Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

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Go To Heaven by Grateful DeadLong derided as one of the most unpopular albums among the Grateful Dead faithful, Go To Heaven is ,nonetheless, a solid record musically. The biggest change in the group’s sound comes with the arrival of keyboard player Brent Mydland, who replaced the late Keith Godchaux and provided the band with a wide array of piano, organ, synth, vocal, and composition style unlike anything they had before. Beyond this, Go To Heaven is, perhaps, the Dead’s most diverse album and is positioned squarely at the crossroads of their sonic evolution from the beginning of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s.

The Grateful Dead’s original keyboardist, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, died in March 1973 due to complications from alcohol abuse. He was replaced by pianist Godchaux, who had begun touring with the group as early as 1971. Through the mid seventies, the Grateful Dead put out a series of albums which explored differing styles, including the jazz influenced Wake of the Flood, the experimental and meditative Blues for Allah, the prog-rock influenced Terrapin Station, and Shakedown Street, which incorporated some disco influence.

Go to Heaven touched elements from each of those previous styles, along with a slight return to the band’s core grooves while incorporating some modern funk and synth motifs. Produced by Gary Lyons, these diverse styles and deliberate motifs are held together by the consistent but reserved drumming by the duo Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. While this may be a far cry from the group’s lauded stage improvisation, it made for an enjoyable studio album which holds up decades later.


Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead
Released: April 28, 1980 (Arista)
Produced by: Gary Lyons
Recorded: Club Le Front, San Rafael, CA, July 1979–January 1980
Side One Side Two
Alabama Getaway
Far From Me
Althea
Feel Like a Stranger
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)
Easy to Love You
Don’t Ease Me In
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with the simple rocker “Alabama Getaway”, penned by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. This short blues rock jam contains a couple of nice guitar leads by Garcia and adventurous lyrics. Mydland’s first and finest track is the amazingly catchy and steady rocker “Far From Me”. While Mydland’s piano drives the rhythm, a blend of crunchy guitars march in the background complimented by a cool background chorus. Garcia’s “Althea” is, perhaps, the most indelible Grateful Dead track from Go To Heaven. The track sounds like a quiet room being penetrated by pinpoint notes, beats, and other sonic candy, including percussive effects and the brilliant, buzzing bass by Phil Lesh. This track also actually hits a pleasant bridge (a rarity for Dead tunes) with some really bluesy slide guitar in the latter part of the song and gets ever-so-slightly intense during the final guitar lead. Lyrically, Hunter draws from some classical pieces including Shakespeare’s Hamlet;

“You may be the fate of Ophelia, sleeping and perchance to dream. Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered to the extreme…”

From here, the album takes a turn with three consecutive songs co-written by singer and guitarist Bob Weir and lyricist John Perry Barlow. “Feel Like a Stranger” is a cool funk/rocker with bright guitar chords and a wild analog synth by Mydland. This catchy tune works hard to fit its genre, even including some high-pitched, disco-influenced backing vocals but reaches an unnecessary, abrupt ending to close the album’s original first side. “Lost Sailor” is mellow and dark with some jazzy elements and deep, philosophical lyrics to compliment the overall moodiness. “Saint of Circumstance” is more upbeat and pop-oriented than the previous track, and the lyrics suggest this may be the default title song of the album. Musically, the song contains lots of catchy passages from the rock drive of the intro and chorus to the escalating piano runs by Mydland to the sparse but effective guitar licks by Garcia.

Grateful Dead

A half-minute psychedelic percussion piece by Hart and Kreutzmann called “Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)” leads to the final two tracks which nearly reflect the album’s first two, but in reverse order. Mydland’s “Easy to Love You” is a soft rocker with some signature Grateful Dead musical elements and the almost anti-Dead vocal smoothness which strongly reflects the style of Michael McDonald. The traditional track “Don’t Ease Me In” closes the album with a track that the band jammed to when they were still called “The Warlocks” pre-1965. Garcia leads the way with quasi-country vocals and bluesy guitar, while there is also a pretty entertaining Hammond organ lead by Mydland.

Go To Heaven reached the Top 30 on the American Pop Albums chart, which was a moderate success for the band which was almost completely non-top-40 until the late eighties. More importantly, it still sounds good today and shows that this band had some vast talent away from the stage.

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

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The Pretenders debut album

Pretenders by The Pretenders

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The Pretenders debut albumPretenders, is the self-titled debut studio album by the British-American band of the same name. Released just weeks into the new decade of the eighties, this was one of the more widely anticipated debuts as the group had already achieved commercial success with three charting hits in 1979. Those three singles (along with two of the ‘B sides’) were combined with new studio material to make this fine rock album, which debuted at #1 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. The album also received high praise critically, which it has sustained as it is included on many lists of top debuts of all time.

The Pretenders are led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in 1973 and wrote for the weekly music paper NME. She formed and played in many groups through the mid seventies and was involved with the inception of the punk scene, including short stints with early versions of The Clash and The Damned. After recording a demo of original songs, Hynde was convinced to assemble a more permanent band to reach the next level. Bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott joined Hynde in this yet-to-be named band in early 1978.

Later that year, the group chose their name after the Platters song, “The Great Pretender”, and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ ,”Stop Your Sobbing”, with producer Nick Lowe and drummer Gerry Mackelduff. Released in January 1979, the single gained the new group some attention and radio play as well as the backing to record more songs and eventually this debut album. Martin Chambers signed on as the group’s permanent drummer and the quartet recorded scores of tracks through 1979 with producer Chris Thomas, many of which were not released until a re-mastered edition of Pretenders was released in 2006.


Pretenders by The Pretenders
Released: January 19, 1980 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas & Nick Lowe
Recorded: Wessex Studios and Air Studios, London, 1979
Side One Side Two
Precious
The Phone Call
Up the Neck
Tattooed Love Boys
Space Invader
The Wait
Stop Your Sobbing
Kid
Private Life
Brass In Pocket
Lovers of Today
Mystery Achievement
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
James Honeyman-Scott – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Farndon – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

Hynde wrote the bulk of the material on Pretenders and found a nice blend of rock, punk and pop, with the slightest hint of new wave edge. “Precious” starts as a rapid, two chord jam until the song gets a little more intense and sonically interesting with phasing and reverse-reverb effects, and overtly vulgar lyrics. The song was a cynical ode to Hynde’s home city of Akron, a theme she would revisit in a more sentimental way in later years on “My City Was Gone” from Learning to Crawl. “The Phone Call” is a rudiment driven, new wave rocker where the vocals are mostly spoken word with some interesting deviations during the short, rapid, off-beat choruses, while “Up the Neck” is much more contemporary and melodic than the first two tracks as a steady, jangly, and pleasant pop/rocker throughout.

The PretendersReturns to the feel of the opening track, “Tattooed Love Boys” shoots a strong sexual vibe by Hynde and is close to punk in underlying feel, albeit much more refined up top. This track also employs a very odd time signature and the first of several brilliant guitar leads by Honeyman-Scott. Next comes the album’s only instrumental, “Space Invader”, driven by Farden’s bass line in the opening jam and a slight synth section by Honeyman-Scott. “The Wait” has more interesting riffs and rudiments in the verse where Hynde’s lead vocals seem to be in a race between the crunch riffing, while the chorus has a more standard rock release with great bass by Farndon, who co-wrote this song.

While this album is fine throughout, the second side is especially strong. “Kid” is a melodic and upbeat ballad with some cool instrumental passages, including a nice acoustic section and very animated, rolling drums by Chambers. Here, Hynde abandons the punk bravado and branches out with a love song about vulnerability and Honeyman-Scott contributes layers of fine lectric guitars. “Private Life” follows as a quasi reggae tune, but with the guitar riff and vocals giving it a dark feel. Although the group rarely leaves the same basic riff through its six and a half minute duration, the song does contain some soul-fueled background vocal variations and another respectable rock guitar lead.

“Brass in Pocket” is the most popular early track by The Pretenders, driven by the slightly funky riff by Honeyman-Scott, Hynde’s great sense of melody, and Farndon’s rounded eighties bass to introduce the new decade. Lyrically, the song is one of self-assurance among women with a laid-back swagger and confidence. The song was a pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 20 in the US. “Lovers of Today” starts as pure ballad but takes some interesting turns into classic rock areas with coolly strummed acoustic with strong electric riffs above while maintaining the overall melancholy mood of the track. The album ends strong with “Mystery Achievement”, a powerful and intense rocker with more melodic vocals by Hynde.

Pretenders was a commercial success worldwide, reaching the Top 10 on a half dozen album charts in 1980. The next year the group followed up with an EP and a second full-length album, Pretenders II.

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

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The River by Bruce Springsteen

The River by Bruce Springsteen

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The River by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s fifth studio album, The River, is a massive album in both length and scope. Released in late 1980, this double album includes tracks that originated during the early years of Springsteen’s career as well as a plethora of new material drawn from recent projects and recent tours. Some consider The River to be the closing act of a three album “trilogy”, starting with Born to Run in 1975 and moving through Darkness at the Edge of Town in 1978, as each of these follow Springsteen’s mythical characters during crucial periods of their lives.

This album was originally intended as a single album with the working title “The Ties That Bind”, intended to be released in late 1979. However, the composition of the title song, motivated Springsteen to add darker, folk-influenced material and compile a more sweeping collection of songs of diverse genres. In all the album’s recording took about 18 months with Jon Landau and Steven Van Zandt joining Springsteen as co-producers. Sonically, the album aimed for a cinematic-style “live” sound through most of the tracks. Lyrically, the songs range from hope to disillusionment, from the point of view of individuals to that of outside storytellers. As Springsteen stated at the time;

“I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them…”

Much like with the previous album where he penned nearly eighty songs, Springsteen composed all the tracks and was very prolific in writing for this album. While The River contains a healthy twenty tracks, even more than that were excluded from the album. A handful of these, such as “Be True”, “Held Up Without a Gun”, and “Roulette” were issued as B-sides of singles, while a few tracks were given to other artists, such as Gary U.S. Bonds and Warren Zevon, to record. Several others landed on future Springsteen box sets, with several more yet to be released.


The River by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 17, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, & Steven Van Zandt
Recorded: The Power Station, New York, March 1979–August 1980
Side One Side Two
The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out In the Street
Crush On You
You Can Look
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Side Three Side Four
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
Ramrod
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck On the Highway
Primary Musicians
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Percussion
Steven Van Zandt – Guitars, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Danny Federici – Organ, Glockenspiel
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with “The Ties That Bind”, which was originally slated as the title song. It has a jangly kind of sound which would be reverberated through the eighties and beyond, but the group still seems too force it just a bit to find an accessible hook. In all, Clarence Clemons‘s sax solo is the best part of this open track. On “Sherry Darling”, the producers added some “fake” live elements which really aren’t needed because this track is quite catchy enough on its own. Here, Springsteen’s lead vocals seem to mimic Elvis Costello while the backing vocals are meant to mimic a live barroom, right down to the point where they are slightly off-time and slightly off-key. While still upbeat and catchy, “Jackson Cage” seems to have a richer and more profound meaning than the preceding songs, once again displaying Springsteen’s commitment to directness and honesty in popular music. “Two Hearts” is driven by the rapid-fire drums of Max Weinberg, backing the multi-level lyrics;

“I was living in a world of childish dreams, someday these childish dreams must end, to become a man and grow up to dream again…”

The first side closes with “Independence Day” which is introduced by a calm acoustic and high whistle organ from Danny Federici. This father-and-son character sketch, where the son concludes that they will never agree and thus declares his “independence” unilaterally. This first side closer was, essentially a rewrite of “Adam Raised a Cain” on Darkness At the Edge of Town.

Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen“Hungry Heart” adds an instant charge to the album, as Springsteen’s vocal seem much brighter than normal, matching the overall vibe of this catchy track. Led by the piano riffing of Roy Bittan throughout with great contributions by everyone else, like Clemens’s low sax bass notes, Federici’s choppy organ lead, and the rich vocal choruses backing up Springsteen. The song’s title was drawn from a line in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” and the song was written at the request of Joey Ramone, with the intent to be recorded by The Ramones. However, Landau convinced Springsteen to keep it for himself and it went on to become his first Top Ten hit.

“Out In the Street” follows as another great, catchy tune led by Bittan’s piano. here, the arrangement is spectacular, maximizing the best elements of the E Street Band. This catchy number has some elements of sixties pop with contemporary sound that became timeless. The album unfortunately drops off a bit with the pure filler “Crush On You” and “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”, with the latter at least using some slightly satirical lyrics to make it a bit more entertaining. “I Wanna Marry You” is weak lyrically but has a great vibe musically with just a hint of Caribbean vibe led by the bass pattern by Garry Tallent . The album’s title song closes the second side as the first true folk/Americana track in the sequence. The lyrics closely resemble the story of Springsteen’s own sister and brother-in-law and is cited as the source inspiration for future 1980s heartland rock.

“Then I got Mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote, and for my 19th birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat…”

The jazzy “Point Blank” contains some great sonic textures on piano, guitar and bass. The theme works hand-in-hand with the title song and Springsteen gets really intense vocally and lyrically through last verse, before a long fade out to complete this six-minute tune. “Cadillac Ranch” is an upbeat jam backed by a cool, rockabilly guitar which is mocked by the vocal melody. Named after the makeshift automobile monument in Amarillo, Texas, the theme here is similar to the youthful missions on earlier Springsteen albums. “I’m a Rocker” has all the elements of a top-notch pop/rock song, with a choppy drum pattern by Weinberg, a good hook, and a cool call and response. Still, the track lacks something production-wise which keeps it from reaching its full potential.

The second song released from the album, “Fade Away” is pleasant and solid throughout. Great vocals and melody by Springsteen lead the fine musical blend of acoustic guitar, organ, and steady, seventies style bass. This desperate love song is a true classic which Van Zandt cited as one his all-time favorites. “Stolen Car” uses more texture than substance to achieve the dark mood, with plucked piano, distant drums with heavy reverb, and an almost church-like organ.

E Street Band

The final side begins with “Ramrod”, an organ/synth led rocker with a growling sax lead by Clemens. While the song is entertaining enough, it doesn’t really go anywhere. “The Price You Pay” is a moderate ballad with a steady beat and dry vocals which tend to get monotonous vocally and lyrically. However, this track remains strong musically, especially with Bittan’s piano and the slight harmonica by Springsteen. The epic length “Drive All Night” starts with simple, heartbeat like bass by Tallent and moves along at a crawl, only to be salvaged by Clemens’ fine solo and Springsteen’s exceptional, passionate singing. This song works in concert with the closing “Wreck On the Highway”, a bright, almost Country ballad with a steady beat. The relaxed feel and vibe of the music betray the grim lyrics of death on this song, closing the album with the dark feel which would be picked up on Springsteen’s next solo album, Nebraska.

The River was Springsteen’s first number one album and was followed by a lengthy tour through 1980 and 1981. Springsteen called this album a “gateway” to a lot of his future writing, with Nebraska and Tunnel of Love directly picking up on stories and themes that originate on The River.

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

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Departure by Journey

Departure by Journey

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Departure by JourneyJourney continued their climb to rock superstardom with 1980’s Departure, the group’s highest charting studio album of the six with founding keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rolie. This album contains a diverse group of styles and themes within classic rock and its many sub-genres, and it also explores many areas sonically. Most pointedly, Departure is a transitional album for the group, as it perfectly balances elements from their recent and further past with previews of what’s to come for Journey.

Following the band’s 1978 album Infinity, drummer Aynsley Dunbar was replaced by accomplished jazz drummer Steve Smith. In 1979, the group recorded the LP Evolution, which included the group’s first Top 20 single, but was less than satisfying for the band production-wise.

Former engineers Geoff Workman and Kevin Elson stepped up to assume producer duties on Departure. The band was well-stocked entering the studio, with nearly twenty new songs composed. Ultimately, they recorded a dozen songs for this album with a few excess tracks saved for other projects. These included the track “Little Girl”, which landed on the future soundtrack Dream, After Dream and the excellent song “Natural Thing”, a soulful rock/waltz co-written by bassist Ross Valory. Armed with all this compositional ammunition, the group was set to record most of the material live in the studio, which gave it and edge compared to the more refined work they did both before and after this record.


Departure by Journey
Released: March 23, 1980 (Columbia)
Produced by: Geoff Workman & Kevin Elson
Recorded: The Automatt, San Francisco, November, 1979
Side One Side Two
Anyway You Want It
Walks Like a Lady
Someday Soon
People and Places
Precious Time
Where Were You
I’m Cryin’
Line of Fire
Departure
Good Morning Girl
Stay Awhile
Homemade Love
Group Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Gregg Rolie – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with its most popular and sustaining track, “Any Way You Want It”. The song was written by lead vocalist Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon and it peaked at #23 on the Billboard pop charts. More importantly, this opening track sets the pace for this album where Perry and Schon shine brightest throughout. Schon achieves this hard rock bliss through his potent and perfected rock riffs with melodic distortion, while Perry’s vocals use heavy reverb to add to the majesty. While the opener exists mainly in the stratosphere, “Walks Like a Lady” comes back to ground level while being just as entertaining. On this track, all five members of the band shine equally, from the skip-along bass of Valory to the fine drum shuffle by Smith, to the deep Hammond B3 chords by Rolie, to multiple bluesy riffs by Schon, to the fantastic melodies by Perry.

“Someday Soon” is the first of two rock duets, with Rolie and Perry trading vocal lines throughout this one. The mesmerizing rhythm carries song along at a steady pace and, after Schon’s first true guitar lead of the album, the song enters into a strong, majestic outro, led by a rich vocal chorus and more intense rock elements. “People and Places” is the closest to a prog rock track on the album, especially with the multiple voices in the intro cascade. On this second duet, Rolie takes the lead during the intense verses while Perry handles the uplifting choruses. The song has an English folk feel through its first half but then evolves into a theatrical hard rock track, closing with Rolie’s distant Hammond fading away. Filled with so many great little sound riffs, “Precious Time” starts with just Schon’s rapidly strummed electric guitar accompanying Perry’s fast-paced melodies until Rolie joins in with an impressive blues harmonica through the second verse. Eventually, the rhythm section comes in to make it a more steady hard rock song, ending with a decent blues jam led by the harmonica once again.

Journey in 1980The album’s second side commences with, perhaps, the lone weak spot on the album. “Where Were You” is a straight-forward rocker with standard riff and rhythm and the slightest hint of a boogie piano between the phrases. “I’m Cryin'” is more interesting as a dark, dramatic, and bluesy tune where Schon’s heavy guitar chops are laid on top of the moderate musical backing led by Rollie, who co-wrote the track. This song also gives Perry plenty of room for dynamics, especially at the tail end of the bridge and the very end of the song. Perry wrote all the lyrics for the album, which are somewhat weak throughout, but pleasant enough to the ear to due his fantastic vocal ability and range. “Line of Fire” is an explosive and upbeat blues rocker but seems to lack the rhythmic thump needed to carry this song properly, save for the recorded shotgun blast, captured by Workman to precede the final verse.

The short title piece begins the final progression of the album. Schon’s “Departure” is not really a true track, just some harmonics above seemingly random soundscapes. The next two short but satisfying ballads preview a vital aspect of Journey’s albums in the near future. “Good Morning Girl” is led by Schon’s finger-picked electric accompanied by a smooth Mellotron with differing strings and Perry’s melodic vocals. A very simple structure, with just verses at different rotating keys. “Stay Awhile” is like an old fashioned rock slow dance, but this one is almost completely led by the fine vocal melodies of Perry. The album closer, “Homemade Love”, contains an interesting off-beat by Smith with Perry’s nearly-scat vocals and Schon reserving one of his finest guitar leads for the album’s conclusion.

Departure went triple-platinum in sales and Journey rode this success with a major tour. This tour spawned the follow-up live album Captured, which was another major success for the group later in 1980. However, Rolie had become tired of life on the road and decided to leave the band and pursue solo projects.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration 1980 albums.

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Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Damn the Torpedoes by
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersThe major label breakthrough by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the 1979 release Damn the Torpedoes, scored both commercial success and critical acclaim. This was accomplished in spite of the fact that there were some legal issues surrounding Petty’s new contract with MCA over the publishing rights to the songs he wrote. Once the album was released, it rose to #2 on the American album charts where it remained for several weeks.

In the early 1970s, Tom Petty started a rock band known as Mudcrutch in his hometown Gainesville, Florida along with future Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. After the group migrated to Southern California, they decided to split in separate ways as Petty initiated a solo career and Tench formed his own group with bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Petty heard this group and instantly took to their sound and eventually this new group, along with Campbell, became the “Heartbreakers”, backing up Petty on his “solo” endeavors. The group released an eponymous debut album in 1976, the 1978 follow-up You’re Gonna Get It!, which had some commercial success.

Not long after the release of the second album, the group’s independent label was sold to MCA Records and Petty soon struggled to free himself from the publishing aspects by sending himself into bankruptcy. After all was settled and Petty retained his publishing rights, the group was committed to work on this third album in a short time. They worked with producer Jimmy Iovine and chose an album title that references a famous quote by Admiral David Farragut.


Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Released: October 19, 1979 (MCA)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine & Tom Petty
Recorded: Sound City & Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Refugee
Here Comes My Girl
Even the Losers
Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)
Century City
Don’t Do Me Like That
You Tell Me
What Are You Doin’ in My Life
Louisiana Rain
Group Musicians
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards, Accordion
Benmont Trench – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Blair – Bass
Stan Lynch – Drums, Vocals

Petty composed most of the music on this album independently, with the only exceptions being the first two tracks which were co-written by Petty and Campbell. “Refugee” provides a potent and dramatic start to the album with plenty of atmosphere forged by the keys, guitar, and Petty’s voice, all of which are unique but catchy and strong. The lead section seems like a bit of unorganized chaos which somehow all comes together to help build the intensity and made this song a Top 20 hit in the early 1980. “Here Comes My Girl” is another upbeat and atmospheric song, this time with the simple rock beat of Lynch in conflict to Campbell’s seemingly slow and disjointed guitar pattern, but it all jives beautifully nonetheless. Petty barks out the first couple of lines in each verse in a quasi-rap while hitting melodic harmony during the chorus hook resulting in ear candy bliss.

The bright and jangly opening riff of “Even the Losers” leads to a classic Petty melody in this third pop/rock classic to start off Damn the Torpedoes. Here Campbell’s lead uses some classic rock technique, while the subsequent bridge features some deep Hammond organ by Tench beneath more rapidly delivered vocals. Lyrically, the theme looks for optimism and wisdom in the face of adversity and is analogous to a band’s struggle to find recognition. The first less than excellent track on the album, “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” is a slightly upbeat “lover’s lament” tune which lacks the succinct delivery of much of the rest of the album’s material. The side one closer “Century City” is more of a pure rocker where Petty’s vocals are slightly strained in excited energy.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The second side kicks off with the indelible “Don’t Do Me Like That” which was composed years earlier by Petty when he was in the group Mudcrutch. You won’t find a more straight-forward, hard rocker (and this album is full of these) with it’s slow, choppy guitar riff complemented by a fast rocking piano throughout and simple, catchy hook. The first single from the album, it went on to become the band’s first Top 10 hit. The remainder of side two tilts more towards blues/rock. “You Tell Me” has an almost funk approach with the music being guided by a pointed bass riff of guest Donald “Duck” Dunn. “What Are You Doin’ in My Life” features a cool slide guitar and some honky-tonk piano, while “Louisiana Rain” closes things up at a more moderate and moody pace with heavy Southern rock influence.

Damn the Torpedoes was a Top 5 album in the US and Canada and has sold over four million copies worldwide. It also sparked Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers success throughout the 1980s and beyond.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Dream Police by Cheap Trick

Dream Police by Cheap Trick

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Dream Police by Cheap TrickCheap Trick concluded their impressive late seventies output with their fourth studio album, Dream Police. This album follows the breakthrough success of the live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was released earlier in 1979 and went triple platinum in the United States. Further, the live singles, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That a Shame”, were both charting hits and helped open up the group to a mainstream audience. With this momentum, Dream Police went on to become the group’s best selling album and the first to reach the Top Ten on the charts in the United States.

Cheap Trick was formed in 1973 in Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973 by guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had been performing locally with various bands since the early sixties. One former band, Fuse, released an album in 1970 and featured bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos, who also became founding members of Cheap Trick. By 1975, the group enlisted Robin Zander on lead vocals and recorded their first demo tapes which led to them signing with Epic Records the following year. In early 1977, the band released their self-titled debut album, followed by In Color later that year and Heaven Tonight in mid 1978. While none of these three albums made the Top 40 in America, they were each critically acclaimed and especially well received in Japan, which propelled the band to tour in that country and record At Budokan, which was originally intended as a Japan-only release.

Tom Werman, the original A&R man who discovered Cheap Trick in 1976, produced In Color, Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police. On this latter album, Werman and the group expanded their sound into more complex songs with richer arrangements, including some synthesized orchestration. These sessions also included several outtakes, which would appear on re-issues of Dream Police. These included several tracks with alternate lead vocals among band members, the song “It Must Be Love” which was later covered by Rick Derringer, and the song “Next Position Please” which became the title track of Cheap Trick’s 1983 album of the same name.


Dream Police by Cheap Trick
Released: September 21, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Side One Side Two
Dream Police
Way of the World
The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)
Gonna Raise Hell
I’ll Be with You Tonight
Voices
Writing on the Wall
I Know What I Want
Need Your Love
Group Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass. Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

The album is a bit top-heavy, with the best songs on Dream Police being right up front. It begins with Nielsen’s impressive title track, a hyper and exciting rock song, topped off with a persistent synth string section. With a lyrical theme touching on the ultimate stoner paranoia, there is much packed into this less-than-four-minute song making it, ultimately, a satisfying and unique track which reached the Top 40. Co-written by Zander, “Way of the World” is a suitable follow-up to the fantastic title song as another complex and upbeat rocker. Originally composed and recorded under the title, “See Me Now”, Zander and the group employ rich vocal patterns to complement the thick wall of distorted guitars and synths by Nielsen and just enough post-production effects (without over doing it) by Werman.

Like its title suggests, “The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” is a pretty straight-forward rock n’ roll track, with this good-time feel contrasted by the theme of serious real-world issues. Neilsen shines brightest on this track with crisp and excellent guitar riffs along with several well-executed, overdubbed leads, including an extended outro that contains a short, “borrowed” guitar phrase from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. At first, “Gonna Raise Hell” seems like almost a parody of Kiss in its simple rock drive and shouted vocals. Starting with the simplest beat and bass riff by Petersson, the song morphs into a more dance-oriented track, especially during the expanded, textured instrumental which occupies the final third of this nine and a half minute track.

Side Two of Dream Police is filled with songs that show some real promise but seem to ultimately be less-than-developed. The only track on which all four members are credited compositionally, “I’ll Be with You Tonight” is a rock jam which is pleasant enough but contains very little lyrical or musical substance. The pop hit “Voices” starts with sound effects of whispered voices before breaking into a moderate ballad ala George Harrison. Petersson’s bass lines keep everything interesting but Zander’s vocals may be a bit too melodramatic on this single, which reached number 32 in the US.

Cheap Trick“Writing on the Wall” is a fun song musically as an upbeat, pure rocker that moves at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. Nielson provides a fine middle guitar jam over some faux crowd noise and Zander has a nice vocal rant at the end which, unfortunately is faded out a bit too quickly. On “I Know What I Want”, Petersson takes on lead vocal duties in what appears to be a pure attempt at new wave pop that could have been developed into something a little stronger. With the exception of Nielson’s lead guitar, this song overall falls short of the mark. Rounding out the album is “Need Your Love”. A long intro, starting with Carlos’s steady drum beat and the gradual addition of other steady instrumentation layered on top alternates with the thumping counter-melody which finds a nice hard-rock core. Mostly a sonic texture piece, this closing track has a bit of a jam at the end to end the album on a strong note.

A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, and “Can’t Hold On”, a bluesy track performed at Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were “Such A Good Girl” and “Take Me I’m Yours”, which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.

Dream Police spawned Cheap Trick’s arena-headlining 1980 tour and landed them a gig with former Beatles producer George Martin for their follow-up All Shook Up. While not as successful commercially, this album commenced a very prolific and diverse decade for the group.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

The Long Run by The Eagles

The Long Run by The Eagles

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The Long Run by The EaglesThe Eagles completed their torrent through the seventies with 1979’s The Long Run, the studio album which closed the decade as the number one album in the USA. This diverse album certainly has its share of variety, especially when it comes to the lead vocals where four of the five band members took their turn up front. On the flipside, this is not the most cohesive album as it jumps from style to style and mood to mood, kind of like it is The Eagles’ own radio station. Nonetheless, this sixth studio album by the band was another commercial smash which spent eight weeks on top of the charts and sold nearly eight million copies worldwide.

The tremendous success of 1976’s Hotel California made The Eagles one of the most successful bands in the world. They went on tour for much of 1977, but frictions arose between founding members Randy Meisner and Glen Frey leading to Meisner’s departure following the tour. Ironically, Meisner was replaced in the Eagles by the same man who replaced him in his previous band Poco, bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit. With this new lineup in tow, the group entered the the recording studio in late 1977, originally intending to complete a double album. However, they were unable to write enough songs and the album was ultimately delayed for two years. In the interim the group recorded and released the holiday songs “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Funky New Year”, released as a single in 1978, while guitarist Joe Walsh recorded and released, But Seriously Folks, that same year.

The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced every Eagles studio album since On the Border in 1974. Vocalist and drummer Don Henley was a co-writer on nine of the ten album tracks, with each of the other band members (along with a few outside the band) contributing to the writing process. The Long Run is also notable for being the final studio album on the Asylum Records label.


The Long Run by The Eagles
Released: September 24, 1979 (Asylum)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Bayshore Recording Studios, Coconut Grove, FL & One Step Up, Love n’ Comfort, Britannia Recording and Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, March 1978-September 1979
Side One Side Two
The Long Run
I Can’t Tell You Why
In the City
The Disco Strangler
King of Hollywood
Heartache Tonight
Those Shoes
Teenage Jail
The Greeks Don’t Want no Freaks
The Sad Cafe
Group Musicians
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Vocals
Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals
Timothy B. Schmit – Bass. Vocals
Don Henley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album’s title song, “The Long Run”, kicks things off. Right from the jump, the group shows they are masters at refining the song and forging a sonic masterpiece with just enough of this, a bit of that, splashed in this standard pop/rock tune, including bluesy guitar riffs, horns, and vocal choruses. Released as a single, the song reached the Top Ten in America in early 1980. From here, the album takes an immediate left turn with the pure soul love song, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, featuring Schmit on lead vocals. An excellent track (albeit hard to believe this is the Eagles), the song’s coda contains a good, long guitar lead by Frey through the final fade-out.

“In the City” got its start as a Joe Walsh solo track, co-written by Barry De Vorzon which was used on the film The Warriors. The rest of the group heard it and decided to re-record it for the album, resulting in a beautiful and melodic tune that is a true classic about the plight of urban dwellers. On “The Disco Strangler” the group switches to methodical funk with almost stream-of-consciousness vocals by Henley and oddly timed rhythms led by the bass of Schmit, However, this track seems a tad incomplete as it quickly fades out after two verses. “King of Hollywood” is nearly a pure mood piece, almost too late seventies in style for its own good. Driven by story and lyrics of selling out for fame, the track stays on the same standard beat and rhythmic pattern until the Don Felder guitar solo over the bridge.

The album’s second side is more solid musically than the first. The brilliant “Heartache Tonight” drew some songwriting from Bob Seger and J.D. Souther. The infectious beat and cool country harmony are the most memorable aspects of this track. But beyond the surface, this is really a showcase for the band’s guitarists with the mixture of rock and blues styles by Walsh and Felder interwoven throughout this popular track, which reached #1 in the U.S. in November 1979, the group’s final chart-topping song.

“Those Shoes” is built off of a simple heartbeat pulse by Schmidt and Henley with some wild guitars by Felder, who subtly use a “talkbox” effect throughout. “Teenage Jail” contains a slow country swing with some extra dense guitars above  liberal use of stop/start rudiments during the new-age first part of the closing lead section. A more standard bluesy guitar lead finishes the song that is abruptly interrupted by the start of “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks”. This pure fun, party song would be right at home in a frat house or a barroom, especially with the ready made with closing chant which is, perhaps, the last bit of fun the Eagles had on a record.

The album ends with its finest song. “The Sad Café” is a somber ballad about the band’s beginnings at the legendary L.A. saloon The Troubadour. Driven by simple, electric, piano notes, strummed acoustic, rounded bass, and harmonized vocals, the group’s performance is topped off by the fine lead vocals by Henley. There is also some dynamic production, especially after the bridge where the song reaches a sonic climax before coming back down to its mellow core. The song ends with an extended saxophone lead by David Sanborn, concluding the last studio track by the Eagles for a decade and a half.

Just months after the release of The Long Run, tempers reached a fevered pitch within the group, leading to an imminent breakup. The band and Szymczyk did release a final live album in 1980, but reportedly mixed the album in separate studios to stay out of each other’s way. It would not be until 1994, with Hell Freezes Over that the group would perform together again.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Flirtin With Disaster by Molly Hatchet

Flirtin’ With Disaster
by Molly Hatchet

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Flirtin With Disaster by Molly HatchetMolly Hatchet‘s great wall of distorted guitars found its high point on their second studio album Flirtin’ with Disaster, released in 1979. Like Lynard Skynard on steroids, this album touches on the conventional late-seventies theme of rocking out and partying hard. However, the group accomplishes this atmosphere by the non-conventional means of using a triple-guitar attack of axemen Steve Holland, Dave Hlubak and Duane Roland, who alternate roles  playing rhythm, lead, and/or harmonized electric guitars.

The group was formed by Hlubek and Holland in Jacksonville, Florida in 1975 and took their name from an urban legend about a prostitute who mutilated her clients. The group was managed by Pat Armstrong, who had briefly been co-manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd and had Molly Hatchet record their original demo tracks at Skynard’s studio. Further, Ronnie Van Zant was set to produce the debut album by Molly Hatchet but lost his life in a plane crash in late 1977.

Producer Tom Werman ultimately took the reigns for that self-titled 1978 debut and stayed on for Flirtin’ With Disaster, which was recorded in studios on both coasts. Musically, it’s a hard driving rock record, plain and simple with no frills or lofty concepts.The mythical cover art is a painting by Frank Frazetta entitled “Dark Kingdom”.


Flirtin’ With Disaster by Molly Hatchet
Released: October, 1979 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Bee Jay Recording Studios, Orlando & Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, 1979
Side One Side Two
Whiskey Man
It’s All Over Now
One Man’s Pleasure
Jukin’ City
Boogie No More
Flirtin’ With Disaster
Good Rockin’
Gunsmoke
Long Time
Let the Good Times Roll
Group Musicians
Danny Joe Brown – Lead Vocals  |  Duane Roland – Guitars
Steve Holland – Guitars  |  Dave Hlubak – Guitars
Banner Thomas – Bass  |  Bruce Crump – Drums

Nine of the ten tracks on Flirtin’ With Disaster are original and eight of those were co-written by lead vocalist Danny Joe Brown. After a thick intro comes a short but sweet harmonica lead in “Whiskey Man”. On this opening track the guitars are used very efficiently in a harmonized lead over the strong chords of the bridge as the lyrics focus on the dangers of partying too hard. The cover “It’s All Over Now” starts with a drum roll intro and overall strong drumming by Bruce Crump, along with some boogie piano by guest Jai Winding on this song which was the first number-one hit for the Rolling Stones a decade and a half earlier.

“One Man’s Pleasure” is different than previous tracks, as it is mainly guided by the steady bass of Banner Thomas through the song proper with the guitars adding texture for the overall rhythm and beat (until the blistering guitar lead). “Jukin’ City” starts with three-note riff which forms the basis for much of the song, although there are some rudimental parts that make it all interesting later on. A slow, measured rock riff with bluesy guitars layered on top kicks off “Boogie No More”, which soon abruptly changes direction and tempo to launch into an extended, “Freebird”-like jam for the final four-plus minutes of the track.

The second side begins with the title song, “Flirtin’ with Disaster”, a true rock classic by Brown, Hlubek, and Thomas which rolls full throttle through every second of its five minute duration. The only single from the album, the song barely failed to reach the Top 40 but remained on the pop charts for 10 weeks. More importantly, this became the band’s signature track which most closely resembled their creed of living fast, hard, and close to the edge.

After a tremendous peak, the album loses a bit of edge on the next few tracks. “Good Rockin'” is a bit too standard Alt-Country, while “Gunsmoke” starts with a cow-bell led beat, some boogie-piano and bouncy bass, but gets crowded out on this album. Things do change up a bit on “Long Time”, which has a bit of a darker feel.  The album ends strong with, “Let the Good Times Roll”, another good jam with animated drums and crisp guitar orchestration. This closing song sounds like it could have been a pop hit under the right circumstances and contains an ending jam with some of the finest Southern rock elements and rudiments.

Flirtin’ With Disaster reached the To 20 of the Pop Albums chart and sold over two million copies in the U.S. However, Brown soon left the band due to health problems. Although he would return to the Molly Hatchet lineup in the early eighties, the group never regained their footing and would completely abandon their original style to try to gain favor with new audiences.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Degüello by ZZ Top

Degüello by ZZ Top

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Degüello by ZZ TopZZ Top came back from an extended break to close out the 1970s with Degüello, their sixth studio release. Mirroring the group itself, this album is as much about an attitude and lifestyle as it is about the actual music (a prime example is that the extended, three year break was used to grow the signature beards of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill). All this being said, there are real gems on this funk and blues influenced record, which borrowed its name from the Mexican Army bugle call at commencement of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. The title may also be analogous to the group’s approach of wielding their electric-blues signature sound to reach a new level of pop/rock achievement.

ZZ Top got started in 1969, with the release of a couple of singles composed by Gibbons. The group’s self-titled debut album was released in 1971, followed by Rio Grande Mud and Tres Hombres the following two years. A live album and a couple of more studio albums were released in the mid seventies, highlighted by the critically-acclaimed Tejas in 1976. Following a worldwide tour to support the album, the band planned a 90-day tour, which was ultimately extended to be two years long.

In 1979, ZZ Top signed a new contract with Warner Bros. Records, with Degüello being the first release of this new contract. The album was produced by the group’s long time manager Bill Ham, who first met the band when they opened for The Doors at a concert in Houston and remained with ZZ Top right up until their breakup in 1996.


Degüello by ZZ Top
Released: November 14, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bill Ham
Recorded: 1979
Side One Side Two
I Thank You
She Loves My Automobile
I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide
A Fool For Your Stockings
Manic Mechanic
Dust My Broom
Lowdown in the Street
Hi Fi Mama
Cheap Sunglasses
Esther Be the One
Group Musicians
Billy Gibbons – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Dusty Hill – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Frank Beard – Drums, Percussion

Degüello opens with a cover of Sam & Dave’s 1968 Soul hit “I Thank You”, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. ZZ Top’s version takes the Soul roots and treats it with Texas flavored blues-boogie, with Gibbons vocals being extra rough but potent. “She Loves My Automobile” is more blues with the added synthesized horn arrangement by Hill complimenting Gibbon’s bluesy guitar solos.

“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” is more rock oriented than the previous tracks with a cool drum shuffle by Frank Beard. The song is cut a bit rough with the overdubbed guitars, but this ultimately adds to the overall charm of the song, which was released as a single. A cool outro goes into a bit of a funk with a backing clavichord by Hill. The fine beat-driven ballad “A Fool for Your Stockings” is sonically different than anything else on the album, with a few excellent, mood-driven guitar instrumentals above dry and pointed bass and drums. Side One ends with “Manic Mechanic”, a unique and almost Frank Zappa-esque track with oddly-produced spoken vocals over strong rock and funk riffing.

Like the first side, the second starts with a cover. Robert Johnson‘s “Dust My Broom”, was made most famous by Elmore James in the 1950s and ZZ Top’s version sticks pretty close to that version with a pure, standard blues arrangement and some slide guitars. “Lowdown In the Street” is back to a more edgy approach, with an interesting vocal arrangement that complements the main riff. “Hi Fi Mama” features Hill’s only lead vocals on the album and he employs a Little Richard-type hyper approach to the vocals. Musically, there is a nice back-n-forth between Gibbons’ guitars and Hill’s synth horn arrangement.

The album’s climax comes with “Cheap Sunglasses”, built on a consistent groove which has been derided as either a rip-off of Edger Winter’s “Frankenstein” or Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today” (or both). No matter the case, this is a musical highlight for the band, with a long, cool, middle section built on a bass groove and key riffs with some bluesy lead guitar by Gibbons and great drumming by Beard throughout. After a final verse, the song slowly dissolves through scaled back groove. “Esther Be the One” is the most like a standard late seventies pop/rock song, with a full arrangement of dual guitars, keyboards, and a great bass groove to top off the album.

The platinum selling Degüello reached the Top 40 on the charts and sparked the group’s first tour of Europe in 1980. More importantly, it re-ignited ZZ Top’s career and introduced the band to a new radio audience, which brought even more popularity through the early 1980s.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979_VanHalenII1

Van Halen II

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Van Halen IIWhile rarely cited as one the group’s best works, Van Halen II, features some of the band’s best individual tracks and may well showcase Van Halen at its cohesive best. Where their 1978 debut album was a fantastic showcase for guitarist Eddie Van Halen, this 1979 follow-up finds the rest of the band bringing it up near his level to give the album a greater sense of parity. Produced by Ted Templeman, this album is much more than just a carbon copy of the debut. It may have been the best example of a group successfully following up on a brilliant debut album since Led Zeppelin did it with Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier.

Following the tremendous success of their debut, Van Halen embarked on a world tour through much of 1978 before returning to California in December to immediately begin work on this second album. Warner Brothers decided to give the group a smaller recording budget, in spite of the first album’s phenomenal success. Because of this, there was very little studio time allotted to get the recordings done and many of the recordings were first takes. Further, with little time to compose new material, they drew some material from the demo tracks they recorded prior to the first album.

The entire recording process was completed in three weeks, and this frenzied pace spawned some sonic innovation. Templeman reverted back to some of his pop sensibilities from earlier in the seventies. Eddie Van Halen achieved a thick guitar sound by overloading the circuits on his amplifier, while bassist Michael Anthony used a smaller than normal bass amp to get a sharper, less rounded sound.


Van Halen II by Van Halen
Released: March 23, 1979 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, December 1978-January 1979
Side One Side Two
You’re No Good
Dance the Night Away
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Bottoms Up!
Outta Love Again
Light Up the Sky
Spanish Fly
D.O.A.
Women In Love
Beautiful Girls
Group Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals  |  Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals  |  Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

“You’re No Good” is, frankly, an odd cover selection to start off Van Halen II. However, in reviewing the album as it is laid out in total, it seems to be that this bit of static electric spark starts the chain reaction that leads to the musical inferno portrayed toward the end of the album. Starting with the doomy, slow meandering of Anthony’s flanged out bass before the song slowly marches in. The song proper has all of the Van Halen elements prevalent on the first album and, while certainly not the finest on the album, “You’re No Good” builds enough to make the listener feel like it is cut too short at the end. The mood brightens with the pop rock of “Dance the Night Away”, the group’s first Top 20 hit. The melodic vocals of David Lee Roth accompanies the catchy guitar riff with the bouncy bass perfectly locked with the bright kick drum of Alex Van Halen. There is a higher pitched counter-riff during the chorus and a simple yet brilliant bridge riff variation, while the outro is also done well with Roth inverting his lead vocals with the backing chorus.

Next come a couple of classic barroom songs. A short intro leads into the heavy riff which launches “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”, which dates back to the years before the first album’s release. “Bottoms Up!” has a moderate, unplugged intro by Eddie Van Halen before it breaks into an upbeat quasi-rockabilly song with Anthony slightly outshining the Van Halen brothers musically, as Eddie’s short leads fall just short of the historic precedent he set on the first album. The first side closes with “Outta Love Again”, the oldest composition on the album, notably interesting for its wild, space-like drone intro and clever use of rudiments and vocal timings. Overall, this is probably one of the strongest tracks for drummer Alex Van Halen with his shuffle rhythm through the verses and use of a variety of roll techniques elsewhere.

Van Halen

The second side is where the true genius of Van Halen II lies, with every track being interesting, original, and entertaining. The multi- sectioned “Light Up the Sky” is amazing for how much is packed into this barely three minute long song. Pure hard rock verses with Roth’s precise and complex lead vocals moving through the various sections. During the scaled-back bridge section Roth performs a raspy falsetto before Eddie ignites into a blistering lead guitar, before Alex takes his turn with a short drum solo and then an interesting outro with backwards-masked harmonies leading into the closing hook. The acoustic instrumental “Spanish Fly” is brilliant just in how unlike anything else it is. Sounding almost intentionally non-professional, this is a close up trek into Eddie Van Halen’s genius stripped down to a nylon-stringed guitar and one single minute. In sharp contrast, “D.O.A.” is the heaviest rocking song with an absolutely brutal grind by Eddie Van Halen and the pure rock action of everyone else. Roth’s verse vocals are rather reserved but contrasted later with screams to match the song’s intensity. The later guitar lead is brilliant with an excellent complimentary bass underneath.

“Women in Love…” starts with a bell-like intro solo by Eddie which is pure melody and harmonic technique. The body of this steady song is a quasi-ballad with lyrics apparently about groupies and is the best song vocally on the album. Every note is pure sonic bliss right down to Roth’s word “scream” tailed with a slight inflection of an actual scream. The verses mix a somber riff with the harmonized vocals above a thumping bass and drum rhythm, while the guitar assentation mixes with the harmonies during the chorus. The album ends with the entertaining pop/rock song “Beautiful Girls”, which contains chanting vocals with some slightly clever rhyming before the song builds in crescendo excitement through the entertaining outro.

Van Halen II peaked at number six on the American album charts and has sold nearly six million copies since its release. Over the next two years the band released a couple more albums, Women and Children First and Fair Warning, which closely followed the same formula as this record and continued the band’s popularity.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.