Fifth Dimension by The Byrds

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Fifth Dimension by The ByrdsThe Byrd‘s third album, released in the summer of 1966, Fifth Dimension saw a change both in style and personnel for the folk-rock group. Earlier in the year Gene Clark, who had previously been a chief songwriter, departed. The remaining quartet picked up some of the compositional slack while also moving the overall sound in a more psychedelic direction. The result was a record which was both uneven yet highly influential in the overall progress of rock and roll.

Formed in Los Angeles in 1964, the group found immediate success in 1965 with the albums Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn Turn Turn, both of which featured corresponding title songs that reached #1 on the American pop charts. With this, The Byrds were being promoted as “America’s answer to the Beatles”. The stress of this sudden success, along with a fear of flying, led Clark to depart the group in February 1966, shortly as they had begun recording tracks for the Fifth Dimension album.

Guitarists and vocalists Jim McGuinn and David Crosby stepped in to increase their songwriting efforts for this third album, but the group still needed to record four cover songs to complete the project.

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Fifth Dimension by The Byrds
Released: July 18, 1966 (Columbia)
Produced by: Allen Stanton
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, January-May 1966
Side One Side Two
5D (Fifth Dimension)
Wild Mountain Thyme
Mr. Spaceman
I See You
What’s Happening?!?!
I Come and Stand at Every Door
Eight Miles High
Hey Joe
Captain Soul
John Riley
2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Harmonica

The album begins with “5D (Fifth Dimension)”, a very Dylan-esque folk song by McGuinn which is short but builds in intensity towards it’s end. The lyrical theme explains Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and the recording features guest Van Dyke Parks on organ. “Wild Mountain Thyme” follows as one of a pair of traditional folk songs repurposed with the Byrds 12-string signature sound on this album. The other is “John Riley” on side two, with both being introduced to the band by McGuinn. “Mr. Spaceman” is an upbeat folk/rock with a more earthy sound than the previous tracks, whimsical but very melodic lyrics and an interesting lead guitar.

After the disjointed psyche-rocker “I See You” comes Crosby’s best composition on this album, “What’s Happening?!?!” This features a moderate folk/rock vibe but with slight psychedelic overtones as it consistently alternates between verse lines and instrumental passages. The first side ends with the dark “I Come and Stand at Every Door”, written about a child who perished at Hiroshima with graphic details. Starting the flip side is “Eight Miles High”, the most popular song on the album and the only one composed and recorded while Gene Clark was still a bandmember. It features a good rockin’ intro with fine, harmonized vocals delivering lyrics written about the group’s flight to London in 1965, which can be interpreted as a blatant allegory about an LSD trip. With this, the song was both influential in developing the emerging musical style of psychedelia while failing to reach it’s commercial potential (although it did still reach the Top 20 in both the US and UK) as many radio stations refused to play it.

The Byrds in 1966

Unfortunately, most of the rest of side two is simply album filler. There’s a forgettable version of the oft-covered “Hey Joe”, the uninspiring cover of “John Riley” and the weird closer “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)”, which features heavy sound effects above a simple repeating country/folk trope. The only somewhat interesting track here is the instrumental “Captain Soul”, composed by all four group members including bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke with Clarke overdubbing harmonica above an entertaining surf-rock like backing rhythm.

Fifth Dimension peaked in the Top 30 in both the US and UK albums charts, making it less commercially successful than its 1965 predecessors. Later in 1966, The Byrds recorded their fourth album, Younger Than Yesterday, with a similar approach integrating elements of psychedelia and jazz. It was  released in 1967.

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

The Runaways

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The Runaways 1976 debutThe Southern California all-female teenage rock group The Runaways had a short and tumultuous career during the mid 1970s, a career which commenced with their 1976 self-title debut album. In spite of being recorded and released very shortly after the quartet was compiled and signed to a record deal, this album has long since been critically praised due to its raw power, originality and in-your-face lyrics about teenage angst, rule-breaking and sex.

The Runaways were formed in August 1975 by drummer Sandy West and guitarist Joan Jett. After being introduced to producer Kim Fowley, the group went through many rapid formations and lineup changes before adding lead guitarist Lita Ford. West and Ford were both big Deep Purple fans and formed a solid rock foundation along with Jett, who switched to rhythm guitar and began composing original music. Lead vocalist Cherie Currie was later recruited by Fowley (who intentionally forged a “jailbait” image for the group) after he spotted her at a local teen nightclub.

Early in 1976, The Runaways were signed to Mercury Records with Fowley staying on as producer for this debut album. Although bassist Jackie Fox was a member of the group at the time of recording, session musician Nigel Harrison was enlisted to play bass on the album, with Fox only contributing backing vocals on select tracks.

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The Runaways by The Runaways
Released: June 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Kim Fowley
Recorded: Fidelity Recorders & Criterion Studios, Los Angeles, 1976
Side One Side Two
Cherry Bomb
You Drive Me Wild
Is It Day or Night?
Thunder
Rock and Roll
Lovers
American Nights
Blackmail
Secrets
Dead End Justice
Group Musicians
Cherie Currie – Lead Vocals, Piano
Joan Jett – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Lita Ford – Lead Guitar
Sandy West – Drums, Vocals

The album’s opening track, “Cherry Bomb”, was written on the spot by Jett and Fowley as an audition song for Currie to sing during her first interaction with The Runaways. This short track is filled with lyrical innuendo from a teenage girl’s perspective with the simplest of rock riff motifs. Despite it’s make shift origins, the track persisted as one of the group’s most popular and it was later recorded by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as well as Cherie and her sister Marie Currie. Jett takes lead vocals on “You Drive Me Wild”, another track with overt sexual references but with more bluesy, sloshy riffing than the opener.

“Is It Day or Night?” is interesting in how the choruses incorporate the verses with unusual rudiments, while “Thunder” enlists a new writing team who deliver a pretty standard rocker with pleasant vocal melodies. Next comes a cover of the Velvet Underground classic, “Rock and Roll”, with Jett and the group delivering great rendition which stands as a real highlight on this record.

The Runaways

The second side starts with the interesting composition, “Lovers”, highlighted by excellent drumming patterns by West and good lead vocals by Jett. This is followed by another solid rocker with good riffs and hook, called “American Nights”, which also features some decent piano by Currie. “Blackmail” uses retro, fifties-style rock motifs while maintaining a modern seventies rock edge, as “Secrets” teases lyrical intrigue as its title suggests. The extended closing suite is a duet between Jett and Currie featuring a long dramatic dialogue over the intense, marching drumming of West along with a couple of excellent guitar leads by Ford. “Dead End Justice” seals the record with an unexpected complexity to tie up the musical experience finely.

While far from a commercial success in 1976, The Runaways has long earned its place in rock history as a genre-smashing release. The band found itself on major tours in support of the record with headlining groups such as Cheap Trick, Van Halen and Talking Heads. However, tensions within the band escalated during the recording of their 1977 sophomore album, Queens of Noise, leading to the departure of Currie and Fox soon afterward.

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

 

Abraxas by Santana

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Abraxas by SantanaWith their second studio album, Santana brought a plethora of musical influence to forge the acclaimed Abraxas. This record fuses on multiple levels, blending reinterpreted covers with distinct originals and offering bits of Latin music, blues, jazz, and prog rock. And then there’s the spiritual element, from album’s title (which originates from a line in Hermann Hesse’s book Demian) to the nature of the cover art and it’s ties to ancient Greek mysticism.

Based in San Francisco, the group was formed in 1966 as the Santana Blues Band by guitarist Carlos Santana and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie. Santana had a heavy Latin musical influence which he infused into the band, which was initially met with some resistance by some rock-based promoters. However, Bill Graham was impressed with the group, signed on as their manager and secured them a record deal with Columbia Records in early 1969. Their self-titled debut album was released in May of 1969 and featured mostly of instrumental tracks along with their first two singles, “Jingo” and “Evil Ways” which became the group’s first Top 10 hit. Santana’s 45-minute set at the original Woodstock festival brought international attention to the group.

In April 1970, Santana returned to the studio with producer Fred Catero to record their second album. Carlos Santana used his influence from contemporaries like Peter Green and B.B. King and mixed it with traditional elements in a quest to make Abraxas a classic.


Abraxas by Santana
Released: September 23, 1970 (Columbia)
Produced by: Fred Catero & Carlos Santana
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco & Pacific Recording Studios, San Mateo, CA, April-May 1970
Side One Side Two
Singing Winds, Crying Beasts
Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen
Oye Como Va
Incident at Neshabur
Se a Cabo
Mother’s Daughter
Samba Pa Ti
Hope You’re Feeling Better
El Nicoya
Group Musicians
Gregg Rolie – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Carlos Santana – Guitars, Vocals
David Brown – Bass
Michael Shrieve – Drums
José Areas – Percussion
Michael Carabello – Percussion

Written by percussionist Michael Carabello, “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” begins with doomy orchestration including sparse piano notes and chimes before Santana’s guitar cuts through in the intro. The main section then features a Latin beat with further Avant Garde, jazzy musical textures and a slightly psychedelic vibe before the piece fades for the into to the hit song “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”, The cover of a Fleetwood Mac tune starts with Rollie’s delicate organ accompanying Santana’s deliberative guitar through the extended intro before Rollie’s smooth vocals arrive for the verse. The “Gypsy Queen” section of the piece is built on frantic percussion played along with David Brown‘s thumping bass line with accents of pure rock riffing.
The single version reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971, Santana’s highest-charting song until “Smooth” on 1999’s Supernatural.

Tito Puente’s “Oye Cómo Va” follows with a pointed bass and organ riff joined by a distinctive guitar and drums by Michael Shrieve in the intro before the short Spanish language verses. Between the verses is an instrumental section where Santana provides not so much a guitar solo as some very distinct and memorable licks, while Rollie went for a more improvised organ lead. Aside from the preponderance of Latin percussion, the instrumental jam “Incident at Neshabur” is very similar to some of the instrumentals provide by the Allman Brother’s Band in the day, fusing blues, jazz, and a bit of musical originality. “Se Acabó” starts the original second side with a quick, upbeat jam by percussionist José Areas.

Santana 1970

Rolie composed two quality rock-based songs on Abraxas which add some real diversity to the record. “Mother’s Daughter” is a soulful rocker and an entertaining and accessible tune with enough prog rock features to make it interesting, while “Hope You’re Feeling Better” is a hard rocker which starts with a John Lord-like organ riff and maintains its energy throughout. In between the two Rollie tunes is the exquisite instrumental “Samba Pa Ti”, where Carlos provides a slow, deliberative and emotional blues lead and, while this tune gets a bit more intense in the middle with the other group members joining in, it never relinquishes this beautiful vibe. The album closes with “El Nicoya”, a short percussive showcase for Areas and Carabello.

Abraxas became the Santana’s first album to top the US charts and it eventually reached quadruple platinum in sales. The group offered a similar follow-up with Santana III in 1971, which also topped the charts, before their classic line-up began to fracture, most notably when Rollie departed to form his new band, Journey.

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

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The Beach Boys Today!

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The Beach Boys TodayThe Beach Boys Today! was the 1965 eighth overall studio album by The Beach Boys. It marked a subtle shift in production technique and lyrical themes for the California based group. These changes were brought together by producer, composer, and vocalist Brian Wilson who had decided to move away from the surfing / cars / girls themes that had brought super-stardom to the group in the early 1960s and moved towards more mature themes with richer accompanying orchestration. This shift did not seem to deter the record’s pop success, as it reached the Top 10 in album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and spawned a trio of hit singles.

The origins of the Beach Boys date back to the late 1950s in when teenage brothers Brian, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson began mimicking the harmonies of vocal groups such as the Four Freshmen. Soon the Wilsons’ cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school friend Al Jardine were writing and seeking a publishing deal under the name “The Pendletones”. In 1961, the band recorded a demo of their first original “Surfin'” and the following year the group signed with Capitol Records under their new name, The Beach Boys. Over the next two and a half years the group released seven studio albums and had seven Top 10 hits in the United States, an incredible streak of productivity and success which left the group exhausted. This stress, along with the difficult decision to dismiss the Brothers’ father Murray Wilson as the group’s manager, ultimately contributed to Brian suffering a panic attack in late 1964.

During the recording sessions for The Beach Boys Today! in January 1965, Wilson announced that he would stop touring with the group and concentrate solely on songwriting and record production. Brian also wanted to start separating the Beach Boys from their surfer image and more towards complex music with the use of richer instrumentation. When released in March 1965, The Beach Boys Today! featured a first side with mainly uptempo songs and a second side with mostly emotional ballads.


The Beach Boys Today! by The Beach Boys
Released: March 8, 1965 (Capitol)
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Recorded: United Western Recorders, Gold Star Studios, & RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA
Side One Side Two
Do You Wanna Dance?
Good to My Baby
Don’t Hurt My Little Sister
When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)
Help Me, Rhonda
Dance, Dance, Dance
Please Let Me Wonder
I’m So Young
Kiss Me, Baby
She Knows Me Too Well
In the Back of My Mind
Bull Session with the ‘Big Daddy
Group Musicians
Brian Wilson – Piano, Organ, Bass, Vocals
Mike Love – Vocals, Percussion
Al Jardine – Guitars, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album starts immediately with “Do You Wanna Dance?”, a late fifties song by Bobby Freeman, updated with rich production and featuring drummer Dennis Wilson on lead vocals. Despite being released as the B-side of a single, this Beach Boys’ version reached the Top 20 in the United States. “Good to My Baby” follows with an interesting rotating guitar riff and dual lead vocals by Love and Brian Wilson. “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” is the most complex composition of the early tracks, an upbeat rocker with a bright guitar riff, that dissolves into an air of sadness as the descending chorus pattern progresses. The lyrics are based on Wilson’s complicated feelings for his wife Marilyn and her younger sisters.

“When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” is a crossroads song lyrically as Brian discusses his anxieties about becoming an adult. Musically this track is rich with melodic harmonies and with the presence of a vibraphone throughout. “Help Me, Rhonda” is the definitive hit from the album as well as the first and only song to reach three minutes in length. With Jardine on lead vocals, this single reached number one in the US, the second chart-topper by the group. On “Dance, Dance, Dance” the group progresses further in the pure rock direction with the strong presence of co-writer Carl Wilson’s guitar and a consistently upward motion overall.

The Beach Boys

The ballad filled second side begins with “Please Let Me Wonder”, with this mellow track featuring a Western-like backing and the usual over-the-top harmonies. The William Tyus cover “I’m So Young” is a doo-wop ballad with Phil Spector-like snare/tambourine hits, as “Kiss Me, Baby” vocals are exquisitely delivered. On “She Knows Me Too Well” Brian Wilson stretches the upper limit of his vocal range in the choruses, while “In the Back of My Mind” is a complete departure from the rest of the song as Dennis Wilson providing solo lead vocals on this melancholy track in 6/8 time.

The Beach Boys Today! was a commercial success as it climbed into the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. Brian Wilson was replaced temporarily by Glen Campbell and then permanently Bruce Johnson for live performances while he delved even deeper into developing new studio methods.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration 1965 albums.

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Get the Knack by The Knack

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Get the Knack by The KnackGet the Knack was one of those rare debut albums that became the singular phenomenal success defining  a band’s career. Released in the beginning of summer 1979, this album by The Knack was, at the time, one of the most successful debut records in history. The dozen tunes that make up this shooting star of an album combine timely, glossed-up pop/punk aesthetics with suggestive and borderline risque lyrics to make a potent combination which struck at chord among the youth at the end of the 1970s.

In May 1978, less than a year before recording their successful debut, the quartet was formed in Los Angeles. Vocalist Doug Fieger and guitarist Berton Averre had previously formed a songwriting partnership and were able to hit the ground running with the new band and quickly gain a following. By the end of 1978, The Knack was courted by several major record labels and the group decided to sign with Capitol Records in January 1979.

In April 1979, the album was recorded in just two weeks with producer Mike Chapman. Upon its release and aggressive marketing campaign, Get the Knack was an immediate success. It went Gold in less than two weeks, sold more than a million copies in less than two months, and spent five weeks at number one on the US album charts, ultimately becoming one of the best selling albums of 1979.


Get the Knack by The Knack
Released: June 11, 1979 (Capital)
Produced by: Mike Chapman
Recorded: April 1979
Side One Side Two
Let Me Out
Your Number or Your Name
Oh Tara
(She’s So) Selfish
Maybe Tonight
Good Girls Don’t
My Sharona
Heartbeat
Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)
Lucinda
That’s What the Little Girls Do
Frustrated
Group Musicians
Doug Fieger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Berton Averre – Guitars
Prescott Niles – Bass
Bruce Gary – Drums

 

By far the record;s most popular track, “My Sharona” features a riff built on  an infectious beat by drummer Bruce Gary, with My Sharona single by The Knacka melody and repeated lyrical motifs that made this the number one pop song of the year. The song further features a cool instrumental break with an extended guitar lead that gives it much classic rock cred and helps make it an indelible listen even after 40 years. The song was written by Fieger for his then 17-year-old girlfriend Sharona Alperin, who appeared on promotional copies of the single.

Unfortunately, “My Sharona” is the only true highlight of the album’s second side, which includes a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat”, the new wave spaz of “Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)”, the jangly power pop of “That’s What the Little Girls Do” and the anthemic closer “Frustrated”. The only slightly original track on Side 2 is “Lucinda”, which features cleverly built guitar phrases.

The first side is much more interesting overall, starting with the relentless drive of “Let Me Out”, a quasi punk teen anthem with definite Cheap Trick influence. “Your Number or Your Name” has a calmer melody while maintaining the fast and upbeat rhythms of the opener, while “Oh Tara” introduces a more complex arrangement with animated bass by Prescott Niles which helps give this upbeat new wave song an overall feel like a ballad. The first and only actual ballad on the album is Fieger’s “Maybe Tonight”, with a finely strummed electric guitar is joined by an acoustic and some strategic overdubs and tape effects, including backwards masked drum cymbals, pedal-laden guitar effects, double-vocal effects and rich harmonies.

The Knack in 1979

Then there’s the two most controversial songs on the album, both of which originally contained explicitly vulgar lyrics which were later changed to make these suitable for airplay. “(She’s So) Selfish” features a deliberately slow drum beat through its long intro before getting to the lyrics which have been criticized as being sexist and downright nasty. The hit song “Good Girls Don’t” is built an intro harmonica riff with an overall excellent melody and chorus hook as a pure example of late seventies pop rock. Originally written by Fieger in 1972, the song was made radio-friendly by altering the lyric “wishing you could get inside her pants” to “wishing she was givin’ you a chance”.

With the overnight success of Get the Knack, a strong backlash materialized against The Knack in the music industry. This was magnified when their quickly recorded follow-up album, …But the Little Girls Understand and its related single releases were all commercial flops in 1980. This sharp contrast of endeavors soon led to internal dissent within the group and, by mid-1982, the Knack split up.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

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Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Californication by Red Hot Chili PeppersIn 1999, Red Hot Chili Peppers released their seventh studio album, Californication.   This would become the group’s most successful album internationally, selling more than 15 million copies worldwide. Lyrically, this record takes a critical look at many aspects of the group’s home state of California. While musically, it featured fewer rap-driven tunes and instead focused more on the bass lines and textured, melodic guitar riffs of John Frusciante, who returned to the group after a multi-year hiatus.

Frusciante was uncomfortable with the level of fame which resulted following the group’s 1991 Grammy-winning blockbuster Blood Sugar Sex Magik and he abruptly quit Red Hot Chili Peppers during a tour of Japan in May 1992. Guitarists Arik Marshall and Jesse Tobias were brought in as temporary replacements before Dave Navarro, formally of Jane’s Addiction, became the group’s permanent guitarist throughout the mid nineties, including the 1995 album One Hot Minute. In early 1998, Navarro left the band due to creative differences. Around the same time, Frusciante began recovering from a serious a heroin addiction, due in part from support by bassist Flea and was ultimately invited back into the band.

Material for Californication was written in the summer of 1998, with Frusciante an vocalist Anthony Kiedis taking the lead in formulating guitar riffs and lyrical content respectively. Next, the rhythmic aspects of the record were crafted by Flea and drummer Chad Smith before the group entered the studio and recorded with producer Rick Rubin over the Winter of 1998-99. Although Rubin had produced the group’s two previous studio albums, he was not their first choice as they had first unsuccessfully sought David Bowie as producer.


Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: June 8, 1999 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: Cello Studios, Los Angeles, December 1998–March 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Around the World
Parallel Universe
Scar Tissue
Otherside
Get on Top
Californication
Easily
Porcelain
Emit Remmus
I Like Dirt
This Velvet Glove
Savior
Purple Stain
Right on Time
Road Trippin’
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

The opening track “Around the World” starts with wild, distorted bass frenzy by Flea before it settles into a funk rap for the verses, alternating with a melodic chorus. “Parallel Universe” was released as a single and its structure is built by rapid bass arpeggio and a slow vocal melody drone, making it all sound a bit hollow with no real low end or guitar until later on in wild ending crescendo by Frusciante. The melodic funk/rap/pop of “Scar Tissue” follows as a song highlighted by slow surf guitar interludes. The lead single from the album, this song spent a then record sixteen consecutive weeks on top of the Modern Rock Tracks chart, while peaking in the Top 10 of the American pop chart.

“Otherside” is the most straightforward rock/pop thus far on the album, albeit it does pay large homage to early nineties grunge rock. With choppy, piercing guitars, a signature bass riff and a steady drum beat by Smith, this song about the battles addicts face was another minor hit for the group. Next comes the unabashed funk rap of “Get on Top”, which may well be fun in a live setting but is a bit out of place on this position of the album. On the title track, Frusciante expertly uses two chords to accompany Kiedis’s great vocals in the verses. A break comes in the chorus release followed later by a cool, slight guitar lead, for an expert anthem overall about the dark side of Hollywood and the movie industry. “Easily” follows as a good, solid rock song with great layered guitars throughout, while “Porcelain” is an impossibly slow psychedelic ballad right out of the late sixties. The feedback-laden”Emit Remmus” (“summer time” spelled in reverse) squeals through the intro and verses over simple bass and drum beat.

Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1999

The latter part of the album branches out into more diverse musical territory. “I Like Dirt” moves from rudimentary funk to a rapid groove, “This Velvet Glove” is acoustic with layers on top for a differing musical vibe, and “Savior” could almost be considered a hard rock song with strong, penetrating rhythms. “Purple Stain” is a word-heavy, chanting funk/rap, with a later jam section that is somewhat proficient, while “Right on Time” weirdly alternates a punk style funks with a bit of disco. This all leads to the closer “Road Trippin'”, an acoustic folk with rich harmonies and overdubbed strings, addressing one final time the dark and seedy side of Hollywood and its culture.

Californication reached the Top 5 in both the US and UK, while topping the album charts of four other nations. The band followed its release by embarking on a world tour to support the record, which stretched into the next millennium, concluding a tremendously successful decade Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Supernatural by Santana

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Supernatural by SantanaThe amazing thing about Supernatural is how popular and commercially successful it became in spite of its plethora of styles, multiple lead vocalists and bi-lingual lyrical content. Released in 1999, this was the eighteenth studio album by Santana, the Latin-style rock project led by guitarist Carlos Santana.  It was, by far, Santana’s biggest commercial success, selling about 30 million copies worldwide and topping the album charts in eleven countries, including a total of twelve weeks at #1 in the US.

By the time of Supernatural‘s production, Santana already had a career that spanned over thirty years, commencing in the mid sixties with spurts of innovation, commercial success, experimentation, decline and hiatus. In 1991, Santana’s record deal with Columbia Records came to an end and subsequent albums on the Polydor/Island labels did not fare well commercially. However, Carlos Santana’s involvement in a 1995 documentary about executive and Arista Records founder Clive Davis (who was at Columbia when Santana was first signed in 1969), led to a deal with Arista.

Supernatural was forged with a desire to produce more radio friendly songs and its sound is a blend of elements that combine “vintage Santana” with contemporary influences from several genres. Along with the plethora of guest performing artists, the twelve original album tracks were put together by a total of thirteen co-producers.


Supernatural by Santana
Released: June 15, 1999 (Arista)
Produced by: Carlos Santana, Clive Davis, Jerry Duplessis, The Dust Brothers, Alex González, Charles Goodan, Lauryn Hill, Art Hodge, Wyclef Jean, K.C. Porter, Dante Ross, Matt Serletic & Stephen Harris
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, 1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
(Da Le) Yaleo
Love of My Life
Put Your Lights On
Africa Bamba
Smooth
Do You Like the Way
Maria Maria
Migra
Corazón Espinado
Wishing It Was
Primavera
The Calling
Carlos Santana – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Chester D. Thompson – Keyboards
Benny Rietveld – Bass
Rodney Holmes – Drums

 
Supernatural by Santana

 

 

The opener “(Da Le) Yaleo” is a Spanish language song that delves right in with the Carlos Santana signature guitar lead over the fine Latin percussion, with “Love of My Life” instantly changing direction. This second track is driven by the drums of Carter Beauford and topped by a smooth, jazzy arrangement with long, serene keys and good vocals by co-writer and lead vocalist Dave Matthews. The acoustic ballad “Put Your Lights On” slowly builds in arrangement with lyrics of existentialism by Everlast, ultimately making this a minor hit single. “Africa Bamba” follows and features acoustic and electric lead guitars for nice atmosphere.

By far the most popular single from Supernatural was “Smooth”, co-written by Itaal Shur and Rob Thomas and featuring Thomas on lead vocals. The track opens with a definitive Santana lead but eases into a groove of fine rhythms, proficient horn accents, enhanced vocals and overall great production. “Smooth” topped the pop charts (having the distinction of being the number one song when the century ended) and, ultimately, won three Grammy Awards. The next couple tracks have a definitive R&B vibe, Lauryn Hill‘s hip hop leaning “Do You Like the Way” and “Maria Maria”, another chart-topping and Grammy winning tune produced by Wyclef Jean and Jerry Duplessis.

Santana in 1999

The album’s second half, while still entertaining, features more repetitive and less groundbreaking songs. “Corazón Espinado” is almost like a Spanish language counterpart to “Smooth”, highlighted by Karl Perazzo on timbales, as “Wishing It Was” is another jazzy Latin ballad, featuring Eagle-Eye Cherry on vocals. The instrumental “El Farol” has plenty of atmosphere to tease out the beauty of Santana’s lead guitar, while “Primavera” is a standard Latin pop track. A highlight of this section of the album is “Migra”, driven by a strong drum beat and wild electric lead throughout, finding space between each vocal track, along with an excellent accordion by K.C. Porter and harmonized trumpets and trombones. “The Calling” is the original album closer, featuring Eric Clapton and starting with a long, Miles Davis like improvised section with Clapton and Santana trading guitar licks before the song proper of electronic drums backing a Gospel-like rendition with vocals by Tony Lindsay and Jeanie Tracy. Hidden within the track is “Day of Celebration”, a shuffle rhythmically, but it maintains a similar Gospel feel of uplift.

At nearly 75 minutes in length, the 1999 original version was a monster-size listening experience in of itself. However, the 2010 Legacy Edition added a second disc of outtakes, remixes and covers, clocking in at over two hours in total length of music. Supernatural went on to win nine Grammy Awards as an album and it sustained its popularity to the degree that it was the the ninth best-selling album of the decade of 2000s, despite being officially released in the 1990s. The album also gave Santana a unique entry into the Guinness book of World Records, as his previous number one album was Santana III in 1971, making the 28 year gap between number one albums for an artist the longest in history.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Mutations by Beck

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Mutations by BeckFor his sixth studio album, Beck and company decided to move in a decidedly non-commercial direction. The result is the lo-fi, psychedelic-oriented potpourri of Mutations. Released in late 1998, the songs on this album are masterfully composed to appear simple and straightforward at first, but reveal more sonic depth upon subsequent listens. Despite being less commercially successful than previous records, the album reached the Top 20 in the US and has gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide.

Beck’s previous album, 1996’s Odelay, was a commercial breakthrough as a fine blend of diverse genres such as country, blues, rap, jazz and rock with a methodical, “cut-and-paste” type method of production. The ensuing aftermath of success saw the normally reclusive artist land a Grammy nomination along with appearances on mainstream television. With this sudden rise, a proper strategy for a follow-up had less time to mature.

Entering the sessions for Mutations in Los Angeles, Beck and his touring band recorded over a dozen songs in two weeks with producer Nigel Godrich. In contrast to the previous album’s production, much of this captured the performance of the musicians live as they recorded with heavy use of acoustic guitars, keyboards and strings.


Mutations by Beck
Released: November 22, 1998 (DCG)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & Nigel Godrich
Recorded: Los Angeles, March–April 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Cold Brains
Nobody’s Fault but My Own
Lazy Flies
Canceled Check
We Live Again
Tropicalia
Dead Melodies
Bottle of Blues
O Maria
Sing It Again
Static
Beck Hansen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Percussion
Smokey Hormel – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Manning – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Justin Meldal-Johnsen – Bass, Vocals
Joey Waronker – Drums, PercussionMutations by Beck

The opening track and single release “Cold Brains” features some oddly poetic lyrics which Beck compared to the humorous side of Leonard Cohen with a musical vibe that is “like country music on the moon”. “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” was another single release which went on to become one of the most beloved songs in the artist’s library as it builds from a sparse setting into a rich orchestral arrangement.

The upbeat and pulsing “Lazy Flies” follows, leading to a break for the Western flavored tune “Canceled Check” and the harpsichord laden “We Live Again”. The album’s third single, “Tropicalia” was inspired by world music, especially music from Brazil. The song was written by Beck while riding on a tour bus.

Beck

As the album progresses it features many lesser known tracks which continue to touch on diverse musical areas. “Dead Melodies” is an acoustic ballad with subtle backing vocals, “Bottle Of Blues” lives up to its title’s promise, “O Maria” features a piano-driven swing, while “Sing It Again” and “Static” each feature a subtle musical landscape. The most interesting track of the latter album is “Diamond Bollocks”, a track with many twists and turns while maintaining a catchy groove and consistent, moderate beat. The album then concludes with the minimalist “Runners Dial Zero”.

Mutations was originally intended to be released by the indie label Bong Load Records. However, after the executives at Beck’s major label, Geffen, heard the finished product they reneged on their permission to let the smaller label release the record. This led to years of litigation between the artist and label over this album which eventually won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead

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Wake of the Flood by Grateful DeadThe Grateful Dead‘s long awaited sixth studio album, Wake of the Flood, marked a new era for the California band. Their first studio album in nearly three years, this was the first album on their independent Grateful Dead Records label as well as the first to feature the couple Keith Godchaux on piano and keyboards and Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals. This seven track album features compositions which draw from a blend of influences, ranging from the roots genres of country, folk and ragtime to a seventies modern fusion of funk and jazz rock.

In 1970, the Grateful Dead released two critically acclaimed studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, where they scaled back their sound with heavy folk and country influences. Following this breakthrough success, the band did extensive worldwide touring and would release three live albums in three years – Grateful Dead in 1971, Europe ’72 in 1972, and Bear’s Choice in 1973. Keith Godchaux joined the group in 1971 as a pianist alongside founding keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, when Pigpen was moved exclusively to Hammond B3 organ at the time. In 1972, McKernan’s health deteriorated, leaving him unable tour, and  ultimately lose his life in March 1973 due to complications from liver damage. Percussionist Micky Hart also temporarily left the band during this era, leaving drummer Bill Kreutzmann as the sole member behind the skins.

In August 1973, the Grateful Dead took a break from touring to record studio versions of new songs which had been in live rotation. The band chose to record Wake of the Flood at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, near their Bay area home base. The band self produced the album along with help from staff engineers and recorded everything is less than two weeks.


Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead
Released: October 15, 1973 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: The Grateful Dead
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, August, 1973
Side One Side Two
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Row Jimmy
Stella Blue
Here Comes Sunshine
Eyes of the World
Weather Report Suite
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

Sonically, Wake of the Flood moves from very simple to more complex as the album moves along. The opening “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” has a real loose, live feel as a down-home bluegrass track featuring the fiddle of guest Vassar Clements throughout. Jerry Garcia‘s lead vocals are somewhat low in the mix of this track which likely got its title as a play on “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champs”, a mid-sixties bluegrass group started by Garcia, McKernan and guitarist Bob Weir. “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” introduces Keith Godchaux to the listening audience as lead vocalist and co-writer with lyricist Robert Hunter. The first single from this album, this song has some strong melodic ideas and harmonies which are not completely formed on this recording.

Garcia’s complex and rhythmic “Row Jimmy” is the first sonically satisfying song on the album as a ballad accented with clavichord and percussion to complement the usual fine bass by Phil Lesh along with dual guitar licks. The exquisite “Stella Blue” is the best showcase of Garcia’s emotional vocals and is an overall well produced and tight ballad with an original and beautiful vibe with Hunter’s lyrics telling a story of lost love and sadness.

Grateful Dead in 1973

The album’s second side starts with the song that gives album its title. “Here Comes Sunshine” features another rich musical mix with an optimistic story of better days to come. The funky track “Eyes of the World” furthers the group’s sonic advancement into the fine mixes which they would display later in the 1970s, with great chord progressions, rudiments, rhythms and lead guitar. This leads to the album closer, Weir’s fantastic, three part “Weather Report Suite”, which showcases incredible, layered guitars and a smoothly put together and exquisitely produced jazz-influenced musical journey throughout. The “Prelude” section is an acoustic instrumental with slowly building rhythmic accompaniment, leading to “Part I”, featuring lyrics by guest Eric Andersen. The song addresses the seasons, and their relationship to the narrator’s state of mind. “Part II (Let it Grow)” feature’s Weir’s longtime lyrical partner John Perry Barlow and is the most upbeat part of the suite with music is perfectly laid out with various elements, including rich horns and a closing dual sax and harmonica lead, all making for a fine closing of this album.

Reaching the Top 20, Wake of the Flood fared better on the pop charts than any previous studio album. The Grateful Dead Records did not last all that long, collapsing in 1976, which resulted in this album all but disappearing from the marketplace for about a dozen years until it was issued on CD in the late 1980s.

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1973 Images

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

 

Sports by Huey Lewis & the News

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Sports by Huey Lewis and the NewsHuey Lewis and the News found their peak of commercial success with their third album, Sports. Released in the Autumn of 1983, the album topped the Billboard album charts the following year and spawned five Top 20 hits which remained on the charts and mainstream pop radio well into 1985. The album is a collection of original songs by Lewis and the band as well as songs written or co-written by composers outside the group, while maintaining an astonishing cohesion throughout.

The roots of the group date back to 1972 when Lewis, a vocalist and harmonica player joined the San Francisco area jazz-funk group Clover along with keyboardist Sean Hopper. Clover had a lengthy career through the 1970s and recorded several albums with minor success in the US And UK. When Lewis departed in 1977, the group became the original backing band for Elvis Costello’s debut album, My Aim Is True. Meanwhile, Lewis and Hopper began collaborating with another Bay Area jazz-funk group called Soundhole, with members including saxophonist and guitarist Johnny Colla, bassist Mario Cipollina and drummer Bill Gibson. In 1978, Huey Lewis & The American Express was officially formed with lead guitarist Chris Hayes becoming the sixth and final member in 1979. After a record deal with Chrysalis Records was secured, the group modified their name with the release of the self-titled LP Huey Lewis and the News in 1980. A second studio album, Picture This was self-produced and released in 1982 with gold-level success fueled by the breakout singles “Do You Believe in Love” and “Workin’ for a Livin'”.

Recording for Sports began immediately after the completion of Picture This with producer Bill Szymczyk assisting in production. Due to reorganization at Chrysalis, the band employed the strategy of holding back the master tapes and biding their time performing at small venues while the label got their affairs in order and were in a position to fully promote the album.

 


Sports by Huey Lewis & the News
Released: September 15, 1983 (Chrysalis)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk, Huey Lewis and the News
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA; Record Plant, Sausalito, CA & The Automatt, San Francisco, 1983
Side One Side Two
The Heart of Rock n’ Roll
Heart and Soul
Bad Is Bad
I Want a New Drug
Walkin’ On a Thin Line
Finally Found a Home
If This Is It
You Crack Me Up
Honky Tonk Blues
Group Musicians
Huey Lewis – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Chris Hayes – Guitars, Vocals
Johnny Colla – Saxophone, Guitars, Vocals
Sean Hopper – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mario Cipollina – Bass
Bill Gibson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

“The Heart of Rock n’ Roll” starts the album with a thumping heartbeat sound to launch the thematic (albeit somewhat tacky) anthem. Musically, it employs the faux eighties funk rock that permeates this album but worked well in the mid eighties pop scene. While equally as popular, “Heart and Soul” is of much higher quality overall. Co-written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn of the band Exile, this classic rocker uses a repeated riff but with strategic arrangements throughout, including the mid section where the deadened guitar and bass make for a simple but effective bridge. Further, the song features probably the best vocals by Lewis overall on the album.

“Bad Is Bad” is a modern doo-wop / soul track with cool organ Hopper, bluesy guitars by Hayes and a potent harmonica solo by Lewis with lyrics that are both jocular and profound. The song was written in the late 1970s while Lewis was working with Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy and that group did perform it live a few times half a decade before it was recorded for Sports. “I Want a New Drug” is another slightly clever theme which at once normalizes and demonizes drug use. Musically, there are dueling guitars over the simplest, cheezy-est synth rhythm, a method later “borrowed” by Ray Parker Jr. for the Ghostbuster theme song. “Walking On a Thin Line” was co-written by Andre Pessis and Kevin Wells of Clover and it starts with a haunting synth bass before breaking into an upbeat pop rocker with good melody and a semi-serious message about a Vietnam veteran’s post-war stress.

Huey Lewis and the News in 1983

The later part of the album tends to thin out on quality material. The lone exception is the hit song “If This Is It”, which features strong guitar-driven rock elements, some doo-wop backing vocals and fantastic lead vocals melody and chorus hook. The song is sandwiched between the pop-rock boilerplate “Finally Found a Home” and the more hyper new-wave synth rocker, “You Crack Me Up”. The album ends quite oddly with a cover of Hank Williams’ late 1940s Country hit “Honky Tonk Blues”, which does little to advance the original but is a nice place to showcase Hopper’s piano playing skills.

Sports was a hit worldwide but Huey Lewis and the News continued their rapid work schedule, scoring the Academy Award nominated theme song for the 1985 film Back to the Future and following up Sports with the similar pop-rocker Fore! in 1986, which was nearly as big of a hit as its predecessor.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.