Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins

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Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing PumpkinsSmashing Pumpkins went all in on their third release, the super-sized, 28-track Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and remarkably this worked both critically and commercially. With five hit singles, this two-disc CD / triple LP features a wide variety of styles and musical sub-genres as well as balanced input from all group members. This 1995 album debuted at number one in the US and, in spite of its inflated price as compared to single LPs, has sold more than 10 million units to date.

The group was formed in Chicago in 1988 by vocalist/guitarist Billy Corgan and guitarist James Iha and slowly built a dedicated audience. With the mainstream breakthrough of alternative rock, Smashing Pumpkins had an immediate breakthrough with their 1991 debut Gish and even greater success with their sophomore effort Siamese Dream in 1993. While both of those successful albums were produced by Butch Vig, the group wanted to move in a totally new direction for this third album.

Corgan wrote over 50 songs in early 1995 before the band went into the studio with producers Flood and Alan Moulder, who worked hard to capture the energy of their live shows. Corgan described their ambition to deliver “The Wall for Generation X”, with the songs loosely tied conceptually with the cycle of life and death and the contrast between night and day.


Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins
Released: October 24, 1995 (Virgin)
Produced by: Alan Moulder & Billy Corgan
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago & The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, March-August 1995
Disc One, Dawn to Dusk Disc Two, Twilight to Starlight
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Tonight, Tonight
Jellybelly
Zero
Here Is No Why
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
To Forgive
Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
Love
Cupid de Locke
Galapogos
Muzzle
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
Take Me Down
Where Boys Fear to Tread
Bodies
Thirty-Three
In the Arms of Sleep
1979
Tales of a Scorched Earth
Thru the Eyes of Ruby
Stumbleine
X.Y.U.
We Only Come Out at Night
Beautiful
Lily (My One and Only)
By Starlight
Farewell and Goodnight
Group Musicians
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
James Iha – Guitars, Vocals
D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums, Vocals

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness features subtitles for each of its two discs, with the first named “Dawn to Dusk”. After the mellow, title instrumental comes the orchestral arrangement of “Tonight, Tonight”. Corgan has said that the song pays homage to Cheap Trick while the song’s lyrics have been compared to the poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick. All of the various guitars on the album were tuned down a half-step from standard to give it an edgier sound with “Jellybelly” using an even lower sixth string. “Zero” was the first song recorded for the album and it has six acoustic and rhythm guitars while “Here Is No Why” features a fine guitar solo. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” ultimately became the group’s first Top 40 hit on its way to receiving a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance with it’s signature hook;

despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage…”

The simple track “To Forgive” is followed by the raw power and intensity of “Fuck You (An Ode to No One)”, backed by the rhythms of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.  “Cupid de Locke” is an inventive, psychedelic ballad and “Galapogos” is a methodical piece that slowly builds but never really explodes. One of the last songs written for album was “Muzzle”, the fifth and final single from this album. At nine and a half minutes, the deliberative “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is one of the most musically awarding pieces on the album with a long intro, interesting rhythms by bassist D’arcy Wretzky and vast guitar overdubs. Iha’s “Take Me Down” wraps up the first disc as the most mellow of ballads.

Smashing Pumpkins on stage

Disc two is subtitled “Twilight to Starlight” and here the album gets more delicate, inventive and overall easier to listen to. “Thirty-Three” was the fifth and final single from the album, and was another Top 40 hit, while “In the Arms of Sleep” is a fine, romantic ballad. The undisputed classic on the album is “1979”, with all the best elements of 1990s alternative. Written as a nostalgic coming of age story, features sample vocals looped throughout or and distinct, ethereal effect.

The rich, musically superior “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” unfortunately lacks in good melody, while “We Only Come Out at Night” has a good, chanting hook over a medieval-like harpsichord and a distant beat. Wretzky offers harmonized vocals on the Prince-like electro-ballad “Beautiful” as “Lily (My One and Only)” is a fine sing/songy tune with a good, lo-fi piano along with some mellotron for further effect and a bit of an insane feel which is solidified by the final line “as they were dragging me away, I swear I saw her raise her hand and wave goodbye”. “By Starlight” builds into a fine piece due to its layered guitars leading to the album’s final track “Farewell and Goodnight”, which features lead vocals by all four band members.

Praised as an ambitious and accomplished work, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a worldwide success as it topped or neared the top of the charts in several countries. The group embarked on a world tour to support the album, during which time Chamberlain left the ban due to personal issues. It would be three years before Smashing Pumpkins would release their next album, Adore, which featured another significant change of style.

~

1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

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Making Movies by Dire Straits

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Making MoviesIn 1980 Dire Straits made a theatrical rock masterpiece with their third studio album, Making Movies. This record features many extensive, personally themed compositions by Mark Knopfer with complex arrangements finely performed by the trio. Featuring a subtle yet substantial move away from the group’s roots rock origins and into a fusion of jazz, folk and country-rock methods, the record was the keystone marking the excellent career of this British band.

Initially known as the Café Racers, London-based Dire Straits was formed by Mark and his younger brother David Knopfler in the mid 1970s. The group’s self-titled debut album was released in 1978 to worldwide commercial success. The group relentlessly toured Europe, North America and eventually the world to promote their music through 1978 and 1979, taking a break only to record the group’s second album, Communiqué, released in June 1979. to continuing critical and commercial success. in early 1980, the group took several months to write new material.

Recording for Making Movies began in July 1980 with producer Jimmy Iovine, who had worked on Bruce Springsteen’s classics Born to Run and Darkness On the Edge of Town. Iovine brought in E-Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan for the sessions, adding much to the theatrical vibe of Making Movies. However, there were creative tensions between the brothers and this ultimately led to David Knopfler leaving the group midway through recording, with none of his parts being used on the final product.


Making Movies by Dire Straits
Released: October 17, 1980 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine & Mark Knopfler
Recorded: Power Station, New York, June – August 1980
Side One Side Two
Tunnel of Love
Romeo and Juliet
Skateaway
Expresso Love
Hand in Hand
Solid Rock
Les Boys
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Pick Withers – Drums, Vocals

The album opens with a short extract from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Carousel Waltz” as part of a complex entry to the over-eight minute suite “Tunnel of Love”. The scene is set with carnies and bad ass tattoos as they pull the lever and start your ride.  Knopfler’s guitar is really strong in this song (as with most of the album) and after the unique introduction the song is pretty steady for for the verses and choruses until it really starts to get creative starting with the pre-solo section where it pauses for choppy rudiments and several drum fills by Pick Withers. Later it completely breaks down in Springsteen-like fashion (kind of coincidental that he made his own Tunnel of Love later in the decade), before it then finally comes back up for a very long and excellent guitar coda to close the song. The fantastic, bittersweet “Romeo and Juliet” follows with a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s story of young star crossed lovers who “come up on different streets.” The music ebbs and flows as it kind of gets soft with Knopfler’s signature riff backing when he’s telling the story and then pointed emotionally as the music gets loud and the arrangement comes in stronger. Released as a single in 1981, the song reached the Top Ten in the UK and it has grown in stature over the years as it’s been featured in several major motion pictures.

The album’s best moment comes at the end of the original first side with “Skateaway”, perhaps the best overall song by the group through their career. Lyrically, it focuses on a young Hollywood starlet who goes against convention and tries to be a free spirit whether she is succeeding or not. There’s a rebelliousness to her skating through traffic going the wrong direction, which may be a parable for the difference between her perception of life and the observable outside reality, which gives the story  a sense of melancholy that shines through the fantastic musical arrangement. It comes in and fades out like a train chugging along with a mix between a synthesized and real drumbeat and  some layered percussion including a tambourine. Withers and bassist John Illsley hold it together rhythmically, leaving enough room for Knopfler  to deliver the lyrics.

Dire Straits

The original second side of Making Movies features four songs less complex and closer to standard running times. “Expresso Love” is just straight up rock n’ roll with strong guitar riffing and lyrics about a sad life of some glamorous woman getting ready to go out on the town, perhaps a prostitute. In contrast, “Hand in Hand” is a mellow ballad about looking back and reminiscing over a relationship and how it morphed from a simple “hand-in-hand” situation to something more complex with a lot of little variables. The aptly named revivalist rock of “Solid Rock” is the band at its simplest and basically an attempt at a radio hit, leading to the odd “Les Boys”. This closer is a departure in a way but it still stays on the same theme of theatrics, while it explores the cabaret scene and the queens that grace the stage.

Making Movies was a worldwide success and was later certified platinum in the US and double-platinum in the UK. The group continued to build their success through the 1980s with the 1982 album Love Over Gold and, most especially, the blockbuster Brothers In Arms in 1985, which ultimately became one of the best selling albums ever worldwide.

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

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Abraxas by Santana

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Abraxas by SantanaWith their second studio album, Santana brought a plethora of musical influence to forge the acclaimed Abraxas. This record fuses on multiple levels, blending reinterpreted covers with distinct originals and offering bits of Latin music, blues, jazz, and prog rock. And then there’s the spiritual element, from album’s title (which originates from a line in Hermann Hesse’s book Demian) to the nature of the cover art and it’s ties to ancient Greek mysticism.

Based in San Francisco, the group was formed in 1966 as the Santana Blues Band by guitarist Carlos Santana and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie. Santana had a heavy Latin musical influence which he infused into the band, which was initially met with some resistance by some rock-based promoters. However, Bill Graham was impressed with the group, signed on as their manager and secured them a record deal with Columbia Records in early 1969. Their self-titled debut album was released in May of 1969 and featured mostly of instrumental tracks along with their first two singles, “Jingo” and “Evil Ways” which became the group’s first Top 10 hit. Santana’s 45-minute set at the original Woodstock festival brought international attention to the group.

In April 1970, Santana returned to the studio with producer Fred Catero to record their second album. Carlos Santana used his influence from contemporaries like Peter Green and B.B. King and mixed it with traditional elements in a quest to make Abraxas a classic.


Abraxas by Santana
Released: September 23, 1970 (Columbia)
Produced by: Fred Catero & Carlos Santana
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco & Pacific Recording Studios, San Mateo, CA, April-May 1970
Side One Side Two
Singing Winds, Crying Beasts
Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen
Oye Como Va
Incident at Neshabur
Se a Cabo
Mother’s Daughter
Samba Pa Ti
Hope You’re Feeling Better
El Nicoya
Group Musicians
Gregg Rolie – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Carlos Santana – Guitars, Vocals
David Brown – Bass
Michael Shrieve – Drums
José Areas – Percussion
Michael Carabello – Percussion

Written by percussionist Michael Carabello, “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” begins with doomy orchestration including sparse piano notes and chimes before Santana’s guitar cuts through in the intro. The main section then features a Latin beat with further Avant Garde, jazzy musical textures and a slightly psychedelic vibe before the piece fades for the into to the hit song “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”, The cover of a Fleetwood Mac tune starts with Rollie’s delicate organ accompanying Santana’s deliberative guitar through the extended intro before Rollie’s smooth vocals arrive for the verse. The “Gypsy Queen” section of the piece is built on frantic percussion played along with David Brown‘s thumping bass line with accents of pure rock riffing.
The single version reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971, Santana’s highest-charting song until “Smooth” on 1999’s Supernatural.

Tito Puente’s “Oye Cómo Va” follows with a pointed bass and organ riff joined by a distinctive guitar and drums by Michael Shrieve in the intro before the short Spanish language verses. Between the verses is an instrumental section where Santana provides not so much a guitar solo as some very distinct and memorable licks, while Rollie went for a more improvised organ lead. Aside from the preponderance of Latin percussion, the instrumental jam “Incident at Neshabur” is very similar to some of the instrumentals provide by the Allman Brother’s Band in the day, fusing blues, jazz, and a bit of musical originality. “Se Acabó” starts the original second side with a quick, upbeat jam by percussionist José Areas.

Santana 1970

Rolie composed two quality rock-based songs on Abraxas which add some real diversity to the record. “Mother’s Daughter” is a soulful rocker and an entertaining and accessible tune with enough prog rock features to make it interesting, while “Hope You’re Feeling Better” is a hard rocker which starts with a John Lord-like organ riff and maintains its energy throughout. In between the two Rollie tunes is the exquisite instrumental “Samba Pa Ti”, where Carlos provides a slow, deliberative and emotional blues lead and, while this tune gets a bit more intense in the middle with the other group members joining in, it never relinquishes this beautiful vibe. The album closes with “El Nicoya”, a short percussive showcase for Areas and Carabello.

Abraxas became the Santana’s first album to top the US charts and it eventually reached quadruple platinum in sales. The group offered a similar follow-up with Santana III in 1971, which also topped the charts, before their classic line-up began to fracture, most notably when Rollie departed to form his new band, Journey.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Ted Nugent

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Ted Nugent 1975After nearly a decade leading the Amboy Dukes, Ted Nugent embarked on a solo career and released his self-titled debut album in 1975. With a newly formed group that featured the most recent rhythm section of the Amboy Dukes, Nugent developed an impressive set of steady hard rock tunes which are at once accessible, cutting edge and a fine showcase for Nugent’s guitar leads. The album was a minor hit on both sides of the Atlantic and reached multi-platinum sales status in the United States.

A native of Michigan, Nugent formed the Amboy Dukes while still in high school in 1964. The group released their self-titled debut album in 1967 and found minor success with the follow-up Journey to the Center of the Mind and the single of the same name. The group shifted through many lineup changes through the early 1970s, with several more album releases and constant touring, but with no real commercial breakthrough. Finally, Nugent decided to disband the group and he took a three-month hiatus to the Colorado wilderness to renew his energy. When he returned to civilization, Nugent decided to join a new band and enlisted vocalist/guitarist Derek St. Holmes to front the group.

After securing a deal with Epic Records, Nugent and co. entered the studio with producers Tom Werman and Lew Futterman. The primary goal was to develop a definitive rock and roll album, and recorded the albumin a spontaneous and uninhibited fashion to capture the energy of the moment.


Ted Nugent by Ted Nugent
Released: September, 1975 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman & Lew Futterman
Recorded: The Sound Pit, Atlanta, GA, 1975
Side One Side Two
Stranglehold
Stormtroopin’
Hey Baby
Just What the Doctor Ordered
Snakeskin Cowboys
Motor City Madhouse
Where Have You Been All My Life
You Make Me Feel Right at Home
Queen of the Forest
Group Musicians
Derek St. Holmes – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Ted Nugent – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Rob Grange – Bass
Cliff Davies – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with the deliberate but powerful anthem, “Stranglehold”. This extended (eight-plus minutes) and indelible track, which was released as the album’s lead single, is a real guitar showcase for Nugent while also displaying the talent of other group members, from the majestic lead vocals by St. Holmes to Grange’s distinct flange bass to the backwards cymbals and Bolero rhythms by Davies. “Stormtroopin'” is of a more traditional rock length and features great crisp production and a later percussion section to set up backing for Nugent’s next guitar lead showcase. “Hey Baby” was a solo composition by St. Holmes and it became the second single from the album. This bluesy rocker has a bit of Skynard-like Southern rock vibe with some organ provided by guest Steve McRay.

Next up is “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, built on variations of Nugent’s riff arpeggio throughout along with rhythmic rudiments and drum rolls executed by Davies. “Snakeskin Cowboys” is a very solid rocker that starts with a deliberative guitar and bass riff before fully kicking in. A frantic tune to match its name, “Motor City Madhouse” features lead vocals by Nugent, double bass drums and a backing chorus for title hook.

Ted Nugent Band

The latter part of Ted Nugent features some musical diversity. “Where Have You Been All My Life” is an upbeat blues rocker with a fine riff and distinct, scratchy rock vocals by St. Holmes. “You Make Me Feel Right at Home” starts with a brief drum intro before breaking into a jazzy tune, complete with lead vocals and vibraphone by Davies. The closing track, “Queen of the Forest” returns to the hard rock blueprint with plenty of rhythmic rudiments to complete the LP.

With the momentum from this debut, Nugent and the group took off with further success through the late 1970s, starting with the subsequent hit albums Free-for-All (1976), Cat Scratch Fever (1977) and the multi-platinum live album Double Live Gonzo! (1978).

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

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Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane’s Addiction

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Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's AddictionReleased in the summer of 1990, Ritual de lo Habitual was the third overall album and second studio release by Jane’s Addiction. This critically acclaimed album was at once on the razor’s edge of the emerging alternative movement and the last release by the group before their initial breakup in 1991. Stylistically, Ritual de lo Habitual is loosely divided into two halves with a group of frenzied rockers early and some extended and theatrical tracks later on the record.

Jane’s Addiction was formed in Los Angeles in 1985 by lead vocalist Perry Farrell and bassist Eric Avery. Soon drummer Stephen Perkins and guitarist Dave Navarro joined the group to the round out the quartet. The group was wildly successful on the LA club scene and, after releasing their self-titled 1987 live album on an independent record label, they entertained offers from many major labels before signing with Warner Bros. Records. In 1988, the group recorded and released Nothing’s Shocking.

Producer Dave Jerden worked with the group on Nothing’s Shocking and stayed on for Ritual de lo Habitual. While the sessions produced quality music, they were marred by internal conflicts over drug use and royalty splits. Upon release of Ritual de lo Habitual, there was controversy over its album cover and so two packaging versions were created with one having a “clean” cover.


Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane’s Addiction
Released: August 21, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Dave Jerden & Perry Farrell
Recorded: Track Record, North Hollywood, CA, 1989-1990
Track Listing Group Musicians
Stop!
No One’s Leaving
Ain’t No Right
Obvious
Been Caught Stealing
Three Days
Then She Did …
Of Course
Classic Girl
Perry Farrell – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Dave Navarro – Guitars
Eric Avery – Bass
Stephen Perkins – DrumsRitual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction

In a bit of irony, the song that starts things off is entitled “Stop!” and, after a spoken word intro by guest Cindy Lair, the tune comes in with pure energy and it doesn’t relent until the moderately timed mid section before it comes back with equal fury during Navarro’s frenzied guitar lead. “No One’s Leaving” is more rhythmically based than the opener but with equal energy, especially during a blistering guitar lead. “Ain’t No Right” is a short track built on Avery’s solo bass to accompany Farrell’s amoral lyrics.

The next track, “Obvious”, features a rich, psychedelic like beginning over a steady rhythm by Perkins. This song has different approach and vibe than anything previous on album and it features guest Geoff Stradling on piano. “Been Caught Stealing” is the most indelible tune on the album with plenty of inventive production, from the opening dog barks to the wild riffs and simultaneous counter-riffs to the funky dance rhythms to direct, storytelling confessional lyrics.

Jane's Addiction, 1990

Next comes a series of extended tracks that make up the richly produced second half of the album. The best of these is “Three Days”, a nearly eleven minute track which constantly builds in intensity. It begins with a haunting and deliberative first section before it gets rhythmic with the intense drumming of Perkins at about three and a half minutes in. Navarro adds an ethereal guitar lead over this before the piece migrates to its intense final section. The next two extended tracks are not quite as interesting. The eight minute long “Then She Did…” starts fine as a moody ballad with interesting riffs and charms but the rest of the song doesn’t do much beyond adding some additional musical arranging. The seven minute, Eastern flavored “Of Course” is dominated by the violin of Charlie Bisharat. The album concludes with the traditional rock ballad, “Classic Girl”, featuring great guitar textures throughout that help close the album out.

Ritual de lo Habitual has been certified 2× Platinum in the US and the band embarked on a lengthy tour to support the album from late 1990 well into 1991, which included headlining the first Lollapalooza festival, which Farrell co-created. Later in the year Avery and Navarro left the group and Jane’s Addiction disbanded for the initial time.

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

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Voices by Hall & Oates

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Voices by Hall and OatesHall and Oates finally reached commercial pay dirt with their ninth studio album, Voices. Released in the summer of 1980, this record was on the Billboard album charts for over 100 weeks as it slowly became a massive hit peaking about a year after it was released and being a catalyst for phenomenal commercial success through the mid 1980s. Voices is split musically, with its original first side featuring new wave pop and side two reverting to more classic elements of rock, funk and soul.

This duo from Philadelphia delivered a critically acclaimed album, Abandoned Luncheonette, in 1973 but had no hit singles through their first three albums (although “She’s Gone” from Abandoned Luncheonette would be re-released in 1976 and become a hit). After signing with RCA Records they released their 1975 self-titled fourth album, which contained the Top Ten ballad “Sara Smile”, a song Daryl Hall wrote for his girlfriend and future songwriting collaborator Sara Allen. The late seventies saw four more album releases – Bigger Than Both of Us (1976), Beauty on a Back Street (1977), Along the Red Ledge (1978), and X-Static (1979) – all of which found moderate Top 40 success with Bigger Than Both of Us spawning their first number one hit, “Rich Girl” in early 1977. Still, with this wide output and near constant touring, Hall and Oates felt like they were not maximizing their potential during this period.

The new decade brought a new approach for the duo as Hall and John Oates decided to self-produce their next album as well as use their own touring band, including bassist John Siegler and drummer Jerry Marotta, in the studio. They also decided to record in New York City (their then hometown) instead of Los Angeles, where they had recorded much of their late seventies albums. What would become Voices was written and arranged over a short period of time and recorded in early 1980.


Voices by Hall & Oates
Released: July 29, 1980 (RCA)
Produced by: Daryl Hall & John Oates
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York City, November 1979 – April 1980
Side One Side Two
How Does It Feel to Be Back
Big Kids
United State
Hard to Be in Love with You
Kiss on My List
Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
You Make My Dreams
Everytime You Go Away
Africa
Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)
Primary Musicians
Daryl Hall – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
John Oates – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
G.E. Smith – Guitars
John Siegler – Bass
Jerry Marotta – Drums

It is clear by the first four tracks what the group and label wanted to portray as their sound on Voices and, perhaps even more surprising,  the two Oates led tracks are the higher quality of this group. “How Does It Feel to Be Back” kicks things off with lead vocals by Oates, a jangly guitar and a strong beat which makes it feel like a cross  between Springsteen and Eddie Money. Hall’s “Big Kids” is more new wave flavored than the opener and has an odd effect on his vocals which is not needed at all. “United State” is another new wave track with a stronger rock presence while “Hard to Be In Love with You” features some interesting guitar and synth layers and duo lead vocals by Hall and Oates.

The hit “Kiss On My List” has the most interesting back story of any song on the album. It was written by Janna Allen (Sara’s sister) and, having never recorded a song before, Hall agreed to cut a demo as a product for her songwriting portfolio. However, the production team liked the demo so much that they decided to add vocals and instrumentation to the demo, including a fantastic guitar lead by guest Jeff Southworth. Released as the third single from the album, “Kiss On My List” became a number one hit song. For her part, Sara Allen co-wrote two other songs on Voices, including “Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)”, which features a choppy mix of ska beats and R&B vocal motifs and the funky hit “You Make My Dreams”. This latter song features Hall’s choppy electric piano contrasted by his excited vocal melodies as it reached the Top 5 of the charts in 1981.

Hall and Oates

The retro-sounding second side of the album starts with a cover of the classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. This oft covered track, written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector, may have it’s best effort at modernizing the 1964 Righteous Brothers classic sound with Oates and Hall replicating the vocals of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield nicely and the instrumentation does not try to replicate the original “wall of sound” but uses a tasteful modern rock arrangement. Hall’s “Everytime You Go Away” is an excellent soulful ballad which was recorded live in the studio to try and capture the sound like that of the classic Stax Studios in Memphis. This song comes complete with rich organ by guest Ralph Schuckett and, although this version was not released as a single, it was covered by Paul Young in 1985 and became another number 1 hit. “Africa” is a fun track by Oates who provides native-like lead vocals over a chanting backing chorus and a hand-jive like drum beat with a later sax lead by Charlie DeChant. The closing track, “Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)”, is a bass-driven final attempt at a pop hit, deriving from a mass murderer who was circulating in the New York subways at the time, giving it a dark comedic quality.

Voices debuted at number 75 in August 1980 and slowly climbed to its Top 20 peak nearly a year later. By that time, Hall and Oates had already recorded and released their 1981 follow-up, Private Eyes, which continued their meteoric commercial momentum.

~

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

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Back On the Streets by Donnie Iris

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Back On the Streets by Donnie IrisReleased in the summer of 1980, Back on the Streets was the debut solo record by Pittsburgh based artist Donnie Iris. This came after Iris spent more than a decade fronting national bands and, on this album, he collaborated with producer, composer and keyboardist Mark Avsec to deliver a blend of classic rock and cutting-edge new wave with a particular focus on vocal arrangements and hooks. The album spawned a national hit as well as several songs that received heavy regional airplay.

Iris was born Dominic Ierace in Western Pennsylvania and drew early inspiration from Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. After forming and fronting several groups through high school and college in the early-to-mid 1960s, he started The Jaggerz, a group which originally performed R&B covers. After gaining popularity through Pennsylvania and Ohio, the group secured a contract with Gamble Records in 1969 with their debut album, Introducing the Jaggerz released later that year. The following year, the group came to national prominence with their sophomore album We Went to Different Schools Together and the 1970 Top 5 hit “The Rapper”. A third Jaggerz album, Come Again, was released in 1975, shortly before Iris left the group to become a studio engineer. While at Jeree Recording, Iris worked with the band Wild Cherry and he briefly joined the band as a guitarist in 1978-1979.

Avsec was then also playing keyboards for Wild Cherry and once that group disbanded, Donnie and Mark decided to form a songwriting project together. Their initial release was a 1979 disco-influenced single called “Bring on the Eighties”, but it had little commercial success. With this, the pair decided to go in a harder rock direction when they entered the studio in early 1980 to record a full-length album with the freshly christened group Donnie Iris and the Cruisers.


Back On the Streets by Donnie Iris
Released: July 15, 1980 (Midwest National)
Produced by: Mark Avsec
Recorded: Jeree Studios, New Brighton, PA, Spring 1980
Side One Side Two
Ah! Leah!
I Can’t Hear You
Joking
Shock Treatment
Back On the Streets
Agnes
You’re Only Dreaming
She’s So Wild
Daddy Don’t Live Here Anymore
Too Young to Love
Primary Musicians
Donnie Iris – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Marty Lee Hoenes – Guitars
Mark Avsec – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Albritton McClain – Bass
Kevin Valentine – Drums

The album begins with its lead single and most indelible tune, “Ah! Leah!”, Catchy with simple riffs combined with complex vocal arrangements, this track reached number the Top 30 of the US Billboard Hot 100 and puns on its title have been used on Iris’ 2009 live album Ah! Live! as well as his 2010 Christmas album Ah! Leluiah!. The album’s other single, “I Can’t Hear You”, follows as a straight-ahead new wave rocker with just a touch of Talking Heads influence in the verses but breaking out with rich harmonies in the choruses. “Joking” is an even better new wave track with some cool synths over the crisp rock guitar riffs by Marty Lee Hoenes to reach a sound similar to The Cars earliest material.

Avsec’s “Shock Treatment” features a weird, synth lead psychedelic intro before song proper kicks in led by the fine bass of guest Robert Peckman and the various vocal experiments make it almost sound like a show tune from a modern movie. The album’s title song and side one closer adds some variety with a real classic rock, Who-type feel complete with distorted guitar riffing, synthesized orchestration and intense story-telling vocals, while “Agnes” is another dynamic rocker with a simple riff, cool vibe and call and response vocals.

Donnie Iris and the Cruisers

“You’re Only Dreaming” is a group composition with input from bassist Albritton McClain and drummer Kevin Valentine as is the frantic, sexually charged tune “She’s So Wild”, which ends quite abruptly. The album then returns to the moderate, power pop/new wave track with “Daddy Don’t Live Here Anymore”, with a vibe that has a bit of Cheap Trick influence and a cool, almost psychedelic synthesized organ lead by Avsec. Wrapping things up is “Too Young to Love”, the closest thing to a ballad on this album albeit with tremendous musical dynamics such as a sax lead by Kenny Blake and Iris singing his heart out with dramatic, strained vocals to finish the album strongly.

While Back On the Streets was originally released by the small Midwest Records, its immediate success got Iris signed to a five-album deal with MCA Records, starting with the national re-release of this debut in in October 1980.

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

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James Gang Rides Again

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James Gang Rides Again by The James GangThe James Gang reached the peak of their relatively short time together with front man Joe Walsh with their sophomore album James Gang Rides Again in the summer of 1970. The album combines their blues-based power-trio rock with a branched-out experimental method that incorporates keyboards into their sound and includes elements of country. While not a great commercial success, James Gang Rides Again was critically acclaimed and a great influence for many rock bands that emerged later in the decade.

James Gang was founded by drummer Jim Fox in Cleveland, Ohio in 1965. They were were originally a five-piece, British rock influenced band including bassist Tom Kriss. In 1968, Walsh was brought on to replace the group’s original lead guitarist and, after two prompt defections, the band quickly realigned as a trio to fulfill live commitments. With Walsh assuming lead vocal duties, the group decided they liked their sound and moved forward as a threesome. After signing with ABC’s new Bluesway Records subsidiary in early 1969, they recorded and released their debut, Yer’ Album, later that year. Sales for this album were disappointing and a new singer was briefly considered so that Walsh could focus on guitars. While deciding to maintain Walsh as lead vocalist, Kriss decided to abruptly depart from the band in November 1969.

Bassist Dale Peters was recruited by Fox just in time for recording of the group’s second album. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Bill Szymczyk, the group wanted to replicate the energy of its ever-popular live shows, where the group would jam to new material in the dressing rooms before each show.  With the combination of low label expectations and the state-of-the-art equipment at The Record Plant, the group took a loose and experimental approach to the material on James Gang Rides Again.


James Gang Rides Again by The James Gang
Released: July, 1970 (ABC)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, November 1969
Side One Side Two
Funk #49
Asshtonpark
Woman
The Bomber
Tend My Garden
Garden Gate
There I Go Again
Thanks
Ashes the Rain and I
Group Musicians
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Dale Peters – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Jim Fox – Drums, Percussion, Organ

The blistering opening track “Funk #49”, was a group composition that derived from a warm-up jam and initially ad-libbed lyrics by Walsh about an untamed girlfriend. The recording features a slight but potent percussion break by Fox before pivoting back to a final verse. The song was released as a single to moderate initial success but became a later staple on classic rock stations. The instrumental “Asshtonpark” features a slow rhythmic build up towards a country-esque groove featuring a generous amount of delay on Walsh’s guitar. The song’s title is a tribute to production designer Assheton Gorton. The catchy rocker “Woman” follows, starting with and built on Peters’ bass line with some great guitar dynamics to adding a dramatic element to the groove.

The album’s original first side ended with the excellent multi-part suite called “The Bomber”. Here, the musical talent of this emerging trio is fully exhibited, book-marked by the heavy, frantic verses of “Closet Queen”, which reportedly blew out the studio monitors at The Record Plant upon playback. The song’s mid section improvises a couple of established instrumentals, including Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and an electric rendition of Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro”, which spawned a threatened suit that resulted in certain editions of the track being edited to remove “Boléro” (since restored). In contrast to sound, but just as innovative is “Tend My Garden”, featuring Walsh pulling quadruple duty on vocals, organ, acoustic and electric guitar, a method (as well as a signature riff) that would be echoed years later by Tom Scholz of Boston on “More Than a Feeling” from Boston’s 1976 debut album. From the dissolve of the majestic “Tend My Garden”, comes the simple, homey, front porch country-blues of “Garden Gate”, a short minute and a half track which appears to be a solo performance by Walsh.

James Gang

The whimsical “There I Go Again” may be closest to pure pop ever by James Gang (or Walsh for that matter). This catchy acoustic tune is accented by fine pedal steel guitar of guest Rusty Young. While remaining in the pop form, “Thanks” has a bit more complexity overall with an original arrangement applied to this short acoustic folk tune. “Ashes the Rain and I” concludes the album as a dark acoustic folk with heavy orchestration applied after the first verse and interlude. While certainly atmospheric and original, the decision to shepherd out this record with so much extraneous instrumentation seems like an odd decision by Szymczyk and the band.

Following the recording sessions for James Gang Rides Again, the group embarked on a tour opening for The Who in the United States in early 1970. This led to the group touring the United Kingdom and appearing on the British TV show “Top of the Pops”, which increased their international appeal. However, after 1971’s studio album Thirds and the live album James Gang Live in Concert, Walsh left the band the band at the end of the year to form Barnstorm. Fox and Peters continued the James Gang with several vocalists and guitarists through several more albums over the next half decade but never again would reach this level of artistic merit or sustainability before the group finally disbanded in early 1977.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Fun House by The Stooges

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Fun House by The StoogesThe second of the initial trio of albums by The Stooges which were considered integral to the development of punk rock, Fun House, has consistently grown in critical stature in the half century since it’s release in the summer of 1970. Though commercially unsuccessful, this recording a pure raw energy and animalistic sexuality as been described in positive ways ranging from “exquisitely horrible” to “sixties psychedelic rock trapped in the reality of 1970” to “competent monotony with intellectual appeal”.

Stooges front man Iggy Pop, born James Newell Osterberg, started as a drummer in local Ann Arbor, Michigan bands in the early 1960s. In an effort to create a “new form of blues music”, not derivative of historical precedents, he recruited brothers Ron Asheton (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums) along with bassist Dave Alexander. Being the leader of this new band, Osterberg decided to be the lead singer and soon was christened with the nickname “Pop” by the other band members. With this, he adopted the stage name Iggy Pop by the time the group made its live debut as the “Psychedelic Stooges” in late 1967. They experimented with avant garde methods, incorporating such household objects as a vacuum cleaner and a blender into an intense wall of feedback and soon the group gained a reputation for their wild and unpredictable live performances. While touring with the band MC5 in 1968, the Stooges were discovered by a scout for Elektra Records and they released their self-titled 1969 debut album to disappointingly low sales and bad critical reviews.

Hoping for better results, Elektra head Jac Holzman recruited former Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci the group’s second album. Gallucci was initially doubtful that he could capture their live feeling on tape, But once in the studio in Los Angeles, he and the group decided to tear down all soundproofing and discard any isolation methods to emulate their live performances as closely as possible. The result is a very raw sound compared to the advancing sonic qualities of 1970 contemporary records.


Fun House by The Stooges
Released: July 7, 1970 (Elektra)
Produced by: Don Gallucci
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders. Los Angeles, May 1970
Side One Side Two
Down on the Street
Loose
T.V. Eye
Dirt
1970
Fun House
L.A. Blues
Group Musicians
Iggy Pop – Lead Vocals
Ron Asheton – Guitars
Dave Alexander – Bass
Scott Asheton – Drums

The influence of some of the more intense numbers by The Doors can be felt in the opening “Down on the Street”, with a strong interlocked bass and guitar riff holding the backing track for Iggy Pop’s reverberated vocals and chants. Although this song feels raw at first listen, it is more refined than anything that follows and may be the most traditionally produced track on Fun House, even to the point of having Ron Asheton guitar overdubbed during the lead section. “Loose” follows with an interesting drum intro by Scott Asheton as he finds the upbeat groove which, overall, leans more toward the yet-to-be-developed punk genre with a starkly honest lyric.

“T.V. Eye” features a bluesy riff while the vocals are still energetic, wailing and (occasionally) screaming. This very repetitive song builds a tension which never really breaks but does reach a bit of a crescendo late in the song, just before an abrupt stop and restart. Iggy Pop has said he was channeling blues legend Howlin’ Wolf while recording “T.V. Eye”. “Dirt” has a long drum intro by Scott Asheton as Alexander’s bass and Ron Asheton’s guitar slowly join in to this overall soulful rocker. Here, Iggy Pop sounds similar to Eric Burdon of The Animals on this one while it is an overall showcase for Ron Asheton, especially during the multi-textured, wah-wah fused guitar lead.

The Stooges in 1970

It is quite obvious that the second side of an album derives from a singular jam which now includes saxophonist Steve Mackay, and Gallucci laid this out in side-long linear fashion. On “1970”, the rhythmic drums and bass provide backdrop for a pseudo-blues bark on a jam that does provide differing chord structures for the chorus and post-chorus. Late in the song Mackay makes his debut, adding a distinct and original element to the overall sound and vibe. On “Fun House” Mackay is more of an integral part of the sound while Scott Asheton’s drumming is a fine adhesive for the overall jam and Iggy Pop’s vocals are more strained and desperate than ever, as he technically makes his lyrical finale on the album. “L.A. Blues” wraps things up with, effectively, five minutes of noise, screams and off-beat chops as all five members desperately search for a common ending before settling on a sustained feedback loop by Ron Asheton.

Although Fun House has sold under 100,000 copies to date, it has influenced numerous other artists, with many specifically citing as this as their favorite album. The Stooges and their individual members, soon entered a tumultuous period and it would be nearly three years before they followed up Fun House (with the critically acclaimed Raw Power) but that album was sandwiched in between a pair of band breakups.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Goo by Sonic Youth

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Goo by Sonic YouthSonic Youth‘s 1990 album Goo was a critical success and reached the highest album charting position of the group’s career. Their sixth overall release, this was the first after signing their initial major-label recording deal with Geffen Records, which included complete creative control by the band. Goo resulted in an expansion of the group’s 1980s sound of combining punk with experimental alt-rock, but with more deliberate references to pop culture and contemporary topics.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City 1981 by guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon (who were later married), and they derived their name from MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and reggae artist Big Youth. Within a year, guitarist Lee Ranaldo was part of the group. They went through several drummers through their early years and initial recordings before Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth in 1985. The group’s 1988 double album Daydream Nation was a huge critical success, included songs that received significant airplay and has since been chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. With this, the band began looking for a major label deal, eventually landing with Geffen.

A group of about eight demos were recorded by the group in late 1989 before they secured a full recording budget to enter Sorcerer Sound in early 1990 with producer Nick Sansano. The team employed experimental and abstract techniques to achieve unique sound collages and other sonic qualities for this album.


Goo by Sonic Youth
Released: June 26, 1990 (DGC)
Produced by: Nick Sansano, Ron Saint Germain, & Sonic Youth
Recorded: Sorcerer Sound Recording & Greene St. Recording Studios, New York City, March–April 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dirty Boots
Tunic (Karen’s Song)
Mary Christ
Kool Thing
Mote
Disappearer
My Friend Goo
Mildred Pierce
Cinderella”s Big Score
Scooter & Jinx
Titanium Expose
Thurston Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Lee Ranaldo – Guitars, Vocals
Kim Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Steve Shelley – Drums, Percussion
Goo by Sonic Youth

 

The album opener “Dirty Boots” meanders in with two distinct riffs and the eventual full rhythm arrangement before first verse. The music is intense and biting but Moore’s vocals seem half-hearted until the song reaches a “sonic crescendo” with inventive feedback before breaking down and methodically working its way through the instrumental outro. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” was composed by Gordon as a loose tribute to Karen Carpenter. She delivers the lyrics in a mainly spoken word manner under rapid ethereal riffing, offering a very haunting look into inner destructive thoughts. “Mary-Christ” doesn’t quite work nearly as well as the opening two tracks as a proto-punk, badly improvised screed.

The album’s most famous track, “Kool Thing”, features interesting, upbeat rock intro with great drumming by Shelley throughout. The mid section breaks down into a bass-backed spoken word bridge featuring Gordon and and guest Chuck D. The song’s title was inspired by an interview that Gordon conducted with LL Cool J and the lyrics make reference to several of the rapper’s works. “Mote” is the sole composition by Ranaldo on Goo as well as his only lead vocals. The seven and a half minute track moves from an overloaded feedback intro to basic rock chording to a pure psychedelic and atmospheric trip which persists without form. “Disappearer” follows, featuring a thick upper range and steady rhythm under Moore’s melodic vocals and multiple key jumps through the progression into several sonic tunnels.

Sonic Youth in 1990

The album does lose momentum over its second half where the group seems to be treading over much of the same ground from earlier on this album. Starting with the quasi-title low-light, “My Friend Goo”, and into “Mildred Pierce”, which starts with a basic upbeat rhythm before devolving into a feedback overloaded, unintelligible screed. “Cinderella’s Big Score” is slightly catchy, but lacks much substance or definition, while “Scooter & Jinx” is a noise collage of more filler. The closer “Titanium Exposé” is a bit interesting with a nearly two minute intro before the melodic verse proper comes in, followed by a slightly interesting bridge jam before a more upbeat, drum-driven jam leads to one last feedback collage to end the album.

Commercially, Goo fared a bit better in the UK than their native US and the album’s controversial content helped bring a further buzz beyond that which the group normally received. Through the 1990s and into the new millennium, Sonic Youth’s influence continued.

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

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