Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy (1973)

Houses_of_the_HolyFrom amazon.com

Review Imagine turning out four of the most successful and ground breaking heavy metal/blues-rock albums of all time, only to go on turning out more outstanding material. Very few bands in history have consistently delivered mind-blowing albums one after the other for an extended period of time the way Zeppelin has. Zeppelin had invented the sound of the decade, and by 1973, they were really ready to spread their wings (as if they hadn’t already).

“Houses Of The Holy” follows the same foot steps as “Led Zeppelin IV”, but the approach is much more easy-going. Jimmy Page’s riffs range from folk hooks as well as his classic blues-rock hooks, giving the album a lighter and looser feel. The album kicks off with epic “The Song Remains the Same”. “The Rain Song” is a moody, meandering tune, sprawling progressive rock arrangements touching on classical music, jazz, blues, and folk, as well as hard rock. Robert Plant’s vocals are soulful and heartfelt.

“The Rain Song” also shows Jimmy Page’s growth as a producer. “Over the Hills and Far Away” was a further progression away from the band’s original heavy blues into more diverse arrangements. The acoustic introduction is a variation of Jimmy Page’s own “White Summer,” which was highly influenced by Davey Graham’s “She Moved Thro’ the Fair.” The affectionate James Brown send-up “The Crunge,” one of my favourites, really adds to the diversity of the album.

“Dancing Days” gives you a solid taste of their classic hard rock strut. The reggae-influenced song “D’Yer Mak’er”, featuring John Bonham’s driving drums makes for an exceptional love song. The song was released as a single and reached the top 20, staying on the charts for total of eight weeks. Zeppelin’s spooky “No Quarter” is a jazz, bluesy jam. The songs starts off with John Paul Jones’ electric piano, reminiscent of the Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”. The song jumps into Bonham’s hard-hitting drums, then leads into Page’s blues-rock riff, backed by an analogue synthesizer. Plant paints a picture of creepy images within his soaring slowed-down vocals. “The Ocean” makes for a great closer, featuring a funky guitar riff from Page, into an a cappella, going out swinging.

It’s hard to pick a “best” Zeppelin album. Usually my favourite is the one I am currently listening too. “Houses Of The Holy” lives up to the reputation of their first four masterpieces. They took a chance and were unfazed by the spotlight. This album adds dramatic influence to heavy metal, blues-rock and hard rock as we know it today. Don’t miss out on this flawless classic.

Review In the early 1970’s, Led Zeppelin were at their peak. Led Zeppelin were one of the top established bands in the world by the time of the release of ‘Houses Of The Holy’ in Spring 1973. This was due to the release of four magnificent albums, displaying music from ground breaking blues hard rock songs to acoustic masterpieces. However, it was mostly in the release of their fourth album, Led Zeppelin IV, that the band really sored to superstardom.

Songs like ‘Stairway To Heaven’, which quickly became a generational rock anthem and other great songs made Led Zeppelin IV the band’s best sounding album to date. As a result, the band faced the dilemma of making the follow up to a hard rock masterpiece. Scaling to the heights of Led Zeppelin IV seemed impossible; so were the band able to pull it off with ‘Houses Of The Holy’?

Many will disagree with me but in my opinion, Led Zeppelin’s finest hour came with this album. Furthermore, I would go as far to say this is rock music’s finest hour of the 70’s. So why do you ask? How is HOTH better than albums like Led Zeppelin II or IV? Where are the tracks that better ‘Stairway’, ‘When The Levee Breaks’ or ‘Whole Lotta Love’ for that matter? The answer, for me, lies in how much ground the band covers in this album.

This album is the mix of the original rocking Zeppelin, with the new, experimental and more developed band. This album, albeit having only 8 tracks, covers the sounds of funk, reggae, riff rock, synthesizers, acoustics to name but a few. Plus this is all in 40 minutes. I’ve never heard an album quite like this one. True, it is not as all round consistent as LZ IV but it is in diversity that makes HOTH (the first album the band gave a true name to) a winner of an album.

‘Houses Of The Holy’ is ingenuity and creativity but at the same time is the band truly enjoying the music their playing and you can sense this in all the albums songs. Plant’s vocal range and different styles of delivery are evident through the album, Page’s guitar play cleverly changes gears through the album, JP Jones’ contribution is invaluable (especially on the keyboard) and Bonham’s drumming is first rate. The band opened loads of new avenues in rock music with this album; its impact has been subtle but downright effective. Ironically, the album was released in exactly the same week as Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.

Two classics like these in one week is staggering and seldom ever seen. The fact that the band recorded a title track for this album which didn’t make it to the final song list shows how good the work. ‘Houses Of The Holy’, the song which appears on ‘Physical Graffiti’, is awesome and the fact that it was deemed too inferior for this album shows the musical quality within. The album will probably not strike you as being that great during the first few listens – I personally was disappointed with it at first; but this album gets better and better with repeated listens and the experimental songs really grow on you.

A Led Zeppelin fan favourite, ‘The Song Remains The Same’ opens the album. This is a 5 minute, upbeat rock song with some amazingly adept guitar work from Page. Plant’s high register singing to a fast rhythm works very well. Following this is a true masterpiece and sadly one that often gets underappreciated. ‘The Rain Song’ is the band’s search for a song in the vein of ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The slow, mellotron-based melody in this song is awesome.

The acoustic sections are moody and the end climax is thrilling, with Plant crying out for ‘Just a little rain!’ A relaxing song; and it cheers you up on a rainy day too! An acoustic opening follows in ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’. The build up into the rocking part of the song is legendary. The song fades out with a dreamy guitar/keyboard section which really cool. Finishing the first half of the album is ‘The Crunge’. This is perhaps the most experimental song on the album an I personally think it works really well; although some may disagree, finding this track annoying. Plant half sings/half talks on the vocals to a song with a funky beat. There’s a lot going on in this song, so give it plenty of listens; at the least its a funny listen.

‘Dancing Days’ opens the second half of the album. More great riffs from Page supplement some almost chanted Plant vocals. The instrumentals at the end build a great climax and overall the song is a really catchy listen. ‘D’yer Mak’er’ is next; this is Led Zeppelin successfully experimenting with reggae. The beat is cool and Plant’s vocals capture the song style very well. Then we have the next epic of the album; ‘No Quarter’ is another masterpiece.

This is Led Zeppelin’s eeriest and most captivating song. Plant’s vocals are chilling and give the song a suspicious aura. The song is on of John Paul Jones’ finest hours. His keyboard/synth part is awesome and captures the nature of the song and his bass solo mid-way through the epic is timeless. After this song fades out, we come to the classic finish with ‘The Ocean’. The hard rocking riff to this song is vintage Zeppelin, supplemented by pronounced drumming. This is a very strong finish. The racing guitar section at the end is a great way to end a unique album.

There was never an album quite like ‘Houses of the Holy’ before it and there has never been on like it made since. This is Led Zeppelin at their most creative and able, showing really how genius their music could be. Led Zeppelin IV might be the band’s most consistent and popular album, Physical Graffiti might be their epic and Led Zep I and II might be the hard rock gems, but it is in ‘Houses Of The Holy’ that you have the great band demonstrating their utmost ability and at the same time giving it their greatest passion and energy.

It is a sin not to own this album!!!

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May 4, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Houses Of The Holy | | Leave a comment

Simon & Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

bridgeFrom amazon.com

If you were alive and aware in 1969, you know it was anything but a time of confidences. I remember being 15 and getting tear-gassed at the Washington Monument in the middle of an angry war protest on the Fourth of July among 250,000 people … and I was just there to see Bob Hope and the Beach Boys. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated the year before. Cities burned down during the riots afterward. The daily news was a parade of body count numbers from Vietnam. The country was torn between Nixon supporters, anti-war protestors, hippies, Black Panther radicals, John Birch conservatives, poverty, racism, and migrant and other abused workers struggling for decent working conditions through collective bargaining (oops, bye bye).

But in total counterpoint to the chaos came a sound as pure and serene and … confident as humanly possible. Two friends who had been singing together since they were 11 year-old pups were just now hitting their peak with “Bridge Over Troubled Water;” an album that captured lyrical, vocal and engineering mastery beyond measure.

There is no fill on the album. Nothing mediocre. It launches you into the stratosphere on the opening title cut and never lets up. It’s one sustained mood of mixed emotions brilliantly recorded after another. No mere “Greatest Hits” album by the same duo could ever match the level of sustained inspiration woven here. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel knew it. They split up after this. How could it ever by topped? Well, there are still some surprises left for us in the seen-and-heard-it-all 2011, and this 40th anniversary edition comes not only with a remastered version of the album, but a Simon and Garfunkel CBS television special that originally aired in 1969, PLUS a new documentary interviewing the key players on the making the of the album. And every moment is revelation.

Simon and Garfunkel had four of the top five chart positions at the time and were so popular that a one-hour network special on CBS gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. So they did a wandering meditative tone poem of moving images on America featuring John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s funeral train while “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played over. That featured young couples in love contrasted with violent and fiery war images from Vietnam while “Scarborough Faire” played. That featured widow Coretta King talking about poverty over disturbing images of diseased and starving children. And they ended (big sigh of relief from the network), with a brief on stage concert. Naturally, millions of shocked viewers choked on their nightcap cocktails and tumbled out of their easy chairs to switch the channel over to the Peggy Fleming Ice Skating special on ABC. When director Charles Grodin (yes, THAT Charles Grodin), screened the Coretta King voiceover poverty section to the network brass, they asked him if he could adjust the audio on it. “How do you want it?” he asked. “Inaudible,” they replied.

The original sponsor dropped out, but Alberto VO5 stepped in (hey, there was a lot of hair on young viewers in 1969), and the show aired as produced. Try watching it in the context of 1969, or even prime time network television TODAY, and you will gasp at what they got away with. And if you can watch Robert Kennedy’s funeral train pass through the countryside by waving mourners as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” reaches its crescendo, and without crying, you need to check the dose level of your anti-depressants. You just might be catatonic.

Take a deep breath after the television special, thinking you’ve struck unearthed gold never seen since 1969, but here comes a fantastic new documentary about the making of the album (and the special), and nirvana kicks in. If you care about music at all, or how it is created or inspired, or recorded, you will be entranced. Paul Simon reveals the gospel music he was listening to when the inspiration struck for “Bridge,” which he readily acknowledges is beyond any rational explanation. Art Garfunkel convinces him to add the third verse taking it even higher. Their genius engineer, Roy Halee, master of finding the perfect echo, records the “li li li” chorus of “The Boxer” in a stone church chapel to get the right haunting tones. He records the drum crescendos for “Bridge” outside the elevators at CBS to the shock and awe of departing passengers. Garfunkel and Simon playfully slap their hands on their denim-covered knees in a hotel room, roll the Sony recorder, create a one-minute loop, and inadvertently come up with the entire rhythm backing for “Cecilia.” And on and on.

I don’t know about you, but I always get thrills from hearing artists describe their moments of inspiration. That’s my crack addiction. The joy of invention, of innovation, of seeking that perfect sound infuses everything they did or discuss here. And you share that joy of discovery with them. Unless of course, your lithium dosage won’t let you.

Troubled outer times call for a stillness of inner peace. Simon and Garfunkel somehow sensed that delicate balance in 1969 and distilled a sound for the ages with this masterpiece. Witness the creation of that same masterpiece 40 years later to understand how the silences within these sounds are needed more than ever.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Simon & Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water | | Leave a comment

The Beatles Rubber Soul (1965)

rubber_soul_albumFrom amazon.com

Rubber Soul is an undeniably brilliant album, but before I get underway I want to address a statement I read in an earlier review, which I find difficult to believe that someone would actually make this statement. Matthew McDowell, in his review dated September 4, 2000, said this was the first significant album ever produced. That is simply an asinine statement. Even that year, Dylan gives The Beatles a run for their money (and arguably beats them, especially with Highway 61 Revisited), and both BIABH and HW61R were already released.

There was a significant body of recordings and albums in other genres being produced for a long time, especially jazz, and his claim of Rubber Soul being first important album ever is both ridiculous and uninformed. That being said, I will resume the review proper.

Rubber Soul, The Beatles’ sixth studio album in a mere three years, takes its place as the very first full length release that truly beings the evolution of away from the boy-girl “I Love you” pop that dominated the first half of their career.

The truly fascinating element of The Beatles are going through their recordings chronologically. You can watch that extremely rapid artistic growth explode. It is amazing that this is the same band who, a mere three years ago, recorded Please Please Me. Obviously, there are several influences that can be felt on this album, although The Beatles up the antes one with this release.

This album sounds like The Beatles playing (and beating) The Byrds at their own game. There are gorgeous three part harmonies, several compositions that would become standards almost on their release, and such a vast improvement artistically over the last five albums. The Beatles knew the time to move was now. Dylan had released Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited that year, both of which are much better aesthetically than The Beatles’ effort that year (Help!).

The critics always talk about Rubber Soul being that pivotal album in The Beatles’ artistic growth, but that is simply not true. While it is true that it is the first album by The Beatles to have that mature sound, about half of Help! stands proudly alongside this release, as does the non LP tracks “Yes, It Is,” and “I Feel Fine,” which, to me, has always sound much more mid period Beatles than the earlier material with which it belongs. Although it’s true it’s the first album of their mature sound, the seeds were already there in earlier material already released.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had they scrapped Help!, but the five or six extra tracks on this, and released the other half as singles, but we can never know. What we do know, however, is that tracks like “Help!,” “Ticket to Ride,” “It’s Only Love,” “Yesterday,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” (which, by the way, is the best song Dylan never wrote) point toward this release. The first two tracks cited hearken back to tracks like “Hard Days’ Night” and their earlier sound, the lyrics are much better and without expense to the melody.

Those who complain that the record company has butchered the pre-1967 Beatles releases by coming out with totally reconfigured albums are putting on prominent display their ignorance of The Beatles’ history and the decadence of Capitol in regards to respecting the artistic integrity of their artists. There were eleven*, count them, eleven U.S. albums released from1963 to 1966. In the UK, however, The Beatles had only issued five albums before this. No one complains about these missing albums with the exception of this US version of Rubber Soul.

In those days, The Beatles were extremely hot commodities (which they still are) and the market supported singles more than albums anyway, so the reshuffling of all the tracks does not effect (much) the artistry of the songs until we get to Rubber Soul and Revolver. It is only until Sgt. Pepper that the American version and the UK version coincided. The most famous of these bastardized American albums is “Yesterday . . . and Today,” the famous Butcher album, which is comprised of the four lost Rubber Soul tracks, two from the Side 2 of Help!, three from the then current Revolver sessions (the album was not completed when Yesterday was released), and the “Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out Single.” Yet that album has its place in Beatles history more for the cover as opposed to the music inside, although the music is brilliant. But of all the American albums, this and the U. S. Rubber Soul are the most sorely missed.

Why are they sorely missed? Well, there’s a reason why there have been many people complaining about the UK version when they grew up with the American version. With the release of this particular album, The Beatles and their contemporaries (especially Dylan) were firmly moving the market away from the singles and were becoming much more album oriented, which is why this is the most controversial reconfiguration. The rest sound like a collection of singles: this sounds like a unified album. To those who argue that the American release is better I do not necessarily agree. “Nowhere Man” stands as a vastly important composition, the first of The Beatles to move beyond the boy-girl subject of their early pop material, and to remove it from this album makes the record suffer greatly. The American release compensated (partially) as having “Face” as the opener, which I greatly prefer to start the album off as opposed to “Drive My Car.” This version of the album also is strengthened by dropping the rather bland “What Goes On,” the worst track on the album.

As everyone praises this album, no one seems to fully discuss the disturbing “Run For Your Life,” an extremely misogynistic Lennon song and the most baffling song in The Beatles’ canon. This song makes a rather weakened end, and Ringo’s simply isn’t that impressive.

Still, an enthusiastic five star release non-the-less.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | The Beatles Rubber Soul | | Leave a comment

The Beatles Abbey Road (1969)

abbeyroadFrom amazon.com

After the hardest studio sessions they’ve ever had to stand (“White Album” and “Get Back/Let It Be”), The Beatles knew the end was coming. So they made the effort of reuniting, despite all their differences and made one of the greatest popular music album ever recorded and listened by the human race.

I have said before I prefer “Revolver” because you can get out of it a complete philosophy to your life, and the lyrics and musical experiments were never better than on that album, but I have to recognize that the production and orchestral work made with this CD can be considered as the best music The Beatles made in their whole succesful carrer. It’s so removing, you can get deep emotions by the listening experience, you can feel lots of noises, like the constant presence of death and dark perceptions of the world, the optimism, the humour, the social comments, I mean… The Beatles’ lyrics here are getting simpler, but more to the point.

They are writing rock’n’roll again, the songs with deep and hidden meanings are gone, as are the strange but interesting instrumental arrangements and studio experiments they made in their more psychedelic albums from 1965-1967. They are PLAYING MUSIC again, that’s the final gift they gave to the world.

The first side of the album is a very hard-to-unify bunch of songs. “Come Together” finds John Lennon at his funkiest mood, laughing at them all, as always, and the rocky guitars (and specially the Fender Rhodes piano solo played by Paul) make the perfect dark environment this acid song needs to have. “Something” has to be the loveliest ballad ever written, its simple structure and lyrics are adorned by the expert orchestral arrangements by George Martin, the guitar solo by the singer/composer George Harrison, is stunning, as is the middle-eight.

This particular track also shows The Beatles as a band, with John playing a notorious wah-wah rhythm guitar, Paul playing his bass guitar at his best (hear those chord variations!) and Ringo getting his turn at the drums. Notable. It gets into your subconscious, and it also was a big hit by the Fab-Four in 1969 (you can get a remastered version in the recently released “1” CD). “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Octopus’s Garden” are underrated humoristic and ironic songs.

Written by Paul and Ringo respectively, they help to make the album a little lighter, and to remember those days where the music and the lyrics were not mean to be something with deep meaning, but most notably something to enjoy the experience of playing music. Plus, Ringo’s lead vocal on “Octopus’s Garden” is one of his best, his lyrics are intriguing and very psychedelic, making this song a pleasant surprise and one of the high points of the album. “Oh! Darling” is a lovely and heart-breaking ballad with an impressive vocal interpretation by Sir James Paul McCartney (John said he could have done it better!) and a bluesy air that can remove all the hairs in your body… “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, with its weak lyric, is no more than a great jam by the biggest band in the world (but they knew how to make it into a great rock’n’roll moment!) The final noises can REALLY scare you.

George Harrison finally gets the chance to show how a good songwriter he was on this album. Apart from “Something”, he wrote the best song on “Abbey Road”: “Here Comes The Sun” (the opening track for side 2) which also has very good orchestral arrangements (Martin takes care of the production in both Harrisongs, and you can note it!), optimistic lyrics and the brilliant acoustic guitar work that George made by himself. It can really blow your mind. And it’s relaxing and lovely.

After that, the album gets a spirit of unity and you can’t realize where does a song finish or another begins: “Because” is the Lennon version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, and shows the greatest vocal performance ever made by John, Paul and George in 9 voices! The lyrics are intriguing, and the electric harpischord (played by George Martin) with the Moog Synthesiser (played by George Harrison!) make the song sound even more electrifying! “You Never Give Me Your Money” is the first part of a McCartney medley, with a complex structure, brilliant guitar moments, and… ask Paul what he’s singing about. Then, there is the medley: “Sun King”, “Mean Mr.Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are John’s songs, beautifully arranged and almost always accompanied by Paul on backing vocals. Then there is “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, a lovely and intriguing acoustic/pop/rock song. All of those songs are unified and glued to each other so you can’t really define which is which…

And then, they wave goodbye. “Golden Slumbers” sends you to sleep in a quiet but removing mood. “Carry That Weight” is sung by the four of them, and in “The End”… the love you take is equal to the love you made. The drum solo by Ringo and the three guitar solos (by Paul, George and John, in that order) are the oportunity they have to say goodbye to the world. They do it, and it’s simply thrilling. I mean, listen to them: they are a BAND again!

And when you think it’s all over, “Her Majesty”, a very strange but simple song by Paul closes the album. They have made it at their best, and they know a door is closed, and a new time begins…

So they have made it perfectly. They were capable of give the world the best music, and when they felt the work was finally done (with this masterpiece), they left. And the love they took was equal to the love they made. This album IS pop & rock absolute perfection. Buy it and enjoy it. It’s hard to take it off from your stereo.

(P.S.: If some fans want to review the album with LONG texts, leave them. Sometimes is necesarry to open your mind and listen to another points of view. Just be patient…)

May 4, 2013 Posted by | The Beatles Abbey Road | | Leave a comment

George Harrison All Things Must Pass (1970)

george_harrison_-_all_things_must_pass_-_aFrom amazon.com

Review With this triumph, George Harrison proved without a shadow of a doubt that he had shed the Beatles years long before the 1970 breakup. His spiritual journey had begun years earlier, yet his uncomfortable status as a Beatle prevented him from releasing these intensely personal songs on a Beatles record. Harrison makes a statement with both lyric and melody with “All Things Must Pass.” This collection of songs, most of which were written years earlier and kept in Harrison’s hope chest, provide proof of his desire to go beyond what any artist had, or has, in discovery of the meaning of life. Here, George profoundly shed his image as simply a Beatles in grand fashion.

This album works because we are not hammered with a collection of spiritual songs from his unusual, yet thought provoking personal religious beliefs. There are those strange moments such as with the song “My Sweet Lord” and its references to, in Harrison’s own words, a God with many branches known as religions. This mixture of Christianity and Hinduism are odd to say the least, however songs such as “If Not For You” and “What is Life” could just as easily have been crafted for a serious earthly love affair or a spiritual relationship with God. In a way Harrison leaves us confused as to his message but we yearn for more.

This mystery leads Harrison to ask the listener to contemplate life; to think about life’s joys and sorrows, love and disappointment. The slick Wall-of-Sound production quality, provided by Phil Spector, profoundly adds to the spirituality of this gem. Without it, the album would sound like that of an acoustic troubadour rather than a grand creator coming down to greet his creation. Harrison had come a long way since his first released song, “Don’t Bother Me.”

The extra tracks on this provide evidence of Spector’s wall of sound. With the exception of “My Sweet Lord 2000” and an instrumental version of “Wah Wah”, they are a glimpse into the raw acoustic versions of a Spectorless All Things Must Pass. In “My Sweet Lord 2000” Harrison reminds us that he is still spiritual and still growing in his beliefs. No longer is the song simply an odd Christian-Hindu mix. Other religions such as Buddhism appear on “God’s Tree”. The production of the song takes us back to Harrison’s “Cloud 9”. It creates a bookend in a way for Harrison’s solo career. It began with “My Sweet Lord 1971” and unfortunately ended with “My Sweet Lord 2000”. Although his guitar style had changed his belief structure had changed relatively little.

Originally this was a three LP set. In CD form the Apple Jam session seems somewhat out of place. It may have been simple filler in those vinyl days as Harrison had exhausted his treasure chest of stored compositions.

Harrison dips his toe in the spiritual waters in this collection giving his audience reason to search for more. It is one of three Harrison offerings providing a look into his personal beliefs. Unfortunately the next two would shatter the myth that Harrison’s spirituality could meld with his music in harmony.

This album stands alone without resting on the foundation built by the Beatles. It is truly a timeless classic and an autobiography of an incredible life ended too soon.

Review Harrison had already proved his song writing worth as a Beatle during their final few years, a growth that culminated in his two dazzling contributions to “Abbey Road”. Even so, it came as something of a surprise when his first proper solo work, the triple-album set “All Things Must Pass”, managed to both artistically and commercially outshine the initial solo efforts of Lennon and (especially) McCartney, who had belittled his efforts while still in the group.

Drawing from an enormous back catalog of rejected Beatle tracks (a list so huge that outside of the 16 which made it onto the album, a further 10 or so–including such gems as “Beautiful Girl”, “Mother Divine” and “I Live For You”–remained in the vaults), the dark horse and his willing co-producer Phil Spector fashioned an album of monumental reach, epic scope and lilting emotional beauty which, thirty years later, remains not only Harrison’s crowning achievement but arguably still the best album from an ex-Fab.

Tracks like “Beware Of Darkness”, “Run Of The Mill” and “Isn’t It A Pity” are fashioned out of spiritual lyrics, silky vocals and cosmic orchestral arrangments which combine to create music that relieved many a heroin addict from his or her affliction, so powerful was their effect. The album seemed effortless and instantly memorable, the third disc of somewhat plodding jam sessions being recognized for what it was (a free bonus not to be considered part of the actual album itself).

As Harrison states in the remaster’s new liner notes, he now wishes to re-do the songs sans the famous “wall of sound”; he gives us a sample of what he means with a rerecorded “My Sweet Lord”, which substitutes the strings for more gospel-ish backing vocals and intricate slide guitar work. The acoustic guitars still glisten, and while not an improvement over the original, it is worthwhile nonetheless. Thankfully, the glorious wall of sound is still there on all the old tracks, remastered to sound like the original vinyl for the first time (and perhaps even a bit better); fans have always complained that the mix of the album seemed a bit muddy, and this is as clear as its going to get.

I always thought the reverb to be essential to the sound of the album, and here it sounds better than ever. The rest of the bonus tracks are fine, although they could have put on more: “I Live For You” features a lilting pedal steel guitar part, while the acoustic demo for “Let It Down” is given an extra guitar overdub for maximum soothing effect. The “Apple Jam” sessions have been resequenced, and they do sound better in this context (the synth effects in “I Remember Jeep” come out best here).

As for the original brown cover being replaced by the concrete and nuclear reactors in the booklet–some say it’s Harrison being cynical, but cynicism is always the last refuge of the idealist, no?) Harrison’s cynicism here is best expressed as a little joke, as he says, although they still should’ve reprinted the original brown cover as well!

May 4, 2013 Posted by | George Harrison All Things Must Pass | , | Leave a comment

The Beach Boys Smiley Smile (1967)

0001941631_500From amazon.com

Review This is one of the most misunderstood and in many peoples eyes disappointing album by The Beach Boys cause they make the mistake of comparing it to the classic “Smile” which was to be released in it’s stead but was shelved due to the pressures placed upon Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks by Capitol Records and Mike Love in particular. This album is not the original “Smile”, more to the point, it’s never been intended to be such. I recently read a comment describing it as “Smile Light” and I think that is the perfect way to describe it. It is a “lighter” more palatable version of “Smile”, a version were Brian could still release a bulk of the songs he and Parks had created while appeasing both Love and the record company.

This album has to be listed to on it’s own merit and not by trying to judge it against the original over even the “Brian Wilson Presents” version released in 2004. It was not arranged or produced in the same manner, the vocals on most of the song are vastly different in some cases than the original. Brian truly toned down this album and even with that, the genius of his compositions, Parks’ lyrical content and the gorgeous harmonies by the band still come shining through loud and clear. I know it’s a difficult task to try and separate the “Smile” from “Smiley Smile” but I think to truly appreciate both, you must. I’ve even had to go long periods of time between listening to the two albums to keep my thoughts on both separate.

The amazing thing about “Smiley Smile” to me, aside from the incredible songs, is that Brian was, in the midst of all the stresses his was dealing with, able to shelve the original and produce this album and release it within the same year of 1967. It’s unfortunate that the tensions forced his partnership with Van Dyke Parks to eventually fall apart. I think sometimes people forget just how popular this band was and how far reaching their influence had become by this time. The were already a chart topping band who had traveled the world doing shows and influencing musicians, singers and songwriters to produce songs from the heart and their majestic melodies were without equal in the 1960’s and for that matter, few bands have ever been ever to produce the sounds you heard on a Beach Boys LP.

I personally think of “Smiley Smile” as a triumph for Brian Wilson as I don’t know how many other artists could produce an album of this magnitude with all that was going on around him. If you want to know that he meant to music of the time, read the articles of the day were you have The Beatles, George Martin and a host of others singing their praises. Sgt Pepper is a direct attempt to recreate the magic of “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” was something that no one up to that point in rock music had thought of. Brian Wilson was truly on a whole other level and groups like The Beatles understood that. This was a very important and creative time in popular music and Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were very much a part of it and, in many ways, at the forefront of what was going on.

So, if you have had trouble with this album previously, give it another try and allow it to stand on it’s own and put it in it’s own context apart from “Smile” as it was never meant to be that. Give the songs a fresh listen and see if you can find more appreciation for what the Boys accomplished and what their legendary leader, Brian Wilson, was able to pull off against very trying and stress filled circumstances. I think if you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Review After the one-two artistic triumph of Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations,” expectations ran high for the next projected Beach Boys album, Smile. That mythical record never happened, and its legend cast a long shadow over every subsequent Beach Boys recording, unfortunately obscuring the merits of a string of rewarding, esoteric works, Smiley Smile being the first of these.

Though many have lamented that this album’s interpretations of the Smile material are but pale facsimiles of that opus’ full-blown productions, these criticisms are one-sided and unfair, Smiley Smile being quite remarkable in its own right. In many ways, it’s even more challenging and avant garde than what had been planned for Smile; Smiley Smile is easily the single weirdest thing the Beach Boys have ever released.

And Smiley Smile is not just anamolous in the Beach Boys’ catalog — nobody else has made a record that sounds anything like it, either. The barely-there production makes it sound like a collection of demos, often featuring just vocals, keyboards and incidental production, lending a creepy edge particularly to the re-recorded Smile material, which was pretty ghoulish to begin with. Some of the remakes, like the bizarre “She’s Goin’ Bald,” even improve upon the originals, and the included spectral doo-wop take on “Wonderful” is as immortal as the long-lost Smile version.

“Heroes and Villains” says more about the whole Smile era in three minutes than the several books that have covered the subject since. In addition to these cuts and the million-selling “Good Vibrations” (which is best programmed out for consistency), there’s also a dissonant, impressionistic instrumental (“Fall Breaks and Back to Winter”), and “Gettin’ Hungry,” a released single (oddly credited to “Brian and Mike”) that revolves around swirling organ drones rivalling anything conjured up by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, also featuring a great Brian Wilson a capella vocal break. Wilson cultists pining for an official Smile release should give a(nother) listen to this underrated disc; it’s a small gem, but is shines brightly nonetheless.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | The Beach Boys Smiley Smile | | Leave a comment

Brian Wilson Smile (2004)

51GulsPnzzLFrom amazon.com

In the “Tribute Concert to Brian Wilson” on DVD, released a couple of years ago, Sir George Martin took the stage and narrated a short film about how Brian Wilson was the biggest influence (and challenge) to The Beatles. How they were blown away when they heard “Pet Sounds.” (Paul McCartney has called “God Only Knows” the greatest song ever written.. ) ..

He talked about how it took his own combined talents as their producer, the writing talents of Lennon and McCartney, and the instrumental virtuosity of all four Beatles to create their records, but Brian Wilson did ALL of that for the Beach Boys.. wrote the songs, arranged them, sang them, played instruments and ran the board during production and editing. What George Martin was saying was that it took him and all four Beatles to do what Brian could do alone.

Now who am I to argue with Sir George. As much as I love and adore The Beatles’ music, he was right. I can almost picture John and Paul sitting slack jawed when they first heared “Pet Sounds.” To which they answered with “Revolver” to which Brian was going to answer with “Smile” but then.. you know the rest.

The catch phrase going around about “Smile” is “Imagine if Sgt. Pepper had been shelved and released 37 years later.” It is a very apt and fitting description of the feeling, the tears of joy, that any fan of Brian’s will get when they play this album.

Of course, Carl and Dennis are deeply missed, and yes, Brian, now 62 years old, doesn’t have that soaring falsetto he had forty years ago (on the same DVD I mentioned above, a must-buy if you are a true fan, Vince Gill performs “Warmth of the Sun” and the high falsettos in “Surf’s Up” and he was chosen for that concert, specifically to sing those songs, because his crystalline pure falsetto can reach those notes that Brian can’t any more..) ..

The Wondermints, Brian’s new band, totally get it. I’m not sure if anyone totally gets Brian, but it’s evident that he has a band of guys half his age who are totally devoted to him to the point of worship, and their goal was to do his songs justice. And that is what they’ve done.

Brian’s wife, Melinda has described many times the inner demons that still haunt him, even on stage. The man has gone through some fundamentally sad, tragic, near-fatal periods of total suffering in his life, and for him to emerge from all that’s happened to him, decide to revive “Smile” and release an album this beautiful is nothing less than unbelievable.

Sure I have various bootlegs of the 37 year old tapes. What true fan doesn’t? And yes, it would be nice to have a companion piece to this new recording made from those original tapes. I wonder what the dolts at Capitol Records think of watching what might have been their album soar to #1 on a little Warners’ house label like Nonesuch..

But let’s not get bitter here.. the album is, afterall, “Smile” and that’s what it will make you do. The music is not always easy. It might take a couple of listens, but it just goes to show again that a true artist is always ahead of his audience, not the other way around. A truly talented artist challenges his audience, whatever medium he works in. Think about it, it’s 2004, and this is 1967 music that’s still ahead of its audience.

I can only chalk up some of the negative reviews of “Smile” found here to folks who simply are too young to know what 1967 was like. It was, IMO, simply the year of the best pop and rock music ever released. If you were there, if you were in High School or College back then and buying records, you know what I mean. One masterpiece after another came out that year. Maybe we Boomers wouldn’t have understood Smile if it had been released in 1967. Sgt. Pepper’s is much more accessible music. Smile pushes you to think. It’s complex. Challenging. It’s as revolutionarily brilliant as George Gershwin’s music was in the 1920s. Eighty years later, people can still enjoy and revel in “Rhapsody in Blue” or “An American in Paris.” They’re still played and new recordings of them are still released.

“Smile” is like that. This is music that people will be listening to, enjoying, and talking about for many years.

Calling Brian a genius is doing him an injustice. We’re plain lucky tha he’s still around, and could give us “Smile”.. it’s joy, and leagues and light years ahead of most of what passes for music these days. If it doesn’t click for you, put on some good headphones and listen to it seriously, block out distractions, and try to understand where this music came from, and who it came from.

On the last page of the booklet that accompanies the jewel case in the beautiful white textured slipcase, Brian dedicates “Smile” to all his fans who waited so many years for it.

Brian, it was worth the wait. It’s beautiful. Thank you!

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Brian Wilson Smile | , | Leave a comment

The Beach Boys Smile (1967/2011)

61xngDCrHfLFrom amazon.com

Other than The Beatles’ GET BACK album, which still has not been released in its original form (the Spectorized Let It Be (Remastered) and the remixed, de-Spectorized Let It Be… Naked notwithstanding), The Beach Boys’ SMiLE project is the most famous (and maybe infamous) unreleased album in rock history. Originally planned as a follow-up to 1966’s Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson scrapped the project in mid-1967 after months of work, believing he had lost his competition with The Beatles, and the pressures from the other Beach Boys, plus legal problems with Capitol Records, finally wore him down.

A replacement album, Smiley Smile, cobbled together by the group using only the “Good Vibrations” single and fragments from the original sessions – the rest of the album was rerecorded – was a critical and commercial flop. Fragments of SMiLE were issued on later Beach Boys albums such as 20/20 and Surf’s Up. In 1993, about an hour of lost SMiLE music was issued on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys boxed set. Then, in 2004, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks completed a new version of SMiLE and recorded it with Brian’s new band, The Wondermints (Brian Wilson Presents Smile); a live concert version, recorded earlier that year in London, was also issued on DVD.

Now, with the impending 50th anniversary of The Beach Boys approaching, Capitol Records, along with Brian, has released two versions of THE SMiLE SESSIONS – a basic two-disc version, and a nine-disc box set (five CDs, two vinyl LPs, and two vinyl 45 RPM singles). The first CD, which contains the same contents in both releases, contains a newly revised SMiLE album, using the same running order as the 2004 remake, giving us an idea of what the album would have sounded like in 1967. Most of the tracks are mono, as Brian always preferred; he was deaf in one ear, and could not hear stereo sound properly, and as a producer, he believed that only mono mixes could present the music to the listener as he wanted it heard. Stereo, Brian believed, left too much to the listener’s equipment setup. While I would have loved to have a stereo version of the album, as was done with The Pet Sounds Sessions box set in 1996, the producers explained that unlike Pet Sounds, most of the multi-track masters and many of the components were lost, so a stereo remix of SMiLE was impossible to produce.

The second CD of the first version contains session highlights from “Our Prayer” to “Good Vibrations” – more than enough to satisfy the casual Beach Boy fan. The deluxe box set is aimed more at collectors and die-hards, and what a collection it is. CD1 is identical to the first version, but CDs 2 through 5 contain a very comprehensive view of the SMiLE sessions. So comprehensive, in fact, that the “Heroes and Villains” sections take up about 90 percent of CD2, and the “Good Vibrations” sessions take up all of CD5. While somewhat repetitive, the session tapes offer fascinating listening, showing Brian’s perfectionism and dedication to getting the right sound. I’m sure he drove the other musicians and the other Beach Boys crazy, but it was obviously worth the effort.

The two-LP vinyl album in the deluxe edition follows tracks 1-19 of CD1 for the first three sides. The fourth side contains rare stereo mixes that are not included on the CDs. The two 45s are the singles that never were, the two-part “Heroes and Villains” single, and the “Vega-Tables”/”Surf’s Up” single.

Packaging and amenities are impressive. The two-disc set includes a colorful 36-page booklet, a SMiLE button, and a fold-out poster of the album artwork. The deluxe edition is even more impressive; the artwork on the box cover has 3-D graphics; the inside of the box lid has the original back cover of the Duophonic (fake stereo) release of the album, had it been issued. Inside the box are a 60-page hardcover book with additional essays and a complete sessionography; a double-gatefold sleeve with slots for all five CDs and the two vinyl 45s; the two-record vinyl album in a mono jacket with a gatefold sleeve and a 10″ photo album inside; and a giant-economy-size version of the album artwork poster.

The casual fan will probably make do with the two-disc set, but collectors will want both.

I’d love to see The Beatles and Apple do a similar box set for the GET BACK SESSIONS, not to mention the long-lost LET IT BE DVD.

Some additional observations:

1) The vinyl LP and singles sound fine. I especially enjoyed the stereo mixes on Side 4, but wish that they had been on the CD releases. Although I grew up with vinyl, after listening to CDs for over 20 years, vinyl just sounds flat.

2) The 45 versions of “Vega-Tables” and “Surf’s Up” are the same as on the LP and CD.

3) If you have the big box set, “Heroes and Villains Part 1” and “Heroes and Villains Part 2” are only available on the vinyl 45, though the individual modules for these tracks are probably scattered throughout the four Sessions CDs. The only way to get the full versions of “Heroes and Villains Part 1” and “Heroes and Villains Part 2” on CD is to buy the two-disc set (Tracks 2 and 3 on CD2). All of the other tracks on that disc can be found on the session box set, although some of them are edited (particularly the “Good Vibrations” sessions).

4) I compared the 20/20 versions of “Cabin Essence” and “Our Prayer,” and the 1971 version of “Surf’s Up,” to the SMiLE versions. Save for stereo remixing and overdubs, the versions are almost identical. It’s amazing that the 1968 overdubbed vocals on “Our Prayer” are almost perfectly in sync with the 1966 originals – another tribute to Brian’s production genius.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | The Beach Boys Smile | | Leave a comment

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds (1966)

R-1751993-1241032180From amazon.com

I’m a Beatles connoisseur. A die-hard. I’ve walked across Abbey Road (with a cigarette in hand, though it was too brisk to go barefoot), quaffed pints in the Reeperbahn, and could point out fifty “Paul is Dead” clues. I’ve burned through a bookshelf of biographies about the band and I noticed that the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds is continually mentioned whenever the end of the Beatles’ touring days and the start of their `studio years’ is discussed. With its 40th anniversary looming I started to wonder about Pet Sounds.

I always dismissed the Beach Boys as a half-baked band who parlayed a bunch of sunny tunes into a bubblegum legacy. While Brian Wilson could be considered the group’s only gifted musician, but the boys could definitely sing. Gorgeous harmonies filled their 45s, but their words were always about things which were alien to me like surfin’ and California sunshine. So, why the hubbub surrounding Pet Sounds? “No one is educated musically until they’ve heard Pet Sounds…It is a total classic record that is unbeatable in many ways”, Paul McCartney proclaimed. Wow. Powerful, yet not as bold as what Beatles Producer George Martin said: `Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” What the hell made Beatle Paul, Sir George Martin, and countless other music luminaries bow to 1966’s Pet Sounds? I was about to find out.

The other night I dug out my copy of Pet Sounds, which I half-heartedly listened to a few years ago before tossing it to the back of my collection, and I listened to it…and listened again. My original lukewarm judgment of the album mirrored the American record buyers of 1966 when LP peaked at #10 and failed to go gold. I spent the evening playing and replaying the album. A hearty auditory diet of Pet Sounds followed for the next few days. It became the soundtrack of my driving, my meals, and even my showering and shaving. The songs grew on me like a suntan-and I became more and more engulfed in its richness and splendour with each listen. As Pet Sounds connected with me through my earphones, I thought about how striking the sounds were and how naive I was to have dismissed them years ago….

After suffering two nervous breakdowns, twenty-three year old Brian Wilson stayed home in L.A. while the Beach Boys (with Glen Campbell filling in for Wilson) continued to tour in autumn of 1965. He suddenly had time to work on his new project- a project that was to show his new fangled musical vision- but was unsure of his direction until the Beatles’ Rubber Soul became the catalyst for his new mission. “Rubber Soul was a collection of songs … that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, ‘That’s it. I really am challenged to do a great album.”

Fueled by barbiturates and good vibrations, Brian Wilson diligently worked through January and early February 1966 with lyricist Tony Asher penning songs with lyrical themes which evoke both the passion of newly born love affairs and the disillusionment of futile romances. Brian looked beyond the conventional guitars and keyboards when he hired and recorded some of the industry’s best session musicians to play the backing tracks for the new material. Breathy saxophones, rolling accordions, piping flutes, Baroque harpsichords, pounding tympanis, regal English and French horns, and even some melodious oddities like Coca-Cola bottles, bicycle bells, and a ghostly sounding theremin are all interwoven into the album’s rich fabric. When his band mates returned from their three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii, they laid down the immaculate vocals that blanket the record.

The result is an astonishing and harmonious orgy of sound. Wilson painted a dense and melodic landscape whose hills far out number its valleys. Pet Sounds is a gem from the opening blissful guitar plucks of the youthful anthem Wouldn’t it be Nice to the crestfallen sounds of the barking dogs and passing train of the dirge Caroline, No. Brian’s buttery voice on You Still Believe in Me and Don’t Talk (Put your Head on my Shoulder) sends shivers down my spine. The heavenly God Only Knows, with its wintry sleigh bells and clip-clop percussion, melting vocals and marriage of horns and strings, make this an album highlight. Brian hands younger brother Carl the lead and the band recorded one of the loveliest and most divine songs ever heard on a pop album. ” It’s a favourite of mine…very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me,” McCartney said of the song. The song’s unorthodox opening line of “If I should ever leave you,” is the cherry on top of the sundae for me. Perfection.

Pet Sounds is the crest of Brian Wilson’s wave. He was able to use inspiration from across the pond and thread it into a richly textured and intricate piece of stunning pop. It was his vision, his baby, his masterstroke. His soul breathes through the vinyl.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | The Beach Boys Pet Sounds | | Leave a comment

Santana Live At The Fillmore 1968

516JpqDQlvLFrom amazon.com

Review Six months before recording their great debut album and 21 years before his recent world wide sucess, Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie and band played their hearts out for four nights at the Filmore West in December of 1968.
This album is not only a great Santana album but one of the great live albums of the 60’s. I often agree with the Amazon staff but their review here is way off. This CD contains 9 songs four of which would show up on the debut album and 5 were unreleased until now.

My favorite song on the CD is the totaly different version of “Treat” here than on the debut album. Gregg Rolie’s piano introduction is great. It is easy to forget how magical Carlos Santana and Rolie were togeather. Of the unreleased songs “Conquistadore Rides Again” is a highpoint. Great version of “Persuasion” too.

Amazing sound for a 60’s recording but Columbia Legacy always seems to do a great job. Forget the various live albums by The Doors, The Byrds, Joplin and the Airplane. This one ranks with Dylan live at The Royal Albert Hall, Hendrix and Redding at Monterey and the Stones at Madison Square Garden. That it was unreleased Until 1997 is all the more remarkable because most unreleased rock albums should stay that way. Enjoy!

Review Let’s start with the obvious. Michael Shrieve isn’t in the band yet, so the concert isn’t anything close to future Santana standards. However, this live album shows you how it all got started. This is the bare bones, the raw Santana. Santana had just signed on with Columbia Records when they played this concert. Obviously, the formula hasn’t been perfected yet, but this is the starting point, the beginning of what would be a future rock and roll phenomenon.

The first disc starts off strong with a long version of Jingo. Persuasion follows with a hard rock intro, pretty cool. Treat is beautifully played here, with Gregg Rolie pounding on the piano keys like there’s no tomorrow. All the other songs on this disc are great as well.

Disc two has a 14 minute Soul Sacrifice. It’s not anything close to the Woodstock version, but this one is good too, with a great organ solo by Gregg Rolie. As The Years Go By is a great blues song, and finishing things up is Freeway, a 30 minute jam that rocks hard all the way through.

You might be hesitant to get this album because it’s a Santana that is young, barely starting out. But the truth is, there’s no such thing as a bad Santana concert. Get Santana Live at the Fillmore 1968, it’s a great slice of time, with great music to have you jammin’ all night.

**If you want to hear THE Santana concert, pick up Santana III Legacy Edition. It contains the REAL band’s whole concert on the closing night of the Fillmore West in 1971. Great music with great musicianship. You can’t beat it.

Review When this 2-CD set was released, I jumped at the chance of having a pre-Woodstock recording of Santana. Unfortunately, far from the jubilation expressed from other reviewers, I found it to be a major disappointment. While the sound quality is excellent, and Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie are in fine form, the backup sounded relatively bland to me. Being a percussionist myself, I must point the finger solely at Bob “Doc” Livingston, the drummer.

While it’s nice to have a documentation from his tenure with the band, and his playing is solid enough (with a decent version of “Jingo”), to me there was a “sameness” to his playing, relegating his role of time keeper rather than leading and propelling the band to higher places, which only started happenning after Michael Shrieve replaced Livingston. Listen to “Soul Sacrifice” (for one example). Just compare his playing to Shrieve’s from the Woodstock performance (which, frankly BLOWS AWAY this collection) and you’ll see what I mean. Every drummer that succeeded Shrieve carried on this tradition. To me this is a big reason why Santana is so successful (though definitely not the ONLY one). If Livingston continued with the band you would be looking at a very different Santana band indeed!

If you’re new to Santana, check out “The Best Of Santana” then get their first three CDs (Santana, Abraxas, and Santana III), and if you want their live stuff, really any other live Santana CD will do.

Three stars for Carlos’ and Gregg’s immense talent! Otherwise, there are MUCH better releases out there.

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Santana Live At The Fillmore 68 | | 2 Comments