Genre: Jazz Rock
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
Related to: not available yet
We move away from hard rock this week, with the antithesis of seventies bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. It’s up to the jazzy instrumental magicians Donald Fagen and Walter Becker this week.
Those guys are the core members of the American band Steely Dan. They accidentally ran into each other, noticed they listened to the same jazz music and started a band. They found a proper band name in Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch, featuring a strap-on dildo called ‘Steely Dan III from Yokohama’. For the title of their first album they were instead inspired by Bob Dylan: ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’ is a lyric from ‘It takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ on Highway 61 Revisited, remember that one? On the album cover you can see prostitutes in a red light district, waiting for clients.
But the most important question remains: how does the music sound? It sounds marvellous. Steely Dan were the kings of the studio: everything was refined a gazillion times after recording and after a few years they didn’t tour anymore to concentrate on studio albums. Maybe it all sounds a little too smooth at first, but after a while you realize this is just superb craftsmanship.
The album has a perfect opening track: ‘Do It Again’. This is one of those songs you feel like knowing for years already. This song must have the best tempo ever and features a great solo on electric sitar. Besides, it’s a perfect example of typical Steely Dan lyrics. No societal complaints or whatsoever, but just telling stories of all kind of persons, ranging from a naïve lover to some slumdog, like the gambling addict in ‘Do It Again’.
Subsequently, you’ll hear David Palmer do the lead vocals on ‘Dirty Work’ and ‘Brooklyn’. Palmer also sang the other songs live during live gigs, as Fagen refused to, but he left the band after this album. The first part of the album is concluded by the beautiful pop songs ‘Midnight Cruiser’ and ‘Only a Fool Would Say That’.
The second part starts furiously again with the radio classic ‘Reelin’ In the Years’. The guitar solo on this track is well-known as favorite solo of all time for Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page. Not that big of an antithesis after all than? Well, Dan’s second album Countdown to Ecstasy, kinda was a flop and according to Becker and Fagen this was due to the fact that they had to rush-record between several tour dates. Compare that with Zep’s second album I spoke about last time.
A last word of appreciation goes to the song ‘Fire In The Hole’, with the tremendous piano playing of Donald Fagen. It starts with the brilliant intro an ends up with a delicious solo. This song proves that a piano should be an essential instrument in every rockband. Check it out and decide whether you like it or not!
Genre: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Preceded by: Led Zeppelin (1969)
Followed by: Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Related to: Pixies – Doolittle
Let’s stay in 1969 for one more week. This week’s album is for those who like their rock a little harder, as it’s time for one of those real rock ‘classics’: Led Zeppelin II.
The British band Led Zeppelin released their bluesy debut album the same year, after which they started touring all over North America and the UK. They used the time they had between concerts to record material for a new album, in all kind of studios over the world. That’s how Led Zeppelin II was born: while completing seven concert tours.
This situation really influenced the sound of Led Zeppelin on this album. While touring, the band played long improvised versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ from their debut album and experimented with all kinds of riffs and solos. They brought the best parts in the studio, and riff-based songs like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ were created, along with the drum solo dominated ‘Moby Dick’. That way, it became the loudest album of the band and with ‘Whole Lotta Love’, it had a real rock anthem.
The influence of this album was huge, as it was personally responsible for the big guitar bands revival during the late eighties and early nineties. Bands like Guns ‘n Roses tried to reinvent Led Zep, Jonny Greenwood stated that all Radiohead was trying in their early days was to play Led Zeppelin II and what about bands like Pixies and Nirvana? Listen to the alternate soft-loud approach on ‘Ramble On’ and ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ and compare them to nineties classics like ‘Gouge Away’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
One more interesting thing about this album is it’s cover. The band told some guy to come up with an idea and he came up with a picture of a German Air Force Division from World War I, led by the famous Red Baron. They painted the faces of the band members on it and the album was released.
So check out those top tracks and decide whether or not to get the album. Or just listen to it one more time. For those who are not convinced: it knocked Abbey Road from #1 twice in the US.
Genre: Southern Rock
Preceded by: Green River (1969)
Followed by: Cosmo’s Factory (1970)
Related to: not available yet
Last week I spoke about the heartland rock of Springsteen, which was heavily inspired by the southern rock of the seventies. One of the big representatives of this genre and one of Springsteen’s favorite bands is the Californian formation Creedence Clearwater Revival, most of the times abbreviated as ‘CCR’.
Together with bands like Canned Heat and the Allman Brothers Band, CCR was seen as response to psychedelic and progressive rock, genres that were very dominant in the late sixties. For me, CCR was one of the first classic rock bands I discovered and still is one of my personal favorites. That’s why I highly recommend the last part of the band’s famous ‘1969 trilogy’, Bayou Country–Green River–Willy and the Poor Boys, if you want to discover classic rock. The other two parts will without any doubt follow shortly.
It’s hard to imagine nowadays that one of the big names of the music scene produces three studio albums in one year. CCR had few troubles doing this, just starting to record again shortly after the release of an album. So they did after Green River, and they came up with a great mix between blues rock and some real uptempo rock anthems.
The album starts with the brilliant sing along ‘Down on the Corner’, where the album got his name from (listen to the lyrics). Further on the album you’ll find some typical CCR-blues on tracks like ‘Cotton Fields’ (a Ledbelly cover), ‘Feelin’ Blue’ and ‘The Midnight Special’. The last one was a traditional song among prisoners in the South. The story tells that they were looking from out of their prison windows to a midnight train, which came to pick up prisoners to go home.
But the real power of the album comes from these tracks where singer John Fogerty lets his screaming guitar and his screaming voice sing together: ‘It Came Out of the Sky’ and ‘Fortunate Son’. The last one is a protest song against the Vietnam War and is still one of the few protest songs I remember with a good beat. On top of this, the album closes with the fascinating ‘Effigy’, a song which lasts over 6 minutes, a real rarity for CCR.
Genre: Heartland Rock
Preceded by: Nebraska (1982)
Followed by: Tunnel of Love (1987)
Related to: not available yet
Real album lovers as we are all over the world, we don’t buy ourselves any ‘greatest hits’ discs. Real album lover as I am, I won’t discuss any of such discs over here. A studio album that sounds like a greatest hits disc is no problem. Certainly when it actually delivered seven hit singles.
That’s exactly why Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen’s seventh studio album, has that misleading commercial sound which makes it a very accessible rock album. This sound was in great contrast with Springsteen’s preceding album Nebraska, containing dark, pessimistic and acoustic songs. But Born in the USA does in fact not differ that much from this introspective album. As a matter of fact, most of the album was already recorded before the release of Nebraska. That’s why it has at least as much heart and soul in it.
Springsteen just decided not to include songs like ‘Born in the USA’ and many others as they did not coincide with the rest of the album. Springsteen wanted to bundle these songs on another album, which had to express a more optimistic and positive sound. So out of a large collection recorded songs he chose the ones that sounded best, introduced some synthesized arrangements and conquered all radio stations.
The first monster hit of the album was ‘Dancing in the Dark’, a song about getting frustrated because you can’t write a hit single. Yeah, irony. Other personal favorites are hit singles ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘Glory Days’, and ‘Bobby Jean’, an ode to E-Street Band member Steven Van Zandt. Just put on the record and sing along for 47 minutes.