Guns n’ Roses arrived like a tsunami on the rock scene with their strong 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, a hard rock album which blew the glam out of the hair-band dominated scene. Amazingly, the album was well received in its day both critically and commercially (a rarity for hard rock bands), and it reached the top of the Billboard album chart. At the time, this debut album was considered Hardcore, dirty, and mean due to the nasty edge of their songs and the explicit lyrics about drug abuse, cheap women, and crime. It was also created during their own fountainhead of creativity. During this period in late 1986, the band would write much of the best material of their entire career, not only for this album, but for hit future albums as well.
Guns n’ Roses was formed from the remnants of three Los Angeles area bands that had moderate success in the early 1980s. Two of these, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose, would be morphed to give the new band their name. The third, Road Crew, provided the band with their rhythm section along with their dynamic guitarist Slash. In late 1986, the band recorded an ill-conceived EP named Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, which was actually recorded in a studio with overdubbed crowd noises. For their debut LP, the band shopped for a big name producer before settling on Mike Clink, who spent untold hours with Slash perfecting his guitar tone, which would be a signature of this album and compliment the more traditional riffs of fellow guitarist Izzy Stradlin.
Lead vocalist Axl Rose wrote many of the song lyrics about his first hand accounts of his journey to and struggles in L.A, depicting the ugly side of the “city of angels”. Among this group of songs were later hits “You Could Be Mine”, “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry”, which were actually omitted from Appetite for Destruction. The band took great pains in forging their image for this album from the album cover representing each member to the re-labeling of the albums sides “G” and “R”.
Appetite For Destructionby Guns n Roses
Released: July 21, 1987 (Geffen) Produced by: Mike Clink Recorded: Los Angles, August−December 1986
Welcome To the Jungle
It’s So Easy
Out Ta Get Me
Think About You
Sweet Child O Mine
Axl Rose – Lead Vocals, Keyboards Slash – Lead Guitars Izzy Stradlin – Guitars, Vocals Duff McKagan – Bass Steve Adler – Drums
Appetite for Destruction is boosted right away with the fantastic opener “Welcome To the Jungle”. This strong, multi-part song contains a crisp and fast riff which guides the listener on an adventure ride through the chaotic “jungle” of this song. Rose screams and chants in-between more melodic and harmonized lines with raw honesty that helped make this song a surprising radio hit.
Much of the rest of the first side is made up of short, thematic songs “It’s So Easy” was co-written by bassist Duff McKagan and band collaborator West Arkeen about finding groupies to support them during their leaner days. “Night Train” has a vibe like early Aerosmith and became a minor hit, while “Out Ta Get Me” is more anthemic and trite with lyrics that reflect on Rose’s constant trouble with the law as a youth in Indiana.
“Mr. Brownstone” is the best pure song on the side, with choppy, marching rhythm leading into the darkness of heroin abuse. It acts as a stark contrast to the following “Paradise City”, with a synth-driven intro and a chanting hook line. This song was written by Stradlin, McKagan, and Slash while riding in the back of a van on the way home from a gig.
The second side contains the top gem on the album, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. The song became the band’s first and only number-one single due to highly, accessible mass appeal lyrics written about Rose’s then girlfriend. But the true beauty of this song is the signature harmonized guitar riffs by Slash, which both nicely subdivide the verses and spare the song from the dreaded “power ballad” status (although, if ever there was a positive example of that term, it is here). On the back end, drummer Steve Adler drove the song through the many passages that make it so interesting.
“My Michelle” is a forgotten gem on the album, with a great intro that breaks out with all abandonment and the dark and memorable opening lyrics;
Your daddy works in porno, now that mommy’s not around
She used to love her heroin but now she’s underground…”
“You’re Crazy” was originally written as an acoustic song, re-arranged as a standard electric rock song for this album, and then later recorded as another acoustic for the 1988 EP G N’ R Lies. The album concludes with a couple of the band’s earliest songs. “Anything Goes” was written in 1981 for Hollywood Rose, while “Rocket Queen” was one of the first compositions by the newly formed Guns n Roses in 1985.
Appetite For Destruction instantly established Guns n Roses as a headlining band and gave them momentum well into the next decade. Although they would have subsequent albums, most especially the double release of Use Your Illusion I amp; II in 1991, this band would never again reach this level of importance and breakthrough originality.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.
Tango In the Night is the fifth and final studio album by successful quintet that brought sustained stardom for Fleetwood Mac. Like their previous four albums, it found popular success driven by the angst and inner turmoil of the band and resulted in the parting of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham soon after its release. The album went on to become the band’s best selling since Rumours a decade earlier, which was one of the top selling albums of all time. Somewhat ironically, the album sprang from a Buckingham solo project, meant to be his third solo album, and the soon-to-depart Buckingham ended up with the bulk of the songwriting credits on the album.
Following the band’s previous album Mirage in 1982, most members dedicated some time to respective solo careers. Vocalist Stevie Nicks released two albums, while Buckingham and Keyboardist Christine McVie each released one during this era. All met a measure of commercial success, which prompted rumours of a band breakup.
However, by 1985 the band had reconvened for this new album, with Buckingham and Richard Dashut co-producing. Together, they forged a unique sound that used just the right amount of 1980s-style synthesizers along with vast use of diverse rhythms, driven by drummer Mick Fleetwood. The result was a commercially successful album that was also distinct from anything the band had produced previously.
Tango In the Nightby Fleetwood Mac
Released: April 13, 1987 (Warner Brothers) Produced by: Lindsey Buckingham & Richard Dashut Recorded: November 1985 – March 1987
Tango In the Night
Welcome to the Room…Sara
Isn’t It Midnight
When I See You Again
You and I (Part 2)
The album kicks off with Buckingham’s “Big Love” with its unique driving rhythms and decorated cool soundscapes. The intense, shouting lead vocals are flanked by overdubbed guitars and vocals harmonies and chants throughout. Nicks’ “Seven Wonders” provides an immediate contrast to follow. Co-written by Sandy Stewart, the song was an immediate pop radio hit. Christine McVie’s “Everywhere” completes the initial circuit of pop songs in the style that McVie had composed so often through the 1970s and 1980s. It is decorated with great vocals and harmonies, nice keyboard riffs, and just a touch of mystical sound sequences.
A trifecta of Buckingham penned songs rounds off the first side. “Caroline” is percussion driven with African beats at the start before morphing into a more Caribbean rhythm for the verses and choruses. The title song, “Tango In the Night” is a moody, methodical rocker with distinctive sections. “Mystified” was co-written by Christine McVie and contains Baroque style keys over yet another drum beat.
“Little Lies” was written by Christine McVie and her current husband Eddy Quintela. Ironically, she kept the surname of her previous husband, bass player John McVie, who has a strong presence in the song. The song contains great vocal parts for each of the band’s singers along with bent-note keyboard effects for its signature riff. The song reached #4 on the Billboard charts in the US and #5 on the UK charts.
The ill-advised “Family Man” follows as a cartoonish 1980s pop caricature.
Stevie Nicks’ “Welcome to the Room…Sara” is a pleasant and moderate ballad with a strong beat but melancholy sentiments about her time in rehab. Her acoustic ballad “When I See You Again” contains a spare arrangement and some duet Buckingham vocals towards the end. “You and I, Part II” concludes the album as a sequel to a non-album B-side to the single “Big Love”.
Shortly after the release of Tango In the Night, tensions came to a head and Buckingham departed the band prior to their scheduled tour in support of the album. Although this classic lineup of Buckingham/Nicks/Fleetwood/McVie/McVie would reunite a decade later for the live album The Dance in 1997, they would not again record a studio album.
In the Dark was the first studio album by the Grateful Dead in over seven years (their twelfth overall) and was a comeback album on several levels. It was a return to the style of the band’s most famous albums in the earlier 1970s and became an unexpectedly popular success reaching the top ten on the Billboard album chart making it the highest charting album of the group’s long career. Further, the album comes in the wake of serious health issues with guitarist and primary front man Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s health declined through the early 1980s and he nearly lost his life in 1986 when he slipped into a diabetic coma for several days. Although he survived this incident, it caused some permanent memory loss and it is said that Garcia had to re-learn many of his established guitar techniques.
The album was recorded in an unusual fashion. The band was constantly touring and had been performing much of the new material live for years so they decided to record the basic tracks live on stage in an empty and darkened Marin Veterans Auditorium. This process gave the album its title and helped the band achieve a more authentic sound, something the Dead had long struggled with on studio albums. Later overdubs were added in the studio, which gave the album’s sound a sonic, blended edge. In an interview, Garcia spoke about the recording process on this album;
Marin Vets turns out to be an incredibly nice room to record in. There’s something about the formal atmosphere in there that makes us work. Going in [Marin Vets] without an audience and playing just to ourselves was in the nature of an experiment…”
The band’s sound in the 1980s was also unique to any other era due to the unique talents of Brent Mydland, who possessed both a unique voice and great piano and keyboard skills. Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in 1980 and stayed with the group until his death from a drug overdose in July 1990, making him the third keyboardist in the band to die. Mydland also became a prominent songwriter on both 1980’s Go To Heaven and 1989’s Built To Last, but only contributed one song, “Tons of Steel”, to In the Dark.
In the Darkby Grateful Dead
Released: July 6, 1987 (Arista) Produced by: Jerry Garcia & John Cutler Recorded: San Rafeal, California, January-March 1987
Touch Of Grey
Hell in a Bucket
When Push Comes to Shove
West L.A. Fadeaway
Tons Of Steel
Black Muddy River
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals Phil Lesh – Bass Bill Kreutzmann – Drums Mickey Hart – Drums
The album commences and is most identified with “Touch of Grey”, one of four compositions by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, a long time collaborator. This song became the band’s first and only Top 40 hit in their three decade-long career. Hunter had originally intended this song for a solo album in 1981, which was never completed. It was picked up by the Dead for their live shows starting in 1982 and serendipitously carried the central message of the band (and especially Garcia) in 1987 – “I will get by, I will survive”. Although the song became a live favorite by fans before it was issued on album, there was a later backlash after the song’s popularity brought an influx of pop-oriented faux “deadheads”, sometimes referred to as “touchheads” after this song.
The other Garcia/Hunter tunes on the album are the groove-driven “When Push Comes to Shove”, the John Belushi tribute “West L.A. Fadeaway”, and the closing ballad “Black Muddy River”. This last track contains some Gospel influence and great guitars, while “When Push Comes to Shove” contains a good rhythm driven by dueling drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
Guitarist Bob Weir also co-wrote and provided lead vocals for a couple of tracks. “Hell In a Bucket” is the best song on the album overall, as it fuses entertaining lyrics and a melodic hook with an excellent mixture of sound by all band members, especially Garcia on lead guitar and Phil Lesh on bass. Co-written by Brent Mydland, the song also contains a unique electric piano riff. “Throwing Stones” is an extended yet repetitive piece which became a minor hit on album-oriented radio. Lyrically, this song is written in much the same style of early Bob Dylan, but musically the band is able to add some real flavor, especially the long guitar lead by Garcia.
In the Dark was received like no other Grateful Dead album and gave the band a pop commercialism and acceptance like they had never received before. The band did eventually settle back into a regular touring routine and lived out their final years as a live jam band right up until Garcia’s death in 1995.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.
An extraordinary debut by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Classic Rock Review has named Are You Experienced? as our Album of the Year for the phenomenal music year of 1967. On this album, the sound is harder and heavier than anything else from 1967, yet it is not in the slightest bit unfocused. Led by the extraordinary talent of Jimi Hendrix, the Experience was an unheralded act as a group, especially when it came to the wild and entertaining drumming of Mitch Mitchell. Along with bassist Noel Redding, this power trio released the most stunning debut in rock history and one of the greatest albums of all time.
The sound forged on the album synthesized elements of 1967 psychedelic rock with traditional rock, blues, and soul. This was all topped off by the proficient and original guitar work by Hendrix, who used cutting edge techniques and technology to create sounds never before heard. Hendrix also composed solid songs, rooted in heavy blues and roots rock. This, along with the frantic but solid rhythm by Redding and Mitchell, gave Hendrix the perfect canvas on which to paint his guitar masterpieces.
Producer Chas Chandler helped form the Jimi Hendrix Experience in England in 1966 and signed the group with Track Records, a label run by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. The group started with three singles, recorded in-between tours of England in late ’66 and early ’67. All three (“Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”) reached the top 10 on the UK charts. The original album was released in the UK in May, 1967 without the three singles (or B-sides), but the subsequent US version did include the singles in order to maximize the impact of the group in the States, where they were still relatively unknown. At the suggestion of Paul McCartney, the Experience debuted in America at the Monterrey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967.
Some of the tracks not included on the US version (but available on other versions) include the pure blues “Red House” with its wailing lead guitar and the Cream-influenced “Can You See Me”, with double-tracked vocals over a strong, riff-driven rocker. “Stone Free” is frenzied but with a good hook and “Highway Chile” has a more modern sound with a funky shuffle and R&B pattern.
Are You Experienced?by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: May 12, 1967 (Track) Produced by: Chas Chandler Recorded: De Lane Lea & Olympic Studios, London, December 1966-April 1967
Love Or Confusion
May This Be Love
I Don’t Live Today
The Wind Cries Mary
Third Stone From the Sun
Are You Experienced?
Tracks On Alternative Album Versions
Can You See Me
Jimi Hendrix – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano Noel Redding – Bass, Vocals Mitch Mitchell – Drums, Percussion
Are You Experienced? starts with a classic anthem from the late 1960s, “Purple Haze”. A rather simple rock song that takes on a much higher aura (especially the acid era), the song is Hendrix’s best known composition. It was adapted from a poem he wrote called “Purple Haze, Jesus Saves” and contains the classic lyric; “excuse me while I kiss the sky”. But the true signature of this song is the instantly recognizable classic guitar riff which instantly signals the tone and tenor of the album.
“Manic Depression” contains hypnotic and frantic drums by Mitchell, under a driving rock riff by Hendrix and Redding. This song set the stage for all the future heavy blues and heavy metal song textures of the coming decades. Lyrically was more an expression of romantic frustration than the clinical definition of manic depression. “Hey Joe” is a riff-driven version of a very popular folk song by Billy Roberts. As we pointed out last year in our review of Love’s debut album, “Hey Joe” seemed to be a mandatory in those days, as it was covered by The Surfaris, The Leaves, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Deep Purple, The Mothers of Invention, and The Band of Joy. However, none of these versions are as popular as the version by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which made the song their own through this memorable version.
The album’s first side concludes with three lesser known tracks. “Love Or Confusion” is a good and solid rock song, heavy throughout but yet somewhat psychedelic with overdubbed guitars and rotating bass and drum backing. “May This Be Love” contains soft, double-tracked vocals with Mitchell’s marching drums holding together the slow moving, tidal song with slow yet wild guitars with phasing effects. “I Don’t Live Today” has a call and response with riff and verse line, but is overall one of the weaker songs on the album.
The second side starts with the fantastic ballad “The Wind Cries Mary”. Written by Hendrix following an argument with his girlfriend, the lyrics use a hurricane as an allegory for a relationship;
A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life / Somewhere a queen is weeping, somewhere a king has no wife…”
These lyrics are every bit as poetic as Bob Dylan while every bit as romantic as Otis Redding, but presented as a pure, bona fide rock ballad. Musically Hendrix’s laid back and bluesy guitar is backed by a steady, driving bass by Redding. The soft and somber playing and singing by Hendrix masks a moderately fast underlying rhythm, giving the song an edge unlike any other.
The album once again picks up with “Fire”, a frantic, highly charged pop/soul song complete with a backing chorus hooks by the band members. There is a nice key jump under the guitar lead, a great drum rhythm by Mitchell, and almost novelty lyrics. The song showcased the raw energy of this power trio and their ability to perform at breakneck speed. “Third Stone From the Sun” is a cool and interesting piece, multi-part, with an almost soundtrack like quality. It contains some strong jazz elements with extremely spacy guitars and an excellent drum improvisation coupled with a three note repeating bass line. This extended piece would be a pure instrumental were it not for a haunting, spoken vocals and wild vocal sound effects.
“Foxy Lady” is another popular rock song with a definite signature of psychedelia. Built around a howling guitar and inspired drumming, the sexually-charged song is full of passion and desire and would go on to become one of Hendrix’s most popular songs. The album concludes with the purely psychedelic title song. Drawing strong influence from Beatles songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Are You Experienced?” employs backwards-masked drums and other sonic and surreal sounds along with classically 1967 lyrics such as; “not necessarily stoned but beautiful”. Although unlike anything else of the album which shares its name, the song is a fitting conclusion to this totally original album, even as it fades into psychedelic oblivion at its conclusion.
With uncompromising energy yet delicate artistic flair, Are You Experienced was an immediate classic that has not faded one iota 45 years later. While later punk bands took on the pretentiousness of offering uncompromising rock, the truth is not a single one had anywhere near the talent of Hendrix and there may never be a true talent of his equal again.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
Neil Diamond broke through in a big way in 1966 and 1967, both as a performer and a respected songwriter (although he had been writing “hit” songs for other artists for several years). His album Just For You captures much of the highlights from this era in Diamond’s career and includes several songs which were huge hits for other artists, both prior to and following the release of this album. Still, the album has never been considered a classic, nor has it even been issued on compact disc. This may be due to the fact that it included some tracks from Diamond’s 1966 debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond (also not yet available on CD).
Every song on Just For You had been on the A-side or a B-side of a single, with five songs becoming Top 40 hits for Diamond and two others, “I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine”, becoming huge hits for The Monkees in 1966 and UB40 in 1983 respectively. Another Top 40 hit from the era, “Kentucky Woman”, was curiously left off the album. All in all, this was the first album to consist entirely of original material by Diamond.
It was also the final Neil Diamond album on Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, with whom he would be in litigation for the following decade before ultimately retaining the rights to all this early material. The songs and recordings originated at the legendary Brill Building in New York City, where some of the most famous pop songs of the 1960s originated. It was produced by legendary songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who also provided may background vocals, although records of other musicians backing Diamond are not readily available.
Just For Youby Neil Diamond
Released: September 16, 1967 (Bang) Produced by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich Recorded:Brill Building, New York, 1966-1967
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
The Long Way Home
Red, Red Wine
The Boat That I Row
I’m A Believer
You Got To Me
Thank The Lord For The Night Time
Neil Diamond – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Multi-instruments
The album begins with the top ten hit “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, with its melodramatic hook and driving verse lines. A 1992 remake of the song by Urge Overkill brought the song to a new generation with its inclusion in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Red, Red Wine”, on the other hand, remained a relatively obscure song for many years until a rearranged, reggae version was recorded by UB40 in 1983, becoming that band’s biggest hit and prompting Diamond to adopt this newer version for his own live performances from the late 1980s on.
“The Boat That I Row” was the third single released by Diamond in 1966. It contains a Latin, uptempo rhythm and uptempo acoustic and hand claps like its predecessor “Cherry, Cherry”, which was Diamond’s first ever Top Ten hit as a recording artist. The song was influenced by Bert Berns, the head of Bang Records, who influenced the song’s title and arrangement and features some memorable keyboard hooks by session player Artie Butler.
After hearing the hit “Cherry Cherry”, Don Kirshner asked Diamond if he had a similar song that could be used by a group assembled for a new television series called The Monkees. Diamond played him “I’m a Believer”, a song he had planned to record on his debut album. The Monkees rode the song to the top of the charts where it remained for a remarkable seven weeks, becoming the #1 charting song of 1966. By contrast, Diamond’s own version went relatively unnoticed when it was finally released on Just For You.
Neil Diamond also wrote some personal, introspective songs. “Shilo” tells of solitude and loneliness during childhood, in a mysterious and haunting song. Berns refused to release “Shilo” as a single, believing it was too different from anything that Diamond had previously recorded and might stain his “brand”. “Solitary Man” was the very first single by Diamond in early 1966 and was included on both the debut and this album. With somber lyrics about isolation and a full yet subtle brass arrangement, this initial recording would remain one of the finest throughout his long career. The album concludes with “Thank the Lord for the Night Time”, an uptempo sixth single, which ends the album on a high note. The song peaked at #13 on the charts.
Neil Diamond straddled the worlds on 1960s pop music and the 1970s singer/songwriter. Although never quite recognized as a great album, Just For You may be the one original album by Neil Diamond which best reflects his most prolific songwriting period.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 music.
Forever Changes is the third album by the folk rock band Love, and has become their crowning achievement musically. It is a richly produced and sonically fine album which was not a huge hit commercially but became recognized as one of the finest albums from the California scene in 1967. Produced by Bruce Botnick and the band’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter Arthur Lee, the album is made of songs are primarily acoustic-based with liberal splashes of brass and strings along with a strong rhythmic backbone, while the use of electric guitars, which dominated most of the band’s first two albums, is limited to a few strategic appearances.
The band released their critically acclaimed debut album in 1966, but took a bit of an artistic detour with the follow-up Da Capo in early 1967. Prior to recording Forever Changes, Love downsized to a five piece by dropping keyboardist Alban Pfisterer and saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli. Still, the group was undergoing some severe internal strife and the sessions began with only Lee and guitarist Bryan MacLean from the band along with several well-known Los Angeles session musicians. This was allegedly due to the rest of the line-up’s alleged inability to function at the time, and the song “Andmoreagain” was recorded with this session arrangement. According to Botnick, the use of session musicians “sparked” the band and they soon got their act together to record the rest of the album.
Instrumentally, the album is made of an acoustic core of guitar textures with an overlay of horns, strings, and orchestral swell, with some of the brass punctuating the melodies. Lee worked with arranger David Angel, spending several weeks playing and singing the envisioned orchestral parts, which he had envisioned for these compositions from the beginning. The result is a diverse album with fluctuations in rhythm patterns, tonal color, and lyrical substance.
Forever Changesby Love
Released: November, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Bruce Botnick & Arthur Lee Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, June-September 1967
Alone Again Or
A House Is Not a Motel
The Daily Planet
The Red Telephone
Maybe the People Would Be the Times
Live and Let Live
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
Bummer In the Summer
You Set the Scene
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Guitars Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars Bryan MacLean – Guitars, Vocals Ken Forssi – Bass Michael Stuart – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Although Lee wrote the bulk of the material on the album, the opener and most well known track, “Alone Again Or” was written by MacLean. It contains nice Spanish acoustic with brass rudiments, which alternate with cool, bass-driven verses held together by bassist Ken Forssi. This was the sole single released from the album to reach the Billboard singles chart, with a re-issue peaking at No. 99 in 1970. MacLean’s other contribution to the album is “Old Man”, another Mexican-influenced folk song with strategic brass and some lyrical references to Christianity.
“A House Is Not a Motel” is a strong acoustic rocker with the definitive 1960s California sound until later exploding into a heavier electric sound led by guitarist Johnny Echols. It contains cynical lyrics by Lee with images of war and violence. “The Daily Planet” seems to have been both influenced by The Beatles’ Revolver, while in turn becoming a great influence on some future numbers by The Who. Neil Young, who was originally slated to co-produce the album, only stuck around long enough to arrange this track. The album’s first side concludes with the psychedelic-fused “The Red Telephone” with some really interesting chord changes but almost nonsensical lyrics. This song has been called a “paranoid nursery rhyme”.
“Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” starts side two with a pessimistic look at “flower power”, while “Live and Let Live” follows as a more melodic political ballad with musically progressive sections, good melodies, and some lead electric guitar by Echols. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” reflects the hippie culture of the day, in which Lee was deeply entrenched, but with a foreboding sense of doom with the threat of the draft and war.
Not really a “bummer” at all, the upbeat and infectious “Bummer in the Summer” is a short acoustic rocker where Lee does a Bob Dylan-like “sing-talk”. The album ends with its only extended track, the seven-minute “You Set the Scene”. Forssi and drummer Michael Stuart provide a driving rhythm through the verses, much like Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. The songs morphs into a multi-part mini-suite with later parts with horns, strings, and a contrasting melody, including a free styling “rap”, which may be the first ever on record.
Despite the artistic achievement of Forever Changes, the inner turmoil in Love continued. MacLean quit the band shortly after the album’s release and, while Lee made several more albums with a new version of the band, by the early 1970s Love was no more.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the music of 1967.
Perhaps the album with the single biggest gap between initial commercial success and ultimate historical relevance, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become a legendary fountainhead of influence and inspiration. Although this avant-garde rock group lasted a very short time, few artists claim to have broken so much new territory. They blended unique arrangements of traditional rock with a frank, explicit, and uncompromising degree of taboo subjects such as sexual adventurism and drug abuse, which put the band way outside the mainstream. Their work in the mid-to-late 1960s has been credited as a primary influence on the punk and new wave explosions of a decade later, even though they were only appreciated by a “cult” audience at the time and otherwise dismissed with indifference or scorn by mainstream rock critics and fans. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the band began to get recognition as an important band of the ’60s, if not all time.
The group’s leader was guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Lou Reed, who had dabbled in many types of rock, jazz, and beat poetry since his teen years in the late 1950s. Fusing all these, influences he developed a unique style of speak/sing vocals. While working as a staff songwriter, Reed met Welsh multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and the two found a shared interest in fusing the avant-garde with pop/rock music. They formed a band called the Primitives which changed to the Velvet Underground in 1965 with the addition of guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. With Reed as the primary songwriter, the group started working on unique but un-commercial sounding songs for their live act but caught a break when pop-artist Andy Warhol caught the band live and decided he wanted to “manage” them. Warhol incorporated the Velvet Underground’s music into a greater mixed-media/performance art ensemble that he called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”.
While the band was uncompromising in their music and lyrics, they did have to compromise on their personnel. The band was reluctant to accept German fashion model and singer Nico as a fifth member, but her inclusion was insisted upon by Warhol. While Reed remained the principal lead vocalist, Nico did sing three of the better songs on the album. Although many have dismissed Warhol’s producer credit as purely ornamental, Reed felt that he did play a vital part in completing this album;
…he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked and as a consequence of him being the producer, we’d just walk in and set up and do what we always did and no one would stop it because Andy was the producer…”
Despite the high profile benefactor, the album’s release was not without complications, delaying its release until nearly a year after recording wrapped with the bulk of all recordings happening in April 1966 at Scepter Studios in New York City. These sessions were financed in part by Columbia Records but that company rejected the final product, as did several other labels, before the MGM-owned Verve Records accepted the recordings. The fact that this innovative material was in the can before other breakthrough projects like Pet Sounds and Revolver, makes this album all the more remarkable.
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Released: March 12, 1967 (Verve) Produced by: Andy Warhol amp; Tom Wilson Recorded: New York City, April – November 1966
I’m Waiting For the Man
Venus In Furs
Run Run Run
All Tomorrow’s Parties
There She Goes Again
I’ll Be Your Mirror
The Black Angel’s Death Song
Lou Reed – Guitars, Vocals Nico – Vocals John Cale – Viola, Piano Sterling Morrison – Guitar, Bass, Vocals Maureen Tucker – Drums & Percussion
The album begins with “Sunday Morning”, a collaboration between Reed and Cale, which was actually the last song recorded for the album in late 1966. It was written at the request of co-producer Tom Wilson, who felt the album could use another pop-oriented song. Although the song was written to be sung by Nico, Reed ultimately sang lead on the track.
“I’m Waiting for the Man” follows as the first of many provocative and nihilistic songs about drug use. It is driven by a distorted guitar and driving bass by Reed and Morrison in a very simple rock riff which really sets the song’s background perfectly. “Femme Fatale” is the first track on the album to feature lead vocals by Nico, and the atmosphere could not be different than that of the preceding song, as it has a very measured rhythm and jazzy arrangement. Warhol commissioned Reed to write the song about actress and model Edie Sedgwick.
The musical styles continue to fluctuate through the rest of the first side. “Venus in Furs” is a sexually-charged tune which is driven by Cale’s viola and Reed’s oddly-tuned guitar and straight-forward, yet poetic vocal narrative. “Run Run Run” returns to a simnple, bluesy-rock tone, with Reed actually doing some traditional style singing and a proper rock drum beat by Tucker. The Warhol click became the inspiration to “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, which Reed described as an accurate description of certain people at the Factory;
I watched Andy. I watched Andy watching everybody. I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things…”
“Heroin” is the most original, most memorable, and best song on the album. It was written by Reed in 1964, and received harsh criticism for not overtly condemning drug usage (although it doesn’t exactly praise it). The song has a song years (if not decades) ahead of its time with pleasant, melodic, strummed electric guitar and a droning electric viola that builds to a frenzied crescendo.
The next two songs are the most pop-oriented on the album. “There She Goes Again” has an actual hook with responsive background vocals and some quasi-soul musical rudiments. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is Nico’s final song on the album and is arranged as a very short, traditional ballad. It was released as a single in July 1966, ahead of the album’s release. The album does retain its “weirdness” with the final two tracks. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” is put together like a psychedelic Dylan song. Throughout the song, there are loud bursts of audio feedback, and hissing with guitars tuned low and a screeching viola. The nearly-eight-minute long “European Son” has a more traditional rock guitar and bass, with long, improvised vocals and more crazy sound effects.
On this 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground espoused a frank bleakness in their music which would inspire musicians of future generations, while maintaining a strong musical core. However, the were not able to achieve longevity, as Nico was out of the band by the end of the year to pursue a solo career and the association with Warhol quickly deteriorated. The group did manage to release a few more albums over the next four years, before disbanding in the early 1970s.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s 45th anniversary of albums from 1967.
I have been a fan of The Doors music since I was about 12 or 13 and have constantly gone back and forth over which is their absolute best album. This has been an impossible task because, as one who discovered their music a full decade after the death of vocalist Jim Morrison, all six of their original studio albums have been equally timeless in my opinion. As a music critic, however, I must take a fresh listen to a lot of the music I’ve “known” all my life and give an honest, sober, critical opinion using my more mature listening skills. From this perspective, I have concluded that the Doors first two albums are even BETTER than I remember. So it is today that I have the daunting yet rewarding labor of love that is reviewing The Doors and Strange Days together.
Of course, in this process I’ve tried to discern which is the greater work and these two albums have, at different times nudged ahead of each other. The albums are very similar with each having a handful of radio-friendly “pop” songs, perhaps one romantic ballad, and an extended tour-de-force to cap off the album. The establishment rock press has long given The Doors the edge due to its innovative breakthrough, and there is some merit to that, However, I could not see choosing one over the other for my own “desert island” list. One one hand, Strange Days has a slight edge in that it is solid throughout and there are no weak filler songs (of which there are a few on The Doors). Also, “Days” has a slightly better climactic ending with “When the Music’s Over” as compared to its “parent” song “The End” (that’s right, I actually said that!) But on the other hand, Strange Days has nothing comparable to “Light My Fire”, a unique song in the history of rock, nor does it contain any brilliant cover interpretations like “Alabama Song” or “Back Door Man”.
The heart of any discussion about The Doors revolves around Morrison, the genius poet who lived in his life on the edge until his death at age 27. And Morrison made a remarkable evolution during that year of 1967. He came into the year as a shy, unseasoned performer who was unsure of his voice and would turn away from the crowd when onstage. By year’s end, as the Doors fame was at its absolute peak, Morrison had morphed into the rash, master of improvisation who taunted police officers while onstage in New Haven, CT to the point where the show was halted and Morrison was arrested and dragged off stage. But what really struck me when revisiting the music this week, is how musically advanced each of these album are sonically.
Much of the credit for the overall sound has to go to producer Paul Rothchild, who spent about four times as long mixing and mastering as the band did with the actual recording. However, the musicians themselves – guitarist <strong, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – brought an excellent and eclectic mix of diverse styles and influences. They stepped forward and shined to make excellent music, but also showed remarkable restraint when necessary and faded into the background to offer the perfect canvas for Morrison to forge his poetic nuggets.
Released: January 4, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, August 1966
Break On Through
The Crystal Ship
Twentieth Century Fox
Light My Fire
Back Door Man
I Looked At You
End Of the Night
Take It As It Comes
Released: September 25, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, March-May 1967
You’re Lost, Little Girl
Love Me Two Times
People Are Strange
My Eyes Have Seen You
I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind
When the Music’s Over
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals Robbie Krieger – Guitars Ray Manzarek – Keyboards, Piano, Bass John Densmore – Drums
The Doors album was released during the very first week of 1967. It was on the cutting edge of modern music during a historic year for rock n roll on many fronts. However, the actual recording procedures were quite antiquated. Recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood over six days, Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick used a 4-track tape machine for all recording and overdubbing (to put this in perspective, by the early 1970s top albums were recorded on 24 tracks). What Rothchild and Botnick lacked in modern technology, they made up for in proficiency and genius.
Ironically for such a breakthrough album, both the opening and closing songs had parts which were censored. In a section of the closer “The End”, Morrison repeats “fuck” repeatedly, but this was buried so far in the mix to be unintelligible. The opening song, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” originally contained the lyrics; “She gets high, she gets high”, which was truncated to simply “She gets…, she gets…” Aside from this unfortunate omission, the song is the absolute perfect opener for the album and the band itself. The band’s unofficial motto was “Where you see a wall, we see a door” and “Break on Through” is the perfect musical articulation of this. The piece also showcases the talents of each member, beginning with an infectious groove led by Densmore’s jazz-flavored drums and Manarek’s Fender Rhodes keyboard bass groove. Kreiger plays an adaptation of a Paul Butterfield blues riff, while Morrison provides some shredding vocals to make the mission and message completely unambiguous.
A more moderate groove follows with “Soul Kitchen”. Kreiger plays a funk/soul riff that he says was trying to emulate the horn section of a typical James Brown song. Manzarek’s key bass is “doubled up” in unison with session bassist Larry Knechtel to further highlight the “soul” aspect of the song. The song is a tribute to a restaurant in Venice Beach which often let Morrison sleep overnight while he was homeless in 1965. “The Crystal Ship” may be one of the few traditional “love songs” in the band’s catalog. Morrison croons like early Frank Sinatra while Manzarek shows that he is also an impressive pianist.
“Twentieth Century Fox” is the first boilerplate “pop song” on the album, using the cleaver double-entendre hook in a piece meant for nothing more than dancing. However the next track, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” couldn’t be further from a traditional pop/rock track. Written in 1927 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the song was used in various operas as “Whisky Bar” or “Moon over Alabama”. The song was presented to the band by Manzarek and adapted with updated lyrics, becoming an entertaining part of their live sets.
Although composition credit for all songs on The Doors went to the band as a whole, the album’s primary writers were actually Morrison and Krieger. One day, the guitarist presented a mellow folk song to the band called “Light My Fire”. Impressed by the interesting chord changes, the rest of the band kicked in and built upon the simple song with Densmore providing a Latin beat, Morrison adding some lyrics and Manzarek coming up with the famous, signature keyboard run. Further, the band added a long “jam” section in the middle of the song as a showcase for their musical talents, inflating the song’s duration to over seven minutes. The song would go on to become the band’s first number one hit and probably their most famous ever. José Feliciano’s cover version won a Grammy a few years later and the song was used in television commercials (something Morrison was vehemently opposed to). It was also the subject of controversy on the Ed Sullivan Show, when the band was told they couldn’t use the “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, but Morrison sang the original lyric anyway.
The second side of the debut album starts with “Back Door Man”, a blues song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. The Doors version includes some wild howling and screaming by Morrison above an intense, pulsating beat by the band members, making the whole recording very sexual in nature. This is something Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin would replicate in their earliest recordings a few years later.
The middle part of the second side contains three short song. haunting “End of the Night” was one of the earliest Doors songs, written in 1965. Musically, Kreiger shines brightest here, with Morrison borrowing the title and key lyric from William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence”. This song is sandwiched between two more upbeat numbers. “I Looked at You” is a pure California sixties pop song, with an almost surfer-like vibe, while “Take It As It Comes” plays on the “time for everything” theme, no doubt inspired by The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn Turn”.
This all leads to “The End”, the aptly named climax of The Doors debut album. Originally written by Morrison as a “breakup song”, the track morphed into a dark 12-minute opus which employed the outer boundaries of musical forms by the band members. During a spoken-word section midway through the song, Morrison added a nod to the Oedipus complex;
Father…Yes son? I want to kill you / Mother, I want to …”
Reportedly, the first time this song was performed with that part, it simultaneously got the band fired from their gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and signed with Elektra Records. The track that ended up on the album was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs whatsoever and captures a masterful moment in time where a quiet and soft ballad erupts into a crazy and dynamic seance. The song is esteemed both musically and and culturally and it made The Doors an instant classic in 1967.
Although the debut had far from reached its peak, the band returned to the studio in March to record the follow-up which would become Strange Days. Many of the songs for this new album had been written alongside the ones that appeared on The Doors, and some may contend that the best of them had already been used on the debut album. But, if this is true (and I’m not really sure that it is), then what the doors lacked in originality they more than made up for in musical prowess. The result is the hardest rocking album the band would ever produce and a real unsung influence on artists for decades to come.
“Strange Days” is the lead off title song, a frenzied barrage of music which uses some wild telephonic sound effects on the guitars and vocals. Although the first album had its moments of intensity, there was nothing like the throbbing rhythms of pure majesty which fill this song from beginning to end. Much of the credit here has to go to session bassist Douglass Lubahn, who really added quality low-end to the studio tracks which were hard to replicate during the quartet’s live performances (as impressive as they were). Lyrically, the song is totally about debauchery and sin, and the ultimate comeuppance;
Bodies confused, memories misused / As we run from the day to a strange night of stone…”
Lubahn also shines on the much more restrained following track, “You’re Lost, Little Girl”. This song is so well-crafted musically, blending subtly textured instrumentation that it is hardly noticeable how minimalist and repetitive the lyrics are.
“Love Me Two Times” shows yet another dimension of the band, combining a cool rockabilly riff with a more modern melody and intense rock changes. It’s radio-friendly overtones tend to mask the strong underlying sexual message, making it at once a light and bouncy pop tune and an adult-oriented blues piece.
Although the Doors are often labeled as a “psychedelic” band, the truth is the only really dabbled in this form and it was never really a centerpiece of their central sound. That being said, Strange Days does enter a bit of a psychedelic phase near the end of the first side. “Unhappy Girl” explores some odd patterns and piano effects by Manzarek and backwards tape masking, resulting in a haunting undertone to the all-too-cheery vocals by Morrison. “Horse Latitudes” is a short poem that Morrison wrote as a teen, based on a painting he had seen. On the album, the band does some odd noise making to try and enhance this poem, but it is Morrison’s deliverance that really carries the track.
Proving that the band can leap from poetry to pop without violating some mysterious sense of form, “Moonlight Drive” follows to close the first side of Strange Days. This was the Doors’ earliest original composition, the first song Morrison sang to Manzarek when first discussing the idea of forming a band. A long staple of their early set list, the studio version adapted Krieger’s new slide guitar technique, giving an added dimension to the funky jounce of Manzarek’s piano. Morrison provides romantic yet philosophical lyrics throughout as the song continues to gain momentum and intensity. The Doors were always more about personal power than “flower power” and Morrison in particular advocated personal freedom through testing every limit. “Moonlight Drive” illustrates this view perfectly in a very entertaining fashion.
The second side of Strange Days starts with “People Are Strange”, the first single released from the album (while “Light My Fire” was still high on the charts) in the autumn of 1967. The song has a European cabaret quality and is a very short and catchy number. Written primarily by Krieger, the song morphs from a simple guitar ballad to a light and bouncy piano/keyboard dominated number with a simple, two-note bass line and lyrics which seem to be influenced by LSD. “My Eyes Have Seen You” is a pure rock song, which fits well with some of the poppier stuff from the first album, complete with Morrison returning to the shredding, screaming vocals. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” seems to have been influenced by Brian Jones and his mid-sixties work with the Rolling Stones, especially with its use of the marimba.
Just as the album begins in a rock frenzy, it completes with the 11-minute rock epic “When the Music’s Over”. Structurally, it is built similar to the end, with opening and closing verse hooks wrapped around a long poetic interlude by Morrison. But this journey is much less dark and much more like a religious journey examining the soul. Morrison assumes the role shaman, while the musicians reach for the unexplored using their remarkable capacity for musical theatrics. Kreiger plays an acid-hot guitar intermixed with a theremin, while Manzarek bounces along with melodic keys and heartbeat bass line and Densmore performs some impressive, double-jointed drumming. Lyrically, Morrison coins some of his most famous phrases;
The face in the mirror won’t stop, the girl in the window won’t drop / A feast of friends, ‘Alive!’ she cried, waiting for me outside…”
Without a doubt, part of the band’s success was their “When The Music’s Over” became a vehicle for the quartet to quite literally propel themselves into the heady and rarefied space that true improvisation will construct for both performer and audience alike.
Strange Days is more surreal than psychedelic and it showed the world that the debut album was no fluke. Rothchild had high hopes for this second album, even later admitting that he thought it might “be bigger than anything The Beatles had done”. It was not, faring not quite as well as the debut critically or commercially (even though it did reach #3 and spawned two Top 40 hits). It’s lack of larger success may have been due to it curiously being released in September ’67, the same month when its predecessor The Doors was peaking at #2 on the album charts.
The Doors put out four more solid studio albums plus a double-live album over the next four years and had much further success and added to their brief but potent legacy. However, the band never did quite regain the tremendous momentum that they had in 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
The band which practically invented the genre of dark alternative metal, Alice In Chains bridged the gap between the “traditional” heavy metal and the new, alternative inspired “fusion” metals which began to proliferate in the 1990s. With their second album, Dirt the band really came of age. The album was very well received by music critics and sold well commercially, having been certified platinum four times over. Like their 1990 debut album Facelift, this album was produced by Dave Jerden, with songs primarily written on the road prior to entering the studio. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell has stated that Dirt was the band’s best work.
There is no doubt that the material on this album has a very dark feel throughout. Themes such as depression, war, death, nihilism, and especially drug abuse are explored thoroughly in the morbid lyrics and suitably complemented by the slow, methodical, bleak and doomy music and melody. Lead singer Layne Staley was in the middle of his constant struggle with substance abuse (which he would ultimately lose at the age of 34) and he had recently quit a stunt in rehab. The other band members were also struggling with various chemical dependency and depression ailments and were not shy about laying their soul bare on this album. As Cantrell recently stated;
“I was going through a tough time, everyone was, but that’s what made the album stronger and more intense, I look back on that period of time as the longest four years of sex, drugs and alcohol we all went through…”
The band’s roots date back to 1987 in Seattle when Staley first met Cantrell in 1987. In between the band’s debut in 1990 and Dirt in 1992, Seattle suddenly became an international “scene” with the phenomenal success of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. As a result, Alice In Chains were suddenly marketed as an “alternative” band, instead of their traditional heavy metal billing in order to help build anticipation for the new album. This strategy worked because the band was hard enough for metal fans, yet dark and punk-influenced enough to join the ranks of the grunge bands.
Dirtby Alice In Chains
Released: September 29, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Dave Jerden & Alice in Chains Recorded: Various Locations, March-May 1992
Dam That River
Rain When I Die
Down In a Hole
Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
Hate To Feel
Layne Staley – Lead Vocals, Guitars Jerry Cantrell – Guitars, Vocals Mike Starr – Bass Sean Kinney– Drums
Dirt balances heavy rock sounds with textured acoustic numbers and the album spawned five singles; “Them Bones”, “Down in a Hole”, “Rooster”, “Angry Chair”, and “Would?”, the album’s closer which was actually the lead single. Starting with an excellent bass by Mike Starr (who left the band after the album’s release) “Would?” works its way through fine verses and choruses before it ends abruptly following a climatic bridge. The song was written in memory of Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Seattle band Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose in 1990.
On the opposite end of the album, it begins with “Them Bones”, in an instant, explosive beginning. The song builds tension through the verse with its layered guitars of differing sonic distances and odd 7/8 beat signature. Cantrell bluntly said of the song;
“I was just thinking about mortality, that one of these days we’ll end up a pile of bones…”
“Down in a Hole” contains some eighties-style guitars (unique on the album) and maintains a very slow drum beat by Sean Kinney, leaving all of the movement to the guitars and bass. Cantrell was at first hesitant to present the song to the band, feeling that it may be too “soft”, but surprisingly got a positive response and they recorded it. “Angry Chair”, written by Staley, is more riff and accent oriented.
“Rooster” is the most purely alternative, and perhaps the strongest overall song on the album. It is slow and moody with deeply chorus-saturated, strummed guitars which later give way to piercing, distorted, heavy guitars. Lyrically, the song paints a masterful picture of Cantrell’s father and his Vietnam experience. Jerry Cantrell Sr. went by the nickname “Rooster” since childhood, which coincidentally was also a common reference to men carrying the M60 machine gun due to the the muzzle flash from which makes an outline or pattern reminiscent of a rooster’s tail. The constant alternating between the dreamy verses, and surging, explosive choruses masterfully captures the fits and starts of combat, especially the first person experience in Vietnam.
“Dam That River” is steady and riff driven, with harmonized vocals during the verses and Staley alone during “choruses”. It contains a decent lead after second verse before reaching an abrupt ending. “Rain When I Die” has a bass beginning, odd rhythm, doomy guitars during long intro before breaks into a repetitive guitar riff but with some of the best sounding guitars on the album (with the exception for maybe “Rooster”). “Sickman” features a mechanical drum beat and falls into that grove initially before deprecating into a slow, waltz-like break, It repeats this pattern and expands on the slow part during the bridge with some great Brian May-like guitars. It is really like two songs in one constantly alternating like the Beatles’ “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”
Dirt is commonly seen by fans as Alice in Chains’ album dedicated to the experience of heroin use. Honestly, the whole junky thing does get old when beaten to death and it feels at times like going into the darkness is just a game to the composers. From the listener’s point-of-view it may get to the point of like watching a stale old movie plot, reused over again. This is especially true during a sequence of songs later in the album starting with the Black Sabbath-esque “Junkhead”, followed by the suicidal “Dirt”, and “God Smack”, which does redeem itself partially by actually celebrating the joys of heroin abuse and stepping away from the doom-and-gloom for one song. “Hate to Feel” almost sounds like it belongs in some kind of rock opera, and briefly rips off “Dazed and Confused” during middle. It is this bit of repetitiveness that holds the album back a step from full-fledged classic status.
All that being said, the album was a critical success and is often considered to be one of the best rock records of the 1990s. Although the band’s status and artistic output continued through the better part of the decade, the underlining issues never really went away. The band ceased touring soon after the release of Dirt, Staley later also disappeared from recording and the group never did quite fulfill their potential.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
One of the hardest working bands of the late 1980s, Soul Asylum finally broke though in 1992 with Grave Dancers Union. Made up of well-composed three and four minute songs, the album contains an amazing amount of genre diversity as well as tidbits of experimentation without every elongating any one section or theme unnecessarily. Each song stands out in its own way, with no two sounding completely alike. There are very few weak, filler-level tracks, while the standouts are very strong. While the album is brilliant musically throughout, it does fluctuate lyrically between deep, poetic lyrics and some which are cheap and trite. But that being said, this is one of the best albums of 1992 and it nicely straddles the line between the predominant genre of the day, alternative, and many other sub-genres of rock n’ roll.
This is officially the sixth studio album by the Minneapolis quintet, preceded by three independent releases in 1986 and two more on the A&M label – Clam Dip & Other Delights in 1989, And the Horse They Rode In On in 1990. The band also toured relentlessly during these years while forging their sound from its early punk roots to the modern alternative with many other elements thrown in. However they a hard time breaking beyond a regional act and, due to weak sales from these latter two albums, the band was dropped from the A&M label. In the early 1990s, the band re-formed as an unplugged, acoustic act, which caught the attention of Columbia Records and led to this initial album for that label.
The album marks the emergence of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner as the true “front man” for the group, a role he was hesitant to embrace in the past but a key role in the chemistry of the band’s sound and image. The sessions for this album did not go without controversy as producer Michael Beinhorn grew dissatisfied with the performance of drummer Grant Young midway through the sessions. He brought in Sterling Campbell, who had vast experience with acts such as David Bowie and Duran Duran. Campbell recorded the latter sessions for the album and eventually replaced Young as Soul Asylum’s permanent drummer in the mid 1990s.
Grave Dancers Unionby Soul Asylum
Released: October 6, 1992 (Columbia) Produced by: Michael Beinhorn Recorded: The Powerstation and River Sound, New York City, May 1992
Somebody To Shove
Keep It Up
Get On Out
Without a Trace
Growing Into You
The Sun Maid
Dave Pirner – Guitars, Horn Arrangements, Vocals Dan Murphy – Guitar, Vocals Karl Mueller – Bass Grant Young– Drums
The album starts fast and strong with “Somebody to Shove”, an upbeat and catchy rocker with many elements of alternative or “grunge” rock. The tense verse builds to a release on the chorus which flows smoothly to the punk-like hook title of the song, which tells the classic story of the fool in suspended anticipation. “Black Gold” follows with a good acoustic intro and interesting changes, but is a little convoluted and weak lyrically. Written by Pirner, this was one of five singles spawned from Grave Dancers Union.
By far the most popular of these singles was “Runaway Train”, the band’s biggest hit ever. The song brought the band to international status and won the Grammy for the best rock song in 1994. Some believe the title derived from a 1980s review of the band, which described their sound as “an unholy mix of Kiss and Hank Williams tossed under a runaway train”. However, the popular video for the song focused on the “runaway” aspect, displaying several photos of teenage runaways who were still missing at the time. Musically, the song is acoustic throughout, even during the guitar lead by Dan Murphy with some Hammond organ added by sessionist Booker T. Jones III. The song also contains some of the most profound lyrics on the album;
“And everything seems cut and dry, day and night, earth and sky, somehow I just don’t believe it…”
The middle part of the album sees the band exploring many sub-genres. “Keep It Up” can either be described as a nod back to 80s-style power pop or a precursor to the soon-to-arrive Collective Soul sound. In either case, it contains a heavy bass presence by Karl Mueller along with subdued vocals by Pirner. “Homesick” is a Stonesy slow country-rock revival love song, which is melancholy yet a very pleasant listen with some philosophical lyrics to boot. “New World” has an odd timed beat and a fantastic, melancholy vibe, while arranged masterfully by its constant return to the fine main acoustic riff. “April Fool” kicks off with a heavy metal riff and beat before the fits and stops of an Alice Cooper-like breaks in the verse, all topped off by multi-layered guitar parts.
“Without a Trace” is the default title song of the album, containing the lyric which gave Grave Dancers Union its title. In recent years, Pirner has dedicated the song to the memory of Mueller, who died cancer seven years ago today on June 17, 2005.
The album completes with a couple of average songs – the upbeat “Growing Into You” and the effects-laden “99%” –before the climatic concluding track “The Sun Maid”. This pleasant acoustic ballad with nice, Beatlesque strings from the Meridian String Quartet, shows the full promise of the band’s songwriting talent and ends the album on a strong note.
Within a year of its release, Grave Dancers Union was certified triple-platinum and has been, by far the top selling album by Soul Asylum. They have slowly released albums fairly consistently since then, with a new album every third-to-half decade or so, each with moderate acclaim and sales. The band plans to release a new studio album called Delayed Reaction in July 2012, their first release since 2006.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.