Frontiers by Journey

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Frontiers by JourneyAlthough not quite the commercial blockbuster of their previous album Escape, Journey‘s 1983 album Frontiers was a very close second commercially. The album reached #2 on the US charts, would garner four Top 40 singles and has been certified platinum six times over. The album also became the band’s most successful in the UK. The band was led by the unique and soulful vocals of front-man Steve Perry and the effect-heavy soaring guitars of Neil Schon, who had discovered how to fully crack the commercial scene with a sound which was once considered quite edgy.

Musically on Frontiers, the band made a concerted effort to move away from (albeit very slightly) the consistent, commercial formula which they had forged over their recent previous albums. However, they may have chosen the wrong direction in which to deviate from the pop/rock sound, primarily by making this album more synth-heavy than anything previously. Although he had emerged as the band’s chief songwriter, Jonathan Cain has a bit over the overall vibe with his keyboard work, and it caused some missed opportunities with the album’s sound. Further, bassist Ross Valory abandoned his unique, fret-less buzz which he had mastered on Escape for a more traditional rhythm sound. This would be Valory’s final album with Journey for over a decade, as he and drummer Steve Smith were replaced in 1985, only to return for the Journey mid-nineties reunion a decade later.

Left out of the final cut of the album was the future hit “Only the Young”, which eventually appeared on the soundtrack to the 1985 film Vision Quest and reached the Top Ten. This song is dominated by a consistent, almost-acoustic riff, a strong rhythm, guitar textures and vocal melodies along with with a striking message – “only the young can say they’re free to fly away…” – which shows just how talented Journey can be when all the elements are maximized.

 


Frontiers by Journey
Released: February 22, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Elson & Mike Stone
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, Ca. Autumn 1982
Side One Side Two
Separate Ways
Send Her My Love
Chain Reaction
After the Fall
Faithfully
Edge of the Blade
Troubled Child
Back Talk
Frontiers
Rubicon
Band Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathon Cain – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

 

Sequentially, the album is quite out of balance, with all five songs from the original first side released as singles (and all becoming radio hits), while none of the five from side two received any significant radio play. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” starts things off, with Cain’s keyboard riff biting and eerie, like if Pink Floyd went pop. This couples with Schon’s rifle-sharp guitar track during the song proper to make for a very powerful and driving rhythm. Written in early 1982, “Separate Ways” is the oldest composition on the album and it peaked at #8 on the charts, making it the highest charting hit on the album. The calm “Send Her My Love” follows as the album’s first ballad. The song is built on a bluesy piano riff which is accented brilliantly by subtle guitar licks and some swelling sonic textures from all directions. Perry’s melody is left to carry the tune pretty much throughout until it breaks into more intense outro led by Schon’s lead guitar.

The middle of side one contains a couple of strong rockers. “Chain Reaction” is kind of boilerplate on the surface but is executed brilliantly by the band, giving it a unique edge. The rich vocal harmonies above this most guitar and riff heavy of tracks, gives it an air that it could have been an eighties hair metal classic if performed by the right group. “After the Fall” is a true pop gem, very rich and melodic throughout. This song is led by Perry’s vocals, which are at their absolute peak here, and brought out perfectly by the rest of band playing a reserved, supporting role. In between the vocals, the guitar and keyboard harmonized riff acts as a perfect counter-melody and “After the Fall” is one of the few tracks on the album where Valory’s bass is clear and up-front. The real highlight of the song is the commencement of third verse, which demonstrates how pure performance can overtake lack of fresh lyrics.
 

 
The first side concludes with “Faithfully”, the all-time, ultimate “power ballad”. While very slow and deliberate, the song packs a mighty punch, especially as it builds towards a perfect climax at the end. Written solely by Cain, the “rolling” piano riff was inspired by the sound of wheels constantly present while traveling on tour, with the simple lyrical message of keeping a relationship together while touring in a rock band. While the song is totally Cain’s in composition, the performance is carried mainly by Perry and Schon and this hit song reached #12 on the charts.

Journey 1983

The second side is much less even than the first. “Edge of the Blade” sounds like it falls about ten minutes short of the hour, in both composition and production. While there are some good individual elements to this song, as a whole it doesn’t work at the quality we expect from Journey. “Troubled Child” is a bit better, although built on rather cheesy synths (which otherwise might have been some good riffing). The song has a dark and soulful core and is a bit off-beat, which makes it interesting. Drummer Smith added a strong enough drum pattern to take a songwriting credit for “Back Talk”, a song which takes an almost-Van-Halen-like approach musically and sounds like it would fit in perfectly with some type of theatre production lyrically. The title song “Frontiers” is the weakest song on the album and may be as close to filler as you’ll hear on a Journey album.

Make a move across the Rubicon, futures knockin’ at your door
Take your time and choose the road you want, opportunity is yours

The closer “Rubicon” is the only true gem on the second side. Musically choppy and moody but lyrically inspired (this could have been a theme for a Rocky film), the song possesses a great theme and concept which, even while very synth heavy, makes it feel like a true rock anthem which could have existed in many eras.

At the top of their commercial game after the success of Frontiers, Journey made a common mistake – they took too much time off and got lost from the musical scene. Perry did put out a very successful solo album called Street Talk in 1984, and the band released a songs for Soundtrack albums (including “Only the Young”) during that time period. But by the time the band returned for their next studio album, Raised on Radio in 1986 (without Valory and Smith), it was clear that the golden age of the band was over.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe

Shout at the Devil by Motley CrueShout at the Devil is the point where Mötley Crüe‘s musical range widened and the perfect template for “hair metal” was forged for the coming years. Coming nearly two full years after their fine but raw debut , Too Fast for Love, it is clear that the band had fully embraced a Judas Priest style of metal with just a bit of seventies glam rock for full effect in the MTV age. This is also the album where bassist Nikki Sixx fully arrived as a composer, writing hook-heavy anthems that strike adolescents in the heart. Through its title and theme, the album also fully embraces the occult and other dark themes, almost to the point of absolute absurdity.

Much like on the debut album, the guitar work of Mick Mars continues to be the real musical highlight on Shout at the Devil. Mars offers some dirty, crunching, and powerful riffs throughout, while adding a nice variation of melodic leads with varying techniques and sonic flavors. These intense and inspired guitar solos greatly enhance the compositions and bring the album overall to a higher level.

Of course, a little controversy never hurt a rock album’s sales. The original album cover was pure black with a pentagram but was soon replaced due to strong objections by religious groups. Then to just tweak the negative hysteria over the top, the group chose the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” as the only cover on the album. This choice appears to be solely as a homage to Charles Manson and his group, whose bio carried the same name. Still, aside from messing with the mystique, this song does translate surprisingly well to Mötley Crüe’s style.

 


Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe
Released: September 26, 1983 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, May-July 1983
Side One Side Two
In the Beginning
Shout at the Devil
Looks That Kill
Bastard
God Bless the Children of the Beast
Helter Skelter
Red Hot
Too Young to Fall in Love
Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid
Ten Seconds to Love
Danger
Band Musicians
Vince Neil – Lead Vocals
Mick Mars – Guitars
Nikki Sixx – Bass, Vocals
Tommy Lee – Drums, Vocals

 

Engineer Geoff Workman composed the haunting “In the Beginning” which acts as an intro piece for the title song “Shout at the Devil”. The great rudimentary stops during the verses topped by the frantic vocals of Vince Neil give this otherwise chanting and fist pumping anthem a definite edge.

“Looks That Kill” is the closest to a true classic on the album. Released as a single and peaking at #12 on the Mainstream Rock charts, the song was Mötley Crüe’s first true widespread exposure, due mainly to its heavily rotated video. The song is an early album showcase for Mars, who uses inventive riffing and wailing leads to forge a song that remains an all-time fan favorite.
 

 
“Bastard” starts with an awkward drum sequence by Tommy Lee before settling into a hard-rock groove which alternates between the measured verses and driving choruses. Mars’s delicate “God Bless the Children of the Beast” is an acoustic piece with a melodic chorus of electric guitars on top that was no doubt inspired by Steve Hackett and/or Randy Rhoads and acts as an intro to “Helter Skelter” to complete side one.

The second side begins with “Red Hot”, driven by the thumping rhythm of Lee and Sixx, before the pop rocker “Too Young To Fall in Love” with strong vocal melodies and hook which are perfect for what the band was doing at the time, making it a strong radio hit. The middle of the side contains a few boilerplate numbers, “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid” and “Ten Seconds to Love”, both co-written by Neil and Sixx and combined acting as the only true filler on Shout at the Devil.

Motley Crue in 1983

What pushes this album over the top is the strong closing track “Danger”, which is the finest pure song on the album. Melodramatic but beautiful, the song contains a variety of guitar textures by Mars along with passionate and wailing vocals by Neil and great drum fills by Lee, making it a very complete band effort and a showcase for their talent at the time. “Danger” is moody and strong, and almost sounds like a holdover of some of the finer material from their first album.

Shout at the Devil sold well (reaching 4x platinum in sales) and acted as a catalyst to propel Mötley Crüe to becoming the top selling heavy metal act of the 1980s. It was also a visible landmark of the high-water mark for the style of rock which would be copied into extinction within a decade of its release.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Let’s Dance by David Bowie

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Let's Dance by David BowieAn artist who seemed to constantly reinvent himself, David Bowie created a stylized and soulful new-wave album with a romantic signature on the 1983 album Let’s Dance. It was Bowie’s 15th overall studio album and was co-produced by Nile Rodgers, formerly of Chic, which gave the album (through implicit and explicit suggestion) a post-disco novelty. The result was an album which broke a long commercial slump (Bowie hadn’t had a Top Ten album in seven years) while sacrificing some of the critical cred that Bowie had built with his previous three releases known as the “Berlin Trilogy”, (1977′s Low, 1979′s Lodger and 1980′s Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. )

Rodgers was not Bowie’s original choice for the album, as he planned to once again use producer Tony Visconti as he had on the previous five studio albums (including the three listed above). However, Bowie suddenly switched to Rodgers and Visconti was not informed until two weeks into the recording process for Let’s Dance. Bowie also used the album and its subsequent MTV videos to reinvent his image for the 1980s. Having just signed a big deal with EMI Records, Bowie and Rodgers worked to produce a commercially viable album that fused the popular sub-genres of party-funk with the “big drum” eighties dance with just enough Avant Garde edge to keep it interesting.

The album is also notable as one of the earlist recordings for blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, who met Bowie at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival and agreed to play on the project despite admitting to being unfamiliar with much of Bowie’s music. However, Vaughan was impressed with Bowie’s knowledge of funky Texas blues and the two talked for hours on the subject.

 


Let’s Dance by David Bowie
Released: April 14, 1983 (EMI)
Produced by: David Bowie & Nile Rodgers
Recorded: Power Station, New York City, December 1982
Side One Side Two
Modern Love
China Grove
Let’s Dance
Without You
Ricochet
Criminal World
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
Shake It
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Horn Arrangements
Nile Rodgers – Guitars, Horn Arrangements
Carmine Rojas – Bass
Tony Thompson – Drums

 

Let’s Dance comes tearing out of the gate with “Modern Love”, about as upbeat and effervescent rocker by David Bowie as you will find in his vast catalog. The track starts with a unique, deadened-guitar sound, which quickly blends with the strong and consistent drum beat by Tony Thompson, who provides this quality throughout the album. Bowie has claimed the song is inspired by Little Richard, and he uses a “rock voice” which almost to the point of being strained. The third single released from the album, “Modern Love” peaked at #2 in the UK while hitting the Top 20 in America.

“China Girl” is a reinterpreted version of a song Bowie wrote for Iggy Pop on that artist’s 1977 album The Idiot. An almost deceptive track, which morphs from a light and poppy tune into something much deeper (even darker) during the bridges with ever-odd sections that build the tension until returning to the original chorus. This song (which also peaked at #2 in the UK) contains a strong bass riff by Carmine Rojas along with bright guitar chords beneath the soft and directed vocals by Bowie.

“Let’s Dance” is David Bowie’s fastest ever selling single, reaching the top of the charts. Released ahead of the album by the same name, the song set the pace for the great commercial success Bowie enjoyed in 1983. It is built on a moderate but methodical bass line with Bowie using yet another style of singing voice above a perfect dance drumbeat. There are some great extended middle parts, which go ludicrously far near in hammering home the brittle funk intent of the song and album, as well as Bowie’s latest image transformation.

The fine original first side of the album concludes with “Without You”. A bit off-beat, yet still very refined, this song is almost like soft version of disco with its high-register vocals, strong bass presence, slight female backing vocals, and just a touch of funky guitar overlay.

However, Let’s Dance is a very uneven record, as the second side sounds like a much cheaper version of the first. “Ricochet” seems to try a bit too hard to get the off-beat syncopation and the result is a song which sounds forced, especially with the elongated arrangement and overuse of spoken voice effect. “Criminal World” is a remake of a track by the glam rock group Metro and employs some eighties production techniques and arrangements. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is a bit more intense but still kind of standard track, with the only real highlight being Vaughan’s lead guitar. The closer “Shake It”, returns to the very funky dance formula (almost an alternate version of “Let’s Dance”) which, if nothing else, solidifies Rodgers influence on this album.

Let’s Dance peaked at #4 and actually Bowie’s first-ever Platinum-selling album, although later sales of earlier albums surpassed that feat. The surprise commercial success of the album proved to be a double-edged sword – it did introduce a whole new generation to the artist but also initiated a prolonged artistic “slump” starting with the disappointing follow-up Tonight a year later, and lasting the better part of a decade.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Rebel Yell by Billy Idol

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Rebel Yell by Billy IdolRebel Yell is the second studio album by Billy Idol, released during the height of his popularity in late 1983. Four charting hits were spawned from this album, which reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard album charts and has been certified 2x platinum. Idol also gained great popularity beyond the United States and his native Britain, including countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Sonically, Rebel Yell fully completed Idol’s evolution from the punk rock of the seventies to a pop synthesis sound which helped define the sound of the eighties – big guitars, thunderous drums and streamlined synths beneath edgy lyrics and vocals.

While Idol grabbed the marquee, guitarist and keyboardist Steve Stevens was a full partner in creating and composing the music, as he had been on the 1982 debut Billy Idol. That album found surprising mainstream success, due in part to the new MTV and a new wave “British Invasion” of 1982. To fully capitalize on this success, in early 1983 Chrysalis Records re-released “Dancing with Myself” (originally from a 1981 EP) and produced a top-notch music video, which got heavy play on MTV for six months and built anticipation for this next album. Idol got the name of the album (and its lead-off song) after drinking with the Rolling Stones who had a bottle of liquor called “Rebel Yell.”

Producer Keith Forsey also returned to keep the core team in tact from the debut album. As the long-time drummer for Donna Summer, Forsey injected a decidedly pop and dance-oriented approach which surprising blended well with Idol’s strong and snarling vocals. Along with producing every Billy Idol album of the era, Forsey would go on to be a major player in the 1980s pop music scene, producing a string of successful movie soundtracks (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club, Top Gun) as well as composing a few Top Ten hits.
 


Rebel Yell by Billy Idol
Released: November 10, 1983 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York City, 1982-1983
Side One Side Two
Rebel Yell
Daytime Drama
Eyes Without a Face
Blue Highway
Flesh For Fantasy
Catch My Fall
Crank Call
(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows
The Dead Next Door
Primary Musicians
Billy Idol – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Steve Stevens – Guitars, Bass, Synths
Judi Dozier – Keyboards
Thommy Price – Drums

 
The album starts strong with the unique arpeggio and big beat of the title track “Rebel Yell”. During the recording sessions this song was the first to use a live drummer, as a bulk of the tracks used electronically programmed percussion. Stevens and Forsey heard drummer Thommy Price playing with the band Scandal in a neighboring studio and invited him to play on the album. The arpeggio riff was developed by Stevens in the studio on both guitars and synths. Although “Rebel Yell” is the most famous track on the album, it failed to chart upon its original single release and only climbed to #46 when re-released in 1985.

While the opening title track is definitely the true theme song for the album, it is also a bit deceiving as it is decidedly more powerful than the more laid-back material of the rest of the album. “Daytime Drama” has a rather weak, metallic rhythm which, unfortunately, fails to complement the fine guitars by Stevens, which are the only real highlights of this song.
 

 
“Eyes Without a Face” is the finest pure song on the album and one of Idol’s most successful on the charts. This was one of the first written for the album and is notable for the French female chorus vocals of Perri Lister, Idol’s longtime girlfriend. Lister sings ‘Les yeux sans visage’ (French for ‘eyes without a face’), and the title of the 1960 horror movie which inspired the song’s title. Here the electronic percussion works perfectly in sync with the steady bass and various synth and guitar riffs, all under Idol’s melodic crooning on one of his most unique tracks. “Blue Highway” completes the album’s fine first side as an upbeat, new wave track with great vocals and melody, much like the material on the debut album.

Unfortunately, Rebel Yell is a bit uneven as the original second side of the album is not as strong. “Flesh for Fantasy” contains a rapid funk-infused guitar above electronic drums, making it a rather cheesy pop song with a provocative title. “Catch My Fall” is a better track, built on a steady bass line and including some saxophone by guest Mars Williams and a definitive lead section which is a guitar highlight for Stevens. Both of these songs were released as singles.

“Crank Call” has an-almost hard rock/hair-band feel, complete with good riffs, an anthemic hook, and a good sonic mix of guitar and keyboard textures. “(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows” is nothing much more than a formulaic, upbeat pop song, while the closer “The Dead Next Door” is texture rich with synths ala Brian DePalma, but the style eerie style falls short with little more substance than Idol’s vocal melodies.

In 1985, Idol released a quasi-compilation of extended, dance-oriented tracks from his first two album called Vital Idol, spawning more charting hits. The team of Idol, Stevens, and Forsey returned for Whiplash Smile in 1986, which sold well but marked the beginning of a slow decline from pop super-stardom for Billy Idol.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

War by U2

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War by U2With their third album War in early 1983, U2 fully arrived on the international music scene and has remained on the top echelon ever since. A commercial success for the band, the album topped the U.K. charts and reached #12 in the U.S. Further, it found the band forging their definitive sound for the first time under the guidance of producer Steve Lillywhite, who introduced the band some new recording techniques. Among these was the incorporation of a “click track” to keep perfect time, an idea that drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was initially against. However, he did relent and the album ended up being a real showcase for Mullen.

The album got its title from the band’s perception of the world at the time, or as lead vocalist Bono put it; “War seemed to be the motif for 1982.” The title was also a concerted effort by the band to branch out into “heavier” theme, as they felt that critics had taken the music from their first two albums, Boy and October, lightly. Being an Irish band, U2 was in a unique position to address the troubles in Northern Ireland, and hit that head on with this album. Still, U2 was cognizant that such heavy themes could backfire with mainstream listeners, so they also worked hard to compose melodic and more direct tunes.

Lead guitarist The Edge uses far less delay and echo than previously and experiments with differing guitar textures throughout, adding to the overall sonic atmosphere of passion. As a counter-balance, bassist Adam Clayton provides the “glue” musically with simple, strong, and direct bass lines. With these carefully balanced dynamics, U2 found their formula for success throughout the rest of the decade.


War by U2
Released: February 28, 1983 (Island)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Recorded: Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin, May 17–August 20, 1982
Side One Side Two
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Seconds
New Year’s Day
Like a Song…
Drowning Man
The Refugee
Two Hearts Beat As One
Red Light
Surrender
“40”
Band Musicians
Bono – Lead Vocals
The Edge – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Adam Clayton – Bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums

 

Although all songs on War are credited to the entire group, in reality certain tunes were largely composed by individuals. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” was composed by The Edge, and has remained one of the most indelible tunes of the band’s career. From its opening martial drumbeat, featuring a heavy hat and beat by Mullen to the simple, raw guitar variations accompanied by some strategic violin by guest Steve Wickham, the song is a unique musical experience. Add the passionate vocals (including some great backing vocals by The Edge), which describe the Bloody Sunday events of 1972, and you have a rock and roll classic.

The other popular “hit” from the first side, “New Year’s Day”, was originally written by Bono as a love song to his new bride but later morphed into an ode to the Polish Solidarity movement. Clayton’s distinctive bass line drives the song while The Edge alternates between the signature piano line and several guitar textures, including an actual rock guitar lead. Overall, the song portrays a great atmosphere with the optimistic fantasy of unity and theme of starting over, and became the group’s first Top Ten single in England.

The rest of side one contains solid tracks which compliment each other nicely. “Seconds” contains another wild beat by Mullin above a strummed acoustic guitar. Although a little unfocused and a bit busy, the song is original and entertaining. “Like a Song…” sticks to the formula on the first side, although it does get pretty intense as it progresses. “Drowning Man” is acoustic and haunting – almost jazzy – with trance electric guitars above strummed acoustic and deeper sounding vocals by Bono.

 
The best pure pop song on album (and perhaps of any early-era U2) is “Two Hearts Beat as One”. While still just slightly unfocused and edgy, this tune is held together by the superior composition and pure performance by the whole band, especially Bono on vocals. A propulsive bass line by Clayton and a fantastic counter-melody by The Edge during the chorus push this song to the top level of any U2 classic. The song became a hit in several nations as well as a rare staple of the dance floor for U2. “The Refugee”, on its surface is a new wave motif, almost to the point of absurdity. Yet it is still oddly entertaining based mainly on the odd guitar textures by The Edge.

U2 in 1983

The album’s closing tracks include a couple featuring the background chorus from the group The Coconuts. “Red Light” is the closest to a pure rock song on this album, with Bono singing in more contemporary manner and more rock-oriented guitar riffing, a sound that U2 would morph towards in the future, starting with Achtung Baby in the early 1990s. “Surrender” is danceable, almost post-disco and could be a decent pop song in its own right with rapid verse lyrics and sustained chorus. The album concludes with “40”, which was written and recorded right at the end of the sessions, allegedly in less than an hour. With Clayton having already left the studio, The Edge plays both the electric and bass guitar, while Bono based the lyrics on Psalm 40 from the Bible.

U2 toured relentlessly in support of War, starting in December 1982 (prior to the album’s release) through most of 1983. The tour spawned a concert film Live at Red Rocks and an accompanying EP, Under a Blood Red Sky, which further increased the band’s exposure and live appeal.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

State of Confusion by The Kinks

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State Of Confusion by The KinksThe Kinks reached the climax of their second major success phase with State of Confusion in 1983. This album comes at the heart of the band’s early eighties “renaissance” when they once again embraced the more direct, straight-forward, “garage rock” sound which the group initially forged in the 1960s. Although this album is not quite as solid as its predecessor, 1981’s Give the People What They Want, it did stick with the same general formula and produced what would become The Kinks’ last batch of charting hits. The album was produced by the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist, and primary songwriter Ray Davies, who was perfecting the post-punk rock sound at the time.

Following the success of Give the People What They Want, the band spent the better part of a year touring relentlessly throughout America, England, Australia, and Japan. The climax of this tour was at the US Festival in San Bernardino, California, where the Kinks performed for a crowd of over 200,000.

This was the group’s 19th studio album, a collection which included many works where the band took alternative paths into folk, theatrical, and progressive music. While State of Confusion has a solid rock core, many of those previous styles are reflected in small doses, making for a unique listen. Davies also added just a tad bit more synthesizers and production refinements than on the previous recent albums. Lyrically, the album is filled with mature songs about growing older (Davies was pushing 40 at the time) and many of the issues faced through middle age. Davies, who practically invented and perfected the melodic scream, barely relented musically from his rock core with some minor nods to the music hall influences of his youth.


State of Confusion by The Kinks
Released: June 10, 1983 (Arista)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Konk Studios, London, September 1982 – March 1983
Side One Side Two
State of Confusion
Definite Maybe
Labour of Love
Come Dancing
Property
Don’t Forget to Dance
Young Conservatives
Heart of Gold
Clichés of the World (B Movie)
Bernadette
Band Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers, Piano
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Rodford – Bass
Ian Gibbons – Keyboards
Mick Avory – Drums

 

Being that the Kinks may very well have been the band that invented punk a decade before its proliferation and the opening title song, “State of Confusion” may be the ultimate post-punk pop song. It begins with choppy, head-banging beat and later contains topical musical melodies (like the spooky sounding synths) and a great bridge with keyboard orchestration and deep harmonies. This first song dually displays Davies production skills as well as his songwriting talent with the lyrics depicting numerous sources of frustrations –

but back on planet Earth they’ve shattered the illusion, the world’s going around in a state of confusion…”

“Definite Maybe” starts with a deep bass line by Jim Rodford which leads to a unique guitar and piano mix in the strange verse riff which makes this otherwise unfocused song just interesting enough. “Labour of Love” starts with a wailing guitar rendition of “The Wedding March” by Dave Davies. This song’s theme is for marriage what the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” was to love, a scathing indictment.

The album’s biggest hit is “Come Dancing”, which reached the Top 20 in several countries and peaked at #6 in the US, tying it with “Tired of Waiting for You” from 1965 as the band’s highest charting hit. Acoustic built but dominated by a signature organ riff from Ian Gibbons, the composition is a mixture of waltz and early rock and makes for a potent combo. The story-telling lyrics, which sound innocent and happy-go-lucky on the surface, have a much deeper meaning because Davies’ older sister died of heart attack while dancing at a ballroom on Ray Davies’ thirteenth birthday (June 21, 1957) after she surprised him with a gift of a Spanish guitar.
 

 
“Property” is driven by the big drum beat of Mick Avory, who along with the Davies brothers is the last remaining founding member of the Kinks. Lyrically, the song is about the somber duty of splitting possessions after a relationship ends. The second side begins with “Don’t Forget to Dance”, an almost a more somber counterpart to “Come Dancing”. This melancholy and moderate pop ballad with slick 1980s production techniques contains interesting changes in key and great guitar technique by Dave Davies during the verses. The song was the band’s final single to make the Top 40 in the US, peaking at #29.

The Kinks, 1983

“Young Conservatives” is a brilliant bit of satire with a great vibe, a punk song for the early 1980s. In an ironic twist, the new rebels are the counter-counter-culture in this edgy song with its great compositional structure and excellent bridges. The song references the 1967 song “David Watts” from the album Something Else By the Kinks. “Heart of Gold” is an upbeat acoustic folk song with great chord progressions and twangy lead guitars. Although it is a bit weak lyrically, the music more than makes up for it. The album drifts more towards eighties-type rock in structure and sonic quality for the final two tracks. “Clichés of the World (B Movie)” harkens back to the bands’ mid-1970s theatrical work, while “Bernadette” is a pure rocker, which finishes the album on an upbeat note.

Following the commercial success of State of Confusion, the band’s fortunes began to unravel. Ray Davies started work on a film project which caused tension between the other founding members. Mick Avory left the group halfway through recording the next album, Word of Mouth, released in late 1984. While the Kinks continued to release studio album into the early 1990s, the never again recaptured the popular momentum.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

Zebra

ZebraThe rock trio Zebra existed with almost equal measures of three critical stripes – love, hate and indifference. The group’s dedicated fans point out the melodic dynamics present with group leader Randy Jackson, as he fused some of the best arena rock of the 70s with the pop and rock sensibilities of the 80s. Critics dismiss the band as nothing more than Zeppelin ‘clones’ who tried to fill a void in the wake of that legendary band’s dissolution. As for the rest, well, most passive listeners never really heard of the band Zebra. However, in early 1983 when the band released their self-titled debut, there were many who saw great things down the line.

Zebra, whose name was inspired by a 1922 cover of vogue magazine, had been together since forming in 1975 in New Orleans. Led by guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter Randy Jackson, the group started to gain notoriety when they migrated to Long Island, NY and furiously played in that area’s club and college scene, mainly as a cover band. However, their limited catalogue of originals were strong enough to impress Atlantic Records, who signed the group to a five album deal right out of the gate in late 1982.

This seemed like a wise business deal for the suits as the album Zebra became the fastest selling debut record in Atlantic Records history when it sold over 75,000 copies in its first week and spent eight months on the Billboard charts, peaking at number 29. But this was largely due to their dedicated fan bases in both New York and Louisiana, and widespread acceptance by critics or radio stations never quite materialized.


Zebra by Zebra
Released: March 21, 1983 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jack Douglas
Recorded: 1983
Side One Side Two
Tell Me What You Want
One More Chance
Slow Down
As I Said Before
Who’s Behind the Door?
When You Get There
Take Your Fingers from My Hair
Don’t Walk Away
The La La Song
Band Musicians
Randy Jackson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers
Felix Hanemann – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals  |  Guy Gelso – Drums, Vocals

 
Veteran producer Jack Douglas was at the production helm and forged a processed (perhaps over-processed) sound which was snare-heavy and bass light. Still the dynamics of the band shine through on this debut. “Tell Me What You Want” starts immediately as an acoustic ballad which quickly builds to a frenzied and intense electric screed driven by Jackson’s ever intense vocalizing and the deep synth and bass riff line by Felix Hanemann. “One More Chance” is built like a traditional love song where Jackson shines with both his vocal range and great guitar textures. Theses guitars range from the delicately picked flange of the verse to the driving crunch of the choruses, all underneath some space-aged lead guitar licks. “Slow Down” is an oddity for this or any subsequent Zebra album – a cover. Written by Larry Williams in 1958 (but best known for the 1964 Beatles’ cover), the song has the band stepping out sonically and providing a simple, driving hard rock song complete with boogie piano by Hanemann.

“And I Said Before” is a great play on a simple lyric motif put to use with great music arrangement and vocal variations. It is also the first on the album where drummer Guy Gelso really shows his chops and it contains an interesting bridge with a banjo in the foreground and a heavy rock riff on the interlude. The song acts as a defacto intro for “Who’s Behind the Door?”, the group’s signature song through their early recording years. Philosophically deep (it is like the “Dust in the Wind” of 1983) with the finest production on the album, it is musically driven by Jackson’s complex acoustic riffing through the intro. Later the chorus and climatic ending have a much more spacey, electric feel (complete with laser-like sound effects). The song reached the Top 10 on the US rock charts but failed to breach the Top 40 on the pop charts.
 

 
The album’s second side begins with “When You Get There”, a simple, entertaining, and upbeat rocker. Unlike much of the material, this one is really carried by the rhythm section, especially Hanemann’s bass. “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” is an ambitious, extended piece which makes a half-hearted attempt at a rock suite, ranging from folky acoustic verses to head-banging metal electric choruses. The band later tries this extended approach once again (albeit with a slightly different angle) on the ill-conceived closer “The La La Song”. The best part of this both of these longer tracks is that they each contain authentic jam sections, which breaks the band out of the sanitized production into more authentic rock sections put together by the trio as a band.

Somewhat lost between these more ambitious pieces is the real highlight of the second side, “Don’t Walk Away”. Built on a simple rock guitar riff and a steady upbeat rhythm, this song contains simple and melodic, McCartney-esque vocals by Jackson. It builds sonically throughout with simple yet precise synth and piano motifs all while building towards the climatic double-bridge, which sandwiches the best guitar lead on the entire album. The song ends simply and elegantly, leaving the listener wanting for more (as every great rock song should).

Zebra followed up their debut with the 1984 album No Tellin’ Lies, which contains some brilliant moments but is not as solid as their debut. Their third album 3.V, released in 1986, was the most critically acclaimed of the three but arrived long after Zebra’s initial momentum had faded and the band was already doomed to be one of the greatest bands that nobody heard.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

1983 Images

 

90125 by Yes

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90125 by YesAn unplanned reformation of Yes in 1983 led to 90125, their most successful album commercially. What became their the eleventh studio album overall, was initially intended to be the debut album for a new rock trio called Cinema, featuring (then) former Yes members bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, along with South African guitarist and songwriter Trevor Rabin. The album ultimately introduced Yes, which had originally disbanded in 1981, to a new crop of music fans during the MTV generation. 90125 also spawned several hit songs, including the band’s first and only #1 hit along with their only Grammy winning track.

Yes officially disbanded in 1981 at which time Squire and White attempted to start a supergroup called XYZ (ex-Yes and Zeppelin) with former Led Zeppelin members Robert plant and Jimmy Page. XYZ did compose several tracks but only really had one rehearsal, after which Plant decided not to continue. With that project’s future in limbo, Squire and White recorded a Christmas 1981 single called “Run With the Fox” before forming Cinema with Rabin in early 1982. Producer Trevor Horn was also a brief member of Yes, as their lead singer on the 1980 album Cinema. Along with the trio, Horn decided the group needed a keyboard player and Squire invited original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye who had been fired from the group in 1971 during the recording of The Yes Album. Recording of the Cinema “debut” began in November 1982. In April 1983, former Yes front man Jon Anderson heard some of the “Cinema” recordings and was very much impressed. He suggested joining the project as a reformation of Yes.

Rabin, the only member of the group without a history in Yes, wrote the bulk of the material for 90125 and was at first dubious about the Yes reunion idea. He also didn’t want to be considered as simply the replacement of former guitarist Steve Howe, who was now in the group Asia. However, he did compromise and let Anderson and Horn re-write much of the material to suit the full lineup and Yes style.


90125 by Yes
Released: November 14, 1983 (Atco)
Produced by: Trevor Horn
Recorded: Sarm Studios, London, November 1982 – July 1983
Side One Side Two
Owner of a Lonely Heart
Hold On
It Can Happen
Changes
Cinema
Leave It
Our Song
City of Love
Hearts
Group Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Trevor Rabin – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tony Kaye – Keyboards
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Alan White – Drums, Vocals

The album’s original first side was filled with charting singles. “Hold On” reached #27 On the Mainstream Rock chart and starts as kind of an upbeat bluesy ballad with later added sonic textures including a choppy organ, a heavy guitar and plenty of vocal motifs. The tune was actually a combination of two songs by Rabin and the two distinct parts of the song are held together nicely by the simple but effective drumming by Alan White. “It Can Happen” may be a song either of hope or foreboding and uses a synthesized sitar sound for the main riff. The song, which gets a bit more intense towards the end, reached the Billboard Top Forty in 1984. “Changes” has a long xylophone-like intro playing a very syncopated riff, similar to Yes of yesterdays, until it breaks into a standard rock beat with bluesy overtones.

The lead single from 90125 and the band’s first and only #1 hit was “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. The song originated from a solo demo by Rabin in 1980 and was originally written as a ballad. Trevor Horn later developed this album version as a final addition for commercial purposes. The song contains excellent production which includes plenty of orchestral and odd instrumental samples above the crisp guitar riff, strong rhythm, and soaring vocals.

 
The second side begins with a track named after the original group name for this project. “Cinema” developed from a twenty minute-long track with the working title “Time”, but was paired back to a barely two minute final product. The song is driven by White’s intensive drumming and Squire’s fretless bass, which topical instrumentation that gives it a sound more like old Genesis than old Yes. In 1985 it won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental, the Yes’s only Grammy. A half decade before Bobby McFerrin made it popular, the a cappella vocals of “Leave It” drove the early choruses of this fine pop song with precision polyphonic vocal effects. Above this orchestra of vocals, Squire and Anderson alternate lead vocal duties on this popular radio hit which peaked at number 24 on the American pop chart.

The fun continues with the exciting intro of “Our Song”, which sounds like a cross between Rush and Dire Straits stylistically. It is the hardest rocking track on the album, led by Kaye’s intense organ riff. The song references a 1977 Yes concert in Toledo, Ohio, where the temperature inside the arena reportedly reached over 120 °F, resulting in the song being a big hit in that area (while a moderate hit everywhere else). “City of Love” starts with doomy bass and synth orchestral effects and is decorated by 1980s sounds while maintaining an entertaining rock core. The album’s closer “Hearts” works off a simple Eastern-sounding verse with vocal duet sections and a couple of inspired guitar leads by Rabin. After abandoning this initial riff, the seven-minute track morphs into many interesting sections, with Anderson firmly taking over vocally while building on the general feel of the song.

90125 reached #5 on the album charts and has sold over three million copies, by far the band’s most successful album commercially. This same incarnation of the band and production team returned with Big Generator in 1987, another successful album of contemporary and catchy with the edge that only Yes provides.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper

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She's So Unusual by Cyndi LauperOne of the most successful pop debuts ever, She’s So Unusual by New Yorker Cyndi Lauper, went on to spawn four top-five hits, a first for a debut album by a female artist. Released in late 1983, the album continued to chart and release singles through the mid 1980s and was an early peak of Lauper’s long sustained career. It was produced and recorded mainly by the team that fueled the later success for the Philadelphia band The Hooters, producer Rick Chertoff and musicians Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman. The material for the album was drawn from an abundance of sources, with each song having distinct composers which gave the album a diversity of song styles.

Lauper first had minimal success with the group Blue Angel, a new wave/pop band which was formed in 1978 and had released their only album in 1980. When that album sold poorly, many record execs lost interest in the band but Lauper’s dynamic vocals sparked some interest. She was signed to a subsidiary label of Epic records in 1982 and given a sizable budget and generous time to record at the famed Record Plant in New York City.

Aside from her two original compositions, Lauper herself did little more than sing on this album, as the material was developed through Chertoff and the production team using some cutting edge synthesizers and sequencing. Still, Lauper carries the day on She’s So Unusual with her incredible range (4 octaves), perfect pitch, and a unique mix of effervescent pop, sentimentality, and a bit of humor.


She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper
Released: October 14, 1983 (Portrait)
Produced by: Rick Chertoff & William Wittman.
Recorded: Record Plant, New York City, December 1982 – June 1983
Side One Side Two
Money Changes Everything
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
When You Were Mine
Time After Time
She Bop
All Through the Night
Witness
I’ll Kiss You
He’s So Unusual / Yeah Yeah
Primary Musicians
Cyndi Lauper – Lead Vocals
Rob Hyman – Keyboards, Melodica, Vocals
Eric Bazilian – Guitars, Bass, Saxophone, Vocals
Rick Chertoff – Percussion

A cover of a the 1978 song by The Brains called “Money Changes Everything” starts the album as a rocker with a straight 4/4 beat and a riff built on Hyman’s synthesizer. The song was released as a single in 1984, peaking at #27. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” fared much better on the charts. Written by Robert Hazard in 1979, the song was Lauper’s first major single and the one most associated with her throughout her career. It reached #2 on the pop charts but is most remembered for its inventive video, which was the product of a volunteer cast and the free loan of sophisticated video equipment and studio time donated by Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live, who had ties to Lauper’s manager.

A cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” follows, with a duet harmony through the verses of this pop ode to lost love. “Time After Time” was written in the studio by Rob Hyman and Lauper and was nominated for a Grammy Song of the Year. The song is melancholy and sweet, driven by a synth organ, a fat synth bass effect, some laid back guitars, and some inventive percussive effects using a harmonize, effects loop, and pitch-shift, programmed by Hyman. The ballad became Lauper’s first number one hit in America in early 1984 and reached the Top Ten in 15 countries.
 

 
The second side of She’s So Unusual starts with “She Bop”, co-written by producer Chertoff. This is a full-fledged new wave anthem which contains a neat “whistling” lead that trades licks with a more traditional synth sound for pure entertainment. Although the song was considered controversial, it reached number three on the pop charts. “All Through the Night” was written by folk singer Jules Shear and became the fourth single to reach the Top Five. A real highlight vocally and melodically for Lauper, the song is driven musically by Hyman’s synths and electronic rhythms, along with an interesting faux bagpipe during the lead. Lauper’s finest moment comes with the great vocal wailing during the song’s outro.

The ska-influenced “Witness” is a song written by Lauper and former Blue Angel band mate John Turi and features great bass riffing by Bazilian, which drives the song. Solid up to this point, the album does end weakly starting with the brain-drilling “I’ll Kiss You”, the worst song on the album. Next, comes a Betty-Boop like rendition of the 1920’s tune “He’s So Unusual”, complete with distorted piano and old record scratch effects, which oddly acts as an intro to synth-heavy closer “Yeah Yeah”, where Lauper ad-libs with weird vocal effects throughout.

She’s So Unusual sold over six million copies, won two Grammy Awards (out of six nominations), charted on the album Top Forty for sixty-five weeks, was critically acclaimed, and is still vastly entertaining 30 years later, making this a success of every level. Despite the release of fine material in subsequent years, Lauper simply could not maintain this level of popularity or consistency as with her debut.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Cargo by Men At Work

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Cargo by Men At WorkIt is funny how fame works. When Men at Work recorded their second album Cargo in the summer of 1982, they were just a regional act who had moderate success in their native Australia with their debut album Business As Usual. Then a few songs from that debut began to get heavy airplay in Western Canada and finally the United States. By late 1982, with this follow-up already recorded and set for release, Business As Usual skyrocketed to the top of the charts and the group were suddenly superstars, a fame which carried into 1983 when the delayed release of Cargo finally occurred and collection of similar yet more mature tracks continued the band’s momentum in the pop world.

On Cargo, the personnel and production team from the debut album remained, led by producer Peter McIan and the band’s chief songwriter and vocalist Colin Hay. The band returned to their signature mixture of reggae with new wave-fused rock and pop, accented by Hay’s distinct vocal delivery and pronunciation. However, on this album they did attempt more ambitious and deep compositions, which gives it a slight edge.

The album has a very polished rhythm with bassist Jonathan Rees and drummer Jerry Speiser holding down the bottom end with precision and tightness, giving Hay the space to let melodies and riffs develop on top. Also, with this “typical” production any of the sonic flourishes (albeit few and far between) and brought out with maximum contrast and effect.


Cargo by Men At Work
Released: June 28, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: 1982
Side One Side Two
Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive
Overkill
Settle Down My Boy
Upstairs In My House
No Sign of Yesterday
It’s a Mistake
High Wire
Blue For You
I Like To
No Restrictions
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals
Jonathan Rees – Bass
Jerry Speiser – Drums

 
The opener “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” is almost frivolous in nature as the song employs a sped-up reggae beat during the verse and dissolves to a slow, waltz/rock during the chorus. The good lead guitar of Ron Strykert sets the pace for his fine work on this album. Strykert also composed and sang lead on “Settle Down My Boy”, a song where the underlying reggae is brought to a pop extreme, alternating keys in the first few verses, with another great guitar lead with some sharp room effects. “Upstairs in My House” is a frantic and desperate, yet still upbeat pop song may have been a representation of type of material the band was going for on this album.

The strong first side ends with “No Sign of Yesterday”, a song of nostalgia and longing lyrically, where Rees and Speiser add some rare rhythm accents, adding effect to the darkness of the song. Strykert also gets into the act with a souring and soulful guitar lead. Perhaps the best pure pop song of the entire decade of the 1980s, “Overkill” contains a hyper new-wave rhythm beneath the deep and melodic vocals of Colin Hay. This is all topped off with a signature saxophone and haunting synths by Greg Ham and yet another tremendous lead guitar by Strykert. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Pop chart and contains spastic yet profound lyrics, highlighted by the fantastic line;

Ghosts appear and fade away…”

Side two begins with “It’s a Mistake”, another Top Ten hit for the band, where Hay’s sharply picked, choppy guitar chords are synched with a fine reggae accompaniment in a light but macabre presentation in the spirit of the film Doctor Strangelove. The song breaks out of this choppy rhythm about three quarters through for a memorable coda, led by a chorus of melodic guitars and Hay’s desperate, shouting vocals, for a climatic ending.

Men At Work, 1983

“High Wire” contains a heavier rock arrangement similar to some of the contemporary material by Huey Lewis (although it does contain a lame “carnival” section during the bridge). This was the fourth and final single from Cargo, released at the end 1983, just about the time the group’s fame trajectory began to plateau. The most effect-driven song on the album is the closer “No Restrictions”, which contains an interesting flute lead by Ham, but is otherwise a rather weak attempt at anthem rock.

Cargo is not without its weak spots, as side two does contain some blatant filler, starting with “Blue For You”, a song that is pure Caribbean in texture right down to the percussive and keyboard effects. “I Like To” is the most universally panned song on the album due to the harsh, exaggerated, late-70s techno-punk vocals by Greg Ham.

In 1984, Men At Work took a long break from the years of constant touring they’d done in support of both albums. This proved to be a momentum killer and, when the band reconvened, in-fighting proliferated and Speiser and Rees left the band. Although the remaining trio recorded a third album, Two Hearts, it made little waves and by early 1986, Men At Work was no more.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.