Amused To Death by Roger Waters

Amused to Death by Roger Waters

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Amused To Death by Roger WatersFor what turned out to be his final solo studio album (to date, 20 years and counting), Roger Waters composed a complex (and often confused) concept album called Amused to Death. The title came from a book by author Neil Postman, which explored the history of the media and the concept (although cloudy) is of aliens arriving after the extinction of humans and finding all our skeletons sitting around television sets and trying to work out why it was that our end came before its time.  They come to the conclusion that we “amused ourselves to death”. While the album follows the same calm, storytelling, musically rich template of Waters’ two previous solo efforts, this album seems to be the most directly influenced by that material of Waters’ former band, Pink Floyd. In fact, there appears to be some direct sampling from Pink Floyd songs “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, “Echoes” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.

Lyrically, the album is brimming with hate on a variety of subjects from capitalism to America to religion to war to television to Stanley Kubrick to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Waters makes a few good points on these varied subjects, with the better use of sarcasm in these instances. However, the logic of the vast rants on Amused to Death is convoluted, such as when Waters somehow ties Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalists (deposed in 1949) to the slaughter at Tienanmen Square 40 years later by the very Communists that deposed them. He also applies moral relativism to the “Germans killing the Jews” and the “Jews killing the Arabs”. But the greatest offense may just be the mere fact that so much of the lyrical material seems dated and irrelevant, unlike past efforts which seem timeless and relevant to any era. Just take the example of Waters harping on television habits from his perspective at the dawn of the Internet age. A futurist, Mr. Waters is not.

Conversely, the album is superb musically. Waters’ enlisted legendary guitarist Jeff Beck to play lead guitar and a whole host of talent to provide additional music and vocal support. Amused to Death is mixed in QSound, a virtual surround sound, which enhances the spatial feel of the audio along with the various sound effects sprinkled throughout the album. The quality of production by Waters, Nick Griffiths, and Patrick Leonard is simply superb and makes this album worthwhile for any audiophile even if you like nothing else.


Amused to Death by Roger Waters
Released: September 7, 1992 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roger Waters, Nick Griffiths, & Patrick Leonard
Recorded: Various Locations, 1988-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Ballad of Bill Hubbard
What God Wants, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part I
Perfect Sense, Part II
The Bravery of Being Out of Range
Late Home Tonight, Part I
Late Home Tonight, Part II
Too Much Rope
What God Wants, Part II
What God Wants, Part III
Watching TV
Three Wishes
It’s a Miracle
Amused to Death
Roger Waters – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synthesizer, Guitars
Jeff Beck – Guitars
Andy Fairweather Low – Guitars
Patrick Leonard – Piano, Keyboards
Graham Broad– Drums, Percussion
 
Amused to Death by Roger Waters

“The Ballad of Bill Hubbard” starts the album off with a spoken word story of the desperation of trying to save a comrade in the battle lines during World War I, recited in the first person by Alf Razell after some introductory David Gilmour-like guitar motifs by Jeff Beck, who continues to add licks even after the recital commences. The song abruptly “changes channels” into the upbeat and funky “What God Wants, Part I”, the first single from the album, banned by the BBC due to controversial lyrics. Driven by the bass of future American Idol judge Randy Jackson, we hear Waters voice for the first time on this track and it is quite clear that his voice is very rough and shot.

“Perfect Sense, Part I” contains a beautiful moody piano and dual lead vocals by Waters and female soul singer PP Arnold, while “Perfect Sense, Part II” contains a sequence where sports commentator Marv Albert darkly simulates a nuclear missile attack as a sporting event. “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” is musically the best song on the album, with a strong rock arrangement and interesting chord progressions, but it again comes off preachy lyrically.

The album settles down again with “Late Home Tonight” with some interesting strings and acoustic guitars accompanying Waters speaking before the calmness is shattered by the sound of a huge explosion. “Too Much Rope” features guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, who performed on Waters’ previous studio album Radio K.A.O.S. as well as many live tours. “Watching TV” is arranged like a happy-go-lucky acoustic country folk song with the very dark lyrical subject of the Tienanmen Square massacre, as Waters sings of his “yellow rose and her blood stained clothes”. Don Henley later shares lead vocals on the song.

The album concludes with three extended pieces, which many consider the climax of the album. “It’s a Miracle” is very sarcastic in content, with a tight composition and catchy melody. It highlights Waters very sharp satire with lyrics such as;

“We’ve got a warehouse of butter, we’ve got oceans of wine / We’ve got famine when we need it, got a designer crime / We’ve got Mercedes, we’ve got Porsche, Ferrari and Rolls Royce, we’ve got a choice…”

“Three Wishes” is a more personal song, a quality evident in the earlier works by Waters, with quality music and sad lyrics. The closing title song, “Amused to Death”, is a nine minute package of cynicism and sarcasm, with a tinge of hope at the end. The theme comes full circle as Bill Hubbard is laid to rest and memorialized.

There was no tour in support of Amused to Death and selections from the album were performed sparingly on future tours by Waters. As this may be the final studio output by the musical genius, it is worth a careful listen or two, even if it falls short of Roger Waters’ lyrical capabilities.

~

1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Asia

Asia

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AsiaAsia was a short-lived “supergroup” which existed primarily in the early 1980s. Their debut eponymous album was wildly successful commercially, reaching #1 in the US on the Billboard album charts and the top selling album in the States for the year 1982. However, the band also tended to be a letdown to progressive rock fans who were eager to hear the sound forged by former members of some of the top groups in that genre during its heyday of the 1970s. However, the output on Asia, produced by Mike Stone, was distictly pop-rock with only minor nods towards the instrumental flourishes that identified progressive rock.

Guitarist Steve Howe had spent 11 years with the band Yes, playing on all the essential albums that made up the band’s early sound. Howe continued with the band until Yes officially split up (for the first time) on April 18, 1981. John Wetton had done extensive work as a session musician with acts such as Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry and with legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Wetton also lead the prog-rock staple King Crimson for several years during the early 1970s, replacing founding member Greg Lake when Lake went on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. That trio’s drummer Carl Palmer got his start in the mid 1960s with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. With Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, he played on some of the most acclaimed progressive rock albums ever. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was a virtual newcomer to the scene starting with the new wave band The Buggles in 1979 and joining Yes for one album, 1980’s Drama.

In 1981, Howe, Wetton, Palmer, and Downes formed the band Asia, an apparent “marriage made in Heaven” for prog rock fans. But this new band did focus on a more distinct 1980s sound, which focused less on musical virtuosity and more on sonic accessibility.
 


Asia by Asia
Released: March, 1982 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Stone
Recorded: Marcus Studios & Virgin Townhouse, London, June-November 1981
Side One Side Two
Heat Of the Moment
Only Time Will Tell
Sole Survivor
One Step Closer
Time Again
Wildest Dreams
Without You
Cutting It Fine
Here Comes the Feeling
Band Musicians
John Wetton – Bass, Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

 

If there is any place on Asia where a hardcore prog rock fan can find some solace, it is on the second side. “Wildest Dreams” contains some abrupt changes between verse and choruses and provides an extensive drum showcase for Palmer. “Without You” is a pleasant ballad, mellow throughout with interesting, moody parts. “Cutting It Fine” is the most interesting here with an acoustic beginning and an extensive piano instrumental by Downes in the coda.

Asia in 1982

On the first side, “Sole Survivor” displays a definite 80s sound, but with an interesting build in the beginning and a flute-like keyboard solo during the middle part. “One Step Closer”, co-written by Howe contains a good beginning which is a hybrid between the Yes and Kansas sound. With the harmonized verse vocals, this song is a true showcase on the album.

“Heat of the Moment” employs several basic rock techniques including the overused Phil Spector drum beat and a subtle building throughout. This opener was the signature song on the album and its biggest hit, reaching #1 on the pop charts.

The other major hit, “Only Time Will Tell”, is the best song on the album. Although song was composed by Downes and Wetton, the mocking guitar by Howe throughout makes this a real centerpiece for the former Yes axeman. The song contains instrumental rudiments and the guitar licks all above and almost-Barry-Manilow-like ballad somehow makes this a very interesting listen. The biggest flaw of this song is that it fades out way too soon.

Asia released a follow-up, Alpha in 1983 and a third 1985 album, Astra, each to less critical and commercial acclaim and this supergroup fizzled soon thereafter. Steve Howe went on to form yet another supergroup with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett called GTR. Wetton released several solo albums and Palmer later rejoined the newly reformed ELP in 1992.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

Billy Idol

Billy Idol

Billy IdolThe debut album by Billy Idol is amazingly diverse and mainstream-leaning for an artist supposedly fresh off the punk scene. In fact, Idol today admits that his late seventies outfit, Generation X, differed starkly from other acts on the scene like The Clash or The Sex Pistols; “They were singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones’, but we were honest about what we liked.” Generation X was inspired by mid-Sixties British pop and were one of the first “punk” acts appear on the BBC. When the band broke up in 1981, Idol transitioned nicely to his own sound. This self-titled debut album was produced by Keith Forsey through 1981 and early 1982 and is confluent with Generation X’s final 1981 LP as well as Idol’s initial EP Don’t Stop that same year.

American guitarist Steve Stephens would become as much a part of the solo act as Idol himself, forging a slick rock sound to canvas the Elvis-like vocals of Idol. Stephens’ slashing guitar chords became as identifiable as Idol’s melodic choruses and sneering postures. This album eventually became Idol’s breakthrough in America, a place Generation X had struggled to find any audience. It took over a year beyond June 1982 until some of Idol’s videos began  breaking through to the MTV audience.

With Forsey’s production, the album was given a “modern” sound for the time which employed piano, synthesizers, saxophone, and background singers. This sweetened the sound enough for the mainstream audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The LP peaked at number 45 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Gold by RIAA in 1983.

 


Billy Idol by Billy Idol
Released: June 16, 1982 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Keith Forsey
Recorded: London, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Come On, Come On
White Wedding (Part 1)
Hot In the City
Dead On Arrival
Nobody’s Business
Love Calling
Hole In the Wall
Shooting Stars
It’s So Cruel
Congo Man
Dancing With Myself
Band Musicians
Billy Idol – Vocals | Steve Stephens – Guitars
Phil Feit – Bass | Steve Missal – Drums

 

The album starts with “Come On Come On”, a very pop-rock dominated song with driving bass and choppy guitars. This sets the pace for several songs with a definite 1980s sound. These include the guitar-centric, straight up rocker “Dead On Arrival” and the almost-hair band “Nobody’s Business”

“White Wedding” contains a much darker sound. One of his most recognizable songs, Idol claimed in later years that this song actually had nothing to do with his “little sister”, but he just found the concept interesting. The song was a hit upon its original release and charted even higher several years later in the UK, following rotation of its famous video. The song is titled “White Wedding (Part 1)” on the album due to the release of a synthesizer based dance version on 7″ vinyl called “White Wedding (Part 2)”.

“Hot In the City” was the initial single from the album. The song has a moderate, melodic tempo and some sweet pop hooks. It gained more popularity as the decade progressed and was an even bigger hit when released as a single from the compilation Vital Idol in 1987.
 

 
The second side of the album starts with “Love Calling”, driven by the drumming of Steve Missal, along with some odd chanting between verse lines. It gives off a trance-like vibe except during the breaks when Idol screams “if you want to rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub”. “Hole In the Wall” and “Shooting Stars” each contain cool guitar textures by Stevens and a very animated bass by Phil Feit in the fashion that U2 would eventually make very popular. “It’s So Cruel” starts calm with liberal use of synthesizers, almost a ballad, until it eventually builds with stronger tones.

Modern versions of the album conclude with “Dancing With Myself”, a song originally recorded for the final Generation X album in 1981, then co-opted by Idol for his Don’t Stop EP, when he remixed it and gave the song an overall brighter, poppier finish. When Idol started to break through with MTV videos in 1983, one was made for “Dancing With Myself” and the song was added to the Billy Idol LP, replacing a short percussion filler called “Congo Man”.

Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad and got his stage name in grade school from a teacher who nicknamed him “Billy Idle” in a degradng fashion. Billy took this name as a badge of honor and, with some minor re-spelling, used it to launch himself to international stardom.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

Coda by Led Zeppelin

Coda by Led Zeppelin

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Coda by Led ZeppelinCoda is a unique album for us to review. Although it is listed officially as the ninth and final studio album by Led Zeppelin, it could just as well be listed as a quasi-compilation of unreleased tracks in the tradition of The Who’s Odds and Sods or Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Like those, this is a fine and entertaining album, and a must-have for any serious fan of the artist. But we internally debated whether it was proper to include Coda with our reviews from 1982. After all, it had been a full two years since the death of drummer John Bonham and the subsequent disbandment of Led Zeppelin as a cohesive group. Also, the most recent recordings on Coda were made four years prior to its November 1982 release, with the earliest recording stretching back to the late 1960s. The truth is, we simply could not overlook this album. After all, this IS Led Zeppelin and this band is likely to be the only one which Classic Rock Review covers every single studio album (I mean, we’ve already done Presence, what can we possibly exclude?)

The album spans the band’s entire career, from live performances just after their debut album to unused songs from In Through the Out Door sessions. However, it focuses mainly on the bookends of very early material and very recent material with very little representation from the band’s most popular “middle” years. This is most likely due to the fact that 1975’s Physical Graffiti included many unreleased songs from that era.

With such a chasm between the early and recent material, producer and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did a great job making it all sound cohesive. This included extensive, yet not overwhelming, post-production treatment of each track. According to Page, the album was released because there was so much bootleg stuff out following the disbandment. However, Coda was not a comprehensive collection in its original form. The 1982 LP contained eight tracks and ran at a mere 33 minutes in length. Eleven years later, four more tracks were added to CD versions of the album, tracks which were mysteriously excluded originally. Some have suggested it was really only released to fulfill a contract obligation to Atlantic Records.
 


Coda by Led Zeppelin
Released: November 19, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969-November 1978
Side One Side Two
We’re Gonna Groove
Poor Tom
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Walter’s Walk
Ozone Baby
Darlene
Bonzo’s Montreaux
Wearing and Tearing
Tracks Added to CD Edition in 1993
Baby Come On Home
Travelling Riverside Blues
White Summer/Black Mountain Side
Hey Hey What Can I Do
Band Musicians
Robert Plant – Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Page – Guitars
John Paul Jones – Bass, Piano, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums, Percussion

 
“Walter’s Walk” is the oddest song in this collection, as it is the only that comes from the mid-era of the band, credited as a 1972 recording during the Houses Of the Holy sessions. However, both Page’s guitar style and especially Robert Plant‘s vocals are clues that a significant amount of overdubbing was likely done for the Coda album. As one who, recently reviewed Plant’s 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven, it is quite clear that his vocals on this track are a much greater match for 1982 than for 1972. Still there’s no doubt that this song existed in some form in the early 1970s as a portion of it was included in the extended jam version of “Dazed and Confused”.

Most of the original second side were tracks leftover from the 1978 Stockholm sessions for In Through the Out Door. These are all solid and well produced tracks which were only excluded due to time constraints and were slated to be released as an EP following the band’s 1980 North American tour, a tour which never took place due to Bonham’s death. From these particular tracks, you can hear that Zeppelin was experimenting with more modern genres during that era. “Ozone Baby” is the closest to new wave that the band ever came. It is riff-driven with some interesting changes and features harmonized vocal effects from Plant, a rarity for the band. “Wearing and Tearing” is the song most closely resembling the times, admittedly a response to the punk scene that swallowed up the U.K. while Led Zeppelin was on an extended hiatus in the late seventies. In this sense, it is probably the most interesting song on the album because it possesses the raw power of their early material and offers a glimpse to where they might have gone had they continued.

“Darlene” is a fantastic, oft-overlooked gem by Led Zeppelin with a perfect guitar riff and entertaining rock piano. John Paul Jones really stepped to the forefront on In Through the Out Door, writing much of the material and adding the extra dimensions of keyboards on a consistent basis. That approach is best demonstrated on this track, which incorporates a basic, rockabilly canvas with some interesting variations and song transitions. The side is rounded out by “Bonzo’s Montreux”, a live drum rehearsal caught on tape by one of the engineers before a 1976 show in Montreux, Switzerland. Page later added some electronic effects, and the band had a suitable tribute to their fallen comrade.
 

 
Coda begins with a wild frenzy of a song, “We’re Gonna Groove”, written by soul artists Ben E. King and James Bethea with the original title “Groovin'”. A studio version was scheduled to appear on Led Zeppelin II, but due to the band’s hectic schedule that year, they never got around to recording it. Page took a live version of the song, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and did a masterful job of overdubbing lead guitars and enhancing the vocals and drums for the Coda track. He did something similar for “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is taken from the same concert, the only song in the “studio album” collection to be repeated, which is unfortunate, although this version is superior to that on the band’s first album.

“Poor Tom” is the absolute gem from this album, a folk song from sessions for Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970. It is backed by a consistent and infectious drum shuffle by Bonham. The song contains dueling acoustic guitars and some fine harmonica by Plant, a great skill by the vocalist often overlooked. The unexplained lyric to this song is rumored to have deep roots in English folklore and/or contemporary philosophy. From those same sessions came “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”, another acoustic folk song that was released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”, but was long out of print when it was finally released on Zeppelin’s 1993 box set and subsequent versions of coda.

Led Zeppelin in 1979

Three more songs were also added to post-1993 versions of the album. “Baby Come On Home” is a straight-up soul ballad from sessions so early that the tape canister was actually labeled, “The Yardbirds” (Led Zeppelin was originally called the “New Yardbirds”). That master tape went missing for several decades and allegedly turned up in a refuse bin outside Olympic Studios in 1991. The track itself is an interesting listen with Page playing a Leslie guitar and Jones on piano and Hammond organ, not to mention the sheer novelty of hearing the band perform this genre straight up. “White Mountain/Black Mountainside” is a long, solo instrumental that Page performed often during the band’s early years until it morphed into music which would become “Stairway to Heaven”. “Traveling Riverside Blues” is a barrage of blues anthems that show the Zeppelin sound forged in the earliest days, especially the bluesy slide guitar by Page and the great bass by Jones. It is the finest of the four newly added tracks and it baffles fans like myself as to why it was originally excluded. Although this song got its title from a Robert Johnson classic, it is actually more like a (then) modern day tribute to the blues legend, with Plant incorporating lyrics from several of Johnson’s songs.

The term “coda” means a passage that ends a musical piece, following the main body. To the band’s credit, they kept their compact implicit in this title and did not continue any further without without Bonham. This gave Led Zeppelin a bit of career cohesion which all but guarantees that their tremendous legacy will never be stained.

~

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums

 

Combat Rock by The Clash

Combat Rock by The Clash

Combat Rock by The ClashThe last significant album by The Clash came in 1982 with Combat Rock. The album follows the experimental triple album Sandinista!, which itself followed the double album London Calling. The original plan for this album was a double LP called “Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg”, but the idea was scrapped after internal wrangling when some band members were dissatisfied with the album’s mix by guitarist Mick Jones. Legendary engineer Glyn Johns was brought in to re-mix the album which was then reduced to its single LP form. Although much less experimental than Sandinista!, the band continues to explore many sub-genres on Combat Rock particularly those funk and Caribbean rhythms.

Led by singer/guitarist Joe Strummer, the band dove into social and political issues with both feet, including the catalogue number of the album, FMLN2, in honor of the El Salvador political party Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, a communist organization formed in part by Cuba’s Fidel Castro in the late 1970s. I always find it fascinating when rebellious figures such as Strummer embrace parties and systems which would either neuter them or completely destroy them if they found themselves fully entrenched in that system. That being said, this idelogical approach to the material on the album makes it all the more interesting and unique, which is probably the most important attribute of a rock album.

Still, even though Combat Rock is filled with offbeat songs and experiments with sound collage, it was labeled by some as the Clash’s “sellout” album, particularly because of two radio friendly tracks on the first side. The album did reach the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic, spending over a year on the U.S. charts. Still, this was far from a conventional, commercial rock album with unique themes, asymetrical arrangements, and inner stress about differing musical approches which would eventually fracture the group permanently.
 


Combat Rock by The Clash
Released: May 14, 1982 (Epic)
Produced by: The Clash
Recorded: Ear Studios & Wessex Studios, London, Sep 1981 – April 1982
Side One Side Two
Know Your Rights
Car Jamming
Should I Stay Or Should I Go
Rock the Casbah
Red Angel Dragnet
Straight To Hell
Overpowered By Funk
Atom Tan
Sean Flynn
Ghetto Defendant
Inoculated City
Death Is a Star
Band Musicians
Joe Strummer – Guitars, Vocals | Mick Jones – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Simonon – Bass, Vocals | Topper Headon – Drums, Piano

 
The album begins with a “public service announcement” in the form of the satirical “Know Your Rights”. an upbeat ska bounce, new-wave percussive effects, and wet tremolo guitars give a light atmosphere which contrasts the cynical lyric, which recites three “rights” with absurd exceptions for each:

1.The right not to be killed. Murder is a crime, unless it is done by a policeman…
2.The right to food money, providing of course, you don’t mind a little investigation…
3.The right to free speech, as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it…

“Car Jamming” follows with a choppy guitar riff that makes for a mock-dance beat. The song has interesting melody with background vocals by guest Ellen Foley and a distant, sustained lead guitar later on in the song. “Red Angel Dragnet” features spoken vocals by bassist Paul Simonon and a funky bass beat with slight reggae guitars. The song is laced with dark humor and contains quotes from the movie Taxi Driver.

Should I Stay or Should I Go single“Should I Stay or Should I Go” is a basic, riff-driven, rock song with a simple 4/4 drum beat and a catchy blues progression during the verse. This infectious song would become the band’s biggest hit and reach #1 in the U.K. Mick Jones performs lead vocals and the title was reportedly referring to his  impending departure from The Clash (although Jones has since denied this) and features some Spanish language backing vocals by Strummer, giving it a very unique edge. “Straight to Hell” is driven by rotating drum beat, leaving room for improvisation vocally and the slightly whining guitars. The song is very melodic, which adds to the surrealism of the dark lyric.

Cheap sound effects aside, “Rock the Casbah” is the best song on the album. The song is driven by the rhythms of drummer Topper Headon who contributes bass and the opening piano riff as well. Lyrically, the song borrows words and terms from various Middle Eastern languages and gives a fabulous account of a popular rebellion against a ban on rock music by the Sharif (or “king”). The video for the song was shot in Austin, Texas and includes a couple of U.S. Air Force jets, which were unwitting participants. A dance remix of the song called “Mustapha Dance” was released with many versions of the single.
 

 
The second side contains less accessible, more niche tracks. On “Overpowered by Funk” it is hard to tell whether the band is embracing this cheesy new 80s sound or ridiculing it. The song features a “rap” by graffiti artist Futura 2000, who had accompanied the band on their 1981 European tour as a live, on-stage backdrop painter. “Atom Tan” sounds much like a Frank Zappa composition at first, but becomes quite repetitive and weak when it finally does break. “Sean Flynn” is distant but interesting, featuring diverse instrumentation including saxophone by Gary Barnacle and flute and xylophone by unidentified players.

The closest to pure reggae on the album, “Ghetto Defendant” contains some excellent percussion effects and spoken poetry by beat poet Alan Ginsburg, who performed on stage with the band during their New York shows. “Inoculated City” has pretty good melodies and harmonies throughout. It is a nice new-wave-ish tune with weird overtones, including a lifted sample from a commercial for a toilet bowl cleaner called “2000 Flushes”. “Death Is a Star” is a good closer for the album with distant, almost Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd aura. The song is topped by the piano of guest Tymon Dogg.

After Combat Rock, the Clash began to disintegrate. Drummer Headon was asked to leave the band just prior to the release of the album, and Jones would depart a year after its release. The band would never again reach the heights of the heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

Tug Of War by Paul McCartneyThe naive belief that one could end war by political correctness at a time when no major wars were occurring in the Western world may be the best way to describe the underlying theme of Tug Of War, the 1982 album by Paul McCartney. It comes in the wake of many events including the death of John Lennon and the dissolution of McCartney’s post-Beatles group, Wings. In fact, the earliest sessions for Tug Of War (in late 1980) were actually intended for the final Wings album. But following Lennon’s assassination, recording was suspended and that album was never completed. Lacking direction, McCartney called in Beatles producer George Martin to work on his material for the first time since the “Fab Four” broke up.

Reuniting with Martin guaranteed that the album would receive much attention. Much of the production is rich and rewarding, as one would expect from a George Martin production. However, the creative muse from McCartney seems contrived at times. Aside from the songs with his ex-Wings band mates, there are two collaborations with Stevie Wonder, one with Carl Perkins, and one with fellow Beatle, Ringo Starr.

As a whole, the album is almost interesting musically but not cohesive in the slightest. In total, there is about half of a great album here of well-produced and melodic songs. This shows that there was great potential in this reunion of McCartney and Martin. But then there’s the rest of the album which sounds like it should have been reserved for some kind of celebrity collection.
 


Tug Of War by Paul McCartney
Released: April 26, 1982 (EMI)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1981
Side One Side Two
Tug Of War
Take It Away
Somebody Who Cares
What’s That You’re Doing?
Here Today
Ballroom Dancing
The Pound Is Sinking
Wanderlust
Get It
Be What You See (Link)
Dress Me Up As a Robber
Ebony and Ivory
Primary Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards
Eric Stewart – Guitars, Vocals | Denny Laine – Guitars
George Martin – Piano | Stevie Wonder – Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Gadd – Drums

 
In March 1982, McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder, “Ebony and Ivory”, was released to broad acclaim. It reached #1 in many countries and consequently, Tug Of War immediately hit #1 on the album charts when it was released in April. The song uses the allegory of the ebony (black) and ivory (white) keys on a piano to make a statement on racial harmony, in a quite simplistic and tacky way. Still, it was a very popular song and the second most popular of McCartney’s entire career behind the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. The other collaboration with Wonder is “What’s That You’re Doing?”, a song that is quite off-putting because of the cheap electronics brought to the forefront. For the amount of talent between these two geniuses, this is really a low quality, throwaway track, extended way too long in length with sounds generated as if a couple of teenagers got a hold of a synthesizer.

“Here Today” was written as a bittersweet folk melody in memoriam of John Lennon with a string arrangement by Martin. But these fall short of magic and even the song written in tribute to Lennon seemed fluffy and lacking true substance, as if McCartney wrote the song he thought people wanted him to write rather than something deep and REAL. Some have compared the opening title song, “Tug of War” to Lennon’s “Imagine”, but that is a bit generous. It is a fine enough song, with good melody and interesting changes, but it is far from a classic.

“Take It Away” may be the last great Wings song, and it is certainly the best song on the album. It contains elements that harken back to greats like “Listen to What the Man Said”, with sonic supremacy, excellent vocal choruses, and just the right brass added at just the right time. The song starts as  reggae but morphs into something for show-style. If the rest of the album was of this quality, it would have been a great album
 

 
The second side opens with a few fine tracks, starting with the fun “Ballroom Dancing”, which is  well-produced with great sonic flavorings throughout. “The Pound Is Sinking” is a good acoustic song with a country and western type rhythm edged with a elements of doomy-ness and theatrics reminiscent to early Genesis. “Wanderlust” is a great piano song with good production and excellent vocals. It nods towards McCartney’s 1979 marijuana bust in Japan without getting too specific.

“Get It” is a duet with Carl Perkins, that is not totally unpleasant, but out of place here among some of the finer compositions. A weird “link” called “Be What You See” leads to “Dress Me Up As a Robber”, a funked-up disco with high-pitched vocals, which again calls into question some of the selections on this album (he should let Earth, Wind, and Fire be Earth, Wind, and Fire) The only really interesting part is the lead, Spanish-style acoustic.

In the end, Tug Of War would end up being the crossroads between McCartney’s fine albums of the seventies and the rather forgettable albums of the eighties.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden

The Number Of the Beast
by Iron Maiden

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The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden As we’ve mentioned before on this site, Classic Rock Review does not like to stray too far from mainstream rock and pop when selecting which albums we review. But in some exceptional cases, we feel compelled to explore albums which have had longstanding influence over the passage of time, especially when that influence transcends the specific genre of the artist. The Number Of the Beast is such an album by Iron Maiden. It has been routinely ranked among the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and topped the charts in the U.K., being one of the first albums to move into more commercial territory in a genre that got close to zero airplay at the time. A showcase for producer Martin Birch, the album possesses a crisp yet strong song that jived perfectly with the tastes of hard rock fans in 1982.

For those who were growing tired of the London punk scene by the end of the 1970s, a new wave of British heavy metal was being forged among several bands and championed by a publication called Sounds magazine. Aside from Iron Maiden, one of these bands was called Samson,  that band had a dynamic lead singer named Bruce Dickinson. As Iron Maiden was on the verge of international breakthrough following their second major label album,Killers in 1981, Dickinson was asked to join the band to replace lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno. This was an extremely bold move, as the band was well on their way to success, but Birch recognized the importance of a grandiose frontman for what the band was trying to achieve.

The primary songwriter for the band was bassist Steve Harris, who came up with many of the diverse themes on the album, including the controversial title and title song. With the addition of Dickinson and his wide range on vocals, Harris was also free to explore many different styles and genres sonically. Unlike previous albums, most of the material on Number Of the Beast was written in pre-production rather than worked out over a series of live gigs. Because of the complex nature of the songs, the band was left with only five weeks to record, mix, and, master the album after taking so long to rehearse.
 


The Number Of the Beast by Iron Maiden
Released: March 22, 1982 (EMI)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Battery Studios, London, January-March 1982
Side One Side Two
Invaders
Children Of the Damned
The Prisoner
22 Acacia Avenue
The Number Of the Beast
Rin For the Hills
Gangland
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Band Musicians
Bruce Dickinson – Lead Vocals
Steve Harris – Bass, Vocals
Dave Murray – Guitars
Adrian Smith – Guitars, Vocals
Clive Burr – Drums, Percussion

 
The album’s opening track “Invaders” was actually one of the last songs constructed, hurridly to fill out the album. Although some in the band had lamented that this was not the strongest possible track to open up the album, it performs an adequate task for setting up the listener. For a doomier follow-up, “Children of the Damned” bridges a theme from the past which may have come from early era Black Sabbath, with music of the future like that of later era Metallica. The song is loosely based on the film of the same name.

The Prisoner television series“The Prisoner” was also inspired by previous pop culture, this time a British television show of the same name from the late 1960s. It features dialogue from that show in the song’s intro. The song was co-written by guitarist Adrian Smith and is one of the finest tracks on the album musically. It features integral guitar work and a very melodic vocal during the choruses. “22 Acacia Avenue” closes out the first side as the second song in the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga, which was originally written by Smith several years earlier, while playing in his old band, Urchin. According to Smith, Steve Harris remembered hearing the song at an Urchin concert in a local park, and modified it for The Number of the Beast album.

The title track was considered by some as evidence that Iron Maiden were a Satanic band, but Harris, the song’s author had long contended that was never the intention as it was inspired by a nightmare. The track opens with a spoken rendition of passages from the Biblical book of Revelations by actor Barry Clayton. The song itself employs and odd time signature, and one of the most famous “screams” in rock n’ roll history.
 

 
“Run to the Hills” was driven by a great rhythm led by drummer Clive Burr. It was released as a single prior to the album’s release and was a surprise top ten hit in the U.K. The song attempts to give a balanced view of the disputes that occurred between European settlers in the New World and American Indian tribes during the days of westward expansion, with different rhythms and tempos symbolizing the differing points of view. The closing song “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is one of the most celebrated pieces of the band’s catalog. It opens with a doomy atmosphere before breaking into a sequence of harmonized guitar riffs by Harris and Dave Murray and an strong performance by Dickinson.

Although some moments on the album are clearly stronger than others, the intensity of The Number Of the Beast never lets up. Peerless for its time, the album represented a high-water mark for this style of heavy metal, which would be replicated often throughout the rest of the decade but never quite equaled.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

 

Pictures at Eleven by Robert Plant

Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant

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Pictures at Eleven by Robert PlantPictures At Eleven was sweet relief for Zeppelin-starved fans still in shock over John Bonham’s death and the break up of Led Zepplin when it was released as Robert Plant‘s debut solo album in June 1982. However, this album soon got lost in the shadow of later works by Plant, which is unfortunate because pound-for-pound, this may be his finest work as a solo artist. Unlike those later efforts, this album is not dominated by keyboards, which gives space musically for guitarist Robbie Blunt to really shine. The album also displays some fine drumming by Phil Collins, who took time off from a dual career as front man for Genesis and his own fledgling solo work to step into the unenviable position of being the first drummer to back Plant since the 1960s. But of course the true talent here is Plant himself. He stepped up to compose (along with Blunt) some very interesting material which, while maintaining some traces of his previous life with Led Zeppelin, really takes a quantum leap into the new-wavish realm of the early 1980s.

Plant was in a unique state of mind during this period. He believed that the stardom in Led Zeppelin had in someway begotten the string of tragedies that struck his family in the late 1970s and, ultimately, Bonham with his death in 1980. In this light, he refused to perform any Zeppelin songs live and would not set out on a major tour until after he composed his second album, The Principle of Moments in 1983. For this debut solo album, Plant took the rock world by surprise, with a smoother and more stylized vocal style to complement the variety of diverse guitar motifs by Blunt. Still, Plant maintained the same high energy and dynamic output with some signature ad-libs and majestic wailing, which made him one of the most esteemed vocalists in rock.

Pictures At Eleven was also Plant’s debut as a producer and it has held up sonically through three decades. One critique of the sound is the very weak presence of bass by Paul Martinez, as Plant really focused on the guitars and drums in the mix. However, the performances are so strong by Blunt and Collins that Martinez is hardly missed.
 


Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant
Released: June 28, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Robert Plant
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales, 1982
Side One Side Two
Burning Down One Side
Moonlight In Samosa
Pledge Pin
Slow Dancer
Worse Than Detroit
Fat Lip
Like I’ve Never Been Gone
Mystery Title
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Robbie Blunt – Guitars
Jezz Woodroffe – Keyboards
Paul Martinez – Bass
Phil Collins – Drums

 
The songs on Pictures At Eleven is generally standard in lyrical content, focused heavily on love, sex, and heartbreak. However, the bulk of the songs have odd and unexplained titles. “Pledge Pin” is one such title, nicely driven by Collins’ drumming and percussive effects, the song contains slow driving of musical rudiments and a great vocal melody by Plant. This song also features some extended saxophone by Raphael Ravenscroft and became a popular track on AOR radio. “Moonlight in Samosa” is a soft and pleasant ballad lead by Plant’s relatively new “crooning” voice (which he first developed on Zeppelin’s final album In Through the Out Door) and Blunt’s potpourri of guitar textures and styles. The song has a dramatic edge towards the end of the final verse.

Although most of the material is presented in a new fashion, there are two songs on that are most reflective of Led Zeppelin. “Slow Dancer” contains some vocal desperation and mechanically squeezed guitar riff. Couple this with the long, improvised length of song and you have an instant favorite for Zeppelin fans. This song features a fine performance by former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell in lieu of Collins. “Burning Down One Side” makes the most immediate impact on the Zeppelin fan as this has a topical feel as a plausible extension of that band. This opening track was the most popular from the album but disappointingly failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.
 

 
Two of the most interesting songs on the album kick off the second side. The bluesy “Worse Than Detroit” almost feels like Jimmy Page and John Bonham are playing at parts, but here is a jam by Robbie Blunt and Phil Collins at their finest. A wild mid-section features harmonica by Plant, which is complemented later with the heavy slide riff of Blunt. “Fat Lip” is almost the polar opposite of “Worse Than Detroit”. It contains some electronic percussion and fine guitar motifs interspersed between variations of vocal parts – not quite verses nor choruses – but a very unique arrangement. It is really the only song on the album where keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe is prominent and he co-wrote the song.

“Like I’ve Never Been Gone” is a true ballad with just a flair of Spanish styling by Blunt. This song is a little overdrawn but still not totally unpleasant. “Mystery Title” closes the album with a zany guitar riff that predominates the beginning of the song gives way to some very interesting and diverse parts in near schizo fashion, although it all somehow works.

Pictures At Eleven was a solid and successful launching of Plant’s solo career and, although it didn’t contain any really popular individual songs, it was probably the most solid and consistent album he put out.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 music.

 

Low by David Bowie

Low by David Bowie

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Low by David BowieLow was a 1977 breakthrough album by David Bowie, which contained avant-garde tracks rich with experimental synthesizers and unique compositional approaches. The album was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti and is considered the first of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” along with Heroes later in 1977 and Lodger in 1979. All three of these albums were collaborations with composer Brian Eno. Much of the album’s second side grew from music Bowie had developed for a soundtrack in 1975 but was rejected by the film’s director. The later-written first side contains a balance of art-rock experimentalism and rock n’ roll tradition, in a mix of instrumentals and uniquely arranged pop/rock fragments of songs.

The songwriting on Low tended to deal with difficult issues.  Bowie was attempting to kick a cocaine habit which was an agonizing experieince for him. The title was partly a reference to Bowie’s “low” moods during the album’s writing and recording. Also influencing the album’s darker themes was the hopelessness of people beyond the Iron Curtain, as symbolized by the Berlin Wall. Bowie had moved to Berlin when he decided to get clean from drugs, bringing him within close geographic contact to the European population without freedom or opportunity in East Germany and other Soviet bloc nations.

Bowie was a rock pioneer during the early days of rock’s glam era. In the mid seventies he tried to find his place with different styles, including a bit of avant-garde with 1976’s Station to Station. With Low put Bowie back at rock’s cutting edge by exploring the new frontier of analog synthesizers and electronic effects. The result would be one of the most critically acclaimed albums of Bowie’s long career.


Low by David Bowie
Released: January 14, 1977 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Tony Visconti
Recorded: Château d’Hérouville, France, and Hansa Studio by the Wall, West Berlin, 1976
Side One Side Two
Speed of Life
Breaking Glass
What In the World
Sound and Vision
Always Crashing In the Same Car
Be My Wife
A New Career In a New Town
Warszawa
Art Decade
Weeping Wall
Subterraneans
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone, Harmonica
Brian Eno – Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Carlos Alomar – Guitar
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

Although Low was Bowie’s eleventh studio album, none of the previous ten had included a pure instrumental. That streak is broken  with the album’s opener, “Speed of Life.”  Even though the pattern is rather simple and repetitive, the ambiance of sound lets the listener know from the jump that this is no ordinary rock n’ roll album by making immediate implications about the content of the album and its heavy use of synthesizers as both effects and instruments. “Breaking Glass” follows clocking in at under two minutes, which is really a shame because this fragment is very entertaining and could be tolerated for another minute or two. The funk-influenced track features great bass by Rick Murray.

“What in the World” employs a very 1980s sound well before that decade commenced, with a cool “digital blipping” effect and and other heavy use of synthesizer by Eno. The song also features Iggy Pop on backing vocals. “Sound and Vision” is a funky jazz piece with long intro and small doses of vocals doled out before the actual verses begin about 2/3 through the song. This song was the one singled out by RCA when they warned that the release of Low was tantamount to commercial and artistic suicide, citing the extremely long instrumental intro of “Sound and Vision.” Ironically, “Sound and Vision” became Bowie’s biggest U.K. hit in several years and was adapted by the BBC as background music for its program announcements.

“Always Crashing in the Same Car” may be the song that best personifies this album, with sparse (albeit profound) lyrics and vocals and direct and interesting instrumentals, especially the outtro guitar lead by Carlos Alomar. The lyrics express the frustration of making the same mistake over again and are backed up by more inventive synths and interesting, metallic-tinged guitars by Ricky Gardiner.

Be My Wife single“Be My Wife” is almost like two alternating songs in one – the Beatle-esque “sometimes it gets so lonely” part, and the more traditional Bowie style of the “Be My Wife” section. The overall electronic feel is toned down a bit for a heavier, guitar-driven rock arrangement decorated by sharp “ragtime” piano notes. The first side ends with another instrumental called “A New Career in a New Town”, which breaks from a decidedly new-age intro into an interesting fusion of New Wave and Blues. The song features a harmonica solo by Bowie, giving it a whole new dimension.

As odd as the seven-song first side is, it pales in comparison to the quartet of dramatic pieces which make up side two. “Warszawa” is a collaboration between Bowie and Eno, which sounds like something off Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother or Obscured By Clouds. It contains long, trance-like chord progressions and vocal motifs of nonsensical lyrics, revealing its original intent to be part of a film score. Visconti’s four-year-old son actually played a part in developing this piece by playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano while Eno worked out the synth parts. “Warszawa” was titled for the Polish city which Bowie visited during 1976 and its bleak mood was inspired by the the feeling he got from the city itself. “Art Decade” is a pun on ‘art decayed’ and reflects Bowie’s concern over his own artistic inspiration. The core melody is performed on heavily produced keyboards and was influenced by the German band Kraftwerk.

“Weeping Wall” refers to the Berlin Wall, with the melody being an adaptation of the traditional song “Scarborough Fair”. On this track, Bowie played all instruments including several percussion and synthesizers. The album concludes with “Subterraneans”, which Bowie says was also influenced by the misery in East Berlin. Unfortunately, this piece is really an uninspired ending to an otherwise interesting album.

Although critical reaction to Low was tepid upon its release, it has come to be acclaimed for its originality and is universally considered ahead of its time for 1977.
 
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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

Out Of the Blue by Electric Light Orchestra

Out of the Blue by E.L.O.

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Out Of the Blue by Electric Light OrchestraOut Of the Blue was the seventh album by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), which began its life in the Swiss Alps after the band wrapped up it’s New World Record tour in April 1977. ELO’s lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Jeff Lynne rented a small chalet near Lake Geneva. He brought his guitar and rented an electric piano and tape recorder, giving himself about a month of solitude to compose new music. But for about two weeks the weather was terrible and Lynne struggled to write anything of substance. Then one morning, the sun came out exposing the majestic mountains and Lynne’s writer’s block disappeared. Starting with the suite “Concerto For a Rainy Day”, the songwriter composed the bulk of this upcoming double album in total, about fourteen tracks in two weeks. The songs were then rehearsed by and arranged for the band and orchestra before production began at Musicland in Munich, Germany, a place favored by Lynne because of its proximity to “a great football pitch out the back for having a break”.

Lynne was happy to get 40 orchestral musicians into the relatively small Musicland after originally booking and being unsatisfied with a much larger studio where there was too much natural re-verb. In the end, every one of the 19 tracks on Out Of the Blue were composed and produced by Lynne and the album was on the shelf in mere months. Out Of the Blue was a great success, reaching the top five on album charts in seven different countries and becoming the most highly regarded album by ELO. The album also benefited from being highly relevant to its time, having some disco-friendly sounds in the year which brought us Saturday Night Fever and spaceship-centered artwork in the year that brought us Star Wars.

Creatively, it was the apex of Lynne’s ambition to blend basic rock’n’roll with orchestral overtones, something many fans and critics believe was his independent crusade to continue the Beatles musical direction of their latter years. Ironically, Beatles producer George Martin felt their only double album, 1968’s White Album could’ve been edited back to form a really excellent single album and Out Of the Blue may have been better served to follow that advice. The songs tend to be overproduced, which is sonically fulfilling at the beginning but gets mundane as the album progresses, especially with a rather weak fourth “side”. The rich vocal arrangements and the method of call and return by Lynn’s lead and the harmonized backing, especially wear thin as the album progresses.

Classic Rock Review
Out Of the Blue by E.L.O.
Released: October 1977 (Jet)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, May-August 1977
Side One Side Two
Turn To Stone
It’s Over
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Across the Border
Night In the City
Starlight
Jungle
Believe Me Now
Steppin’ Out
Side Three Side Four
Standin’ In the Rain
Big Wheels
Summer and Lightning
Mr. Blue Sky
Sweet Is the Night
The Whale
Birmingham Blues
Wild West Hero
Primary Musicians
Jeff Lynne – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Richard Tandy – Keyboards, Guitars
Louis Clark – Orchestra Conductor
Kelly Groucutt – Bass, Vocals
Bev Bevan – Drums, Vocals

The album fades in with the hit “Turn to Stone” with a beat equivalent to early techno and Lynne’s call-out vocals returned by thick harmonies (something that will be repeated all too often on this album). The song contains great texture, a key component to many songs on the album along with the skill of mixing string-laden pop hooks with driving rock and roll. The next song, “It’s Over” is an odd song to be placed anywhere but at the end of a side. The song contains a driving acoustic through the verses with a nice piano piece in the lead

Sweet Talkin' Woman single, 1978A short wedding march introduces “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, a tremendous pop song with fine melodies, harmonies, and overall great use of vocals. “Jungle” is a song of just plain fun with its various types of sound effects, upbeat tempo, and use of nonsensical vocal flourishes and jungle animal noises provided by Lynne along with bassist Kelly Groucutt and drummer Bev Bevan. “Believe Me Now” is a short yet entertaining instrumental that introduces the melodic an melancholy “Steppin’ Out”, written in a similar vein to past classics like “Telephone Line”.

Based on old-time rock, “Across the Border” adds mariachi horns into the already-packed musical palette of sound effects, Moog synthesizer, and violin by Mik Kaminski. The album’s second side starts with “Night In the City”, a definitely disco-influenced track with just a hint of prog-rock experimentation through the changing chord structures and vocal arrangements. “Starlight” is a dreamy, slow dance influenced, piano driven song with topical, new-age sounds.

The entirety of side three is subtitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day”, a four track suite based on the weather and how it affects mood change, ending gloriously with “Mr. Blue Sky”, an uplifting celebration of sunshine. The song has liberal use of vocoder from keyboardist Richard Tandy. Beyond this, the song contains the best vocals on this vocal-rich album, from the cool lead by Lynne, to the multi-part harmonies in the chorus, to the building arrangement following the second verse, to the great choral arrangement later in the song. Leading up to this climatic final song, the concerto (which would be the end of Lynne’s dabbling in symphonic rock) contains the haunting “Standin’ in the Rain”, the dramatic, string-driven “Big Wheels”, and the acoustic, pop-oriented “Summer and Lightning”.

Electric Light Orchestra

Side four is, unfortunately, the weakest side on Out Of the Blue as this otherwise fine album fizzles to an anti-climatic end. It is not that these songs are terrible, just that all the spectacular moments have passed and nothing here seems too original or inspiring. “Sweet Is the Night” may have been a hit single if it were released, as it does have some pleasant and melodic moments. “The Whale” is an instrumental which is largely an experiment with synthesized sounds by Tandy. “Birmingham Blues” is mainly uninspired filler, and the album’s closer, “Wild West Hero” adds some “honky tonk” elements which seem forced and underdeveloped.

Still, Out Of the Blue contains some fantastic songs and there were actually even a couple of very good songs that were originally kept off (although later added for the 30th anniversary edition. These were the fine instrumental “The Quick and the Daft” and the melodic, pop-oriented “Latitude 88 North”, which has a sound that may have actually been ahead of its time for 1977. Then again, Jeff Lynne and ELO always seemed to be just a little ahead of their time.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.