Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

#481- Steve Earle- Guitar Town- 1986

May 22, 2013

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The Artist:

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Stephen Fain Earle was on January 17, 1955 in Monroe, Virginia, but his family moved to San Antonio, Texas when he was a toddler.

Growing up in Texas, he fell in love with the music of fellow Texan, Townes Van Zandt.  Steve had learned to play guitar by the age of 11, and at 14 he ran away from home to try and become a musician and follow Van Zandt on tour.

He dropped out of high school at 16 and moved to Houston to live with a musician uncle.  A couple of years later, Earle moved to Nashville to be part of the music scene there.  He was only 18, but he was working odd jobs during the day, and playing bass in Texas-born Country artist Guy Clark’s backing band at night.

After a couple of years in Nashville he got a job as a staff songwriter for the Sunbury Dunbar publishing house.  During his time there, he had little success writing hit songs.  He went back to Texas to try and make it as a performer again, this time forming a band called The Dukes.

After failing to make a splash again as an artist, Earle returned to Nashville to go back to work as a staff songwriter.  He finally had some success, writing “When You Fall In Love,” which was recorded by Johnny Lee in 1982, and went to #14 on the Country charts.  He also had one of his songs recorded by the legendary Carl Perkins, “Mustang Wine.”

The publishing house he was now working for was run by Roy Dea and Pat Clark.  They started up their own independent record label in 1982, LSI Recordings.  Before they even started the label, they asked Steve if he wanted to record an album for them.  Earle was excited about getting a recording deal, and brought his band, The Dukes, to Nashville to record with him.

The recordings turned out a 4 song EP, which he titled Pink & Black.

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The sound on the EP was more of a Rockabilly style than Country, but it was warmly received by the Country music critics, especially critic John Lomax.  Lomax thought that Earle should get a major recording deal and sent a copy of the EP to people he knew at Epic Records.  Epic signed Earle, and Earle hired Lomax to be his manager.

Epic took one of the tracks off of the EP, “Nothin’ But You,” and released it as a single.  However, the label did not promote the single in any way, which upset Earle.

He began recording his first album for the label in 1983.  The music he was doing was the same type of rockabilly music that he was doing on Pink & Black.  The label hated it and felt it was not commercial, and refused to release what he had recorded.  They forced him back into the studio to record a more commercial album, with a new producer, Emory Gordy, Jr, who had worked with people such as Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Tom Petty, and John Denver.

Emory Gordy, Jr.

Emory Gordy, Jr.

The pair worked together pretty well, and recorded four songs for singles and b-sides.  Epic accepted the tracks, but did not bother promoting them again.  Fed up with the way the label was treating him, Steve was not terribly upset when the label dropped him in 1984.  He also fired Lomax as his manager since he was connected with Epic.

He went to work again as a songwriter on Nashville’s Music Row, this time signing with the publishing house of Silverline Goldline.  After working for a couple of years there, he met producer Tony Brown, who was working for MCA records.  Brown had a lot of clout around Nashville, as he had been producing albums for most of their top Country stars such as George Strait and Rodney Crowell.

Tony Brown

Tony Brown

Brown talked to MCA execs about signing Steve Earle, and they ended up offering him a seven album deal to record on their label.  Earle was now 31 years old and knew he had to agree to sign the deal if he was ever going to make it as an artist in Nashville.

He began assembling everybody he had worked with before to help him record his debut album on the label.  The Dukes would be his backing band and Emory Gordy, Jr. would co-produce the album with Tony Brown.

Recording of the album commenced in late 1985 at Sound Stage Studio in Nashville and it would be one of the first Country albums to be recorded all digitally.  By this time, Earle was no longer interested in recording the neo-rockabilly music that he was attempting during the Epic recording sessions years prior.  He was now more interested in mixing the popular “heartland” rock of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen with old-time, twangy Country.

The Album Cover:

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The cover is a grainy black and white picture of Earle with his guitar strapped to his back, dressed in a denim jacket, in front of a store front that is advertising a couple more guitars.  I guess the concept of the cover is that this is a literal guitar town with everyone carrying a guitar and guitars hanging in store windows like cuts of meat.  I have searched the internet, but I can’t find any information on what store that is, but I’m sure it is somewhere around Nashville.  The title and his name are in a kind of odd party font in red-orange.  Also, notice the Digital Recording logo in the bottom left corner, which was something new to see on a Country music album.

The album title is taken from the opening track of the album, written by Earle, which is the song which is one of the most autobiographical on the LP, about being in Texas after leaving the “guitar town.”  Of course the “guitar town” he is referring to is Nashville, the city which has formed so much of who he was as a songwriter.

The back cover is bright orange with the track listing and album credits in top left corner and the rest of the cover is used for the lyrics, very basic design.

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The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of Guitar Town released on MCA Records in 1986.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience, although since this is a digital recording, it can be argued that the CD version may be best.  However, the album was not released on CD until a few years later as the original release was only on LP and cassette.)

The title track “Guitar Town” opens the album.  It’s definitely one of the best Country songs of the 1980’s.  Awesome opening track streak continues!  I love the surf sounding organ and guitar on the track.  He proves right away that he is a fantastic wordsmith with the line “I gotta two pack habit and a motel tan.”  I just don’t think anyone outside of Country music can turn phrases like that.

The next track, “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left” is a another great track.  I love him saying he can “smell” a heartache’s coming.

But, can he smell what The Rock is cookin'?

But, can he smell what The Rock is cookin’?

Hillbilly Highway” is the one song of his that I remember still being played on Country radio in the early 90’s when I first started listening to it.  It is the most traditionally Country song yet.  I love the “explosive” pedal steel guitar that comes in a couple of times for a few seconds.  It’s great in every way.

Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)” sounds like a more-Country John Mellencamp song, both in music and lyrical content.  This is another great, well-written track.  It has a little more of a rock edge than the previous tracks.  I love the lines “A twenty thousand dollar pickup truck/Belongs to me and the bank and some funny talkin’ man from Iran.”  To me, Country music songwriters, on the whole, are the best at writing songs that explain real life than any other genre’s writers, Hip Hop lyricists are the only ones that come close (one day I’ll write about the many similarities in Country and Rap music.)

And no, I will not be referencing Nelly and Tim McGraw

And no, I will not be referencing Nelly and Tim McGraw

Side one ends on “My Old Friend the Blues.” It sounds like it was very influential on Garth Brooks.  I mean it sounds just like something Garth would do.  It’s good, but my least favorite song on the album so far, although his singing is very good on here.  An oddball fact, it was covered (in an almost exact copy) a few years later by those guys that sang “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles,)” The Proclaimers.

Side Two opens with “Someday” which is one of those great Country songs about wanting to leave a small town.  I grew up in small towns, and while I personally can’t relate to the “trapped in a small town thought,” since I still spent most of my time not in the towns I lived in, but I knew/know those people and this song perfectly describes how it is.  The thing is that Steve, I assume, is writing from a purely fictional prospective, unless he had a brother that did play college football that I don’t know about.

The only Earle I can remember in football back then is Earl Campbell, and as far as I know he and Steve are not related.

The only Earle I can remember in football back then is Earl Campbell, and as far as I know he and Steve are not related.

Think It Over” sounds like something from 1950’s Country.  Also sounds a lot like what Dwight Yoakam would be doing a few months later when he releases his debut album.  Pretty good track.

Fearless Heart” is okay, but it is too much like one of those paint-by-numbers Music Row songs (4 line verse followed by 4 line chorus.)  It’s still good, but nothing that makes too big an impression.  Although, I think that is a synthesizer somewhere in there, that’s not common on a Country record.

Little Rock ‘n’ Roller” is a great, sweet, sad song that touches on two of the best subgenres of Country music: trucker songs and “I love my child” songs.  I’m sure some people think those things are cheesy, but screw those people, I love when Country touches on its favorite subjects.  This album is just missing a song about a relative dying, an “America is the greatest” song, and a “come to Jesus” song, and then it would touch on all of Country’s favorite song subjects.

I’ve always thought that the abundance of trucker songs in Country music, besides trying to appeal to truckers, are because they are disguised true stories of a “musician on the road” that attempt to hide that they are implicating themselves from being away from their family for extended periods of time.  I’m sure that’s what’s going on here, as his son, Justin Townes Earle, (yes he was named after Townes Van Zant) was 4 years old at this time.

Justin is now a very successful alt-country artist in his own right.

Justin is now a very successful alt-country artist in his own right.

Down The Road” opens up like some lost Stanley Brothers’ bluegrass song.  It is very different than the rest of the album, mostly due to Steve’s singing style here but also there are mandolins that come in, making it even more bluegrass sounding.  Bill Monroe must’ve been proud.  The ending acapella line “on the blue side of evening, when the darkness takes control” is very haunting.  A great closer to the album.

During this review, I mentioned how a couple of songs reminded me of Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks.  Neither of them had released their debut albums, yet.  Here, Steve Earle is doing stuff that would change Country and influence most of the artists that dominated Country radio during the early 90s, which was a very lucrative time for the medium.

Country is not a music genre that requires, nor promotes the concept of albums.  It is a very singles-driven style. The way that Nashville works, with the assembly line concept on music on Music Row, it just does not lend itself to assembling great, flowing albums.  However, giving a “hands-off” approach to a singer-songwriter like Steve Earle, who does have that ability to put together a whole album’s worth of his own material, worked well, and on this album he succeeded in putting together a great Country album.

Aftermath:

Guitar Town was immediately a huge success.  It shot up to #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and reached #89 on the Billboard 200.  The title track reached both the Billboard Country singles top 10 and the Mainstream Rock top 20 charts. “Goodbye’s All We Got Left” also made the Country top ten, peaking at #8.  Both songs were all over Country music radio in 1986-87.  “Someday” and “Hillbilly Highway” both reached the Country top 40.  All four tracks were huge hits on the Canadian Country music charts, too.  The album was eventually certified Gold, and he was nominated for 2 Grammys that year, as Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song, for “Guitar Town.”

In 1987,  Earle followed up Guitar Town with Exit 0.

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The album was this time credited to Steve Earle & The Dukes.  It was another successful release for Earle containing the hit “Nowhere Road” and garnering him two more Grammy Award nominations for Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song for “Nowhere Road.”

Earle wanted to record world’s first blend of heavy metal and bluegrass.  He released his attempt at this 1988’s Copperhead Road.

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The album became Earle’s biggest hit to date, reaching #56 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, and the title track nearly made the top 40 on the Hot 100.  It got good reviews from both Country and Rock music critics.  It was one of the New York Times’ Rock Albums of the Week in October 1988.

The album opened up a new fanbase for Earle, with rock fans now listening to his music.  Also, the Irish band, The Pogues, appeared on the album which brought him notoriety in the UK, as the album reached #42 on the charts there.

It was two years before Earle released another album, 1990’s The Hard Way.

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During the ensuing tour, his fans noted that he looked ill and pale.  He disappeared from the public view for three years before he made headlines for being arrested for heroin and cocaine possession and weapons charges.  He was sentenced to a year in prison.

He was released after 60 days and went into a drug rehab program.  After leaving rehab, Steve began writing songs about his recovery from heroin addiction and time in prison.

Several Country artists, such as Travis Tritt, recorded some of his songs in the mid 90’s.  In 1996, he returned to recording, releasing Train a Comin’, which was an album of acoustic, folk-country.  The album picked up a Grammy nomination for best Contemporary Folk Album.

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Earle has always been politically outspoken, promoting many left-wing causes, appearing at Farm Aid, and most notably he has campaigned to end the Death Penalty.

He has been growing his beard out for many years, making him almost unrecognizable from the young guy on the Guitar Town cover.

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Also he has done some acting in recent years, including appearing the character Walon on HBO’s The Wire and as himself on 30 Rock (he was one of the artists performing as part of the Season 3 charity concert and at the end of the episode singing “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell.”)

Earle wrote both a novel and recorded an album with the title of I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive which were released in 2011.

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The novel was about a former doctor that now makes a living by performing illegal abortions and is haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams.  The album was produced by T-Bone Burnett and was nominated for another Grammy. He continues to perform all over the US and Canada to this day.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “I got a two-pack habit and a motel tan,” Earle sings on the title track. By the time he released his debut at 31, he had done two stints in Nashville as a songwriter and he wanted something else. Guitar Town is the rocker’s version of country, packed with songs about hard living in the Reagan Eighties.”

Yes, he does sing that lyric on the title track, but what about it, guys?  Also, I don’t think there is much on the album at all about hard living. I think that the album’s theme is mostly about breaking away (from a small town, from your job, from your economic situation.)  They just know that Earle sings songs about hard living now, and did not bother figuring out the chronology of when he started singing about that.

Conclusion:

This is one of my favorite albums I’ve reviewed so far, lyrically.  I admit I have a bias, since I grew up listening to Country music, but Country music has the best lyrics of any genre, as a whole, and Steve Earle is one of the best of the bunch.  I didn’t love everything on the album, but I very much recommend anyone pick it up and give it a listen, whether you like Country music or not.

4.5 out of 5 Stars, highly recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

That’s the second 4.5 star rating in a row I’ve given.  I think I still like the Bonnie Raitt and Outkast albums a little more, but I’ll settle this one spot ahead of Gang Of Four, again, due to it being slightly more accessible.  Hey look, now I have a Top 20.

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. Mott The Hoople- All The Young Dudes

4. KISS- Destroyer

5. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

6. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

7. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

8. Outkast- Aquemini

9. Steve Earle- Guitar Town

10. Gang Of Four- Entertainment!

11. Earth, Wind & Fire– That’s The Way Of The World

12. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

13. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

14. Pearl Jam- Vitalogy

15. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

16. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

17. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual

18. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

19. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

20. Eurythmics- Touch

#482- Gang Of Four- Entertainment!- 1979

May 19, 2013

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The Artists:

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So far, during these reviews, I’ve touched on stuff that I knew a lot about already (mainstream rock,) stuff that I knew a bit about already (blues, hip hop,) stuff that I knew about at a novice level (jazz,) and stuff I knew very little about (hardcore punk.)  Doing this review of Gang Of Four brings me to something that is new to me: neo-Marxist post-punk.

The band was formed in Leeds, England in 1977 when all four were students at Leeds University.  Jon King and Andy Gill had known each other since they were part of the art program in high school, both attending the famed Sevenoaks School.

King was originally from London and was getting a degree in art at the University.  It was decided he would be the lead singer.

Jon King

Jon King

His friend, Andy Gill, was also continuing to study art at the University.  He could play guitar, so he would be the band’s guitarist.

Andy Gill

Andy Gill

While hanging around campus, those two met English literature major Hugo Burnham.  Burnham was an actor and, more importantly to them, a skilled drummer.

Hugo Burnham

Hugo Burnham

The trio bonded over their far left-wing politics. They had all been inspired politically by reading about the 1968 Paris student uprising. They would regularly meet up at the local Fenton Pub to drink and discuss ways of helping to bring an end to capitalism.

The pub was a major hangout for many others with Marxist beliefs and regularly the band would be part of brawls that involved people coming into the place espousing counter political thoughts. They considered themselves to be neo-Marxists since they believed in a more critical theory mixed with Marxism, known as the Frankfurt School of thought.

Their idea of spreading their neo-Marxist message was as a band.  They had a singer, a guitarist, and a drummer, all they needed was a bassist.  Burnham put up an ad around campus saying “‘Fast rivvum & blues band requires a fast rivvum & blues bass player.” The spelling was a code for someone who plays in a punk style.

Dave Allen, a graphic design student, answered the ad.  The guys liked his playing and added him to the band.

Dave Allen

Dave Allen

Another punk band had formed on campus at the same time, The Mekons.  Mekons member Mark White had gone to high school with King and Gill, and they all hung out together around campus.  King and Gill’s band were looking for a name, when one of the Mekons held up a newspaper article about the leaders of the Chinese Communist Cultural Revolution, known as “The Gang of Four,” they knew that name was perfect for their band since it was both accurate in number and had a tie to a political revolution.

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The Original Gang of Four

The band began to play guitar-driven punk, but they mixed it with reggae and dance beats.  King began writing lyrics that included his neo-Marxist ideals mixed with regular song subject matter like life and love.  They developed a band manifesto: “”No corny lyrics, no obvious melodies and no change of key.”  They performed around the campus area, and hired a friend, Rob Warr, to be their manager.

Warr got them to record a tape of one of their performances to send to Scotland-based independent record label, Fast Product, who had already signed their friends, The Mekons.  Fast Product’s execs liked them and gave them a deal to record a 3 song EP for the label.

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The EP titled Damaged Goods found its way into the hands of several club DJs, and it began being played as dance club music.

They had a club hit, which brought them to the attention of the magazine, New Music Express.  They became the first unsigned band to appear on that publication’s cover.

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This made them a hot property.  An exec at EMI got in touch with the band to try to sign them.  The band issued a list of demands before signing, including creative control of all recordings and, the then unusual, claim of ownership of their songs.  EMI agreed and signed the band in early 1979.

The band liked the irony that they would be on this worldwide conglomerate music label while putting out albums with lyrics that fought against that very thing.  They were able to secure the same type of deal in America, with Warner Brothers records agreeing to distribute their albums in the states.

They toured extensively, building up a large fan base, before going into the Workhouse Studio in London to record their debut album.  King and Gill would mainly produce the album with help from their manager Rob Warr.

The Album Cover:

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The cover was designed by King and Gill (putting their art degrees to good use.)  The front cover is bright red, which gets your attention.  The only pictures are three odd stills incrementally zoomed in. It’s a picture from a western with a frontiersman shaking hands with a Native American.

The band discovered the picture in a copy of French TV Guide and thought they could add a political message to it.  They painted the Native’s face red and the cowboy’s face white to drive their point across.  The text around the pics pushes forward their anti-capitalist beliefs saying, “The Indian smiles, he thinks the cowboy is his friend.  The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled.  Now he can exploit him.”

The title Entertainment! is meant to be both ironic and a real feeling of theirs.  There is a line in the song “5.45” off the album that says “Guerrilla war struggle is a new entertainment.”  So partially it is a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that their music is not going to be considered mainstream entertainment, but also the idea that so much of the upper class looks at their struggle to fight against them, with protests and riots, as entertainment on the nightly news.

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The back is covered in very colorful rectangles splashed all over the back.  The track listing is in the bottom right corner the rest of the back cover is used to tell another political story.

There is a picture of a fat person with his face colored blue with the text “I spend most of our money on myself so that I can stay fat.”  Then the bottom left corner has a picture of a woman and some kids with a smiling yellow mask over the woman’s face and the text above it reads “Look how happy they are!”  That picture shows up again on the right hand side of the cover with the text “We’re grateful for his leftovers.”  In the middle of the cover it reads “Those who decide what everyone will do will grow rich because their decisions are made in their interest.  They are pleased at how well they rule the others.  The others smile too, thinking that their rulers know best.”

The innersleeve has lyrics on one side and on the other side there a black and white screenshots from TVs.  Each shot has text sarcastically referencing what the media wants you to think.  For example, a shot of police fighting back against rioters with the phrase “The police act impartially to defend the rights of a minority group.”

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The Album:

I am reviewing the US vinyl LP release of Entertainment! released on Warner Brothers Records in 1980. The original UK release came out in 1979 on EMI.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

Ether” has a cool opening bass part and crisscrossing vocals, which are interesting. It has odd little drop-outs that make me think my turntable is skipping, but I know it is supposed to be like that because Rolling Stone mentioned in their review in 1980 that it has “jarring stops and starts.”  Great opening track.  The awesome opening track streak continues!

Natural’s Not In It” is the most famous track off the album.  It’s an awesome rock song with a great guitar riff. I’d go so far to say it is one of the best songs of punk or post-punk, really great stuff.  It includes the lyric, “sell out, maintain the interest.”  Which is funny considering the interesting life that this song will have in the 2010’s that I’ll discuss in the Aftermath section.

Hint: It has something to do with this picture.

Hint: It has something to do with this picture.

Not Great Men” is a cool track with a definite dance bassline.  The whole song is very danceable,  Of course that would mean that you would be dancing to a song about how it is the proletariat that makes the great moments in history happen and not the ruling class.

Get down and boogie, ye comrades!

Get down and boogie, ye comrades!

Damaged Goods” is a remake of the song off their EP.  It’s kinda a love song, or maybe a an anti-love song.  Actually its more about introspection and how he thinks he loves this girl, but knows it’s really that he is just lusting after her.  Another good track.

Return the Gift” is good, too.  I don’t like the opening so much, but as it goes on, it gets much better.  Quite poppy, it reminds me of some other song that I can’t place, which is annoying me.

Side one ends with “Guns Before Butter” is a little more of what I was expecting before hearing the album.  It is more traditional punk with the instruments not playing together for a lot of it.  Also it might be the most political song yet on the album.  I guess the matching of my expectations means I like this song a lot. I may not agree with their politics, but I do find it interesting to hear how they put their politics in song. The title is referring to the economic theory of guns vs. butter, which asks whether a government wants to spend more money on defense or consumer goods.

What about the guns vs. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter theory?

What about the “guns vs. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” theory?

Side two opens with. “I Found That Essence Rare.” It’s another guitar-driven track that is a little funky.  I think it is an anti-nuclear song, but some say it is an anti-mainstream media song.  Either way, it is a good track.

Glass” sounds like Devo doing a cover of the Byrds’ “So You Wanna Be A Rock N’ Roll Star” to me.  I like Devo and the Byrds, but that makes this sound a little unoriginal to me.  Although it wasn’t until I heard this track that I noticed that King actually has a pretty good voice in places.  The lyrics are quite unsubstantial.  It’s just okay.

Contract” has a cool, funkafied, opening beat.  I like this one, it’s groovy.  Although I’m not sure if it is supposed to be about bad sex or about the government.

Or perhaps both?

Or perhaps both?

At Home He’s A Tourist” might be the best song yet.  I like the guitar starting and stopping.  This was the single off of the album, and it made it to #58 on the UK charts before the release of the album.  It has great beat and actually has the word “disco” in it.  But of course, it is about anti-consumerism, which I’m sure was lost on a majority of the people buying the track.

Betty Jo Johnson requested this song.  She says it has a good beat, you can dance to it, and down with the bourgeois fat cats.

Miss Betty Jo Johnson requested this song.  She says, “it has a good beat and you can dance to it.”  She also says, “P. S. Down with the bourgeois fat cats!”

5.45” is the song that contains the lyric from where the title comes from, “Guerilla war struggle is a new entertainment.”  Pretty good, but not terribly interesting as it’s mostly just a straightforward political, punk track, with the exception that it has one of those keyboard-kazoo things, a melodica, at the beginning of the song, which I doubt appeared in many punk songs before this one.

This thing.

This thing.

Anthrax” was another re-record of a track on their original EP. It opens with a huge amount of feedback. It is some really cool noise-rock.  It’s kind of a dark, moody all minor note track.  There is one person reading other lyrics while the singing is going on, causing a chaotic sound.  It’s also the second song that is an anti-love song, comparing falling in love to catching a case of anthrax.  I really like the sound of this one, a good way to end the album.

I wasn’t expecting this music to be as musical as it was. I guess I’m starting to understand the difference in punk and post-punk.  I like it when bands use music for a political message, even when it is one I disagree with, because I find other people’s opinions interesting.  This might be the first album I’ve reviewed where I found it more interesting than enjoyable, and yet I still enjoyed it.

Aftermath:

Entertainment! helped the band gain popularity to the point that they performed to sold out houses in Europe and the US.  The band was invited to perform on the BBC’s highly rated music show, Top Of The Pops.  The censors told them that they had to change some lyrics for TV, the band was against changing lyrics so they decided to not move when performing on the show and just stand there in protest.  When the producers heard that that was what they were planning to do, they cancelled the band’s performance on the show.

Their second album, Solid Gold, was released 2 years later.

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Dave Allen left after the sophomore album, as he was interested in working on other projects.  He was replaced by Sara Lee, who had played bass in the band The League of Gentlemen.

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Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.

The addition of Lee added a new dynamic to the band, as she shared some vocals on the album, giving a different sound with a female voice in there.  Also it has been said that her bass playing added a more commercial sound to the band on their third album, Songs Of The Free.

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Hugo Burnham left after Songs Of The Free, forming the band Illustrated Man in 1983.  That left King and Gill as the only remaining original members, instead of adding a new drummer, they decided to end the band.

Seven years later King and Gill got back together as a duo to perform as Gang Of Four again, releasing a poorly received album titled Mall.  Their political stance of anti-consumerism had fallen out of favor by the early 90’s, and they now sounded dated.

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The original Gang Of Four lineup reformed for a world tour in 2004, and released an album of re-recordings of many of the songs off their first 3 albums.  They stayed together until 2006 when Hugo Burnham decided to retire from the music business.  Dave Allen left again in 2008, leaving King and Gill to continue on again as Gang Of Four.

They drew some heat from many long time fans for licensing “Natural’s Not In It” to Microsoft for their advertisements for the new Kinect for XBox 360.  Some thought that allowing a major corporation to use their music went against the band’s original neo-marxist, anti-consumerist beliefs.  Their response was that they “were always less interested in smashing storefronts than in exploring the anxiety of consumerism.”

You guys rock!

“You guys rock!  Now, here’s a few million, gimme your song.”

They released their most recent album, Content, in 2011.

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It got high praise from music critics, landing on some year-end top 10 lists.  After a tour of North America and Europe, King and Gill decided to go their separate ways, ending the band once again.

King currently works as a managing director of an advertising agency.  Gill has continued to work in the music business, producing several albums for Chinese rock bands.  I think that it’s interesting that he is producing for Chinese bands considering the origin of the band’s name.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “Formed in 1977, Gang of Four combined Marxist politics with punk rock. They played staccato guitar-driven funk, and the stiff, jerky aggression of songs such as “Damaged Goods” and “I Found That Essence Rare” invented a new style that influenced bands from the Minutemen to LCD Soundsystem.”

The book version says basically the same thing with the exception of the last sentence which says “…style that’s still influencing young bands such as The Rapture.”  I guess The Rapture aren’t considered important enough to be mentioned in the blurb by Rolling Stone in 2012.  It’s interesting that they took out the “young bands” part and included Minutemen as someone who were influenced by Gang Of Four, when Minutemen were exact contemporaries of Gang of Four.  That’s not to say they didn’t influence them, because they probably did, but I think it is interesting that Rolling Stone changed their take to include two bands that have albums on the revised 500 list and removed the name of a band that does not.

Conclusion:

What I am enjoying about doing these reviews is how I am learning about genres of music that I was not an expert in.  I now understand really what post-punk is, when I only had a rudimentary knowledge of it before, and I like it.  Well, at least I like this album.  As I said earlier, I find the political lyrics interesting and the music is funky and rocking.  I have no problems giving this album a high recommendation.

4.5 out of 5 Stars, highly recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

I now have 3 albums that I’ve given a rating of 4.5 to.  As much as I like this album, I feel that Give It Up and Aquemini are much more accessible and I would prefer to put one of those two on the turntable, just to give a listen, before I would this one.  This album takes a little more effort to get in the mood for listening to it, thus I’ll rated a little lower than those two.

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. Mott The Hoople- All The Young Dudes

4. KISS- Destroyer

5. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

6. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

7. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

8. Outkast- Aquemini

9. Gang Of Four- Entertainment!

10. Earth, Wind & Fire– That’s The Way Of The World

11. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

12. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

13. Pearl Jam- Vitalogy

14. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

15. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

16. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual

17. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

18. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

19. Eurythmics- Touch

#483- Mott The Hoople- All The Young Dudes- 1972

May 15, 2013

album-all-the-young-dudes

The Artists:

mott-the-hoople-bw

Who knows? That cheesy lounge band playing in a ski resort may just one day record two of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Look out Timberlake and Ke$ha.

Look out Timberlake and Ke$ha.

I mean, it sort of has been done before.  Perhaps they weren’t doing lounge music, but in 1966, a band from Herefordshire, England came to an Italian Resort to be a house band at the resort’s club. The band, called The Doc Thomas Group, was made up of Stan Tippins, Mick Ralphs, Dave Tedstone, Pete Watts and Bob Hall.

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Stan Tippins was the vocalist, Dave Tedstone was a guitarist, and Bob Hall was the drummer.

Mick Ralphs had been a member of a blues-rock band, The Buddies, since he was in his teens.  He joined The Doc Thomas Group as their lead guitarist just before they left for Italy.

Mick Ralphs

Mick Ralphs (Was every other British rocker of the 60’s named Mick?)

Pete Overend Watts was the bassist for the band.

Pete Overend Watts

Pete Watts

The group was discovered while performing at the resort and got a recording contract on the Italian label, Dischi Interrecord.  They released one self-titled album on the label in 1966.

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The band toured throughout Italy over the next couple of years.  By 1968, they had added two new members.

Bob Hall was replaced on drums by another Herefordshire-based musician working in Italy, Dale “Buffin” Griffin.

Dale "Buffin" Griffin

Dale “Buffin” Griffin

Also, the band added an organist into the band with Verden Allen.

Verden Allen

Verden Allen

Allen had been in an R&B band, The Inmates, and had played organ behind a young Jimmy Cliff.

The band moved back to England and started touring the UK.  By this time, they had changed their name to Silence.  Silence went into Rockfield Studios in Wales to record some demos.  They began shopping the demos to various UK record labels.  The only label that showed any interest in signing the band was Island Records.

Island executive and producer, Guy Stevens, liked the band’s playing, but did not like Tippins as the lead singer.  He agreed to sign the band if they would let him put an ad out for a lead singer to replace Tippins.  Tippins stayed with the group, becoming their road manager.

The ad said “Singer wanted, must be image-minded and hungry.”  Several singers auditioned, but one showed up in mirrored sunglasses and wild curly hair. He was the closest to what Stevens was looking for.

The singer’s name was Ian Hunter.

Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter

Hunter had been in the music business as far back as 1958.  He had moved from one group to another over the next decade.  By 1969, Hunter was married with two children.  He was no longer a full-time musician, working part-time as both a newspaper reporter and in road construction.  He went to the audition for the band “on a lark,” thinking that he had no chance. During the audition, he showed that he could play both guitar and piano, as well as sing, and Stevens added him to the band.

Guy Stevens had been jailed in the mid-sixties for a drug offense.

This guy did drugs?

Really? This guy did drugs?

While trying to pass the time in prison, he had read a book by Willard Manus about a circus freak show, titled Mott The Hoople.

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Stevens loved the name of the book, and since the time that he had first started working for Island, he had been wanting to have a rock band on the label by that name.  He told Silence to change their name to Mott the Hoople.  The band was not keen with changing their name, but Stevens made it a condition of signing them, so they eventually relented.

The band did not go out and play together live with Hunter, but instead Stevens immediately had them go into the studio to record their debut album.  His plan for the band was to record an album that would sound like if Bob Dylan was the lead singer of The Rolling Stones.

The album titled Mott The Hoople, was released in the UK in November 1969.

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It is a great debut.  I wasn’t expecting the Dylan clone thing to be so apparent, but there are times when Ian sounds just like ol’ Bob.  It opens, oddly, with an instrumental version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.”  “At The Crossroads” sounds like Bob Dylan just recorded a new song, as does their cover of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me.”  Hunter thought that the Rolling Stones ripped off their “Rock And Roll Queen” with “Bitch” off Sticky Fingers.  The album’s best track is the 10 minute long “Half Moon Bay” which is almost prog-rock.  I recommend checking the album out if you can find it.

It was not a huge commercial success, but it did create some buzz on the underground scene in the UK, and got good reviews.

Just two months later they returned to the studio to record a second album.

Released in September 1970, Mad Shadows was not a successful sophomore album.  It got both bad reviews and sold terribly.

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Yes, that is the album cover.  It looks more like some modern post-rock band’s album, not a Dylan-esque band from the 70’s.

Though, to be fair, they mostly dropped all the Dylan stuff by this album, but they definitely embraced the Rolling Stones stuff.  In fact, the original title of the album was supposed to be Sticky Fingers, until the Stones decided to name their next album by that title (supposedly Mick Jagger sings backing vocals on “Walkin’ With A Mountain” off this album. Between taking the name of the album and Hunter’s charge that “Bitch” was a ripoff, perhaps Mr. Jagger was a mole.)

Mad Shadows is good, too.  While they were still trying to be other people, they were doing it well.  Some of the songs on the album rock pretty hard.

1971 saw the release of two albums.  The first one was titled Wildlife.

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By Wildlife they had totally dropped the Dylan stuff, but they seemed to have picked up a Neil Young fancy, most notably on “Wrong Side of the River,” an obvious attempt at Neil Young mimicry.  The album is uneven, but not bad.  The best track is the Ralphs penned track “Home Is Where I Want to Be.”

The second album of 1971 was titled Brain Capers.

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Brain Capers was a return to their hard-rocking ways of the first two albums.  The Dylan sound comes back on this album in bits.  However, they had developed their own sound by this time.  Hunter’s “The Journey” is an epic 9 minute track.  The album is good, but nothing too memorable.

It was their least successful album yet.  It was their first album to not chart in the Top 200 albums in either the UK or the US.

The band continued to tour, but not any major venues, unless it was as an opening act. They had their worst concert when they performed along with a juggler and a comedian in an old gas bell in Sweden, depressing the whole band due to the fact that they had now released 4 albums and were stuck playing a concert in abandoned industrial equipment.

You know, one of these things.

You know, one of these things.

They felt that the band just wasn’t working, and they decided to break up.

Pete Watts was friends with David Bowie and told him over the phone that the band was breaking up.  Bowie was a huge fan of the band and did not want them to split.  He told Watts that they could have a song, “Suffragette City,” which he was going to record for his next album, but the band turned him down as they were intent on going their separate ways.

Bowie wouldn’t take no for an answer, and decided that he would give them another song to record and sat down and wrote, “All The Young Dudes” specifically for them.  Plus, he said he would produce their next album for them, lending his name to the band to try to bring them some commercial recognition.  The band relented on their intent to break up, for Bowie’s sake, but with the caveat that if this album wasn’t successful then this would be the end for them.

The band had left Island Records since they had intended to no longer record as a band.  Now that they were ready to record another album, they signed a deal with CBS/Columbia Records.

Mott The Hoople and Bowie, along with members of Bowie’s band went into Olympic Studio in London to record this make or break album.  With Bowie at the helm, the band would now have a different, glam-rock sound, being remade, in part, in Bowie’s image.

The Album Cover:

album-all-the-young-dudes

The cover is an ad out of a 1940’s catalog for schoolboy’s suits, I guess playing up on the “All The Young Dudes” theme, showing literal young dudes.  The band name and title replace the catalog’s title and the track listing replaces the clothing description and prices at the bottom.

The original picture was supposed to be something else entirely, a photo of a young boy playing a cardboard guitar with facepaint on.

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No one can quite remember why they didn’t go with the photo of the boy.

The back cover is really quite ugly, with a brown background, and a frame in the middle with really cheap looking photos of the band members inside, along with the usual track listing and credits.

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The Album:

I am reviewing the US vinyl LP release of All The Young Dudes released on Columbia in 1972.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens up with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”  The awesome opening track streak continues! Some think this is the definitive version of the song. I say that it isn’t better than the original, it’s perhaps on par, but either way it is a great version of the song.  Interestingly enough, Bowie would go on to produce, the song’s author, Lou Reed’s big breakout solo album a few months after this.

I'll get to that story at entry #192.

I’ll get to that story at entry #192.

Momma’s Little Jewel” is a Bowie-esque track, though it was written by Hunter and Watts.  It has the lyrics “Don’t know why but I’m going to try to re-in-celibate you.” I’m not even sure I know what that means.  It seems like he wants to…wait, how old is this girl?  No matter what the subject matter, it is a really cool song.

There is a neat transition in which “Momma’s Little Jewel” stops like someone stopped the record and it scratches and the next song starts.  At least I think that was supposed to happen.

The title track, “All The Young Dudes” is regularly mistaken for a Bowie sung song because it sounds just like Bowie and the backing vocals have his voice in there somewhere.   It is one of the greatest rock songs ever written.  It just has that feeling from the opening notes that it is something important.  It name drops T. Rex, Beatles, and Rolling Stones, but interestingly, as this is intended to be a glam-rock anthem, Beatles and the Stones are sort of painted as squares in the song with T. Rex being the band that changes someone’s life.  I love it.  I always remember that scene in Juno where Jason Bateman and Juno dance to this song and they show the CD that they are playing and it is Mott, the band’s next album that they are listening to and not this one.

I can't find the shot, but trust me they screwed it up.

I can’t find the shot, but trust me they screwed it up.

The next track “Sucker” is a down and dirty track.  It’s a little Exile On Main Street-era-Stones-esque. Not many songs start with the line “Hi there, your friendly neighborhood sadist.”

While this movie does star Arch Hall, Jr. of [Eegah fame, I recommend it.

While this movie does star Arch Hall, Jr. of Eegah fame, I recommend it.  It’s good and public domain.

They really start to jam as the song goes on and at one point it has hammer and anvil sounds.  Another awesome track.

Jerkin’ Crocus” is another in the Rolling Stones style, but it has some synthesizer mixed in.  It’s probably the dirtiest song I’ve reviewed so far. Sample lyrics: “She’s a nads puller/ I know what she want, a judo hold on a black man’s balls.” and “C’mon jerkin’, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon jerkin’, jerkin’, jerkin’, jerkin.'”

If she likes all that jerk, she should snap into a Slim Jim.

All that jerking makes me think that she should snap into a Slim Jim.

A really rocking track to end side one.

Side two opens with “One Of The Boys.”  Actually, it opens with rotary phone dialing sound effects.  The song starts out like it’s going to be a slow ballad, but it gets heavy quickly.  It ends with a fadeout and then the phone rings and someone picks it up and then we hear the song through the phone, that’s quite cool.  They’ve done nothing but great stuff so far.

Soft Ground” has a great driving bassline and cool organ swooping in.  I don’t think Hunter is on lead vocals here, I guess it’s Verden Allen since he wrote it, but I’m not sure.  The vocals are a little weird on this one, but I still think it is a really awesome song.  It is quite prog-rock-y, a little King Crimson-y at points, which can only be good in my book.

Speaking of King Crimson, In The Court of The Crimson King should be somewhere in the RS 500.

Speaking of King Crimson, In The Court of The Crimson King should be somewhere in the RS 500, dammit.

I should point out that past the third track on the album, nothing has had a Bowie sound.  It’s cool that they are doing their own thing by this point on the album.

Ready for Love/After Lights” is probably better known as the Bad Company song that was a big hit off their self titled debut album a couple of years later (spoiler: Mick Ralphs leaves Mott The Hoople for Bad Company.)  I love the Bad Company cover version, but honestly this one rocks harder and is freakin’ awesome with its echoey guitars.  Behind the title track, this is my favorite song on this album.

Another album that should be in the 500.

Another album that should be in the 500. (Shakes head)

Sea Diver” closes out the album.  Hunter sings and plays piano with an orchestra before the band blasts in with guitars. The orchestration was done by Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson.

Mick Ronson (No, weiously, was it a requirement for every UK band of that time to have a Mick?)

Mick Ronson (No, seriously, was it a requirement for every UK band of that time to have a Mick?)

His singing is pained and lyrics seem to be about a breakup, but I’m not sure, it’s a little ambiguous.  It is a beautiful closer to the album.

This is such a great album.  I have listened to it before, and I have always liked it, but listening to it this time I realize just how awesome it is.  Every song works, it has great flow, and after listening to their preceding albums I really heard a band come into its own on this one.  No doubt, Bowie deserves a lot of credit for making this album great, too.

Aftermath:

Working with Bowie paid off for the band.  The title track became their first big hit reaching #3 on the pop charts in the UK and making the top 40 in America.  The album was far and away their biggest success, reaching #21 on the UK album charts.  Their success was much larger in Britain since the name recognition of David Bowie meant more there than in the US, as Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, which was his big breakout in the US, was just coming out at the same time as this album.

I'll get to that one 100 years from now as it is #35 on this list.

I’ll get to that one in something like 100 years from now as it is #35 on this list.

Because they were now a success, the band decided to stick together with the exception of Verden Allen.  He decided to leave because the band was not interested in playing the songs he had written (only 2 of his songs had they ever recorded.)  He was replaced by keyboardist Morgan Fisher.

Morgan FIsher

Morgan Fisher

Bowie gave them another song of his to record as a single, “Drive In Saturday,” but he and the band disagreed over how it should be played, and they decided not to work together anymore.

While the band was peaking creatively, things were breaking down again for them.  With this turmoil, they entered the studio again to try to record a successful follow-up to All The Young Dudes.

The rest of their story will be continued with entry #362.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “Mott The Hoople were a hard-rock band with a Dylan fixation until David Bowie got ahold of them and turned them into glam rockers. He penned the androgyne title track and had Mott cover Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.” Mott would sound more soulful but never more sexy or glittery.”

I don’t think the title track is androgyne.  Can a song be androgynous? It references all parts of the glam rock movement and refers to a guy becoming a drag queen, but how does that make the track androgyne?  That’s like saying “I Am The Walrus” is tasty because it mentions custard in the lyrics. Also, how do you sound glittery?  I just…I don’t know what you guys are talking about half the time.

Conclusion:

It’s just great.  As I have mentioned before, most of these albums I’ve reviewed to this point I’d heard before, but some I will be experiencing for the first time.  This one I’d heard before, but somehow listening to it this time on vinyl felt like the first time.  I can’t rate it anything less than the highest rating I’ve got.

5 Stars out of 5, Perfect rating

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

Now that I have so many albums that have the same rating I guess I should start explaining why one gets ranked ahead of another.  I now have 4 albums I’ve given perfect ratings to.  Right now my mind has this one competing with KISS for the #3 slot.  I guess based on the more substantial lyrics, I’ll put All The Young Dudes at #3.

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. Mott The Hoople- All The Young Dudes

4. KISS- Destroyer

5. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

6. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

7. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

8. Outkast- Aquemini

9. Earth, Wind & Fire– That’s The Way Of The World

10. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

11. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

12. Pearl Jam- Vitalogy

13. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

14. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

15. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual

16. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

17. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

18. Eurythmics- Touch

#484- Pearl Jam- Vitalogy- 1994

May 12, 2013

vitalogy

The Artists:

pearljamearly

The primordial ooze that eventually evolved into Pearl Jam was a Seattle based rock band named Green River.  Green River was started in part by bassist Jeff Ament.

jeff-ament

Jeff Ament

Ament was from Montana and was studying graphic design at the University of Montana, where he also was playing college basketball.  He left college after the University cancelled the graphic design program.

He was playing with a band named Deranged Diction.  After he dropped out of college, he and the band decided to move to Seattle.  While playing around the city, he became acquainted with fellow musicians Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Alex Vincent.  Ament joined them to form Green River in early 1984.

Mark Arm was handling vocals and playing guitar, but he wanted to focus more on vocals.  They needed a guitarist to take his place.  Turner had been in a band called The Ducky Boys with an old schoolmate that was a great guitarist, named Stone Gossard.

Stone Gossard

Stone Gossard

Green River became one of the first ‘grunge’ rock bands and they played alongside other Seattle area bands such as Soundgarden, Malfunkshun, and The Melvins.  All four of those bands appeared on the now legendary 1986 Deep Six compilation album, which was the announcement of this new rock sound out of Seattle.

Green River released a few EPs and were gaining a reputation on the underground, but a rift began within the band as Ament and Gossard wanted to get a major label deal, while Arm wanted to stay an underground band.  The rift caused the band to break up after recording their first LP in 1987.

Ament and Gossard joined with the lead singer of Malfunkshun, Andrew Wood, to form a new band, Mother Love Bone.

Mother Love Bone

Mother Love Bone

After playing around Seattle for about a year the band signed to Polygram Records and quickly released an EP, Shine.

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Shine was the first major label release by any of the bands from the Seattle grunge rock scene.  After touring for the next year, the band went into the studio to record their debut LP.  The album would be titled Apple.

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There was a lot of advance hype by the music press and already people were saying this band would change music.

It is a very good album and Wood was a great frontman, sounding similar to both Robert Plant and Axl Rose at times. I have no doubt, that the band would have been huge, had circumstance not gotten in their way.

The album’s release date was scheduled for March of 1990.  However, just a few days before the album was to be released, lead singer Wood overdosed on heroin and passed away a few days later.  The album’s release was pushed back until Summer of 1990.  While the delay curbed some of the hype about the album, the main issue was that the band had lost both their friend and lead singer.  The remaining members decided to go their separate ways.

After the death of Wood, Gossard spent a few months away from music.  Once he started feeling like playing again, he called an old high school buddy, Mike McCready, to jam with him.

Mike McCready

Mike McCready

McCready encouraged Gossard to get back in touch with Ament.  The trio had just started to play together for fun, when they were contacted by Soundgarden’s frontman Chris Cornell.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

Cornell had been Andrew Wood’s close friend and roommate, and he was wanting to put together a tribute band in honor of their departed friend.  He asked Soundgarden’s drummer Matt Cameron to join them.  They named the band Temple of the Dog, after a Mother Love Bone lyric, and went into the studio to record the songs that Cornell had written about Wood during Soundgarden’s last tour.  They released their self titled album in April 1991.

TempleOfTheDog

It is a very good album, too, though I don’t hear much of what would become Pearl Jam in there, as it sounds no different really than Soundgarden.  But Soundgarden is great, so that is not a problem.

The band was never intended to be more than a one time thing and Gossard and Ament were already putting together a new band while the Temple of the Dog recording was going on.  McCready joined as lead guitarist. Ament would be on bass and Gossard on rhythm guitar. They went looking for a drummer and a lead singer.

They had put together a three song demo tape to send out to possible lead singers and drummers.  They began bringing in drummers during late 1990, settling on a veteran of several Seattle-area bands, Dave Krusen.  One tape wound up in the hands of former Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer, Jack Irons.  He was living in San Diego and regularly played pick up basketball with another musician named Eddie Vedder.

Eddie Vedder

Eddie Vedder

Vedder had just left the band Bad Radio and was looking to join up with a new band.  Vedder listened to the instrumental demo tracks and wrote lyrics and recorded himself singing with the music on the demos and sent the tape back to Ament.  After hearing the tape, Ament and Gossard invited Vedder to move to Seattle to join their band.

When Vedder got to Seattle, they were in the middle of recording Temple of the Dog, and they asked Vedder to sing backing vocals on the album. Cornell liked his voice and musical acumen, and so he asked Eddie to duet with him on one of the album’s best songs, “Hunger Strike.”

Once the Temple of the Dog recordings were finished, the unnamed band of Gossard, Ament, McCready, Krusen, and Vedder started writing songs together, preparing to play on the Seattle club circuit.  The five guys got together to come up with a name for the band.  They were all big basketball fans and they named themselves after one of their favorite basketball players, Mookie Blaylock.

mookie

Mookie Blaylock played their first concert in November of 1990, and due to the recognition the members already had from Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog, they were quickly signed by Epic Records.

It was suggested by the label that they change the name of the band to avoid any copyright issues that might arise from the real Mookie Blaylock (who, it should be said, has stated that he is a big fan of the band.)  Ament mentioned that the name “Pearl” would make a good band name, the rest of the band thought it needed something more.  Vedder had recently gone to a Neil Young concert and saw Neil jamming with his band on a bunch of over 15 minute-long songs, which caused the word “jam” to pop in this head.  The band liked the way the words went together, and they would now be known as Pearl Jam.

The band would begin recording their debut album Ten in early 1991.

Pearl_Jam-Ten-Frontal

I will not go into too much detail about Ten as I will get to it with entry #208.

Needless to say, Ten was gigantic success, becoming one of the biggest selling albums of all time and for a time it made Pearl Jam the biggest band in the world.

They became one of the of the most popular touring bands and they were being called the “voice of Generation X” by the press.  Other Seattle bands started hitting it big at the same time such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains.  These ‘grunge’ bands were now dominating both MTV and album sales with Pearl Jam and Nirvana vying for the top spot.

Krusen had left the band after the recording of Ten and was replaced by Matt Chamberlain for a brief time.  As the band was about to go on tour to support Ten, Chamberlain had a chance to join the Saturday Night Live band, and to not to leave the band in the lurch, he contacted an old friend from Texas that he felt could replace him on drums in the band. The friend, Dave Abbruzzese, thought he would just be there to do the tour, but the band asked him to join full-time.  Despite his initial reluctance, he agreed.

Dave Abbruzzese

Dave Abbruzzese

The band returned to the studio in 1993 to record their follow-up to Ten.  Released in October of 1993, their sophomore effort, Vs. was the most anticipated album in many years.

Pearl-Jam-Vs

The album set the record for the biggest opening week sales in history, selling 950,378 copies, more than every other album in the top ten that week combined.

Vs. is an amazing album that should have been included on the Rolling Stone 500.  It is such a perfect mixture of rock and experimentation, mixed with a pop sensibility.  It has a lot of power on tracks such as “Go,” has great pop sensibility on something like “Daughter,” and experimentation with “W.M.A.” and its use of African percussion.  In my opinion, it should be remembered on the same level as Ten nowadays.

The band wanted to show that they were not out to just take money from their fans, but were trying to make art.  They refused to make any more music videos and decided to cap the prices of their tickets on the Vs. Tour.

The cap on ticket prices idea ended up being a bigger deal than they imagined.  After playing a concert in Chicago, they found out that the lower ticket prices they demanded did not matter since the ticket seller, Ticketmaster, added so many service charges that it was not saving their fans any money.  The band asked Ticketmaster to drop the service charges, and they refused.  The band said they would no longer perform any venues that used Ticketmaster as a ticket seller.  They did not realize that Ticketmaster had a virtual monopoly on all the venues and had to resort to going to suburban concert halls and even setting up their own outdoor venues to perform for their fans.

Little did the band know that the Department of Justice was already investigating Ticketmaster over antitrust issues.  Members of the band were asked to testify in front of a House subcommittee concerning the case.

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Ament and Gossard before Congress. Thanks for dressing up, guys.

They eventually just stopped their tour. The Department of Justice eventually dropped their case.  The band continued to boycott any venues that had a contract with Ticketmaster, despite the Department of Justice’s decision to no longer pursue antitrust issues.

The band had worked on writing songs for their next album during their down time on the Vs. Tour.  During a break on the tour in October 1993, the band recorded a few songs at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans with the same producer that worked on Vs., Brendan O’Brian.  One track was recorded in Atlanta, Georgia and the rest was recorded at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle.

Tensions had begun to mount during this time of recording.  Vedder had taken over as the band’s leader, making most of the band’s final decisions.  Gossard had at one point decided to leave the band as he felt Vedder was not communicating with him and Ament. McCready left during the recording to enter drug and alcohol rehab, and Abbruzzese was replaced on drums on two tracks.  All of this flowed into the recording and made the band sound different, more experimental than they had been.

They had the album completed by early 1994, but the issues with Ticketmaster caused the label to push back the release date indefinitely.  Epic finally released the album, titled Vitalogy, on vinyl in November of 1994 and on CD and cassette in December of 1994.

The Album Cover:

This is the first “novelty” album cover I have encountered doing these reviews.

The band has said that they had decided after Vs. that they wanted to do something different when packaging their albums to make them stand out more and add a little more creativity to their art.

Vedder had bought an old-timey medical book at a yard sale and had brought it in to the studio to show the rest of the band some of the old-fashioned medical practices that were pictured in it.  Ament looked at the book, leather-bound with gold lettering, titled Vitalogy (meaning “the study of life,”) and said that it would be cool if they could package their next album in something like that book.

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Vedder loved the idea and wanted to use the book idea, but wanted to title the album Life, which is what advance press releases advertised the album as. After working on putting the package together, the band decided the book’s name, Vitalogy, was a much better title for their album.

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I have both the vinyl and CD versions of the album.  The Vinyl packaging is essentially the CD package, just bigger.  The CD is packaged in a cardboard digipack which is painted to look like a leather-bound book with only the title embossed in gold on the front.  The vinyl edition cover is actual textured faux-leather rather than cardboard.

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The back cover is mostly blank.  All that is on it is a small gold picture of an angel, with the track listing and the record company logos.

When the CD is opened, you get a reproduction, in part, of the medical book.  The table of contents page is now the album’s track listing.

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Each page of the book is a reproduction of pictures and text from the medical book, mixed with typed and handwritten lyrics along with weird pictures that the band added in.

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Text and pictures from the book with song lyrics.

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…and weird pictures.

The vinyl has the same pictures from the 36 page CD book, it just combines four pages of the CD’s booklet into one large 8 page book.

Vinyl insert

Vinyl insert

The CD is just harbored in a cardboard sleeve attached to the back of the case.  The vinyl is a double LP and it has a gatefold picture of the band lounging around. Perhaps before a concert? The picture appears on one of the pages of the CD booklet, though in a very small form.

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The middle pages of the CD booklet are presented as a separate insert with the LP, showing only pictures of doors and windows, supposedly from around Italy.  One of which is the Pope’s window and another has “Bush Boia” (Boia, meaning executioner in Italian.)  There is no explanation why this is included as a separate insert, or even what it’s supposed to mean.

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The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl double LP release of Vitalogy released on Epic in 1994, but I will listen to the CD version to listen for any differences.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

Side One (or Division One as the album lists it, I guess that makes this the “Duke Blue Devils” side) opens with “Last Exit.”  Which is a hard-driving, rock song.  It’s classic Pearl Jam.  Just great drumming from whomever is playing on this track.  Awesome opening track streak continues!

Spin The Black Circle” was the first single off the album.  It has an almost hardcore punk sound, taking me back to my Hüsker Dü review.  Great guitar work here.  The lyrics seem kind of not much, it is just an ode to playing a vinyl record, but who cares, it’s hard rock.  Okay, I guess it’s a little dumb, but I like it.

Perhaps I should say it's only rock n' roll, but I like it.

Perhaps I should say it’s only rock n’ roll, but I like it.

Not For You” reminds me a lot of one of their major influences, Neil Young.  It’s completely a Vedder song, he wrote a lot more stuff solo on this album than the previous two.  Good stuff so far.

Tremor Christ” sounds a lot like it could be a Beatles track with its marching beat. I thought that when first hearing it, then after reading other reviews of this album everyone picked up on that.  Jon Pareles of The New York Times compared the song to “I Am the Walrus.”  Vedder’s vocals are nothing like the Beatles, but they are good.  Great track.

If not for McCartney's Florence Henderson 'do, they could pass for grunge rockers here.

If not for McCartney’s Florence Henderson ‘do, they could pass for grunge rockers.

Everything on Division One was good, although I did not see that George Mason upset coming.

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Division Two (The “Chico State Wildcats” side) opens with “Nothingman.”  It’s a wonderful, slow tempo, beautiful track with great lyrics about isolation.  One of Pearl Jam’s best songs ever.

The slower paced “Nothingman” is directly followed by a blast with “Whipping.”  A hard-driving, punk sound, though it has soft breaks in the middle. Kind of a short track, not bad for what it is.

Pry, To” is a weird interlude, of sorts, with Eddie spelling out the word ‘privacy.’  It only lasts a few seconds.  Kind of the “Wild Honey Pie” of this album.  See, I don’t mind interludes if they fit with the album.

Corduroy” would fit right in with stuff off Ten or Vs. It is another great track.  Instead of lyrics for this song, Vedder included an x-ray of his teeth in the booklet.  He said it was because the song was about his feelings towards his fans and how he had spent so much time touring to perform for them that he hadn’t bothered taking care of himself by doing normal things like going to the dentist.

Eddie's Teeth.

Eddie’s Teeth.

Well, LP One was pretty much all killer no filler let’s see how the second half plays out.

Division 3 (the “Amherst Minutemen” side) opens with one of the most derisive tracks Pearl Jam ever recorded, “Bugs.”  A silly, novelty track with Vedder playing accordion.  These type of songs can fall somewhere on the spectrum between the top of the spectrum (Captain Beefheart) to unlistenable.  This is closer the the end of the spectrum. Ya know that “flow” thing I talk about, yeah this weird track interrupts that.

Things get back on track with “Satan’s Bed.”  It has kind of a 70’s rock sound.  He says “I’ll never suck Satan’s dick.”  Good to know.  It’s good, but not as great as anything on the first LP.

Eddie!  What did I ever do to you?

Eddie! What did I ever do to you?

Next up is one of Pearl Jam’s most iconic songs, “Better Man.”  A great song that was amazingly written by Vedder when he was a teenager.  A fantastic song about male/female relationships.  He had performed it with his earlier band Bad Radio and had offered it to be part of Vs. The band thought it was actually too good, and should be recorded by someone else that would have a hit on the pop charts with it.  They finally relented, and recorded it for Vitalogy.  One of the best things the band ever did.

Aye Davanita” is basically just an instrumental track with some chanting over it.  The lyric page has a short poem under the title and the phrase “The Song With No Words.”  Not bad.

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Division 4 (I guess that makes this the “NAIA” side) opens with “Immortality.”  A song about death, possibly suicide.  Many have felt that this was Eddie’s response to Kurt Cobain’s death, though he denies it.  When you take into account the album’s nomenclature Vitalogy (the study of life) it makes perfect sense to end on a song about death.  A great end to the album.

Wait, that’s not the end…the final track is called either “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” or “Stupid Mop.”  The cover has the former name and the booklet has the latter name.  This is their “Revolution #9” I guess.  It’s looped recordings of people talking about a mop, taken at a mental hospital, supposedly, with a slowed down jam of the band playing with it.  It’s quite unsettling, and it is like “Bugs” in that many Pearl Jam fans hate the track.  I agree with some of the sentiment that I’ve read on the internet that this should have been a hidden track, because people would have just thought it was a “cool find” at the end of the album. But instead, it is the album’s closing track and just kind of wastes everybody’s time by trying to be obtuse and going on for over 7 minutes.  It’s even more maddening when they had a perfect ending to the album with “Immortality.”  That being said, I don’t hate it in and of itself, but I hate that it is here, because it screws up the high point that it could have ended on.

Every “real” song on this album is great and it is a very good album.  However, the band I think tried a little too hard to be experimental, and failed on those tracks that strayed them too far away from what they were used to doing.  Although, on the whole, it is still a solid album.

Aftermath:

The release of Vitalogy was much-anticipated. Despite being pushed back for months by the label, it’s heat didn’t cool.  It became the second fastest selling CD in history behind Vs. and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Album chart.  Eventually, it was certified quintuple platinum.

The album got somewhat positive reviews, but much of the opinions by critics were similar to mine in that they felt that the experimentation was not too good while the rest was as good as anything they had done on their first two albums.  They won their first Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance and the album was nominated for Album of the Year.

The band toured in promotion for the album, continuing to refuse to play any Ticketmaster venues, which made it twice as hard for them to find places to perform.  Vedder became ill during the tour after contracting food poisoning and they cancelled much of it, alienating many of their fans.  Ament has said that the tour killed their skyrocketing career.

Their follow-up to Vitalogy was titled No Code.  It was released in 1996.

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I was not well received by critics or their fans, who felt it was too experimental and too much jamming.  It still sold well its first week and went platinum, but the fans felt it was mostly unsuccessful and it fell down the chart quickly.

Their fifth album Yield, released in 1998, was more successful.

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The band relented and decided to do music videos again, hiring comic book artist Todd Macfarlane to animate a video for “Do The Evolution.”  They also dropped their boycott of Ticketmaster after fans complained that using other ticket companies was far too inconvenient.

Abbruzzese had left the band after Vitalogy and was replaced on drums by Vedder’s old friend, Jack Irons.  Irons left after Yield and was replaced by former Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog drummer Matt Cameron.

They recorded a cover of 1960’s hit “Last Kiss” for the benefit album No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar.  The song began getting a lot of radio play on Top 40 radio and it became their biggest pop hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Chart.

During their Binaural Tour in 2000, the band had every concert recorded so that the attendees could own a copy of the performance.  The record company wouldn’t let them do it, so they decided to release them as official releases.  This means that the band released 72 albums between 2000 and 2001, one for each live performance they did.

The albums that the band has released during the 2000’s have had mixed to somewhat negative reviews for the most part.  They have continued to tour to this day, with all of the original members, of course with the exception of the drummer.  Their most recent studio album, Backspacer, was released in 2009 to mostly positive reviews.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “Their previous album, Vs., made Pearl Jam the most successful band in the world. They celebrated by suing Ticketmaster and making Vitalogy, where their mastery of rock’s past and future became complete. Soulful ballads like “Nothingman” are matched by hardcore-influenced rockers such as “Spin the Black Circle.”

They seem to like this one, no backhanded complements this time.  Which is funny because the magazine said it was a good, not great album, giving it 4 out of 5 stars, when it came out in 1994.

Conclusion:

So much of this album is really great, actually all of the real music is great.  It’s just those silly experiments that bring it down to, well, good, not great, territory.  Really, the Pearl Jam album that should be in this spot is Vs.  I am really amazed that it didn’t make the list, as it is far more important than Vitalogy.  Still this album is worth listening to.  If I didn’t believe in the integrity of keeping art the way it is I’d say download the MP3s, and burn the album without “Bugs” or the last track and you’d have damn near a 5 star album.  But that is not what I am about.

4 Stars out of 5, recommended

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. KISS- Destroyer

4. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

5. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

6. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

7. Outkast- Aquemini

8. Earth, Wind & Fire– That’s The Way Of The World

9. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

10. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

11. Pearl Jam- Vitalogy

12. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

13. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

14. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual

15. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

16. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

17. Eurythmics- Touch

#485- Earth, Wind & Fire- That’s The Way Of The World- 1975

May 8, 2013

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The Artists:

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Maurice White was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1941.

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Maurice White

He was childhood friends of Booker T. Jones, who would go on to form Booker T. & the MGs.  As a teen, he moved to Chicago and started working as a session drummer for Chess Records.  In 1966 he joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio.

He left the group three years later to start a commercial jingle company with two friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead.  They had some success in the advertising world, which led to them being signed to a recording contract by Capitol Records.

They began recording under the name The Salty Peppers.  They had one regional hit with a song titled “La La La.” They were not successful beyond that one minor hit and were dropped from the label fairly quickly.

White’s small taste of success made him want to make a bigger splash in the music industry.  In 1970, The Salty Peppers decided to leave Chicago for Los Angeles. Maurice asked his brother, Verdine, who was a first-rate session bassist, to go with him and be a part of his band.

Verdine White

Verdine White

Maurice’s band now included his brother, along with his two fellow Salty Peppers members, and before leaving Chicago, he added singer Sherry Scott and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel.  His vision was not to be like most groups but to have a huge band, a near-orchestra, with a horn section, a percussion section, and multiple guitarists.  Once getting to Los Angeles, he began having auditions for the band.  He added guitarist Michael Beale, Chester Washington on reeds, Leslie Drayton on trumpet, and trombonist Alex Thomas.  Maurice was also a percussionist, Flemons and Whitehead both played keyboards, and Verdine would play bass.

Maurice felt that the name “The Salty Peppers” was not powerful enough for a 10 person group.  He looked up his astrological sign, Sagittarius, and read that its primary elemental quality is Fire with the seasonal qualities of Earth and Wind (whatever all that means.)  He felt these elements would give his new band’s name an epic quality, worthy of its large size: Earth, Wind & Fire.

They recorded several demos and shopped them around, eventually being signed by Warner Brothers Records.

They released their self titled debut album in February 1971.

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The album is a cross between the Fifth Dimension and The Bar-kays.  There are some very cool moments, mostly on side two, but it bears very, very little resemblance to the sound Earth, Wind & Fire would be known for.  The final track “Bad Tune” is definitely one to check out, because it’s awesome.  One drawback on the album is that it has really annoying studio chatter interludes between each track.  It’s actually a pretty cool album once you get past the kinda middle of the road first side.

They quickly followed that up a couple of months later with the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles’ pioneering film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which was released through Stax Records.

Sweet+Sweetbacks+Badaasssss+Song+feat+Brer+Soul+an+melvin

The soundtrack is hard to review because it is about 50% music and 50% dialogue from the movie.  It’s also recorded very lo-fi and bears no resemblance to anything else Earth, Wind & Fire would ever do again.  It has some cool moments, but I’ve seen the movie, I don’t need to hear the dialogue again.  I do appreciate the title of the final track, though, “The Man Tries Running His Usual Game, but Sweetback’s Jones Is So Strong He Wastes the Hounds (Yeah! Yeah! and Besides That He Will Be Comin’ Back Takin’ Names and Collecting Dues.)”

The Need Of Love, released in November of the same year, was the band’s third album in 9 months.

Earth Wind & Fire - The need of love (Front)

The Need Of Love is more jazz based than their previous stuff.  The opening track, “Energy,” is an almost 10 minute song that reminds me of what Herbie Hancock was doing at the time.  There is a bit of a move towards the sound that they would later have, most notably on the final track “Everything Is Everything,” but on the whole, it is kind of a mixed bag.

The non-stop recording and the lack of success that the band had (outside of critical acclaim) took a toll on the members, and the band broke up.  Verdine was the only one that did not abandon his brother, and they decided to start over and build a new Earth, Wind & Fire.

They once again wanted a female lead singer, bringing in former Friends of Distinction member Jessica Cleaves.  They also added guitarist Roland Bautista and horn player Ronnie Laws.

Maurice brought in Larry Dunn as a keyboardist and to be musical director of the band.

Larry Dunn

Larry Dunn

He also added percussionist Ralph Johnson.

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Ralph Johnson

And vocalist/percussionist Philip Bailey.

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Philip Bailey

The group played at a show in Rockefeller Center in New York and the then Columbia Records president, Clive Davis, saw them play for the first time.  He loved the band and worked out a deal with Warner Brothers to purchase their contract.  Warner was fine with this since they did not know how to market a funk band anyway.

Their first album for Columbia was 1972’s Last Days And Time.

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It’s more of what you would expect from an Earth, Wind & Fire record, but there are a few moments that kind of drone on.  The vocal dynamics did not work as well with Jessica Cleaves in the group.  The final track, “Mom” is far and away the best song off the album.

Their 1973 album, Head To The Sky, was their first commercially successful album, going platinum.

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It contained their first two R&B chart hits “Evil” and “Keep Your Head To The Sky.”  It’s not bad, but the funky sound still isn’t there yet.  There is still a lot of jazz-based stuff on this album, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not what you come to an Earth, Wind & Fire album for.

Cleeves, Bautista, and Laws all left the band after the completion of the album.  Maurice needed to find replacements, mostly for a saxophone player and a guitarist and not so much a female singer.

Philip Bailey recommended an old high school friend that played sax, Andrew Woolfolk.  Maurice agreed to bring him in.

Andrew Woolfolk

Andrew Woolfolk

They hired two new guitarists. Al McKay and Johnny Graham

Al McKay

Al McKay

Johnny Graham

Johnny Graham

As they started to record their next album, Maurice called his youngest brother, Fred White, who was playing drums for Donny Hathaway, to come join the band.

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Fred White

The band’s fifth album Open Our Eyes, was their biggest success yet.

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All of the personnel changes made Open Our Eyes the first “real” Earth, Wind & Fire album.  The sound that they became known for is there on the album’s opening track “Mighty, Mighty,” which was their first top 40 hit as was the second track “Devotion.”  It is a good album and while I don’t love it, it is worth giving a listen to.

It was their first time to reach #1 on R&B Albums Chart and it made it to #15 on the Pop Albums Chart, eventually reaching platinum status.

Based on the success of their last two albums, producer Sig Shore, most famous for producing the film Super Fly, asked Earth, Wind & Fire to compose the music and to co-star in his upcoming film That’s The Way Of The World.

The film would star Harvey Keitel as a record producer that is producing an album for “The Group,” who would be played by Earth, Wind & Fire, but he is contractually obligated to work with a white, adult contemporary group that the label wants to promote in the place of the black funk band.

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The band went into the studio at the Caribou Ranch in Nederland, Colorado during filming to work on the soundtrack.  Maurice had brought in Charles Stepney, who he had worked with back when he was with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, to co-produce and, in part, co-write the album with him.  The group ended up with 8 songs to be featured in the film.

After they saw the finished film, they all thought it would be a huge bomb, so the band hurried to release their soundtrack album months ahead of the film’s release so that the album wouldn’t get swept away in the bad reviews of the film.

The Album Cover:

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The cover has a black and white picture of all nine members of the band with Dunn, Maurice, Bailey, Verdine, and Johnson on the front.  The band’s name is the only thing in color on the front.  Interestingly, the front cover of the album makes no indication that this is a soundtrack album, possibly to distance it further from the movie that they did not like.

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The back cover has the rest of the members pictured: Woolfolk, Fred White, McKay, and Graham.  I do think it is interesting that the newest members of the band are relegated to back cover status.  Despite my extensive knowledge of music and film, I had no idea that this was soundtrack album until reading it on the back when I first bought this album.

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This tiny blurb on the back is the album’s only acknowledgement of the film on the whole album.

The one color item on the back is the Earth, Wind & Fire symbol in the bottom left corner.

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The tracklist is in the right corner.  There are not any credits outside of the band name on the front.

There is a gatefold which has is a large black and white picture of the entire band.

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The innersleeve has lyrics on one side and an odd symbol that looks like a ‘4’ or ’21’ on the other, I’m sure it means something, but I can’t find any info on it.

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The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of That’s The Way Of The World released on Columbia Records in 1975.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

I looked at the track listing, so I’ll go ahead and say it before even listening: the awesome opening track streak continues!

That’s because the album opens with Earth, Wind & Fire’s most famous song and the funk classic “Shining Star.” I’ve always loved how clear the production is on this track.  Ya know, I never really realized how positive this song is.  It should be used by motivational speakers as their intro song.

I'm sure Tony Robbins has used it at some point.

Actually, I’m sure Giant Tony Robbins has used it at some point.

The guitars, horns, and synthesizer all mix so well together into one amazing track.

That transitions immediately into the title track (or would it be theme song?), “That’s The Way Of The World.” It might actually be my favorite song on the album.  I’ve always felt it sounded like “night music”  There is a “night music” feeling that some songs have that I’ve never been able to quite explain.  I can picture listening to Venus Flytrap on WKRP playing this on air at midnight.

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“Hello, Cincy, here’s something you and your lady will enjoy.”

Happy Feelin‘” is another tightly produced track.  It’s more of a dance-funk track than the first two songs.  In fact you can just picture the Soul Train dancers gettin’ down to this. Another good one.

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There is a weird transition with just random keyboard sounds at the end of “Happy Feelin.'”

The last track on side one, “All About Love” sounds like a ballad that would be in a 70’s movie montage of two lovers walking together and stuff.  It is the first song from the album that has just one person singing.  It is a very good and lovely song.

There is a reprise of that random keyboard sound transition, which I’m guessing was used in the movie as a scene transition or something.  It’s kinda annoying.

I don't like it, unless it is being played by this fella.

I don’t like it.  Unless it was played by this guy.

Side two opens with “Yearnin’ Learnin’”  A very funky track that reminds me a little of Funkadelic.  Pretty cool stuff.

That transitions immediately into “Reasons.”  Philip Bailey sings lead in his falsetto.  A toned down (of sorts) soul ballad.  This is love-makin’ music. Good stuff.

Africano”  Ahhh…now this is funk.  It’s an instrumental, basically jazz-fusion track.  Even though the ballads they do have been good so far, I wish there was more of the funky stuff.  More of this, please guys.

Listen to da man.

Listen to da man.

See The Light” is kind of a space-funk/gospel hybrid.  I’m not feeling Bailey’s voice on this.  I don’t think the high pitch works as well as someone else’s voice would for this song.  It’s not a bad track, but I like the music much more than the vocals.  It’s not the best idea to end the album on the weakest song.

We get a reprise of that weird keyboard stuff from side one, with some African chanting and some laughing.  I’m still not sure what it is all about.  Though, after listening to the first few albums before this one, I know they like to include those little interludes between songs.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, I’m not a fan of that stuff.

I don’t dislike anything on the album, most everything was great.  It is a nice mix of soul and funk.  It’s funny because with one real exception it has no feeling of being a movie soundtrack. That means the band succeeded in not linking themselves with a movie that they thought stunk.

Aftermath:

The group was correct on both of their beliefs: the movie did bomb and they had recorded a great album.

The album’s first single “Shining Star” shot up the charts becoming the group’s first #1 pop and R&B hit.  The title track followed it by reaching #12 on the Billboard chart.  With the help of its two hit singles, the album reached #1 on the Billboard albums chart staying there for 3 weeks in the summer of 1975.  It was the third best-selling album of 1975, eventually reaching triple platinum status. “Shining Star” also won the group a 1976 Grammy for “Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.”

The success of That’s The Way Of The World allowed Maurice to add even more people to the band, adding 4 new members to the horn section to give them an even bigger sound.  He named their horn section “The Phenix Horns.”

They wanted to immediately capitalize on their success, so they went into the studio to record a few new tracks to add to some live tracks from their 1974 and 1975 concerts.  The group released the double LP Gratitude in November 1975.

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It contained three live sides and one studio side.  The studio side contained two eventual top 40 hits “Can’t Hide Love” and the top 5 hit “Sing A Song.”  The album became their second consecutive Billboard #1 album and their second consecutive triple platinum album. They also received three 1977 Grammy nominations for the album.

They had their fifth consecutive platinum selling album, Spirit in late 1976.

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With their growing popularity, the band’s concerts became more and more elaborate.  They hired magicians Doug Henning and David Copperfield to direct their stage shows.  They began using  pyrotechnics, laser lights, levitation (that included the entire group ascending in a pyramid,) and an illusion that made the entire band disappear right before your eyes.

1977’s All ‘N All became their sixth straight million selling album, eventually going triple platinum, led by the top 20 hit “Serpentine Fire.”

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The band once again proved that they were better at picking songs than picking movies to appear in, as they played themselves in yet another movie bomb, the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton vehicle Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Although, it should be noted that Earth, Wind & Fire had the biggest hit off of the movie soundtrack with their cover of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” which reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the group yet another Grammy.

It just has 'bad idea' written all over it.

Just has ‘bad idea’ written all over it.

The band released a new single to accompany a greatest hits package, The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 in 1978.  The single, “September,” was yet another top 10 hit, and it was one of their biggest worldwide hits.  The Best Of album is their biggest selling album to date, going quintuple platinum in the U.S. and platinum in both the UK and Canada.

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The band had their 8th consecutive million selling album with I Am in 1979.  It was more of a disco album than anything they had done previously.  It sold over 2 million units fueled by yet another top 10 hit “Boogie Wonderland” which they performed with the female R&B group The Emotions.

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The 1980 album Faces put an end to their string of platinum albums as the band started going for a more electronic sound.  However, their next album Raise! did sell a million copies on the strength of the top 5 hit “Let’s Groove.”

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The band went on hiatus for a few years starting in 1983.  During his time away from the band, Philip Bailey recorded a duet with Phil Collins, the Billboard #1 hit “Easy Lover.

Too bad Ol' Phil doesn't have a RS 500 album.

Too bad Ol’ Phil doesn’t have a RS 500 album.

Maurice White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.  The band had re-formed by that time and he continued to tour with them until 1994 when his illness prevented him from going on the road.

Altogether, Earth, Wind & Fire is one of the best-selling bands of all time, selling over 90 million albums worldwide.  They were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.  All of the members from the classic 1974-80 period, including Maurice, appeared at the ceremony and performed on stage that night.

A few months later, at the request of President Bill Clinton, the band performed for the visiting King of Morocco at the White House, who in turn was so impressed he asked the group to come to Morocco to perform at his palace for his birthday celebration.

They continue to perform concerts all over the country to this day with most of the same members that were with the band during the classic years.  I saw them most recently performing at the 2013 central time zone New Year’s countdown show, butchering the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne.”

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS:“Before he got into African thumb pianos and otherworldly philosophizing, EWF founder Maurice White was a session drummer at Chess Studios. EWF’s sixth album is make-out music of the gods.”

What the hell does that first sentence have to do with this album at all?  I have no clue what they thought they were going for there.  It is like they were going to write a whole paragraph about the history of the band, but cut it down to 2 sentences and left the wrong sentence in. I also think it would be hard to make out to “Shining Star.”  You put that track on, and you gotta boogie, baby!

Conclusion:

Individually every song with the exception of the last track is great. I did not like those weird keyboard/synthesizer transitions on the album and while the songs are all very good, the album just does not have great flow. It is just a bunch of songs that, while great, don’t really go together. I don’t want to sound negative about an album that I like a lot, but I am just explaining why I am not rating it closer to a 5 star album.  I do recommend it, though, as there is nothing bad at all on the album.

4.25 Stars out of 5, recommended

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. KISS- Destroyer

4. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

5. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

6. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

7. Outkast- Aquemini

8. Earth, Wind & Fire– That’s The Way Of The World

9. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

10. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

11. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

12. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

13. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual

14. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

15. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

16. Eurythmics- Touch

#486- Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual- 1983

May 5, 2013

she's so

The Artist:

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Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper was born June 22, 1953 in Queens, New York.  She grew up listening to many female jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday.  Encouraged by her mother to embrace her creativity, Cyndi started playing guitar and writing songs at the age of 12.  She went to a high school for students of visual arts, but she felt it wasn’t what she wanted to study and she dropped out at the age of 17.

In her early 20’s, Cyndi started playing in various New York area rock cover bands.  In 1977, she injured her vocal chords to the point that doctors told her she’d never sing again.  With the help of a vocal coach, and a year off from music, Lauper was able to get her voice back to 100%.

Her manager introduced her to saxophone player John Turi, and the two began writing songs together and decided to form a band.  They added three more members and began playing a rockabilly-new wave hybrid.  They named the band Blue Angel.

Blue Angel

Blue Angel

They recorded some demo tapes and sent them to several people in the music industry.  Steve Massarsky, the manager of The Allman Brothers Band, heard the tapes and hated the music, but loved Cyndi’s voice. Both he and record companies wanted to sign Lauper but not the band.  Lauper would not sign unless the whole band was signed.  Massarsky signed the band and got them a deal with Polydor records.

Blue Angel released their self titled first album in 1980.

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The album did not sell well in America, but it did have some success in Europe.  It was not reviewed by many critics, but those that did review it liked it.

I listened to the album, and I have to agree with the record execs, Cyndi’s singing is good, but the music is all over the map.  It’s not horrible, but it is not the quality of music that she would later create.

Blue Angel continued playing around the New York area throughout 1980-81.  They returned to the studio to record a sophomore album, but after it was completed, Polydor changed management and dropped the band from the label, never releasing the album.  The band started to break apart, especially after their manager, Massarsky, sued the band for breach of contract.

Lauper began performing solo in clubs and bars around New York, while working in a thrift shop to make ends meet.  She met David Wolff while performing in a Japanese restaurant.

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David Wolff during his short-lived recording career.

Wolff was working as manager for the band Arc Angel, and he was blown away by Lauper’s voice.  Arc Angel was already signed to Portrait Records, a subsidiary label of Epic Records.  He felt with his connections he could get Lauper signed to Portrait if she would take him on as her manager.  Cyndi agreed, and not only did Wolff become her manager, but her boyfriend for the next 7 years.

Wolff came through and got Lauper signed to Portrait Records in late 1982.  Lauper went to The Record Plant in New York City to begin recording her debut album during the summer of 1983.  The album would be produced by long time A&R man, and Clive Davis acolyte, Rick Chertoff, who had produced some late 70’s albums by The Kinks and The Alan Parsons Project.

The Album Cover:

she's so

The album cover was designed by Cyndi and the photos were taken by legendary music photographer, Annie Liebovitz. The front cover shows Cyndi in mid dance, barefoot on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  The building that she is in front of is the World In Wax Musee, although it had been closed for some time, which explains why they are advertising a Roberto Clemente figure in 1983.

The museum had lovely scenes such as Richard Speck murdering a nurse.

The museum had lovely scenes such as Richard Speck murdering a nurse.  No, seriously.

Cyndi bought the prom dress she is wearing from the thrift shop she worked at.  The flowers she is holding she bought from a vendor on Coney Island just moments before. The umbrella is a remnant of Cyndi and Liebovitz taking pictures on the Coney Island beach all day.

The idea of the title came from a 1920’s song that Cyndi covers on the album, “He’s So Unusual” only changing the gender. It was all part of their desire to market Cyndi as an unusual, quirky person. This would translate once her music videos started hitting MTV.  While her style was her style, there definitely was a concerted effort to push her style as a gimmick to promote her career.

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The back shows the Coney Island parachute ride in the background. With a pair of feet, presumably Cyndi’s, wearing yellow socks and dress shoes with the heels broken off and the bottoms painted to look like Van Gough’s Starry Night in the foreground.

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Starry Night

The innersleeve has the lyrics on one side and a picture of a wall from what appears to be a rundown building with the lyrics to “Time After Time” superimposed in faux-handwritten text.  The album credits are printed at the bottom.  The oddest credit: Hair design: Justin Ware and Ralph Scibelli.  Do they mean her hair on the cover?  Her hair in the studio while she was recording the album?  Did it really take two people to do it?

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The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of She’s So Unusual released on Portrait in 1983.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens with “Money Changes Everything.” A cover of a 1978 song by punk band The Brains.  It has a cool synthesizer part and an odd harmonica breakdown section which gives it a little of a John Mellencamp vibe.

Oh, it's 1983, I meant Johnny Cougar.

Oh, it’s 1983, I meant Johnny Cougar.

It is a great opening track and of course that means: the awesome opening track streak continues!

Girls Just Want To Have Fun” has to be one of the most played songs of the last 30 years, so what is there to be said about it?  How ’bout that it was written by a man, Robert Hazard, who recorded it himself in 1979, singing it from a man’s point of view.  He changed the lyrics for Cyndi to record it.  I will say one thing about the track, hearing it on vinyl for the first time makes it sound much better, there is much better separation of the instruments.  It’s a classic pop anthem, and the music video probably defines the 1980’s better than anything this side of Back to the Future and Reaganomics.

Also, Captain Lou isn't really her father.

Just to be clear, Captain Lou isn’t really her father.

When You Were Mine” is a cover a Prince song from 1980’s Dirty Mind.

Prince's songs aren't on Youtube, so I'll show the album cover and his treasure trail.

Prince’s songs aren’t on Youtube to link, so I’ll show a pic of the album cover and his pubes.  This will be covered in entry #202.

It takes a lot of bite out of the Prince version, even though it sounds very similar.  I do like the synthesizer floating in and out.  It is okay, but not terribly interesting on the whole.

Closing out side one, “Time After Time” is another track like “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” which has been played so many times you begin to ignore it.  It is a beautiful song, and Cyndi gives her best vocals so far here.  Again, listening to this on vinyl I noticed the bass synth sound more than I ever had.  I can’t deny it, it’s a great song. This is her first original track on the album as she co-wrote the track with Rob Hyman of the band The Hooters, who is also the guy singing backing vocals.

I know it's not these Hooters.  If you want to see them click here.

I know it’s not these Hooters. If you want to see them click here.
I didn’t mean if you want to see them, I meant them, as in The Hooters.

Side two opens with “She Bop,” the song that caused the 10-year-old girls of 1983 to dance around the house, with their Walkman and headphones, and unwittingly sing about female masturbation.  Sure, the lyrics are a little dopey and inconsequential, but that describes almost all of pop music.  Yeah, its silly, but I like it.

All Through The Night” is another synthesized pop ballad.  It has a nice, almost prog rock breakdown in the middle.  It’s nothing offensive, in fact its kinda sweet.

Witness” has a co-writing credit to her old bandmate in Blue Angel, John Turi, so I assume that this track was written for that band.  It has semi Police faux-reggae vibe to it.  This the first track I don’t like.

I’ll Kiss You” is a very “of it’s time period” song, something like this couldn’t exist outside of the early 80’s.  Her vocals are kind of goofy here.  Whomever plays the synth on this track is the best part.  Actually, I would give props to whomever played synth on every track on this album, but I don’t know who played what since 3 different guys are listed as having played on the album. The song is kind of dumb, and it’s definitely not my favorite track.

A 45 second interlude “He’s So Unusual” which is a 1920’s song.  It is recorded to sound like a vintage 1920’s recording with Cyndi doing a Betty Boop impersonation.  Kinda neat.

Why aren't more people creeped out by Betty's gigantic head?

I’ve always wondered why people aren’t more creeped out by Betty’s gigantic butt head.

That transitions into the album’s end on “Yeah, Yeah” which sounds like Yoko Ono for a second at the beginning.  It is actually kind of a rocking, new wave track.  The Betty Boop character keeps popping up here and there in the background of this song.  A good way to end the album, with it rocking a bit.

Is the album mostly fluff?  Yeah, for the most part.  But Pop music is sometimes at its best when it is very fluffy.  The mega-hits off this album have dulled it as a complete album, but without those hits it would be something completely forgotten.  Still, this isn’t trying to be Dark Side of the Moon.  It is trying to be a hit album for the then new MTV generation.  And on that it account it succeeded mightily.

The Aftermath:

The five singles released off the album all made the top 30.  “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was released before the album, and reached #2 on the Billboard chart, eventually selling 2 million copies itself.  “Time After Time” became Cyndi’s first #1 single.  “She Bop” reached #3 and “All Through The Night” made it to #5.  The lowest charting single off the album was “Money Changes Everything” which “only” made it to #27.

Due to the advance popularity of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” She’s So Unusual debuted on the Billboard Album Chart at #4. The album stayed on the chart for 77 weeks and sold over 16 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.

So much of the success of both the singles and album was the constant airplay of Lauper’s music videos on MTV.

What exactly was Captain Lou captain of?

What exactly was Captain Lou captain of?

Her style made her an immediate fashion icon and changed the way girls dressed overnight.  She won the first ever best female video at the MTV Video Music Awards and also led everyone that year with 10 nominations.  She then was nominated for 6 Grammys in 1984, winning two: Best New Artist and Best Album Packaging.

She had her fifth top 10 single with “Goonies R Good Enough” from the soundtrack to the film, The Goonies.

Single85

Cyndi began involving herself in the world of pro wrestling, and lent her name to help Vince McMahon’s WWF skyrocket to its biggest success.  Starting with an MTV special, Lauper became part of the Rock n’ Wrestling connection, becoming the manager for Women’s wrestling champion Wendi Richter. She even allowed herself to be kicked in the head by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.  All of this led to the first ever Wrestlemania, along with the Hulk Hogan/Mr.T tag team main event, Cyndi’s involvement was one of the most hyped parts of the card.

Sleeveless tuxedo shirt, never not classy.

Sleeveless tuxedo shirt, never not classy.

It took her three years to release a sophomore album.  True Colors spawned her second #1 hit with the title track and two other top 20 hits.

Cyndi-Lauper-True-Colours

It got good reviews and went double platinum.  It wasn’t the huge success that She’s So Unusual had been, but what is?

She turned to acting in 1988 co-starring in the poorly received Jeff Goldblum vehicle, Vibes. 

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Her third album, 1989’s A Night To Remember was not the success that her first two albums had been, just barely going gold and only spawning one hit song “I Drove All Night.”

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Throughout the 1990’s Lauper continued to record albums and act occasionally. In 1995, she won an Emmy for her guest role on Mad About You.

I remember watching this at the age of 12 and having no clue who she was.

I remember watching this at the age of 12 and having no clue who Cyndi Lauper was.

Her career slowed after the birth of her son in 1997.  However, she has maintained her reputation as one of the most important female artists of the last 30 years.

Much of her time in recent years has been as an activist for the LGBT community, starting her own charity, The True Colors Fund.

Her most recent album, Memphis Blues debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues album chart.  She also received a Grammy Nomination in 2011 for best traditional blues album.

Cyndi-Lauper-Memphis-Blues-fulll

Her most recent work was composing the music for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots which just recently opened in April of 2013. She is currently nominated for the Best Musical Score Tony, which means if she wins she will be only an Oscar away from winning the coveted EGOT.

She will finally get to wear this lovely chain.

She will finally get to wear this lovely one of a kind chain.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “Lauper’s first band had broken up and she was singing in a Japanese restaurant. Then this solo debut album of razor-sharp dance pop became the first by a female performer to score four Top Five hits, including “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Time After Time.”

Ya know, I’ve never thought of this as dance-pop.  I guess it is, but can you dance to “Time After Time?”

Conclusion:

Overall, this is a good album.  It hits its mark, while it may not have aimed too high, it still does what it sets out to do.  Not everything is great on this album, but it is an important album due to it’s hits, which are all fantastically crafted pop songs.

3.5 Stars out of 5, recommended with some reservations

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. KISS- Destroyer

4. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

5. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

6. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

7. Outkast- Aquemini

8. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

9. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

10. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

11. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

12. Cyndi Lauper- She’s So Unusual

13. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

14. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

15. Eurythmics- Touch

#487- Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising- 1985

May 1, 2013

New-Day-Rising1

The Artists:

Huskers86

Grant Hart was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1961.

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Grant Hart

His brother was killed in a car accident when Grant was 10 years old.  His brother was a musician and Grant inherited his brothers drum kit.  He joined a few garage bands during his teen years, but a lot of his time was spent working at a local St. Paul Record Store, Melody Lane Records.

It was at Melody Lane that Hart met another teen named Bob Mould, who would come in to buy records all the time.  They were both fans of The Ramones and The Buzzcocks.  Over time they became friends outside of the record store.

Mould was born in Malone, New York in 1960, but had moved to St. Paul to attend Macalester College.

Bob Mould

Bob Mould

Mould had been writing songs since he was 9 years old, but he did not learn to play guitar until he was 16.  He really fell in love with early punk bands and wanted to form his own.

Grant Hart met Greg Norton when they were both applying for the same job at Melody Lane.  They shared a love of music, although Norton was more interested in listening to jazz.  Hart and Norton started hanging out in Hart’s mother’s basement, listening to music and jamming with each other with Hart playing drums and Norton playing the bass.

greg-norton1

Greg Norton

Hart and Norton were hanging out at a bar in St. Paul with a friend, named Charlie Pine.  They asked Pine to go get a pitcher of beer from the bar.  Pine asked the bartender if they had live bands there. The manager said they did and asked if Pine had a band.  Pine said that he did and that their name was “Buddy and the Returnables.”  Neither was true, he was not part of a band and he had just made up the name of the band on the spot.  When he got back to the table he told the guys he had gotten them a gig playing at the bar.  They had not discussed even putting together a band until that moment.

Grant mentioned that he knew a guy that was a great guitarist, referring to Bob Mould.  He invited Mould over the next day to join them and form a band.  They jammed to a bunch of Ramones songs.  Mould played guitar, Norton played bass, Hart played drums, and Pine played the organ, all of them would share vocals, though eventually Mould and Hart would take over as co-lead vocalists.

Around this time the guys were jamming in Pine’s basement, improvising lyrics to Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Hart yelled out “Husker Du!”  It was the name of a slightly obscure kid’s memory-style board game.

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The guys thought it was funny, and everyone thought that would make a good name for their band.  When writing the name down, Mould added umlauts above the u’s to make their name look more distinctive: Hüsker Dü.

The other three did not enjoy playing with Pine, and they felt that didn’t need an organ.  After the first few gigs, the other three quit telling Pine where their next gigs would be, essentially firing him from the band.

"Hey guys, I just wrote this sweet new organ solo.  Guys? Guys?"

“Hey guys, I just wrote this sweet new organ solo. Guys? Guys?”

Their first gig as a trio was at the area’s Punk rock mecca, Minneapolis’ Longhorn.  From that gig, they were able to book local gigs all over the Twin Cities area throughout the summer of 1979.

The band started to move away from playing Ramones styled punk to performing the screaming/thrashing sound of “hardcore punk.”  They played fast and ferocious and were gaining a huge reputation in Minneapolis, which had one of the biggest punk scenes in the country.

The band recorded some demos and had an agreement with Minneapolis-based Twin Tone Records to release a single, but they ultimately rejected what Hüsker Dü delivered.  The band just decided to form their own label to release their music, which they called Reflex Records.  They started releasing singles on Reflex in 1981.

One of their early singles, "Amusement."

One of their early singles, “Amusement.”

Later that year, the band recorded one of their concerts at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis.  The band wanted to release the live recording as an album, but they did not have the money to release it on their own.  However, friend of the band and member of the band Minutemen, Mike Watt, had started his own label called New Alliance, and he offered to release the album for them.

Released in January 1982,  the live album was titled Land Speed Record.

Husker_Du_-_Land_Speed_Record-LP

It lives up to its name, as it has 17 songs which are played in 26 minutes.

(I will admit that I am far, far from the best person to discuss the quality of hardcore punk music.  But I will do my best here.)  The music is nonstop, maybe half a second pauses between some songs, but it is nonstop noise for the most part.  Despite my affection of great lyrics, great vocals, and melody, I admit I can still appreciate what is going on here.

Do I understand even one screamed lyric? No. Does every song sound basically like the same chaotic thing over and over to me? For the most part.  BUT, I still can hear the musicianship in there, and it is not totally displeasing.

That’s what these reviews are all about, exposing myself to stuff I would usually have no reason to check out normally, and hopefully developing an appreciation of it.  Actually, the album’s last track “Data Control” is different than the rest of the album as it has a bit of melody, some solos by the band, and more understandable lyrics, being more of an example of what Hüsker Dü would become.

That summer, the band took time off from playing live to record their first studio album.  With financial help from another local company, Twin Cities Distribution, the band released their first studio album through their own Reflex Records label in January of 1983, titled Everything Falls Apart.

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Immediately I can hear how the band is evolving, as the opening track “From The Gut” has something of a melody and the title track has a pop song structure to it.  They may still be thrashing and screaming, but you can hear their musicianship coming out on every track.  They even do pretty catchy punk version of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Altogether, the 12 song LP (or EP?) clocks in at a brief 19 minutes.  I admit, I’m liking this stuff a bit more.

Hüsker Dü was signed to the independent SST Record label, the first non-California band they had signed.  The label, owned by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, was becoming the top record label for hardcore bands such as Black Flag and Minutemen.

The band left the Twin Cities for Redondo Beach, California to record their first album on SST.  Titled Metal Circus, it was released in October of 1983.

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I guess it is an EP since it only contains 7 songs, but it clocks in at the same 19 minutes as the previous album.  That very bit of information already tells you that their music was changing and becoming more structured and not just one minute of screaming and thrashing.

The music is still basically the same hardcore style of the first two albums but for instance on “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” Grant Hart actually sings melodically, with only touches of screaming.  Hart’s songs definitely show more pop sensibility than Mould’s do on this album.  Hart also penned the album’s one truly great track. “Diane,” which became a popular song on college radio throughout the country.  While it was mostly just in the underground, the band was having their first bit of national exposure.

The band got together while touring and decided to record something completely different on their next album.  While not completely going away from hardcore punk, they wanted to, in Bob Mould’s words, “do something bigger than anything like rock & roll.”

They decided to put together a concept album.  The album would tell a coherent story of a young boy who runs away from home life, and finds out that the world is even worse than his home.  They wanted to add a little more musicality to their hardcore music by mixing in other instruments, such as piano and acoustic guitar.

The band returned to Redondo Beach to record the album.  They recorded 25 songs within 40 hours almost all on the first take.  They then spent 40 hours mixing the album, meaning that they completed the album within a week.  Released as a double LP, they titled the album Zen Arcade.

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While it starts out with their usual rapid-fire hardcore stuff, the third track, “Never Talking To You Again” is the first huge departure for the band, as it is a 60’s-esque folk ballad. “The Tooth Fairy And The Princess” is a psychedelic track with the music played in reverse.  Each departure is followed by another hardcore track.  Hart’s screaming vocals on “Standing By The Sea” sound almost like something out of soul music, if the soul singer was on the verge of a meltdown.  “Pink Turns To Blue” has a commercial enough sound that it possibly could have made the top 40, but no songs off this album were released as singles.  Side 3 of the album has several nice little piano interludes. For a band that is accustomed to one minute thrash songs, the album closes out on a 14 minute instrumental. Altogether, it is a really fantastic album.

Zen Arcade received high critical praise.  For example, David Fricke of Rolling Stone called it “a kind of thrash Quadrophenia.”  It also made several reviewers top ten lists of 1984.

The band had asked SST to press as many copies of the album as possible, but the label only pressed about 3,500 of them.  The album sold out extremely quickly, but SST was unable to get new copies out very quickly which hurt sales since the buzz around the album had died down by the time they released new copies.  By 1985, they had sold out of around 20,000 copies of the album, which was a huge number for a hardcore band.

The band immediately returned to the studio to record their follow-up.  This time they did not travel to California to record, but they stayed in Minneapolis, recording throughout the month of July in 1984 at Nicollet Studio, which was where their label, Reflex Records was located.  They brought the same producer who had produced their first two albums for the label, SST’s in-house producer, named Spot.

Spot (In glasses and hat) with Black Flag.

Spot (in glasses and hat) with Black Flag.

The band wanted to build on what they had done on Zen Arcade by expanding their sound even more, leaving behind more of their hardcore past, and moving more towards the sound that a few years later would be dubbed “alternative rock.”  They would display this new sound with the release of New Day Rising in January 1985.

The Album Cover:

New-Day-Rising1

The cover of New Day Rising might better exemplify the title and content of the album than most album covers, and yet it at first glance appears very simple.

The top half of the album cover looks almost like a ripped brown paper sack covering the front with the band’s name and album title printed on there.  The bottom half of the cover has two dogs wading in shallow water on the beach, with a beautiful shot of the sun rising and it’s rays reflecting on the water.  It is a very peaceful photo, exemplifying something new, a new day.  No hardcore band had ever had a nice serene shot used as their album cover. Usually it was someone breaking something or a band screaming in concert. Some bands in the past had gone the route of covering their albums in paper sacks, because ‘screw you’ and stuff.  But here, these hardcore punk artists were ripping away that brown paper bag to reveal something beautiful, introducing a new sound in hardcore, and for Hüsker Dü this album was a new day rising on their career.

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The back cover has another beautiful picture of the sun rising over the water and the trees.  The title, track listing, and credits are printed in blue over the sky.

The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of New Day Rising released on SST Records in 1985.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience, though, to be fair, the album has very thin production so there is very little difference in the sound on vinyl, CD, or mp3.)

The album opens up with “New Day Rising.”  The awesome opening track streak is extended!  It is basically a hardcore version of an overture.  It is played like a hardcore track, the thrashing of fast paced guitar and drums, with the lyric “New day rising” repeated over and over amid screams, but it is oddly melodious.  It’s just so cool to introduce the album this way. Great opener.

The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill” is a Grant Hart penned track.  It is probably one of the best known Hüsker Dü songs.  It has some great guitar work on it.  Very good stuff that sounds about 7 years ahead of its time.

I Apologize” is a Bob Mould song.  Most of his songs from the prior album were still of the screaming hardcore variety, but here is a song that has pleasing vocals for the most part.  This is what I would imagine an R.E.M. hardcore track would sound like.

To be fair, Amazon says R.E.M. is a hardcore punk band.

To be fair, Amazon says R.E.M. is a hardcore punk band.

I’ve liked everything so far on the album.

Folk Lore” is kind of a return to the old stuff they were doing.  Clocking in at 1:34, it is very chaotic.  Nothing too offensive, but nothing new.

If I Told You” again has a lot of noise.  It does have some really good guitar work. I admit do have trouble understanding what makes some of these tracks different than the last. However, I do like this one for some reason.

Celebrated Summer” was one track that was actually released as a single.  After a rocking opening, midway through it turns acoustic, before revving back up, and then it returns towards the ending.  I like it.  I’ve got to imagine every time they pulled out the acoustic guitars their hardcore fanbase probably groaned, but it makes the songs much more interesting.  This one is really great.

Side one ends with “Perfect Example” is not a loud hardcore song, but I still can’t understand what Mould’s singing.  This track is kinda meh. His singing reminds me of Shy Ronnie on SNL, I mean the Shy Ronnie that comes out when Rhianna is around.

shy ronnie

Side two opens with Hart’s “Terms of Psychic Warfare.”  I think on the whole, I like Hart’s songs more than I do Mould’s.  People were saying that you could see a rift starting to exist between the two as they seemed to be going in different musical directions.  Hart’s are more musical, which means their fanbase probably liked Mould better.  I really like Mould’s guitar work on this.  This is really good stuff.

59 Times the Pain” has some odd vocals.  I think it is Mould, but it doesn’t really sound like him.  I looked up the lyrics, because I hadn’t a clue what was being said, and its a really depressing song, so I guess the pained vocals go with that.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I do like like it.

Powerline” is kind of different because the vocals are way back on the mix, but that means I have no clue what is being said.  While that is probably the point, I don’t “get” it.  It kind of gets slightly psychedelic at the very end, but then it ends.  The guitar work is good and saves it from being of no interest to me.

Books About UFOs” is kind of a doo-wop punk song, with a honky tonk piano.  Once again, it is a Hart song that I really like.  A lot of piano on this track.  It also reminds me a little of the Ramones if the Ramones had existed 10 years earlier than they did.  I like this a whole lot.

I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” is a little bit more of a thrash track, though a bit melodic.  I guess the title sums up what I’m saying to them about their lyrics.  However, I am developing an appreciation for this stuff.  I think I do like it, but I say that with the caveat that I’m not sure I fully understand how to appreciate it.

How To Skin A Cat” is an instrumental of sorts, although it has talking over it.  I think whomever is speaking is talking about feeding rats to cats and other odd things about rats and cats.  The guitar riff kinda reminds me of the original theme song to Space Ghost Coast To Coast

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Space Ghost interviewing some bitch.

It really reminds me of something Captain Beefheart would do, and I love Captain Beefheart, so I like this.

The Captain, and not Tom Skerritt

What exactly was Captain Beefheart captain of?

Whatcha Drinkin‘ is back to the screaming stuff again.  A lot of people label this album as post-hardcore, but I’m just not well versed enough in those genres to understand the difference.  This sounds basically like what they were doing all the way back on Land Speed Record. Although, I do give props to Norton, on his bass playing on this track.  I’m not all that big a fan of this one.

Plans I Make” has an interesting rock guitar riff playing with it. The opening guitar blast is pretty badass. While I am not of fan of the screaming vocals, I do like all the noise on the track.  I think I’ve realized that I don’t mind hardcore when it is not the same notes just pounded over and over with the screaming, but that is probably like saying “I like polka, but I wish they’d just get rid of that damn accordion.”  Someone is yelling the words “plans” and “make” like a caveman at the end.

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What exactly was Captain Caveman captain of?

It is a pretty good song to finish on.

I again admit I’m am not well versed enough to a) explain the intricacies of hardcore punk b) explain why I like this album.  As I said, I am not a huge fan of the screaming. But with that admission on my part, I do say that liked most all of the tracks individually, and I like the album as a whole.

The Aftermath:

By the time New Day Rising was released, Hüsker Dü was already recording their follow-up.  While recording that album, they accepted a record deal from Warner Brothers Records.  Despite being under no obligation to do so, they allowed SST to release the album that they were in the middle of recording, due to their loyalty to the independent label.

The album was released in September 1985, which was titled Flip Your Wig.

album-flip-your-wig1

In March 1986, the band released their first major label album called Candy Apple Grey.

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The band had almost completely moved away from their hardcore roots.  While that lost them many of their original fans, the more mainstream alternative sound gained them a new legion of fans and for the first time, an album of theirs made the Billboard top 200 Album chart.  They also got radio airplay and had videos played on MTV.

Hart and Mould had been jockeying for position as who was the leader of the band for years.  Issues with who would get more of their songs on an album had been causing a rift between the two for the last 2 or 3 albums.  While touring to support Candle Apple Grey, Hüsker Dü’s manager David Savoy committed suicide.  The band, most notably Hart, blamed themselves for his death.

As they went back to the studio to record their second album for Warner, the band was falling apart.  Mould took over as the band manager, which furthered the divide within the band.  The band still came together to record enough tracks to release a double LP, Warehouse: Songs And Stories.

warehouse

The album was even more successful than their prior album, reaching #117 0n Billboard’s album chart, and they reached the top 100 in the UK for the first time.  Also, they made their network TV debut on the Late Show with Joan Rivers during this time, to promote the album.

During the 1987 tour to promote the album, Hart’s drug addiction started to become a major issue within the band.  Hart was trying to get off of heroin through methadone treatments, but when his supply ran out, Mould took it on himself to cancel the band’s tour dates since he didn’t think Hart could perform while dealing with withdrawals.  Hart said he could still play, but Mould had already cancelled the shows without asking his bandmates.  Feeling that Mould had taken too much power within the band, Grant Hart quit.

Norton had just gotten married and was fine with taking time away from the band.  He was also starting his own business on the side. A couple of years later he formed another band, Grey Area.  The band stayed together until 1991 when Norton left the music business to start a restaurant in Red Wing, Minnesota.  He eventually returned to the music and joined a punk-jazz fusion band called Gang Font feat. Interloper.

Mould would have a fairly successful solo career through 1992 when he formed a new band, Sugar.

SUGAR

Sugar’s debut album, Copper Blue, was his biggest success, yet, selling over 300,000 copies and it was named New Music Express’ album of the year for 1992.  The band broke up in 1995, and Mould went back to recording solo.  In 1999, he made an odd detour as he left music to become a writer for World Championship Wrestling.  He returned to music in the early 2000’s, experimenting with electronica for a while.  He has continued to record music, releasing his most critically acclaimed solo album in 2012, Silver Age.

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A few months after the breakup, Hart was incorrectly diagnosed with HIV, which helped push him towards sobriety.  He formed a band Nova Mob in 1989.

Nova+Mob

They released one EP and and two albums before breaking up.  Hart has been recording solo records since 1996 with varying degrees of success.

Hüsker Dü has never gotten back together since their breakup in 1987.  Mould and Hart still snipe at each other in the press to this day.  Those two did put aside their differences to perform together one last time in 2004 at the benefit concert for a fellow Minnesota native, Soul Asylum’s bassist Karl Mueller and his cancer treatment.  Mould said that it was a one time thing, and he says there will never be a Hüsker Dü reunion.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “These three Minneapolis dudes played savagely emotional hardcore punk that became a big influence on Nirvana, among others. The Hüskers created a roar like garbage trucks trying to sing Beach Boys songs, especially on the anthems “Celebrated Summer” and “Perfect Example.”

I like the “roar like garbage trucks trying to sing Beach Boys songs.” It sounds like something I’d come up with.  I’ll give Rolling Stone a passing grade on this blurb.

Conclusion:

My opinion changed every time I listened to this album.  The first time through, I had just listened to their preceding albums moments beforehand, and I think I was a little tired of the hardcore shouting.  The second time through I liked it a little better.  The third time through I really started to “get it.”  I would not recommend it for everybody, but if you give it a couple of chances I think you will start to appreciate it. If you already like this kind of stuff I think you’ll like it the first time.  Personally, I think it is a very good album.

4.25 Stars out of 5, recommended

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. KISS- Destroyer

4. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

5. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

6. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

7. Outkast- Aquemini

8. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising

9. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

10. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

11. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

12. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

13. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

14. Eurythmics- Touch

#488- KISS- Destroyer- 1976

April 28, 2013

kiss-destroyer

The Artists:

Kiss 2

When you look at those four guys in fantasy makeup, it is hard to believe that any of those guys ever came from humble beginnings.

Chaim Witz was born August 25, 1949 in Tirat HaCarmel, Haifa, Israel.  At the age of eight, Chaim immigrated with his mother to the United States, settling in the borough of Queens in New York City.  His mother, Flora Klein, was a holocaust survivor and had been abandoned by her husband back in Israel.  In order to make his name more pronounceable, he had his named changed to Eugene Klein.  Young Eugene spoke no English, and to learn it he began watching lots of fantasy movies and TV shows, and he really became enamored with comic books and superhero stories.

Young Eugene Klein

After seeing the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, Eugene became obsessed with rock n’ roll music and the adulation that they got from girls.  His mother bought him his first guitar when he was 18 and he joined several garage bands during his teens and early 20s.  Klein worked many jobs during this time including selling used comic books, substitute teaching, and he even worked as an assistant fashion editor at Vogue.

Somewhere around this time Klein wanted to have a stage name for when he became famous. He took the name of a rockabilly artist whose name he had heard and liked: Gene Simmons.

In 1970, Simmons decided to form a band with himself on bass, a childhood friend named Stephen Coronel on guitar, and a keyboardist named Brooke Ostrander.  They named their band Rainbow.  Coronel felt they needed a rhythm guitarist and he invited a guy to join the band who they had met when he auditioned for them months earlier.  His name was Stanley Eisen.

Young Stanley Eisen

Young Stanley Eisen

Eisen was born in Manhattan on January 20, 1952

Stanley had just recently graduated from The High School of Music and Art in New York City.  He too had been enamored with the Beatles as well as bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones.  He was drawn to music despite being deaf in his right ear.

After playing their first show, it was brought to the band’s attention that there was already another band named Rainbow.  Simmons came up with another name for the band, Wicked Lester.

Wicked Lester

Wicked Lester

The band recorded a few demos at Electric Lady studios and were signed by Epic Records in the winter of 1971.  The band began working on recording their debut album. Once it was completed, the Epic record execs hated the finished product and refused to release the album.  Wicked Lester decided to request their release from their recording contract.

Simmons and Eisen (who had now started to go by the more white-bread name of Paul Stanley) did not think that this version of Wicked Lester was going to be the band that made it big for them.  They wanted to go in a heavier direction as opposed to the more folky/poppy music that they were doing.  They fired the other musicians and started looking for a couple of new people to start fresh with.

The duo went looking through trade publications hoping to find a drummer that was looking to join a band.  One ad caught their eye in the back of Rolling Stone.  It said “EXPD. ROCK & roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music. Peter, Brooklyn.”  Simmons and Stanley contacted the drummer to audition for them.  His name was Peter Criscuola.

Criscuola was born December 20, 1945 in Brooklyn.

Going by the stage name Peter Criss, he had already had a bit of success with the New York based band Chelsea, who had released a self-titled album in 1970 on MCA.

Chelsea had started to break apart after the recording of the album, and became a trio the next year, changing their name to Lips.  The trio didn’t last much longer and that led Criss to look for work.

Simmons and Stanley went to see Criss perform at a club for his audition.  Not only did they think he was a good drummer, but Simmons thought he had a “Wilson Pickett-like” voice.  Criss was invited to join Simmons’ and Stanley’s band.

They had decided they wanted to be a glam-rock band in the same vein as the New York Dolls and wanted to use makeup as part of their stage show.  Their first experiment was more a kabuki-styled facepaint.

The band as a trio in facepaint.

The band played as a trio, still using the Wicked Lester name, in front of execs from Epic Records in November of 1972.  The audition did not go well, especially after Peter’s brother puked on one of the executives.

The trio felt they needed to add another guitarist since Paul was handling lead vocals on most songs.  They put an ad in The Village Voice in January of 1973.  One of the first people to respond was Paul “Ace” Frehley.

Frehley was born in the Bronx on April 27, 1951.

AceFrehleyLive16

He was given the nickname “Ace” in high school for his ability to get girls for his friends.  He had started playing guitar around the same time.  He played with several local bands and had not had any success.  A friend had pointed out the Village Voice ad to him and they both went to audition.  Gene, Paul, and Peter were blown away by his playing, and within three weeks Wicked Lester was now a four piece.

Because this band was a new beginning, Gene and Paul wanted a new name for the band.  While the foursome thought out loud, Criss mentioned that his last band’s name was Lips.  Paul, using that as a reference, came up with a similar name: Kiss.  Everyone liked the name, and they all agreed that this should be their new band’s name.

They had already been booked to play a show as Wicked Lester and there were posters around town promoting the concert.  Frehley used a marker to write the band’s new name over the Wicked Lester name on the posters, using lightning bolts as the ‘s’s.  They decided that would be the band’s logo, styling the band’s name in all capitals.

kiss-classic-logo

For their first few shows as KISS, they wore little to no makeup and no outlandish costumes.  But just a few weeks later Paul and Gene decided to start wearing platform shoes, clad themselves in leather, and each would paint their face as a different fantasy character.

Gene was “The Demon.”

gene

Paul was “The Starchild.”

Although for a brief period he was “The Bandit.”

paul

Ace was “The Spaceman.”

ace

Peter was “The Catman.”

pater

After performing at several record label showcase concerts in New York, the band became the first people signed to the fledgling Casablanca Records label.  They started work on their first album in October of 1973.

KISS released their self-titled debut album in February of 1974.

The album was recorded and mixed in only 13 days.  Most of the album’s songs had been written for Wicked Lester and some even before any of them knew each other.

KISS is actually a pretty good debut for the band.  Lots of long time concert staples came off this album like “Strutter” and “Deuce.”  It’s not perfect as it has some low points most notably Gene’s ode to anal sex “Nothin’ to Lose” and the instrumental “Love Theme From KISS.”

The album did not sell well at all at the time, only moving about 75,000 copies.

The band kept up an intense touring schedule throughout 1974 to promote the album.

They went to Los Angeles to record their follow-up in August of 1974, which was released just 2 months later as Hotter Than Hell.

Hotter

The album is pretty poor.  The production lives up to its reputation as being muddy and dull.  It’s not horrible, but the negatives outweigh the positives.

The album did not get the promotion that their debut had and mixing that in with poor reviews, it sold quite a few less copies than KISS had.

The band continued touring, trying to promote the album, but due to the cold reception that Hotter Than Hell was getting.  Casablanca owner Neil Bogart asked the band to end the tour and get back in the studio to record a new album.  Bogart was desperate as not only was the band flailing as a commercial success, but the record label was losing money hand over fist.

The band released their third album, Dressed to Kill, in March of 1975.

Front

The album contained what would soon become their signature song, “Rock And Roll All Nite.”  Although, it would not become a big hit until after their next album.

Dressed To Kill did better commercially than Hotter Than Hell, but it still did not make a huge impression on the album charts.  Nor does it make much of an impression on me.  It has the classic “KISS sound,” but with the exception of a couple of songs it is pretty generic.

While the band was not selling many records, they were gaining a reputation as one of the best live acts in rock music. The band added theatrics that no one outside of, perhaps, Alice Cooper were doing at the time.  Gene would vomit blood and breathe fire, Ace’s guitar would burst into flames, Peter’s drum riser would shoot sparks, and Paul would smash his guitar.  These stunts spread their reputation throughout the U.S. as a band that was must see in concert.

The band wanted to focus on what they did best, which was stir up excitement during their live concerts.  They obviously were not exciting anyone with their studio albums, so they decided to release a live album which would try to capture that excitement on vinyl.

The band released a double LP Alive! in September of 1975.

I will not go into too much detail about this album since I will review it at entry #158.

However, the album was a success, reaching the top 10 on the Billboard chart and going Gold.  It also brought them their first top 40 hit with the concert version of “Rock And Roll All Nite.”  Not only was the album a success for the band, but it also saved the label from bankruptcy.

The band was now selling out auditoriums and their fan club the “KISS Army” was growing into the hundreds of thousands.  They hoped to capitalize on their new success by returning to the studio.

In August 1975, they set out to see if they could finally capture that magic they had in concert on a studio album.  To help them, they brought in Alice Cooper’s producer, Bob Ezrin to produce the album for them.  Thinking that they had been too slapdash on their previous albums, they spent several months recording demos and rehearsing before recording commenced in February of 1976,

The Album Cover:

kiss-destroyer

As a lifetime comic book fan, Gene wanted a comic book fantasy picture for the cover.  The band’s manager, Bill Aucoin, went downstairs to a newsstand and picked up some sci-fi and horror magazines.  The band looked at the covers and picked the one they liked the best and contacted the artist.  The cover they liked best was by fantasy artist Ken Kelly. Kelly had been an artist on such comics as Conan the Barbarian.

In this world, there is no body fat.

Kelly went to a KISS concert to get the “feel” of KISS, and was blown away.  He painted the cover with the knowledge the band wanted to name the album Destroyer.  He took that concept and painted the band leaping over rubble while buildings crumbled and burned in the distance.  However, the cover he submitted was not the one to be the finished product.

The original Destroyer artwork.

The record label thought the burning city in the background with smoke billowing under the band was too violent an image for their product and, also, in the time since he had completed his painting, the band had changed their costumes for the new tour to promote this new album.

Kelly changed the cover to a more subdued bit of destruction, there were now just a few burning buildings a bit farther in the background, and he re-did the band’s costumes on the cover to reflect their new looks.

The back cover shows the aftermath of the destruction, with more burning buildings and black smoke covering the sky.

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The innersleeve has an advertisement for their fan club on one side.

inner 1

And the band’s name with lyrics to “Detroit Rock City” on the other.

inner 2

The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of Destroyer released on Casablanca Records in 1976.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens with “Detroit Rock City.”  The awesome opening track streak continues!  Paul wrote the song about the true story of a KISS fan that was killed in an auto accident on his way to see them play in Detroit.  The track opens with sound effects of someone getting in a car with “Rock and Roll All Nite” off of Alive! playing on the radio, and Gene playing the role of a newscaster, which makes me laugh at how serious he is sounding. I just know that he thought that no one would put two and two together and realize this Demon is so intelligent sounding. One of their best guitar riffs opens the track and on the whole, it’s really awesome and a legendary track.

“Detroit Rock City” flows into “King Of The Night Time World” another Stanley song.  A perfect anthem for KISS’ many rebellious, male teenage fans of 1976.  It rocks harder than the preceding track.  Criss has some great drumming on this track.  The change in producers is already apparent just by hearing the first two tracks.  Both of these songs just sound so clear and musical, even with KISS’ usual 3 chord style.  Two great tracks to start things off.

Gene has his first song on the album with the concert staple (as all of these songs will become) “God Of Thunder.”  A very epic sounding opening.  I just get the feeling that a lot of Spinal Tap’s music had to be partially based on this track.

spinal

I think there is a lot of KISS in Spinal Tap.

Yes, it is a bit overwrought, but what else would you want from a guy who vomits blood and wags his foot long tongue, while breathing fire, painted like a demon on stage.  Ezrin’s influence definitely shows up here as it is quite an Alice Cooper-esque song. Good, good stuff.

Great Expectations” closes out side one.  The first time I heard this I was surprised that KISS did stuff this conceptual.  The chorus is based on Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor.” It is another Gene song, but a huge departure from “God of Thunder.”  Although, it is about his favorite thing in the world, sex with groupies, but it is hidden in a classy sound.  Many have called this KISS’ most Beatle-esque track.  I don’t know what to call it other than terrific.  A fantastic ending to the first side of Destroyer.

Side two of the LP opens with “Flaming Youth.”  Co-written by Ace and Paul with Paul on lead vocals, in fact Ace doesn’t sing at all on this album.  They really do a good job of writing songs for their fan base, they just might be the best band at doing that.

Which is why there are people 35 years later that will be buried in this.

Another rocking track and a great opener for a side.  There is a little addition of an organ, which is new to KISS.  Five great songs in a row to start the album.

Sweet Pain” is another Gene track, so that means it is another sex song, this time about S&M.  It has some great guitar work, but not by Ace.  Bob Ezrin did not like Ace’s playing on the original recording and replaced it without Ace’s knowledge by bringing in Dick Wagner, who had played on Alice Cooper’s albums.  Ace did not know he had been replaced until he heard the album completed the first time.  Despite what Ace might think about it, it is another great track.

Shout It Out Loud” is probably KISS’ second most famous track behind “Rock And Roll All Nite.”  Paul and Gene share lead vocals.  I remember first hearing this song as part of a TV commercial with KISS when they were on their reunion tour in the late 90’s.

The “Pepsi Girl” in KISS makeup put an end to any rumors that KISS stood for Knights In Satan’s Service or confirmed them…

It just has a rock concert feel to it, even on the album.  Fantastic stuff.

Beth” is the one Peter Criss song on the album, but, man, what song it is.  Most all of the instrumentation is from an orchestra.  I would like to have known what someone in 1976 would have thought about this track the first time they’d heard it and found out it was KISS.  I’d imagine it would be something akin to mind being blown.  It’s a really sweet song that is about long distance relationships and it does not involve talking about spreading someone’s legs or using silly double entendres, like, ya know, most KISS songs about women.  One of the best rock ballads of all time.

There was always something kind of funny about Peter coming out from the behind the drums to sit on a stool and sing this soft ballad in concert, while painted as a cat.

Do You Love Me? closes out the album.  Another one of KISS’ best known songs.  Truly great song, which even has a touch of psychedelic rock mixed into the fourth verse.  I like how KISS’ songs are very KISS specific.  I mean who else can write a song that includes the line “you like my seven inch leather heels” and sing that with a straight face? The production is so crisp with bells mixed in with the rocking at the end.  Great ending to a great album

Well that was sort of the ending.  The album has a hidden track usually referred to a “Rock And Roll Party” by fans. It is the instrumentation of “Great Expectations” played in reverse with a clip of Paul yelling “Rock and roll party!” sampled off of Alive!  Ezrin wanted to end the album on sound effects like the way they opened the album and the band thought it would be funny to use backwards sound since people were always trying to find backwards hidden messages in songs.

“esidnahcrem ruo yuB.” “esidnahcrem ruo yuB.”

What can I say?  It is a classic album filled with nothing but classic tracks.  This album proved that KISS could capture that spirit they had on concert on vinyl.  It is a true masterwork of rock.

I should also note that KISS released Destroyer: Resurrected in 2012.

large

It had the original artwork as the cover, and the songs were mixed differently, sometimes with new instrumentation such as reinstating Ace Frehley’s guitar work on “Sweet Pain.”  It also included unheard vocals on “Beth” and “Detroit Rock City.”  Usually, I say re-mixed versions of albums aren’t better or worse, just different, but this one just doesn’t work for me.

I like the album too much the way it was originally released to enjoy the remixed version.  I realize KISS loves making more money, but leave well enough alone, guys.  Have we not learned anything from George Lucas’ tinkering with Star Wars?

Have we not?

Aftermath:

Despite gaining such a huge following after the release of Alive!, this album was not quite the immediate huge seller that the band expected.  It did do much better than their previous three studio albums, going gold almost immediately, but it stalled as the three singles off the album did not make much of an impression on top 40 radio.  Only “Shout It Out Loud” made the top 40 and it topped out at #31 on the Billboard chart.

It was not until a radio DJ in Atlanta flipped the “Detroit Rock City” single and started playing its B-side “Beth” that things really heated up for KISS. The album had already started to move back down the charts, but once DJs across the country started flipping the single to play “Beth” it took off again.  The song became KISS’ first top 10 hit, reaching #7, and Destroyer became their first platinum record, and eventually it reached double platinum status.

KISS was now becoming one of the most popular bands in the world.  Their next two albums Rock And Roll Over and Love Gun both immediately went platinum.  A Gallop poll at the end of 1977 said that KISS was the most the most popular band in the United States.

They also became the top merchandising American band in the history of music.  Most notably they put out the KISS comic book (which advertised having real KISS members’ blood in the red ink) and one of the crappiest movies in the history of crap movies titled KISS Meets the Phantom.

Kiss meets the phantom of the park 3

You think the special effects look bad? You should see the acting.

In 1978, they took the merchandising even further by thinking that fans that like buying one KISS record would love to buy four KISS records.  So each member of the group recorded their own solo album and Casablanca released them simultaneously.

Well, KISS fans complied, and each solo album went platinum, reaching the top 50 on the Billboard albums chart all at the same time.  However, three of the four were not highly regarded by critics with Ace Frehley being the only exception.  Ace was also the only one to have a top 20 single from the solo albums with “New York Groove.”

Criss left the band officially in 1980 and was replaced by Eric Carr.  Their next album 1981’s, Music From “The Elder” was a concept album that told the story of a boy and knights and stuff.

That kind of stuff that was more suited for Rick Wakeman or Peter Gabriel.

At least they weren’t dressed as human flowers in concert.

Fans hated it, critics hated it even more.  Ace Frehley hated it too and quit the band.

Ace was replaced by Vinnie Vincent on lead guitar for the recording of their next album Creatures Of The Night, but he was still credited on the album and his picture remained on the cover.

1983 brought the biggest change for KISS in many years as the band decided to be introduced with their facepaint removed on an MTV special, showing their fans how ugly they had all been all along.  They had gone to extremes to protect their identity for years and the unmasking was worldwide news.

The National Inquirer had already shown their faces a few months before the MTV appearance, but there were at least four things wrong with their article.

The publicity stunt worked, as having their faces “naked” for the first time, on the hot, new cable channel, MTV, made the new album Lick It Up their biggest success in over three years, going instantly gold and eventually platinum.

The title track became one of the most played music videos on MTV for a couple of years and the song remains a concert staple of theirs.

The band remained successful throughout the 1980’s with several platinum albums and every album going at least gold.  However, most KISS fans wanted the original KISS lineup and the facepaint and costumes to return.

Finally, in 1996, the original four members Gene, Paul, Peter, and Ace came on stage together in the original costumes and facepaint at the Grammy Awards.

KISS with 2pac (not a hologram) at the 1996 Grammys.

A few weeks later, the group announced they would be doing a reunion tour.  The original lineup stayed together until 2001 when Criss left the band again, and then Ace left after performing with the band at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The band continues to perform with Gene and Paul, drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer.  KISS released their most recent album Monster in October of 2012 to decent reviews and good sales.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “By their fifth album, KISS were the most popular band in America, with sold-out stadium tours and eventually their own pinball machine, makeup line and a TV movie. Built around the proto-power ballad “Beth,” this is a ridiculously over-the-top party-rock album that just gets better with age.”

Hey, stop with the backhanded compliments. You guys are the ones saying these are the greatest albums of all time, act like you really mean it. Mentioning the pinball and the TV movie really tells us so much about the album, Rolling Stone.  Thanks for nothing, guys.

Conclusion:

There was a time that I had a list of the top 10 most overrated artists in the history of music.  I don’t remember who all was on the list now, but I do remember that KISS was the highest band on the list.  I do not think that anymore.  This album is fantastic from top to bottom.  Every song is great and shows that KISS was not just flash and style in concert, they could really put together a great work of art with Destroyer.  C’mon Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, put these guys in there.

5 Stars out of 5,  Perfect rating

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. KISS- Destroyer

4. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

5. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

6. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

7. Outkast- Aquemini

8. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

9. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

10. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

11. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

12. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

13. Eurythmics- Touch

#489- Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show- 1987

April 24, 2013

Public_Enemy_-_Yo!_Bum_Rush_the_Show

The Artists:

public enemy

Carlton Douglas Ridenhour was born August 8, 1960 in Queens, New York.

Chucky, as he was known, considered Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and his father as his heroes.  As he grew older, music became his life with the politicized music of Gil Scott-Heron being very influential to young Ridenhour. His parents wanted to instill black pride in the teenaged Chucky. They sent him to a summer camp ran by a former Black Panther party member, who taught him about black history.

After graduating from Roosevelt High School, he attended Adelphi University on Long Island getting a degree in graphic design.  While there, he used his graphic design skills to make posters for the local burgeoning hip-hop scene on Long Island.

Ridenhour joined the radio station WBAU, which was located on Adelphi’s campus, and was asked by the radio manager, Bill Stephney, to work with fellow campus DJ Hank Boxley.  Stephney gave them their own radio show which they named “The Super Spectrum Mix Show.”  Chucky Ridenhour took the name Chucky D and Boxley became Hank Shocklee for the show.

Elsewhere, out in Greenwich Village, at New York University, an 18 year student named Rick Rubin started his own record label from his dorm room, which he named Def Jam.  His first signing was a punk band named Hose.  But Rubin quickly became a fan of the new hip hop scene around New York.

Young Rick Rubin

Chucky D and Shocklee had begun deejaying local parties and roller rinks using the name Spectrum DJ Crew.  During their performances Shocklee started scratching while Chuck would freestyle over the music.

Chucky and Shocklee recorded a track to be used as a promo for WBAU, which they called “Blow Your Mind,” using a cassette recorder in the radio studio.  Chucky was working for his father as a part-time furniture mover and decided to play his cassette for his co-worker named William Drayton.

Drayton was born in Freeport, New York in 1959.  He was a child prodigy, playing piano by age 5 and eventually mastering 15 different instruments.

Chucky and Drayton had become fast friends after Drayton had come into the studio as part of a group called Sons of Beserk, for whom he was playing keyboards.  At that time, he was going by the name MCDJ Flavor while trying to get his own rap career going.

Chucky felt that his demo tape needed a new beginning and ending to it and he asked Flavor to add his own thing to “Blow Your Mind.”  With Flavor’s addition, Chucky renamed the track “Public Enemy #1.”  They played the track on WBAU and it was an immediate local hit and its popularity spread. This was due to the fact that their radio station was one of the most popular stations for DJs to record off air mixtapes. Those tapes began being traded all around New York.

During this time, Rick Rubin had become friends with another Adelphi student, Andre Brown.  Brown was part of a DJ Crew that Rubin had seen at several parties around Long Island.  Brown went by the moniker Dr. Dre.  (And yes it is that Dr. Dre…that is if you are thinking of the Dr. Dre that was partners with Ed Lover for years on the radio and Yo! MTV Raps.)

Not to mention the star of the multi-award winning piece of cinema known as Who’s The Man?

Dre had taken over Bill Stephney’s job as the station manager and was a huge fan of “Public Enemy #1.” He gave a tape of the song to Rubin.

Coincidentally, Rubin had also hired the guy who had given Chucky his start on radio, Stephney, as an A&R man for Def Jam.  Rubin was such a big fan of Chucky D’s rapping that he told Stephney to sign him to a contract.

First, Chucky dropped the Chucky moniker for the more adult sounding Chuck D, then he would only sign if they also signed his fellow Spectrum DJ crew members, too. The crew of Hank Shocklee, Hank’s brother Keith and their friend Eric “Vietnam” Sadler were now known collectively as “The Bomb Squad.” Stephney agreed, and they were signed to contracts to serve as Chuck D’s producers.

He also asked his friend Drayton to join him as a second voice on the record. Hank Shocklee suggested Drayton should have a name like legendary rapper Grandmaster Melle Mel.  So he dropped the MCDJ Flavor name and started going by Flavor Flav.

Chuck brought in a fellow local DJ, named Norman Rogers, who he felt was the best person he’d seen work the turntable.

Rogers was going by the name DJ Mellow D, but Chuck D changed his name to Terminator X since he was “terminating all the things we think we believe and don’t really know about.”

Chuck invited another local DJ crew known as Unity Force to join the group. They had done many of the same parties that Chuck’s crew had done in the area.  Re-branded “Security of the First World” or S1W.

They served as beret-ed bodyguards and/or dancers and/or lecturers at concerts or something. I’m really not 100% sure what it is they did, but they were there.  They were a rotating group of guys that sort of came and went.  The main member of S1W was Richard Griffin.

Griffin, known as Professor Griff, was born in 1960 in Roosevelt.

His official title in the group was “Minister of Information.”  He was the member of the group that gave the interviews and…ummm..did some other stuff I guess.

Chuck decided to name the group after the song which got him signed: Public Enemy.

In autumn of 1986, Chuck D, Rick Rubin, The Bomb Squad, and the rest of Public Enemy went to Spectrum City Studios in Hempstead, New York to record their debut album.

The Album Cover:

Public_Enemy_-_Yo!_Bum_Rush_the_Show

The cover of Yo! Bum Rush The Show shows the whole group gathered around a turntable in what appears to be a warehouse or a basement with an unseen person’s hand (Hank Shocklee’s?) about to push the button to begin the turntable, thus starting their music revolution. Flavor Flav is reaching over to grab the microphone.  Chuck D. is the only member dressed in white. According to Jeff Chang in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Chuck D is in “Muslim white” and is representing the “riot starter.” I’m not sure about that, but okay, if he says so. There is a bright light that is causing a lens flare which looks almost like a floating eyeball at the top.

This was also the first appearance of the Public Enemy logo.

It was designed and drawn by Chuck D himself.  The person silhouetted in the crosshairs is E-Love, a member of fellow Def Jam artist LL Cool J’s crew and not a police officer as some have speculated.  He was simply used a model for it; it was not meant to be a threat on E-Love.

The title is written in orange, and below that is the phrase “The Government’s Responsible” repeated over and over almost like breaking news scroll on a TV.  Which I think is what they were going for.

title

The back cover has a picture of the group leaning on their cars in a McDonald’s parking lot.

back cover

It is not intended to be a statement pro or con towards McDonald’s or anything.  The McDonald’s just happened to be the main hangout for everyone during their recording in Hempstead,

The track listing has something odd, interesting about it.

back cover track list

The two sides are listed ‘E’ and ‘F’ instead of 1 and 2 or ‘A’ and ‘B’ as they usually are.  You can tell by looking at the color scheme that they look like subway train logos.  Research tells me that the ‘E’ train goes from Jamaica, Queens to Manhattan, while the ‘F’ Train goes through Queens to Brooklyn including through Chuck’s area of Roosevelt.  The two sides are separated by the Public Enemy logo in red.  It feels almost like it is saying that “some of us took the ‘E’ train while the rest of us took the ‘F’ train, and we all came together to form Public Enemy.”

back cover pic

The back photo shows from left to right: Chuck D, (I think) Brother James Norman, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Professor Griff, and (I think) Brother Mike Williams (the S1W guys are hard to identify.)  They are all leaning on their Oldsmobile 98’s with the lights on with Mickey D’s in the background.  The one part that is odd to me is that Chuck D. has a bag between his feet, I’m not sure what that is supposed to signify.  Also, notice that Chuck has a stopwatch around his neck and Flavor Flav is not yet wearing the clock around his.

back cover credits

The bottom of the back has the Def Jam logo and production credits.

The innersleeve has lyrics on one side and credits with a large Def Jam logo on the other side along with what appears to be a picture of a shooting target.

The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of Yo! Bum Rush The Show released on Def Jam Recordings in 1987.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens with “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” a song about his 98 Oldsmobile, which we saw on the album’s back cover.  It is kind of a lo-fi recording.  I really like the way it opens, you can tell something cool is about to happen.  Flav’s interjections add a nice touch to Chuck’s rapping.  The samples include wheels screeching sound effect.  I guess the awesome opening track streak continues.

Sophisticated Bitch” has a great guitar riff as Vernon Reid of Living Color plays on this track.  It is a story song about a woman who only cares about wealthy guys.  Kinda proto-“Gold Digger.”  I like the beat, but the story goes on too long and why does he care so much about hating on this chick?  I does come across as a pretty misogynistic song.

Unless the song is about Marge Schott, who should be hated on.

Miuzi Weighs A Ton” is one of the most famous tracks from the album.  The “uzi” in the song is his mind and his ability to make rhymes.  The track is great, as is the sampling on it. The hook is killer.  So far the opening three tracks of this album are not much a departure, subject-wise, than what other hip-hop acts were doing at the time: singing about their cars and wealth, sorta misogynistic, and “I’m the best rapper” stuff.  No matter what it is about, this track is really awesome.  I love it.

Remember that time John Kerry called an uzi an ooshee? Oh those wacky politicians.

Timebomb” is the first track with anything resembling the more political Public Enemy work. For example, the lyric “South African government-wrecker,” but mostly it is another “I’m the best” cut.  Reminds me more of Run-DMC’s style than Public Enemy’s.  Not bad, not great, but somewhere in between.  Let’s say that it is just okay.

“Timebomb” immediately transitions into “Too Much Posse.” It is the first track with Flavor Flav on lead.  Even the sample is a generic drum beat.  Nothing of interest.

Side One closes on “Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man)” is the first real socially conscious song on the album.  It is a really good track with great scratching by Terminator X.  Chuck D is calling for a revolution of the mind by the black people of America, which will lead to real revolution.  This is much more of what I want to hear out of a Public Enemy track.  Great stuff here.

Side Two opens with a redux of Chuck D’s first recording “Public Enemy #1.”  Due to its tape hiss at least some of this I think comes from the original radio studio tape recording, although I think Chuck’s vocals were re-done.  I kind of like the homemade quality of the track.  The echo chamber vocals reminds me of those cheesy local live read radio commercials.

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

It has a catchy hook, plus I like the droning synthesized sound in the background.  I admit it is a little basic, but still it is a good track.

M.P.E.” is another “I’m the best rapper” song.  I’m not a big fan of those usually.  I do like the repeating “Public Enemy” sampling, though.  Chuck D and Flav trade verses here, which I like.  Overall, not bad, but nothing too great. I will say, though, that you don’t hear too many ‘The Amazing Kreskin’ namedrops in rap songs anymore.

Yo! Bum Rush The Show” is the one track I think of when I think of this album, partially because it is the title track, but also it has a cool Herbie Hancock “Rockit“-esque vibe to it’s opening beat.  Apparently it samples “Shack Up” by Banbarra. I dig the samples and the deep bass here.  It is a really great song. This actually rocks for a rap track.  Flavor Flav acts real tough in this one. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone less intimidating than him.

Viking helmet notwithstanding.

Raise The Roof” a lot of stuff going on in this track, especially on the chorus.  It is interesting how different this early form of Public Enemy is than what would come later.  Good track.  One line in this song will be important soon for Public Enemy: “Takes a nation of millions to hold me back.”

Megablast” is about the, then, new problem of crack cocaine in the hood.  Odd use of vocals with Flav and Chuck rapping at the same time which causes a bit of chaos on the song, and the end is backwards masked. I think the style is supposed to exemplify the way someone on crack would talk and act. I like this track.  It’s unique.

The album ends on “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands” which is just a turntable sampling track.  Terminator is sampling “Just Kissed My Baby” by The Meters which was also used on “Timebomb” on side one.  It kinda makes the album end on an anti-climax.

So much of this album’s reputation is how it “dropped a bomb” on the rap industry by mixing loads of sampling with politicized lyrics.  But instead, it seems like much of the album is an example of young hip hop fans doing their own version of the music that was already around, however with a heavy dose of sampling beats.  Still you can tell this is a new group to pay attention to, and they really did some very good stuff here.

Aftermath:

The album’s sales were pretty good for a debut album, reaching #125 on the Billboard albums charts and New Music Express ranked it as album of the year.  It has long been considered one of the most influential hip hop albums of the 80’s.

They promoted the album by opening for another Def Jam hip hop group, The Beastie Boys, who were on their License to Ill tour throughout 1987.  This gave them much more exposure on a national level.

Public Enemy with the Beastie Boys

With their first album under their belt, Public Enemy would return to the studio, this time adding in much more politicized fare to their lyrics, and that’s when most people feel they hit their peak and truly changed the world of hip hop.

That part of the story will not be told until entry #48.  However, I will get to a later part of the Public Enemy story first when I reach entry #296.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “On the debut by Long Island’s hip-hop revolutionaries, rapper Chuck D and his production crew the Bomb Squad introduced a booming new sound and an urgent social and political message to rap, especially on “You’re Gonna Get Yours” and “Miuzi Weighs a Ton.”

I should first say that the album is no longer included on the updated 2012 Rolling Stone 500 list.

See this is exactly the kind of review that I keep reading all over the internet, but this was not the album that introduced “an urgent social and political message to rap.”  I wonder if whoever wrote this listened to the album or read the lyrics to those two songs, because neither really has a social or political message. Do they even try for accuracy?

Conclusion:

Despite not being as “socially conscious” as people seem to remember it as being, it is still a pretty solid album.  There are a few less than stellar tracks on the album, and in a way I think it would be improved as a whole with just a rearranging of the track listing.  I think if the album  closed with either “Miuzi Weighs A Ton” or the title track, it would be vastly improved. They really should’ve ended it on a song instead of a sample.  As I have said before, flow is important to an album.  Still, while it may not be as innovative as it’s reputation, it still has some great work throughout.

3.5 Stars out of 5, recommended with some reservations

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

4. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

5. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

6. Outkast- Aquemini

7. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

8. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

9. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show

10. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

11. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

12. Eurythmics- Touch

#490- ZZ Top- Tres Hombres- 1973

April 21, 2013

zz-top-tres-hombres-aotd

The Artists:

1973

Who are those tough-looking cowboys?  The title says this is about ZZ Top, but that can’t be them.  Those beards barely cover much more than their chin.  Also, where are their coats and sunglasses?

But of course it is them.  Those beards had to start somewhere, and before the age of MTV they were just good ole’ Texas boys playing blues-rock.  I do wonder if that hair that is on their chins there in that picture is the exact same hair at the end of their stomach-length beards now 40 years later.

Billy Gibbons was born in Houston, Texas in 1949.

gibbons

The son of an orchestra conductor and concert pianist, he began playing electric guitar at 13.  As he was growing up, he was inspired to play by the music he heard on the “outlaw” Mexican border radio stations which played all types of rock n’ roll and blues not heard on regular American top 40 stations.  At the age of 18, he formed his first rock band.  Named The Moving Sidewalks, they played psychedelic rock and in 1969 released an album, Flash.

folderub8

During this time, Gibbons became friends with Jimi Hendrix.  Hendrix brought them in to be his opening act during The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s American Tour.  While the story that Jimi once said that Christian guitarist Phil Keaggy is the greatest guitar player of all time on The Tonight Show is apocryphal, Jimi did once state on The Dick Cavett Show that the next up and coming great guitarist is Billy Gibbons.

Jimi with The Moving Sidewalks

Not long after the end of their tour with Hendrix, two members of The Moving Sidewalks were drafted into the army.  Gibbons and drummer Dan Mitchell were the only two members left.  Instead of continuing on with The Moving Sidewalks, Gibbons and Mitchell added an organist, Lanier Greig, to form a new band that Gibbons named ZZ Top.

Gibbons has given multiple origins for the name.  At one time, he said it came from the name of two types of rolling papers “Zig-Zags” and “Top.”  In his autobiography, he says he had a poster of Texas bluesman Z.Z. Hill on his wall and liked the Z.Z. part and wanted to name the band ZZ King to also pay tribute to B.B. King, but thought it sounded too much like B.B. King and would confuse people, so he changed the last part to “Top.”  A third origin story was that he read it on a dilapidated billboard on the side of a barn where only the letters “ZZ” and “Top” were legible anymore.  I guess the answer is, no one really knows which of these is the truth except Billy Gibbons.

The trio recorded one single “Salt Lick,” on the (unfortunately named) Scat label.  However, they weren’t really getting the sound that Gibbons wanted, as the organ was still giving them a more psychedelic sound than the blues sound that he desired.  So he replaced both Mitchell and Greig with bassist Billy Etheridge and drummer Frank Beard.

Beard was born in Frankston, Texas in 1949.

beard

He had played in many bands throughout Texas, mostly in the Dallas area, but at that time he was playing with the band American Blues.

Gibbons was hoping to get the band a recording contract.  Etheridge enjoyed playing with the band, but also liked working on side projects with other Texas bluesmen and was not interested in signing a long term contract with one band and amicably, he left.

On the verge of signing a recording deal, the band was in need of a new bassist.  Beard recommended a former bandmate of his in American Blues, Dusty Hill.

Hill was born in Dallas in 1949.

hill

He and Beard had known each other for some time even before they were bandmates as they had both been playing in various bands in the Dallas-Fort Worth area throughout their teen years.

The band signed with London Records in 1970 through the help of their manager Bill Ham, who became, in a way, almost a fourth member of the group.  He was the one that put together their image and co-wrote many of their songs as well as producing many of their albums.

Here’s an odd personal anecdote, one of my college accounting professors grew up in the same town as Bill Ham and talked about him quite often.  Mostly about how when Ham was young he was a complete screwup and nobody thought he’d amount to anything, but he was always a fast-talker, like a used car salesman, and could talk his way into anything including talking his way into becoming ZZ Top’s (or as my professor, who was in his seventies at the time, called them: “The ZZZ Tops”) manager backstage one night when he had merely originally gone back there only to complement their playing as a fan.

Ham talked the label into signing them by telling London’s people that the band would be “the next Rolling Stones” knowing that The Rolling Stones had just left London to form their own label.  London agreed to sign the band with limitations as they would only pay for mastering and distributing their albums, but the band would have to pay for everything else, supposedly only giving the band $1,000 to make their first album.

The band worked all through 1970 completing their first album, recording it in the very small Robin Hood Studio in Tyler, Texas.  The album was released in January of 1971.  Aptly titled ZZ Top’s First Album.

First Album

ZZ Top’s First Album is a good debut.  It starts out rocking hard with songs like “(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree,” “Squank,” and “Goin’ Down to Mexico.”  The second side is good, not great, as it is more traditional blues rather than rock.  Still, it is an album worth checking out, though the original LP is somewhat hard to come by and has not been reissued.  Also the CD version released in 1987 is oddly remixed for the worse.

The album got pretty good reviews from the music press, with most of them impressed with the band’s mix of Rock, Blues, and Boogie to go with touches of humor in their lyrics.  One criticism some critics had was of Bill Ham’s production, as people thought it sounded too muddy.  The album was not a huge seller and it failed to break into the Billboard charts.

They began work on their sophomore album a few months later.  Returning to Robin Hood Studios, they wanted to keep what they did on their debut album, but now with more confidence, they felt freer to experiment and jam on some of the tracks.  The band released the album Rio Grande Mud in April, 1972.

1986_zz_top_rio_grande_mud

The album cracked the Billboard Top 200 Albums.  The opening track “Francine” became their first single to chart, reaching #69 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The second track “Just Got Paid” has remained one of the longtime songs on their concert setlist, and it rocks. “B-B-Q” on side two is pretty awesome as is the slow ballad “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell.”  Rio Grande Mud is very good, a definite step up, in my opinion, from their debut.  Also, avoid the CD of this album, too.  Apparently, the label wanted to remix these early albums to sound more like “Sharp Dressed Man” era ZZ Top.

My reaction to record label's ideas to "fix" things.

Why are record labels’ constantly trying to “make things better?”

While the band was having success locally in Texas and also in New Orleans, they still were not having much success nationally.

They decided to move to Memphis, Tennessee to record their next album.  The band wanted to get away from Texas for recording since it had yet to bring them much luck. They felt that the vibe in Memphis was almost mystical as far as music goes.  They have talked in interviews about how crossing the bridge into Memphis somehow heightens your music sensibility which allows you to get the most out of your musical talent.

The band went to Ardent Studios in Memphis and enlisted famed Stax engineer Terry Manning to work on the album.  (That’s his second appearance on this list as he also engineered Boz Scaggs.)  Bill Ham would once again serve as producer.  A few tracks were recorded in Texas at Brian Studio, though I’m not sure which tracks were recorded where.

The Album Cover:

zz-top-tres-hombres-aotd

The title Tres Hombres, much like their preceding album refers to their Tex-Mex background with the title being in Spanish.  The “three men” that the title refers to obviously being Billy, Dusty, and Frank.  The title has the pseudo-Aztec styled zig zag pattern on the lettering. The cover was designed by Texas counter culture artist Bill Narum, who designed all of ZZ Top’s posters, logos, and covers for the next few decades.

The trio is shown in three separate pictures each in sort of Texas-styled scenes.  Billy is shown from behind dressed like a rancher and obscured by light. If you look close, there is a little kid in the background.  Dusty is climbing a telephone pole with the ruins of what appears to be an old mission in the background.  Frank is sitting on an archway that looks like part of those same ruins.

The most famous part of the Tres Hombres album cover is the gatefold picture.

zz-top-tres-hombres-mexican-feast3-copy1

Mas queso! Mas queso!

The food came from ZZ Top’s favorite Houston area restaurant: Leo’s Mexican Restaurant.  The Tex-Mex food was real food and the band has said they polished it all off as soon as they finished having the pictures taken.  They made sure to include a bottle of Southern Select Beer, which was a Houston brewed beer, though it had not existed for about 15 years at that point, so the beer in the glass must’ve been some other brand.  According to Billy Gibbons, the radio in the background is tuned to station XERF, a Mexican border radio station.  The picture of the woman had some connection to Pancho Villa.  They included it in there since Leo, the owner of the restaurant, had ridden with Villa or at least claimed to have.

Of course this comes next.

back cover

The back cover is kind of styled like a menu with a drawing of a soup bowl and the little advertising banner in the corner saying “In The Fine Texas Tradition.”  The font appears to be handwritten on the tracklist and credits.  It is kind of interesting that Frank Beard is credited by his nickname “Rube” on the back.

The innersleeve has a collage of candid pictures of the band and other people around town with the state of texas and the band’s name stenciled over the pictures.

innersleeve

The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of Tres Hombres released on London Records in 1973.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.  As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)

The album opens with a medley of sorts. “Waitin’ For A Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” which are two of ZZ Top’s more famous early songs.  “Bus” is a hard driving piece of blues-rock with a great harmonica break.  The second track “Jesus” flows right out of the first track making them into an odd suite of sorts.  For 40 years those two songs have always been linked as one opening track, but they were written and recorded to be separate and aren’t in the same meter or anything.  It just happened as the album was being mastered the spacer tape was accidentally left out between the two songs and the band liked the immediate transition so much that they still play those 2 songs that way to this day.  The awesome opening tracks streak continues!

“Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” is the only song that has Dusty Hill on vocals and even here he shares the vocals with Billy, alternating lines with each other.  Another great hard rocking blues song with a great guitar solo from Gibbons.

“Master of Sparks” is an odd subject for a song.  Written by Billy about this odd bit a misadventure that teenagers in the Houston area did when he was growing up. They would make a ball out of cage wire, weld an airplane seat to it, then attach it via hook to the back of a pickup truck.  The bravest (or dumbest) teens would strap themselves into the metal ball and be dragged down the road going 60 MPH which would cause sparks to go all over the place and nearly catch them on fire not to mention nearly sending them flying to their death.  Billy calls it “Redneck Road Surfing.”  The song kinda reminds me, oddly, musically of something Alice Cooper would do in the early days, with a touch of Tex-Mex of course.  It’s kind of hard to make out the lyrics, but still a pretty good song.

Imagine this, except with more fire…and cowboy hats.

Side one closes out on “Hot, Blue, and Righteous.” It is a slower, more ballad type song, and it is quite lovely and cool.  One of the album’s best tracks.

I liked every song on side one.  Let’s see about side two.

Side two opens with “Move Me On Down The Line” might be what Bill Ham was promising when he said that ZZ Top would be the “next Rolling Stones” to London Records.  This sounds so much like Exile On Main Street Stones.

It will be a long, long time before I get to this one. But it is great and it definitely influenced this album.

It is another great hard rocker.  I admit, I like this version of The ZZZ Tops much more than the MTV-era group.

“Precious And Grace” is a true story of how Dusty and Billy picked up two hitchhiking girls by the title names.  They propositioned the guys and took them to a secluded area where a compatriot of theirs came to the window of the car with a shotgun causing Billy and Dusty to speed off pushing Prescious and Grace out of a moving car.  Not bad, but the song is not as exciting as the story.

“La Grange” is far and away the most famous song on the album, and one of the most popular rock songs of all time.  It instantly became an FM radio staple, and missed the top 40 by one spot.  It has been used so many times in movies and commercials that it is hard to remember that this was how much of the USA was first introduced to ZZ Top.

I guess I think of it now as the Brett Favre playing backyard football song.

I think it is so well known that not many people think about how unusual Billy’s voice is on this song, have you heard any other ZZ Top song where he sings like this?  Still, after hearing it probably over 500 times in my life it still rocks hard, just awesome guitar work here.  Not to bring this song down at all, but I will say that the guitar riff isn’t original, as it is taken from “Shake Your Hips” which The Rolling Stones had recorded just a few months prior on Exile On Main Street and that song was based on blues riffs by John Lee Hooker and was a song originally recorded by bluesman Slim Harpo.

The story being told with “La Grange” is about the (in)famous Chicken Ranch bordello in Texas that was considered a very high class brothel.  Coincidentally, a Houston news reporter had been doing an investigative report on the Chicken Ranch way before the release of the song, and with the help of the District Attorney’s office, they got the place shut down.  Because the timing of the closing was so close to the release of the song, many local people blamed ZZ Top for the closing due to shedding national light on this place which had operated in plain sight for 140 years and was tolerated by the people of Texas.  In truth, the song had nothing to do with it’s closing and the band members were upset to hear about it.  The story of the Chicken Ranch and it’s closing was the basis for the Broadway and movie musical “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.”

Because the whole world demanded to see a movie with Burt Reynolds singing.

“Shiek” is another good song. The lyrics are pretty funny, at the beginning he is stuck in Africa and just wants to eat a burrito. It’s really solid musically with very clear sounding production. I do like the last little bit of the song with wind chimes and a slow guitar strum, that is something different on this album.

“Have You Heard?” is a very bluesy track with some hard rock thrown in.  Not a bad track, though it might be the weakest song on the album, and yet it was what they chose to close it out, which may not have been the best idea.

Altogether the band put together a really great album that definitely sounds more lush than their previous two albums.  There is not anything to skip on the whole album.  I feel like the recording in Memphis gave them a richer sound and no doubt having a master engineer in Terry Manning there to mix the album really helped.

Aftermath:

The album was huge for ZZ Top.  It made the top 10 on Billboard’s album charts and went Gold.  No doubt fueled by the popularity of the hit “La Grange.”  The album made the band into one of the most popular touring acts in the country and gained many fans that just liked hard rock or blues or southern rock as they crossed many genres.

The band’s follow up to Tres Hombres was comprised of half live, half studio recordings titled Fandango!

Fandango! included the hit “Tush” which became their first pop hit reaching the Top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

They released their fifth album Tejas in 1975

Once they finished touring in support of Tejas they decided to go their separate ways as the band had been touring for seven years together and were burned out.

They were just originally going to go on hiatus for 3 months and then return to the studio, but instead they took 3 years off.

In 1979, when Bill Ham brought the band back together for discussions about recording a new album, both Billy and Dusty had grown their beards past their chest.

…and apparently they became butlers.

The band then returned the studio to record what would be titled Deguello.

It was a return to form as the album went platinum and spawned two hits “I Thank You” and “Cheap Sunglasses.”

With the band’s new image, Bill Ham suggested that they take their music in a slightly different direction to progress with the times.

Their 1981 release, El Loco was the first time the band used synthesizers and the first time they recorded tracks isolated rather than playing together live in the studio.  This marked the beginning of their direction which would bring them the biggest success of their careers, but also alienate many of their fans they just wanted to hear the early blues-rock of the Tres Hombres era.

The rest of ZZ Top’s story will be continued in entry #392.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS: “A decade before the Texas blues trio became MTV stars, ZZ Top got their first taste of national fame with this disc, which features one of their biggest hits, the John Lee Hooker-style boogie “La Grange,” as well as the boozy rocker “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and the concert anthem “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.””

Once again they give a blurb and not an opinion, so I have no opinion on their opinion.

Conclusion:

After listening to ZZ Top’s first three albums over the last two days I really enjoy that early era blues-rock boogie that they do. Tres Hombres is definitely the peak of their style. Really there is not one bad song on this entire album and the whole thing, frankly, just rocks. However, I can’t quite give it a perfect rating since there are a couple of tracks which I feel are good but not great. If I graded by tenths of points I might give this album a 4.9, but I grade in quarters and I have to stick with that.

4.75 Stars out of 5, highly recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

3. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

4. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres

5. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

6. Outkast- Aquemini

7. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign

8. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

9. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

10. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

11. Eurythmics- Touch