Officially titled Chicago, the second double-length album by the group with the same name saw their full immersion into mainstream success while still building on their fusion of rock, funk and jazz. This album also saw expanded participation by many of the seven group members, in composing the songs and suites. While the album is interesting and entertaining, it is not without some filler and flaws as at times the group tries too hard to forge messaging, which sometimes comes off awkwardly or forced.
Then known as Chicago Transit Authority, the group released their self-title debut double LP in the Spring of 1969. That album was critically acclaimed for its groundbreaking musical approach but did not spark much initial interest on the radio. After its release, the actual city of Chicago transportation department claimed the name as proprietary and threatened a lawsuit, so the group shortened their name to simply, Chicago.
The album was recorded in less than a month during August 1969 for an early 1970 release. Like the opening album, the compositions are once again mainly provided by guitarist Terry Kath and keyboardist Robert Lamm. However, Chicago II also features a seven-part suite by brass arranger James Pankow as well as the first composition by bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera, who would provide a growing role in the group’s sound as the 1970s progressed.
Chicago IIby Chicago
Released: January 26, 1970 (Columbia) Produced by: James William Guercio Recorded: Columbia Studios, New York & Hollywood, August 1969
Poem For the People
In the Country
Wake Up Sunshine
Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
25 or 6 to 4
Memories of Love
It Better End Soon
Where Do We Go From Here
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals Robert Lamm – Keyboards, Vocals Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds, Vocals Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion
Chicago II is a bit top-heavy with some of the best material on the first two sides. Side One starts with Pankow’s celebratory horns of “Movin’ In”, which crams in plenty of jazz-style improv sections on this fine opening track. Kath’s “The Road” starts with a complex riff pattern before settling into a funky ballad led by Cetra’s vocals. “Poem For the People” starts with deliberative solo piano by Lamm, who composed the song. When it fully kicks in, it is a soulful song with nice, mellowly picked guitar interludes and a core meaning. The side concludes with “In the Country”, which may be the first example of an extended filler as the track gets very repetitive and quite corny as it goes along.
The second side starts with “Wake Up Sunshine”, a direct, happy-go-lucky track by Lamm which could’ve been (and should’ve been) a hit for the band, This is one of the most accessible and pop-oriented as well as one of the shorter tracks and ends with a cool, industrial-like organ part. Pankow’s multipart suite, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” follows, starting with the classic single “Make Me Smile”, which bookends the medley. This features driving acoustic, funky bass, good vocals throughout and animated drums by Danny Seraphine. Next comes “So Much to Say, So Much to Give”, a waltz-like bridge section with lead vocals by Lamm. “Anxiety’s Moment” and “West Virginia Fantasies” are a couple of horn-drivren instrumental sections before the music cleverly dissolves into “Colour My World”, a simple but brilliant tune sung by Kath and featuring a long rotating, piano riff. The section ends with flute solo by Walter Parazaider and would go on to be a hit single on its own. The piece concludes with the bass-driven “To Be Free” and the reprise section “Now More Than Ever” and a military-like drum march by Seraphine to the end.
Side Three starts with “Fancy Colours” starts with percussive chimes and a long, psychedelic organ. After slow slosh through the first verse, song breaks into a Broadway-like 6/8 with plenty of flute parts for the main hook of this track. “25 or 6 to 4” is one of the most indelible Chicago tunes, with a rock oriented core bass, drums, and guitars. The horns play a reserved but effective role, led by the trumpet of Lee Loughnane. The nin-plus-minute suite “Memories of Love” contains orchestral arrangements by Peter Matz, who co-wrote the crooning love song with Kath.
The fourth and final side starts with another extended suite, this time a rock/jazz fusion called “It Better End Soon”, co-written by Lamm, Kath, and Parazaider. The track seems to have been intentionally built for live shows and was kind of manifesto for the group’s political viewpoints. The album concludes with “Where Do We Go from Here”, the first track composed by Cetera and is a more pleasant and uplifting track than its predecessor while still being a bit preachy on world affairs.
Chicago II was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 5 in the US and the UK. Followed by their third consecutive double album, Chicago III in 1971, the band would release about one album per year through the seventies and had continued commercial success through most of that decade.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1970 albums.
As heralded and popular as the Traveling Wilburys 1988 debut album was, the 1990 follow up Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 was relatively ignored. In part, this was the fault of the group members themselves who took their penchant for inside jokes a bit too far by naming this second Traveling Wiburys release “Volume 3”. Further confusing to fans was the adoption of completely new “Wilbury” pseudonyms by the four remaining group members. All this being said, the music on this album is excellent and entertaining.
The untimely death of Roy Orbison in December 1988 (while Traveling Wilburys Vol 1 was hitting its peak popularity) instantly reduced the super-group to a quartet. While the mainly spontaneous debut album was loose and fun, the vibe on this second album seems more business-like. Further, George Harrison, the originator and unofficial band leader, has a much lighter presence on Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.
Stepping in to fill the void are Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who each have a much stronger presence up front than on the debut album. On a note of consistency, the album was once again produced by Harrison and Jeff Lynne, who offered up exquisite sonic quality throughout the album.
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 29, 1990 (Warner Bros.) Produced by: Clayton Wilbury & Spike Wilbury Recorded: April–May 1990
She’s My Baby
If You Belonged to Me
The Devil’s Been Busy
7 Deadly Sins
Where Were You Last Night?
Cool Dry Place
New Blue Moon
You Took My Breath Away
The opener “She’s My Baby” is a harder rocker than practically anything on the previous album. A driving musical riff with booming drums by Jim Keltner and, most importantly, the blistering lead guitar of guest Gary Moore, all work to make this a totally unique Wilburys track. “Inside Out” reverts back to the group’s conventional acoustic driven folk style. The lead vocals are by Dylan during the verses with other Wilburys taking some sections and the lyrics offer a clever play on words. “If You Belonged to Me” is a bright, multi-acoustic track with intro harmonica (and later harmonica lead) by Dylan. Petty takes the vocal helm on “The Devil’s Been Busy”, with Harrison adding some sparse but strategically placed sitar in the verses, followed by a full-fledged, electrified sitar solo later in the song. The track also contains good melodies and harmonies to the profound lyrics,
“While you’re strolling down the fairway, showing no remorse / Glowing from the poisons they’ve sprayed on your golf course / While you’re busy sinking birdies and keeping your scorecard, the devil’s been busy in your back yard…”
“7 Deadly Sins” is a fifties style doo-wop with multi-vocal parts and a nice, growling saxophone by Jim Horn. Entertaining enough, but perhaps a bridge too far in the Wilburys penchant for retrospection. “Poor House” starts with Harrison’s signature, weeping guitar. Beyond that, the song sticks to basic blue grass arrangement with harmonized lead vocals and a nice lead guitar by Harrison. “Where Were You Last Night?” has a cool descending acoustic riff throughout and appears to be Dylan parodying his own caricature. With a plethora of acoustic instruments and phrases, “Cool Dry Place” is entertaining musically and classic Petty lyrically with his cool insider lines;
“We got solids and acoustics and some from plywood board, and some are trimmed in leather, and some are made with gourds / There’s organs and trombones and reverbs we can use, lots of DX-7s and old athletic shoes…”
“New Blue Moon” is not much lyrically, but fun, entertaining and sonically interesting nonetheless, while “You Took My Breath Away” is a moderate acoustic ballad where Lynne’s production does add some depth to the overall feel. It all concludes with the wild frenzied rocker of “Wilbury Twist”, which somewhat mocking, while at once a tribute of the dance crazes through the years. Each member takes a turn at lead vocals, making this a fitting end to the album and the Traveling Wilburys short career.
By the early 2000s, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 were out of print and did not resurface in any form until The Traveling Wilburys Collection, a box set including both studio albums with bonus tracks was released in 2007.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
Perhaps the most lyrically potent album ever, Bob Dylan delivered a masterpiece with his fifth overall album, Bringing It All Back Home, released 50 years ago today on March 22, 1965. On this record, Dylan’s lyrics became more stylistic and surreal, with the composer employing stream-of-consciousness rants influenced by dreams and the result of isolated and intense writing binges. Most impressively, the words are striking and profound and persist in their relevance a half century later, as it personifies the absolute reach for the ultimate heights even if it risks an ultimate fall. Musically, this album featured Dylan’s first “electric” recordings as he worked with a full backing arrangement on the tracks on the first side. While the album’s second side features traditional acoustic folk songs, there is a steady vibe that unifies the album from end to end and makes it an indisputable work of art as a whole.
While they remained firmly within the realm of folk music, the very titles of Dylan’s 1964 albums (The Times They Are a’ Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan) signaled that the composer may traverse the strict standards of folk music, even if they simultaneously established Dylan as the leading folk performer of his generation. He retreated to Woodstock, NY during much of the summer of 1964, along with fellow folk singer and then-girlfriend Joan Baez. According to Baez, Dylan would stand at a typewriter in the corner of a room, “tapping away relentlessly for hours.” In late August 1964, Dylan had a private meeting with The Beatles in New York City which apparently had a radical effect on both the artistic entities.
Later in the year, Dylan and producer Tom Wilson began experimenting with techniques of fusing rock and folk music. After a few failed attempts at overdubbing electric backing tracks to existing acoustic recordings, the composer and producer brought in a full band for sessions in January 1965. Here, for the first time, Dylan employed his unique method of rapidly “teaching” each individual session man (who had no prior awareness of the material being recorded) exactly he wanted their individual part to be. Amazingly, the entire album was recorded in just a few days, with the entire second side recorded on January 15, 1965.
Those songs recorded for the second side were intentionally stripped down, usually with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar/harmonica accompanied by one other single player to add the slightest bit of flavoring and counter-melody to the otherwise raw tracks. While the production team could have easily released full “electric” versions of every track on this final album, it is rather ingenious the way the second side was presented as almost a natural bridge between Dylan’s previous work and the new direction he was heading, even on the first side of this very album.
Bringing It All Back Homeby Bob Dylan
Released: March 22, 1965 (Columbia) Produced by: Tom Wilson Recorded: Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, January, 1965
Subterranean Homesick Blues
She Belongs to Me
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
On the Road Again
Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
Mr. Tambourine Man
Gates of Eden
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica Al Gorgoni – Guitar Kenny Rankin – Guitar Paul Griffin – Piano, Keyboards William E. Lee – Bass Bobby Gregg – Drums
Looking at the second side first, it begins with the oldest song on the album, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, written over a year before the album’s release and performed many times through 1964. This well-crafted folk song with highly poetic lyrics, features Dylan’s acoustic nicely complimented by the slightest electric guide guitar of Bruce Langhorne. Less than a month after its release on Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds released their own interpretation of the song, which reached number one on the Billboard charts and helped spawn their debut album of the same name. Lyrically, the song was influenced by French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini with focus on a central muse who has been interpreted as anyone from an American Indian shaman to Jesus Christ. Of course, the similarities to an LSD trip cannot be disregarded;
Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind, down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves of the haunted frightened trees, out to the windy beach far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow / Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let me forget about today until tomorrow…”
“Gates of Eden” is nine verses of pure folk intensity, where Dylan commands full attention as he tells fables and fortunes about universal and existential stories, with Dylan performing the entire song solo end to end. This song was also written in late June or July 1964, and has clear religious overtones with the Biblical location of pure peace and serenity within a turbulant universe. With little variation throughout its five minute duration, Dylan masterfully commands total attention during each autonomous viginette, with a single harmonica note separating each verse and alerting to a new start. Further, the lyrics describe historical and mythical figures alike;
With a time-rusted compass blade, Aladdin and his lamp sits with utopian hermit monks, side saddle on the golden calf and on their promises of paradise you will not hear a laugh all except inside the gates of Eden…”
The most haunting and pure dark folk track on the album, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” best displays the pure genius of Dylan with a song that is a perfect message both musically and, most especially lyrically. First performed live in October, 1964, this grim masterpiece features Dylan’s best acoustic performance (with no harmonica!) as well as some of his most memorable lyrical images, which express the composer’s rants against hypocrisy, commercialism, institutionalism, and contemporary politics and, decades later, Dylan has named this track as one that means the most to him. After the brilliant cascade of lyrical genius, the track concludes with the most profound line of all;
And if my thought-dreams could been seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine, but it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only…”
The album concludes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” which, despite its name, is a much brighter acoustic song than anything else on side two and has an almost electric vibe. William E. Lee offers refrained but interesting bass guitar to the acoustic strumming and dynamic melodies of Dylan’s vocals. The song’s subject may have been the folk protest movement in general or Baez in particular, or even both. In any case, this offers a perfect conclusion to Bringing It All Back Home and leaves an almost deafening reverberation in the listener’s ear after the song concludes.
Rolling back to the beginning, this brilliant album has a rather unpolished start as the intro to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is slightly cut off. However, once this song fully launches, it never relents for one single moment, with its only real flaw being that it ends too soon. Here Dylan blends the musical influences of Chuck Berry and Woody Guthrie along with a lyrical style similar to the writings of Jack Kerouac. Released as a single ahead of the album, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” became Dylan’s first Top 40 hit in the US, as well as a the Top 10 hit in the UK. Dylan employs a completely different vocal style on “She Belongs to Me”, a much smoother song musically than the opening track. While his vocalizing has long been the subject of debate and some derision, it is really quite amazing how Dylan can shift gears from track to track. Musically, a gently strummed acoustic is complemented by the picked electric guitar of Langhorne along with a subtle rhythm track and Dylan also executes a few of his finest harmonica leads on this song.
“Maggie’s Farm” may very well be the ultimate counter-counterculture song, exposing some of the hypocrisies of a rebellion against “the establishment” while implementing even stricter standards within itself. Armed with some of his more brutal lyrics, Dylan unambiguously screeds through this explicit poetry and clarion declaration of independence. Essentially, this is an announcement of his musical transformation, which found further importance when Dylan performed it as the opening tune during his defiant electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in August of that year.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more / Well, I try my best to be just like I am but everybody wants you to be just like them, they sing while you slave and I just get bored, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more…”
As cynical as the previous tracks are, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” completely pivots in the opposite direction, almost like an extremist love song. The very title (a mathematical equation which results in “absolutely unlimited love”) indicates the complete offering of one’s existence to a significant other, in this case Dylan’s future wife Sara Lowndes. Another complete departure for Dylan is “Outlaw Blues”, a rollicking, bluesy and about as heavy as rock and roll came in 1965. In fact, this song could, at once, be a true ancestor to bluesy jam bands as well as the hard rock and heavy metal which arrived a half a decade later. With “On the Road Again”, Dylan takes a large step forward both musically and lyrically. This strong rock/blues track with especially potent drums by Bobby Gregg, contain lyrics written in the spirit of Kerouac’s novel On the Road but with a definite original edge;
Well, there’s fist fights in the kitchen, enough to make me cry / The mailman comes in and even he’s gotta take a side / Even the butler, he’s got something to prove / Then you ask why I don’t live here, Honey, how come you don’t move?”
The album’s first side ends with a bit of levity in the false start of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”. Once the song really kicks in, it employs a true stream-of-consciousness and may have the most surreal lyrics on the album. The song’s title alludes to the track “Bob Dylan’s Dream” from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but as an almost satirical sequel to that serious folk song.
Upon its release, Bringing It All Back Home reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and has continued to grow in stature and importance in the half century since its release. Later in 1965, Dylan would record and release another masterpiece, Highway 61 Revisited, an album Classic Rock Review will examine on August 30th, the 50th anniversary of that album’s release.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.
Before its swift exit from the mainstream rock scene in 1991, “hair metal” had its last hurrah during the year 1990. Perhaps the apex of this final phase was the self-titled debut album by the super group, Damn Yankees, which brought together three musicians from different rock outfits, each of whom had tremendous success in the years and decades previous to Damn Yankees. The result was a double platinum commercial success which spawned several radio and charting hits.
Vocalist and guitarist Ted Nugent had been performing live since 1958 and found some mainstream success with his band, the Amboy Dukes, in the late sixties and early seventies. However, when Nugent launched his solo career the mid seventies, he found his greatest success with three multi-platinum albums in consecutive years 1975, 1976, 1977. During that same era, bassist and vocalist Jack Blades formed the funk band Rubicon, which had a few minor hits before breaking up in 1979. The following year, Blades formed a band called “Ranger”, which morphed into “The Rangers” and ultimately, Night Ranger. The group had tremendous success through the 80’s, selling millions of albums and charting several hit singles. Tommy Shaw joined the established Chicago group, Styx, in late 1975 as second guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Over the next eight years, the group had tremendous success, including the standout albums, The Grand Illusion, in 1977 and, Paradise Theatre, in 1981. However, Shaw grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the group’s music towards pop ballads and theatrical role playing, so he left Styx to pursue a solo career which yielded three albums in the late eighties.
Damn Yankees was formed in 1989, with drummer Michael Cartellone (who had played in the final stages of Shaw’s solo band) rounding out the quartet. Some of the material on this album was brought in by individual members, but most was composed collaboratively in the studio. Producer Ron Nevison also brought in multiple session musician to enrich the music and allow the three vocalists to concentrate on melodies and harmonies.
Damn Yankeesby Damn Yankees
Released: February 22, 1990 (Warner Bros.) Produced by: Ron Nevison Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA & Can-Am Studios, Tarzana, CA, 1989-90
Coming of Age
Tell Me How You Want It
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals Ted Nugent – Guitars, Vocals Jack Blades – Bass, Vocals Michael Cartellone – Drums
The album starts with the hit, “Coming of Age”, which sets the pace for the slick, polished, hard rock sound of the album. Blades brought this popular song with him into Damn Yankees, which features catchy, chanting vocal motifs, accented by accent by Nugent’s choppy riffs, which all worked to make this perfect for pop and rock radio alike. “Bad Reputation” follows in the same vein as a pure riff-driven raunch, unambiguous lyrically and not too far from that musically – steady beat throughout – nice bridge with complex vocal patterns before song returns with Nugent’s blistering lead. After some cool deadened guitar notes in the intro, “Runaway” launches into a full-fledged pop rocker. Led by Shaw’s lead vocals, the song contains nice complements throughout, including some sparse but tactical keyboards by session man Steve Freeman.
The album’s best track is also its most popular. “High Enough” is a ballad which starts and ends with a string ensemble put together by Nevison with strummed acoustic during initial verse. Shaw’s high harmonies perfectly complement Blades’ lead vocals on this track filled with harmonic bliss, both vocally and musically. Further, there is enough arrangement variation to make this Top 5 hit a true classic from the album.
Damn Yankees‘s title song has an Aerosmith-like feel in its riffing, but a much different vibe once the vocals come in. The mid section of this track is dominated by Nugent, with several wild effects through the guitar lead and lead vocals over the bridge. “Come Again” is a folk ballad by Shaw which reflects some of the arena ballads by Styx. Beginning with a picked acoustic during the verse, this song continuously builds in a moody but melodic track that is contrasted by Nugent’s frenzied guitar riffs. “Mystified” starts with some great blues elements, including some slide guitar over initial porch-stomp verses. The song soon turns into a more standard rock drive, but maintains the great blues harmonics during Nugent’s soaring lead, making this the last real highlight of the album.
The remaining three tracks are not the strongest. “Rock City” a bit of frivolous number, only really there for the mind-numbed partier, making it one of the weaker numbers on the album. Led by the strong but standard drumming of Cartellone and the fine vocal harmonies, “Tell Me How You Want It”, is a track which has all the elements of a hit song in 1990, but never reached that plateau. Nugent’s “Piledriver”, is almost a direct rip-off of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” in its sonic approach. That’s not to say that Nugent’s guitar is not impressive – it is – but the comic breakdown in the middle of this blistering lead is a bit over the top. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining way to wrap up the album.
Damn Yankees reached the Top 20 on the Billboard album charts and remained a hit well into 1991. The group went on a successful world tour and returned with a 1992 follow-up album Don’t Tread, which was a minor hit on its own. In 1994, Nugent left the group, with Shaw & Blades releasing a single album as a duet before ending the short run of Damn Yankees.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
Pretenders, is the self-titled debut studio album by the British-American band of the same name. Released just weeks into the new decade of the eighties, this was one of the more widely anticipated debuts as the group had already achieved commercial success with three charting hits in 1979. Those three singles (along with two of the ‘B sides’) were combined with new studio material to make this fine rock album, which debuted at #1 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. The album also received high praise critically, which it has sustained as it is included on many lists of top debuts of all time.
The Pretenders are led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in 1973 and wrote for the weekly music paper NME. She formed and played in many groups through the mid seventies and was involved with the inception of the punk scene, including short stints with early versions of The Clash and The Damned. After recording a demo of original songs, Hynde was convinced to assemble a more permanent band to reach the next level. Bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott joined Hynde in this yet-to-be named band in early 1978.
Later that year, the group chose their name after the Platters song, “The Great Pretender”, and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ ,”Stop Your Sobbing”, with producer Nick Lowe and drummer Gerry Mackelduff. Released in January 1979, the single gained the new group some attention and radio play as well as the backing to record more songs and eventually this debut album. Martin Chambers signed on as the group’s permanent drummer and the quartet recorded scores of tracks through 1979 with producer Chris Thomas, many of which were not released until a re-mastered edition of Pretenders was released in 2006.
Pretendersby The Pretenders
Released: January 19, 1980 (Sire) Produced by: Chris Thomas & Nick Lowe Recorded: Wessex Studios and Air Studios, London, 1979
The Phone Call
Up the Neck
Tattooed Love Boys
Stop Your Sobbing
Brass In Pocket
Lovers of Today
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar James Honeyman-Scott – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals Pete Farndon – Bass, Vocals Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals
Hynde wrote the bulk of the material on Pretenders and found a nice blend of rock, punk and pop, with the slightest hint of new wave edge. “Precious” starts as a rapid, two chord jam until the song gets a little more intense and sonically interesting with phasing and reverse-reverb effects, and overtly vulgar lyrics. The song was a cynical ode to Hynde’s home city of Akron, a theme she would revisit in a more sentimental way in later years on “My City Was Gone” from Learning to Crawl. “The Phone Call” is a rudiment driven, new wave rocker where the vocals are mostly spoken word with some interesting deviations during the short, rapid, off-beat choruses, while “Up the Neck” is much more contemporary and melodic than the first two tracks as a steady, jangly, and pleasant pop/rocker throughout.
Returns to the feel of the opening track, “Tattooed Love Boys” shoots a strong sexual vibe by Hynde and is close to punk in underlying feel, albeit much more refined up top. This track also employs a very odd time signature and the first of several brilliant guitar leads by Honeyman-Scott. Next comes the album’s only instrumental, “Space Invader”, driven by Farden’s bass line in the opening jam and a slight synth section by Honeyman-Scott. “The Wait” has more interesting riffs and rudiments in the verse where Hynde’s lead vocals seem to be in a race between the crunch riffing, while the chorus has a more standard rock release with great bass by Farndon, who co-wrote this song.
While this album is fine throughout, the second side is especially strong. “Kid” is a melodic and upbeat ballad with some cool instrumental passages, including a nice acoustic section and very animated, rolling drums by Chambers. Here, Hynde abandons the punk bravado and branches out with a love song about vulnerability and Honeyman-Scott contributes layers of fine lectric guitars. “Private Life” follows as a quasi reggae tune, but with the guitar riff and vocals giving it a dark feel. Although the group rarely leaves the same basic riff through its six and a half minute duration, the song does contain some soul-fueled background vocal variations and another respectable rock guitar lead.
“Brass in Pocket” is the most popular early track by The Pretenders, driven by the slightly funky riff by Honeyman-Scott, Hynde’s great sense of melody, and Farndon’s rounded eighties bass to introduce the new decade. Lyrically, the song is one of self-assurance among women with a laid-back swagger and confidence. The song was a pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 20 in the US. “Lovers of Today” starts as pure ballad but takes some interesting turns into classic rock areas with coolly strummed acoustic with strong electric riffs above while maintaining the overall melancholy mood of the track. The album ends strong with “Mystery Achievement”, a powerful and intense rocker with more melodic vocals by Hynde.
Pretenders was a commercial success worldwide, reaching the Top 10 on a half dozen album charts in 1980. The next year the group followed up with an EP and a second full-length album, Pretenders II.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.
Cheap Trick concluded their impressive late seventies output with their fourth studio album, Dream Police. This album follows the breakthrough success of the live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was released earlier in 1979 and went triple platinum in the United States. Further, the live singles, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Ain’t That a Shame”, were both charting hits and helped open up the group to a mainstream audience. With this momentum, Dream Police went on to become the group’s best selling album and the first to reach the Top Ten on the charts in the United States.
Cheap Trick was formed in 1973 in Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973 by guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had been performing locally with various bands since the early sixties. One former band, Fuse, released an album in 1970 and featured bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos, who also became founding members of Cheap Trick. By 1975, the group enlisted Robin Zander on lead vocals and recorded their first demo tapes which led to them signing with Epic Records the following year. In early 1977, the band released their self-titled debut album, followed by In Color later that year and Heaven Tonight in mid 1978. While none of these three albums made the Top 40 in America, they were each critically acclaimed and especially well received in Japan, which propelled the band to tour in that country and record At Budokan, which was originally intended as a Japan-only release.
Tom Werman, the original A&R man who discovered Cheap Trick in 1976, produced In Color, Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police. On this latter album, Werman and the group expanded their sound into more complex songs with richer arrangements, including some synthesized orchestration. These sessions also included several outtakes, which would appear on re-issues of Dream Police. These included several tracks with alternate lead vocals among band members, the song “It Must Be Love” which was later covered by Rick Derringer, and the song “Next Position Please” which became the title track of Cheap Trick’s 1983 album of the same name.
Dream Policeby Cheap Trick
Released: September 21, 1979 (Epic) Produced by: Tom Werman Recorded: Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1978–1979
Way of the World
The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)
Gonna Raise Hell
I’ll Be with You Tonight
Writing on the Wall
I Know What I Want
Need Your Love
Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitar Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals Tom Petersson – Bass. Vocals Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion
The album is a bit top-heavy, with the best songs on Dream Police being right up front. It begins with Nielsen’s impressive title track, a hyper and exciting rock song, topped off with a persistent synth string section. With a lyrical theme touching on the ultimate stoner paranoia, there is much packed into this less-than-four-minute song making it, ultimately, a satisfying and unique track which reached the Top 40. Co-written by Zander, “Way of the World” is a suitable follow-up to the fantastic title song as another complex and upbeat rocker. Originally composed and recorded under the title, “See Me Now”, Zander and the group employ rich vocal patterns to complement the thick wall of distorted guitars and synths by Nielsen and just enough post-production effects (without over doing it) by Werman.
Like its title suggests, “The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” is a pretty straight-forward rock n’ roll track, with this good-time feel contrasted by the theme of serious real-world issues. Neilsen shines brightest on this track with crisp and excellent guitar riffs along with several well-executed, overdubbed leads, including an extended outro that contains a short, “borrowed” guitar phrase from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. At first, “Gonna Raise Hell” seems like almost a parody of Kiss in its simple rock drive and shouted vocals. Starting with the simplest beat and bass riff by Petersson, the song morphs into a more dance-oriented track, especially during the expanded, textured instrumental which occupies the final third of this nine and a half minute track.
Side Two of Dream Police is filled with songs that show some real promise but seem to ultimately be less-than-developed. The only track on which all four members are credited compositionally, “I’ll Be with You Tonight” is a rock jam which is pleasant enough but contains very little lyrical or musical substance. The pop hit “Voices” starts with sound effects of whispered voices before breaking into a moderate ballad ala George Harrison. Petersson’s bass lines keep everything interesting but Zander’s vocals may be a bit too melodramatic on this single, which reached number 32 in the US.
“Writing on the Wall” is a fun song musically as an upbeat, pure rocker that moves at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. Nielson provides a fine middle guitar jam over some faux crowd noise and Zander has a nice vocal rant at the end which, unfortunately is faded out a bit too quickly. On “I Know What I Want”, Petersson takes on lead vocal duties in what appears to be a pure attempt at new wave pop that could have been developed into something a little stronger. With the exception of Nielson’s lead guitar, this song overall falls short of the mark. Rounding out the album is “Need Your Love”. A long intro, starting with Carlos’s steady drum beat and the gradual addition of other steady instrumentation layered on top alternates with the thumping counter-melody which finds a nice hard-rock core. Mostly a sonic texture piece, this closing track has a bit of a jam at the end to end the album on a strong note.
A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, and “Can’t Hold On”, a bluesy track performed at Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were “Such A Good Girl” and “Take Me I’m Yours”, which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.
Dream Police spawned Cheap Trick’s arena-headlining 1980 tour and landed them a gig with former Beatles producer George Martin for their follow-up All Shook Up. While not as successful commercially, this album commenced a very prolific and diverse decade for the group.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.
Prince reached the pinnacle of his success in 1984, with the release of the musically potent Purple Rain to accompany the major motion picture of the same name. The sixth studio album by the Minneapolis-based recording artist, it marks a slight departure from his earlier solo work. For the first time, Prince added and fully credited his band, The Revolution, and the production emphasized full band performances and multiple, layered instruments. The resulting hybrid of funk, rock, R&B and synthesized dance beats became one of the most popular and well regarded albums of the 1980s, reaching the top of the charts and selling over 20 million copies worldwide.
Keyboardist Lisa Coleman was one of only two additional musicians (along with guitarist Dez Dickerson) to perform on Prince’s breakthrough double album 1999. Following the tour for that album, Dickerson left the group for “religious reasons” and was replaced by guitarist and vocalist Wendy Melvoin, a childhood friend of Coleman. As mainstream success began to grow for Prince, due in part to the proliferation of MTV, he decided to use his band less sparsely and load up for an ambitious follow-up. Filmed almost entirely in Minneapolis, the movie Purple Rain contains stories behind many of the soundtrack’s songs and uses many musicians from the local scene.
As was the case on all but his earliest albums, Prince composed and arranged all of the songs on this album. However, he did elicit some input from his new band members. Another unique attribute of Purple Rain is the fact that three songs on the album were actually recorded live at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis with Prince adding some studio touches and edits to these later. The August 1983 show was a benefit concert and is historic as the first live appearance by Melvoin with The Revolution.
Purple Rainby Prince
Released: June 25, 1984 (Warner Brothers) Produced by: Prince & the Revolution Recorded: First Avenue & The Warehouse, Minneapolis and The Record Plant & Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, August 1983–March 1984
Let’s Go Crazy
Take Me with U
The Beautiful Ones
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star
Prince – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards Wendy Melvoin – Guitars, Vocals Lisa Coleman – Keyboards, Vocals Matt Fink – Keyboards Bobby Z – Drums, Percussion
Generally regarded as the most pop-oriented of Prince’s career, Purple Rain begins the story with Prince narrating along to a church-like organ, speaking about enjoying the here and now on the opener “Let’s Go Crazy”. An electronic drum beat kicks in along with a bouncy organ riff, and it drives this song into a frenzy of wild guitars and intense vocals, until it crashes into a cacophony of whining guitars and screaming. The song was one of two on this album to top the charts.
“Take Me With You” is a duet with Apollonia, who also starred as Prince’s romantic counterpart in the film. The song was originally meant to be on her Apollonia 6 album, but its inclusion on Purple Rain necessitated cuts to the suite-like following song, “Computer Blue”. This latter song melds synthesizers and a quirky, sloshy electronic beat with some guitar elements and perhaps stands out as the most stereotypically “eighties” in sound and style. “Darling Nikki” caused quite a stir with Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center for the racy subject matter addressed in the lyrics. The song itself is sparsely arranged with the emphasis on Prince’s chanted and groaned vocals. The song was not the centerpiece of the album, but it probably helped boost the notoriety of the album with all of the media attention surrounding the risqué lyrics.
“When Doves Cry” is one of the most creative songs on the album. Again, the arrangement is sparse as there is no bass, just an electronic drum beat, synthesized melodic sounds and Prince’s emotive vocals. The layers of sound are subtle and create a smokey, almost psychedelic feel. Written specifically for a sequence in the film, this worldwide hit was the top selling single for the year 1984, according to Billboard magazine.
The album’s final three tracks were all recorded live in 1983. “I Would Die 4U” is a departure from the rest of the album and is almost anthemic with a repetitive beat, chanted refrain and synthesized sounds. The song fades abruptly into “Baby I’m a Star”, delivered almost like a show tune with theatrical lyrics and a pounding steady, dance beat. Prince’s masterpiece on this album is the closing title track, “Purple Rain”. This song is Prince reaching into his blues and funk influences and coming up with a depth of sound in many layers. The guitars are front and center in this song with the solo soaring above the strings and drums, closing the album on a very high note.
Purple Rain was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”. Prince also won two Grammy Awards in 1985 for the album. However, he also announced that year that he would stop touring and making music videos after the release of his next album, Around the World in a Day, which ultimately led to the disbandment of the short-lived “Revolution”.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1984 albums.
Following a very tumultuous period where two band members lost their lives due to drug overdoses, Learning to Crawl, was a bit of an early career comeback album for The Pretenders. The group’s third overall album, this early 1984 release was their first in nearly three years and contains recordings that date back to the summer of 1982. With the personnel turmoil, group leader Chrissie Hynde took a more active role in shaping the group’s sound and compositional direction, adding some maturity to the raw intensity of the Pretenders’ core approach. The result is an original blend of later-era new wave rock, which propelled the group to the height of its popularity.
After the great success of their self-titled debut album, the group released Pretenders II in 1981, but felt that album was rushed in order to take advantage of their popularity. The following year, original bass player Pete Farndon was fired due to his increasing drug dependency. Just two days later, original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure from cocaine intolerance, leaving the Pretenders cut in half almost overnight. Still, Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers continued on and began recording just a month after Honeyman-Scott’s death.
In 1983 Hynde brought on guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster as new permanent members of the band. One of the first recordings made by the new lineup was the B-side “Fast or Slow (The Law’s the Law)”, which was sung by drummer Chambers and has a folk/dance riff and beat throughout. The song, which seems to be about an actual altercation with the law, was released two months ahead of Learning to Crawl.
Learning to Crawlby The Pretenders
Released: January 7, 1984 (Sire) Produced by: Chris Thomas Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1982–83
Middle of the Road
Back On the Chain Gang
Time the Avenger
Watching the Clothes
My City Was Gone
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
I Hurt You
The album commences with the thundering “Middle of the Road”, a straight forward, three chord rocker. With a catchy vocal chorus hook and rapid-fire lead vocals, the song seems rather simple on its surface, but actually has a deeper underlying meaning interpreted from the Tao Te Ching. Hynde’s harmonica lead at end of the song completes the track which reached the Top 20 in America. “Back On the Chain Gang” may be the best song ever recorded by The Pretenders. Recorded and released as a single in 1982, the song features a smooth lead guitar by Billy Bremner, who was a temporary fill-in at the time. In spite of the odd lyrical tempo, Hynde’s vocals are catchy and delivered in a near weeping manner, making the song at once uplifting and melancholy, and with a good, inventive bridge. The song became the band’s biggest hit in the US, reaching number 5, and pays homage to Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Chain Gang” with workman vocals dubbed in the background.
“Time the Avenger” is another good, upbeat rock song with lots of little guitar riffs on top of Foster’s repeating 2/4 bass phrase. On this track, Hynde’s vocal style is much like that of Joni Mitchell, while she delivers more deeply philosophical lyrics such as; “Nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here”. After the brief new wave screed “Watching the Clothes”, the album’s first side concludes with the melodic “Show Me”. This upbeat and jangly track is a true a singer’s song, with each word maximized for melodic effect in the repeating vocal areas (there is not really verse/chorus setup). With slightly differing musical arrangements and approaches, the mixture of acoustic, electric, bass carries the song through its pleasant fade-out.
The second side is filled with songs of diverse styles, with mixed results. “Thumbelina” has a Country-rock, Johnny Cash-like rhythm and, like many lyrics of songs on this album, this appears to be written about Hynde’s daughter, Natalie (fathered by Kinks’ leader Ray Davies). In fact, Hynde named the album “Learning to Crawl” because that’s exactly what her daughter was doing at the time. “My City Was Gone” is another track that dates back to 1982 and features a consistent bass riff by Tony Butler with heavily-effected drums by Chambers. Lyrically, the song is about changing landscapes, and change itself and never really relents from straight-forward riff and beat.
The album’s only cover, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” features piano by former Squeeze member Paul Carrack along with crooning vocals by Hynde. In contrast, “I Hurt You” takes a pure new wave funk approach with multiple voices and vocal melodies and another driving, simple bass line. This song is most interesting at the very end with overdubbed, slightly strummed guitars and a cool lead by McIntosh. The album concludes with the beautiful and steady “2000 Miles”, with a sweet synth and guitar intro, which fades in with the perfect vibe for this song. The musicians add the right mixture of rhythm and effect to keep the song on a steady pace and provide the canvas for Hynde’s vocals. Written for the departed guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the tune is often considered a Christmas song, due to its lyrical content;
“In these frozen and silent nights, sometimes in a dream you appear / Outside under the purple sky, diamonds in the snow sparkle, our hearts were singing, it felt like Christmas time…”
Learning to Crawl was critical and commercial success that launched the Pretenders to the upper echelon of pop/rock groups. However, the inner turmoil continued as both Chambers and Foster left the band before the completion of their next album, Get Close, leaving Hynde as the only original group member through their later years.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1984 albums.
Chicago used their short-lived name for their double-length 1969 debut album, Chicago Transit Authority. From the inception, the seven member group fused brass, jazz, soul, and blues-based rock and roll and, with three lead vocalists and composers, the group’s sound was as diverse as their influences. Producer James William Guercio had just come off a big commercial success with the group Blood, Sweat, and Tears and was able to convince a skeptical Columbia Records to release a double album for this then unknown group. Furthering the mystique of this album are the hard rock experimental tracks, which are at times intriguing and at times superfluous.
The roots of Chicago come from two distinct lines in and around the city which gave the group its name. The three primary members of the horn section, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, reed player Walter Parazaider and trombonist James Pankow were all music students at DePaul University. When the trio began playing in the clubs of the city, they encountered the rock and blues musicians which made up the other “side” of Chicago, primarily guitarist Terry Kath and drummer Danny Seraphine. By early 1967, the group was in place and rehearsing in Parazaider’s basement under their original name “The Big Thing”.
During the summer of 1968, Guercio moved the band to Los Angeles. As manager and producer, he set the pace for the band, making living arrangements, setting the practice schedule, and eventually changing their name to Chicago Transit Authority. The recordings for this double LP were made in short order in January 1969 and included the synthesis of electric guitar rock and deeply rooted blues and jazz arrangements. This brave foray into primal rock and free form jazz led to a unique water mark in the progression of rock and roll.
Chicago Transit Authorityby Chicago
Released: April 28, 1969 (Columbia) Produced by: James William Guercio Recorded: Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, January 1969
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Questions 67 and 68
Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man
Prologue, August 29, 1968
Someday (August 29, 1968)
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals Robert Lamm – Keyboards, Vocals Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals Lee Loughnane – Trumpets James Pankow – Trombone Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds, Percussion, Vocals Danny Seraphine – Drums
Chicago Transit Authority contains four sides with three songs each. Kath’s “Introduction” has a simple title for such a complex song with multiple parts and passages, almost like the group wanted to throw everything at the audience right up front. The long middle section between verses contains vastly diverse sections, albeit has rather routine phrasing, and is driven by the terrific drumming of Seraphine.
The most prolific writer on this first album is keyboardist Robert Lamm.”Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” is the first popular, radio-friendly song on the album. While an infectiously classic piece of popular music which showcases all aspects of the group’s refined sound, the song is also a very philosophical piece lyrically. In all, everyone brought their ‘A’ game on this song, from the great lead and backing vocals, to the potent horns, melodic piano, and pleasant rhythms. On “Beginnings” Lamm switches to acoustic guitar for a pleasant and upbeat folksy feel. Seraphine’s interesting drum variations complement the overall drive of the acoustic and bass and he adds a long percussion outro to a crescendo of horns in the “only the beginning” section, which only serves to heighten the romanticism of this song.
Side two begins with “Questions 67 and 68” where we first hear Peter Cetera, the future “voice” of Chicago. He sings melodic vocals and tradeoffs with Lamm and the song itself is so melodic and pleasant to the point where it seems like the horn section is a bit extraneous (or at least, a little over-used). The song was released as a single and reached #24 on the US charts. “Listen” is a succinct, driving rocker with sustained guitar feedback, funky bass, organ, and more horn accents along with a good rock guitar lead by Kath. Lamm’s extended “Poem 58” is really two tracks fused as one. With a total funk guitar riff intro, the over five minute power-trio jam among Kath, Cetera, and Seraphine, sans-lyrics. Deep into the track, the rather disorganized jam becomes a proper song with vocals and horns above the basic guitar riffs by Cetera and Kath.
The oddest track on the album, Kath’s “Free Form Guitar”, begins the third side as a one take guitar expression. According to the album’s original liner notes, the solo performance by Kath was created without the use of any pedals or effects. “South California Purples” contains a very basic blues groove, driven by Cetera’s bass guitar. This leaves plenty of room for casual musical flourishes, first by Lamm’s Hammond organ and later Kath’s electric guitar. Although very repetitive, the song is interesting in its unique approach to traditional blues progression. The side ends with the only cover song on the album, “I’m a Man”, originally recorded by the Spencer Davis Group. The most interesting part of the over-seven minute song is the very potent intro groove by Cetera and Serephine. While similar to Deep Purple’s unique rock reinterpretations on their 1968 albums, there really isn’t much here beyond the brilliant intro.
Much like we concluded in our assessment of the Beatles’ White Album (another double length album), side four is unfortunately the weakest part of the album where the sound is the least fresh. “Prologue, August 29, 1968” is an odd montage of recorded chants from the 1968 Democratic convention protests in Chicago without very good editing. It acts as a lead-in for “Someday (August 29, 1968)”, co-written by Pankow, and featuring a doomy start before it breaks into a decent and melodic tune over the course of two verses. After meandering for about a half minute with studio ambiance, the closer “Liberation” breaks into a good upbeat jam, first led by the horn section until Kath takes over for a very extended guitar solo. However, just about four minutes in the jam begins to lose focus (and Kath’s guitar starts to sound out of tune) – and we still have ten minutes to go at this point! In all, the nearly fifteen minute song does little more than fill in the final side of the album.
In spite of this weak conclusion, Chicago Transit Authority is a fine album and an historic debut. It originally charted in the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic and found renewed success as the group’s popularity rose through the early 1970s. Shortly after this album’s release, legal action was threatened by the actual Chicago Transit Authority, and the group decided to simply reduce their name to Chicago, which they still use to this day.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.
Bob Seger released his tenth overall album, Stranger In Town, in 1978. It follows the major commercial breakthrough of Night Moves, and expands the practice of using two groups of backing musicians. Seger used his own backing Silver Bullet Band and the famous Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section from Alabama, with each playing on about half the tracks. The result is an album which contains a balanced mixture of rock anthems and poignant ballads with lyrical topics of restlessness, escape, and longing which defined blue collar rock ethic. Upon its release, the album rocketed up the charts in the United States and was certified platinum less than a month after the release.
One change within the Silver Bullet band was drummer David Teegarden, who replaced original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin. While walking on a road, Martin was hit by a car from behind and was left unable to walk.
The overall theme of Stranger In Town is dealing with the sudden rise to fame and adapting to the changes that happen when becoming a star. For Seger, this rise came when he was on the north side of thirty and mature enough to wax philosophical about shallowness and keep perspective on his own roots and character. The resultant success of this second straight blockbuster served to not only solidify his success but actually increase it.
Stranger In Townby Bob Seger
Released: May 5, 1978 (Capitol) Produced by: Bob Seger, Punch Andrews, & Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Recorded: Criteria Sound Studios, Miami, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama, Sound Suite Studios, Detroit, Michigan, 1977-78
Still the Same
Old Time Rock and Roll
Till It Shines
Feel Like a Number
Ain’t Got No Money
We’ve Got Tonight
The Famous Final Scene
Bob Seger – Guitars, Vocals Robyn Robbins – Keyboards Barry Beckett – Keyboards Drew Abbott – Guitars Pete Carr – Guitars Chris Campbell – Bass Alto Reed – Saxophone Roger Hawkins – Drums, Percussion
The album rolls to a start with “Hollywood Nights”, a driving rocker held down by Teegarden’s drums. This story-telling song with the late seventies subject of the “gone Hollywood” theme never really gets off the basic beat and patterns but still feels satisfying as a pure rocker and reached the Top 20 on the charts. “Still the Same” strikes a more somber vibe. Led by the piano of Robyn Robbins, this almost country-like tune has a unique arrangement with only one real verse and chorus and a truncated variation following the short piano lead section. The theme continues the Hollywood scene and the attitude which seemed foreign to Seger. Commercially, “Still the Same” was a big hit, reaching #4 on the pop singles chart.
The next two songs prominently feature the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. “Old Time Rock and Roll” was presented to Seger by the group during the album sessions. Composed by George Jackson and Thomas Jones, Seger re-wrote most of the lyrics but failed to take a songwriting credit. He later admitted this was “the dumbest thing I ever did”, as this nostalgic look at the music of a previous generation became a staple at weddings and parties for decades to come has been ranked the second-most played jukebox single of all time. “Till It Shines” is probably the most perfect song for the group, filling it with sonic décor throughout the introspective in the acoustic number. The philosophical lyrics are delivered with a pleasant melody above a pleasant ensemble of steady music, which includes a guitar lead by Eagle Glenn Frey.
“Feel Like a Number” is sort of the default theme song of the album and it demonstrates how the sequencing of the album works by counter-balancing ballads with rockers. The song is a typical working class song about one being lost in the world around him, which shows him little or no respect. The Frankie Miller cover “Ain’t Got No Money” closely mimics “The Fire Down Below” from Night Moves, almost to the point of plagiarism. Another Eagle, Don Felder provides the guitar solo. “We’ve Got Tonight” is a piano ballad which has an almost Neil Diamond quality at the top. This was another hit single for Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, reaching number 13 on the U.S. pop charts and an even bigger hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton when they remade it in 1983.
“Brave Strangers” has an epic quality to it and is the finest song on side two. After a couple of upbeat, driving verses, the song halts and goes into a moderate jazzy section highlighted by the piano of Doug Riley, the saxophone of Alto Reed, and fine backing vocals. Thematically the song is a sequence to (or retelling of) the scene in the song “Night Moves”, reliving that evocative and nostalgic tale. “The Famous Final Scene” continues the cinematic scope of “Brave Strangers” but as a mellow ballad carried by Muscle Shoals’ twin guitarists Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. But the real highlight is the piano and organ by Barry Beckett, which adds the dripping melancholy to the album’s final song.
Mirroring the sales of Night Moves, Stranger In Town would eventually go six times platinum. With this continued success, Seger tried his hand at songwriting for other artists and co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit “Heartache Tonight” in 1979. The following year he released his third consecutive blockbuster album with Against the Wind, which became his first and only #1 album.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.