Fire of Unknown Origin by Blue Oyster Cult

Fire of Unknown Origin
by Blue Öyster Cult

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Fire of Unknown Origin by Blue Oyster CultFire of Unknown Origin was released during an era when Blue Öyster Cult fully embraced their mythical “cult” status amoung hard rock fans, a feature of early eighties coolness which propelled them higher than they probably deserved. Still, this album is a quality jam of non-pretentious rock which still sounds pretty potent three and a half decades later. The songs on Fire of Unknown Origin are clearly theatrical, which may suggest an intended concept work. However, a closer listen proves that this is not the case, it is simply a collection of rock songs.

The New York based quintet was prolific in recording and touring through the early 1970s before their breakthrough fourth album, Agents of Fortune in 1976, which featured the group’s trademark hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. The group followed with the studio albums Spectres in 1977, Mirrors in 1977, and Cultösaurus Erectus in 1980, as well as the multi-platinum selling live album, Some Enchanted Evening in 1978. These albums all received a fair amount of critical acclaim but differing levels of commercial success.

The group’s eighth studio album, Fire of Unknown Origin was produced by Martin Birch and took a noted pivot towards the use of more synthesizers and other New Wave elements. Concurrently, the band’s sound also become even more theatrical with the lyrics more mysterious and cunning.

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Fire of Unknown Origin by Blue Oyster Cult
Released: July, 1981 (Columbia)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Kingdom Sound Studios, New York & The Automatt, San Francisco, 1981
Side One Side Two
Fire of Unknown Origin
Burnin’ for You
Veteran of the Psychic Wars
Sole Survivor
Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver
Vengeance (The Pact)
After Dark
Joan Crawford
Don’t Turn Your Back
Band Musicians
Eric Bloom – Guitars, Vocals
Donald Roeser – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Keyboards
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Vocals
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

 

The album’s title song was co-written by longtime collaborator, Patti Smith. “Fire of Unknown Origin” is a pure eighties funk/pop song, complete with the keyboards of Allen Lanier as co-lead instrument. The track features an interesting groove with a good level of intensity and motion, highlighted by the excellent dual guitar lead above the animated, hi-hat infused drums of Albert Bouchard. “Burnin’ for You” is THE Blue Oyster Cult classic from their later era. Everything comes together on this composition by Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, from the layered flanged-out intro guitars to the rich intro vocal chorus to classic bass riff by Joe Bouchard in the verses under smooth vocals by Roeser. An early MTV video favorite, this song spent three weeks in the Top 40 and topped the Billboard Top Tracks chart.

The intense and dramatic “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” was co-written by vocalist and guitarist Eric Bloom with British author Michael Moorcock. This intense and dramatic mini-suite is ushered in by a theatrical drum beat with Bloom’s vocals working well with the descending synth patterns. “Sole Survivor” kicks off with a cool bass and slightly treated vocals by Bloom during the highly melodic verses. The choruses have a strong hook, giving the song an overall sense of variety and style in spite of some cheesy but fun electronic effects during the final verse. “Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver” matches its title as a heavier track than anything on the first side, probably pretty potent for its day but, in retrospect, about at the same level as your garden variety hair band anthem.

Blue Oyster Cult

The album’s second side “Vengeance (The Pact)” was written by the Bouchard brothers and features a smooth intro with choppy rock verses. This track has interesting music and melodic passages throughout its multiple distinct parts. “After Dark” starts with a punk-flavored drum shuffle with New Wave-like bass, guitars, and keyboards on top, making this the most “modern” sounding track on the album. Starting with an extended solo concert piano section, “Joan Crawford” is the controversial track on the album as it unabashedly tries to cash in on the “Mommie Dearest” phenomena of the day. This track does break into a decent rock groove with rapid piano accompanied by choppy guitar riffs and really does fit in with the other theatrical themes on the album. “Don’t Turn Your Back” comes in directly from “Joan Crawford” and settles into a unique vibe built by beats in odd measures, a jazzy bass line and smooth vocal melodies and harmonies. This closer still has strong rock elements, especially through the drums and guitar lead, but is ultimately in a sub-genre that is hard to identify, which makes it truly original.

Fire of Unknown Origin reached the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic. It would be the final studio album with the band’s original lineup for seven years, a duration in which Blue Öyster Cult lost much of its commercial momentum, making this 1981 album their high water mark.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Odelay by Beck

Odelay by Beck

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Odelay by BeckOdelay is a rich sonic tapestry which incorporates elements of grunge, punk, folk, country, blues, rap and other elements, including a heavy use of sampling from established songs. The album was the fifth overall and second major label release for Beck and became his breakthrough effort into mainstream critical and commercial success. Overall, this record is an eclectic, zig-zagging experience which seems to employ an effort to include something for various groups of musical fans.

A pre-high school drop out from Los Angeles, Beck Hanson worked a stream of menial jobs while trying to establish a career as a folk and blues performer in the late 1980s. After migrating to New York, Beck became involved in the East Village’s anti-folk scene and began to write free-associative songs. In 1992, he recorded the experimental, hip-hop infused anthem, “Loser”, which was released as a limited, 500-copy single in early 1993 but received heavy radio play and topped the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Between 1993 and 1994, Beck released three independent albums; Golden Feelings, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, and One Foot In the Grave; as well as the major-label debut Mellow Gold in 1994. Beck also began performing on major tours and festivals, a workload which made it quite ironic that he was deemed king of “the slacker generation”.

In its original sessions, Odelay was slated to be an acoustic-driven album. Eventually, Beck abandoned this approach and enlisted the Dust Brothers (E.Z. Mike Simpson and “King Gizmo”) as co-producers, who infused their heavily-treated, layered percussive back-beats to many of the tracks. Odelay was also the first full-fledged production where Beck had the time and budget to indulge in compositional creativity.


Odelay by Beck
Released: June 18, 1996 (DGC)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & The Dust Brothers
Recorded: various studios, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Devils Haircut
Hotwax
Lord Only Knows
The New Pollution
Derelict
Novacane
Jack-Ass
Where It’s At
Minu
Sissyneck
Readymade
High 5 (Rock the Catskills)
Ramshackle
Beck Hanson – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Harmonica, Percussion
Mike Boito – Keyboards, Trumpet
Joey Waronker – Drums, Percussion

Odelay by Beck

Most of the songs on Odelay were co-written by Beck, John King and Michael Simpson, starting with “Devils Haircut”. This opener features a heavy rock riff with the first of many sampled electronic rhythms, complete with well-placed sound effects between the verses and choruses. “Hotwax” changes direction with a bluesy acoustic intro, soon joined by electric elements in an enjoyable groove through the heart of the song as well as a slightly hip-hop vocal approach by Beck. “Lord Only Knows” replicates the Rolling Stones’ many renditions of country/rock, especially in the vocal delivery and upbeat acoustic rhythms with slide electric overtones. “The New Pollution” is a basic, repetitive sample song with a decent vocal melody until the mid-section, which includes a distant saxophone and some good keyboard effects, while “Derelict” features a longer and more complex repeating percussive pattern in trying to accomplish a certain dark vibe. “Novacane” is the first track on the album which goes full hip-hop, excessive scratching et all.

The album regains focus with the sixties flavored folk/pop, “Jack-Ass”. Featuring a good mixture of acoustic and electric guitars and a sharp xylophone pattern. This song samples a cover of the classic “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, originally by Bob Dylan on the album Bringing It All Back Home. The even more popular,
“Where It’s At”, features a great, laid back electric piano during intro and verse before launching into full robotic hip-hop chorus chant as a nice fusing of genres. The song was written and first performed in 1995, and features some of the better lyrics and rhyming on the album;

Pick yourself up, off the side of the road, with your elevator bones and your whip-flash tones / Members only, hypnotizers, move through the room like ambulance drivers…”

“Minus” is a track that is a bit different, production wise, as it gets into a decent but thick rock groove before unfortunately breaking apart near the end. The whistling intro of “Sissyneck” soon breaks into a quasi-country/rap, which is at once stylistic but also partially farcical. Ultimately, the fine slide steel guitar by guest Gregory Liesz makes this song worthwhile as a fine listen.

Beck

The album wraps up unevenly with its three final disparate tracks. “Readymade” delves back into the avante garde, driven by Beck’s bass and guitar rhythms and vocal melody along with short flourishes of interesting lead instruments. “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” is the dreadful nadir of the album as a kitsch hip-hop rendition which detracts from the finer elements of the album. The album concludes with the excellent dark ballad “Ramshackle”, with a laid back acoustic arrangement and slightly harmonized vocals during the choruses that sweeten it up just enough to make it all soar.

Odelay was a Top 20, platinum selling album on both sides of the Atlantic and received several Grammy nominations in years subsequent to its release. In the wake of its release, the album at once propelled Beck’s career and opened up scrutiny on the legalities of album sampling use in new albums, which pretty much assured that this exact approach would not be replicated again.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller Band

Fly Like An Eagle by
Steve Miller Band

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Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller BandWith his ninth studio release, Steve Miller struck commercial gold in the quadruple platinum selling 1976 album, Fly Like An Eagle. The music on the album moves through phases of psychedelic-folk, acid-blues, soul, blue grass and other types of roots genres, while the lyrical melodies and hooks help to maintain a pop-centric sensibility which results in a very accessible, catchy and easy listen throughout.

Miller formed the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco in the late 1960s as a psychedelic/blues group and soon negotiated a fairly lucrative five album deal with Capitol/EMI in 1967. Those five albums were recorded and released within a relatively short period of time (1968-1971) to mixed commercial success. The better tracks from these five were rolled into the 1972 double album compilation, Anthology. The following year, the group went through a major change in personnel as well as musical approach for the chart-topping album The Joker.

As producer of Fly Like An Eagle, Miller entered the studio in 1975 with bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber and ultimately recorded enough material for a double length LP. Miller instead opted to release two single albums concurrently, with Book of Dreams following a year later in May 1977.


Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 20, 1976 (Capital)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Space Intro
Fly Like an Eagle
Wild Mountain Honey
Serenade
Dance, Dance, Dance
Mercury Blues
Take the Money and Run
Rock n’ Me
You Send Me
Blue Odyssey
Sweet Maree
The Window
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

Miller’s synth arpeggios using an ARP Odyssey machine set the mood for the title track, “Fly Like an Eagle”. Slow and soulful, the track musically features Miller’s slightly funky intro guitar riff and the choppy Hammond B3 organ by Joachim Young. Miller’s lead vocals and hook carry this Top 5 song best with a soaring sensation to match the song’s title and the slightest recurring synths for effect. Written by Steve McCarty, “Wild Mountain Honey” enters from the dissolve of a previous track as a psychedelic folk song with Eastern influence. A synth lead over subtle percussion, with the slightest flavoring of sitar. this song is a bit elongated to absorb the full vibe and complete this smooth but psychedelic opening sequence.

“Serenade” is a transition tune, as an adventurous, driving strummed folk/rock song with harmonized vocals throughout, which works to ease the album’s sound down towards the roots music to follow. On “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the album takes a radical turn away from the mid-seventies space/pop towards a pure blue grass diddy with multiple acoustic instrument textures. This track was co-written by Joseph and Brenda Cooper and features an authentic lead dobro by John McFee as the musical highlight of this hoe-down. The cover of the 1940s song “Mercury Blues” follows and is delivered in an effective way which maintains its original R&B feel while subtly adding mid-seventies rock elements. The popular “Take the Money and Run” commences side two by continuing the “down home” sequence. An anthem for the slacker outlaw, this catchy and upbeat tune features slight chanting lyrics and excellent drumming by Mallaber throughout, with Miller delivering a thick and chorded guitar which works with the sharp and dynamic beats.

Steve Miller Band in 1970s

The aptly titled pure pop/rocker “Rock n’ Me” flew to the top of the charts as an inversion of Free’s earlier hit “All Right Now”. The rock guitar riff sets the edge before the song proper utilizes deadened classic rock chord patterns all under the exceptional vocal melodies and a traditional tourist effect lyric, which names several American cities along the way. After a forgettable rendition of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”, the album recovers with a couple of interesting tracks. “Sweet Maree” is an authentic acoustic blues with a wild harmonica by James Cotton. This song keeps a very basic arrangement through several distinct sections with only some fine electric blues guitar and slight tambourine percussion joining the ever-present acoustic and harmonica. The closing track, “The Window”, slowly swells into a soulful organ/acoustic groove with sonic textures similar to the title song, book-ending the album in a fine, consistent way.

Fly Like An Eagle was a hit worldwide, peaking at #3 in Miller’s native USA. The following year’s Book of Dreams was a similar success, making the mid-to-late seventies the most successful phase of Miller’s long career.

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1976 Images

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

Load by Metallica

Load by Metallica

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Load by MetallicaFive years in the making, Metallica took a semi-radical turn on their sixth studio album, Load. The album incorporates elements of alternative rock, blues, southern rock and even country while remaining rooted in the group’s traditional brand of heavy metal. While this musical progression caused a bit of controversy among long time fans, the album was an immediate commercial hit and was their fastest selling out of the gate.

The group’s 1991 breakthrough, Metallica (“The Black Album”), brought Metallica to the mainstream and sparked several years of touring throughout the world, including a headlining slate at Woodstock ’94. In the summer of 1995, the group took a short break before returning to the studio later that year.

Songs for the album were mainly written by lead vocalist / guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett played a large role in shaping the sonic direction of Load with the many guitar styles and textures. The album was produced by Hetfied, Ulrich and Bob Rock, who was instrumental in migrating the band’s sound closer to the mainstream.


Load by Metallica
Released: June 4, 1996 (Elektra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: The Plant Studios, Sausalito, CA, May 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Ain’t My Bitch
2 X 4
The House Jack Built
Until It Sleeps
King Nothing
Hero of the Day
Bleeding Me
Cure
Poor Twisted Me
Wasting My Hate
Thorn Within
Ronnie
The Outlaw Torn
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Guitars
Jason Newsted – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums

Load by Metallica

The strongest trait of Load‘s nearly eighty minute odyssey is how cohesive the album is in spite of its abundance of genres and tones. The opener “Ain’t My Bitch” is nearly a pure pop/rocker with choppy riff and rhythms, which made it a hit on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts. “2 X 4” starts with Ulrich’s drum intro into a slightly bluesy hard rock, featuring slide guitars by Hammett. “The House Jack Built” goes through several distinct sections as the song unfolds, with a very theatrical feel overall. Sound effects from Hammett’s guitar act as a dramatic guide throughout, climaxing with a wild talk-box lead section.

“Until It Sleeps” starts with fretless bass section by Jason Newsted before it breaks into the melodic verses. The picked electric riff throughout is the highlight of this track, which remains laid back and moderate throughout and became Metallica’s first and only Top 10 hit on the pop charts. “King Nothing” starts with wild feedback effect before Newstead’s driving bass ushers in the building main riff, in an arrangement very similar (right down to the middle nursery rhyme section) to “Enter Sandman” from the previous album. In all, this is the most traditional-sounding and raw song on the album thus far.

The best overall track on the album, “Hero of the Day” is built on Hammett’s simple but brilliant guitar pattern and executed with differing arrangement elements from heavy rock to strummed acoustic with electric accents. The later lead section is equally simple but ever more excellent and the song ends in hard-rock crescendo making it an instant classic which still sounds potent 20 years later. The picked guitar and bass intro of “Bleeding Me” shows the band pointing towards an alternative rock / grunge approach, in the same manner as bands like Alice in Chains. This song remains fairly moderate and consistent until about 5 minutes in, when it takes a more direct, metal approach for the duration. On the eighties-flavored “Cure”, the guitar textures are fairly interesting but the composition itself is rather weak, while “Poor Twisted Me” has guitar tones which fall somewhere between Van Halen and ZZ Top reaching legit rock heights towards the end, making it an overall fine track. “Wasting My Hate” starts as pure upbeat blues before breaking into an intense hard rocker with cool, returning riffs.

Metallica in 1996

Hetfield wrote the ballad “Mama Said” about his difficult relationship with his mother, who died of cancer when he was 16 years old and is a real heartfelt folk song by Hetfield with emotional intensity throughout. Acoustic throughout, when this song fully kicks in, it is almost country with pedal steel and later a heavier slide guitar, while the bridge contains further layered guitars and harmonized vocals. On “Thorn Within”, the group returns to a slow metal format with multiple riff variations, not as strong as this album’s best, but certainly not a throwaway track either. “Ronnie” works its way in with an excellent, bluesy riff and keep the simple blues/rock anthem feel throughout. While the song is five minutes long and repetitive, it never gets stale because if its excellent execution and tonal qualities, making it a highlight of the latter part of the album. Unfortunately, the album concludes with the unfocused and bloated “The Outlaw Torn”, a nearly ten-minute droning and slightly interesting track, which is far from the best way to complete the album.

Load debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts and went on to top charts in over a dozen countries around the globe. Metallica’s momentum continued as they headlined Lollapalooza in mid-1996 and followed-up with the 1997 “sequel” album, Reload, which featured many tracks started during the production of this album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

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Down On the Upside by SoundgardenThe climax of the group’s original success, Down On the Upside was a super-sized album by Soundgarden, one which would have been a double album in decades earlier than this 1996 release. This fifth studio album by the band features music which is much more experimental than on previous Soundgarden releases as it utilizes expanded instrumentation, more complex harmonies, layered guitar textures and ambitious compositional structures.

In early 1994, Soundgarden released their breakthrough, Superunknown, which topped the pop album charts and remains the group’s most commercially successful album. During the subsequent touring, Cornell severely strained his vocal cords, which forced the group to take a break and ultimately slow the pace of touring.

Work on Down On the Upside began in Seattle in the summer of 1995. Compositions were more individually written with front man Chris Cornell writing most of the lyrics. Some tensions reportedly arose between Cornell guitarist Kim Thayil during these recording sessions, which would be the last for the group for over a decade and a half.


Down on the Upside by Soundgarden
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: Adam Kasper & Soundgarden
Recorded: Studio Litho and Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, November 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Pretty Noose
Rhinosaur
Zero Chance
Dusty
Ty Cobb
Blow Up the Outside World
Burden in My Hand
Never Named
Applebite
Never the Machine Forever
Tighter and Tighter
No Attention
Switch Opens
Overfloater
An Unkind
Boot Camp
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin
Kim Thayil – Lead Guitar
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Mandolin
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

Starting things off, “Pretty Noose” is a choppy rocker with distinct, layered guitar riffs. It was the lead single from the album and reached number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. “Rhinosaur” was co-written by drummer Matt Cameron and features some odd-timed rhythms during the verses with the choruses featuring uplifting vocals by Cornell, A frantic guitar lead over the bridge quickly dissolves back to the relatively slower main theme to end the track. “Zero Chance” is the first of several tracks by bassist Ben Shepherd as a traditional grunge depressant, while his track “Dusty” employs much heavier rock with a lyric that gives the album its title.

The unique track “Ty Cobb” starts with a relaxed intro with both Cornell and Sheppard playing a mandolin and mandola respectively, before the band launches into a full punk screed. On “Blow Up the Outside World”, Soundgarden uses an A-B attack strategy. First there is the calm acoustic section, sung gently and melodically, accompanied by a nice tremolo second guitar and heavy bluesy third guitar as tension builds through the early verses. Then the arrangement explodes into a full metal assault during the chorus. Together these sections make for a bonafide classic, further solidified by the fantastic, calm guitar lead by Thayil in the middle.

Cornell’s voice above pure, folk, open-C strumming makes for a unique and potent blend of sonic bliss during “Burden in My Hand”. This song does get heavier in the choruses, but never over the top for this track which topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts for five weeks. When full rhythmic arrangement joins for the later verses, song and album reaches its musical heights.

Soundgarden in 1996
 
There is no doubt that Down On the Upside is top-heavy in terms of quality, as the latter part of this long album contains several tracks which could be considered filler material. Shepherd’s “Never Named” is a short speed rock jam, while Cameron’s “Applebite” is mainly an instrumental with some distorted, mechanical vocals. Cornell’s “Tighter and Tighter” is a moderately paced track bluesy rock jam in contrast to the frantic, quasi-punk “No Attention”. The best of this later group includes Thayil’s “Never the Machine Forever” with rapid riff, screeching guitars, Shepherd’s potent jam “An Unkind”, and the unidirectional closing track,
“Boot Camp”.

A worldwide success, Down On the Upside topped the charts in several countries, topping out at number two in the group’s native United States. The group again went on a massive tour to support this album but tensions within the band ultimately led to their disbandment early in 1997. Soundgarden would not reunite for a studio album until the production of King Animal in 2012, with a follow-up to that album currently in the works as of mid 2016.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult

Agents of Fortune by
Blue Oyster Cult

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Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster CultThe most commercially successful album of the group’s career, the platinum selling Agents of Fortune is a diverse and interesting (albeit a bit incohesive) album by Blue Oyster Cult. Musically, this fourth album from the New York based quintet branched out from the dark and mysterious strain of heavy metal toward more pop-oriented, synth-drenched, arena style rock. Quite ironically, this album yielded the band’s most indelible single, which is a track that advances Blue Oyster Cult’s traditional musical approach rather than one which capitulates to popular trends.

Following the 1972 release of their self titled debut album, the group went on an extensive tour while simultaneously writing material for their next album, Tyranny and Mutation. This sophomore effort included the first of the band’s many collaborations with composer Patti Smith. The group’s third album, Secret Treaties in 1974 was the first to receive positive mainstream critical acclaim and launched the band into headlining status for the first time in their major label career.

Three producers collaborated on Agents of Fortune, Sandy Pearlman, Murray Krugman, and David Lucas along with engineer Shelly Yakus. The compositions on the album were dispersed among four of the five group members as well as some outside composers such as Smith, which made for an extremely diverse sequence in both sound and style as the album progresses.

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Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult
Released: May 21, 1976 (Columbia)
Produced by: Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman & David Lucas
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York City, 1975–76
Side One Side Two
This Ain’t the Summer of Love
True Confessions
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
The Revenge of Vera Gemini
Sinful Love
Tattoo Vampire
Morning Final
Tenderloin
Debbie Denise
Band Musicians
Eric Bloom – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Donald Roesar – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Allen Lanier – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Bouchard – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Albert Bouchard – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins on a sober, if not cynical, note to reflect the darker mood of the mid 1970s with,”This Ain’t the Summer of Love”, co-written by drummer Albert Bouchard. While musically this is rather typical pop/rock with a slightly harder edge, it has been suggested that this song forecasts the rage and thematic subject matter of punk rock. “True Confessions” was composed and sung by guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lanier. It is much brighter than the opener as a piano driven tune with an electric guitar trailing close behind to form a Randy Newman-type vibe with choppy rhythms.

Continuing the vast diversity of the album is the dark and smooth classic “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, the group’s biggest chart success and the only Top 10 single. Written by lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and primarily built around his ringing guitar riff. The lyrics are clearly about death, an odd choice of subject matter and arrangement to work for a mainstream audience, but this one certainly caught fire. The song is also notable for Bouchard’s consistent use of cowbell (later parodied on this classic Saturday Night Live skit) and a dynamic middle section which diverts into Roesar’s theatrical, feedback-laden guitar lead.

“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” starts with the infectious talk-box drenched riff, complemented by a choppy piano. On this track, Bloom’s vocals are dry and cool in contrast to the upbeat musical riffs, beats and rhythms. The lead section starts with wild synth effects to give life to the spacey lyrics, a line of which gives the album its title. Co-written by Smith, “The Revenge of Vera Gemini” finishes side one as a smooth, unique, interesting, and entertaining track with some spoken and sung female backing vocals under smooth musical arrangements and upbeat rhythms.

Blue Oyster Cult in1976

The album’s original second side starts with two of its weaker tracks. “Sinful Love” is a pale attempt at pop/soul with its only redeeming traits being a good guitar lead and consistent animated bass by Joe Bouchard. “Tattoo Vampire” continues the theatrical sequence but with a much harder rock approach, led by the guitars and lead vocals of Eric Bloom. Agents of Fortune does finish very strong, starting with Joe Bouchard’s “Morning Final”, which starts with a squealing guitar lead before settling into a funk groove accented by melodic injections through the verse sections and later musical rudiment sections featuring multiple keyboards. On “Tenderloin”, the bass motors along with calm synths/piano on top and very unique lead vocals by Bloom. “Debbie Denise” closes the album as a pleasant and moderate pop ballad which tries to pack in a bit too much variety of instrumentation and tempo.

Agents of Fortune reached the Top 30 on the Pop Albums chart and launched the band into an even larger concert attraction, where the Blue Oyster Cult indulged in a state-of-the-art laser light show to accompany their music. Through the next half decade, the group’s popularity continued to grow with more album and live success, reaching its peak just before Albert Bouchard left the group in the early 1980s.

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1976 Images

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

Bringing Down The Horse by The Wallflowers

Bringing Down the Horse
by The Wallflowers

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Bringing Down The Horse by The WallflowersThe Wallflowers struck a fine chord with their second LP, Bringing Down the Horse. The songs on the album were all composed by front man Jakob Dylan and the musical arrangements featured an array of acoustic instrumentation – including 6-string acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro and pedal steel – complementing the core “electric” rock timbres and rhythms. In all, this roots rock sound led to much critical and commercial success as the album went triple platinum and was nominated for multiple Grammy awards.

The group was formed in New York in 1988 by Dylan and guitarist Tobi Miller, originally using the name “The Apples”. The group went through several lineup migrations, with keyboardist Rami Jaffee joining in 1990 after the group migrated to Los Angeles and changed their name to The Wallflowers. The following year the group was signed to Virgin Records and released their self-titled debut in 1992. While reviews for the album were mostly positive, sales were slow and soon the group split with Virgin and reverted back to playing LA-area clubs. During this time, Greg Richling became the group’s permanent bassist while drummer Peter Yanowitz departed, leaving the group without a full-time drummer. Still, The Wallflowers signed with Interscope Records and began preparing for their second album.

After the group sent demos to several producers, T Bone Burnett was impressed and agreed to produce the album. Burnett enlisted Matt Chamberlain on drums throughout the recording sessions as well as several other guest musicians and backing vocalists to help enrich the group’s sound. Due to the long duration between the band’s first and second albums, songs on Bringing Down the Horse were composed over a long span, dating back to the late 1980s.


Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: T Bone Burnett
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Groove Masters, & O’Henry Sound Studios, Los Angeles, Brooklyn Studios, Brooklyn, NY, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
One Headlight
6th Avenue Heartache
Bleeders
Three Marlenas
The Difference
Invisible City
Laughing Out Loud
Josephine
God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
Angel On My Bike
I Wish I Felt Nothing
Jakob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Michael Ward – Guitars
Rami Jaffee – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Richling – Bass
Matt Chamberlain – Drums
 
Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers

The album begins with its two biggest commercial and radio hits. “One Headlight” marches in with a steady, rhythmic thump, accented by alternating licks from Jaffee’s Hammond B3 organ and the lead guitar of guest Jon Brion. The song’s title was inspired by the band’s leaner days, when they were able to move on in spite of less than stellar support. Methodical and melodic throughout, this song was an instant classic in the late nineties and remains so today. “6th Avenue Heartache” dates back to the band’s earliest days and was written by Dylan in 1988 about a homeless man on his street. Musically, Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) provides the perfect lead guitar above the simple, acoustic and bluesy rhythm of the song. Repetitive to be sure, but to great effect as this song never seems to linger too long.

“Bleeders” features a bright acoustic and is upbeat but not over the top. Later there is an interesting duo organ/guitar lead during the short bridge. “Three Marlenas” is built on three basic strummed chords, which set the scene for Dylan’s folk-like storytelling about basic domestic situations and multiple personalities. “The Difference” was another hit as an upbeat, frenzied rocker with a distinct guitar riff and good harmonies through the pre-choruses, with Richling’s bass assuming control during the track’s driving choruses. “Invisible City” is a slow ballad with Dylan’s subtle acoustic contrasting Chamberlain’s up-front drum beat, while “Laughing Out Loud” features twangy guitars and folksy pop/rock lyrics and melodies.

The Wallflowers in 1996

“Josephine” brings things back down as a slow ballad with differing soundscapes and levels of intensity for mood effect. Ward provides a short but excellent bluesy guitar lead and reprise during the outtro. Alternating back uptempo, “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” is Southern-flavored rock. “Angel on My Bike” is the best candidate for an accessible hit song late in the album as it features all The Wallflower special ingredients – strummed acoustic, ethereal electric, Hammond organ, thumping bass, animated drums and melodic and catchy vocals. The piano lead makes this a bit different than earlier songs as well as the good musical interludes and overall vibe, which is at once melancholy and celebrational. For the closer, “I Wish I Felt Nothing”, the group goes full-fledged country/waltz with Leo LeBlanc adding a fantastic pedal steel slide, giving the song some real flavor and completing this fine album on a sweet note.

Bringing Down the Horse reached the Top 10 in both the US and Canada and it remains the group’s highest-selling album to date. Following its release, The Wallflowers toured extensively and their popularity continued to ascend for several years leading up to the new millennium.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.

 

Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog
25th Anniversary

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Temple of the DogTemple of the Dog was sort of a reverse super group in the sense that the group members would go on to play in two of the more successful rock bands of the 1990s. However, at the time of this group’s short recording career in 1990, none of its members had yet achieved any great fame or recognition as they would in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam in subsequent years. In any case, the 1991 eponymous is an exceptional musical statement which far surpasses the trivial curiosity it was portrayed as throughout the early nineties.

In March 1990, Mother Love Bone front man Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose. Wood’s former roommate and Soundgarden lead vocalist Chris Cornell approached two former members of Mother Love Bone, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament about recording some material he had previously worked on with Wood. At the time, Gossard and Ament were in the early phases of the group who would become Pearl jam and they invited another group member, lead guitarist Mike McCready to join the Temple of the Dog. In turn, Cornell enlisted Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to round out the quartet.

Temple of the Dog was recorded in Seattle in just 15 days with producer Rick Parashar, who also provided some keyboards on select tracks. With few expectations from the record label, the musicians were free to record as they saw fit and they accomplished great synergy over that short time period. The name of the group and album was taken from the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words”.

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Temple of the Dog by Temple of the Dog
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two)
Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers
Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Say Hello 2 Heaven
Reach Down
Hunger Strike
Pushin’ Forward Back
Call Me a Dog
Times of Trouble
Wooden Jesus
Your Saviour
Four Walled World
All Night Thing
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Banjo
Mike McCready – Guitars
Stone Gossard – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass
Matt Cameron – Drums

Temple Of the Dog

Cornell wrote all the lyrics as well as most of the music on this album. Uniquely, the album begins with its two longest tracks, both of which were written in direct response to Wood’s death. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” starts with a solo, picked electric guitar before the strummed rhythms come in for the verses. This opener features a soulful and dynamic melody with fine backing harmonies during the chorus, which helped drive the song to the Top 5 of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. “Reach Down” starts with a doomy and droning electric guitar riff above slow rhythms through the verse sections. Giving this eleven minute track much of its mass the extended duo guitar lead by McCready and Gossard, while the predominant lyrical theme is “reach down and lift up the audience”.

The most popular song on the album, “Hunger Strike”, may be its simplest. Three chords are built upon with stronger arrangement and vocals building the track’s intensity. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder performs co-lead vocals with Cornell as Vedder stepped in when Cornell was having trouble with the vocals during a duo band rehearsal. The result was a worldwide hit in 1992. “Pushin Forward Back” is a bass driven riff track, written by Ament and Gossard as an odd-timed riff drone jam. Like many many tracks on this album, this acts as a canvas for Cornell’s fine vocals. Presented as a standard ballad, complete with minor-key piano by Parashar, “Call Me a Dog” is a vocal driven, sad ballad which manages to never become mushy or boring. “Times of Trouble” is another crooning ballad but with slightly more grunge rock elements including soaring vocal melodies through choruses and a later slight harmonica lead by Cornell.

Temple of the Dog

“Wooden Jesus” is built on a revolving drum beat by Cameron with some strategically added percussion for extra effect in the intro. Later comes an interesting little banjo during second verse and great wah-wah guitar lead during the bridge. “Your Savior” features funky beats and grooves throughout with more good drumming, leading to “Four Walled World”, a slow, cool jam based tune co-written by Gossard. The sparse guitar chords and fretless bass help to make this a fine track sonically as do the later dual slide guitars add the next logical element to the effect. The closer “All Night Thing” features a sparse arrangement with shuffling brush drums accompanied by Hammond organ with the lead vocals pretty much carrying the dynamics. Clever and accessible, this album closer sounds like it could have been a big hit.

Temple of the Dog sold poorly upon its initial release in April 1991, but it found new life a year later after Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger and Pearl Jam’s Ten found great success in late 1991. Eventually, the album sold was certified platinum and went on to become one of the more highly regarded releases of the decade.

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1991 Images

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

Collective Soul 1995 album

Collective Soul

1995 Album of the Year

Buy Collective Soul

Collective Soul 1995 albumCollective Soul reached its full musical promise and commercial success with their 1995 self-titled second album, sometimes referred to as their “blue album”. Here, the rock quintet from Georgia struck a nice blend of 1980s-style hard rock and early 1990s-style grunge rock to forge a distinctive sound which resonated well with rock fans in the mid nineties. Although far from ground breaking in originality and compositional quality, Collective Soul is solid from end to end and may be the most interesting overall release of 1995, hence making it our Album of the Year.

Although it was quite successful, group leader Ed Roland did not feel that Collective Soul’s 1993 debut album, Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid rose above the level of a professional demo. He even went so far as to refer to Collective Soul as the group’s “first record, flat out”. Still, with the phenomenal success of the song “Shine”, Roland put together a proper band, starting with fellow guitarists Ross Childress and Ed’s younger brother Dean Roland. The debut album eventually went double-platinum and the group immediately landed on major tours through 1994, including an appearance at the Woodstock ’94 Festival.

Later in the year, the group headed to Miami to record Collective Soul along with co-producer Matt Serletic. Although Ed Roland remained the predominant songwriter, with fifteen of his tracks recorded in the studio, Childress also contributed some help with a few compositions. Due to the group’s rising popularity and demand for live performances, the album was recorded, mixed and mastered rather quickly, but still achieved optimal sonic results.


Collective Soul by Collective Soul
Released: March 14, 1995 (Atlantc)
Produced by: Ed Roland and Matt Serletic
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, October-December 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Simple
“Untitled”
The World I Know
Smashing Young Man
December
Where the River Flows
Gel
She Gathers Rain
When the Water Falls
Collection of Goods
Bleed
Reunion
Ed Roland – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Dean Roland – Guitars
Will Turpin – Bass, Vocals
Shane Evans – Drums

 
Collective Soul album

The album starts with the distant funky rap of “Simple” before the full song kicks in and remains strong and upbeat throughout, setting up the simple yet effective tone of the album. The second track falls into the same type of approach as the opener but with much more melody and other sonic intricacies. This untitled track is kind of unique (albeit a bit unprofessional), falling second in the running order, as opposed to the typical “hidden track” at the end of many 1990s albums.

Cowritten by Roland and Childress, the moody, acoustic folk ballad “The World I Know” is rich with orchestral elements to complement the somber lyrics and vocal delivery. There is good melodramatic motion throughout, especially when moving between distinct parts of the song which, as a whole, is a clever bit of melancholy which feels neither forced nor drab. The song peaked at #19 on the pop charts and spent several weeks at the #1 spot on the Mainstream Rock chart. An over-the-top sharp riff with slightly hip-hop rhythms drive the track “Smashing Young Man”. This song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics were written in response to Smashing Pumpkins’ lead vocalist Billy Corgan, who earlier accused Collective Soul of plagiarizing music, with some poetic responses;

Beggar’s description of what I’ve been missing / Exploit your position, don’t think I didn’t listen…Success is so tragic, pain is your gadget / Your tongue’s just lashing, just bitching by habit / Hey I hope you’re feeling a little purer now…”

The most grunge-influenced track with its fantastic fits and starts, “December” brilliantly displays the band’s ability to write songs that are at once totally unique but radio friendly. The intro and verse guitar is finger-picked and accompanied by deeply harmonized vocals through the verses. Drummer Shane Evans provides some hand percussion in the second verse and well timed lead-ins before the choruses. The song was another hit for the group, peaking in the Top 20 on the pop charts. “Where the River Flows” follows with a heavy rock riff and gaited drums throughout, leading to “Gel”, another rock gem from this album. On many levels the musical heart of Collective Soul, “Gel” opens with a stripped down section that perfectly sets up the energy of the song proper. Later comes a good bluesy guitar by Childress with riff rudiments in the mid-section, while the brief, simple but highly effective lyric which gets the song’s point across in a brevity to match its title.

Collective Soul

The latter part of the album contains some lesser known but equally fine tracks to nicely round off this album. “She Gathers Rain” is a bit over the top with interplay between the opening guitar riff and strong drum beat but, as song settles into a groove, it is quite entertaining. “When the Water Falls” features nice bass work by Will Turpin, who provides the glue between the two complementing guitar riffs in the intro, with a later sweet musical arrangement and acoustic added to the mix along with complex lead and backing vocal arrangements. “Collection of Goods” features nice sonic effects throughout with a crisp guitar riff, worthy of earliest-era Rush, while “Bleed” moves towards more mechanical passages of guitar textures, with each section in turn, like passing through an assembly line. The album concludes with “Reunion”, a song which fully shows off the group’s Southern roots. This fine closer includes soulful vocals by Roland as well as a chorus of Gospel-like backing vocalists and a slide acoustic guitar to accentuate this simple but excellent song which concludes this simple but excellent album.

Collective Soul became the band’s highest selling album and spent well over a year on the Billboard album charts. Following its release, the group spent little free time, embarking on an extended national tour the next day, followed by an immediate commencement of writing and recording material for their next album.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

River Songs by The Badlees

River Songs by The Badlees

Buy River Songs

River Songs by The BadleesAfter honing their sound for half a decade, The Badlees found their first real commercial success with River Songs. Originally released as the quintet’s third independent studio album in early 1995, the album was re-released internationally after the group signed with Polydor/Atlas later in the year. Led by guitarist and chief songwriter Bret Alexander, the group produced solid songs with scaled back musical arrangements utilizing an array of acoustic and native percussion instruments as well as a heavy use of harmonica as a lead instrument.

In early 1992, The Badlees released their first full-length album, Diamonds In the Coal, which featured a nice blend of pop, rock, and folk tracks. However, they decided to change directions for the 1993 follow-up, The Unfortunate Result of Spare Time, which had a slicker and more streamlined production style. Although disappointed with the overall result of this second album, the group worked hard to promote it through constant touring. This lead to the band getting the incredible opportunity to be one of the first Western rock bands to perform in mainland China during the 1994 Qingdao Beer Festival in August of that year.

After returning from China, the group started work on their third full length release. The daily 50-mile commute along the Susquehanna River inspired the title, River Songs, as they traveled to Harrisburg, PA to record the album. The deliberate musical intent of this record was to return to the distinct style they began forging in their early years.


River Songs by The Badlees
Released: February 28, 1995 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: The Badlees
Recorded: The Green Room, Harrisburg, PA, September-November 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Grill the Sucker
Angeline Is Coming Home
Fear of Falling
Angels of Mercy
Queen of Perfection
Bendin’ the Rules
Gwendolyn
Ore Hill
Nothing Much of Anything
Song For a River
I Liked You Better When You Hated Yourself
Pete Palladino – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ron Simasek – Drums, Percussion

River Songs by The Badlees

The brief, 73 second opening instrumental, “Grill the Sucker” was meant to make an immediate statement foreshadowing the tone of the subsequent album. It starts with a fade in of Ron Simasek‘s drum shuffle soon joined by the group in a blue-grass inspired stomp which includes such rustic instruments as the dobro, stumpf fiddle, and jaw harp. Unfortunately, the later release changed the running order so this intended opening statement gets lost in the mix. Co-written by longtime band collaborator Mike Naydock, “Angeline Is Coming Home” would become The Badlees’ highest charting single. Driven by the signature harmonica and fine vocal melodies of Pete Palladino, it features artful lyrics about an addict’s triumphant return from rehab.

A true highlight on the album, “Fear of Falling” is built upon Alexander’s mandolin and melodic lyrics which speak of reaching for lofty goals, failing, and then getting up and trying again. Musically, the mandolin is blended with acoustic and electric guitar as well as some strategic Hammond organ by guest Robert Scott Richardson. Throughout the song, there is a potent mix of backing harmonies by Jeff Feltenberger and Paul Smith with Palladino providing the climatic closing crescendo of harmonica intermixed with vocal ad-libs.

 

Through the middle part of the album, the group alternates between upbeat pop/rock and more somber, folk-influenced tracks. “Angels of Mercy” features intelligent lyrics, chanting hooks, and entertaining guitar riffs, while “Queen of Perfection” features a heavy dose of dark humor along with an opening harmonica that harmonizes with an electric guitar and an interesting, country-like ending. The dramatic and deliberate “Bendin’ the Rules” was co-written by Alexander, Naydock, and Smith and it is notable for containing two of the very few proper guitar leads on the album. The highlight of this part of the album is “Gwendolyn”, a strong pop song with an excellent hook that pulls you right in. The track is pure musical fun and entertainment, starting with the high-pitched wail by Feltenberger and a later strong blues/rock guitar lead.

The Badlees in 1995
“Ore Hill” is Feltenberger’s sole composition on River Songs as a pure folk / Americana track with delicate acoustic guitar complimented by mandolin, harmonica, and interesting drum patterns. The thumping rocker “Nothing Much of Anything” seems a bit out of place at this point in the album but still features a good building chorus section along with interesting guitar textures by Alexander and bass patterns by Smith.

The quasi-title track “Song for a River” is actually about a person, using the “river” as a metaphor for that person’s life. The song was composed by Alexander and Naydock in the early 1990s but was not used because it was difficult to develop due to its length and unique arrangement. Eventually, Alexander decided to simply “talk” through the verses and add a repeating chorus throughout. Ultimately, the song employs three lead singers; Alexander, Palladino, and Feltenberger, whose majestic scat vocal notes were a tip of the hat to Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig In The Sky”. Closing out this eight minute track is a fine outro of pure acoustic folk instruments. The album concludes with the light and entertaining “I Liked You Better When You Hated Yourself”, complete with sarcastic nostalgia and a middle yodeling section which became a fan favorite during subsequent live performances.

Following the success of River Songs, the band embarked on several national and international tours, supporting headlining acts such as Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Bob Segar, Greg Allman, and The Gin Blossoms. They would shoot a Hollywood music video and record a follow-up material in a world class studio before reverting back to being a top-notch independent band for many more years.

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Check out The Badlees’ Career Profile on Modern Rock Review

1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.