Head Games by Foreigner

Head Games by Foreigner

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Head Games by ForeignerHead Games was the third studio album released by the rock band, Foreigner, in three years and continued their incredible success by reaching the Top 5 on the album charts and selling over five million copies. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, the third producer employed in three album, Head Games has a grittier sound than its predecessors, with driving rock elements and sprinkles of synthesized embellishments. But what truly makes this album unique among Foreigner albums is the fact that the best material is not the popular radio tracks, but found within the mostly unheralded songs in the heart of the album.

Originally formed in 1976 by veteran musician Mick Jones and ex-King Crimson guitarist Ian McDonald, Foreigner got its name from the fact that half of the original sextet was British and half was American (therefore no matter where they performed, three band members were “foreigners”). After auditioning several singers, Jones brought on Lou Gramm, a little known singer from Rochester, New York. After rehearsing for six months, the group scored a recording contract before even playing their first gig and released their self-titled debut in early 1977. The album was a raving success, staying in the Top 20 for the better part of a year and spawning a world tour into 1978. Double Vision was released in the summer of 1978 sold even better than the debut.

Prior to the recording the album, bassist Rick Wills was brought on as the newest member of the band. Jones wrote or co-wrote most of the material which was all new and written in the studio over the course of a couple months in 1979. One track recorded but left off the original LP was “Zalia”, a collaboration among Jones, McDonald and Gramm, which was later included on a CD re-issue.


Head Games by Foreigner
Released: September 11, 1979 (Atlantc)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker, Mick Jones, & Ian McDonald
Recorded: Atlantic Studios, New York, June–July 1979
Side One Side Two
Dirty White Boy
Love On the Telephone
Women
I’ll Get Even with You
Seventeen
Head Games
The Modern Day
Blinded by Science
Do What You Like
Rev On the Red Line
Group Musicians
Lou Gramm – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Mick Jones – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Ian McDonald – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rick Wills – Bass, Vocals
Al Greenwood – Keyboards
Dennis Elliot – Drums, Vocals

The pure rocker with unrelenting drive and slightly controversial lyrics “Dirty White Boy” opens the album as the hardest rocking song Foreigner had done to that point. Still, the track was accessible enough to reach the Top 20, peaking at #12 on the Pop charts. Jones stated the song was a veiled tribute to the late Elvis Presley, who had “changed the shape of music completely with the kind of heritage that he left”. “Love On the Telephone” revives the more traditional sound of Foreigner in the late seventies. Here Jones switches from guitar to his piano skills, holding down the rhythm with highly melodic vocals and multiple synths floating on top.

The wild, picked, single note riff introduces “Women”, a track with some Southern rock flavorings. The mostly classic rock arrangement (with some boogie piano added later) has no real verse/chorus structure, just a uni-directional drive with a few bridge sections. Gramm’s vocals are very reserved through the first verses but grows in intensity through the latter part of the song as Jones’ lyrics employ a repetitive word method;

“Women that you write songs about, women who turn around and kick you out, women you dream about every night, women who stab you in the back with a switchblade knife…”

“I’ll Get Even with You” starts with a bright guitar riff with synth accents through the intro and into the melodic verses with simple hooks, while “Seventeen” is the first and only song on the album that is not top grade, as the melodies seem a little forced to fit a particular style. The title song has a sweeping, synth-driven approach which was ahead of the 1980s style it would help inspire. Compositionally, “Head Games” is catchy but, aside from the intro and identical bridge part, Gramm’s melody and vocals pretty much carry this track completely.

“The Modern Day” is pure new wave with very reserved vocals and otherwise good movement throughout. There are acoustic textures during the bridge, which seem to be added for pure fun and unique entertainment in this mid-tempo pop song. By contrast, “Blinded by Science” is dramatic and theatrical. Built with Jones’ minor-key piano chords beneath Gramm’s soaring vocals, this multi-part mini-suite returns to the opening hook between the various sections, which feature multiple synth textures and just the right enough of guitar riffing for effect.

As great a songwriter that is Mick Jones, the two finest overall songs on the album were written by Gramm and lesser known composers in the band. “Do What You Like” was co-written by McDonald and is the best unheralded song that Foreigner ever recorded. McDonald provides the core of this upbeat, acoustic folk number, accented by the bouncing bass lines of Wills and the steady beat with rolling drum fills by Dennis Elliot. Then comes all the extra sonic flavorings, Gramm’s strong but melancholy lead vocals, synth accents, a potent lead riff, and a plethora of background vocal choruses, which all combine to make this the best song on the album. This leaves “Rev On the Red Line” as the second best song on the album. Co-written by keyboardist Dennis Elliot, this closing track is a classic rock, car song about drag racing with dynamic vocals by Gramm and a great musical vibe throughout.

Foreigner, 1979

Head Games continued Foreigner’s success which continued deep into the 1980s. However, not everyone was invited share the success, as Jones decided to remove co-founders McDonald and Greenwood from the lineup prior to the group’s next album 4. By paring back the group to a four piece, Jones was in firm control of all the music and compositions of future Foreigner material.

~

1979 Images

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

The Wall by Pink Floyd

The Wall by Pink Floyd

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The Wall by Pink FloydThe Wall was the most ambitious album of a long and storied career filled with ambitious projects by Pink Floyd. This double-length concept album was composed by vocalist and bassist Roger Waters and spawned an equally ambitious tour, a feature film, and a legacy which has only grown in the three and a half decades since its release in 1979. Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In conjunction with The River of Rock, we celebrate this historical date by publishing this album review along with a review of the 1982 movie Pink Floyd The Wall on Big Blue Bullfrog and a review of the 1990 concert Roger Waters The Wall Live in Berlin on Kid’s Theatre News.

The album’s concept was developed by Waters following Pink Floyds 1977 “In the Flesh” tour, which followed their previous studio album, Animals. With Pink Floyd at the height of their popularity on this tour, Waters became increasingly frustrated by the ever rowdier audience and began to imagine building a giant wall between the audience and the stage. Waters further developed the “Wall” idea to include isolation, problems with authority, and the real-life loss of his father as an infant during World War II. However, “Bricks in the Wall” (as it was then known) was not the only concept Waters developed at that time. A second concept album dealing with themes of marriage, sex, and family life was also presented to the rest of the band for a vote in 1978. Pink Floyd opted for The Wall, and the other concept would eventually be developed into Waters’ debut solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking in 1984.

The Wall has 26 songs which, by comparison, is the same number of tracks as Pink Floyd’s four previous studio albums combined. To help refine and produce this monumental project, Waters brought in Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Peter Gabriel. Ezrin, Waters, and guitarist David Gilmour were the main refiners of the material, working from a 40-page script. The album was methodically recorded in several locations including England, France, and the United States. This was mainly due to the band’s year-long “tax exile”, which found them in odd living arrangements and often bickering with each other. Waters made it clear that he was in charge of the project, dictating the schedule and eventually advocated the firing of founding keyboardist Richard Wright when Wright refused to cut a family holiday short because Waters had moved up the recording schedule.

Drummer Nick Mason recorded many of his tracks independently at Britannia Row Studios in London early on in the process. This left Waters and Gilmour as essentially the only band members who fully participated in the day-to-day production through the end. When the team got to New York, Ezrin suggested that Michael Kamen and the New York Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras, and a choir from the New York City Opera be recorded to enhance several of the theatrical tracks. Ezrin and Waters also captured many of the spoken-word and sound effects used on the album. The minimalist cover design and accompanying sleeve art was designed by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who later worked on the animation for The Wall tour and the 1982 film Pink Floyd The Wall, bringing a consistent feel to both projects.


The Wall by Pink Floyd
Released: November 30, 1979 (Harvest/EMI)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin, David Gilmour, James Guthrie   Roger Waters
Recorded: Britannia Row Studios, Studio Miraval, Correns, France, CBS 30th Street Studio, New York, Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, July 1978-November 1979
Side One Side Two
In the Flesh?
The Thin Ice
Another Brick In the Wall, Part 1
The Happiest Days of Out Lives
Another Brick In the Wall, Part 2
Mother
Goodbye Blue Sky
Empty Spaces
Young Lust
One of My Turns
Don’t Leave Me Now
Another Brick In the Wall, Part 3
Goodbye Cruel World
Side Three Side Four
Hey You
Is there Anybody Out There?
Nobody Home
Vera
Bring the Boys Back Home
Comfortably Numb
The Show Must Go On
In the Flesh
Run Like Hell
Waiting For the Worms
Stop
The Trial
Outside the Wall
Group Musicians
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin
Richard Wright – Keyboards
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

Later reprised on the final side, “In the Flesh?” is a reference to the band’s tour where the Wall’s initial concept began. For a few seconds the melody of the album’s last song “Outside the Wall” is played, solidifying the album’s comprehensive feel, before this track explodes into a riff-driven hard rock jam which immediately destroys the subtle stereotype brought on by previous Pink Floyd albums. The tracks single verse is in sharp contrast with gentle staccato piano and doo-wop harmony behind Waters’ lead vocals. After exploding back to the main riff for the coda, a dive-bomber effect crashes and is interrupted by the sound of a baby crying, symbolizing the protagonist’s loss of his father as a baby. “The Thin Ice” is much softer and measured, with Gilmour providing the verse vocals and Waters the chorus as, again, there is only one verse/chorus. Gilmour’s signature, slow bluesy guitar close out the song.

The three song medley; “Another Brick In the Wall, Part 1” / “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” / “Another Brick In the Wall, Part 2” is one of the most radio-friendly sequences of the album. Driven by Gilmour’s rhythmic guitar arpeggio, the segment eerily enters in contrast to the faint sound of children playing in the background. Waters melody is soft at through the first section as Gilmour adds overdubbed, sweet slide effects. After a helicopter effect, the second part is shorter with much more movement, vocal effects, and intensity, leading to group’s first and only number one hit, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. Although composed by Gilmour and Waters, it is Ezrin who deserves much of the credit for the song’s success, as he advocated for both the disco-flavored drum beat by Mason and the second verse and chorus, which featured a choir of schoolchildren. Like many of the early songs on the album, this was originally written as just one verse and one chorus and was barely a minute long. Without the band’s knowledge, Ezrin copied the first verse and spliced it in as an exact second. Inspired by his own earlier work on Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, Ezrin overdubbed 24 tracks of kids singing and laid it on top. The band was initially resistant to this, but eventually relented.

“Mother” is notable for variations between pure folk and differntly-timed waltz. Recorded later in the recording of the album, session drummer Jeff Porcaro was hired to lay down the beat under the guitar solo and later verse/chorus. Both Waters and Gilmour share lead vocal duties in this building song of question and answer dialogue between son and mother. Starting side two, “Goodbye Blue Sky” begins briefly as a pleasant folk song, which quickly turns dark with foreboding synths backing the picked acoustic guitar. “Empty Spaces” was an abridged, last second replacement for the longer “What Shall We Do Now?”, which did not appear until the Pink Floyd The Wall movie. Notable for its backwards-masked message, “Empty Spaces” acts as a bridge to the standard hard rocker “Young Lust”, a song about casual sex that has more Gilmour influence than any other on the album.

Starting with “One of My Turns”, the first half of the album concludes with four tracks that painfully describe the final internal steps of building the protagonist’s wall. “One of My Turns” is split into distinct segments, starting with a groupie’s monologue, followed by a soft ballad with Waters accompanied only by a synth-organ. Finally, the song snaps into a hard rock rendition of the protagonist’s violent breakdown, which terrifies the groupie. “Don’t Leave Me Now” uses some interesting sound and production techniques but has minimal lyrical content, while “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3” is a much more rage-filled rendition of the earlier melody. Finally, this cross-fades into “Goodbye Cruel World”, a delicate song builds on Waters two-note bass riff and the slightest synth by Wright. The vocals are haunting and dry to end the first act of The Wall.

“Hey You” is an excellent song which uniquely sits just outside the album’s concept. In fact, this song, sounds like it may have fit in better on the previous Wish You Were Here or Animals albums. Starting with Gilmour’s crisp acoustic and smooth vocals, the mesmerizing ballad gains rock instrumentation on the way to the climatic guitar solo followed by the frantic last verse sung by Waters. The spooky “Is There Anybody Out There?”, starts with a horror movie like intro where the title is spoken several times in a well-treated voice. Then the song turns quite classical and sweet with an instrumental passage led by the classical guitar of session man Joe DiBlasi, backed by an orchestral arrangement. “Nobody Home” is a deep ballad that features Ezrin on piano behind Waters’ fine lyrical motifs. Two very short tracks follow which harken back to Britain during World War II. “Vera” directly references British singer Vera Lynn, who had a very popular song called “We’ll Meet Again” during the mid 1940s, while “Bring the Boys Back Home” is driven by military snare drums, a brass orchestra, and a deep choir accompanying Waters’ strained vocals.

Pink Floyd in 1980“Comfortably Numb” is one of the most indelible tracks on The Wall due to its pure theatrical sound and lyrical dialogue. Much like “Mother” earlier on the track, Waters and Gilmour vocalize separate characters through the contrasting verses and choruses. Gilmour composed the music as an instrumental during the recording of his self-titled debut album in 1978. Waters changed the key of the verse and added the lyrics and title. However, it wasn’t all happy cooperation as this song sparked a bitter internal fight over two distinct productions of the song. Waters wanted a more stripped-down version while Gilmour advocated for Ezrin’s grander orchestral version. In the end, they compromised with the lyrical areas keeping the orchestral arrangement and Gilmour’s closing guitar solo playing over the band’s rock backing.

The fourth and final side of the original LP contains the most movement musically. The short linking track “The Show Must Go On” was to originally include The Beach Boys’ doing the backing vocals, but ultimately Bruce Johnston was the only member of that band to be recorded, along with a vocal ensemble that included Toni Tennile of The Captain and Tennile (these same backing vocalists were used for “Waiting For the Worms” later on side 4). “In the Flesh” is a reprise of the opening track which starts a violent sequence of songs where the story’s protagonist envisions himself as a fascist dictator and his concerts a political rally where “undesirables” are thrown “up against the wall” in an apparent Che Guevera-type execution method. On “Run Like Hell”, the violence spills out into the streets as told through Waters’ ever-strained, multi-tracked vocals. Musically, this upbeat piece is one of the most rewarding on the album, featuring Gilmour playing ostinato with rhythmic echoes, the only keyboard lead by Wright, and tactical effects and screams to frame the intended scenes.

“Waiting for the Worms” is less frantic but just as potent as its preceding track, with Gilmour and Waters alternating vocals and moods once again. Political and philosophical, this track straddles the lien between the internal strife of the protagonist and real-life commentary on the British empire itself. During the climatic outro, a crescendo is built until it crashes to a halts with “Stop”, where the hallucination ends and the protagonist resolves to settle his own mind once and for all. “The Trial” was composed by Waters and Ezrin and is unlike any song ever made by Pink Floyd. With Waters using several distinct voices to play the various characters. Most of the actual music is performed by the Kamen-conducted New York Symphony Orchestra in grandiose style, with a nice guiding piano by Wright and just a few splashes of traditional rock elements added by Gilmour and Mason. Ultimately, the judge renders his verdict and orders, “tear down the wall!” with a subsequent, repeated climatic chorus. “Outside the Wall” is a dénouement to the album, which takes place in the uncertain time after the wall has been torn down.

One of the best selling albums of 1980, The Wall had sold over 23 million by century’s end. It topped the charts in six different countries, including the United States, and reached the Top 10 in several more. Pink Floyd The Wall followed as a major motion picture in 1982. The band followed the album with a highly theatrical tour which included the building (and tearing down) of a 40-foot high wall of cardboard bricks on the stage. This would be the last Pink Floyd to include Waters (who left the band in 1983) and the recently-fired Wright was hired on as a paid touring musician for this tour. Ironically,  he was the only musician to make money, as the other three absorbed financial losses due to the elaborate production. In 1990, Waters broke out this elaborate set for a single concert to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall called The Wall – Live in Berlin.

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1979 Images

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

Hunky Dory by David Bowie

Hunky Dory by David Bowie

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Hunky Dory by David Bowie Classic Rock Review has launched a new feature called “What Did We Miss?” to revisit some albums that we overlooked the first time through our voyage into the classic rock years. We start with 1971, the very first year we covered when we launched in 2011, and a truly amazing year for music. And so it was that we overlooked a truly great release from 1971, David Bowie‘s fourth studio album, Hunky Dory. This was a landmark album for Bowie in many ways, as a transition between his folksy origins and his movement into what would become his signature sound for years to come. Thankfully some wrongs CAN be undone and in this is a big one.

Looking at this album with a larger lens, one can clearly see that this album is not only the opening of a new phase for Bowie but a loving goodbye to the sixties and those artists who inspired him. In fact, this album is filled with artistic, societal and pop culture references. Bowie refers to The Pretty Things, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol in the song titles and, in turn, a later band (The Kooks) and television show (Life On Mars) took their names from song titles on Hunky Dory. There are also historical references through the lyrics that mention Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill, Heinrich Himmler, Juan Pujol, and the society Golden Dawn.

But the real magic on this album lies in the music and melodies. The first side of Hunky Dory may be as good a side of musical excellence that you’ll find anywhere and, throughout the album, none of the songs go exactly where your ear expects them to go, as they throw in subtle or sometimes blatant changes. Co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, the album is a departure from Bowie’s previous 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World, which had a more solid rock sound. This album prominently features Rick Wakeman on piano, who comes to the forefront of the arrangement of most songs.


Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Released: December 17, 1971 (RCA)
Produced by: Ken Scott & David Bowie
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June–August 1971
Side One Side Two
Changes
Oh! You Pretty Things
Eight Line Poem
Life On Mars?
Kooks
Quicksand
Fill Your Heart
Andy Warhol
Song for Bob Dylan
Queen Bitch
The Bewlay Brothers
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Mellotron, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Piano
Trevor Bolder – Bass, Trumpet
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

The album opens with “Changes”, which makes excellent use of layering Bowie’s unique voice on top of an entertaining pop rock and bluesy jazz mix. The lyrics of “Changes” evoke a sense of the upheaval of the past decade as well as the present state of Bowie himself as he would jump through multiple persona over the next few years. This is the most played radio song from the album and developed into the quintessential Bowie song of the era. “Oh! You Pretty Things” is a much softer piano-driven song through first verses but breaks into a rousing chorus halfway through as other instruments join the piano as Bowie’s vocals get more impassioned. The lyrics speak of discontent with humanity and technology in the Cold War setting,

“Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use…”

“Eight Line Poem” is a short track with Wakeman’s surreal piano topped by the bluesy guitar of Mick Ronson. The animated and emotional vocals recite Bowie’s “eight line poem” and feel like they’d fit perfectly in a small beat poet performance area. “Life On Mars?” is the real masterpiece of the album. Bowie’s emotional vocals lead Wakeman’s quietly beautiful piano into a full band, jazz-infused jam before Ronson’s guitar comes in with a quick riff leading back to the piano accompanied by the drums. Wild flute sounds add depth to the song. “It’s the Freakiest Show” and Life On Mars by David Bowie“Is there life on Mars?” are just a few of the poetic lines to which every person must add their own meaning, as this is the musical equivalent of the modernism movement in literature. The song has an orchestral sounding ending like some great show has just come to its climax, after which the piano gets the final say as it quietly fades out.

With the addition of bass player Trevor Bolder, all the members of the band that would become known as the “Spiders from Mars” were in place. On “Kooks”, this band shows their versatility as the pleasant traditional-sounding English pop song contains apt acoustic guitar, bass, piano, and melodically dances on the drum beats of Mick Woodmansey. It has a certain sort of grooviness to it as horns and violins enter into the mix. The words “A Trumpet you can blow” lead to the sound of a trumpet. The song was written for Bowie’s newborn son, Duncan Jones, with the “kooks” being Bowie and his wife Angie. “Quicksand” concludes the fantastic first side as a steady, dark folk, featuring double-tracked acoustic guitars and a string arrangement by Ronson. This song’s sad but beautiful melodies are accented by an ever-increasing intensity in the backing music and lyrics referring to occult magicians like “I’m closer to the dawn immersed in Crowley’s Uniform”. The theatrical inspirations come through on this song and if this album was a character’s journey, this would be the moment when the character hits rock bottom.

David Bowie band 1971

The album’s only cover song is the upbeat and philosophical jazz dance of “Fill Your Heart”. This old-time, sing-songy tune with piano, saxophone, driving bass, and especially pitched vocals by Bowie. There is a bit of a psychedelic bridge into the next track, “Andy Warhol”, using spacey synths and a vocal collage. When the song fully kicks in, it has a Spanish acoustic drive throughout with some creative percussive sounds by Woodmansey.

“A Song for Bob Dylan” is interesting because it refers to Dylan as a separate mythical character apart from Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s actual name). It’s an interesting reflection of him as his legend certainly grew beyond his control in the sixties leading to his famous slaughter of his folk only persona at the Newport Folk Festival. It would be hard to believe that Dylan’s own experimentation with changing persona didn’t directly influence Bowie’s future work. As Bowie states in the song,

“Now, hear this Robert Zimmerman, I wrote a song for you about a strange young man named Dylan, with a voice like sand and glue
Some words of truthful vengeance that can pin us to the floor…”

The album winds down with a couple of more unexpected twists. “Queen Bitch” is highly influenced by the Velvet Underground, but with their overall effect brought to the next level. This song sounds like it could have been fresh and new six or seven years later and may well be a precursor to “Rebel Rebel” on 1974’s Diamond Dogs, as both seem like anthems of strong women you’d dub punks in the best way. While this song features overt textures of acoustic and electric guitar, the song is real showcase for Bolder on bass. “The Bewlay Brothers” sounds like a quiet acoustic post party song when it starts but it gets louder as it goes. You can almost picture Bowie walking down a quiet street after a wild night before singing it. The multiple voices that suddenly break in are oddly disconcerting near the end of the song, as this masterpiece of an album concludes as oddly as possible.

Hunky Dory was not an immediate hit upon its release but it reach the Top 5 following the commercial breakthrough of Ziggy Stardust in 1972. “Life on Mars?” was released as a single the year after that, reaching #3 in the UK. Wakeman was not around to directly enjoy this success, as he had moved on to join the band Yes and make an immediate impact on their album Fragile. In short, Hunky Dory is a sublime listen and it feels like the true start of David Bowie’s super-stardom. It is a must listen for music fans of all kind.

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1971 Images

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

About Face by David Gilmour

About Face by David Gilmour

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About Face by David GilmourThere are some musical creations that are astoundingly forgotten. David Gilmour’s 1984 solo album, About Face, is one of these. This is sad considering it just might be one of the better albums produced in the 1980s. Of course, it is impossible to discuss this album without touching on the era in which it was put together, as About Face was forged in the fire of Pink Floyd’s darkest hour. The band’s internal tensions had reached all-time highs and Gilmour was feuding internally with Roger Waters, after the latter accused the former of not contributing enough to the band. This was sadly ironic for Gilmour because he had complied (and even agreed) with Waters when he decided to kick Richard Wright out of Pink Floyd prior to the release of The Wall in 1979, for basically the same reason. So, in a true bout of rock and roll rebellion, Gilmour went off and created a solo album which served to prove Waters wrong by establishing that he could create music on his own and channel his anger about the situation at the same time. The result is nothing short of superb.

Co-produced by Bob Ezrin, this is the second solo record by Gilmour following his self-titled 1978 debut. The album is filled with great and diverse music and, in contrast to the recent Waters-dominated Pink Floyd era, it is not concerned with creating giant lyrical operas, just a solid collection of songs. Change is consistent throughout as each song goes in unique directions that are unexpected and pleasing to the ear. Gilmour explores sounds that he probably could not explore within the confines of Pink Floyd. The lyrics are soaked with subtle references to the Waters’ feud and many of the songs reflect the conflict.

Gilmour was backed by a solid core of musicians and also invited some famous contemporaries to work on the album with him, adding depth to his artistic work. A bit uneven sequentially, the earlier songs on the album are slightly superior to the closing tracks, but none of the tracks are by any means boring or without merit. With that in mind, let’s dive into the individual songs.


About Face by David Gilmour
Released: March 5, 1984 (Harvest)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studio, Boulogne-Billancourt, France, 1983
Side One Side Two
Until We Sleep
Murder
Love On the Air
Blue Light
Out of the Blue
All Lovers Are Deranged
You Know I’m Right
Cruise
Let’s Get Metaphysical
Near the End
Primary Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass  |  Ian Kewley – Piano, Organ
Pino Palladino – Bass  |  Jeff Porcaro – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with “Until We Sleep”, a great jam with some really fantastic guitar. The lyrics are a straightforward call to action, essentially saying to live your life to the fullest before you sleep, which is taken as meaning both literal sleep and metaphorical death. “Murder” may be the best overall song on the album. It starts off as a very somber folk song with some excellent fret-less bass by Pino Palladino. Then it crashes into a crescendo as other instruments join the fray. About three quarters of the way through the song it takes an abrupt change as the guitar becomes more pronounced and reverberates through the song. The lyrics describe Gilmour’s anger over the murder of John Lennon.

Both Pete Townsend (lyrics) and Steve Winwood (organ) worked on the third song, “Love On the Air”. Its opening is reminiscent of Townsend’s own solo work, while most of the song sounds a bit more like a Townsend song viewed through a Gilmour prism as a great combination of the two artists’ work. After this comes “Blue Light” with a super jazzy intro. The use of horns in the song adds an unexpected and welcome element to the song that elevates it. This song is a great example of why someone like Gilmour does a solo album since I can’t imagine this song being done by Pink Floyd. Winwood also gets a great moment to shine while playing a smooth organ solo during this song.

 
Following “Blue Light” is another song with blue in the title, “Out of the Blue”, a slow, reflective piano-driven melody, led by keyboardist Ian Kewley. In the middle section of the song it picks up a bit but still relies on Gilmour’s vocals and the piano. “All Lovers Are Deranged” is the second Townsend-written song on the album. It is a wild counterpoint to “Love On the Air”, in title as well as music, as this song itself sounds a lot more like Gilmour’s own as he jams on the guitar throughout. “You Know I’m Right” is slower than other works on the album but has a lot of interesting layers to it, despite sounding a tad dated. Lyrically, Gilmour takes a direct shot at Waters, discussing one person who is unable to see another point of view in an argument;

Why should you bother with the other side / when you know that yours is right…”

“Cruise” is one of the most interesting songs on the album, as a tongue-in-cheek love song dedicated to a ballistic missile. With some Paul McCartney influence musically blended with 1980s elements like Palladino’s fret-less bass and a great Hammond organ by Kewley, the song unexpectedly adds some reggae elements near at the end, led by the drumming of Jeff Porcaro. Next comes a fantastic instrumental, “Let’s Get Metaphysical”. It starts with only an electric guitar and a piano, evoking a wonderful sense of the classical and modern coming together. Later, the song feels very orchestral in a great kind of way as it builds layers, almost as if Gilmour is telling the listener a story with instruments alone as he leads the listener through the different movements of the song. The album closes out with “Near the End”. There is an interesting use of bells in the song which add to its lullaby feeling. Again, the lyrics seem to directly address Roger Waters with lines like, “And there’s a stranger where once was a friend”. The song not only serves to end the album but in its own way it speaks to the end of the previous era of Pink Floyd.

In the thirty years since About Face was released it seems to have relatively vanished from many music lover’s horizons. This is a tragedy as the album not only encapsulates some of Gilmour’s finest work but also a dramatic period for him and Pink Floyd. His solo work is great and Roger Waters’ solo work has its merits as well. Although I must admit my personal opinion is that Gilmour’s focus on music makes his work superior to Waters, as Waters seems to focus a bit too much on his grand concepts that all seem to revolve around himself. That said the tragedy of this album and the situation as a whole for Pink Floyd is that none of them seem to recognize that their best work was done in a period when they all shared an equal amount of the creative process. Gilmour’s focus on music combined with Waters’ grand concepts created multiple masterpieces. That said, this album seemed to prove exactly what Gilmour wanted it to prove.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

Slide It In by Whitesnake

Slide It In by Whitesnake

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Slide It In by WhitesnakeWhitesnake made its first real splash with the release of their sixth album, Slide It In in 1984. Although the album was far from a blockbuster hit, a second version of the album finally established Whitesnake in America and set the stage for greater future success. Under the tutelage of producer Martin Birch, the group found the perfect sound for the mid-eighties hard rock audience. However, this pivotal album for the band was actually constructed during a time of shifting personnel for Whitesnake, with lineup shifts around founder and front man David Coverdale before, during, and after the record’s production.

In 1978, Coverdale founded Whitesnake as a solo project following his brief gig as Deep Purple’s lead vocalist. The new band’s earliest sound utilized some of the blues-rock basics of British groups years earlier. Joining Coverdale in this new band was fellow Deep Purple member Jon Lord on keyboards, guitarist Micky Moody, and a rotating rhythm section. Whitesnake’s first four albums did well in the UK but failed to make any waves in the US. In 1981 guitarist Mel Galley, who had spent a dozen years with the band Trapeze, became the group’s second guitarist and was on board for the recording of the 1982 release Saints and Sinners, the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album to date.

First recorded in late 1983, Slide It In cam out as two distinct mixes, each with differing personnel. After the group’s new American label Geffen objected to the “flat sounding” mix on the UK release, Coverdale fired Moody and bassist Colin Hodgkinson and had their parts re-recorded by new members John Sykes and Neil Murray respectively, before the entire album was re-mixed and re-sequenced for a U.S. release. While the newer mix was sonically superior overall, some fans lament that it diminishes the presence of Lord’s keyboards and the overall bass guitar.


Slide It In by Whitesnake
Released: January 1984 (Geffen)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: 1983
Side One Side Two
Slide It In
Slow and Easy
Love Ain’t No Stranger
All or Nothing
Gambler
Guilty of Love
Hungry for Love
Give Me More Time
Spit It Out
Standing In the Shadow
Group Musicians
David Coverdale – Lead Vocals
Mel Galley – Guitars, Vocals
Jon Lord – Keyboards
Neil Murray – Bass
Cozy Powell Drums

An AC/DC inspired riff and beat on the opening title song is contrasted by Coverdale’s distinctly non-AC/DC vocals on this track of rock raunch to the core with not-so-subtle lyrics. “Slide It In” is really an entertaining and melodic musical showcase with a good guitar lead by Moody under an alternate chord structure. Co-written by Moody, “Slow an’ Easy” is a track of pure rock drama, slowly unfolding with every note, breath, and rudimentary beat. Built on a diverse collection of guitar motifs, the track takes nearly two and a half minutes until it finally gets to the hook, which contains claps and chants, perfectly setting it up for future arena shows. Held together by Powell’s precise drumming, once fully realized this song never relents from its drive, which helped propel the song into the Top 20 of the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

Next up in the parade of classic rock gems is “Love Ain’t No Stranger”, which starts with long synths accompanied by an acoustic guitar, before ultimately kicking into a steady rocker, While there are no real “power ballads” on Slide It In, the short intro verses on this track may be as close as the group gets. “All or Nothing” is pure hard rock in the spirit of groups like Rainbow, solidly built on a heavy metal riff by Galley with dramatic vocal wails by Coverdale and a consistent jam drive throughout. The fine first side closes with “Gambler”, which may be the perfect Whitesnake song as a moody track with rotating riffs and great keys. Vocally, Coverdale shows much range within each verse, while the lead section contains back-to-back solos by Lord and Galley, continuing the great hard rock parade.

Whitesnake in 1984

Unfortunately, the second side is not as potent as the first. It starts with “Guilty of Love”, an upbeat rock song which was the first recorded for the album and released as a single in mid 1983. With this, the song was the only one produced by Eddie Kramer. The similarly titled “Hungry for Love” is slightly better than its predecessor due to a better rock jam by the musicians and cool bluesy riff lines by Galley and Murray. “Give Me More Time” is very melodic and well put together and sounds like it should have been a hit song. Constructed in pristine fashion from verse to pre-chorus to chorus, with a great lead section that contains a harmonized lead by Galley over wild drumming by Powell.

“Spit It Out” continues where the previous song left off, but with the sharp return to sexual gratuitousness. Still, the song is solid musically with nice mid-section built on a rapid hi-hat beat by Powell and slight guitar strumming by Galley before it explodes back for the guitar lead. The album concludes with the apt, steady, and slightly dark rocker, “Standing In the Shadow”. While the track pales in comparison to songs earlier on the album, it is probably the best of Coverdale’s several solo compositions on the album.

Slide It In did squeak into the Top 40 in America, while reaching the Top 10 in the UK, eventually reaching double platinum in sales. However, the personnel shifts continued as Lord joined a reunited Deep Purple and Powell joined the revamped super group Emerson, Lake, and Powell. Coverdale and Sykes later composed and recorded the blockbuster 1987 album Whitesnake, but Coverdale then fired the entire band for the more “photogenic” younger group that appeared in all the late eighties videos.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters

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The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger WatersRoger Waters commenced his post-Pink Floyd career with a concept album that he largely composed while still an active member of the group in the late 1970s. The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking was actually released a year before Waters made the official announcement of his departure from the band, but by early 1984 he had apparently already made up his mind. The previous year, Pink Floyd released The Final Cut, which got a disappointing reception both critically and commercially, and Pink Floyd did not opt to support the album with a tour, as both Waters and guitarist David Gilmour began work on separate solo records.

The concept of The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking was developed by Waters in 1977 and presented to Pink Floyd along with an alternate concept. Ultimately, the group chose the alternative, which was developed into Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Waters had decided early on to use whichever was not chosen by the band as a solo project and, in 1983, he revisited this concept. The story focuses on a man’s dreams in real time during the early morning hours of a day, which weave in and out of interlocking stories.

Musical conductor and pianist Michael Kamen co-produced the album with Waters and together they put together a talented ensemble of musicians and singers. This started with drummer Andy Newmark, who Waters used on a track of The Final Cut, and climaxed with legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. Brought in after the basic tracks had been recorded, Clapton nonetheless has a strong presence throughout this album and even shines brightest during a few brilliant musical moments.


The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters
Released: April 30, 1984 (Harvest)
Produced by: Roger Waters & Michael Kamen
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, February–December 1983
Side One Side Two
4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad)
4:33 AM (Running Shoes)
4:37 AM (Arabs with Knives and West German Skies)
4:39 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 2)
4:41 AM (Sexual Revolution)
4:47 AM (The Remains of Our Love)
4:50 AM (Go Fishing)
4:56 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 1)
4:58 AM (Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin)
5:01 AM (The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Part 10)
5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes)
5:11 AM (The Moment of Clarity)
Primary Musicians
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Guitars  |  Eric Clapton – Lead Guitars, Synths
Michael Kamen – Piano  |  Andy Newmark – Drums, Percussion

While it is hard to compare the musical style of this album to anything else, there are a lot of the same elements as The Wall on this album. While the narrative is hard to decipher, the story is about an English man who’s married to an American wife (just like Waters) and begins with the man having a nightmare and we follow his dreams and reality for 45 minutes of real time. “4:30 AM (Apparently They Were Traveling Abroad)” enters with plenty of sound effects and distant, theatrical guitar chords. There is a distant sound of a newsreader saying “Apparently they were traveling abroad and they picked up some hitchhikers…”, which seems to be the catalyst for many of the dream-stories about traveling and hitchhikers. On this track Waters establishes a melody that recurs throughout the album. “4:33 AM (Running Shoes)” is much stronger musically with tension-filled drums, screams of backing chorus, and wailing saxophone by David Sanborn.

In the dream narrative, the main character has an affair with a young female hitchhiker but wakes next to his wife with a strong feeling of guilt. This guilt materializes into another nightmare where Arab terrorists threaten him because of his infidelity. In “4:39 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 2)”, the character straddles a desperate state between dream and reality, with the most panicked, dream-induced screams. “4:41 AM (Sexual Revolution)” is the most Pink Floyd-like track thus far, with everything being at maximum intensity and Clapton’s blues guitars throughout to accompany the great chorus passages with backing vocals. This song devolves to very quiet mid-section, where only Clapton’s guitar persists before everything eventually kicks back in. “4:47 AM (The Remains of Our Love)” closes the first side by again returning to the opening theme, as a soft singer/folk track. The story twists again as the scene changes from Europe to America (Wyoming) and the song slowly dissolves, some great honky tonk piano by Kamen, which perfectly compliments Clapton’s slide acoustic.

Side Two is far superior musically and the tracks are far more diverse melodically. “4:50 AM (Go Fishing)” is the best song on the album and a bona fide classic. The moods are perfectly illustrated and, unlike many other tracks, the story doesn’t alternate between dream and reality. The story talks about an experimental move to a simple life in the wilderness that eventually falls apart and breaks up the family, with the protagonist now finding himself as a hitchhiker. The outro has strong, slow rock with the best sax lead by Sanborn and an animated organ by Andy Bown.

Moving forward, we have the link song “4:56 AM (For the First Time Today, Part 1)” with a slight, bluesy and jazzy piano. “4:58 AM (Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin)” is moody and moderate with some spoken effects in the background and melodic vocals out front, leading to the climatic “5:01 AM (The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Part 10)”, the most upbeat and very entertaining rock song with a steady beat and many cool guitar licks. Lyrically, it breaks out of regular narrative to do an overview of everything.

The album’s closing sequence begins with the soft ballad “5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes)”. Clapton’s guitar and Kamen’s piano notes are in perfect sync after the song proper tells a story of sympathy in the face of turmoil. Starting as simple acoustic ballad by Waters, this song becomes Clapton’s finest track on the album. “5:11 AM (The Moment of Clarity)” is a slow acoustic folk waltz, which utilizes the opening predominant theme to bookmark the album at its close.

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking reached the Top ten in several countries, but did not fare as well in the U.S. . Waters, Kamen, Clapton and Newmark did go on a short tour to support the album, but the elaborate stage and effects ended up losing a large sum of money for Waters. A film based on this concept was proposed and some footage and animation completed by 1985, but this is yet to officially see the light of day.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

In The Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hodgson

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In The Eye of the Storm by Roger HodgsonAlthough it was not a great commercial success, Roger Hogdson‘s debut album did well in advancing the compositional foundation that he established in his decade-plus as one of the leaders of Supertramp. On, In the Eye of the Storm, Hodgson wrote, arranged, produced, and performed just about every note and, more importantly, found the proper synthesis of Supertramp inspired prog rock and a contemporary, mid-eighties sound. The album reveals that Hodgson, who had always shared vocal and songwriting duties with Rick Davies through seven studio albums with Supertramp, is more than apt at carrying an entire LP by himself.

Following the breakout success of Supertramp’s, Breakfast In America, and the worldwide tour that followed, Hodgson decided to relocate to remote Nevada City, California, where he built  Unicorn Studio. The rest of the group remained in Los Angeles through the recording of 1982’s, Famous Last Words, which caused a bit of a logistical situation that effected the group harmony. Following a final tour, Hodgson decided to leave Supertramp and concentrate on solo projects.

Originally, Hodgson recorded an album titled, Sleeping With the Enemy, but he decided to withhold it at the last minute when he was dissatisfied with the overall quality. In this light, In the Eye of the Storm, was a second pass at much of the material with a more deliberative approach, resulting in a well-crafted and highly listenable album.


In the Eye of the Storm by Roger Hogdson
Released: December 7, 1984 (A&M)
Produced by: Roger Hodgson
Recorded: Unicorn Studios, Nevada City, California, 1983-84
Side One Side Two
Had a Dream
In Jeopardy
Lovers In the Wind
Hooked On a Problem
I’m Not Afraid
Give Me Love, Give Me Life
Only Because of You
Primary Musicians
Roger Hodgson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass
Jimmy Johnson – Bass  |  Michael Shrieve – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with a long and dramatic movie-like intro to “Had a Dream”. Eventually, this gives way to thumping rhythms and a familiar bouncy piano that harkens back to Supertramp, as the song proper contains a high-end rock arrangement with anti-war lyrics. There is an interesting, laid back bridge section which is moody and melodic with a slow guitar lead before the track comes back full-fledged with a more traditional guitar lead into the final verse and long outro built on Hodgson’s piano and guitar motifs. An edited version of “Had a Dream” was released as a single and reached number 48 on the charts.

The next song, “In Jeopardy”, was also released as a single. Built on pleasant little piano riffs, call and response vocals, and percussive flourishes, the song contains a couple of modern synth leads but Hodgson. While the musical mood is light and upbeat, the song’s theme continues the dark theme of uncertainty established by the opening track. After a minor key piano intro, which meanders a bit, “Lovers In the Wind”, moves into a melodic but melancholy, soft-rock song with rich harmonies. This accessible, adult-contemporary track features fretless bass by Jimmy Johnson, adding a really smooth edge to the song, which was a huge hit in some Southeast Asian countries.

Perhaps the closest track to traditional Supertramp, “Hooked On a Problem” is built on the consistent ¾ beat during the verse and a pleasant and extra-melodic chorus. The song has a carnival-like feel with plenty of sonic treats, and is presented in a machine-like rotation with a cool organ and some slight saxophone by guest Scott Page. Still, the lyrics are a bit foreboding;

I’m walking a tightrope with stars in my eyes, In danger of falling, won’t you kiss me goodbye? Can somebody help me? What they trying to do?”

The album’s original second side contains three extended tracks of over seven minutes each. “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” starts with a distant vocal and piano and eventually launches into an upbeat hook, built mostly on simple synth motifs. The song has almost a Meatloaf-like vibe in its emotional and theatrical mix. “I’m Not Afraid” is a mini-suite, starting with pure eighties synth-piano and the grittiest vocals on album. Following a bluesy lead section where Hogdson’s lead guitar trades licks with the harmonica of Ken Allardyce, comes a long and rhythmic outro section. The album concludes with the uplifting piano track, “Only Because of You”, which is almost religious in theme. The song contains a long mid-section with scat vocals by guest Claire Diament and some short synth and guitar leads by Hodgson before winding down to the final verse sections.

Although In the Eye of the Storm only reached number 46 on the Billboard album charts, it did perform far better elsewhere around the globe, and eventually sold over two million copies worldwide. Hodgson followed-up with a second solo record, Hai Hai, in 1987, before taking an extended break from recording to pursue other projects.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

1984 Images

 

The Works by Queen

The Works by Queen

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The Works by QueenThe Works was sort of a comeback album by Queen in 1984. We say “sort of” because the group never really went away, they just faced a major commercial flop with their previous effort, a quasi-disco record called Hot Space, which seemed woefully outdated in 1982. In this light, The Works was a return to form, albeit with strong eighties sonic and arrangement sensibilities. On this nine track album, each member of the quartet brought in at least one complete composition and, while there are some major weak points in the mix, these are superseded by the brilliant high points as well as the fact that this album turned out to be an important pivot point for Queen in the 1980s.

The decade began strong for the group, with the 1980 release of The Game, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would become their best selling album. Later that same year, the group released the soundtrack to the movie Flash Gordon, which further expanded their audience and reach. A worldwide tour followed, which included several concerts with audiences topping 100,000 in Latin American in 1981. That same year, Queen worked with David Bowie on the single “Under Pressure”, a spontaneous occurrence, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording, and another huge success, reaching number one in the UK. Late in 1981, Queen released their Greatest Hits compilation, which sold over 25 million copies worldwide and is still the best selling album in UK Chart history. However, 1982 turned out to be a disaster, not just with the flop of Hot Space, but with the inner turmoil which began to brew in the band, as guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were both very critical of the new sound and its apparent abandonment of Queen’s core rock audience. For the first time in a decade, the group took a break from touring and recording, with some band members working on outside projects and solo albums.

After about a year apart, Queen reunited in August 1983 to begin work on this eleventh studio album. They convened in Los Angeles, making this the first time Queen recorded in America, and spent several months working on the album with co-producer and engineer Reinhold Mack. Here the group fused May and Taylor’s rock sound with some of the German-influenced electro pop advocated by vocalist and arranger Freddie Mercury, to fulfill the original mission laid out by Taylor, who stated at the beginning of recording, “Let’s give them the works!”


The Works by Queen
Released: February 27, 1984 (EMI)
Produced by: Queen & Reinhold Mack
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles and Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, August 1983–January 1984
Side One Side Two
Radio Ga Ga
Tear It Up
It’s a Hard Life
Man On the Prowl
Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)
I Want to Break Free
Keep Passing the Open Windows
Hammer to Fall
Is This the World We Created…?
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

In what was probably an attempt to show the world that “Queen is back”, most of the songs on the albums first side, seem to harken back to previous famous songs by the band. May’s straight-forward anthem rocker “Tear It Up” contains a consistent beat that seems to slightly rip off the group’s own “We Will Rock You” from the 1977 album News of the World. Mercury’s piano ballad, “It’s a Hard Life” is pleasant and with good sound production, reminiscent of classic Queen of the 1970s, especially during the uplifting guitar lead by May. “Man On the Prowl” is a Jerry Lee Lewis inspired rockabilly track, complete with those famous Queen backing vocals, very similar to those used on the group’s 1979 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

“Radio Ga Ga” was the lead single from The Works, as well as its opening track, and immediately feels like a breath of fresh musical air. This brilliant composition which combines a synthesized rhythm with pristine melody, was written by Taylor wholly on a synthesizer, but brilliantly arranged by Mercury, who really shines during the escalating pre-chorus, as the singer transforms the rather silly and trite lyrics into an uplifting and majestic piece. There is very little presence by May on this track, but when he does appear at the very end, he performs a simple slide lead which enhances the track further.

 
The album’s second side begins “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)”, a really convoluted and disorganized song, which has no real direction and it appears to just throw in the “kitchen sink” of styles and techniques as a kind of extended filler. Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free” is far better than previous track, as it contains good pop craftsmanship, a cool rhythmic riff and a catchy vocal melody, resulting in a pure pop song that is impossible not to enjoy at some level. When Deacon insisted he didn’t want a guitar solo on the track, session man Fred Mandel was commissioned to perform a synth solo. Mercury’s “Keep Passing the Open Windows” starts as a dramatic piano track but, quickly morphs to a bass-driven rock track led by bassist John Deacon, which is fairly entertaining at first, But the trite lyrics grow old as the repetition increases through this five and a half minute track.

“Hammer to Fall” contains a catchy rock riff, catchy melody, and catchy harmonies, adding up to a latter-era Queen classic. Lyrically the song deals with the threat of imminent doom, but musically it feeds into the good-time, call-and-response of eighties pop/rock. This track should have concluded the album on a high note, but instead the group opted for the short acoustic folk ballad “Is This the World We Created?”, a very simple and somber piece by Mercury, which leaves the listener in a low mood as the album concludes. Not a bad piece, but should have been placed before “Hammer to Fall” for maximum effect.

Commercially, The Works did fine as an album, charting in the Top 20 in over a dozen nations worldwide. More importantly, Queen was restored as a top-level, headline act. By 1985, they were again once again playing in front of hundreds of thousands and they performed in front of millions at Live Aid in July of that year. During that festival, the visual of the entire audience at Wembley Stadium clapping in unison to “Radio Ga Ga”, has been cited as one of the greatest live performances of all time.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple

Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple

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Perfect Strangers by Deep PurpleThrough the past half century of classic rock and roll, there have been scores (if not hundreds) of major group reunions, with very mixed results. However, there have been very few groups that returned with the same potency contemporary relevance as the comeback of Deep Purple in 1984, which commenced with the composing and recording of the Perfect Strangers album. Here, the classic “Mark II” lineup, which had not been together in over a decade, struck a “perfect” balance between their indelible classic sound of the early seventies and the emerging 80s hard rock sensibilities, such as the great clichés embedded within its lyrics (i.e. “it’s not the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase…”).

The prior album recorded by the successful and popular “Mark II” lineup, was the rather forgettable Who Do We Think We Are in 1973. The dissatisfaction with that album, ultimately led to the departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist/producer Roger Glover. Glover was replaced by bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, and the group briefly debated continuing as a four-piece band, with Hughes also acting as lead vocalist. However, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore discovered the (then) unknown David Coverdale and liked his blues-tinged voice. This new (“Mark III”) lineup recorded two albums and embarked on a very successful tour in 1974, with the album Burn becoming only the second Top 10 album by the band. However, Blackmore was growing dissatisfied with the new funky and soul elements, and decided to leave in mid 1975. Still, the two original members, keyboardist John Lord and drummer Ian Paice decided to carry on and replaced Blackmore with Tommy Bolin (“Mark IV” lineup) for the studio album Come Taste the Band, which was released mere months before Deep Purple officially announced their break-up in 1976. Bolin tragically died of a drug overdose later that year.

The fact that Deep Purple reunited nearly a decade later is all the more remarkable due to the vast success of the individual members in the intervening years. Starting in 1975, Gillan formed the Ian Gillan Band and later formed a separate group named “Gillan” which put out several albums and had considerable success into the early 1980s. In 1983, Gillan joined the original members of Black Sabbath for a single year and single album, with the arrangement ending with the Deep Purple reunion. In Black Sabbath, Gillan replaced Ronnie James Dio, who ironically was the original singer of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, starting in 1975. Blackmore steered Rainbow through seven albums in eight years, with Glover joining on as bassist and producer for the final four of these albums in the early 1980s. Glover had earlier released two post-Deep Purple solo albums in the late 1970s. Lord and Paice formed the short-lived super group Paice Ashton Lord, which released the album Malice in Wonderland in 1977, before each moving on to other projects. Paice became the drummer for bluesman Gary Moore, while Lord joined Coverdale’s post-Deep Purple project, Whitesnake, recorded several albums with the band right through Slide It In in early 1984.

Rural Stowe, Vermont, USA was the unlikely location for the reunion of these five English rock stars. Here, the tracks for Perfect Strangers were composed and recorded in less than a month. Eight of these tracks made it on to the original record, with two more, the straight-up rocker “Not Responsible” and the extended instrumental “Son of Alerik”, appearing on later versions of the album.


Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple
Released: September 16, 1984 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roger Glover
Recorded: Horizons, Stowe, Vermont, August 1984
Side One Side Two
Knockin’ At Your Back Door
Under the Gun
Nobody’s Home
Mean Streak
Perfect Strangers
A Gypsy’s Kiss
Wasted Sunsets
Hungry Daze
Group Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals  |  Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
John Lord – Keyboards  |  Roger Glover – Bass  |  Ian Paice – Drums

Lord’s dramatic keyboard intro by Lord, borrowed heavily from the “Jaws” theme, is accented by a pulsating rhythm during the dramatic intro to “Knocking at Your Back Door”. This seven-minute album opener was quite the breath of fresh, classic rock air during the mid 1980s rock scene, and made an immediate impact with its classic yet modern (for 1984) sound. In all, the performance, rudiments, and picturesque lyrics are all excellent as is the long guitar lead by Blackmore to finish things up. “Under the Gun” is almost as equally impressive as the opener, albeit much less heralded. The thundering motor-drive of rhythm by Glover and Paice supports the repeated call-and-response between Blackmore and Lord, followed by the strong, harmonized riff through the verses.

“Nobody’s Home” is the only track on the album credited to all five band members (Lord and Paice rarely composed). A short synth intro is interrupted by another classic Deep Purple riff and a good lyrical catch line. While mainly vocal-driven by Gillan’s dynamic crooning, it contains that great old Blackmore-Lord dueling and a later organ solo which is wisely given much room to breathe. “Mean Streak” is the only song on the first side which is not completely excellent and, really, the lone weak link on the entire album. There is a nice upbeat chord progression, but it unfortunately all points towards the rather ho-hum hook.

Perfect Strangers singleThe beginning of side two returns to classic mode with the deep and profound title song “Perfect Strangers”. This song contains a quasi-heavy-metal drive but with great melody and a really cool and subtle passage to the post-chorus Eastern-style phrasing. The rhythm is steady throughout, leaving Gillan the room to vocally paint the pictures of the rich scenery of the lyrics about reincarnation and passing through time. “A Gypsy’s Kiss” comes in with a rhythm almost like rockabilly but quickly breaks into a frenzied beat. The most interesting section here is the multi-part instrumental, with Blackmore’s guitar lead over some very interesting rudiments before Lord doing both a synth and organ lead. This frantic track is reminiscent of those found on the group’s 1972 classic Machine Head.

“Wasted Sunsets” calms things down a bit as a dramatic ballad with long and moody guitar notes and leads and slow but effective riffs. The deep organ notes guide the moderate and measured rhythms on this track which is really a great showcase for Blackmore’s bluesy guitar. “Hungry Daze” finishes things up strong as an upbeat rock retrospective of the band’s earlier years. Here Gillan’s vocals are most dynamic and Paice provides a great drum section during an extended psychedelic section.

Perfect Strangers was a commercial success, charting in the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in six European countries, including the UK. This was followed up with a highly successful world tour that saw Deep Purple out-grossing every other artist except Bruce Springsteen in 1985. The Mark II lineup remained together for several subsequent years, releasing another studio album The House of Blue Light in 1987. However, the personnel shifts resumed near the end of the decade, resulting in even more “Mark X” lineups.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders

Learning to Crawl
by The Pretenders

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Learning to Crawl by The PretendersFollowing a very tumultuous period where two band members lost their lives due to drug overdoses, Learning to Crawl, was a bit of an early career comeback album for The Pretenders. The group’s third overall album, this early 1984 release was their first in nearly three years and contains recordings that date back to the summer of 1982. With the personnel turmoil, group leader Chrissie Hynde took a more active role in shaping the group’s sound and compositional direction, adding some maturity to the raw intensity of the Pretenders’ core approach. The result is an original blend of later-era new wave rock, which propelled the group to the height of its popularity.

After the great success of their self-titled debut album, the group released Pretenders II in 1981, but felt that album was rushed in order to take advantage of their popularity. The following year, original bass player, Pete Farndon,was fired due to his increasing drug dependency. Just two days later, original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure from cocaine intolerance, leaving the Pretenders cut in half almost overnight. Still, Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers continued on and began recording just a month after Honeyman-Scott’s death.

In 1983 Hynde brought on guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster as new permanent members of the band. One of the first recordings made by the new lineup was the B-side “Fast or Slow (The Law’s the Law)”, which was sung by drummer Chambers and has a folk/dance riff and beat throughout. The song, which seems to be about an actual altercation with the law, was released two months ahead of Learning to Crawl.


Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders
Released: January 7, 1984 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1982–83
Side One Side Two
Middle of the Road
Back On the Chain Gang
Time the Avenger
Watching the Clothes
Show Me
Thumbelina
My City Was Gone
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
I Hurt You
2000 Miles
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars, Vocals
Malcolm Foster – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

The album commences with the thundering “Middle of the Road”, a straight forward, three chord rocker. With a catchy vocal chorus hook and rapid-fire lead vocals, the song seems rather simple on its surface, but actually has a deeper underlying meaning interpreted from the Tao Te Ching. Hynde’s harmonica lead at end of the song completes the track which reached the Top 20 in America. “Back On the Chain Gang” may be the best song ever recorded by The Pretenders. Recorded and released as a single in 1982, the song features a smooth lead guitar by Billy Bremner, who was a temporary fill-in at the time. In spite of the odd lyrical tempo, Hynde’s vocals are catchy and delivered in a near weeping manner, making the song at once uplifting and melancholy, and with a good, inventive bridge. The song became the band’s biggest hit in the US, reaching number 5, and pays homage to Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Chain Gang” with workman vocals dubbed in the background.

 
“Time the Avenger” is another good, upbeat rock song with lots of little guitar riffs on top of Foster’s repeating 2/4 bass phrase. On this track, Hynde’s vocal style is much like that of Joni Mitchell, while she delivers more deeply philosophical lyrics such as; “Nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here”. After the brief new wave screed “Watching the Clothes”, the album’s first side concludes with the melodic “Show Me”. This upbeat and jangly track is a true a singer’s song, with each word maximized for melodic effect in the repeating vocal areas (there is not really verse/chorus setup). With slightly differing musical arrangements and approaches, the mixture of acoustic, electric, bass carries the song through its pleasant fade-out.

The second side is filled with songs of diverse styles, with mixed results. “Thumbelina” has a Country-rock, Johnny Cash-like rhythm and, like many lyrics of songs on this album, this appears to be written about Hynde’s daughter, Natalie (fathered by Kinks’ leader Ray Davies). In fact, Hynde named the album “Learning to Crawl” because that’s exactly what her daughter was doing at the time. “My City Was Gone” is another track that dates back to 1982 and features a consistent bass riff by Tony Butler with heavily-effected drums by Chambers. Lyrically, the song is about changing landscapes, and change itself and never really relents from straight-forward riff and beat.

The album’s only cover, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” features piano by former Squeeze member Paul Carrack along with crooning vocals by Hynde. In contrast, “I Hurt You” takes a pure new wave funk approach with multiple voices and vocal melodies and another driving, simple bass line. This song is most interesting at the very end with overdubbed, slightly strummed guitars and a cool lead by McIntosh. The album concludes with the beautiful and steady “2000 Miles”, with a sweet synth and guitar intro, which fades in with the perfect vibe for this song. The musicians add the right mixture of rhythm and effect to keep the song on a steady pace and provide the canvas for Hynde’s vocals. Written for the departed guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the tune is often considered a Christmas song, due to its lyrical content;

In these frozen and silent nights, sometimes in a dream you appear / Outside under the purple sky, diamonds in the snow sparkle, our hearts were singing, it felt like Christmas time…”

Learning to Crawl was critical and commercial success that launched the Pretenders to the upper echelon of pop/rock groups. However, the inner turmoil continued as both Chambers and Foster left the band before the completion of their next album, Get Close, leaving Hynde as the only original group member through their later years.

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.