Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Van Der Graaf Generator World Record (1976)


Apparently, Hammill got a little bored of re-writing the same record over and over, so World Record is a wee bit different from the previous two. No, the main ingredients are still there: a small bunch of lengthy tunes with loads of apocalyptic and deeply personal lyrics, drenched in organs and saxes. But something has changed, too; namely, Pete and company seem to have suddenly remembered that lyrics aren’t the only thing to be cared about. Thus, the instrumentation is a little bit more diverse throughout, and one major change is that there’s quite a lot of electric guitar throughout, mainly played by Hammill himself. Therefore, if you think that rock music has no right to exist if it ain’t featuring a plugged-in six-string, World Record might as well be your first (and last) VDGG record.

The instrumental sections are also getting much longer – the band takes the time to jam (and ham and spam) a lot on the record, and the ensuing effect is mostly good, considering that most of the jamming is built around real musical themes, not just atonal noodling or anything like that. Taken together with the fact that World Record has the biggest share of memorable vocal melodies on any of the second period VDGG records, it’s easy to see why I have granted the record such a high rating.

That said, I certainly do not think that the album is flawless or anything: all the usual defects are firmly in place, the main of which is a frustrating lack of diversity: the melodies are different, sure enough, but the instrumentation is all the same throughout, and well, what do you want? It’s still nothing but a sequel to the endless “Mr Hammill Complains” saga.

Still, it would certainly deserve a rating upgrade even if it only contained ‘Place To Survive’. The song’s jazzy groove works dang near-perfect; Jackson’s saxes churn out powerful riffs, stern, solemn and ice-cold, yet this is by no means a “goth” tune, despite Hammill’s overemoted nazi-style vocals (if you consult the lyrics, you’ll see that it is in fact an optimistic song – the same “everything-sucks-but-there’s-an-exit-if-you-look-for-it” message that can be so often found on some of Hammill’s previous creations). I mean, it’s just so darn catchy and well-constructed. What the heck.

‘When She Comes’ is also a jolly good number; I can easily overlook the dissonant beginning, because later on it develops into yet another powerful jazz-rock jam with a fast and invigorating tempo. In fact, the only song on the first side I don’t particularly care for is ‘Masks’, and even that one at least boosts a solemn, romantic atmosphere despite the lack of a truly memorable melody (but doesn’t Hammill sound funny when he’s murmuring out the ‘m-m-m-masochistic m-m-m-mumble’ lines?)

The second side is kinda controversial. Most of it is occupied with the endless, overwhelming jam ‘Meurglys III (The Songwriter’s Guild)’, about which I naturally have mixed feelings. On one hand, twenty minutes is way too much for a VDGG song; on the other hand, it does have a lot of cool musical and lyrical ideas. How can you stay away from a song that begins with the words ‘these days I mainly just talk to plants and dogs – all human contact seems painful, risky, odd’? And all the parts of the song seem to uphold this thesis: it’s lengthy, noodling, depressing, minor, melancholic…

This is also where Pete steps in on the electric, playing amateurish, unprofessional, simplistic solos that are nevertheless quite powerful in all their repetitiveness and triviality. The biggest surprise comes at the thirteenth minute, though, when the band suddenly switches gears and begins playing… in a reggae tempo. Which shows that the band wasn’t nearly as closed to outside influences as one might have supposed. Of course, we’ll disregard the fact that World Record came out just as the punk movement was starting to gain force, and nothing could be further from punk than this overblown, super-complex album, but that’s another story.

The most pompous bit is, as usual, left for the end – ‘Wondering’ is a really good song, with the bombastic closing section being, again, very well-constructed and smoothly running; I don’t feel very easy about it, because there’s too much resemblance to an Olympic Games opening theme, but I can’t deny the melodicity and the power anyway.

Again, the record requires a solid number of listens to be truly appreciated, and it can’t be appreciated to the max unless you’re always ready to identify with Mr Hammill and his troubles. But what really strikes me about it is that all the songs are actually fairly normal. The motto of the day isn’t “freak out unlimited”; there’s only a little bit of dissonance throughout, and I feel that all the instrumental parts have been carefully thought over; i.e., Hammill is not the only significant presence on the record this time. Good sax riffs. Moody, “robotic” organ passages. Melancholic, slightly angry electric guitar. Relatively catchy melodies. Complex, yet existent song structures.

What else do you need? World Record is a very mature album, with a message that’s hardly common to me but which I can understand and I can respect. If anything, I’m just being a bit too objective and self-detached here; I don’t love this album (which means, in this particular case, that I don’t feel the urgent desire to put it on one more time after uploading this review), but I respect it very much and can easily see why some fans consider it to be VDGG’s greatest achievement (no kidding – even if the voting board on VDGG’s official site put it rather low. Number one on there was Pawn Hearts, of course. Blah.)

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Van Der Graaf Generator World Record | | Leave a comment

Genesis Trespass (1970)


Trespass was the beginning of Genesis’ wild wacky journey into progressive rock. Many Genesis fans ignore the fact that they had an album before this. From Genesis to Revelation was their debut, and was a pop album, and to 70s Genesis fans, that means crap. But that wasn’t Genesis’ last venture into pop. After two key members of Genesis (Peter Gabriel, to name one) in the mid seventies, drummer/occasional vocalist Phil Collins took over. And Genesis once again became what their fans disliked so much. So, with a fresh line-up and probably some uncertainty, Genesis made their first prog rock album.

Trespass is a much calmer album than later Genesis works. One of the reasons could be because Steve Hackett had not joined Genesis yet, a tremendous guitarist, whose sound added a lot to Genesis’ stuff. He joined on the album’s successor Nursery Cryme where Genesis had established a classic line-up. Like many Genesis albums, Trespass is very keyboard driven, probably one of the first prog bands to be so keyboard oriented. Sometimes the keyboards make the music a bit boring, sometimes it gives the music a breath of life.

Either way, it’s almost always the ‘lead’ instrument on Trespass. Tony Banks’ organ, piano and Mellotron playing is definitely at the top of Genesis’ arsenal on this album. Visions of Angels is a perfect example, everything else is outshined in this very angelic, orchestral song. John Mayhew’s drumming is also very notable on Trespass, accompanying Banks on his ascending organ runs. Ironically though, Banks doesn’t make very complicated keyboard arrangements, adding further to the fact that Genesis were not fully established as a progressive band.

As mentioned before, this LP doesn’t deliver too much guitar-wise. White Mountain is lead by an acoustic guitar, until drowned out by the organ. It returns in the little interludes, and then fades into the background while Banks and the exceptional rhythm section work. Ironically, Anthony Phillips who played lead guitar on this album left Genesis because of stage fright. Even so, White Mountain is a very good and catchy song. Dusk, one of the most soothing songs I’ve ever heard, has the best showcase of acoustic guitar on Trespass, and beautiful backing voices singing with Peter Gabriel.

Gabriel’s vocals are probably my least favourite thing about the album, they sound very shaky and uneasy. While I think he’s always had that type of characteristic in the Genesis 70s era, here it’s more noticeable and bothersome. His storytelling, of course, is always top-notch, usually a medieval-based tale, which fits perfectly to the music.

Then there’s The Knife. While it’s probably sort of unfitting for this album, it’s such a good song that it doesn’t seem to matter. This song shows the best group work on the album, Phillips’ guitar truly shining, the only Trespass song with his electric guitar. With a dark edge, Mayhew’s frantic drumming and Banks’ lively organ find a comfortable place in this Genesis classic (the only well-known song from this album.) This song definitely paved the way for future Genesis.

Trespass isn’t that well-known, or praised as much as later Genesis works like Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or Selling England by the Pound, but is still definitely worth a listen for any Genesis fan. It didn’t sell too well either when it came out, Genesis fans claim it was ahead of its time (1970 wasn’t a big year in prog.) Perhaps not for Progressive fans in general, Trespass doesn’t fit as a genre-defining album, but is still very good. And if you want to check some of it out, all I can say is you won’t be disappointed by The Knife.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Trespass | | Leave a comment

Genesis Foxtrot (1972)


1972 was truly an important year for progressive music. There were several artists that undeniably pushed the barriers of music and raised the bar really high. The most popular releases back then were “Close to the Edge” by Yes and “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull. These albums were artistic statements whose influential impact on art rock cannot be denied. These bands were labeled as progressive.

Most of the bands that belonged to the progressive scene were known for composing music that had several intricacies; whether it was odd-time signatures, more technical use of the instruments, or 15+ minutes suites, these bands showed very respectable musicianship skills. Genesis definitely falls into this progressive category, and Foxtrot was the first album where they actually fulfilled this progressive approach towards music.

First of all, this album has every element one would expect from a progressive album; crafty use of time signatures, extended instrumental passages, symphonic keyboards, intricate guitar and bass lines, unconventional use of vocals, and highly poetic lyrics. However, something that distinguished Genesis from fellow progressive acts is the fact that they were the ones that mastered the subtle art of restraint. Every element is thrown in such a delicate way, musicianship never becomes overbearing or exceedingly pretentious. Now, pretentiousness is often associated with progressive music, and it’s not hard to se why. Most of progressive music is more often thought-out and calculated than actually heartfelt, since creativity is something that has no real limits. But Genesis’s compositions were more organic and heartfelt than most of their contemporary bands’.

Genesis’s sound, however, is not easy to categorize. It’s mellow and sophisticated, but at the same time it’s quirky and colorful. They used 12-string acoustic guitars, mellotrons, organs, and keyboards. These elements were usually used to craft quirky, somewhat cartoonish verses connected by soothing atmospheric passages. Peter Gabriel had a very theatrical way of using his vocals, singing with many different accents and varying levels of intensity. When there are keyboards or guitar solos, they aren’t thrown in a flashy way. They are more melodic and often convey some imagery that relates to the topic of the lyrics. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t highlights of the music. Tony Banks is a very skilled keyboardist and classically trained piano player. And guitar player Steve Hackett was one of the first guitarists that used the tapping technique to speed up melodic patterns in solos. The rhythmic section is also really solid, Phil Collins is a very powerful drummer with a very delicate touch. And Rutherford’s bass lines are perfect in the task of gluing everything together, sometimes becoming more than just a rhythmic instrument. It’s also important to state that most of their songs are stories that successfully achieve the goal of creating visual imagery in one’s mind.

Foxtrot is Genesis at their quirkiest, songs like Get ‘Em Out by Friday and Supper’s Ready show what Genesis is all about; quirkiness versus seriousness. Get ’em out by Friday is a story about the rudeness and cruelty that the government shows towards people who’s economy is so limited, they can hardly keep up with the payments of the home they’re renting. It shows Peter Gabriel taking the role of every character involved in the story, and the intensity of his vocals varies depending on what character he’s representing. The rest of the band also follow this dynamic of shifting between mellow and intense to support Gabriel’s performance. Most progressive acts were also known for overbearing lyrics. Yes had a very stream-of-consciousness approach towards lyrics, and King Crimson’s lyrics were dark and haunting. Peter’s lyrics are grandiose, articulate, sophisticated and theatrical. It’s easy to notice that Gabriel was a very educated young man who was highly influenced by old English literature. His lyrics were sometimes hard to decipher, but they flowed smoothly and elegantly while still conveying fantastic imagery.

The highlight of the album is it’s closing suite Supper’s Ready. This song is a 23 minute monster that showcases the entire band’s best performances in the whole album. Peter Gabriel’s vocals are truly unique, especially in the “Willow Farm” middle section, where he sounds incredibly odd by mocking different accents, sounding clinical and almost bipolar. The acoustic passages of this song are just beautiful, excellent use of 12-string guitar. The keyboards takes the role of being an atmospheric element in the beginning of the song, and towards the end takes the role of being in the lead, with Banks’s most impressive keyboard solo of his entire career. The guitar solo in the second quarter of the song is also a highlight of the song, Steve Hackett uses his tapping technique and other different techniques to create an odd sounding but still epic solo. This song is not just Genesis’s best song, but also a landmark in progressive music right next to Yes’s Gates of Delirium and Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. This album, however, is not perfect. It has got a couple of flaws which are thankfully easy to forgive. For instance, the mellotron intro to Watcher of the Skies drags too much, it would have worked better if it was a minute shorter. Also Time Table is somehow an underwhelming song compared to the rest of the songs, however this song is highlited by an emotional and memorable chorus. The production values are also a little rough around the edges, but this was perfected in their upcoming album Selling England by the Pound which may be the reason it’s often considered Genesis’s best album (though that’s a debatable subject).

All in all, Foxtrot is a hugely influential album, and one of the genre’s best. Whether it’s for Watcher of the Skies’s commanding 6/4 beat, Get’em Out by Friday’s catchy and quirky verses linked by atmospheric passages, or Supper’s Ready’s vocal madness; Foxtrot is an album that is hard to forget. I would seriously recommend it not just to prog fans, but to every person who considers himself as a music aficionado. This album was one of the first that showed what progressive music is all about without the necessity of being self-indulgent and super pretentious.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Foxtrot | | Leave a comment

Genesis Foxtrot (1972)


One thing that we do here at Cool Album of the Day is endeavor to bring you something special for our milestone numbered posts. As you’ve just read, this piece represents entry number 700. So today we bring you an album that more than arguably could be considered the best progressive-rock album of all time. It contains a song that could also potentially be considered the best progressive rock song of all time. You already know the album is Foxtrot, and the song of course that I’m referring to is “Supper’s Ready.”

Some may say that Genesis’ magnum opus should be considered The Lamb lies Down on Broadway, and they very well might be right. But I still see a way where The Lamb could be considered their magnum opus album even if Foxtrot is considered the best progressive-rock release of all time and “Supper’s Ready” the best song. That might be crazy and not make any sense at all. However to 1970s Genesis fans, I’m thinking it does. To make this even more confusing, I’d also have to figure how Selling England by the Pound fits in the mix since I consider that their best album! Now I know that may I have completely confused us, but you know what, that’s okay because that’s the point, Genesis can be a confusing band, just look at Foxtrot for example. For years I’ve looked for and asked about the meanings of these songs and I don’t believe I’ve received the same response twice.

The album begins with the long time concert staple “Watcher of the Skies.” What this one is about, again who knows. I’ve read so many different ideas including a story about aliens landing on earth. I can actually see some of that in the song, especially if you squint. I recently listened to this one for the first time in years. Sure the mellotron still is haunting, and the 6/4 time signature is interesting, but what really jumped out at me was how good the Phil Collins’ drum track was. I’ve never forgotten how tremendously he could play, but I did forget that this is one to use as a showcase for those that didn’t know or don’t remember.

“Horizons” is a beautiful Steve Hackett guitar piece. He’ll still perform this one every so often.

As I mentioned, the earlier showcase of this album will always be “Supper’s Ready.” 22-plus minutes in length, yet it does not include an unnecessary second, it’s never once seemed or felt to be that long to me. Some of those epic songs from the past can get old in a hurry. Not so on this one.

I again ask the question, what’s it about and once again, I’ve read many theories. Is it about the end of the world, is it about the battle of good over evil? Let’s put them together… is it about the triumph of good over evil at the end of the world? Why not! I do know this, not knowing exactly did make me want to hear it again so I could perhaps figure it out. Maybe that’s what the meaning was!

This is the final stanza. So an interpretation of some type of Apocalypse can’t be too far off the mark.

“There’s an angel standing in the sun, and he’s crying with a loud voice / “This is the supper of the mighty one”, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Has returned to lead his children home, To take them to the new Jerusalem. “

If you ever bump into Peter Gabriel, please ask him about some of those song meanings. I’m sure he’d be glad to share them with you.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Foxtrot | | Leave a comment

The Who Quadrophenia (Deluxe Edition) (2011)


Nearly 40 years after its original release, Pete Townshend has sat down with The Who’s second rock opera Quadrophenia to give it a polish. The full results come in the Director’s Cut – the album spread over two CDs, another two discs of demos, plus 5.1 (quadrophonic) DVD audio of the standouts. Those of us without regular royalty cheques have to settle for this Deluxe Edition, which has the complete album as remastered by Pete, plus 11 demos.

In the liner notes, Townshend notes that the record “continues to excite interest in new listeners”, which is probably true. If this latest repackaging gets a few more on board, it just about justifies the swanky box-set that’s there for the dads in time for Christmas. Plus, those cleaned-up demos are a tidy add-on which gives a snapshot of the record as a work-in-progress.

Most buyers will have listened to this at some point over the last four decades, but for those new to the party, Quadrophenia is a surprisingly straightforward Rock record. Roger Daltrey’s voice is appropriately pitched between storytelling musical theatre and full-on Classic Rock tonsil-rattling. The well-deployed synths and samples were ahead-of-their-time (and a right pain to recreate live), but despite the ambition and grandiose scope, there’s nothing here musically that will shock the 2011 listener.

Newcomers may be surprised at the lack of ‘hits’ on such a well-regarded record. ‘The Real Me’, ‘5:15’, ‘Bell Boy’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ are the only things that you might hear out of context on the radio. Obviously it works much better as a piece, anyway. Like other operas/musicals, the loveliest moments come as the best refrains sift in and out across the production. The synthy strains of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ melding into the heavy country rock of ‘I’ve Had Enough’ halfway through the record certainly get you tingling.

At just over 80 minutes and without the natural breaks between four sides, parts of the album do drag. Quadrophenia lacks the youthful exuberance of My Generation and the in-your-face power of the original Live at Leeds. Unlike its peerless predecessor Who’s Next, you certainly couldn’t argue that every track here is a classic.

But what makes Quadrophenia such a success is that The Who play it completely straight. It’s easy to laugh at how straight on occasion. “Why should I care/If I have to cut my hair” our young mod schizophrenic seriously ponders at one point. But clothes, drugs, haircuts, scooters, parental bustups, love and confusion are deadly serious when you’re Jimmy’s age. “We didn’t need light and shade,” Pete says. “We didn’t need irony or humour, we hardly needed sadness.”

February 22, 2013 Posted by | The Who Quadrophenia | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Missing (1985)


Sometime in 1964 I gave a young hitch-hiker a ride. We got into some deep car talk. I told him that I wanted to find an old “Yank” (British slang for an American car). He said that his car-dealing father had a good one: a black 1956 Lincoln Continental Mk 2. It cost me #300. When I drove it to the Marquee Club, parked it outside for one of our regular Tuesday night R&B nights there, a few mod girls looked on appalled. The Count, the American born court jester in Jimmy James’ VAGABONDS who often supported us, told me: ‘The Lincoln is the Rolls Royce of the United States man. Heavy car!”

The ownership of an object so grossly American said more about me than is at first obvious. Our band was in the business of taking the best of American culture and selling it on to the British. Young Brits conspired with us. The Mods wore Campus-inspired clothes; people like me drove gas-guzzling cars; The WHO (and dozens of bands like us) played American urban blues – black R&B. America was still a distant and evocative IDEA to us, full of mystique. Remember we were all war-babies. brought up on free chewing gum handed out by clean-cut grinning G.I.s.

The British black population were all Caribbeans. Their clubs, their drugs, their music and dancing they freely shared – but they were too close to influence us very deeply. They had a self-contained life-style; they were good people, suspicious of young Whites who saw something special in simply being black.

American country blues appeared in Britain with new venom in the early sixties. Artists like John Lee Hooker. Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley had long since electrified their heart-felt calls for attention and respect. There was an anger, boastfulness and pride in their music. It seemed to imply that the American Dream, as we saw it, might be a bit distorted. A part of this collection provides a window through which we can observe recent history.

For despite the fact that I had already written a hit song (Can’t Explain) when these tracks were recorded, we still paid homage to our ‘roots’ . Without urban R&B there would have been no Rolling Stones, Beatles, Kinks or Who. No Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck. Intelligent music lovers of today listen to the original records we covered. It’s fashionable today to decry the European whites of the early sixties for their enthusiasm for black R&B; absurdly perhaps, we felt a kinship with these exploited people. Our parents and grandparents had fought in two world wars, they were heroes. As their heirs, our heritage was the loss of an Empire and the gift of (seen in retrospect) an easy life. Denied the right to suffer, perhaps we identified with the suffering of others. No doubt a lot of us grew up to become closet liberals, even hippies; romantics with a yearning for darker times, we had little understanding of what real sacrifice was all about.

Roger’s voice moans over the first four tracks, deep and sad, but full of passionate aggression. He was influenced by James Brown, a self-styled sex machine’ . We learned very early in our career that we must appear threatening. I don’t quite know why, but it worked. Suddenly the threat becomes rather perverse as Keith Moon’s voice enters singing lead on BARBARA ANN. We only played surf music to humour him; he believed in the Dream until the very end; the year he died he owned a beach house in Malibu. (When we arrived for our second tour of Sweden in 1966 our version of Jan and Dean’s BUCKET-T was number one in the charts there. For two weeks Keith’s dream was realized as thousands of blonde girls with sculptured Nordic heads screamed at him.)

On side two the rest of the stuff punctuates the slow and eccentric rise of The Who to its zenith in the very early seventies. The B-sides offered here (HEAVEN AND HELL. HERE FOR MORE, WHEN I WAS A BOY) illustrate how each band member grasped for a voice. Entwistle’s songs, always overshadowed and rarely allowed to develop, are often described as “dark”, but he too was writing about manhood and a society in transition.

The writer John Swenson must be one of the few to take the trouble to analyse John’s writing as deeply as my own. A live track closes this collection. In 1972 The Who were at their best, and possibly deserved the epithet: ‘The best live rock band in the world’. BARGAIN heard here sets the skin tingling. Performed ten years later on the last tour the song would prove more polished perhaps, but less abandoned, less real. Abandonment is the key to good rock. We all go to concerts to lose ourselves, to discover real abandonment. Once we lose ourselves we ironically find our REAL selves.

Life is quieter now in 1985, maybe even happier. But, listening to WHO’S MISSING I realize that many of us will always be – missing The Who.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Missing | | Leave a comment

The Who Quadrophenia (Deluxe Edition) (2011)


Ever since Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) rode into town as the leader of The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a troubled James Dean dared to show outwardly open angered contempt towards his hopelessly inept parents or Bill Haley rocked around the clock to usher in a new dawn for music and teen culture there has always been a captive audience wanting, and in some cases needing, to see the portrayals of life as a disillusioned or dysfunctional adolescent.

Capturing the angst and frustration felt by certain groups who yearn to be heard and understood not only gives them validation and a sense of identity but it also makes their seemingly intolerable isolation and misunderstood life make far more sense. The unifying quality of a well versed song or an actors ability to channel the mood and feeling of the youth of the time can not only be a very powerful thing it can also serve as a great way of preserving a piece of history through a medium that doesn’t rely wholly on news reels, facts, speeches or statistics.

The sense of belonging and collective comradery, a feeling of being part of a movement and that somehow your life feels that much more enriched are all part of the teenagers rite of passage whether you’re a Goth, Punk, Shoe-Gazer or Metal head. Each generation has its own particular set of musical genres in turn spawning a seemingly inevitable sub-culture that manifests itself in clothing, clubs, attitude, drug choice, language and even political bias. During the sixties the two predominant sects of the musical spectrum were most definitely defined as either Mods or Rockers. The former sharp suited, moped riders and the latter leather clad ‘proper’ bikers were easily identifiable not only by their dress and transport but by the bands which fell under their particular umbrella.

The mood of the time was one slightly at odds with itself. Whilst prosperity increased and freedoms came more readily there was also a sense, for a portion of youth at any rate, that they deserved more and that what they were due couldn’t come fast enough. At the time the ‘teenager’ was a relatively new phenomenon and as such they were plotting uncharted territory with their ever growing sense of identity, easing of parental authority and above all the monetary means with which to enjoy themselves. Quadrophenia captures the mood and spirit of this time brilliantly through the life of its main protagonist Jimmy Cooper.

Originally released as a double album back in 1973, Quadrophenia has been brought bang up to date, polished and extended with a double CD box set that also contains some of the early demos as well as unused songs. Now inextricably linked to the film which was born out of the album, Quadrophenia is a truly British piece of artistry. The second of The Who’s rock opera’s has some of the grandiose arrangements and orchestral backing of its forbear but at the same time still maintains a real earthiness and realism to its character. The songs are far more pithy and draw on the bond you develop with Jimmy’s mentally unstable personality.

It’s more-or-less impossible to listen to the album without picturing Phil Daniels, Ray Winston, Toyah, Leslie Ash or Sting as the film uses all of the musical references to make real Jimmy’s life. What is breathtaking however is just how good these songs are in isolation from the celluloid. The clarity and complexity of the tracks is stunning. The instrumentation from all involved is nothing short of fantastic with every note, every movement and every vocal intonation making for a magnificent aural delight. The title track alone is mesmeric in its entirety with Pete’s guitar and Keith Moon’s drumming being of particular brilliance.

Throughout the album, as the tale of despair and drug fuelled desperation progress, you get a real sense of Jimmy’s growing frustration. Roger Daltrey seems to take on Jimmy’s persona as his voice echoes the ups and downs he goes through. In fact the whole record has a cohesion that is easy to lose on such ambitious projects. Whether it is because a lot of the themes were drawn from near autobiographical references, or whether it is just because the band were at a creative peak, it means that the passion and purpose of each tune is equally well expressed. ‘The Real Me’, ‘I’m One’ (Recently given an a solo acoustic outing for ‘Later’), ‘5.15’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ are such well crafted songs that it is easy to see why ‘Quadrophenia has been described as The Who’s last great album. Each song can stand alone on its own merit but when showcased as a body of work Quadrophenia is terrific.

The finished product was clearly a work in progress when the demos were laid down. They seem far more bluesy than the final cut and it is interesting that one of the better demos, ‘Anymore’, never made it onto the album. With the added dimension of some of the demo’s, as well as some of the original photography, and Pete’s sleeve notes this newly packaged version is a fine collectors piece.

Quadrophenia is now, more than ever, a fantastic historical commentary on a volatile era in our musical past, but also a great album that can, and should be, appreciated for its own incredible musical quality.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | The Who Quadrophenia | | Leave a comment

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Ooh La La (Paris, March 1998)


La Cigalle, Paris, France – March 30th, 1998

Disc 1 (58:23): Intro., Wanton Song, Bring It On Home, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Walking Into Clarksdale, No Quarter, When I Was A Child, Going To California, Tangerine, Gallows Pole, Burning Up

Disc 2 (48:07): Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, How Many More Times (incl. We’re Gonna Groove – In The Light), Most High, Whole Lotta Love, Thank You, Rock And Roll

The publicity surrounding Walking Into Clarksdale was enormous. The first album with all original music from Page & Plant since 1979 received much advance airplay with the single “Most High” appearing both on radio and MTV.

In the months leading up its release Page & Plant were busy with warm up gigs in eastern Europe (Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic), a much publicized surprise gig in Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and an appearance on Top Of The Pops. The publicity junket also included a trip to France for a gig in La Cigalle in Paris, broadcast on OUÏ FM radio on March 30th and a television appearance on Canal-1 TV the following day.

Ooh La La contains the complete OUÏ FM broadcast in excellent sound quality. It contains station IDs by both the French DJs and by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page themselves (recorded earlier in the day). They are very quick between some songs and in no way interfere with the show. The only imperfection is a big dropout about 1:14 in “The Wanton Song” and two glitches in ”Most High.” The first glitch occurs at 3:31 where the music stops and a tone is audible. The second sounds like a cut at 3:53.

Another release of this tape from Europe can be found on Four Madmen And A Friend (Dandelion DL024/25) with the next day’s telecast as a bonus. Most High Live (Optimum OPT42/43) is a direct copy of the Dandelion.

The start of the show maintains a distinct feel of the Unledded tours from a few years prior. The same opening tape is played before a few measures of “Immigrant Song” lead into “The Wanton Song.” They follow with the Led Zeppelin II medley common from the past tour with an excerpt from “Bring It On Home,” “Heartbreaker” up to through the solo, and “Ramble On.”

Robert Plant speaks a bit of French in his opening comments. He mentions they now have “no Egyptians, no orchestra, no hurdy-gurdy, just four madmen and a friend” (the friend is keyboardist Phillip Andrews). As he’s introducing the title track from the new album, the audience cheer in recognition and prompts Plant to quip “that’s good, you’ve heard it already.”

The new songs in general sound much better played live than on record. “Walking Into Clarksdale” is a has schizophrenic dallying between various styles, flirting with many but with commitments to none. It’s a brave song which is followed by a stultifyingly orthodox version of “No Quarter.” While the arrangement on the Unledded tours were dark, apocalyptic nightmare visions, this sounds like almost identical to the Houses Of The Holy recording.

“When I Was A Child” is the second new song of the set which Plant says is “the second time we’ve wove our way through that. It takes some concentration. And a chair. A chair!” A three song acoustic set follows with ”Going To California” (complete with Plant’s middle eastern vocal embellishments), “Tangerine” (which, like “No Quarter,” is performed almost exactly as the studio recording) and finally “Gallows Pole.”

They follow with “Burning Up,” the third new song. It would be played the opening week in the US but then dropped in favor of “Shining In The Light.”

Before “How Many More Times” Plant promises they’re “gonna break all the boundaries of music…it’s jazz time.” Played as a reference to the recently released Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions on Atlantic, they throw in the riff to “Smokestack Lightening” and short versions of “We’re Gonna Groove” and “In The Light.”

They close the set with the first single from the album “Most High,” which is their ”desperate attempt to win friends and influence people under the age of ninety.” It is a brilliant synthesis of western rock and northern African arabic music and deservinly won the Grammy award.

Page & Plant give the French radio audience three encores: “Whole Lotta Love,” “Thank You” and finally “Rock And Roll.”

Walking Into Clarksdale was released on April 25th, a month after this broadcast. The publicity paid off. The LP entered the chart at number five and stayed in the charts for six weeks (it did slightly better in the UK by entering at number three).

Page & Plant would make two more trips to Paris this year. They played the Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy on their European Walking Into Everywhere tour on November 10th, and in the same venue on December 10th they played a six song set as part of an Amnesty International benefit (and this would be the final live public Page & Plant appearance ever).

Ooh La La is packaged in a single pocket cardboard sleeve. The front has the basic publicity photo from the LP and lettering in the style of the Page & Plant LP with no futher clutter on the artwork. Wild Street was a minor Japanese label releasing several quality titles, and despite the minor imperfections is a good way to obtain this show.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Ooh La La | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin I (1969)


After tinkering with a new version of The Yardbirds, legendary session ace and band leader Jimmy Page and another session veteran John Paul Jones teamed together with a couple of younger unknowns who knew each other from previous (unsuccessful) bands, Robert Plant and John (“Bonzo”) Bonham.

The band’s chemistry was immediately and spectacularly apparent, and the rest, as they say, is history, as the mighty Led Zeppelin (allegedly named because The Who drummer Keith Moon suggested that they would go over with audiences “like a lead zeppelin”) was born. And yeah, they did rip off old blues artists, sometimes without according the proper credit, but they did so brilliantly. Besides, that was just a small part of their recorded legacy, and I’ve yet to hear any of the old bluesmen sound half as majestic or as powerful as Led Zeppelin does on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” or “Dazed And Confused,” to name but two of this album’s classic songs. Recorded over a sweat soaked 30 hours and featuring nine songs that basically comprised their set list at the time, Led Zeppelin I is the band’s rawest and most blues-based studio recording.

Page’s guitar is on fire throughout, Bonham’s drums thunder away in awe-inspiring fashion, Jones plays some terrific bass guitar and keyboards, and Plant’s high-pitched vocal wail, with many a “baby baby” lyric, became the template for all future hard rock singers (though it should be noted that some find his vocals to be an acquired taste and Plant himself has been critical of his somewhat hyper and over-the-top theatrics on this album; I can see where everybody is coming from but on the whole I still think he’s magnificent). Yet for all of their individual excellence, and they do all take spectacular solo turns here (particularly Page), it is the band’s ensemble playing that remains most mind-blowing all these years later. As for the songs, the album starts strongly with the short, catchy “Good Times Bad Times,” which is notable for Page’s savage soloing and Plant’s charismatic vocal as he uses his lower register.

“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” a radical folk-blues-rock reworking of a Joan Baez cover (though unbeknownst to the band it was originally written by one Anne Bredon, who got belated credit and financial restitution for her efforts), is even more impressive. Years before the Pixies were given credit for creating the soft-to-loud dynamics that came to define alternative rock in the ’90s, Led Zeppelin were doing just that right here, and once again all band members shine, particularly Plant who is nothing short of spectacular. Even better is “Dazed and Confused,” the band’s first (of many) epic-scale tracks, which took hard rock to a whole new level of heaviness. The song, which was actually an uncredited cover (albeit with different lyrics) of a psychedelic folk song originally done by the largely unknown Jake Holmes, is almost unbelievably powerful at times, especially during its frenetic jam-packed mid-section and dramatic symphonic ending.

The song is also notable for being their first on which Page unleashed the eerie sonic possibilities of taking a violin bow to an electric guitar; though the Creation’s Eddie Phillips was the first to do so, Page is most synonymous with this technique, and this song is probably his signature piece with it. Showing the versatility and subtlety that so many of their subsequent followers would lack, “Your Time Is Gonna Come” is a beautiful sing along country-gospel-pop ballad led by Page’s acoustic guitar, Jones’ Hammond organ, and another inspired vocal from Plant (his phrasing is impeccable), while “Black Mountain Side” is a short Page-led acoustic instrumental that nods to Bert Jansch and shows the influence of Eastern music while offering a lighter respite from the draining intensity elsewhere. Another classic comes in the form of the short but ultra-adrenalized “Communication Breakdown,” which features yet another great Page guitar solo and flies along at a breakneck speed. Most future punk rockers would cower in the face of such a relentless assault, making their snobbish comments a decade hence about Zep being outdated “dinosaur rockers” all the more laughable.

But I digress; this album ends with another epic in the multi-sectioned “How Many More Times,” another exceptionally strong take on the blues, and one of several songs here (“Dazed and Confused,” “Black Mountain Side”) that had its roots from back in Page’s Yardbirds days. Loosely based on Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years” and featuring vocal ad-libs from Plant, who also “steals” from Albert King’s “The Hunter,” again the song may borrow too liberally from old blues sources, but again to reiterate it does so brilliantly, and the end result is 100% pure Led Zeppelin. For one thing, Plant’s vocal ad-libs, borrowed or not, are inspired, and the song’s pulverizing riffs, violin bow treatments, and wah wah effects are all Page, whose sparring with Bonham is breathtaking.

Ironically, the two Willie Dixon covers, “You Shook Me,” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” are arguably the album’s weakest songs (least great songs is more like it; these are fine performances but slow blues simply isn’t my favorite Zep style), proving that Led Zeppelin were at their best when unleashing a fury (or a beauty) all their own.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin I | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy (1973)


Many know that the group of Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham took their name from a famous cliche often spouted by the Who’s Keith Moon, “going over like a lead zeppelin.” But the band did everything but. Manager Peter Grant made sure the band took calculated step after calculated step to become one of the biggest rock bands in history, and a thing of myth and legend. After four eponymous and numbered albums, the mighty Zep finally put a real title to one of their outings, the fifth long player, and its last on Atlantic, Houses of the Holy. The album would act as both a natural extension of one of the biggest selling albums of all time, its predecessor of the four runes, and as a springboard for experimentation. One can argue that IV was their artistic peak, but after Houses of the Holy, their American tour broke sales records set by none other than the Beatles.

One can rarely write about albums of the seventies without dropping the name Hipgnosis. The duo of Storm Thorgerson (how’s that for a rock `n’ roll sounding name?) and Aubrey Powell designed the record sleeves for some of the best album covers of the decade and beyond. Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Wings, 10cc and T. Rex all employed the graphic artists, and yes, so did Zeppelin for the famous “naked pink children climbing the stone temple” on the cover of Houses of the Holy. Album cover art aside, the band’s reputation also added to their mystique, still having nothing to do with the music. Peter Grant often found himself putting out fires, sometimes literally, set by the band, now famous for trashing hotel rooms and the like. Cameron Crowe, who used the band, along with the Allmann Brothers and the Eagles, as a blueprint for Almost Famous‘ Stillwater, tells a great story about Grant introducing himself to Bob Dylan who replies, “I don’t come to you with my problems, do I?”

Houses of the Holy begins with the layered tracks of the guitar odyssey of Jimmy Page, transforming into the dreamy lyrics of Plant in the now famously titled, “The Song Remains the Same.” (Later, a tribute album would be cheekily called The Song Retains the Name). Hardcore fans were at first thrown by the “jamming” quality of the song and album, but even the band itself said they were probably a year ahead of everything else. “The Rain Song,” a slow acoustic number follows, and then comes the easily recognizable and classic Zeppelin song, “Over the Hills and Far Away.” The song is vintage Zep in both music and lyrics, beginning with Plant cooing, “Hey lady, you got the love I need” with Plant and Jones then kicking in with the blues rock at a minute-and-a-half in. “The Crunge” is the only song from Houses of the Holy that doesn’t appear on their later-released box set and it’s mostly because fans either love or hate it. Meant as a tribute to James Brown, Page says that the band initially wanted to include the dance steps to the song on the sleeve.

Another musical experiment, the reggae influenced “D’yer Mak’er” was another story altogether. The song reached #20 on the US charts and is now familiar to millions. Unlike any other Zep song before it, it was slow to catch on with loyal listeners, but eventually found its way to heavy rotation on the radio. “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, you don’t have to go-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh” is not necessarily the first lyric that comes to mind when thinking of Led Zeppelin, but upon hearing it, is immediately synonymous with the band. “No Quarter” presents another strange vocal and keyboard odyssey as in the opener, this time seven minutes long. Page’s fuzzed out guitars are vastly different than his blues riffs, but just as influential. Finally, Beastie Boys fans are sure to recognize the opening riff to “The Ocean,” a song supposedly dedicated to the “seas” of fans who come to their concerts, played in arenas that they called, you guessed it, “Houses of the Holy.” Plant’s cartoony high voice in the song only adds to the experience, which ends up to be another playground for Page’s brilliant riffing. The harmonized vocals that separate the song are a strange and beautiful interruption, but only make the reemergence of the guitar that much more explosive.

Houses of the Holy is one of five Zep albums that made Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums list. Only the third album, and the last three didn’t make the cut. (Huh? III has “Immigrant Song” and “Tangerine”!) And while it may have placed fifth out of the five, it still contains some of the group’s best tracks, most famous riffs, and exploration into other realms of rock, not to mention having one of the best album covers of all time. In two more years time, Led Zeppelin would go on to make Physical Graffiti, and upon its release, all six of Zep’s albums would appear on the top 200 albums chart at the same time, which had never happened before with any band. I think that people tend to forget just how big Led Zeppelin really was, sometimes remembering only “Stairway to Heaven,” now played almost in jest when appropriate. But whenever I put on any one of their albums, especially the “tight but loose epic,” as Cameron Crowe calls it, I know that “Dancing Days” are here again.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy | | Leave a comment