Holiday by America

Holiday by America

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Holiday by AmericaOne of the most interesting things about doing all these classic rock album reviews are the little tidbits of information you learn along the way, some of which completely shatter your preconceptions about certain artists and works. Choosing to review the album Holiday by the group America seemed like a perfect match for the date July 4th. After all, this is the quintessential American holiday. But then some elementary research revealed that the group is, in fact, British. Who knew? In any case, the album review goes on as we examine this fine effort by the folk rock trio with the patriotic name, kicking off our two month feature on the most important albums released in the year 1974.

Multi instrumentalists and vocalists Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek shared a common lineage as they were all sons of American military fathers and British mothers. They met in high school in London in the mid-1960s and soon found that they complemented each others talents and blended three-part vocal harmony. The trio played their first gigs as America in the London area opening for acts such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, and The Who. America was eventually signed to a Warner Brothers UK subsidiary label in 1971 and released their debut album later that year. This was followed by the successful 1972 album Homecoming which helped win the group a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. However, Hat Trick, America’s third album in 1973 was a critical and commercial disappointment..

For this fourth album, America brought on legendary producer George Martin along with engineer Geoff Emerick, both of whom shaped the sound of the Beatles the decade before. Under Martin’s direction, the group adopted a more British pop style which was enhanced by Martin’s addition of strings and brass. With all three group members composing songs for the album, Martin compared the competition among America as that among Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Each member’s songs were well represented on the album with Martin doing all the final arrangements.


Holiday by America
Released: June 26, 1974 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, April-May 1974
Side One Side Two
Miniature
Tin Man
Another Try
Lonely People
Glad To See You
Mad Dog
Hollywood
Baby It’s Up To You
You
Old Man Took
What Does It Matter
In The Country
Primary Musicians
Gerry Beckley – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Dewey Bunnell – Guitars, Vocals
Dan Peek – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Willie Leacox – Drums, Percussion

Holiday begins with an intro instrumental with film soundtrack-like qualities call “Miniature”, which features subtle piano with rich orchestration which swells in presence as the seventy-two second track progresses. After this brief theatrical intro, each of the three permanent group members present their best pop compositions in turn, starting with Bunnell’s “Tin Man”. The great jazzy chord patterns of acoustic and bass set the mood perfectly for this philosophical play on a character in The Wizard of Oz, while Bunnell’s distinctive vocals come through with pristine clarity. The song is uni-directional as it never returns to the verse after the initial one, and the addition of a piano phrase in the final choruses shows Martin’s absolute mastery of production techniques. “Tin Man” became the band’s fourth Top Ten hit, climaxing at number four.

Beckley’s “Another Try” is driven by an upbeat and bouncy piano tune musically, while the lyrics are more somber and downtrodden. Built in the tradition as late 60s British pop ala classic Bee Gees, the song is all piano and bass at the core, a departure from the folk rock for which America is noted, and just a touch of subtle strings and brass are added starting in the second chorus. Peek’s “Lonely People” returns the listener to traditional acoustic folk in a song he co-wrote with his wife Catherine Mayberry. Despite its title, the song is really an upbeat and inspiring tune of encouragement lyrically and contains just the right amount of accordion, harmonica, and boogie piano beneath the strummed acoustic musically. Ironically, the song was inspired as an optimistic antidote to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, on which Martin had an integral role nearly a decade earlier.

“Glad To See You” contains a moderate, rocking piano with a well-rounded bass and drums and pristine background harmonies, giving it the typical seventies soft rock sound with the added bonus of Martin’s slight touch of orchestration. “Mad Dog” finishes the original first side as a McCarthy-esque bouncy old English dance hall tune with just a touch of 1970s production in the bass and overtone sounds. This entertaining song is about drinking too much, which would make it the perfect pub song.

While the second side of Holiday is not terrible, it very much boilerplate with few new original moments. One exceptional standout is Bunnell’s “Old Man Took”, an acoustic soft jazz track with a cool soul vibe and lyrical content that is more mature and introspective if not quasi-religious. “Hollywood” is a choppy dark folk song with a simple acoustic chord structure and splattered sound effects, while the minor hit “Baby It’s Up To You” dips back into the smooth, love song, folk rock formula. the tracks “You” and “What Does It Matter” are pleasant enough listens while “In The Country” eases the album to its close without anything particularly memorable.

Holiday reached number 3 on the Billboard album chart and was certified gold just a few months after its release. Martin continued to work with America over the next few years and few studio albums, with the group’s popularity peaking in 1975 with the releases of the Martin-produced Hearts LP and the compilation album History.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Roxy Music

Roxy Music

Roxy MusicWhen you’re an early-1970s rock band that tours with your own fashion designer, hair stylist, photographer and “PR consultant”, chances are you’ll take some heat. Roxy Music, the English glam-art band formed by Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and Graham Simpson, was a big proponent of style, so much so that legendary rock critic Lester Bangs said the band represented the “triumph of artifice”, Despite their early detractors, the band proved highly influential to both the glam-rock movement and new wave/punk musicians, including David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cars, Grace Jones, Kate Bush and many more.

While very popular in the U.K., the band’s lush, highly produced tracks, prominently featuring electronic synthesizers, were not widely embraced in the United States. Like his band mates, lead singer Ferry was an ex-art student, and saw rock n’ roll as performance art. Eno, who became widely known for his ambient productions, proved to be a pivotal influence over David Byrne and the Talking Heads.

They are perhaps best known in the U.S. for their music videos, each a minor cinematic masterpiece. A seamless integration of music and film propelled Roxy hits, including “More Than This” and “Love Is the Drug”. Some of their best work came late in their career, including the great make-out album Avalon, which showcased Ferry’s theatrical, crooning voice.

The band continued to perform through the early 2010s, remaining true to their dedication to style and production values. We agree with Rolling Stone magazine, which ranked Roxy Music number 98 on their “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. The brought the swag, the sex appeal and the surreal to every show they performed. On the 42nd anniversary of their first appearance at the Great Western Express Pop Festival, we celebrate one of the most influential bands of the rock era.

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Article by Marcelo Molina

 

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

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Definitely Maybe by OasisA tremendous commercial success, Definitely Maybe is the 1994 debut album by Oasis. This album was instrumental in revitalizing the bright and optimistic “Britpop” movement in the midst of an era dominated by the deeper and darker grunge sound. Although portrayed at the time as a collection of largely spontaneous tracks, many of the songs were actually composed years earlier by guitarist Noel Gallagher, some predating his 1991 arrival joining up with the band. In any case, the themes of things said plainly and for the very first time really struck a chord in Britain and beyond as Definitely Maybe provided the fuel for Oasis’s rocket dominance of the mid 1990s.

In the early 1990s, guitarist Paul Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan, and drummer Tony McCarroll formed a group called The Rain. Unhappy with their original vocalist, the group auditioned Liam Gallagher as front man, who in turn suggested the name Oasis for the band. When the band started playing live in 1991, Liam invited his older brother Noel to see the band. Noel decided his brother’s group would be a good vehicle for the songs he had written and joined Oasis as a fifth member.

The group began recording the album at Monnow Valley Studio. The Stone Roses were about a mile down the road, recording Second Coming, the follow-up their own brilliant debut, and the two groups bonded. However, the sessions proved unsatisfactory, as the group found the sound to be “thin, weak, and too clean”, despite the high cost of these sessions. In February 1994, the group began re-recording the album at Sawmills Studio with producer Mark Coyle and replicated their live sound by recording together without soundproofing between individual instruments.

The long recording process delayed the release of the album. In the interim, between April and August 1994, Oasis released three singles ahead of Definitely Maybe. This actually helped build anticipation for the debut and it shot straight to the top of the U.K. charts upon its release and went on to be certified eight times Platinum.


Definitely Maybe by Oasis
Released: August 30, 1994 (Creation)
Produced by: Mark Coyle, Owen Morris, Dave Batchelor & Oasis
Recorded: December 1993–April 1994
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rock n’ Roll Star
Shakermaker
Live Forever
Up In the Sky
Columbia
Supersonic
Bring It On Down
Cigarettes & Alcohol
Digsy’s Dinner
Slide Away
Married with Children
Liam Gallagher – Lead Vocals
Noel Gallagher – Guitars, Piano Vocals
Paul Arthurs – Guitars, Piano
Paul McGuigan – Bass, Vocals
Tony McCarroll – Drums, Percussion

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

 

The short, slow, droning guitar breaks out into the more upbeat song proper of the opener “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Released as a single, the song became a radio and concert favorite, as did the album’s second song, “Shakermaker”. Dominated by a slow jam with Liam Gallagher’s extra long, whiny vocals, the song starts somewhat interesting but gets annoying after a short while. Further, the song borrowed its melody from a 1970s Coca-Cola commercial and the band eventually had to pay $500,000 in damages.

The compositionally excellent “Live Forever” follows as the most indelible song on the album. Noel Gallagher wrote the song in 1991, and it contains a great chorus, overtone, and melody that was inspired by The Rolling Stones song “Shine a Light”, and was the first Oasis song to enter the Top Ten. “Up In the Sky” is a heavier track with interesting riff variations, almost sixties psychedelic, while “Columbia” has chanting lyrics and a rotating drone of three chords throughout its six and a half minutes, never really relenting but still the band’s favorite song to play live.

McCarroll’s drum intro with a long guitar pick scratch above the melodic riff introduces another radio single, “Supersonic”. The beat never deviates one bit, while overdubbed guitars make it all entertaining. This song was the band’s first single to chart in the United States, where it peaked at number 11. “Bring It On Down” is a more intense, almost punk song where the music overtakes Liam Gallagher’s voice for one of the rare times. McCarroll couldn’t quite get the beat, so a session drummer was brought in to show him how, and McCarroll was promptly discharged from the band once recording was complete, sparking lawsuits for years to come.

Oasis 1994

“Cigarettes & Alcohol” contains a more traditional, bluesy rock arrangement, almost like a cross between The Rolling Stones and T-Rex (which sparked the second accusation of plagiarism on this album). The vocal hook is also more traditional (and catchy) and lyrics more legible than most songs on the album. “Digsy’s Dinner” is like a short radio hit of the early sixties, except with heavy guitars and distant vocals, while “Slide Away” is a long track with little variation in guitars, souring vocals and complex, methodical choruses. The closer “Married with Children” is a rather refreshing change from the over-production of the rest of the album. Recorded partially on a hotel bed, the song contains a strummed acoustic with slightly overdubbed electric and low-key vocals, that warm down the album to a formidable end.

The critical and commercial success of Definitely Maybe carried over strongly to their follow-up in 1995, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, which kept Oasis on top of the pop world for years to come.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

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The Division Bell by Pink FloydPink Floyd completed their extraordinary recording career with 1994’s The Division Bell, the longest single album the group had ever recorded (there were a few double albums along the way). More importantly, both compositionally and musically, this album was a true collaboration among the three remaining members of the group, something that had now truly happened in over twenty years (since The Dark Side of the Moon). This was, in part, due to the full return of founding member and keyboardist Richard Wright, who had only performed with the band as a hired player over the course of 15 years. The end result was the most complete Pink Floyd album since The Wall in 1979.

After Roger Waters left the band in the mid 1980s, guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason recorded A Momentary Lapse of Reason as the next Pink Floyd album. This sparked lawsuits by Waters, who also attempted to subvert the subsequent tour by threatening promoters who used the Pink Floyd name. Eventually, the parties reached a legal agreement that gave Mason and Gilmour the right to use the Pink Floyd name. In early 1993, Wright joined the duo, working collaboratively and jamming on material for a new album.

Bob Ezrin returned to co-produce the album, with much of the recording taking place on Gilmour’s houseboat Astoria. Starting with about twenty-five tracks, the group chose eleven cuts with themes of communication as well as many references to former members Waters and Syd Barrett. Joining the three core members is bassist Guy Pratt, who played on the previous album and tour and had since married Wright’s daughter.


The Division Bell by Pink Floyd
Released: March 28, 1994 (EMI)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour
Recorded: Astoria, London, January—September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Cluster One
What Do You Want from Me
Poles Apart
Marooned
A Great Day for Freedom
Wearing the Inside Out
Take It Back
Coming Back to Life
Keep Talkin’
Lost for Words
High Hopes
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion
Guy Pratt – Bass, Vocals

The Division Bell by Pink Floyd

 

Fittingly, only the three band members perform the opening soundscape, “Cluster One”, which is also the first Pink Floyd song credited to Wright/Gilmour since “Mudmen” on the 1972 album Obscured By Clouds. After a two minute swell for the intro, the piece goes through another four minutes of new-agey notes from Wright’s piano and Gilmour’s guitar, with Mason joining in much later to add some light percussion. “What Do You Want from Me” is the first of many tracks on this album co-written by Gilmour’s soon-to-be-wife Polly Samson. Musically, the slow, bluesy groove held together by Pratt’s deliberate bass countered by Gilmour’s frantic riffing. The timing on this track is quite impressive because it works well while being so incredibly slow, especially during the extended outro part which masterfully employs rock riffs and vocal harmonies.

The most underrated song on the album is “Poles Apart”, which fades in with a quality and moody acoustic phrase and never loses its charm which brings Floyd right back to its heart in the late 60s and early 70s. Gilmour’s vocals are at their brightest and most inspiring and even the odd, synth-driven, carnival-like mid-section works well in maintaining the nostalgic and slightly melancholy mood of the song. This all culminates with the strong final verse, laden with philosophical lyrics;

“the rain fell slow down on all the roofs of uncertainty, I thought of you and the years and all the sadness fell away from me…”

Although it was highly lauded to the point of where it won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, “Marooned” really doesn’t quite fit into this part of the album’s journey, as a follow-up to the impressive “Poles Apart”. Here better attention to concept details and sonic flow might have worked better. “A Great Day for Freedom” has a duality of moods with the piano being melancholy while the melody and lyrics are more optimistic and hopeful. Gilmour provides an impressive lead during the outro, reminiscent of “On the Turning Away” from their previous album, seven years earlier. The song celebrates the great hopes following the fall of the Berlin Wall, but many interpreted it as a reflection on Gilmour’s estranged relationship with Waters. Wright performs lead vocals on “Wearing the Inside Out”, another first in over two decades. The saxophone solo right at the jump by Dick Parry sets a great mood, but overall the six and a half minute song is pretty slow moving, save for Wright’s slight synth lead in the middle. The real highlight comes in the third verse when Gilmour provides a reflective vocal with rich chorus accompaniment;

“look at him now, he’s paler somehow but he’s coming around, he’s starting to choke it’s been so long since he spoke but he could have the words right from my mouth…”

“Take It Back” may be Gilmour’s most impressive musical performance, between the melodic vocals and various guitar textures. With a genius use of an e-bow, and a great lead during the moody, sound-laden middle section, this song ranks right up there with Pink Floyd’s best guitar songs (and there have been many). “Coming Back to Life” starts with a gentle, bluesy guitar intro and is overall not a bad listen. However, Gilmour seems to have an annoying habit of projecting his own guilt back at the audience and the lyrics on this song illustrate that fact.

Pink Floyd in 1994

The album finishes strong with three solid tracks composed by Gilmour and Samson. While the song itself is really not that interesting, “Keep Talking” has a masterful arrangement starting with the vocal interludes by Stephen Hawking to the extensive use of a “talk box” and the call and response of the verses between Gilmour and the female chorus. The first single released from the album, the song topped the Album Rock Tracks chart in the U.S. for six weeks. “Lost for Words” fades in masterfully with deep organ drone before it finally gets to the folkish, acoustic heart of the song, complete with slight accordion and honky piano and a fine acoustic lead in the outro of the song. “High Hopes” is the final song of the final album and Pink Floyd’s long recording career. Starting with joyous bells in the distance of a rural scene, the lyrics speak of the things one may have gained and lost in life. Fittingly, the song concludes with a fine, bluesy guitar lead by Gilmour.

Despite lukewarm reviews by the mainstream press, The Division Bell topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and in several nations across the globe. The group toured throughout much of 1994, playing their final full concert on October 29th of that year. Over a decade later, Waters, Gilmour, Mason, and Wright performed a handful of songs as Pink Floyd at the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2005, the last ever performance by Pink Floyd.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1994 albums.

Stone Roses 1989 album

The Stone Roses

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Stone Roses 1989 albumLike lightning in a bottle, The Stone Roses debut album captured the energy of an emerging movement which would influence the British pop scene for the better part of a decade. The Stone Roses received critical accolades for its quality of songwriting and perfect illustration of the “Madchester” movement – an indie rock phenomenon that fused guitar pop with drug-fueled rave and dance culture through the late eighties and early nineties. The album originally peaked at #19 on the UK charts, but incredibly re-charted four times over the next 20 years (in 1995, 2004, 2005, and 2009), twice reaching the Top Ten.

Lead vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire formed their first band together, a punk inspired group called The Patrol in 1980. Three years later, bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield and the group started to migrate towards sixties-influenced pop. Around the time the band adopted the name Stone Roses, drummer Alan “Reni” Wren joined, completing the quartet that would record this album. Through the late 1980s, the group recorded and released several demos and singles as their popularity grew in Central England.

The group started recording their debut album in Wales in 1988 with producer John Leckie, who had previously worked with Pink Floyd. The lead single “Elephant Stone”, was left off the original album but included in later versions. Another non-album single, “Fool’s Gold”, became a hit in the U.K. The completed album contains simple but catchy hooks, bright and rich guitar riffs, and a rhythm section that blends sixties psychedelic pop and eighties dance grooves in a masterful way.


Stone Roses by Stone Roses
Released: April, 1989 (Elektra)
Produced by: John Leckie
Recorded: Various studios, London, England & Monmouthshire, Wales
Track Listing Group Musicians
I Wanna Be Adored
She Bangs the Drums
Waterfall
Don’t Stop
Bye Bye Badman
Elizabeth My Dear
(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister
Made of Stone
Shoot You Down
This Is the One
I Am the Resurrection
Ian Brown – Lead Vocals
John Squire – Guitars
Gary Mounfield – Bass
Alan Wren – Drums, Piano, Vocals
Stone Roses 1989 album

 

A long, noisy intro gives way to Mounfield’s fade-in bass and Wren’s drums to introduce the opener “I Wanna Be Adored”. The song sets the pace for the album with catchy hooks, droning guitars, and emotionally nuanced lyrics. The Top 40 hit “She Bangs the Drums” is more of a melodic pop song but does contain cleverly suggestive lyrics and innuendo by Brown. “Waterfall” is the first song on the album with a definite sixties vibe, from Squire’s chiming guitar riffs to the well harmonized vocals to combine for an infectious riff and melody. This results in the most indelible song on the early part of Stone Roses, if not the entire album. The song is followed by a reprise called “Don’t Stop”, which is a totally tripped-out, psychedelic version of “Waterfall”, with backwards masking and sped up tape effects in an experimental track which is, perhaps, a little too long for its own good.

The pop parade continues with “Bye Bye Badman”, another great song with a sixties vibe but also with modern drum beats and guitar motifs of differing styles. The true genius of the song is the vocal melodies which deliver the quasi-violent lyrics with incredible accessibility. The album cover displays an abstract painting by Squire, which “Bye Bye Badman” was named after. After a short shot at the queen, set to the melody of “Scarborough Fair”, Squire’s jangly guitar chords drive the intro of “Sugar Spun Sister”. The song later grows into a more intense arrangement, with ever more the potent electric guitars starting with the second verse. “Made of Stone” sounds the most like 1980s rock, it is darker than most songs on the album but still being a rewarding listen. The choruses do bring the song up a bit more than the verses and the great musical arrangement throughout by dual guitars, driving bass, and drums, make it the last great song on the album.

The Stone Roses concludes with three adequate but weaker songs. “Shoot You Down” employs a much more cool jazz in approach, with crafty guitar work throughout, a rhythm like a moderate dance song, and an acapella vocal hook. After what seems like a false start, “This Is the One” meanders in a choppy motion, never really hooking the rhythm until the second verse, but after this song gets a bit repetitive. The closer “I Am the Resurrection” starts with upbeat drum beat, joined only by bass during first verse before strong guitars introduce the chorus. The song proper is punk rock in its attitude but Brit-pop sonically and the long outro starts as a funky groove before it grows more psychedelic as it moves along.

As The Stone Roses gained popularity and critical acclaim, the group was in no way humble about their accomplishment. Lead vocalist Brown proclaimed in late 1989;

We’re the most important group in the world, because we’ve got the best songs and we haven’t even begun to show our potential yet.”

Of course, this measure of hubris proved unwise. The closing track’s title was a deFacto preview of the title their follow-up album, Second Coming, which would not be released until five years later. In between, the Stone Roses rode a roller coaster of ups and downs from the high of their legendary Spike Island concert in 1990, the lows of the lawsuit that ensued when they tried to terminate contract with Silvertone Records. Ultimately, the group never quite reached their potential and officially disbanded in 1996.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Disintegration by The Cure

Disintegration by The Cure

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Disintegration by The CureThrough most of their first decade, The Cure was a group that was always on the razor’s edge of change making them one of the rare “alternative” bands which were actually “alternative”. With Disintegration, their eighth studio album, the group made a slight turn back towards the introspective Gothic rock they had forged in their early years but added a more mature perspective to the mix. The album was composed by front man Robert Smith and grew out of a depression as he faced the realization of turning thirty years old. It was also a concerted effort by Smith to re-discover the soul of the band, which he believed was lost in the recent wave of commercial success.

The Cure’s roots stretch back to 1973 when Smith formed his first group with Laurence Tolhurst, while in middle school. With the emergence of punk rock in 1977, the remnants of this group became known as “Easy Cure” and added lead guitarist Porl Thompson. A year later, The Cure were signed to the newly formed English label Fiction, and they released their debut single at the end of 1978, followed by their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in May 1979, which did well critically and commercially. Through the early 80s, the band shied away from overt commercial efforts, with more sombre music that found a niche crowd. In 1987, The Cure released the musically eclectic double Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which sprang them back towards commercial success reaching the Top 10 in several countries. This was followed by a world tour which exposed some internal friction. Tolhurst became substance dependent and was eventually fired and replaced by keyboardist Roger O’Donnell, while Smith had developed a distaste for the group’s new found popularity.

When the group convened to rehearse for this new album, Smith played demos for his band mates that he was prepared for them to reject. He had already started making plans to record the material as a solo album, but was pleasantly surprised when the group liked the demos. By the end of the pre-production session, The Cure recorded over thirty songs. However, the final album was a bit of a shock to their American label Elektra Records, who expected a further migration towards pop/rock and requested a delayed release date because they believed the record was “commercial suicide”. In spite of these fears, Disintegration became the band’s commercial peak and remains The Cure’s highest selling record to date.


Disintegration by The Cure
Released: May 2, 1989 (Elektra)
Produced by: David M. Allen and The Cure
Recorded: Hookend Manor Studios, Reading, England, Late 1988 to Early 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
Plainsong
Pictures of You
Closedown
Lovesong
Last Dance
Lullaby
Fascination Street
Prayers for Rain
The Same Deep Water as You
Disintegration
Homesick
Untitled
Robert Amith – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass
Porl Thompson – Guitars
Simon Gallup – Bass, Keyboards
Roger O’Donnell – Keyboards
Boris Williams – Drums

 
Disintegration by The Cure

 

Setting the pace for the album with deep, multi-layered synths and slow, methodical beats, the album’s opening track “Plainsong” is soon joined by a droning guitar riff in the elongated intro, which lasts over two and a half minutes or half the overall song length. While Smith wrote all of the lyrics on the album, he acknowledges the significant musical contributions by the rest of the band, which forge the texture and mood that dominates tracks such as this one. “Pictures of You” is built on masterfully sonic guitar riffs by Thompson and a steady bass by Simon Gallup before the mood rises like a sunrise and the song steps up to the next level with the vocals in this steady and romantic song, which was a minor hit in spite of its seven minute running length. The album then returns to the heavy-synth goth rock with “Closedown”, featuring a rolling drum beat by Roger O’Donnell and only a single verse to break up the emotional groove.

Smith originally wrote “Lovesong” as a private wedding present for his fiance, Mary, but included it on this “dark” album as a concerted counterpart to the rest of the material. Here he certainly succeeded as the song contains a danceable groove, melodic riffs, accessible lyrics, and the perfect pop running time of three and a half minutes (extremely short for this album). A calm organ riff along with an animated bass drives the song with some orchestral keyboards runs between verses and a good guitar lead in the middle. The song was popular worldwide and reached #2 in America, becoming their highest charting single in the U.S.

The tracks which follow “Lovesong” on the album were also popular radio hits. “Last Dance” has some strong guitars, which arrive after synth intro. However, while Smith carries a strong melody throughout the track, the music is quite timid and does not keep up with the mood. “Lullaby” starts with an upbeat, bouncy guitar and bass riff which is soon joined by a strong drum beat by Williams during the intro. Smith’s breathy and desperate vocals are a unique contrast to the hipper mood of the music, and when O’Donnell’s fine keyboards join the mix, the Cure have a top notch music track. “Lullaby” was the group’s highest charting hit in the U.K., reaching #5 on the charts. “Fascination Street” is almost like the second part of “Lullaby” in the sense that it contains the same chord structure and nearly the same tempo (and was the replacement for “Lullaby” as the lead single in America). However, the vocal and melody approach is quite different, being more forthright and eighties twang.

The Cure in 1989

The latter part of the album contains five consecutive songs which top six minutes in length. “Prayers for Rain” contains well processed guitars in the distance before some fine drums cut in to add a majestic effect, painting a scene of grandeur. Lyrically, this song is a sneak peak at the emotive American grunge which would soon arrive. “The Same Deep Water as You” is a long and moody ballad, almost in the same vein as “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors, and even contain similar rainstorm sound effects. The title track, “Disintegration”, is a more upbeat with wild sounds throughout, where “Smith showcases his own lead guitar talents. “Homesick” is the best of this lot, with a sound that is at once eerie and beautiful. Its long intro begins with a soft acoustic and minor-key piano before being joined by Gallup’s animated bass, Williams’ fine, rock-oriented drums and the flanged out guitar of Thompson. In spite of its name, the song’s lyrics tell of avoidance of home and responsibility, like a late night drunken stupor. An accordion introduces the “Untitled” closing track before it all breaks into a decent dance groove, almost funky but slower, as the album departs on an upbeat note.

Smith was distraught that the success of Disintegration further elevated The Cure as a “stadium rock band” and this album’s title seemed prophetic as the band began to slowly fall apart. While different lineups continued the group through the 1990s, this was the end of their golden era.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images
 

Journeyman by Eric Clapton

Journeyman by Eric Clapton

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Journeyman by Eric ClaptonThe 1980s seemed to have been a time for old time rockers to make incredible (albeit short) comebacks after several years in the wilderness. This was case with Paul Simon’s Graceland, the Grateful Dead’s In the Dark, and the many members of Traveling Wilburys with their fantastic 1988 debut album. In the case of Eric Clapton, he never really went away, releasing four studio albums earlier in the 1980s along with several live and compilation albums. Still, by the very end of the decade he had faded from the top level of popular music until his late 1989 release of Journeyman, which propelled “slow hand” right back to the top.

The 1980s were also troubling times personally for Clapton, as he developed a heroin addiction and admitted that he was an alcoholic. Reluctant to clean up, Clapton became suicidal and is quoted as saying, “the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead.” While struggling through recovery, Clapton performed on Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’ debut solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking as well as worked on two Phil Collins produced albums Behind the Sun and August. In 1987, Clapton remade “After Midnight” as a promotional track for Michelob beer and in 1988 he released his four-album box set Crossroads, which primed him for a big comeback.

Clapton did not compose much of the material on Journeyman himself, only collaborating on two of the twelve songs. He instead focused on performing (both on guitars and vocals) a handful of blues covers, a few more contemporary songs, and several new originals which were written by long-time collaborator Jerry Williams. There are also many cameos by fellow major-label artists, making the album an interesting mix of styles and genres. Produced by Jill Dell’Abate & Russ Titelman, the album’s sound fused eighties rhythms with overloaded, blues-era guitar textures, a method at least partially borrowed from 1980s-era ZZ Top material.


Journeyman by Eric Clapton
Released: November 18, 1989 (Reprise)
Produced by: Jill Dell’Abate & Russ Titelman
Recorded: 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Pretending
Anything for Your Love
Bad Love
Running on Faith
Hard Times
Hound Dog
No Alibis
Run So Far
Old Love
Breaking Point
Lead Me On
Before You Accuse Me
Eric Clapton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Nathan East – Bass, Vocals
Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion
 
Journeyman by Eric Clapton

 

Clapton’s vocals are quite distinct on this album, perhaps as good as any during his long career. This is evident on Williams “Pretending”, the album’s opening song which shot to the top of the rock charts. The song starts with very short boogie-woogie piano before breaking into a synth arpeggio topped with exquisite guitar licks and a very good chorus melody. The song’s highlight is the great outro where the intensity increases perfectly and the bluesy guitar smokes in superb splendor.

“Anything for Your Love” contains consistent and interesting percussion by drummer Jim Keltner, who provides the song’s deliberate pace which makes it at once relaxing and full of tension – a rare quality. “Bad Love” was co-written by Clapton and Mick Jones and begins with a synth part which works as a bedding for another fantastic guitar riff which sets the pace for what would become Clapton’s last #1 song. Featuring Collins on drums and harmony vocals, “Bad Love” features a middle bridge riff which makes the song an interesting listen.

“Running on Faith” has an eighties era beat but a definite retro feel everywhere else. This excellent ballad with good chord structures climaxes during the uplifting coda with a Gospel-like chorus. “Hard Times” was written by Ray Charles and mimics his club-style blues dominated by piano with accents of lead guitar and horns and a very impressive vocal effort by Clapton. The most regrettable moment on the album is the unwise cover of the classic “Hound Dog”, which takes away from album overall.

The second side begins with another Williams-penned pop song, “No Alibis” – perhaps the poppiest song on the album. Still, it has a nice, steady, deliberate approach to it and good harmonies featuring Chaka Khan and Daryl Hall. “Run So Far” was written by George Harrison and features the former Beatle on guitar and harmony vocals, while “Old Love” is a collaboration between Clapton and Robert Cray. This long, bluesy ballad, has earnest, dual guitars throughout the long coda. This is followed by “Breaking Point”, which was co-written Marty Grebb, the former keyboardist of the 1960s group The Buckinghams.

“Lead Me On” is the real highlight of the latter part of the album. It was written by Cecil and Linda Womack (of the group Lomack   Lomack) and features fine performances by both on this song. Linda provides co-lead vocals while Cecil plays acoustic guitar to accompany the nice electric piano and subtle electric riffs. An overall production highlight, the song is a tad bit more upbeat at the very end and shows Clapton’s versatility to enter different genres. The album concludes with “Before You Accuse Me”, a pure blue-eyed blues rendition of a 1957 Bo Diddley classic. This version is great sounding and catchy, while not very original overall.

Clapton claims Journeyman is one of his favorite albums and, while it only reached number 16 on the Billboard charts, it went double platinum, a first in his long career. However, this new found commercial success was dampened by the horrific tragedy of Clapton’s four-year-old son dying after a fall from a window of a New York City apartment in 1991. Clapton’s grief was later captured in the song “Tears in Heaven”.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

 

1969 Album of the Year

Abbey Road by The Beatles

1969 Album of the Year

Buy Abbey Road

Abbey Road by The BeatlesShort of careers cut short by tragedy, there are very few times in rock history where a band or artist finished with their greatest work. Abbey Road, the eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles, is one such occasion. Released in October of 1969, This album marks the last true collaboration all four Beatles in the studio with producer George Martin (Let It Be was released in April of 1970, weeks before the Beatles broke up, it was mostly recorded prior to any Abbey Road recording sessions). This final effort with their classic producer and at the studio they would make famous, Abbey Road would go on to tremendous popularity and critical success and become our of the Year for 1969.

It is no secret that the Beatles were going through internal turmoil later in their career. Having lost the glue that held them together, manager Brian Epstein just two years earlier, the band had been going through personal and financial struggles. The strained business relationship was complicated by the addition of John Lennon‘s new love interest, Yoko Ono, who was a constant presence in their recording sessions. During a break in recording in March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and when Lennon returned from his honeymoon, he approached Paul McCartney with a song he had written about the occasions called “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The song was immediately recorded without George Harrison or Ringo Starr, who were both away from London when Lennon had his sudden inspiration. With McCartney on piano, bass, and drums, and Lennon on vocals and guitars, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single, all done without half the group members knowledge or consent. But such was the case for the Beatles in 1969.

Early in the year, The Beatles seemed to be on the road to breaking up during the recording of what would become Let it Be, as each member had started doing solo projects. It was McCartney who approached George Martin and asked him to work with them on another studio album. Martin agreed as long as the band agreed to his strict discipline in the studio and let him have control over the production from start to finish. So, recording began in February 1969 with Martin at the helm as well as all four Beatles at Abbey Road Studio. Some of the early recordings for the Abbey Road sessions included non-album material which would surface elsewhere, such as Harrison’s acoustic demo of “All Things Must Pass” (later on a solo album of the same name), McCartney’s “Come And Get It” (a minor hit for Badfinger in 1970), and “Old Brown Shoe”, an interesting composition by Harrison, used as the B-side for “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. However, as the sessions moved along, the Beatles found their magic formula once again and made the classic Abbey Road music which showcases each member of the band performing at their finest level.


Abbey Road by The Beatles
Released: September 26, 1969 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, February-August 1969
Side One Side Two
Come Together
Something
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Oh Darling
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun
Because
You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
Her Majesty
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

The album aptly begins with the Lennon led “Come Together” While the title sounds like a lead in to a hippie commune sing along, it is actually has a rougher edge to it with a funky bass, bluesy guitar and sloshy drums. “Come Together” and “Something” were released as a double A-sided single. George Harrison’s, “Something”, is often regarded as Harrison’s finest composition. It is certainly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It starts with the line, “Something in the way she moves…” and the music flows right along with that movement. It has a natural, fluid feel to it with the steady bass, beautiful guitar riffs and cricket like sounds that lead into a perfect fade out.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a duplicitous song. The lyrics describing the antics of a sociopathic serial killer are in stark contrast to the syrupy sweet music. The anvil banging and McCartney’s mischievous vocal delivery add to the effect that this is a children’s song gone awry, but one can’t help but sing along. The next McCartney led song, “Oh Darling” has a completely different style. McCartney’s voice carries the whole thing. This doo-wop inspired song actually has a tinge of Motown in it with the intense, strained vocal and simple accompaniment.

Ringo Starr’s contribution, “Octopus’s Garden” is another childlike fantasy song. Ringo has said it was inspired by a story he had heard about how octopus like to gather shiny objects and make their own little “garden”. This song lightens the mood after the intensity of “Oh Darling” and the black hole that ends side one, “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”. This is a lengthy indulgence that has some interesting parts, a few moments of brilliance and some superb musicianship. That said it carries on for a nearly eight minute decent into repetitive madness.

The second side is where the magic of this album really starts. It opens with the uplifting and fresh sounds of Harrison’s second contribution, the sonic masterpiece, “Here Comes the Sun”. The harmony of vocals and the light, catchy melody capture the feeling of rebirth that comes from a new beginning, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as winter fades and spring blooms. This, along with the outstanding, “Something” may make this Harrison’s best Beatles album ever. “Because” features a three part harmony tripled in production so it sounds like nine voices over a simple moog synthesizer and harpsichord. The vocals are masterful and the production technique is superb. Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata”, played backwards, inspired the chords of the song.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” drops in perfectly with soft piano chords and dramatic vocals, there is a plethora of music in this piece. The sounds draw you in and the steady drum beat is mesmerizing. The production on this one is masterful as it leads the listener into the medley that is the heart of this production masterpiece. The production of these little vignettes is brilliant in how they blend together into a cohesive story. “Sun King” reprises the triple three part harmonies while, “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are more upbeat and end in a crash. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” was inspired by a determined female fan who crawled through a bathroom window of Paul’s home. There is a cool riff going on throughout the song.

With a slight pause in the medley, “Golden Slumbers” rises as another melodramatic McCartney contribution showcasing his knack for making pretty melodies. This abruptly leads to “Carry That Weight”, featuring a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” where Ringo is prominent in the vocal harmonies. Fittingly, it all culminates with “The End”. There is a showcase for each performer here. The guitar parts were done by Paul, John and George and Ringo has his only drum solo as a Beatle. It is a grand finale that brings this album, as well as the Beatles recording days, to an end in grand style.

Beatles during Abbey Road sessions

Abbey Road’s cover, though it appears to be a simple shot of the band walking across the street in single file, has been said to have some clues to the rumored death of Paul McCartney. Paul is walking barefoot in a suit, George is dressed in jeans, much like a gravedigger, Ringo is dressed in similar fashion as an undertaker while John is dressed in white to symbolize a minister. Adding to the intrigue is the license plate on the VW that reads, “28 IF” as Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. Of course, Paul McCartney is not dead, but the “clues” became a fan obsession and the band seemed to have an endless supply of “clues” to egg them on.

Of course, the album was a huge success, reaching the top of the charts in scores of countries as the sixties came to an end. The songs on this album lean on each other much as the Beatles needed to lean on each other to produce the quality and quantity of music they made throughout their career. There are a few outstanding singles, but the medley only shines because they put together pieces of songs that weren’t quite complete on their own and created something unique, special and fleeting as the Beatles rode off into history shortly after Abbey Road was released.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson

In the Court of the Crimson King
by King Crimson

Buy In the Court of the Crimson King

In the Court of the Crimson King by King CrimsonSeldom does a band release a debut album as critically and financially successful as In the Court of the Crimson King, an Observation by King Crimson. Released in the winter of 1969 the album is filled with echoes of the darkest parts of the decade. Interestingly, although the album had existed since that year, it was not until 34 years later, in 2003, that the true album would be heard. The original recordings of the album had been lost during production, resulting in the release of a musically imperfect composition. This version of the album was the only one available until the master tapes were rediscovered.

King Crimson has now existed for forty six years going through eight different band iterations but this is the only album released by the band’s original line up. Almost immediately after In the Court of the Crimson King was released founding members Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left the band. Greg Lake followed them out of the band a few months later leaving only Peter Sinfield and Robert Fripp in the band. Sinfield would only last until the first day of January 1972. All of the members of the band would go on to achieve success outside of King Crimson, with the exception of Fripp who remains the keystone of the band to this day.

McDonald went on to found Foreigner, Giles became a session drummer, Sinfield wrote songs for other artists and Greg Lake went onto fame with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He also had a successful solo career, producing Big Blue Bullfrog‘s 3rd best Christmas Rock Song of all time, “I Believe in Father Christmas”. So it can be argued that In the Court of the Crimson King is the only actual album by King Crimson as the band lost so many members afterwards that it is hard to call it the same band, although Fripp obviously does.


In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson
Released: October 10, 1969 (Island)
Produced by: King Crimson
Recorded: Wessex Sound Studios, London, July-August 1969
Side One Side Two
21st Century Schizoid Man
I Talk to the Wind
Epitaph
Moonchild
The Court of the Crimson King
Group Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Bass
Robert Fripp – Guitars
Peter Sinfield – Lyricist
Ian McDonald – Keyboards, Woodwind, Vocals
Michael Giles – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with what could arguably be its best song, “21st Century Schizoid Man”. An image of the song’s namesake appears on the albums cover. The song opens with a burst of horns and drums before Greg Lake’s distorted voice kicks in with eerie vocals. Fripp’s guitar solo in the middle of the song might be it’s highlight but there are many to choose from. The innovative use of woodwinds is certainly another huge one. The lyrics read a bit like nonsense except for the line, “Innocents raped with napalm fire,” which is a clear nod toward the Vietnam War. It finishes in what can only be described as a mad crescendo of wicked and wild sounds. As expected, it is fantastic.

From here the album goes in a completely different direction. “I Talk to the Wind” is a slow mellow tune one would expect to hear while relaxing in a meadow. Greg Lake’s voice has a majestic feeling here and Giles drums are subdued into a jazzy rhythm. The flute is given center stage throughout the song by Ian McDonald who provides an enchanting melody. The listener almost feels transported into the magic forest of Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream. Lyrically it sort of seems like a different take on Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”. In that song Dylan uses the line ‘the answer is blowing in the wind’ as a metaphor for the ignorance of society. Sinfield uses ‘wind’ itself as a metaphor for essentially the same thing.

Sinfield’s lyrics continue the anti-war themes with “Epitaph”. It is here the album really takes on a dystopian feeling. Lake’s voice is melancholy while Fripp’s guitar returns to add acoustic picking in certain sections. The line, “I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,” really illustrates the bleak nature of the Cold War. Overall, the song is an extremely pessimistic take on the era but it is wonderful in its darkness.

“Moonchild” is probably the least interesting song on the album. The song essentially describes a perfect and peaceful woman. In many ways this song should have just been called flower child as it is essentially describing that. It is very similar to “I Talk to the Wind” and “Epitaph” in musical composition but adds a symphonic section that simply goes on too long. It takes up most of the song and just doesn’t do enough to entertain the ear.

The album ends with its namesake, “In the Court of the Crimson King”. Musically, the Mellotron is used to its full potential here. The entire song is essentially a fantasy tale involving the Crimson King. The name of the character was chosen because it was given to any monarch who reigned when there was a great deal of bloodshed and civil unrest. This links the song to the albums antiwar concept and the lyrics of it seem to be a metaphor for the band member’s perceptions of the Western World in the late sixties. Near the ending, when the song gets quiet and has only one instrument take center stage, it is really haunting.

In the Court of the Crimson King, an Observation by King Crimson is an extremely interesting work. It inspired many future artists including some out of musical genres. Inspired by this work, Stephen King named his primary villain in the Dark Tower Series the Crimson King. The album is essentially an anti-war album disguised as a fantasy concept album. The deeper meaning of the songs is interesting but a little too obvious in places and none of the songs really say anything different. The message of every one amounts to,” war is bad.” That said, there is a large amount of room for interpretation. It can be said that the album borrows a bit too much from the Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed, even down to the trippy art work of the 21st Century Schizoid Man on the front cover. Despite this,  there may not be an album that does a better job of conveying the sense of doom that loomed over people living during the Cold War.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by The Kinks

Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
by The Kinks

Buy Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by The KinksAlthough The Kinks were part of the first wave of British artists to break through following the Beatles, they were never really considered to be directly influenced by the Fab Four. However, to listen to the Kinks 1969 album ,Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), is to hear some of the finer elements of their more famous British counterparts, performed in parallel time. All that being said, this concept album is truly unique and excellent in its own right, exploring many genres of English and American music. In fact, the album may have been their finest overall output during the 1960s.

The album was born out of an unfinished television play, partially developed by novelist Julian Mitchell in January 1969. Kinks front man Ray Davies composed an accompanying soundtrack, with a plot which roughly revolved around a fictional character based on Davies’ own brother-in-law. The songs explore about a hundred years of English history through the eyes of one this fictional character.

Although the group was in the midst of their finest work, development took place during a period of turmoil. Their previous album, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society ,was a commercial disappointment and founding bassist Pete Quaife abruptly quit to form a new group and was replaced by John Dalton. Recording for the album began in May 1969, with Davies as producer and chief composer. Guitarist Dave Davies did write a track which was used as a B-side of a single, while also releasing his debut solo album during the year. By July, the album was ready for release but was delayed as production of the television play developed with a planned broadcast of late September. However, problems got progressively worse and the show was cancelled at the last minute when financial backing fell through.


Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of British Empire) by The Kinks
Released: October 10, 1969 (Pye)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Pye Studios, London, May–July 1969
Side One Side Two
Victoria
Yes Sir, No Sir
Some Mother’s Son
Drivin’
Brainwashed
Australia
Shangri-La
Mr. Churchill Says
She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina
Young and Innocent Days
Nothing to Say
Arthur
Group Musicians
Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
John Dalton – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion

While most songs on Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) are under four minutes in duration, they are very richly arranged as Ray Davies packs more into short songs than any other top-level composer. The driving rhythm and orchestra of guitars lay the foundation of “Victoria”, with an intro which sneaks up until hitting full rock and roll throws. A great melody and hook with subtle moments of extravagance (such as the sparse horn arrangement and background hysterical laughter) gave this pop song some chart and radio success.

The marching drum of Mick Avory introduces “Yes Sir, No Sir”. A song of cynicism, glazed with humor in the tradition of the novel Catch 22, Ray Davies’ vocals seem intentionally flat in order to portray a sense of meek obedience through the opening verses. The song then breaks into different sections with many horns with much packed into to this three minutes and forty-five seconds song. “Some Mother’s Son” continues the anti-war/anti-military theme but in a more melodramatic and haunting fashion. With heavy use of harpsichord and strings and melancholy vocals, Davies does a masterful job of tugging on heartstrings

While loosely continuing the anti-war theme, “Drivin'” does so in a Beatle-esque, happy-go-lucky theme that is more about escaping the worries of the day. The good, upbeat song with strong bass and rich background vocals was the first song recorded for the album and should have been a big hit for the band at the end of the sixties. “Brainwashed” is a song which takes another venture musically, with pure sixties hip, heavy rock instrumentation, and just the right amount of brass. The bass of newcomer Dalton really shines on this riff-driven rocker that is a precursor to punk. The first side concludes with the extended track “Australia”, which is put together almost like a commercial, albeit with much sarcasm. A cocktail jazz rhythm during first verses with cool piano mixture and high-pitched bass eventually gives way to some changes before settling into a calm jam which persists through the second half of the tune.

The second side begins with “Shangri-La”, a definitive British folk song and the best overall song on the album. Starting with a picked acoustic guitar and later harpsichord before climaxing with the intense chorus hook, “Shangri-La” is an in-depth look at middle class aspirations, lyrically. The bridge section adds more intensity with strong rhythms and horns and forceful vocals before dissolving back into the final verse, which includes great drum accents by Avory. This is one of those songs that seeps in slowly but ultimately makes an indelible mark.

The middle of side two contains the weakest material on the album, although not totally terrible. “Mr. Churchill Says” is a rock blues song about World War II era Britain during the first verses. Air raid sirens divide the song with a pure old-time rock jam section following. Some tacky chanting rap near the end of song is quite annoying as it obscures an otherwise fine percussion section. “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina” is another harpsichord-driven ballad, almost like an English children’s nursery song, while “Young and Innocent Days” starts as a gentle acoustic folk song but, like most songs on this album, builds in intensity. That song ends with nice, gentle acoustic guitar outro and contains lyrical nostalgia like;

I wish my eyes could only see everything exactly as it used to be

The album ends very strong with a couple of very good rockers. “Nothing to Say” is almost like a counterpart to “Yes Sir, No Sir” on the first side, a very good rock rhythm topped with fine piano and slide guitar by the Davies brothers. The title song “Arthur” has almost Southern guitar riffs with an upbeat country rhythm through verses. Again, there are pleasant sonic surprises around every corner and, although this song does not vary much through its five and a half minute duration, it never gets bogged down by predictability. In the end, the lyrics sum up the entire plot line of the album, retelling the story of Arthur Morgan.
Arthur was met with almost unanimous acclaim upon release. It received generous coverage in the US rock press

Although Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) only reached number 50 on the charts in the UK (and number 105 in the US), it was their highest charting position since 1965 and set up the commercial success of their 1970 album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround. More importantly to us future rock fans is the excellent music itself, which is ultimately all that matters.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.