One On On by Cheap Trick

One On One by Cheap Trick

One On On by Cheap TrickMany critics believed that Cheap Trick was already past their peak by the time that got around to recording their sixth studio album, One On One in 1982. The band had really hit an apex in the late 1970s by combining the glam-fused power pop of British bands like Sweet with the good time heavy rock of California artists like Van Halen and all with an edge. In fact, this Illinois based band may have been too clever for their own good as they always seemed just outside the mainstream at any giving moment, but we digress. The truth is, with One On One, Cheap Trick may have actually hit its rock-centric peak, despite what mainstream critics may have said.

The album is laced with the intense yet measured, screaming vocals of Robin Zander, giving it all an air of importance mastered by the likes of The Who’s Roger Daltry. This wailing tops off the master song craft of guitarist and chief songwriter Rick Nielsen, a founding member of the band and its predecessor in the late 1960s. Although, at first, the songs themselves may seem muddled and distant, subsequent listens give the songs more breadth and depth.

The slickness of production on this album by producer Roy Thomas Baker gives it a bright, glam feel. But this could have just as easily had a darker, biker-rock feel due to the flexible writing style. One On One was the first album to feature bassist Jon Brant, the replacement for Tom Petersson, who departed after the band’s previous album All Shook Up.

 


One On One by Cheap Trick
Released: April 30, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
I Want You
One On One
If You Want My Love
Oo La La La
Lookin’ Out for Number One
She’s Tight
Time Is Runnin’
Saturday At Midnight
Love’s Got a Hold On Me
I Want to Be a Man
Four Letter Man
Band Musicians
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keys | Rick Nielsen – Guitars, Vocals
Jon Brant – Bass, Vocals | Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion

 
The album starts off with the upbeat “I Want You” which establishes the hyper, high end vocals ala Sweet in an upbeat and pure rocker. The title song follows with a more steady, quasi-heavy metal motif. The first side wraps with “Oo La La La” containing a bluesy, Aerosmith-like hook and especially with heavy yet vocals, and “Lookin’ Out For Number One” a grinding, heavy metal screed.

The beautiful and elegant “If You Want My Love” is the showcase for the first side. A very Beatle-esque piece right down to the three-part “oohs”, with several distinguishing parts that build a very moody and desperate love song. The song is a prime example of the band’s rich talent, especially the composing and arranging talents of Neilson.
 

 
Side two begins with the hyper and fun “She’s Tight”, with the album’s best vocal performance by Zander. The song strikes just the right amount of synths to balance the almost-punk main riff, giving it a very infectious feel overall. Critics have said this was the band trying to achieve a more commercial rock sound, unlike anything before. This may be true, but it is still undeniable that this is excellent to the hilt.

The next track “Time is Runnin'” is the truest pop-oriented song to this point on the album, while “Saturday at Midnight” really deviates from the feel of the rest of the album as a new-wavish, dance track, released as a 7″ single to appeal to a wider audience. Drummer Bun E. Carlos co-wrote “Love’s Got a Hold on Me” as electronic effects on his flanged-out drums lace the wild yet melodic “I Want Be Man”. The album concludes with the Queen-like rocker “Four Letter Word”, complete with faux audience rudiments.

With One On One, Cheap Trick released an album full of brash, loud, raucous rockers. The album achieved moderate success but physical copies of the album were out of print for several years. In April 2010 it was reissued along with the following 1983 album Next Position Please on one CD.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

1999 by Prince

1999 by Prince

1999 by Prince1999 is a double-length album by Prince, released in late 1982. The album was born out of an extremely prolific songwriting period when there was reportedly four albums worth of material available. It was the fifth studio album by the Minnesota artist born Prince Rogers Nelson, who started his recording career in his late teens in the mid 1970s. This synthesizer and drum machine heavy album marked a decided change in Prince’s sound and contained his first charting hit singles. The album beats on a “computer” theme, which is reflected in the album’s instrumentation and various electronic sounds. Prince credited the movie Blade Runner as an influence on the album’s sound as well as the sets of the corresponding music videos.

Like all his previous albums, 1999 centers on deeply sexual subjects (some have said that Prince sings about sex like B.B. King sigs about the blues). However, this album also explored other issues, especially those of mortality and death.

The album is laid out in a very top-heavy fashion, with all the singles coming from the first two sides and sides three and four reserved for strictly album tracks. Further, whether by design or not, the four singles released from 1999 were released in the exact sequence that they appear on the album. The unique cover of the album not only contains symbols and art from past Prince albums, but also tributes his future backing band The Revolution.
 


1999 by Prince
Released: November 27, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Prince
Recorded: Kiowa Trail Home Studio, Chanhassen, MN &
Sunset Sound, Hollywood, CA, 1982
Side One Side Two
1999
Little Red Corvette
Delirious
Let’s Pretend We’re Married
D.M.S.R.
Side Three Side Four
Automatic
Something In the Water
(Does Not Compute)
Free
Lady Cab Driver
All the Critics Love U in New York
International Lover
Primary Musicians
Prince – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums
Dez Dickerson – Guitars, Vocals | Lisa Coleman – Lead & Backing Vocals

 
The title track, “1999” is an updated version of Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, with an updated notion of turning the Rapture into an excuse to party. On the track, Prince trades lead vocals with Lisa Coleman and Dez Dickerson and built the main riff around the melody of “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas & the Papas. Although the song has become one of his most enduring anthems, “1999” failed to reach the Top 40 when it was originally released.

The next song, “Little Red Corvette”, would become Prince’s first charting hit, peaking at #6 on the Billboard pop singles chart. The song nicely fuses a drum machine beat and slow synth buildup with a full pop hook during the choruses and a classic guitar solo by Dickerson. The highly allegorical lyrics tell of a one-night stand with a beautiful and promiscuous woman in a very poetic fashion;

“I guess I should’ve known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last…”

A couple more songs are even more highly sensualized. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is a long funk and R&B tune with such risque lyrics that Tipper Gore reportedly leaped from her couch to save her children’s ears from the raunch. “Automatic” extends to almost ten minutes, setting precedent for the 80s dance remixes which were frequently released on 7″ EPs. This synth-heavy song contains bondage-inspired lyrics, re-enacted in a music video banned from the new MTV.

Delirious single“Delirious” became another Top 10 hit, reaching #8. The song employs an electric version of upbeat country or rockabilly, with a catchy keyboard hook and a fair share of sexual metaphors, ending abruptly with the sound effect of a baby cooing. “Something In the Water (Does Not Compute)” is an ode to a harsh lover, while “Free” is a delicate piano ballad expressing patriotism for America and how fellow Americans should appreciate their freedom. This especially applies to freedom of speech, of which Prince understands the importance from the perspective of a “controversial” artist.

Side four of the album includes “Lady Cab Driver”, which features the vocalist angrily rattling off an endless litany of life’s disappointments above the female wailing of the “cab driver.” “All the Critics Love U in New York” is another experiment into the world of of synthesizers and features the Linn LM-1 drum machine. The closer, “International Lover” is another long sex-centric song to wrap up the double LP.

1999‘s critical and commercial success secured Prince a place in the public psyche, and launched him into the most successful phase of his long career. The album was followed 19 months later by Purple Rain, his most successful album ever, which was also accompanied by a major Hollywood movie.

~
R.A.
 

1982 Images

 

 

Marshall Crenshaw, 1982

Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall Crenshaw, 1982Marshall Crenshaw writes songs that could be described as simple, traditional pop/rock songs with a hint of Rockabilly in the tradition of Buddy Holly and early Beatles. In fact, Crenshaw got his first break playing John Lennon in the off-Broadway production of the musical Beatlemania in the 1970s. All the while, Crenshaw was writing and recording original songs. In 1981 rockabilly artist Robert Gordon recorded Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” and scored a minor hit. Encouraged, Crenshaw wrote and recorded a full length LP with a three piece band. This eponymous album was well received by critics and fellow musicians when it was released in 1982.

The album spent six months on the charts peaking at #50 and selling over 400,000 copies. These are respectable stats for a debut album, but it was hardly a blockbuster. So why is this album significant? In a sea of artists trying to be the next Michael Jackson, Crenshaw just did his thing. At that time when he was being compared to the heavily synthesized music considered cutting edge, he may have sounded a bit old fashioned, but his songs have stood up over time and still sound fresh today.

A good song can be a reflection of what the writer is thinking, feeling or experiencing . Marshall Crenshaw manages to do that perfectly on this album. The songs are not complicated, they are put together with three musicians and accentuated with overdubs. There really is a beauty in simplicity when it’s done well. The lyrics are straightforward and forthright and while there is sometimes a bit of sarcasm, they are clever and always upbeat. Crenshaw’s style was not necessarily the “next big thing” in pop music, but he created one great album filled with refreshing, smart pop tunes that stood out from the rest.
 


Marshall Crenshaw by Marshall Crenshaw
Released: April 28, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Richard Gottehrer & Marshall Crenshaw
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, January 1982
Side One Side Two
There She Goes Again
Someday, Someway
Girls
I’ll Do Anything
Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.
The Usual Thing
She Can’t Dance
Cynical Girl
Mary Anne
Soldier Of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)
Not For Me
Brand New Lover
Band Musicians
Marshall Crenshaw – Guitars, Vocals
Chis Donato – Bass | Robert Crenshaw – Drums

 
The album opens with “There She Goes Again” a melodic tune with a catchy chorus ” Will her heart ever be satisfied, there she goes again with another guy.” This is followed by the most recognized song on the album and Crenshaw’s only Top 40 hit, “Someday Someway”. Here we have another infectious melody and chorus that gets stuck in your head long after the music stops, showing how Crenshaw can craft a simple song into a pop masterpiece.
 

 
Later on the first side comes a pair of power pop tunes – “Girls, Girls Girls” and “I’ll Do Anything For You”, which are simple love songs that almost anyone can relate to. “Rockin Around In N.Y.C.” has a great rockabilly beat to help paint a euphoric scene of chasing down a dream.

There are a couple of songs here that bear an eerie resemblance to rock legend Buddy Holly. So much so that they may fool those who don’t know any better into thinking that it actually is the Crickets. The strongest of these is “Cynical Girl”, which starts out with a jangly Holly-ish melody and adds Crenshaw’s crisp, bouncy vocal settling into a steady rhythm with some cool lyrics;

“Well I hate TV, there’s gotta be somebody other than me who’s ready to write it off immediately…”

To date, Crenshaw has recorded nine more studio albums since his 1982 debut, but he has never quite reached the same level of popularity. However, several of his songs were covered through the years by many talented artists, a validation of Marshall Crenshaw’s songwriting talent.

~
Karyn Albano
 

1982 Images

 

 

Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith

Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith

Buy Rock In a Hard Place

Rock In a Hard Place by AerosmithRock In a Hard Place is considered by some to not be a “real” Aerosmith album because it is the only one to not include all five members. I have a hard time concurring as this has been one of my favorite Aerosmith albums for close to thirty years. It is a strong, edgy, and (most importantly) unique effort that captures a lot of dynamics surrounding the band’s situation perfectly. Though, many fans and critics lamented the departure of guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and claimed that the band’s traditional chemistry was not present on this album. Perry left the band abruptly while in the middle of recording the previous album, Night In the Ruts and went on to form the Joe Perry Project. Whitford was still with the band at the beginning of this album’s sessions in 1981 but departed after recording just one track.

Of course, the music still sounds like Aerosmith because of the presence of Steven Tyler. But Tyler’s voice is strained throughout the album, something that may otherwise be a liability, but surprisingly this adds to the overall air of desperation throughout the mixes. It also adds to the feel that this is a straight-forward, no B.S. rock jam album, although certain facts seem to dispute this notion. Primarily, there was a very steep price tag ($1.5 million) in producing this album, and from that perspective it is understandable why so many may consider it a failure.

Perry and Whitford were replaced by guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay, who each brought a unique yet hard-rockin’ edge. This was especially true for Crespo, who co-wrote many of the songs on the album. Also, drummer Joey Kramer plays especially well on this album, holding together some of the looser compositions with a strong and steady rhythm.

 


Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith
Released: April 1, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas, Steven Tyler, & Tony Bongiovi
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Jailbait
Lightning Strikes
Bitch’s Brew
Bolivian Ragamuffin
Cry Me a River
Prelude To Joanie
Joanie’s Butterfly
Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)
Jig Is Up
Push Comes To Shove
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Crespo – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Dufay – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums

 
The album starts in a frenzy with “Jailbait”, a collaboration by Tyler, Crespo, and Dufay. The song seems to be linked in many ways with “Bitch’s Brew” as it explicitly refers to it, is composed in a very loose lyrical fashion, and the subject matter seems to very similar – seduction and sex. Of these two, “Bitch’s Brew” is a lot more interesting due to its odd arrangement and Tyler’s vocals, which are particularly strained throughout, and he does a pretty impressive Bob Dylan impersonation during the final verse.

A slow, synthesized string introduces “Lightning Strikes”, a song written by longtime band collaborator Richard Supa about gangs and gang fights. This is the only track to feature Brad Whitford, who left the band during its recording in 1981. Whitford, who was a founding member of Aerosmith, is billed as simply an “additional musician” in the credits. The band created one of their earliest actual music videos for MTV and other networks with this song. Directed by Arnold Levine
 

 
“Bolivian Ragamuffin” is a heavy blue composition similar to the band’s material on Draw The Line. Crespo wails on a crying, slide electric throughout and this song seems to be the band at its most intense jamming on the album. A cover of Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River” lightens the mood a bit with a soft, jazzy, night club intro and opening verses. However, the song does explode later into a full-fledged strong rock interpretation while maintaining the basic, moody vibe.

The second side starts with, perhaps, the oddest Aerosmith song on record called “Joanie’s Butterfly”. Kicking off with a “Prelude” that includes a highly synthesized, barely audible, spoken voice above a chorus of quasi-Eastern chants by Tyler, the song proper breaks in with a more straight-forward, Eastern-flavored rhythm, with a strummed acoustic, layered percussion, a dulcimer, and more layered vocals. At about 1:45, the song breaks into a more rock-oriented arrangement with some really nice sonic changes straight through until the long ending crescendo with violin and various other string instruments. The song was co-written by producer Jack Douglas who is yet to reveal the true meaning (if any) of the odd lyrics which are extremely cryptic;

He was a kick ass rocking horse, he was a one horned, unicornucopia
Two, two in Utopia, three star, verge into infinity…

The album finishes strong with three well-produced rockers. The title song, “Rock In a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)” is a fine rock song featuring the strongest performance on the album by bassist Tom Hamilton and more great guitar work by the two newcomers. “Jig Is Up” is one of the great forgotten classics of Aerosmith, with a solid rock sound not heard from the band since 1976’s Rocks, and a lyrical theme similar to the Stones’ “Brown Sugar”. The album closes with Tyler’s “Push Comes to Shove”, a completely undecipherable screed by the singer that is reportedly about his then girlfriend and future wife, but who knows to what end. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant listen in the Aerosmith-blues style and features some good piano by session man Paul Harris.

Panned by most critics, fans, and band members themselves, Rock In a Hard Place may well be an underrated gem in the long career of one of America’s most storied bands. Still, purists lament that it is the only release which deviates from the five man lineup that was the band before and would be the band again. In 1984, Aerosmith embarked on a reunion tour which brought Perry and Whitford back into the fold and the original lineup remains in tact to this day.

~

 

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.
 

Thriller by Michael Jackson

Thriller by Michael Jackson

Thriller by Michael Jackson Thriller is the sixth studio album by Michael Jackson and the best selling album of all time. Seven of the nine songs on the album were released as singles and each one of those seven reached the top ten on the pop charts. The album went on to win an unprecedented eight Grammy awards, was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the all time top seller worldwide, was instrumental in providing racial harmony among music fans, made the most amount of money ever for a single performing artist, and was given credit by many in the recording industry for boosting sales industry-wide. So, why have so many of us loathed this record for three decades?

After listening to this back to front several times in preparation for this review, I may have an answer and it isn’t the music itself. In fact, I think this more mature and objective version of myself can honestly say that Thriller is quite fine musically. It hits the sweet spot in the genre we used to call “soul” (now referred to as R&B) and most of the songs are melodic, entertaining, and well composed. And then there is the title song “Thriller” and its monstrosity of a video (pun intended) where Michael Jackson and the hype machine jumped the proverbial shark. Why, Michael, why? You already had the best video ever made with “Billie Jean” and had shown you can do the choreographed dance thing on another video. There comes a point when one has to learn to just accept success and move on to other things.

The album was produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones and the two reportedly butted heads throughout the production process, which took seven solid months. Jones produced Jackson’s previous album, Off the Wall in 1979, but felt that it was too “disco” for the early 1980s. Jackson had felt that album did not get the proper acclaim that it deserved and was on a mission to make something which simply could not be ignored by the critics. Jackson and Jones worked on about thirty songs in total and nine were chosen for inclusion on the album. Jackson ultimately “wrote” four of these songs, but not by committing anything to paper. Instead, he would dictate directly into a sound recorder and commit his songs to memory for further performance.
 


Thriller by Michael Jackson
Released: November 30, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson
Recorded: Westlake Studios, Los Angeles, April-November 1982
Side One Side Two
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Baby Be Mine
The Girl Is Mine
Thriller
Beat It
Billie Jean
Human Nature
PYT (Pretty Young Thing)
The Lady In My Life
Primary Musicians
Michael Jacksson – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Rod Temperton – Keyboards | Steve Porcaro – Keyboardss | Louis Johnson – Bass

 
The album starts off with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, an excellent funk piece written by Michael Jackson. The song was originally recorded in 1978 and later slated to be recorded by Michael’s sister La Toya, but Jackson eventually decided to keep it for himself. “Baby Be Mine” follows, written by keyboardist Rod Temperton, famed for writing the song “Rock With You”, the biggest hit from Off the Wall.

The Girl Is Mine single“The Girl Is Mine” is a duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and was the first single released from the album in late 1982. Written by Jackson, it contains a nice mix of soft/pop instrumentation and lyrically tells of two friends’ fight over a woman, arguing over who loves her more, and concludes with a spoken rap. The song was recorded during the very first session for the album in April 1982. The song “Thriller” was written by Temperton and went through several names, including “Starlight” and “Midnight Man”, before settling on “Thriller” because of merchandising potential.

The second side kicks off with “Beat It”, the most rock-oriented song on the album, intentionally composed for cross-over appeal. The song contains a strong anti-gang-violence message and features a guitar lead by Eddie Van Halen. “Billie Jean” is the finest composition on the album by Jackson with its nice mixture of uptempo funk and somber themes of paranoia and obsession. The signature bass line was played by Louis Johnson and the song employed some unique recording techniques, including Jackson singing vocal overdubs through a six-foot-long cardboard tube and jazz saxophonist Tom Scott playing the lyricon, a rare, wind-controlled analog synthesizer.
 

 
“Human Nature” is an excellent ballad and true highlight on the album. Written by Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro and lyrisist John Bettis, the song has moody and introspective lyrics and haunting, beautiful music and melody. It is the last great moment on the album, which concludes with a couple of relatively weaker songs. Although released as a single, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is really a throw-away filler, best remembered for the backing vocals by Michael’s sisters La Toya and Janet. “The Lady in My Life” is a soulful ballad by Temperton, but not quite as strong as some of the earlier tracks on the album.

This infamous “Thriller” video moment, along with the burning accident while filming a Pepsi commercial that left Jackson scarred for life, came right near the beginning of 1984. Ironically, this turned out to be exactly at the midpoint of Jackson’s life (08/29/58-06/25/09) and may have been the inception of the freak show and tragic figure that Jackson became in the second half of his life, which is all the more tragic when you consider the genius this man displayed during the first half of his life. There is no denying that Thriller is the gold standard for pop albums and probably will never be topped commercially. At the time of death in 2009, the album had sold over 29 million copies, that is Platinum 58 times over.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

Diver Down by Van Halen

Diver Down by Van Halen

Diver Down by Van HalenWith their 5th album, Van Halen decided to take a less intense approach. Diver Down was developed by accident as the band, exhausted from constant touring and the production of four studio albums in three years, decided to put out a cover single in lieu of a new album. At the beginning of 1982, they recorded and released a cover of Roy Orbinson’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and it shot up to number one on the mainstream rock charts, their highest charting single to date. As no good deed goes unpunished, the band’s label (Warner Brothers) started to pressure Van Halen to record a full album to take advantage of this new level of pop fame. Eventually the band capitulated and Diver Down was recorded, mixed, mastered, and released in less than three months.

By all traditional metrics, this should be an awful album. It is a 31-minute (extremely short to be considered an “LP”) hodge-podge of cover songs, short instrumental pieces, and demos from the band’s earliest days, wrapped around just a few new original numbers. But there is an undeniable charm which makes this somehow all gel into one of the more interesting Van Halen albums. Although guitarist Eddie Van Halen admits that making the album was a lot of fun, he also states that it is his least favorite album because of all the cover songs stating, “I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” However, some critics have noted that cover songs, starting with “You Really Got Me” from the band’s 1978 debut album, are the perfect mechanism for the band to showcase their unique sound.

Lead vocalist David Lee Roth said the album’s title was meant to imply that “there was something going on (with the band) underneath the surface that’s not apparent to your eyes.” The simple album cover uses the marine flag to advise boats that a diver is currently submerged in the area.

 


Diver Down by Van Halen
Released: April 14, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound & Warner Studios, Los Angeles, January-March 1982
Side One Side Two
Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
Hang Em’ High
Cathedral
Secrets
Intruder
(Oh) Pretty Woman
Dancing In the Street
Little Guitars
Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)
The Full Bug
Happy Trails
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synths, Harmonica
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals | Alex Van Halen – Drums

 
The album begins with a driving cover of the Kinks 1965 song “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Roth pointed out that the band learned to play in their barroom days by covering a whole bunch of Kinks songs from a compilation album he owned. “Hang ‘Em High Dave” is a reworked version of a 1977 song called “Last Night”, and is the song which most reflects back to the traditional Van Halen song with fast pace driven by drummer Alex Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen has lamented that the recorded version of his solo is sub-par to his typical live performance.

Eddie’s first solo instrumental on the album is “Cathedral”, which got its name because he thought the volume-knob effects he used created something similar to the sound of “a Catholic church organ.” This acts as an intro to the fantastic original “Secrets”, the best song on the album. Here the true talent of Van Halen is best showcased in this calm and subtle setting which highlights Roth’s melodic vocals and Eddie Van Halen’s crisp and biting guitar solo. The song, which has been described as the “lightest” the band has ever recorded, has the quality of being at once a melancholy and hopeful.
 

 
“(Oh) Pretty Woman” was the first song for which Van Halen made a video to be played on the new MTV network, and in turn the video became the first to be banned by that network because of its portrayal of the as the “almost theological figure” of a Samurai warrior and because a woman (later revealed to be a drag queen) appears to be molested throughout the video. Roth directed the video but found that the single version of the song was much too short to be compatible, so he composed an intro to the song on synthesizer called “Intruder” and the band recorded it as part of the album.

Dancing In the Street single“Dancing In the Street” was the cover song originally intended to be the single at the beginning of 1982, but Eddie Van Halen was having trouble coming up with a signature riff for the song and “(Oh) Pretty Woman” fit that goal much more easily. When the band decided to do a full album, Eddie revisited this song and came up with some interesting synth effects, giving it an almost “updated disco” feel. This is also one of the few songs on the album which displays the signature backing vocals of Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. The last true highlight of the album is “Little Guitars”, which was actually split into two tracks on the original album with Eddie Van Halen playing a flamenco acoustic intro. The song proper is driven by a steady drum beat that backs up several riff variations before settling in with a choppy riff and more interesting rudiments and passages throughout the song.

Unfortunately, the weakest material on the album is reserved for its conclusion. “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” was done as a laugh when Roth recorded a radio broadcast with the original 1924 version of he song. The Van Halen’s enlisted their father Jan Van Halen to play clarinet on the song. “The Full Bug” sounds unfocused and incomplete with the only true highlight being the short acoustic intro by Roth. The album concludes with the joke “Happy Trails”, a fully vocal performance of the Dale Evans stand, that actually breaks down to laughter near the end.

The band’s previous album, 1981’s Fair Warning was a dark and intense record and Diver Down acted as an almost polar opposite counterpart to lighten the mood. This album also brought the band to a wider commercial audience, setting the stage for their blockbuster  album, 1984.

~
R.A.
 
NOTE: Modern Rock Review reviewed Van Halen’s new album today, A Different Kind of Truth.
 

 

 
1982 Images
 
1977 Album Of the Year

The Stranger by Billy Joel

1977 Album Of the Year

Buy The Stranger

The Stranger by Billy Joel There is a bit of irony in The Stranger being our selection as Album of the Year for 1977. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great album by Billy Joel. But it follows Turnstiles and precedes 52nd Street, which are even greater albums even though they may not be Album of the Year for their respective years. The truth is, 1977 was indeed a year of pop music (just check out all our reviews from the year) and this is one of the best pop albums of all time. Joel’s fifth studio album, The Stranger far surpassed the moderate chart successes of his previous four in the early to mid seventies. It reached #2 in the U.S. album charts, is Joel’s best-selling non-compilation album, and surpassed Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to become Columbia Records best-selling album to that date.

All the material from the album was written exclusively by Joel and produced by Phil Ramone with most of songs composed in the studio. Joel credits Ramone for much of the album’s success due to his innovative production methods which complemented Joel’s songs. This team first worked together on 1976’s Turnstiles and built on the successful fusion of rock/pop and different genres introduced on that album. Joel favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and make the production more accessible.

The infectious, radio-ready material was complemented by a few vignettes that covered the middle-class ground that Bruce Springsteen was so successfully exploiting in the mid 1970s. But unlike Springsteen, Billy Joel also clearly constructed some artistic centerpieces that give The Stranger a feel of flow and depth. Although it lacks a true masterpiece like “Piano Man”, “Angry Young Man”, or “Zanzibar” from other albums, The Stranger is probably the most consistent throughout with very few moments of weakness.

Classic Rock Review
The Stranger by Billy Joel
Released: September 1977 (Columbia)
Produced by: Phil Ramone
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, July-September 1977
Side One Side Two
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
The Stranger
Just the Way You Are
Scenes Form An Italian Restaurant
Vienna
Only the Good Die Young
She’s Always a Woman
Get It Right the First Time
Everybody Has a Dream
Primary Musicians
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Steve Khan – Guitars
Richie Cannata – Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute
Doug Stegmeyer – Bass
Liberty DeVitto– Drums

The album launches with the sharp, underlying rock riff of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, a song exquisite in its pure oddness. Joel’s the piano takes a back seat for most of this entertaining song, lending space to the various other elements of sonic candy; guitar, saxophone, sound effects, and vocal harmonies. The coda features a slight variation of the main theme, solidifying the overall theatrical feel of the song. Aside from the protagonist, the song has many named, blue-collar characters, which paint a vivid picture of city life in a working class neighborhood. Bass player Doug Stegmeyer lent his Corvette to record the sound-effect in the song’s coda. “Movin’ Out” was also the title of a later Broadway musical based on Billy Joel’s songs.

The title song, “The Stranger”, moves from the quiet cabaret during the opening and closing sections to the disco fused body of the song. The harmonized vocal performance during the choruses are particularly pleasing during this stretch of the song. The signature whistling melody was originally supposed to be played by a clarinet, but Phil Ramone convinced Joel to use the whistle instead after he heard him doing it in rehearsal. “Just the Way You Are” was the biggest hit single off the album, reaching #3 on the pop charts and covered by scores of artists including Frank Sinatra. Joel makes no secret of his disdain of this song, written about his then wife and business manager, and had originally decided against including the track on the album and his band called it “lounge lizard” music. But with the encouragement of fellow artist Linda Rondstadt, Joel and Ramone decided to make a more interesting mix with synthesizers, a vocal chorus, and an extended saxophone lead by Richie Cannata.

Billy Joel, 1977

“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is a multi-part suite which morphs from scene to scene in each of four distinct parts that explore rock jazz, blues, and show tunes. The song starts with the atmosphere of a piano bar (or Italian restaurant) and next it moves to a teenage hangout with “a song about New Orleans” and an excellent tenor sax lead. Then there is the song within the song, an upbeat piano tune originally written as the stand-alone “Ballad of Brenda and Eddie”. The song dissolves back to the Italian restaurant to the main theme for the outro. The seven-and-a-half-minute epic is the longest of Joel’s studio cuts.

The album’s second side is the fantastic “Vienna”, inspired by Joel’s young half-brother Alexander Joel (now a classical conductor), who grew up in Vienna. Billy Joel explained how the city was a perfect metaphor for a crossroads situation in life;

“During the Cold War, Vienna was between the Warsaw Pact nations and the NATO countries…it was between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages…it’s the place where cultures co-mingle”

Musically, the song is a calm piano song with great melodic vocals and a touch of accordion by Dominic Cortese, giving the song a legitimate European feel.

Only the Good Die Young singleI’ve always felt that “Only the Good Die Young” took on multiple meanings. There’s the topical and obvious narrative, which was quite controversial at that time as some felt it was anti-Catholic and the use of the name “Virginia” was a play on “virginity”. But there is also the philosophical undertone of examining one’s life and fate and there is the lamenting of the title itself, which is a profound statement. Still, as deep as this may be lyrically, it is completely light and fun musically. While it begins with a catchy piano part, the song is largely driven by the acoustic guitar of Steve Khan and has an “old time rock” feel.

“She’s Always a Woman” is a beautiful waltz played with a deep and melodic piano line, which pissed off a lot of women’s groups because of alleged stereotyping of the fairer sex. It has been described as a love song about a modern woman with quirks and flaws. “Get It Right the First Time” is an interesting and entertaining rock shuffle featuring a unique drum beat by Liberty DeVitto and a flute lead played by Cannata. The album concludes with the Ray Charles influenced “Everybody Has a Dream”, which includes an instrumental reprise of “The Stranger” to close out the album.

The skyrocketing success of The Stranger, was the first of a long string of Billy Joel albums which would achieve great commercial success over the next decade and a half until Joel “retired” from composing popular music around 1993. While this album fit 1977 perfectly, it does not sound dated in any way and that is why it is Classic Rock Review‘s album of the year.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

Book Of Dreams by Steve Miller Band

Book of Dreams by Steve Miller Band

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Book Of Dreams by Steve Miller Band Steve Miller forged his reputation as a Chicago blues man, immersing himself in that scene during the 1960s and playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Berry. Still, his most popular and enduring records came in the mid-to-late seventies and featured a blend of pop-rock songs and quasi-psychedelic pieces with synthesized effects. Book of Dreams fell right in the heart of this era and, along with its predecessor, Fly Like An Eagle, demonstrated this approach as well as any album. In fact, much of both these albums were recorded together in 1975. Miller produced both of these albums and considered releasing a double album but instead opted for two single albums that were released in May of consecutive years (1976, 1977).

em>Fly Like An Eagle was a great success, spawning many radio hits and three singles which reached the Top 20 including the #1 hit “Rock n’ Me”. That album peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts. Book of Dreams fared even better as an album, peaking at #2 on Billboard. This pair of albums represented the peak of Miller’s commercial career.

The diversity of style is what makes the whole of this album far greater than the sum of its parts, although most fans only really know those parts as individual songs long heard on classic rock and AOR radio. Book of Dreams provided a nice blend of the fundamentals of blues-rock and the indulgences of prog rock.

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Book of Dreams by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 1977 (Capitol)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1976-1977
Side One Side Two
Threshold
Jet Airliner
Winter Time
Swingtown
True Fine Love
Wish Upon a Star
Jungle Love
Electro Lux Imbroglio
Sacrifice
The Stake
My Own Space
Babes In the Wood
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizer
David Denny – Guitars
Greg Douglass – Guitars
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums

The album starts off with “Threshold”, a minute-long, pure synth-effect track which almost sounds like a distant air patrol alarm and acts as defacto into for “Jet Airliner” (in fact, most classic radio stations play these songs together). “Jet Airliner” was composed by Paul Pena for his album in 1973, but when that artist encountered label problems the album and song went unreleased. The song was presented to Miller by a former band mate and Miller developed it using a variation of Eric Clapton’s guitar riff on Cream’s version of “Crossroads”. This method of using a synth-heavy piece to introduce a proper song was commonplace with Miller during this era as he did the exact same thing to start off Fly Like An Eagle and uses this method again later on Book of Dreams with “Electro Lux Imbroglio” and “Sacrifice”.

A couple of Miller’s moody, prog rock-influenced songs are “Winter Time” and “Wish Upon a Star”, which each make heavy use of keyboards for a surreal backdrop. “Winter Time” also features a simple, acoustic folk motif and features some harmonica by Norton Buffalo. The song later breaks into a nicer groove led by double-tracked lead guitar.

“Jungle Love” was written by guitarist Lonnie Turner and bassist Greg Douglass and may be the best pure pop song on the album, in spite of despite some annoying whistling effects. It features a crisp but heavy guitar riff out front and slightest tinge of reggae in the underlying rhythm, all working in tandem with Miller’s steady, melodic vocal line. Another good pop song on the album is “True Fine Love”, which executes the perfect seventies songwriting formula of – intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/lead/verse/chorus/fadeout.

“Swingtown” is an excellent song built on a beat (which is actually more of a “shuffle” than a “swing”) by drummer Gary Mallaber. The intro builds instrument by instrument – first drums, then bass, then rhythm guitar, then piano, then second guitar, then vocals. It is a potpourri of sonic candy especially from the deadened-note guitar and ending synth section. “The Stake” was written by guitarist David Denny and is actually the closest to the classic blues with which Miller cut his teeth, with its riff, harmonica, and harmonized guitar lead – but with a much “hipper” seventies feel, especially with the vocal effects.

The remarkable 1975 sessions at CBS Studios in San Francisco gave us Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams, a unique confluence of sound which worked perfectly for the era and held up well through time. While both of these are excellent albums, Book of Dreams marks the absolute pinnacle of the Steve Miller Band.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf

Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf

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Bat Out of Hell by Meat LoafAlthough credited as a solo album by Meat Loaf, the blockbuster album Bat Out of Hell was actually forged through a collaboration of three people – Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday), songwriter Jim Steinman and producer/guitarist Todd Rundgren. This album would go into the stratosphere sales-wise, certified platinum fourteen times over and currently ranked ninth all-time in worldwide sales. However, these gentlemen may have been the only three to believe in this project during its early years. By the time of its release in late 1977, the album had been worked on for over five years but it had been rejected by every major Label (and quite a few minor labels as well). The project was finally picked up by tiny Cleveland International Records, not so much by musical merit but more so when owner Steve Popovich heard the witty dialogue which precedes the song “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” (see video below).

Meat Loaf met Steinman shortly after releasing his soul-influenced debut album Stoney & Meatloaf in 1971. Both were deeply interested theatrical music as Meat Loaf had starred in several Broadway plays and the film, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Steinmen had composed for several productions including a sci-fi update of Peter Pan called Neverland, which was a pre-cursor to Bat Out of Hell. Writing for the album started as early as 1972, with the songs fully developed by the end of 1974, when Meat Loaf decided to leave the theatre to concentrate on this project. In 1975, the dual performed a live audition for Todd Rundgren, an avant garde performer and producer, who was impressed that the music did not fit any rock conventions or sub-genres to date. However, this was a double-edged sword as they had immense difficulty finding a record company willing to sign them. According to Meat Loaf’s autobiography, the band spent two and a half years auditioning the record and being rejected. One of the most brutal rejections came from CBS head Clive Davis, who first dismissed Meat Loaf by saying “actors don’t make records” before turning his ire towards Steinman’s songwriting;

“You don’t know how to write a song! Have you ever listened to pop music? Have you ever heard any rock-and-roll music? You should go downstairs when you leave here and buy some rock-and-roll records…”

The group had reached a verbal deal with RCA Records and started recording the album in late 1975 at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, NY. However, the RCA deal fell through during production and Rundgren essentially footed the bill for recording himself. And this was no small bill as the album includes contributions by sixteen rock musicians and singers as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Some of these backing musicians include members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band as well as Rundgren’s backing band, Utopia.

Steinman, who wrote every song and gave the album its title and artwork, had wanted equal billing with Meat Loaf on the album’s title, but was out-voted by record execs who felt that Meat Loaf alone was a more marketable, with the unorthadox, “Songs by Jim Steinmen” sub-heading appearing on the album’s cover. Even after the album was finally released in October 1977, it took awhile to catch on In the U.S. Ironically, it was after a CBS Records convention where Meat Loaf performed a song for that label’s top artist Billy Joel, that the album finally got some mainstream momentum.

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Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf
Released: October 21, 1977 (Epic)
Produced by: Todd Rundgren
Recorded: Bearsville Studio, Woodstock, NY, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Bat Out of Hell
Hot Summer Night
Heaven Can Wait
All Revved Up With No Place to Go
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad
Paradise By the Dashboard Light
For Crying Out Loud
Primary Musicians
Meatloaf – Lead Vocals
Jim Steinman – Keyboards, Percussion
Todd Rundgren – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Roy Bittan – Piano
Ellen Foley – Vocals
Kasim Sulton – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums

Although Bat Out of Hell is generally high caliber throughout, it is quite uneven in musical flow, especially when you compare the dynamic and climatic opening title song and the slow moving closer “For Crying Out Loud”, a relationship-oriented song which spends about seven of its eight and a half minutes with a very simple and subdued arrangement.

Steinman has described “Bat Out of Hell” as “feverish, strong, romantic, vibrant, and rebellious”. He stated that his goal was to write “the ultimate car or motorcycle crash song”. It starts with a rapid and frantic piano backed by tribal drums before breaking into a calmer section with thick, dimensional guitar overtones. After about a two minute overture, the song proper commences with Meat Loaf singing the vivid lyrics. Steinman was extremely ambitious with this song and constantly suggested new parts to enhance the song, many of which were rejected by Rundgren. However, Steinman insisted on a motorcycle effect in the song and an exasperated Rundgren finally grabbed a guitar, set some custom controls and mimicked a Motorcycle effect in one take. Another great moment comes at the very end when Meatloaf’s intense and sustained vocals dissolves into a calm and subdued outro with a female chorus and synthesized strings.

In between the colossal epics that bookend the album are five excellently crafted, pop-oriented songs which maintain the dramatic overall feel of the theme. “Heaven Can Wait” is ballad which showcases Meat Loaf’s voice more than any other song, accompanied only by piano and a light orchestral arrangement by Ken Ascher. Converesly, “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” is a thumping rocker driven by the bass of Kasim Sulton and featuring saxophone by Edgar Winter. Although it is shortest song in duration on the album, it still feels kind of epic due to the interesting arrangement of the mid-section made up of short vignettes and a section with a breathless rant by Meat Loaf to close the song and first side.

After the unique intro, spoken by Steinman and Marcia McClain, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” settles into a classic, do-wop style rock song with a very catchy hook. Another radio-friendly track is the ballad “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”. This melancholy love song counter-balances the more theatrical music perfectly, while still maintaining an edge with the slightly satirical title. The song was written near the end of the album’s production and was reportedly influenced by the success of the Eagles’ soft rock approach in the late seventies. The single version of the song edited out the controversial lyric “There ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box” and reached #11 on the Billboard charts, the group’s highest-charting single.

Meatloaf

“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is either the most brilliant or the lamest song on the album. This duet features Ellen Foley sharing lead vocals and tells a hilarious story of teenage desire leading to permanent misery in three or four distinct sections. On one hand, the song is brilliantly produced, including a “play-by-play” section by New York Yankee announcer Phil Rizzuto, a couple of perfectly blended duet sections, and a Caribbean-influenced “Let Me Sleep On It” section. On the other hand, the song has grown to be the over-played caricature of Meat Loaf and this famous album.

The album’s title was resurrected for two more Meat Loaf albums. In 1993 came Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, again featuring the songwriting of Jim Steinman. In 2006 came Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, which did not involve Steinman, who had registered “Bat Out of Hell” as a trademark in 1995 in an attempt to prevent Meat Loaf from using the title again.

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1977 Images

part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

The Grand Illusion by Styx

The Grand Illusion by Styx

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The Grand Illusion by StyxAlthough it was seventh overall studio album for the band, The Grand Illusion was the second album from Styx to head towards a more radio-friendly direction. The Chicago based band with a traditional prog-rock approach, began to write more mainstream material with the arrival of guitarist Tommy Shaw in late 1975. Shaw joined fellow guitarist James “JY” Young and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung as the band’s trio of songwriters and lead singers. Each brought a distinct style which  contrasted with the others. Yet they also complimented each other in various ways and, for the most part, Styx forged a decently harmonic sound.

The Grand illusion itself is a pleasant listen, albeit a bit uneven and less-than cohesive. The fantastic first side contains all the radio and chart hits with a much less inspired second side featuring some under-developed pieces which render the album short of greatness. The album showed the great potential of Styx band as a sort of “prog lite” outfit with much more pop crossover appeal than their earlier work. This would be a template set for bands like Genesis, who followed suit in subsequent years and through the 1980s.

Seven turned out to be the lucky number for the band as this album (their 7th overall, released on 7/07/77) went triple platinum in sales and spawned a couple of hit singles. Thematically, the concept of The Grand Illusion examines the futility of solely aspiring to fame. According to DeYoung, it is about the struggle to overcome self-deluding superficiality in order to affirm one’s genuine value.
 

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The Grand Illusion by Styx
Released: July 7, 1977 (A&M)
Produced by: Styx
Recorded: Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago, 1977
Side One Side Two
The Grand Illusion
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Superstars
Come Sail Away
Miss America
Man In the Wilderness
Castle Walls
The Grand Finale
Primary Musicians
Dennis DeYoung – Keyboards, Synths, Vocals
James Young – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals
Chuck Panozzo – Bass
John Panozzo – Drums

 
The intro march of “The Grand Illusion” draws you in immediately, complimented in short time by the stop/start nature of the first verse. This theme song by Dennis DeYoung eventually breaks into the more driving, melodic choruses and features early guitar fills by Shaw and a soaring lead by JY later in the song. More than any other song on the album, this opener finds the nice balance between between progressive and AOR, which appears to be the band’s vision for this album.

Tommy Shaw’s “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” begins with a nice opening synth sequence by DeYoung which compliments Shaw’s acoustic strumming. The song eventually settles into a strong rhythmic beat by bassist Chuck Panozzo and his brother, drummer John Panozzo, before another nice synth lead. Both this song and Shaw’s ballad, “Man In the Wilderness” are written in the same vein as material by the band Kansas, revealing that band’s influence on Styx.

“Superstars” is a collaborative effort by DeYoung, Shaw, and Young, which built like a show tune with a rock backbone. Although the song does contain some rewarding and entertaining sections like the nice lead guitar, it does sound a bit dated like something which could have been on a teen-oriented TV show of the era, not to mention the title itself.
 

 
Closing the first side, “Come Sail Away” is the album’s true masterpiece. It is a beautiful song with a refreshing, simple piano arrangement by DeYoung up front. The song is adventurous and romantic with just a tinge of strangeness like a journey into the unknown. There are a couple of great moments when the melodic, keyboard driven sections are cut sharply by a strong, rock-oriented, guitar-driven arrangement. The mid section contains dualing synths by DeYoung and JY, which adds to the mystique of the song with its “modern” sequencing and new agish overtones. Long considered a pioneering power ballad, “Come Sail Away” is a much richer number and is perhaps the finest Styx would ever forge.

JY takes lead vocals on his track “Miss America”. It starts with a synth rendition of the traditional song before giving way to a sharper, driving verse and a thickly harmonized chorus. “Castle Walls” starts with a heartbeat-like bass line by Chuck Panozzo with overlain Baroque keys by DeYoung before Shaw and Young again trade guitar leads later in the song. “The Grand Finale” closes the album as a sort of reverse-overture which incorporates elements of the better songs from the first side.

The success of The Grand Illusion launched Styx into the most successful era of their career with three more successful albums up to and including their blockbuster Paradise Theatre in 1981. The band built of the theatrical, pop-oriented, and soft rock elements of this 1977 album to bring them the widespread success that they had worked towards for years.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.