Green by R.E.M.

Green by R.E.M.

Buy Green

Green by R.E.M.Years before alternative was “cool” (in other words, when “alternative” was still alternative), R.E.M. was forging their own way through the super-slick eighties. Their sixth album, 1988’s Green, was the breakout album that followed the group’s quintet of critically acclaimed but commercially light pieces earlier in the decade. The result was a successful attempt to strike the right balance in both of those fields and branch out to an international audience. This was the group’s debut album for the big label Warner Brothers Records after cutting their teeth with the indie I.R.S. Records with their late 1987 release Document, which received major airplay but was not widely distributed overseas. In their frustration, the band entertained big label offers and signed with Warner for reportedly between $6 million and $12 million.

Working with producer Scott Litt (who would produce five albums in all with the band), R.E.M. began recording demos in their home town of Athens, Georgia before moving to major studios in Memphis, Ten. and Woodstock, NY for the proper recording. The record’s tracks ranged from upbeat to more somber and political material. Led my vocalist Michael Stipe, the band made a consorted effort to “not write any more R.E.M.-type songs”. The group began what would become a tradition of swapping instruments and the result was a very eclectic and sonically diverse output.

Green is defined by the tweaks the group made to their creative process, grown out of the restlessness of their then eight-year career of near constant touring. For R.E.M., this meant composing positive, or at least satirical and playful, material for the first time in a while. The band were also more open to strong rock influences such as the Byrds, the Doors, and Led Zeppelin, than they had been in the past.

 


Green by R.E.M.
Released: November 7, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Scott Litt and R.E.M.
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis & Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, NY, May–Sep 1988
Side One Side Two
Pop Song 89
Get Up
You Are the Everything
Stand
World Leader Pretend
The Wrong Child
Orange Crush
Turn You Inside-Out
Hairshirt
I Remember California
11
Band Musicians
Michael Stipe – Lead Vocals
Peter Buck – Guitars, Mandolin
Mike Mills – Bass, Keyboards, Accordion, Vocals
Bill Berry – Drums, Vocals

 

Green labeled its original LP sides, with side one being the “air” side. “Pop Song 89” is a twangy, three-chord, upbeat song with a memorable lead guitar riff by Peter Buck and harmonized, low key vocals by Stipe. This opener is a sarcastically titled, semi-parody of pop music which is deliberately simplistic. “Get Up” follows with a straight-forward rock arrangement but seems to be a little more forced than the opener, especially with the excess vocal parts. The lyrics were written about bassist Mike Mills and his habit to sleep late during their recording sessions.

“You Are the Everything” is the first song to use a completely alternate arrangement, with Buck playing mandolin, Mills on accordion, and drummer Bill Berry providing a simple bass. Set to the backdrop of chirping crickets, the song provides a Southern pastoral setting and straight-forward, love-song-like lyrics through a fine vocal melody by Stipe, making this the first really interesting song on the album. The group returned to this exact arrangement on the second side song “Hairshirt”, which adds even more melody and entertainment to the mix with top-notch mandolin and very laid back accordion and bass.

The ultimate R.E.M. pop song, “Stand” starts with carnival-like organ and moves towards some good guitar riff and great vocal hooks. With a kind of in-your-face singsong chorus sung by Stipe and Mills in close harmony and a signature wah-wah guitar solo by Buck, the song did well on radio, MTV, and the pop charts. “World Leader Pretend” is a much more serious piece led by a driving acoustic guitar, interesting drum accents and a subtle cello by guest Jane Scarpantoni. The song is notable as the first and only to have lyrics printed on the original album sleeve. The first side ends with “The Wrong Child”, an acoustic guitar and mandolin piece with several competing vocal parts which Make it almost interesting but a little too busy at times.

The second side is referred to by the band as the “metal” side, and starts with the military stomp of “Orange Crush”. Stipe sings through a megaphone that lends his vocals a corroded quality appropriate to the subject matter (the title refers to the chemical “agent orange”), which is counter-balanced by the very interesting tone and theme. Although not commercially released as a U.S. single, “Orange Crush” reached number one on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks.

The rest of the album consists of moderately interesting tunes. “Turn You Inside-Out” contains a slow, electric twang with a methodical and strong beat by percussionist Keith LeBlanc. “I Remember California” has a strong electric intro arrangement which gives way to just simple bass and busy, tom-filled drums by Berry during the verse, making it unique and interesting, although a bit too long. “11” (the eleventh, untitled track) close the album with Buck playing drums on an upbeat, new-wavish song with definite British influence.

Green has gone on to sell over four million copies worldwide and the band launched a visually developed tour to support it in 1989. Riding the worldwide success of this album, the band continued the momentum with the success of Out of Time in 1991 and Automatic for the People in 1992.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

 

Melissa Etheridge debut album

Melissa Etheridge

Buy Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge debut albumIn 1988, Melissa Etheridge released a strong and passionate debut album which was built during several years of grinding out recognition, one small venue at a time. With this well earned pedigree behind her and a drive and determination for success ahead, Etheridge found a rather unique niche and filled a rather huge void in the popular music scene of the late 1980s. Her raw-throated vocals, confessional compositions, and simple yet effective acoustic-built music totally contrasted the flash and fluff which saturated the conventional airwaves and this stunning debut helped clear the path for the seismic shift in the music scene which would occur a few years later.

A native of Leavenworth, Kansas,  Etheridge began performing at age eight and was involved in many stage productions through high school. She later moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, but dropped out to pursue a musical career in California. There, she played countless acoustic gigs, slowly building a following and muddling through several rejections until finally receiving a publishing deal to write songs for movies starting with the 1987 movie Weeds starring Nick Nolte. Shortly after, Etheridge got a full record deal with Island Records.

The album was produced by Etheridge and Niko Bolas along with a couple members of the backing band. The songs were built in the light of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, along with a sensitive female bravado and passionate delivery which is captured well in the production. While there is little thematical variation on Melissa Etheridge, it is a very even album which delivers potent tracks throughout.

 


Melissa Etheridge by Melissa Etheridge
Released: May 2, 1988 (Island)
Produced by: Melissa Etheridge, Niko Bolas, Craig Krampf, & Kevin McCormick
Recorded: October 19–25, 1987
Side One Side Two
Similar Features
Chrome Plated Heart
Like the Way I Do
Precious Pain
Don’t You Need
The Late September Dogs
Occasionally
Watching You
Bring Me Some Water
I Want You
Primary Musicians
Melissa Etheridge – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Johnny Lee Schell – Guitars
Kevin McCormick – Bass
Wally Badarou – Keyboards
Craig Krampf – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with the fine “Similar Features” which kicks off with measured bass notes before moving into a moderate arrangement led by Etheridge’s acoustic and the subtle electric guitar phrases by Johnny Lee Schell. “Chrome Plated Heart” arrives with a boogie-blues rhythm held together by the kick drum of Craig Krampf along with a slight riff by Schell. Here Etheridge really shines through vocally with biting lyrics;

“I got a two dollar stare, Midas in my touch and Delilah in my hair
I got bad intentions on the soles of my shoes with this red hot fever and these chromium blues…”

A production masterpiece, “Like the Way I Do” has a consistently strummed acoustic accented by a sharp, double-beat rhythm by bassist Kevin McCormick during the verse. The song uses an ingenious, minimalist approach, which pretty much went against the grain of every production technique of the late eighties and is a good example of the of Etheridge’s early material with dramatic vocals telling a story of heartbreak and longing bordering on obsession. As the singer once explained, her songs are not so much about sadness and anger then they are written about “internal conflicts”.

The middle part of the album contains some uniquely arranged songs. “Precious Pain” is a softer, folksy acoustic tune musically (albeit the lyrics are just as sharp as anywhere else). The first three songs of the second side – “The Late September Dogs”, “Occasionally”, and “Watching You” – all use minimalist arrangements, with “Occasionally” taking this to the extreme with Etheridge’s vocals accompanied only by a slight percussive thumping of the acoustic guitar body.

The song which captures the overall angst of the album is “Bring Me Some Water”, a tune as dramatic as can be pulled off while staying within the realm of good taste. Nominated for a Grammy, the tune captures the main theme of hunger for affection and pain of unrequited love. Melissa’s obsession with romantic break-ups and recriminations may narrow the range of the album, but make this work sound relevant and viable a quarter century later. The thumping rhythm and bit of funky bass drives the closer “I Want You”, a fine tune of unbridled desire to complete the album.

The Melissa Etheridge album peaked at #22 on the Billboard charts and initiated her steady rise to the top of the pop world in the early 1990s, when Etheridge started to abandon her musical pursuits for celebrity causes. Never quite recreated in intensity or quality, this first album was a career highlight for the singer/songwriter.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

 

Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick

Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick

Buy Lap of Luxury

Lap of Luxury by Cheap TrickLap of Luxury was, by most definitions, a comeback album for Cheap Trick, although it didn’t quite reach the blockbuster status that the band and their label were attempting to achieve. In many ways it is a very ordinary album for the late 1980s due the use of several “song doctors” who composed mainstream, radio-friendly material. Still, there is something which is at once desperate and exciting about this band’s sound and, in particular, the wailing croon of vocalist Rob Zander. Combined with the unambiguous guitar textures of Rick Nielsen, there is a definite edge to this band’s sound which shined through in spite of the attempts to smooth it out with mainstream compositions.

The group’s tenth studio album overall, Lap of Luxury was produced by Richie Zito and broke a streak of five straight commercial disappointments through the early and mid eighties, despite the fact that the band used top level producers on those albums including George Martin, Todd Rundgren, Roy Thomas Baker and Jack Douglas. Due to the band’s commercial decline, Epic Records demanded that they collaborate with professional songwriters in the same way that Aerosmith had done for their commercial comeback Permanent Vacation the previous year. This did result in the album reaching the Top 20 and spawning the group’s first and only number one single.

Lap of Luxury back cover

Lap of Luxury back cover

The album also marks the return of bassist Tom Petersson, who is often credited for having the first idea to build a twelve-string bass. Petersson had left the band in 1980 and returned in 1987 to join drummer Bun E. Carlos in the rhythm section and restore the original quartet from the 1970s. The group also brought back the practice of featuring Zander and Petersson on the front cover while putting Nielson and Carlos on the back, which they had done on three late seventies albums as an inside joke.

 


Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick
Released: April 12, 1988 (Epic)
Produced by: Richie Zito
Recorded: 1987-1988
Side One Side Two
Let Go
No Mercy
The Flame
Space
Never Had a Lot to Lose
Don’t Be Cruel
Wrong Side of Love
All We Need Is a Dream
Ghost Town
All Wound Up
Band Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass, Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

Prior to Lap of Luxury, Rick Nielsen was the group’s chief songwriter but he only co-wrote four tunes on this album. The record starts off with, “Let Go”, which contains a thumping rhythm, simple but strong riffs and anthem-shout lyrics – the type of material on which the band traditionally excels. The song was co-written by Todd Cerney who co-wrote songs with Eddie Money, Loverboy and Bad English. The song was released as a single and peaked at #35 on the Mainstream Rock chart. “No Mercy” contains exotic percussion with much use of rhythms and synths during the verse while again going for the big hit sound during the choruses.

A great acoustic riff provides the bedding for “The Flame”, a power ballad which drips with melancholy reflection. This excessively deep song compliments the band’s traditional light fare of songs such as “She’s Tight” on One on One with Zander’s dramatic sobs and Nielson’s guitar and keyboard soundscapes. The song was penned by British songwriters Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham and the band initially rejected it and had to be persuaded to record it by Zito. It went on to become the band’s first and only number one hit.

Holly Knight composed hundreds of songs for scores of artists throughout the eighties and nineties, but one of her most forgettable is Cheap Trick’s “Space”, the album’s most definitive filler. “Never Had a Lot to Lose” is an interesting end to side one mainly due to the old-time rock riff by Nielson and the song’s overall new wave vibe. This is a pure band original and shows that Cheap Trick really excels when sticking to their own material.

A rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” starts side two with a great arrangement that is not so much a remake as a modern day recreation of the classic song. Led by the precise drumming of Carlos, Cheap Trick’s version of this song reached #4 on the charts and became a radio staple. “Wrong Side of Love” is the closest the band comes to a boilerplate “hair band” sound with squeezed out, mechanical riffs and formulaic lyrical patterns. “All We Need Is a Dream” contains high register vocals reminiscent of the seventies band Sweet. Melodramatic but entertaining, the song contains vocal pauses which seem awkward at first but ultimately work with the overall vibe.

The album ends strong with a couple of quality tunes. “Ghost Town” is second ballad of the album, slightly acoustic with a touch of piano. It was co-written by Grammy award winner Diane Warren, who would go on to write some of the most famous soundtrack ballads of the 1990s. On the closer “All Wound Up”, the band returns to their early sound with sharp riffing by Neilson and some great bass by Petersson.

Busted was released in 1990 and was also produced by Richie Zito, as the band attempted to capitalize on the success of Lap of Luxury. This time, however, the band was allowed more creative control and professional songwriters were only used on a handful of songs. The first single “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” reached No. 12 on the charts but failed to reach as high as the label expected. The second single, the Diane Warren penned “Wherever Would I Be,” suffered a worse fate reaching only No. 50. The following singles, “If You Need Me” and “Back N’ Blue” were not successful, although the later single reached No. 32 on the US Mainstream Rock charts.

Cheap Trick rode the momentum of Lap of Luxury and the success of their 1991 Greatest Hits release to sustain their popularity through the rest of the decade. The four members of the group remained together through various big name and independent label arrangements until 2010 when Bun E. Carlos departed the group, three and a half decades after the band first formed.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

 

OU812 by Van Halen

OU812 by Van Halen

Buy OU812

OU812 by Van HalenFollowing the success of the group’s first #1 album, 5150 (as well as the mammoth tour which followed), Van Halen scored similar success with the followed-up OU812 in 1988. These were the first two albums with lead vocalist Sammy Hagar (the “Van Hagar” era) and the first where Hagar began as a full and equal member of the group and his influence was reflected in the diversity and new direction of the music. None of the material for this album was written prior to the recording sessions at the band-owned 5150 studios and this led to a more improvised evolution to the material, resulting in OU812 being the final high quality output by the group overall.

The album also included no official production credit because the band felt there was no one who went in with a sold idea and dictated a sonic vision to everyone else. Unofficially, engineer Donn Landee and the band produced the record, which was the eighth overall for Van Halen. Work began on the album in September 1987 and continued for about seven months, with recordings taken place mere weeks before the album’s international release. While Hagar brought some elements of the band’s sound in new directions, guitarist Eddie Van Halen returned to the form of the band’s earliest work while continuing to purse keyboards as a second instrument for certain radio-friendly tracks.

The album’s unique title originated when Hagar spotted a delivery truck on the freeway with the serial number “OU812”. Finding this humorous when spoken aloud, he told the band and they decided to change the title in the 11th hour from the previously planned “Bone”, which no one really like all that much anyway.

 


OU812 by Van Halen
Released: May 24, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Donn Landee & Van Halen
Recorded: 5150 Studios, Hollywood, September 1987 – April 1988
Side One Side Two
Mine All Mine
When It’s Love
A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)
Cabo Wabo
Source of Infection
Feels So Good
Finish What Ya Started
Black and Blue
Sucker In a 3 Piece
A Apolitical Blues
Band Musicians
Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Synthesizers, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

 

The rather awkward synth rhythm of “Mine All Mine” kicks off the album. The pure-eighties-soundtrack-like vibe does contain a bit of an off-beat edge by Alex Van Halen and a good lead guitar by Eddie Van Halen, but the corny ending makes it a parody of itself. “When It’s Love” is the album’s first classic with a great long synth intro before breaking into a 1984-era Van Halen riff. Hagar’s chorus melody is the real highlight here along with an excellent closing section which builds with intensity. “When It’s Love” reached the Top 10 and was the most popular song from that album.

After the album’s weakest moment, “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”, comes “Cabo Wabo”, which on the surface is a brochure for the Mexican resort town. That being said, this is still a pretty entertaining song with a good riff and harmonized vocals by bassist Michael Anthony. Hagar shines vocally on this extended track, came up with the song’s concept and later parlayed this into a premium tequila brand which later became a major point of contention between him and the Van Halen brothers. “Source of Infection” finishes the first side and was later dismissed by band members as a “joke song” with lyrics referring to a health scare.

Something totally unique for the band, “Feels So Good” is heavily synthesized but works its way through many interesting sections in an atypical arrangement. The unique drum beat by Alex Van Halen guides this pop song, which Hagar said was developed “Genesis style”. “Finish What Ya Started” is another one of the more unique songs in the Van Halen collection with a combination of picked electric and strummer acoustic throughout. The song was spawned on Eddie’s Malibu balcony when he jammed with Hagar with two acoustic guitars at 2:00am one morning.

“Black and Blue” contains a slow riff that is total Eddie Van Halen and raunchy lyrics inspired by groupies during the 5150 tour and became one of the most popular radio songs from the album. “Sucker In a 3 Piece” is the weakest point on the fine second side, seeming to be feeling its way through the first minute and a half, before settling on then vacuous lyrics and boilerplate melodies of the song proper. The closer “A Apolitical Blues” was originally recorded by Little Feat and written by Lowell George. This is pure blues, complete with piano and two bluesy guitars and was one of the rare covers during Hagar’s stint with the band.

OU812 was the second of four consecutive number one albums by Van Halen with Sammy Hagar at the helm, stretching into the mid 1990s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Naked by Talking Heads

Naked by Talking Heads

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Naked by Talking HeadsTalking Heads eighth and final album was Naked , released in 1988. The album was an attempt at a quasi-concept album which brings the listener to an ironically serene world following an (apparently) man-made apocalypse. This may not have been the original intent, as the complex musical arrangements were composed and recorded before any of the lyrics which made up this theme were recorded. The four member group employed an additional twenty or so musicians of vastly different genres in order to achieve a world music sound through most of the album, making Naked the most musically diverse album by the band.

Talking Heads previous two albums, Little Creatures in 1985 and True Stories in 1986, were both very pop oriented, and the band wanted to try something completely different. They decided to record their next album in Paris, based on scores of improvisational tracks they recorded as the foundation for the new material. Steve Lillywhite was brought in to co-produce and he conducted day-long, improvised musical sessions with the group and several other musicians with one take selected for each particular track.

The lyrics and melodies were left until later when the band returned to New York. Lead vocalist and chief songwriter David Byrne added themes to the prerecorded tracks. The album’s title and cover were loosely based on a Chinese proverb; “If there is no tiger in the mountains, the monkey will be king”, which was also printed on the LP jacket of Naked. Although the musical approach works for most of the album, the apocalyptic lyrics laced with late-eighties fatalism tend to sound dated. Of course, the band was in the midst of slowly breaking up at the time, so that may have had an influence on the lyrical content.

 


Naked by Talking Heads
Released: March 15, 1988 (EMI)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite & Talking Heads
Recorded: Studio Davout, Paris, 1987
Side One Side Two
Blind
Mr. Jones
Totally Nude
Ruby Dear
(Nothing But) Flowers”
The Democratic Circus
The Facts of Life
Mommy Daddy You and I
Big Daddy
Bill
Cool Water
Band Musicians
David Byrne – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jerry Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Frantz – Drums, Percussion

 

The first side is a collection of upbeat, well syncopated tunes. “Blind” is a funk track with an Afro-flavored groove and a full horn section which includes three saxophones, two trumpets, and a trombone. If not for the violent lyrical themes, the song may almost be considered a spoof on James Brown. “Mr. Jones” also includes a rich horn section, although this song is more swing than funk. Still upbeat and fun, it is a great musical blend and the closest to soulful vocals as you’ll get from Byrne. Drummer Chris Frantz
decided to use brushes and softer percussive techniques in order to give room to the various other percussionists.

“Totally Nude” contains a fine slide guitar by Yves N’Djock, along with Caribbean rhythms. However, this track does get a bit too crowded as the ensemble seems to be trying to do too many things at once. On his album Graceland a few years earlier, Paul Simon had much better success at making these diverse styles mesh together. “Ruby Dear” begins with blues-like drum beat before breaking into some odd yet intriguing verses, which employ a bit of sixties pyschedelia. This is the first of many tracks on which Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr appears.

Marr provides the sharply plucked leads on “(Nothing But) Flowers”, which was the most popular song on the album and the album’s best musically. Bass guitarist Tina Weymouth provides an overall fantastic groove to back up Byrne’s melodic vocals. The songs lyrics describe a world where modern conveniences has ceased and the world has reverted to a more natural state, which the protagonist originally favored but now longs the conveniences and culture of the modern world.

The original LP’s second side takes a bit of a dark turn, both musically and philosophically. “The Democratic Circus” starts as the closest to the 1980s new wave sound that you’ll find on the album, before later breaking out into rougher, riff-driven sections. “The Facts of Life” uses machine-like synth effects by Jerry Harrison, which is somewhat cool for about a minute or so, but after six and a half minutes gets quite mundane. “Mommy Daddy You and I” includes some bluesy squeeze notes above a deep synth bass and a rapid accordion by James Fearnley during the verses.

“Big Daddy” is a nice fusion song with a pure soul intro and blues elements led by the harmonica of Don Brooks. Lyrically it is analogous to the “big brother” figure in George Orwell’s 1984. “Bill” features Eric Weissberg, who found previous famous for his arrangement of “Dueling Banjos” in 1973. This song is really quite subdued and mellow, with the exception of the apoplectic lyrics. The closer “Cool Water” features dramatic, movie scene-like atmosphere with Byres singing monotone in the fashion of Nico from years passed. Marr adds to the intensity of the song with his guitar as Byrnes offers pleas for human fellowship through his lyric.

Talking Heads achieved a fitting swan song with their stylistically fruitful Naked, which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming only the second album by the group to accomplish that feat. The band dissolved shortly after the album’s release, officially announcing their breakup in 1991.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

 

...And Justice for All by Metallica

…And Justice for All by Metallica

Buy …And Justice for All

...And Justice for All by MetallicaMetallica brought their fusion of progressive thrash metal into the mainstream with the double LP …And Justice for All in 1988. The album was nominated for a Grammy and has been certified eight times platinum, selling eight million copies in the United States alone. The band’s fourth album overall, …And Justice for All, was the first to feature bassist Jason Newsted after former bassist Cliff Burton lost his life in a tour bus accident in 1986. The album was the first of a lucrative record deal and was intended to be released in 1987. However, Metallica was offered several lucrative festival dates that summer, which ultimately delayed the album’s release for another year.

Co-produced by Flemming Rasmussen, the album is noted for a rather sterile production. Newsted’s bass guitar is all but omitted from most mixes, which were actually engineered by guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. Rasmussen did work on adjusting the overall guitar sound of Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammet, using layered techniques to achieve a harmonized sound which contrasted the thumping rhythms and riffs of the core.

The album gained near universal critical acclaim, especially within the progressive metal community. The dark lyrics drawn from subjects of struggle and strife, giving …And Justice for All a conceptual uniformity around notions of political and legal injustice. The tracks on the album were much longer in length than previous Metallica material, which actually caused much of the material to be dropped from future live shows due to their length and complexity.

 


…And Justice for All by Metallica
Released: September 6, 1988 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Flemming Rasmussen & Metallica
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles, January–May 1988
Side One Side Two
Blackened
…And Justice for All
Eye of the Beholder
One
Side Three Side Four
The Shortest Straw
Harvester of Sorrow
The Frayed Ends of Sanity
To Live Is to Die
Dyers Eve
Band Musicians
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Kirk Hammet – Lead Guitars
Jason Newsted – Bass  |  Lars Ulrich – Drums

 

A chorus of guitars swells to introduce “Blackened”, which treats the listener to a spectrum of rudiments and sudden stops to change into the song’s differing sections. Hammet provides a good guitar lead on both sides of a divide while Newsted receives composition credit on a track where he cannot be heard. The title song “…And Justice for All” follows with a gentle guitar intro, sounding Randy Rhoads inspired with some overdubs. Soon the group fires off into the main thrash metal riff sequence and works through the long and complex arrangement which includes Hammet’s two distinct sounding different guitar leads. Hetfield took the title from the last four words of the Pledge of Allegiance and uses the lyric as an ironic reflection on social injustice. “Eye of the Beholder” rolls in like a marching army, with the verse sounding a bit like some of the group’s future 1990s material.

“One” is the song that really put Metallica on the mainstream map. The simple and light intro and verses are fresh with plenty of guitar overdubs and melodic vocals, all leading to the standard but powerful metal riff during the song’s final sequence. The song became Metallica’s first Top 40 hit despite the fact that it received virtually no airplay of pop radio. However, the band did shoot a promotional MTV video (for the first time ever) which integrated some footage and dialogue from the 1971 film Johnny Got His Gun, which was the inspiration for the song in the first place.

The double LP’s third original side contains some less potent tracks. “The Shortest Straw” starts with a cool, deadened, almost-Zeppelin riff during the intro but retreats into typical Metallica during the rest of the song. Although it was the lead single from the album, “Harvester of Sorrow” is really kind of repetitive and mundane, while “The Frayed Ends of Sanity” contains an interesting intro riff before the nearly-eight-minute song falls into a repetitive pattern, making it way too long for lack of changes.

However, the album does finish on a strong note on its fourth and final side. The extended instrumental “To Live Is to Die” starts with acoustic fade-in and drums somewhat off in background before being interrupted by the stabbing rhythm of the second section. Overall, this nearly 10-minute piece is interesting with good overdubbed leads and a nice break in the middle with only a flanged guitar before it kicks back into a full arrangement. Burton posthumously received co-writing credit as the bass line was composed prior to his death and the spoken words towards the end of the song were written by Burton. “Dyers Eve” finishes the album with super speed drumming of Ulrich and some extraordinarily sharp rudiments. The group never lets up in this closer as if to try and squeeze every last bit of blood out of the final track of the album, which ends abruptly.

…And Justice for All was Metallica’s most complex, ambitious work ever and a surprise commercial success, reaching number six on the Billboard charts. While it is still regarded a quarter century later, fans and critics lament the odd mixing decisions, which leave some potent compositions tarnished with a half-spectrum sound.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

 

Rumble by Tommy Conwell and Young Rumblers

Rumble by Tommy Conwell and Young Rumblers

Buy Rumble

Rumble by Tommy Conwell and Young RumblersTommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, a popular Philadelphia area “bar band”, caught the attention of Columbia Records when their 1986 independently released album, Walking on the Water, sold very well regionally. The band, which started as a three piece with band leader Tommy Conwell on lead guitars and vocals, Paul Slivka on bass and Jimmy Hannum on drums, was known for their high energy live performances. Aside from being an accomplished guitarist, Conwell was keenly tuned into his audience and gave them his all at every show by jumping off the stage into the audience and playing guitar while strolling along the top of the bar. When their first major label record, Rumble, was released in 1988, it did a fair job of capturing a bit of this live energy in the recording.

Rumble was produced by Rick Chertoff who had recent successes producing Cyndi Lauper’s multi-platinum debut album, She’s So Unusual and The Hooters’ first two successful major label releases, Nervous Night and One Way Home. He was charged with the task of making a polished, ready for mainstream radio, recording of an unpolished rock and roll band. This was quite a task when a major part of the band’s charm and appeal was the grit of their live energy.

By the time recording started, the band had grown from a simple rockabilly type three piece (albeit more “rock” than “billy”) to a full fledged rock and roll line up of five with the addition of Rob Miller on keyboards and Chris Day on guitar.

 


Rumble by Tommy Conwell and Young Rumblers
Released: July 10, 1988 (Columbia)
Produced by: Rick Chertoff
Side One Side Two
I’m Not Your Man
Half a Heart
If We Never Meet Again
Love’s On Fire
Workout
I Wanna Make You Happy
Everything They Say Is True
Gonna Breakdown
Tell Me What You Want Me To Be
Walkin’ On the Water
Group Musicians
Tommy Conwell – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars
Chris Day – Guitars
Rob Miller – Keyboards
Paul Slivka – Bass
Jimmy Hannum – Drums

 

The songs on this album are straight up rock and roll with simple themes of youthful rebellion, friendship and love set to bluesy, rock and roll guitars and rhythms. Nothing about this album is really that new or innovative, it is just good old fashioned rock and roll done well by outstanding musicians with great work ethics and riveting stage presence.

The opener, “I’m Not Your Man” dives right in, featuring a bawdy, bad boy rant from Conwell preceded by a bluesy guitar riff. Conwell’s guitar is clear and sharp and shines on this song. This was the most successful single on the album rising to #1 on the Mainstream Rock tracks chart. The other popular song from the album is “If We Never Meet Again”, which has a catchy chorus hook and a very cool, twangy guitar interlude, which highlights Conwell’s versatility on guitar.

“Half a Heart” features Miller’s  keyboards against a steady bass backbeat by the adept rhythm section of Slivka and Hannum. It is easily the most pop oriented tune of the whole album. “Love’s on Fire” continues the energy with driving guitars leading into the boogie beat, keyboard laden, aptly named “Workout”.
 

 
The second side includes “Everything They Say Is True”, which has a heavy keyboard riff, and “Breakdown”, probably the best overall song on the album both musically and lyrically. Its softly strummed intro gradually “breaks down” into a hard rocking ode to redemption that includes some fantastic guitar and earnest vocals from Conwell.  George Thorogood is channeled through Conwell’s gruff and gritty vocals in “Tell Me What You Want Me to Be”. “Walkin On Water” is a rollicking tune that closes the album with a life is just a party vibe.

The Young Rumblers would go on to record two more albums for Columbia. Guitar Trouble, recorded with help from Bruce Hornsby, was released in 1989 to modest success and the final album was passed on by Columbia. Rumble would be the pinnacle of commercial success for this Philadelphia Rock and Roll band.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.

 

Eliminator by ZZ Top

Eliminator by ZZ Top

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Eliminator by ZZ TopSince their inception in 1969, ZZ Top had a strong and successful career with decent album sales and scattered radio hits through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. With their eighth album in 1983, Eliminator, the group finally found major commercial success, topping charts worldwide and U.S. sales of over 10 million copies. Formulaic to a fault, the group and their manager/producer Bill Ham embraced a hybrid sound which blended their traditional Texas blues guitars with synths and sequencers. This updated eighties sound, combined with the directed use of image and video (featuring the customized 1930s Ford coupe and Dean Z electric guitars) brought ZZ Top their first real taste of fame.

The trio consists of guitarist and vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist and vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard. Formed in Houston in 1969, the group was signed to London Records in 1970 and released their debut album in 1971. Although centered around blues-rock, ZZ Top had experimented with several styles and lyrical motifs through their initial seven studio albums. Following the success of 1979’s Degüello, the band embarked on a 1980 tour of Europe and gained some exposure to the electronic new wave/pop of the day. This experience heavily influenced much of the sonic qualities and song themes for Eliminator, as many of the songs were written backstage on that tour. The band then chose Memphis as the recording location because of the city’s musical tradition.

Sound engineer Linden Hudson researched popular song tempos, and suggested that 120 beats per minute was the most popular tempo in rock music, so most of the recorded Eliminator album was recorded at that tempo. This has since become know as “the people’s tempo”. Although this sort of sound manipulation may not go over well with all old-school blues and rock purists or blues-rock purists, the album does not contain one filler song, as each individual track works well as a stand-alone song. In fact, one can claim that the whole is much less than the sum of this album’s parts

 


Eliminator by ZZ Top
Released: March 23, 1983 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bill Ham
Recorded: Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee, 1982
Side One Side Two
Gimme All Your Lovin’
Got Me Under Pressure
Sharp Dressed Man
I Need You Tonight
I Got the Six
Legs
Thug
TV Dinners
Dirty Dog
If I Could Only Flag Her Down
Bad Girl
Group Musicians
Billy Gibbons – Guitar, Vocals
Dusty Hill – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Frank Beard – Drums, Percussion

 

Beard’s simple rock drum beat sets the pace for the riff-driven “Gimme All Your Lovin'” (which in turn sets the pace for the album). Accented by a few guitar overdubs and pad synths, this opener contains one of the more famous leads by Gibbons and reached the Top 40 on the U.S. charts. “Got Me Under Pressure” follows and has become the most controversial song, not due to lyrical content, but due to allegations by Hudson that it was written and recorded by himself and Gibbons in one afternoon without the involvement or knowledge of the other two band members. Although the band members disputed much of his compositional accounts, Linden says he created the bass on a synthesizer, the drums on a drum machine, and helped Gibbons write the lyrics while Gibbons performed the guitars and vocals.

“Sharp Dressed Man” is the most catchy of the hit songs and utilizes a more traditional rock arrangement with some strange vocal effects being the only really synthesized parts. While on tour in England to support the album Degüello, the band members were impressed with the cool threads and overall sense of fashion. The song reached the Top Ten on the mainstream rock charts and has remained one of the band’s most famous songs.

The best song on the album is “I Need You Tonight”, led by Gibbons’s really soulful and bluesy guitar with an effect-laden edge. Hill uses a real bass guitar (not a synth bass arpeggio) and the song contains some great melodies during the choruses, adding a splash of sweetness to this extended piece with an almost dark feel. The persistent reaching of Gibbons’ guitar, especially during the long instrumental sections, makes it a highlight of the album and even as the song ends, it feels like the bluesy guitar is reluctant to quit. The short but potent “I Got the Six” completes the first side as a full-fledged, good time party anthem.

The early part of the album’s second side is the best demonstration of the “synthesizer meets soul” sound which the group was aiming for on Eliminator. On “Legs” the synths are most prominent along with a consistent beat and very few chord changes. With a decent melody, clear hook, and some bluesy lead guitar licks, “Legs” was inspired by a real-life situation when the group spotted a young lady and spun the car around for a second look. But when she vanished Gibbons said, “That girl’s got legs, and she knows how to use them.” “Thug” is the most unabashed eighties-style, synth-heavy song, almost sounding experimental. “TV Dinners” contains organ-like synths good lead by Gibbons. Written late in the recording process, the song’s title was inspired by a woman in a Memphis nightclub, where the group went during a break in recording.

ZZ Top in 1983

“Dirty Dog” is the best pure dance song on the second side, with a constant, rhythmic synth by Hill and the thump-thump-thump of the kick drum by Beard. This is the song where the attempted meshing fully came together.
“If I Could Only Flag Her Down” contains much of the same boogie feel from ZZ Top days of past. The closer “Bad Girl” is sung by Hill who uses a Little Richard-type, frantic voice in this almost live sounding, old time rocker.

Following Eliminator′s release, the band embarked on a worldwide tour which was extremely successful, breaking many records. ZZ Top’s next album, 1985’s Afterburner was another commercial success and utilized much of the same “synthesizer meets soul” formula. In fact, the band embraced this sound so strongly in the 1980s that they re-mastered their first six albums with 80s style echo and drum machines, much unlike their original album sound, in a 1987 box set called Six Pack.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Frontiers by Journey

Frontiers by Journey

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Frontiers by JourneyAlthough not quite the commercial blockbuster of their previous album Escape, Journey‘s 1983 album Frontiers was a very close second commercially. The album reached #2 on the US charts, would garner four Top 40 singles and has been certified platinum six times over. The album also became the band’s most successful in the UK. The band was led by the unique and soulful vocals of front-man Steve Perry and the effect-heavy soaring guitars of Neil Schon, who had discovered how to fully crack the commercial scene with a sound which was once considered quite edgy.

Musically on Frontiers, the band made a concerted effort to move away from (albeit very slightly) the consistent, commercial formula which they had forged over their recent previous albums. However, they may have chosen the wrong direction in which to deviate from the pop/rock sound, primarily by making this album more synth-heavy than anything previously. Although he had emerged as the band’s chief songwriter, Jonathan Cain has a bit over the overall vibe with his keyboard work, and it caused some missed opportunities with the album’s sound. Further, bassist Ross Valory abandoned his unique, fret-less buzz which he had mastered on Escape for a more traditional rhythm sound. This would be Valory’s final album with Journey for over a decade, as he and drummer Steve Smith were replaced in 1985, only to return for the Journey mid-nineties reunion a decade later.

Left out of the final cut of the album was the future hit “Only the Young”, which eventually appeared on the soundtrack to the 1985 film Vision Quest and reached the Top Ten. This song is dominated by a consistent, almost-acoustic riff, a strong rhythm, guitar textures and vocal melodies along with with a striking message – “only the young can say they’re free to fly away…” – which shows just how talented Journey can be when all the elements are maximized.

 


Frontiers by Journey
Released: February 22, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Elson & Mike Stone
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, Ca. Autumn 1982
Side One Side Two
Separate Ways
Send Her My Love
Chain Reaction
After the Fall
Faithfully
Edge of the Blade
Troubled Child
Back Talk
Frontiers
Rubicon
Band Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathon Cain – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

 

Sequentially, the album is quite out of balance, with all five songs from the original first side released as singles (and all becoming radio hits), while none of the five from side two received any significant radio play. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” starts things off, with Cain’s keyboard riff biting and eerie, like if Pink Floyd went pop. This couples with Schon’s rifle-sharp guitar track during the song proper to make for a very powerful and driving rhythm. Written in early 1982, “Separate Ways” is the oldest composition on the album and it peaked at #8 on the charts, making it the highest charting hit on the album. The calm “Send Her My Love” follows as the album’s first ballad. The song is built on a bluesy piano riff which is accented brilliantly by subtle guitar licks and some swelling sonic textures from all directions. Perry’s melody is left to carry the tune pretty much throughout until it breaks into more intense outro led by Schon’s lead guitar.

The middle of side one contains a couple of strong rockers. “Chain Reaction” is kind of boilerplate on the surface but is executed brilliantly by the band, giving it a unique edge. The rich vocal harmonies above this most guitar and riff heavy of tracks, gives it an air that it could have been an eighties hair metal classic if performed by the right group. “After the Fall” is a true pop gem, very rich and melodic throughout. This song is led by Perry’s vocals, which are at their absolute peak here, and brought out perfectly by the rest of band playing a reserved, supporting role. In between the vocals, the guitar and keyboard harmonized riff acts as a perfect counter-melody and “After the Fall” is one of the few tracks on the album where Valory’s bass is clear and up-front. The real highlight of the song is the commencement of third verse, which demonstrates how pure performance can overtake lack of fresh lyrics.

The first side concludes with “Faithfully”, the all-time, ultimate “power ballad”. While very slow and deliberate, the song packs a mighty punch, especially as it builds towards a perfect climax at the end. Written solely by Cain, the “rolling” piano riff was inspired by the sound of wheels constantly present while traveling on tour, with the simple lyrical message of keeping a relationship together while touring in a rock band. While the song is totally Cain’s in composition, the performance is carried mainly by Perry and Schon and this hit song reached #12 on the charts.

Journey 1983

The second side is much less even than the first. “Edge of the Blade” sounds like it falls about ten minutes short of the hour, in both composition and production. While there are some good individual elements to this song, as a whole it doesn’t work at the quality we expect from Journey. “Troubled Child” is a bit better, although built on rather cheesy synths (which otherwise might have been some good riffing). The song has a dark and soulful core and is a bit off-beat, which makes it interesting. Drummer Smith added a strong enough drum pattern to take a songwriting credit for “Back Talk”, a song which takes an almost-Van-Halen-like approach musically and sounds like it would fit in perfectly with some type of theatre production lyrically. The title song “Frontiers” is the weakest song on the album and may be as close to filler as you’ll hear on a Journey album.

“Make a move across the Rubicon, futures knockin’ at your door
Take your time and choose the road you want, opportunity is yours…”

The closer “Rubicon” is the only true gem on the second side. Musically choppy and moody but lyrically inspired (this could have been a theme for a Rocky film), the song possesses a great theme and concept which, even while very synth heavy, makes it feel like a true rock anthem which could have existed in many eras.

At the top of their commercial game after the success of Frontiers, Journey made a common mistake – they took too much time off and got lost from the musical scene. Perry did put out a very successful solo album called Street Talk in 1984, and the band released a songs for Soundtrack albums (including “Only the Young”) during that time period. But by the time the band returned for their next studio album, Raised on Radio in 1986 (without Valory and Smith), it was clear that the golden age of the band was over.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Shout at the Devil by Motley Crue

Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe

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Shout at the Devil by Motley CrueShout at the Devil is the point where Mötley Crüe‘s musical range widened and the perfect template for “hair metal” was forged for the coming years. Coming nearly two full years after their fine but raw debut , Too Fast for Love, it is clear that the band had fully embraced a Judas Priest style of metal with just a bit of seventies glam rock for full effect in the MTV age. This is also the album where bassist Nikki Sixx fully arrived as a composer, writing hook-heavy anthems that strike adolescents in the heart. Through its title and theme, the album also fully embraces the occult and other dark themes, almost to the point of absolute absurdity.

Much like on the debut album, the guitar work of Mick Mars continues to be the real musical highlight on Shout at the Devil. Mars offers some dirty, crunching, and powerful riffs throughout, while adding a nice variation of melodic leads with varying techniques and sonic flavors. These intense and inspired guitar solos greatly enhance the compositions and bring the album overall to a higher level.

Of course, a little controversy never hurt a rock album’s sales. The original album cover was pure black with a pentagram but was soon replaced due to strong objections by religious groups. Then to just tweak the negative hysteria over the top, the group chose the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” as the only cover on the album. This choice appears to be solely as a homage to Charles Manson and his group, whose bio carried the same name. Still, aside from messing with the mystique, this song does translate surprisingly well to Mötley Crüe’s style.

 


Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe
Released: September 26, 1983 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Tom Werman
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, May-July 1983
Side One Side Two
In the Beginning
Shout at the Devil
Looks That Kill
Bastard
God Bless the Children of the Beast
Helter Skelter
Red Hot
Too Young to Fall in Love
Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid
Ten Seconds to Love
Danger
Band Musicians
Vince Neil – Lead Vocals
Mick Mars – Guitars
Nikki Sixx – Bass, Vocals
Tommy Lee – Drums, Vocals

 

Engineer Geoff Workman composed the haunting “In the Beginning” which acts as an intro piece for the title song “Shout at the Devil”. The great rudimentary stops during the verses topped by the frantic vocals of Vince Neil give this otherwise chanting and fist pumping anthem a definite edge.

“Looks That Kill” is the closest to a true classic on the album. Released as a single and peaking at #12 on the Mainstream Rock charts, the song was Mötley Crüe’s first true widespread exposure, due mainly to its heavily rotated video. The song is an early album showcase for Mars, who uses inventive riffing and wailing leads to forge a song that remains an all-time fan favorite.

“Bastard” starts with an awkward drum sequence by Tommy Lee before settling into a hard-rock groove which alternates between the measured verses and driving choruses. Mars’s delicate “God Bless the Children of the Beast” is an acoustic piece with a melodic chorus of electric guitars on top that was no doubt inspired by Steve Hackett and/or Randy Rhoads and acts as an intro to “Helter Skelter” to complete side one.

The second side begins with “Red Hot”, driven by the thumping rhythm of Lee and Sixx, before the pop rocker “Too Young To Fall in Love” with strong vocal melodies and hook which are perfect for what the band was doing at the time, making it a strong radio hit. The middle of the side contains a few boilerplate numbers, “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid” and “Ten Seconds to Love”, both co-written by Neil and Sixx and combined acting as the only true filler on Shout at the Devil.

Motley Crue in 1983

What pushes this album over the top is the strong closing track “Danger”, which is the finest pure song on the album. Melodramatic but beautiful, the song contains a variety of guitar textures by Mars along with passionate and wailing vocals by Neil and great drum fills by Lee, making it a very complete band effort and a showcase for their talent at the time. “Danger” is moody and strong, and almost sounds like a holdover of some of the finer material from their first album.

Shout at the Devil sold well (reaching 4x platinum in sales) and acted as a catalyst to propel Mötley Crüe to becoming the top selling heavy metal act of the 1980s. It was also a visible landmark of the high-water mark for the style of rock which would be copied into extinction within a decade of its release.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.