Melissa Etheridge debut album

Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge debut albumIn 1988, Melissa Etheridge released a strong and passionate debut album which was built during several years of grinding out recognition, one small venue at a time. With this well earned pedigree behind her and a drive and determination for success ahead, Etheridge found a rather unique niche and filled a rather huge void in the popular music scene of the late 1980s. Her raw-throated vocals, confessional compositions, and simple yet effective acoustic-built music totally contrasted the flash and fluff which saturated the conventional airwaves and this stunning debut helped clear the path for the seismic shift in the music scene which would occur a few years later.

A native of Leavenworth, Kansas,  Etheridge began performing at age eight and was involved in many stage productions through high school. She later moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, but dropped out to pursue a musical career in California. There, she played countless acoustic gigs, slowly building a following and muddling through several rejections until finally receiving a publishing deal to write songs for movies starting with the 1987 movie Weeds starring Nick Nolte. Shortly after, Etheridge got a full record deal with Island Records.

The album was produced by Etheridge and Niko Bolas along with a couple members of the backing band. The songs were built in the light of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, along with a sensitive female bravado and passionate delivery which is captured well in the production. While there is little thematical variation on Melissa Etheridge, it is a very even album which delivers potent tracks throughout.

 


Melissa Etheridge by Melissa Etheridge
Released: May 2, 1988 (Island)
Produced by: Melissa Etheridge, Niko Bolas, Craig Krampf, & Kevin McCormick
Recorded: October 19–25, 1987
Side One Side Two
Similar Features
Chrome Plated Heart
Like the Way I Do
Precious Pain
Don’t You Need
The Late September Dogs
Occasionally
Watching You
Bring Me Some Water
I Want You
Primary Musicians
Melissa Etheridge – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Johnny Lee Schell – Guitars
Kevin McCormick – Bass  |  Wally Badarou – Keyboards  |  Craig Krampf – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with the fine “Similar Features” which kicks off with measured bass notes before moving into a moderate arrangement led by Etheridge’s acoustic and the subtle electric guitar phrases by Johnny Lee Schell. “Chrome Plated Heart” arrives with a boogie-blues rhythm held together by the kick drum of Craig Krampf along with a slight riff by Schell. Here Etheridge really shines through vocally with biting lyrics;

I got a two dollar stare, Midas in my touch and Delilah in my hair
I got bad intentions on the soles of my shoes with this red hot fever and these chromium blues

A production masterpiece, “Like the Way I Do” has a consistently strummed acoustic accented by a sharp, double-beat rhythm by bassist Kevin McCormick during the verse. The song uses an ingenious, minimalist approach, which pretty much went against the grain of every production technique of the late eighties and is a good example of the of Etheridge’s early material with dramatic vocals telling a story of heartbreak and longing bordering on obsession. As the singer once explained, her songs are not so much about sadness and anger then they are written about “internal conflicts”.

The middle part of the album contains some uniquely arranged songs. “Precious Pain” is a softer, folksy acoustic tune musically (albeit the lyrics are just as sharp as anywhere else). The first three songs of the second side – “The Late September Dogs”, “Occasionally”, and “Watching You” – all use minimalist arrangements, with “Occasionally” taking this to the extreme with Etheridge’s vocals accompanied only by a slight percussive thumping of the acoustic guitar body.

The song which captures the overall angst of the album is “Bring Me Some Water”, a tune as dramatic as can be pulled off while staying within the realm of good taste. Nominated for a Grammy, the tune captures the main theme of hunger for affection and pain of unrequited love. Melissa’s obsession with romantic break-ups and recriminations may narrow the range of the album, but make this work sound relevant and viable a quarter century later. The thumping rhythm and bit of funky bass drives the closer “I Want You”, a fine tune of unbridled desire to complete the album.

The Melissa Etheridge album peaked at #22 on the Billboard charts and initiated her steady rise to the top of the pop world in the early 1990s, when Etheridge started to abandon her musical pursuits for celebrity causes. Never quite recreated in intensity or quality, this first album was a career highlight for the singer/songwriter.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick

Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick

Lap of Luxury by Cheap TrickLap of Luxury was, by most definitions, a comeback album for Cheap Trick, although it didn’t quite reach the blockbuster status that the band and their label were attempting to achieve. In many ways it is a very ordinary album for the late 1980s due the use of several “song doctors” who composed mainstream, radio-friendly material. Still, there is something which is at once desperate and exciting about this band’s sound and, in particular, the wailing croon of vocalist Rob Zander. Combined with the unambiguous guitar textures of Rick Nielsen, there is a definite edge to this band’s sound which shined through in spite of the attempts to smooth it out with mainstream compositions.

The group’s tenth studio album overall, Lap of Luxury was produced by Richie Zito and broke a streak of five straight commercial disappointments through the early and mid eighties, despite the fact that the band used top level producers on those albums including George Martin, Todd Rundgren, Roy Thomas Baker and Jack Douglas. Due to the band’s commercial decline, Epic Records demanded that they collaborate with professional songwriters in the same way that Aerosmith had done for their commercial comeback Permanent Vacation the previous year. This did result in the album reaching the Top 20 and spawning the group’s first and only number one single.

Lap of Luxury back cover

Lap of Luxury back cover

The album also marks the return of bassist Tom Petersson, who is often credited for having the first idea to build a twelve-string bass. Petersson had left the band in 1980 and returned in 1987 to join drummer Bun E. Carlos in the rhythm section and restore the original quartet from the 1970s. The group also brought back the practice of featuring Zander and Petersson on the front cover while putting Nielson and Carlos on the back, which they had done on three late seventies albums as an inside joke.

 


Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick
Released: April 12, 1988 (Epic)
Produced by: Richie Zito
Recorded: 1987-1988
Side One Side Two
Let Go
No Mercy
The Flame
Space
Never Had a Lot to Lose
Don’t Be Cruel
Wrong Side of Love
All We Need Is a Dream
Ghost Town
All Wound Up
Band Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass, Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

Prior to Lap of Luxury, Rick Nielsen was the group’s chief songwriter but he only co-wrote four tunes on this album. The record starts off with, “Let Go”, which contains a thumping rhythm, simple but strong riffs and anthem-shout lyrics – the type of material on which the band traditionally excels. The song was co-written by Todd Cerney who co-wrote songs with Eddie Money, Loverboy and Bad English. The song was released as a single and peaked at #35 on the Mainstream Rock chart. “No Mercy” contains exotic percussion with much use of rhythms and synths during the verse while again going for the big hit sound during the choruses.

A great acoustic riff provides the bedding for “The Flame”, a power ballad which drips with melancholy reflection. This excessively deep song compliments the band’s traditional light fare of songs such as “She’s Tight” on One on One with Zander’s dramatic sobs and Nielson’s guitar and keyboard soundscapes. The song was penned by British songwriters Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham and the band initially rejected it and had to be persuaded to record it by Zito. It went on to become the band’s first and only number one hit.

Holly Knight composed hundreds of songs for scores of artists throughout the eighties and nineties, but one of her most forgettable is Cheap Trick’s “Space”, the album’s most definitive filler. “Never Had a Lot to Lose” is an interesting end to side one mainly due to the old-time rock riff by Nielson and the song’s overall new wave vibe. This is a pure band original and shows that Cheap Trick really excels when sticking to their own material.
 

 
A rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” starts side two with a great arrangement that is not so much a remake as a modern day recreation of the classic song. Led by the precise drumming of Carlos, Cheap Trick’s version of this song reached #4 on the charts and became a radio staple. “Wrong Side of Love” is the closest the band comes to a boilerplate “hair band” sound with squeezed out, mechanical riffs and formulaic lyrical patterns. “All We Need Is a Dream” contains high register vocals reminiscent of the seventies band Sweet. Melodramatic but entertaining, the song contains vocal pauses which seem awkward at first but ultimately work with the overall vibe.

The album ends strong with a couple of quality tunes. “Ghost Town” is second ballad of the album, slightly acoustic with a touch of piano. It was co-written by Grammy award winner Diane Warren, who would go on to write some of the most famous soundtrack ballads of the 1990s. On the closer “All Wound Up”, the band returns to their early sound with sharp riffing by Neilson and some great bass by Petersson.

Busted was released in 1990 and was also produced by Richie Zito, as the band attempted to capitalize on the success of Lap of Luxury. This time, however, the band was allowed more creative control and professional songwriters were only used on a handful of songs. The first single “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” reached No. 12 on the charts but failed to reach as high as the label expected. The second single, the Diane Warren penned “Wherever Would I Be,” suffered a worse fate reaching only No. 50. The following singles, “If You Need Me” and “Back N’ Blue” were not successful, although the later single reached No. 32 on the US Mainstream Rock charts.

Cheap Trick rode the momentum of Lap of Luxury and the success of their 1991 Greatest Hits release to sustain their popularity through the rest of the decade. The four members of the group remained together through various big name and independent label arrangements until 2010 when Bun E. Carlos departed the group, three and a half decades after the band first formed.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

OU812 by Van Halen

OU812 by Van Halen

Buy OU812

OU812 by Van HalenFollowing the success of the group’s first #1 album, 5150 (as well as the mammoth tour which followed), Van Halen scored similar success with the followed-up OU812 in 1988. These were the first two albums with lead vocalist Sammy Hagar (the “Van Hagar” era) and the first where Hagar began as a full and equal member of the group and his influence was reflected in the diversity and new direction of the music. None of the material for this album was written prior to the recording sessions at the band-owned 5150 studios and this led to a more improvised evolution to the material, resulting in OU812 being the final high quality output by the group overall.

The album also included no official production credit because the band felt there was no one who went in with a sold idea and dictated a sonic vision to everyone else. Unofficially, engineer Donn Landee and the band produced the record, which was the eighth overall for Van Halen. Work began on the album in September 1987 and continued for about seven months, with recordings taken place mere weeks before the album’s international release. While Hagar brought some elements of the band’s sound in new directions, guitarist Eddie Van Halen returned to the form of the band’s earliest work while continuing to purse keyboards as a second instrument for certain radio-friendly tracks.

The album’s unique title originated when Hagar spotted a delivery truck on the freeway with the serial number “OU812”. Finding this humorous when spoken aloud, he told the band and they decided to change the title in the 11th hour from the previously planned “Bone”, which no one really like all that much anyway.

 


OU812 by Van Halen
Released: May 24, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Donn Landee & Van Halen
Recorded: 5150 Studios, Hollywood, September 1987 – April 1988
Side One Side Two
Mine All Mine
When It’s Love
A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)
Cabo Wabo
Source of Infection
Feels So Good
Finish What Ya Started
Black and Blue
Sucker In a 3 Piece
A Apolitical Blues
Band Musicians
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Synthesizers, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 

The rather awkward synth rhythm of “Mine All Mine” kicks off the album. The pure-eighties-soundtrack-like vibe does contain a bit of an off-beat edge by Alex Van Halen and a good lead guitar by Eddie Van Halen, but the corny ending makes it a parody of itself. “When It’s Love” is the album’s first classic with a great long synth intro before breaking into a 1984-era Van Halen riff. Hagar’s chorus melody is the real highlight here along with an excellent closing section which builds with intensity. “When It’s Love” reached the Top 10 and was the most popular song from that album.

After the album’s weakest moment, “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”, comes “Cabo Wabo”, which on the surface is a brochure for the Mexican resort town. That being said, this is still a pretty entertaining song with a good riff and harmonized vocals by bassist Michael Anthony. Hagar shines vocally on this extended track, came up with the song’s concept and later parlayed this into a premium tequila brand which later became a major point of contention between him and the Van Halen brothers. “Source of Infection” finishes the first side and was later dismissed by band members as a “joke song” with lyrics referring to a health scare.
 

 
Something totally unique for the band, “Feels So Good” is heavily synthesized but works its way through many interesting sections in an atypical arrangement. The unique drum beat by Alex Van Halen guides this pop song, which Hagar said was developed “Genesis style”. “Finish What Ya Started” is another one of the more unique songs in the Van Halen collection with a combination of picked electric and strummer acoustic throughout. The song was spawned on Eddie’s Malibu balcony when he jammed with Hagar with two acoustic guitars at 2:00am one morning.

“Black and Blue” contains a slow riff that is total Eddie Van Halen and raunchy lyrics inspired by groupies during the 5150 tour and became one of the most popular radio songs from the album. “Sucker In a 3 Piece” is the weakest point on the fine second side, seeming to be feeling its way through the first minute and a half, before settling on then vacuous lyrics and boilerplate melodies of the song proper. The closer “A Apolitical Blues” was originally recorded by Little Feat and written by Lowell George. This is pure blues, complete with piano and two bluesy guitars and was one of the rare covers during Hagar’s stint with the band.

OU812 was the second of four consecutive number one albums by Van Halen with Sammy Hagar at the helm, stretching into the mid 1990s.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

 

Outrider by Jimmy Page

Outrider by Jimmy Page

Outrider by Jimmy PageAlthough Jimmy Page had a pretty rich post-Led Zeppelin career, he only released one solo studio album, Outrider, in 1988. Originally intended to be a double album, the project was pared back when Page’s demo tapes were stolen, leaving him with no pre-production material. As a result, the single LP finished product has a bit of a hurried and unpolished sound, which Page himself referred to as “demo quality”. However, there is a certain charm to many of the pieces on the album which are more sound-oriented than composition-oriented, as Page heavily returns to the rock-infused blues which launched Led Zeppelin nearly two decades earlier. The album was recorded at a time when Page had moved on from his mid-eighties “super group” The Firm but was yet to form the various hyphenated collaborations of the nineties, including a reunion with Zeppelin band mate Robert Plant.

Six years before that eventual reunion, at the time of this album’s release, there were several positive signs including Page, Plant, and Jones reuniting during Atlantic’s 40th reunion, Page showing up on stage a some of Plant’s solo concerts, and Plant co-writing and performing a song on this Outrider album for Page. In fact, “The Only One” featured three of the four Led Zeppelin members who would reunite on December 10, 2007, as the late John Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, plays drums behind Plant and Page on the track. on the downside, even though this upbeat rocker reached the Top 20 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, the song itself seems a bit underdeveloped with a convoluted chorus, making it an opportunity lost for a great musical oasis.

Then 22 years old, Jason Bonham ended up playing on most of the album’s tracks. His former band, Virginia Wolf, had released two albums and toured the U.S. in support the of Page’s former band, The Firm. Listening to the album, there is no doubt that Bonzo’s son was a perfect match for this album.
 


Outrider by Jimmy Page
Released: June 19, 1988 (Geffen)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: The Sol, Berkshire, England, Early 1987
Side One Side Two
Wasting My Time
Wanna Make Love
Writes of Winter
The Only One
Liquid Mercury
Hummingbird
Emerald Eyes
Prison Blues
Blues Anthem
Primary Musicians
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Synthesizers
Felix Krish – Bass
Jason Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
There is a definite divide between the two sides of the original album. The first side is dominated by blues/rock riffs, including two instrumentals along with the Page/Plant track and two songs Page composed and recorded with vocalist John Miles. The second side contains selections with a lighter touch and features vocalist Chris Farlowe on three of its four tracks.

“Wanna Make Love” is the real gem of the first side with well-defined guitar riffs and blended slide guitars along with a good rock vocal melody by Miles. Although there is a “lead” area, it is not really a proper guitar solo, just a way for Page to reiterate the great effects chorus of bottleneck sounds and growling wah-wah. “Wasting My Time” starts the album with Page’s band mate in The Firm Tony Franklin on bass guitar. The first of two composed by Page and Miles, the song seamlessly alternates between the quasi-riff chorus and verse sections, all held together only by the steady drumming of Bonham along with some slight bluesy riff overdubs and a pretty decent guitar lead.

Jimmy Page

“Writes of Winter” is the first, riff-driven instrumental with a driving rhythm which echoes Joe Perry from Aerosmith who ironically cut his teeth by mimicking Page’s version of “Train Kept a Rolling”, the first song Zeppelin ever performed together. “Liquid Mercury” is another heavy, riff-driven piece which sounds like it should be the foundation for a proper rock song. Barriemore Barlow plays drums on this one as well as the final instrumental “Emerald Eyes”, a gently strummed acoustic piece with interesting overdubbed tremolo effects.

The rest of the album features Farlowe on vocals. Leon Russell’s “Hummingbird” is a moderate blues song which differs vastly from anything on the first side, both musically and vocally. “Prison Blues” contains sexual innuendo lyrically, shredding guitar by Page, and a solid bass by Felix Krish. “Blues Anthem (If I Cannot Have Your Love…)” wraps up the album with a true ballad which sounds like it provided inspiration for the Black Crowes (another group which Page would team up with in the future) a few years down the line. It is short and sweet acoustic lament to end a short and frantic album.

Outrider fared moderately on the charts, reaching the Top 40 in several countries. Unfortunately, the album hasn’t sustained much popularity through the years and Jimmy Page hasn’t attempted any kind of similar follow-up in the past 25 years.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

 

Naked by Talking Heads

Naked by Talking Heads

Naked by Talking HeadsTalking Heads eighth and final album was Naked , released in 1988. The album was an attempt at a quasi-concept album which brings the listener to an ironically serene world following an (apparently) man-made apocalypse. This may not have been the original intent, as the complex musical arrangements were composed and recorded before any of the lyrics which made up this theme were recorded. The four member group employed an additional twenty or so musicians of vastly different genres in order to achieve a world music sound through most of the album, making Naked the most musically diverse album by the band.

Talking Heads previous two albums, Little Creatures in 1985 and True Stories in 1986, were both very pop oriented, and the band wanted to try something completely different. They decided to record their next album in Paris, based on scores of improvisational tracks they recorded as the foundation for the new material. Steve Lillywhite was brought in to co-produce and he conducted day-long, improvised musical sessions with the group and several other musicians with one take selected for each particular track.

The lyrics and melodies were left until later when the band returned to New York. Lead vocalist and chief songwriter David Byrne added themes to the prerecorded tracks. The album’s title and cover were loosely based on a Chinese proverb; “If there is no tiger in the mountains, the monkey will be king”, which was also printed on the LP jacket of Naked. Although the musical approach works for most of the album, the apocalyptic lyrics laced with late-eighties fatalism tend to sound dated. Of course, the band was in the midst of slowly breaking up at the time, so that may have had an influence on the lyrical content.

 


Naked by Talking Heads
Released: March 15, 1988 (EMI)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite & Talking Heads
Recorded: Studio Davout, Paris, 1987
Side One Side Two
Blind
Mr. Jones
Totally Nude
Ruby Dear
(Nothing But) Flowers”
The Democratic Circus
The Facts of Life
Mommy Daddy You and I
Big Daddy
Bill
Cool Water
Band Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Jerry Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals  |  Chris Frantz – Drums, Percussion

 

The first side is a collection of upbeat, well syncopated tunes. “Blind” is a funk track with an Afro-flavored groove and a full horn section which includes three saxophones, two trumpets, and a trombone. If not for the violent lyrical themes, the song may almost be considered a spoof on James Brown. “Mr. Jones” also includes a rich horn section, although this song is more swing than funk. Still upbeat and fun, it is a great musical blend and the closest to soulful vocals as you’ll get from Byrne. Drummer Chris Frantz
decided to use brushes and softer percussive techniques in order to give room to the various other percussionists.

“Totally Nude” contains a fine slide guitar by Yves N’Djock, along with Caribbean rhythms. However, this track does get a bit too crowded as the ensemble seems to be trying to do too many things at once. On his album Graceland a few years earlier, Paul Simon had much better success at making these diverse styles mesh together. “Ruby Dear” begins with blues-like drum beat before breaking into some odd yet intriguing verses, which employ a bit of sixties pyschedelia. This is the first of many tracks on which Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr appears.

Marr provides the sharply plucked leads on “(Nothing But) Flowers”, which was the most popular song on the album and the album’s best musically. Bass guitarist Tina Weymouth provides an overall fantastic groove to back up Byrne’s melodic vocals. The songs lyrics describe a world where modern conveniences has ceased and the world has reverted to a more natural state, which the protagonist originally favored but now longs the conveniences and culture of the modern world.

 
The original LP’s second side takes a bit of a dark turn, both musically and philosophically. “The Democratic Circus” starts as the closest to the 1980s new wave sound that you’ll find on the album, before later breaking out into rougher, riff-driven sections. “The Facts of Life” uses machine-like synth effects by Jerry Harrison, which is somewhat cool for about a minute or so, but after six and a half minutes gets quite mundane. “Mommy Daddy You and I” includes some bluesy squeeze notes above a deep synth bass and a rapid accordion by James Fearnley during the verses.

“Big Daddy” is a nice fusion song with a pure soul intro and blues elements led by the harmonica of Don Brooks. Lyrically it is analogous to the “big brother” figure in George Orwell’s 1984. “Bill” features Eric Weissberg, who found previous famous for his arrangement of “Dueling Banjos” in 1973. This song is really quite subdued and mellow, with the exception of the apoplectic lyrics. The closer “Cool Water” features dramatic, movie scene-like atmosphere with Byres singing monotone in the fashion of Nico from years passed. Marr adds to the intensity of the song with his guitar as Byrnes offers pleas for human fellowship through his lyric.

Talking Heads achieved a fitting swan song with their stylistically fruitful Naked, which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming only the second album by the group to accomplish that feat. The band dissolved shortly after the album’s release, officially announcing their breakup in 1991.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

...And Justice for All by Metallica

…And Justice for All by Metallica

...And Justice for All by MetallicaMetallica brought their fusion of progressive thrash metal into the mainstream with the double LP …And Justice for All in 1988. The album was nominated for a Grammy and has been certified eight times platinum, selling eight million copies in the United States alone. The band’s fourth album overall, …And Justice for All, was the first to feature bassist Jason Newsted after former bassist Cliff Burton lost his life in a tour bus accident in 1986. The album was the first of a lucrative record deal and was intended to be released in 1987. However, Metallica was offered several lucrative festival dates that summer, which ultimately delayed the album’s release for another year.

Co-produced by Flemming Rasmussen, the album is noted for a rather sterile production. Newsted’s bass guitar is all but omitted from most mixes, which were actually engineered by guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. Rasmussen did work on adjusting the overall guitar sound of Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammet, using layered techniques to achieve a harmonized sound which contrasted the thumping rhythms and riffs of the core.

The album gained near universal critical acclaim, especially within the progressive metal community. The dark lyrics drawn from subjects of struggle and strife, giving …And Justice for All a conceptual uniformity around notions of political and legal injustice. The tracks on the album were much longer in length than previous Metallica material, which actually caused much of the material to be dropped from future live shows due to their length and complexity.

 


…And Justice for All by Metallica
Released: September 6, 1988 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Flemming Rasmussen & Metallica
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles, January–May 1988
Side One Side Two
Blackened
…And Justice for All
Eye of the Beholder
One
Side Three Side Four
The Shortest Straw
Harvester of Sorrow
The Frayed Ends of Sanity
To Live Is to Die
Dyers Eve
Band Musicians
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Kirk Hammet – Lead Guitars
Jason Newsted – Bass  |  Lars Ulrich – Drums

 

A chorus of guitars swells to introduce “Blackened”, which treats the listener to a spectrum of rudiments and sudden stops to change into the song’s differing sections. Hammet provides a good guitar lead on both sides of a divide while Newsted receives composition credit on a track where he cannot be heard. The title song “…And Justice for All” follows with a gentle guitar intro, sounding Randy Rhoads inspired with some overdubs. Soon the group fires off into the main thrash metal riff sequence and works through the long and complex arrangement which includes Hammet’s two distinct sounding different guitar leads. Hetfield took the title from the last four words of the Pledge of Allegiance and uses the lyric as an ironic reflection on social injustice. “Eye of the Beholder” rolls in like a marching army, with the verse sounding a bit like some of the group’s future 1990s material.

“One” is the song that really put Metallica on the mainstream map. The simple and light intro and verses are fresh with plenty of guitar overdubs and melodic vocals, all leading to the standard but powerful metal riff during the song’s final sequence. The song became Metallica’s first Top 40 hit despite the fact that it received virtually no airplay of pop radio. However, the band did shoot a promotional MTV video (for the first time ever) which integrated some footage and dialogue from the 1971 film Johnny Got His Gun, which was the inspiration for the song in the first place.

The double LP’s third original side contains some less potent tracks. “The Shortest Straw” starts with a cool, deadened, almost-Zeppelin riff during the intro but retreats into typical Metallica during the rest of the song. Although it was the lead single from the album, “Harvester of Sorrow” is really kind of repetitive and mundane, while “The Frayed Ends of Sanity” contains an interesting intro riff before the nearly-eight-minute song falls into a repetitive pattern, making it way too long for lack of changes.

However, the album does finish on a strong note on its fourth and final side. The extended instrumental “To Live Is to Die” starts with acoustic fade-in and drums somewhat off in background before being interrupted by the stabbing rhythm of the second section. Overall, this nearly 10-minute piece is interesting with good overdubbed leads and a nice break in the middle with only a flanged guitar before it kicks back into a full arrangement. Burton posthumously received co-writing credit as the bass line was composed prior to his death and the spoken words towards the end of the song were written by Burton. “Dyers Eve” finishes the album with super speed drumming of Ulrich and some extraordinarily sharp rudiments. The group never lets up in this closer as if to try and squeeze every last bit of blood out of the final track of the album, which ends abruptly.

…And Justice for All was Metallica’s most complex, ambitious work ever and a surprise commercial success, reaching number six on the Billboard charts. While it is still regarded a quarter century later, fans and critics lament the odd mixing decisions, which leave some potent compositions tarnished with a half-spectrum sound.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Kingdom Come, 1988 debut album

Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come 1988 debut albumKingdom Come released their well-received, self-titled debut album in early 1988. Led by German born front man Lenny Wolf, who co-wrote most of the album’s material with the group’s manager Marty Wolff, the band scored their most popular and best-selling album right out of the gate. After the band’s lead single generated tremendous buzz well ahead of the album release, Kingdom Come went gold on the same day it was released and eventually went platinum status in the United States, Germany and Canada and peaked at #12 on the U.S. Album charts. Part of the initial attraction (and later critique) of the band was their audio likeness to classic-era Led Zeppelin.

Kingdom Come was formed shortly after Wolf and Wolff were signed to Polygram Records in 1987. They formed a five-piece group starting with Pittsburgh-based lead guitarist Danny Stag. Although Wolf was a guitarist himself, the duo decided that he would purely be a frontman and enlisted Rick Steier as a second rhythm guitarist.

The album was co-produced by Bob Rock, who forged a crisp and solid rock sound at Little Mountain studio in Vancouver and mixed it at the famous Electric Lady studios in New York City. There is little doubt that the Zeppelin-esque sound forging was intentional, as there was a huge appetite for that band’s reunion through the 1980s. The result of this was a tremendous amount pre-release buzz about the band, some of it mistaken rumors of a covert reunion of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. But soon the quintet was dismissed as simply “clones” which crowded out any serious examination of their fine music.

 


Kingdom Come by Kingdom Come
Released: March 1, 1988 (Polydor)
Produced by: Bob Rock & Lenny Wolf
Recorded: Little Mountain Studios, Vancouver, Canada, 1987-1988
Side One Side Two
Living Out of Touch
Pushin’ Hard
What Love Can Be
17
The Shuffle
Get It On
Now Forever After
Hideaway
Loving You
Shout It Out
Band Musicians
Lenny Wolf – Lead Vocals  |  Danny Stag – Lead Guitars
Rick Steier – Guitars  |  Johnny B. Frank – Bass  |  James Kottak – Drums

 

Despite the over-the-top Zeppelin comparisons, the main riff for the opener “Living Out of Touch” is more Robin Trower than Jimmy Page. The verse contains a calm strum over consistent bass and drum beat, with the riff returning during the chorus to give the song a more driving and intense vibe. “Pushin’ Hard” is more standard eighties hair metal, albeit with some good dynamics such as the mid section where everything comes down except a slow bass riff by Johnny B. Frank.

“What Love Can Be” is very bluesy, slow and deliberate – somewhat like Zeppelin’s “Tea For One”, but really more like “Ride On” by AC/DC. This moody and dark song contains some unexpected sonic treats which help it to rise above the typical power ballad while giving it room to still become a radio hit. “17” starts with big-bang drum beat by James Kottak before leading into a long intro section which is almost like a preview of Pearl Jam (who wouldn’t come along til 3 years later). However, once the verse kicks in, “17” becomes kind of sparse and repetitive. The first side concludes with “The Shuffle”, which is kind of fun and upbeat, breaking out of the deliberate pattern. Here Wolf mocks Stag’s guitar lines, much like Plant mocked Page’s on early Led Zeppelin albums.

The song which, by far, drew the most attention for Kingdom Come was “Get It On”. This song is driven by Wolf’s incredible dynamics along with a John-Paul-Jones-like bass and crisp duo guitar riffs. It even includes a John Bonham-like drum fill before the song’s grand conclusion. Allegedly, a cassette copy of the song’s mix was leaked to a radio station in Detroit, which started playing the song before its official release by the band, setting off a chain reaction which fueled the “Zeppelin reunion” rumors and giving “Get It On” tremendous airplay from coast to coast.

The rest of side two contains three fillers and one absolute masterpiece. Drummer Kottak and bassist Frank each co-wrote track with “Now Forever After” and “Hideaway” respectively. Both of these songs are pleasant enough but really dated in the sense that they could have been eighties movie soundtrack songs. The closer “Shout It Out” is even more disappointing, containing nothing much more than its cheap hook. The real gem is Stag’s “Loving You”, which is a real showcase for both Stag and Wolf. The song features fantastic arrangement and production techniques with the placement of eclectic instruments and reverb effects. From a sparse electric guitar beginning to the mostly acoustic song proper, the song goes to pastoral setting with majestic dynamics, accented by some slight fiddle and/or strings and the emotional dynamics of Wolf’s vocals, which peak here like nowhere else on the album.

Following the release and meteoric success of Kingdom Come in 1988, the band was chosen to open up the summer “Monsters of Rock” tour with many of the top hard rock / heavy metal acts of the day. The following year, the band released their follow-up LP, In Your Face, which had more modest sales and internal conflicts led to the band’s abrupt break-up in August 1989.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

1983 Album of the Year

Synchronicity by The Police

1983 Album of the Year

Synchronicity by The PoliceThe Police saved the best for last with 1983’s Synchronicity, ending their short five year and five album recording career with their masterpiece. And although the album was once again co-produced by Hugh Padgham,  as on 1981’s Ghost In the Machine, it marked a significant shift away from the dominant reggae/ska influences of the band’s first four albums. The album got it’s title from the theory of synchronicity by Carl Jung, who believed that life was not a series of random events but rather an expression of a deeper order, which led to the insights that a person was both embedded in an orderly framework and was the focus of that orderly framework. The end result was a potent blend that hit all the major criteria (in our opinion, of course) that make a truly great album – an entertaining, original, timely, cerebral, and human collection of music. For these reasons, Synchronicity is our clear choice for 1983’s album of the year.

Like many great albums, Synchronicity was born out of struggle and strife. The marriages of both bassist/vocalist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers had recently failed and, after half a decade of constant touring and recording, the once tight-knit trio had begun to conflict with each other. The group took a break in 1982 in order to pursue outside projects. Sting was starting to land bit parts in films while Summers collaborated with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on the instrumental album I Advance Masked. Drummer Stewart Copeland composed the musical score for the film Rumble Fish which spawned the radio hit single “Don’t Box Me In”. But as each member found their own success, that only served to widen wedge among The Police as a group and all had pretty much resolved that the band’s demise was soon imminent. So the group resolved to make a final masterpiece born out of the stress of the looming break-up. It wasn’t easy, as the three band members recorded their parts in separate rooms for the basic tracks and Padgham added subsequent overdubs with only one member in the studio at a time.

The result is diverse and daring, with the most experimental tracks of the album front-loaded on side one and the “hits” reserved for the second side. With this one last best shot of showing the world everything they were capable of doing, both in performance and production. The music contains a plethora of rhythms, from reggae, blues, and African to straight up pop/rock, while the theme is about things past or ending and the scope migrates from the global to the personal.

 


Synchronicity by The Police
Released: June 1, 1983 (A & M)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, December 1982-February 1983
Side One Side Two
Synchronicity I
Walking In Your Footsteps
O My God
Mother
Miss Gradenko
Synchronicity II
Every Breath You Take
King of Pain
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Tea In the Sahara
Murder By Numbers
Band Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Oboe, Saxophone
Andy Summers – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums & Percussion

 

“Synchronicity I” starts the album with a synthesized arpeggio pattern accented by a driving bass and drum beat. It is a rather simple and direct (albeit frantic) piece with some multi-vocal parts and harmonies by Sting that lyrically introduce Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious”. “Walking In Your Footsteps” follows with native percussion and a good melody above the oddest of simplistic arrangements. The lyrics relate extinct dinosaurs to modern day humans and the then-common theme of humanity’s ultimate nuclear destruction.

The first song on the album to contain a somewhat traditional arrangement, “O My God” is bass driven throughout with a bit of funk guitar chords, some light synth pads, and strong and soulful vocals. The song is a real showcase for Sting with the bass, the anguished lyrics and voice, and the outtro saxophone solo above an improvised-sounding ending. “Mother” is a Summers composition that sounds like a cross between The Velvet Underground and Alice Cooper. Summers vocals are raw, yet weirdly entertaining and some horn sounds are added to intensify the “insanity vibe”. Copeland gets his own composition with “Miss Gradenko”, a return musically to the band’s reggae / new wave fusion. Short and deliberate with a great bass and very measured but effective lead guitar, the lyrics tell of a romance in the middle of a communist bureaucracy wrought by paranoia in the Kremlin.
 

 
“Synchronicity II” is the best song on the album and the one song were The Police break into a full-fledged, hard rock arrangement. From the beginning wailing vocals of Sting to the fantastic guitar textures by Summers, switching from chords to note patterns seamlessly. The musical tone follows the lyrics closely, which describe a man’s working day and domestic life and compares it to the seemingly unrelated Loch Ness monster, making this a more true title song than “Synchronicity I”. Overall, this song which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, sounds like no other Police song and is a true classic of the 1980s.

The album’s second side begins with “Every Breath You Take”, a song almost totally built on Summers’ sonic texture with Sting’s simplistic rhyming on top. The bridge contains some well-placed piano notes and Copeland shows great restraint by the utter basic-ness of his drum beat, on this song which is actually rather up-tempo but deceptively throws a vibe of a ballad. Overall, “Every Breath You Take” became one of most successful singles ever, topping the Billboard charts for nine weeks and the song won Song of the Year at the 1984 Grammy Awards.

King Of Pain single“King of Pain” is a simple sing-song tune which morphs into a Caribbean grove accented by some more pure rock. The song displays the instrumental genius of the band and production quality of Padgham and contains a rather traditional (and excellent) rock guitar lead by Summers. Lyrically, Sting references painful everyday occurrences to symbolize the frustrations of everyday life with the narrator sees his fate as predetermined. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a classic ballad with excellent ambiance, sort of like “Every Breath You Take” from a different point of view – but with superior lyrics which references mythological and literary characters.

The bass driven “Tea in the Sahara” concluded the original LP (which omitted “Murder By Numbers”) and kind of brings the overall scene to a conclusion in the desert. Sting’s performance is more solo than anywhere else on the album, with the bass leading the way and the lyrics based on the novel The Sheltering Sky. A long drum intro starts the closer “Murder by Numbers”, co-written by Sting and Summers. The tune eventually fully kicks in as a cabret number with lyrics comparing political power to the development of a serial killer.

Synchronicity reached number one in many countries and was nominated for the “Album of the Year” Grammy. The Police set off on a world on a year-long world tour, which ended with a hiatus that was effectively the end of the group. The trio did reconvene in 1986 to record a new album, but after a half-hearted attempt, that project was abandoned. The Police would not fully reunite until 2007, over two decades after their break.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Pyromania by Def Leppard

Pyromania by Def Leppard

Pyromania by Def LeppardDef Leppard struck gold (well, actually diamond) with their third LP Pyromania. The album was a phenomenal success, eventually selling over ten million copies in the U.S. and being certified “diamond” by the RIAA. The album had a tremendous amount of support from their record label, which gave the band and producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange a year to record and an over $1 million budget. This meant the album would have to sell over a million copies just to break even, which was an amazing leap of faith being that the previous album by Lange and the band, 1981’s High n’ Dry, did not do so well commercially. But the gamble paid off as Pyromania sold more than 100,000 copies per week during the calendar year of 1983 and the radio-ready blend of stadium anthems brought the quasi-heavy-metal band to a mainstream audience.

Although recorded meticulously by Lange and mastered for the dominant sound of early eighties rock, the album falls short be a rock masterpiece if not for some sonic glitches, particularly the constant drilling crack-shot of the snare drum, performed by drummer Rick Allen. It seems at places like Lange tries a little to hard to recreate his “AC/DC” sound, when he would have done better just letting the talent of Def Leppard shine through. Most talented here are guitarist Steve Clark and lead vocalist Joe Elliot, who were complemented by the rich vocal harmonies and “guitar orchestra” by the rest of the band.

When recording of Pyromania began, original guitarist Pete Willis was still on board and his rhythm guitar tracks appear on all songs. Willis was fired midway through the recording sessions for excessive alcohol abuse and replaced by Phil Collen, who immediately contributed the lead guitar for the song “Stagefright” on his second day on the job.

 


Pyromania by Def Leppard
Released: January 20, 1983 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Recorded: Park Gates Studios & Battery Studios, London, January–November 1982
Side One Side Two
Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
Photograph
Stagefright
Too Late for Love
Die Hard the Hunter
Foolin’
Rock of Ages
Comin’ Under Fire
Action! Not Words
Billy’s Got a Gun
Band Musicians
Joe Elliot – Lead Vocals  |  Steve Clark – Guitars
Phil Collen – Guitars  |  Rick Savage – Bass  |  Rick Allen – Drums

 

Written by bassist Rick Savage “Stagefright” is a complete, upbeat composition which works perfectly with the established Pyromania sound. Aside from some fake live crowd effects, which is the song’s only real drawback, the overall vibe of hyper sugar-fueled rock is reached eloquently. This pace is set by the opener “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”, which contains a dramatic beginning part that goes through a couple of variations before Clark’s fine main riff kicks in on this anthem would probably fit any classic eighties rock album.

The group shows the compositional diversity when they first retreat to slower, darker, and more measured music in “Too Late for Love”. Written by all members of the band (including Willis and Lange) and reminiscent of some material from their 1980 debut album On Through the Night, “Too Late for Love” is a very high quality and potent song which reached #9 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The only real weak spot on the album’s first side is the closer “Die Hard the Hunter”, which starts with some fake air raid effects and sounds forced and dated. An attempt to be super-melodramatic, the song lacks focus even when it later breaks in full “AC/DC” mode and feels a bit drawn out overall.
 

 
The finest track on the first side, is the song which really put Def Leppard on the map as the lead single from Pyromania. On “Photograph”, Elliot’s vocals are at their pristine apex. The song was the band at their peak and commanded absolute attention in early 1983 as the ascending vocals over the chorus hook tell the typical story of stalking and envy which the music drives with a kinetic passion of action. Sonically, there are also some treats, especially during the measured pre-chorus, which contain some slight synths and a cow bell to compliment the heavily distorted guitar riff.

The album’s second side begins with “Foolin'”, which works as an quasi-acoustic ballad before migrating to a later heavy arrangement. Savage’s bass is more potent than on any other track and the song’s multi-part progression works towards the hook, which elevated the song to Top 40 status. The defacto title track, it is clear that everything this album was trying to accomplish is wrapped up in the song “Rock of Ages”. The most indelible moment on the album and one of the highlight’s of Def Leppard’s career. The song kicks off with a German-like nonsense phrase used as a count-in by Lange and it’s title originated from Elliot glancing at a children’s hymn book. There are some charms along the way, such as the almost comical background voices and laughs and the song finishes very strongly, making it the last great moment on the album.

The album closes with some rather mediocre material. “Comin’ Under Fire” could have been another hit song, with the thumping bass and kick beat under the choppy guitar chords of the verse along with the full-fledged chorus chant. “Action! Not Words” is simply terrible, almost a parody of 80s hair metal, and the album would have been better without this song. The melodramatic “Billy’s Got a Gun” completes the weak ending for this otherwise fine album and includes a weird synth percussion during the outro.

Following the breakthrough of Pyromania, the band began writing material for a follow-up, with Mutt Lange initially joining in the sessions. Tragedy struck on New Year’s Eve 1984 when Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash. It would take another three years until the band would complete their much anticipated follow-up Hysteria in mid 1987.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.


1983 Images

 

Genesis 1983 album

Genesis

Buy Genesis

Genesis 1983 albumAlthough it is titled like an eponymous debut, Genesis was actually the twelfth studio album by Genesis. The group decided to name it such because it is the first album on which all (three) members of the group helped compose each track. The album was a huge commercial success, reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic (#1 in England), remaining on the charts for a full calendar year, and eventually selling several million copies worldwide. While the 1980s version of the group deviated from the artistic realm, they still managed to be original within the pop realm and stretched the boundaries of “radio friendly-ness” with Genesis.

The album was recorded and released in 1983 and came smack in the middle of a very odd situation for the band. Lead singer and drummer Phil Collins had released two phenomenally successful solo albums with Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going along with a string of radio hits through 1981 and 1982. Collins had also played drums on two solo albums for former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and one album for former Genesis front man Peter Gabriel. Still Genesis, once a quintet which had lost two departing members in the late 1970s, remained a priority for the remaining three Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford.

The album was the second to be co-produced by Hugh Padgham as well as the second to be recorded at Fisher Lane Farm, a converted cowshed and cottage owned by the band. Collins’s early solo albums had a rather dark presence which carried over into the themes on Genesis. He also made heavy use of drums and well-effected percussion, giving the overall sound an edge while making it more accessible than most traditional, art/rock Genesis albums. In fact, one reviewer called this “a Genesis album for people who normally hate Genesis” and “great music for the masses”.

 


Genesis by Genesis
Released: October 3, 1983 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Genesis & Hugh Padgham
Recorded: Fisher Lane Farm, Surrey, England, May–August 1983
Side One Side Two
Mama
That’s All
Home by the Sea
Second Home by the Sea
Illegal Alien
Taking It All Too Hard
Just a Job to Do
Silver Rainbow
It’s Gonna Get Better
Band Musicians
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Vocals

 

Right from the start with the opener “Mama”, it is clear that the band borrows from some of the minimalist arrangements and sonic effects of Collins recent solo work. This very mechanical and slowly moving song migrates from being quiet and haunting to becoming ever more intense, slowly building with instrumentation until a full rock arrangement finally kicks in about five minutes into the song. The first single from the album, “Mama” reached the Top 10 in several European countries. Like awakening from a bitter nightmare, the light and entertaining “That’s All” could not contrast more from the vibe of “Mama”. Light, warm, and piano-driven, the song is a happy-go-lucky way to express the lyrical misery and contains a great middle organ solo by Banks, which is only topped by the excellent outro guitar lead by Rutherford. “That’s All”, was the band’s first U.S. Top 10 hit, peaking at #6.

“Home by the Sea” is a melodic adventure song which may have fit well with some of the more theatrical cuts from years past. Rutherford does excellent on bass, mainly stepping away from the guitar to let Banks’s keyboards drive most of the music. Lyrically, the storytelling song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find it is a prison, haunted by the ghosts who capture the intruder and force him to listen to their stories for the rest of his life. The most progressive part of the album, the song combines with the mainly instrumental “Second Home By the Sea” as a two=part suite. However, this second part is basically subtraction by addition as it is laced by ever-present electronic drums and unfocused keyboards which drown out the main funk guitar.
 

 
The second side begins with “Illegal Alien”, containing a nice blend of electronic percussion and effects with bouncy keyboard motifs. This is all topped by Collins catchy melody and several other sonic goodies with a great middle section filled with Caribbean/reggae motifs. The lyrics take a rather comical look at the frustrations of an illegal immigrant with Collins even trying a bit of an Mexican accent.

One of the finest tracks on the album, “Taking It All Too Hard”, is a ballad with a real edge. A combination of strong rhythm with topical electric piano and emotional vocals, along with just a splash of complimentary backing vocals, the song really shines, especially during the chorus parts (one of which was the song opening). “Just a Job to Do” is a pure eighties pop song, sounding like it came right out of Miami Vice. Musically, it is a frantic funk with bass patterns topped by a cheesy synth with the great vocal hook once again carrying the song to respectability. Lyrically, it tells the story of a private investigator chasing down his subject.

Genesis in 1983

Unfortunately, Genesis does not finish up on a very strong note. “Silver Rainbow” contains a big beat which feels very out of place among the other fine tracks on the album. When the song finally gains full focus, it sounds pleasant enough, but not enough to really carry it to respectability. The closer “It’s Gonna Get Better” tries too hard to make the most of synths and electronic effects and ultimately the album finishes much weaker than it potentially could have.

Following the release and success of Genesis Collins resumed his solo career, which would continue to produce hit songs and albums through the remainder of the decade. Rutherford followed suite with the formation of his solo studio group Mike + the Mechanics, which itself released several Top 40 hits in the mid 1980s, including the #1 single “The Living Years”. Like clockwork, Genesis returned three years later with the album Invisible Touch, another very successful album commercially.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.