenes happening on the same summer night somewhere in New Jersey and New York City. This third album commenced as Springsteen’s admitted effort to break into the mainstream, with accessible songs, rich production methods and deliberative sequencing. The strategy worked as the album peaked in the Top 5 and received near universal critical acclaim, with many today considering this the best work of his career.

Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle were both released in 1973. On those albums, Springsteen made several specific lyrical references to his hometown area near the Northern part of the Jersey Shore. Born To Run includes more general references to reach a wider audience, with Springsteen later calling the work a “dividing line” in the progression of his writing.

Impressed by his first Springsteen concert, music critic Jon Landau enlisted as Springsteen’s manager and co-producer of this upcoming album in 1974. Columbia records invested a sizeable budget in the album’s production, which led to Springsteen being entangled in the recording process for over a year while frustratingly trying to achieve the perfect sound. Like on his previous album, Springsteen enlisted the “E Street Band”, complete with new members, pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, who each play a vital role on this album.


Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
Released: August 25, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Mike Appel, & Jon Landau
Recorded: Record Plant & 914 Sound Studios, New York, May 1974–July 1975
Side One Side Two
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
Night
Backstreets
Born To Run
She’s the One
Meeting Across the River
Jungleland
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry W. Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

While all songs were composed by Springsteen, it was Bittan’s piano, not Springsteen’s guitar which took the main musical role throughout Born To Run. “Thunder Road” starts things off with an odd harmonica and piano intro where Springsteen and Bittan struggle to reach the right tempo before the song launches and builds with fine lyrics and inspired music. Along with its folk-style lyrics, the music is like a journey into a night of adventure, which grows in intensity as the building musical arrangement perfectly matches the mood of this opening song. With horn arrangements by Steven Van Zandt, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” effectively adds this extra element that gives the upbeat sense of celebration on the song which tells of the formation of the E Street Band. Springsteen’s vocals are superb on this track as he hits the different chord changes with razor precision.

While a step lower in quality, “Night” is an apt and upbeat number with a rich arrangement and would become a concert favorite. The music features a heavy presence by bassist Gary Tallent. The album’s first side wraps with the extended track, “Backstreets”. This track patiently begins with a piano and bass intro that builds the tension as the listener awaits some explosion into the scene, which finally does arrive after about a minute. This track is the first where Springsteen’s guitar plays a significant role with strong rhythms throughout and a middle guitar lead, while the vocals are delivered with intensity throughout, often using repetition to great effect.

Bruce Springsteen 1975The strongest point of the album is the romanticized title song with majestic production. “Born To Run” may be the quintessential Springsteen song with such a unique and exquisite sound not paralleled anywhere else in his catalog or beyond. Each member of the musical ensemble is at their absolute best, from the insatiable bass of Tallent to the dry but bouncy drums of guest Ernest “Boom” Carter to the frenzied sax solo of Clarence Clemons, to the complementing orchestration of the piano of David Sancious, the organ of Danny Federici, and the harpsichord/glockenspiel of Bittan. And that brings us to Springsteen himself, who plays a sharp electric guitar with a strong tremolo effect and vocally delivers the best lyrics of his career. This song, which was the first recorded for the album of the same name, is the four and a half minutes where it all truly comes together.

“She’s the One” is a simple song which builds off a simple underlying rhythm, and never really changes much, just building on the established vibe and melody. “Meeting Across the River” follows with a unique arrangement and a dark, jazzy feel. Springsteen’s vocals are right up front in the mix with the rest of the arrangement, including a signature trumpet by Randy Brecker and double bass by Richard Davis, in the distance. The epic closer “Jungleland” starts with a violin part by Suki Laha which gives it a strong theatrical feel. Eventually, the full rock arrangement arrives and a middle lead guitar brings it to a crescendo. This is soon broken by Clemons’ slowly building sax solo, a true highlight which soon progresses into the most memorable part of the song before the suite dissolves into a very slow section with just piano chords. This ushers Springsteen’s vocals back in as he dramatically navigates through the final suspenseful moments of the song and album.

The album’s release was given a huge promotional budget, which led to Springsteen landing on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week in October, 1975. Through the decades, Born To Run has reemerged several times onto the album charts, with the latest peak coming in 2005 when the 30th Anniversary edition reached the Top 20 in the US. In recent years, Springsteen has frequently performed the album in its entirety and in order for special concert ocassions.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Wish You Were Here
by Pink Floyd

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Wish You Were Here by Pink FloydDuring the writing and production of Wish You Were Here, the members of Pink Floyd were grasping with the their new found stardom and the pressure to deliver another hit album. A serious bout of collective writers block and frequent tour interruptions further added to this pressure over the course of 1974 and early 1975, but eventually the concept came into being and the fine album was completed. While this record was almost totally composed by bassist Roger Waters, and much of its focus is former band member Syd Barrett, this album is really a tour de force for guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour, who contributes some indelible textures, riffs and licks throughout the album.

Following the worldwide success of 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, the group negotiated a new contract which gave them a reported advance of $1,000,000. While touring Europe in 1974, the group composed three extended songs. Two of these, “Raving and Drooling” and “You Gotta Be Crazy” would be held over and reworked as the tracks “Sheep” and Dogs” respectively on the 1977 album Animals. The third piece, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” would become the bookend centerpiece around which this loose concept album would be built.

Wish You Were Here was produced by Pink Floyd as a band with the assistance of engineer Brian Humphries, who had previously worked with the group on the 1969 soundtrack album More. Like its predecessor, the album was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios. Being that Humphries never worked there before, he encountered some early difficulties.

But the technical difficulties were nothing compared to the incredible coincidence of Barrett showing up during the mixing of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” which was obviously written about him. Barrett had arrived to attend Gilmour’s wedding on June 5, 1975, while all four band members were in the mixing room. Not a single one of them recognized him at first as he had shaved his head and eyebrows. Once they all realized that it was him, it was obvious that he was unable to partake in a normal conversation and had no idea that he was the subject of the song they were mixing that day. This put a damper on the wedding and unfortunately no member of Pink Floyd saw Syd Barrett again until they attended his 2006 funeral .


Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Released: September 12, 1975 (Harvest)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, January–July 1975
Side One Side Two
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (I)
Welcome to the Machine
Have a Cigar
Wish You Were Here
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (II)
Group Musicians
David Gilmour – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Richard Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

The first section of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” sounds totally new age during the beginning section, which was originally developed as “Household Objects”, an experimental piece using ARP synth, Hammond organ and wine glass harmonica. After this long intro, the second instrumental section is much more musically rewarding, built on an indelible four note riff by Gilmour, above which he adds a bluesy lead and below which there is crisp and steady playing by the rest of the group. This second section acts as a kind of overture for the album, with Wright performing a calm synth solo that previews a later piece and Gilmour returning with a more blistering lead. After 8:45, the song proper finally begins with Waters on lead vocals delivering poetic lyrics which describe his take on Barrett’s plight. Gilmour adds a superior, double-tracked lead in between the two verses and the final two minutes of the track is dedicated to an extended sax solo by Dick Parry above a new riff before song dissolves into a link to the next track.

“Welcome to the Machine” is a textual track with an abundance of synth and sound effects and the most substantial in studio production. However, this is probably the least musically creative as it is just a strummed acoustic which guides along the dark and mechanical sound effects with little to no traditional rhythms. The song does build a bit in the middle but then unfortunately reverts back to same arrangement for the last verse, missing an opportunity to bring it to a stronger sonic level. The album’s second side starts with Gilmour’s wild, treated guitar riffs which are expertly accompanied by Waters’ bass and Wright’s electric piano for a rich rhythmic experience. Wright then adds the signature synth riff, leading to the verses which feature guest Roy Harper on lead vocals, who was brought in when both Waters and Gilmour were unsatisfied with their respective attempts at singing the song. In any case, Harper’s style fits nicely with the Pink Floyd sound, seeming to split the difference between Waters and Gilmour in style, while adding his own flourish to the end of each chorus. The final two minutes of the song are dedicated to a Gilmour guitar lead over increasingly funky rhythms by the rest of the band, especially Mason who gets more and more intense as the outro proceeds.

Pink Floyd 1975Starting with a unique sonic intro, “Wish You Were Here” is the true highlight of the album, as stripped-down acoustic track featuring Gilmour’s gruff and folksy vocals. The song’s full arrangement contains tremendous plethora of musical tid-bits ranging from a county-type piano, to a bluesy, slide acoustic lead, to the modern sounding synth pads. This unidirectional track’s hook comes during the single final verse. which leads to the song’s climatic outro featuring Gilmour vocally mocking his own lead acoustic while the song fades into a distant wind effect. This leads to the second suite of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, which starts with a cool bass and guitar thump very reminiscent to “One of These Days” from 1971’s Meddle, right down to the distorted lap steel guitar played by Gilmour. After an abrupt return to the main theme for two verses, the suite just as abruptly turns to a funky clavinet-driven section led by Wright, which is entertaining in spite of the fact that it breaks the musical cohesion. The final parts of the song seem to be extraneous as they really seem to lack focus and direction, just pure filler to fill out the album before a long, anticlimactic fade, a really unfortunate way to end this fine album.

Wish You Were Here became an instant commercial success, topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, with EMI reportedly unable to print enough copies to satisfy initial demand. Both Gilmour and Wright have cited this album as their favorite by the band and, while it had initially received lukewarm critical reviews, the album has grown to near universal acclaim over the past four decades. Wright and David Gilmour have each cited Wish You Were Here as their favorite Pink Floyd album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Straight Shooter
by Bad Company

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Straight Shooter by Bad CompanyBad Company returned in 1975 with their sophomore album, Straight Shooter, which built on the successful formula of their 1974 debut album while adding some variety in arrangement. The quartet built on their solid rock foundation with the fusion of several types of sub-genres added to the mix. Further, the success of two consecutive albums proved that Bad Company was a solid force in its own right and would remain in the top echelon of pop rock for years to come.

Prior to Bad Company’s formation, each of the four member of this “super group” had success with previous acts. Lead vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke originated in the group Free, while guitarist Mick Ralphs was from Mott the Hoople and bassist Boz Burrell came from King Crimson. Managed by Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant, the group became the first to release an album on the new Swan Song label in 1974, which found instant critical and commercial success.

Just three months after the release of the debut month, the group began recording a follow-up album at a remote castle in England using a mobile unit, engineered by Ron Nevison. In contrast to the simple, sometimes stark hard rock of Bad Company, this second album adds much variety with the addition of acoustic guitars, keyboards and occasional strings. Along with the album’s eight tracks, the group recorded a song called, “Whisky Bottle”, which eventually ended up as a B-side to a single.


Straight Shooter by Bad Company
Released: April, 1975 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Bob Dylan
Recorded: Clearwell Castle, Gloucestershire, England, September 1974
Side One Side Two
Good Lovin’ Gone Bad
Feel Like Makin’ Love
Weep No More
Shooting Star
Deal With the Preacher
Wild Fire Woman
Anna
Call on Me
Group Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Mick Ralphs – Guitars, Keyboards
Boz Burrell – Bass
Simon Kirke – Drums

The album thunders in with Ralphs’, “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad”, a song which was released as a single ahead of the album. This is a strong, pure rock, shooter with some slight compositional caveat in the pre-chorus where Burrell’s bass temporarily takes the forefront in this otherwise guitar-dominated song. Of particular note on this song is Rodgers’ vocals, which are strained in rock n roll excess during the verses and choruses but come back down to Earth during pre-chorus sections. “Feel Like Makin’ Love” offers much contrast to first song, from the bright acoustic intro, to the Country-esque verses with somber lead vocals, to the choruses which explode with Ralph’s distorted electric riffs. The true beauty of this popular song is its incredible contrast within, which all somehow works so harmoniously, especially near the end where a cool, laid back, minimal guitar lead moves to a long, building coda crescendo.

Written by drummer Simon Kirke, “Weep No More” starts with some heavy, theatrical orchestration, which almost sounds like it was influenced by the music of Queen. From there, it settles into a steady, piano-driven rocker with a heavy presence of organ and overdubbed, bluesy lead guitar during the verses. Rodgers’, “Shooting Star” is the climax of the first side, the Straight Shooter album, and possibly the Bad Company library as a whole. Lyrically, this timely anthem addresses the rock n’ roll lifestyle, which all too often leads to untimely death. Musically, the intro has wild tremolo guitar effects, the verses have folksy acoustic rhythms, and the choruses feature strong, electric riffs, hooks and harmonized vocals. The rhythms are strong by Burrell and Kirke throughout, which pretty much means everyone playing at their best on this track, while the band as whole employs great restraint, which lets the song unfold seamlessly.

Bad Company in 1975

The lesser known second side begins with a couple of collaborations between Rodgers and Ralphs. “Deal With the Preacher”, is a hard rocker with sharp, bluesy guitars and soulful vocals. The song does later dissolve to a calmer bridge section before coming back fully as an unabashed rock jam as the tone of Ralphs’ guitar seems to predate that of Eddie Van Halen by several years. “Wild Fire Woman” seems to try a bit too hard to be a pop anthem, especially during Rodger’s stratospheric chorus vocals, but falls just a little short of this group’s compositional abilities.

The album concludes with a couple of calmer numbers. Kirke’s, “Anna”, is a re-recording of a song from one of his earlier groups as a moderate love ballad about a “simple woman for a simple man”. Driven by electric piano, it is Kirke’s exceptionally strong and assertive drumming which makes this song distinct from any typical mid-seventies soul ballad. “Call on Me”, the closing track written by Rodgers, is another calm, electric piano song with subtle musical flourishes. The good chord progression through the verses alternates with a dramatic sound-sphere interlude which, during the extended final stretch, borrows the bassline from The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, while Ralphs’ lead guitar lazily floats in the background.

Straight Shooter reached the identical lofty spot of #3 in the UK, US, and Canada and it was certified gold within a month of its release. Although slightly less successful than its predecessor, the album has remained an indelible classic for Bad Company four decades after its release.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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Blood On the Tracks
by Bob Dylan

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Blood On the Tracks by Bob DylanBlood On the Tracks contains all the elements of Bob Dylan‘s classic, 1960s outputs, with the staples of the acoustic guitar, the harmonica, and the poetic lyrics delivered in expert fashion. It also fit in well with those earliest works as Dylan’s return to Columbia Records after a short stint with Asylum in the early 1970s. However, this fifteenth studio album by the artist is thematically unlike anything he had done before, as a raw and confessional work apparently influenced by the breakup of his marriage (a claim that Dylan has both denied and confirmed in subsequent years). Initially receiving lukewarm reviews, the album has collected ever-growing acclaimed in the four decades since its release, with many claiming it may be his finest overall release, if not his best produced.

After stellar success and acclaim through much of the 1960s, Dylan stumbled a bit as he entered the 1970s with the release of several uneven albums. 1970s Self Portrait was a double LP containing mainly cover tunes, while his acting role and soundtrack for the 1972 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was largely forgettable save for the classic track, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Backed by The Band, Dylan released Planet Waves in 1973, which spawned two versions of the standard “Forever Young”. Dylan and The Band then embarked in his first tour since early 1967, with 40 dates in North America in early 1974, which in turn spawned the live double album Before the Flood.

With his return to Columbia came an affair with a woman in that organization and the subsequent deterioration of Dylan’s marriage to Sara, his wife of ten years and mother of his four children. Beyond this situation, other influences on the material of Blood On the Tracks were the short stories of Russian author Anton Chekov along with Dylan’s art lessons with painter Norman Raeben. Produced by Dylan, the tracks for the album were originally recorded in New York in September 1974 with the album set for a December release. However, at the urging of his brother David Zimmerman, five tracks were re-recorded in Minneapolis in order to relieve some of the “starker sounding” numbers, delaying the album’s release until early 1975. Only one of the original versions of these five songs have been officially released by Dylan.


Blood On the Tracks by Bob Dylan
Released: January 20, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Dylan
Recorded: A & R Recording, New York, & Sound 80 in Minneapolis, MN, September-December, 1974
Side One Side Two
Tangled Up In Blue
Simple Twist of Fate
You’re a Big Girl Now
Idiot Wind
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
Meet Me In the Morning
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
If You See Her, Say Hello
Shelter from the Storm
Buckets of Rain
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Barry Kornfeld – Guitars
Paul Griffin – Keyboards
Tony Brown – Bass
Bill Berg – Drums

The album begins with “Tangled Up In Blue”, one of the re-recorded tracks from Minneapolis which on the surface is a bright account of the sad recollection of a lost love. That being said, the poetic lyrics seem to be much more complex than those of a linear story and are delivered in a pleasant and melodic manner within a repeating pattern of acoustic music with slight bass and drums. Released as a single, the song reached the Top 40 on the pop charts in 1975 and has since been regarded as one of Dylan’s finest compositions. “Simple Twist of Fate” is built in much the same way as the opener but with a more melancholy tone, through its descending riff and sparse arrangement with only Dylan’s acoustic and the bass of Tony Brown musically. The song is at once sorrowful, regretful, and peaceful with an overall vibe which reaches into your soul and seems to make personal sense no matter what the original intent of the lyrics.

People tell me it’s a sin to know and feel too much within, I still believe she was my twin but I lost the ring, she was born in spring but I was born too late, blame it on a simple twist of fate…”

The next two songs on the album are Minneapolis re-recordings. “You’re a Big Girl Now” differs in arrangement and approach than the first two songs, being much more adult contemporary and featuring Thomas McFaul on piano and multiple guitarists accompanying Dylan. While all the songs on Blood On the Tracks have a bit of negative aura, “Idiot Wind” is much more biting and cynical than the other, more poetic songs. Still, this is an excellent listen as it is vocally melodic and dramatic and features a heavy presence of Hammond organ throughout by Paul Griffin. The first side concludes with a short, bright, happy-go-lucky tune called “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, which includes much of the same sound and elements of Dylan’s sixties outputs. A strongly strummed acoustic and bouncy bass presented in a bluegrass mode with a Dylanesque edge, the hopeless lyrics are delivered with the most upbeat smile possible.

Bob DylanThe second side begins with “Meet Me in the Morning”, a decidedly bluesy acoustic track, with steady rhythms set in a way which could’ve fit well as a Rolling Stones song. Here, the rather standard lyrics take a back seat to the music and atmosphere, which is very cool and entertaining, especially during the ending, wild, guitar lead. “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is a nearly nine minute story-telling song set to an upbeat, Country rhythm. This complex story with multiple characters is unfortunately delivered in a mundane fashion due to its endless repetition and Dylan would later perfect this type of saga with the much better “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” on the Traveling Wilburys debut album a decade and a half later. “If You See Her, Say Hello”, returns to the slow and sad approach with more exquisite production of the dual acoustic and consistent percussion before the song dissolves with a fine, simple instrumental.

Wrapping up the album are two more top notch tunes. “Shelter from the Storm” features much the same arrangement as “Simple Twist of Fate” on the first side with the theme switching to that of asylum. Dylan’s fine vocals and melody carries this three chord song with strong lyrical imagery. “Buckets of Rain” is the perfect closer for this album, simple but effective with vocals reminiscent of the Nashville Skyline era. The song seems to offer closure to the all the heartbreak left in the wake of this collection of songs.

Blood On the Tracks topped the charts in the US and reached the Top 5 in the UK, while achieving double-platinum status, making it one of Dylan’s best selling albums in his vast collection. While there was much success, Dylan quickly pivoted away from the confessional style with the more political-inspired follow-up, Desire in 1976 followed by Dylan’s foray into Gospel music later in the decade.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

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