Horses by Patti Smith

Horses by Patti Smith

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Horses by Patti SmithHorses is the 1975 debut album by Patti Smith, an album which has long become considered a breakthrough masterpiece of minimalist originality and poetic improvisation. Smith and her band had no previous recording experience and they developed the album’s songs with simple chord progressions nesting Smith’s lyrics, which ranged from subjects such as family, contemporary rock icons, and imagined narratives. On Horses the group also incorporated a few classic rock tunes into their extended pieces.

Born in Chicago, Smith was a poet and performance Artists in Paris and New York City born in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She provided spoken word soundtracks for artistic films as well as live plays. She was briefly considered to be lead singer for Blue Oyster Cult, a group for which she would provide lyrics for years to come. By 1974, Patti Smith formed her own rock group with guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Ivan Král and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. The band recorded a single, “Hey Joe / Piss Factory”, a hybrid of a rock standard with additional spoken word poetry. Soon, the Patti Smith Group was signed by Clive Davis for his new label, Arista Records.

Recording for this debut album began in August 1975 in New York City with producer John Cale. Smith wanted to make “a record that would make a certain type of person not feel alone” but she did have some differences with Cale on recording methods, which were ultimately worked out.


Horses by Patti Smith
Released: December 13, 1975 (Arista)
Produced by: John Cale
Recorded: Electric Lady, New York City, August-September, 1975
Side One Side Two
Gloria
Redondo Beach
Birdland
Free Money
Kimberly
Break It Up
Land
Elegie
Primary Musicians
Patti Smith – Lead Vocals
Lenny Kaye – Lead Guitar, Bass
Ivan Král – Bass, Rhythm Guitar
Richard Sohl – Piano
Jay Dee Daugherty – Drums

The opening track is a quasi-cover of “Gloria”, a popular song first recorded by Van Morrison and his group, Them, a decade earlier. This unique version features Smith’s poetry over slower chord progression that eventually works into faster frenzy with the hook release finally coming over three minutes into the song. Cowritten by keyboardist Richard Sohl, “Redondo Beach” is a change up where the music is more in focus due to the fine reggae elements of the tune. The poetic lyrics are based on a fight that Smith had with with her sister Linda, after which her sister disappeared for days, causing Patti to worry that she had committed suicide (fortunately, she did not). “Birdland” is the first of two extended pieces where Sohl’s lazy piano plays behind Smith’s spoken-word narrative in verses, alternating with sung choruses. The stream of consciousness lyrics were inspired by memoir of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

Starting as deliberative and poetic but quickly building to a proto-punk frenzy, “Free Money” is a fantasy about winning the lottery and the song closes the original first side. Starting side two is “Kimberly” a song which is very musically interesting as perhaps an early example of the new wave style, while “Break It Up” is a moderate ballad written as a tribute to Jim Morrison, following Smith’s visit of Morrison’s grave in Paris.

Patti Smith Group

The centerpiece of Horses is the nine and a half minute track “Land”, which incorporates the sixties soul classic “Land of a Thousand Dances”, This melodramatic piece which builds into a classic rock dance tune is counterbalanced by explicit and violent lyrics that layered masterfully through overdubbed poetry and melodies. In Smith’s later memoir, she reveals that primary characters in this song refer to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and author William Burroughs. Piano, bass and whining guitar make a perfect haunting effect for the closing track “Elegie”, purposely recorded on the 5th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix, with the song also generally paying tribute to several deceased rock musicians such as Morrison, Brian Jones, and Janis Joplin.

While Horses received little to no airplay, it was instantly met with critical respect upon release and the album has grown to be a classic over time. The album solidified Smith’s influence on the New York punk rock and some have cited it as the first real punk rock album, although it is obvious that this record was not so genre-specific.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon

Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon

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Hi Infidelity by REO SpeedwagonReleased in late 1980, Hi Infidelity hit commercial pay-dirt for the Illinois-based group REO Speedwagon. The album strikes a nice balance of accessible pop rockers and ballads as the quintet forged a sound which was at once contemporary and featuring some roots rock elements and, with six of the album’s ten tracks landing on the American pop charts, this chart-topping album became the biggest-selling rock album of 1981 in the US and was eventually certified 10 times platinum.

The group’s origins date back to 1966 in Champaign, Illinois when keyboardist Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer formed a cover band that took the name REO Speedwagon the following year. The band signed to Epic Records in 1971 with their self-titled debut album being the first of annual studio albums they released between 1971 and 1976. Vocalist Kevin Cronin briefly joined the group in 1972 before departing for four years and returning in 1976 as their permanent front man. REO found their first real success with their platinum-selling live album Live: You Get What You Play For in 1977, and their 1978 seventh studio record You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish, which was the group’s first to make the Top 40. However, 1979’s Nine Lives was a bit of a commercial disappointment.

Hi Infidelity was produced during a time when several group members were struggling with their personal lives. Cronin claimed this made the bond between the band members really strong and forged a sort of continuity between the songs composed by multiple songwriters going through similar experiences. About half the songs were developed during a three-day rehearsal period with the later studio recordings produced by Cronin, Gratzer, guitarist Gary Richrath and engineer Kevin Beamish.


Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon
Released: November 21, 1980 (Epic)
Produced by: Kevin Beamish, Kevin Cronin, Alan Gratzer, & Gary Richrath
Recorded: June-October 1980
Side One Side Two
Don’t Let Him Go
Keep On Loving You
Follow My Heart
In Your Letter
Take It on the Run
Tough Guys
Out of Season
Shakin’ It Loose
Someone Tonight
I Wish You Were There
Group Musicians
Kevin Cronin – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Gary Richrath – Guitars
Neal Doughty – Keyboards
Bruce Hall – Bass, Vocals
Alan Gratzer – Drums, Vocals

The opener “Don’t Let Him Go” begins with an intro with feedback guitar over pointed, “hand-jive” like rhythm, building a tension which is released during the chorus hook. The song was the first Cronin composed for Hi Infidelity and it was released as a single and reached the Top 40. However, it was Cronin’s next track “Keep on Loving You” that became the album’s biggest hit and REO Speedwagon’s first #1 song. While in many ways a classic piano ballad but, “Keep on Loving You” resists being formulaic as full group kicks in during the first pre-chorus section and Richrath provides a fantastic, bluesy lead guitar.

Written by Richrath and band associate Tom Kelly, the pop-oriented “Follow My Heart” is catchy but not quite as high quality as rest of the material on the first side. “In Your Letter” is a much better effort by the guitarist as a fine mixture of first wave rock with a doo-wop like hook. Doughty adds much with his middle, dual piano and organ leads being the most rewarding part of this song, which was released as the fourth single from the album and made the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Take It on the Run” completes Richrath’s trio of songs to complete the original first side as an adolescent acoustic anthem bookmarked by the classic lyric “heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another you’ve been messing around”. In between are some great guitar riffs and lead and a harmonized hook that propelled the song into the Top 10 in 1981.

REO Speedwagon in 1980

With the exception of a few strong points, the album’s second side isn’t nearly as potent as its hit-drenched first. “Tough Guys” starts with Little Rascals clip from 1937 before exploring into a pop rock screed, while “Out of Season” features choppy rock verses and good guitar riffin’. “Shakin’ It Loose” returns back to fifties themed rock n’ roll with heavy dance implications, a great piano lead and solid rhythms by drummer Alan Gratzer, while “Someone Tonight” is a new-wave influenced track by bassist Bruce Hall, who also takes on lead vocals for the song. The album wraps with the excellent and dramatic “I Wish You Were There”, where Cronin displays his best vocals on the record and Richrath offers the best of his many guitar leads on this record.

The success of Hi Infidelity launched a 1980s decade where they found more pop stardom, especially as they moved towards a softer, ballad-centric approach on subsequent albums. In October 2004, the band revisited their 1980 classic as they recorded the songs of Hi Infidelity live from beginning to end for an XM Radio special.

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

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Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
by Smashing Pumpkins

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Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing PumpkinsSmashing Pumpkins went all in on their third release, the super-sized, 28-track Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and remarkably this worked both critically and commercially. With five hit singles, this two-disc CD / triple LP features a wide variety of styles and musical sub-genres as well as balanced input from all group members. This 1995 album debuted at number one in the US and, in spite of its inflated price as compared to single LPs, has sold more than 10 million units to date.

The group was formed in Chicago in 1988 by vocalist/guitarist Billy Corgan and guitarist James Iha and slowly built a dedicated audience. With the mainstream breakthrough of alternative rock, Smashing Pumpkins had an immediate breakthrough with their 1991 debut Gish and even greater success with their sophomore effort Siamese Dream in 1993. While both of those successful albums were produced by Butch Vig, the group wanted to move in a totally new direction for this third album.

Corgan wrote over 50 songs in early 1995 before the band went into the studio with producers Flood and Alan Moulder, who worked hard to capture the energy of their live shows. Corgan described their ambition to deliver “The Wall for Generation X”, with the songs loosely tied conceptually with the cycle of life and death and the contrast between night and day.


Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins
Released: October 24, 1995 (Virgin)
Produced by: Alan Moulder & Billy Corgan
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago & The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, March-August 1995
Disc One, Dawn to Dusk Disc Two, Twilight to Starlight
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Tonight, Tonight
Jellybelly
Zero
Here Is No Why
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
To Forgive
Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
Love
Cupid de Locke
Galapogos
Muzzle
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
Take Me Down
Where Boys Fear to Tread
Bodies
Thirty-Three
In the Arms of Sleep
1979
Tales of a Scorched Earth
Thru the Eyes of Ruby
Stumbleine
X.Y.U.
We Only Come Out at Night
Beautiful
Lily (My One and Only)
By Starlight
Farewell and Goodnight
Group Musicians
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins
Billy Corgan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
James Iha – Guitars, Vocals
D’arcy Wretzky – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums, Vocals

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness features subtitles for each of its two discs, with the first named “Dawn to Dusk”. After the mellow, title instrumental comes the orchestral arrangement of “Tonight, Tonight”. Corgan has said that the song pays homage to Cheap Trick while the song’s lyrics have been compared to the poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick. All of the various guitars on the album were tuned down a half-step from standard to give it an edgier sound with “Jellybelly” using an even lower sixth string. “Zero” was the first song recorded for the album and it has six acoustic and rhythm guitars while “Here Is No Why” features a fine guitar solo. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” ultimately became the group’s first Top 40 hit on its way to receiving a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance with it’s signature hook;

“despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage…”

The simple track “To Forgive” is followed by the raw power and intensity of “Fuck You (An Ode to No One)”, backed by the rhythms of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.  “Cupid de Locke” is an inventive, psychedelic ballad and “Galapogos” is a methodical piece that slowly builds but never really explodes. One of the last songs written for album was “Muzzle”, the fifth and final single from this album. At nine and a half minutes, the deliberative “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is one of the most musically awarding pieces on the album with a long intro, interesting rhythms by bassist D’arcy Wretzky and vast guitar overdubs. Iha’s “Take Me Down” wraps up the first disc as the most mellow of ballads.

Smashing Pumpkins on stage

Disc two is subtitled “Twilight to Starlight” and here the album gets more delicate, inventive and overall easier to listen to. “Thirty-Three” was the fifth and final single from the album, and was another Top 40 hit, while “In the Arms of Sleep” is a fine, romantic ballad. The undisputed classic on the album is “1979”, with all the best elements of 1990s alternative. Written as a nostalgic coming of age story, features sample vocals looped throughout or and distinct, ethereal effect.

The rich, musically superior “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” unfortunately lacks in good melody, while “We Only Come Out at Night” has a good, chanting hook over a medieval-like harpsichord and a distant beat. Wretzky offers harmonized vocals on the Prince-like electro-ballad “Beautiful” as “Lily (My One and Only)” is a fine sing/songy tune with a good, lo-fi piano along with some mellotron for further effect and a bit of an insane feel which is solidified by the final line “as they were dragging me away, I swear I saw her raise her hand and wave goodbye”. “By Starlight” builds into a fine piece due to its layered guitars leading to the album’s final track “Farewell and Goodnight”, which features lead vocals by all four band members.

Praised as an ambitious and accomplished work, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a worldwide success as it topped or neared the top of the charts in several countries. The group embarked on a world tour to support the album, during which time Chamberlain left the ban due to personal issues. It would be three years before Smashing Pumpkins would release their next album, Adore, which featured another significant change of style.

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1995 Images

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

 

Abraxas by Santana

Abraxas by Santana

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Abraxas by SantanaWith their second studio album, Santana brought a plethora of musical influence to forge the acclaimed Abraxas. This record fuses on multiple levels, blending reinterpreted covers with distinct originals and offering bits of Latin music, blues, jazz, and prog rock. And then there’s the spiritual element, from album’s title (which originates from a line in Hermann Hesse’s book Demian) to the nature of the cover art and it’s ties to ancient Greek mysticism.

Based in San Francisco, the group was formed in 1966 as the Santana Blues Band by guitarist Carlos Santana and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie. Santana had a heavy Latin musical influence which he infused into the band, which was initially met with some resistance by some rock-based promoters. However, Bill Graham was impressed with the group, signed on as their manager and secured them a record deal with Columbia Records in early 1969. Their self-titled debut album was released in May of 1969 and featured mostly of instrumental tracks along with their first two singles, “Jingo” and “Evil Ways” which became the group’s first Top 10 hit. Santana’s 45-minute set at the original Woodstock festival brought international attention to the group.

In April 1970, Santana returned to the studio with producer Fred Catero to record their second album. Carlos Santana used his influence from contemporaries like Peter Green and B.B. King and mixed it with traditional elements in a quest to make Abraxas a classic.


Abraxas by Santana
Released: September 23, 1970 (Columbia)
Produced by: Fred Catero & Carlos Santana
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco & Pacific Recording Studios, San Mateo, CA, April-May 1970
Side One Side Two
Singing Winds, Crying Beasts
Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen
Oye Como Va
Incident at Neshabur
Se a Cabo
Mother’s Daughter
Samba Pa Ti
Hope You’re Feeling Better
El Nicoya
Group Musicians
Gregg Rolie – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Carlos Santana – Guitars, Vocals
David Brown – Bass
Michael Shrieve – Drums
José Areas – Percussion
Michael Carabello – Percussion

Written by percussionist Michael Carabello, “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” begins with doomy orchestration including sparse piano notes and chimes before Santana’s guitar cuts through in the intro. The main section then features a Latin beat with further Avant Garde, jazzy musical textures and a slightly psychedelic vibe before the piece fades for the into to the hit song “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”, The cover of a Fleetwood Mac tune starts with Rollie’s delicate organ accompanying Santana’s deliberative guitar through the extended intro before Rollie’s smooth vocals arrive for the verse. The “Gypsy Queen” section of the piece is built on frantic percussion played along with David Brown‘s thumping bass line with accents of pure rock riffing. The single version reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971, Santana’s highest-charting song until “Smooth” on 1999’s Supernatural.

Tito Puente’s “Oye Cómo Va” follows with a pointed bass and organ riff joined by a distinctive guitar and drums by Michael Shrieve in the intro before the short Spanish language verses. Between the verses is an instrumental section where Santana provides not so much a guitar solo as some very distinct and memorable licks, while Rollie went for a more improvised organ lead. Aside from the preponderance of Latin percussion, the instrumental jam “Incident at Neshabur” is very similar to some of the instrumentals provide by the Allman Brother’s Band in the day, fusing blues, jazz, and a bit of musical originality. “Se Acabó” starts the original second side with a quick, upbeat jam by percussionist José Areas.

Santana 1970

Rolie composed two quality rock-based songs on Abraxas which add some real diversity to the record. “Mother’s Daughter” is a soulful rocker and an entertaining and accessible tune with enough prog rock features to make it interesting, while “Hope You’re Feeling Better” is a hard rocker which starts with a John Lord-like organ riff and maintains its energy throughout. In between the two Rollie tunes is the exquisite instrumental “Samba Pa Ti”, where Carlos provides a slow, deliberative and emotional blues lead and, while this tune gets a bit more intense in the middle with the other group members joining in, it never relinquishes this beautiful vibe. The album closes with “El Nicoya”, a short percussive showcase for Areas and Carabello.

Abraxas became the Santana’s first album to top the US charts and it eventually reached quadruple platinum in sales. The group offered a similar follow-up with Santana III in 1971, which also topped the charts, before their classic line-up began to fracture, most notably when Rollie departed to form his new band, Journey.

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Ted Nugent 1975

Ted Nugent

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Ted Nugent 1975After nearly a decade leading the Amboy Dukes, Ted Nugent embarked on a solo career and released his self-titled debut album in 1975. With a newly formed group that featured the most recent rhythm section of the Amboy Dukes, Nugent developed an impressive set of steady hard rock tunes which are at once accessible, cutting edge and a fine showcase for Nugent’s guitar leads. The album was a minor hit on both sides of the Atlantic and reached multi-platinum sales status in the United States.

A native of Michigan, Nugent formed the Amboy Dukes while still in high school in 1964. The group released their self-titled debut album in 1967 and found minor success with the follow-up Journey to the Center of the Mind and the single of the same name. The group shifted through many lineup changes through the early 1970s, with several more album releases and constant touring, but with no real commercial breakthrough. Finally, Nugent decided to disband the group and he took a three-month hiatus to the Colorado wilderness to renew his energy. When he returned to civilization, Nugent decided to join a new band and enlisted vocalist/guitarist Derek St. Holmes to front the group.

After securing a deal with Epic Records, Nugent and co. entered the studio with producers Tom Werman and Lew Futterman. The primary goal was to develop a definitive rock and roll album, and recorded the albumin a spontaneous and uninhibited fashion to capture the energy of the moment.


Ted Nugent by Ted Nugent
Released: September, 1975 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Werman & Lew Futterman
Recorded: The Sound Pit, Atlanta, GA, 1975
Side One Side Two
Stranglehold
Stormtroopin’
Hey Baby
Just What the Doctor Ordered
Snakeskin Cowboys
Motor City Madhouse
Where Have You Been All My Life
You Make Me Feel Right at Home
Queen of the Forest
Group Musicians
Derek St. Holmes – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Ted Nugent – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Rob Grange – Bass
Cliff Davies – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with the deliberate but powerful anthem, “Stranglehold”. This extended (eight-plus minutes) and indelible track, which was released as the album’s lead single, is a real guitar showcase for Nugent while also displaying the talent of other group members, from the majestic lead vocals by St. Holmes to Grange’s distinct flange bass to the backwards cymbals and Bolero rhythms by Davies. “Stormtroopin'” is of a more traditional rock length and features great crisp production and a later percussion section to set up backing for Nugent’s next guitar lead showcase. “Hey Baby” was a solo composition by St. Holmes and it became the second single from the album. This bluesy rocker has a bit of Skynard-like Southern rock vibe with some organ provided by guest Steve McRay.

Next up is “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, built on variations of Nugent’s riff arpeggio throughout along with rhythmic rudiments and drum rolls executed by Davies. “Snakeskin Cowboys” is a very solid rocker that starts with a deliberative guitar and bass riff before fully kicking in. A frantic tune to match its name, “Motor City Madhouse” features lead vocals by Nugent, double bass drums and a backing chorus for title hook.

Ted Nugent Band

The latter part of Ted Nugent features some musical diversity. “Where Have You Been All My Life” is an upbeat blues rocker with a fine riff and distinct, scratchy rock vocals by St. Holmes. “You Make Me Feel Right at Home” starts with a brief drum intro before breaking into a jazzy tune, complete with lead vocals and vibraphone by Davies. The closing track, “Queen of the Forest” returns to the hard rock blueprint with plenty of rhythmic rudiments to complete the LP.

With the momentum from this debut, Nugent and the group took off with further success through the late 1970s, starting with the subsequent hit albums Free-for-All (1976), Cat Scratch Fever (1977) and the multi-platinum live album Double Live Gonzo! (1978).

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1975 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

Ritchie Blakmore's Rainbow

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

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Ritchie Blakmore's RainbowOriginating as a side project for Ritchie Blackmore while he was still the guitarist for Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow turned out to be the debut studio album for Rainbow, the new group that would be Blackmore’s sole focus for nearly a decade to come. This album, which found critical acclaim and notoriety for its fantasy based lyrics combined with it’s more direct heavy rock sound, was composed and delivered by Blackmore along with members of the American band Elf.

Blackmore co-founded Deep Purple in 1968 and saw that group through stylistic and personnel changes before they reached the top of the rock world with the 1972 classic album Machine Head. However, tensions in the group led to the departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover the following year and the pair were replaced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes respectively. This new lineup of Deep Purple released a pair of 1974 albums, Burn and Stormbringer, which saw a stylistic shift towards seventies style funk rock, a style of which Blackmore was not all too fond.

In late 1974, Blackmore entered a studio in Florida with members of Elf, a group fronted by Ronnie James Dio which had opened for Deep Purple on a previous tour and of whom Blackmore had been very impressed. The intent was to record and release a solo single, but Blackmore found the experience so satisfying that he decided to extend the sessions to a full album. The group traveled to Musicland Studios in Munich, West Germany with producer Martin Birch to record Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. With this further positive recording experience, Blackmore decided to leave Deep Purple and become a full time member of Rainbow.


Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow by Rainbow
Released: August 4, 1975 (Polydor)
Produced by: Ritchie Blackmore, Martin Birch, & Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, February – March 1975
Side One Side Two
Man on the Silver Mountain
Self Portrait
Black Sheep of the Family
Catch the Rainbow
Snake Charmer
Temple of the King
If You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll
Sixteenth Century Greensleeves
Still I’m Sad
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Micky Lee Soule – Piano, Keyboards
Craig Gruber – Bass
Gary Driscoll – Drums

Right from the start, “Man on the Silver Mountain”, seems at least a half decade ahead of its time as it delivers a style common in the 1980s, with Dio’s dynamic vocals over simple rock riffing and rhythms. This became the debut single by Rainbow and remains one of their best known radio tracks. “Self Portrait” features a complex time signature due to the execution by drummer Gary Driscoll and bassist Craig Gruber and this track is highlighted by Blackmore’s fantastic, bluesy lead.

“Black Sheep of the Family” is a cover of a song by the band Quatermass and it adds a fine upbeat, almost conventional pop break on the first side. This song was the intended single that Blackmore originally recorded in ’74. “Catch the Rainbow” is an extended bluesy ballad to end the original first side, highlighted by surprising co-lead vocals / medley by Shoshana and Blackmore’s long guitar-lead outro. To start Side 2, “Snake Charmer” is built with some interesting guitar riffs and layers.

Rainbow in 1975

“Temple of the King” is a real highlight of the second side, as a track with a medieval tenor and tone with a calm, moderate delivery. This song features more great bass playing by Gruber along with harmonized vocals to accompany Blackmore’s crisp, moody guitar lead and later dissolve into a classical style acoustic in outtro. “If You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll” is a good time, pure rocker with choppy piano by Micky Lee Soule, who also adds a later piano lead. “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves”is a hard rocker with more medieval lyrics (albeit no real musical interpretation of the traditional English folk song from 1580). Here, Soule plays a clavinet to add to the rock effect as Dio expertly delivers the lyric. The album ends rather oddly with an instrumental cover of the Yardbirds’ “Still I’m Sad” from their 1965 album Having a Rave Up. This instrumental features a hyper blues riff with tremendous percussion by Driscoll throughout.

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was a fairly successful commercial album, reaching the Top 30 in the USA and nearly hitting the Top 10 in the UK. Ronnie James Dio has cited this release as his favorite Rainbow album. Beyond Dio however, Blackmore was unhappy with the rest of the former Elf line-up and he soon released everybody except for Dio for the 1976 follow-up release, Rainbow Rising, and subsequent international tours.

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1975 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.

Voices by Hall and Oates

Voices by Hall & Oates

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Voices by Hall and OatesHall and Oates finally reached commercial pay dirt with their ninth studio album, Voices. Released in the summer of 1980, this record was on the Billboard album charts for over 100 weeks as it slowly became a massive hit peaking about a year after it was released and being a catalyst for phenomenal commercial success through the mid 1980s. Voices is split musically, with its original first side featuring new wave pop and side two reverting to more classic elements of rock, funk and soul.

This duo from Philadelphia delivered a critically acclaimed album, Abandoned Luncheonette, in 1973 but had no hit singles through their first three albums (although “She’s Gone” from Abandoned Luncheonette would be re-released in 1976 and become a hit). After signing with RCA Records they released their 1975 self-titled fourth album, which contained the Top Ten ballad “Sara Smile”, a song Daryl Hall wrote for his girlfriend and future songwriting collaborator Sara Allen. The late seventies saw four more album releases – Bigger Than Both of Us (1976), Beauty on a Back Street (1977), Along the Red Ledge (1978), and X-Static (1979) – all of which found moderate Top 40 success with Bigger Than Both of Us spawning their first number one hit, “Rich Girl” in early 1977. Still, with this wide output and near constant touring, Hall and Oates felt like they were not maximizing their potential during this period.

The new decade brought a new approach for the duo as Hall and John Oates decided to self-produce their next album as well as use their own touring band, including bassist John Siegler and drummer Jerry Marotta, in the studio. They also decided to record in New York City (their then hometown) instead of Los Angeles, where they had recorded much of their late seventies albums. What would become Voices was written and arranged over a short period of time and recorded in early 1980.


Voices by Hall & Oates
Released: July 29, 1980 (RCA)
Produced by: Daryl Hall & John Oates
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York City, November 1979 – April 1980
Side One Side Two
How Does It Feel to Be Back
Big Kids
United State
Hard to Be in Love with You
Kiss on My List
Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
You Make My Dreams
Everytime You Go Away
Africa
Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)
Primary Musicians
Daryl Hall – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
John Oates – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
G.E. Smith – Guitars
John Siegler – Bass
Jerry Marotta – Drums

It is clear by the first four tracks what the group and label wanted to portray as their sound on Voices and, perhaps even more surprising,  the two Oates led tracks are the higher quality of this group. “How Does It Feel to Be Back” kicks things off with lead vocals by Oates, a jangly guitar and a strong beat which makes it feel like a cross  between Springsteen and Eddie Money. Hall’s “Big Kids” is more new wave flavored than the opener and has an odd effect on his vocals which is not needed at all. “United State” is another new wave track with a stronger rock presence while “Hard to Be In Love with You” features some interesting guitar and synth layers and duo lead vocals by Hall and Oates.

The hit “Kiss On My List” has the most interesting back story of any song on the album. It was written by Janna Allen (Sara’s sister) and, having never recorded a song before, Hall agreed to cut a demo as a product for her songwriting portfolio. However, the production team liked the demo so much that they decided to add vocals and instrumentation to the demo, including a fantastic guitar lead by guest Jeff Southworth. Released as the third single from the album, “Kiss On My List” became a number one hit song. For her part, Sara Allen co-wrote two other songs on Voices, including “Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)”, which features a choppy mix of ska beats and R&B vocal motifs and the funky hit “You Make My Dreams”. This latter song features Hall’s choppy electric piano contrasted by his excited vocal melodies as it reached the Top 5 of the charts in 1981.

Hall and Oates

The retro-sounding second side of the album starts with a cover of the classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. This oft covered track, written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector, may have it’s best effort at modernizing the 1964 Righteous Brothers classic sound with Oates and Hall replicating the vocals of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield nicely and the instrumentation does not try to replicate the original “wall of sound” but uses a tasteful modern rock arrangement. Hall’s “Everytime You Go Away” is an excellent soulful ballad which was recorded live in the studio to try and capture the sound like that of the classic Stax Studios in Memphis. This song comes complete with rich organ by guest Ralph Schuckett and, although this version was not released as a single, it was covered by Paul Young in 1985 and became another number 1 hit. “Africa” is a fun track by Oates who provides native-like lead vocals over a chanting backing chorus and a hand-jive like drum beat with a later sax lead by Charlie DeChant. The closing track, “Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)”, is a bass-driven final attempt at a pop hit, deriving from a mass murderer who was circulating in the New York subways at the time, giving it a dark comedic quality.

Voices debuted at number 75 in August 1980 and slowly climbed to its Top 20 peak nearly a year later. By that time, Hall and Oates had already recorded and released their 1981 follow-up, Private Eyes, which continued their meteoric commercial momentum.

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

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James Gang Rides Again by The James Gang

James Gang Rides Again

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James Gang Rides Again by The James GangThe James Gang reached the peak of their relatively short time together with front man Joe Walsh with their sophomore album James Gang Rides Again in the summer of 1970. The album combines their blues-based power-trio rock with a branched-out experimental method that incorporates keyboards into their sound and includes elements of country. While not a great commercial success, James Gang Rides Again was critically acclaimed and a great influence for many rock bands that emerged later in the decade.

James Gang was founded by drummer Jim Fox in Cleveland, Ohio in 1965. They were were originally a five-piece, British rock influenced band including bassist Tom Kriss. In 1968, Walsh was brought on to replace the group’s original lead guitarist and, after two prompt defections, the band quickly realigned as a trio to fulfill live commitments. With Walsh assuming lead vocal duties, the group decided they liked their sound and moved forward as a threesome. After signing with ABC’s new Bluesway Records subsidiary in early 1969, they recorded and released their debut, Yer’ Album, later that year. Sales for this album were disappointing and a new singer was briefly considered so that Walsh could focus on guitars. While deciding to maintain Walsh as lead vocalist, Kriss decided to abruptly depart from the band in November 1969.

Bassist Dale Peters was recruited by Fox just in time for recording of the group’s second album. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Bill Szymczyk, the group wanted to replicate the energy of its ever-popular live shows, where the group would jam to new material in the dressing rooms before each show.  With the combination of low label expectations and the state-of-the-art equipment at The Record Plant, the group took a loose and experimental approach to the material on James Gang Rides Again.


James Gang Rides Again by The James Gang
Released: July, 1970 (ABC)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, November 1969
Side One Side Two
Funk #49
Asshtonpark
Woman
The Bomber
Tend My Garden
Garden Gate
There I Go Again
Thanks
Ashes the Rain and I
Group Musicians
Joe Walsh – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Dale Peters – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Jim Fox – Drums, Percussion, Organ

The blistering opening track “Funk #49”, was a group composition that derived from a warm-up jam and initially ad-libbed lyrics by Walsh about an untamed girlfriend. The recording features a slight but potent percussion break by Fox before pivoting back to a final verse. The song was released as a single to moderate initial success but became a later staple on classic rock stations. The instrumental “Asshtonpark” features a slow rhythmic build up towards a country-esque groove featuring a generous amount of delay on Walsh’s guitar. The song’s title is a tribute to production designer Assheton Gorton. The catchy rocker “Woman” follows, starting with and built on Peters’ bass line with some great guitar dynamics to adding a dramatic element to the groove.

The album’s original first side ended with the excellent multi-part suite called “The Bomber”. Here, the musical talent of this emerging trio is fully exhibited, book-marked by the heavy, frantic verses of “Closet Queen”, which reportedly blew out the studio monitors at The Record Plant upon playback. The song’s mid section improvises a couple of established instrumentals, including Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and an electric rendition of Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro”, which spawned a threatened suit that resulted in certain editions of the track being edited to remove “Boléro” (since restored). In contrast to sound, but just as innovative is “Tend My Garden”, featuring Walsh pulling quadruple duty on vocals, organ, acoustic and electric guitar, a method (as well as a signature riff) that would be echoed years later by Tom Scholz of Boston on “More Than a Feeling” from Boston’s 1976 debut album. From the dissolve of the majestic “Tend My Garden”, comes the simple, homey, front porch country-blues of “Garden Gate”, a short minute and a half track which appears to be a solo performance by Walsh.

James Gang

The whimsical “There I Go Again” may be closest to pure pop ever by James Gang (or Walsh for that matter). This catchy acoustic tune is accented by fine pedal steel guitar of guest Rusty Young. While remaining in the pop form, “Thanks” has a bit more complexity overall with an original arrangement applied to this short acoustic folk tune. “Ashes the Rain and I” concludes the album as a dark acoustic folk with heavy orchestration applied after the first verse and interlude. While certainly atmospheric and original, the decision to shepherd out this record with so much extraneous instrumentation seems like an odd decision by Szymczyk and the band.

Following the recording sessions for James Gang Rides Again, the group embarked on a tour opening for The Who in the United States in early 1970. This led to the group touring the United Kingdom and appearing on the British TV show “Top of the Pops”, which increased their international appeal. However, after 1971’s studio album Thirds and the live album James Gang Live in Concert, Walsh left the band the band at the end of the year to form Barnstorm. Fox and Peters continued the James Gang with several vocalists and guitarists through several more albums over the next half decade but never again would reach this level of artistic merit or sustainability before the group finally disbanded in early 1977.

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

Fun House by The Stooges

Fun House by The Stooges

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Stooges in 1970

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

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

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

Goo by Sonic Youth

Goo by Sonic Youth

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Sonic Youth in 1990

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

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

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1990 images

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