Candlebox 1993 album

Candlebox by Candlebox

Candlebox 1993 albumCandlebox was one of the last riders of the huge Seattle grunge wave of the early 1990s. Consequently, they were at the vanguard of the post-grunge wave, where this newly labeled “alternative” music was becoming less and less alternative. Their debut album Candlebox came in mid 1993, a couple of years after many of their Seattle contemporaries made an international splash with this fresh new sound. Further, the commercial success of the album took a while to materialize, as the album did not enter the Billboard 200 until over a year following its release, although it did remain on that chart for two subsequent years.

The four-piece band was formed in late 1991 and took their name from a line in a Midnight Oil song. Their rise to fame was quite rapid as a demo tape found its way to Madonna’s Maverick label and the group landed a record deal in 1992. In their early career, Candlebox was occasionally looked down upon by members of the grunge movement who criticized their style which leaned more towards classic rock then the punk and indie sound of other bands in the genre. Nevertheless, the band worked and played hard until they got their big break.

We start our look at 1993 with this album because it is an example of where 1993 was on the rock timeline – in a phrase, it was when alternative rock stopped being alternative. Candlebox is the perfect representation as they had one of the greatest songs of the decade but it was the only truly complete song on the album, as the rest just seem to be reaching for the gold ring but falling just a bit frustratingly short.
 


Candlebox by Candlebox
Released: July 20, 1993 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Kelly Gray & Candlebox
Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, March–April 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Don’t You
Change
You
No Sense
Far Behind
Blossom
Arrow
Rain
Mother’s Dream
Cover Me
He Calls Home
Kevin Martin – Lead Vocals
Peter Klett – Guitars
Bardi Martin – Bass
Scott Mercado – Drums

Candlebox 1993 album

A little nervous laughter (intentional or not) starts the album before the song “Don’t You” breaks in with a Pearl Jam–like-jam, riff-driven hard rock with simple and steady drumming and some boilerplate vocal effects. “Change” is a distant and moody song with picked out, reverb-drenched guitar notes by Peter Klett, before it breaks into a strong part during the choruses. Like many of the alternative albums of the day, this song employs a tactic in use since “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on Led Zeppelin I in 1969, of letting the dynamics be extra-dynamic by sheer use of contrast.

Deadened guitar notes introduce the rotating shuffle of “You”, a minor radio hit for the band. The song’s best moment is the sustained-notes guitar lead by Klett towards the end, preceded by an an almost rap-like lyrical rhythm and choppy drumming  by Scott Mercado. On the next track, “No Sense”, Mercado adds some Boss-Nova style drums accompanied by some interesting guitar and bass interplay before it unfortunately launches into typical grunge orgasm, which is quite a shame for this good beginning showed promise before it gets formulaic.

“Far Behind” is, quite simply one of the greatest songs of the decade of the 1990s, led by incredible vocal intensity by lead vocalist Kevin Martin. Everything comes together on this song, from the crisp opening riff and fantastic middle lead by by Klett to the incredible climax after in the final minute mark of this song. The song was actually recorded in April 1992, four months after the band’s formation, for their original demo tape and it peaked at #18 on the U.S. charts in 1994. The song is a tribute to the late Andrew Wood, lead vocalist of Mother Love Bone, the band which sparked much of the grunge movement.

“Blossom” is slow and methodical with good bass accents by Bardi Martin, again breaking into grunge formula, but strong enough to remain one of the better songs on the album. The next two songs are not quite there, just thrashing for the sake of thrash as the formula and becomes more of an unfocused distraction than a true sonic reward. Kevin Martin has an adequate voice, but not quite the soaring mystical kind necessary to pull off the heavier moody stuff which requires much range (see Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder). The most unfortunate production faux pas is “Rain”, cool and bluesy from the start with the band doing an adequate job pulling it off before the song abruptly stops about halfway through and breaks into a funk/grunge section which was totally unnecessary for this song.

The album does recover a bit with the final two, acoustic driven tracks. “Cover Me” is a refreshing slow ballad with great strumming and picking by Klett. “He Calls Home” concludes the album as a bit of melodramatic ballad about a homeless man, carried by mainly by the vocals of Kevin Martin.

Candlebox had success both critically and commercially and the band was eager to follow up on the success, But by the time the band released the follow-up record, Lucy in October 1995, the rock landscape was already changing again and they never quite surpassed the success of their debut.

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

The Captain and Me by The Doobie Brothers

The Captain and Me
by The Doobie Brothers

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The Captain and Me by The Doobie BrothersThe Captain and Me is the third album by The Doobie Brothers on which they combine their trademark funk with just a touch of California folk and country-rock. Combined, this distinctive yet diverse record was their most substantial and consistent of their early years, offering differing sonic textures and enjoyable tunes for an overall fulfilling listen. The album is bookmarked by several songs from guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, including the album’s biggest hits and the title song which combine funk and rock with just a taste of traditional blues. In between and some contrasting, folk-oriented songs by guitarist/keyboardist Patrick Simmons, which contain unique instrumental passages.

The group was formed in 1969 by Johnston and drummer John Hartman in Northern California. Simmons joined a year later along with bassist Tiran Porter and gained a strong following among local chapters of the Hells Angels. In 1971, the band signed with Warner Brothers and released their self-titled debut album to little commercial success. Later that year the band added a second drummer/percussionist Michael Hossack, completing the classic band lineup. The Doobies second album, Toulouse Street in 1972, fared much better on the strength of a couple of hit songs.

Warner put pressure on the band to move quickly on producing their third album along with producer Ted Templeman. They began reworking old tunes and improvisational pieces that they played live. The label did help out with the album artwork, providing 19th century garments and the horse-drawn stagecoach from the Warner Brothers film studios lot.


The Captain and Me by The Doobie Brothers
Released: March 2, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Warner Brothers Studios, Hollywood, 1972-1973
Side One Side Two
Natural Thing
Long Train Runnin’
China Grove
Dark Eyed Cajun Woman
Clear As the Driven Snow
Without You
South City Midnight Lady
Evil Woman
Busted Down O’Connelly Corners
Ukiah
The Captain and Me
Band Musicians
Tom Johnston – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Patrick Simmons – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Tiran Porter – Bass, Vocals
John Hartman – Drums, Vocals
Michael Hossack – Drums, Percussion

“Natural Thing”, a decent melodic rocker with a funky flanged guitar and good harmonies, starts off the album. The song is notable for its synthesized horn effects, which were put together by programmers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who overdubbed individual notes to create the chords. Johnston’s “Long Train Runnin'” evolved from a long-time, ad-libbed jam called “Rosie Pig Moseley”. Templeman convinced Johnston to write words to the pure funk song, which also includes a distinctive harmonica solo by Johnston and a heavy presence by the dual percussionists. “Long Train Runnin'” became the band’s first Top Ten single.

Another charting hit was “China Grove”, one of the catchiest rock songs of the band’s career, built on a simple but effective riff along with exquisite production. Although the song’s title is based on a real town in Texas, the story is largely a fictional, with lyric’s again added by Johnston to an instrumental track titled “Parliament”. “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” takes a different approach, much darker than previous material. It is blue-eyed blues with good guitar licks, electric piano, and strings – almost Van Morrison in its feel.

“Clear As the Driven Snow” is Simmons first contribution to the album, a bright and acoustic folk song in the manner of John Denver, save for the fact that it morphs into a decent jam towards the end while never leaving the signature acoustic riff. Simmons also wrote “South City Midnight Lady”, an almost country acoustic ballad, which adds a serene, almost romantic element to the album. Pedal steel guitar is provided by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, then of Steely Dan, who would later become an official member of the Doobie Brothers. “Evil Woman” is probably the weakest song on the album, an unfocused and under-produced song which could have went somewhere had it been better developed.

The album’s closing sequence begins with “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”, a short acoustic piece by James Earl Luft which into segues into “Ukiah”, a tribute to a small town in Northern California where the band frequently played in their early years. The song has a Chicago-style upbeat with driven bass by Porter and great lead guitar interludes. “Ukiah” acts as bridge song to title song finale, an acoustic Tune which trys to give the album a bit of a “concept” feel. Still, the song contains soaring guitars and harmonies which concludes the album on a high note.

In all, The Captain and Me is a potpourri of sonic phrases which best symbolizes the heart of the early Doobie Brothers sound. Although the band would achieve greater commercial success later in the decade, it was with a different sound and mainly different lineup.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band

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Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper BandThe Alice Cooper Band reached their commercial peak with 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies. This sixth Alice Cooper album, produced by Bob Ezrin, refined some of the basic rock grit of earlier work with the theatrical glam of the now famous (or infamous) live shows. The album’s title derives from the surprise the band felt about their massive success following their two 1971 albums and 1972’s School’s Out. They literally went from living together in a basement to one of the top rock acts in two years. The band’s leader Alice Cooper wrote the bulk of the album’s lyrics, some of which touched on very controversial subjects for shock value.

The album was first recorded at a mansion the band purchased called the “Galecie Estate” in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ezrin used various methods to achieve certain effects, including using a greenhouse with a marble floor as an echo chamber. The group completed the album at Morgan Studios in London, where the sessions became “party central” with many famous guests such as Harry Nilsson, Rich Grech, Marc Bolan, and Keith Moon stopping in, but all were too inebriated to contribute musically. Band guitarist Glen Buxton also struggled with substance abuse at the time and two session guitarists were needed to be brought in to finish his parts.

After the album was released, the band embarked on a massive tour that included 64 concerts in 59 cities in less than three months, which broke many U.S. box office records. These live performances featured Cooper doing skits that included tearing apart baby dolls and attacking mannequins while using several stage props and effects which required a crew of 40 to 50 people and used about 1 tons of equipment. This stagecraft all came with a cost as the tour, originally estimated to bring in $20 million, barely cleared $5 million.

 


Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band
Released: February 25, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: The Galecie Estate, Greenwich, CT, August 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Hello Hooray
Raped and Freezin’
Elected
Billion Dollar Babies
Unfinished Sweet
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Generation Landslide
Sick Things
Mary Ann
I Love the Dead
Band Musicians
Alice Cooper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Michael Bruce – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Glen Buxton – Lead Guitars
Dennis Dunaway – Bass, Vocals Guitars
Neal Smith – Drums

Although the majority of the music on Billion Dollar Babies was composed by guitarist/keyboardist Michael Bruce, the opener “Hello Hooray” was written by singer/songwriter Rolf Kempf and was actually originally recorded by Judy Collins. This is a true show tune with soaring vocal melodies, a Bowie-esque rock arrangement, and a climatic coda section, which truly separates Alice Cooper from any of his shock rock successors like Marilyn Manson. “Raped and Freezin'” is an upbeat rock song with a temperament much lighter than the lyrical content. The lyrics tell of someone chased through the desert in Mexico and the arrangement attempts a Mexican-flavored end section, but fall just a bit short.

The sparse lyrics of “Elected” are nicely supplemented by energetic and entertaining music. This effect-laden song is actually a remake of an earlier band track called “Reflected” and the lyrics take the form of a campaign speech. Drummer Neal Smith provides stomping drum beats and Ezrin adds a cinematic touch with brass arrangements that complement the well crafted guitar riffs. The title song “Billion Dollar Babies” is riff driven and keeps Cooper keep his hard rock cred with guest Donovan providing background vocals. “Unfinished Sweet” contains some strong sound effects with the simple guitar riffs and vocals which mimic the primary riff along with a movie-like middle section with many more effects.

The second side begins with the satirical “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, a clever story song about the sheer outrage over Cooper’s stage antics. The music is upbeat and melodic with singalong chorus and a doo wop-tinged backing. The song was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and Top 10 hit in the U.K. The album peaks with “Generation Landslide”, a unique gem which starts with blue-grassy acoustic riff before switching to a drum-marched infused verse with a throbbing bass line by Dennis Dunaway. Although not released as a single, the song became a live staple and fan favorite throughout Cooper’s career.

The rest of the album is dedicated to pure theatrics. “Sick Things” is a doomy and melodramatic tune dedicated to the band’s fan base with strong horn arrangements by Ezrin above a simple bass line. “Mary Ann” is a rare ballad where Bruce’s distant-sounding pianos offer sharp contrast to Cooper’s near-sounding vocals. “I Love the Dead” is, the most controversial song of Cooper’s career to that point with an overt theme that unabashedly promotes necrophilia. Although it was no doubt manufactured just for this shock effect, it may be a bit much for those who cherish some sliver of taste in rock and roll.

Billion Dollar Babies reached the top of the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would be the peak of the Alice Cooper Group. But just when it appeared like this hard rock band was about to step into the top echelon, tensions between the members led to a split after just one more album, Muscle of Love. Alice Cooper continued as a solo artist for decades to come while Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith went on to form a new group which took its name from this album, Billion Dollar Babies.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

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Innervisions by Stevie WonderInnervisions is an album themed on social issues, drugs, spirituality, and urban life by Stevie Wonder in 1973. Wonder did virtually everything on this album from songwriting to producing to playing the vast majority of the album’s instruments and it may have been an attempt to replicate Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 What’s Going On album. Innervisions achieved similar artistic and commercial results to that previous album with the added dimension of musical innovation. Wonder put all the different topics and themes into a striking vision (or “Innervision”) which would be one of the most effective and entertaining of Wonder’s long career.

Although he was only 23 years old at the time of its release, Innervisions was already Wonder’s 16th studio album, all on Motown’s Tamla label. However, it was the first on which he composed every song and virtually played every instrument. He made heavy use of the ARP synthesizer, which was popular at the time because of its ability to construct a full sound environment. Many considered this album to be the pinnacle of Wonder’s long career. As one reviewer put it at the time;

“Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is a beautiful fusion of the lyric and the didactic, telling us about the blind world that Stevie inhabits with a depth of musical insight that is awesome…”

The album peaked at number four on the U.S. album charts and became Stevie Wonder’s first album ever to reach the U.K. Top 10. It also won the 1974 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.


Innervisions by Stevie Wonder
Released: August 3, 1973 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1973
Side One Side Two
Too High
Visions
Living for the City
Golden Lady
Higher Ground
Jesus Children of America
All in Love Is Fair
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
He’s Misstra Know-It-All
Principle Musician
Stevie Wonder – Most instrumentation including:
Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano, Synthesizers, Harmonica, Drums and Percussion

The album’s first side begins with the pre-disco funk of “Too High”, where Wonder shows off his instrumental skills on Fender Rhodes, harmonica, synthesized bass, and especially drumming (a talent he rarely receives credit for). “Visions” is one song in which Wonder doesn’t completely dominate. Acoustic guitars are provided by Dean Parks with refrained electric by David “T” Walker and upright double bass by Malcolm Cecil . Despite the arrangement being extremely sparse, Wonder still manages to forge some great vocal melodies.

“Living for the City” is a cinematic composition of civic injustice with great musical drive and interesting interludes with synth riffs. The lyrics are delivered with an exaggerated growl for effect and a dramatic spoken part describes the life of a young man who migrates from Mississippi to New York City, only to be tricked into transporting drugs, arrested, and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Wonder intentionally got his voice very hoarse for the recording. “Golden Lady” is a mellow ballad with a funky bass above a jazzy piano. It is a great way to complete side one, with judicious but effective use of synthesizers and a Hammond organ lead by Clarence Bell.

Side two starts with “Higher Ground”, a “peoples” song dominated by the Hohner clavinet with a Mu-tron III envelope filter pedal. This tune is completely performed by Wonder and reached #4 on the U.S. pop chart. Reportedly, he wrote and recorded the song all within a three-hour burst of creativity in May 1973. The weakest part of the album follows with “Jesus Children of America” and “All in Love Is Fair”, not terrible songs, but certainly not Wonder’s best.

The very Latin influenced “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” is the lightest and most fun song on the album, with great vocal dynamics and inventiveness. Beginning with an unusual skit (which would proliferate decades later on hip-hop songs), this piano-led tune about a faux hero repeats the Spanish phrase ‘Todo ‘stá bien chévere’ which means “everything is really cool” and reached the Top 20 on the U.S. charts. Another charting hit, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” finishes the album with Wonder once again playing all instrumentation, including multiple backing vocals. The song had a second charting life in 1977, when it was released on the B-side of “Sir Duke” and tells the story of a con man.

Three days after the release of Innervisions, Wonder was critically injured in a car accident in North Carolina. His head injuries placed him in a coma for four days and he permanently lost his sense of smell. As he recovered, Wonder was deeply concerned that he might have also lost his musical faculty and was hesitant to even attempt to play the clavinet that was brought to his hospital room. Finally he played and his spirit quickly returned and his recovery accelerated as Stevie Wonder continued into the prime of his creative career.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band

Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band

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Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers BandBrothers and Sisters was at once the career peak and the first step into the abyss for The Allman Brothers Band. It was released in the wake of dual tragedies, a year apart, which took the lives of two founding members and saw the emergence of another founding member as the group’s primary driver. On the upside, this album served as the band’s commercial peak while still maintaining much of the quality blend which brought the band to critical prominence in earlier years. On the downside, this success marked the beginning of an era of celebrity which saw the band drift away from its music-centric approach of their earliest albums and start to produce “country-fried hit records and egos that ripped them all apart”, as drummer Butch Trucks would later state.

Like with the group’s previous album, Eat a Peach, a member of the band died while the band was in the process of recording, resulting in an album where the member only played on select tracks. In the previous case, the victim was lead guitarist Duane Allman, who offered much to that double LP but was completely absent from this one. Bassist Berry Oakley played on the first two tracks of Brothers and Sisters before he was tragically killed on November 11, 1972 from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident. Oakley declined medical treatment at the scene, thinking he was alright, but three hours later he was rushed to the hospital due to extreme pain, and died of cerebral swelling caused by a fractured skull. Ironically, Oakley’s accident in Macon, Georgia was just three blocks from where Duane Allman had his fatal motorcycle accident the year before and both had died of head injuries. Lamar Williams replaced Oakley on bass for the remainder of the album’s session.

More than any other group member, guitarist Dickey Betts stepped into the leadership role and shines brightest on this album, composing five of the seven tracks and maintaining guitar excellence throughout. Betts and Allman had established a harmonized guitar repertoire during the band’s early years, with Betts’ country flavored style contrasting perfectly with Allman’s blues/jazz fusion style. Following the death of Duane Allman, Betts stepped up to be the group’s sole guitarist, furiously practicing the slide guitar methods in order to cover the majority of Duane Allman’s parts. Led by Betts, the band put together a light but enjoyable album with a crisp sound which melts their unique style of rock with doses of country, blues, and borderline funk.


Brothers and Sisters by Allman Brothers Band
Released: August, 1973 (Capricorn)
Produced by: Johnny Sandline & Allman Brothers Band
Recorded: Capricorn Sound Studios, Macon, GA, October-December 1972
Side One Side Two
Wasted Words
Ramblin’ Man
Come and Go Blues
Jelly Jelly
Southbound
Jessica
Pony Boy
Band Musicians
Greg Allman – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Dickey Betts – Guitars, Vocals
Berry Oakley – Bass
Lamar Williams – Bass
Jaimoe – Drums, Percussion
Butch Trucks – Drums, Percussion

Gregg Allman‘s “Wasted Words” opens the album as a perfect “outlaw country” tune with Betts’s guitar riffs mocking the vocal melody and accompanied by a nice honky tonk piano, making for an upbeat introduction to Brothers and Sisters. “Ramblin’ Man” is, by far, the most popular song on this album and the only Top Ten of the band’s career. It would be the most typical of country/rock songs if not for the fantastic guitars throughout by Betts who composed and sings lead on the track.
Still, the song has rarely been performed live due its rigid structure not allowing for much improvisation, a must in the band’s concert performances. the recording was also the final track to feature Oakley.

“Come and Go Blues” is a nice break in the action from all the country and Gregg Allman’s finest moment on the album. This moderate funk jam contains great piano which drives the verse music and later comes to the forefront with a lead and a counter-riff during the intense final verse. The drumming and percussion by the dual of Trucks and Jaimoe and Butch Trucks is exceptional on this really cool track. The sides are bookmarked by a couple of live-sounding blues jams which sound like they could have been cut from the same session. “Jelly Jelly”, written by songwriter and producer Trade Martin, is the more forgettable of the two, not terrible but too overtly bluesy for a complex band like the Allmans. “Southbound” contains a little more funk but is rather mediocre compared to the band’s better material.

The instrumental “Jessica” is Betts’s finest moment on record, led by the three-part harmonized signature riff where the guitarist is joined by Allman on Hammond organ and Chuck Leavell on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Levell later plays piano during an intense long middle part, which also includes a further great lead section by Betts. One of the more focused jams in rock history, this song is really one last look back at the monumental music which built this band. The opening acoustic guitar is played by Les Dudek and the song is named for Betts then two-year-old daughter. “Pony Boy” starts as pure southern blues before morphing into a bluegrass beat. Sung by Betts who provides slide acoustic guitar and is accompanied by piano and upbeat country drum beat in a great, scaled down jam that provides a fitting conclusion to the album.

Brothers and Sisters five weeks at #1 on the U.S. albums chart and made The Allman Brothers Band one of the top concert draws in the country. However, personality conflicts started to tear the band apart and future releases suffered with the band never again reaching this level of critical or commercial prominence.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Piano Man by Billy Joel

Piano Man by Billy Joel

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Piano Man by Billy JoelWhile in the midst of a bitter legal with his first label Family Records, Billy Joel sought exile in Los Angeles, biding his time as a lounge singer under the assumed name “Bill Martin”. Joel had toured long to support his 1971 debut Cold Spring harbor, an album which was essentially dead commercially due to faulty production (something that would be fixed years later with a re-release). Under these odd circumstances, the performer was still able to land a new contract with Columbia Records as well as compose and record Piano Man, which would give him his most famous song and his pop identity, along with some other significant highlights.

“I had no leverage and had to drop off the face of the Earth…”

Joel’s career detour to the west coast was the latest in a long musical journey. He had been performing since age four and joined his first group after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He started as a pure rocker in the band The Echoes, a group that specialized in British Invasion covers and became a popular in New York. In 1967, Joel joined the band The Hassles, a band that had signed with United Artists records and released two albums and four singles in the late 1960s, but nothing caught on commercially. Joel and Hassles’ drummer Jon Small formed the odd duet Attila with Joel on distorted and highly processed Hammond organ. Attila released their one eponymous debut album in July 1970 before disbanding when Joel had an affair with Small’s wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.

While the album as whole definitely draws influence from contemporaries like Elton John, James Taylor, and John Denver, the major signature songs on the album are very personal and original. The songs, all written by Joel, contain well developed characters and story narratives with some impressive music that straddles the line between rock and folk.


Piano Man by Billy Joel
Released: November 9, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Michael Stewart
Recorded: Record Plant and Devonshire Sound, Los Angeles, September 1973
Side One Side Two
Traveling Prayer
Piano Man
Ain’t No Crime
You’re My Home
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
Worse Comes to Worst
Stop In Nevada
If I Only Had the Words (to Tell You)
Somewhere Along the Line
Captain Jack
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica
Larry Carlton – Guitars
Richard Bennett – Guitars
Emory Gordy, Jr. – Bass
Ron Tutt – Drums

An interesting drum shuffle by Ron Tutt along with a driving bass line moves the opener “Traveling Prayer” into an upbeat, Western sounding honky-tonk. The song comes complete with banjo and fiddle yet surprisingly sparse piano to open an album called Piano Man. Another Western-themed song completes the first side with Joel’s fictionalized “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”. This is a brilliant song both lyrically and musically with its great piano interludes and rock riffs inspired by composer Aaron Copland. Although Joel himself admits it is historically inaccurate calling it “an experiment with an impressionist type of lyric”, it draws a great comparison between the famous outlaw and himself. “Ain’t No Crime” is the first real song where Joel executes his piano talent, with mock Ray Charles vocals he would utilize in later pop hits. “You’re My Home” is an acoustic ballad written about his wife Elizabeth, with some nice layered topical instruments including a pedal steel guitar.

Billy Joel, 1973

Of course the highlight of the first side is the famous title song, which became a modest hit at the time (peaking at #25) but endured as a classic through time. That original single version was heavily edited, something Joel himself referred to on his second album Street Life Serenade on the song “The Entertainer”;

“It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long, if you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05…”

The lyrical limerick contains real characters from the piano lounges Joel played while in L.A. while lawyers at Columbia Records tried to get him out of his first record deal. Musically, the song is a perfect ballroom ballad with exquisite sound including liberal use of harmonica and accordion above Joel’s bouncy piano, a testament to the production techniques of Michael Stewart.

The album loses steam a bit on the second side, with some quality but less-than-interesting filler. “Worse Comes to Worst” is like a slow reggae with definite pop overtones and accordion by Michael Omartian. “Stop in Nevada” is a general story-telling pop song, while “If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)” is an attempt at a crooning pop standard, but with some decent piano riffs between the verses. “Somewhere Along the Line” picks up the bit with a pop/folk flavor.

The closer “Captain Jack” is the album’s tour-de-force. It was pivotal in Joel gaining the Columbia contract, due to a performance of the song in an April 1972 live radio concert at WMMR in Philadelphia, and the subsequent airplay (and flood of requests) this recording received on the station. The song was inspired by suburban teenagers in Long Island who obtained heroin from a dealer known as “Captain Jack”, who lived across the street from Joel’s apartment. Musically the song alternates between the piano ballad verses and the soaring, riff-driven chorus with heavy use of organ. Joel played the song on his first television appearance, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974.

Billy Joel claimed he that he netted only about $7000 total from the Piano Man album. This was the first of two Los Angeles based albums for Joel which brought him neither him fame nor fortune, but set the stage for his phenomenal success later in the decade, starting with his triumphant return to New York with Turnstiles in 1976.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Lynard Skynard - Pronounced

Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd
by Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Lynard Skynard - PronouncedLynyrd Skynyrd burst onto the national scene with their 1973 debut Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd, which not only featured many of the band’s most popular songs but also defined the genre of “Southern Rock” more than any other album. This six-piece group out of Jacksonville, Florida fused blues, country, and straight-forward rock to forge an edge that is totally unpretentious and unassuming. Produced by Al Kooper, there are few debut records which express such confidence and drive, with a balanced diversity between upbeat honky-tonk rock and the delicate jam songs, which would Be the prime templates for the “power ballads” which proliferated a decade or more later.

The grouped was formed nine years earlier, in the summer of 1964. High school friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed a band with two other friends called “The Noble Five”. Through many personnel and name changes in the late 1960s, these three remained the core. In 1970, the band changed their name to “Leonard Skinner” as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a strict phys-ed teacher at their high school in Jacksonville, who constantly harassed them because of their long hair (which played a big part in Rossington dropping out of school). The more distinctive spelling was adopted at the suggestion of Kooper in 1972 when he signed the band his Sounds of the South, a subsidiary of MCA Records.

The band had grown notoriety by opening for the band Strawberry Alarm Clock and that band’s guitarist Ed King joined Lynyrd Skynyrd to play bass on the debut album (later switching back to guitar, giving the band three guitarists). One day the band was playing a high school prom when their then roadie Billy Powell played what would become the intro piece to “Free Bird”, the band’s most famous song. Powell was immediately invited him to join the band as keyboardist and the classic lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd was established.

 


Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Released: August 13, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Al Kooper
Recorded: Studio One, Doraville, Georgia, March 27-May 1, 1973
Side One Side Two
I Ain’t the One
Tuesday’s Gone
Gimme Three Steps
Simple Man
Things Going On
Mississippi Kid
Poison Whiskey
Freebird
Band Musicians
Ronnie Van Zandt – Lead Vocals
Gary Rossington – Guitars
Allen Collins – Guitars
Billy Powell – Keyboards
Ed King – Bass
Bob Burns – Drums

“Freebird”‘s majestic organ intro leads to one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history, as Rossington used a glass Coricidin bottle for a slide to emulate his hero, the late Duane Allman. The poignant yet melancholy lyrics were written by Collins when he then-girlfriend (and later wife) spoke the opening lines verbatim;

“If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?”

The moody ballad gives way to a frantic ending jam led by the dual guitar leads and ever-more creative ways to grind out the three backing chords and even contains a drum roll by Bob Burns that lasts nearly a minute. The song completes the band’s debut album in climatic fashion.

The album begins with some backward percussion effects that introduce “I Ain’t the One”. Although this intro is rather awkward, the song finally catches its groove with the Rossington riff and piano embellishment from Powell, saving the song from bring too ordinary. “Tuesday’s Gone” then provides an immediate contrast to the opener, instantly displaying the band’s range and penchant for differing moods. The great harmonized guitars throughout serenade the lyrical theme of changing times with guest Robert Nix filling in on drums and producer Al Kooper providing bass and Mellotron.

Aside from the later hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Gimme Three Steps” may the be the quintessential Southern Rock song for all time. Led by a great riff sequence by Collins and just the right amount of lead guitar activity between verses, the storytelling song became the band’s first charting hit. The lyrics are based on an actual experience by Van Zant in a biker bar in Jacksonville when he had a gun pulled on him. That bar was actually called The Pastime Bar, but was renamed “The Jug” (from the song’s lyrics) in September 2012. “Simple Man” finishes off side one as a rather “simple” song, which somehow stretches three chords for nearly six minutes, using some sonic dynamics which saves it from getting too mundane.

Aside from the closer, side two contains some lesser known yet interesting tunes. “Things Goin’ On” at times seems a bit and unsure of itself, especially due to its lack of a strong beat, but the song contains some very entertaining elements such as the alternating instrumental leads between Rossington and Powell. “Mississippi Kid” is the most unique song on the album while being a definite nod to southern blues. It was constructed by Burns and producer Al Kooper, who also adds the signature mandolin while Ed king plays a respectable slide for his only guitar part on the album. “Poison Whiskey” is a short, funky song with more use of the nice double guitar harmony by Rossington and Collins.

A shortened version of “Free Bird” was released as a single and the full song received heavy airplay for decades to come. After the band’s devastating plane crash, which took the life of Van Zant in 1977, a live version of the song re-charted with even greater success.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ amp; The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen 1973 Albums

Buy Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Buy The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle

Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ amp; The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen started off his recording career with two albums in 1973, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, released in January, and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, released in September. Both albums were produced by the team of Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos and both were well-received critically but had little commercial success at the time. Both albums also used musicians that would be later make up the E Street Band (at the time known as the “Bruce Springsteen Band”), however Springsteen’s best friend guitarist Steve Van Zandt was all but shut out from the sessions due to budgetary constraints. The pair would not perform again together for several years.

Springsteen had been playing acoustic guitar, in the tradition of early Bob Dylan style folk, for more than half a decade before his management signed a record deal with Columbia Records in June 1972. When planning began for the debut album, Springsteen had advocated for a band arrangement but the label’s A&R man John Hammond wanted a more solo-dominated album, reflecting the live sound. Eventually a compromise was reached where the album would consist of five “band” recordings and five solo recordings. However, when then-CBS President Clive Davis listened to the ten tracks he commented that not he strongly preferred the band tracks, and also felt that the album lacked a potential hit single. Springsteen composed two more commercial-sounding songs (“Blinded By the Light” and “Spirit In the Night”) and reached out to saxophonist Clarence Clemons of a rival North Jersey band to add a new element to these new songs. Three Springsteen solo tracks were omitted from Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ bringing the total track count to nine, seven band and two solo tracks. Despite this effort to further “commercialize” the album is was a major flop sales-wise upon its release. According to a local Freehold, NJ record store owner, the Partridge Family far outsold the hometown Springsteen during the very first week that the album was released and it wouldn’t be until years later when Springsteen became nationally famous that anyone would even hear of this album.

Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band in 1973

Recording sessions for The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle took place exactly a year later, during the summer of 1973. On every level (critically, commercially, and sonically), this sophomore album is superior to the debut, although together they form a fine evolution in advancement. Still, initial sales were still slow and, like its predecessor, this album would not get widespread listens until after the huge breakthrough of Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run. Expanding on the basic approach of his debut album, The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle offers multi-strains of other musical styles, and is much more a “band” effort, with keyboard player David Sancious (whose home on the E Street gave the album and group its name) stepping in to play a major role in musical arrangements. Lyrically, this may have been Springsteen’s nod of nostalgia and final goodbye to the small-town street life as he was moving on to higher ground. It was also a signature album for drummer Vini Lopez, who offered a busy Keith Moon style approach for his final album with the that was lacking in later E Street material.

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Released: January 5, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos
Recorded: 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, NY, July-September 1972
Side One Side Two
Blinded By the Light
Growin’ Up
Mary, Queen of Arkansas
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Lost In the Flood
The Angel
For You
Spirit In the Night
It’s Hard To Be a Saint In the City
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
Released: September 11, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mike Appel & Jim Cretecos
Recorded: 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, NY, May-September 1973
Side One Side Two
The E Street Shuffle
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Kitty’s Back
Wild Billy’s Circus Story
Incident On 57th Street
Rosalita
New York City Serenade
Primary Musicians (Both Albums)
Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Harmonica
David Sancious – Piano, Keyboards
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Vocals
Garry Tallent – Bass
Vini Lopez – Drums, Vocals

Springsteen’s debut album started with a song written intentionally to provide it with a radio-friendly hit. “Blinded by the Light” contains a barrage of words above a loose, almost lost musical jam. The song is almost all verse until it finally reaches the distant breaks of the chorus hook. Session piano man Harold Wheeler joins in on piano along with Clemons, Lopez, and Springsteen playing the remainder of instruments. Like the album, the single didn’t make many waves upon release, but three years later a re-arranged version of the song was recorded by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and it reached #1 in both the US and Canada, ironically becoming the highest charting song of all that Springsteen wrote through his long career.

Greetings from Asbury Park NJ by Bruce Springsteen“Growin’ Up” is a true early classic by Springsteen, a bit sharper and better organized than the opening track. The song that doesn’t quite receive the production quality it deserves on this recording but still resonates through the years. “Mary Queen of Arkansas” is one of the two “solo” songs on the debut album, along with the side two opener “The Angel”. Both are a bit melodramatic for the sophisticated listener with Springsteen’s naked voice wearing a little thin, but “Mary Queen of Arkansas” does have a bit of charm and spontaneity. “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” is a linear story told in a furious stream of advice lines, all fed out in a brief but entertaining musical blitz. The bouncy bass by Garry Tallent is particularly entertaining in this slight-but-fun romp. “Lost In the Flood” finishes side one of Greetings as slow piano ballad that builds tension before eventually breaking into a full arrangement about two minutes into the song. It is also notable as the only track on these first two albums to feature Steven Van Zandt, who dubbed in sound effects for the song.

The debut album ends strong with three upbeat songs which forecast the approach expanded upon on the second album. “For You” is upbeat and romantic, driven by the bouncy organ by Sancious and the heartfelt melodies of Springsteen. “Spirit in the Night” is a fun and adventurous song with the the strongest early presence by Clemons, who provides saxophone, hand claps, and backing vocals on this track. The closer, “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is the most Dylan-esque of all songs on this album with a nice mixture of acoustic guitar and piano providing a fine bedding to the frantic, poetic lyrics in a very entertaining way, making for a great way to end the album.

The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle by Bruce SpringsteenSpringsteen’s second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, begins with the de facto title song “The E Street Shuffle”, which was allegedly inspired by a snowy night when the band’s rented truck broke down after a gig in New York City and they decided to walk the short distance to Sancious’ mother’s home in the vicinity. It begins with some off-tune horns before breaking into a very funky guitar and clavinet riff, which makes it clear right away that the sound is more refined on this album. It has a definitive 1970s sound with some baritone added by Albany “Al” Tellone.

“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” continues the Jersey shore scenery promised in the debut’s title. Romantic lyrics line this mostly pleasant and enjoyable song with the slight exception of the over-exaggerated “breath-y” vocals by Springsteen in the opening verses. Beyond that, Springsteen’s acoustic and electric guitar mixes are excellent with some accordion added by future E Street Band member Danny Federici. “Kitty’s Back” is an extended, multi-part song which opens with a slow moving bluesy guitar lead which abruptly morphs to a more upbeat, jazzy verse with boogie bass by Tallent and some great horns. Later, there is a wild, almost psychedelic jam section in the middle which includes a great organ solo by Sancious.

“Wild Billy’s Circus Story” is a cool song which really strikes a chord to end the first side. It evolved from a previous song called “Circus Town”, which was recorded for the Greetings album but never released. Flipping the original LP over, is the side two opener “Incident on 57th Street”. A distorted piano kicks off this absolutely brilliant song, perhaps the most polished and melodic song on the album. Lyrically, “Incident” tells a romantic story set against a New York street fight, in the spirit of “West Side Story”, with fully developed characters and setting, something Springsteen would revisit often in the future.

Speaking of characters, one of Springsteen’s most enduring is “Rosalita”, a song which elaborately tells of a love forbidden because the girl’s parents don’t approve of the boy’s rock and roll lifestyle. Although never released as a single, it was Springsteen’s first song to receive significant airplay, especially on FM radio as anticipation grew for the release of Born to Run two years later. This was in spite of its over seven-minute running length. The song also received a second popular life during the 1980s when a vintage video of the song became one of the most played videos on MTV. The ten-minute “New York City Serenade” completes the album with a bit of subtle melodrama but nice use of instrumentation, especially the acoustic guitar. The song never gets lost or mundane over its extended length.

By the end of 1973 and the release of Springsteen’s second album, critics were starting to take note of his approach of absurdist energy and heart-on-sleeve pretension, and would soon be crawling over each other the sing his praises. Much of this praise was well-deserved but some was down-right overblown. Still, the was little doubt that Springsteen was just getting started and would be around for years to come.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.