Abacab by Genesis

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Abacab by GenesisGenesis continued their incremental migration from prog to pop rock with their eleventh studio album, Abacab, released in 1981. The compositions here make heavy use of sequencers and studio techniques, combined with pristine melodies to forge a fresh, radio-friendly sound for this 1980s trio version of the group. The result aimed Genesis in a distinct direction, where pop fans discovered the over-decade old band for the first time as a contemporary, radio-friendly group for the decade of 1980s.

Genesis retracted from an original quintet down to a trio following the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett. Starting with the 1978 album And Then There Was Three, Mike Rutherford assumed both guitar and bass duties. 1980’s Duke became the group’s first chart-topping album in their native UK as the album spawned three radio-friendly singles. Later that year, Phil Collins recorded his debut solo album, Face Value, which became a worldwide smash following its release in early 1981.

The group purchased a farmhouse in Surrey, England which they converted into their private rehearsal and recording facility as recording for Abacab began in March 1981. The group dedicated 12 to 14 hours a day for about three months through the Spring of 1981 with engineer Hugh Padgham. Production duties were solely credited to the band for the first time with this album.

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Abacab by Genesis
Released: September 18, 1981 (Charisma)
Produced by: Genesis
Recorded: The Farm, Chiddingfold, Surrey, England, March-June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Abacab
No Reply at All
Me and Sarah Jane
Keep It Dark
Dodo / Lurker
Who Dunnit?
Man On the Corner
Like It or Not
Another Record”
Group Musicians
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards

The opening title track is an example of where Genesis works best as a trio. The song is built on call-and-response phrases between Rutherford’s sharp guitar riff and Tony Banks‘ smooth organ, set as a backing for Collins’ contrasting, strained rock vocals. The song, which got its name from the lettered sections of its original arrangement, is structured like a traditional pop song but with an extended instrumental section at the coda led mostly by Banks’ synth motifs and later a more traditional guitar lead by Rutherford. “No Reply at All” is, perhaps, the most entertaining song on the album as it features a catchy melody over Rutherford’s great bass, all accented by the poignant and dominant horn section borrowed from the group Earth, Wind and Fire. The track’s complex bridge brings the whole vibe home for this Top Ten hit.

Most of the nine tracks on Abacab were composed collaboratively by all three group members but each did get one solo composition. “Me and Sarah Jane” was composed by Banks and it definitely hearkens back to Genesis’ Peter Gabriel era in both structure and melody. The layers of Tony’s piano, organ and synths are complemented by steady but effective rhythms though this complex, guitar free mini-suite. “Keep It Dark” features odd syncopation in the vein of Devo along with mostly melodic vocals to go against the mechanical music, while “Dodo”/”Lurker” has a majestic intro to its multi-part and multi-feel suite.

Genesis 1981

After the new wave textured, repetitive phrases of “Who Dunnit?” comes the Collins composition “Man On the Corner”. Electronic percussion starts before vocals and keyboards replicate the main melody with lyrics that address society’s reluctance to find a resolution to the homeless problem. “Like It or Not” is Rutherford’s solo composition with a majestic intro to a dynamic track which moves from a pleasant sounding ballad to a more matter-of-fact tough love screed. After a short and serene intro, the song proper of the closer “Another Record” kicks in with animated drum fills under steady riffs and rhythms.

The gold selling Abacab was the second consecutive UK #1 album for Genesis and their first of several to reach the US Top Ten in the US through the eighties. Three songs recorded for but left off this album were released on Genesis’s EP, 3×3, released in May 1982, with material from the Abacab world tour added to these three tracks for the double album Three Sides Live later in 1982.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Year of the Cat by Al Stewart

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Year of the Cat by Al StewartIt took Al Stewart more than a decade of grind and seven studio albums before it finally achieve a measure of mainstream success with the release of Year of the Cat in 1976. Here, Stewart fully realized his distinct style of composing about historic and exotic situations through an English folk-rock style which seamlessly incorporates elements of jazz, roots and reggae. The contributions of guitarist Peter White did much to help shape the musical vibes on this record.

Scottish by birth, Stewart grew up in England and got started as a folk singer in London coffeehouses in the mid 1960s, sharing the scene with contemporary players like Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Bert Jansch, and Roy Harper. He recorded his first single (“The Elf”) for Decca records in 1966, with some guitar work from Jimmy Page. Stewart later signed with Columbia Records and released six albums between 1967 and 1975. While Stewart’s popularity increased among his dedicated following, the modest sales led Columbia to drop him in 1975.

Year of the Cat was Stewart’s first album for RCA Records. Produced by Alan Parsons, the music and orchestration were written and recorded completely before before any lyrical themes or titles were developed for any of the songs. The title song itself, originally conceived in 1966, went through several iterations before it was completed.

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Year of the Cat by Al Stewart
Released: July, 1976 (MCA)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, January 1976
Side One Side Two
Lord Grenville
On the Border
Midas Shadow
Sand in Your Shoes
If it Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It
Flying Sorcery
Broadway Hotel
One Stage Before
Year of the Cat
Primary Musicians
Al Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Peter White – Guitars
George Ford – Bass
Stuart Elliott – Drums, Percussion

 

For a hit album, Year of the Cat features a unique sequence of songs, commencing with a sad folk tune and finishing with it’s top hit. The album starts abruptly with the sad folk, hauntingly beautiful song “Lord Grenville”, which tells the tale of the 16th century doomed ship “The Revenge” from the point o view of the crew members. It features a very rich arrangement and orchestration with elegant guitar motifs by White and heartbreaking lyrics of accepting one’s ultimate fate. “On the Border” combines exotic storytelling, Spanish style flamenco guitars and a quasi-disco rhythm and beat. The lyric tells of smugglers during Rhodesia’s guerilla war earlier in the 1970s. “Midas Shadow” features a prominent electric piano along with a moderate jazz/rock feel, while the bright and upbeat “Sand in Your Shoes” features Caribbean rhythms paired with a Hammond organ and accordion.

The middle part of the album features an eclectic group of well-produced songs. “If it Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It” is a solid rocker in the vein of the E Street Band and a very entertaining arrangement throughout, featuring a pair of great guitar leads along with animated piano and bass and fine drum fills. “Flying Sorcery” starts with a finger-picked acoustic intro but soon incorporates many styles with harmonica and slide guitar shining through and lyrics about heroic British pilot Amy Johnson, who died while ferrying supplies during World War II. “Broadway Hotel” has a darker feel as an acoustic waltz with some dramatic violin leads by Bobby Bruce, while “One Stage Before” is another dramatic, acoustic-based ballad which picks up mood a bit during the refrain.

Al Stewart, 1976

This all leads to the closing title song, “Year of the Cat”. A long and deliberative intro rotates through the piano of the verse and chorus in full before the Stewart’s vocals enter with poignant lyrics about a whirlwind relationship in an exotic locale. The song also features a long middle instrumental section where is abruptly but expertly morphs into various styles and motifs, taking turns between orchestration, a blistering guitar lead and a smooth saxophone by Phil Kenzie. The song reached The Top 10 on the US singles chart in early 1977, Stewart’s highest charting single to date.

Year of the Cat also reached the Top 10 as an album in the United States and Australia and it was certified platinum as a million-seller within a year of its release. Stewart’s commercial streak continued with the 1978 follow-up Time Passages and into the early 1980s.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Somewhere in England by George Harrison

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Somewhere In England by George HarrisonSomewhere in England was an arduous and frustrating album to produce for George Harrison, taking more than a year to release. The album was critically panned as the material is a bit uneven, ranging from themes of frustration and panic to those of divinity and bliss. However, it is a clear beacon in history as it was recorded shortly before and in the wake of the tragic assassination of Harrison’s former Beatles bandmate John Lennon and it briefly brought together the surviving members of that classic band.

After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison had great solo success with the release of the triple album All Things Must Pass and it’s follow-up, 1973’s Living In the Material World. However, his output during the mid to late 1970s received relatively less critical acclaim and commercial success. Harrison began a gradual retreat from the music business as the decade ended.

Harrison began recording Somewhere in England, his ninth overall solo record, in March 1980. He first delivered it to Warner Bros. Records, his distributor, in late September of that year. However, the initial draft was rejected and Harrison reworked much of the material over the subsequent six months at his Friar Park studio in Henley-on-Thames. During this time three new songs were developed and added to the album while four tracks were cut from the final release.

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Somewhere in England by George Harrison
Released: June 1, 1981 (Dark Horse)
Produced by: Ray Cooper & George Harrison
Recorded: Friar Park Studio, Henley-on-Thames, England, March 1980-February 1981
Side One Side Two
Blood From A Clone
Unconsciousness Rules
Life Itself
All Those Years Ago
Baltimore Oriole
Teardrops
That Which I Have Lost
Writing’s On The Wall
Hong Kong Blues
Save The World
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Neil Larsen – Piano, Keyboards
Willie Weeks – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums

Harrison’s frustration is clear on the album’s first two tracks, the Caribbean-flavored, rhythmic “Blood from a Clone”, which critiques the soullessness of the music industry and the upbeat jazz of “Unconsciousness Rules”, which features a signature guitar riff and prominent brass throughout. “Life Itself” follows and is Gospel-like but with Harrison’s signature guitar on top. The spiritual lyrics offer praise to Christ, Vishnu, Jehovah and Buddha, as Harrison believes in the concept of a universal deity.

The obvious indelible track from this album is “All Those Years Ago”, musically built on the fantastic electric piano and synths of Al Kooper along with some fine synths and slide guitars by Harrison. The song was originally written for Ringo Starr to sing on his upcoming solo record and Starr’s version was recorded in November 1980 but he was not quite satisfied with it. After Lennon’s death the following month, Harrison took the track back and rewrote it as a tribute to him. Starr’s drumming on the track was maintained and Paul McCartney and his Wings’ bandmates were brought in to provide backing vocals, making this the first recording on which Harrison, McCartney and Starr all appeared since the Beatles’ “I Me Mine” on 1970’s Let It Be. “All Those Years Ago” was released as the album’s leading single in May 1981 and it instantly became a worldwide hit.

Harrison recorded two 1940s-era songs from jazz-oriented songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. “Baltimore Oriole” features a lead sax right from the top by Tom Scott, counter-balanced by Harrison’s fine slide acoustic guitar, while “Hong Kong Blues” is a short but entertaining Americana jazz/folk composite. Both of these songs were originally featured in the 1944 film To Have and Have Not.

George Harrison

Somewhere in England‘s second side features some diverse listening, starting with the pure 80s pop of “Teardrops”, which was issued as the second single off the album. Two of the more interesting tracks follow, with “That Which I Have Lost” featuring rootsy country acoustic with slide electric riffs and fine fretless bass and “Writing’s on the Wall” having a slight synth organ with a rich musical arrangement. The whimsical, upbeat closer “Save the World” is cut by moody slide guitars and plenty of lyrical moralizing throughout this overall pleasant musical listen.

While Somewhere in England did reach the Top 20 in both the UK and US, it’s chart run was relatively brief. After the follow-up 1982 album, Gone Troppo fared even worse, Harrison retreated from the music industry for half a decade.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Emerson, Lake and Powell

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Emerson, Lake and PowellEmerson, Lake & Powell was a quasi-supergroup which existed in the mid-1980s and released a singular, self-titled studio album. The trio was two-thirds of the 1970s group Emerson, Lake & Palmer with drummer Cozy Powell replacing Carl Palmer, who was contractually obligated to his own 80s supergroup, Asia. While this 1986 album contained some elements of the prog-rock compositions of years past, there is no doubt that this is a product of its time with heavy use of digital synths and a slick production style.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer was very successful in the early 1970s but as the decade wore on, the group began to burn out. With the group committed to record one more studio album, they released the forgettable Love Beach in late 1978 and ultimately disbanded by early 1979. Both keyboardist Keith Emerson and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Greg Lake started solo careers, with Emerson also becoming involved with several film soundtracks in the early 1980s. Palmer went on to form a band called PM, before ultimately joining Asia, which reached incredible mainstream fame with their 1982 debut album. Powell was a strong veteran on the music scene, playing with acts like Jeff Beck and Rainbow as well as a longtime friend of Emerson’s. Despite the coincidence, the group insists that they weren’t looking for a drummer whose surname start with a ‘P’, in order to retain the initials ‘ELP’.

Recorded in England in 1985 and early 1986, Emerson, Lake and Powell was produced by Lake and engineer Tony Taverner. Beyond the eight tracks of the original 1986 album, these sessions produced two further tracks that would be featured on later album issues. A unique instrumental jam rendition of the Goffin/King pop hit “The Loco-Motion” was an obvious attempt at some radio notoriety, while “Vacant Possession” is a decent, melancholy pop ballad surprisingly left off the album proper.

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Emerson, Lake & Powell by Emerson, Lake & Powell
Released: May 26, 1986 (Polydor)
Produced by: Tony Taverner & Greg Lake
Recorded: Maison Rouge, London & Fleetwood Mobile, Sussex, 1985-1986
Side One Side Two
The Score
Learning to Fly
The Miracle
Touch and Go
Love Blind
Step Aside
Lay Down Your Guns
Mars, the Bringer of War
Group Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Keith Emerson – Keyboards
Cozy Powell – Drums & Percussion

The album begins with its longest track, “The Score”, featuring Emerson’s fanfare boards and animated rudiments by Powell during extended, nearly four-minute-long intro. When Lake’s vocals finally enter mid-song, it is clear that this track is a sequel to earlier work with the refrain “Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends”, famously lifted from the opening line of “Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Part 2” from their 1973 Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery, as well as the title to the subsequent 1974 live album from that album’s tour.

“Learning to Fly” is more in line with a mid-eighties pop song, driven by synth motifs, steady bass and simple drum rhythms with little to no guitar. Still, this is not an unpleasant listen with good melodies by Lake as he delivers a slightly profound lyric. “The Miracle” is a long, narrative-fueld song with a dramatic, doomy entrance which lifts a bit during the refrain sections. Later, the song settles into a steady rhythm for the middle bridge section of this seven-minute tune.

Emerson, Lake and Powell

The album’s second side features more standard length, pop-oriented tracks, starting with the album’s only single, “Touch and Go”. Here we have catchy intro and interlude synths broken by verses driven by Lake’s melodic vocals. “Love Blind” sounds more like a soundtrack montage than a standard song, albeit Powell’s drumming is fine throughout, while “Step Aside” offers a cool break and true highlight of this second side, as a unique jazzy piano tune where all three members work the vibe well with Emerson leading the way. After the forgettable “Lay Down Your Guns”, the trio cleanse their palate of sappiness with a jam of the dramatic classical movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War”, a song Lake performed with King Crimson a decade and a half earlier.

After a short tour to support the album, Emerson, Lake & Powell disbanded as quickly as they formed. In 1992 the original ELP lineup reformed with Palmer for the album Black Moon, an album with a similar style to this Emerson, Lake & Powell album. Powell tragically lost his life in a 1998 car accident, forever sealing this mid-eighties confluence as a one time occurrence.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Arc of a Diver by Steve Winwood

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Arc of a Diver by Steve WinwoodArc of a Diver is a true “solo” record by Steve Winwood  as he played every instrument and recorded and produced the album in his private studio. The album was a breakthrough for Winwood as a solo artist and it marked a return for him to the top echelon of pop/rock artists as he adapted technology to forge an original contemporary sound for his compositions. The only real collaboration on Arc of a Diver involved the lyrics of the songs, most of which were penned by American songwriter Will Jennings.

Winwood had been in the public eye since the early 1960s, when at age 14 he joined the Spencer Davis Group. The group had a trio of number one hits before Winwood departed in 1967. Next, he joined forces with Eric Clapton in a couple of “supergroups” – Powerhouse in 1966, and Blind Faith in 1969. In between, Winwood spent two phases with the group Traffic, as a supporting player in the late sixties version and taking the lead in his second stint with classic albums such as John Barlycorn Must Die (1970) and The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (1971). After departing Traffic in the mid 1970s, Winwood launched his solo career with his self-titled debut album in 1977.

Winwood built Netherturkdonic studio on his farm in Gloucestershire, England and began composing and recording music on keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion. As the compositions matured, he looked outside for lyrics with Jennings, Viv Stanshall, and George Fleming contributing.


Arc of a Diver by Steve Winwood
Released: December 31, 1980 (Island)
Produced by: Steve Winwood
Recorded: Netherturkdonic Studios, Gloucestershire, England, 1980
Side One Side Two
While You See a Chance
Arc of a Diver
Second-Hand Woman
Slowdown Sundown
Spanish Dancer
Night Train
Dust
Musician
Steve Winwood – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Percussion

The complex synth chords swell like a sunrise to launch the opening track, “While You See a Chance”. When it fully kicks in, this track features solid melodies over complex musical passages and rhythms which patiently make their way to the hook and ultimately the outro, a potent mix that found favor with many types of listeners. The song peaked in the Top 10 in 1981, making it Winwood’s first hit as a solo artist. Next comes the title track with lyrics provided by Stanshall and music built through a funk synth array. The sound is tight with a warm feeling of a graceful arc portrayed.

“Second-Hand Woman” has the most evident, thus far, programmed synth music and features a good use of synth fretless bass, while “Slowdown Sundown” changes direction as a fine acoustic and piano ballad with a soulful organ throughout and reflective lyrics about wanting moments to last longer. The groove-laden “Spanish Dancer” has a subtle synth arpeggio in the background which persists throughout with little variation. Lyrically, the song seems to be a metaphor for a feeling that you just don’t want to end.

“Night Train” is an all out funk/dance song and was a minor hit from the second side of the album. A long intro serves to drive the groove home before Winwood’s vocals, equally as patiently, work towards the catchy pop hook. The final track, “Dust”, is a hybrid between the album’s digital and analog approach. This moderate breakup song does seem artificially lengthy, but Winwood’s vocals are at their finest on this one.

Arc of a Diver nearly reached the top of the Billboard 200 album chart and Winwood was established as a commercially viable act in the 1980s, with 1986’s Back In the High Life being the commercial apex of his career.

More on Steve Winwood

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

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Making Movies by Dire Straits

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Making MoviesIn 1980 Dire Straits made a theatrical rock masterpiece with their third studio album, Making Movies. This record features many extensive, personally themed compositions by Mark Knopfer with complex arrangements finely performed by the trio. Featuring a subtle yet substantial move away from the group’s roots rock origins and into a fusion of jazz, folk and country-rock methods, the record was the keystone marking the excellent career of this British band.

Initially known as the Café Racers, London-based Dire Straits was formed by Mark and his younger brother David Knopfler in the mid 1970s. The group’s self-titled debut album was released in 1978 to worldwide commercial success. The group relentlessly toured Europe, North America and eventually the world to promote their music through 1978 and 1979, taking a break only to record the group’s second album, Communiqué, released in June 1979. to continuing critical and commercial success. in early 1980, the group took several months to write new material.

Recording for Making Movies began in July 1980 with producer Jimmy Iovine, who had worked on Bruce Springsteen’s classics Born to Run and Darkness On the Edge of Town. Iovine brought in E-Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan for the sessions, adding much to the theatrical vibe of Making Movies. However, there were creative tensions between the brothers and this ultimately led to David Knopfler leaving the group midway through recording, with none of his parts being used on the final product.


Making Movies by Dire Straits
Released: October 17, 1980 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Jimmy Iovine & Mark Knopfler
Recorded: Power Station, New York, June – August 1980
Side One Side Two
Tunnel of Love
Romeo and Juliet
Skateaway
Expresso Love
Hand in Hand
Solid Rock
Les Boys
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Pick Withers – Drums, Vocals

The album opens with a short extract from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Carousel Waltz” as part of a complex entry to the over-eight minute suite “Tunnel of Love”. The scene is set with carnies and bad ass tattoos as they pull the lever and start your ride.  Knopfler’s guitar is really strong in this song (as with most of the album) and after the unique introduction the song is pretty steady for for the verses and choruses until it really starts to get creative starting with the pre-solo section where it pauses for choppy rudiments and several drum fills by Pick Withers. Later it completely breaks down in Springsteen-like fashion (kind of coincidental that he made his own Tunnel of Love later in the decade), before it then finally comes back up for a very long and excellent guitar coda to close the song. The fantastic, bittersweet “Romeo and Juliet” follows with a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s story of young star crossed lovers who “come up on different streets.” The music ebbs and flows as it kind of gets soft with Knopfler’s signature riff backing when he’s telling the story and then pointed emotionally as the music gets loud and the arrangement comes in stronger. Released as a single in 1981, the song reached the Top Ten in the UK and it has grown in stature over the years as it’s been featured in several major motion pictures.

The album’s best moment comes at the end of the original first side with “Skateaway”, perhaps the best overall song by the group through their career. Lyrically, it focuses on a young Hollywood starlet who goes against convention and tries to be a free spirit whether she is succeeding or not. There’s a rebelliousness to her skating through traffic going the wrong direction, which may be a parable for the difference between her perception of life and the observable outside reality, which gives the story  a sense of melancholy that shines through the fantastic musical arrangement. It comes in and fades out like a train chugging along with a mix between a synthesized and real drumbeat and  some layered percussion including a tambourine. Withers and bassist John Illsley hold it together rhythmically, leaving enough room for Knopfler  to deliver the lyrics.

Dire Straits

The original second side of Making Movies features four songs less complex and closer to standard running times. “Expresso Love” is just straight up rock n’ roll with strong guitar riffing and lyrics about a sad life of some glamorous woman getting ready to go out on the town, perhaps a prostitute. In contrast, “Hand in Hand” is a mellow ballad about looking back and reminiscing over a relationship and how it morphed from a simple “hand-in-hand” situation to something more complex with a lot of little variables. The aptly named revivalist rock of “Solid Rock” is the band at its simplest and basically an attempt at a radio hit, leading to the odd “Les Boys”. This closer is a departure in a way but it still stays on the same theme of theatrics, while it explores the cabaret scene and the queens that grace the stage.

Making Movies was a worldwide success and was later certified platinum in the US and double-platinum in the UK. The group continued to build their success through the 1980s with the 1982 album Love Over Gold and, most especially, the blockbuster Brothers In Arms in 1985, which ultimately became one of the best selling albums ever worldwide.

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

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Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rainbow in 1975

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

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

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

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Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart

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Gasoline Alley by Rod StewartHis second official solo album, Gasoline Alley, is a critically acclaimed 1970 album by Rod Stewart. It features a diverse mixture of covers and originals that reflect the various styles of Stewart’s various musical projects and this album has been described as one that both celebrates tradition while featuring the rock sensibilities of its present. Ultimately, while the album is a sentimental snapshot of place and time, it has maintained its musical integrity and interest a half century after its creation.

Sir Roderick David Stewart was born in war-torn London, 1945 to parents of both Scottish and English ancestry. As a teenager he developed an interest in English folk music and he began playing harmonica in the early 1960s, joining the rhythm and blues group The Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. One of the group’s earlier gigs in 1963 was opening for The Rolling Stones in London. After leaving The Dimensions, Stewart made his recording début with the single “Up Above My Head” in June 1964, and soon signed a solo recording contract with Decca Records, where he recorded several further singles and made some national television appearances through the mid 1960s but found little commercial success.

In early 1967, guitarist Jeff Beck recruited Stewart to front the heavy blues Jeff Beck Group. The group included bassist Ronnie Wood and the 1968 debut album, Truth, featured contributions from future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and acted as a model for Zeppelin’s own debut album. Stewart co-wrote three of the original tracks on this critically acclaimed album, which spawned a world wide tour in late 1968 into 1969. The Jeff Beck Group’s second album, Beck-Ola, was recorded in April 1969 for release that summer.

The heavily-touring group was slated to play the Woodstock Music Festival before Stewart and Wood abruptly left the group to eventually form Faces with former members of The Small Faces. Meanwhile, Stewart recorded and released his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (known as The Rod Stewart Album in the US) in late 1969, which established his heartfelt mixture of folk, rock, and country blues in both original and cover material. Faces début album, First Step was released in early 1970 with a more straight-forward rock and roll style and this group quickly earned a strong live following. Simultaneously, Stewart entered the studio with producer Lou Reizner to record Gasoline Alley, which struck a balance between the Faces’ sound and Stewart’s solo debut.


Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart
Released: June 12, 1970 (Mercury)
Produced by: Lou Reizner & Rod Stewart
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, February–April 1970
Side One Side Two
Gasoline Alley
It’s All Over Now
Only A Hobo
My Way Of Giving
Country Comfort
Cut Across Shorty
Lady Day
Jo’s Lament
You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)
Primary Musicians
Rod Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Martin Quittenton – Guitar
Ronnie Wood – Guitar, Bass
Ian McLagan – Piano, Organ
Mick Waller – Drums

Stewart and Wood collaborated on the opening title track, an excellent folk track with a 12-string acoustic topped by dueling lead guitars and Stewart mimicking the lead riffs throughout to create a catchy melody. Stanley Matthews provides a mandolin lead to “Gasoline Alley” to complete the aura of this ode to a simpler past. the cover of Bobby and Shirley Jean Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” follows as an entertaining track with a country rock feel due to Wood’s twangy guitar and the piano style of Ian McLagan.

A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Only a Hobo”, a song Dylan himself would not release until decades later, offers a nice change of pace as a simple acoustic waltz with sad and moody lyrics delivered masterfully by Stewart. “My Way of Giving” soulfully starts with organ, bass and the masterful guitar chording by Wood. The song was co-written by Ronnie Lane for the Small Faces in 1966 and he, along with Faces band mate Kenney Jones on drums, perform on this track. “Country Comfort” is an Elton John / Bernie Taupin composition and the piano of this folk ballad is delivered nicely by guest Pete Sears, The song also features an odd but charming backing vocal by Jack Reynolds.

Rod Stewart

The album’s second side offers more diversity to its solid overall sound. “Cut Across Shorty” was originally written for Eddie Cochran in 1960 and, a decade later, this version features a duo acoustic beginning by Wood and Martin Quittenton, which is cut across by Mick Waller‘s unique drum pattern before everything kicks in for a driving rhythm under and some fiddle sprinkled throughout. Two Stewart acoustic originals follow, the partly surreal but all feeling ballad “Lady Day” with a fine a fiddle lead, and the celtic-feeling “Jo’s Lament”, with layered instrumental arrangement. “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It)” wraps things up with a simmering beat and a funk-inflected theme which brings back the Faces’ rhythm section for a final cameo.

While a commercial disappointment in the UK, Gasoline Alley did become the first of 15 consecutive albums for Stewart to chart in the Top 40 in the United States. He would soon reach superstardom with his next 1971 solo record, Every Picture Tells a Story</a,> and continue this success for decades as he became one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

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

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The Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting

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The Dream of the Blue Turtles by StingFollowing a remarkable five years of stellar success with The Police, vocalist and songwriter Sting launched his solo career with his 1985 debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles. With this, Sting worked hard to distinguish his own sound away from the distinct styles of his former trio, bringing in a coterie of jazz, R&B and world style backing musicians. Lyrically, the tunes cover interpersonal as well as topical issues, which work well in some instances but come off a little preachy and pretentious in others.

Sting claims that he decided to leave the Police while onstage at Shea Stadium in New York in August 1983 in support of the group’s top-selling album Synchronicity. The group actually never formally broke up, but all three members focused on their individual projects in the mid 1980s. For Sting, this included working on the 1984 benefit project, Band Aid, and providing the intro vocals for Dire Strait’s hit song “Money for Nothing” from their 1985 album Brothers In Arms.

Co-produced by Pete Smith, the album was recorded both at Eddy Grant‘s studio in Barbados and at LeStudio in Quebec, Canada, a studio used frequently by Rush in the early to mid 1980s. Wanting to move away from the “confines of pop”, Sting’s goal was to erode the boundaries between rock and jazz by using top musicians familiar with both.


The Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting
Released: June 1, 1985 (A&M)
Produced by: Pete Smith & Sting
Recorded: Blue Wave Studio, Saint Philip, Barbados and Le Studio, Morin-Heights, Quebec, January 1984–March 1985
Side One Side Two
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
Love Is the Seventh Wave
Russians
Children’s Crusade
Shadows in the Rain
We Work the Black Seam
Consider Me Gone
The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Moon Over Bourbon Street
Fortress Around Your Heart
Primary Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
Kenny Kirkland – Keyboards
Branford Marsalis – Saxophone
Darryl Jones – Bass
Omar Hakim – Drums

The moderate cool jazz/pop with a good hook off “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” starts things off. Steady throughout, the bridge section breaks out of the main groove as an interesting change on this Top 10 hit. “Love Is the Seventh Wave” follows with highly philosophical lyrics above an electronic reggae arrangement. The song’s title is derived from a popular saying among surfers and sailors and it concludes with a brief homage to “Every Breath You Take” from Sting’s former band. Speaking of The Police, there is one remake on this album, “Shadows in the Rain”, originally released on 1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta. This version starts with an off-beat drum entry and the shout by someone of “what key is it in?”, building tension until the song breaks into an upbeat blues jam with an impressive sax lead by Branford Marsalis.

Co-written by Sergei Prokofiev, “Russians” features a synthesized and ominous vibe with lyrics that are both profound – (“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology / I hope the Russian love their children too”) – and a bit outdated philosophically. Other topical tracks include “Children’s Crusade” is a ballad with lyrics that speak of the devastation brought about by heroin addiction, and “We Work the Black Seam” with a chanting-like melody over some African beats and lyrics that speak of working men and modern industrialization.

Sting 1985

The jazz-tinged tunes continue with “Consider Me Gone”, with fine drumming by Omar Hakim to accompany Darryl Jones‘s bass, which later temporarily breaks into a fine jazz phrase. The title track is a short but entertaining piano jazz jam, with the title itself coming from an actual dream by Sting where aggressive and quite drunk blue turtles were doing back flips and destroyed his garden. Sting provides fretless bass on “Moon Over Bourbon Street”, while some distant horns give the arrangement lots of atmosphere beneath the narrative vocals. Like it begins, the album concludes with a strong pop song, “Fortress Around Your Heart”. This is, perhaps, the most “Police-like” track on Dream of the Blue Turtles with subtle key changes in the verses, animated drumming under the hook and very profound lyrics throughout. Marsalis’ final sax lead closes out the album on a fine note.

The Dream of the Blue Turtles reached the Top 5 in various countries on both sides of the Atlantic, answering the doubts as to whether it was wise to abandon the uber-successful Police. Later in 1985, a documentary film called Bring On the Night was released, focusing on this jazz-inspired project.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1985 albums.

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“Melt” by Peter Gabriel

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Peter Gabriel 1980Peter Gabriel‘s third solo album was also the third to be officially eponymous, although this 1980 record has been given the unofficial title “Melt”. This album is credited as Gabriel’s artistic breakthrough due to its innovative use of electronic effects and gated drums without any cymbals. In fact, the album was released at different time in the UK and US because the original US distributor, Atlantic Records, refused to release and ultimately dropped Gabriel from their roster because they objected to its unconventional sound.

After departing Genesis in 1975, Gabriel took a unique approach to his new solo career. He wanted his record releases to be like issues of a magazine, all using similar typeface but with unique designs by Hipgnosis. Over time, each album received an unofficial nickname based on these cover designs. Gabriel’s 1977 debut was called “Car” while his 1978 sophomore release was called “Scratch”.

After an extensive tour through the second half of 1978, Gabriel dedicated much of 1979 to recording this third album. Co-produced by Steve Lillywhite, the music is influenced by African music and the recordings make inventive use of drum machines and other sequencers with the songs built up from the rhythm track.


Peter Gabriel (1980) by Peter Gabriel
Released: May 23, 1980 (Charisma)
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite & Peter Gabriel
Recorded: Bath Studio and Townhouse Studio, London, England, 1979
Side One Side Two
Intruder
No Self Control
Start
I Don’t Remember
Family Snapshot
And Through the Wire
Games Without Frontiers
Not One of Us
Lead a Normal Life
Biko
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
David Rhodes – Guitars, Vocals
Larry Fast – Keyboards, Bagpipes
John Giblin – Bass
Jerry Marotta – Drums, Percussion

This album’s innovation is apparent right from the jump with the opening track “Intruder”, featuring Gabriel’s former band mate Phil Collins using a new “gated drum” sound that was developed along with engineer Hugh Padgham. While this may seem slightly dated listening four decades on and realizing the fact that it is more effect than melody, the song does feature a few slight breaks of interesting piano and chorus vocal. “No Self Control” contains slightly more structure than the opener with a lot of rock tension built through its various movements and this is followed by the slight instrumental interlude, “Start”, featuring the saxophone of Dick Morrissey over backing synth pads. “I Don’t Remember” arrives in sharp contrast to the smooth intro as the brash and bright new wave track with one of the catchier hooks on this album. An earlier version of this was recorded to be featured on a 7″ single in Europe, but Charisma Records rejected that version on the basis that Robert Fripp‘s guitar solo was not “radio-friendly” enough.

“Family Snapshot” starts as a dramatic piano ballad complete with some fine fretless bass by John Giblin and builds to a more upbeat tune in later verses. “And Through the Wire” seems to be a natural sequel to “Family Snapshot” until it suddenly awakes with a hook above some thumping bass and percussion. Featuring The Jam’s guitarist Paul Weller, this track closes side one on a strong note. “Games Without Frontiers” is the most indelible track from the album with a French-language chorus of “Jeux Sans Frontières”, which is a popular television show based on pageantry and competition which broadcast in several European countries. This song features a masterful potpourri of a marching percussion, a slide electrical guitar, a rap-like verse and a cool, whistling pre-chorus, all making for a beautiful sound collage. “Games Without Frontiers” became Gabriel’s first top-10 hit in the UK.

Peter Gabriel 1980

“Not One of Us” marks a return to synth-driven experimentation with a message that condemns xenophobia in general and the mentality of cliques, more specifically. Jerry Marotta‘s drumming and percussion pattern shine especially in the latter part of this song. “Lead a Normal Life” is built on a long, deliberate synth and piano arpeggio with only a short vocal section in between two long instrumental sections. This is the track where Atlantic’s founder Ahmet Ertegun reportedly asked, “Has Peter been in a mental hospital?” in rejecting this song in particular and the album overall. Then comes the climatic closer “Biko”. While the song structure itself is simple and steady (in the same vein as the Beatle’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver, the inventive overlay of sonic effects makes this it’s own distinct masterpiece. Lyrically, this song is a musical eulogy to black South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died in police custody in 1977, and it was therefore banned in South Africa even while reaching the Top 40 in the UK.

Peter Gabriel‘s third album topped the British charts and charted well in many other places world wide, firmly establishing his career as a solo artist. Another major tour followed the album’s release and extended through late 1980, before Gabriel began work on his fourth (and final) self-titled album, nicknamed “Security” and released in 1982.

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

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