Buffalo Springfield debut album

Buffalo Springfield

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Buffalo Springfield debut albumBuffalo Springfield was a very unique rock band. On the one hand, they were loaded with young talent who played together for a very short time in the late sixties before ultimately splitting in several directions and forming some of the top folk-rock acts of the seventies, making Buffalo Springfield tremendously influential in this respect. On the other hand, their actual output was good but far from spectacular and yet they’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where many superior artists have not, making Buffalo Springfield tremendously overrated in that respect. Similarly, their 1966 self-titled debut album contains many of the same macro traits of the band itself, a pleasant listen throughout but lacking anything really unique or breakthrough that would make it a top-level “classic”.

The story of how the group came together is quite entertaining and legendary. Steven Stills was a talented session musician who had tried out unsuccessfully for the Monkees in the summer of 1966. While that band was formed to cash in on the success of the Beatles, producer Barry Friedman wanted to assemble a further band in the folk-rock vein of the Byrds, and assured Stills a contract if he could assemble an adequate band. Stills recruited an ex-band mate, guitarist Richie Furay. One day Friedman, Stills, and Furay were stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard when Stills recognized Neil Young driving a black hearse in the opposite lanes. Stills had met Young a year earlier in northern Canada and was deeply impressed by his talent. After making an illegal u-turn and chasing Young down, they pleasantly discovered that he had come to L.A. with bassist Bruce Palmer to try and form a band. With the addition of drummer Dewey Martin, Buffalo Springfield was formed and through late 1966, the band wrote and recorded songs for their debut album.

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Buffalo Springfield by Buffalo Springfield
Released: December 5, 1966 (Atco Original)
Produced by: Charles Greene & Brian Stone
Recorded: Los Angeles, July-September, 1966
Side One Side Two
For What It’s Worth
Go And Say Goodbye
Sit Down I Think I Love You
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing
Hot Dusty Roads
Everybody’s Wrong
Flying On the Ground Is Wrong
Burned
Do I Have to Come Right and Say It
Leave
Out of My Mind
Pay the Price
Band Musicians
Steven Stills – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rich Furay – Guitars, Vocals
Neil Young – Guitars, Harmonica, Piano, Vocals
Bruce Palmer – Bass
Dewey Martin – Drums, Vocals

Buffalo Springfield was originally released in mono, but when the single “For What It’s Worth” became a hit, the album was re-released in stereo with that song replacing “Baby Don’t Scold Me”, which was never released in a stereo version. All songs were written either by Stills or Young, but record executives insisted that Furay sing the bulk of Young’s compositions because they found Young’s voice “too weird”. Young did sing a few songs on side two, one average song called “Burned” and a better, quasi-psychedelic song, with heavily processed guitars and thick harmonies Called “Out Of My Mind”.

Some of the highlights of the first side include Still’s “Sit Down I Think I Love You”, with a nicely mixed rhythm, moderate beat, and harmonized vocals, and Young’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”, sung by Furay, a softer song which leans towards the sound of the Rascals. “Flying On the Ground Is Wrong”, also sung by Furay, has the approach of a traditional love song with beauty and style, while “Leave” has a rockabilly vibe, with a constant lead guitar and nice chords changes in the verses.

But without a doubt, “For What It’s Worth” is the true highlight of the album. It was written by Stills after he witnessed a protest by young people over a Sunset Strip nightclub being closed down, and the police reaction that the protest sparked. The song itself is excellent in its simplicity, with a two chord, rotating pattern understated by the minimal use of acoustic, rhythm guitar, bass, and kick drum and accented by the sharp, single note lead guitar, which is the signature of the song. Stills vocals are perfect for this song and Young breaks in with some fine echoed lead guitar during the later verses. The song went on to become a top ten hit by March 1967, and would be their most popular song as a group.

Buffalo Springfield would produce two more albums before disbanding in 1968. During that time Palmer was arrested and deported back to Canada and was replaced by Jim Messina who would later go on to be one half of the seventies hit-makers Loggins and Messina. Rich Furay would go on to form the pop band Poco, while Steven Stills formed the classic trio Crosby, Stills and Nash. Neil Young went on to have a tremendous solo career as well as occasionally joining up with that trio making it Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

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1966 Images

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

 

Love debut album

Love

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Love debut albumThe Los Angeles based band Love had a rather short but important ride on the sixties rock scene. Although they never quite reached national or international fame, the band was extremely influential in California on artists such as Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Starting with their eponymous debut album in 1966, Love released three distinct and original albums through 1967 with their first being the most rock-oriented. The strongly stereo-ized sound of this album features strummed, Byrds-like guitar chords in one channel with crisp, riff-fueled bass and drums rhythm in the other. It is all topped off with the muddy, emotional vocals of lead singer and chief songwriter Arthur Lee.

Although there is little doubt that much of what makes up the Love album is heavily borrowed from contemporary acts, there is definitely something distinct and original about how it is performed and produced. These excellent folk-pop anthems would certainly not be out of place on any sixties fan’s stereo, yet there is an unmistakable edge here. Beyond the heavily Byrds influenced style, there are some songs that veer off in the “garage rock” direction, providing a solid template for future bands such as Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, and Rush.

Following the album’s release in April 1966, Love went back into the studio to work on a follow-up, starting with the recording and release of the song “7 and 7 Is”, which became a Top 40 hit and their highest charting single. These late ’66 recordings would form their second album De Capo, which delved deeply into psychedelia in early 1967. A third album, Forever Changes in late in ’67, would be the band’s highest regarded album, when they were right on the brink of disintegrating due to heavy drug use and creative differences.

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Love by Love
Released: April, 1966 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Jac Holzman & Arthur Lee
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Hollywood, December 1965 – January 1966
Side One Side Two
My Little Red Book
Can’t Explain
A Message to Pretty
My Flash on You
Softly to Me
No Matter What You Do
Emotions
You I’ll Be Following
Gazing
Hey Joe
Signed D.C.
Colored Balls Falling
Mushroom Clouds
And More
Band Musicians
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Percussion
Bryan Maclean – Guitars, Vocals
Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars
Ken Forssi – Bass
Alban Pfisterer – Drums

The album begins with a driving, thumping rock rendition of a song written by Burt Bacharach, called “Little Red Book”, a title which seems to merge the “little black book” of past dates concept with Mao’s mandatory communist “little red book” in China. The song sets the pace for an interesting and exciting first side of the album, which commences with the short instrumental “Emotions”, which has flavorings of surf music with its echoed guitars along with a marching drum tempo.

“Can’t Explain” is another rocker fueled by the bass of Ken Forssi, which stands out as a very advanced sound for the day. This standout bass is revisited several times throughout the album, including on the frenzied song “My Flash On You” and the cover of Billy Roberts’ “Hey Joe”, which seemed to be mandatory in those days. Aside from Love, this latter song was covered by The Surfaris, The Leaves, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Deep Purple, The Mothers of Invention, Band of Joy, and of course, The Jimi Hendrix Experience – and these were just the covers in the late sixties. Scores more cover versions came in the subsequent decades.

The two guitarists of the band, Bryan Maclain and Johnny Echols are hard to distinguish, except in the hard rocking “Gazing” where Lee calls them out by name during their individual solos.

The album does add some diversity with softer songs. Although it gets a bit melodramatic with the vocal inflections, “A Message to Pretty” is otherwise a nice calm, strumming love song, topped with harmonica, and a testament to the great production of this album by Jac Holzman. “Softly To Me” takes a very different musical approach and a change of pace with Maclean taking on songwriting and lead vocals duties. “Signed D.C.” has a very western feel, with much darker lyrics referring to the sufferings of a junkie, apparently verbatim from a letter by Love’s ex-drummer Don Conka (D.C.), who was ousted from the band due to drug problems. The calm “Mushroom Clouds” seems to be a perfect road map for the slow and deliberate songs of post-Barret era Pink Floyd.

Although the album does seem to lose momentum towards the end, there is little doubt that Love is an important album from 1966, when the evolution of rock music was on hyper speed.

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1966 Images

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

 

Freak Out! by The Mothers of Invention

Freak Out! by
The Mothers of Invention

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Freak Out! by The Mothers of InventionIn one of his last interviews, Frank Zappa said, “sounds are for people to listen to,” while summing up all the different types of instruments and objects he used to make sounds over the years. This is certainly a true motto for the musician who spent three decades creating the most avant garde art rock. His body of work was incredibly vast with 62 albums of original work released during his lifetime and about 30 more since his death in 1993. The first of these was an ambitious effort done by his band, The Mothers of Invention, in 1966. It was a debut double LP called Freak Out!.

Perhaps one of the most ambitious debut efforts ever, Freak Out!‘s two original LPs each contained a different approach. The first two sides consist of short, pop-oriented songs with edgy lyrics and musical flourishes while the final two sides are dedicated to longer art pieces, more in line with later psychedelia. This was all masterminded by Zappa who possessed incredible musical composition and arrangement talents and was able to replicate the pop music that he actually despised in order to make the highly satirical first half of the album. He then employed many innovative techniques such as shifting time signatures and disparate arrangement for the second part of the album.

The Mothers of Invention were formed in the early 1960s, when Zappa met vocalist Ray Collins. By 1965 the band was playing clubs along the Sunset Strip and were offered a recording contract basedupon the strength of one song, which happened to be the sole pop song to be recorded for the album. The entire album was recorded in four days in a Hollywood studio in March 1966 and produced by Tom Wilson, who had previously produced several albums by Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. Wilson was unaware of the band’s unique musical approach, thinking the Mothers were a blues band when they entered the studio.

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Freak Out! by The Mothers of Invention
Released: June 27, 1966 (Verve)
Produced by: Tom Wilson
Recorded: Sunset Highland Studios, Hollywood, CA, March 1966
Side One Side Two
Hungry Freaks, Daddy
I Ain’t Got No Heart
Who Are the Brain Police?
Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder
Motherly Love
How Could I Be Such a Fool?
Wowie Zowie
You Didn’t Try to Call Me
Any Way the Wind Blows
I’m Not Satisfied
Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
Side Three Side Four
Trouble Every Day
Help, I’m a Rock
The Return of the Son
of Monster Magnet
Primary Musicians
Frank Zappa – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Collins – Vocals, Harmonica, Effects
Elliot Ingber – Guitars
Roy Estrada – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with the fuzz-guitar driven “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”, a song with a 1966 beat and music along with 1977 lyrics and tone and contains the first hints of odd instrumentation including vibraphone and kazoo. The first side then proceeds through the bluesy rock of “I Ain’t Got No Heart”, the totally psychedelic “Who Are the Brain Police?”, and the doo-wop parody “Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder”, with a three-part harmony among Zappa, Collins, and bassist Roy Estrada.

“Motherly Love” is the best song on the first side, almost with pop sensibility although definitely dirty-minded. It became the sort of anthem for the band in the early years and probably one of the first to directly take on the world of groupies and sex on the road. “How Could I Be Such a Fool?” finishes off the first side as another good song with some nice Mexican horns in the mix.

The Mothers of InventionThe album’s second side is probably the most entertaining and interesting. Starting with the almost-bubble-gum kid’s tune “Wowie Zowie” with its frivolous play on words, the side then moves through two legitimate pop songs. The excellent “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” contains some additional horns, woodwinds, vibes, and extra layers of guitar by Elliot Ingber. “Any Way the Wind Blows” is a 50s-style love song, composed by Zappa in 1963, and was the song that ultimately got the Mothers their record deal. “I’m Not Satisfied” is an upbeat, sixties rock popper with more great background brass while “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” is a bit more freaky, striking a balance between a totally off-the-rail piece and quasi-pop song.

Side three begins with “Trouble Every Day”, a groovy, bluesy number with poetic lyrics. It is perhaps the most memorable song from the album and has a rocked-out, Dylan-esque quality. The eight and a half minute “Help, I’m a Rock” is in three pieces, all very experimental, repetitive, and a bit lazy. Much of the track sounds like someone chanting along to a skipping record. “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” takes up the entirty of the fourth and final side. It is a studio jam over a simple rock motif with many street percussionists and other “freaks” brought in from the Sunset Strip to improvise thid final track.

While Freak Out! was far from a commercial or critical success upon its release, the album did develop a cult following among fans and fellow musicians. It was a major influence on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and would eventually make many “all time ” lists.

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1966 Images

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

Metallica 1991 album

Metallica (Black Album) by Metallica

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Metallica 1991 albumAfter four studio albums and ever-building popularity in the 1980s, heavy metal band Metallica felt they were poised for their artistic breakthrough. During the summer of 1990, the band got together to write some songs lead by primary songwriters James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, but with input from the other members of the band; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted.

The band then hired Bob Rock as mixing engineer, having been impressed by his past work with Mötley Crüe. However, after comparing the band’s previous studio albums to a recent live show, Rock was convinced that the band was not capturing their live energy in their self-produced recordings and convinced Metallica, to hire him on as full producer, to which they agreed. As Ulrich stated, “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it.” However, things did not go smoothly at first, as Rock was very frank and forthcoming with the band and they resented being told what to do. Eventually Rock reached an implicit compromise with the band members. He would not mess with their arrangements, just their tempo, and after about 8 months of marathon rehearsing, recording, and mixing sessions, they forged a new and tremendously successful sound for Metallica. It was a combination of the band’s traditional thrash metal grit with a slowed down tempo, diverse instrumentation, and more melodic vocals. Under Rock’s direction, the bass guitar was also brought up to a more equitable position in the mix, which also enhanced the breadth of the sound and added a new, doomier dimension.

The result was the band’s 1991 eponymous fifth album that would come to be known as “The Black Album”, due to its simple cover and packaging. The album would go on to tremendous commercial success, breaking the radio silence that many thought the band would never realistically break through.

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Metallica by Metallica
Released: August 13, 1991 (Electra)
Produced by: Bob Rock, James Hetfield, & Lars Ulrich
Recorded: One On One Recording Studios, Los Angeles,
October 6, 1990-June 16, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Enter Sandman
Sad But True
Holier Than Thou
The Unforgiven
Wherever I May Roam
Don’t Tread On Me
Through the Never
Nothing Else Matters
Of Wolf & Man
The God That Failed
My Friend of Misery
The Struggle Within
James Hetfield – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kirk Hammett – Lead Guitar
Jason Newstead – Bass, Vocals
Lars Ulrich – Drums, Percussion

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The lynchpin that holds the entire look and feel of The Black Album together is the opener “Enter Sandman”. Built off a riff by Kirk Hammett, this doomy, futuristic sounding motif was the first written for the album and the last recorded, but the first mixed so Rock could use it as a sonic template for the final, mixed and mastered sound of the album. A rather simple song with a simple theme on dreams and nightmares, “Enter Sandman” would become a recognizable audio icon in many corners of pop culture. The song is followed by “Sad But True”, which could almost be considered “Enter Sandman, Pt II”, as it has a similar sound and theme about dreams. “Holier Than Thou” was originally slated as the first “emphasis single”, as it harkens back to the band’s traditional, thrash metal style, with the sound driven by Hetfield’s layered rhythm guitars and Ulrich’s front & center double-kick drums.

On a macro level, the album winds through a journey of differing sounds which fuse with the base, core sound of the band. “Wherever I May Roam” starts with an Eastern-influenced sitar riff before kicking into the typical, slow beat metal sound, occasionally reaching other gears as it works through some odd timing signatures while maintaining an overall cohesiveness. “Don’t Tread On Me” has a marching, almost patriotic feel in the intro before it nicely fuses into a steady beat with interesting chord changes during the verses, making it a unique listen on the album. “Nothing Else Matters” was a love song written by Hetfield, which he originally did not intend to use for Metallica but was eventually encouraged to do so by the other band members. The song includes a full orchestral score by Michael Kamen, most of which was not used for the album’s version of the song, but was remixed for an alternate “elevator version”, which the band found fascinating.

Metallica

Another personal song written by Hetfield is “The God That Failed”, which dealt with growing up in a family with Christian Science beliefs that forbid medical treatment from outside physicians. Hetfield’s mother eventually died from cancer, in part because of this practice. Newsted’s main songwriting contribution to the album is “My Friend of Misery”. The song, which begins with a doomy bass riff, was originally intended to be an instrumental (as all previous Metallica albums had contained one) but was adapted into a proper song that fits nicely with the overall feel of the album.

The best song on the album is “The Unforgiven”. Like much of their songs, it contains building and fluctuating sections held together by consistent drumming by Ulrich, but “The Unforgiven” offers a reverse method by returning to the calm and melodic during the chorus, not the verse. From the finger-picked, classical acoustic guitar in the intro, to the melancholy guitar lead, to Hetfield’s best vocal performance ranging from traditional grit in the verse to a softer, very melodic melody during the choruses, this song is a bonafide classic. Apparently the band concurred, writing two sequels – 1997’s “Unforgiven II” from ReLoad and 2008’s “Unforgiven III” from Death Magnetic. Ironically, the band lifted a horn sound from an old Clint Eastwood “spaghetti western” for the intro to this song, while Eastwood would return to westerns the following year with a film named Unforgiven.

Prior to this album, most critics dismissed Metallica as an over-hyped garage band, which would never catch on beyond the core of dedicated, cult-like fans. Metallica would prove them wrong and make many in the ever-changing industry reconsider the scope of genres which have mass appeal. The album would be a major influence for the post-grunge sound of the mid to late nineties and be the absolute pinnacle of Metallica’s long and successful career. As Hammett simply referred to it; “it is our Dark Side of the Moon”.

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1991 Images

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

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

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Psychotic Supper by TeslaOut of the deluge of “hair bands” that populated the rock scene in the late 1980s, Tesla was, perhaps, the most talented and interesting. The band composed songs which were deeper and less formulaic and had slightly better dynamics then the clones of Poison or Mötley Crüe. By the time the band got around to its third studio album, Psychotic Supper in 1991, they seemed primed to move into the top level of popular rock bands. Their previous studio album, Great Radio Controversy in 1989, got their great radio play with a few charting hits as well as critical respected. This was followed by the live Five Man Acoustical Jam, which put the band on the cutting edge of the rising trend of performing stripped down versions of heavier songs in an intimate setting. With that setup, the band looked to knock it out of the park with this release.

But Psychotic Supper suffered greatly from its time and place in the rock and roll scene. It was released within 30 days of two of the most influential albums of the decade coming out of the Seattle grunge scene – Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind, both of which would become a phenomenon in the coming years. To compound this misfortune, Tesla’s album was also released within 30 days of long awaited albums by established artists – Metallica’s self-titled (black) album and Guns n Rose’s duo realease of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. All of this combined to “crowd out” the news of the release and effectively diffuse any momentum that Tesla had built.

The album contains a more stripped-down production method (than practiced in the eighties) and few overdubs to give it an air of legitimacy and live feel. It is the band’s bluesy, acoustic-tinged, approach at its height, with just a flourish of self-indulgence which may have further “dated” the sound in a year of radical change in rock n’ roll.

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Psychotic Supper by Tesla
Released: August 30, 1991 (Island)
Produced by: Michael Barbiero
Recorded: 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Change In the Weather
Edison’s Medicine
Don’t De-Rock Me
Call It What You Want
Song and Emotion
Time
Government Personnel
Freedom Slaves
Had Enough
What You Give
Stir It Up
Can’t Stop
Toke About It
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitar, Keyboards
Brian Wheat – Bass, Piano
Troy Luccketta – Drums & Percussion

Psychotic Supper by Tesla

“Call It What You Want” is one of the most striking songs with the moody and melodic intro morphing into an exciting, upbeat theme with dynamic vocals and sonically pleasing guitar accents. While the “Tesla sound” may be encompassed in “Call It What You Want”, their overall band theme could be “Edison’s Medicine”, which tells the story about the famous inventor Thomas Edison and his lesser known (but equally brilliant) rival Nikola Tesla, the band’s namesake.

“Song and Emotion” is an almost bluesy rendition on picked electric lead by the soulful vocals of Keith. The song slowly works its way in before exploding into a heavier rhythm while still maintaining its original feel. “Government Personnel” is a pure acoustic, near-spoof that lasts barely a minute but is still very entertaining. The highly suggestive “Toke About It” uses Van Halen-like showmanship rock to present a party atmosphere to close out the album.

“What You Give” is the most memorable anthem from Psychotic Supper, due especially to the interplay between Frank Hannon on acoustic and Tommy Skeoch on electric guitars. The song itself is a philosophical examination of relationships that is intentionally slow developing to accent the vocal performance as well as its own fine arrangement.

Some of the heavier material on the album include the driving, accent-heavy, and aptly titled “Don’t De-Rock Me” and the more standard fare “Had Enough” with some bluesy-edged lead guitars.

Tesla never quite fit into any specific box as far as genre goes, and sadly this prevented the band from getting their due in retrospective critique. In the late eighties they were a step ahead of the (what was then considered) “heavy metal” scene and in the early nineties they weren’t melodramatic enough to benefit from the grunge or alternative waves that swept the rock world. Psychotic Supper was, in effect, the band’s “last hurrah”. After their next album, Bust a Nut in 1994, the band commenced a six year “hiatus” to close out the century which all but ended the productive portion of their run at fame.

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1991 Images

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

Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Blood Sugar Sex Magik
by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili PeppersJust as the Red Hot Chili peppers were starting to break out in the late 1980s, two of the band’s members were struggling mightily with drug abuse. One of them, lead singer Anthony Kiedis, decided to get clean and survived. Unfortunately the other, guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in June 1988. The band’s then drummer Jack Irons subsequently quit due to the substance problems in the band and went on to help form Pearl Jam. So Kiedis and bassist Flea were left to search for a new guitarist and drummer.

Guitarist John Frusciante was an avid fan of the band and auditioned along with former P-Funk guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight. Frusciante was ultimately chosen to fill Slovak’s place along with drummer Chad Smith, who joined just prior to production of the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk, which would be their last album with EMI. Courted by many labels, the band ultimately signed with Warner Brothers, at the urging of Kiedis and Rick Rubin was brought in to produce the Chili Peppers first album for the label.

At Rubin’s suggestion, the band recorded the album in an old mansion once owned by magician Harry Houdini. In early summer 1991, equipment was moved in and the band decided that they would remain inside the mansion for the duration of recording. Frusciante, Kiedis, and Flea each had their own separate rooms at each end of the house and Kiedis ended up recording all his vocals in his room, as it was large enough to accommodate the recording equipment. For over thirty days, the Chili Peppers worked inside the house on the album that would become Blood Sugar Sex Magic.

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Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: September 24, 1991 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: The Mansion, Los Angeles, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
The Power of Equality
If You Have to Ask
Breaking the Girl
Funky Monks
Suck My Kiss
I Could Have Lied
Mellowship Slinky in B Major
The Righteous & the Wicked
Give It Away
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Under the Bridge
Naked In the Rain
Apache Rose Peacock
The Greeting Song
My Lovely Man
Sir Psycho Sexy
They’re Red Hot
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals, Trumpet, Keyboards
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

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The album would go on to be their blockbuster breakthrough, spawning several radio-friendly “hits” which were cherry-picked from a super-sized album loaded with funk/hip-hop fused, sexually-charged explicit material. The first of these hits was “Give It Away”, a very simple and catchy rap which first brought the album some mainstream attention in the Fall of 1991. This paved the way for the follow-up single which would put the band over the top for the first time in their career.

RHCP Under the Bridge single“Under the Bridge” was at first considered one of those songs that did “not fit the style” of the band. It was written by Kiedis as he reflected on his heroin and cocaine addictions about a moment that he came to believe was his lowest point. It started as a poem which Rubin stumbled upon and suggested Kiedis show it to the rest of the band. After some convincing, he sang the verse to Frusciante, they began structuring the song. After the song was recorded, Rubin felt the grand and epic outtro would benefit from a large group of singers. Frusciante invited his mother, Gail and her friends, all of whom sang in a choir, to perform the outtro.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik begins with a couple of rap songs with funk backing – “The Power OF Equality” and “If You Have to Ask”, each a bit trite and mundane compared to the album’s stronger material. The album then suddenly takes a sharp turn with “Breaking the Girl”, one of its more melodic tracks and a complete departure from the hip-hop/funk canvas. Acoustic and dreamy with pulsating bass, long strings and a tribalistic drum beat, the song shows that Kleidis can sing when he wants to.

Here the album starts to get much more interesting. Following “Breaking the Girl” is Flea’s slap-bass fueled “Funky Monks”, complete with high-pitched chorus vocals and a more interesting arrangement. This is followed by the heavier “Suck My Kiss”, an excellent song of pure energy that employs the higher tactic of innuendo in contrast to the more explicit songs. A softer, almost love song follows called “I Could Have Lied”. Driven by melodic bass, acoustic, steady drums, and a toned down, soft vocal, Kiedis supposedly wrote this about his brief relationship he had with Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor.

“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is a funk sandwich wrapped in the bread of pure rock riffs, while “The Righteous and the Wicked” is another enjoyable listen, being bass groove driven, with a funky guitar, melodic vocals, and a good hook. It is essential Red Hot Chili Peppers in its diversity and even contains a nice riff in the middle which has a definitive Led Zeppelin quality

Unfortunately, as the 17-song album goes along much of the later material tends to be repetitive and overdone. One exception may be the eight minute mini-suite, “Sir Psycho Sexy”, which has a bit of a Frank Zappa quality to it musically accompanying porno-level explicitly sexual lyrics.

Despite some of the shortcomings, the album is a must have for any serious rock collector, especially those interested in unique sound and fusion. With Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers set out to make their best possible album, which would be long remembered, and they definitely accomplished that goal.

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1991 Images

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

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

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Luck of the Draw by Bonnie RaittIt had taken nearly two decades for Bonnie Raitt to achieve the commercial success that critics had long felt she would achieve. That success came with Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, her tenth album overall. She followed this up with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw, an even more popular release which has sold close to 8 million copies in the United States alone to date. The album spawned many radio-friendly hits and introduced Raitt to a general pop audience. This is a bit ironic in that Raitt’s claim to fame had long been as an outside-the-mainstream female blues performer who uniquely played signature bottleneck slide. Although some of this legacy cascaded into Luck of the Draw, it wasn’t quite the front and center element which made this album successful.

While in college in the late 1960s, Raitt became enthralled with the blues and eventually played alongside such established blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In the Fall of 1970, a reporter from Newsweek caught her act at a nightclub in New York City and the subsequent article spawned much interest in Raitt from major recording labels. She recorded her debut album in 1971 and during the 1970s released a series of roots-influenced albums which incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. By the mid 1980s however, her sales began to slump and it appeared that her run was over when she made this dramatic commercial comeback.

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Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt
Released: June 25, 1991 (Capitol)
Produced by: Don Was & Bonnie Rait
Recorded: Ocean Way Recordings & Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, Spring 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Something to Talk About
Good Man, Good Woman
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Tangled and Dark
Come to Me
No Business
One Part Be My Lover
Not the Only One
Papa Come Quick (Jody and Chico)
Slow Ride
Luck Of the Draw
All At Once
Bonnie Raitt – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Turner Stephen Bruton – Guitars
Bruce Hornsby – Piano, Keyboards
James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Bass
Curt Bisquera – Drums

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With Raitt taking writing credit for only four songs on Luck of the Draw, and none of these “hits”, this album was created mainly around her talent as a performer and collaborator. The down side of this method is that while it has her face and voice throughout, it is not a personal look into the artist.

“Something to Talk About” was written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who has written for Ann Murray, Emmylou Harris and Cher. The song was actually rejected by Ann Murray’s producers her own album Something to Talk About. Raitt’s guitar work on this pleasant, bouncy pop song makes it an interesting listen and a way to kickoff the album out with some sass .

The duo, “Good Man, Good Woman” with Delbert McClinton is a predictable pop song with a steady back beat accented by McClinton’s harmonica. This is followed by “I Can’t Make you Love Me”, perhaps Raitt’s biggest hit on this record. Her voice is understated while she hits all the right notes. It is the bare simplicity and honesty of her voice against the soft piano played by Bruce Hornsby that give this song it’s universal appeal. How much more honest can lyrics be, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” – a simple truth to which almost any listener can relate. The remainder of the album’s “hits” – “Slow Ride” and “Not the Only One” – are also pop songs that may have been hits performed by other artists, but find a happy home in this collection.

The songs that Raitt wrote herself include “Tangled and Dark”, a jazzy song with a cool sax interlude and “Come to Me”, which is drenched in Caribbean rhythms and gutsy lyrics like “I ain’t looking for a man Baby can’t stand a little shaky ground/He’ll give me fire and tenderness/And got the guts to stick around. The most insightful and heartfelt performance is the album’s closer, “All At Once”, which offers a glimpse into the difficulties of a family going through a divorce. The anger and confusion of trying to come to terms with damaged relationships penned in lyrics such as “Looks to me there’s lots more broken than anyone can really see/Why the angels turn their backs on some is just a mystery to me.”

Record companies had been trying to make a superstar out of Bonnie Raitt for years. They did not achieve success until they started capitalizing on her assets – her expressive vocals and her guitar skills while using collaborators in pursuit of commercial success. The resulting album drops Bonnie Raitt the folksy blues singer guitar player into a pillow of pop perfection.

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1991 Images

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

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

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Mama Said by Lenny KravitzLenny Kravitz followed up his brilliant 1989 debut, Let Love Rule with Mama Said two years later. Although many critics thought this sophomore effort paled in comparison, Mama Said was Kravitz’s commercial breakthrough. The album was a stylistic evolution from his debut reflecting the changes in Kravitz’s life. His recent breakup with wife Lisa Bonet made Mama Said an album filled with emotions of loss and sadness as well as the denial of such. Some have referred to this as Kravitz’s “divorce album”.

As the sole producer of the album and performer of most of its music, Kravitz was innovative and inspired, fusing elements of jazz, soul, rock, and dance music. He was also free to enlist musicians of his choosing to help out. Former high school classmate and current Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash helped out on a few songs. Kravitz even co-wrote a song with Sean Ono Lennon, the 15-year-old son of his musical idol John Lennon. The song was “All I Ever Wanted”, on which Lennon also played piano. For the most part, however, Kravitz was pretty much a one man band on this album with engineer Henry Hirsch filling in on a variety of instruments where needed.

Some listeners have also noted that Kravitz moved forward a couple years in parallel from the late sixties influence fixations of Let Love Rule to the early seventies sound of Mama Said, which sounds like it could have been produced during that era.

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Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1990-1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Fields Of Joy
Always On the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
More Than Anything In This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Difference Is Why
Stop Draggin’ Around
Flowers For Zoe
Fields Of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Butterfly
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums
Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements
Karl Denson – Saxophone
David Domanich – Drums

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Slash joined in for the first two songs, the emotive “Fields of Joy” and the intense “Always On the Run”. This latter song was a dedication to Kravitz’s mother, actress Roxie Roker, and the default title song of the album. It was also co-written by Slash and combines some very funky Sly Stone-esque grooves and horns with some Hendrix-like heavy rock guitars.

The following two songs, seem to indicate non-acceptance of his faltering marriage, the Lennon-esque “Stand By My Woman” and the swirling Philly soul sound of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. Both are very entertaining and melodic hits, with the latter featuring a pulsating bass line, a sitar riff, many strings, and the singer’s flawless, high pitched vocals. The video for this song is nearly an exact replica of the Doors 1968 performance on The Smothers Brothers show, complete with Kravitz dressed nearly exactly the way Jim Morrison did for that performance.

It Ain't Over Til It's Over Video by Lenny Kravitz, 1991     Touch Me Video by The Doors, 1968

Other standouts on Mama Said are the quiet ballad “Flowers For Zoe,” written for Kravitz’s daughter , the anti-song anthem “When The Morning Turns To Light”, and a psychedelic song with a vulgar name, “What The Fuck Are We Saying?”. Kravitz returns to the high falsetto on the brilliant, jazz influenced “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which gradually builds with guitars, horns, strings, and saxophone, while remaining cool and refrained throughout.

With the commercial success of Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz was poised to deliver a string of successful albums through the rest of the nineties, although the edge that he possessed on his first two releases would never quite return.

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

1991 Images

Use Your Illusion I & II by Guns n Roses

Use Your Illusion (I & II) by Guns n’ Roses

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Buy Use Your Illusion II

Use Your Illusion I & II by Guns n RosesIt had been four years since Guns n’ Roses had put out their last full studio album, which also happened to be their first studio album and the biggest selling debut of all time, Appetite For Destruction. With fans and critics alike eager for new material, the band unloaded a great volume of music on September 17, 1991, the day they released the equivalent of two double albums, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

With these albums, especially Use Your Illusion I, the band demonstrated much growth and expansion of style, including elements of country, blues, and progressive rock, while maintaining the hard rock edge which made Guns n’ Roses famous in the first place. Much like Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, these albums included older recordings which were not previously used interspersed with new material that was written for the project(s). The band also included a well-known cover on each album and each also has at least one track sung by band members other than lead singer Axl Rose.

These two albums, released in 1991, would be the final studio albums with this classic lineup in tact and Guns n’ Roses would not release another studio album for 17 years until Chinese Democracy in 2008. Also, the band put out no less than ten videos from these two albums, a final gorge for the heyday of MTV and music videos, which would go into rapid decline through the nineties.

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Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II by Guns n’ Roses
Released: September 17, 1991 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Clink & Guns n’ Roses
Recorded: A&M Studios, Record Plant, Studio 56, Conway Studios, Metalworks, Los Angeles, 1990-1991
Use Your Illusion I Use Your Illusion II
Right Next Door to Hell
Dust n’ Bones
Live and Let Die
Don’t Cry (Original)
Perfect Crime
So Cruel
Bad Obsession
Back Off Bitch
Double Talkin’ Jive
November Rain
The Garden
Garden of Eden
Don’t Damn Me
Bad Apples
Dead Horse
Coma
Civil War
14 Years
Yesterdays
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Get the Ring
Shotgun Blues
Breakdown
Pretty Tied Up
Locomotive
So Fine
Estranged
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry (Alternate)
My World
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Axl Rose – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion
Slash – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Dobro, Six String Bass
Izzy Stradlin – Guitars, Vocals
Dizzy Reed – Keyboards, Vocals
Duff McKagan – Bass, Vocals
Matt Sorum – Drums, Vocals

Use Your Illusion I starts off with a song intentionally aimed at Rose’s neighbor in Hollywood who had recently sued him, called “Next Door To Hell”. It also contains “Back Off Bitch” and “Bad Obsession”, which were originally written for Appetite for Destruction “Bad Obsession” later features Michael Monroe, of Hanoi Rocks and a big influence on the band, playing the harmonica and tenor saxophone.

“Don’t Cry” is a calm and steady song, which became a big radio hit. The serene guitar is cut by Rose’s sharp vocals which climax with a ridiculously long, 25 second, ad hoc vocal to end the song. Another version of this song, with alternate lyrics was included on Use Your Illusion II. “Live and Let Die” is a cover that would’ve been better left alone, as it does not add anything to the intensity of the original Paul McCartney version. “The Garden” has a bluesy beginning with a moderate acoustic accented by a long slide electric. It then kicks in more intensely for the heavier and doomier chorus sections which feature Alice Cooper on vocals. This is interesting because much of the theatrical feel of these albums are reminiscent of early Alice Cooper Band, especially the 10-minute-plus closer of Use Your Illusion I called “Coma”.

A couple of other interesting tracks from the first album are the punk-influenced, fast and furious “Garden of Eden”, and the slow country/waltz with a heavy slide guitar presence, reminiscent of cuts from the Stones Sticky Fingers called “You Ain’t the First”. “Dead Horse” which starts with intentionally flat and apathetic vocals over an opening acoustic part but later kicks into a better jam. But, without a doubt the best song on either album, and perhaps the best song ever by Guns n’ Rose, is “November Rain” on Use Your Illusion I.

GnR November Rain singleIt is amazing how, from several different perspectives, “November Rain” represents the exact end of an era, the eighties hair-band era with the obligatory power ballad and high budget music video. For this song, the tab was about $1.5 million for an eight minute video which itself depicts the good times ending; as a joyous wedding celebration through most of the song morphs into a surreal funeral during the coda. The irony here is that Guns n’ Roses themselves help bring an end to this hair band era with the cutting-edge Appetite for Destruction, which cut against the grain of many rock conventions and helped open up the industry to the deluge of grunge which was rapidly approaching. But the song itself is purely great – a piano ballad led by Rose, a theatrical, orchestral backdrop, and some of the finest guitar work by Slash which helped secure his spot as a rock legend. “November Rain” may well be one of the best songs of the entire decade of the nineties.

I suppose the danger of releasing so much music at one time is simply overkill. And if one is to listen to both of these extra-long albums, back-to-back they may become numb to the band’s edge (especially the vocals) and it all eventually becomes repetitive. What was exciting and innovative on the first album, feels like over-indulgence on the second, and this is part of the problem with Use Your Illusion II. The other part is that it is simply not as good as its twin brother. In this light, the opening “Civil War” comes off as preachy and melodramatic and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, which had long been a staple of the band in concert, just doesn’t to have the effect it had a few years before (and this may be the most tolerable of all their covers, due to an excellent lead by Slash).

Released a few months ahead of the albums and featured in the film Terminator II: Judgment Day, “You Could Be Mine” was the first big hit from either album and actually propelled sales of Use Your Illusion II slightly ahead of those by Use Your Illusion I. In reality, this is an average song at best, which benefited greatly from the cross-marketing, including a special video featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in character.

Being just about as long as UYI I, this second album does include a few interesting highlights. Izzy Stradlin, who wrote several songs on both albums, sang solo lead on “14 Years”, a song dedicated to Axl Rose, whom he had known since 1977 (14 years earlier) when the high school classmates started their first band together in their hometown of Lafayette, Indiana. “Yesterdays” is a highly reflective song, which sounds like it should be reserved for the end of one’s career. Bassist Duff McKagan provided lead vocals on “So Fine”, while the provocative “Get In the Ring” gets very personal during a profanity-laced middle section where Rose calls out several members of the music press by name. The second album concludes with the weird and distorted rap “My World”, which feels like a throwaway filler so that they could reach the 30 song mark between the two albums.

Seven years later, with fans already in a frenzy for new material from Guns n’ Roses (which would not arrive for another decade), the band released a compilation simply entitled Use Your Illusion, which featured six of the more popular cuts from each album, a sort of “trial pack” for the casual fan.

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1991 Images

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

Raised On Radio by Journey

Raised On Radio by Journey

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Raised On Radio by JourneyFollowing the most commercially successful era for the band, lead singer Steve Perry firmly took control over Journey‘s musical direction. The ultimate result of this new direction was this 1986 album Raised On Radio, an album which would (at least initially) become just about as popular as their biggest earlier albums, but ultimately would symbolize the decline and fall of Journey’s successful run in through the late 1970s and early 1980s.

After the 1983 album Frontiers and the subsequent stadium tour, the band took a bit of a hiatus to pursue different projects. Guitarist Neal Schon made the second of his two “experimental” solo albums, which prompted Perry to pursue his own solo album. Street Talk, released in 1984, contained the pop-rock and ballads that seemed a little too close to Journey’s signature sound for the other band members, causing some tension within the band. The five members of Journey, including Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass, and Steve Smith on drums, did re-convene to record a couple of songs for movie soundtracks later in 1984, but took virtually all of 1985 off.

Finally, the band wanted to record a new album, but Perry was hesitant to do so because his mother was ailing. When she convinced him to do the album, Perry was more determined than ever to take the reigns on the musical direction, something that he had slowly been doing as early as 1980, when founding member Greg Rollie departed. Perry’s idea for Raised On Radio (a title which he insisted on over the band’s original title of “Freedom”) was to forge a new sound that was a hybrid of traditional Journey and his solo own work. When early session work did not go over well, Perry convinced Schon and Cain to back him in firing Valory and Smith and Journey continued on as a trio.

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Raised On Radio by Journey
Released: May 27, 1986 (Columbia)
Produced by: Steve Perry
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, Autumn-Winter 1985
Side One Side Two
Girl Can’t Help It
Positive Touch
Suzanne
Be Good to Yourself
Once You Love Somebody
Happy To Give
Raised On Radio
I’ll Be Alright Without You
It Could Have Been You
The Eyes Of a Woman
Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever
Primary Musicians
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Vocals
Randy Jackson – Bass
Larrie Londin – Drums & Percussion

Much of the album has a feel similar to Perry’s Street Talk. However, there is one element that makes this definitive Journey (and, in reality, saves the album from musical oblivion) and that element is Neal Schon’s guitar work. Mainly floating above the rhythm, Schon’s excellent guitars add the only truly interesting and uplifting sonic value to this album, with the exception of a few songs with great vocals such as on the opening classic “Girl Can’t Help It”.

Raised On Radio does get off to a very good start. “Girl Can’t Help It” is the best song on the album, with a direct and crisp sound with a just slight flange, a simple but memorable piano riff, and some counter-harmonic guitars to accent it all. The song morphs from the simple, melodic first section to a more intense second part with some excellent harmonies. “Positive Touch” follows with a definite 1986 sound that is still quite entertaining. Guest Dan Hull adds a great saxophone and the song also contains an entertaining outtro section, highlighted by Perry’s majestic high-pitched melodies. To this point Raised On Radio still feels like the natural progression of the Journey sound.

Unfortunately, the album then takes a serious downward turn. Although both were significant pop hits, “Suzanne” and “Be Good to Yourself” are sub-standard to most of the vast radio hits of Journey’s past. These are mostly disposable songs, with just small sprinklings of guitar excellence and vocal harmonies. The greatest disappoint here is Cain’s keyboard work, which has really fallen off from the bluesy piano ballads of Escape and Frontiers towards a cheap and cheesy synth sound on this album.

The rest of Raised On Radio is high-end mediocre at best. “Once You Love Somebody” contains a nice funky bass by future American Idol host Randy Jackson and the title song opens with a nice blues harp by Hull, but both of these are really average songs on the whole. “I’ll Be Alright Without You” is the best song on the second side, as a soft-rock adult contemporary ballad with harmonized vocals nicely complemented by Perry’s crooning and Schon’s slow walk-up to the signature guitar riff in the outro. “The Eyes of a Woman” is a little doomy with deep, long string synths and the closer “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever” is an attempt to replicate past ballad smashes such as “Faithfully” that falls far short.

Following the release of Raised On Radio, Journey embarked on a tour which was initially very successful, but in early 1987 Perry suddenly and unexpectedly pulled the plug and the band was forced to cancel the rest of the tour and went on an indefinite hiatus. Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain teamed up with Cain’s ex-Babys’ band mates John Waite and Ricky Phillips to form Bad English in 1988 while Ross Valory teamed up with Gregg Rolie to form The Storm. They would not again reconvene as a band for nearly a decade, when the five members who made up Journey prior to Raised On Radio had a short-lived comeback. But the classic band was never again the same.

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1986 Images

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