Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith

Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith

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Rock In a Hard Place by AerosmithRock In a Hard Place is considered by some to not be a “real” Aerosmith album because it is the only one to not include all five members. I have a hard time concurring as this has been one of my favorite Aerosmith albums for close to thirty years. It is a strong, edgy, and (most importantly) unique effort that captures a lot of dynamics surrounding the band’s situation perfectly. Though, many fans and critics lamented the departure of guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and claimed that the band’s traditional chemistry was not present on this album. Perry left the band abruptly while in the middle of recording the previous album, Night In the Ruts and went on to form the Joe Perry Project. Whitford was still with the band at the beginning of this album’s sessions in 1981 but departed after recording just one track.

Of course, the music still sounds like Aerosmith because of the presence of Steven Tyler. But Tyler’s voice is strained throughout the album, something that may otherwise be a liability, but surprisingly this adds to the overall air of desperation throughout the mixes. It also adds to the feel that this is a straight-forward, no B.S. rock jam album, although certain facts seem to dispute this notion. Primarily, there was a very steep price tag ($1.5 million) in producing this album, and from that perspective it is understandable why so many may consider it a failure.

Perry and Whitford were replaced by guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay, who each brought a unique yet hard-rockin’ edge. This was especially true for Crespo, who co-wrote many of the songs on the album. Also, drummer Joey Kramer plays especially well on this album, holding together some of the looser compositions with a strong and steady rhythm.

 


Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith
Released: April 1, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas, Steven Tyler, & Tony Bongiovi
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Jailbait
Lightning Strikes
Bitch’s Brew
Bolivian Ragamuffin
Cry Me a River
Prelude To Joanie
Joanie’s Butterfly
Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)
Jig Is Up
Push Comes To Shove
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Crespo – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Dufay – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums

 
The album starts in a frenzy with “Jailbait”, a collaboration by Tyler, Crespo, and Dufay. The song seems to be linked in many ways with “Bitch’s Brew” as it explicitly refers to it, is composed in a very loose lyrical fashion, and the subject matter seems to very similar – seduction and sex. Of these two, “Bitch’s Brew” is a lot more interesting due to its odd arrangement and Tyler’s vocals, which are particularly strained throughout, and he does a pretty impressive Bob Dylan impersonation during the final verse.

A slow, synthesized string introduces “Lightning Strikes”, a song written by longtime band collaborator Richard Supa about gangs and gang fights. This is the only track to feature Brad Whitford, who left the band during its recording in 1981. Whitford, who was a founding member of Aerosmith, is billed as simply an “additional musician” in the credits. The band created one of their earliest actual music videos for MTV and other networks with this song. Directed by Arnold Levine
 

 
“Bolivian Ragamuffin” is a heavy blue composition similar to the band’s material on Draw The Line. Crespo wails on a crying, slide electric throughout and this song seems to be the band at its most intense jamming on the album. A cover of Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River” lightens the mood a bit with a soft, jazzy, night club intro and opening verses. However, the song does explode later into a full-fledged strong rock interpretation while maintaining the basic, moody vibe.

The second side starts with, perhaps, the oddest Aerosmith song on record called “Joanie’s Butterfly”. Kicking off with a “Prelude” that includes a highly synthesized, barely audible, spoken voice above a chorus of quasi-Eastern chants by Tyler, the song proper breaks in with a more straight-forward, Eastern-flavored rhythm, with a strummed acoustic, layered percussion, a dulcimer, and more layered vocals. At about 1:45, the song breaks into a more rock-oriented arrangement with some really nice sonic changes straight through until the long ending crescendo with violin and various other string instruments. The song was co-written by producer Jack Douglas who is yet to reveal the true meaning (if any) of the odd lyrics which are extremely cryptic;

He was a kick ass rocking horse, he was a one horned, unicornucopia
Two, two in Utopia, three star, verge into infinity…

The album finishes strong with three well-produced rockers. The title song, “Rock In a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)” is a fine rock song featuring the strongest performance on the album by bassist Tom Hamilton and more great guitar work by the two newcomers. “Jig Is Up” is one of the great forgotten classics of Aerosmith, with a solid rock sound not heard from the band since 1976’s Rocks, and a lyrical theme similar to the Stones’ “Brown Sugar”. The album closes with Tyler’s “Push Comes to Shove”, a completely undecipherable screed by the singer that is reportedly about his then girlfriend and future wife, but who knows to what end. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant listen in the Aerosmith-blues style and features some good piano by session man Paul Harris.

Panned by most critics, fans, and band members themselves, Rock In a Hard Place may well be an underrated gem in the long career of one of America’s most storied bands. Still, purists lament that it is the only release which deviates from the five man lineup that was the band before and would be the band again. In 1984, Aerosmith embarked on a reunion tour which brought Perry and Whitford back into the fold and the original lineup remains in tact to this day.

~

 

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.
 

Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

Tug Of War by Paul McCartneyThe naive belief that one could end war by political correctness at a time when no major wars were occurring in the Western world may be the best way to describe the underlying theme of Tug Of War, the 1982 album by Paul McCartney. It comes in the wake of many events including the death of John Lennon and the dissolution of McCartney’s post-Beatles group, Wings. In fact, the earliest sessions for Tug Of War (in late 1980) were actually intended for the final Wings album. But following Lennon’s assassination, recording was suspended and that album was never completed. Lacking direction, McCartney called in Beatles producer George Martin to work on his material for the first time since the “Fab Four” broke up.

Reuniting with Martin guaranteed that the album would receive much attention. Much of the production is rich and rewarding, as one would expect from a George Martin production. However, the creative muse from McCartney seems contrived at times. Aside from the songs with his ex-Wings band mates, there are two collaborations with Stevie Wonder, one with Carl Perkins, and one with fellow Beatle, Ringo Starr.

As a whole, the album is almost interesting musically but not cohesive in the slightest. In total, there is about half of a great album here of well-produced and melodic songs. This shows that there was great potential in this reunion of McCartney and Martin. But then there’s the rest of the album which sounds like it should have been reserved for some kind of celebrity collection.
 


Tug Of War by Paul McCartney
Released: April 26, 1982 (EMI)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1981
Side One Side Two
Tug Of War
Take It Away
Somebody Who Cares
What’s That You’re Doing?
Here Today
Ballroom Dancing
The Pound Is Sinking
Wanderlust
Get It
Be What You See (Link)
Dress Me Up As a Robber
Ebony and Ivory
Primary Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards
Eric Stewart – Guitars, Vocals | Denny Laine – Guitars
George Martin – Piano | Stevie Wonder – Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Gadd – Drums

 
In March 1982, McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder, “Ebony and Ivory”, was released to broad acclaim. It reached #1 in many countries and consequently, Tug Of War immediately hit #1 on the album charts when it was released in April. The song uses the allegory of the ebony (black) and ivory (white) keys on a piano to make a statement on racial harmony, in a quite simplistic and tacky way. Still, it was a very popular song and the second most popular of McCartney’s entire career behind the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. The other collaboration with Wonder is “What’s That You’re Doing?”, a song that is quite off-putting because of the cheap electronics brought to the forefront. For the amount of talent between these two geniuses, this is really a low quality, throwaway track, extended way too long in length with sounds generated as if a couple of teenagers got a hold of a synthesizer.

“Here Today” was written as a bittersweet folk melody in memoriam of John Lennon with a string arrangement by Martin. But these fall short of magic and even the song written in tribute to Lennon seemed fluffy and lacking true substance, as if McCartney wrote the song he thought people wanted him to write rather than something deep and REAL. Some have compared the opening title song, “Tug of War” to Lennon’s “Imagine”, but that is a bit generous. It is a fine enough song, with good melody and interesting changes, but it is far from a classic.

“Take It Away” may be the last great Wings song, and it is certainly the best song on the album. It contains elements that harken back to greats like “Listen to What the Man Said”, with sonic supremacy, excellent vocal choruses, and just the right brass added at just the right time. The song starts as  reggae but morphs into something for show-style. If the rest of the album was of this quality, it would have been a great album
 

 
The second side opens with a few fine tracks, starting with the fun “Ballroom Dancing”, which is  well-produced with great sonic flavorings throughout. “The Pound Is Sinking” is a good acoustic song with a country and western type rhythm edged with a elements of doomy-ness and theatrics reminiscent to early Genesis. “Wanderlust” is a great piano song with good production and excellent vocals. It nods towards McCartney’s 1979 marijuana bust in Japan without getting too specific.

“Get It” is a duet with Carl Perkins, that is not totally unpleasant, but out of place here among some of the finer compositions. A weird “link” called “Be What You See” leads to “Dress Me Up As a Robber”, a funked-up disco with high-pitched vocals, which again calls into question some of the selections on this album (he should let Earth, Wind, and Fire be Earth, Wind, and Fire) The only really interesting part is the lead, Spanish-style acoustic.

In the end, Tug Of War would end up being the crossroads between McCartney’s fine albums of the seventies and the rather forgettable albums of the eighties.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden

The Number Of the Beast
by Iron Maiden

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The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden As we’ve mentioned before on this site, Classic Rock Review does not like to stray too far from mainstream rock and pop when selecting which albums we review. But in some exceptional cases, we feel compelled to explore albums which have had longstanding influence over the passage of time, especially when that influence transcends the specific genre of the artist. The Number Of the Beast is such an album by Iron Maiden. It has been routinely ranked among the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and topped the charts in the U.K., being one of the first albums to move into more commercial territory in a genre that got close to zero airplay at the time. A showcase for producer Martin Birch, the album possesses a crisp yet strong song that jived perfectly with the tastes of hard rock fans in 1982.

For those who were growing tired of the London punk scene by the end of the 1970s, a new wave of British heavy metal was being forged among several bands and championed by a publication called Sounds magazine. Aside from Iron Maiden, one of these bands was called Samson,  that band had a dynamic lead singer named Bruce Dickinson. As Iron Maiden was on the verge of international breakthrough following their second major label album,Killers in 1981, Dickinson was asked to join the band to replace lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno. This was an extremely bold move, as the band was well on their way to success, but Birch recognized the importance of a grandiose frontman for what the band was trying to achieve.

The primary songwriter for the band was bassist Steve Harris, who came up with many of the diverse themes on the album, including the controversial title and title song. With the addition of Dickinson and his wide range on vocals, Harris was also free to explore many different styles and genres sonically. Unlike previous albums, most of the material on Number Of the Beast was written in pre-production rather than worked out over a series of live gigs. Because of the complex nature of the songs, the band was left with only five weeks to record, mix, and, master the album after taking so long to rehearse.
 


The Number Of the Beast by Iron Maiden
Released: March 22, 1982 (EMI)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Battery Studios, London, January-March 1982
Side One Side Two
Invaders
Children Of the Damned
The Prisoner
22 Acacia Avenue
The Number Of the Beast
Rin For the Hills
Gangland
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Band Musicians
Bruce Dickinson – Lead Vocals
Steve Harris – Bass, Vocals
Dave Murray – Guitars
Adrian Smith – Guitars, Vocals
Clive Burr – Drums, Percussion

 
The album’s opening track “Invaders” was actually one of the last songs constructed, hurridly to fill out the album. Although some in the band had lamented that this was not the strongest possible track to open up the album, it performs an adequate task for setting up the listener. For a doomier follow-up, “Children of the Damned” bridges a theme from the past which may have come from early era Black Sabbath, with music of the future like that of later era Metallica. The song is loosely based on the film of the same name.

The Prisoner television series“The Prisoner” was also inspired by previous pop culture, this time a British television show of the same name from the late 1960s. It features dialogue from that show in the song’s intro. The song was co-written by guitarist Adrian Smith and is one of the finest tracks on the album musically. It features integral guitar work and a very melodic vocal during the choruses. “22 Acacia Avenue” closes out the first side as the second song in the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga, which was originally written by Smith several years earlier, while playing in his old band, Urchin. According to Smith, Steve Harris remembered hearing the song at an Urchin concert in a local park, and modified it for The Number of the Beast album.

The title track was considered by some as evidence that Iron Maiden were a Satanic band, but Harris, the song’s author had long contended that was never the intention as it was inspired by a nightmare. The track opens with a spoken rendition of passages from the Biblical book of Revelations by actor Barry Clayton. The song itself employs and odd time signature, and one of the most famous “screams” in rock n’ roll history.
 

 
“Run to the Hills” was driven by a great rhythm led by drummer Clive Burr. It was released as a single prior to the album’s release and was a surprise top ten hit in the U.K. The song attempts to give a balanced view of the disputes that occurred between European settlers in the New World and American Indian tribes during the days of westward expansion, with different rhythms and tempos symbolizing the differing points of view. The closing song “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is one of the most celebrated pieces of the band’s catalog. It opens with a doomy atmosphere before breaking into a sequence of harmonized guitar riffs by Harris and Dave Murray and an strong performance by Dickinson.

Although some moments on the album are clearly stronger than others, the intensity of The Number Of the Beast never lets up. Peerless for its time, the album represented a high-water mark for this style of heavy metal, which would be replicated often throughout the rest of the decade but never quite equaled.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

 

Thriller by Michael Jackson

Thriller by Michael Jackson

Thriller by Michael Jackson Thriller is the sixth studio album by Michael Jackson and the best selling album of all time. Seven of the nine songs on the album were released as singles and each one of those seven reached the top ten on the pop charts. The album went on to win an unprecedented eight Grammy awards, was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the all time top seller worldwide, was instrumental in providing racial harmony among music fans, made the most amount of money ever for a single performing artist, and was given credit by many in the recording industry for boosting sales industry-wide. So, why have so many of us loathed this record for three decades?

After listening to this back to front several times in preparation for this review, I may have an answer and it isn’t the music itself. In fact, I think this more mature and objective version of myself can honestly say that Thriller is quite fine musically. It hits the sweet spot in the genre we used to call “soul” (now referred to as R&B) and most of the songs are melodic, entertaining, and well composed. And then there is the title song “Thriller” and its monstrosity of a video (pun intended) where Michael Jackson and the hype machine jumped the proverbial shark. Why, Michael, why? You already had the best video ever made with “Billie Jean” and had shown you can do the choreographed dance thing on another video. There comes a point when one has to learn to just accept success and move on to other things.

The album was produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones and the two reportedly butted heads throughout the production process, which took seven solid months. Jones produced Jackson’s previous album, Off the Wall in 1979, but felt that it was too “disco” for the early 1980s. Jackson had felt that album did not get the proper acclaim that it deserved and was on a mission to make something which simply could not be ignored by the critics. Jackson and Jones worked on about thirty songs in total and nine were chosen for inclusion on the album. Jackson ultimately “wrote” four of these songs, but not by committing anything to paper. Instead, he would dictate directly into a sound recorder and commit his songs to memory for further performance.
 


Thriller by Michael Jackson
Released: November 30, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson
Recorded: Westlake Studios, Los Angeles, April-November 1982
Side One Side Two
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Baby Be Mine
The Girl Is Mine
Thriller
Beat It
Billie Jean
Human Nature
PYT (Pretty Young Thing)
The Lady In My Life
Primary Musicians
Michael Jacksson – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Rod Temperton – Keyboards | Steve Porcaro – Keyboardss | Louis Johnson – Bass

 
The album starts off with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, an excellent funk piece written by Michael Jackson. The song was originally recorded in 1978 and later slated to be recorded by Michael’s sister La Toya, but Jackson eventually decided to keep it for himself. “Baby Be Mine” follows, written by keyboardist Rod Temperton, famed for writing the song “Rock With You”, the biggest hit from Off the Wall.

The Girl Is Mine single“The Girl Is Mine” is a duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and was the first single released from the album in late 1982. Written by Jackson, it contains a nice mix of soft/pop instrumentation and lyrically tells of two friends’ fight over a woman, arguing over who loves her more, and concludes with a spoken rap. The song was recorded during the very first session for the album in April 1982. The song “Thriller” was written by Temperton and went through several names, including “Starlight” and “Midnight Man”, before settling on “Thriller” because of merchandising potential.

The second side kicks off with “Beat It”, the most rock-oriented song on the album, intentionally composed for cross-over appeal. The song contains a strong anti-gang-violence message and features a guitar lead by Eddie Van Halen. “Billie Jean” is the finest composition on the album by Jackson with its nice mixture of uptempo funk and somber themes of paranoia and obsession. The signature bass line was played by Louis Johnson and the song employed some unique recording techniques, including Jackson singing vocal overdubs through a six-foot-long cardboard tube and jazz saxophonist Tom Scott playing the lyricon, a rare, wind-controlled analog synthesizer.
 

 
“Human Nature” is an excellent ballad and true highlight on the album. Written by Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro and lyrisist John Bettis, the song has moody and introspective lyrics and haunting, beautiful music and melody. It is the last great moment on the album, which concludes with a couple of relatively weaker songs. Although released as a single, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is really a throw-away filler, best remembered for the backing vocals by Michael’s sisters La Toya and Janet. “The Lady in My Life” is a soulful ballad by Temperton, but not quite as strong as some of the earlier tracks on the album.

This infamous “Thriller” video moment, along with the burning accident while filming a Pepsi commercial that left Jackson scarred for life, came right near the beginning of 1984. Ironically, this turned out to be exactly at the midpoint of Jackson’s life (08/29/58-06/25/09) and may have been the inception of the freak show and tragic figure that Jackson became in the second half of his life, which is all the more tragic when you consider the genius this man displayed during the first half of his life. There is no denying that Thriller is the gold standard for pop albums and probably will never be topped commercially. At the time of death in 2009, the album had sold over 29 million copies, that is Platinum 58 times over.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

Signals by Rush

Signals by Rush

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Signals by RushSignals was the much anticipated ninth album by Rush, as it followed up the blockbuster 1981 album Moving Pictures. This album would be the first where they would depart from the band’s classic sound and migrate towards more “modern” genres of new wave, reggae, ska, and synth-driven pop music. When the album was finally released in September 1982, it was a bit of a disappointment for many of the longtime fans who grew  up with Rush’s classic sound and had really hoped the band would up the ante following the fantastic Moving Pictures with an even better album. They didn’t and it was not. That being said, Signals is still a very good album. It would also establish a pattern of disparate songwriting, such as one song that was the product of drummer Neil Peart jamming with some of the road crew, one with differing parts written by each of the three band members at completely separate locations, and one that included a sequenced bass and guitar part that producer Terry Brown so strongly objected to that he would never again produce a Rush album.

Rush had begun to experiment with synthesized technology as early as 1977’s A Farewell to Kings, when bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee played short synth parts. On subsequent albums the band slowly implemented more electronics, such as foot pedal triggers, to explore more complex arrangements while maintaining their core sound. On Signals, the band brought the synthesized sounds to the forefront, ushering in a new sound for the band which they would explore through the rest of the 1980s. Unlike those later albums, however, this album maintains a rock edge tinged in various sub-genres, which make it a unique and interesting listen. Guitarist Alex Lifeson is still very strong on this album as far as providing the predominent musical melodies.

Further, the lyrical content on this album was a far cry from the deep, philosophical epics of the band’s past. More contemporary and accessible topics were explored such as teen repression, peer pressure, old age, and modern professions.
 


Signals by Rush
Released: September 9, 1982 (Mercury)
Produced by: Rush and Terry Brown
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, April-July 1982
Side One Side Two
Subdivisions
The Analog Kid
Chemistry
Digital Man
The Weapon
New World Man
Losing It
Countdown
Band Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Synth Pedals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synth Pedals
Neal Peart – Drums, Percussion

 
The song “Countdown” was the earliest written for this album, just months after the release of Moving Pictures. The band were invited to a V.I.P. viewing of the launching of the very first space shuttle, Columbia, in Florida in April 1981. This event would be the inspiration for the song which describes the launch in detail along with audio clips of some of the radio talk recorded during the maiden flight. The song, which closes the album, was later used as a “wake-up” song for astronauts during future space shuttle missions. “The Weapon” is a solid song, musically, which includes some sequenced parts and acts as another part in Peart’s disparate trilogy called “Fear”.

The album’s opener, “Subdivisions” is the most enduring song on Signals. This is especially due to the fantastic drumming by Peart, who stands out here more than anywhere else. With the advent of MTV, the band would produce their first music video for this song, which carries a duo meaning, exploring adolescent social constructs as well as urban geographical layouts. Lee also shines, with solid and melodic vocals topping a performance on synthesizer that includes two solos done on a Minimoog and interspersed bass guitar parts.
 

 
The song where Rush sounds the most like its old self is “The Analog Kid”, especially during the hyperactive intro riff and verses. Lifeson provides an excellent solo which introduces a climatic outro to the song. Both “The Analog Kid” and “Digital Man” were later reborn as characters in the 2004 comic Common Grounds. “Digital Man” has a reggae-based backing, which was a sore spot for Brown who was reluctant to leave behind the band’s past sound, while the band members wanted to explore such new musical directions. This song contains some of the most interesting bass playing on the album.

“Chemistry” is probably the weakest song on album, but an interesting “experiment” nonetheless. Each member wrote a different part of the song, including lyrics, from remote locations prior to the album sessions. The song was then compiled in sequence. It would be the last time to date (30 years and counting) that Lee or Lifeson would contribute lyrics to a Rush song. “Losing It” is another experimental song, bringing in a guest violinist Ben Mink on violin. The song is soft and melodic with calm virtuosity and melancholy lyrics and a writer and a dancer past their prime. Lifeson’s dramatic lead greatly enhances to the overall tension of the song.

“New World Man” returns back to the reggae influence, fused nicely with solid, new wave rock beats. the song became a surprise hit single for the band, peaking at #21 on the Billboard charts, the band’s highest charting single and only top 40 ‘hit” in the US. The song was the last composed for the album song on the album, as their goal was to write a song between 3:40 and 3:50 in length to keep the “sides” of the album fairly even. The song was written and recorded on the same day.

The album itself reached #10 on the Billboard album charts and was certified Platinum within two months of its release. The band then embarked on the biggest tour to date, criscrossing North America, Britain, and West Germany to support Signals through 1983.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.


 

Pictures at Eleven by Robert Plant

Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant

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Pictures at Eleven by Robert PlantPictures At Eleven was sweet relief for Zeppelin-starved fans still in shock over John Bonham’s death and the break up of Led Zepplin when it was released as Robert Plant‘s debut solo album in June 1982. However, this album soon got lost in the shadow of later works by Plant, which is unfortunate because pound-for-pound, this may be his finest work as a solo artist. Unlike those later efforts, this album is not dominated by keyboards, which gives space musically for guitarist Robbie Blunt to really shine. The album also displays some fine drumming by Phil Collins, who took time off from a dual career as front man for Genesis and his own fledgling solo work to step into the unenviable position of being the first drummer to back Plant since the 1960s. But of course the true talent here is Plant himself. He stepped up to compose (along with Blunt) some very interesting material which, while maintaining some traces of his previous life with Led Zeppelin, really takes a quantum leap into the new-wavish realm of the early 1980s.

Plant was in a unique state of mind during this period. He believed that the stardom in Led Zeppelin had in someway begotten the string of tragedies that struck his family in the late 1970s and, ultimately, Bonham with his death in 1980. In this light, he refused to perform any Zeppelin songs live and would not set out on a major tour until after he composed his second album, The Principle of Moments in 1983. For this debut solo album, Plant took the rock world by surprise, with a smoother and more stylized vocal style to complement the variety of diverse guitar motifs by Blunt. Still, Plant maintained the same high energy and dynamic output with some signature ad-libs and majestic wailing, which made him one of the most esteemed vocalists in rock.

Pictures At Eleven was also Plant’s debut as a producer and it has held up sonically through three decades. One critique of the sound is the very weak presence of bass by Paul Martinez, as Plant really focused on the guitars and drums in the mix. However, the performances are so strong by Blunt and Collins that Martinez is hardly missed.
 


Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant
Released: June 28, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Robert Plant
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales, 1982
Side One Side Two
Burning Down One Side
Moonlight In Samosa
Pledge Pin
Slow Dancer
Worse Than Detroit
Fat Lip
Like I’ve Never Been Gone
Mystery Title
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Robbie Blunt – Guitars
Jezz Woodroffe – Keyboards
Paul Martinez – Bass
Phil Collins – Drums

 
The songs on Pictures At Eleven is generally standard in lyrical content, focused heavily on love, sex, and heartbreak. However, the bulk of the songs have odd and unexplained titles. “Pledge Pin” is one such title, nicely driven by Collins’ drumming and percussive effects, the song contains slow driving of musical rudiments and a great vocal melody by Plant. This song also features some extended saxophone by Raphael Ravenscroft and became a popular track on AOR radio. “Moonlight in Samosa” is a soft and pleasant ballad lead by Plant’s relatively new “crooning” voice (which he first developed on Zeppelin’s final album In Through the Out Door) and Blunt’s potpourri of guitar textures and styles. The song has a dramatic edge towards the end of the final verse.

Although most of the material is presented in a new fashion, there are two songs on that are most reflective of Led Zeppelin. “Slow Dancer” contains some vocal desperation and mechanically squeezed guitar riff. Couple this with the long, improvised length of song and you have an instant favorite for Zeppelin fans. This song features a fine performance by former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell in lieu of Collins. “Burning Down One Side” makes the most immediate impact on the Zeppelin fan as this has a topical feel as a plausible extension of that band. This opening track was the most popular from the album but disappointingly failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.
 

 
Two of the most interesting songs on the album kick off the second side. The bluesy “Worse Than Detroit” almost feels like Jimmy Page and John Bonham are playing at parts, but here is a jam by Robbie Blunt and Phil Collins at their finest. A wild mid-section features harmonica by Plant, which is complemented later with the heavy slide riff of Blunt. “Fat Lip” is almost the polar opposite of “Worse Than Detroit”. It contains some electronic percussion and fine guitar motifs interspersed between variations of vocal parts – not quite verses nor choruses – but a very unique arrangement. It is really the only song on the album where keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe is prominent and he co-wrote the song.

“Like I’ve Never Been Gone” is a true ballad with just a flair of Spanish styling by Blunt. This song is a little overdrawn but still not totally unpleasant. “Mystery Title” closes the album with a zany guitar riff that predominates the beginning of the song gives way to some very interesting and diverse parts in near schizo fashion, although it all somehow works.

Pictures At Eleven was a solid and successful launching of Plant’s solo career and, although it didn’t contain any really popular individual songs, it was probably the most solid and consistent album he put out.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 music.

 

Diver Down by Van Halen

Diver Down by Van Halen

Diver Down by Van HalenWith their 5th album, Van Halen decided to take a less intense approach. Diver Down was developed by accident as the band, exhausted from constant touring and the production of four studio albums in three years, decided to put out a cover single in lieu of a new album. At the beginning of 1982, they recorded and released a cover of Roy Orbinson’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and it shot up to number one on the mainstream rock charts, their highest charting single to date. As no good deed goes unpunished, the band’s label (Warner Brothers) started to pressure Van Halen to record a full album to take advantage of this new level of pop fame. Eventually the band capitulated and Diver Down was recorded, mixed, mastered, and released in less than three months.

By all traditional metrics, this should be an awful album. It is a 31-minute (extremely short to be considered an “LP”) hodge-podge of cover songs, short instrumental pieces, and demos from the band’s earliest days, wrapped around just a few new original numbers. But there is an undeniable charm which makes this somehow all gel into one of the more interesting Van Halen albums. Although guitarist Eddie Van Halen admits that making the album was a lot of fun, he also states that it is his least favorite album because of all the cover songs stating, “I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” However, some critics have noted that cover songs, starting with “You Really Got Me” from the band’s 1978 debut album, are the perfect mechanism for the band to showcase their unique sound.

Lead vocalist David Lee Roth said the album’s title was meant to imply that “there was something going on (with the band) underneath the surface that’s not apparent to your eyes.” The simple album cover uses the marine flag to advise boats that a diver is currently submerged in the area.

 


Diver Down by Van Halen
Released: April 14, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound & Warner Studios, Los Angeles, January-March 1982
Side One Side Two
Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
Hang Em’ High
Cathedral
Secrets
Intruder
(Oh) Pretty Woman
Dancing In the Street
Little Guitars
Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)
The Full Bug
Happy Trails
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synths, Harmonica
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals | Alex Van Halen – Drums

 
The album begins with a driving cover of the Kinks 1965 song “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Roth pointed out that the band learned to play in their barroom days by covering a whole bunch of Kinks songs from a compilation album he owned. “Hang ‘Em High Dave” is a reworked version of a 1977 song called “Last Night”, and is the song which most reflects back to the traditional Van Halen song with fast pace driven by drummer Alex Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen has lamented that the recorded version of his solo is sub-par to his typical live performance.

Eddie’s first solo instrumental on the album is “Cathedral”, which got its name because he thought the volume-knob effects he used created something similar to the sound of “a Catholic church organ.” This acts as an intro to the fantastic original “Secrets”, the best song on the album. Here the true talent of Van Halen is best showcased in this calm and subtle setting which highlights Roth’s melodic vocals and Eddie Van Halen’s crisp and biting guitar solo. The song, which has been described as the “lightest” the band has ever recorded, has the quality of being at once a melancholy and hopeful.
 

 
“(Oh) Pretty Woman” was the first song for which Van Halen made a video to be played on the new MTV network, and in turn the video became the first to be banned by that network because of its portrayal of the as the “almost theological figure” of a Samurai warrior and because a woman (later revealed to be a drag queen) appears to be molested throughout the video. Roth directed the video but found that the single version of the song was much too short to be compatible, so he composed an intro to the song on synthesizer called “Intruder” and the band recorded it as part of the album.

Dancing In the Street single“Dancing In the Street” was the cover song originally intended to be the single at the beginning of 1982, but Eddie Van Halen was having trouble coming up with a signature riff for the song and “(Oh) Pretty Woman” fit that goal much more easily. When the band decided to do a full album, Eddie revisited this song and came up with some interesting synth effects, giving it an almost “updated disco” feel. This is also one of the few songs on the album which displays the signature backing vocals of Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. The last true highlight of the album is “Little Guitars”, which was actually split into two tracks on the original album with Eddie Van Halen playing a flamenco acoustic intro. The song proper is driven by a steady drum beat that backs up several riff variations before settling in with a choppy riff and more interesting rudiments and passages throughout the song.

Unfortunately, the weakest material on the album is reserved for its conclusion. “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” was done as a laugh when Roth recorded a radio broadcast with the original 1924 version of he song. The Van Halen’s enlisted their father Jan Van Halen to play clarinet on the song. “The Full Bug” sounds unfocused and incomplete with the only true highlight being the short acoustic intro by Roth. The album concludes with the joke “Happy Trails”, a fully vocal performance of the Dale Evans stand, that actually breaks down to laughter near the end.

The band’s previous album, 1981’s Fair Warning was a dark and intense record and Diver Down acted as an almost polar opposite counterpart to lighten the mood. This album also brought the band to a wider commercial audience, setting the stage for their blockbuster  album, 1984.

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R.A.
 
NOTE: Modern Rock Review reviewed Van Halen’s new album today, A Different Kind of Truth.
 

 

 
1982 Images
 
1977 Album Of the Year

The Stranger by Billy Joel

1977 Album Of the Year

Buy The Stranger

The Stranger by Billy Joel There is a bit of irony in The Stranger being our selection as Album of the Year for 1977. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great album by Billy Joel. But it follows Turnstiles and precedes 52nd Street, which are even greater albums even though they may not be Album of the Year for their respective years. The truth is, 1977 was indeed a year of pop music (just check out all our reviews from the year) and this is one of the best pop albums of all time. Joel’s fifth studio album, The Stranger far surpassed the moderate chart successes of his previous four in the early to mid seventies. It reached #2 in the U.S. album charts, is Joel’s best-selling non-compilation album, and surpassed Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to become Columbia Records best-selling album to that date.

All the material from the album was written exclusively by Joel and produced by Phil Ramone with most of songs composed in the studio. Joel credits Ramone for much of the album’s success due to his innovative production methods which complemented Joel’s songs. This team first worked together on 1976’s Turnstiles and built on the successful fusion of rock/pop and different genres introduced on that album. Joel favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and make the production more accessible.

The infectious, radio-ready material was complemented by a few vignettes that covered the middle-class ground that Bruce Springsteen was so successfully exploiting in the mid 1970s. But unlike Springsteen, Billy Joel also clearly constructed some artistic centerpieces that give The Stranger a feel of flow and depth. Although it lacks a true masterpiece like “Piano Man”, “Angry Young Man”, or “Zanzibar” from other albums, The Stranger is probably the most consistent throughout with very few moments of weakness.

Classic Rock Review
The Stranger by Billy Joel
Released: September 1977 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, July-September 1977
Side One Side Two
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
The Stranger
Just the Way You Are
Scenes Form An Italian Restaurant
Vienna
Only the Good Die Young
She’s Always a Woman
Get It Right the First Time
Everybody Has a Dream
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Steve Khan – Guitars
Richie Cannata – Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto– Drums

The album launches with the sharp, underlying rock riff of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, a song exquisite in its pure oddness. Joel’s the piano takes a back seat for most of this entertaining song, lending space to the various other elements of sonic candy; guitar, saxophone, sound effects, and vocal harmonies. The coda features a slight variation of the main theme, solidifying the overall theatrical feel of the song. Aside from the protagonist, the song has many named, blue-collar characters, which paint a vivid picture of city life in a working class neighborhood. Bass player Doug Stegmeyer lent his Corvette to record the sound-effect in the song’s coda. “Movin’ Out” was also the title of a later Broadway musical based on Billy Joel’s songs.

The title song, “The Stranger”, moves from the quiet cabaret during the opening and closing sections to the disco fused body of the song. The harmonized vocal performance during the choruses are particularly pleasing during this stretch of the song. The signature whistling melody was originally supposed to be played by a clarinet, but Phil Ramone convinced Joel to use the whistle instead after he heard him doing it in rehearsal. “Just the Way You Are” was the biggest hit single off the album, reaching #3 on the pop charts and covered by scores of artists including Frank Sinatra. Joel makes no secret of his disdain of this song, written about his then wife and business manager, and had originally decided against including the track on the album and his band called it “lounge lizard” music. But with the encouragement of fellow artist Linda Rondstadt, Joel and Ramone decided to make a more interesting mix with synthesizers, a vocal chorus, and an extended saxophone lead by Richie Cannata.

Billy Joel, 1977

“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is a multi-part suite which morphs from scene to scene in each of four distinct parts that explore rock jazz, blues, and show tunes. The song starts with the atmosphere of a piano bar (or Italian restaurant) and next it moves to a teenage hangout with “a song about New Orleans” and an excellent tenor sax lead. Then there is the song within the song, an upbeat piano tune originally written as the stand-alone “Ballad of Brenda and Eddie”. The song dissolves back to the Italian restaurant to the main theme for the outro. The seven-and-a-half-minute epic is the longest of Joel’s studio cuts.

The album’s second side is the fantastic “Vienna”, inspired by Joel’s young half-brother Alexander Joel (now a classical conductor), who grew up in Vienna. Billy Joel explained how the city was a perfect metaphor for a crossroads situation in life;

“During the Cold War, Vienna was between the Warsaw Pact nations and the NATO countries…it was between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages…it’s the place where cultures co-mingle”

Musically, the song is a calm piano song with great melodic vocals and a touch of accordion by Dominic Cortese, giving the song a legitimate European feel.

Only the Good Die Young singleI’ve always felt that “Only the Good Die Young” took on multiple meanings. There’s the topical and obvious narrative, which was quite controversial at that time as some felt it was anti-Catholic and the use of the name “Virginia” was a play on “virginity”. But there is also the philosophical undertone of examining one’s life and fate and there is the lamenting of the title itself, which is a profound statement. Still, as deep as this may be lyrically, it is completely light and fun musically. While it begins with a catchy piano part, the song is largely driven by the acoustic guitar of Steve Khan and has an “old time rock” feel.

“She’s Always a Woman” is a beautiful waltz played with a deep and melodic piano line, which pissed off a lot of women’s groups because of alleged stereotyping of the fairer sex. It has been described as a love song about a modern woman with quirks and flaws. “Get It Right the First Time” is an interesting and entertaining rock shuffle featuring a unique drum beat by Liberty DeVitto and a flute lead played by Cannata. The album concludes with the Ray Charles influenced “Everybody Has a Dream”, which includes an instrumental reprise of “The Stranger” to close out the album.

The skyrocketing success of The Stranger, was the first of a long string of Billy Joel albums which would achieve great commercial success over the next decade and a half until Joel “retired” from composing popular music around 1993. While this album fit 1977 perfectly, it does not sound dated in any way and that is why it is Classic Rock Review‘s album of the year.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

Low by David Bowie

Low by David Bowie

Buy Low

Low by David BowieLow was a 1977 breakthrough album by David Bowie, which contained avant-garde tracks rich with experimental synthesizers and unique compositional approaches. The album was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti and is considered the first of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” along with Heroes later in 1977 and Lodger in 1979. All three of these albums were collaborations with composer Brian Eno. Much of the album’s second side grew from music Bowie had developed for a soundtrack in 1975 but was rejected by the film’s director. The later-written first side contains a balance of art-rock experimentalism and rock n’ roll tradition, in a mix of instrumentals and uniquely arranged pop/rock fragments of songs.

The songwriting on Low tended to deal with difficult issues.  Bowie was attempting to kick a cocaine habit which was an agonizing experieince for him. The title was partly a reference to Bowie’s “low” moods during the album’s writing and recording. Also influencing the album’s darker themes was the hopelessness of people beyond the Iron Curtain, as symbolized by the Berlin Wall. Bowie had moved to Berlin when he decided to get clean from drugs, bringing him within close geographic contact to the European population without freedom or opportunity in East Germany and other Soviet bloc nations.

Bowie was a rock pioneer during the early days of rock’s glam era. In the mid seventies he tried to find his place with different styles, including a bit of avant-garde with 1976’s Station to Station. With Low put Bowie back at rock’s cutting edge by exploring the new frontier of analog synthesizers and electronic effects. The result would be one of the most critically acclaimed albums of Bowie’s long career.


Low by David Bowie
Released: January 14, 1977 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Tony Visconti
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, France, and Hansa Studio by the Wall, West Berlin, 1976
Side One Side Two
Speed of Life
Breaking Glass
What In the World
Sound and Vision
Always Crashing In the Same Car
Be My Wife
A New Career In a New Town
Warszawa
Art Decade
Weeping Wall
Subterraneans
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone, Harmonica
Brian Eno – Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Carlos Alomar – Guitar
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

Although Low was Bowie’s eleventh studio album, none of the previous ten had included a pure instrumental. That streak is broken  with the album’s opener, “Speed of Life.”  Even though the pattern is rather simple and repetitive, the ambiance of sound lets the listener know from the jump that this is no ordinary rock n’ roll album by making immediate implications about the content of the album and its heavy use of synthesizers as both effects and instruments. “Breaking Glass” follows clocking in at under two minutes, which is really a shame because this fragment is very entertaining and could be tolerated for another minute or two. The funk-influenced track features great bass by Rick Murray.

“What in the World” employs a very 1980s sound well before that decade commenced, with a cool “digital blipping” effect and and other heavy use of synthesizer by Eno. The song also features Iggy Pop on backing vocals. “Sound and Vision” is a funky jazz piece with long intro and small doses of vocals doled out before the actual verses begin about 2/3 through the song. This song was the one singled out by RCA when they warned that the release of Low was tantamount to commercial and artistic suicide, citing the extremely long instrumental intro of “Sound and Vision.” Ironically, “Sound and Vision” became Bowie’s biggest U.K. hit in several years and was adapted by the BBC as background music for its program announcements.

“Always Crashing in the Same Car” may be the song that best personifies this album, with sparse (albeit profound) lyrics and vocals and direct and interesting instrumentals, especially the outtro guitar lead by Carlos Alomar. The lyrics express the frustration of making the same mistake over again and are backed up by more inventive synths and interesting, metallic-tinged guitars by Ricky Gardiner.

Be My Wife single“Be My Wife” is almost like two alternating songs in one – the Beatle-esque “sometimes it gets so lonely” part, and the more traditional Bowie style of the “Be My Wife” section. The overall electronic feel is toned down a bit for a heavier, guitar-driven rock arrangement decorated by sharp “ragtime” piano notes. The first side ends with another instrumental called “A New Career in a New Town”, which breaks from a decidedly new-age intro into an interesting fusion of New Wave and Blues. The song features a harmonica solo by Bowie, giving it a whole new dimension.

As odd as the seven-song first side is, it pales in comparison to the quartet of dramatic pieces which make up side two. “Warszawa” is a collaboration between Bowie and Eno, which sounds like something off Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother or Obscured By Clouds. It contains long, trance-like chord progressions and vocal motifs of nonsensical lyrics, revealing its original intent to be part of a film score. Visconti’s four-year-old son actually played a part in developing this piece by playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano while Eno worked out the synth parts. “Warszawa” was titled for the Polish city which Bowie visited during 1976 and its bleak mood was inspired by the the feeling he got from the city itself. “Art Decade” is a pun on ‘art decayed’ and reflects Bowie’s concern over his own artistic inspiration. The core melody is performed on heavily produced keyboards and was influenced by the German band Kraftwerk.

“Weeping Wall” refers to the Berlin Wall, with the melody being an adaptation of the traditional song “Scarborough Fair”. On this track, Bowie played all instruments including several percussion and synthesizers. The album concludes with “Subterraneans”, which Bowie says was also influenced by the misery in East Berlin. Unfortunately, this piece is really an uninspired ending to an otherwise interesting album.

Although critical reaction to Low was tepid upon its release, it has come to be acclaimed for its originality and is universally considered ahead of its time for 1977.
 
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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

Out Of the Blue by Electric Light Orchestra

Out of the Blue by E.L.O.

Buy Out of the Blue

Out Of the Blue by Electric Light OrchestraOut Of the Blue was the seventh album by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), which began its life in the Swiss Alps after the band wrapped up it’s New World Record tour in April 1977. ELO’s lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Jeff Lynne rented a small chalet near Lake Geneva. He brought his guitar and rented an electric piano and tape recorder, giving himself about a month of solitude to compose new music. But for about two weeks the weather was terrible and Lynne struggled to write anything of substance. Then one morning, the sun came out exposing the majestic mountains and Lynne’s writer’s block disappeared. Starting with the suite “Concerto For a Rainy Day”, the songwriter composed the bulk of this upcoming double album in total, about fourteen tracks in two weeks. The songs were then rehearsed by and arranged for the band and orchestra before production began at Musicland in Munich, Germany, a place favored by Lynne because of its proximity to “a great football pitch out the back for having a break”.

Lynne was happy to get 40 orchestral musicians into the relatively small Musicland after originally booking and being unsatisfied with a much larger studio where there was too much natural re-verb. In the end, every one of the 19 tracks on Out Of the Blue were composed and produced by Lynne and the album was on the shelf in mere months. Out Of the Blue was a great success, reaching the top five on album charts in seven different countries and becoming the most highly regarded album by ELO. The album also benefited from being highly relevant to its time, having some disco-friendly sounds in the year which brought us Saturday Night Fever and spaceship-centered artwork in the year that brought us Star Wars.

Creatively, it was the apex of Lynne’s ambition to blend basic rock’n’roll with orchestral overtones, something many fans and critics believe was his independent crusade to continue the Beatles musical direction of their latter years. Ironically, Beatles producer George Martin felt their only double album, 1968’s White Album could’ve been edited back to form a really excellent single album and Out Of the Blue may have been better served to follow that advice. The songs tend to be overproduced, which is sonically fulfilling at the beginning but gets mundane as the album progresses, especially with a rather weak fourth “side”. The rich vocal arrangements and the method of call and return by Lynn’s lead and the harmonized backing, especially wear thin as the album progresses.

Classic Rock Review
Out Of the Blue by E.L.O.
Released: October 1977 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, May-August 1977
Side One Side Two
Turn To Stone
It’s Over
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Across the Border
Night In the City
Starlight
Jungle
Believe Me Now
Steppin’ Out
Side Three Side Four
Standin’ In the Rain
Big Wheels
Summer and Lightning
Mr. Blue Sky
Sweet Is the Night
The Whale
Birmingham Blues
Wild West Hero
Primary Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Richard Tandy – Keyboards, Guitars
Louis Clark – Orchestra Conductor
Kelly Groucutt – Bass, Vocals
Bev Bevan – Drums, Vocals

The album fades in with the hit “Turn to Stone” with a beat equivalent to early techno and Lynne’s call-out vocals returned by thick harmonies (something that will be repeated all too often on this album). The song contains great texture, a key component to many songs on the album along with the skill of mixing string-laden pop hooks with driving rock and roll. The next song, “It’s Over” is an odd song to be placed anywhere but at the end of a side. The song contains a driving acoustic through the verses with a nice piano piece in the lead

Sweet Talkin' Woman single, 1978A short wedding march introduces “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, a tremendous pop song with fine melodies, harmonies, and overall great use of vocals. “Jungle” is a song of just plain fun with its various types of sound effects, upbeat tempo, and use of nonsensical vocal flourishes and jungle animal noises provided by Lynne along with bassist Kelly Groucutt and drummer Bev Bevan. “Believe Me Now” is a short yet entertaining instrumental that introduces the melodic an melancholy “Steppin’ Out”, written in a similar vein to past classics like “Telephone Line”.

Based on old-time rock, “Across the Border” adds mariachi horns into the already-packed musical palette of sound effects, Moog synthesizer, and violin by Mik Kaminski. The album’s second side starts with “Night In the City”, a definitely disco-influenced track with just a hint of prog-rock experimentation through the changing chord structures and vocal arrangements. “Starlight” is a dreamy, slow dance influenced, piano driven song with topical, new-age sounds.

The entirety of side three is subtitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day”, a four track suite based on the weather and how it affects mood change, ending gloriously with “Mr. Blue Sky”, an uplifting celebration of sunshine. The song has liberal use of vocoder from keyboardist Richard Tandy. Beyond this, the song contains the best vocals on this vocal-rich album, from the cool lead by Lynne, to the multi-part harmonies in the chorus, to the building arrangement following the second verse, to the great choral arrangement later in the song. Leading up to this climatic final song, the concerto (which would be the end of Lynne’s dabbling in symphonic rock) contains the haunting “Standin’ in the Rain”, the dramatic, string-driven “Big Wheels”, and the acoustic, pop-oriented “Summer and Lightning”.

Electric Light Orchestra

Side four is, unfortunately, the weakest side on Out Of the Blue as this otherwise fine album fizzles to an anti-climatic end. It is not that these songs are terrible, just that all the spectacular moments have passed and nothing here seems too original or inspiring. “Sweet Is the Night” may have been a hit single if it were released, as it does have some pleasant and melodic moments. “The Whale” is an instrumental which is largely an experiment with synthesized sounds by Tandy. “Birmingham Blues” is mainly uninspired filler, and the album’s closer, “Wild West Hero” adds some “honky tonk” elements which seem forced and underdeveloped.

Still, Out Of the Blue contains some fantastic songs and there were actually even a couple of very good songs that were originally kept off (although later added for the 30th anniversary edition. These were the fine instrumental “The Quick and the Daft” and the melodic, pop-oriented “Latitude 88 North”, which has a sound that may have actually been ahead of its time for 1977. Then again, Jeff Lynne and ELO always seemed to be just a little ahead of their time.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.