Fly Like An Eagle by
Steve Miller Band

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Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller BandWith his ninth studio release, Steve Miller struck commercial gold in the quadruple platinum selling 1976 album, Fly Like An Eagle. The music on the album moves through phases of psychedelic-folk, acid-blues, soul, blue grass and other types of roots genres, while the lyrical melodies and hooks help to maintain a pop-centric sensibility which results in a very accessible, catchy and easy listen throughout.

Miller formed the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco in the late 1960s as a psychedelic/blues group and soon negotiated a fairly lucrative five album deal with Capitol/EMI in 1967. Those five albums were recorded and released within a relatively short period of time (1968-1971) to mixed commercial success. The better tracks from these five were rolled into the 1972 double album compilation, Anthology. The following year, the group went through a major change in personnel as well as musical approach for the chart-topping album The Joker.

As producer of Fly Like An Eagle, Miller entered the studio in 1975 with bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber and ultimately recorded enough material for a double length LP. Miller instead opted to release two single albums concurrently, with Book of Dreams following a year later in May 1977.

 


Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 20, 1976 (Capital)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Space Intro
Fly Like an Eagle
Wild Mountain Honey
Serenade
Dance, Dance, Dance
Mercury Blues
Take the Money and Run
Rock n’ Me
You Send Me
Blue Odyssey
Sweet Maree
The Window
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

 

Miller’s synth arpeggios using an ARP Odyssey machine set the mood for the title track, “Fly Like an Eagle”. Slow and soulful, the track musically features Miller’s slightly funky intro guitar riff and the choppy Hammond B3 organ by Joachim Young. Miller’s lead vocals and hook carry this Top 5 song best with a soaring sensation to match the song’s title and the slightest recurring synths for effect. Written by Steve McCarty, “Wild Mountain Honey” enters from the dissolve of a previous track as a psychedelic folk song with Eastern influence. A synth lead over subtle percussion, with the slightest flavoring of sitar. this song is a bit elongated to absorb the full vibe and complete this smooth but psychedelic opening sequence.

“Serenade” is a transition tune, as an adventurous, driving strummed folk/rock song with harmonized vocals throughout, which works to ease the album’s sound down towards the roots music to follow. On “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the album takes a radical turn away from the mid-seventies space/pop towards a pure blue grass diddy with multiple acoustic instrument textures. This track was co-written by Joseph and Brenda Cooper and features an authentic lead dobro by John McFee as the musical highlight of this hoe-down. The cover of the 1940s song “Mercury Blues” follows and is delivered in an effective way which maintains its original R&B feel while subtly adding mid-seventies rock elements. The popular “Take the Money and Run” commences side two by continuing the “down home” sequence. An anthem for the slacker outlaw, this catchy and upbeat tune features slight chanting lyrics and excellent drumming by Mallaber throughout, with Miller delivering a thick and chorded guitar which works with the sharp and dynamic beats.

Steve Miller Band in 1970s

The aptly titled pure pop/rocker “Rock n’ Me” flew to the top of the charts as an inversion of Free’s earlier hit “All Right Now”. The rock guitar riff sets the edge before the song proper utilizes deadened classic rock chord patterns all under the exceptional vocal melodies and a traditional tourist effect lyric, which names several American cities along the way. After a forgettable rendition of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”, the album recovers with a couple of interesting tracks. “Sweet Maree” is an authentic acoustic blues with a wild harmonica by James Cotton. This song keeps a very basic arrangement through several distinct sections with only some fine electric blues guitar and slight tambourine percussion joining the ever-present acoustic and harmonica. The closing track, “The Window”, slowly swells into a soulful organ/acoustic groove with sonic textures similar to the title song, book-ending the album in a fine, consistent way.

Fly Like An Eagle was a hit worldwide, peaking at #3 in Miller’s native USA. The following year’s Book of Dreams was a similar success, making the mid-to-late seventies the most successful phase of Miller’s long career.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Invisible Touch by Genesis

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Invisible Touch by GenesisGenesis completed their full metamorphosis into a pure pop/rock outfit with 1986’s Invisible Touch, the top selling album of the group’s long career. The group’s thirteenth overall studio album, it is also notable for spawning five singles which reached in the Top 5 on the pop charts in the United States, making Genesis the only non-American act to accomplish that feat on a single album.

Prior to Invisible Touch, the trio had much success with the 1983 album, Genesis which topped the charts in the UK and went on to sell over four million copies. Following a tour to support that album, the group took a break while each member worked on solo projects. Keyboardist Tony Banks worked on the film Lorca and the Outlaws in 1984, while lead vocalist / drummer Phil Collins released his third successful solo album, No Jacket Required in 1985. Guitarist and bassist Mike Rutherford formed Mike + The Mechanics, who released their commercially successful debut album in 1985.

In late 1985, the group began work on Invisible Touch with producer Hugh Padgham, who had worked on the group’s two previous albums. The album’s tracks were all written entirely through group improvisations with no material pre-developed prior to the studio sessions.

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Invisible Touch by Genesis
Released: June 9, 1986 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & Genesis
Recorded: The Farm, Surrey, England, October 1985–March 1986
Side One Side Two
Invisible Touch
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Land of Confusion
In Too Deep
Anything She Does
Domino
Throwing It All Away
The Brazilian
Musicians
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Bass

The album explodes into full eighties synth glory with the opening title track. “Invisible Touch” features electronic drums and synths which complement the fretless bass and vocals. The popular song went on to be Genesis’s only #1 single in the United States. “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” is another electronic song but with a slightly cool mechanical vibe due to Banks’s synth work. This track should have and could have been a much more effective opener and, even though the lyrics are nearly nonsensical, the musical effects carry this song through its eight and a half minute duration.

Genesis in 1986

“Land of Confusion” is the most rock oriented song on the first side built with Rutherford’s guitar riff and a synth bass arpeggio by Banks. The fine bridge section also brings this song closest to the classic Genesis of years earlier. The fourth hit from side one, “In Too Deep” is a pure adult contemporary love ballad, featuring Banks on electric piano and Collins hitting some impressive high notes vocally. There is only the slightest guitar presence by Rutherford, who reserves his playing to a very laid back and standard bass throughout the track.

The second size starts with the frenzied and upbeat “Anything She Does”, with lyrics about the porn business. The sound complete with synth horns and ska-like rhythms, making this an overall fun song which sounds less dated than most of the rest of the material on Invisible Touch. The ten minute, two part suite “Domino” is a bit uneasy and uneven. The first part, “In the Glow of the Night”, is really just another synth-driven, cheesy tune with slightly dramatic, almost paranoid lyrics. The second part, “The Last Domino”, is a little more interesting with a driving rhythm and subtle, distant organ setting the soundscape.

A refreshing return to pop excellence and the highlight of the album, The Top 5 hit “Throwing It All Away” features Rutherford’s soul-influenced guitar and Collins’s sweet but desperate vocal melody. Banks adds just the right amount of synths to make this a classic ballad for the decade and, ironically, the title works to do the exact opposite as far as this album is concerned – it salvages it. The album concludes with the instrumental, “The Brazilian”, an electro, synth piece which is a big let down after the fine ballad preceding it. The best part of the piece is Rutherford’s slight guitar lead near the end, but unfortunately the song is already fading out by the time this solo really starts to heat up.

Invisible Touch became the band’s fourth consecutive album to top the UK charts and peaked at #3 in the US. The group soon embarked on their largest world tour to support the album, Playing over a hundred dates through 1986 and 1987.

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

 

Load by Metallica

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Load by MetallicaFive years in the making, Metallica took a semi-radical turn on their sixth studio album, Load. The album incorporates elements of alternative rock, blues, southern rock and even country while remaining rooted in the group’s traditional brand of heavy metal. While this musical progression caused a bit of controversy among long time fans, the album was an immediate commercial hit and was their fastest selling out of the gate.

The group’s 1991 breakthrough, Metallica (“The Black Album”), brought Metallica to the mainstream and sparked several years of touring throughout the world, including a headlining slate at Woodstock ’94. In the summer of 1995, the group took a short break before returning to the studio later that year.

Songs for the album were mainly written by lead vocalist / guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett played a large role in shaping the sonic direction of Load with the many guitar styles and textures. The album was produced by Hetfied, Ulrich and Bob Rock, who was instrumental in migrating the band’s sound closer to the mainstream.


Load by Metallica
Released: June 4, 1996 (Elektra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: The Plant Studios, Sausalito, CA, May 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Ain’t My Bitch
2 X 4
The House Jack Built
Until It Sleeps
King Nothing
Hero of the Day
Bleeding Me
Cure
Poor Twisted Me
Wasting My Hate
Thorn Within
Ronnie
The Outlaw Torn
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Guitars
Jason Newsted – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums

Load by Metallica

The strongest trait of Load‘s nearly eighty minute odyssey is how cohesive the album is in spite of its abundance of genres and tones. The opener “Ain’t My Bitch” is nearly a pure pop/rocker with choppy riff and rhythms, which made it a hit on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts. “2 X 4” starts with Ulrich’s drum intro into a slightly bluesy hard rock, featuring slide guitars by Hammett. “The House Jack Built” goes through several distinct sections as the song unfolds, with a very theatrical feel overall. Sound effects from Hammett’s guitar act as a dramatic guide throughout, climaxing with a wild talk-box lead section.

“Until It Sleeps” starts with fretless bass section by Jason Newsted before it breaks into the melodic verses. The picked electric riff throughout is the highlight of this track, which remains laid back and moderate throughout and became Metallica’s first and only Top 10 hit on the pop charts. “King Nothing” starts with wild feedback effect before Newstead’s driving bass ushers in the building main riff, in an arrangement very similar (right down to the middle nursery rhyme section) to “Enter Sandman” from the previous album. In all, this is the most traditional-sounding and raw song on the album thus far.

The best overall track on the album, “Hero of the Day” is built on Hammett’s simple but brilliant guitar pattern and executed with differing arrangement elements from heavy rock to strummed acoustic with electric accents. The later lead section is equally simple but ever more excellent and the song ends in hard-rock crescendo making it an instant classic which still sounds potent 20 years later. The picked guitar and bass intro of “Bleeding Me” shows the band pointing towards an alternative rock / grunge approach, in the same manner as bands like Alice in Chains. This song remains fairly moderate and consistent until about 5 minutes in, when it takes a more direct, metal approach for the duration. On the eighties-flavored “Cure”, the guitar textures are fairly interesting but the composition itself is rather weak, while “Poor Twisted Me” has guitar tones which fall somewhere between Van Halen and ZZ Top reaching legit rock heights towards the end, making it an overall fine track. “Wasting My Hate” starts as pure upbeat blues before breaking into an intense hard rocker with cool, returning riffs.

Metallica in 1996

Hetfield wrote the ballad “Mama Said” about his difficult relationship with his mother, who died of cancer when he was 16 years old and is a real heartfelt folk song by Hetfield with emotional intensity throughout. Acoustic throughout, when this song fully kicks in, it is almost country with pedal steel and later a heavier slide guitar, while the bridge contains further layered guitars and harmonized vocals. On “Thorn Within”, the group returns to a slow metal format with multiple riff variations, not as strong as this album’s best, but certainly not a throwaway track either. “Ronnie” works its way in with an excellent, bluesy riff and keep the simple blues/rock anthem feel throughout. While the song is five minutes long and repetitive, it never gets stale because if its excellent execution and tonal qualities, making it a highlight of the latter part of the album. Unfortunately, the album concludes with the unfocused and bloated “The Outlaw Torn”, a nearly ten-minute droning and slightly interesting track, which is far from the best way to complete the album.

Load debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts and went on to top charts in over a dozen countries around the globe. Metallica’s momentum continued as they headlined Lollapalooza in mid-1996 and followed-up with the 1997 “sequel” album, Reload, which featured many tracks started during the production of this album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

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Down On the Upside by SoundgardenThe climax of the group’s original success, Down On the Upside was a super-sized album by Soundgarden, one which would have been a double album in decades earlier than this 1996 release. This fifth studio album by the band features music which is much more experimental than on previous Soundgarden releases as it utilizes expanded instrumentation, more complex harmonies, layered guitar textures and ambitious compositional structures.

In early 1994, Soundgarden released their breakthrough, Superunknown, which topped the pop album charts and remains the group’s most commercially successful album. During the subsequent touring, Cornell severely strained his vocal cords, which forced the group to take a break and ultimately slow the pace of touring.

Work on Down On the Upside began in Seattle in the summer of 1995. Compositions were more individually written with front man Chris Cornell writing most of the lyrics. Some tensions reportedly arose between Cornell guitarist Kim Thayil during these recording sessions, which would be the last for the group for over a decade and a half.


Down on the Upside by Soundgarden
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: Adam Kasper & Soundgarden
Recorded: Studio Litho and Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, November 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Pretty Noose
Rhinosaur
Zero Chance
Dusty
Ty Cobb
Blow Up the Outside World
Burden in My Hand
Never Named
Applebite
Never the Machine Forever
Tighter and Tighter
No Attention
Switch Opens
Overfloater
An Unkind
Boot Camp
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin
Kim Thayil – Lead Guitar
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Mandolin
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

Starting things off, “Pretty Noose” is a choppy rocker with distinct, layered guitar riffs. It was the lead single from the album and reached number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. “Rhinosaur” was co-written by drummer Matt Cameron and features some odd-timed rhythms during the verses with the choruses featuring uplifting vocals by Cornell, A frantic guitar lead over the bridge quickly dissolves back to the relatively slower main theme to end the track. “Zero Chance” is the first of several tracks by bassist Ben Shepherd as a traditional grunge depressant, while his track “Dusty” employs much heavier rock with a lyric that gives the album its title.

The unique track “Ty Cobb” starts with a relaxed intro with both Cornell and Sheppard playing a mandolin and mandola respectively, before the band launches into a full punk screed. On “Blow Up the Outside World”, Soundgarden uses an A-B attack strategy. First there is the calm acoustic section, sung gently and melodically, accompanied by a nice tremolo second guitar and heavy bluesy third guitar as tension builds through the early verses. Then the arrangement explodes into a full metal assault during the chorus. Together these sections make for a bonafide classic, further solidified by the fantastic, calm guitar lead by Thayil in the middle.

Cornell’s voice above pure, folk, open-C strumming makes for a unique and potent blend of sonic bliss during “Burden in My Hand”. This song does get heavier in the choruses, but never over the top for this track which topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts for five weeks. When full rhythmic arrangement joins for the later verses, song and album reaches its musical heights.

Soundgarden in 1996
 
There is no doubt that Down On the Upside is top-heavy in terms of quality, as the latter part of this long album contains several tracks which could be considered filler material. Shepherd’s “Never Named” is a short speed rock jam, while Cameron’s “Applebite” is mainly an instrumental with some distorted, mechanical vocals. Cornell’s “Tighter and Tighter” is a moderately paced track bluesy rock jam in contrast to the frantic, quasi-punk “No Attention”. The best of this later group includes Thayil’s “Never the Machine Forever” with rapid riff, screeching guitars, Shepherd’s potent jam “An Unkind”, and the unidirectional closing track,
“Boot Camp”.

A worldwide success, Down On the Upside topped the charts in several countries, topping out at number two in the group’s native United States. The group again went on a massive tour to support this album but tensions within the band ultimately led to their disbandment early in 1997. Soundgarden would not reunite for a studio album until the production of King Animal in 2012, with a follow-up to that album currently in the works as of mid 2016.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Agents of Fortune by
Blue Oyster Cult

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Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster CultThe most commercially successful album of the group’s career, the platinum selling Agents of Fortune is a diverse and interesting (albeit a bit incohesive) album by Blue Oyster Cult. Musically, this fourth album from the New York based quintet branched out from the dark and mysterious strain of heavy metal toward more pop-oriented, synth-drenched, arena style rock. Quite ironically, this album yielded the band’s most indelible single, which is a track that advances Blue Oyster Cult’s traditional musical approach rather than one which capitulates to popular trends.

Following the 1972 release of their self titled debut album, the group went on an extensive tour while simultaneously writing material for their next album, Tyranny and Mutation. This sophomore effort included the first of the band’s many collaborations with composer Patti Smith. The group’s third album, Secret Treaties in 1974 was the first to receive positive mainstream critical acclaim and launched the band into headlining status for the first time in their major label career.

Three producers collaborated on Agents of Fortune, Sandy Pearlman, Murray Krugman, and David Lucas along with engineer Shelly Yakus. The compositions on the album were dispersed among four of the five group members as well as some outside composers such as Smith, which made for an extremely diverse sequence in both sound and style as the album progresses.

 

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Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult
Released: May 21, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman & David Lucas
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York City, 1975–76
Side One Side Two
This Ain’t the Summer of Love
True Confessions
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
The Revenge of Vera Gemini
Sinful Love
Tattoo Vampire
Morning Final
Tenderloin
Debbie Denise
Band Musicians
Eric Bloom – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Donald Roesar – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The album begins on a sober, if not cynical, note to reflect the darker mood of the mid 1970s with,”This Ain’t the Summer of Love”, co-written by drummer Albert Bouchard. While musically this is rather typical pop/rock with a slightly harder edge, it has been suggested that this song forecasts the rage and thematic subject matter of punk rock. “True Confessions” was composed and sung by guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lanier. It is much brighter than the opener as a piano driven tune with an electric guitar trailing close behind to form a Randy Newman-type vibe with choppy rhythms.

Continuing the vast diversity of the album is the dark and smooth classic “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, the group’s biggest chart success and the only Top 10 single. Written by lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and primarily built around his ringing guitar riff. The lyrics are clearly about death, an odd choice of subject matter and arrangement to work for a mainstream audience, but this one certainly caught fire. The song is also notable for Bouchard’s consistent use of cowbell (later parodied on this classic Saturday Night Live skit) and a dynamic middle section which diverts into Roesar’s theatrical, feedback-laden guitar lead.

“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” starts with the infectious talk-box drenched riff, complemented by a choppy piano. On this track, Bloom’s vocals are dry and cool in contrast to the upbeat musical riffs, beats and rhythms. The lead section starts with wild synth effects to give life to the spacey lyrics, a line of which gives the album its title. Co-written by Smith, “The Revenge of Vera Gemini” finishes side one as a smooth, unique, interesting, and entertaining track with some spoken and sung female backing vocals under smooth musical arrangements and upbeat rhythms.

Blue Oyster Cult in1976

The album’s original second side starts with two of its weaker tracks. “Sinful Love” is a pale attempt at pop/soul with its only redeeming traits being a good guitar lead and consistent animated bass by Joe Bouchard. “Tattoo Vampire” continues the theatrical sequence but with a much harder rock approach, led by the guitars and lead vocals of Eric Bloom. Agents of Fortune does finish very strong, starting with Joe Bouchard’s “Morning Final”, which starts with a squealing guitar lead before settling into a funk groove accented by melodic injections through the verse sections and later musical rudiment sections featuring multiple keyboards. On “Tenderloin”, the bass motors along with calm synths/piano on top and very unique lead vocals by Bloom. “Debbie Denise” closes the album as a pleasant and moderate pop ballad which tries to pack in a bit too much variety of instrumentation and tempo.

Agents of Fortune reached the Top 30 on the Pop Albums chart and launched the band into an even larger concert attraction, where the Blue Oyster Cult indulged in a state-of-the-art laser light show to accompany their music. Through the next half decade, the group’s popularity continued to grow with more album and live success, reaching its peak just before Albert Bouchard left the group in the early 1980s.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Bringing Down the Horse
by The Wallflowers

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Bringing Down The Horse by The WallflowersThe Wallflowers struck a fine chord with their second LP, Bringing Down the Horse. The songs on the album were all composed by front man Jakob Dylan and the musical arrangements featured an array of acoustic instrumentation – including 6-string acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro and pedal steel – complementing the core “electric” rock timbres and rhythms. In all, this roots rock sound led to much critical and commercial success as the album went triple platinum and was nominated for multiple Grammy awards.

The group was formed in New York in 1988 by Dylan and guitarist Tobi Miller, originally using the name “The Apples”. The group went through several lineup migrations, with keyboardist Rami Jaffee joining in 1990 after the group migrated to Los Angeles and changed their name to The Wallflowers. The following year the group was signed to Virgin Records and released their self-titled debut in 1992. While reviews for the album were mostly positive, sales were slow and soon the group split with Virgin and reverted back to playing LA-area clubs. During this time, Greg Richling became the group’s permanent bassist while drummer Peter Yanowitz departed, leaving the group without a full-time drummer. Still, The Wallflowers signed with Interscope Records and began preparing for their second album.

After the group sent demos to several producers, T Bone Burnett was impressed and agreed to produce the album. Burnett enlisted Matt Chamberlain on drums throughout the recording sessions as well as several other guest musicians and backing vocalists to help enrich the group’s sound. Due to the long duration between the band’s first and second albums, songs on Bringing Down the Horse were composed over a long span, dating back to the late 1980s.


Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: T Bone Burnett
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Groove Masters, & O’Henry Sound Studios, Los Angeles, Brooklyn Studios, Brooklyn, NY, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
One Headlight
6th Avenue Heartache
Bleeders
Three Marlenas
The Difference
Invisible City
Laughing Out Loud
Josephine
God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
Angel On My Bike
I Wish I Felt Nothing
Jakob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Michael Ward – Guitars
Rami Jaffee – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Richling – Bass
Matt Chamberlain – Drums
 
Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers

The album begins with its two biggest commercial and radio hits. “One Headlight” marches in with a steady, rhythmic thump, accented by alternating licks from Jaffee’s Hammond B3 organ and the lead guitar of guest Jon Brion. The song’s title was inspired by the band’s leaner days, when they were able to move on in spite of less than stellar support. Methodical and melodic throughout, this song was an instant classic in the late nineties and remains so today. “6th Avenue Heartache” dates back to the band’s earliest days and was written by Dylan in 1988 about a homeless man on his street. Musically, Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) provides the perfect lead guitar above the simple, acoustic and bluesy rhythm of the song. Repetitive to be sure, but to great effect as this song never seems to linger too long.

“Bleeders” features a bright acoustic and is upbeat but not over the top. Later there is an interesting duo organ/guitar lead during the short bridge. “Three Marlenas” is built on three basic strummed chords, which set the scene for Dylan’s folk-like storytelling about basic domestic situations and multiple personalities. “The Difference” was another hit as an upbeat, frenzied rocker with a distinct guitar riff and good harmonies through the pre-choruses, with Richling’s bass assuming control during the track’s driving choruses. “Invisible City” is a slow ballad with Dylan’s subtle acoustic contrasting Chamberlain’s up-front drum beat, while “Laughing Out Loud” features twangy guitars and folksy pop/rock lyrics and melodies.

The Wallflowers in 1996

“Josephine” brings things back down as a slow ballad with differing soundscapes and levels of intensity for mood effect. Ward provides a short but excellent bluesy guitar lead and reprise during the outtro. Alternating back uptempo, “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” is Southern-flavored rock. “Angel on My Bike” is the best candidate for an accessible hit song late in the album as it features all The Wallflower special ingredients – strummed acoustic, ethereal electric, Hammond organ, thumping bass, animated drums and melodic and catchy vocals. The piano lead makes this a bit different than earlier songs as well as the good musical interludes and overall vibe, which is at once melancholy and celebrational. For the closer, “I Wish I Felt Nothing”, the group goes full-fledged country/waltz with Leo LeBlanc adding a fantastic pedal steel slide, giving the song some real flavor and completing this fine album on a sweet note.

Bringing Down the Horse reached the Top 10 in both the US and Canada and it remains the group’s highest-selling album to date. Following its release, The Wallflowers toured extensively and their popularity continued to ascend for several years leading up to the new millennium.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Long Distance Voyager
by The Moody Blues

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Long Distance Voyager by The Moody BluesThe Moody Blues scored some latter career commercial success with the chart-topping album Long Distance Voyager in 1981. While this was the ninth studio album by the group, it was only the second since the group went on an extended hiatus nearly a decade earlier. Musically, Long Distance Voyager balances itself by employing some of the dreamy, intelligent songs for which the group is best known, as well some modern beat-driven pop tracks.

In 1974, after seven albums in seven years and several world tours, the Moody Blues commenced an extended break. Some songs were composed for a near future group album, but these were instead to become Blue Jays, a duo album by guitarist/vocalist Justin Hayward and bassist/vocalist John Lodge. Other group members also released solo albums through the mid 1970s before the group finally reunited to record the 1978 album Octave. This would be the final album to involve keyboardist Mike Pinder.

Pinder was replaced by Patrick Moraz, previously with the group Yes, which prompted Pinder to file a lawsuit to prevent a new Moody Blues album from reaching the public without his contributions. Ultimately, the lawsuit was unsuccessful and the Pip Williams produced Long Distance Voyager was released in May 1981 and was the first release in a decade and a half not to be produced by Tony Clarke, who had worked on every Moody Blues album since 1967’s Days of Future Passed. This album is also notable as the sole one recorded at the band’s own Threshold Studios, which was custom-designed for the band by Decca Records but disbanded shortly after Decca’s sale to Polygram.

 

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Long Distance Voyager by The Moody Blues
Released: May 15, 1981 (Threshold)
Produced by: Pip Williams
Recorded: Threshold and RAK Studios, London, February 1980–April 1981
Side One Side Two
The Voice
Talking Out of Turn
Gemini Dream
In My World
Meanwhile
22,000 Days
Nervous
Painted Smile
Reflective Smile
Veteran Cosmic Rocker
Band Musicians
Justin Hayward – Guitars, Vocals
Patrick Moraz – Keyboards
Ray Thomas – Flute, Harmonica, Vocals
John Lodge – Bass, Vocals
Graeme Edge – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with Hayward’s “The Voice” with a dramatic, orchestral synth intro before the upbeat song proper kicks in. This modern rock song is led by synths with driving rhythms, acoustic guitar, and choral backing vocals to complement Hayward’s melodic lead vocals, while lyrically the song is about finding your inner guide, your true north. The song was ahit, reaching the Top 20 on the opo charts.

“Talking Out of Turn” was written and sung by Lodge and, although laden by a consistent synth arpeggio, this track is really an acoustic love song at its core. The track unfolds slowly and methodically and maintains its rich arrangement throughout its seven-plus minute duration, with heavy orchestral elements in the coda. “Gemini Dream” was the biggest hit from the album, topping the charts in Canada and peaking at #12 in the USA. New wave and (nearly) dance-oriented, this track features duo lead vocals by Hayward and Lodge, which works best during the “make it work out” call-and-response section of the bridge.

The ballad “In My World” features Hayward’s brightly strummed acoustic guitar complemented by a pedal steel by guest B.J. Cole to complete the album’s original first side. Another Hayward song starts the second side, as “Meanwhile” is a sing-songy acoustic track, pleasant like an early seventies soft rock song with acoustic guitar and Moraz’s electric piano. A good song overall, “Meanwhile” was also a minor hit, reaching #11 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. “Nervous” is a pure introspective folk song by Lodge, with picked acoustic, and a string section performed by William’s “New World Philharmonic”.

The Moody Blues in 1981

Much of the rest of the album’s second side is dominated by tracks fronted by Ray Thomas. “22,000 Days” is beat driven with strong and steady drums by Graeme Edge, who composed this track which features theatrical musical flourishes. The final three tracks comprise a mini-suite, giving the album a thematic feel. “Painted Smile” has very English, “Top of the Pops” like crooning by Thomas above a slight waltz beat along with cool, carnival like effects. “Reflective Smile” acts as a bridge, narrated by Dave Symonds, leading to the closing climax, “Veteran Cosmic Rocker”. This closing track features strong rock elements along with a middle section features a plethora of sounds from pure blues rock to psychedelic and Eastern soundscapes.

Long Distance Voyager topped the charts in the US and Canada and reached the Top 10 in the UK. Although the group continued with this formula to further success through the mid 1980s, they would not again record an album this complete in future years.

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1981 Images

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

 

Union by Yes

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Union by YesThe 1991 album, Union, is unique not only among the vast collection of Yes albums, but is a unique release among all mainstream rock albums. At the time they were recorded, the fourteen tracks were recorded by two distinct groups which later merged into a single, eight man group, with all members having a prior history in Yes. In fact, members from all of the previous incarnations of the group are present on this album save for the group’s original guitarist Peter Banks and short-time vocalist Trevor Horn.

Horn had replaced Jon Anderson for the 1980 album Drama, but Anderson returned for the commercially successful 90125 in 1983. Along with Anderson, the lineup of that album included guitarist Trevor Rabin, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Alan White. This same line-up remained for the studio album, Big Generator, which also had notable commercial success. However in September 1988, Anderson split from this variation of Yes and formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) with former Yes members guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Bill Bruford, as well as former King Crimson bassist Tony Levin. This new branch of the classic band released an eponymous album in 1989, which went gold in the United States.

However, when ABWH produced material for a second album in 1990, Arista Records owner Clive Davis initially refused to release the record because he felt the initial mixes were insufficient. Anderson approached Rabin, who had been planning a new album and incarnation of Yes with ex-Supertramp vocalist Roger Hodgson. When Hodgson dropped out, it was agreed that Anderson would record lead vocals on the Rabin-led material and both projects would be merged as a “reunited” Yes project. Union features nine primary musicians (although there is no track where they all play together) and four producers with material recorded in no less than seven studios throughout Europe and the United States.

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Union by Yes
Released: April 30, 1991 (Arista)
Produced by: Jonathan Elias, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Mark Mancina & Eddie Offord
Recorded: Various Studios in Correns, Paris, Devon, London, Los Angeles, New York City, 1989-1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
I Would Have Waited Forever
Shock to the System
Masquerade
Lift Me Up
Without Hope
Saving My Heart
Miracle of Life
Silent Talking
The More We Live – Let Go
Angkor Wat
Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You’re Searching For)
Holding On
Evensong
Take the Water to the Mountain
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Trevor Rabin – Guitars, Vocals
Tony Kaye – Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Keyboards
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Tony Levin – Bass
Alan White – Drums, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums

Union by Yes

As for the material itself, it is a bit scattered and incohesive in the album’s final form, with specific, individual parts being greater in total than the whole. The first two tracks may be the strongest original ABWH songs. “I Would Have Waited Forever” was co-written by producer Jonathan Elias and alternates between driving rock sections and complex, vocal-driven parts. “Shock to the System” is a strong edged rocker, featuring Howe’s strong riffs and a steady drum beat by Bruford.

The finger-picked acoustic instrumental “Masquerade” is a real highlight of the early album as a very folky yet technically proficient piece which shows what a fantastic instrumentalist Howe is. This track earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1992. “Lift Me Up” is the first and best track from the Rabin/Squire faction and features decent progressions throughout and may be the most cohesive track on the album. The first single released from the album, “Lift Me Up” reached the top of the Album Rock Tracks chart. Shortly after, another Rabin track, “Saving My Heart”, was also released as a single as a percussion driven track with some reggae elements.

Yes Union lineup, 1991

Co-written by producer Mark Mancina, “Miracle of Life” has a whole lot of eccentric instrumentation, such as banjo, playing on the same riff and rudiments through a long intro. After two full minutes, the verses begin with alternating lead vocals by Anderson and Rabin and featuring some pulling rhythms of Squire’s bass, which all work to make it a pleasant listen. We return to the ABWH material with Howe’s “Silent Talking”, which features a Rush-like, extended riff pattern and extensive keyboards by Elias and, although relatively short at 4 minutes, this is probably the most genuine progressive rock track on the album.

Union descends to a nadir through the latter tracks, which include the lazy soundscapes of “The More We Live – Let Go”, the Eastern soundscapes and recited Cambodian poetry of “Angkor Wat”, and the pure eighties pop/rock approach of “Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You’re Searching For)”. However, the album does end on a high note with a medley starting with Levin and Bruford’s rhythmic instrumental “Evensong” and moving to Anderson’s haunting but inspired “Take the Water to the Mountain”, builds to a bright climax.

Following the album’s release, Yes supported Union with a massive arena tour which helped the album sell over 1.5 million copies worldwide. Many group members have expressed dissatisfaction, especially the former members of ABWH (save Anderson), as that group dissolved following this album and Anderson re-joined the 1980s version of Yes moving forward.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Ordinary Average Guy
by Joe Walsh

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Ordinary Average Guy by Joe WalshJoe Walsh‘s long solo career was beginning to wind down by the early nineties, in part due to a decades long “party” which was starting to take its toll on him personally and professionally. His ninth solo studio album, Ordinary Average Guy, is hardly his most heralded or successful. However, this was an important record in the sense that it takes a nostalgic look to the past as well as a sobering assessment of the present. Also notable here is Walsh’s inclusion of several fine ballads, a musical area which he had rarely explored to that point in his long career.

After The Eagles broke up in 1980, Walsh dove into his solo career which he began with Barnstorm in 1974 and continued in between Eagles albums with releases such as 1978’s But Seriously, Folks. In 1981, Walsh released the commercially successful There Goes the Neighborhood, which spawned the single, “A Life of Illusion”, a song originally intended for Walsh’s first solo album. Later in the decade, Walsh released You Bought It – You Name It and The Confessor, the latter of which included heavy input by Stevie Nicks. 1987’s Got Any Gum? would be Walsh’s final release of the decade and a commercial disappointment.

In 1990, Walsh reunited with former Barnstorm drummer Joe Vitale to co-produce Ordinary Average Guy. This album also features vocal and composition contributions by former Survivor lead vocalist Jimi Jamison as well as backing vocals by the legendary Ringo Starr.

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Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh
Released: April 23, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Joe Vitale
Recorded: August 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Two Sides to Every Story
Ordinary Average Guy
The Gamma Goochee
All of a Sudden
Alphabetical Order
Look at Us Now
I’m Actin’ Different
Up All Night
You Might Need Somebody
Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)
School Days
Joe Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Bass

Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh

The album begins  with “Two Sides to Every Story”, co-written by bassist Rick Rosas. It starts with a harmonica lead, accompanied by a basic rock drum beat and chanting vocals and is fun and entertaining overall, albeit lyrically a bit clichéd. The title track, “Ordinary Average Guy”, is a fun bag of sonic candy which acts as a near modern adaptation of the famous “Life’s Been Good”, complete with rock/reggae elements and textures and the spoof-like lyrics. “The Gamma Goochee” cover song sounds like a great party tune with thumping bass and subtle synths to complement the vocal chanting and call and response crowd effects.

“All of a Sudden” is the first song on the album to depart from the established “party mode”, with somber and introspective lyrics on growing older. Co-written by Jamison, this track showcases fantastic music to match the vibe and mood.  With slide electric guitar interludes over some steady synths, bass and drums and a saxophone lead by Larry Otis,  this is the high point of Ordinary Average Guy. Unfortunately, this is immediately followed by the album’s low point, “Alphabetical Order”, a complete throwaway song, which seems like it is a mockery of rap but even misses the mark on that front.

Joe Walsh

On the second half of the album, the material is more evened out with accessible pop/rock. “Look at Us Now” has a rollin’ drum intro with slowly developing, harmonized slide guitar. The song proper maintains the beat while adding riff rudiments to accent the vocals, in an approach reminiscent of material on John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band more than two decades earlier. “I’m Actin’ Different” has an acoustic backing throughout with steady but strong rhythms and a slight Soul vibe as the song goes along. “Up All Night” features some over-the-top synths along with Latin-flavored percussive effects, while the cover “You Might Need Somebody” features a unique mix of 1980s Adult contemporary with Walsh’s persistent talk box guitars leading a built-up layer of fine guitar textures. The album concludes with a suite of two songs which nod back towards adolescent years. On “Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)” a synth arpeggio accompanies the solo Walsh vocals with little additional arrangement, while Vitale’s “School Days” wraps things up with the drummer taking lead vocals in a quasi doo-wop rock with eighties-style production overtones.

While a couple of songs were Mainstream Rock hits, Ordinary Average Guy failed to break the Top 100 on the Album charts. Similarly, its follow up Songs for a Dying Planet in 1992 was equally non-commercial and critically panned, and Walsh would not release another solo album for two solid decades.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Temple of the Dog
25th Anniversary

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Temple of the DogTemple of the Dog was sort of a reverse super group in the sense that the group members would go on to play in two of the more successful rock bands of the 1990s. However, at the time of this group’s short recording career in 1990, none of its members had yet achieved any great fame or recognition as they would in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam in subsequent years. In any case, the 1991 eponymous is an exceptional musical statement which far surpasses the trivial curiosity it was portrayed as throughout the early nineties.

In March 1990, Mother Love Bone front man Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose. Wood’s former roommate and Soundgarden lead vocalist Chris Cornell approached two former members of Mother Love Bone, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament about recording some material he had previously worked on with Wood. At the time, Gossard and Ament were in the early phases of the group who would become Pearl jam and they invited another group member, lead guitarist Mike McCready to join the Temple of the Dog. In turn, Cornell enlisted Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to round out the quartet.

Temple of the Dog was recorded in Seattle in just 15 days with producer Rick Parashar, who also provided some keyboards on select tracks. With few expectations from the record label, the musicians were free to record as they saw fit and they accomplished great synergy over that short time period. The name of the group and album was taken from the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words”.

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Temple of the Dog by Temple of the Dog
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two)
Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers
Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Say Hello 2 Heaven
Reach Down
Hunger Strike
Pushin’ Forward Back
Call Me a Dog
Times of Trouble
Wooden Jesus
Your Saviour
Four Walled World
All Night Thing
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Banjo
Mike McCready – Guitars
Stone Gossard – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass
Matt Cameron – Drums

Temple Of the Dog

Cornell wrote all the lyrics as well as most of the music on this album. Uniquely, the album begins with its two longest tracks, both of which were written in direct response to Wood’s death. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” starts with a solo, picked electric guitar before the strummed rhythms come in for the verses. This opener features a soulful and dynamic melody with fine backing harmonies during the chorus, which helped drive the song to the Top 5 of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Reach Down” starts with a doomy and droning electric guitar riff above slow rhythms through the verse sections. Giving this eleven minute track much of its mass the extended duo guitar lead by McCready and Gossard, while the predominant lyrical theme is “reach down and lift up the audience”.

The most popular song on the album, “Hunger Strike”, may be its simplest. Three chords are built upon with stronger arrangement and vocals building the track’s intensity. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder performs co-lead vocals with Cornell as Vedder stepped in when Cornell was having trouble with the vocals during a duo band rehearsal. The result was a worldwide hit in 1992. “Pushin Forward Back” is a bass driven riff track, written by Ament and Gossard as an odd-timed riff drone jam. Like many many tracks on this album, this acts as a canvas for Cornell’s fine vocals. Presented as a standard ballad, complete with minor-key piano by Parashar, “Call Me a Dog” is a vocal driven, sad ballad which manages to never become mushy or boring. “Times of Trouble” is another crooning ballad but with slightly more grunge rock elements including soaring vocal melodies through choruses and a later slight harmonica lead by Cornell.

Temple of the Dog

“Wooden Jesus” is built on a revolving drum beat by Cameron with some strategically added percussion for extra effect in the intro. Later comes an interesting little banjo during second verse and great wah-wah guitar lead during the bridge. “Your Savior” features funky beats and grooves throughout with more good drumming, leading to “Four Walled World”, a slow, cool jam based tune co-written by Gossard. The sparse guitar chords and fretless bass help to make this a fine track sonically as do the later dual slide guitars add the next logical element to the effect. The closer “All Night Thing” features a sparse arrangement with shuffling brush drums accompanied by Hammond organ with the lead vocals pretty much carrying the dynamics. Clever and accessible, this album closer sounds like it could have been a big hit.

Temple of the Dog sold poorly upon its initial release in April 1991, but it found new life a year later after Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger and Pearl Jam’s Ten found great success in late 1991. Eventually, the album sold was certified platinum and went on to become one of the more highly regarded releases of the decade.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.