Genre: Rock, Heartland Rock
Preceded by: Born to Run (1975)
Followed by: The River (1980)
Related to: not available yet
I always had my doubts about people who cherish some kind of blind faith in an unassailable higher power. Whether it’s some teenager with a petrified glance into the deep nothing at a young Christians meeting, the stern ideologist that defends the healing power of the free market until his death, or people proudly risking their lives for the flag. Because of completely enigmatic reasons, I always suspected Springsteen fans of some mild form of this faith. However, driving a couple of miles, listening some music and having some beers always appeared to me as a more respectable way to overcome your tragic situation than killing other people.
The sixties just met their boundaries when Springsteen gets his first recording contract in 1972, signing with Columbia. The message that Messenger Bruce came to bring, is already told on his debut album (Greetings from Ashbury Park N.J. 1973): Springsteen is Jersey, and life can be tough out there. Just like its hastily released successor, it barely had any success, opposite to his numerous long live gigs throughout the region, ever injected with loads of energy. Messenger Bruce succeeds to absorb his growing amount of disciples into his story during these gatherings, but struggles in the studio due to his ambition to create the next Astral Weeks or first Desire. This is the point where he gets his first handshake from above, as he soon realizes that he just has to put that awesome live sound on a record. Thanks to an enormous production, he majestically succeeds with Born to Run (1975), but it was probably the endless tour that followed (because of a trial with manager Mike Appel, prohibiting him to record new material) that made him aware of the divine touch: such a muscled sound asks for a straight, in your face message.
It was the same exhausting tour (considering this his second handshake) that prevented him to become a victim of uninspired reproduction, withdrawing right after this trial (and the tour) to a farm in Jersey. Right there he observed the small world he grew up in, including the tough life of his parents. So, although Darkness on the Edge of Town may have a less bombastic sound than its predecessor (it’s basically all about the guitar-piano combo), it definitely wasn’t a revolutionary switch of style in Springsteen’s career. It was just the next step in the refinement of his golden touch on Born to Run: while society was creating more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’, Springsteen succeeded to appeal to both, just like religion serves to overcome your problems, as well as to legitimate your lack of problems.
Just like throughout his complete discography, he pushes his fans between despondency and hope on the album. It results in a well-balanced record, strongly tied together by the granite bookends on both sides. The strong songs in between are especially the three autobiographical ones: ‘Adam Raised a Cain’, where Springsteen addresses his father by biblical imagery (which was about all communication there was between both at that moment), ‘Factory’, his simple but impressive narrative about the worker’s life, and above all the magnificent ‘Something in the Night’. On this track, Springsteen seemed to have left behind his careless youth and has grew wiser the hard way, more specifically by his troubles in court: “You’re born with nothing, and better off that way. Soon as you’ve got something they send someone to try and take it away.”
However, the fist is really clenched on the opening and closing tracks. Springsteen summons his followers on ‘Badlands’ to stop complaining, to stop waiting, but to just make something out of it, after all, it’s no shame to be alive. Sounds simple, but a lot better when you disseminate it as if it were your own gospel: “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything“. The fact that escapism is a serious option in this situation, is made clear on ‘Racing in the Street’: even if you’re living a miserable life with a shitty job and a desperate relationship, there’s always a way to escape, in this case through street racing. The song in that way continues Springsteens’s ode to a man’s urge for freedom that was set in on Born to Run: “Now some guys they just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece. Some guys come home from work and wash up and go racing in the street”.
Side 2 starts with a boom on ‘The Promised Land’, in which problems are faced and one is ready to eliminate them for once and for all. It was probably again Springsteens’ own hopeless situation that preceded the album that served as an inspiration: not being able to record a new album and to do what he wanted to do. The album is finally closed by its title track, being the sequel to ‘Racing in the Street’. The barriers that were on the path to the ultimate destiny are still being shaken off at that point, he just cut himself loose from everything that used to stop him and is ready to go all the way now. Bring on the darkness.
Genre: (Folk) Rock
Preceded by: White Light/White Heat (1968)
Followed by: Loaded (1970)
Related to: Lou Reed – Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal
While speaking about Lou Reed’s great live album before, it was already mentioned how the Velvet Underground overwhelmed me when hearing their debut album for the first time, some 40 years after it was released. Noteworthy of course, but not something completely unique. What was unique, was the fact that this occurred again with the two following albums; I embraced White Light/White Heat as well as The Velvet Underground from the first time I heard them and cherished them as some of the best records ever made. Not something evident in view of the huge contrast between those two albums, but revealing a lot about this band’s versatility.
On the second of March 1942, Lou Reed was born in New York. Exactly one week later, on the other side of the Atlantic, a Welsh woman named Margaret Davies gave birth to her son John Cale. The first one completed his artistic education at university in June 1964, the latter organized his first concert on the sixth of July that year in London, where he studied at that time. The two met for the first time later that year when Cale moves to New York, as he was supposed to study classical music there. However, Cale was quickly enticed from his study books by the enchanting drones that came out of some guy’s guitar, playing a song called ‘Heroin’.
The two formed some bands together, before deciding to start performing as The Velvet Underground in 1965, together with Sterling Morrison on guitar and Angus MacLise on drums. If not for that book about the sixties’ secret subculture the band was named after, it could have easily been The Primitives, The Warlocks or The Falling Spikes. The final line-up was reached right on their first gig, as MacLise (considering that performance a sellout) was replaced by Maureen Tucker.
However, it only really started to go somewhere after pop art guru Andy Warhol became their manager, giving his new band carte blanche concerning their sound. Although, carte blanche? That was without taking into account the presence of German model Nico, who (on Warhol’s persistence) sang along on their debut album, with the meaningful title: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). The ever important second album followed early ’68, and Reed & Cale (Nico was meanwhile exiled) succeeded to astonish another time on White Light/White Heat. The fragile beauty that was an essential part of the debut had disappeared, but noise was given its dignity.
That the third album would once again sound different, was already predicted by the departure of John Cale from the band later that year, being replaced on bass by Doug Yule. However, that the electric powertrips would be almost entirely replaced by a gentle, melodic rock sound still was, to say the least, astounding. Rarely did a band ever make such an abrupt switch concerning its characterizing sound without losing a single fraction of its quality. Let’s go.
The bands new style as well as its new member is immediately introduced on the first track, ‘Candy Says’. Yule takes the lead vocals in this song, about the trans woman Candy Darling. She played in some of Warhol’s movies and would remain a source of inspiration for Reed on later occasions, as the second verse of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ on Transformer shows. A soft, slumbering guitar guides Yule, while the percussion is reduced to a minimum. When the needle moves over to the second track, the variation between the two sorts of songs on this album becomes clear. ‘What Goes On’ is a terrific straight forward rock song, on which that classic, pushing, Velvet guitar sound kicks in again. It’s a true gem, as the song contains one of the best instrumental combo’s ever with the rhythm guitars and the organ (Yule) constantly building towards a great peak at the end of the song.
The opener of side 2 (‘Beginning to See the Light’) is a similar song, but sounds like a light version of the former. This makes it the most poppy song on the album, although ‘What Goes On’ was picked as the album’s only single. As most earwigs that seduce you to listen to a full album, it’s the first song that loses its glow after having accomplished its duty. Another song that jumps out is the penultimate one: ‘The Murder Mystery’, the only track on the album that points back to the avant-garde sound of the previous albums. It’s a very eccentric but intriguing piece thanks to the interchanging between the vocals (Reed/Morrison during the ‘verses’, Tucker/Yule during the ‘chorus’) and the bewitching instrumentation (notice the organ again). Hidden beauty.
The rest of the album consists of six soft ballads, often enriched by a folk rock accent. Three of them complete side 1, beginning with ‘Some Kinda Love’. It opens with a duet between guitar and bass while you can already hear Reed impatiently catching a breath in the background. Overall it sounds like a light melodic rock song, if not for the continuously pumping bass and interesting lyrics. However, on such a rich album it’s one of the ‘least’ songs. It’s followed by ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, a song of absolute beauty. Reed really shines here with extremely fragile vocals, only accompanied by another slumbering melodic guitar and a tambourine in the background. The song is said to be dedicated to Reed’s first love, Shelley Albin, but more important the centerpiece of the album shows Reed as a genius songwriter. Side 1 is closed by ‘Jesus’, with the writer of ‘Heroin’ and ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ now begging Jesus for help. The sophisticated soft sound is still there, but because of its place on the album it’s completely overshadowed by its predecessor.
Another personal favorite is ‘I’m Set Free’, which must be one of the key songs in Reed’s oeuvre. The reason is that it reminds of the Velvet’s debut and is at the same time a forerunner of Reed’s solo career (most notably Transformer). It builds up slowly (Tucker demonstrates her skills here with a simple but essential rhythm) towards this typical peak in the middle, featuring a nice guitar solo. What’s left are two short songs, around two minutes long. First one is ‘That’s the Story of My Life’, with another typical folk tune and even a Beatles sounding guitar solo in the middle. The other one is ‘After Hours’, on which Tucker takes the lead vocals. It was obviously inspiring for Meg White, who would contribute similar songs to some White Stripes albums later on. Here, it fits perfectly as closing song.
The Velvet Underground is an album that profited from the growing role of Lou Reed and his expressive songwriting after the departure of the bands co-founder. It would become the third part of an impressive trilogy, on which the band showed it could handle a lot of different styles. One more album (Loaded) would follow and although it was not bad at all, Reed left the band before it was even released as it was completely edited (to get airplay) without his consent. However, in your search for pureness in rock music, one of those first three albums is your best bet.
Preceded by: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Followed by: John Wesley Harding (1967)
1963, Bob Dylan is being proclaimed as the artistic leader of the protest movement that stands up against the establishment. From that moment on, he and his music have showed a tendency of not wanting to be understood any longer. Tired of being launched as the pioneer of a social movement or musical trend every time people thought they had comprehended Dylan and his songs. The faith of an artist who is assigned with visionary powers by his followers.
No matter whether it was his role as protest singer in the early sixties or his innovative contributions to the so called genre of folk rock a few years later, Dylan always seemed to have the feeling that others wanted to make a stooge of him and started to agitate against this in an almost paranoid way. This side of Dylan was magnificently illustrated by Cate Blanchett in the film I’m Not There. It was this Dylan that released an enigmatic album in 1966 on which he did everything not to be understood for one time. But even if you don’t try to decipher everything The Singer tries to tell you in mysterious ways, there still remains a lot of beauty on Blonde on Blonde.
Only 54 years after being founded in the state of Minnesota, Hibbing already welcomed its most prominent resident to date: Robert Zimmerman. As the descendant of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Lithuania he entertained his local high school by playing rock ‘n roll covers before moving to the states’ capital (Minneapolis) to subscribe to university. Folk music entered his life, and it must have generated more attention than his classes at that point, as he quit university toward the end of his first year (May 1960) to move to New York. There, in the neighborhood of Greenwich Village, he performs in some local clubs before being picked up by a record label. A self-eponymous debut album (1962) follows, containing mainly folk traditionals and not having a lot of success.
Dylan crosses the Atlantic for the first time to visit London before his second album follows in 1963: The Freewheelin’. Writing his own compositions now and many of his songs being interpreted as protest songs, it brings him his first success in times of the Cuban missile crisis and the civil rights movement. Especially his performance (with Joan Baez) during the Great March on Washington (with Martin Luther King speaking his famous words) delivered him his status as the guy with the scruffy jeans who kicked against the establishment. This already changes after the murder of John F. Kennedy and his 1964 release The Times They Are a-Changin’ and definitely on his fourth album later that year, with the meaningful title Another Side of Bob Dylan. Dylan’s star rises fast subsequently, when he transforms from a protest songwriter to the absolute folk rock star.
This of course starts with the release of Bringing It All Back Home (1965), on which Dylan goes electric on side 1, and was immediately fortified with his performance that summer at the Newport Folk Festival, backed by the electric sound of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band members. Only one month later Dylan presents the world his next album, the legendary Highway 61 Revisited (1965) , featuring the same ‘electric crew’. Problem for Dylan was that some of those guys preferred to stay with the Blues Band instead of touring to promote this new album. So Dylan searched for other musicians and ended up with guys from Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band The Hawks. Those guys would later form some kind of genius group called The Band, after some of them contributed to Dylans’ brilliant seventh: Blonde on Blonde, one of the first double albums in rock history.
Recordings for the album started in New York, where Hawks drummer Levon Helm already dropped out as he was tired of playing in a backing group. With Helm replaced by Bobby Gregg (responsible for the opening snare drum on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’) and with amongst others Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko in support, the recordings proceeded but none of the recorded material could count on Dylans’ satisfaction. It was only after moving to a studio in Nashville and adding some local session musicians that the album started to grow towards its ultimate versatility.
When you start playing the album, you may wonder how the faces of music critics must have looked like while listening to the first song, ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. The former ‘protest songwriter’ states he wouldn’t feel so all alone if everybody would get stoned, supported by a brass band going berserk. The song was avoided by a number of radio stations and you can hear Dylan having a laugh about it on the song itself. The other enigmatic track on side 1 is ‘Visions of Johanna’, which is generally highly praised by those same critics. This song doesn’t really stand out in my opinion, but of course I didn’t spend hours of research to decipher its lyrics. The third song that perfectly fits into this category is the closing song of the album: ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’. This track entirely fills up side 4 and seems to be about his wife Sara, which was confirmed by Dylan on the Desire song ‘Sara’ 10 years later. What Dylan could not have presumed, is that the track ultimately convinced Roger Waters that it’s possible to fill entire LP sides with only one song.
Did folk (rock) disappear on Dylans’ seventh? Not completely, as at least 1,5 of such songs can be found. ‘4th Time Around’ definitely is one. Although the lyrics are again slightly drenched in absurdity, the classic finger-picking guitar sounds familiar. Decide for yourself whether this familiarity stems from Dylans’ earlier works or from The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’. The other track is ‘One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)’, which was the first song being recorded for the album. It’s a very good one, with recognizable lyrics and a prominent role for the keyboards-guitar combo, leading the great crescendos every time the chorus is about to set in.
The album however never lets itself categorize in some kind of subgenre. This is immediately clear on track two (‘Pledging My Time’), with the pure blues kicking in. The harmonica almost sounds as plaintive as Dylans’ voice here and Robertson does a great job here by adding his bluesy guitar sound. ‘Temporary Like Achilles’ is another great blues song, with typical lyrics about some guy being left behind by his lover. However, it’s the piano here (played by Hargus Robbins) that claims his role as guide of Dylan’s excellent wailing throughout the song. Also on side 3 is ‘Obviously 5 Believers’, an awesome song on which Robertson really shines. It sticks out compared to the two aforementioned songs because of its uptempo style but it finds its match in two other uptempo songs on the album: ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ and ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’.
The first one serves another portion of prosaic lyrics with several sexual references, driven by a repeating keyboard riff. However, this song lasts a little too long in my opinion. The second one certainly does not suffer from this handicap. It was used a lot of times by Dylan as the opening song on live gigs, for example on Before The Flood together with The Band. Problem here: once you’ve heard one of those live versions with a screaming Dylan, the studio version doesn’t suffice anymore.
The remaining four songs are all to be found on the second side of the album, together forming the core of Blonde on Blonde. We might even go one step further and call this one of the best vinyl sides ever made, close to The Beatles’ Abbey Road Side 2. It opens with ‘I Want You’, by far the most poppy song out there. This is due to the fact that the music as well as the lyrics both outshine in simplicity, in deep contrast with the rest of the album. Although Dylan summons an elaborate list of characters during the song, similar to a light version of The Band’s ‘The Weight’, he addresses himself to the simple ‘you-person’ during the chorus, contributing to the songs accessibility. What follows is ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’, the absolute highlight of the album. This track was rearranged numerous times (musically as well as lyrically) by Dylan during the recordings, till obtaining this optimal result. The chorus becomes a real earwig after hearing it a few times and the flawless guitar playing makes you forget about the tracks’ seven minutes length. Amazing.
The party continues on the next track (‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’), without any doubt the best guitar song on the album. Although Dylan plays the intro, it’s Robertson taking over after that. On top of that the lyrics are kind of hilarious and will pop into your head again whenever you notice another fashion victim on the streets. Side two concludes with one of Dylans’ best known songs: ‘Just Like a Woman’. This track is also closely investigated by a number of music professors and according to their research this song is about Edie Sedgwick. Or Joan Baez. Or maybe another woman. In this way it’s kind of representative for the entire album: unsolvable and inexhaustibly intriguing.
A concert tour to promote the album followed after its release, where Dylan was backed by The Hawks. Deeply exhausted by this tour, Dylan finally found some rest after his motorcycle accident by withdrawing to the basement of Big Pink with The Hawks. This accident was also surrounded by rumours and theories, as it would have been made up to escape from the music scene for a while. Like with so many other things, probably nobody except Dylan can ever confirm this. Let’s keep it that way.
Genre: Rock, Alternative Country
Preceded by: At Dawn (2001)
Followed by: Z (2005)
Related to: not available yet
It was a couple of years ago when a friend of mine recommended me this album. I was in the middle of exploring all the music out there that was made in the sixties and seventies and I was a little sceptic about music from a more recent age. But this strange band name kept fascinating me in some way and when I saw the album cover with this giant stuffed bear combined with the album title It Still Moves, I decided that this record deserved to be listened to at least one time. Seventy minutes later, this album had proved that solid rock ‘n roll and beautiful melodies did survive through all those years, I just didn’t search well enough.
It was singer-songwriter and guitarist Jim James who formed this American band in Louisville in 1998. He recruited the rest of the band out of the emo-punk band Winter Death Club, where his cousin Johnny Quaid played guitar, Tom Blankenship was the bass player and J. Glenn was on drums. During those early days, My Morning Jacket principally was an alternative country band. This genre came into existence during the nineties, parallel with the upcoming success of alternative rock. It contained a range of musicians that were playing beyond the borders of traditional country. As such, they drew inspiration from country rock (fusing country with rock ‘n roll) pioneers like Gram Parsons and Steve Earle, with themselves opting for a more lo-fi sound.
As this new alternative country, lo-fi band, My Morning Jacket debuted in 1999 with The Tennessee Fire, which became a hit in Europe. But it was only with their second album, At Dawn, that their popularity started to grow at home. Just like It Still Moves that would follow later on, this album started to show more classic rock influences, featuring more electric guitar sounds than on the previous album. This makes that the sound of the band on It Still Moves always reminds me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with its typical screaming classic rock guitars. Another thing that is very characteristic for the album is the use of reverb, continuously producing a lot of echoes throughout the songs.
So there we are, comfortably lying in our couch, headphones on our heads and the album in our hands, counting twelve songs. Seventy minutes you said? Yes, the band takes its time to tell their story, but don’t worry, it’s constructed in a genius order. It all starts with ‘Mahgeetah’, a fantastic opening track, which immediately became my early favorite. Why wait with long, drawn-out vocals and powerful guitar riffs in reverb when you can throw them in right from the start while singing about the love for ‘my guitar’, that’s what Jim James must have thought.
During the next two songs, James takes us on tour with the band and that guitar. First we hike across nightjails and poolhalls on ‘Dancefloors’, escorted by a sweet guitar riff which is towards the end suddenly supported by a great horn section. But all the touring and dancefloors exhausts us and besides, we are starting to miss the things we left behind. So James makes us a campfire, pulls out his acoustic guitar and lets us dream about golden shores. On ‘Golden’, the band returns to the alt-country from the earlier albums for a moment, adopting the style of The Band.
We travel further and we end up at the, as the title already presumes, masterpiece of the album: ‘Master Plan’. It seems like Neil Young and his Crazy Horse have hit the empty highway again, surrounded by tumbleweeds and a haunting sunset. James’ voice is the most important instrument here, telling us the best plans end up really sweet, even if it looks like a routine. The classic rock party continues with ‘One Big Holiday’, the band’s greatest hit and traditional encore of every live show. This song is entirely built around its catchy guitar riff, which almost automatically makes you pick up your air guitar.
Put away this guitar again and drop into your couch again for ‘I Will Sing You Songs’. On ‘Master Plan’, James sings ‘Just cause it starts off slow babe, doesn’t mean it don’t have a heart’. This really applies to this song, with a long instrumental intro and outro. Beautiful fragile song with a riff that somehow always reminds me of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Us and Them’. After this moment of rest, we salute the ‘Easy Morning Rebel’, with again a very ‘Crazy Horsesk’ jam in the end. We ‘Run Thru’, one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs, not to mention the fantastic drumsolo in the middle of the song which lets the song explode right again when you think it’s over.
Personally, I think the following two songs, ‘Rollin’ Back’ and ‘Just One Thing’, are the least of all. But the album has another peak towards the end, with ‘Steam Engine’ and ‘One In The Same’. The first one, just like ‘I Will Sing You Songs’, mainly is about James’ voice and a basic drum beat, this time accompanied by a softly whimpering guitar and fantastic drawn-out vocals in the end. The final track of the album is another personal favorite. The band is gone, and only Jim James and his acoustic guitar remain in the empty hall, trying to fit the pieces of his mind together again. It’s hard to think of a more beautiful way to end an album as with the line “It wasn’t till I woke up that I could hold down a joke or a job or a dream. But then all three are one in the same”.
My Morning Jacket continued to make music after this album, widening their sound with all kind of other influences, ranging from funk through reggae. Some members were replaced by others because they couldn’t endure the heavy touring anymore, but don’t hesitate if you ever get the chance to see them live, as their performances are still breathtaking. But start with this album first.
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990)
Related to: not available yet
Time for a musical intermezzo this week, as we jump right into the eighties. However, the album of the week has nothing to do with the typical sound of that century. Instead, we’re talking about another supergroup here: the Traveling Wilburys, a band full of stars from the sixties and seventies, who released an essential album for your record collection in 1988: Vol. 1.
The whole project was initially set up by former Beatle George Harrison. He returned to making music again in 1986, after being out of business for a while. He asked Jeff Lynne to co-produce his album Cloud Nine, which became Harrison’s great comeback. In need for a B-side for one it’s singles he contacted Lynne, who was also producing stuff for Roy Orbison at that time. They proposed to do a recording together with the three of them, but there was no studio available. Harrison contacted Bob Dylan, knowing Dylan had a home studio, but forgot to pick up his guitar at Tom Petty. Tom Petty came along and suddenly they were recording a song (‘Handle with Care’) with the five of them, supported by drummer Jim Keltner.
Those guys quickly realized this song was way too good for a B-side, and Harrison wanted to record another nine songs and release it as an official album. Their name would be the ‘Traveling Wilbury’s’, a concept of alternate identities Harrison was familiar with after releasing Sgt. Pepper’s with The Beatles. This time their real names wouldn’t even be on the album, replaced instead by pseudonyms like Lucky Wilbury (Bob Dylan) and Nelson Wilbury (George Harrison), all half-brothers of the fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr.
The album became a brilliant collection of cheerful songs, an excellent recipe against a heavy hangover. Of course the album started with the hit single ‘Handle with Care’, which immediately makes clear what happens if five musical geniuses gather in a studio: one of them notices a box labelled ‘Handle with Care’ and five hours later they’ve got a massive hit. The beauty of the song is the combination of Harrison’s and Lefty Wilbury’s (Roy Orbison) voices. What follows is Dylan’s ‘Dirty world’, sounding raspier than ever, and the fifties rock ‘n roll song ‘Rattled’. ‘Last Night’ is a song from Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr. (Tom Petty), but especially noteworthy is the bridge from Orbison.
But the real strength of the album is the second part in my opinion. Beginning with ‘Not Alone Anymore’, a song Otis Wilbury (Jeff Lynne) wrote especially for Orbison. His voice really sounds outstanding on this song, making it a real gem. ‘Congratulations’ is a weird mix of sad lyrics and joyful tunes, preceding the upbeat ‘Heading For The Light’ (Harrison), one of my personal favorites with it’s happy guitar intro and great sax work. The real masterpiece of the album however must be ‘Tweeter and The Monkey Man’. Dylan tells us a story like he did on ‘Hurricane’, with a bombastic chorus where the other guys join in. The song is also considered as an homage to Bruce Springsteen, as the lyrics include many Springsteen songs like ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Stolen Car’, ‘Mansion On The Hill’ and ‘Lion’s Den’ (with the latter being released after the Wilburys album), while the story is situated in New Jersey, Springsteen’s home state.
The album closes with Harrison’s ‘End of the Line’, telling us everybody will be all right in the end. It’s video became a tribute to Orbison, who died shortly after the release of the album because of a heart attack. This immediately meant the end of the original band, one of the reasons there never came a Wilburys Tour. The remaining four members recorded a follow-up album in 1990 (Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3), but it missed Orbison’s voice. Enjoy the party.
Preceded by: Help! (1965)
Followed by: Revolver (1966)
We’re still in the middle of our ‘basics’ and here’s our second Beatles album already. This is explicable by the fact that their oeuvre is essential for exploring rock history. And the fact that I love them, obviously. I talked about their last album earlier, when they had developed as a mature band already, exploring their limits as talented musicians. We’ll now return to the point where they were ‘growing up’, to Rubber Soul. The announcement of what would become a legendary sequence of albums from the world’s biggest band.
It was 1965 and the world had just experienced ‘Beatlemania’, a sort of mass hysteria around a band that dominated the charts with one hit single after another and was touring all over the world. With Rubber Soul, this band decided to record an album in a period without touring. This resulted in a number of technical innovations which can be found throughout the album, going beyond the traditional instruments of a rock band. Besides, The Beatles were heavily influenced back then by American acts like Bob Dylan (lyrically, moving from positive love stories to more abstract notions of love and even negative portrayals) and The Byrds (musically, absorbing elements of folk rock).
Let’s just run over this gem. The album is opened by McCartney’s ‘Drive My Car’, an awesome upbeat track on which McCartney actually plays the guitar solo and Harrison the bass part. It’s followed by ‘Norwegian Wood’, a pioneer song concerning the introduction of non-Western instruments in a pop song, as Harrison plays the sitar on this one. His interest in this instrument was stimulated by Harrison’s friend David Crosby, who was a big fan of Indian music. ‘You Won’t See Me’ was the Beatles first experiment with a song lasting longer than three minutes and ‘Nowhere Man’ was among the first songs that were unrelated to romance or love whatsoever, doors that were opened by Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited.
What follows are the two really rocking tracks from the album: ‘Think For Yourself’ and ‘The Word’, according to the legend the first song Lennon and McCartney wrote after they had smoked pot. Side one of the original LP is closed by ‘Michelle’, an oh so typical poppy love song of McCartney.
Side two starts with ‘What Goes On’ and ‘Girl’ (Lennon’s own version of Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’?), after which a real musical orgasm starts. ‘I’m Looking Through You’ is one of my personal McCartney favorites and is followed by an all-time Beatles favorite: ‘In My Life’. This is pure beauty in it’s simplest form, including an awesome baroque piano bridge in the middle of the song. ‘Wait’ was initially recorded for their previous album Help!, but was released on this one because they were one song short with the release deadline looming.
Another personal favorite is Harrison’s ‘If I Needed Someone’. You can very clearly hear the musical friendship between Crosby and Harrison on this song: it could have been released on a Byrds-album without anyone noticing. Besides, it’ s the only song from Harrison The Beatles ever played live. The final track is ‘Run For Your Life’: a slight preview of what Lennon was about to write during his solo career with ‘Jealous Guy’. Maybe he just wanted to write a remake because of the fact that this song was one of his least favorite Beatles songs.
Certainly check out this one if you liked Abbey Road, and also if you didn’t: Rubber Soul shows us The Beatles as a developing band, but still in a pure form. Maybe the album will inspire you to great things, as it did to Brian Wilson as he started to record Pet Sounds after hearing Rubber Soul for the first time.