“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”: The Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

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Year: 1973

Genre: Progressive Rock

Preceded by: Obscured by Clouds (1972)

Followed by: Wish You Were Here (1975)

Related to: Radiohead – OK Computer, Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

 

 

What makes The Dark Side of the Moon one of the most famous albums ever made in the whole world? Its high critical acclaim by like everybody writing about rock music?  Its huge commercial success, remaining in the charts for 741 (!!) weeks from 1973 to 1988? Its cover, which became one of the most iconic images in rock history? Or the fact that this album strikingly described the changing mood of that time, leaving the spirit of the sixties (which had died in Altamont) behind and facing the Vietnam war and Watergate? Whatever it is, with the release of this album in 1973 Pink Floyd became the biggest progressive rock band in the world.

Pink Floyd gradually came into existence after architecture students Roger Waters and Nick Mason started to play in some bands together. Later on they were joined by Richard Wright and art student Syd Barett. As a successful psychedelic band (releasing some hit singles and debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn), they formed the British antithesis of American acts like Jefferson Airplane and 13th Floor Elevators. However, Barett’s mind became a little too psychedelic for the rest of the band to deal with, so he was gradually replaced by David Gilmour. Subsequently, Pink Floyd started to evolve towards a progressive rock band with long, experimental tracks and philosophical lyrics on the albums Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. The band also became famous for it’s innovative album artwork and elaborate live gigs, so in fact there was only one thing missing which would define Pink Floyd as the biggest prog rock act in town: a concept album.

It was Roger Waters who came up with the idea of making an album about things that will drive people into insanity, inspired by the mental problems former band member Barrett suffered from. They came up with subjects like time, greed, war, rush, death,… and originally gave the album the title Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics. They released it as The Dark Side of the Moon and the impact of the album was enormous, as music critics quickly recognized the brilliance of it’s concept. But the album also became a huge commercial success, selling millions of copies, especially after ‘Money’ became a rare hit single for the band. The reason for this commercial success prolly is the fact that this album lacks some extended instrumental experiments that was typical for Floyd’s preceding (and following!) albums. That’s why it’s also the perfect starter for the uninitiated Floyd ones.

Each side of the orignal LP consists of a continuous piece of music, introduced and ended by a heartbeat, in that way reflecting the human life. It starts with the combined track ‘Speak to Me/Breathe’, stressing the primary elements of the life one lives. It contains samples from a lot of other tracks to follow on the album, like the clocks of ‘Time’ (which has a reprise of ‘Breathe’), the cash registers of ‘Money’ and the laughter of ‘Brain Damage’. Then we move on to the instrumental ‘On the Run’, with the synthesizers taking you to the rushy scene of an airport, pointing at the anxiety of flying.

At the beginning of track 3 you are completely shaken awake by the alarm clocks telling you it’s ‘Time’, followed by a fantastic instrumental intro of Mason’s drum solo and Waters’ bass picking, lasting for about two minutes. This track especially shows how beautiful  the voices of Richard Wright and David Gilmour (which are kinda similar), can be harmonised together. The lyrics tell you how time can get a grip on your existence when you underestimate its speed. It’s brilliantly followed by the return to solitude in the end of the song, with the reprise of ‘Breathe’. The logical next step is death, touchingly portrayed with ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, closing side 1. Guest singer Clare Torry screams unintelligible lines, representing the ascending spirit of a death person. She received £30 for her contribution back then, but after some suing  in 2004 she succeeded to get some settlement concerning the royalties of the song.

Side 2 opens with the single ‘Money’, well-known for it’s recognizable intro (sounds of cash registers supported by a bass riff) and the legendary transition from sax solo to guitar solo. It became the biggest commercial success of the album, which is quite ironic  as it’s an accusation against greed and consumerism. It flows over into ‘Us and Them’, the longest track on the album and also containing some sax solos. The song is about conflict in all it’s possible forms, war as well as personal relationships.

What’s next is some form of medley like the one closing The BeatlesAbbey Road. It starts with another instrumental one, ‘Any Colour You Like’, which fades over into ‘Brain Damage’, one of my personal favorites. Roger Waters takes the lead vocals here, singing ‘and if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes’, pointing to former member Barett, who would sometimes just start playing another song in the middle of a performance with the band at the top of his mental problems. The climax of he album is the last song, ‘Eclipse’, with it’s loud melody telling us what we people all have in common.

What characterizes the album throughout all the tracks are the different voices that were  mixed into it. These are all extracts from interviews Roger Waters took with all kind of people who were present in the studios at the times of recording, ranging from studio staff to other artists recording in the Abbey Road studios. The laughter on ‘Brain Damage’ for example was contributed by road manager Peter Watts (father of Naomi). Paul McCartney was also interviewed, but his voice was never used as his answers were considered as ‘trying too hard to be funny’. Lol. Enjoy this  absolute ‘must have heard before you die’.

Top Tracks:

1. Time
2. Brain Damage
3. The Great Gig in the Sky

“From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.”: Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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Year: 1970

Genre: Folk Rock, Soft Rock

Preceded by: Mona Bone Jakon (1970)

Followed by: Teaser and the Firecat (1971)

Related to: not available yet

 

 

Another album from 1970, as it might have become clear that the period between 1967 and 1972 is my favorite era in pop history. Back then, singer-songwriters still made music you didn’t just smoothly fell asleep to. One of the greatest of his generation was Steven Demetre Georgiou, inspired by John Lennon and Paul Simon (who had just broke up with their respective groups) and with an exceptional talent for great melodies.

Because he realized no American would buy music from some guy called Georgiou, he adopted the stage name Cat Stevens. Stevens was an English art student who liked playing piano and guitar. In the early seventies he would suddenly claim world fame after  releasing three very successful albums: Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman (both 1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971). Of all three albums (on which Stevens created the artwork himself), Tea for the Tillerman would become most famous.

Stevens already released some singles in 1966 (featuring John-Paul Jones on bass before he joined Led Zeppelin), with the first album following in 1967. But in 1969 he suddenly ended up in the hospital after contracting tuberculosis, fighting against death. During his recovery, his perspective on life and spirituality changed. He started to meditate, to read about other religions and became a vegetarian. And also: he wrote like forty songs which would appear on his following albums. First on Mona Bone Jakon, with the hit single ‘Lady D’Arbanville’. Next was Tea for the Tillerman, mixing lyrics of ordinary life situations and spiritual questions with great folk rock melodies.

Songs that were heavily influenced by Stevens’ stay in the hospital are ‘But I Might Die Tonight’ (obviously), ‘On the Road to Find Out’ (find one’s self through personal experiences and religion, with really awesome vocals) and ‘Sad Lisa’ (about a girl nearing the point of depression). The opening song of the album, ‘Where Do the Children Play?’, has a broader perspective, contemplating the challenges mankind has to cope with during the beginning of the seventies: war, poverty, ecological trouble,… . While coping with these challenges we tend to forget primary needs.

The only single of the album was ‘Wild World’, which was kind of a sequel to ‘Lady D’Arbanville’, as it describes Cat’s goodbye words to his departing lover, Patty D’Arbanville. The combination of Stevens’ voice and guitar beautifully awakes the sad feeling of leaving. A song a little more mysterious is ‘Into White’, which I still don’t really get. It’s about some organically built house with plants and animals inside, but it also says you have to be aware of violence, and in the end everything is ’emptied into white’. Find out for yourself where this is all about.

However, my absolute favorite of this album is ‘Father and Son’. The song tells a dialogue between a father and his son (surprise), with the son explaining that he wants to leave to seek his own destiny. The father (echoed by Stevens with a lower voice) doesn’t understand this desire. The American band Flaming Lips released a song very similar (musically as well as lyrically) to it in 2002, ‘Fight Test’, and were therefore charged with a lawsuit. Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne expressed he had no intentions to steal the song, he just liked it very much, and he granted Stevens half of the royalties for the song.

The album is closed actually by the title track, a very short song which was used for the closing credits by the creators of the hilarious British sitcom Extras. Stevens himself made some more albums in the seventies before converting to Islam in 1977, adopting his new name ‘Yusuf Islam’ from then on. He left the music scene two years later and only returned in 2006. However, he never reached the same heights again as on Tea for the Tillerman, telling us with it’s ethical lyrics and smooth melodies that you better enjoy life now, before it’s too late.

Top Tracks:
1. Father And Son
2. On the Road to Find Out
3. Wild World

“Don’t want to be a fat man, people would think that I was just good fun.”: Stand Up (Jethro Tull)

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Year: 1969

Genre: Progressive Rock

Preceded by: This Was (1968)

Followed by: Benefit (1970)

Related to: not available yet

 

 

Old bearded men playing endless symphonic compositions and singing about all kind of mystical themes: progressive rock. A genre in music history which is praised as many times as it’s feared. I myself am a big fan; Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake &Palmer, King Crimson, Yes and even Genesis, I loved it all from the start. Somebody once asked me which ‘prog’ album I would recommend him as he wanted to learn to know the genre. The guy liked bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Doors,… and I could only come up with one album that could soothe the transition from that world of music into one including all the achievements of progressive rock: Stand Up.

Progressive rock originated in the late sixties, heavily influenced by psychedelic rock from the US. Bands like Procol Harum (with it’s hit ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’) and The Moody Blues (with it’s album Days of Future Passed) started to incorporate elements from classical music into their work. Other (mainly British) bands followed by going beyond the standard verse-chorus based song structures with complex instrumental ‘songs’. They frequently brought these songs together on so called concept albums, with all lyrical contributions treating a specific theme or telling stories with epic proportions.

In contrast with bands like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull didn’t have its origins in psychedelic rock but in blues rock instead and that’s exactly what makes Stand Up such an accessible prog album. Tull’s debut basically was a mediocre blues album featuring a flute. Singer Ian Anderson decided to start playing this instrument after he realized he couldn’t outbid Eric Clapton as a guitar player so he picked an instrument no rock star had played before to become the world’s best at it. Together with this new instrument he started to put in all kind of new influences into the group’s sound after taking full control of the band. He wrote all the tracks on the album, which pushed Tull in the direction of progressive rock.

The first track on the album (with awesome artwork) is the raw, bluesy ‘A New Day Yesterday’. Together with ‘Nothing Is Easy’ (track 6 on the album), these songs are juiced with some solid guitar riffs and sound like the hard rock of Cream, completed with some energetic flute loops. The album also delivered Tull’s first classic: ‘Bouree’. It’s a very jazzy reinterpretation of the classic composition ‘Bourrée in E minor’ by Bach, with Anderson’s flute replacing the piano. Also noteworthy is the delicious bass solo in the middle of the song.

The album continues with ‘Back to the Family’, a song which Anderson must have written to prove that he also had a great voice besides his capabilities as flute player. Moreover, guitarist Martin Barre performs a great solo towards the end, something he repeats in an even better way on the next track, the ballad ‘Look Into The Sun’. But just like last week’s album, the best songs are saved for the second part. ‘Fat Man’ reinvents blues by inserting eastern instruments like the sitar and the notorious balalaika. But it even gets better.

For me personally, the last three songs of the album are the best ones. The most melodic of them all is ‘We Used To Know’, on which Anderson performs the best melancholic vocals I’ve prolly ever heard. It’s chord progression and even the guitar solo in the end was used later by the Eagles for their monster hit ‘Hotel California’, as they liked the song very much while supporting Tull on their tours in the seventies. ‘Hotel California’ might have become the greatest hit, ‘We Used To Know’ is the real stuff. Make your own judgment on that one. The song gets a melancholic sequel on ‘Reasons For Waiting’, a love song which blends the acoustic guitar and the flute beautifully together.

The album doesn’t fade out after this one because you’ll be shaken completely around again by it’s final piece: ‘For A Thousand Mothers’. Anderson’s flute is more aggressive than ever on this uptempo track and just when you think the storm has ended he strikes back one more time with a solo. Certainly check out the album if you don’t know it because if you like it, there’s a lot more waiting for you.

Top Tracks:
1. Reasons For Waiting
2. We Used To Know
3. For A Thousand Mothers

“In Jersey anything’s legal, as long as you don’t get caught”: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (Traveling Wilburys)

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Year: 1988

Genre: Rock

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.

Top Tracks
1. Tweeter and the Monkey Man
2. Heading for the Light
3. Not Alone Anymore

“Take me back down where cool water flows.”: Green River (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

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Year: 1969

Genre: Southern rock

Preceded by: Bayou Country (1969)

Followed by: Willy and the Poor Boys (1969)

Related to: The Band – Music From Big Pink

 

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) probably is my favorite classic rock band together with The Beatles and Pink Floyd. That’s partly why it’s already the second album of this band that I write about while still exploring the ‘basics’. It’s also the second album of their famous 1969 trilogy, preceding Willy and the Poor Boys  which I treated last time. Talking about trilogies: the album was succeeded by Abbey Road on top of the Billboard 200, which as we know was kicked off his throne by Led Zeppelin II.

CCR had their decisive break-thru earlier in  January 1969 with their album Bayou Country and it’s monster hit single ‘Proud Mary’. But instead of getting distracted by hours lasting psychedelic jams like virtually all other Californian bands of that time, they plunged back into the studio and released the single ‘Bad Moon Rising’ a few weeks later, followed later by ‘Green River’. The rest followed in August, brought together on the album Green River.

Green River managed to refine the characterful sound of Bayou Country, opening with the title track, one of my all time Creedence favorites. Fogerty brings a passionate ode to the rural south, supported by a brilliant and simple guitar riff. ‘Green River’ by the way actually was the brand of some drink. Next track is the single’s B-side ‘Commotion’, which instead ridicules the crowded city life. Another personal favorite is ‘Tombstone Shadow’, about a man drenched in bad luck, with Fogerty’s voice being so convincing that you really start to feel bad for the guy he sings about.

Side two of the album contains the other single ‘Bad Moon Rising’  and it’s B-side ‘Lodi’, which became a massive radio hit. The first one (Sonic Youth called an album after it in 1985) kind of differs from the traditional Creedence sound, having a typical rockabilly rhythm. Lyrically the track warns us for what’s about to come on Willy and the Poor Boys and following albums, as Fogerty sings about the danger at the times of Vietnam and Nixon. The second one is a ballad about an artist ending up in the small Californian town Lodi. Although it’s close to Fogerty’s hometown, he never visited it before writing the song and just chose it because he liked the name. Decide for yourself if you want to go there some time after having listened to the song.

The final track on the album is ‘Night Time Is the Right Time’, another remake of one of their favorite fifties songs (having covered ‘I Put a Spell on You’, ‘Susie Q’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ on earlier albums). The Nappy Brown song became a highlight of the band’s live gigs. One of those famous gigs CCR played was on Woodstock, shortly after releasing this album. It was never recorded because The Grateful Dead jammed all night long and far past schedule, but luckily the album is still there.

Top Tracks (thank God other live performances were filmed^^):

1. Green River
2. Bad Moon Rising
3. Tombstone Shadow

“Architects may come and architects may go and never change your point of view.”: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

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Year: 1970

Genre: Folk Rock

Preceded by: Bookends (1968)

Followed by: –

Related to: Paul Simon – Graceland

 

 

Today we return to 1970, the year Déjà Vu was released. We also return to quarreling band members and vocal harmonies, because not only The Beatles broke up in 1970, so did their American contemporaries of the sixties, Simon & Garfunkel. But before they did, they delivered the world a last pièce de résistance with Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met each other in primary school while growing up in the state of New York. The first group they formed was labeled with the artistic name ‘Tom & Jerry’. It was not until 1965 that they acquired world fame with their monster hit ‘The Sound of Silence’ as Simon & Garfunkel. Other albums and singles followed, until they recorded their fifth and final album Bridge Over Troubled Water, after which they broke up. Garfunkel was pursuing an acting career at that point, starring in the movie ‘Catch-22’. Remarkable detail: the role that was assigned to Simon was completely erased from the original script.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (on which Simon wrote all the songs except the covers ‘El Condor Pasa’ and ‘Bye Bye Love’), was named after the opening track which became a rock classic. Especially the piano work of Larry Knechtel, band member of Westcoast group Bread and session musician for amongst others The Beach Boys and The Mamas & the Papas, is outstanding. However, this track is not at all representative for the album, which contains very cheerful tracks like ‘El Condor Pasa’, ‘Cecilia’ and ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied’.

‘El Condor Pasa’ was based on traditional Andean folk tunes, brought together in a full-fledged song by the Peruvian Daniel Robles. Simon picked it up and made it the most famous western song featuring panpipes. It’s followed by ‘Cecilia’, and whether it’s about  some lover or a songwriter’s block, it’s a real earwig. The trilogy of joy is completed by ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied’, one of my personal favorites.

After all the joy comes resentment part one, with ‘So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright’. Originally, Garfunkel (who had studied to become an architect) just asked Simon to write a song about the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon had no clue who this was, but turned the song into an announcement of the upcoming breakup with his former pal. Simon also addressed Garfunkel with the song ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’. Garfunkel went to Mexico to act in his movie, leaving Simon behind in New York, writing songs for this album.

In between this tracks is a single (‘The Boxer’) and it’s B-side (‘Baby Driver’), which were released already in 1969. ‘The Boxer’ became one of the duo’s greatest hits, despite (or maybe thanks to) the lyric-less chorus. It’s an autobiographical song, with Simon telling us he feels unfairly criticized. He temporary filled in the chorus with ‘lie-la-lie’, but never came up with replacing lyrics afterward. The penultimate ‘Bye Bye Love’ is a live recording of a song most famous in it’s Everly Brothers version, later also recorded by former Beatle George Harrison.

The duo reunited to tour again every decade since 1970, for example in 1981 with the famous concert in Central Park, entertaining over 500,000 people. Each time they play a range of songs from their last album, on which it’s crystal clear that this is a duo about to break up, but those guys decided to throw one big last party together.

Top Tracks:
1. The Boxer
2. Keep the Customer Satisfied
3. El Condor Pasa (If I Could)