Bruce Springsteen 1992 albums

Human Touch & Lucky Town
by Bruce Springsteen

Buy Human Touch
Buy Lucky Town

Bruce Springsteen 1992 albumsThe 1980s were incredibly successful for Bruce Springsteen, both commercially and critically. However, with the break-up of the E Street band in late 1989 and Springsteen’s relocation from New Jersey to Los Angeles, the next decade proved to be a more uneven decade for the boss musically. Human Touch and Lucky Town, the first two albums he released during the 1990s were released simultaneously on March 31, 1992. It had been nearly half a decade since Springsteen’s last studio album release in 1987. While these two works will be forever linked, they each had a distinct origin, approach, style and running length.  These differences were ultimately reflected in their differing sales and critical responses.

After the pop/rock 1984 blockbuster Born In the USA, Springsteen released the more contemplative Tunnel of Love in 1987. The following year saw Springsteen headlining a concert in East Germany with 300,000 attendees as well as the worldwide Human Rights Now! tour for Amnesty International. Not long after the break up of the E Street Band, keyboardist Roy Bittan presented Springsteen with three instrumentals to which he later added lyrics. With this, Bittan was the sole E Street Band member involved in the production of either of the 1992 albums.

Human Touch was recorded through 1990 with Bittan, bassist Randy Jackson and drummer Jeff Porcaro joining Springsteen. Porcaro, a legendary session drummer and member of the group Toto, was asked by Springsteen to join him for the subsequent tours, but he declined due to scheduling conflicts (Porcaro would tragically die in 1992 of a heart attack). Human Touch was originally set for a early-to-mid 1991 release but Springsteen was not quite satisfied with the material at the time. He returned to the studio in September 1991 to record an extra “song or two” for the album. However, these sessions yielded ten new tracks, recorded in a more stripped-down fashion with Springsteen playing most of the instruments. Ultimately, he made the decision to package this newer material as a totally separate album, Lucky Town.

 

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Human Touch and Lucky Town by Bruce Springsteen
Released: March 31, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin, Roy Bittan & Bruce Springsteen
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles and Thrill Hill, Colts Neck, NJ, September 1989 – January 1992
Human Touch Lucky Town
Human Touch
Soul Driver
57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)
Cross My Heart
Gloria’s Eyes
With Every Wish
Roll of the Dice
Real World
All or Nothin’ at All
Man’s Job
I Wish I Were Blind
The Long Goodbye
Real Man
Pony Boy
Better Days
Lucky Town
Local Hero
If I Should Fall Behind
Leap of Faith
The Big Muddy
Living Proof
Book of Dreams
Souls of the Departed
My Beautiful Reward
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Bass (Lucky Town)
Roy Bittan – Keyboards
Randy Jackson – Bass (Human Touch)
Jeff Porcaro – Drums (Human Touch)
Gary Mallaber – Drums (Lucky Town)

 

Human Touch begins with it’s title track, an extended, six and a half minute journey into pleasant enough adult contemporary pop. Lyrically, the track explores a reflection on a failed romance, making it compatible with the previous Tunnel of Love album, and the song reached the Top 20 in the US and fared even better in Europe. “Soul Driver” features synth and guitar trade offs along with excellent vocals, both lead and backing, throughout. “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” is an interesting track, driven by Springsteen’s bass line and chanting vocals, which really hone in on the hook. This amped-up, rockabilly screed on the (then) state of mass media is dripping with irony.

Next, the sparse, slow rocker “Cross My Heart” uses lyrics from a 1958 tune by Sonny Boy Williamson, followed by the upbeat rocker “Gloria’s Eyes”, with Springsteen’s blues-based lead guitar intermittent between the vocals. “With Every Wish” sees a switch to in Americana mode with slight flourishes of fretless bass by guest Douglas Lunn and trumpet by Mark Isham. The next pair were co-written by Bittan, with “Roll of the Dice” featuring a classic E Street vibe and “Real World” showcasing a great array of sonic effects, more great harmonies, and Springsteen’s finest guitar lead on the album.

"Human Touch" by Bruce Springsteen“All or Nothin’ at All” is rockabilly, retro fitted to a modern-day hook and offers nothing really groundbreaking. This may also apply to the tracks “Man’s Job” and “The Long Goodbye”. As Human Touch nears its conclusion, “I Wish I Were Blind” is the best track late on the record as a ballad with great melody and mood and a thumping bass by Jackson which finely contrasts the overall melancholy feel. “Real Man” features a soulful sound due to creative synths, leading to the closer “Pony Boy”, a traditional track scaled down as a simple folk duet between wife Patti Scialfa and Springsteen.

Moving on to Lucky Town, it commences with a perfect opener, “Better Days”, with lead vocals intensity amped up to ’11’ over a moderate rock beat with excellent backing vocals. The title track, “Lucky Town” is alt country with a dark folk feel initially and, in contrast to the opener, is mostly a solo recording by Springsteen, being joined only by drummer Gary Mallaber. This is an arrangement that will be predominant through much of the remainder of the album.

Lucky Town by Bruce Springsteen“Local Hero” starts with slight harmonica lead before settling into another upbeat storytelling tune, while “If I Should Fall Behind” is the best overall track thus far, as a folksy acoustic love song with just the right amount of accompaniment throughout. After the thumping “Leap of Faith”, we reach the heart of the Lucky Town record with “The Big Muddy” and it’s interesting, Delta-blues sound above an electric arpeggio, along with distinct acoustic slides and echo-laden vocals which guide the song along. “Living Proof” starts with a disco-like kick drum but the vibe is soon altered by jangly guitar in this moving song Springsteen wrote about becoming a father after he and Patti welcomed their first child in 1990.

“Book of Dreams” is a ballad with introspective lyrics, delivered with soft vocals and an even softer musical arrangement with synths and bass. “Souls of the Departed” has a sharp, jagged electric guitar sound with a slight harmonica which becomes more prominent as the tune advances, with lyrics offering commentary on the first Gulf War. Wrapping things up, “My Beautiful Reward” is an acoustic ballad with a good, folksy vibe.

Bruce Springsteen 1992

Both Human Touch and Lucky Town fared well commercially, each reaching the Top 5 on the album charts and each respectively reaching platinum in sales. However, Springsteen’s first albums without the E Street Band have come to be known as the “bastard children” of his pristine discography and, since reuniting with his old band at the end of the century, he has rarely revisited any of this material during live shows.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Younger Than Yesterday by The Byrds

Younger Than Yesterday
by The Byrds

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Younger Than Yesterday by The ByrdsThe fourth album by The Byrds, 1967’s Younger Than Yesterday saw a continued evolution of the quartet’s sound towards a mature fusion of jazz and psychedelia and jazz into their root folk/rock sound. This album has grown to be considered among the group’s strongest by critics, in spite of the fact that it initially had mixed reviews and it only achieved moderate chart success upon it’s release.

The Byrds reached international prominence in 1965 with several hit singles and a pair of #1 albums. However, their 1966 third album, Fifth Dimension, was less commercially successful than their first two following the departure of Gene Clark, who had previously been the group’s chief songwriter. The group also found themselves seeking a new a record producer as they prepared for the recording of this fourth album. Bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist David Crosby took a more active role in songwriting for this record with the pair having a hand in writing or co-writing 10 of the 11 originals on the album.

Following an intensive period of rehearsal, the entirety of Younger Than Yesterday was completed in 11 days with producer Gary Usher in late 1966. While the original working title for this LP was Sanctuary, they later exchanged this for a title inspired by the lyrics of the Bob Dylan cover, “My Back Pages”, the only cover song on this album.

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Younger Than Yesterday by The Byrds
Released: February 6, 1967 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studio, Hollywood, November–December, 1966
Side One Side Two
So You Want to Be a Rock n’ Roll Star
Have You Seen Her Face
C.T.A.-102
Renaissance Fair
Time Between
Everybody’s Been Burned
Thoughts and Words
Mind Gardens
My Back Pages
The Girl with No Name
Why
Group Members
Jim McGuinn – guitars, vocals
David Crosby – guitars, vocals
Chris Hillman – bass, vocals
Michael Clarke – drums

The album’s opening song and lead single, “So You Want to Be a Rock n’ Roll Star”, was co-written by Hillman and Jim McGuinn and it became a Top 40 hit for the group. Meant as an ironic but good-natured comment on the recent success of the manufactured rock band The Monkees, the song was innovative with the inclusion of trumpet by Hugh Masekela as well as some crowd noise effects. “Have You Seen Her Face” follows as a contemporary love song released as another single from the album, while “C.T.A.-102” takes a turn as it explores the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Co-written by Crosby and McGuinn, “Renaissance Fair” is a short folk song with medieval ambiance and it features saxophone by guest Jay Migliori. Hillman’s country / pop influenced “Time Between” is followed by Crosby’s jazz-influenced “Everybody’s Been Burned”, a song he wrote in 1962, a few years before the formation of the Byrds. “Thoughts and Words” kicks of the original Side Two as an LSD-influenced, metaphysical meditation on human relationships with plenty of effects. “Mind Gardens” was a contentious track which was written by Crosby but disliked by the other band members because if its lack of traditional compositional form. Crosby’s ambitions for artistic control within the band would ultimately lead to his dismissal from the group later in 1967.

The Byrds in 1966

The group’s version of “My Back Pages” harkens back to their smash hit Mr. Tambourine Man a few years earlier as a pared-down and electrified version of a Dylan folk song. It would ultimately be the last single by the Byrds to reach the Top 40. Following the county-flavored “The Girl with No Name”, the album concludes with “Why”, an Indian-flavored, re-recorded version of a song first released as the B-side of the band’s “Eight Miles High” single in March 1966.

While Younger Than Yesterday charted in the Top 40 in both the US and the UK, it would be the last to feature all original members of The Byrds as both Crosby and drummer Michael Clarke would soon depart the group and various lineup ships would occur in subsequent years.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.

Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane

Surrealistic Pillow
by Jefferson Airplane

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Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane reached an early peak with their second LP Surrealistic Pillow. The album was the first album to feature vocalist Grace Slick, who made an immediate impact by bringing with her a couple of songs from her former group, The Great Society. Combined with these indelible tunes is a fine mix of folk, rock and psychedelic experimentation which made this record a quintessential work of the 1960s counterculture.

After the Beatles-led British Invasion of 1964, folk singer Marty Balin decided to open a club in San Francisco and start a folk-rock band in residency. The first to sign on was guitarist Paul Kantner and a multitude of shifting lineups followed. When blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen joined he came up with the group name based on his own nickname “Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane”, which in turn was influenced by one of Kaukonen’s blues influences, Blind Lemon Jefferson. The group performed its first public show in August, 1965 and within months they were fielding offers from recording companies, signing with RCA Victor in November 1965, The group’s debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was released in September 1966 with a mix of covers and folk originals, but it did not make many waves outside of the San Francisco Bay area.

In late 1966, the group’s lineup shifted once again as Spencer Dryden replaced original drummer Skip Spence and Slick replaced vocalist Signe Anderson at the invitation of bassist Jack Casady. This new lineup entered the studio late in the year to record to record Surrealistic Pillow.

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Surrealist Pillow by Jefferson Airplane
Released: February 1, 1967 (RCA Victor)
Produced by: Rick Jarrard
Recorded: RCA Victor’s Music Center, Hollywood, October-November, 1966
Side One Side Two
She Has Funny Cars
Somebody to Love
My Best Friend
Today
Comin’ Back to Me
3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
D.C.B.A.–25
How Do You Feel
Embryonic Journey
White Rabbit
Plastic Fantastic Lover
Group Members
Marty Balin – guitars, vocals
Grace Slick – piano, keyboards, recorder, vocals
Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitars, vocals
Paul Kantner – guitars, vocals
Jack Casady – bass, guitars
Spencer Dryden – drums, percussion

Dryden’s drum pattern borrowed from Bo Diddly introduces the opener “She Has Funny Cars”, with later sections featuring a duet between Balin and Slick. Grace’s brother-in-law Darby Slick composed the pop hit “Somebody to Love”, while both were members of The Great Society in 1965. This song became Jefferson Airplane’s first and biggest charting single as it reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. “My Best Friend” is sing-songy and laid back with rich vocal harmonies and subtle lead guitar throughout, while “Today” features beautiful, layered guitars and great vocals by Balin.

The mellow mood continues on the extended “Comin’ Back to Me”, a laid back folk ballad sans rhythm section, In contrast, “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” is Balin’s driving rocker which features some great lead guitar by Kaukonen and nice bass interplay by Cassady. Kantner’s “D.C.B.A.–25” is a pleasant folk rocker with intricate rhythms and dual vocals, followed by the uplifting love tune “How Do You Feel” and Kaukonen’s Celtic-flavored acoustic piece, “Embryonic Journey”.

The album’s highlight is Slick’s “White Rabbit”, a single direction vector of a song which builds from a simple thumping rhythm and builds into a a strong crescendo as a definitive icon of the late 60s sound. The lyrics draw from the Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland series and the single and became another Top 10 hit from the album. Balin’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover” closes the record with an almost Velvet Underground feel to it, an edgy vibe which ends a bit abruptly.

Surrealistic Pillow peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart and has been certified Platinum by the RIAA. Soon after it’s release, Jefferson Airplane performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, further solidifying their legacy as a central act in the Summer of Love.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.

Jackson Browne 1972 debut

Jackson Browne

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Jackson Browne 1972 debutSometimes referred to as “Saturate Before Using”, Jackson Browne‘s 1972 self-titled debut showcases his early style of composing and performing reflective ballads. This album achieved a healthy measure of commercial success and received critical acclaim which has expanded through the decades as its original compositions communicate a romantic sensibility and employ a subtle arrangement and production style. Further, while only 23 at the time of it’s release, Browne was already a quasi-veteran in the Southern California music scene, which gave him the opportunity to enlist A-list musicians and singers to back him up on this debut.

Jackson Browne was born in Germany to American parents but spent most of his childhood in California. He began performing folk songs in his teens and joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band shortly after graduating high school (while Browne was only in the band for a short time, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band would later recorded a number of his compositions). After leaving the Dirt Band in 1967, Browne moved to New York City and became a writer for the publishing company Nina Music, where he had various connections with people in the folk scene. Browne contributed to Nico’s debut album Chelsea Girl and some of his songs were recorded by Tom Rush, Gregg Allman, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt and the Byrds before he ever recorded his own versions. After moving back to LA, Browne signed with his manager David Geffen’s new Asylum Records in 1971.

Browne’s first album featured several guest performers, including the vocal harmonies of David Crosby and Graham Nash and the guitars of Jesse Ed Davis and Albert Lee. The sessions were spearheaded by producer/engineer Richard Sanford Orshoff and recorded at Crystal Sound Recorders in Hollywood.


Jackson Browne by Jackson Browne
Released: January 1, 1972 (Asylum)
Produced by: Richard Sanford Orshoff
Recorded: Crystal Sound Recorders, Hollywood, 1971
Side One Side Two
Jamaica Say You Will
A Child in These Hills
Song for Adam
Doctor, My Eyes
From Silver Lake
Something Fine
Under the Falling Sky
Looking Into You
Rock Me on the Water
My Opening Farewell
Primary Musicians
Jackson Browne – Lead Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Jim Gordon – Organ
Leland Sklar – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

The record begins with “Jamaica Say You Will”, a melodic piano tune with the fine accompaniment of bass and drums by Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel respectively. This song was inspired by a gardener who worked across the street from the Pacific Ocean and it had been previously released by The Byrds on their 1971 album Byrdmaniax. “A Child in These Hills” follows as an acoustic folk tune with great electric interplay by Albert Lee throughout, along with fine harmonica textures by Jimmie Fadden, especially during the train-like unique outro. The somber “Song for Adam” is pure acoustic folk with a very slight arrangement, written in memory of Browne’s friend Adam Saylor, who died in 1968 either by accident or suicide.

The upbeat pop/rocker “Doctor, My Eyes” features a thumping piano, a fine melody and layered textures of sounds which made it a Top 10 hit for Browne. The song’s lyric is a statement of a man who had stoically endured life’s hardships with a slightly optimistic view moving forward and its unique arrangement features electric guitar by Davis and congas by Kunkel. Both “From Silver Lake” and “Something Fine” are sparsely arranged folk ballads, followed by the interesting “Under the Falling Sky”, a rhythmically intense song with a lyric which paints an image of deep human connection.

Jackson Browne concludes with three fine compositions, starting with the ballad “Looking into You”, which features guests David Jackson on piano and Flying Burrito Brother Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar. “Rock Me on the Water” is a gospel-like composition with a solo piano break by Craig Doerge before the tune grows more uplifting as it reaches its climax. The album concludes with the slightly melancholy and beautifully constructed “My Opening Farewell”, featuring intricate interplay between Browne’s acoustic guitar, Sklar’s bass and Doerge’s piano.

Jackson Browne

Browne set high standards with this eponymous debut but found the success hard to replicate on his subsequent albums For Everyman (1973) and Late for the Sky (1974), before he once again found commercial success starting with 1976’s The Pretender and continuing through the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

The Monkees 1966 debut

The Monkees

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The Monkees 1966 debutIn October 1966, The Monkees released their self-titled debut record, which would become the first of four consecutive number one albums in the US. The album debuted one month after The Monkees television series first aired. While the group was visually portrayed as a traditional four-piece rock band on TV, on this debut record the four members provided nothing but vocals on all but two of the twelve album tracks and no tracks featured all four members of the Monkees.

The initial concept for the Monkees dates back to 1962 and and an unsuccessful attempt to sell the series by filmmaker Bob Rafelson. Two years later Rafelson and Bert Schneider formed Raybert Productions and that year’s success of the Beatles’ debut film A Hard Day’s Night inspired the team to revive the idea for The Monkees. In April 1965, Raybert sold the show to Screen Gems Television with the original idea of casting the New York folk rock group, The Lovin’ Spoonful. After that initial plan fell through Davy Jones, a then-current actor at Screen Gems, was cast as the first member of a new fabricated group, with a call for the remainder of the band/cast members put out in September 1965. Out of more than 400 applicants, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were signed on to The Monkees. All three had previously worked as musicians at differing levels and, once The Monkees was picked up as a series, development of the musical side of the project accelerated.

Producers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were enlisted as chief songwriters for the project and Columbia and Screen Gems entered into a joint venture called Colgems Records as a label and distributor of Monkees records. While the newly formed group did practice playing as a group, Boyce and Hart decided to use top session players for the recording of two albums that were the soundtrack of the TV show’s first season. Music for the debut album was recorded over several sessions in Los Angeles during the summer of 1966.

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The Monkees by The Monkees
Released: October 10, 1966 (Colgems)
Produced by: Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Jack Keller & Michael Nesmith
Recorded: Los Angeles, June-July 1966
Side One Side Two
(Theme From) The Monkees
Saturday’s Child
I Wanna Be Free
Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day
Papa Gene’s Blues
Take a Giant Step
Last Train to Clarksville
This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day
Let’s Dance On
I’ll Be True to You
Sweet Young Thing
Gonna Buy Me a Dog
Group Members
Micky Dolenz
Davy Jones
Mike Nesmith
Peter Tork

Beginning with the signature television opening “(Theme From) The Monkees”, the debut record features Dolenz on lead vocals for most tracks, including the rather hard rock turn on the Davis Gates-penned “Saturday’s Child”. “I Wanna Be Free” is the first of a trio to features Jones on lead vocals with Nesmith taking lead on the pair of tracks he composed, “Papa Gene’s Blues” and “Sweet Young Thing”. While Tork does not sing lead on any tracks, he is the only Monkee to play an instrument anywhere on the album, providing guitar on the two aforementioned Nesmith tracks.

“Last Train to Clarksville” was the album’s biggest hit as it topped the US pop charts and was subsequently featured in seven episodes of the TV series. This jangly folk/rock tune was musically inspired by the Beatles’ recent hit “Paperback Writer”, with lyrics of a man phoning the woman he loves and urging her to meet him at a train station before he must leave, possibly on his way to war.

The Monkees

The Monkees was a worldwide success, topping the charts in several countries, including the US where it remained at number one for a quarter of a year. The album only lost it’s top spot when the group’s follow-up album More of the Monkees, recorded it late 1966 and released in January 1967, took over the number one spot, Combined, the Monkees held the number one album spot in the US for over 30 consecutive weeks.

As swiftly as this success was obtained, the group’s television and recording popularity did not last all that long. After just two successful seasons, the Monkees’ television series was canceled in 1968 as the group members wanted to take a more personal stake in their music and film output. Head, their one and only feature film, was a commercial disaster as it directly challenged the Monkees’ curious stardom but this only served to disconcert their strongest fan base.

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1966 Images

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

Fifth Dimension by The Byrds

Fifth Dimension by The Byrds

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Fifth Dimension by The ByrdsThe Byrd‘s third album, released in the summer of 1966, Fifth Dimension saw a change both in style and personnel for the folk-rock group. Earlier in the year Gene Clark, who had previously been a chief songwriter, departed. The remaining quartet picked up some of the compositional slack while also moving the overall sound in a more psychedelic direction. The result was a record which was both uneven yet highly influential in the overall progress of rock and roll.

Formed in Los Angeles in 1964, the group found immediate success in 1965 with the albums Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn Turn Turn, both of which featured corresponding title songs that reached #1 on the American pop charts. With this, The Byrds were being promoted as “America’s answer to the Beatles”. The stress of this sudden success, along with a fear of flying, led Clark to depart the group in February 1966, shortly as they had begun recording tracks for the Fifth Dimension album.

Guitarists and vocalists Jim McGuinn and David Crosby stepped in to increase their songwriting efforts for this third album, but the group still needed to record four cover songs to complete the project.

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Fifth Dimension by The Byrds
Released: July 18, 1966 (Columbia)
Produced by: Allen Stanton
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, January-May 1966
Side One Side Two
5D (Fifth Dimension)
Wild Mountain Thyme
Mr. Spaceman
I See You
What’s Happening?!?!
I Come and Stand at Every Door
Eight Miles High
Hey Joe
Captain Soul
John Riley
2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Harmonica

The album begins with “5D (Fifth Dimension)”, a very Dylan-esque folk song by McGuinn which is short but builds in intensity towards it’s end. The lyrical theme explains Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and the recording features guest Van Dyke Parks on organ. “Wild Mountain Thyme” follows as one of a pair of traditional folk songs repurposed with the Byrds 12-string signature sound on this album. The other is “John Riley” on side two, with both being introduced to the band by McGuinn. “Mr. Spaceman” is an upbeat folk/rock with a more earthy sound than the previous tracks, whimsical but very melodic lyrics and an interesting lead guitar.

After the disjointed psyche-rocker “I See You” comes Crosby’s best composition on this album, “What’s Happening?!?!” This features a moderate folk/rock vibe but with slight psychedelic overtones as it consistently alternates between verse lines and instrumental passages. The first side ends with the dark “I Come and Stand at Every Door”, written about a child who perished at Hiroshima with graphic details. Starting the flip side is “Eight Miles High”, the most popular song on the album and the only one composed and recorded while Gene Clark was still a bandmember. It features a good rockin’ intro with fine, harmonized vocals delivering lyrics written about the group’s flight to London in 1965, which can be interpreted as a blatant allegory about an LSD trip. With this, the song was both influential in developing the emerging musical style of psychedelia while failing to reach it’s commercial potential (although it did still reach the Top 20 in both the US and UK) as many radio stations refused to play it.

The Byrds in 1966

Unfortunately, most of the rest of side two is simply album filler. There’s a forgettable version of the oft-covered “Hey Joe”, the uninspiring cover of “John Riley” and the weird closer “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)”, which features heavy sound effects above a simple repeating country/folk trope. The only somewhat interesting track here is the instrumental “Captain Soul”, composed by all four group members including bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke with Clarke overdubbing harmonica above an entertaining surf-rock like backing rhythm.

Fifth Dimension peaked in the Top 30 in both the US and UK albums charts, making it less commercially successful than its 1965 predecessors. Later in 1966, The Byrds recorded their fourth album, Younger Than Yesterday, with a similar approach integrating elements of psychedelia and jazz. It was  released in 1967.

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1966 Images

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

Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Into the Great Wide Open by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersTom Petty continued his impressive commercial success as a new decade unfolded with Into the Great Wide Open, the eighth studio album by Petty and The Heartbreakers. This album combined the group’s traditional rock sensibilities, dating back to the mid 1970s, with the mainstream production techniques of his various projects of the late 1980s. With this combination, Into the Great Wide Open received various bits of warm critique to go along with its pop success in 1991.

Petty’s previous album with the Heartbreakers, 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), received mixed reviews and was the first album by the group not to reach the Top 10 of the US album charts in nearly decade. The following year Petty formed the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys along with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne and their debut album, Volume One, had great success. Even greater success followed in 1989 when Petty released his debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, which was co-produced by Lynne and included four Top 40 singles. Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell was the only member of the backing group to play on Full Moon Fever.

With expectations very high, Petty once again enlisted Lynne as co-producer for Into the Great Wide Open and the pair employed a methodical, nearly formulaic approach to the compositions. Lynne also played various instruments throughout, which seemed to limit much of the Heartbreakers’ expressiveness and offered the group members sparse moments to shine musically and rhythmically.

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Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: July 2, 1991 (MCA)
Produced by: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell & Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Rumbo Recorders, Studio C, Canoga Park, CA, 1990 – 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
Learning to Fly
Kings Highway
Into the Great Wide Open
Two Gunslingers
The Dark of the Sun
All or Nothin’
All the Wrong Reasons
Too Good to Be True
Out in the Cold
You and I Will Meet Again
Makin’ Some Noise
Built to Last
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Vocals
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards, Accordion
Howie Epstein – Bass, Vocals
Stan Lynch – Drums, Percussion

Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

The album’s first three tracks were the most radio-friendly. “Learning to Fly” features moderately picked harmonized chords to leave an indelible musical impression, along with with Campbell’s later slide guitar expertly cutting through the pristine soundscape. The song became one of the top hits for Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Kings Highway” follows as a crisp, driving rocker with subtle guitar layers and a simple hook and message with the promise of better days. The album’s title song is a slightly dark folk storyteller with more fine slide guitars and some memorable rudiments that drive the song along.

“Two Gunslingers” is actually a song of peace with much allegory and the lyrical epiphany of “taking control of one’s life”, while “The Dark of the Sun” has a quasi-pop-country feel which morphs into harder rocking later, making for a potent and diverse track. “All or Nothin'” is an intense, dark rocker with Campbell’s slide topping a steady thumping rhythm by bassist Howie Epstein, while “All the Wrong Reasons” leans towards more traditional folk lyrically with Benmont Tench adding some accordion for color and Byrds’ legend Roger McGuinn providing backing vocals.

After the forgettable track “Too Good to Be True”, the album’s second side becomes more interesting starting with the refreshing hard rocker, “Out in the Cold”, featuring Petty’s more expressive and strained vocals. “You and I Will Meet Again” is solo composition with a classic Petty feel that leaves plenty of room for musical chops by each lead player, while “Makin’ Some Noise” features interesting, rockabilly-style riffs that are later contrasted by a short but effective wah-wah fused lead by Campbell. The closer, “Built to Last” has an overall sound different than anything else on the album, rhythmically deadened but pleasant throughout.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Into the Great Wide Open would turn out to  be the final studio release on the MCA label as well as the final with drummer Stan Lynch, who was replaced by Steve Ferrone in 1994. To wrap up their decade and a half with MCA, the group released a Greatest Hits album in 1993, which became their top seller over all and went platinum a dozen times over.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

1991 Images

The Runaways 1976 debut

The Runaways

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The Runaways 1976 debutThe Southern California all-female teenage rock group The Runaways had a short and tumultuous career during the mid 1970s, a career which commenced with their 1976 self-title debut album. In spite of being recorded and released very shortly after the quartet was compiled and signed to a record deal, this album has long since been critically praised due to its raw power, originality and in-your-face lyrics about teenage angst, rule-breaking and sex.

The Runaways were formed in August 1975 by drummer Sandy West and guitarist Joan Jett. After being introduced to producer Kim Fowley, the group went through many rapid formations and lineup changes before adding lead guitarist Lita Ford. West and Ford were both big Deep Purple fans and formed a solid rock foundation along with Jett, who switched to rhythm guitar and began composing original music. Lead vocalist Cherie Currie was later recruited by Fowley (who intentionally forged a “jailbait” image for the group) after he spotted her at a local teen nightclub.

Early in 1976, The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records with Fowley staying on as producer for this debut album. Although bassist Jackie Fox was a member of the group at the time of recording, session musician Nigel Harrison was enlisted to play bass on the album, with Fox only contributing backing vocals on select tracks.

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The Runaways by The Runaways
Released: June 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Kim Fowley
Recorded: Fidelity Recorders & Criterion Studios, Los Angeles, 1976
Side One Side Two
Cherry Bomb
You Drive Me Wild
Is It Day or Night?
Thunder
Rock and Roll
Lovers
American Nights
Blackmail
Secrets
Dead End Justice
Group Musicians
Cherie Currie – Lead Vocals, Piano
Joan Jett – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Lita Ford – Lead Guitar
Sandy West – Drums, Vocals

The album’s opening track, “Cherry Bomb”, was written on the spot by Jett and Fowley as an audition song for Currie to sing during her first interaction with The Runaways. This short track is filled with lyrical innuendo from a teenage girl’s perspective with the simplest of rock riff motifs. Despite it’s make shift origins, the track persisted as one of the group’s most popular and it was later recorded by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as well as Cherie and her sister Marie Currie. Jett takes lead vocals on “You Drive Me Wild”, another track with overt sexual references but with more bluesy, sloshy riffing than the opener.

“Is It Day or Night?” is interesting in how the choruses incorporate the verses with unusual rudiments, while “Thunder” enlists a new writing team who deliver a pretty standard rocker with pleasant vocal melodies. Next comes a cover of the Velvet Underground classic, “Rock and Roll”, with Jett and the group delivering great rendition which stands as a real highlight on this record.

The Runaways

The second side starts with the interesting composition, “Lovers”, highlighted by excellent drumming patterns by West and good lead vocals by Jett. This is followed by another solid rocker with good riffs and hook, called “American Nights”, which also features some decent piano by Currie. “Blackmail” uses retro, fifties-style rock motifs while maintaining a modern seventies rock edge, as “Secrets” teases lyrical intrigue as its title suggests. The extended closing suite is a duet between Jett and Currie featuring a long dramatic dialogue over the intense, marching drumming of West along with a couple of excellent guitar leads by Ford. “Dead End Justice” seals the record with an unexpected complexity to tie up the musical experience finely.

While far from a commercial success in 1976, The Runaways has long earned its place in rock history as a genre-smashing release. The band found itself on major tours in support of the record with headlining groups such as Cheap Trick, Van Halen and Talking Heads. However, tensions within the band escalated during the recording of their 1977 sophomore album, Queens of Noise, leading to the departure of Currie and Fox soon afterward.

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1976 Images

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

 

The Royal Scam by Steely Dan

The Royal Scam by Steely Dan

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The Royal Scam by Steely DanWe’ve all heard of the genre called “outlaw country”. But with Steely Dan‘s 1976 fifth studio album, The Royal Scam, the group put forth a collection of songs that may be labeled “outlaw fusion jazz”. With allusions to characters both fictional and contemporary, many lyrical themes focus on darker subjects such as crime, homelessness, drug dealing, divorce, the loss of innocence, and other general bad faith “scams”. Musically, this album features more prominent guitar work than most Steely Dan releases, led by band co-member Walter Becker and session guitarist Larry Carlton, who delivers some of his finest performances on this record.

Steely Dan began as a tradition rock group but following their early success, Becker and lead vocalist/keyboardist Donald Fagen wanted to tour less and concentrate on composing and recording. Following their tour in support of Pretzel Logic in 1974, Steely Dan ceased live performances all together. Eventually the other members departed, with group founder and guitarist Denny Dias staying on in more of session role for later albums while Becker and Fagen recruited a diverse group of other session players starting with the 1975 release Katy Lied including Carlton and backing vocalist Michael McDonald.

With the sessions for The Royal Scam, the group brought in funk/R&B drummer Bernard Purdie for most tracks as Becker and Fagen strived for amore rhythmic sound. The album was produced by Gary Katz and it’s cover features artwork originally for and unreleased 1975 album by Van Morrison.

 

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The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
Released: May 31, 1976 (ABC)
Produced by: Gary Katz
Recorded: ABC Studios, Los Angeles; A&R Studios, New York; November 1975–March 1976
Studio
Side One Side Two
Kid Charlemagne
The Caves of Altamira
Don’t Take Me Alive
Sign In Stranger
The Fez
Green Earrings
Haitian Divorce
Everything You Did
The Royal Scam
Primary Musicians
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Guitars, Bass, String Arrangements
Larry Carlton – Lead Guitars
Denny Dias – Guitars
Bernard Purdie – Drums

 

The album begins with its best overall tune and, really one of the most musically rewarding songs by Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”. This track is built on a catchy clavichord which works perfectly in the cracks between the vocal phrases and rhythm provided by Purdie and session bassist Chuck Rainey, But the most rewarding moments here are are dual leads by Carlton, blending elements of rock, funk and jazz with not a single note less than excellent. “The Caves of Altamira” follows as a jazz/pop with more fine rhythms and featuring a rich horn section, climaxing with the tenor sax of John Klemmer. The lyrics refer to cave paintings in Spain created by Neanderthals, proving early man’s call to be creative and expressive.

Carlton’s heavily distorted and snarling guitar works into a full intro lead for “Don’t Take Me Alive”, another track that explores the criminal edge lyrically. However, this track has an overall feel of 1980’s AOR rock, which really shows Steely Dan’s forward-looking approach to compositions. “Sign In Stranger” changes pace as a piano-dominated piece led by Paul Griffin who provides most of the musical movement and a great lead section. Griffin also co-wrote “The Fez” along with Becker and Fagen, a track that starts with slow and moody piano but soon falls into a perfect 70s funk rhythm with some disco-era, over-the-top synth strings on top.

Steely Dan group In studio

The record’s second side picks up pretty much where the first ended, with the funk-laden “Green Earrings”, with Purdie providing great drumming throughout and lyrics about a jewel thief who feels no remorse. Next Becker and session man Dean Parks provide the signature talk-box effect on “Haitian Divorce” before Carlton returns for the slow and sloshy rocker, “Everything You Did”. The album’s closing, extended title tune is dark and monotone, with its repeated pattern of multiple verses by Fagen cut by short instrumental flourishes and a lyric about the plight of an immigrant in New York City.

While The Royal Scam reached the Top 20 on the album charts and went gold in sales, it is often panned as a critical and commercial disappointment, especially in comparison to Steely Dan’s follow-up masterpiece record Aja in 1977. However, Fagen and Becker have cited this 1976 album as the point where Steely Dan really distilled themselves into their “perfect form”.

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1976 Images

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

Tapestry by Carole King

Tapestry by Carole King

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Tapestry by Carole KingAfter spending most of the 1960s writing hits for other artists, Carole King started a solo career at the dawn of the 1970s. Her 1971 second studio album, Tapestry, became her breakout work as a phenomenal commercial and critical success. This multiple Grammy Award winning album features a dozen tunes written on piano,  mostly new, but also a few classics from King’s hit-making days in the sixties. And those hit-making days continued as two singles from the album topped the pop charts.

King was born Carol Klein and she was musically inclined from a young age. She attended high school with Paul Simon and he helped record her first promotional single in 1958 called “The Right Girl”. Another high school classmate Neil Sedaka, who King had dated, had a hit in 1959 called “Oh! Carol”. When in college, King met Gerry Goffin, who became her songwriting partner, husband and father to her daughters. In 1960, King and Goffin wrote the Shirelles’ hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, which became the first Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit by an all female black group. Further hits followed through the 1960s for various and diverse artists ranging from Little Eva to Bobby Vee to the Drifters to the Monkees. In 1968, Goffin and King were divorced and Carole relocated to Laurel Canyon, CA and formed a music trio called The City with Danny Kortchmar on guitar and future husband Charles Larkey on bass. The City produced and released a single album in 1968, Now That Everything’s Been Said.

While in Laurel Canyon, King befriended fellow musicians James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Toni Stern, who encouraged her to launch a solo career. In 1970 King released her debut solo album, Writer, to minor commercial success. In January 1971, King recorded Tapestry concurrently with Taylor’s album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon with both records using many of the same musicians. Tapestry was produced by Lou Adler (King’s longtime publisher and founder of Ode Records) Lou Adler, who wanted the album to sound like the simple demos she recorded through the years with her piano and vocals in the forefront.

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Tapestry by Carole King
Released: February 10, 1971 (A&M)
Produced by: Lou Adler
Recorded: A&M Recording Studios, Hollywood, January 1971
Side One Side Two
I Feel the Earth Move
So Far Away
It’s Too Late
Home Again
Beautiful
Way Over Yonder
You’ve Got a Friend
Where You Lead
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
Smackwater Jack
Tapestry
A Natural Woman
Primary Musicians
Carole King – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Danny Kortchmar – Guitars, Vocals
Curtis Amy – Saxophones, Flute, Strings
Charles Larkey – Bass
Russ Kunkel – Drums, Percussion

Built on choppy piano octaves and jazzy overtones, the opener “I Feel the Earth Move” introduces the hook right away and it is repeated often as King shines with melodic vocals and lead piano throughout. The song was released as a double A-sided single along with “It’s Too Late”. Together, this single became one of the biggest mainstream pop hits of 1971. “It’s Too Late” features lyrics by Stern and is driven by Larkey’s bass and the subtle rhythms of Joel O’Brien. The lyrics describe the end of a loving relationship with a musical arrangement that blends pop/jazz with the soft folk of the L.A. music scene.

“So Far Away” is a simple and beautiful piano ballad with limited arrangement done expertly with just enough moody counterbalance added to King’s piano and vocals. A very slight flute by Curtis Amy closes out the song. The short “Home Again” seems like a natural companion song to “So Far Away” with slightly more vigorous vocals. “Beautiful” abruptly follows as a show-tuny tune, not quite as cohesive as the prior excellent compositions, but entertaining nonetheless. “Way Over Yonder” is built on a slow, 3/4 bluesy waltz and features gospel-tinged backing vocals by Merry Clayton.

Carole King

The second side features several songs made popular by other artists, starting with “You’ve Got a Friend”, which was recorded by Taylor during the same duo-album sessions and became a number one hit for him, while winning Grammy Awards for both King and Taylor in 1972. Carole’s version features both Taylor and Mitchell on backing vocals. King’s new version of her first songwriting hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, features a slower and more methodical delivery, while her version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” does an outstanding job stretching her own vocal range without going over the top or trying to replicate the hit version by Aretha Franklin. The balance of the album includes “Where You Lead”, featuring a second lyrical contribution by Stern with an upbeat pop/rock arrangement, the upbeat folk/rock of “Smackwater Jack” which features a fine electronic piano by Ralph Schuckett, and the haunting but beautiful “Tapestry”. This folk-based title track is almost religious in nature with a bare-bones musical arrangement and lyrical metaphors on the nature of life, death and resurrection.
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Tapestry is one of the 100 best-selling albums of all time, with over 14 million sales worldwide, achieving Diamond status in mid 1990s. After it’s initial release, it remained on the Billboard charts for 313 weeks, the second most weeks to chart behind the 724 weeks of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Barely 30 years old, Carole King would continue to have success for decades to come, but this album was her career masterpiece.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.