In The Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

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In The Eye of the Storm by Roger HodgsonAlthough it was not a great commercial success, Roger Hogdson‘s debut album did well in advancing the compositional foundation that he established in his decade-plus as one of the leaders of Supertramp. On, In the Eye of the Storm, Hodgson wrote, arranged, produced, and performed just about every note and, more importantly, found the proper synthesis of Supertramp inspired prog rock and a contemporary, mid-eighties sound. The album reveals that Hodgson, who had always shared vocal and songwriting duties with Rick Davies through seven studio albums with Supertramp, is more than apt at carrying an entire LP by himself.

Following the breakout success of Supertramp’s, Breakfast In America, and the worldwide tour that followed, Hodgson decided to relocate to remote Nevada City, California, where he built  Unicorn Studio. The rest of the group remained in Los Angeles through the recording of 1982’s, Famous Last Words, which caused a bit of a logistical situation that effected the group harmony. Following a final tour, Hodgson decided to leave Supertramp and concentrate on solo projects.

Originally, Hodgson recorded an album titled, Sleeping With the Enemy, but he decided to withhold it at the last minute when he was dissatisfied with the overall quality. In this light, In the Eye of the Storm, was a second pass at much of the material with a more deliberative approach, resulting in a well-crafted and highly listenable album.


In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hogdson
Released: December 7, 1984 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Hodgson
Recorded: Unicorn Studios, Nevada City, California, 1983-84
Side One Side Two
Had a Dream
In Jeopardy
Lovers In the Wind
Hooked On a Problem
I’m Not Afraid
Give Me Love, Give Me Life
Only Because of You
Primary Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass
Jimmy Johnson – Bass  |  Michael Shrieve – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with a long and dramatic movie-like intro to “Had a Dream”. Eventually, this gives way to thumping rhythms and a familiar bouncy piano that harkens back to Supertramp, as the song proper contains a high-end rock arrangement with anti-war lyrics. There is an interesting, laid back bridge section which is moody and melodic with a slow guitar lead before the track comes back full-fledged with a more traditional guitar lead into the final verse and long outro built on Hodgson’s piano and guitar motifs. An edited version of “Had a Dream” was released as a single and reached number 48 on the charts.

The next song, “In Jeopardy”, was also released as a single. Built on pleasant little piano riffs, call and response vocals, and percussive flourishes, the song contains a couple of modern synth leads but Hodgson. While the musical mood is light and upbeat, the song’s theme continues the dark theme of uncertainty established by the opening track. After a minor key piano intro, which meanders a bit, “Lovers In the Wind”, moves into a melodic but melancholy, soft-rock song with rich harmonies. This accessible, adult-contemporary track features fretless bass by Jimmy Johnson, adding a really smooth edge to the song, which was a huge hit in some Southeast Asian countries.

Perhaps the closest track to traditional Supertramp, “Hooked On a Problem” is built on the consistent ¾ beat during the verse and a pleasant and extra-melodic chorus. The song has a carnival-like feel with plenty of sonic treats, and is presented in a machine-like rotation with a cool organ and some slight saxophone by guest Scott Page. Still, the lyrics are a bit foreboding;

I’m walking a tightrope with stars in my eyes, In danger of falling, won’t you kiss me goodbye? Can somebody help me? What they trying to do?”

The album’s original second side contains three extended tracks of over seven minutes each. “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” starts with a distant vocal and piano and eventually launches into an upbeat hook, built mostly on simple synth motifs. The song has almost a Meatloaf-like vibe in its emotional and theatrical mix. “I’m Not Afraid” is a mini-suite, starting with pure eighties synth-piano and the grittiest vocals on album. Following a bluesy lead section where Hogdson’s lead guitar trades licks with the harmonica of Ken Allardyce, comes a long and rhythmic outro section. The album concludes with the uplifting piano track, “Only Because of You”, which is almost religious in theme. The song contains a long mid-section with scat vocals by guest Claire Diament and some short synth and guitar leads by Hodgson before winding down to the final verse sections.

Although In the Eye of the Storm only reached number 46 on the Billboard album charts, it did perform far better elsewhere around the globe, and eventually sold over two million copies worldwide. Hodgson followed-up with a second solo record, Hai Hai, in 1987, before taking an extended break from recording to pursue other projects.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

Purple Rain by Prince

Purple Rain by Prince

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Purple Rain by PrincePrince reached the pinnacle of his success in 1984, with the release of the musically potent Purple Rain to accompany the major motion picture of the same name. The sixth studio album by the Minneapolis-based recording artist, it marks a slight departure from his earlier solo work. For the first time, Prince added and fully credited his band, The Revolution, and the production emphasized full band performances and multiple, layered instruments. The resulting hybrid of funk, rock, R&B and synthesized dance beats became one of the most popular and well regarded albums of the 1980s, reaching the top of the charts and selling over 20 million copies worldwide.

Keyboardist Lisa Coleman was one of only two additional musicians (along with guitarist Dez Dickerson) to perform on Prince’s breakthrough double album 1999. Following the tour for that album, Dickerson left the group for “religious reasons” and was replaced by guitarist and vocalist Wendy Melvoin, a childhood friend of Coleman. As mainstream success began to grow for Prince, due in part to the proliferation of MTV, he decided to use his band less sparsely and load up for an ambitious follow-up. Filmed almost entirely in Minneapolis, the movie Purple Rain contains stories behind many of the soundtrack’s songs and uses many musicians from the local scene.

As was the case on all but his earliest albums, Prince composed and arranged all of the songs on this album. However, he did elicit some input from his new band members. Another unique attribute of Purple Rain is the fact that three songs on the album were actually recorded live at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis with Prince adding some studio touches and edits to these later. The August 1983 show was a benefit concert and is historic as the first live appearance by Melvoin with The Revolution.


Purple Rain by Prince
Released: June 25, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Prince & the Revolution
Recorded: First Avenue & The Warehouse, Minneapolis and The Record Plant & Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, August 1983–March 1984
Side One Side Two
Let’s Go Crazy
Take Me with U
The Beautiful Ones
Computer Blue
Darling Nikki
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star
Purple Rain
Primary Musicians
Prince – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards
Wendy Melvoin – Guitars, Vocals
Lisa Coleman – Keyboards, Vocals
Matt Fink – Keyboards
Bobby Z – Drums, Percussion

Generally regarded as the most pop-oriented of Prince’s career, Purple Rain begins the story with Prince narrating along to a church-like organ, speaking about enjoying the here and now on the opener “Let’s Go Crazy”. An electronic drum beat kicks in along with a bouncy organ riff, and it drives this song into a frenzy of wild guitars and intense vocals, until it crashes into a cacophony of whining guitars and screaming. The song was one of two on this album to top the charts.

“Take Me With You” is a duet with Apollonia, who also starred as Prince’s romantic counterpart in the film. The song was originally meant to be on her Apollonia 6 album, but its inclusion on Purple Rain necessitated cuts to the suite-like following song, “Computer Blue”. This latter song melds synthesizers and a quirky, sloshy electronic beat with some guitar elements and perhaps stands out as the most stereotypically “eighties” in sound and style. “Darling Nikki” caused quite a stir with Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center for the racy subject matter addressed in the lyrics. The song itself is sparsely arranged with the emphasis on Prince’s chanted and groaned vocals. The song was not the centerpiece of the album, but it probably helped boost the notoriety of the album with all of the media attention surrounding the risqué lyrics.

“When Doves Cry” is one of the most creative songs on the album. Again, the arrangement is sparse as there is no bass, just an electronic drum beat, synthesized melodic sounds and Prince’s emotive vocals. The layers of sound are subtle and create a smokey, almost psychedelic feel. Written specifically for a sequence in the film, this worldwide hit was the top selling single for the year 1984, according to Billboard magazine.

Prince

The album’s final three tracks were all recorded live in 1983. “I Would Die 4U” is a departure from the rest of the album and is almost anthemic with a repetitive beat, chanted refrain and synthesized sounds. The song fades abruptly into “Baby I’m a Star”, delivered almost like a show tune with theatrical lyrics and a pounding steady, dance beat. Prince’s masterpiece on this album is the closing title track, “Purple Rain”. This song is Prince reaching into his blues and funk influences and coming up with a depth of sound in many layers. The guitars are front and center in this song with the solo soaring above the strings and drums, closing the album on a very high note.

Purple Rain was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”. Prince also won two Grammy Awards in 1985 for the album. However, he also announced that year that he would stop touring and making music videos after the release of his next album, Around the World in a Day, which ultimately led to the disbandment of the short-lived “Revolution”.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1984 albums.

 

The Works by Queen

The Works by Queen

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The Works by QueenThe Works was sort of a comeback album by Queen in 1984. We say “sort of” because the group never really went away, they just faced a major commercial flop with their previous effort, a quasi-disco record called Hot Space, which seemed woefully outdated in 1982. In this light, The Works was a return to form, albeit with strong eighties sonic and arrangement sensibilities. On this nine track album, each member of the quartet brought in at least one complete composition and, while there are some major weak points in the mix, these are superseded by the brilliant high points as well as the fact that this album turned out to be an important pivot point for Queen in the 1980s.

The decade began strong for the group, with the 1980 release of The Game, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would become their best selling album. Later that same year, the group released the soundtrack to the movie Flash Gordon, which further expanded their audience and reach. A worldwide tour followed, which included several concerts with audiences topping 100,000 in Latin American in 1981. That same year, Queen worked with David Bowie on the single “Under Pressure”, a spontaneous occurrence, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording, and another huge success, reaching number one in the UK. Late in 1981, Queen released their Greatest Hits compilation, which sold over 25 million copies worldwide and is still the best selling album in UK Chart history. However, 1982 turned out to be a disaster, not just with the flop of Hot Space, but with the inner turmoil which began to brew in the band, as guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were both very critical of the new sound and its apparent abandonment of Queen’s core rock audience. For the first time in a decade, the group took a break from touring and recording, with some band members working on outside projects and solo albums.

After about a year apart, Queen reunited in August 1983 to begin work on this eleventh studio album. They convened in Los Angeles, making this the first time Queen recorded in America, and spent several months working on the album with co-producer and engineer Reinhold Mack. Here the group fused May and Taylor’s rock sound with some of the German-influenced electro pop advocated by vocalist and arranger Freddie Mercury, to fulfill the original mission laid out by Taylor, who stated at the beginning of recording, “Let’s give them the works!”


The Works by Queen
Released: February 27, 1984 (EMI)
Produced by: Queen & Reinhold Mack
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles and Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, August 1983–January 1984
Side One Side Two
Radio Ga Ga
Tear It Up
It’s a Hard Life
Man On the Prowl
Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)
I Want to Break Free
Keep Passing the Open Windows
Hammer to Fall
Is This the World We Created…?
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

In what was probably an attempt to show the world that “Queen is back”, most of the songs on the albums first side, seem to harken back to previous famous songs by the band. May’s straight-forward anthem rocker “Tear It Up” contains a consistent beat that seems to slightly rip off the group’s own “We Will Rock You” from the 1977 album News of the World. Mercury’s piano ballad, “It’s a Hard Life” is pleasant and with good sound production, reminiscent of classic Queen of the 1970s, especially during the uplifting guitar lead by May. “Man On the Prowl” is a Jerry Lee Lewis inspired rockabilly track, complete with those famous Queen backing vocals, very similar to those used on the group’s 1979 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

“Radio Ga Ga” was the lead single from The Works, as well as its opening track, and immediately feels like a breath of fresh musical air. This brilliant composition which combines a synthesized rhythm with pristine melody, was written by Taylor wholly on a synthesizer, but brilliantly arranged by Mercury, who really shines during the escalating pre-chorus, as the singer transforms the rather silly and trite lyrics into an uplifting and majestic piece. There is very little presence by May on this track, but when he does appear at the very end, he performs a simple slide lead which enhances the track further.

 
The album’s second side begins “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)”, a really convoluted and disorganized song, which has no real direction and it appears to just throw in the “kitchen sink” of styles and techniques as a kind of extended filler. Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free” is far better than previous track, as it contains good pop craftsmanship, a cool rhythmic riff and a catchy vocal melody, resulting in a pure pop song that is impossible not to enjoy at some level. When Deacon insisted he didn’t want a guitar solo on the track, session man Fred Mandel was commissioned to perform a synth solo. Mercury’s “Keep Passing the Open Windows” starts as a dramatic piano track but, quickly morphs to a bass-driven rock track led by bassist John Deacon, which is fairly entertaining at first, But the trite lyrics grow old as the repetition increases through this five and a half minute track.

“Hammer to Fall” contains a catchy rock riff, catchy melody, and catchy harmonies, adding up to a latter-era Queen classic. Lyrically the song deals with the threat of imminent doom, but musically it feeds into the good-time, call-and-response of eighties pop/rock. This track should have concluded the album on a high note, but instead the group opted for the short acoustic folk ballad “Is This the World We Created?”, a very simple and somber piece by Mercury, which leaves the listener in a low mood as the album concludes. Not a bad piece, but should have been placed before “Hammer to Fall” for maximum effect.

Commercially, The Works did fine as an album, charting in the Top 20 in over a dozen nations worldwide. More importantly, Queen was restored as a top-level, headline act. By 1985, they were again once again playing in front of hundreds of thousands and they performed in front of millions at Live Aid in July of that year. During that festival, the visual of the entire audience at Wembley Stadium clapping in unison to “Radio Ga Ga”, has been cited as one of the greatest live performances of all time.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple

Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple

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Perfect Strangers by Deep PurpleThrough the past half century of classic rock and roll, there have been scores (if not hundreds) of major group reunions, with very mixed results. However, there have been very few groups that returned with the same potency contemporary relevance as the comeback of Deep Purple in 1984, which commenced with the composing and recording of the Perfect Strangers album. Here, the classic “Mark II” lineup, which had not been together in over a decade, struck a “perfect” balance between their indelible classic sound of the early seventies and the emerging 80s hard rock sensibilities, such as the great clichés embedded within its lyrics (i.e. “it’s not the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase…”).

The prior album recorded by the successful and popular “Mark II” lineup, was the rather forgettable Who Do We Think We Are in 1973. The dissatisfaction with that album, ultimately led to the departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist/producer Roger Glover. Glover was replaced by bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, and the group briefly debated continuing as a four-piece band, with Hughes also acting as lead vocalist. However, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore discovered the (then) unknown David Coverdale and liked his blues-tinged voice. This new (“Mark III”) lineup recorded two albums and embarked on a very successful tour in 1974, with the album Burn becoming only the second Top 10 album by the band. However, Blackmore was growing dissatisfied with the new funky and soul elements, and decided to leave in mid 1975. Still, the two original members, keyboardist John Lord and drummer Ian Paice decided to carry on and replaced Blackmore with Tommy Bolin (“Mark IV” lineup) for the studio album Come Taste the Band, which was released mere months before Deep Purple officially announced their break-up in 1976. Bolin tragically died of a drug overdose later that year.

The fact that Deep Purple reunited nearly a decade later is all the more remarkable due to the vast success of the individual members in the intervening years. Starting in 1975, Gillan formed the Ian Gillan Band and later formed a separate group named “Gillan” which put out several albums and had considerable success into the early 1980s. In 1983, Gillan joined the original members of Black Sabbath for a single year and single album, with the arrangement ending with the Deep Purple reunion. In Black Sabbath, Gillan replaced Ronnie James Dio, who ironically was the original singer of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, starting in 1975. Blackmore steered Rainbow through seven albums in eight years, with Glover joining on as bassist and producer for the final four of these albums in the early 1980s. Glover had earlier released two post-Deep Purple solo albums in the late 1970s. Lord and Paice formed the short-lived super group Paice Ashton Lord, which released the album Malice in Wonderland in 1977, before each moving on to other projects. Paice became the drummer for bluesman Gary Moore, while Lord joined Coverdale’s post-Deep Purple project, Whitesnake, recorded several albums with the band right through Slide It In in early 1984.

Rural Stowe, Vermont, USA was the unlikely location for the reunion of these five English rock stars. Here, the tracks for Perfect Strangers were composed and recorded in less than a month. Eight of these tracks made it on to the original record, with two more, the straight-up rocker “Not Responsible” and the extended instrumental “Son of Alerik”, appearing on later versions of the album.


Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple
Released: September 16, 1984 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roger Glover
Recorded: Horizons, Stowe, Vermont, August 1984
Side One Side Two
Knockin’ At Your Back Door
Under the Gun
Nobody’s Home
Mean Streak
Perfect Strangers
A Gypsy’s Kiss
Wasted Sunsets
Hungry Daze
Group Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals  |  Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
John Lord – Keyboards  |  Roger Glover – Bass  |  Ian Paice – Drums

Lord’s dramatic keyboard intro by Lord, borrowed heavily from the “Jaws” theme, is accented by a pulsating rhythm during the dramatic intro to “Knocking at Your Back Door”. This seven-minute album opener was quite the breath of fresh, classic rock air during the mid 1980s rock scene, and made an immediate impact with its classic yet modern (for 1984) sound. In all, the performance, rudiments, and picturesque lyrics are all excellent as is the long guitar lead by Blackmore to finish things up. “Under the Gun” is almost as equally impressive as the opener, albeit much less heralded. The thundering motor-drive of rhythm by Glover and Paice supports the repeated call-and-response between Blackmore and Lord, followed by the strong, harmonized riff through the verses.

“Nobody’s Home” is the only track on the album credited to all five band members (Lord and Paice rarely composed). A short synth intro is interrupted by another classic Deep Purple riff and a good lyrical catch line. While mainly vocal-driven by Gillan’s dynamic crooning, it contains that great old Blackmore-Lord dueling and a later organ solo which is wisely given much room to breathe. “Mean Streak” is the only song on the first side which is not completely excellent and, really, the lone weak link on the entire album. There is a nice upbeat chord progression, but it unfortunately all points towards the rather ho-hum hook.

Perfect Strangers singleThe beginning of side two returns to classic mode with the deep and profound title song “Perfect Strangers”. This song contains a quasi-heavy-metal drive but with great melody and a really cool and subtle passage to the post-chorus Eastern-style phrasing. The rhythm is steady throughout, leaving Gillan the room to vocally paint the pictures of the rich scenery of the lyrics about reincarnation and passing through time. “A Gypsy’s Kiss” comes in with a rhythm almost like rockabilly but quickly breaks into a frenzied beat. The most interesting section here is the multi-part instrumental, with Blackmore’s guitar lead over some very interesting rudiments before Lord doing both a synth and organ lead. This frantic track is reminiscent of those found on the group’s 1972 classic Machine Head.

“Wasted Sunsets” calms things down a bit as a dramatic ballad with long and moody guitar notes and leads and slow but effective riffs. The deep organ notes guide the moderate and measured rhythms on this track which is really a great showcase for Blackmore’s bluesy guitar. “Hungry Daze” finishes things up strong as an upbeat rock retrospective of the band’s earlier years. Here Gillan’s vocals are most dynamic and Paice provides a great drum section during an extended psychedelic section.

Perfect Strangers was a commercial success, charting in the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in six European countries, including the UK. This was followed up with a highly successful world tour that saw Deep Purple out-grossing every other artist except Bruce Springsteen in 1985. The Mark II lineup remained together for several subsequent years, releasing another studio album The House of Blue Light in 1987. However, the personnel shifts resumed near the end of the decade, resulting in even more “Mark X” lineups.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders

Learning to Crawl
by The Pretenders

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Learning to Crawl by The PretendersFollowing a very tumultuous period where two band members lost their lives due to drug overdoses, Learning to Crawl, was a bit of an early career comeback album for The Pretenders. The group’s third overall album, this early 1984 release was their first in nearly three years and contains recordings that date back to the summer of 1982. With the personnel turmoil, group leader Chrissie Hynde took a more active role in shaping the group’s sound and compositional direction, adding some maturity to the raw intensity of the Pretenders’ core approach. The result is an original blend of later-era new wave rock, which propelled the group to the height of its popularity.

After the great success of their self-titled debut album, the group released Pretenders II in 1981, but felt that album was rushed in order to take advantage of their popularity. The following year, original bass player, Pete Farndon,was fired due to his increasing drug dependency. Just two days later, original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure from cocaine intolerance, leaving the Pretenders cut in half almost overnight. Still, Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers continued on and began recording just a month after Honeyman-Scott’s death.

In 1983 Hynde brought on guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster as new permanent members of the band. One of the first recordings made by the new lineup was the B-side “Fast or Slow (The Law’s the Law)”, which was sung by drummer Chambers and has a folk/dance riff and beat throughout. The song, which seems to be about an actual altercation with the law, was released two months ahead of Learning to Crawl.


Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders
Released: January 7, 1984 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1982–83
Side One Side Two
Middle of the Road
Back On the Chain Gang
Time the Avenger
Watching the Clothes
Show Me
Thumbelina
My City Was Gone
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
I Hurt You
2000 Miles
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars, Vocals
Malcolm Foster – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

The album commences with the thundering “Middle of the Road”, a straight forward, three chord rocker. With a catchy vocal chorus hook and rapid-fire lead vocals, the song seems rather simple on its surface, but actually has a deeper underlying meaning interpreted from the Tao Te Ching. Hynde’s harmonica lead at end of the song completes the track which reached the Top 20 in America. “Back On the Chain Gang” may be the best song ever recorded by The Pretenders. Recorded and released as a single in 1982, the song features a smooth lead guitar by Billy Bremner, who was a temporary fill-in at the time. In spite of the odd lyrical tempo, Hynde’s vocals are catchy and delivered in a near weeping manner, making the song at once uplifting and melancholy, and with a good, inventive bridge. The song became the band’s biggest hit in the US, reaching number 5, and pays homage to Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Chain Gang” with workman vocals dubbed in the background.

 
“Time the Avenger” is another good, upbeat rock song with lots of little guitar riffs on top of Foster’s repeating 2/4 bass phrase. On this track, Hynde’s vocal style is much like that of Joni Mitchell, while she delivers more deeply philosophical lyrics such as; “Nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here”. After the brief new wave screed “Watching the Clothes”, the album’s first side concludes with the melodic “Show Me”. This upbeat and jangly track is a true a singer’s song, with each word maximized for melodic effect in the repeating vocal areas (there is not really verse/chorus setup). With slightly differing musical arrangements and approaches, the mixture of acoustic, electric, bass carries the song through its pleasant fade-out.

The second side is filled with songs of diverse styles, with mixed results. “Thumbelina” has a Country-rock, Johnny Cash-like rhythm and, like many lyrics of songs on this album, this appears to be written about Hynde’s daughter, Natalie (fathered by Kinks’ leader Ray Davies). In fact, Hynde named the album “Learning to Crawl” because that’s exactly what her daughter was doing at the time. “My City Was Gone” is another track that dates back to 1982 and features a consistent bass riff by Tony Butler with heavily-effected drums by Chambers. Lyrically, the song is about changing landscapes, and change itself and never really relents from straight-forward riff and beat.

The album’s only cover, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” features piano by former Squeeze member Paul Carrack along with crooning vocals by Hynde. In contrast, “I Hurt You” takes a pure new wave funk approach with multiple voices and vocal melodies and another driving, simple bass line. This song is most interesting at the very end with overdubbed, slightly strummed guitars and a cool lead by McIntosh. The album concludes with the beautiful and steady “2000 Miles”, with a sweet synth and guitar intro, which fades in with the perfect vibe for this song. The musicians add the right mixture of rhythm and effect to keep the song on a steady pace and provide the canvas for Hynde’s vocals. Written for the departed guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the tune is often considered a Christmas song, due to its lyrical content;

In these frozen and silent nights, sometimes in a dream you appear / Outside under the purple sky, diamonds in the snow sparkle, our hearts were singing, it felt like Christmas time…”

Learning to Crawl was critical and commercial success that launched the Pretenders to the upper echelon of pop/rock groups. However, the inner turmoil continued as both Chambers and Foster left the band before the completion of their next album, Get Close, leaving Hynde as the only original group member through their later years.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

1974 Album of the Year

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis

1974 Album of the Year

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The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by GenesisPerhaps the most “out there” album by Genesis as well as out Classic Rock Review Album of the Year, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is a rich double-length concept rock opera. The complex album was built in two phases with the overall story arc and lyrics written by front man Peter Gabriel and much of the music composed earlier by the other band musicians. Serendipitously, it all came together with some truly brilliant moments both musically and lyrically. However, this was not enough to prevent the ultimate parting of ways between the group and Gabriel, who departed Genesis about a year after this album’s release.

After the success of their 1973 album Selling England by the Pound and the subsequent tour, Genesis headed to the famous Headley Grange mansion (which Led Zeppelin and Bad Company had previously inhabited) to write and develop material. However, the building was in poor condition and, believing the house was haunted, several band members found it difficult to sleep. Gabriel was absent from these sessions due to personal problems and most of the music was worked out by keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist.guitarist Mike Rutherford and drummer Phil Collins. In fact, Rutherford had began composing a theme based on Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince but Gabriel insisted on composing an original story himself to the point where there was friction at the mere suggestion of a lyrical adjustment.

Lead guitarist Steve Hackett, who was a standout on the previous two albums, admitted he was pretty much “an innocent bystander” on this album, although he did manage to conjure a handful of impressive guitar leads. In contrast, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was probably the finest overall musical effort for Banks and Collins. Banks’ range on this album stretched from his use of both the nearly outdated Mellotron and some brand new synthesizers, while this may be Collins’ best overall performance as a drummer on an album which is highly rhythm driven.

Co-produced by John Burns, the album contains some advanced musical techniques and some very modern compositional approaches that touch on the yet-to-be formalized genres of punk and new wave. The album also features Brian Eno, who is credited with the “enossification” of several tracks with his mastery of synthesizers.


The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
Released: November 18, 1974 (Atco)
Produced by: John Burns & Genesis
Recorded: Island Mobile Studios, Wales, August–October 1974
Side One Side Two
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Fly On a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
Cuckoo Cocoon
In the Cage
The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
Back in N.Y.C.
Hairless Heart
Counting Out Time
The Carpet Crawlers
The Chamber of 32 Doors
Side Three Side Four
Lilywhite Lilith
The Waiting Room
Anyway
Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist
The Lamia
Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats
The Colony of Slippermen
Ravine
The Light Dies Down on Broadway
Riding the Scree
In the Rapids
It
Group Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Flute, Oboe
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Banks has a long classical piano intro to the title track, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, which persists throughout behind the rock arrangement. Gabriel’s new vocal style for this album is also established here, as is Rutherford’s aggressive bass approach. Lyrically, the song introduces the protagonist Rael, who emerges from a night of mischief to witness an odd occurrence, and includes a slight rendition of The Drifters’ “On Broadway” in its outro. “Fly on a Windshield” is a direct sequel to title song, with strummed acoustic and spooky backing effects. Rutherford described the original inspiration as “Pharaohs going down the Nile” prior to Gabriel’s lyrics being added. In the story, Rael witnesses a big cloud solidify like a screen and follow him as he flees up Broadway, showing up pictures of what existed around it in the past. These images are described in “Broadway Melody of 1974”, a short but highly excellent track with a simple, choppy rock riff.

“Cuckoo Cocoon” is the first song on the album set up like a recent Genesis song, with picked guitar, melody, flute, and good vocal melodies. In the story, Rael regains consciousness to find himself wrapped in a cocoon and in some sort of dark cave. On the album’s first side, the group seems to try too hard to link songs in a continuum, However, the intro to “In the Cage” contains an exception link as it builds towards driving rhythms. The song itself builds tension with odd timings and beats, as all the instruments seem to be doing their own independent thing but yet somehow all jive together. There are exception rhythms by Rutherford and Collins and fantastic, multi-part leads by Banks in the long mid section. Noticing he is trapped in one of several linked cages, Rael sees his brother John for the first of several encounters that add metaphor to the deeper story. Next, Rael is spun into an empty modern hallway with a highly polished floor. much like a modern department store for “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”. Musically, this is a radical turn from the dramatic to the light and entertaining as this marching song builds with each verse, employing grand effects and instrumentation along the way.

Genesis In 1974The album’s second side begins with “Back in N.Y.C.”, which was way ahead of its time musically. Gabriel’s vocals are at their most desperate and strained in an excellent rock manner above the synth motifs and pounding rhythms. Much tension is built through the music of Banks, Rutherford, and Collins, especially in the bridge section. This is the first of three tracks where we learn of Rael through retrospective stories, here revealed to have been a thug and pyromaniac in his past. “Hairless Heart” is the first instrumental of the album with some English style acoustic slight pedal guitar by Hackett and a thicker synth lead by Banks. The title reverts back lyrics in “Back in N.Y.C.” and seems to indicate a softer side to the character. “Counting Out Time” is the last of the retrospective trio, a light and entertaining pop song with just a touch of funk and wild, synth-effected guitar lead in the most “enossified” of any song thus far on the album. This lighter song speaks of Rael’s first intimate encounter, which he tried to execute through specific instructions from a book entitled Erogenous Zones.

“The Carpet Crawlers” brings us back to the present and the main plot, and is one of the most heralded tracks on the album. This pleasant and moody contains good harmonies by Collins and Gabriel’s lead vocals get more and more animated as the song goes along as more and more is being discovered by Rael in this dark room. Here, the protaganist finds himself among others for the first time as they point upwards towards an endless staircase that leads to a chamber which they “got to get in to get out”. “The Chamber of 32 Doors” starts with dramatic intro and guitar lead until the song proper is driven by bouncy bass of Rutherford, which slow to three-note measured rhythm during next desperate post-verse section. This fine, multi-part composition finds Rael facing the difficult choice of choosing the appropriate door. Here there is a bit of editorializing on the types of people to trust in this endeavor;

“I’d rather trust a countryman than a townman, You can judge by his eyes, take a look if you can, He’ll smile through his guard, Survival trains hard. I’d rather trust a man who works with his hands, He looks at you once, you know he understands, Don’t need any shield, When you’re out in the field…”

The person Rael chooses to lead him is the blind “Lilywhite Lilith” who feels her way through but leads him to a cave that he believes will bring him death. Musically, the song contains dual lead vocals in a pretty heavy rock song with multiple rock guitars and an outro refrain that revises “Broadway Melody 1974” but with more dynamic vocals. “Lilywhite Lilith” is also the only track credited solely to Gabriel and Collins. “The Waiting Room” is the wildest, sound-effect laden piece of experimental music, which Collins called “The Evil Jam” when it was started by Hackett and Banks back at Headley Grange. “Anyway” was deveoped from an unused 1969 composition called “The Light” and is often overlooked as a classic. This beautiful and desperate piano tune captures the mood and the various thoughts when it appears that Rael’s death is imminent. Just a hint of synths compliment the piano and later rock section with harmonized guitar lead by Hackett and great philosophical lyrics by Gabriel;

“Does Earth plug a hole in Heaven or Heaven plug a hole in Earth, how wonderful to be so profound when everything you are is dying underground…”

By contrast, “Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist” is short, light and with little substance lyrically but its rock jam makes it entertaining overall. in all, the latter part of side three is the weakest part of the album, where it doesn’t quite seem to flow well. “The Lamia” contains a quirky intro as it really doesn’t fit with previous track. This long, story-telling piano ballad is very poetic and profound and probably the best song lyrically, but is slow developing musically until it finally ends with good lead by Hackett that seems to be cut off too soon. Here Rael faces death again in an erotic act that kills his seductive attacker. The most overt filler, “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats” is all effect-laden, slow and surreal, but a weak way to end a side of a record.

A long, minute and a half instrumental intro with Eastern musical influence using various sound effects and percussion starts the extended “The Colony of Slippermen”. Soon, it breaks into upbeat and bouncy theatrical sound, in the same vein as “The Battle of Epping Forest” from their previous album. Rael is a little disillusioned, when the grotesque Slipperman reveal that the entire colony have one-by-one been through the same glorious romantic tragedy as he and now Rael shares their physical appearance and shadowy fate. The only escape from this colony is through a dreaded visit to the notorious Doktor Dyper who will remove the source of his “desire” problem. During the long middle section, the story turns but music remains upbeat and entertaining. After a most dramatic loss, Rael calls for his brother John to help him, but he refuses.

Genesis 1974

After “Ravine”, another link song with little substance, comes “The Light Dies Down on Broadway”, a recurrence of the opening song, but much more calmer and moderate. This is the only track where Gabriel did not write the lyrics (Banks and Rutherford took care of that) and it offers Rael a choice to “escape” back through a portal to New York City or save his drowning brother who had fallen in the rapids. He chose the latter, which carries through the next two tracks and the climax of the story. “Riding the Scree” is funky with odd-timed beats and carnival elements under a long synth lead by Banks. “In the Rapids” contains good guitars by Hackett throughout with layers as the piece builds in intensity. The moral of the story revealed here as Rael hauls his brother’s limp body out of the water and looks to find it is not John’s face, but his own. Collins remarked that the entire concept was about split personality, as Rael believed he is looking for John but is actually looking for a missing part of himself.

The closing track “It” contains fastly-strummed guitars and is upbeat and optimistic. This track is almost an epilogue outside of the main theme, as a song of discovery and revelation and directly quotes the Rolling Stones (then brand new) “It is only rock and roll but I like it” for it’s final line. Ultimately, the entire meaning of this complex story is defined by “It”, and “It” appears everywhere, either you get “It” or you don’t.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway reached number 10 in the UK, but didn’t cracking the US Top 40. Upon its release, Genesis went on a world concert tour and, at Gabriel’s insistence, performed the album in its entirety over 100 times. Gabriel had already revealed to the band that he was leaving before the tour commenced, but did not make this public until after the tour in Summer of 1975. Although the album was hardly a success at the time, it is now considered a Genesis classic.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Eldorado by ELO

Eldorado by E.L.O.

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Eldorado by ELOElectric Light Orchestra (ELO) made a huge leap forward with Eldorado, the first complete concept album by the group. Rich melodies with various rock and classical influences made this album highly accessible and well received by mainstream audiences making this ELO’s commercial break through. Composed by vocalist, guitarist, and group leader Jeff Lynne, the tune sequence loosely follows the story of a dreamer trying to escape reality. Along the way there are plenty of mixed metaphors using various classic stories and characters from Robin Hood to William Tell to Lancelot to The Wizard of Oz and, of course, Eldorado.

When formed in 1969, ELO declared its purpose as to “pick up where the Beatles left off with ‘I Am the Walrus’.”. The idea came from Roy Wood, formerly of the band, The Move, who had the idea to form a rock band that would regularly use orchestral instruments. He recruited Lynne from fellow Birmingham group, The Idle Race. The debut ,The Electric Light Orchestra, was released in 1971 but tensions between Wood and Lynne led to Wood’s departure during the recordings for ELO 2, which spawned the group’s first US hit, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. Released in late 1973, On the Third Day, featured the hit single, “Showdown,” and continued the band’s rise in popularity.

On those early albums, Lynne would overdub the strings during recording. However, on Eldorado a 30-piece orchestra and choir was hired, with Louis Clark brought on to arrange and conduct the strings (Clark would later become a full group member). This inclusion limited the group’s three resident string players to a few lead sections on scattered songs. Also during the recording of this album, bassist Ike de Albuquerque quit the group, leaving Lynn to also take on those duties. The inspiration for this ambitious record came from Lynne’s father, a classical music lover.


Eldorado by Electric Light Orchestra
Released: September, 1974 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, February–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Eldorado Overture
Can’t Get It Out of My Head
Boy Blue
Laredo Tornado
Poor Boy (The Greenwood)
Mister Kingdom
Nobody’s Child
Illusions in G Major
Eldorado
Eldorado Finale
Group Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Orchestration
Richard Tandy – Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration
Mik Kaminski – Violin
Mike Edwards   Hugh McDowell – Cellos
Bev Bevan – Drums, Percussion

“Eldorado Overture” commences with a dramatic entrance with haunting synthesizer sounds by Richard Tandy along with a spoken word poetry introduction before it breaks musically into the climatic main theme. Like many of the tracks on the album, the end dissolves directly into the next song. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” is a calm yet desperate melody about the dream of something deeper and more romantic. Very well produced and filled with rock and orchestral motifs and operatic backing vocals, this song would go on to become the first really great song by Electric Light Orchestra as well as the band’s first Top 10 single in the US.

“Boy Blue” is an upbeat rocker with a message, describing the reaction of townspeople to the return of a soldier from conflict. The song is driven by piano and bass during verses and choruses with a break for orchestral flourishes above piano during mid-section. “Laredo Tornado” starts with a heavy, droning rock guitar but soon settles into a moderate, clavichord-driven soul and funk tune that takes its time navigating the first verses. The most seventies sounding cool of any track, the song climaxes during the chorus hooks with Lynne’s high-pitched vocals and has extended outro for some string parts to compliment the opening guitar riff. “Poor Boy (The Greenwood)” returns to upbeat, old time rock n roll, with the song’s finale briefly touching on the main theme to finish the first side.

The second side starts with an electric piano version of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” (albeit uncredited and with alternate lyrics), renamed as “Mister Kingdom”. The song does break into different sections, but not enough to consider it an independent composition. “Nobody’s Child” starts with strong strings, almost a wedding march, which dissolves into a marching piano and cinematic club jazz arrangement. “Illusions in G Major” is a pure fifties rocker, highlighted by a shredding lead guitar during the quickest and most straight-forward song on Eldorado.

The melancholy but beautiful title song “Eldorado” starts with strings playing an almost siren-sounding rotation before it settles into the calm ballad. Lynne’s vocals are most somber and deep with the lyrical vibe being of melancholy resignation and living in dreams with expiration. Late in the song is a pleasant orchestral link to the climatic finale. “Eldorado Final” echos and extends the opening song but with a more furious, driving passage to the finale.

Although Eldorado would not chart in ELO’s home UK until four years later in 1978, it was an instant hit in the US and several other nations. More importantly, the sound forged on this record would set a template for success on future ELO albums.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

Buy Court and Spark

Court and Spark by Joni MitchellCourt and Spark is the sixth album by Joni Mitchell and the first where she moved towards pop and jazz elements to blend with her base folk compositions. The album has been considered by some to be a concept album due to its consistent, recurring themes about love and fleeting relationships. Another underlying theme is Los Angeles and Mitchell’s apparent inability to leave it despite her negative view of the city and its inhabitants. Musically, the new approach worked well and was well-received by audiences as Court and Spark became her best-selling album and lone chart-topper.

Mitchell released her debut album Song to a Seagull in March 1968, followed by the Grammy award winning Clouds in 1969. Subsequent albums Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, and For the Roses were all met with increasing popularity and critical praise through the early years of the seventies. These albums were also the first on which Mitchell also acted as producer.

While recording and producing Court and Spark, Mitchell intentionally made a break with her earlier folk sound. She was backed by the “L.A. Express”, a talented group of musicians led by guitarist Larry Carlton. She would later tour with this group and recorded a series of shows in August 1974 that were used for the future live album Miles of Aisles.


Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
Released: January 1, 1974 (Asylum)
Produced by: Joni Mitchell
Recorded: 1973
Side One Side Two
Court and Spark
Help Me
Free Man in Paris
People’s Parties
Same Situation
Car On a Hill
Down to You
Just Like This Train
Raised on Robbery
Trouble Child
Twisted
Primary Musicians
Joni Mitchell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Clavinet
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Tom Scott – Woodwinds & Reeds
Wilton Felder – Bass
John Guerin – Drums & Percussion

While Court and Spark is pretty solid throughout, there is no doubt that it is a bit top-heavy, with the first four tracks being the best on the album. The title track “Court and Spark” contains slow, minor key piano and extra-melodic vocals, with Mitchell’s voice pivoting smoothly through the many differing parts. This song constantly feels like it is about to break out, but instead offers great restraint and ends rather abruptly with strong piano bass notes followed by a single slide guitar note. “Help Me” became Mitchell’s only Top 10 single as a pleasant pop ballad with a deeper musical, lyrical, and melodic connotations and great bass by Wilton Felder. Lyrically, the song talks about finding the balance between commitment and freedom;

“It’s got me hoping for the future and worrying about the past / ‘Cause I’ve seen some hot, hot blazes come down to smoke and ash / We love our lovin’ but not like we love our freedom…”

Written in tribute to Asylum records owner David Geffen, “Free Man in Paris” contains bright and upbeat motifs over the bedding of Mitchell’s driving acoustic and the subtle shuffle beat by drummer John Guerin. Guest José Feliciano adds some Jerry Garcia-like interlude riffs on guitar. “People’s Parties” is a short song built on the strummed 12 string acoustic and recursive vocal melody. This song has no real structure but repeating verses until the “laughing it all away” and the direct fade to the piano ballad “Same Situation”. This builds as it goes along, with tremolo guitar notes and soaring melodies of beautiful sadness.

“Car on a Hill” is a moderate pop/funk song with more excellent exercises on Mitchell’s vocal range and a couple of unique sections where it dissolves into an avant garde section. The Grammy award winning “Down to You” was recognized for its very rich arrangement, which may be a bit much in parts as the song seems to get lost and unsure of itself. The mood picks up with “Just Like This Train”, a bright acoustic track with the variety and vibe of those on the early part of the album and lyrics that use a train and station as allegories for relationships.

Joni Mitchell

“Raised on Robbery” is a straight-forward, true rocker, which was released as the lead single ahead of the album in December 1973. This outright rock tune was emblematic of Mitchell’s new musical direction and features The Band’s Robbie Robertson on lead guitar. “Trouble Child” is another pleasant soft rock track with the slightest tinge of an edge, as it musically has just the slightest elements of jazz, led by the trumpet of Chuck Findley. The album finishes with a cover of the 1952 Annie Ross jazz tune “Twisted”, a half-serious ode to the protagonist’s insanity, which contains some backing skits by the comedy team Cheech & Chong.

Court and Spark received four Grammy nominations as an album and eventually went double platinum. Joni Mitchell continued to migrate towards jazz rock on subsequent fine albums, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and, Hejira, but neither were quite as successful as this one.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Bad Company 1974 debut

Bad Company 1974 debut

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Bad Company 1974 debutOriginally considered a pet project of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and his new label, Swan Song, it took no time for Bad Company to find their own niche in the rock pantheon. The very first album on the label, Bad Company, shot straight to the top of the album charts and has since eclipsed five times platinum, becoming one of the top fifty best selling albums of the seventies along the way. These accomplishments were due to the basic and raw approach to rock and roll, which really struck a chord with mainstream listeners. While hardly visionary, Bad Company‘s sound is distinct, with each of the four players given the space to reach the listener individually and collectively.

The group was founded in 1973 when guitarist Mick Ralphs left Mott the Hoople and joined two former members of the rock band Free, drummer Simon Kirke and vocalist Paul Rodgers. When Grant agreed to manage the band, he brought in King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell to complete the quartet. Rodgers’ fascination with the Jeff Bridges film Bad Company as well as a passage from a book of Victorian morals, gave the band its name.

Produced independently, Bad Company was recorded at the centuries old workhouse, Headley Grange, with a mobile studio in late 1973. This was the same location where much of Led Zeppelin’s third and fourth albums (and some holdover songs for Physical Graffiti) were recorded, and owes to the rich, spatial sound of the album.


Bad Company by Bad Company
Released: June 26, 1974 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Bad Company
Recorded: Headley Grange, East Hampshire, England, November 1973
Side One Side Two
Can’t Get Enough
Rock Steady
Ready for Love
Don’t Let Me Down
Bad Company
The Way I Choose
Movin’ On
Seagull
Group Musicians
Paul Rogers – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Mick Ralphs – Guitars, Keyboards
Boz Burrell – Bass
Simon Kirke – Drums

Mick Ralphs composed “Can’t Get Enough”, which became Bad Company’s highest charting and best selling song. The sound and energy of this album is immediately apparent in the interplay between Ralphs and Kirke on this opener and perhaps no other song that follows better captures the dynamics of Bad Company. “Rock Steady” is more blues-rock flavored and not quite as feverishly catchy as the opener (but it is catchy nonetheless). Here, Rodgers’ vocals are more dynamic and the song builds a bit before it ends a bit too abruptly.

Ralphs brought “Ready for Love” over from Mott the Hoople, as he sang a version of that song himself on the 1972,  All the Young Dudes. This is the first place where the vibe changes to a more somber theme with soulful vocals by Rodgers and a real place for bassist Burrell to shine before the song dissolves nicely in slow rhythms and piano. “Don’t Let Me Down” is a piano ballad with rich backing vocals and a saxophone by guest musicians. The first collaboration between Rodgers and Ralph, the song features steady beats, minimal guitars (until the lead more than half way through), and is designed to drive home the very simple message –

“Don’t let me down, tell me love can be found…”

The second side begins with “Bad Company”, co-written by Kirke, and completing the odd trifecta of song, artist and album sharing the same title. Perhaps the darkest track on the album, “Bad Company” could’ve been influenced by Alice Cooper musically but is much more soulful vocally. The theatrical, piano-driven verses are interrupted masterfully when the full arrangement kicks in during choruses, led by Ralph’s pristine rock guitar. While Rodgers wrote the song, the blending of guitars is what really shines on “The Way I Choose”, with beats like a slow country waltz and some strategic stop/start timing.

Bad Company in 1974

“Movin’ On” comes closest to capturing the rock energy of the opener “Can’t Get Enough”, as a very catchy and accessible rock track. Again, the lyrics and rhythms have much economy but still pack a great punch that is impossible to ignore, and this formula drove the song into the Top 20. “Seagull” is the folk-flavored acoustic closer which maintains a very simple arrangement throughout with only the addition of tambourine half way through. With great vocals, the song seems ready made for a movie soundtrack, but is yet a rather odd way to wrap things up on this album.

Led by Bad Company, Swan Song Records had four albums in the Billboard Top 200 chart less than a year after its launch. This original lineup of the group nearly tracked directly with the lifespan of the label as their final 1982 album Rough Diamonds was the second to last release on the label, which folded in 1983.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

War Child by Jethro Tull

War Child by Jethro Tull

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War Child by Jethro TullJethro Tull made a sharp turn back towards a more traditionally structured album with War Child in 1974. Following two consecutive concept albums that each consisted of single, album-length suites, group leader Ian Anderson decided to focus on richer arrangements within shorter tracks of various rock sub-genres. The seventh studio album by the group in seven years, the album did not fare well among critics, who seemed confused by its non-standard approach. While the album is certainly uneven, it does contain some downright brilliant moments. And it may have contained more had some tracks not been omitted.

“Rainbow Blues” is choppy blues rocker that was later included on, M.U. The Best of Jethro Tull in 1976. “Glory Row” is an even better track, built on an acoustic core with a tremendous array of musical flourishes and textures. This song appeared on Repeat: The Best of Jethro Tull, Vol II in 1977. Other tracks were recorded when War Child was meant to accompany a film of the same name and planned as a double-album set, and many of these would not see the light of day until decades later, but were included as bonus tracks on the 2002 version of the album.

Prominently featured on the album and these bonus tracks are string arrangements by David Palmer, adding another dimension to the already rich arrangements. Palmer used a string quartet of all female players to complement the five men in the group, who composed their final album as a cohesive unit.


War Child by Jethro Tull
Released: October 14, 1974 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Matthew Fisher
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, 1974
Side One Side Two
War Child
Queen and Country
Ladies
Back-Door Angels
Sealion
Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day
Bungle In the Jungle
Only Solitaire
The Third Hoorah
Two Fingers
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Saxophones
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Keyboards, Accordion
Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond – Bass
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

Entering with air raid sound effects and later battle sounds, the title track “War Child” breaks in with a melodic piano and sax intro. The verses are strongly driven by the bass of Jeffrey Hammond with just a few splashes of electric guitar and piano riffs. Anderson’s saxophone takes a large role in this opener, especially with the short but potent lead, and his largely cryptic lyrics use war as an allegory for a bad relationship. “Queen and Country” contains an accordion and contrasting rock riff in a choppy but ever-building song that touches on the over-taxation faced by many British rock n’ roll “tax exiles” in the 1970s (as were Jethro Tull). Martin Barre adds an aggressive, over driven guitar that is the rock and roll glue for a track that may otherwise be in the realm of polka.

“Ladies” is dark acoustic folk, with a more prominent flute than on the previous two tracks, bringing back Jethro Tull’s traditional English folk and classical tendencies. This song later morphs into a driving rock rhythm during the closing fade-out. At first, “Back-Door Angels” seems a bit disjointed and unorganized, but it launches into an impressive jam initiated by the wild sounding synth lead of John Evan. “Sealion” is the most intense and free-form rock song on the first side, with a chorus section being more like a carnival beat. Lyrically a critique of the music industry, this track’s rock arrangement gives drummer Barriemore Barlow a real chance to shine.

Side two is far superior to side one, with the first three tracks actually predating the sessions for War Child. The three were written and recorded in Paris for an album following 1972’s Thick As a Brick, but abandoned when Anderson decided to do another concept album with 1973’s A Passion Play. “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day” is the true gem of this group, and the album as a whole. This brilliant song starts as a simple and melodic acoustic folk song by Anderson, which builds with richer and richer arrangement as it goes along. Accordion, flute, electric guitar, xylophone, bass and drums are all added in turn as the track packs much into its four minutes while each new instrument is given its own space in the mix, showing the quality of Anderson’s production as well as his songwriting. Lyrically, the song is a poetic ode to an ever-increasingly hectic life;

“And as you cross the circle line, the ice-wall creaks behind, you’re a rabbit on the run. And the silver splinters fly in the corner of your eye shining in the setting sun. Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story’s too damn real and in the present tense? Or that everybody’s on the stage, and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience?”

“Bungle in the Jungle” is a great allegory about romance and the perfect pop song for this album. Here, the string arrangements by Palmer are most effective, making this the most melodic and accessible track on the album. Written in late 1972, Anderson used human conditions and emotions as analogies to the stereotypical animal behaviors. “Only Solitaire” is more of an outtake than a proper song but is a rather apt folk acoustic that gets off to a great start with good harmonies but then annoying breaks down and ends after a minute and a half.

“The Third Hoorah” is an upbeat and fun European marching song with a nice mix of acoustic, harpsichord, Scottish, and rock elements to make it interesting musically. Anderson heavily borrows lyrics from the album’s opening title song, in what seems to be an attempt to give the album a unifying theme. Closing things out, “Two Fingers” is the most like a mid-seventies classic rock song in approach, with another great performance by Barre and Hammond. The song is an updated version of an unreleased track recorded for Aqualung in 1971 called “Lick Your Fingers Clean”.

In spite of the critical panning, War Child reached number two on the U.S. pop albums chart and quickly went went Gold. The album was followed-up by Minstrel In the Gallery in 1975 (on which Palmer became an official band member) and the 1976 album Too Old to Rock n’ Roll, Too Young to Die, which was Anderson’s final attempt at a theatrical rock production.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.