Wheels of Fire by Cream

Wheels of Fire by Cream

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Wheels of Fire by CreamThe short-lived power trio Cream reached their apex with Wheels of Fire in 1968. This double album consists of one studio LP and one live LP, and it became the first ever platinum-selling double album, showing that the group had fully arrived just before they decided to call it quits. Wheels of Fire was produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also played various eclectic instruments and helped  choose the live material to provide a showcase for each band member. Most of the studio material was recorded in London and New York during late 1967, while the live performances were captured in San Francisco during early 1968.

Cream rarely performed any of their songs before they entered the studio. On Wheels of Fire, the studio material consists of two blues covers chosen by guitarist Eric Clapton along with original material composed by two distinct teams. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce teamed up with poet Pete Brown to write four of the studio tracks, while drummer Ginger Baker co-wrote three songs with musician Mike Taylor. During these sessions, Clapton did write the acoustic folk song “Anyone For Tennis” (on which he also sang), which was included on limited versions on the album but otherwise released as a single and featured in the movie, The Savage Seven.

The entire studio album was completed before Cream recorded material for the live album. For these live recordings, Pappalardi used a mobile recording studio outside the Fillmore Auditorium and the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where six shows were recorded. From these recordings, four extended tracks were chosen to fill the second LP. “Traintime” is a showcase for Bruce due to his performance of a bluesy harmonica solo, Similarly, “Toad” features a lengthy drum solo by Baker, much longer than the original recording from Fresh Cream. Clapton’s guitar again shines on the classic blues tracks “Spoonful” and “Crossroads”, with the latter Robert Johnson classic becoming so identified with Clapton that he used the title, Crossroads, for his 1988 box set.


Wheels of Fire by Cream
Released: August, 1968 (Polydor)
Produced by: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: IBC Studios, London & Atlantic Studios, New York, July 1967 – June 1968
Side One Side Two
White Room
Sitting on Top of the World
Passing the Time
As You Said
Pressed Rat and Warthog
Politician
Those Were the Days
Born Under a Bad Sign
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Anyone for Tennis?
Side Three Side Four
Crossroads
Spoonful
Traintime
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Bass, Cello, Harmonica, Recorder, Lead Vocals
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

As an encapsulated package of the best elements of Cream during their duration as a group, “White Room” has become the group’s essential song. Written by Bruce and Brown, the song features a sharp, direct rock beat and a great riff accented by hyper Clapton’s wah-wah guitar. The ethereal refrain section shows the upper range of what this band can accomplish compositionally and the reprise of opening psych-influenced intro is nicely complimented by the sudden return to the hard rock of the outro. Brown’s lyrics have been interrupted as the recollection of a bad acid trip, but certainly leave enough room for interpretation to traverse the decades.

The cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World” is a heavy version of a classic 1920s blues song, with Clapton playing the type of blues guitar that Jimmy Page would soon adopt. The album then turns to some of its most original material. Baker and Taylor’s “Passing the Time” is a mulit-part song which starts as odd drum piece before fading into a completely different, psychedelic organ and viola fueled semi-ballad with some vocal harmonizing. A third section gives the song its title as a rock improve which again fades out as the light second section returns to finish the song. “As You Said” features Bruce on acoustic with some cello by Pappalardi and may be the oddest of Cream songs. In close competition for that title is “Pressed Rat and Warthog”, featuring spoken vocals by Baker, which he originally wanted his daughter to record. While on the surface this may seem like a farcical tune, the music beneath the voice rather interesting and dynamic.

The rock returns with “Politician”, which features more of the bluesy, riff-driven music which defined Cream. Clapton recorded two overdubbed “floating” guitars which. crisscross in the stereo mix. “Those Were the Days” continues the rock groove but with unique elements such as the call-and-response vocals and the mythical lyric matter by Brown. The contemporary blues cover of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” features a rotating rhythm by Baker, behind the screeching, whining guitars and slow-paced leads by “Slow Hand”. “Deserted Cities of the Heart” is the best song on the second side with a wild, almost funky rhythm but with a jazz/folk fusion, making this one a very rewarding listen and perhaps Cream’s most underrated song.

Wheels of Fire was a raving commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching #3 in the UK and #1 in the US. However, shortly after the album’s completion, the members of Cream decided that they wanted to go their separate ways. At the label’s urging, they embarked on a “farewell” tour in late 1968 with nearly the entire set consisting of songs from this double album. One final album called Goodbye, another hybrid of live and studio material, was released in early 1969, after the band had dissolved.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies

Odessey and Oracle
by The Zombies

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Odessey and Oracle by The ZombiesThe Zombies only had two studio albums during their heyday of the 1960s. The first was their 1965 debut which was filled with British flavored pop with a slight edge. The second was the slightly-psychedelic, pre-prog-rock classic Odessey and Oracle, which was the band’s masterpiece. Released in 1968 after the group had actually disbanded, this album contains twelve richly arranged tracks that are succinct (there is not a single song that lasts as long as four minutes) and of top notch production, done independently by the group members in 1967. The result is an album of bright and melancholy piano tunes with rich vocal harmonies, mellotron, and tight rhythms.

The tracks on Odessey and Oracle alternated between compositions by bassist Chris White and by keyboardist Rod Argent, each possessing a knack for composing original and diverse songs. The album was mainly recorded at Abbey Road studios during the summer of 1967, nearly a full year before its release. The group had a tight budget for recording and worked quickly in the studio. This brisk pace also had negative effects, such as the misspelling of “odyssey” in the cover design (which forever changed the album’s official title) and creative tensions among the group members, which ultimately led to their demise by the end of 1967.

With the group disbanded, CBS Records initially decided not to release the album in the United States. However, producer Al Kooper had heard the album during a trip to England and convinced the label to reverse its decision. The Zombies had previous success in the US during the “British invasion” days of 1964 and 1965 fueled by the singles “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”. With the release of Odessey and Oracle, another hit single, “Time of the Season”, closed out the decade with their biggest hit.


Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies
Released: April 19, 1968 (CBS)
Produced by: The Zombies
Recorded: Olympic Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, June–November 1967
Side One Side Two
Care of Cell 44
A Rose for Emily
Maybe After He’s Gone
Beechwood Park
Brief Candles
Hung Up On a Dream
Changes
I Want Her, She Wants Me
This Will Be Our Year
Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)
Friends of Mine
Time of the Season
Band Musicians
Colin Blunstone – Lead Vocals
Rod Argent – Piano, Organ, Melotron, Vocals
Paul Atkinson – Guitar, Vocals
Chris White– Bass, Vocals
Hugh Grundy – Drums, Vocals

The perfect English pop of Argent’s “Care of Cell 44” starts the album with a very upbeat tune with just a tad of tad of melancholy. The Zombies’ extraordinary vocal talents are apparent right from the start, led by lead vocalist Colin Blunstone and the gorgeous harmonies of the rest of the band. This unique song tells the uncommon story of an impending release of a prison inmate and was the lead single for Odessey and Oracle, although it failed to chart. The ballad “A Rose for Emily” is like a subdued “Eleanor Rigby”, driven by Blunstone’s lead vocal melody and Argent’s simple rudimental guide piano and again contains multipart vocals in the chorus. The song concludes with nicely diminished ending chords, following the sad closing lyric;

And as the years go by, she will grow old and die, The roses in her garden fade away, not one left for her grave, not a rose for Emily…”

“Maybe After He’s Gone” alternates between Paul Atkinson picked folk guitar during mellow verse and a driving chorus with heavy harmonies and piano. This is a great mood piece of pure, high end sixties pop. Atkinson returns with a very interesting guitar Leslie effect on “Beechwood Park”, good folk song with more great vocal harmonies and a vibe similar to Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”. White’s “Brief Candles” has been called a true piece of songwriting genius, with soft piano verses giving way to mellotron drenched choruses held tight by the drum-driven rhythm of Hugh Grundy. The song alternates moods masterfully. Side one concludes with the mainly psychedelic “Hung Up on a Dream”, with a heavy reverb on Argent’s piano and the best guitar work by Atkinson on an album which used his talents strategically.

The second side begins with White’s “Changes”, containing two distinct sections, which seem to compete with each other. One part is almost like a choir recital while another contains bongos and other percussive effects trading off with the mellotron in this fine psychedelic rocker. Argent takes lead vocals “I Want Her, She Wants Me” is upbeat, much like the opening track with Argent’s harpsichord, White’s very bouncy bass by White and more pop/rock-oriented harmonies than on most other tracks on the album. “This Will Be Our Year” is a great rock ballad, not the slow and sappy kind, but the upbeat yet romantic, with very good vocals by Blunstone, who pretty much carries the song alone with none of the usual harmonies.

The Zombies

Written and sung by White, “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” is the most far-out, freak-out song on Odessey and Oracle, starting with a sound effect and driven throughout by deep and dark organ sound for a raw effect like later punk, but a bit more legitimate. The lyrics tell of a battle from the viewpoint of a soldier in the midst of the fight in World War I, which many took as a thinly-disguised comment on Vietnam. “Friends of Mine” brings the mood back up instantly with duo vocals and breezy pop, this song is a great setup for the album’s climatic ending.

“Time of the Season” would become the group’s best known song and biggest hit, and provided an extremely strong ending to the album. This song truly has it all; a great bass riff by White, tight drums by Grundy, pure hip mood with whisper effects, perfectly breezy and unique vocals by Blunstone, and a couple of Hammond organ jams by composer Rod Argent. Although it was recorded in August 1967, it would not be heard by most of the world until early 1969, when it reached #3 in the US and the Top Ten in several other nations.

Odessey and Oracle is an indelible final statement by a rock group which was together for too short a time. Rod Argent and Chris White soon formed an offshoot group “Argent”, which worked through the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 1997 that the group performed any of the material live, during a brief reunion to promote their box set. A decade later, in 2008, The Zombies celebrated the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle‘s release by performing the album in its entirety for the first time every.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Deep Purple 1968 Albums

Deep Purple 1968 Albums

Buy Shades of Deep Purple
Buy The Book of Taliesyn

Deep Purple 1968 AlbumsDeep Purple arrived on the music scene like a tornado in 1968. Conceived as a super group called Roundabout in 1967, the band went through much personnel shifting before the renamed quintet was in place in early 1968. Within that year, the group would record and release their first two albums, Shades of Deep Purple and The Book of Taliesyn. Both of these albums involved a fusion of long instrumental jams, original interpretations of famous cover songs, and a handful of originals written by band members. In between the prolific writing and recording, Deep Purple also went on extensive tours of Europe and opened for Cream at the height of that band’s popularity.

The group’s debut, Shades of Deep Purple was released in the summer of ’68. Although it didn’t gain much attention or sales in the their native UK, it was a success in the US, where it fit better stylistically. The grandiose fusions of cover songs with long introductions were some of the earliest examples of progressive rock with just a hint of sixties psychedelic music. Also, the group’s American upstart label, Tetragrammaton, was actively looking for a British band to work with on their new label and offered much more affirmative support to this brand new band than an established British label would have done.

Like the debut album, The Book of Taliesyn was produced by Derek Lawrence and it follows the same psychedelic/progressive rock template of the debut, with the exception of a few notable originals. The title of this album was taken from a 14th century Welsh manuscript which contained poems attributed to the 6th-century poet Taliesin. After this album was released in October ’68, Deep Purple embarked on a rather excessive tour in the United States.


Shades of Deep Purple by Deep Purple
Released: July, 1968 (Tetragrammaton)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, May 11-13, 1968
Side One Side Two
And the Address
Hush
One More Rainy Day
Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad
Mandrake Root
Help!
Love Help Me
Hey Joe
The Book of Taliesyn by Deep Purple
Released: December 11, 1968 (Tetragrammaton)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, August-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Listen, Learn, Read On
Wring That Neck
Kentucky Woman
Exposition / We Can Work It Out
Shield
Anthem
River Deep, Mountain High
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Rod Evans – Lead Vocals
John Lord – Organ, Keyboards, Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Nick Simplar – Bass, Vocals
Ian Paice – Drums

The instrumental “And the Address” starts off Shades of Deep Purple with organist Jon Lord‘s long, low rotating rumble. This accelerates to a higher pitch after about a minute-long intro before breaking into the main rock riff by Ritchie Blackmore with a whining guitar lead and a later, faster lead by Lord, showing Deep Purple was about this dynamic duo right from the very beginning.

Shades of Deep Purple“Hush” was Deep Purple’s biggest early hit as well as a hard rock classic. With the thumping bass line by Nick Simplar, the “Na-Na” vocal hook, and a fluctuating organ solo by Lord which seems to be constantly searching to find its end before finally reaching resolution with the final verse. “Hush” was written by American songwriter Joe South and was a minor hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1967. The Deep Purple version was a much bigger hit, peaking at #4 in the US and #2 in Canada.

A whistle organ brings in upbeat, sixties-flavored “One More Rainy Day”, featuring crooning vocals by Rod Evans, an interesting, bouncy bass line by Simper, and well-animated drum fills by Ian Paice, but virtually no presence at all by Blackmore’s guitar. Side one closes with the jam/cover medley of “Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad”. This second great instrumental contains a fantastic drum march/roll and a very dramatic climax before it all resolves with the calm riff of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad”, which is not all that different from Cream’s earlier version on their 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, but with just a bit more restless tension.

The second side of the debut begins the strong blues-based heavy rocker “Mandrake Root”, featuring Evans deep vocals and a driving rhythm section backing up the frantic lead by Lord. Later, Blackmore abruptly interrupts with an effect-laden, Eastern-inspired lead section of his own on this song which got its title from a hallucinogenic plant. “Help!” is the best cover from these early albums, with a real moody and quasi-psychedelic keyboard intro which leads into a subtle and quiet entry into the finger-picked guitar of the first verse. Evans provides very soulful vocals, probably his best vocals on the debut album, and after using the original Beatles’ intro as a bridge, the song breaks into a showcase section of Lord’s and Blackmore’s talents before dissolving softly in a return to the intro. “Love Help Me” is an original by Blackmore and Evans that is very similar in approach to “Hush”, but tilts more towards sixties music flourishes and vocals and seems to suffer production-wise as much of the instrumentation gets lost in the mix and Blackmore’s short wah-wah guitar leads are way out front. Closing the album is another jam/cover with an instrumental reprise of “Mandrake Root” before morphing into the oft-covered “Hey Joe”, which almost feels like an afterthought, as it pretty much mimics the Jimi Hendrix version but in a more laid back fashion.

On the debut albums, many of the highlights came during the original re-interpretations of these cover songs. However, on The Book of Taliesyn, it is the Deep Purple originals which really stand out. “Listen, Learn, Read On” is the default title song of the album with a heavy reverb on Evans’ vocals and a manical driving drum beat by Paice in between measured riffs and leads by Blackmore. “Wring That Neck” is an upbeat, bluesy instrumental jam that was an instant classic. Starting with Lord’s uniquely distorted organ riff and moving through a few inspired guitar solos by Blackmore (some completely solo), the piece continuously returns to the infectious main riff. “Wring That Neck” was released as a single from the album and is a true preview of “Mark II” Deep Purple of years forward.

The Book of TaliesynThe other single from the album was the cover of Neil diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”, which is driven by the pulsating bass of Simplar and the crazy drumming of Paice. While this song did reach the Top 40, it was considered a failure by the label because it was nowhere near as big a success as “Hush” had been earlier in the year. Another jam/cover medley follows with the near program piece of “Exposition”, complete with drum rolls behind deliberate guitar riffing. After going through a few very intense iterations, the piece dissolves into a groovy beat led by Simplar’s bass and the Beatles’ hit “We Can Work It Out”.

On the second side of The Book of Taliesyn, Deep Purple breaks away from the mode of their first album with a couple of truly original songs, which really make this album diverse and interesting. “Shield” builds on Paice’s drums, followed by a bass riff, guitar overlay, and piano by Lord. The vocals are very laid back and measured and the song’s best parts are when the piano and guitar harmonize for a slow but powerful riff. A percussion section in the middle leads to a partially improvised jam section and the ending percussion reprisal contains cool, rounded bass notes by Simplar. “Anthem” is a fine acoustic ballad with a great chorus harmonized hook. It’s only flaw is a production flaw, where the entire arrangement suddenly drops out for Lord’s organ intro into a middle string section, showing the groups classical leanings. This middle section also contains a great lead by Blackmore, which sounds like something Brian May might perform, and when full band returns it is at top form with a second back-to-back guitar lead by Blackmore and fantastic drumming by Paice. “River Deep, Mountain High” is the climatic ending to The Book of Taliesyn with more musical drama, including a musical mock-up of the title score to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey before building into the frantic groove of the soul cover of this hit by Ike & Tina Turner.

Keeping up a tremendous scale of production, Deep Purple recorded and released their third album in 12 months, in early 1969, However, the fledgling Tetragrammaton Records was starting to fizzle out and could offer only lackluster promotion, causing that album to sell poorly. Further, the band was starting move in a heavier musical direction, which resulted in the replacement of Evans and Simpler and the end of Deep Purple’s “Mark I” era.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd

A Saucerful of Secrets
by Pink Floyd

Buy A Saucerful of Secrets

A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink FloydA Saucerful of Secrets is the only album by Pink Floyd to feature all five group members. This was due to the album being recorded before (late 1967) and after (early 1968) the departure of guitarist and chief songwriter Syd Barrett. Due to this, the group took two separate approaches to the album, which was produced by Norman Smith and recorded mainly at Abbey Road Studios. The first was as a continuation of their successful 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, while the latter approach was a journey into unchartered territory with tracks composed by other band members. The result is an album which contains as many (if not more) sound collages as it does proper rock songs.

After the release of the band’s debut in mid 1967, it was apparent that Barrett’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Barrett’s friend and “understudy” David Gilmour was brought in to help out with Barrett’s guitar and vocal parts live. During the earliest sessions for A Saucerful of Secrets in the Fall of 1967, Barrett was still considered the group’s chief songwriter and he did compose several songs. However, most of these recordings were omitted from the album, with “Apples and Oranges” and “Paint Box” released as the band’s third international single in October 1968, and the rest left off due to various levels of non-satisfaction. These included the tracks Vegetable Man”, “Scream Thy Last Scream”, and the maddening “Have You Got This Yet?”, which Barrett performed differently every single time, making it impossible for the other group members to learn their parts.

Barrett was dismissed from Pink Floyd in January 1968, leaving a new incarnation of Pink Floyd to finish the album. The band initially struggled to come up with this material, with all four remaining members contributing some songwriting and vocals. The first tracks from these sessions, “It Would Be So Nice” and “Julia Dream”, were also released as a non-album single in April 1968. After a few more songs were completed, the group still felt there was not enough material for an album and each contributed to the twelve minute, experimental title track to fill this gap.


A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd
Released: June 29, 1968 (EMI)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1967-May 1968
Side One Side Two
Let There Be More Light
Remember a Day
Set the Controls for..
the Heart of the Sun
Corporal Clegg
A Saucerful of Secrets
See-Saw
Jugband Blues
Band Musicians
Rick Wright – Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Vocals
Syd Barrett – Guitars, Vocals
David Gilmour – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Waters – Bass, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums

A Saucerful of Secrets begins with a three part mini-suite called “Let There Be More Light”. The first part contains a really cool and sharp bass riff by Roger Waters which later dissolves into the bouncy and mocking main section, which alternates between the marching vocals of harmonies of the verse and the harder refrain part with Gilmour on vocals. The closing guitar section features Gilmour providing multiple riffs simultaneously. “Let There Be More Light” was also released in edited form as the fourth single by Pink Floyd.

“Remember a Day” was a song left over from the debut album and was written and sung by keyboardist Richard Wright with Barrett providing a lot of the effect through his slide, lead, and acoustic guitars. The most melodically cohesive song on the album’s first side, this song contains a great piano above a strong rhythm by Waters and drummer Nick Mason. The song was never performed live by Pink Floyd, making it a true forgotten classic from the era when the group was alternating between British pop and pyschedelia, as this song straddles both.

“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is the only song on which features all five group members. It was first performed and recorded with Barrett in 1967 and later featured guitar overdubs by Gilmour. Written by Waters, the lyrics were inspired by a book of Chinese poetry and the song was a successful part of their live set for years.
 

 
“Jugband Blues” is the only track on the album written and performed by Barrett and perhaps one of the most haunting songs with Syd apparently singing about his own demise; “…and I’m wondering who could be writing this song…” – an epitaph of Barrett’s short reign as band leader. Barrett enlisted a Salvation Army band to play on this eclectic track which features a three time signatures and dissolves into a slowly strummed acoustic during the final outro which closes the album along with Barrett’s tenor with Pink Floyd.

Waters’ rocker “Corporal Clegg” is the first Pink Floyd song to address the recurring theme of war, as Waters dedicated it to his father. Musically, the song features a good wah-wah guitar on top of a steady and melodic organ before breaking into odd but entertaining kazoo sections. The song is also notable for featuring rare lead vocals by Mason. The dreamy and distant “See-Saw” is the second song written and sung by Wright and features much of the same childlike themes of “Remember a Day”. It features strummed acoustic and a cool electric with heavy chorus effects along with a vibraphone, xylophone and strong mellotron, to convey a great mood and a totally Abbey Road production.

Pink Floyd in 1968

The title song, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, is a twelve minute experimental and avant-garde piece broken into four sub-chapters. It reaches an eerie climax in the first section before the brilliant “Syncopated Pandemonium” section, fueled by Mason’s drum loop, Wright’s haunting piano chords, and a wild theramin effect. Later the song settles into a melodic organ with vocal choruses in a section entitled “Celestial Voices”. “A Saucerful of Secrets” is what the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” should have been and has been dubbed a “masterpiece of psychedelic rock”.

The album A Saucerful of Secrets reached the Top Ten on the UK Albums charts and marked the beginning of an era when the band entered their most experimental phase. Syd Barrett went on to record two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett in 1970 with Gilmour and Waters helping out with production, before totally withdrawing from public life.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

SF Sorrow by The Pretty Things

SF Sorrow by The Pretty Things

Buy S.F. Sorrow

SF Sorrow by The Pretty ThingsWith their fourth overall album released in late 1968, The Pretty Things produced what was arguably the first true rock opera called SF Sorrow. The album was based on a short story by guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Phil May, which tells the tragic story of the fictional Sebastian F. Sorrow, who grows increasingly mad and disillusioned as the story (and album) moves forward. Band members and some critics have claimed SF Sorrow was a major influence on The Who’s Tommy (released the following year) although Pete Townshend has claimed it had no influence on his writing. In any case, the eclectic styles of rock by The Pretty Things seemed to have a big influence on several later artists.

Named after a Bo Diddley song from 1955, The Pretty Things evolved from a group called Little Boy Blue, which featured Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and guitarist Dick Taylor. All three joined Brian Jones’ and Ian Stewart’s band, called “Rollin’ Stones”, but Taylor quit after a few months to study at art school. Here he joined up with May and manager Bryan Morrison to form the original incarnation of The Pretty Things. Through 1964 and 1965, the group had a handful hit singles in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries, but they never broke though in the United States. By the end of 1967, there had been much personnel turnover and the newest incarnation of The Pretty Things entered Abbey Road studios to start their most ambitious album.

Recorded over a full year and produced by Norman Smith, the album sessions featured two tracks which were omitted and instead released as a single in February 1968, “Talking About the Good Times” and “Walking Through My Dreams”. The following month, drummer Skip Alan suddenly quit the band and was replaced by Twink from the recently defunct band, Tomorrow. Songs on the album have a nice blend of rock, folk, blues, and psychedelic elements with innovative arrangements. However, the production and mastering techniques contain a lack of focus make it sound a bit dated and inaccessible for all but the most seasoned listener.


SF Sorrow by The Petty Things
Released: December, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Norman Smith
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, 1967-1968
Side One Side Two
SF Sorrow Is Born
Bracelets of Fingers
She Says Good Morning
Private Sorrow
Balloon Burning
Death
Baron Saturday
The Journey
I See You
Well of Destiny
Trust
Old Man Going
Loneliest Person
Band Musicians
Phil May – Vocals
Dick Taylor – Guitars, Vocals
John Povey – Organ, Sitar, Vocals
Wally Allen – Bass, Wind Instruments, Piano, Vocals
Skip Alan – Drums
John Charles Alder – Drums

The songs on SF Sorrow, run sequentially with the story line of the protagonist from birth to death. In many instances, the songs start with an excellent groove or rock riff only to later dissolve into unnecessary embellishments, which tend to take away from the overall vibe. The opener, “S.F. Sorrow is Born” starts with the bent acoustic notes in the introduction and a very strong rhythm, driven by bassist Wally Allen, before a short middle section adds some very short flourishes of horns, strings, and mellotron. “Bracelets of Fingers” was the first track recorded in November 1967, featuring a vocal harmonies intro before rock verses with marching drum beats and an ever-present wah-wah guitar by Taylor. The story tells of Sorrow’s childhood and adolescence in Britain until it ends abruptly when he needs to get a job at the “Misery factory”. The only bright spot in his life is the pretty girl across the street, focused on in the song “She Says Good Morning”. With a harmonized guitar riff to start, this is harder and heavier than anything thus far on the album, almost proto-punk for the 1960s.

An acoustic riff and underlying march beneath a plethora of instruments, make “Private Sorrow” a very entertaining listen. Here the story follows Sorrow to war (World War I), which he survives and eventually moves to America. He sends for his unnamed sweetheart and she arrives on a zeppelin (Hindenburg) which bursts into flames in “Balloon Burning”. The closer of the first side, “Death”, contains a doomy and haunting, yet excellent riff, like a twisted blues song. In between the very British verses, the riff holds together this excellent tune, which features a sitar lead by John Povey and haunting background vocal choruses.

While side one contains the forward-moving story, side two focuses on the post-mordem, psychedelic horrors which plague the protagonist Sorrow. “Baron Saturday” is well ahead of its time with the vocal effects which sound like they could have come a decade later. Povey’s choppy piano during the choruses indicate that this could have been a big radio hit and is a definite classic in spite over-the-top, slightly off beat percussion ensemble in the unnecessary mid-section. “The Journey” contains acoustic with overlaid electric guitars, sounding like it has a definite George Harrison influence and does well before an unfortunate psychedelic outro.
“I See You” has a bass and drum roll with slowly strummed guitar doubled by distorted electric and a haunting – vocal chorus, along with Taylor’s most intense lead guitar on album. May’s vocals sell the overall intensity of this song excellently.

The short sound collage of “Well of Destiny” starts an awkward second side medley, continuing with the piano song “Trust”, which contains great vocal rhythm throughout. “Old Man Going” is a rocker which sounds like a preview of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, with strong acoustic, sharp electric, high pitched-vocals, and sound effects spread throughout. Thematically, the story takes its final tragic turn as Sorrow is driven into a dark mental seclusion. The short, minute and a half “Loneliest Person” closes the album as a short acoustic ballad, solidifying the melancholy and unhappy ending, where Sorrow identifies himself as “the loneliest person in the world.”

This dark nature of the album’s content along with lack of label support, and being overshadowed by concurrent British releases such as the Beatles’ White Album, led to SF Sorrow becoming a mainly forgotten masterpiece from the late 1960s. The band only attempted to play the concept album live once in the next thirty years and by 1969 Taylor left the group, because of disillusionment over the commercial failure of this album.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

The Beatles (white album)

The Beatles

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The Beatles (white album)In 1968, The Beatles released their only double studio album, an eponymous release commonly referred to as The White Album. Despite the official title which emphasized group identity, the actual recordings were segmented and increasingly individualized based on the original composer of each tune.  Much of this was due to dissent and inner turmoil in which members openly objected to certain tunes. In fact, all four members of the group play together on barely half of the album’s 30 tracks and producer George Martin later admitted he advocated for a “very good single album” in lieu of including so many marginal individualized tracks. Thematically, the White Album was a complete withdrawal from The Beatles 1967 albums, retreating from the lush and vivid colorful themes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour with a plain white sleeve (save for the band’s name discreetly embossed) to pair with the most simple of titles. This was also the first release by the group on their independent label, Apple Records.

Even with 30 tracks, the album omitted much potential material. Several songs started during the five months of recording were later included on Abbey Road and several solo albums by the members and the group opted to release the tracks “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” (two of the most popular songs ever by the Beatles) as a pre-release single than include them on the White Album. With such a large amount of tracks, the album contains an eclectic mix of songs from wide musical genres, including folk, country , avant-garde, classical and chamber music, and British dance-hall music. The Beatles only slightly continued their psychedelic leanings from 1967 but spent much more effort returning to basic rock and blues of their earlier years. Such diversity on a single album was largely unprecedented in 1968 and seemed to bring equal measures of praise and criticism from fans and critics over the years. Still, The Beatles was a phenomenal commercial success, reaching number one on both side of the Atlantic and selling well over 10 million copies worldwide.

Many of the songs originated in Rishikesh, India while the band was collectively on a Transcendental Meditation retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the spring of 1968. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney used the time to write songs in earnest and would frequently meet to discuss song ideas (even though this was in contrast to the meditation “course”). Theses songs were composed on acoustic guitar, the only Western instrument available during their Indian visit. Once back in England, the group gathered at George Harrison‘s home to hash out the close to forty new compositions and make preliminary plans for recording. The sessions for The White Album were the first on which the band used 8-track recording, starting with “Hey Jude” at Trident Studios in central London before returning to Abbey Road Studios once EMI installed their own 8-track machine.

During the lengthy sessions from May through October 1968 much internal conflict began, group members later pinpointed this as the beginning of their ultimate breakup. Frustrated with his diminished role on several tracks, drummer Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving McCartney as the drummer on a couple of tracks. These were also the first Beatles sessions where wives and girlfriends frequently attended, most notably Lennon’s future wive Yoko Ono, who was constant presence at the sessions. As a result of the tension McCartney and Lennon would often record in separate studios at Abbey Road (there were three), each using different engineers. The turmoil of these sessions extended beyond the band members. Engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked on several albums with the Beatles, abruptly quit and announced he would no longer work with the band and even George Martin took an unannounced holiday midway through the sessions, leaving the group to scramble for an interim producer. In the end, however, Lennon. McCartney, and Martin got together for a 24-hour session to mix, master, and sequence the White Album.


The Beatles by The Beatles
Released: November 22, 1968 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI and Trident Studios, London, May-October, 1968
Side One Side Two
Back In the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Blackbird
Piggies
Rocky Raccoon
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
I Will
Julia
Side Three Side Four
Birthday
Yer Blues
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
…Except Me and My Monkey
Sexy Sadie
Helter Skelter
Long, Long, Long
Revolution 1
Honey Pie
Savoy Truffle
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 9
Good Night
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Saxophone, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Drums, Flugelhorn, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Organ, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

McCartney played drums on the first two tracks of The Beatles. The opener “Back in the USSR” commences with jet aircraft effects and breaks into an upbeat rocker, combining elements of earlier Beatles and Beach Boys songs. In fact, Mike Love of the Beach Boys also attended the retreat in Rishikesh and he encouraged McCartney to “talk about the girls all around Russia” when Paul told him of his idea to write a song called “Back in the USSR” as a homage to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”. Although no tracks from The White Album were initially released as singles, “Back in the USSR” was released by Parlophone as a single in the UK in 1976, eight years later. “Dear Prudence” arrives like an awakening or a drawing out, with the hypnotically picked, rotating guitars by Lennon. The subject of this song is Prudence Farrow, part of the Rishikesh entourage, who became so serious about her meditation that she rarely came out of the cottage she was living in, prompting others to enlist Lennon to try and make sure she came out more often. Towards the end of the song is a good rock jam which previews some of the finer moments on the album.

“Glass Onion” contains lyrics and music that acts as an epilogue to Magical Mystery Tour. Like a psychedelic trip through the past year, the lyrics call out earlier Beatles songs by name with provocative lyrics to fans such as; “Well here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul”, which Lennon later dismissed as having no deeper meaning. On the gibberish front, McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” may contain sophomoric lyrics, but this song shines for its pure sonic quality, starting with McCartney’s vocals which sound like nothing else he had (or has) done. Thematically, this infectiously fun song is an expression of the pure joy of everyday, ordinary life. While Lennon, openly detested this song in its original, reggae-influenced form, the band spent many sessions reworking it towards its finished form.

George HarrisonAfter the filler experimental piece “Wild Honey Pie”, a flamenco guitar phrase introduces “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”. Like a kids song gone rogue, the song mocks a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took break from meditation to go hunting tigers. Recorded later in the album sessions, “Bungalow Bill” features Yoko Ono singing co-lead vocals for a single line, the only female lead vocal in the Beatles library. Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the best moment on the album. With a great piano intro and chord structure, the song features a pulsating rhythm beneath the profound vocals of Harrison and wild guitar  by guest Eric Clapton. Inspiration for the song came from reading the I Ching which prompted Harrison to experiment by writing a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. Those words were “gently weeps” and he immediately began writing the song, although many of his verses were later omitted. The presence of Clapton also served to temporarily alleviate the studio tension, as the band members were on their best behavior during his time in the studio.

The fantastic first side concludes with Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, an asymmetrical mini suite, which moves several sections rapidly, each becoming more anthemic and rocking. Lennon claims the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that George Martin showed him. and it has been cited by both McCartney and Harrison as one of their favorites on the White Album.

Paul McCartney“Martha My Dear” begins with a great piano through intro, soon accompanied by orchestration and a very slight thumping rock section during the middle of the bridge. McCartney is the only Beatle to appear on this track (written about his English sheepdog), which includes nice brass and string arrangements by Martin. “I’m So Tired” is another short masterpiece by Lennon with very emotive vocals masterfully adjusted for differing effects. A direct, first-person account of a sleepless night in India, the unabashed examination of his own fragile state of mind, previews later solo work by Lennon such as Plastic Ono Band. Back to McCartney, with the solo recording of “Blackbird”, a beautiful acoustic solo piece with music based on J.S. Bach’s “Bourrée”. The hypnotizing acoustic, double-tracked vocals and tapping percussion and the guitar make for a pretty and inspirational tune with lyrics inspired by the Civil Rights struggle.

“Piggies” is a Baroque influenced song by Harrison as social commentary on the class system. Originally written in 1966 at his parents’ home, Harrison’s mother provided the line “What they need’s a damn good whacking” while Lennon contributed the line “clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.” The predominant harpsichord is accompanied by a string quartet, produced by Chris Thomas in Martin’s absence. Ringo Starr“Rocky Raccoon” is a Western saloon type folk song with McCartney on consistent acoustic and lead vocals, Lennon providing harmonica and harmonium, and George Martin adding the nice honky-tonk piano breaks. An actual collaboration between McCartney and Lennon, this storytelling song originated during a three man acoustic jam with folk singer Donovan on retreat in India. “Don’t Pass Me By” is the first composition credited to Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and would have made for a good Ringo Starr solo track. Starr also provides an interesting tack piano, accompanied by great bluegrass fiddle playing by guest Jack Fallon. The song was a #1 hit in Denmark in April 1969.

Following his frivolous, minute and a half “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, McCartney provides the retro feeling “I Will”. With much nod towards early Beatles, this song contains a unique arrangement with vocal bass and unconvential percussion. Although simple and short, “I Will” took 67 takes to record. Lennon’s solo ballad “Julia” is a finger-picking acoustic song written for his mother Julia Lennon, who died in car accident when John was 17 years old. The fun celebration rocker “Birthday” starts the album’s third side. One of the rare tracks written in the studio, the song features a catchy blues progression guitar riff augmented by choppy piano.

This third side is where some of the White Album’s weaker spots come to the fore. “Yer Blues” is one of these, as an almost-annoying blues tune with the only redeeming quality being the slight middle jam section that is unfortunately cut short by a return to the repetitive verse. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” is another marginal song by Lennon, albeit a little more interesting due to its frantic rocking style, complete with groovy late sixties guitars and rudiments. in between these is the pleasant folk diddy “Mother Nature’s Son” by McCartney, the best song on this side. This song completely captures the intended mood with great acoustic riffs and horns ensemble musically and inspired lyrics based on a lecture by the Maharishi. McCartney recorded it “live”, singing and playing acoustic guitar simultaneously with overdubs done later.

John LennonThe four Beatles left India at different times and with different opinions of the Maharishi. Lennon, a t one point a “true believer”, ultimately became the most jaded by the experience and expressed this brilliantly on the song “Sexy Sadie”. starting with an interesting reverbed piano, the song is arranged in manner frequently used by the group Queen a decade later, with lush backing vocal choruses, other parts laden with effects, and a lead guitar lying sharply above the mix. “Helter Skelter” is a style piece, with little substance by McCartney, in a deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible. Still, this became one of the most famous (or infamous) on the album following the Manson family murder spree and its use as title for the subsequent book. After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on me fingers!”, included on the stereo mix of the song. Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” completes side three as a cross between jazz waltz, folk, and psychedelia with good underlying riffs and great drum interludes, but not very cohesive overall. With the topical organ this track sounds like it may have been influenced by Pink Floyd.

And then there is Lennon’s “Revolution”. Originally, a single ten-minute piece comprised of a song proper and an improvised coda, the first part of the song was edited out as “Revolution 1”, a slow acoustic blues number with “shooby-do-wah” vocals and added horns. However, most of the Beatles were unhappy with this version, so a heavier, more upbeat version of “Revolution” was recorded and released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single. Still, Lennon wanted to return to the earlier recording and fought to have “Revolution 1” included on the White Album as well as re-record the avant-garde sound collage as the track “Revolution 9”, using the last six minutes of the original recording as a starting point. With numerous sound effects, tape loops, and overdubs, and virtually no musical melody, the eight and a half minute track is the longest track that the Beatles officially released. McCartney was against including this song on the album and Beatles fans have debated its merits for four and a half decades. In any case, it was a dissatisfying “tour de force” for this otherwise fine musical collection.

The Beatles was quickly followed up by Yellow Submarine less than two months later in January 1969. By then the band had already moved on to their next project, which was eventually released as Let It Be. Despite the unevenness of the music, the controversial inclusions, and the utter lack of promotion, the album became a classic. As McCartney later unapologetically put it, “it’s the bloody Beatles White Album!”

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Time Passages by Al Stewart

Time Passages by Al Stewart

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Time Passages by Al StewartTime Passages was the third of Al Stewart‘s popular late seventies albums, following Modern Times in 1975 and Year of the Cat in 1976. While all three of these albums were produced by Alan Parsons, on this one there is a minor nod towards soft rock production. Musically, Time Passages continues Stewart’s traditional blend of folk, jazz, and pop/rock, with masterful arrangements, rich sonic textures, and the top-notch production of Parsons. Lyrically, Stewart alternates between the contemporary subjects and concerns of baby boomers reaching their thirties and his distinct knack for presenting historical figures an events in graceful yet easily accessible pop song epics.

The Scottish born Stewart commenced his musical career in the mid 1960s at coffee houses in London’s Soho. Starting in 1967. He went on to release several folk albums on Columbia Records but found little mainstream success. In 1972, Stewart released Orange, a transitional album which combined songs in his confessional style with more historical themes that he would soon increasingly adopt. His 1973 release, Past, Present and Future, was the first in the United States and his popularity steadily grew throughout the rest of the decade.

During these years, Stewart began to form a proper backing band, led by guitarists Tim Renwick and Peter White. On Time Passages, Renwick provides the bulk of lead guitar while White played keyboards, accordion, and other instruments as well as co-wrote a couple of the tunes.


Time Passages by Al Stewart
Released: September, 1978 (RCA)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Davlen Studios, Los Angeles, June 1978
Side One Side Two
Time Passages
Valentina Way
Life In Dark Water
A Man for All Seasons
Almost Lucy
The Palace of Versailles
Timeless Skies
Song on the Radio
End of the Day
Primary Musicians
Al Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Peter White – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Renwick – Guitars
Robin Lamble – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums

The album’s title song “Time Passages” is a masterpiece on the utter surreal-ness of the passage of time (as demonstrated by the “time warp” album cover). Stewart uses great imagery to accomplish this while the pleasant music adds a pleasant soft rock backing with perfect late seventies production by Parsons. Released as a single, this would become Stewart’s highest charting song ever. It reached #7 on the Billboard pop chart and also spent ten weeks at #1 on the easy listening chart, the longest stay at number one on this chart in the entire decade. “Valentina Way” starts with classical piano by Peter Robinson before abruptly entering a disco section. Despite this dated musical arrangement, the underlying song is pretty good and is musically salvaged by White’s recurring guitar lead/riff.

The first historical number is “Life in Dark Water”, a slow, moody, almost psychedelic rocker driven by the rotating lyrics and a simple, repeated four chord progression. There is some musical deviation in the middle with a short, carnival sounding verse and extended guitar lead by Renwick. The song which references the Mary Celeste, a British-American merchant ship discovered unmanned and abandoned in 1872. Although the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced seamen, the seven member crew were never seen again while the ship was found in perfect shape with personal effects and over six months’ worth of food and water on board. “A Man for All Seasons” completes the first side with a musical a mix of Phil Spector meets alt-country. With a knack for telling historical stories in effected musical means, Stewart tells the story of Sir Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet.

The second side is just as solid as the first, starting with “Almost Lucy, a country/western influenced folk song with good percussive effects throughout. The subtle backing music plays off of Stewart’s vocals perfectly, which reflect the lyrics about the sad life of a prostitute;

“And all these changing faces never bothered her at all that just existed like a back-drop or a pattern on the wall, Lucy looks like someone who is waiting for a call she knows will come but no-one else can hear at all”

Led by smooth synth run by Peter Solley at the top and between verses, “The Palace of Versailles” is another historical diddy. The interplay between Stewart’s acoustic and Renwick’s electric guitars is fantastic, with Parsons adding some orchestral strings towards the end, giving this an epic feel and increasing the continental elegance at the core of this work. The acoustic “Timeless Skies” has a sparse arrangement with White subtly adding some accordion and mandolin as the song progresses.

“Song on the Radio” is the other “radio song” from Time Passages, peaking in the Top 30, despite its lengthy six and a half minute duration (it is interesting that the two “hits” are also the two longest songs on the album). Featuring the distinct alto saxophone of Phil Kenzie, this song may first present itself as pure pop on the surface, but it really has much deeper meaning and connotations lyrically. The closer “End of the Day” was written mainly by Peter White and is mostly instrumental, spending more than half of its duration in a prolonged instrumental introduction before a single, extended verse concludes the album. Soft and jazzy, this pleasant song is an effective way to leave listeners wanting for more.

Time Passages peaked at #10 on the charts and continues to be held as one of his finer albums. Stewart’s pop success continued into the early 1980s until his career slowly lost steam in subsequent years.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

City to City by Gerry Rafferty

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City to City by Gerry RaffertyGerry Rafferty was an artist who really didn’t like fame all that much. In fact, he once walked out on his former band, Stealers Wheel,  shortly after they topped the charts with “Stuck in the Middle with You”  in 1973. The success found Rafferty  retreating to his native Scotland before being coerced back into rejoining that band. Ironically, City to City brought Rafferty fame in droves after a long hiatus from the public eye. This album reached the top of the U.S. album charts and produced three Top 20 hits. But beyond its commercial success, it was the absolute apex of Rafferty’s career where if left indelible musical marks which define his output to this day.

Rafferty joined the folk group The Humblebums in 1969. Two years later he was signed to a solo contract an released his 1971 debut Can I Have My Money Back?, a critical success but commercial failure. In 1972, Rafferty formed Stealers Wheel with Walter Egan and recorded three albums before the duo disbanded in 1975. This was followed by legal wrangling over the demise of Stealers Wheel which kept Rafferty out of the studio for three solid years.

Though it would seem to have strike the pop charts out of the blue, City to City does not depart dramatically from the music Rafferty has recorded over the past decade. In fact, he used much of the same personnel he had on his first solo album seven years earlier, starting with producer Hugh Murphy. The album’s title was meant to be satirical, as Rafferty conquers the world one metropolis at a time. Fueled by Rafferty’s compositional skills, the group forged a fresh sound with diverse styles, while lyrically Rafferty juxtaposes the differences between urban and pastoral life.


City to City by Gerry Rafferty
Released: January 20, 1978 (United Artists)
Produced by: Hugh Murphy
Recorded: Chipping Norton Recording Studios, London, 1977
Side One Side Two
The Ark
Baker Street
Right Down the Line
City to City
Stealin’ Time
Mattie’s Rag
Whatever’s Written In Your Heart
Home and Dry
Island
Waiting For the Day
Primary Musicians
Gerry Rafferty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Hugh Burns – Guitars
Tommy Eyre – Piano, Keyboards, Brass
Graham Preskett – Fiddle, Strings
Gary Taylor – Bass, Vocals
Henry Spinetti – Drums

The opening tune “The Ark” starts with a Celtic-flavored thumping intro led by fiddle and mandolin combo of Graham Preskett. It soon breaks into a pleasant ballad, reminiscent of the band Badfinger, with the vibe of sailing along calm water within the beat. While it never really breaks from its deliberate and steady tone, this five and a half minute song feels full and complete.

While long considered Rafferty’s signature song, “Baker Street” may also be one of the quintessential tracks of the late seventies. At once pop yet progressive, this song is an urban journey accompanied by baskets of sonic candy, The bass of Gary Taylor supplies a lot of this décor, as do the keyboards, organ, and synths of Tommy Eyre as do the cool and smooth layered vocals of Rafferty, delivering the self-reflecting and mature lyrics. But all this plays a supporting role to the memorable saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft, which guides the song from phrase to phrase. Rafferty lobbied the record label to have “Baker Street” as the lead single from the album and it became hugely popular, reaching the top 3 on both sides of the Atlantic before the album was even released.

The mechanical yet groovy “Right Down The Line” was the other major hit from the album. An upbeat song of romance, this tune is firmly within easy listening range while still feeling vibrant and young and in no way sappy. Rafferty’s excellent vocal harmonies during the bridges along with the cool steel guitar intro and lead of Brian Cole are the musical highlights for this song which reached #12 on Billboard pop charts and topped the “Easy Listening” charts. The album then takes a sharp turn with title song “City to City”. A quasi-blue grass composition, the song comes complete with a train-whistle-sounding harmonica by Paul Jones and could be an outlaw country song if not for all the production flourishes throughout. “Stealin’ Time” is a great mood-setting song to complete side one. Led by the electric piano of Tommy Eyre, the song is very patient and deliberate musically, like mid-era Pink Floyd. Following a nice lead by Hugh Burns, the arrangement turns interesting as it builds some intensity in the outro section.

The second side starts a long, thumping fade-in on “Mattie’s Rag”, which gives way to an upbeat and bouncy tune including an interesting dobro lead by Cole, and a fantastic fiddle and string coda riff by Preskett. “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” feels like a Gospel song at first, before Rafferty takes control of this McCartney-styled piano ballad. Musically, this six and a half minute song is almost entirely Eyre’s piano, with a short Moog synth lead in the middle while lyrically, the melancholy song is a bit introspective and spiritual;

“Maybe I’ve always set my sights too high, you take the easy way and still get by
I know there ain’t no special way, we all get there anyway…”

Topping off the album are three upbeat songs. “Home and Dry” contains a thumping beat by Henry Spinetti with smooth vocal delivery by Rafferty, much like the hit songs from side one. In fact, “Home and Dry” was the third single from the album in the U.S. and it peaked at #28 on the pop charts. “Island” does its title justice with a strong Caribbean beat and gently strummed acoustic by Rafferty, but topically it has more of a jazz nightclub feel. It contains the ever-present saxophone of Ravenscroft and plenty of other exotic instrumentation. Rafferty plays rudimentary piano on “Waiting For the Day”, which complements Eyre’s boogie-woogie electric piano. Starting as perhaps the most straight-forward rocker on album, the song takes a couple of unexpected breaks where Rafferty’s solo vocals are highlighted, clear and up front.

Although Rafferty declined to tour right away following the release of City to City, the momentum carried on to his 1979 album Night Owl, which spawned another trio of Top 40 singles. While the artist continued to release albums throughout the 1980s, his popularity waned and heavy drinking ultimately led to his demise.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

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Some Girls by The Rolling StonesSome Girls was a major commercial and critical success for the Rolling Stones in 1978. Here, the classic British rock group incorporated the new genres of disco, punk, along with New York style new wave while maintaining their core rock sound. The marathon sessions for this album consumed the entire winter of 1977-78 and ended up yielding about 50 new songs, many of which were used on future studio albums as well as countless bootleg recordings over the years. The engineering approach to recording differed from the sounds of mid seventies Stones albums, with the use of classic techniques along with state-of-the-art amplifiers.

The band added guitarist Ronnie Wood to the line-up, replacing Mick Taylor who left the band three years later. Wood had toured with the band as early as 1975 when he was still a member of the band Faces and his permanent addition added some much needed support for primary guitarist Keith Richards. Heroin dependency and a pending possession charge were a serious concern for the group during production of Some Girls. The Toronto drug bust held a real possibility that Richards might be sent to prison for years, but the ultimate judgment was an order to perform a charity show for The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

During this era, vocalist Mick Jagger stepped up with a greater than usual role in songwriting and producing. Although Richards was present as co-producer and co-composer, Jagger gained control of the band’s musical direction for the next several albums through 1981’s Tattoo You. The result is a blend of glitzy and decadent rock which still makes it a definitive Stones album. However, not everyone was thrilled with this new musical direction, band manager and studio pianist Ian Stewert sat out the Some Girls sessions in protest of the approach.


Some Girls by The Rolling Stones
Released: June 9, 1978 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Miss You
When the Whip Comes Down
Imagination
Some Girls
Lies
Far Away Eyes
Respectable
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Shattered
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

The groovy bass of Bill Wyman leads the repetitive riff of “Miss You”. This was the lead single from Some Girls, released in May 1978 ahead of the album. It reached the top of the charts, becoming the Rolling Stones’ last U.S. #1 hit and rode the tail end of the disco wave. A highlight later in the song is the short saxophone solo by Mel Collins. “When the Whip Comes Down” features a fairly standard, Richards-based riff with a verse-chorus repeat pattern. Lyrically, the song is about a gay street hustler in an attempt by Jagger to show he has an ear for the American urban scene.

The cover of Norman Whitfield‘s and Barrett Strong’s “Imagination” is a pleasant enough update of the Temptations classic but not really a wise choice as album track (should have been reserved for a B-side or compilation). Wood’s Faces band mate Ian McLagan provides organ for the track. The title song “Some Girls” sounds a bit like a Scottish folk song on acid, with flanged out guitars and several stand-alone verses with guitar interludes before a break with harmonies and picked acoustic. The later verse is like a perverse updated version of “California Girls”, albeit using race and ethnicity instead of location, and the song ends with a fine blues harp lead by Sugar Blue, which is unfortunately cut short in the fade. “Lies” is a frantic song in a genre style developed by the Stones in the late seventies, on later songs such “Neighbors”. Held together by the steady beat by drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones end side one with a smoke-filled and ambiguous musical piece with lyrics equal parts irony and ecstasy.

Aside for the throwaway parody “Far Away Eyes”, side two provides the strongest moments on Some Girls. “Respectable” is fun and upbeat faux punk with Jagger supplying his relatively new guitar skills to complete a three-axe attack. The Rolling Stones do some self-examination of their admitted mid-seventies complacency and heed the wake-up call of their younger contemporaries. “Before They Make Me Run” is Richard’s outlaw anthem where he takes the mic for lead vocals and alludes to his own drug and legal problems.

“Beast of Burden” is the best song on the album. It contains well-crafted guitar interplay between Richards and Wood with a weaving attack. Vocally and lyrically, Jagger is superb as he delivers a classic blues anthem complete with the mid-section vocal testament, all with an entertaining and contemporary flair. The album concludes with “Shattered”, which bookends nicely with the opener “Miss You” as another somewhat improvised “disco” piece. Some have suggested this last track was a tribute to the New York Dolls, delighting in the degradation of New York City during its dark days of the seventies.

Some Girls reached #1 in the U.S. and eventually became the Rolling Stones biggest selling album in America, with over six million copies sold. The band embarked on summer tour of the states in 1978, where they played a few small venue shows under a pseudonym just for fun. They followed up with the similar sounding Emotional Rescue in 1980, which found more commercial success as well as inner turmoil which nearly broke up the band.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

This Year's Model by Elvis Costello

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello

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This Year's Model by Elvis Costello1978 was a breakthrough year for Elvis Costello. His second album, This Year’s Model, was released in the Spring featuring his backing band, The Attractions, for the first time. Further, My Aim Is True, Costello’s 1977 debut album, was re-released internationally following his signing with Columbia Records. Much of the material for This Year’s Model is comprised largely of leftovers from My Aim Is True and the tour which followed. While the debut featured a more retro sound, this album leans more towards punk, with the Attractions adding a reckless rock edge. Produced by Nick Lowe, Costello and the Attractions speed through the album’s tracks at a frantic and blinding pace.

Different releases of the album contained different tracks. The single “Radio, Radio”, a song protesting the commercialization of radio broadcasts and recording studios, appeared on the US version of the album. The subjects of this song caused much hesitation over when and where it was to be broadcasted. In December 1977, Costello was a last minute replacement on Saturday Night Live and was instructed to play the song “Less than Zero.” However, after a few bars, Costello turned to the Attractions, waved his hand to stop and then led the band in a performance of “Radio, Radio.” Costello was banned from SNL for a dozen years afterward.

Nervous energy drives the action in This Year’s Model, a 35 minute journey of sweet pop-driven blasts. Brief as it is, the entire album is filled with hooks, efficient without excess.


This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
Released: March 17, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Nick Lowe
Recorded: Eden Studios, London, 1977–78
Side One Side Two
No Action
This Year’s Girl
The Beat
Pump It Up
Little Triggers
You Belong to Me
Hand In Hand
(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea
Lip Service
Living In Paradise
Lipstick Vogue
Night Rally
Primary Musicians
Elvis Costello – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Nieve – Piano, Organ
Bruce Thomas – Bass
Pete Thomas – Drums

In less than two minutes, “No Action” sets the pure punk pace right from the jump. The organ by Steve Nieve adds a little melody and high-end flourishes to the song’s paranoia. “This Year’s Girl” follows as more retro pop than punk, with a fuzzy guitar that is somewhat obscured by the swirling organ during this de facto title song of the album. Lyrically, the song is a downright vicious indictment of a socialite/hipster, becoming a centerpiece of Costello’s early work.

After the weaker track “The Beat”, comes “Pump It Up”, a driving, riff-driven rock song fused with eros and frantic lyrics. It is an especially good track for bassist Bruce Thomas. “Little Triggers” is a mellow and emotional piece and the closest thing to a ballad on this album. The first side closer “You Belong to Me” is the best song on the first side. With McCartney-like vocals, the upbeat and direct tune is not at all ambiguous lyrically, vocally, or sonically. Reverted to the pattern of the first album, the song is a tribute to garage rock with Nieve’s whiny Vox Continental organ line and Costello’s echoed and twangy lead guitar.

The second side begins with a quintessential Elvis Costello pop song called “Hand in Hand”, a short, melodic, direct, and entertaining tune. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” features a very new wave syncopation and beat complete with ska-influenced odd timings under a very standard melody and big tremolo organ sound. The song was left off the original U.S. release because record execs thought the theme was too “British”.

“Lip Service” contains nice riffing in a generally pop-oriented tune while “Living in Paradise” is fueled by Nieve’s new wave synth in tandem with Thomas’ rolling bass. The mood oriented “Lipstick Vogue” is driven by a frenzied beat by drummer Pete Thomas along with bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation). Perhaps the most punk of any song on the album, the song serves as a showcase for the new group’s extraordinary energy along with the scornful cynicism of Costello’s lyrics.

The album concludes with “Night Rally”, which works like a sixties British pop song updated for seventies new wave. A calm but apt closer for the album, “Night Rally” demonstrates how Costello’s songs seem to work best when they are short, direct, and to the point, in this case the subject is an expose on fascism.

After a North American tour and some personal and professional controversy, Costello and the Attractions continued the momentum into 1979 with the production of his released his third album Armed Forces.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.