Fun House by The Stooges

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Fun House by The StoogesThe second of the initial trio of albums by The Stooges which were considered integral to the development of punk rock, Fun House, has consistently grown in critical stature in the half century since it’s release in the summer of 1970. Though commercially unsuccessful, this recording a pure raw energy and animalistic sexuality as been described in positive ways ranging from “exquisitely horrible” to “sixties psychedelic rock trapped in the reality of 1970” to “competent monotony with intellectual appeal”.

Stooges front man Iggy Pop, born James Newell Osterberg, started as a drummer in local Ann Arbor, Michigan bands in the early 1960s. In an effort to create a “new form of blues music”, not derivative of historical precedents, he recruited brothers Ron Asheton (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums) along with bassist Dave Alexander. Being the leader of this new band, Osterberg decided to be the lead singer and soon was christened with the nickname “Pop” by the other band members. With this, he adopted the stage name Iggy Pop by the time the group made its live debut as the “Psychedelic Stooges” in late 1967. They experimented with avant garde methods, incorporating such household objects as a vacuum cleaner and a blender into an intense wall of feedback and soon the group gained a reputation for their wild and unpredictable live performances. While touring with the band MC5 in 1968, the Stooges were discovered by a scout for Elektra Records and they released their self-titled 1969 debut album to disappointingly low sales and bad critical reviews.

Hoping for better results, Elektra head Jac Holzman recruited former Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci the group’s second album. Gallucci was initially doubtful that he could capture their live feeling on tape, But once in the studio in Los Angeles, he and the group decided to tear down all soundproofing and discard any isolation methods to emulate their live performances as closely as possible. The result is a very raw sound compared to the advancing sonic qualities of 1970 contemporary records.


Fun House by The Stooges
Released: July 7, 1970 (Elektra)
Produced by: Don Gallucci
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders. Los Angeles, May 1970
Side One Side Two
Down on the Street
Loose
T.V. Eye
Dirt
1970
Fun House
L.A. Blues
Group Musicians
Iggy Pop – Lead Vocals
Ron Asheton – Guitars
Dave Alexander – Bass
Scott Asheton – Drums

The influence of some of the more intense numbers by The Doors can be felt in the opening “Down on the Street”, with a strong interlocked bass and guitar riff holding the backing track for Iggy Pop’s reverberated vocals and chants. Although this song feels raw at first listen, it is more refined than anything that follows and may be the most traditionally produced track on Fun House, even to the point of having Ron Asheton guitar overdubbed during the lead section. “Loose” follows with an interesting drum intro by Scott Asheton as he finds the upbeat groove which, overall, leans more toward the yet-to-be-developed punk genre with a starkly honest lyric.

“T.V. Eye” features a bluesy riff while the vocals are still energetic, wailing and (occasionally) screaming. This very repetitive song builds a tension which never really breaks but does reach a bit of a crescendo late in the song, just before an abrupt stop and restart. Iggy Pop has said he was channeling blues legend Howlin’ Wolf while recording “T.V. Eye”. “Dirt” has a long drum intro by Scott Asheton as Alexander’s bass and Ron Asheton’s guitar slowly join in to this overall soulful rocker. Here, Iggy Pop sounds similar to Eric Burdon of The Animals on this one while it is an overall showcase for Ron Asheton, especially during the multi-textured, wah-wah fused guitar lead.

The Stooges in 1970

It is quite obvious that the second side of an album derives from a singular jam which now includes saxophonist Steve Mackay, and Gallucci laid this out in side-long linear fashion. On “1970”, the rhythmic drums and bass provide backdrop for a pseudo-blues bark on a jam that does provide differing chord structures for the chorus and post-chorus. Late in the song Mackay makes his debut, adding a distinct and original element to the overall sound and vibe. On “Fun House” Mackay is more of an integral part of the sound while Scott Asheton’s drumming is a fine adhesive for the overall jam and Iggy Pop’s vocals are more strained and desperate than ever, as he technically makes his lyrical finale on the album. “L.A. Blues” wraps things up with, effectively, five minutes of noise, screams and off-beat chops as all five members desperately search for a common ending before settling on a sustained feedback loop by Ron Asheton.

Although Fun House has sold under 100,000 copies to date, it has influenced numerous other artists, with many specifically citing as this as their favorite album. The Stooges and their individual members, soon entered a tumultuous period and it would be nearly three years before they followed up Fun House (with the critically acclaimed Raw Power) but that album was sandwiched in between a pair of band breakups.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Goo by Sonic Youth

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Goo by Sonic YouthSonic Youth‘s 1990 album Goo was a critical success and reached the highest album charting position of the group’s career. Their sixth overall release, this was the first after signing their initial major-label recording deal with Geffen Records, which included complete creative control by the band. Goo resulted in an expansion of the group’s 1980s sound of combining punk with experimental alt-rock, but with more deliberate references to pop culture and contemporary topics.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City 1981 by guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon (who were later married), and they derived their name from MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and reggae artist Big Youth. Within a year, guitarist Lee Ranaldo was part of the group. They went through several drummers through their early years and initial recordings before Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth in 1985. The group’s 1988 double album Daydream Nation was a huge critical success, included songs that received significant airplay and has since been chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. With this, the band began looking for a major label deal, eventually landing with Geffen.

A group of about eight demos were recorded by the group in late 1989 before they secured a full recording budget to enter Sorcerer Sound in early 1990 with producer Nick Sansano. The team employed experimental and abstract techniques to achieve unique sound collages and other sonic qualities for this album.


Goo by Sonic Youth
Released: June 26, 1990 (DGC)
Produced by: Nick Sansano, Ron Saint Germain, & Sonic Youth
Recorded: Sorcerer Sound Recording & Greene St. Recording Studios, New York City, March–April 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Dirty Boots
Tunic (Karen’s Song)
Mary Christ
Kool Thing
Mote
Disappearer
My Friend Goo
Mildred Pierce
Cinderella”s Big Score
Scooter & Jinx
Titanium Expose
Thurston Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Lee Ranaldo – Guitars, Vocals
Kim Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Steve Shelley – Drums, Percussion
Goo by Sonic Youth

 

The album opener “Dirty Boots” meanders in with two distinct riffs and the eventual full rhythm arrangement before first verse. The music is intense and biting but Moore’s vocals seem half-hearted until the song reaches a “sonic crescendo” with inventive feedback before breaking down and methodically working its way through the instrumental outro. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” was composed by Gordon as a loose tribute to Karen Carpenter. She delivers the lyrics in a mainly spoken word manner under rapid ethereal riffing, offering a very haunting look into inner destructive thoughts. “Mary-Christ” doesn’t quite work nearly as well as the opening two tracks as a proto-punk, badly improvised screed.

The album’s most famous track, “Kool Thing”, features interesting, upbeat rock intro with great drumming by Shelley throughout. The mid section breaks down into a bass-backed spoken word bridge featuring Gordon and and guest Chuck D. The song’s title was inspired by an interview that Gordon conducted with LL Cool J and the lyrics make reference to several of the rapper’s works. “Mote” is the sole composition by Ranaldo on Goo as well as his only lead vocals. The seven and a half minute track moves from an overloaded feedback intro to basic rock chording to a pure psychedelic and atmospheric trip which persists without form. “Disappearer” follows, featuring a thick upper range and steady rhythm under Moore’s melodic vocals and multiple key jumps through the progression into several sonic tunnels.

Sonic Youth in 1990

The album does lose momentum over its second half where the group seems to be treading over much of the same ground from earlier on this album. Starting with the quasi-title low-light, “My Friend Goo”, and into “Mildred Pierce”, which starts with a basic upbeat rhythm before devolving into a feedback overloaded, unintelligible screed. “Cinderella’s Big Score” is slightly catchy, but lacks much substance or definition, while “Scooter & Jinx” is a noise collage of more filler. The closer “Titanium Exposé” is a bit interesting with a nearly two minute intro before the melodic verse proper comes in, followed by a slightly interesting bridge jam before a more upbeat, drum-driven jam leads to one last feedback collage to end the album.

Commercially, Goo fared a bit better in the UK than their native US and the album’s controversial content helped bring a further buzz beyond that which the group normally received. Through the 1990s and into the new millennium, Sonic Youth’s influence continued.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.

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Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds

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Mr Tambourine Man by The ByrdsIn mid 1965, The Byrds released a debut album comprised partially of contemporary folk covers, partially of original songs, and fully of their signature folk-rock sound. Mr. Tambourine Man instantly made the group famous as an American counter-point to the the dominance of the mid-1960s British Invasion, led by the Beatles. This album features four reinterpretations of Bob Dylan songs that had been released within a year prior, including the lead single and title track of the album.

Most of the five original members of the Byrds had come from more of a pure folk background than rock n’ roll. The group was formed as a folk trio called The Jet Set in Los Angeles in 1964 by guitarist/vocalists Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby. But due to the phenomenal success of the Beatles, the trio decided to expand to a full band with the addition of bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke by the end of 1964. The Byrds even mimicked the instrumentation used by the fab four in their film A Hard Day’s Night, including a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar for McGuinn, Gretsch Tennessean guitars for Clark and Crosby and a Ludwig drum kit for Clarke.

After signing with Columbia Records, the group entered the studio in January 1965 to record the then-unreleased Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man” with a rock band arrangement including changing the time signature to the rock-friendly 4/4. The L.A. session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew were used on this single, which was released as the Byrds’ debut single in April 1965, just a month after Dylan released the song on his album, Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965. For the main album sessions later in the Spring of 1965, producer Terry Melcher initially wanted the entire debut album recorded with session musicians, but the group members insisted that they perform all instrumentation themselves.


Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds
Released: June 21, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Terry Melcher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, January – April 1965
Side One Side Two
Mr. Tambourine Man
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Spanish Harlem Incident
You Won’t Have to Cry
Here Without You
The Bells of Rhymney
All I Really Want to Do
I Knew I’d Want You
It’s No Use
Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe
Chimes of Freedom
We’ll Meet Again”
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Gene Clark – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Percussion

While the track “Mr. Tambourine Man” reached phenomenal heights in its day and beyond by instantly establishing the group’s sound, this version is, in contrast to Dylan’s original, a comically commercial parody compared to the depth of Dylan’s haunting lyrical universe in the original. Further, with all the praise heaped upon the re-workings of the cover songs, some of the group’s excellent originals tend to get overlooked. A prime example of this is Clark’s “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”, originally released as a single B-side but featuring a mellow-direct rock sound which would reverberate in many forms for decades to come.

Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident” follows as the most folk-focused song thus far on Mr. Tambourine Man, while still continuing the layered guitar approach on this very short vignette. Co-written by McGuinn and Clark, “You Won’t Have to Cry” has a quintessential early sixties Beatles-type beat contrasted by the complex vocals of folk trios from the same era, making it a true combo song. “Here Without You” is a darker type of lover’s lament song while still maintaining and driving home the signature sound arrangement, while “The Bells of Rhymney” features a slight middle instrumental section that gives a little room to establish a feeling or vibe. This song was adapted by folk singer Pete Seeger from a poem written by Idris Davies about a Welsh coal mining disaster in 1926.

The Byrds

The album’s original second side begins with Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do”, which adds some solid rock rhythms and ends with a nice guitar overdub. “I Knew I’d Want You” then breaks out of this album’s normal pattern with a cool 6/8 shuffle and a straight-forward minor ballad approach as Michael Clarke really has a chance to shine. The final original song on the album, “It’s No Use”, is a pop/rocker which combines a Chuck Berry-like lead guitar combined with a folk/ballad vocal melody and arrangement highlighted by Hillman’s bass playing. Jackie DeShannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” features a cool, 12-string intro and riff throughout with hand-jive like beat and a closing guitar with a really deep tremolo for a unique, slightly psychedelic effect. “Chimes of Freedom”, the fourth and final Dylan composition on the record, features a more deliberate folk approach in order to highlight the lyrics more than the music, leading to the closing “We’ll Meet Again”, which while a little corny and out of character for the group, does offer a sentimental send-off to the album.

Mr. Tambourine Man reached the Top 10 in both the US And UK, establishing the band as an international success. The Beatles, who had influenced the group’s arrangement just a year earlier, reflected the Byrds’ sound on their late 1965 album, Rubber Soul. This immediate influence is perhaps the best tribute to the Byrds debut album’s success.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

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Kamakiriad by Donald Fagen

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This album review is provided by Mike Fishman, who has written about Van Morrison for the Mystic Avenue blog and writes about film for IndependentFilmNow.com.

Kamakiriad by Donald FagenKamakiriad (1993) was Donald Fagen‘s third solo album, part of a trilogy book-ended by The Nightfly (1982) and Morph The Cat (2006) and was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. The eight-song cycle of Kamakiriad relates the futuristic adventures of the narrator’s journey in his high-tech car, the Kamakiri (Japanese for praying mantis). Kamakiriad was produced by Fagen’s musical partner, Walter Becker, who also provides impressive bass and guitar throughout. The album marked the first collaboration between Fagen and Becker since 1980’s Gaucho, which at the time was the most recent album by Steely Dan. Fagen handled the horn arrangements, working with latter-day Steely Dan stalwarts Cornelius Bumpus, Roger Rosenberg and Jim Pugh. The songs follow the Steely Dan template of cool swing horns and tasty solos (though more lyric-heavy than typical Steely Dan) and the blending of the sardonic and sincere that defined such classics as “Charlie Freak” and “Deacon Blues.”

The album kicks off in jaunty style with “Trans-Island Skyway,” Fagen singing in his high range, occasionally reminiscent of late-period Ray Charles. Horns swing in for background support while Christopher Parker‘s drums drive the proceedings. The song hits an infectious groove as Fagen and the back-up singers repeat the line, “Come on, daddy, get in let’s go.”

“Countermoon” follows in a darker mood with horns and bass prominent and some powerful drumming again from Parker. Spare guitar floats throughout and a bleating tenor sax solo (attributed to Illinois Elohainu, actually Fagen himself playing a saxophone sample on keyboards) leads the song to its conclusion. The somewhat static melody is enlivened by Fagen biting off lines such as “Gotham shudders/There’s a chill in the air,” while growing tender on the lines “At every pay phone there’s somebody cryin’/All the streets are slick with tears/There’s a heartquake on the way.” Amy Helm humorously chimes in with the line, “You’re not my Jackie, my Jackie was the best.”


Kamakiriad by Donald Fagen
Released: May 25, 1993 (Reprise)
Produced by: Walter Becker
Recorded: 1990-1993
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Trans-Island Skyway
Countermoon
Springtime
Snowbound
Tomorrow’s Girls
Florida Room
On the Dunes
Teahouse on the Tracks
Donald Fagen – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Walter Becker – Guitars, Bass
Randy Brecker – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Cornelius Bumpus – Saxophone
Leroy Clouden – Drums, Percussion

Kamakiriad by Donald Fagen

 
Becker’s funky bass drives the third song, “Springtime,” which features strong backing horns and a smattering of evocative keyboards. Fagen’s sweet and sour sensibility, not to mention his fondness for pulpy sci-fi, is apparent in the opening lines about a “spicy new attraction” where “you can scan yourself for traces of old heartache.” Fagen notably name-checks Coltrane.

The album hits the first of two high points with “Snowbound,” a gorgeous jazzy outing with shimmering Hammond B3 Organ from Paul Griffin and tantalizing guitar. Percussion adds flavor as Fagen basks in his particular version of nice and easy that may remind some listeners of “Maxine” from The Nightfly. The song features an extended coda, ending with a crash of cymbals that feels ironic. A line about a critic opining “The work seduces us with light” may be a reference to Anthony Hecht’s poem “More Light! More Light!” Fagen studied poetry with Hecht at Bard College in the 1960’s and references the poem on “Slinky Thing” from Sunken Condos (2012), his fourth solo release.

“Tomorrow’s Girls” is the albums most overtly science fiction song, warning of girls from outer space, “a virus wearing pumps and pearls” hunting lonely guys. Strong drumming from Leroy Clouden propels the tune with spare horns swelling in and out. Becker’s insistent guitar makes the song feel as if it could fit on his own solo album, the superb Circus Money (2008). A gentle break in the song’s latter half finds Fagen crooning about “warm night breezes start rolling in off the sea.”

Donald Fagen

The album hits its second high point with the bouncy “Florida Room,” showcasing tight swinging horns, an extended tenor sax solo from Cornelius Bumpus and warm keyboards. The album’s most breezy tune, it features a memorable, pleasingly-earworm chorus.

Clocking in at eight minutes, the longest song on the album, “On The Dunes,” continues the smooth jazz mood but with a hint of the blues and a downbeat theme of loneliness. Percussion adds texture and Parker tosses in a few drum rolls as Becker provides some funky bass lines. Cornelius Bumpus’s tenor sax sounds like it’s blowing across a peaceful beach at sunset and melds with Fagen’s heartfelt vocalizing to recall “Deacon Blues.” An extended ending allows for a full three minutes of gentle jamming and might have made for the perfect album closer.

Instead the album closes with the danceable if not completely exhilarating “Teahouse On The Tracks,” with our protagonist back in his Kamakiri and heading “for the light.” A lengthy trombone solo from Birch Johnson, some funky keyboards, good time party background vocals and a line from Fagen about “the groovessential facts” help enliven the song. The concept album thus ends neatly, with our protagonist back on the road heading for further adventures.

~

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

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Here Are the Sonics!!!

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 Here Are the Sonics by The SonicsHere Are The Sonics!!! is the 1965 debut album by American garage rock band The Sonics. The record features a dozen songs of the days’ most powerful and upbeat rock with some flourishes into shocking and unpolished blues with none of these densely packed tracks eclipsing more than three minutes in length. With this studio recording, the group finely captured their live blend of covers and a few originals while at the peak their power, making it one of the earliest influences of the soon-to-come punk rock genre.

The Sonics were formed in 1960 in Tacoma, Washington by then-teenage guitarist and vocalist Larry Parypa. About a year later, Larry’s brother Andy Parypa joined on bass with three members form another band called The Searchers – keyboardist and vocalist Gerry Roslie saxophonist Rob Lind and drummer Bob Bennett – coming along in 1963. The group developed a sound based around simple chord progressions, speed and tonal aggression, and their live repertoire began to pick up speed in the Seattle area through 1964 with the groups internal goal being to “move the floor and break windows.”

Buck Ormsby, contemporary bassist for the Northwest band the Wailers, signed to his bands’ independent label Etiquette Records and assumed the producer for their debut album. The songs were recorded with a limited number of mics, giving into a highly energetic, lo-fi live feel. Prior to the album’s release, the single “The Witch” was released. Written by Roslie, this original track which would lead off the album featured a doomy riff of combined sax, guitar and organ with Larry Parypa’s strained vocals giving the song an edge which made it ahead of its time. Through airplay on smaller radio stations in the Northwest, and became one of the largest selling independent singles in the region.


Here Are the Sonics!!! by The Sonics
Released: March, 1965 (Etiquette)
Produced by: Buck Ormsby & Kent Morrill
Recorded: Audio Recording, Seattle, 1964
Side One Side Two
The Witch
Do You Love Me
Roll Over Beethoven
Boss Hoss
Dirty Robber
Have Love Will Travel
Psycho
Money (That’s What I Want)
Walking the Dog
Night Time Is the Right Time
Strychnine
Good Golly Miss Molly
Group Musicians
Gerry Roslie – Lead Vocals, Piano, Organ
Larry Parypa – Guitars, Vocals
Rob Lind – Saxophone, Harmonica, Vocals
Andy Parypa – Bass
Bob Bennett – Drums

Following the popular opener comes a pair of covers. Berry Gordy Jr’s “Do You Love Me” is pretty close to original but with slightly differing backing vocals, while Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” is an original interpretation with dual lead vocals and some fine guitar riffing. Roslie’s “Boss Hoss” is the album’s second original, with this steady rocker driven by the consistent beat of Bennett and a nice growling sax lead by Lind.

“Dirty Robber” as a song Ormsby brought with him from the Wailers, followed by the side one closer, “Have Love Will Travel”. Perhaps the album’s most catchy tune, this Richard Berry cover features great riffing and rhythms backing a real showcase for Roslie’s lead vocals. The second side features two originals that appear to be about alcohol and drug abuse, the horror screed “Psycho” and “Strychnine”, the dark, piano-led “ode to poison” rocker with a nice space for instrumentals in between the verses.

The Sonics

The rest of the second side features a mix of contemporary cover songs. “Money (That’s What I Want)” is the first place where the group seems reserved as this version is calmer (and therefore duller) then the excellent John-Lennon led Beatles version from two years earlier. Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog” offers a nice change of pace as a bluesy rock cover, while Roslie fully exhibits his vocal abilities on Lew Herman’s “Night Time Is the Right Time”. This all leads to the apparently logical closer, “Good Golly Miss Molly”, as Roslie fuly pays homage to his idol Little Richard with a nice piano lead adding to the overall effect.

While Here Are the Sonics!!! was not a tremendous commercial success, its influence reverberated through the music industry for more than a decade after its release. The group released a follow-up album, Boom, in early 1966, but by the end of that year their heyday began to diminish.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

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The Beach Boys Today!

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The Beach Boys TodayThe Beach Boys Today! was the 1965 eighth overall studio album by The Beach Boys. It marked a subtle shift in production technique and lyrical themes for the California based group. These changes were brought together by producer, composer, and vocalist Brian Wilson who had decided to move away from the surfing / cars / girls themes that had brought super-stardom to the group in the early 1960s and moved towards more mature themes with richer accompanying orchestration. This shift did not seem to deter the record’s pop success, as it reached the Top 10 in album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and spawned a trio of hit singles.

The origins of the Beach Boys date back to the late 1950s in when teenage brothers Brian, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson began mimicking the harmonies of vocal groups such as the Four Freshmen. Soon the Wilsons’ cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school friend Al Jardine were writing and seeking a publishing deal under the name “The Pendletones”. In 1961, the band recorded a demo of their first original “Surfin'” and the following year the group signed with Capitol Records under their new name, The Beach Boys. Over the next two and a half years the group released seven studio albums and had seven Top 10 hits in the United States, an incredible streak of productivity and success which left the group exhausted. This stress, along with the difficult decision to dismiss the Brothers’ father Murray Wilson as the group’s manager, ultimately contributed to Brian suffering a panic attack in late 1964.

During the recording sessions for The Beach Boys Today! in January 1965, Wilson announced that he would stop touring with the group and concentrate solely on songwriting and record production. Brian also wanted to start separating the Beach Boys from their surfer image and more towards complex music with the use of richer instrumentation. When released in March 1965, The Beach Boys Today! featured a first side with mainly uptempo songs and a second side with mostly emotional ballads.


The Beach Boys Today! by The Beach Boys
Released: March 8, 1965 (Capitol)
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Recorded: United Western Recorders, Gold Star Studios, & RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA
Side One Side Two
Do You Wanna Dance?
Good to My Baby
Don’t Hurt My Little Sister
When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)
Help Me, Ronda
Dance, Dance, Dance
Please Let Me Wonder
I’m So Young
Kiss Me, Baby
She Knows Me Too Well
In the Back of My Mind
Bull Session with the ‘Big Daddy
Group Musicians
Brian Wilson – Piano, Organ, Bass, Vocals
Mike Love – Vocals, Percussion
Al Jardine – Guitars, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Vocals
Hugh Grundy – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album starts immediately with “Do You Wanna Dance?”, a late fifties song by Bobby Freeman, updated with rich production and featuring drummer Dennis Wilson on lead vocals. Despite being released as the B-side of a single, this Beach Boys’ version reached the Top 20 in the United States. “Good to My Baby” follows with an interesting rotating guitar riff and dual lead vocals by Love and Brian Wilson. “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” is the most complex composition of the early tracks, an upbeat rocker with a bright guitar riff, that dissolves into an air of sadness as the descending chorus pattern progresses. The lyrics are based on Wilson’s complicated feelings for his wife Marilyn and her younger sisters.

“When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” is a crossroads song lyrically as Brian discusses his anxieties about becoming an adult. Musically this track is rich with melodic harmonies and with the presence of a vibraphone throughout. “Help Me, Ronda” is the definitive hit from the album as well as the first and only song to reach three minutes in length. With Jardine on lead vocals, this single reached number one in the US, the second chart-topper by the group. On “Dance, Dance, Dance” the group progresses further in the pure rock direction with the strong presence of co-writer Carl Wilson’s guitar and a consistently upward motion overall.

The Beach Boys

The ballad filled second side begins with “Please Let Me Wonder”, with this mellow track featuring a Western-like backing and the usual over-the-top harmonies. The William Tyus cover “I’m So Young” is a doo-wop ballad with Phil Spector-like snare/tambourine hits, as “Kiss Me, Baby” vocals are exquisitely delivered. On “She Knows Me Too Well” Brian Wilson stretches the upper limit of his vocal range in the choruses, while “In the Back of My Mind” is a complete departure from the rest of the song as Dennis Wilson providing solo lead vocals on this melancholy track in 6/8 time.

The Beach Boys Today! was a commercial success as it climbed into the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. Brian Wilson was replaced temporarily by Glen Campbell and then permanently Bruce Johnson for live performances while he delved even deeper into developing new studio methods.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration 1965 albums.

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Against the Wind by Bob Seger

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Against the Wind by Bob SegerIn early 1980, Bob Seger completed his trifecta of commercial smash hit albums with the release of Against the Wind. It was his eleventh overall studio album, the fourth to feature (in part) the Silver Bullet Band and the second to include some tracks recorded by the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. While building on the tremendous success of his previous two releases, this record ultimately became Seger’s only number one album as it spent six weeks on top of the American album charts.

With a long and winding career that dated back to the early 1960s, Seger finally achieved his widespread commercial breakthrough the 1976 album Night Moves and this was followed up with the nearly-equally as successful 1978 album Stranger in Town. Seger also rose as a cross-over composer as he co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit song “Heartache Tonight” from their The Long Run and his song “We’ve Got Tonight” later became a worldwide hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton in 1983.

Co-produced by Seger with Punch Andrews and Bill Szymczyk, Against the Wind alternates between Seger’s reflective, mid-tempo acoustic ballads and upbeat, slick old-time rockers with simpler themes.


Against the wind by Bob Seger
Released: February 25, 1980 (Capitol)
Produced by: Punch Andrews, Bill Szymczyk & Bob Seger
Recorded: 1979
Side One Side Two
The Horizontal Bop
You’ll Accomp’ny Me
Her Strut
No Man’s Land
Long Twin Silver Line
Against the Wind
Good for Me
Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight
Fire Lake
Shinin’ Brightly
Primary Musicians
Bob Seger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Drew Abbott – Guitars
Chris Campbell – Bass
David Teegarden – Drums, Percussion

“The Horizontal Bop” starts things off as a heavy blues rocker with an extended jam towards the end. This song was later released as the fourth single from the album, but failed to reach the Top 40. In great contrast to the opener in both style and success, “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” is a fine acoustic ballad with dynamic vocals by Seger, which reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. The cool, riff-driven hard rocker “Her Strut” is the real highlight of Side One, with Seger’s treated lead vocals delivering catchy lyrics along with the potent bass by Chris Campbell and the indelible guitar riff Drew Abbott.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm section comes in for the next two tracks, the pleasant acoustic folk “No Man’s Land” with a fine closing guitar lead by Pete Carr and the upbeat rocker “Long Twin Silver Line”, which features an interesting ascending verse melody. While the Silver Bullet Band returns to back the masterpiece title track, the song is musically highlighted by the piano of guest Paul Harris. This masterful composition with a dedicated coda features lyrics which compare Seger’s high school days as a long distance runner with the rat race and duplicity of the music industry.

Bob Seger live

For the rest of Side Two, the album thins out a bit in quality with a pleasant country waltz of “Good for Me”, the old time rock-n-roll of “Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight” and the Eagles-like country folk of “Shinin’ Brightly”, which finishes the album with an upbeat, positive message and prominently features saxophone by Alto Reed. The best of these lot is “Fire Lake”, a song originally written for Seger’s 1975 album Beautiful Loser and featuring Glen Frey and Don Henley from the Eagles on backing vocals. Released as the lead single from the album, “Fire Lake” was a Top 5 hit in both the US and Canada.

Against the Wind reached 5x Platinum in sales and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. This high-water commercial mark was something Seger later admitted as his goal for this album as he was “gunning for nothing less than a chart-topping hit when he entered the studio”.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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Bridge Over Troubled Water
by Simon & Garfunkel

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Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and GarfunkelSimon & Garfunkel saved their best for last with the early 1970 release of Bridge over Troubled Water, the fifth studio album by the New York based folk duo. The record shows the artists branching out to new musical avenues with smooth production featuring warm sonic elements to showcase the exquisite compositions of chief songwriter Paul Simon. Despite the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel later in 1970, the album’s success reverberated for several years as it received multiple Grammy awards and even briefly became the best selling record of all time as it topped album charts worldwide.

The duo’s highly successful third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme was issued in October 1966 and followed by a series of non-album singles including “A Hazy Shade of Winter” and “At the Zoo”, both of which made the Top 20 on the pop charts. However, Simon developed a bout of writer’s block which delayed any follow-up album in 1967. Then Hollywood came knocking as director Mike Nichols, a big fan of Simon & Garfunkel’s previous records, sought the duo to record some songs for the soundtrack to his new film, The Graduate, in 1968 with the single “Mrs. Robinson” becoming the first rock n’ roll song to win the Record of the Year Grammy. Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album, Bookends was also released in 1968 and reached the top of the album charts. Both Simon and Art Gurfunkel were invited to audition for acting roles in Nichols’ next film, Catch 22, but only Garfunkel got the role.
This caused a bit of a rift between the two musicians, especially as filming took up much of 1969 with much taking place in Mexico.

Production of Bridge Over Troubled Water took place in New York and Los Angeles studios with the help of producer Roy Halee, who Garfunkel once referred to as the third member of the group. This album also partly abandoned their traditional style by incorporating further elements of rock, R&B, gospel, and world music as well as using more singular lead voices by each singer, rather than the traditional blended harmonies.


Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
Released: January 26, 1970 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel & Roy Halee
Recorded: Columbia Studios, New York City & CBS Columbia Square, Los Angeles
Side One Side Two
Bridge over Troubled Water
El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)
Cecilia
Keep the Customer Satisfied
So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright
The Boxer
Baby Driver
The Only Living Boy in New York
Why Don’t You Write Me
Bye Bye Love
Song for the Asking
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion
Art Garfunkel – Vocals, Percussion
Fred Carter Jr. – Guitars
Larry Knechtel – Piano, Keyboards
Joe Osborn – Bass
Hal Blaine – Drums, Percussion

Like most previous material by Simon & Garfunkel, the songs here were initiated by Simon and next he would work on the harmonies with Garfunkel. However, with the title track “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Simon basically gave the song as his acoustic composition was transformed with Garfunkel on solo vocals and Larry Knechtelon piano dominating most of the recording. The payoff does come with the exquisitely harmonized third verse followed by the orchestra crescendo to close out this opening title track, which topped the Pop charts and won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1971. “El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)” follows as a traditional Peruvian instrumental, centuries old onto which Simon added lyrics on top< This interesting track starts with a distant flamenco guitar with the verse proper containing a European waltz beat and a flute mimicking the lead vocals throughout, an arrangement that carries an air of psychedelia.

The inventiveness continues with “Cecilia”, a low-fi dance song driven by the harmonized vocals over a totally unique percussion arrangement that was recorded at home and placed on a loop. “Keep the Customer Satisfied” is an upbeat, acoustic-driven pop song with rich harmonies and a later horn section to complete to fine effect. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” hearkens back to their early sixties folk style, but with just a touch of mellotron to give it a “modern” edge along. “The Boxer” is another gem of production, from the perfectly Travis-style finger-picked acoustic guitars by Simon and Fred Carter Jr to the contra bass and tuba by Bob Moore to the wild percussion effects recorded on location at a cathedral at Columbia University by the legendary Hal Blaine.

Simon and Garfunkel

While not quite as interesting, the latter part of the album does include some unique moments. “Baby Driver” is a bluesy acoustic folk track in a style later mastered by Jim Croce, while “Why Don’t You Write Me” is upbeat acoustic folk with Joe Osborn laying down some excellent bass. Osborn also shines on “The Only Living Boy in New York”, a song written by Simon about Garfunkel flying off to Mexico to film Catch 22 and featuring a chorus of backing vocals recorded live in an echo chamber in Los Angeles. The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” is an odd live inclusion here with some treated hand clapping by the audience, recorded at multiple gigs, before the closing “Song for the Asking”, a pure Paul Simon style folk with an edge to become a very short soliloquy to complete the duo’s final studio album.

Bridge Over Troubled Water topped the charts in ten countries around the world and was on the best-selling album list for the years 1970, 1971 and 1972. With this massive success, both musicians decided to pursue independent projects and ultimately solo careers as Simon & Garfunkel dissolved into musical history.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

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Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder

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Fullfilligness First Finale by Stevie WonderAt the age of just 24, Stevie Wonder released his 17th studio album with 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. This record came when the composer, musician and vocalist was in the heart of his prime creative output  and features Wonder playing most of the instruments along with an array of backing vocalists. The result is a refined blend of pop, jazz and soul using economical musical arrangements along with a somber and reflective lyrical tone overall.

In 1971, Wonder had allowed his Motown contract to expire after nearly a decade on the famed label as an adolescent star. After two independently recorded albums, he negotiated a new contract with Motown Records which gave him more musical autonomy starting with the 1972 Music of My Mind, a full-length artistic statement with some lyrics that dealt with social and political issues. Talking Book followed later that year and featured a couple of number 1 hits, “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, which also won three Grammy Awards between them. In 1973 won three more Grammy Awards with the epic social consciousness of the record Innervisions.

Wonder nearly lost his life when he was in a serious car accident while on tour in August 1973. After months of recovering and a renewed sense of faith and personal strength, he got back on tour and developed songs through improvisation and introspection in early 1974. Fulfillingness’ First Finale was co-produced by Wonder along with Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil and was recorded at multiple studios in New York City and Los Angeles.


Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder
Released: July 22, 1974 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil
Recorded: Record Plant Studios and Westlake Recording Studios, Los Angeles; Media Sound and Electric Lady Studios, New York, 1974
Side One Side Two
Smile Please
Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
Too Shy To Say
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Creepin’
You Haven’t Done Nothin’
It Ain’t No Use
They Won’t Go When I Go
Bird of Beauty
Please Don’t Go
Primary Musicians
Stevie Wonder – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Drums, Percussion
Michael Sembello – Guitars
Reggie McBride – Bass
Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, Shirley Brewer – Backing Vocals

 

The smooth pop/jazz ballad of the opener “Smile Please” sets the warm vibe for the album, led by Wonder’s Fender Rhodes piano and the Latin flavored guitar of Michael Sembello. “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” is ultimately a Gospel song where Wonder conveys confidence in his devotion and is backed by an array of backing vocalists including pop legend Paul Anka. “Too Shy to Say” follows as a different kind of ballad with Wonder’s piano complemented by the steel guitar of Pete Kleinow, adding unique ambiance for this otherwise vocal-driven ballad.

The album takes an upbeat turn with “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, a Top 5 pop hit which melds reggae with mid-seventies and displays Wonder’s incredible mastery of technologically diverse instrumentation. “Creepin'” is a pure soul love song featuring a small array of then-cutting-edge synthesizers, while the political and funky “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” is melodically entertaining with nice horn arrangement and features Wonder’s overdubbed orchestra of percussive elements. This second side opener also features members of The Jackson 5 on background vocals.

Stevie Wonder on stage

The latter part of this record is where the pure genius resides. “It Ain’t No Use” returns to the spiritually driven theme with the expert use of backing vocals in a smooth soul vibe swelling to a stronger hook while maintaining its overall compositional integrity. The haunting “They Won’t Go When I Go” was co-written by Yvonne Wright and features a sound both ancient and modern as well as a chorus of self-harmonizing by Wonder. With a combo of his smooth and upbeat styles along with great melody and strategic backing vocal chants, Wonder delivers a masterpiece with the aptly titled “Bird of Beauty”, which is also rhythmically interesting due to his fine drumming and Moog bass. “Please Don’t Go”, an excellent, upbeat love song closes the album with a style that forecasts the best elements of modern day R&B, including a fine mix of electric piano and synths and a sweet, piercing harmonica lead to climax the mood before the crescendo of the final verse and coda brings it all home.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale was Wonder’s first to officially top the Pop Albums charts and, like its two predecessors, this album received three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal and Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance. In fact, when Paul Simon won the Album Of The Year Grammy the following for year for Still Crazy After All These Years, he sarcastically thanked Stevie Wonder for not making an album in 1975.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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The White Stripes

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The White StripesThe self-titled 1999 debut by the Michigan based debut, The White Stripes was at once a nod back to the American blues from the century about to end and a preview of the minimalist arrangements trend of the century to come. With great economy, the husband and wife duo of vocalist/guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White deliver a loud, raunchy, unique blend of blues, punk, country and metal among this generous collection of both originals and covers.

Jack Gillis met Meg White while he still was in high school and a drummer in a local band. The two began to frequent local music venues together. The two married in 1996 and Jack defied convention by taking his wife’s surname. The following year, Meg first began to learn the drums as Jack migrated to guitar and they found a surprising synergy together as a duo. They chose the name “The White Stripes” due to their last name and Meg’s love of peppermint hard candy. They also deliberately crafted their mysterious image by only outfitting their production in only the colors red, black and white, refusing to be interviewed separately, and occasionally (and bizarrely) presenting themselves as brother and sister.

In 1998, The White Stripes recorded and released the singles “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Lafayette Blues” on the Detroit-based independent label Italy Records. The debut album was recorded in Detroit in January 1999 with producer Jim Diamond and released in the summer of that year.


The White Stripes by The White Stripes
Released: June 5, 1999 (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Produced by: Jack White & Jim Diamond
Recorded: Ghetto Recorders and Third Man Studios, Detroit, January 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Jimmy the Exploder
Stop Breaking Down
The Big Three Killed My Baby
Suzy Lee
Sugar Never Tasted So Good
Wasting My Time
Cannon
Astro
Broken Bricks
When I Hear My Name
Do
Screwdriver
One More Cup of Coffee
Little People
Slicker Drips
St. James Infirmary Blues
I Fought Piranhas
Jack White – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Meg White – Drums

The White Stripes

 

Starting with the original ,”Jimmy the Exploder”, The White Stripes album contains 17 total tracks with just a handful clocking in at more than three minutes. Early on, there is a good cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, where Jack White provides a slide lick repeated throughout. “The Big Three Killed My Baby” refers to the major Detroit automakers and the charge that they are manufacturing automobiles which are intentionally engineered to become prematurely obsolete.

“Suzy Lee” features a beautiful bluesy electric slide by guest Johnny Walker set in between Jack White’s heavy riffing that makes this a bit of a modern classic, while “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” is a bit less refined and more spontaneous with Meg White providing some odd percussion effects. This album was officially dedicated to Delta blues legend Son House and the track “Cannon” features an a cappella section of the traditional American gospel blues song “John the Revelator”. The hyperactive “Broken Bricks” was co-written by Stephen Gillis as a full-fledged garage-rock romp.

The White Stripes

Not all the tracks on The White Stripes are top-notch and, in fact, some are pure filler and/or downright frivolous. These include (the aptly titled) “Wasting My Time”, “Astro”, “Screwdriver”, “Little People” and “Slicker Drips”. However, the latter part of the album is saved by a couple of good renditions of cover songs. The isolation tone of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” is followed by the traditional “St. James Infirmary Blues”, where Jack White breaks the formula and plays a decent piano throughout. Walker returns to provide slide guitar on the album closer “I Fought Piranhas”.

While The White Stripes did reach Gold status in the United States, it didn’t really receive much attention or critique until a few years later when the duo’s fame began to spread. Still, this set the pace for more success to come in the new millennium, starting with 2000’s De Stijl, the home recorded analog follow-up album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

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