Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC-DC

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
by AC/DC

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Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC-DCAustralian rockers AC/DC produced their third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap during the summer of 1976 and released it in their home land in September of that year on the Albert Records label. A few months later, an international version of the album was released on Atlantic Records in many markets around the world but not in the United States. It would not be released in America until 1981, a full five years later. This fact is rather incredible when you listen to the album and recognize its high quality and commercial appeal. When the album was finally released in the States soon after the breakthrough album Back In Black, it became an instant smash, reaching #3 on the Billboard album charts and propelled the band into super-stardom.

The original Australian version of the album differs from the international (and later U.S.) version, which include shorter versions of two songs and replace “R.I.P. (Rock in Peace)” and “Jailbreak” with “Rocker” and “Love at First Feel”. All songs on the album are original, with the music written by brother guitarists Angus Young and Malcolm Young and the lyrics penned by singer Bon Scott.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap also contains some material with controversial lyrics, much in an explicit sexual nature. The band originally entertained the idea of developing a “concept” centered around a classic mystery scenario. The title was derived from a character on the cartoon Beany and Cecil, which carried a business card that read, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Holidays, Sundays and Special Rates.”
 

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Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC
Released: September 20, 1976 (Albert, Australia)
Produced by: Harry Vanda & George Young
Recorded: January-July 1976
Side One Side Two
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Love at First Feel
Big Balls
Rocker
Problem Child
There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’
Ain’t No Fun
(Waiting Round To Be a Millionaire)
Ride On
Squealer
Band Musicians
Bon Scott – Lead Vocals
Angus Young – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Malcom Young – Guitars, Vocals
Mark Evans – Bass
Phil Rudd – Drums

The closer “Squealer” is the absolute raunchiest song on the album, as it steps right up to the line between purely explicit and something much darker and creepier. This asymmetrical tangent is lead by the driving riff by bassist Mark Evans and may be comparable to some of the material of the alternative era two decades later. “Big Balls” is simply brilliant. It is as risque as “Squealer” but done in a much more tactful way as the lyric is bold and almost vulgar while protected by the tremendous use of double entendre. Scott works this song tremendously using a very dramatic and theatrical telling that drives the song home.

The album kicks in with the title song, presented almost in the form of a commercial for a criminal for hire. Using an excellent play on words and an amazing sense of restraint by the normally maniacal Young brothers, this is also the first of several songs on the album to employ the child-like chorus during the refrain. “Love at First Feel” follows as a suitable complement to the opener, with an entertaining guitar riff and an introduction into the raunchy songs of Dirty Deeds.

Bon Scott died in February 1980, over a year before any of Americans heard his great work on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. At the time of his death, none of the surviving members of the band had yet heard their next singer Brian Johnson perform. However, Scott had heard him and compared Johnson favorably to a modern day Little Richard. This was a bit ironic, as Scott had obviously admired the classic performer as he replicated him as best he could in “Rocker”. This song, along with “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin”, showed the band paying homage to traditional rock n’ roll. “Problem Child” goes the opposite direction in time, previewing the AC/DC style of the later Bon Scott years through the Brian Johnson era. “Ain’t No Fun Waitin’ Round to Be a Millionaire” starts with a really cool alt/chorus riff, adding a great dimension to this song, which is also well ahead of its time. The band stays on a repetitive riff for long time before finally giving way to the chorus break which repeats many times before breaking into an outtro section based on the verse riff sped up.

“Ride On” is simply a great song with the simplest of blues-based rhythm and a strong and steady beat by drummer Phil Rudd. The simple and calm riff, which displays nice restraint by the Young brothers, backs up the finest singing by Bon Scott. The song feels at times like it’s going to break into something heavier but stays within the bounds of its own structure accented only by a bluesy lead by Angus Young. The song contains good lyrics and a well-placed whisper in chorus hook, which Scott never actually sings, giving the song yet another edge.

AC/DC in 1976

The album is not only “dirty” and “raunchy” but also diverse. With a sense of satire and wittiness that rivals Frank Zappa combined with the unambiguous, straight-up rock employed by contemporaries like Aerosmith and Kiss, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap hits a unique groove like no other work. Not being released for five years may have actually placed the album in a more perfect slot for the American audience as it arrived after Back in Black as an even more mature album artistically.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

The Pretender by Jackson Browne

The Pretender by Jackson Browne

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The Pretender by Jackson BrowneWritten the the wake of a personal tragedy, The Pretender, by Jackson Browne brings the listener on a subtle journey. It begins by exploring the heavy burdens and trials of life from which you must fight your way through to the elusive goal and the ultimate reward – happiness. The whole thing is obviously written by someone in the midst of great despair, but the overall theme is that things will somehow work out despite all the darkness and pain. A thought that somewhere along the line you’ll be rewarded for simply doing the right thing as long as you keep plugging along is a general theme of the album.

The Pretender was written and released months after the suicide of Browne’s first wife, Phyllis Major. Browne was left with their two-year-old son. Finding one’s way through darkness and heartbreak in life is the universal theme that gives this collection its staying power. While Browne had intentionally explored many dark issues on his first three albums in the early seventies, on this fourth album he seems to be desperately crawling in opposite directions by trying to make sense of it all and understand the larger picture.

Browne continues to use his signature style of Southern California piano-folk, there are many subtle intrusions that seep into these (largely) unassuming ballads. He plays on sonic dynamics from very simple melodies to much richer musical arrangements backing up a very specific type of poetic philosophy.

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The Pretender by Jackson Browne
Released: November, 1976 (Asylum)
Produced by: John Landau & Jackson Browne
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Hollywood, CA, 1976
Side One Side Two
The Fuse
Your Bright Baby Blues
Linda Paloma
Here Come Those Tears Again
The Only Child
Daddy’s Tune
Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate
The Pretender
Primary Musicians
Jackson Browne – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Acoustic Guitars
Fred Tackett – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Billy Payne – Piano, Organ
Leland Sklar – Bass
Jeff Porcaro – Drums

The album commences with “The Fuse”, a strong yet confusing song which may be interpreted in different ways by different people. It may mean the fuse that leads to the ultimate destruction or it may simply mean light the fuse to happiness and you are what you choose to be. The music consists of choppy little piano note riffs with nice lead guitar overtones by David Lindley. “Your Bright Baby Blues” is a more measured, standard song with dynamic vocals by Browne and another nice guitar lead, this time by Lowell George, with lyrics that speak of a temporary fix but persistent issues;

“No matter how fast I run, I can’t run away from me…”

The Pretender contains a few tracks with cross-genre and diverse sounds. “Linda Paloma” has an interesting Mexican sound with a harp by Arthur Gerst and Roberto Guiterrez on guitaron. However, this song does tend to drone after a while. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” is a more succinct ballad with thick strings backing the core piano, bass, and acoustic guitar and speaks of a sudden awakening after years of sleepwalking through life, apparently a direct reference to his wife’s suicide.

“Here Come Those Tears Again” was co-written by Browne’s Mother-in-law Nancy Farnsworth. Although it is probably the closest to a “pop hit” on the album, it is very poetic in its approach with a strong musical arrangement and well blended guitar and piano. “The Only Child” apparently speaks of Browne’s son and is another “journey” kind of song with a fiddle by David Lindley throughout. “Daddy’s Tune” starts as a basic ballad with some very good piano that later breaks into a highly enjoyable, upbeat, horn section.

The closing title song is the best song on the album as well as the theme which ties it all together. It is a multi-part, lyric rich, mini suite, which is basically poetry set to music. It speaks of getting lost in the details while losing sight of the big picture, starting young and strong but ending up living the life of a “happy idiot” with “paint by number dreams”. Browne began recording “The Pretender” in the late winter of 1975, after first joining up with rock critic and producer Jon Landau. A few weeks into the song’s development, Browne’s wife committed suicide, changing the perspective completely.

Still, the song and album ends with a tinge of hope;

Are you there? Say a prayer for the pretender /
Who started out so young and strong only to surrender…”

The last lines of the song are a call to wake up and start realizing your dreams before it’s too late – time marches and what you choose to do with your time is up to you – don’t let it pass you by or you will be the Pretender.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

Night Moves by Bob Segar

Night Moves by Bob Seger

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Night Moves by Bob SegarAlthough this album was his first real breakthrough, Night Moves is actually the ninth overall studio album by Bob Seger. Starting off in his home Detroit area, his career dated all the way back to 1961. For the first decade, his career went through several incarnations with differing acts including earlier bands with names like The Decibels, The Town Criers, and Doug Brown & the Omens. In the late sixties and early seventies, Seger fronted the acts Bob Seger and the Herd and The Bob Seger System. Over those years, Seger scored some big regional hits as well as a few small national hits, but never quite found the career cohesion to build any serious popular momentum. That all changed when Seger formed the Silver Bullet Band.

Coming together in 1974, the Silver Bullet Band included original members Drew Abbott on guitar, Alto Reed on saxophone, Chris Campbell on bass, and Charlie Allen Martin on drums. With the recording of the 1975 album Beautiful Loser, Robyn Robbins joined on keyboards. In April 1976, this new band recorded Live Bullet which contained tracks that started to receive heavy airplay on album-oriented radio, forecasting some greater success to come. This potential was confirmed in a huge way during the summer of 1976, when Seger headlined a show in front of 80,000 at the Pontiac Superdome in suburban Detroit.

Although Night Moves is credited to the Silver Bullet Band, nearly half of the album is backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section from the famous studio in Alabama. The album was well received by critics and was Seger’s first to be certified platinum and to date it has sold over six million copies
worldwide.

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Night Moves by Bob Segar
Released: October 22, 1976 (Capitol)
Produced by: Bob Segar & Punch Andrews
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Alabama, 1976
Side One Side Two
Rock and Roll Never Forgets
Night Moves
The Fire Down Below
Sunburst
Sunspot Baby
Mainstreet
Come to Poppa
Ship of Fools
Mary Lou
Primary Musicians
Bob Seger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Drew Abbot – Guitars
Robyn Robbins – Piano, Organ
Alto Reed – Saxophones
Chris Campbell – Bass
Chris Allen Martin Drums & Percussion

 

A couple of years before he would record the standard “Old Time Rock and Roll”, Bob Seger touched on the genre of roots rock with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” as the opening song from Night Moves. The song sets the pace for the nostalgic feel of the album which seemed to be targeted at twenty and thirty-somethings.

The title song “Night Moves” was nearly an instant classic as a compelling story about the secret getaways of teenage lovers. Influenced by Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland”, Seger wrote and recorded the song during a session in a Toronto studio, and employed an interesting arrangement that brings the listener on a journey from the past to the present.

Several songs on Night Moves are female-centric, starting with “The Fire Down Below” which cynically deals with the world of prostitution. “Sunspot Baby” deals with a free-spirited woman who takes off while “Come To Poppa” is quite the opposite, dealing with a needy woman who constantly returns to her benefactor when times are tough.

Bob Seger Mainstreet single“Mainstreet” is probably the best overall song on the album. It talks of a young stripper losing her innocence in a world of smokey bars, as told from the point of view of her protagonist observer. The song has an incredible atmosphere painted by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section sound, especially the smooth, ethereal guitar line which is the song’s main signature. This background scenery is balanced by the moody, narrative lyrics by Seger, which were literally written about “Ann Street” in Seger’s childhood hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Night Moves would be a t the forefront of Segar’s most popular period, which was anchored by three solid and successful albums starting with this one in 1976, and followed by Stranger In Town in 1978 and Against the Wind in 1980.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

A New World Record by ELO

A New World Record by E.L.O.

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A New World Record by ELOThe sixth overall album for Electric Light Orchestra (E.L.O.), A New World Record would become the band’s breakthrough worldwide. Lead singer, chief songwriter, and producer Jeff Lynne later said he considered this album to be the band’s pinnacle (and he may be right). The album combines the better elements of ELO’s of previous works – great pop sensibility and melody with deeper orchestral arrangements and polished production. It is also a transitional album where the sound of the band becomes less progressive and more radio-friendly, with no less than four “hit” songs charting from A New World Record, helping the band to finally break through in their native England.

A New World Record was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, the same location where ELO recorded their previous album Face the Music the year before (it is also the same location where our most recent review Presence by Led Zeppelin was recorded). This studio in the basement of a majestic hotel along with its famed engineer Reinhold Mack.

Many have describe the band’s sound as The Beatles advanced about a half decade later, and there is definitely audio evidence to back that assertion, but there is much more here. Although on one level completely unique, the sound that Jeff Lynne and the band forged through the mid-to-late seventies was the perfect soundtrack for the colorful, bright, and “Star Wars” motif of the era. Further, while many sentiments migrated to the polar extremes of disco and punk when abandoning the over-indulgent virtuosity of progressive rock, E.L.O. chose a more mainstream, roots-rock core just as the generation which grew up in the 1950s were feeling nostalgic for this music. This same core was never truly abandoned by the Beatles, through all their late sixties innovation, so there may be the true comparison.

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A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra
Released: September 11, 1976 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, July 1976
Side One Side Two
Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria
Mission (A World Record)
So Fine
Livin’ Thing
Above the Clouds
Do Ya
Shangri-La
Band Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Richard Tandy – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Kelly Groucutt – Bass, Vocals
Bev Bevan – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Mik Kaminski – Violin
Hugh McDowell & Melvyn Gale – Cellos
Louis Clark – Orchestral

A New World Record begins with “Tightrope”, which comes in with a deep and doomy synth that gives way to strings and orchestral vocals before finally kicking in fully at around 1:15 with the thumping rhythm of drummer Bev Bevan and bassist Kelly Groucutt. An excellent rock song interspersed with the “edge” of orchestral strings and choral vocals, this song sets the pace for the rest of the album allthe way through its concluding “Shangri-La”. This last song seems to be a play on to the theme song to the band’s 1974 album El Dorado, both mythical places where the music of E.L.O. tries to take us.

The beautiful and serene “Telephone Line” is a more traditional love song with a definite late-era-Beatles “Golden Slumbers” vibe, especially during the verse. Vocally, the song is superb with Lynn’s voice starting at extreme mid-range for the “telephone” effect before slowly morphing towards normalcy and the chorus “do wap” section adds an undeniable hook. In contrast “Rockaria”, while still very poppy and entertaining, could not be any less conventional. Perhaps the best song on the album, it literally adds opera to a true rock song, in a way as smooth (if not smoother) than Queen did on A Night At the Opera a year earlier. “Rockaria” constantly fluctuates between an aria and an old time, thumping rock song, all very seamless and sweet, yet truly unique.

The first side ends with “Mission”, a quasi-thematic piece with heavy strings throughout with nice sprinklings of Lynne’s guitars and Richard Tandy’s clavichord. The second side kicks off with “So Fine”, a funky song with some modern, almost synthesized sounds complementing that show the band was trying to fit into the disco world as well.

A signature orchestral riff is carried over from “So Fine” to the hit song “Livin’ Thing”, driven by an excellent acoustic rhythm, some majestic lead vocals, and a couple of violin interludes by Mike Kaminski, This would one of the most popular songs ever by the band. “Above the Clouds” follows as an odd but interesting, McCartney-esque song with thumping piano and a subtle Theremin whining in the background through two verses before breaking down with a slow string-led ending. “Do Ya” is pop/rock at its finest, perfect for the era as a radio hit as well as a nice counter-balace to the more serious material on the album. The song is a simple rocker yet impossible to ignore and puts the album well over the top as a commercial success.

In the wake of the tremendous success of A New World Record, E.L.O. would go on to produce their most ambitious effort the following year with Out Of the Blue in 1977 and would remain a relevant force in the pop and rock world into the early eighties.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

1976_LedZeppelin Presence

Presence by Led Zeppelin

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Presence by Led ZeppelinIn late 1975, Led Zeppelin had planned a world tour to capitalize of the phenomenal success of their latest album Physical Graffiti. The band was at the absolute zenith of their popularity with a string on top-selling albums going back to 1969. However, a serious car accident involving lead singer Robert Plant while he was vacationing on the island of Rhodes with his wife, made the tour impossible. Plant was confined to a wheelchair for nearly six months and this tilted the band towards writing and recording a new “unplanned” album. The result was Presence, the least successful album in the Zeppelin catalog commercially and one with very mixed reviews critically. However, Presence is the album that the band themselves consider to be their “most important”.

During his recovery period in Malibu, CA following the accident, Plant began to write some lyrics. He was soon joined by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page to further work on these compositions. When enough material had been written, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were summoned to rehearsals in California. The band then migrated to Munich, Germany for recording, all with Plant still in a wheelchair. The studio was small, in a basement, and very difficult for Plant to work in. Further, the band found out that they had just 18 days for the entire production as the Rolling Stones had the very same studio booked for their next album, Black and Blue. As producer, Page pretty much stayed awake for the entire 18 days in order to complete the album in Munich.

The result is, perhaps, the most unusual Led Zeppelin album (although each of their albums are quite distinct). Page developed a cleaner, “twang-ier” guitar sound in contrast to his signature “crunch” riffs of earlier days. Bonham’s drumming is furious and strong with a sound extended from that on Physical Graffiti, while Jones continued his migration from a dynamic blues to that of a more standard rock bass player. As Plant himself admits, his vocals dynamics suffered a bit due to his confinement. Further, he was a bit upset with the band’s management for keeping him from his wife, who was also seriously injured in the car wreck and recovering back in England, mainly due to tax reasons. Still, Robert Plant at 50% is superior to most rock singers and his performance on Presence is far from embarrassing.

The album was completed on November 26, 1975, the day before Thanksgiving, and that American holiday was considered as the title for the album. This title was rejected in favor of “Presence”, a representative force surrounding the band. The cover artwork features various images of random people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped “object”, a sort of play on the space object in the film 2001.

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Presence by Led Zeppelin
Released: March 31, 1976 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, November 1975
Side One Side Two
Achilles Last Stand
For Your Life
Royal Orleans
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Candy Store Rock
Hots On For Nowhere
Tea For One
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass
John Bonham – Drums & Percussion

Presence is the only Led Zeppelin album with neither acoustic or keyboard tracks, as the band made a concerted effort to forge and updated version of their earliest “raw” sound. This strategy succeeds well on the first side but is less successful on the second side as the three songs on the first side are far superior to the four on the second. Still, it is refreshing that the band never lost their capacity for experimentation even with this quickly rushed album.

Unlike most albums which tend to build towards an epic song late on either sides this album kicks off right away with “Achilles Last Stand”, the tour de force of Presence. The song starts with dreamy, flanged guitar intro by Page which gives way to a rapid trigger-like riff that gets variated throughout. It is a true journey of a song lead by Plant’s lyric and vocal telling of his misfortune in the land of the Greek heroes. One flaw with the song is that it lasts just a bit too long and becomes a little repetitive towards the end. It perhaps would have worked better as a 7-minute song than this 10½ minute goliath.

Led Zeppelin in 1976

This last point is magnified with the album’s closer “Tea For One”, another extended cut but with a lot less action. The truth is, the best part of this 9-plus-minute song is the first 21 seconds when the band does a riff completely out of context with the rest of the song, which is a slow and depressing diddy that wallows in misery and desperately cries for a kick into a higher gear at some point. Some have pointed to the shorter songs on the album as “filler”, but I believe the filler actually lies within the longer compositions themselves by virtue of repetitiveness. Which begs the question – if the band didn’t feel like they had enough material, why not add some older material like they had with Physical Graffiti? We know now that there were some fine, unreleased songs out there like “Traveling Riverside Blues”, “Poor Tom”, and “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”

Led Zeppelin Royal Orleans singleRounding out side one is a couple of unique Zeppelin gems. “For Your Life” is the quintessential Led Zeppelin song, filled with bluesy licks over a catchy riff and dynamic, much-improvised vocals by Plant belting out lyrics that are hard to decipher completely, but with a vibe “felt” to the bone. The song contains nice changes, an interesting bridge, and a precise, simple, and strong beat throughout by Bonham. “Royal Orleans” is a fun and funky tune allegedly retelling a story involving John Paul Jones and a transvestite.

Launching the second side, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Plant’s guilt-ridden song about bad things befalling him (presumably the car wreck) due to his own actions. The song contains an excellent blues harp solo, unlike anything he had done since “When the Levee Breaks” on Led Zeppelin IV, five years earlier. It is the first of two distinct leads, followed by Page’s own bluesy guitar lead, combined these make up the best part of the song. Much like “Achilles”, this composition would be better if more succinct and less repetitive, but it is still a fine track.

The heart of the second side contains two fine sounding throwback songs. “Candy Store Rock” is an Elvis tribute, which uses the candy store as an analogy for sex in the same fashion that “Trampled Underfoot” used the car on the previous album. It is not a terrible listen but just a little disappointing in the minimalist approach of Page and Jones. Bonham, on the other hand plays a very interesting beat with entertaining variations throughout. “Hots On for Nowhere” is one of the forgotten gems of the Zeppelin catalog, a stop-start rockabilly riff and beat with some nice changes. It is a song with a very upbeat vibe despite the mainly depressing lyrics.

Presence did initially rush to #1 on the Billboard charts (probably due to the band’s popularity alone) but quickly fell and tracks from this album have rarely received airplay. Also, because of it being completely built in the studio, few songs from the album were played live on subsequent tours. Still, despite this initial subdued reception, Presence is an excellent listen that has held up well over the decades and cannot be overlooked by any true fans of Led Zeppelin today.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

Turnstiles by Billy Joel

Turnstiles by Billy Joel

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Turnstiles by Billy JoelTurnstiles is , in a lot of ways, the “growing up” album for Billy Joel. Even though he was only in his mid twenties at the time of its production (which was also his debut as a producer), it is the most reflective and nostalgic album that he would ever make. Further, it came at a time when he had decided to return to his native New York from a three year exile to California where he cut his teeth in piano bars and wrote and recorded his initial two albums for Columbia Records. This additional element played a large part in constructing this collection of songs which focus on the past and present in a deep and philosophical way.

This geographic shift by Joel is evident on several levels, lyrically as well as stylistically on Turnstiles. Both Hollywood and New York are explicitly and implicitly referred to in several songs, with the rest comparing and contrasting the past and present through specific issues – music (“All You Want To Do Is Dance”), careers (“James”), and politics/ideology (“Angry Young Man”). The album’s cover shows Joel at a subway turnstile with eight others, each representing a central lyrical characters in each of the album’s eight songs.

Stylistically, Joel abandoned the softer “California” sound, for more raw, albeit diverse, rock using his new touring band in the studio. This also migrated his sound more towards that of fellow east-coaster Bruce Springsteen, who had just released his masterpiece, Born to Run. The decision came after Joel fired the original producer of the album, James William Guercio, after being dissatisfied with the initial recordings. He then and took over as producer himself and moved production to a studio in his native Long Island to make the album his way. The result was a very musically diverse and satisfying gem.

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Turnstiles by Billy Joel
Released: May 19, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Billy Joel
Recorded: Ultrasonic Studios, Hempstead, NY, January 1976
Side One Side Two
Say Goodbye to Hollywood
Summer, Highland Falls
All You Want To Do Is Dance
New York State of Mind
James
Prelude / Angry Young Man
I’ve Loved These Days
Miami 2017
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Russell Javors – Guitars
Richie Cannata – Saxophone, Guitar
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty Devitto – Drums

“Say Goodbye to Hollywood” launches the album with Spector-esque percussion effects and a great overall sonic aura. Here, even the “stylish” strings are held to a minimum, so the song resists the urge of being forever “dated” in the mid-seventies. The vacillating between a slow and calm beat in the verse and a driving rocker during the chorus is a good testament to the songwriting genius of Billy Joel. The song was a celebration of his life back in New York, breaking from the culture of Hollywood.

“Summer, Highland Falls”, a true gem of a Billy Joel song, philosophically deep yet a pleasant and melodic listen. The piano definitely leads the music but does not dominate, as Billy Joel the producer allowed much room for his fine backing band. This is followed up by another reflective song, but of a sharply contrasting genre called “All You Wanna Do Is Dance”. With a consistent reggae beat and Caribbean overtones, this song fuses in some artistic nods to Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell as well as Bob Marley.

Billy Joel in 1976

Billy Joel describes “New York State of Mind” as rebellious against those ex-New Yorkers who seemed to celebrate the city’s demise during the mid seventies. It would go on to become a standard, especially after September 11th, being played at all kinds of ball games and events. The song showcases Joel’s technical proficiency on the piano as well as the fine sax playing of Richie Cannata. It is an early impersonation of Ray Charles, something he would revisit ten years later with “Baby Grand”.

The second side of Turnstiles starts with “James”, a song that is a bit corny and seems like a knock-off of Elton John’s “Daniel”, with the electric piano and all. Exploding from this calm serenity comes the “Prelude” to “Angry Young Man”, the most technically proficient, wildly entertaining, and lyrically deep song on the album. The long, multi-part “Prelude” is a jam that Joel and his band would use to start live shows for decades to come, and is a testament to the fine skills of guitarist Russell Javors, bassist Doug Stegmeyer, and drummer Liberty Devitto. The fantastic lyrics are a biting and self-effacing;

“…and there’s always a place for the angry young man,
with his fist in the air and his head in the sand…”

It is also a prelude to later extended classics like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from The Stranger and “Zanzibar” from 52nd Street.

The two moody and beautiful “I’ve Loved These Days” is again about growing up and feels almost too sentimental to be lamenting the end to days of indulgence and partying, presumably during Joel’s California days. This may have been a smash hit were a more traditional ballad about love or broken relationships. “Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)” is a dystopian ballad, which borders on the absurd, probably as a satire on the doom and gloom attitude about New York. The song is narrated by a senior citizen in Florida during our present decade, who recalls a “celebration” concert held as sections of New York City were systematically destroyed. The music starts as a ballad, launches into a rocker and then ends the album in nice way, with fading piano riff.

Turnstiles would become the first of the three finest albums by Billy Joel, which were released in consecutive years starting in 1976. While it did not achieve the commercial success of its successors, 1977’s The Stranger or 1978’s 52nd Street, Turnstiles may well be the most cohesive album of the trio.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

2112 by Rush

2112 by Rush

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2112 by RushConvinced that their run at fame was all but over, the members of Rush decided to go out “in a blaze of glory”. They were all very satisfied with the previous album, 1975’s Caress of Steel and felt that the rock world just didn’t get it. Further, with sales down and exposure decreased, they resented the fact that their label, Mercury Records, seemed to be pressuring them at their most vulnerable point rather than offering the support they really needed. The label specifically did not want them to do another album with “concept” songs, such as they had with the 12-minute “The Necromancer” and the side-long epic “The Fountain of Lamneth”.

But rather than deliver some lame, commercialized album like the record company had demanded, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart decided to double down and make the album that THEY wanted to make as a band. They had all accepted the fact that this was probably their last best shot in the music industry and were willing to go back to life as civilians rather than have their creative instincts dictated from above. In fact, they had jocularly referred to their recent tour of clubs as the “Down the Tubes” tour.

On April 1, 1976, Rush released 2112, which indeed included a side-long eponymous concept song. But instead of choosing a pure prog rock album, the band blends a nice mix of heavy pop rock with the five standard length songs on the second side. With limited label support and little-to-no radio support, this platinum album would still go on to sell like hotcakes on the strength of word-of-mouth alone. Ironically, it would buy the band their creative independence from any future mingling by Mercury and subsequent labels. The band would be free to make whatever kind of music they wanted to make. As Neil Peart, the band’s primary lyricist said;

“It was the skeleton key that let us open that door…”

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2112 by Rush
Released: April 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, February 1976
Side One Side Two
2112 A Passage to Bangkok
The Twilight Zone
Lessons
Tears
Something For Nothing
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Bass, Synths Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neil Peart – Drums, Vocals

The obvious focal point of the album is the “2112” suite that occupies the entire first side. Like he had on previous albums, Peart turned to author and philosopher Ayn Rand for inspiration, as the story closely mirrors that of her short story Anthem (ironically, the song “Anthem” off Fly By Night, while definitely inspired by Rand, was less a translation of the story by the same name). “2112” tells the dystopian story of a multi-planet society controlled the Federation of the “Red Star”, who have “no need for ancient ways” or items like the electric guitar, which is discovered by the story’s protagonist.

Rush in 1976

The seven-part suite is a cohesive and mesmerizing piece with an exciting jam, “2112 Overture”, kicking things off. Geddy Lee sings in different voices, playing the protagonist, the nemesis “priests”, and the “Oracle” – and he pulls it off fantastically, especially during the “Presentation” section of the suite. Further, the space age effects that encapsulate the whole piece give it an additional edge for appealing to the Star Wars generation of the late 1970s (even though “2112” preceded the Lucas classic by more than a year). As yet another added dimensions, there is also something a bit religious about it with the lyric “…and the meek shall inherit the earth…”, as well as the fictional society being run by “priests”. The world was ready for this type of progressive statement, that fit perfectly 1976 but yet still sounds fresh a generation and a half later.

The second side of the album is filled with standard-length, accessible pop rock songs that are each radio friendly (so, in this sense the band may have, in fact, quasi-capitulated to the record company). The side is highlighted by “A Passage to Bangkok”, a longtime fan favorite that moves from location to location on a “train” (which, at one point, mysteriously jumps the Atlantic Ocean from Bogota to Katmandu), sampling all the diverse “herb” of these native lands. “Something For Nothing”, which returns to the Randian theme on individuality, shows the band at full force to end the album on a high.

Rush Starman logoThe album’s back cover included the “Starman Logo”, which Neil Peart describes as symbolic of the individual against the masses. The logo was designed by Hugh Syme, who first worked with Rush on their cover of Caress of Steel and would be involved with most of band’s cover art in the future. Syme also played mellotron on the 2112 song “Tears”, becoming the first outside musician to make an appearance on a Rush album. That song is unique as a love song written solely by Lee, who also plays acoustic guitar on the track. Alex Lifeson also had his own fully composed song with “Lessons”, which features and upbeat blend of acoustic and electric riffs. “The Twilight Zone” is based on two episodes of the Rod Serling television show of the same name, with the lyrics based on two specific episodes; “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town” It was the first and only single to be released from 2112.

The success of this album launched the band into their most prolific and artistically intensive period of their career. Although the longevity of Rush would see them compose even finer albums over the next several decades, 2112 remains a definitive work in the band’s history.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

Genesis 1976 albums

A Trick Of the Tail and
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis

Buy A Trick of the Tail
Buy Wind & Wuthering

Genesis 1976 albumsWe love Genesis here at Classic Rock Review. Although, this is certainly not evident by our treatment of the band so far in this inaugural year. We’ve had four previous opportunities to cover Genesis albums during our look at four classic years but passed on each of those albums (Trespass in 1971, Abacab in 1981, Invisible Touch in 1986, and We Can’t Dance in 1991). Well, today is an opportunity for some make up as we will do a double review of Genesis’ two 1976 releases A Trick Of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering.

These two albums mark Peter Gabriel‘s departure and drummer Phil Collins debut as the group’s lead singer. These are also the only two albums where Genesis is a four piece band. They were a five piece with Gabriel and would become a three piece in the future following the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett.

The band had searched long for a replacement for Gabriel (some claiming as many as 400 auditions were conducted) all while they wrote and recorded the instrumental tracks for what would become A Trick Of the Tail. Collins provided a vocal “guide” so these candidates could become familiar with their potential vocal role for this material, but no one was sufficient for the job. After briefly considering putting the album out as a pure instrumental, the band decided that Collins should be the new permanent vocalist, although he was initially reluctant to do so.

Critical expectations were low leading up the release of A Trick Of the Tail in early 1976. Hence, the album’s quality and originality were a pleasant surprise to all. It was although the four remaining members had a point to prove – that they could continue successfully without Gabriel – and they proved it brilliantly. Collins demonstrated that he is an excellent singer by staying with in the tonal range of Gabriel while still exploring his own territory vocally. The songwriting credits extend to everyone, making the album’s composition a true group effort. They stayed true to the Genesis legacy while evolving ever so slightly towards a new, modern sound. In musical direction, the album is an impressionist piece of art rock, using storytelling with and without words. The lyrics are like fairy tales or fables and the music makes you envision scenery much as an opera.

With Wind & Wuthering the band stayed true with the basic formula and philosophy as A Trick Of the Tail. However, it feels a bit more forced sounding less fresh than its predecessor. This is especially true on the second side where the band seemed to be making one last try at constructing an art piece in the fashion of their earlier albums. But, most of the songs sound under developed. That being said, Wind & Wuthering does have some brilliant moments, especially when it comes to the songs that open and close the album.

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A Trick Of the Tail by Genesis
Released: February 2, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, October-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Dance On a Volcano
Entangled
Squonk
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault, & Battery
Ripples
A Trick Of the Tail
Los Endos
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis
Released: December 23, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Relight Studios, Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, September-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Eleventh Earl of Mar
One For the Vine
Your Own Special Way
Wot Gorilla?
All in a Mouse’s Night
Blood On the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers…
…In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars

One of the fascinating qualities about A Trick Of the Tail, is how each song is so entirely different from the previous one. Some may consider this to be non cohesive, but we feel it enhances the listening experience by presenting the talents of these musicians in one package. “Dance On a Volcano” is the most complete group composition on the album. With a minute long intro that sets the sound scape, a measured, plodding tempo during the two verses moves into a frantic pace during the futuristic section that drives the song on a tangent towards its conclusion. The message of the song is when faced with an ugly, volatile challenge, you need to attack the situation like a hero would and dive right into the fire and fight. The song reprises during the album’s closing instrumental “Los Endos”, a foray into the world of jazz fusion. During the closing fadeout, the band pays homage to their former lead singer as Collins recites a few lines from “Supper’s Ready” off of 1972’s Foxtrot, an epic song closely associated with Peter Gabriel.

Steve Hackett’s “Entangled” has an ethereal musical soundscape, like an old English folk song. The lyrics juxtapose the peaceful sleep induced by anesthesia and the dreams of flying over the landscape until the song drifts towards a haunting instrumental section at the end. As a counter piece on the second side, Mike Rutherford‘s “Ripples” is a beautiful but sad ballad with fine melodies during the chorus that lament old age and dying –

Sail away, ripples never come back, they’ve gone to the other side…”

Keyboardist Tony Banks contributed the most compositions on A Trick Of the Tail. “Mad Man Moon” is a piano ballad with strings that blossoms into something almost theatrical, like an opera or performance art. “Squonk” is the first heavy, rock sounding release of the “new” Genesis. Full of hooks and catchy melodies, it retells the English legend of the squonk, a sad creature which roams about wallowing in misery and then melts away to tears once captured. Banks also wrote the album’s predominant “pop” songs.

The upbeat title song “A Trick Of the Tail” focuses on a “beast” character who leaves his own kingdom and enters the world of humans. He is captured and put on display in a freak show after his captors refuse to believe in his kingdom, which he claims is covered in gold. “Robbery, Assault, and Battery” is an entertaining song which moves from section to section, exploring many different time signatures and melodies. Both of these songs had promotional videos made, a forecast of the music world a half decade later with the advent of MTV.

Wind & Wuthering begins with a seven and a half minute mini-suite called “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, a good jam lead by Rutherford’s keys with and interesting middle section led by the folksy motifs of Hackett. This piece feels like a combination of several songs off The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and refers back to an historical English figure and events. Banks’ “One For the Vine” is a nearly ten minute piano tune with fine vocals by Collins. Sounding more like 80’s era Genesis, this piece morphs into a mellow, program-music-like piece before breaking out into a wild, percussive upbeat section.

Mike Rutherford’s “Your Own Special Way” is the plainest forecast of the new pop-ier direction that the band would pursue as a trio in the late seventies and through the eighties. A waltz, lead by a strumming, 12-string riff the song breaks into a full-fledged soft love song during chorus. It later goes into a gratuitous electric piano part that seems to do nothing but eat up clock, showing that the band was, in some sense, just trying to get through this album. “Wot Gorilla?” concludes the first side as a basic yet interesting instrumental.

Genesis in 1976

The second side of Wind & Wuthering sees the band attempting to return to Gabriel-era theatrics, but falling just a bit short in this quest. “All In A Mouse’s Night” is a play involving a couple, a cat, and a mouse, while “Blood On the Rooftops” starts with a nice, classical sounding guitar and contains fine overall instrumentation, but the song as a whole doesn’t quite reach its potential. The album concludes with a three song medley, the first two of which are average but interesting instrumentals. “Afterglow” concludes it all with a beautiful and simple approach that offers a melodic conclusion to Genesis’ second album of 1976.

With our previous two presentations of twin album reviews (Alice Cooper in 1971 and Guns n Roses in 1991), the material was close to even in quality and importance. However, this is not quite the case here as A Trick Of the Tail, which we consider a classic, is decidedly superior to Wind & Wuthering, which may be reserved for dedicated Genesis fans.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

Rocks by Aerosmith

Rocks by Aerosmith

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Rocks by AerosmithWe commence our look at 1976 with a review of the fourth of four great albums by Aerosmith that launched their career during their classic period of the 1970s. Starting with their self-titled debut in 1973, Get Your Wings in 1974, and Toys In the Attic in 1975, Rocks is probably the most aptly named of these as it completes the slow metamorphosis of the band from the heavy blues sound of their to a pure, raw rock band. The album was a commercial success and became a great influence on the prolific hard rock and heavy metal sound throughout the next decade and a half.

Although Rocks is less pop-oriented than the band’s previous album, it carries on many of the same trends that began with that album. These include exploring (and/or inventing) different sub-genres like rap rock and funk and finishing up with a “power ballad”, which was still a fresh concept for hard rock bands in the mid seventies. However, Rocks is by far the most cohesive Aerosmith album. It is solid from top to bottom and a real jam with a mixture of tight riffs and improvised leads throughout. The production is at once clean and dense and the overall sound is still fresh-sounding to listeners three and a half decades later.

The content of the album ranges from themes of longing and nostalgia, to darker themes of impending doom and death, to songs which celebrate the rock n roll lifestyle in general. The music includes strong input and participation from each band member with compositions being penned by four different songwriters.

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Rocks by Aerosmith
Released: May 3, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas & Aerosmith
Recorded: The Wherehouse, Waltham, MA, February-March, 1976
Side One Side Two
Back in the Saddle
Last Child
Rats in the Cellar
Combination
Sick As a Dog
Nobody’s Fault
Get the Lead Out
Lick, And a Promise
Home Tonight
Band Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums, Vocals

“Back In the Saddle” launches Rocks as it would launch concerts for years to come. The song starts with a dramatic build-up before giving way to an understated main riff with droning lead guitars by Joe Perry. It contains a cowboy-influenced double-entente lyric, repleat with sound effects to match the mood and lead singer Steve Tyler’s screaming hook. The song is one of the heaviest on the album along with “Rats In the Cellar”, a song that borders on heavy metal, but with a nice bluesy harmonica solo by Tyler. The song was inspired by the death of the group’s drug dealer and should jave been taken as a dark omen. “Combination” features dual lead vocals by Perry and Tyler with some nice instrumental sections including a frantic outtro.

Aerosmith in 1976

The hit song “Last Child” was co-written by guitarist Brad Whitford and is a very upbeat and entertaining song. It features Perry on the lap steel and guest Paul Prestopino on banjo and is a great example of the hip-hop rock that the band formulated in the mid-seventies, starting with “WalK This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” on the previous album. There is a great lead section and outtro, which makes ths song a classic. The “Home Sweet Home” theme is later reprised on the Tyler piano ballad “Home Tonight”, which once again features Perry on the lap steel as well as Hamilton, drummer Joey Kramer, and producer Jack Douglas performing background vocals.

The album’s second side includes some of the basic, straight-up rockers which somehow never seem to fade over time. “Sick As a Dog” was co-written by bassist Tom Hamilton, who plays guitar on the song while both Perry and Tyler play bass. “Get the Lead Out” is a good time, dance-promoting song that goes off on a few nice musical tangents while “Lick and a Promise” is about rock groupies and more generally, the rock audience audience.

The album’s best song is “Nobody’s Fault”, a great song with fantastic hook and poetic (albeit apocalyptic) lyrics;

“Holy lands are sinking, birds take to the sky
The prophets are all stinking drunk and I know the reason why…”

Co-written by Brad Whitford, this is a heavy song, almost metal, that uses thick analogies to tell of a coming, inevitable doom. Several members of the band have cited this song as among their favorites ever.

While it appeared like the band was ever-climbing in 1976, they were in fact at the apex of their early career which would falter due to hard drug use among band members. Although Aerosmith would put out a couple more decent studio albums plus a live album by the decade’s end, these paled in comparison to the great early albums. The band would soon face turmoil that would derail their career for nearly a decade before they would make of the great comebacks in rock history.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Album of the Year, 1966

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Pet Sounds by The Beach BoysTo this day, The Beach Boys remain the most commercially successful American rock band with 36 Top 40 hits. Most of these hits were scored between 1962 and 1965, when the bulk of the band members were still teenagers. In 1966, the band took a radical turn under the leadership of Brian Wilson with the release of the innovative and artistic Pet Sounds. Brian had ceased touring with the band, which left him plenty of time to concentrate on producing what he had declared would be “the greatest album ever made”. He enlisted the help of over 50 session musicians, performing instruments from all across the musical universe. Although a commercial failure as compared to the group’s phenomenal success in recent years, this album would go on through history being critically acclaimed and lauded as one of the greatest albums ever by several rock publications. Although we don’t take a position on “ever” here at Classic Rock Review, we have selected Pet Sounds as our top album for the year 1966.

The eleventh overall album by the Beach Boys, Pet Sounds was truly unique in its approach and production. Much of the album was produced while the band was on tour in Japan using the cream of Los Angeles session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” with Brian Wilson in charge of production and musical composition and Tony Asher providing much of the lyrics. When the band returned from the tour, they found a nearly complete album requiring little more than their vocals to finish it off. This caused some friction within the group, especially from lead singer Mike Love who was also the band’s chief lyricist during their early, hit-making years. Love called the project “Brian’s ego music” while other group members worried that they would lose their core audience if they changed their successful musical formula. Founding members Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson also reportedly had problems with the abandonment of “good times and fast cars” in the Beach Boys songs.

The Beach Boys

The true catalyst that set the tone for Pet Sounds was the December 1965 release of The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul. The album was filled with good, all original songs, unlike the standard practice of filling albums with a few commercial hits and much filler. As Brian Wilson recalled of his first impressions of that album;

“I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs that somehow went together like no album ever made before…”

Wilson started by contacting Asher, then a young lyricist and copywriter who had been working on advertising jingles, who Wilson had met in a recording studio months earlier. While Wilson articulated the general vibe of each song, Asher interpreted this into actual lyrics. Most of the songs for Pet Sounds were composed over the winter of 1965-1966. Love is co-credited on just a few tracks, notably the opening “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “I Know There’s an Answer”, which was originally composed as the LSD-ridden “Hang Onto Your Ego” but was rewritten and retitled at the insistence of Love.

Developing his production methods over several years, Brian Wilson refined and developed many of the techniques innovated by Phil Spector. With the new, state-of-the-art Ampex 8-track recorder, Wilson would first record all the backing tracks, mixing them down to stereo or even mono versions, leaving 6 or 7 tracks open for the Beach Boys complex vocal leads and harmonies. He has since stated that he named the album using Spector’s initials as a tribute. Unlike Spector however, Wilson was almost completely deaf in his right ear, making his accomplishments all the more remarkable.

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Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
Released: May 16, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Recorded: Los Angeles, July 1965 – April 1966
Side One Side Two
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Head On My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting For the Day
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s An Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No
Band Musicians
Brian Wilson – Organ, Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
Mike Love – Lead Vocals
Al Jardine – Lead & Backing Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals

The group’s 1966 hit “Good Vibrations” was originally intended to be on the album (and, in fact, presented to Capitol Records as an example of the album’s sound), but to everyone’s surprise was cut from the running order by Brian Wilson. Released as a single, the song went on to top the charts worldwide as well as win a Grammy for song of the year.

Pet Sounds starts with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, which sets the pace for the album with the carnival-like intro, broken by the vocals of Brian Wilson which are upbeat yet melancholy all at once. The song was released as a single and peaked at #8 in the summer of 1966 and contains some signature, complex Beach Boys harmonies making it a sort of bridge from their good times surf music to this new frontier of art rock.

Each of the songs on the album’s first side introduces a new technique by Wilson. “You Still Believe In Me” was the first song for which Asher provided lyrics, derived from a working song by Wilson called “In My Childhood”. It has a Baroque style vibe and an almost teenage-like lover’s lament in the lyric and vocals. “That’s Not Me” is quite psychedelic and with very unique and minimalist instrumentation under a standard vocal line and chorus, with lead vocals by Mike Love and the rest of the Beach Boys playing most of the instruments, an oddity on this album. In contrast, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” is a beautiful but sad song performed entirely by Brian Wilson and session musicians. These session players included bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine who make a strong impact on the song “I’m Waiting For the Day”, which contains a constant rhythm against the near constant fluctuations in arrangement in this asymmetrical tangent of a song.

The Beach Boys Sloop John B singleThe track “Sloop John B” had been suggested to Wilson by Al Jardine and was recorded during the previous summer of 1965. It was a traditional Caribbean folk song that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a light and fun song to end the first side with an arrangement that constantly builds with instrumentation, intensity, and vocal layering. Brian Wilson, who was not a big fan of traditional folk music, changed many of the lyrics to the song and actually auditioned each group member for lead vocals, as he wanted it to have a distinctively “rock” sound in the end. Ultimately, he chose himself and Mike Love for this task.

Pet Sounds contains a couple of instrumental tracks, another quality that was not typical for albums in 1966. Both “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” and the title song “Pet Sounds” had originally been recorded as backing tracks for existing songs, but were ultimately chosen to be published without vocals. “Let’s Go Away..” is a calm and grown up piece of 1960’s soft jazz with marimba and acoustic guitar holding the piece together under various orchestral instruments, including violins, piano, saxophones, oboe, vibes, a guitar with a coke bottle on the strings. Originally titled “The Old Man And The Baby”, Brian Wilson once stated that the song was “the most satisfying piece of music I’ve ever made”. “Pet Sounds” is more percussion driven, carving out a strong slice of sixties identity for Wilson and the band. It was originally called “Run James Run” and intended to be used as the theme of a James Bond movie.

The second side of the album starts with the two masterpiece songs on Pet Sounds. With the ethereal vocals of the youngest brother Carl Wilson, “God Only Knows” may be the perfect love song with the edge of excellent instrumentation, arrangement and harmonies later in the song. The song was one of the first commercial songs to use the word ‘God’ in its title, a decision that Wilson and Asher agonized over, fearing it would not get airplay as a result. With French horns in the song’s famous introduction and a harpsichord throughout, the song is distinct and unique and a true classic. “I Know There’s An Answer” is another melodic, well-crafted, and entertaining song which is distinctly more upbeat than its predecessor. It contains distinct and entertaining sprinkles of bass harmonica by Tommy Morgan in the verses and later as a lead solo. Influenced by an LSD trip, the song also features a banjo section and intense vocals during the choruses.

Rounding out the album are three more excellent compositions of differing tone and tempo. “Here Today” sounds like it should have been single material. An upbeat love song with more conventional and conservative arrangements, it is song about love always having the potential for heartbreak never too far away. It contains an orchestral instrumental break influenced by composer J.S. Bach. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is perhaps the most profound statement made by Brian Wilson on this album. The lyrics are about the loss of innocence in growing up and to a lesser extent, his evolving role in the band and all those who thought he was crazy for doing Pet Sounds. The final track, “Caroline, No” extends this longing for innocence and the static, status quo. The song was apparently dedicated to a high school love interest named Carol and was originally titled “Carol, I Know” but morphed to the other title and was actually released as a Brian Wilson single in early 1966, his first and only “solo” work during the groups Capitol years. The song (and album) ends with the sound of an approaching and passing train and a dog furiously barking at it.

Pet Sounds would be at once the apex of the Beach Boy’s artistic and output and the termination of their hit-making years. Wilson attempted to follow it up in 1967 with a project called Smile but it fell apart due to his mental problems and drug use. In that sense, the other band members may been correct about “not messing with the formula”. But what would the world have missed if they had simply stuck to writing more songs about fast cars, good times, and women?

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 Albums.