My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello

My Aim is True by Elvis Costello

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My Aim Is True by Elvis CostelloMy Aim Is True is the debut album by Elvis Costello and it introduced the world to a hybrid sound that drew near equal influence from 1950s old time rock n’ roll and 1970s cutting edge new wave and punk. The album and this artist also represented a (slightly controversial) changing of the guard in the rock world as this artist, with the adopted name “Elvis”, put out his debut album within weeks of the death of the original Elvis (Presley) during the summer of 1977.

Born Declan Patrick MacManus, this English singer/songwriter began his career as part of London’s pub rock scene in the early 1970s as well as performing in the Liverpool-based folk duo Rusty. Between 1974 and 1976, MacManus played in the rock band Flip City and adopted the stage name D.P. Costello, in tribute to his father who had performed under a similar stage name years earlier. During this time, Costello began to write original songs and a demo tape of this material led to a solo recording contract with Stiff Records and, at the suggestion of his manager, Elvis was added to his stage name for these new recordings.

My Aim Is True was recorded in multiple late-night, short studio sessions over the winter of 1976-1977. It was produced by Nick Lowe who would go on to produce each of Costello’s first five studio albums. Backing Costello for this album were members of the country/rock band Clover (originally identified as”The Shamrocks”), who added an energy which gave the production a “live” feel. Left off the album, but later released as a single, was the reggae-fused track “Watching the Detectives”, which would become Costello’s first charting hit.

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My Aim is True by Elvis Costello
Released: July 22, 1977 (Stiff)
Produced by: Nick Lowe
Recorded: Pathway Studios, London, 1976–1977
Side One Side Two
Welcome to the Working Week
Miracle Man
No Dancing
Blame It on Cain
Alison
Sneaky Feelings
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
Less Than Zero
Mystery Dance
Pay It Back
I’m Not Angry
Waiting for the End of the World
Primary Musicians
Elvis Costello – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
John McFee – Guitars, Vocals
Sean Hopper – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Johnny Ciambotti – Bass, Vocals
Mickey Shine– Drums

A prolific composer, Costello wrote all the songs on My Aim is True and, although there is a wide range stylistically from song to song, they all seem to work cohesively as an album. The short but effective “Welcome to the Working Week” quickly morphs from doo-wop to new wave before it abruptly ends after about 80 seconds of running time leading to the more substantive “Miracle Man”, a jam with rich instrumentation, an array of guitar textures and a bouncy bass by Johnny Ciambotti.

Next comes the heart of side one, starting with “No Dancing”, featuring a Phil Spector-like beat and presented as almost a ballad but with thick and complex arrangement and multiple guitar styles by Costello and John McFee. “Blame It on Cain” features great pop / rock sensibilities with an upbeat blues, Jersey Shore rock shine, while the more mellow “Alison” combines slightly jazzy guitars and soulful vocals. This great melancholy pop song was written about a checkout girl at a local supermarket and features the line which gives this album its title. “Sneaky Feelings” returns to upbeat blues/pop to complete the first side.

Elvis Costello

Side two begins with “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”, featuring fine melodies complemented by lazily picked guitar and a contrasting strong drum beat by Mickey Shine. “Less Than Zero” is a steady rocker with plenty of guitar and keyboard riffs under a lyric driven screed against a British fascist, while “Mystery Dance” is a pure fifties rocker throughout with an almost-punk tempo and time. “Pay It Back” returns to the standard Costello style, well established by this point in the album. “I’m Not Angry” sees a hard rock guitar over a quirky, choppy rhythm and an amplified whisper during the choruses, making for an interesting mix of sonic effects and an overall original song. The album ends strongly with one of its finest tunes, “Waiting for the End of the World”. A nice use of dynamics between the laid back main riff and the strong chorus is combined with great percussion and a combo of rudiments throughout and a cool slide guitar in the choruses are featured in this song.

At the time of My Aim is True‘s release, Costello was still working at his “day job” and had already finished composing songs for his next album, This Year’s Model, released in 1978. Further, Costello established his permanent backing band, the Attractions. A second version of My Aim is True was recorded with the new band with the intention of replacing the original tracks contained in My Aim Is True once the initial pressings had sold out. However, this never came to pass as the original recording gained critical momentum, a momentum which continues four decades later.

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1977 Images

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

Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

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Flaming Pie by Paul McCartneyAfter spending a few years working on The Beatles Anthology project, it was clear that Paul McCartney wanted to continue revisiting the sounds and styles of the past when he resumed his solo career. Flaming Pie, McCartney’s tenth solo album, was a success in achieving this goal as it features an array of styles which pinpoint musical moments with and without the Beatles. This was also an album where McCartney collaborated with Ringo Starr as well as a couple of his own immediate family members.

Coming into the decade of the 1990s, McCartney was one of the highest grossing rock acts. Still, he decided to branch out into orchestral and opera music with Liverpool Oratorio in 1991 and electronica music the final year with Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest. In 1993, McCartney released the pop/rock album Off the Ground, which would be his last studio album for the next four years.

Following the completion of the Anthology project, McCartney teamed up with co-producer and multi instrumentalist Jeff Lynne with the intention of producing something “pure and easy”. The album was recorded over the course of two years and included new material as well as some songs initiated in previous years. These sessions also produced excess material, most notably the “Oobu Joobu” series of rare tracks.


Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney
Released: May 5, 1997 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin, Jeff Lynne and Paul McCartney
Recorded: Sun Valley, Idaho and Abbey Road Studios, London, September 1992 – February 1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Song We Were Singing
The World Tonight
If You Wanna
Somedays
Young Boy
Calico Skies
Flaming Pie
Heaven On a Sunday
Used to Be Bad
Souvenir
Little Willow
Really Love You
Beautiful Night
Great Day
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Bass, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Percussion
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Miller – Bass, Chapman Stick
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 
Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

The album’s opener, “The Song We Were Singing”, is instantly rewarding and pleasant as it alternates between softly picked acoustic folk verses and the strong, Scottish-folk influenced choruses. Philosophically it centers around the core of McCartney’s existence, the “song”, and it appears to allude to his relationship with John Lennon. The pop radio hit “The World Tonight” features verses with interesting harmonies before McCartney breaks out vocally in the pre-chorus as well as a slight but excellent piano later.

As the album settles in, we have “If You Wanna”, an acoustic rocker with some strong late seventies, early eighties pop elements along with some excellent lead guitars, followed in contrast by the picked acoustic ballad “Somedays”, the first of two tracks produced and orchestrated by Sir George Martin. “Young Boy” is a standard, but pleasant, pop / rock track where McCartney teamed up with the legendary Steve Miller. Later on the album, the duo returns on the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” where Miller shares lead vocals and proves that he has the better blues pedigree as McCartney’s lines sound more like a novelty.

The acoustic picked “Calico Skies” was written in 1991 during a hurricane blackout while the title track, “Flaming Pie” features a sound that is pure late-era Beatles, with boogie piano accented by crisp, distorted guitar riffs. “Heaven on a Sunday” takes a soft jazz approach with pleasant melodies, backing vocals by Linda McCartney and a great contrasting, whining rock lead guitar by son James McCartney.

Paul McCartney

The album’s final stretch features some of the more interesting tracks. “Souvenir” is a sonic masterpiece from beginning to end, using some classic rock motifs and a melancholy ballad approach, while “Little Willow” is a sad ballad which McCartney wrote for the children of the late Maureen Starkey, wife of Ringo. Next comes a unique composition by Paul and Ringo,”Really Love You”, with a kicking rhythm focused on the strong bass and drum beat and a classic blues / soul / R&B feel. “Beautiful Night” is a grandiose song with grandiose production by Martin and soaring vocals and lyrics by McCartney. His strained vocals through the later half of this power ballad makes it an instant classic. Wrapping up the album is “Great Day”, acting almost as the reciprocal of “Beautiful Night” with simple finger-picked guitar and hand percussion. This closing track features Linda McCartney joining on backing vocals, which would sadly be her last collaboration with Paul as she passed away a year after the album’s release.

Flaming Pie was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at number two in both the UK and US. It has grown to become one of McCartney’s most critically acclaimed albums of his long solo career.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1997 albums.

Argus by Wishbone Ash

Argus by Wishbone Ash

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Argus by Wishbone AshArgus is the most commercially successful album for Wishbone Ash and is considered by many to be their high-water mark musically. This third album by the British rock quartet features a medieval-themed lyrical concept which is complemented by a musical blend of heavy blues, folk, and progressive hard rock. Further, with dual lead guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner, this album was one of the first to employ the harmonized lead guitars method which would later become popular among hard rock groups.

Wishbone Ash was formed as a trio in 1969 in Torquay, England by bassist Martin Turner (no relation to Ted) and drummer Steve Upton. When the original guitarist departed the group, they had a hard time deciding between the final two competing candidates, and ultimately they hired both Powell and Ted Turner to become a four-piece rock band. In 1970, the band landed on a tour opening for Deep Purple, whose guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore was impressed with their sound and helped the band sign a record deal with Decca/MCA Records. Both the albums Wishbone Ash in late 1970 and Pilgrimage 1971 received favorable reviews but less than favorable sales.

For the recording of this third album, producer Derek Lawrence teamed with Deep Purple’s engineer (and future big-time producer) Martin Birch at De Lane Lea studios in Wembley, which had just installed a state-of-the-art 16-track desk console. The album was recorded in less than a month in early 1972.


Argus by Wishbone Ash
Released: April 28, 1972 (Decca)
Produced by: Derek Lawrence
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, London, January 1972
Side One Side Two
Time Wa
Sometime World
Blowin’ Free
The King Will Come
Leaf and Stream
Warrior
Throw Down the Sword
Group Musicians
Martin Turner – Bass, Vocals
Andy Powell – Guitars, Vocals
Ted Turner – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Upton – Drums, Percussion

 

While the songs on Argus are solid throughout, the best material is positioned on the original first side of the record. “Time Was” is a nearly ten-minute epic which starts with a long picked, acoustic folk section, building the tension nicely before the full band arrangement finally kicks in at around the 3:00 mark. From here, the song rocks quite aptly with no fewer than three guitar lead section, weaving between solo and harmonized guitars in between the verses and bridge section.

“Sometime World” features bluesy lead guitars over a solid, rounded bass line through this quasi rock/ballad. Like the opener, this song also takes a turn towards harder rock part way through with an energetic jam and good leads built on Turner’s prog-based bass riff. “Blowin’ Free” begins with a couple of coordinated, choppy riffs which work to create a really cool sonic pattern in the intro. Next, the drum rolls in to a thumping rhythm for the song proper and, working in the opposite direction of the previous two tracks on side one, the song breaks down to a fine, mellow mid-section before returning for a blistering guitar lead and the final verse.

Wishbone Ash

Side two is escorted in with the marching drum and regal-like tones of “The King Will Come”. Unfortunately, the song proper here is much less interesting than the unique intro. “Leaf and Stream” follows as a pure folk song with the lead vocals accompanied by picked electric and a fine bass line. The album winds down with a mini-suite by Martin Turner and Andy Powell. “Warrior” has sparse vocals in between long stretches of atmospheric music before a full rock jam commences. “Throw Down the Sword” offers the perspective after the fight from “Warrior” is over. After a few brief verses, song and album complete with a duo guitar lead, leaving the listener on a high note.

The success of Argus propelled Wishbone Ash into the arena headliners and set the stage for further success through the mid seventies, before frequent lineup shifts chilled their momentum.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel 1977 debut album

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Peter GabrielAfter departing from Genesis, the group he founded and fronted for nearly a decade, Peter Gabriel slowly worked his way into launching a solo career. His 1977 debut album (the first of four self-titled releases) features nine tracks of diverse music which reflects back on his extensive work with the band and looks forward to Gabriel’s new musical approach as a distinct solo artist. Commercially, the album reached the Top Ten in Gabriel’s native U.K. and the Top 40 in the U.S.A.

Gabriel decided to leave Genesis after the band completed their 1974 double album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The group kept this revelation secret as Gabriel joined them on a massive world tour to promote the album and Gabriel finally revealed his departure in a 1975 published letter to fans entitled “Out, Angels Out”.

When Gabriel was ready to start recording solo material in 1976 he enlisted producer Bob Ezrin, who had previously worked mainly with hard rock acts such as Aerosmith, Kiss and the Alice Cooper Band. Production wise, Ezrin worked on some of the dynamic passages of the songs, using not just rock elements but also string and brass orchestration and lofty, layered synths. Meanwhile, Gabriel focused on the more “quiet” parts of the album. The two enlisted a strong assembly of backing musicians, including Robert Fripp and bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson.

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Peter Gabriel by Peter Gabriel
Released: February 25, 1977 (Atco)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: The Soundstage, Toronto, Morgan Studios and Olympic Studios, London, July 1976–January 1977
Side One Side Two
Moribund the Burgermeister
Solsbury Hill
Modern Love
Excuse Me
Humdrum
Slowburn
Waiting for the Big One
Down the Dolce Vita
Here Comes the Flood
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Flute
Robert Fripp – Guitars, Banjo
Steve Hunter – Guitars
Jozef Chirowski – Keyboards
Tony Levin – Bass, Tuba
Allan Schwartzberg– Drums

The album begins with wild, synth-like rhythms during the intro and verse of “Moribund the Burgermeister”, which soon explodes into a full-fledged rock orchestra for the chorus section, as Gabriel uses character voices which seem to be left over from some of his character interpretations on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. “Solsbury Hill” follows as the most indelible track on the album. This bright acoustic track features exquisite vocals delivering poetic lyrics which depict a seemingly religious-like experience that led to his decision to cut ties with Genesis. Released as the lead single from the album, the song failed to chart initially but has long grown in stature as an absolute classic by Gabriel.

“Modern Love” is a pure rocker where Levin provides great bass throughout and Ezrin applies an Alice-Cooper-like theatrical approach while maintaining a hard rock edge. Cowritten by Martin Hall, “Excuse Me” is, by far, the weirdest track as it utilizes classical British dance hall pop harmonies and carnival-like rhythms, complete with a tuba to accompany the lyrical emotional creed of a loner. In contrast, “Humdrum” is a very low-fi recording of piano and vocals with minimal arrangement added later on in the song.

The album’s original second side begins “Slowburn”, another instrumentation rich rock theatrical piece, although this one seems to be more disjointed than earlier ones on the album. “Waiting for the Big One” is a fine soulful, jazz piano track where Gabriel employs a vocal style different than anything else. The song has a bit of false ending before reviving to include an instrumental section with an excellent blues/rock guitar lead by Steve Hunter and inventive drum fills by Allan Schwartzberg. “Down the Dolce Vita” starts with pure orchestration before breaking into a disco-like beat and rhythm, led by a distinct clavichord throughout, while the closing ballad “Here Comes the Flood” features plenty more sonic decor and orchestration with vivid, poetic lyrics and guest Dick Wagner providing a great guitar lead to complete the album on a high note.

Peter Gabriel

Being that Gabriel did not title his first four solo albums, they soon gained aliases based on their cover art, with this 1977 debut being nicknamed “Car”. Following this album’s release, Gabriel enlisted many of the studio musicians for a touring band which performed through much of 1977 before Gabriel returned to the studio for his 1978 follow-up album.

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1977 Images

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

Station to Station by David Bowie

Station to Station by David Bowie

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Station to Station by David BowieHis tenth overall studio album, Station to Station was a transitional album for David Bowie. Musically, this 1976 album seamlessly bridges the gap between the glam rock of Bowie’s early 1970s work, the Soul sound he explored in the middle of the decade, and the experimental, synth-driven “krautrock” works to come later in the decade. This was also one of the last album’s where Bowie employed a musical alter ego with “The Thin White Duke” persona.

Bowie had moved to the United States in 1974, first to New York, after he completed recording Diamond Dogs. The following year, Bowie recorded the soul-influenced Young Americans in Philadelphia. This album spawned Bowie’s first number one hit with “Fame”, co-written by John Lennon, and elevated Bowie to becoming a worldwide pop superstar. Not all was well, however, as Bowie had major financial issues with his manager and developed a significant cocaine habit.

Station to Station was recorded after Bowie migrated to Los Angeles and completed the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Recorded in late 1975, the album was co-produced by Harry Maslin and featured guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had worked on the previous Young Americans. Seven songs were recorded during the sessions, with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” being ultimately omitted from the six-track album.

 

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Station to Station by David Bowie
Released: January 23, 1976 (RCA)
Produced by: David Bowie & Harry Maslin
Recorded: Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, September-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a Wing
TVC 15
Stay
Wild Is the Wind
Primary Musicians
David Bowie – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Saxophone
Carlos Alomar – Guitars
Roy Bittan – Piano
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

 

The album opens with the extended title song, “Station to Station”, which was the longest song Bowie had recorded to date at over ten minutes long. A long and methodical intro introduces the track before any vocals arrive for the first of two distinct parts. Shortly after the song’s five minute mark, the song picks up the pace which makes it feel more like a theatrical number.  It is rhythmically built with the bouncy bass of George Murray and the good, animated, disco-influenced drums Dennis Davis throughout the song. “Golden Years” is the closest to a pure pop song on the album, built on moderate funk groove with reserved backing hook, giving the vocals space for assertion. This repetitive but entertaining track was originally released as a single in late 1975 and it peaked in the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic in early 1976.

“Word on a Wing” is an exquisite, upbeat ballad, driven by the piano of Roy Bittan. Here Bowie’s lyrics and vocal delivery are delivered with a desperate passion throughout in a quasi-religious song written out of a drug-fueled spiritual despair which Bowie later described as the darkest days of his life. “TVC 15” comes from another side of the drug experience, when fellow rocker Iggy Pop hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. Musically, this interesting and entertaining track is built off Bittan’s bouncy, boogie-woogie piano, later breaking into a straight-forward disco/rock during the verses with nice vocal effects and atmosphere like a rock carnival throughout.

David Bowie in 1976

“Stay” commences with Alomar’s funky/blues guitar lead in an excellent, methodical rock lead-in. The rest of the track is a very inventive gem with funky bass and heavy rock guitars over a steady beat and multiple styles of vocals throughout. The album conclude’s with its sole cover, the pleasant ballad with layered guitars and seventies production, “Wild Is the Wind”. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, this track caught Bowie’s attention when recorded by Nina Simone, and his own vocal interpretation been praised through the years.

Station to Station reached #3 on the Billboard Album charts and would be David Bowie’s highest-charting album in the US for nearly four decades. Bowie later cited this album along with its 1977 follow-up, Low, as two of his finest works.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Rainbow Rising

Rainbow Rising

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Rainbow RisingRainbow returned with a revamped lineup and fresh approach for the group’s second studio album, Rising. The record is comprised of six solid compositions which are comparable to the material the band had done before with dynamic and tight performances. The quintet started as a project by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he departed from that group because he was unhappy with the stylistic direction of the group on their 1974 albums, which drifted towards funk rock and away from the band’s signature hard rock.

Blackmore established Rainbow when he joined with the American rock band, Elf, in 1975. Blackmore wanted to record some material that was rejected by Deep Purple members and he enlisted Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio who in turn suggested his band mates to back up on the recordings. Soon, this project turned into the album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, with the album name (and ultimately the band name) inspired by the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. However, Blackmore was unhappy about the live performances of many in the Elf line-up and he fired everybody except Dio.

Keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Cozy Powell were recruited to complete this second incarnation of Rainbow. Further, Blackmore began constructing interesting chord progressions, inspired by his new found interest in playing cello and composing material with Dio supplying mythical lyrics. Rising was recorded in less than month in Munich, Germany with producer Martin Birch in early 1976.

 

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Rising by Rainbow
Released: May 17, 1976 (Polydor)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 1976
Side One Side Two
Tarot Woman
Run with the Wolf
Starstruck
Do You Close Your Eyes
Stargazer
Light In the Black
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums

 

From the jump, the sound of this album features sonic elements which are beyond its time. “Tarot Woman” starts with a long, wild synth intro by Carey, which sets a dramatic stage before Blackmore’s guitar riff gradually fades into the song proper. This opening track has a definitive Deep Purple quality especially during Blackmore’s soaring guitar lead. “Run with the Wolf” settles into a more conventional rock sound, still employing dramatic and satisfying overtones, but much more compact and succinct in its delivery.

“Starstruck” follows as the best overall rocker on the first side, based on classic heavy blues rock constructs and the rollicking rhythms by Bain and Powell and an excited melody by Dio, whose vocals soar and shout with great emotion. The most ordinary song on the album, “Do You Close Your Eyes” is a pretty standard hard rock song in the vein of mid seventies contemporaries like Kiss, and it does suffer slightly from compositional underdevelopment and sonic overproduction.

rainbow in 1976

The album’s second side features two extended tracks, each with a duration of over eight minutes. “Stargazer” is the epic track from Rising, starting with an interesting and inventive drum intro and working its way through several slow but powerful sections, with potent lead vocals by Dio and fantastic lead trade-offs by Blackmore and Carey. The song features mystical lyrics which tell the fable of a wizard who builds a tower from which to fly only for him to fall and die like any mortal man and includes a contribution by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The rudiment-filled hard rocker “A Light in the Black” completes the album and sets a template for the future sounds of groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. This closer is highlighted by an incredible instrumental section with multiple keyboard and guitar leads.

Rising did well on the UK charts but not quite as well in the US. However, the influence of this album would reverberate for decades and it is considered by many to be Rainbow’s best overall album. Rainbow continued with several more albums through various lineups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The biggest change occurred when Dio left Rainbow in 1979, briefly replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath shortly afterwards. Ultimately, Blackmore would rejoin the classic Deep Purple lineup for the 1984 album Perfect Strangers and Rainbow disbanded in April of that year.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Get Close by The Pretenders

Get Close by The Pretenders

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Get Close by The PretendersThe fourth overall album by The Pretenders, the 1986 release Get Close, shows a radical musical transition by the group firmly controlled by composer and lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde. In fact, by the end of recording sessions for this album Hynde would be the only original member of the group remaining, as original drummer Martin Chambers was released from the band early in the recording process.

The Pretenders’ original guitarist and bassist, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, each died from substance abuse in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Hynde and Chambers decided to continue with the band and eventually added guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster for the 1984 album Learning to Crawl, a critical and commercial success. The band built on this success with a performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the first recording sessions for Get Close resulted in the album’s final track, a slick pop cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors”. It was here that Hynde decided that Chambers’ playing had deteriorated and fired him from the band, which sparked a discouraged Foster to quit shortly after. Hynde and McIntosh recorded the rest of the album with producers Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine in multiple studios and with multiple session musicians. Two of these players, bassist T.M. Stevens and drummer Blair Cunningham, were eventually hired as The Pretenders’ new rhythm section.

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Get Close by The Pretenders
Released: October 20, 1986 (Sire)
Produced by: Bob Clearmountain & Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: Air Studios, London; Power Station and Right Track Recording, New York City; Bearsville Studio, Bearsville N.Y.; Polar Studios, Stockholm
Side One Side Two
My Baby
When I Change My Life
Light of the Moon
Dance!
Tradition of Love
Don’t Get Me Wrong
I Remember You
How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?
Chill Factor
Hymn to Her
Room Full of Mirrors
Primary Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars
T.M. Stevens – Bass
Blair Cunningham – Drums, Percussion

The bright and jangly chords of “My Baby” enter to a steady beat in this moderate love song filled with suspended fourth chords, strategic double-track vocals and some crowd sound effects later on. Released as a single, this album opener spent two weeks at #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts. “When I Change My Life” is another mellow track with strummed acoustic, persistent lead guitar notes and a waltz-like beat by the bass and drums. This moody and well-produced track also features some layered synths strategically placed later in the track.

After these initial fine tracks, the album devolves a bit starting with the slicker rock arrangement of the cover, “Light of the Moon” and followed by the rhythm and beat oriented “Dance!”. While this latter track does contain some fine droning guitar and Hammond organ leads, the dry vocals and mind-numbing repetition make this extended track a chore to listen to. The album returns to form with the moderate ballad “Tradition of Love”, featuring a fine musical arrangement, melodic vocals and the ever slightest twist of psychedelic through its guitar and voice-effect fused outro.

The most indelible song on the album is the happy-go-lucky rock jaunt “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, driven by the Stevens’ thumping bass line and McIntosh’s choppy guitar chords. This song’s slight rotating bridge is the only deviation from the original verse pattern and is followed by a lead that is very slight and mimicks Hynde’s main vocal melody. “I Remember You” features a reggae arrangement, driven by various keys and methodical rhythms, followed by “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?”, full-fledged devolution into eighties synth pop which is a bit embarrassing for the talents of Hynde and the group. “Chill Factor” is better as a Motown flavored, soulful ballad with a steady, slow beat and rich backing vocals. Written by Meg Keene, “Hymn to Her” starts with minimal synth through the intro vocals before breaking into steady, AOR smooth rock feel, which eventually builds to a harder rocking arrangement.

For the tour supporting Get Close, The Pretenders expanded to a quintet with the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell, signaling a future commitment to evolve further. However, this lineup did not last and, when McIntosh quit in 1987, The Pretenders were effectively finished as a working band.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne

No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne

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No More Tears by Ozzy OsbourneOzzy Osbourne entered the second act of his successful solo career with 1991’s No More Tears. This sixth studio album would go on to become his second best-selling in North America, behind 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz and has gone on to be certified quadruple platinum. This is quite an accomplishment considering so many acts that found success in the 1980s were greeted less enthusiastically during the heart of the 1990s grunge and alternative wave.

Prior to this album, Osbourne had struggled to find his musical footing following the untimely death of guitarist Randy Rhoads in 1982. Osbourne first invited blues guitarist Gary Moore but to no avail and several temporary guitarists were used during early eighties tours. Jake E. Lee joined Osbourne’s band to record Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin, but he departed the group by 1987. In 1986 drummer Randy Castillo joined Osbourne’s group with guitarist Zakk Wylde coming on board the following year to form a new quartet along with long time bassist Bob Daisey.

For No More Tears, Osbourne initiated the practice of bringing in outside composers to co-write songs. Motorhead bassist and front man Lemmy Kilmister co-wrote four tracks on the album, with producer John Purdell co-composing another track.

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No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: September 17, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Duane Baron & John Purdell
Recorded: A&M Studios and Devonshire Studios, Los Angeles, 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Mr. Tinkertrain
I Don’t Want to Change the World
Mama, I’m Coming Home
Desire
No More Tears
S.I.N.
Hellraiser
Time After Time
Zombie Stomp
A.V.H.
Road to Nowhere
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals
Zakk Wylde – Guitars
Bob Daisley – Bass
Randy Castillo – Drums
No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne

The album starts with sounds of children playing with accompanying xylophone effects before inevitably “Mr. Tinkertrain” kicks in fully with a hard rock arrangement in this odd anthem about a a pedophile. “I Don’t Want to Change the World” is the first song co-written by Kilmister and has a fire-one type approach with heavy guitar riffs taking turns with the verse vocals. Lemmy also co-rote the hit “Mama, I’m Coming Home”, which starts with finely picked acoustic folk guitar by Wylde and a great sense of melody by Osbourne. The song craftily makes its way through several sections before getting to the main hook and inventive lead section, never lingering unnecessarily and making it a rare Top 40 hit for Osbourne.

After the driving rock track “Desire”, the album reaches its climatic title track. “No More Tears” is built on a cool bass line composed by future bassist Mike Inez, although Daisley actually plays the bass on the song). Adding to the rich arrangement is keyboardist John Sinclair, who provides deep-string synths at the top and builds to an orchestral crescendo and piano pattern in the bridge. Osbourne later stated that the song’s lyrics are about a serial killer.

Ozzy Osbourne band-1991

While not as popular as the earlier tracks, the second half of the album contains a set of interesting rockers. “S.I.N.” features flange-drenched guitars and a surreal vibe, as “Hellraiser” provides the final entry by Kilmister and would also be recorded by Motörhead for their 1992 March ör Die album. The chiming guitar and bass intro of “Time After Time” sets the mood for this moderate pop/rocker with radio-friendly dynamics in a track where Wylde is set free and given enough room to soar free with his ethereal guitar chops. “Zombie Stomp” is built on thumping bass, scratched guitar and some percussive effects by Castillo in a rhythmic intro that builds much tension for over two minutes before the song proper kicks in. “A.V.H.” (“Aston Villa Highway”) has a cool acoustic blues intro before exploding into a metal-fused rocker with high-pitched wails by Osbourne alternating with the melodic chanting of the fine choruses. Wylde finishes this tour de force of an album with the multi-textured guitar ballad “Road to Nowhere”, where Osbourne examines mistakes from his past. It was meant to be a final farewell as he seriously contemplated retirement following this record.

In fact, following the release of No More Tears Osbourne proclaimed the subsequent concerts the “No More Tours” show as he publicly proclaimed his retirement from music. This was to be a short-lived vow as Osbourne returned with Ozzmosis in 1995, another very successful album.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

Sunshine Superman by Donovan

Sunshine Superman by Donovan

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Sunshine Superman by DonovanEnglish folk singer Donovan found a new voice with his eclectic and slightly psychedelic third album, Sunshine Superman. Originally released in the US in September 1966, the album would not be released in Donovan’s native country until much later due to a professional contractual dispute. This record is notable as one of the first pop albums to extensively use the sitar and other Eastern musical instrumentation while maintaining an overall radio-friendly sound.

Born Donovan Philips Leitch and of Scottish descent, Donovan’s initial breakthrough came in London in early 1965 with the folk-inspired single “Catch the Wind” and the subsequent acoustic folk albums What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid and Fairytale. However, Bob Dylan’s famed trip to the UK that spring pigeonholed Donovan as a British “Dylan clone” in the press, a label he desperately wanted to shake and establish his own distinct musical identity.

In late 1965, Donovan was introduced to producer Mickie Most who, in turn, collaborated Donovan with top-notch London session players such as future Cream bassist Jack Bruce and future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Further, the early 1966 sessions for Sunshine Superman branched Donovan’s music out into the realms of jazz, blues, Eastern music, and psychedelic pop. These sessions proved to be very prolific and included early recordings of several tracks which were omitted from this album but appeared on later studio albums and collections.

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Sunshine Superman by Donovan
Released: August 26, 1966 (Epic)
Produced by: Mickie Most
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood & EMI Studios, London, January-May 1966
Side One Side Two
Sunshine Superman
Legend of a Girl Child Linda
Three King Fishers
Ferris Wheel
Bert’s Blues
Season of the Witch
The Trip
Guinevere
The Fat Angel
Celeste
Primary Musicians
Donovan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Donovan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Eric Ford – Guitars
Spike Healy – Bass
Bobby Orr – Drums

Released a few months before the album of the same name, “Sunshine Superman” made an immediate impact which launched it to the top of the charts as Donovan’s sole number one hit in the USA. The song is rhythm built with stand-up bass by Spike Healy along with a slight sitar by Shawn Phillips in a simple but clever arrangement with subtle psychedelic elements and a cool rock guitar lead. This first product of the artist’s collaboration with Most is a vanguard of the fusion of psychedelia in pop music.

“Legend of a Girl Child Linda” is a finger picked, traditional folk track with elongated vocals and fairy-tale like images painted by the thick lyrics. “Three King Fishers” is pure, Eastern-flavored folk with heavy reverb on the vocals and a delivery which foreshadows Syd Barrett on Pink Floyd’s debut a year later, while “Ferris Wheel” makes a slowly progressive entrance before (as its name suggests) it gives a sense of childhood adventure. “Bert’s Blues” closes the first side as a smokey yet truly sixties flavored jazz track with a fine arrangement including harpsichord and string quartet.

Donovan in 1966

“Season of the Witch” features a funky electric arrangement with a unique and weird vibe that was entertaining enough to make the song a minor hit in November 1966. “The Trip” features a bluesy acoustic rhythm in the intro which is soon joined by the deeper rhythms of bass and drums and a slight stream-of-consciousness lyrical delivery by Donovan. This forthright, acid-themed song gradually builds into a nice groove through its four minute duration with the inquisitive hook “What goes on?” being repeated throughout. After the subtle, finger-picked English style ancient folk of “Guinevere” comes an overtly psychedelic and strongly Eastern-influenced gem called “The Fat Angel”. The album closes strongly with “Celeste”, featuring somber but melodic vocals which perfectly accent the gentle strumming and somewhat spastic overlays of tones, making it spacey and Earthy all at once.

After its release in September 1966, Sunshine Superman was a huge success in America. Due to contractual disputes between Pye Records and Epic Records, it wouldn’t be released in the UK until mid 1967, after Donovan had already released a successful follow-up album, Mellow Yellow in the US.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Master of Reality by Black Sabbath

Master of Reality
by Black Sabbath

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Master of Reality by Black SabbathBlack Sabbath‘s third album, Master of Reality, sees the quartet building on the foundations of their two 1970 albums and exploring new fusions of heavy rock n roll. Some of this was by design and some by a spontaneous happy accident resulting from the frenzied recording sessions in between a relentless touring schedule. The result was a highly influential album which was also the group’s most commercially successful record of their classic era.

Recorded in late 1969, the group’s self-tiled debut album contained a heavy dose of dark themes but was a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic. To build on this momentum, Black Sabbath returned to the studio just four months after the debut’s release to record Paranoid, which migrated lyrical focus more towards real world themes. Combined, these first two albums altered the rock landscape by solidifying “heavy metal” as a sub-genre. Following Paranoid‘s release, Black Sabbath launched their their first tour of the USA.

Master of Reality was recorded during the Spring of 1971 with producer Rodger Bain, the group’s third and final collaboration with this producer. Leading the group’s sound was guitarist Tony Iommi, who expanded his instrumentation to include keyboards and flute and tuned his guitar down a few semi-tones to produce a darker sound. The material on this eight-song album is also very diverse in themes, styles and rhythms.


Master of Reality by Black Sabbath
Released: July 21, 1971 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Recorded: Island Studios, London, February–April 1971
Side One Side Two
Sweet Leaf
After Forever
Embryo
Children of the Grave
Orchid
Lord of This World
Solitude
Into the Void
Group Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitars, Keyboards, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

The album begins with its most indelible tune, “Sweet Leaf”, with an odd but memorable beginning which is actually Iommi choking on a joint between recording takes. The song then instantly launches into a slow, simple but powerful distortion-drenched riff and, after two verses, Sabbath breaks into a rapid jam with bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward following Iommi in playing rapidly before returning to the main theme, which feels even more potent at this point. The lyrics are an unabashed love song to a piece of choice vegetation and is credited and is cited as the birth of stoner rock. “After Forever” has a less doomy, more upbeat rock feel with some synthesizer by Iommi who also provides a twangy but heavy opening guitar riff. The lyrics were written by Butler and mainly focus on Christian themes, which contradicted the views that many held of Black Sabbath as Satanic;

“Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say if they knew you believe in God above? They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to love…”

The half minute long “Embryo” is an odd interlude, which sounds like it has Scottish origins and acts as an intro to the dramatic side one closer, “Children of the Grave”. This mostly straight-forward, heavy jam contains some anti-war themes and has been cited by vocalist Ozzy Osbourne as the group’s most “kick ass song”.

Black Sabbath, early 1970s

The album’s second side features some lesser known tracks, starting with “Orchid”, a finger picked, folk acoustic instrumental which at once adds some real character to the album and is slightly surreal in its hypnotic repetition of patterns. “Lord of this World” returns to the doomy metal but with very animated drums by Ward in the beginning and later sloshes through some bluesy rock riffing and slight jamming. “Solitude” starts with some picked guitar and a unique bass pattern by Butler, while Osbourne’s somber vocals are almost English folk in verses as a very laid back, dark and moody track. “Into the Void” features the crisp, strong riffing during the extended intro before the song eventually migrates to the classic-style song proper as an interest jam to complete the album.

Certified double platinum after selling 2 million copies, Master of Reality was Black Sabbath’s only Top 10 album in the US until the year 2013. The group built on this success with a world tour through 1972, before finally taking a break to work more methodically on their follow-up album.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.