A New World Record by E.L.O.

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A New World Record by ELOThe sixth overall album for Electric Light Orchestra (E.L.O.), A New World Record would become the band’s breakthrough worldwide. Lead singer, chief songwriter, and producer Jeff Lynne later said he considered this album to be the band’s pinnacle (and he may be right). The album combines the better elements of ELO’s of previous works – great pop sensibility and melody with deeper orchestral arrangements and polished production. It is also a transitional album where the sound of the band becomes less progressive and more radio-friendly, with no less than four “hit” songs charting from A New World Record, helping the band to finally break through in their native England.

A New World Record was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, the same location where ELO recorded their previous album Face the Music the year before (it is also the same location where our most recent review Presence by Led Zeppelin was recorded). This studio in the basement of a majestic hotel along with its famed engineer Reinhold Mack.

Many have describe the band’s sound as The Beatles advanced about a half decade later, and there is definitely audio evidence to back that assertion, but there is much more here. Although on one level completely unique, the sound that Jeff Lynne and the band forged through the mid-to-late seventies was the perfect soundtrack for the colorful, bright, and “Star Wars” motif of the era. Further, while many sentiments migrated to the polar extremes of disco and punk when abandoning the over-indulgent virtuosity of progressive rock, E.L.O. chose a more mainstream, roots-rock core just as the generation which grew up in the 1950s were feeling nostalgic for this music. This same core was never truly abandoned by the Beatles, through all their late sixties innovation, so there may be the true comparison.

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A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra
Released: September 11, 1976 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, July 1976
Side One Side Two
Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria
Mission (A World Record)
So Fine
Livin’ Thing
Above the Clouds
Do Ya
Shangri-La
Band Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Richard Tandy – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Kelly Groucutt – Bass, Vocals
Bev Bevan – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Mik Kaminski – Violin
Hugh McDowell & Melvyn Gale – Cellos
Louis Clark – Orchestral

A New World Record begins with “Tightrope”, which comes in with a deep and doomy synth that gives way to strings and orchestral vocals before finally kicking in fully at around 1:15 with the thumping rhythm of drummer Bev Bevan and bassist Kelly Groucutt. An excellent rock song interspersed with the “edge” of orchestral strings and choral vocals, this song sets the pace for the rest of the album allthe way through its concluding “Shangri-La”. This last song seems to be a play on to the theme song to the band’s 1974 album El Dorado, both mythical places where the music of E.L.O. tries to take us.

The beautiful and serene “Telephone Line” is a more traditional love song with a definite late-era-Beatles “Golden Slumbers” vibe, especially during the verse. Vocally, the song is superb with Lynn’s voice starting at extreme mid-range for the “telephone” effect before slowly morphing towards normalcy and the chorus “do wap” section adds an undeniable hook. In contrast “Rockaria”, while still very poppy and entertaining, could not be any less conventional. Perhaps the best song on the album, it literally adds opera to a true rock song, in a way as smooth (if not smoother) than Queen did on A Night At the Opera a year earlier. “Rockaria” constantly fluctuates between an aria and an old time, thumping rock song, all very seamless and sweet, yet truly unique.

The first side ends with “Mission”, a quasi-thematic piece with heavy strings throughout with nice sprinklings of Lynne’s guitars and Richard Tandy’s clavichord. The second side kicks off with “So Fine”, a funky song with some modern, almost synthesized sounds complementing that show the band was trying to fit into the disco world as well.

A signature orchestral riff is carried over from “So Fine” to the hit song “Livin’ Thing”, driven by an excellent acoustic rhythm, some majestic lead vocals, and a couple of violin interludes by Mike Kaminski, This would one of the most popular songs ever by the band. “Above the Clouds” follows as an odd but interesting, McCartney-esque song with thumping piano and a subtle Theremin whining in the background through two verses before breaking down with a slow string-led ending. “Do Ya” is pop/rock at its finest, perfect for the era as a radio hit as well as a nice counter-balace to the more serious material on the album. The song is a simple rocker yet impossible to ignore and puts the album well over the top as a commercial success.

In the wake of the tremendous success of A New World Record, E.L.O. would go on to produce their most ambitious effort the following year with Out Of the Blue in 1977 and would remain a relevant force in the pop and rock world into the early eighties.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Presence by Led Zeppelin

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Presence by Led ZeppelinIn late 1975, Led Zeppelin had planned a world tour to capitalize of the phenomenal success of their latest album Physical Graffiti. The band was at the absolute zenith of their popularity with a string on top-selling albums going back to 1969. However, a serious car accident involving lead singer Robert Plant while he was vacationing on the island of Rhodes with his wife, made the tour impossible. Plant was confined to a wheelchair for nearly six months and this tilted the band towards writing and recording a new “unplanned” album. The result was Presence, the least successful album in the Zeppelin catalog commercially and one with very mixed reviews critically. However, Presence is the album that the band themselves consider to be their “most important”.

During his recovery period in Malibu, CA following the accident, Plant began to write some lyrics. He was soon joined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page to further work on these compositions. When enough material had been written, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were summoned to rehearsals in California. The band then migrated to Munich, Germany for recording, all with Plant still in a wheelchair. The studio was small, in a basement, and very difficult for Plant to work in. Further, the band found out that they had just 18 days for the entire production as the Rolling Stones had the very same studio booked for their next album, Black and Blue. As producer, Page pretty much stayed awake for the entire 18 days in order to complete the album in Munich.

The result is, perhaps, the most unusual Led Zeppelin album (although each of their albums are quite distinct). Page developed a cleaner, “twang-ier” guitar sound in contrast to his signature “crunch” riffs of earlier days. Bonham’s drumming is furious and strong with a sound extended from that on Physical Graffiti, while Jones continued his migration from a dynamic blues to that of a more standard rock bass player. As Plant himself admits, his vocals dynamics suffered a bit due to his confinement. Further, he was a bit upset with the band’s management for keeping him from his wife, who was also seriously injured in the car wreck and recovering back in England, mainly due to tax reasons. Still, Robert Plant at 50% is superior to most rock singers and his performance on Presence is far from embarrassing.

The album was completed on November 26, 1975, the day before Thanksgiving, and that American holiday was considered as the title for the album. This title was rejected in favor of “Presence”, a representative force surrounding the band. The cover artwork features various images of random people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped “object”, a sort of play on the space object in the film 2001.

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Presence by Led Zeppelin
Released: March 31, 1976 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, November 1975
Side One Side Two
Achilles Last Stand
For Your Life
Royal Orleans
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Candy Store Rock
Hots On For Nowhere
Tea For One
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass
John Bonham – Drums & Percussion

Presence is the only Led Zeppelin album with neither acoustic or keyboard tracks, as the band made a concerted effort to forge and updated version of their earliest “raw” sound. This strategy succeeds well on the first side but is less successful on the second side as the three songs on the first side are far superior to the four on the second. Still, it is refreshing that the band never lost their capacity for experimentation even with this quickly rushed album.

Unlike most albums which tend to build towards an epic song late on either sides this album kicks off right away with “Achilles Last Stand”, the tour de force of Presence. The song starts with dreamy, flanged guitar intro by Page which gives way to a rapid trigger-like riff that gets variated throughout. It is a true journey of a song lead by Plant’s lyric and vocal telling of his misfortune in the land of the Greek heroes. One flaw with the song is that it lasts just a bit too long and becomes a little repetitive towards the end. It perhaps would have worked better as a 7-minute song than this 10½ minute goliath.

Led Zeppelin in 1976

This last point is magnified with the album’s closer “Tea For One”, another extended cut but with a lot less action. The truth is, the best part of this 9-plus-minute song is the first 21 seconds when the band does a riff completely out of context with the rest of the song, which is a slow and depressing diddy that wallows in misery and desperately cries for a kick into a higher gear at some point. Some have pointed to the shorter songs on the album as “filler”, but I believe the filler actually lies within the longer compositions themselves by virtue of repetitiveness. Which begs the question – if the band didn’t feel like they had enough material, why not add some older material like they had with Physical Graffiti? We know now that there were some fine, unreleased songs out there like “Traveling Riverside Blues”, “Poor Tom”, and “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”

Led Zeppelin Royal Orleans singleRounding out side one is a couple of unique Zeppelin gems. “For Your Life” is the quintessential Led Zeppelin song, filled with bluesy licks over a catchy riff and dynamic, much-improvised vocals by Plant belting out lyrics that are hard to decipher completely, but with a vibe “felt” to the bone. The song contains nice changes, an interesting bridge, and a precise, simple, and strong beat throughout by Bonham. “Royal Orleans” is a fun and funky tune allegedly retelling a story involving John Paul Jones and a transvestite.

Launching the second side, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Plant’s guilt-ridden song about bad things befalling him (presumably the car wreck) due to his own actions. The song contains an excellent blues harp solo, unlike anything he had done since “When the Levee Breaks” on Led Zeppelin IV, five years earlier. It is the first of two distinct leads, followed by Page’s own bluesy guitar lead, combined these make up the best part of the song. Much like “Achilles”, this composition would be better if more succinct and less repetitive, but it is still a fine track.

The heart of the second side contains two fine sounding throwback songs. “Candy Store Rock” is an Elvis tribute, which uses the candy store as an analogy for sex in the same fashion that “Trampled Underfoot” used the car on the previous album. It is not a terrible listen but just a little disappointing in the minimalist approach of Page and Jones. Bonham, on the other hand plays a very interesting beat with entertaining variations throughout. “Hots On for Nowhere” is one of the forgotten gems of the Zeppelin catalog, a stop-start rockabilly riff and beat with some nice changes. It is a song with a very upbeat vibe despite the mainly depressing lyrics.

Presence did initially rush to #1 on the Billboard charts (probably due to the band’s popularity alone) but quickly fell and tracks from this album have rarely received airplay. Also, because of it being completely built in the studio, few songs from the album were played live on subsequent tours. Still, despite this initial subdued reception, Presence is an excellent listen that has held up well over the decades and cannot be overlooked by any true fans of Led Zeppelin today.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Turnstiles by Billy Joel

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Turnstiles by Billy JoelTurnstiles is , in a lot of ways, the “growing up” album for Billy Joel. Even though he was only in his mid twenties at the time of its production (which was also his debut as a producer), it is the most reflective and nostalgic album that he would ever make. Further, it came at a time when he had decided to return to his native New York from a three year exile to California where he cut his teeth in piano bars and wrote and recorded his initial two albums for Columbia Records. This additional element played a large part in constructing this collection of songs which focus on the past and present in a deep and philosophical way.

This geographic shift by Joel is evident on several levels, lyrically as well as stylistically on Turnstiles. Both Hollywood and New York are explicitly and implicitly referred to in several songs, with the rest comparing and contrasting the past and present through specific issues – music (“All You Want To Do Is Dance”), careers (“James”), and politics/ideology (“Angry Young Man”). The album’s cover shows Joel at a subway turnstile with eight others, each representing a central lyrical characters in each of the album’s eight songs.

Stylistically, Joel abandoned the softer “California” sound, for more raw, albeit diverse, rock using his new touring band in the studio. This also migrated his sound more towards that of fellow east-coaster Bruce Springsteen, who had just released his masterpiece, Born to Run. The decision came after Joel fired the original producer of the album, James William Guercio, after being dissatisfied with the initial recordings. He then and took over as producer himself and moved production to a studio in his native Long Island to make the album his way. The result was a very musically diverse and satisfying gem.

 

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Turnstiles by Billy Joel
Released: May 19, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Billy Joel
Recorded: Ultrasonic Studios, Hempstead, NY, January 1976
Side One Side Two
Say Goodbye to Hollywood
Summer, Highland Falls
All You Want To Do Is Dance
New York State of Mind
James
Prelude / Angry Young Man
I’ve Loved These Days
Miami 2017
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Russell Javors – Guitars
Richie Cannata – Saxophone, Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty Devitto – Drums

 

“Say Goodbye to Hollywood” launches the album with Spector-esque percussion effects and a great overall sonic aura. Here, even the “stylish” strings are held to a minimum, so the song resists the urge of being forever “dated” in the mid-seventies. The vacillating between a slow and calm beat in the verse and a driving rocker during the chorus is a good testament to the songwriting genius of Billy Joel. The song was a celebration of his life back in New York, breaking from the culture of Hollywood.

“Summer, Highland Falls”, a true gem of a Billy Joel song, philosophically deep yet a pleasant and melodic listen. The piano definitely leads the music but does not dominate, as Billy Joel the producer allowed much room for his fine backing band. This is followed up by another reflective song, but of a sharply contrasting genre called “All You Wanna Do Is Dance”. With a consistent reggae beat and Caribbean overtones, this song fuses in some artistic nods to Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell as well as Bob Marley.

Billy Joel in 1976

Billy Joel describes “New York State of Mind” as rebellious against those ex-New Yorkers who seemed to celebrate the city’s demise during the mid seventies. It would go on to become a standard, especially after September 11th, being played at all kinds of ball games and events. The song showcases Joel’s technical proficiency on the piano as well as the fine sax playing of Richie Cannata. It is an early impersonation of Ray Charles, something he would revisit ten years later with “Baby Grand”.

The second side of Turnstiles starts with “James”, a song that is a bit corny and seems like a knock-off of Elton John’s “Daniel”, with the electric piano and all. Exploding from this calm serenity comes the “Prelude” to “Angry Young Man”, the most technically proficient, wildly entertaining, and lyrically deep song on the album. The long, multi-part “Prelude” is a jam that Joel and his band would use to start live shows for decades to come, and is a testament to the fine skills of guitarist Russell Javors, bassist Doug Stegmeyer, and drummer Liberty Devitto. The fantastic lyrics are a biting and self-effacing;

…and there’s always a place for the angry young man, with his fist in the air and his head in the sand…”

It is also a prelude to later extended classics like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from The Stranger and “Zanzibar” from 52nd Street.

The two moody and beautiful “I’ve Loved These Days” is again about growing up and feels almost too sentimental to be lamenting the end to days of indulgence and partying, presumably during Joel’s California days. This may have been a smash hit were a more traditional ballad about love or broken relationships. “Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)” is a dystopian ballad, which borders on the absurd, probably as a satire on the doom and gloom attitude about New York. The song is narrated by a senior citizen in Florida during our present decade, who recalls a “celebration” concert held as sections of New York City were systematically destroyed. The music starts as a ballad, launches into a rocker and then ends the album in nice way, with fading piano riff.

Turnstiles would become the first of the three finest albums by Billy Joel, which were released in consecutive years starting in 1976. While it did not achieve the commercial success of its successors, 1977’s The Stranger or 1978’s 52nd Street, Turnstiles may well be the most cohesive album of the trio.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

2112 by Rush

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2112 by RushConvinced that their run at fame was all but over, the members of Rush decided to go out “in a blaze of glory”. They were all very satisfied with the previous album, 1975’s Caress of Steel and felt that the rock world just didn’t get it. Further, with sales down and exposure decreased, they resented the fact that their label, Mercury Records, seemed to be pressuring them at their most vulnerable point rather than offering the support they really needed. The label specifically did not want them to do another album with “concept” songs, such as they had with the 12-minute “The Necromancer” and the side-long epic “The Fountain of Lamneth”.

But rather than deliver some lame, commercialized album like the record company had demanded, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart decided to double down and make the album that THEY wanted to make as a band. They had all accepted the fact that this was probably their last best shot in the music industry and were willing to go back to life as civilians rather than have their creative instincts dictated from above. In fact, they had jocularly referred to their recent tour of clubs as the “Down the Tubes” tour.

On April 1, 1976, Rush released 2112, which indeed included a side-long eponymous concept song. But instead of choosing a pure prog rock album, the band blends a nice mix of heavy pop rock with the five standard length songs on the second side. With limited label support and little-to-no radio support, this platinum album would still go on to sell like hotcakes on the strength of word-of-mouth alone. Ironically, it would buy the band their creative independence from any future mingling by Mercury and subsequent labels. The band would be free to make whatever kind of music they wanted to make. As Neil Peart, the band’s primary lyricist said;

It was the skeleton key that let us open that door…”

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2112 by Rush
Released: April 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, February 1976
Side One Side Two
2112 A Passage to Bangkok
The Twilight Zone
Lessons
Tears
Something For Nothing
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Bass, Synths Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neil Peart – Drums, Vocals

The obvious focal point of the album is the “2112” suite that occupies the entire first side. Like he had on previous albums, Peart turned to author and philosopher Ayn Rand for inspiration, as the story closely mirrors that of her short story Anthem (ironically, the song “Anthem” off Fly By Night, while definitely inspired by Rand, was less a translation of the story by the same name). “2112” tells the dystopian story of a multi-planet society controlled the Federation of the “Red Star”, who have “no need for ancient ways” or items like the electric guitar, which is discovered by the story’s protagonist.

Rush in 1976

The seven-part suite is a cohesive and mesmerizing piece with an exciting jam, “2112 Overture”, kicking things off. Geddy Lee sings in different voices, playing the protagonist, the nemesis “priests”, and the “Oracle” – and he pulls it off fantastically, especially during the “Presentation” section of the suite. Further, the space age effects that encapsulate the whole piece give it an additional edge for appealing to the Star Wars generation of the late 1970s (even though “2112” preceded the Lucas classic by more than a year). As yet another added dimensions, there is also something a bit religious about it with the lyric “…and the meek shall inherit the earth…”, as well as the fictional society being run by “priests”. The world was ready for this type of progressive statement, that fit perfectly 1976 but yet still sounds fresh a generation and a half later.

The second side of the album is filled with standard-length, accessible pop rock songs that are each radio friendly (so, in this sense the band may have, in fact, quasi-capitulated to the record company). The side is highlighted by “A Passage to Bangkok”, a longtime fan favorite that moves from location to location on a “train” (which, at one point, mysteriously jumps the Atlantic Ocean from Bogota to Katmandu), sampling all the diverse “herb” of these native lands. “Something For Nothing”, which returns to the Randian theme on individuality, shows the band at full force to end the album on a high.

Rush Starman logoThe album’s back cover included the “Starman Logo”, which Neil Peart describes as symbolic of the individual against the masses. The logo was designed by Hugh Syme, who first worked with Rush on their cover of Caress of Steel and would be involved with most of band’s cover art in the future. Syme also played mellotron on the 2112 song “Tears”, becoming the first outside musician to make an appearance on a Rush album. That song is unique as a love song written solely by Lee, who also plays acoustic guitar on the track. Alex Lifeson also had his own fully composed song with “Lessons”, which features and upbeat blend of acoustic and electric riffs. “The Twilight Zone” is based on two episodes of the Rod Serling television show of the same name, with the lyrics based on two specific episodes; “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town” It was the first and only single to be released from 2112.

The success of this album launched the band into their most prolific and artistically intensive period of their career. Although the longevity of Rush would see them compose even finer albums over the next several decades, 2112 remains a definitive work in the band’s history.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

A Trick Of the Tail and
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis

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Genesis 1976 albumsWe love Genesis here at Classic Rock Review. Although, this is certainly not evident by our treatment of the band so far in this inaugural year. We’ve had four previous opportunities to cover Genesis albums during our look at four classic years but passed on each of those albums (Trespass in 1971, Abacab in 1981, Invisible Touch in 1986, and We Can’t Dance in 1991). Well, today is an opportunity for some make up as we will do a double review of Genesis’ two 1976 releases A Trick Of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering.

These two albums mark Peter Gabriel‘s departure and drummer Phil Collins debut as the group’s lead singer. These are also the only two albums where Genesis is a four piece band. They were a five piece with Gabriel and would become a three piece in the future following the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett.

The band had searched long for a replacement for Gabriel (some claiming as many as 400 auditions were conducted) all while they wrote and recorded the instrumental tracks for what would become A Trick Of the Tail. Collins provided a vocal “guide” so these candidates could become familiar with their potential vocal role for this material, but no one was sufficient for the job. After briefly considering putting the album out as a pure instrumental, the band decided that Collins should be the new permanent vocalist, although he was initially reluctant to do so.

Critical expectations were low leading up the release of A Trick Of the Tail in early 1976. Hence, the album’s quality and originality were a pleasant surprise to all. It was although the four remaining members had a point to prove – that they could continue successfully without Gabriel – and they proved it brilliantly. Collins demonstrated that he is an excellent singer by staying with in the tonal range of Gabriel while still exploring his own territory vocally. The songwriting credits extend to everyone, making the album’s composition a true group effort. They stayed true to the Genesis legacy while evolving ever so slightly towards a new, modern sound. In musical direction, the album is an impressionist piece of art rock, using storytelling with and without words. The lyrics are like fairy tales or fables and the music makes you envision scenery much as an opera.

With Wind & Wuthering the band stayed true with the basic formula and philosophy as A Trick Of the Tail. However, it feels a bit more forced sounding less fresh than its predecessor. This is especially true on the second side where the band seemed to be making one last try at constructing an art piece in the fashion of their earlier albums. But, most of the songs sound under developed. That being said, Wind & Wuthering does have some brilliant moments, especially when it comes to the songs that open and close the album.

 

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A Trick Of the Tail by Genesis
Released: February 2, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, October-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Dance On a Volcano
Entangled
Squonk
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault, & Battery
Ripples
A Trick Of the Tail
Los Endos
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis
Released: December 23, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Relight Studios, Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, September-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Eleventh Earl of Mar
One For the Vine
Your Own Special Way
Wot Gorilla?
All in a Mouse’s Night
Blood On the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers…
…In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars

 

One of the fascinating qualities about A Trick Of the Tail, is how each song is so entirely different from the previous one. Some may consider this to be non cohesive, but we feel it enhances the listening experience by presenting the talents of these musicians in one package. “Dance On a Volcano” is the most complete group composition on the album. With a minute long intro that sets the sound scape, a measured, plodding tempo during the two verses moves into a frantic pace during the futuristic section that drives the song on a tangent towards its conclusion. The message of the song is when faced with an ugly, volatile challenge, you need to attack the situation like a hero would and dive right into the fire and fight. The song reprises during the album’s closing instrumental “Los Endos”, a foray into the world of jazz fusion. During the closing fadeout, the band pays homage to their former lead singer as Collins recites a few lines from “Supper’s Ready” off of 1972’s Foxtrot, an epic song closely associated with Peter Gabriel.

Steve Hackett’s “Entangled” has an ethereal musical soundscape, like an old English folk song. The lyrics juxtapose the peaceful sleep induced by anesthesia and the dreams of flying over the landscape until the song drifts towards a haunting instrumental section at the end. As a counter piece on the second side, Mike Rutherford‘s “Ripples” is a beautiful but sad ballad with fine melodies during the chorus that lament old age and dying –

Sail away, ripples never come back, they’ve gone to the other side…”

Keyboardist Tony Banks contributed the most compositions on A Trick Of the Tail. “Mad Man Moon” is a piano ballad with strings that blossoms into something almost theatrical, like an opera or performance art. “Squonk” is the first heavy, rock sounding release of the “new” Genesis. Full of hooks and catchy melodies, it retells the English legend of the squonk, a sad creature which roams about wallowing in misery and then melts away to tears once captured. Banks also wrote the album’s predominant “pop” songs.

The upbeat title song “A Trick Of the Tail” focuses on a “beast” character who leaves his own kingdom and enters the world of humans. He is captured and put on display in a freak show after his captors refuse to believe in his kingdom, which he claims is covered in gold. “Robbery, Assault, and Battery” is an entertaining song which moves from section to section, exploring many different time signatures and melodies. Both of these songs had promotional videos made, a forecast of the music world a half decade later with the advent of MTV.

Wind & Wuthering begins with a seven and a half minute mini-suite called “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, a good jam lead by Rutherford’s keys with and interesting middle section led by the folksy motifs of Hackett. This piece feels like a combination of several songs off The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and refers back to an historical English figure and events. Banks’ “One For the Vine” is a nearly ten minute piano tune with fine vocals by Collins. Sounding more like 80’s era Genesis, this piece morphs into a mellow, program-music-like piece before breaking out into a wild, percussive upbeat section.

Mike Rutherford’s “Your Own Special Way” is the plainest forecast of the new pop-ier direction that the band would pursue as a trio in the late seventies and through the eighties. A waltz, lead by a strumming, 12-string riff the song breaks into a full-fledged soft love song during chorus. It later goes into a gratuitous electric piano part that seems to do nothing but eat up clock, showing that the band was, in some sense, just trying to get through this album. “Wot Gorilla?” concludes the first side as a basic yet interesting instrumental.

Genesis in 1976

The second side of Wind & Wuthering sees the band attempting to return to Gabriel-era theatrics, but falling just a bit short in this quest. “All In A Mouse’s Night” is a play involving a couple, a cat, and a mouse, while “Blood On the Rooftops” starts with a nice, classical sounding guitar and contains fine overall instrumentation, but the song as a whole doesn’t quite reach its potential. The album concludes with a three song medley, the first two of which are average but interesting instrumentals. “Afterglow” concludes it all with a beautiful and simple approach that offers a melodic conclusion to Genesis’ second album of 1976.

With our previous two presentations of twin album reviews (Alice Cooper in 1971 and Guns n Roses in 1991), the material was close to even in quality and importance. However, this is not quite the case here as A Trick Of the Tail, which we consider a classic, is decidedly superior to Wind & Wuthering, which may be reserved for dedicated Genesis fans.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Rocks by Aerosmith

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Rocks by AerosmithWe commence our look at 1976 with a review of the fourth of four great albums by Aerosmith that launched their career during their classic period of the 1970s. Starting with their self-titled debut in 1973, Get Your Wings in 1974, and Toys In the Attic in 1975, Rocks is probably the most aptly named of these as it completes the slow metamorphosis of the band from the heavy blues sound of their to a pure, raw rock band. The album was a commercial success and became a great influence on the prolific hard rock and heavy metal sound throughout the next decade and a half.

Although Rocks is less pop-oriented than the band’s previous album, it carries on many of the same trends that began with that album. These include exploring (and/or inventing) different sub-genres like rap rock and funk and finishing up with a “power ballad”, which was still a fresh concept for hard rock bands in the mid seventies. However, Rocks is by far the most cohesive Aerosmith album. It is solid from top to bottom and a real jam with a mixture of tight riffs and improvised leads throughout. The production is at once clean and dense and the overall sound is still fresh-sounding to listeners three and a half decades later.

The content of the album ranges from themes of longing and nostalgia, to darker themes of impending doom and death, to songs which celebrate the rock n roll lifestyle in general. The music includes strong input and participation from each band member with compositions being penned by four different songwriters.

 

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Rocks by Aerosmith
Released: May 3, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas & Aerosmith
Recorded: The Wherehouse, Waltham, MA, February-March, 1976
Side One Side Two
Back in the Saddle
Last Child
Rats in the Cellar
Combination
Sick As a Dog
Nobody’s Fault
Get the Lead Out
Lick, And a Promise
Home Tonight
Band Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums, Vocals

 

“Back In the Saddle” launches Rocks as it would launch concerts for years to come. The song starts with a dramatic build-up before giving way to an understated main riff with droning lead guitars by Joe Perry. It contains a cowboy-influenced double-entente lyric, repleat with sound effects to match the mood and lead singer Steve Tyler’s screaming hook. The song is one of the heaviest on the album along with “Rats In the Cellar”, a song that borders on heavy metal, but with a nice bluesy harmonica solo by Tyler. The song was inspired by the death of the group’s drug dealer and should jave been taken as a dark omen. “Combination” features dual lead vocals by Perry and Tyler with some nice instrumental sections including a frantic outtro.

Aerosmith in 1976

The hit song “Last Child” was co-written by guitarist Brad Whitford and is a very upbeat and entertaining song. It features Perry on the lap steel and guest Paul Prestopino on banjo and is a great example of the hip-hop rock that the band formulated in the mid-seventies, starting with “WalK This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” on the previous album. There is a great lead section and outtro, which makes ths song a classic. The “Home Sweet Home” theme is later reprised on the Tyler piano ballad “Home Tonight”, which once again features Perry on the lap steel as well as Hamilton, drummer Joey Kramer, and producer Jack Douglas performing background vocals.

The album’s second side includes some of the basic, straight-up rockers which somehow never seem to fade over time. “Sick As a Dog” was co-written by bassist Tom Hamilton, who plays guitar on the song while both Perry and Tyler play bass. “Get the Lead Out” is a good time, dance-promoting song that goes off on a few nice musical tangents while “Lick and a Promise” is about rock groupies and more generally, the rock audience audience.

The album’s best song is “Nobody’s Fault”, a great song with fantastic hook and poetic (albeit apocalyptic) lyrics;

“Holy lands are sinking, birds take to the sky
The prophets are all stinking drunk and I know the reason why…”

Co-written by Brad Whitford, this is a heavy song, almost metal, that uses thick analogies to tell of a coming, inevitable doom. Several members of the band have cited this song as among their favorites ever.

While it appeared like the band was ever-climbing in 1976, they were in fact at the apex of their early career which would falter due to hard drug use among band members. Although Aerosmith would put out a couple more decent studio albums plus a live album by the decade’s end, these paled in comparison to the great early albums. The band would soon face turmoil that would derail their career for nearly a decade before they would make of the great comebacks in rock history.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.