On Through the Night by Def Leppard

On Through the Night
by Def Leppard

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On Through the Night by Def LeppardIt is clear that Def Leppard had yet to refine their signature sound when they recorded their debut LP, On Through the Night. The album, which contains songs then described as “working-class hard rock anthems” are raw and energetic and was produced in a way which is a little short of professional, but this may be part of the overall charm. Led by the duo guitarists of Steve Clark and Peter Willis, the young group showed some hard rock and heavy metal sophistication as well as an advanced knack for composing hooks.

Def Leppard grew out of a band called Atomic Mass, featuring Willis and bassist Rick Savage. In 1977, 18-year-old Joe Elliott successfully auditioned for the band and brought with him the name “Deaf Leopard”, which he had envisioned as a band name through his school days. Clark joined the band in early 1978 and later that year, while recording their first EP of original music, then-15-year-old Rick Allen joined the group as its permanent drummer, rounding out the quintet.

That EP actually sold well in the U.K., fueled by the song “Getcha Rocks Off”, which got some healthy airtime on the BBC, and the band developed a loyal following in the British hard rock and heavy metal scene. This led to a major record deal in 1979 and the production of On Through the Night late in that year. Produced by Tom Allom, the album is split between re-recorded versions of the group’s previous single, EP tracks and a handful of newly written songs.


On Through the Night by Def Leppard
Released: March 14, 1980 (Mercury)
Produced by: Tom Allom
Recorded: Startling Studios, Ascot, England, December 1979
Side One Side Two
Rock Brigade
Hello America
Sorrow Is a Woman
It Could Be You
Satellite
Walls Came Tumbling Down
Wasted
Rocks Off
It Don’t Matter
Answer to the Master
Overture
Group Musicians
Joe Elliott – Lead Vocals
Steve Clark – Guitars
Peter Willis – Guitars
Rick Savage – Bass
Rick Allen – Drums

“Rock Brigade” starts the album with the energy of a cross between Aerosmith and early Rush, a very seventies vibe for this group that would become synonymous with eighties rock. Driven by the double guitar crunch of Clark and Willis, the song features plenty of slight sound effects to enhance the otherwise solid rock song. Where the opener is a cool rocker, “Hello America” seems overtly tacky during the naked opening vocal chorus, but is otherwise pretty heavy and upbeat with some well placed synth effects in the chorus by session man Chris M. Hughes.

Def Leppard In 1980“Sorrow Is a Woman” is the best song on the album. it starts with a solid and dramatic rock phrase which gives way to the reserved, almost jazzy verse sections with well-picked guitars and fantastic bass by Savage. After a calm and moody first and second chorus, the song launches into a heavy and extended, multi-part bridge with traded and harmonized guitar licks and leads. “It Could Be You” is a heavy blues rocker by Willis with a frenzied feel and nearly as frenzied vocals by Elliot, making this the closest to heavy metal on the first side.
“Satellite” is a bit darker and more murky than the previous tracks and the song tries too hard to be relevant, though it is entertaining enough. The first side finishes with “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”, a song with an epic feel due to the theatrical beginning with spoken narration by guest Dave Cousins of the UK band the Strawbs. The English feel is interrupted by a riff and rudiment rock section which shows that this young band can actually jam pretty well.

On the second side of On Through the Night, Def Leppard starts to sound like eighties hair band that they would ultimately become. “Wasted” is almost comically simple in its approach and repetition, but it is the one song which remained from this album in the band’s repo ire through their superstar years. “Rocks Off” is an updated version of the band’s 1978 radio hit, and is another straight-forward rocker, this time laced with faux crowd noise at various points. The music is tight on this latter track as the duo guitars shine atop the fast and potent rhythm lead by the exquisite timing of drummer Allen, especially during the extended jam which closes the song. “It Don’t Matter” is upbeat with great bluesy guitars in the intro and solo section with well-timed and executed rock riffing during the verses and some chorus chanting, while “Answer to the Master” takes a turn towards the “darker” heavy metal themes floating through other groups at the time.

And with this message that I bring to you / A beacon of light to see you through / For time is on our side

Def Leppard’s first album ends with a nod to the past, with the a hard prog rock epic “Overture”. Starting with an acoustic arpeggio and a folkish,  melodic vibe through the opening two minutes, the track breaks into an electric rock shuffle during the next phase, with poetic lyrics and subtle melody by Elliot. Next, the song goes through some riff-based sections to bridge it back full circle to the opening section with nearly identical lyrics.

Although On Through the Night was a not a huge commercial success upon release, the album was eventually certified platinum by the end of the decade it ushered in. More importantly, it caught the ear of famed producer “Mutt” Lange, who refined the band’s sound on their second album, High ‘n’ Dry in 1981. This led to further success as Def Leppard quickly climbed to the top of the hard rock world.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Double Fantasy by John Lennon

Double Fantasy
by John Lennon & Yoko Ono

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Double Fantasy by John LennonReleased just three weeks before he was murdered, Double Fantasy was at once John Lennon‘s great comeback effort and tragic final release of his lifetime. The album was a true collaboration with Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, with songs pretty much alternating throughout the album’s sequence between songs written and sung by Lennon and those written and sung by Ono. While the album was initially panned by critics, most changed their tune after Lennon’s death and the subsequent deluge of popular support, which served to propel the record to the top of the charts worldwide.

With the birth of Lennon and Ono’s son Sean in October 1975, John Lennon effectively began a hiatus from the music business. Prior to this, Lennon had released an album of cover songs simply titled Rock n’ Roll. Over the subsequent five years, Lennon gave all his attention to his family and performed no touring or recording save from the occasional acoustic demo recorded in his New York apartment. Lennon took a sailing trip down the Atlantic coast to Bermuda in the summer of 1980, which sparked his compositional creativity as he began to write new songs and rework earlier demos. At the same time, Ono also wrote many songs and the couple decided to release their combined work on a single album. The end result was an album of personally focused material with an underlying theme about a man and woman who found each other years into their relationship, with the tracks  sequenced as a dialogue between Lennon and Ono.

They enlisted producer Jack Douglas, and asked him to assemble a backing band without telling them for whom they would be recording. Lennon and Ono initially financed the recording sessions as Lennon was not signed to a record label at the time and the couple wanted the recording sessions to remain secret until they were satisfied with the finished production. After leaking the news to a few A&R folks, the Lennons chose the fledgling Geffen Records, reportedly because David Geffen was the only one who showed Ono the proper respect.


Double Fantasy by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released: November 17, 1980 (Geffen)
Produced by: Jack Douglas, John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Recorded: The Hit Factory, New York, August–September 1980
Side One Side Two
(Just Like) Starting Over
Kiss Kiss Kiss
Cleanup Time
Give Me Something
I’m Losing You
I’m Moving On
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
Watching the Wheels
Yes, I’m Your Angel
Woman
Beautiful Boys
Dear Yoko
Every Man Has a Woman
Hard Times Are Over
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Yoko Ono – Vocals
Hugh McCracken – Guitars
Tony Levin – Bass
Andy Newmark – Drums

The album’s lead single, “(Just Like) Starting Over” is also Double Fantasy‘s opening track. A slight chime noise cues the opening strummed acoustic with Lennon’s crooning vocals in the intro section. The track next breaks into a full, 50s-style rock doo-wop with modern rock elements as a very entertaining, quasi-tribute to Elvis Presley. The outro fadeout includes Ono speaking while Lennon adds soprano chants to complete the track which would posthumously become Lennon’s biggest solo hit, topping the charts for five weeks. Later on the first side, “Cleanup Time” is a funky rocker throughout and reminiscent of certain tracks from Lennon’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges,  his last studio album prior to Double Fantasy.

Ono’s three tracks on the first side are “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, the disco and new wave-influenced song features Ono gasping heavily and appearing to reach orgasm, the Devo-influenced “Give Me Something”, and “I’m Moving On”, which complements and closely mimicks Lennon’s, “I’m Losing You”. Both of these latter tracks were originally recorded by Cheap Trick members Rick Nielson and Bun E. Carlos, but were re-recorded by the session musicians, including guitarists Hugh McCracken and Earl Slick. “I’m Losing You” is a great, moody track where Lennon’s voice sits above the slow rock jam with superb musical motifs. The song was written by Lennon in Bermuda after unsuccessfully trying to connect on a phone call to Ono.

“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” was written by Lennon for his young son and starts with the same percussive bells as the opening song. Musically, it contains strong Caribbean elements along with a consistently strummed acoustic and an extended ending with pleasant sound effects. The song also contains some of the best lyrics on the album;

I can hardly wait to see you come of age / Everyday, in every way it’s getting better and better / Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

“Watching the Wheels” is the best produced song on the album, along with a great musical performance by all players. The bass is spectacular by Tony Levin, bouncy and out front but still nicely locked in with the steady beat of drummer Andy Newmark. On top, the bluesy piano adds for a whimsical mood and Lennon’s parting vocals are very strong and exciting. Ideally, “Watching the Wheels” would have made a great album closer, as Lennon speaks of his “lost” 5 years when he concentrated on domestic life.

John Lennon in 1980

The remainder of side two is dominated by Ono, as she composed and sang four of the six tracks while the two remaining tracks were written by Lennon, directly for her. “Yes, I’m Your Angel” starts with some urban sound effects which go on for nearly a minute before music comes to the forefront as a piano-driven show-tune with accompanying instrumentation and sound collages. “Beautiful Boys” is musically interesting with great layered guitars and potent, high notes of bass, with Ono’s lyrics directly addressing Sean and John. “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” is a moderate and reserved funk/disco, while the closer “Hard Times Are Over” contains a bluesy beat and piano with a live, night club feel.

Lennon’s remaining two songs are the upbeat and funky “Dear Yoko”, with rockabilly vocals, bouncy bass, and a strong horn section, and the much superior ballad, “Woman”. Here, Lennon’s words are deeply romantic, while his vocals are almost desperate. Musically, this track contains a great chord progression throughout along with a pleasant but refrained musical backing. The key jump upward for the third verse perfectly completes the love-song vibe of this song which reached the Top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Following the recording of Double Fantasy, Lennon and Ono immediately started working on a follow-up album, which eventually surfaced as Milk and Honey in early 1984 and is officially listed as Lennon’s final studio album. However, most consider Double Fantasy as the ex-Beatle’s true swan song, as he was working hard promoting it right up until the day he died. On that day, he gave his final interview and optimistically spoke of the future, completing the thought with the now sad phrase; “While there’s life, there’s hope.”

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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The Game by Queen

The Game by Queen

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The Game by QueenQueen reached their commercial peak in the U.S.A. with the 1980 release of their eighth studio album, The Game. This was the only album by the band to reach the top of the charts in America and it eventually surpassed 1977’s, News of the World, as Queen’s top seller with over four million copies distributed. The songwriting on this album is very spread out and diversified, with all songs written individually by band members and each of the four members writing at least two tracks each on this ten track album, which is solid throughout and contains no real weak tracks or filler material.

Queen rode the success of News of the World into a huge world tour in late 1977 and early 1978. They followed this up with the recording and release of the album Jazz, which reached the Top Ten in the US. After another large world tour, the group released their first live album, the double-platinum selling, Live Killers, in 1979. Later that year, the group participated in Paul McCartney’s Concert for the People of Kampuchea, with a live rendition of their 1974 track “Now I’m Here”, being featured on the subsequent album.

Co-produced by Reinhold Mack at his studio in Munich, The Game, was recorded during two distinct phases. Four of the tracks were recorded during the summer of 1979, with the remaining six being produced nearly a year later in early 1980. This album marked the first time that Queen used a synthesizer, a practice they would adopt through most of their later work. Guitarist Brian May stated that the band was “trying to get outside what was normal” and Mack’s recording approach was different than what they had done through their first seven studio albums. The group also employed some pop sub-genres to their tradition “classic rock” core, with elements of new wave and disco spread throughout this record.


The Game by Queen
Released: June 30, 1980 (EMI)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Queen
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, June 1979 – May 1980
Side One Side Two
Play the Game
Dragon Attack
Another One Bites the Dust
Need Your Loving Tonight
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Rock It (Prime Jive)
Don’t Try Suicide
Sail Away Sweet Sister
Coming Soon
Save Me
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Guitars, Piano
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the quasi-theme song “Play the Game”, written by lead vocalist Freddie Mercury in the style of a classic Queen piano ballad, with great rock elements. It all starts with spacey and shrieking synth sound effect before settling into the warm and delicate verse. Everyone in the group brings their ‘A’ game to this track, as middle section blends the heavier rock elements led by May with some more wild synth effects. “Dragon Attack” was composed by May and is the first track built on pure textures, a practice which Queen would expand on later on this album and on later albums. The song features a slight drum solo by Roger Taylor before it reaches its heights with some wild, dueling guitars above the middle section with a unique arrangement that allows these guitars to creep in and totally invade the song’s core.

The hit song “Another One Bites the Dust” was composed by John Deacon and is largely built on his simple bass riff which was inspired by the contemporary group Chic. Later, the song takes on a funky element when May adds guitar in the second verse before it goes “pure disco” during a bridge which includes a simple dance beat strewn by various synth sound effects. The formula worked, as “Another One Bites the Dust” sold seven million copies as a single, reached the Top Ten in Britain, and became Queen’s second and final #1 hit in the United States.

Queen’s initial #1 hit is also on The Game, although it was released nearly a year earlier. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was written by Mercury as a tribute to the late Elvis Presley. This is also one of the few tracks in the Queen catalog where Mercury plays guitar, as he claimed he composed it in just ten minutes while strumming the few chords that he knew. This all worked out, as a rockabilly track with great style, rich harmonies, and a potent bass line and guitar riffing. Preceding the hit track in the album’s sequence is Deacon’s very pop-oriented “Need Your Loving Tonight”, a bright and light tune driven by melody and produced with a much different approach than the more up-front and focused tracks on the album.

Queen

The second side commences with “Rock It (Prime Jive)”, written by Taylor. This song is in two distinct parts, with Mercury crooning during the long intro and Taylor taking over during the new-wave influenced body of the song. While the song really doesn’t go anywhere from here, it is still intense and interesting enough in its upbeat approach. “Don’t Try Suicide” is a song that’s hard to peg. It does have some very cool sonic motifs throughout, but it is so extremely corny in its PSA-style message that it almost sounds like it should have reserved for a non-album project;

Don’t do it, Don’t do it, Don’t-do it, Don’t put your neck on the line, Don’t drown on me babe, Blow your brains out, don’t do that – yeah…

The album’s final three tracks were each recorded during the 1979 sessions. “Sail Away Sweet Sister” is a fine tune by May where the guitarist takes lead vocals and performs his most potent, harmonized guitar lead on the album. This song also features English folk elements and more great harmonies and production. Taylor’s, “Coming Soon” , is percussion driven with a stylistic blend somewhere between ELO and Cheap Trick, along with some heavy new wave elements to top it off. The album concludes with May’s “Save Me”, which starts as a sad song of lament but soon launches into a dynamic theatrical piece. While Mercury is back on lead vocals, May played most of the instruments on the track including acoustic and electric guitars, piano and synthesizer. While not a big hit in the US, this album closer peaked at #11 on the UK Singles chart.

The Game was a true worldwide hit, reaching the Top Ten on charts in eleven different nations and achieving Gold or Platinum status in all major pop music markets. Queen and producer Reinhold Mack were also nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards in 1981, another measure of peak success for Queen.

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

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1979 Album of the Year

Breakfast In America
by Supertramp

1979 Album of the Year

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Breakfast In America by SupertrampBreakfast In America is, at once, an artistic statement and a pure pop record. This sixth overall album by Supertramp was composed and recorded after the British group relocated to Los Angeles. Much like their three previous albums, the songs on Breakfast In America were split between founding members Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, who have contrasting musical and vocal styles but have a knack for blending these styles into interesting and cohesive albums. Here, the chemistry and talent reaches an apex and the result is Supertramp’s best selling, most critically acclaimed and highest charting album, as well as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1979.

While Supertramp started as a purely progressive rock act in 1970, their mid seventies albums started to inch towards more pop/rock song craft. Released in early 1977, Even In the Quietest Moments, which contained the group’s first worldwide Top 40 hit “Give a Little Bit”. After that album’s release, the band decided to permanently relocate to America’s west coast and each member found fresh influence in the prolific pop music culture which was booming in late seventies Los Angeles.

Prior to the extended recording sessions, the group recorded a couple of demo sessions to sort out the best material. Originally, Davies and Hogdson were planning on doing a concept album, which would examine their conflicting personalities and world views called “Hello Stranger”. However, the group eventually decided on abandoning this concept and focusing more on the songs they considered more fun to perform. In this light, the album’s title was changed to reflect the bouncy, upbeat song introduced by Hodgson. Along with producer Peter Henderson, the group forged a fantastic sound for the album by focusing more on capture and performance than mixing and mastering techniques. This process took months and was only completed when the December 1978 deadline arrived.


Breakfast in America by Supertramp
Released: March 29, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Peter Henderson & Supertramp
Recorded: The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, May–December 1978
Side One Side Two
Gone Hollywood
The Logical Song
Goodbye Stranger
Breakfast In America
Oh Darling
Take the Long Way Home
Lord Is It Mine
Just Another Nervous Wreck
Casual Conversations
Child of Vision
Group Musicians
Rick Davies – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Roger Hodgson – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Helliwell – Woodwinds, Reeds, Keyboards, Vocals
Dougie Thompson – Bass
Bob Siebenberg – Drums

Breakfast in America is bookended by two dramatic and theatrical extended tracks which give a sense of the group’s earlier work. “Gone Hollywood” starts with long fade of carnival-like piano before strongly breaking in as a duet of Davies and Hodgson harmonized vocals. After two short verses, a long middle section starts with a subtle but haunting saxophone lead by John Helliwell before Davies takes over lead vocals and tension slowly builds with rhythmic accents of the consistent piano arpeggio. After a climatic Hodson-led section, the song returns to a final verse and concludes with an optimistic musical outro.

“The Logical Song” is a brilliant song lyrically, melodically, and especially musically by Hodgson. The album’s first single, the song reached the Top 10 is several countries and became the group’s most successful hit. The song is highlighted by the later progressions, including the brighter piano notes under Helliwell’s first sax lead and the outro led by the bass riff of Dougie Thompson under the second sax solo. Lyrically, Hodgson critiques the structured education system and society’s unbalanced focus on true knowledge. The dynamics of the Wurlitzer piano are on full display during “Goodbye Stranger”, Davies’ ode to rock groupies. Beyond anything else, this song has exceptionally great sonic aesthetics with some cool guitar textures by Hodgson, including a cool rock outro with a refined guitar lead.

Supertramp in 1979

The album’s title song was written by Hodgson while still a teen in the late sixties. “Breakfast in America” is almost frivolous in subject matter, but quite powerful musically with an interesting, English band march beneath the contemporary rock vocals. The song was a hit in the UK but failed to chart in the States. The side one close “Oh Darling” is an unheralded romantic ballad where Davies uses expert chord progressions and diminishment to perfectly set the beautifully melancholy mood. Hodgson makes his own significant contributions, starting textured electric guitar riffs and acoustic accents to compliment the Wurli piano and vocals perfectly, and climaxing with the closing vocal duet that builds to a crescendo before nicely fading out.

Take the Long Way Home singleThe second side starts with the album’s most philosophical track. The lyrics of “Take the Long Way Home” may be about “stepping out” or growing old or re-examining your life or a combination of these. Hodgson again finds a fine melody to accompany the piano progressions, which dominate the verses and choruses and are accented perfectly by Thomson’s bass. During the bridge, there is an exciting tradeoff between the tenor saxophone and Davies’s bluesy harmonica and during the haunting final descent the song slowly marches away into an echoed darkness, completing the overall effect. “Lord Is It Mine” follows as a sweet and sad piano ballad by Hodgson, who uses his highest falsetto voice to carry the tune with minimal arrangement above the guiding piano. Later, there is a nice clarinet lead by Helliman leading to a climatic final section. Lyrically, the track contains nice little motifs such as,

“You know I get so weary from the battles in this life and there’s many times it seems that you’re the only hope in sight…”

Next come a couple of tracks by Davies. “Just Another Nervous Wreck” is a building pop/rock song about the struggle of the everyman. It starts with an animated electric piano and vocals and builds with many traditional rock elements including a fine harmonized guitar lead and chorus vocals, before the strong, climatic outro with Davies’s vocals becoming ever more desperate and strained. “Casual Conversations” takes the opposite approach to the previous track, as a short, jazzy, mellow tune. Cool piano carries this along, with not much movement elsewhere, just a guide cymbal beat by drummer Bob Siebenberg. “Child of Vision” closes things out as a seven-plus minute track with an epic feel. Employing some newer musical styles and elements, the track is Helliwell’s only partial songwriting credit on the album and it ends with a long piano solo with a improvised feel. This ending, unfortunately, seems mainly there to take up some time and “run out the clock”, which makes for a less than satisfying conclusion to this otherwise flawless album.

Breakfast in America won two Grammy Awards in 1980, and topped the album charts in several countries, including France where it became the biggest-selling English language album of all time. The group followed the album with a 120-date world tour which broke concert attendance records in Europe and Canada. In 1980, the band released the double live album Paris, another huge success worldwide. The group did not follow up Breakfast in America with another studio release until Famous Last Words was released in late 1982, nearly four years later. Although that album was a commercial success, the subsequent tour led to Hodgson’s departure from the group, breaking up the classic lineup of Supertramp.

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1979 Images

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

Madman Across the Water by Elton John

Madman Across the Water
by Elton John

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Madman Across the Water by Elton JohnMadman Across the Water was the fourth studio album by Elton John and his sixth overall album released within a span of just 29 months. The album is filled with songs that highlight John’s mellow and melodic music with Bernie Taupin‘s theatrical lyrical themes, making it a rather unique offering. Most of these tracks are over five minutes in length and filled with complex and deep arrangements, which gives the record a progressive-like feel and has kept this music viable and fresh four decades after its creation.

Born Reginald Dwight, Elton John started performing piano standards in pubs by the age fifteen and soon joined an R&B backing group called Bluesology, which often backed popular American soul acts while touring England. He later adopted his stage name as a tribute to fellow Bluesology members Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. John was later a profession session man who played on tracks recorded by artists ranging from The Hollies to Roger Hodgson and also began composing songs with Taupin for other artists. After a low-selling 1969 debut album, John reached international prominence in 1970, starting with his self-titled second release and the Top Ten hit “Your Song”. This was followed later in the year by Tumbleweed Connection, an American West inspired concept album which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Elton John next toured America and recorded the live album 11–17–70 in New York City on that date.  The prolific output of John and Taupin continued in early 1971 when they composed and recorded the soundtrack to the film Friends.

Like those four previous releases, Madman Across the Water was produced by Gus Dudgeon. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios over several sessions throughout 1971 and included a rich array of session musicians along with the fine string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, which helped forge a rich and theatrical vibe for this album.


Madman Across the Water by Elton John
Released: November 5, 1971 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, February-August, 1971
Side One Side Two
Tiny Dancer
Levon
Razor Face
Madman Across the Water
Indian Sunset
Holiday Inn
Rotten Peaches
All the Nasties
Goodbye
Primary Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano
Caleb Quaye – Guitars
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Mandolin, Sitar
Roger Pope – Drums

Unlike Tumbleweed Connection, this is not quite a theme album although it does provide an account of Elton John’s experiences in America. This is most prominent on “Tiny Dancer”, the album opener, which is also its finest song and a true classic. As reflected through this whole album, John’s music and melody are top notch while Taupin’s lyrics are a little less than so. Everything about the musical arrangement is perfectly placed from the bass lines and ever-intensifying rhythms to the strings to the steel guitar by session man B.J. Cole and, of course, John’s piano which subtly finds its way through the complex chord progressions. Even though the second verse is verbatim lyrically to the first, the arrangement and performance is varied enough to make it completely distinct.

Led by John’s vocal melodies, “Levon” beautifully builds throughout. Here, Taupin’s obscure lyrics are much more thought provoking and work better overall with the rich song craft. A fine acoustic accompanies the piano of the first verse while Brian Odgers‘s funky bass line is accompanied by a cool honky-tonk piano during the second verse. Topping it all off are the orchestral strings, which are much more up front and assert their presence more here than anywhere else on the album. The long coda contains a blend of many of these styles executed in harmony, a real tribute to Dudgeon’s production style. “Razor Face” has a great chord progression with the verse combination of piano and high-pitched organ by Yes’s virtuoso keyboardist Rick Wakeman. John’s vocals hit the higher registers nicely, spouting lyrics which are not great but effective enough to make this interesting and entertaining. The dark and dramatic title track is unlike many others in the Elton John collection, as this relies more on texture and effect than musical composition. It is musically built more on acoustic guitar than piano with the orchestral strings again being well asserted. The song nearly fades out in the middle, but slowly comes back for one final verse where the lyrics speak of paranoia and self-destruction;

“The ground’s a long way down but I need more, Is the nightmare black or are the windows painted?”

Side two of the album is far less memorable than the first and many of the songs feature backing musicians more prominently than John himself. “Indian Sunset” contains evocative and a capella vocals up front, but is less than stellar in achieving its intended theatrics. “Holiday Inn” is a folk waltz with exquisite vocal arrangements but is really a centerpiece for Davey Johnstone on mandolin and acoustic guitar. “Rotten Peaches” and “All the Nasties” are both slightly Gospel influenced, with the former feature high bass note progressions by Dee Murray and the latter including the Cantores em Ecclesia Choir. The album ends somberly, with the short and aptly titled “Goodbye”.

Upon its release, Madman Across the Water was thought to be a flop, as it failed to reach the Top 40 in John’s home country of England. Through the years, however, it did become a multi-Platinum success and has found increasing critical acclaim. Starting with Elton John’s next release, Honky Château in 1972, he would employ a more permanent backing group for both recording and touring and enter into the most successful phase of his career.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.

The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown Rats

The Fine Art of Surfacing
by The Boomtown Rats

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The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown RatsThe Boomtown Rats third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, was the commercial apex of the band’s short career. Musically, the group branched out from their punk rock roots towards many styles in the new wave realm. Lyrically, the music was influenced by group leader Bob Geldof‘s travels in the United States prior to the album’s production. Still, this album by the Irish group did much better in the UK, where it broke into the Top 10, than it did in the US, where it failed to reach the Top 100 on the album charts.

The group got its name from a gang of children in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory and were signed by Ensign Records shortly after relocating to London in 1976. A Top 40 hit, “Lookin’ After No. 1” predated the band’s self-titled 1977 debut album. The Boomtown Rats follow-up album, 1978’s A Tonic For the Troops, was an even greater success, spawning three more hit singles including the number one hit “Rat Trap”.

Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Phil Wainman, The Fine Art of Surfacing was recorded in Holland in late 1978. Beyond the album’s ten tracks, there were two short hidden tracks and three more B-sides recorded during the sessions. While the album’s themes are serious, there is a lighter and somewhat humorous approach to the songwriting, giving the overall vibe an entertaining depth.


The Fine Art of Surfacing by The Boomtown Rats
Released: October 9, 1979 (Columbia)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange & Phil Wainman
Recorded: Phonogram Studios, Hilversum, Holland, 1978
Side One Side Two
Someone’s Looking at You
Diamond Smiles
Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)
Having My Picture Taken
Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)
I Don’t Like Mondays
Nothing Happened Today
Keep It Up
Nice N Neat
When the Night Comes
Group Musicians
Bob Geldof – Lead Vocals, Saxophone
Gerry Cott – Guitars
Garry Roberts – Guitars, Vocals
Johnnie Fingers – Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Briquette – Bass, Vocals
Simon Crowe – Drums, Vocals

A calm strummed acoustic and sustained organ introduces the album opener “Someone’s Looking at You” before the song breaks in with a solid, rock arrangement. This track has a theatrical Kinks-style influence and the song reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart in early 1980. Another pop single, “Diamond Smiles” comes close to being a decent new wave pop rock song but it does lack a bit on the melodic side. A highlight from this track is the great outro which contains some orchestral elements.
“Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)” is led by the piano of Johnnie Fingers and is filled with great little musical and effect motifs, melodic vocals, strong guitars, and just enough synth effects to make it a very interesting track.

The odd but entertaining “Having My Picture Taken” was co-written by bassist Pete Briquette and is filled with reggae elements. Fingers employs several overdubbed piano and keyboard sections, while Gerry Cott adds a potent rock guitar lead later on the track. Geldof wrote most of the material on The Fine Art of Surfacing with the exception of “Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)”, written (of course) by Johnnie Fingers. The first side wraps with this fine rocker of an insomniac song in the same vein as John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired”. While the lyrics trend a bit towards the frivolous, the musical drive, blended vocals, and great production make this a track an interesting listen.

The Boomtown Rats signature song shows some amazing restraint in its simple arrangement of Fingers’s piano along with just lead and backing vocals. The track, which became the band’s second number one single, was based on the real life shooting spree where a teenage girl fired into a school playground in San Diego, CA, in early 1979, killing two adults and injuring nine others. When asked about her motivation for the shootings, the girl simply replied “I Don’t Like Mondays”. The song was composed less than a month after the incident but Geldof worked hard to obscure the true meaning of the song.

“Nothing Happened Today” is an ironic title of an upbeat rocker which is a sort of an “ode to boredom”. The song contains many electronic effects to build the backing riffs to this mainly vocal-driven tune and breaks into a sort of electric jug band section during the bridge. Co-written by Cott, “Keep It Up” is fun, upbeat, and made of pure pop fluff, led by some nice synth leads while it tries hard to find catchy riffs and hooks. “Nice N Neat” is probably the only track on the album that even hints at the band’s punk roots, albeit a more polished version of punk. There is a brief drum solo section by Simon Crowe and a nice blend of rhythm and lead guitars by Cott and Garry Roberts. “When the Night Comes” blends nice acoustic guitars with synths in the intro and the music is great throughout with a blended sound somewhere between that of classic Springsteen and Thin Lizzy. There is a wild bass line by Briquette up front during the vocals and this complete jam of a song leaves the listener wanting for more as the album concludes.

The success of The Fine Art of Surfacing did not lead to purely harmonious days for the group, as Cott departed from the band in early 1980. The Boomtown Rats put out a handful of quality albums through the early-to-mid eighties before Geldof’s founding of Band Aid and Live Aid brought their profile up again.

~

1979 Images

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

London Calling by The Clash

London Calling by The Clash

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London Calling by The ClashThe Clash advanced light years with their third release London Calling. This 1979 double album explored many sub-genres and showed with no doubt that this band was the most advanced of the punk groups to come out of London in the mid seventies. Through extensive touring and exposure to groups of differing genres, The Clash developed a blend of thoughtful music to combine with their core punk principles, forming a new genre standard which would come to be know as “post punk”. Thematically, the album contains songs that point a critical eye towards the contemporary world, with much of the background and characters based in London. While these themes work well together to make the album cohesive, they don’t form the type of narrative arc which would elevate London Calling into a “concept” album.

 Presley 1956 debut albumThe album’s front cover borrowed it style heavily from Elvis Presley’s self-titled 1956 debut album. The Clash’s versions features a black-and-white photograph of Simonon smashing his bass against the stage at a gig in New York City in September 1979. Many retrospective publications have listed this album cover as one of the top ever and was selected by the British government as one of ten “Classic Album Covers” to be used on Royal Mail postage stamps in 2010.

By the time The Clash was conceived in 1976, veteran London-based guitarist and vocalist John Graham Mellor had permanently adopted his stage name of Joe Strummer. The group was formed when Stummer joined up with two members of the group London SS, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, in order to form a “band that would rival the Sex Pistols”. Just six months after their first live performance, The Clash signed to CBS Records and began working on their debut album, which would be released only in the UK originally. Through these earliest days, the band worked with several drummers (over 200 by Strummer’s count). Finally, Topper Headon came along and the band finally had a permanent drummer. At the request of CBS, the group recorded a more standard, “cleaner”, less spontaneous album with Give ‘Em Enough Rope in 1978. This second album was a tremendous success in the UK but not quite the American breakthrough CBS had hoped.

After recording their second studio album, the band separated from their manager and needed to find another location to compose their music. The band began to work on their third album during the summer of 1979 at a rehearsal space called Vanilla Studios, which was located in the back of a garage. The Clash found a successful formula with Jones composing and arranging the music and Strummer writing the lyrics. By the end of the summer, the band entered Wessex Studios to begin recording London Calling with producer Guy Stevens, who used unconventional methods and fostered a very relaxed atmosphere for the band members. CBS initially denied the double album release, but instead gave permission for the band to include a free 12-inch single (which essentially made it a double album anyway).


London Calling by The Clash
Released: December 14, 1979 (CBS)
Produced by: Guy Stevens & Mick Jones
Recorded: Wessex Sound Studios, London, August–November 1979
Side One Side Two
London Calling
Brand New Cadillac
Jimmy Jazz
Hateful
Rudie Can’t Fail
Spanish Bombs
The Right Profile
Lost In the Supermarket
Clampdown
The Guns of Brixton
Side Three Side Four
Wrong ‘Em Boyo
Death or Glory
Koka Kola
The Card Cheat
Lover’s Rock
Four Horsemen
I’m Not Down
Revolution Rock
Train in Vain
Group Musicians
Joe Strummer – Guitars, Piano, Vocals  |  Mick Jones – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul Simonon – Bass, Vocals  |  Topper Headon – Drums, Percussion

The first of four sides begins “London Calling”, the title song which was originally the most popular track on the album. Musically, the song contains choppy guitars and bass throughout contrasted by the ever-steady drum beat by Headon. Composed by Strummer and Jones, the title was taken from the BBC World Service‘s station identification during World War II and the lyrics concern modern day issues. “Brand New Cadillac” is an updated version of a rock classic original composed in the 1950s by Vince Taylor. The first of three cover songs on London Calling, this recording features distant and spatial sound, giving it a bit of a surreal feel to the otherwise standard roots rocker.

The first of several genre diverse tracks, “Jimmy Jazz” starts with heavily flanged guitar riff that tops off the standard jazz vibe with acoustic guitar, shuffling drums, and an impressive bass pattern by Simonon. This is also the first of plenty of tracks with brass sections and leads by the session group collectively known as the The Irish Horns. “Hateful” is an odd but interesting little track with nice rock grooves, call and response vocals, and differing sub-arrangements throughout the track. Closing out the first side, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is pure rock/reggae, in many ways similar to the previous song, but the weakest overall on the side.

A new wave track with driving and melodic bass over quicky strummed acoustic by Jones and chanting and unrelenting vocals by Strummer starts the second side. Written the Basque terrorist bombings in Spain, “Spanish Bombs” compares this modern day experience with the Spanish Civil War. “The Right Profile” is a choppy, upbeat funk built on bouncy bass riff by Simonon and great brass accents and later saxophone solo by The Irish Horns, making it the best song thus far on the album. “Lost In the Supermarket” features Jones on lead vocals and is built on a great rhythm, which is almost disco with an adult contemporary style vocals and musical melodies. Written about an actual market on the World’s End Estate in London, Strummer wrote this song for Jones when imagining his childhood growing up in a basement with his mother and grandmother, with the cool lyric; “I wasn’t born so much as I fell out…”

Clampdown by The Clash“Clampdown” has the initial feel of a punk epic at first but later morphs into a bit-driven canvas for vocal phrases by Strummer, who cites many situations and locations (including our own hometown of Harrisburg, PA). This track originally began as an instrumental track called “Working and Waiting” but the Strummer decided to add the rapid-fire lyrics about fighting the status quo. “The Guns of Brixton” was a rare Clash track written by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in the Brixton section of London. Simonon also contributes lead vocals to this pure reggae track with some topical sound effects on the guitars and great bass and drums throughout.

The original third side of London Calling may be the strongest overall musically, despite the fact that it begins with the unfocused “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, which starts with a short rendition of the Country/Americana standard “Stagger Lee”. “Death or Glory” returns to standard hard rock with cynical lyrics, a great musical arrangement and performances by the entire band. Written in part as the stereotypical punk fascination of trashing the previous generation of rockers, the song ironically has sweet but strong vocal harmonies and very satisfying chord progressions. “Koka Kola” is the closest to a traditional punk track on the entire album (at least vocally), although musically it is a bit too polished to be a true punk song, as the bass leads the song much more than the guitars. Jones’s “The Card Cheat” is a piano-dominated track, almost in the Billy Joel domain musically (albeit there is a whole different story lyrically). The band executes another excellent and entertaining musical performance, with expert mixture of horns, and rock instruments in production.

The Clash in 1979The album’s final side commences with “Lover’s Rock”, a song which sounds most like a late seventies pop song, although it is a bit risqué lyrically with strong sexual overtones. There is a cool flanged guitar and harmonized vocals up top during the song proper while the long outro takes it all in a bit of a different direction. “Lover’s Rock” advocates safe sex and planning. “Four Horsemen” is more straightforward musically than the previous track as an upbeat rocker built more for lyrical themes by Strummer, while Jones’s, “I’m Not Down”, is primarily a funky track with some rock and disco elements.

The cover of Danny Ray and the Revolutionaries track, “Revolution Rock”, is a fun and entertaining group reggae jam, accented by Strummer’s varying vocal screeds and strained vocals. All in all very interesting, especially the top-notch rhythms by Simonon and Headon, a bouncy organ by session man Mickey Gallagher, and more strong brass presence by The Irish Horns. The double album wraps up with “Train in Vain”, which by today’s standards would be considered a “hidden track” because it was not listed on the original album sleeve. However, this was due more to late decision making on the song rather than a concerted effort to provide an “Easter Egg”. In any case, this track written and sung by Jones would go on to become the most popular track on the album due to its disco-like beat, funky riffs, and loose but melodic vocal lines.

London Calling was originally much more popular in the UK, where it reached the Top 10, than it was in the US. However, the album would eventually sell tenfold the copies in America, where it went platinum and remains a much heralded release in rock history. The Clash followed up with an even more ambitious triple-album release of Sandinista! in late 1980, followed by the fine Combat Rock in 1982, before the band unfortunately imploded in the mid eighties, making these sparse releases ever the more valuable.

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1979 Images

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

In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin

In Through the Out Door
by Led Zeppelin

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In Through the Out Door by Led ZeppelinThrough most critics eyes, the years have not been kind to, In Through the Out Door, the final studio album by Led Zeppelin and only one released in the group’s last four years of existence. In spite of the poor reviews, this album reached number one on the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone. The album is most notable for the contributions of bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, who co-wrote six of the seven tracks on the album. On the flip side, In Through the Out Door contains the only two original Led Zeppelin songs which were not in-part composed by lead guitarist Jimmy Page.

The group’s previous studio release, Presence, was released in the Spring of 1976 and was followed up later in the year by the concert film and soundtrack, The Song Remains the Same. Led Zeppelin launched a major concert tour in 1977 where the band set concert records, including a Guinness Book of World Records entry for a single act concert record of 76,000+ outside Detroit, MI. However, tragedy struck in late July when lead singer Robert Plant‘s five-year-old son died suddenly from a stomach virus and the rest of the tour was cancelled immediately. The band went on hiatus for over a year with their future uncertain.

In November, 1978 the group reunited at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm to write and record new music. The emerging genres of disco, punk, and new wave had all blossomed since the last time Led Zeppelin was in the studio and the group knew it needed to develop a fresh sound. On each of their previous LPs, Page was at the vanguard of Led Zeppelin’s musical direction but, in this case, he and drummer John Bonham were struggling with substance abuse and often showed up late to the studio. With this backdrop, Jones and Plant stepped up to fill in the void, resulting in several tunes which were driven more by synth and piano than guitars.

In Through the Out Door album cover variations

Although recording was wrapped up by December 1978, the album’s release was delayed several times and the group’s August 1979 concerts at the Knebworth Music Festival, which were supposed to be sort of a large scale “record release party”, took place about a month before the album’s release. When the album was finally released, it had very unusual packaging. Wrapped in what resembled a plain brown paper bag, the retail packaging concealed one of the six possible album covers, each of which show the same sepia-tone barroom scene, but from from different angles.


In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin
Released: August 15, 1979 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Polar Studios, Stockholm, Sweden, November–December 1978
Side One Side Two
In the Evening
South Bound Suarez
Fool In the Rain
Hot Dog
Carouselambra
All My Love
I’m Gonna Crawl
Group Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Gizmotron
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums

A long, haunting intro builds the anticipation at the top of this long awaited Led Zeppelin LP until Plant’s single rendition of the song’s title launches “In the Evening” to fully kick in with its a steady rock drive. Guided by the ever-strong drumming of Bonham, this track contains a few moments of nice re-arranging but, for the most part, the nearly seven minute song sticks to the same formula with the exception of the atmospheric post-lead section where Jones’s string synths are most prevalent. “South Bound Suarez” lightens things up considerably as a Jerry Lee Lewis influenced pure roots rocker with Jones leading the way on honky-tonk piano. Much like the opening track, Plant’s lyrics here are rather pedestrian to express a mood rather than a deeper meaning.

Led Zeppelin in 1979With the exception of possibly “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” on Led Zeppelin II a decade earlier, “Fool in the Rain” may be the closest to a full-fledged pop hit attempt in the long, non-Top-40-seeking, history of Led Zeppelin. The first track on the album where the vocals and lyrics are up-front, this story-telling track is accented by measured musical flourishes of reggae and samba blended with a traditional rock riff. The mid-section builds to a percussive crescendo showing Bonham’s talents had not diminished one iota late in Zeppelin’s career, and Page contributes his own very long, buzzy guitar solo. On the first side closer “Hot Dog”, the group takes a lighted-hearted foray into rockabilly, starting with a nice, long Country piano lead by Jones. Although usually cheap stunts like this don’t work well for rock bands (see the Rolling Stones), this case seems like an affirmative, legitimate rocker. Half a universe away is “Carouselambra”, an extended track which is totally unique in the Zeppelin catalog. The synth-infused pattern of sound makes for a true centerpiece for Jones, on both synth and bass, where he plays as animated as ever during part A of this three part suite. The song’s middle part touches on some cool soundscapes on both synths and droning guitar. The thick lyrics are hidden in Plant’s vocals deep beneath the swirl of sound, but seem to describe the fall of a society which refuses to acknowledge exterior threats;

“How keen the storied hunter’s eye prevails upon the land, to seek the unsuspecting and the weak / And powerless the fabled sat, too smug to lift a hand, toward the foe that threatened from the deep. Who cares to dry the cheeks of those who saddened stand adrift upon a sea of futile speech? And to fall to fate and make the ‘status plan’…”

The most bittersweet song the group has ever recorded, “All My Love” is a real gem on this album. The only possible flaw here is the relative absence of Page on the track, but everything else is exquisite and puts it on the top echelon of all Zeppelin tracks. Equally potent to Jones’s brilliant synth arrangements and performance is Plant’s voice and greatly poetic lyrics, all above Bonham’s ever-steady thump. The key jump in the coda brings everything to a climatic height on a song which is at once a tribute to Plant’s late son and his newborn son. Plant’s most dynamic vocal performance on the album finishes things up on “I’m Gonna Crawl”. Commencing with Jones’s (now signature) synths, the song morphs into a true modern blues track where Page and Plant really shine, just like in the old days.

In Through the Out Door stayed on top of the charts for seven weeks and, upon this album’s release, all seven previous Led Zeppelin albums re-entered the Billboard 200, an unprecedented feat. Page later admitted that he was not very keen of this album and stated he wanted to follow-up with “something hard-hitting and riff-based again.” Unfortunately, the next album would never come as Bonham died in September 1980 and Zeppelin soon permanently disbanded, making In Through the Out Door the final chapter in one of rock n’ roll’s greatest sagas.

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1979 Images

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

Stormwatch by Jethro Tull

Stormwatch by Jethro Tull

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Stormwatch by Jethro TullStormwatch was the twelfth studio album by Jethro Tull in twelve years, as they released exactly one album per year from the start of their career in 1968. Like all Jethro Tull albums, Ian Anderson is the chief composer and visionary of the musical and thematical directions, with this one heavily focused on the worldwide issues at the end of the 1970s. This is the last Tull album to feature the classic line-up of the 1970s. Stormwatch also became the final album for keyboardist John Evan and drummer Barriemore Barlow, both of whom had been with the band for close to a decade. This was also the final appearance of bassist John Glascock, who died following heart surgery a few weeks after the release of the album.

In the mid-1970s, Jethro Tull continued the pattern they developed earlier in the decade, with 1975’s Minstrel In the Gallery closely resembling Aqualung in its approach and the follow-up, Too Old to Rock n’ Roll, Too Young to Die being a concept album like Thick As a Brick four years earlier. During this time, the band’s studio orchestra arranger, David Palmer, became an official member of the band. In 1977, the group turned to a more solid folk approach with the album Songs From the Wood. This was followed by the similarly folk album Heavy Horses in 1978 and an extensive tour where Glascock’s health issues first surfaced.

Many consider Stormwatch to be the third album of a “folk trilogy”. However, this album is much darker and more serious in its approach lyrically and far more varied musically than the two previous albums. Co-produced by Robin Black, the confluence of musical factors makes this a unique Jethro Tull album.


Stormwatch by Jethro Tull
Released: September 14, 1979 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson & Robin Black
Recorded: Maison Rouge Studio, London, Spring-Summer 1979
Side One Side Two
North Sea Oil
Orion
Home
Dark Ages
Warm Sporran
Something’s On the Move
Old Ghosts
Dun Ringill
Flying Dutchman
Elegy
Group Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Bass
Martin Barre – Guitars, Mandolin
David Palmer – Keyboards, Orchestral
John Evan – Piano, Organ
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

“North Sea Oil” begins with a rock waltz beat, similar to that used on the hit “Living In the Past” a decade earlier, but much more intense musically. Anderson’ s ethereal vocals float above the music, which employs a full arrangement with great little music phrases moving in and out and a catchy refrain vocally. “Orion” packs in a lot of variety in less than four minutes, with the driving rock choruses giving way to folk verses of Anderson’s strummed acoustic and Evan’s piano. This is one of only three tracks that Glascock recorded, with Anderson taking up bass on the rest of the album, to go along with his usual singing, flute, and acoustic guitar duties. “Home” is, perhaps, Jethro Tull’s only true “power ballad”. Martin Barre performs some great harmonized electric guitars during the chorus to complement the simple but touching lyrics;

“As the dawn sun breaks over sleepy gardens, I’ll be here to do all things to comfort you / And though I’ve been away, left you alone this way, why don’t you come awake and let your first smile take me home…”

“Dark Ages” reverts to full rock-opera mode, almost like Jethro Tull meets Pink Floyd. There is a reverse-effect on Anderson’s vocals during the haunting intro part, while the rest of this extended suite is filled with musical motifs. While “Dark Ages” is mainly lyric driven, there is plenty of room for each musician to take center stage at some point along this nine and a half minute journey (even Anderson on bass). The first side concludes with the instrumental “Warm Sporran”, an adult-oriented jazz shuffle and rhythm, built on a bass riff and topped by some Irish folk elements, complete with flute, mandolin, bagpipes, marching drums, some humming vocals. While not a bad listen, this is a bit out of place where it lands on the album.

“Something’s On the Move” is planted firmly in riff-based rock n roll, as Anderson’s slight flute riffs do not betray this mission focused on Barre’s main guitar riff in many variations. “Old Ghosts” starts with a rock riff march that nicely morphs to an orchestral march during the verses, resulting in a melodic pop/rock song. “Dun Ringill” is a psychedelic folk tune that starts with highly treated spoken vocals before it fades into a sparse arrangement with just acoustics and multiple vocals by Anderson. This song borrowed its name from a historic site adjacent to a home Anderson once owned.

The second extended song on the album, “Flying Dutchman” starts with classical-style piano and flute, accented by brief rock-drenched guitars. A mandolin-driven pop arrangement follows in what is really the second side’s answer to the extended “Dark Ages” on the first side, but not quite as interesting overall. What is interesting is “Elegy”, the closing instrumental track. This was written by David Palmer (the only non-Anderson composition) as a moody and soft piece which eventually grows thicker in arrangement to elevate among the decade’s best instrumental tracks. Although it was rumored that “Elegy” was a homage to Glascock, it was actually dedicated to Palmer’s father and was recorded early in the sessions, making it one of the few tracks on which Glascock plays.

Stormwatch‘s theme and album cover seemed to be rather prophetic for the band, with the coming personnel departures and the confusing genre-bending of Jethro Tull’s near future albums in the early 1980s.

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1979 Images

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

Low Budget by The Kinks

Low Budget by The Kinks

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Low Budget by The KinksThe Kinks closed out their very prolific 1970s with Low Budget, their most commercially successful album of the decade. Composer, producer, and frontman Ray Davies put together a collection of songs that form a very loose concept album. Davies explored both the macro condition of the outside world (economic recession, soaring inflation, energy crisis) as well as the micro conditions of individuals. Along the way, Davies goes to the extreme to make his point without ever taking himself too seriously. Musically, the album returns to a simple rock formula similar to what the Kinks used in the mid 1960s, but with the added elements of the contemporary punk and new wave genres added to the mix.

Over the course of the 1970s, the Kinks released one album per year, starting with the Top 40, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One in November 1970. However, many of these did not fare as well commercially, as Davies explored many various genres, ranging from music hall to Caribbean to Dixieland to country and bluegrass. Davies also explored the theatrical style with the two-part rock opera Preservation and wrote music intended for a television project that became the album, A Soap Opera, in 1975. The following year, The Kinks recorded their final theatrical work, Schoolboys in Disgrace, but soon after found themselves without a recording contract. In 1978 Van Halen achieved a hit with a cover of “You Really Got Me”, which signaled the start of a commercial resurgence for The Kinks. The non-album single “Father Christmas” and the 1978 album Misfits, saw the band simplifying their sound back to basic rock and roll.

Low Budget was the seventeenth studio album for the band and, according to Davies, recorded during their most tranquil period. The Kinks had become infamous for inner turmoil and personnel shifts throughout their long career. Lead guitarist and Ray’s younger brother, Dave Davies, was often involved with these spats with his older brother, but during the end of the seventies everything was going smoothly as they moved to New York to work on Low Budget. Compared to past Kinks’ albums, this one was done quickly to capture a lot of qualities that are lost when a project is too streamlined.


Low Budget by The Kinks
Released: July 10, 1979 (Arista)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: The Power Station & Blue Rock Studios, New York, January–June 1979
Side One Side Two
Attitude
Catch Me Now I’m Falling
Pressure
National Health
(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman
Low Budget
In a Space
Little Bit of Emotion
A Gallon of Gas
Misery
Moving Pictures
Group Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards  |  Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Rodford – Bass, Vocals  |  Mick Avory – Drums

Opening track “Attitude” is rocking in tempo with a pure punk “attitude” during the verse before it moves into more melodic sections through the complex chorus, with lyrics that are simple and advice-giving. “Catch Me Now I’m Falling” is more indelible than the opener, starting as piano ballad, but soon breaking into a stronger riff which almost plagiarizes The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. With the reprise about “Captain America calling”, the overall theme of the song looks at fair weather friends on the international stage as an Englishman looks at the apparent desertion of the world as America goes through its stiffest challenge,

“I stood by you through all of your depressions and I lifted you when you were down / Now it’s your chance to do the same for me, I call your office and your secretary tells me that you’ve gone out of town…”

The frantic “Pressure” is quasi-punk and quasi-old-time-rock-n-roll and probably the best track on the album for bassist Jim Rodford. Lyrically, it looks at the common man being beset by situations not of his own making. After “National Health”, a grinding song with a real new wave vibe, comes the slightly disco influenced “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”. Here, an arpeggio synth pattern accompanies the steady drum beat of Mick Avory, with guitars, effects, and melodic vocals above. The lyrics move from fantasy to the reality of depressed economy,

“I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead, the news was so bad that I fell out of bed / There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike, got to be a Superman to survive…”

The album’s second side begins with the title track “Low Budget”, which is about as lyrically cheap as its title, but is musically entertaining with Dave Davies’ grinding, distorted guitars and brother Ray’s equally gritty vocals. “In a Space” is a good, melodic rocker with nice harmonies and a mixture of guitars, bouncy bass, and synths, and lyrics which literally speak about taking up space. “Little Bit of Emotion” is held together by a steady acoustic guitar with nice, bluesy electric overdubs. Later on the guitar of Dave Davies and the saxophone of Nick Newall trade leads. Here the lyrics are a bit trite but poppy and slightly comical,

“Look at that lady dancing around with no clothes, she’ll give you all her body that’s if you’ve got the dough / She’ll let you see most anything but there’s one thing that she’ll never show…”

“A Gallon of Gas” is a pure tongue-in-cheek track about the rising costs of fuel in 1979 (back then they peaked at near $1.00 per gallon!) The music is bluesy throughout while vocals are more whimsical to give the song a distinct edge. “Misery” continues as a partial medley with the previous track. The music is excellent, upbeat rock with some boogie piano by Ray Davies, while his lyrics encourage the antagonist to loosen up and to not “take yourself so seriously”. The album concludes with “Moving Pictures”, a fine track built like a standard late seventies pop song, with an almost disco beat, quasi funk guitar riff, decorative synth flourishes, and smooth vocals with accents of soprano notes. This makes this unlike previous Kinks songs and leaves the listener with an appreciation for this album.

Low Budget became the highest charting studio album for The Kinks in the US, peaking at #11 on the charts. The group supported the album with an extensive tour which spawned the 1980 live record, One For the Road, and set the group up for further success into the 1980s.

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1979 Images

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