The Firm 1985 album

The Firm

1985 Album of the Year
Buy The Firm

The Firm 1985 albumThere was much anticipation ahead of the release of The Firm’s debut album. This “super group”, anchored by former Swan Song label mates Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, sparked a curiosity on whether these guys, who each hadn’t delivered any new music in several years, still had the individual magic as well as what kind of material they would produce collectively. Although the album (along with The Firm’s short career) has been considered a commercial failure by some, thirty years after its release it is clear that The Firm is a unique musical statement which seamless blends classic rock elements from earlier days with just a touch of eighties sonic innovation. These elements and the unique and excellent musicianship of the four group members ultimately makes this one of the best overall albums of the decade and our Classic Rock Review Album of the Year for 1985.

Following the death of John Bonham and dissolution of Led Zeppelin in 1980, Page worked on a series of small and short-term projects as well as the defunct super group, XYZ. In 1983, Page played a series of charity concerts with an ensemble that included Rodgers, who was then working on his first post-Bad-Company solo album. Following the tour, Rodgers and Page began to jam together and decided to write and record new material. They enlisted bassist Tony Franklin, who Page had worked with when touring with Roy Harper in 1984, and drummer Chris Slade, a former member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

The new group self-produced the album in England. The songs composed for The Firm are simple, there is nothing earth breaking in structure or arrangement and no heavy lyrical messages. However the musical performance and production methods are done expertly, with the simplest elements brought to their full harmonic and melodic fruition with just a tad of synths and extra bits of ear candy throughout.


The Firm by The Firm
Released: February 11, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page & Paul Rodgers
Recorded: Sol Studios, Cookham, Berkshire, England, 1984
Side One Side Two
Closer
Make Or Break
Someone To Love
Together
Radioactive
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
Money Can’t Buy
Satisfaction Guaranteed
Midnight Moonlight
Group Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass, Keyboards
Chris Slade – Drums, Percussion

The opening track, “Closer” nicely blends Page’s Zeppelin-type, oddly timed rudimental riffs with Rodgers smooth and soulful rock melody. However, what is immediately of note is the strength of the group’s rhythm section, especially the potent fretless bass of Franklin. As an added bonus, this track also incorporates a brass section which gives the song an extra punch that adds to its overall unique vibe. “Make or Break” starts with Rodgers’ droning and hypnotic slow guitar slosh through the slow, new wave flavored verses. As the song progresses, Page and Franklin join in to add to the building intensity of the music with the real payoff comeing during the outro, where Page’s overdubbed, slightly psychedelic slide guitars and Slade’s frantic drumming give the track a bit of a “Dazed and Confused” heavy vibe while Rodgers’ intense vocals work to a crescendo before the song finally collapses.

“Someone To Love” is another track where Franklin’s bass really stands out, adding a definitive punch to the sloshy riffs by Page, which themselves are in stark contrast to Slade’s measured and steady drum beat. On the vocal front, Rodgers has a spot on melody, making the most of the simple lyrics in a strong and soulful declaration. Page returns to his folk roots with the intro of simple acoustic ballad, “Together”. The acoustic backing is accented by electric pedal-effect guitars in the foreground and later on Page adds a mellow but melodic electric lead. During the bridge sections, the song really elevates with Rodgers’ melodic vocals being mimicked by Franklin’s bass, all working together to make this an absolute forgotten gem which has so much more substance than the typical “power ballad”. Listening to this album 30 years later, it is hard to believe that “Radioactive” was the only real “hit” from the album, reaching the Top 30 on the pop charts. Now, that’s not to say that this isn’t a fine track – it is – and very original to boot. This is especially due to Page’s odd, squeaky guitar interludes, which turn this standard and steady rock song into a unique, new wave mechanical piece.

The second side begins with, perhaps, the only real mistake on this album, a cover of the Righteous Brothers classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. That being said, this is a unique rendition to a popular standard with Rodgers showing his exquisite crooning chops and Franklin standing out with his buzzy bass bends along with a fine chorus of backing singers. However, that leaves Page and Slade basically at the level of wedding backing band, methodically playing the chords and hitting the beats. “Money Can’t Buy” is the most Bad Company-like song on the album with its dark folk elements and even Page seeming to mimic Mick Ralphs in style. During the bridge sections, the song employs a strong rock riff section while the rest has a nice blend of acoustic, multiple electric, synths, and rhythms, especially during the middle lead section.

 
The legendary Jimmy Page saved his finest work for the final two tracks of the album. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is a steady track which gives Page plenty of room for sonic mastery, including the use of some bowed guitar starting in the second verse. This song also features the finest lead on the album, with the heavy, bluesy guitar returning during the long outro. Rogers’ vocals draw you in and the rhythms are simple but potent throughout, driven by Slade’s drumming, which finds the space in between the various measured riffs. The closing track, “Midnight Moonlight”, takes the listener back to another time, ten years gone. It got its birth as an unfinished piece entitled, “Swansong”, which was left over from Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti sessions in 1974. With Rogers collaborating, this deliberative and patient song goes through several slow and delicate acoustic sections, like a soft and surreal journey, held together by frequent returns to the main theme and ever-surprising new melodies and instrumental arrangements. There is a section for about a minute in the middle where Page is completely solo, playing a variety of acoustic motifs in differing styles before the full band roars back with a full backing chorus before the track builds through a long crescendo at the end.

The Firm peaked at #17 in the US and #15 in the UK, which was rather lukewarm given its quality and group membership. The Firm would record a follow-up album, Mean Business in 1986, before the group dissolved and the musicians went their separate ways. Slade went on to become AC/DC’s drummer while Franklin did a lot of work with television and movie soundtracks. Ultimately, both Page and Rodgers reunited with the former bandmates from the 1970s, albeit both for a limited time.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Songs From the Big Chair by Tears For Fears

Songs From the Big Chair
by Tears For Fears

Buy Songs From the Big Chair

Songs From the Big Chair by Tears For FearsIn the 1980s, Tears For Fears was a progressive/new wave project by composer and vocalist Roland Orzabal and bassist Curt Smith. They reached their commercial peak with their second studio album Songs from the Big Chair, which peaked at #2 in the UK and topped the US charts, while spawning four hit singles. Thematically, the album adopts a sort of mellow, electronic, primal-scream-like approach with rich and sophisticated pop compositions on the human condition and emotional healing.

Orzabal and Smith were acquaintances as teenagers and later as session musicians, where they first met future group drummer Manny Elias. After a short stint with the band Graduate, which yielded an album and single release in 1980, they formed a band to the develop a sound similar to Brian Eno or Peter Gabriel. The group got their name from a technique used in primal school therapy, developed by the American psychologist Arthur Janov, and most famous as the inspiration for the album,  John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Keyboardist Ian Stanley offered the duo free use of his home studio where Tears For Fears recorded and released three singles through 1981 and 1982, with the third of these, “Mad World”, reaching #3 in the UK late in 1982. Their debut album, The Hurting, was released in early 1983 with Stanley and Elias becoming full bandmembers, making Tears For Fears a quartet.

In 1984, the group began working with producer Chris Hughes on a follow-up to their successful debut album, with two singles released late in that year ahead of the early 1985 release of Songs From the Big Chair. The album’s title was inspired by a 1976 television film, “Sybil”, about a woman with multiple personalities who only found stability when sitting in her therapist’s “big chair”.


Songs From the Big Chair by Tears For Fears
Released: February 25, 1985 (Phonograph)
Produced by: Chris Hughes
Recorded: The Wool Hall, Somerset, UK, 1984
Side One Side Two
Shout
The Working Hour
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Mothers Talk
I Believe
Broken
Head over Heels
Listen
Primary Musicians
Roland Orzabal – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Curt Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ian Stanley – Keyboards
Manny Elias – Drums

A regimented percussion introduces and persists throughout “Shout”, co-written by Orzabel and Stanley. In contrast to the mechanical instrumentation, the melodic vocals and synth riffs help the song grow in richness as it progresses. Released in November 1984, it was a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. “The Working Hour” has a completely different feel, starting with a jazzy saxophone solo and orchestral effects before the song fully kicks in with percussion by Jerry Marotta and grand piano by Andy Davis. It takes two full minutes before the vocal part of the first verse begins in this interesting song which is at once dark, desparate and distant but also warm and inviting.

Another chart topper, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” makes good use of arpeggios and motifs, which helped make it the cleanest pop song thus far on the album. The song’s middle section has a couple of rhythmic guitar sections with a later hard-rock-style guitar lead played by Hughes, who also played a large role in completing this composition. The first single released ahead of this album, “Mothers Talk” is driven by overbearing synths, percussion and chanting vocals, While this song has some new wave elements, these are buried within the thick production.

The second side starts with “I Believe”, a lounge-like ballad by Orzabel which stays sad and slow throughout and features Will Gregory on saxophone. The side and album concludes with “Listen”, a dramatic track which features long stretches of synth ambiance between vocal lines before it builds to an intense crescendo in the long outro where Orzabel and Marilyn Davis trade distant vocal chants. The middle of the side features a mini-suite where differing versions of the hyper-synth track “Broken” acts as both an intro and epilogue to the track “Head Over Heels”. The most melodic and interesting song on the album, “Head Over Heels” also possesses the best musical arrangement and overall composition, especially during the ascending chorus sections with sweet musical overtones and riffs by a variety of instrumentals. The outro to this Top 10 hit finishes with a coda section featuring bouncy bass, main riff and scat vocals until it reaches a climax at very end with a solo vocal line by Orzabal.

Songs From the Big Chair hit the Top 30 in about a dozen national charts across the globe. The band followed-up this worldwide hit with a world tour that lasted over a year before the group took an extended break, not releasing their third album until 1989.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Misplaced Childhood by Marillion

Misplaced Childhood by Marillion

Buy Misplaced Childhood

Misplaced Childhood by MarillionMisplaced Childhood is a 1985 concept album by the British group Marillion, which consists of an LP side continuous pieces of music. Thematically, the compositional lyrics were written by the group’s vocalist Fish (born Derek William Dick), who wrote a theme based on elements of lost love lament, and lost childhood. This platinum selling third release by the group has gone on to be their most successful as it topped the charts in their home UK and registered on those charts for 41 consecutive weeks.

The group was formed (originally as “Silmarillion”) in 1979 by guitarist Steve Rothery. Fish joined on as vocalist in 1981 with keyboardist Mark Kelly and bassist Pete Trewavas joinig the following year. After releasing a three song demo which caught some attention, Marillion recorded and released their debut album, Script for a Jester’s Tear, in 1983. The album peaked in the Top 10 of the UK charts and spawned the Top 20 single, “Garden Party”. Former Steve Hackett drummer Ian Mosley joined the group in time to record their the second album, Fugazi, in 1984.

The concept for Misplaced Childhood was sparked during an “acid trip” by Fish when he hallucinated a vision of a child dressed as a soldier. He instantly wrote “a large scrawl of prose” with a mixture of autobiographical, traditional, and popular culture references. The album was recorded in the spring of 1985 in Berlin, Germany and produced by Chris Kimsey. Aside from composing the the music itself, the biggest challenge was getting the songs to flow together seamlessly from one song to the next, with some “link” sections constructed to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.


Misplaced Childhood by Marillion
Released: June 17, 1985 (MCA)
Produced by: Chris Kimsey
Recorded: Hansa Ton Studios, Berlin March–May 1985
Side One Side Two
Pseudo Silk Kimono
Kayleigh
Lavender
Bitter Suite
Heart of Lothian
Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)
Lords of the Backstage
Blind Curve
Childhoods End?
White Feather
Primary Musicians
Fish – Lead Vocals
Steve Rothery – Guitars
Mark Kelly – Keyboards
Pete Trewavas – Bass
Ian Mosley – Drums, Percussion

The opener “Pseudo Silk Kimono” is a subtle, slow, and soft piece, fueled by long synth strings and guitar pedal effects throughout the two brief verses. “Kayleigh” is the signature song on this album and most indelible track from Marillion overall. A perfect song of reflection, which topped the list of the River of Rock’s list of Forgotten 80s classics, the song is dripping with nostalgia and emotion lyrically while it is musically led by the great guitar riffing and fantastic lead by Rothery. Largely ignored in America, the song reached number 2 on the British charts and also ranked high in several other European countries. Most importantly, it holds up well 30 years later as a piece that represents the best elements of eighties rock.

 
The third song in the side one medley and often added as an epilogue to “Kayleigh” on classic rock radio, “Lavender” is short but dramatic track which found British chart success on its own in 1985. Built on simple, repeating riff, the song borrows a bit from the folk song “Lavender Blue” but with a definitive, prog rock flavor. The five part “Bitter Suite” follows with rapidly changing chapters morphing into each other. “Brief Encounter” features Mosley’s rolling drums above Kelley’s droning synth, accompanied by a distant lead guitar before “Lost Weekend” marches exclusively to a hi-hat beat along with (mostly) spoken vocals by Fish. “Blue Angel” has a pure old-Genesis-like approach with a slow, repeating riff and exquisite lead guitar over poetic lyrics. “Misplaced Rendezvous” has picked electric guitar and emotive vocals before it morphs into the piano driven “Windswept Thumb” with much the same vibe to conclude the suite. Even though it features stronger rhythms and rock elements with odd timings, “Heart of Lothian” sounds like a natural continuation of the suite with an ethereal, double-guitar lead riff through much of the track before it finally giving way to calm, synth-driven outro to end the first side.

MarillionThe second side (and musical movement) begins with the percussive orchestra of “Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)” with animated xylophone-like synths by Kelly complimented by Mosley’s complex drum pattern and Fish’s most strained yet strong vocals thus far. The short “Lords of the Backstage” features odd-timed syncopation as a different variation of “Waterhole” before the album turns to the second extended, five-part suite, “Blind Curve”. The opening section is a slow rocker with only one real verse before moving on to “Passing Strangers”, a ballad with strong, dark rhythms which concludes with a fantastic, multi-part guitar lead. The “Mylo” section has the same basic vibe but with more melodic and expressive vocals and a later cool synth, which makes this one of the most pleasant sections of the second side. The suite slows with the soundtrack-like “Perimeter Walk” before the climatic ending of “Threshold” where the main theme in “Passing Strangers” returns with much excited tension, not relenting until the song finally resolves with a short guitar outro.

“Childhoods End?” is a pleasant, almost poppy dance song, driven by the bouncy bass of Trewavas along with odd, funky rhythms during the verses. This is complemented by stronger, straight-forward rock choruses which work to make this track different than anything else on the album in musical vibe. The song’s title is phrased as a question which is ultimately answered in the negative at the very end of the lyrics. The closing “White Feather” is a new wave flavored, groove rap with animated drums and a uni-directional arrangement before it fades out to complete the album.

During the tour for Misplaced Childhood, Fish would often announce that there is time for only one more track before the band performed the entire album in sequence. Marillion followed up with a less successful fourth album, Clutching at Straws in 1987, before Fish left the band to pursue a solo career. He returned to the group in 2015 to launch the “Farewell to Childhood” tour, where the group plays the full LP to honor its 30th anniversary.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Mike and the Mechanics

Mike and the Mechanics

Buy Mike + the Mechanics

Mike and the MechanicsMike + The Mechanics was a quasi-solo project by Genesis bassist and guitarist Mike Rutherford The 1985 self-title debut was a commercial success which spawned three hit singles and helped shape the sounds of the mid 1980s. Musically, the album features a mix of classic rock and new wave elements oriented towards the radio-friendly pop music of the day, fueled by the compositions mainly co-written by Rutherford and producer Christopher Neil.

Shortly after Genesis condensed down to a three-piece group in the late 1970s, each of the members decided to embark on parallel solo projects in-between the Genesis albums and tours. Rutherford released his first two solo albums, Smallcreep’s Day and Acting Very Strange in 1980 and 1982 respectively. However, he found the process of recording a record alone artistically unsatisfying and soon started a songwriting partnership with Scottish performer/composer B.A. Robertson. Following the success of Genesis’s 1983 self-titled album, the pair enlisted Neil as an additional composer and producer of the initial Mike + the Mechanics album.

It was decided that the core of the group would be Rutherford on guitars and bass along with keyboardist Adrian Lee and drummer Peter Van Hooke. Beyond that, session musicians and vocalists were brought in where needed, with three different lead vocalists performing on Mike + the Mechanics.


Mike and the Mechanics by Mike and the Mechanics
Released: October 5, 1985 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Christopher Neil
Recorded: AIR Studios, Montserrat, 1985
Side One Side Two
Silent Running
All I Need Is a Miracle
Par Avion
Hanging By a Thread
I Get the Feeling
Take the Reins
You Are the One
A Call to Arms
Taken In
Primary Musicians
Mike Rutherford – Guitars, Bass
Adrian Lee – Keyboards
Peter Van Hooke – Drums

A long synth swell introduces the opening track, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)”, a song written by Rutherford and Robertson and featuring Paul Carrack on lead vocals. When the song fully kicks in, it features great musical atmospherics to accompany the complex yet poetic lyrics. While dominated by Lee’s keyboards throughout, there is nice short rock guitar lead by Rutherford, making it a complete rock song, which was very successful on the pop charts in both the UK and US. The album’s second track was also its second single. “All I Need Is a Miracle”, sees the group moving into the realm of pop accessibility with strong synth motifs and catchy melodic hooks by Paul Young. While the lyrics have much less depth than those on the opener, this song became the biggest charting on the album when it reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1986.

Mike and the Mechanics“Par Avion” is a slow-paced, synth-drenched ballad with soft and reserved lead vocals by the third lead vocalist, John Kirby. Rutherford originally wrote the song with a heavier arrangement but Neil thought it worked better as a softer ballad. “Hanging By a Thread” is much more complex than the previous track, laced with strong synth sections, most prevalent during the song’s extended bridge section. Next comes, “I Get the Feeling”, an upbeat showcase for Young’s vocals, features dual saxophones and Hammond organ throughout to sustain the feel-good vibe.

“Take the Reins” starts out with a pretty cool synth arpeggio but morphs into a song proper which sounds dated and superficial for a pop song sans soul and brain, making it the weakest so far on the album. “You Are the One” is a ballad with sort of the same feeling as late seventies era Genesis, when that group moved away from the complex theatrical numbers and more towards softer, accessible ballads. Speaking of Genesis, “A Call to Arms” began as an unfinished track which was rejected by that group before Rutherford gave it new life for Mike + The Mechanics. The song contains good bass and steady drumming under rich synths through the anthemic, save-the-world, adjust-the-attitude song with well-treated lead vocals by Carrack.

 
The album’s best song is save for last as “Taken In” features a subtle, sad and steady mood. The understated music is perfect backdrop for the fine lead vocals of Young, who delivers on the very effective use of lyrical repetition as composed by Rutherford and Neil. Further adding to the vibe is a slight sax lead after the each verse of this song which became the third Top 40 hit and a tremendous way to finish the able.

Mike + the Mechanics reached number 26 on the Billboard 200 album charts and, being satisfied with the results of this project, Rutherford decided to continue with this band rather than returning to a typical “solo” career. This paid off, as the group’s next album, Living Years in 1988, brought them even greater commercial success and Mike + and the Mechanics continued well into the 1990s.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Help by The Beatles

Help! by The Beatles

Buy Help!

Help by The BeatlesTheir fifth overall studio album, Help!, is perhaps the final of The Beatles‘ pop-centric, “mop-top” era records released over the course of 30 months. Still, the group did make some musical strides on this album, most particularly a stylistic move towards folk and country on several tracks and the addition of piano and keyboards, performed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney on a few songs. Released in conjunction with their second feature-length film (of the same name), Help!, contains fourteen tracks split evenly between seven that were featured in the film (side one) and seven other 1965 studio tracks on the original second side of the LP.

Already a relentlessly hard working group, The Beatles’ American and worldwide breakthrough in early 1964 only served to expand their schedule as their label and management looked to fully capitalize on their unprecedented popular success. During March and April of 1964, the group members filmed A Hard Day’s Night as they played themselves in a “mock-umentary” about their sudden success where the Beatles showed a knack for comedy. That film was accompanied by their third studio LP with each being very well received. During the summer of 1964, the Beatles embarked on an international tour through Europe, Asia, and Australia, followed by a 30-concert tour of the United States. Returning to Abbey Road studios, the Beatles recorded and released their fourth studio LP, Beatles for Sale in late 1964, which had a much darker tone than any of their previous work.

The Beatles on the set of HelpIn early 1965, the group filmed the movie, Help!, which included a much larger budget than the previous year’s A Hard Days Night. As a result, this movie was filmed in color and at many disparate locations including various places in England, the Bahamas, and the Austrian Alps. However, the richer plot and cast served to alienate the band members who stated that they felt like “guest stars” or even extras in their own film, despite the fact that the drummer, Ringo Starr, plays a central part in the plot.

Music for the film and album was produced by George Martin who, for the first time, employed “track bouncing” techniques for overdubbing. Distinct versions of the record were released in the UK and North America (we focus on the long since canonized British LP version in this review). The North American (Capitol Records) release was of EP length and features some orchestral scores produced by Dave Dexter, with omitted songs later appearing on the US versions of Beatle VI and Rubber Soul. On the other end of the spectrum, a few songs that were recorded intended for the film were not used in either the movie or on the album, including the tracks “If You’ve Got Trouble”, “That Means a Lot”, “Yes It Is”, and an early version of, “Wait”, a song re-recorded for Rubber Soul later in the year.


Help! by The Beatles
Released: August 6, 1965 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI (Abbey Road) Studios, February–June 1965
Side One Side Two
Help!
The Night Before
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
I Need You
Another Girl
You’re Going to Lose That Girl
Ticket to Ride
Act Naturally
It’s Only Love
You Like Me Too Much
Tell Me What You See
I’ve Just Seen a Face
Yesterday
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The title track storms in with a sudden vocal explosion of the distinct intro section of “Help”. Written by Lennon to express his personal difficulties with the Beatles’ sudden success, the song contains a desperate message lyrically but an excited and frantic approach musically and tonally, making for a strange but effective mix of emotions throughout. The descending bass and guitar line during the chorus is the most effective and interesting element of this fine track which became the group’s tenth #1 pop hit. McCartney’s, “The Night Before”, features a nice mixture of guitars and electric piano, adding an overall twang effect to the background. The sharp beat and rhythm is kind of boilerplate Beatles at this point in their career but this song does feature a unique, duo guitar lead by McCartney and George Harrison.

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is a loose tribute to Bob Dylan which features a tremendous sound that is at once simple but still fills the room. Lennon constructed this not as a lovey-dovey song, but as an introspective track where he delivers totally distinct vocals and gives early Beatles fans a glimpse into what group would the later become. Aside from Lennon’s strummed acoustic, the song musically features simple, layered percussion and an earthy, ending flute solo by guest John Scott. “I Need You” is an early, forgotten gem by Harrison that features sweet sounds, such as a cool guitar pedal effect, and somber vocals.

Later on the first side, the Beatles revert back to some of their traditional styles. “Another Girl” includes some bluesly slide guitars, possibly influenced by Brian Jones, as well as a nice little solo lead at the very end. But otherwise, the track was garden variety and had not ever been played live by any Beatle until April 2015, over 50 years after it was recorded. Lennon’s “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” was a bit more popular, in somewhat the same vein of the female vocal groups of the day, with its backing vocal chorus call-and-response. “Ticket To Ride” is not only the only track to exceed three minutes in length, but may well be the finest overall song on the album. There are inventive and entertaining blends of sound throughout and droning rhythms with steady but interesting drum patterns by Starr during the verse/chorus sections that work seamlessly with Harrison’s ringing guitar riff and Lennon and McCartney’s harmonized melodies. The song transitions to a few upbeat bridge sections which transition back with a slight solo guitar flourish. Lyrically, the song caught some controversy due to its sexual connotations, but nonetheless topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic when it was released ahead of the album in April 1965.

The Beatles in 1965

The album’s second side features two tracks which made up one of the oddest inverted 45 singles ever. The cover “Act Naturally”, with lead vocals by Starr is a country-flavored acoustic track and complete change of pace for the group, which was originally issued as a single with McCartney’s “Yesterday” occupying the ‘B’ side. Of course, “Yesterday” became one of the most popular songs in music history, even though its solo performance by McCartney with string quartet and non-rock-n-roll approach was considered a significant risk by the band at the time. It is a song that hits every note in your emotions and a universal song that makes one feel a little nostalgic no matter what age. McCartney says he received the entire melody in a dream and hurried to a piano to play the tune before he forgot it, using the filler theme “Scrambled Eggs”.

The remaining songs on side two are relatively lesser known, albeit interesting. “It’s Only Love” is a short blend of Byrds-meet-Roy Orbison with a slight preview of the psychedelic flower-power English pop to come. Harrison’s “You Like Me Too Much” is another retro-sounding tune with a hi-hat and double piano holding the beat and a bridge section which features trade-offs between lead guitar and piano by Lennon and Martin. On “Tell Me What You See”, complex percussion rules the day through the first two verses and an electric piano section at end. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” features a great intro with dueling acoustic guitars, fantastic vocals by McCartney, and a fast-paced skiffle beat throughout. If anything, this track shows how the Beatles can take common instruments, voices and tools to  make unique and divergent sounds. The Larry Williams cover, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” concludes the album as a groovy early sixties jam which, if anything, shows that this is still the “Beatles” after the unconventional track, “Yesterday”. This song is also notable as the final cover song on a Beatles album until 1970’s Let It Be, which included the traditional folk song, “Maggie Mae”.

Beyond spawning three #1 singles, Help! became an album chart-topper as well as a multi-platinum seller worldwide. Following the album’s release, The Beatles embarked on their third US tour, which opened with the classic Shea Stadium performance on August 15, 1965 that shattered all previous attendance records. Following the tour, the group took some time to focus on their next album, which would become the classic Rubber Soul late in 1965.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

1965 Page
 

Dream Into Action by Howard Jones

Dream Into Action
by Howard Jones

Buy Dream Into Action

Dream Into Action by Howard JonesAt first glance, Dream Into Action by Howard Jones may seem like a typical, mid-1980s synth pop album. However, a deeper listen reveals that there is much substance to the authentic material composed by Jones for his second release. Loaded with mainly up tempo and optimistic tunes, the album was a big hit back in its day as it fit in well with the pop scene of 1985. But strip away the synths and the slick production, and you still have some fine melodies and solid singer-songwriter type songs.

Jones started in the music business when he and his three younger brothers formed a band called Red Beat in the late 1970s. Howard had been playing piano since about age seven and later attended the Royal Northern College of Music. After launching a solo career in 1983, Jones rented out the famed Marquee Club in London so that record label executives could see him perform, a successful strategy as he signed with Warner Music shortly afterwards. Jones scored a Top 40 hit with the single “New Song”, released in advance of his debut album, Human’s Lib, which reached #1 in the UK and double platinum in sales. A 1984 single, “Like to Get to Know You Well” became an official anthem of that summer’s Olympic games and, subsequently, a worldwide hit.

Dream Into Action was recorded in England in late 1984 with famed producer Rupert Hine helping forge the sound. Jones composed all the songs on the album and played most of music with the exception of bass guitar, played by his brother Martin Jones. Shortly before the album’s release in early 1985, Jones performed alongside Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Thomas Dolby in a synthesizer jam at Grammy Awards ceremony, setting him up for the pop success to come.


Dream Into Action by Howard Jones
Released: March 23, 1985 (Elektra)
Produced by: Rupert Hine
Recorded: Farmyard Studios, Little Chalfont, England, 1984–1985
Side One Side Two
Things Can Only Get Better
Life In One Day
No One Is to Blame
Dream Into Action
Like to Get to Know You Well
Assault and Battery
Look Mama
Bounce Right Back
Elegy
Is There A Difference?
Automaton
Hunger For the Flesh
Primary Musicians
Howard Jones – Lead Vocals, Piano, Synths, Drums, Percussion
Martin Jones – Bass Guitar
TKO Horns – Saxophones, Trombone

The positive and upbeat, “Things Can Only Get Better”, starts the album in typical Howard Jones fashion. Synths dominate and there is a funk groove that persists throughout but the sound is accented perfectly by the horns and vocals. Lyrically, everyone can relate to the feelings described in this song, which was a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The equally catchy “Life In One Day” offers some sage advice in its main hook along with a danceable groove and a chorus from the backing female vocal trio collectively known as Afrodiziak.

The ballad “No One Is to Blame” is about unfulfilled desires and attractions. A stripped down version appears on this album with just vocals, a piano and a simple back beat, allowing the haunting nature of the message to fits nicely with the minimal production. The song was later re-recorded and remixed by Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham into what some may say is a “superior” mix, which became another big hit for Jones. However, what is gained in the added techniques is lost the simplistic beauty of the original version.

The title track, “Dream Into Action” is purely an exercise in synth sounds and beats, like an anthem to 80’s synth pop. “Like to Get to Know You Well” contains a strong melody, a steel drum effect, and more feel good happy lyrics about getting to know someone more than in just a superficial way. An interesting song overall which begins strong but unfortunately finishes weakly with a way too long, repetitive chorus. “Assault and Battery” finishes the original first side (on the US version) as the underrated gem of this album. Jones’ piano and synths are in contrast but work well nonetheless and the track departs from the imagery of previous songs with their positive spin and advice to live every day to it’s fullest. This one explores the morality of killing animals for food;

Children’s stories with their farmyard favorites. At the table in a different disguise…:

The album’s second side contains lesser know songs which are still interesting and entertaining. “Look Mama” has a funky bassline and rhythms with lyrics which delve into every teenager’s thoughts when they are dealing with an overprotective parent. There are lots of layers of sound in this one, it’s not monochromatic in any way. “Bounce Right Back” has an odd mix of sinister sounding synths and quasi rap lyrics  and once again, is giving some advice.  This time on the wisdom of keeping your cool and watching what you say and do because, “those crazy words you fling from your mouth will bounce back on you some day.” The ethereal sounds of “Elegy” are in contrast to anything else on this album, as are the dark lyrics that speak of suffering and wishing for death.

We return to the bouncy, catchy melody on “Is There A Difference?”, with the theme being a philosophical discussion about whether our apparent differences really matter in the overall scheme of things. “Automaton” appropriately sounds like a machine with odd, syncopated sounds accenting the vocals. An indulgence in synths,  this tune is about a robot who looks human, but is empty inside. The album wraps with “Hunger For the Flesh”, another philosophical rant where Jones explores the human tendency to nourish one’s body at the expense of nourishing one’s soul. The synth sounds in this one roll and roar like a thunderstorm and flood of Biblical proportions with Jones’ vocals being perhaps the most earnest on this closer.

Dream into Action went on to become Jones’ most successful album, reaching #2 in his home UK and #10 in the US, where it stayed on the charts for an entire year. Eventually his fame subsided but, in the late 1980s, Jones began practicing Nichiren Buddhism and credits his daily chanting as having a profoundly positive effect on his life.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones

Out of Our Heads by
The Rolling Stones

Buy Out of Our Heads

Out of Our Heads by The Rolling StonesThe Rolling Stones made major strides towards composing their own music successfully during the year 1965. Out of Our Heads was released (in the U.S.) and lit the fuse for the most successful run of the band’s long career. Although about half of this album does still utilize the R&B covers on which the group cut their teeth, it is among the original tracks where the most commercial impact was made fifty years ago and where the most indelible songs persist right through the present day.

The Rolling Stones were formed in London in 1962 by mult-instrumentalist Brian Jones, guitarist Keith Richards and vocalist Mick Jagger. They specialized in Chicago-style blues as well as fifties rock and roll and had a longstanding residency at the famed Crawdaddy Club. Over the following winter, bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts joined to round out the classic 1960s quintet. The group hired Andrew Loog Oldham, a former publicist for The Beatles, who acted as both their manager and producer for their early albums. By 1964, the group signed with Decca Records and they released their debut album, “England’s Latest Hitmakers”, during the height of Beatlemania. However, Oldham made a concerted effort to promote the Rolling Stones as the “anti-Beatles” or “the bad boys of rock n roll”. Early in 1965, the group released their second LP, The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK, The Rolling Stones, Now! in the US, with both versions reaching the Top 5 in their respective countries.

Although the title is the same, Out of Our Heads also has two distinct versions for the US and UK. Oddly, the US version was released first, on July 30, 1965, and has become the more lauded and respected version of the album (which we’ll focus on in this review). The British version of the album contains a few distinct originals, such as “Heart of Stone”, with impressive guitars and heavily reverbed tambourine hits, and a calm, pop, version of “I’m Free”, a song made more famous by later cover versions.


Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones
Released: July 30, 1965 (London)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: London, November 1964–May 1965
Side One Side Two
Mercy, Mercy
Hitch Hike
The Last Time
That’s How Strong My Love Is
Good Times
I’m All Right
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Cry to Me
The Under Assistant West Coast Promotional Man
Play with Fire
The Spider and the Fly
One More Try
Additional Tracks (UK version)
She Said Yeah
Talkin’ Bout You
Oh, Baby
Heart of Stone
I’m Free
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Percussion
Keith Richards – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Organ, Harmonica, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

The US version of Out of Our Heads begins with a couple of R&B covers with pop leanings. “Mercy, Mercy” has a rotating riff and hook with slightly humorous, high pitched backing vocals. In fact, the only element which sounds like the “Stones” is Jagger’s vocals, which are as soulful and as gritty as ever. “Hitch Hike” works least well of the cover songs simply because there are many superior versions out there. This being said, the musical elements are all entertaining on this versions including the choppy rhythms and a cool guitar lead by Richards.

Released as a single, early in the year, “The Last Time” was the Rolling Stones’ first original hit. This combines a perfect blend of blues and folk, while also being perhaps the furthest the Stones lean towards Beatles territory with twangy guitars and happy-go-lucky drumming by Watts. Still, Jagger’s deep, bluesy vocals make it quite distinct, especially during the frantic coda that fades the song out.

Three more covers finish up the LP’s first side. Roosevelt Jamison’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” is an attempt at deep soul, which, while not completely terrible, sounds somewhat amateurish by the Stones. Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” features a vocal range that is more suited for Jagger, while the subtle rhythms are excellent by Wyman and Watts on this track. Bo Diddley’s “I’m All Right” is a live track originally released on the EP Got Live If You Want It! The song is a short but interesting live rocker with high energy and pure sixties vibe.

The album’s second side is much more original and musically substantive. This starts with the classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, a song which is pure classic rock personified. Led by Richards’ indelible riff, the song features, perhaps, Jagger’s finest vocal performance ever, as he performs contrasting tones between the verses and choruses. The rest of the band follows suit, with Jones performing a fast paced, strummed acoustic while Wyman plays a slightly funky bass and Watts bangs away with a fast rock drum beat, making this classic a complete band song. Released as a single month before the album, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the group’s first number one in the US, but was initially banned in the UK because its lyrics were considered sexually suggestive.

Bert Russell’s “Cry to Me” is a bit anti climatic following “Satisfaction”, but a decent enough blues ballad nonetheless. The album then wraps up with four group originals. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” maintains the bluesy vibe with consistent harmonica by Jones throughout and sharp drumming by Watts. “Play with Fire” has a dark folk feel and features some bass and production by Phil Spector along with old English style harpsichord by Jack Nitzsche. Recorded during a break from touring in January, 1965, this perfectly moody gem shows much of the same promise as more renowned later classics. “The Spider and the Fly” has a mosey-along, steady paced, down home groove with double guitar grooves, harmonica, and a thematically appropriate vocal melody by Jagger, having all the elements of what could’ve (and should’ve) been a hit by the band. “One More Try” closes the album as a short, boogie-woogie rocker with optimistic lyrics, making it the closest to pure sixties Brit pop by the group.

Out of Our Heads became The Rolling Stones’ first US #1 album, eventually going platinum, which the British version peaked at #2. Their following album, 1966’s Aftermath, saw the band entirely move towards original compositions and they soon found peak success worldwide.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1965 albums.

1965 Page
 

Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Buy Brothers In Arms

Brothers In Arms by Dire StraitsDire Straits reached their commercial peak and achieved worldwide fame with their fifth studio album, Brothers In Arms. All the songs on this album were composed by lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Knopfler and he and the group honed their signature sound of r&b and jazz with an increased sense of pop song craft that ultimately paid off as the album dominated charts worldwide and won two Grammy awards. It is also notable for being one of the first directed towards CD sales by offering extended versions of some songs and, as a result, Brothers In Arms became the first CD ever to sell over one million copies in that medium.

Early in the 1980s, Dire Straits had a couple of successful albums with 1980’s Making Movies and 1982’s Love Over Gold. The latter of these two featured long and experimental songs with extensive piano and keyboard Alan Clark’s piano and keyboard work and was the first Dire Straits album produced by Knopfler. The group embarked on an extensive world tour before taking a break in late 1983 and early 1984.

Recording for Brothers In Arms took place on the Caribbean island of Montserrat during the Winter of 1984-85. The album was co-produced by Neil Dorfsman, who made good use of the limited space of the small studio. During the sessions, group drummer Terry Williams was replaced by Omar Hakim, who reportedly recorded all of the album’s drum parts in just two days. A second keyboardist, Guy Fletcher, also joined the group for the first time during recording.


Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits
Released: May 13, 1985 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Neil Dorfsman & Mark Knopfler
Recorded: AIR Studios, Montserrat, November 1984–March 1985
Side One Side Two
So Far Away
Money for Nothing
Walk of Life
Your Latest Trick
Why Worry
Ride Across the River
The Man’s Too Strong
One World
Brothers in Arms
Group Musicians
Mark Knopfler – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Guy Fletcher – Keyboards, Vocals
John Illsley – Bass, Vocals
Omar Hakim – Drums

The opening track, “So Far Away”, was also the album’s lead single, reaching the Top 20 in the UK. The song features a very simple but effective structure, with two complementing guitar patterns and subtle vocals by Knopfler. Lyrically, the track speaks of distance in a relationship, whether it be real or symbolic. The only song to feature a co-writer and co-lead-singer, “Money for Nothing” was co-written by Sting (credited as Gordon Sumner). The song was a pure pop attempt that paid off big time, as this catchy dance track with a crunchy riff became the group’s most successful single. The lyrics were inspired by a conversation Knopfler heard while in an electronics store in New York City, with the words delivered entirely as a third person narrative.

 
“Walk of Life” is the best pure pop song on the album and the high point of danceable pop before the album comes down to a more mellow level. Musically, it is built a classic Hammond organ line by Clark along with a contrasting Western-style guitar by Knopfler. The melodic lead vocals are nicely complemented by interesting backing vocal patterns, which made for another smash hit worldwide and the group’s biggest commercial hit in their native UK. Starting with a signature saxophone by Michael Brecker, “Your Latest Trick” is Adult contemporary at its best, utilizing fine electric piano chords and a steady bass by John Illsley along with jazzy, clicking percussion by Hakim. “Why Worry” may be the finest overall song on this album, as a quiet and reserved ballad with finely picked guitars throughout. It starts with a long, subtle guitar intro and remains mellow throughout, building only slightly during the chorus with a nice, descending keyboard line in between verse sections. Poetic lyrics persist throughout;

Why worry, there should be laughter after the pain, there should be sunshine after rain, these things have always been the same, so why worry now…”

The album’s second side has less pop pursuit with several tracks lyrically focused on militarism. “Ride Across the River” contains a very slight reggae beat and distant horns throughout the long, story-telling song. “The Man’s Too Strong” is an acoustic, outlaw country-style track with interesting hard electric guitar riffs after each chorus, while “One World” is much weaker musically with a totally 80s style of fretless bass, standard funk guitar, simple beats and cheesy keys. The album concludes with the title track, “Brothers in Arms”, which starts with a dramatic key swell before settling in with a slight guitar lead in the vein of Pink Floyd. Later, the track contains calm but effective melodies before the keys and lead guitars carry the mood through most of the second half of the song.

Dire Straits in 1985

Early in 2015, Brothers In Arms re-entered the UK Album Charts, making it a total of 356 weeks it has spent on those charts. It is one of Earth’s best-selling albums, having sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Another successful world tour followed, including 21 straight nights playing in Sydney, Australia in 1986. However, another long break after the tour led to a temporary breakup of the band, and they would not release another studio album until 1991, six years after Brothers In Arms.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1985 albums.

1985 Page
 

Let It Be by The Beatles

Let It Be by The Beatles

Buy Let It Be

Let It Be by The BeatlesReleased less than a month after the announcement of their breakup, Let It Be was a unique release by The Beatles on several fronts. First, the bulk of the album was recorded over a year earlier (and before the recording and release of 1969’s Abbey Road) and was slated to be released twice in 1969 as different incarnations of an album called Get Back. Also, after it was finally released, there was debate over the enriched production added by Phil Spector, which ultimately led to a 2003 re-mixed version called Let It Be Naked.

The idea for this project was sparked by Paul McCartney who wanted to use these sessions to “get back” to the rock basics of the band’s early years. McCartney was also eager to play live again and wanted simplify the band’s sound, which had gotten increasingly complex in the studio. As an added dimension, the rehearsals and recording sessions would be filmed as part of a planned documentary showing the group prepare for a return to playing live.

Starting in late 1968, the project was marred by confusion in purpose and production duties and, ultimately, led to strong animosity within the band itself. In fact, George Harrison temporarily quit the band and agreed to return only if plans for a live tour were nixed (the band ended up playing a single “show” on the roof of Apple Studios). Still, the band was incredibly prolific in rehearsing over a hundred songs during these sessions, which included early incarnations of songs which would end up on Abbey Road and several early solo albums by individual band members.

An originally intended release date for Get Back was set for the summer of 1969, but the group members were dissatisfied with the mix and the project was temporarily shelved while they worked on Abbey Road. Early in 1970, a second version was attempted, again to less-than satisfactory results. Finally, Spector was brought in to “save” the project in March 1970 and finished the album which now had a new title and new status as the final album by the world’s most popular rock band.


Let It Be by The Beatles
Released: May 8, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector & George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road, Twickenham & Apple studios, London, February 1968-April 1970
Side One Side Two
Two of Us
Dig a Pony
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Dig It
Let It Be
Maggie Mae
I’ve Got a Feeling
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
For You Blue
Get Back
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Tambora, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion

“Two of Us” was written by McCartney about a driving adventure with his future wife, Linda. While early incarnations were electric guitar-driven, the final album version was mostly acoustic with harmonized vocals by McCartney and John Lennon. “Dig a Pony” was composed and sung by Lennon, almost as a counterpart to the opener as it was inspired by his future wife, Yoko. This song was also the first of several to feature guest Billy Preston on electric piano.

The oldest composition on Let It Be, “Across the Universe” was written by Lennon in 1967 and originally recorded in early 1968. The song’s vibe was heavily influenced by the transcendental meditation the band was studying at the time, and its melodic flow make it one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. “I Me Mine” was Harrison’s first songwriting contribution to the album with lyrics that mock the bickering within the band. Late on the album’s first side are a couple of filler tracks, each less than a minute in duration. “Dig It” is credited to all four group members (giving Ringo Starr a rare songwriting credit), while “Maggie Mae” is a traditional British skiffle tune.

McCartney’s title ballad was Billboard’s highest debut single to that date and the final single before the band’s breakup announcement. The song was sparked by a dream he had about his mother (Mary), who had died when Paul was a teenager and its title and theme served as a call for serenity in the face of the band’s breakup.

Beatles on Sound Stage 1969

The album’s second side begins with “I’ve Got a Feeling”, a fusion of two unfinished songs, along with John Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year”, which may have been one of the last true collaborations between the famous songwriting team. McCartney’s guitar-driven and upbeat rock theme fuses nicely with Lennon’s mellow folk lines to make a unique tune. In contrast, “One After 909” was a song written a full decade earlier in 1960, as one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions. It was recorded here as a symbolic gesture to signify the band’s return to “good ol’ rock n’ roll”. “The Long and Winding Road” became the group’s twentieth and final number one song as a mature and philosophical piano ballad by McCartney. After production modifications by Spector, which included orchestral strings Richard Anthony Hewson and a choral arrangement by John Barham, McCartney expressed outrage at the enhancements without his input.

Harrison’s “For You Blue” features Lennon playing lap steel guitar with McCartney playing an intentionally dulled piano, which act as the only “bass” on the track. The album closer, “Get Back”, was the earliest single from the album, released over a year before the album as a single credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston.” The album’s version is a different mix of the song. The song’s evolution was fully documented on film and the album’s version ends with the ironic quote by Lennon,

“I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves,
and I hope we passed the audition…”

Let It Be topped national charts in a half dozen countries worldwide and won an Academy Award for the Best Original Score for the songs in the film. Beatles fans still debate whether this is truly their final studio album or more of a posthumous release of tracks from an unfinished project. In any case, it is a quality addition to the band’s portfolio.

~

1970 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.

Layla by Derek and the Dominos

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
by Derek & the Dominos

Buy Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

Layla by Derek and the DominosLayla and Other Assorted Love Songs was the sole studio album by super group Derek & the Dominos. A double length LP, the fourteen tracks on the album included a few traditional blues jams along with original compositions written mainly by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock. Although the album was originally panned by critics and record buyers alike, it has deservedly grown in stature over the decades as a bonafide classic rock gem. In Fact, it may be the best overall effort of Clapton’s long career.

Clapton’s 1969 super group, Blind Faith, lasted less than a calendar year. Late in that year, the legendary guitarist joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends because he desired the relative anonymity of this group. However, Clapton soon discovered that three of his fellow bandmates had planned to leave Delaney & Bonnie and, after an extended tour into 1970, guitarist Clapton, keyboardist Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon formed the core of Derek & the Dominos.

The first project by the quartet was actually Clapton’s self-titled debut album, released in August 1970. Whitlock and Clapton began jamming and composing as early as April 1970 and, starting in May, all four members did session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. The group then toured, with the band’s name being spontaneously conjured backstage before their first gig in June. That same month, band members along with Harrison and Dave Mason recorded a single produced by Phil Spector. However, the group was not thrilled with Spector’s method and decided to pursue other recording arrangements.

The band flew to Miami to record with producer Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios. Dowd, who was also producing the Allman Brothers Band’s album Idlewild South, took the Dominos to an Allman Brothers concert and Clapton and Duane Allman formed an instant bond that resulted in Allman contributing to the majority of the album as a second lead guitarist. Although Allman declined to join the group outright, he played a few gigs with the band while they were in Florida.


Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos
Released: November 9, 1970 (Atco)
Produced by: Tom Dowd, Derek & the Dominos
Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami, August-October 1970
Side One Side Two
I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues
Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
I Am Yours
Anyday
Key to the Highway
Side Three Side Four
Tell the Truth
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
Have You Ever Loved a Woman
Little Wing
It’s Too Late
Layla
Thorn Tree in the Garden
Group Musicians
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Bobby Whitlock – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Duane Allman – Guitars
Carl Radle – Bass, Percussion
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion, Piano

Although the song that gives the album its name is on side four, near the end of the running order, the heart and soul of the album may very well be right up front on side one. “I Looked Away” is a melodic song built on a potpourri of guitar riffs and a distinct southern rock aesthetic. Both Clapton and Whitlock trade lead vocal lines on the song which is the first of several to reflect of Clapton’s obsession with Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd. In fact, it may be the case that every song on Layla illustrates all the different sides of love, with Boyd being the consistent protagonist. Without a doubt, “Bell Bottom Blues” is the best and most emotional of these, as authentic, bluesy, and soulful, the song’s post-chorus has an extraordinarily brilliant progression that, when played over and over creates a recursion of emotion that never dulls nor wares. It also sounds like the perfect culmination of everything Clapton did to that point in his career and his finest vocal performance with its melancholy desperation of unrequited love;

“Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?
Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?
I’d gladly do it because I don’t want to fade away…”

“Keep On Growing” has more traditional blues riffing but with a touch of harder edge rock and upbeat rhythms. The vocals are harmonized by Clapton and Whitlock with about four or five distinct guitar tracks, making for a carnival of sound. Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is the first traditional blues cover, as well as the first track on the album where Clapton and Allman have room for their blues chops, with great slide techniques being employed throughout this song. Side two begins with “I Am Yours”, a changeup in feel and style with acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, hand percussion and just the slightest touch of electric lead guitar. Clapton gave co-writing credit to Nizami Gəncəvi, a 12th century Persian poet whose story of Layla and Majnun gave this album its title track and whose poem was used for the lyrics of this track.

“Anyday” returns to the core style of Clapton and Whitlock, with each trading lead vocals and joining together for the melodramatically exciting choruses. Musically, this song contains frenzied guitars and fantastic rhythms with drummer Gordon adding frenzied energetic fills during the more excited parts of the song and Radle adding his share of funky bass. “Key to the Highway” is a nine-plus minute impromptu jam of a song by Big Bill Broonzy that was not intended for the album but recorded on the fly by Dowd (hence, the fade-in). “Tell the Truth” sounds like a pure pop/soul/funk compositional approach but with lead guitars giving it all an edge that makes it unique to this group, while “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” is a showcase for bassist Radle as it has the most upbeat rhythm of any song on the album. It also features a souped-up jam with melodic hook and fantastic energy, making it, perhaps closest to an Allman Brothers track than any other on the album.

Derek and the Dominos-We swing back to the classic blues jam on “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, where Clapton gets to showcase his skills both instrumentally and vocally. Then comes the fantastic rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Little Wing”. The arrangement here makes it almost a completely different song than the original featured on Axis: Bold as Love, as this one has vocals up front and extended jam in middle, with dual vocals and dual lead guitars throughout by Clapton and Allman. In a tragic coincidence, Hendrix died just days after Derek and the Dominos recorded this song.

Of course, the climax of the album comes with its title song and classic rock radio staple, “Layla”. Inspired by the tragic poem by Nizami, the song is a funk/rock rendition of Clapton’s growing friendship and infatuation by the wife of his friend and musical collaborator, George Harrison, who turned to Clapton when Harrison all but abandoned her for Indian religion. Originally written as a ballad, Allman brought it into the hard rock realm with the signature riff, while the rest of the group plays tighter and more focused during the song proper than on any other part of the album. The ending was developed independently by drummer Jim Gordon, who Clapton heard playing a piano piece before one of the sessions and convinced him to allow it to be used as part of the song. The second movement of Layla was recorded a week after the first and concatenated to the end of the track, making its total length of seven minutes. This turned out to be a brilliant move, as a crescendo ending, constantly building with the dual whining guitars simulating the wailing emotion that underlines the song’s theme. The album concludes with “Thorn Tree in the Garden”, a short and sad acoustic ballad by Whitlock (and only track where he performs sole lead vocals), which serves as a final ode to lost romance.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs originally peaked in the Top 20 of the Pop Albums chart and made reoccuring appearances in the Billboard 200 in 1974, 1977, and 2011. Although Derek and the Dominos were poised to record a follow-up album in 1971, because of tensions and drug abuse among the band members, along with the tragic death of Duane Allman later that year. In the end, this was a unique snapshot of serendipitous music that still sounds brilliant 45 years later.

~

1970 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.