The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

Buy The End of the Innocence

The End of the Innocence by Don HenleyThe End of the Innocence was Don Henley‘s best selling solo album and his lone solo release in the 16 year span between 1984 and 2000. A pure pop effort, the album spawned seven singles with six of those reaching the Top Ten of the Mainstream Rock charts and the title song reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard pop chart. The End of the Innocence expands on Henley’s extraordinary talent for composing, which dates back to the Eagles debut album, and moves firmly into the adult contemporary realm. While the sound of the album has remnants of 1980s slick, Henley’s enlistment of six co-producers, gives The End of the Innocence enough diversity to make it interesting.

Taking five years to compose and refine material for a follow-up, Henley relished in the success of his blockbuster 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast. Taking this time also gave him the time to gather some compositional, performance, and production talent for his next effort.

Among his collaborators on the album are Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, musical journeyman Bruce Hornsby, and Danny Kortchmar, part of California’s “mellow mafia”, who worked with Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt, and Warren Zevon among others. The result is an overall high quality album, albeit uneven. When the songs are good, they are very good, profound, rewarding, and indelible. On the flip side is the cheap eighties filler which, unfortunately, there is quite a bit of between the fine tracks. Still, there is little doubt that Henley was shooting for something big on this album to solidify his legacy in rock, and there is no doubt he achieved that goal.


The End of the Innocence by Don Henley
Released: June 27 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Don Henley, Mike Campbell, John Corey, Bruce Hornsby, Danny Kortchmar, Greg Ladanyi, & Stan Lynch
Recorded: 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The End of the Innocence
How Bad Do You Want It?
I Will Not Go Quietly
The Last Worthless Evening
New York Minute
Shangri-La
Little Tin God
Gimme What You Got
If Dirt Were Dollars
The Heart of the Matter
Don Henley – Lead Vocals, Drums
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards
Bob Glaub – Bass
Stanley Jordan – Guitars, Drums, VocalsThe End of the Innocence by Don Henley

 

The End of the Innocence is bookmarked by two of its finest tracks. “The Heart of the Matter” closes and solidifies the album with a perfect tone and tenor and great melody and hook. The wise and mature lyrics about “forgiveness” wash away the bitter taste of some earlier tracks. These lyrics are accompanied by fine musical motifs, from the opening twangy guitar riff through the many rooms of pleasant melody and sonic bliss. “The Heart of the Matter” was co-written by Campbell, and sometimes-Eagles contributor J.D. Souther and reached the Top 20 with significant airplay. The opening title track was co-written by Hornsby and features his deliberate, choppy piano style backing Henley’s melancholy driven melody. This is pure, calm, adult-oriented music with lyrics about the the shattering of childhood simplicity. with low-key yet tremendously effective vocals. “The End of the Innocence” also features an outstanding soprano sax lead by Wayne Shorter which adds to the overall mood of longing for redemption.

The original first side of the album includes a few pure eighties rockers that could be mistaken for cheesy movie soundtracks. After a strong percussion intro, “How Bad Do You Want It” is driven by a sax riff with synth decor and simple rhythms. The straight-forward melody and catchy hook is accompanied by background vocals by many including Sheryl Crow. “I Will Not Go Quietly” has some blues-based guitar riffing but is mainly rock-oriented with simple, hard rock drum beats up front. This song also kind of awkwardly features Axl Rose on backing vocals.

The middle of the album contains a couple more fine tracks. “The Last Worthless Evening” has acoustic with electric overtones reminiscent of Eagles. This stellar – musical mix and production to compliment Henley’s excellent vocals, perhaps his best on the album. The harmonized hook in the bridge brings this song , co-written by John Corey, to the next level. Like a classic movie score with high strings and a club piano out front, “New York Minute” arrives as the album’s most unique and interesting track. The song proper features a fine electric piano by Toto member David Paich along with another great sax solo by Shorter.

The remainder of the album contains songs of lesser quality which have not held up over time. “Shangri-La” starts with a semi-interesting percussive intro before it breaks into a lame attempt at a dance song. “Little Tin God” contains a reggae beat and is a little better than the rest of the filler, due to the great middle high-pitch bend synth solo. “Gimme What You Got” features a pleasant melody and good guitar textures but quickly gets old as it progresses. “If Dirt Were Dollars” has a good bluesy acoustic by Campbell throughout, but the lyrics and delivery are cheap (“as dirt”) as it is trite, preachy, and hard to get through. It is tracks like these that keep The End of the Innocence from being an absolute classic.

Still, the album sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone and won Henley his second Grammy award for Best male Vocalist in 1990. With various Eagles reunions through the 1990s. it would be another 11 years until Henley released his next solo album, Inside Job in 2000.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead

Buy Aoxomoxoa

Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful DeadAoxomoxoa is the third studio album by Grateful Dead and, perhaps, the one most dominated by lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. Created under the working title of “Earthquake Country” (because the group wanted to create a “seismic shift” in popular music), the album’s unique name was a fabricated palindrome by lyricist Robert Hunter who co-wrote all of the songs, marking the commencement of a longtime songwriting partnership with Garcia. Aoxomoxoa was completely self-produced by the Grateful Dead and claims to be the very first recorded on a 16-track tape machine.

The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 as a five-piece group called The Warlocks consisting of Garcia, Bob Weir on guitars and vocals, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards and harmonica, Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. They changed their name to Grateful Dead for a performance at one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests in December 1965. With various influences mixed into a loose format, the group has been labeled “the Godfathers of the jam band”. Their self-titled debut album was released in March 1967 and consisted mainly of covers with only two band originals on that album. Later that year, the group added Mickey Harty as a second drummer. The second album, Anthem of the Sun was released in July 1968 and contained completely original material, with each of the (then) six band members contributing to the compositions. Keyboardist Tom Constanten joined the band in the studio to provide piano and “electronic tape” effects on Anthem of the Sun, which eventually led to his formally joining the band as a seventh member, although he would only be with the group for barely a year.

With this widely expanded lineup, one might expect rich, full, orchestral arrangements. However, Aoxomoxoa does have a strong emphasis on acoustic songs and simple arrangements, which give it a very accessible sound on most tracks. Still, the group put tremendous time, effort, and money into the production of this studio album, something they would focus much less on as their career unfolded and they became more focused on their legendary touring.


Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead
Released: June 20, 1969 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific Recording Studio, San Mateo, CA, September 1968-March 1969
Side One Side Two
St. Stephen
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Rosemary
Doin’ That Rag
Mountains of the Moon
China Cat Sunflower
What’s Become of the Baby
Cosmic Charlie
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – Keyboards, Percussion
Tom Constanten – Keyboards
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Drums, Percussion

With Garcia taking the lead on most of the recorded material, “St. Stephen” acts as an exception with some compositional work by Lesh and some strong vocals and guitars by Weir. The song feels its way around before it kicks in to proper verse and after three rapid renditions of verses, the tune enters a middle European folk section for the bridge, driven by instrumental motifs from keyboards, bass, and lead guitar. A couple of good jam sections dominate the ending sections of the song, which tell of 1st century martyr and saint of the new Christian religion. This is followed up by “Dupree’s Diamond Blues”, an entertaining carnival-like blues with ascending and descending single-note guitar riffs complimented by bouncing organ. Garcia delivers rapid vocal verses which are melodic and entertaining, built on his advanced sense of jug band songcraft.

“Rosemary” Is a short acoustic ballad with emotional, flanged vocals by Garcia. Beginning immediately with no lead-in, the lyrics are hard to decipher because of the heavy vocal treatment and, after three brief verses and a couple of bare guitar phrases, the song quickly ends. “Doin’ That Rag” contains very interesting musical arrangements and great drumming by the team of Kreutzmann and Hart. With much melody and song craft, this piece goes through various style changes rotated through the verse, post-verse and chorus along with some well-timed sudden stops and starts. “Mountains of the Moon” closes the first side with a picked acoustic rhythm topped by harpsichord. This track has a definite Baroque feel musically, but Garcia’s vocals are more blues-based and Lesh’s sparse acoustic bass provides just enough variation to make it interesting.

Grateful Dead in 1969

An odd drum roll introduces “China Cat Sunflower”, which takes a few seconds to find its groove but when it does the great complementing riffs make this one of the most indelible Dead songs ever. Here the group also provides vocal choruses which actually harmonize decently (something they fail to do on many songs in their catalogue). A very popular song among “Deadheads”, “China Cat Sunflower” was one of the most performed songs in through the decades. In contrast, “What’s Become of the Baby” is one of their most forgettable tracks. Almost monk-like chanting by Garcia throughout with well-treated vocal effects, this song almost ruins an otherwise fine album with this ridiculous eight and a half minute indulgence, which was only really meant for use with the right chemical mix. Then, like landing back to Earth with fine rock blues, “Cosmic Charlie” finishes the album with fine rudimental harmonies during the bridge section and whining lead guitars throughout. Finishing things on a high note, this song sets the band up for the type of music they would forge and make famous the in 1970, when they produced two of their most famous albums.

Aoxomoxoa was not a tremendous commercial success, as it did not receive “gold” certification until 1997, nearly three decades after its release. However, it was a critical success and held in high enough regard by the band that they completely overhauled the mix in 1972 to catch up with technical innovations.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

Crosby, Stills and Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 album

Buy Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills and NashCrosby, Stills & Nash is an extremely rich and influential debut album from the “super group” of the same name. The trio of vocalists / guitarists which forged this group each came from successful 1960s pop/rock acts. David Crosby was from The Byrds, and Stephen Stills played in Buffalo Springfield, both Southern California folk/rock groups, while Graham Nash was from the British pop group The Hollies. Together, the group put an original twist on folk, country, blues, and rock topped by their masterfully blended three-part harmonies. Many credit this album for helping spawn the prolific soft rock groups of the 1970s which dominate many of the pop charts through that decade.

Crosby was dismissed from The Byrds in late 1967 due to internal conflicts, while Buffalo Springfield broke up a few months later, leaving Stills without a permanent gig. The two met informally during a jam with Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. Crosby knew Nash from a UK tour in 1966 featuring The Byrds and The Hollies. The three members first performed together at a private party in July 1968 where they instantly realized they had a unique vocal chemistry. This sparked Nash to depart from The Hollies and use their surnames as the title of a brand new group.

The debut album was co-produced by Bill Halverson, in collaboration with the three members of the band. Musically, Stills took the lead role by providing most of the lead guitars, bass, and keyboards along with his vocal parts. Crosby and Nash each added some acoustic and/or rhythm guitar along with their vocals, with Dallas Taylor providing drums. The simple, improvised album cover features the three members sitting on a couch in front of an abandoned homes just days before that dwelling was torn down.


Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Released: May 29, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Bill Halverson, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash
Recorded: Wally Heider’s Studio III, Los Angeles, June 1968-April 1969
Side One Side Two
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Marrakesh Express
Guinnevere
You Don’t Have to Cry
Pre-Road Downs
Wooden Ships
Lady of the Island
Helplessly Hoping
Long Time Gone
49 Bye-Byes
Group Musicians
Stephen Stills – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Graham Nash – Guitars, Vocals

The seven and a half minute “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a true suite in every way. Stills wrote this about his former girlfriend, folk singer Judy Collins. It is an early example of truly progressive music built on acoustic rhythms and harmonies throughout it’s four distinct sections. The first section is a traditional pop song, with the second, slower section focused on three-part harmonies, concluding with a brief acoustic lead by Stills. A unique percussion is played during the third part with a full drumbeat introducing the climatic ending part, which features some Spanish lyrics accompanying the famous “doo-doo-doo-da-doo” vocals. The song actually preceded Nash’s involvement in the group and was the very first recorded once he joined in mid 1968.

“Marrakesh Express” is a short but pleasant pop song by Nash, written while he was still with The Hollies but originally rejected by that group. It features an unforgettable, well-treated lead guitar by Stills and less harmonizing than on the opening song. The song was a pop hit, reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard charts. Stills’ guitar riff floats over the song in a way reminiscent of the sitar. Crosby’s initial contribution, “Guinnevere”, is much darker song than preceding two songs. Very soft and hypnotic, the song never picks up the pace or the intensity and features strange tuning and time signatures.

Side one concludes with Stills’, “You Don’t Have to Cry”, a pleasant country-influenced song with more fine three-part harmony and some pedal steel, and Nash’s “Pre-Road Downs”, which features really cool pedal effects on the lead guitars and cool, funky bass. The second side begins with “Wooden Ships”, a song which dates back to the original jam of Crosby, Stills, and Kantner (who co-wrote the song and did his own version with Jefferson Airplane), and is the only songwriting collaboration on the album. The song was written from the point of view of the few survivors of a post-apocalyptic world, with Crosby using his boat to set the scene.

Crosby Stills and Nash in 1969

Next comes a couple of pure folk tunes, “Lady of the Island” is nearly all Nash, with Stills adding some laid-back harmonies in a duet reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel. “Helplessly Hoping” returns to the rich harmonies with some beautifully done, picked acoustic providing the sole backing throughout this quintessential Crosby, Stills, & Nash song.

“Long Time Gone” is a cool 1960s pop/rock song with Stills playing a great funky bass, organ, with lead guitar licks throughout the verse and fantastically strong harmonies in rock context during the chorus. Crosby wrote it the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. The album concludes with the fine, “49 Bye-Byes”, a rock waltz led by choppy organ and more great multi-part vocals. The song breaks into some interesting sections (almost its own mini-suite) and really rocks in its own way while never getting too intense.

Crosby, Stills, & Nash peaked at #6 on the Billboard Albums chart. After its release, the group played some high-profile shows, including the famous Woodstock Music Festival. Later in 1969, the group joined up with Neil Young, expanding the trio to a quartet as the new decade began.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

Creedence Clearwater Revival
1969 albums

Buy Bayou Country
Buy Green River
Buy Willy and the Poor Boys

Creedence Clearwater Revival 1969 albumsCreedence Clearwater Revival was incredibly prolific in their earliest recording period. Following their self-titled debut album in mid 1968, the group released three more studio albums during the calendar year 1969 – Bayou Country. Green River and Willie and the Poor Boys – making it a grand total of four full-length album releases in just 18 months of real time. Composer, lead vocalist and guitarist John Fogerty produced all three of the 1969 albums and was the main driver in forging the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival, which led to several hit songs at the time and has stood the test of time.

The group took their three-part from three separate sources of varying relevance. “Credence” was a name of a friend of guitarist Tom Fogerty, “clear water” was the nickname of their favorite beer, and “revival” stems from the four members’ renewed commitment to their band, following some uncertainty when John Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford were drafted into military service.

Bayou Country was recorded in Los Angeles in late 1968 and released in early 1969, eventually reaching the Top Ten on the album charts. Almost immediately, the group got to work on their third album, Green River, while continuing to tour heavily. While not as successful commercially as its predecessor, Green River received much more solid ratings critically and led to the band being invited to perform at the Woodstock Music Festival. By the Autumn of 1969, the group was working on material for Willy and the Poor Boys, which would become their third Top Ten album of the year.


Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: January, 1969 (Fantasy Records)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, CA, Late 1968
Side One Side Two
Born On the Bayou
Bootleg
Graveyard Train
Good Golly Miss Molly
Penthouse Pauper
Proud Mary
Keep On Chooglin’

Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: January, 1969 (Fantasy Records)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, March-June 1969
Side One Side Two
Green River
Commotion
Tombstone Shadow
Wrote a Song for Everyone
Bad Moon Rising
Lodi
Cross-Tie Walker
Sinister Purpose
The Night Time Is the Right Time

Willie and the Poor Boys by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released: November, 1969 (Fantasy Records)
Produced by: John Fogerty
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkely, CA, Late 1969
Side One Side Two
Down On the Corner
It Came Out of the Sky
Cotton Fields
Poorboy Shuffle
Feelin’ Blue
Fortunate Son
Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You or Me)
The Midnight Special
Side o’ the Road
Effigy
Band Musicians (All 3 Albums)
John Fogerty – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars, Piano, Harmonica
Tom Fogerty – Guitars, Vocals
Stu Cook – Bass
Doug Clifford – Drums

“Born On the Bayou” is a rather apt opener for Bayou Country, with a memorable, repetitive, vibrato guitar riff topped by Fogerty’s distinct vocals. This track has close to a psychedelic rock vibe and ambiance, with lyrics that tell of a mythical childhood, far away from Fogerty’s home in California. This is followed by “Bootleg”, a simple twang with a convincing southern groove. “Graveyard Train” has a slow, quasi-blues progression riff that never really leaves, so the only real interesting part is the harmonica solo halfway through.

Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater RevivalSide two of Bayou Country is superior to the first side, as the songs are more upbeat and contain better variety. Even the cover “Good Golly Miss Molly” is interesting as a hyped up, Beatle-ized version of the Little Richard classic. “Penthouse Pauper” follows as an electric blues rocker with a great bass by Stu Cook. The album closer “Keep On Chooglin'” is an extended, droning blues song, decorated by lead instruments, most especially John Fogerty’s harmonica. Of course, the highlight of the side (and the album) is “Proud Mary”, probably the quintessential Creedence song. With a very direct and melodic approach, the song was written by John Fogerty while he was still in the National Guard in 1967. The song peaked at #2 on the US charts and was covered by many other artists, most famously the souped-up soul version by Ike and Tina Turner.

The title song continues the Southern vibe of Green River, albeit a bit more refined. Dual electric guitars and strummed acoustic set the scene for the song about a vacation spot from the Fogerty brother’s childhood, although John Fogerty admits that he made up the title “Green River” to continue the “Bayou” vibe. The song reached #2 on the US Billboard charts. This is followed by the rapid country-rock of “Commotion”, which sounds heavily influenced by Johnny Cash, but with a more rock oriented edge. “Tombstone Shadow” is another Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revivalfine track as the group fully embraces the late sixties blues-rock genre. A great rhythm by Cook and Clifford supports the monotone, whining lead guitar of John Fogerty – very close to Cream’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” from Wheels of Fire. The folksy ballad “Wrote a Song for Everyone” contains a slow country waltz with topical rock and blues elements, Obviously influenced by The Band, but still a deep and pleasant listen to end side one of Green River.

An upbeat song with an ominous message, “Bad Moon Rising” is driven totally by the rhythm and strumming, making it perhaps the most complete “band” song to reach the popular charts. Influenced by the film The Devil and Daniel Webster, the song was released as the lead single from this album just a few months after Bayou Country, and reached #2 in America and #1 in the UK. Another popular song, “Lodi” has that fantastic, emerging CCR formula – great folk music driven by the contrasting vocal melody by John Fogerty, making this the best overall song on Green River. The remainder of the album is filled by standard but solid fare. “Cross-Tie Walker” is a formulaic country song with the lone exception of Cook’s descending bass run during the second verse, while “Sinister Purpose” goes in a much harder rock direction, with John Fogerty’s psychedelic leads above Tom Fogerty’s fuzzy rock riffs. Nappy Brown’s “The Night Time Is the Right Time” is pure updated fifties rock, complete with choppy “doo-wop” backing vocals and a steady, boogie-woogie structure. This closing cover is also edgy like some of early Zeppelin.

Willie and the Poor Boys by Creedence Clearwater RevivalAlthough it contains a couple of really strong highlights, Willie and the Poor Boys is the weakest of the three albums released in 1969. The title song “Down On the Corner” anchors side one, starting with a layered percussive click track, led by the ever-present cowbell. An infectious song of rustic rural style, the song peaked at #3 as the group’s final hit of 1969. The rest of the side is really little more than filler. “It Came Out of the Sky” is old-timely rock and roll with twangy riffs between each vocal line, while the cover of Huddie Ledbetter’s “Cotton Fields” nods more towards the 1950s folk version by Odetta & Larry. “Poorboy Shuffle” is only interesting because it so low-tech, almost like capturing a rehearsal jam, mid-stream, while “Feelin’ Blue” fades in over the previous track with Clifford’s drums and a richer production.

“Fortunate Son” is the real highlight of the Willie and the Poor Boys. A short and intense track, built from a stiff rock rhythm and a strategically slight lead guitar. The song is an anti-war anthem which was inspired by the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon in 1968. “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You or Me)” is another rockabilly standard, leading to the more interesting “The Midnight Special”, a traditional song with an original arrangement with tremolo guitar intro and bass-driven verses with rich vocal harmonies. Mimicking the first side, the fourth track on the second side contains a low-tech instrumental called “Side o’ the Road”. The six and a half minute closer “Effigy” is an attempt at a dramatic philosophical/spiritual piece. But this falls just short as it really never leaves the four basic chords, while painting over the same territory that Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” forged a few years earlier, and to much greater effect.

Following their productive and fantastic output of 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival continued their success at the dawn of the seventies, peaking with their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory and several more hit songs.

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1969 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

The Soft Parade by The Doors

The Soft Parade by The Doors

Buy The Soft Parade

The Soft Parade by The Doors1969 was a tumultuous year for the The Doors. The main incident which caused their collective headache happened in Miami in March  when vocalist Jim Morrison was arrested for allegedly exposing himself during a concert. Consequently, many major promoters began cancelling shows. The group, which had been a top international pop/rock coming into the year, selling out venues such as New York’s Madison Square Garden, suddenly found themselves scrambling to get gigs. In the midst of all this came the release of their fourth album The Soft Parade, which contained a radically different sound for the Doors and faced harsh criticism because of it. But when you remove all the fog surrounding it, The Soft Parade is a diverse, entertaining, and totally unique album of a great American band at a musical crossroads.

Recording for the album began in November 1968.  From these initial sessions came a very successful Top 5 single (“Touch Me”/”Wild Child” in December 1968). In fact, more than half of The Soft Parade‘s material was released on singles prior to the album’s release in July of 1969, something totally unique for any Doors album. As Morrison struggled with substance abuse and erratic behavior, guitarist Robbie Kreiger stepped up and wrote half the material for the album including all four singles. Producer Paul Rothchild decided to enhance the group’s sound with the inclusion of brass and string arrangements, which was off-putting to many rock purists but (in this reviewer’s opinion) made for very interesting fusion with Morrison’s poetry and subject matter.

In fact, while the year was harmful for the band’s career momentum, it may well have been the height of The Door’s creativity. Further evidence of this can be found in the recent release of outtakes of unfinished songs. “Whiskey, Mystics and Men” is similar to the track “My Wild Love” from the previous album Waiting for the Sun, but this time Morrison’s poetic chant is complemented by a full band arrangement led by Ray Manzarek‘s harpsichord. “Push Push” is a jazzy Latin instrumental jam featuring Manzarek on piano and drummer John Densmore. Originally released as a ‘B Side’ of a single, “Who Scared You” is a good pop tune with a bluesy swing, some funky horn arrangements, and a cool solo by Krieger.


The Soft Parade by The Doors
Released: July 21, 1969 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul Rothchild
Recorded: Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles, July 1968–May 1969
Side One Side Two
Tell All the People
Touch Me
Shaman’s Blues
Do It
Easy Ride
Wild Child
Runnin’ Blue
Wishful, Sinful
The Soft Parade
Band Musicians
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Robby Krieger – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Manzarek – Piano, Keyboards
John Densmore – Drums, Percussion

Krieger’s “Tell All the People” starts The Soft Parade with an intro of blistering horns which give way to a pleasant pop melody. The song is most interesting due to the sheer un-Doors-ness of the track in total and the climax at the end of the second verse with slight melodic variation and quick Kreiger solo. Morrison left no doubt about his disdain for this song, which was released as a single but failed to reach the Top 40. Like the opener, “Touch Me” contains rich orchestral arrangements by conductor Paul Harris. Another Krieger composition, it has a distinctly Las Vegas feel to it and was allegedly derived from a blackjack phrase (“c’mon hit me babe, I am not afraid”). The song’s outro includes a sax solo by Curtis Amy and reached #3 on the US charts while topping the charts in several other countries.

The remainder of the first side features songs with only the four Doors members. Morrison’s “Shaman’s Blues” contains a fine vocal performance and entertaining lyrical motifs. Kreiger performs a whining guitar riff throughout and blues later solo while Densmore’s odd-measured drumming keeps the song interesting yet glued together, especially during his inventive fills. Overall, the song pulls the listener into a trance-like groove. “Do It” is much less potent lyrically but draws you in with its hard rock groove. The bouncy and light “Easy Ride” has an almost polka beat and feel, as a celebration of pure joy throughout with the song’s coda deviating slightly into a more rock-oriented journey during a long fade out.

“Wild Child” is the best overall song on the album, despite its very succinct length of two and a half minutes. It starts with a deep rock riff and hook chant but soon Kreiger’s guitar morphs into a bluesy slide riff as the song breaks into several inventive parts in an asymmetrical journey guided by Morrison’s fantastic and philosophical lyrics. The exact meaning of these lyrics (and the song’s protagonist) has been debated for decades, ranging from Arthur Rimbau to Jesus Christ to Morrison himself. Kreiger’s “Runnin’ Blue” is a complete left turn and one of the strangest Doors songs ever (and that is saying something!). A clever fusion of bluegrass and soul with a full brass arrangement and co-lead vocals by Kreiger during the refrains. The song is also a light tribute to the late Otis Redding and was another non-charting single from The Soft Parade.

The Doors in 1969

The fourth single from the album, “Wishful Sinful” was a minor hit on the charts. Light and beautiful, the orchestral arrangements on this song are finer than anywhere else especially due to the English horn lead by Champ Webb. But the song also contains perfectly melancholy vocals by Morrison and a stirring rhythm led by session bassist Harvey Brooks who masterfully works with Densmore to keep the rock core of this airy song.

As the album itself is such a diverse musical adventure, it is only fitting that the concluding title song reflect this path to the extreme with its own adventurous mini-suite. Morrison’s “The Soft Parade” follows the pattern of closing an album with an extended tour-de-force, as on the group’s first two albums. However, this track is much different, an almost  child-like wonderland movement that goes through each distinct phrase until reaching the rock and soul-influenced final parts (“the best part of the trip”) Much like a true “parade” of an English fugue, the song morphs from Morrison’s a capella sermon-like intro to a Baroque ballad to a show tune-like section to the long rock outro, the music masterfully follows the flowing, stream of consciousness lyric. Morrison’s vocals are doubled throughout, and often talk to each other on separate channels, giving the fuller meaning much to contemplate, especially after the hook section halfway through the song.

Despite the sour critical response, The Soft Parade reached #6 on the album charts and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any other of the group’s studio albums. A few days after the album’s release, The Doors recorded a few concerts which would become the basis for their 1970 live album Absolutely Live as well future Doors collection. Here, the quality of the band’s music is further displayed as the Doors concentrated on making great music despite the external distractions of 1969.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

 

Waiting For the Sun by The Doors

Waiting For the Sun by The Doors

Buy Waiting For the Sun

Waiting For the Sun by The DoorsThe Doors third album, Waiting For the Sun, is probably the weakest of their six original studio albums. Lead vocalist and lyricist Jim Morrison admitted that he was not the top of his game in 1968, being less of a prolific reader and writer in 1968 after the group’s rise to rock stardom the previous year. All that being said, this album still contains some brilliant moments during its short thirty-three minute duration, including some which help define the group’s strong legacy. Released in July 1968 when the group was (arguably) at the height of their sixties popularity, Waiting for the Sun the band’s first and only number one album in the US and their initial breakthrough album in the UK.

Departing from The Doors’ first two albums, which were similar in structure and dark mood and contained strong extended pieces to finish up the album, Waiting For the Sun contains a lighter sound on several tracks. This is a bit ironic because the original plans for this album included the side-long epic track “Celebration of the Lizard”, which was composed as a series of poems by Morrison over improvised music in sections, along with other more structured “sub songs”. However, producer Paul Rothchild and the other band members rejected all but a small part of the original studio piece. Still, the lyrics for the piece were published inside the gatefold jacket of the original vinyl LP. The band did perform “Celebration of the Lizard” in its entirety live and an advanced version of the piece appeared on the band’s 1970  album, Absolutely Live.

Also omitted from the album was it’s title track “Waiting for the Sun”, as the band felt it was unfinished. This track would later be included on the 1970 studio album Morrison Hotel. This song was one where keyboardist Ray Manzarek displayed his distorted new organ sound, as he transitioned from the Vox Continental used on the band’s earliest material.


Waiting For the Sun by The Doors
Released: July 11, 1968 (Elektra)
Produced by: Paul Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles, February-May, 1968
Side One Side Two
Hello, I Love You
Love Street
Not to Touch the Earth
Summer’s Almost Gone
Wintertime Love
The Unknown Soldier
Spanish Caravan
My Wild Love
We Could Be So Good Together
Yes, The River Knows
Five To One
Band Musicians
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Robbie Krieger – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Manzarak – Piano, Organ, Vocals
John Densmore – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

With the omission of certain planned tracks, The Doors had to dip back into their archives for material. “Hello, I Love You” was one of Morrison’s earliest compositions, dating back to 1965. The infinite buzz by guitarist Robbie Krieger and the groovy sixties sound, brought the band from the edge of darkness to the center of pop with this number one song, which sold over a million copies in the U.S. alone. However, this light song was not without controversy, as several critics pointed out the main vocal melody is dangerously similar to The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”. Further, Morrison grew to loathe this song to the point where Manzarak was forced to frequently sing lead vocals when it was performed live.

Through the rest of album the songs vacillate wildly. “Love Street” is a deceptively clever ballad, which starts sounding like an airy show tune but contains some hardcore rock elements underneath. This Baroque pop song with fine piano and organ originated as a poem by Morrison about the street he lived on in Laurel Canyon, CA with his girlfriend Pamela Courson. The most pointed lyric came from watching local hippies walking by to visit the corner store across the street from their residence;

I see you live on Love Street, there’s the store where the creatures meet. I wonder what they do in there?”

The only section of “Celebration of the Lizard” to make it on the album, “Not to Touch the Earth” is almost out of a dramatic movie scene. The bass line and overall rhythm continuously gets more intense, mirroring Morrison’s vocals. The opening lyrics come directly from subchapters in The Golden Bough by James Frazer with the rest being opaque poetry which is open to interpretation. Drummer John Densmore offers timely fills and a tight beat to hold the thrilling chaos all together.

“Summer’s Almost Gone” is another tune re-born from the group’s earliest days. The descending bass/keyboard riff reminds one of much of the repetitive material from Strange Days, albeit with some underlying honky-tonk piano by Manzarek and bottle-neck slide guitar by Krieger for variety. “Wintertime Love” goes in the opposite direction (both musically and seasonally). This short and upbeat European waltz is good composition with melodic vocals by Morrison and great bass by session man Douglas Lubahn, who provided bass for much of the album.

“The Unknown Soldier” is an intentionally controversial song, examining the Vietnam War and how it was viewed on television back in the United States. Complete with mysterious and eerie organ sounds in the verses and a literal march towards execution in the middle of the song, the Doors produced one of the most unusual and complex tracks of their career. The song then erupts into a climactic and celebratory coda, which envisions a victorious end of war. While the single and its promotional video were banned from much mainstream media, the song still managed to find its way into the Top 40.

Side two of Waiting For the Sun begins with “Spanish Caravan”, highlighted by some fantastic flamenco guitar by Krieger through the first verse and chorus, one of the most accomplished musical sequences in the Doors collection. The eventual turn electric is like a preview of the later genre of progressive rock, making this short piece an overall forgotten classic. Contrarily, “My Wild Love” may be the worst Doors song ever. A Morrison-inspired group chant, this unfortunate experiment should have been shelved for some later rarities collections. “We Can Be So Good Together” is upbeat and fun and sounds like it could have been every bit as successful as “Hello, I Love You” commercially. The song was recorded during the sessions for Strange Days and even appeared on an early track listings for that album.

The Doors

“Yes, The River Knows” is a beautiful, poetic love ballad with moody piano, in the same vein as “The Crystal Ship” from their debut. The superb picked electric guitar phrases by Krieger, accompanied by Manzarak’s classical piano and Morrison at his most melodic, really show the range of the Doors musically. The album closer “Five to One” is a thumping anthem which marks its place in time while leaving more questions than it answers (Is it a love song? Sex song? Song about murder? Revolution? Social commentary?). Part of the song (“Your ballroom days are over baby/Night is drawing near/Shadows of the evening/crawl across the years”), was seemingly lifted from the 19th-century hymnal and bedtime rhyme “Now the Day is Over”, while some say Morrison was possibly referring to a Dylan Thomas story in another part of the song. In any case, this proto-heavy metal track is an ode to brute force and a Doors classic.

To date, Waiting For the Sun has sold over 7 million copies worldwide, a phenomenal blockbuster for most groups. While the album was critically panned upon its release, the stronger parts of the record held up well over time, especially for those who enjoy the band’s diversity.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Steppenwolf and The Second 1968 albums

Steppenwolf and The Second by Steppenwolf

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Buy The Second

Steppenwolf and The Second 1968 albumsSteppenwolf arrived on the rock scene like a storm in 1968 and released their first two albums, which produced their most indelible classics which persist to this day, that year. Their debut, Steppenwolf, was released in January 1968 and included two songs made world famous by their eventual inclusion in the cult film Easy Rider in 1969, along with two more radio hits. The follow-up album, simply titled The Second, was released towards the end of 1968 and includes another smash hit along with a long rock medley on its second side. Both albums were produced by Gabriel Mekler and recorded in a Los Angeles studio between the extensive touring by the band.

Steppenwolf was formed out of the ashes of sixties group The Sparrows in 1967, led by vocalist John Kay along with brothers Jerry and Dennis Edmonton. The name was suggested by Mekler and was inspired by the novel of the same name by Hermann Hesse. Jerry Edmonton stayed on board as drummer of Steppenwolf while Dennis adopted the pen name Mars Bonfire and chose a strictly songwriting affiliation with the new group.

Entering the studio well rehearsed, Steppenwolf released a surprisingly strong debut with a hard rock motif and populist themes built on classic blues. The resulting music is raw and powerful with distorted trade-offs between guitarist Michael Monarch and organist Goldy McJohn and the tight rhythms by Edmonton and bassist Rushton Moreve.


Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
Released: January, 1968 (ABC Dunhill)
Produced by: Gabriel Meckler
Recorded: American Recording Co. Studio, Studio City, CA, Fall 1967
Side One Side Two
Sookie Sookie
Everybody’s Next One
Berry Rides Again
Hootchie Kootchie Man
Born to Be Wild
Your Wall’s Too High
Desperation
The Pusher
A Girl I Knew
Take What You Need
The Ostrich
The Second by Steppenwolf
Released: October, 1968 (ABC Dunhill)
Produced by: Gabriel Meckler
Recorded: American Recording Co. Studio, Studio City, CA, Summer 1968
Side One Side Two
Faster than the Speed of Life
Tighten Up Your Wig
None of Your Doing
Spiritual Fantasy
Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam
28
Magic Carpet Ride
Disappointment Number
Lost and Found By Trial and Error
Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie
Resurrection
Reflections
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Kay – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Michael Monrach – Guitars
Goldy McJohn – Piano, Keyboards
Rushton Morave – Bass
Jerry Edmonton – Drums

The first two singles released from Steppenwolf were “A Girl I Knew” and the opening track “Sookie Sookie”. Written by R&B artists Don Covay and Steve Cropper, “Sookie Sookie” is almost like almost a soul or Motown track arranged to a heavy late sixties rock beat and methodical guitar riff. “A Girl I Knew” was co-written by Morgan Cavett and contains a very English sounding harpsichord with Kay mimicking the mood in the lead vocals during short intro before song breaks into a driving, sixties hipster beat with a bouncing organ riff by McJohn.

Other songs on the debut album find the group experimenting with various sub-genres. On “Everybody’s Next One” an acoustic piano gives way to full electric arrangement as this progressive song moves through several sections in its short duration of less than three minutes. One of the prominant riffs would later be “borrowed” by The Doors for their 1970 song “You Make Me Real”. “Berry Rides Again” is old time rock and roll through and through as an obvious tribute to Chuck Berry with the piano really standing out on top of the mix. The band’s rendition of the Willie Dixon / Muddy Waters classic “Hootchie Kootchie Man” features the guitars slowly working out before falling into the most standard of blues riffs in an original and entertaining version of this well-healed classic. “Your Wall’s Too High” is more blues , but a bit more up-tempo with some rock riffs and bouncy sections mixed in.

The band’s most famous song, “Born to Be Wild”, was composed by Mars Bonfire and features a tight beat under the distorted guitars, with just the right amount of organ chops to make it interesting. Drummer Edmonton is the truly unsung hero of this song, holding together tightly an otherwise loose arrangement and supplying a great drum fill into second verse and perfect rolls later in the track. Due to its inclusion during the opening scene of Easy Rider, it is often tied to bikers in popular culture and the song is also the first to coin the term “heavy metal”, which would be attributed to various heavy rock styles for the next four and a half decades and counting. The third single off their 1968 debut, “Born to Be Wild” would become Steppenwolf’s most successful single, reaching #2 on the U.S. pop charts.

The other song from the debut later included on Easy Rider, “The Pusher” is a consistent blues song by Hoyt Axton, built around four chords, squeezed out through the intro guitar riff. Later, Monrach provides long descents into the guitar leads, make it interesting despite the lack of true variety. Kay takes his vocals to another level during the various “God Damn” wails on this amazingly frank and candid look at the darker side of drugs at a time when it was “cool” for rock bands to celebrate such use. This is one of the few songs retained by the group from their Sparrow days.

Side two of Steppenwolf includes a handful of other strong tracks. A beautifully constructed orchestra of melodic noise leads into the bluesy “Desperation” with constant tension between the sustained organ and distorted guitar chords throughout along with moving vocal melodies. “Take What You Need” contains an upbeat, driving piano beat and whining guitar overlay along with animated bass and drumming. “The Ostrich” is bluesy with a “Hand Jive” beat heavy with floor toms. A really good closer for the debut album with the late flaw of a good jam breaking down into an awkward, out of tune improv to finish things up.

Steppenwolf’s follow-up album, The Second, embraces more bombastic hard rock, psychedelia, and blues with more refined production and songwriting techniques. This is really a mixed blessing as some songs really bring out the finer points of composition while others are just plain filler. Unfortunately,
“Faster than the Speed of Life”, the opening track penned by Mars Bonfire is the latter with weak harmonies and uninspired guitar licks.

Fortunately, The Second does improve from there. “Tighten Up Your Wig” is a grittier and bluesier tune than the opener with a cool good harmonica lead by Kay and subtle instrumentation licks. “None of Your Doing” starts with a penny whistle organ and English folk style acoustic for a single line in each verse before the rocking kicks in with slight restraint. “Spiritual Fantasy” contains a slide acoustic guitar and strings throughout in a waltz-like ballad. This song is interesting because it is so different than anything else, but it does seem like the musicians struggle to keep time throughout. Meckler’s “Twenty Eight” almost has a surfer vibe in an intentional reach towards pop.

“Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” fades in with bass riff and great sounding guitars playing interesting riffs. The music is measured and excellent throughout, perfectly accenting the lyrics in this pro-marijuana message which acts as a reciprocal to “The Pusher” on the first album;

Well it’s evil, wicked, mean and nasty, don’t step on the grass Sam and it will ruin our fair country, don’t be such an ass, Sam…”

“Magic Carpet Ride” was co-written by bassist Moreve, starting as a psychedelic form with guitar feedback. It then breaks into the simplest of riffs with good vocal melody to carry the song. The original track is asymmetrical, with the actual “magic carpet ride” happening through various sound effects above the tense funk jam before the tension is released with a short outro chorus. Released as the lead single from that album, it peaked at #3 on the US pop charts making it the band’s second-biggest hit.

A year before the Beatles Abbey Road, Steppenwolf had a multi-song second side medley in similar form. “Disappointment Number (Unknown)” contains slide blues guitar and a really sparse and laid back arrangement before it finally gives way to the full band with fine bass, drums, and honky-tonk piano by McJohn. Later it unexpectedly breaks out of blues riff and ends slightly with live bar sound before it quickly segues directly to “Lost and Found By Trial and Error” as a continuation blues song moving through several new forms with the guitars sounding sharp and fine. The jam continues with organ taking lead through the instrumental “Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie”, which leads to the intense climax of “Resurrection” as the extended arc piece gets closer to conclusion with the theme “Shake Your Money Maker” repeated until rudiments complete the jam part. The short “after” piece “Reflections” is some soft Baroque with heavy reverb.

Steppenwolf reached #6 on the Rock Albums charts, while The Second later climbed to #3 on the same chart. Steppenwolf continued to have success through the early 1970s and has gone on to sell more than 25 million records worldwide. The band initially broke up in 1972 but have reformed several times through the decades with various lineups behind John Kay, who is the only original member to remain with the band since its inception.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

1978 Album of the Year

Van Halen

1978 Album of the Year

Buy Van Halen’s Debut Album

Van Halen 1978 debut albumVan Halen‘s debut album is a pedal-to-the-metal hard rocker with a distinct approach that thundered onto the scene in early 1978. This self-titled album continues to rank among the top debuts of all time and makes appearances on other straight-up rock album lists. While not particularly original musically, Van Halen was completely original sonically. This was due to the jaw dropping speed and flair guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. With a noted lack of blues-based licks, which were replaced by a furious placement of picked, crunched, and hammered notes, Van Halen’s leads, solos, and riffs are the most indelible moments on a very memorable album. Forged in the fresh shadow of punk rock, the Van Halen sound showed that musical talent can be every bit as fresh, energetic, and bombastic. With this innovative record which sounds every bit as fresh 35 years after its release, Van Halen has risen to become Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1978.

Van Halen was formed in Southern California in 1972 by the brothers that give the band its name – guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen. Born in the Netherlands, the Van Halen brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan Van Halen and were “forced” to study classical piano at very young ages. When the brothers began playing rock and roll, Alex was actually on guitar and Eddie was on drums.  But once Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to switch instruments and took over as drummer. In 1974, the group rented a sound system from David Lee Roth and soon invited him to join as lead vocalist. Roth was the son of a renowned eye surgeon, who had considerable wealth and was the nephew of Manny Roth, who built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha?, which featured performers such like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Roth possessed an in-your-face charisma that demanded attention (like a true frontman should). While not considered a particularly accomplished crooner, his yelps and screams fit perfectly within the high-energy sound of the group.

Soon after Roth joined,  the band decided to replace their current bass player with Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from a rival band called “Snake”, who impressed the Van Halen brothers during an all-night jam session. In subsequent years, the group played everything from backyard parties on a flatbed truck to some of the most famous night clubs on the Sunset Strip. They forged what Roth calls a “girl-friendliness” to heavy rock. In the summer of 1976, Gene Simmons of Kiss saw Van Halen perform and offered to produce a high end demo tape for the group. After a few recordings in Los Angeles and New York, Simmons opted out of the arrangement after the group declined his suggestion to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs” and Kiss management told Simmons that they had “no chance of making it”.

In mid-1977,  Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw the group perform in Hollywood and was so impressed that he scored Van Halen a recording contract within a week (although the group now laments that this contract was not financially favorable to the members who ended up owing money by the end of 1978). Templeman produced the debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders over a three week period in the Fall of 1977. All of the tracks were recorded with minimal over-dubbing and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a “live” feel. After the sessions, the group returned to playing small venues in Southern California until the album was released in early 1978.


Van Halen by Van Halen
Released: February 10, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ted Templeman
Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA, September – October 1977
Side One Side Two
Runnin’ with the Devil
Eruption
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Jamie’s Cryin’
Atomic Punk
Feel Your Love Tonight
Little Dreamer
Ice Cream Man
On Fire
Band Musicians
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion

The album is made of nine original compositions, credited to all four band members, along with two re-interpreted covers. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony drive the opener “Runnin’ with the Devil”, which arrives like an alien visitor and then comes off heavier than it actually is in reality. It is down-and-dirty but short of hedonistic and got its lyrical inspiration from the Ohio Players song “Runnin’ from the Devil”. While released as a single, it failed to chart in 1978 but has  become a classic rock radio staple and still a signature tune of Van Halen.

The instrumental “Eruption” contains some of the best 100 seconds of guitar ever recorded. This masterpiece by Eddie Van Halen was not intended for the debut album but was overheard by Templeman as Eddie was rehearsing it for a club date and he decided to include it on the album. The piece is the first to feature Van Halen’s custom two-handed finger-tapping technique which had not been perfected by any other player to that date (but went “viral” among guitarists in the eighties). Played on his custom Frankenstrat with a custom array of effect units and vintage tube amps, the piece has been named the 2nd greatest guitar solo ever by Guitar World magazine. “Eruption” works as a perfect lead-in to the kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, the lone charting “hit” from this album. You Really Got Me singleThis may be one of the very few remakes that actually best the original, which is saying something since the 1964 tune by Ray Davies is a bona fide classic which features a young session player named Jimmy Page. But Van Halen takes this simple, two and a half minute piece, and brings it to a fevered level of excitement with Eddie performing riffs within riffs, Roth adding vocal ad-lib screams in the chorus, and the post solo guitar dribble leading to a unique mid section with sound effects by both. The song became the lone Top 40 single from Van Halen.

Although very repetitive, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an extremely entertaining song which borders on being a Van Halen-flavored punk epic, especially with closing “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant. Unlike the totally feel-good “You Really Got Me”, this has a much darker feel, especially with the deep bridge lyrics;

“I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I’ve lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”

“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” displays the effortless expression of the band, which replaces the pretension and self-consciousness of many of their late seventies peers. The hyper-blues shuffle of “I’m the One”, which highlights the entertaining showmanship of the band. With dynamics which range from the monstrous rhythmic surge to the later a cappella do-wop section, “I’m The One” is an underrated gem, which concludes the fantastic first side of the album.

Although not nearly as memorable, the second side of Van Halen does contain its share of high moments. “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” shows that the band definitely can play pop rock anthems. These two tracks share similar memorable riffs and catchy harmonized choruses and they both sound like they should have been bigger radio hits. Sandwiched between the two is “Atomic Punk”, an almost experimental song with intro guitar effects giving way to theatrical verses. However, this song’s title may be more provocative than the overall tune is actually substantive and the disorganized return after the guitar lead appears to be one of the few faux pas of the recording.

Van Halen

“Little Dreamer” is the finest tune on side two and may be the one true band effort on Van Halen. Eddie comes down to Earth with a standard riff and more subtle theatrics while the rest of the group steps forward as Michael Anthony’s bouncing bass contrasts yet compliments Alex Van Halen’s steady drum beat and Roth’s actual singing is at its finest on this record. “Little Dreamer” also offers a preview of some of the more substantive music featured on upcoming albums Van Halen II and Women and Children First. “Ice Cream Man” is cover from Chicago blues artist John Brim, which features David Lee Roth solo on acoustic guitar and vocals for a couple of turns before it finally breaks into a full-fledged rocker, ala Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately, the most forgettable song on the album is the finale “On Fire”, making for the only true weak spot on this incredible debut. While Eddie’s guitars are still impressive, the overall vibe makes really feels more like weak, hair-band material from a future Van Halen clone.

Van Halen initially peaked at #19 on the U.S. Albums chart and made a reappearance in 1984. By the end of the century, it was certified a Diamond album (over ten million copies sold or 20x platinum) and it made yet another appearance on the album charts in 2012 to coincide with Van Halen’s latest reunion. The band toured for nearly a year as the opening act for Black Sabbath before returning to the studio in late 1978 to record the follow-up Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Infinity by Journey

Infinity by Journey

Buy Infinity

Infinity by JourneyThe classic lineup of Journey came together for the album Infinity, released in 1978. Although this was the fourth overall album for the group that had been together since 1973, it was the first to feature lead vocalist and iconic front man Steve Perry. With his smooth tenor voice and apparent ability to traverse keys at will, Perry ushered in a new era of pop accessibility for Journey. the album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who had worked with such rock legends as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, Nazareth, and Queen. Baker said he aimed for a layered sound approach, complete with harmonized lead guitars, similar to his work with Queen in the mid seventies.

Journey was formed as a professional jazz/fusion “backing band” built by former Santana manager Herbie Herbert, originally called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie were also recent Santana members and they were surrounded by a number of musical lineups through the early years of the group, eventually settling on bassist Ross Valory and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Journey released three albums in three years with none achieving significant sales. Schon, Valory, and Dunbar took singing lessons in an attempt to add vocal harmonies to Rolie’s lead and even brought in a temporary front man, Robert Fleischman in 1977 to transition to a more popular style.

Perry had achieved moderate success with California bands, Ice and Alien Project, but was on the verge of giving up music when Herbert heard a demo of Perry in Alien Project. Perry was brought on tour and eventually replaced Fleischman permanently in late 1977. With a new contract with Columbia Records, the band set out to make a cohesive and popular record.


Infinity by Journey
Released: January 20, 1978 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: His Master’s Wheels Studio, San Francisco, October-December 1977
Side One Side Two
Lights
Feeling That Way
Anytime
Lă Do Dā
Patiently
Wheel In the Sky
Somethin’ To Hide
Winds of March
Can Do
Opened the Door
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Gregg Rollie – Keyboards, Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars
Ross Valory – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

The geographical ballad “Lights” (which can still regularly be heard at San Francisco Giants baseball games) leads things off on Infinity. The complete ode to their home “city by the bay”, was actually written by Perry about Los Angeles before he joined the band. Although originally just a very minor hit, which reached #68 on the charts, the song became more popular over the years to the point where it is now one of Journey’s most easily recognizable songs.

Greg Rollie takes the lead vocal mic on the next two tracks. On “Feeling That Way” he duets with Perry, on a pleasantly moody track with an eighties moderate rock feel. The first incarnation of the song was an instrumental intended for the group’s third album Next, but was left off that album. When Perry joined the band, he helped add a chorus with Rolie adding the verse lyrics. “Anytime” features Rollie solo on lead vocals. This song was co-written by Robert Fleischman during his short time with the group and was released as a single from the album.

“Lă Do Dā” is an upbeat, pure rocker, driven almost entirely by texture, from Schon’s opening guitar effects to the long sustained vocals with electronic effects. “Patiently” was the first collaboration between Perry and Schon and soon became a fan favorite. On this delicate yet hip ballad, Schon plays an acoustic-like form on his electric guitar through the beginning verses, while the concluding full-band jam makes it all the more interesting.

The second side opens with “Wheel in the Sky”, which contains almost an upbeat country riff, especially in the interplay between Schon’s guitar and Ross Vallory’s bass. The song began its life as a poem called “Wheels in My Mind” by Diane Vallory, wife of the bassist and it reached No. 57 on the Billboard charts.
“Somethin’ to Hide” is another pleasant quasi-ballad, driven by Perry’s soaring, atmospheric vocals and Schon’s scorching fret work, along with some subtle keyboard arrangements by Rolie.

Neal’s father, jazz musician Matt Schon composed some of the fine chord structures for “Winds of March”, an arrangement would have worked well with many of the later prog metal acts. This has a love-song-like lyric but with a more somber feel from the dark piano runs to the flange effects on Dunbar’s drums, making it one of the better songs on side two. The album’s final two racks offer a slight glimpse into Journey’s future. “Can Do” is a pure upbeat rocker co-written by Perry and Ross Valory, while “Opened the Door” is the only real soft rock song on the album. Led by the synths from Rollie and more layered guitars from Schon, it is easy to see how the group laid the brickwork here for a lot of their 80s ballads.

Infinity was the first album by the group to contain tracks that received regular airplay as well as the first with charting singles. It was the first of a string hit albums, which eventually served to help Journey become one of the top rock groups in the world. While a few more changes would take place in subsequent years, starting with Herbert firing drummer Dunbar, Journey would consistently gain more popularity through the next half decade.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.

Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

Buy Excitable Boy

Excitable Boy by Warren ZevonExcitable Boy was Warren Zevon’s follow up to his self-titled 1976 album which established Zevon as a rising talent in the Los Angeles singer/songwriter community. Once again, Zevon teamed up with friends and colleagues to produce some fine pop rock. The difference this time was that while Linda Ronstadt’s recordings of several songs from his Warren Zevon album were bigger hits than the original Zevon recorded versions, they created much buzz about this sophomore effort. As a result, Excitable Boy was actually a hit in its own right, featuring the same sardonic, sharp style with crisp, often dark lyrics, which combine perfectly with pop rock melodies to tell quirky yet emotionally stirring stories.

Zevon was born in Chicago to a Jewish immigrant from Russia, but grew up in Fresno, California. As a teen, he briefly studied classical music under Igor Stravinsky but he quit high school at sixteen and moved to New York to become a folk singer. Zevon toured regularly with the Everly Brothers as keyboard player and band leader during the early seventies before returning to California in 1975.

While in Los Angeles, Zevon roomed with then-unknown Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and he collaborated with Jackson Browne, who produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut. An all-star list of contributors to that album included Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt. Though only a modest commercial success, the 1976 album was critically acclaimed, so Browne and co-producer Waddy Wachtel returned for Excitable Boy.


Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon
Released: January 18, 1978 (Asylum)
Produced by: Jackson Browne & Waddy Wachtel
Recorded: The Sound Factory, Los Angeles, 1977
Side One Side Two
Johnny Strikes Up the Band
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Excitable Boy
Werewolves of London
Accidentally Like a Martyr
Nighttime in the Switching Yard
Veracruz
Tenderness on the Block
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Primary Musicians
Warren Zevon – Piano, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar, Lead Vocals
Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar – Guitar, Percussion
Russ Kunkel – Drums

The album opens with “Johnny Strikes up The Band” featuring a steady piano from Zevon accented with catchy guitar riffs by Wachtel. The song is a perfect introduction as it is about a band leader who makes people forget their troubles when he “strikes up the band.” This leads into “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”, which tells the story of a political double-crossing resulting in a “Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” type revenge story where the headless ghost of Roland hunts down the man who did him wrong and kills him.

The album’s title track is, on the surface, a bubbly, happy pop tune complete with a doo-wop chorus, saxophone, and a rollicking melody. The lyrics, however, tell the horrific tale of a young sociopath’s bizarre penchant for rape and murder. Zevon’s deadpan matter-of- fact delivery on “Excitable Boy” strikes the perfect balance in this macabre, sardonic tale. With bright, piano-driven melody,  doo-wop sax, and back up vocals, rape and murder never sounded so carefree.

Perhaps the most recognizable song in this collection is “Werewolves of London”. While this is not Zevon’s creative masterpiece, it does have a great hook with the howling chorus and piano beat as well as some memorable lyrics.

“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walking through the streets of Soho in the rain…”

The side one closer, “Accidentally Like a Martyr”, is a perfect ballad of heartbreak, lost love, and misplaced trust accented by mournful slide guitar and melancholy piano.

The second side starts of weak with “Nighttime in the Switching Yard”,  a dated disco piece which seems out of place on this album. However, the side improves from there. “Veracruz” is a Spanish influenced ballad that tells the story of young men going off to battle. Zevon manages to put forth some political opinions without getting too preachy. The recorders, harps and Spanish guitar paint a sad but inspiring scene.

Browne co-wrote “Tenderness on the Block”, a story of a young girl growing up, full of promise and potential set to an optimistic and bouncy piano. This may seem uncharacteristically positive for Zevon, but it is really a bittersweet story as it is told from the point of view of a parent watching their child go out into the world. “Lawyers Guns and Money” is a brilliant closer which tells the story of a hapless young rogue who finds himself in trouble with the Russian Mafia after going home with a waitress (the way he always did). He laments how he has run out of luck and Dad’s lawyers, guns and money can’t get him out of this fix, a typical song of  comeuppance, which Zevon composes so well.

Excitable Boy was the best selling album of Zevon’s up and down career and reached the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts. The remainder of Zevon’s three decade long career was marked by self-imposed declines and a inspired comebacks, right up to his final album produced shortly before Zevon’s death in 2003.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.