Cargo by Men At Work

Cargo by Men At Work

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Cargo by Men At WorkIt is funny how fame works. When Men at Work recorded their second album Cargo in the summer of 1982, they were just a regional act who had moderate success in their native Australia with their debut album Business As Usual. Then a few songs from that debut began to get heavy airplay in Western Canada and finally the United States. By late 1982, with this follow-up already recorded and set for release, Business As Usual skyrocketed to the top of the charts and the group were suddenly superstars, a fame which carried into 1983 when the delayed release of Cargo finally occurred and collection of similar yet more mature tracks continued the band’s momentum in the pop world.

On Cargo, the personnel and production team from the debut album remained, led by producer Peter McIan and the band’s chief songwriter and vocalist Colin Hay. The band returned to their signature mixture of reggae with new wave-fused rock and pop, accented by Hay’s distinct vocal delivery and pronunciation. However, on this album they did attempt more ambitious and deep compositions, which gives it a slight edge.

The album has a very polished rhythm with bassist Jonathan Rees and drummer Jerry Speiser holding down the bottom end with precision and tightness, giving Hay the space to let melodies and riffs develop on top. Also, with this “typical” production any of the sonic flourishes (albeit few and far between) and brought out with maximum contrast and effect.


Cargo by Men At Work
Released: June 28, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Peter McIan
Recorded: 1982
Side One Side Two
Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive
Overkill
Settle Down My Boy
Upstairs In My House
No Sign of Yesterday
It’s a Mistake
High Wire
Blue For You
I Like To
No Restrictions
Band Musicians
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals
Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals
Jonathan Rees – Bass
Jerry Speiser – Drums

 
The opener “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” is almost frivolous in nature as the song employs a sped-up reggae beat during the verse and dissolves to a slow, waltz/rock during the chorus. The good lead guitar of Ron Strykert sets the pace for his fine work on this album. Strykert also composed and sang lead on “Settle Down My Boy”, a song where the underlying reggae is brought to a pop extreme, alternating keys in the first few verses, with another great guitar lead with some sharp room effects. “Upstairs in My House” is a frantic and desperate, yet still upbeat pop song may have been a representation of type of material the band was going for on this album.

The strong first side ends with “No Sign of Yesterday”, a song of nostalgia and longing lyrically, where Rees and Speiser add some rare rhythm accents, adding effect to the darkness of the song. Strykert also gets into the act with a souring and soulful guitar lead. Perhaps the best pure pop song of the entire decade of the 1980s, “Overkill” contains a hyper new-wave rhythm beneath the deep and melodic vocals of Colin Hay. This is all topped off with a signature saxophone and haunting synths by Greg Ham and yet another tremendous lead guitar by Strykert. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Pop chart and contains spastic yet profound lyrics, highlighted by the fantastic line;

Ghosts appear and fade away…”

Side two begins with “It’s a Mistake”, another Top Ten hit for the band, where Hay’s sharply picked, choppy guitar chords are synched with a fine reggae accompaniment in a light but macabre presentation in the spirit of the film Doctor Strangelove. The song breaks out of this choppy rhythm about three quarters through for a memorable coda, led by a chorus of melodic guitars and Hay’s desperate, shouting vocals, for a climatic ending.

Men At Work, 1983

“High Wire” contains a heavier rock arrangement similar to some of the contemporary material by Huey Lewis (although it does contain a lame “carnival” section during the bridge). This was the fourth and final single from Cargo, released at the end 1983, just about the time the group’s fame trajectory began to plateau. The most effect-driven song on the album is the closer “No Restrictions”, which contains an interesting flute lead by Ham, but is otherwise a rather weak attempt at anthem rock.

Cargo is not without its weak spots, as side two does contain some blatant filler, starting with “Blue For You”, a song that is pure Caribbean in texture right down to the percussive and keyboard effects. “I Like To” is the most universally panned song on the album due to the harsh, exaggerated, late-70s techno-punk vocals by Greg Ham.

In 1984, Men At Work took a long break from the years of constant touring they’d done in support of both albums. This proved to be a momentum killer and, when the band reconvened, in-fighting proliferated and Speiser and Rees left the band. Although the remaining trio recorded a third album, Two Hearts, it made little waves and by early 1986, Men At Work was no more.

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1983 Images

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

 

The Principle of Moments by Robert Plant

The Principle of Moments by Robert Plant

The Principle of Moments by Robert PlantThe 1983 release of The Principle of Moments was the second solo album by Robert Plant, following the disbandment of Led Zeppelin in late 1980. The album follows close on the heels of Plant’s debut, Pictures At Eleven and employs the same musicians and production team. Recorded in Wales, the production was polished and clinical while maintaining enough rock edge to keep it original and interesting. Plant had declined to tour following his debut because he didn’t want to perform any Led Zeppelin songs live and didn’t yet have enough original solo material to justify a tour. With the release of this second album, Plant’s second life as a major recording artist took was fully spawned.

The Principle of Moments was the first release on Plant’s independent label Es Paranza Records, after the folding of Led Zeppelin’s label Swan Song, which was also the label from Plant’s debut. Swan Song ceased operations due to the failing health of Zeppelin manager Peter Grant. When Swan Song’s offices were cleared out in 1983, early demos from Iron Maiden, Heart and other popular bands were found.

The sound of The Principle of Moments fuses new wave rock with some elements of reggae and abstract motifs and is percussion heavy with sharp, high-pitched guitars, led by guitarist Robbie Blunt and drummer Phil Collins. While not as dynamic as in the heart of the Zeppelin years, Plant’s vocals are melodic and refined. The album’s title comes from the scientific Varignon’s Theorem, which states that the moment of any force is equal to the algebraic sum of the moments of the components of that force. With the experimental tracks on this album, Plant seems to be declaring his independence from the Zeppelin sound and celebrating his own “moment” in time.


The Principle of Moments by Robert Plant
Released: July 11, 1993 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Robert Plant, Benji LeFevre, & Pat Moran
Recorded: Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales, 1983
Side One Side Two
Other Arms
In the Mood
Messin’ With the Mekon
Wreckless Love
Thru With the Two Step
Horizontal Departure
Stranger Here…Than Over There
Big Log
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Robbie Blunt – Guitars
Paul Martinez – Bass, Vocals
Jezz Woodroffe – Keyboards
Phil Collins – Drums

Although not officially released as a single, the opener “Other Arms” reached number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Musically, the song continues the style of Pictures at Eleven, melodic and heavy on the chorus backing vocals, a long way from the improvised arrangements of Zeppelin’s early days. “In the Mood” (which was officially released as a single) follows and marks the point where the album starts to distinguish itself. Built on bassist Paul Martinez’s very simple yet infectious bass line, with Blunt’s simple, strummed chords on top and a strong percussion presence by Collins in contrast to laid back music and vocals. Plant’s melody rhythm is almost like blue-eyed rap and this translated into a Top 40 single on the pop charts.

Keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe shines brightest on the ballad “Through with the Two Step”, where Plant’s melodic verse vocals drip with melancholy sweetness to the waltz of Woodroffe’s wafty keyboards and in contrast to Blunt’s excellent lead later in the song. “Horizontal Departure” is a very upbeat and entertaining, sex-infused rock song, like a new wave version of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Again Collins has a very strong and dynamic performances on drums, contrasting against the very measured riffs of Blunt and Martinez.

The album’s biggest hit is the closer “Big Log”. Reflective and somber, this is a mature song in every respect, musically, lyrically and production-wise. It employs some of the better synth-era techniques – the rubber kick effect, snappy top beat – along with well refined guitars, a swell of long synths, and vocal choruses by session singers John David and Ray Martinez. But this song is a true showcase for Robbie Blunt, one of rock’s forgotten great guitarists, whose cleaver Latin phrasing leaves the most indelible mark in this truly unique composition.

The Principle of Moments includes a trio of experimental songs. “Messin’ With the Mekon” starts with an almost Jimmy Page-like riff before giving way to a moderate Caribbean groove with measured beats, although the arrangement does seems hollow when trying too hard to fit odd pieces together. “Wreckless Love” contains a mixture of electronic and Middle Eastern textures and other highly experimental arrangement that only gels due to Plant’s strong melody. The song features Barriemore Barlow, formally of Jethro Tull, on drums, as does “Stranger Here…Then Oven There”. Another experimental song with some brilliant verse vocals, this song also suffers from too many superfluous effects and arrangements, which do little more than interrupt the reggae beat and flow of the song’s core.

Robert Plant band 1983

With two Top 10 albums under his belt, Plant launched a successful tour in late 1983, taking the stage for the first time since Zeppelin’s Knebworth concerts in 1979. In the following years Plant would work with his former band mates sporadically, starting with the short-lived oldies project The Honeydrippers, while continuing to build his solo career.

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1983 Images

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

 

Classic Rock Review 1993 Album of the Year

Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow

Classic Rock Review 1993 Album of the Year

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Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl CrowSheryl Crow‘s official debut was at once brilliant and controversial. In fact, the title Tuesday Night Music Club comes from the assembled studio group who composed and recorded the album together with Crow at the forefront and guitarist Bill Bottrell as producer. However, only Crow was signed to the big record deal and she soon inflamed the situation by not stating accurate songwriting facts in post-fame interviews, a practice that was publicly denounced by Bottrell and other group members. Still, it is hard to dispute that the music is original, entertaining, and interesting and this is the criteria we use when selecting our Classic Rock Review Album of the Year.

Crow was a former music teacher from Missouri, who started gigging with bands on the weekends. She also began recording jingles at a local studio and her voice was featured in many national commercials in the late 1980s. She later toured with Michael Jackson as a backup vocalist during his world tour 1987-1989 and got several session gigs as a backup singer with several established artists such as Stevie Wonder, Belinda Carlisle and Don Henley. Crow was signed to A&M and attempted a debut album in 1992, but convinced the label not to release the album because she was dissatisfied with the result.

While Crow was dating Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, she began jamming with his ad hoc group of composers known as the “Tuesday Music Club” at Ricketts’ studio. This rapidly developed into a vehicle for Crow’s next attempt at a debut album. After the release and success of the album, Crow’s relationship with Gilbert and the rest of the group became acrimonious due to disputes about songwriting credits, of which Crow was given a disproportionate share of royalties. Kevin Gilbert was killed in 1996, which pretty much cemented the rift between Crow and the rest of the Tuesday Night Music Club.


Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow
Released: August 3, 1993 (A&M)
Produced by: Bill Bottrell
Recorded: Los Angeles, 1992-1993
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Run Baby Run
Leaving Las Vegas
Strong Enough
Can’t Cry Anymore
Solidify
The Na-Na Song
No One Said It Would Be Easy
What I can Do For You
All I Wanna Do
We Do What We Can
I Shall Believe
Sheryl Crow – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Dave Baerwald – Guitars
Bill Bottrell – Guitars
Kevin Gilbert – Keyboards, Guitars
Dan Schwartz – Bass
Brian MacLeod – Drums

Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow

The album begins with the soulful and steady “Run, Baby, Run”, a unique opener opener of revival blues that never picks up the pace and never really made much waves when it was released as the lead singer. Still, it sets up the following “Leaving Las Vegas” finely. Co-written by guitarist David Baerwald who borrowed the title from a book written by his friend John O’Brien, “Leaving Las Vegas” is the first track to contain the unique percussive effect, featured throughout the album. With a slow riff throughout played in different instrumental variations and topped by strummed acoustic and dynamic vocals, the song became a minor hit but indelible landmark on this album. However, this song also had its share of controversy as Crow stated that the song was “autobiographical” during an appearance on the David Letterman Show, which infuriated Baerwald and the rest of the group, especially when O’Brien committed suicide soon after.

Two other songs early in the album went on to have chart success. “Strong Enough” is a very melodic and moody acoustic folk song with a potpourri of great ethnic instrumentation including organ, mandolin, and accordion. The song charted at No. 5 on the Billboard charts. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is built on the choppy strumming by Bottrell and strong chorus and bridge hooks by Crow. This Top 40 tune also has some well placed, subtle lead guitar riffs throughout.

The biggest hit on the album and the song which brought Tuesday Night Music Club widespread attention is “All I Wanna Do”. The lyrics are based on the poem “Fun” by Wyn Cooper from his 1987 book The Country of Here Below. Musically, the song is dominated Gilbert’s bouncy bass and the pedal steel by Bottrell which gives the song a sonic vibe somewhere between “Stuck In the Middle With You” and “The Rain Song” (both from 1973). The song reached number two on the charts and was the winner of the 1995 Grammy Record of the Year.

“Solidify” is an attempt at funk/disco, not all that terrible, but definitely a tangent song. “No One Said It Would Be Easy” borrows from the sound Neil Young put for the on Harvest Moon (the Classic Rock Review album of the year from the previous year, 1992), with a very calm and deliberate, almost too slow approach and dreamy lead guitar. and the emotional charge Crows invests in a song about trying to salvage a troubled relationship. Baerwald’s “What I Can Do For You” is a decent slow rocker containing a thumping rhythm by bassist Dan Schwartz and high-register vocals by Crow during the choruses.

The album does contain a few weak spots, with the nadir being the rap filler “The Na-Na Song”. “We Do What We Can” is a nightclub cabaret blues with cheap electronic drums keeping a simple, slow rock beat. The album does end strong with “I Shall Believe”, which uses its title cleverly to work into an unusual perspective. It continues the “Strong Enough” theme of “don’t give up on me” and contains a restrained and laid back lead by Bottrell.

Tuesday Night Music Club went on to sell more than 7 million copies worldwide and won three Grammy awards in 1995. Although it launched a highly successful career for Sheryl Crow, she never again quite found the band chemistry as with the ad hoc group who met in Bottrell’s studio on Tuesday nights.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Pablo Honey by Radiohead

Pablo Honey by Radiohead

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Pablo Honey by RadioheadWith their 1993 debut album, Pablo Honey, British band Radiohead was just starting to forge their interesting sound which brought them much fame later on in the decade. However, in the heavily saturated alternative climate of the early nineties, the album was not given much initial attention until the lead single “Creep” began to gain popularity. That song was written by vocalist and guitarist Thom Yorke in the late 1980s and best symbolized the internalized and tortured themes of angst and alienation in the band’s lyrics. These were brought to life by the dynamically layered strumming fury of a three guitar crunch, strumming fury of their guitar work and the dynamism of their whisper-to-a-scream song structures was the Radiohead sound musically.

The band evolved from a group called On a Friday in Oxford, England in the early 1990s, which included Yorke and brothers Jonny Greenwood on guitar and keyboards and Colin Greenwood on bass. After signing with EMI/Parlophone, the group changed their name to Radiohead and released an EP named Drill in mid 1992. Some critics dubbed the band’s early style as “Nirvana-lite”, which the group actively sought to remedy.

The album was produced by the team of Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie in the autumn 1992 and achieves a sound that is both visceral and intelligent. Since the material used was drawn from material the band had been playing for years, the sessions were completed very quickly. Still, Pablo Honey represents only a small subset of their early material and was described by a band member as their ‘greatest hits as an unsigned band’.


Pablo Honey by Radiohead
Released: February 22, 1993 (Parlophone)
Produced by: Sean Slade & Paul Q. Kolderie
Recorded: Chipping Norton and Courtyard Studios, Oxfordshire, England, Sep-Nov 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
You
Creep
How Do You?
Stop Whispering
Thinking About You
Anyone Can Play Guitar
Ripcord
Vegetable
Proof Yourself
I Can’t
Lurgee
Blowout
Thom Yorke – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jonny Greenwood – Guitars, Piano, Organ
Ed O’Brien – Guitars, Vocals
Colin Greenwood – Bass
Phil Selway – Drums

Pablo Honey by Radiohead

After the picked and pretty notes of the opener “You”, the radio and video hit “Creep” brings the album to life. Led by the upbeat, almost jazzy bass of Colin Greenwood and drums of Phil Selway during the verse, the heavy noise over chorus is previewed a bit early by a great effect by Jonny Greenwood. Rumour has it, this was initially an attempt to “ruin” this song which he he did not like, but became a great happy accident.

“How Do You?” is like punk with excess twangy guitars and contains a snippet of the Jerky Boys skit which gave the album its title. “Stop Whispering” never really leaves the main riff and only the drum shuffle by Selway rescues the song from being mundane. Still the song, written as a tribute to the group the Pixies, reached the Top 25 of the Mainstream Rock charts. The strummed acoustic of “Thinking About You” gives the album some diversity early on and is Yorke’s best vocal performance, brought out by sparse arrangement.

“Anyone Can Play Guitar” is driven mainly by the bass riff of Colin Greenwood, offbeat drums, and the later triple-layered guitars from Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Ed O’Brien. The song was the second single from the album but made relatively little impression on the charts. On “Ripcord” the chorus descends nicely and melodically while verse alternates between strummed and crunchy riffs.

Through the album’s stretch run it settles into a nice groove with moderately interesting tunes. Some highlights include the almost country/blues electric picking of “Vegetable”, the high register vocals of “Prove Yourself”, and the good, moderate sound of “Lurgee” with dual picked guitars, quality bass and drums, and a some compositional restraint. “Blow Out” makes for an apt and interesting closer, with a jazzy overall vibe, duet vocals, and intense interludes between sections with wild guitar effects by Johnny Greenwood.

Following the release of Pablo Honey, the band would digress from its alternative influences and evolve towards more expansive and experimental works. The album topped off at number 22 on the UK charts and never really made much critical or a commercial waves until the success of future albums.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid by Collective Soul

Hints, Allegations, & Things Left Unsaid
by Collective Soul

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Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid by Collective SoulPerhaps the best sounding “demo tape” of the 1990s (if not all time), Collective Soul forged a great sonic mix on their debut Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid . The sound took the best of arena-era rock and mixed it with just a sliver of new-era alternative, all forged in the basement studio of budding composer Ed Roland. In fact, the songs were recorded by Roland with the sole intent of using the demo as a showcase to sell the songs to a publishing company and Roland had no initial plans of performing these songs in a band setting. However, when an Orlando, Florida radio station began playing the lead off track “Shine” and it became the station’s most requested song in 1993, the demo caught the attention of Atlantic Records, who released the album “as-is” a year later.

With this turn of fortune, Roland agreed to perform live shows and formed a band starting with his brother Dean Roland on rhythm guitar and Ross Childress on lead guitar. Ed Roland was actually reluctant to have the unpolished demo be presented as their debut album. In fact, the reason for calling their next album simply Collective Soul was because Roland considered that their “true” debut record.

The group took it’s name from a phrase in the novel The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, while the album’s title comes in part from a lyric in the Paul Simon song “You Can Call Me Al” from the album Graceland.


Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid by Collective Soul
Released: June 22, 1993 (Rising Storm)
Produced by: Ed Roland, Matt Serletic, & Joe Randolph
Recorded: Rising Storm Studios, Atlanta, GA, 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Shine
Goodnight, Good Guy
Wasting Time
Sister Don’t Cry
Love Lifted Me
In a Moment
Heaven’s Already Here
Pretty Donna
Reach
Breathe
Scream
Burning Bridges
All
Ed Roland – Lead Vocals, Piano, Guitars
Ross Childress – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Dean Roland – Guitars
Will Turpin – Bass, Vocals
Shane Evans – Drums, Percussion

 
Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid by Collective Soul

The album starts off with four excellent tracks, including “Goodnight, Good Guy”, a song written about one recently departed, which musically alternates between heavy riffs and melodic pop. Session man Joe Randolph adds some guitar on the song. The slow burner “Wasting Time” begins with a sustained organ and interesting percussion and constantly builds until reaching a brilliant guitar lead. This song contains good backing vocal harmonies and a nice counter-riff which fades out with the song. “Sister Don’t Cry” is a slow, strong, and soulful song about faith when facing dire circumstances, in this case a woman undergoing chemotherapy.

Starting it all off is the infectious, muted riff of “Shine”, which establishes the album’s great sound and melodies right off. With this lead single the band gained their fame and the song served as a hallmark of 1990s rock, becoming the #1 Billboard Top Rock Track for 1994. Dean Roland has called the song “basically a prayer” and many mistakenly labeled the band a Christian rock band initially.

The very funky, nearly hip-hop “Love Lifted Me” is led by the strong bass of Will Turpin and a great drum beat by Shane Evans. “In a Moment” starts with a chorus of acoustic guitars and some sharp electric above, while taking a very new-wavish approach vocally. “Heaven’s Already Here” is a great short folk song with a picked acoustic and slight arrangement, giving it the perfect fireside feel.

The only real filler on the album is the instrumental “Pretty Donna”, which contains no real rock-oriented instruments just some synth and string arrangements co=producer Matt Serletic. The very melodic and pop-oriented “Reach” is acoustic throughout with some excellent electric guitar overtones, a sonic candy factory. “Breathe” is an electric dance song, reminiscent of INXS, which made it a moderate radio hit, while “Scream” is a hyper song which really seems like the band’s token attempt at modern punk and does little more than diversify the album a bit.

Collective Soul in 1993

The album ends strongly with two very melodic songs. “Burning Bridges” is passionate with a top level guitar solo, and calming vocals. “All” finishes things up nicely with a topical whining lead guitar over the rhythm mixture of electric and acoustic and a vocal chorus effect to make it a bit more interesting. “Beautiful World” finished the original album but was left off the The 1994 Atlantic re-release.

Hints, Allegations, and Things eventually peaked at number 15 on the Billboard album charts and launched Collective Soul towards a solid but short ride near the top of the rock world through the mid 1990s.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

August and Everything After by Counting Crows

August and Everything After by Counting Crows

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August and Everything After by Counting CrowsOne of the more impressive debuts of 1993, August and Everything After by Counting Crows fuses lyrically rich ballads with such long forgotten sonic treasures as the Hammond B-3 organ, the accordion, and the straight-forward strummed acoustic guitar. Led by singer/songwriter Adam Duritz, the Northern California-based group put most of their efforts into live performances which results in this debut effort having a natural, non-contrived feel throughout. Still, most of the songs on this album contain strong hooks and memorable melodies, making for a solid collection of songs which assured that this debut album would be the band’s most successful ever.

The roots of Counting Crows began as an acoustic duo made up of Duritz and guitarist David Bryson starting in 1991, around Berkeley and San Francisco. As the duo gained popularity, other Bay Area musicians would join them on stage, with some signing on as permanent members of this emerging “band”. Several demo tapes using various backing musicians were produced through 1991 and 1992, containing most of the material which would later become August and Everything After.

By the beginning of 1993, the band had grown to include a stable five-piece lineup and was soon signed to Geffen Records. On January 16, 1993, the still relatively unknown band made their national debut when they filled in for Van Morrison at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. Duritz’s vocal and songwriting style has often been compared to Morrison’s, and on this occasion, the band did a cover of his song “Caravan”.


August and Everything After by Counting Crows
Released: September 14, 1993 (Geffen)
Produced by: T Bone Burnett
Recorded: Los Angeles, 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Round Here
Omaha
Mr. Jones
Perfect Blue Buildings
Anna Begins
Time and Time Again
Rain King
Sullivan Street
Ghost Train
Raining in Baltimore
A Murder of One
Adam Duritz – Lead vocals, Piano, Harmonica
David Bryson – Guitars, Vocals
Charlie Gillingham – Keyboards, Accordion
Matt Malley – Bass, Vocals
Steve Bowman – Drums, Vocals

August and Everything After

Starting off the album is “Round Here”, which dates back to before the formation of Counting Crows when Duritz was with a band called the Himalayans. The rock version of the song was originally recorded by the group and members Dan Jewett, Chris Roldan and Dave Janusko all receive co-writing credits. On this August and Everything After version, Bryson’s poignant, picked guitar notes set the original melancholy and theatrical scene, as the song migrates through many sections of differing intensity, including a brief funk section, before dissolving back where it began. “Omaha” follows with some bright accordion by keyboardist Charlie Gillingham highlighting this relatively upbeat and bouncy folk song.

“Mr. Jones” is, by far, the most popular song by the band through their career. A straightforward musical riff decorated by dynamic vocal parts and rich lyrics in the style of Van Morrison, the song reached the top of the pop charts in early 1994. The song has its roots in the basic struggle to “make it” as a rock musician and was the major influence in Jonathan Pontell coining the later era Baby Boomers “Generation Jones”.

Driven by a choppy but effect drum beat by Steve Bowman, “Anna Begins” builds into a very pleasant and melodic listen with stream-of-consciousness lyrics which are at once intense yet relaxed and a great harmonized counter-melody towards the end. “Time and Time Again” is a slow ballad in the realm of latter-era Rolling Stones and contains a great presence of Hammond organ by Gillingham and bouncy bass by Matt Malley. “Perfect Blue Buildings” is another rhythm-driven song by Malley and Bowman, although kind of thin lyrically. But what this song lacks in substance, it makes up for in great ambiance.

The most upbeat song on the album is “Rain King”, a song about optimism and possibilities. It contains great blend of guitars by Bryson and mandolin by guest David Immerglück, a similar sound to that used by the Badlees on their Diamonds In the Coal album a year earlier. Duritz explained the song’s meaning;

“I can remember being eight years old and having infinite possibilities. But life ends up being so much less that we thought it would be when we were kids, with relationships that are so empty and stupid and brutal…”

The moody “Sullivan Street” with its slowly strummed, twangy guitar blended with some great topical piano is great ode to lost love. “Raining in Baltimore” is perhaps the most Springsteen-esque song led by the solo piano and vocals by Duritz. Rounding out the album is “A Murder of One”, co-written by Malley who provides some great bass up front in the mix to compliment Bryson’s heavy use of sustained guitars and later guitar textures. This closer acts as the default theme song for the band with the recital of a traditional British rhyme about “counting crows”.

August and Everything After sold over seven million copies and brought instant fame and international attention to Counting Crows. But like many groups, this fame had a downside and the band went through some turbulent times which led to the departure of Bowman and a widely-publicized nervous breakdown by Duritz. Although the band was mostly dormant for the entire year of 1995, they did return with their strongly anticipated second album, Recovering the Satellites in late 1996.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Coverdale-Page

Coverdale-Page

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Coverdale-PageCoverdale/Page was a collaboration featuring former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and former Whitesnake and former Deep Purple lead vocalist David Coverdale. The union of these two seemed like an odd one when it started in 1991, as Page was considered a top-notch guitarist for all time and Coverdale had been criticized as being a knock-off (even rip-off) of Zeppelin’s vocalist Robert Plant. However, Coverdale’s commercial currency was riding high at the beginning of the nineties, due mainly to the recent commercial heights of Whitesnake while Page’s post-Zeppelin success had been sluggish in the 1980s, save for a brief run with The Firm.

Since Led Zeppelin disbanded after the death of John Bonham in 1980, rumors of a reunion were always present. By the early 1990s, these rumors had reached a fevered pitch and it appeared as though a reunion may finally come to fruition. However, Plant reportedly began to have reservations which ultimately nixed the plan. Because of this, many have suggested that Page collaborated with Coverdale in order to somewhat “irk” Plant, by collaborating with this “newer model” of the singer. It may have worked, as Plant expressed some derision at the guitarist’s collaboration with Coverdale in interviews at the time.

The project officially began with some low grade recordings by the Coverdale-Page duo in 1991. The album tracks for the eponymous album were then recorded in several studios on both sides of the Atlantic over the winter of 1991/92. However, the album itself was delayed in post production for over a year until it was finally released in March 1993.


Coverdale-Page by Coverdale-Page
Released: March 15, 1993 (EMI)
Produced by: Jimmy Page, David Coverdale, & Mike Fraser
Recorded: Little Mountain Studios, Vancouver, Criteria Studios, Miami, Highbrow Productions, Hook City, NV & Abbey Road Studios, London, Late 1991 to early 1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Shake My Tree
Waiting On You
Take Me for a Little While
Pride and Joy
Over Now
Feeling Hot
Easy Does It
Take a Look at Yourself
Don’t Leave Me This Way
Absolution Blues
Whisper a Prayer for the Dying
David Coverdale – Lead vocals, Guitar
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Bass, Dulcimer, “Electric Dog”, Harmonica
Lester Mendez – Keyboards
Denny Carmassi – Drums, Percussion

Coverdale-Page

“Shake My Tree” starts things off as a very Zeppelin-esque, super-charged blues rock anthem. The song builds tension through the first two verses as Page’s guitar and Coverdale’s voice carry the day until a the rest of the band come in with a “fire one” approach, making this a very formidable opener. The key riff for the song had actually been developed by Page during the sessions for Zeppelin’s final album In Through The Out Door, recorded in 1978. It was discarded then and even passed up by Page’s mid eighties group, The Firm. The Zeppelin-esque riffing of “Waiting on You” follows with some interesting stop/start rudiments, while the drumming and bass is definitely more Whitesnake than Led Zeppelin.

Speaking of Whitesnake, “Take Me for a Little While” could have fit well on any of their 1980s albums. A very moody power ballad, with just enough arrangement pizazz to keep it from the caricature realm of groups like Poison. “Pride and Joy” is a bit more original. Conceived by Coverdale as a Dr. John-style blues tune before Page brought it to a whole new level with layered guitars and a dulcimer added on top (an instrument Page hadn’t recorded since “That’s the Way” on Led Zeppelin III). During the second part of the song, Page plays a much stronger electric riff, which nicely counter-balances the song’s feel. “Shake My Tree” earned considerable radio airplay at the time.

Slower rock tracks also are prevalent on the album, such as the “Kashmir”-like “Over Now”, which sounds like some of the tracks from Page’s brief solo career. Former Montrose drummer Denny Carmassi leads a fast rock shuffle behind “Feeling Hot”, while bassist Jorge Casas adds some melodic and bouncy bass to “Easy Does It”. But there is no doubt that this album is dominated by the two men who give its name. “Take a Look at Yourself” is almost a love song, with measured, strummed guitars by Page, a very melodic vocal hook, and some fine wailing by Coverdale towards the end.

The album ends strong with two quality tracks. “Absolution Blues” is almost a hybrid between Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, with Page providing the fine yet vastly different guitar parts for both sides of the equation. “Whisper a Prayer for the Dying” closes with more strong acoustic guitars and bass before it rips into frenzied part with strong riffs and wailing vocals.

Despite alt-rock dominating the charts and radio at the time, Coverdale/Page initially sold strongly, peaking at #4 in the UK and #5 in the US and eventually going platinum. But the album did soon fade from view, a proposed tour was axed, and the partnership quickly dissolved after this one album. In the end, Coverdale re-formed Whitesnake and Page finally joined up Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant in 1994 for a couple of new albums in the mid 1990s.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

In Utero by Nirvana

In Utero by Nirvana

Buy In Utero

In Utero by NirvanaEven though it was a phenomenal commercial success, all three members of Nirvana had expressed dissatisfaction with the polished production of their 1991 album, Nevermind. With this in mind, the production of In Utero was intentionally stripped down with little to no overdubs and recorded in two weeks flat. Produced by Steve Albini, the oft-abrasive sounding album was nearly rejected by the group’s label DGC and ultimately the band hired a secondary producer to make minor changes to the album’s two radio singles. Still, the album shot instantly to the top of the album charts upon its release and has since been certified five times platinum.

The band had originally wanted to record during the summer of 1992, but domestic situations made that impossible. In October 1992, they recorded several instrumentals during a Seattle demo session with Jack Endino, who had produced the group’s 1989 debut album Bleach. In January 1993, the group recorded another set of demos while on tour in Brazil, one of became the “hidden” track “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip”. Using these groups of demos along with other material composed as early as 1990, Albini and the band members decided on a self-imposed two-week deadline for recording and paid for the sessions with their own money to limit label interference.

Albini felt the sound of Nevermind was “sort of a standard hack recording that has been turned into a very, very controlled, compressed radio-friendly mix. After the recording sessions were completed, Nirvana sent unmastered tapes of the album to several individuals, including the president of DGC’s parent company Geffen Records Ed Rosenblatt. When asked about the feedback he received, the group’s leader Kurt Cobain said “the grown-ups don’t like it.”
 


In Utero by Nirvana
Released: September 13, 1993 (DGC)
Produced by: Steve Albini
Recorded: Pachyderm Studio, Cannon Falls, Minnesota, February 13–26, 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Serve the Servants
Scentless Apprentice
Heart-Shaped Box
Rape Me
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
Dumb
Very Ape
Milk It
Pennyroyal Tea
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
tourette’s
All Apologies
Kurt Cobain – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Krist Novoselic – Bass
Dave Grohl – Drums
 
In Utero by Nirvana

An almost “new wave” approach makes for a surprising start to the album with “Serve the Servants”. The song is strong, upbeat, and melodic (with the exception of what seems to be intentional de-tuning of some notes). “Scentless Apprentice” is the only track on the album not written solely by Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl add their compositional skills. However, the production of this second song is a bit unfocused with an attempt at junk metal, which comes off as less-than-authentic with noisy guitars and muddled drum sounds.

“Heart-Shaped Box” is the first track on the album that sounds similar to the material on Nevermind. Although it never really leaves the same three chords, the song was melodic enough to be released as the album’s first single after some additional “treatment” mixing was done by engineer Scott Litt. The song reached number one on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart and reached number five on the UK pop chart.

The controversial “Rape Me” had been performed live by the band since 1991. The song addresses Cobain’s distain of the media in light of their sudden success and is the first on the album to contain decent sounding bass by Novoselic. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” was inspired by the 1978 biography Shadowland, which Cobain had read in high school. Sonically, the song is all about dynamics but is not very well put together compositionally and the droning vocal screams tend to wear thin by this point in the album. The album hits a bit of a lull through the middle. “Dumb” is a very apt title and is uninspired with its subject of the struggles with complacency. “Very Ape” is fast and surprisingly crisp for this album’s production, punk influenced with some actual overdubbed guitars. “Milk It” contains some slightly interesting stop/start action musically, but this is counterbalanced with some frivolous lyrics.

“Pennyroyal Tea” starts as an almost REM-like song before breaking into a strong punk/metal section during the chorus with an (almost) standard guitar lead. The song was due to be released as the third single from the album but plans were halted after Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” is one of the most unique and rewarding songs on the album. Grohl’s steady drumming holds together this wild piece with flavored feedback effects and a cool anti-hero chorus hook. The experimental “Tourette’s” contains a heavy “noise machine” type sound with a three chord punk screed which ultimately does little more than set up the fine closer.

The finest track on the album is saved for last with “All Apologies”, a melodic, deep, and excellent closer. The song had been around since 1990 and Nirvana first recorded the song in Seattle on January 1, 1991. The In Utero track features Kera Schaley on cello, the only extra session player on the album. It was also remixed by Litt when Cobain asserted that the original vocals and bass sounded muddy. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Cobain’s wife and newborn daughter. The song received heavy airplay and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1995. More importantly, the song was an excellent closer for the band’s final album.

Nirvana embarked on a world tour to promote the In Utero. On the European leg of the tour in March 1994, Cobain suffered a drug overdose in Rome and agreed to enter drug rehabilitation, but he soon went missing. On April 8, 1994 he was found dead in his Seattle home as the result of self-inflicted shotgun blast, ending his life at age 27, and sealing Nirvana in the tomb of rock history.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.

Jesus Christ Superstar original rock opera

Jesus Christ Superstar, a Rock Opera

Jesus Christ Superstar original rock operaBefore it was a theatre act, Broadway play, or motion picture, Jesus Christ Superstar was simply a 1970 rock album produced by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist by Tim Rice. The work is loosely based on the four Gospels’ accounts of the last weeks of the life of Jesus Christ, but takes much liberty in interpretting the philosophical and interpersonal dynamics between Jesus and his apostles, especially Judas Iscariot, the man who would ultimately betray him. The work largely follows the form of a traditional passion play but with a twentieth century interpretation with a focus on the psychology of Jesus and the other characters.

Webber and Rice had collaborated on several previous projects, starting with the 1965 musical The Likes of Us, which was actually shelved for four solid decades and not publicly performed until 2005. In 1968, the duo was commissioned to write a piece which became Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a retelling of story of the biblical figure Joseph, set to several musical styles. In 1969 Rice and Webber wrote a song for the Eurovision Song Contest called “Try It and See”, which was later rewritten as “King Herod’s Song” for Jesus Christ Superstar. Webber says has said the piece was written as a rock album from the outset and set out from the start to tell the story through the music itself. Musically, Webber took delight in exploring different keys and time signatures, while Rice came up with some clever wordplay which fused modern phrases with traditional terms.

On this original album, the part of Jesus was sung by Ian Gillan, lead vocalist of Deep Purple, while Judas Iscariot is performed by Murray Head. Both Englishmen were in their mid-twenties and had several years in the music business with limited success. After declining an invitation to join the band upon their formation, Gillan joined Deep Purple in mid 1969. A performance of the song “Child in Time” caught the ear of Rice, who contacted Gillan and offered him the role of Jesus. After just a few rehearsals with Rice and Webber, Gillan recorded his entire vocal contributions in one three hour session. Beyond his singing and songwriting skills, Murray Head was also a seasoned actor who won a leading role in the Oscar-nominated film Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1971. For the role of Mary Magdalene, a then relative unknown Yvonne Elliman was chosen. Elliman had just begun performing in clubs the previous year and would be one of the few players and singers to join the cast of the Broadway production in subsequent years.


Jesus Christ Superstar, Original Rock Opera
Released: September, 1970 (Decca)
Produced by: Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, May 1972-August 1973
Side One Side Two
Overture
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s the Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying
Everything’s Alright
This Jesus Must Die
Hosana
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
Pilate’s Dream
The Temple
Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
I Don’t Know How to Love Him
Damned for All Time / Blood Money
Side Three Side Four
The Last Supper
Gethsemane
The Arrest
Peter’s Denial
Pilate and Christ
King Herod’s Song
Could We Start Again Please?
Judas’s Death
Trial Before Pilate
Superstar
The Crucifixion
John Nineteen: Forty-One
Vocal Cast & Roles
Ian Gillan – Jesus  |  Murray Head – Judas  |  Yvonne Elliman – Mary Magdalene
Paul Davis – Peter  |  Victor Brox – Caiaphas  |  Brian Keith – Annas
Barry Dennen – Pontius Pilate  |  Mike D’Abo – King Herod
Primary Musicians
Neil Hubbard – Guitars  |  Henry McCulloch – Guitars  |  Allan Spenner – Bass
Peter Robinson – Piano, Organ  |  Bruce Rowland – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with a heavily distorted guitar, setting the pace for the “rock” part of the rock opera before the actual overture kicks in with a musical sequence later repeated in the climatic “Trial Before Pilate”. “Heaven on Their Minds” a total funk/rock masterpiece sung solo by Murray Head as Judas with some great piano and organ by Peter Robinson and just a touch of strings for color. The story starts with Judas expressing concern over Jesus’ rising popularity and the inherent danger that brings in a land occupied by the Romans. “What’s the Buzz” introduces Jesus and the Apostles in a hippy-dippy kind of pop/hip song, absurdly
bringing the scene into the (then) modern age. Musically, the stratospheric bass by Alan Spenner brings the hyper jazz/funk to an extraordinary level.

Judas and Jesus have their first heated debate over the course of two tracks; “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”. This debate concerns the appropriateness of Jesus consorting with Mary Magdeline, as Elliman offers a soft counter-balance to the argument with the verses of “Everything’s Alright”. The song is in a 5/4 time signature, offering the perfect rhythm to push it forward at a brisk pace for full effect and the vocal contrasts between Gillan, Head, and Elliman makes it a masterpiece. To close the original first side, the dark “This Jesus Must Die” is the most theatrical to this point as the conspirators are given dark and sinister vocals performed by Victor Brox as Caiaphas and Brian Keith as Annas and other performers as high priests. Halfway, the song picks up with a rock beat and the dialogue speaks of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist who was put to death for his believes, a fate that the conspirators wish on Jesus.

The upbeat “Hosanna”, driven by strings, chorus, and a soaring melody begins Side 2 and symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. “Simon Zealotes” and “Poor Jerusalem” reflect more of the competing philosophical vision. John Gustafson makes his only appearance on the album as Apostle Simon the Zealot, who suggests a revolution led by Jesus, offering power and glory to Jesus after a successful overthrow of the Roman occupation in an upbeat section backed by funk rhythms, led by piano and bass. Gillan’s reply as Jesus in “Poor Jerusalem” is more of a short piano ballad where Jesus rejects this suggestion, stating that none of his followers understands what true power is, nor do they understand his true message.

A bit of filler is thrown into the middle of the second side. “Pilate’s Dream” is a short, acoustic song that features Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, who foresees the trial and execution of Jesus along with the coming spread of Christianity. On “The Temple” the album gets a little lethargic and repetitive with the story of usary in the temple being a bit superfluous followed by Jesus being accosted by lepers, cripples, and beggars, all wanting to be healed.

Yvonne EllimanOne of the highlights of the first act, and the peak of Elliman’s involvement on the album is the short reprise of “Everything’s Alright” which leads into the soulful folk song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Led by the dual acoustic guitars of future Roxy Music member Neil Hubbard and future member of Paul McCartney’s Wings Henry McCulloch, the song contains a laid back arrange which provides the perfect canvas to compliment Elliman’s fantastic vocals. The song itself became a Top 20 pop hit. “Damned for All Time” / “Blood Money” begins with a free form, distorted solo electric guitar followed in sequence by a chorus of flutes before a riff-driven rock section with Head on lead vocals. Accented by great horn sections, this production masterpiece aptly closes the first Act, even with some abrupt changes between the two parts of the medley. Thematically, the song deals with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the high priest conspirators along with his internal conflict over the situation and hauntingly ends with an-almost Greek chorus speaking to Judas’ conscience.

Act II begins with “The Last Supper”, a self-contained, multi-part suite which masterfully blends the rock and theatrical elements. Alternating between the folk chorus of the Apostles and several other parts consistng of another spirited dialogue between Jesus and Judas, with Gillan and Head at top vocal form, accompanied by a great electric piano and more exquisite bass by Spenner. While dealing with Gospel text, Rice also uses drug references “What’s that in the bread, it’s gone to my head” and slows the Apostles chorus as they fade from drunkenness, unaware of the profound proclamation made by Jesus. “Gethsemane” is the real showcase for Gillan and the most like “Child In Time”, the Deep Purple song which got Gillan the gig in the first place. Starting with great acoustic guitar and bouncy bass, the song soon builds with much orchestral accompaniment and is, perhaps, the most dramatic part of the entire album dealing with Jesus’ own crisis of faith as he faces his immanent demise.

Ian Gillan“The Arrest” starts a long sequence in the second act where Jesus faces an all night ordeal leading to his crucifixion. The apostles slowly wake to find Jesus under arrest to the tune of “What’s the Buzz” followed by various vocal members playing almost like reporters and nice rock passages travels along with the movement of the arresting party as they go before the high priests. A slight deviation is taken in “Peter’s Denial” featuring Paul Davis as Jesus’ closest apostle confidant but distancing himself when confronted on three separate occasions. The end of the Side 3 is the most sticky sweet, show-tune-ish section of the album, as well as least rock oriented. Dennen returns as Pilate in an exaggerated, jazzy version of “Hosanna” named “Pilate and Christ”. Pilate “washes his hands” of the situation and sends Jesus to the Jewish King Herod, leading to the rendition of Webber and Rice’s ragtime “Try it and See”, performed by Mike D’Abo as Herod.

The final original side started “Could We Start Again Please?”, the only showcase for Elliman during the second act which doesn’t quite measure up to those in the first act and is almost set up like a pop song off the beaten path. “Judas’ Death” is a reprise of “Damned for All Time” and “Blood Money” with the same vocalists and Head’s vocals at top form as Judas’s guilt becomes overwhelming;

I have been splattered with innocent blood, I should be dragged through the slime and the mud…”

Head then does his own version as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” before committing suicide to0 the sounds of the haunting Greek chorus.

The climax of the story is “Trial Before Pilate” which returns to the “Overture” a great sequence with wild, off key jazzy strings, synths, and horns and an intense dialogue between Gillan and Dennen with the crowd joining in as Pilate’s various thoughts on whether to release or crucify Jesus. A short rock break is taken with “The Thirty-Nine Lashes”, ending with a nice drum fill by Bruce Rowland. A final dialogue between Jesus and Pilate ensues with the crowd convincing Pilate to ultimately crucify Jesus; “I wash my hands of your demolition, die if you want to, you innocent puppet…” Although “Superstar” is supposed to be the focal point of the opera, it really pales in comparison to some of the other finer tracks. It does some nice chorus-driven hooks cut by one last funky track musically and a posthumous reappearance of Head’s Judas, now a ghost and some soulful female backup singers. The song, which is almost mocking in tone, did peak at number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1971. The album then kind of whimpers out in an anti-climatic fashion with the nearly psychedelic synth-experimentation of “The Crucifixion” followed by the calm, orchestral reprise of “Gethsemane” in “John Nineteen: Forty-One”.

Andrew Lloyd WebberAndrew Lloyd Webber originally thought the production would be limited to a niche audience, blocked out on either side by young people thinking it was uncool subject matter and religious people who would think it was too controversial. Then unexpectedly it rose to the top of the album charts, sparking a short arena tour and what Webber called “one of the worst productions he had ever seen on Broadway”. In fact, the only reason it was put on Broadway was to head off the various small theatre and school productions which had begun to sprout up in 1971.

Webber and Tim Rice collaborated once again with Evita in the late 1970s and Webber would go on to produce two of the most successful Broadway productions ever with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, both debuting in the 1980s. Ian Gillan went on to meteoric success as frontman of Deep Purple, climaxing with the 1972 album Machine Head (our 1972 Album of the Year) before abruptly leaving the group in 1973, although he would reunite with Deep Purple several times in the future. Murray Head continued to act and record songs, with his biggest charting success being “One Night in Bangkok” in the mid 1980s. After her Broadway performances and role as Mary Magdelene in the 1974 Hollywood film of Jesus Christ Superstar, Yvonne Elliman sang on several Eric Clapton albums, most poingnently Slowhand in 1977, before a brief but successful disco/pop career, which included several Top 20 hits. She decided to dedicate herself to her two children in 1979 and has pretty much stayed out of the public spotlight since.

Over the past four decades, several different versions of Jesus Christ Superstar were produced spanning the entire spectrum of media, on every corner of the globe, making it one of the most popular universal productions ever. In May 2012, Webber launched a reality television show called Superstar where the UK public decided who would play the role of Jesus in an upcoming arena tour. Ben Forster was chosen and the arena tour, which began September 2012 and continues to this day (March 2013). Webber claims this tour most closely represents the original vision for the rock opera.

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R.A.

A Classic Rock Review Special Feature.

 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

Buy Get a Grip

Get a Grip by AerosmithAerosmith made an amazing comeback in the late 1980s, as the band which was essentially dead at the beginning of that decade sprang back with a second act unlike many others in rock history. However, with their first release of the 1990s, Get a Grip, the band kind of “jumped the shark” in providing manufactured, crowd-tested anthems with extra vanilla production techniques and cheap, low grade lyrics. Further, the group attempted to mask is hyper-commercialized approach by adding some boilerplate social commentary. As tacky as this approach was artistically, it certainly worked commercially as Get a Grip became Aerosmith’s best-selling studio album worldwide with sales of over 20 million copies.

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, the album employees outside composers and performers more than any other Aerosmith album, with compositions by only band members being more the exception than the rule. Joey Kramer, a quality drummer since the band’s inception with their debut album two decades earlier, is reduced to providing almost mind-numbing drumming and hardly ever adding any variation to the most basic of 4/4 beats. This may just be the most egregious of several examples where the band just decided to play it safe and not really variate from their late eighties formula, even regress at times.

The album was actually rejected by Geffen in its original form during the summer of 1992 and the band returned to the studio to record more “radio-friendly” material, ultimately delaying the album’s release by about 6 months. Get a Grip would be the final album Aerosmith would record for Geffen Records.

 


Get a Grip by Aerosmith
Released: April 20, 1993 (Virgin)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood & Little Mountain Sound, Vancouver, Jan-Nov 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Intro / Eat the Rich
Get a Grip
Fever
Livin’ On the Edge
Flesh
Walk On Down
Shut Up and Dance
Cryin’
Gotta Love It
Crazy
Line Up
Amazing
Boogie Man
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums
 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

The tackiness of the album is evident from the jump with the terrible “Intro” with jungle noises, behind a cheesy rap by vocalist Steven Tyler and sampling of “Walk This Way”. This leads to “Eat the Rich”, co-written by hired songwriter Jim Vallance, which starts as a decent enough, riff-driven rock song but is unfortunately tarnished by cheap and cheesy lyrics and a few tawdry lines thrown in for pure “shock value”. Then, as if to just underline the total suckiness of the song, it ends with a loud belch. Still, this song was a hit and appeared on a few future compilations.

Vallance also co-wrote the title song “Get a Grip”, a frantic rap which gets repetitive. Better than the opener, but still pretty weak. “Fever” is the best of the opening trio because of strong rock and blues influences by lead guitarist Joe Perry. This still feels a bit cheap and, by this point in the album, it feels like this band of 40-somethings is trying just a bit too hard to be  hip and hard rocking.

Song doctor Mark Hudson’s “Livin’ On the Edge” is the first real quality song on the album, featuring Brad Whitford on acoustic guitar accompanied by almost-Eastern-sounding lead guitars and good quality melodies. There is also a decent bridge arrangement with some slight piano and the song’s only real issue is the artificially elongated ending, which reprises after a few false stops, extending the song about a minute and a half longer than it should be without much true benefit for the listener. The song was a Top 20 hit on the Pop charts. “Flesh” was co-written by long time collaborator Desmond Child and starts with a synthesized and sound-effect-drenched opening, before finally kicking with decent musical and melodic elements featuring Whitford on lead guitar. Perry’s “Walk On Down” is just as weak lyrically as other material but is a bit interesting because of Joe Perry’s vocals. “Shut Up and Dance” may be the nadir of this album. Composed by jack Blades and Tommy Shaw (then of Damn Yankees), there is a decent hook in the chorus but the verses are really cheap and repetitive.

“Cryin'” was co-written by Taylor Rhodes and is, perhaps, the best song on the album. A ballad performed at maximum volume, the production value is top-notch and the song contains a great fade-out coda, reminding us that Aerosmith can really extend a song organically when they really want to. Both Perry and Whitford play guitar solos while Tyler adds a harmonica solo.

Bassist Tom Hamilton adds some funky bass to the groove “Gotta Love It”, which also contains some biting guitar riffs. Child returns and adds some mandolin to the ballad “Crazy”, which has a decent enough vibe once you get past the corny intro. The song was another chart success for the band and also earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1994. “Line Up” features Lenny Kravitz in a fusion between Motown and heavy rock along with a bluesy slide guitar and a slight horn section.

Leaving aside the experimental “Boogie Man”, the album truly completes with “Amazing” by Richard Supa. This excellent piano ballad with great chord structure and perfectly arranged instrumentation, almost single-handedly redeems the album with a great outtro similar to “What It Takes” on their previous album, but a lame 1940s-like spoken radio announcement completely rips the listener from the moody vibe and reminds him how cheesy this album really is right to the end.

Although a commercial phenom, Get a Grip tainted Aerosmith’s reputation for authentic rock quite substantially. They would redeem themselves a bit with their next album, the fine Nine Lives in 1997, which was much more substantial musically but less successful commercially.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1993 albums.