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.

~

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.

~

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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I Should Coco by Supergrass

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I Should Coco by SupergrassSupergrass released their debut album, I Should Coco in 1995. This energetic and eclectic record features an array of rock sub-genres from Brit pop to punk to ska to a dash of trippy psychedelia. The album’s weird title is derived from local English slang for “I should think so” and, being that the group members were still in their teens at the time of writing and recording, this album was advertised as “the sound of adolescence” in its day. As a result, I Should Coco reached the top of the UK Albums Chart and achieved Platinum status in sales.

Guitarist and vocalist Gaz Coombes played in the group The Jennifers with drummer Danny Goffey when both were in their mid teens. This group began to gain local notoriety around Oxford, England and they recorded a 1992 live demo to sell at shows. The Jennifers disbanded in 1993 as some members went on to university and Coombes formed Theodore Supergrass with Goffey bassist Mick Quinn. In mid-1994 the group’s name was shortened to simply Supergrass and they signed with Backbeat Records and issued their debut single, “Caught by the Fuzz”, which achieved the rare feat of being both NME and Melody Maker’s “Single Of The Week” status during the same week.

I Should Coco was recorded throughout much of 1994 with producer Sam Williams. Many of these sessions were specifically to record advance singles (three were released before the album), while the rest was captured during frenzied studio performances as the group wanted to catch the energy and excitement of the songs on tape. All songs on this 13-track album were composed by the members of Supergrass.


I Should Coco by Supergrass
Released: May 15, 1995 (Parlophone)
Produced by: Sam Williams
Recorded: Sawmills Studios, Cornwall, England, February-August 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
I’d Like to Know
Caught by the Fuzz
Mansize Rooster
Alright
Lose It
Lenny
Strange Ones
Sitting Up Straight
She’s So Loose
We’re Not Supposed To
Time
Sofa (of My Lethargy)
Time to Go
Gaz Coombes – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob Coombes – Keyboards
Mick Quinn – Bass, Vocals
Danny Goffey – Drums, Vocals
I Should Coco by Supergrass

The album opens with “I’d Like to Know”, which is strongly tied to a later song on the album, “Strange Ones”. This opening track features pure thumping modern punk, brimming with energy and unambiguous enthusiasm with Goffey’s drumming especially well done and with a few sonic surprises and rudiment shifts. “I’d Like To Know” was derived from “Strange Ones”, a standard punk rocker albeit with some radical timing changes and vocal effects, played backwards on tape cassette. Next comes “Caught by the Fuzz”, the group’s first single written around the true-life incident of lead singer Gaz Coombes’ arrest for possession of cannabis. “Mansize Rooster” is the first track on the album that is much more oriented towards ska than punk and it features very choppy use of piano and guitars. The keyboards are provided by Gaz’s older brother Rob Coombes, who at the time was an unofficial fourth member of the group (later to be made official).

The heavy riff-driven track “Lose It” is sandwiched between two pop hits from I Should Coco. “Alright” is an excellent upbeat track with good melody, interesting chord changes and a harmonized guitar lead, which all worked to make this the group’s biggest hit worldwide. “Lenny” was earlier released and became Supergrass’ first Top 10 hit in the UK, as a track which has some absurd lyrics over a real sixties hard rock feel featuring particular animation by Quinn on bass.

Supergrass

The latter part of the album moves away from the single-ready material and towards eclectic compositions. “Sitting Up Straight” features an early Who-like frantic reggae sound, while “She’s So Loose” finds the more mainstream nineties post-Brit pop feel with extended vocal lines using strategic reverb and just a slight bit of orchestration over the major strummed chord changes. The experimental “We’re Not Supposed To” is the album’s low point with some ridiculous pitched vocals, but they swiftly recover with the excellent, sloshy, Stones-like blues rocker “Time”, where Gaz Coombes delivers a completely distinct vocal style. The epic “Sofa (of My Lethargy)” is the album’s climax with thick vocals, slide guitar, mesmerizing organ tones and a later extended instrumental section for a spacey overall vibe. This more-than-six-minute epic then dissolves into the simple and short acoustic closer, “Time to Go”, as an apt final statement.

I Should Coco is credited with impacting the Britpop music scene as a whole and its success launched the group into a year and a half of heavy touring. They would not return to studio for a follow up for a few years and, even though In It For The Money was a platinum-selling success in the UK, they would not again quite reach the heights of their debut album.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

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Animal Tracks by The Animals

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Animal Tracks by The Animals, both versionsIn 1965, The Animals released a pair of albums that were each titled Animal Tracks, a May 1965 release in their native UK and a September release in the US. Aside from sharing a title these two records bore little resemblance in either song selections or effective approach. The UK release was filled with fresh recordings of mainly R&B covers, while the US version featured recent hit singles, B-sides along with other recordings previously released in Britain but not in America, making this a fine compilation of the group’s early career.

The Animals were formed in 1965 in Newcastle, England when vocalist Eric Burdon joined a group led by keyboardist Alan Price. The nickname “animals” was informally applied due to the group’s wild stage act and eventually they made the name official. After much success in their home region, the group moved to London in 1964, a timely move to catch the British Invasion wave. They performed original, dramatic versions of staple rhythm and blues songs from a variety of artists. The group’s 1964 debut was a reinterpreted version of the standard “Baby Let Me Take You Home”, followed by their haunting version of “House of the Rising Sun”, which became a worldwide hit for the group.

Producer Mickie Most shepherded all the group’s recordings through their initial two years in the studio. This included a US-only release titled The Animals On Tour, released in February 1965. Songs that landed on the UK version of Animal Tracks were recorded over the winter of 1964-1965


Animal Tracks (UK version) by The Animals
Released: May 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: November 1964 – March 1965
Side One Side Two
Mess Around
How You’ve Changed
Hallelujah I Love Her So
I Believe to My Soul
Worried Life Blues
Roberta
I Ain’t Got You
Bright Lights, Big City
Let the Good Times Roll
For Miss Caulker
Road Runner

Animal Tracks (US version) by The Animals
Released: September 1, 1969 (MGM)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: July 1964 – June 1965
Side One Side Two
We Gotta Get Out of This Place
Take It Easy Baby
Bring It On Home to Me
The Story of Bo Diddley
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
I Can’t Believe It
Club A-Go-Go
Roberta
Bury My Body
For Miss Caulker
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Eric Burdon – Lead Vocals
Hilton Valentine – Guitars, Vocals
Alan Price – Keyboards, Vocals
Chas Chandler – Bass, Vocals
John Steel – Drums, Percussion

 

The UK version of Animal Tracks sets the energetic and confident pace with the opening cover of “Mess Around”, a boogie tune composed by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun for Ray Charles, who made it a hit in 1953. The Animals also recorded the Ray Charles 1956 jubilant original “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and his slow blues track “I Believe to My Soul” for this album.

Animal Tracks UK by The AnimalsOther covers on the UK version include a a reflective, downbeat rendition of Chuck Berry’s “How You’ve Changed”, the Major Merriweather blues standard “Worried Life Blues”, a surging and angry version of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City”  and a cover of Calvin Carter’s “I Ain’t Got You”, a song also covered in 1965 by The Yardbirds. Animal Tracks (UK) also includes a couple of lighter covers, “Let the Good Times Roll” by Shirley Goodman and the closing Bo Didley track “Road Runner”, a tribute to the popular cartoon character.

Only two songs were featured on both versions of Animal Tracks, Al Smith’s “Roberta” a boogie rocker complete with call and response backing vocals and a twangy guitar lead by Hilton Valentine and Burdon’s “For Miss Caulker”, the only original song on the UK album, which is highlighted by Price’s blues club wild, minor-key piano. Price left the Animals due to personal and musical differences in early 1965, making the Animal Tracks sessions his last with the group until they reunited over a decade later.

Animal Tracks US by The AnimalsThe US version of the album featured an eclectic mix of songs recorded and released in the past year with just a few new recordings made in the summer of 1965. The earliest songs on this album date back to the summer of 1964 with the Burdon / Price original “Take It Easy Baby”, a swinging pop B-Side, as well as two tracks from their 1964 self-titled UK debut album, “Bury My Body” and “The Story of Bo Diddley”. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was an early 1965 single that was a trans-Atlantic hit as an original rendition of a song originally recorded by Nina Simone. The US version also includes the thumping original B-Side of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “Club A-Go-Go”, and also a soulful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me”.

In June 1965, the Animals returned to the studio with new keyboardist Dave Rowberry. Here they recorded the Burdon original, “I Can’t Believe It”, a fun bluesy track highlighted by rhythms by John Steel, a descending bass line and bright organ by Rowberry, complete with a fine lead ending with Burdon’s vocals nicely mimicking the organ notes. The highlight of the album is the indelible “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, a song which reached #2 on the UK charts. Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the Animals’ version is highlighted by the bass line of Chas Chandler, which intensely backs Burdon’s vocal dynamics and dramatics, which drive the song.

The Animals in 1965

With the departure of Price, the prime early days of the Animals began to rapidly morph. By the end of 1965, the group ended its association with Most and signed a new record deals starting with the 1966 MGM compilation, The Best of the Animals, which became their best-selling album in the US. By September of 1966, the group’s classic lineup had dissipated and they were re-branded Eric Burdon & the Animals, effectively an on-going solo project for the lead vocalist.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration 1965 albums.

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Fire and Water by Free

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Fire and Water by FreeThe 1970 album Fire and Water was the third studio album by Free and it proved to be the breakthrough of the group’s short but prolific career. The album showcases the British quartet at the peak of their blues rock talents and is at once strongly roots oriented while being sonically innovative. Fire and Water achieved worldwide commercial success, reaching the Top 20 in the US and climbing to #2 on the UK album chart, while staying on that chart for a total of 18 weeks.

Free was formed in London, England in April 1968 when guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke of the band Black Cat Bones joined vocalist Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser to form the new group. All four members were teenagers at the time of formation but their sparse, straight forward blues rock sound got them quickly noticed and the band was signed to Island Records within the year. Free recorded and released two albums in 1969, their debut Tons of Sobs and their self-titled follow-up, but these failed to achieve any notable commercial success or chart movement. However, the group was quickly becoming renowned for their live shows and non-stop touring. In fact, the group gained an American audience not from their studio albums but due to successful tours opening for Delaney and Bonnie and Blind Faith.

Fire and Water was recorded in London during early 1970 and it was largely self-produced by the group members with the assistance of John Kelly and future Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. These sessions stretched out over several months as the group continued its relentless touring schedule.


Fire and Water by Free
Released: June 26, 1970 (Island)
Produced by: Roy Baker, John Kelly & Free
Recorded: Trident Studios & Island Studios, London, January–June 1970
Side One Side Two
Fire and Water
Oh I Wept
Remember
Heavy Load
Mr. Big
Don’t Say You Love Me
All Right Now
Group Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals
Paul Kossoff – Guitars
Andy Fraser – Keyboards, Bass
Simon Birke – Drums, Percussion

Most of the tracks on Fire and Water were written by Fraser and Rodgers, starting with the opening title track, a song frequently covered through the years. “Fire and Water” sets the pace by featuring simple riffing and beat to back Rogers’ soulful rock vocals, with Kossoff’s droning lead section and Birke;s closing drum solo addsing much needed contrasts to make this an interesting rock anthem. Next comes “Oh I Wept”, the real highlight of the album’s first side. Here Fraser’s electric piano backs Rogers’ excellent Stevie Wonder-like vocals as this moderate ballad builds some power through the choruses and a short, bluesy guitar lead.

“Remember” is a reworking of an unused song originally titled “Woman by the Sea” from the debut Tons of Sobs recording sessions in late 1968 where Rogers shows yet another element to his vocals. “Heavy Load” is a piano ballad where Fraser shines on both bass and piano as the rhythms nicely fade to the background for a dreamy lead guitar section. Written by all four group members, “Mr. Big” is a slow jam structured to have a more intense instrumental section sandwiched between the definitive rock verses and choruses, while “Don’t Say You Love Me” is a slow, blues ballad with Rodgers vocals oriented towards soul complete with a Gospel-like choir in the background later in the song.

Free

The indelible number from this album is saved for the closer. “All Right Now” is a simple anthem built from a well-defined riff, beat and love song lyrical motifs. However, the unique element for this classic is the mid section which starts with a slight guitar lead over a drum shuffle before Kossoff’s second, more bluesy lead guitar is placed on top of Fraser’s signature bass and piano rhythms. The song was written on the spot following a show where the group was dissatisfied with their performance and audience response and decided they needed an uptempo rocker to close shows. Initiated by Fraser, the group composed this anthem in about “ten minutes” right there in the post-show dressing room and “All Right Now” went on to be a worldwide chart-topper and Free’s most popular song.

With the success of Fire and Water, Free appeared destined for superstardom in the 1970s. However, the road would not be so smooth as the group broke up temporarily in 1971 and permanently the following year as Fraser departed and Kossoff developed a drug addiction which ultimately took his life at age 25. In 1973, Rodgers and Kirke became half of the new group Bad Company, a band which fully realized the top-level potential that Free had shown earlier in the decade.

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

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Duke by Genesis

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Duke by GenesisDuke was the tenth overall studio album by Genesis and their second since contracting to a trio. The album is made of twelve songs mainly composed by individual members of the band while remaining inter-related in a thematic way (although not presented in sequence). This mix of pop and prog was a commercial and critical success at the time of its release and it masterfully displays this pivotal musical era of the group at the beginning of the 1980s.

Following the massive success of 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and its equally massive world tour into 1975, lead vocalist Peter Gabriel departed from Genesis. Rather than replace Gabriel, the group decided to continue as a quartet with drummer Phil Collins assuming the role of lead vocalist. The group recorded and released two well received albums in 1976, A Trick of the Tale and Wind & Wuthering. The tours following these two albums made up material for the group’s 1977 live album, Seconds Out. However, guitarist Steve Hackett decided to become the second member to leave the group and embark on a solo career and the remaining members of the group decided not to replace him. Instead, bassist Mike Rutherford played most of the guitar parts. Collins, Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks soon recorded and released And Then There Were Three followed by another world tour in 1978.

Entering 1979, the group decided to take an extensive break with Banks and Rutherford working on solo albums and Collins relocating to Vancouver. Later in the year, the group got back together to rehearse and record the material that would become Duke. The album was recorded at Polar Studios in Stockholm with David Hentschel co-producing along with the band.


Duke by Genesis
Released: March 24, 1980 (Charisma)
Produced by: David Hentschel & Genesis
Recorded: Polar Studios, Stockholm, Sweden, November–December 1979
Side One Side Two
Behind the Lines
Duchess
Guide Vocal
Man of Our Times
Misunderstanding
Heathaze
Turn It On Again
Alone Tonight
Cul-de-sac
Please Don’t Ask
Duke’s Travels
Duke’s End
Group Musicians
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars, Vocals

The group originally planned to record a side-long suite but ultimately the piece was broken up into six tracks. The main riff leads the majestic instrumental opening of “Behind the Lines”. Complete with deliberative accents on its three-chord main riff, the vocals finally enter about two and a half minutes in for this popular song that opened many concerts in years to come. The opener dissolves into “Duchess”, with a long electronic intro as Banks slowly works in a piano arpeggio. The song was released as single but barely missed the Top 40 on the UK Singles charts. “Guide Vocal” is a short electric piano ballad by Banks followed by Rutherford’s “Man of Our Times”, with a tension filled, heavy synth riff and deliberative drumming.

Continuing the streak of solo compositions comes Collins’ first contribution, “Misunderstanding”. This upbeat lover’s lament pop rock with doo-wop elements and Rutherford’s rollicking bass line with a main riff that heavily borrows from Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 hit “Hot Time In the Summertime”. The song became a worldwide hit and their highest charting single to date in the United States. “Heathaze” is an uplifting ballad written by Banks with Collins definitely channeling Gabriel and some excellent musical phrasing throughout. Banks later went on to describe Duke as his favorite Genesis album.

Genesis in 1980

Side two begins with “Turn It On Again”, the next phase of the underlying suite and a song which best encapsulates the Genesis sound at the turn of the decade and is all encapsulated in a less than four minute track. This upbeat synth-driven with great vocal melody features complex time signatures, with a forward motion where the song’s hook doesn’t appear until the end coda. Next comes a trio of solo compositions – Rutherford’s ballad “Alone Tonight”, Banks’ potent and profane “Cul-de-sac”, and Collin’s emotional “Please Don’t Ask”, with fine instrumental backing throughout and a forgotten gem as far as Genesis ballads go. This all leads to the climatic conclusion. “Duke’s Travels” is a long and deliberative, synth-led mainly instrumental with later vocals to deliver the final narrative of the underlying theme, with “Duke’s End” being one last frantic deluge of the main riff theme from “Behind the Lines” to encapsulate the album.

Duke was the first album by Genesis to reach the top of the UK Album charts and it has been certified Platinum on both sides of the Atlantic. With this commercial success, the band built their own dedicated studio in Chiddingfold, known as “The Farm”, where further successful projects were recorded throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.

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

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Young Americans by David Bowie

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Young Americans by David BowieFor his ninth studio album, David Bowie decided to move in a radically new direction with the soul and R&B infused 1975 album Young Americans. On this record, which was recorded mainly in Philadelphia, Bowie collaborated with diverse musical legends such as Luther Vandross and John Lennon in fulling his legitimate quest to produce a solid cross-genre album. The result was a commercial success which resulted in a Top 10 album on both sides of the Atlantic.

Following the release of 1974’s Diamond Dogs, Bowie embarked on a North American tour, complete with a high-budget stage production and theatrical special effects. Ultimately, this tour spawned a documentary entitled Cracked Actor as well as the live album, David Live, which was a worldwide hit and is highly acclaimed as a live album. During the tour, Bowie also became deeply enamored in American Soul music and during a break in the tour he convened some recording sessions.

These initial sessions were from August through the Fall of 1974 with producer Tony Visconti and a variety of musicians loosely called the Sound of Philadelphia, including Vandross and guitarist Carlos Alomar. Much of these sessions were recorded live in studio for a more authentic feel and during these sessions several non-album tracks were recorded, including the single “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)”, a sequel to a 1972 non-album single. Later sessions during the winter of 1974-1975 (including those where Lennon contributed) took place in New York City with engineer Harry Maslin.


Young Americans by David Bowie
Released: March 7, 1975 (RCA)
Produced by: Tony Visconti, Harry Maslin, & David Bowie
Recorded: Sigma Sound, Philadelphia, August 1974 – January 1975
Side One Side Two
Young Americans
Win
Fascination
Right
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Across the Universe
Can You Hear Me?
Fame
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Earl Slick – Guitars
David Sanborn – Saxophone
Willie Weeks – Bass
Andy Newmark – Drums

The consistent sax David Sanborn along with the excellent chorus backing vocals lead the opening title track. “Young Americans” proved to be a commercial breakthrough for Bowie in the United States as a Top 40 hit due in part to its cynical and timely lyrics and overall catchy energy. “Win” follows as a steady Soul ballad topped with Bowie’s slightly contrasting English folk which makes the whole effect a bit psychedelic. Vandross co-wrote the song “Fascination”, which derived from a song called “Funky Music”. This version prominently features the clavinet of Mike Garson and is a real showcase for bassist Willie Weeks.

While less cohesive than much of the previous material, the first side closer “Right” does feature an excellent short guitar lead by Alomar. The beginning of side two starts with much of the same style. “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is the album’s longest and (seemingly) most vocally improvised of the album tracks as Bowie’s vocals reach for the next level, even briefly going falsetto in the coda section. Then, in a break in genre, comes a bluesy rock cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe”. However, there are some distinct divergences, such as the chorus mantra “jai guru deva om” omitted and the song changing keys for the third verse and newly extended coda section.

David Bowie

The album ends strong with two distinctive tracks. “Can You Hear Me?” is an excellent Soul ballad with cool rhythms and a potent outro which dissolves to solo vocals. The closing track “Fame” was a smash hit written by Bowie, Alomar and John Lennon. This catchy dance track at the forefront of disco became Bowie’s first number 1 single in the US and Canada as it explored the mixed blessings of being famous.

Bowie’s foray into Soul music partially persisted into his transitional follow-up Station to Station in early 1976, after which he reflected back with the compilation Changesonebowie later that year.

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

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Brand New Day by Sting

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Brand New Day by StingSting‘s sixth solo record, Brand New Day was a 1999 critical and commercial success that ultimately earned a Grammy Awards for both Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The album is filled with tracks of generous length composed through an easy approach and recorded with expert studio production. The result is a multi-million selling Top 10 album that closed out the decade and century on a high note for the former Police front man.

Sting decided to leave the Police (albeit unofficially) after the tremendous success of 1983’s Synchonicity II and the subsequent stadium tour. The trio agreed to next concentrate on solo projects with Sting’s 1985 debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles achieving multi-platinum success. Sting was now an established solo artist who collaborated on several other pop projects and allowed him to transcend the Police as a pop icon. 1987’s Nothing Like the Sun was nearly as successful as its predecessor as was the Grammy winning 1993 album (his fourth solo effort), Ten Summoner’s Tales. However Sting’s 1996 album, Mercury Falling was a commercial disappointment.

Producer Hugh Padgham was originally slated to produce the album which would become Brand New Day, but Sting changed direction and decided to co-produce it with Kipper. The album was recorded in various European studios throughout 1999.


Brand New Day by Sting
Released: September 27, 1999 (A&M)
Produced by: Sting & Kipper
Recorded: Il Palagio, Italy, Studio Mega, Paris, Right Track Recording and Avatar Studios, New York City, Air Lyndhurst Hall, London, 1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
A Thousand Years
Desert Rose
Big Lie, Small World
After the Rain Has Fallen
Perfect Love… Gone Wrong
Tomorrow We’ll See
Prelude to the End of the Game
Fill Her Up
Ghost Story
Brand New Day
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Dominic Miller – Guitars
Kipper – Keyboards
Manu Katché – Drums
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums

Brand New Day by Sting

 

A long synth swell intro leads to the percussion driven verse of “A Thousand Years”, with Sting’s voice oft mimicking the string melody. The hit “Desert Rose” follows and the world influences are evident with an Arabian feel to it throughout. This song, which features a duet performance with Algerian singer Cheb Mami, was a hit worldwide including the Top 20 in the UK and the US.

“Big Lie, Small World” is a jazzy song throughout with choppy guitar and bouncy bass under a fine melody leading to an equally fine horn lead to complete the track. “After the Rain Has Fallen” is the most upbeat and most intense song thus far as a funk/rock arrangement with strong hook and more subtle use of synths, while “Perfect Love… Gone Wrong” ranges from cool jazz to French rap but the novelty wears thin pretty quickly.

Sting

The real heart of the album comes on its original second side, starting with “Tomorrow We’ll See”, a fine track which builds in intensity as it maintains its cool jazz format throughout. “Fill Her Up” is where the album takes its biggest left turn with a lyric heavy Western arrangement with catchy melodies and rhythm, featuring guest James Taylor and pedal steel guitar by BJ Cole. “Ghost Story” at first sounds like Medieval English folk but then morphs into a more pop oriented love song for another interesting track, This all leads to the closing title track “Brand New Day”, as Sting saved the best pop song for last, with Stevie Wonder‘s harmonica adding a perfect compliment.

Following the success of Brand New Day, Sting found continued success as a solo artist into the new century and finally reunited with the Police for a world tour in 2007.

1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

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Reggatta de Blanc by The Police

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Reggatta de Blanc by The PoliceDriven by the strength of two UK number one singles, Reggatta de Blanc helped launch The Police into the commercial stratosphere. Building on the strength of their 1978 debut, Outlandos d’Amour, this second album marked a slight change in the band’s sound, with a more polished and refined production of the trio’s energetic musical performances. The album’s title loosely translates to “white reggae”, a label which aptly describes the core of the group’s signature sound but falls short of touching on the depth of their influences.

In 1976, American drummer Stewart Copeland was playing in a British progressive rock band called Curved Air when he met former school teacher turned musician Gordon Sumner, professionally known as Sting. The two jammed and contemplated starting a punk rock band with guitarist Henry Padovani. The trio toured the UK as a supporting act and even recorded a single called “Fall Out” in 1977. Later that year, Copeland and Sting merged with two members of a band called Strontium 90, Mike Howlett and guitarist Andy Summers. About a decade older than the other musicians, Summers had much music industry experience dating back well into the sixties with groups such as Eric Burdon and the Animals. After some live gigs, the Police pared back to a trio with Sting composing original material. Copeland’s older brother, producer Miles Copeland, helped finance the Police’s first album, Outlandos d’Amour, released in 1978. On the strength of the single,”Roxanne”, Miles got the group signed with A&M Records, and the later hit “Can’t Stand Losing” sparked the group’s first tour of the USA.

Like it’s predecessor, Reggatta de Blanc was recorded at Surrey Sound with producer Nigel Gray. The studio was considered too small for a major label act but it was where the group was comfortable recording. With a small budget and limited time for recording, some of the material was re-purposed from previous group projects.


Reggatta de Blanc by The Police
Released: October 2, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Nigel Gray & The Police
Recorded: Surrey Sound Studios, Leatherhead, England, February – August 1979
Side One Side Two
Message in a Bottle
Reggatta de Blanc
It’s Alright for You
Bring on the Night
Deathwish
Walking on the Moon
On Any Other Day
The Bed’s Too Big Without You
Contact
Does Everyone Stare
No Time This Time
Group Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The opener “Message in a Bottle” was the lead single from the album and subsequently became the group’s first number one hit on the UK Singles chart. This jazzed up reggae with a definitive pop/rock sheen was derived from a riff that Sting had developed while on the first American tour in 1978. The potent and metaphoric lyrics about finding other lonely “castaways” were written during the Surrey studio sessions. The title quasi-instrumental “Reggatta de Blanc” commences with Copeland’s rapid percussive intro, leading to bass rhythm under various delicate guitar textures and vocal chanting and yodeling throughout. Composed collectively by the trio, this evolved from improvisational stage jams during performances of the hit “Can’t Stand Losing You” and the track went on to surprising win a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1980.

On “It’s Alright for You” the group reached back to their punk roots, albeit with a little more of pop smoothness and variable tempos to make it a dance bop. Sting’s “Bring on the Night” has an extended, dramatic intro before settling into another fine pop/reggae track with some of the lyrics re-purposed from a song he wrote with his former band Last Exit. “Deathwish” follows as an interesting closer to the original first side, using several simple riffs, phrases and beats all fused together for a unique kind of jam.

The Police 1979

The textual “Walking on the Moon” was built on Sting’s simple bass riff, Summers’ atmospheric chord strum and very subtle high end percussion by Copeland. Sting said he wrote it as “walking around the room” while intoxicated one night after a concert, remembering the tune the following morning but altering the title. The song became their second British chart topper and a big hit in many other countries but did not chart in the United States. The first of two songs to feature Copeland on lead vocals, “On Any Other Day” is a happy-go-lucky rock track about the crumbling of domestic life. This is followed by the pure reggae track “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”, another track originated by Sting during the Last Exit days. Copeland penned the next two songs, “Contact” which features a crisp and jangly intro riff by Summers trading of with rich synths in the verses, and “Does Everyone Stare”, a tune where Summers plays piano Copeland does his second lead vocals. “No Time This Time” is a strong, punk-like rock closer which actually includes a rare guitar lead. The song was previously released as the B-Side to the “So Lonely” single in November 1978.

Reggatta de Blanc was the first of four consecutive albums by The Police to reach #1 on the UK Album charts. Soon after the group embarked on their first world tour, branching out into places that had been seldom destinations for rock performers like India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Greece, Egypt and Mexico.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

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