Time Passages by Al Stewart

Time Passages by Al Stewart

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Time Passages by Al StewartTime Passages was the third of Al Stewart‘s popular late seventies albums, following Modern Times in 1975 and Year of the Cat in 1976. While all three of these albums were produced by Alan Parsons, on this one there is a minor nod towards soft rock production. Musically, Time Passages continues Stewart’s traditional blend of folk, jazz, and pop/rock, with masterful arrangements, rich sonic textures, and the top-notch production of Parsons. Lyrically, Stewart alternates between the contemporary subjects and concerns of baby boomers reaching their thirties and his distinct knack for presenting historical figures an events in graceful yet easily accessible pop song epics.

The Scottish born Stewart commenced his musical career in the mid 1960s at coffee houses in London’s Soho. Starting in 1967. He went on to release several folk albums on Columbia Records but found little mainstream success. In 1972, Stewart released Orange, a transitional album which combined songs in his confessional style with more historical themes that he would soon increasingly adopt. His 1973 release, Past, Present and Future, was the first in the United States and his popularity steadily grew throughout the rest of the decade.

During these years, Stewart began to form a proper backing band, led by guitarists Tim Renwick and Peter White. On Time Passages, Renwick provides the bulk of lead guitar while White played keyboards, accordion, and other instruments as well as co-wrote a couple of the tunes.


Time Passages by Al Stewart
Released: September, 1978 (RCA)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Davlen Studios, Los Angeles, June 1978
Side One Side Two
Time Passages
Valentina Way
Life In Dark Water
A Man for All Seasons
Almost Lucy
The Palace of Versailles
Timeless Skies
Song on the Radio
End of the Day
Primary Musicians
Al Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Peter White – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Renwick – Guitars
Robin Lamble – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums

The album’s title song “Time Passages” is a masterpiece on the utter surreal-ness of the passage of time (as demonstrated by the “time warp” album cover). Stewart uses great imagery to accomplish this while the pleasant music adds a pleasant soft rock backing with perfect late seventies production by Parsons. Released as a single, this would become Stewart’s highest charting song ever. It reached #7 on the Billboard pop chart and also spent ten weeks at #1 on the easy listening chart, the longest stay at number one on this chart in the entire decade. “Valentina Way” starts with classical piano by Peter Robinson before abruptly entering a disco section. Despite this dated musical arrangement, the underlying song is pretty good and is musically salvaged by White’s recurring guitar lead/riff.

The first historical number is “Life in Dark Water”, a slow, moody, almost psychedelic rocker driven by the rotating lyrics and a simple, repeated four chord progression. There is some musical deviation in the middle with a short, carnival sounding verse and extended guitar lead by Renwick. The song which references the Mary Celeste, a British-American merchant ship discovered unmanned and abandoned in 1872. Although the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced seamen, the seven member crew were never seen again while the ship was found in perfect shape with personal effects and over six months’ worth of food and water on board. “A Man for All Seasons” completes the first side with a musical a mix of Phil Spector meets alt-country. With a knack for telling historical stories in effected musical means, Stewart tells the story of Sir Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet.

The second side is just as solid as the first, starting with “Almost Lucy, a country/western influenced folk song with good percussive effects throughout. The subtle backing music plays off of Stewart’s vocals perfectly, which reflect the lyrics about the sad life of a prostitute;

“And all these changing faces never bothered her at all that just existed like a back-drop or a pattern on the wall, Lucy looks like someone who is waiting for a call she knows will come but no-one else can hear at all”

Led by smooth synth run by Peter Solley at the top and between verses, “The Palace of Versailles” is another historical diddy. The interplay between Stewart’s acoustic and Renwick’s electric guitars is fantastic, with Parsons adding some orchestral strings towards the end, giving this an epic feel and increasing the continental elegance at the core of this work. The acoustic “Timeless Skies” has a sparse arrangement with White subtly adding some accordion and mandolin as the song progresses.

“Song on the Radio” is the other “radio song” from Time Passages, peaking in the Top 30, despite its lengthy six and a half minute duration (it is interesting that the two “hits” are also the two longest songs on the album). Featuring the distinct alto saxophone of Phil Kenzie, this song may first present itself as pure pop on the surface, but it really has much deeper meaning and connotations lyrically. The closer “End of the Day” was written mainly by Peter White and is mostly instrumental, spending more than half of its duration in a prolonged instrumental introduction before a single, extended verse concludes the album. Soft and jazzy, this pleasant song is an effective way to leave listeners wanting for more.

Time Passages peaked at #10 on the charts and continues to be held as one of his finer albums. Stewart’s pop success continued into the early 1980s until his career slowly lost steam in subsequent years.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Infinity by Journey

Infinity by Journey

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Infinity by JourneyThe classic lineup of Journey came together for the album Infinity, released in 1978. Although this was the fourth overall album for the group that had been together since 1973, it was the first to feature lead vocalist and iconic front man Steve Perry. With his smooth tenor voice and apparent ability to traverse keys at will, Perry ushered in a new era of pop accessibility for Journey. the album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who had worked with such rock legends as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, Nazareth, and Queen. Baker said he aimed for a layered sound approach, complete with harmonized lead guitars, similar to his work with Queen in the mid seventies.

Journey was formed as a professional jazz/fusion “backing band” built by former Santana manager Herbie Herbert, originally called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie were also recent Santana members and they were surrounded by a number of musical lineups through the early years of the group, eventually settling on bassist Ross Valory and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Journey released three albums in three years with none achieving significant sales. Schon, Valory, and Dunbar took singing lessons in an attempt to add vocal harmonies to Rolie’s lead and even brought in a temporary front man, Robert Fleischman in 1977 to transition to a more popular style.

Perry had achieved moderate success with California bands, Ice and Alien Project, but was on the verge of giving up music when Herbert heard a demo of Perry in Alien Project. Perry was brought on tour and eventually replaced Fleischman permanently in late 1977. With a new contract with Columbia Records, the band set out to make a cohesive and popular record.


Infinity by Journey
Released: January 20, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: His Master’s Wheels Studio, San Francisco, October-December 1977
Side One Side Two
Lights
Feeling That Way
Anytime
Lă Do Dā
Patiently
Wheel In the Sky
Somethin’ To Hide
Winds of March
Can Do
Opened the Door
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Gregg Rollie – Keyboards, Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars
Ross Valory – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

The geographical ballad “Lights” (which can still regularly be heard at San Francisco Giants baseball games) leads things off on Infinity. The complete ode to their home “city by the bay”, was actually written by Perry about Los Angeles before he joined the band. Although originally just a very minor hit, which reached #68 on the charts, the song became more popular over the years to the point where it is now one of Journey’s most easily recognizable songs.

Greg Rollie takes the lead vocal mic on the next two tracks. On “Feeling That Way” he duets with Perry, on a pleasantly moody track with an eighties moderate rock feel. The first incarnation of the song was an instrumental intended for the group’s third album Next, but was left off that album. When Perry joined the band, he helped add a chorus with Rolie adding the verse lyrics. “Anytime” features Rollie solo on lead vocals. This song was co-written by Robert Fleischman during his short time with the group and was released as a single from the album.

“Lă Do Dā” is an upbeat, pure rocker, driven almost entirely by texture, from Schon’s opening guitar effects to the long sustained vocals with electronic effects. “Patiently” was the first collaboration between Perry and Schon and soon became a fan favorite. On this delicate yet hip ballad, Schon plays an acoustic-like form on his electric guitar through the beginning verses, while the concluding full-band jam makes it all the more interesting.

The second side opens with “Wheel in the Sky”, which contains almost an upbeat country riff, especially in the interplay between Schon’s guitar and Ross Vallory’s bass. The song began its life as a poem called “Wheels in My Mind” by Diane Vallory, wife of the bassist and it reached No. 57 on the Billboard charts.
“Somethin’ to Hide” is another pleasant quasi-ballad, driven by Perry’s soaring, atmospheric vocals and Schon’s scorching fret work, along with some subtle keyboard arrangements by Rolie.

Neal’s father, jazz musician Matt Schon composed some of the fine chord structures for “Winds of March”, an arrangement would have worked well with many of the later prog metal acts. This has a love-song-like lyric but with a more somber feel from the dark piano runs to the flange effects on Dunbar’s drums, making it one of the better songs on side two. The album’s final two racks offer a slight glimpse into Journey’s future. “Can Do” is a pure upbeat rocker co-written by Perry and Ross Valory, while “Opened the Door” is the only real soft rock song on the album. Led by the synths from Rollie and more layered guitars from Schon, it is easy to see how the group laid the brickwork here for a lot of their 80s ballads.

Infinity was the first album by the group to contain tracks that received regular airplay as well as the first with charting singles. It was the first of a string hit albums, which eventually served to help Journey become one of the top rock groups in the world. While a few more changes would take place in subsequent years, starting with Herbert firing drummer Dunbar, Journey would consistently gain more popularity through the next half decade.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Hemispheres by Rush

Hemispheres by Rush

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Hemispheres by RushHemispheres, the sixth studio album by Rush, was the second straight album recorded in the United Kingdom. It also contained the second half of a multi-album concept called “Cygnus X-1”, which took up the entire first side  as its title track. Musically, the group continued to use multi-movement song structures, complex rhythms and time signatures to pack this album with musical virtuosity by this trio at the very height of their talent and creativity. Lyrically, Neil Peart continued the scientific/fantasy approach of recent albums but with a decidedly philosophical bend, using a mixture of literary, factual, and fictional methods.

The music is complex and flowing with a lush production. Like the previous four studio album, Hemispheres was produced by Terry Brown. Influenced by progressive rock bands like Yes and King Crimson, the group set out to make more complex music, stretching the maximum potential of three rock musicians to be replicated in live situations. Lead vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee added Minimoog synthesizer and bass pedals to his arsenal while guitarist Alex Lifeson  experimented with classical and twelve-string guitars, often using a holder stand to easily switch between guitars live. Peart continued to add diverse percussion to his ever-growing drum set, including timpani, blocks, orchestral bells, chimes, and melodic cowbells.

Although the second half of a multi-part fantasy which starts in space but ends on Mount Olympus, the overall concept of Hemispheres is to explore and interpret human psychology via the left and right portions of the brain. This whole concept was developed by Peart who, as lyricist, had led the group to to ever greater levels of conceptual complexity since joining Rush in 1974. For their part, musical composers Lee and Lifeson, matched the ingenuity with their tightest, sharpest, and most inventive playing ever with brilliant complexity.


Hemispheres by Rush
Released: October 29, 1978 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown and Rush
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, South Wales, June–August 1978
Side One Side Two
Cygnus X-1, Book II:
Hemispheres
Circumstances
The Trees
La Villa Strangiato
Primary Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizers
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synthesizers
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion, Synthesizers

 

While the story line isn’t as comprehensible as “2112”, the side-long suite of “Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres” is much more consistent musically. In fact, it is constructed more like a stage musical than a contemporary prog-rock piece, with the “Prelude” section acting as a true overture. starting off with slow rudiments which, for a moment, feel unsure, the music soon finds its groove, moving through seamless passages in the first three instrumental minutes. You don’t have to be a Rush fanatic to appreciate the quality rock on display here, which (like “2112 Overture”) is the most indelible part of the overall extended piece. A single verse three minutes in sets the stage for the story.

Next come the two parts which describe the two sides of Hemispheres – “Apollo (Bringer of Wisdom)” and ” Dionysus (Bringer of Love)”. These two parts are really just different verses of the same tune, with a Lifeson guitar lead representing the “the bridge of death” crossing between them. Surprisingly, there is not a bigger contrast sonically between these two contrasting characters, as Geddy Lee brilliantly has shown he could pull off in “2112”. The awkward transition into these tracks is the first real flaw of the extended piece. After abandoning the “chains of reason” in pursuit of “joy and love”, the mythical civilization faces cold, starvation, and predators, which causes caos and ultimate battle in the very theatrical climax to the piece, “Armageddon (The Battle of Heart and Mind)”. Here Lee’s voice hits the highest of registers, perhaps a bit too far for contemporary tastes, as he relates the story of aimless conflict which ensued with the confusion brought on by the awareness of Apollo and Dionysus.

Rush in 1978

Finally, comes the bridge back to the final song from A Farewell to Kings. “Cygnus X-1:Book I” was a spacey number about a guy who deliberately steers his spaceship into a black hole out of his burning curiosity to see what was on the other side. On the “Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)” echoes from that song overlaid on the long synth sounds of Lee while Peart’s lyric morphs from the philosophical to the fantasy. The protagonist from the former song was able to make the chaos suddenly cease (although it is really unclear why) and the world unites into a “single, perfect sphere” as described in the pleasant acoustic final part with its Pollyanna, Utopian vision.

The second side begins in sharp contrast with excellent, frenzied musical piece of “Circumstances”. This is Rush, the rock band, at their absolute best. Peart’s crazed but ultra-tight drumming and Lee’s thundering Rickenbacker bass provide the best rhythm section in rock and are in top form. There is very short middle section for variety, where a synth-led waltz gives way the chord-and-riff-driven jam before breaking back into one final chorus. In a way, there is more sonically packed into this less-than-four-minute piece than all of the extended, 18-minute “Hemispheres”. Further, the song has great philosophical lyrics in two languages;

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, the more that things change, the more they stay the same…”

The philosophy continues with “The Trees”, a parable on socialism and collectivism. Here, Lifeson takes center stage from his classical acoustic intro through the incredible movement through differing guitar textures. Like “Circumstances”, there is another mid-section which starts with some synth and percussion motifs before breaking into a full band jam, which brings the tune to a fevered conclusion with an ironic lyrical ending.

This all leads to “La Villa Strangiato”, the crowning musical achievement of Rush’s long career. The band admits that this was incredibly difficult to record, even claiming that this single track took longer than the entire album Fly By Night. At first, they were obsessed with recording the nine-minute, twelve-section track in one single take, but eventually capitulated and recorded it in three parts. The result is an analog recording with a bit of tape hiss, but this does not detract from the music one bit. Based on a dream by Lifeson, “La Villa Strangiato” (“The Strange House”) begins with half minute Spanish guitar that gives way to, perhaps, the most exciting intro in rock and roll. Like a world awakening from a long slumber, the dream flanged guitar is cut through by the underlying, three-note beat by Lee and Peart. Eventually, the tension breaks into a full band rudimentary riff offset by interludes of smooth instrumental soaring. During the complex middle section, the mood comes down a little bit, to a basic beat for Lifeson’s bluesy guitar leads (like Rush in Pink Floyd mode), again building ever so slowly towards a more intense rhythm part. Several more connecting sections ensue, including a jazzy section led by bass and drums. The music meanders and draws the listener to a lull before suddenly breaking back to the main theme as a lead-in to the outro with a sudden and abrupt ending, which leaves the audience wanting for more.

Although Hemispheres received relatively good reviews it did not fare well commercially. With great success on the horizon, this would be the last Rush studio album to fail to make the Top 10 until 1987’s Hold Your Fire, six albums in the future. The recording of five studio albums in four years, coupled with 300 gigs a year, and the shear exhaustion of making such a complex album would play a major factor in the band deciding to move towards more accessible material in the future.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

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City to City by Gerry RaffertyGerry Rafferty was an artist who really didn’t like fame all that much. In fact, he once walked out on his former band, Stealers Wheel,  shortly after they topped the charts with “Stuck in the Middle with You”  in 1973. The success found Rafferty  retreating to his native Scotland before being coerced back into rejoining that band. Ironically, City to City brought Rafferty fame in droves after a long hiatus from the public eye. This album reached the top of the U.S. album charts and produced three Top 20 hits. But beyond its commercial success, it was the absolute apex of Rafferty’s career where if left indelible musical marks which define his output to this day.

Rafferty joined the folk group The Humblebums in 1969. Two years later he was signed to a solo contract an released his 1971 debut Can I Have My Money Back?, a critical success but commercial failure. In 1972, Rafferty formed Stealers Wheel with Walter Egan and recorded three albums before the duo disbanded in 1975. This was followed by legal wrangling over the demise of Stealers Wheel which kept Rafferty out of the studio for three solid years.

Though it would seem to have strike the pop charts out of the blue, City to City does not depart dramatically from the music Rafferty has recorded over the past decade. In fact, he used much of the same personnel he had on his first solo album seven years earlier, starting with producer Hugh Murphy. The album’s title was meant to be satirical, as Rafferty conquers the world one metropolis at a time. Fueled by Rafferty’s compositional skills, the group forged a fresh sound with diverse styles, while lyrically Rafferty juxtaposes the differences between urban and pastoral life.


City to City by Gerry Rafferty
Released: January 20, 1978 (United Artists)
Produced by: Hugh Murphy
Recorded: Chipping Norton Recording Studios, London, 1977
Side One Side Two
The Ark
Baker Street
Right Down the Line
City to City
Stealin’ Time
Mattie’s Rag
Whatever’s Written In Your Heart
Home and Dry
Island
Waiting For the Day
Primary Musicians
Gerry Rafferty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Hugh Burns – Guitars
Tommy Eyre – Piano, Keyboards, Brass
Graham Preskett – Fiddle, Strings
Gary Taylor – Bass, Vocals
Henry Spinetti – Drums

The opening tune “The Ark” starts with a Celtic-flavored thumping intro led by fiddle and mandolin combo of Graham Preskett. It soon breaks into a pleasant ballad, reminiscent of the band Badfinger, with the vibe of sailing along calm water within the beat. While it never really breaks from its deliberate and steady tone, this five and a half minute song feels full and complete.

While long considered Rafferty’s signature song, “Baker Street” may also be one of the quintessential tracks of the late seventies. At once pop yet progressive, this song is an urban journey accompanied by baskets of sonic candy, The bass of Gary Taylor supplies a lot of this décor, as do the keyboards, organ, and synths of Tommy Eyre as do the cool and smooth layered vocals of Rafferty, delivering the self-reflecting and mature lyrics. But all this plays a supporting role to the memorable saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft, which guides the song from phrase to phrase. Rafferty lobbied the record label to have “Baker Street” as the lead single from the album and it became hugely popular, reaching the top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic before the album was even released.

The mechanical yet groovy “Right Down The Line” was the other major hit from the album. An upbeat song of romance, this tune is firmly within easy listening range while still feeling vibrant and young and in no way sappy. Rafferty’s excellent vocal harmonies during the bridges along with the cool steel guitar intro and lead of Brian Cole are the musical highlights for this song which reached #12 on Billboard pop charts and topped the “Easy Listening” charts. The album then takes a sharp turn with title song “City to City”. A quasi-blue grass composition, the song comes complete with a train-whistle-sounding harmonica by Paul Jones and could be an outlaw country song if not for all the production flourishes throughout. “Stealin’ Time” is a great mood-setting song to complete side one. Led by the electric piano of Tommy Eyre, the song is very patient and deliberate musically, like mid-era Pink Floyd. Following a nice lead by Hugh Burns, the arrangement turns interesting as it builds some intensity in the outro section.

The second side starts a long, thumping fade-in on “Mattie’s Rag”, which gives way to an upbeat and bouncy tune including an interesting dobro lead by Cole, and a fantastic fiddle and string coda riff by Preskett. “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” feels like a Gospel song at first, before Rafferty takes control of this McCartney-styled piano ballad. Musically, this six and a half minute song is almost entirely Eyre’s piano, with a short Moog synth lead in the middle while lyrically, the melancholy song is a bit introspective and spiritual;

“Maybe I’ve always set my sights too high, you take the easy way and still get by
I know there ain’t no special way, we all get there anyway…”

Topping off the album are three upbeat songs. “Home and Dry” contains a thumping beat by Henry Spinetti with smooth vocal delivery by Rafferty, much like the hit songs from side one. In fact, “Home and Dry” was the third single from the album in the U.S. and it peaked at #28 on the pop charts. “Island” does its title justice with a strong Caribbean beat and gently strummed acoustic by Rafferty, but topically it has more of a jazz nightclub feel. It contains the ever-present saxophone of Ravenscroft and plenty of other exotic instrumentation. Rafferty plays rudimentary piano on “Waiting For the Day”, which complements Eyre’s boogie-woogie electric piano. Starting as perhaps the most straight-forward rocker on album, the song takes a couple of unexpected breaks where Rafferty’s solo vocals are highlighted, clear and up front.

Although Rafferty declined to tour right away following the release of City to City, the momentum carried on to his 1979 album Night Owl, which spawned another trio of Top 40 singles. While the artist continued to release albums throughout the 1980s, his popularity waned and heavy drinking ultimately led to his demise.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

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Some Girls by The Rolling StonesSome Girls was a major commercial and critical success for the Rolling Stones in 1978. Here, the classic British rock group incorporated the new genres of disco, punk, along with New York style new wave while maintaining their core rock sound. The marathon sessions for this album consumed the entire winter of 1977-78 and ended up yielding about 50 new songs, many of which were used on future studio albums as well as countless bootleg recordings over the years. The engineering approach to recording differed from the sounds of mid seventies Stones albums, with the use of classic techniques along with state-of-the-art amplifiers.

The band added guitarist Ronnie Wood to the line-up, replacing Mick Taylor who left the band three years later. Wood had toured with the band as early as 1975 when he was still a member of the band Faces and his permanent addition added some much needed support for primary guitarist Keith Richards. Heroin dependency and a pending possession charge were a serious concern for the group during production of Some Girls. The Toronto drug bust held a real possibility that Richards might be sent to prison for years, but the ultimate judgment was an order to perform a charity show for The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

During this era, vocalist Mick Jagger stepped up with a greater than usual role in songwriting and producing. Although Richards was present as co-producer and co-composer, Jagger gained control of the band’s musical direction for the next several albums through 1981’s Tattoo You. The result is a blend of glitzy and decadent rock which still makes it a definitive Stones album. However, not everyone was thrilled with this new musical direction, band manager and studio pianist Ian Stewert sat out the Some Girls sessions in protest of the approach.


Some Girls by The Rolling Stones
Released: June 9, 1978 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Miss You
When the Whip Comes Down
Imagination
Some Girls
Lies
Far Away Eyes
Respectable
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Shattered
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

The groovy bass of Bill Wyman leads the repetitive riff of “Miss You”. This was the lead single from Some Girls, released in May 1978 ahead of the album. It reached the top of the charts, becoming the Rolling Stones’ last U.S. #1 hit and rode the tail end of the disco wave. A highlight later in the song is the short saxophone solo by Mel Collins. “When the Whip Comes Down” features a fairly standard, Richards-based riff with a verse-chorus repeat pattern. Lyrically, the song is about a gay street hustler in an attempt by Jagger to show he has an ear for the American urban scene.

The cover of Norman Whitfield‘s and Barrett Strong’s “Imagination” is a pleasant enough update of the Temptations classic but not really a wise choice as album track (should have been reserved for a B-side or compilation). Wood’s Faces band mate Ian McLagan provides organ for the track. The title song “Some Girls” sounds a bit like a Scottish folk song on acid, with flanged out guitars and several stand-alone verses with guitar interludes before a break with harmonies and picked acoustic. The later verse is like a perverse updated version of “California Girls”, albeit using race and ethnicity instead of location, and the song ends with a fine blues harp lead by Sugar Blue, which is unfortunately cut short in the fade. “Lies” is a frantic song in a genre style developed by the Stones in the late seventies, on later songs such “Neighbors”. Held together by the steady beat by drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones end side one with a smoke-filled and ambiguous musical piece with lyrics equal parts irony and ecstasy.

Aside for the throwaway parody “Far Away Eyes”, side two provides the strongest moments on Some Girls. “Respectable” is fun and upbeat faux punk with Jagger supplying his relatively new guitar skills to complete a three-axe attack. The Rolling Stones do some self-examination of their admitted mid-seventies complacency and heed the wake-up call of their younger contemporaries. “Before They Make Me Run” is Richard’s outlaw anthem where he takes the mic for lead vocals and alludes to his own drug and legal problems.

“Beast of Burden” is the best song on the album. It contains well-crafted guitar interplay between Richards and Wood with a weaving attack. Vocally and lyrically, Jagger is superb as he delivers a classic blues anthem complete with the mid-section vocal testament, all with an entertaining and contemporary flair. The album concludes with “Shattered”, which bookends nicely with the opener “Miss You” as another somewhat improvised “disco” piece. Some have suggested this last track was a tribute to the New York Dolls, delighting in the degradation of New York City during its dark days of the seventies.

Some Girls reached #1 in the U.S. and eventually became the Rolling Stones biggest selling album in America, with over six million copies sold. The band embarked on summer tour of the states in 1978, where they played a few small venue shows under a pseudonym just for fun. They followed up with the similar sounding Emotional Rescue in 1980, which found more commercial success as well as inner turmoil which nearly broke up the band.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Bob Seger

Stranger In Town by Bob Seger

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Bob SegerBob Seger released his tenth overall album, Stranger In Town, in 1978. It follows the major commercial breakthrough of Night Moves, and expands the practice of using two groups of backing musicians. Seger used his own backing Silver Bullet Band and the famous Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section from Alabama, with each playing on about half the tracks. The result is an album which contains a balanced mixture of rock anthems and poignant ballads with lyrical topics of restlessness, escape, and longing which defined blue collar rock ethic. Upon its release, the album rocketed up the charts in the United States and was certified platinum less than a month after the release.

One change within the Silver Bullet band was drummer David Teegarden, who replaced original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin. While walking on a road, Martin was hit by a car from behind and was left unable to walk.

The overall theme of Stranger In Town is dealing with the sudden rise to fame and adapting to the changes that happen when becoming a star. For Seger, this rise came when he was on the north side of thirty and mature enough to wax philosophical about shallowness and keep perspective on his own roots and character. The resultant success of this second straight blockbuster served to not only solidify his success but actually increase it.


Stranger In Town by Bob Seger
Released: May 5, 1978 (Capitol)
Produced by: Bob Seger, Punch Andrews, & Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Recorded: Criteria Sound Studios, Miami, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama, Sound Suite Studios, Detroit, Michigan, 1977-78
Side One Side Two
Hollywood Nights
Still the Same
Old Time Rock and Roll
Till It Shines
Feel Like a Number
Ain’t Got No Money
We’ve Got Tonight
Brave Strangers
The Famous Final Scene
Primary Musicians
Bob Seger – Guitars, Vocals
Robyn Robbins – Keyboards
Barry Beckett – Keyboards
Drew Abbott – Guitars
Pete Carr – Guitars
Chris Campbell – Bass
Alto Reed – Saxophone
Roger Hawkins – Drums, Percussion

The album rolls to a start with “Hollywood Nights”, a driving rocker held down by Teegarden’s drums. This story-telling song with the late seventies subject of the “gone Hollywood” theme never really gets off the basic beat and patterns but still feels satisfying as a pure rocker and reached the Top 20 on the charts. “Still the Same” strikes a more somber vibe. Led by the piano of Robyn Robbins, this almost country-like tune has a unique arrangement with only one real verse and chorus and a truncated variation following the short piano lead section. The theme continues the Hollywood scene and the attitude which seemed foreign to Seger. Commercially, “Still the Same” was a big hit, reaching #4 on the pop singles chart.

The next two songs prominently feature the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. “Old Time Rock and Roll” was presented to  Seger by the group during the album sessions. Composed by George Jackson and Thomas Jones, Seger re-wrote most of the lyrics but failed to take a songwriting credit. He later admitted this was “the dumbest thing I ever did”, as this nostalgic look at the music of a previous generation became a staple at weddings and parties for decades to come has been ranked the second-most played jukebox single of all time. “Till It Shines” is probably the most perfect song for the group, filling it with sonic décor throughout the introspective in the acoustic number. The philosophical lyrics are delivered with a pleasant melody above a pleasant ensemble of steady music, which includes a guitar lead by Eagle Glenn Frey.

“Feel Like a Number” is sort of the default theme song of the album and it demonstrates how the sequencing of the album works by counter-balancing ballads with rockers. The song is a typical working class song about one being lost in the world around him, which shows him little or no respect. The Frankie Miller cover “Ain’t Got No Money” closely mimics “The Fire Down Below” from Night Moves, almost to the point of plagiarism. Another Eagle, Don Felder provides the guitar solo. “We’ve Got Tonight” is a piano ballad which has an almost Neil Diamond quality at the top. This was another hit single for Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, reaching number 13 on the U.S. pop charts and an even bigger hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton when they remade it in 1983.

“Brave Strangers” has an epic quality to it and is the finest song on side two. After a couple of upbeat, driving verses, the song halts and goes into a moderate jazzy section highlighted by the piano of Doug Riley, the saxophone of Alto Reed, and fine backing vocals. Thematically the song is a sequence to (or retelling of) the scene in the song “Night Moves”, reliving that evocative and nostalgic tale. “The Famous Final Scene” continues the cinematic scope of “Brave Strangers” but as a mellow ballad carried by Muscle Shoals’ twin guitarists Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. But the real highlight is the piano and organ by Barry Beckett, which adds the dripping melancholy to the album’s final song.

Mirroring the sales of Night Moves, Stranger In Town would eventually go six times platinum. With this continued success, Seger tried his hand at songwriting for other artists and co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit “Heartache Tonight” in 1979. The following year he released his third consecutive blockbuster album with Against the Wind, which became his first and only #1 album.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

This Year's Model by Elvis Costello

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello

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This Year's Model by Elvis Costello1978 was a breakthrough year for Elvis Costello. His second album, This Year’s Model, was released in the Spring featuring his backing band, The Attractions, for the first time. Further, My Aim Is True, Costello’s 1977 debut album, was re-released internationally following his signing with Columbia Records. Much of the material for This Year’s Model is comprised largely of leftovers from My Aim Is True and the tour which followed. While the debut featured a more retro sound, this album leans more towards punk, with the Attractions adding a reckless rock edge. Produced by Nick Lowe, Costello and the Attractions speed through the album’s tracks at a frantic and blinding pace.

Different releases of the album contained different tracks. The single “Radio, Radio”, a song protesting the commercialization of radio broadcasts and recording studios, appeared on the US version of the album. The subjects of this song caused much hesitation over when and where it was to be broadcasted. In December 1977, Costello was a last minute replacement on Saturday Night Live and was instructed to play the song “Less than Zero.” However, after a few bars, Costello turned to the Attractions, waved his hand to stop and then led the band in a performance of “Radio, Radio.” Costello was banned from SNL for a dozen years afterward.

Nervous energy drives the action in This Year’s Model, a 35 minute journey of sweet pop-driven blasts. Brief as it is, the entire album is filled with hooks, efficient without excess.


This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
Released: March 17, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Nick Lowe
Recorded: Eden Studios, London, 1977–78
Side One Side Two
No Action
This Year’s Girl
The Beat
Pump It Up
Little Triggers
You Belong to Me
Hand In Hand
(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea
Lip Service
Living In Paradise
Lipstick Vogue
Night Rally
Primary Musicians
Elvis Costello – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Nieve – Piano, Organ
Bruce Thomas – Bass
Pete Thomas – Drums

In less than two minutes, “No Action” sets the pure punk pace right from the jump. The organ by Steve Nieve adds a little melody and high-end flourishes to the song’s paranoia. “This Year’s Girl” follows as more retro pop than punk, with a fuzzy guitar that is somewhat obscured by the swirling organ during this de facto title song of the album. Lyrically, the song is a downright vicious indictment of a socialite/hipster, becoming a centerpiece of Costello’s early work.

After the weaker track “The Beat”, comes “Pump It Up”, a driving, riff-driven rock song fused with eros and frantic lyrics. It is an especially good track for bassist Bruce Thomas. “Little Triggers” is a mellow and emotional piece and the closest thing to a ballad on this album. The first side closer “You Belong to Me” is the best song on the first side. With McCartney-like vocals, the upbeat and direct tune is not at all ambiguous lyrically, vocally, or sonically. Reverted to the pattern of the first album, the song is a tribute to garage rock with Nieve’s whiny Vox Continental organ line and Costello’s echoed and twangy lead guitar.

The second side begins with a quintessential Elvis Costello pop song called “Hand in Hand”, a short, melodic, direct, and entertaining tune. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” features a very new wave syncopation and beat complete with ska-influenced odd timings under a very standard melody and big tremolo organ sound. The song was left off the original U.S. release because record execs thought the theme was too “British”.

“Lip Service” contains nice riffing in a generally pop-oriented tune while “Living in Paradise” is fueled by Nieve’s new wave synth in tandem with Thomas’ rolling bass. The mood oriented “Lipstick Vogue” is driven by a frenzied beat by drummer Pete Thomas along with bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation). Perhaps the most punk of any song on the album, the song serves as a showcase for the new group’s extraordinary energy along with the scornful cynicism of Costello’s lyrics.

The album concludes with “Night Rally”, which works like a sixties British pop song updated for seventies new wave. A calm but apt closer for the album, “Night Rally” demonstrates how Costello’s songs seem to work best when they are short, direct, and to the point, in this case the subject is an expose on fascism.

After a North American tour and some personal and professional controversy, Costello and the Attractions continued the momentum into 1979 with the production of his released his third album Armed Forces.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Don't Look Back by Boston

Don’t Look Back by Boston

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Don't Look Back by BostonDon’t Look Back was the much anticipated second album by Boston. After the unprecedented success of the group’s debut album, the two year wait was considered a long gap between albums. Still, producer and composer Tom Scholz considered the album to be rushed and history has shown that this album fell far short of the debut (which, by the way, was our album of the year for 1976). Still, there are moments of brilliance dispersed through this album which are among the finest ever produced by Scholz. Further, Don’t Look Back did reach #1 on the album charts, achieving one benchmark that the debut did not (Boston peaked at number 3), even if overall sales through three and a half decades were only about a fifth of the incredible 17 million of the debut.

Due to the unprecedented record sales of Boston, the group went from a virtually unknown act to a major headliner in less than a year. In fact, Boston was the first and only band to make their New York debut at historic Madison Square Garden in 1977. The fusion of Scholz’s unique guitar sounds and vocalist Brad Delp‘s vocal abilities were a major draw to catch this rock “band” live. However, Boston was never really a true band but more a conscious effort to de-emphasize Scholz as the mastermind behind the music.

Despite their incredible success on all fronts through 1976 and 1977, Don’t Look Back was recorded in a tiny home studio built by Scholz (at the time he jokingly called Boston “the one multi-million-selling basement band that never left the basement”). For the most part, this album was recorded by three of the five members of the original band with guitarist Barry Goudreau only providing leads on a handful of tracks and bassist Fran Sheehan only partially playing on one. In the end, Don’t Look Back meets (and in some cases surpasses) the sonic quality of Boston’s dazzling debut, but most of its compositions tend to pale in comparison.


Don’t Look Back by Boston
Released: August 2, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Scholz
Recorded: Hideaway Studio and Northern Studio, Massachusetts, 1977-78
Side One Side Two
Don’t Look Back
The Journey
It’s Easy
A Man I’ll Never Be
Feelin’ Satisfied
Party
Used to Bad News
Don’t Be Afraid
Primary Musicians
Brad Delp – All Vocals
Tom Scholz – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion
Barry Goudreau – Guitars
Sib Hashian – Drums, Percussion

 

A few of the songs on Don’t Look Back, came from Scholz’s early seventies back catalog, including the title song “Don’t Look Back”, which became a Top 10 hit for the group. Led by the infectious, recurring guitar riff, which is an apt beginning for an album so dominated by guitar sounds, this song contains the most variation and development of any on the album. During the choruses Scholz’s layered riff builds, offering a new variation with each iteration and the climatic lead section, while Delp’s layered vocals are well formed and melodic throughout.

Next comes the sequence of “The Journey”/”It’s Easy”, which mimics the “Foreplay/Long Time” from the debut album (although that original was considered one track). “The Journey is a short sonic instrumental with Scholz repeating the same emotional riff, adding more dramatic effects each time until abruptly breaking into the full arrangement of “It’s Easy”. Lyrically, this song goes back to the philosophical realm of past songs like “Peace of Mind”, while leaning more towards a love song. Musically, it is pretty average with only the pre-chorus vocals providing any real highlight on the song.

A Man I'll Never Be singleCompleting the first side is “A Man I’ll Never Be”, the best song on Don’t Look Back. On its surface, this is built like a typical power ballad (even though those really weren’t that typical in 1978). But what makes this song special is the layered guitar riffs, which are some of the best ever – anywhere! Particularly impressive is the Scholz’s lead during the middle section which jumps from key to key in an impressive choir of guitar mastery. Nearly all the sonic candy provided by Scholz alone, with Delp adding rather low key vocals and drummer Sib Hashian sticking to a standard drum beat. Further, the sticky-sweet, trite lyrics keep this one from being a true masterpiece, while it certainly comes close. In the end all the great guitars give way to a majestic organ to bring the climax to an end before a very short piano outro closes the song. This piano was actually the only part of the entire album recorded in a “professional” recording studio, simply because Scholz could not fit one in his basement.

Boston in 1978

By all accounts, the second side of the album is where the weak spots lie and Scholz later conceded that only the first side of Don’t Look Back was truly completed. The best part of the upbeat “Feelin’ Satisfied” is a long riff-driven outro following the second verse. The next track “Party”, the weakest song on the album which sounds like a cheap filler to emulate the far superior “Smokin’” from Boston. A much better song is the moody yet melodic “Used to Bad News”, written solely by Delp. Here Scholz completely puts down the guitars to focus on the fine melodies of the Hammond organ. Delp fills in with a great acoustic (along with his vocal melodies) and Goudreau provides a short guitar lead before the organ returns for some fine riffing during the final verse. Although the shortest song on side two, “Used to Bad News” seems to pack in more quality than the other three combined. “Don’t Be Afraid” finishes things off, again offering sonic quality and vocal mastery with the added dynamics of some mean drumming by Hashian. Still, the composition itself is rather weak, making this an unsatisfying conclusion to what potentially could have been a much better album.

Boston went on another tour following Don’t Look Back, but management problems soon plagued the band. Further, Scholz refused to be hurried in producing Boston’s third album and CBS Records filed a lawsuit, alleging breach of contract. A long court battle ensued and that album, Third Stage took more than eight years until it was finally released at the end of 1986.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.
 

Darkness On the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen

Darkness On the Edge of Town
by Bruce Springsteen

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Darkness On the Edge of Town by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen set out to make a rural influenced album with Darkness On the Edge of Town, the long awaited follow-up to his 1975 breakthrough, Born to Run. This album is what many consider as one of Bruce’s best albums. The album’s delay was caused mainly by a legal battle with former manager, Mike Appel,  over song rights and control, during which Springsteen toured extensively with the E Street Band, building group chemistry which carried over into the recordings. The album was produced by Springsteen, John Landau and guitarist Steve Van Zandt, with Landau being more a “formalist”, Van Zandt preferring more of a “garage” sound and Springsteen acting as arbitrator.

The songwriting sessions for Darkness On the Edge of Town were the most prolific of Springsteen’s career. He composed at least 70 songs and recorded a whopping 52 of those, either fully or partially. Some of the unused material became hits for other artists, such as “Because the Night” for Patti Smith, “Fire” for The Pointer Sisters, “Rendezvous” for Greg Kihn, and “This Little Girl” for Gary U.S. Bonds, while several others were held over for Springsteen’s next album, the double LP The River in 1980. Adding to Springsteen’s reputation for providing hits for other bands was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band #1 pop hit with a rearranged version of “Blinded by the Light” from his debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.

Springsteen’s songs were inspired by such diverse influences as the new punk sound and his recent embrace of traditional country music. He later called this album an honest “reckoning with the adult world” and a reaction to his own good fortune. Unlike the escapism themes of Born To Run, the album pays tribute to the stability of small time life, through good times and bad. Musically and sonically, the album features the dynamic of the many players fighting for space within the limited sonic domain of this record, making it interesting and entertaining from end to end.


Darkness at the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen
Released: June 2, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, & Steve Van Zandt
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Badlands
Adam Raised a Cain
Something In the Night
Candy’s Room
Racing In the Street
The Promised Land
Factory
Streets of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness On the Edge of Town
E Street Band
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Steve Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Clarence Clemans – Saxophone, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Vocals
Danny Federici – Keyboards
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

Starting strong with “Badlands” which, aside from “Born to Run”, may be the quintessential Springsteen song, the album roars in full frenzy. The carnival-like, twinkly piano of Roy Bittan meshes nicely with the warm toned organ sounds of his counterpart Danny Federici, all beneath the stark and straight-forward chants of lyrics chronicling the revolving blue-collar life. Springsteen provides just enough hard rock guitar to make it respectable and Clarence Clemens plays a mean sax solo, although it does sound a little out of place with the mesh of the band vibe.

The dark but upbeat bluesy “Adam Raised a Cain” contains music with a simple drive while the vocal melodies are dynamic and interesting. Perhaps Springsteen’s strongest showing as a performer on Darkness On the Edge of Town, he displays much vocal range – from the laid back verses to the intense choruses to the screaming final verse. It also contains his most impressive guitar work with a fiery guitar lead. “Something In the Night” follows with a very interesting intro build-up to a song that is an anthem and a ballad all wrapped into one, with adventurous vocals and an infectious piano riff.

“Candy’s Room” sounds like it was influenced by Lou Reed, although Springsteen does actually sing a bit in this song. It is a real showcase for drummer Max Weinberg , who shows his enormous talent with a big drum sound. Lyrically, the song details a young man’s naïve love of the damaged Candy. The first side ends with “Racing In the Street”, a somber sequel to “Born to Run” influenced by the California sound of Jackson Browne. This much acclaimed, dirge-like ballad speaks of a man with dead end job with his only joy coming from driving his custom wheels.

The second side brings the mood back up with “The Promised Land”, returning to the pop formula. Clemens returns with another short sax solo, this time interrupted by Springsteen’s harmonica solo and there are even some backing “oohs” and “ahhs” during the third verse. The song’s title was inspired by a Chuck Berry song of the same title and the lyrics link to other songs on the album. The short but potent “Factory” depicts a numbing sort of working life, inspired by Springsteen’s own father who worked in a noisy factory which affected his hearing. “Streets of Fire” is very intense and melodramatic (almost too melodramatic) with Federici’s church-like organ setting the mood.

Prove It All Night singleWith a sax lead right off the top, “Prove It All Night” brings the mood right back, scoring the only Top 40 hit from Darkness On the Edge of Town. Bassist Garry Tallent adds the perfect counterpart to the melodic keyboards and new-fangled guitar lead by Springsteen. Building with drive and excitement to the climatic outro with wails of love and the surrendering of a women’s virtue. The album concludes with the powerful title song, which starts with a Motown inspired soul beat before it breaks into a full arrangement. “Darkness On the Edge of Town” serves as an inspired conclusion to the album of the same name, especially as it refrains from being whiny as some of Springsteen’s other “working class” songs.

Although not exactly a commercial hit, Darkness On the Edge of Town did remain on the charts for 97 weeks and has sold steadily enough over 35 years to reach triple-platinum status. The 1978 tour which followed has been considered one of legendary status for the intensity and length of its shows. In 2010, a triple CD box set The Promise featured 22 previously unreleased tracks from the Darkness sessions with some added production. But this still only scratches the surface of the incredible proliferation of Springsteen in 1977/78, as scores of those songs have yet to be officially released. If you are an aspiring talent or a singer, you can visit some reliable sites like runthemusic.com to help you improve more on music and also learn some musical instruments like piano, guitar, violin and cello as well.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

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Excitable Boy by Warren ZevonExcitable Boy was Warren Zevon’s follow up to his self-titled 1976 album which established Zevon as a rising talent in the Los Angeles singer/songwriter community. Once again, Zevon teamed up with friends and colleagues to produce some fine pop rock. The difference this time was that while Linda Ronstadt’s recordings of several songs from his Warren Zevon album were bigger hits than the original Zevon recorded versions, they created much buzz about this sophomore effort. As a result, Excitable Boy was actually a hit in its own right, featuring the same sardonic, sharp style with crisp, often dark lyrics, which combine perfectly with pop rock melodies to tell quirky yet emotionally stirring stories.

Zevon was born in Chicago to a Jewish immigrant from Russia, but grew up in Fresno, California. As a teen, he briefly studied classical music under Igor Stravinsky but he quit high school at sixteen and moved to New York to become a folk singer. Zevon toured regularly with the Everly Brothers as keyboard player and band leader during the early seventies before returning to California in 1975.

While in Los Angeles, Zevon roomed with then-unknown Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and he collaborated with Jackson Browne, who produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut. An all-star list of contributors to that album included Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt. Though only a modest commercial success, the 1976 album was critically acclaimed, so Browne and co-producer Waddy Wachtel returned for Excitable Boy.


Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon
Released: January 18, 1978 (Asylum)
Produced by: Jackson Browne & Waddy Wachtel
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, 1977
Side One Side Two
Johnny Strikes Up the Band
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Excitable Boy
Werewolves of London
Accidentally Like a Martyr
Nighttime in the Switching Yard
Veracruz
Tenderness on the Block
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Primary Musicians
Warren Zevon – Piano, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar, Lead Vocals
Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar – Guitar, Percussion
Russ Kunkel – Drums

The album opens with “Johnny Strikes up The Band” featuring a steady piano from Zevon accented with catchy guitar riffs by Wachtel. The song is a perfect introduction as it is about a band leader who makes people forget their troubles when he “strikes up the band.” This leads into “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”, which tells the story of a political double-crossing resulting in a “Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” type revenge story where the headless ghost of Roland hunts down the man who did him wrong and kills him.

The album’s title track is, on the surface, a bubbly, happy pop tune complete with a doo-wop chorus, saxophone, and a rollicking melody. The lyrics, however, tell the horrific tale of a young sociopath’s bizarre penchant for rape and murder. Zevon’s deadpan matter-of- fact delivery on “Excitable Boy” strikes the perfect balance in this macabre, sardonic tale. With bright, piano-driven melody,  doo-wop sax, and back up vocals, rape and murder never sounded so carefree.

Perhaps the most recognizable song in this collection is “Werewolves of London”. While this is not Zevon’s creative masterpiece, it does have a great hook with the howling chorus and piano beat as well as some memorable lyrics.

“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walking through the streets of Soho in the rain…”

The side one closer, “Accidentally Like a Martyr”, is a perfect ballad of heartbreak, lost love, and misplaced trust accented by mournful slide guitar and melancholy piano.

The second side starts of weak with “Nighttime in the Switching Yard”,  a dated disco piece which seems out of place on this album. However, the side improves from there. “Veracruz” is a Spanish influenced ballad that tells the story of young men going off to battle. Zevon manages to put forth some political opinions without getting too preachy. The recorders, harps and Spanish guitar paint a sad but inspiring scene.

Browne co-wrote “Tenderness on the Block”, a story of a young girl growing up, full of promise and potential set to an optimistic and bouncy piano. This may seem uncharacteristically positive for Zevon, but it is really a bittersweet story as it is told from the point of view of a parent watching their child go out into the world. “Lawyers Guns and Money” is a brilliant closer which tells the story of a hapless young rogue who finds himself in trouble with the Russian Mafia after going home with a waitress (the way he always did). He laments how he has run out of luck and Dad’s lawyers, guns and money can’t get him out of this fix, a typical song of  comeuppance, which Zevon composes so well.

Excitable Boy was the best selling album of Zevon’s up and down career and reached the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts. The remainder of Zevon’s three decade long career was marked by self-imposed declines and a inspired comebacks, right up to his final album produced shortly before Zevon’s death in 2003.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.