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Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Adelaide, February 19th 1972

untitledFrom Underground Uprising

Memorial Drive, Adelaide, 19th February 1972

It’s been a long long lonely lonely time since I saw the mighty Led Zeppelin in concert, so my recollections are vague to say the least. So I ‘ll try and recall the experience the best I can remember. Me and my mates were in our 3rd year of secondary school when we heard the news that Zepp were on their way downunder. There was a buzz of excitement around the school. Tickets went on sale at Allans music shop in the city, so me and my buddies went in and lined up for what seemed a lifetime to see our favourite rock band. A$ 4.20 was the price of a ticket, a couple of weeks pocket (allowance for you American folk) money for me.

The school holidays passed slowly, we went back to school about the end of January. Zeppelin were to play on Friday the eighteenth of February. That afternoon me and about 4 or 5 other guys rocked into the city. We went to the local gaming parlours during the day having a great time. Then we heard BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM an I mean that was loud. What we heard was the sound check of the drums in the city. The Memorial Drive stadium was a fair distance away. We all looked and thought F$*K!!! were going to that! We were really itching to go by this point. We had a bite then proceeded to the Drive, as I remember it would have been about 6.00pm. The weather was on the dodgy side all day, raining, windy, bit of sun, so it wasn’t a bit of a surprise to find out the concert was cancelled due to equipment and stage damage from the rain.

The local radio station which was promoting the show had a vehicle in the car park letting punters know the show was off till the next night, we were really f$*ked off to say the least. The expectation was like waiting for an orgasm. Some of us had tickets to see Creedence on the next night, toss up for some, Creedence or Zeppelin, needless to say that Zepp won hands down. Just unfortunate they had to miss Creedence. The choice was justified 10X believe me. We all rocked up the next night, lined up, anticipation running at an all time high. As we filed into the arena we past the stage, and looked up in awe at the PA, and the cables powering it. Whoa!!!! We rocked in sat on the tennis court lawns, listening to the records through the PA. Joints were passed around, we were chatting getting high, how else do you expect to see Zepp?

The sun was setting, the waft of pot in the air, cloudless cool night, stars out, it was set. Darkness fell, lights out. The announcement, something like ”Led Zeppelin” boomed from the PA (which is not captured on the bootleg). Then this unbelievable wall of sound engulfed the whole stadium at an extremely high volume, Immigrant Song was upon us. The place erupted. We were gazing upon amazement at each other, this was it, the real thing in concert. ”Ohh My Ears Man” indeed. I remember around the time of Black Dog or Stairway, there was some idiot in the crowd causing some classic Plantations.

Plant really took the piss out of him. Dazed was brutal in its delivery, the acoustic set was a relief from the sonic onslaught of the electric stuff, but then again the acoustic set had a powerful presence. The band powered through the classics SIBLY ,D&C, BD, WLL, MD, WIAWSNB, R&R, STH, IS, HB, which had the crowd shell shocked. In an odd sort of way when the pummelling stops, it becomes a relief in between songs. The band had a really good time, and they really pleased the crowd, because Zeppelin loved to play live, it was a real party atmosphere.

It was an awesome experience which hasn’t been equalled since, the times have faded but the memory still excites me.

Another memory from this concert has been sent in by Greg Evans, on behalf of his brother in law Chris Rice:

These are the recollections of my brother-in-law Chris Rice:

untitled2I remember when the concert first announced around November 1971 because it was during exams. Had a lean Christmas saving for it, $4 was a lot of dough for broke student. Was recovering from a heavy 1971, (saw Deep Purple with Free in early 1971 (my first concert), and Black Sabbath in the middle of 1971, both at theA pollo), and had really started to buy a lot of albums, (possibly as many as 30 that year at $5-$6 a pop). Doesn’t sound a lot of cash but it was back then.

I do remember wondering about Memorial Drive as a venue because others I had been to had been indoors, The Apollo (Stadium) for overseas acts, Town Hall’s or dreaded disco’s for local acts, Daddy Cool, Thorpie, La De Das, etc. Anyway, my music type friends and I at the time, (I was 17), were all into the Heavy riff type British Blues, (in fact 2 of them were British and wouldn’t listen to anything that wasn’t), so yes we would definitely go and tickets would be bought from Allans by one of the guys mothers who worked at David Jones or Myers, ( I forget), and who knew someone who worked at Allans so we wouldn’t have to wait in line. I think you could also get tickets from 5AD. Tickets in our hot sweaty hands, (it was summer), and we would once again conquer the world.

Then came Saturday and I was playing tennis on the back courts at the Memorial Drive when all of a sudden there was this booming noise echoing off the hill behind Adelaide Oval. We all sort of thought what the hell, it sounded like a 44 Gallon drum rolling down the road. Ahh, brain engages, it was the roadies tuning up Bonham’s kit. My doubles partner and I lost our set as quick as we could and hopped the fence. A few other like souls joined us and we sat in the western stand, in our tennis whites, (sports nerds hey, but with long hair), and were treated to the full tune up by the roadies and then sound check by Zep themselves. Then followed the ultimate version of Whole Lotta Love, echoing off the empty northern and southern stands with an audience of 8 or 9 guys in tennis whites.

That night I drove all of us, parked down on the river behind Adelaide Uni, got in early as the lawns was unreserved so first in best spot. We camped about 10 yards in front of the mixer desk area so I guess we were 40 yards from the stage. Memorial Drive had 2 centre courts facing North/South. This lawned area was enclosed on the North side, (Jewellery section), by the main stand, (comfy seats and tin roofed, probably holds 1500), on the Southern side by the “I want Jewellery but can’t afford it stand”, (reasonable seats but no roof, probably held about 1500), and on the Western ” I think about jewellery sometimes” side a temporary stand that was just hard boards on risers, probably only held about 600.The stage was at the Eastern end. So in the middle on the lawns, ( approx 50 yards wide and 100 yards deep), was the “what’s Jewellery?, are they the support act” section of the crowd, ( that’s us).

Guess it fitted about 4000 comfortably in this area. We had another section of crowd this night, the “I can’t even spell Jewellery” section that lined the fence outside the southern stand, a portion of which, called the ” but I’ll steal some if you want”, broke, actually no, demolished, the aforementioned fence, allowing many hundreds of ” I can’t even spell Jewellery” types in who immediately offended the southern stand patrons, ( who remember would like jewellery), so the officers of the Law, resplendent in Jewellery came in their multitudes to restore proper order, (but not the fence). Back to the concert itself. Don’t remember there being a support act, so their either wasn’t or they were very forgettable.

I do remember the sound being very clear, (Purple and Sabbath had been quite murky however that’s probably just Apollo acoustics although I remember Free particularly Koss sounding superb) Can’t remember what songs they did, (other than the obvious ones Whole Lotta Love, Stairway, Immigrant, Moby Dick, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog and they opened with Immigrant song), however I do know it was from Zep 1 through 4. The Drive was the best venue for Heavy bands, Zep, Sab, Heep, Doobies, Purple, Bad Co., but I reckon Whole Lotta Love sounded better in the afternoon when the stands were empty.

I do remember being surprised at Plant’s vocal power and do remember appreciating the way Bonham’s kit was miked. Do remember a white Telecaster being used for a couple of numbers and do remember Marshalls and the Lovely Les Paul. Don’t remember Jimmy being bearded however the cover of the CD shows one. Don’t remember it being overly loud however I am comparing this to Purple and Sabbath indoors so guess it’s relative. Do remember the vibe on the Lawn area which was very “cool and communal”. The “heavy scenes man” under the Southern stand was, as mentioned last email , 50 yards off to my right and I didn’t even notice it, (until we were leaving and saw the demolished fence).

I’m a bit vague on this next bit but I reckon I remember the papers next morning saying there was as many people outside on the road and car park as there were inside and I think for concerts the Drive holds about 8000 so was a big night. I think the figure of 200 police/security guards was also mentioned. Also think it may have been this concert that resulted in the 11pm curfew for concerts at the Drive, (because the sound travelled all the way down to Henley Beach so 20% of Adelaide couldn’t sleep until concert finished which I reckon was after midnight.

I still don’t remember it being overly loud. Really was a good show at a time when I think we were just beginning to be spoilt with international acts.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Adelaide February 19th 1972 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Flying Rock Carnival 1971 (Tokyo, September 1971)


Budokan, Tokyo, Japan – September 23rd, 1971

Disc 1 (69:08): Introduction, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day

Disc 2 (37:50): Bron-Y-Aur Stomp/That’s The Way, Going To California, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (42:41): Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown

This is a copy of the no label released in Osaka several months back, containing the complete tape source that first surfaced in fragment on the Watchtower label.

The sound quality is very good to excellent with some distortion present. Some of the gaps in the tape are plugged using alternate tape sources in seamless edits. The sound quality isn’t as bad as previously thought and this is a good title to seek out. The label also translated the Japanese liner notes into English explaining the origins of the tape. The notes read:

“This 3-disk CD set in your hands is the « Rock Carnival » long-length gold version that was previously released in 2004. Only the first half part was released which the lacking part of sound sources have been compensated by other sources. The left sound source of course was the source of the pioneer rock group at that time.

It was the most wanted rock group which everyone aspired to go to its live concerts. Since the debut in 1969, Japanese fans were impatient to attend its first visit to Japan. It may be clear that the first live concert had influenced the sources today. Although there are thousands of recording sources of that day left by ardent fans, the sources used in this CD are the best of all.

“As this CD recording offers extremely excellent sound quality, it has become a hot topic on internet websites, magazines and so on. In fact, when this CD was produced, nobody knew where the liner note had gone. Some say that a man working for music industry who lived in Kobe had given it to an American Japanese who lived in Arizona. On the other hand, some say that the master tape was lost about 10 few years ago during the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

The truth is not yet clarified. However, before reaching your hands, the sources were almost completely collected from the current master tape and this is the way how it was recovered and reproduced. The sound quality of the opening part is not good. A recording studio had spent 3 days and used the left master (data storage device) which had been used last time and the newly discovered master with a little inferior sound quality for editing. This work was done politely.

“Furthermore, as I mentioned before, these sound sources have not spread among the people who mainly related to the bootleg communities. Since the last CD has been released until today, there is no newly reissued CD being produced. After the release of this CD, it is declared that there is no more reissue CD from the master tape.

If any source of this is released, all must be declared as its digital copy. About the performance, since 2004 there are more and more underneath sources and remarks so that their fans can approach their real image through the official video and so on.

“Whereas, ZEP (Led Zeppelin) in 1971, just a little ahead before drug spreading among the group to digest severe tour, “something” was needed but the performance was still under control at that time. The accuracy of breaks, solos’ picking and the voice of the vocal, the pitch and others at that time was the most attractive period.

No one can impersonate 4 of them about the originality of the combination and their improvisation and so on. Even though the UK tour in 1973, US tour in 1975 and the last half part tour in Earls Court were not as good as before, but generally the touch of ZEP were still there. What a long introduction I’ve made.

Anyway, now I would like you to go back to 23rd Sep 1971, beside Jimmy, the seat a little behind Bonzo (John Bonham)…”

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Flying Rock Carnival 1971 | , | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise In No Sense? Nonsense? (1987)


Now this is not fair already. I loved them when they were hilarious and composition-oriented. I liked them when they were serious and composition-oriented. But now that they’re serious and oddbit-oriented, I find it damn hard to tolerate them. If Who’s Afraid was a gamble that actually paid off, then Nonsense! is a bluff so obvious that I find myself reaching for the candlestick.

They picked a Thickasabrickish approach with this one, streamlining all the tracks with practically no breaks between them (and the ones that are there are pretty blurry anyway), which essentially means that either you’re gonna have to attentively sit through this stuff several times with the track listing in your hands or you’re just gonna have to abandon hope and let it all stick together. I honestly chose the latter way after making the decision that I’d rather spend my time sorting out a few unclear click efflux correspondences between North Khoisan and South Khoisan dialects in the lateral/alveolar series – that is, doing at least something truly constructive. So excuse me if I only mention one or two titles here.

And excuse me if I put forward the hypothesis that choosing this particular approach for an album of sampling/techno experimentation was not a particularly sapient idea. Because, in the end, they got what they wanted. Is this record adequate? Yes. They took a big bunch of noises, samples, snippets of melody, added one or two “finished” tracks, and called it Nonsense. Because it is nonsense. It makes no pretense of making sense. But it’s not really the kind of nonsense that holds up well over the years.

It’s outrageously dated nonsense. It doesn’t do anything. You don’t dance to it, you don’t laugh to it, you don’t cry to it, you can’t even scream “Wow! Now that’s weird!’ at the top of your lungs because it ain’t any more weird than [insert the title of your favourite weird album here]. It’s just there. It’s that kind of modern art which comes up to you and says, ‘Hi! They say that as of today, I’m Art, nice to meet you!’, and you go ‘Uh-huh. Say, you got any idea where the restroom is?’ and you probably never meet again for the rest of your life, but at least you didn’t punch each other in the face or anything.

As usual, there is the obligatory one “classic” on here – the band’s reworking of the ‘Dragnet’ movie theme, which is, indeed, a fairly infectious electronic dance-pop number, although nowhere near as inventive as ‘Close To The Edit’ or gimmicky as ‘Peter Gunn’ (no Duane Eddy here to bridge the gap between the Old Guard and the New Por… err, Experimentators). When it jumps out at you after the one-minute sequence of lonely pipe sounds, it’s really a great Leap for Artofnoisekind, but, unfortunately, the only one. The tune goes on for three minutes, and once it’s over, you enter this twisted, complex jungle of whatchamacallits mixed with thingamajigs, and you never get out until thirty five minutes later.

Lemme make a quick check which might rev me (or you) up… so there’s a bunch of people loudly going somewhere… now there’s this loud sci-fi onslaught with annoying percussion booms… now there’s a bunch of Bach-like organ notes… the percussion onslaught is back again – what’s this, Mars attack?… ah, there it is, all quiet, somebody laughing in the background… hmm, sounds like the repetition of an orchestra… here comes something gloomy and unnerving, with a scary, but lazy bassline… what’s this, ethnic beats? bongos? stupid synth pattern, really… quiet again… something vaguely industrial chunking and bunking in the background… now there’s something cohesive – the orchestra actually starts to play… good… keep it up… that’s definitely not Art Of Noise, but I like it… classical music lovers please help me identify this… hmm, looks like they got the opening ‘Dragnet’ bit performed by the orchestra as well… somebody screaming and whooing… more of their trademark dum-dum-dumming and their favourite sound (starting up!)… now, maybe we can dance to this at least?.. nah, way too slow and the bongos are too quiet… plus, it’s got adult contemporary synth background… wait, now it actually starts to grow… still unclear if it’s a moody ballad or dance music… probably both… the piano sounds pretty good… they stopped… there they go again… false alarm… stopped again… started… wait, no, they let it slide… new rhythm… this one’s definitely danceable, but the melody sucks… the car starts up again… somebody please tell them there are other interesting sounds to be sampled apart from motors being revved up… nice bassline… sucky synths… slows down… end of side one… wait a minute..end of side one? I’m still waiting for something to happen!

Well, actually, side 2 is a bit better. I do like ‘Ode To Don Jose’ with its freaky synth melody and great idea of sampling (Dudley’s?) laughter several times before passing it through a “vocal grinder” for the last time. I’m also quite partial to ‘Roller 1’ which really does roll along, with a great pumping bassline and a “driving” synth melody which, in its own perverted way, actually rocks or, at least, gives the impression of going somewhere. (There’s also a few really cool bits of “generic” Eighties pop-metal guitar that’s given a mean wolfish howl in this setting).

And the last track, ‘One Earth’, with its crude, but working mix of insane yodelling with Eastern overtones and ethnic beats, gives us a glimpse at Art of Noise’s future dabblings in “world music”, as well as stands pretty well on its own as a cool moody interlude. But even these three tunes are still islands in a sea of noodling – sometimes crappy, sometimes tolerable, but always forgettable.

I do award them one extra point for the conception. On a purely ‘intellectual’ level, this variegated puzzle does look interesting, and even if most of its components were nothing new by 1987, the idea of glueing them together in this monolithic way was still fresh – most experimental people were still thinking in terms of individual compositions. And In No Sense does work better as a whole than as a sum of its parts; unfortunately, mostly because the parts themselves are so bloody weak. Or maybe I’m just imagining things and it would have worked better as a row of self-sustainable compositions, meaning that this ‘mosaics-like’ organisation principle is unsuitable for experimental music. But nah, I think they could have worked it out fine. What’s good for Jethro Tull could have been good for Art Of Noise. At least it’s way better than whatever Tull themselves were releasing that year. I’d much rather listen to ‘Dragnet’ than to ‘Steel Monkey’!

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise In No Sense? Nonsense? | | Leave a comment

The Beatles Revolver (1966)


As many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated.

To a generation of listeners raised in the era of the Casio keyboard this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is kind of like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted song writing styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of that summer, 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums, while the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album is also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s song writing. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987, when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums.

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson the British Labour Prime Minister and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times.

Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, moulded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Got To Get You Into My Life was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The most ground breaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such ground breaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable sound scape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | The Beatles Revolver | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Harvest Moon (1992)


It may be a bit controversial to name a decidedly “retro” album as the album of the year for any particular year.

Many rock fans who reflect back on the era of the early nineties, and the year 1992 in particular, will rightfully think of the alternative or “grunge” craze which had then fully materialized. But Classic Rock Review is all about timelessness in rock, and Harvest Moon by Neil Young may have sounded like something that should have been made 20 years earlier, but 20 years later it holds up as well as anything from 1992. So we chose this restrained, Nashville-produced, Americana classic over anything that came out of Seattle that year.

Much speculation has been made about the relationship of this album to Young’s 1972 album Harvest, with many labeling Harvest Moon as a “sequel” to that album two decades earlier. There certainly is a case to be made due to the similarities in title, the fact that both albums were recorded in Nashville with some of the same players (dubbed the “Stray Gators” by Young), Ben Keith on pedal Steel, Tim Drummand on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Then, of course, there is the plain fact that the albums are very similar in sound and arrangement. However, Young denied that there was a strong connection between the two albums in an interview;

…people see the correlation between the two, and it’s kind of a plus to be able to refer back 20 years and see the same people and do that. But the thrust of the albums is different, even though the subject matter is similar, so I tend to shy away more from comparisons between them…”

Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with vastly different styles from electronic to rockabilly to hard-edged electric rock. Previous to Harvest Moon he explored the outer limits of guitar noise with the 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded along with his sometime backing band, Crazy Horse. In this light, Young’s return to his predominant style of the 1970s, was just another radical turn in style. While most longtime fans and critics appreciated this move, some found his return the antipathy of spontaneity and therefore less ambitious.

The opening track on Harvest Moon is “Unknown Legend”, a song of romance and imagination which tells of an adventurous woman who has settled into the relative obscurity of domestic life and middle age. The sound is intentionally retro and haunting with the deep reverb and a sparse, acoustic arrangement beneath the strong melody which is harmonized by Linda Rondstadt. The song’s lyrics are bittersweet and poetic;

..the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes…”

“From Hank to Hendrix” is a self-reflective county-rock song which speaks of Young’s own diverse influences and is led by a strong harmonica riff musically while it lyrically sounds like it may have been influenced by younger contemporaries like Tom Petty. “You and Me” is the most direct link back to Harvest, with strong elements of “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done” evident implicitly and explicitly. It is a personal and introspective ballad with a very sparse arrangement of just acoustic guitar and vocals by Young and Nicolette Larsen who does some fine harmonizing.

What truly makes the album a masterpiece is the absolute masterpiece of a title song, “Harvest Moon”. The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.

The middle of the album contains a couple more Neil Young classics. “War of Man” is dark folk with an Americana aura throughout, where Young comments on the destructive tendencies of mankind. It contains a haunting acoustic arrangement with some interesting presence by Drummand on bass, who breaks into an almost-rock rhythm towards the end. In comparison to the cynical “War of Man”, the next song “One Of These Days” could not be more different in tone, although similar in overall quality as a song. It is a song of gratitude and appreciation of friends and acquaintances, set to a moderate Nashville beat with more great melodies and harmonies.

The album next thins a bit with the all-to-soft piano and orchestral ballad “Such a Woman” and the frivolous “Old King”, which is only finds salvation with the fine banjo picking by Young. However, the album does end strong with the return to the solid, Nashville-influenced accessibility in “Dreamin’ Man” and the ten minute, live acoustic closer “Natural Beauty”. This last song is a gentle, minor-key folk song which uses nature as an allegory for love.

Harvest Moon was Young’s 21st overall album and, although it was highly reflective, it was far from his last. In fact, just this month (June 2012) Young released his 34th overall album, a collection of traditional standards called Americana, which he recorded along with Crazy Horse. It may seem absurd to suggest that Young may still be around making music in yet another 20 years, when he’ll be age 86. But we wouldn’t bet against it.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Harvest Moon | | Leave a comment

Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)


The incredibly long and ambitious Songs In the Key of Life became the tour-de-force of Stevie Wonder‘s prolific seventies.

The album consisted of two LPs plus an addition four-song EP, a total 85 minutes of music from its 21 total songs. Wonder’s songs dealt with a variety of subjects many of which were the serious issues of the day and the musical performances are considered some of the best of his career. Because of its incredible length and rich arrangements, Songs In the Key of Life took a year longer than expected to complete, which made for a stressful situation between Wonder and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, especially since Gordy had just given Wonder the largest record contract in history in 1975. It was a seven-album, $37 million deal with Wonder guaranteed full artistic control, and Gordy and the world eagerly awaited the first album of this new contract to be completed.

The album was finally released at the end of September 1976, and by early October it was already number one on the Billboard Pop Albums Chart, where it stayed for thirteen consecutive weeks into 1977 and eventually became the second best-selling album of that year. Songs In the Key of Life also became the most successful Stevie Wonder album as far as charting singles, and several of the songs were even the basis for hip-hop standards decades later. The album also became Wonder’s third in four years to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, winning previously in 1974 and 1975 for Innervisions and Fulfilligness’ First Finale respectively. Wonder also won Grammys for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Male Rhythm and Blues Performer, and Producer of the Year in 1977.

Although a total of 130 people worked on the album, many of the songs on the album were performed entirely by Wonder. The album took the listener through a journey of musical styles, recollections, and observations about issues ranging from childhood, first love, faith, social issues, and the downtrodden.

When Stevie Wonder chose the title, he set an ambitious personal goal to live up to its billing. He worked with a core group of musicians laying down many of the funk-oriented tracks while independently developing several of the more innovative tracks. Although this diverse album does have amazing cohesion, the first two original sides and EP seem to be far superior to sides three and four, which are still good but far less dazzling. All that being said, side one starts with an odd sequence of songs.

“Love’s In Need of Love Today” starts with deep harmonies before breaking into an R&B ballad. Like many songs later on the album, it contains a very long outro with much vocal improvisation all the way to the end. “Have a Talk with God” is performed in total by Wonder, mostly synths with some drums and a nice lead. “Village Ghetto Land” is completely original, with orchestral parts performed on the Yamaha “dream machine” the lyrics were written by Gary Byrd, who actually recited them over the phone to Wonder minutes before he recorded the song. The fourth song, “Contusion” is actually the first to use a “band” arrangement. It is (almost) an instrumental with just some scat vocals and where Wonder really takes a backseat to the other musicians like guitarist Michael Sembello.

“Sir Duke” finishes side one and is a true classic. The song was written in tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, who died in 1974. Ellington had a strong influence on Wonder as a musician and he wanted to write a song acknowledging musicians he felt were important. Originally done on 16 track but later on the new 24 track recorder, “Sir Duke” is one of the great songs from the era, fresh and bold with lots of harmonized brass upfront and a fantastic vocal melody by Wonder.

The A Something’s Extra 7″ EP was included with many editions the original album and the tracks are on most CD versions. It contains four fine tracks, starting with Sembello’s “Saturn”, who got the title when he misinterpreted Wonder’s singing “Saginaw” (the town of his birth). It is a pleasant ballad with a bit of edginess and marching piano. “Ebony Eyes” is a great, upbeat boogie-woogie piano song with strong bass by Nathan Watts and drums by Wonder and really cool instrumentation in the arrangement including a talkbox, a steel guitar, and a great growling sax lead. “All Day Sucker” is another synth-driven, hyper funk song, while “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” starts kind of dramatic but eases into a nice jazz rhythm with a Fender Rhodes electric piano, topped by Wonder’s double-tracked harmonica.

Side two kicks off with “I Wish”, a song that is nearly impossible not to dance to at every listen. It revolves around several very complex synth and bass lines that mesh together like a funky symphony. The song was the first and most successful hit off the album, with nostalgic lyrics. “Knocks Me Off My Feet” begins with a lounge act piano until it works into a nice romantic ballad with some very interesting and intense sections.

“Pastime Paradise” is another complex art piece, which contains a reverse gong and strings from the “dream machine” that Wonder says were influenced by the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”. It also contains some very complex, Latin-influenced percussion with bells and two full choral groups singing completely different parts simultaneously. Yet somehow it all comes together in a beautiful and haunting piece. “Summer Soft” is a beautiful piano tune that breaks into nice ensemble with stronger instrumentation, with the end of the song going through many key changes, becoming more and more intense on each iteration until giving way to a closing organ lead by Ronnie Foster. “Ordinary Pain” finishes the fantastic second side as another very pleasant melody with a strong, thumping rhythm which turns sharply about midway through to a new-fangled funk with vocals by Shirley Brewer.

The third LP side starts with “Isn’t She Lovely?”, which would become one of Wonder’s all time popular songs. Written in celebration ofthe the birth of his daughter, Wonder incorporated sounds from home to complement the excellent piano riff, vocal melody, and sweet harmonica lead during the long outtro. “Joy Inside My Tears” contains a slow and steady drum beat played by Wonder with really subdued vocals. “Black Man” has a strong synth presence and 1980s type deep funk (in 1976), with a section of long question and answer chanting at the end.

On the fourth side, “If It’s Magic” stands out as a unique piece containing on harp by Dorothy Ashby and vocals with a little harmonica by Wonder. “As” is an upbeat R&B ballad dominated by the chorus hook sung by background singers with Wonder improvising much of the lead vocals. “Another Star” finishes the side with an almost disco-beat above some Caribbean-influenced piano and percussion and is yet another song with a long outro of consistent riff and improvised vocals.

Songs In the Key of Life was an incredible success on all fronts and would serve as a major influence for scores artists over the coming decades. It was also the absolute apex of a very long career by Stevie Wonder.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life | | Leave a comment

Stevie Wonder Innervisions (1973)


Innervisions is an album themed on social issues, drugs, spirituality, and urban life by Stevie Wonder in 1973.

Wonder did virtually everything on this album from songwriting to producing to playing the vast majority of the album’s instruments and it may have been an attempt to replicate Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 What’s Going On album. Innervisions achieved similar artistic and commercial results to that previous album with the added dimension of musical innovation. Wonder put all the different topics and themes into a striking vision (or “Innervision”) which would be one of the most effective and entertaining of Wonder’s long career.

Although he was only 23 years old at the time of its release, Innervisions was already Wonder’s 16th studio album, all on Motown’s Tamla label. However, it was the first on which he composed every song and virtually played every instrument. He made heavy use of the ARP synthesizer, which was popular at the time because of its ability to construct a full sound environment. Many considered this album to be the pinnacle of Wonder’s long career. As one reviewer put it at the time;

Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is a beautiful fusion of the lyric and the didactic, telling us about the blind world that Stevie inhabits with a depth of musical insight that is awesome…”

The album peaked at number four on the U.S. album charts and became Stevie Wonder’s first album ever to reach the U.K. Top 10. It also won the 1974 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

The album’s first side begins with the pre-disco funk of “Too High”, where Wonder shows off his instrumental skills on Fender Rhodes, harmonica, synthesized bass, and especially drumming (a talent he rarely receives credit for). “Visions” is one song in which Wonder doesn’t completely dominate. Acoustic guitars are provided by Dean Parks with refrained electric by David “T” Walker and upright double bass by Malcolm Cecil . Despite the arrangement being extremely sparse, Wonder still manages to forge some great vocal melodies.

“Living for the City” is a cinematic composition of civic injustice with great musical drive and interesting interludes with synth riffs. The lyrics are delivered with an exaggerated growl for effect and a dramatic spoken part describes the life of a young man who migrates from Mississippi to New York City, only to be tricked into transporting drugs, arrested, and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Wonder intentionally got his voice very hoarse for the recording. “Golden Lady” is a mellow ballad with a funky bass above a jazzy piano. It is a great way to complete side one, with judicious but effective use of synthesizers and a Hammond organ lead by Clarence Bell.

Side two starts with “Higher Ground”, a “peoples” song dominated by the Hohner clavinet with a Mu-tron III envelope filter pedal. This tune is completely performed by Wonder and reached #4 on the U.S. pop chart. Reportedly, he wrote and recorded the song all within a three-hour burst of creativity in May 1973. The weakest part of the album follows with “Jesus Children of America” and “All in Love Is Fair”, not terrible songs, but certainly not Wonder’s best.

The very Latin influenced “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” is the lightest and most fun song on the album, with great vocal dynamics and inventiveness. Beginning with an unusual skit (which would proliferate decades later on hip-hop songs), this piano-led tune about a faux hero repeats the Spanish phrase ‘Todo ‘stá bien chévere’ which means “everything is really cool” and reached the Top 20 on the U.S. charts. Another charting hit, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” finishes the album with Wonder once again playing all instrumentation, including multiple backing vocals. The song had a second charting life in 1977, when it was released on the B-side of “Sir Duke” and tells the story of a con man.

Three days after the release of Innervisions, Wonder was critically injured in a car accident in North Carolina. His head injuries placed him in a coma for four days and he permanently lost his sense of smell. As he recovered, Wonder was deeply concerned that he might have also lost his musical faculty and was hesitant to even attempt to play the clavinet that was brought to his hospital room. Finally he played and his spirit quickly returned and his recovery accelerated as Stevie Wonder continued into the prime of his creative career.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Stevie Wonder Innervisions | | Leave a comment

The Mahavishnu Orchestra Visions Of The Emerald Beyond (1975)


Hailed as the keystone band of the jazz-rock fusion movement, Mahavishnu Orchestra was arguably the most influential, and certainly one of the best jazz fusion group ever.

In 1971, creative leader and front figure John McLaughlin formed the group that achieved considerable success from the start. Mahavishnu Orchestra was a very powerful group, having the sophisticated improvisations of electic free-jazz. John made a name for himself while working with the famous trumpeter Miles Davis during his early explorations into electric instrumentation, which were the very first steps into the jazz-rock realm in the late 60’s. Like Return to Forever and Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra had the intention of further exploring the jazz-rock hybrid Miles Davis had explored.

The band was an instant sensation. Combining the improvisational elements of jazz with the high volume electrified rock sound that had been pioneered by Jimi Hendrix, the archetypal jazz-rock by Mahavishnu Orchestra was complex music performed by musicians whose virtuosity thrilled audiences and critics alike. The band had a firm grip on dynamics and was equally adept at dense, aggressive flights of musical intensity as they were at creating moments of impassioned, spiritual contemplation.

As internal tensions came to a boil after three influential albums (The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire and Between Nothingness and Eternity), the group disbanded at the end of 1973. McLaughlin quickly put together a new Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1974 that, despite the inclusion of electric violin virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty, along with a host of excellent new supporting musicians, the band failed to catch on and broke up again by 1975, mainly due to McLaughlin’s growing interest in experimenting with different musical styles.

The two first versions of Mahavishnu Orchestra have not much in common in their compositional structures, but the chemistry within the band always remained at a white hot, as the band built and created a multi-expressive layer of colours and sounds in that intricate and complex method they were known for. Their first two quintessential albums feature a shred-fest of a very dazzling energetic and very powerful kind of free-jazz, wich was often played very fast and frantically by the five members alone, while in Visions of the Emerald Beyond, all those characteristics were clearly toned down. The album is more accessible, more refined and returns to more sober form of jazz-rock, consisting of shorter tracks.

The album was made to listen to it all in one shot, since many of the tunes are connected with others. It retains the same great spirit of their previous works, but does often fray into funk territory, which the band didn’t explore before. The scattered funk grooves freshen things up nicely, thanks to the versatility of both bassist Ralph Armstrong, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and the stunning drummer Michael Walden, whose playing contains the raw and explosive power of former drummer Billy Cobham.

The weakest spot, if there is one, is the keyboardist Gayle Moran. Her keys are used solely in the arrangements, and she is clearly outclassed by predecessor virtuoso Jan Hammer, who sounds very similar like Return to Forever mastermind Chick Corea. Hammer’s fiery and masterful keyboard duels with the band leader managed to set a standard that every subsequent jazz-rock fusion ensemble would strive to meet. McLaughlin’s guitar and Ponty’s violin are more predominant on here: they more or less share centre stage.

Their interplay is at a tremendous high, juxtaposed against the solid and hypnotic dual rhythm of Walden and Armstrong. The ecstatic opener Eternity’s Breath is a good example of that balanced harmony. McLaughlin’s blazing guitar work is often seen as pretentious and overblown, but in fact, his fluid technique and surcharged solo outings affirmed his standing as the dean of high decibel jazz-fusion. Overall, he’s the kind of guitarist who can add emotion and innovation to that highly technical, clinical style.

Mahavishnu Orchestra have been cited as a major influence on everyone from Frank Zappa to King Crimson (Fripp and McLaughlin were clearly kindred musical spirits) to Phish to The Mars Volta, and were in many ways one of the first electric jam bands, each member pushing the borders and creating this overwhelming intense music saturated in a complicit beauty. Visions of the Emerald Beyond shows this in prime form.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | The Mahavishnu Orchestra Visions Of The Emerald Beyond | | Leave a comment

The Beach Boys That’s Why God Made The Radio (2012)


Being that I’m a massive fan of The Beach Boys, I approached their newest album with great trepidation.

After all, only seven months prior marked the triumphant release of The Smile Sessions, the mythical album that actually lived up to (and even exceeded) the years of anticipation built up behind it finally seeing the light of day. I didn’t want anything to lessen that accomplishment. More than that, I guess I just didn’t want to see Brian Wilson embarrass himself this late in the game. Which is why it honestly pleases me to say that, while their new album is (obviously) no Pet Sounds, it’s (thankfully) no Still Cruisin’ either.

More than half of the album is loaded with bright songs that bring to mind the first few post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys’ albums. First single, “That’s Why God Made The Radio”, even harkens back a little further, sounding like it could have fit right in the middle of the track-list for Today.

Admittedly it’s pretty cheesy lyrically, but the harmonies and production are as good as they’ve sounded in over thirty years. And honestly, the same could be said of the lyrics to a lot of the songs on their first ten albums, so it’s not detrimental to the essence of The Beach Boys.

That said, not all of the sunnier tracks are winners. “The Private Life of Bill and Sue” ventures a little too far into the schmaltz that plagued the Mike Love-driven incarnation of the band, for example. Still, most of them are adequate (“Spring Vacation”) to good (“Shelter”), with a few that are downright great (“Daybreak Over The Ocean”, “Beaches in Mind”).

However, what really makes the album work are the songs where the band gets introspective. Whereas the introspection on Pet Sounds focused on Wilson’s personal issues and his feelings of not belonging, this time it’s a more universal theme, dealing with the pain and sadness of growing old.

The final three tracks on the album, which deal with this theme in one way or another, are stunningly good–and in all honesty they push the album from “passable” to “good”. First up is the Al Jardine-fronted ballad “From There To Back Again”, which is their best ballad since the 70s.

Up next is the under-two-minute “Pacific Coast Highway”, which makes the most out of its short length with its soaring vocals. But the album closer, “Summer’s Gone”, is the definite album highlight, in which Wilson’s heartbreaking lyrics on aging, losing friends, and knowing he’s approaching the late-stages of his life are aided by mournful production and classic harmonization by the rest of the band.

By all accounts, a reunited Beach Boys album released in 2012 could have been the sound of a band coasting, resting on their laurels and simply putting out a quick cash-grab. Luckily they’ve shown more respect to their fans and themselves, and put out a piece of work that sounds like it had a lot of effort behind it. The band has never quite been the same–and never will be–without Dennis and Carl, so even with obvious effort it doesn’t always strike gold. But when it does it hits way closer to the highs of the band in their prime than it should.

If they never make another album, they can feel good knowing they went out on a high note, and I can’t think of a better song to close out a legendary career than “Summer’s Gone”—for a number of reasons.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | The Beach Boys That's Why God Made The Radio | | Leave a comment