Mean Business by The Firm

Mean Business by The Firm

Buy Mean Business

Mean Business by The FirmAfter the big success of their eponymous 1985 debut, the super-group The Firm followed up with their sophmore release in early 1986 called Mean Business, which would end up being the short-lived super-group’s final album. At first listen, this album seems to be sub-par to the debut, or at least much more under-developed at best. But, upon each closer and subsequent listen, one discovers that this album is actually quite good and original in its own right.

Unfortunately, not many people have taken this closer listen and the album had a short ride to the proverbial dust bin. This was due, in part, to the actions taken by the band themselves as The Firm suddenly decided to call it quits just a few months after Mean Business was released, signifying their own apparent disapproval of this work.

Musically, the album is filled with spastic and rudimentary riff lines from Jimmy Page, odd but solid musical timings from the rhythm section of Tony Franklin and Chris Slade, and powerful, nearly strained vocal performance by Paul Rodgers. It is an uneven album, with heavy influence from Page here and heavy influence from Rodgers there, along with some experimental pieces by the band as a whole. There are a few songs that feel under-developed and a few that feel over-produced. But with every listen, they all seem to get better and better.

CRR logo
Mean Business by The Firm
Released: February 3, 1986 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers & Julian Mendelsohn
Recorded: 1985
Side One Side Two
Fortune Hunter
Cadillac
All the King’s Horses
Live in Peace
Tear Down the Walls
Dreaming
Free to Live
Spirit of Love
Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass, Keyboards
Chris Slade – Drums, Backing Vocals

The album begins with the only survivor from the short-lived XYZ project. In 1981, following the death of drummer John Bonham and the disbandment of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page decided to join forces with Chris Squire and Alan White, formally of Yes. The would-be super-group was to be called XYZ (for ex- Yes and Zeppelin), but fell apart within a year and yielded no recorded material. “Fortune Hunter” is a reworked song from that project, written by Page and Squire. Through the first three verses, the song displays many of the characteristics that will be found throughout this Firm album – a frenzied and frantic riff with strained vocals – but then it suddenly deviates sharply into a “quiet” middle section before quickly rebounding and building back to the fast pace.

To close the album, a near-opposite song “Spirit of Love” was chosen. Driven by Franklin’s piano riffs, this quasi-epic is probably the song that Page had the least influence on, as it is pure pop and even incorporates a full chorus towards the end, which makes one believe it was inspired by Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”. The deviation between the opener and closer, while adding to the overall oddness of the album, also puts into context the diverse material in between.

“Cadillac”, with its slow, trance-like blues, fueled by the excessively long, droning guitars by Page, is one of the more interesting songs on the first side. The song is held together by the methodical rhythm of Franklin and Slade, and contains just enough skipping in time to make it quite interesting.

Paul Rodgers contributes the next two songs – the synth-driven pop song “All the King’s Horses”, which was ill-advisedly slated as the emphasis single from Mean Business, and the darker. message-driven “Live In Peace”. This latter song has a very Bad Company-ish vibe, with Page adding a nice guitar lead.

The second side contains, perhaps, the best three songs on the album. Tony Franklin contributes the jazzy “Dreaming”, a unique and off-beat, gem which contains some very surprising turns. The other, collaborations by Rodgers and Page, offer some insight of what could have been had this group stayed together a while longer. “Tear Down the Walls” is a good, catchy pop-rock song that could’ve (and should’ve) been a hit in 1986, while “Free to Live” contains another rudiment-driven riff, that is accented brilliantly by some excellent vocals.

While this may not quite rise to the level of The Firm’s 1985 debut (although a strong case may be made that it does), Mean Business is well worth the listen.

~

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

1986_VanHalen 5150

5150 by Van Halen

Buy 5150

5150 by Van HalenWith the possible exception of AC/DC, it is hard to find an example of an established rock band with a single, charismatic, lead singer that becomes even more successful once that singer is replaced. After the acrimonious departure of David Lee Roth in early 1985, Van Halen was at sea for a while as they actively searched for Roth’s replacement. Their record company, Warner Brothers, did not want them to continue on with the same name, feeling like it might distort the successful branding. Further, many long-time fans were hoping for reconciliation and dismissing any serious chance at reformation with a new lead vocalist.

Unfortunately, the rift between Roth and the rest of the band was far too deep and with Roth publicly declaring the band dead and making grand plans for a solo music and acting career, the band was determined to carry on without him. After briefly entertaining the idea of using multiple singers on their next album, Van Halen decided they wanted a permanent band member to front them. Enter Sammy Hagar, a well established rock star in his own rite, as the lead singer in the band Montrose and as a solo artist.

Further, Hagar was also a proficient guitarist, which freed up Eddie Van Halen to further branch out on the keyboards, as he had started with the previous album, 1984 (MCMLXXXIV). The band scored a couple of big hits from keyboard-driven songs on that album and that trend would certainly continue with 5150.

CRR logo
5150 by Van Halen
Released: March 24, 1986 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Mick Jones, Donn Landee, & Eddie Van Halen
Recorded: Nov. 1985 – Feb. 1986, 5150 Studios, Hollywood, CA
Side One Side Two
Good Enough
Why Can’t This Be Love?
Get Up
Dreams
Summer Nights
Best of Both Worlds
Love Walks In
5150
Inside
Musicians
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anythony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums & Percussion

Another factor that led to the new sound of 5150 was the absence of producer Ted Templeton, who had produced all of the band’s previous six albums. This left production duties to the band itself, led by Eddie Van Halen with the help of Mick Jones and Donn Landee. This production team moved away from the traditional “live” sound of previous albums and towards a sleeker 1980s sound, especially among the three keyboard-driven songs, each of which would become huge hits.

Two of these hits used the long-string sound that Eddie Van Halen had established on the previous album. “Dreams” is the standout here, showcasing Hagar’s vocal range as well as the band’s pop sensibilities, while maintaining a unique, dynamic edge. Perhaps the first true “love song” in the Van Halen catalog, “Love Walks In” features Hagar on lead guitar and showcases some excellent background harmonies by Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony, which had become a longtime staple of the band’s sound.

The most unique-sounding and innovative of these keyboard songs is “Why Can’t This Be Love”, where Van Halen uses a wild-sounding synthesized clavichord for the main riff while Hagar providing some rhythm guitar support. Being the first single to be released by the band in the Spring of 1986, this song re-introduced the band with a fresh and unique sound that was mainly well-received. However not everyone was impressed with the new sound, as a lot of longtime fans felt alienated by the dual whammy of replacing Roth and moving further away from the guitar-driven sound of the group’s early days. Soon these fans would adopt the name “Van Hagar” for this new formation, so to derisively avoid acknowledging this as a continuation of that earlier band.

Van Halen in 1986

5150 does contain a solid handful songs that would have fit into the style of some on the band’s early work including the songs “Summer Nights”, “The Best of Both Worlds” along with the album’s opening track “Good Enough”. However, none of these really rise to the level of the band’s better guitar-driven songs of the past. One exception to this is the standout title song “5150”, an upbeat jam with a catchy melody that highlights the talents of both Eddie Van Halen and his older brother, drummer Alex Van Halen.

Van Halen did score their first ever #1 album with 5150, a feat that served to validate their decision to move forward with a new frontman and updated sound. The band would continue use this formula with similar success, as all four of their Hagar-era albums reached the top of the album charts, stretching well into the early 1990s.

~

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Face Dances by The Who

Face Dances by The Who

Buy Face Dances

Face Dances by The WhoFace Dances was the ninth album from the legendary band The Who but their first without drummer Keith Moon, who died of an overdose shortly after the release of their previous album, Who Are You in 1978. Unlike their English contemporaries Led Zeppelin, who also lost their drummer during that time span and decided they could not continue without him, The Who decided to make a comeback in 1981 with a new drummer, Kenney Jones.

In spite of this fracture in personnel integrity, Face Dances is actually a very good album. Jones holds his own with the musical virtuosos in the band, guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle, and the material is strong and up-to-date while maintaining some of the signature qualities that make The Who, The Who.

Although the band was far removed from their days of rock operas and complicated theme albums, the material seems to flow along a consistent vibe that is at once deep and a bit comical, but always strong and forward. It is a credit to their ability to adapt to changing times and changing tastes in the music world.
 

CRR logo
Face Dances by The Who
Released: March 16, 1981 (Polydor)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Odyssey Recording Studios, London, July-December, 1980
Side One Side Two
 You Better, You Bet
 Don’t Let Go the Coat
 Cache Cache
 The Quiet One
 Did You Steal My Money?
How Can You Do It Alone
Daily Records
You
Another Tricky Day
Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Vocals
Kenney Jones – Drums

 
This comical trait is obvious right from the jump with “You Better, You Bet”, an entertaining mini-suite with complex chord structures that flow together along a silky smooth narrative. “Did You Steal My Money?” is another near-frivolous song that takes a little concentration to recognize the fantastic vocal performance that is put forth by vocalist Roger Daltrey.

As usual, Townshend’s songs are introspective and, to a lesser extent, philosophical. “Don’t Let Go the Coat” was inspired by guru Meher Baba (who was partially responsible for the title to the song “Baba O’Riley” a decade earlier), while “Cache, Cache” was a literal telling of Townshend’s ill-fated, one day retirement from the music business. Entwistle contributes a unique original with his own raspy vocals and near-heavy-metal sound with “The Quiet One”.

The second side of the album contains lesser known but strong songs throughout , highlighted by “Daily Records” and “Another Tricky Day”. Although Face Dances is not quite Who’s Next or Quadraphenia, it is a solid record and important in the band’s rebound following the tragic death of Moon. The band would put out another studio album, It’s Hard, in 1982 before ultimately disbanding for over a decade and a half.

The album cover of Face Dances features sixteen square paintings (four of each band member) that were commissioned by artist Peter Blake (of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover fame), who enlisted many British artists of differing styles (including himself) to make this unique cover.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Too Fast for Love by Motley Crue

Too Fast for Love by Mötley Crüe

Buy Too Fast for Love

Too Fast for Love by Motley CruePerhaps more than any other band, Mötley Crüe epitomized the “hair band” phenomena of the 1980s, with their updated version of 1970s glam. But they did have a brief moment of pre-glam, pre-hair when they were simply a hungry hard rock band from L.A. looking to make their breakthrough.

The band’s 1981 debut album Too Fast for Love captures this era in raw and unpolished form. There are flaws throughout, including the obvious fact that Nikki Sixx had not yet learned how to play bass (which he later admitted), the overall low budget under-production, and the fact that songs do tend to repeat themselves in near mind-numbing sequence. In spite of this, the album illustrates that there is something real and legit about these four young talents, including Sixx whose main contribution is as the band’s primary songwriter, which can attract even non-fans of the band or the genre.

The talent represented here validates Mötley Crüe as a legitimate rock band. This is especially true for the most talented member of the band, guitarist Mick Mars, who is the only member of the band that truly has his sound fully formed and cultivated on this debut.
 

CRR logo
Too Fast for Love byMötley Crüe
Released: December, 1981 (Elektra)
Produced by: Mötley Crüe
Recorded: Hit City West, Los Angeles, 1981
Side One Side Two
Live Wire
Come On and Dance
Public Enemy #1
Merry-Go-Round
Take Me To the Top
Piece of Your Action
Starry Eyes
Too Fast for Love
On With the Show
Musicians
Vince Neil – Lead Vocals | Mick Mars – Guitars
Nikki Sixx – Bass | Tommy Lee – Drums

 
Mars’ sound is the lynch pin that really elevates this album from semi-professional demo to consumer-ready rock product. His technique and sound textures are best displayed on the album’s only ballad, “Merry-Go-Round”, in which Mars alternates between lightly picked staccato notes and sustained, heavy chords and includes a fantastic, overdubbed lead that takes the song home.

However, a true listen to Too Fast for Love reveals that there are some other budding musicians beyond Mars. Although both fall just short of being fully matured in their craft, Tommy Lee plays some animated and entertaining drums while Vince Neil sings with a melodic, new-wave-ish voice.

Several of the songs reflect the band’s seventies influences. The opener “Live Wire”, with it’s machine-gun rift that dissolves into a calmer mid-section is reminiscent of Rush’s “Bastille Day”. Deep Purple’s influence can easily be heard in the entertaining “Piece of Your Action”, while the album’s title song sounds like any number of Kiss songs.

Too Fast for Love also includes a couple of really good rock-pop songs. “Public Enemy #1” would have been a huge hit if it were released during the band’s heyday a half decade later, while the closer “On With the Show” displays the Crüe’s versatility as up-and-coming musicians.

Even some of the album’s weaker songs, such as “Take Me to the Top” and “Starry Eyes” display a bit of authentic, early eighties charm that makes Mötley Crüe’s debut well worth the listen.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Paradise Theatre by Styx

Paradise Theatre by Styx

Buy Paradise Theatre

Paradise Theatre by StyxAt a time when the “concept album” had all but gone out of fashion, Styx released Paradise Theatre, an album that loosely couples a fairly interesting concept with some strategically placed (albeit unrelated) pop and rock songs.

The concept itself is one of rapid decay and lament to a past Golden Age symbolized by an actual theater on Chicago’s west side built on the eve of the Great Depression and dead by the mid 50’s. Brought forward to the turbulent economic times around 1980, this concept worked well. But concept itself is not enough, in the end it is all about the music.

Although the album is a little less than the band’s best output (The Grand Illusion four years earlier), the music did tap into a popular confluence between the band’s long-time, loyal listeners and a new crop of pop-rock fans that were suddenly starting to pay attention to durable bands from the 1970s such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, and Styx.
 

CRR logo
Paradise Theatre by Styx
Released: January 19, 1981 (A&M)
Produced by: Styx
Recorded: Pumpkin Studios, Oak Lawn, IL, 1980
Side One Side Two
 A.D. 1928
 Rockin’ the Paradise
 Too Much Time On My Hands
 Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
 The Best of Times
Lonely People
She Cares
Snowblind
Half-Penny, Two-Penny
A.D. 1958
State Street Sadie
Musicians
Dennis DeYoung – Keyboards, Vocals
James Young – Guitars, Vocals
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocoder, Vocals
Chuck Panozzo – Bass
John Panozzo – Drums & Percussion

 
Musically, Paradise Theatre contains a nice balance among the band’s three primary songwriters, Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, and James (JY) Young.

Shaw’s best contribution is the hit “Too Much Time On My Hands”, which is about as good as a pop single got for that era. It contains a nice mix of synth effects, a classic guitar solo, crisp and catchy lyrics, and well-delivered vocals. Besides some great axe work, Shaw also adds the top-end harmonies that distinguishes the Styx sound.

JY’s efforts were back-to-back tracks on the album’s second side. “Snowblind” is an anti-drug song with a lugubrious feel throughout. In spite of it’s noble message for society on the surface, it was targeted by Tipper Gore’s PMRC and other anti-rock groups for allegedly backwards masking Satanic messages. The band was truly offended by these charges and would mock them on their next album, Kilroy Was Here, with genuine backwards messaging.

“Half Penny, Two Penny” may be the best rock song on the album. A mini-suite in of itself, it builds to a crescendo with some excellent lead guitar and just the right touch of piano and saxophone (by guest Steve Eisen) in the coda where repeatedly JY screams;

“I wanna be free!”

Styx 1981

But the concept itself and all the songs that surround it, truly belongs to DeYoung. “The Best of Times” provides not only the top hit on the album, but the recurring theme with the opener “A.D. 1928” and the closer “A.D. 1958”. Many longtime fans (and apparently some band members themselves) lamented the heavy introduction of ballads by Denis DeYoung, starting with the soft-rock hit “Babe” on the previous album, Cornerstone. But this is a case where the ballad is supreme (and not so much sappy) with strong influence from each of the members of Styx and the obvious endorsement of fans at large.

However, some of the other “theme” songs really tend to straddle the line between legitimate rock opera and some high school theater production. This is especially true for “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned”, both popular songs on the album, each of which can either be interpreted as entertaining or over-the-top on any given day. For this reason, Paradise Theatre never really rises to the level of excellence of the best rock operas, such as The Who’s Quadrophenia, although it is still an interesting and enjoyable listen.

A nice touch was added to top off the album, a classy, “song after the last song” in the same fashion as “Her Majesty” off Abby Road by The Beatles. The half-minute long saloon-piano piece called “State Street Sadie”, adds just a touch of nostalgia right out of the 1920s that brings home the overall theme of Paradise Theatre.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

buy Diary of a Madman

Diary of a Madman by Ozzy OsbourneThere is something pure about Ozzy Osbourne that makes him so endearing to his fiercely loyal fans. Without pretension, this big, overbearing lug that just plugs away at his prophesying to the darker fringes of the Western psyche. Despite all his success, Ozzy is more Eagor than ego. But from this rock critic’s perspective, in his career that spanned over four decades, there was only a very brief moment in time when Ozzy Osbourne was truly great. It was during a few short years at the top of his solo career, when he shared the stage with an equally iconic partner, Randy Rhoads. Together they produced two brilliant albums, Blizzard of Ozz in 1980 and Diary of a Madman in 1981.

A classically trained, guitar virtuoso, Rhoads was a young musical genius who looked at his meteoric rise in rock n’ roll as just a minor pit stop on his road to achieving a true classical music education. He had actually planned on returning to school in the near future before his life was cut short when an idiotic pilot tried some idiotic stunts on a small plane in Florida in early 1982.
 

CRR logo
Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: November 7, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Max Norman, Ozzy Osbourne, & Randy Rhoads
Recorded: February 9 – April 23, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Over the Mountain
 Flying High Again
 You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll
 Believer
Little Dolls
Tonight
S.A.T.O.
Diary of a Madman
Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead & Backing Vocals
Randy Rhoads – Guitars
Bob Daisley – Bass
Lee Kerslake – Drums & Percussion

At first, it seems apparent that with Diary of a Madman the band wanted to carbon-copy their breakthrough Blizzard of Ozz. In fact, the first two songs, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” strongly mirror the first two songs of that album (“I Don’t Know”/”Crazy Train”), being the most recognizable on their respective albums. But soon, Diary of a Madman makes it’s own mark as a deeper, darker, more classically-oriented piece.

“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” is where the music starts to get serious. The best song on this album, it both perfectly illuminates the twin sides of Rhoads, while being the ultimate theme song for Ozzy Osbourne himself. The production work is stellar, blending the classical and heavy metal elements perfectly. In the third verse, with the long, distorted droning electric guitars, really brings the volcanic passion of this song bubbling to the surface.

Blizzard of Ozz band 1981

There is some controversy that has followed this album through the years, as the original bass and drum recordings, done by Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake were later re-recorded (by Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge) at the instance of Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon Osbourne, in order to cleanse songwriting credits from Daisley and Kerslake. This is really unfortunate, because the original recording were much of a band effort, and the bass and drum performances shine throughout, especially through the second side of the album and the songs “Little Dolls”, “Tonight”, and “S.A.T.O.”.

But this album is undoubtedly Rhoads from start to finish. And what an eerie finish indeed, with the haunting title song. That traverses through a few haunting verses and a very haunting mid section. Then the outtro – when Rhoads furious riff is accompanied by a chorus of spiritual voices that escort his very last performance on record to a bone-chilling end.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

1981_BillySquier DontSayNo

Don’t Say No by Billy Squier

Buy Don’t Say No

Don't Say No by Billy SquierBily Squier was an odd figure on the pantheon of rock. On the one hand, there is no doubt that he was a very talented vocalist with exception songwriting instincts and pop music instincts. Listening to his 1981 breakthrough, Don’t Say No, leaves one with little doubt that this is a bona fide and legitimate rocker. But then there is the other hand, something that’s a little odd, a little off, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but nonetheless was (probably) responsible for Squier not getting his due accolades through the years and decades. It certainly can be argued that being a little “off” adds a distinction or an “edge” that makes such an artist more interesting. This certainly was the case on Don’t Say No and its equally impressive follow-up, Emotions In Motion, in 1982.

A Massachusetts native, Squier had been performing live throughout New England since the late 1960s, including stints with the bands Magic Terry & The Universe, Kicks, The Sidewinders and Piper. This latter group released two critically acclaimed (albeit commercially unsuccessful) albums in the late 1970s and opened for KISS during the height of that band’s success. Squier departed Piper to launch his solo career in 1980 with his debut album The Tale of the Tape, which had a couple of minor hits.

For this sophomore effort, Squier invited Queen guitarist Brian May to act as producer. However, May had too many prior commitments and instead suggested Reinhold Mack, who recently produced Queen’s very successful 1980 albums The Game. This combination proved fruitful, as In the Dark reached the Top 5 on the album charts and spawned two Top 40 singles.

 

CRR logo
Don’t Say No by Billy Squier
Released: April 13, 1981 (Capitol)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Billy Squier
Recorded: The Power Station, New York
Side One Side Two
 In the Dark
 The Stroke
 My Kinda Lover
 You Know What I Like
 Too Daze Gone
Lonely Is the Night
Whadda You Want from Me
Nobody Knows
I Need You
Don’t Say No
Primary Musicians
Billy Squier – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Percussion
Cary Sharaf – Guitars
Alan St. Jon – Keyboards
Mark Clarke – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Chouinard – Drums

This “second tier” of songs are best exemplified with the final three songs on the album, which break from the normal pattern with differing tempos and acoustic textures. “Nobody Knows” is the only song that can be considered a ballad. Squier’s near-soprano vocals above a slowly-picked guitar line and just the right amount of bass and strings later gives way to the full band joining in and a fantastic double-tracked guitar lead that captures the mood perfectly. “I Need You” is a very good pop song, with a really cool new-wave-ish bass/synth riff, calm strummed acoustic and strategically inserted electric guitar during verses that becomes more forceful during the choruses. Unlike that smooth song, “Don’t Say No” is put together in bits and pieces with some interesting lyrics;

I live on the border-line, you come from the void…”

Which brings us back to that “oddness” that we mentioned at the top. Don’t Say No is littered with examples, mainly outtros of songs, such as the orgasmic chant at the end of the opener “In the Dark” or the frantic pick-up that ends “Lonely Is the Night”. But this is most evident on the album’s closing title track, which begins with a fade-in of the first verse and fades out completely near the end, only to re-emerge suddenly. Is this edgy or amateurish? Ultimately, the listener must decide. Some of Squier’s influences are apparent in a couple of other fine songs. “Too Daze Gone” contains many of the same blues-based elements utilized by Aerosmith in the 1970s, while “Lonely Is the Night” is a definite nod to Presence-era Led Zeppelin, but with an additional gloss layer that makes it very entertaining and radio-friendly.

Billy Squier

Of course, Don’t Say No is best know for the “hits” that are still heard on AOR and other media to this day. The opener, “In the DarK” has a very good sound with mixture of guitars and synths and a steady, staccato beat along with plenty of little riffs throughout that make this song a trans-era hit. Mack’s great production is apparent right from the start. “The Stroke” is a double-entendre with infectious lyric and riff and a steady, marching beat throughout. This marching continues through to “My Kindda Lover”, but with a sweeter demeanor, as compared to it’s totally cynical predecessor.

When we made our choice as to which albums from 1981 we would review, we decided that we would either choose Foreigner 4 and Don’t Say No (but not both) as they cover very similar territory as far as genre and quality. They are also similar being that the most popular songs on each album are pretty much the best songs on each album – something that, believe it or not, is really quite rare. But while it was difficult to determine if “Urgent” was superior to “The Stroke” or if “In the Dark” was better than “Juke Box Hero”, it was ultimately the second tier of songs that, in our opinion, gave Don’t Say No the edge. Even though there are some weak points on the album, overall this is the finest work that Billy Squier ever produced.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

Ghost In the Machine by The Police

Ghost In the Machine by The Police

Buy Ghost In the Machine

Ghost In the Machine by The PoliceGhost in the Machine is the fourth album by The Police and the first to actually use an English title, albeit the title was borrowed from the Albert Koestler novel of the same name. Although it used the foundation of a simple three piece power sound with reggae beats and a punk edge that was built by the band’s previous three albums, this album is a definitive evolution towards more ethereal jazzy sounds that would later come to fruition on the Synchronicity album in 1983.

For the first time since the band’s formation four years earlier, a dominant influence was starting to emerge from lead vocalist and bass player Sting, who lobbied for the addition of synths, layered horns, saxophones, and lyrics heavily influenced by philosophical theory. This new direction caused a riff with the other band members, especially drummer and original founding member Stewart Copeland, and proved to be the beginning of the end for this short-live and talented band. As it turned out, the more mainstream (and well-earned) popularity the Police achieved, the further they grew apart, disbanding after the break through of Synchronicity and the headlining world tour that followed.
 

CRR logo
Ghost In the Machine by The Police
Released: October 2, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, January – September, 1981
Side One Side Two
Spirits In the Material World
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Invisible Sun
Hungry for You Demolition Man
Too Much Information
Rehumanize Yourself
One World (Not Three)
Ωmegaman
Secret Journey
Darkness
Group Musicians
Sting – Bass, Keyboards, Saxophone, Lead Vocals
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths, Backing Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals

The album opens with “Spirits in the Material World”, which sets the tone for this collection with a steady synth riff against, a syncopated drum beat, and philosophical lyrics –

There is no political solution / to our troubled evolution / have no faith in constitution / there is no bloody revolution…

Originally written by Sting in 1976, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is the most upbeat song on the record although the lyrics suggest it’s about a guy with a crush on a girl and he is trying to get up the nerve to talk to her. It nicely fluctuates between a calm, piano arpeggio during the verse and a classic, steel drum-fueled reggae during the chorus. The song reached #1 on the mainstream rock charts, making it the biggest pop hit on the album.

What do you do if your lyrics are too hot for the English speaking world? Set them against the backdrop of a ska beat and sing them in French of course. “Hungry For You” has probably confused many non francophone listeners who may think they just can’t understand the words (because they’re in French).

The band returns to philosophical rambling with “Rehumanize Yourself”. The beginning of this song sounds like it may have influenced The Bangles hit “Walk Like and Egyptian” with Horns drifting and soaring above the racing beat.

I work all day at the factory/I’m building a machine that’s not for me/There must be a reason that I can’t see/You’ve got to humanize yourself…

The Police Invisible Sun single“Invisible Sun” continues the philosophical introspection with monotone vocals and lyrics poetically describing the mundane tasks of the day and hoping for an unseen reward at the end of the day. These words were especially striking when set against the imagery of the music video, showing footage of struggles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

The feel of Ghost in the Machine is clearly a departure from the previous Police projects. Guitarist Andy summers probably had the least amount of influence on this album, simply due to the pure displacement by the presence of all the other instrumentation. That’s not to say that this isn’t a good listen, as the band was well on their way to their creative apex.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Freeze Frame by J Geils Band

Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band

Buy Freeze Frame

Freeze Frame by J Geils BandFreeze Frame is a confluence album, where a hard-working band with vast longevity in the bag reaches their heights towards the sunset of their career. It is a work that combines many elements of their traditional, rock n’ soul, party-time backbone with a new, (then) cutting-edge, approach that incorporates synthesized soundscapes and new wave entertainment. And Freeze Frame IS new wave in the truest sense – a well-produced collection that explores under-developed areas of the rock landscape.

Although the band bears the name of founding guitarist J. Geils, this album really belongs to keyboardist, songwriter, and producer Seth Justman. Justman was a student at Boston University in the late 1960s when he followed the band, then known as “The J. Geils Blues Band”, which was then an acoustic trio led by Geils and virtuoso harmonica player Richard Salwitx, better known by his stage name, Magic Dick. Soon a local DJ known as Peter Wolf joined as front man and lead singer along with drummer Stephan Bladd and, with the eventual addition of Justman, the six-man lineup that would stay together for a decade and a half was in place.

Through the 1970s, the band achieved moderate commercial success with a few minor hits, but nothing like the worldwide fame that they would enjoy in the early 1980s with Freeze Frame, fueled by the Justman’s catchy and cleaver #1 hit “Centerfold”, which introduced the band to much of the mainstream pop world.

CRR logo
Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band
Released: October 26, 1981 (EMI)
Produced by: Seth Justman
Recorded: Long View Farm, North Brookfield, MA, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Freeze Frame
 Rage In the Cage
 Centerfold
 Do You Remember When?
 Insane, Insane Again
Flamethrower
River Blindness
Angel In Blue
Piss On the Wall
Band Musicians
Peter Wolf – Lead Vocals
Seth Justman – Keyboards, Vocals
J. Geils – Guitars
Magic Dick – Harmonica, Trumpet, Saxophone
Danny Klein – Bass
Stephen Bladd – Drums, Vocals

The album is really a potpourri of songs that can be segmented into one of about three distinct categories. The first of these is the direct pop category, consisting of the smash hit “Centerfold” and the opening title song. Both are bouncy and catchy and lead by an airy and accessible organ riff and upbeat entertainment, while carefully flirting with some risque subject matter. “Freeze Frame” has a great stop-start chorus, and was itself a successful top-ten hit. The band also produced a couple of entertaining music videos for the brand new MTV for these songs, no doubt helping their climb in the charts.

The next category of songs are synch-dominated, pop-art compositions that deviate vastly from the band’s traditional sound. Here, Justman’s genius shines through as he accomplishes this deviation while he still preserves the album’s overall integrity. “Rage In the Cage” is a frantic collection of beat-based tangents that is spastic and entertaining. Some wild sounds are nicely placed bit by bit to project audio that is at once natural and artificial, with the natural drumming by Bladd complimenting everything else (bass, horns, harmonica, and synths) which straddle the line between synthesized and natural. “Insane, Insane Again” takes a very similar approach but with a frantic bass line by Danny Klein holding together the backbone. “River Blindness” starts like an episode of a television mystery, with bombastic horns, before it kicks into the the main riff and takes the listener on a musical journey to dark and mysterious relms that sounds about 90% synthesized, but with a heavy guitar by Geils near the very end.

J Geils Band 1982

The final category of songs on Freeze Frame maintains the band,s traditional rock/soul sound through the ballad “Angel In Blue” and the rockers “Flamethrower” and “Piss On the Wall”. The album’s closer with the quasi-vulgar title, at first appears as a somewhat frivolous homage to the band’s own legacy, albeit with some excellent blues harp by Magic Dick. But it also adds a bit of rebellious punk rock doom and gloom –

“…everybody’s shaking ‘cause the big one’s about to fall, I’m just trying to hold it steady while I piss on the wall…”

“Angel In Blue” is a pleasant tune with a melancholy tone, containing the biggest presence by Geils on the entire album. The song is masterfully constructed with just the right touch of organ and drum beat, and a nice ensemble of backing vocals and horns in the outtro.

There is one song that doesn’t quite fit into any of the above categories, the excellent ballad “Do You Remember When?”, which contains elements of the best of ALL these categories. If you like discovering truly great, “lost” songs – this is may be one. It has all the elements of a classic love song, but with such an edge and perfectly placed musical motifs – Geils repeated, 5-note guitar riff, organ, piano, strings, extra percussion, just the right amount of special effects, and interesting background vocals. It also contains the finest vocal performance by Peter Wolf, with an amazing high note near the end of the song, which he holds and variates for nearly 10 seconds.

In the story of rock, the J. Geils Band is not quite unique in being a longstanding quality act that finally gets their mainstream “break” near the twilight of their career (see Bonnie Raitt, REO Speedwagon, or Supertramp). But they may be unique in that their popular breakthrough is also their artistic masterpiece.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

East Side Story by Squeeze

East Side Story by Squeeze

Buy East Side Story

East Side Story by SqueezeEast Side Story is the fourth studio album by Squeeze, released in 1981. The album signified a break with the band’s traditional “new wave” sound towards more divergent styles and genres including progressive rock, soul, and psychedelia. The band originally wanted to do a four-sided “double LP” with each side using a different producer – Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Paul McCartney, and Elvis Costello. In the end, Squeeze released a long 14-song single LP with Costello co-producing along with Roger Bechirian. Under Costello’s guidance, the band produced an album of smart, uptempo pop tunes which guitarist Chris Difford labled as “suburban short stories.”

Difford founded Squeeze in 1974 along with lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Tilbrook. The group was named after The Velvet Underground’s oft-derided 1973 album and found moderate success in the London suburbs in the mid 1970s. After signing with A&M Records, the band released a self-titled debut album in 1978, followed by Cool For Cats in 1979 and Argybargy in 1980, each of which were fine albums but strictly within the confines of the newly coined “new wave” genre.

With East Side Story, the band recorded their masterpiece as they branched out to explore other facets of their talents. With the variety of genres explored, the production of Costello, and the fully developed songwriting of Difford and Tilbrook East Side Story has the feel of the double-album it was originally intended to be.

CRR logo
East Side Story by Squeeze
Released: May 15, 1981 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Bechirian & Elvis Costello
Recorded: London, 1980-1981
Side One Side Two
 In Quintessence
 Someone Else’s Heart
 Tempted
 Piccadilly
 There’s No Tomorrow
 Heaven
 Woman’s World
Is That Love?
F-Hole
Labelled With Love
Someone Else’s Bell
Mumbo Jumbo
Vanity Fair
Messed Around
Band Musicians
Glenn Tilbrook – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Chris Difford – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Carrack – Keys, Vocals
John Bentley – Bass
Gilson Lavis – Drums

The album begins with “In Quintessence”, an upbeat song with repetitive phrasing and simultaneous vocals by Tilbrook and Difford throughout. This is followed by “Someone Else’s Heart” (not to be confused with “Someone Else’s Bell” on the second side of the album), which harkens back to the new-wave-ish sound with a crisp organ and subdued vocals with fantastic harmonies.

Later on the album’s first side is the album’s finest sequence of songs. “Piccadilly” starts with an excellent piano before settling into a simple, upbeat, three-chord rock groove with chanting vocals delivered in a linear, story-telling fashion. “There’s No Tomorrow” contains a heavy dose of Beatle-esque surrealism with a dramatic key riff and backwards-masked percussion along with Costello on backing vocals. The ska influenced “Heaven” is an excellent song which contains a great bass line and weird sound effects after the chanting choruses. Later in the song their is a banjo section with some weird, vocalized animal sounds. The side ends with “Woman’s World”, a good pop song with nice piano note runs, building ascension in the late verses, and a great key jump later on.

By far the best song on the album, “Tempted” contains a great thumping bass line by John Bentley under the subtlely swelling organ by band newcomer Paul Carrack, who was a member of Squeeze for this one album. Carrack also sang most of the seductive lyrics with some cool secondary and background vocals. The band’s first “hit” in the U.S., “Tempted” has become one of Squeeze’s most well known songs as it is infectiously catchy and never seems to grow old. It is quite ironic that, with short-timer Carrack at the lead, most passive fans are unaware of the basic sound of the band as normally led by Tilbrook’s vocals.

Although much weaker than the first, the second side of the album does contain a few very interesting tracks. “Is That Love” was the first single released from the album, while “F-Hole” contains thick strings and an almost psychedelic approach. “Labelled With Love” contains a pure country rhythm with calm acoustic guitar, piano, and rim-shot drums overlaid by some good guitar later on. It was a song recorded as a semi-farce and Tilbrook initially objected to its inclusion on the album but was convinced by Costello and it became a minor hit. “Vanity Fair” uses orchestration much like later-era Beatles albums with no rock instrumentation, just vocals, while the album concludes with “Messed Around”, a rockabilly song much like the Stray Cats, that would be more convincing without the vocals of Tilbrook.

After a fifth album was released in 1982, Squeeze took a break for a while before reforming later in the decade. Although they continued to record interesting music, the band would not again reach the heights of East Side Story.

~

1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.