Facelift by Alice In Chains

Facelift by Alice In Chains

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Facelift by Alice In ChainsAlice In Chains released an impressive debut album in 1990 with Facelift. Some have given this record the distinction of being the first “grunge” record to be certified platinum, although we may stipulate that this album is not strictly “grunge”. The group has a strong heavy metal pedigree, which shines through the otherwise methodical and moody tunes. In all, Facelift is full of tracks which are heavy, melodic and dark and it (unintentionally) became the wellspring for musical trends to come.

The group originated when vocalist (and then drummer) Layne Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a Seattle rehearsal studio in the mid eighties. The two struggling musicians instantly bonded and worked on several musical projects together before Alice In Chains fully formed. In 1988, the group recorded a demo which eventually made its way to Columbia Records‘ A&R department and representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Ienner. Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Ienner signed Alice in Chains to that label in 1989.

After the release and success of an EP earlier in 1990, the label fast tracked the production of the debut album with producer Dave Jerden. Mainly recorded at London Bridge Studio, Cantrell felt that the album’s moody aura was a direct result of the feel of Seattle. Meanwhile, drummer Sean Kinney claims he recorded the album with a broken hand because he didn’t want to miss the group’s “first big break.”


Facelift by Alice In Chains
Released: August 21, 1990 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden
Recorded: London Bridge Studio, Seattle & Capitol Recording Studio, Hollywood, December 1989-April 1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
We Die Young
Man In the Box
Sea of Sorrow
Bleed the Freak
I Can’t Remember
Love, Hate, Love
It Ain’t Like That
Sunshine
Put You Down
Confusion
I Know Somethin (‘Bout You)
Real Thing
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals
Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Starr – Bass, Vocals
Sean Kinney – Drums, Percussion, Piano

 
Facelift by Alice In Chains

The opening track “We Die Young” comes in as a standard hard rock song with a just a bit of vocal and lyrical edge. Cantrell wrote the song when he observed on a bus some “9 or 10 year-olds with beepers to deal drugs”. This track, which originated on the group’s earlier studio EP, clocks in at just two and a half minutes and ends just as aprubtly as it begins.

The true gem of Facelift comes early on with “Man In the Box”. The track employs simple but masterful sonic expressions and a steady drive which could uniformly cut through Staley’s lead vocals. Cantrell uses a talk box effect with bassist Mike Starr holding down the bottom end of the grinding riff. Released as a single in 1991, this became the signature song of the band’s early career and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1992.

 
Kinney’s choppy piano complements Cantrell’s slide guitar notes during the deceptive beginning of the beat and rhythm driven “Sea of Sorrow”. The song peaked at number 27 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks and was a moderate radio hit. “Bleed the Freak” is the first somewhat weak track on the album, with the vocals a bit whiny, while “I Can’t Remember” extends the preceding track but with a darker, more foreboding feel. The body of this latter song uses timing for maximum effect, even if the song never really accelerates from its slow and deliberate pace.

The heart of the album contains some of the more diverse tracks. The extremely slow “Love, Hate, Love” features some competing riffs that somehow end at the same place during the sparse but effective verses, while the choruses are even more impressive due to Staley’s soaring vocal melody as he wails through lyrics of standard love fair. Cantrell offers some Wah-Wah effects on “It Ain’t Like That”, which has strong elements of traditional eighties heavy metal, but with the dark overtones that tilt it towards grunge. A bright chorus of guitars make the verse section of “Sunshine” unlike anything else on the album, although this track’s chorus is a little more straight-forward hard rock, with Cantrell singing some smooth backing vocals behind Staley’s raspy throat. “Put You Down” is good-time hard rock musically, in a style reminiscent of our review of Damn Yankees.

Alice In Chains

The final three tracks are all excellent and work to close the album very strongly. The slow, moody, stream-of-consciousness that starts off “Confusion” is complemented by an odd chord progression that adds to the overall effect. Co-written by Starr, who adds enough low-end bass punch, this song builds nicely in intensity through the chorus and is one of the few tracks to have a proper lead guitar and it is bluesy and effective for this fine song. “I Know Somethin (Bout You)” has a very funky intro by Cantrell and Starr. Masterfully odd timings throughout make this one of the more entertaining tracks along with the complex vocal patterns during the chorus hooks, which help build the song to a climax before its abrupt ending. “Real Thing” is a bit of  traditional blues mixed with straight-forward heavy rock. Like tracks earlier on the album, the sonic textures carry the day on this closer which works to elevate the album to the classic level.

Facelift barely missed the Top 40 on the album charts and was far from an instant success, selling less than 40,000 copies in its first six months. But there is still little doubt that, with this album, Alice In Chains was a blazing a trail for the deluge of change that was about to come to the music scene.

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1990 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

Damn Yankees album cover

Damn Yankees

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Damn Yankees album coverBefore its swift exit from the mainstream rock scene in 1991, “hair metal” had its last hurrah during the year 1990. Perhaps the apex of this final phase was the self-titled debut album by the super group, Damn Yankees, which brought together three musicians from different rock outfits, each of whom had tremendous success in the years and decades previous to Damn Yankees. The result was a double platinum commercial success which spawned several radio and charting hits.

Vocalist and guitarist Ted Nugent had been performing live since 1958 and found some mainstream success with his band, the Amboy Dukes, in the late sixties and early seventies. However, when Nugent launched his solo career the mid seventies, he found his greatest success with three multi-platinum albums in consecutive years 1975, 1976, 1977. During that same era, bassist and vocalist Jack Blades formed the funk band Rubicon, which had a few minor hits before breaking up in 1979. The following year, Blades formed a band called “Ranger”, which morphed into “The Rangers” and ultimately, Night Ranger. The group had tremendous success through the 80’s, selling millions of albums and charting several hit singles. Tommy Shaw joined the established Chicago group, Styx, in late 1975 as second guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Over the next eight years, the group had tremendous success, including the standout albums, The Grand Illusion, in 1977 and, Paradise Theatre, in 1981. However, Shaw grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the group’s music towards pop ballads and theatrical role playing, so he left Styx to pursue a solo career which yielded three albums in the late eighties.

Damn Yankees was formed in 1989, with drummer Michael Cartellone (who had played in the final stages of Shaw’s solo band) rounding out the quartet. Some of the material on this album was brought in by individual members, but most was composed collaboratively in the studio. Producer Ron Nevison also brought in multiple session musician to enrich the music and allow the three vocalists to concentrate on melodies and harmonies.


Damn Yankees by Damn Yankees
Released: February 22, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA & Can-Am Studios, Tarzana, CA, 1989-90
Track Listing Group Musicians
Coming of Age
Bad Reputation
Runaway
High Enough
Damn Yankees
Come Again
Mystified
Rock City
Tell Me How You Want It
Piledriver
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals
Ted Nugent – Guitars, Vocals
Jack Blades – Bass, Vocals
Michael Cartellone – Drums
 
Damn Yankees

The album starts with the hit, “Coming of Age”, which sets the pace for the slick, polished, hard rock sound of the album. Blades brought this popular song with him into Damn Yankees, which features catchy, chanting vocal motifs, accented by accent by Nugent’s choppy riffs, which all worked to make this perfect for pop and rock radio alike. “Bad Reputation” follows in the same vein as a pure riff-driven raunch, unambiguous lyrically and not too far from that musically – steady beat throughout – nice bridge with complex vocal patterns before song returns with Nugent’s blistering lead. After some cool deadened guitar notes in the intro, “Runaway” launches into a full-fledged pop rocker. Led by Shaw’s lead vocals, the song contains nice complements throughout, including some sparse but tactical keyboards by session man Steve Freeman.

The album’s best track is also its most popular. “High Enough” is a ballad which starts and ends with a string ensemble put together by Nevison with strummed acoustic during initial verse. Shaw’s high harmonies perfectly complement Blades’ lead vocals on this track filled with harmonic bliss, both vocally and musically. Further, there is enough arrangement variation to make this Top 5 hit a true classic from the album.

Damn Yankees‘s title song has an Aerosmith-like feel in its riffing, but a much different vibe once the vocals come in. The mid section of this track is dominated by Nugent, with several wild effects through the guitar lead and lead vocals over the bridge. “Come Again” is a folk ballad by Shaw which reflects some of the arena ballads by Styx. Beginning with a picked acoustic during the verse, this song continuously builds in a moody but melodic track that is contrasted by Nugent’s frenzied guitar riffs. “Mystified” starts with some great blues elements, including some slide guitar over initial porch-stomp verses. The song soon turns into a more standard rock drive, but maintains the great blues harmonics during Nugent’s soaring lead, making this the last real highlight of the album.

The remaining three tracks are not the strongest. “Rock City” a bit of frivolous number, only really there for the mind-numbed partier, making it one of the weaker numbers on the album. Led by the strong but standard drumming of Cartellone and the fine vocal harmonies, “Tell Me How You Want It”, is a track which has all the elements of a hit song in 1990, but never reached that plateau. Nugent’s “Piledriver”,  is almost a direct rip-off of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” in its sonic approach. That’s not to say that Nugent’s guitar is not impressive – it is – but the comic breakdown in the middle of this blistering lead is a bit over the top. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining way to wrap up the album.

Damn Yankees reached the Top 20 on the Billboard album charts and remained a hit well into 1991. The group went on a successful world tour and returned with a 1992 follow-up album Don’t Tread, which was a minor hit on its own. In 1994, Nugent left the group, with Shaw & Blades releasing a single album as a duet before ending the short run of Damn Yankees.

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1990 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant

Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant

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Manic Nirvana by Robert PlantIf Led Zeppelin had attempted to make a pop-oriented album, it may have sounded like Manic Nirvana. This 1990 release by Robert Plant fuses some of the pop and dance-oriented elements of his earlier solo efforts released in the 1980s with a retro vocal and guitar approach reminiscent of the classic rock band that Plant fronted for a dozen years. This approach usually works, in some places spot on, in others less so. But, in total, it all makes for an interesting listen.

Around 1990, there was a resurgence of Led Zeppelin in the musical scene, and there is little doubt that this played a part in the approach of Manic Nirvana. In May 1988, Plant and former bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined Jason Bonham (son of original drummer John Bonham) for the first official Led Zeppelin show in nearly a decade. Page also showed up for a cameo at a few of Plant’s concerts and Plant provided vocals for one song on Page’s solo album, Outrider. Later in 1990, the 54-track Led Zeppelin Box Set was released as the first ever compilation of any kind by the group and it included several tracks which had never before been released.

Manic Nirvana was the second of a trio of albums that Plant worked on with keyboardist/guitarist Phil Johnstone, following the commercial success of Now and Zen, released in 1988. Johnstone also co-produced the album with Plant and Mark Stent, and the trio came up with sonic qualities on this record which were unlike those on other albums. The sessions for this album produced a few tracks which would not be released until Plant’s 2006 box set, Nine Lives, including the standout, “One Love”, which has fifties-like undertones with cool slide guitars and horn-like accents.


Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant
Released: March 19, 1990 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Phil Johnstone, Mark Stent & Robert Plant
Recorded: 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Hurting Kind
Big Love
S S S & Q
I Cried
She Said
Nirvana
Tie Dye On the Highway
Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night
Anniversary
Liars Dance
Watching You
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Doug Boyle – Guitars
Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Guitars
Charlie Jones – Bass
Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion
 
Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant

The opening track, “Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes on You)”, starts with a sweeping flange similar to that on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Led Zeppelin’s Presence. This is soon interrupted by a steady thumping beat as Plant unleashes a few wails similar to (but less effective than) those of his heyday. Released as a single, this song reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. “Big Love” is driven by the steady, methodical groove of drummer Chris Blackwell and is carried by Plant’s excited vocals. The bridge section includes a raw guitar lead sandwiched betwwen sections with complex background vocal patterns. “S S S & Q” allegedly means ”soak, shake, splash, and quake” and has a long lead intro of the bluesiest rock guitars on the album. This gives way to more controlled riffing above sterile and modern rhythm, giving the heart of this song a dance-track feel, especially during the synth and quasi-rap bridge with just a touch of James Brown-like textures.

Johnstone’s picked acoustic fades in on “I Cried” accompanied by some rounded bass notes by Charlie Jones. Starting with the main chorus, Plant provides majestic vocals on this excellent song that eventually builds with electric textures and dynamic sections. The outro fades with subtle acoustic textures, closing this smooth and introspective song. Orchestral strings commence “She Said”, soon cut by strong rock riffs and beats. However, this song, which starts interesting, does get a bit long in the tooth through its five minute duration. “Nirvana” is co-written by Jones and starts with an almost punk riff before breaking in with a steady beat and bass. This track tries to reach for the mystical, especially with the droning guitar lead which has a slight tinge of Indian flavor and the twin pauses for Plant to deliberately recite the song’s title. the track ends with a weird effect, like a backwards-masked, out of tune piano.

“Tie Dye on the Highway” starts off with actual sound from Woodstock before breaking into a dance beat with droning instrumentation and a pleasant vocal melody by Plant, which reflects his style from some earlier solo albums. Plant even supplies a slight harmonica lead adding further variety to make this one of the standouts on the album. The only cover on the album, “Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night”, contains an actual record scratch from the sampled kick drum of the 1961 original by Kenny Dino. The strong beat gives Plant’s vocals plenty of room to soar in this chanting rap with fine backing vocals as well. Released as the second single from the album, the song reached #8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The cheesy synth intro of “Anniversary” disrupts the cool groove from the previous track. This song never really goes anywhere, just adding certain instrumentation such as the off-beat drums and cool bluesy guitar lead. Guitarist Doug Boyle co-wrote “Liars Dance”, a folksy acoustic with Boyle’s picked notes falling between, and sometimes mimicking, Plant’s vocal lines. The track stays purely between the blues acoustic and lead vocals, making it a quality track late in the album. “Watching You” employs one more shot at the frenzied production. However, the drums have more reverberation than is necessary for effect, causing the vocals and strumming acoustic to be a bit buried in the mix. Still, with a hypnotic effect, this song acts as a very potent closer as Plant’s excited vocals are excellent in the background.

Plant and Johnstone followed up Manic Nirvana with 1993’s Fate of Nations before Plant reunited with Page in 1994 to perform and compose new music.

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1990 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

Kinda Kinks by The Kinks

Kinda Kinks by The Kinks

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Kinda Kinks by The KinksThe Kinks sophomore effort is often overlooked in their catalog due to the popularity of their recently released debut and the critical acclaim of later albums. But the rapidly recorded Kinda Kinks is a fine album with decent tracks, advanced sonic qualities, and mainly original compositions, which cause some to deem this, “the first proper Kinks album”. The album was rapidly recorded in between touring and released in the UK on March 5, 1965, just two weeks after recording wrapped and 50 years ago today.

In 1963, The Kinks were formed in London, by brother guitarists Ray Davies and Dave Davies along with bassist Pete Quaife. The band originally went through a series of lead vocalists, including a young Rod Stewart, before Ray Davies took on the main vocal duties. In late 1963, the band was introduced to American record producer Shel Talmy, who helped The Kinks secure a recording contract with Pye Records the following year. Soon after, Mick Avory was brought on as the permanent drummer, completing the quartet which would remain in place through most of the 1960s. In 1964, the group released four singles, the most successful being “You Really Got Me”, released in August, and “All Day and All of the Night”, released in October, both of which were Top Ten hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Their late 1964 debut LP, Kinks, consists largely of covers with a few tracks written by Davies or Talmy.

With the success of the singles and album, the group toured extensively through the winter of 1965, including a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Eastern Asia. Upon returning to England, recording began promptly on this album, which would ultimately include 10 of 12 original compositions. Also recorded but left off the album were three tracks penned by Ray Davies, including the fine song craft of “Set Me Free”, the beat-driven rocker with stream-of-conscious vocal lines “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy”, and the very catchy and unique “Who’ll Be the Next In Line”. On Kinda Kinks, they started to stray beyond the boundaries of strict R&B and blues-based rock into the early workings of the hard rock sound.


Kinda Kinks by The Kinks
Released: March 5, 1965 (Pye)
Produced by: Shel Talmy
Recorded: Pye Studios, London, February 1965
Side One Side Two
Look for My Baby
Got My Feet on the Ground
Nothin’ In the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl
Naggin’ Woman
Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight
Tired of Waiting for You
Dancing in the Street
Don’t Ever Change
Come On Now
So Long
You Shouldn’t Be Sad
Something Better Beginning
Bonus Tracks
Set Me Free
Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy
Who’ll Be Next in Line
Group Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Pete Quaife – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums

The album commences with “Look for My Baby” with a style that is a bit sixties, standard pop (harmonized vocals and call-response) but top-notch at that. The listener is immediately struck by the great sounding drums, a tribute to Talmy’s great production. “Got My Feet on the Ground” was co-written by Dave Davies, who also provides some strained but effective lead vocals on this upbeat and snappy pure rocker.

The album takes a somber turn with, “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”, a dark folk/blues with a single guitar and vocal through the first verse and a slight arrangement afterwards with acoustic bass and muted snare snaps. The cover, “Naggin’ Woman”, is Rolling Stones influenced as much, if not more, than the original blues source. While pin-point guitars are not quite up to snuff, they are close enough for rock n’ roll. “Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight”, contains a piano driven riff which is locked in with Quaife’s choppy bass. This is lyrically shallow but interesting musically, especially with the advanced bridge section which previews some of the advanced Kinks arrangements of future years.

The smooth and cool hit, “Tired of Waiting for You”, is the true highlight of the album, led by the complex drum beat of session drummer Bobby Graham and the two chord march riff of Dave Davies during the intro/chorus hook section. Ray Davies’ fine vocals soar above the masterful changes of the inventive verse sections. The song was recorded in mid 1964 and was intended as a single but held over until this album in 1965. When released, it became the group’s third Top Ten hit and their highest single for the next 18 years until the 1983 hit, “Come Dancing”, from State of Confusion.

After a rocked out, almost new wave version of the oft-covered, “Dancing in the Street”, comes the fine, “Don’t Ever Change”, with a folksy, slight Beatles vibe. This forgotten gem from the Kinks early years, contains a nice mixture of acoustic and electric guitars with a consistent, upbeat drum shuffle by Avery and a unique vocal pattern which varies in tempo and intensity while music remains steady behind. The short, “Come On Now”, has the makings for a good rock song but seems a bit under cooked, while, “So Long”, is pure acoustic folk and the first place where Ray Davies’ vocals are left natural and pure. In contrast, “You Shouldn’t Be Sad”, is an upbeat, poppy, and utterly trite song, perhaps the only real filler on the album. The album concludes with, “Something Better Beginning”, a slight ballad with a bit of melancholy tone and fine chord progressions in a classic lover’s lament with a unique title and approach.

According to Ray Davies, the band was not completely satisfied with Kinda Kinks, due to the rushed production which resulted in some songs being underdeveloped. However, these tracks have stood up well over this past half century, which is evident by the number of tracks (seven) later covered by major rock acts. Starting with, The Kink Kontroversy, in late 1965. The Kinks continued their stylistic shift, continuing a diverse career which would continue for decades.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

1965 Page
 

Back In Black by AC-DC

Back In Black by AC/DC

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1980 Album of the Year

Back In Black by AC-DCWho would have guessed that out of the ashes of tragedy would rise the rock n’ roll classic, Back In Black? Recorded just a few weeks following the untimely death of their lead singer, AC/DC forged an indelible album of work whic, 35 years after its release, is the second best-selling album of all time worldwide (behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller). For the first time, we have put our Album of the Year up for popular vote, with three hard rock classics from 1980 nominated for this honor. Through January and February you have voted and your choice was overwhelmingly in favor of Back In Black as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for the year 1980.

Formed in Australia in 1973 by brothers Angus Young and Malcom Young, AC/DC found significant success at home with the domestic release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in 1976. This led to an international record deal with Atlantic and continued momentum through the late seventies as the group toured extensively throughout Europe and the successful releases of the albums High Voltage, Let There Be Rock, and Powerage, the latter of which marked the debut of bassist Cliff Williams. The group’s first major breakthrough came in 1979 with the album Highway To Hell, which was also the band’s initial collaboration with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange.

Highway To Hell reached the Top on the US album charts and the group was ambitious about following this up with an even more accessible heavy rock album. Unfortunately, vocalist Bon Scott would not see this realized, as he died after a night of heavy drinking in February 1980. After briefly considering retirement, the surviving members of AC/DC emerged with renewed determination in March of 1980 and various candidates were auditioned for Scott’s replacement. 32-year-old rock journeyman Brian Johnson was brought in when Angus Young recalled Scott citing admiration for the then-vocalist of the band, Geordie, years earlier. After locating Johnson, the singer successfully passed the audition for AC/DC, who were impressed by the fact that he didn’t try to merely mimic Scott’s style but reinterpret it with a soulful style.

After hiring their new front man, the band then immediately headed to the Bahamas to compose and record the new album. Despite riding out several tropical storms which knocked out the electricity, Lange and the band rehearsed and recorded the album in just seven weeks. The result is a direct, hard rock record with Johnson-penned lyrics about sex and parties driven by crisp riffs and direct, snare-centered beats by drummer Phil Rudd. While the album’s title and all-black cover was designed as a respectful tribute to Scott, the music itself was far from somber or mournful.

 


Back In Black by AC/DC
Released: July 25, 1980 (Jet)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, April-May 1980
Side One Side Two
Hells Bells
Shoot to Thrill
What Do You Do for Money Honey
Given the Dog a Bone
Let Me Put My Love Into You
Back in Black
You Shook Me All Night Long
Have a Drink on Me
Shake a Leg
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
Primary Musicians
Brian Johnson – Lead Vocals
Angus Young – Guitars
Malcolm Young – Guitars, Vocals
Cliff Williams – Bass, Vocals
Phil Rudd – Drums, Percussion

An ominous drone of bell tolls commence the album as a not-so-subtle memorial to AC/DC’s fallen member. “Hells Bells” acts not only as a tribute but as an ironic terminal from the previous Highway to Hell, which turned out to be Scott’s swan song. Johnson’s lyrics speak of his angst while trying to adjust to his sudden change of environment and pressure to deliver with his new band. Despite the doomy beginning, the song’s body is really more of an upbeat and intense party chant. Continuing the early album momentum, “Shoot to Thrill” is an interesting little screed with many of the group’s seventies-type grooves and an inventive use of space by adding variation in style rather than substance. This track’s final sequences features Angus Young’s whining guitar mimicking Johnson’s lead vocals as in an updated Page-Plant action.

The remainder of the album’s first side contains three of the most disposable tracks on Back In Black. “What Do You Do for Money Honey” has a great adolescent chant about a gold-digging woman but not much more substantively. “Given the Dog a Bone” is similar in temperament. Aside from the catchy use of call-and-response vocals, there’s really no “here” here, as the track’s riffs, beats, and lead sound just like those on other tracks of this album. “Let Me Put My Love Into You” does contain a nice thumping bass by Williams, which carries the slight riffs that gradually build and, given some room to breathe, Johnson’s voice really does soar here. However, this moderate bluesy track does have a hook which seems a bit forced.

 
One of the most famous count-offs in rock history commences the spectacular second side of Back In Black as Rudd’s hat ignites the title song with a fantastic marching beat. The track’s verses feature a quasi-rap by Johnson and the choruses build to a crescendo with the duo guitar riffs fantastic throughout this song of pure energy. The song peaked in the US Top 40 in 1981 but did not officially chart on the UK charts until 2011, over 3o years after its release. An even bigger hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long” has grown into the most indelible AC/DC tune. Malcom Young’s intro perfectly sets up this hard rock dance-oriented track, while the chorus hook and counter-riff work in perfect harmony. For his part, Angus Young adds one of his most potent guitar leads on this track which saw a whole new life when it was featured on the 1986 soundtrack Who Made Who. The slightly tragic and slightly morbid “Have a Drink on Me” is a sideways tribute to Bon Scott, starting with a cool blues slide before finding a steady rock beat. While still presented as an upbeat party screed, the song’s pre-chorus contains some ironic philosophy;

Don’t worry about tomorrow, take it today, forget about the check we’ve got hell to pay…”

“Shake a Leg” contains a fantastic intro section, launching into a faux verse that ends with a majestic vocal screed by Johnson which leads into the actual song riff and launch. Everyone is at their absolute best on this track – the vocals seem to elevate to an even high plane of frenzy while Rudd’s drums are a steady prime mover in this song about movement. After a blistering guitar lead, Johnson reprises the intro over the multi modal exchanges of Angus and Malcolm Young’s guitars. After the frenzy comes “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, a steady barroom blues which eventually builds into a fantastic rock track that works perfectly to conclude the album. Williams’ bass thumps as a heartbeat between the twin guitar riffs on either side of the mix on this song which reached number 15 on the UK singles charts, placing it higher than any track on the album.

Despite never reaching the top of the album charts in The US, Back In Black has been a charting phenomenon, re-entering charts several times throughout the decades, even as recently as 2014. The album has sold 22 million albums worldwide and set the group up for further success through the 1980s and beyond.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne

Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne

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Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy OsbourneFew rock and roll comebacks are as bizarre, but complete, as that of Ozzy Osbourne in 1980. Just a year after being fired from Black Sabbath, the superstar rock group that he founded and fronted since the late 1960s, emerging with the his fantastic debut solo album, Blizzard of Ozz. The immediate success of this album was due in part to the emergence of guitarist Randy Rhoads who burst onto the rock scene with an aggressive and fresh approach to playing rock guitar with some classical elements.

Actually, this didn’t start as a true solo project for Osbourne. The Blizzard of Ozz was a “side band” the vocalist formed in 1978, while still a member of Black Sabbath. Osbourne abandoned the project to focus on recording Sabbath’s Never Say Die!, his final album with that band before being replaced by Ronnie James Dio. Osbourne, Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley rehearsed at a live-in rehearsal facility along with a friend of Osbourne’s on drums. After auditioning several drummers, Lee Kerslake, formerly of Uriah Heep, was brought on as the group’s drummer just prior to recording this album.

The quartet entered the studio still billed as “The Blizzard of Ozz”, with the agreement that the album would be credited to the band with Osbourne’s name in smaller print. After failing to find a satisfactory producer, all four members took on production duties themselves. The approach used was similar to that on Van Halen’s debut album, with Rhoads’ guitars front and center as a complement to Osbourne’s familiar vocals. Most of the group members were surprised when originally seeing the album cover with “Ozzy Osbourne” in bigger print and “The” removed from the title Blizzard of Ozz, which would ripple into further issues among the musicians in years to come.


Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: September 20, 1980 (Jet)
Produced by: Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhoads, Bob Daisley & Lee Kerslake
Recorded: Ridge Farm Studios, Rusper, England, March−April 1980
Side One Side Two
I Don’t Know
Crazy Train
Goodbye to Romance
Dee
Suicide Solution
Mr. Crowley
No Bone Movies
Revelation (Mother Earth)
(The Night)
Primary Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals
Randy Rhoads – Guitars
Don Airey – Keyboards
Bob Daisley – Bass, Vocals
Lee Kerslake – Drums, Percussion

A long, sustained, anticipation-building, spacey gong sound swells in before being sliced cleanly by Rhoads rapid, deadened machine gun riff on the opener “I Don’t Know”. After two verses of this heavy bliss comes the surprising, flange-heavy middle bridge section which exits into a strong launch of Rhoads’ first lead of the album. The song has a mini epic feel during the multi-part bridge before the intro and verse section return for a final verse before the sudden and clever ending. “Crazy Train” contains one of the most famous intros in rock history as the thumping rhythms of Daisley and Kerslake are cut by Osbourne’s vocal effects before Rhoads steals the show with his indelible riff. The entire track is an exercise in the best of accessible hard rock – slightly doomy lyrics delivered clearly and melodically above air-instrument-worthy crunches and fills. Rhoads’ lead is short but rapid and potent with the lyrical content reflecting the ongoing Cold War and the ever-present fear of annihilation. Released as the album’s lead single, “Crazy Train” failed to reach the Top 40 but has long since become a rock radio staple and classic from the era.

 
A change-up that shows there’s much more to this album compositionally, “Goodbye to Romance” was the first track written for the album as a sort of ode to Osbourne’s departure from Black Sabbath. The beat is almost impossibly slow but there is enough variety in Rhoads multi-tracked textures and Daisley’s bouncy bass line through the first verses and choruses. The song really reaches a new level starting with Rhoads’ guitar lead, which seems to set a template for a decade plus of power ballads to follow. The song’s final verse takes an alternate approach both melodically and in intensity, before a calm synth leads the song through the outro. After three, five-minute-something tracks filled with passion and emotion, comes a slight respite in the classical acoustic solo of “Dee”, Rhoads’ short tribute to his mother. “Suicide Solution” is the closest this lineup comes to classic Black Sabbath in its pure darkness and doominess, complete with a long effects-laden section which caused much controversy in subsequent years. The song’s outro contains some slight Hammond organ and sixties-style psychedelic guitar effects, which make it an interesting listen.

The album’s second side is a bit more experimental. Inspired by a book about 19th century occultist Aleister Crowley which Osbourne found in the studio, “Mr. Crowley” starts with deep synth section played by Don Airey. The verse breaks in with a strong hard rock phrase which falls somewhere on the scale between Led Zeppelin and Foreigner and, although impressive, Rhoads’ lead seems more like a technical exercise than an affirmative dispatch. The guitarist does make up for this later in the song with a fantastic, harmonized counter-riff that really elevates the track overall to the classic level. “No Bone Movies” is much more frivolous in its approach. A true band jam, this is the only song credited to all four core members of “The Blizzard of Oz” and the most interesting element is the bright, bluesy guitars, which sound like nothing else on the album. Almost a comic relief piece, lyrically the song is about constant self-vows to abandon pornography;

Silver screen, such a disgrace, I couldn’t look her straight in the face, a blue addiction I live in disgust, degradation, eaten by lust…”

“Revelation (Mother Earth)” is the most intense and, perhaps, overall best song on the album. The track contains a chorus of heavy and delicate guitars by Rhoads along with a healthy dose of keyboards, synths and percussive effects. Osbourne also does a masterful job vocally, expertly portraying the apocalyptic desperation of the lyrics. However, the best part of this track is the extended instrumental section, which is led into by a heavy metal guitar and bass riff, passes through a fine classical piano and synth section by Daisey, and then returns to Rhoads’ riffing and one final, heavy outro with multi-tracked guitars and a complexity to the jam as fine as anything Deep Purple had ever done. After the depth of the previous track, “Steal Away (The Night)” concludes the album as a fun party song which gives everyone the opportunity to let loose musically. Here, Daisley and Kerslake really step to the forefront, which reminds everyone that Blizzard of Oz is really a band effort.

The album was a huge commercial success and is Osbourne’s top selling record, having sold over 6 million copies worldwide. However, there was some controversy as Daisley and Kerslake sued Osbourne (and eventually won) for unpaid royalties. In response, Osbourne re-released Blizzard of Oz with newly recorded bass and drum tracks in 2002. But fans grew to loathe this new release and the original version was reinstated as official in 2011.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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British Steel by Judas Priest

British Steel by Judas Priest

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British Steel by Judas PriestBritish Steel was the album where Judas Priest finally found a mainstream American audience and launched the heavy metal band into stadium headliners. The album reached the Top 40 in the American album charts, while faring even better in the group’s home Britain. This orchestrated move towards a more commercial sound and away from the complexity of their earlier material, helped open the door for a new style of heavy rock which persisted throughout the new decade.

The origins of Judas Priest date back to 1969 when guitarist K.K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill began jamming to tunes by Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Cream and The Yardbirds and took their name from Bob Dylan’s song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”. Eventually the band moved away from blues rock towards heavier music and soon the group began opening up for top-billing acts in England. In 1973, vocalist Rob Halford joined as front man and the next year lead guitarist Glenn Tipton was enlisted just prior to the recording of the group’s debut, Rocka Rolla, in 1974. In the late seventies, Judas Priest migrated further towards a gritty metal sound with the studio albums Sad Wings of Destiny, Sin After Sin, Stained Class and Killing Machine and the critically acclaimed 1979 live album Unleashed in the East.

Long time drummer Les Binks quit in late 1979 and was replaced by Dave Holland just prior to the recording of British Steel. Produced by Tom Allom, original recordings began at Startling Studios in December 1979, but these were soon abandoned for a fresh start at Ringo Starr’s Tittenhurst Park studios in early 1980.


British Steel by Judas Priest
Released: April 14, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Tom Allom
Recorded: Startling Studios and Tittenhurst Park, England, December 1979–February 1980
Side One Side Two
Breaking the Law
Rapid Fire
Metal Gods
Grinder
United
Living After Midnight
You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise
The Rage
Steeler
Primary Musicians
Rob Halford – Lead Vocals
K.K. Downing – Guitars
Glenn Tipton – Guitars
Ian Hill – Bass
Dave Holland – Drums

The music for all songs on British Steel was composed by Downing and Tipton, while all the lyrics were written by Halford. The infectious riff of “Breaking the Law” gets thing rolling, complete with sound effects and a primal, chanting hook. This opener (on the American version of the album) strongly signifies the group’s move into a simpler and less processed sound. This direction is further reinforced with the driving rhythm of “Rapid Fire” and the moderate crunch of “Metal Gods”.

Judas Priest 1980

The album’s first side concludes with two of its finest tracks. “Grinder” mixes deliberate guitar riffs with Hill’s steady, driving bass and a deep and raw hook by Halford which seems to forecast future acts like Metallica. “United” is an anthemic masterpiece with great sonic effects production-wise and the most melodic vocals on the album. Holland’s reverb-drenched drums seems ready for the arena while the rest of the instrumentation rests nicely in a dry but bright room.

The second side contains more diverse tracks. “Living After Midnight” is probably the most popular song from British Steel, which has sustained through the years due to its radio-friendly hooks and beats. This was the group’s first gold album in the U.S. due to its easily accessible portrayal of the rebellious spirit in the same vein as contemporaries like the group Kiss.

The fine, steady rocker “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise” patiently finds its way through the verse, chorus rotation with some very dynamic vocals by Halford, which he sustains as a highlight of the song along with a fine guitar lead by Tipton. “The Rage” is one of the most interesting tracks on the album, starting as an off-beat reggae phrasing by Downing and Hill before morphing into a Van Halen-style riff with doomy lyrics. Closing out the album, “Steeler” is an upbeat rocker which forecasts the group’s sound in subsequent years.

Following the success of British Steel, Judas Priest followed the same basic formula with 1981’s Point of Entry and 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance, each continuing the group’s rise in popularity. Three decades later, the group embarked on a 30th anniversary tour by playing the album live in its entirety for the first time, proving the sustainability of this fine record.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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Drama by Yes

Drama by Yes

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Drama by YesYes entered the 1980s with a new lineup and a renewed compositional approach. 1980’s Drama, is the band’s tenth studio album but the first not to feature Jon Anderson as the front man, as Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the group during rehearsals for this album. Soon, two members of the new wave group The Buggles, lyricist/vocalist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes were brought in to replace Anderson and Wakeman. While this naturally added some “modern” elements to Yes’s sound, the group simultaneously reverted back to their trademark early seventies approach, which overall made for an interesting and potent fusion.

During the mid to late seventies, Yes slowly morphed from a dedicated progressive rock band to offering more succinct fusion rock. Along the way, internal conflicts on the direction of the band erupted into shifts in the lineup. In 1973 drummer Alan White replaced longtime drummer Bull Bruford and, following the release of the controversial double LP Tales from Topographic Oceans, Wakeman left the band for the first time. 1974’s Relayer saw Yes move in a jazz fusion-influenced direction and was a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The group’s 1976 North American tour saw the band at the height of their popularity, playing sold-out stadiums with audiences as large as 100,000. Wakeman rejoined the group for their late 1970s albums Going For the One (another success) and Tormato (a commercial failure).

In late 1979, the band convened with producer Roy Thomas Baker to discuss their next album. A chasm grew over the musical approach between Anderson and Wakeman on one side and the rest of the group who wanted to return to a heavier sound. By March 1980, White, guitarist Steve Howe, and bassist Chris Squire began recording demos of instrumental material because Anderson and Wakeman were so disinterested in their approach. Horn and Downes Happened to be working in the same recording complex and, after Squire heard a demo of one of their new tracks, they were enlisted to joine this reconfigured version of Yes and recorded Drama.


Drama by Yes
Released: August 18, 1980 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Trevor Horn and Yes
Recorded: April–June 1980
Side One Side Two
Machine Messiah
White Car
Does It Really Happen?
Into the Lens
Run Through the Light
Tempus Fugit
Primary Musicians
Trevor Horn – Lead Vocals, Bass
Steve Howe – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Squire – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Alan White – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Although filled with extended tracks, this album moves by quickly and is as solid and complete as their tremendous early seventies efforts The Yes Album and Fragile. Also, while all five members of this newly formed band and Eddie Offord are credited with production, the majority of the workload was handled by Horn alone. The opener “Machine Messiah” rolls in with an animated yet doomy heavy prog-rock progression and heavily distorted guitar riffs. After about a minute and half, it breaks into an acoustic and bass driven verse section, which sounds much more like traditional Yes for two verses. This extended track later launches into upbeat and eclectic musical sections with several short leads by Howe, one of which is introduced by Downes and Squire trading synth and bass licks.

“White Car” is an odd interlude, orginally started as a Buggles song, with choppy synths mixed with some traditional orchestra instruments. This minute and a half long track is unidirectional with single verse and chorus. “Does It Really Happen?” starts with a cool, funky bass riff by Squire which is built around by the rest of group. In essence, the song acts as a bridge between the seventies and eighties versions of Yes, with deep Hammond-style-organ chops mixed in with the overall clean funk and some tempo variations during entertaining verses. Ending side one, the song contains some philosophical lyrics;

Time is the measure before its begun, slips away like running water…”

The most popular song on Drama is, “Into the Lens”, which started as a track intended for the second Buggles album called “I Am a Camera”. Squire’s bass rudiments in the intro are gradually joined by keys and guitars for a richer arrangement and experience. Vocally, this song is the first where Horn really distinguishes his style apart from that of Anderson’s and the track moves at a unique pace which is at once rushed and deliberative, really straddling the line between prog and pop like few songs before it. Ultimately, this track found its way back to The Buggles, who released it as “I Am a Camera” in late 1981 and nearly got a Top 40 hit.

Well treated by engineer Hugh Padgham, “Run Through the Light” starts with a slight, distant mandolin by Howe and vocals by Horn with deep reverb. Little by little, the instruments enter in the distance, never really coming completely to the foreground, making for an interesting sonic effect, especially with the multiple synth and guitar licks splattered throughout. The album ends with a high-end, traditional jam. “Tempus Fugit” starts with Downes’ choppy organ riff before launching into a complex patter by Squire’s flanged-out bass and complemented by a Howe’s reggae/ska guitar chop through the verses. Rapid, harmonized vocals lead to the ultimate lyrical hook of, “Yes”, reminding all that this makeshift super-group still carries the mantle of the classic band.

After touring together to support, Drama, this short-lived lineup began to disintegrate as members began to leave for various reasons. Ultimately, Howe and Downes were the last two left but opted to form a new group called, Asia, rather than continue to use the name, “Yes”. Ironically due to their commitment to their succesful new band, these two were the only ones not included when Yes reformed in 1983 and recorded their commercially successful, 90125, albeit Horn’s participation was as producer after Anderson returned on lead vocals.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Gaucho by Steely Dan

Gaucho by Steely Dan

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Gaucho by Steely DanSteely Dan had a smooth and steady upward climb through their heyday in the 1970s, with an album-a-year released for six straight years and each gaining in popularity. The group’s seventh album however, 1980’s Gaucho, proved to be a laborious project which was plagued by personal, legal, and creative problems. When finally complete, the album is a quasi-concept of interrelated tracks with frank lyrical themes and simple (or at least simple for this band) rhythms and musical structures.

After the tremendous success of 1977’s Aja, the group’s core duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker decided to migrate from Los Angeles back to their native New York City to record a follow-up album with producer Gary Katz. However, their perfectionism in recording did not translate well for New York session musicians when recordings began in 1978. Despite using over 40 studio musicians during a year of intense recording, Fagen and Becker were still not satisfied and spent in excess of $100,000 extra just on innovative processing of the drum beats alone. Further complicating the process, the recording of a song intended for the album called “The Second Arrangement” was accidently erased in 1979 and had to be replaced by another track late in the process. The album’s mixing sessions were no less intensive, expensive, and time consuming.

While recording the album, the group’s label was involved in a merger, which caused some legal static and prevented Becker and Fagen from changing labels. Also during this time, Becker was hit by a car and broke his leg, resulting in extensive hospitalization. Becker also battled substance abuse and his girlfriend tragically died of a drug overdose in early 1980. Gaucho was finally released in November 1980, over three years after its predecessor.


Gaucho by Steely Dan
Released: November 21, 1980 (MCA)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, 1978-1980
Side One Side Two
Babylon Sisters
Hey Nineteen
Glamour Profession
Gaucho
Time Out of Mind
My Rival
Third World Man
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Bass, Guitars, Piano, Synths, Vocals
Rob Mounsey – Piano, Keyboards
Steve Khan – Guitars

The album opener, “Babylon Sisters” ,comes in with a cool, slow and deliberate rhythm with some embellishment by the electric piano of Don Grolnick. Subtle horns and reggae elements sneak in just prior to the commencement of the first verse, along with the famous “Purdie Shuffle” by drumming legend Bernard Purdie. The album’s lyrical pace is also set here with simple but profound lines like “here comes those Santa Ana winds again.”

“Hey Nineteen” is one of the finest sonic pieces ever, and where the group’s meticulous production really pays off. A simple but completely infectious beat is complemented with each subtle instrument finding its own space, while the lyrics lightly discuss the disconnect between a thirty-something and a nineteen-year-old trying to make a go but finding little in common. The song peaked at #10, making it the last major hit for Steely Dan. The first side ends weakly with “Glamour Profession”, a song with a close to moderate disco beat and slight funk and soul elements, but very little movement in its seven and a half minutes.

With the title track, “Gaucho”, the album gets back on track. Driven by a sax riff in the intro and interludes and great bass by Becker, who also later adds a potent guitar lead to conclude the song. Steely Dan was sued by jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, for “borrowing” a bit from one of his songs. Fagen and Becker relented, making this the only song with a writing credit beyond those two. “Time Out of Mind” is poppy and catchy with a main chorus hook that builds nicely. However, the lyrical content is much darker with an unabashed celebration of one’s first experience with heroin. “My Rival” is almost like a movie or television soundtrack with storytelling lyrics of determination and interesting sonic qualities with an interspersing old-fashioned Hammond organ and modern square-font synth being used. The album closes with “Third World Man”, a slow and deliberate track which is  darker than the other material on the album.

In spite of its tortured conception, Gaucho was another solid hit for Steely Dan, reaching the Top Ten in the US and winning the 1981 Grammy Award for its engineering. However, the turmoil of the preceding years proved to be the breaking point and the group disbanded in mid 1981 and did not release another album for almost two solid decades.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police

Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police

Buy Zenyatta Mondatta

Zenyatta Mondatta by The PoliceZenyatta Mondatta was the hinge album which fell right in the middle of The Police‘s short career as an active band. True to form, this third studio release by the group contains a fine balance between their reggae-influenced roots of their first two albums in the late seventies and the more complex new wave rock of their final two albums in the early eighties. The result is a work that achieved both critical and commercial success and solidified the group as deserving of a perch in the top echelon of rock groups.

Formed in 1976 as a budding punk band, the Police members experimented with elements of reggae and jazz. Copeland’s brother and record executive Miles Copeland III agreed to finance The Police’s first album, Outlandos d’Amour in 1978, which was driven by the international hit “Roxanne”, and brought the group to the US for the first time. In October 1979, the group released their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, which topped the UK albums chart and spawned more hit singles.

Co-produced by Nigel Gray, Zenyatta Mondatta, was recorded during a break in the band’s first world tour. The band members have expressed disappointment over the final output as it was “rushed” due to much pressure from the label. Further, the band could not record in their home country due to tax reasons and instead did so in the Netherlands. However, this rushed atmosphere may have added to the dynamic elements and overall energy of this record.


Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police
Released: October 3, 1980 (A&M)
Produced by: Nigel Gray & The Police
Recorded: Wisseloord Studios, Hilversum, Netherlands, July–August 1980
Side One Side Two
Don’t Stand So Close to Me
Driven to Tears
When the World Is Running Down, Make the Best of What’s Still Around
Canary In a Coalmine
Voices Inside My Head
Bombs Away
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
Behind My Camel
Man In a Suitcase
Shadows In the Rain
The Other Way of Stopping
Group Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Andy Summers – Guitars, Piano, Synths, Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Synths, Vocals

With a dramatic intro to the song and the album, subtle synths lead to and eventually follow the guiding beat which lead to the album’s most indelible and popular track, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”. Expert instrumentation effect on simple riffs and beats complement Sting’s catchy melody which aligns with the guitar riffs. Lyrically, the song puts a new twist on the Lolita story, even going so far as to mention that story’s author, Nabakov. Fantastic rhythms bring in the dramatically simple but effective track “Driven to Tears”, on which Summers has a very short, screeching rock lead to add ever-more variety. this second song’s theme examines the divide between rich and poor.

“When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” is repetitive in almost a dance-rock fashion, built on Copeland’s simple but potent beat beneath the melodic and frantic vocals of Sting. The ability to take this hypnotic three-chord progression and add subtle dynamics and vocal inflections to give the song a more substantive feel. “Canary In a Coalmine” has an upbeat ska/reggae backing to harmonized lead vocals.  “Voices Inside My Head” has a disco beat with a funky bass and reverb effects on the guitar, which conjures images of David Gilmour on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Eventually, this song takes a bit of an African feel with some chanting vocals and slight drum variations. The first side ends with “Bombs Away”, written by Stewart Copeland. Bright and upbeat music betrays the dire apocalyptic sarcasm of the lyrics, while musically Copeland’s rapid-hat shuffle is complemented nicely by the simple and rounded bass notes of Sting.

 
The gibberish hook of “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” is almost regrettable because the music is so well-formed on this track, perhaps the finest on the album, and Summers’ true highlight. The guitar riffs throughout are bright and catchy, with rich harmonic textures and tasteful use of electronic effects. Released as a single, the song became the first for the group to reach the Top 10 in both the United Kingdom and the United States. “Behind My Camel”, is the most controversial on the album as Sting refused to play on this instrumental composed by Andy Summers (who took on bass duties himself). Pure theatrical, droning, guitar-driven track is unlike anything else on the album and it surprisingly won the Grammy Award in 1982 for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The Police 1980

While the album is solid to this point, it does seem to lose some steam down the stretch. “Man In a Suitcase” reverts back to the pure reggae, upbeat and light, with exceptionally good bass throughout by Sting, including an incredibly long decay of a single note coming out of the bridge section. “Shadows In the Rain” is a more deliberative track, built with a simple bass and drum groove riff along with a couple of piano notes each phrase, while Summers’ guitar places some distant rock motifs. Copeland’s “The Other Way of Stopping”, starts with what sounds like a chorus of drums in the intro, finely highlighting the choppy skins of the drummer, which is really the only highlight of this closing instrumental, which means the album may have been about a track too long.

Zenyatta Mondatta was a worldwide hit, landing near the top of nearly a dozen national charts. More importantly, it launched The Police into the furious second half of their career which saw even more success in the near future.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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