Somewhere in England by George Harrison

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Somewhere In England by George HarrisonSomewhere in England was an arduous and frustrating album to produce for George Harrison, taking more than a year to release. The album was critically panned as the material is a bit uneven, ranging from themes of frustration and panic to those of divinity and bliss. However, it is a clear beacon in history as it was recorded shortly before and in the wake of the tragic assassination of Harrison’s former Beatles bandmate John Lennon and it briefly brought together the surviving members of that classic band.

After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison had great solo success with the release of the triple album All Things Must Pass and it’s follow-up, 1973’s Living In the Material World. However, his output during the mid to late 1970s received relatively less critical acclaim and commercial success. Harrison began a gradual retreat from the music business as the decade ended.

Harrison began recording Somewhere in England, his ninth overall solo record, in March 1980. He first delivered it to Warner Bros. Records, his distributor, in late September of that year. However, the initial draft was rejected and Harrison reworked much of the material over the subsequent six months at his Friar Park studio in Henley-on-Thames. During this time three new songs were developed and added to the album while four tracks were cut from the final release.

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Somewhere in England by George Harrison
Released: June 1, 1981 (Dark Horse)
Produced by: Ray Cooper & George Harrison
Recorded: Friar Park Studio, Henley-on-Thames, England, March 1980-February 1981
Side One Side Two
Blood From A Clone
Unconsciousness Rules
Life Itself
All Those Years Ago
Baltimore Oriole
Teardrops
That Which I Have Lost
Writing’s On The Wall
Hong Kong Blues
Save The World
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Neil Larsen – Piano, Keyboards
Willie Weeks – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums

Harrison’s frustration is clear on the album’s first two tracks, the Caribbean-flavored, rhythmic “Blood from a Clone”, which critiques the soullessness of the music industry and the upbeat jazz of “Unconsciousness Rules”, which features a signature guitar riff and prominent brass throughout. “Life Itself” follows and is Gospel-like but with Harrison’s signature guitar on top. The spiritual lyrics offer praise to Christ, Vishnu, Jehovah and Buddha, as Harrison believes in the concept of a universal deity.

The obvious indelible track from this album is “All Those Years Ago”, musically built on the fantastic electric piano and synths of Al Kooper along with some fine synths and slide guitars by Harrison. The song was originally written for Ringo Starr to sing on his upcoming solo record and Starr’s version was recorded in November 1980 but he was not quite satisfied with it. After Lennon’s death the following month, Harrison took the track back and rewrote it as a tribute to him. Starr’s drumming on the track was maintained and Paul McCartney and his Wings’ bandmates were brought in to provide backing vocals, making this the first recording on which Harrison, McCartney and Starr all appeared since the Beatles’ “I Me Mine” on 1970’s Let It Be. “All Those Years Ago” was released as the album’s leading single in May 1981 and it instantly became a worldwide hit.

Harrison recorded two 1940s-era songs from jazz-oriented songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. “Baltimore Oriole” features a lead sax right from the top by Tom Scott, counter-balanced by Harrison’s fine slide acoustic guitar, while “Hong Kong Blues” is a short but entertaining Americana jazz/folk composite. Both of these songs were originally featured in the 1944 film To Have and Have Not.

George Harrison

Somewhere in England‘s second side features some diverse listening, starting with the pure 80s pop of “Teardrops”, which was issued as the second single off the album. Two of the more interesting tracks follow, with “That Which I Have Lost” featuring rootsy country acoustic with slide electric riffs and fine fretless bass and “Writing’s on the Wall” having a slight synth organ with a rich musical arrangement. The whimsical, upbeat closer “Save the World” is cut by moody slide guitars and plenty of lyrical moralizing throughout this overall pleasant musical listen.

While Somewhere in England did reach the Top 20 in both the UK and US, it’s chart run was relatively brief. After the follow-up 1982 album, Gone Troppo fared even worse, Harrison retreated from the music industry for half a decade.

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The Runaways

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The Runaways 1976 debutThe Southern California all-female teenage rock group The Runaways had a short and tumultuous career during the mid 1970s, a career which commenced with their 1976 self-title debut album. In spite of being recorded and released very shortly after the quartet was compiled and signed to a record deal, this album has long since been critically praised due to its raw power, originality and in-your-face lyrics about teenage angst, rule-breaking and sex.

The Runaways were formed in August 1975 by drummer Sandy West and guitarist Joan Jett. After being introduced to producer Kim Fowley, the group went through many rapid formations and lineup changes before adding lead guitarist Lita Ford. West and Ford were both big Deep Purple fans and formed a solid rock foundation along with Jett, who switched to rhythm guitar and began composing original music. Lead vocalist Cherie Currie was later recruited by Fowley (who intentionally forged a “jailbait” image for the group) after he spotted her at a local teen nightclub.

Early in 1976, The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records with Fowley staying on as producer for this debut album. Although bassist Jackie Fox was a member of the group at the time of recording, session musician Nigel Harrison was enlisted to play bass on the album, with Fox only contributing backing vocals on select tracks.

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The Runaways by The Runaways
Released: June 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Kim Fowley
Recorded: Fidelity Recorders & Criterion Studios, Los Angeles, 1976
Side One Side Two
Cherry Bomb
You Drive Me Wild
Is It Day or Night?
Thunder
Rock and Roll
Lovers
American Nights
Blackmail
Secrets
Dead End Justice
Group Musicians
Cherie Currie – Lead Vocals, Piano
Joan Jett – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Lita Ford – Lead Guitar
Sandy West – Drums, Vocals

The album’s opening track, “Cherry Bomb”, was written on the spot by Jett and Fowley as an audition song for Currie to sing during her first interaction with The Runaways. This short track is filled with lyrical innuendo from a teenage girl’s perspective with the simplest of rock riff motifs. Despite it’s make shift origins, the track persisted as one of the group’s most popular and it was later recorded by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as well as Cherie and her sister Marie Currie. Jett takes lead vocals on “You Drive Me Wild”, another track with overt sexual references but with more bluesy, sloshy riffing than the opener.

“Is It Day or Night?” is interesting in how the choruses incorporate the verses with unusual rudiments, while “Thunder” enlists a new writing team who deliver a pretty standard rocker with pleasant vocal melodies. Next comes a cover of the Velvet Underground classic, “Rock and Roll”, with Jett and the group delivering great rendition which stands as a real highlight on this record.

The Runaways

The second side starts with the interesting composition, “Lovers”, highlighted by excellent drumming patterns by West and good lead vocals by Jett. This is followed by another solid rocker with good riffs and hook, called “American Nights”, which also features some decent piano by Currie. “Blackmail” uses retro, fifties-style rock motifs while maintaining a modern seventies rock edge, as “Secrets” teases lyrical intrigue as its title suggests. The extended closing suite is a duet between Jett and Currie featuring a long dramatic dialogue over the intense, marching drumming of West along with a couple of excellent guitar leads by Ford. “Dead End Justice” seals the record with an unexpected complexity to tie up the musical experience finely.

While far from a commercial success in 1976, The Runaways has long earned its place in rock history as a genre-smashing release. The band found itself on major tours in support of the record with headlining groups such as Cheap Trick, Van Halen and Talking Heads. However, tensions within the band escalated during the recording of their 1977 sophomore album, Queens of Noise, leading to the departure of Currie and Fox soon afterward.

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1976 Images

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The Royal Scam by Steely Dan

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The Royal Scam by Steely DanWe’ve all heard of the genre called “outlaw country”. But with Steely Dan‘s 1976 fifth studio album, The Royal Scam, the group put forth a collection of songs that may be labeled “outlaw fusion jazz”. With allusions to characters both fictional and contemporary, many lyrical themes focus on darker subjects such as crime, homelessness, drug dealing, divorce, the loss of innocence, and other general bad faith “scams”. Musically, this album features more prominent guitar work than most Steely Dan releases, led by band co-member Walter Becker and session guitarist Larry Carlton, who delivers some of his finest performances on this record.

Steely Dan began as a tradition rock group but following their early success, Becker and lead vocalist/keyboardist Donald Fagen wanted to tour less and concentrate on composing and recording. Following their tour in support of Pretzel Logic in 1974, Steely Dan ceased live performances all together. Eventually the other members departed, with group founder and guitarist Denny Dias staying on in more of session role for later albums while Becker and Fagen recruited a diverse group of other session players starting with the 1975 release Katy Lied including Carlton and backing vocalist Michael McDonald.

With the sessions for The Royal Scam, the group brought in funk/R&B drummer Bernard Purdie for most tracks as Becker and Fagen strived for amore rhythmic sound. The album was produced by Gary Katz and it’s cover features artwork originally for and unreleased 1975 album by Van Morrison.

 

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The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
Released: May 31, 1976 (ABC)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: ABC Studios, Los Angeles; A&R Studios, New York; November 1975–March 1976
Studio
Side One Side Two
Kid Charlemagne
The Caves of Altamira
Don’t Take Me Alive
Sign In Stranger
The Fez
Green Earrings
Haitian Divorce
Everything You Did
The Royal Scam
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Guitars, Bass, String Arrangements
Larry Carlton – Lead Guitars
Denny Dias – Guitars
Bernard Purdie – Drums

 

The album begins with its best overall tune and, really one of the most musically rewarding songs by Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”. This track is built on a catchy clavichord which works perfectly in the cracks between the vocal phrases and rhythm provided by Purdie and session bassist Chuck Rainey, But the most rewarding moments here are are dual leads by Carlton, blending elements of rock, funk and jazz with not a single note less than excellent. “The Caves of Altamira” follows as a jazz/pop with more fine rhythms and featuring a rich horn section, climaxing with the tenor sax of John Klemmer. The lyrics refer to cave paintings in Spain created by Neanderthals, proving early man’s call to be creative and expressive.

Carlton’s heavily distorted and snarling guitar works into a full intro lead for “Don’t Take Me Alive”, another track that explores the criminal edge lyrically. However, this track has an overall feel of 1980’s AOR rock, which really shows Steely Dan’s forward-looking approach to compositions. “Sign In Stranger” changes pace as a piano-dominated piece led by Paul Griffin who provides most of the musical movement and a great lead section. Griffin also co-wrote “The Fez” along with Becker and Fagen, a track that starts with slow and moody piano but soon falls into a perfect 70s funk rhythm with some disco-era, over-the-top synth strings on top.

Steely Dan group In studio

The record’s second side picks up pretty much where the first ended, with the funk-laden “Green Earrings”, with Purdie providing great drumming throughout and lyrics about a jewel thief who feels no remorse. Next Becker and session man Dean Parks provide the signature talk-box effect on “Haitian Divorce” before Carlton returns for the slow and sloshy rocker, “Everything You Did”. The album’s closing, extended title tune is dark and monotone, with its repeated pattern of multiple verses by Fagen cut by short instrumental flourishes and a lyric about the plight of an immigrant in New York City.

While The Royal Scam reached the Top 20 on the album charts and went gold in sales, it is often panned as a critical and commercial disappointment, especially in comparison to Steely Dan’s follow-up masterpiece record Aja in 1977. However, Fagen and Becker have cited this 1976 album as the point where Steely Dan really distilled themselves into their “perfect form”.

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Emerson, Lake and Powell

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Emerson, Lake and PowellEmerson, Lake & Powell was a quasi-supergroup which existed in the mid-1980s and released a singular, self-titled studio album. The trio was two-thirds of the 1970s group Emerson, Lake & Palmer with drummer Cozy Powell replacing Carl Palmer, who was contractually obligated to his own 80s supergroup, Asia. While this 1986 album contained some elements of the prog-rock compositions of years past, there is no doubt that this is a product of its time with heavy use of digital synths and a slick production style.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer was very successful in the early 1970s but as the decade wore on, the group began to burn out. With the group committed to record one more studio album, they released the forgettable Love Beach in late 1978 and ultimately disbanded by early 1979. Both keyboardist Keith Emerson and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Greg Lake started solo careers, with Emerson also becoming involved with several film soundtracks in the early 1980s. Palmer went on to form a band called PM, before ultimately joining Asia, which reached incredible mainstream fame with their 1982 debut album. Powell was a strong veteran on the music scene, playing with acts like Jeff Beck and Rainbow as well as a longtime friend of Emerson’s. Despite the coincidence, the group insists that they weren’t looking for a drummer whose surname start with a ‘P’, in order to retain the initials ‘ELP’.

Recorded in England in 1985 and early 1986, Emerson, Lake and Powell was produced by Lake and engineer Tony Taverner. Beyond the eight tracks of the original 1986 album, these sessions produced two further tracks that would be featured on later album issues. A unique instrumental jam rendition of the Goffin/King pop hit “The Loco-Motion” was an obvious attempt at some radio notoriety, while “Vacant Possession” is a decent, melancholy pop ballad surprisingly left off the album proper.

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Emerson, Lake & Powell by Emerson, Lake & Powell
Released: May 26, 1986 (Polydor)
Produced by: Tony Taverner & Greg Lake
Recorded: Maison Rouge, London & Fleetwood Mobile, Sussex, 1985-1986
Side One Side Two
The Score
Learning to Fly
The Miracle
Touch and Go
Love Blind
Step Aside
Lay Down Your Guns
Mars, the Bringer of War
Group Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Keith Emerson – Keyboards
Cozy Powell – Drums & Percussion

The album begins with its longest track, “The Score”, featuring Emerson’s fanfare boards and animated rudiments by Powell during extended, nearly four-minute-long intro. When Lake’s vocals finally enter mid-song, it is clear that this track is a sequel to earlier work with the refrain “Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends”, famously lifted from the opening line of “Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Part 2” from their 1973 Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery, as well as the title to the subsequent 1974 live album from that album’s tour.

“Learning to Fly” is more in line with a mid-eighties pop song, driven by synth motifs, steady bass and simple drum rhythms with little to no guitar. Still, this is not an unpleasant listen with good melodies by Lake as he delivers a slightly profound lyric. “The Miracle” is a long, narrative-fueld song with a dramatic, doomy entrance which lifts a bit during the refrain sections. Later, the song settles into a steady rhythm for the middle bridge section of this seven-minute tune.

Emerson, Lake and Powell

The album’s second side features more standard length, pop-oriented tracks, starting with the album’s only single, “Touch and Go”. Here we have catchy intro and interlude synths broken by verses driven by Lake’s melodic vocals. “Love Blind” sounds more like a soundtrack montage than a standard song, albeit Powell’s drumming is fine throughout, while “Step Aside” offers a cool break and true highlight of this second side, as a unique jazzy piano tune where all three members work the vibe well with Emerson leading the way. After the forgettable “Lay Down Your Guns”, the trio cleanse their palate of sappiness with a jam of the dramatic classical movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War”, a song Lake performed with King Crimson a decade and a half earlier.

After a short tour to support the album, Emerson, Lake & Powell disbanded as quickly as they formed. In 1992 the original ELP lineup reformed with Palmer for the album Black Moon, an album with a similar style to this Emerson, Lake & Powell album. Powell tragically lost his life in a 1998 car accident, forever sealing this mid-eighties confluence as a one time occurrence.

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Tapestry by Carole King

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Tapestry by Carole KingAfter spending most of the 1960s writing hits for other artists, Carole King started a solo career at the dawn of the 1970s. Her 1971 second studio album, Tapestry, became her breakout work as a phenomenal commercial and critical success. This multiple Grammy Award winning album features a dozen tunes written on piano,  mostly new, but also a few classics from King’s hit-making days in the sixties. And those hit-making days continued as two singles from the album topped the pop charts.

King was born Carol Klein and she was musically inclined from a young age. She attended high school with Paul Simon and he helped record her first promotional single in 1958 called “The Right Girl”. Another high school classmate Neil Sedaka, who King had dated, had a hit in 1959 called “Oh! Carol”. When in college, King met Gerry Goffin, who became her songwriting partner, husband and father to her daughters. In 1960, King and Goffin wrote the Shirelles’ hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, which became the first Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit by an all female black group. Further hits followed through the 1960s for various and diverse artists ranging from Little Eva to Bobby Vee to the Drifters to the Monkees. In 1968, Goffin and King were divorced and Carole relocated to Laurel Canyon, CA and formed a music trio called The City with Danny Kortchmar on guitar and future husband Charles Larkey on bass. The City produced and released a single album in 1968, Now That Everything’s Been Said.

While in Laurel Canyon, King befriended fellow musicians James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Toni Stern, who encouraged her to launch a solo career. In 1970 King released her debut solo album, Writer, to minor commercial success. In January 1971, King recorded Tapestry concurrently with Taylor’s album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon with both records using many of the same musicians. Tapestry was produced by Lou Adler (King’s longtime publisher and founder of Ode Records) Lou Adler, who wanted the album to sound like the simple demos she recorded through the years with her piano and vocals in the forefront.

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Tapestry by Carole King
Released: February 10, 1971 (A&M)
Produced by: Lou Adler
Recorded: A&M Recording Studios, Hollywood, January 1971
Side One Side Two
I Feel the Earth Move
So Far Away
It’s Too Late
Home Again
Beautiful
Way Over Yonder
You’ve Got a Friend
Where You Lead
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
Smackwater Jack
Tapestry
A Natural Woman
Primary Musicians
Carole King – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Danny Kortchmar – Guitars, Vocals
Curtis Amy – Saxophones, Flute, Strings
Charles Larkey – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

Built on choppy piano octaves and jazzy overtones, the opener “I Feel the Earth Move” introduces the hook right away and it is repeated often as King shines with melodic vocals and lead piano throughout. The song was released as a double A-sided single along with “It’s Too Late”. Together, this single became one of the biggest mainstream pop hits of 1971. “It’s Too Late” features lyrics by Stern and is driven by Larkey’s bass and the subtle rhythms of Joel O’Brien. The lyrics describe the end of a loving relationship with a musical arrangement that blends pop/jazz with the soft folk of the L.A. music scene.

“So Far Away” is a simple and beautiful piano ballad with limited arrangement done expertly with just enough moody counterbalance added to King’s piano and vocals. A very slight flute by Curtis Amy closes out the song. The short “Home Again” seems like a natural companion song to “So Far Away” with slightly more vigorous vocals. “Beautiful” abruptly follows as a show-tuny tune, not quite as cohesive as the prior excellent compositions, but entertaining nonetheless. “Way Over Yonder” is built on a slow, 3/4 bluesy waltz and features gospel-tinged backing vocals by Merry Clayton.

Carole King

The second side features several songs made popular by other artists, starting with “You’ve Got a Friend”, which was recorded by Taylor during the same duo-album sessions and became a number one hit for him, while winning Grammy Awards for both King and Taylor in 1972. Carole’s version features both Taylor and Mitchell on backing vocals. King’s new version of her first songwriting hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, features a slower and more methodical delivery, while her version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” does an outstanding job stretching her own vocal range without going over the top or trying to replicate the hit version by Aretha Franklin. The balance of the album includes “Where You Lead”, featuring a second lyrical contribution by Stern with an upbeat pop/rock arrangement, the upbeat folk/rock of “Smackwater Jack” which features a fine electronic piano by Ralph Schuckett, and the haunting but beautiful “Tapestry”. This folk-based title track is almost religious in nature with a bare-bones musical arrangement and lyrical metaphors on the nature of life, death and resurrection.
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Tapestry is one of the 100 best-selling albums of all time, with over 14 million sales worldwide, achieving Diamond status in mid 1990s. After it’s initial release, it remained on the Billboard charts for 313 weeks, the second most weeks to chart behind the 724 weeks of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Barely 30 years old, Carole King would continue to have success for decades to come, but this album was her career masterpiece.

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Horses by Patti Smith

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Horses by Patti SmithHorses is the 1975 debut album by Patti Smith, an album which has long become considered a breakthrough masterpiece of minimalist originality and poetic improvisation. Smith and her band had no previous recording experience and they developed the album’s songs with simple chord progressions nesting Smith’s lyrics, which ranged from subjects such as family, contemporary rock icons, and imagined narratives. On Horses the group also incorporated a few classic rock tunes into their extended pieces.

Born in Chicago, Smith was a poet and performance Artists in Paris and New York City born in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She provided spoken word soundtracks for artistic films as well as live plays. She was briefly considered to be lead singer for Blue Oyster Cult, a group for which she would provide lyrics for years to come. By 1974, Patti Smith formed her own rock group with guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Ivan Král and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. The band recorded a single, “Hey Joe / Piss Factory”, a hybrid of a rock standard with additional spoken word poetry. Soon, the Patti Smith Group was signed by Clive Davis for his new label, Arista Records.

Recording for this debut album began in August 1975 in New York City with producer John Cale. Smith wanted to make “a record that would make a certain type of person not feel alone” but she did have some differences with Cale on recording methods, which were ultimately worked out.


Horses by Patti Smith
Released: December 13, 1975 (Arista)
Produced by: John Cale
Recorded: Electric Lady, New York City, August-September, 1975
Side One Side Two
Gloria
Redondo Beach
Birdland
Free Money
Kimberly
Break It Up
Land
Elegie
Primary Musicians
Patti Smith – Lead Vocals
Lenny Kaye – Lead Guitar, Bass
Ivan Král – Bass, Rhythm Guitar
Richard Sohl – Piano
Jay Dee Daugherty – Drums

The opening track is a quasi-cover of “Gloria”, a popular song first recorded by Van Morrison and his group, Them, a decade earlier. This unique version features Smith’s poetry over slower chord progression that eventually works into faster frenzy with the hook release finally coming over three minutes into the song. Cowritten by keyboardist Richard Sohl, “Redondo Beach” is a change up where the music is more in focus due to the fine reggae elements of the tune. The poetic lyrics are based on a fight that Smith had with with her sister Linda, after which her sister disappeared for days, causing Patti to worry that she had committed suicide (fortunately, she did not). “Birdland” is the first of two extended pieces where Sohl’s lazy piano plays behind Smith’s spoken-word narrative in verses, alternating with sung choruses. The stream of consciousness lyrics were inspired by memoir of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

Starting as deliberative and poetic but quickly building to a proto-punk frenzy, “Free Money” is a fantasy about winning the lottery and the song closes the original first side. Starting side two is “Kimberly” a song which is very musically interesting as perhaps an early example of the new wave style, while “Break It Up” is a moderate ballad written as a tribute to Jim Morrison, following Smith’s visit of Morrison’s grave in Paris.

Patti Smith Group

The centerpiece of Horses is the nine and a half minute track “Land”, which incorporates the sixties soul classic “Land of a Thousand Dances”, This melodramatic piece which builds into a classic rock dance tune is counterbalanced by explicit and violent lyrics that layered masterfully through overdubbed poetry and melodies. In Smith’s later memoir, she reveals that primary characters in this song refer to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and author William Burroughs. Piano, bass and whining guitar make a perfect haunting effect for the closing track “Elegie”, purposely recorded on the 5th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix, with the song also generally paying tribute to several deceased rock musicians such as Morrison, Brian Jones, and Janis Joplin.

While Horses received little to no airplay, it was instantly met with critical respect upon release and the album has grown to be a classic over time. The album solidified Smith’s influence on the New York punk rock and some have cited it as the first real punk rock album, although it is obvious that this record was not so genre-specific.

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

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Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon

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Hi Infidelity by REO SpeedwagonReleased in late 1980, Hi Infidelity hit commercial pay-dirt for the Illinois-based group REO Speedwagon. The album strikes a nice balance of accessible pop rockers and ballads as the quintet forged a sound which was at once contemporary and featuring some roots rock elements and, with six of the album’s ten tracks landing on the American pop charts, this chart-topping album became the biggest-selling rock album of 1981 in the US and was eventually certified 10 times platinum.

The group’s origins date back to 1966 in Champaign, Illinois when keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer formed a cover band that took the name REO Speedwagon the following year. The band signed to Epic Records in 1971 with their self-titled debut album being the first of annual studio albums they released between 1971 and 1976. Vocalist Kevin Cronin briefly joined the group in 1972 before departing for four years and returning in 1976 as their permanent front man. REO found their first real success with their platinum-selling live album Live: You Get What You Play For in 1977, and their 1978 seventh studio record You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish, which was the group’s first to make the Top 40. However, 1979’s Nine Lives was a bit of a commercial disappointment.

Hi Infidelity was produced during a time when several group members were struggling with their personal lives. Cronin claimed this made the bond between the band members really strong and forged a sort of continuity between the songs composed by multiple songwriters going through similar experiences. About half the songs were developed during a three-day rehearsal period with the later studio recordings produced by Cronin, Gratzer, guitarist Gary Richrath and engineer Kevin Beamish.


Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon
Released: November 21, 1980 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Beamish, Kevin Cronin, Alan Gratzer, & Gary Richrath
Recorded: June-October 1980
Side One Side Two
Don’t Let Him Go
Keep On Loving You
Follow My Heart
In Your Letter
Take It on the Run
Tough Guys
Out of Season
Shakin’ It Loose
Someone Tonight
I Wish You Were There
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

The opener “Don’t Let Him Go” begins with an intro with feedback guitar over pointed, “hand-jive” like rhythm, building a tension which is released during the chorus hook. The song was the first Cronin composed for Hi Infidelity and it was released as a single and reached the Top 40. However, it was Cronin’s next track “Keep on Loving You” that became the album’s biggest hit and REO Speedwagon’s first #1 song. While in many ways a classic piano ballad but, “Keep on Loving You” resists being formulaic as full group kicks in during the first pre-chorus section and Richrath provides a fantastic, bluesy lead guitar.

Written by Richrath and band associate Tom Kelly, the pop-oriented “Follow My Heart” is catchy but not quite as high quality as rest of the material on the first side. “In Your Letter” is a much better effort by the guitarist as a fine mixture of first wave rock with a doo-wop like hook. Doughty adds much with his middle, dual piano and organ leads being the most rewarding part of this song, which was released as the fourth single from the album and made the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Take It on the Run” completes Richrath’s trio of songs to complete the original first side as an adolescent acoustic anthem bookmarked by the classic lyric “heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another you’ve been messing around”. In between are some great guitar riffs and lead and a harmonized hook that propelled the song into the Top 10 in 1981.

REO Speedwagon in 1980

With the exception of a few strong points, the album’s second side isn’t nearly as potent as its hit-drenched first. “Tough Guys” starts with Little Rascals clip from 1937 before exploring into a pop rock screed, while “Out of Season” features choppy rock verses and good guitar riffin’. “Shakin’ It Loose” returns back to fifties themed rock n’ roll with heavy dance implications, a great piano lead and solid rhythms by drummer Alan Gratzer, while “Someone Tonight” is a new-wave influenced track by bassist Bruce Hall, who also takes on lead vocals for the song. The album wraps with the excellent and dramatic “I Wish You Were There”, where Cronin displays his best vocals on the record and Richrath offers the best of his many guitar leads on this record.

The success of Hi Infidelity launched a 1980s decade where they found more pop stardom, especially as they moved towards a softer, ballad-centric approach on subsequent albums. In October 2004, the band revisited their 1980 classic as they recorded the songs of Hi Infidelity live from beginning to end for an XM Radio special.

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

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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.

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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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