In the Dark was the first studio album by the Grateful Dead in over seven years (their twelfth overall) and was a comeback album on several levels. It was a return to the style of the band’s most famous albums in the earlier 1970s and became an unexpectedly popular success reaching the top ten on the Billboard album chart making it the highest charting album of the group’s long career. Further, the album comes in the wake of serious health issues with guitarist and primary front man Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s health declined through the early 1980s and he nearly lost his life in 1986 when he slipped into a diabetic coma for several days. Although he survived this incident, it caused some permanent memory loss and it is said that Garcia had to re-learn many of his established guitar techniques.
The album was recorded in an unusual fashion. The band was constantly touring and had been performing much of the new material live for years so they decided to record the basic tracks live on stage in an empty and darkened Marin Veterans Auditorium. This process gave the album its title and helped the band achieve a more authentic sound, something the Dead had long struggled with on studio albums. Later overdubs were added in the studio, which gave the album’s sound a sonic, blended edge. In an interview, Garcia spoke about the recording process on this album;
Marin Vets turns out to be an incredibly nice room to record in. There’s something about the formal atmosphere in there that makes us work. Going in [Marin Vets] without an audience and playing just to ourselves was in the nature of an experiment…”
The band’s sound in the 1980s was also unique to any other era due to the unique talents of Brent Mydland, who possessed both a unique voice and great piano and keyboard skills. Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in 1980 and stayed with the group until his death from a drug overdose in July 1990, making him the third keyboardist in the band to die. Mydland also became a prominent songwriter on both 1980’s Go To Heaven and 1989’s Built To Last, but only contributed one song, “Tons of Steel”, to In the Dark.
In the Darkby Grateful Dead
Released: July 6, 1987 (Arista) Produced by: Jerry Garcia & John Cutler Recorded: San Rafeal, California, January-March 1987
Touch Of Grey
Hell in a Bucket
When Push Comes to Shove
West L.A. Fadeaway
Tons Of Steel
Black Muddy River
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals Phil Lesh – Bass Bill Kreutzmann – Drums Mickey Hart – Drums
The album commences and is most identified with “Touch of Grey”, one of four compositions by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, a long time collaborator. This song became the band’s first and only Top 40 hit in their three decade-long career. Hunter had originally intended this song for a solo album in 1981, which was never completed. It was picked up by the Dead for their live shows starting in 1982 and serendipitously carried the central message of the band (and especially Garcia) in 1987 – “I will get by, I will survive”. Although the song became a live favorite by fans before it was issued on album, there was a later backlash after the song’s popularity brought an influx of pop-oriented faux “deadheads”, sometimes referred to as “touchheads” after this song.
The other Garcia/Hunter tunes on the album are the groove-driven “When Push Comes to Shove”, the John Belushi tribute “West L.A. Fadeaway”, and the closing ballad “Black Muddy River”. This last track contains some Gospel influence and great guitars, while “When Push Comes to Shove” contains a good rhythm driven by dueling drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
Guitarist Bob Weir also co-wrote and provided lead vocals for a couple of tracks. “Hell In a Bucket” is the best song on the album overall, as it fuses entertaining lyrics and a melodic hook with an excellent mixture of sound by all band members, especially Garcia on lead guitar and Phil Lesh on bass. Co-written by Brent Mydland, the song also contains a unique electric piano riff. “Throwing Stones” is an extended yet repetitive piece which became a minor hit on album-oriented radio. Lyrically, this song is written in much the same style of early Bob Dylan, but musically the band is able to add some real flavor, especially the long guitar lead by Garcia.
In the Dark was received like no other Grateful Dead album and gave the band a pop commercialism and acceptance like they had never received before. The band did eventually settle back into a regular touring routine and lived out their final years as a live jam band right up until Garcia’s death in 1995.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.
Forever Changes is the third album by the folk rock band Love, and has become their crowning achievement musically. It is a richly produced and sonically fine album which was not a huge hit commercially but became recognized as one of the finest albums from the California scene in 1967. Produced by Bruce Botnick and the band’s lead vocalist and primary songwriter Arthur Lee, the album is made of songs are primarily acoustic-based with liberal splashes of brass and strings along with a strong rhythmic backbone, while the use of electric guitars, which dominated most of the band’s first two albums, is limited to a few strategic appearances.
The band released their critically acclaimed debut album in 1966, but took a bit of an artistic detour with the follow-up Da Capo in early 1967. Prior to recording Forever Changes, Love downsized to a five piece by dropping keyboardist Alban Pfisterer and saxophonist Tjay Cantrelli. Still, the group was undergoing some severe internal strife and the sessions began with only Lee and guitarist Bryan MacLean from the band along with several well-known Los Angeles session musicians. This was allegedly due to the rest of the line-up’s alleged inability to function at the time, and the song “Andmoreagain” was recorded with this session arrangement. According to Botnick, the use of session musicians “sparked” the band and they soon got their act together to record the rest of the album.
Instrumentally, the album is made of an acoustic core of guitar textures with an overlay of horns, strings, and orchestral swell, with some of the brass punctuating the melodies. Lee worked with arranger David Angel, spending several weeks playing and singing the envisioned orchestral parts, which he had envisioned for these compositions from the beginning. The result is a diverse album with fluctuations in rhythm patterns, tonal color, and lyrical substance.
Forever Changesby Love
Released: November, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Bruce Botnick & Arthur Lee Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, June-September 1967
Alone Again Or
A House Is Not a Motel
The Daily Planet
The Red Telephone
Maybe the People Would Be the Times
Live and Let Live
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
Bummer In the Summer
You Set the Scene
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Guitars Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars Bryan MacLean – Guitars, Vocals Ken Forssi – Bass Michael Stuart – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Although Lee wrote the bulk of the material on the album, the opener and most well known track, “Alone Again Or” was written by MacLean. It contains nice Spanish acoustic with brass rudiments, which alternate with cool, bass-driven verses held together by bassist Ken Forssi. This was the sole single released from the album to reach the Billboard singles chart, with a re-issue peaking at No. 99 in 1970. MacLean’s other contribution to the album is “Old Man”, another Mexican-influenced folk song with strategic brass and some lyrical references to Christianity.
“A House Is Not a Motel” is a strong acoustic rocker with the definitive 1960s California sound until later exploding into a heavier electric sound led by guitarist Johnny Echols. It contains cynical lyrics by Lee with images of war and violence. “The Daily Planet” seems to have been both influenced by The Beatles’ Revolver, while in turn becoming a great influence on some future numbers by The Who. Neil Young, who was originally slated to co-produce the album, only stuck around long enough to arrange this track. The album’s first side concludes with the psychedelic-fused “The Red Telephone” with some really interesting chord changes but almost nonsensical lyrics. This song has been called a “paranoid nursery rhyme”.
“Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale” starts side two with a pessimistic look at “flower power”, while “Live and Let Live” follows as a more melodic political ballad with musically progressive sections, good melodies, and some lead electric guitar by Echols. “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This” reflects the hippie culture of the day, in which Lee was deeply entrenched, but with a foreboding sense of doom with the threat of the draft and war.
Not really a “bummer” at all, the upbeat and infectious “Bummer in the Summer” is a short acoustic rocker where Lee does a Bob Dylan-like “sing-talk”. The album ends with its only extended track, the seven-minute “You Set the Scene”. Forssi and drummer Michael Stuart provide a driving rhythm through the verses, much like Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. The songs morphs into a multi-part mini-suite with later parts with horns, strings, and a contrasting melody, including a free styling “rap”, which may be the first ever on record.
Despite the artistic achievement of Forever Changes, the inner turmoil in Love continued. MacLean quit the band shortly after the album’s release and, while Lee made several more albums with a new version of the band, by the early 1970s Love was no more.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the music of 1967.
I have been a fan of The Doors music since I was about 12 or 13 and have constantly gone back and forth over which is their absolute best album. This has been an impossible task because, as one who discovered their music a full decade after the death of vocalist Jim Morrison, all six of their original studio albums have been equally timeless in my opinion. As a music critic, however, I must take a fresh listen to a lot of the music I’ve “known” all my life and give an honest, sober, critical opinion using my more mature listening skills. From this perspective, I have concluded that the Doors first two albums are even BETTER than I remember. So it is today that I have the daunting yet rewarding labor of love that is reviewing The Doors and Strange Days together.
Of course, in this process I’ve tried to discern which is the greater work and these two albums have, at different times nudged ahead of each other. The albums are very similar with each having a handful of radio-friendly “pop” songs, perhaps one romantic ballad, and an extended tour-de-force to cap off the album. The establishment rock press has long given The Doors the edge due to its innovative breakthrough, and there is some merit to that, However, I could not see choosing one over the other for my own “desert island” list. One one hand, Strange Days has a slight edge in that it is solid throughout and there are no weak filler songs (of which there are a few on The Doors). Also, “Days” has a slightly better climactic ending with “When the Music’s Over” as compared to its “parent” song “The End” (that’s right, I actually said that!) But on the other hand, Strange Days has nothing comparable to “Light My Fire”, a unique song in the history of rock, nor does it contain any brilliant cover interpretations like “Alabama Song” or “Back Door Man”.
The heart of any discussion about The Doors revolves around Morrison, the genius poet who lived in his life on the edge until his death at age 27. And Morrison made a remarkable evolution during that year of 1967. He came into the year as a shy, unseasoned performer who was unsure of his voice and would turn away from the crowd when onstage. By year’s end, as the Doors fame was at its absolute peak, Morrison had morphed into the rash, master of improvisation who taunted police officers while onstage in New Haven, CT to the point where the show was halted and Morrison was arrested and dragged off stage. But what really struck me when revisiting the music this week, is how musically advanced each of these album are sonically.
Much of the credit for the overall sound has to go to producer Paul Rothchild, who spent about four times as long mixing and mastering as the band did with the actual recording. However, the musicians themselves – guitarist <strong, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – brought an excellent and eclectic mix of diverse styles and influences. They stepped forward and shined to make excellent music, but also showed remarkable restraint when necessary and faded into the background to offer the perfect canvas for Morrison to forge his poetic nuggets.
Released: January 4, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, August 1966
Break On Through
The Crystal Ship
Twentieth Century Fox
Light My Fire
Back Door Man
I Looked At You
End Of the Night
Take It As It Comes
Released: September 25, 1967 (Elektra) Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild Recorded: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, March-May 1967
You’re Lost, Little Girl
Love Me Two Times
People Are Strange
My Eyes Have Seen You
I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind
When the Music’s Over
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jim Morrison – Lead Vocals Robbie Krieger – Guitars Ray Manzarek – Keyboards, Piano, Bass John Densmore – Drums
The Doors album was released during the very first week of 1967. It was on the cutting edge of modern music during a historic year for rock n roll on many fronts. However, the actual recording procedures were quite antiquated. Recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood over six days, Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick used a 4-track tape machine for all recording and overdubbing (to put this in perspective, by the early 1970s top albums were recorded on 24 tracks). What Rothchild and Botnick lacked in modern technology, they made up for in proficiency and genius.
Ironically for such a breakthrough album, both the opening and closing songs had parts which were censored. In a section of the closer “The End”, Morrison repeats “fuck” repeatedly, but this was buried so far in the mix to be unintelligible. The opening song, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” originally contained the lyrics; “She gets high, she gets high”, which was truncated to simply “She gets…, she gets…” Aside from this unfortunate omission, the song is the absolute perfect opener for the album and the band itself. The band’s unofficial motto was “Where you see a wall, we see a door” and “Break on Through” is the perfect musical articulation of this. The piece also showcases the talents of each member, beginning with an infectious groove led by Densmore’s jazz-flavored drums and Manarek’s Fender Rhodes keyboard bass groove. Kreiger plays an adaptation of a Paul Butterfield blues riff, while Morrison provides some shredding vocals to make the mission and message completely unambiguous.
A more moderate groove follows with “Soul Kitchen”. Kreiger plays a funk/soul riff that he says was trying to emulate the horn section of a typical James Brown song. Manzarek’s key bass is “doubled up” in unison with session bassist Larry Knechtel to further highlight the “soul” aspect of the song. The song is a tribute to a restaurant in Venice Beach which often let Morrison sleep overnight while he was homeless in 1965. “The Crystal Ship” may be one of the few traditional “love songs” in the band’s catalog. Morrison croons like early Frank Sinatra while Manzarek shows that he is also an impressive pianist.
“Twentieth Century Fox” is the first boilerplate “pop song” on the album, using the cleaver double-entendre hook in a piece meant for nothing more than dancing. However the next track, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” couldn’t be further from a traditional pop/rock track. Written in 1927 by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the song was used in various operas as “Whisky Bar” or “Moon over Alabama”. The song was presented to the band by Manzarek and adapted with updated lyrics, becoming an entertaining part of their live sets.
Although composition credit for all songs on The Doors went to the band as a whole, the album’s primary writers were actually Morrison and Krieger. One day, the guitarist presented a mellow folk song to the band called “Light My Fire”. Impressed by the interesting chord changes, the rest of the band kicked in and built upon the simple song with Densmore providing a Latin beat, Morrison adding some lyrics and Manzarek coming up with the famous, signature keyboard run. Further, the band added a long “jam” section in the middle of the song as a showcase for their musical talents, inflating the song’s duration to over seven minutes. The song would go on to become the band’s first number one hit and probably their most famous ever. José Feliciano’s cover version won a Grammy a few years later and the song was used in television commercials (something Morrison was vehemently opposed to). It was also the subject of controversy on the Ed Sullivan Show, when the band was told they couldn’t use the “girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, but Morrison sang the original lyric anyway.
The second side of the debut album starts with “Back Door Man”, a blues song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. The Doors version includes some wild howling and screaming by Morrison above an intense, pulsating beat by the band members, making the whole recording very sexual in nature. This is something Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin would replicate in their earliest recordings a few years later.
The middle part of the second side contains three short song. haunting “End of the Night” was one of the earliest Doors songs, written in 1965. Musically, Kreiger shines brightest here, with Morrison borrowing the title and key lyric from William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence”. This song is sandwiched between two more upbeat numbers. “I Looked at You” is a pure California sixties pop song, with an almost surfer-like vibe, while “Take It As It Comes” plays on the “time for everything” theme, no doubt inspired by The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn Turn”.
This all leads to “The End”, the aptly named climax of The Doors debut album. Originally written by Morrison as a “breakup song”, the track morphed into a dark 12-minute opus which employed the outer boundaries of musical forms by the band members. During a spoken-word section midway through the song, Morrison added a nod to the Oedipus complex;
Father…Yes son? I want to kill you / Mother, I want to …”
Reportedly, the first time this song was performed with that part, it simultaneously got the band fired from their gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and signed with Elektra Records. The track that ended up on the album was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs whatsoever and captures a masterful moment in time where a quiet and soft ballad erupts into a crazy and dynamic seance. The song is esteemed both musically and and culturally and it made The Doors an instant classic in 1967.
Although the debut had far from reached its peak, the band returned to the studio in March to record the follow-up which would become Strange Days. Many of the songs for this new album had been written alongside the ones that appeared on The Doors, and some may contend that the best of them had already been used on the debut album. But, if this is true (and I’m not really sure that it is), then what the doors lacked in originality they more than made up for in musical prowess. The result is the hardest rocking album the band would ever produce and a real unsung influence on artists for decades to come.
“Strange Days” is the lead off title song, a frenzied barrage of music which uses some wild telephonic sound effects on the guitars and vocals. Although the first album had its moments of intensity, there was nothing like the throbbing rhythms of pure majesty which fill this song from beginning to end. Much of the credit here has to go to session bassist Douglass Lubahn, who really added quality low-end to the studio tracks which were hard to replicate during the quartet’s live performances (as impressive as they were). Lyrically, the song is totally about debauchery and sin, and the ultimate comeuppance;
Bodies confused, memories misused / As we run from the day to a strange night of stone…”
Lubahn also shines on the much more restrained following track, “You’re Lost, Little Girl”. This song is so well-crafted musically, blending subtly textured instrumentation that it is hardly noticeable how minimalist and repetitive the lyrics are.
“Love Me Two Times” shows yet another dimension of the band, combining a cool rockabilly riff with a more modern melody and intense rock changes. It’s radio-friendly overtones tend to mask the strong underlying sexual message, making it at once a light and bouncy pop tune and an adult-oriented blues piece.
Although the Doors are often labeled as a “psychedelic” band, the truth is the only really dabbled in this form and it was never really a centerpiece of their central sound. That being said, Strange Days does enter a bit of a psychedelic phase near the end of the first side. “Unhappy Girl” explores some odd patterns and piano effects by Manzarek and backwards tape masking, resulting in a haunting undertone to the all-too-cheery vocals by Morrison. “Horse Latitudes” is a short poem that Morrison wrote as a teen, based on a painting he had seen. On the album, the band does some odd noise making to try and enhance this poem, but it is Morrison’s deliverance that really carries the track.
Proving that the band can leap from poetry to pop without violating some mysterious sense of form, “Moonlight Drive” follows to close the first side of Strange Days. This was the Doors’ earliest original composition, the first song Morrison sang to Manzarek when first discussing the idea of forming a band. A long staple of their early set list, the studio version adapted Krieger’s new slide guitar technique, giving an added dimension to the funky jounce of Manzarek’s piano. Morrison provides romantic yet philosophical lyrics throughout as the song continues to gain momentum and intensity. The Doors were always more about personal power than “flower power” and Morrison in particular advocated personal freedom through testing every limit. “Moonlight Drive” illustrates this view perfectly in a very entertaining fashion.
The second side of Strange Days starts with “People Are Strange”, the first single released from the album (while “Light My Fire” was still high on the charts) in the autumn of 1967. The song has a European cabaret quality and is a very short and catchy number. Written primarily by Krieger, the song morphs from a simple guitar ballad to a light and bouncy piano/keyboard dominated number with a simple, two-note bass line and lyrics which seem to be influenced by LSD. “My Eyes Have Seen You” is a pure rock song, which fits well with some of the poppier stuff from the first album, complete with Morrison returning to the shredding, screaming vocals. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” seems to have been influenced by Brian Jones and his mid-sixties work with the Rolling Stones, especially with its use of the marimba.
Just as the album begins in a rock frenzy, it completes with the 11-minute rock epic “When the Music’s Over”. Structurally, it is built similar to the end, with opening and closing verse hooks wrapped around a long poetic interlude by Morrison. But this journey is much less dark and much more like a religious journey examining the soul. Morrison assumes the role shaman, while the musicians reach for the unexplored using their remarkable capacity for musical theatrics. Kreiger plays an acid-hot guitar intermixed with a theremin, while Manzarek bounces along with melodic keys and heartbeat bass line and Densmore performs some impressive, double-jointed drumming. Lyrically, Morrison coins some of his most famous phrases;
The face in the mirror won’t stop, the girl in the window won’t drop / A feast of friends, ‘Alive!’ she cried, waiting for me outside…”
Without a doubt, part of the band’s success was their “When The Music’s Over” became a vehicle for the quartet to quite literally propel themselves into the heady and rarefied space that true improvisation will construct for both performer and audience alike.
Strange Days is more surreal than psychedelic and it showed the world that the debut album was no fluke. Rothchild had high hopes for this second album, even later admitting that he thought it might “be bigger than anything The Beatles had done”. It was not, faring not quite as well as the debut critically or commercially (even though it did reach #3 and spawned two Top 40 hits). It’s lack of larger success may have been due to it curiously being released in September ’67, the same month when its predecessor The Doors was peaking at #2 on the album charts.
The Doors put out four more solid studio albums plus a double-live album over the next four years and had much further success and added to their brief but potent legacy. However, the band never did quite regain the tremendous momentum that they had in 1967.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.
Blind Melon is the 1992 debut album by the rock band of the same name. The album was an international seller due primarily to the breakthrough hit “No Rain” along with a few other minor hits. With producer Rick Parashar, the band approached production of the album to be intentionally devoid of any digital effects or any 1990’s production techniques in an attempt to make a “classic” sounding record. This extended to the use of out-of-date amplifiers and instrumentation. The results were mixed with some tracks enhanced by the “vintage” sound and others just sounding muddled and under-developed.
Although often mis-labeled as a “Seattle” band, the album was merely recorded in Seattle. The band itself was formed in Los Angeles and made up of personnel from the South and Midwest. Blind Melon came together in 1990 when vocalist Shannon Hoon, an Indiana native met guitarist Rogers Stevens and bassist Brad Smith, both from Mississippi. Stevens and Smith eventually persuaded fellow-Mississippi drummer Glen Graham to come to L.A. and a second guitarist, Christopher Thorn rounded out the quintet. Although the band’s rise in L.A. was rather rapid, they were signed to Capitol Records in 1991, they eventually decided that they did not “fit in” with that scene and relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they were able to rent a house big enough for them and their equipment and work on new material for their first album.
The iconic cover art is based on a 1975 photograph of Graham’s younger sister in an awkward bee costume and was carried through for the band’s videos which used a modern day actor who resembled the younger Graham.
Blind Melonby Blind Melon
Released: September 14, 1992 (Capitol) Produced by: Rick Parashar & Blind Melon Recorded: London Bridge Studios, Seattle, February-June 1992
Soak the Sin
Tones Of Home
Dear Ol’ Dad
Seed To a Tree
Shannon Hoon – Lead Vocals, Guitar Rogers Stevens – Lead Guitars Christopher Thorn – Guitar, Mandolin Brad Smith – Bass, Flute, Vocals Glenn Graham – Drums, Percussion
Blind Melon opens up with a multi-part jam song called “Soak the Sin”, which is slightly reminiscent of what Pearl Jam was doing on their debut, but with a looser structure. This is followed up by the funk-driven “Tones of Home”, a better structured single with a nice rhythm by Smith and Graham. However, the lyrics here are a bit trite and immature –
“I thought that this would be the land of milk and honey, but I’ve come to find out that it’s all hate and money…”
“I Wonder” adds a lot of diverse parts, starting with an acoustic intro and winding through several riff-driven sections. There is a sense of hesitation and under-development as the players appear to follow Hoon through the various changes. This begins a section of the album where Blind Melon seems to be on the brink of making strong and interesting rock music but had not allow the time for the songs to properly ripen. “Paper Scratcher” and “Dear Ol Dad” illustrate this perfectly, with the only real highlight being the acoustic lead by Stevens.
The heart of the album is two back-to-back songs in the middle. “Change” is the first of these, a nice acoustic ballad with brilliant harmonica and mandolin overtones by Thorn. It is a coming-of-age song with poetic lyrics and fine performances by everyone, showing that this band definitly had potential to develop into a top-notch act.
The other great song on the album is, of course, “No Rain”, by far the most popular song by the band. Although its popularity was fueled by the brilliant MTV video that depicts a bee girl trying to find her niche in the world, the musical credentials of the song itself make it an entertaining and timeless classic decades later. It contains a most unusual arrangement where Stevens’ lead and Thorn’s acoustic are given’ prime attention with just sparse rhythm intervening mostly for effect. This all adds as a perfect canvas for Hoon’s fantastic vocals, unmistakably clear and present and a bright signpost along the highway that is 1990’s music.
Unfortunately, the album really falls off and these highlights, with the final six tracks not adding much in terms of originality or entertainment that is not already present earlier on the album. Of these, only the closer “Time’ offers much in way of ambition, as the band attempts to summarize the themes of the previous twelve tracks to end the album.
Like many rock band’s Blind Melon‘s turn at fame was meteoric and cut short tragically. Shortly after releasing the band’s follow-up album Soup in 1995, lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose, abruptly ending the band’s rise.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
Around 1990, a hard rock band from San Diego, CA called Mighty Joe Young recorded a demo featuring some unorthodox musical styles, such as funk and yodeling and soon began to attract a fan-base in Southern California. After the group was signed to Atlantic Records and began work on their first professional studio album, they received a call from their lawyer who informed them that there was a blues-man who had already claimed the name Mighty Joe Young. So the group hastily chose the name Stone Temple Pilots, after the STP motor oil stickers that adorned their rehearsal space, and continued on to record what would become their debut album Core.
The “core” of this group is Singer Scott Weland and bassist Robert DeLeo, who first met in 1986 and had performed together in various bands since. DeLeo later recruited his older brother Dean DeLeo as the band’s guitarist with drummer Eric Kretz rounding out the quartet. Although all four contributed to the songs on the album, Robert DeLeo wrote the bulk of the compositions with Weiland applying much lyrical content, forging a distinctly flavored version of grunge metal.
The album was released in September of 1992 but original received mixed to very negative reviews, with some critics blasting the more popular songs as “rip-offs” of more established grunge bands and the lesser know material as “pedestrian”. While there is no denying that the band incorporates several signature elements of contemporary bands Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, the very fact that so many of the songs on Core have held up over the past two decades is testament to the quality of this material.
Coreby Stone Temple Pilots
Released: September 29, 1992 (Atlantic) Produced by: Brendan O’Brien Recorded: 1991-1992
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
Piece of Pie
Wet My Bed
Where the River Goes
Scott Weiland – Lead Vocals Dean DeLeo – Guitars Robert DeLeo – Bass Eric Kretz– Drums
A distant rap commences the album and its initial track, “Dead & Bloated”, which breaks into a slow and methodical riff and beat, During live renditions of this track, Weiland often hands a bullhorn to a fan to perform the intro. “Sex Type Thing” was the debut single from the album and the most controversial on the album due to its first person telling of perpetrating a rape (although Weiland contends its purpose was anti-rape). Musically, the song is much more upbeat, with DeLeo crediting “In the Light” by Led Zeppelin as a primary influence on the main riff.
“Wicked Garden” is one of the signature songs on the album, with a series of distinct sections, each lead by pristine vocal motifs fueled by melody. Weiland revealed that the song about people allowing all their innocence and purity to be lost from their lives. Following the calm, picked guitar instrumental by Dean DeLeo called “No Memory”, “Sin” commences with a splash but is overall a weaker attempt at another anthem song like “Wicked Garden”. The only refreshing part is an acoustic section later in the song, but it breaks away too early for a sub-par guitar lead.
Robert DeLeo wrote the calm, melodic, melancholy, acoustic ballad “Creep”, which he says was influenced by Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. This radio hit never really deviates too much from its dark temperament, with Weiland doing his best Kurt Cobain vocal impression for the melodramatic lyrics.
What would become one of the band’s biggest all-time hits, “Plush” is built on a unique chord structure which was inspired by Robert DeLeo’s love of ragtime music. Lyrically, the song was loosely based on a newspaper article Weiland had read about a girl who had been found dead in an area outside of San Diego. The song won a Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock Performance” in 1994 and the award-winning video won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist that same year.
But aside from “Plush”, much of the later part of the album is sub-par at best. “Piece of Pie” sounds worn out with the same old drum beat driving once again while “Wet My Bed” is an ill-advised, superfluous filler. Although “Crackerman” received a fair amount of radio airplay, it has been accurately critiqued as “a bad Alice in Chains parody”, and the closer “Where the River Goes” is a leftover from the Mighty Joe Young demo which probably should have been left off the album. In the case of these tracks, less would have been more in forging a consistent and rewarding album.
Stone Temple Pilots, built on the success of Core with a couple more residual albums through the mid nineties, before substance abuse brought them back to Earth. Today, several of this album’s songs remain rock radio staples and the band’s position in the pantheon of heavy grunge is secure.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.
With their 5th album, Van Halen decided to take a less intense approach. Diver Down was developed by accident as the band, exhausted from constant touring and the production of four studio albums in three years, decided to put out a cover single in lieu of a new album. At the beginning of 1982, they recorded and released a cover of Roy Orbinson’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and it shot up to number one on the mainstream rock charts, their highest charting single to date. As no good deed goes unpunished, the band’s label (Warner Brothers) started to pressure Van Halen to record a full album to take advantage of this new level of pop fame. Eventually the band capitulated and Diver Down was recorded, mixed, mastered, and released in less than three months.
By all traditional metrics, this should be an awful album. It is a 31-minute (extremely short to be considered an “LP”) hodge-podge of cover songs, short instrumental pieces, and demos from the band’s earliest days, wrapped around just a few new original numbers. But there is an undeniable charm which makes this somehow all gel into one of the more interesting Van Halen albums. Although guitarist Eddie Van Halen admits that making the album was a lot of fun, he also states that it is his least favorite album because of all the cover songs stating, “I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” However, some critics have noted that cover songs, starting with “You Really Got Me” from the band’s 1978 debut album, are the perfect mechanism for the band to showcase their unique sound.
Lead vocalist David Lee Roth said the album’s title was meant to imply that “there was something going on (with the band) underneath the surface that’s not apparent to your eyes.” The simple album cover uses the marine flag to advise boats that a diver is currently submerged in the area.
Diver Downby Van Halen
Released: April 14, 1982 (Warner Brothers) Produced by: Ted Templeman Recorded: Sunset Sound & Warner Studios, Los Angeles, January-March 1982
Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
Hang Em’ High
(Oh) Pretty Woman
Dancing In the Street
Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)
The Full Bug
David Lee Roth – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synths, Harmonica Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals | Alex Van Halen – Drums
The album begins with a driving cover of the Kinks 1965 song “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Roth pointed out that the band learned to play in their barroom days by covering a whole bunch of Kinks songs from a compilation album he owned. “Hang ‘Em High Dave” is a reworked version of a 1977 song called “Last Night”, and is the song which most reflects back to the traditional Van Halen song with fast pace driven by drummer Alex Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen has lamented that the recorded version of his solo is sub-par to his typical live performance.
Eddie’s first solo instrumental on the album is “Cathedral”, which got its name because he thought the volume-knob effects he used created something similar to the sound of “a Catholic church organ.” This acts as an intro to the fantastic original “Secrets”, the best song on the album. Here the true talent of Van Halen is best showcased in this calm and subtle setting which highlights Roth’s melodic vocals and Eddie Van Halen’s crisp and biting guitar solo. The song, which has been described as the “lightest” the band has ever recorded, has the quality of being at once a melancholy and hopeful.
“(Oh) Pretty Woman” was the first song for which Van Halen made a video to be played on the new MTV network, and in turn the video became the first to be banned by that network because of its portrayal of the as the “almost theological figure” of a Samurai warrior and because a woman (later revealed to be a drag queen) appears to be molested throughout the video. Roth directed the video but found that the single version of the song was much too short to be compatible, so he composed an intro to the song on synthesizer called “Intruder” and the band recorded it as part of the album.
“Dancing In the Street” was the cover song originally intended to be the single at the beginning of 1982, but Eddie Van Halen was having trouble coming up with a signature riff for the song and “(Oh) Pretty Woman” fit that goal much more easily. When the band decided to do a full album, Eddie revisited this song and came up with some interesting synth effects, giving it an almost “updated disco” feel. This is also one of the few songs on the album which displays the signature backing vocals of Eddie Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. The last true highlight of the album is “Little Guitars”, which was actually split into two tracks on the original album with Eddie Van Halen playing a flamenco acoustic intro. The song proper is driven by a steady drum beat that backs up several riff variations before settling in with a choppy riff and more interesting rudiments and passages throughout the song.
Unfortunately, the weakest material on the album is reserved for its conclusion. “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” was done as a laugh when Roth recorded a radio broadcast with the original 1924 version of he song. The Van Halen’s enlisted their father Jan Van Halen to play clarinet on the song. “The Full Bug” sounds unfocused and incomplete with the only true highlight being the short acoustic intro by Roth. The album concludes with the joke “Happy Trails”, a fully vocal performance of the Dale Evans stand, that actually breaks down to laughter near the end.
The band’s previous album, 1981’s Fair Warning was a dark and intense record and Diver Down acted as an almost polar opposite counterpart to lighten the mood. This album also brought the band to a wider commercial audience, setting the stage for their blockbuster album, 1984.
It took the band Fleetwood Mac ten albums and many lineup shifts to achieve mainstream commercial success, but the group got there with their 1975 eponymous release. This was the first album to feature songwriters and vocalists Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who joined the band following the departure of Bob Welch. Cashing in on that success, the band expanded the formula with their eleventh album, 1977’s Rumours. Produced by the band along with Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut, this album would become not just the band’s top seller, but one of the highest selling albums ever up to that point in time.
Much of the album was recorded in a small cabin north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate in Sausalito, CA. Although Rumours is filled with pleasant, easy-going, and melodic pop/rock throughout, the album’s creation and production was anything but cool and steady. All five members of the band, which included two married couples, struggled with relationship breakups around the time. Buckingham and Nicks were having an on and off relationship with constant fighting. The band’s other primary writer and keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie had recently divorced after eight years of marriage and refused to speak to each other except when working on songs. Drummer Mick Fleetwood faced his own domestic problems after discovering his wife had an affair with his best friend. It was later revealed that Fleetwood and Nicks started a relationship around this time. Further, there was much press intrusion into the member’s lives as well as unsubstantiated rumours (giving the album its name). This stressful situation and internal strife influenced many of the album’s lyrics but, to the band’s credit, this strife did not adversely effect the quality of the album or its production.
The album has high quality harmonies among three vocalists and was inspired by many different genres. Buckingham took charge of the musical directions of the sessions as the record had an original working title of “Yesterday’s Gone”. During the formative stages of compositions, Buckingham and the classically trained Christine McVie played guitar and piano together to create the basic song structures. They were latter joined by the rhythm section of Fleetwood and John McVie, who were the last remaining members of the original blues band which was formed in the late 1960s. Nicks believed that Fleetwood Mac created the best music when in the worst shape and her lyrical focus allowed the instrumentals in the songs that she wrote to be looser and more abstract. The goal of the band and their producers was to have a completely “no-filler” final product, with every song having the potential of being a single or radio hit. They would come remarkably close to reaching this goal.
Rumoursby Fleetwood Mac
Released: February 4, 1977 (Warner Brothers) Produced by: Fleetwood Mac, Ken Caillat, & Richard Dashut Recorded: Record Plant Studios, Sausalito and Los Angeles, CA, 1976
Second Hand News
Never Going Back Again
Go Your Own Way
You Make Lovin’ Fun
I Don’t Want to Know
Gold Dust Woman
The moody and complex song “The Chain” originated from a pair of demos by Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks which were fused together. The tempo is increased starting with a bass solo by John McVie through the song’s coda. “The Chain” is the only collaborative song on the album, composed by every member of the band, as the rest of the compositions were made solely by one of the band’s three primary writers.
Buckingham’s songs include the album’s opener “Second Hand News”, a Celtic influenced rock song with “chair” percussion for effect. It is not the strongest opening number, but it does set up the later pop tracks nicely. “Never Going Back Again” is much better, a largely overlooked classic on Rumours. It is a pleasant and melodic guitar diddy done nearly entirely by Buckingham, with just the slightest backing vocals during the shortest durations, This really should be out of place on this album of pop songs, but it works nevertheless.
“Go Your Own Way” is the most popular song on the album written by Lindsey Buckingham. It was released as the album’s first single and became the group’s first top ten hit in the U.S. The song’s lyric offers a pessimistic view of his complicated relationship with Stevie Nicks. Nicks offered her own view of that relationship in “Dreams”, which would go on to become the band’s only number one Billboard song.
From first listen, “Dreams” is an instant classic. The minimal backing rhythm provides a perfect canvas for Nicks to paint her vocal masterpiece masterpiece. Nicks claims she wrote the song in Sausalito in “about ten minutes” and the band started recording it the very next day. Some of the more complex guitar and bass patterns were later added in Los Angeles. Although incredibly simple, the song’s arrangement gives it an air of complexity which makes it sound fresh decades later.
Nicks’ other two compositions appear late on the second side. “I Don’t Want to Know” is leftover from the pre-Fleetwood Mac, “Buckingham and Nicks” days and contains harmonized vocals throughout. The album’s closer, “Gold Dust Woman” features some cool sounds from a dobro, percussive instruments, and several acoustic guitars. This song about cocaine addiction is haunting but never tragic as the soundscape sets a dreamy scene with a tinge of hope.
Christine McVie composed four songs on Rumours, starting with the smash hit “Don’t Stop”, which has become one of the Fleetwood Mac’s signature songs. Trading lead vocals with Buckingham, Christine’s lyrics offer an optimistic view following her divorce from band mate John. “It seemed to be a pleasant revelation to have that ‘yesterday’s gone’,” she remembers. “You Make Loving Fun” is a much better song, perhaps the best pure pop song that the band has ever delivered. The verse is driven’ by a Soul-inspired clarinet, which backs McVie’s calm crooning. During the chorus, Christine is joined by some complex harmonies by Buckingham and Nicks during a beautiful arrangement which puts the song over the top.
Christine McVie’s other two contributions are calm piano tunes. “Songbird” was performed and recorded in a concert hall to capture the ambiance perfectly. With introspective, almost prayer-like lyrics, the song has been covered several times, primarily by folk singers. “Oh Daddy” is a more complex theme which directly references Mick Fleetwood, who the band nicknamed “The Big Daddy”. A founding member, Fleetwood had much influence in the band’s direction and seemed to always turn out to be right, especially during this time of great success.
Fleetwood called Rumours “the most important album we ever made” (and he was there for there for each and every album). With its success, the group would continue recording for years to come through many changes in the pop and rock world. By the album’s tenth anniversary in 1987, it had sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.
Whether it was done intentionally or not, Hotel California came pretty close to being a true concept album by The Eagles. The songs each loosely share the themes of paradise lost or squandered and the album is bookmarked by geographical locations of such. As the band’s fifth album, it was transitional in several ways including music and personnel wise. Guitarist Bernie Leadon, a strong influence on the band’s country sound of the early years was replaced by funk-rock guitarist Joe Walsh, who had previously fronted the groups James Gang and Barnstorm. As a result, the band’s sound got a bit heavier while never abandoning its mainstream pop sensibilities.
The album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had produced the Eagles previous two albums as well as several albums by Joe Walsh and the James Gang. Szymczyk was noted for laboriously experimenting until he found the right “sound” in each artist, as the producer possessed no musical talent or training, just extraordinary listening skills. The band took 18 months between releases of their previous album One of These Night and Hotel California, with eight of those months in the studio recording.
Thematically, members of the Eagles have described the album as a metaphor for the perceived decline of America. The band’s lead singer, songwriter, and drummer Don Henley said that because it was the bicentennial year and the “Eagle” is the symbol of our country, they felt obliged to make some kind of artistic statement. He explained how they used California as a microcosm of the whole United States, with comments on the nature of success and the attraction of excess, and an extremely pessimistic history of America.
Hotel Californiaby The Eagles
Released: December 8, 1976 (Asylum) Produced by: Bill Szymczyk Recorded: Criteria Studios, Miami & Record Plant, L.A., March-October 1976
New Kid In Town
Life In the Fast Lane
Wasted Time (Reprise)
Victim of Love
Pretty Maids All In the Row
Try and Love Again
The Last Resort
Glenn Frey – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals Joe Walsh – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals Don Felder – Guitars, Vocals Randy Meisner – Bass, Guitarron, Vocals Don Henley – Drums, Vocals
While the lyrical content of the album is up for debate, the true beauty of Hotel California is the sound, much of which was unlike anything the Eagles had done before. The opening theme song starts with long acoustic/electric intro, which was originally introduced to the band by lead guitarist Don Felder as an instrumental piece. This acts as a dramatic overture before the song kicks in with a quasi-Caribbean rhythm and beat with the first verse and the cryptic, yet intriguing, storytelling lyrics. However, the real treat that makes this song a bonafide classic are the dual electric guitars by Walsh and Felder, which float above the lyric stinging electric melodies throughout the verse and chorus, and take center stage with the long, dual guitar lead to close the song.
To this day, many of the unique terms and phases used in the song’s lyric are debated as to their exact meaning or intent. These include “colitas”, “this could be Heaven or this could be Hell”, “wine” referred to as a “spirit” (which it is not), “steely knives”, and the key phase of the song – “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.
After this unique artistic masterpiece, the band serves up a couple of songs which both went on to be big hits, one in the country-rock style of the past, and one in the heavier rock style of the future. “New Kid In Town” is probably the greatest country rock song ever (if there ever really was such a genre) It has some great chord structure, a beautiful mix of instrumentation, and more great guitar by Don Felder, although much less subtle than on the title song. Co-written by J.D. Souther and sung by Glenn Frey, the song ascends keys in the third verse and then finds a smooth passage back before the outtro, in a piece of musical mastery. “Life In the Fast Lane” features a heavy guitar riff and lead by Joe Walsh, with lyrics that are a bit edgy. It uses the driving analogy for a drug and danger fueled lifestyle and contains a great hook with an almost-disco beat. The nice flanged section after last chorus gives the song an edgy, new-wave feel that makes the sound quite advanced for 1976.
The first side ends with “Wasted Time”, a song that may be the perfect barroom ballad speaking of broken relationships. The song is very slow and measured, with great vocals by Henley. However, the orchestral reprise of the song which opens up the second side of the album is, in fact, “wasted time” as it adds absolutely nothing to the album. This short foray is mercifully disrupted by the hard rocker “Victim of Love”, a song which proves that the Eagles can do more with two chords than any other band ever. This song was recorded live in the studio and contains a great descend into a slide solo by Joe Walsh.
Walsh’s only songwriting and lead vocal effort is “Pretty Maids All In a Row”, which is not a very strong representation of his talents. It is a piano ballad, surprising by Walsh with Felder playing the lead guitar role. “Try and Love Again” was written and sung by bassist Randy Meisner, who has that strange kind of voice which gives songs a cool edge, such on his “Take It To the Limit” on the previous album. Hotel California would be Meisner’s last album with the band, as he decided to return to his native Nebraska in order to be with his family.
The album concludes with Henley’s “The Last Resort”, which bookends the “Hotel California” theme nicely on one hand, but is kind of the anti-Hotel California on another hand. Where that classic song is poetic and leaves much room for interpretation, this one is preachy with lyrics that are a bit bigoted, racist, elitist, and yet self-loathing, taking away from the otherwise beautiful melody and score. All that being said, the song does include some profound lyrics;
“There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here
You call something paradise, kiss it goodbye…”
Hotel California would be the absolute pinnacle of the The Eagles’ career, selling more than any other of their multiple successes and being considered high up on several “all time” lists. The band went on to record one more studio album, The Long Run, which took even longer to create. Although that album was also a smash hit, it contributed greatly to the tensions that ultimately broke up the band in 1980.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.
Written the the wake of a personal tragedy, The Pretender, by Jackson Browne brings the listener on a subtle journey. It begins by exploring the heavy burdens and trials of life from which you must fight your way through to the elusive goal and the ultimate reward – happiness. The whole thing is obviously written by someone in the midst of great despair, but the overall theme is that things will somehow work out despite all the darkness and pain. A thought that somewhere along the line you’ll be rewarded for simply doing the right thing as long as you keep plugging along is a general theme of the album.
The Pretender was written and released months after the suicide of Browne’s first wife, Phyllis Major. Browne was left with their two-year-old son. Finding one’s way through darkness and heartbreak in life is the universal theme that gives this collection its staying power. While Browne had intentionally explored many dark issues on his first three albums in the early seventies, on this fourth album he seems to be desperately crawling in opposite directions by trying to make sense of it all and understand the larger picture.
Browne continues to use his signature style of Southern California piano-folk, there are many subtle intrusions that seep into these (largely) unassuming ballads. He plays on sonic dynamics from very simple melodies to much richer musical arrangements backing up a very specific type of poetic philosophy.
The Pretenderby Jackson Browne
Released: November, 1976 (Asylum) Produced by: John Landau & Jackson Browne Recorded: The Sound Factory, Hollywood, CA, 1976
Your Bright Baby Blues
Here Come Those Tears Again
The Only Child
Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate
Jackson Browne – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Acoustic Guitars Fred Tackett – Acoustic & Electric Guitars Billy Payne – Piano, Organ Leland Sklar – Bass Jeff Porcaro – Drums
The album commences with “The Fuse”, a strong yet confusing song which may be interpreted in different ways by different people. It may mean the fuse that leads to the ultimate destruction or it may simply mean light the fuse to happiness and you are what you choose to be. The music consists of choppy little piano note riffs with nice lead guitar overtones by David Lindley. “Your Bright Baby Blues” is a more measured, standard song with dynamic vocals by Browne and another nice guitar lead, this time by Lowell George, with lyrics that speak of a temporary fix but persistent issues;
“No matter how fast I run, I can’t run away from me…”
The Pretender contains a few tracks with cross-genre and diverse sounds. “Linda Paloma” has an interesting Mexican sound with a harp by Arthur Gerst and Roberto Guiterrez on guitaron. However, this song does tend to drone after a while. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” is a more succinct ballad with thick strings backing the core piano, bass, and acoustic guitar and speaks of a sudden awakening after years of sleepwalking through life, apparently a direct reference to his wife’s suicide.
“Here Come Those Tears Again” was co-written by Browne’s Mother-in-law Nancy Farnsworth. Although it is probably the closest to a “pop hit” on the album, it is very poetic in its approach with a strong musical arrangement and well blended guitar and piano. “The Only Child” apparently speaks of Browne’s son and is another “journey” kind of song with a fiddle by David Lindley throughout. “Daddy’s Tune” starts as a basic ballad with some very good piano that later breaks into a highly enjoyable, upbeat, horn section.
The closing title song is the best song on the album as well as the theme which ties it all together. It is a multi-part, lyric rich, mini suite, which is basically poetry set to music. It speaks of getting lost in the details while losing sight of the big picture, starting young and strong but ending up living the life of a “happy idiot” with “paint by number dreams”. Browne began recording “The Pretender” in the late winter of 1975, after first joining up with rock critic and producer Jon Landau. A few weeks into the song’s development, Browne’s wife committed suicide, changing the perspective completely.
Still, the song and album ends with a tinge of hope;
Are you there? Say a prayer for the pretender /
Who started out so young and strong only to surrender…”
The last lines of the song are a call to wake up and start realizing your dreams before it’s too late – time marches and what you choose to do with your time is up to you – don’t let it pass you by or you will be the Pretender.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.
To this day, The Beach Boys remain the most commercially successful American rock band with 36 Top 40 hits. Most of these hits were scored between 1962 and 1965, when the bulk of the band members were still teenagers. In 1966, the band took a radical turn under the leadership of Brian Wilson with the release of the innovative and artistic Pet Sounds. Brian had ceased touring with the band, which left him plenty of time to concentrate on producing what he had declared would be “the greatest album ever made”. He enlisted the help of over 50 session musicians, performing instruments from all across the musical universe. Although a commercial failure as compared to the group’s phenomenal success in recent years, this album would go on through history being critically acclaimed and lauded as one of the greatest albums ever by several rock publications. Although we don’t take a position on “ever” here at Classic Rock Review, we have selected Pet Sounds as our top album for the year 1966.
The eleventh overall album by the Beach Boys, Pet Sounds was truly unique in its approach and production. Much of the album was produced while the band was on tour in Japan using the cream of Los Angeles session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” with Brian Wilson in charge of production and musical composition and Tony Asher providing much of the lyrics. When the band returned from the tour, they found a nearly complete album requiring little more than their vocals to finish it off. This caused some friction within the group, especially from lead singer Mike Love who was also the band’s chief lyricist during their early, hit-making years. Love called the project “Brian’s ego music” while other group members worried that they would lose their core audience if they changed their successful musical formula. Founding members Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson also reportedly had problems with the abandonment of “good times and fast cars” in the Beach Boys songs.
The true catalyst that set the tone for Pet Sounds was the December 1965 release of The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul. The album was filled with good, all original songs, unlike the standard practice of filling albums with a few commercial hits and much filler. As Brian Wilson recalled of his first impressions of that album;
“I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs that somehow went together like no album ever made before…”
Wilson started by contacting Asher, then a young lyricist and copywriter who had been working on advertising jingles, who Wilson had met in a recording studio months earlier. While Wilson articulated the general vibe of each song, Asher interpreted this into actual lyrics. Most of the songs for Pet Sounds were composed over the winter of 1965-1966. Love is co-credited on just a few tracks, notably the opening “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “I Know There’s an Answer”, which was originally composed as the LSD-ridden “Hang Onto Your Ego” but was rewritten and retitled at the insistence of Love.
Developing his production methods over several years, Brian Wilson refined and developed many of the techniques innovated by Phil Spector. With the new, state-of-the-art Ampex 8-track recorder, Wilson would first record all the backing tracks, mixing them down to stereo or even mono versions, leaving 6 or 7 tracks open for the Beach Boys complex vocal leads and harmonies. He has since stated that he named the album using Spector’s initials as a tribute. Unlike Spector however, Wilson was almost completely deaf in his right ear, making his accomplishments all the more remarkable.
Pet Soundsby The Beach Boys
Released: May 16, 1966 (Capitol) Produced by: Brian Wilson Recorded: Los Angeles, July 1965 – April 1966
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Head On My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting For the Day
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s An Answer
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Brian Wilson – Organ, Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration, Vocals Carl Wilson – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals Mike Love – Lead Vocals Al Jardine – Lead & Backing Vocals Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals
The group’s 1966 hit “Good Vibrations” was originally intended to be on the album (and, in fact, presented to Capitol Records as an example of the album’s sound), but to everyone’s surprise was cut from the running order by Brian Wilson. Released as a single, the song went on to top the charts worldwide as well as win a Grammy for song of the year.
Pet Sounds starts with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, which sets the pace for the album with the carnival-like intro, broken by the vocals of Brian Wilson which are upbeat yet melancholy all at once. The song was released as a single and peaked at #8 in the summer of 1966 and contains some signature, complex Beach Boys harmonies making it a sort of bridge from their good times surf music to this new frontier of art rock.
Each of the songs on the album’s first side introduces a new technique by Wilson. “You Still Believe In Me” was the first song for which Asher provided lyrics, derived from a working song by Wilson called “In My Childhood”. It has a Baroque style vibe and an almost teenage-like lover’s lament in the lyric and vocals. “That’s Not Me” is quite psychedelic and with very unique and minimalist instrumentation under a standard vocal line and chorus, with lead vocals by Mike Love and the rest of the Beach Boys playing most of the instruments, an oddity on this album. In contrast, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” is a beautiful but sad song performed entirely by Brian Wilson and session musicians. These session players included bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine who make a strong impact on the song “I’m Waiting For the Day”, which contains a constant rhythm against the near constant fluctuations in arrangement in this asymmetrical tangent of a song.
The track “Sloop John B” had been suggested to Wilson by Al Jardine and was recorded during the previous summer of 1965. It was a traditional Caribbean folk song that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a light and fun song to end the first side with an arrangement that constantly builds with instrumentation, intensity, and vocal layering. Brian Wilson, who was not a big fan of traditional folk music, changed many of the lyrics to the song and actually auditioned each group member for lead vocals, as he wanted it to have a distinctively “rock” sound in the end. Ultimately, he chose himself and Mike Love for this task.
Pet Sounds contains a couple of instrumental tracks, another quality that was not typical for albums in 1966. Both “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” and the title song “Pet Sounds” had originally been recorded as backing tracks for existing songs, but were ultimately chosen to be published without vocals. “Let’s Go Away..” is a calm and grown up piece of 1960’s soft jazz with marimba and acoustic guitar holding the piece together under various orchestral instruments, including violins, piano, saxophones, oboe, vibes, a guitar with a coke bottle on the strings. Originally titled “The Old Man And The Baby”, Brian Wilson once stated that the song was “the most satisfying piece of music I’ve ever made”. “Pet Sounds” is more percussion driven, carving out a strong slice of sixties identity for Wilson and the band. It was originally called “Run James Run” and intended to be used as the theme of a James Bond movie.
The second side of the album starts with the two masterpiece songs on Pet Sounds. With the ethereal vocals of the youngest brother Carl Wilson, “God Only Knows” may be the perfect love song with the edge of excellent instrumentation, arrangement and harmonies later in the song. The song was one of the first commercial songs to use the word ‘God’ in its title, a decision that Wilson and Asher agonized over, fearing it would not get airplay as a result. With French horns in the song’s famous introduction and a harpsichord throughout, the song is distinct and unique and a true classic. “I Know There’s An Answer” is another melodic, well-crafted, and entertaining song which is distinctly more upbeat than its predecessor. It contains distinct and entertaining sprinkles of bass harmonica by Tommy Morgan in the verses and later as a lead solo. Influenced by an LSD trip, the song also features a banjo section and intense vocals during the choruses.
Rounding out the album are three more excellent compositions of differing tone and tempo. “Here Today” sounds like it should have been single material. An upbeat love song with more conventional and conservative arrangements, it is song about love always having the potential for heartbreak never too far away. It contains an orchestral instrumental break influenced by composer J.S. Bach. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is perhaps the most profound statement made by Brian Wilson on this album. The lyrics are about the loss of innocence in growing up and to a lesser extent, his evolving role in the band and all those who thought he was crazy for doing Pet Sounds. The final track, “Caroline, No” extends this longing for innocence and the static, status quo. The song was apparently dedicated to a high school love interest named Carol and was originally titled “Carol, I Know” but morphed to the other title and was actually released as a Brian Wilson single in early 1966, his first and only “solo” work during the groups Capitol years. The song (and album) ends with the sound of an approaching and passing train and a dog furiously barking at it.
Pet Sounds would be at once the apex of the Beach Boy’s artistic and output and the termination of their hit-making years. Wilson attempted to follow it up in 1967 with a project called Smile but it fell apart due to his mental problems and drug use. In that sense, the other band members may been correct about “not messing with the formula”. But what would the world have missed if they had simply stuck to writing more songs about fast cars, good times, and women?
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 Albums.