Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and Palmer

Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

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Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and PalmerEmerson, Lake, & Palmer reached their progressive climax with their fourth studio album Brain Salad Surgery. It was the group’s most ambitious and commercially successful album, with a mixture of rock and classical along with some cutting edge electronic sounds, used for the first time on any of the group’s records. The album was the first on the trio’s new Manticore label and was produced by the group’s guitarist, bassist, and lead vocalist Greg Lake. Lake co-wrote the album’s lyrics with former King Crimson bandmate Pete Sinfield, who was also signed to the group’s new label. This was the first time any outside musician appeared on an album by the trio.

Brain Salad Surgery was a concerted effort by the group to produce an album which could be performed in its entirety live, unlike the highly overdubbed material of their previous album Trilogy. Employing some of the tactics used by Pink Floyd, the band wrote some of the music in a cinema, “live” on stage, reworking arrangements to capture the emotion of the film. Most of the material was composed as instrumental pieces with lyrics added to some later on. Three instrumentals remained on the final album, while three more (“When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind I’ll Be Your Valentine”, “Tiger In a Spotlight”, and the title song “Brain Salad Surgery”) were omitted because of time constraints.

The album’s unique title came from a lyric in Dr. John’s song “Right Place, Wrong Time”, released earlier in 1973 which stated; “just need a little brain salad surgery, got to cure this insecurity.” The album cover artwork was done by the artist Giger, integrating an industrial mechanism with a human skull along with the latest ELP logo (which Giger also created).


Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer
Released: November 19, 1973 (Manticore)
Produced by: Greg Lake
Recorded: Advision Studios and Olympic Studios, London, June–September 1973
Side One Side Two
Jerusalem
Toccata
Still, You Turn Me On
Benny the Bouncer
Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 1
Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 2
Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression
Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression
Band Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Keith Emerson – Piano, Organ, Keyboards, Accordion
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

This album packed with dynamic flourishes of musical virtuosity begins in a rather subdued, if not standard way. “Jerusalem” is an adaptation of Hubert Parry’s hymn with lyrics Taken from the preface to William Blake’s “Milton” poem. This only managed to get it banned by the BBC for potential “blasphemy”. Musically, the organ is a little overwhelming in the mix with not much bass presence at all, but it is also notable as the first known track to use the Moog Apollo, the first polyphonic synthesizer still in prototype at the time. The album quickly picks up with the instrumental “Toccata”, sounding more like the top-end prog rock of the era, which the group was known for. Keith Emerson‘s deeper rudiments are of the type that would be replicated by the band Rush on guitar and bass years later, and the mid-section contains a long percussive solo by Carl Palmer with more synth effects mixed in. “Toccata” draws from the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concerto, whom Emerson flew to Geneva to discuss his arrangement with in order obtain permission.

Lake’s acoustic ballad “Still, You Turn Me On” is poetic and beautiful with layered riffs and a nice counter-balance of melody and song craft to the furious instrumental which precedes it. This short but poignant song contains profound yet romantic lyrics which earned it a fair share of radio play;

“Do you wanna be an angel, do you wanna be a star, do you wanna play some magic on my guitar / Do you wanna be a poet, do you wanna be my string, you could be anything…”

Sinfield’s first lyrical contribution comes with “Benny the Bouncer”, an electronic honky-tonk of sort with comical lyrics which are oddly vocalized, giving a bit of light fare before the album moves into its side-plus extended piece.

“Karn Evil 9” is a suite whose three movements comprise roughly a side and a quarter of the album where the band pulls out all the sonic stops. The most well-known section is “1st Impression, Part 2” with the famous “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” lyric, which was later used as a title for a live album. The story of “Karn Evil 9” tells of a futuristic world from which “all manner of evil and decadence had been banished.” The decadence of the old world is preserved through exhibits that are part of a futuristic carnival show, which exhibits depravities. This story is told lyrically through the first and third impressions, with the second impression being a three piece jazz improv with Emerson on piano, Lake on Bass, and Palmer on drums. The piece also includes its share of synthesizers with a steel drum part and Emerson’s voice fed through a modulator to sound like a child’s voice, Emerson’s only official vocal credit on an ELP record.

Following the success of Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson Lake, and Palmer went on some very successful (albeit extravagant) tours through 1974, including one performance broadcast nationwide in the United States. Then then went on an untimely three-year break to re-invent their music, but never again were able to capture their momentum, leading to the group’s break by the end of the decade.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

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Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John We’ve been down this road before of critiquing double albums which would have worked better as a single album. See our recent review of Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones or stayed tuned for our look at The Beatles’ White Album later this year. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the 1973 double-length album by Elton John may also fit this mold. The album starts extremely strong, with deeply produced and thoughtful compositions through the first side and a half, but then the bottom falls out with a barrage of trite filler before a slight recovery towards the end of side four. The album comes at the end of an incredibly prolific, four and a half year span for John and lyricist Bernie Taupin. In that span which began in mid-1969, the pair had composed and recorded a live album, a film soundtrack, and six studio albums before this double seventh album.

After a failed attempt to record in Jamaica, the album was recorded in a 18th century castle outside Paris, France called the Château d’Hérouville, where Elton John had recorded his previous two albums, Honky Château in 1972 and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player earlier in 1973. Taupin reportedly wrote all the lyrics to the album’s 17 songs in two and a half weeks while John composed most of the music in three days while in Jamaica.

The album was produced by Gus Dudgeon, who was not initially expecting to produce a two-record collection. However, John and Taupin had composed 22 tracks for the album and ended up recording 18 of these (two of which were fused together for the opening medley). This diverse double album recapped many of the styles (for good and bad) which John explored through his first four years in the spotlight and even added a bit of prog rock with the epic opener “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”. This eleven minute epic starts with a long, multi-part instrumental with doomy organs accented by synths performed by engineer David Hentschel, and of course plenty of piano, all meant to replicate the type of music John envisioned played at his own funeral. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is riff-driven and melodic with a backing vocal chorus and a very active guitar by Davey Johnstone.


Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Released: October 5, 1973 (MCA)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, Hérouville, France, May 1973
Side One Side Two
Funeral For a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding
Candle In the Wind
Bennie and the Jets
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
This Song Has No Title
Grey Seal
Jamaica Jerk-Off
I’ve Seen That Movie Too
Side Three Side Four
Sweet Painted Lady
The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)
Dirty Little Girl
All the Girls Love Alice
Your Sister Can’t Twist
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Roy Rogers
Social Disease
Harmony
Primary Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano, Organ, Mellotron
Davey Johnstone – Acoustic, Electric, & Slide Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Dee Murray – Bass, Vocals
Nigel Olsson – Drums, Vocals

The ballad “Candle In the Wind” was a recurring theme throughout Elton John’s career, with three separate versions released as singles and reaching the pop charts in 1974, 1988, and 1997. This original version has the most rock “decor” with a strongly distorted guitar above the piano melody and more great harmonies, fitting the epic theme of this album. It’s lyrics pay homage to Marilyn Monroe, with the actual phrase “candle in the wind” first used in tribute to Janis Joplin.

“Bennie and the Jets” is a choppy piano song with glam overtones about a fictional band (much like David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars). It would go on to become one of John’s most popular songs, but the artist was against releasing it as a single in the first place because original version in its first carnation was too “dry”. Some live effects were added by Dudgeon to give the song some atmosphere, which livened it up enough for John to capitulate.

The title song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is the finest composition on the album. It was written by Taupin, playing homage to the first movie he even saw as a child, The Wizard of Oz, and facing the realities of life as he had now grown up. John performs a signature vocal part in an extraordinarily high register, which Dudgeon claims is totally natural and completely improvised by John in the studio. The slowly-building arrangement reaches a full orchestral climax that leaves the listener wanting for more.

Side two has a couple of more fine tunes, the piano folk “This Song Has No Title” with light flute and soaring vocal melodies, and the upbeat “Grey Seal”, with a driving bass by Dee Murray to complement John’s boogie piano, with a definite 70s pre-disco sound. Then the album reaches its first song to not feel cohesive nor epic, like a bad joke in a serious drama, called “Jamaica Jerk Off”, a dreadful mock-reggae. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” finishes the side in an attempt at another mellow classic that doesn’t quite measure up to the brilliance of “Rocket Man” or “Tiny Dancer”.

Elton John band

The album’s third side is, by far, the most forgettable, “Sweet Painted Lady” is a “shock” song about a prostitute where Taupin uses explicit and cheap lyrics (“getting paid for being laid, I guess that’s the name of the game”) in a lame attempt to add some sleaze to the act. “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)” has a slight “The Night Chicago Died” or “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” quality, but is otherwise very forgettable. “Dirty Little Girl” is essentially “Bennie and the Jets” reformed in both music and melody to present a screed against a promiscuous woman. The only somewhat interesting song on the side is “All the Girls Love Alice”, about a young groupie with lesbian appeal, that musically returns to the higher quality.

The final side starts with “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, a totally retro tune right down to the bad Sha-Na-Na-style harmonies, with the only really interesting element being John’s Fafsa organ lead during the bridge. A much more convincing rocker is “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, a straight-up hard rock song with drummer Nigel Olsson shining brightest along with the driving, riff-driven electric guitar of Johnstone. The song was a surprise hit single, reaching the top 10 in the UK and the top 20 in the US, despite being banned on many radio stations fearing that the title would incite violence.

The final three songs on the album gains back some of the credibility built up earlier. “Roy Rogers” is a lazy country waltz with guitar pedal effects meant to replicate a steel guitar. “Social Disease” is also country-tinged with barking dogs and inclusion of banjo and twangy guitars by Johnstone above the choppy piano of John. “Harmony” closes the record finely with acoustic guitar, thoughtful, melodic progressions, and (of course) fine vocal harmonies. The song was considered as a fourth single, but by then it was too close to Elton John’s eighth album, 1974’s Caribou.

In all, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a very good album (filler and all) and was the climax of Elton John’s early, artistically lucrative, peak years. His output is terms of quality and quantity began to thin out through the late 1970s, but he would come back strong in the 1980s with another successful phase in his career.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin

Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin

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Houses of the Holy by Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin took stock of their phenomenal fame with Houses of the Holy, with deep contributions from each member of the rock quartet. This fifth album was released in 1973, nearly a full year after it was recorded in the Spring of 1972 at Stargroves, an English country estate owned by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. The major reason for the album’s delay was trouble with designing and printing the unique album cover by the artistic company Hipgnosis, with the band completely rejecting the initial artwork and the first prints of the final artwork accidentally coming out with a strong purple tint. When they finally got the artwork correct, the album was banned from sale in many locations because of the naked children on the cover who pay homage to the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood’s End.

Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page (like all Zeppelin albums), the album featured sophisticated layered guitars, the addition of obscure instrumentation, and other rich production techniques. Beyond the Stargroves recordings, the album contains recordings from Headley Grange (site of recordings of their previous album Led Zeppelin IV) with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, along with Olympic Studios in London and Electric Lady Studios in New York. There were also several recorded songs not included on Houses of the Holy but released on later albums such as Physical Graffiti and Coda.

The album featured styles and sub-genres not heard on previous Led Zeppelin albums, such as funk, reggae, and doo-wop. The album is an indirect tribute to their fan base, who were showing up in record numbers to their live shows.  It perfectly straddles the band’s early, more blues-based period from their later work, which consisted of more richly produced studio albums that tilted more towards pop and modern rock. Bass player and keyboardist  John Paul Jones temporarily left the band for a few days during this album’s recording but soon returned and stayed with the band until the end.


Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin
Released: March 28, 1973 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations, January-August 1972
Side One Side Two
The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song
Over the Hills and Far Away
The Crunge
Dancing Days
D’Yer Ma’ker
No Quarter
The Ocean
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals
Jimmy Page – Guitars, Theramin
John Paul Jones – Bass, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

The fact that this album features different sounds is evident right from the top with “The Song Remains the Same”. This song is odd on several fronts, from the pitch-effect vocals of Robert Plant to the extremely bright multi-tracked guitars of Page. Still, the song is great and is set up as a sort of journey, not a rotation. The song is a jam that feels loose yet does not get lost for one second, due mainly to the steady and strong drumming of John Bonham. The song was originally an instrumental which was given the working title “The Overture”, before Plant added lyrics and the title to it. It was originally going to be an intro for “The Rain Song”, and these songs were often coupled together in concert. “The Rain Song” Is an extended piece with eloquent acoustic and electric guitars weaved together. The song also features a long mellotron section (some would say too long) played by Jones, adding a surreal orchestral effect above Page’s guitar before returned to the climatic final verses and soft and excellent guitar outtro.

Parts of “Over the Hills and Far Away” written by Page and Plant during the 1970 sessions at the Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur for the album Led Zeppelin III. The song is mostly acoustic throughout but works into a harder rock section during the middle, making it one of the most dynamic Led Zeppelin songs ever. Jones and Bonham add a tight rhythm to Page and Plant’s etheral dynamics. The song was released as a US single, but failed to reach the “Top 40”, faring much better on classic rock radio through the decades. Over the Hills and Far Away single“The Crunge” is a funk tribute to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown and evolved out of a jam session built around Bonham’s off-beat drums and a bass riff by Jones. This song features an overdubbed VCS3 synthesizer to replicated the funk “horn” section, which gives it a totally unique sound of its own. During the jam Plant calls for a “bridge” (imitating Brown’s habit of shouting instructions to his band during live recordings). When no such section materializes, the song (and first side) uniquely ends with the spoken “Where’s that Confounded Bridge?”

The closest Led Zeppelin ever came to writing a pure pop song, “Dancing Days” was actually inspired by an Indian tune that Page and Plant heard while traveling in Mumbai. The guitar overdubs are simply masterful in this upbeat song about summer nights and young love. It was played live as early as November 1971 and, although not officially released as a single, it received heavy radio play in the UK. “D’Yer Ma’ker” was released as a single and became the band’s final Top 40 hit (although they didn’t have many of those). The song has a unique sound with Bonham’s exaggerated drum pounding backing a reggae-inspired riff by Page and Jones and Plant’s bubblegum pop vocals. The distinctive drum sound was created by placing three microphones a good distance away from Bonham’s drums, giving him much natural reverb to make the banging sound more majestic. The name of the song is derived from an old joke about Jamaica, and was often mispronounced as “Dire Maker” by those not privvy to the joke.

Led Zeppelin in 1973

John Paul Jones centerpiece “No Quarter” provides a great contrast with a much darker piece about viking conquest, with the title derived from the military practice of showing no mercy to a vanquished opponent. The song features a distinct, heavily treated electric piano throughout with an acoustic piano solo by Jones in the long mid-section. Page doubles up with electric guitars and a theremin for effect, while Plant’s voice is deep and distorted. The album concludes with the upbeat rocker “The Ocean”, which refers to the “sea of fans” at the band’s concerts. Launching from a voice intro by Bonham, the song returns to the heavy riff-driven anthems that were popular on their earlier albums. But this song does contain its own unique parts, including an overdubbed vocal chorus, performed a Capella, by Plant in the middle and a doo-wop outro section that contains a boogie bass with strong guitar overdubs, bringing the album to a climatic end.

Houses of the Holy has been certified eleven times platinum and is often included on “greatest albums” lists. It is an odd but brilliant album by Led Zeppelin which finds a balance uncommon by hard rock bands of any era.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Album Of the Year, 1972

Machine Head by Deep Purple

Album Of the Year, 1972

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Machine Head by Deep PurpleDeep Purple is often overlooked as one of the truly great classic rock acts. This may be because they reigned during the prime of so many other great British rock groups who crowded out this band’s accomplishments. Or, perhaps it is because of the dizzying amount of lineup changes and their various “Mark XX” phases. In any case, this was a top-notch act and they were never better than they were on their 1972 classic Machine Head. This was the sixth overall studio album by the band and the third by their classic “Mark II” lineup, which consisted of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, and Ian Paice.

The album is famous on several fronts, but mostly due to circumstances surrounding its planned recording at Montreux Casino in Switzerland, a large arena built in a complex of casinos, restaurants and entertainment facilities. The Casino was slated to be closed for the winter after a final concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers on December 4, 1971, after which Deep Purple would begin recording. However, an audience fired a flare into the roof, sparking a fire which left the Casino in ashes. After an aborted attempt to record in another theatre, the band ended up recording the album in a couple of adjacent hallways and a bathroom at The Grand Hotel, outside Montreux, with the mobile recording unit owned by the Rolling Stones. The whole experience was memorialized in the hit song “Smoke On the Water”.

Musically, the album seems to strike the perfect balance between accessible hard rock and instrumental jams. Just about every track contains multiple leads showcasing the musical talents of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard virtuoso Jon Lord, while remaining relatively short. upbeat, and melodic. This proved to be a potent formula for 1972 hard rock.


Machine Head by Deep Purple
Released: March 1972 (EMI)
Produced by: Deep Purple
Recorded: Grand Hotel, Montreux, Switzerland, December 1971
Side One Side Two
Highway Star
Maybe I’m a Leo
Pictures of Home
Never Before
Smoke On the Water
Lazy
Space Truckin’
Band Musicians
Ian Gillan – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Jon Lord – Keyboards
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums

The ultimate car song. “Highway Star” kicks off the album, taking the traditional Beach Boys’ subject matter of cars and girls to a whole new sonic level. The song was born when a curious reporter asked Blackmore to demonstrate how he composed a song. Both Blackmore and Lord have extended lead sections, with Lord’s borrowing heavily from Bach, all above a pulsating rhythm which would influence hard rock and heavy metal for decades to come. Vocalist Ian Gillan shoes off his dynamic singing, which rivaled anyone from the day save Zeppelin’sRobert Plant.

Speaking of Zeppelin, that band’s influence is definitely present in “Maybe I’m a Leo”, a riff-driven tune with deliberately slow but powerful drumming by Ian Paice. The curious thing here is why Gillan was so reserved on this palette which was custom made for high-pitched vocals to soar. Although all songs on Machine Head are officially credited to all five band members, this one was written mostly by bassist Roger Glover. “Pictures of Home” is Deep Purple at their most poignant, a driving rhythm topped by sweeping vocals pushing out deep lyrical motifs, all accented by the distinct, distorted Hammond organ of John Lord. Glover even gets a short bass solo in the middle section before Blackmore warms for lift-off before a surprising false stop and comeback makes the song all the more interesting. Side one concludes with “Never Before”, which has a funky intro that breaks into a pure riff-driven rock verse and a pretty standard hard rock song.

Deep Purple, early 1970s

One of the most popular songs by the band, “Smoke On the Water” also contains one of the most famous riffs in rock history. In fact, the band would play this up in concert by going through a short showcase of the “most famous riffs” before landing on this one as an intro to “Smoke On the Water”. The song intro builds with each member coming in at separate times before breaking into the verse with its literal story telling of the recording of this album. The title of the song was coined by Glover after he dreamed of smoke from casino fire spreading over Lake Geneva. The lyrics pay homage to “Funky Claude”, who is director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs, who helped some of the audience escape the fire. A sculpture along the lake shore has been erected in Montreaux with the band’s name, song title, and the famous riff in musical notes.

“Lazy” is the most jam-oriented song on the album, with a long four and a half minute instrumental before finally reaching an upbeat blues arrangement during verses and choruses. The very start of the intro organ sounds a lot like the psychedelic Deep Purple of the late 1960s, but breaks into a very bluesy riff complete with boogie-bass by Glover. Naturally, Lord and Blackmore have their own lead sections during the jam and Gillan even adds a harmonica solo between the verses.

The album concludes with the fantastic “Space Truckin'”. The theme and lyrics sound like they describes a Saturday morning cartoon for cool kids and the music has contains choreographed parts during the verses and some frantic riffing during the chorus. But it is Paice who outshines everyone else with his top-notch drumming throughout this song. There is a very slight guitar lead during the bridge which quickly gives way to the percussive potpourri, as if Blackmore knew to step out the way of an oncoming train. The song leaves the listener begging for more as it fades out to finish the album.

Machine Head reached number 1 in the UK and number 7 in the US, remaining on the charts for over two years. More importantly was its influence on several rock bands spanning many genres and years. Deep Purple was at the top of their game but followed up with a weak 1973 effort, Who Do We Think We Are before Gillan left the band (for the first time) later that year.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

Thick As a Brick by Jethro Tull

Thick As a Brick by Jethro Tull

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Thick As a Brick by Jethro TullThick as a Brick may be the album that brought progressive rock to its ultimate end, being one long song that covered both sides of this fifth studio album by Jethro Tull. It was deliberately crafted as an “over the top” concept album, to the point where all the lyrics were credited to a fictional child prodigy named “Gerald Bostick”. These lyrics and music were actually written by the band’s front man, Ian Anderson, and it may have actually been intended as a parody on the direction that prog-rock was headed in 1972 as well as a response to the rock critics who incorrectly labeled the group’s preceding album Aqualung as a “concept” album.

Whether or not this was a parody, Thick As a Brick was Jethro Tull’s first legitimate offering of deep progressive rock, notable for its many musical themes, time signature changes and use of vast instrumentation such as harpsichord, xylophone, saxophone, violin, and a string section. Anderson performed most of these exotic instruments himself including his  signature flute. He was backed by a solid rock outfit led by guitarist Martin Barre, which gave the band a potent contrast and unique and interesting sound. The band performed most of the album on tour for nearly a year.

The original album contained a fictional multiple-paged small-town English newspaper called The St. Cleve Chronicle. Dated 7 January 1972, this “newspaper” includes the entire lyrics to “Thick as a Brick”, which is presented as a poem written by an 8-year-old literary prodigy, Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, whose disqualification from a poetry contest is the focus of the front page story.


Thick As a Brick by Jethro Tull
Released: March 10, 1972 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Ian Anderson
Recorded: Morgan Studios, London, December, 1971
Side One Side Two
Thick As a Brick (Part I) Thick As a Brick (Part II)
Band Musicians
Ian Anderson – Lead Vocals, Flute, Guitars, Violin, Saxophone
Martin Barre – Guitars
John Evan – Piano, Organ
Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond – Bass, Vocals
Barriemore Barlow – Drums, Percussion

This past year with the release of the 40th anniversary edition, the supporting website broke the album (and song) into sections or digital parts. The opening “Really Don’t Mind” (listed as “Thick As a Brick (Edit 1)” on some compilations) is the most popular portion of the album. A mainly acoustic folk song with a complimenting flute part, this opening portion contains the most brilliant lyrics on the album and the three minute edited version is considered one of the all-time classic by the band, having been played on many classic rock radio stations in several nations.

“See There a Son Is Born” has one vocal chant part before breaking into the first real jam of the song, led by the organ lead of John Evan. “The Poet and the Painter” begins with a dramatic march held together drummer Barriemore Barlow before breaking into a more traditional prog-rock song. This also features the first real flourishes of flute by Anderson and an extended funk jam section over the animated bass of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. Evan returns in full force with the section labeled “From the Upper Class” (listed as “Thick As a Brick (Edit 4)” on some compilations), which seems to start off unsure but later falls in line to form an upbeat and catchy riff that sticks out as one of the more accessible sections of this extended piece. All players get in tightly on this jam with the main riff seeming to ascend infinitely.

Jethro Tull onstage 1972

The next sequence may be the finest sequence of the album. “You Curl Your Toes in Fun” returns to the same opening acoustic riff under a different melody before nicely passing into the piano progression and driving bass of “Childhood Heroes”, which also contains the finest vocals on the album by Anderson, closing out the first side and first half of the album.

Side two breaks into “See There a Man Is Born”, a sequel to the second progression of the first side, complete with a couple short yet wild drum solos by Barlow and a couple of false endings with weird reprises. “Clear White Circles” is the third section to use the main acoustic riff offset by some prog-oriented rudimentary sections. The dark folk of “Legends and Believe in the Day” leads into the theatrical slow rock riffs by Barre and elongated vocal patterns by Anderson. Towards the end of this section, the musicians again seem a bit unsure where they will go next before finally catching fire with the certainty of “Tales of Your Life” which contains a flight-of-the-bumblebee type solo with flute, harpsichord and guitar all joining in on the fun. The album gets a little repetitive during this final sequence before finally reaching the concluding verse which returns to the chorus of the very first “Thick As a Brick” theme, bring the album full circle.

In April of this year, Ian Anderson released a sequel album called Thick As a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?, which focuses on the fictional boy genius author of the original album forty years later. This follow-up album presents five divergent, hypothetical life stories for Bostock and follows the style of the mock-newspaper (The St Cleve Chronicle) of the original Thick As a Brick album, which now is online at StCleve.com.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

Honky Chateau by Elton John

Honky Château by Elton John

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Honky Chateau by Elton JohnAlthough barely three years into his international career, Elton John was already on his fifth major label album by mid 1972 with Honky Château. It featured John’s regular touring band, including new guitarist and background vocalist Davey Johnstone . The album was a transitional one for John as it bridged the singer/songwriter formula of his early career with the more pop/rock oriented music he would produce later. There is also much diversity and depth on this album; spanning from songs with deep, introspective or even cynical tones to those which are light, upbeat, and follow the pattern of “good time” rock and roll.

In 1967, John had established a songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin, when they both answered the same ad. During the late 1960s, the two worked primarily as staff songwriters at various English studios before Elton John’s debut album, Empty Sky in 1969, followed by three more studio albums and a movie soundtrack through 1970 and 1971.

Honky Château is a bit lighter than its immediate predecessor Madman Across the Water and features an eclectic mix of ballads, rockers, blues, and country-rock. It comes at the dawning of Elton John’s creative apex with song-craft skill and dynamic performance.


Honky Chateau by Elton John
Released: May 19, 1972 (Uni)
Produced by: Gus Dudgeon
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, Hérouville, France, January 1972
Side One Side Two
Honky Cat
Mellow
I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself
Susie (Dramas)
Rocket Man
Salvation
Slave
Amy
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Hercules
Band Musicians
Elton John – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Davey Johnstone – Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin, Vocals
Dee Murray – Bass, Vocals
Nigel Olsson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The fast and spirited “Honky Cat” kicks off the album with a choppy piano tune that contains a touch of banjo by Johnstone playing banjo. This Top Ten pop song is accented by a horn section and is mirrored by the closing “cat” song “Hercules”. “Mellow” is a slow tempo piano ballad which gains a bit of funk during the chorus and contains a very odd yet melodic organ solo by John. The tongue-in-cheek parody “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” maintains the New Orleans-style atmosphere while dealing with the serious subject of suicide. “Susie (Dramas)” once again returns to the choppy, upbeat piano template but with a cool guitar riff during choruses.

“Rocket Man” is the most famous song from this album, reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and inspired by a shooting star sighting by Taupin. The lyrics describe an astronaut’s mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to complete his mission. The song really stands out sonically with atmospheric textures, showcasing the talents of producer Gus Dudgeon. The production also features the layered vocal harmonies provided by Johnstone along with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson.

Side two of the album is filled with mainly pleasant yet unremarkable songs. “Salvation” fits the early 1970s singer/songwriter mold with an almost-Gospel backing choir. “Slave” is driven by a melodic acoustic rhythm with a great topical electric guitar with excellent chorus effect and a definite country feel with some pedal steel and banjo by Johnstone. “Amy” returns to the “honky piano” but with a rhythm that at times seems unsure. But the one song that shines on the second side is “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, a simply beautiful and elegant ballad that looks at New York City from the street-level view. This emotionally charged song best illustrates the songwriting skills of John/Taupin, using minimal instrumentation but achieving so much melody and movement with just piano, mandolin, and very melodic vocals.

Honky Château became Elton John’s first number one album in the United States and was eventually certified platinum. It also set this artist up for the most successful year of his career in 1973.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

Fragile by Yes

Fragile by Yes

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Fragile by YesFragile, the fourth album by Yes is really a bridge between its rock-influenced predecessor, The Yes Album, and the nearly pure prog albums which would follow. The album features four tracks of full band performances, three of which were of eight minutes length or longer interspersed by five short tracks each showcasing an individual member of the band. This approach makes for a very interesting and dynamic mix as some laid back and introspective, individual tracks give way to a much bolder, harder, and more aggressive style of playing by the band as a whole during the full-lineup extended tracks.

The album was recorded in September 1971 and co-produced by Eddy Offord, who worked on most of the band’s earliest material. During the recordings there was a major lineup change, reportedly due to keyboardist Tony Kaye’s refusal to embrace the Moog synthesizer and stick exclusively to the Hammond organ. Kaye was replaced by Rick Wakeman. Often using as many as a dozen keyboards on stage, Wakeman added a bit flair to the band’s performance and completed the picture of their classic lineup.

More than any other album, Fragile is an absolute showcase for bassist Chris Squire, who also happens to be the only person to appear on every Yes album (a band known for constant lineup shifting). Squire may have been the first to truly bring this instrument, which is normally buried in the low end of the mix, to the forefront and in unique and inventive ways. Although the album was released in November 1971 in the UK, it was held over until January 1972 across the Atlantic, because there was still chart momentum for The Yes Album in the states.


Fragile by Yes
Released: January, 1972 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Yes and Eddie Offord
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, September 1971
Side One Side Two
Roundabout
Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side of the Sky
Five Per Cent for Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood For a Day
Heart Of the Sunrise
Band Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Organ, Synths
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion

The opener “Roundabout” is the ultimate journey song, a musical odyssey which moves from Steve Howe‘s signature, classical guitar intro to a frantic bass-driven riff by Squire to an even more frantic organ solo by Wakeman. The song’s lyrics were written by lead vocalist Jon Anderson and inspired by a long tour ride through Scotland, which alternated between stretches with mountain and lake scenery and traffic-clogged roundabouts.

The middle of side one contains the first two “individual” pieces. “Cans and Brahms” extracts from Brahms’ 4th Symphony in E Minor as arranged and performed by Wakeman. Although a complete left turn from the dynamic opener, it fits in with the larger context of the album. Anderson’s “We Have Heaven” is a much more interesting vocal sound scape by Anderson. Multi-tracked melodies are accompanied only by a simple guitar and drum beat. “South Side of the Sky” closes the side and seems to predate some of the syncopated music of future bands like Devo. The eight minute song contains many musical forays and sound effects, including fine piano by Wakeman and wordless vocal harmonies by Anderson, Howe, and Squire during a unique middle section.

Drummer Bill Bruford launches side two with the frantic, 35 second “Five Per Cent for Nothing”, a wild intro to “Long Distance Runaround”, the most pop-oriented song on the album. The song way be the best example of the band’s tightness as Howe’s bright and economical guitar cutting is counteracted by Squire and Bruford’s simultaneous complex rhythms, without a single moment of confusion. It is like holding three individual thoughts concurrently and not having any get muddled in the slightest. Contrarily, the verse and chorus sections contain Anderson’s simple and melodic vocals over the slow rock rhythm of Wakeman’s choppy keyboard. The song segues into “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”, Squire’s official individual showcase, although there is certainly a case that he shines on several other tracks.

“Mood For a Day” is a solo guitar piece by Howe, a Spanish-flavored flamenco centerpiece, which sounds at times like a cross between a warm-up exercise and a heartfelt recital. It is still entertaining enough to keep listeners on their toes and showcases Howe’s many styles. “Heart of the Sunrise” starts with Squire and Bruford offering one last, intense riff sequence to launch the closer. The longest track on the album, the song is yet another musical journey with lyrics about being lost in a city. This final track gives the album an overall sense of symmetry by closing in the same general neighborhood where it opened.

Fragile propelled Yes in popularity from a small but dedicated following to international stardom. The album reached number 4 in the U.S. and stayed on the charts for nearly a year, the band’s biggest ever commercial success. Yes would take a sharp turn towards pure progressive rock on their next three albums through the mid 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

Classic Christmas Rock Songs

Classic Rock Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas Rock SongsNearly from its inception, rock and roll and Christmas songs have made for a potent mixture of holiday-flavored punch. This marriage dates back to 1957 with the first Elvis Presley Christmas Album and Bobby Helms’s timeless “Jingle Bell Rock”, a rockabilly Christmas classic which was actually written by an advertising executive and a publicist, joining together the overt commercialism with these early anthems. However, it wasn’t all about dollars and cents, as demonstrated in 1963 when major Christmas initiatives by producer Phil Spector and The Beach Boys were pulled off the shelf after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Below we review our favorite songs during the classic rock era. Please be sure to let us know which ones you like best, including those that we omit.

Christmas by The Who, 1969“Christmas” by The Who, 1969

This is a truly fantastic song from the rock opera Tommy but, as such, this song is only about Christmas for a short period of the song, the rest of the song is spent pondering whether the aforementioned Tommy’s soul can be saved as he is deaf, dumb and blind – lacking the capacity to accept Jesus Christ. This aspect of the song works exceptionally well in the scheme of the album, but not so much in the scheme of it being a Christmas song. That said, no song captures the majesty of children on Christmas day as well as this one.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon, 1971“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, 1971

John Lennon’s voice is fantastic and the song itself evokes the kind of melancholy Christmas spirit I find in great Christmas songs. The backing vocals work very well and the bass guitar, sleigh bells, chimes, glockenspiel all play their part as well, a testament to the excellent production by Phil Spector. It does sound a little dated with the overt political correctness and, of course ant-war sentiment. Then there is a bit of irony, foe, although the song advocates “War is Over”, the personal war between Lennon and Paul McCartney was at a fevered pitch with Lennon poaching McCartney’s lead guitarist for this very song just to stick him in the eye a bit. So, in that sense, I guess war was not quite over.

I Believe In Father Christmas, 1975“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake, 1975

You really do learn something new every day. In fact while doing research into this song’s origin I discovered that this is actually a Greg Lake solo song and not an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song which I had always believed because of its inclusion on their 1977 Works compilation album. This new revelation does not diminish my love of the song one iota. The song was written by Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Lake says the song was written in protest at the commercialization of Christmas, while Sinfield says it is more about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. I tend to believe them both, as I’ve always found the melancholy song to be much too complex to be written about any single subject or incident. Musically and melodically, the song is a masterpiece, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements. Each verse is more intense than the last and the arrangement elicits all kinds of emotions, far deeper than the typical “feel good” Christmas song.

Father Christmas by The Kinks, 1977“Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977

Just listen to the first fifteen seconds of this song and you will see, it’s amazing! Starting with a Christmas-y happy piano melody and sleigh bells before punk-influenced guitar and drums crash in with the impact of a meteor. Lead singer Ray Davies sings as two characters in the song; the first is a department store Santa (“Father Christmas”), the second is a gang of poor kids. Davies makes his vocals more forceful for their demands, “Father Christmas give us some money!” I have long thought Davies is probably the most underrated singer in Rock, and the Kinks may be the most underrated band in rock history. What other band appeared in the British invasion did a few concept albums and then practically invented punk rock!? Dave Davies lead guitar is fantastic, definitely the most entertaining work in any of the Christmas songs on this list. The drums are also a huge high point as they roll franticly between verses. If you needed a definition of it, this IS Christmas Rock!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy, 1977“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
by David Bowie & Bing Crosby, 1977

This partial cover (Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” part was original, while Crosby sang the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”) was actually as about as original a compositions as any Christmas song with a rock theme to it. So why does this song make the cut? Well it is fantastic! It’s DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY! It’s a great little song that feels like Christmas. Two totally different artists from different genres and eras coming together to sing a song for a television special, only around Christmas could this happen. Well, in fact it was recorded in London in August of 1977 for an upcoming Christmas special and Crosby passed away in October, before it aired, making it even more special.

A Wonderful Christmas Time, 1979“A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, 1979

Not to be out done by his former Beatle mate turned musical rival (see above), Paul McCartney launched the post-Wings phase of his solo career with “Wonderful Christmas Time”. A song with an uncanny ability to instantly put one into the Christmas spirit, this synth-driven, new-wave ballad showcased McCartney’s mastery at writing pleasant pop songs in just about any sub-genre. Unfortunately, his “wonderful Christmas” was interrupted soon after the new year of 1980, when he got busted In Japan for marijuana possession and spent ten days in prison before he was released.

Christmas Wrapping, 1981“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981

“Christmas Wrapping” is a really fun new-wave style song that jives musically by an otherwise obscure group. The song goes through quite a few little progressions – a little guitar rift and some jolly percussion instruments introduce the listener to the song’s primary beat of guitar and drums. Lead singer Patty Donahue flirts with actually rapping through the song which comes out really cool despite my less than enthused relationship to that genre. The interlude of horns really makes this song fun as they bridge the gap between verses.

2000 Miles, 1983“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders, 1983

Not really intended to be so much a Christmas song as a lament about missing someone with the hope they return at Christmas. It was nevertheless released in 1983 in advance of the band’s 1984 album Learning To Crawl because of its holiday season potential. The vivid lyrics which paint the Christmas landscape and activity, along with the masterful delivery by lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde above the simple folk-guitar riff, makes this one for the ages.

Thank God Its Christmas, 1984“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, 1984

This is a Christmas rock song that often gets overlooked but is virtually impossible to ignore due to Freddie Mercury’s singing. Co-written by drummer Roger Taylor, the drums have a smooth grooving feeling, albeit very processed. Mercury’s backing keyboards and occasional Christmas bells give the song that holiday feeling it needs. The addition of the guitar later in the song by the other co-writer, Brian May adds some earthiness, but the song would benefit from more of it. The piece never quite transcends the mellowness or the karaoke-like quality of the song, but is still a Christmas classic.

Do They Know Its Christmas, 1984Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, 1984

Sure, it is outrageously corny, especially when you are watching Boy George and other eighties has-beens singing next to the likes of Bono and Sting. But underneath all the silliness lies a pretty good song, written in a decent style of British pop. This song is the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who co-wrote this song along with Midge Ure, and then they brought together these top-notch English musicians to perform under the name Band Aid as all proceeds went to relief for the Ethiopian famine of 1984-1985. The success of this single eventually lead to the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, the following summer.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, 1985“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1985

The only true cover of a “traditional” Christmas song on this list, this song was actually recorded in December 1975, but was not released for a solid decade when Bruce Springsteen began putting together his triple live album 1975-1985. It was put out as the B-Side to his single “My Hometown” in 1985 and has since become a holiday staple and rock and pop stations worldwide.

Another Christmas Song, 1989“Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull, 1989

We conclude with a beautiful and elegant song put out by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull during their leaner years, this May be one that many do not know. From the 1989 album Rock Island, this is actually a sequel to “A Christmas Song” put out by Jethro Tull on their 1968 debut album two decades earlier, but is far superior in beauty elegance than the original. With some light flute, drums, and the occasional wood block sound and other percussive effects, the song features Tull’s traditional guitarist Martin Barre who nicely accents the flute line from Anderson in the interweaving musical passages. Lyrically, it describes an old man who is calling his children home to him for Christmas and subtly drawing their attention to other parts of the world and other people;

Everyone is from somewhere, even if you’ve never been there
So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me…”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Christmas rock tradition continued with fine originals such as “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a rendition of “Heat Miser” by The Badlees, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Clause” by The Killers, and Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”. It is likely this tradition will continue for years to come.

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J.D. Cook and Ric Albano

                

Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones

Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones

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Exile On Main Street by The Rolling StonesMany esteemed and big-name rock publications have rated Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones as one of the greatest albums of all time (especially the publication which bears the same name as the band). Honestly, this fact may expose the single most egregious display of “group think” in the rock world or at the very least, a floating declaration that has gone unexamined for about 40 years. While the music is legitimate rock throughout, this 1972 double album pales in comparison to its predecessor, 1971’s single LP Sticky Fingers, while maintaining much of the same musical direction. In fact, there is very little new ground broken on Exile On Main Street, which fails to provide much stylistic variation among its four sides and seriously lacks top notch production quality. The album also presents a lack of band integrity, as many sessions featured outside players taking on prominent roles in the recordings.

The album featured material which was written and recorded between 1968 and 1972, with the bulk being done in the basement of a rented a villa called Nellcôte in France, while the band was on “tax exile” from their native England in late 1971. The loose plan was to sleep all day and record all night, but this loose setting and arrangement bred a rash of no-shows throughout the recording process, in which case band members and other players would fill in on instruments they may have not naturally played. Producer Jimmy Miller filled in on drums for a few tracks, while several players filled in on bass for Bill Wyman, who only played on about half of the tracks.

The resulting album is murky and raw, with the vocals of lead singer Mick Jagger often buried in the mix. While this is not terrible in of itself, it grows old over the course of 18 album tracks. Jagger has been critical of the album through the years, stating at the time of its release;

“It’s very rock & roll, you know. I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over…everyone knows what their roots are, but you’ve got to explore everywhere…”

Apparently, much of the rock press expressed similar apprehension about the album at the time of release, but these mainstream critics have largely done an about-face and morphed in with the “all time greatest this” or “all time greatest that” party line.


Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones
Released: May 12, 1972 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969–March 1972
Side One Side Two
Rocks Off
Rip This Joint
Shake Your Hips
Casino Boogie
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Virginia
Torn and Frayed
Sweet Black Angel
Loving Cup
Side Three Side Four
Happy
Turd On the Run
Ventilator Blues
I Just Want to See His Face
Let It Loose
All Down the Line
Stop Breaking Down
Shine a Light
Soul Survivor
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards wrote the bulk of the material. The first of the four sides may actually be the weakest on the album. It starts with the decent loose jam “Rocks Off”, a sound later echoed by Aerosmith on their album Draw the Line, but then devolves into the very average rockabilly of “Rip This Joint”. Both feature the rock piano of Nicky Hopkins, who had worked with the stones on past projects. The Slim Harpo cover “Shake Your Hips”, brings back a sound reminiscent of the band’s earliest blues material, but by the time we get to “Casino Boogie”, Jagger’s strained vocals start to wear thin on the listener and the album’s flow seems to be nonexistent.

“Tumbling Dice” is probably the most popular song from Exile, with lyrics that tell a story about a gambler. The song was originally slated for Sticky Fingers, and features band manager Ian Stewart on piano and second guitarist Mick Taylor filling in on bass for Wyman.

The second side is probably the best of the four, starting with the country-inspired “Sweet Virginia” where drummer Charlie Watts plays a nice shuffle and a saxophone solo is provided by Bobby Keys. Lyrically, this song is both folksy and frank;

“But come on come on down sweet Virginia / come on honey child I beg of you
Come on come on down you got it in you / got to scrape that shit right off your shoes…”

“Torn and Frayed” sounds like it landed just short of being great, just a tad too unorganized and under-cooked to be taken very seriously. Still, it contains a great slide guitar by Richards and organ by Jim Price above the three-chord honky-tonk. “Sweet Black Angel” hearkens back to the sound on 1967’s Between The Buttons and is one of the few tracks on this album to feature all five Rolling Stones playing their appropriate instruments. Unfortunately momentum is lost with “Loving Cup”, which slides back to the predictable and mundane sound of the first side.

“Happy” features Richards vocals and is a refreshing change-up in ways, with crisp brass accenting this second single from the album which reached the top 40 in the charts. Keys prides saxophone and percussion, while Jim Price adds trumpet. “Ventilator Blues” was co-written by Taylor, the only song on the album which a member of the Stones besides Jagger and Richards gets a songwriting credit. “I Just Want to See His Face” commences with a bad fade in from “Ventilator Blues” and is yet another exhibit of a very average piece being lauded. It is a repetitive and (slightly) improvised piece with some gospel influence, but not much more. “Let It Loose” starts with a different sound of effect-heavy guitar riff but this is the only really interesting part of the song, which once again seems undercooked and weakly composed.

The final side of the album begins with “All Down the Line”, again the same exact song over again save for Taylor’s interesting slide. The Robert Johnson cover “Stop Breaking Down” reveals an embarrassing gap in composition quality between much of the original material and this (then) 35-year-old song. “Shine a Light” is the last good song on the album, perhaps best song on the album. This piano ballad that is focused yet soulful and features the fantastic organ and piano work by Billy Preston and great backing vocals by Clydie King and Vanetta Fields. It was written mainly by Jagger back in 1968 about then-band member Brian Jones’ addiction to drugs and detachment from the rest of the band, but was left off the Beggars Banquet from that year. “Soul Survivor”, another really uninspired song, finishes off the side and the album.

Beatles producer George Martin has opined that their double “White” album may have worked better as a really good single album. That sentiment is multiplied and on steroids with Exile on Main Street, which would have worked best is saved for some future “basement tapes” collection. As a proper album of this great era, it is extremely average and definitely not the desert island record that so many had deemed it to be.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie

Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie

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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David BowieThrough a very long and distinguished career, David Bowie’s absolute classic is the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It takes the musicianship and experimental of Bowie’s previous album, Hunky Dory in 1971, to a whole new level where Bowie really hit his stride and forged his distinctive sound. Although it is a concept album, nothing feels forced and nowhere is it repetitive, just a grand parade of songs which collectively tell a story. Bowie’s lyrics and vocals are deep and emotive, albeit tragic, while guitarist Mick Ronson held the music down to a respectable rock level with his sharp and fat guitar riffs.

The concept follows the character “Ziggy Stardust”, a space alien who manifests himself as a self-indulgent rock star who takes this form to try and convince humanity to alter their path of destruction. As Bowie described;

“The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll…”

The character of Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a collection of real life personalities, including singers Vince Taylor and Stardust Cowboy, and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. Bowie planned for the album to coincide with a stage show or television production but neither fully materialized.

There were also several extra compositions and recordings created during the sessions for this album. One of the most famous was “All the Young Dudes”, written within the context of the “Ziggy Stardust” concept but ultimately given to the band Mott the Hoople, for whom the song would be a big hit. A couple of songs that would become radio hits for Bowie – “John, I’m Only Dancing” and “The Jean Genie” – were also recorded during these sessions but not included on the album.


The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars
by David Bowie
Released: June 6, 1972 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Ken Scott
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, September 1971–January 1972
Side One Side Two
Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy
Lady Stardust
Star
Hang Onto Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock n’ Roll Suicide
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Saxophone
Mick Ronson – Guitars, Piano, String Arrangements, Vocals
Trevor Bolder – Bass
Mick Woodmansey – Drums

An off-beat drum pattern by Mick Woodmansey fuels the opening song “Five Years”. Moody and low key with a definite influence from Plastic Ono Band era John Lennon, the character of Ziggy Stardust is introduced in dramatic yet elegant fashion with profound lyrics, such as;

“my brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare / I had to cram many things to store everything in there…”

“Soul Love” is also percussion-driven with a steadily strummed acoustic and unique vocal choruses by Bowie. There is some strongly accented layered electric guitars by Ronson during the chorus and Bowie’s saxophone solo to close the album. “Moonage Daydream” continues the acoustic trend with a steady but animated bass by Trevor Bolder and sharp electric riff overtones. This song adds a lot more sonic flavoring than its predecessors with piano, backing vocals, orchestration and a wild, “moon age” guitar lead towards the end.

David Bowie and Mick Ronson

“Starman” is the best song on the album and a late addition to the album. It is classic David Bowie hearkens back into the same groove thematically as his first major hit “Space Oddity”. An acoustic ballad accentuated by space age transitional effects, orchestration, and great post-chorus riff by Ronson, the song was Bowie’s first commercial hit in three years and persists as one of his classics to this day. Some have even stated that it is the single most influential song in his entire catalog. The song is also a pivitol point in the album’s concept where the protagonist morphs from being manipulative to delusional.

The first side concludes with the only cover song on the album; “It Ain’t Easy”, written by Ron Davies and covered by many artists including Three Dog Night who had a 1970 album of the same name. It may seem l;ike an oddity to include a cover on a “concept” album, by “It Ain’t Easy” fits right in with the vibe of this album even though it uses unique instrumentation such as a 12-string acoustic and a harpsichord in the mix.

The moody piano of “Lady Stardust” starts off side two with a ballad of almost Elton John quality and structure. There is once again great bass by Bolder but little to no guitar presence on this tune loosely dedicated to Marc Bolan of T. Rex and the “glam” scene in general. “Star” is a sort of retro piano rocker which speaks of gangs and cliques in London, while “Hang On to Yourself” comes off like early proto-punk with a definite glam twist. This latter song contains an interesting slide guitar by Ronson and sets the album up for a climatic conclusion.

Suffragette City single“Ziggy Stardust”, the album’s default theme song, is interesting and unique rocker with tight instrumentation which heavily leans towards riff-driven classic rock during the verses, while the choruses drift towards the newly-established Bowie sound. Mick Ronson really shines on this song with his crisp, distorted, and methodical guitar riff which gives the song an eternal signature. Bowie accents the two parts of the song with distinct vocals and well delivered lyrics in each. The original album mix segued from “Ziggy” into “Suffragette City”, another standard with rocker with great edge and execution by both Bowie and Ronson. Drawing inspiration from a range of artists that span from Little Richard to the Velvet Underground, “Suffragette City” reminds the listener that David Bowie is, in fact, a rock star first and foremost, no matter how “out there” the bulk of his material may drift. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople before they chose “All the Young Dudes” for their own project.

After the frantic, top-notch electric rock, the album closes with the calm and acoustic “Rock n’ Roll Suicide”, which documents Ziggy’s collapse as a washed-up performer (showing an amazing sense of self-awareness at time when rock was still relatively young). The song gradually builds though subtle, tremolo electric guitar effects and into full orchestration as a dramatic coda for the album.

A concert film of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was directed by D.A. Pennebaker and eventually released in 1973, a slight consolation to the intended television special which never materialized. The album was vastly more successful in the U.K. than in the U.S. upon release, but has grown to become universally renowned over the past 40 years as one of the best ever produced.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.