London Town by Wings

London Town by Wings

London Town by WingsAs the sixth overall album under the group name Wings, the 1978 album London Town is often overlooked as a great album by the Paul McCartney led band. But a great album this certainly is, despite the relative commercial disappointment at the time. Wings was coming off two number one albums in 1976 (the preceding studio album Wings at the Speed of Sound and the live album Wings Over America), as well as McCartney’s two biggest hit singles of his career. Decades later, London Town trumps all those in musical quality, richness and quantity, clocking in at over 50 minutes, near the physical upper limit for a single vinyl LP.

Sessions for the album began in February 1977 at Abbey Road Studios with initial plans for a release later that year. After Linda McCartney discovered that she was pregnant, the group nixed a planned tour and decided to move recording to moored on a yacht in the Virgin Islands called “Fair Carol” in May 1977. Several new songs were recorded in this unorthodox studio, including the songs “Mull of Kintyre” and “Girls’ School”, which were released as a single in August. To the surprise of everyone, “Mull of Kintyre” became the best selling British single of all time, replacing McCartney’s own 1963 Beatles’ song “She Loves You”. However, while the band was on break for Linda’s maternity, two members of Wings (guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English) departed, leaving just the McCartneys and lead guitarist Denny Laine as a trio.

With Laine promoted to the forefront, this is the most guitar-centric Wings album. Laine also performs lead vocals on two tracks, giving the album a group feel while keeping Paul McCartney firmly at the forefront. A very diverse album, London Town is an adventurous celebration of music itself, hopping from one contemporary genre to another, all grounded by the underlying rock riffs and rhythms provided by Laine and McCartney. The album also featured many state-of-the-art synthesizers, making it a very interesting listen.


London Town by Wings
Released: March 31, 1978 (Capitol)
Produced by: Paul McCartney
Recorded: Abbey Road and Air-London-Studios, London, Fair Carol (private yacht), Virgin Islands, February 1977-January 1978
Side One Side Two
London Town
Café On the Left Bank
I’m Carrying
Backwards Traveler / Cuff Link
Children, Children
GirlFriend
I’ve Had Enough
With a Little Luck
Famous Groupies
Deliver Your Children
Name and Address
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Morse Moose and the Grey Goose
Band Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Violin, Drums, Percussion
Denny Laine – Guitars, Recorder, Percussion, Vocals
Linda McCartney – Keyboards, Vocals

The tremolo electric piano of the title song “London Town” sets the pace for this soft-rock classic opener. McCartney’s bouncy bass gives it a soulful edge that saves it from being too traditionally English and the singer works through some great vocal melodies and harmonies. Lyrically, the song is sort of a modern day “Penny Lane”, offering word motifs of an ordinary British street scene. That 1966 song was accented by the distinct piccolo trumpet while a dozen years later “London Town” is brought into greatness by Laine’s brief but potent electric guitars. The song became a Top 40 hit in the U.S.

Like a traveler through Europe, the album transports the listener from London to Paris with the more upbeat yet just as melodic tune “Cafe on the Left Bank”. This song is sonically superb with the mixture of Laine’s hard-edged riffing, Paul McCartney’s bass and Linda McCartney’s bouncy waltz-organ. The soft “I’m Carrying” is a mainly solo piece by McCartney, recorded on the yacht as just gently picked acoustic and vocals, “Yesterday” style. Some orchestral strings were later overdubbed in London along with McCartney adding an electric guitar using a Gizmo, a then-new device which allows a guitar to be played by vibrating the strings rather than plucking them. The medley of “Backwards Traveler” and “Cuff Link” may be one of the very few parts of the album which feel like filler. “Backwards Traveler” is a single verse and repeated chorus which lasts all of a minute before devolving into a synth-driven funk instrumental “Cuff Link”, which may have sounded hip in 1978 but sounds dated today.

Laine takes over lead vocals on “Children Children”, which almost has a Burl Ives feel at first, but does eventually rise to a pleasant folk/rock song. A fiddle part is added by Paul McCartney along with layered acoustics and a main keyboard riff. “Girlfriend” was written for Michael Jackson as a soul-style song at first intended just as a demo. The recording itself does have does have some interesting caveats such as the bridge with pop/rock elements including a heavy guitar lead by Laine and great bass throughout. Making yet another radical transformation, “I’ve Had Enough” is a pure rocker that almost sounds like a proto-punk, (or at the very least Kinks-like) cynical song. This side one closer never relents from the its rock vibe, which only intensifies with the guitar overdubs by Laine later in the song.

“With a Little Luck” returns to the soft pop/rock as a turn towards optimism. It contains a rich arrangement of synth and electric piano parts and passionate lyrics with McCartney repeatedly using terms like “exploding” and “rocketing” to explain the desired outcome of fate, no doubt metaphors for the music industry. During the final verse, his shredding voice wails in hopeful desperation. The middle synth and bass section (unfortunately omitted from the original single and most “Best of..” collections) is a real highlight of the song, with Linda McCartney showing some of her keyboard talents. The song hit number one in the United States and reached number 5 in the UK.

“Famous Groupies” is a marching sing-along about the taboo subject of “those magnificent examples of female pulchritude and luminosity”. The song’s ironic theme was allegedly inspired by Linda’s distain for some of the more outspoken “groupies” and is a very entertaining acoustic folk song with regal chorus and ascending verses in the vibe of Jethro Tull and multi-character aspect of old Genesis. The brilliant “Deliver Your Children” is the second and final song to feature Denny Laine on lead vocals (although McCartney does harmonize on almost every line). The verses are pure country rock, complete with acoustic lead riffs, while the chorus is more pop-oriented. Overall, “Deliver Your Children” is one of the most unique Wings songs and a truly under-appreciated gem despite some slightly trite lyrics.

Wings in 1978

While the album is downright brilliant through ten tracks, it tends to lose some steam during the final three. “Name and Address” is a tribute to Elvis Presley, who died the previous August, and is entertaining enough except a bit too stereotypical, like a Vegas lounge act of an Elvis impersonator. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is a bit better as a dark folksy, Scottish waltz by McCartney and Laine. Acoustic throughout with unique percussion, this moody tune contains a slight but potent electric guitar and a flute riff in the foreground. The closer “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose” seems like an attempt to end with a progressive-like mini suite but it seems to lack much substance to justify its six and a half minutes, While not a terrible or excruciating listen, the song is just an unfortunate closer for a very fine album.

London Town reached number two on the album charts, Wings’ first album since their 1971 debut Wild Life to not hit the top spot. Replacements for McCulloch and English were hired later in 1978 so the group could continue touring as a five-piece. Wings would release one more album in 1979 before McCartney settled into a multi-decade solo career, which continues to this day.

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1978 Images

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

1988 Album of the Year

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1
by Traveling Wilburys

Buy Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

1988 Album of the Year

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1“Super Groups” were commonplace during the seventies and eighties, often causing much hype which was rarely surpassed by the music itself. But in the case of the Traveling Wilburys, by far the most “super” of any super group, the resulting music was downright brilliant. Their debut Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 displays an incredible array of three decades of pop and rock elements wrapped in concise tunes penned and performed by some of the biggest legends in the business. The group and album were not initially planned and came together through a serendipitous series of coincidences and the fantastic music they produced together easily makes Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1988.

It all started in Los Angeles in Spring 1988 when George Harrison was looking to record B-side material for a vinyl 12-inch European single. Jeff Lynne, who co-produced Harrison’s most recent album Cloud Nine was also in Los Angeles at the time. Lynne was producing some music for Roy Orbison as well as the debut solo album, Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. Lynne was able to enlist both artists to help out Harrison, who was in a huge hurry to record his material. The final piece of the Traveling Wilbury puzzle was Bob Dylan, who had built a home studio in nearby Malibu and agreed to let the makeshift group record the very next day. On that day, the legendary musicians wrote and recorded the song “Handle with Care” in about five hours. The experience was so positive that all five agreed to form a group and reconvened a month later to record the other nine tracks on what would become Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Here the magic continued as the group wrote and recorded on acoustic guitars. With a limited amount of time before Dylan headed out on a scheduled tour, the five singers in the group often took turns at songs until Harrison (as group arbiter) selected the best “lead” voice for each part. The final phase was Harrison and Lynne returning to England for final overdubs and production. Here Harrison added some electric and lead guitars, Lynne added keyboards and bass, Jim Keltner was brought in on drums.

Although it is generally agreed that Harrison was the group’s leader, they did work hard to maintain a collective image and even set up fictional names for each member masquerading as the “Wilbury” brothers – Nelson (Harrison), Otis (Lynne), Lucky (Dylan), Lefty (Orbison), and Charlie T. Jr. (Petty) with Keltner given the humorous “outsider” name “Buster Sidebury”. All group members also got songwriting credits on the album, although the publishing credits were disbursed according to the actual songwriter. The Wilbury name originated from Harrison and Lynne previously working together as a pseudonym for slight recording errors (“we’ll bury ’em in the mix”).


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 18, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne and George Harrison
Recorded: Lucky Studios and Dave Stewart Studios, Los Angeles and FPSHOT, London, April–May 1988
Side One Side Two
Handle with Care
Dirty World
Rattled
Last Night
Not Alone Anymore
Congratulations
Heading for the Light
Margarita
Tweeter and the Monkey Man
End of the Line
Band Musicians
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Dylan – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Roy Orbison – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The ringing guitars of “Handle with Care”, the original Wilbury song, starts things off. Harrison, the primary composer, delivers deliberate vocalizing during the verses which gives way to Orbison’s smooth crooning during the choruses. Dylan and Petty deliver a chanting post-chorus and two instances of Harrison’s classic guitar along with a short Dylan harmonica lead make the song a true classic in just about every way. Within its brief three and a half minutes the song is dotted with decades of rock history, making this the perfect track to introduce the album. While not every song on the album wraps itself so well as “Handle with Care”, there is not a truly weak moment on the album.
 

 
On “Dirty World” Dylan’s rough lead vocals are complimented by smooth backing vocals and a bright acoustic arrangement. The song also contains some horns and an interesting arrangement all around. This song was a particularly enjoyable one for the band to record as each member took a turn singing in the “round” during the extended outro. Jeff Lynne’s “Rattled” is pure rockabilly led by Orbinson on vocals, almost like a lost early Elvis song. Lynne’s bass and Harrison’s lead guitar shine musically and the actual “rattle” in the song is drummer Keltner tapping the refrigerator grill with his drum sticks.

“Last Night” contains Caribbean elements with some percussion and horns and Petty singing during verse and Orbinson during the bridges. The whimsical, storytelling song has a great aura and feel throughout. Petty did the core composing with each group member contributing to the songwriting approach. The verses has an upbeat folk/Latin feel with the bridge being a bit more dramatic. The first side completes with “Not Alone Any More”, a vocal centerpiece for Orbison. His vocals smoothly lead a modern version of early sixties rock and Lynne’s keyboards add more decoration than any other song on the first side. If “Not Alone Anymore” is in the clouds, the second side opener “Congratulations” is right down at ground level. This tavern style ballad with Dylan on lead vocals sounds much like his late 70s / early 80s era material, with blues-like reverences to broken relationships, and includes a very short but great lead guitar by Harrison right at the end.

The up-tempo “Heading for the Light” is a quintessential Harrison/Lynne production, with the former Beatle composing and singing and the former ELO front man providing the lush production and orchestration. The song contains great picked guitar fills as well as a saxophone solo by Jim Horn. “Margarita” may be the oddest song on the album but is still a great sonic pleasure. It begins with a programmed eighties synth line then the long intro slowly works its way into a Latin acoustic section topped by horns, lead guitar, and rich vocal harmonies. It is not until a minute and a half in that Petty’s lead vocals come in for a single verse then the song works its ways through various short sections towards an encapsulated synth ending. This spontaneous composition with free-association lyrics showed with a group of this talent could do on the spot.

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is Bob Dylan channeling Bruce Springsteen and coming out with what may have been one of the best Springsteen songs ever (even though he had nothing to do with it). This extended song with the traditional Dylan style of oodles of verses and a theatrical chorus includes several references to Springsteen songs throughout and is in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey. It may have been Dylan’s delayed response to the press repeatedly coining Bruce “the next Dylan”. No matter what the case, the result is an excellent tune with lyrics rich enough to base a book or movie.
 

 
The most perfect album closer to any album – ever, “End of the Line” contains a Johnny Cash-like train rhythm beneathe deeply philosophical lyrics, delivered in a light and upbeat fashion. Harrison, Lynne, Orbinson, and Harrison again provide the lead vocals during the chorus hooks while Petty does the intervening verses. The song revisits the classic music themes of survival and return with the universal message that, in the big picture, it all ends someday. The feeling of band unity is also strongest here with the folksy pop/rock chords and great harmonies. The music video for “End of the Line” was filmed after Roy Orbison’s death in December 1988, mere weeks after the album’s release, and paid tasteful respect with a shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair during the verse which Orbison sang.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 sold over two million copies within its first six months, a figure which made this album a higher seller than any of Bob Dylan’s albums to that date. The album was critically favored and won a Grammy award in 1990. The surviving members of the group reconvened for a second album, which fell far short of capturing the magic of this debut and a long-planned tour by the group never materialized, although members continued to collaborate on each other’s albums for years to come. The incredible magic that came together in 1988 is yet to repeated anywhere in the rock universe.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums and our album of the year for 1988.

 

Now and Zen by Robert Plant

Now and Zen by Robert Plant

Now and Zen by Robert PlantRobert Plant launched his post-Led Zeppelin solo career with two fine albums, Pictures at Eleven, in 1982 and, The Principle of Moments , in 1983. His career then got a little murky in the mid-1980s with the short-lived cover band The Honeydrippers and his bizzare third album Shaken and Stirred. His fourth album, 1988’s Now and Zen, was a career renaissance as the vocalist and songwriter once again found his groove in eighties pop. The album made the top 10 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and has been certified triple platinum. The album also featured Zeppelin band mate Jimmy Page who performed on a Plant solo album for the first time (a favor Plant would return later in the year on Page’s Outrider album).

Keyboardist Phil Johnstone co-produced and co-wrote most of the material with Plant. Johnstone was part of a whole new band that Plant employed for this album after pretty much using the same personnel on all of his first three albums. Plant discovered Johnstone and engineer Dave Barrett after hearing a demo tape by the pair.

The resulting sound is a stylistic fusion that seamlessly combines hard rock and guitar blues with the synth-driven pop of the eighties and the then-new computer synchronization techniques. Now and Zen is also a vocal masterpiece for Plant who strikes his “mature” voice better than on any other of his eighties material. Lyrically, Plant’s songs have substance, intelligence and taste, making this a solo career high point in that area as well.


Now and Zen by Robert Plant
Released: February 29, 1988 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Robert Plant, Phil Johnstone, and Tim Palmer
Recorded: Autumn 1987
Side One Side Two
Heaven Knows
Dance On My Own
Tall Cool One
The Way I Feel
Helen of Troy
Billy’s Revenge
Ship of Fools
Why
White, Clean, and Neat
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals  |  Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Synths
Doug Boyle – Guitars  |  Phil Scragg – Bass  |  Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion

 

“Heaven Knows” rolls in like a fast moving storm and immediately establishes the underlying groove of Now and Zen. The song is synth heavy, but not to the point of being ludicrous like on Shaken n’ Stirred, but does contain the first appearance by Page with a dramatic guitar solo. The song topped mainstream rock charts. “Dance On My Own” starts with slight background whistling and breaks into a call-and return verse between Plant and guitarist Doug Boyle which is almost like a cheerleading chant. Overall, this song draws from good elements of all three of Plant’s previous solo albums; interesting modern guitar riffs, unique “Zeppelin-light” lead vocals, and a pleasant female backing vocal chorus.

A sterile piano guides the sound collage-ridden “Tall Cool One”, which became the top pop hit off the album. The song was Plant and Page’s response to the Beastie Boys’ unauthorized sampling of Led Zeppelin material, by sampling their own music from Zeppelin tracks “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Ocean”, “Black Dog”, “Custard Pie”, and “When the Levee Breaks”. Aside from the group’s short reunion at Live Aid in 1985, this was the first time in Plant’s solo career that he openly embraced his former band. Otherwise, “Tall Cool One” is a rather typical pop song with some really corny moments when Johnstone does the bridge rap. “The Way I Feel” completes side one as the moodiest song on the side with great atmosphere by Boyle and Johnstone beneath Plant’s soaring vocals and a fretless bass by Phil Scragg.

Early on the second side of Now and Zen is really where Plant has his musical renaissance. “Helen of Troy” comes in like a near heavy-metal tune with layered guitars above a strong bass before breaking into more pop elements during the rest of the song. A funky, syncopated rhythm persists throughout the song under all those great guitars, the first of two most guitar-centric songs on the album. “Billy’s Revenge” follows with a do-wop intro and pure rock song afterwards. Aside from a couple of short but great synth organ sections by Johnstone, this song is otherwise dominated by Boyle’s guitar while Plant’s vocals reach their highest register on the album. The frantic song comes to a crashing end, leading into the third of three great songs.

Robert Plant 1988

“Ship of Fools” is one of Plant’s all time classics and a true testament to his best eighties style. It is the high water mark of the album in mood, vocals, lyrics and Boyle’s guitars are at their finest, probably an all-time career highlight for him. A slight synth percussion works best on the mood of this song and the subtle instrumental outro is done with great taste, leaving the listener yearning for more.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the album does not come close to the quality of these past three songs. “Why” was co-written by engineer Robert Crash, who programmed a cheesy synth riff that prevents the song from be taken seriously. The closer “White, Clean and Neat” brings the album’s quality up slightly as an original with almost beat-like poetry with good, measured guitar lines. But the corny bridge section with spoken lines that eerily echoes the worst of Shakin’ and Stirred, leaving the overall album just shy of great.

With the critical and commercial success of Now and Zen, Robert Plant was at a high point of his solo career. Also, he further embraced his Zeppelin past by performing songs from the band on his 1988 and subsequent tours, bring his live career a balance which it had lacked for years.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

1988 Images

 

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron MaidenOne of Iron Maiden’s most popular albums, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son has the dual properties of being the last of their “classic” era and the first release to prominently feature a progressive metal arrangement and include keyboards. This concept album features lyrics that are based on supernatural mysticism and English folklore and the title and theme worked well as the group’s seventh overall album. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son reached the Top 20 in the U.S. and #1 on the U.K. Album Charts, their first to do so since 1982’s The Number of the Beast. The album also spawned four Top 10 singles on the U.K. charts.

Musically, the album is led by guitarist Adrian Smith and contains traditional prog-rock arrangements with stop/start transitions between riffs, tempos, and time signatures along with strong and memorable vocal hooks by lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson. They built on the guitar synths introduced on their previous album Somewhere in Time in 1986 towards full keyboard synthesizers.

Bassist Steve Harris came up with the album title and theme after he read Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son and realized this was to be Iron Maiden’s seventh studio album. Dickinson revised his earlier role of providing most lyrics with much collaboration among the band members who “checked up on each other to see what everybody else was up to”.

 


Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden
Released: April 11, 1988 (EMI)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February-March 1988
Side One Side Two
Moonchild
Infinite Dreams
Can I Play With Madness
The Evil That Men Do
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
The Prophecy
The Clairvoyant
Only The Good Die Young
Band Musicians
Bruce Dickinson – Lead Vocals, Guitars  |  Adrian Smith – Guitars, Synths
Dave Murray – Guitars  |  Steve Harris – Bass  |  Nicko McBrain – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “Moonchild” comes in almost like a Jethro Tull acoustic song entry before quickly turning to something a bit heavier and more dynamic. The focus on the number seven is immediate in the lyrics and this is the first in the conceptual sequence of the album. “Infinite Dreams” is introduced by a chorus guitars and later contains funky bass by Harris and choppy guitars by Dave Murray during first verse but the song evolves through many sections of differing sonic intensity, getting progressively heavier towards the song’s climax and the following final verse.

“Can I Play with Madness” is the most mainstream track on the album and contains a completely different vibe than the more melodramatic efforts elsewhere. The song originated as a ballad but evolved into a more upbeat track which became the album’s first single, peaking at #3 on the U.K. charts. The extremely poppy chorus would become a sore spot for many long time fans. The strong and melodic “The Evil That Men Do” concludes the first side as a classic Iron Maiden track, complete with a great guitar lead by Smith. The song’s title was taken from Marc Anthony’s speech following Julius Caesar’s assassination.
 

 
The title song “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” is a nearly ten minute extended piece which begins with a simple guitar/synth track but builds quickly. The interludes between the opening verses are excellent with Dickinson complementing the musical harmony. A long, prog rock middle instrumental has a consistent hi-hat by drummer Nicko McBrain guiding the way with some spoken lines at top of this section. It concludes by morphing into a full-fledge prog-influenced jam, not unlike “The Cinema Show” on Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound a decade and a half earlier.

After the tour-de-force title track, the album inevitably loses steam, although the final three tracks are all quality. “The Prophecy” begins with a softly picked guitar and long synth strings and a good, minute-long classical ending. “The Clairvoyant” begins with a raw bass by Harris, setting the pace for this enjoyable rocker, which was the catalyst for album’s concept as the first track written. “Only the Good Die Young” is an upbeat closer and, in a way, the most classic eighties metal song on the album (and therefore the least prog oriented). It contains another great harmonized guitar lead and ends with a reprise of the intro to “Moonchild” with the same “seven” theme revisited.

Following the release of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the band headlined the Monsters of Rock before a crowd of over 100,000. This would turn out to be the pinnacle of their success as Adrian Smith soon left the band and their fortunes and peak popularity began to deteriorate.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.


1988 Images

 

Outrider by Jimmy Page

Outrider by Jimmy Page

Outrider by Jimmy PageAlthough Jimmy Page had a pretty rich post-Led Zeppelin career, he only released one solo studio album, Outrider, in 1988. Originally intended to be a double album, the project was pared back when Page’s demo tapes were stolen, leaving him with no pre-production material. As a result, the single LP finished product has a bit of a hurried and unpolished sound, which Page himself referred to as “demo quality”. However, there is a certain charm to many of the pieces on the album which are more sound-oriented than composition-oriented, as Page heavily returns to the rock-infused blues which launched Led Zeppelin nearly two decades earlier. The album was recorded at a time when Page had moved on from his mid-eighties “super group” The Firm but was yet to form the various hyphenated collaborations of the nineties, including a reunion with Zeppelin band mate Robert Plant.

Six years before that eventual reunion, at the time of this album’s release, there were several positive signs including Page, Plant, and Jones reuniting during Atlantic’s 40th reunion, Page showing up on stage a some of Plant’s solo concerts, and Plant co-writing and performing a song on this Outrider album for Page. In fact, “The Only One” featured three of the four Led Zeppelin members who would reunite on December 10, 2007, as the late John Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, plays drums behind Plant and Page on the track. on the downside, even though this upbeat rocker reached the Top 20 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, the song itself seems a bit underdeveloped with a convoluted chorus, making it an opportunity lost for a great musical oasis.

Then 22 years old, Jason Bonham ended up playing on most of the album’s tracks. His former band, Virginia Wolf, had released two albums and toured the U.S. in support the of Page’s former band, The Firm. Listening to the album, there is no doubt that Bonzo’s son was a perfect match for this album.
 


Outrider by Jimmy Page
Released: June 19, 1988 (Geffen)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: The Sol, Berkshire, England, Early 1987
Side One Side Two
Wasting My Time
Wanna Make Love
Writes of Winter
The Only One
Liquid Mercury
Hummingbird
Emerald Eyes
Prison Blues
Blues Anthem
Primary Musicians
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Synthesizers
Felix Krish – Bass
Jason Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
There is a definite divide between the two sides of the original album. The first side is dominated by blues/rock riffs, including two instrumentals along with the Page/Plant track and two songs Page composed and recorded with vocalist John Miles. The second side contains selections with a lighter touch and features vocalist Chris Farlowe on three of its four tracks.

“Wanna Make Love” is the real gem of the first side with well-defined guitar riffs and blended slide guitars along with a good rock vocal melody by Miles. Although there is a “lead” area, it is not really a proper guitar solo, just a way for Page to reiterate the great effects chorus of bottleneck sounds and growling wah-wah. “Wasting My Time” starts the album with Page’s band mate in The Firm Tony Franklin on bass guitar. The first of two composed by Page and Miles, the song seamlessly alternates between the quasi-riff chorus and verse sections, all held together only by the steady drumming of Bonham along with some slight bluesy riff overdubs and a pretty decent guitar lead.

Jimmy Page

“Writes of Winter” is the first, riff-driven instrumental with a driving rhythm which echoes Joe Perry from Aerosmith who ironically cut his teeth by mimicking Page’s version of “Train Kept a Rolling”, the first song Zeppelin ever performed together. “Liquid Mercury” is another heavy, riff-driven piece which sounds like it should be the foundation for a proper rock song. Barriemore Barlow plays drums on this one as well as the final instrumental “Emerald Eyes”, a gently strummed acoustic piece with interesting overdubbed tremolo effects.

The rest of the album features Farlowe on vocals. Leon Russell’s “Hummingbird” is a moderate blues song which differs vastly from anything on the first side, both musically and vocally. “Prison Blues” contains sexual innuendo lyrically, shredding guitar by Page, and a solid bass by Felix Krish. “Blues Anthem (If I Cannot Have Your Love…)” wraps up the album with a true ballad which sounds like it provided inspiration for the Black Crowes (another group which Page would team up with in the future) a few years down the line. It is short and sweet acoustic lament to end a short and frantic album.

Outrider fared moderately on the charts, reaching the Top 40 in several countries. Unfortunately, the album hasn’t sustained much popularity through the years and Jimmy Page hasn’t attempted any kind of similar follow-up in the past 25 years.

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1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

 

1983 Album of the Year

Synchronicity by The Police

1983 Album of the Year

Synchronicity by The PoliceThe Police saved the best for last with 1983’s Synchronicity, ending their short five year and five album recording career with their masterpiece. And although the album was once again co-produced by Hugh Padgham,  as on 1981’s Ghost In the Machine, it marked a significant shift away from the dominant reggae/ska influences of the band’s first four albums. The album got it’s title from the theory of synchronicity by Carl Jung, who believed that life was not a series of random events but rather an expression of a deeper order, which led to the insights that a person was both embedded in an orderly framework and was the focus of that orderly framework. The end result was a potent blend that hit all the major criteria (in our opinion, of course) that make a truly great album – an entertaining, original, timely, cerebral, and human collection of music. For these reasons, Synchronicity is our clear choice for 1983’s album of the year.

Like many great albums, Synchronicity was born out of struggle and strife. The marriages of both bassist/vocalist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers had recently failed and, after half a decade of constant touring and recording, the once tight-knit trio had begun to conflict with each other. The group took a break in 1982 in order to pursue outside projects. Sting was starting to land bit parts in films while Summers collaborated with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on the instrumental album I Advance Masked. Drummer Stewart Copeland composed the musical score for the film Rumble Fish which spawned the radio hit single “Don’t Box Me In”. But as each member found their own success, that only served to widen wedge among The Police as a group and all had pretty much resolved that the band’s demise was soon imminent. So the group resolved to make a final masterpiece born out of the stress of the looming break-up. It wasn’t easy, as the three band members recorded their parts in separate rooms for the basic tracks and Padgham added subsequent overdubs with only one member in the studio at a time.

The result is diverse and daring, with the most experimental tracks of the album front-loaded on side one and the “hits” reserved for the second side. With this one last best shot of showing the world everything they were capable of doing, both in performance and production. The music contains a plethora of rhythms, from reggae, blues, and African to straight up pop/rock, while the theme is about things past or ending and the scope migrates from the global to the personal.

 


Synchronicity by The Police
Released: June 1, 1983 (A & M)
Produced by: Hugh Padgham & The Police
Recorded: Le Studio, Quebec, Canada, December 1982-February 1983
Side One Side Two
Synchronicity I
Walking In Your Footsteps
O My God
Mother
Miss Gradenko
Synchronicity II
Every Breath You Take
King of Pain
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Tea In the Sahara
Murder By Numbers
Band Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Oboe, Saxophone
Andy Summers – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Stewart Copeland – Drums & Percussion

 

“Synchronicity I” starts the album with a synthesized arpeggio pattern accented by a driving bass and drum beat. It is a rather simple and direct (albeit frantic) piece with some multi-vocal parts and harmonies by Sting that lyrically introduce Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious”. “Walking In Your Footsteps” follows with native percussion and a good melody above the oddest of simplistic arrangements. The lyrics relate extinct dinosaurs to modern day humans and the then-common theme of humanity’s ultimate nuclear destruction.

The first song on the album to contain a somewhat traditional arrangement, “O My God” is bass driven throughout with a bit of funk guitar chords, some light synth pads, and strong and soulful vocals. The song is a real showcase for Sting with the bass, the anguished lyrics and voice, and the outtro saxophone solo above an improvised-sounding ending. “Mother” is a Summers composition that sounds like a cross between The Velvet Underground and Alice Cooper. Summers vocals are raw, yet weirdly entertaining and some horn sounds are added to intensify the “insanity vibe”. Copeland gets his own composition with “Miss Gradenko”, a return musically to the band’s reggae / new wave fusion. Short and deliberate with a great bass and very measured but effective lead guitar, the lyrics tell of a romance in the middle of a communist bureaucracy wrought by paranoia in the Kremlin.
 

 
“Synchronicity II” is the best song on the album and the one song were The Police break into a full-fledged, hard rock arrangement. From the beginning wailing vocals of Sting to the fantastic guitar textures by Summers, switching from chords to note patterns seamlessly. The musical tone follows the lyrics closely, which describe a man’s working day and domestic life and compares it to the seemingly unrelated Loch Ness monster, making this a more true title song than “Synchronicity I”. Overall, this song which reached the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, sounds like no other Police song and is a true classic of the 1980s.

The album’s second side begins with “Every Breath You Take”, a song almost totally built on Summers’ sonic texture with Sting’s simplistic rhyming on top. The bridge contains some well-placed piano notes and Copeland shows great restraint by the utter basic-ness of his drum beat, on this song which is actually rather up-tempo but deceptively throws a vibe of a ballad. Overall, “Every Breath You Take” became one of most successful singles ever, topping the Billboard charts for nine weeks and the song won Song of the Year at the 1984 Grammy Awards.

King Of Pain single“King of Pain” is a simple sing-song tune which morphs into a Caribbean grove accented by some more pure rock. The song displays the instrumental genius of the band and production quality of Padgham and contains a rather traditional (and excellent) rock guitar lead by Summers. Lyrically, Sting references painful everyday occurrences to symbolize the frustrations of everyday life with the narrator sees his fate as predetermined. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a classic ballad with excellent ambiance, sort of like “Every Breath You Take” from a different point of view – but with superior lyrics which references mythological and literary characters.

The bass driven “Tea in the Sahara” concluded the original LP (which omitted “Murder By Numbers”) and kind of brings the overall scene to a conclusion in the desert. Sting’s performance is more solo than anywhere else on the album, with the bass leading the way and the lyrics based on the novel The Sheltering Sky. A long drum intro starts the closer “Murder by Numbers”, co-written by Sting and Summers. The tune eventually fully kicks in as a cabret number with lyrics comparing political power to the development of a serial killer.

Synchronicity reached number one in many countries and was nominated for the “Album of the Year” Grammy. The Police set off on a world on a year-long world tour, which ended with a hiatus that was effectively the end of the group. The trio did reconvene in 1986 to record a new album, but after a half-hearted attempt, that project was abandoned. The Police would not fully reunite until 2007, over two decades after their break.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Pyromania by Def Leppard

Pyromania by Def Leppard

Pyromania by Def LeppardDef Leppard struck gold (well, actually diamond) with their third LP Pyromania. The album was a phenomenal success, eventually selling over ten million copies in the U.S. and being certified “diamond” by the RIAA. The album had a tremendous amount of support from their record label, which gave the band and producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange a year to record and an over $1 million budget. This meant the album would have to sell over a million copies just to break even, which was an amazing leap of faith being that the previous album by Lange and the band, 1981’s High n’ Dry, did not do so well commercially. But the gamble paid off as Pyromania sold more than 100,000 copies per week during the calendar year of 1983 and the radio-ready blend of stadium anthems brought the quasi-heavy-metal band to a mainstream audience.

Although recorded meticulously by Lange and mastered for the dominant sound of early eighties rock, the album falls short be a rock masterpiece if not for some sonic glitches, particularly the constant drilling crack-shot of the snare drum, performed by drummer Rick Allen. It seems at places like Lange tries a little to hard to recreate his “AC/DC” sound, when he would have done better just letting the talent of Def Leppard shine through. Most talented here are guitarist Steve Clark and lead vocalist Joe Elliot, who were complemented by the rich vocal harmonies and “guitar orchestra” by the rest of the band.

When recording of Pyromania began, original guitarist Pete Willis was still on board and his rhythm guitar tracks appear on all songs. Willis was fired midway through the recording sessions for excessive alcohol abuse and replaced by Phil Collen, who immediately contributed the lead guitar for the song “Stagefright” on his second day on the job.

 


Pyromania by Def Leppard
Released: January 20, 1983 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Recorded: Park Gates Studios & Battery Studios, London, January–November 1982
Side One Side Two
Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
Photograph
Stagefright
Too Late for Love
Die Hard the Hunter
Foolin’
Rock of Ages
Comin’ Under Fire
Action! Not Words
Billy’s Got a Gun
Band Musicians
Joe Elliot – Lead Vocals  |  Steve Clark – Guitars
Phil Collen – Guitars  |  Rick Savage – Bass  |  Rick Allen – Drums

 

Written by bassist Rick Savage “Stagefright” is a complete, upbeat composition which works perfectly with the established Pyromania sound. Aside from some fake live crowd effects, which is the song’s only real drawback, the overall vibe of hyper sugar-fueled rock is reached eloquently. This pace is set by the opener “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”, which contains a dramatic beginning part that goes through a couple of variations before Clark’s fine main riff kicks in on this anthem would probably fit any classic eighties rock album.

The group shows the compositional diversity when they first retreat to slower, darker, and more measured music in “Too Late for Love”. Written by all members of the band (including Willis and Lange) and reminiscent of some material from their 1980 debut album On Through the Night, “Too Late for Love” is a very high quality and potent song which reached #9 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The only real weak spot on the album’s first side is the closer “Die Hard the Hunter”, which starts with some fake air raid effects and sounds forced and dated. An attempt to be super-melodramatic, the song lacks focus even when it later breaks in full “AC/DC” mode and feels a bit drawn out overall.
 

 
The finest track on the first side, is the song which really put Def Leppard on the map as the lead single from Pyromania. On “Photograph”, Elliot’s vocals are at their pristine apex. The song was the band at their peak and commanded absolute attention in early 1983 as the ascending vocals over the chorus hook tell the typical story of stalking and envy which the music drives with a kinetic passion of action. Sonically, there are also some treats, especially during the measured pre-chorus, which contain some slight synths and a cow bell to compliment the heavily distorted guitar riff.

The album’s second side begins with “Foolin'”, which works as an quasi-acoustic ballad before migrating to a later heavy arrangement. Savage’s bass is more potent than on any other track and the song’s multi-part progression works towards the hook, which elevated the song to Top 40 status. The defacto title track, it is clear that everything this album was trying to accomplish is wrapped up in the song “Rock of Ages”. The most indelible moment on the album and one of the highlight’s of Def Leppard’s career. The song kicks off with a German-like nonsense phrase used as a count-in by Lange and it’s title originated from Elliot glancing at a children’s hymn book. There are some charms along the way, such as the almost comical background voices and laughs and the song finishes very strongly, making it the last great moment on the album.

The album closes with some rather mediocre material. “Comin’ Under Fire” could have been another hit song, with the thumping bass and kick beat under the choppy guitar chords of the verse along with the full-fledged chorus chant. “Action! Not Words” is simply terrible, almost a parody of 80s hair metal, and the album would have been better without this song. The melodramatic “Billy’s Got a Gun” completes the weak ending for this otherwise fine album and includes a weird synth percussion during the outro.

Following the breakthrough of Pyromania, the band began writing material for a follow-up, with Mutt Lange initially joining in the sessions. Tragedy struck on New Year’s Eve 1984 when Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash. It would take another three years until the band would complete their much anticipated follow-up Hysteria in mid 1987.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.


1983 Images

 

Genesis 1983 album

Genesis

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Genesis 1983 albumAlthough it is titled like an eponymous debut, Genesis was actually the twelfth studio album by Genesis. The group decided to name it such because it is the first album on which all (three) members of the group helped compose each track. The album was a huge commercial success, reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic (#1 in England), remaining on the charts for a full calendar year, and eventually selling several million copies worldwide. While the 1980s version of the group deviated from the artistic realm, they still managed to be original within the pop realm and stretched the boundaries of “radio friendly-ness” with Genesis.

The album was recorded and released in 1983 and came smack in the middle of a very odd situation for the band. Lead singer and drummer Phil Collins had released two phenomenally successful solo albums with Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going along with a string of radio hits through 1981 and 1982. Collins had also played drums on two solo albums for former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and one album for former Genesis front man Peter Gabriel. Still Genesis, once a quintet which had lost two departing members in the late 1970s, remained a priority for the remaining three Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford.

The album was the second to be co-produced by Hugh Padgham as well as the second to be recorded at Fisher Lane Farm, a converted cowshed and cottage owned by the band. Collins’s early solo albums had a rather dark presence which carried over into the themes on Genesis. He also made heavy use of drums and well-effected percussion, giving the overall sound an edge while making it more accessible than most traditional, art/rock Genesis albums. In fact, one reviewer called this “a Genesis album for people who normally hate Genesis” and “great music for the masses”.

 


Genesis by Genesis
Released: October 3, 1983 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Genesis & Hugh Padgham
Recorded: Fisher Lane Farm, Surrey, England, May–August 1983
Side One Side Two
Mama
That’s All
Home by the Sea
Second Home by the Sea
Illegal Alien
Taking It All Too Hard
Just a Job to Do
Silver Rainbow
It’s Gonna Get Better
Band Musicians
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Vocals

 

Right from the start with the opener “Mama”, it is clear that the band borrows from some of the minimalist arrangements and sonic effects of Collins recent solo work. This very mechanical and slowly moving song migrates from being quiet and haunting to becoming ever more intense, slowly building with instrumentation until a full rock arrangement finally kicks in about five minutes into the song. The first single from the album, “Mama” reached the Top 10 in several European countries. Like awakening from a bitter nightmare, the light and entertaining “That’s All” could not contrast more from the vibe of “Mama”. Light, warm, and piano-driven, the song is a happy-go-lucky way to express the lyrical misery and contains a great middle organ solo by Banks, which is only topped by the excellent outro guitar lead by Rutherford. “That’s All”, was the band’s first U.S. Top 10 hit, peaking at #6.

“Home by the Sea” is a melodic adventure song which may have fit well with some of the more theatrical cuts from years past. Rutherford does excellent on bass, mainly stepping away from the guitar to let Banks’s keyboards drive most of the music. Lyrically, the storytelling song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find it is a prison, haunted by the ghosts who capture the intruder and force him to listen to their stories for the rest of his life. The most progressive part of the album, the song combines with the mainly instrumental “Second Home By the Sea” as a two=part suite. However, this second part is basically subtraction by addition as it is laced by ever-present electronic drums and unfocused keyboards which drown out the main funk guitar.
 

 
The second side begins with “Illegal Alien”, containing a nice blend of electronic percussion and effects with bouncy keyboard motifs. This is all topped by Collins catchy melody and several other sonic goodies with a great middle section filled with Caribbean/reggae motifs. The lyrics take a rather comical look at the frustrations of an illegal immigrant with Collins even trying a bit of an Mexican accent.

One of the finest tracks on the album, “Taking It All Too Hard”, is a ballad with a real edge. A combination of strong rhythm with topical electric piano and emotional vocals, along with just a splash of complimentary backing vocals, the song really shines, especially during the chorus parts (one of which was the song opening). “Just a Job to Do” is a pure eighties pop song, sounding like it came right out of Miami Vice. Musically, it is a frantic funk with bass patterns topped by a cheesy synth with the great vocal hook once again carrying the song to respectability. Lyrically, it tells the story of a private investigator chasing down his subject.

Genesis in 1983

Unfortunately, Genesis does not finish up on a very strong note. “Silver Rainbow” contains a big beat which feels very out of place among the other fine tracks on the album. When the song finally gains full focus, it sounds pleasant enough, but not enough to really carry it to respectability. The closer “It’s Gonna Get Better” tries too hard to make the most of synths and electronic effects and ultimately the album finishes much weaker than it potentially could have.

Following the release and success of Genesis Collins resumed his solo career, which would continue to produce hit songs and albums through the remainder of the decade. Rutherford followed suite with the formation of his solo studio group Mike + the Mechanics, which itself released several Top 40 hits in the mid 1980s, including the #1 single “The Living Years”. Like clockwork, Genesis returned three years later with the album Invisible Touch, another very successful album commercially.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Let's Dance by David Bowie

Let’s Dance by David Bowie

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Let's Dance by David BowieAn artist who seemed to constantly reinvent himself, David Bowie created a stylized and soulful new-wave album with a romantic signature on the 1983 album Let’s Dance. It was Bowie’s 15th overall studio album and was co-produced by Nile Rodgers, formerly of Chic, which gave the album (through implicit and explicit suggestion) a post-disco novelty. The result was an album which broke a long commercial slump (Bowie hadn’t had a Top Ten album in seven years) while sacrificing some of the critical cred that Bowie had built with his previous three releases known as the “Berlin Trilogy”, (1977′s Low, 1979′s Lodger and 1980′s Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. )

Rodgers was not Bowie’s original choice for the album, as he planned to once again use producer Tony Visconti as he had on the previous five studio albums (including the three listed above). However, Bowie suddenly switched to Rodgers and Visconti was not informed until two weeks into the recording process for Let’s Dance. Bowie also used the album and its subsequent MTV videos to reinvent his image for the 1980s. Having just signed a big deal with EMI Records, Bowie and Rodgers worked to produce a commercially viable album that fused the popular sub-genres of party-funk with the “big drum” eighties dance with just enough Avant Garde edge to keep it interesting.

The album is also notable as one of the earlist recordings for blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, who met Bowie at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival and agreed to play on the project despite admitting to being unfamiliar with much of Bowie’s music. However, Vaughan was impressed with Bowie’s knowledge of funky Texas blues and the two talked for hours on the subject.

 


Let’s Dance by David Bowie
Released: April 14, 1983 (EMI)
Produced by: David Bowie & Nile Rodgers
Recorded: Power Station, New York City, December 1982
Side One Side Two
Modern Love
China Grove
Let’s Dance
Without You
Ricochet
Criminal World
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
Shake It
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Horn Arrangements
Nile Rodgers – Guitars, Horn Arrangements
Carmine Rojas – Bass
Tony Thompson – Drums

 

Let’s Dance comes tearing out of the gate with “Modern Love”, about as upbeat and effervescent rocker by David Bowie as you will find in his vast catalog. The track starts with a unique, deadened-guitar sound, which quickly blends with the strong and consistent drum beat by Tony Thompson, who provides this quality throughout the album. Bowie has claimed the song is inspired by Little Richard, and he uses a “rock voice” which almost to the point of being strained. The third single released from the album, “Modern Love” peaked at #2 in the UK while hitting the Top 20 in America.

“China Girl” is a reinterpreted version of a song Bowie wrote for Iggy Pop on that artist’s 1977 album The Idiot. An almost deceptive track, which morphs from a light and poppy tune into something much deeper (even darker) during the bridges with ever-odd sections that build the tension until returning to the original chorus. This song (which also peaked at #2 in the UK) contains a strong bass riff by Carmine Rojas along with bright guitar chords beneath the soft and directed vocals by Bowie.

“Let’s Dance” is David Bowie’s fastest ever selling single, reaching the top of the charts. Released ahead of the album by the same name, the song set the pace for the great commercial success Bowie enjoyed in 1983. It is built on a moderate but methodical bass line with Bowie using yet another style of singing voice above a perfect dance drumbeat. There are some great extended middle parts, which go ludicrously far near in hammering home the brittle funk intent of the song and album, as well as Bowie’s latest image transformation.

The fine original first side of the album concludes with “Without You”. A bit off-beat, yet still very refined, this song is almost like soft version of disco with its high-register vocals, strong bass presence, slight female backing vocals, and just a touch of funky guitar overlay.

However, Let’s Dance is a very uneven record, as the second side sounds like a much cheaper version of the first. “Ricochet” seems to try a bit too hard to get the off-beat syncopation and the result is a song which sounds forced, especially with the elongated arrangement and overuse of spoken voice effect. “Criminal World” is a remake of a track by the glam rock group Metro and employs some eighties production techniques and arrangements. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is a bit more intense but still kind of standard track, with the only real highlight being Vaughan’s lead guitar. The closer “Shake It”, returns to the very funky dance formula (almost an alternate version of “Let’s Dance”) which, if nothing else, solidifies Rodgers influence on this album.

Let’s Dance peaked at #4 and actually Bowie’s first-ever Platinum-selling album, although later sales of earlier albums surpassed that feat. The surprise commercial success of the album proved to be a double-edged sword – it did introduce a whole new generation to the artist but also initiated a prolonged artistic “slump” starting with the disappointing follow-up Tonight a year later, and lasting the better part of a decade.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.

 

Rebel Yell by Billy Idol

Rebel Yell by Billy Idol

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Rebel Yell by Billy IdolRebel Yell is the second studio album by Billy Idol, released during the height of his popularity in late 1983. Four charting hits were spawned from this album, which reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard album charts and has been certified 2x platinum. Idol also gained great popularity beyond the United States and his native Britain, including countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Sonically, Rebel Yell fully completed Idol’s evolution from the punk rock of the seventies to a pop synthesis sound which helped define the sound of the eighties – big guitars, thunderous drums and streamlined synths beneath edgy lyrics and vocals.

While Idol grabbed the marquee, guitarist and keyboardist Steve Stevens was a full partner in creating and composing the music, as he had been on the 1982 debut Billy Idol. That album found surprising mainstream success, due in part to the new MTV and a new wave “British Invasion” of 1982. To fully capitalize on this success, in early 1983 Chrysalis Records re-released “Dancing with Myself” (originally from a 1981 EP) and produced a top-notch music video, which got heavy play on MTV for six months and built anticipation for this next album. Idol got the name of the album (and its lead-off song) after drinking with the Rolling Stones who had a bottle of liquor called “Rebel Yell.”

Producer Keith Forsey also returned to keep the core team in tact from the debut album. As the long-time drummer for Donna Summer, Forsey injected a decidedly pop and dance-oriented approach which surprising blended well with Idol’s strong and snarling vocals. Along with producing every Billy Idol album of the era, Forsey would go on to be a major player in the 1980s pop music scene, producing a string of successful movie soundtracks (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club, Top Gun) as well as composing a few Top Ten hits.
 


Rebel Yell by Billy Idol
Released: November 10, 1983 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York City, 1982-1983
Side One Side Two
Rebel Yell
Daytime Drama
Eyes Without a Face
Blue Highway
Flesh For Fantasy
Catch My Fall
Crank Call
(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows
The Dead Next Door
Primary Musicians
Billy Idol – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Steve Stevens – Guitars, Bass, Synths
Judi Dozier – Keyboards
Thommy Price – Drums

 
The album starts strong with the unique arpeggio and big beat of the title track “Rebel Yell”. During the recording sessions this song was the first to use a live drummer, as a bulk of the tracks used electronically programmed percussion. Stevens and Forsey heard drummer Thommy Price playing with the band Scandal in a neighboring studio and invited him to play on the album. The arpeggio riff was developed by Stevens in the studio on both guitars and synths. Although “Rebel Yell” is the most famous track on the album, it failed to chart upon its original single release and only climbed to #46 when re-released in 1985.

While the opening title track is definitely the true theme song for the album, it is also a bit deceiving as it is decidedly more powerful than the more laid-back material of the rest of the album. “Daytime Drama” has a rather weak, metallic rhythm which, unfortunately, fails to complement the fine guitars by Stevens, which are the only real highlights of this song.
 

 
“Eyes Without a Face” is the finest pure song on the album and one of Idol’s most successful on the charts. This was one of the first written for the album and is notable for the French female chorus vocals of Perri Lister, Idol’s longtime girlfriend. Lister sings ‘Les yeux sans visage’ (French for ‘eyes without a face’), and the title of the 1960 horror movie which inspired the song’s title. Here the electronic percussion works perfectly in sync with the steady bass and various synth and guitar riffs, all under Idol’s melodic crooning on one of his most unique tracks. “Blue Highway” completes the album’s fine first side as an upbeat, new wave track with great vocals and melody, much like the material on the debut album.

Unfortunately, Rebel Yell is a bit uneven as the original second side of the album is not as strong. “Flesh for Fantasy” contains a rapid funk-infused guitar above electronic drums, making it a rather cheesy pop song with a provocative title. “Catch My Fall” is a better track, built on a steady bass line and including some saxophone by guest Mars Williams and a definitive lead section which is a guitar highlight for Stevens. Both of these songs were released as singles.

“Crank Call” has an-almost hard rock/hair-band feel, complete with good riffs, an anthemic hook, and a good sonic mix of guitar and keyboard textures. “(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows” is nothing much more than a formulaic, upbeat pop song, while the closer “The Dead Next Door” is texture rich with synths ala Brian DePalma, but the style eerie style falls short with little more substance than Idol’s vocal melodies.

In 1985, Idol released a quasi-compilation of extended, dance-oriented tracks from his first two album called Vital Idol, spawning more charting hits. The team of Idol, Stevens, and Forsey returned for Whiplash Smile in 1986, which sold well but marked the beginning of a slow decline from pop super-stardom for Billy Idol.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.