London Calling by The Clash

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London Calling by The ClashThe Clash advanced light years with their third release London Calling. This 1979 double album explored many sub-genres and showed with no doubt that this band was the most advanced of the punk groups to come out of London in the mid seventies. Through extensive touring and exposure to groups of differing genres, The Clash developed a blend of thoughtful music to combine with their core punk principles, forming a new genre standard which would come to be know as “post punk”. Thematically, the album contains songs that point a critical eye towards the contemporary world, with much of the background and characters based in London. While these themes work well together to make the album cohesive, they don’t form the type of narrative arc which would elevate London Calling into a “concept” album.

 Presley 1956 debut albumThe album’s front cover borrowed it style heavily from Elvis Presley’s self-titled 1956 debut album. The Clash’s versions features a black-and-white photograph of Simonon smashing his bass against the stage at a gig in New York City in September 1979. Many retrospective publications have listed this album cover as one of the top ever and was selected by the British government as one of ten “Classic Album Covers” to be used on Royal Mail postage stamps in 2010.

By the time The Clash was conceived in 1976, veteran London-based guitarist and vocalist John Graham Mellor had permanently adopted his stage name of Joe Strummer. The group was formed when Stummer joined up with two members of the group London SS, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, in order to form a “band that would rival the Sex Pistols”. Just six months after their first live performance, The Clash signed to CBS Records and began working on their debut album, which would be released only in the UK originally. Through these earliest days, the band worked with several drummers (over 200 by Strummer’s count). Finally, Topper Headon came along and the band finally had a permanent drummer. At the request of CBS, the group recorded a more standard, “cleaner”, less spontaneous album with Give ‘Em Enough Rope in 1978. This second album was a tremendous success in the UK but not quite the American breakthrough CBS had hoped.

After recording their second studio album, the band separated from their manager and needed to find another location to compose their music. The band began to work on their third album during the summer of 1979 at a rehearsal space called Vanilla Studios, which was located in the back of a garage. The Clash found a successful formula with Jones composing and arranging the music and Strummer writing the lyrics. By the end of the summer, the band entered Wessex Studios to begin recording London Calling with producer Guy Stevens, who used unconventional methods and fostered a very relaxed atmosphere for the band members. CBS initially denied the double album release, but instead gave permission for the band to include a free 12-inch single (which essentially made it a double album anyway).


London Calling by The Clash
Released: December 14, 1979 (CBS)
Produced by: Guy Stevens & Mick Jones
Recorded: Wessex Sound Studios, London, August–November 1979
Side One Side Two
London Calling
Brand New Cadillac
Jimmy Jazz
Hateful
Rudie Can’t Fail
Spanish Bombs
The Right Profile
Lost In the Supermarket
Clampdown
The Guns of Brixton
Side Three Side Four
Wrong ‘Em Boyo
Death or Glory
Koka Kola
The Card Cheat
Lover’s Rock
Four Horsemen
I’m Not Down
Revolution Rock
Train in Vain
Group Musicians
Joe Strummer – Guitars, Piano, Vocals  |  Mick Jones – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul Simonon – Bass, Vocals  |  Topper Headon – Drums, Percussion

The first of four sides begins “London Calling”, the title song which was originally the most popular track on the album. Musically, the song contains choppy guitars and bass throughout contrasted by the ever-steady drum beat by Headon. Composed by Strummer and Jones, the title was taken from the BBC World Service‘s station identification during World War II and the lyrics concern modern day issues. “Brand New Cadillac” is an updated version of a rock classic original composed in the 1950s by Vince Taylor. The first of three cover songs on London Calling, this recording features distant and spatial sound, giving it a bit of a surreal feel to the otherwise standard roots rocker.

The first of several genre diverse tracks, “Jimmy Jazz” starts with heavily flanged guitar riff that tops off the standard jazz vibe with acoustic guitar, shuffling drums, and an impressive bass pattern by Simonon. This is also the first of plenty of tracks with brass sections and leads by the session group collectively known as the The Irish Horns. “Hateful” is an odd but interesting little track with nice rock grooves, call and response vocals, and differing sub-arrangements throughout the track. Closing out the first side, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is pure rock/reggae, in many ways similar to the previous song, but the weakest overall on the side.

A new wave track with driving and melodic bass over quicky strummed acoustic by Jones and chanting and unrelenting vocals by Strummer starts the second side. Written the Basque terrorist bombings in Spain, “Spanish Bombs” compares this modern day experience with the Spanish Civil War. “The Right Profile” is a choppy, upbeat funk built on bouncy bass riff by Simonon and great brass accents and later saxophone solo by The Irish Horns, making it the best song thus far on the album. “Lost In the Supermarket” features Jones on lead vocals and is built on a great rhythm, which is almost disco with an adult contemporary style vocals and musical melodies. Written about an actual market on the World’s End Estate in London, Strummer wrote this song for Jones when imagining his childhood growing up in a basement with his mother and grandmother, with the cool lyric; “I wasn’t born so much as I fell out…”

Clampdown by The Clash“Clampdown” has the initial feel of a punk epic at first but later morphs into a bit-driven canvas for vocal phrases by Strummer, who cites many situations and locations (including our own hometown of Harrisburg, PA). This track originally began as an instrumental track called “Working and Waiting” but the Strummer decided to add the rapid-fire lyrics about fighting the status quo. “The Guns of Brixton” was a rare Clash track written by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in the Brixton section of London. Simonon also contributes lead vocals to this pure reggae track with some topical sound effects on the guitars and great bass and drums throughout.

The original third side of London Calling may be the strongest overall musically, despite the fact that it begins with the unfocused “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, which starts with a short rendition of the Country/Americana standard “Stagger Lee”. “Death or Glory” returns to standard hard rock with cynical lyrics, a great musical arrangement and performances by the entire band. Written in part as the stereotypical punk fascination of trashing the previous generation of rockers, the song ironically has sweet but strong vocal harmonies and very satisfying chord progressions. “Koka Kola” is the closest to a traditional punk track on the entire album (at least vocally), although musically it is a bit too polished to be a true punk song, as the bass leads the song much more than the guitars. Jones’s “The Card Cheat” is a piano-dominated track, almost in the Billy Joel domain musically (albeit there is a whole different story lyrically). The band executes another excellent and entertaining musical performance, with expert mixture of horns, and rock instruments in production.

The Clash in 1979The album’s final side commences with “Lover’s Rock”, a song which sounds most like a late seventies pop song, although it is a bit risqué lyrically with strong sexual overtones. There is a cool flanged guitar and harmonized vocals up top during the song proper while the long outro takes it all in a bit of a different direction. “Lover’s Rock” advocates safe sex and planning. “Four Horsemen” is more straightforward musically than the previous track as an upbeat rocker built more for lyrical themes by Strummer, while Jones’s, “I’m Not Down”, is primarily a funky track with some rock and disco elements.

The cover of Danny Ray and the Revolutionaries track, “Revolution Rock”, is a fun and entertaining group reggae jam, accented by Strummer’s varying vocal screeds and strained vocals. All in all very interesting, especially the top-notch rhythms by Simonon and Headon, a bouncy organ by session man Mickey Gallagher, and more strong brass presence by The Irish Horns. The double album wraps up with “Train in Vain”, which by today’s standards would be considered a “hidden track” because it was not listed on the original album sleeve. However, this was due more to late decision making on the song rather than a concerted effort to provide an “Easter Egg”. In any case, this track written and sung by Jones would go on to become the most popular track on the album due to its disco-like beat, funky riffs, and loose but melodic vocal lines.

London Calling was originally much more popular in the UK, where it reached the Top 10, than it was in the US. However, the album would eventually sell tenfold the copies in America, where it went platinum and remains a much heralded release in rock history. The Clash followed up with an even more ambitious triple-album release of Sandinista! in late 1980, followed by the fine Combat Rock in 1982, before the band unfortunately imploded in the mid eighties, making these sparse releases ever the more valuable.

~

1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

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Dream Police by Cheap Trick

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Dream Police by Cheap TrickCheap Trick concluded their impressive late seventies output with their fourth studio album, Dream Police. This album follows the breakthrough success of the live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was released earlier in 1979 and went triple platinum in the United States. Further, the live singles, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That a Shame”, were both charting hits and helped open up the group to a mainstream audience. With this momentum, Dream Police went on to become the group’s best selling album and the first to reach the Top Ten on the charts in the United States.

Cheap Trick was formed in 1973 in Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973 by guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had been performing locally with various bands since the early sixties. One former band, Fuse, released an album in 1970 and featured bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos, who also became founding members of Cheap Trick. By 1975, the group enlisted Robin Zander on lead vocals and recorded their first demo tapes which led to them signing with Epic Records the following year. In early 1977, the band released their self-titled debut album, followed by In Color later that year and Heaven Tonight in mid 1978. While none of these three albums made the Top 40 in America, they were each critically acclaimed and especially well received in Japan, which propelled the band to tour in that country and record At Budokan, which was originally intended as a Japan-only release.

Tom Werman, the original A&R man who discovered Cheap Trick in 1976, produced In Color, Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police. On this latter album, Werman and the group expanded their sound into more complex songs with richer arrangements, including some synthesized orchestration. These sessions also included several outtakes, which would appear on re-issues of Dream Police. These included several tracks with alternate lead vocals among band members, the song “It Must Be Love” which was later covered by Rick Derringer, and the song “Next Position Please” which became the title track of Cheap Trick’s 1983 album of the same name.


Dream Police by Cheap Trick
Released: September 21, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Dream Police
Way of the World
The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)
Gonna Raise Hell
I’ll Be with You Tonight
Voices
Writing on the Wall
I Know What I Want
Need Your Love
Group Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass. Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

The album is a bit top-heavy, with the best songs on Dream Police being right up front. It begins with Nielsen’s impressive title track, a hyper and exciting rock song, topped off with a persistent synth string section. With a lyrical theme touching on the ultimate stoner paranoia, there is much packed into this less-than-four-minute song making it, ultimately, a satisfying and unique track which reached the Top 40. Co-written by Zander, “Way of the World” is a suitable follow-up to the fantastic title song as another complex and upbeat rocker. Originally composed and recorded under the title, “See Me Now”, Zander and the group employ rich vocal patterns to complement the thick wall of distorted guitars and synths by Nielsen and just enough post-production effects (without over doing it) by Werman.

Like its title suggests, “The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” is a pretty straight-forward rock n’ roll track, with this good-time feel contrasted by the theme of serious real-world issues. Neilsen shines brightest on this track with crisp and excellent guitar riffs along with several well-executed, overdubbed leads, including an extended outro that contains a short, “borrowed” guitar phrase from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. At first, “Gonna Raise Hell” seems like almost a parody of Kiss in its simple rock drive and shouted vocals. Starting with the simplest beat and bass riff by Petersson, the song morphs into a more dance-oriented track, especially during the expanded, textured instrumental which occupies the final third of this nine and a half minute track.

Side Two of Dream Police is filled with songs that show some real promise but seem to ultimately be less-than-developed. The only track on which all four members are credited compositionally, “I’ll Be with You Tonight” is a rock jam which is pleasant enough but contains very little lyrical or musical substance. The pop hit “Voices” starts with sound effects of whispered voices before breaking into a moderate ballad ala George Harrison. Petersson’s bass lines keep everything interesting but Zander’s vocals may be a bit too melodramatic on this single, which reached number 32 in the US.

Cheap Trick“Writing on the Wall” is a fun song musically as an upbeat, pure rocker that moves at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. Nielson provides a fine middle guitar jam over some faux crowd noise and Zander has a nice vocal rant at the end which, unfortunately is faded out a bit too quickly. On “I Know What I Want”, Petersson takes on lead vocal duties in what appears to be a pure attempt at new wave pop that could have been developed into something a little stronger. With the exception of Nielson’s lead guitar, this song overall falls short of the mark. Rounding out the album is “Need Your Love”. A long intro, starting with Carlos’s steady drum beat and the gradual addition of other steady instrumentation layered on top alternates with the thumping counter-melody which finds a nice hard-rock core. Mostly a sonic texture piece, this closing track has a bit of a jam at the end to end the album on a strong note.

A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, and “Can’t Hold On”, a bluesy track performed at Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were “Such A Good Girl” and “Take Me I’m Yours”, which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.

Dream Police spawned Cheap Trick’s arena-headlining 1980 tour and landed them a gig with former Beatles producer George Martin for their follow-up All Shook Up. While not as successful commercially, this album commenced a very prolific and diverse decade for the group.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

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In Through the Out Door
by Led Zeppelin

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In Through the Out Door by Led ZeppelinThrough most critics eyes, the years have not been kind to, In Through the Out Door, the final studio album by Led Zeppelin and only one released in the group’s last four years of existence. In spite of the poor reviews, this album reached number one on the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone. The album is most notable for the contributions of bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, who co-wrote six of the seven tracks on the album. On the flip side, In Through the Out Door contains the only two original Led Zeppelin songs which were not in-part composed by lead guitarist Jimmy Page.

The group’s previous studio release, Presence, was released in the Spring of 1976 and was followed up later in the year by the concert film and soundtrack, The Song Remains the Same. Led Zeppelin launched a major concert tour in 1977 where the band set concert records, including a Guinness Book of World Records entry for a single act concert record of 76,000+ outside Detroit, MI. However, tragedy struck in late July when lead singer Robert Plant‘s five-year-old son died suddenly from a stomach virus and the rest of the tour was cancelled immediately. The band went on hiatus for over a year with their future uncertain.

In November, 1978 the group reunited at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm to write and record new music. The emerging genres of disco, punk, and new wave had all blossomed since the last time Led Zeppelin was in the studio and the group knew it needed to develop a fresh sound. On each of their previous LPs, Page was at the vanguard of Led Zeppelin’s musical direction but, in this case, he and drummer John Bonham were struggling with substance abuse and often showed up late to the studio. With this backdrop, Jones and Plant stepped up to fill in the void, resulting in several tunes which were driven more by synth and piano than guitars.

In Through the Out Door album cover variations

Although recording was wrapped up by December 1978, the album’s release was delayed several times and the group’s August 1979 concerts at the Knebworth Music Festival, which were supposed to be sort of a large scale “record release party”, took place about a month before the album’s release. When the album was finally released, it had very unusual packaging. Wrapped in what resembled a plain brown paper bag, the retail packaging concealed one of the six possible album covers, each of which show the same sepia-tone barroom scene, but from from different angles.


In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin
Released: August 15, 1979 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Polar Studios, Stockholm, Sweden, November–December 1978
Side One Side Two
In the Evening
South Bound Suarez
Fool In the Rain
Hot Dog
Carouselambra
All My Love
I’m Gonna Crawl
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Gizmotron
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums

A long, haunting intro builds the anticipation at the top of this long awaited Led Zeppelin LP until Plant’s single rendition of the song’s title launches “In the Evening” to fully kick in with its a steady rock drive. Guided by the ever-strong drumming of Bonham, this track contains a few moments of nice re-arranging but, for the most part, the nearly seven minute song sticks to the same formula with the exception of the atmospheric post-lead section where Jones’s string synths are most prevalent. “South Bound Suarez” lightens things up considerably as a Jerry Lee Lewis influenced pure roots rocker with Jones leading the way on honky-tonk piano. Much like the opening track, Plant’s lyrics here are rather pedestrian to express a mood rather than a deeper meaning.

Led Zeppel in 1979With the exception of possibly “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” on Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier, “Fool in the Rain” may be the closest to a full-fledged pop hit attempt in the long, non-Top-40-seeking, history of Led Zeppelin. The first track on the album where the vocals and lyrics are up-front, this story-telling track is accented by measured musical flourishes of reggae and samba blended with a traditional rock riff. The mid-section builds to a percussive crescendo showing Bonham’s talents had not diminished one iota late in Zeppelin’s career, and Page contributes his own very long, buzzy guitar solo. On the first side closer “Hot Dog”, the group takes a lighted-hearted foray into rockabilly, starting with a nice, long Country piano lead by Jones. Although usually cheap stunts like this don’t work well for rock bands (see the Rolling Stones), this case seems like an affirmative, legitimate rocker. Half a universe away is “Carouselambra”, an extended track which is totally unique in the Zeppelin catalog. The synth-infused pattern of sound makes for a true centerpiece for Jones, on both synth and bass, where he plays as animated as ever during part A of this three part suite. The song’s middle part touches on some cool soundscapes on both synths and droning guitar. The thick lyrics are hidden in Plant’s vocals deep beneath the swirl of sound, but seem to describe the fall of a society which refuses to acknowledge exterior threats;

How keen the storied hunter’s eye prevails upon the land, to seek the unsuspecting and the weak / And powerless the fabled sat, too smug to lift a hand, toward the foe that threatened from the deep. Who cares to dry the cheeks of those who saddened stand adrift upon a sea of futile speech? And to fall to fate and make the ‘status plan’…”

The most bittersweet song the group has ever recorded, “All My Love” is a real gem on this album. The only possible flaw here is the relative absence of Page on the track, but everything else is exquisite and puts it on the top echelon of all Zeppelin tracks. Equally potent to Jones’s brilliant synth arrangements and performance is Plant’s voice and greatly poetic lyrics, all above Bonham’s ever-steady thump. The key jump in the coda brings everything to a climatic height on a song which is at once a tribute to Plant’s late son and his newborn son. Plant’s most dynamic vocal performance on the album finishes things up on “I’m Gonna Crawl”. Commencing with Jones’s (now signature) synths, the song morphs into a true modern blues track where Page and Plant really shine, just like in the old days.

In Through the Out Door stayed on top of the charts for seven weeks and, upon this album’s release, all seven previous Led Zeppelin albums re-entered the Billboard 200, an unprecedented feat. Page later admitted that he was not very keen of this album and stated he wanted to follow-up with “something hard-hitting and riff-based again.” Unfortunately, the next album would never come as Bonham died in September 1980 and Zeppelin soon permanently disbanded, making In Through the Out Door the final chapter in one of rock n’ roll’s greatest sagas.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

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The Long Run by The Eagles

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The Long Run by The EaglesThe Eagles completed their torrent through the seventies with 1979’s The Long Run, the studio album which closed the decade as the number one album in the USA. This diverse album certainly has its share of variety, especially when it comes to the lead vocals where four of the five band members took their turn up front. On the flipside, this is not the most cohesive album as it jumps from style to style and mood to mood, kind of like it is The Eagles’ own radio station. Nonetheless, this sixth studio album by the band was another commercial smash which spent eight weeks on top of the charts and sold nearly eight million copies worldwide.

The tremendous success of 1976’s Hotel California made The Eagles one of the most successful bands in the world. They went on tour for much of 1977, but frictions arose between founding members Randy Meisner and Glen Frey leading to Meisner’s departure following the tour. Ironically, Meisner was replaced in the Eagles by the same man who replaced him in his previous band Poco, bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit. With this new lineup in tow, the group entered the the recording studio in late 1977, originally intending to complete a double album. However, they were unable to write enough songs and the album was ultimately delayed for two years. In the interim the group recorded and released the holiday songs “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Funky New Year”, released as a single in 1978, while guitarist Joe Walsh recorded and released, But Seriously Folks, that same year.

The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced every Eagles studio album since On the Border in 1974. Vocalist and drummer Don Henley was a co-writer on nine of the ten album tracks, with each of the other band members (along with a few outside the band) contributing to the writing process. The Long Run is also notable for being the final studio album on the Asylum Records label.


The Long Run by The Eagles
Released: September 24, 1979 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Bayshore Recording Studios, Coconut Grove, FL & One Step Up, Love n’ Comfort, Britannia Recording and Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, March 1978-September 1979
Side One Side Two
The Long Run
I Can’t Tell You Why
In the City
The Disco Strangler
King of Hollywood
Heartache Tonight
Those Shoes
Teenage Jail
The Greeks Don’t Want no Freaks
The Sad Cafe
Group Musicians
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Vocals
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Timothy B. Schmit – Bass. Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album’s title song, “The Long Run”, kicks things off. Right from the jump, the group shows they are masters at refining the song and forging a sonic masterpiece with just enough of this, a bit of that, splashed in this standard pop/rock tune, including bluesy guitar riffs, horns, and vocal choruses. Released as a single, the song reached the Top Ten in America in early 1980. From here, the album takes an immediate left turn with the pure soul love song, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, featuring Schmit on lead vocals. An excellent track (albeit hard to believe this is the Eagles), the song’s coda contains a good, long guitar lead by Frey through the final fade-out.

“In the City” got its start as a Joe Walsh solo track, co-written by Barry De Vorzon which was used on the film The Warriors. The rest of the group heard it and decided to re-record it for the album, resulting in a beautiful and melodic tune that is a true classic about the plight of urban dwellers. On “The Disco Strangler” the group switches to methodical funk with almost stream-of-consciousness vocals by Henley and oddly timed rhythms led by the bass of Schmit, However, this track seems a tad incomplete as it quickly fades out after two verses. “King of Hollywood” is nearly a pure mood piece, almost too late seventies in style for its own good. Driven by story and lyrics of selling out for fame, the track stays on the same standard beat and rhythmic pattern until the Don Felder guitar solo over the bridge.

The album’s second side is more solid musically than the first. The brilliant “Heartache Tonight” drew some songwriting from Bob Seger and J.D. Souther. The infectious beat and cool country harmony are the most memorable aspects of this track. But beyond the surface, this is really a showcase for the band’s guitarists with the mixture of rock and blues styles by Walsh and Felder interwoven throughout this popular track, which reached #1 in the U.S. in November 1979, the group’s final chart-topping song.

“Those Shoes” is built off of a simple heartbeat pulse by Schmidt and Henley with some wild guitars by Felder, who subtly use a “talkbox” effect throughout. “Teenage Jail” contains a slow country swing with some extra dense guitars above  liberal use of stop/start rudiments during the new-age first part of the closing lead section. A more standard bluesy guitar lead finishes the song that is abruptly interrupted by the start of “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks”. This pure fun, party song would be right at home in a frat house or a barroom, especially with the ready made with closing chant which is, perhaps, the last bit of fun the Eagles had on a record.

The album ends with its finest song. “The Sad Café” is a somber ballad about the band’s beginnings at the legendary L.A. saloon The Troubadour. Driven by simple, electric, piano notes, strummed acoustic, rounded bass, and harmonized vocals, the group’s performance is topped off by the fine lead vocals by Henley. There is also some dynamic production, especially after the bridge where the song reaches a sonic climax before coming back down to its mellow core. The song ends with an extended saxophone lead by David Sanborn, concluding the last studio track by the Eagles for a decade and a half.

Just months after the release of The Long Run, tempers reached a fevered pitch within the group, leading to an imminent breakup. The band and Szymczyk did release a final live album in 1980, but reportedly mixed the album in separate studios to stay out of each other’s way. It would not be until 1994, with Hell Freezes Over that the group would perform together again.

~

1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

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Flirtin’ With Disaster
by Molly Hatchet

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Flirtin With Disaster by Molly HatchetMolly Hatchet‘s great wall of distorted guitars found its high point on their second studio album Flirtin’ with Disaster, released in 1979. Like Lynard Skynard on steroids, this album touches on the conventional late-seventies theme of rocking out and partying hard. However, the group accomplishes this atmosphere by the non-conventional means of using a triple-guitar attack of axemen Steve Holland, Dave Hlubak and Duane Roland, who alternate roles  playing rhythm, lead, and/or harmonized electric guitars.

The group was formed by Hlubek and Holland in Jacksonville, Florida in 1975 and took their name from an urban legend about a prostitute who mutilated her clients. The group was managed by Pat Armstrong, who had briefly been co-manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd and had Molly Hatchet record their original demo tracks at Skynard’s studio. Further, Ronnie Van Zant was set to produce the debut album by Molly Hatchet but lost his life in a plane crash in late 1977.

Producer Tom Werman ultimately took the reigns for that self-titled 1978 debut and stayed on for Flirtin’ With Disaster, which was recorded in studios on both coasts. Musically, it’s a hard driving rock record, plain and simple with no frills or lofty concepts.The mythical cover art is a painting by Frank Frazetta entitled “Dark Kingdom”.


Flirtin’ With Disaster by Molly Hatchet
Released: October, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Bee Jay Recording Studios, Orlando & Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, 1979
Side One Side Two
Whiskey Man
It’s All Over Now
One Man’s Pleasure
Jukin’ City
Boogie No More
Flirtin’ With Disaster
Good Rockin’
Gunsmoke
Long Time
Let the Good Times Roll
Group Musicians
Danny Joe Brown – Lead Vocals  |  Duane Roland – Guitars
Steve Holland – Guitars  |  Dave Hlubak – Guitars
Banner Thomas – Bass  |  Bruce Crump – Drums

Nine of the ten tracks on Flirtin’ With Disaster are original and eight of those were co-written by lead vocalist Danny Joe Brown. After a thick intro comes a short but sweet harmonica lead in “Whiskey Man”. On this opening track the guitars are used very efficiently in a harmonized lead over the strong chords of the bridge as the lyrics focus on the dangers of partying too hard. The cover “It’s All Over Now” starts with a drum roll intro and overall strong drumming by Bruce Crump, along with some boogie piano by guest Jai Winding on this song which was the first number-one hit for the Rolling Stones a decade and a half earlier.

“One Man’s Pleasure” is different than previous tracks, as it is mainly guided by the steady bass of Banner Thomas through the song proper with the guitars adding texture for the overall rhythm and beat (until the blistering guitar lead). “Jukin’ City” starts with three-note riff which forms the basis for much of the song, although there are some rudimental parts that make it all interesting later on. A slow, measured rock riff with bluesy guitars layered on top kicks off “Boogie No More”, which soon abruptly changes direction and tempo to launch into an extended, “Freebird”-like jam for the final four-plus minutes of the track.

The second side begins with the title song, “Flirtin’ with Disaster”, a true rock classic by Brown, Hlubek, and Thomas which rolls full throttle through every second of its five minute duration. The only single from the album, the song barely failed to reach the Top 40 but remained on the pop charts for 10 weeks. More importantly, this became the band’s signature track which most closely resembled their creed of living fast, hard, and close to the edge.

After a tremendous peak, the album loses a bit of edge on the next few tracks. “Good Rockin'” is a bit too standard Alt-Country, while “Gunsmoke” starts with a cow-bell led beat, some boogie-piano and bouncy bass, but gets crowded out on this album. Things do change up a bit on “Long Time”, which has a bit of a darker feel.  The album ends strong with, “Let the Good Times Roll”, another good jam with animated drums and crisp guitar orchestration. This closing song sounds like it could have been a pop hit under the right circumstances and contains an ending jam with some of the finest Southern rock elements and rudiments.

Flirtin’ With Disaster reached the To 20 of the Pop Albums chart and sold over two million copies in the U.S. However, Brown soon left the band due to health problems. Although he would return to the Molly Hatchet lineup in the early eighties, the group never regained their footing and would completely abandon their original style to try to gain favor with new audiences.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

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Stormwatch by Jethro Tull

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Stormwatch by Jethro TullStormwatch was the twelfth studio album by Jethro Tull in twelve years, as they released exactly one album per year from the start of their career in 1968. Like all Jethro Tull albums, Ian Anderson is the chief composer and visionary of the musical and thematical directions, with this one heavily focused on the worldwide issues at the end of the 1970s. This is the last Tull album to feature the classic line-up of the 1970s. Stormwatch also became the final album for keyboardist John Evan and drummer Barriemore Barlow, both of whom had been with the band for close to a decade. This was also the final appearance of bassist John Glascock, who died following heart surgery a few weeks after the release of the album.

In the mid-1970s, Jethro Tull continued the pattern they developed earlier in the decade, with 1975’s Minstrel In the Gallery closely resembling Aqualung in its approach and the follow-up, Too Old to Rock n’ Roll, Too Young to Die being a concept album like Thick As a Brick four years earlier. During this time, the band’s studio orchestra arranger, David Palmer, became an official member of the band. In 1977, the group turned to a more solid folk approach with the album Songs From the Wood. This was followed by the similarly folk album Heavy Horses in 1978 and an extensive tour where Glascock’s health issues first surfaced.

Many consider Stormwatch to be the third album of a “folk trilogy”. However, this album is much darker and more serious in its approach lyrically and far more varied musically than the two previous albums. Co-produced by Robin Black, the confluence of musical factors makes this a unique Jethro Tull album.


Stormwatch by Jethro Tull
Released: September 14, 1979 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson & Robin Black
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, London, Spring-Summer 1979
Side One Side Two
North Sea Oil
Orion
Home
Dark Ages
Warm Sporran
Something’s On the Move
Old Ghosts
Dun Ringill
Flying Dutchman
Elegy
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Bass
Martin Barre – Guitars, Mandolin
David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral
John Evan – Piano, Organ
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

“North Sea Oil” begins with a rock waltz beat, similar to that used on the hit “Living In the Past” a decade earlier, but much more intense musically. Anderson’ s ethereal vocals float above the music, which employs a full arrangement with great little music phrases moving in and out and a catchy refrain vocally. “Orion” packs in a lot of variety in less than four minutes, with the driving rock choruses giving way to folk verses of Anderson’s strummed acoustic and Evan’s piano. This is one of only three tracks that Glascock recorded, with Anderson taking up bass on the rest of the album, to go along with his usual singing, flute, and acoustic guitar duties. “Home” is, perhaps, Jethro Tull’s only true “power ballad”. Martin Barre performs some great harmonized electric guitars during the chorus to complement the simple but touching lyrics;

As the dawn sun breaks over sleepy gardens, I’ll be here to do all things to comfort you / And though I’ve been away, left you alone this way, why don’t you come awake and let your first smile take me home…”

“Dark Ages” reverts to full rock-opera mode, almost like Jethro Tull meets Pink Floyd. There is a reverse-effect on Anderson’s vocals during the haunting intro part, while the rest of this extended suite is filled with musical motifs. While “Dark Ages” is mainly lyric driven, there is plenty of room for each musician to take center stage at some point along this nine and a half minute journey (even Anderson on bass). The first side concludes with the instrumental “Warm Sporran”, an adult-oriented jazz shuffle and rhythm, built on a bass riff and topped by some Irish folk elements, complete with flute, mandolin, bagpipes, marching drums, some humming vocals. While not a bad listen, this is a bit out of place where it lands on the album.

“Something’s On the Move” is planted firmly in riff-based rock n roll, as Anderson’s slight flute riffs do not betray this mission focused on Barre’s main guitar riff in many variations. “Old Ghosts” starts with a rock riff march that nicely morphs to an orchestral march during the verses, resulting in a melodic pop/rock song. “Dun Ringill” is a psychedelic folk tune that starts with highly treated spoken vocals before it fades into a sparse arrangement with just acoustics and multiple vocals by Anderson. This song borrowed its name from a historic site adjacent to a home Anderson once owned.

The second extended song on the album, “Flying Dutchman” starts with classical-style piano and flute, accented by brief rock-drenched guitars. A mandolin-driven pop arrangement follows in what is really the second side’s answer to the extended “Dark Ages” on the first side, but not quite as interesting overall. What is interesting is “Elegy”, the closing instrumental track. This was written by David Palmer (the only non-Anderson composition) as a moody and soft piece which eventually grows thicker in arrangement to elevate among the decade’s best instrumental tracks. Although it was rumored that “Elegy” was a homage to Glascock, it was actually dedicated to Palmer’s father and was recorded early in the sessions, making it one of the few tracks on which Glascock plays.

Stormwatch‘s theme and album cover seemed to be rather prophetic for the band, with the coming personnel departures and the confusing genre-bending of Jethro Tull’s near future albums in the early 1980s.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

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Degüello by ZZ Top

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Degüello by ZZ TopZZ Top came back from an extended break to close out the 1970s with Degüello, their sixth studio release. Mirroring the group itself, this album is as much about an attitude and lifestyle as it is about the actual music (a prime example is that the extended, three year break was used to grow the signature beards of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill). All this being said, there are real gems on this funk and blues influenced record, which borrowed its name from the Mexican Army bugle call at commencement of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. The title may also be analogous to the group’s approach of wielding their electric-blues signature sound to reach a new level of pop/rock achievement.

ZZ Top got started in 1969, with the release of a couple of singles composed by Gibbons. The group’s self-titled debut album was released in 1971, followed by Rio Grande Mud and Tres Hombres the following two years. A live album and a couple of more studio albums were released in the mid seventies, highlighted by the critically-acclaimed Tejas in 1976. Following a worldwide tour to support the album, the band planned a 90-day tour, which was ultimately extended to be two years long.

In 1979, ZZ Top signed a new contract with Warner Bros. Records, with Degüello being the first release of this new contract. The album was produced by the group’s long time manager Bill Ham, who first met the band when they opened for The Doors at a concert in Houston and remained with ZZ Top right up until their breakup in 1996.


Degüello by ZZ Top
Released: November 14, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bill Ham
Recorded: 1979
Side One Side Two
I Thank You
She Loves My Automobile
I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide
A Fool For Your Stockings
Manic Mechanic
Dust My Broom
Lowdown in the Street
Hi Fi Mama
Cheap Sunglasses
Esther Be the One
Group Musicians
Billy Gibbons – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Dusty Hill – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Frank Beard – Drums, Percussion

Degüello opens with a cover of Sam & Dave’s 1968 Soul hit “I Thank You”, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. ZZ Top’s version takes the Soul roots and treats it with Texas flavored blues-boogie, with Gibbons vocals being extra rough but potent. “She Loves My Automobile” is more blues with the added synthesized horn arrangement by Hill complimenting Gibbon’s bluesy guitar solos.

“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” is more rock oriented than the previous tracks with a cool drum shuffle by Frank Beard. The song is cut a bit rough with the overdubbed guitars, but this ultimately adds to the overall charm of the song, which was released as a single. A cool outro goes into a bit of a funk with a backing clavichord by Hill. The fine beat-driven ballad “A Fool for Your Stockings” is sonically different than anything else on the album, with a few excellent, mood-driven guitar instrumentals above dry and pointed bass and drums. Side One ends with “Manic Mechanic”, a unique and almost Frank Zappa-esque track with oddly-produced spoken vocals over strong rock and funk riffing.

Like the first side, the second starts with a cover. Robert Johnson‘s “Dust My Broom”, was made most famous by Elmore James in the 1950s and ZZ Top’s version sticks pretty close to that version with a pure, standard blues arrangement and some slide guitars. “Lowdown In the Street” is back to a more edgy approach, with an interesting vocal arrangement that complements the main riff. “Hi Fi Mama” features Hill’s only lead vocals on the album and he employs a Little Richard-type hyper approach to the vocals. Musically, there is a nice back-n-forth between Gibbons’ guitars and Hill’s synth horn arrangement.

The album’s climax comes with “Cheap Sunglasses”, built on a consistent groove which has been derided as either a rip-off of Edger Winter’s “Frankenstein” or Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today” (or both). No matter the case, this is a musical highlight for the band, with a long, cool, middle section built on a bass groove and key riffs with some bluesy lead guitar by Gibbons and great drumming by Beard throughout. After a final verse, the song slowly dissolves through scaled back groove. “Esther Be the One” is the most like a standard late seventies pop/rock song, with a full arrangement of dual guitars, keyboards, and a great bass groove to top off the album.

The platinum selling Degüello reached the Top 40 on the charts and sparked the group’s first tour of Europe in 1980. More importantly, it re-ignited ZZ Top’s career and introduced the band to a new radio audience, which brought even more popularity through the early 1980s.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

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Black Rose by Thin Lizzy

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Black Rose by Thin LizzyPerhaps the last great classic album by Thin Lizzy, the 1979 release Black Rose: A Rock Legend, peaked at number 2 on the U.K. album charts, making it the band’s most successful album commercially. Produced by Tony Visconti, the rich sound established on the group’s previous albums continues and is built upon by the eclectic songwriting of lead vocalist and bassist Phil Lynott. Thin Lizzy has been hailed as the first true rock band from Ireland, and Lynott took this privilege seriously by composing several songs through their career which were rooted in Irish tradition, starting with the famous Irish traditional folk song, “Whiskey in the Jar”,  which was Thin Lizzy’s first charting hit in 1972. On Black Rose, the closing title song contains a seamless medley of Irish standards and Celtic mythology, presented within a top-notch rock arrangement that makes this album one of a kind.

Thin Lizzy recorded their commercial breakthrough, Jailbreak, in 1976. On this album, the group established their signature twin guitar sound with guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham and the success of the album saw the group touring alongside bands Like Aerosmith and Rush. However, Lynott contracted hepatitis and the tour had to be cancelled. The following tour was again cancelled, this time when Robertson got a hand injury resulting from a drunken brawl, which ultimately resulted in artery and nerve damage. The 1977 album, Bad Reputation, was recorded as a trio, but Robertson did rejoin the band for the critically acclaimed Live and Dangerous in 1978. However, the strain between Robertson and Lynott ultimately resulted in the guitarist being replaced by blues-inspired journeyman Gary Moore.

Lynott and Moore had played together in a band called Skid Row in the late sixties right before Lynott formed Thin Lizzy. In 1974 Moore briefly joined Thin Lizzy during a tour in 1974 and was a replacement for Robertson during a tour in 1977. Black Rose saw the first actual recording to feature Moore, who offered a shredding contrast to Gorham’s more traditional style, but advanced the dual guitar sound to a level not seen by the band before or after.


Black Rose: A Rock Legend by Thin Lizzy
Released: April 13, 1979 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Tony Visconti
Recorded: Paris and London, December 1978–February 1979
Side One Side Two
Do Anything You Want To
Toughest Street in Town
S & M
Waiting For an Alibi
Sarah
Got to Give It Up
Get Out of Here
With Love
Róisín Dubh (Black Rose):
A Rock Legend
Group Musicians
Phil Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Scott Gorham – Guitars, Vocals
Gary Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the thundering rhythms by Lynott and drummer Brian Downey before the two guitarists break into the first of many harmonized guitar riffs. Recorded in Paris, the song uses rapidly rhyming lyrics during the verse which yield to a more traditionally constructed chorus. Above the outro thumps, Lynott adds some distant vocals stating “Elvis is dead” and the brief start of “Blue Suede Shoes” before it completely fades out. the collaborative “Toughest Street in Town” leans more towards early eighties style hard rock as it massages the band’s “tough guy image” in a rather trite fashion with a chanting hook but still some slightly interesting lyrics,

Like a rat in a pack it attacks from the back through a crack in a track and you take a smack…”

A long drum roll introduces the unique composition “S & M”, which is driven by flange-drenched rapid funk music and starkly brutal lyrics. This track was co-written by drummer Downey, who provides a consistent shuffle throughout and also adds a slight drum solo later. “Waiting for an Alibi” is pure upbeat rock and probably the best constructed pop/rock track on the first side. The first single released from Black Rose, the song features further harmonized guitars by Moore and Gorham and well-crafted, poetic lyrics by Lynott. “Sarah” completes side one as a ballad with slightly Latin rhythms dedicated to Lynott’s then-newborn first daughter. This song sounds different than anything else on the album due to the instrumental arrangement and additional session musicians, including a pre-fame journeyman harmonica player called Huey Lewis. Moore’s fine, sharply contrasting lead guitar after the second verse/chorus temporarily brings the song back into the hard rock realm.

A bluesy intro by Gorham introduces “Got to Give It Up” before the song rockets into another strong rock song with more great lead guitars. Apparently glimpsing his own dire fate, Lynott wrote the song about resolving to get on the wagon but failing to do so. Almost as a response to the previous song, “Get Out of Here” offers a more rigid counterpoint. This song was co-written by Midge Ure, who would later join the band as a full member. A bit corny, but still a fun listen musically, the song is filled with pessimistic lyrics;

I used to be a dreamer but I realized that it’s not my style at all / In fact it becomes clearer that a dreamer doesn’t stand a chance at all…”

“With Love” is a desperate song with a dark feel overall where guest bassist Jimmy Bain supplies a boogie bass pattern under the dualing lead guitars. The closing “Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend” is a wild Irish rock odyssey by Lynott and Moore where everyone in the band is at the top of their game performance-wise. Consisting of a blend of traditional songs fused together by original riffs, Rolling Stone recently called this “the best Irish rock song of all time”. Completing the tribute to the Emerald Isle, Lynott name-drops some famous Irish artists during the improvised outro, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Van Morrison.

While Black Rose was a critical and commercial success, Thin Lizzy could never quite ride the success as their bad luck continued when Moore abruptly left the band later in 1979. The band recorded three more studio albums to mediocre receptions before  Thin Lizzy’s breakup in 1983. Tragically, Lynott died three years later due to complications from substance abuse, solidifying this album as the group’s final masterpiece.

~

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Rust Never Sleeps
by Neil Young

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Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young and Crazy HorseRust Never Sleeps was a unique recording by Neil Young and Crazy Horse as it was  an album of all new material mainly recorded live but post-produced with some studio overdubbing and most of the audience ambiance removed. This all resulted in a final product that feels at once intimate and intense. The title and overriding theme for this work was a concept for the tour which preceded its production and provided much of it’s raw material. Rust Never Sleeps acts almost like a bookmark for the end of the decade that examines the state of contemporary life and the music industry, much like Don McLean’s American Pie did at the beginning of the 1970s.

Following the success of Young’s 1972 album Harvest, he had an uneven career span, marred by struggles with his vocals and performance issues by backing musicians. Although these works sold poorly, most of his albums through the mid 1970s received critical praise, highlighted by the 1975 release of Tonight’s the Night, which Young later opined was the closest he ever came to true art. Through these years, Young intermittently used the backing musicians collectively known as “Crazy Horse” with whom Young first worked in 1968. Following the release of  commercially accessible,  Comes a Time, in 1978 Young and Crazy Horse set out on the lengthy “Rust Never Sleeps” tour, where each concert was divided into Young’s solo acoustic set and the full band electric set.

The tour was the basis for the core live elements on the Rust Never Sleeps tracks. The album was produced in a way to minimize the live nature, with some abrupt song starts and quick fade-outs to help mask the audience noise, which is really only audible on the opening and closing songs. Imaginative and bold, the material on this album blends many of Young’s previously established styles while, at points, reaching areas of music unprecedented.


Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Released: July 2, 1979 (Reprise)
Produced by: Neil Young, David Briggs, & Tim Mulligan
Recorded: Various Locations, 1975–78
Side One Side Two
My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
Thrasher
Ride My Llama
Pocahontas
Sail Away
Powderfinger
Welfare Mothers
Sedan Delivery
“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
Primary Musicians
Neil Young – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Frank “Pancho” Sampedro – Guitars, Vocals
Billy Talbot – Bass, Vocals
Ralph Molina – Drums, Vocals

The first three songs on the album were recorded live in 1978 at the Boarding House in San Francisco. Co-written by Jeff Blackburn of The Ducks, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” is the opening acoustic version of the more popular electric album closing track. Here, Young takes a lot around the state of rock n’ roll at the end of the 1970s and pays slight tribute to the late Elvis Presley and the emerging punk genre, while the lyrics philosophically deal life and its reality. “Thrasher” sounds less “live” than the opener, as a more traditional Bob Dylan or even Bruce Springsteen influenced folk song, less concerned with riff and rhyme than with poetry and substance. Lyrically, Young stays on the state of rock stardom while musically the song contains a substantial harmonica lead in the outro. “Ride My Llama” is a short but pleasant and melodic ballad which dates back to Young’s Zuma album in the mid seventies.

Built like a time-traveling, acid-influenced tune from the sixties, “Pocahontas” is dark folk with lyrics that alternate between historic scenes and fantasy meetings. Along the way, Young references Marlon Brando, the Houston Astrodome, and, of course, Pocahontas. Completing the first side, “Sail Away” bucks the production trend of this album as a country-style recording left over from the Comes a Time recording sessions. This well-constructed song with a light but full arrangement would have fit in well with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and contains excellent harmony vocals by Nicolette Larson.

The real brilliance of Rust Never Slepps lies on the electric side two, starting with “Powderfinger”, the best overall song on the album. With great riffing throughout, especially when Young and guitarist Frank Sampedro harmonize guitars between verses. While the compositional approach is still basically the same folk as on the acoustic side, the raw industrial strength rock puts the album in full electric stride. The poetic lyrics of “Powderfinger” tell a first-person story told by an Old West fallen pioneer who failed to defend himself and his family due to several moments of indecision. An acoustic version of the song was originally recorded by Young in 1975 but was unreleased because Young thought at the time it would work better for a band like Lynard Skynard.

Neil Young 1979

Next comes a couple of heavy rock influenced songs. “Welfare Mothers” sounds like it is musically inspired by the late sixties heavy rock, with the lyrical content being more contemporary to the late seventies. The powerful rhythms of Crazy Horse’s drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot drive the mood for the lighthearted lyrics about the rash of economically-strapped divorcées. On “Sedan Delivery” Young shifts between a heavy punk verse and slower, bluesy chorus which may have been influenced by The Who. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics portray the confusion often found in the era’s punk rock.

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” is the most popular song on the album and, in a lot of ways, Young’s signature song of his career. A rocked out version of the opening track with slightly altered title and lyrics, Young coins some memorable phrases such as “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, which John Lennon cited as “garbage” as he did not “appreciate the worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or dead Jim Morrison…No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy” (unfortunately, Lennon was assassinated less than a year after these comments). As the song itself does get a bit too long and repetitive, it does sustain through the final crowd applause, adding nice closure to the album.

Critically acclaimed in its day and for years to come, Rust Never Sleeps was also commercially successful, reaching the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. Later in 1979, Young and Crazy Horse released the complimentary album Live Rust and Young also released a live concert film of the album under the same title. Beyond these follow-ups, however, Young continued to take radical new musical turns in the early 1980s, which included a documentary film soundtrack, a synth-heavy techno album, and a pure rockabilly album.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

 

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Van Halen II

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Van Halen IIWhile rarely cited as one the group’s best works, Van Halen II, features some of the band’s best individual tracks and may well showcase Van Halen at its cohesive best. Where their 1978 debut album was a fantastic showcase for guitarist Eddie Van Halen, this 1979 follow-up finds the rest of the band bringing it up near his level to give the album a greater sense of parity. Produced by Ted Templeman, this album is much more than just a carbon copy of the debut. It may have been the best example of a group successfully following up on a brilliant debut album since Led Zeppelin did it with Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier.

Following the tremendous success of their debut, Van Halen embarked on a world tour through much of 1978 before returning to California in December to immediately begin work on this second album. Warner Brothers decided to give the group a smaller recording budget, in spite of the first album’s phenomenal success. Because of this, there was very little studio time allotted to get the recordings done and many of the recordings were first takes. Further, with little time to compose new material, they drew some material from the demo tracks they recorded prior to the first album.

The entire recording process was completed in three weeks, and this frenzied pace spawned some sonic innovation. Templeman reverted back to some of his pop sensibilities from earlier in the seventies. Eddie Van Halen achieved a thick guitar sound by overloading the circuits on his amplifier, while bassist Michael Anthony used a smaller than normal bass amp to get a sharper, less rounded sound.


Van Halen II by Van Halen
Released: March 23, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, December 1978-January 1979
Side One Side Two
You’re No Good
Dance the Night Away
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Bottoms Up!
Outta Love Again
Light Up the Sky
Spanish Fly
D.O.A.
Women In Love
Beautiful Girls
Group Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals  |  Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals  |  Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

“You’re No Good” is, frankly, an odd cover selection to start off Van Halen II. However, in reviewing the album as it is laid out in total, it seems to be that this bit of static electric spark starts the chain reaction that leads to the musical inferno portrayed toward the end of the album. Starting with the doomy, slow meandering of Anthony’s flanged out bass before the song slowly marches in. The song proper has all of the Van Halen elements prevalent on the first album and, while certainly not the finest on the album, “You’re No Good” builds enough to make the listener feel like it is cut too short at the end. The mood brightens with the pop rock of “Dance the Night Away”, the group’s first Top 20 hit. The melodic vocals of David Lee Roth accompanies the catchy guitar riff with the bouncy bass perfectly locked with the bright kick drum of Alex Van Halen. There is a higher pitched counter-riff during the chorus and a simple yet brilliant bridge riff variation, while the outro is also done well with Roth inverting his lead vocals with the backing chorus.

Next come a couple of classic barroom songs. A short intro leads into the heavy riff which launches “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”, which dates back to the years before the first album’s release. “Bottoms Up!” has a moderate, unplugged intro by Eddie Van Halen before it breaks into an upbeat quasi-rockabilly song with Anthony slightly outshining the Van Halen brothers musically, as Eddie’s short leads fall just short of the historic precedent he set on the first album. The first side closes with “Outta Love Again”, the oldest composition on the album, notably interesting for its wild, space-like drone intro and clever use of rudiments and vocal timings. Overall, this is probably one of the strongest tracks for drummer Alex Van Halen with his shuffle rhythm through the verses and use of a variety of roll techniques elsewhere.

Van Halen

The second side is where the true genius of Van Halen II lies, with every track being interesting, original, and entertaining. The multi- sectioned “Light Up the Sky” is amazing for how much is packed into this barely three minute long song. Pure hard rock verses with Roth’s precise and complex lead vocals moving through the various sections. During the scaled-back bridge section Roth performs a raspy falsetto before Eddie ignites into a blistering lead guitar, before Alex takes his turn with a short drum solo and then an interesting outro with backwards-masked harmonies leading into the closing hook. The acoustic instrumental “Spanish Fly” is brilliant just in how unlike anything else it is. Sounding almost intentionally non-professional, this is a close up trek into Eddie Van Halen’s genius stripped down to a nylon-stringed guitar and one single minute. In sharp contrast, “D.O.A.” is the heaviest rocking song with an absolutely brutal grind by Eddie Van Halen and the pure rock action of everyone else. Roth’s verse vocals are rather reserved but contrasted later with screams to match the song’s intensity. The later guitar lead is brilliant with an excellent complimentary bass underneath.

“Women in Love…” starts with a bell-like intro solo by Eddie which is pure melody and harmonic technique. The body of this steady song is a quasi-ballad with lyrics apparently about groupies and is the best song vocally on the album. Every note is pure sonic bliss right down to Roth’s word “scream” tailed with a slight inflection of an actual scream. The verses mix a somber riff with the harmonized vocals above a thumping bass and drum rhythm, while the guitar assentation mixes with the harmonies during the chorus. The album ends with the entertaining pop/rock song “Beautiful Girls”, which contains chanting vocals with some slightly clever rhyming before the song builds in crescendo excitement through the entertaining outro.

Van Halen II peaked at number six on the American album charts and has sold nearly six million copies since its release. Over the next two years the band released a couple more albums, Women and Children First and Fair Warning, which closely followed the same formula as this record and continued the band’s popularity.

~

1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.

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