Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin I (1969)


Jeff Beck leaves Jimmy Page as sole guitarist in The Yardbirds, a group that had also numbered Eric Clapton among their ranks prior to Jeff and Jimmy. Keith Relf, the singer with The Yardbirds, winds up leaving along with the groups drummer and bass player. Jimmy Page along with manager Peter Grant find themselves with concert dates to fulfil, so set about forming a new Yardbirds line-up. Enter Robert Plant, session bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham.

Jimmy Page had worked extensively as an in-demand session guitarist all through the Sixties, playing on countless pop and rock recordings, learning about studio techniques and record making as he went along. Early shows saw the soon to be christened Led Zeppelin billed as The Yardbirds but certain supporters were apparently disappointed that it wasn’t really The Yardbirds. The name Led Zeppelin was based on something Who drummer Keith Moon said about a proposed off-shoot group ( to feature himself along with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck ) “Going down like a lead balloon, or a lead zeppelin”. Remove the ‘a’ from ‘lead’, and hey presto! For this new enterprise, Jimmy Page wanted to explore dynamics….. he more than succeeded.

Add in a rhythm section with an almost telepathic understanding, add in Robert Plant with his furious, all out, sexual roar of a voice…. Ah, reservations! Led Zeppelin achieved a distinctive sound right from the off. That doesn’t mean that the material was so original or distinctive, however. ‘Black Mountain Side’ was based upon a Bert Jansch tune, but credited here to Jimmy Page all the same. Singer Robert Plant had a habit of improvising and unwittingly including fragments of blues songs in the lyrics as he went along. The closing eight minute plus epic ‘How Many More Times’ has a clear precedent in the Howlin Wolf song ‘How Many More Years’, and so it goes on. There are more references here if you care to unearth them. Two ‘correct’ writing credits arrive on the album sleeve courtesy of Willie Dixon, as Led Zeppelin produce versions of his ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’.

There’s something about Led Zeppelin and this album in particular I really love and it’s something I see as an ideal for hard rock or ( heaven forbid! ) heavy metal groups. This ‘ideal’ is perfectly demonstrated in the two minute forty six second long opening number, ‘Good Times Bad Times’. You can hear each and every instrument clearly and separately from each other instrument. You can clearly make out every drum roll of John Bonham, every nuance of the bass parts of John Paul Jones – obviously make out Jimmy Page with his solo and his riffing.

A tight ensemble, powerful with spaces left by the rhythm section to allow Jimmy to fully express himself. On top of all of this we have Robert Plant of course, a singer plucked out of relative obscurity and almost instantly managing to present himself as one of the greatest rock singers on the planet at the time. The bass and drums support each other of course, but both can clearly also be heard as separate entities, if that makes sense.

There is a cleanness, a separation. There’s also damn heavy sounding parts as Led Zeppelin receive the credit for inventing heavy metal in the process. Most clearly with ‘Dazed And Confused’, a six minute long scary sounding epic full of astonishing playing and sounds, not least the ‘walking bass’ sound that introduces it. Robert Plant fully does ‘the business’ and sets a template for vocalists that followed. ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ is another six minute plus composition, an arrangement Jimmy had been working on back in the final days of The Yardbirds. Perhaps no better single example of the sheer glorious dynamics, the quiet to loud, of Led Zeppelin exists.

The more out and out blues tunes here, ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ are the weaker moments of the set, along with Jimmy Page ‘interpreting’ folk guitarist Bert Jansch with the instrumental filler ‘Black Mountain Side’. Having said that, ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ in particular is utterly convincing. Robert Plant sings, the rhythm section constantly threaten to explode. Jimmy Page does plenty of twiddly and interesting guitar things. Sat between ‘Black Mountain Side’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ is the two and a half minute riff monster ‘Communication Breakdown’.

Heavy as fuck, catchy as hell – i’ll see you on the other side. As for the closing ‘How Many More Times’, well, Jimmy does interesting guitar parts and sounds, the rhythm section are supremely powerful, hypnotic and heavy and Robert Plant excels himself throughout. Led Zeppelin succeeded from the off with this debut set. They toured America extensively and the initially reluctant UK market followed amid reports of amazing concerts in America. ‘Led Zeppelin I’ works as a template for the groups entire career, nearly everything is here.

The core of the album is formed by ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and the closing ‘How Many More Times’. For those songs alone, this is an amazing record.

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Led Zeppelin I | | Leave a comment

Lou Reed Berlin (1973)


An overall rating of 10, I feel, is not going to satisfy anybody – there is really no middle ground. You will either deify this record, calling it one of the richest and most wonderful chef-d’ouevres that modern music has managed to produced, or trample it under your feet all the while spitting out curses and lamenting over the fact how you’d like to punch the fat ass of the guy who told you Lou Reed was the archetypical proto-punk.

One thing’s for certain, though – Berlin ain’t for everybody. It’s also quite unlike anything Lou Reed had ever done before or since, and I’d even go as far as to state with all certainty that the album has no analogs in rock music at all. On a basic level, this is a ‘rock opera’ about a romance between an American dealer and a German drugged-out courtisan – they meet, they fall in love, they marry, they make children, they quarrel, they part their ways, they leave the kids with the father, they rave nostalgic, and then the story ends – what a great subject for a neo-realistic film. Or, wait, didn’t we see the first part of this story in Cabaret? Why, as a matter of fact, we did – life goes on and on, you see!

What makes the album so special isn’t the storyline, of course, but the atmosphere of the album. Even though it is recorded with a cast of thousands (Jack Bruce of Cream and Tony Levin of the future King Crimson on bass, B. J. Wilson of Procol Harum on drums, Steve Winwood on organ, etc., etc.), the arrangements are again mostly stripped down, but this time it is not the stripped-down-ness of a New York S&M club or a ghetto bordello, as in Transformer; it is the stripped-down-ness of a psychological record, brimming with emotions, both sincere and fake, with a strong German flavour.

Sometimes it’s just Lou sitting all alone with his guitar (‘Oh Jim’) or piano (title track), but more often the atmosphere is created with eerie effects – a gloomy church organ in the background, a barrage of heavy, bass-emphasized piano chords, some echoey, leaden vocals, a distorted block chord now and then, you know, that kind of stuff. It all combines to make a record so depressed and tragic, so utterly pessimistic, almost apocalyptic, that even Quadrophenia sounds like ‘Ode To Joy’ in comparison. If you can’t stand slow, lethargic, gloomy records, don’t even think about buying this, no matter how much your friends praise it.

The big problem is that the actual songs seem to be a little neglected in favour of the mood and the lyrics – although, to be honest, the record does contain some of Lou’s most hard-hitting lyrics ever (‘Men Of Good Fortune’, ‘The Kids’). The tunes are very rarely memorable, their structures transparent and feeble, and the melodies often diluted in a sea of noises or disorganised piano chords. The title track, recycled from Lou Reed, is a perfect example: the formerly magnificent nostalgic ballad with a heart-breaking chorus is given a piano-only arrangement and a careless, almost off-key vocal treatment (not to mention that only a short snippet of the original actually made it to the re-recording). Same goes for such songs as ‘Lady Day’, the story of the protagonists’ meeting, that picks a little steam only during the choruses. If you’re looking for rockers, look elsewhere: ‘How Do You Think It Feels’, with its aggressive guitar part, is probably the closest to a rocker on here, but it’s also the song that fits in with the mood least of all.

So my best advice is to accept the album as it is – relax and try to give yourself in to the enchantment that Reed clumsily casts upon you. If you succeed, you’ll find quite a lot of pleasure and sometimes even catharsis in these songs. ‘Men Of Good Fortune’, for instance, evolves from a slow, typically Lou Reed-style humming into a raising scream of protest; ‘Caroline Says’ is tender, sad, and moving, with its lyrics about the breaking of relationship between the lovers; and the centerpiece of the whole ‘opera’ seems to be ‘The Kids’, a fascinating tale of the mother’s separation from her children complete with real kids weeping and crying ‘Mummy!’ – a tale that, when delivered in Lou Reed’s casual, but here very Bob Dylan-ish wheezing tone, assumes an almost universal meaning – classic!

Yeah, kids, this ain’t rock’n’roll in the faintest degree – slow song after slow song after lethargic song after hypnotic song, and not a real rock riff in sight. And I admit it’s hard, what the hell, at first listen it must be pure torture to sit through the melancholic ‘Caroline Says (part 2)’, then endure the pessimistic ‘Kids’, before being submitted to the nostalgic ‘The Bed’ (with an unbearable, angel-voiced coda that reminds me of the ‘Crucifixion’ scene in Jesus Christ Superstar) and the romantic, universalist ‘Sad Song’, all of which go off at the same tempo (super-slow) and apparently feature only rudiments of melody, all of them based either on a sloppy acoustic rhythm track or a falling apart set of piano chords. But real art isn’t always easy to endure, friends – and this is real art, no doubt about that. The question is whether the game’s worth it – will you be morally rewarded for trying to endure this?

Well, I still am not: I can’t really get used to the atmosphere and the lack of melodies, and I guess I will never be, unless I find something in my life so that I could identify myself with one of the heroes (hope I won’t). But the album is still very good – those who are able to fit in the groove will never want to part with it. The lyrics are clever, the arrangements are perfectly suited for them, and the production is just what is needed for this kind of conception. Now… LET ME GO TO SLEEP before I write another idiotic word-combination!

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Lou Reed Berlin | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers The Captain and Me (1973)


The Bay Area of Northern California was, through the latter part of the 60’s and into the early 70’s, an encampment of musical ideology that utilized “fusion” in the creative spark. And that applies beyond the common genre of fusion jazz.

The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Country Joe & The Fish, and Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, were all vanguards of fusion rock in the counter-culture movement. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, gospel, R&B, far-eastern, latin, and other world-wide elements of music were infused into contemporary music and experimentation was the measure of success.

In 1971, The Doobie Brothers drew all the best elements of this front line together to make a successful sound that was unique in its own right and polished to a winning accessibility. Their initial album went un-noticed in general, other than by the locals who knew them from live shows and from local chapters of The Hells Angels who had formed a particular strong following of the group.

It was 1972’s release of Toulouse Street that jettisoned The Doobie Brothers into the hands of soon-to-be admirers like myself. And based upon that wonderful music and the singles tossed out in conjunction with the release of The Captain And Me, this “second” masterpiece gave us even more of the wonder and awe.

The first noticeable feature of this band was the easy blend of acoustic and electric, not just a counter-balance of one to the other but a total homogenization of the two into a sort of Simon & Garfunkel meets Jefferson Airplane and they had twins and named them The Doobie Brothers. The other in-your-face fact was the songwriting was so crafty and elegant whether it was a driving rocker or a soft folk-jazz song. The band had some top of the mountain talent.

Two drummers playing off of each other, a bassist with pure busy and punchy bass lines in a distinctive tone with a unique picking style, three part harmony vocals that easily separated into tiger-leads, and two lead guitars! And all that before you noticed the Memphis Horns and Little Feat’s Bill Payne rocking the pianos! In the same way which Toulouse Street instantly grabbed you, The Captain And Me forged forward with their sound. This time they added an extra accent on the last syllable, they paid out of work Steely Dan guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter for some canny pedal steel.

Most Doobie Bros fans fall into one of three camps: the fans of the original Tom Johnston led group, the Michael McDonald influenced outgrowth group (often referred to as “Doobie Dan” by the former fans), and those (like myself) who love all things Doobie from inception to jaded. The Doobie Dan moniker stuck with them from Takin’ It To The Streets even though Jeff Baxter had actually joined the group a couple albums earlier and actually began his session playing on a few songs of this album, but it mainly came up after Michael began to write songs and sing leads after Tom left.

Yes, The Doobie Brothers did gravitate more to R&B influences after that, but the unique “sound”, the “it” that made The Doobie Brothers, the Doobie Brothers, that has always been, with or without Tom. You see, if you listen closely to Toulouse Street and this album, and pay particular attention to each song, then go play Takin’ It To The Streets and do the same again, I assure you, you will notice the thread there. The cosmopolitan Bay Area truth that bares open the San Francisco scene musically, the synthesis that fused elemental musics together to become the “voice” of a generation.

The reality of The Captain And Me compared to Toulouse Street, is that Captain was a rush order job based upon the sales of the former. Tom Johnston had to rework some “old” tunes to come up with the final set list. For me, the opening track on each side of the record album, “Natural Thing”, and “Without You” were both the weakest moments on the album along with “Evil Woman”. All these years late I have not changed my mind and therefore, Captain still takes a back seat to Toulouse Street. The real magic in this album, which is outstanding meat, are the well crafted everything else, including the two hit singles “Long Train Runnin'” and “China Grove” both of which are just groovy electric guitar songs, the former being richly endowed with that whole train rhythm thing. The ultra bluesy “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” and the southern-rock blues of “South City Midnight Lady” capture more pure essence of Doobie Brothers than either of the opening side tracks.

Cajun Woman has a beautiful guitar pluck and Midnight Lady just feels all folky and jazzy with that pedal steel from Skunk. “Clear As The Driven Snow” is real song-craft. Beginning with an acoustic guitar round of two circling guitars, the revolutions duly increase speed as the wind blows and when the drums beat in, The Doobies three-part harmonies carry us to the crescendo finale. The same kind of skills are utilized in the three segued final acts, “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”, “Ukiah”, and the title track. “Busted…” plays again with encircling guitars that typify a crossroads to “Ukiah” where the synthesizer accents on electric and acoustic guitars work much better than in “Natural Thing”. The melody is catchy, folky, and in a Creedence sort of way, the country is pleasantly electrified.

This “sacred land”scape works its way into your ears, you can actually smell the pines of Northern California. As the harmony vocals and guitars softly descend into “The Captain And Me” where encircling guitars once again stage our ceremony, the “starship” is ready to take off. Built around harmony vocals, banjos, acoustic guitars, and inspired drum exchanges, the song mutates per Doobie fashion into gospel soul rock. Tom has gone on record to say the song was composed at the last minute without any real meaning to the lyrics, but regardless of that fact, it is one of the finest compositions in their arsenal. So how about them apples?

The Doobie Brothers did find a formula for success as is apparent with just the first four releases: Toulouse Street charted at #21, The Captain And Me at #7, and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits went to #4 and Stampede also clocked in at #4.

I still consider Toulouse Street as The Doobie Brothers album because of the effect it had on me. Read my review of that one there. Critical responses call The Captain And Me or Minute By Minute (depending on your camp) their biggest and best, but each and every album has its own independent merits that makes it a great album, so unabashedly I think that the response to judgment of Doobies albums is entirely emotional and based upon the listeners own experience. I usually end up listening to them in this order: Toulouse Street, The Captain And Me, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, Stampede, Takin’ It To The Streets, Minute By Minute. Get it? And how do I rate them all? 5 big whopping stars for every one of them. Which one is my favorite? Today it is Toulouse Street, next Tuesday it might be Stampede.

January 4, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers The Captain And Me | | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series: Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (2010)


The latest in the Bob Dylan Bootleg series, Volume 9, is somewhat a revelation about the young Dylan developing his talent and these 47 demo tracks recorded for `Leeds’ and `Witmark’ show not only how prolific he was but also how his talent evolved into being one of the most important artists of the 20th Century.

These demos were recorded as much for other artists to hear these songs (e.g. Peter Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, etc.), as they were to demonstrate the raw talent of an upcoming unknown artist. I am sure that many people would have heard these songs previously on the various bootleg recordings, but these sound completely different after they have been cleaned up and digitised, and are really a revelation.

On the first disc we can hear some of the early attempts at songs that would be well known throughout his career, such as `Blowin’ In The Wind’ and `A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ , but you can also hear him steal from other artists, creating new lyrics for songs of the folk and blues musicians who had a big influence on him. As we move on to disc 2, there is a marked change in Dylan’s song writing and playing, and though just a year or so later it’s clear that he is developing into the person who would be known and loved across the globe, and influence artists for several generations.

Some of the better known demo songs from this period were `Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, `Girl From The North Country’ , `When The Ship Comes In’, `The Times They Are A-Changin’ , `Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, `Mama, You Been On My Mind’, and `Mr Tambourine Man’. Many of these songs would take a few years before Dylan released them on his albums, and they were very different in these early formats, with lyrics still under development and surprisingly being played on different instruments e.g. `Mr Tambourine Man’ on piano.

These recordings in demo form are extraordinary, and clearly helped him with becoming more professional with his recordings, and allowed him to play with the lyrics so they turned into the ones that music lovers and academics wax lyrical about. This truly is a historic document and adds a lot to the understanding of an unknown young man in the early 60’s with prodigious talent that would eventually influence musicians for decades ahead. It really is a great addition to the Bootleg Series, and `The Witmark Demos’ is probably the best album release of 2010.

N.B. If you are able to track down the Limited 3 CD version, with the bonus disc, then you get the recording of `In Concert at Brandeis University 1963′, which is an excellent early acoustic performance (`Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance’, `Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’, `Ballad Of Hollis Brown’, `Masters Of War’, `Talkin’ World War Three Blues’, `Bob Dylan’s Dream’ and ` Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’), with very good sound quality.

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series: Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 | | Leave a comment

Jethro Tull Stand Up (1969)


As I said, Abrahams quit right after cutting This Was and was replaced by… Martin Barre? Nope, by Tony Iommi; and that’s not a stupid joke. Tony even played a couple of gigs with them, you can even see him on the Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus. Imagine what could happen if he’d decide to stay! Jethro Tull embracing heavy metal and Satanism? At least, there would be no Black Sabbath, that’s for sure… (Mind you, I’m nor saying that would be a good possibility. I’m trying to be careful in order not to offend any Black Sabbath fan. I just have a bone against evil music, that’s all…)

However, history can’t be re-written, so we have to digest the fact that Tony didn’t really get along with Ian. So Martin Barre came along – forgetting his amplifiers and spilling coffee on his guitars. He also played them – and did it much better than Mick Abrahams and maybe even better than Tony Iommi; at least, in the early days he had some incredible guitar tones, a good knack for mighty riffage and a heavy fuzzy lead attack that could have easily rivalled Jimmy Page’s and sometimes even beat it. Before he switched over to generic crappy metal in the late Eighties, that is.

Meanwhile, Ian got some more flute practice, wrote some more songs and finally decided they just had to develop a style – it was 1969, by gum, and if you didn’t have a style back then, you pretty much sucked. Those were the days, eh? To that end, there’s just one blues number on the entire record, and even so it is an absolute Tull classic. And why? Because of the great ‘double-descending’ riff which you don’t hear that much on a generic blues number.

Of course, I’m speaking of ‘A New Day Yesterday’ – what else could I possibly be speaking about? And you just don’t know how I love an original and memorable guitar riff every now and then – helps me more than aspirin. The leap from ‘My Sunday Feeling’, the ‘blues groove’ that opens This Was, to ‘A New Day Yesterday’, the ‘blues groove’ that opens Stand Up, is indeed astonishing: the band now sounds like a rip-roarin’ blues tank, with a skillfull mastery of overdubs, a steady twin-guitar-flute attack and Clive Bunker’s perfected drumming style.

And the other numbers? Hard to believe it, but they’re all absolute rippers. For starters, there’s a couple of resplendent ballads in a glossy pop style which Ian has never been able to reproduce again: even though ‘Look Into The Sun’ and ‘Reasons For Waiting’ sound rather alike, they are just beautiful oh so beautiful, with some strings popping out now and then in the right moments and Barre’s acoustic guitar shining through, with subtle shift of dynamics (watch, for instance, the solemn and tender verses of ‘Reasons’ seamlessly flow into the ominous, strangely menacing flute refrain, then just as seamlessly flow back into the main guitar melody – that’s what perfection is).

And the album’s main highlight is Anderson’s flute arrangement on Bach’s ‘Bouree’, one of the most stunning rock-classic fusions ever. The flute, bass and guitar mingle together to incredible effect on here; the song is thus like an ‘elder brother’ to ‘Serenade For A Cuckoo’, but it’s a trillion times more effective, catchy and beautiful.

Taken on the album scale, however, it’s the hard numbers that really make this record. People might rave on about Aqualung, but it’s Stand Up which is doubtlessly their most hard-rockin’ album before the infamous metal period in the late ’80-s, and they really could play ‘hard rock’ (as opposed to ‘heavy metal’) better than almost any of their contemporaries – better than Beck, better than Led Zep! In order to be convinced, just take a listen to the gargantuan coda on ‘Nothing Is Easy’, with that bitchin’ aggressive interplay between Barre’s guitar and Ian’s flute (another trademark, that one), and to the accelerating drum pattern in the end (the one that goes ‘bang – bangbang – bangbangbang – bangbangbangbang’, and the ‘stone-rolling-down-a-hill’ conclusion).

Nobody made music that rocked so bleedin’ hard in mid-1969! ‘Back To The Family’ is another fearless rocker with Ian spitting out satirical lines about how he’s being neglected in the forkin’ suckin’ society before the final frantic battlecharge of all the instruments; ‘We Used To Know’, whose eerie melodical connection with ‘Hotel California’ has often raised many weird hypotheses, features breath-taking, cathartic wah-wah solos; and ‘For A Thousand Mothers’ closes the album on another hard note, even though I don’t like it quite as much as the other numbers, maybe because of the fact that Ian’s vocals are unexpectedly buried down deep in the general chaos.

And finally, I nearly forgot to mention the Indian-flavoured ‘Fat Man’ with Ian complaining about his gaining weight. It is certainly to be considered the ‘groove’ of the record: some jolly sitar-imitating lines contribute to the funny atmosphere, while the lines ‘Don’t want to be a fat man/People would think I’m just good fun/Would rather be a thin man/I’m so glad to go on being one/Too much to carry around with you/No chance of finding a woman who/Will love you in the morning and the night time, too’ are probably among Ian’s best lines of all time.

I’ll admit right here and now that I do not consider him a great poet (all the prog-rockers liked to think of themselves as tremendous lyricists when in reality they were just overbloated humbugs), but for the time being he was no prog-rocker ‘cos prog-rock didn’t exist as yet which meant he actually had to take pains to think over his lyrics instead of committing to paper all the nonsense that came into his head.

In fact, this is certainly the best advantage of this album, and the reason I prefer it to Aqualung: this is no prog rock, just a great collection of rock’n’roll songs. Buy it now, if you haven’t heard it you’ve no idea of how great they once were. Hell, Melody Maker nominated them second best of 1969, right after the Beatles but even before the Rolling Stones. I wouldn’t go as far, but it’s definitely a fabulous album all the same, and certainly the best ‘hard-rock’ record of the year, if not all time. Prog-rock? Forget it!

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Jethro Tull Stand Up | | Leave a comment

Yes Fragile (1972)


Hmm, not bad. New band member Rick Wakeman makes his way onto the heart of the band’s sound, but ends up mostly buried deep down in the mix so you wouldn’t have known about him at all were it not for the credits and for his short solo spot.

Well, no, of course I’m exaggerating. He does shine on several lengthy wankfests. However, unlike most people, it seems, I tend to think that his being added to the band didn’t revolutionize its sound – just like Banks’ replacement by Howe didn’t revolutionize it, either. Yup, both Howe and Wakeman have their little tricks that couldn’t have been done earlier (like Howe’s country/classical acoustic ditties and Wakeman’s medieval piano parts), but the main effort is still placed on lengthy spacey rockers where these tricks don’t work.

Actually, the album is neatly divided into just these two parts: lengthy spacey rockers and the band members’ solo spots, all highlighting what they did best. And much as I tend to get sceptical about the band’s ‘classic’ period, I’m surprised to say that most – heck, nearly all – of this stuff really works. The rockers, in particular, are definitely up a grade from the last record. Again, the most interesting parts, for my ear, at least, are provided by Chris Squire’s bass (the guy was good), but Howe adds some uplifting solos, Wakeman gives in some mellow pianos and synths, and Anderson delivers his lyrics with his usual emotionless, faceless intonation, but at least they are accompanied by accomplished, memorable melodies.

The problem with all of these is the usual overdoing of instrumental sections, but I guess that goes without saying. But at least they rock – which I couldn’t really say for The Yes Album, which dragged. They’re fast, they have great basslines and good vocal hooks. And not every prog band could master that even in 1972, which was the heyday of prog, as you probably know already.

‘Roundabout’ is the song they sometimes do on the radio, probably because of the lead-in segment – heck, Anderson’s battle cry of ‘call it morning driving thru the sound and in and out the valleeeeeeey’ is as radio-friendly as possible. Later on, though, the song becomes far less accessible, with very complex time signatures and tricky group harmonies which still grow on you. ‘South Side Of The Sky’ is moody and winterish (with the aid of some wind howling); And ‘Long Distance Runaround’ is quirky and short, with the vocal melody somewhat clumsy, but redeemed with the happy poppy instrumentation.

In fact, vocal melodies are probably the weakest spot on the album: probably in a desperate move away from their ‘commerciality’ on The Yes Album, the band only provided a very limited amount of vocal hooks for Anderson on this album, and even on my tenth and later listen, I still can’t memorize the way that darned vocal melody on ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ goes. But what wonderful playing. In parts, the number even sounds painfully like King Crimson’s ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, and I don’t blame them for ripping off the tune: anything that makes a Yes song rock out is welcome.

Perhaps one of the most important things that separates this album from most of its predecessors and followers is that it has some… some sort of actual sense. For me, Fragile is truly a concept album, all dedicated to the single theme. And that theme? Movement. Just look at titles like ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Long Distance Runaround’, contemplate the lyrics of ‘South Side Of The Sky’ (‘move forward was my friend’s only cry’) and ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ (‘sharp – distance… love comes to you and you follow… straight light moving…’, etc.).

And not coincidentally, Fragile is Yes’ ‘bounciest’ album ever, with most of the tunes going off at pretty fast, steady tempos; meanwhile, there’s always something happening around, the record is never passive or purely atmospheric, it always seems to drive you on – where to is another question. To the sci-fi world of Close To The Edge, probably, but you only know it when you get there.

Still, all subjective reflections aside, there is one definite objective thing that really and truly distinguishes this album from all others and provides it a secure ten: these are the band members’ solo spots. They’re all catchy, and they’re all short. And this is a thing that you won’t meet on any other Yes album. Two lesser efforts (Wakeman’s Brahms bit rearrangement and Bruford’s ‘Five Per Cent For Nothing’) are still refreshing, and the other three are groovy fun: Anderson’s ‘We Have Heaven’ sounds either like a self-parody or a musical visit card, with its multiple endless harmony overdubs, Howe’s ‘Mood For A Day’ is a beautiful classical acoustic piece (which puts fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford to shame), and Squire’s ‘The Fish’ is a bass-riff-fest – you’d never know how many clever things it is possible to make with just one base and just one recording studio.

‘Schindleria praematurus’, indeed. (By the way, ‘The Fish’ was Squire’s nickname that he earned because of his unusual fondness of splashing in a bath all the time – so the way the tune connects with its title might be taken as a [sub]conscious tribute to his great bass predecessor, John ‘The Ox’ Entwistle, who also had a bass-driven instrumental called ‘The Ox’ on the Who’s debut album).

And, besides their own merits, all of these tunes also take on the honourable function of giving you a break between the lengthy tunes: the album is a very careful and thoughtful construction. Very solid, too. Even if they called it Fragile. Ironic, isn’t it?

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Yes Fragile | | Leave a comment

Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick (1972)


1972 was, without a doubt, The year of prog-rock: the year when prog had finally conquered its rightful niche and ruled supreme in the minds of the critics and among the musical preferences of the rock-oriented public.

Having consolidated its positions, having provided most of the groundbreaking ideas in the previous two or three years, but never wishing to reside in peace upon their laurels, mature proggers went on forward to conquer new heights – to blow their resplendent bubbles further and further, pumping out mastodontic epics and endless suites with no seeming end to the process. The world was not yet beginning to see prog-rock as its worst enemy, and it’s no surprise that many people still regard many of 1972’s anthemic prog albums as all-time masterpieces.

Just see here: Yes’s Fragile and Close To The Edge, Genesis’s Foxtrot, ELP’s Trilogy, Gentle Giant’s Octopus, King Crimson’s Islands all came out in 1972 (well, Islands appeared in Dec. 1971, but I think I can still judge it as a 1972 album)! And all of these albums are something and anything (despite my preference of, say, Fragile and Foxtrot over most others).

But, more than anything, it was this incredible album that said it all about prog-rock. Blowing away all competition, Ian had occupied the entire album with only one song on this album (well, ‘Thick As A Brick’, naturally) – quite an innovative move at the time, since, while sidelong compositions were slowly becoming the norm of day, nobody had yet dreamed of dividing one single tune over two sides of one record.

And it is divided: you might not have noticed it, but the second side of the record begins with the fading in of the winter winds and the thump-thump-thump melody that end the first side, so the continuity is never really broken. Not to mention, of course, the bits of melodies and themes that keep being resurrected; this also adds to the impression of the record all being one lengthy suite as opposed to a bunch of unconnected songs.

So what is Thick As A Brick all about, actually? Essentially, it is a masterful epic poem (and a hoot: Ian credited the lyrics to a certain Gerald Bostock, a fictitious 8-year old kid who won a prize for it but was disqualified after numerous protests from the audiences. I wonder who got the royalties?) that is destined to serve as some kind of ‘Bible According To Ian Anderson’; only if Aqualung was its clumsy Old Testament, Thick As A Brick is definitely the New One (followed by the Apocalypse of Passion Play, by the way), with a far more complex concept and more fully thought-out lyrics.

It was even provided with a really bombastic album cover, disguised as the “St Cleve Chronicle” newspaper with about twenty pages of partly fictititious, partly real news material, that among other things told in details the story of the poor Gerald Bostock. As for the actual lyrics, they mostly continue Ian’s society-bashing line, only this time around they are more subtle and far less straightforward, mixed with vague medieval imagery and a potload of romantic and psychedelic visions that are hard to decipher, but still, ten times less hard than whatever followed on A Passion Play.

Most of these lyrics are really cute – passages like ‘See there! A son is born and we pronounce him fit to fight/There are black heads on his shoulders, and he pees himself in the night/We’ll make a man of him, put him to a trade/Teach him to play Monopoly and how to sing in the rain’ are obviously inspired.

But then again, I don’t really give a damn about the concept – it suffices for me to know that it does have some actual meaning. I just enjoy the music. Again, that’s what prog rock was all about, wasn’t it? Meaningless lyrics and bombastic melodies.

Speaking of the music, this album could have easily worked at a short-song level, as well: it’s easy to pluck out a lot of separate sections and listen to each one separately (although, unfortunately, the CD does not index them as different). While all the sections are linked to each other with short, sparing instrumental passages, they are quite different by themselves and never become boring. It’s like a true encyclopaedia of various musical genres: these beautiful, ultra-catchy melodies range from quiet acoustic folkish shuffles (the sly, charming introduction section) to painfully complex but gorgeous ballads (‘do you believe in the day?’), organ-driven fast’n’furious rockers (‘see there! a son is born…’), Elizabethan ‘pedestrian’ war marches (‘I’ve come down from the upper class…’), nice guitar/keyboard shuffles (‘so where the hell was Biggles?’), nursery rhymes (‘you curl your toes in fun…’), Zappa-type noises (beginning of Side 2), and many more passages that avoid direct definition. Zillions of instruments, clever use of sound effects (the Benefit legacy is fading away), crystal clear production – wow!

Yes, I admit it might be hard to get into, you simplicity-loving music addicts, but I got into it at about the third listen, and I still can’t dig that Lizard thing by King Crimson! Can you? Just goes to show that some “prog” is “proggier” than other… Even the instrumental breaks and links are often breathtaking: listen, for instance, to Martin Barre’s insane solo in between the two verses of ‘the poet and the painter…’ – the triumph of minimalistic technique over soulless class at its most evident.

No wonder the public was so eager to send this sucker to No. 1: never again did any band achieve such a perfect, never breaking balance between the complex/serious/intellectual and the catchy/accessible/radio-friendly. Thick As A Brick is one of those rare records that can function equally well as great party music and a deeply personal, intimate experience. It’s hardly danceable, of course (although you can certainly march a lot to it), but that’s about the only general flaw, and not a deeply lamented one.

Anyway, where was I? As you can see, I hold the opinion that this record presents us with a hodgepodge of wonderful musical ideas which the Tullers couldn’t keep up any further than that. Indeed, this is the last record to feature some uncompromisedly great Tull music throughout all of its duration, and in that respect it is totally idiosyncratic, whatever that may mean in the case.

If not for a couple more reprises than necessary and the ugly avantgarde noise section on the beginning of Side Two that nearly ruins all the previously amassed “cathartic energy”, this would be one of the easiest tens I’ve ever given out – as it is, a very, very solid nine, and one of the Top Five albums of 1972, together with such masterpieces as Ziggy Stardust, Exile On Main St., Foxtrot, and… and… whatever

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick | | Leave a comment

The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East (1971)


There is just something about the Fillmore that makes a band shine beyond anything they could’ve done in just normal venues. This is quite notable with a wide variety of bands. This is without a doubt the best material the ABB have ever released. Just by listening to a few of the songs on Live at the Fillmore you can tell where they really shined. They even have said themselff that they had gotten frustrated doing the studio albums.

Going into the concert they had an idea of what they had wanted to achieve. No real setup just a bunch of guys just jamming doing what they had always done best. Quite a few of the songs on the album they had never even recorded previous to the concert. And a lot of them had been covers of old blues songs that they had loved for years.

The band itself were simply put superstars at what they did. Containing arguably the tightest rhythm section in rock. One thing is for sure Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley sure could hold the band together. The two guitarists were for sure some of the best. While they each had their part. Duane was the slide man, and he stills stands the best after all these years. Dickey took care of the great leads that you often hear in the ABB. Gregg Allman’s voice fits perfectly with the band. And it would certainly not be the same with anyone else.

Now onto the songs:
1. Statesboro Blues – This is originally a William McTell song. It is one of the many songs the ABB covered at the Fillmore. As they introduce the Allman Brothers Band. The song starts off with just plain great slide playing by Duane. And this continues throughout out the whole song. Gregg’s soothing voice comes in and goes great with the song. This song is probably up there as Duane’s best guitar work which is saying quite a lot. The rhythm section is so tight on this song it is almost scary. Easily a standout.

2. Done Somebody Wrong- On the next song they cover an older Elmore James song. As Gregg says before the song starts its a true story just like a lot of old blue songs. Starts off with a really catchy slide lick and starts going from there. There is a few fabulous solos played by both Duane and Dickey which really stand out and make the song shine. After hearing both the original and their version, I must say that this version is so a lot better. Great song

3. Stormy Monday- This song was originally done by T-Bone Walker. This is a slower placed song compared to the last few. It has a fabulous solo that fits in so perfect with the song its amazing. They put so much emotion into this solo and in general, the song. And then there is an organ solo which you probably wouldn’t be the first thing you would think of hearing in an ABB song. But surprisingly it fits in quite nicely with the song. Followed by another guitar solo to end the song.

4. You Don’t Love Me- This was originally performed and written by Willie Cobbs. This one of the long jams in the album. Which is fitting considering that they are a jam band. In the beginning of the song the band gets the crowd going early. Along with quite a stunning guitar riff. Also you can hear in the background,the organ going along with the guitar. Followed by quite an amazing solo, more fast and ferocious than the others solos on the album but still as good if not better. And here comes the organ solo which was heard throughout the whole song so it is no surprise to hear it again. And might i say it sounds great in the song. There is a point in the song where it all stops for just Duane to play. This is where he shines in the song, without a doubt the best part in the song. Then, the pace of the song changes and it almost seems like a different song. But no, its just a little change. Fabulous Fabulous Song

5. Hot ‘Lanta- This is actually a true original by the ABB. It is an instrumental where all members of the band get to show off their skills. Each have their time in the song to shine and be heard. I think it is an alright song but it just doesn’t really compare to other songs on the album. It just seems to lack that true ABB sound.

6. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed- Another original this time a more popular one that is probably familiar to you. Has a more jazzy feel than quite a few of their others songs. The guitar work in this song is amazing because it strays away from the style(s) that the guitarists usually do. About halfway through the song there is a great organ solo. I would say it is the best organ solo on the whole album. And there are a lot of great ones on here so that is saying alot. Fantastic Song.

7. Whipping Post- If you have heard one Allman Brothers Band songs without actually knowing it. It should be familiar to most people. It is a very recognizable riff. And this is probably one of the best versions to be heard of it. This version is high on improvisation and it is just amazing how they can string out a 4 minute song to become a 20 minute song and still have you interested every second of the song.

This is and probably always will be one of my favourite albums of all time. I would recommend this to everyone but especially to people that like classic rock, jam bands , and southern rock. But just give it a chance if you like any style of rock.

January 4, 2014 Posted by | The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East | | Leave a comment

Coldplay A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)


It’s been lauded by many as one of the greatest albums of all time; a brilliant second album, a truly symphonic opus. AROBTTH (I might just call it that) is an album that definitely has a legacy, proving once again that less equals more.

The album opener, Politik, is most unusual for Coldplay: a tune you can headbang to. Precisely six notes into the song you will see how many bands Coldplay is trying to rip off – none. A sort of ballad-hard rock combo deserves to be a single, especially for the piano interlude in the middle. The lyrics are the best on the album, no doubt; devoid of any cliches or cringingly bad mush that often plague Chris Martin’s writing. On the flipside however, it still feeds the haters, who may call it repetitive and boring at the same time, when in reality it is passionate and beautiful to a keen listener.

Similarly, In My Place will feed the haters, but so does everything, doesn’t it? A chiming, contagious guitar riff is carried along by Martin’s pleading, almost droney vocals and Berryman and Champions usual “that’s enough” bass and drum lines that fill songs but don’t expand them. Added to this is a light covering of beautiful strings and synths that transform the song into a pretty, well paced ballad that doesn’t bore.

This is in perfect contrast with the much harder God Put A Smile Upon Your Face. The acoustic guitar lick gives it a great (pardon my nostaligaic speech) groove, the electric guitar makes the song haunting and rocking yet catchy, the double time drum beat keeps the song moving very nicely and the bass line is more then ordinary, which is a good thing for a Coldplay song. The lyrics are decently cryptic and thought provoking and the tune is so sing-a-long its contagious. It moves at a fast pace and shows a more energetic, enjoyable side of Coldplay we really only saw once before then with Shiver (a shameless Jeff Buckley rippoff in any case). This is definitely one of the best moments on the album and deserves a spot in your playlist.

The contrast continues with the try-hard-but-somehow-manages-to-succeed ballad The Scientist, a slow, piano driven carriage for some quite *** lyrics, a nice melody and some Chris Martin try-hardiness. It’s a good thing, despite it’s obviousness, and especially so when the electric guitar comes in near the end with a lovely, catchy guitar riff that makes a good song a great one. Nothing here that’s too amazing, if not rather great, although the video is worth checking out. He spent a month learning the lyrics backwards to do that, by the way.

Riff-whoring follows in the beautiful Clocks, which can tend to be a bit undescribable. Repetitive is a good word, however I doubt you could find another bad word to describe this soothing, beautiful riff plugged into this soothing, beautiful song. The syncopated beat makes the song very catchy, and Martin’s lyrics are once again, half decent. The bass and guitar lines, whilst filling, are unimportant. Its the beat, the riff and the voice that matters here, and that translates into a very enjoyable 5 minutes. The recurring, circling piano riff will definitely make it a mesmerising one.

Following Clocks is a rather dissapointing note – Daylight. Nothing here sounds too original or amazing – the chorus is worth a look, but otherwise it’s a bit ordinary. The bass line works, the guitar line works, the piano works and it all fits together well, but it doesn’t really sparkle like it should, given the name. The lyrics are, once again, not brilliant, but then again, who cares anymore?
Green Eyes is a folky, unusual ballad that works fairly well. Reminiscent of corny country music, this is almost feels like Coldplay’s take on the country and western scene. It’s more touching and personal then that though; while the lyrics may be ***, the way Chris sings them is spot on and will make you cry inside. After the guitar comes in it gets a bit odd and very country – it might suit a slightly less swung, staggered feel – but that’s long in the past now!

Repetitive and corny, Warning Sign ticks all the signs for a tear jerker ballad, and probably represents one too many on this album. The Scientist is the big ballad, Green Eyes is the singalong ballad – and Warning Sign is the annoying ballad. A great chorus is filled out with the kind of backing that makes it seem like they were at the last minute with a great song and they needed to finish it off really quickly, if that makes sense. Worth the playlist, just for the chorus, although it’s not really that touching or impressive.

After the ballads and slows, we finally come to another lively, powerful song for Coldplays set – the criminally underrated A Whisper. In my mind, this takes the hard part of Politik and makes it better. Missing out on the slow part of Politik allows this song to focus on power, brilliant choruses and licks. The lyrics focus upon death, cryptically and interestingly and are carriaged by great guitar licks and riffs, an honestly great bass line and some beautiful synths and strings that carry the song out perfectly and lead into the next track.

The title track represents one of, if not the best moments on the record. It’s Politik redone with a smoother, more impressive approach that allows the listener to get lost in the music. The almost unsettling but always enjoyable volume changes in the catchy, bouncy chorus that ponders fear of making a big movement. Everything you find in here will be great, representing a perfect ballad-cum-rocker that blows all your expectations of what you thought Coldplay were capable of creating.

However, the best moment on the album is Amsterdam. While it’s definitely not perfect, with some pretty crap lyrics, it definitely has soul to a tee. Martin’s singing is top notch, but you wait until the chorus; the catchiest thing since The Beatles, and the most beautiful since Moonlight Sonata. This makes up for it’s flaws, and this multiplies in the ending, where we see the same thing again, with powerful guitar, drum and bass that carry the song through in a way that will send chills down your spine. A mature, lovely ballad-cum-rocker, similar to the title track and the lead track, is what Coldplay does best, and it does it well here.

All in all, this record represents a definite Magnum Opus for Coldplay, no exceptions. Good from the start to finish, if not great in some spots. It flows well, makes for easy listening, as well as very enjoyable listening.

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Coldplay A Rush Of Blood To The Head | | Leave a comment